Otherside Picnic – 06 – To the Trained Eye

Lt. Blake takes Sorao and Toriko to Major Barker, the “current” commander of the unit, implying a previous commander was among the many casualties. Barker seems nice enough, but weary of the situation, and like Blake, isn’t sure how much longer things can stay “civilized.”

They are surrounded by “bear traps” (i.e. glitches) that either kill or transform whoever or whatever touches them. They are running low on diesel fuel and will soon be out of food. The girls are offered an empty tent that’s strewn with garbage. It’s empty because its previous occupants are dead. It’s just not a place you want to be, especially after a pleasant dinner and drinks.

Blake “advises” them not to use their phones, but it should have been an explicit order and explained that making a call, as the girls do to Kozakura, has an effect on the environment. Specifically, it calls the “Meat Train” to the station, and with it a frightening train of “face dogs”, on whom the soldiers’ mortars and gunfire have no effect.

Toriko hops onto a Humvee and whips out an M14 EBR, but even though Sorao spots the proper target for her, her shots never reach them. This gives Sorao the idea that the one perceiving the targets must be the one to pull the trigger, so she has Toriko anchor her so she can take the shot, all before the soldiers can stop them.

The face dog mass dissipates, but when firing the shot Sorao lost her contact, and the soldiers wig out. She and Toriko make a run for it, and are probably lucky none of the exhausted, extremely on-edge soldiers took any shots at them. Call it a win for Major Barker in keeping discipline under suboptimal conditions.

As the Meat Train approaches, Sorao has another hunch: even though it doesn’t look like it will stop, she belives they can board the train if Toriko reaches out and touches it with her translucent hand. Sorao repeats Toriko’s line about everything working out if they’re together, and take a leap of faith.

It works, and they’re on the train, but Sorao senses a great number of unspeakable, horrifying things on that train, the collective auras of which are enough to cause her to lose consciousness. However, when she comes to, Toriko is smiling from above, and a bright blue sky indicates that they successfully returned to their world, safe and sound.

That’s not to say they returned to Ikebukuro. The beach and palm trees indicate they could be in Okinawa, having used the same entry point to the Otherside the Americans used. Further weird details include the childish drawing of a train track in the sand, and a cut to Kozakura playing back her phone call with the other two, which is distorted and full of unsettling gibberish.

If they’re now in Okinawa, I’d think the next step for Sorao and Toriko is to report the whereabouts of Pale Horse Battalion. Yet even that carries some risk: Kozakura has never heard of such a unit, though the Dark Horse Battalion is stationed in Okinawa. Just what was that unit really up to in the Otherside?

Talentless Nana – 13 (Fin) – Friendship Is Tragic

Poor, poor Nana. She’s been so traumatized by her parents’ murder and by the idea drilled into her hear that it was All Her Fault, she’s never been able to trust anyone long enough to become friends. It never occurred to her that anyone would want to be her friend unless something was in it for them, and in any case she never felt she deserved one.

But Inukai Michiru is different. She may be in the dark about Nana’s murders, but one thing she’s sure of is that Nana didn’t kill her parents. The reason for her odd behavior of late wasn’t because she suspected Nana, but because she was wracking her brain for a way to convince Nana her parents deaths weren’t her fault.

When Nana realizes this, she’s overcome by a feeling she’s never experienced before: pure, real friendship. The next day there’s an outdoor market from the supply ship, and Nana is compelled to buy Michiru a gift. Kyouya notices Nana is acting like she has a crush, and she absolutely does have an incurable girl-crush on sweet, kind Michiru.

Nana ends up giving Michiru a cute dog pen, while Michiru gives her a frilly pillow so she’ll sleep better. The two haven’t been closer, and at no point during the day does Inner Nana come out to reveal she’s still just messing around with Michiru to keep her guard down. No, she’s straight up fallen for Michiru!

Like Kyouya, Jin notices Nana’s lack of usual focus and sharpness, but considers it a repaid debt for rescuing his kitty friend to warn Nana about Michiru being lured out to a secret meeting. Sure enough, Nana is confronted and slashed across the face by the real murder both Nana and Kyouya have been looking for.

While running to Michiru’s rescue, Nana gets an almost too-perfectly-timed call from her mentor and handler, Tsuruoka, whose very voice seems to flip a switch in Nana’s head and return her to Unfeeling Cynical Killer Mode. She’ll let the students keep killing and weakening each other…including Michiru.

However, despite Tsuruoka’s call that seems designed to get her back on track, Nana still all but abandons her mission by sacrificing herself to save Michiru from the killer, who we learn is the Astral Projector, Tsurumigawa Rentarou. She rescues Michiru just as Michiru is saying Nana will come save her!

Still, Tsurumigawa can’t ignore his instinct about Nana hiding a dark and tortured soul beneath her cute and bubbly exterior. And while he’s right about that, the bottom line is that Nana isn’t going to let him kill Michiru. She says some heartbreakingly awful things to Michiru about them not being friends to get her to flee.

Then we learn what Nana said to Kyouya before racing to save Michiru. She tells him Tsurumigawa is the killer, and tells him to look for his real body and stop him while she saves Michiru. In a cute moment, Kyouya tries to protest Nana taking the dangerous job, but both sides of the job are dangerous in this case!

Kyouya finds Tsurumigawa in the bathroom and chokes him until his projection dissipates…but the damage is done: Nana has been “butchered”, and more to the point, doesn’t really mind dying here and now in this manner, considering the things she’s done. So of course Michiru returns to her side and starts working her healing magic.

While being healed, Nana is too weak to speak and protest that Michiru is using up what’s left of her life to save someone who doesn’t deserve salvation or mercy. She’s right back to hating and devaluing herself. It’s a state Tsuruoka cultivated in order to facilitate her development into a tiny pink murder machine, and Michiru almost broke her out of it.

Wait, what is this “almost”? The death of Michiru hits Nana hard. Perhaps her sacrifice wasn’t in vain if Nana changes her ways and stops blindly following Tsuruoka and the Committee, who, if we’re honest, sure look like they were the ones who orchestrated the death of her parents, then blamed it on her as part of her hitgirl conditioning.

Michiru wasn’t just Nana’s first friend, she was her only friend, someone who loved her unconditionally and would probably go on loving her even if she knew of the horrors Nana committed. Assuming there’s a second season of Talentless Nana, Michiru will be sorely missed, but maybe her loss will help Nana escape the box in which others placed her and forge her own path.

Adachi & Shimamura – 11 – Desiring the Future

Back when Shimamura was in P.E. and suspected Adachi was on the second floor, but didn’t go up to see her, Adachi was indeed on the second floor, and didn’t expect her to come up and see her. For a couple moments she thinks she might be proven wrong, but it’s not Shimamura, just a third-year (whom I believe is a Hanazawa Kana voice cameo) looking for a quiet spot to read.

Ever since their second year began, Adachi has witnessed Shima easily find new friends, and can’t discern between her smiles and laughs with them and those with her. She gets the (wrong) impression Shima doesn’t care about her, yet can’t help but bike to the mall where they made happy memories, or think of which puppy she’d like best.

That’s when Adachi and Tarumi bump into each other, unaware of their connection with Shimamura, and Adachi notices Tarumi dropped her strap. Like Tarumi, Adachi thinks it would be just the tops if she and Shima had matching straps. But when spotting a lonely but quiet puppy, Adachi realizes she’s looking at a mirror.

That attitude is nurtured by a very random and fortune-teller, who looks and talks as eccentrically as Adachi is normal. Her advice is solid: the future can’t really be told, it must be desired, which means no running away from what is needed to achieve them. She has nothing to say to Adachi that she doesn’t already know, she just needs a little push to be more assertive in seeking Shima’s attention.

That brings us to a shift in POV to Shimamura, picking up from last week with her “Finally, it’s Adachi” remark. Having not heard her voice since the term began, Shima seems surprised how much she welcomes Adachi’s voice. This new assertive Adachi sits on the same chair as her and shares yummy bread, and Shima just knows that as her fake friends fade, Adachi will keep burning bright.

Shima sees all of Adachi’s moves as a sign her friend has made up her mind that she is the only one she needs. But is the reverse true? Shima can see Adachi has the same interest in straps and need to hold her hand (albeit her other hand) as Tarumi. She envisions her hands being held by the other two, all three of them with straps, in a Shima sandwich.

But only Adachi takes Shimamura aside, draws her into a big hug, and exclaims “I think you’re the best!” and plans to call Shima at 7 PM. She doesn’t stick around long enough for Shima to tell her that’s her usual time, so Shima arranges to eat dinner early, knowing full well Adachi will call her at 7 PM on the dot.

Adachi doesn’t call to say anything specific, she mostly likes the feeling of having Shima all to herself while on the phone. Shima calls her possessive, but Adachi thinks it’s normal, and it is normal, for someone who has feelings for someone and has decided not to run away or equivocate any longer.

Shima admits it’s “not a bad feeling” knowing someone cares about her, and is caught off guard by Adachi’s over-the-phone tears. Still, with Adachi, Shima feels her “possibilities are fixed.” If, not when, she were to choose someone to walk beside, it would be whoever is “best for her”.

While Adachi opened this episode believing she wouldn’t officially graduate to her second year until she confronted Shima, she’s actually well ahead of Shima in terms of knowing exactly what’s best for her and what she wants.

Shima isn’t sure about either, and weary of “surrendering” to Adachi’s puppy-like whims. How can Shima know she’s choosing someone who has already so heartily chosen her? I certainly don’t know, but at the end of the day (and hopefully by the end of this series!), Shima needs to learn what kind of future she desires.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Adachi & Shimamura – 10 – Finally Adachi

The opening scene is filled with drama and suspense as Adachi prays to be in the same class as Shimamura. Her prayers are answered, and she’s not shy about celebrating it, much to the amusement of Shima, who is sporting a new look with her natural darker hair color. Obviously, the change hasn’t lessoned Adachi’s adoration of her in the slightest.

Shimamura even tests out calling Adachi “Sakura-chan”, predictably turning Adachi into one happy puppy. These two seem locked in, until three new “artificial friends” are drawn into Shima’s orbit, replacing Hino and Nagafuji. They eat lunch and chat together, and even though Shima doesn’t particularly enjoy it, she lets it happen, while Adachi…just kinda runs off.

There’s a lot to read into Shimamura and Adachi’s passivity this week, which starts with Adachi’s hope they’d remain in the same class. She’s not sure Shima would actively seek her out if they were in different classes, and sure enough, Shima admits she wasn’t close enough to Hino or Nagafuji to do that for them.

It’s not abundantly clear what’s up with Adachi, since after that first scene when she learns they’ll be together, we don’t get any more time inside her head. I for one buy that she’s just giving Shima some space, worried about being too possessive or clingy could make things awkward. Of course, her absence from class and from most of the remainder of the episode is its own awkwardness.

While Shimamura doesn’t check to see if Adachi retreated to the second floor of the gym, she also feels her absence when Tarumi calls her, requesting another hang-out. After their last “date” tanked, Tarumi has gone to lengths to rehabilitate her attitude to something more brash, bubbly, and fun. Not only does it come off as extremely forced, but Shima can’t help but not really pick up anything Tarumi puts down. She nods, smiles, and thinks about Adachi instead.

By the end of their second “date”, Tarumi expresses her desire to be full-fledged friends with Shimamura again, like they were as tykes. As with all of her requests to that point, Shima assents, but Tarumi finds it hard to read her vague expressions. They part when Yashiro appears, and when Shima asks herself “Who even am I?” Yashiro replies “You’re just you.”

Nice words, but frankly I still fail to grasp the reason for Yashiro popping in and out of this show at all, just as I continue to wonder why we peek in on Hino and Nagafuji’s long friendship seemingly growing more and more amorous, but only to the point of plausible deniability. If Shimamura ditched these two, why does the show keep checking in on them?

Is it to compare them with the much newer and very different pairing of our two leads? Our two leads were mostly apart this week, while Hino and Nagafuji continue to be stuck like glue. But absence clearly makes the heart grow fonder, as when it comes to Shima having her name called in class, only Adachi will do.

She seems relieved that Adachi finally approached her after she’d descended into a monotonous second-year existence of having lunch with her fake friends and not listening to them prattle on. Adachi worries Shima “doesn’t need her that badly”. But watching Shima’s potential new friends swing and miss, it’s clear at the very least that she prefers Adachi over others. By Shima’s standards, that’s a big deal.

Adachi & Shimamura – 09 – Her Sun Also Rises

Adachi is so excited about Valentine’s Day she can’t sleep, but Shimamura confirms she’s still down to hang out, so that anticipation sustains Adachi, as does Shimaura’s face when she first sees it in the morning. Shimamura is her “sun”, after all, providing light and warmth to Adachi even if Shimamura herself considers herself far gloomier than she once was.

The first thing Adachi notes about the day is that she’s acting like Shimamura’s puppy, having to be told to “wait” and “stay” and dutifully obeying. She also thinks being an actual puppy in Shimamura’s arms would be pretty nice!

The second thing Adachi notices is that Shimamura is more bubbly than usual, smiling and laughing at Adachi’s answers and reactions as they hurry aboard a Nagoya-bound train. Shimamura offers Adachi the only free seat and they pass the time playing Shiritori.

While waiting in line for Adachi to buy chocolate, the two thumb wrestle. Then the big moment comes, and…Shimamura bought Adachi chocolate from the same place! Turns out she hung out with childhood friend Tarumi the previous day.

While the two hangout sessions have a lot of similarities, Shimamura’s time with Tarumi, I dunno…lacks a certain sparks that the same time with Adachi has in spades? It’s almost as if so much time has passed, these two just aren’t as close as they once were. The happiest Shimamura seems the whole time is when Adachi texts her to confirm they’re still on for Valentine’s!

At the very end, both Shimamura and Tarumi seem a bit disappointed their time together wasn’t as fun as they imagined, but at the very end Shimamura salvages it somewhat by finally remembering she used to call Tarumi “Taru-chan”.

Back in the present, Shimamura and Adachi try the chocolate, with Shimamura drawing in close and grabbing Adachi’s cheek as a lie detecting method, and Adachi telling Shimamura to say “ahh” so she can drop a chocolate into her mouth.

Then Shimamura ends up doing one of the most surprising things she’s ever done: she arranged to have the LCD sign at the station display a message meant for Adachi, stating “I hope we can continue to be close” followed by her name. Adachi is touched, even though Shimamura admits she chose something “safer” since she doubted they’d be in the right place at the right time.

And yet it’s so apropos that they are, and that it worked out. It’s a clear sign to Adachi that Shimamura does care for her, and not just as a puppy…since dogs can’t read after all! Sure, Shimamura still demonstrates she’s still not quite on the same wavelength as Adachi when she’s genuinely confused as to why Adachi wants to hug her.

But that doesn’t change the fact that she does let Adachi hug her, and it’s not at all an unpleasant experience. Hey, she did want to stay close! As for Adachi, she briefly wonders what others around her think about the sight of them, but ultimately doesn’t care; on that train platform in that moment, Shimamura is the only one she sees.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Adachi & Shimamura – 08 – Venus and Mars

Adachi’s push-and-pull, engage-and-retreat campaign to woo-or-not-woo Shimamura proceeds apace, with her becoming fixated on a kooky TV astrologer’s freewheeling romantic advice. Adachi learns that Shimamura is an Aries while she’s a Libra. They’re on literal opposite ends of the Zodiac, and yet many an astrologist refers to their pairing as “interesting”, “passionate”, and even “steamy”—”a lover and a fighter”.

Opposites attract, but while Aries/Libra pairings have their share of benefits, it requires almost constant compromise to meet their very different needs. That certainly seems to be the case based on what we’ve witnessed of the pair so far. Adachi realizes her wishes and desires piling up “far and high like mountain ranges” and tries to keep them in check. Then then there’s Tarumi—whose sign we don’t know—to whom Shimamura seems naturally drawn.

While taking her little sister and Yashiro out to a movie, Shimamura thinks a bit on how things are going, observing that Adachi is way too “eager and excited” and how they’re probably both “overthinking” Valentine’s Day in their own ways. How the shimmery-haired alien girl fits into all this, I still have no idea.

The next day at school it’s Shimamura who reaches out to Adachi, asking if she wants to join her, Hina and Nagafuji for an afternoon of gaming. Adachi appears to demonstrate strong beginner’s luck, then offers to take Shimamura home on her bike. She ends up distracting Adachi from the road and they almost crash, but when Shimamura tightly embraces Adachi from behind it seems to steady her. Adachi senses Shimamura is “stealing her time”…but she sure doesn’t seem to mind it!

After another encounter with Yashiro (who is apparently 680 years old…?) results in Shimamura missing school, Adachi pays her a visit, and Shimamura gives Adachi what she thinks she wants: something like the gym wall that she can lean on for support. Shimamura doesn’t think they can ever go back to that gym wall; the seasons change, and so must they.

On the day Adachi intends to buy Shimamura chocolate, she gets called in for a shift at the restaurant, but she decides she’ll just pick some out with Shimamura when they go out the day of. But as Adachi is working, Shimamura is free, and Tarumi eagerly swoops in to hang out, clearly wanting to spend more time with her old classmate and become closer. That’s probably going to be a problem for Adachi…

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 11 – Driving With the Parking Brake On

Haru was calling because her house was broken into, but she’s fine and nothing was taken. Still, she asks Rikuo if he’s really the kind of man who would leave a young woman in her state all alone and go home. Rikuo isn’t that kind of man, so he sleeps on the floor, ignoring her offer to stay in her room.

Nothing happens in the night, but Haru makes Rikuo a modest but hearty breakfast as thanks, blissfully unaware his current status with Shinako because Rikuo never comes around to telling her. Even if the timing stinks, he’ll never get a better opportunity to let her down relatively easy.

Rikuo and Shinako are a picture of domestic bliss as he accompanies her grocery shopping and she cooks at both their places. Rikuo calls her cooking “leagues apart” (from Haru’s), though Shinako wonders if he’s making fun of her, since to her it’s just self-taught cooking; nothing special. But it is special to him, just as cooking for him is special to her.

Still, when Rou calls on her phone, she tells Rou there’s no one else there. Like Rikuo with Haru, the timing for telling Rou about them sucks, because she doesn’t want the impact of knowing to affect his college entrance exams. But like Rikuo, she’ll never have a better opportunity to tell Rou, despite logic suggesting she keep them a secret for a little while longer.

But I don’t think mere fear of hurting Haru and Rou is what drives their inability to make their new relationship public. That they’re the only two who know about each other means it’s not yet official, or even 100% real yet. While they’ve shown tremendous courage in taking the first steps toward each other, it’s as if they still have the parking brake on, slowing their progress and its legitimization to an awkward crawl.

It’s why Shinako still can’t let Rikuo kiss her when he draws in. He doesn’t mind, but in drawing in he’s already established that he’s ready for a kiss; that he sought to release that E-brake and drive a little further down the road, while Shinako’s brake is still on. It doesn’t, nor should it, irritate Rikuo, who is just happy to be with her, but he automatically starts to think of what he still needs to do to get her to release that brake.

Whatever issues the two are having in transitioning into a more romantic relationship, the fact remains they’ve both procrastinated too long in letting the other man and woman in their lives know what’s up. Because Rikuo didn’t tell Haru that morning to spare her feelings, Haru ends up learning about the two when she stops by Rikuo’s with food from the cafe as thanks for him spending the night at her place.

The looks on Haru’s face as she repeatedly tries and fails to cover her true feelings with a brave smile over and over makes for the most heartbreaking sequences of the show so far. Any notion of sparing her feelings is thrown out the window. Haru knew this moment would come, but she didn’t truly know how it would feel until it did. Rikuo didn’t make things any easier for her, so he and Shinako also feel shitty.

Rou ends up passing his entrance exams, and is officially heading for college, which means it’s time to tell him lest he face the same moment of embarrassment and despair as poor Haru (not that I particularly care about Rou, mind you!) But when Rou tells Shinako he’ll be moving closer to her place and she gently bristles at him presuming she’ll keep cooking for him, Rou’s reaction is so callow and impudent, she dare not say more to upset him further. Yikes! Later, Shinako tells Rikuo that she’ll surely, definitely tell Rou about them soon, when the time is right. MmHmm.

Then she has drinks with her still-single friend, who learns that Shinako may be going with her guy, but that nothing has happened in that department for three months. THREE. MONTHS. There’s taking it slow, and there’s frikkin’ pitch drop experiments. Her friend is understanding, but wisely wonders if Shinako will ever feel comfortable doing “anything” with Rikuo.

Some time passes, and Rikuo learns from Kyouko that Haru has quit her job at the cafe. That night, Rikuo takes Shinako out to dinner as thanks for all his cooking (per his boss’ suggestion), and invites her to the aquarium. Unfortunately, Shinako already agreed to help Rou move, and once again assures Rikuo she’ll tell Rou about them.

When he walks Shinako home, she ask him if he wants to “stop by”, and he politely declines, he detects relief in her voice. He’s not feeling restless or anything, but she should let him know if there’s any way he can better meet her expectations. Shinako tells him he’s fine the way he is, and she won’t expect more or as him to make any promises. As long as he stays by her side and be who he’s always been, it’s all gravy.

Then Rou shows up, sees Shinako clutching Rikuo’s shirt, is outraged, and asks what the hell is going on between them. There was never going to be a good time to tell Rou or Haru, but the absolute worst time could have been avoided in both cases. Another unforced error for the fledgling couple. I’m thoroughly rooting for them at this point, but they have got to do better.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 10 – Making an Effort

First of all, thank goodness for the Fukudas, for hosting a party that doubles as an excuse to bring Rikuo and Shinako to see each other. Kozue even insists Rikuo give Shinako the moonstone pendant his boss gave him.

When he can’t hide the gift’s provenance, Shinako is still charmed by his honesty with her, and feels good about it being the first gift he’s ever given a woman. It’s a sign they’re starting to find some comfort in each others’ romantic inexperience. Rikuo’s gesture also enables Shinako to suggest they spend New Year’s Eve together.

It’s ironic, then, that the woman who ends up at Rikuo’s place that night isn’t Shinako, but Haru, who waited outside his door for untold hours in the cold. Rikuo isn’t so cold-hearted he won’t offer her the warmth of his apartment and something warm to drink. Haru’s been dealing with a lack of Rikuo so long she can’t help giving him a big hug.

While Rikuo’s slightly stronger insistence Haru stop “this kind of thing” makes for a heartbreaking interaction between the two—not to mention Haru settling for way too little in my book—there’s a nobility in her sticking this out regardless, even if she comes off as clingy or desperate, she’s making the effort to see him because she likes him, so he should cut her some slack.

Speaking of effort, neither Shinako or Rikuo call each other to make plans until New Year’s Eve. Rikuo eventually is the one to call her, and the call is awkward, but also appreciated. Both of them accept partial responsibility for the temporary communications breakdown, since both were anxious about what form their New Years Eve date would take.

Thankfully, once they end up at a restaurant together and have some drinks, the two hit it off splendidly, and are able to talk naturally, have fun together, and talk about one another in ways beyond mere small talk.

The romantic tension increases a hundredfold when Shinako finally  decides to take the initiative (again) and invite Rikuo to her place (again). Thankfully the show skips the long hallway walk and the door-opening and we finally have the two in the same apartment together after spending a wonderful evening together—an evening that marks a literal new beginning with the new year, but also a different kind of beginning for their relationship…hopefully!

Again, Shinako finds herself apologizing for so slowly realizing that it’s possible to experience a kind of love that’s different from her first; that of Rou’s brother. Expanding her view of what forms love takes makes it easier for her to avoid pitting those two loves against each other, and she makes sure Rikuo knows she wants to move forward and learn what forms this new love takes.

Even if she has to take it slow, it’s something she wants to do. Rikuo pulls her into a passionate embrace and the two come close to a kiss, but ultimately pull away amicably. Rikuo no doubt respects Shinako’s desire to take things slow and it probably makes a lot of sense for him as well—taking a long friendship to another place is tricky in the best of conditions.

We then shift somewhat abruptly from the beautiful tension of Shinako’s apartment to the dread of Haru alone in her vast accommodations after spending the evening with her mom and her new husband. Something goes bump in the night, Haru investigates, and then Rikuo gets a phone call he reacts to with shock.

A lot can happen in the remaining eight episodes, and it’s telling that the “Game Over” video game ED has already been replaced with a new ED that gives the four protagonists relatively equal treatment.

I’m worried that this cliffhanger-y final scene portends a sudden stamping-out of the slight but very meaningful progress Rikuo and Shinako made this week. Why introduce a “bump in the night” if Haru isn’t about to be in some kind of danger or trouble?

Gleipnir – 08 – Filling In the Shadows

Claire and Yatou find Shuuichi and Chihiro (and Chihiro’s wallet), then return to the hideout where there are finally formal introductions of the remaining members. One of them, Isao, is a mild-mannered plant-lover who just happens to remember Shuuichi playing with friends at Yamada Cram School.

Shuuichi just happened to dream of the school, but woke up before he met any of his classmates. And yet Shuuichi insists to Isao that he was the only student at the school, which aside from being very odd (wouldn’t he just have a tutor?) reinforces the idea that his memories have been supremely messed with.

Claire is naturally suspicious of Chihiro, and doesn’t believe she doesn’t remember anything about the battle after she and Shuuichi were smushed. This scene is akin to your typical high school drama confrontation between romantic rivals, just as entering Shuuichi is akin to sex.

Claire insists she’s “irreplaceable” as Shuuichi’s partner, but Chihiro speaks with some authority that the two will never “become one” before walking away. Claire’s fear Chihiro might just be right—and dread of the loneliness that could result from that truth—likely conspire to keep her from taking a shot at Chihiro.

On the way home for the day, Claire brings up Shuuichi’s “experience” with Chihiro, including asking straight up if she was “better” than her, and even half-jokingly proposing real sex with him as a means of reasserting their exclusivity. What’s so heartbreaking is that the truth is, from a combat perspective, Chihiro was better.

Because Chihiro and Shuuichi shared the same goal in that moment (perhaps nothing more than a desire to survive their smushing), she was able to exact a transformation—and a closeness to Shuuichi—Claire hasn’t come close to achieving. She can say “you and I are one” all she wants, but Shuuichi and Chihiro really were a single entity.

As is expected of such a non-confrontational fellow, Shuuichi remains passive in this brewing love triangle for now. He seems destined to continue having women slip into his zipper as long as he ends up in situations where he needs to become stronger. Claire is right on one count: Shuuichi needs someone around to spur him to decisive action.

Who is best for that role depends on what he wants his role to be. And whether it’s encountering his classmate Abukawa burying a dog that was (allegedly) run over, or fixing Mifune’s bike, he wants to use his power not for himself, but to protect normal, powerless people like them. (Incidentally, Ikeuchi is spying on him when he’s with Mifune, and concludes he’s an inveterate womanizer.)

That night, Chihiro calls Elena, using the number she found on Shuuichi’s phone. She’s desperate for answers about what happened to the two of them, and Elena generously explains that what happened is Shuuichi’s special power, and how only someone who shares his goals can fully join with him, as Chihiro did.

Chihiro, it turns out, not only remembers the entirety of the battle while she and Shuuichi were joined, but was privy to all of his memories, many of which were full of “shadows,” or unnaturally erased details memories. Whether it’s the fact he had classmates at cram school, to the fact he and Elena were clearly in some kind of relationship, Chihiro is new link to memories Elena thought were lost.

I’ll just add that this episode was full of great dialogue between seiyus Hanazawa Kana and Ichinose Kana, whose voice many compare to a younger Hanazawa.

Chihiro could glean from those memories that Elena wasn’t a bad person, and pleads with her to join them. She’s assuming Elena is that same not-bad person, and it’s clear she isn’t; people change. Still, Chihiro’s revelations could pave the way for a possible redemption of Elena, provided a lot of conditions are met.

The next day the Weak reassemble and set out in search of more coins, with Sayaka noting the pattern of their locations indicates the path of the alien ship, which is their ultimate goal to 100 coins. Elena, meanwhile, told Chihiro “someone” (either her or someone she’s aligned with) already has 100 coins. So the Weak certainly have some catching up to do.

Speaking of coins, Claire ends up taking her own, which she told Shuuichi she’d never use on herself, out of its hiding place and staring thoughtfully out the window. She may not know for sure what we know about the extent of Chihiro’s connection to Shuuichi (or how much “better” it was), but I’m sure she suspects the worst, and might feel like she’s suddenly being left behind. Things continue to get very messy indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 04 – Cat Ears, Banned Words, The First Text, French Invective

Citing that France is second only to Japan in cosplay popularity, Chika insists the StuCo welcome their new French exchange students while cosplaying. But when Kaguya and Miyuki put on cat ears, neither of them can resist smiling at the intolerable cuteness of the other.

Regardless, both don’t want the other knowing they find them cute, so they try to tough it out by grotesquely contorting their expressions in a futile effort to hide their mutual delight. To an outside observer like Chika, this looks like they’re glaring at each other with looks that could kill. Loser? Chika…for once!

The StuCo must organize a welcome party for the French, and two of them are needed to do all the necessary shopping, so Chika suggests the two losers of a “banned word” game will do the honors. This is a case of both Kaguya and Miyuki actually wanting to go shopping together, so it behooves them to let Chika win.

That suits Chika just fine, since she wants to win and pulls out all the stops to do so, demonstrating that while the Prez and Veep might look down on her as a second-rate intellect and airhead, she can more than handle herself in a banned-word game. She switches up her manner of speaking by rapping, and has the perfect words she knows Kaguya and Miyuki will readily say if properly stimulated: “love”, and “serious”, respectively.

With Kaguya and Miyuki both losing, their shopping date is set; they just have to agree when and where to meet, which requires one of them text the other for the first time. Kaguya’s maid (and audience surrogate) is somewhat exhausted by her charge’s beating around the bush (as are we all!) so she puts Kaguya in a corner by calling Miyuki then tossing the phone to her.

Miyuki’s extremely stern-sounding father answers, and eventually hands the phone over to his son, who is in the bathtub but doesn’t mind talking since his phone is waterproof. Once they’re talking, the tension fades away, but Kaguya makes the mistake of hanging up when Miyuki was in the middle of saying something else.

Kaguya curses herself while kicking in bed, but the result of her error is that Miyuki ends up being the one to text her first, telling her to stay warm and have a good night. Winner: Kaguya. Unfortunately, it pours so hard Shibuya Station floods, and the shopping trip is cancelled before it can begin. Still, Kaguya’s instinct to go regardless was correct: Miyuki was waiting for her, in the rain, by Hachiko…with his waterproof phone.

Thankfully, Miyuki doesn’t catch cold just in time for the French exchange students’ welcome party, so we get to watch him try to bluff about speaking French when he only skimmed a guidebook. Meanwhile, Kaguya merely pretended not to know French, only to turn around and speak fluently with one of the students. Even Chika, daughter of a diplomat, speaks French and other languages. Just full of surprises!

Little does Miyuki know the headmaster intended the party to be an important test to determine whether he’s truly worthy of leading the school. Betsy, the French StuCo veep and notoriously foul-mouthed master of verbal invective is sicced on Miyuki, and she proceeds to absolutely enrobe him in nasty French insults. Since Miyuki doesn’t speak a lick of French, it all bounces off!

The thing that isolated him ends up convincing the headmaster he does have what it takes, by enduring everything Betsy could through at him with placid “oui, ouis” in response. Even better, when Kaguya overhears Betsy, she comes to Miyuki’s defense, all while showing Betsy is no match for a properly scary Japanese high school girl.

Once the party has ended, Kaguya is ashamed of her nasty word-using, but Miyuki reminds her, he doesn’t speak French, so he didn’t hear any particulars of what she said. All he knows is she didn’t like how Betsy was talking to him, and fought on his behalf. For that, she has his gratitude. And so the episode closes with a win for both Kaguya and Miyuki.

Bloom Into You – 10 – Holding Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloom Into You – 02 – Really Unfair

It’s not just Yuu; Nanami Touko IS pushy. It looks like she has been for a while. I don’t think she works at it, its just the way she is. Others may hold back or defer or concede, but she knows what she wants, she knows who she wants to help her get it, and as of the other day, she also knows who she loves, and it’s Yuu. If you can’t present a strong enough argument not to go along with her, you’ll get caught in her current by default.

Nanami choosing Yuu as her campaign manager has caused a rift in her longtime friendship with Saeki Sayaka. Nanami knew it would, but she did it anyway, and she presents a solid argument why: to reach out to and galvanize the first-year vote when no one else will. Nanami and Sayaka are always in sync on the volleyball court, but this is a lesson to Sayaka that at some point quite suddenly they weren’t, and that time has come.

Sayaka doesn’t fight it, and shows absolutely no outward aggression towards Yuu, save agreeing with Yuu’s assertion that Sayaka may well do a better job as Nanami’s manager. Sayaka isn’t blaming Yuu for this; she knows Yuu is as swept up as she is.

When Yuu finally brings up Nanami’s sunset confession, it’s at a railroad crossing. When the barriers come down and the train passes, Nanami steal’s Yuu’s first kiss, to make no mistake what kind of love she was talking about. Considering neither of them know much “what to do” following that kiss, it’s apparent Nanami may just as along for the ride as everyone in her orbit.

When Nanami asserts that she didn’t choose Yuu simply because she loves her, but still asks again to stand by her in the election as a friend, Yuu doesn’t have a problem with it. What she does have a problem with is that she feels she can’t properly respond to Nanami’s feelings, not matter how much she may want to.

During an interview and photo shoot with the school paper, Yuu suddenly takes Nanami’s hand in her’s, behind their backs where no one else csan see. She sees Nanami’s reaction, and is further frustrated: how can Nanami feel that “special feeling”, while Yuu feels nothing? What drew her to Nanami was the feeling they were similar in being unable to fall for anyone. That’s no longer the case. She feels left behind.

A meeting at a cafe to go over a speech provides Yuu with another opportunity to express how she can’t fall in love with Nanami, but the barista interrupts them with their coffee, and then Nanami steps in and speaks first: She knows what Yuu is going to say, and is willing to accept it. All she asks is that Yuu let her love her, not expecting anything in return.

Yuu thinks that’s weird, and it kinda is, but for someone like Nanami, who was like Yuu for so long—never knowing what that special feeling was like—finally feeling it made her that much more fulfilled. Yuu says fine, she doesn’t mind…but she doesn’t know why she said it, as she’s not even sure whether she really doesn’t mind.

For all of this, Yuu calls Nanami “unfair”, but that’s not really, well fair; it’s just that Nanami is a little older, and a lot can happen in the years between them. Yuu shouldn’t be measuring her own feelings against the older, wiser, more daring Nanami’s—that’s not being fair to herself. Nanami is a little older, a little wiser, and most importantly, a different person. It’s not a question of fairness for Yuu…it’s a question of patience.