Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 11 – Volleydaaaaaw

As soon as Erika learns the Athletic Festival after-party will include a solo dance by Akebi, she decides she wants to be the one accompanying her on the piano. Usagihara gives her the encouragement (and the Miki-chan CD) she needs to make it happen, while keeping it a pleasant surprise for Akebi when the time comes.

As for Akebi, she and her volleyball team learn, through playing against an actual volleyball player like Washio Hitomi, that they aren’t that god at volleyball. They don’t lack heart, but they need practice, and more critically a place to practice. Akebi has a tearful call with Mako-sensei, who is so happy Akebi has made friends and gives her permission to use her old school gym.

At first it looks like it’s going to be just Akebi, Usagihara, Shijou and Minakami (plus Kao, who wants to know what it’s like to not be at that school all alone), but Washio and Nawashiro, initially thought to have been indisposed that day, show up to help the novices practice. I love Kao’s reaction to seeing the statuesque Washio, as well as Washio’s response: lifting Kao as high as only she can.

I never watched Haikyuu!! but speaking as someone who has watched a bit of anime, I’m confident in saying the volleyball action animation is excellent. From the power and grace of the experienced Washio to the fumbling and incoordination of the newbies, it captures all of the beauty inherent the sport. Perhaps more importantly, it’s another opportunity for Akebi to revel in all of the friendships she’s made, working together in hopes of winning at the festival.

When Akebi shows her to the restroom, Usagihara notes just how old the school is, and learns that their little practice session is not only the most activity that gym has seen in years, but also might be the last time such a session can take place. Once Kao graduates, the school will close. So Akebi is happy she could bring friends there.

Akebi returns to the gym just as Mako-sensei decided to peek in on their practice, and is surprised to find that practically her whole class turned out to practice with her, preparations Usagihara made in case Washio and Nawashiro couldn’t make it. Mako-sensei and Akebi cant help but get emotional, while Kao leads her big sis by the hand to continue practice with everyone. Akebi shows her gratitude by giving Usagihara a big and lasting hug.

As for Erika, she’s in her own little world in her dorm room, practicing the Miki-chan piece while wearing earbuds and envisioning Akebi dancing around her in a placid ocean. Akebi truly transforms into a magical girl, gracefully darting around as Erika accompanies her. It’s another big flex from the animation staff, as the scene is simply bursting with love, tranquility, energy, and beauty.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 10 – Cheers for Fears

Akebi arrives at class in her new summer sailor fuku and is once again a sensation, but the other girls also have their summer unis to show off. They only lament that they just made the switch, but most of the day they’ll be in their P.E. uniforms, practicing for the athletics festival.

After Nawashiro teaches Akebi, Tanigawa, and Kamimoku how to make pompoms, the cheer squad can start practicing their cheers in earnest. The only problem is, none of them, including Akebi, really know all that much about cheering. Tougeguchi, who is in the table tennis club, has to teach Akebi basic choreography.

While Akebi flits hither and thither, cheering on the various other clubs, Erika finds a tennis partner in Shijou, whose body has developed faster than most girls her age and has thus left her with something of a complex about that. While she has experience playing tennis, all of it came before these changes, so she can’t quite find a rhythm on the court.

Not to fret: Erika offers Shijou some calming black tea, while Akebi takes her by the hand and has her do some cheer practice to loosen up a bit. Shijou only ends up in this unplanned situation because she became fixated on Akebi’s slender midriff and absent-mindedly poked her navel while saying “must be nice”. Akebi, bless her heart, assumed cheering was “what must be nice.”.

With Tanigawa recording their practice, Akebi finds areas to improve, while Shijou sees how stiff and restricted her movements are. But rather than give up, she pulls up her sleeves, ties off her shirt, and gets back to it, feeding off of Akebi’s boundless stores of exuberance. She even assists Akebi with a more advanced lift. Despite her initial misgivings, seeing Akebi give it all makes her want to give her all.

The cheering also reminded Shijou why she loved tennis to begin with: because it gives one the chance to look really cool. And indeed, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform animates Shijou’s powerful serve with all the camera angles and slow-motion of a superhero pulling off a special move. In essence, Shijou got her groove back!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 09 – Pipe Organ of Light

After a string of episodes in which new classmates were introduced, it’s nice to get back to the “core four” of Akebi, Erika, Usagihara, and Koujo, as they meet up on the weekend for a trip to the mall for festival supplies. After getting a haircut from her mom, Akebi actually encounters Koujo on the bus, but Koujo is so absorbed in her book, Akebi doesn’t disturb her, resulting in a beautiful, silent little scene of a bus ride through the gorgeous landscape.

When the four meet up, they all praise each other’s street attire, which is very appropriate for their respective characters: Akebi’s practical tee, slacks, and sturdy sandals; Usagihara with a flowing skirt, pink nails and classy braid; Erika in a very smart, mature blouse, tiny purse, and heels; and Koujo in a super-comfy overalls with huge pockets. A look at the directory is vetoed by Akebi, who says she’ll be their guide.

A number of non-festival-supply-related detours ensues as she gives them a tour of the places in the mall she goes to most—and, this is key, has gone to the most. Akebi has been coming here since she was little, and has a lot of fond memories of shopping with her mom and sister then meeting up with their dad if he was off work. When Usagihara recognizes clothes and accessory chains Akebi never visited, she gains a whole new appreciation for the place.

Everyone gets something out of the mall. The gang follow Kojou’s lead as she’s drawn to a bookstore, and Erika happens to pick out the very book Kojou had just finished on the bus, and offers to lend Erika her copy. Akebi also comments on Kojou’s pressed flower bookmark, which her mom made for her. At lunch, Erika, new to malls, experiences her first fast food hamburger, and her friends get a kick out of how happy she looks eating it.

But when the four are about to leave the mall, Kojou notices the bookmark her mom made her is missing. Since it’s a good luck charm to her, and she has nice friends, the four comb the mall, but come up with nothing. It’s not at the lost and found, nor did it turn up at the depot. Kojou, clearly upset about losing it, nevertheless suggests they head out anyway, as the bus will be there soon.

As luck would have it, somebody found her bookmark by the exit, and tied a red balloon to it, which Akebi spots through the windows of the exit. I breathed a sigh of relief with Kojou, but then the balloon slips out of her hand, and since it’s full of helium, starts to rise into the sky. Kojou’s past memories of the bookmark flash before us. Fortunately, the balloon gets snagged on a tree, but it’s out of reach…or is it?

I half expected Akebi to climb the tree like a lemur and grab it for Kojou, but instead, offers her shoulders as a boost. Kojou says she couldn’t possibly. Usagihara suggests they get all get into mock cavalry formation, but Kojou still needs a few more inches of height. That’s when Akebi suggests they hoise her up by her leg so she can jump up and reach it. Kojou is successful, and for a tick fears she’ll fall to the ground…but Akebi’s got her.

When it starts to rain, three of the girls seek shelter, as the bus stop’s a ways away. But Akebi simply dances in the rain, and her energy and joy compels the others to join her in racing to the bus stop together, wet clothes be damned. They laugh as they run through pink, purple, and blue hydrangeas, Akebi leading the way with her red balloon.

The rain suddenly stops when they reach the bus stop shelter; it was only a passing shower. But the rain causes crepuscular rays, of the same kind Akebi saw a pretty photo of at the bookstore, and which are also called “a pipe organ of light” by a famous writer. The rays might as well be pure love descending from the heavens.

This just might’ve been the loveliest, most life-affirming and heartwarming shopping trip episode I’ve ever seen, and by far the most dramatic lost bookmark dilemma! But it’s also the longest and best sustained interaction between these four and only these four girls. The simplified cast of the episode allows all four to shine.

We’re even given the possibility that Kojou, inspired by her friend of bottomless energy, optimism, and love, might just end up being the writer of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform! This outing was peak comfy slice-of-life/friendship/youth anime, and made me yearn for the days I was actually in awe of the fancier malls of my own youth.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 03 – Free as a Cloud

Akebi Komichi isn’t trying to stand out, she’s just being the best damn Akebi Komichi she can be. That Akebi is bereft of guile, devoid of ego…and runs fastest while barefoot. So fast, in fact, she posts the best time in P.E., and attracts three upperclassmen who want her to join their sports clubs.

Those upperclassmen burst in on Akebi’s class just before the bell, and have to be set straight by the class president, Tanigawa Kei. When she comes over to thank her, Akebi mentions how beautiful Tanigawa’s legs and skin are. Tanigawa isn’t sure what to make of Akebi quite yet, but she knows one thing: Akebi keeps talking to her.

After Akebi’s other three friends head home, she runs into Tanigawa again, and shares her earbuds with her as they listen to her favorite idol’s music, music Tanigawa is amazed Akebi can dance to. But Akebi doesn’t think anything she does is amazing; just the product of hard work, practice, and love of Fukumoto Miki-chan.

Tanigawa is amazed though, by how easily Akebi can do things she wants to do. It makes her want to come out of her shell a little, if only for Akebi. When they exchange numbers, Tanigawa even considers sending her new friend a selfie of her legs…and torso. She even ends up sending this rather risqué pic, albeit accidentally when her mom startles her. But Akebi is ecstatic to receive it, and believes Tanigawa has a real talent for photos. It’s another lovely new friendship forged.

Due to Akebi’s considerable athletic attributes, a sports club seems like a no-brainer. But after spending the day with Kojou checking out all the clubs,  she’s still not able to pick one.

She and Kojou are caught in the rain, and upon finding shelter, Kojou gives Akebi her warm blazer, which her thin sailor uniform lacks. Akebi finds one of Kojou’s book in a pocket, and decides to read to Kojou like she does to her little sister as they wait out the rain.

Kojou is impressed with Akebi’s ability to bring the characters in the book to life—she even does all the distinct voices like a rakugo performer—but it’s been a long day and she eventually nods off. She wakes up with her head resting in Akebi’s lap, looks up and sees Akebi wearing her glasses, and for a moment thinks it’s her mom.

The next day, Akebi learns Tanigawa has chosen the photography club, while Akebi announces that she’s joined the drama club. It’s a place where she’ll be free to employ all of her acquired talents, while utilizing her innate ability to draw attention and admiration.

Just about every frame of Akebi is a joy to watch, and not just due to the intense love, care, and detail put into the production by Cloverworks. I can’t stop watching because Akebi is such a gregarious, magnetic presence. She really is Cardcaptor Sakura without the card capturing!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 02 – See You Tomorrow

Komichi is an uncomplicated girl with a simple love: to emulate her favorite idol, Fukumoto Miki, by donning a sailor fuku to school. There’s an elemental beauty to that clarity that embues the entire episode. We get to witness the fateful moment she fell for both Miki and the uniform while watching TV with Kao resting on her lap. She’s in such awe of Miki’s cuteness, a snack falls from her hand into Kao’s.

We’re hearing the same story Komichi’s class is hearing in her extended introduction of herself and why she appears to be the class libero (in volleyball) or goalkeeper (in soccer)—the one who stands apart from the others. She more than stands, she does an elegant acrobatic move that is meant to show everyone something funny she does for her sister…it’s just she really should have worn bike shorts underneath her skirt!

When the class splits into quartets for lunch, we learn Komichi is one of the only Roubai students to have never attended cram school—such was her single-minded devotion to getting into Roubai so she could wear the fuku, she studied so hard she didn’t need cram school. We also meet two new classmates, soon to be friends: the kindly glasses-wearer Kojou Tomono, and the mischievous shit-stirrer Usagihara Touko.

Komichi may have attended school to this point alone—the only other person in her tiny school being her teacher—but just as she got into Roubai her own way, she also manages to be naturally gregarious without even trying; simply by being her own cute quirky self. She captivates her new classmates by perfectly reenacting the idol Miki’s lip gloss finger kiss gesture.

At Touko’s bidding, Komichi goes on to do a number of cute poses that capture the entire class’ attention. Turns out she had nothing to fear from wearing a uniform different than everyone else. Everyone in the class is different and unique in their own way, and the rookie homeroom teacher believes that will make them a fun an interesting first class.

While Komichi dishes out no shortage of entertainment for Usagihara, et al, she also happens to be having the absolute time of her life on her first day. Never is she so full of joy as when Usagihara and Kojou say “see you tomorrow” when she’s headed home. Komichi doesn’t walk home, she dances, bounds, leaps, and soars home, through achingly gorgeous, idyllic surroundings.

She comes home to find her father is home for the first time in what seems to be years. Perhaps demonstrating where Komichi gets her quirkiness, he’s so self-conscious about interacting with her all grown up, he pretends to be asleep. But after her bath with Kao (who insists Komichi bring Kizaki home to meet her) she finds her father outside, and the two talk as father and daughter under the stars.

When she learns when he has to leave in the morning, she tells him she’ll make a point to be up and in her sailor fuku so he can see her. Flashing another multidimensional smile, Komichi tells her dad what her new friends told her: “See you tomorrow!” Some curious yet still lovingly rendered animated tangents aside, Akebi’s Sailor Uni is comfort food that’s earnest, pure, and sweet almost beyond belief.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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