SSSS.Dynazenon – 12 (Fin) – E Pluribus Gundum

Gauma is in a bad way and Second can only ease his pain, but with Gridknight and Goldburn losing ground to Shizumu, Yume and Yomogi know what to do. Juuga, Mujina and Onija notice the new Shizumu Kaiju, realize they can’t control it, and instead allow him to swallow them up. This makes things even more difficult for Knight-kun.

Koyomi’s Dyna-car just happens to land near enough to him that he can simply hop in and join the battle; ditto Yomogi, who gets to make a dramatic leap over a cliff of debris into his Soldier. Yume trips and falls, but Yomogi soon tracks her down and offers to take her to her Wing. Gauma even manages to pilot his Dyna-thingy with Second, so all six pieces of the puzzle are there to fight the Eugenicists.

It’s here where we get a lot of those trademark super-intense Trigger Faces, as Juuga curses (and confesses?) to Gauma (who tells him to “shaddap!”), Mujina curses Koyomi (who loudly apologizes), and Yume and Yomogi get the silent treatment from their former classmate Shizumu. But once Yomogi realizes he can Instance Dominate the enemy with his Kaiju user power, the battle is pretty much over.

There’s a number of different Dyna-combinations, all of which are great fun to watch as the pilots shout in unison. The coup-de-grace comes from the old standby Super Dragon Dyna Rex (carrying a combo of Gridknight and Goldburn on its back) firing off the most verbose attack yet: Blazing Hot Inferno Burning Grid Rex Roar.

The Eugenicists glimpse their impending deaths and accept their fate (again), but so does Gauma, who passes away shortly after claiming victory. None of them are particularly upset about this; Mujina even thinks it might be “better this way”, while Juuga is certain the time of Kaiju will still come someday. As for Gauma, he finally understands why the Princess didn’t revive with him: because she entrusted Dynazenon to him. And he did good.

Three months later, as the silent credits roll (no OP or ED in this finale, but the opening theme did make an appearance during the battle, as is its wont), we get a very wide shot of Yume and Yomogi walking slowly across a bridge, Yume stopping Yomogi going back for her, and the two continuing on. I don’t know about you, but to me this feels like Yume wordlessly giving Yomogi her answer.

The two join Chise and Koyomi to take one last look at Gauma’s home under the bridge and bid farewell to Knight and Second, who are taking the now-inert Dynazenon and Gridknight with them. It must be tough, but Chise accepts that the best and coolest friend she ever had doesn’t belong in the world of logic and reason.

Speaking of which, Chise is back in her slick street clothes, since her school was one of the casualties of the climactic battle. That’s a pretty cool touch. As for Koyomi, he looks so different three months later with his haircut and well-fitting suit, I assumed at first he was a last-minute cameo from the Gridmanverse. Chise has also ditched her sleeve, revealing a Goldburn tattoo that was there all along. Looks like her friend will always be with her after all.

That leaves the inevitable cultural festival scene. Yomogi and Yume’s class is doing a horror café, and their shift is about to start but Yume is trying to shirk her duty. After pointing his mom and new stepdad—whom he seems to have accepted and even get along with— to the tickets, he is selected by his friends to track Yume down.

After seeing Mai’s photo exhibition (she decided to use photos of Yume after all which…why would you not), Yume finds the highest place in the school and sings a song in tribute to Kano. Then, as she was probably expecting, Yomogi finds her. She reaches out her hand and, after he recalls a final convo with Shizumu about how he was rejecting a future as a fellow kaiju user, but he was okay with that, he takes her hand and helps her onto her feet.

You can really feel the weight of he characters and the touch of their hands thanks to the animation and sound. She then scolds Yomogi for using her last name Minami, Yomogi relents and calls her Yume while blushing all the way, and Yume lets out a cheekily mirthful laugh.

Once they’re done their shift (as a bloody corpse and mummy, respectively), Yume and Yomogi pose for a photo with the others, and notice they still have their scars. Yume hopes they’ll never lose them, since they’re precious reminders of how they found themselves, found other, and learned to find happiness in their lives. These crazy kids are going to be alright.

The final scene is of Knight and Second arriving back in what I’ll call Akane’s illusory world. I’ll go ahead and assume Yomogi & Co.’s world was pretty much our world. While this is pretty cool to see, it’s not as huge or goosebump-inducing as Gridman’s live action mic drop. IN fact, you could probably make a case that Yomogi’s world is also a fake, simply because everyone looks like they’re in an anime.

That’s further food for thought, but in the end, my cerebral stomach is feeling pretty satisfied already. SSSS Dynazenon was one hell of an eclectic, sumptuous meal, a brilliant and epic melding of the absurd and mundane, both impossibly fantastical and piercingly real. I’m really going to miss this gang of misfits, but assuming Trigger isn’t done with robots, kaiju, and alienated, flawed, and immensely charming characters, I look forward to the next entry in the Gridman Universe.

To Your Eternity – 07 – What’s Lost is Lost

Note: This episode was originally mislabeled as episode 6. It is episode 7. Apologies for the mix-up!

To Your Eternity simply knows how to spin a damned good yarn, no matter the characters or setting. This week shifts the focus to Gugu: a cheerful, energetic, enterprising young lad who lives in a tent with his brother down by the river. The two save up money to one day live in a big mansion they can see in the distance.

While working at a produce stall in the town market, Gugu notices a cute young lady wandering around, looking for something…or someone. That evening an adorable powder-puff of a doglet approaches him and he offers half his dinner to the little guy.

For his generosity, the dog approaches him the next day at the market, and just happens to be who the wealthy girl was looking for. She rewards him with a ring she got as a gift from her father which she says he can sell and never work at a produce stall again.

Gugu clearly appreciates her taking his hand in hers and looking right at him with her stunning amethyst eyes more than any trinket. When he trots home on cloud nine with the ring and a bag full of coins from selling produce, he finds his brother has gone off with all of their money to “pursue his fate”—one of which he clearly didn’t consider Gugu a part.

Crestfallen and suddenly alone, Gugu continues on, but as he watches a primitive train loaded with logs pass, he contemplates—just for a moment—jumping in front of that train in order to “change”. He immediately dispels that thought as madness, but just then one of the logs flies off, and misses hitting him by an inch.

When the train driver runs off to get help, he asks Gugu to watch the log, but the shrub holding it in place gives way and it starts to roll down the hill, where the girl in the green dress happens to be picking flowers by the riverbed. Somewhat incredibly, she hears neither the log nor Gugus yells of warning.

He manages to shove her out of harm’s way, though she takes a tumble and loses consciousness. The log comes right down on his head, smashing it…but miraculously, he doesn’t die. He just changed…just as he wanted to, only not like this!

The spirited old coot who asked Gugu for seeds at the market discovers him some time later, and takes him to his home—ironically, the giant mansion Gugu and his brother envied so. Gugu wakes up on a slaughtering table, with a variety of masks and a helmet staring back at him.

He looks in the mirror and sees that he’s become disfigured. He has a pot belly now, and his nose and face are ruined and grotesque. But the old man, a brewer, says he can still eat, and is incredibly lucky, so he should keep on living. He offers the expressive helmet to Gugu, who slips it on and becomes “a kind of monster” that isn’t him.

Three months later, Fushi and Pioran arrive at the Brewer’s house, and we are where last episode left off. Despite the episode only spending half of its time on his backstory, at this point I was already fully emotionally invested in Gugu as a character, and eager to see how he’d help Fushi change and evolve…until inevitably dying and having his form copied by said Fushi.

But before the pain , some joy, as Gugu revels in meeting a new brother figure, even though he seems to possess the intelligence of a baby and his clothes stick to him in a very odd fashion. Gugu teaches Fushi the ropes as he goes through his busy yet oddly fulfilling routine of hard work leading to a warm and cozy family dinner.

Amusingly, both “Booze Man” and Pioran are eager to profit on Fushi’s uncanniness, but Gugu won’t let them sell or exploit him, and they seem to respect the kid’s wishes, likely glad he’s found a friend.

Then something happens that was always inevitable, but comes as a shock to Gugu: the return of the girl in green, for whom he gladly sacrificed his face to save, even though she hasn’t the slightest clue she was saved by the same boy who found her dog, or that that same boy is manning this shop.

Blushing through his helmet the whole time, Gugu recommends some non-alcoholic provisions that could help the girl with the wound she’s still nursing from three months ago. When the girl blushes in return and asks for his name, he tells her, before she says “not you, him”, referring to the tall, light, and handsome Fushi she proceeds to flirt with. Her name, incidentally, is Rean.

Poor Gugu can’t ever seem catch a break! He also never gives up, but just keeps on grinding. Even if he feels he can never show his face to a girl like Rean, he’ll at least try to make the rest of him attractive, so he starts anm intensive fitness regimen.

Fushi joins in, because he doesn’t sleep and has nothing else to do, and the Brewer laughs his old man laugh, glad that once more Gugu is shaking off heartbreak and pain, and should grow into a good man. Fushi picks up on the old man’s laugh and mimics it, until the two of them and Pioran are all laughing together.

In an arc that’s almost certain to end in tragedy like its predecessors, I will surely take the joy with which this episode ended while I can. March and Parona are still my Mommy and Daddy, respectively, but this new arc will do just fine. It felt like wrapping oneself in a new blanket with a slightly different smell and feel than the old one you were used to. One gets used to the change, just as all of us must.

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 01 (First Impressions) – Not Just for the Fun of It

This is going to be one of those shows most viewers will either hate with a steaming passion from the moment the titular Nagatoro first speaks, or follow with a kind of morbid curiosity about just how much teasing, taunting, and straight-up abuse our MC Hachiouji Naoto is ready, willing, and able to endure before he snaps and…asks her out!

Nagatoro’s way with Naoto can be very stressful at times, even for someone who wasn’t bullied as a youth. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is just not a pleasant time for some people, and would totally understand if they want to wash their hands of this show after its first outing made clear what it’s going to be about.

All that said, I came away from Nagatoro thoroughly entertained, and I think a lot of that has to do with tuning into its very particular wavelength. It certainly helps that Uesaka Sumire is so good in voicing Nagatoro’s role, and the visuals are gorgeous and sometimes downright stunning. You have to buy into the idea that for as horrible as she is for much of this episode, this is all really Nagatoro’s way of engaging—and flirting—with Naoto.

Nagatoro is first introduced as one of four faceless gyaru-esque types loudly carrying on in the library, where none of the shyer people around them have the guts to tell them to shut up or leave. Naoto is intimidated by their mere presence on the opposite end of the room, thinking he’s never going to have anything to do with “that species”.

When one of the girls picks up a manga drawing he dropped, Nagatoro seems more interested than the others, and stays behind while they go hang out elsewhere. This is key, as no one else is around during all of the teasing that ensues when she has a flustered Naoto reenact the scene from his manga with her. That’s not an accident; I think she likes it that way.

Nagatoro may be ridiculously irritating and invasive and almost utterly contemptuous of personal boundaries, but she is this way to Naoto and no one else, and with no one else around. It’s the same in the art club, when she makes sure they’re alone before teasing him by offering to be a nude model.

I daresay Nagatoro gets off on dominating the year-older Naoto. Her face does a lot of things throughout the episode, but one thing that stands out is that she’s often blushing just as much if not more than he is while she’s engaged in her teasing. When he’s knocked backwards when she unbuttons her top, she blushes. When she relents and agrees to draw her normally (with her clothes on) she blushes.

She’s loving every minute of this, and seems to be fueled by Naoto’s passivity and submissiveness. Her criticism of his manga and his portrait of her is actually pretty constructive when you think about it, as her goal seems to be to get him to either draw a manga with a character more like him or to become more like his character. She also wants him to draw her better, which means she wants him to draw her again. She was, after all, the first girl he ever looked at so closely.

When Nagatoro makes Naoto cry in the library and she offers him a handkerchief, it almost feels like rubbing salt in the wound. But then when she makes him cry again—after she physically overpowers him and says he’s “so weak”—her demeanor softens considerably and she apologizes while gently drying his eyes, admitting she “had to” mess with him again.

More like she couldn’t resist, because she gets so much pleasure out of riling him up…and also out of drying his eyes. It’s like she’s breaking him down so she can build him back up. In any case, it’s a very cute and tender moment when she realizes she might’ve gone too far there.

That said, Nagatoro continues to pester Naoto as he leaves school, and they apparently share a route home. It’s here whre Nagatoro may actually be hiding a genuine request to go out with her behind a layer of teasing. Sure, even if Naoto straightened up and said “yes”, she’d laugh it off as a joke, but the simple fact that Nagatoro won’t leave him and only him alone means there’s something there.

When she accidentally pushes him into the river (due to some creative physics on the part of the episode) and he comes out soaking but still not letting her have it, she remarks how he never seems to get angry. The thing is, Naoto is used to bullying and used to dealing with it by looking away and closing his mind. Because of that, he doesn’t remember the faces of his previous bullies.

When prompted, he tells Nagatoro that she ticks him off and gets on his nerves, but “he doesn’t hate it that much…talking with [her] and stuff”. Having called her simply “miss” throughout their interactions, Nagatoro finally gets him to ask her for her name, and for good measure, she writes it on his chest with her finger, never passing up a chance to get a rise out of him.

The episode ends with her trademark devilish smirk, but also flushed cheeks as she says “Let’s get to know each other, Senpai.” I’m willing to give Nagatoro the benefit of the doubt because Naoto is, and has dealt with worse treatment before, and to him Nagatoro simply feels different. Perhaps it feels less like a bully and victim, and more like a dom/sub or top/bottom relationship? And it also feels safer because so far all of the humiliation she’s brought upon him has been private?

I doubt at this point that Naoto perceives that Nagatoro harbors genuine attraction to him precisely because he lets her drive him to tears, but as he said, he doesn’t entirely hate it that much. Will the D/s dynamic continue, or will Naoto start to try to assert himself more as he grows more comfortable around her? I’m eager to see where this goes. Your mileage may well vary considerably.

Episode 1 “Senpai” Count: 51

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 09 – Look Over Here

In Failed Attempt #5,704 to get one over on Takagi-san, Nishitaka challenges her to a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors With “Look Over There” (Acchi Muite Hoi), where the winner tries to get the loser to look where they point.

As usual, Nishikata underestimates Takagi, who not only fails to look where he points when he does win, but gets him to look exactly where she wants, distracting him by asking if he has a crush on her.

After Hina accidentally determines that Yukari’s talent is that she has none, Nishikata arrives at class the next day to find Takagi is…a little off. The whole day goes by without her teasing him, and she doesn’t offer to walk home together, so Nishikata is worried. He may claim to dislike her teasing, but if it doesn’t feel right when she doesn’t, what does that say about his true feelings on the matter?

On his way home he spots Takagi’s bike by a shrine, and finds her sitting by herself, as she says it, “spacing out.” Turns out she had a fight with her mom, and was feeling down. But without even trying, Nishikata manages to cheer her up, with the very “mystery box” full of cotton with which he intended to scare her. She has a laugh, and when Nishikata moves to leave, she gently, warmly asks if he’d stay a little longer. Who is he to refuse?

When Kimura shows Nishikata a dumb trick through text message, Nishikata reconsiders trying it on Takagi, worried she’s still feeling down because of her mom. But she texts him, saying she made up and everything is fine now, so he proceeds to send her a photo of his arm that vaguely looks like a butt.

Takagi punishes Nishikata for such a lame attempt to trick her/gross her out, she sends a number of questions to him that if he’s not careful how he words his responses, it could read as him confessing his love. He tries to play that game by texting “how about a kisu”, referring to the fish whose name sounds like “kiss.”

Takagi utterly defeats him once more by sending him a video response of her lying in bed, earnestly responding “I love (them),” then sending a text correctly assuming he’s blushing, and daring him to send a pic of his face to prove he isn’t. Of course, as she heads downstairs for dinner and bids him goodbye until school tomorrow, she’s blushing too.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 08 – A Better Dream

This week Takagi and Nishikata get “stuck” in the storage shed after gym class, as Nishikata pretends he can’t open the door in order to scare Takagi. Honestly it’s a pretty sizable “own goal” on his part, as Takagi doesn’t mind being alone in a shed with Nishikata one bit. She even realizes pretty quickly that the door’s not really locked, but if he’s going to make conditions so perfect for teasing, who is she to resist?

While in the dim shed Nishikata scrapes a knee, so Takagi takes him to the conveniently empty nurse’s office to administer antiseptic. Again, the two are all alone, and Takagi makes sure to point this out, sitting on the bed with Nishikata (the second bed of the episode!) and putting her hand just an inch from his, daring him to hold it and claim victory. Unfortunately, Nishikata…just can’t do it.

When the two compare dreams of what they’d do with a million (then ten million) yen, we can see the recurring theme of Nishikata being an unapologetic, helpless…kid. He wants to buy all the video games and comics; she wants to go on vacation with “someone she loves”—someone Nishikata can’t yet realize or accept to be…him.

Presumably, at some point, Nishikata will grow up a little more and take Takagi’s numerous, increasingly obvious hints. Or perhaps the time will come when Takagi will stop “teasing” and simply tell him upfront how she feels, leaving no room for doubt and not following it up with a “just joking.”

Mind you, I’m not saying that’s Takagi’s responsibility to move this thing forward. For all I know, she’s fine with things the way they are—which is why she’s not pressing—or she’s waiting to see how things play out. In any case, her odds of a desirable outcome are surely better than winning a 10 million-yen lotto ticket.

3-gatsu no Lion – 38

3GL is delivered in chapters, not episodes, so it’s not unusual for chapters that go long to pour into the next episode. That can sometimes seem random, but it also keeps the rhythm of the show fresh. And while we get three very different chapters, they all contain the same theme: Rei getting over his match and subsequent evening with Souya and rejoining mankind.

The Chairman gives Rei a call and is relieved both that Rei is fine and that he’s taking care of Souya. The Chairman throws a little dig at Rei for being so good at caring for others for his age, but he doesn’t know how much of an affect the Kawamoto sisters have had on him, and Rei may not even know he’s paying their kindness forward.

 

The Chairman also lets Rei in on a little-known fact: Souya’s hearing comes and goes, and the doctors can’t pinpoint anything other than “stess” as the cause.

There’s a great melancholy in the Chairman saying “just leave [Souya] alone and he’ll be fine”, but he’s proven right the next morning, when not only has Souya taken off before Rei, but paid for his room as thanks for assisting him yesterday.

Rei has a tendency to see Souya as some kind of god roaming the earth, unaware of its strange customs; one could also call him (shogi) royalty; a young king who has never had to live in the real world.

And when Souya is gone, the storm is gone as well, replaced by an almost fake-looking blue sky. The blinding white light of his “Souya Storm” match is back up in the sky, hanging there as the sun. It all feels like a weird dream, and Rei gets lost in it.

The sounds of school and other people around him gets muffled, replaced by the crisp sounds of the shogi pieces smacking against the board…almost like a tinnitus.

With the epic “White Storm” over, we get a titular—literal—”Restart” that gives us a fresh dose of the always-wonderful Kawamoto sisters.

Their half of the chapter plays like an after-episode omake, as they give us step-by-step instructions on how to make the perfect pork juice-marinated soft boiled egg, accompanying delectably tender braised pork.

It was nice to check into the sisters’ warm little world—particularly now that Hana (her hair up in a mature bun) is over her bullying ordeal and looking forward to seeing Chiho soon. But I couldn’t help but feel a bit worried by Rei’s text declining the dinner invite.

The last thing we need is him starting to follow in Souya’s footsteps, making the Fausitan deal of shogi divinity in exchange for utter and profound lifelong loneliness as the sounds of the world around him fades out. Let’s not go there, please!

When the chapter returns to Rei, who is so deep in the notes of his match with Souya Shimada has to stop him from getting trucked, my weariness for such a development lingered. However, once Shimada brings up Nikaidou, I was pleased to discover I had nothing to worry about.

Rei is at first shocked Nikaidou is already out of the hospital and playing matches, then worried for his classically shaky health. Shimada also tells him it’s likely Nik is feeling depressed since his absences have forced him to forfeit some matches, making rank demotion a possibility.

But Nikaidou isn’t depressed; he’s right where he wants to be, and when Rei checks in on him, he’s defeated an 8-dan with an all-new move he’s hopeful they’ll name after him. Seeing Rei there only compounds Nikaidou’s manic joy, and when Rei sees how wrong Shimada was and how happy his friend is, he can’t help but smile and laugh—something Souya could never do. I reckon Rei will be fine!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 04

This week  the happy little world of Nishikata and Takagi is invaded, as the secondary characters begin to notice the two are together an awful lot beyond class. Take the first segment, in which Nishikata has to clean the science room because he’s so loud.

Takagi joins him, not to help clean, or because she feels guilty, or even to tease him more. Rather, she wants to “enjoy their youth”, the way another couple is clearly doing when they spot Nishikata and Takagi on the way to the rooftop. For Takagi, enjoyng her youth means spending as much time as she can with Nishikata.

Clearly Nishikata doesn’t mind hanging out with Takagi that badly, even if she does tease him a lot. Indeed, he seems to savor the challenge of fighting against such a formidable opponent, and never lets the discouragement of virtually never winning against her get to him for very long.

While on the way home, Nishikata challenges Takagi to a high-bar kickover, something he’s only just recently mastered. Takagi agrees to do it, but only if he looks the other way, as she’s wearing a skirt. The first time they both do one, but he doesn’t know whether she cheated, so the next time, he peeks.

When he does, he learns not only that Takagi is doing proper kickovers, but is wearing gym shorts under her skirt. But even if she made him look away despite that, he’s honorable enough to admit defeat because he peeked, even if she calls him a pervert.

Nishikata often shows he’s a good lad, but his desire to best Takagi sometimes leads to unnecessary deceit. When he comes in with an apparent cold, Takagi immediately presumes it’s because he stayed up all night watching 100% Unrequited Love anime.

Nishikata intends to make Takagi blush by telling her she’s “cute”, but ends up too embarrassed to say something meant to embarrass her. He’s so thrown off he claims to not have a cold after all!

While Takagi still believes he has a cold (which he actually does), she seems frustrated she can’t tease him as usual lest she make him cough, so when he later insists he’s fine (after watching how damn cute she is when sitting quietly), she just starts teasing him even harder to make up for lost time!

Finally, Nishikata and Takagi are spotted by the three girls. Yukari assumes they’re a couple and decides to tail them to confirm it. Takagi being a particularly observant person (and the trio not being that stealthy), she and Nishikata take a quick turn around a corner and then hide, throwing the girls off the trail and causing them to give up.

In the process, Nishikata and Takagi have to squeeze together very close—closer than under the umbrella last week—and Nishikata is understandably flustered, but when asked if he would have preferred a different tactic, he drops the matter.

Takagi then immediately sets off on the race to the shrine they proposed. Nishikata cries ‘false start’, but honestly, the only thing he can and should do in such a situation is chase after Takagi…which he does.

 

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 03

When Takagi spots Nishikata and suggests they walk home together, Nishikata offers her some of his drink, thinking she won’t go for an “indirect kiss.” Of course, she’s fine with it; it’s Nishikata who wigs out at the prospect.

Nishikata then makes a fluke shot with the empty can in the garbage can and gets all cocky when Takagi misses. Turns out her miss was a trap; her next shot goes right in, then interrupts his shot by saying she’ll give him her first kiss if he makes it. He misses.

The next day Nishikata estimates he was teased fifteen times by Takagi, so when he hears form a sports figure on the TV that he trains ten times harder when he loses, he begins doing pushups. At school, he’s all sore, and Takagi takes advantage by poking his arm.

Nishikata keeps up the training, despite the fact Takagi teases him more and more with each passing day. However Takagi later admits that she’s starting to notice the effects of the training, saying he “looks pretty good;” while she may be sincere, she’s also trying to make him blush, and she succeeds.

Finaly, on a rainy afternoon Takagi forgets her umbrella, so asks Nishikata if he can share. He tries to scare her with a frog, but it doesn’t faze her in the least, and when she notices his wet shoulder, she scoots closer to him, causing his heart to race even more in such an awkward situation.

In all three segments, Takagi is both testing and expanding the limits of contact with Nishikata, all while inducing the priceless reactions she lives for. It gets to the point where she tries to get Nishikata to say “I love you” in both Japanese and English.

He bristles as expected, but some day, perhaps a couple years from now, he might not think all this attention from and contact with Takagi to be so torturous.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 02

Nothing new to report, but that’s a good thing: Master Teaser Takagi-san continues bringing the warmth, charm, and sweetness. It does so with a trio of new situations, starting with calligraphy class, in which Takagi and Nishikata agree to write “what they want from one another.”

Nishikata, believing this an opportunity to get Takagi to stop teasing him, first writes”restraint”, but she writes “status quo.” When he writes “kindness”, Takagi suddenly seems really kind, even though she didn’t see what he wrote.

Finally, he decides not to dance around it anymore, and simply writes “Don’t tease me,” then backs it up with direct spoken words as well. Takagi really enjoys teasing him, but she says she’ll “try her best” not to.

Of course, she wrote her calligraphy before making that promise: “You have ink on your face,” and she put it there while acting kind! Mind you, she kinda cheated by writing what was on him instead of what she wanted from him. Alas, Nishikata is too embarrassed to point that out.

After a brief interlude in which the three girls in Takagi and Nishikata’s class struggle to change to their short-sleeved uniforms on the same day, it’s back to the cute couple who have eyes only for one another, who are in English Translation class. (Hey! A school anime that actually depicts students in class most of the time! AMAZING!)

Nishikata finally gets a relatively clever idea: it’s June 18th, and Takagi is student #18, so he tries to distract her so that when the teacher calls on her, she’ll be unprepared. The plan seems to succeed at first, with Takagi even betraying a half-moment of flustered-ness we’ve come to expect of Nishikata. But when called upon, she knows exactly what line to read.

Noticing Nishikata looking at her, Takagi turns the tables by saying she’s “always thinking” about Nishikata, and the teacher decides to add the month and the day to select Student #24…Nishikata. And yet, for all her teasing, you get the feeling she’s being honest about thinking about Nishikata a lot, just as he thinks about her.

Teasing Nishikata is Takagi’s way of expressing her interest in him, it’s just that he’s so wound up in the cycle of teasing, he either overlooks the underlying affection or suspects it as another layer of teasing. And it’s often both!

That inability to ever interpret Takagi correctly rears its head in the final segment, “Pool.” Nishikata can’t swim due to a bandaged hand, and to his shock, Takagi is also sitting it out. She correctly guesses that his hand was injured when he tried to pet a stray cat, so she asks him to guess why she’s not swimming.

When she holds her stomach, he remembers a classmate saying girls on their period don’t swim and experience abdominal pain. But he doesn’t want to say that, because it’s generally considered rude. Searching for another reason, he remembers another sage classmate telling him small-chested girls are self-conscious about their chest size.

This time, we get visualizations of how Nishikata thinks the interactions with Takagi will go after giving each answer. When he also remembers that periods are nothing to be ashamed of, he finally guesses that, which is wrong…and rude, says an apparently offended Takagi.

However, she immediately laughs afterwards, then slowly removes her shirt and shorts in front of Nishikata to reveal her school swimsuit. Turns out she only stayed out of the pool so she could tease Takagi. She says hopefully next time they’ll be able to swim together. Takagi is dubious as always, but I don’t doubt Takagi’s sincerity in the slightest. So till then, Nishikata, avoid stray cats!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 01 (First Impressions)

It’s said that boys tease girls that they like. It’s also said they do this because, in their adolescence, they don’t yet know how else to express their like properly.

Well, in Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san, the titular girl Takagi teases the Nishikata, the boy who likes her, and the time and effort she puts into getting him to laugh, shout, and/or otherwise disrupt class and get in trouble, suggests the affection is mutual.

Of course, this is middle school, so Nishikata treats Takagi’s incessant teasing as something that must be responded to in kind. He focuses on the fact this girl is beating him at the teasing game he wants to win, instead of the fact that, hey, this pretty girl is interested in me.

This teasing takes three forms in the first episode: an eraser (upon which one writes the name of their crush), during early day duty (where Takagi lies in wait behind a curtain) and with funny faces (which Takagi immediately turns back on Nishikata).

In every case, Takagi always wins and is always at least one step ahead, and Nishikata always fumes internally, his pride constantly being shattered.

To which I say WHO CARES? If this lady wants to tease you, let her! Don’t get so worked up about being beaten. (I know, I know, he can’t hear me. Even if he could, he wouldn’t listen.) 

In any case, I never tired of watching Takagi get one over on Nishikata, and I don’t think I ever will, which is why I think I can keep this on my Winter list. Takahashi Rie and Kaji Yuki’s voices are a delight to listen to. The show is oozing with warmth and charm.

Just Because! – 01 (First Impressions)

With a rookie director, two rookie seiyuus in the lead roles and a super-vague synopsis, I had no idea what to expect from Just Because! —all I had to work with was a script by the guy who wrote seven scripts for Gundam IBO. What I did know was that Just Because! is a pretty nifty title.

We begin with an extended introduction to the neck-of-the-woods where we’ll presumably be spending time, and the show seemingly blows its entire suspended monorail budget in those first few minutes. Still, it’s a nice slow, but not flashy, establishment of this world.

The slow unflashiness continues at school, where there seems to be a dreary atmosphere; a malaise waiting to be snuffed out. Like the transfer student we eventually meet, we’re thrust into this school without knowing quite who to follow or what to do. That lack of bearing is essential to putting us in the mindspace of the protagonist, before he’s even anywhere near the center of the frame.

I’ll admit, I was dubious when terms like “transfer student” and “disbanding tiny club” came up; I consider myself just about clubbed out (both dance clubs and tiny school clubs in anime) and combined with the leisurely pace, I was starting to get a bit bored and depressed with this place. Especially when there’s no one or two people in focus for most of the episode. Even the camera feels afraid of showing us the players in this story.

Then Izumi Eita and Souma Haruto unexpectedly reunite on a baseball field after not contacting each other for the better part of four years (after Izumi moved away). He’s back for one semester, and while he and Haruto are initially a bit cool to each other, they manage to reconnect via baseball, with Izumi pitching and Haruto eager to hit a home run (I speak literally here, not in sexual euphemisms, BTW).

As their pitch-and-hit session heats up (hehe), it gradually garners the attention of the three other protagonists: the girl who is angry the photo club could be disbanded (the fiery Komiya Ena), the girl who plays the trumpet (Morikawa Hatsuki, providing the incidental score to the final act), and the former student council president who seems both jealous and part okay with the fact her friends went off to have fun without her (Natsume Mio).

Izumi and Souma are the magnets that draw the others together, though their individual vantage points keep them from realizing they’re all watching the same thing. This drawing together of disparate gazes also brings the show into focus. Finally, at the very end, we see people having fun, smiling, and laughing, after three quarters of an episode of somberness and ennui approaching existential dread.

Having hit a home run like he intended (but never thought he’d actually do), Souma goes off to ask Morikawa out, but he and Izumi exchange texts, and Izumi learns that Natsume, whom he also knows from the past, is also attending this school. Neither Izumi nor Natsume seem particularly happy at the start of this episode, but perhaps that will change when they reunite.

Orange – 11

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After the sports festival ended with a kiss, the next hurdle in the battle to save Kakeru is Christmas Eve and New Year’s. Specifically, Naho wants to avoid a fight she believes may have led to Kakeru closing his heart and taking his own life not long afterwards. Suwa later comforted her that night, and also confessed to her, leading to the future where they married and had a kid.

It makes sense for Naho to want to avoid getting in a fight with Kakeru on New Year’s, but this time her letter was a lot more vague about what exactly she could do.

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After a relay race win that was a team effort for her and her friends, she’s on her own again, and Suwa is more concerned with keeping himself out of the equation all together: no shrine visit, no comforting, no confession.

Hagita wonders if changing the future to such an extent is really okay and right…but Suwa sees it another, more quantum way: the minute they got their letters from the future, they were no longer in the world that led to that future. They’ve on off on a tangeant that will result in a new future, while that old future will continue on unaffected.

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Temporal technobabble aside, nothing Suwa does or doesn’t do matters in the end. In the end, Kakeru wants to go home to his grandma, and Naho asks if he’d stay a little longer, assuring him his grandma will be just fine. That confident assertion sets Kakeru off. He rejects Naho’s notion one can simply decide things will be okay, because he thought that way about his mom before she took her life.

He still blames himself for her death, which means Naho is only able to do so much; she’s no therapist, and it’s possible no words she could have come up with, up to and including a prompt apology for angering him, would have done any good. Suwa comforts her again, but skips the confession, instead urging her to go after Kakeru.

But when she calls Kakeru, he smashes his phone, clearly fed up with talking. Naho, Suwa & Co.’s best just wasn’t enough to avoid history from repeating itself. Here’s hoping there’s still a way to salvage this mess.

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Orange – 10

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Kakeru continues to look and act forlorn, and even Naho in a cheerleader outfit doesn’t change that. What ultimately does is a team effort by Naho, Suwa, Hagita, Azu and Tako, which is not only used to help Kakeru carry a futon (kind of a bizarre errand in the middle of a sports festival, if you ask me).

The metaphor is not subtle, but effective: his burdens will be lighter because they’ll help bear them. Kakeru feels safe enough to reveal the cause of his less-than-stellar mood: he’s unsure if he should be laughing and having fun when his mom could be watching.

Well duh, any mom would want their kid to be happy, and to not let himself be happy would only worry her, jsut as it worries Naho and the others.

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It becomes clear to all that there’s no way they’ll be able to dissuade Kakeru from participating in the relay, so they have to carry it out, doing everything they can on their end to make sure it’s a victory, and hoping fate doesn’t rain on their parade in the form of Kakeru worsening his injury, losing the relay to the blue team, and restart a spiral of regret and self-hatred.

Just before the relay, both Suwa and Kakeru are given extra motivation to win the whole thing: a kiss from Naho, which she neither agrees nor disagrees to (she’s too shocked by the prospect). As for Azusa and Hagita, yeah, this is starting to get old. Just date already. Right now. Do it.

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I never thought I’d get all excited about Emotionally Significant School Relay #937…but with some serious stakes in play, I daresay I was. A strong lead by Suwa starts to erode when Tako and Azu run, but Hagita manages to pass a few people.

After Naho’s leg, Kakeru summons heretofore unsummoned athletic ability and hits the finish tape first, no down cheered on by the telephone-style message constructed by his teammates, ending with the sentiments that they’ll all be together in ten years

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After the race, Kakeru’s grandma recalls a relay in the past that his mother attended not long after getting divorced, when Kekeru looked down-in-the-dumps…until he won, and flashed the same smile he flashed today. So all’s well that ends well; Naho & Co. change the future again, without any further speed bumps in the relay phase.

That only leaves the matter of Naho’s “promised kiss.” When coming in close to bandage his shoulder scrape, Kakeru ends up stealing a little kiss to her cheek before running off, no doubt over the moon. Naho reacts exactly the way you’d expect: stunned silence, followed shortly by a warm expression of acknowledgment in said kiss’s power.

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