Bunny Girl Senpai – 09 – Two Friendless Sisters

When the second school term begins in September, Sakuta just can’t wait to see Mai. Due to the dating ban and her busy schedule he’s seen neither hide nor tail of her, and that trend continues when she fails to show up to school.

When he finally does happen upon her on a random street, there’s something…off about her. She claims to not know who Sakuta is. Then a short blonde girl appears, telling him she’s the real Mai, and that she and her half-sister Toyohama Nodoka have swapped bodies.

This happened quite suddenly after Nodoka ran away from home and her domineering mother (she and Mai have the same dad) and spent the night at Mai’s impressive, self-bought condo. When they woke up, they were switched.

This is clearly adolescence syndrome, but while the cause becomes clear enough—Nodoka has a lot of built-up resentment for her “perfect” big sis—the means to undo the swap remain elusive, short of propelling Nodoka to the top of the idol charts (something most likely beyond Sakuta’s abilities).

So the two carry on in each others’ lives, trying not to draw to much attention. The fact that Mai’s schedule is comparatively paltry compared to Nodoka’s not only speaks to how hard Nodoka’s mom is pushing her to succeed, but Mai’s desire to have as much time to hang out with Sakuta as possible during the second term.

Despite not having a perfect big sister, Sakuta diagnoses Nodoka’s issues pretty easily, leading to Nodoka confronting Mai and telling her things she’s kept inside, hoping honesty might be a step towards undoing the swap. Instead, Mai shoots her negative emotions regarding Nodoka right back at her.

While it’s not immediately clear from the montage of Mai and Nodoka’s days as one another is just how much easier Mai is able to slip into her little sister’s life, doing the necessary singing, dancing, and training required of a rising idol and purporting herself well.

Nodoka does alright with the photo shoots and interviews—things she’s done before—but when it comes time to film a commercial and memorize lines when a camera is rolling and an entire crew is surrounding her…it’s too much. She hyperventilates and the shoot has to be cancelled. When Sakuta reports the incident, Mai is surprised; she figured Nodoka would have been able to get a good take from that particular director.

Being somewhat out of his element with regards to younger siblings, Sakuta gets some insight from the most unlikely of sources: Kunimi’s girlfriend, Kumisato, who like Nodoka, has a hardworking, overachieving, brilliant, perfect big sister (I assume she’s pretty too).

Kumisato neither likes nor hates her, because it’s nothing that simple. What she can say is that she’s always annoyed by her mom’s constant urging that she take her sister as an example and study more.

Being a middle child myself, I can state that there was always the push-pull of wanting to set a good example for my little sis while not falling too far behind my big bro (who is much more academically inclined than me…not to mention more historically and politically informed. I can paint way better though!) But my siblings and I aren’t competing in the same field, so we never really competed the way Mai and Nodoka seem to be.

More importantly, we had parents who pushed us to be the best individuals we could be; we weren’t used as pawns in a proxy war between our mothers (for one thing, we all had the same mother, but still). I have no doubt a part of Nodoka is proud of her half-sis, and a part of Mai is happy to have a younger sister to inspire and support. But their folks have not made it easy for them to interact with each other on their own terms.

Body-swap episodes seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but I’ll admit to being a big fan of them when they’re well-executed, as this one is. It’s nice to hear Seto Asami switch up her voice style to match the Nodoka in Mai’s body, not to mention Uchida Maaya’s more upright measure as Mai in Nodoka’s body. The fact they are swapped, and the novelty therein, is secondary to why the swap occurred, as well as how to undo it, which, as with the other solutions to adolescence syndrome outbreaks, will require character growth to achieve.

But my main gripe with this arc is that I found it hard to garner as much enthusiasm as I did for the previous ones. Perhaps that’s due in part to the brisk, sudden manner in which Nodoka is introduced, and the fact the only time we saw her in her own body was in that brief TV interview with her idol group. Futaba, who interacted plenty with Sakuta prior to her own arc, is thus proving a tough act to follow for Nodoka, who entered this episode a virtual unknown.

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Bunny Girl Senpai – 08 – A Boring Yet Sound Argument

On another night at the Azusagawa residence, Futaba Rio lends Sakuta some insight into how her separation into two different Futabas took place: it was the result of her inability to reconcile her need for attention with her inability to forgive the means of getting that attention.

Futaba developed faster than the other girls in her class—a lonely development, to be sure. It isolated her; made her feel alone, conspicuous, even dirty. And yet, her need to not be alone led her to start the photo stream; any reactions, no matter who from, were a consolation; they made her feel a little less lonely.

This debunks my theory about the competing sides of her psyche splitting off, but only partially: you could still say the Futaba living at Sakuta’s is the one more like the superego, while the one living in Futaba’s house is more like the id. One can live in an imperfect world far easier than the other.

While accepting the judgment of Mai’s manager that she cut out most private meetings with her boyfriend as a “strategic retreat” for the sake of her just-restarted career, Sakuta digs fully into this Futaba Dilemma. After all, he’s dealing with a childhood friend.

“Shut-in” Futaba wants “Wild” Futaba to shut down the account, and while meeting with her she shows him pictures from when she was in middle school; a form of “self-mutilation” in which she intentionally posted pics of her developing form. Both Futabas say they “hate” themselves.

After a day when “Wild” Futaba gets to fan a hot Kunimi, she starts to get unwanted propositions and threats to expose her from strangers looking at her pics online. This naturally freaks Futaba out, and she deletes her account, runs to her (huge!) house with Sakuta, and has him sleepover.

There, she reveals to Sakuta that she felt like she’d be all alone again after both Kunimi and Sakuta got themselves girlfriends. She already feels like Kunimi is so far away, but all it takes is one call from Sakuta on her phone for him to come running (well, biking) to her side in the middle of the night.

Unknown to Kunimi, Sakuta just proved what a loyal and dedicated friend he is. When she realizes she was never alone after all, she tears up, and Kunimi has Sakuta buy them both drinks to rehydrate: him for his biking, her for her tears.

Sakuta also buys fireworks and they go to the beach, lighting sparklers and candles and crackers and rockets until the night sky starts to brighten. Futaba smiles and laughs and the three old friends have the most fun they’ve had together in ages.

Futaba’s “separation” may have been unfortunate, but one could argue it was also necessary in order for her to be reminded of what she has, not to mention bring the three back together after some distance was created between them due to extenuating circumstances.

More importantly, “Wild” Futaba started the day wanting Sakuta to take a side—since “the world only needs one Futaba Rio”—and ending with her urging Sakuta to help the other Futaba. He heads home to report  that the account is history, then passes out, leaving the other Futaba her phone.

The background shows “Wild” Futaba with Sakuta and Kunimi during their idyllic evening. When Sakuta wakes up, she’s gone, but the other Futaba tells him “if it were her” where she’d be: the school, in their classroom.

There, Futaba repeats the other Futaba’s words about there only needing to be one of them in the world, and how the “Wild” one is clearly being “the better Futaba”, and that she should just disappear. Sakuta rejects all of that, an invites her to the fireworks festival he, Kunimi, and the other Futaba agreed to attend (since he and Mai can’t date and Kunimi is having a fight with his GF).

He leaves it at that…then passes out a product of his bike ride in the pounding rain being a bit too much exertion immediately following an all-nighter. He wakes up in the hospital with Mai by his bedside, having been called by Futaba.

By being there for Sakuta, Futaba proved that she actually is needed. And when Sakuta sits with her later, he neither tries to tell her all of her positive qualities nor tells her how she needs to start gradually liking or loving herself, as a friend might be expected to do.

It’s because Sakuta is “the worst” in this way, not saying what a usual friend would say, Futaba is relieved and comforted. She then calls the other Futaba on a pay phone, voices her desire to go to the festival, and in a neat trick where the phone receiver suddenly falls, she disappears. But she’s not gone. Futaba Rio is simply whole again.

Whole, and no longer alone. While watching the fireworks at the festival, she seems to tell Kunimi her feelings, but rather than seeking an answer she already knows, she simply urges him to make up with his girlfriend.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 07 – A Tale of Two Futabas

Fresh off the amicable resolution of the Koga Tomoe arc, we are presented with not one but two new mysteries, both involving characters we’ve dealt with before. Just as Sakuta’s earlier, seemingly random encounter with Koga paid off nicely (butt-kicking leading to quantum entanglement), his past established crush on “Makinohara Shouko” makes the sudden appearance of someone with the same name who looks just like her, only two years or so younger, that much  more intriguing.

At the same time, Futaba Rio is elevated from Sakuta’s sounding board and scientific consultant to an actual participant in Adolescence Syndrome weirdness. Sporting a fresh look with ponytail and contacts, Futaba doesn’t have any answers for Sakuta about why some younger copy of his crush suddenly appeared. If it’s not causing any harm, just don’t worry about it for now.

And the episode doesn’t; not really. Shouko is mostly tabled as the episode veers toward the slow-burn relationship of Sakuta and Mai, who is done with a job early and surprises him by showing up at the restaurant where he works, and even implies he’ll let him make out with her later.

After his shift, the two spot Futaba entering a Net Cafe and follow her. Using Mai’s phone, Sakuta calls her (presumably so the sound of her phone will indicate where in the cafe she is) but as he’s talking to Futaba on the phone, he and Mai spot a second Futaba. Yup, she’s got herself a doppelganger!

This Futaba, with glasses and no pony tail, finds herself temporarily homeless, since the other Futaba is already living in her house. Sakuta invites her to stay at his place, something Mai only approves if she can spend the night there as well.

This Futaba is extremely coy about what could have brought on Adolescence Syndrome to the point she’d split in two. Sakuta puts her up in his room with Mai, but Mai soon comes out to the living room where he’s sleeping, giving him the hints and nudges he needs to indicate she’s open to him making a move whenever, not just a special occasion for an apology. After all, he’s her boyfriend. Unfortunately, their kiss attempt fails when they bump heads. These guys are just to frikkin’ cute together.

The next day, after some domestic bliss with his full house, Sakuta has Mai watch one Futaba while he goes to school to track down the other. Shouko shows up, but nothing further on her situation is explored; it’s just an opportunity to confirm to Futaba that there is a new Makinohara Shouko in Sakuta’s life.

At school, while on the way to science club (which consists only of her) Futaba stops to watch Kunimi play basketball, which is where Sakuta finds her. After talking with her for a bit, it’s obvious he’s not dealing with “real and fake” Futabas; they are both Futaba, through and through.

That’s not to say the two aren’t very different; not just in appearance (though that’s a start): the ponytailed, contact-wearing Futaba just seems far more assertive, confident, and active, whereas the Futaba back at his place seems, well, almost the opposite of those qualities.

When Kunimi’s girlfriend confronts Sakuta with a social media feed of Futaba taking risque pictures of herself, my theory solidified: the two Futabas embody her id and ego (or super-ego). She is out of balance, and her unrequited feelings for Kunimi seem to be the cause. The question is, how is Sakuta going to help her restore that balance and become one again…and where does Shouko fit into all this?

P.S. A powerful little moment is when Mai’s cell phone goes off and Kaede suddenly looks like she’s about to be shot. Now we know why Sakuta doesn’t own one!

P.P.S. Futaba fell for Kunimi when he bought her a Choco-Cornet; Id-Futaba makes that her social media handle for her photo feed.