Kokkoku – 03

Juri escapes death by strangulation when her eyes go white and she spontaneously gains the ability to expel “specters”, the jellyfish-like beings humans must merge with to be able to move in the Stasis. Before long, the three men in her house are stalled, and Juri escapes with The Stone, much to the chagrin of Majima.

Now that we’ve seen flashes of both Majima and Juri’s memory, it’s clear the two knew each other, and were both involved with specters during that time. Majima remembered, Juri didn’t, and now Majima is with the bad guys, working against Juri’s family. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Meanwhile, the Bad Guy leader (Sagawa) tests the abilities of the Herald on an expendable henchman, and learns that the monster is getting smaller, and thus his power isn’t limitless. Before long, they may even be rid of it, and able to do affect change in Stasis as they see fit.

Coincidentally, the specter within the now-dead henchman travels to Makoto and merges with him, enabling Ma-tan to wake up, much to the delight of Tsubasa.

With all the Yukawas now free except for Takafumi, Sagawa decides to try to talk man-to-man about ownership of the Stone. In the fact of such intimidation, I fully the gentle, passive Takafumi to fold like a cheap suit.

The tougher members of the family in Gramps and Juri thankfully reunite, but not before Juri gains another tail from a group of thugs who were looting a store when she walked past…not trying to hide herself or her movements in any way despite not knowing who may be around and after her. Baka Juri!

One of those guys appears and tries to keep up a story about simply being some guy who happens to be able to move as well, which lasts all of ten seconds before he and his friends start to rush Gramps and Juri.

With a series of short teleportations, the two are able to get away, and stick to the middle of the road to avoid ambush. However, they don’t take the extra and very obvious precaution of staying away from other people, regardless of if their motionless or not.

The huge goon in sunglasses doesn’t have to go anywhere to get his knife in a position to stab Juri to death; she strolls right up to him! I tell ya, I’m rooting for the Yukawas—there’s no one else worth rooting for—but they aren’t making things easy for themselves with these constant tactical blunders.

I get it; they’re merely civilians unaccustomed to being in this kind of situation, they’re way outnumbered, and they’re scared. But if they want out of it with their all organs still internal, they’ll have to do better.

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Kokkoku – 02

Kokkoku’s second “moment” delivers some welcome answers. The bad guys are part of some kind of religious cult, they want Grandpa’s stone, and the giant “Handler” (the cult calls it the “Herald”) stops anyone who tries to break the rules of the Stasis (crunching a hired goon’s head for trying to kill the “stalled” Makoto.

However, after a relatively nicely staged and directed opening action set piece last week, things kind of devolve into wandering around the drab frozen city, with Grandpa filling Juri in more on the details, while the bad guys send goons after them as they kinda stand around and wait.

One important new addition to the cast is Majima, a mysterious woman who seems to have assited the cult in finding the Yukawa family stone, which they call the “Master Stone” and is crucial for their plans.

A flashback seems to suggest Majima and Juri may have been friends at one time, and she witnessed the stone being used; this also explains Juri’s vague memories of being exposed to the time-stopping powers before.

There’s a funny moment when Gramps and Juri realize they left Takafumi behind, but in keeping with this family’s tendency to close ranks when shit hits the fan, there’s no question of rescuing him before using the stone again in hopes of escaping to a new Stasis, leaving the bad guys behind.

Just a few issues: One of the “jellyfish” turns Tsubasa from stalled to moving, and he’s very, very confused and flustered. When he finds Makoto unresponsive, he heads to the nearest hospital, where he’ll get no help whatsoever (and may even incur the wrath of the Handler).

So if they commit their plan without Tsubasa, they’ll never see him again. But even more detrimental to their plan is the fact Gramps didn’t know the cult was after the stone until he and Juri split up (never a good idea), with him going to free Takafumi and Juri going home to grab the stone.

Unfortunately, Juri simply ran there without trying to be sneaky at all. Even if she had been, the whole group of bad guys were staking the place out, waiting for someone to show up. Since it’s Juri, who they presume they don’t need to activate the stone, her death by strangulation is ordered, and she passes out before the credits roll.

Now, you and I both know Juri ain’t dying…but perhaps something more interesting will happen as a result of the goons’ attempt. Whatever that is, I think it’s time the Yukawa’s were allowed some kind of win. I also want to know what’s up with Majima; if and how she and Juri are connected, and why she’s okay with her being strangled.

Kokkoku – 01 (First Impressions)

I love shows about distinctive families, be they rich or down-on-their-luck, and the Yukawas definitely fit the bill in lacking in the luck department. 22-year-old Juri works tirelessly to secure a job that pays enough to enable her to move out, but for now she lives with her NEET brother Tsubasa, 31, her laid-off (and seemingly defeated) father Takafumi, her older sister Sanae, 25, a single mother to young Makoto, and last but not least, their retired grandfather.

There’s an immediate tension between those who work in the family and those who sit on their asses, but also a close-knit feeling that things aren’t so bad they’ll all one day turn on one another. Tsubasa may be a layabout, but Juri is able to sufficiently shame him into picking up his nephew from school.

There, another kid immediately calls him out as a suspicious character and Juri jokes about it over the phone. She’s having a little fun at Tsubasa’s expense, but is also proud he gave enough of a shit to actually do something for the family. It’s neat little family-centric details along with their general underdog nature, that quickly endear the Yukawas to me.

Just when you thought they had enough to deal with, circumstances thrust the family into a crisis situation straight out of the movies, when a gang of toughs kidnap Tsubasa and Makoto and ask the impossible: for 5 million yen to be delivered to the designated location in 30 minutes time.

Knowing they don’t have the time or the money, Juri grabs a knife and prepares to head to the kidnappers, presumably to take back her brother and nephew by force. Her dad Takafumi, suddenly awakened from his slumber by the emergency, deems only he as head of the house should go (with his dad’s savings).

It’s Grandpa Yukawa, however, who presents an alternative: that they use the mysterious, ancient stone that’s been in their family for years…to stop time.

And that’s exactly what Gramps, Juri, and her dad do. Once time slows, we’re treated to a number of fast moving things freezing in mid-air, along with strange “beings” made of light within the suspended time. Suddenly with all the time in the world, they strike out into the “stopped world”, and Gramps explains what he can as they head to the exchange spot.

Juri, for her part, experiences memories of the stone from when she was a young girl, while Gramps also points out that anyone who can move about in the “Stasis” too long ultimately becomes corrupted by the power they have over those who can’t move.

The inter-family banter is again a winner here, with Gramps expressing both affection and disappointment in his son, Juri’s dad, and when they find Tsubasa and Makoto among their now-frozen captors, it looks like they’re going to come out of this on top, thanks to a little hereditary time magic.

Of course, things don’t go that easily, because there are other people who can move in the stasis, much to the Yukawa’s shock and confusion. They’re assaulted, forcing Gramps to pull out another trick from his bag: instantaneous transportation from one spot to a spot a few feet away in either direction.

It’s not a game-changing power, however, and they can’t take their still-frozen family members along for the rides. When two bored-looking men in suits arrive with a band of henchmen, it becomes clear there’s more to this than careless kidnappers who decided to target a family with no money. One of those suits is jealous of Gramps’ power, so it’s likely this whole ordeal was set up to draw Gramps and the Yukawas out.

Just when it looks like the Yukawas are done for, a gigantic tree-like monster emerges from the sky and descends on the henchman holding a knife to Makoto. Is this tree-dude a friend to the Yukawas; some kind of guardian for Makoto, or an enemy to all of the humans in this bizarre static realm? I don’t know, but his appearance sure does pump up the supernatural vibe. In any case, I hope the Yukawas can get out of this mess.

Stocked with both very realistic human characters and said bizarre baddies, Kokkoku struck a good balance of show and tell, drama, peril, and dark comedy, and was bookended by fantastic opening and ending sequences. This one’s a keeper so far.

Net-juu no Susume – 11 (Bonus!)

I was surprised to discover this unaired episode included with the BD box set release available so soon after the tenth and last episode aired last week, but here we are. Episode 10 brought everything to a nice close (or at least ellipsis, in which we can imagine Morimori and Sakura-chan getting along for many years to come); this is not necessarily a continuation of the story, just a couple of side stories involving the two.

First, Sakurai has agreed to build a new PC for Morika after her motherboard fries. That means coming to her house to set it up. The opening moments almost seem to tease Sakurai moving in with Moriko, but considering he has like five times the space, that seemed counterproductive. Before he arrives, Moriko does a comprehensive clean of her apartment, also trying and failing not to make her out-in-the-open bed look welcoming.

After meeting up with Sakurai to acquire all the kit he’ll need, he gets to work assembling and installing while Moriko makes tea. Just having Sakurai in her house and at her desk causes her to space out, spilling a little hot tea on herself. In Sakurai’s haste to ensure she’s okay, he trips and the two end up in a very compromising position against her bed.

With all that fun out of the way, Sakurai breaks out his laptop and the two play Fruits together in the same room, which is an entirely new and highly enjoyable experience, considering they can just talk to one another in person rather than use the chat. However, Sakurai gets a little overexcited and ends up asking Moriko if she’s join him on a hot springs trip; he later qualifies it by saying Koiwai will join them as a third wheel.

We don’t get the story of that hot springs trip, however; the second half of this extra episode seems completely independent of the first, as eagle-eyed viewers will notice Moriko’s playing on her old PC. She nods off in the middle of play, and wakes up in the MMO world, as herself, Morika Moriko, in a premise that echos Re:Zero and KonoSuba.

It’s fun, as Moriko is totally unequipped to fight off the giant mouse, let alone have any hope of defeating the “Demon King Koiwai” who is holding “Princess Sakura” hostage. That is, until she’s saved by her own avatar Hayashi and healed by Lily.

The two know Moriko as the “famous hero Morimori”, and join her quest, as does Fujimoto, working in the game’s version of Lawson Market under his avatar Kanbe. The only way to defeat Koiwai is to don some very revealing bikini armor, but Moriko can’t do it (though she does imagine herself in it, so we get the visual).

But because Koiwai didn’t stipulate who had to wear the armor, Sakurai dons it instead (a sight we’re spared), only to find he isn’t able to remove it. That’s when he wakes up in his apartment, having nodded off just like Moriko. A cute little side-story, if ultimately unnecessary.

Net-juu no Susume – 10 (Fin)

Sometimes ten is a really good number for a series—it works fine for KonoSuba. Net-juu no Susume also ends at ten eps, and it wraps up very nicely and neatly indeed…I just wish I could spend another episode or two with the surpassingly adorable new couple of Morioka and Sakurai.

Finales are always, in part, a “thank you” to those who have watched the whole time, and NjS’s fulfills that role with aplomb. There’s no more misunderstandings or missed opportunities with these two, just a general (and understandable) nervousness and excitement.

It’s a thoroughly fun and joyful episode, which takes place mostly in Sakurai’s apartment. Morioka’s soaked clothes quickly led to a far more intimate situation than either party expected, to the point Morioka has to snap out of it lest Sakurai see her underwear in the changing room.

Each and every little domestic situation you’d expect of, say, a live-in couple, is experienced for the very first time by both Sakurai and Morioka. Take Sakurai’s computer terminal, which like Moriokas was a place of deep physical solitude for so many hundreds of hours, but sharing his computer and the experience of playing Lily, if only briefly, is as enjoyable for Sakurai as it is for Morioka.

These are also two very well-matched people, with Sakurai being very polite and even “old-fashioned” for his age, which isn’t even that much younger than Morioka to begin with. When they accidentally touch, they’re both embarrassed, but neither fins they really dislike such accidents.

Then Morioka’s stomach grumbles, and she defiantly accepts that this is “just who she is”; she also helps Sakurai cook and wash the dishes, and the two are already looking like an old married couple. They’re both having such a lovely time despite being so flustered.

Inevitably, the konbini incident comes up, and Morioka’s putrid sense of self-worth rears its ugly head. Sakurai, thankfully calling her out, gently tells her that while she often puts herself down, both he and likely everyone else values her a lot more than she thinks they do. He continues that both as Harth, Lily, and Sakurai Yuta, he’s very glad to have met her.

When Morioka cries tears of joy, he dries them with his sleeve, and the two almost seem ready for a kiss when the frikkin’ talking dryer startles them. With her clothes dry, Morioka takes her leave, thanking Sakurai for his hospitality.

Naturally, Sakurai reconsiders simply staying behind and walks Morioka home. Before they part, he lets her know he’d very much like “another day like today”, whether in Fruits de Mer or real life. Morioka agrees.

In a nice little moment while in the game, Lily notes the full moon, but Hayashi looks up and sees a crescent. But it’s really Sakurai talking about the moon IRL. And it’s IRL where they finally have their first (really second) date; with a very pleased Koiwai’s full blessing.

The two can’t help but notice the other couples are acting around them, and it makes them both a little embarrassed…but both want to power through that embarrassment. Gaining strength from their avatars and alter-egos, the triumphant Fruits de Mer music starts to play as Morioka takes a step forward, trips, and is caught by Sakurai.

That means they’re holding hands, but they don’t let go and continue on with their date, drawing strength and courage from one another. The episode ends rather abruptly (and with no “thanks for watching” card), but that’s alright; I’m not going to complain after such an enjoyable, heartwarming finale!

Net-juu no Susume – 09

The penultimate NjS‘ cold open has a hell of a hook: Morioka taking a shower in Sakurai’s apartment! It’s safe to assume the episode to follow would tell the story of how such a seismic development in their relationship (“level up” in MMO terms) occurred. It’s also safe to assume that there’s nothing untoward going on; the two were caught in the rain and his place was closer seems about right.

But first, we go back to the aftermath of Sakurai’s confession that he’s both Lily and Harth, knows Morioka is Hayashi, and has been her beloved confidant and partner under her nose. At first, the news seems to break Morioka—it’s a lot to process, and her “CPU” overloads. She comes out of it to ask him when he first knew; he suspected when they started talking more in-game, but their “first date” was the confirmation.

In her head, Morioka is happy Sakurai rushed to her, lamenting how she might not have done the same, as she’s be so worried about upsetting the apple cart. The two have taken their next step, but neither has any idea how to proceed, nor are they remotely on the same page.

To whit: when Morioka tells Sakurai she wants them to “keep being good online friends”, she says it believing that’s all Sakurai will ever want, while Sakurai considers it a rejection—that she only wants to be good online friends and nothing else. Both are misunderstanding a great many things.

Sakurai’s belief he’s struck out is a weight that replaces the weight he just got off his shoulders with his confession, and he makes matters worse by not going online, leaving Morioka feeling lonely and unfocused in the MMO, as well as free to incorrectly interpret his motives.

Koiwai can totally deduce why Sakurai gets so uncharacteristically drunk on night, can reasonably conclude he’s misinterpreting things, and texts Morioka, asking if they can meet and talk something over.

That something is Sakurai, but Morioka never meets Koiwai in the park. Koiwai summons Sakurai into the park so he and Morioka meet. And that’s all he really has to do (though I wish he’d delete that photo of Morioka sleeping…that’s not cool, man!).

I’ve been up and down with Koiwai, but I never should have had any doubt that he’s a true and loyal friend to Sakurai and that Morioka’s a much better match for his blonde-haired friend…if only they could get together and relax…which he makes happen.

They relax, that is, until they go to the convenience store together and Morioka, already worried she looks like shit, gets even more self-conscious when the shopkeeper asks Sakurai if she’s his girlfriend, to the point of running off as the clouds gather. She believes, of course, that the shopkeeper meant “there’s no way she’s your girlfriend, right?” She was teasing, not condemning!

Sakurai chases her down, and after hearing her lay into herself and apologize for being seen with him, Sakurai sets the record straight: he doesn’t think like that at all. Then those clouds open up, he uses his coat to keep her dry(ish) and suggests they go to his place, which is just nearby, dry off, and he’ll cook some lunch.

Sakurai didn’t think, he just suggested this…and Morioka doesn’t think, she just agrees and comes up with him. As soon as they start thinking, she realizes she’s taking a shower, and he’s leaving out some of his clothes for her to change into. In other words, pretty boyfriend-girlfriend kinda stuff! I’m all for it. Hang in there, you crazy kids. Just one episode left!

Net-juu no Susume – 08

Sakurai Yuuta was adopted by a wealthy, elderly couple. When they passed away they left their sprawling home to him, but he moved somewhere more reasonably-sized, both because he couldn’t maintain it himself, and because the empty house only intensified his loneliness.

In MMOs, specifically KanterSG, he found the sweet spot where he could be alone without being lonely; where he could meet and interact with people without leaving his digs; where he could regain that feeling of family and mutual support.

And in KanterSG, he met Yuki, whom he strongly suspects to be Molly/Hayashi/Morioka, despite the perceived ridiculousness of such a coincidence. To find out for sure, he decides to rely on whether she remembers him as he was, by adopting the same look as his KanterSG character, Harth.

At first, it seems to Sakurai that he might be mistaken, as Yuki doesn’t seem to react to the name “Harth.” However, she actually has, she just needs a little nudge to start the memories flying, and that’s hearing him pronounce it. After logging out, Morioka calls Sakurai to ask if he ever knew a character named Yuki, giving Sakurai the opening he needs to say it was him.

The ensuing phone conversation is one of the most adorable—and best—things this show has ever done; the elation of both Sakurai and Morioka at the news they’ve always known each other positively radiates through the screen like warm rays of light. Morioka’s torrent of expressions and gestures are wonderful to behold.

Unfortunately, Sakurai’s phone dies before he can volunteer one more crucial nugget of info: that he’s not just Harth, but Lily as well.

Morioka and Sakurai bump into each other in the street, and act in that combination of awkward and giddy that you expect of two people who suddenly find themselves much closer. Sakurai offers his coat and a snack to a hungry Morioka, whose stomach-growling reminded him of the time they both ordered Christmas chicken at the convenience store.

When Morioka starts to go on about Lily, how much she reminds her of him, and how they should play FdM together as a trio sometime, Sakurai must tell her the truth, and he does: he’s Lily. Morioka’s reaction seems to be of surprise if not shock, but unfortunately we leave things right there.

How will Morioka feel about Sakurai having kept the truth from her for so long? Will she be mad at him, or, more likely, blame herself for not having figured it out, even though she was aware of the similarities? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out, and glad the show and its couple got to move forward as much as they did here, with just two episodes remaining.

Net-juu no Susume – 07

NJS episode 7 is a bit of a let-down, and almost feels like a waste of time, were it not for the development at the very end. Otherwise, we’re in a familiar holding pattern, in which Sakurai tries in vain to give up on Morioka while still interacting with her in Fruits de Mer.

It’s a really untenable position, especially when “Hayashi” gets to talking with “Lily” about her two dates and has a lot more to say about the first one with him than the second one with Koiwai. When Hayashi notes that the first “woman” reminded her of Lily, it really starts to test Sakurai’s resolve.

That resolve is ultimately eroded even further when Koiwai starts playing Fruits de Mer and Morioka creates a new, female avatar, “Molly” who is visually the grown-up version of “Yuki”, whom Sakurai was good friends with in a past MMO.

Koiwai was more irritating than usual this week, for while I can’t fault the guy for wanting to get closer to Morimori, there’s something to be said for letting a NEET have her safe places to escape to, and his sudden imposing of himself into the world of FdM resembled a bull in a china shop (except when he stepped away to email Sakurai; then the bull stood perfectly still).

But if the show is trying to sell us the story of Sakurai and Morioka, there’s something distasteful about every scene with Morioka and Koiwai; it triggers an impatience, especially when combined with Morioka’s continued ignorance of Lily’s true identity and her believe a guy like Sakurai would never be interested in her.

Perhaps once Sakurai creates a new male avatar resembling his old one who Yuki confided in, maybe she’ll start to put the pieces together. But just as I can’t fault Koiwai for continuing to pursue Morioka, I can’t fault Morioka for not knowing the truth, because the easiest way for that to happen is with Sakurai simply telling her, which he has utterly failed to do for yet another week.

Net-juu no Susume – 06

So, here we are: Hayashi and Lily IRL. Was it a setup by Koiwai? Apparently not; due to her Elite NEET status, Morioka got the day wrong. Little does she know that Sakurai is really Lily, which is the true reason he knew to where and when to “rescue” her from the wrong day.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: Sakurai is, like, totally into Morioka, and their date goes as swimmingly and is as enjoyable as when they’re hanging out in the MMO…maybe moreso! It’s just as enjoyable to watch, despite the fact neither party treats this as an official, “real” date.

I’m a little disappointed things are more complicated than Koiwai staging a setup to get the two together. That seems to be what he’s doing anyway, considering he stops joking around and directly asks Sakurai if he’s really okay with him going out alone with Mori-Mori tomorrow. I’d personally be fine with Koiwai graciously backing out of the triangle rather than keeping the heat on.

I was also a bit miffed that Sakurai made no serious effort to tell Morioka the truth about their being MMO partners. What could have been a built-in in with Morioka instead needlessly muddies the waters. There’s never going to be a good time to tell her, but he needn’t keep holding off the truth until it’s a unequivocally bad time; or worse, to late to salvage any kind of relationship.

Sure, I’m getting ahead of myself, but c’mon; we’re not honestly supposed to be rooting for Koiwai and Morioka. Still, while Koiwai teases both Sakurai and Morioka incessantly, he also shows that he genuinely cares about both of them, and isn’t putting on any act for Morioka (who is almost constantly selling herself short).

Morioka thinks the last two days to be almost too good to be true, but I was glad when she corrected herself earlier and said “thank you” instead of her usual unnecessary apologies. I also liked how she mentioned she might not have left her job if she had co-workers as kindhearted as Sakurai and Koiwai. This suggests that a part of her didn’t really want to resign, but it felt like the best way out of a bad situation.

In any case, it’s wonderful to behold Moiroka’s jubilation upon returning home and, more importantly, re-entering the MMO as Hayashi after two straight nights of going out and drinking as Morioka. It isn’t long before Lily shows up. Sakurai looked like he was in agony the whole night Koiwai was out with Morioka, but he’s decidedly relieved-looking upon her return to the MMO and his (well, Lily’s) side.

Still, I worry he’s being far too passive. Allow Koiwai go out with Morioka too much unchallenged, and there’s a good chance Koiwai falls for her and says “Sorry Sakura-chan, you had your chance!” Heck, that may already be happening! The only one who can do anything about this sad state of affairs is the one enduring them. And he’s only got four episodes left to do it!

Net-juu no Susume – 05

Last week, Sakurai seemed to have all but figured out that Hayashi is Morioka, and comes so tantalizingly close to asking her about it…only to back away at the last second. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!

Ah well, I guess it is bad online manners to guess someone’s identity out of the blue, and who knows how she’d react if he guessed correctly. But while he harbors serious doubts that such a series of coincidences could occur, his suspicions about Hayashi being Morioka IRL still remain (Also, the show apparently wasn’t quite ready to open up that can of worms).

Also, what’s this? Koiwai casually telling Sakurai he can come along? Saying the whole reason he arranged this was for his sake? This is the friend I knew Koiwai was; trying to jump-start a relationship that is stuck in, well, MMO-land (little does he know).

Morioka, meanwhile, tries to relax about the whole prospect of drinks with a guy, realizing it’s no big deal…but when she starts listing in her head all of the things she needs to do regarding her makeup, hair, and attire, she quickly becomes overwhelmed.

She’s snapped out of this state by the friendly clerk Fujimoto, who formally introduces himself. When he learns she and Morioka are on the same server, he comes right out and tells her his name…Kanbe. A guy finally does learn who “Hayashi” is…just not the right guy.

That being said, neither Kanbe nor Lilac (who doesn’t know, but partakes in a rhetorical discussion on the matter) would judge any friend for switching their gender online. Heck, Lilac’s friend at university plays a guy. Morioka is sorry to Kanbe for lying, but Kanbe tells her it’s up to her whether to tell anyone else, including Lily.

When Hayashi mentions he’s going out for drinks tomorrow, Sakurai starts to think maybe he isn’t Morioka, since she and Koiwai aren’t going for drinks until the day after tomorrow. When Hayashi asks Lily what to wear, he gives the best answer he can, only to be pressed further by Kanbe, backing Morioka up.

Kanbe and Lily get into a pretty heated argument about what length of hair is best, and Morioka settles on a medium length. The haircut, along with a new outfit matching Lily’s advice, runs Morioka a pretty penny, and she can’t help but itemize it in terms of loot boxes. She also realizes how rusty she’s become at things like applying mascara.

However, she gets herself made up, dressed, and together, and heads to the agreed-upon meeting place…on the wrong day. Koiwai is away on business until tomorrow, and Sakurai is worried. He’s worried Morioka got the day wrong, wait there, get shown up, and take it the wrong way.

So in the middle of a quest with the other members of the guild, Lily suddenly logs out, and Sakurai heads to the site of the date. I dreaded the fact he might not recognize her after her makeover, but thankfully he does notice her walking away looking sad, and calls out.

Now, this encounter doesn’t immediately, definitively prove to Sakurai that Morioka is Hayashi, nor to Morioka that Sakurai is Lily. But it comes pretty damn close! The question is, did Morioka really get the day mixed up, or did Koiwai arrange it so that only the two of them would meet?

If that’s the case, good-intentioned or not, and even if Sakurai’s a better fit for her, Koiwai will owe Morioka an apology and explanation for his machinations. After all, she expected, and waited an hour, for him, not Sakurai.

Net-juu no Susume – 04

A new series of cute loot and a bonus point campaign spur Morika, already in high spirits upon becoming partners with Lily, to splurge a little. Only a happy circumstance takes place at the convenience store as she has to wait a few minutes for the store’s e-money system to boot.

Those minutes are spent suddenly learning that the store clerk is also a fan of Fruits de Mer, and goes on and on about it in a way Morioka find very fulfilling. They have so much fun talking, the clerk neglects the fact there’s a guy who needs his cigs!

Even so, it was exhilarating for Morioka to finally talk with someone about MMOs in real life. In the game, Hayashi encounters Kanbe and Lilac, the latter of which has just gone to the loot outlet and picked out some stuff that’s very fluffy and cute, but Kanbe prefers what she usually wears.

We also meet Lilac’s real-life player, who both laments not having snatched up Hayashi as her partner and seems to have a bit of a spark with Kanbe. Hayashi manages to score both rare and common loot, but lucky Lily takes the cake by scoring the whole set.

When in-game, NjS packs a lot of neat details, like the way Lilac sees Hayashi as a sensitive guy (compared to Kanbe) rather than what he actually is—a she; Pokotarou suddenly spawning in the same space as Lilac, obscuring her avatar; or Himeralda’s player playing as her husband, who plays Pokotarou; a surprising and clever occurrence.

But NjS makes good use of both of its worlds, and seems really balanced this week. Sakurai is depressed about not being able to see Morioka, and as he lists off all the ways he’s tried, Koiwai rightly suspects him of stalking, which isn’t good.

But then…Koiwai stakes out the convenience store, bumps into Morioka as planned, and works his businessman magic. Morioka is initially like, “why is this guy talking to me?!” and rightly so, even if she weren’t naturally shy; but once they get to talking they establish a quick rapport, though Koiwai comes off as a little pushy in gaining her contact info.

When Koiwai shows Sakurai what he’s done, how he managed to get a date with Morioka, Sakurai’s expression is of shock, which if the camera had lingered would have surely turns to dejection. Is Koiwai simply helping Sakurai out, or does he want to date Morioka? I hope it’s the former; besides seeming like a nice guy, what kind of friend would stab him in the back like that?

That brings us back into the game, where Hayashi goes to a, yup, dejected-looking Lily, who reminds them that since they’re partners, he can come to her to talk any time. Morioka, through Hayashi, words things very carefully in telling Lily the story of how she ended up in the hospital on an IV all the way to accepting a date from a former work colleague.

The coincidences are far too many, and Sakurai is no fool; he connects the dots, flipping Hayashi’s gender to make her Morioka. Now all he needs to do is believe the deduction he’s just made and proceed from there. After all, despite thinking he’s had no contact with Morioka, all this time he’s had all the contact, and they’re already partners, for gosh sakes. It’s high time the RL players need to catch up to their MMO counterparts.

Weekly OP: “Saturday Night Question”

It’s Monday morning, not Saturday night, but I thought I’d get this week started right with one of the best OPs of the new Fall 2017 Season, a quickly but tightly produced sequence set to a very catchy, upbeat, hopeful song, “Saturday Night Question”, sung by none other than Ranka Lee herself, Nakajima Megumi! Enjoy…at least until it’s taken down!

More importantly, watch the show…it’s quite good, aided in no small part by substituting a 30-year-old woman who quit her cushy job by choice for the usual teenage boy who occupies the MC role in this kind of show.

Net-juu no Susume – 03

Sakurai receives a reply from Morioka first thing in the morning, and he looks nervous, but also excited. We later learn that it’s a gentle and respectful decline on his offer of dinner out of a misplaced sense of not wanting to “cause any more trouble” after he did so much for her post-elbowing. But it’s pretty clear Sakurai wants “trouble” from Morioka. Why offer dinner in the first place?

When he does research on her career at a prestigious Bussan, he learns both from his own research and his co-worker Koiwai (who interacted with before) that Morioka was an exemplary employee and businessperson…who suddenly resigned. A old photo of her confirms she’s the one he accidentally knocked over.

Perhaps he’ll learn, as we have, that despite being damn good at her job, it just wasn’t something she wanted to do anymore. She wants to be a NEET and play MMOs now, and if she can afford to, who’s to say she can’t?

I’ll say, from the perfect structure and syntax of her text message to Sakurai, Morioka’s business skills probably haven’t dulled that much. She’s a talented, capable woman. But she does get a bit nervous in any kind of social situations, which is why after sending her reply, Morioka feels as though a great weight has been lifted from her shoulders, and she goes out to buy some snacks, some beer, and some extra points for FdM.

There, she quickly receives a gift from Lily – a super-expensive coat, and wonders what the underlying purpose of the gift was, considering it will be hard to reciprocate considering its cost. Lily is briefly taken aback by the, well, accusation of ulterior motives, but cannot entirely plead innocence. In fact, she’s come to feel a deep connection for Hayashi and wants him to be her partner in the game.

It’s a big step, and even though it may be a while before Sakurai and Morioka connect the dots on who each other are in the real world, it’s a good sign that they’re growing close enough in-game that a truth-revealing real-world meetup won’t be out of the question down the road. Of course, Morioka needs to realize that she’s not the only one using an avatar of the opposite sex.

NjS is getting better and better as we spend more time with “Mori-Mori” and “Sakura-chan;” particularly their moments of victory and elation when things go well for them. The narrative method of switching between worlds rather than going “full-dive” (ala SAO, NGNL, or KonoSuba) also tethers the story and makes it feel more real. It’s a great balance other shows with similar themes lacked. The music’s pretty bangin’, too.