Higehiro – 03 – Fated Encounters

Sayu has a dream about a past night she spent with a man in exchange for a place to stay. She lies under him passively, her eyes devoid of their usual glimmer, making no noise except to say “yeah” when he asks if it feels good. It’s not a love scene; it’s a transaction scene, depicted in all its awkward frankness. Sayu wakes up in her own bed as Yoshida dozes away in his. The glimmer is back in her eyes, but there’s also worry.

When Yoshida heads off to work, all Sayu has are household chores and her thoughts. And her thoughts are constantly asking why Yoshida won’t touch her. Shouldn’t he want to, at least a little? All the other men did, and took what they could. We learn Yoshida turned down a business trip, and his male co-worker assumes it’s because he has a girlfriend.

That prospect upsets Mishima, who asks him out to a movie after work. On the way out he and Gotou nearly walk into each other. Seeing him leave with Mishima, Gotou wears a look I’d describe as…left out?

Long before Yoshida returns home, Sayu is simply out of things to do around the house, so she has nothing but those lingering, worrying thoughts. Even though Yoshida hasn’t touched her like all the other men, she still believes he’ll kick her out when he doesn’t want her anymore.

When he texts her that he’s going out for a movie with a colleague, Sayu decides to stalk him…just a little. She happens to be watching just as Mishima finished talking to Yoshida about fated encounters, both the ones in the sad movie and ones in reality. Mishima is certain it’s better to realize that it’s fate the moment it happens, rather than months or years later.

While Yoshida isn’t 100% with her on this line of thinking (one, because he considers her a co-worker and friend first; two, he’s a bit dense), Mishima thinks she’s having such an encounter with him now, and doesn’t want to let it go. He’s taken aback when she hugs him, but the hug is all Sayu sees when she rushes off.

She doesn’t see Yoshida rebuff Mishima; not that she’s going to give up on him anytime soon. When Yoshida comes home to find Sayu’s phone but no Sayu, his first worry is that she was kidnapped, not that she ran away because she saw him with Mishima.

Even though I knew her running away would be a distinct possibility, I was still hugely relieved to see she didn’t go far; just to a nearby park to think. Heavy on her thoughts is how Yoshida looked when Mishima hugged him, how different it was from how he is with her. It made her jealous, but also reinforces her worry that once a guy as kind as him finds a girlfriend, she’ll be abandoned.

But this episode deals with three fated encounters: Yoshida and Sayu, Yoshida and Mishima…and Sayu and Mishima, who happens to find Sayu in the park looking forlorn (and out of place!) before Yoshida does. She sits with her so she can think without being bothered by a cop, and asks what’s troubling her. She’s not in a fight with her “parents”—i.e. Yoshida—as “they’re unbelievably nice”.

Rather, there’s something Sayu can’t tell “them”, or they might abandon her. Mishima tells her that fear can freeze you in place, but it can also spur forward action. In her book, the latter way is the better one. From what she’s heard, Mishima thinks whoever this is believes in Sayu, so she should believe in them and say This is who I am! This is part of me! Will you stay with me anyway?

Of course, Mishima is speaking from her experiences with Yoshida, who just happens to be the same person Sayu is talking about. Mishima learns this when Yoshida arrives at the park. And from the way he treats Sayu—like a worried-sick guardian would treat his lost kid—it’s clear Sayu and Yoshida have some “family stuff” to discuss. So she takes her leave, but insists that Yoshida explain himself later.

I love how low-key and empathetic Mishima’s reaction is to learning Yoshida is looking after a teenage runaway. She knows she doesn’t have the whole story, and while she very much wants to hear it, it’s not the time or place, so she’ll wait until it is. She doesn’t jump to conclusions or express premature outrage.

When Yoshida and Sayu comes home, Sayu takes Mishima’s advice, stops standing in place, and steps forward … in her black underwear … towards Yoshida. She refuses to dress before they talk. She again mentions how her breasts are big for someone in high school. She presses against Yoshida, and asks again if he wants to have sex her, like all the other men wanted to.

When pressed (literally) by Sayu, Yoshida admits that of course he finds her extremely cute and attractive. Sayu is flattered by his praise, and explains that this is the way she decided on to be able to live without going back home. She knows there are disadvantages to an adult having a teenage girl around, and so thought there must be some kind of advantage way to make up for that.

At first, she hated using her body in that way. But while she was doing it with someone she also felt she could be herself; that she was needed. The advantage she provided to the other men made her feel fulfilled. Maybe in her dream, when she said ‘yeah’ when asked if it felt good, she wasn’t lying. It felt good emotionally for there to be what she saw as a balanced give-and-take; something for something.

But ultimately the disadvantages would win out, and she’d get kicked out. However many times this happened to Sayu, she’s now of the mind that her crushing uneasiness won’t be quelled unless Yoshida sleeps with her. So she asks once more, if it won’t upset him, if he’ll do so. Yoshida gathers Sayu into a solid but thoroughly platonic hug, and make it clear that sleeping with someone he’s not in love with would upset her, so the answer is no.

Once she’s dressed again and they’re seated at the table, Yoshida calmly rejects Sayu’s assertion that she “hasn’t done anything” for him in return to justify keeping her around. Again, he tries to reorient her belief that only sex can pay for the roof under her head and make up for the disadvantages of having her there.

He admits he’s changed since she came. He takes better care of himself. They eat and talk about nothing special. His apartment feels like a real home with her there, and a place he wants to hurry back to after work. Just having her there has made his life more fun and more rewarding. She doesn’t have to do or say anything special to maintain that atmosphere; she just has to be there. That’s it.

Saying this moves Sayu to tears. Yoshida realizes that he wasn’t doing himself or Sayu any favors by thinking he could change her back into a “normal teenage girl”, and that there was nothing more to it than that. Denying her transactional mindset and sexuality only heightened her anxiety about properly paying him back for his kindness.

Acknowledging the role of sex in Sayu’s life up to this point was a crucial step in acknowledging Sayu herself, just as making it clear that sex with her is neither wanted nor required establishes firm boundaries. It sets him apart from all the other men, thank goodness.

Thanks to Mishima, Sayu was able to break their stalemate of unspoken tension, and was able to learn from Yoshida not only why he didn’t want to sleep with her, but why just being there was enough for him. Now that they’ve bared their hearts and cleared the air, they can begin truly living together, like a family. It’s an honest, beautiful, and heartwarming catharsis between two lonely souls who claim to be pathetic, but are actually inspiring!

Vlad Love – 07 – Vla Vla Vland

Vlad Love goes from the “cultural festival play” episode to the “let’s make a movie” episode, with Maki as the director and Mai, Mitsugu and Katsuno starring (Katsuno also fronts the more than $4K budget). Maki’s vision is a promotional video for the Blood Donation Club that is also a homage to French New Wave director Nicolas Truffant.

Needless to say, chaos reigns. Maki has the lingo and bearing of a film director down, and she also knows her cinematic history and can rear-project a driving scene with the best of ’em, but the shoot itself is an unqualified disaster from start to finish as Chihiro insists they film the whole thing in five days. Those days are marked by title cards reminiscent of The Shining. Also, Kaoru’s cat runs away, and the backup cat doesn’t give a shit about milk.

While Maki seems to have recurring dreams about being a little girl surrounded by everyone staring and judging at her (probably a reference to something), in the end those dreams are justified, as the final product is a mess. Unlike the first Star Wars, even editing couldn’t save Meet Mai, but Maki isn’t even there for the premiere—she’s scarfing down a bento on the Shinkansen.

The episode was hurt by having to follow up the best one yet, as well as being the second straight involving a production with a demanding director. Mitsugu and Mai barely say or do anything, and there are so many jokes and asides there’s no room for anything else—including much of a reason to care! Still, as always, Vlad Love looks great, even when it’s little more than empty calories.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 09 – The Normiest Summer Ever

Summer break is here, but it won’t be a break from Tomozaki’s mission to master the game of life. It can’t be; it’s their last summer break in high school! His first task—go somewhere one-on-one with a girl who isn’t her—can be satisfied by going to that movie with Fuuka. But for Hinami victory ultimately means him regularly dating Fuuka, and she’ll be setting other goals for him between now and the end of August.

Hinami wants Tomozaki succeeds in his first date, so they have what she calls a “rehearsal date”, in which she texts him places he’ll suggest they go as if he had chosen them, and she’ll speak in a higher register and act like his date. While clothes shopping, she gives him a slightly scratched backpack she bought earlier for a cute button he buys for her. Then they hit up the electronics store and play some Tackfam at the Yontendo display.

It’s here where we watch Hinami openly struggling for once and not being The Best. I emphasize that she’s not acting here; she’s being her genuine self with him, and the pretend date suddenly feels like a real one. He considers their Tackfam playing to be the “best form of communication” for them; it’s when he realizes she’s not just a top-level normie but a dyed-in-the-wool gamer like him.

While having a bite, Hinami tells Tomozaki she already got the OK from Fuuka to give him her LINE ID, which saves him the trouble of asking her in person. Hinami gives him the brass tacks of his message, and Tomozaki bangs it out. It’s a bit lengthy, but it’s earnest and straightforward, so she clears it for sending. And despite warning Tomozaki that sometimes it takes a while for Fuuka to respond, she responds almost instantly with an enthusiastic “yes”—a definite good sign.

Before parting ways for the day, Hinami tells Tomozaki to keep the 4th and 5th open, as she and the rest of the gang are going to have a barbecue and sleepover, ostensibly as a ploy to get Yuzu and Nakamura together. But such a youthful normie event will be a veritable goldmine for Life XP Tomozaki needs to level up. I don’t think that Hinami “pulled strings” to get him invited—I’m sure they were all fine with him joining them—as someone who wishes to master the game, this is a challenge he can’t pass up. He’s in.

First Hinami invites him to join her and Mizusawa for a planning event at Mimimi’s. There, his task will be to “mess with” Mizusawa at least three times, for as she says, “moderate teasing is key to making friends as equals.” It’s a super-clinical, even cynical way of looking at bonding rituals, but that doesn’t make it not true!

Sure enough, as soon as Tomozaki arrives ready for an opening to mess with Mizusawa, he is the one messed with. But when Mimimi requests a change of venue since her grandma is over, Hinami suggests the house of the one who lives closest to Mimimi. That’s Tomozaki, and as a result his little sister and mom totally freak out by the top-tier characters who are suddenly hanging out with their Fumiya!

While playfully searching Tomozaki’s room looking for porn, Mimimi finds a box full of totally worn-out old controllers. He explains that while they’re no longer sensitive enough for Tackfam, they’re still fine for other games. Hinami takes a particular wordless interest in these, actual artifacts of his grueling effort to become the best that she can hold in her hands. No doubt she has a few such controllers in a box in her room too!

Planning to bring Yuzu and Nakamura closer together turns to talk of the future in general, with the knowledge that with exams next year there won’t be as many opportunities to hang out; this summer must not be squandered. Tomozaki successfully messes with Mizusawa thrice. Mizusawa also noticed the hair gel he recommended to him isn’t being used too frequently, and Tomozaki demonstrates why when he applies it: he needs some pointers.

What follows is a very sweet little scene as Tomozaki films himself as Mizusawa shows him the proper way to apply the gel. Mizusawa notes that Tomozaki takes everything seriously, and wonders why he goes to such lengths, with everything from hair gel to Mimimi’s speech. Tomozaki likens life to a game he doesn’t want to lose, and Mizusawa can see, but from his perspective, if life is only a “game”, why not loosen up and enjoy it?

It’s a very enlightening exchange of viewpoints, as the two guys treat the word “game” very differently. When Tomozaki returns to his room with his new ‘do, Mimimi is the one messing with him, using a pen as a microphone to report “something fishy going on.” After everyone leaves, he suggests Saturday the 1st for the movie with Fuuka, which is fine with her.

Now comes the even I’ve been looking forward to since it was first suggested: his big date with Fuuka. Tomozaki is the first to arrive at the meeting spot, which means he gets to see Fuuka before she sees him, and watch her neutral, almost forlorn expression turn to pure quiet joy when she spots him waving to her. Both of them are so happy and giddy this is actually happening, the two freeze up a bit, until Tomozaki says “Shall we?” and they head to the theater.

When Tomozaki mentions her long sleeves, she tells him how she has extremely sensitive skin that burns easily in the sun. He misses an opportunity to compliment her, but at the same time saying something like “I think your skin is lovely” might have made her to self conscious. In any case, Fuuka is so excited upon seeing the movie posters she draws quite close to him, then realizes how close that is an retreats a bit.

Once they’re in their seats, Tomozaki can’t help but look over at Fuuka beside him and blush with happiness. After the film they grab a bite, but as he continues talking about the film in detail, Tomozaki realizes he’s talking too much and not giving her an opening to add to the conversation. It’s here where my stomach started to sink along with Fuuka’s expression as Tomozaki overcompensates by bringing up a string of conversation topics that don’t mesh well.

Worse, he thinks it’s going well when it’s clear from Fuuka’s look that she notices something is off. He realizes this too when she comes right out and says he’s a “mystery” to her, in the way he suddenly swings from being really easy to really hard to talk to. An awkward silence ensues.

Still, and this is key, those moments of awkwardness do not end up sinking the date or their prospects for each other. Instead, while on the train Fuuka clarifies her comments: she didn’t mean what she said about Tomozaki to be a bad thing, but a good thing. She’s never been good at talking with boys, so the times when it’s easy to talk with him represent the first such time. That makes her happy, which is why, without any needed input from him she tells him she wants to go out again sometime.

Tomozaki reports his great victory to Hinami over the phone while she’s painting her toes. She urges him to reflect on the “hard to talk to thing”, which really comes down to lack of experience on skills on both his part and Fuuka’s. The more time they spend together, the more comfortable they’ll get talking with one another.

Hinami may well have expected Fuuka would want to hang out with Tomozaki again, so she already has the ideal event for their second date: a fireworks show on the sixth. Tomozaki texts Fuuka, and she again gets back to him immediately with a yes. But before that he’ll tackle the barbecue and sleepover with his normie friends. I for one can’t wait for either!

The Day I Became a God – 08 – The Temporary Luster of a Miracle

Hina cries as she dreams of her late, beloved grandfather once again, but the next day—only the fifth left in the whole world—she’s her usual cheerful self as Sora shoots footage for the “making of” movie. Watching Hina interact with the others, he can’t help but want to know more about her.

If the world is to end as she says, he feels they’d be parting far too soon for his taste. So he asks his parents, and they’re refreshingly open with him. Hina isn’t a relation, but the granddaughter of a teacher and mentor to both of them. Her mother passed away, her father abandoned her, so gramps is all she had.

When he died, he made sure arrangements were made, dressing her up in conspicuous clothes so Youta’s parents would know it was her. They gladly took their mentor’s granddaughter in, but it’s up to Hina—and Youta—how long her stay lasts. It’s interesting to note that at no point do Youta’s parents mention the countdown to the end of the world.

The next day, Hina is ready for video games when Youta tells her he wants to find her real father. Hina is not nearly as enthusiastic about this, but if Youta thinks it will help him learn more about her, she’s game, and helps him locate his current residence. It just happens to be by the ocean, which Hina has never seen, so there’s a built-in incentive for her to come.

Youta comments that it almost feels like they’re eloping, but for the bento boxes his mom prepared for them. After a train ride, a bus ride, and a bit of a walk, they finally arrive at what looks like a dream house. Hina’s father guardedly welcomes them in. For a moment Youta believes neither her dad nor his wife can see Hina, but she merely requested a different kind of tea.

In truth they can see her just fine; they just have no idea the girl with lilac hair in nun cosplay is Hina. When Youta clarifies that it is indeed her, her father reacts as if he’s seen a ghost, while his wife drops her royal milk tea and completely loses it.

Hina’s dad moves their conversation to the beach and has Hina play with the family dog while he explains his shock to Youta. You see, he only knew Hina until age 7. All her life to that point, she suffered from the hereditary condition known as Logos Syndrome, which negatively affected both the brain and the muscles.

The last time he saw her she could barely stand or speak. As he tries to sort through his swirling emotions, part of him feels he should be angry, telling Youta how cruel it is to show him a healthy, happy Hina he had, to be perfectly frank, left for dead, and replaced with a new wife and kids. When Youta asks if there’s any way the father and Hina can reunite, he says it’s impossible.

Hina’s father already cut that bond, and every time an increasingly agitated Youta tries to take him to task for that—Your daughter is right there!, and such—he responds with “You’re young; you wouldn’t understand.” Youta admits he doesn’t, but Hina’s father says the time will come when he will. There is no cure or treatment for Logos, and he considers the luster of the miracle of a healthy Hina to be fleeting.

Hina has nothing to say to her biological father, so she and Youta take their leave. On the bus to the hotel where they’ll spend the night before returning home, Youta wonders what the point of the trip was. He’s pretty sure he would have preferred to remain ignorant of the existence of Hina’s father, just as he probably would have preferred not to know Hina still lived.

As for Hina, she’s her usual joyous, laughing self, playing with her food then getting excited about vintage Space Invaders in the rec room. When she notes Youta’s constant glum expression, she reminds him the world is about to end, which should be cause not to panic or despair, but to not worry about what one cannot control.

Youta has come to love Hina, as I have, but it sure looks like she’ll be a goner in four days. The rest of the world won’t end; Hina’s father and his happy family, Youta, Sora, their parents, Ashura, Kyouko, Kakou…they’ll all live on. Only Hina, who “became a god” 335 days ago, won’t be around in four more. But like Youta, I don’t want that, and I don’t want to believe her father.

Perhaps whatever treatment her grandfather administered allowed her to live for 339 days and no more. Or maybe Youta, possibly aided by Suzuki (who visits Hina’s dad that same night) and others, could end up saving her, delaying the end of her world indefinitely. One can hope…

The Day I Became a God – 07 – ‘Tis a Great Luxury

Seven days remain till the “end of the world”, whatever that entails (more on that later), so why spend them studying? Youta has the perfect out in the form of Sora completing her new script. Hina decides she’ll be the heroinc, but as Sora’s, like, the only member of the film club and her friends are, like, busy, it’s up to Youta to assemble a crew to shoot the flick.

Due to all of the good deeds Youta has done and lives he’s touched so far this summer, Hina assures him that all he needs to do is make some calls and he’ll get his crew. Sure enough, he gets the same group who showed up for the festival, plus Jinguugi’s ex-loan shark who mended his ways and Tengan Kakou’s, er…let’s call him her valet!

Like the festival, the film shoot enables these colorful characters to bounce off one another, particularly Hina and Kakou, who act like members of warring street gangs in their rivalry of one another. As Sora draws up some storyboards, Kakou and Kyouko watch Hina and Youta playing video games and are sticklers for the game’s lack of intelligent enemies.

Once the shooting starts, Youta quickly learns he must deal with Hina’s usual imperious old-timey way of talking even as she portrays a clumsy girl, since her character will eventually become the world’s savior. Kakou does the best she can do portraying an old man, while Hina and Youta share a surprisingly tender moment after she ruins a dozen eggs.

After Hina messes around with free CGI software to spice up the scenery of the footage, Director Sora wraps shooting for the day, and everyone goes their separate ways once more. Kyouko had so much fun she can’t help but smile and laugh to herself, and was particularly happy to see Youta and Hina get along so well.

Indeed, she even confesses to feeling a little jealous about their rapport. Back home, Youta wonders out loud if it’s really okay to be having so much fun when he should be studying…or preparing for the end of the world. Hina acknowledges that what they’re doing is a luxury, but one that is both called for…and earned.

Cut to Suzuki…Remember him; the hacker boy? In the final five minutes we follow him breathlessly from the back of a Lexus to infiltrating a lab where Dr. Korogi is believed to have spent time. Once in the server room, he digs up some research on “natural immune systems”.

Korogi’s old house is being demolished, so he and his handler Oguma must race to a junkyard to recover more clues. Suzuki saves some books and a frame picture from the chipper, and Oguma saves him from that same chipper. As for the photo, it’s of Dr. Korogi and…our girl Hina. With six days left, Suzuki and Youta’s worlds have finally merged.

Hina was the person Youta spent the most time with this week; before, during, and after the shoot. The reveal Hina is Dr. Korogi’s subject/creation gives their time together greater weight, and also contextualizes Hina’s belief in the imminent world’s end. More than ever, I’m convinced the “world” she speaks of is her own life, with the expectation that she will die having showed Youta a better way to live. Sounds pretty Maeda Jun-y to me!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 09 – No Need For Theatrics

Ensign Mariner is in the midst of helping lizard people overthrow their oppressive masters (who also have a habit of eating them) and earnestly thinks she’s finally done something worthy of praise from her mom/captain, but Freeman isn’t having it, accusing Beckett of going against the Prime Directive.

Mariner vociferously protests in front of the aliens, and her mom orders her back to the ship, where she’s to report not to the brig, but somewhere even worse (to Mariner): therapy. Predictably, she makes no progress other than trashing a bonsai.

But when Boimler shows her a holodeck program of the Cerritos and near-perfect (and privacy-violating) approximation of its crew for the narrow purpose of practicing for an interview with the captain, it dawns on Mariner that the simulation could be used to work out her anger over her mom.

This results in one of the sendupiest good-natured sendups of Trek yet, this time focusing on the feature films. Appropriately, black letterbox bars appear to accommodate the wider aspect ratio and there’s suddenly a film grain and much more dramatic lighting and music. Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford are all along for the ride, but only Mariner knows the script.

What’s hilarious is that interwoven within Mariner’s unofficial holo-therapy session, Boimler still tries to use the modified simulation to determine what to say to the captain during their interview, even interrupting her birthday jet-ski session reserved only for senior staff.

But when the Cerritos is given a mission (which Mariner notes would normally be given to the Enterprise), we get the full Star Trek: The Motion Picture dramatic starship flyaround, with some truly epic beauty shots of the ship in spacedock, while the bridge and corridors are also more cinematically lit (a contrast to the usual TNG-style even TV lighting).

The impostor ship the Cerritos investigates suddenly decloaks off their bow; it’s a klingon ship crewed by Mariner in her vengeful villainess persona “Vindicta” (a clear reference to Captain Proton’s Chaotica from Voyager).

Tendi somewhat reluctantly portrays an Orion pirate (as she’s not your usual Orion IRL), Rutherford is similarly unconvincing as a baddie, while Mariner simply replaced Boimler (still on the Cerritos) with a knockoff she quickly vaporizes (the first of many grisly deaths) to show she means business.

Vindicta & Co. board the Cerritos and a corridor firefight ensues. Boimler is about to learn from Ransom what the captain is allergic to, cookie-wise, when he’s shot and killed before he gets the words out.

As Mariner seemingly takes more and more sadistic glee in massacring simulations of actual Cerritos crew members, Tendi is put off and leaves the holodeck (as well as the letterboxed format!) Tendi does not think it’s okay for Mariner to play up the Orion pirate/slave stereotype, especially if it means offering her Shaxs’ Bajoran earring as a trophy…with part of his ear still on it.

Still very much reveling in her Vindicta character, Mariner has the Cerritos crippled and it careens through the atmosphere of the nearby planet and crash lands in some snowy mountains, a truly epic scene that references both the saucer crash in Star Trek: Generations (albeit at a differen saucer angle) and the crash from Voyager‘s excellent 100th episode, “Timeless”.

Rutherford, who like Tendi really isn’t into this whole villain thing, instead decides to use the program the way Boimler intended, to get more insight into his engineering chief. He even manages to create a program that systematically transports the entire crew to safety before the ship crashed, impressing his superior.

Vindicta ends up in the climactic fight with Captain Freeman, but it’s not as satisfying as she’d have liked, since Freeman character has no idea who Vindicta is. That’s when we get a very cinematic twist and the “real” Beckett Mariner appears to beam her mom to safety and duel Vindicta (shades of Kirk fighting himself in Star Trek VI). 

Out on the planet surface, Boimler presents Freeman with some chocolate chip cookies on a blind gamble, but it turns out the captain is allergic to chocolate, and when Jet accuses him of trying to assassinate her, Freeman recommends Jet, not Boimler for promotion.

The two-Beckett fight ends in an apparent stalemate, but the one created by Boimler’s program never meant to win, only to buy time while the rest of the crew escapes and the self-destruct counts down. Vindicta (AKA the real Mariner) realizes that while sometimes she feels like blowing up the ship and stabbing her mom with a metal pole, at the end of the day she loves her mom, her friends, and her ship.

The self-destruct of the Cerritos ends the program. Mariner ends up making up with Tendi, Rutherford is unable to reach out to his superior, and most importantly, Mariner properly apologizes to her mom for how she acted with the Prime Directive-breaking. The movie transitions to a standard Trek All’s Well That Ends Well conclusion.

But that’s not all: when holo-Captain Freeman honors Ensign Mariner for sacrificing herself saving them, she no longer has any reason to conceal the truth: Mariner is her daughter. Believe it or not in all these nine episodes this is the first Boimler has learned of this! Unsure how to process the bombshell, he forgets his preparation and totally bombs in the interview with the captain. So he’ll remain an ensign for a little while yet.

As for Mariner’s movie, it ends a lot like Star Trek II, with a soft-landed photon torpedo tube in a lush jungle. But rather than a baby Spock, Vindicta rises and prepares for another round of bloody vengeance…only to be shot dead by holo-Leonardo da Vinci! That irreverent ending is followed by a more heartfelt homage, as the Lower Deckers’ signatures fly across the screen like those of the cast of Star Trek VI. 

It all makes for a marvelously-detailed, deliciously indulgent homage-parody of Trek movies while still moving forward the serialized character elements in preparation for Lower Decks first season finale.

Stray Observations:

  • The cold open’s statue-toppling is a reference to the fall of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad following the capture of the capital by coalition forces in 2003.
  • The vehicle used to pull down the statue is an ARGO, first seen in Nemesis.
  • The Cerritos therapist wears civilian clothes but has a Starfleet commbadge. He is also apparently a green hyperchicken, similar to the attorney in Futurama.
  • Voyager’s Captain Janeway often visited da Vinci’s workshop for advice and inspiration. He was played by Jonathan Rhys Davies, better known as Gimli (and the voice of Treebeard) from the LoTR trilogy.
  • That said, I love how the Cerritos’ Lower Deckers just do skeet shooting with him!
  • Mariner’s messing with Boimler’s program is reminicnet of Tom Paris and the Doctor’s dueling holo-novels in the Voyager episode “Author, Author”.
  • Mariner fills Vindicta’s early viewscreen dialogue with quotes from The Tempest, which is a nod to Klingon General Chang’s similar tendency throughout Star Trek VI.
  • The Cerritos’ warp effect is given more bells and whistles for the movie treatment, while there are numerous lens flares, a nod to J.J. Abrams’ lighting style in 2009’s rebooted Star Trek.
  • Shaxs mentions Pah-Wraiths, who were the evil version of the Prophets introduced in DS9.
  • In his engineering technobabble, Rutherford mentions both “sativa” and “indica”, the two major strains of marijuana.
  • Rutherford also explains how he was able to transport the whole crew to safety as the ship was crashing with the hand-waving line “It’s a movie! We can do whatever we want!” For good or worse, many of the movies did just that.
  • Due to technical difficulties, I had to take screenshots…with my phone.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 66 – These Bitter Tears

Nakuru’s movie is a big hit, with particular praise going to Sakura’s cuteness, but as Yukito sits with Touya in the projector room, his heart is uneasy, since now Touya knows he’s not human. Touya assures him it doesn’t matter what he is, as long as he doesn’t disappear and stays by his side.

After some post-movie drinks, Sakura, Yukito, Syaoran and Tomoyo enjoy the other diversions of the school fair, with Syaoran watching wearily at Yukito and Sakura in particular. Nakuru then insists only two can enter their class exhibit at a time, thus separating Yukito and Sakura from Syaoran and Tomoyo. Nakuru is following Eriol’s orders, but it ends up working in Sakura’s favor, because this gives her the ideal opportunity to confess to Yukito.

It’s also fitting that she does so while surrounded by stars, the source of her magical power. But when Sakura tells Yukito that she really likes him, he says he likes her too, but asks her to look closer at her feelings. He posits that her feelings for him are quite similar to those for her dad, which is understandable since he looks so much like her dad and is a kind lad besides. But his point is, there’s someone she likes more than anyone…and it’s not him.

Sakura is thus rejected by Yukito, but in the softest, gentlest way possible. He also admits that the person he likes most is indeed Touya, who saved him, after all. And while he’s unsure if Touya feels the same way, Sakura grasps what he’s getting at. Alas, their talk is interrupted when all of the glass stars around them start to shatter, and Yue appears to protect her.

When other students enter the exhibit, Sakura uses both Maze and Illusion to cover up the damage, as well as hide the two of them, though they’re soon separated. Even so, when Syaoran senses Clow’s presence, he’s able to cut through the illusions with his sword. As he and Yue search for her, Sakura encounters Eriol with his staff and Clow’s magical circle.

Admitting he’s been “found out”, Eriol puts Sakura to sleep. When she comes to, she remembers Clow’s presence and the circle…but not Eriol. She leaves the school fair with Syaoran, Yukito, and Tomoyo, but when the latter two split off to head to their respective homes, Syaoran insists on walking Sakura all the way home.

Sakura asks a favor: that they stop by the park first. While they sit on the swings, Sakura tells Syaoran how she confessed to Yukito and was turned down. And while Yukito is right that she mostly thought of him as family, a little part of her liked him in a way differently than that. And while Tomoyo told her there’s no greater happiness than seeing the one you like most happy—Sakura can’t help but weep bitter tears.

Syaoran offers his handkerchief, a smile, and the promise that she too will find that someone, and they’ll be just as happy when she finds them. Of course, Syaoran wants to be that very person, but wisely doesn’t press that issue. Here and now, he’s there to be an ear to listen a shoulder to cry on…and a friend to console the heartbroken Sakura with a hug.

My goodness, that was one emotionally heavy episode, but absolutely flawlessly executed, and one of the all-time best episodes of CCS as a result. The show can spin its wheels with diversions to pools and ski slopes, but when the time comes for a major development it does not hold back the feels. And now, of course, with Yukito officially eliminated as a potential love interest for Sakura, Syaroan’s path is clear.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 65 – The (Near) Disappearance of Tsukishiro Yukito

Sakura is blading home from the grocery store when she spots Touya grabbing Yukito and moves to intervene. That’s when she learns she’s rolled into the middle of a scene being filmed by Touya and Yukito’s class for their school fair.

The director, one Akizuki Nakuru, offers Sakura a role, knowing her cute factor could pay dividends. This elicits a hoeee from both Kinomotos in unison, which I believe is a first! She also gets approval from Eriol to use the old European-style mansion they live in with Spinel.

Tomoyo laments she can’t design Sakura’s costume for the movie, but she does help with hair and makeup, while her Taisho-era garb made her closely resemble a mini-Yuna, especially when she breaks out her wand later. Sakura’s look is a big hit with Nakuru and the high school girls.

That said, Sakura is super-nervous and her movements become super-mechanical as a result. Even so, she’s able to film her scenes to Nakuru’s satisfaction, though we don’t get to watch her performance live, Tomoyo is also filming the “making of” movie.

Sakura ends up finishing before Touya and Yukito, whose final scene takes place on a balcony. Unfortunately Yukito passes out and goes head over heels over the railing. Distressingly, it seems Nakuru AKA Ruby Moon was actually hoping something like this might happen.

Sakura quickly hides behind a bush, summons her wand, and invokes Windy in order to cushion Yukito’s fall, while an uncharacteristically anxious Touya climbs a tree down to him in order to carry him back inside.

Yukito is awake again when Touya decides it’s time to finally say what he’s wanted to say all season, but kept getting interrupted by Nakuru: he knows Yukito isn’t human…but it doesn’t matter. He just doesn’t want him to disappear. With the proverbial snow rabbit out of the bag, Yue reveals himself to Touya for the first time.

Yue tells Touya that Yukito above all didn’t want Touya to find out, but he’s kinda out of options, so he asks Touya if he understands what needs to be done to ensure Yukito (not to mention Yue) don’t disappear. Touya does know: it means giving Yue all of his magical power, which up to this point has allowed him to not only see his mom and others who have passed, but detect when Sakura is in danger.

Even so, Touya doesn’t hesitate, and after the transfer, he’s the one laid up in bed, recovering from the shock of losing all his magic. In exchange, Yue is stronger than ever, something Nakuru was trying to avoid all this time, but ultimately something neither Spinel nor Eriol believe will matter much in the long run.

Sakura feels bad about not having sufficient power for Yue, but he tells her not to cry lest she make her brother sad. So Sakura resolves to be strong and protect her brother now that he’s lost all his power. When she comes home, she learns Kero-chan knew all about Yue’s risk of disappearing, but kept it from Sakura lest it get her down.

But she’s down now anyway. Things have worked out for now, but having come so close to losing Yukito has spurred her to step up her efforts to confess to him. This is somewhat surprising, as her crush on Yukito has been markedly underplayed this season as Syaoran’s crush on her (and many a failed attempt to confess) has been at the forefront. Even so, she’s poised to make her move next week.

Cardcaptor Sakura – 40 – Tower of Dreams

Sakura, Tomoyo, Syaoran and Meiling go on a shopping and sightseeing trip to Tokyo…on their own. Wait, aren’t these eleven-year-old kids who require supervision during such a trip? Apparently not! I guess all that cardcapturing has forced them to grow up fast. In any case, I was definitely vicariously living through them as they did ordinary city things now made far more difficult during the Covid ordeal.

As the quartet darts around the metropolis, they are shadowed by a glowing blue butterfly that is most definitely a Clow Card that starts having an effect on them one by one. First there’s Tomoyo, who is happily recording their day when all of a sudden an entire squadron of Sakuras in battle costumes surround her. As you would expect, Tomoyo enjoys this hallucination immensely.

When the group catches a movie and it gets to a romantic scene with a seaside sunset, Syaoran shows himself out of the theater to grab some drinks as Sakura and Meiling both swoon. Unfortunately, upon reaching the theater door he finds himself within the movie as its protagonist and Sakura as his love interest, flustering him even more than if he’d just kept his seat.

From there, the group heads to the Tokyo Tower to get some birds-eye views of the city. Despite having never been there in person before, as we know Sakura has been dreaming of the tower on-and-off ever since Syaoran showed up, with the dreams increasing in frequency when Mizuki-sensei arrived. Upon entering the tower’s base, Sakura feels…off? Then she encounters both Touya and Yukito working up in the observation deck, even though they’re supposed to be playing soccer.

Night falls, and Sakura watches her dream unfold from a different viewpoint, and it’s confirmed beyond doubt that Mizuki is the woman perched on the tower. Sakura starts to wig out, not sure what to do, but “Dream” Sakura approaches Sakura and tells her everything will be alright and work out in the end. From there, Sakura wakes up to find she never left the tower’s lobby, with Syaoran supporting her with one hand while pinning the Dream card with the Time card.

Sakura manages to seal Dream, which flies into Syaoran’s hand as the one who subdued it, and the four continue their trip without the threat of slipping into any more dreams. Then we cut back to one more wide shot of the tower and there is Mizuki-sensei, in broad daylight, magic bell in hand, smiling her inscrutable smile. Kero warns Sakura that the dreams she’s experiencing foretell events that will come to pass in the real, waking world. But the nagging question remains…What the heck is Mizuki up to?

KonoSuba Movie: Legend of Crimson – Megumin’s Homecoming

First of all, it’s been some time since I’ve seen Kazuma, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness in their original non-chibified form, so it’s a rare pleasure to see them in their regular proportions and setting. KonoSuba’s twenty episodes proved you can make an often over-the-top isekai comedy with genuine heart.

If you liked the TV show, you’ll love the movie (as I did), which delivers more of everything. Though it contains roughly a half-cour’s worth of story, the ninety minutes just breeze by. Officially a sequel to KonoSuba 2, we return to Kazuma’s party’s mansion, where notoriously involuntary loner Yunyun has an unusual request: she wants—nay, must—make a baby with Kazuma. She comes to this belief upon receiving a letter from her father, Chief of the Crimson Demon Village.

While that letter turns out to be a work of fiction written by one of her academy classmates, Yunyun is nevertheless compelled to return to her hometown to help fight the forces of the Demon King. Megumin and the others decide to follow her, and rely on Iz to teleport them there.

Unfortunately, they end up far from the village, and in the midst of a stampede of rabidly horny she-orcs (there are no more male orcs) after Kazuma. After Yunyun’s request, this marks the second instance of Kazuma being entangled in romance (for good or ill) which he comes to call his “popular phase.”

What better way to learn more about Megumin than to visit her home? Turns out she’s hardly an anomoly, the town is nothing but overly-dramatic chuuni dressed in cool outfits with an emphasis on reds and blacks. The orcs are scattered by their overwhelming offensive magical power, a quality Megumin also shares with her clan.

Megumin’s parents are each eccentric in their own ways, while her little sister Komekko is adorable as all-get-out. Her family is poor, so the moment her parents smell money on Kazuma (he’s in the process of a 300m-Eris deal with Vanir to sell his memoirs), Kazuma finds himself at the mercy of a mother who wants to pair him with Megumin with all due haste.

To this end, she locks Kazuma and Megumin (sleeping due to a recent Explosion) in a room together. She comes to when he’s about to kiss her after much hand-wringing about how to proceed, and she escapes through the window to spend the night at Yunyun’s, fearing further lecherous advances.

The next day, Megumin shows her friends around the village, including to her and Yunyun’s (very Hogwarts-y) magical academy. We learn that when goblins attacked Komekko, Yunyun sacrificed her amassed skill points to repel the enemy. Because Megumin hesitated, that meant she was able to preserve her points and attain Explosion magic she cultivates to this day.

Megumin finds herself locked in her room with Kazuma again, this time by ice. Kazuma assures her that he won’t do anything, and offers his apologies as well as thanks for all the things she and the others have gone through with and for him.

It’s a very nice heartfelt scene, and Megumin even ends up clinging to Kazuma under the covers, commenting on how he’s really a “wimp” when it comes to making a move. Unfortunately, their tender moment is interrupted by the return of Sylvia, the voluptuous Demon King who leads the attack on the village.

Kazuma managed to scare her and her goblin army off with bluster earlier, but when she learns he’s not really Mitsurugi of the Cursed Sword, she takes him hostage…and Kazuma lets it happen. First, because it’s more proof of his Popular Phase; second, because it’s comfy between Sylvia’s boobs; and third, he has an ax to grind with his comrades regarding his treatment.

Kazuma accompanies Sylvia to the Crimson Demon Village’s underground storage facility, and inadvertently unlocks the chamber where Mage Killer, the one weapon he can’t let a demon king get ahold of, is stored. While he doesn’t intend to make things worse for the village, Kazuma’s so out of it he doesn’t realize punching in the classic cheat code on the Nintendo-style control pad would unlock the weapon.

He manages to lock Sylvia in the chamber, but once she has the Mage Killer and absorbs it into her artificial body, she blows the entire facility to kingdom come, then heads to the village to start blowing it up. Megumin leads Kazuma & Co. to more underground caverns, where they find Japanese carvings that explain the origin of the Crimson Demons, and why they’re so “pretentious yet nerdy”

Turns out their culture was basically created by another Japanese man sent there by the goddesses. He also built the Mage Killer, but also created a countermeasure for it: something he tentatively called “Railgun” that Kazuma previously noticed being used as a backyard clothesline in the village.

When Crimson Demons march out to defend their town, Sylvia engulfs them in an “Ancient Dispel” field that nullifies all of their magical power. They’re “saved” by a suddenly cool and confident Yunyun, finally taking up the mantle of her father the chief and luring Sylvia away.

Turns out she’s acting as a lure to bring Sylvia in firing range of the Railgun. Aqua fills it with magial energy, but it still fails to fire. That’s when Megumin unleashes an Explosion meant to his Sylvia directly, but is instead shunted into the rifle, which her little sister Komekko then fires.

Sylvia is killed, and ends up in the same place as fellow defeated Demon Kings Verdia and Hans. She merges with them an is resurrected into a huge, bizarre four-legged beast. Turns out her old comrades Wiz and Vanir have arrived in the village on an unrelated errand, and join in the fight, but even they are barely able to keep Sylvia at bay.

That’s when Kazuma decides to use his Popular Phase for good; by appealing to Sylvia’s innate need to be loved and wanted by somebody other than her adoring hordes of goblins. Kazuma, his luck boosted by Aqua’s blessings, is that person, and stands before her unarmed and ready to be taken into her arms…or tentacles…or whatever.

I never thought I’d empathize with a Konosuba villain so much, but Sylvia turns out to be one of the most dynamic and sympathetic of Demon Kings KonoSuba has served up. Her feelings, and specifically her romantic longing, isn’t entirely played for jokes, but portrayed as a very human side of her that turns out to be the Achilles Heel Kazuma must betray her heart to exploit.

He succeeds in gaining her trust and becomes one with her as Wiz gathers the magical energy from all of the villagers and transfers it to Megumin and Yunyun, who combine their powers to unleash a gargantuan Explosion beam that, combined with Kazuma breaking her heart, destroys Sylvia and ends the threat to the village for good.

Back home in Axel, Kazuma receives a hero’s welcome, proving his Popular Phase still has a bit left in the tank. While having a picnic with Aqua and Darkness, Megumin asks Kazuma to allow her to learn advanced magic, setting aside her Explosion magic so she can be of greater use to the party.

Kazuma may have long railed against her utter lack of versatility and durability in battle, but spending so much time in close quarters with her and meeting both her family and the villagers who shaped her, Kazuma suddenly isn’t so quick to deprive her of her “Explosiveness”. Whatever he does to her skill card, she’s still able to cast a beautiful Explosion that creates a heart-shaped cloud. And for that, Megumin is happy.

Did Aqua and Darkness get the short end of the stick in this movie? Perhaps, but that meant a lot of great development for Megumin, Kazuma, and their unique bond. They may get on each others nerves at times, but at the end of the day they’ll always be there for each other: Megumin blowing up something that needs blowing up, and Kazuma carrying her home on his back.

It’s quite simply KonoSuba at its absolute best, firing on all cylinders with confidence, comedy, and chemistry. My main gripe with this movie is that it makes me long that much more for KonoSuba 3!

Fruits Basket – 10 – A Ripple on the Water

It’s the day before Valentine’s Day, when Yuki appears to only have one admirer’s chocolate in his locker, but only because every previous admirer (and there were many) tossed the chocolate that was in there into the trash. Kyou is also a lot more on edge, and Tooru wonders why…until Kagura shows up at the school gates and it suddenly makes perfect sense.

When Kyou rejects Kagura’s request for a date (mistaking it for a request), Kagura suggests they have a double date with Yuki and Tooru. Yuki is ready to veto the idea, but Tooru is so excited he can’t say no. Then Kagura and Shigure both make remarks about him and Yuki getting along a lot better and runs away, not wanting to hear that. When Tooru tracks him down, she tells him it’s okay for him to hate Yuki…but she plainly doesn’t get why, and still hopes she can wipe away both lads’ anxiety and pain the way they did for her.

Kyou, Kagura, Yuki and Tooru all go on the double date (to an anime film of all things!) and it all goes swimmingly, but more interesting is when Shigure visits the main house to deliver Tooru’s chocolate to the other Souma members she’s met, and ends up talking with Hatori. What about? It’s hard to say; as Yuki says, Shigure’s a particularly hard-to-pin-down kinda guy, especially where goals and motives are concerned.

One thing’s for sure: he’s in league with Akito, and while Hatori believes he and Akito using Tooru as a pawn for some self-serving purpose, he’ll neither help nor hinder his efforts, but simply remain neutral. Shigure, for his part, laments potentially having to hurt Tooru at some point in the future, but whatever “dream,” “affection,” or “fervor” he’s after, it’s apparently more important than not hurting her.

From episode start to finish, and even with some glimpses of flashbacks, Shigure remains a stubborn riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. His long-suffering young editor Mitsuru (who is about to take a box cutter to her wrist when Tooru first meets her) just wants the guy to meet his damn deadlines, but just as there’s no figuring out a guy like Shigure, there’s no rushing him either.

I’m definitely intrigued by this gradual increase in the rumblings that Shigure is Up To Something, which is effective because it doesn’t come out of left field. We always knew it wasn’t mere altruism that led Shigure into allowing an outsider in Tooru to live in his home, any more than he harbored two exiles from the main house in Yuki and Kyou simply because he’s a cool uncle. I also suspect things may not go exactly the way he plans.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 01 – Through the Loo(Koyomi)ng Glass

The long-awaited “epilogue” to Shinbou Akiyuki’s venerable Monogatari Series premiered in theaters last Fall. The movie can be cleanly split into six episodes. Here’s the RABUJOI review of the first, with more to come, on the 10-year anniversary of Bakemonogatari’s first episode. You can view a Big Board of the complete Monogatari anime saga in the order of when events occur here.—R.S.

It’s March 16, 2007 – just two days after the events of Owarimonogatari, and Araragi Koyomi has graduated from high school and has not yet been admitted to his college of choice. It’s a kind of purgatory he’s never experienced. From grade to middle to high school, he’d always known for sure what came next, whether he was a vampire or not. Now it’s all up in the air.

It’s not surprising for someone with such a murky view of the future to turn his gaze inward, thus undertaking a new adventure (or oddity): a mirror universe. Going into this movie (which I’ll be reviewing in six parts) I had no idea what to expect from these “bonus levels” or “lost levels,” but as a self-avowed Trekkie, exploring alternate realities is always a ton of fun and I’m glad to see Monogatari employ the device.

Aside from the familiar setting of his house being literally reversed, Koyomi starts to notice everyone’s a bit…alternate: Karen is short instead of tall; Tsukihi’s yukata is reversed; Yotsugi is extremely expressive. They’re all fun reflections the significance of which rely not only on the audience having pored over the previous ninety-seven episodes of Monogatari, but also having thoroughly enjoyed said poring, as I am on record as having done.

The most entertaining of alternate characters to date has to be Hachikuji Mayoi, the recently-installed town god whom Araragi visits to get some answers when Shinobu won’t respond to his summons. At first Mayoi doesn’t show when he presents an offering of aluminum 1-yen coins, two claps, and a prayer. But that’s because she’s stalking him.

Unlike the 10-year-old Mayoi who has been the victim of numerous Perverted Araragi Attacks™, Mirror Mayoi is 21; Koyomi’s senpai and onee-chan, and the hunter, not the hunted. Turnabout is certainly fair play, as Koyomi is the unconsenting recipient of wholly inappropriate verbal and physical manhandling. After her ambush, she helps him determine that the mirror world is a moment from his world that branched off, with some elements that have reversed and others that haven’t.

Drawing from the utilization of the temple’s torii as a time-portal back to 1995, Mayoi suggests that Koyomi attempt to return to his world by the same means. That means employing the unique talents of one former Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade to open the gate for him, even though her being a vampire means she has no counterpart in the mirror universe.

He just needs a way to convey that idea to Shinobu, who may be back in her prime if they’re truly separated. He suddenly recalls the cypress bath in Kanbaru’s house as a potential means to contact her. As the start to a new mystery box out of which Koyomi must think and network his way, Zoku is a welcome new addition to the mythos. Voice actors, art, design, and particularly Haneoka Kei’s pulsing soundtrack are all in top form. I can’t wait to see where this bonus stage goes.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 04

Akira’s straightforward, iron persistence wears Kondou down almost immediately, and he promises they’ll go on a date. This fills Akira with joy, but she tries to hide it in the restaurant, with good reason; in the wrong hands, the knowledge she’s into the manager and that he’s indulging her desire to date him could be bad, bad news.

So naturally that information falls into the hands of Kase, one of the kitchen staff, and he’s definitely the wrong hands. Not about to let Old Man Kondou get one over on him, Kase uses Akira’s secret to leverage a date of his own with her. It’s flat-out despicable conduct, perpetrated against someone who clearly has no romantic interest in him whatsoever. He doesn’t care. She’s hot, and he has dirt.

Akira, clearly not wanting things with Kondou blown up before they’ve even begun, quickly accepts his proposal: a date for his silence. All because she drew a cute little drawing depicting her love for Kondou, and let Kase get his grubby mitts on it. But just because Akira slipped up early and badly doesn’t mean she deserves the trying farce Kase puts her through.

She throws something on, an immediate signal she doesn’t give a shit about this date (though still manages to look stylish, btw). She sits through a bad movie, and afterward, when she voices her intent to leave after paying him back, he grabs her arm and pulls her into a cafe for tea.

He presumes to have her all figured out: She’s fallen in love with someone because she can’t be on the track team anymore. Then he says it’s “creepy” that that someone is 45. The irony of someone who just forcefully extended his “date” with a girl against her will calling someone else creepy…the irony is too much.

He grabs her again when she tries to leave again, just as Kondou is calling, and Akira has to wrench herself loose. Words can’t express how goddamn worried I was when, in her haste to talk to Kondou (who grudgingly agrees to pick someplace for their date), she wanders into a dark and isolated place; perfect for an ambush.

Because Kase is an utter piece of shit, of course he kept following her, and watched her very private moment of giddiness. This is a man who is not happy, and so will not let anyone else be happy, or even safe. He assures her it won’t work out with Kondou, and that she’s better off with him, leaning in for an unwanted kiss and telling her this isn’t over before finally fucking off.

Calling Kase scum would be an insult to scum, but it’s a testament to Akira’s toughness that she’s able to so quickly shake off the unpleasantness of her forced date, but I’m still gravely worried. After all, Kase made it clear he’s by no means done harassing her.

The logistics of her date with Kondou are all but identical to those with Kase—same meeting spot, same movie, same cafe—but the fact she’s on a date with someone she actually likes, who would never pull the shit Kase pulled, makes all the difference in the world.

Akira dresses to the nines and does her hair all fancy, and while the date doesn’t seem to be the best ever or anything, that doesn’t matter in the slightest because all she really wants is to spend time with him. Kondou, meanwhile, can’t see any way that this girl is enjoying herself, and when he sees how young everyone is in the cafe, he freaks and bolts.

Akira stays with him, even when he has a lengthy phone call on a bridge at sunset—bad form, but then this guy hasn’t dated in decades—and he spots her waiting patiently as the light catches her just right (such a beautiful sight), and he’s not so much ashamed to be on a date with someone so young and innocent, but ashamed and depressed because he’s so old and worn out and pathetic.

Of course, that’s just, like, his opinion, man, because Akira enjoyed her date quite a lot. She even fantasizes about running to the turnstile where Kondou is departing and kissing him on the cheek from behind, but does not do so. Again, we have a stark contrast between how Akira, as the instigator of the date, treats Kondou, and how Kase treated her.

When Akira gets home to find her mother didn’t throw out the movie pamphlet from her date with Kase, and mixed it with the identical pamphlet with Kondou, her mom doesn’t understand why she’s so furious; they’re the same, what does it matter?

But it does matter; the two dates she had were the difference between night and day. I earnestly hope there’s more day to come, while being very cognizant of the fact there’s the night of Kase lurking nearby. Of course, it’s ultimately not as simple as night and day, or black and white.

In Kase we clearly have a guy who has demonstrated he is not at all a good guy, while Kondou has given us no reason to doubt he’s anything but the kind, self-effacing man he appears to be. Indeed, we see he’s scared of getting close to anyone, regardless of age, because he doesn’t want to get hurt again.

On the other hand, assholishness aside, Kase does have a point regarding Akira suddenly crushing on someone virtually the moment she loses her place on the track team. I just wish he didn’t have to deliver that point while on a date into which he blackmailed her.

But the questions remain: how sustainable is her crush? How long can she divert all of her energies to thinking of Kondou? How much is Kondou willing to indulge her? Is she in love with Kondou, or the idea of Kondou in her head?