No one likes being left out, especially when it involves two people you’d rather not be together alone, as Kou and Yuuri are to Futaba. The fact that the same weird vibe is coming off them, and they make the same pause before assuring her “it’s nothing”, only make her more suspicious about it being not nothing, which it isn’t.
“It”, in fact, is the very thing Futaba wanted to know: more about Kou. She didn’t know his mom died, and the shrine is what he showed Yuuri (Yuuri later confesses she was glad she knew something about Kou Futaba didn’t). When Futaba learns what it was, she feels like a selfish, awful person for needing everything to be about her feelings. That leads to tears that Kou can’t help but dry, and they come the closest yet to a kiss before Tanaka pops into the kitchen, ruining everything.
Kou has to go out for his job, so Tanaka takes Futaba home, and getting the feeling she’s someone who wants to know, he’s very generous in filling in some of the blanks in regard to how the present Kou came about from the one she knew, as well as why Kou is cold towards his older brother. Basically, Tanaka was busy teaching his first year of school, leaving the younger Kou alone in the hospital to sit by their mom as she slowly died.
Kou bore the brunt of the full force of slowly, steadily losing someone he loved before his eyes, while Tanaka only got the odd glance, busy as he was. That experience made Kou who he is today: someone reluctant to make friends; to get too close; to fall in love again. As much as he may care for Futaba, part of him is paralyzed by that fear: that if he tries to care about something again too much, he’ll lose it.
Futaba has made it pretty clear: she wants to be with him. She lost him once, and doesn’t want to lose him again. She also sees through his cold act to the kindness he’s always had, which Tanaka confirms. Futaba’s challenge is to get him to believe it’s alright to open up and get close again; that happiness is worth some degree of risk. That won’t be easy, especially with a still determined Yuuri also gunning for him.
“Today, no matter, what, I will definitely, definitely tell Yuuri properly!” As soon as Futaba said this, we were convinced she’d lose her nerve when it came down to it, a fear reinforced when two seconds later she says “I bet I’ll still lose my nerve when it comes down to it.” The odds of her telling Yuuri drop even more when Yuuri, unaware of the hammer Futaba’s trying to bring down on her, invites Shuuko to join them for ¥100 donuts.
Prove me wrong, I said to the anime I like to think is based on one of Nozaki-kun’s shoujo manga: show me you can move forward and resolve this shit.” And what do you know, Ao Haru Ride answered the challenge. Even with Shuuko around and Yuuri going on about Kou, Futaba still gets it out; gets it all out, in the first five minutes of the episode. That was as welcome and refreshing as a cold shower on a searing summer day (though we’ve had precious few of those round these parts.)
And wouldn’t you know it, Yuuri takes it extremely well…at first. Her immediate reactions involve saying “You too?”; noting how she’s not surprised, as Kou’s so totally hot and all; and acknowledging she’s at a disadvantage since Futaba’s closer to him. Then she goes to the bathroom and we get the first of two instances of characters crying for multiple reasons (Futaba’s the other, later on). One could say Yuuri is crying because her friend loves the same guy as her, which means she could potentially lose of them.
But she’s also crying because Futaba obviously went through hell getting those words out, but she did. As Futaba thinks to herself earlier, this is the crux of her growth as a person: no longer “friends in name only” with anyone, she’s allowed to say what she wants, and in this case, needs to say. She wants to be honest, even if it could create conflict. Having friends you care about opens you up to hurting and being hurt, but the rewards are immeasurable.
Witnessing a genuine exchange between two friends who love each other has a significant effect on Shuuko, who only tagged along because Yuuri asked her too and she had nothing else to do. What’s amazing about this first act is that this is the first time Shuuko is hanging out with people after school since she started high school. Far from fearing socializing is always this intense, she realizes what she’s been missing out on.
It’s the perfect environment for her to get something off her own chest: that she’s in love with Tanaka-sensei. Futaba’s utter shock at this confession serves as proof Yuuri never spilled the beans, which comforts Shuuko further. When Aya passes by and happens to spot Shuuko hanging out with friends—and enjoying it—it puts a spring in his step and a tune to hum. He’s happy for her, as are we.
Yikes, I’ve only covered half the episode! That’s not to say the other half isn’t interesting, because it was, but it didn’t have quite the cathartic, warm-and-fuzzy power of the first. That could be because after running into Kou by chance, who is playing with the stray black cat, then says he won’t adopt it because “caring for things brings a lot of trouble” in the most obnoxious angsty way possible, Futaba decides to spend the rest of the night stalking him!
This is why I like to think Nozaki-kun wrote this manga. He truly understands girls’ hearts, and in shoujo, if you like a guy and stalk him, he’ll eventually like you too! I kid, I kid…sort of. But really, if he doesn’t want Futaba following him he could be more forceful about it, but he’s very wishy-washy about it, and by the end puts on the air of a protector by lecturing her on the risk of being assaulted by going out in the night alone, culminating in the closest they’ve come to a kiss.
Perhaps its because he was genuinely worried that Futaba would do that to try to get closer to him that he was cross with her. But at least Futaba isn’t just hiding in her head and actually trying to act on her feelings. As Shuuko so eloquently puts it, it’s ultimately up to Kou to decide between Futaba and Yuuri, or to reject them both. But if he has feelings for Futaba (and let’s face it, he does), then he shouldn’t be allowed to get away with toying with her much more.
Komatsu Mikako is doing great understated work as Shuuko; her laugh sounds like the first laugh she’s laughed in years.
Come to think of it, Uchida Maaya is also showing she can handle non-chuunibyou dialogue with the best of ’em.
Aw, why not? Kudos to Kaji Yuki, while we’re at it. No one does sensitive/whiny angst like Yuki. This is Hope we’re talking about, after all.
Steelers? C’mon, animators. Surely you can think of a better team to slap on Kou’s t-shirt.