Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 01 (First Impressions) – Please Value Yourself More!

In this half-length rom-com, Love isn’t War, but it is an unknown concept to Horie Ao. She hates men, whom she views as rabid demon animals who will fill any hole, and needs neither friends nor her youth. She just wants to study hard enough to go to a university far away from home.

Why is she so uptight about guys and desperate to escape her family? Her (tiny!) father is renowned as the “Pleasure Master,” famous author of erotic fiction, and her home is known as the “House of Lewd”. I kinda feel bad for anyone who has to serve her dad pudding shaped and colored like a boob.

Ao’s classmate male Kijima keeps approaching her to talk, and seems friendly, but she suspects he’s just like the others, a rabid animal hiding their true slobbering face. But when she resolves to tell him she hates him and wants him to stop talking to her, she finds out that things aren’t so simple.

This results in a ridiculous scenario in which she is asked to deliver his uniform to the nurse’s office, and her dad somehow teleports in and lifts up her shirt with a fishing pole, which is pretty dumb! And since Dad’s so small Kijima doesn’t notice (?) and thinks Ao is throwing herself at him. He covers her up, telling her to value herself more, then confesses that he’s in love with her, leaving Ao stunned and with no idea how to begin to respond.

Ao’s dad may be a lecherous little creep, but she needs to learn that not every member of the opposite sex is quite that bad, and there is already evidence Kijima is nothing like the sex-crazed animal she imagined. Perhaps interacting with him on a more consistent basis is the first step towards a healthier approach to social interaction.

This isn’t nearly as sharp or sophisticated as Love is War, or as diverse and manic as Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro, or as weird and touching as Hinamatsuri or as warm and cozy as WotaKoi. In my advancing years I’ve apparently developed more stringent standards for my comedy and rom-coms. ACS isn’t exceptional in any way, and will have to work awfully hard to keep me interested, even as a guilty pleasure. At least it’s short.

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto – 02

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This was a tough one to watch, but it still felt good to watch it. Though I don’t have any kids, I could feel my latent parental instincts kick in on multiple occasions. What I do have is a little niece going on three, the same age as the girl who serves as a conduit for this week’s murder mystery, which turns out to be a lot more involved than last week’s century-old skeleton or the suicide-not-suicide.

The little girl, who only has the most basic grasp of communication, and will default to “no” when confronted with strong direct demands, is like a lock that Sakurako and Shou must pick in order to figure out who she is and where she came from. I like how such a lockpicking must be undertaken by a lad too young for kids and an older but still young woman too involved in her work to bother with things like husbands or children of her own.

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In spite of this, Sakurako and Shou become the kid’s surrogate parents for the duration of their investigation. Shou is the one who brings her to Sakurako, who quickly notices the child is suffering from a poorly-healed bone injury; the likely result of abuse. As luck would have it, a classmate of Shou’s knows the kid and her real name, leading them to her house: a pigsty strewn with bags of garbage and a likely den of neglect and abuse. Then they find the corpse of the mother, and a new story emerges.

The mother is dead of an apparent stab wound, with only one defensive wound, and died in a very strange position that turns out to be one best-suited for covering a trap door in the kitchen where she hid her other child, an infant boy. When Sakurako moves the mother’s body and finds the babe, she wastes no time attempting to revive it, pumping his tiny heart to provide his brain with enough oxygen to stay alive.

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Before help can come, the father does: a knife-wielding drug addict looking for “butterflies.” Saku is unable to move to protect herself, lest she risk losing the baby, and the cop who accompanied her and Shou is the first one stabbed. That means Shoutarou has to step up and save everyone, which he does thanks to some karate he learned from his gramps.

Far from impressed, Saku is angry at Shou for acting so recklessly. As he acted, she remembered a young boy running from her in a similar fashion, and being unable to stop him. A younger brother she lost, perhaps? In any case, all’s well that ends well. The baby wakes up (thank GOD) and the police and ambulance arrive. And throughout all of this, the three-year-old has been kept safe by Shou’s classmate in the other room, shielding her from further trauma.

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The house may be the dump of a destitute couple unable to properly care for their two young children, but in Sakurako’s reconstruction of what happened (which happens with all of the pieces having been previously, carefully laid out), the mother is redeemed as a Mother, one who did not hesitate to sacrifice her own life to save both of her kids from her insane, homicidal partner. She may not have been the best mother in life, but she did the one fundamental thing required of her, and all mothers, when it mattered: she protected her children.

This was more than just a rich spoiled genius girl solving a another mystery for her own satisfaction. The show successfully drew me even further in by upping the stakes considerably. This was about continuing the work the murdered mother started: making sure those innocent kids survive. And Saku couldn’t do it alone; she needed the help of her “Watson” and the plucky cop, and they delivered.

With this latest case closed, a deeper mystery remains: the truth of Saku’s memory.  Shoutarou is surprised when she calls him by his first name in the aftermath of their ordeal, but also remembers her shouting “Soutarou” during it. Calling him Shoutarou is a sign of intimacy, yet when he asks her to confirm calling him that, she backs away, careful to maintain the same distance between them. Something haunts her; something Shou wants to uncover; and I want to see him uncover it!

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Sakurako-san no Ashimoto ni wa Shitai ga Umatteiru – 01 (First Impressions)

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The title is a mouthful (the English dub is shortened to Beautiful Bones), but Sakurado-san is a modest yet intriguing little show centered on a rich, gorgeous, brilliant, and very (justifiably) immodest young osteologist in Kujou Sakurako. She loves bones and is always on the lookout for new ones, even, nay, especially if they’re of the human variety, and even more especially if they’re of the murdered human variety.

In fact, Sakurado seems to prefer the bones of the dead to other human beings, as she seems a bit of a misanthrope. Her only regular contacts seem to be Gran, her housekeeper, and Tatewaki Shoutarou, who is the Watson to her Sherlock, only he’s not a veteran of Afghanistan, nor is he a doctor. He’s more of a student; a kohai.

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The unconventional relationship between Sakurako, who looks to be in her mid to late twenties, and the high schooler Shou, looks to be the ongoing “mystery” running parallel to the mystery-of-the-week (or weeks). Shou is our conduit to Sakurako; we know a little more about what’s going on in his head because he’s narrating, adding to Sakurako’s mystique.

Despite her being older, Shou seems the more responsible and attuned to society and bureaucracy, calling the cops when they find human remains. Yet Shou is still enough of a kid to allow the prospect of an Alaskan shrimp feast dangled ahead of him like a carrot.

Whether it’s the fact Shou’s so young and non-threatening and malleable, or that she probably doesn’t want to marry her actual fiancee (being from a wealthy family, that’s probably an arranged thing), Sakurako not only tolerates but seems to enjoy Shou’s company, and the feeling is mutual, even if she sometimes goes too far and causes trouble.

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So those are the characters, to my mind the most interesting aspect of the show. Plot-wise, the opening episode is an introduction to them and a kind of “ridealong” to one of their typical days scrounging for bones.

It’s also demonstrated that Sakurako’s analytical and investigative skills and instincts outstrip the average country detective, though she has no interest in actually entering law enforcement. There’s a great sense of occasion and drama to the moment she locks into “investigation mode”, when she’s surrounded by light and hundreds of reconstructed skeletons.

This show also has going for it: a Wednesday timeslot, so it’s more likely to be retained than if it aired during the always busy weekend. Plus, it’s a fairly pretty, undemanding show that invites you to sit back and get lost in the wake of Sakurako for a spell, as Shou obviously delights in doing, despite his protestations. Heck, I even learned a few things about bones I didn’t know. Very nice; I’ll see where it goes.

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