Working!!! 3 – 13 (Fin*)

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GODDAMNIT, WORKING!!!. Would it kill you to resolve what has remained a romantic standstill for three seasons?!! Don’t get me wrong; I love Working!!!…but I fucking HATE WORKING!!! sometimes. And as good a start as it gets off on, this episode is unfortunately one of those times. I know, Japanese anime usually tend to focus more on maintaining a status quo than progressing relationships, but Working!!! proved it could buck the trend by finally bringing Yachiyo and Satou together. Is it so much to ask that they do the same with Takanashi and Inami?

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Apparently it is; at least in a 13-episode span. And wouldn’t you know it, it isn’t any particular problem between the two that causes the impasse from continuing. Rather, it’s freaking parents. First, Inami’s estranged father, who crashes Inami’s date with Takanashi when she forgets her wallet, then calls into question Takanashi’s fitness to date his daughter due to his transvestite tendencies (for which his mother can be blamed). Thus, the date goes pear-shaped, returning the two to their status quo of being cordial, even affectionate with one another, but not yet a couple.

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This displeased me. What displeased me even more was that precious minutes of this supposed finale were spent revisiting whether Inami has been cured of her androphobia, or exploring Souma’s scopophobia, or Popura’s atychiphobia. These phobias are all well and good, but the resolution of Yachiyo x Satou gave me hope the same would be done with Inami x Takanashi. Only yet again, Working!!! is dilatory; skittish about resolving its most compelling romantic entanglement, for no other reason than it need to keep going a little bit longer.

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That “little bit longer”, it seems, will come in the form of an hour-long special, in which hopefully the fact that Takanashi flakes out on another get-together with Inami due to the intervention of his mother will be resolved. I certainly hope it does, because frankly, I’m sick of the status quo. I know this is slice-of-life, and it’s a comedy, but I didn’t introduce these serious romantic elements, the show did, and it’s the show’s responsibility to follow through and stop leading me on, damnit!

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Working!!! 3 – 12

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Satou is back and he and Yachiyo are now a couple, but it’s pretty much business as usual at Wagnaria…except for the fact Takanashi is now “Kotori-chan.” Everyone’s a little worried about this, but he claims it’s not a compulsive thing; he’s dressing as a girl (again) to help sort out his feelings for Inami, which seems arbitrary and silly at first, but gradually comes to make more sense by the very end.

Until then, he witnesses Yamada finally learn how to make a proper billing slip, and Kirio plays along that he’s a girl, and manages to get Takanashi to describe the kind of person he likes (which is just a description of Inami) before revealing he knew it was him all along (and getting slugged for it in a way that also calls Inami to mind!).

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Later, Takanashi and Satou notice that Souma has been unusually quiet and un-meddling lately, though they learn it’s just because he purchased a camera that lets him be voyeuristic from a further distance, amassing a large collection of albums full of photos of Wagnaria staff. Takanashi and Satou ending up confiscating the ones of Inami and Yachiyo, respectively. Was it Souma’s intent all along?

As for Popura, she’s called into the break room after work to find Yachiyo and Kyoko waiting for her. I’d be just as worried as she was that she might be in some kind of trouble (no matter how nice they are, a boss can’t arrange a private talk without an underling worrying it’s bad).

Turns out Yachiyo is leaving Wagnaria to use what she’s learned there to fluorish on her own. Satou is aware and supportive, natch. And Yachiyo, Kyoko, and even Satou believe Popura has grown enough to become the next chief, replacing Yachiyo. This has been a long time coming, as we’ve seen Popura thrive all season as her co-workers have been distracted by personal issues.

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Finally, Takanashi’s cross-dressing rather surprisingly pays off. From his perspective, at least, he feels he and Inami can interact a lot more naturally when he’s pretending to be a girl. He’s also in the unique position to ask her if she prefers if he’s a girl or a boy. Suddenly on the spot, Inami answers honestly: she prefers the boy.

Then, out of the blue, Takanashi invites her to come with him to the store she couldn’t find on her own because she got lost. In effect, a date. He can scarcely believe he did it, but he did, and tomorrow, he’ll be back to being Takanashi. To which I say, bravo! Unfortunately, there’s only one episode of Working!!! left to explore a Takanashi-Inami date, if it actually happens, but if it does and the two can progress a little more, I’ll take it.

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Nisekoi 2 – 04

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I suppose it was predictable that Hana-san would turn out to be a better person than last week made her out to be, so I’m glad I was on the right track in hoping there was love behind her tough, intimidation, uncaring exterior.

A great symbol that Raku and Chitoge were both wrong about her is the cut to her breaking off a piece of her cigarette and eating it. It’s candy she uses for her oral fixation; she quit cold turkey when she got pregnant with Chitoge.

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Even so, Hana is not the world’s best mother, though she provides for her daughter. She said all those harsh things out of the mistaken impression Chitoge hated her, for raising her strictly, as she was raised.

She has a drawer full of personally-chosen Christmas presents for her dating back ten years, but has never found the right opportunity to give them to her, and always asks her age because she’s nervous and isn’t sure how to treat her. There’s no bitterness or apathy here; only a lack of communication.

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Enter Raku, with his most selfless and awesome heroics yet. It’s up to him to get these two very similar women in his lives who love each other deeply to overcome their misunderstandings about each other, while getting Hana to stop hiding behind her job and face her daughter properly.

It’s unfortunate Raku and Chitoge’s entire class, including the rest of his harem, is present when Raku whisks her off to a five-star hotel room, but there’s simply no time to explain. :3

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Not knowing initially what his gesture’s all about, Chitoge is also flustered and overwhelmed, but when Raku explains on the way and asks her to simply “trust in him”, she does so without a fuss, nestling her head into Raku’s back as he pedals with all his might for her and Hana’s sakes.

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Hana almost gets away on her private jet, but Raku manages to catch her on the phone, and puts Chitoge on the line to basically beg Hana to come back. Like any momma, the distressed cries of her young create a powerful urge for her to return to her offsprings’ side.

The resulting reunion on the runway goes from hilarious (Raku and Chitoge have to avoid being run down by the landing jet) to so heartwarming one forgets it’s Christmas and snowing out. Nice work, Raku!

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Raku gives the hotel room to Hana to spend some quality time with her daughter after they go out to eat, and Chitoge finally learns why she treasures her red ribbon so much: it was the same as a character in a book she loved as a child, and ten years ago during the summer they spent together, Raku told her she’d look good in it.

All this time she’s treasured it because it was a connection to her distant mom, but it also connects her to Raku, which combined with her current feelings for him, lends Chitoge an extra layer of destiny to their reunion ten years later.

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With that, Hana tells Chitoge to be a good girlfriend and go to the one who made their wonderful evening of reconciliation possible. Raku really worked his ass of this week like none other, so Chitoge doesn’t wake him up, but puts his head in her lap and enjoys the warmed of the guy she loves.

As for Raku himself, Hana doesn’t offer any revelations about his locket, but does figure out they’re pretend-dating, and wonders out loud if his feelings are really a sham. We know they’re not, and Chitoge’s certainly aren’t, but it’s more complicated than just that, especially in a post-credits scene with Kosaki expressing her relief to Ruri that Raku and Chitoge didn’t really spend the night in a hotel. Kosaki isn’t the best girl right now, but Raku likes her a lot too, so the battle is far from over.

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Nisekoi 2 – 03

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After a brief detour with Tsugumi last week we’re back to Chitoge. Specifically, Christmas is coming around, and she’s not particularly worried about how to spend it with Raku or the rest of her friends or anything else. Rather, her mind is preoccupied with the impending arrival of her mother, Kirisaki Hana, who is so busy Chitoge only sees her about once a year. Still, from Raku’s perspective, the fact she makes it a point to come ever Christmas Eve means her mom can’t be all bad.

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His ridiculously easy defense of Hana would soon be thrown in his face, as Hana is, for all her corporations and billions of dollars and imposing aura, is an emotional deadbeat. Her first question to her daughter is “how old are you”, and while Raku knows Chitoge is wearing the red ribbon her mom gave her years ago, all Hana tells her to replace the ratty thing.

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When her umpteenth secretary keels over from over-work (clearly she isn’t even the best manager of people, if she expects everyone to go at her literally peerless pace) Hana conscripts Raku as a kind of test to see if he’s worthy (with the promise of a five-star hotel suite for him and Chitoge to spend Christmas Eve if he succeeds).

Raku is a capable fellow, so he manages to get by by the skin of his teeth. When he finally gets a break he calls Chitoge up, worried she may be feeling down. After spending the day with Hana, he feels she should try being upfront about wanting to see her, not Raku, on Christmas Eve.

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There’s no inner monologue mention of Chitoge’s present feelings for Raku, and at least on the outside this week she tries to keep a distance from him in the affection department, but it’s nice to see that even in an episode where her love life is on hold due to family issues, Chitoge still can’t help open up to her real/fake boyfriend, and is clearly heartened and grateful by his advice.

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But the pace of this episode just didn’t indicate to me this was going to be resolved with a nice happy lovey-dovey ending with Chitoge and her mom. Chitoge tries to grab hold of the swirling tornado that is Kirisaki Hana, but ends up recoiling her hand, burnt by the sheer winds. Chitoge could maybe be clearer and more emphatic, but her mother cuts her off and hangs up, leaving her feeling like just another of her thousands of twenty-second calls with underlings.

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Raku is there in Hana’s office when she rejects her daughter, and gosh bless him, he braves her wrath to call her out. Hana’s noblesse oblige self-defense is thin, and a little pathetic. Sure, there’s no one else who can do what she does quite the way she does it, and she’s needed everywhere all the time, but she’s also the only mother Chitoge has, and Chitoge needs her most of all.

If Hana’s corporate empire is so delicate that a month or a week or even a full day in which she’s not intricately involved in every facet of it will cause it to collapse, then it’s not much of an empire, is it? I get it; she had Chitoge when she was very young; maybe a part of her sees her as a mistake; a living breathing symbol of the failure she narrowly avoided. But I want to think somewhere in that cold, micromanaging heart of hers there’s some genuine love mixed in with that bitterness.

Still, Hana doesn’t deserve a daughter like Chitoge. She deserves Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees. Well, Xan’s “bad-girl” persona, anyway.

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Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – 05

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Aki and Marin reminded us so much of futaba’s superficial friends of Ao Haru Ride, I thought Erika would eventually go on a similar “realness” trip and dump them, but to the show’s credit, they’re keeping them around, only their role has changed. Now instead of being slightly annoyed by them talking about their boyfriends, Erika is jealous of their happiness with pliable boyfriends, not hard to crack nut like Kyoya.

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Jeez, has it only been five episodes? Things are moving along so well on Ookami Shoujo. I feel like most shows like it take an entire cour to get to where Kyoya and Erika are romantically even though there’s still much work to be done and fresh obstacles on the horizons. I say “work”, but as the next episode music suggests, Erika’s struggle is a battle, one to wrench open Kyoya’s heart and conquer it.

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Making that happen starts with believing it can be done, because despairing at his imposing gates, believing their impregnable-looking surface, will only lead to defeat. While going over her ideal Christmas (which is pretty standard: cake, fried chicken, gifts, being together), Kyoya complains on more than one occasion that “women are a pain”, and Erika agrees. He’s not wrong; women are a pain…but so are men. Especially Kyoya.

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After touching cheeks during their staged Christmas selfie she promised to send to Aki and Marin (a promise she cares about keeping) and going to a cafe to warm up, Erika gets a stomachache, then asks Kyoya a direct question in an attempt to quell it: “What am I to you?” Is she nothing but a useful servant? A convenient toy? Does he care about her? Erika is essentially scrambling up Kyoya’s ramparts here, blind to all the defenses he has waiting for her at the top; defenses she’s seen before.

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Her own defenses drop completely when Kyoya gives her precisely the perfect response of her dreams: He likes her, always has, but has been to shy to come out and say it, and the nervousness that builds from that pressure led to all of the nasty teasing. When she asks him to have a silly cliche Christmas night with her, he agrees without complaint, saying that whatever will be fun if it’s done with her.

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I’ll admit, my defenses were lowered too, this went on so long. Then evil shadows form on his face and he admits to just messing with her, calling it a “monkey show” and mocking her gullibility.  In other words, he pours hot pitch down upon her, and she falls back down to the base of the wall. Kyoya gets a glass of ice water to the face. He’s a terrible piece of trash, Erika shouts, and she hopes he dies, storming out in a public display.

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Men aren’t just a “pain” to women (and vice versa) because they make you jump through hoops, or interpret things without sufficient information from your perspective: they’re a literal emotional and physical pain. A pain in the gut, A dull burning in the heart. Kyoya cuts deeper there than he ever had before, and I feel Erika’s pain clearly, having been there as we all have.

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Here’s the maddening thing about Kyoya: he cruelly passed his sweet and sincere confession off as false, but it wasn’t the content of the confession that was really false; only the florid presentation. Confessing like that isn’t Kyoya’s style; it’s far outside is comfort zone where he picks on and teases and runs down Erika because, almost like a little boy who likes a girl, he doesn’t know how to process what he’s feeling, and that frustration causes him to lash out. It’s pretty textbook stuff…but Kyoya isn’t a little boy anymore, and he knows he went to far.

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Erika’s parents are really chill. They didn’t even make the couple keep the door open!

But in fixing things, which is what he wants it wouldn’t do him any good to pretend he’s comfortable (yet) saying the kinds of things that made Kyoya so happy she cried. No, he atones in the most Sata Kyoya way possible: announcing himself as her boyfriend to her folks, coming into Erika’s room, demanding an apology for her throwing water and wanting him to die, and slapping a “collar” – or rather, a cute gold necklace, around her neck, so everyone knows she’s his. He resorts to his code.

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BAAAAAAAAAW. So f-ing cute. And hey, we finally learn Aki and Marin’s boyfriends are REAL!

The impregnable defense Kyoya maintains is as false and deceptive as the psych-out that got water thrown in his face. Erika hasn’t busted open the gates to brought her main force in yet, but she did sneak over the walls, and found that she’s always had a place there. He won the battle in the cafe, but she won the battle after that, when Kyoya comes to her and, in his way, apologizes and tries to make things right. Like me, Erika chooses to believe what Kyoya said, because that was him going out on a limb, before retreating and laughing it off as a joke.

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But, yeah, the war isn’t over. Post-credits, we see Kyoya returning home to a ringing phone. After the answering machine prompt, the caller hangs up without a word. Who was this? Kyoya’s parent? A stalker or ex-girlfriend-gone-bad? My two guesses: either a red herring cliffhanger to be quickly resolved next week (less likely) or…trouble (more likely). Trouble for Kyoya, trouble for Erika, trouble for Kyoya+Erika, and trouble for me.

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Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – 04

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“Back again so soon?”

It’s one thing to end the third episode with a confession, regardless of result, so much sooner than I expected. It’s another still for Erika to cross paths with the girl who was at Kyoya’s place before him, hears that “he’s done with girls because he has a dog now”, then rushes back for clarification! This is just outstanding initiative from Erika, who won’t let things stand the last time she was this door. But while she gets him to believe she really does like him, she doesn’t get a straight answer about his feelings for her (though the “got a dog, done with girls” comment to that other girl made it pretty clear to me).

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Letting a soccer ball hit Erika head-on, then punching the one who kicked it…that’s Kyoya for you

With the answer still ambiguous to her about whether Kyoya likes her in the same way, she decides to operate under the assumption he doesn’t…quite yet, and that it falls to her to do something about it. Enter Kyoya’s friend from middle school, Hibiya Takeru, who comes in and immediately makes a big impact on the show.

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Likely still too sore over Kamiya’s deception to talk to him, and with Sanda never talking to Kyoya, she needs an ally, and finds one in the muscular, boisterous Takeru, who is very gung-ho about helping her crack the infuriating nut that is Sata Kyoya. But enthusiasm and good intentions don’t necessarily translate into success, and they don’t here.

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Backfired!

In short, Kakeru give Erika terrible, terrible advice and goofy stunts that would never work in a million years. It might even be that not allying herself with Kakeru could have made her better off, because all his advice seems to afford her is the opportunity to make a fool of herself in front of Kyoya again and again.

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The contents of Kakeru’s mind would make great van murals

That said, I’m glad Erika now has another friend (and a guy, at that), who she can talk with about these things earnestly. His ideas for her may be cockamamie, but she carries them out to the letter regardless; after all, love makes fools of us all. She’s so desperate for results, she pretty much ignores the logical side of her brain telling her this is all a waste of time, effort, and dignity.

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Your advice is crap! GIVE ME MORE!!!

Fortunately for us, watching Kakeru and Erika in action also happens to be a hoot and a half. Not only because they have great comedic chemistry, but because they’re both romantics, and feed off each other’s energy where someone like Kyoya either sucks it all up or deflects it entirely. Kakeru may be a a bit of a Mimbo, and more chivalrous and devoted to Erika’s cause than the average joe would be, but he’s a heckuva lot more normal than Kyoya in how he interacts with Erika. He and Erika are on the same level.

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That’s refreshing after seeing Erika play the servile supplicant so frequently, even though I know it’s been her choice to do so. You probably know where I’m going with this: the more I watch Kakeru and Erika together, the more I’m thinking they’d make a better couple, to the point even both of them seem to get that vibe. Kakeru uses this for his last, and perhaps riskiest idea yet: calling both Erika and Kakeru out, saying he’s fallen for Erika, and forcing Kyoya to decide right then and there.

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Oh, man, look at that! It’s a triangle! So on-the-nose. But hey, it’s also covered in little “cracks”, which means it’s a brittle triangle. While the prospect of Kakeru being a legitimate rival for Erika’s heart, the reality is, he hasn’t really fallen for her. The triangle is only rhetorical, and that’s how Kyoya sees it, which is why his seemingly cold, assholish response makes perfect sense: He tells Kakeru to “do what he wants”, even though it breaks Erika’s heart right then and there, because he knows Kakeru isn’t serious. In other words, “Nice try, but this isn’t going to work on me either.”

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Erika’s heartbreak is short-lived, as Kyoya chases after her and gives her a real arm (not a plastic skeleton arm this time), and essentially tells her she’s just going to have to keep working at it if she really feels the way she does. He’s essentially asking for even more emotional commitment from her…but he is asking for it, about as nicely as he can. As he says to Kakeru, “I’ll decide when I’ve fallen for Erika.” Neither Kakeru or Erika can decide. He’s asking Erika to buy into the self-importance he’s placing on himself, like a leap of faith, not knowing where it will lead, but looking forward to seeing what happens.

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And just to put a final cork in the short-lived Kakeru+Erika route, in a post-credits scene Erika meets Kakeru at the riverbank to politely reject him; naturally, he forgot he confessed to her for real. He may not be a love interest, nor a particularly useful ally in Erika’s fight for Kyoya. But he is still a new, real friend she can treasure. And real is always valuable.

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Ookami Shoujo to Kuro Ouji – 03

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This show has improved in each of its three episodes, which is all the time it takes for Erika to listen to Sanda’s advice and follow her feelings honestly and confess to Kyoya. This is in part accomplished by the tried-and-true and nicely-executed “nursing ill love interest to health” scenario, which reveals to both Erika and Kyoya that their exchanges in this “fake” relationship are growing alarmingly genuine.

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For one thing, Erika doesn’t come to Kyoya’s house to nurse him back to health because it’s part of her duty as his dog, or to keep up appearances with their fake relationship. She does it because she’s worried about him, and because she wants to. And while she’s not thinking about it this way at all, there’s nothing like a bad cold to reveal the true nature of an “adversary”, if you will.

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As ever, Erika is seeing sides of Kyoya he keeps tightly guarded from everyone else, which makes her feel understandably, well…special. But again, that feeling, and falling even further for Kyoya, is a by-product of her helping him, not an intended reward. That utter lack of ulterior motive is as baffling to Erika as it is vexing to Kyoya, considering their history…but to paraphrase Sanda, the heart is not the head; it don’t have to make sense.

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If this episode accomplished nothing else (which isn’t true, it accomplished a lot), it afforded us the resources to compile our most comprehensive analysis of Kyoya to date, confirming many suspicions with facts of his life. His lack of a strong mother figure speaks volumes about how he deals with women, and the loss of a beloved dog in middle school indicates a hesitancy to commit or form strong emotional bonds with anyone else, fearing more pain and anguish.

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Between his mommy/women/abandonment/commitment/self-esteem issues, Kyoya is a far more wounded and fragile individual than he lets on, and Erika has still only seen the slightest glimpses. She’s privy to the same indicating facts we do, but she’s so emotionally compromised herself at the moment, she hasn’t painted as clear a picture of him yet.  She also saw his “non-Prince Smile”, which is to say, a genuine smile bourne from real happiness. Put incredibly simply: he likes dogs, ergo he likes Erika, who is his “dog” at the moment.

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Being with Kyoya makes Erika want to stop lying and be his real girlfriend, along with wanting to take care of him when he’s sick. Being with Erika is like being with no other woman in Kyoya’s life. When Erika suddenly stops by his apartment one night to confess properly, Erika is in a very emotionally malleable state, and Kyoya…well, he’s just had a visit from a pretty lady with whom I’m sure he demanded the least emotional connection possible. And yet the timing feels right.

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I always appreciate a guy or girl with guts who confesses earlier rather than later, regardless of the consequences or the fact neither they nor I usually like the response, but that’s to be expected: an early confession that ends in rejection or ambiguity usually means the show to follow will be about clearing up the ambiguity, and if and how the initial rejection is ultimately overturned, resulting in romantic victory.

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Make no mistake: Kyoya isn’t questioning Erika’s feelings for him because he doesn’t want them, nor because he doesn’t have the same feelings for her. He’s questioning them because he doesn’t think he deserves them, and probably also fears losing her once he has her. While he’s antagonized and insulted Erika plenty, he’s doing it in hopes of keeping her at a safe distance. The one he’s really torturing is himself. We’ll see how right or wrong I am about all of this in the weeks to come. Until then, great progress was made here.

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P.S. The peppy ending theme, “Wolf Heart” by Oresama, is a toe-tappingly fun, well-produced, and addictive piece of pop that’s also a nice salve for the sting of that failed confession.