Rent-a-Girlfriend – 09 – Fuel to the Fire

Last week Kazuya acted like a heinous criminal but suffered zero consequences and was actually rewarded with a phone case because Chizuru conveniently ceased to remotely resemble the character we’d known up to that point, while Ruka fell of the face of the earth. How do you come back from such a fiasco?

First, by bursting Kazuya’s bubble: he didn’t get a gift from Chizuru because he’s special, but because it’s a common rental girlfriend practice. And Chizuru still considers their relationship strictly business. When she straight-up asks if Kaz has fallen for her, he lies and denies it. But you can’t help but think she’s lying too.

Second, by welcoming Ruka back to the show, and with a vengeance! Devastated that he blew her off to go on a date with his rental, Ruka demands to immediately go on another date with him that same day, and it’s well within her rights as his GF to do so. When it’s clear to her his mind is elsewhere, she blindfolds him and spirits him away to a love hotel room.

There, she removes her socks (to get comfy) and Kazuya tells her about the situation with his and Chizuru’s grans. Ruka tells him straight up there’s no future for him and Chizuru, who can only ever be platonic, while his gran is very likely looking at the future in the form of a great-grandchild, which Ruka is ready and willing to provide when the time comes.

That time isn’t now, however. Kazuya is overwhelmed and retreats to the bathroom, which gives Ruka the opportunity to slow things down a bit. Her heart rate has never been faster but she knows she shouldn’t rush into sex.

When he fled to the toilet, however, Kazuya left his phone with Ruka, who sees a notification on his lock screen that tells her where and when he’s attending a New Year’s shrine visit with his family and Chizuru. She then decides to crash said visit…and good for her!

I for one have had enough of Kazuya and Chizuru comfortably maintaining a charade when the bottom line is they’re lying to their families. So I was elated to see Ruka invite herself and make them squirm. Kazuya agreed to be her boyfriend, after all; by rights, she should be there, and Chizuru should be off on some other rental date or acting shoot.

Ruka even comes right out and states the truth to Kazuya’s family that she’s his girlfriend, leading Kazuya to tell his grandmother that she’s a pathological liar. Kazuya, you absolute scumbag. Lowest of the low. Die in the garbage fire to which you and Chizuru keep adding fuel!

Ruka then confronts Chizuru in private, telling her Kazuya told him what the score is, and that she’s grossly overstepping her rental GF bounds. When Chizuru pleads “it’s complicated”, Ruka rightly responds that’s because they’re making it complicated.

Ruka suspects that’s intentional, perceiving that Chizuru has fallen for Kazuya and wants to stay on as his “girlfriend” indefinitely. She gives Chizuru an ultimatum: if she doesn’t love Kazuya, then walk away. It’s the right, fair thing to do. Shit or get off the pot, Chizu-chan!

At the shrine, Ruka takes Chizuru’s gran aside, and learns that it’s not just a great-grandchild she’s after. All Gran wants to do is ask Ruka—who in addition to being a “pathological liar” is also Chizuru’s “nearest, dearest friend”—all about her future granddaughter-in-law. It’s clear to Ruka that Gran loves Chizuru and wants her to be family. So it really is more complicated.

That doesn’t change the fact that as long as Chizuru and Kazuya only see themselves as a rental arrangement, it is wrong to keep leading Gran on. So after Kazuya earnestly apologizes to Ruka for the terrible things he told his fam, she makes it clear to him that she’s not giving up on winning both him and his Gran over, no matter how long it takes.

To that end, she gets a job at the same karaoke parlor where he’s working. He has to learn that further ghosting and two-timing of his real girlfriend will not be tolerated. Kazuya doesn’t deserve Ruka—honestly, Kazuya doesn’t deserve a quick death—but he’s got her.

The question is, will he be won over by her, or will she be the catalyst that forces him and Chizuru to abandon their ridiculous current arrangement for something—anything—real? My guess is the latter. Hopefully we’ll know the answer in three weeks’ time.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 08 – Worst Christmas Ever

I had high hopes for Kazuya’s trial dating of Ruka, as it could help him and Mizuhara complete their post-rental separation. It could also have been a means of seeing more Ruka, someone actually honest about her feelings for Kazuya and thus a naturally more tolerable character than Mizuhara. Alas, the best episode of the series is immediately followed by the worst.

We never get to see Kazuya and Ruka’s “honeymoon” period, we just skip to him loathing his existence anew and desperate to cancel his Faustian deal with Ruka. And that’s despite him knowing full well Mizuhara may not think anything of him other than as a client.

The bottom line is he’s not happy with Ruka because he doesn’t like Ruka the way he likes Mizuhara. Which is fair! Meanwhile, Mizuhara looks unhappy too as she spots Ruka with Kazuya, suggesting she is also having second thoughts about going along with Ruka’s deal.

I get how Kazuya feels, but the despicable things he does throughout the episode threaten to make him irredeemable, not to mention excruciating to watch. For one thing, he doesn’t dump Ruka even though it’s clear it’s not working. Instead, he’s content to string her along, lies about having family Christmas plans, and Ruka is never seen again in the episode. WTF?

After thinking about why Mizuhara decided to work as a rental girlfriend for all of ten seconds, he hears her showering through the wall and jerks off. The next day, instead of enjoying a date with Ruka—something he’d consider torture for some reason—he spots Mizuhara with what appears to be a date…and proceeds to stalk her. ALL DAY. ON CHRISTMAS EVE.

That’s not just torturing himself, but the audience as well. This shit is hard to watch. Lest we forget, Kazuya is not a high schooler but an college student and full-grown-ass adult. At any point during his stalking he could—he should—get arrested and tossed in jail. Of all the boundaries of decency and privacy he’s broken, this is probably the worst instance, especially considering his goal to become a better person. All that progress went down the shitter this week.

When he starts to believe Umi-kun is Mizuhara’s real, perfect boyfriend, he feels solidarity with a brotherhood of her clients he doesn’t even know in opposition to a her personal life he also doesn’t know. By sumply watching them creepily from afar during their date (which might not be a date) and eavesdropping on Umi’s call, he has no context with which to jump to conclusions.

Umi could be a client, or an old childhood friend, or a brother or cousin, or a manager, or a gay friend, or a scout. With an incomplete picture gleaned from stalking them, Kazuya decides they’re boyfriend and girlfriend, and Umi is planning to sell Mizuhara into sexual slavery (or something to that effect).

For his hours of disgusting criminal conduct, culminating in him jumping out before Mizuhara and Umi can “kiss”, Kazuya is rewarded. Turns out they weren’t going to kiss, Umi was fixing her earrring, and they’re not dating, Umi is a fellow actor. That’s right, Mizuhara is starting out as an actress. She’s working as a rental girlfriend and living in the same dump as Kazuya to pay for acting school.

One after another, Kazuya presents up his incorrect assumptions and Mizuhara knocks em down, until it’s clear he’s been stalking her for hours, and listened in on Umi’s phone call. Yes aside from momentarily turning cold, calling what he did “simply stalking” and asking if he has “anything better to do in life”, he’s completely let off the hook!

This is Mizuhara, who in the past has legitimately threatened legal action against him if he doesn’t back off her life. But it’s also the Mizuhara who slowly seems to be falling for Kazuya, despite him being an absolute ghoulish cretin of an incel. Love has certainly made and idiot (and criminal) out of him, and so it’s made an idiot of Mizuhara as well.

She presents him with the gift of a new phone case (which she picked out with Umi) and he breaks down crying, which is good, because it means he is at least aware of how much pure trash he is, even if he seems incapable of changing. Among Mizuhara’s excuses for the gift is that she feels bad leaving him to deal with Ruka alone.

The mention of Ruka underscores how frustrating this entire episode was. It seems to be portending Mizuhara and Kazuya becoming a couple, but poor frail-hearted Ruka ends up being a placeholder and pawn while the inevitable is delayed. Ruka herself felt like gift to us for our endurance, only for her to be immediately ripped away so we can watch Kaz do crimes. Sorry, I wasn’t havin’ it!

Vinland Saga – 22 – How to Kill Someone You Hate

Before the latest Thorfinn-Askeladd duel, Thorkell asks Prince Canute who he wants to win, as it who he’d bet money on. Canute doesn’t care who wins. His only task is to stop the duel before someone dies. Ever the King-in-waiting, Canute, looking further out than anyone. The prince then puts the question to Thorkell, who says he’s got Askeladd in this one. When asked why, particularly when Thorfinn beat him, Thorkell goes in real close, and again Canute shows how much he’s matured by not flinching.

Why Askeladd? “Just a feeling. It’s his aura.” Thorkell isn’t kidding. Askleadd just mercy-killed his only friend not a minute ago, and Bjorn’s body is still warm when the duel with Thorfinn takes place. Only it’s not much of a duel. As much of an age advantage Finn might have, he’s missing a fully-functioning arm, and he’s so angry and obsessed with finally cutting his father’s murderer’s throat, he’s rendered an absolute joke of a fighter.

Askeladd, as “in the zone” as a warrior can be, tosses his sword away, so confident he can put Thorfinn down with his bare hands. And he does. Thorkell is disappointed. But Askeladd is fed up with Thorfinn, and moves to deliver a killing blow, seemingly stopped only by a direct order from Canute.

From there, Askeladd declares Thorfinn an exhausting, unrepentant idiot, because he fights like an idiot, both by going into the duel injured, letting his temper get the best of him, and letting his win over Thorkell inflate his opinion of himself. So Askeladd has a seat on the remnant of what could be a Roman wall, and gives his life story, in hopes of teaching the boy “how to kill someone you hate”.

Thorfinn and Askeladd are alike in many ways, but while they both had frail mothers, their childhoods were vastly different. Thorfinn lived in a comfortable, cozy, loving, free family; Askeladd’s mother was a slave his father Olaf raped, and Olaf didn’t bother even naming his bastard children. At age eleven, Askeladd (so named because of his propensity for being covered in ash and soot) had to keep his mother alive as well as himself.

Despite their dire situation, he and his mother were descendants of Artorius, and she never stopped believing that one day he would return from paradise and free his people from bondage and despair. But one day, when his mother snapped and recklessly approached Olaf in the streets, and Olaf raised his sword to kill her, Askeladd knew: Artorius would never return.

That meant someone else—not a hero or a god, just a person—had to save his mother, and himself. For Askeladd, that person was him. Despite having never been trained in swordsmanship, he picked up a blade and used it, putting up a decent fight against Olaf and finally gaining his attention. Far from angry this child attacked him, Olaf sees potential in young Ash, and brings him into his hall.

For two years, Askeladd was trained by his father and half-brothers in both bow and blade, and became someone trusted, accepted and adored by all. Then, one night, the 13-year-old Askeladd made his move, plunging a sword into his father’s throat and killing the only witness, a woman sharing his bed. The sword belonged to the black sheep of the legitimate brothers, and so the murder was pinned on him, not Askeladd.

Olaf’s guard was down, and Askeladd had already determined a path to inheriting his property. Then and only then he struck, with all the certainty his poor mother had that Artorius would come. His people waited 50o years for their hero to arrive, and in the meantime suffered and stagnated. Askeladd only waited two years, until the time he knew he could kill the one he hated.

It’s a masterful story, masterfully told by Askeladd’s seiyu Uchida Naoya, who deserves all the awards.

It’s a stark contrast to Thorfinn, who has been trying to kill Askeladd since the moments after his father died, believing that somehow losing his temper, shouting loudly, and waving his sword around could lead to victory. In this way, Vinland Saga subverts the shounen formula of prevailing by doing all three of those things! His belief that victory will eventually come has been just as futile as Askeladd’s mother’s dream of Artorius’ return.

While it took Askeladd only two years to kill Olaf, it’s been ten years for Thorfinn, and he’s no closer to killing Askeladd. If anything, he’s less likely to do so now that he’s endured so many injuries in battle. He cannot contest Askeladd’s assertion that he’s an idiot, because Askeladd had an objectively worse past and achieved his revenge in less than a fifth of the time it’s taking Finn.

Askeladd’s final barbs before carrying Bjorn away to be buried, about Thorfinn being no better than a dog chasing after food and being “useful” since it’s so easy to “pay” him with these occasional duels he’ll never win, rankles Thorfinn anew, but he can barely stand, and Canute has to prop him up and insist he let his wounds heal before trying again.

Canute also asks Askeladd why he doesn’t just seek the throne himself, Askeladd laughs. Canute is far more suited to being king than either Askeladd or Sweyn. Askeladd considers himself “just a Viking.” If Vikings are anything, they’re decisive, and act to further their interestrs? Had he followed his mother’s path of simply waiting for a hero who will never come, he’d have died long ago.

To be alive today to teach whippersnappers valuable lessons, he became what he hated. Kingship is out of the question.

Vinland Saga – 21 – It Will Never Be Enough

It’s pretty amazing that Askeladd, who only a couple episodes ago was about to be assassinated by his own mutinying men, now finds himself taking a prominent role in maneuvering Prince Canute to the throne of the most powerful kingdom in Europe. Then again, it’s par for the course: Askeladd isn’t a mere pirate, he’s a tremendous diplomat, charmer, and spinner of yarns, all to aid his own interests.

Askeladd knows he’s sending his prince into a veritable hornets nest from which he may never come out…unless he plays his cards right. Sweyn wants Canute out of the picture, but he’s not reckless or bloodthirsty. He must match the king’s wits with his own. When Canute is shot in the chest by a sniper with a crossbow, the person actually shot was merely a slave woman serving as his body double.

Thorfinn goes after the sniper, and ends up in the arms of one Leif Erikson, a man he had probably not thought about in some time. Leif spots Askeladd first, and surely feels he owes Thors a heavy debt for saving them years ago. Leif remembers the cheerful boy on Iceland, and expects that he’s ready to leave the battlefield and go home; that he’s had enough of battle. He sure looks it, after all.

Of course, that’s not the case. Thorfinn betrays a moment or two of surprise upon seeing his old uncle again, but any talk of going home or seeing his mother and sister again, and he immediately puts his shell back up. It hasn’t been enough, and it never will be until Askeladd breathes his last, having been pierced through the heart with the blade of Thors, wielded by his son.

It’s entirely expected for Finn to act this way, but it hardly means he’s gone for good; he’s still so young after all. Just that he has his priorities. If he even considers himself the same person as the boy who has a mother and sister in Iceland, which is itself in doubt, returning comes home is entirely dependant on getting his father the revenge he believes he’s due.

That’s despite him knowing full well his father would have preferred he stop fighting and return home to family years ago, and not even bother with Askeladd.

That night, Askeladd visits an irreparably-wounded Bjorn, who arranges for his boss to fight and kill him tomorrow. Then Askeladd holds council with Canute, Thorkell, and Gunnar, and we learn just how much he’s thought through this York situation. He hired the assassin to attack the double, in hopes of making a big public show for the people of York that King Sweyn was playing dirty.

Indeed, we see rumors of varying degrees of accuracy spread across the city. Askeladd’s elite gut even sniffs out Gunnar’s treachery, and in Gunnar’s presence not only said only what he wanted Sweyn himself to eventually hear (that they’re not interested in a short-term battle, but in buying time), but has Finn follow Gunnar and his spy all the way to Sweyn’s house.

Canute doesn’t like how a woman had to give her life for a charade, but he can’t really complain when it’s put him in a far better position, increasing his available options while limiting those of his father.

The next day, Thorfinn asks Askeladd for yet another duel, and Askeladd once again accepts, with Canute and Thorkell acting as witnesses. But first, Askeladd has “a previous engagement” with Bjorn, who arrives and draws his sword for his last fight.

Before he dies, Bjorn tells his leader how much he looked up to him, but also pitied him for the loneliness he must experience. He paints Askeladd as someone who has risen to his present station (and indeed still breathes and stands, albeit with one so-so-leg) by rejecting everything and anyone.

Still, all Bjorn wanted to be his friend, and before delivering the blow that kills him, Askeladd grants him that wish before he passes. He allows him to hear those words, then turns Thorfinn, who may well succeed him as the next Askeladd. Scoring victories and glory left and right, but with nary a friend, family member, or lover to share it with.

Fruits Basket – 21 – Prince Yuki, The Witch, and The Demon Queen

The cold open was so different from what I’m used to with Fruits BasketI momentarily thought my fansub might be a mislabeled episode of some dark mystery or maho shoujo anime. That is, until the appearance of Hanajima Saki, just before Minagawa Motoko wakes up from her nightmare in her hair bonnet.

Motoko is the third-year rep for the Souma Yuki fan club, Prince Yuki, of which we haven’t seen much since much earlier episodes. But along with her first- and second-year counterparts Yamagishi Mio and Kinoshita Minami, Motoko is committed to “getting rid” of the vile “witch” Honda Tooru.

They believe she has stolen their beloved Yuki’s heart with an evil spell, but she’s under the protection of the “demon queen” Hanajima Saki, whom they must defeat in order to get to Tooru.

If it sounds like these three girls have a case of chuunibyou, well…it kinda is, what with the specialized jargon, military-like procedures, and serial pose-strikin’! But mostly, they’re simply jealous of Tooru and Yuki’s relationship, despite knowing next to nothing about it, and believe their numbers give them the right to determine what’s best for Yuki.

While Motoko, Minami and Mio all have the same idea of Saki’s home (a haunted western mansion surrounded by graves), they’re surprised to find it’s…just a normal house. Her room is normal too, aside from the persistent black-and-purple theme (she even has some of the same shoujo series as they do!).

They’re looking for a weakness…anything they can use. Instead, they find Saki’s little brother, Megumi, who was hiding in the closet and only comes out when Saki tells him to.

Megumi: New friends of yours?
Saki: No. They’re strangers that happen to go to the same school and be the same gender as me.

I love how Saki and Megumi never for a moment stop being the people they always are, but by doing so keep the three Prince Yuki reps in a perpetual state of unease and dread. Saki warned them not to say their names in the house, and later Megumi explains why that is: all he needs is someone’s name to put a curse on them…or to counter-curse their counter-curse.

When the youngest of the reps starts wanting to leave immediately, the three finally come out with it: they want Saki to tell Tooru to stop being so close to Yuki. Megumi immediately takes their position for what it is—jealousy—and in trying to explain that it’s not jealousy, just being mad about someone having something they don’t have, she just ends up…describing jealousy.

Both Megumi and the musical score turn serious when he gravely warns them not to assume they can do what they want just because they like someone, and that pushing such intense love as theirs on someone can burden or hurt them, not loving them back. He asks them to consider how Yuki feels and respect those feelings, before they end up making him hate them.

Then he gravely says their names, one after the other, which sends them bolting out of the house, passing by the youngest (and most normal) Hanajima sibling in the process. They clearly forgot that Megumi could hear them using their names while he was hiding.

Hopefully, Motoko, Minami and Mio learned something from their visit to Saki’s house about taking such strong and unyielding positions about things they know so little about…but I’m not going to hold my breath, because the next day they’ll still have their huge fan club with its book of rules, and their two simultaneous, contradictory believes Yuki shouldn’t belong to anyone, but also should secretly belong to each of them.

Saki, on the other hand, took Megumi’s words to heart about jealousy, because she admits that’s what she’s felt ever since Tooru started living with Yuki, Kyou, and Shigure and had many adventures with them and the other Soumas. She tells herself she mustn’t let those feelings of loneliness make her selfishly think her needs and desires vis-a-vis Tooru are any more important than those of others.

With that, her loneliness is extinguished when Arisa and Tooru arrive at her front door; turns out Tooru doesn’t have to work until later, so she can hang out with Arisa and Saki. That brings a big, bright, very ungothic smile to Saki’s face.

The next morning, Motoko again awakes from a nightmare involving the “demon queen” Saki and hell, let’s call him Saki’s “death squire” Megumi. Minami and Mio also had nightmares, even though Saki teases them that the “curse” won’t take effect for three days.

But like their vilification of Saki and Tooru, perhaps those dreams are nothing more than a manifestation of their ugly jealousy, which starts as less ugly loneliness. After all, not a single member of Prince Yuki can possibly be happy, since they all love him, yet cannot be with him.

*  *  *

After twenty-one episodes, who is my favorite Fruits Basket character? Uotani Arisa. NEXT QUESTION. Who is my second-favorite? Hanajima Saki. NO MORE QUESTIONS. 

Both women are as strong as they are because they are able to be upfront and honest about their “weaknesses,” and while they have no time for childish challenges thrown their way by their would-be, so-called “adversaries,” they’re not above putting a good ol’ scare into them—and not below delivering wise advice when it’s called for. Tooru is as blessed to have them as they are blessed to have her in their lives.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how goshdarn funny this episode was…I was laughing from start to finish at the Prince Yuki reps’ petty machinations and while watching their absolute drubbing at the hands of a young woman (and little brother) they never had any business trifling with.

Happy Sugar Life – 09 – Eliminating All Risks

In exchange for the change to see and be purified by Shio, Taiyo follows through with Satou’s instructions, giving Asahi Shio’s sock and telling a tale about it being found at a station some distance away. A cordial exchange quickly devolves into nastiness when Asahi smells some kind of trickery afoot, and then triggers Taiyo into a rage by calling him a “dirty adult”; pretty much the worst insult you can throw his way.

Still, Asahi regrets how things ended, and decides to take Taiyos advice and travel afar for more clues. The night before he leaves he meets Shouko in the park once more. Shouko thinks everything about Asahi is amazing, and while he’s not manly or her type at all, a part of her is jealous of Shio for having such a gallant prince willing to move forward no matter how much it may hurt or how scared he is. She bids him farewell with an exchange of contact info, and a kiss.

Satou is at the station to make sure Asahi is on his way, then returns home to 1208 to spend the whole day with Shio. It just happens to be the “anniversary” of the day she first kidnapped her. Satou celebrates by buying a bunch of fancy sweets which the two share together, and when Shio brings up the future, and securing said future together with the bonds of marriage, Satou is ready with two rings.

Both she and Shio are happy beyond words; giddy, even. And in a moment of particularly intense giddiness, Shio pounces on Satou as she’s exiting the front door…

…Where Shouko is waiting there with her cameraphone, and snaps a picture of Shio with Satou. It’s a devastating needle scratch but also a welcome glass of cold ice water on Satou’s frankly impossible (and ridiculously amoral) fantasy dream world. Her Happy Sugar Life is a sham; a mere house of cards that falls all too easily once a sliver of reality peeks in.

And yet, as evil as Satou’s actions are, Shouko comes with at least a veneer of non-judgment, acceptance, and love of and for Satou, no matter what she’s become, what she’s done. No matter how far she’s sunk into the muck, Shouko wants to pull her out and back into the light—the real light. But Shouko is doomed the moment Satou saw her on the balcony; before she even snapped that picture.

In a thoroughly unpleasant, sickeningly brutal scene, Satou grabs Shouko from behind as she’s leaving, sticks a knife in her throat, and suffocates her with her hand as she bleeds out. Another risk eliminated. She used soft power on Asahi, but had to go hard with Shouko, who kept persisting and interfering.

But Shouko’s death wasn’t in vain. The photo of Shio with Satou reaches Asahi. Will he be prudent enough to report Shio’s kidnapping to trained authorities and let them deal with Satou, or will he try to go after her alone? How will Satou deal with Shouko’s body, and will her murder spark a purge of more “risks”?

Most importantly, how will Shio respond to this once the initial shock wears off? Perhaps Shio herself could end up dealing the decisive blow to Satou’s delusional,  impossible world of sugar and happiness. The foundations of that world are as rotten as her aunt’s apartment; they’re sinking ever deeper into the earth made soft by spilled blood.

Happy Sugar Life – 08 – How We Got Here, Where We’re Going

Now the picture of Matsuzaka Satou is that much more complete. Room 1208, the cage in which she now keeps Shio, was once the apartment where a loner artist resided. He didn’t want anything from Satou except for her to pose, and let her talk about whatever she wanted.

In the minimalist first half, it’s just Hanazawa Kana as Satou talking. The artist responds, but we only hear static, and never get a good look at him. It doesn’t really matter who he is, but what he wanted. He wanted Satou to remain incomplete and unsatisfied, so he could keep drawing her.

That changed when, one day, for reasons unexplained, Satou brought Shio to 1208. Before long, she started to feel something around her she felt for no one else; she became complete; satisfied. In other words, everything the artist didn’t want.

So he tried to get rid of Shio in the most reckless fumbling way: trying to choke her to death when Satou was out of the room. Of course, she enters, and the atelier becomes a violent murder scene.

Since Shio was a witness to it—albeit likely dazed/disoriented by the choking—it sure looks like the creepy figure she’s drawn in the closet is Satou herself. Shio carries the trauma every day, and it occasionally surfaces. That’s a problem!

Taiyo comes to a kind of revelation: he needs to give up on Shio and try to become a normal guy again. He’s content to keep the wanted poster in his pocket as he puts the pieces of his past life back together, not letting the trauma of the abuse he endured further mire him.

Unfortunately, his resolve to reform is brittle, and Satou finds him at the perfect time to shatter it, offering Shio’s still-warm sock to prove she’s serious about letting the “knight” meet the “angel” and let her “purify” him. All he has to do is get rid of the person trying to take Shio away from her.

I first thought Satou wanted Taiyo to get rid of the teacher, but I rethought that conclusion when Asahi gets a call from someone offering him a clue as to Shio’s whereabouts. I immediately thought that this was the first step in the plan Taiyo is carrying out for Satou.

Complicating matters is that Asahi is the one who finds Shouko at her lowest point, cursing herself for rejecting Satou when Satou needed her most and wanting to “disappear.” Asahi assures her she’s a kind and good person—the type of person prone to always laming themselves.

Asahi comforts Shouko and cheers her up, and they now seem to be friends, since she’s still by his side when he gets that phone call. If Asahi is Satou’s target via Taiyo, I doubt Shouko will escape uninvolved.

Happy Sugar Life – 07 – What are Friends? What is Love?

Satou’s teacher sees her with Shouko and doesn’t like the fact that she seems to be sharing “dirty little secret.” Of course, Sensei is operating under the assumption that Satou’s parents died early and she was brought up by her aunt in an environment devoid of the love humans need to grow up to become “normal.”

He believes Satou snapped one day, murdered her aunt, chopped her into pieces, and gave the bags to him to incinerate. It’s as good a theory as any judging from the evidence he has…but he doesn’t quite have enough for the whole picture, and as a result, he’s dead wrong.

Satou doesn’t take Shouko to the apartment where she lives with Shio; she takes her to her aunt’s apartment. Her aunt turns out to be very much alive, and the cops are at her door answering reports of a “suspicious smell” emanating from the apartment.

Satou’s aunt may be alive, but to the horror of both Shouko and the cops, she’s completely whacked out of her gourd. Seiyu Inoue Kikuko, a grizzled veteran of anime who’s played dozens of mothers, balances the sweet kindness of her voice with an underlying malaise.

Everyone who enters her apartment, and sees horrid room in which she sleeps, immediately wants to leave and take a shower. But before the cops can leave, having found nothing law-breaking, she literally jumps on the male cop, senses he’s lonely, and tells him he can do whatever he wants to her and she’ll accept it—sex, violence, violent sex…anything.

This, Satou later tells Shouko, is how her aunt considered “love”, being a receptacle for whatever other people wanted to give her, good, bad, and ugly…all of it. And she’s never changed, and likely never will, as the cops (and you could say society at large) are neither properly equipped or empowered to “do anything” about her.

The female cop manages to wrest her partner away (and turns down the aunt’s invitation to her), and then turns to Shouko, who she also senses is “lonely” and is looking for her “prince.” Satou comes between them and ushers Shouko out of the apartment. Halfway to walking her home, Shouko expresses herself honestly; that she thought Satou’s aunt was hella weird.

When Satou asks if, now knowing the woman who raised her and how she sees love, if Shouko will still be friends with her. When Shouko hesitates to answer, Satou tells her they can go back to being “just friends at work.” and leaves. Shouko wanted to know the truth, and she only got a small taste, and it was way too much, but she’s still ashamed.

After shedding her tail, Sensei, with some properly dominating language, Satou leaves her aunt’s apartment’s front door, marked 305, and walks up to her apartment with Shio, number 1208, where she continues her Happy Sugar Life, untroubled by what went down with Shouko.

But then we flash back to the rainy day she didn’t want to go home to her aunt anymore. Someone chatted her up, invited her to their apartment (1208), and asked her to model for them (they were apparently an artist). Now we know who she murdered: that artist and 1208’s previous occupant.

Happy Sugar Life – 06 – Losing the Moon

Shouko, who is consistently the most normal of characters in this show full of loons, encounters Asahi, and she isn’t one to just keep walking. At her heart she’s a “good girl”, even as she once made a habit of staying out late at night to fool around with men.

She’s also good enough friends with Satou that she knows when she’s hiding something. She’s just not ready to believe Taiyo’s accusations. Meanwhile, Satou tries to hem in Taiyo from further interference by offering to let him meet Shio, while the masochistic teacher is dedicated to finding proof Satou murdered her aunt.

Satou’s far-too-together demeanor at work continuies to elicit suspicion in Shoko, who walks the same shopping district she and Satou used to hang out looking for guys. Only this time, she goes to the park to find Asahi sleeping under a bench, and gives him more food. She has no ulterior motives, she has no hidden neurosis; she’s just helping someone in need.

She wants to know how Asahi got into this state, and he tells her the story of how his mother and Shio escaped the house where her drunk husband was beating her. Asahi stayed behind so “the devil” wouldn’t go looking for his mom and Chio.

Staying meant enduring beatings and KGB-style fingernail torture, but Asahi it was worth it; he’d take the abuse so Mom and Chio could be safe and free. He had his moments of despair, but ultimately endured until his father drank himself to death.

The unbridled joy of discovering this fact is quickly marred when Asahi goes to his mom’s house to find Chio has been kidnapped. His Mom, who from the look of the place was not coping well with living and caring for her kid on her own (even though the alternative would’ve obviously been worse; at least she’s not being beaten) simply tells Asahi it was “too late.”

Shouko scores a day out with Satou, their first time hanging out as friends in a good long time. They have a lot of fun, but Shouko has a mission in mind: she wants to know the truth. Satou is initially totally unwilling to tell her, since it’s something she doesn’t want a good girl like Shouko getting mixed up in.

Shouko forces the issue by telling Satou that she wants nothing else but to know what she’s involved in, because she loves her friend more than anyone else. These words seem to move Satou, and she invites Shouko to come to her house to learn what secret she’s been hiding with a non-existent boyfriend.

Even so, I’m not convinced Satou is capable of trusting Shouko with all of the dark things she’s done that even she herself has compartmentalized. Then again, I find it hard to believe Satou would do anything to Shouko in the presence of Shio—which calls to mind how exactly Shio’s kidnapping went down. More concerning is the fact the masochistic teacher is tailing Satou. I can’t see any of this ending well.

Happy Sugar Life – 05 – Crime and Punishment

Just as she senses something’s off about Shio, Satou finds her latest challenge at work in her kohai Su-chan. After expertly disarming an unruly customer, Satou notices someone’s been through her locker, and that’s when Su-chan tells her all of the obsessive things she’s done to try to be just like her, from copying her bag to wearing the same makeup and underwear.

But it’s not enough, and Su-chan thinks it’s because there are still pieces of Satou’s life she’s missing…her home life. For Su-chan, getting into that is like stepping on a pink macaron land-mine. But Satou has become very adept at dealing with people without violence (like that customer) as much as with. You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar, after all.

So Satou calms down from the panic of Su-chan bringing up her home life…and proceeds to make out with Su-chan, confessing that she loves her “just the way she is” and ever-so-gently warning her to stop prying. Su-chan is so overwhelmed by the object of her infatuation all over her—and spooked by the warning—that she seems to fall in line. But who can be sure it will stay that way?

Meanwhile, Shouko is one of the only halfway decent human beings in this show. She takes a day off work and pays a visit to Taiyo’s house to see how he’s doing. She inadvertently enters his room, sees the dozens of Shio flyers, and freaks. Taiyo explains how the girl in the flyers is his purifying angel. Does that convince Shouko everything’s fine? Reader, it does not.

He then pushes Shouko against the door, grabs her too hard, and demands that she help him get Shio back from the one who is hoarding her all for herself: Satou. The unwanted physical contact and accusations towards her friend comprise the final straws for Shouko, who shoves Taiyo down and leaves, disgusted that someone “so hot” is so, well, disgusting.

But as she passes another Shio flyer in the street, the seed Taiyo planted begins to sprout—Satou couldn’t kidnap somebody…or could she? Shio’s brother Asahi appears behind her, no doubt to answer that question if asked.

Back home Satou finds Shio crumpled lying on the floor in the dark, talking about “punishment.” She confesses that while she was outside she did talk to someone, and believes her headaches and vision and need to draw a creepy image of her mother, who it seems was harmfully overprotective.

But Satou starts to think this bitter, bitter-tasting situation is her punishment, for lying to Shio. No, not about the people she’s killed, maimed, seduced, or extorted. Because she lied about loving someone else! That, to her, was the one and only crime she committed that is causing the bitterness.

After confessing, Shio forgives her, and the two seem back on the Happy Sugar side. But while Satou believes hiding and omitting things from her love isn’t lying, it ultimately has the same effect…especially if and when those lies are exposed. Too many people now have their eyes fixed on Satou’s life and Shio’s whereabouts. Her true punishment hasn’t really begun.

Happy Sugar Life – 04 – This is Also Love

The blood from the beating of Mitsuboshi by two sociopath guys dredges up unpleasant memories for Shio: those of her mother saying she’ll never forgive her for letting go of her hand. Uh, that’s really unreasonable, Shio’s Mom! Why is everyone in this show have to be so goddamn INSANE smh.

Satou rolls the dice and manages to take out both of the guys with taser (which thankfully didn’t die on her; anime tasers are very fickle) and a knife (gouging out the eyes of one). She scoops up the unconscious Shio and whisks her home to her suddenly very insecure feeling “castle.”

It’s clear Shio had problems well before Satou met her, but Satou has similar traumatic memories of interacting with an adult guardian who was not okay in the head. In this case, Satou’s aunt, who was always covered in bruises and bandages, explaining them away to her niece as “another kind of love.” Yeaaah, notsomuch. Control is not love.

The next morning things seem to be back to normal, but the previous night Satou saw fit to install exterior locks to keep her Happy Sugar Girl “safe” (i.e. under control). Words of trust are no longer sufficient, not after last night, the outcome of which Satou is at least lucid enough to know was extremely lucky.

This is a show where it’s almost never good when two people are together (except I guess for Satou and Shio), but things aren’t much better when anyone is alone: Satou’s teacher is suspicious that her aunt isn’t answering the phone, but also just wants Satou to insult and punish him more.

Mitsuboshi witnessed Satou making off with Shio, posters of whom he’s plastered all over his room, because now he’s a demented lolicon who has become fixated on the girl be belives to be his “angel” and salvation. Even Shio has her private secret: scrawling a crude drawing in the closet while in a trance and chanting “spinning.” 2018, AMIRITE?

Shio snaps out of it when Satou comes home early, which is because her cafe staff was sent home early due to the violent attacks in the vicinity. Still, Satou needs to keep working so she can keep saving to buy (hopefully not rent) a stronger “castle” in which to preserve her HSL. While she only speaks of an expensive dream to her co-workers, her brown-haired kohai is impressed by her dedication.

That night, after giving up on cleaning the blood off the wall of the murder room (maybe she needs to call The Wolf), Satou gazes at her account balance on her phone, which I may henceforth call Chekhov’s Account Balance on her phone, since, at some point, those savings could either be spent or vanished via some foul play. In any case, Satou doesn’t really love Shio; she just wants something all hers that she can control.

Meanwhile, the drawing of Chio’s mother lurks menacingly in the closet—another stain Satou can’t remove—while at the closed cafe the brown-haired kohai breaks into Satou’s locker and smells her clothes with alarming gusto. What can you say—she’s a psycho magnet.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 11

When Haruka learns that a runner from another school fully recovered from the same injury Akira suffered to best her personal 100-meter time, and could threaten Akira’s tournament record, she redoubles her efforts to bring Akira back in the fold, even going so far as to follow her to her workplace.

Kondou sees that a girl from Akira’s school is a customer, and that can tell the conversation isn’t a pleasant one. Let’s get one thing straight: Haruka isn’t here to ask Akira what she wants or how she feels. Haruka is there to tell Akira what Haruka wants—and how sad she’ll be if she doesn’t get it.

She marches in there judging Akira’s choice to work an honest job rather than risk re-injuring herself, saying she’ll “always be waiting” for Akira to come around to wanting to run again, as if that’s the only acceptable path for her. Then she storms off without letting Akira so much as respond.

It’s frankly sickening to watch someone who purports to care about Akira only seem to be interested in what would make herself happy—not to mention shore up her track team. If their roles were reversed, I doubt Akira would treat her so awfully.

Thankfully we get a pleasant palate-cleanser in the form of Chihiro paying Kondou a surprise visit with a brand-new siphon coffee maker. Make no mistake: Chihiro isn’t there just for Kondou’s benefit, he came to ground himself with an old friend he still holds in high regard.

Kondou looks at Chihiro’s success in the same way Haruka looks at Akira’s records and talent—from the outside. The book being made into a movie is a “piece of shit” in Chihiro’s mind, and the more successful he gets, the more expectations mount (much as they did for Akira before her injury), and the more “shit” he feels he has to put out.

Rather than voice any disappointment, Chihiro actually lauds Kondou for living an honest life. Unlike Akira giving up running cold turkey, Kondou has always to maintain the obsession to write, even if it’s for nobody but himself, and even if he’s too excited to do the first one-minute novel in a long time.

Chihiro isn’t asking him to quit being a manager and start selling novels…but he urges Kondou not to give up that obsession, even if it’s not as big a part of his life as it was. Granted, Chihiro and Kondou are older and more matured by life experience, but the contrast between their equitable dynamic and Haruka’s totally unfair one-sided oppression of Akira couldn’t be starker.

Chihiro and Haruka, who are still fully in the respective games their friends left, have similar messages. I’ve always seen Akira as not giving up or running away from track, but simply moving on, while Kondou gives his old habit of late-night writing another go after Chihiro’s visit.

That same night, Akira takes out her cleats, suggesting as terribly as she expressed it, Haruka was right that Akira still yearns to run. But the next day when a customer forgets a phone and she can’t get it back to them without running, she doesn’t run this time, as the camera pulls in on her recently repaired Achilles. I can’t blame her, considering what happened the last time she did.

In the restaurant office, Akira sees that Kondou hasn’t filled out her shift schedule yet with her requested increased shifts, and when he asks her if there’s “anything else she wants to do” besides work there all the time, she should do that. This angers Akira, because it’s almost as if everyone’s ganging up on her…even the man she has feelings for.

The fact of the matter is, even if it’s objectively wrong for Akira to not even consider giving running another go, it’s her goddamn RIGHT to be wrong, no one else’s. Yes, she’s young, and her emotions on this matter are all over the place.

She might not be able to easily answer the question “do you want to run?” if asked because she’s so afraid of the possibility she just can’t do it anymore. Or maybe she really truly doesn’t want to run. In either case, it’s her choice to make. Haruka may have enough confidence in her for the both of them, but at the end of the day…it ain’t her Achilles.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 10

Keeping Akira in a constant state of hot-and-botheredness was not sustainable, so I’m really enjoying how their relationship has evolved since The Hug. Akira exploits another opportunity to hang out with Masami as friends (a used book sale), and has no other designs other than to see him in a place where he feels at home, and learn a little more about him, and enjoy the nice weather. She’s not all that worried about whether it’s a date or not.

Masami happens to know one of the booksellers (he frequented his store back in the day) who of course assumes Akira is his daughter, but Akira is the one to correct him by calling them friends. The subject of two people knowing each other so well that they can communicate far more with fewer words, Akira resists the urge to call or text Masami when he wanders off into bookland.

Instead, she channels Victor Hugo by sending just a “?”. Since Masami just told her about the instance of Hugo and his publisher, she knows she can share a moment of knowing with Masami, which gives her no shortage of joy. No drama, no furiously burning flames of passion…just a nice day out together.

In another instance of sending a message with naught but a symbol, Akira eventually sends Haruka a signal she still cares by liking one of the track club posts…even if Akira herself seems to have moved past track, not wanting to undergo rehab to make a comeback.

Similarly, when Masami catches Chihiro on TV calling books and writing his “lover”, he can relate; it used to be his lover too, and he devoted nearly all his time to it, hurting his wife and son in the process. After going through some of his writings, he stuffs them back in the box and puts the box back on the shelf, not ready to chase the “one-sided love.”

The next day, Akira shows Masami the book she bought for herself at the sale, And Then by Soseki. It comes with a charming bookmark of a swallow holding a four-leaf clover, which reminds Masami of the swallow’s nest under the backdoor awning they had to get rid of because of the droppings.

Masami makes sure Akira understands they waited for all of the babies to leave the nest before doing so, which prompts Akira to ask what would have happened had one bird not made it from the nest; perhaps a metaphor for her being unable to join her trackmates, as well as Masami pondering giving writing up.

Masami replies that such a bird may still be able to find some happiness, and even forget about the others, but hopes that the bird wouldn’t regret giving up, lest it keep looking wistfully up at the sky, pondering what might have been.

He apologizes for rambling on, but Akira thanks him for his words, and wants to hear more of them, and perhaps one day read them as well. Akira is signalling to him that it’s okay to keep that dream of writing alive, that perhaps the forgiveness he so obviously seeks isn’t as out of reach as he thought.