Asagao to Kase-san. (OVA) – The Sun is Always Shining Above the Clouds

Asagaro to Kase-san, an OVA released in the Summer of 2018, is a concise but solid piece of serious yuri storytelling in the vein of Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto, and Sakura TrickIt strikes that delicate balance of covering a fair amount of material while never feeling like it’s trying to do too much. The stakes never stray from the future of a couple of young lovers who start dating in their final year of high school.

That they’re both girls, living in relatively conservative Japan, never comes up, because this isn’t about whether they can be together or not. It’s about their mutual love, plain and simple, and how they weather other challenges to remain together, a state neither of them at any point wish to leave.

Mild-mannered gardening fanatic Yamada Yui had never dated anyone before she and the athletic track star Kase Tomoka got together, but they’re together before the opening credits, which is a heck of a timesaver! Suffice it to say they liked each other to the extent they were equally enthusiastic about becoming a couple.

That mutual enthusiasm paid dividends, as before long the like turned to love. There’s never any doubt that Kase is as smitten with Yamada as vice-versa, even if the latter tends to feel inferior due to Kase’s social and literal stature at school. There are also times when she allows Kase to swept up by others, often interrupting potential time alone.

But while Yamada comes to realize she’ll have to be more assertive at times, the fact that Kase is so popular isn’t a problem for her; it serves to validate why she loves her so much in the first place: Kase’s a surpassingly kind and gregarious young woman.

In any case, in moments when Yamada might feel lonely due to indulging Kase’s natural gregariousness, Kase’s own desire to be alone with Yamada means it’s never that long before she seeks Yamada out, both grateful for her patience and relieved to have in her a kind of haven.

Time with Yamada is special to Kase; more special than time with anyone else. That’s whether they’re on an intimate nighttime phone call, alone together in Yamada’s room raising the temperature a bit, or on a beach in Okinawa making up and out after Yamada gets a bit too “surprised” seeing Kase nude.

The biggest threat to their relationship isn’t the fact that they’re both girls, which is refreshing. Instead, like any other relationship, it’s the unrelenting march of time and the changes it brings. Kase is on the fast track to Tokyo U on an athletic scholarship; Yamada’s inertia seems to be keeping her tethered to her hometown, commuting to the local college from home.

Especially when Kase calls to offer to turn down the scholarship and she essentially tells her not to, Yamada is on the cusp of relegating their relationship to a long-distance affair, with visits very few and far between. It’s only on the very day Kase leaves for Tokyo that Yamada wakes up and realizes she doesn’t want that at all. She wants as much Kase as she can get, and so she runs and keeps running until she’s in Kase’s arms aboard the Shinkansen.

How will Yamada manage to get into a Tokyo school? Ehh, she’ll figure it out! The most important thing is that they’re together, like they want to be. They’re also on the same wavelength; Kase really didn’t want to leave Yamada, but felt trapped by the circumstance of her athletic excellence. Fortunately for her, Yamada wasn’t going to let something like that cause what they had to fall apart.

Backed by gorgeous animation and superb voice work from Sakura Ayane and Takahashi Minami, Asagao to Kase-san delivers an elegant and captivating romance between two girls for whom simply no one else would do, and whose bond managed to withstand the winds of change. Give it a watch and your heart will grow at least three sizes!

Domestic na Kanojo – 11 – There’s Always Someone Better

After lying and keeping secrets for so long, Natsuo finally tells Rui everything, from his long time love of Hina to his determination to be with her in the future. But just because it’s the truth doesn’t make the words sting any less. After sharing one last kiss and an evening of private sobbing, Rui is also determined to move on from Natsuo.

Of course, since it’s impossible for Rui to not handle such things in an odd way, she announces to Natsuo the next morning that she’s decided to “start disliking him.” I can’t say I blame her, as Natsuo has grown more selfish and insufferable with each passing week, but in her case it’s a defense mechanism. She’ll still treat him like family, but otherwise, she’s done.

At least Natsuo gets to talk to Rui; Rui freezes out Hina both on LINE and at school, where Natsuo and Hina misguidedly meet up once again to discuss it. The episode suddenly makes a hard right turn from the love triangle to…the “Natsuo Striving to be an Author” plot, when Rui wins an award instead of him (or Miu, for that matter).

This shakes Natsuo to his core, despite the fact, if he’s honest, he’s spent far more time lately being a horndog with Hina than he has crafting brilliant narratives. Still, he believes the solution is to go to Akari’s house announced and beg him to make him his apprentice. It’s not any more pleasant than Natsuo begging for sex.

His sensei turns him down in this case, because becoming his apprentice is not the way to go about becoming a good author; it takes actual struggle and hard work, not just connections. Natsuo takes this to mean writing one short story per week. Then, in another bit of whiplash, the episode makes another hard turn to School Beach Trip territory.

This means not only Rui and Miu and Momo in swimsuits, but Hina as well, and as she plays volleyball with the students, she looks more like a teacher than a student. Rui takes her aside to remark on the inappropriateness of her swimsuit, but Hina is so happy she’s not ignoring her anymore, that it leads to the two making up.

Rui isn’t interested in Hina breaking up with Natsuo if she still has real feelings for him; instead, she’s prepared to concede him to her and pursue other options. Honestly it’s probably a good move by Rui…if she can stick the landing. But Rui’s assurances don’t dissuade Hina from deciding to break up with Natsuo anyway, since it’s just not a tenable relationship.

It’s disappointing to see Hina’s position so callously overruled by Natsuo thanks to a cheap ring and a promise that he’ll make an honest woman of her for sure, even proposing marriage. Their two positions couldn’t be further apart, but there’s no compromise, Natsuo simply gets what he wants, again. 

While he may talk about caring about the future, it’s Hina who was looking out for both of them by suggesting they end things while they still can. Instead, they make out in front of an open window during a fireworks display, then have sex and apparently spend the night together.

These are not good decisions, as Hina learns on the first day back at school, when she’s summoned by the principal, who presents her a photo of her, and Natsuo, kissing by the open window, during the fireworks display.

She and Natsuo were so caught up in being together that they got sloppy, never stopping to think how others (who weren’t Rui) mind think and feel about them together. In the school’s case, it’s likely a fireable offense, and certainly a black mark on its reputation. Suffice it to say Hina is well and truly fucked.

Grand Blue – 11 – Advanced Adult Activities

Concerned about failing his test on account of being bad at mask clearing, Iori tries to devise a way to practice without Kouhei or Aina knowing. The gang rents a car, but it ends up being two cars since one won’t fit all eight. Turns out Aina can drive a manual truck from helping out at a rice farm.

Many a misunderstanding due to lack of proper context ensues, both at the market when Shinju and Ryuu order strangely-named fish like “Hamazaki’s Wife” or “Chubby High Schooler”, and back at the rental house.

Iori decides honesty is the best policy, so tells a weary Chisa when the two pair up to cook together. He asks her to help him practice, but when both Aina and Kouhei come into the kitchen, from what they overhear they believe Iori is asking Chisa out…and wants to be tied up and stepped on.

Aina wakes up to find Chisa’s bed empty and goes out to find Chisa holding him underwater with her foot. She fears something very strange is going on, and doesn’t believe Iori, but believes Chisa. Turns out she wouldn’t have laughed about Iori’s mask clearing, but would have helped if asked.

In fact, she joins Chisa in pressing him underwater with their feet, prompting a passerby to call the cops. Unfortunately, Chisa and Aina are already back in bed and Iori is alone and naked in the pool when an officer arrives.

Iori isn’t arrested, but he does catch cold, so he can’t participate in training exercises that day. Azusa stays behind to take care of him, using green onions as a home remedy (one ’round the neck, one where the sun don’t shine, which Iori rejects).

When Azusa learns Iori hasn’t been sleeping because he’s nervous lying beside her and Nanaka, Azusa only half-jokingly suggests they have sex so he won’t feel nervous. Iori has a legit shot at sleeping with her here, but sheepishly declines.

However, when Iori learns that Tokita of all people has a girlfriend, he ends up drinking—a lot—so by the time the others return (Kouhei and Aina with certification cards in hand), he’s passed out, naked, with Azusa’s home remedy successfully, er, deployed.

Grand Blue – 10 – Tell No Lies in the Ocean

The club finally makes it to Okinawa for real, and while events don’t unfold much like the overly dramatized preview last week, it’s an enjoyable outing and as a complete diving noob I was also educated as I was entertained.

The beach house is short on bedrooms, so Iori and Kouhei immediately jump at the first chance to compete to see who gets a bed and who gets the floor (even though there’s an huge unused sofa in the living room).

Their constant bickering and competing mars an otherwise enjoyable day at the beach, and Grand Blue notably doesn’t employ the usual slow upward pans. Yet even though Chisa isn’t really having fun, Aina is jealous that she’s out there with Iori.

It’s not all fun and games, as the newbies Iori Kouhei and Aina have to pass a bunch of tests and exams in order to be cleared for diving. Because he’s stashed with Nanaka and Azusa overnight, Iori can’t sleep (without choking himself out) so he studies instead.

Ultimately all three pass, and the next day their practical exercises commence. Diving Time! Here Grand Blue gets super-instructional, and the hand signals are accompanied by the voices of those making them. I learned about how a diver descends and ascends, as well as the standard 60-psi limit to remaining underwater.

Not only that, I learned it only takes one diver hitting that 60-psi limit for all of the divers’ dives to ends. It’s a team exercise, and so the team ascends as one. Traumatized by the much less “team-y” tennis club that rejected her, Aina is worried about being the first to hit 60 and “causing trouble.”

But as Iori explains, she has nothing to fear or be ashamed of; their seniors aren’t the kind who will hold it against her for shortening their dives. Rather than needlessly worry about what others think, she should focus on improving her underwater breathing. As with anything, it will improve with practice, and Iori gives Aina the comfort and confidence to keep at it.

And herein lies a competition far quieter than the far more annoying ongoing one between Iori and Kouhei: that between Chisa and Aina for Iori’s attention. Whether Chisa is on the boat with him or he’s comforting Aina, the women are watching each other very closely. I wonder if anything will come of it?

Grand Blue – 09 – It’s Good to Be the King

As the only guy in their circle who (still) has a girlfriend, Iori’s classmates make him arrange another mixer so they can have girlfriends too. Seriously I just can’t with these guys this week. Thankfully we don’t spend as much time with them here, and the balance of the first half is a game of “truth or dare” involving numbered chopsticks and a “King” who gets to give orders each round.

Because the other participants have to obey the King’s Orders, Iori and Kouhei wait to become King so they can order, say, Chisa to invite her friends to a mixer. However, they get the numbers mixed up, and end up ordering Shinji, who arranges a mixer at some kind of bar for musclebound giants. All because Kouhei mistook 3 or 1 for 4.

The second half returns to the Okinawa trip story, something that’s been drawn out a lot due to the club’s lack of funds. Inexplicably, they decide to go shopping for a bunch of new diving equipment, spending all the cash they were saving up for the trip. While their reason for being there is dubious, I’m always down for an Eva reference—in this case Chisa and Aina trying on Asuka and Rei wetsuits.

It’s also always nice to see Chisa on cloud nine, geeking out over the various equipment for sale. Oddly, it’s not until they return home to Grand Blue that Nanaka reminds them that…Okinawa is expensive. Did they not know this already?! Apparently not, since not only do Iori and Kouhei have to work overtime directing foot traffic at some kind of event, but Chisa and Aina have to dress in revealing costumes to hand out fliers. Next week: The gang finally arrives in Okinawa.

Grand Blue – 08 – Operation Blueballs

The Okinawa diving trip ends up being further off than I expected, with the tennis winnings only covering travel expenses. The rest of the trip is out of pocket, which means Iori and Kouhei need to make more money. Shinji hooks them up with a part-time moving company job, but compared to him they’re weaklings and can’t keep it up without destroying their bodies.

They assume Ryuu is selling his body in some fashion to make money, but Azusa assures them that’s far from the case, and proves it when she takes them to the very normal, classy, and surprisingly affordable bar where he works—and apparently has pretty customers falling for him almost nightly.

Iori and Kouhei want in, and the proprietor lends them some uniforms, but while they look the part, they prove absolutely inept at mixing drinks, taking their names too literally and putting actual screwdrivers in poor Aina’s drinks, then crushing all of her idealized dreams by basically being awful klutzes.

We never learn whether they make any money dicking around behind the bar, but we do know the proprietor incorrectly believes Iori and Kouhei are a couple, since the particular answers to the questions he asks Iori could apply to either Kouhei or Chisa (who unfortunately gets a real short shrift this week).

In the second segment, we’re back to the Fellowship of the Losers, who forgive Iori when he promises them he’s never touched Chisa despite presumably “dating” her. Instead, they all focus their hate on Mitarai, who hasn’t hung out or drunk with them in a while, suggesting he may be involved with a woman (and thus no longer a loser).

Iori confirms this when he calls Mitarai and hears a woman in the background Mitarai is definitely trying to have sex with. Honestly, Mitarai is an idiot, because if you want to have sex with anyone, you turn your goddamn phone off.

He doesn’t, and pays the price, as they all arrive at his house and proceed to bar his bliss with his unnamed but very pretty childhood friend. From the delivery of porn videos, to the fake LINE messages from another girl, to Kouhei using his “mixed voice” talent to sound like multiple other girls outside his door, the Losers throw everything they have at Kitarai, resulting in the girl getting dressed and leaving, telling him never to contact her again.

Despite him being thoroughly and completely cockblocked, the mere fact he was even in the position to sleep with a girl makes the lads see him as a traitor to ostracize…except for Iori, who still senses a “Loser” in him. That sense turns out to be true when Kitarai has one potential last chance to mend things with the girl, and instead asks her to introduce him to her friends.

She beats the crap out of him and sends him flying, and as his bloodied body flies across the full moon the other Losers raise their hands in the air. Iori’s trust in him is validated, while the doubts of the others is rebuked. Even if they hadn’t interfered that night, Kitarai likely would have found a way to muck up the great thing he had going on.

I may have harped on the overly amplified jealousy of Iori’s friends, but it was actually pretty fun this week since it was directed at someone who deserved it, i.e. someone who is actually with a girl, not pretending to be, like Iori is with Chisa. Mind you, that doesn’t mean I don’t want Iori to try to actually date Chisa! He just has to, for one, learn when to turn his dang phone off.

Takunomi. – 10

It’s the end of the year, and Kae is going to Okinawa with a colleague, reminding Nao of the time they went together so Kae could get over a heartbreak (both have embarrassing pics of one another from that trip). Nao is too busy at work to go, and eventually becomes burnt out, so Kae, with Michiru and Makoto’s help, arranges a way restore Nao’s spirits.

That results in an Okinawan-themed dinner and drinking party, which immediately cheers Nao up. Okinawa is a relatively small island, so it stands to reason they use every possible bit of the pig in their cuisine.

In a neat fact not mentioned in the ep, some of the pork Nao and Kae ate when they went was likely descended from the pigs shipped to the island by Japanese Americans in Hawaii after WWII to help deal with the food shortage.

The perfect beer to wash down the rich, fatty pork is Orion beer, which like all beers brewed for tropical locals, has a light, clean, refreshing taste, a sensation that comes through in the precise animation of the characters drinking.

Makoto managed to find Orion beer at a store a little further out of the way, prompting Nao to embrace her sister, pronounce her love, and beg her to never find a man so they can be together forever (Makoto is understandably noncommittal).

The quartet also remarks how they’ve been together a whole half-year, and it’s been so much fun they should all go to Okinawa together next year.

As it is, Michiru is headed home to spend New Year’s with her mom, but due to all the Okinawan celebrating, she oversleeps and nearly misses her flight; another reminder that part of mastering drinking is making sure you can meet your scheduling obligations afterwards. Still, lots of good food, beer, and fellowship this week.

Koimonogatari – 02

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Kaiki agrees to do the job for ¥100,000 and travels to Naoetsu to begin his investigation, starting at Nadeko’s home. Her parents answer his questions and let him examine Nadeko’s room, but won’t let him into a closet she told them not to open. He then visits the Shrine and deposits a ¥10,000 offering, and a grateful Nadeko to burst out to greet and thank him. She cheerfully confirms her eventually intention to kill Koyomi, Shinobu, and Senjougahara, and calls Kaiki her “first adherent.” Kaiki plays along and hands her a cat’s cradle, offering to come back periodically to teach her different patterns.

In retrospect, we really liked how this arc started out so simply, taking its time with the conversation between Kaiki and Senjougahara at Okinawa airport that gets things going. From Kaiki refusing Senjougahara’s offer to sell her body to make up the difference in his fee, Senjougahara coyly asking if she can borrow plane fare home from the cash she just paid Kaiki, the funny drawings in his notebook, and his plane’s emphatic touchdown on the snowy tarmac; many details lend the start of his mission a sense of solemn occasion, and with good reason: this is for all the marbles. If he fails, most of the show’s cast is toast. Therefore every stage of his involvement in this arc is treated with deft care and contemplation. He’s Kaiki Deishu—He solves problems.

That being said Kaiki plays more the role of a detective than a cleaner, utilizing his effortless powers of deception to gather intel on the target. We’re privy to what he thinks in response to what he sees and hears around him, as is typical of the spotlight character in a Monogatari arc. Perhaps feeling the weight of his responsibility in spite of himself, he visits Nadeko almost right away, against his better judgement, to find someone who is every bit the cute airhead everyone believed her to be as a human. Only now she has creepy snakes for hair and talks about all the good times she had with Koyomi and promises to kill the shit out of him in the same breath. Kaiki gives her a cat’s cradle as he intends to build one of deception around her. But deceiving a god—even a young, spoiled, deluded one—will be no mean feat.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

 

Koimonogatari – 01

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With 74 days until Graduation Day, when Sengoku will kill her and Koyomi, Senjougahara Hitagi meets with the swindler Kaiki Deishu in Okinawa Airport to request that he make amends for the trouble he’s caused them by convincing Sengoku not to kill them, something within his abilities. Kaiki struggles to find the proper motivation to carry out the request, eventually settling on Kanbaru Suruga, the niece of his former senpai, Gaen Izuko.

Watching the Monogatari Series in the order in which it has aired requires a certain degree of patience. Gratitude is seldom instant or even timely, as resolutions to conflicts may occur in a different arc. This week is the final arc in the second season, in which the story of Otorimonogatari continues. Senjougahara, once deceived by Kaiki, now seeks out his help in deceiving Sengoku, whose curse he also caused. Her only other option is to beg, which probably won’t work. Physical attacks didn’t work either.

This introductory episode unfolds from Kaiki’s perspective, and he reiterates to the audience that we shouldn’t take anything said or done as the truth. As we learned from Nisemonogatari, this is a man who values the fake over the real, and uses his words as weapons. But the snake god is no slouch in the deception and persuasion department. If anyone can talk Sengoku out of killing everyone and everything, it’s Kaiki, but it would be nice to see him struggle a bit in his initial efforts. In any case, we always dig former enemies teaming up to fight a bigger enemy.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Kimi no Iru Machi – 09

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Haruto tells Asuka about his “non-date” to FantasyLand with Rin, and she’s okay with it, but when he shows up, Yuzuki is there; Rin tricked them both into the date. They only go in briefly so Haruto can get a phone strap for Asuka. Rin admonishes him afterwords while he’s at work, and when he sees Asuka next, he lies about having seen Yuzuki, who visits him at the market to tell him she’s visiting his parents in Hiroshima. The next day Asuka is down, leading Haruto to think Rin blabbed, but it turns out she has to take care of her mother on the date they planned to go on their trip. Haruto tells her it’s fine, and they’ll make other plans.

Has Haruto’s relationship with Asuka devolved into one of obligation? Now that he’s gotten a taste of a date with Yuzuki (courtesy Rin), are his feelings starting to stray? In a word, no…not yet at least. As on-edge and dicey as things got this week, the episode still ends with Haruto on top of Asuka, again co-victims physics and their hormones – until his sister shows up at the worst possible time. Haruto may have lied to Asuka – AGAIN, the dick – this week, but he got away with it…for now. The fact remains he told Asuka he went with Rin when in truth he was with Yuzuki. Rin said she wouldn’t tell Asuka, but Haruto shouldn’t have been dumb enough to believe her and create an alternate story.

We know why he did it: telling Asuka that he met with his ex again in a date-like atmosphere wouldn’t have sat well with her at all, but let’s not forget, Asuka still trusts Haruto implicitly in addition to loving her. We think he loves her too, which is why he probably feels he’s “protecting” her by not telling the truth. But that’s bullshit; if and when Asuka gets the skinny from Rin, or finds out some other way, she’ll be hurt anyway. We’re not saying he needs to tell her everything, but he shouldn’t have to lie, and he certainly didn’t need to go out with Rin in the first place, especially when he knows what Rin is capable of vis-a-vis Yuzuki. We have a bad feeling about him returning to Hiroshima the same time the Eba sisters.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • We said before the big plans to go to Okinawa had the feeling of a (relationship) death flag. That the trip is postponed doesn’t bode well.
  • Yuzuki was oddly game about the whole date thing, seeming disappointed when they decided to part ways, then relieved when Haruto called her back.
  • We’re imagining Haruto’s manager at Lawson: “What the hell are all these ladies coming in here talking to you while you’re on the clock? SHAPE UP, KIRISHIMA. Of course, he won’t…
  • Asuka’s layered reaction to Haruto stuffing his face in her crotch was pretty fantastic! We love Asuka to bits, we just wish she had a better boyfriend…

Eureka Seven AO – 04

Ao gets assistance from Fleur and Elena and manages to destroy the secret carrier, but he crash-lands on a beach. A good samaratin rescues him and takes him to the Okinawan capital, where his sister promptly sells him out. They head to a trapar mine, where Generation Bleu and Naru are waiting for him. With the JAF on his tail, he decides to join. He wants Naru to stay with her family, but takes Noah with him. Gazelle & Co. stow away aboard the Triton.

Ao has now chosen to follow in his mother’s footsteps and pilot the Nirvash to protect his island, even if his island doesn’t like him. It may get him killed, but that’s what he feels he needs to do. This week he learned not everyone resents him, as Eureka saved many lives in the Nirvash, and many of those people remain grateful, like the good samaratin. Unfortunately his sister represented the other side; those who would sell Ao out for a quick buck or passage to the US.

As a member of Generation Bleu, Ao will be protected from all those who want him and his mecha. We can also look forward to more interations between him and the somewhat haughty and spoiled Fleur and Elena, whose senses of smug entitlement he cannot hope to match (though you neve rknow, as piloting Nirvash may go to his head too.) Personally we wish Naru was going with him to keep keep him grounded, but her mysterious illness (perhaps caused by scub coral particles) would put her at risk.


Rating: 7
 (Very Good)

Eureka Seven AO – 01

Trouble begins to brew on an Oknawan island when Ao crosses paths with a trio of smugglers led by Gazelle. Ao comes into possession of a glowing green bracelet, and suddenly a “scub coral” emerges from the ground, and a “G-monster” emerges from the sky. They eventually retreat, but return the next morning, causing widespread destruction. Worried about his adoptive grandfather and sickly friend Narau, Ao is cornered by Gazelle & Co., but refuses to relinquish the bracelet, which reminds him of his mother…

It’s comforting to know that Japan shares Americans’ apparent obsession with remakes and sequels. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and slapping the name of something well-known and well-liked will always increase its chances of success. So here we have a sequel to Eureka SeveN, six years after its first run. It was, at the time, the longest series we’d ever watched at 50 episodes, and we really enjoyed its style, its beauty, and most of its characters. We say most, because Renton Thurston really dragged the series down with his angsty, selfish, annoying behavior.

Well, Renton isn’t in this; instead we have Ao, who we gather is Eureka’s son. He doesn’t come off as whiny, and even if he’s weak, he’s willing to protect his weaker friend Naru and isn’t willing to simply hand something over simply because an adult threatens him. We like him so far, and this first episode really gave us the feeling of him suddenly being dropped into this overwhelming, perilous situation, yet maintaining his cool. This pilot also went big on the visual front: lots of stuff got Blow’d Up Real Good (clearly this series won’t be as delicate with its town as Rinne no Lagrange). There’s also a sloth, which is pretty awesome. But this first episode was merely setup: all we know is that something life-changing is going to happen to young Ao – in the next episode. Till then!


Rating: 7
 
(Very Good)


Car Cameos:
Ao’s FP closely resembles a Piaggio Ape, only it canfly, so it’s much cooler. Townsfolk flee the carnage in what looks like a late-’80s, bug-eyed Honda Acty Truck.

P.S. Sorry for the belated review, but we were on the fence about getting into this series, and finally caved – a decision we don’t regret.