Fruits Basket (2019) – 01 (First Impressions) – Anywhere Can Be Home

Honda Tooru’s backstory is almost comically tragic: her father died of an illness when she was three, and one day her mother was killed in an auto accident. The only relative who’d bring her in was her pensioner grandfather, for whom she didn’t want to be a burden.

Then his house needed months of renovations, so he told her it might be best if she moved into a friend’s house…only she felt too bad about staying at her one friend’s tiny apartment or to be another mouth to feed at her other’s. So she started living in a tent she bought on sale.

Unbeknownst to her, this tent is on private property belonging to the Souma family, one member of which, Yuki, is in her class. When they cross paths while she’s exploring her tent’s surroundings, she meets Yuki’s older cousin, Shigure.

When Yuki and Tooru walk to school together, his fan club, “Prince Yuki” aren’t having it, and give her a multi-pronged verbal attack. She’s saved by her yankee BFFs, Uotani and Hanajima, who you’ll remember, are not aware that their lovely friend is essentially homeless. But they have her back. In exchange, she helps them ace Home Ec by doing all the cooking, which she’s of course happy to do.

After school, Yuki walks with Tooru and they discuss the Zodiac (a subject first broached when she saw Shigure’s Zodiac knickknacks). In particular, Tooru voices her love of the Cat, even though it has no official place in the Chinese Zodiac. Tooru declares the Cat an “idiot” and that the math was never there for it to begin with. Before Tooru rushes off to work, Yuki tells her to look out for her health—no doubt sensing how thin she’s stretched.

After Tooru gives her appalling sad life story so far, through which she’s remained strong, upbeat, and committed to taking care of herself and burdening no one, we see her working so hard at her job that her older co-workers consider her a godsend.

Later that night, as she’s walking (or more accurately teetering) “home”—to her tent—she’s spotted by Yuki and Shigure, on a stroll of their own. That’s when she first learns she’s squatting on Souma land. Shigure can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of a high school girl living in a tent…but as Yuki says, it’s not that funny. And it isn’t! It’s heartbreaking!

It’s doubly heartbreaking because no one, not even someone as strong-willed and determined as Tooru, can go to school, keep up with her studies, and work as many jobs as she can to pay for that school, all while living in a tent. When Shigure hears a wolf howling, that indicates to him that there was a landslide nearby; possibly near her campsite.

They rush there to find her tent buried under a huge mound of earth, but because the photo of her mother is in there, she starts clawing at it, despite the fact she’s already running on fumes and about to keel over from fever and exhaustion. Shigure makes sure she’s in bed at their place while Yuki employs thousands of rats to help him dig out Tooru’s effects.

Wait…thousands of rats? What’s that about???

Before falling asleep, Tooru tells Shigure about how her mom only had a middle school diploma, and wanted her daughter to experience high school life rather than go right into the labor force. Tooru also recalls the last morning her mother was alive. She’s haunted by the fact she was studying all night and so slept in and didn’t get to say “itterasshai.” 

It was the one and only time she never said it, and that was the day she was killed in the accident. Like I said, Tooru’s story would be ridiculous if it weren’t presented to straight-forwardly and soberly. Once she’s out, Yuki admits that compared to her, he’s spoiled beyond belief.

After a dream of her mom that has her waking up with tears in her eyes, her first thought is to recover the picture, only to find Yuki outside, picture in one hand, and her other stuff in the other. He says there’s an extra bedroom on the second floor, and she’s welcome to stay there until the renovations at her grandfather’s are complete.

True to form, Tooru doesn’t want to be any trouble to them…but she isn’t. Besides, he and Shigure were just talking about how their household is in dire need of someone who is good at cooking and cleaning; Tooru likes doing those things—she even cooked for her mom! So it’s not like she’s going to be a freeloader.

All she has to do, Yuki says, is be Tooru and “go at her own pace.” That moves Tooru, because her mom said those same words to her.

It doesn’t take long for Tooru to learn that she’s not going to be the main source of trouble here, nor a source of strangeness. There’s plenty of that in the Souma family, as while they’re airing out her new room, a guy named Kyou who was lurking in a tree bursts through the ceiling and picks a fight with Yuki.

In the ensuing chaos, Tooru trips on a piece of wood and lands in Kyou’s chest in a kind of pseudo-hug. Kyou instantly transforms…into a cat. Her first thought is to rush him to a hospital, but a piece of wood falls on her head, and she falls into both Shigure and Yuki, transforming them into a dog and rat, respectively.

So there you have it; the secrets out: the Soumas are a family of animals representing the Chinese Zodiac, who normally have human form, but transform when hugged. Shigure understanding the wolves’ howling; Yuki’s inherent hatred of cats, it’s all explained. But more importantly, Tooru is no longer on her own.

There are people—strange, supernatural people, but people all the same—who have opened their home to her, and won’t hear of her roughing it any longer as she works herself into another fever. And while neither Yuki or Shigure represent a pig, their place is a mess, which is where Tooru’s skills come in. It’s a mutually beneficial situation.

I’m happy for Tooru, and can’t wait to see how her new housemates handle her discovering their secret. I may have gotten into this show nine weeks late, but it’s right up my alley, with a winning premise reminding me a lot of Kamisama Hajimemashita. Of course, that show is based on a manga first published seven years after the original anime adaptation of this show, so this has the older pedigree.

In any case, there’s a lot of warmth, moving drama, lighthearted comedy, and plenty of potential for romance here, and I’m looking forward to catching up with the rest of the anime-watching masses on what looks like one of the Spring’s consensus best.

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Dororo – 18 – Demon Shark, Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo

(Source of this post’s title here. You’re welcome ;)

This week is a clash of numerous parties with conflicting interests, first among them Crazy Shark Boy, whose shark brother Jiroumaru eats the other shark and becomes a demon with legs. Dororo seems totally hosed until Hyakkimaru arrives in the nick of time to save him.

This demon Jiroumaru is a nasty customer, but no where near the toughest Hyakki has had to deal with, and so he’s able to dispatch him without much trouble.

I love his reunion with Dororo, pinching his cheek and touching foreheads as a sign he’s glad he’s okay. Dororo’s many morphing facial expressiosn and tsundere reaction (“took you long enough!”) are all priceless. Hyakki also gains back his left leg.

With the dynamic duo back together, the next item of business is catching up with Itachi and his crew before they find and steal Hibukuro’s treasure. But they run into a snag: the entrance to the cave containing said treasure is booby trapped.

If this weren’t enough going on, a small Daigo flotilla suddenly arrives at the cove with Tahoumaru, Mutsu and Hyougou ready to wreck up the place. Dororo and Itachi put their heads together (literally), but Hyakkimaru suggests they use explosives to divert the Daigo samurai.

Itachi and what’s left of his men escape as Hyakkimaru battles Tahoumaru and Hyougou (at close range) and Mutsu (long range) at once; and before he knows it his right arm blade has been snapped off. Itachi becomes a pincushion for arrows shielding Dororo behind some Buddha statues, which Dororo accidentally topples onto advancing samurai.

If anyone held out any hope Hyakki and Tahou could work out their differences, well…hope no longer. It ain’t happening as long as the latter consider’s the former’s mere existence a threat to the people of Daigo.

Crazy Shark Boy comes back into play when he stands atop a cliff with a pile of grenades, setting them off in a final suicide blaze of glory to destroy those who killed his beautiful sharks.

The blast injures Hyougou gravely, and Tahou, Mutsu, and the Daigo samurai withdraw, while Dororo and Itachi fall into the very cavern where Hibukuro’s treasure is located. Itachi gets the glimpse he wanted, then dies with a smile on his face.

With all immediate threats either eliminated or temporarily withdrawn, Hyakki finds Dororo in the cavern, but Dororo doesn’t yet know what to do with the gold his father entrusted to him. That’s not surprising; he’s still a kid, and a kid who has never seen so much money. So he takes only as much as he can comfortably carry (for spending money), and continue his adventures with Hyakkimaru until he does.

The two arrived at that god-forsaken cove separately, but leave it together once more; a family of two, surviving the myriad dangers wrought by the greed and treachery of Itachi, the holier-than-thou hypocrisy and military precision of Tahoumaru & Co., and the pure insanity of Crazy Shark Boy (RIP). Meanwhile, Hyakki’s restored parts grow more numerous, no doubt the fortunes of Daigo will continue to fall.

Sarazanmai – 05 – A Nostalgic Scent

Not long after Haruka was born, Kazuki gleaned from his grandfather’s dying words that his mother wasn’t his biological mother, and ever since felt disconnected from the family as a non-member, despite all the love they gave him.

It’s not so much that he hated his brother, as he said last week, but he hated the whole situation of him and his brother not actually being related by blood. Why it matters so much to him that they are connected by blood, but there it is.

In the present, Toi captures Sara’s manager and escorts her away from her fan meet-up event, but finds she’s not quite human, and thus capable of transforming into a little critter who can squeeze out of any confinement.

Kazuki fares rather well as Sara’s double, at least where Haruka’s concerned, but things go pear-shaped fast when both the manager and the real Sara arrive in the hall and the former removes Kazuki’s wig. And that’s it: his secret is out. Now Haruka knows all those texts were just from him.

As all this is going on, the Otter Cop Duo wrings the desire from a man obsessed with sachets of a very specific smell, creating a new Kappa Zombie boss.

The three kappaboys do their song-and-dance, but when the Sarazanmai comes, and Kazuki’s memory of finally reuniting with his true mother in secret, the smell of her sachet he remembers is the same as the sachet Haruka always carries.

Whatever that means, the three kappaboys are ripped out of the tunnel of water, their work to extract the shirikodama still incomplete.

Keppi is so mad he can boil tea on his belly, and asserts to the boys that they won’t get their human forms back or get a dish of hope until they defeat the Sachet Zombie. Kazuki shares more about his meeting with his mother with Toi and Enta, culminating in him deciding to stay with Haruka and his non-biological parents.

Even so, before he returns to them, Haruka runs (that’s right runs on his functioning legs) to beg Kazuki to come back, fearing he’s going away. Kazuki spurns him rather harshly and walks off, but Haruka follows him…and gets hit by a car.

Now, every time Kazuki sees Haruka in his wheelchair, he’s reminded of what he did to him, and simply can’t bear it, which is why he adopted the Sara clone routine to make a faux connection with him from a safe distance. But odds are Haruka already forgave Kazuki a long time ago, and couldn’t care less if they have different mothers.

Dororo – 17 – They’re Still Eating

After a Dororo-centric episode, we switch to Hyakkimaru’s POV as he slays a demon that was about to kill the man who gave him a body, Jukai, who continues to provide the dead with limbs and eyes on the battlefield.

He embraces Hyakkimaru like long-lost family, and is amazed to learn that his former charge can now hear, talk, and feel. But he’s also somewhat scared of the person he helped to make—like a Dr. Frankenstein regarding the Modern Prometheus he hath wrought.

At first, Hyakkimaru regards this fortuitous encounter with the utmost practicality: he’s missing a leg and needs a new one, and Jukai can provide him what he needs. But Jukai would prefer it if Hyakkimaru took it easy, sat down and had a meal with his old guardian.

Even when a landslide closes the entrance to Jukai’s cave home, Hykkimaru is all business trying to open up a new hole. The demons who took everything from Hyakkimaru—with his father’s consent—are still feeding. There’s no time to waste.

Throuhgout the episode, we sometimes cut from Hyakkimaru’s time with Jukai to Tahoumaru, who both Mutsu and Hyougo agree has changed since his encounter with his older brother. Even as his mother awakens, recovered from her injuries, Tahoumaru is more concerned with the latest ghoul threat.

Taho is singularly committed to protecting his people—in other words, the best son Lord Daigo could hope for. But there’s a sadness in Mutsu and Hyougo’s reckoning of this new, colder Tahoumaru.

Even as he admits that he is well within his rights to reclaim his body, Jukai weeps over what Hyakkimaru has become as a direct result of his handiwork. He believes all he did by restoring the boy’s body is allow him to continue travelling down the River of Hell.

He is comforted when he learns that Hyakkimaru isn’t navigating that river alone—there is someone close to him, not an enemy, who can keep him human—and when Hyakkimaru calls him “mama,” well…there shouldn’t be a dry eye in the room!

Jukai doesn’t give Hyakkimaru a new leg, but he doesn’t condemn him for fighting to take back what’s his, even if it will cause great pain, suffering, and misfortune for the people of Daigo’s domain. All of this falls on Daigo’s shoulders, not Hyakkimaru’s or Tahoumaru’s or Nuinokata’s.

And yet Tahoumaru is taking up the mantle of lord of a realm whose prosperity is owed to a single young man who had no say in the matter at the time. But thanks to Jukai, Hyakkimaru does have a say. And once he tracks down Dororo at that cove, he’s no doubt going to continue contributing his “two cents.”

Dororo – 16 – Nobody Listens to Dororo

I wish that instead of a large trove of gold that continues to paint a literal target on Dororo’s back, his dad’s “lifelong ambition” could have been something as simple as giving his daughter he raised as a son a safe and comfortable life. That would have meant setting aside larger ambitions like rebelling against the samurai, but it would prevented Dororo from living such a hard life, and from being in his current predicament: captured by his dad’s former No.2, Itachi.

Itachi dug up Dororo’s mother’s remains and found half of the map, and he believes her son has the other half, if not on his back then in his head. To that end, he takes Dororo to the cove where the treasure was stashed, and makes his latest in a long line of mistakes: trusting a crazy-eyed one-armed sole survivor of a village, whose self-proclaimed family consists of two giant sharks. Did I mention he fed them his arm, and has made a habit of feeding him live humans?

Dororo warned Itachi not to trust the kid, and of course, Dororo turns out to be right. One of the two boats carrying half of Itachi’s men is capsized, and its occupants eaten by one of the sharks. He promises to return at sundown to finish off the other half, including Itachi and Dororo, and orders one of the sharks to keep watch.

Itachi—now a brigand again after being double-crossed by the samurai he double-crossed Hibukuro to join—quickly loses hope in getting out of this alive, but Dororo loudly admonishes him, using his own shit life so far as an example of the importance of keeping one’s head up and not giving up even when death seems close. Itachi notes that Dororo sounds like his old man.

If he spoke too many words “for a little runt”, Dororo decides to be the first to take action. He dives fearlessly into the sea to lure the shark guarding them, then leads him to leap up by the side of the boat where Itachi and his men are ready with swords.

It’s an audacious gambit to be sure; not sure quite how Dororo doesn’t get himself killed in six different ways, but hey, I guess that’s why he’s lived so long without parents up to this point: he’s good at surviving. Unfortunately, the sharks are often somewhat poorly drawn and animated, which blunts the impact of the action.

When the shark’s “brother” returns and finds the shark slain on the coast of the cove, he’s caught in an ambush and then viciously beaten. His life is only spared because Dororo insists, but that could prove a bad move if the guy, who is let go and vows revenge, considers Dororo to be one with the brigands who killed half his family.

Meanwhile, Itachi insists Dororo spill the beans about the exact location of the treasure. When Dororo lets slip that even if he knows where it is he doesn’t want to reveal it (believing whatever Itachi does with it beneath his father’s legacy) Itachi has him stripped down and learns that he’s biologically a she. The heat of the fire then reveals the map on Dororo’s back, and Itachi traces it and heads off with his men, leaving Dororo tied up.

Where is Hyakkimaru in all this? While he sees the trail Itachi’s horses made, his makeshift leg slows him considerably. So it’s fortuitous he comes across a stranger who tells him there’s someone around who makes new limbs for those who have lost them. That’s right: Jukai’s back. Assuming Dororo and Hyakkimaru remain separated most if not all of next week, I suspect Hyakkimaru will be reuniting with the man who first gave him a functional life—the closest thing to a father he ever had.

YU-NO – 01 (First Impressions) – Time is Reversible but Cliches are Innumerable

Howdy, and welcome to the Spring 2019! Our first entry is YU-NO, a bright, brisk show about an easygoing orphaned high school dude named Arima Takuya who is suddenly tangled up in all this curious business of time travel, parallel universes, and various other things he did not expect, including the discovery that his folks aren’t dead after all.

Takuya is a bit of a cad, acting as both quasi-casanova and class clown. He has a jovial sidekick who calls him “boss.” He draws both the ire and likely fancy of the class idol, Shimazu Mio (an always welcome Kugimiya Rie). His hot teacher wears an outfit perhaps better suited for…not school.

His guardian, whom I’m guessing is his older sister, cousin, or aunt judging by the same last name, is in charge of some kind of construction project. His dad, a researcher believed to have died in a cave, is survived by his colleague Ryuzoji, whom I immediately suspected was a bad guy due to his suite and beard. Oh, and Ryuzoji’s secretary used to teach at Takuya’s school, and they may have slept together in the past. Neat!

The episode starts with Takuya interacting with one attractive woman after another, establishing the various players I saw on the promo art. Perhaps that was a mistake, but the fact his interactions feel so regimented lends each of the female characters a kind of mysterious significance anyway.

When Takuya gets home, the tangling begins, with a mysterious package arriving in the mail containing a weird relic of the type Ryuzoji was looking for, followed by a call on the phone with no one on the other end. If that isn’t enough weirdness for one evening, Takuya switches on the news and a strange lightning strikes very near his guardian when she’s giving an interview.

Takuya rushes to her, and she’s fine, but also encounters his sidekick and Shimazu, who have just finished investigating the shrine near the construction site. They all encounter a blue-haired girl in their school uniform—no doubt the transfer student his sexy teacher mentioned—and this student, Hatano Kanna, warns Takuya both there and the next day after her intro to the class to convince his guardian to cancel all construction at the site, warning that it’s “dangerous.”

That’s a pretty vague warning to someone who is not directly responsible for the construction site, but that night, Takuya gets another mystery package that contains a weird book labeled “Parallel World Constitutive Theorem” and “Reflector Device Construction” containing a drawing of this weird relic thing, and a letter form his dad telling him to go to the shrine at a certain time with the device.

Takuya does as the letter instructs, and there he finds a naked blonde young woman with fairy-like ears who only says one thing to him—”Yu-no”—before kissing him and then de-materializing into glow-dust. Takuya is rightly a bit freaked out by this series of events!

They only get stranger, as both his guardian and Ryuzoji appear at the site, only for Ryuzoji to pull a gun on Takuya and demand he hand over the device, as it enables its bearer the ability to “cross Neumann space.” His dad intended it for him, but I guess Ryuzoji has other plans? In any case he has a beard so he’s bad news.

Fortunately, more weird gold lightning strikes, and one of the bolts hits Takuya while he’s holding the device. Instead of getting fried, he’s shot through some kind of tunnel in spacetime, travels through various twisted  hyper-dimensional pathways, and spat out right where he began. Only, as he learns when he returns to school to find both his guardian safe and sound and a cheerful, gun-less Ryuzoji, he appears to have traveled a day into the past. Dun-dun-dunnnnn!

If this introductory episode left me with a bunch of questions, it’s because it wanted it to be that way. That’s fine, as we’re closely following the MC, who’s as much in the dark as we are, especially when Ryuzoji starts blurting out weird lingo. That said, there were an awful lot of familiar cliches that didn’t really bring much to the table. It’s all very by-the-numbers and didn’t once ‘wow’ me. I’ll at least give this another week to see where this goes, but color me unimpressed so far…

Dororo – 09 – Not Letting The War Win

Dororo has never not known war, and it has taken everything from him but his life. But even that is threatened when he suddenly collapses with an apparent fever. Hyakkimaru has to carry him to find help, and eventually comes upon a kind priestess who takes them into the temple for Dororo to recover.

After a couple of lighthearted episodes—one in which the ghoul-of-the-week turns out to be not so bad, and one in which a boy and his big sis survive—the “party is over” this week, as we’re told the heart-wrenching tale of how Dororo became an orphan, and why he clings so close to Hyakkimaru and fears being left behind.

On two occasions, Dororo spots red spider lilies, which he hates, because they remind him of when his mama died in a field of them.

Dororo’s father Hibukuro was a big, strong leader of a band of brigands who unusually only targeted samurai, seeking retribution on those who destroyed their village. His mother Ojiya was his strong, kind wife. But it doesn’t take long to see that an age as cruel as the one in which they live wouldn’t allow such an arrangement to last for long.

Hibukuro is good at killing and good at bringing men to his side, but when his band gets strong enough, his right-hand man Itachi suggests they make a deal with a lord. It’s the smart, pragmatic move; one that has the best chance of ensuring the survival of his family. But neither of Dororo’s parents are willing to turn to the lords ever again…and young Dororo follows their lead.

Predictably, Itachi betrays them by making a deal with the samurai, who end up filling Hibukuro’s legs with arrows. Itachi takes the band for himself, leaving the wounded Hibukuro and his family to scavenge fields of the dead for scraps of food. Itachi and his treahery represented a natural element to this world, and Hibukuro and Ojiya simply lacked the pragmatism that would have enabled them to survive.

If he hadn’t betrayed them, Hibukuro’s stubbornness would have doomed him again anyway…and it does, when they happen upon another village the samurai are preparing to burn. One of them recognizes Hibukuro’s signature pole sword and seeks revenge for his fallen friends.

Hibukuro has an epic death by bear-hugging and impaling the man who impaled him, but the end result is that Ojiya and Dororo are now all on their own. You can see the moment Ojiya knows they’re somehow even more screwed than they were a minute ago, and their margin of survival henceforth is that much smaller.

It’s something of a miracle the samurai let Ojiya and Dororo go free, and we know from Dororo telling Mio that Ojiya never sold her body for money or food. But when she hears that samurai are handing out free soup, she gets in line, something she and her husband might not have done before things got so dire.

She’s even willing to cut in line, hold out her hands, and have the scalding soup poured in her hands (she has no bowl) so that Dororo can eat. And Itachi is there, in his fancy clothes, comfy with the lord, basically telling her “I told you so.” Dororo throws a rock at him—perhaps for the first time—but Itachi catches it easily.

When we see the mother and child walking slowly through a field of those damned red spider lilies (the show’s profound artistry on full display this week as usual), I knew that was going to be the end of Ojiya’s tether. She collapses from starvation, can’t get back up, and the life drains from her eyes as Dororo begs her not to, promising he won’t tell her he’s hungry anymore. It’s a brutal gut punch.

Time and time again, right until the moment of her death, Dororo’s mother told him not to let the war beat him, even though it claimed her and his father. When he recovers from his fever, we learn he had told the priestess this entire story. Thanks to her ministrations, he can keep going, keep fighting against the war that’s taken almost everything.

But as he continues his journey with Hyakkimaru, Dororo realizes when he smells his freshly-cleaned clothes that those clothes had to have been removed at some point. And the priestess told Hyakkimaru how difficult it must be to travel with “such a young girl.” That’s when I learned for the first time (I never watched the original show): Dororo is a girl.

The hints were there: her button-cute appearance, girlish eyelashes, and the fact she was voiced by a girl and not a boy. And surely it’s smart to dress as a guy and not a girl when you’re all alone in a cruel, merciless world like this. Now Hyakkimaru knows the truth, and I’m eager to see how that’ll change their dynamic as he continues to develop his voice.

Unfortunately, the days they still have to travel the lands together in search of ghouls and fortune may soon be interrupted by more huge developments: one of Daigo’s spies has informed him of a midwife who put a limbless infant in the river, and young warrior with prosthetic arms. Tahoumaru overhears as well. Soon, Hyakkimaru, the instrument of Daigo’s mounting misfortunes (due to the demons losing his parts one by one) will be the crosshairs of his father and younger brother.

And while Dororo is a capable fighter and thief, she’s far from invincible, as we’ve learned from the times Hyakkimaru has had to rescue her, including the first time he did. Like Hibukuro, the day may come when he’ll have to choose whether to fight those who have forsaken him, or focus on protecting Dororo. More limbs and senses, more problems…

Domestic na Kanojo – 04 – This Is How It Should Be…Right?

Deciding they can’t just hole up at Natsuo’s friend’s house, Natsuo and Rui spend the better part of half this episode stalking Hina, but coming up with absolutely nothing. They even steal her phone while she’s in the bath so Rui can try to imitate her sister’s voice and break up with Shuu. It all fails. But then something fortuitous happens: Hina and Shuu come to them, at the very cafe where Natsuo’s friend works and where Natsuo and Rui are discussing their next steps.

Things accelerate quickly, as Natsuo comes right out and demands Shuu end it. Shuu is non-committal, and when he tells Hina he still needs more time before he can divorce his wife, Rui throws a glass of water in Shuu’s face and runs off. Natsuo catches up to her, to be a shoulder to cry on. This whole process of confronting Hina’s affair has definitely brought Natsuo and Rui closer together. Neither of them are happy with how things turned out, and both are in agreement that they want Shuu out of the picture.

Ultimately, however, it’s up to Hina to make the choice. Shuu seems fine with the status quo being maintained indefinitely, where he’s with both women and doesn’t have to take responsibility one way or the other. The next morning, Rui’s eyes are puffy from crying all night, and doesn’t speak to Hina when she suggests they go shopping together for a birthday gift for their mom.

Natsuo, meanwhile, is off to visit his mother’s grave. We get a flashback to ten years ago: Natsuo was in first grade, and a crybaby. Worried about, well, worrying his mom once she passes away, he resolves not to cry, even at the funeral where it’s expected. He wishes she were still alive, and wonders how life would be if that were so.

Then he’s surprised to find Hina and Rui join him at the grave. They’ve come to formally introduce themselves to his mom and give offerings. Hina also informs Natsuo that she’s broken up with Shuu. Natsuo is delighted, and Rui is beaming. Hina even says she’s been thinking about doing it anyway due to Shuu’s half-year-long reluctance to leave his wife.

What stopped her from leaving him was her genuine love for him…but ultimately family came first. She couldn’t go on with Shuu knowing it made them so unhappy. The show seems to be taking Natsuo and Rui’s side in this instance, but will things really be that simple as Hina pulling the plug? And what of Shuu’s observation that Hina doesn’t seem to treat Natsuo like a kid? I forsee more potholes on the road of familial bliss. This is a drama, after all—not…some kind of…“constantly happy times-having” show…

Domestic na Kanojo – 03 – The Scary Realm of Adults

Natsuo visits his best friend at the cafe where he works, and describes the incident with Hina and her boyfriend last night. His friend diagnoses Natsuo as jealous, and he can relate. He observes women stuck in non-ideal or flat-out bad relationships at the cafe all the time, and jokingly(?) wishes they’d just break up and date him. Like the young “office lady” who is in an affair with a married man. His friend later spots that woman outside, and to Natsuo’s shock, it’s Hina.

Not only is Hina doing something morally questionable by sleeping with someone else’s husband, but she’s doing something contrary to Natsuo’s perfect ideal of her up to that point. Like catching her crying on the rooftop and then watching her drink herself to sleep, it’s another crack in that facade.

When he confronts her at home, she kindly tells him to stay out of her business, as she dwells within the world of adults where kids like him shouldn’t set foot, and that’s basically that. Then Natsuo kisses her, she shoves him back, slaps him, then kisses him back.

Before Natsuo knows it, he’s being pushed onto the bed by Hina, but she stops when she sees his eyes, which she immediately detects as those of a child. He may have thought his stolen kiss was bold and cool, but she can sense his fear now that she’s responded to it.

With that, she gets off of him and shows him the door. It may have been harsh, but Hina is right that her business is her own, and she gave him fair warning not to stray into it. Also, Natsuo initiated with the kiss. That being said, she doesn’t feel good about having but Natsuo in his place. Indeed, she feels like shit/

The next day Natsuo’s father finds a note from him saying he’s gone to his friend’s house for a couple days. Pops and his wife quickly assume it’s a move protesting the marriage, but Rui knows better why Natsuo left, and Hina’s not great at hiding from Rui that she knows as well.

Natsuo moulders away in his friend’s room, not even moving for the entirety of a cafe shift. But as luck would have it, Natsuo is looking out the window when Rui walks past, clearly looking for someone. They meet eyes and he meets her downstairs, and his friend’s mom invites them in.

Rui isn’t copying Natsuo, she’s simply “boycotting” Hina’s affair, much like Natsuo, if for different reasons. One reason they share is that they both had a higher idea of who Hina is, and she’s letting them down with her adultery, and if she wants her little sister and stepbrother in her life, she’ll have to make a difficult choice.

After a strategy session with Natsuo’s friend , he and Rui return to a dark house where their folks are considering signing divorce papers. Such is the result of Natsuo and Rui not telling their folks what’s actually troubling them; they make the most obvious assumption based on the little they’ve been given.

Natsuo and Rui reassure their folks they don’t oppose the marriage, but don’t tell them why they ran away from home. They’re back now, and willing to endure one more awkward day with Hina until they set their plan into motion. We’ll see if the show leans more toward their side, even as it’s offered little hints that explain, if not entirely justify, Hina’s behavior.

She likes this guy, wants to be with him, and wants to make it legit by having him divorce. She feels things neither Rui nor Natsuo have ever felt, and thus dismisses their concerns out of hand in addition to looking down on them as simple kids. I wonder if some compromise or middle ground can be found.

Musings:

  • Natsuo’s pal puts the pieces together pretty fast that Hina’s affair is what triggered Rui into sleeping with Natsuo. Rui doesn’t really mind Natsuo telling his friend, as he doesn’t attend their school.
  • I like how we get a little snapshot of Natsuo’s friend’s family life. Everyone wears glasses there, his mom is really nice, and his sister is eager to see him with a girlfriend.
  • That said, Natsuo’s friend’s boss at the cafe was…uh…something.
  • Speaking of parents, Natsuo’s pops and Rui’s mom really are kind and generous people who’d put their happiness aside for their kids’ sake.
  • Who else thought Hina was going to take it further after ripping Natsuo’s shirt open? Yikesy…

Domestic na Kanojo – 02 – Not So Strange After All

When Rui interrupts Natsuo’s kiss, she silently judges him as she roughly drags her sister to her bedroom. In retrospect, kissing an unconscious Hina definitely wasn’t his finest moment, even if it was a kiss meant to put a lid on his crush on her now that they’re step-siblings.

The next day at school, a late, bed-headed Natsuo learns that Rui has transferred to his school, and she’s immediately the talk of the school due to her being cute. Natsuo isn’t clear enough with his words, and gets Rui to think he wants them to act like strangers.

But the mere fact they went off into the courtyard together to have a private chat is suspicious enough to Natsuo’s classmates, who are well aware both he and Rui snuck out of the mixer together. When he meets with Hina, she asks if she kissed him while she was drunk last night, and apologizes in advance if she’s too “relaxed” at home again.

Rui was surrounded by girls in the morning, but by afternoon she’s all alone; Natsuo knows something’s up and has a pretty good idea: Rui is socially awkward, standoffish and fairly tactless. It’s as difficult for her to make and keep friends as it is easy for her big sister.

Natsuo offers to help her by pretending to be a (girl) classmate, and Rui is still her usual self-defeatingly honest self, but the two end up engaged in a dialogue that soon captures the attention of the entire class, who think some kind of skit is going on. Suddenly, Rui doesn’t seem so hard to approach, now that they know who they’re dealing with.

That night, a nude Natsuo predictably walks in on Rui in the bath, but thank goodness for once it doesn’t result in a blood-curdling scream and/or punch. As Rui quite logically points out, there’s nothing he or she haven’t seen before (interesting considering she once said to “forget” their tryst ever happened).

Rather than send him out, Rui calmly invites him in, and it’s Natsuo who hesitates. First of all, she wants to thank him for giving her a helping hand in breaking the ice with her class. But she’s also curious about why he tried to kiss Hina.

At first she dismissed him as an indiscriminate womanizer, but spending the day at school changed her mind about that. So instead, she wonders if he was merely trying to cheer her up in light of her recent boyfriend troubles.

Obviously, Natsuo doesn’t know about Hina’s boyfriend troubles. After the three step-siblings have dinner alone together when their newlywed folks go out for dinner (with Rui emerging as the best cook of the sisters by far), Natsuo brings up the subject, and Hina just as quickly deflects.

In a spot of bad timing, her boyfriend Shuu calls and she goes out to the front of the house to talk to him, insisting Natsuo not go outside with her. Nearly a half-hour later she rushes in, shaking and clearly upset, but still refuses to admit to Natsuo that she’s hurting.

Then there’s a knock at the door and the doorbell rings repeatedly, and both Hina and Natsuo assume its Shuu. Rui ends up the one to get the door, and it’s just their folks, a little tipsy from celebrating their marriage becoming official.

In his first days as stepbrother to both Rui and Hina, Natsuo is already trying to help them with their troubles. Rui will probably be fine with making friends in class, but Hina’s problems will be tougher to tackle, especially since she’s so reluctant to be helped (and she’s well within her rights, as an adult, to not want to seek help from a kid).

Regardless of whether he can help Hina, the fact is Natsuo’s new family and living situation is not nearly as crazy as the initial premise indicated. Whatever he may have done with Rui in the past, and however he feels about Hina, a new and powerful element has been introduced to his relationships with both: he’s unconditionally there for them, and doubtless they’re there for him.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 01 (First Impressions) – Voice of Destiny

Three years ago the Disas invaded Earth, but thanks to a treaty with the Spirit Realm, nine select human girls were transformed into Magical Girls. Four were killed defeating the Disas, and five remained…and went their separate ways.

The ostensible leader of the Magical Girls, one Ootorii Asuka, lives her life as a normal high school student, though whenever she sees any kind of animal mascot, she thinks back to the bad old days. Magical trappings aside, Asuka is a traumatized combat veteran trying to move on from the horrors she experienced.

But at school, she’s the cool mysterious transfer student. She stands out by dint of her physique and apparent aloofness. And when her classmates are accosted in the street, she rushes to their aid…and has to remember not to kill the guy.

The beneficiaries of small act of heroism, Nozomi and Sayoko, thank Asuka and announce their intention to befriend her. Nozomi wants her to join track since she’s in great shape; Sayoko wants her to join the lit club because she sees her reading.

But while Sayoko reads because she loves it, Asuka does it to escape; to keep her mind busy so it doesn’t go back to those bad old times of blood, sweat, and tears. When her guardian Iizuka arrives to tell her about a new squad being assembled, she passes on his offer without hesitation.

Back when she was in middle school, she came home to find two Disas had already killed her parents and were prepared to “give them back” to her one piece at a time, which is why Iizuka ended up her guardian.

Her takeaway was that while she fought to save the world, those around her suffered and died. Now that she has two new adorable friends, she doesn’t want history to repeat itself. Of course, Asuka she puts it, despite all the effort she’s put in to escape her past, battles keep finding her, because “a Magical Girl’s battle never ends”.

Whether it was a minor incident like the asshole who shoved Nozomi (who dared to call him out on his assholery), or an escaped terrorist leader and his kill squad with Sayoko in the crossfire, when duty calls, she’ll always answer. Once a Magical Girl, always a Magical Girl.

While Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is almost painfully straightforward in its premise, the Disas are super goofy-looking, and the show lacks anything resembling originality, I found Asuka’s emotionally-wounded vet profile resonant, and the show is crisply designed and animated and accompanied by a cool Square Enix JRPG-style soundtrack.

The idea of Magical Girls moving on to more conventional military operations after the Magical enemy has gone is also intriguing, as Asuka is not alone and we’ll soon see what became of the other four of the Magical Five. Both the bloody action and the lighter school life scenes are executed with aplomb. Definitely entertaining enough to stick with for now.

Bloom Into You – 10 – Holding Back

Koyomi’s script is complete, but she’s loath to hand it over to Yuu, since it’s her first. After taking possession, Yuu makes copies and gives one to Touko, who will play the main role of a woman with amnesia being told what kind of person she is by a friend, a family member, and a lover.

The only problem is they have three completely different ideas about who she is, creating a conundrum. After last week’s shed-anigans, Yuu breaks off from Touko to walk home with her friends, leading Touko to wonder if she’s being avoided because took things too far.

Touko also finds it pretty scary how Koyomi was able to craft a role that fits her so well: that of the “empty girl.” As for the other roles, Yuu plays her nurse, Maki her younger brother, and Doujima her friend. Sayaka plays her lover, which was designed to be a girl—another element of the play inadvertently drawn from life.

Touko also uses the student council meeting to announce a three-day, two-night study camp during the approaching summer break, at the school lodge designated for such things. While Touko is tutoring Yuu over donuts, she admits she’s considered “holding back” a little more, and not just due to the fact they’ll be sleeping in the same room in the lodge.

It’s that Touko doesn’t want Yuu to come to hate her. Yuu tells her she doesn’t have to worry about, but is also happy she worried. She later calls Touko by her name (with a -senpai added on), but apparently too quietly for Touko to hear. Touko also eats the donut Yuu wanted, once more showing how she has all the initiative in their relationship.

Yuu seems to want to initiate something—anything—but just can’t; not due to lack of enthusiasm for spending time with Touko. It’s almost like she’s afraid to lose the excuse of always being led around by the nose or taken advantage of. Not to mention, what if she proposes something to Touko and it’s rejected? Or perhaps more frightening, what if it’s accepted?

Much to Yuu’s surprise, Touko makes good on her promise to take things down a notch, by not calling or even texting Yuu the first days of Summer break. Yuu instead keeps busy by playing video games, minding the store, and one day, hanging out with her middle school friend and former softball teammate Natsuki. That Yuu isn’t hanging out with Touko irks Yuu’s late-to-rise sister Rei, who finds such a situation to be “dull”, even if their mother is oblivious.

Yuu may think she hasn’t changed, but all it takes is a day with her for Natsuki to conclude otherwise. Specifically, she always admired and sometimes envied Yuu’s ability to tolerate any situation or hardship—i.e. not crying after a tough loss. But after hearing Yuu go on so much about her senpai in the student council, Natsuki can tell she’s finally become “invested” in something, or rather someone.

Natsuki considered asking Yuu to join her at her high school and join the softball team there…and knew Yuu would say yes, but decided against it. While she misses Yuu, she’s glad her “hands are full” with something. Of course, Yuu doesn’t necessarily take Natsuki’s insights to heart, but that doesn’t mean they’re not spot on!

Shift to Touko, having a quiet dinner with her family, talking about her impending study camp for the play. Her father, unbidden to anyone, tells her “she doesn’t have to do this,” referring to putting on a play like her sister did. Touko quickly excuses herself—she’s doing what she wants to do, not what she thinks she needs to.

One thing she needs after that exchange is to hear Yuu’s voice, so after starting and cancelling various texts and staring at her phone, she finally closes her eyes and hits “call”…and Yuu answers. They talk about their days, and as they do, Touko says she knows, deep down, Yuu “doesn’t really care” about what’s going on with her, which couldn’t be less true.

Yuu may sound “indifferent” over the phone, but her body language on her bed—alert, smiling, hugging a pillow, playfully peddling her feet—tells a different story. Touko may not know it, but Yuu isn’t just a nurse dispassionately looking out for her. She’s invested. Her happiness is starting to tie into Touko’s. She appreciates Touko holding back, but doesn’t want her to do so too much.

Which is what makes the post-credit sequence with Touko so goshdarn heartbreaking. Book-ending a cold open in which Touko mentioned she was having “dreams of the past”, in what Sayaka says is simply Touko “dreaming about herself in the midst of remembering something.”

In this case, Touko dreams of hanging out with her big sister on the couch. Their mother asks one of them to go out to buy more tea; they play rock-paper-scissors and her sister loses, so she goes out…and never comes back. Touko nods off while awaiting her return, but wakes up to the chilling sound of sirens.

Then she wakes up in real life, pulls out a photo of her family with her sister, and voices again, out loud, her resolve to become her sister. There’s no “like” in there—she’s talking complete transformation with nothing remaining of whoever Nanami Touko was before her sister’s death. Assuming it’s even possible (or appropriate) for someone to dissuade Touko from such a goal, Yuu certainly has her work cut out for her. Hell, it sure left me in tears…

Bunny Girl Senpai – 10 – Damn You, You’re Too Awesome!!

Nodoka prepares for the second day of commercial filming by watching DVDs of her sister in action, including a horror movie, which seems apt; body-swapping carries its own kind of horror, and she’s essentially wearing her big sister’s skin!

The prospect of screwing up similarly fills Nodoka with dread, but after twelve takes she does eventually get the job done.  When Mai calls her, she gives the phone to Sakuta, still not ready to talk to the person she’s made out to be her nemesis. But Mai tells Sakuta to congratulate her nonetheless; it can’t be easy to do your big sister’s job…especially if you come into it not believing you can do it from the start.

As for little sisters, Kaede has seen enough pretty girls pass through the doors of their apartment to start thinking like someone who knows that at some point they have to start going outside again. Putting on her school uniform is a small but meaningful first step on that path, and it’s good to see she’s not just some static mascot of a character. Like Futaba, her own story has been subtly maintained.

Nodoka’s personal horror movie inludes a banshee of a mother who confronts “Mai” to cease harboring her daughter; Nodoka-as-Mai truthfully replies that she’s doing no such thing (since she’s at Sakuta’s…but she wisely leaves him out of the equation).

Mai gives Sakuta and Nodoka tickets to her latest gig in Nodoka’s body, but before that Sakuta has a rare meeting with his Dad. When Kaede became a shut-in, their mother apparently had some kind of breakdown of her own (it’s kept pretty vague). It was serious enough for their father to have to basically choose between continuing to live with his kids, or taking care of their mother full-time and trusting that Sakuta will be able to take care of himself and Kaede.

While at a family restaurant (fitting), Sakuta gleans fresh insight into his Dad; specifically how completely frazzled clueless he was upon his son’s birth. Sakuta says “all of the above” in response to Nodoka’s choices of “love, hate, piss you off, are annoying” as how he feels about his parents. Clearly a part of him has concluded that if he’s able to run a household with his little sister and solve cases involving one girl after another, he can’t really rag on his folks that much.

As for the Sweet Bullet gig, Mai-as-Nodoka is flawlesss, a testament to her consummate professionalism, attention to detail. Hell, she even saves the group leader’s ass when she trips by catching her mic and continuing to sing her part without missing a beat. Her performance is rewarded by the announcement she’ll be singling lead for the next song they release.

Nodoka and Sakuta watch, utterly enthralled. After the concert, Nodoka’s mom is among those who “high-fives” Mai-as-Nodoka, and she smiles, tears up, and congratulates her, things she never did to Nodoka-as-Nodoka. Nodoka demands to go to the beach, and starts striding into the sea, believing she isn’t needed by anyone anymore.

Sakuta stops her, and assures her that’s not the case: if anything happened to her, Mai would be sad, and Sakuta can’t have that. Nodoka doubts him, but he assures her it’s true, and furthermore knows it’s true, especially after looking into the forbidden cabinet at Mai’s place.

He shows Nodoka the box in that cabinet, which contains every single letter Nodoka wrote to her big sis, from before they knew they were sisters. Mai’s always treasured them because they gave her courage and strength knowing someone specific (as opposed to the other faceless masses) was cheering her on.

It was thanks to Nodoka that Mai even started enjoying her work. Mai appears (it is her apartment they’re in) to thank her sister. Nodoka comes back with a tirade about how it’s “too late” since Mai managed to get her mother to smile and approve, and get her own lead singing gig before her.

In response Mai slaps not Nodoka, but Sakuta (since Mai has a shoot tomorrow  and she doesn’t want to risk marring her face). She describes how Nodoka’s Mom’s hands were trembling when she held hers; how she could tell her mom was uneasy about whether her daughter was truly happy; seeing her perform so well all but confirmed she was.

Nodoka asks why her Mom never said anything, but unlike, say, Sakuta’s Dad at the restaurant, parents are always loath to tell their kids how uneasy they feel about raising them, and about whether they’re doing it right. Mai’s solution for Nodoka, as the sisters embrace, is to make her mother happy doing something she wants to do, not just what she’s told. To show that she can stand on her own, without direction, and shine. Seto Asami does a tremendous job voicing Nodoka through Mai in the emotionally cathartic scene.

The sisters now sufficiently made up, their bodies switch back to normal like the snapping of a soap bubble, before Sakuta’s eyes. Later, Futaba posits that Nodoka’s believed need to “be like her big sister” resulted in the swap (possibly through a variant of quantum teleportation), while Mai changed her appearance to Nodoka, out of momentary jealousy.

As for Sakuta, he’s just happy he can be lovey-dovey with the real Mai. But two new obstacles threaten that desire. One, Nodoka moves in with Mai (she got in another fight with her Mom, but hey—that’s what family does sometimes; it’s not the end of their relationship, she just wanted a change—and the little matter of Nodoka-as-Mai being photographed with Sakuta by her side by a photographer. Now there’s buzz out there that Mai Has A Boyfriendsomething Mai calls a “slight problem.”

But I agree with her assessment; it’s not as huge an emergency as a bout of Adolescence Syndrome (the next case of which looks to finally focus on Kaede next week), nor a rift between sisters that was just amicably closed. She and Sakuta are a strong, dependable, shrewd couple. They’ll get through it!