Spy x Family – 23 – The Flames of War

The Campbell siblings have no shortage of dirty tricks to try to stop the Phonys, from a net that moves up and down, a wind machine that affects trajectories, to a hidden sniper firing court-colored rubber bullets. But even they couldn’t have known they’d be up against a couple of elite spies.

Throw adversity at a couple of lunatics like Twilight and Nightfall, and they’re going to keep finding a way around it. Once they’re both in rhythm making impossibly acrobatic yet precise moves, it’s game, set, and match. The Campbells poked a couple of bears, and simply got mauled.

Whether it was Cloverworks or Wit Studio that animated this episode (or both), the “tennis” action was never not fantastic looking, adding a sense of legitimacy to a thoroughly farcical game. When it comes time to claim the painting, Cavi suddenly says it’s the one piece he can’t part with.

But Loid and Fiona prepared for the possibility the secret police would get to Campbell before they got to the painting, so Loid simply disguises himself as Campbell’s valet and pulls the ol’ painting switcheroo, Thomas Crown Affair-style. The mission is a complete success, and the two spies high-five.

Fiona drops Loid off to find Yor in the park with Anya, and decides she needs to challenge and defeat Twilight’s Strix wife right then and there … in a game of tennis. Thanks to Anya, we can witness Fiona’s ridiculous thought about how it’ll go down, as well as Yor’s worry about Fiona replacing her.

Yor also plays the bumbling novice perfectly when she whiffs on what starts off as a badass assassin’s serve. But the thing is, she didn’t whiff; she simply hit the ball so hard it went through the strings of the racket like Play-Doh through an extruder (or human beings in Cube). The concassé’d ball is a little masterpiece of comic timing and trick animation.

Even when Yor holds back on her serve, she hits the ball so hard it goes faster than sound, creates a shock wave that digs into the ground, and lights up like a comet. Fiona tries her best to absorb the serve and volley it back, but her racket simply isn’t up to it, smashing to bits.

Fiona, defeated utterly, runs to her Trabant and races off, not letting Loid or Yor see her mask crack to reveal the seething, churning tempest of emotion within. Yor, who is simply relieved she fought Fiona off this time, very empatically tells Loid that she Won, leaving out the “for Us.”

The punchline of this two-parter is that while the code hidden in the painting indeed leads to finding Zacharis’ Dossier, but it turns out to be a diary filled with photos of pretty young actresses. These are the “dark secrets” that could “re-ignite a war”, not between East and West, but between Zacharis and his wife. I also loved the uncommented-upon sight of the gaudy rings Fiona took from Campbell on Handler’s hand.

But after the punchline comes a moment of realization for Loid when he sees that Zacharis managed to maintain a happy marriage and family after burying away his creepy dossier. Keeping a marriage and family happy isn’t easy, as evidenced by a clearly frustrated-looking Yor at the end.

I imagine she was underwhelmed by Loid’s reaction to her win over Fiona, and still worried about Fiona continuing to try to usurp her. Sure enough, the episode wraps up with Fiona in the mountains strengthening her serve with a racket made from a boulder as the wildlife watches in morbid curiosity.

Bocchi the Rock! – 04 – Queen of Woot

Ikuyo is practicing hard at guitar with Bocchi, but it’s still pretty rough. She considers whether she could simply sing on stage, but then worries about what she’d do during interludes. She concludes it would be best if she just try her best and get better at the guitar.

Her “Kit-aura” once again blinds Bocchi, but for a minute there, she was experiencing someone else’s frustrations instead of focusing on her own. Yes, even a normie like Ikuya has those!

Nijika calls a band meeting, with the purpose of coming up with things to make Kessoku Band more band-like. She acquired colored zip-ties as merch, which Ryou immediately tries to monetize. Ikuya suggests they start a band Insta and is appointed social media minister. When Ikuya asks if Bocchi has any ideas, Bocchi searches the boxes in her head furiously to no avail.

But Nijika says Bocchi doesn’t have to come up with anything so she can instead focus on writing the lyrics to their first song with vocals—something Bocchi forgot she was assigned to do. She talks a big game about being the lyricmaster, one week passes and all she’s managed to do is perfect her Bocchi autograph style.

After doing some closet video editing and finding her middle school lyrics notebook that’s more like a book of curses, Bocchi does some intense roleplaying in her bedroom, first emulating the coolest, most extroverted chick ever, then straight up channeling Ikuya.

It’s here where I once again simply had to bow down in appreciation for the absolutely bonkers voice performance Aoyama Yoshino has been pulling off with the many shades of Bocchi. It’s also a display that her entire family peeks in on, and her parents worry she’s possessed.

The next day Bocchi is summoned for another band meeting, and comes with a handmade sign declaring she has not yet written any lyrics. But that’s okay, Nijika didn’t call everyone out to Shimo-Kita for that, but so they could take some “pro-phos”, or promotional photos.

The ensuing sequence of shots of the four girls, both posed and candid, in a variety of different locations, really ups the energy and realism of the setting. There’s also a lot of comedic mileage to be had in capturing the four girls’ different personalities through still imagery. A particular highlight is when Ikuya and Nijika copy Ryou’s stare.

One thing everyone agrees on is that Ikuya looks great in every photo, which she chalks up to having an established Insta account. But at one point in this extended photo shoot, Bocchi overloads. She’d never had a non-family, non-school picture of herself taken before, and now all of a sudden she’s in dozens of them.

When Ikuya suggests she start her own Insta, things get even worse, as Bocchi starts writhing on the ground and enters a fugue state in which she imagines herself as an attention whore kaiju that levels a city with her desire to be seen. Bocchi’s unhinged, almost cubist transformation in the real world contrasts with the stark, richly-textured style of her fantasy.

Bocchi’s bandmates manage to bring her back into their plane of existence and they do a jump shot, which they all agree is great, so they call it a wrap for the day. But Bocchi’s lyric block remains firmly in place. She decides she needs input from someone, and deems Ryou is the best person to give it (since she won’t humor her).

As a reminder Bocchi’s social anxiety is going precisely nowhere, she struggles to even enter the trendy cafe where Ryou told her to meet her. She decides to say “Are ya winning, diners?” when she enters, drawing blank stares (Bocchi’s overly formal texts are also a hoot). Her next challenge is striking up a conversation with Ryou, resulting in a long stretch of silence until Ryou simply asks to read the lyrics. I’d say don’t overthink things, Bocchi, but that’s impossible.

Ryou reads the lyrics, which are packed with seishun clichés, but rather than just shit on them, Ryou tells Bocchi why she quit her first band (the music just started getting too commercial and shallow) and offers helpful feedback. We get an adorable origin story to how Kessoku Band was founded (Nijika said she loved how Ryou played), and Ryou states her philosophy that abandoning uniqueness and honesty is akin to dying.

Bocchi says that if she avoids generic lyrics she’ll write bitter, social-outcast lyrics. But to Ryou that’s perfect: think how hilarious it will sound if a normie like Ikuya sings those lyrics? Ryou is spot-on in wanting to embrace the band’s contradictions. That way lies uniqueness and freshness.

Bocchi was ready to peg Ryou as a deeply considerate person … until it’s time to pay her check and she asks Bocchi to spot her as she’s still broke (she’s apparently still eating weeds and wanted a break from that, and also to try out the new café). But the fact remains, she was considerate in her criticism, and Bocchi now has a direction.

She comes back with a notebook full of lyrics that are genuinely hers and not trying to put on a front or prove anything. The other girls note that the lyrics are kind of a downer, but Ryou says they’re “very Bocchi,” adding that they may not connect with everyone, but will hit deeply for those they do. Kind of like this show!

Bocchi has done good; the band has lyrics, and no doubt soon Ryou will feel inspired and write music to go with them. The two have also hit it off in a way that pisses off Ikuya, who obviously wants Ryou-senpai all to herself. As for that pro-pho, Bocchi once again goes the extra mile, printing out dozens of copies and plastering her walls and ceiling with them. Damn Bocchi, I know you want to change … but please never change!

Each episode of Bocchi the Rock! I watch reinforces my belief that I was missing out big time these past eight weeks. Bocchi is fast approaching Kaguya-Sama – Love is War levels of AOTY excellence, and I haven’t even seen the full band play yet! The vibes are very good, and the sky’s the limit.

P.S. The new Bocchi-centric ED theme is so sweet, wistful, and pretty-sounding it made my heart hurt a little…not a bad thing!

A Couple of Cuckoos – 24 (Fin) – Part of the Flock

Cuckoos eschews any more huge revelations or decisions and instead opts for a laid back finale full of warm family vibes. We begin with Nagi, Sachi, and Erika receiving a gaudy invitation to Papa Yohei’s birthday, a celebration that he prepares and executes all on his own. It’s never explained why, mind you, but it’s safe to say Yohei’s a good and cool dude, so his wife and kids let him have his fun.

I find it odd that it would slip Sachi’s mind that her brother and Erika share a birthday as they were switched at birth, and even odder that Nagi would only now do the math and realize he was conceived before his folks got married. Among the annual family portrait, there’s a pale-haired kid who goes totally unexplained…maybe she’ll show up if this gets a sequel.

The biggest takeaway for Nagi and Erika (and Sachi, who later reports it to Erika’s dad) is that their folks simply want Nagi and Erika to be happy, and for Erika to be in their lives like she is now. They no longer believe they have to follow through on their engagement and get married to maintain that.

Of course, by putting the onus on whether to get married or not, Nagi and Erika actually have to think about it beyond something being forced upon them. Sure, on the bus ride home they worry that Erika’s dad might not agree with Nagi’s folks, but in his head Nagi wonders whether Erika being able to convince him means the “end of their relationship for good.”

The episode then segues into Erika’s Dizzy Fever Day, as she suddenly collapses in the middle of a study session. Sachi and Hiro take her to bed, take her temperature, and prepare to change her into her PJs to rest more comfortably, and of course Nagi barges in while they’re disrobing her.

But while Sachi and Hiro bar Nagi from Erika’s room while she’s sick, they let their enthusiasm and drive to help her recover as fast and completely as possible ends up simply overwhelming her. They look up remedies like sake and leeks tied to the head, and develop the crazy eyes as they go on about how they’ll make Erika better than new.

When all of that fails to lower her fever, Nagi decides to step in and offer her a hot meal to regain her strength. Erika claims not to be hungry, but her grumbling stomach betrays her. Nagi also took exception when Erika told the others “sorry for being a bother”, as she’s been nothing but that for him since they met.

That being said, he doesn’t dislike that Erika, and so wants her to get better so she can get back to being that Erika. He knows that since Sachi and Hiro started living and coming ’round all the time, she’s worked herself hard to keep up with the energy level and it took a physical toll. It’s all well and good to want to be present and active in the group, but not at the cost of one’s health!

When Erika asks why he knows her better than herself, he says simply that they’re engaged. ‘Nuff said. For all of Sachi and Hiro’s good intentions, it’s his job as her fiancé to take care of her, and vice-versa. Hearing Nagi acknowledge their engagement and how it’s still important to him even when his parents have all but given them cover to break it off gives Erika a smile. What was thrust upon them at first has become something neither of them want to give up anytime soon.

When Papa Yohei delivers a copy of the latest family photo, it has Erika front and center. It’s a photo full of love and joy (or, er…RABUJOI) celebrating the addition as the gift that it is. Nagi, Sachi, and their folks are as happy Erika is part of their family as she is to be part of it. The fact that the episode ends with Nagi and Erika nagging each other over house chores just goes to show how close they’ve gotten.

If there’s a sequel that ties up the loose ends (Sosuke, that mystery kid in the photo, whether Nagi and Erika actually marry, etc.) I’ll be sure to watch it out of the affection for this colorful flock of cuckoos.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 11 – The Mask Falls

Our episode opens on someone we haven’t met before: an extremely enthusiastic café maid adding her love to her customer’s omurice. When she removes her wig and puts on those distinctive glasses, we discover it’s Chizuru, who it would seem we still haven’t met…not for real, at least.

Chizuru doesn’t seem to like working her ass off at this job, but she apparently needs to so she can keep making money to send…to LIPxLIP, and Aizou in particular, with whom she is particularly smitten. She has hidden that intense infatuation from both the boys and her friends…but one day she’s sloppy, and Yuujirou hears her phone when she snaps multi-burst shots of them playing basketball.

Back at work and as popular as ever, and with the scandal well behind them, the boys have a new problem: Hiyori isn’t around anymore. Their new old manager mixes up their drinks. It’s a little thing, but after Hiyori made that mistake she never made it again; it speaks to what a dedicated, detail-oriented hard worker she was, and what a void she leaves. Hiyori has done her best to forget about her old job and focuses on track, but her times are slower and she’s clearly eating more at lunchtime.

When Juri notes that the harassment of her has mercifully ceased, Hiyori says she’s most sorry about “hurting the fans”, and as Chizuru is one of them, she has to quickly excuse herself so she can drop the friend facade, whip out one of the photos she took of Hiyori with LIPxLIP, and curse her as she blots her out with a Sharpie. Yuujirou witnesses the entire tirade.

Juri invites herself and Chizuru over to Hiyori’s for a pizza sleepover, but the discussion becomes awkward when Chizuru answers that yes, she does have a crush. That’s when Yuujirou strategically side-checks her in such a way that her bag goes flying…and the incriminating photos fly out too.

Juri’s cavalier reaction—almost as if a part of her she expected something like this, is contrasted by Hiyori’s sheer bewilderment. She’s genuinely unsure of what’s going on, until Chizuru makes it nice and sparkling clear: she fucking hates her guts!

The sleepover obviously cancelled due to the death of good vibes, Hiyori instead runs all night, only to replenish all the calories she burned with another crepe sesh with Mona-chan. Mona draws from her own experience “hating” her sister to tell Hiyori that “hate” is often just an easy label for more complex feelings buried beneath all the bluster.

Hiyori is all aboard with the idea of reaching out to Chizuru and asking her how she really feels, but Chizuru doesn’t want to talk, and avoids her at every turn the next day. I thought at first Hiyori’s superior speed would have the advantage in the ensuing cat-and-mouse, but lest we forget, Chizuru snapped those photos while remaining totally undetected. It’s like trying to corner a ninja!

When Hiyori finally does tackle Chizuru, none of Chizuru’s hostility has dissipated. If anything, she’s even more annoyed that Hiyori won’t leave her the ef alone. But when pressed, Chizuru maintains that she did nothing wrong, and that it’s the “nobody” Hiyori’s fault for getting so close to the idols and not “knowing her place” like Chizuru.

In the rancor she dispenses, Hayami Saori brings back shades of Hatoko’s Rant and demonstrates once more why she’s among the best in the business. When given dramatic meat, she leaves nothing on the bone. The tussling gets more and more physical until the two are literally throwing right crosses at one another, but only Chizuru’s lands, knocking Hiyori clean out with a fountain of blood.

When Hiyori wakes up in the nurse’s, Yuujirou and Aizou are with her…and so is Chizuru, asleep by her bed, clutching her hand, her eyes raw from tears. Seeing her there, one can’t help but forgive her, because she wouldn’t be there if she didn’t actually care about Hiyori. Perhaps she can ditch the easy, safe hatred and explore the true feelings beneath, but the episode wisely doesn’t wake her, leaving us to wonder until next week.

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 10 – Tomo-Choco

The first day back from the school trip, everyone’s got a little Komi in them, as everyone tentatively approaches the new friends they made in Kyoto in the much more familiar setting of their classroom. Tadano can tell Komi wants to go talk to Mikuni, and watches her go from normal to negative to fired up to negative again. All she needs is a little push, which he literally gives her, enabling her an Mikuni to reconnect. Ayami soon joins them when she sees them talking.

We shift to a pair of Komi’s older friends when Onemine invites her and Kaede to her house to make chocolates for Valentines Day. Her many younger siblings are bemused by Komi, so beautiful yet so quiet. Once she does say something, they praise how lovely a voice it is. The three girls and Onemine’s fam exude warmth and good vibes, and that chocolate cake looked hella delicious.

The rubber meets the road the next day at school, when Valentines is in full swing. The three lads envision how different girls in their class would give them chocolate, but those are just delusions. Ren has to make things gross and weird, but Katai makes up for it by getting chocolate from Mikuni and then giving friendship chocolate to Tadano.

Little did Tadano know it would be the only chocolate he’d get that day. Komi was going to put some in his shoe locker, but he showed up before she could do so and she scurried away and things were awkward between them the rest of the day. It isn’t until he goes out on an errand for his sister and mom that he bonks Komi with his door.

They go to a park, where Komi reveals that the thing she brought for him was a printout for when he wasn’t in class. They part ways, but thankfully Komi summons some courage and runs back to Tadano’s place, even calling out his name with the loudest voice we’ve ever heard from her!

She almost punks out again when she says it’s just “friendship” chocolate as opposed to the other kind, then makes the caveat that she made sure Tadano got the best of the batch she made. I’m not sure why Tadano would ever think this girl hates him…She yelled for him, for goshsakes!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Couple of Cuckoos – 08 – Family’s Complicated

While Erika is out shopping, Nagi is preoccupied with her words on the beach about his “fate changing” if he knew who she was trying to reach through social media. That’s when Sachi shows up unannounced. With Erika out, she assumes Nagi messed things up, and gets him to reveal the issue.

Spending time with Sachi for the first time in a while gives him a taste of home, so he stops moping and remembers Umino family tradition to deal with things head-on. Only Sachi slips out while he’s making dinner and returns to the family’s tiny temporary rental, only to pack her things and head right back to Nagi and Erika’s.

Nagi, who gets a call from his mom saying Sachi has to come back tomorrow, tells Sachi she can’t stay, but it’s not just his call. It’s half Erika’s place too, and she doesn’t mind if her sister wants to stay. There’s also the matter of her needing help studying for entrance exams, and Erika dresses up like a stereotypical schoolteacher for that end.

That said, once she and Sachi are alone togeher, Erika manages to suss out the true reason her sister is there. When Erika suddenly showed up at her place, Sachi panicked. Would Nagi marry her and just be gone? She thought she had more time with her onii. She wanted more time. When they were little, they were very close. She pretends he’s a pain in the ass, but that clinginess still lingers.

The next morning Sachi earns her keep by making everyone a huge breakfast, then Erika takes her and Nagi out shopping for the things that will make Sachi more at home. In the process, the sister talk about how they’re always being flirted with and turning guys down.

Sure enough, they soon attract a crowd of onlookers while hanging out at a café. Nagi rushes to them, worried they got caught up in something, but trips and makes a fool of himself. That’s when both Erika and Sachi acknowledge him and suggest they get going, and it dawns on Nagi that his fiancée and sister are “kind of a big deal”.

The three have fun making a photo board, and christen it with a cute photo of the sisters and a very blurry Nagi rushing into the frame. But through all the eating and shopping and fun, he hasn’t been able to talk to Erika about what she said that day on the beach. So when she’s out of the bath, he’s kneeling in the hall, ready to talk.

He tells her he recognizes that everyone has their problems even if they don’t talk about him, and that he doesn’t just want to pry out of curiosity. But Erika said what she said, and Nagi heard her, and he doesn’t want to pretend that exchange didn’t happen. He may have been raised to face people head-on, but he admits to her he’s not ready for an answer that may “change his fate,” so he asks her to wait until he’s ready.

Erika’s serious look is soon replaced by a hearty laugh, but she agrees, and so her mystery remains intact. While this outing brought Sachi more to the forefront and made her more of, well, a character, I could never quite shake the feeling the episode was dragging its feet. The household has grown by one, but it feels like no one is taking the situation seriously yet; it’s just three people playing house. I wonder how long that status quo can hold.

Heroines Run the Show – 10 – The Stir

The rumors of a LIPxLIP member romance around going away, as evidenced by the appearance of the photos on television, with Hiyori’s face pixelated. That makes it so Narumi Mona can’t quite recognize the girl she met a few weeks back, while Sena insists neither of the boys would be incautious enough to date a classmate.

But while the rumors and nasty online comments abound, it’s not that bad for our LIPxLIP and their manager-in-training. Her support network was already established last week, but the three also have the support of their teacher and by extension the school. Yuujirou’s father also sees this as evidence his son actually is making something of himself, and that the Someya family is far tougher than these petty rumors.

That said, Hiyori decides to keep her distance from the two and encourages them not to talk or interact with her, which they rightfully consider to be a pain. They may not admit it, but Hiyori is not just their manager-in-training, but a friend. Speaking of friends, Hiyori feels terrible having to lie about her connections to the boys, even to Chizuru and Juri.

Back at the studio, Uchida outlines the steps being taken to reduce the damage to the LIPxLIP brand, including explaining and apologizing to all of their corporate sponsors and supporters. Yuujirou’s kabuki prodigy brother Kouichirou makes a surprise appearance to help the lads track down whoever did this and punish them.

But for Hiyori’s that’s, as she would say it, crossin’ a line. Idols shouldn’t be accusing or fighting with fans. She’s read their fan mail; she knows the genuine love and support they have for LIPxLIP, and she knows that even if it was unintentional, she damaged that bond by simply being in those photos. For that reason, she decides to quit her job as manager-in-training.

It’s a very Hiyori move, putting the fans of her charges ahead of her own dreams, even if the boys remark that she’s not one to back down from a race or a challenge, considering they were that very thing at the beginning. But ultimately it’s a decision they let Hiyori make because it’s hers to make.

Suddenly bereft of their chipper manager-in-trainin’, Yuujirou and Aizou end up hanging out with their respective brothers. An odd shot of Ken earlier in the episode had me suspecting him as the sneak photographer, and his making what looks like a huge homemade meal of Aizou’s favorite dishes look like an apology.

As for Yuujirou, we learn the reason he got in trouble with the police: he was covering for his younger brother, who had been led astray by his senpais into a club where he was underage. It’s why Kouichirou wanted to help Yuujirou out with the scandal; he owes him.

But Yuujirou decides to hold onto that chip; he’s got this, along with Aizou. After all their time together, it’s amazing they don’t have each others cell phone numbers, and even though Aizou sneaks onto the Someya compound and climbs a tree as if to meet with his Juliet, they make no effort to exchange them.

That said, with help from Uchida, they set up a press conference in which they bare themselves to the masses salivating for content. All of their responses are quick, calm, well-rehearsed, no doubt also due to Uchida, but also the boys’ consummate professionalism, even when backed into a corner.

It’s also easy for fans and onlookers alike to relate to their situation: they could have gone full-in to professional entertainment, but chose to balance that with a legit high school life, and all the fun, simple little moments that make it. Moments like the ones the photos captured. At the end of the day, the photos tell the truth: these three are good friends.

The press conference invites the public to see their side of things, and their explanation of their “precious classmate” with whom they share their high school life is largely accepted, even embraced. But Hiyori watches it all in her darkened apartment, suddenly out of the picture and out of action. Again, this was her choice, but if she hadn’t made it, no one would have asked her to give up her job.

Uchida wasn’t being nice when she said she was glad she hired “Hiyako”. I just hope Hiyori comes to her senses and returns to work. If nothing else, her living expenses ain’t gonna pay for themselves!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 09 – Just One of the Girls

On the second day of the school trip the groups can do what they please. The trio of Sasaki, Katou, and Komi is a little awkward at first, but once they get that Komi isn’t being rude or aloof but is simply a quiet, shy, and often adorable girl, the three girls get into a rhythm that carries them through Katou’s breathless sightseeing schedule.

Whether due to all the energy expended earlier or, more appealingly, the natural ups and downs of companionship, things get a little tense between Sasaki, who says the schedule was too brisk, and Katou, who resents being the only one who thought to make a plan and wanted to see more. Komi bridges the two clashing positions by showing them some photos she took on her phone demonstrating that they did, in fact, have a lot of fun.

Buoyed by Komi’s nice save, and relieved that she was able to repair the vibe just by being her cute guileless self, the three girls continue their tour, heading to a district where Komi gets to dress up like a Geisha, is mistaken for a princess by street performers, and gets rescued by Sasaki in a Hannya mask armed with her trusty…yo-yo?!

Sasaki and Katou came off as pleasantly dull background characters at first, but the more time we and Komi spend with them, they more they come into their own as distinct and appealing characters in their own right. In a cast chock full of sometimes absurd caricatures, their down-to-earthness almost feels exotic…it’s like having two female Tadanos around!

Yet, as we know, while relatively normal on the outside, Sasaki and Katou have super-specific passions: Sasaki for yo-yoing and Katou for shogi. Sasaki tries to hide her secret identity (she genuinely thought Komi was in danger) but Katou plays a shogi match of words. Ultimately Katou loves knowing extraordinary people, not matter what they’re extraordinary at.

That attitude convinces Katou that her talent is something to be flaunted, not embarrassed by…though she keeps the hannya mask on when she flashes her yo-yo for Sasaki and Komi in the hotel room. When the lights go out, the boy talk starts, and we learn Katou likes Katai, Sasaki is single, and the name of the boy Komi likes starts with an H (for Hitohito).

Sasaki and Katou are well aware of how close Komi and Tadano are, and would not be surprised if they’ve been dating for a while. When Komi claims not to know “what liking someone feels like”, they arrange things on the bullet train home so Tadano is sitting next to Komi while she’s sleeping, and her head eventually slides onto Tadano’s shoulder.

This was a lovely outing, with Komi making two new friends, and those friends seeing Komi in a new light not as someone to simply venerate, but someone you can have fun hanging out with. She even sleeps!

A Couple of Cuckoos – 07 – Kamakura Cuckoo

Still stoked over Hiro telling him she thinks he can carry her burden of being engaged to her family shrine, Nagi is presented with a possible means of getting closer still to Hiro: a field trip form from Erika. As he’s the first person Hiro sees the next day, he’s able to ask her if she’ll join his group, and she says yes…but they’re going to be collecting shrine stamps, and she won’t be defeated.

They leave school in a downpour, but to Nagi’s disappointment Hiro did not forget her umbrella. They still walk to the station together, and Nagi brings up his confession, and whether Hiro will really “process” it if he beats her several more times at exams. Hiro then explains that inheriting the shrine is her parents’ idea, and she’s always simply let fate sweep her along.

That said, if Nagi can change her fate, she wants him to try. Of course, he’ll still have to defeat her many times over in order for her to believe he’s amazing enough to deserve a chance. She’s asking a lot, but it’s totally worth it to Nagi.

The previous night Erika told Nagi she wouldn’t be going on the trip for security reasons (she’s famous and could be abducted for a ransom). Why she doesn’t simply have a bodyguard all this time is not explained, but in any case the next night she’s reconsidered, and for Nagi’s sake, no less.

The skinny is that a fourth member has weaseled his way into their trio: walking SM glossary Asoma Shion, who is a big fan (but not stalker) of Erika’s. Erika will keep Shion at bay while Nagi can have his date with Hiro. She’ll also get a lot of great shots of herself at Kamakura.

It seems win-win, but Shion sucks at taking photos, while Nagi is subconsciously so worried about the punk snatching away his fiancée that he spends much of the trip keeping his eye exclusively on Erika and Shion.

When Hiro disappears without explanation and Shion runs off for “‘Grammable ice cream”, Erika and Nagi are left alone on a beach at sunset. Erika makes some sand “””””art”””” for a picture with her and Hiro, but instead has Nagi take a picture of her alone. He tries to keep the phone from her, and inadvertently snaps another perfect shot of the two of them, like it’s just second nature.

She smiles and tells him she still thinks the pictures he takes of her are the best. Then he brings up that mysterious “someone” Erika mentioned wanting to reach through her photos, and asks her who that person is. She seems willing to tell him, but warns him his “fate might change” if she does. Just then, the waves wash away “FRI” from her sand scrawl, leaving only “END”.

Not exactly subtle, but hey, like Nagi, I’m definitely curious to learn who this person is. I was also surprised that after taking great pains to arrange a date-like scenario with Hiro, Nagi spends most of the time paying attention to Erika, even though she was running off with Shion specifically so he could be alone with Hiro. Granted, she’s unaware of Hiro’s “engagement”.

He may have been harboring a crush on Hiro for a long time, and she may even be receptive to his feelings now that she knows his feelings (albeit with some heavy conditions he’s willing to clear) But so far it’s Erika who can claim a closer bond and better chemistry with him.

Heroines Run the Show – 09 – Whose Girlfriend?

After what felt like a relatively sedate field day detour, HRS kicks back into gear, though there’s a bit of lag as the first half or so of the episode is slice-of-life luxuriating. This is not a complaint: it’s great to see Hiyori back on the track, her hard work motivating the boys to work harder towards their goal of a slot on Countdown Live. The guys even hang out with other guys at school for the first time, playing basketball in the schoolyard.

The episode briefly shifts to montage mode as we see Hiyori, Yuujirou, and Aizou growing closer and closer not as an idol unit and their manager, but three friends, culminating in their celebrating LIPxLIP getting a CDL slot with a three-way high-five. But that private moment is captured by a photographer hiding in the bushes, and the next morning photos of the happy trouple are made very public, causing a scandal.

Hiyori is ostracized by most of the school, but her friends show their quality by unconditionally supporting her all the way, even when she can’t properly explain the photos to anyone. Yuujirou and Aizou try their best to deflect, while Juri, Chizuru, and Hina offer Hiyori the support she needs in an unprecedented time in her life when all eyes are on her.

But while Hiyori the high schooler can power through the gossip and harassment, Hiyori the manager-in-training is another story. Throughout her difficulties, I kept thinking “just tell everyone you’re childhood friends!”, but once the photos are posted online they become a trending topic, and the narrative is officially out of Hiyori’s LIPxLIP’s, and their managers’ control.

Hiyori’s job would seem to be in jeopardy—the next episode is called “I’m Quittin’ Being a Manager”, for cryin’ out loud—but even if this is the beginning of the end, she can look on the bright side: she’ll have more time to hone her track dreams. I for one still hope she can pull out of this tailspin with a little help from her friends, some focused messaging from the adults, and a little luck.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 04 – Shots, Socks, and Sweets

Every day Akebi runs to school and waves good morning to the bus. Tanigawa is on that bus, and gets Akebi to agree to be her model for a photo shoot with the theme of “Friends”. Tanigawa chooses the tea ceremony’s classy clubhouse, and when she manages to capture some candid (rather than posed) shots of Akebi, it helps to capture what makes Akebi Akebi.

Akebi is dubious about how helpful a model she’s being (unaware of how much Tanigawa already adores her) and wonders what her “image” is, if she even has one; she started the shoot imitating her favorite idol. Her question is largely answered thanks to an errant baseball that lands in a puddle and splashes mud on Akebi’s prized fuku.

Her friend Usagihara Touko invites her to her dorm, where there are laundry facilities. It’s the first time either Akebi or Tanigawa haven’t gone straight home after school, and they’re both moved by Usagihara’s hospitality. Usagihara also uses the opportunity to dress Akebi up in a cute dress she bought impulsively, making her look even more like an idol.

Usagihara also shows off her baking skills by whipping up some delicious, professional-quality treats for her guests. Turns out her family is in the sweets business, but it wasn’t until she came to the academy that she really wanted to get into the baking part. She saw a demand for sweets among her fellow classmates who give her pocket change for ingredients and get treats in exchange.

Akebi and Tanigawa are impressed by Usagihara’s talent and enterprising nature, but she says anyone can do it, and proceeds to learn that, well, not everyone can. Akebi, who warns her ahead of time she’s not big on the whole “cooking” thing, makes a nigh-inedible “crepe”. It actually makes Usagihara relieved, since she thought Akebi was perfect and could do anything.

Now that she knows Akebi is not only a bad cook, but also has holes in her socks(!), she’s a little less intimidated, and I’m sure will feel comfortable growing closer to her as a friend. Thanks to the community of the dorm, Usagihara found a niche, something she can do better than anyone else, and in turn gets to reap the benefits of everyone else’s myriad talents and quirks.

After their fun first day at a friend’s place after school, Tanigawa looks through all the photos she took of Akebi, and believes she’s finally gotten a better idea of her image. Like Usagihara, spending time with Akebi and getting to see her goofy and clumsy sides helped her understand her better, which in turn leads to her adoring her that much more as a friend.

You can see that adoration in her completed photo series, which Akebi shares with a delighted Kao. The most powerful image graces the cover, which Tanigawa shot from the bus, shows Akebi running and waving good morning from afar. Tanigawa tells Akebi that she’s on the bus she waves to every morning.

The photo is a perfect encapsulation of who Akebi is: always dashing forward, full of energy and love. The beauty of both the image and the emotions behind it brought a genuine tear to my eye, which made it an ideal parting shot for the episode.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 04 – Tease the Night

The weather is starting to turn in TakaKata Land, but the day Nishikata decides to change to his warmer winter uni, Takagi is still in her short-sleeved summer fuku. We see just how accustomed to losing challenges Nishikata is when she says that because he changed first, he wins a game she had goin on in her head—that doesn’t sit right with him!

He makes up a new game—one he’s sure to lose—in which Takagi loses if she says the word “cold”. He tries to get her to respond in a manner that would sound like the word cold, but as usual she’s too sharp for him. When he tries again, she turns the game to her advantage, drawing very close and asking if she says “cold” like he wants, will he…warm her up?

After the three girls are out of sync due to an undelivered text, Nishikata finds all his usual lunch buddies are out sick (or pretending to be sick), so he resigns himself to eating lunch alone on the steps, which he tries to make the best of but can’t help but feel lonely. Sure enough, Takagi sensed he might be lonely and joins him.

It occurs to me that these two rarely eat lunch together since they each have their own circles of lunch buddies. It’s so lovely to see them just sitting together silently munching away. Then Takagi has Nishikata guess what’s in her onigiri, claiming one of his prized karaage should he be wrong. She wins, but feels bad about taking his food, so gives him one of her crispy lotus roots, acting until the very last second like she was going to feed him, lovey-dovey style.

The next segment involves Nishikata trying to snap a photo of a thrown rock that looks like a UFO in the sky. Takagi helps by doing the throwing, and while she admits she doesn’t really believe, she likes that Nishikata does. It’s part of what makes her adore him. In a lovely whimsical twist, she spots a actual UFO, but he doesn’t see it.

One day the bath in the Nishikata household is inoperable, so he has to use the public baths. Takagi asks him what time he’s going and he tells her, then spends the entire time there either looking for her or wondering why she didn’t come. Then she surprises him by the milk vending machine, admitting she not only came, but came early, perfectly calculating how much longer she’d take compared to him.

Nishikata’s longing for Takagi’s company, even if they were separated by the different sections of the bathhouse, speaks to his growing affection for her and desire to be by her side more often than not. The feeling is obviously (to everyone but him, of course) mutual, as Takagi remarks how they don’t usually walk together at night, and how it obscures their faces.

After Nishikata very foolishly challenges Takagi to a “whose face turns red first” contest— as soon as she leans into him he loses—the two continue their nighttime walk until it’s time to part ways to head to their respective homes. As she departs, Nishikata offers, unbidden, to walk her home, since it’s nighttime and thus not as safe for a young lady.

Takagi is so shocked by his offer, and loves so much how it sounds like something a boyfriend would say, she simply stands there in a perfect blend of befuddlement and delight. Then she thanks Nishikata for the offer and darts off, strategically hiding from him what must be a beet-red face.

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