Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 11

It’s the year’s end, and the members of the expedition get to communicate with family and/or friends via a satellite feed. This is how Mari’s mom and sister get to laugh at her ski goggle tan, but it’s also how three high school track club members reopen a wound for Hinata; a wound she decided to forget about and move on from in…the furthest place in the universe.

But just the sight of those three girls boils Hinata’s blood to the extent she must run outside and wreck some shit while yelling for them to “piss off!” Shirase witnesses this display, and it only reinforces the concern she felt the minute Hinata covered up the camera lens.

Hinata—and, unwittingly, Mari—conspire to keep Shirase from ever being able to broach the topic with Hinata, almost intuitively senses what Shirase wants to talk about, and wants nothing to do with it. Shirase gets so worked up about what Hinata might be hiding, she crosses a line and opens Hinata’s email.

I was as curious as Shirase to learn why Hinata was acting this way, and truly wanted both her, Mari and Yuzu to find some way to make things better for Hinata. I may have even done what Shirase did…but it doesn’t make it right.

Hinata comes to realize she’s partly to blame for Shirase’s breach of privacy by being so inaccessible. So she tells Shirase and the others her sob story of being too good at running, showing up the upperclassmen, and getting ostracized. Not only does she leave the club, but she quits school due to the fallout.

Now the girls know why she was so put off by seeing her friends on camera: she doesn’t see them as friends. Later, when the girls get to do some expeditionary work in an alien landscape that looks kind of like chocolate cake with white frosting, Hinata reiterates that she doesn’t care about the noise from the past, and came to Antarcitca precisely to get away…not just from petty high school drama, but everything.

Shirase ponders all that Hinata said, and puts herself in Hinata’s shoes. Taking Hinata aside to get some of that pure, crisp Antarctica water (my mouth hadn’t watered over water since Last Exile; good job, show!), Shirase tells her that she wouldn’t be okay with it, or be able to smile with it hanging over her.

Hinata makes the good point that she’s not her; different people get to deal with things in different ways. But she also admits she may still simply be too scared to face those track girls, whether it’s to forgive them, to tell them to eat shit…or both. She thanks Shirase for having her back, but tells her she doesn’t need all the words Shirase wants to say…the warmth of her hands is enough.

When those three girls show back up in the satellite feed, Shirase shows she isn’t done. With Hinata’s emotional well-being at stake, Shirase completely shaks off her usual camera shyness, interrupts the planned schedule of the broadcast, and confronts the track girls directly, telling them to leave Hinata the hell alone.

Shirase goes OFF with an epic tirade that only further expanded my love for both Shirase and Hanazawa Kana. Hinata is doing fine without your lame asses, she basically says. She is taking steps forward, with her real friends:

“Unlike Hinata, I’m a real jerk, so I’ll say it straight: You can’t live your lives in this halfway state forever! You hurt someone and made them suffer! Now you get to live with that! That’s what you get for hurting someone…for hurting my friend! You think you can come crawling back now? PISS OFF!”

Masterful shit right there…that not only brings Hinata, but the other girls and Shirase herself to tears, while Toudou Gin has a glint of pride in her eye, surely seeing the passion of her dearly departed friend burn in her daughter. When they ring in the new year, it may be with a block of wood and an steel drum, but it’s no less triumphant. Time to turn the f’in page. A new year and new experiences await.

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Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 10

Now that they’ve arrived at Antarctica, the expedition weighs anchor and starts to bring supplies ashore using a very badass helicopter. The high school girls take a trip (which Yuzu likes not at all) and get to see the ship from the sky (it’s a thrilling bit of CGI) before being deposited at Syowa Station.

Kanae gives the girls—and by extension us—a tour of the facilities, including seperate bedrooms for all four of them, a luxury after having to share a berth at sea. While spartan, the habitations are also quite cozy and homey, far nicer than what I was expecting.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the cool Antarctic “night” (light-wise it stays dusk at its darkest) and the warm, inviting, lived-in interiors; the perfect place to kick back after a hard day’s work.

As unloading, cleaning, and other duties mount, Yuzu learns she’s been offered a role on a popular Japanese TV drama (there’s cell service at the station), but is worried it would mean, as it’s always meant throughout her career, the end of her time with Mari, Shirase and Hinata.

True to that career, she even comes up with a “friendship contract” for them to sign, causing Mari to cry and hug Yuzu with a distinct “you poor thing” vibe.

There were times when Yuzu seemed almost painfully naive about what friends and friendship are, but then I remembered that these three girls are her first, so naturally she wouldn’t be sure when the threshold of friendship had passed. Of course, no one really knows when that happens; friendships may not be as solid and structured as marriages or parenthood, but that’s what sets them apart as something special.

Mari takes the time to impart some wisdom to Yuzu regarding what she considers friendship (since it can be different for everyone) using Megumi as an example. Mari has been sending her pics, and whether Megu responds right away or as often or not, she always knows when Megumi has seen the message by the notification on the phone. That, in turn, helps Mari imagine what Megumi might be doing or thinking about in that moment.

With that, the other three arrive and unveil what they had been planning for Yuzu all along: a surprise birthday party. Her real birthday passed when they were all horribly seasick, so the Christmas party made her sad.

So the girls prepped some poppers and cake so that she could celebrate her very first birthday with friends. It’s almost too much to handle, as Yuzu starts bawling and can’t even speak clearly because of all the tears and snot.

But the next day, when Mari and Yuzu are off doing different tasks, Yuzu sends Mari a text not apologizing, but thanking her. Just a simple little check-in that lets both Mari and Yuzu know that they’re thinking of one another. Finally, Yuzu seems to get what friendship is, and that one should never overthink it.

Just Because! – 12 (Fin)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Because! – 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Because! – 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Because! – 09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Because! – 08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Just Because! – 07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Because! – 06

Morikawa’s Sunday request to Souma for a chat goes unanswered into Wednesday. Why? Souma is weary of breaking the “stalemate,” unaware of what someone who outright rejected him could possibly want to talk about.

While that’s festering, Komiya continues her campaign to become Izumi’s friend, believing it will net her the benefit of him giving permission to use the photo. Rather than absense, she’s hoping her constant presence will make his heart grow stronger.

They have lunch in the depressing office where Izumi studies alone, and Souma catches him being fed by Komiya. “It’s not what it looks like!” Izumi protests. Maybe not, but things seem to be moving in that direction!

Souma and Izumi have a talk about Morikawa’s text, and Izumi suggests they settle it with baseball…again. If he hits a homer off Izumi, Souma must respond. If Izumi strikes him out, he’ll “be clear” with someone whose name he’d rather not say (though I’m assuming it’s Natsume; isn’t that why he’s studying; to get into a college near hers?)

Once more, Souma and Izumi’s two-man, one-out game becomes the focal point on which all others are focused, from Komiya (literally focused with her camera) and Natsume (who can tell Izumi’s doing his best) to Morikawa, who almost, almost breaks out her trumpet, remembering Souma liking it, even though she thinks she sucks.

The next day, Komiya gets some reasonable advice to back off from Izumi since getting closer isn’t working, but it becomes immediately clear Komiya isn’t capable of backing off in a realistic manner, and even if she did, it would have no effect on Izumi.

Natsume, inspired by both Izumi and Souma, gives Souma an eraser as thanks for him lending her one years ago. Souma is understandably confused, and unfortunately Natsume leaves it there without any further information, forcing Souma to, as Izumi says “figure it out for himself.”

Later, one of Natsume’s friends (one of three all rooting for her and Souma) asks straight-up if Natsume even likes Souma. Natsume doesn’t know anymore. She’s torn between the elation of that eraser lend in the past, and the presence of Morikawa in the present, and of course, the tests that will determine her future.

Souma, meanwhile, finally gets back to Morikawa, only for her to procrastinate over responding to him. These damn kids, I tellya! Fortunately, Inui kinda forces the issue by telling Souma where to find Morikawa, who is practicing trumpet by the river. She plays for him, and it only makes him repeat how much he likes her. Her playing! But her too.

Then Souma gets a victory (well, he’d call it that) he never saw coming: Morikawa wants more time to give him a final answer; he’s not rejected. His raw elation upon hearing this was palpable. They come to a detente; planning a celebration when Natsume’s tests are done. But they dare not hang out one-on-one…why, I don’t know.

Meanwhile, Izumi is jogging when he comes upon Komiya, who has been busted by the cops for taking photos of someone without permission. The sequence is chopped up a bit, but it’s apparent he came to her aid, and he offered to ride her home on her moped.

Natsume just happens to spot the two, looking every bit like a couple to the untrained eye, before they motor off. Could Izumi actually be warming to the more accessible girl? Or is he just being the good friend Komiya wanted him to be? Whatever the case, it’s pretty likely Natsume will see what anyone else would see: Izumi and Komiya looking very close.

Just Because! – 05

It’s a new year and a new semester; the last for all of our main characters (save Komiya). So why is everyone so bent out of shape (save Komiya)? Well, the events of last weeK—Natsume and Izumi having a fight and leaving on bad terms, and Morikawa shooting Souma down—had lasting repercussions.

Neither Izumi nor Souma want to go to school, and who can blame them? But now that Izumi and Natsume had time to cool down, both realize the error of their ways and wish to apologize to one another, because they really do care about each other. If anything, the fight demonstrated to both of them that they cared more than they knew.

Unfortunately, the reconciliation isn’t prompt; Natsume finally finds Izumi (who studies by himself in his own room…?), but Komiya is already there, monopolizing him, so Natsume bails with Morikawa and Noriko, and she ends up telling them what transpired with Izumi, and how she wants to fix it.

Morikawa also wants to fix things with Souma. Even if her rejection would ultimately stand (nothing’s 100% certain), in hindsight she believes she brought the hammer down too hard; it was her first confession, and one could say she panicked. It’s not that she dislikes Souma, she just doesn’t think she knows him well enough to start dating.

Natsume, putting Morikawa’s feelings ahead of her own in this matter, encourages her to talk it out with Souma; he’ll probably be happy for increased dialogue, and come to understand Morikawa’s position as more nuanced than “you’re trash.”

It’s not just Morikawa’s rejection that has Souma down in the dumps. This is his last semester, then it’s off to the factory, where he thinks he won’t be able to have fun anymore. A senpai invites him to a factory baseball game, and he’s shocked to see how into it the old fogies are.

Thanks to Izumi being in the right place at the right time, he’s able to produce the glove Souma tossed in the dumpster (the incorrect dumpster, mind you!), and Souma immediately makes an impact on the game that endears him to his future comrades.

On his way home, Souma runs into his mom, also on her way home. We see that Souma has been looked after by his grandparents, as his mom is really frikkin’ busy at work. But in a really sweet scene between the two, she tells him it’s worth it.

In a day’s time, Souma is feeling much better about himself, life, and the future…and that’s before Morikawa reaches out to him so they can talk more.

Having given Morikawa advice that talking things out properly is best, Natsume can’t very well not practice what she preaches! In a particularly romcom-ish coincidence, she and Izumi encounter each other at the monorail stop, and have the whole train to themselves.

Natsume tries to break the ice by joking about what book he bought (he says it’s manga, but it’s really a college prep book), but it backfires, so she says sorry, and then says she’s sorry about the other night as well. Izumi, in turn, apologizes back.

And while she says it’s not because of him or anything, she’s going to make a concerted effort to make her feelings clear to Souma, and face whatever’s to come after that. However, they part ways before it’s clear to Natsume why Izumi said what he said, nor is it clear to Izumi if Natsume realized how he actually felt about her.

There’s still lots of work to do…but everyone’s either talking again or about to talk again, so there’s hope that more will become clear in time.

Just Because! – 04

I’ve got some nice variety in my Fall watchlist. Food Wars is chugging along, with Souma scoring a big win thanks to his friends; MMO Junkie our elite NEET seems to be where she wants; and in ShoBitch we’ve had a steady, happy couple since the first episode, with all the comedy coming out of their mutual inexperience with being in a relationship.

That leaves Just Because!, the Fall show I’m watching in which people seem to suffer the most without much in the way of payoff. Just take Natsume’s interactions with Souma, trying to be a good friend by helping him get closer to Morikawa, despite the fact she still harbors feelings for him.

An experienced anime watcher it’s clear Natsume is in pain, but Souma’s your typical oblivious guy, and combined with Natsume’s silence on the matter and apparent interest in helping him with Morikawa, there’s really no way for him to question her smiles, even if she’s forcing them.

As a photog, Komiya knows all about smiles…and other expressions, like the one on Izumi’s face as he’s looking at Natsume in a candid photo Komiya took of them. Even after failing her last mission with Izumi (she brought a cat instead of a dog), she says she’ll delete the embarrassing shot if Izumi tells her something he likes about Natsume.

When she says “her awkwardness”, Komiya laughs, because it’s such an earnest, unflattering answer. It is itself an awkward answer, coming from someone just as awkward as Natsume (and, like her, unable to get his feelings to reach the one he likes).

Komiya then proposes another deal with Izumi: she’ll support him in trying to go out with the (former) president, and in exchange he’ll let her submit that photo she took of him, which she believes will win her a award and keep the photo club alive.

Of the five, Komiya is the hardest to read; she comes right out and says “I like you” to Izumi, throwing him off, before finishing with “…as a person”, inviting his ire. She’s clearly there to provide a yang counterbalance to Izumi’s yin main love interest and present multiple possible routes for the various characters.

When New Years comes around and it’s time for a shrine visit, Souma and Morikawa’s friends conspire to flake out on the visit, leaving the two alone. The two have a nice time, though Souma is often at a loss for words due to his stress over the task at hand.

That stress would seem to have been justified, for no sooner does he finally get the words “I like you” out and ask if Morikawa will go out with him, Morikawa…gravely declines. 

Ouch…that’s gotta be a fastball to the gut of Souma; all that preparation and anticipation, and at the end of the day, it wasn’t whether he could confess, but whether Morikawa would say yes, and she does not. Another sign Just Because! isn’t interested in doing things the easy way or taking the pressure off its characters.

After several instances of having someone—either Natsume’s plucky older sister or Yoriko—be a third wheel, Izumi and Natsume finally find themselves alone, and they continue to circle one another warily, putting on antagonistic airs to conceal the fact both of them have basically the same problem: their first choice likes someone else.

The fact that Souma was rejected is irrelevant here. Whether he wanted her to or not, Izumi is inspired enough by Komiya’s encouragement to at least broach the subject blocking any possible move in Natsume’s direction: her crush on Souma. She brings up exams again and again, which he calls nothing but an excuse.

That angers Natsume, who says the worst thing she can to Izumi in that moment: that it doesn’t involve him. That he doesn’t matter at all in this. Izumi sets the record straight: he’s always “cared about her”, so she can’t say it doesn’t involve him.

This may well be news to Natsume, and she’s definitely affected by the look on Izumi’s face as he passes her by to head home. Elsewhere, Souma also retreats following Morikawa’s rejection. Lots of emotions to sort through and pieces to pick up for everyone involved.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 12 (Fin)

Going into the finale, I held out a glimmer of hope that Kotarou would be able eke out a high enough score to get into Akane’s school, and even if he wasn’t accepted, they’d figure something out.

Well, the finale wastes no time giving us the answer, dropping the news that Kotarou was not accepted in the first minute. It’s a crushing blow, especially knowing how many “first loves” like this are ended by long distance.

Still, if he had passed and been able to attend high school with Akane, where would the drama be? Kotarou’s mentor tells him that nothing an author goes through is for naught; one could say the same of lovers.

One person who hopes long distance will change things is Akane’s sister, who reasonably asks Akane if she’ll take the move as an opportunity to break up with Kotarou and turn the page rather than endure the pain of the distance. Akane is adamant that that’s not what she wants…and that her sister is a jerk.

Another is Chinatsu, who is ecstatic when Kotarou is accepted to the municipal school and takes it to mean fate has worked out in her favor. She decides the time is right to confess to Kotarou; to tell him she’s always like him, and ask if she’s good enough.

And she’s just…not. Everything worked out in her favor except the most important thing: that Kotarou is able to return her feelings. He’s not. She accepts the loss (again) and tries to look forward to the next year with Kotarou as just a friend.

Chinatsu tells Akane about her confession attempt, but Kotarou doesn’t, which makes their last date together before her move more fraught. When Kotarou tells her all the ways HE will make this work—getting a job to afford train fare to Chiba as many times a week as he can manage—she becomes overwhelmed by the burden she believes she’s putting on him.

This is another case of these two being in uncharted territory with no map compass, or experience. Kotarou’s a great guy who loves Akane, but she needs more than for him to say HE’s got this; she has to be a participant in making their relationship survive, and because she’s anxious by nature (doubly so when it comes to him), his unceasing niceness actually works against him as she becomes overwhelmed, cries, kisses him, and runs off.

That meeting on the river is the last time they see each other…before the move, but Kotarou decides to take the advice of friends and start writing as a way to process his feelings. He posts the stories of his first tender love to an online board, where they resonate because everyone has been there, and many even wish they could go back to a time when love was so simple.

Ironically, he’s posting these stories at the end of those simple times. From here on out, things will get more complicated by all of the things in life that interfere or threaten what we want most: to simply be with the person we love.

Yet even though he’s too late to say goodbye to Akane in person either at her now-vacant house or at the train station, Kotarou’s feelings, and the fact they’ll never change, manage to get through to her, and they’re the same feelings she has for him: a deep, warm love that is poised to endure the challenges of growing into adulthood.

And so ends the first stage of the romance between Kotarou and Akane. It turns out not to be fleeting, as thanks to the magic of LINE they stay in touch almost constantly, and also meet up quite a bit once Kotarou makes enough money.

As the credits roll, we see the couple enjoying more firsts like movie night alone (with the parents coming home too early); their first trip together alone; missing out on chatting when Akane gets home too late; Kotarou having drinks with Akane’s parents; Akane being fitted for a wedding dress.

It may seem like jumping ahead, but Tsuki ga Kirei isn’t about these moments and days and nights years…it was the story of how these two found each other, fell in love, and never stopped loving. It was a foundation, and it was a damned strong one.

By the end, after the challenges of long distance and high school and entering the workplace and more hard work and more distance, Kotarou and Akane come out of it wonderfully, get married, and have a child.

It’s the happy ending I hoped for, but with the added bonus of having been earned due to the challenges endured and sacrifices made. And brothers and sisters, if any of you came out of this episode—and that beautiful closing montage in particular—with totally dry eyes, you may want to check your pulse!