More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 06 – Hearts Racing Together

One morning, Akari is acting like a caring, loving wife, the kind that is again propelling her and Jirou into the top of the practical rankings (which are a thing I find myself caring less and less about as the show goes on). The only thing that gives Jirou pause is the fact that Akari keeps calling him by his last name, even seemingly accentuating the “Yakuin”.

Jirou doesn’t know why, but it bothers him, and he even googles “why is a girlfriend suddenly calling you by your last name”. Seems like a step backwards, or some kind of message, right? Then Jirou and Sadaharu happen to witness Hamano Mei rejecting female kohai who just confessed her love for her.

Aside from it being a magnificently gay scene I was waiting for, Mei demonstrates that she’s very good at the gentle turn-down, and I have no reason to doubt she truly is happy that this girl fell for her, even if she can’t return the feelings. Mei also bears part of the burden for not “being mindful enough to notice” the girl’s feelings, then indulges her with a warm embrace and calls her by her first name.

Jirou wants to notice what’s causing Akari to use his last name, so that already shows he’s being mindful. He’s a good kid, thinking about how she feels! When he’s about to shower, Akari barges in with the rankings on her phone: they’re now in eighth place, and she hugs him while he’s shirtless, which is a first.

Later, she helps him dry his hair—which he washed with a shampoo she chose for both of them. When she hits the hair dryer, Jirou says her first name, then again. The third time he says it is when she switches it off, and she hears it, and calls him Jirou in turn. Now he gets it: she simply wanted him to call her Akari first. She says its for the benefit of their artificial marriage, but it’s clear him calling her Akari makes her blush every time.

While Jirou figured out this little mini-mystery of how he and Akari address one another, he’s still largely in the dark about Shiori’s true feelings. In that regard, his lack of mindfulness stems from her years-old friendzoning of him, which he felt at the time meant that was that and there were lines beyond childhood friendship she’d rather not cross.

But that was then, and Shiori regretted it then and has yet to resolve matters. In this, her best friend Mei most likely subordinated her own unrequited romantic feelings for Shiori in order to ensure she’s happy, by doing everything possible to bring her and Jirou together. She makes it clear if Shiori isn’t more aggressive in letting Jirou know her feelings, Akari (or some other girl) will beat her to the punch.

When Shiori gets hit in the head by an errant football, Mei sends her to the nurses office and promises to send Jirou there, where it’s clear she wants Shiori to do what she couldn’t do during their shared classroom duties. When Jirou hesitates, Mei verbally kicks him in the butt to get in there and see Shiori already.

But while Mei can’t understand why her Shiori loves a “coward” like Jirou, she’s missing the fact that Shiori’s been a coward too! Coward is probably too strong a term; more like stubborn in their shared belief that the other isn’t interested despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

When Jirou visits the nurse’s office to see Shiori, the two find themselves all alone in the dark. They exchange some awkward small talk, Jirou notices that Minami brought her a sandwich and sports drink before he did (though Mei gave him his). Shiori mentions how well Jirou and Akari are doing, he says they still fight a lot, and Shiori remarks how she’d like to see Jirou angry sometime. That is to say, she wants to know more about him beyond the childhood friend.

She also makes it clear when Jirou brings up making romantic progress that she and Minami have done no such thing, and that furthermore, even if it was with someone she liked, she’d worry about being too nervous and inexperienced. This must feel to Jirou like a comfortable mirror.

Shiori makes another blunder by saying she wants to “practice” kissing with Jirou, which suggests she’d rather kiss someone else “for real”, but Jirou, who had just gotten a talking-to from Mei to “go for it”, agrees and leans in to kiss Shiori.

At the very last second Shiori hesitates again, which happens before Akari’s gyaru-friend Sachi comes in to skip class, hears the bed creaking, and sees boy’s and girl’s shoes through the gap in the curtain. Sachi is scandalized and makes a quick exit, but her entrance caused Jirou to slip and fall … right onto Shiori and her lips.

Accident or not, the two have finally kissed, and it was so unexpected and so … so much for both of them they basically short-circuit in unison and agree to part ways for the time being. I feel so bad for both Mei and Akari, as these two are—and I can’t stress this enough—the fucking worst.

I mean everyone has their pace that they must follow (I think about Chuu2Koi handled this quite well). But you don’t have to jump each other’s bones; you can use their words and clear all this up! Say you like him! Say you like her! Boom! But they don’t.

All throughout this time, Akari has been trying to get ahold of Jirou, but he’s ignored her last four texts. Then Sachi shows up and tells her what went down in the nurse’s office, and right after hearing this Akari gets a text from Jirou saying he was in the nurse’s office. Naturally, her thoughts go straight to Shiori.

I continue to feel so bad for Akari. I’m sure Minami is a nice guy, but she doesn’t really know him. She does know Jirou a lot more, and is developing feelings for him that are quickly replacing the more shallow attraction nad idolization for Minami. Also, I doubt Minami is any more interested in her than he is Shiori.

And hey, what do you know, Akari is so preoccupied with Jirou that she doesn’t even notice Minami served her that drink! I am HERE for the Minami erasure. We’re in episode six. If we go another six without him so much as uttering a line, I’ll be perfectly content.

What we have here, then, is a love triangle. And with her assumption Jirou went and did something with Shiori in the nurse’s office, Akari is understandably lonely and depressed. It doesn’t help matters that her gyaru-friends stand her up at the café, though Minami gives her some free extra whipped cream and a note to cheer her up (though again, you get the impression he’d do this with anyone).

When she comes home late, Jirou is passed out on the couch. Akari sees the chocolates and deduces he waited for her. She doesn’t check her phone and see the text warning that the chocolates contained whiskey. She does unfold the couch (which of course becomes a bed), disrobe and curl up next to the dozing Jirou, asking him if this is what he did with Shiori, or did they take things even further.

What’s so heartbreaking is that Akari isn’t mad that Jirou might’ve slept with Shiori. After all, who wouldn’t want to have their first time be with someone so clearly important to them? Even more heartbreaking? Lines like “Did you go off and become an adult without me?” and “Don’t leave me behind,” and “I’ll cheer on in your love … but just for now, while I’m your wife, could you wait?” Just one dagger after the other.

Jirou regains consciousness from his inadvertent choco-bender very confused Akari is sleeping beside him in her underwear. When he asks what happened, Akari teases him for forgetting what happened … for forgetting what he did to her. She then asks “was last night your first time?” to which he answers yes, because he assumes she means the two of them.

When he proceeds to apologize if he didn’t perform to her standards and such, she admits she was lying, they didn’t do it. When Jirou is a bit too emphatic in his relief, since it means he’s still a virgin, Akari is miffed. I’m not sure he meant to imply he’s glad he didn’t lose it to her because he’d rather lose it to Shiori (I think he’s just glad he didn’t pop his cherry and not remember it)—but that’s how she interprets it.

It sucks that this is how the episode, and the first half of the season, wraps up: with another misunderstanding. But even if Jirou picks up on what Akari is mad and is able to smooth things over, the underlying triangle remains. While Shiori did stop them from kissing for real, they did lock lips, and once she and Jirou fully process that, that dance will continue. And this conflict will surely drive the second half.

Could Akari be clearer about how she’s acting toward Jirou is less about being a great pretend wife for the sake of getting Minami and more about legitimate feelings for him? Sure! Could Shiori, for the benefit of both Akari and the long-suffering Mei, please kindly shit or get off the pot? Perhaps! But Jirou can also keep being as mindful as he can be. As long as he’s wracking his brain, there’s potential for progress on all fronts. Whatever happens, I’m loving these characters, and this show.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 02 – Hearing her out to the end

Jirou is having a lovely dream about Shiori visiting him in the night, only to be woken up by Akari wanting the same thing. Not so fast: she wants him to watch scary movies with her so they’ll earn points—while wearing matching PJs she’s comfortable enough to change into with him right there (with his back turned). When there’s a blackout, Jirou also learns Akari’s not great with storms or the dark.

Jirou may not learn here that Akari’s as inexperienced in love as he is, but her little vulnerabilities help bring her down to earth, as someone more approaching an equal to Jirou rather than someone to place on a pedestal and venerate (or resent her elite gyaru status). Between the close quarters and a sweet-smelling aromatherapy candle, a cozy chemistry emerges, with Jirou even admitting how cute Akari is and how hard she’s working, thinking she’s asleep when she’s not…and is very flattered!

As a result of spending the night together on the couch (avoiding the no-going-in-each-other’s-rooms rule) Jirou and Akari earn enough points to end up ranked 8th in their class. But both are shocked to find that Shiori and Minami are ranked 71st. If the other couple doesn’t make Rank A, all their efforts are for naught.

While Jirou can’t deny he’s a little happy things aren’t going well with Shiroi and Minami, as he friend he wants to help, but can’t broach the subject, and then he’s out with a cold. Shiori’s best friend Mei, who is either overprotective or has a crush on her herself (maybe both!) cheers Shiori up with her piano play and a willing ear.

Just as Jirou admits to be being a little hurt Akari went out with her friends instead of taking care of him, while also dreaming of Shiori taking care of him, it’s Shiori who is at the door with a bag of stuff to nurse him back to health.

Rather than an angel sent by heaven, Shiori was asked by Akari to look after Jirou, both knowing Jirou is in love with her and that, most likely, Shiori feels the same way. I’m not sure how premeditated this was for Akari, but this results in us getting almost the full measure of Jirou and Shiori’s history together.

Shiori still cherishes the day she was sick in elementary school and Jirou came and replaced her forehead compress, and relishes the opportunity to repay the favor. Jirou also watches intently as Shiori puts on an apron like a pro to whip up some rice porridge for him.

He’s worried this sudden wife-like attention will “give him the wrong idea”, but he’s had that ever since they parted ways when she had to transfer schools in middle school. Before he could summon the courage to confess to her, she asked him if they could remain friends despite the new geographic distance.

Jirou thought he was being friendzoned, so he canceled the confession, but he was mistaken. Just as he needed to make a great effort to even consider voicing his feelings for her, so too did Shiori, and those were the compromised words that came out at the wrong time. These two have loved each other all along, but that misunderstanding kept them from getting what they both wanted.

Now they’re “married” to separate people for this ridiculous school training, but Jirou’s cold afforded them the chance to live out what life might’ve been like if they had gotten their confessions for each other out into the open. It broke my heart when Shiori’s voice broke after she said, quite genuinely, that she thought it would be better if he were her husband. But my heart was re-forged when Jirou took her hand and, without thinking, called her “Shiori”, which causes her heart to similarly swell.

Shiori remembers that day just as much as Jirou does as a missed opportunity. Shiori was mere words from asking him on a date to see fireworks, but since he believed that would be as “just friends” he made an excuse to part ways right then and there. When Jirou called her “Shiori”, her mind went blank from happiness.

Not only that, when she’s sure he’s asleep, she leans in to steal a kiss…just as Akari’s galfriends are teasing her about the possibility of Shiori stealing Minami away. Shiori doesn’t kiss Jirou, but still prays that one day he’ll hear her out to the end. If only he did, he’d know that she wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with her.

The thing is, things are no longer so simple. Despite her haughty gal front and enduring crush on Minami, the fact is Jirou is the one with whom she’s experiencing all these new things. It’s gotten to the point that even when Jirou thanks her when she gets home for asking Shiori to come by, and resolves to work his hardest so she can be with Minami, she’s actually annoyed, despite herself.

Shiori isn’t going to be falling for Minami anytime soon. Maybe we’ll get Minami-centric episode at some point, but for now he’s simply a placeholder. Ironically, the harder Jirou and Akari work to make Rank A, the more good times they’ll have and the more they’ll learn about each other that overwrites their shallow first impressions of one another. By the time they’re offered the opportunity to exchange partners, who’s to say they’ll want to?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Urusei Yatsura – 01 (First Impressions) – The Winner Takes It All

In this reboot of a sci-fi/rom-com anime from 1981 (41 years ago) we’re introduced to Moroboshi Ataru (Kamiya Hiroshi), an unrepentant horndog in a Waldo shirt who ogles a comely jogger mere seconds after reaffirming his love for his long-suffering girlfriend, Miyake Shinobu (Uchida Maaya). That status quo is suddenly shattered by an alien invasion of earth by a race called the Oni.

But these aliens are the sporting type, so they give humanity a chance to avoid subjugation: if a randomly selected human can catch the Oni’s leader’s daughter Lum (Uesaka Sumire) by the horns in a game of tag, the invasion will be cancelled. The human they randomly select is Ataru, of course. And Lum? She’s a total babe.

The game of tag is internationally televised and held at a soccer stadium packed to capacity. Unfortunately for Ataru (who is preternaturally unlucky having been born on Friday the 13th), Lum can fly, and proves extremely hard to catch.

He only has ten days to tag her, and those days go by utterly devoid of success. On the evening before the last day before humanity is doomed, Shinobu decides to give Ataru some extra motivation: if he succeeds, she’ll marry him. Ataru genuinely cares for Shinobu, so the next day he’s all vim and vinegar.

Upon finally catching Lum by the leg, he learns she has another power: electricity. But that doesn’t faze him. As his bride-to-be watches and he repeatedly shouts “Marriage!” he intensifies his pursuit of Lum, eventually grabbing her into an embrace and relieving her of her tiger-print bikini top.

Using the top as a lure, for the first time Ataru brings Lum to him, and uses said top as a distraction as he allows her to reclaim it while he reorients himself and grabs her by the horns, thereby winning the game of tag and saving earth from invasion.

Ataru is instantly a global hero, and he’s ready to marry Shinobu right then and there … but there’s one problem: all those times he shouted “Marriage!” while chasing Lum? Lum thought that meant he intended to marry her. And having lost the game fair and square, she agrees.

Neiher Ataru nor Shinobu (especially Shinobu) like this, but Lum is absolutely intent on being Ataru’s wife. When he declares that he only loves Shinobu, he makes Lum cry, and when she calls Shinobu on the phone (this series is very much lodged in the 80s, tech-wise) both girls accuse him of two-timing.

That said, Shinobu is on board with Ataru’s plan to simply ignore Lum when she uses her alien ship’s jamming tech to intrude on their phone calls.When Ataru and Shinobu threaten meet in person, Lum creates massive electrical storms, but the lovebirds still manage to unite, which is when she takes her ship into the atmosphere to intercept them.

Normally, saving the world would afford the saver a life of leisure and ease; not so for the ever-unlucky Ataru. While he loves Shinobu, he also cannot deny his attraction to Lum, even though she has a tendency to electrocute him when she perceives him to be cheating.

It is here where I admit that the premise and the character dynamics are very much stuck in the 20th century, and perhaps that’s for the best. Compare this to the reboot of the even older Dororo, which respected its source while also bringing it into modernity.

Urusei Yatsura isn’t just retro in look (albeit with a 21st century glow-up), but also retro in sensibility. The show is loud, boisterous, and a a bit backwater. But it’s also fantastic-looking, brimming with infectious energy and charm, and is mostly just a big ol’ heap of fun!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 10 – Lapping the Competition

Yume and Mizuto are home alone in the middle of a typhoon, reading alone in their respective rooms, when Yume encounters a cockroach, which renders her room no longer habitable. The two top students in their grade, neither of whom are particular fans of bugs, decide the only option is to sleep together in his bed.

While they start out back-to-back, Yume eventually shifts positions in her sleep, and when Mizuto wakes up and rolls over, he finds himself closer to Yume’s face than he’s been in a long time (not counting that recent time on the couch). He rolls back over, saying he has no room for “lingering feelings” in their new life together.

The next morning, Yume and Mizuto unconsciously act like a couple going through a rough patch, leading their parents to make that observation. Yume’s mom also suggests Mizuto buy a swimsuit for the upcoming family trip to Mizuto’s dad’s riverside hometown.

For their parents’ sake, the former couple proceeds with the swimsuit-shopping trip, and while Yume tries to “disguise” herself with the same glasses she wore in middle school, the fact she’s wearing her new, more form-fitting style would certainly give her away to, say, Akatsuki.

Mizuto waits outside the changing area, somehow not expecting Yume to show him the cute frilly pink bikini she’s trying on…but she does. When he says it merely looks “good” on her, “he thinks”, she asks him to say something nicer, and so…he compliments her devotion to her family.

On their way home they pass by the very quiet side street where they kissed for the first time, at the very same time of day. When the wind knocks Yume’s hat off, Mizuto naturally lunges toward her, resulting in the two ending up in a very similar position to that magical day.

Yume even closes her eyes and prepares her lips for another kiss, seemingly overcome by the atmosphere…but Mizuto hesitates. Later at home, Mizuto and Yume converse awkwardly, trying to keep up appearances, leading their folks to remark how they’re like “a couple working up the nerve to pop the question”.

While it seems like their parents are oddly perceptive, the fact is neither Mizuto’s dad nor Yume’s mom have any idea about their real past. That’s probably for the best, as considering how nice they both seem, it would pain them to know end to know their marriage inadvertently put their kids in such a strange, even cruel situation.

Speaking of cruel, when Isana comes over for the umpeenth time during summer break to watch a movie with Mizuto, she reclines on the couch, rests her head in Mizuto’s lap as he strokes her hair. They’re a picture of a couple destined for a fifty year-plus marriage, so comfortable Isana thinks nothing of scratching around her bra area in his presence.

After the movie Isana gets up, but continues to monopolize Mizuto by engaging in a lively critical conversation in which Yume cannot hope to participate. When Mizuto asks for tea without saying please, Yume serves him some…in her mugwhich Isana immediately identifies as an indirect kiss.

The movie and discussion cause Mizuto to suddenly nod off, but rather than falling into Isana’s lap, his head falls into Yume’s. Isana briefly considers kissing him since the opportunity is there, but as it would be her first kiss and Yume is right there, she wisely thinks better of it. How horny is this girl?!

Looking down at the sleeping Mizuto in her lap, she realizes why he hesitated, both when they were in the same bed and when they almost kissed in their first kiss place: they both feel the same longing for the way things were, and wanting to go back to those times, but believing it not worth destroying the new life they have together.

Later, Yume’s mom wants details about what’s up with Mizuto and Isana (who earlier said she wouldn’t mind being fuck-buddies or FWB with him). Isana indulges her mom, who then tells Yume she can’t let Mizuto leave her behind; she needs to find a boyfriend for herself.

While lying in bed contemplating her mom’s words about getting a boyfriend, Yume says, out loud, that she doesn’t see herself with anyone but Mizuto, which surprises her. So far, the two have maintained the position that they can’t go back to the way things were, but that’s increasingly easier said than done.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 22 – More than a Lie

Kazuya probably feels like Ruka’s kiss, complete with tongue and the requisite saliva strings, lasted the entire week between the last episode and this one. But Ruka felt threatened by Chizuru and didn’t want to lose, so she marked her man. She also hastens to notify Kazuya that it was her first kiss, and despite the saying that the first taste like strawberries or lemons, hers just tasted like booze.

A frankly obscene amount of Kazuya inner dialogue ensues as he tries to deal with having been wall-slammed and made out with by Ruka only to have to return to the table with his mom, grandma, and Chizuru, who can all tell something’s off about both of them. Gran then produces her gift to Chizuru: her heirloom engagement ring. Chizuru says she couldn’t possibly accept it, as one does, but Gran and Kazuya’s mom insist.

Having seen how backed in a corner and desperate Ruka is and seeing Chizuru struggle, Kazuya decides he’s going to come clean, right then and there, or at least say what needs to be said to shatter the charade. Both Ruka and Chizuru can tell he’s about to say something to the effect of “Chizuru and I broke up”, but before he can get the works out, Chizuru gets a call…from the hospital.

Her gran is unconscious, so she, Kazuya, and Kazuya’s gran take a taxi to the hospital, where they find Chizuru’s gran not unconscious, and her usual tough, cheerful self. The grans have fun talking about their young grandkids, and when the doctor asks Chizuru to come with him to talk, she leaves them in Kazuya’s care in a very relationship-y way.

After torturing Kazuya a bit, the grans send him to a konbini for snacks, and he meets Chizuru in the dark corridor, where she tells him that things aren’t great, and despite her smiles and laughs she doesn’t have much time left. Kazuya asks if she’s okay, and she puts on a brave front. When he heads to the hospital room to finish coming clean and making things right, Chizuru grabs his sleeve and tells him not to.

She knows her gran is worried about her being along when she’s gone, so telling her she and Kazuya broke up on her deathbed simply isn’t something she’s willing to do.  I don’t think she’s using this as a pretense to remain in…whatever it is she and Kazuya have.

But when she says that whatever is now “more than a lie”, it feels like she’s saying that more for just her gran’s sake. She and Kazuya head home and go their separate ways, and Kazuya curses himself for not being able to do more for her, while also finding himself in a spot where revealing the truth will cause more harm than good.

That said, the lie is still doing harm to Ruka, but when she and Kazuya go on a grammable pancake date, she shows genuine empathy when she asks about Chizuru and her gran. She also decides to call a truce, as with Chizuru’s family situation it’s just not an appropriate time to continue her “offensive”.

That said, she’s now convinced that now that they’ve had their first kiss, they can now kiss whenever. Kazuya’s not so sure about that. He’s also even more flummoxed that not only Chizuru but also Ruka have decided that the status quo should be maintained until further notice. And that’s even before he’s aware of whatever it is best girl Sumi is planning to celebrate his birthday…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 21 – Scents of Hokkaido

It’s time for the annual family birthday party Kazuya’s grandmother and parents always throw for him, and when he informs gran that her beloved Chizuru’s birthday has already passed, she hits him with an air-to-grandson cruise missile of anger and then insists that he invite Chizuru to a shared party.

Kazuya invites Chizuru to the shindig on their balconies, and while she can’t make the 5 PM time, she can come later, after she visits her ailing gran in the hospital. Shortly thereafter, Ruka calls Kazuya to wish him a happy birthday, and catches wind of the party. That afternoon she shows up all dolled up, ready to join the party.

Since Kazuya’s fam knows Ruka as “Chizuru’s friend” it’s not that strange that she shows up with him, and Ruka is quite right that however Kazuya feels for Ruka, he did agree to be her boyfriend (rather than reject her) and making her cover for him and Chizuru isn’t fair.

Thus ensues a wonderfully lively sitcom scenario where conceits like the fact Ruka’s yelling at Kazuya in the kitchen can’t be heard by the fam in the next room. Ruka sees she’s started out with a deficit, imagining a virtual Reversi game of who can be the best future daughter/granddaughter.

But Ruka has no shortage of charm, and quickly ingratiates herself with Kazuya’s fam. This sucks for him in terms of maintaining the fiction of him and Chizuru for his gran’s sake, but it also shows a nice what-if if only he had genuine romantic feelings for Ruka rather than Chizuru…things would go pretty smoothly!

Instead, Ruka comes within mere seconds of telling Kazuya’s fam that she’s his actual girlfriend when he’s saved by a text from Chizuru asking what’s up. Kazuya sucks it up and adds her as a friend, then calls her on her personal line—unthinkable in the first season, but accepted as a necessity here.

When she says she’s still at the hospital, Kazuya does what’s right and tells her she doesn’t have to come, but then a jealous Ruka rips the phone out of his hand and demonstrates to Chizuru that it really is a good idea to show herself before things get messy.

I totally get Ruka’s anger, but if her goal was to keep Chizuru away from the fam tonight, her rant to Chizuru had the opposite effect. Chizuru surprises Kazuya’s fam by showing up and immediately being her perfect professional girl self, even asking to pray at the family shrine, something Ruka didn’t even think of.

As Kazuya’s gran learns he and Chizuru live in the same area (but not that they’re next-door neighbors) she asks why they don’t just live together, Chizuru blushes and says she’d lean on him too much. Ruka spots the lipstick on Chizuru’s glass and heads to the bathroom without saying anything.

When Kazuya heads to the bathroom, Ruka, who is getting absolutely slaughtered by Chizuru out there, decides to resort to drastic (and readily available) measures, i.e. her lips. She gets on her toes, pulls Kazuya in by the goofy gaudy tie she bought him for his birthday, and gives him a long lasting smooch.

It’s given all the weight of a climactic romantic development, but lest we forget, at this moment Kazuya simply likes Chizuru more, and the fact the two of them can call and text each other whenever constitutes Reversi discs that can’t be flipped back over.

This episode featured some fun and genuinely funny girlfriends-family sitcom action, but also made me hope that at some point before this cour is out we get some kind of legitimate development towards untangling some of the romantic knots Kazuya has made. I realize I may be setting myself up for disappointment, but it’s always nice to dream.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 06 – Sixpence Nun the Richer

It was only a matter of time before an Index-style battle nun showed up on Engage Kiss, which is fortuitous because it comes at a time when there’s been a significant power shift in the Ogata Shuu love/possession triangle. Ayano is back in his home cooking and cleaning (memory loss or not you’d think dude should be able to help out with chores).

If Kisara insists on sapping Shuu of his memories of her, this is just her making more, while enjoying the time she still has with Shuu. Kisara, understandably shaken by Ayano’s manipulation of her dynamic with Shuu, is skulking in the streets, but knows she’s unable to stay mad at Shuu, who after all has no recollection of cheating on her with his ex.

Kisara remembers back to when she first met Shuu, when he had apparently traveled to an arctic wasteland to find her frozen in stone. When he pulled the demon slayer from her and she attacked him, he told her he wasn’t there to fight, but because he needed her. But does he still need her now?

Ayano twists the knife and keeps Kisara away (and into Gasai Yuno yandere mode, if only visually) with a mocking Insta post flaunting her return to domestic bliss with Shuu. I must say considering what Kisara has done to Shuu (even if he let her do it), Ayano deserves to hot-dog a little on her victory lap.

The need to enjoy oneself while one can is underscored by the arrival of Nun Lady, who immediately demonstrates her power when she gets the jump on The Justice of GUTS while they’re responding to a D-Rank Hazard. Not only did she dispatch the demon before they could with her bare hands, she’s able to toy with one of the toughest exterminators in the city with ease.

At Inspector Mikami’s urging, Shuu finally sets up a clandestine meet with his informant who must have government connects. Indeed, this unidentified person presents him with GUTS getting beaten up by the new nun in town. As Mikami and Miles listen in on Shuu’s bug, the informant nails the fact Shuu was egged on into this meet, and would rather Shuu simply continue wasting demons and not looking a gift horse in the mouth. But Shuu is warned to “be careful of the Celestial Abbey”.

After the next exterminators’ meeting, Shuu tells Akino that the a nun attacking GUTS, and she momentarily forgets that Shuu doesn’t remember the Abbey due to his contract with Kisara. So she fills him (and us) in on the fact the Celestial Abbey has been doing what their little companies in Bayron have been doing, only worldwide and for over a thousand years. They also have zero tolerance when it comes to demons—including demons that are helping humans exterminate other demons like Kisara.

That night, Akino is confronted at her office by the nun, but isn’t afraid. Instead, as she’s on the phone with Ayano when the nun appears, she keeps the line open in her pocket and stalls. The nun is clear about what she wants—info on the whereabouts of the pink demon—but Akino ain’t talking.

Before the nun resorts to the hard way, Ayano crashes through the window in full Action Daughter mode. Akino doesn’t even flinch as Ayano’s bullets search for the nun while avoiding her mom entirely. Alas, the nun soon kicks her gun out of her hand, and her hand-to-hand skills are superior to Ayano’s.

The nun also exacts psychological warfare by observing that Ayano fights like Shuu, whom she apparently knows. This gets Ayano all flustered due to her recent tumble with her ex, and once the nun accepts that neither Yuugiri will say anything, she just snatches Ayano’s phone and peaces out.

The nun uses it to spam Kisara’s phone with messages and a selfie asking if she remembers three years ago. Kisara does, and remembers her name too: Sharon.

Ayano uses her mom’s phone to warn Shuu, but he doesn’t listen when told not to go in his office. Sharon blasts through the door, shoves him out the window, and the two fight in the alley. Since Shuu indeed fights the exact same way as Ayano, Sharon makes quick work of him and is soon straddling and choking him with her garterbelt-festooned thighs.

Sharon tells them they last met three years ago and insinuates that they were lovers at some point. Naturally, Shuu doesn’t remember due to Kisara, but Sharon considers it a personal affront and starts pummeling him. That’s when Kisara swoops in to get Sharon off Shuu, thereby accomplishing what Sharon was after all along: Kisara’s location.

That’s when the arrival of Sharon has Kisara looking back to that time in the arctic cave when Shuu released her from her stone prison and asked for a contract. Turns out that wasn’t all that happened, as not long after Shuu frees her, Sharon stabs her in the back with the slayer. When Kisara fights with Sharon, Shuu shoots her, all but proving that at this point in time the two were at least partly on the same side.

From contracting with ancient demons to allying himself with international exorcists, there’s nothing old Shuu wouldn’t do to clear his family’s name and find his sister. Now that Sharon is back, I imagine it will take Shuu, Kisara, and Ayano working on the same side to neutralize the threat she presents. Considering what’s gone down between Kisara and Ayano, that’ll be no mean feat.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Engage Kiss – 05 – Not Done Being Down Bad

An unarmed and out-of-sorts Ayano is a sitting duck against Maria Swordhands, but thankfully Kisara is able to catch up and save her life. They end up losing the Demon in a convace mirror in front of a konbini, and when Kisara tries to follow she gets most inelegantly stuck halfway. That said, the gun she tossed Ayano was delivered C.O.D.

The police and AAA get Ayano to a secure location where she can dress down and snack to her hearts content. Detective Mikami buys Shuu a katsu bowl and fills him in on at least part of the true story behind the accident that led to his parents dying and being vilifed as traitors. Ayano’s mom tells her the same story, making sure not to make eye contact since Maria can travel through reflections.

In reality, Ogata Isamu was actually trying to get word out that mining the Orgonium that would eventually give Bayron City its wealth would eventually turn it into a haven for demons and the demonically possessed. The actual cause of the accident remains unknown even to the sole survivor (Shuu) but it sure seems like his dad was silenced.

Hearing about this injustice, and how Shuu resorted to consorting with a demon and shaving his memories and life away for answers, eats Ayano up to no end. She’s in a sympathetic mood when Shuu surprises her with a visit to her little quarantine warehouse (which inexplicably has lots of glass windows and puddles of water from which Maria could emerge any moment).

While she can’t abide him seeing her in her leisurewear, he stays with her through the night and the two get cozy. When she brings up the possibility he only dated her so he could get what he wanted with AAA—then dumped them both when he did—he retorts that dating her almost got him fired by her mom. There was no ulterior motive to being with her…just love.

Ayano is understandably happy to hear this, and laments that the two of them could have started a company together if he had been fired. Later that night, Shuu reveals the true reason he’s going so far to discover the truth of that day: his dreams are telling him his sister Kanna is still alive.

Ayano relents, telling him that she won’t try to interfere or stop him from his work anymore, then leans in for “one last kiss” before leaving him alone forever. She covers his eyes so their eyes meeting won’t create a conduit for Maria, and then things start getting more hot and heavy.

It’s only a bit after their liaison that Maria finally makes her appearance, emerging from Chekhov’s Warehouse Puddle (seriously, there could have been a place to stow Ayano with no reflections at all).

Kisara has once again arrived to take care of the Demon, but you can tell from the tears in her eyes she’s not happy about what Shuu and Ayano were up to. She, in turn, tells Shuu she’s going to go full strength to defeat Maria, and then makes out with him, and transforms into Hot Topic Girl.

A dazzling fight in the dark ensues, with Maria more than holding her own. When Ayano brings up what just happened between her and Shuu, Shuu doesn’t know what she’s talking about, indicating Kisara took his most recent memories of what they did on the couch.

Whether Kisara is flailing due to being upset about those memories, or simply because she needs her usual backup from Shuu, he rolls in all shirtless and elbows Maria in the side just as she’s about to deliver a critical blow. He then disrupts her travel by splashing a puddle and tosses the fang into her heart, which Kisara then uses to pierce her through and destory her.

In the aftermath, Detective Mikami, our infodump cop, tells Shuu that the murder of Hanamura Junya wasn’t by the possessed Maria; he was killed, silenced by humans. He also believes that whoever’s been informing Shuu is working based on a demon’s will. From now on Mikami hopes Shuu will trust him going forward, as they want the same thing: to clear his family name by finding out the truth.

As for Ayano, it’s her win this week, as Kisara took the very memory she intended her to take. Since Ayano told Shuu she was done with him permanently in the same memory where they fooled around, Ayano is now free to go back on that since Shuu doesn’t remember. She’s going to keep “interfering” i.e. supporting Shuu whenever she can—whether Kisara likes it or not.

This has me feeling slightly better about the situation than last week’s gloomfest, as Ayano has resolved not to wallow in despair over losing Shuu, but is focused on doing what she can. After all, if he loses his memories of her from the past, they can just make new ones, and maybe there’s a way he can find Kanna and stay himself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Couple of Cuckoos – 05 – Shrine Stamp Maiden

Nagi is loathing returning to school, not sure he can face Segawa Hiro after she rejected him because she was already engaged. However, once he actually goes, he finds he’s the only one making this weird. Hiro has been “researching” him, and learned that he studies alone in the library an hour before school starts, and so decided to join him for a morning study session.

While Nagi is again initially hopeless, preoccupied with whether Hiro wants to steal her from her fiancé or is simply friendzoning him, eventually the two find common ground in their shared love of collecting shrine stamps. Sure, she has over four times more stamps, but he has a couple of rare ones she doesn’t. Oh, and she arrived at school earlier than him. Looks like Nagi’s in for a high school life of cozy study sessions and competing with the girl he likes in all things…

Then things go all Cuckoo and Erika not only transfers to Nagi’s school, but end sup in his and Hiro’s class. No doubt that was not an accident on the part of Erika’s parents. Turns out she was expelled from her fancy girls school when she accidentally posted the picture of them looking like a natural couple. Since such relationships are forbidden, she got the heave-ho. Nagi can’t fathom why her friends would be such “sticklers for the rules”, and Erika quietly muttered that they weren’t friends.

Erika doesn’t let that linger, and Nagi doesn’t press, but he remembers those words when he sees hordes of people surrounding Erika (though keeping a semi-respectful distance), and Erika looking thoroughly uncomfortable and lonely. Erika told him that their engagement has to remain a secret from everyone at school, so Nagi hesitates to approach her. That’s when Class Rep Segawa Hiro approaches her and breaks the ice.

Nagi isn’t surprised by Hiro’s kindness—it’s a big part why he likes her so much—while the other classmates go absolutely apeshit over sharing the air of two higher forms of life. Honestly, you’d think especially a prestigious school like this would have rules and such in place against this kind of behavior which too often feels like harassment rather than the harmless admiration the episode makes it out to be. And Nagi takes part in it!…though not for the same reasons as everyone else.

As soon as Erika and Hiro started hitting it off, Nagi imagined a metaphorical guillotine blade hanging over his head should Erika find out he confessed to Hiro and Hiro find out he’s engaged to Erika. While he’s trying to find the right time to approach Erika, it ends up being a day of stalking instead. This is the first episode of Cuckoos where I just wasn’t a fan of Nagi whatsoever…he was too cartoonish with a side of creepy (the less said about the shot of Nagi and Erika unbuttoning their shirts the better).

Nagi finally breaks the stalemate when he witnesses Hiro suddenly crouch to the ground and start sobbing. He rushes out of his hiding spot to tell Hiro that whatever Erika said or did, she didn’t mean it, she’s just nervous and is actually a good person. But Erika didn’t say anything; Hiro’s tears are of joy, because she just might be Erika’s biggest fangirl.

She just couldn’t hold it in anymore, ya know? And while I’m sure Erika is flattered, my heart sunk a little now knowing Hiro isn’t above the drooling masses wigging out over their new classmate being a big deal online. I laughed at Hiro’s threatening face after Erika tells her that Nagi is “another one of her fans”, but the flimsiness of that lie will certainly present a problem down the road.

What I did like was Erika being genuinely touched by Nagi came to her defense and called her a good person (which she is), even if he misunderstood what was happening. She blushes and tells him she’s “not half bad”, definitely a compliment coming from his reluctant fiancée. I also liked learning that Erika takes after her biological mom’s athleticism. Neither she nor Hiro are just pretty faces.

The idea of the three having morning study sessions should prove a font of comedy and drama. But between Nagi’s aggressive stalking the school losing their mind over a minor celebrity, and how Erika often comes off as traumatized because of it, this outing had its share of blemishes. Fortunately, that’s far more forgivable for a two-cour show—we’ve got a long way to go.

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 05 – The Truth Is Revealed

Smells Like Teen Spirit of Expression

Oh, my sweet summer child…you didn’t perchance think Miyuki’s rapping was never going to addressed, did you? It all starts when Kei calls Chika asking her big sis to murder her brother. Turns out he’s been practicing at home. When Miyuki tells her there’s no other way to convey his feelings to a certain someone, she’s eager to help him out, just as she did with his anthem singing.

Alas, not only is Chika not remotely inoculated against the scourge of Miyuki’s sea sluggish rhymes, she’s not that strong a rapper herself in the first place, having never really done it before. Still, she stands by the axiom that it’s not how you express something that’s important, it’s what and to whom. Miyuki sets her straight: rap is both a sport and an art, but most of all, it’s a conversation.

Chika’s first attempt at rapping is like watching a baby deer take its first wobbly tentative steps. But once she locks in on the fact that rapping and piano are not that different, she starts to put out something that does more than just bear a passing resemblance to rap. No sooner does Miyuki tell her he has nothing left to teach her, he proceeds to ask her to teach him how to rap. The teacher hath become the student…

Straight Outta Chiba

It isn’t until their training is nearly complete that Chika bothers to ask whether the person Miyuki needs to rap to is someone she knows. He says she does, and we flash back to that karaoke box, where we learn Ai actually opened up to him (presumably before the rapping) about who she is, what she does, and who she works for.

As a fellow commoner who can empathize with what Ai must be going through, Miyuki embraces her as a friend and gives her his number. He uses it to invite Ai to Chiba Park where he has something he wants to tell her. As Kaguya eavesdrops on her employee-sister’s call, she tags along, while Chika is eager for some BL action, believing Herthaka to be a male butler.

With Chika backing him up, Miyuki spits out his feelings, which challenge Ai’s belief that one needs to put on an act in order to be loved. This rapping Miyuki is being his own best self, and sees no reason why she can’t be hers too.

When Kaguya feels confused, lost, and left out, she eventually cut loose with the illest rhymes of the group, on her first try no less! Then she gets cocky and puts Ai on blast, provoking Ai into delivering her own freestyle rap. As with Miyuki and Chika’s raps, Ai’s is accompanied by music-video style dramatizations.

Ai finally comes out as being jealous of Kaguya enjoying her life as a teenager, with all its highs and lows. She wants a friend in Miyuki…with the option to possibly steal him from Kaguya in the future.

They’re in Nirvana…Never Mind

The final segment somewhat surprisingly does not involve rapping, but is the second of Shijou Maki’s visits that put the council in “student” council. She’s joined the volunteer club at Nagisa’s behest…a club that includes just her, Nagisa, and Nagisa’s boyfriend, whom we finally learn after three seasons is named Tsubasa.

Unaware of Maki’s feelings for Tsubasa, Nagisa is transparently lovey-dovey with him around her. As such, she’s come to think of Nagisa as the devil. Yuu and Miyuki warn her that as the couple is in “nirvana”, breaking them up will be nigh impossible. Maki, as innocent as her cousin, is unaware that the Nirvana they speak of pertains to Nagisa and Tsubasa having knocked boots.

In the end, Maki doesn’t get any useful advice other than the kind that is no longer useful: love is all about speed. Once you know you love someone, it’s imperative to confess to them ASAP, lest they get stolen away, as Tsubasa was. Miyuki, exhibiting the same self-awareness as Kaguya did last week, warns her waiting for the other person to confess is just a passive way to save face.

But Maki’s visit isn’t a waste. She can take some solace in commiserating with and warning these boys not to follow her down the path of inaction. Miyuki envisions Yuu with Kaguya and Yuu envisions Miyuki with Tsubame, and they can feel a glimmer of what Maki feels in reality. So the StuCo office will always be open to her, whenever it gets too hard watching Nirvana from the outside.

P.S. There’s a new ED involving the gang rapping and breakdancing on stage. It’s awesome and features some pretty slick animation (as well as more “serious” character design of the characters) and better rapping than any of the raps in the actual episode. Like the Starship Troopers ED, it also ends with a sweet moment of togetherness with Miyuki and Kaguya.

 

Bokutachi no Remake – 06 – The Doctor(s’ Son) Is In (Trouble)

Kyouya wakes up on the floor of his room with Shinoaki on top of him; they fell asleep looking at reference materials, but Aki wants another kiss just as Nanako comes in. But to admit it bothers her that the two are becoming so close is to admit that she has feelings for Kyouya—something she’s not prepared to do.

This gently simmering love triangle is placed on the back burner for the central conflict of this episode (and the next one, and possibly the one after that): it’s Tsurayuki’s turn to have a problem Kyouya swoops up to solve with a smile. Turns out Tsurayuki is the son of wealthy doctors who insist he become one.

Going to art school means he has to pay tuition. He’s reluctant to share this with Kyouya, but he had to at some point, since skipping classes because you have to work crazy hours to pay for said classes is ultimately self-defeating!

Kyouya weathers Tsurayuki’s lashing out because he believes he has a serious solution: they’ll produce a doujin game. This solution will require him to ask for the time and effort not only of Shinoaki and Nanako, but asking Keiko to use the name of her doujin group in order to produce enough clout for the game to sell.

Fortunately, everyone is on board with this idea in theory, though both Nanako and Tsurayuki seem particularly adverse to the more amorous aspects of doujin games, particularly the school romance theme their game will have—Tsurayuki is worried his own lack of experience with sex is a detriment, while Nanako is scandalized by the art of the sample games Kyouya supplies.

Even so, the group decides to press on for Tsurayuki’s sake, and they get the okay from their professor. Kyouya is determined to draw out his three friends’ not inconsiderable talents with his diligent direction, but their confusion with new methods and practices, combined with their need to juggle both studies and work on the game, mean it’s not long before the four of them are exhausted and not at their best.

Eiko, who was completely outside of this scheme until he can no longer hide its effects, kindly offers her advisory services as a fellow director to Kyouya, but also speaks her mind: she thinks he’s working too hard. Again, it’s great to see his future supervisor worry about him like this, unaware that she’s a big reason why he’s working so hard now, in addition to this being his second and likely last chance to do point his life in a meaningful direction.

While Kyouya and Aki’s tentative courtship is cute, I absolutely love every scene between him and Eiko, and I’m glad he didn’t keep blowing her off this week. Even so, it’s clear Eiko trusts Kyouya and cares about his well-being, while Kyouya has been nothing but strictly professional and a bit detached with her, perhaps because she was his boss once.

It’s at this point I must admit that “creating a doujin game from scratch” seems like an odd play if you’re trying not to kill your friends from burnout. Assuming they make an awesome game that makes enough money for Tsurayuki to pay his tuition, due in May, what will be left of them, and their grades? And what about paying for the next term?

A possible answer to one of those questions (i.e. where is the money going to come from) arrives at their dorm’s front door in the very end, in the form of the glamorous rich girl Jisshouji Sayuri, apparently Tsurayuki’s fiancée. Will she help the man she apparently adores to achieve his dream, or insist he come back to reality, go to med school, and marry her? The Tsurayuki Saga continues next week with a lot left to be solved.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Bokutachi no Remake – 05 – Wings of Song

I know I almost always rag on a series doing a cultural festival episode, as they typically end up pretty formulaic. But at the same time, there’s a reason that formula often works so well: it raises the stakes for all the characters by making them do things outside their routines or comfort zones. Remake’s art festival gives us a ton of wonderful little moments, plus a couple of big ones with lasting ramifications.

Things start out in Nanako’s favor, as Kyouya is so supportive of her honing her singing, she instinctively falls into his arms—though she warn him later not to get “the wrong idea.” She’s similarly flustered when Kyouya first sees her in her outfit for the maid cafe, with her, Shinoaki, and Keiko each donning different styles. The cafe is such a success, they actually poach people who were going to watch the films.

One of those who came for the films but also stopped by the cafe is Eiko, whom Kyouya can’t quite mask his surprise for showing up to something that fundamentally doesn’t seem to be her thing. I really enjoy the interaction of Eiko and Kyouya as two people who did interact in Kyouya’s initial future (unlike the others)—I just wish she had more to do than try to apologize to Nanako, only for Kyouya to say theres no need, as her stern lecture helped Nanako more than it hurt her.

On the last day, Kyouya attends the visual art exhibition with Shinoaki, spots a painting that looks familiar, and when he studies the name tag he recognizes the name, then gets all dizzy and faints. Whether due to overwork, a side effect of his time travel, or a little of both, he wakes up in Shinoaki’s lap in a quite, private back room. It’s here where Shinoaki tells Kyouya how much his care and support and praise has helped her, and leans in for a kiss, only to be stopped an inch from Kyouya’s lips by a phone call.

There’s an emergency on the main stage, as the “secret guest” band got double-booked and will be a no-show. Keiko suggests they just ask around; it’s an art school, there are plenty of people who will want to perform on stage. But both Kyouya and the music professor believe Nanako can and should do it. Nanako disagrees, feels the pressure of all those people rejecting her, and flees the tent.

Kyouya chases after her while Tsurayuki keps the crowd busy with some clown tricks. Nanako expresses how terrified she is; he tells her she’s scared because she’s serious about doing a good job. And to assuage her fear about the crowd of hundreds, she shows her the YouTube page of her singing videos, which have quickly garnered tens of thousands of views and spirited discussion about the unique appeal of her voice.

Of course, we don’t learn that this is what Kyouya showed Nanako until after we see her take the stage in her maid outfit, give a meek introductory speech, and then kick into full Performance Mode. It only taks a couple of bars for the crowd to get drawn in, and before long, they’re dancing and swaying and fully on board. Nanako, in turn, feeds off their energy and truly shines. Kyouya knew she would, because she’s the famous N@NA from his time.

After her encore, a winded but joyful Nanako rushes to the tent to see Kyouya, who among the crowd of hundreds was likely the one person she was singing for, in addition to herself. But the others tell her Kyouya went off somewhere. We then see him with Shinoaki, who mustve gotten a little lightheaded as a result of all the hard work she’s done and the size and heat from the crowd. Shinoaki stands up so she and the seated Kyouya are of a height, and then leans in and finishes the first kiss they started earlier.

Nanako is just in time to witness this kiss, and watches Kyouya and Shinoaki looking every bit like a couple through the light of a fountain, holding crepes for her and Kyouya. You can see her post-performance high evaporate from her face, and her reflection in the babbling fountain is a nice visualization of how all of a sudden everything is out of sorts again, just when things seemed to be on the right track.

And all because despite herself she’s developed feelings for Kyouya, who let it be said is fully deserving of those feelings. It’s just, Shinoaki likes him too, and unlike Nanako she’s never tried to qualify or deny it. We’ll certainly see how this incident affects the group dynamic, and whether the official establishment of this love triangle will destroy what Kyouya believes he was brought back in time to do.

Kanojo mo Kanojo – 01 (First Impressions) – Good Faith Violation

Saki and Nagisa seem like nice people and are very cute, coming straight form the Quintessential Quintuplets school character design—not surprising as Tezuka Productions and director Kuwahara Satoshi helmed QQ’s first season. There’s another QQ connecting thread in a lad trying to juggle multiple relationships with very different personalities while also trying to figure out who he is.

The main problem is that our protagonist Naoya is a loud, unpleasant, incurable boob whose hollow-headedness and aw-shucks feigned righteousness aren’t nearly enough to excuse his conduct throughout this episode. Saki is clearly NOT into him dating someone else—Period! End of Story!—but he blows past her boundaries like a rom-com Tazmanian Devil, while also using the improbably keen and willing Nagisa as a cute prop.

In a just world, Saki and Nagisa would go off and be good friends together, leaving Naoya in punitive solitude to reflect on his many, many missteps. Instead the show seems primed to reward him again and again for his despicable behavior. We know from the jump that he mercilessly hassled Saki into agreeing to date him, as if the idea of “good old fashioned persistence” or “not taking no for an answer” were noble qualities in a young man.

To then present to Saki an almost comically ideal second girl he just met and corner her with the cruel ultimatum of “I’m either dating both of you or just her” just screams bad faith. Naoya can go on about being “upfront” and “honest” all he wants; bottom line is he’s a selfish jerk for putting Saki through everything he has. I just plain don’t like the guy, there’s no indication he’s going to become any more palatable. Even if he did, I’d resent the responsibility of nurturing his redemption foisted upon his girlfriends.

A anime that earnestly explores how three young people come to terms with their polyamory and navigate the difficult waters of that practice is an interesting, worthwhile concept. It doesn’t even have to take it super seriously! All I ask is that it approach that concept from a remotely informed angle, and not just freaking wing it. Or heck, at least be fair: have Nagisa or Saki present Naoya with a second boyfriend!

Instead, Girlfriend, Girlfriend, like its pushy MC, noisily demands we accept its non-negotiable, unreasonable, unbalanced, and above all disrespectful terms, for the sake of some kooky fun. I just don’t think I have the patience for it.

 

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