First of all, thank goodness for the Fukudas, for hosting a party that doubles as an excuse to bring Rikuo and Shinako to see each other. Kozue even insists Rikuo give Shinako the moonstone pendant his boss gave him.
When he can’t hide the gift’s provenance, Shinako is still charmed by his honesty with her, and feels good about it being the first gift he’s ever given a woman. It’s a sign they’re starting to find some comfort in each others’ romantic inexperience. Rikuo’s gesture also enables Shinako to suggest they spend New Year’s Eve together.
It’s ironic, then, that the woman who ends up at Rikuo’s place that night isn’t Shinako, but Haru, who waited outside his door for untold hours in the cold. Rikuo isn’t so cold-hearted he won’t offer her the warmth of his apartment and something warm to drink. Haru’s been dealing with a lack of Rikuo so long she can’t help giving him a big hug.
While Rikuo’s slightly stronger insistence Haru stop “this kind of thing” makes for a heartbreaking interaction between the two—not to mention Haru settling for way too little in my book—there’s a nobility in her sticking this out regardless, even if she comes off as clingy or desperate, she’s making the effort to see him because she likes him, so he should cut her some slack.
Speaking of effort, neither Shinako or Rikuo call each other to make plans until New Year’s Eve. Rikuo eventually is the one to call her, and the call is awkward, but also appreciated. Both of them accept partial responsibility for the temporary communications breakdown, since both were anxious about what form their New Years Eve date would take.
Thankfully, once they end up at a restaurant together and have some drinks, the two hit it off splendidly, and are able to talk naturally, have fun together, and talk about one another in ways beyond mere small talk.
The romantic tension increases a hundredfold when Shinako finally decides to take the initiative (again) and invite Rikuo to her place (again). Thankfully the show skips the long hallway walk and the door-opening and we finally have the two in the same apartment together after spending a wonderful evening together—an evening that marks a literal new beginning with the new year, but also a different kind of beginning for their relationship…hopefully!
Again, Shinako finds herself apologizing for so slowly realizing that it’s possible to experience a kind of love that’s different from her first; that of Rou’s brother. Expanding her view of what forms love takes makes it easier for her to avoid pitting those two loves against each other, and she makes sure Rikuo knows she wants to move forward and learn what forms this new love takes.
Even if she has to take it slow, it’s something she wants to do. Rikuo pulls her into a passionate embrace and the two come close to a kiss, but ultimately pull away amicably. Rikuo no doubt respects Shinako’s desire to take things slow and it probably makes a lot of sense for him as well—taking a long friendship to another place is tricky in the best of conditions.
We then shift somewhat abruptly from the beautiful tension of Shinako’s apartment to the dread of Haru alone in her vast accommodations after spending the evening with her mom and her new husband. Something goes bump in the night, Haru investigates, and then Rikuo gets a phone call he reacts to with shock.
A lot can happen in the remaining eight episodes, and it’s telling that the “Game Over” video game ED has already been replaced with a new ED that gives the four protagonists relatively equal treatment.
I’m worried that this cliffhanger-y final scene portends a sudden stamping-out of the slight but very meaningful progress Rikuo and Shinako made this week. Why introduce a “bump in the night” if Haru isn’t about to be in some kind of danger or trouble?