Citrus – 04

After what went down in the chairman’s office, Yuzu is now afraid to even face Mei, and so retreats to the safety of Harumin’s traditional house, where she lives with her grandmother. Harumin really shines as Yuzu’s dependable and caring friend, while professing she doesn’t mind because Yuzu is so fun to hang out with. But in the night, Yuzu is wide awake, and her mind is racing. So is Mei’s, as she lies alone back home.

Vice president Momokino Himeko is an apparent witness to Yuzu and Mei’s little tryst, and when Yuzu spots her heading her way, she bolts. When she finally stops, Himeko asks her about the chairman’s office, and Yuzu agrees to meet her outside of school to discuss it.

The meeting spot is a very hoity-toity tea room where Himeko is all dolled up like, well, a doll, and she doesn’t mince words: she wants to know what happened in that office. Himeko, you see, has known “Mei-mei” for ten years, and is her closest and most loyal and dedicated friend. She was by Mei’s side when her father left her.

Translation: she has, and has always had, the hots for Mei, big time, and Yuzu is in the effing way, and needs to eff off, though she frames it as not wanting Yuzu to continue hurting Mei. However, when Yuzu leaves the tea room and bumps into Mei by chance, Mei calls her “Yuzu” and asks when she’s returning home.

Himeko thus learns for the first time that the two are sisters and living together—everything she probably wanted and believes she deserves—and she’s devastated.

Yuzu has trouble reading Mei on their trip home (as usual) but presumes she’s not too mad, and asserts that her usual quietness is actually comforting. When Mei senses Yuzu wants some kind of closure, she kisses Yuzu back, but that one kiss is all Yuzu gets; Mei goes straight to sleep.

The next day, Himeko, feeling threatened further when Yuzu intrudes on her “commute time” with Mei, makes a drastic move, assaulting Mei in the student council office by biting her ear, groping her above and below, and kissing her.

It’s harsh, callous betrayal, reinforced by what we know of “Hime” thus far: she pretends to care about Mei, but really only cares about herself, and wants to ensure Mei remains “hers.” She reports her line-crossing to Yuzu, and when Yuzu feigns ignorance of her feelings for Mei, Himeko asks her for her blessing, calling her “onee-sama.”

Himeko may be a stickler for the rules at school, but when it comes to Mei, she’ll do ruthlessly whatever it takes to keep hold of her prize. Yuzu must either fight back or get left in the dust. There’s also the matter of protecting her emotionally vulnerable little sister from a friend who has turned predatory.

Why do I regard Himeko’s jumping of Mei so differently from Yuzu’s? Two reasons: First, Mei started this…thing with Yuzu; Mei admitted as much to Yuzu. She did no such thing with Himeko.

Second, Yuzu regrets jumping Mei, and knows it was a moment of weakness; Himeko has so far shown no remorse; only contempt for Yuzu, intense possessiveness of “Mei-mei”, and utter disregard for her feelings I’m hoping her transgressions don’t go unpunished.

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Darling in the FranXX – 02

Last week was pretty much Hiro, his rough break-up with Naomi, meeting Zero Two, and taking care of the crisis. This week things slow down a bit as we’re introduced to the rest of the squad where Hiro once again has a home. That includes the squad leader Ichigo, very well-voiced by Ichinose Kana in her first role (and sounding a bit like another, more famous Kana).

Ichigo clearly harbors feelings for Hiro of which he’s clearly unaware, and so she sees Zero Two as an interloper. Setting aside the fact that she swooped in and snatched Hiro practically the moment Naomi peaced out, Ichigo doesn’t want to see him get hurt, and Zero Two seems like the type who will hurt. She barges into the squad’s chow and pours honey over everything like a weirdo.

Hiro is the eleventh of a squad of ten, but Zero Two isn’t the twelfth; her fate is unknown, leaving Hiro with no official partner or FranXX. Ichigo is the unquestioned elite squad leader, but one can tell the redhead Miku maintains a quiet envy for her stature (as demonstrated in the classic locker room scene with fanservice and plug-suit fitting).

Ichigo and Miku are “pistils”, and their “stamens” are the studious Gorou and wild Zorome. Gorou is very friendly with Hiro (and not threatened by Ichigo’s affection for him) and seems like a nice guy, but Zorome is your classic heel/rival character who will likely keep berating and running Hiro down until Hiro does something (not counting last week).

Rounding out the group are the pistil-stamen pairs of Kokoro/Futoshi (the lovey-doveyest) and Ikuno/Mitsuru. When the pairs enter their colorful, distinctive FranXXs, we see that the actual pistil-stamen interface is a little…suggestive, with the girl on all fours while the guy stands behind and “drives.”

Basically, the girl is an interface between the guy and the FranXX; without total synchonicity between partners, the FranXX won’t work properly. Adding to the suggestiveness is the fact that interfacing is very physically taxing and sometimes painful, so that while operating a FranXX, everyone’s breathing heavily and occasionally making weird noises.

After their first official sortie as parasites, the pairs stand down. Zero Two continues to loiter around, invoking the ire of Ichigo, who isn’t afraid to warn Zero to stay away from Hiro. Though Ichigo might wish she hadn’t, as Zero Two gives her a taste. Out in the yard, Zorome wallops Hiro with a football, and the two get into each others faces, forcing Ichigo and Gorou to be the adults in this messed-up family and restore peace.

The thing is, Hiro can understand why Zorome is so dubious of his ability: Hiro himself doesn’t actually remember what happened after entering that cockpit being kissed by Zero Two. He only remembers the feeling, and he wants to get back to it so he can prove to Zorome, Ichigo, the others, and most importantly himself that he can pilot a FranXX.

Well, Hiro promptly gets his Shot, though perhaps not quite under the circumstances he’d hoped for. The brass (led by the mysterious “Papa”) okays a FranXX mock battle to test Hiro, but Zero Two isn’t allowed to partner with him this time.

Even before that was made clear, Ichigo volunteers to partner with him, hoping she can bring out the pilot in Hiro as much as her pink-haired nemesis. Zorome volunteers to be the opponent, and eager for an opportunity to prove her worth against Ichigo, Miku agrees as well.

The second Ichigo got her wish, I knew things were not going to go well, but things start out just fine, with Hiro and Ichigo reaching 100% sync rate and activating her FranXX Delphinium, without any trouble. And then, not ten seconds into the battle, it shuts down again.

Inside the cockpit, Ichigo is on all fours, sweating and heavily breathing as she and Hiro unleash a flurry of double entendres that, taken out of context, sound like dialogue from Girls, a show renowned for its awkward sex scenes:

Ichigo: What’s wrong?
Hiro: I don’t know. It just stopped.
Ichigo: Was it my fault?
Hiro: I don’t think so.
Ichigo: What did she do differently?
Hiro: I don’t know. I don’t remember.
Ichigo: Calm down. No need to rush.

Whew. Suffice it to say, as much as she may like Hiro and want to stick it to Zero Two, Ichigo and Hiro simply aren’t a good match in a FranXX.

When Hiro remembers that Zero Two kissed him and everything went “BOOM”, and Ichigo climbs onto Hiro and kisses him as well, it felt as much like a last-ditch effort to get things moving again as Ichigo not wanting Zero Two to have something she doesn’t with Hiro, i.e. a kiss.

That her kiss does absolutely nothing for Hiro only makes things worse. I can’t help but sympathize with both of them; things are not going well at all.

When Zorome starts kicking Delphinium while its down (with Miki and their FranXX Argentea), Ichigo remembers they’re in a fight, and decides to bypass a defeated, powerless, inert Hiro and pilot the FranXX by herself, a very risky maneuver that takes a lot out of her.

The mock battle ends with Hiro having hit a new low, with all hope of ever piloting anything again in grave jeopardy, with Ichigo feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and very much taken down a notch, and Zorome emboldened. Last week was Hiro’s bad breakup and fleeting fling with Z2; this week Ichigo attempted to reassert her bond with Hiro and it went horribly, horribly wrong.

The failure she endured in front of her squad is the kind of thing that might have far-reaching impact on her confidence at precisely the wrong time in her development as one of the defenders of humanity.  Here’s hoping things start to look up for both of them, both personally and professionally.

Just Because! – 12 (Fin)

Setting the final episode on the seniors’ final day of high school is an obvious touch, but a very effective one here on Just Because!. We can share that sense of accomplishment, relief, and anxiety the new grads are going through. There’s also the sense that everyone feels a bit out of place, from little details like flowers and parents to a completely different schedule of events from the usual routine.

Unfortunately, we have to wait quite a long time for the inevitable payoff of Izumi and Natsume meeting in college. That’s because they don’t see each other the entire episode. This seems at once a wry nod to viewers that such an inevitable payoff, while desired, isn’t something that can sustain an entire episode.

Rather than pad it out, JB! does a curtain roll of everything and everyone else, starting with the news that Izumi didn’t get into the fancy college he thinks Natsume is going to. She only texts him that she got in “her first choice”, without indicating that she changed it to his.

That profound misunderstanding threatened to mar all of the events in the episode that weren’t dedicated to resolving it, but it turned out to be an episode that rewarded patience. We also get an arguably superior scene to the episode’s final moments in Izumi and Komiya’s last scene together.

She won and lost the competition: lost because her photo of him didn’t win, but won because her fellow club member’s photo of her taking a picture of Izumi did win, which means the club, and her place of belonging survives. It’s little consolation for Izumi’s formal rejection, however, and both animators and seiyu LYNN really knock it out of the park with Komiya’s understandable reaction.

Speaking of dingers, we get a nice symmetry to the series when Izumi and Souma play ball in the yard again, only this time with their positions reversed. When Souma hands him the bat and says “hit a home run”, Izumi knows what he’s talking about, because of what hitting one meant for Souma.

That being said, Souma’s fiert first pitch immediately lets Izumi know he’s not lobbing a batting practice toss…Izumi has to earn his homer—and he does, making crisp contact that sends the ball flying, just as a jetliner screams overhead, the vapor trail imitating the ball’s path, making the homer seem that much more epic. Izumi runs off to Natsume.

Unfortunately, Natsume doesn’t wait on the hill long, as she assumes that Izumi won’t come, and a phone call from Yuriko and her celebrating friends lures her away before Izumi can get to the rendezvous point.

So that’s kinda that…and an entire month passes, without them speaking or even texting each other. To this, all I can say is, WTF, show? A month? Seriously? A longer period of time apart than the two have ever suffered, at so crucial a time in their lives? I’m not a fan of the choice, or the persistent lack of communication that caused it.

That being said, their encounter at college, in which both un-bottle that month of longing with quick confessions to one another, was very well done. Not as nice as Komiya’s scene, but still nice.

Some shows are about what happens after two people who really had to labor to end up with each other enter a romantic relationship, but this was just about how it happened. I’m always for at least a taste of seeing the new couple fall into a new rhythm together, but we didn’t get that here.

Oh well, what we did get was most enjoyable regardless. Just Because! is no Tsuki ga Kirei, but there were certainly moments when it came close.

Just Because! – 11

Everyone in Just Because, it seems, requires certain seemingly unrelated conditions be met before taking action.

Souma wouldn’t ask Morikawa out unless he hit a home run. Natsume won’t “lay her feelings bare” unless she gets into Joei. Izumi won’t tell Natsume how he feels unless he gets into Suizan. Morikawa won’t go out with Souma until they settle into their respective futures at college and work.

Only Komiya confessed to Izumi before meeting her stated condition (winning the photo competition), but she’ll still wait for Izumi’s answer until after the exam, which she expects him to pass.

Mio’s sis is too good at imitating her sister’s face

This was a very practical, functional episode in which all of the members of the Natsume-Izumi-Komiya triangle meet their conditions, which in a way was the easy part. The toughest trials for the three come now that they no longer have those artificial boundaries in place. In the final episode, they’ll have no choice but to follow through on what they promised they’d do.

Between Natsume and Izumi’s simultaneous balcony sessions to their morning routines to their lengthy commutes to the colleges to their time at their desks taking the exams, there’s a great deal of thematic heft given to those exams, as befits the fact that passing them means far more than simply getting into those colleges. Both of them have assigned a lot more importance to them than that, but neither shrinks from the task at hand.

As they furiously put pens to paper, Morikawa and Souma enjoy each other’s company at school, too restless to be home, each worried about their friends. It’s here where Morikawa and Souma first pool their knowledge of both Izumi and Natsume both switching schools…but it’s “too late” to stop them.

Is this meant to suggest the would-be lovers are doomed to attend different schools? I hope that’s not the case and that with some paperwork wrangling they can align where they wish to go…if that’s what they both want.

While the buildup and the presentation of those exams was very deliberately paced, the results come in in the relative blink of an eye. Natsume’s letter definitely says she’s been accepted to Joei. Komiya’s smile most likely means her photo won. Izumi’s grin means he got into Suizan, meaning the conditions have been met. With all that paperwork out of the way, I’m looking forward to seeing these three proceed to sort things out.

Just Because! – 10

In its third-to-last episode of the Fall, nobody has a particularly happy Valentines Day, both as a result of bad luck, poor timing, simple misunderstandings, and an inability to resolve those misunderstandings in a timely fashion (hence the two episodes remaining).

Komiya Ena—who may be the more charming and less passive of the two girls, but is nevertheless someone I don’t think Izumi should end up with—still wants to give him chocolates, but becomes dejected when she sees him with Natsume.

Meanwhile, Natsume seems on the cusp of giving Izumi chocolates as well, but a LINE message from Souma leads Natsume to glance at Izumi’s phone, and Chekhov’s Phone Background goes off, upsetting her to the point of running off with a face Izumi has never seen. THANKS A LOT, SOUMA.

Almost immediately after Natsume retreats, Komiya goes up to Izumi and gravely removes the background before running off herself. And when Natsume finally stops running, she beams, happy to be so “completely serious” about Izumi, even if he has no idea his love is requited.

Frankly, I found the need for Natsume to see the background a bit of a cheap stunt, even if it was telegraphed as a potential point of conflict as soon as Komiya made it Izumi’s background.

I get it: these crazy kids take their social media seriously, but they’ve also proven capable of using their words with one another in person. Sure, emotions ran high, but Izumi made no real effort to go after Natsume or explain the reason Komiya was on his phone.

Speaking of communication, Souma and Morikawa meet up, ostensibly so Morikawa can deliver her answer—which she does, but not before they do a kind of performance piece in which she’s playing the trumpet while Souma pantomimes hitting a home run and rounding the bases.

It was…odd, more than a little corny, and not really effective. That being said, their exchange after their little “dance” went better than Izumi’s triangle, even if Morikawa asks Souma to be patient and let her get settled with college before dating.

Asking for another delay is cruel, but hardly avoidable. The two being able to see each other regularly is practically impossible, no matter how gung-ho Souma claims to be, he’s not made out of travelling expenses, and it wouldn’t change the fact they’d be leaving the gate in a long-distance situation, which is never a good way to start.

Ultimately, I’m satisfied with Morikawa’s position evolving from “no way” to “I don’t know what I’m doing” to “yes, but later.” As Souma said, she gave it a lot of thought and consideration. Could he fall in love with someone else in the weeks and months he and Morikawa are apart? Perhaps, but that’s not presently the case. If it’s to be, it’s to be.

That’s kind of the attitude I have to take with Izumi and Natsume too; if it’s to be it’s to be. Komiya decided to bike to temples all over the place to grab as many amulets as she can. It’s a gesture simultaneously self-serving (to impress him with her dedication) and selfless (she got them to ensure he’ll pass the exam). She both wants him to fail so he won’t go off with Natsume, and wants him to succeed because he’s studied so hard.

Izumi likes that part of Komiya, and so do I. She also gives him chocolate—albeit one small store-bought bite rather than her homemade sweets—and he gives her one of her charms back, in hopes she’ll win her competition, something he didn’t use to care about, but now does because he considers Komiya a dear friend.

As for Natsume, she’s going for it. She’ll get into Joei and then “lay bare all her feelings” regarding Izumi. Here’s hoping she and Izumi don’t end up at different schools, thus having same problem of distance and time as Souma and Morikawa. Don’t do that to me, show. I’m warning you. DON’T YOU PUT THAT EVIL ON ME JUST BECAUSE!

Just Because! – 09

Whew, there’s a lot to unpack this week. A lot happened!…or at least a lot seemed to happen. Morikawa’s new ‘do causes an unexpected sensation from just about everyone in her class, except for the one guy whose reaction mattered most to her—Souma, because he’s an idiot.

After her not-confession (which Izumi mutters to himself had the exact same effect as a not-not-confession), Komiya is awkward with him, and all the times they naturally bump into each other always end with her retreating wordlessly.

Souma and Natsume encounter one another at the shoe lockers justs as Morikawa starts to play her trumpet, which sounds like it’s beckoning Souma, particularly when Natsume tells him he should go to her. Souma doesn’t want to be a bother…but he is.

No matter, Natsume goes to Morikawa instead; she wants to know how she decided on her future. Morikawa answers earnestly as always, citing her devotion to her family and paying them back for their kindness, but also wanting to taste life on her own for a bit, hence a woman’s university.

Morikawa wonders if it’s just a matter of her not wanting to be an adult, but Natsume thinks Morikawa really has “her act together”, especially compared to her.

After some unintentional synchronization after school (after which she exclaims “this day sucks!” with a smile), the third time turns out to be the charm for Komiya, as she runs into Izumi again while he’s on a run. She runs into the konbini and buys him a cold tea; he goes in and buys her a hot one in return.

There’s a Valentine’s Day sign in sight, and Izumi tells Komiya it’s almost time for his least favorite time of the year. Komiya coyly replies that even if Natsume never got him chocolate, he should expect some this year. Did I mention how fun these two are to watch?

Before leaving hastily yet again, Komiya expresses hope they can “get along like this from here on out!”; after she leaves Izumi mutters that that’s impossible. I think Komiya kinda knows that; Natsume still probably enjoys a lead in Izumi’s heart, regardless of how few nice interactions they’ve had.

The next day, Morikawa’s brothers spot Souma on the baseball field and run out to meet him. Souma finally has the opportunity to compliment Morikawa, and while she seems grateful, there seems to be something on her mind.

That gets back to the continuation of her talk with Natsume, after she asked how Natsume if she had feelings for Souma. Natsume responds that she liked him, past-tense, in a one-sided middle school crush, but locked the feelings away, but they eventually dispersed naturally.

Natsume was satisfied with “nothing coming of it” and “not trying to let anything come of it.” She also says there’s someone else she likes anyway, and when on her way home, she can’t resist buying chocolates for that person…and has made the decision to change her university to Izumi’s recommended school.

That means, of course, Izumi’s now studying for enrollment to the wrong school! It’s an object lesson in why you should really be more open about their plans, especially with someone you has feelings for. It would have obviously been a nice surprise if Natsume had stayed put, but that’s no longer the case.

I definitely dig Natsume’s bold move in escaping her sister’s orbit, even if neither she nor Izumi are making it easy for each other to come together. Still, while I’ve instantly come to love the idea of Izumi and Komiya, that “impossible” from him certainly leads me to assume Natsume is the one he’ll choose, even if they attend different universities.

I’m okay with that; I like both girls but there has to be a winner and a loser. All I’m sure of is that the next two-three weeks are going to be a roller coaster.

Just Because! – 08

Komiya Ena took Izumi’s photo before getting his permission, but after an extensive yet completely organic charm campaign, she eventually got it…and developed feelings for Izumi along the way. Perseverance and optimism won the day.

Komiya does the right thing by asking Natsume permission to ask Izumi on a date, but Natsume’s stern “no” doesn’t discourage her. Komiya knows intrinsically that she’s responsible for her own happiness and can’t wait around for things to happen on their own.

Natsume may have thought she’d bought a little time with her “no”—itself a huge move for her that confirmed she’s at least not indifferent towards Izumi—but she does nothing with that time. Izumi even asks her what she wanted to talk about, but she gives him the “never mind, it’s nothing.”

Natsume and Izumi’s situation takes a back seat when they join Souma and Inui for lunch at Morikawa’s house, which could and probably should have been just a Souma-and-Morikawa (and her little brothers) lunch.

It’s a cordial meal, but there’s something distancing about the way Natsume speaks of the support she got from everyone when Izumi provided the lion’s share of said support during the snowy exam day. It’s like the warmth of that day has been replaced by the more familiar coolness of earlier episodes.

That said, it’s not all Izumi’s fault; Izumi is the one so stealthily demonstrating his feelings for her by applying to the same school, where they’ll presumably be able to see each other. But if that’s what he wants, what the heck is he waiting for? Like Natsume, he simply lacks the proper amount of gumption to act on his feelings, or even put them in forthright words to the necessary party.

Komiya, meanwhile, has a lot more gumption, which is why she comes so tantalizingly close to asking Izumi out via LINE. She wants to send something, but gets caught up on the structure, formality and perceived tone (another reason to just talk to someone).

She needs a little nudge—or in this case, the paw of her big fat cat—to send it, and when it’s read immediately, I really related to the waiting game she had to endure, as well as her elation upon getting a positive response from Izumi.

Komiya doesn’t know exactly what she’s feeling or what she wants, but she does want to move forward with exploring it, and more importantly, has the wherewithal to follow through in a timely, direct fashion. It would help her out a bit if Izumi wasn’t so dense—asking Siri (or a Siri equivalent)  what “date” means? Really?

Then we have Haruto, who like me, sees the wonderful chemistry Izumi and Komiya share, and see Komiya get so pumped about her date, and I just can’t help root for Komiya.

Naturally, on the morning of the date, Izumi runs into Natsume first, and Natsume is on to him; they’re so in sync, she even asked Siri the exact same question. Natsume’s on her way to cram school; she wasn’t trying to break up a date; but she looks awfully bitter when Komiya shows up, leading to one of the better-delivered exchanges of the episode, if not the whole show:

—”I told you no.”
—”Do I need your permission?”
—”Then, why did you ask?”
—”Well, just because.”

In addition to Komiya finally delivering the TITULAR LINEthis dialogue so nicely encapsulates the differences between Natsume and Komiya. Komiya didn’t ask permission just so she could do it anyway; she didn’t think Natsume would say no, or feel so strongly about Izumi at all.

After all, who’s spend more time with Izumi of late? Komiya. She’s not saying “shit or get off the pot,” but her way of doing things just naturally runs roughshod over Izumi’s more deliberate approach.

Also great? Natsume and Komiya having a moment of solidarity when they both tell Izumi that their cryptic discussion is “none of his business.”

Natsume doesn’t protest any further; she has to go to cram school. So Komiya carries on with her date with Izumi. And it’s such a nice, low-key date! She takes him places where she snaps photos…and he snaps a photo of her, which she then makes his wallpaper!

They look like they’re having so much goddamn fun, even sitting in the dark clubroom looking at photo albums. One of those albums show a first-year Natsume with her older sister Mina…

…Who we then segue to! Mina asks Mio why she wants to attend the same university as her, telling her she should go to the one she wants. Seems a bit late in the game to be telling her this, but it does expose a certain “running on inertia” style to Natsume’s life.

Right now, she defines her purpose, first and foremost, of entering college, which is the same one as her sister, probably just because! What’s wrong with just because?

The sisters don’t happen to spot Izumi walking Komiya home after their adorably awesome date…which is for the best; enough coincidences, already! But that album photo reminded both Izumi and Komiya that there’s another side to their triangle, and it’s a side Izumi is studying hard to stay beside in the future.

With that in mind, Komiya asks Izumi why the heck he doesn’t just confess to her. His answer—”I would if I could”, doesn’t satisfy anyone; particularly himself.

So Komiya does what she’s always done to reasonable good effect: go her own way, proceed, persevere, hope. Now winning a prize at the photo competition isn’t just about keeping the club alive, it will determine whether she confesses her love to Izumi.

And no, Izumi, she’s not making a funny joke, she’s picking a direction and going. If you don’t like it, say something; do something. Otherwise, enjoy the journey.

*****

With all this talk about the triangle, I almost forgot about Souma and Morikawa! It’s…fine, they’re fine; they’re just not quite as compelling. She still owes him an answer. It was good to see Souma continue to get along with the bros, and Morikawa’s little makeover, which Izumi of all people sees first (and does a double take), was a cute and unexpected way to close the episode.

Net-juu no Susume – 08

Sakurai Yuuta was adopted by a wealthy, elderly couple. When they passed away they left their sprawling home to him, but he moved somewhere more reasonably-sized, both because he couldn’t maintain it himself, and because the empty house only intensified his loneliness.

In MMOs, specifically KanterSG, he found the sweet spot where he could be alone without being lonely; where he could meet and interact with people without leaving his digs; where he could regain that feeling of family and mutual support.

And in KanterSG, he met Yuki, whom he strongly suspects to be Molly/Hayashi/Morioka, despite the perceived ridiculousness of such a coincidence. To find out for sure, he decides to rely on whether she remembers him as he was, by adopting the same look as his KanterSG character, Harth.

At first, it seems to Sakurai that he might be mistaken, as Yuki doesn’t seem to react to the name “Harth.” However, she actually has, she just needs a little nudge to start the memories flying, and that’s hearing him pronounce it. After logging out, Morioka calls Sakurai to ask if he ever knew a character named Yuki, giving Sakurai the opening he needs to say it was him.

The ensuing phone conversation is one of the most adorable—and best—things this show has ever done; the elation of both Sakurai and Morioka at the news they’ve always known each other positively radiates through the screen like warm rays of light. Morioka’s torrent of expressions and gestures are wonderful to behold.

Unfortunately, Sakurai’s phone dies before he can volunteer one more crucial nugget of info: that he’s not just Harth, but Lily as well.

Morioka and Sakurai bump into each other in the street, and act in that combination of awkward and giddy that you expect of two people who suddenly find themselves much closer. Sakurai offers his coat and a snack to a hungry Morioka, whose stomach-growling reminded him of the time they both ordered Christmas chicken at the convenience store.

When Morioka starts to go on about Lily, how much she reminds her of him, and how they should play FdM together as a trio sometime, Sakurai must tell her the truth, and he does: he’s Lily. Morioka’s reaction seems to be of surprise if not shock, but unfortunately we leave things right there.

How will Morioka feel about Sakurai having kept the truth from her for so long? Will she be mad at him, or, more likely, blame herself for not having figured it out, even though she was aware of the similarities? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out, and glad the show and its couple got to move forward as much as they did here, with just two episodes remaining.

Just Because! – 07

Things really come together in the Natsume-Izumi-Komiya love triangle this week, as both girls start to realize the feelings they have, things long left unsaid are finally said, nudging the narrative forward in a satisfying way.

Komiya clutching Izumi’s back was certainly a provocative image to leave use with two weeks ago—particularly in making Natsume bear witness to the display. As it happens, the embrace was instigated by a jubilant Komiya. We get to see what led up to that hug-from-behind, with Izumi saving Komiya from a run-in with a scary dude who thought she was snapping pics of him without his permission.

She blames Izumi for not giving her permission, but more importantly, finally tells him why it’s so important he give it: the photography club is a place where she finally belonged; if it’s gone, she’ll have nowhere.

While that’s not strictly true, I’m sure Izumi can relate to not having a true place to belong after being uprooted from his school and friends years back. And like Komiya, he’s working to preserve such a place, by trying to get into the same university as Natsume.

Izumi tellingly gets no sleep at all; perhaps he recognized Natsume last night when Komiya was on his back; and when it snows the morning of her test, all forms of transportation are snagged and delayed. It’s a common scenario for Natsume, as Izumi sees it: she’s always getting the short end of the stick; one could also call it plain ol’ bad luck.

It enabled her to see Izumi with Komiya at the worst (and most misunderstandable) possible time; it also caused it to snow the day of her big test, and to slip and fall right before the PA warning about the slippery floor.

But Izumi is on it; he does what he’s always done with Natsume; try to make up for her bad luck by being there with her; to help bear some of her burdens. After seeing him with Komiya, Izumi helping her off the cold wet ground was probably the last thing Natsume expected…and yet here he is.

Izumi also shields her on a crowded train, making things as comfortable as possible before her test. When she worries she’s forgotten all she’s studied, he throws history questions at her, which she answers with ease; she’s alright after all. She asks him to keep quizzing her.

Neither mentions what was up with Komiya last night, he’s just there, in the there and now, to offer his support, and it seems to work: Natsume arrives at the test center with a spring in her step and has a defiant, confident look in the testing room.

That train scene is my favorite of the show between the two; there’s so much quiet, gentle mutual affection there; both look so cozy and content. And it almost instantly turns Komiya—whom I was damn near ready to ship with Izumi last week, but who sneaks up on Izumi in a bookstore—into an interloper. Izumi barely has the time of day for her.

At the same time, I feel sorry that the timing of her “queasiness” is coming at about the same time Natsume is starting to realize her feelings for Izumi. After the test, Natsume watches a middle school couple interact on the train, with the boy carrying the larger load for the girl’s sake, albeit somewhat grumpily.

The boy reminds Natsume of Izumi, clearly carrying something too heavy but willing to do it for her. In that flashback, Natsume’s fellow council members skipped out on her, in another instance of her getting the short end of the stick, but Natsume’s quite right that Izumi got an even shorter end when he suddenly had to move away.

But now Izumi is back, and he’s still willing to go the extra mile for Natsume. Indeed, she’s not yet aware he’s aiming to go to the same university as her. I wonder how she’ll take that when she does learn? I guess it depends on whether he tells her or if she finds out.

Komiya does know; she saw the books Izumi was reading at the store. As such, and with her “queasiness” in mind, Komiya wastes no time asking permission again, this time asking Natsume if she can ask Izumi out on a date.

In baseball speak, this question to Natsume could be considered “chin music”, a fastball high and inside, meant to back the batter off the plate. It’s an aggressive move by a girl who has made many an aggressive move to get what she wants, though in a more pragmatic than selfish or hostile way.

Everyone is looking for a place to belong, and in Komiya’s case, that place might just be by Izumi’s side. Natsume may have been super-passive up to this point, but her response to Komiya is a swift and decisive “no, you can’t”, spoken almost under her breath, but from a higher physical point than Komiya, underscoring her precedence.

Those three words indicate so much: No, you can’t swoop in and take what would already be mine, if I’d realized and/or acted sooner. No, you can’t steal a march on me. You may be working through things faster, but that doesn’t mean I have to match your speed. I’m going to sit down, figure things out and talk with Izumi, and then we’ll see what’s what. Until then, REQUEST DENIED.

It’s an admirable first step and line in the sand for Natsume. Here’s hoping she keeps it up and has a good, productive conversation with Izumi very soon.

Net-juu no Susume – 07

NJS episode 7 is a bit of a let-down, and almost feels like a waste of time, were it not for the development at the very end. Otherwise, we’re in a familiar holding pattern, in which Sakurai tries in vain to give up on Morioka while still interacting with her in Fruits de Mer.

It’s a really untenable position, especially when “Hayashi” gets to talking with “Lily” about her two dates and has a lot more to say about the first one with him than the second one with Koiwai. When Hayashi notes that the first “woman” reminded her of Lily, it really starts to test Sakurai’s resolve.

That resolve is ultimately eroded even further when Koiwai starts playing Fruits de Mer and Morioka creates a new, female avatar, “Molly” who is visually the grown-up version of “Yuki”, whom Sakurai was good friends with in a past MMO.

Koiwai was more irritating than usual this week, for while I can’t fault the guy for wanting to get closer to Morimori, there’s something to be said for letting a NEET have her safe places to escape to, and his sudden imposing of himself into the world of FdM resembled a bull in a china shop (except when he stepped away to email Sakurai; then the bull stood perfectly still).

But if the show is trying to sell us the story of Sakurai and Morioka, there’s something distasteful about every scene with Morioka and Koiwai; it triggers an impatience, especially when combined with Morioka’s continued ignorance of Lily’s true identity and her believe a guy like Sakurai would never be interested in her.

Perhaps once Sakurai creates a new male avatar resembling his old one who Yuki confided in, maybe she’ll start to put the pieces together. But just as I can’t fault Koiwai for continuing to pursue Morioka, I can’t fault Morioka for not knowing the truth, because the easiest way for that to happen is with Sakurai simply telling her, which he has utterly failed to do for yet another week.

Net-juu no Susume – 06

So, here we are: Hayashi and Lily IRL. Was it a setup by Koiwai? Apparently not; due to her Elite NEET status, Morioka got the day wrong. Little does she know that Sakurai is really Lily, which is the true reason he knew to where and when to “rescue” her from the wrong day.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: Sakurai is, like, totally into Morioka, and their date goes as swimmingly and is as enjoyable as when they’re hanging out in the MMO…maybe moreso! It’s just as enjoyable to watch, despite the fact neither party treats this as an official, “real” date.

I’m a little disappointed things are more complicated than Koiwai staging a setup to get the two together. That seems to be what he’s doing anyway, considering he stops joking around and directly asks Sakurai if he’s really okay with him going out alone with Mori-Mori tomorrow. I’d personally be fine with Koiwai graciously backing out of the triangle rather than keeping the heat on.

I was also a bit miffed that Sakurai made no serious effort to tell Morioka the truth about their being MMO partners. What could have been a built-in in with Morioka instead needlessly muddies the waters. There’s never going to be a good time to tell her, but he needn’t keep holding off the truth until it’s a unequivocally bad time; or worse, to late to salvage any kind of relationship.

Sure, I’m getting ahead of myself, but c’mon; we’re not honestly supposed to be rooting for Koiwai and Morioka. Still, while Koiwai teases both Sakurai and Morioka incessantly, he also shows that he genuinely cares about both of them, and isn’t putting on any act for Morioka (who is almost constantly selling herself short).

Morioka thinks the last two days to be almost too good to be true, but I was glad when she corrected herself earlier and said “thank you” instead of her usual unnecessary apologies. I also liked how she mentioned she might not have left her job if she had co-workers as kindhearted as Sakurai and Koiwai. This suggests that a part of her didn’t really want to resign, but it felt like the best way out of a bad situation.

In any case, it’s wonderful to behold Moiroka’s jubilation upon returning home and, more importantly, re-entering the MMO as Hayashi after two straight nights of going out and drinking as Morioka. It isn’t long before Lily shows up. Sakurai looked like he was in agony the whole night Koiwai was out with Morioka, but he’s decidedly relieved-looking upon her return to the MMO and his (well, Lily’s) side.

Still, I worry he’s being far too passive. Allow Koiwai go out with Morioka too much unchallenged, and there’s a good chance Koiwai falls for her and says “Sorry Sakura-chan, you had your chance!” Heck, that may already be happening! The only one who can do anything about this sad state of affairs is the one enduring them. And he’s only got four episodes left to do it!

Koi to Uso – 12 (Fin)

Ririna doesn’t simply say she’s willing to abandon their arranged marriage for Yukari and Misaki’s sake; she lays out in a very detailed and realistic way exactly the way it’s going to happen, and it involves her and Yukari pretending like they hate each other’s guts—in other words, lying.

Yukari doesn’t like the sound of that one bit, as he doesn’t want to even pretend he doesn’t like Ririna. But Ririna appeals to Yukari’s deep and inspiring love for Misaki—without which Ririna would never have come out of her shell—and is able to get him to agree to her plan.

That means, at some point, if all goes as planned, Ririna will have herself “recalculated” to find another partner to marry, and asks Yukari to ‘show her what to do’, so to speak. The practical excuse aside, both Ririna and Yukari are lying here as well.

Ririna loves both Misaki and Yukari, so she doesn’t want to hurt either. What she fails to realize is that Misaki and Yukari have the same exact reason they don’t want to hurt her: they love her too. Forget about levels or tenure; love is love, and especially during one’s youth it can be extremely hard to distinguish one form for another.

As a result, Yukari initially stays away from the wedding dress fitting, convinced he’s hurt both Ririna (by agreeing to her plan) and Misaki (by kissing her in the chapel), and not wanting to cause any more pain to either. Nisaka shows up and lays it out as only Nisaka can: people who are hurt by loving him is not his problem; it’s theirs.

Nisaka speaks from experience here; he knows he’ll never have Yukari or even get him to look at him the way he wants…but he’s not going to bother him about it. He tells Yukari that when it comes to love, you have to look out for number one.

In Yukari’s case, he doesn’t feel comfortable living life without Misaki or Ririna. At the chapel, Misaki assures Ririna that her plan is impossible, because she, Misaki, loves both Ririna and Yukari. She couldn’t let Ririna drop her marriage to Yukari any more than Yukari or Ririna wanted to hurt Misaki by getting married.

It’s quite the conundrum! And certainly one for which there are no long-term answers. Presumably, Ririna and Yukari will one day marry, just as Misaki will marry her match (we finally learn definitively that she hasn’t received her notice yet). It would seem that love is not a problem for any of the three; it’s just a matter of learning what kind of love that is, and how that will (or won’t) jibe with cultural and societal norms.

Is this finale a cop-out that lets everyone off the hook by delaying a concrete decision on who marries whom? Sure is. But I asked for someone to win last week, and it would seem that, for now at least, everyone wins…Except Nisaka!

Ultimately, this show lacked the teeth that I had expected of a premise in which people were, if not outright forced, very strongly nudged into arranged marriages. As I’ve stated in earlier reviews, Japan’s appallingly low birth rate is a crisis that threatens the nation’s very existence. Drastic societal measures are needed that the notoriously unreliable bureaucracy likely won’t even begin to tackle until it’s too late.

Koi to Uso was initially, and could have remained, a fascinating look into the “what-if” scenario. But ultimately, The Yukari Law was little more than window dressing for a watchable but otherwise by-the-numbers youth-love-polygon show. It could have been much more, but would have had to go to darker places it clearly wasn’t interested in going.

Sagrada Reset – 24 (Fin)

Haruki knows she faces a problem if she believes Asai Kei to be perfect and without flaw: it puts an untenable pressure on him to be flawless in order to continue being the Asai Kei she knows. But until she finds out what that flaw or mistake is within him, she won’t know him as well as she wants.

Fortunately for her, the power of abilities enables her to do just that in this, the final episode of Sagrada Reset. Kei has shifted his focus from Urachi (no longer a threat) to Souma Sumire (who has collapse). He wants to save her, and would like Haruki to put aside her differences with Souma and help him.

Haruki agrees – if Kei shares the memories he has of pre-Reset Harukis, through Sakagami’s ability. Kei agrees, and before you know it, Haruki remembers when she first said she liked Kei (having said it a second time just then), but also finds his mistake, which happened two years ago: when Kei kissed her, she was happy.

Kei apologizes for being an indirect and cowardly; Haruki admits she was the same. It’s a lovely and vital new step forward for this beautifully subtle yet increasingly warm couple.

The easy part thus completed, the hard part commences: Kei wants to “save” Souma, but what does that mean? Apparently, he aims to save her from the weight of her own longing over not being the girl who “won” him, and the intense feelings of perceived inadequacy and budding nihilism that realization cultivates.

He isn’t saving her because he’s a hero; he’s saving her because she’s his friend, and he wishes for her happiness to be “second-best” in the world (Kei makes no bones about who is Number One in his heart).

In Kei’s apartment in the dream world, Souma is sitting in the dark, hiding her face because she’s been crying. Kei takes her face in his hand and tells her however she’s feeling now, he can see a future, however far off, where she’s happy and smiling, despite him not being hers.

Souma is afraid of the prospect of being able to smile under such circumstances—where she essentially has lost to Haruki, and always will, every time. So she challenges Kei to one last game: correctly say her name, and she’ll go along with his plan for her.

But if he fails, she wins, and he’ll become hers, living in the dream world with him, like two stones, never being bothered by the world outside in the least. Cut to the end of the game, when Haruki appears to speak to Souma, and Souma holds out a stone she says is Kei, and tells her she’s won.

Haruki isn’t buying it; there’s no way Souma Sumire would wish for such a thing, and accuses her of having a “tantrum” and waiting for her to come and hand Kei over. Haruki tells Souma that she used to be able to use her ability by herself…until a reset led to Souma’s death and hurt Kei.

It stands to reason then, that if Souma’s turning of Kei into a stone also hurts him, there’s no reason to hold back and reset by herself again. But before she gets the word out, she holds back, because she believes that despite the stone trick, Souma really does have Kei’s best interests in mind.

Since Haruki isn’t buying it, and sees the stone trick as a means to get her to use her Reset of her own will, Souma tells her why: If Kei is going to assume responsibility for all of Sakurada’s abilities, he’s going to need someone by his side to help him, and if necessary, provide a check against him hurting himself. Souma concedes that Haruki is the best candidate for that job.

With both Haruki and Souma affirming their roles regarding Kei, Souma wakes up first, and Kei is watching her because her bed is by the moon and she looks pretty. That’s…kinda weird, but Souma doesn’t mind (at least, in this one little instance, she “beat” Haruki for once), and pledges herself to providing a voice of council to Kei, who agrees to listen to that voice.

Souma then shuffles off, and Haruki emerges from behind the curtain around her bed. Souma thought it would be awkward to stick around, while Haruki was embarrassed of seeing her, and lets Kei know that even if he doesn’t (and may indeed never) understand, she and Souma being “moderately adversarial” is “good”, i.e. “natural.”

Finally, Haruki places her hands on the shoulders of her man and tells him she’s thinking of letting her hair grow out, now that she remembers him saying, long ago, how he liked it that way. Now that she has those memories back, Haruki can love Kei of both the past and present instead of merely the latter.

That deeper understanding and affection, as well as Urachi and Souma’s respective redemptions, were only made possible through the existence—and judicious use of—abilities. So even if Asai Kei isn’t righteous or just or a hero, he was right to work so diligently to preserve abilities in Sakurada. They were and are the key to his happiness. They are…sacred.

And thus concludes a sometimes slow, sometimes maddeningly opaque, yet also almost always strange, intriguing and wonderfully offbeat show. I appreciated that the finale not showing us the results of Kei accomplishing all he’s set out to do—that would have felt cheap to go down in just one ep.

Instead, all his relationships are now in good standing, putting him in the best position to succeed. I close the book on this series wishing him and his the best in their endeavors to Keep Sakurada Weird.