Sonny Boy – 12 (Fin) – Don’t Say Goodbye…

Sonny Boy’s finale begins boldly, with what amounts to a stirring five-minute music video. We follow Nagara, who has slipped right back into his usual existence. Things are so normal, he sometimes wonders if he was ever really adrift in the first place.

Notably absent from Nagara’s high school is Mizuho, whom Nagara looks up and waits outside her school’s gates, only for her to not have any idea who he is. You and I know how much Nagara grew while adrift with Mizuho, Nozomi, and Asakaze, and yet this world seems almost cruelly intent on keeping him isolated and alone.

His present existence back in his original world lies in stark contrast to the surreal, beautiful, and fantastical journey he and Mizuho undertake to get back to a world they’re certain hasn’t changed, even if they have. They tie themselves together, run out of the space elevator, and keep running, even when God tries to stop them. Asakaze bids them farewell, unable to follow even though there’s nothing left for him there.

The flashback to Nagara and Mizuho’s escape serves as a bridge between Nagara’s post-return life and Mizuho’s. Mizuho notes that “everything is gone” from the two-years-plus they were drifting. While Nagara has a part-time job, Mizuho spends her evenings sneaking into their old school and breaking a glass. But a cat doesn’t come delivering a new one; it just stays broken. That’s as it should be…so why is it so sad?

At least we learn that Mizuho was simply messing with Nagara when she pretended not to know him; maybe it was just that seeing him again got her old defenses up. And yet these two people who suddenly find themselves strangers in a simultaneously recognizable and unrecognizable world can’t help but spend time together, basking in both that contradiction and in the knowledge that the two of them are different from everyone else in terms of where they’ve been and what they’ve seen.

There’s a elegiac quality to their interaction, like they were the last surviving members of their unit in some long-finished war. Yet Nagara can’t help but worry that one day he’ll forget what he and Mizuho are feeling right now, and go adrift all over again. Before they part, possibly for good, Mizuho tells him as long as a part of him is still on that island, he’ll be fine. They’ll both be fine.

The episode ends with a third music video, focusing on Nozomi, but wordlessly, until we cut to Nagara preparing to inspect a bird’s nest at the station, only to find Nozomi has already rescued a surviving chick. Nozomi recognizes Nagara from middle school, but unlike him and Mizuho seems to have no other memories of their time in those other dimensions.

Ultimately, Nagara seems fine with that, and fine with the fact Nozomi quickly runs to another guy who I believe is Asakaze. It would seem that by dying in that world, Nozomi’s existence transferred to this one…or something. No matter; I too am glad she’s still alive, bringing light and energy to dark and sullen places.

What I’m not glad about is that this spells the end of Sonny Boy…or at least it should. This just felt like such a wonderfully self-contained and authoritative twelve episodes, my urge for a sequel is tempered. Like Nagara back in his home dimension, everything that should happen will happen.

Higehiro – 07 – What Then?

It’s telegraphed from the beginning of the episode: someone who knows Sayu (or is working for them) has found her. There’s no other reason a suspicious black car would keep showing up at the konbini where she works, and Sayu is right to be weary. After all, she’s committed to working towards a future for herself, but hasn’t had enough time to figure out what that might be. Simply going home now would solve nothing.

This week marks the return of Mishima, whom I castigated for literally stalking Yoshida the last time we saw her, but the more I think about it, the more she’s the most realistic of the bunch. She invites herself to lunch with Gotou to express her frustration with her supervisor’s boss: if she’s in love with Yoshida, why is she just sitting around when Sayu could “take” Yoshida from them any day?

Gotou says she simply doesn’t see the point of artificially forcing anything with her and Yoshida. If it happens, it happens, but she’s not going to pretend she can control the feelings of others. Mishima says flat out that Gotou is simply scared to stick her neck out, while she’s far more scared of losing what she could’ve had because she didn’t do anything.

Neither Mishima nor Gotou are presented as the person with the “correct” philosophy…and that’s okay! Anybody who says they have all the answers is trying to sell you something. But Mishima is determined to try her way, and so asks, nay, demands Yoshida’s contact info. Yoshida is taken aback, because he doesn’t consider himself “attractive enough” to be worth giving his contact info for no special reason.

At this Mishima snaps at him for deciding everything by his standards, including his own appeal. She says he has a bad habit of doing what he wants to do while convincing himself its for the sake of others. Then she confesses her love for him (“a little”) and texts him a request to go out for a movie when Sayu isn’t making something special for dinner. He texts back a sheepish “sure”, which lifts Mishima’s spirits.

The next day when Yoshida is off work, he’s just kind of sitting around while Sayu cleans around him. He offers to help, and she pushes him into his bed, tripping in the process and landing on him. Their resulting position is lovingly drawn and lit the way a romantic scene would, and Sayu lingers there before Yoshida asks her to take the wet rag off his shoulder.

After this awkward scene that appears to play right into Mishima’s worst fear —that Sayu has the inside track on winning Yoshida’s heart—Sayu decides to go through a box of stuff in his closet (with his okay…but it’s still hella random!) and finds his high school yearbook, along with a photo of him and his gorgeous senpai girlfriend.

I for one am willing to give both parties the benefit of the doubt regarding the bed incident, but then Yoshida starts talking about how that girlfriend called him “clingy” and that she didn’t want somebody who cared about him so much. Again his standards come through, as he tells Sayu it’s only natural to care about someone, to want them to smile and be happy, and to be the one who makes that happen. Sayu mutters “what about me?”, but Yoshida doesn’t hear (naturally).

Back at work at the konbini, Sayu ends up sharing a shift with her former attempted rapist, which is never something you want. When the mysterious guy in the black Lexus comes in and reveals he’s Sayu’s big brother (and clearly loaded), Yaguchi tells Sayu to hide in the break room and then covers for her.

While I appreciate the show’s dedication to showing the good and bad in people, I really didn’t need this guy performing a remotely redemptive act, and it frankly sours the whole scene, especially when Sayu thanks him. Now, if he actually owned up to what he actually did and earnestly apologized, maybe I’d feel a bit different…but probably not!

As for Ogiwara Kazuto, well…it’s interesting that this President and CEO of Ogiwara Foods is Sayu’s brother and not a parent. I’d also guess he’s about Yoshida’s age. The look on Sayu’s face when she realizes who he was was, and then upon realizing that she may not get to decide when she goes home, is heartbreaking. I’m hoping Kazuto is reasonable and doesn’t just drag her into the car, but Sayu ran far, far away from these people, so all bets are off.

Higehiro – 06 – Doing the Best We Can

Trigger Warning: This episode contains a scene of attempted rape.

With Sayu now working a part-time job, it was only a matter of time before the show’s first truly unsavory character reared their ugly head. Yaguchi Kyouya is that character, and to call him “unsavory” is putting it all too lightly. Just because he and Sayu slept together a few times, he believes he’s entitled not only to know where she lives now, but to sleep with her whenever he wants.

Yaguchi is a truly detestable scumbag in the SAO tradition of scumbag villains: a guy specially formulated to be loathed with extreme prejudice. There are moments when his presence in this show is so out-of-place compared to all the caring, compassionate, and protective people around Sayu, he feels like a caricature.

Lest I forget: Yaguchi and men like him who took what they could from Sayu and then discarded her are not only a crucial part of this story, but all too common in real life. Yaguchi shows no regard for Sayu’s agency or choices, blows past all personal boundaries, lies to her face about “just wanting to talk.” And the worst of it? When he attempts to rape her, she puts everything on herself, fearing the consequences to Yoshida and Asami.

That she’s of the mind that she has to let Yaguchi have his way with her so others won’t get hurt shows how far Sayu still has to go in being able to protect and value herself. And she would have absolutely been raped had Yoshida not taken it upon himself to read her text as a call for help. While I normally detest violence, I feel Yoshida goes far to easy on him; he should have to bear at least a shiner for his transgressions.

Yaguchi is absolutely wrong that they’re the same and the only difference is Yoshida isn’t sleeping with her. Yaguchi is definitely a criminal for having sex with a minor, while Yoshida’s harboring of Sayu is a lot more of a gray area. But worst of all to Yoshida is that at no point does Yaguchi think about Sayu. It’s all about what he can get, and why Yoshida isn’t getting it to.

Thankfully, Yoshida is firm enough to get Yaguchi to promise not to bother Sayu again, but we’ve already seen the value of this guy’s promises. Yoshida knows he may not know if he can save Sayu or how, but at least he’s trying! All the others did was hurt her more. They don’t get to protest his attempts to save her when they never tried.

When he returns to the room to comfort Sayu, she doesn’t know why she got so scared when he tried after they’d done it so many times before. Yoshida simply says that’s normal. She was right to turn him down, did and said nothing wrong, and needs to think about herself more. Seeing her not able to be the normal teenager she should be hurts, but becoming one starts with caring about herself.

The next day, Asami notices that something happened between Yaguchi and Sayu, and when Sayu won’t say anything, she confronts him. He tells the truth about what he tried to do to Sayu, then apologizes after Asami slaps him and leaves the break room, admitting he “got a little rough” (ya think?) Sayu asks why he didn’t tell Asami about them, and he says he promised not to if she brought him to her place. So I guess he’ll keep some of his promises?

Sayu doesn’t forgive Yaguchi—she never should, frankly, unless he shows serious signs of changing—but isn’t “mad” anymore, and is also present enough to make clear to him if he tries anything again she’ll be mad. His assurance he won’t seems more couched in the ferocity of her two “guard dogs” in Yoshida and Asami, but if there’s one quality of this guy I’ll put my faith in, it’s his cowardice, and if that means he really won’t try to touch her again, I’ll take it.

After Sayu’s shift, Yoshida texts that he’ll be at work late, so Asami invites herself over to her place to protect her. She stops by her palatial estate for some stuff, and we learn that she’s the daughter of a politician and lawyer who are almost never around, and Sayu’s the first friend she’s told about her house. By opening up a little about herself, she inspires Sayu to do the same, telling her plainly about how she came from Hokkaido and stayed at various guys’ places, including Yaguchi’s.

She continues that she kept running from place to place and nothing ever changed, until she met Yoshida and then Asami, and realized how “stupid” she was being. Heartened by Sayu opening up, Asami takes her to a special spot where you can see the stars despite still being in Tokyo.

As the two gaze at the stars, Asami tells Sayu more about herself, how she dressed up as a gyaru, but her parents didn’t understood she was doing it for attention she simply wasn’t getting from them. And while she’s expected to follow in her mom’s footsteps in law, what she really wants to study is literature and become a writer. That led to a huge argument with her mom.

That’s when her dad took her to this starry spot and assured her their worries are nothing compared to those stars. But while Asami knows humans are to small to be seen compared to the stars, they still have pasts and futures that matter. She knows Sayu’s past was rough, but she got through it to get to where she is: in a position to choose her future. It’s the second straight week of heartwarming girl talk, only this time between girls of the same age.

The next day after Yoshida comes home early, Sayu tells him that living with him, she’s finally able to start thinking about a future. She just needs a little more time. Yoshida will give her all the time she needs. She may have  met one too many Yaguchi Kyouya’s on the way, but those assholes are but insignificant specks compared to the growing constellation of good people she knows, who care about her and are slowly but surely teaching her to care about herself.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 04 – Protective Lies and Different Smiles

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I Shaved. Then I Brought a High School Girl Home. is a crap title. It reads more like a cheap hook for what this show isn’t, and so does the show it’s attached to a grave disservice. Hell, it’s not even accurate; his grooming habits didn’t improve until after he invites Sayu into her home. Basically any title would have been better than this. Fortunately, we can abbreviate the Japanese title to Higehiro, which at least rolls of the tongue, and leave it at that.

[Long Title Rant Over]

This week begins with Sayu begging Yoshida to let her get a job, then learning she never had to beg: he’s fully on board with her getting out of the apartment, keeping busy, and meeting new friends. Sayu gets a job at the local konbini, and immediately hits it off with her work senpai Yuuki Asami, who becomes the latest in this show’s much-appreciated procession of kind, thoughtful decent characters who feel and act like real people.

When talk of Sayu’s place comes up, Asami learns that Sayu is living with a man who isn’t her boyfriend, and invites herself over to check the guy out. When Yoshida gets Sayu’s text about her guest, Hashimoto learns Yuzuha also knows about Sayu, while on the other end of the office Gotou looks at the downward slope of the graph on her monitor also serving as a graph for her increasingly left-out mood.

Yoshida’s cramped apartment becomes even more so with the bold and expressive Asami there, but she’s immediately relieved that he seems like a good guy. And as an attractive high school girl, with all the unique experiences they face, her assessment, while quick, doesn’t seem rushed or half-assed. Both at school and work, she’s surely interacted with enough guys to know Yoshida is different.

As she stays for dinner, she also learns that Yoshida is incredibly lucky to share his home with a cute girl who is also a great cook. Asami has Yoshida walk her home, where she reveals she knew he and Sayu were lying about being old childhood friends, and asks him what the truth of their relationship is. Yoshida says not going to lie more, but he’s also not going to talk about things Sayu still wants to hide.

Hearing Yoshida be so considerate of Sayu’s feelings earns him more high marks in good-dudeness from Asami, who agrees to drop the matter and bring it up with Sayu when she thinks she’s more ready. She understands that while you choose who you get involved with, you can’t choose who you can meet, so it’s lucky when you meet a good one.

She’s certain both Yoshida and Sayu are good people, and looks forward to seeing more of them. Yoshida, in turn, asks Asami to be Sayu’s friend, just like a good dad. Asami’s only warning to Yoshida is to be careful, as “Sayu-chiso”, as she nicknamed her, is “really good at using different smiles.” Of course, we’re already aware Yoshida is aware of this, as he was able to see through some of Sayu’s smiles last week.

Sayu has a safe, comfortable, and supportive home, a new job and a new friend. The second half of the episode opens new opportunities for Yoshida, and I’m not talking about advancement at work. At the end of the day, Gotou approaches him, draws a bit closer than workplace sexual harrassment rules would probably be okay with, and takes him out for yakiniku.

They leave Yuzuha alone holding two cups of coffee; suddenly she’s the left-out one. Gotou doesn’t beat around the bush: she wants to know what’s been up with Yoshida, between all the time he’s spent with Yuzuha, passing up a work trip, and checking his phone all the time. While he’s under no obligation to answer any of that, he agrees to do so if, and only if, she answers his question: why is she so fixated on him?

That’s when, in between a lot of nervous fidgeting, that she actually likes him. When she said she had a long-term boyfriend, she was lying. Stating she (like Asami) has good intuition, she lied because while she was happy enough to jump for joy upon hearing he liked her, she didn’t think it was time, and was scared it wouldn’t go well.

Yoshida, who actually doesn’t have any reason to trust what Gotou is saying now, oversteps a boundary by saying she can prove she’s not lying about liking him…by sleeping with him. It oversteps because he’s not 100% lying. Only when he sees how flustered this makes her does he say he was only kidding. But she also admits the reason she was worried it wouldn’t work out: she’s a virgin.

Gotou’s behavior, from lying about having a boyfriend and confessing her feelings to revealing her virginity, could all feel like a goofy soap opera if handled improperly. But here’s the thing, it isn’t. None of it is out of left field or simply for the sake of increased romantic drama. It absolutely tracks that Gotou’s lack of experience with sex would make her reluctant to rush into something with a guy she really likes.

Gotou truly did wound Yoshida’s heart with her false rejection, because at the end of the day if she’d explained her true intent he’d have understood; we know that much about him from his interactions with Sayu and Yuzuha. And to their credit neither the show nor Yoshida let her off the hook without a penalty, as Yoshida vows never to ask her out.

Instead, he’ll wait until the time comes when she can ask him out on a date, and he’ll look forward to it. So yes, Gotou initially made a big mess of things and hurt the guy she liked. But it wasn’t the end of the world with him, and he’s happy to forgive her as long as their interactions going forward are open and honest. Both Yoshida and Gotou are able to leave that yakiniku restaurant feeling a lot better about things, and it all feels earned.

But wait: their agreement is only half-complete: Now that Gotou has answered his question—and he learns that Sayu has more sexual experience than the adult woman he likes—it’s time for him to return the favor. Instead of sticking with Yoshida and Gotou as he answers, we return to his apartment, where Sayu is eating some pretty bangin’ looking beef stew.

It doesn’t taste “as good as it should” because food always tastes better when you’re eating it with others (that’s an unwavering truth). But especially after experiencing the apartment with both Yoshida and Asami around, being alone still feels lonely. It also gives Sayu’s trauma-addled brain a chance to leak glimpses from her past.

These glimpses include what could be her first sexual encounter along with a very stark POV image of her on a bed with what looks like ejaculate in her hand—and an unidentified crying girl. Sayu starts to blame Yoshida for not coming home and heading off these painful, unwanted thoughts, but she scolds herself for “blaming it on someone else,” not yet ready to assign blame only to those who exploited her. It’s in this state of mind that she receives a text from Yoshida saying he’s bringing Gotou home.

This is it, Sayu laments, this is when I’m abandoned again. She texts back she’ll stay somewhere else (and thank goodness she knows Asami now, as she could stay there if she needed to), but Yoshida texts back that it’s not like that: Gotou wants to meet her. It’s a great way to reveal that, like Yuzuha, Gotou learned the truth from Yoshida, and because she knows him to be a good guy (and no one on this show has watched him closer or longer), is ready, willing, and eager to know more about it, not less.

Yoshida, in turn, is learning like Gotou that lies (and omissions!) can only hurt more than they can help. The only way forward is in the light of the truth. And I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait for Gotou to meet Sayu. I think she’ll not only be impressed by what a nice girl she is, but understand completely how Sayu and Yoshida ended up in this scenario. I officially love this show. Even at its messiest, it’s brimming with good faith and empathy and I am here for it.

 

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 12 (Fin) – Her Skills, His Goals

After the big blow-up with Hinami, Tomozaki backslides hard into old habits and then some, as he’s even playing Tackfam with a bored look on his face that “really isn’t him.” He also failed to notice that he’d left poor Fuuka hanging by not looking at his phone for two days.

When he immediately texts back that he’ll go with her to pick up Andi’s new book, his sister acknowledges he “must be going through some stuff”, and to hang in there. While it’s a shame she never got a name, his sister (ably voiced by Hidaka Rina) struck a fine balance between typical imouto brattiness and sincere concern and quiet support for her big bro.

For his bookstore date with Fuuka, as with the fireworks date before, Tomozaki is determined to be his “real, unvarnished self”, ditching the task-and-goal based game mechanics Hinami had thrust upon him, which did nothing for Fuuka. Still, as he looks at his re-disheveled appearance in the mirror of the cafe restroom, he can’t deny that meeting Hinami’s goals made him happy too.

In keeping with his desire to remain real and unvarnished with her always, Tomozaki tells Fuuka how he’s still a little mixed up. He reveals how he had a coach teach him how to play the game of life, but how speaking to her with canned topics felt like wearing a mask or cheating, and asks if he should continue improving his skills.

Fuuka explains that when it’s easy to talk to him, she can picture the things he says clearly, directly, and honestly in her head, like she’s reading a novel. When it’s harder to talk to him (or most other people), the images lose focus. It’s no secret that she treasures books immensely, so for him to be able to have that same ability to project imagery into her head is surely a big part of his appeal!

But it’s more than that: when they first started talking, the images were in black-and-white; a “sad and lonely world”, but which made her think they saw the world the same way. She loves novels because the images they send have always looked more beautiful and colorful than the real world as she sees it. But more lately, the images Tomozaki has sent have been full of color too.

Fuuka is glad he’s working hard to change himself, and believes that if there’s someone in his world—a “magician” that gave it those colors—than he should “treasure” that person. After all, those colors have begun to convince her that she too can still change how she sees the world.

Fuuka’s sincere and heartfelt words inspire Tomozaki to make up with the “magician” who gave his world and words color, while not conceding to her own black-and-white view of it. Just getting her to agree to talk again is a little mini-battle in and of itself, but Tomozaki is victorious and gains an audience with her, partly because he’s persistent, and partly because part of her probably wants to make up too.

After meeting, he takes her to the very storefront from where she first revealed to him that she was NO NAME and they began their elaborate master-and-apprentice dance. There, he tells her why he loves Tackfam: the way he could put aside his own weakness, pitifulness, and self-hatred and pour his soul into the game, giving it color.

Hinami helped show him ways to control the game of life so it began to shine with color too. He wants to be a controller in that game, not just the controlled. Hinami shuts him down, dismissing his “this is what I really want” talk as being “drunk on idealism” and “wallowing in sentimentality.” But…but…if he’s saying his “true desires” actually exist beyond those hollow constructs, she’ll need him to provide proof.

In a lovely inversion of their early discussion in which she explained to him the value of the game of life, Tomozaki tells her the proof consists of “many simple rules in combination, intersecting in complex ways that make them harder to grasp”. She won’t find her true desires simply by asking for proof they even exist, but by struggling to discover how she feels and making steady, honest progress.

As someone who believes true desires don’t exist, Tomozaki says she’s only been going through the motions from a player’s POV; without experiencing true, genuine fun. She may be better at playing the game of life, but he’s certain he’s got her beat when it comes to enjoying it. So just as she resolved to help him learn how to play it, he’s going to show her how to enjoy it more than she does now—and in doing so, find what it is she really wants.

Hinami won’t go on this journey with him until he’s given her something to make her rethink her belief that true desires don’t exist, and he has one: She still hasn’t managed to beat him at Tackfam…not once. That’s not due to lack of effort. It’s because his true desires have always fueled his gaming. He knows what he really wants, and she doesn’t.

In the world of Tackfam where they’re both hardcore gamers, he’s Japan’s Top Player nanashi and she’s NO NAME and winless against him. She can’t complain about his “false logic” until she can beat him first, and Tomozaki is confident that if and when she does beat him, she’ll already understand what he’s on about.

Hinami admits she’s impressed by his thoughtful argument, couched though it may be in irrationality. As such, she decides to meet him halfway: not accepting that “true desires or whatever” exist, but can’t say they definitively don’t exist either. If he wants to convince her to come down from that fence, he’s welcome to try. In the meantime, Tomozaki wishes to continue trying to conquer the game of life with her guidance.

She can keep setting goals and he’ll keep working towards them, but from now on he’ll choose which ones conflict with what he really wants. He can’t deny her skills have worked; not when they brought color his life, and by extension, Fuuka’s. But he’ll adopt a hybrid playing style going forward: balancing her goals with his desires. While celebrating their making up by ordering the same salted mackerel dinner, Hinami assigns Tomozaki his next goal: acquiring a part-time job.

Hinami ends up setting him up with a job at the same karaoke parlor where Mizusawa works, where she knows he’ll have an ally to help ease him into the sub-game of Employment. Tomozaki continues to hang out with his new circle of normies, helping (or rather not helping) Yuzu pick out an outfit for her new first date with Nakamura. He gives her sister a strap Mimimi likes, which of course his sister loves because Mimimi does. He and Mizusawa serve their friends while they’re at the parlor singing the show’s theme song.

He also keeps dating Fuuka, who is working on a new novel and excited for Tomozaki to read it and even more excited to hear his thoughts about it, since they’ll surely shine with dazzling color. And he keeps having his debriefing sessions with Hinami, only now thanks to his job it makes sense how he can afford to eat out so much!

The episode, and the series, ends with nanashi beating NO NAME yet again, Hinami stewing with frustration and immediately demanding another match, and Tomozaki gladly agreeing. This, to me, is the perfect set-up for a second season in which Tomozaki and Hinami will be both student and teacher to each other.

While a 2-episode OVA will ship with the Blu-ray, no second season has been announced. But I for one would love to return to the vibrant, complex characters, smart, precise dialogue, and adorable dates of Bottom-tier Character Tomozaki, an unexpected breath of fresh air in a sea of high school rom-coms.

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 05 – Chiaki’s Perfect Plan

Rin has her bookstore job and Nadeshiko has her new gig at the restaurant, so for the first time in a while we’ve got a camping trip involving neither of them. The entire episode is carried by Chiaki, Aoi, and an Ena who is suddenly just as crazy about camping as the others. It’s a combo we haven’t seen before and it’s refreshing, fun, and usually hilarious!

Their destination is Lake Yamanaka, the southeastern-most and highest of the five lakes around Fujiyama. After a roundabout route after Kofu and Ohtsuki, they arrive at Mt. Fuji Station, and purchase two-day passes just in time to catch the bus that will take them to the campsite on the lake.

Chiaki touts her “perfect plan” which starts with a trip to the Caribou in Fujiyoshida. There, we learn the ultimate fate of Chiaki’s infamous wooden bowl (it’s a cactus pot now) when she takes a look at plastic cookware, then Aoi ponders whether to buy a high or low chair. Chiaki wants a hammock, but can’t find one light enough, so a store rep demonstrates a hammock “hack”, the nature of which we’ll have to wait until it’s implemented at the campsite.

From the store (which features the eminently huggable Caribou-san) the girls head to a Lake Yamanaka Hot Spring, where they bask in 38°C water while out in 1.4°C weather. Chiaki counts down from three for everyone to get out at once, but she’s the only one who leaves.

After the bath Ena joins Chiaki and Aoi for their traditional pre-camping ice cream, and Aoi has to literally pick both Aoi and Ena off the ground to avoid another Hottokeya incident, when they all overslept.

From the Hot Spring the girls hit up a supermarket to buy all the food they’ll need. Chiaki will be making homemade kiritanpo hot pot, following a lot of suggestions by Hot Pot (nabe) Master Nadeshiko, AKA Nabeshiko, whom all three girls promise to marry some day. They also decide to pick up some local lake smelts for tempura.

While on the way to the campsite, the girls notice a lot of foreigners on the bus, as they’re technically near some major tourist traps. Chiaki annoys Aoi when she uses a broken Japanese accent to direct one such foreigner to his proper right stop. When Chiaki continues the accent, Aoi simply says “Stop.”

Chiaki’s seiyu Hara Sayuri is the only member of the voice cast with whom I wasn’t familiar until Yuru Camp, but she’s done nothing but put on a clinic this whole time. This week in particular is a showcase for her goofy, emphatic style that’s seemingly always “on”—much to the chagrin of Aoi (Toyosaki Aki), who plays the perfect straight girl in their comedy duo.

When they finally reach the campsite, Aoi and Ena are a little skeptical of Chiaki’s choice of picking a spot on the cape, on the other side of the lake from all of its attractions. But they get it when they arrive at the cape, which is its own attraction. Sadly, the clerk won’t allow them to pitch their tents directly on the cape as they’d hoped—it’s too dangerous—but there’s nothing stopping them from pitching them next to the cape!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 04 – One Step Closer to Fancy Camping

This week there’s no camping, but plenty of Outclub hijinx, starting with Chiaki buying a new tarp for their next trip only to forget to bring the posts. She and Aoi have a tree serve as one temporary post, and Nadeshiko as the second. The moment Nadeshiko wordlessly just stops holding the tarp up had me rolling!

Chiaki bought the tarp with her New Years pay, while Aoi is planning on buying a comfy low chair like Rin’s. Nadeshiko, of course, is just counting down the days until her temp job pay is deposited so she can buy her beloved Coleman retro lantern, which she visits at the Caribou store several times simply to bask in its beauty.

Nade sends Rin a photo of her holding up the tarp, to which Rin says the Outclub girls sure are “free spirits.” Rin doesn’t really want to buy anything in particular, so she’s probably just going to save it for her next trip. As for Ena, she spent her money not on a tent for herself, but a dog tent for Chikuma—one that is nicer than many human tents!

When Ena asks what Rin would do with 100 million yen (i.e. a million dollars), Rin says she’d “start by putting a sleeping bag on top and sleeping on it”. Toba-sensei only has one scene in the faculty lounge, but it’s a sweet one, as she finds some local treats at her desk and a thank-you note from her Outclub girls.

Back at Caribou, the employees there are fascinated by Nadeshiko’s fascination with the lantern. It takes one of them back to the excitement of spending her first paycheck—even though she doesn’t remember what she even bought! I doubt that will be a problem for Nadeshiko; she’ll never forget this lamp!

While at Minobu station waiting for her train home, Nadeshiko finds herself on a completely empty platform. It’s just her, the mumbling of the PA and the buzzing of the lights. There’s quite a long stretch where nothing happens…and that’s the point: Nadeshiko has been thinking long and hard about what Rin said about solo camping being an opportunity to contemplate and embrace solitude. As we saw in the first season’s epilogue, at some point she’ll solo at Lake Motosu only to run into Rin.

Of course, with no costs to share with others, soloing can be pricey, and Rin saved a lot by inheriting a lot her her gear from her gramps. That means Nadeshiko has to find a new job. Unfortunately, that proves difficult. She imagines herself playing a Chihayafuru-style game of karuta and slapping a card that says “Minobu” among scores of cards marked “Kofu” (she says Kofu so mournfully!)—only to find it’s a full-time position requiring experience.

Aoi suggests looking into working at a camp or a resort, although those don’t really start until it gets warmer. Chiaki breaks out the latest issue of Bivouac magazine, the cover of which depicts a solo winter camper not unlike one Shima Rin. In it, Nadeshiko discovers that reusable hand warmers using warmed oil exist. That night, Sakura invites her out to dinner at a tempura bowl shop in Minobu, and Nadeshiko races there with all due haste.

It’s only when their jumbo head-on shrimp tempura boxes arrive that Sakura says she’d hope Nade would treat her for once, using her newly-earned holiday pay. Nade freezes and all color fades from her, but her sister is only joking. The real reason Sakura asked her to come to this particular restaurant is because they happen to have just started hiring part-timers.

The next day after school is THE day Nade finally purchases her lantern, one of which the employees kept on hold for her just in case the ones on the shelves were all sold. Nadeshiko poses for a photo with sparkly eyes and an ojousama laugh, and just after being told to be careful, she trips on a box and nearly drops her treasure, catching it at the last second.

One step closer to “fancy camping”, Nadeshiko trys the lantern out at home. Her folks praise her purchase and the three gather around the warm cozy light it provides. The credits roll with her lantern still glowing in the living room, and Nadeshiko sneaks outside to Sakura’s car before going up to her room to enjoy the lantern’s light a bit more.

Early in the morning, Sakura is the first to leave the house. Upon entering her car she finds a gift-wrapped box on the dashboard with a note: it’s a reusable hand-warmer, purchased by Nadeshiko as thanks for being such an awesome big sister. You’d better believe I got a little choked up at the surpassing sweetness of the gift, and Sakura’s warm reaction to it, ending with a shot of Nadeshiko curled up in bed, sleeping soundly…and deservedly!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuru Camp△ – 08 – Caribou in Minobu

This episode takes place between camping trips, with Chiaki and Aoi returning to the spotlight. After stewing in envy at their last trip over their neighbors’ fancy camping, Chiaki decided to get creative, putting together a cute dining set for under $30. But the bowl she bought can’t accept hot foods unless the lacquer is removed, while her new cast-iron skillet must be cleaned and seasoned before use.

Both are time-consuming and there are no shortcuts available, so Chiaki ropes in Aoi to help her after school, despite the fact exams are in a couple days. Nadeshiko is the one to suggest they go “Christmas camping” after exams, and the other two even invite Rin’s friend Saitou, who says she’ll definitely consider it.

Between learning the intricacies of bowl and skillet maintenance, Nadeshiko’s wonderfully random photo essays, and the simple pleasure of watching two old friends in Chiaki and Aoi simply riff off each other, it’s a fun outing (one of the best exchanges: Chiaki: “You have a family?!” Aoi: “What’s your problem?!”) despite there being no actual camping.

We fast-forward to after exams (Aoi does well, Nadeshiko meh, Chiaki just barely scraped by, despite her glasses) with Chiaki and Aoi taking Nadeshiko to the cute retro town of Minobu to pay a visit to the area’s camping mecca, Caribou. They’re like three kids in a candy store…only most of the candy is too expensive.

Nadeshiko gets the hard sell for a $43 lantern she falls in love with, then she’s introduced to the different types of camping mats, while Chiaki and Aoi learn that Nadeshiko may have a high tolerance for cold and discomfort. Combined with her dog-like attention span and pack mule strength and stamina, Nadeshiko is one tough cookie!

The three decide to melt into some super-comfy camping chairs on display, and Nadeshiko learns that Chiaki works at the liquor store right across from Aoi’s supermarket. Chiaki also mentions that their new history teacher Toba-sensei, while pretty and nice, is also notorious at the liquor store for buying booze every day. Looks like my prediction about Nadeshiko and Rin’s boozy camping neighbor ending up at their school will be proven correct!

Rin comes home from school to get changed for work, and ponders what she should do for the break. On the one hand, a solo camping trip would be her usual speed. Then again, she really enjoyed cooking a big feast with Nadeshiko. Personally, I’d pick the option that involved the best food!

The Outclub caps their day of modest shopping by tucking into Minobu’s specialty steamed buns, with Nadeshiko’s gluttony rubbing off on the other two. As everyone else seems to have a part-time job, Nadeshiko decides she’ll seek one as well, both to fund the often-pricey outdoor hobby, and to keep her virtually bottomless stomach full!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Yuru Camp△ – 04 – Go-Go Outclub Rangers!

The newly three-member Outclub kicks into gear with preparations for their first camping trip together, starting with trying to keep the budget as tight as possible. While experimenting with different forms of insulation for an otherwise useless-in-the-winter summer sleeping bag, Nadeshiko repeatedly runs into the school and back to retrieve materials they need, like an eager puppy.

Nadeshiko and Aoi are able to make Chiaki warm, but at the cost of being all packed up and ready to ship to Abu Dhabi, like Nermal. They ultimately decide to buy winter sleeping bags, ensuring they each get a unique color. Nadeshiko will be Outclub Red, Aoi Outclub Blue, and Chiaki Outclub Yellow.

Meanwhile, Rin prepares to kick into literal gear of her moped, now that she’s gotten her license. We also learns she works part-time at at bookstore to fund her solo camping obsession. What a good kid! Nadeshiko texts her a photo of Chiaki all packed up, leading Rin to wonder just what the heck those weird girls are up to!

The Outclub picks a campground and a date, and hit up the store to buy all of the stuff they don’t already have. My one wish is that we’d have gotten an exact figure for the total cost of their supplies, but that’s okay. As for Rin, by God is she inspiring, heading out in the early morn with her little bike packed to the gills with gear.

The next day, Nadeshiko misses a bus, but it’s no big deal. The three of them aren’t in any rush; the whole point of their excursion is to relax! Chiaki and Aoi note that Nadeshiko is carrying all her gear on her back, while they have more convenient dollies. They worry she won’t be able to make the four-kilometer hike from the station to the campground.

In what should come as no surprise, Nadeshiko’s energy stores prove inexhaustible. She’s not just a puppy, she’s a pack mule! Speaking of cute animals, Rin encounters a puppy in the back window of a van that moves to whatever side of the lane on which she stops. When the van turns off, Rin is sad, only to find another van ahead of her filled with many dogs!

When the Outclub reaches a famous vantage point at Fuefuki Park, Nadeshiko can’t resist a photo shoot, which she shares with Rin via LINE-like app. The three decide to hit up a café for some sugary treats to recharge their batteries, each sharing one another’s desserts and making me wish I could safely go to cafés with my friends! Maybe someday…

Rin gets Nadeshiko’s message about the apple soft just as she’s pulled into a rest stop at Kirigamine, and decides to stop in to warm up a bit; the closer she gets to her destination of Nagano, the colder it gets, but it’s clear she’s not afraid of a challenge. She picks a cozy spot by the iron wood stove in a room she has all to herself.

Recalling she has some cash to spend from her job, she decides to splurge on a Borscht lunch set with a Caramel Macchiato, and does not regret it, as the Slavic soup quickly distributes warmth to every corner of her body. She texts her feast to Nadeshiko, who asks where she’s headed, and rather than simply text back “Nagano”, Rin chooses a unique way to respond: by sending Nadeshiko a link to a live webcam then waving to her in real time.

The Outclub unanimously decided to stop by the Hottokeya Hot Springs before continuing on to the Eastwood Campgrounds, but as soon as they enter the lounging area, they worry about relaxing so damn hard they won’t be able to leave and go do what they came to do…camp!

This Yuru Camp felt like the best of both worlds: the Outclub’s more spirited and boisterous three-girl journey, cross-cut with Rin’s more Zen solo trip. Both look like a lot of fun! There’s also a wonderful shifting between hot and cold; between exertion and relaxation. Every Outclub member is a ton of fun, but Rin remains the show’s undisputed MVP and my personal hero.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 11 – Beauty and the Least

After a TV-style cold open intro to Sakurasawa Sumi and her morning routine, which is the most we ever hear her talk, Kazuya meets her for their date, and he’s equally astonished by her innocent beauty and her social awkwardness. Seiyu Takahashi Rie does a great job with all of Sumi’s various flustered peeps.

What Kazuya soon learns (besides confirming the fact he really wants a real girlfriend) is that Sumi is working extremely hard to have as much fun doing things on their date as possible. It turns into a sports extravaganza, with Sumi giving her all (and mostly failing) at bowling, batting, soccer, rollerblading, etc.

Kazuya himself feels pretty useless and inept at helping Sumi with her problem, but he at least has the sack to rescue her from some leering punks, and she rewards him by holding hands and sharing her ice cream. When he comes back from a bathroom break, he’s shocked to find Mami sitting across from Sumi.

Mami spotted Kazuya with Sumi earlier in the date, and has been observing them ever since, much like Kazuya followed Mizuhara. He has to walk an extremely fine line with Mami since as far as she knows he’s with Mizuhara and this looks like two-timing, especially when Sumi clings to him as if defending her real boyfriend from a rival.

At least a partial truth would have probably sufficed: he’s helping Mizuhara’s friend, who is a rental girlfriend. But even that isn’t quite bulletproof, as it plants the idea that Mizuhara is also a rental, and if she were Kazuya’s real GF she wouldn’t have him going on dates with other girls, even for practice.

Kazuya’s date with Sumi ends well despite Mami’s interruption, and while Mami’s brother implies she’s messing around with another guy at college, she’s still fixated on Kazuya, and frustrated by that fact). Then it dawns on her: is he really dating Sumi? A quick search of Sumi’s name turns up her rental profile.

Just like that, the one person Kazuya wants to know about the truth the least has a pretty good idea anyway. He and Kuri are able to keep the secret about their respective GFs from Kibe, but with Mizuhara out on rental dates in the same place they’re hanging out, that too is a tenuous fiction.

Bottom line, something’s got to give, and with only one episode left after this one, something will! That night Kazuya gets another impromptu balcony meeting with Mizuhara, which I believe to be their best and most genuine interactions, because they don’t put on airs. She thanks him for helping Sumi, who was over the moon from their date, but also tells Kazuya she’s thinking about quitting the rental biz once her acting career picks up some momentum.

That said, she’s not in a hurry to quit yet, and will be honoring the promise she made to him to be his girlfriend a bit longer. She even has a date in the morning, and so turns in early, only to discover that her date, one “Maya”, is actually Mami! The jig is now well and truly up—unless Mizuhara insists to Mami that despite her rental job, she’s Kazuya’s real girlfriend, or something to that effect.

I for one am hoping that most if not all of the lies stop next week (if Mami fails to secure a second season, that is), no matter the consequences. Kazuya and Mizuhara have been shuffling their feet all this time, and it’s time to put up or shut up. And then there’s Ruka…

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 10 – Who Rents the Rented?

Ruka got a job at the same karaoke parlor as Kazuya, and the boss loves her so she’s not going anywhere. Ruka believes she can “close the gap” if she’s in close proximity to him in a “Chizuru-free zone” unlike his apartment where she’s right next door.

Having Ruka around reminds him of how he aided in the breaking of Kuri’s heart when Ruka Kuri him to date him. Whether it was right for Kuri to pretend Ruka was his real girlfriend, the fact is he really liked her, and Kazuya is worried the heartbreak will make him distrust or even hate women the rest of his life.

That’s probably selling Kuri too short, but Kuri’s creepy private Twitter account and Kibe’s worries suggest he’s in a deep slump. Flush with cash from his job (and not wanting to anger Ruka by going on a rental date with Chizuru), Kazuya decides to do something he hopes will help cheer his friend up: he pays for Chizuru to go on a rental date…with Kuri.

At first Kuri is simply confused: why would his friend’s girlfriend be going on a date with him? Then he sees how perfect and accommodating Chizuru is and gets self-conscious, to the point he considers Kazuya is playing an elaborate (and cruel) prank. But at some point he realizes he’s having so much fun, it doesn’t matter whether Chizuru is a real or rental date.

Being with someone as lovely as Chizuru restores his faith in women and makes him want a real girlfriend of his own again. That evening Kazuya pops out of the bushes, not to break up the date, but to apologize to Kuri for how things went down with Ruka. He also owns up the fact that he was lying too: Chizuru isn’t his real girlfriend.

While this puts him and Kuri on the same level, that doesn’t stop Kuri from laughing at him and mocking him all the same, which leads to some playful mutual ribbing. However, more than anything Kuri is relieved, and Kazuya’s plan worked, he’s genuinely cheered up. Such is the power of Chizuru. As fo Kuri’s parting question to her—about whether she’d fall for a rental date—Chizuru simply beams as Asakusa glows behind her and says “Who knows?”

Chizuru’s opinion of Kazuya must have improved upon being asked to help him cheer Kuri up. Not only is it proof he doesn’t only ever think of himself and his own gratification, but also that he’s willing to risk embarassing himself if it means owning up to the truth. In this regard, telling Kuri was a practice run for telling their grandmothers, which is still presumably going to happen at some point.

Finally, his request confirms to Chizuru that Kazuya is a guy she can trust to go on a different kind of practice run: Her rental girlfriend colleague Sakurasawa Sumi is just starting out in the business, but has received complaints (and likely poor ratings) for being far too shy.

On their adjacent balconies the next night, she asks him to go on a date with Sumi, trusting he’ll be both kind and impartial. In addition her request, which Kazuya accepts, Chizuru asks about how things are going in his love life completely unbidden, which takes him aback.

All this time she’s been keeping him at arms length, but their talk about his (lack of) progress with Mami looks and awful lot like a legitimate friendship between two people, romance aside. And while it’s late in the game to introduce a fourth girl, I’m looking forward to Takahashi Rie’s take on Sumi.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 06 – Rich People Light Switches!

Realizing it would be better to make money as an employee while messing with Sakurai than spend money as a customer, Uzaki gets a part-time job at the cafe. Sakurai takes her through a formal training session, but Uzaki has been there so often she already knows the ropes, and she and Ami use the time to wind him up. Then Sakurai’s friend Sakaki suggests the four of them go on a trip to the beach, and the beach episode is off to the races.

Ami is extremely intimidated by Uzaki’s bazongas in the changing room, but once outside is disappointed to see Sakurai busy hardcore swimming in the ocean while leaving Uzaki alone to be hit on others. When Sakaki breaks out the watermelon piñata, Uzaki’s chaotic fighting game-style directional outputs backfire, as he ends up stumbling onto her and his hand inexplicably ends up grabbing one of her boobs.

 

That evening, after making themselves at home at Sakaki’s family summer home (where Uzaki and Sakurai both marvel at the mod cons), and after some BBQ he suggests they have a good old-fashioned Test of Courage! While he had hoped Uzaki would get scared and seek comfort from Sakurai, the opposite happens, with the test having to be called off because Sakurai is absolutely paralyzed with fear. Like Kinomoto Sakura, the dude just can’t handle scary stuff!

Back at the house Uzaki wants to play video games, but Sakurai is already out cold. When she draws close, hoping to capitalize on his vulnerability, he grabs her and holds her close while still asleep. As she’s certain he’d never do this while awake, and recognizes that the whole reason he’s so wiped is that she ran him ragged with the test of courage, she decides it’s okay for them to stay in this position for a little while.

We never learn quite how long that is, but in the morning when they’re both brushing their teeth in the bathroom Uzaki mentions how he could probably do with a body pillow, Ami and Sakaki’s imaginations run wild. So the beach episode results in Sakurai reaching second base (while blindfolded) and spending the night with Uzaki (while totally unconscious). Still, you can’t say they haven’t technically gotten closer, which was Sakaki’s whole plan.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 05 – Miss Never Number One

Rikuo ends up at a new part-time job at a photography gallery, only to encounter co-worker Minato Kouichi, who was in the same third-year class as Haru before she dropped out. He joins them for lunch and exhibits how pretentious he is about photography. Rikuo takes an instant dislike to him.

That leads to yet another coincidence in which Minato is walking Haru home at the same time Rikuo is walking a slightly tipsy Shinako home. Both Haru and Rikuo are irritated by what they see. Shinako tells Rikuo that she’s done walking in circles, while Minato not to subtly hints that he had a crush in Haru in high school, only for her to be completely oblivious.

Minato visits Haru as often at the bar at least as often as Haru visits Rikuo, and eventually asks if she’ll spend a day with him. He formally asks her out, and while she replies with a rant about how much of an asshole Rikuo is, she’s not ready to give up on him, even if she’s “just the backup”, or she’d be lying to herself. Minato expected a rejection, and reveals he dropped out of college to pursue a life of freelance photojournalism.

When Haru says of her pet crow “I kept feeding him, and he got attached to me,” I couldn’t help but notice how similar that is to her approach with Rikuo, intentional or not. Rikuo so often comes off as irritated or annoyed with her (or is so often spotted with Shinako after dark), Haru’s adopted the misconception that he doesn’t care how she feels.

In reality, her reliable and persistent “feeding” of her charming personality to him has made him attached to her, to the extent he’s jealous when he sees her with Minato and even gets into an artistic competition with him. It’s fitting that while Rikuo loses, it’s because Minato’s photo was simply more compelling.

The photo depicts Haru in high school, which stands in contrast to Minato’s earlier screed against portraiture as the photographer forcing his feelings on the viewer. Sure enough, Minato’s affection for the subject suffuses the image, and even Rikuo can’t resist the portrait’s candid beauty and longing. It’s a Haru Rikuo had never seen before, and can never unsee.

One could also look at this photo as a portent for Haru’s eventual dropping out. She looks restless, and her gaze is pointed elsewhere—somewhere more painful yet more rewarding, scarier yet inevitable: adulthood and independence.