Rent-a-Girlfriend – 17 – Sumi Can Communicate

Three days after Ruka spent the night, Kazuya shows some genuine personal growth by taking out the goddamn trashChizuru had the same idea, and their timing is so synced up he almost wallops her when he opens his door. When she brings up Ruka, he assures her nothing happened, but the fact is she did spend the night. Later, when Chizuru is reading lines, she can’t focus thanks to Ruka’s words that morning.

On top of wanting to clear up the misunderstanding, Kazuya learns from the app that Chizuru’s birthday is coming up. He wants to give her a gift that means something, and also to thank her for getting him his phone case—which as we know played a key factor in him declining Ruka’s advances. He knows he can’t ask Ruka or Mami for ideas, so on Chizuru’s birthday he books Sumi, the forgotten Rent-a-Girlfriend.

Sumi, as we know, overheard Kazuya yelling out his feelings to Chizuru in episode 1, but other than that and being at Chizuru’s performance, she’s been a ghost, which is a shame, because every time she gets the spotlight, I find myself wishing Kazuya would just open his eyes and make her his girlfriend. It’s painfully clear (to everyone but him) throughout their date that she likes him!

Not only that, while she’s quiet and shy (though very verbose via text), she’s also perhaps the most thoughtful, kind, and caring of the four girls. Despite having so much less screen time than the others (or maybe because of that) she just constantly gives off Best Girl vibes. And Kazuya notes that she’s really making progress as a rental girlfriend, which she no doubt attributes to his help.

Kazuya procrastinates to the very end of the date to ask Sumi what she thinks would make a good gift for Chizuru. And while Sumi momentarily seems gloomy being asked about another girl, she quickly gets over that and helps the boy who has helped her. In her distinctive, adorable style of communication of gestures, little noises, texts, and the occasional spoken word, she suggests various gift ideas, all of which Kazuya considers but feels none of them are quite the right fit.

Sumi seems to have a Eureka moment and takes Kazuya by the hand, out of the department store where their date took place, and onto the roof of another department store where a “Rent-a-Fighters” power rangers-style show is going on. When Kazuya hears the pink fighter talking he realizes it’s Chizuru, working her ass off at yet another job in order to make her dream to perform in front of her Gran come true.

Watching Chizuru in action and delivering rent-a-kicks and punches inspires Kazuya to a degree, as he decides to stop wallowing and power through his indecision. Before parting ways, Sumi also tells him that sentiment matters most when it comes to gifts; as long as it’s from the heart, any gift from him would make him happy. Sumi isn’t only speaking rhetorically, mind you, but Kazuya doesn’t pick up on the nuance of her text.

Even so, when Kazuya starts walking away, Sumi looks at the photos they took together, her eyes start to get glassy, and before Kazuya knows it Sumi has him by the sleeve. Having not thought this through, Sumi remains silent and blushing profusely for a good long time, but eventually asks Kazuya for his birthday. They part ways again, and Sumi immediately puts the date in her calendar—an opportunity for her to give him something from the heart. Her satisfied smile melted my already melted heart.

Chizuru comes home well after dark, on the phone with her Gran declining an offer of dinner as she’s just too wiped. She takes a shower, gets a text from her idol frenemy Chi, then goes out on her balcony and finds a bag with a “Happy Birthday” note from Kazuya, who slipped it there from his side.

It’s a heartfelt note, explaining why he’s giving her a gift and that it can alleviate fatigue, which is especially timely sentiment considering how tired Chizuru is in that moment. When she opens the box within the box and finds pickled plums, her first reaction is “…Why?” She then notices Kazuya’s postscript insisting nothing happened with Ruka, and she remembers how passionately he spoke to her about not giving up, and pops a plum in her mouth.

Now, if you’ve ever had a pickled plum (I highly recommend them) you know how powerful the flavor is. They’re sweet, salty, and above all oh so sour. It’s a flavor that brings a smile to Chizuru’s face, and it’s a good flavor to represent the complicated nature of her and Kazuya’s relationship. It’s not necessarily comfort food, but slight discomfort food, giving you the kick you need when you need it.

Poor adorable Sumi doesn’t stand a chance, does she? T_T

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 11 – What Does Normal Mean?

Ever since that camp kiss I’ve been itching for some kind of confirmation of what was said between Aharen and Raidou, and why she ran to her tent in tears after kissing him. Unfortunately the show has zero interest in elucidating those matters, so the key to enjoying the episodes that follow has been tabling that curiosity and not letting it curdle into frustration.

Once that’s done, one can enjoy the first fallen snow of the season, which Aharen uses to build a giant Shirorin igloo where she dresses up as a maid and lovingly prepares a fancy marinated steak for Raidou’s breakfast. “Official” or not, it’s clear Aharen cares enough about this galoot to go to these lengths.

When she invites him back to the Café Aharen after school, they find it has collapsed, probably due to the heat of that day’s sun. Raidou comforts Aharen by waxing philosphical on the impermanence of all things and offers to help her rebuild. This results in the construction of a Godzilla igloo…for some reason.

After their efforts, Raidou notices Aharen’s hands are red and shivering, so he takes them into his and warms them up. Lest there be any doubt about Aharen’s feelings for Raidou, she warms up extremely quickly while the redness becomes localized in the facial area.

The next day Aharen greets and walks so stiffly, Raidou wonders if she’s turned into some kind of Mega Man. They go to the nurse’s office, but neither the nurse nor Ooshiro are there, so Raidou volunteers to help her stretch. Turns out she can take quite a bit more force than he expected, as his efforts to go easy on her only lead to her wanting more.

When Aharen notices Raidou is also stiff in the back and shoulders, she agrees to walk on his back. She’s worried she’s “too heavy”, but he says he’s not that delicate, and indeed she’s the perfect weight an her steps the perfect rhythm to lull him to sleep. Aharen tries to use this to steal another kiss, but the nurse arrives at just the wrong moment.

It’s comforting to know I am not the only one curious about what happened at the camping trip; audience surrogates and “normal kids” Satou and Ishikawa are trying to determine the same thing.

In the process, Satou and Ishikawa have a nice little one-on-one chat where she notes that everyone around them is so weird she wonders if she’s not normal for being normal, while Ishikawa, her childhood friend, tells her he likes the variety, and also thinks she’s interesting too. Maybe these two normies should be looking in a mirror as to who is dating whom!

The next day is the weekend, and without explanation we see Raidou in street clothes waiting for Aharen, who was up late deciding what to wear. This is clearly date stuff, but neither of them comments on it, because they probably aren’t aware.

Raidou assumed Aharen wanted to participate in the blade spinner tournament at the mall, but for much of their date she seems to be surveying all the available food, leading him to wonder if she’s secretly a hotel tycoon. Aharen clears things up; she’s going all-out for her family’s New Years dinner.

Just when Raidou is starting to realize this might be, if not a date, a very good day, Futaba and Akkun show up. Akkun sees Aharen clinging to Raidou and challenges the “junior apprentice” to a blade spinner duel at the tournament. Both lose in the first round, while Aharen wins her fifth straight Ultimate Division belt. Turns out she stayed up late customizing her spinner after choosing what to wear!

Finally, the definition of their day comes down to the mouths of babes, specifically Futaba. When Raidou describes what he and Aharen have done, she informs them that that’s, like…a damn date. With that realization, Aharen once again turns red and starts steaming.

Even if we’re not getting any straight or normal answers, it’s pretty clear these two are an inseparable pair, and actions matter more than definitions. As for why Ooshiro was absent this entire episode? She’s been training her mind and body for what seems to be a final challenge to Raidou.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 04 – The Kings of Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve, and Komi has been informed by Najimi that she’s going to host a party (nearly) everyone is attending. Komi races to the mall with her similarly barely verbal little brother Shousuke (though we learn after the credits he simply chooses to rarely speak). Komi in Big Sis Mode is a welcome and rare treat, and even though Shousuke acts like this is all a big hassle, even he isn’t immune to her austere expressions of pure joy.

When the gang arrives—along with several tertiary classmates whose names I’ve yet to remember—they greet Komi with a Merry Christmas and a Happy Birthday…though her birthday is actually the 26th. Oddly, both Tadano and Ren made the same mistake despite acquiring their information from vastly different means.

The enormous group means there’s potential for a lot of back and forth, and back and forth there is, but it all feels a bit…scattered? Leaving aside the fact I’m not 100% sure Komi actually ever agreed to host the party and was given less than 24 hours to prepare which seems rude considering how many people came. That said, the group does pick out the perfect gift for Komi: a giant plush black kitty she later uses as a body pillow.

Another point against this episode is that for a show with such a large cast there is simply too much screen time for Ren, whom it’s already been established is an unrepentant pervert who should be in juvenile detention. I know this show embraces a stylized form of reality where every character’s personality tics are amplified, but her schtick in particular feels outdated and icky.

If it sounds like I hated this episode…that’s not quite it. It’s just that it bothered me that Tadano totally chickened out on spending time with just Komi over winter break because he assumed, without evidence, she was…sigh…”just being nice.” Dude: first of all, she’s always nice; second, she definitely wants to hang out with you one-on-one! I’m sure having all her friends under her roof for Chrismas was super fun for Komi, but I can’t help but feel a part of her also felt…disappointed.

Also, not to bury the lede here…but where the f*** is one of Komi’s newest friends, Katai Makoto? Whether he couldn’t come or no one invited him, his absence, combined with the fact this is a Christmas episode in May, makes it feel like the episodes are airing out of chronological order, with this one taking place before Katai joined the cast. In any case, the episode ends on a sweet note with Komi making sure everyone understands her feelings. If only Tadano would grow a pair and try to do the same!

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 09 – Pipe Organ of Light

After a string of episodes in which new classmates were introduced, it’s nice to get back to the “core four” of Akebi, Erika, Usagihara, and Koujo, as they meet up on the weekend for a trip to the mall for festival supplies. After getting a haircut from her mom, Akebi actually encounters Koujo on the bus, but Koujo is so absorbed in her book, Akebi doesn’t disturb her, resulting in a beautiful, silent little scene of a bus ride through the gorgeous landscape.

When the four meet up, they all praise each other’s street attire, which is very appropriate for their respective characters: Akebi’s practical tee, slacks, and sturdy sandals; Usagihara with a flowing skirt, pink nails and classy braid; Erika in a very smart, mature blouse, tiny purse, and heels; and Koujo in a super-comfy overalls with huge pockets. A look at the directory is vetoed by Akebi, who says she’ll be their guide.

A number of non-festival-supply-related detours ensues as she gives them a tour of the places in the mall she goes to most—and, this is key, has gone to the most. Akebi has been coming here since she was little, and has a lot of fond memories of shopping with her mom and sister then meeting up with their dad if he was off work. When Usagihara recognizes clothes and accessory chains Akebi never visited, she gains a whole new appreciation for the place.

Everyone gets something out of the mall. The gang follow Kojou’s lead as she’s drawn to a bookstore, and Erika happens to pick out the very book Kojou had just finished on the bus, and offers to lend Erika her copy. Akebi also comments on Kojou’s pressed flower bookmark, which her mom made for her. At lunch, Erika, new to malls, experiences her first fast food hamburger, and her friends get a kick out of how happy she looks eating it.

But when the four are about to leave the mall, Kojou notices the bookmark her mom made her is missing. Since it’s a good luck charm to her, and she has nice friends, the four comb the mall, but come up with nothing. It’s not at the lost and found, nor did it turn up at the depot. Kojou, clearly upset about losing it, nevertheless suggests they head out anyway, as the bus will be there soon.

As luck would have it, somebody found her bookmark by the exit, and tied a red balloon to it, which Akebi spots through the windows of the exit. I breathed a sigh of relief with Kojou, but then the balloon slips out of her hand, and since it’s full of helium, starts to rise into the sky. Kojou’s past memories of the bookmark flash before us. Fortunately, the balloon gets snagged on a tree, but it’s out of reach…or is it?

I half expected Akebi to climb the tree like a lemur and grab it for Kojou, but instead, offers her shoulders as a boost. Kojou says she couldn’t possibly. Usagihara suggests they get all get into mock cavalry formation, but Kojou still needs a few more inches of height. That’s when Akebi suggests they hoise her up by her leg so she can jump up and reach it. Kojou is successful, and for a tick fears she’ll fall to the ground…but Akebi’s got her.

When it starts to rain, three of the girls seek shelter, as the bus stop’s a ways away. But Akebi simply dances in the rain, and her energy and joy compels the others to join her in racing to the bus stop together, wet clothes be damned. They laugh as they run through pink, purple, and blue hydrangeas, Akebi leading the way with her red balloon.

The rain suddenly stops when they reach the bus stop shelter; it was only a passing shower. But the rain causes crepuscular rays, of the same kind Akebi saw a pretty photo of at the bookstore, and which are also called “a pipe organ of light” by a famous writer. The rays might as well be pure love descending from the heavens.

This just might’ve been the loveliest, most life-affirming and heartwarming shopping trip episode I’ve ever seen, and by far the most dramatic lost bookmark dilemma! But it’s also the longest and best sustained interaction between these four and only these four girls. The simplified cast of the episode allows all four to shine.

We’re even given the possibility that Kojou, inspired by her friend of bottomless energy, optimism, and love, might just end up being the writer of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform! This outing was peak comfy slice-of-life/friendship/youth anime, and made me yearn for the days I was actually in awe of the fancier malls of my own youth.

Tokyo 24th Ward – 02 – Fifth Wheel

Shuuta, Ran, Kouki, Mari, and Asumi have been friends since they were little, but in a flashback to those halcyon days, we see that even then Mari was in a state of turmoil rising out of the fact that…well, she wasn’t Asumi. Asumi was the glue that kept them all together; indeed, she was the one who declared RGB was a thing. And now she’s gone.

After years of being a kind of fifth wheel, Mari suddenly found herself one of four, and the estrangement of RGB resulted. That said, she’s still close to all three, especially Shuu, who is her neighbor. Their rooms are even across from one another, so she can leap between their houses to hang out—an arrangement I’ve always longed for. But Shuu is still convinced Asumi could still be alive, shuttering a window Mari can’t leap through.

As Mari meets with each of the members of RGB currently having a post-memorial fight, we also get flashbacks centered on each member. Asumi, who established RGB, deploys them where she believes their skills are most needed—even if it’s conscripting Shuu for goalkeeper duty on the sports field. As a grade schooler Mari joked that she “just can’t win” against Asumi…and that’s seemingly borne out in both past and present.

When Mari checks in on Ran and DoRed, he shows her a mural honoring Asumi while also depicting her as a badass avenging angel, a glimpse of a possible Asumi that never was since her life was snatched away so early. This mural reminds Mari of the time Asumi had Ran paint a mural in the bathhouse. Asumi was always taking the initiative and inspiring action; Mari was always in the background smiling.

Last but not least is Asumi’s actual big brother Kouki. She’s ostensibly there to gather info on a restaurant at the big modern mall administered by Suidou’s family’s Zaibatsu, which is not only her home shopping district’s main rival for the upcoming Gourmet Festival, but also a threat to her district’s very survival. But she’s also kinda sorta there to mediate RGB’s latest  tiff.

Her meeting with Kouki coincides with a Kouki-centric flashback, in which he is utterly failing to hand out flyers for a previous GourFes. Asumi, assigned to another section and having already passed out all of her flyers, urges her brother to wear a smile and appear more friendly if he wants to pass his flyers out. Before long, all the major players in the district are out to help market the Festival. Asumi, bursting with energy and charisma, simply drew everyone towards her, like a magnet-girl.

Back in the present, while walking the dog that got her in so much trouble last week, Mari ends up overhearing a conversation between her old teacher Mr. Shirakaba and SARG officer Chikushi. She learns that Mon Jungle, her family’s restaurant Itadaki’s rival at the new mall, is run by a shady quasi-gang called Yabusame. She emerges from her hiding spot after Chikushi leaves, and Shirakaba assures her the GourFes won’t be rigged.

This leads to a flashback involving Shirakaba, whose students (RGB, Asumi, and Mari) want to keep the old elementary school they attended from being demolished. Mari may not be the nucleus of their group, but it’s clear Itadaki is the group’s base of operations.

It’s there where Mari’s creative okonomiyaki depiction of a blank chalkboard gives Asumi the idea to cover the school in graffiti and spread the word of its historical, cultural, and sentimental importance to the 24th Ward. Of course, as soon as the school and the graffiti idea came up, I thought of the cold open to the first episode and I was suddenly filled with dread.

That’s because Asumi’s idea, unwittingly sparked by Mari, ended up being the death of her. As an old building in disrepair, the school was vulnerable to fire. When that fire finally happened, Mari had Asumi by the arm, outside. All she has to do is not let go and insist they wait for the firefighters. But Asumi insists on being a hero, lets go of Mari, runs into the school to try to save others…and ends up perishing in Shuu’s arms.

The flashbacks make it feel like so long ago, and yet it was so not long ago Mari still has a video on her phone of the aftermath of the fire, admonishing her future self to never forget what happened that night. Even since then, Mari has kept striving to keep up with Asumi, trying to fulfill that role as glue and nucleus, and has found herself sorely lacking. She looks up at the night sky and tells Asumi she can’t handle RGB…not on her own.

However, Mari’s three meetings with the three members of RGB inadvertently bear fruit: they’ve all gathered at Itadaki…for her sake; to make GourFes a success. They snipe at each other a bit, but they still gathered at that same table they always gathered, even though Asumi isn’t there anymore. As different as they all are, and as deep as their wounds are, they still love Mari, and want to support her.

The strategy meeting itself isn’t all that productive as Mari manages to get the boys so stuff on okonomiyaki they get food comas, but it doesn’t matter. Mari managed to get RGB back together, through their stomachs. It’s then when Asumi appears before Mari as she’s washing dishes, offering her blessing going forward while also affirming how important Mari and Itadaki are to the circle of friends.

After one week, I was a little miffed that this show seemingly focused on three dudes. But this week Sakuragi Mari was the undisputed protagonist. Forget tough; Mari felt like Asumi was an impossible act to follow, but she ended up surprising herself, as much as this episode surprised me with its ability to plumb the depths of envy, love, longing, yearning, loss, grief, regret…and redemption. It didn’t feature a single moment of madcap superpower action. It didn’t need to.

Adachi & Shimamura – 07 – Friendship Chocolate

Just before midnight, Adachi texts Shimamura and they exchange New Years greetings. Shimamura is lying in her kotatsu and is reminded of Adachi’s thighs, the mention of which make Adachi blush. Adachi continues her push-and-pull between contentment and longing.

Part of her is happy with what she has with Shimamura, and part of her desires…er, more. Shimamura can sense Adachi wants to take their friendship to “higher place”, but is worried she may not have the “wings” with which to follow.

Before long, it’s already February, and Shimamura has observed that Adachi is being shyer and more distant than usual, until one day when she works up the courage to ask Shimamura to hang out after school to buy some sweet snacks. With Valentines Day approaching fast, Adachi wants to make sure she and Shimamura can hang out on that day.

While Nagafuji gets the urge to “lift up” a Hawaii-tanned Hino as they relax together, Shimamura asks Adachi for advice on how she should proceed with her darkening hair. Dye it again? Let it grow out? Adachi is not sure, bu is happy to be asked. Her responses, sometimes interrupted by hiccups, continue to perplex Shimamura: what exactly does this girl want from this? From “us”?

For now, baby steps suffice, as Adachi gets Shimamura to agree to spend Valentines Day together. She also wants them to exchange chocolate like Nagafuji and Hino do, but it’s clear she wants it to be more than obligatory “friendship” chocolate. Shimamura comes to admire Adachi’s resolve to get her words out and express her wants, no matter how much she stumbles along the way.

Little by little, she’s adding color to Shimamura’s grey, empty world. I think that’s a good thing! But then there’s suddenly a new source of color and light in the form of Shimamura’s childhood friend Tarumi, as they encounter one another at Nagafuji’s family shop. Tarumi is quick to note Shimamura has grown into a beauty, and quick ask for number so they can catch up later.

Any way you slice it, this is probably bad news for Adachi. Even if Tarumi doesn’t turn out to be a romantic rival, she’s still competition for “best friend” status, with built-in history helping her case. I can just imagine how Adachi will feel after learning about Tarumi—jealous, lonely, defeated…IN DESPAIR! Hopefully she can shake those things off and fight the good fight.

Kakushigoto – 06 – Pride and Privilege

Someone keeps giving Hime expensive backpacks every year, despite the fact her dad already bought her one. Because she’s a kind and gentle soul, Hime tries to wear both at once, inspiring Kakushi. But to him, giving a kid a backpack is a privilege that must be earned and appreciated, not an obligation to be fulfilled.

When this philosophy is applied to the manga industry, Kakushi imagines a kind new world where everything is a privilege to be grateful for, whether it’s the artists being grateful for the privilege of having their art published, or the readers being grateful for the privilege of that art. But when taken too far, Kakushi ends up overextending himself, having accepted the privilege of too much extra work. Rasuna thinks he sounds like a corporate slave, but as he’s self-employed he’s more of a “man-slave”. 

We eventually learn that the mysterious serial backpack provider is Kakushi’s father-in-law, who judging from the Toyota Century is some kind of big shot. Kakushi still seems to hold a grudge for the man’s reluctance to allow his daughter to marry a gag manga. But now that Kakushi has been a father for ten years, he would feel the same way if Hime brought someone like him home. As Kakushi says, he’s “a freakin’ paradox.”

One of the extra tasks Kakushi took on to realize his Kind World was an autograph session, which is booked the same time as his day-date with Hime at the very popular and sought-after Kidzanira, where kids get to try out a bunch of adult jobs in a controlled environment. Fortunately, the bookstore where he’ll be signing autographs and the Kidzanira are in the same mall. But that also means a risk of Hime finding out his job, so his assistants take turns keeping an eye on her.

During the morning session Kakushi is convinced everyone in line is either someone he knows (Ichiko), a friend of someone he knows, or people paid by his editor to stand in line. The way he phrases his questions to the latter group furthers his misinterpretation of events. It’s not until after spotting a poster for a famous painter that he realizes that those in the line are there because they are legitimate fans who love and respect his work. Even a father and young son are united in their love of Balls of Fury.

Just as his confidence returns and he yells “I’m a manga artist, damnit!”, his exuberance accidentally knocks down a partition, revealing Hime in a cloud of smoke. For a moment it looks like the gig’s up, but Ichiko swoops in with a tremendously creative save, telling Hime she and Kakushi are at the “Kidzanira for adults” trying out different jobs. Even so, Hime doesn’t even recognize her dad in his manga uniform, so he didn’t have to worry. What he may have to worry about? Hime wanting to work in a bookstore!

Fast forward to the future, where the older Hime opens the “17” box to reveal envelopes full of manuscripts. At first she seems unmoved by the manga, which is about a father, mother, and daughter. It’s all so boring and ordinary…which is why as she continues to read the tears start welling up. There may not be swords or magic on those pages, but there is a bunch of real life; a life very familiar to Hime.

This closing scene is one more emotional “bomb” that had been intricately constructed in the “past” sequences that preceded it. All those mundane moments of her and Kakushi just living life together given gain deeper resonance in the future where he’s suddenly absent.

Despite Kakushi’s reservations—not to mention his father-in-laws about him—Hime may well fall for someone like him. Not because that person will be a gag mangaka, but because they’ll be kind and loving, and consider loving and caring for her to be an honor and a privilege…because that’s exactly what it is.

Cop Craft – 05 – A Brief Dream Before the End

Suddenly up against an ancient lauden neiven—vampire in the common tongue—Tilarna nearly finds herself outmatched, but gets some backup from her partner, who makes use of a fire extinguisher to disorient the baddie. Tilarna relieves the vampire of one of her arms and Kei fills her with bullets, but she still escapes.

Tilarna feels responsible for Chapman’s death, as she should have known sooner what they were dealing with; Kei does his best to assure her it’s not on her, it’s just the job. Using both K9 units and Tilarna’s excellent sense of smell (at least when it comes to latena), they continue the search.

After the vampire kills a truck driver, causing him to crash, witnesses recall seeing her wearing a dress that looked like black flames—Tilarna recognizes it as a magical illusion spell that provides clothing when naked (and scolds Kei for thinking about her demonstrating it). But it’s also clear the vamp has some of her power back.

The duo heads to the mall where she lies in wait. Kei ends up thrown off a high balcony into a fountain and gets knocked out, while Tilarna is captured. When she awakens both she and we get more of a feel for their adversary, who after all is extremely disoriented in this strange new place. However, she’s sharp enough to know of the “greater gate” in the “Book of Niba,” a prophecy that has apparently come true.

That being said, she’s still a vampire, which means she can’t resist an easy meal—particularly Tilarna’s delicious noble blood. Unfortunately she delays her dinner a hair too long, as Kei and a SWAT team storms the location and rescues Tilarna.

The wounded vamp once again gives the cops the slip, but Tilarna remain hot on her trail. Tilarna suggests they try to take her alive “if possible” so they can try to learn something from her, but Kei very much doubts they’ll be in a position to hold back.

A strange voice leads the vamp down into the subway tracks—the voice of a wizard, who like Tilarna wants to extract some knowledge from the vamp if he can. But between the feeling she finds herself in hell to the belief she comes to that she’s merely in a brief and very bizarre dream before her end, she’s not interested, and instead drains the wizard dry to recharge.

Tilarna and Kei arrive, and once again have a hard time bringing her down. She pounces on Kei, warning him no man has ever walked away from three battles with her, unless he’s some kind of prophesied warrior. Ultimately, the vamp’s ignorance of the fatal effect of a subway train hitting her leads to her demise, while Tilarna leaps to Kei’s rescue at the last second.

Naturally, Kei doesn’t properly thank Tilarna for saving him again, which really steams her beans, so she starts viciously kicking him in the back. It’s an oddly perfunctory ending to what had been to that point a rather thoughtful and intriguing story.

After all, the vamp wasn’t necessarily pure evil—a gal’s gotta eat—but as the episode progressed, she was more a subject of pity than disdain. She simply didn’t belong, it would have been extremely hard for her to try, and she didn’t even seem to want to stay, almost preferring oblivion to such an unfamiliar land.

ReLIFE – 17 (Fin)

Aw HELL yeah! I didn’t ask for much, just a happy yet satisfying ending that felt earned, and ReLIFE delivered exactly that. Initially framed by Yoake’s final report, things start out in the afterglow of Kaizaki and Hoshiro’s confessions. All their friends are super-excited for them, but they keep it very cool and low-key, which is just like two teenagers who are actually adults.

They’re both simply savoring every day they have left together, because they don’t have a lot of them. It makes you wish they’d gotten together much sooner…but then again, I couldn’t have asked for a better way for them to finally realize their feelings for another, and their love only deepens as the days pass, as evidenced by their late night phone call when simply messaging on LIME won’t cut it.

Graduation Day comes, and Kanzaki manages to graduate by the skin of his teeth (thanks to Oga). There’s goodbyes, notes of goodwill, flowers, smiles…and tears. But there are no tears more bitter than those shed by both Kanzaki and Hoshiro.

He finally gives her a hug, just when she needs one most, and it turns out he needed that hug just as badly. He says it feels like a break-up, even though they’ll see each other at the start of the college term. Hoshiro thanks him for being such a transparent yet kind liar.

And that’s the last they see of each other in their respective ReLifes—with a tearful embrace, assuring each other they’ll never forget each other, even if they know they can’t keep that promise.

Yoake congratulates Kanzaki for a marvelously successful ReLife, telling him he can look forward to very promising job placement in exchange for his cooperation with the experiment, and should hold his head high. Meanwhile, Onoya has her exit interview with Hoshiro, who never really warmed up to her newer support.

Describing her ReLife, Hoshiro describes how her heart is “ripped open” by getting close to people only to lose them, but admits she does feel like she changed “a little.” After taking her pill and falling asleep, Onoya accidentally discovers a marker Hoshiro used to write “I was in love with Kaizaki Arata”, and breaks down at Hoshiro’s failure to hide it better, as once Onoya sees it, she has to get rid of it along with all other evidence. It’s her job, after all.

Fast-forward to a bit of time after Kanzaki regains his 28-year-old appearance and starts interviewing for the jobs ReLife provided. Ultimately, however, he wants nothing more than to help others as he was helped, so he requests a job with ReLife, and is accepted. Now he is the one visiting shut-ins and other wretches, offering a way for them to find themselves again.

At a ReLife company dinner, Kanzaki arrives a bit late, but a space was saved for him. Turns out the seat he takes belongs to Hoshiro, but it’s no big deal or anything, as someone from another part of the restaurant is calling for her. As she turns to walk away, Kanzaki notices the strap on her bag…

At the end of the dinner (well, the first round, but the only round recommended for newbies), it starts to rain, but Kanzaki doesn’t have an umbrella. Just then, Hoshiro appears once more and opens the very same green umbrella the two shared just after confessing. She offers to share it, but Kanzaki politely declines, and she starts to head off on her own…but turns and says she heard the higher-ups calling him a test subject.

She then mentions her own stint as a subject, how it lasted two years, and how her supporter pushed for her to get a job at ReLife, and she took a position in the pharma section. Kanzaki asks if she’d tell him about her ReLife, and she compares it to…fireworks, like the ones she saw at the festival with her friends.

They both latch onto the spectacular yet fleeting nature of fireworks, and eventually both remember flashes of that night when Hoshiro told Kanzaki he was like fireworks. I tellya, I got an absolute thrill out of watching them gradually put the pieces together in their heads.

You could say the fireworks…sparked their memories, heh-heh. Once he recalls Hoshiro in her red yukata looking up at the sky, Kanzaki calls her by her name. Hoshiro needs just a little bit more, but she eventually remembers writing the note on her hand as she cried after taking the pill. And that’s it: in spite of the lab’s efforts, they found and remembered each other…and it didn’t even take that long!

Now, while the ReLife procedures were concluded with all due diligence, I’d like to think both Yoake and Onoya played roles in facilitating a reunion. Yoake accepting Kanzaki’s request to work for ReLife; Onoya predding Hoshiro to work there as well…even telling Kanzaki that Hoshiro’s seat was his in the restaurant.

But while the supports made the conditions more favorable for a happy ending, at the end of the day they were just that, support. It took Kanzaki and Hoshiro being friendly, open, and honest with each other, and especially Hoshiro bringing up how she heard he test subject, like her, at that crucial moment.

If she hadn’t they might have gone their separate ways, perhaps forever. But I’m immeasurably chuffed she did, and the resulting re-connection was nothing short of mesmerizing. Time for some #Adulting!

ReLIFE returned quite out of the blue to rip my heart out with the prospect of tearing apart two lovely people who had only just found each other…only to painstakingly reconstruct that heart, and fill it back up with love until it almost burst all over again, only in a good way!

Of course, you’re mileage may vary, depending on whether you read the entire web manga (I did not) and your particular emotional investment. Clearly, my investment was significant, and one and a half years of time away didn’t dull it in the slightest. This was a big win.

ReLIFE – 16

Well THAT escalated quickly! Christmas is approaching, and after Kaizaki recommends an almost too-pure-for-the-world Oga to just take Kariu anywhere and they’ll have fun, he suddenly finds Hoshiro not only avoiding him, but bolting away like a scared chipmunk whenever he makes eye contact.

Kariu and Tamarai kinda already know what’s up; both Kariu and Oga previously pegged Kaizaki and Hoshiro as being in love, so they convene in the locker room to get it from the horse’s mouth. Yet all Hoshiro can say about her feelings is “I don’t know.” Kariu, suddenly the mature one to provide the advice, tells her “I don’t know” isn’t going to cut it…not when she’s just “one step away.”

Later, Tamarai simply advises Hoshiro to ask Kaizaki on a date, just as Oga advised Kaizaki to ask Hoshiro. But just when Kaizaki thinks their distance couldn’t be any greater, Hoshiro sneaks up behind him and asks him if he’s free on the 25th and to expect further details by LIME.

That night, Kaizaki is a nervous wreck, but finally gets those details, along with another silly Hoshiro cat sticker. Hoshiro makes it clear it’s a date and she’s looking forward to it. After getting the all-green from Yoake, Kaizaki isn’t about to turn her down, even if he believes it will “ruin her Christmas” when she inevitably forgets all about him.

The date starts out a bit stiff, but both parties seem to be enjoying themselves immensely as they mill around the mall doing date stuff. In an adorable little detail, Hoshino, completely unaware that “Christmas” dates typically happen on Christmas Eve, set the date for Christmas day, but that ends up working out just fine, as it’s a lot less crowded.

The montage of their date is a somewhat creepy montage of photos taken by Yoake and Onoya, who are keeping a respectful distance but still watching and listening to their charges like hawks…while trying to get in some Christmas chilling of their own.

When Onoya acknowledges with a somber look that both of the lovebirds will forget all about their wonderful date, Yoake, always trying to find the silver lining, says that won’t mean it never happened…which, fine, but dude, that’s not the same of having a date and remembering it! The latter is much better, and these two deserve much better!

Yoake, having at least a sliver of heart, sends a quick message to Kaizaki informing him it’s actually Hoshiro’s birthday. When she gets him a present for Christmas, he gets her one for both Christmas and her birthday, bringing a warm and appreciative smile to her face.

When the two go up in a Ferris Wheel, Hoshiro asks Kaizaki what his birthday is. He tells her it already passed in August, and both get very troubled and pained when they say they’ll just have to celebrate it next year, knowing full well (at least at this point) that next year won’t happen for them, and saying they’ll never forget today. It’s hard to watch, I tellsya!

But even if nothing romantic happens on the Ferris Wheel, things turn around on a bridge. Kaizaki impulsively reaches out and takes Hoshiro’s arm as if to hug her, but she draws back. Apologizing, she tells him how much he’s “on her mind”, and the more he’s on her mind, the less she understands what to do.

It’s all the opening Kaizaki needs. He tells her she’s on his mind to, and that he loves her. That in turn allows Hoshiro to take the one final step Kariu was talking about: she tells him her feelings for him are the same.

With that, it suddenly starts raining. Ever prepared, Hoshino breaks out her umbrella and holds it out for Kaizaki. He takes hold just above her hand, but she puts her hand over his before they walk away together into the dark sacred night.

I honestly have no idea where things will go from here, and I can’t rule out the possibility Yoake will have his way and their memory of one another will vanish, which would be an appalling tragedy. That’s why I wouldn’t have minded if this was the final episode.

After sixteen episodes of these two, things are exactly where I want them. Will I regret watching one more episode? Am I a fool for hoping some kind of happy ending is still possible? One, perhaps, in which they meet and hit it off as strangers? Hey, I’ll take a relationship respawn over a system failure any day.

Saekano 2 – 11 (Fin)

Megumi and Tomoya go on a date, not just because it seems like the thing to do after the rest of the harem has cleared out, but to cheer one another up. It’s clear it’s not a one-sided case of Megumi cheering Tomoya up from the look of a soundless flashback in which she reacts dramatically to Eriri’s news she’s moving on from the group.

Megumi also seems to take great joy in shopping for clothes and shoes with Tomoya around. Even if he has no fashion sense or money to speak of, his company is appreciated and their instincts—like the one to hold hands in the crowded section—are often in sync.

By the end of the trip, Tomoya is feeling much better, as is Megumi, and the former makes sure they stop by a hat store so he can get her the same white hat she was wearing when he first envisioned her as his main heroine, as thanks both for her company and for getting him glasses last time.

Megumi is touched by the gesture, and when they return to that fateful hill, she tells Tomoya “she’s not giving up”. It strikes me as having dual meaning, as she intends to move forward with the doujin group even without Eriri and Utaha…and intends to make Tomoya fall completely for her.

Tomoya agrees they should move forward, but when his laughter turns to tears of loss, she reaches out to embrace him, only to then pulls back.

Now sufficiently cheered up, cried out, and ready to move forward, Tomoya takes it upon himself to see Eriri and Utaha off, surprising them both on the platform of their train to Osaka. Their looks say it all; Eriri in particular can’t believe he’ll forgive them.

But it’s not about forgiveness at all for Tomoya; it’s about wishing his two dear and wonderfully talented friends good luck on their exciting new venture. And I don’t think he’s putting on airs—one doesn’t turn down something like Fields Chronicle, and he thinks their “god-tier” talent can make it the best ever.

This sendoff, complete with a Megumi phone call with the same positive, concilatory intent, is enough to bring Eriri, Tomoya, and even Utaha to tears. It’s a bittersweet moment, one perhaps made a bit more silly when after Eriri removes Tomoya’s glasses, intending to keep them, then leans in to kiss, it’s Utaha who steals a big, long smooth with Tomoya, and Eriri is forced to whip out her twintails for the first time in a long while. They also miss their train in the excitement.

But no matter; they’re on their way. Post-credits, Tomoya and Megumi are both on first name terms, now seniors in school, chattering away with their usual excellent chemistry and bonhomie. Then, to their surprise, Hashima Izumi appears, a recent transfer, and Tomoya understands Iori’s words about sending his sister to a place where her talents can be put to best use.

Will Izumi be the artist for Tomoya and Megumi’s game? Perhaps, but it’s a certainty that Michiru will score the music once again. Hey, remember Michiru? The show makes sure to let us know it’s in on the joke regarding her absence for the back half of the season (which, frankly, was fine).

But notably, Michiru is conversing with Eriri and Utaha, who are watching Tomoya from afar. Eriri is still enrolled in the school, but the graduated Utaha is there because “it’s a free country.” The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Macross Delta – 18

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I never thought it would happen, but Macross Delta actually made me care a little bit about one of the bad guys. A big part of why is because he’s unsure the direction his people are headed it. Cassim is on the wrong side of 25, and knows full well the king is now Lloyd’s puppet. Like Hayate and Freyja, whom he invites into a storehouse where he’s thinking things over, he’s not exactly sure what is the right thing to do.

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I especially liked when Freyja showed up first and they just shot the Windermerean breeze, so to speak. When Hayate shows up, he’s not hostile, but sees that these two like each other and worries for them, as he worries for the future in general, which for him, is far shorter than he’d like. He also worries for his son back home. Lloyd may be hell-bent on galactic domination, but Cassim just wants to die happy, assured his family will be safe and prosperous when he’s gone.

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It’s good to see Hayate and Freyja trying and largely succeeding in moving past the awkwardness of his father’s past, at least for now, and dedicating themselves to working to support one another, along with their respective teams, Delta and Walkure.

Freyja is back to her ebullient self when she joins her groupmates by the Protoculture structure for a tactical show kicked off by Mikumo, and the structure starts to react immediately. Interestingly, Lloyd lets them sing, which suggests…maybe they shouldn’t be doing something he’s okay with?

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Freyja’s fold waves mesh with Hayate and make him a better wind-rider, able to keep up with Keith in the skies. But the song and aerial battle get progressively more intense and chaotic, with both Freyja and Hayate seemingly going out of control—perhaps the very reason Lloyd let them play on.

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Even more troubling is that after Heinz sings his Song of the Wind, nearly causing Hayate to succumb to the Var, Freyja essentially shorts out after going into a trance. Then Mikumo goes into a trance of her own, recalling old, buried memories of being some kind of test subject (of course) before restarting a song so strong and assertive it even knocks out Heinz’s song—as well as his clothes— before she passes out.

The episode kinda leaves us hanging with her collapse, following it up with an ending sequence that looks for all the world like a Mikumo tribute. Is this it for Mikumo? What exactly did she and Walkure do that seemed to play right into Lloyd’s hands? Will Freyja, Hayate, and Cassim ever figure out what exactly is the right thing to do?

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Macross Delta – 17

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As the oldest Windermerean soldier smirks at the fact only Lord Lloyd heard Gramia’s last wish—to press their fight until all the galaxy is theirs—Lloyd becomes more interested in Freyja and Mikumo. Targets to take out, or backup weapons in case Heinz falls prematurely?

Whatever his plans, it’s back to work for Delta/Walkure, as Arad and Kaname announce a new plan to infiltrate Vordor (where Var-immune rebel forces are still holding out) and try to find a way to use the ruins to their advantage. Freyja, meanwhile, has totally fallen for Hayate, who sadly seems only a quarter-aware.

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Work Comes First this week, however, and it comes in the form of an elaborate Walkure network and media saturation campaign spearheaded by Reina as a huge, dazzling cover for hacking the galactic network in order to facilitate their infiltration of Vordor.

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It’s Walkure’s most aggressive “tour” yet, able to appear seemingly in every planet in the cluster, and they turn up the heat by, for one, exploiting their sexuality, Makina’s in particular.

While discussion of objectification may crop up in some circles, the fact is Walkure chose to go in this direction; the military didn’t make them. This was all Reina and Makina’s scheme, and it works,

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While watching Freyja sing and glance at him with a bright rune, Hayate starts to maybe-kinda-sorta pick up on all the lovey-dovey vibes emanating from Freyja. He gives her an, ahem, glowing review of her singing, and Freyja is this close to confessing her feelings.

What stops them? An elderly couple waving to her, before walking off, hand-in-hand. At that crucial moment, Freyja saw a future she’d never enjoy with Hayate. It’s the opposite of the Arwen-Aragorn tragedy, with Freyja leaving Hayate by death before he even reaches the middle of his life.

Things get more awkward when Hayate brings up how he hasn’t seen his Mom in a while, but it’s “no big deal” because it’s “just a couple of years.” That stings Freyja to the core, and her rune goes out like a candle.

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Still, her work continues, and with even Windermeran pilots (and Bogue) falling for their spell, Reina’s hidden virus reaches 100% saturation, clearing the way for the Vordor operation.

Before they set out, Hayate runs into the guy who knew his dad, and after getting nowhere answers-wise, Hayate storms the bridge and confronts Arad: He wants the truth, now.

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He gets it, or at least more of it than he’s ever gotten, and it’s nothing good: Wright Immelmann stole a dimensional weapon and dropped it on the NUNs garrison in Windermere, killing all the forces, a good number of civilians, and leaving that scar on the landscape.

Now he knows: his father was, at least according to the facts at hand, a mass murderer and war criminal, a realization that makes Freyja’s rune go darker than ever. It’s not a great place for either of them to end up after she’d gotten so close to telling him how she felt; now the love window has closed for the time being.

Freyja has her job, and so does Hayate. As Mikumo’s voice seems to be changing (and possibly weakening, suggesting she may be a secret Windermerean, nearing 30), Walkure will support Freyja while Mirage and Chuck will support Hayate. Because as long as King Heinz can sing, Lloyd’s not going to stop his galactic conquest.

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