Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 08 – Esteem in the Bloodstream

Toubaru-sensei has taken note of the supreme squeeness of AhaRaidou and its deleterious effects on her health, which is why she’s made a habit of imagining the pair in all manner of adorable romantic situations while safe in her bed at night. Unfortunately, the real thing proves far more esteemed than she could imagine, as she watches the “nuclear esteemed family” dynamic of the two plus Ooshiro play out on the rooftop.

It is fortunate that Toubaru’s, or should I say Momo’s friend and fellow teacher Miyahara-sensei is well-equipped to deal with her reactions to the pure innocent romance she watches unfold. That night, she tries to imagine ever more ludicrous scenarios (with Aharen and Raidou’s characters changing completely) and almost bleeds to death in her sleep. Thankfully Miyahara had a spare key!

Ishikawa and Satou may not be the most dynamic side characters (honestly they’re bland as wallpaper paste, and probably intentionally so to serve as amiable straight men. But one thing they do do is give Aharen and Raidou an opportunity to go to a festival together, so they’re not all bad! Aharen looks appropriately angelic in her yukata.

She’s also appropriately ravenous, visiting every food stall and spending all her money before Raidou can finish explaining his grand strategic plan for “winning the festival”. Meanwhile, Toubaru and Miyahara-sensei also attend the festival, and Toubarou proceeds to lose a lot of blood for the second day in a row.

Otherwise it’s a perfect evening for our main couple, until it’s not; Raidou not only loses his phone, but Aharen, as Futaba ended up holding his hand believing him to be her dad. After taking Futaba to the lost child desk and reuniting her with said dad (after which she properly expresses her gratitude for once) the gods smile on our couple, as Aharen appears right beside him at that very lost child desk (naturally, the guy assigned to the desk assumes Raidou is her guardian.

Aharen is so happy and relieved to see Raidou, she sheds a tear. After all this dilly-dallying though, the two have to book it to get a good fireworks viewing spot. Ultimately, any spot is good for the nearly 2-meter-tall Raidou. When Aharen can’t see due to being small, he hoists her onto his shoulders, and she experiences a whole new world.

Later, after he daintily repairs her broken sandal strap, he offers his hand so they can go find the others. She hesitates, but ultimately takes it and proceeds to blush profusely. She’s grabbed him so many times, but in this time and place, it feels different. If the show is serious about progressing these feelings further, I’m looking forward to watching it happen…while making sure I’m more prepared than Toubaru-sensei was this week!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 07 – More Aharen Than Aharen

Aharen may be tiny, but she needs a lot of food to keep going, so when she forgets to bring the lunch she made to school, it’s a major problem. Aharen decides to brave the chaotic school store, but even when Raidou puts her on his shoulders and powers through, her voice is too quiet to be heard. Ultimately the problem is solved when her dog Nui delivers her lunch. What a good boy!

After lunch, Raidou and Aharen play Go Fish with Ishikawa and Satou, their official second and third friends at school after Ooshino. Despite dealing the cards an possessing a multi-stage strategy for victory, Aharen runs roughshod over those plans, beating him twice on account of both luck and his misinterpretation of her expressions.

When it’s time to go to a different room for science class, Raidou notes how Aharen doesn’t move after waking up, chalking it up to the rebellious teenage urge to cut class. Turns out she was asleep in the same position so long she can’t move. Raidou resolves to carry her on his back—for the rest of their days, if necessary—but she soon regains the ability to move. Her issue is she stayed up late thinking of what side dishes she should make for Raidou’s lunch. What a keeper!

Turns out Futaba believes the way to her Akkun’s heart is through his stomach, so she challenges Futaba to a lunch duel. Aharen dusts her easily, but is magnanimous in victory, giving Futaba a cooking lesson in the home ec classroom. When Futaba returns the next day cursing Aharen for “poisoning” her lunch, Raidou points out the need to make a fresh lunch, otherwise it spoils.

The last and most hilarious skit involves an art project. After attempting to draw a landscape and then Aharen (who gets self-conscious about being observed), he settles on a graphite self-portrait. Aharen, on the other hand, has a much more ambitious plan: a full-size doll of herself.

When Raidou first spots it, he assumes she’s stopped breathing and administers CPR. Then Aharen insists on taking her home, where he positions her right beside his bed, where he’s already got the crane game dolls surrounding his head, makes for a most unsettling sleeping setup. How wonderfully bizarre!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 02 – Oh My Crêpe!!

At first it looks like CEO Tamura and LIPxLIP manager Uchida have played a cruel prank on an unwitting Hiyori (whom Uchida misnames as “Hiyako”…maybe on purpose?!). Aizou and Yuujirou unleash a barrage of insults on her, but she absorbs them and fires back with some extremely rude and accurate retorts, and all three kids learn why the adults put them together: Hiyako’s got guts, and doesn’t care that they’re idols.

That she’s literally in their class is icing on the cake. In a rather oddly dimly-lit scene where her teacher Akechi-sensei offers her candy (don’t do it Hiyori!) and Hiyori climbs on top of the desk to whisper in his ear (what a dang goof!) she also gets an easy approval of her new job (thanks to Tamura) and also an assurance he’ll keep quiet about it. Hiyori, lovable hayseed that she is, is in awe of what most Tokyo kids would think was a humdrum teacher. He’s there to support her and everyone else in his class and make sure they enjoy their high school life.

She soon learns her job is to further support Aizou and Yuujirou on the idol side of their lives. This means, yes, being a personal assistant to a pair of pretty but ill-mannered cads-and-a-half. We feel every hour of Hiyori’s day that stretches out like the deserts in “Ozymandias”, waking up, studying, running, and then being a human coatrack and vending machine. Still, the pay is good, so while Hiyori hardly sails through her duties she does tough it out with a stiff upper-lip and some lovely withering inner dialogue about how much these two disagreeable fops grind her freakin’ gears.

While the idols suck, Hiyori at least initially isn’t all that good at her job, rendering some of their criticism valid, if indelicately expressed. For one thing, she simply allows girls to swarm the boys during a break, and even gets up to hang out with her friends when Yuujirou artfully reminds her it’s her job to get them out of these situations. That’s when she learns that Aizou is uncomfortable around girls, making him that much more amazing an actor. She knew Yuujirou can be apocalyptically surly, but Aizou confirms that it’s Yuujirou’s normal state.

Even so, Hiyori’s entire life, not even school life, is busied up playing LIPxLIP Service. We watch her steadfast determination to get to the lunch rush early, unto almost breaking the no-running-in-the-halls rule (a truly dastardly and prejudiced rule for, ya know, a runner!). We see her meeting up with Juri, who gives her good advice that nets her her first non-mooched lunch, which she savors accordingly. Then Chizuru casually asks Hiyori what shes been up to, and Hiyori has to lie (badly) because part of her job is keeping her job secret.

We also get a peek at Hiyori’s track life, as her senpai Hina is warm, supported, and extremely protective of her first-year, especially when her friend Koutarou narrowly keeps Hiyori from getting brained by a soccer ball. Hina quickly and expertly extorts free crêpes out of Koutarou, and by doing so inadvertently sparks one of Hiyori’s most heartfelt desires of coming to the big city. Alas, she cannot enjoy crêpes with her senpais … because she has work.

When the boys’ next gig takes them to a podcast recording by Rio and Yui, two members of an established rival idol group AT4, Aizou and Yuujirou play things safe with their sugary smiles and empty platitudes. They’re so perfect and dull that Yui goes off-script and tells them they’re lying about simply wanting to entertain people and make their fans happy. He might be on to something, but Rio stops recording and disciplines Yui. But while he apologizes to Aizou and Yuujirou, he also offers them candid advice: hollow smiles will only get them so far in this business.

Back at school, Hiyori is minding her own business when she hears hollerin’, and spots Aizou and Yuujirou at each others’ throats again. Since Uchida is paying her handsomely even while she’s at school, Hiyori comes between the two. When she stumbles on her landing, the easy play would have been for Hiyori to end up falling onto the boys, but instead she falls into them like a missle, shoving them back. When she warns them that they risk getting suspended, neither seem to care. In fact, attending school was the condition they had to agree upon in order to become idols.

Hiyori, who has always dreamed of going to a big Tokyo school, laments how it hasn’t turned out anything like she expected. That being said, she could quit anytime she wanted; her parents didn’t insist she work to pay for her living expenses (about that: let’s just assume Shibuya is far more affordable in the world of this show, shall we?). But of course, she’s not giving up, no matter how crêpe-deprived she gets.

Back at the studio, Hiyako is put to work sorting a huge box of fan mail and gifts, and she discovers cute hand-made letters from a particular fan, for both the boys and their manager. She delivers it to Uchida, who immediately identifies it as Chutan-san, one of LIPxLIP’s oldest and biggest fans…so big, she writes multi-page letters in perfect 10-point print on custom coorespondence stock for their manager. Inspiring that level passion and devotion is the power of idols, and shows Hiyori that they must have something.

As Hiyori watches the boys sweat, and fight, as they practice choreography in the next room, Uchida tells her that she’s doing fine if they show her their true selves. As to why they’re idols, Uchida tells her all they said at their audition is that they want to be on stage, with no further detail. But by watching them work their asses off in that studio, Hiyori comes to see that bein’ idols means to them what runnin’ means to her. There’s something all three of them want to do, and they’re never going to give up or back down.

Just when Hiyori is having more charitable feelings about the boys do they let her down once more by spurning her peace offering of food and their favorite drinks. But again, they’re quite correct that a manager should be offering water or sports drinks after their practice. So while Aizou and Yuujirou continue to piss Hiyori off, she at least understands them a little better, and appreciates that they’re being their true selves around her.

As for her true self…Suzumi Hiyori looks like a shoo-in for Best Girl of the Season. While I understand totally if her squeaky voice isn’t everyone’s cup of matcha, anyone who doesn’t want to protect her with their life might just be The Grinch. Just two episodes in and I’m completely in love with both her and her show, which as the title confirms, she runs.

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 01 (First Impressions) – Lean on Me

In the best tradition of any number of [Character Name] is [Character Trait] comes Aharen-san is Indecipherable, with a bone-simple premise and extremely solid execution throughout. Our protagonists Raidou and Aharen are trying to start fresh in their first year in high school, and end up complementing each other perfectly by remaining who they are.

In Raidou’s case, he’s one of those “scary resting face” guys who is hard to approach, and who thinks he’s smiling when he’s not. Aharen, he learns, has trouble gauging the proper distance and intensity of social interaction. She’s either too distant (literally and/or figuratively) or waaay too close than is socially acceptable. She also speaks with an extremely tiny voice (expertly provided by Minase Inori).

After a couple of two-ships-passing-in-the-night incidents, the two eventually connect; Aharen is her usual too-close self, but Raidou doesn’t mind because he wanted to make friends and has done so. And while he notes in his inner monologue when Aharen is way too close or clingy, he’s never embarrassed or over-the-top. Everything is handled super chill fashion.

Aharen and Raidou are so immediately likeable and adorable, it’s not hard to get swept up in their everyday school lives and not particularly care about anyone else in the class, as the episode doesn’t either. They’re both kind, decent, generous people, whether it’s plushies won in a crane game or Aharen sharing half of her enormous bento…or getting up extra-early to make him a lunch all his own when his mom is on a business trip.

There’s plenty of physical comedy to be wrung out of the pair, whether its their extreme size difference or the myriad ways Aharen fits onto his lap, tucked into his shoulder, or clinging to his leg. This gets taken to an extreme when she nods off in his lap and ends up head-over-heels. This is at the very end, which marks the first time the episode focuses on a third character—in this case, a jealous redheaded girl.

My Winter 2022 trio of Takagi-san 3, Dress-Up Darling, and Akebi’s Salior Uniform was outstanding, and are a hard act to follow. But Aharen-san is just the sweet and charming slice-of-life comedy I was ready to miss when those three shows ended. Looks like the cozy good times are going to keep rolling into the Spring.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 04 – Tease the Night

The weather is starting to turn in TakaKata Land, but the day Nishikata decides to change to his warmer winter uni, Takagi is still in her short-sleeved summer fuku. We see just how accustomed to losing challenges Nishikata is when she says that because he changed first, he wins a game she had goin on in her head—that doesn’t sit right with him!

He makes up a new game—one he’s sure to lose—in which Takagi loses if she says the word “cold”. He tries to get her to respond in a manner that would sound like the word cold, but as usual she’s too sharp for him. When he tries again, she turns the game to her advantage, drawing very close and asking if she says “cold” like he wants, will he…warm her up?

After the three girls are out of sync due to an undelivered text, Nishikata finds all his usual lunch buddies are out sick (or pretending to be sick), so he resigns himself to eating lunch alone on the steps, which he tries to make the best of but can’t help but feel lonely. Sure enough, Takagi sensed he might be lonely and joins him.

It occurs to me that these two rarely eat lunch together since they each have their own circles of lunch buddies. It’s so lovely to see them just sitting together silently munching away. Then Takagi has Nishikata guess what’s in her onigiri, claiming one of his prized karaage should he be wrong. She wins, but feels bad about taking his food, so gives him one of her crispy lotus roots, acting until the very last second like she was going to feed him, lovey-dovey style.

The next segment involves Nishikata trying to snap a photo of a thrown rock that looks like a UFO in the sky. Takagi helps by doing the throwing, and while she admits she doesn’t really believe, she likes that Nishikata does. It’s part of what makes her adore him. In a lovely whimsical twist, she spots a actual UFO, but he doesn’t see it.

One day the bath in the Nishikata household is inoperable, so he has to use the public baths. Takagi asks him what time he’s going and he tells her, then spends the entire time there either looking for her or wondering why she didn’t come. Then she surprises him by the milk vending machine, admitting she not only came, but came early, perfectly calculating how much longer she’d take compared to him.

Nishikata’s longing for Takagi’s company, even if they were separated by the different sections of the bathhouse, speaks to his growing affection for her and desire to be by her side more often than not. The feeling is obviously (to everyone but him, of course) mutual, as Takagi remarks how they don’t usually walk together at night, and how it obscures their faces.

After Nishikata very foolishly challenges Takagi to a “whose face turns red first” contest— as soon as she leans into him he loses—the two continue their nighttime walk until it’s time to part ways to head to their respective homes. As she departs, Nishikata offers, unbidden, to walk her home, since it’s nighttime and thus not as safe for a young lady.

Takagi is so shocked by his offer, and loves so much how it sounds like something a boyfriend would say, she simply stands there in a perfect blend of befuddlement and delight. Then she thanks Nishikata for the offer and darts off, strategically hiding from him what must be a beet-red face.

Mieruko-chan – 10 – One More Time

The show delivers one of its creepiest scenes yet without showing a single ghost or ghoul…just creepy-ass Toono Zen, cracking open the door of his pitch-black apartment surrounded by crows, accepting some leftovers from a kindly lady with some suspicious blood on his hand. He retreats back inside when talk turns to the recent maiming of cats in the neighborhood.

How such a guy was able to get a job subbing at a girl’s high school is beyond me, but a lot of the class finds him hot. Naturally, this doesn’t include Miko, who now has to constantly see those tortured cat ghouls writhe around Toono, who looks on the surface like he’s not aware of their presence, but at the same time could simply be hiding the fact he’s aware of them…just as Miko tries to do.

One side-effect of their new substitute teacher and his ghoulish kitty entourage started out as a joke, but is now starting to become worrying: Hana just can’t stop eating. She even inadvertently bails Miko out of a very sticky situation with Toono and the ghouls when they to to the nurse’s office. Yulia sees them go in, and immediately correctly diagnoses the problem: Hana’s aura is being drained by the spirits surrounding Toono.

That Yulia knows this could prove crucial to Miko and Hana in the days ahead, but there are two problems: Hana has no idea what Yulia is talking about, Miko does know but is still apprehensive about talking about it, and Yulia thinks Miko is out to get her. To Miko’s point, ghouls can pop up anywhere at anytime; there’s no safe time or place to talk about them, as evidenced in a “peaceful” park where one cute kid transforms into a ghoul and has to be destroyed by Miko’s guardian spirits.

But that marks the second of three times they’ve helped Miko; the third time will be their last, adding one more lump in her throat. The episode is bookended by two students accidentally interrupting their teacher Toono’s seemingly nightly cat-hunting mission. Here I thought the show was going to try to humanize him a bit at some point, but nope, looks like he’s pure evil.

The forces of evil seem to be amassing around Miko, Hana, and Yulia. With only one guardian intervention left to count on, it may be time for Miko to drop her guard and converse with Yulia about ways to protect themselves from the coming scourge…and prevent Hana from gorging herself.

Mieruko-chan – 09 – The Joy of Being Able to React

The arrival of Toono Zen as her substitute homeroom teacher is an extremely vexing proposition for Miko. There are an inordinate number of intense cat-demons constantly surrounding the guy, who doesn’t seem to notice. At least he doesn’t seem to remember her from the stray cat encounter, while Hana can’t quite place the guy and Miko encourages her to believe she’s mistaking him for someone else.

Still, Zen’s demon hangers-on creep out Miko to the point she retreats to the bathroom, only to encounter another gigantic ghoul who climbs out of the toilet in her stall. Miko uses the fact there’s no TP to retreat, only to find Yulia eating her lunch in the stall next door. Mind you, Miko is only alone because Hana went to buy bread to eat after she ate her regular lunch.

Miko is of the mind that no one should have to eat their lunch in a bathroom stall, so invites Yulia to join her and Hana outside. Yet when she spots their teacher once again walking down the halls, Miko’s eyes suddenly fill with tears, concerning both Hana and Yulia.

The bulk of the remainder of the episode consists of a test of courage in the form of a haunted house set up by the local donut concern; if customers can brave the house and get their card stamped, they’ll receive 20 free donuts. Hana is an incurable scaredy-cat, but Miko simply loves the opportunity to be able to react to scary things by screaming. The fact that she smiles as she screams is particularly disturbing to Yulia!

Miko ends up seeing a real ghoul among all of the haunted house monsters, but she’s still able to react because the ghoul can’t be sure who she’s reacting to: the genuine article, or the artifice of the haunted house. When all’s said and done the three friends end up going through the ringer but coming out of it closer than ever…not to mention 20 donuts richer!

Super Cub – 02 – Two-Wheeled Freedom

Koguma discovers how to hang her helmet off her Cub after seeing her classmate stow his under the seat of his scooter. Once in class, she daydreams about suddenly blurting out that she came to school on a motorbike and suddenly becoming Miss Popular. Thankfully, she chooses a much more natural time to mention her new scooter—in Home Ec class when they’re making drawstring bags. Her mention leads to a classmate asking if she can see her Cub after school.

While last week Koguma was thoroughly in her own little world, directly interacting only with Shino, this week we see just how socially awkward she is, first by only tentatively agreeing to meet up and then trying to make an Irish exit, only to forget her newly-made bag.

Fortunately, the other girl doesn’t hold it against her, and reveals she’s something of a motorbike otaku in her appraisal of Koguma’s Super Cub. She also makes plain her biker girl bonafides by presenting her own steed: a red MD4=90 Postal Cub, she’s souped up with aftermarket and bespoke parts.

Their interaction kind of trails off when the girl, named Reiko, has to head out, but Koguma privately hopes they’ll get to talk more tomorrow. Even so, when tomorrow arrives, it takes everything she has to let out a hushed good morning that Reiko only acknowledges with a curt “Mmm.”

Koguma’s fear that their interactions are at an end are alleviated when Reiko takes her arm and leads her to their bikes where they eat lunch together, explicitly mentioning they’re friends now. Yet even here, when Reiko tells her they can go anywhere they want with their Cubs, Koguma seems held back by a lack of imagination.

But once she’s riding home after school, Koguma starts to feel what Reiko was talking about, and instead of going straight through her usual intersection, she takes a right turn. That leads to a supermarket with much better prices on her lunch packets, and she even saves a few yen by using the drawstring bag she made the other day.

You could say that inspiration fueled Koguma’s imagination, allowing her to make a different turn than usual and find a new an unknown place. It’s her first small step to realizing the boundless potential for freedom her new ride represents. As we see Reiko taking full advantage of her Cub to find a gorgeous Yuru Camp-esque vista featuring Fuji-san, Koguma looks forward to her next after-school side trip. So am I!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Fruits Basket – 30 (S2 05) – Mystery Date

This week we learn about Arisa’s meet cute at the konbini where she works, in which a man drops a stack of bags of chips in the exact same manner Tooru dropped a stack of printouts when Arisa first met her. The similarity makes Arisa laugh, and her laugh intrigues the man, whose face we don’t see. But it’s obvious this won’t be the end of things between them.

Summer Break has begun, and Tooru is determined to spend it having as much possible with her friends as possible. So when Momiji springs a trip to a haunted house on her, she’s determined to power through the fear. Things don’t go so well at first as she screams in bloody horror over everything. Yuki and Kyou are at a loss, but Haruhatsu exploits her empathy by giving the various scary people tragic stories, and Tooru’s fear soon evaporates.

While Haru’s weirdly convincing sappy story was pretty funny, the haunted house trip is fun but not vital, unlike Arisa’s adventure in romance, which redeems what had been a meh episode (by high Furuba standards). While on break form her cafe job she spots the man from the konbini and runs him down. He buys her lunch as thanks for her help, and tells her that despite being 26 (nine years older than her) he’d never been in a konbini before.

He goes and says something about how such trips were “unnecessary”, and a pissed-off Arisa storms off, because it sure sounds like he thinks she’s unnecessary! But she openly admits she looked forward to seeing him way more than she initially thought. This time he chases her down and apologizes, telling her he feels the same way, drawing her close as if to kiss her, then pulling away and taking his leave.

It’s certainly an charming enchanting encounter…or at least it would be if I wasn’t 1000% sure from the start that Koreno is a member of the Souma clan, and thus probably not someone Arisa should get further involved with (especially when we see him meeting with Akito at episode’s end). Then again, someone could say the same of Tooru or any of her suitors!

For her part, Arisa considers the ball now fully in his court for any potential future interactions. I hope she’s not just putting up a front for Saki, but I also know that it’s highly unlikely the book on these two is closed for good. Will her heart stir her to seek him out again, or will her joyous laugh prove too captivating to avoid…even if he faces consequences?

Oresuki – 08 – Deep-Fried Joro-on-a-Stick

“What new devilry is this?”, Joro must be thinking when Yoki Chiharu, a classmate for all of thirty seconds, approaches him, bends the knee, kisses his hand and pledges fealty like he’s some nobleman.

Even if there’s no damnable bench in sight this week, it doesn’t change the fact that not a single woman in his life has ever been what he initially assumed her to be, nor are her intentions ever clear from the get-go.

Sasanqua, recently interested in his desk neighbor to the point of dying her hair, doesn’t like this one bit. Chiharu, AKA Tsubaki, claims to be paying Joro back for showing her (yes, during that baseball game a year ago) that it’s worth working your tail off for someone, as he was by buying consolatory skewers for Sun-chan. At no point does she drop the kind, dutiful, angelic act to anyone.

And yet Joro can’t help but think something smells rotten in Denmark. In a hilarious half-chuuni, half-rakugo inner monologue that belies his cheerful exterior, he warns himself again and again not to fall for this act, even as her act proves so goddamn effective, he doesn’t even care if he’s being deceived. At one point he asks the fourth wall why this angel wasn’t in the first episode!

Tsubaki joining the group causes almost immediate tension, as she makes and presents to Joro a lunch the same day Cosmos made him one. He accepts both, even though it’s too much food. Later, Pansy calls him out for trying to maintain the status quo. By accepting Tsubaki’s gratitude-fueled behavior, he can “dodge” Pansy and Cosmos’ love-fueled affection. “That’s not kindness, it’s running away,” she says.

When Pansy lends Joro a very valuable hand-written novel to read so they can talk about it later, he quickly loses it after Himawari tackles him in the street. That night he searches for it, and Ram and Rem from Re:Zero recover it for him under extremely suspicious circumstances, but it is totally ruined.

Joro vows to get a job so he can make enough money to replace the extremely expensive book, which not only means spacing out at lunch with the others, but cancelling all future library visits while he works…at Tsubaki’s family’s fried skewer restaurant. Again, Tsubaki has exactly what he needs when he needs it. Pansy states unequivocally that she’d rather he kept visiting her than get a job to replace her book.

But Joro is obstinate; he’s going to replace it, which means he has to work when he’d usually visit her, and which also means he’ll be spending a lot more time with Tsubaki, who finally potentially betrays to no one but us that she has some kind of “payback” plan in motion.

Whether that’s sinister or not remains to be seen; her expression is inscrutable. One thing is certain: maintaining the status quo, as Pansy is sure he’s so eager to do, is no longer tenable—not as long as Tsubaki has him all to himself. Closing note: Tsubaki could, in fact, be the girl Sun mentioned to Pansy a few eps back, whom Sun liked in middle school but who chose Joro. Perhaps Joro’s full memory of her hasn’t quite surfaced. We’ll see.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 20 – The Lunch Mooch

Whatever the precise nature of Yuna D. Kaito’s goals, he seems pretty confident he’ll be able to pull them off. And can you blame him? Sakura still doesn’t have the slightest clue she’s being targeted, let alone how or why, and is content to continue living life as if nothing’s amiss.

She spends the morning making lunches for herself, Syaoran, Yukito and Kero for the day. I will say for the record she makes making rolled omelets look way too easy; aside from the fact those pans aren’t cheap, her method requires a lot of practice and a lot of failure.

Her date with Syaoran is replaced by a visit to the sprawling villa of Masaki, her mother’s grandfather, who apparently has something he simply must give her before departing abroad the next day. Syaoran accompanies her, and he and Sakura bicker over whose bento is better (each arguing for each other, not themselves, naturally).

When Grampa Masaki is alone with Syaoran, he comments on just how similar Sakura is to her mother; someone whose constant outward happiness and joie-de-vivre makes everyone around them happier. Meanwhile, Kero and Yue confer on the growing powers of both Sakura and Touya, while Kero receives a message from Eriol in England: a magic circle which both Kero and Yue replicate.

While wandering around the vast estate looking for someone to make more tea, Sakura comes upon her mother’s bedroom, which shines as brightly as the sun. Sakura uses Record to view a montage of moments from when her mother inhabited the room, but then the projection of her mom turns to her, puts her hand on her cheek, and warns her not to go any farther, lest she not be able to return.

Sakura and Akiho end up in the clock dream again, in which Sakura knows who the cloaked figure is (though doesn’t say it) while Akiho recognizes the cloak as the one passed down in her family. Yuna and Momo converse on how “the power of the dream is growing”, and much faster than originally thought. Kero and Yue arrive in England, where Eriol is finally ready to tell them what he’s learned, and it’s not good: “the one thing [he] feared the most is becoming reality”.

As confident as Yuna and Momo appear to be so far, and as oblivious as Sakura appears to be (it’s particularly unnerving to see her dip so far into her powers she becomes woozy and has to lie down), but she has no shortage of powerful friends, from Kero, Yue, and Eriol to Touya, who doubtless won’t hesitate to use his growing power to protect his sister. And then there’s always the slight possibility Yuna’s intentions aren’t even sinister…

Orange – 02

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I never like awarding 10s and RWHL certifications willy-nilly, but I was compelled to give this episode the score it deserved, which was, to me, the highest score possible. This episode was an emotional roller coaster that sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It contained no less than All The Feels. And it made missing the next episode, or indeed the rest of the run of the show, seem like as big a mistake as Naho not listening to her future letters.

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Naho is a good girl. She has a gentle, generous heart, but she also lacks confidence, and sometimes isn’t able to say or do what she wants. The letters she’s getting say in no uncertain terms that if the behaviors that come naturally to her in the present persist unchanged, Kakeru will be out of her life in ten years. Naho is currently falling in love with Kakeru, so she really doesn’t want that to happen.

So when the letter tells her to make Kakeru a lunch, she plans to do so. She doesn’t tell him when it seems like the best time to do so, hesitating until the latest possible moment in the day, and only after her friends tell Kakeru she makes her own lunches and Kakeru “jokes” about wanting her to make one.

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Saying it was just a joke, and worrying about “bothering” Kakeru by foisting her unworthy slop upon him (well, she’s not that harsh on herself), vex Naho terribly. Interestingly, her thought process mimics her mom’s.

Initially, she casts my heart into the cellar by deciding against making a lunch for him. But thankfully she reconsiders, and gets “fired up” making the best damn lunch Kakeru will ever have tasted.

For a second, I thought she was making lunches for everyone to provide cover and hold back rumors of favoratism. Of course, to all her friends, including Suwa, who likes her, they already know the score with her and Naho.

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But making the lunch is only half the battle for Naho. She must inform Kakeru she’s done so, and deliver the meal to him at the proper time. The time between when she nervously greets him to the lunch bell is tortuously long, as demonstrated by the montage of various teachers giving lectures intercut with quick shots of Naho and the bag containing the lunch.

But when that lunch bell rings…she CHOKES! My heart, having just started back up the stairs, ends up in the sub-basement. I was literally banging my fist on the coffee table, furious by her self-defeating inaction. But then, she waits after school for Kakeru to be done soccer practice with Suwa. And again, Kakeru gives Naho the fresh opening she needs, offering to walk home with her—and only her.

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Naho engages in idle conversation meant to learn more about Naho in basic terms: where she lives; what she does when she gets home, her hobbies. Naho’s truthful answers are nothing flashy, but Kakeru still seems to enjoy them.

Then Naho starts to ask him questions, but gets more specific…like where he was and what he was doing those two weeks he was absent. Because Kakeru has feelings for Naho, he wants her to know, but also clearly exhibits some courage of his own by coming out and saying it:

The very day of their opening ceremony—the day the future letter warned Naho not to invite Kakeru to hang out with them—his mother committed suicide. With that, my heart busted through the floor of the sub-basement and into a subterranean aquifer.

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At this point, even though they were sitting down and Kakeru clearly expressed his hunger, Naho had not yet revealed she had made a lunch for him. But by hearing Kakeru tell her something so intimate and sad, and realizing what not listening to the letters did, Naho finally summons the courage she needs to present the lunch to him.

He accepts it with elation, having hoped she’d followed through on fulfilling his desire, even though he called it a joke at the time. My heart starts another long descent as she finds her footing, promising she’ll make him lunch every day from now on, and give him wake-up calls if he needs them, or any of the other things a parent does until you find someone you love who does them instead.

Returning to her letters, details emerge: Kakeru dies in an accident in the Winter of his seventeenth year, and she and the others always regretted not saving him when, as her future self sees it, they could have. Well, that’s that; Naho WILL save him, no matter what.

GO NAHO. (Sorry, Suwa.)

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Sansha Sanyou – 05

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Sonobe adds to her collection of cute high school part-timers as Hayama and Futaba fill in for an exhausted Yoko-sama. In the process, Hayama learns her outwardly sweet personality works wonders for customer service, as does Futaba’s encyclopedic knowledge of pastries.

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When Hayama’s sister stops by wanting to bake sweets with her, she is politely shoo-ed off, but somehow gets one of her home remedies to the back room for Yoko to eat. The next day Yoko is full of energy, but perhaps too full, as she did not sleep last night and is still eerily alert, almost robotic. The mind boggles over what was in that purple sludge!

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The three friends learn they can work together at the cafe just as amicably, but when Kondou twists Nishiyama to come with her to the cafe, the Hayama-Nishiyama feud continues…something Sonobe tries to perpetuate for her own entertainment at every turn, invoking the wrath of Yamagi, who would prefer if she not play games with people’s lives in such a way.

The ensuing duel between Sonobe and Yamagi freaks out Nishiyama, but also creates an opening through which Hayama offers her pink-haired frenemy an olive branch: treats she made for her beloved cat.

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The next day, Nishiyama falls into Sonobe’s web, is put in a frilly pink maid uniform, and made to work a shift for the day; an experiment to see if she really can do everything Hayama can do better. Hayama does not revel in Nishiyama’s embarrassment, but when things get busy, she along with Futaba and Yoko, offer help with customers in their plainclothes.

Nishiyama leaves not quite sur ehow she ended up working at Sonobe’s cafe, but happy she has more treats for her kitty, and a little more money to go towards an SLR camera. As for Sonobe, she was able to collect many a photo of Nishiyama for use in promotional materials…or blackmail!

Another fine, breezy episode with some welcome sharp edges to the soft-focus pastel aesthetic, and a fairly genuine look at how frenemies are made and maintained.

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