Rent-a-Girlfriend – 02 – A Beautiful Nightmare

Rent-a-Girlfriend is an absolute shitshow, and I mean that in the best way. Two episodes in a row, Kazuya and Chizuru dig themselves into deep holes and then, rather than climb out when it’s possible, decide at the last second to just keep digging.

This isn’t 100% their fault; part of it is the universe’s. Not only do the two attend the same college, they’re effing next-door neighbors! Do I buy that Kazuya never once saw Chizuru enter or exit her apartment? I do not, but who cares—it ups the absurdity wonderfully!

I will never tire of these crazy kids’ primary motivation for engaging in these ridiculous rom-com roleplaying scenarios (rather than digging themselves out of the holes they’ve dug) is…the desire not to hurt their grandmothers’ feelings. That tells you right there that both Kazuya and Chizuru are fundamentally good people. Stupid, stupid good people! XD

That’s also why despite putting up a hard line against further unsanctioned interactions with Kazuya, in violation of the terms and conditions of their Diamond contract, Chizuru still stops by his place to say hi to his gran, even bringing food she made to wow her even more. And this is after Gran already assumed Chizuru dumped Kazuya!

Had she just stayed in her apartment for ten more seconds it would have been over; she’d have been in the clear. And yet, for all the inconvenience and irritation it causes her, Chizuru isn’t the kind of person to hurt an old woman’s feelings. Even if that’s no fault of her own, she has the power to prevent it and uses it, to the tune of agreeing to visiting Kazuya’s gran with him for an hour every Wednesday.

Once again, I thought 24 minutes had passed and we’d come to the end—such is the amount of detail Rent-a-Girlfriend packs into its A-part. B-part brings Kazuya’s ex Nanami Mami into the picture with a vengeance, as he bumps into her on campus and has a not entirely torturous interaction with her. Just like that he has Mami on the brain, and is about to go for the tissues when his doorbell rings.

It’s Chizuru, ready for their trip to see his Gran. The moment money is exchanged, a switch flips and she’s in Girlfriend Mode. After the visit, they’re walking home when Kazuya’s two buddies spot him. They hilariously assume someone as attractive as Chizuru is a cult member trying to recruit or scame Kazuya, and beg her to release them.

Kazuya, digging the hole deeper, tells them she’s his girlfriend, and Chizuru has no choice but to play along. Then the two get pulled into group drinks, something they definitely could have politely refused and called it a day. What Kazuya couldn’t do is say he was merely renting Chizuru, since his best friend is close to his Gran, who is close to Chizuru’s Gran, and Chizuru wants to keep her job secret.

So they’re stuck! And as luck would have it, Mami is among the others in the group at the group drinks, and even though she masks it well, it’s clear she has feelings about Kazuya suddenly dating someone. For a minute I thought Mami might be another rent-a-girlfriend with Diamond and recognize Chizuru that way.

Instead, things go south in a hurry, as Mami switches seats so she’s across from Chizuru and proceeds to loudly run Kazuya down, describing him as pathetically horny. Seiyu Yuuki Aoi can pull off bitchy and manipulative as well as she can pull off sweet and innocent (i.e. Madoka), and puts on a tonal clinic here.

Kazuya simply sits and simmers as Mami goes off, so when he won’t defend himself, Chizuru does, and Mami is ready to counter, shrugging off her words as “part of the group dynamic” a stranger wouldn’t understand before finally turning to Kazuya himself with a cutesy-voice and asking him to stand up to her, which he does, leading a rightfully disgusted Chizuru to leave.

It’s an instance where Mami, who almost seems to revel in stirring up shit like this (or possibly punish Kazuya for having the audacity to date someone else) has way too much leverage on Kazuya. Nothing of what she says is actually strictly untrue, so Kazuya hesitates to dispute it. But he’s already sitting on a throne of lies with his fake girlfriend, so suddenly hewing to the truth here is counterproductive.

When it’s time to head home, Mami flags Kazuya down, telling him her “awkward side” got the best of her and she’s happy he “stood up” for her. She even tells him her place is close by, if he’s interested. Again Yuuki Aoi shines, portraying Mami as a cat with a mouse in its jaws, content to play around with him before making the kill.

Kazuya comes to think maybe this is okay; Chizuru was only a rental, after all. Not only did he and Mami really date, but from his perspective Mami seems interested in possibly maybe rekindling something, like she’d made a mistake in dumping him. As long as he has a girlfriend, his gran won’t be sad.

All of that is almost certainly not the case, but regardless Kazuya is overlooking one important thing: Chizuru is an unassailably good, kind person, while the jury’s very much still out on Mami. I forsee more wonderful cringeiness in the near future!

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 01 (First Impressions) – This Is How It Works

I’m not usually enthusiastic about scenarios involving “fake” boyfriends and girlfriends. They can really only go two ways: the “fake” relationship gradually becomes real, or it ends with the two as good friends. That said there’s a lot of nuance between those outcomes, and Kanojo, Okarishimasu, AKA Rent-a-Girlfriend manages to tap into it.

Kinoshita Kazuya is devastated when his adorable first-ever girlfriend unceremoniously dumps him after a month—in the first thirty seconds of the episode, when he’s about to introduce her to us! I appreciated that briskness. It allows him to wallow in despair until he finds an app called DIAMOND that allows you to rent a girlfriend for 5,000 yen per hour.

He gives it a try, and to his surprise his girlfriend-for-a-day Mizuhara Chizuru is absolutely stunning, and delivers exactly what one would expect of a girlfriend-for-a-day—no more, no less. Kazuya, despite knowing full well what he bargained for, proceeds to leave a 1-star rating after hearing identical reviews.

Due in part to still being In Despair over losing his girlfriend, Mizuhara’s act is increasingly off-putting to Kazuya and makes him feel like a fool. It just feels so forced, empty, and pointless to him, and on their second date he’s not shy about voicing those opinions even though he’s receiving precisely the service he requested and paid for!

When he becomes a little too public in his protestation of the situation, Mizuhara pulls him aside, drops the act, and lets him have a piece of her mind, revealing a bit of the Real Mizuhara (though that’s obviously not her real name). She’s super pissed by his 1-star rating (she’s only ever received 5s) and worked her ass off doing research on fish for their second date.

She has every right to be, and to his credit, Kazuya realizes he is completely in the wrong. She doesn’t owe him a damn thing. Unfortunately, the opportunity to apologize and end things there is lost when he gets a call from his parents: his grandmother has collapsed. He arrives at the hospital to learn it was nothing serious, but because his mom brought Mizuhara in with Kazuya, both his parents and grandmother believe she’s his new girlfriend!

When Kazuya freezes, Mizuhara exhibits her crack on-the-fly ad-libbing skills, and confirms that she and Kazuya are indeed dating. This may be a bad move for her and Kazuya, but she’s not about to break the heart of a nice old lady who just suffered a fall, and can’t see the harm in pretending a bit for her sake; after all, she does it for a living!

Gran, for her part, is an awesome bird, not mincing words when describing Mizuhara (a hale and hearty hottie!) asking whether they’ve had sex, and giving her their blessing to do it as often as they like! Things get still more complicated when Mizuhara learns this isn’t the firs ttime Kazuya’s gran was admitted, and she’s made some friends of the other old ladies … including Mizuhara’s grandma!

One long sweaty period under a blanket with Mizuhara (and one unintentional erection) later, Mizuhara has to tell her gran that yes, indeed, she and Kazuya are a couple. This leads the two grans to immediately start conspiring in an effort to get the two youngins married post-haste so they can graduate from friends to family.

Outside the hospital, Mizuhara proposes they tell their grans that they broke up; it’s the easiest way. Then Kazuya launches into a heartfelt monologue about how her grandmother is “like a goddess” to the family, and that it’s his wish to make her happy with a girlfriend before she dies. Mizuhara smiles at his sentiments, then slaps him for being so damn corny and self-absorbed!

That said, corny is also “perfectly fine” with her, as it’s her stock and trade in the rent-a-girlfriend business and all. She understands the lonely place Kazuya is coming from (suggesting it’s something she too suffers, but simply hides better) She can’t quit her job as a rent-a-girlfriend anytime soon, but after receiving Kazuya’s apology and thanks, she tells him he’s free to call her again anytime he’s feeling lonely.

Kazuya ends up giving her a 5-star rating (with a very corny positive review), but is committed to never contacting Mizuhara or any other rent-a-girlfriend again. He wants to turn a page and try to find a real one for himself…right up until he spots his ex laughing with another guy and can’t deal. Then encounters Mizuhara—whose real family name is Ichinose—on campus, in glasses and twin braids. Looks like they attend the same college!

As I said, making me invested and excited about a fake dating scenario is not easy, but Rent-a-Girlfriend excelled with ease. That’s thanks to punchy dialogue, clever comedy, deft voice-acting, attractive character design, lush production values, and most importantly a flawed, passionate protagonist who is rarely in the right but is nevertheless likable and redeemable.

This episode also did that thing were it got through so much and was so absorbing it felt like two episodes as I was watching it, without feeling overstuffed. Mostly it was a heckuva lot of fun, so I’m in for now.

Oresuki – 04 – Mending Fences

If the first three episodes didn’t make it plain, Oresuki does not beat around the bush. Joro’s name was just cleared last week, as Sun’s scheme to win Pansy by using Himawari and Cosmos was exposed, mostly thanks to Pansy herself. So it’s understandable for emotions to be too raw for any kind of swift reconciliation to take place anytime soon.

And yet, that’s just what happens, as Pansy tells Joro he can’t hide in the library with her forever avoiding the others. To use her words as a jumping-off point, any effort to justify not mending fences is wasted effort. Just get out there and mend ’em! So he does, and refreshingly, he doesn’t let newspaper editor Hanetachi “Asunaro” Hina spoil his first chance to make up with Himawari.

Himawari assumes Joro hates her and that no good can come from them being around each other, but after a chase, Joro follows Pansy’s advice and simply tells Himawari the truth: he wants to be friends with her again. That’s all she ever wanted too, and they’re both simultaneously relieved and surprised how easy it feels in hindsight.

Himawari accompanies Joro to the rooftop to attempt a reconciliation with Sun, but it initially goes south when Sun dismisses Joro’s indirect “challenge,” which is little more than excuse to study together. It’s only when Joro, and then Himawari, drop all pretense (and dispense with all pride) and simply shout about wanting to be friends again that Sun comes around.

On a clear role, Joro brings Himawari and Sun before Pansy, both so the latter can apologize for his brutish words, and so the four of them can arrange a study circle for midterms. (I wouldn’t have so quickly forgiven Sun for threatening to rape her, but hey, I’m not Pansy.)

But for some strange reason, Joro completely forgot about Cosmos—and while she’s been essentially stalking him the whole time as he made up with the others, to boot!

When he feels her evil purple aura behind him, Joro realizes his mistake and seeks her out on the steps. It turns out not only does Cosmos want to make up more than anything, she’s slaved over an elaborate script for the process, and won’t accept Joro’s offer until he does it in just the bizarre performative way with weird voices that she envisioned!

So! No sooner did Oresuki tear apart all of its wholesome initial friendships with the utmost gusto does it carefully piece them back together, and in an entertaining and believable way. Each of Joro’s make-up sessions felt true to the character he was making up with.

But the end of the episode doesn’t forget that Dark Joro is very much still a thing, and that these reconciliations has rekindled his desire to one day seduce one of these three of these beautiful girls. Little does he know someone other than Pansy is on to Dark Joro, and is ready to expose him as “King of the Scumbags” in a newspaper article.

The charming, Tsuguro dialect-having Asunaro seemed amiable enough in her interactions with Joro, but his line about her being a master of information gathering wasn’t a throwaway. She’s got mud to throw—mud that threatens both his newly-mended friendships and reputation at school in general…again.

P.S. Anime News Network’s Lynzee Loveridge has a nice write-up of the first three episodes, including more references to the characters’ names that offer insight to their personalities. I for one missed the fact that “joro” means “watering can”—how apropos!

Oresuki – 03 – Bounce Back

When Sun, Himawari and Cosmos all arrive at the library at once, it’s clear that some shit is going to go down. Joro almost manages to slip out of it by revealing his darker side and calling out the two girls for using him as a convenient tool, not because he’s a dear childhood friend or cute kohai.

That last-ditch effort fails when Pansy throws him under the bus, telling them he was trying to get her to date Sun while claiming to be on their side. Sun punches him for playing with the girls’ hearts, declares their friendship over, and carries him off.

It sure looks like this is curtains for Joro, and that all Pansy did was assist in this catharsis of misery. But when she mutters “have faith in me” to Joro on his way out, it becomes apparent there’s still more to this story yet to be explored.

Since there was a bystander in the library during the exchange, rumors spread and Joro is ostracized overnight, including having his indoor shoes bedazzled and a detailed golf course model placed on his desk, which is such a bizarre and random head-scratcher of a prank I couldn’t help but laugh.

With Joro out of the picture, Sun is free to spend the next week of lunch periods in the library with Pansy, unaware that she’s putting the finishing touches on her grand plan. It all starts by asking him, quite simply, why he tricked and entrapped Joro, using the feelings of Himawari and Cosmos as his tools in that venture.

And there it is: Joro, as we know, wasn’t the mastermind here, but neither was Pansy: it was Sun all along, sore over an incident years ago when a girl he liked asked him if he’d help her get with Joro. Sun was the one who put the girls up to confronting Joro about asking Sun about them. Joro played the part Sun knew he would (aware as he was about “dark Joro”) and he got his revenge.

Believing he’s all alone with Pansy, Sun doesn’t deny any of this, but proudly proclaims he was after revenge for “losing” to Joro back then, and again with Pansy. He’s also enough of a jerk that he threatens to “do whatever he wants” to Pansy without consequence, since they’re all alone.

Of course, they aren’t. Joro, whom Pansy summoned to the library a minute before Sun arrived, is a witness to her takedown and exposing of Sun as the villain. She threw Joro under the bus in the previous dust-up to give Sun the false sense that everybody was against Joro, when in fact she loves Joro and intended to clear his name.

Joro comes out of his hiding place at the perfect time, and tells Sun where he truly erred: in making light of the “birdbrained” two girls’ feelings for him in order to use them in his scheme to destroy him. A chastened Sun promises to apologize, and departs, and then Joro tells Pansy that her efforts don’t change the fact he hates her, and he won’t be returning to the library.

That’s when Pansy tells Himawari and Cosmos to come out of their hiding spot; unbeknownst to Sun or Joro, Pansy invited them to listen in on the truth of things.

In golf parlance, we can call this episode a major bounce back for Joro. Himawari and Cosmos apologize, the vandalism of his stuff ceases, and Sun confesses in front of the class, clearing Joro’s name to the whole school through the same rumor mill that sullied it.

That brings us to Joro and Pansy, and why the latter fell in love with the former. Turns out, it isn’t his “dark side” she necessarily likes, but the kind, hardworking side that waited by the north entrance to the gym after Sun’s game, standing there dutifully and waiting with his arms full of Sun’s favorite food.

What Joro remembers most about that day was the gorgeous, well-endowed, raven-haired maiden whose eyes met his and with whom he became transfixed, only to never see her again. The last twist is the most predictable lame: Pansy is that gorgeous maiden, and was simply hiding her looks behind a “plain girl” disguise.

While I understand this reveal was necessary, it was very clumsily done for a show that had just crafted such an intricate tapestry of romantic intrigue, and portrays Joro in a very poor light: someone who is now more or less on board with this “Hot Pansy” on the surface but is still confident he’ll never fall for the Pansy inside.

While the ball might’ve land in a bunker (more golf talk…sorry) at the end, after three (or more precisely, 2.85) strong episodes that subverted my expectations, Oresuki has earned some benefit of the doubt. Let’s see where this goes!

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 05 – A Clockwork Araragi

Koyomi finds himself face-to-face with Kanbaru’s late mother Gaen Tooe in all her glory, but unlike Princess Kiss-Shot, being in her presence too long doesn’t make him suicidal. It’s a rare thing indeed for Koyomi to converse in such an intimate setting with an adult woman—again, Shinobu excluded—a cougar, if you will, made more strange by the fact she’s not even alive on Koyomi’s side.

Her frisky teasing and facial features remind him of Kanbaru, but there’s a decided sharp edge to her, quite becoming of a mother who left a monkey’s paw to her daughter—which was really a part of herself she split off. I like her leitmotif, which includes a cello, like her contemporary, Kaiki Deishu.

Tooe’s first piece of advice to a very nervous and confused Koyomi trying to figure out what’s going on is this: “knowing and not knowing don’t matter.” As proof, she infers just about everything about Koyomi’s situation and the state of his world, even though she entered the bath knowing nothing.

Tooe also underscores the necessity of properly facing your other side, as she and Izuko did, and as Suruga will have to do one day (referencing Hanamonogatari, which chronologically takes place a month after Zoku). Face it and acknowledge it not as a rival or blood enemy, but a partner, be it light or dark.

She also tells Koyomi to tell Suruga when he sees her next that her mother told her “don’t be like me.” She then mysteriously vanishes, leaving nothing but scratch marks on Koyomi’s back reading “Naoetsu High.”

When Dr. Ononoki inspects Koyomi’s back when they meet back up, the marks are gone, but Koyomi still thinks his old high school should be his next destination. Ononoki decides they’ll split up; she’ll visit Shinobu again to see if she’ll say anything else she might’ve wanted to say to Koyomi but couldn’t due tot he time limit.

Then she’ll search for Black Hanekawa to try to learn why she saved Koyomi from the Rainy Devil. Both tasks are designed specifically so she can avoid accompanying Koyomi to Naoetsu High, suggesting that while Koyomi’s influence has changed her personality and viewpoint, there’s still an innate part of her that is of this world, which understands Koyomi ultimately has to figure this out on his own.

To blend in at Naoetsu, Koyomi heads home to change into his uniform, only to discover it’s a girl’s uniform. One that, when he puts it on, actually fits pretty well. It would seem, then, that Koyomi’s theory about his other side in this world being Ougi was correct; for one thing, Ougi’s uniform is very baggy, as if it was meant for someone with a larger build—like Koyomi.

As he cross dresses without hesitation and rides his bike to school once more, Koyomi is extrmely cognizant of the fact that while he may have influenced a bit here and there in this world, it’s already starting to influence him, changing him into Ougi, which would mean Araragi Koyomi as we know him would cease to exist.

Meanwhile, after a fruitless visit to Shinobu’s, Ononoki finds Hanekawa hanging out with Mayoi and Kuchinawa…only it’s not Black Hanekawa, it’s Mini Hanekawa. Mayoi explains Hanekawa has many other sides, including her younger self. They’re all toasting the approaching end of this story, wherein this entire alternate world is revealed as nothing but the “product of a grand misunderstanding.”

That end is imminent because Koyomi is drawing closer and closer to noticing and facing his other side, Oshino Ougi. Strolling down the corridors of his old school, it doesn’t take him long to figure out, as Tooe thought he would, which part of that school meant the most to him – the classroom isolated from time and space.

It’s here where he finds Ougi, who has been waiting a very long time for him to show up. If that first episode of Owarimonogatari was the beginning of the end, and Koyomi saving Ougi at the end of Ougi Dark the end of the end, we’ve finally reached the beginning of the end of the epilogue, where no doubt Koyomi will suss out why this world exists, why he’s here, and how to return home—where he may be between titles, but at least the Karens are tall and the Surugas aren’t homicidal.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 04 – A Disaster Visited Upon a Fragile World

Meeting the Heart-Under-Blade of this world is not what Araragi expected. Before he knows it, he feels compelled not only to bend the knee, but admonish himself in his thoughts whenever he says anything to her, culminating in him getting suicidal thoughts. Turns out that’s what happens with anyone (other than Ononoki) in her presence; her glory is just too great for any mortal to behold.

But in their short time together, Shinobu tells him a great many things he hadn’t considered, like the very real possibility he’s not the “victim” of this incident, as he has thusfar assumed, but a negative influence on her world, throwing it and everyone inhabiting it out of balance. Basically, he has to return to his world, and is on the right path, but he won’t be able to do it alone; he’ll need aid.

When Ononoki lists all of the qualifications required for said aid, a part of me hoped Senjougahara Hitagi’s name would come up—perhaps she’s a specialist in this world?—but the answer is the most obvious: Ononoki herself.

After his encounter with Shinobu, Koyomi immediately starts to notice the so-far subtle effect his presence in this world is having on those closest to him, particularly Sodachi. But while Tsukihi is giving him a compulsory face wash, he spots the other Koyomi in the reflection of the water in the sink.

After contemplating the possibility his own home might be the gate back to his world, Ononoki brings up an alternative plan: simply learn to live here and let the world change him, rather than the other way around. Perhaps his influence is only negative because he’s fighting the reality of this place; “giving up”, so to speak, could reverse the direction of influence.

Koyomi tables this idea, as he’s not sure it’s even achievable – even if he outwardly goes along with everything, there’s still his subconscious to consider, not to mention he has too much to do in that world to leave it now.

So instead it’s off to Kanbaru’s. Ononoki is supremely confident she can hold the Rainy Devil off indefinitely, and certainly as long as Koyomi needs to do. When simply looking in the reflection of the cypress bath nets no result, he strips and takes a bath.

That’s when Kanbaru’s mother Gaen Tooe enters and demands to know who he is before she ends him. No empty threat, but between the Rainy Devil and Tooe, Koyomi’s Araragi Charm will hopefully be more effective on the latter.

Zoku Owarimonogatari – 03 – A Blurry Reflection

Having met nearly everyone in this “mirror world”, Koyomi takes stock of the different ways the people he knows have changed, and acknowledges that this is far from simply a matter of left becoming right, or even right becoming wrong.

Black Hanekawa is his Tsubasa’s alter ego. Rainy Devil’s hatred lurks within his Kanbaru. The happiness of her alternate dwells deep within his Sodachi. Kuchinawa is an inseparable part of Nadeko.

These seemingly different or opposite people are really much the people he knows as the people he knows, only in his world these are the sides hidden, suppressed, lurking beneath the everyday surface, for good and/or ill. As Mayoi has him consider where his alternate might be, he contemplates Oshino Ougi being in his world while he’s here.

But Mayoi also tells him to sleep on it, and take what opportunities might come. To Koyomi’s surprise, Sodachi is his bunkmate, and after lights-out offers some sleepy insight into mirrors—which typically only reflect about 80% of the light that hits them. The rest is absorbed, meaning the only way to truly see ourselves is to see a “blurry reflection”, something less than 100% the reverse of what you put into it.

That opportunity Mayoi mentioned might come comes in the form of Ononoki, but there’s something different about her, which is to say there’s something the same about the way she’s supposed to be. Her expressions and emotion and tone are all back to normal.

She reports that when she saw Koyomi’s reaction to her as she was (including not removing her “bottoms” as is supposedly his alternate’s dirty habit), she essentially rebooted and updated her personality—something among all the others she’s uniquely equipped to do.

Ononoki tells Koyomi she’s arranged to have the former Kiss-shot meet with him, and takes him on a journey to see her. I say journey when it’s more of a dazzling odyssey. As she lets the withering insults of her twisted personality fly freely, the surroundings of their trip to Shinobu fluctuate between dreamy hyper-realism to intricate 8-bit nostalgia.

Very few shows excel better at distracting you from long conversations with diverse dynamic visuals and eclectic music. This culminates in the most lavish setting yet: a classic Disney-style castle at the site where Koyomi expects the cram school to be; which he assumed might not have been destroyed by the Tiger like it was last Summer in his world.

As he and Ononoki let themselves into the magnificent edifice and walk through its vast moonlight-bathed halls, he contemplates what kind of person Shinobu might be. Did the other Koyomi never meet her bleeding to death in the subway, and never made a pact to save her life and made him a vampire? Is she Full-Power, Non-Former Kiss-shot and all the rest?

Well, once he enters her ethereal bedchamber, spots her silhouette, and hears her old-fashioned, polite salutations, it dawns on him: she’s not a vampire at all; she’s human. Judging from her castle, perhaps she still goes by the name Princess Rola?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 07 – A Tale of Two Futabas

Fresh off the amicable resolution of the Koga Tomoe arc, we are presented with not one but two new mysteries, both involving characters we’ve dealt with before. Just as Sakuta’s earlier, seemingly random encounter with Koga paid off nicely (butt-kicking leading to quantum entanglement), his past established crush on “Makinohara Shouko” makes the sudden appearance of someone with the same name who looks just like her, only two years or so younger, that much  more intriguing.

At the same time, Futaba Rio is elevated from Sakuta’s sounding board and scientific consultant to an actual participant in Adolescence Syndrome weirdness. Sporting a fresh look with ponytail and contacts, Futaba doesn’t have any answers for Sakuta about why some younger copy of his crush suddenly appeared. If it’s not causing any harm, just don’t worry about it for now.

And the episode doesn’t; not really. Shouko is mostly tabled as the episode veers toward the slow-burn relationship of Sakuta and Mai, who is done with a job early and surprises him by showing up at the restaurant where he works, and even implies he’ll let him make out with her later.

After his shift, the two spot Futaba entering a Net Cafe and follow her. Using Mai’s phone, Sakuta calls her (presumably so the sound of her phone will indicate where in the cafe she is) but as he’s talking to Futaba on the phone, he and Mai spot a second Futaba. Yup, she’s got herself a doppelganger!

This Futaba, with glasses and no pony tail, finds herself temporarily homeless, since the other Futaba is already living in her house. Sakuta invites her to stay at his place, something Mai only approves if she can spend the night there as well.

This Futaba is extremely coy about what could have brought on Adolescence Syndrome to the point she’d split in two. Sakuta puts her up in his room with Mai, but Mai soon comes out to the living room where he’s sleeping, giving him the hints and nudges he needs to indicate she’s open to him making a move whenever, not just a special occasion for an apology. After all, he’s her boyfriend. Unfortunately, their kiss attempt fails when they bump heads. These guys are just to frikkin’ cute together.

The next day, after some domestic bliss with his full house, Sakuta has Mai watch one Futaba while he goes to school to track down the other. Shouko shows up, but nothing further on her situation is explored; it’s just an opportunity to confirm to Futaba that there is a new Makinohara Shouko in Sakuta’s life.

At school, while on the way to science club (which consists only of her) Futaba stops to watch Kunimi play basketball, which is where Sakuta finds her. After talking with her for a bit, it’s obvious he’s not dealing with “real and fake” Futabas; they are both Futaba, through and through.

That’s not to say the two aren’t very different; not just in appearance (though that’s a start): the ponytailed, contact-wearing Futaba just seems far more assertive, confident, and active, whereas the Futaba back at his place seems, well, almost the opposite of those qualities.

When Kunimi’s girlfriend confronts Sakuta with a social media feed of Futaba taking risque pictures of herself, my theory solidified: the two Futabas embody her id and ego (or super-ego). She is out of balance, and her unrequited feelings for Kunimi seem to be the cause. The question is, how is Sakuta going to help her restore that balance and become one again…and where does Shouko fit into all this?

P.S. A powerful little moment is when Mai’s cell phone goes off and Kaede suddenly looks like she’s about to be shot. Now we know why Sakuta doesn’t own one!

P.P.S. Futaba fell for Kunimi when he bought her a Choco-Cornet; Id-Futaba makes that her social media handle for her photo feed.

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 24 (Fin)

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Finally…a show that actually uses the word “fin” to end its run! Long story short: there’s no time jump and no marriage between Zen and Shirayuki. Instead, the road is paved and made smooth for such an eventuality down the road.

But that’s okay; a finite storybook ending would have run counter to the show’s M.O. to date: not leading us to the Happily Ever After, but the Happy Now, the part between Shirayuki and Zen first meeting and their marriage, a space that has contained multitudes of stories big and small.

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When messengers from Tanbarun (Sakaki and Mihaya) arrive to present Shirayuki to bestow the tile of “Friend of the Crown” on behalf of Prince Raj, Izana can’t help but laugh at the strangeness, but I get the feeling with him it’s always better to be surprised and amused than bored or disappointed.

The fact another prince would go to such lengths to legitimize his friendship to Shirayuki provides more evidence to Izana that Shirayuki isn’t the “nobody” he worried would sully Zen’s name and station. The thing is, Shirayuki, like her new title, doesn’t fit in with everything that’s come before. Izana isn’t threatened by that potential for disruption; he’s intrigued.

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After reading Raj’s cordial letter and being unable to sleep, Shirayuki walks the stately yet serene grounds of the castle (impressive architecture has always been one of this show’s many strong suits) and bumps into Obi, who’s known her long enough to know what she wants.

He fetches Zen for her, and the two share one of their steamier scenes together, as their kissing makes Shirayuki literally weak at the knees and unable to stand. That’s of no consequence, however, as Zen is happy to carry her to the highest, most private vantage point in the castle.

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There, nobody officially proposes, but as I said, the bricks of the road to that outcome are fully laid and mortared for smooth travel. Shirayuki expresses her desire to remain by Zen’s side (indeed, asks if it’s really okay to do so), and Zen replies most emphatically in the affirmative.

Again, it’s not quite a proposal, or even an engagement, but these two aren’t quite doing things the usual way things are done in their world…and aren’t in a hurry to let conventions oppress them at this point. For now, they’ll keep on keeping on: Zen with his princely duties, Shirayuki with her court herbalism.

On this path of her choosing Shirayuki will continue to walk, with Zen and all her other friends by her side supporting her and being supported by her. When the times comes to do something official about the love she and Zen have for one another, they’ll surely know.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 23

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Shirayuki has fully settled back into it’s ‘Palace Groove’ with this particularly laid-back, playful and at times goofy episode, which starts with new maid drops a carpet on a lost-in-thought Zen, mildly injuring his neck.

While looking for Garack in the Herbalists’ office, Mitsu knocks over a strange potion that has a hypnotic effect, turning the normally down-to-earth Mitsu into a hyper-loyal, rigid, dashing, doting pain-in-the-ass of an attendant.

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Oh yeah, Shirayuki gets Zen’s shirt off…but hold your horses, she’s just applying a balm for his neck. As for Mitsu, his unusually charming behavior utterly fails to charm Kiki, but her slap doesn’t snap him out of it, or out of saying things like he loves Zen.

Zen gets irritated easily with this Mitsu, and it’s primarily because the two already went through this phase in their relationship, where Mitsu acted too over-protectively and spoke more formally to his prince. Zen wants the old Mitsu—the one their years together turned from a glorified bodyguard to a dear friend and brother.

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Shirayuki, wanting to lend her strength to Zen the way Mitsu, Kiki and Obi do, works furiously to devise a cure to the hypnotic state after healing Zen’s neck. After some long nights in the library (during one of which Zen visits and the two end up too close for comfort) and a little help from the light of the full moon, she concocts an effective antidote.

But while she thought was simply preparing a medicine for her friend in her spare time, it turns out the proper treatment and reporting on Mitsu’s case was the final test Shirayuki needed to pass to be promoted to full court herbalist. She passes with flying colors, and she can scratch another dream to achieve off her list.

The next one is far bigger: marrying Zen. Could it happen, or at least progress further on the road to it happening, in the next and final episode of Shirayuki Season Two? Or was the leisurely pace and content of this episode an indication there will be a third? We’ll find out in five days.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 13

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As she sleeps and dreams in Bossun’s Concentration Mode, New Yuki seems to resign herself to the fact that as much as she doesn’t want her time in this world to be limited, it is, and there’s nothing she can do about it. As she sleeps, “Old Yuki”‘s memories come into greater focus and reorganize. Her dysmnesia resolving. Time, and neurology itself is against her.

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New Yuki may have the personality and mannerisms of a new person, but she was never meant to be one; not permanently. Her body belongs to another, one who was injured in the accident, and as her brain heals, the temporary nature of her existence, along with the dread of her impending “disappearance” suffuse every moment she spends “on the outside.”

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But what continues to amaze me is that despite New Yuki treating these final days as a kind of requiem for who she is, and an opportunity to disappear with no regrets, the show doesn’t rule out the possibility the very title of this show is a misnomer. Is New Yuki really disappearing, or is she merely changing…or to be more precise, being changed by external stimuli, i.e. her friends?

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New Yuki is, after all, pretty much identical to Old Yuki; their difference lies primarily on the ownership of memories: If New Yuki believed those memories were her own and not Old Yuki’s, she’d probably act a lot if not exactly like Old Yuki. Furthermore, while Kyouko picks up on the fact Yuki is treating these like her last days, she is the one who posits the theory that it’s Yuki’s exposure to her and Kyon that’s causing this change in her, and therefore not a bad thing.

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But this discussion about whether there’s erasure or change going on is moot: erasure IS change. Also, New Yuki isn’t going back to Old Yuki; not really. I’m not sure the coinidence is intentional, but this episode has a “III” in it; the Yuki that results from her memories and personality being restored will be a third, new Yuki. New Yuki or “Yuki II” may only end up as synaptic scars, but that’s still a difference.

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The final scene is exhilarating, because we know Yuki will be “back to normal” soon, but heartbreaking, because it’s in her state as New Yuki, on the precipice of oblivion, that she has the courage to say what Old Yuki never could: that she loves Kyon. These are words Kyon really had to hear directly from Yuki, and when he does, it’s over the phone, and he knows he has to hurry to her side to properly respond.

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It doesn’t work out. By the time he finds Yuki, she’s dozed off, and just as she told him, she’s slightly confused by her surroundings when she wakes up. She also would seem to have no recollection of having just confessed to Kyon over the phone, though we’ll have to wait until next week to confirm this.

But who’s to say Yuki’s decision to confess right then and there, triggered by the knowledge Kyon knows her so well and cares for her so much, triggered her own disappearance, and the restoration of her old personality? If that’s the case, then it’s as if the Yuki created by accident accomplished a very important feat for her more easily-flustered counterpart.

Will Kyon believe the Yuki that confessed her love for him is gone, or will he understand that the back-to-normal Yuki feels the same way; that the accident was the finally learning her feelings? Here’s hoping.

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Nisekoi 2 – 12 (Fin)

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Not unpredictably, Nisekoi: decides to wrap things up with “Best Girl” Kirisaki Chitoge. The story of the first half  is simple: she loses and then eventually finds her beloved red ribbon. But because the ribbon carries so much sentimental power for her—due to its connection to both her beloved mother and her beloved Raku—that the time she’s separated from it and worried it could be in some dumpster somewhere is a palpable yawning chasm of near-Mr. Despair-like despair. Even Marika is thrown off by how meek and out of sorts her rival is.

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No one is more worried/concerned about Chitoge than Raku, however. While her predicament makes it easier for him to see her feminine side (though physically she’s still a beast) and he entertains the notion that things might be better if she just stayed like this, at the end of the day he’s a fan of the status quo, which means a cheerful—if sometimes unreasonable and violent—Chitoge.

So he buys a new ribbon for her. She immediately sniffs it out as a brand-new impostor, but because she’s so distraught, her guard is down and she expresses genuine gratitude for Raku’s kindness.

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Then Raku spots the real ribbon atop an electric pole, and the super-athletic Chitoge springs into gear…only to watch in horror as her ribbon catches on the train cable and gets shredded by a train. But at some point in her pursuit, she stopped following the real one and pursued the fake, which is the one that got destroyed. Raku produces the real one, unharmed…or is it?

When she puts it back on she returns mostly to her normal best self, but when she’s back home, we see she’s painstakingly repairing the destroyed ribbon Raku said was the fake new one, but there’s a chance the messed-up one was the real one, and Raku again switched them up to make her feel better. But at this point, she’s happy she has two ribbons, both of which her love Raku gave her at different times in her life.

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The second part is one of the best kinds of Nisekoi segments: those spent primarily in Chitoge’s head as she struggles with precisely what kind of feelings she has for Raku and if, when, and how to express them to him. It’s clear her heart wants her to confess, but her head overanalyzes and sweats over every detail and eventuality and potential effect of her words or actions, all coalescing into a paralyzing effect; no matter what goes on in her head, Raku can’t see or hear anything but the slightest hints; all to easily misinterpreted or simply not noticed.

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Chitoge seeks advice from her dad, who tells her the outrageous tale of how he met Hana. Back then she was a student juggling 17 jobs to pay her tuition, one of which was pizza delivery girl. She delivered a pizza while Chitoge’s future dad was it the middle of a shootout with a rival organization (well, he wasn’t doing the shooting, but directing from a pool lounger). Seeing Hana so confidently stride into the middle of a warzone…it was love at first sight for pops.

But he goes on to say that wasn’t the case for Hana: he had to suffer multiple embarrassments, rejections, and yes, broken bones before Hana finally fell for him. Chitoge may be right that her parents’ tale of coming together is atypical, but she’s wrong that it doesn’t resemble her own romance with Raku in some fashion. The difference is, Raku still keeps their relationship at an arm’s length due to it’s official “fakeness.”

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But he still gets clobbered by Chitoge regularly, and as we saw from the last segment, when she suddenly stops being herself, he not only notices, but worries about her and wants to help. Turns out, the chemistry between her and Raku is so good, the question of how or when to confess to him is more or less resolved by Raku himself.

In talking about how they’ve been fake lovers for more than a year now, reminds Chitoge what she really wants, which is to spend more time with him. And as long as she can do that, there’s no rush to say the words…which is good, because she can barely say them to her stuffed Chitoge gorilla.

The way this episode ended didn’t promise a third season of Nisekoi, but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised. But would I watch it? While hardly any show beats around the bush as stylishly and confidently as Nisekoi, the lack of deal-closing was just as frustrating this season as it was in the first, and the show show no signs of fixing that.

Fortunately, it rarely has to, as its episodic nature lets us focus on and revel in the colorful variety of love interests Raku has to choose from, which makes us forget for just long enough that he’ll never choose any of them.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 12

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This week is another quiet, pensive exploration of “New Nagato Yuki”, as time passes and more aspects of “Old Nagato Yuki”‘s personality gradually begin to surface. With four more episodes left after this one, the show may as well take its time.

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As a result, we’re treated to a rare instance of observing a character more or less observe themselves, along with Kyon, constantly on edge about the possibility of fading into oblivion once Old Yuki fully returns.

It’s a slow, slow burn, and very…neostalgicNew Yuki is seemingly experiencing this library for the first time, but it is in fact the same library where Old Yuki met, and possibly fell for, Kyon.

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I continue to be fascinated with the two different sets of glasses Nagato Yuki owns. The New Yuki wears one set; the Old Yuki wore the other. And as if she were getting superstitious, or even validly worried about further stimuli progressing her disappearance, New Yuki chooses not to put the old glasses on.

When Kyon tries on a pair of sunglasses, Yuki is almost taken aback by how easily he can do so without having to worry about his personality drastically changing.

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But even though she eschews the old specs, there are other stimuli New Yuki cannot avoid, because she doesn’t know about them until it’s too late, such as when Kyon gets her a book she’s too short to reach. She’s blushing, getting nervous for “no reason”, and her heart is beating faster.

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Hell, she’s even smiling. New Yuki wants to think she’s in control; wants to think she has a decent chance at surviving, that this “change” is permanent…but there’s too much evidence to the contrary, and it’s all because of her continued proximity to Kyon.

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New Yuki is remembering Old Yuki through dreams that are really memories, but they feel like someone else’s, an interloper’s, if you will. I find it fascinating that the show isn’t automatically taking Old Yuki’s side here; New Yuki has every right to exist, even if it’s not for much longer, due to the fact she only exists at all due to some strange brain glitch as a result of an accident that will pass with time.

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But things may not be so black and white. There are at least three Yukis to consider: the one before she met Kyon, t one who is in love with Kyon, and her current self, who stands between them, with bits of both mixing with her.

It would seem as though her brain injury fractured these parts, and that their “natural state” is combined into one; the one that, thanks to the linear passage of time, loves Kyon.

Yet that doesnt’ make it any easier for New Yuki, who considers herself a separate entity within the same body—a body she doesn’t necessarily want to surrender.

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