Houseki no Kuni – 10

Old Phos used to cause trouble and get in the way. New Phos holds court—with Alex (AKA Lexi) over detailed descriptions of Lunarians; agreeing to take on Jade’s patrols while Kongou sleeps; and even with Bort, who wants to team up with Phos.

But always not far from Phos’ thoughts is the ghost of Antarc. While Phos might initially hesitate over teaming up with Bort (a little of the Old “what a pain” Phos seeping out), it’s a step Phos has to take in order to get stronger and learn more about how to fight properly.

Phos’ only concern is how Diamond will feel; Bort is basically dumping Dia sight unseen; Dia hears it from Phos first. But Phos has Dia’s blessing; after all, it was Dia who told Pho she needed to change back when Dia was Phos’ only advocate.

That being said, Dia still seems awfully dejected, quietly picking flowers for a lonely-looking bouquet as Bort departs with Phos. Unfortunately for the pair, their first mission as partners is not an easy one, as an entirely new and powerful Lunarian emerges from a “double sunspot.”

Bort plays right into the Lunarian’s trap. Bort’s first strike only multiplies the apertures, through which more than four limbs emerge and grab Bort. Phos delivers a gold-plated assist, but the fuzzy white many-armed beast isn’t going to go down easily.

As “recklessness is for the inept”, Bort grabs Phos and falls back to HQ, then tosses Phos at the bell to strike it six times (an order for all other Gems to hold position). Bort’s plan involves luring the Lunarian to Kongou, who will hopefully awaken in time to destroy it.

But the Lunarian doesn’t follow Bort and Phos…it goes its own way, which turns out to be where Diamond is sulking. From here until the time Dia takes the upper hand, the episode takes on the flavor of a creepy horror movie where the protagonist must quietly hide from the monster hunting them.

Dia watching the flower vase jostle from the monster’s booming steps is a neat Jurassic Park reference, and some niftily subtle animation to boot (the way Dia gently arranged the flowers earlier was also an elegant moment).

Diamond eventually gets sick of hiding and decides to do what Bort always yells at Dia for: get reckless. This is Dia in full-on Badass Mode, without a care for how much bigger or stronger their opponent is.

Dia’s first strikes don’t do much (even a diamond limb-as-a-weapon doesn’t make a major mark), but Dia only needs one leg to rush the Lunarian, dodge its swipes, and deliver a killing blow before collapsing into a half-shattered pile—just as Bort is watching from outside the window.

But even that isn’t the end of things, as Dia’s strike only managed to cut the one big enemy into two smaller ones. With Dia out of commission, it falls to Bort to face the pair, which Bort does without fear, as usual.

But as tough as Bort is (tougher than nails, literally), I’d feel a lot better if Phos, other Gems, and hell, why not, Master Kongou arrived in time to assist Bort. I tell you, these Lunarians get nastier and more devious with each passing week.

Houseki no Kuni – 09

In the winter days and weeks since the loss of Antarcticite, Phosphophyllite has been busy. As the snow and ice starts to melt, heralding the start of spring, we get a very cool slow-build reveal of the individual Phos has become: serious, dutiful, efficient; calm, cool, and deadly. Sounds kinda like Antarc, doesn’t it?

The time jump to Spring wasn’t a surprise, so much as the intense change in Phos, and I have to say, I like it. Even Kurosawa Tomoyo’s lower, sterner voice emulates Mariya Ise’s Antarc’s tone and cadence. There remains a measure of the old Phos’ spunk and rawness (Kongou catches Phos at the end of a successful Lunarian battle) but overall, Phos has become a polished and capable member of the group—and the only one with a alloy membrane that can take any form.

Phos kind of had to, after Antarc was lost; but more than necessity, it is how Phos honors Antarc’s memory; no more slacking off or complaining. Phos also keeps a small shard of Antarc’s remains, and has vivid hallucinations of Antarc resurrecting from the wooden bowl, only to shatter and force Phos to relive Antarc’s final moments. It’s a full-blown case of Gem-PTSD, and Phos can’t forgive herself…or sleep. She also cries gold tears, which is both sad and very cool.

When the other Gems wake up (and are issued Summer uniforms), they’re initially shocked at the change in Phos, then scared of Phos’ alloy membrane, then fascinated to the point of surrounding and demanding that Phos perform a variety of tricks, or be poked and prodded every which way. Phos creates a nifty galloy decoy to thrown them off, but they’re pretty relentless.

Before all of the events that made Phos the way they are took place, Phos was often derided as being dead weight and a source of stress and extra work for everyone. Now Phos has never been more popular (in a good way rather than bad). The thing is, it’s the old Phos who would have loved such adulation; New Phos doesn’t quite know how to deal.

I imagine part of that is Phos long-term isolation, which aligns Phos more closely with someone like Cinnabar. Phos briefly forgets who Cinnabar is, but when the two meet during a patrol, Cinnabar is as cold and aloof as ever, clearly trying not to dignify the changes Phos has gone through with a reaction.

While Phos can now perform all manner of dazzling parlour tricks (but no longer has any intention of performing them for amusement) Phos doesn’t seem to mind demonstrating to Amethyst twins how much has been learned during the solo training and learning from Antarc and Kongou.

Phos is truly a force to be reckoned with, and has absolutely no trouble throttling another Lunarian attack, to the twins’ amazement and elation. But not every Gem is impressed. Bort cannot believe this is the same Phos who used to cause so much trouble and contribute so little, to the point of suspicion. I imagine a test of Pho’s combat abilities is in the offing.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 08

Simplicity can contain multitudes. By that, I mean sometimes there’s a lot to be found in a pure, unembellished tale of first love of the kind blooming between Koutarou and Akane. With Chinatsu out of the way (an unpleasant but necessary step), all that stands between the two is their gossiping peers at school, eager to know all there is to know.

But there isn’t that much to know. Akane doesn’t even give a straight answer to the question “Why Azumi?” She may not be able to put it in words, but that doesn’t bother her; she doesn’t care why she likes him, she just…does. And he likes her, which is why they now actively do all they can to see as much of each other as possible, during which time they’ll explore more about the ‘why’.

During their private lunch in the library, Kotarou gets a text asking him to attend a hayashi practice, and Akane pounces on the opportunity to see her boyfriend perform, which he does. Just as Akane seemed to run harder, Kotarou dances harder, impressing the hell out of his girlfriend.

Kotarou also gets nods of approval from his hayashi peers, one of whom suggests the couple attend Hikawa Shrine’s Summer festival, famous for its hanging wind chime fortunes. Akane arrives at their meeting spot for the date in full yukata. Kotarou is loving the look; Akane is loving how he’s loving it.

A near-perfect festival date ensues, with no one getting lost or bumping into unwanted secondary characters. Akane also cuts her foot on her sandal, but Kotarou tenderly bandages it when she can’t bend over in the yukata. They don’t let anything spoil their enjoyment of the night and of each other.

Akane ducks away for a bit, but only once she hears Kotarou’s most recent birthday has already passed, and decides to get him a little present: the same beanbag stress toy she has. The only remaining ‘drama’ is her trying to finding the right time and place to present it to him.

Once she does, she feels much better, and Kotarou is grateful, and decides the time has come for him to call his girlfriend by her first name, and she, in turn, calls him by his. And with no one around to suddenly stop them, they finally connect for real on their first kiss, finishing what they started last week and hadn’t been able to stop thinking about.

It all happens to the tune of a rendition of “Summer Festival”, which I last heard in Re:Life. The camera keeps a tasteful distance, underscoring how the two must feel like they’re in their own little world. The next time her friends at school ask, Akane can tell them being with Kotarou makes her feel safe.

The parting shot of what the two wrote on their chime wishes—they both wrote the same thing: to be together forever—is a little mushy, but who cares! I daresay these kids are gonna be alright, and there’s a quiet thrill in watching them steadily improve at this thing called courtship.

Rokudenashi Majutsu Koushi to Akashic Records – 02

Now that’s more bloody like it. Thanks, Akashic Records, for validating my optimism! After an episode that makes Mr. Radars look like a total loooser, this week starts much the same way, with Glenn picking a fight with Sisti over the value and utility of magic, then going so far he makes her cry and slap him before storming out of class.

At the end of the day, Glenn spots Rumia working on a magical circle, and decides to help her out. She (and by extension we) learn a little more about Glenn, and we learn a lot about Rumia. She’s super-gung-ho about becoming a mage because she’s both indebted to and inspired by a ‘mage of justice’ who once saved her life.

Chances of this dude being Glenn are around, oh…99.99%. Still, I like the dynamic between Sisti’s fire and Rumia’s water regarding Glenn. It’s as if she knows he’s a better man than he’s letting on.

Glenn also takes Rumia’s advice and properly apologizes to Sisti, which flabberghasts her, but also eases their conflict considerably. From there, Glenn, outraged by the “For Dummies” approach his class had taken towards magic thus far, decides to actually give a shit and teaches them what he knows.

Mind you, he still manages to tease “Shironeko” Sisti in the process, but turns out to be a really good magical instructor. The class starts filling with rapt students. Shit is getting done. Just as Rumia saw a good man somewhere in Glenn’s initial bastardry, his mentor Celica predicted he’d be a great teacher.

This episode has a very talky middle, but I didn’t mind because it’s all fascinating stuff that delves deep into the magical lore of the show’s world. I also liked how Glenn actually had the know-how to back up his constant posturing.

But when the other teachers peace out for some kind of magical conference, a group of magical terrorists take advantage. One confronts Glenn in the streets, while others invade the school, looking for Rumia, who they call “Princess Ermiana.”

Sisti stands up for her friend, but when it’s clear the terrorists ain’t messin’ around, she comes forward, with a distinctly defiant look about her. Her faith in Glenn hasn’t been extinguished; she believes he’ll come and rescue them.

Sistine’s attitude gets her in real trouble when one of the terrorists takes her into an isolated room with designs on raping her, calling her out for her facade of strength masking a scared and fragile girl, and stating her type is his favorite. Yikes…shit got dark in a hurry.

Fortunately, this asshole’s associate’s magic didn’t actually do squat against Glenn, who arrives just in time to put a stop to his assault. He uses his ‘original spell’ The Fool’s World to nullify all magic within a certain radius around him, then uses some fly physical martial arts to incapacitate the jerkwad.

As Rumia—or Her Royal Highness Princess Ermiana, if you’re not into that whole brevity thing—thought, this Bastard Magic Instructor isn’t going to stand by and let even bigger bastards hurt his dear students. The straightforward comedy of the first episode wasn’t bad, but I enjoyed that same cheeky comedy interspersed with danger even more. The fact the “Magical Punch” is a kick, for instance; call me easily amused if you must.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 04

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After each episode, and after announcing the next, a character thanks us for our “continued support,” and my continued support of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu has never gone unrewarded.

Case in point: another absolute gem, combining lovely family slice-of-life (with a very unique and cool family), the clouds hanging over Yakumo’s head, and Konatsu getting to do something, out of the blue, she never dreamed of actually doing.

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That adorable little kid up there is Konatsu and Yota’s kid. Some time has passed, but not too much: he’s only in kindergarten, and yet, he’s already surprising and delighting all, even his parents, with his nascent rakugo skills. They may have a genius on their hands.

He’s every bit as charismatic as Konatsu was. Even Yakumo can’t stay mad, going quickly into Grandpa Mode. By the way, how often does a show come around where so much time passes, we get to watch both Konatsu and her son at the same age? It’s a generational show.

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It’s generations that Higuchi Eisuke wishes to discuss with Yakumo, who grudgingly gives him a ride home and his ear for the five or so minutes. Eisuke doesn’t waste them, almost going too far in proclaiming he won’t let Yakumo kill rakugo off, or even define it as something dead or dying. With Yota, Eisuke aims to keep it alive, changing to suit the mood of a generation, just as it always has.

Ever the rigid bamboo, Yakumo won’t hear of any of that, nor will he have any part in Eisuke’s project. And when Yakumo says rakugo is dead, he’s not just talking about how it would die with him, but perhaps how it already died with Sukeroku, someone Yakumo has always believed to be better than him.

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Yota is very much the progressive, without even being that aware of it, because he knows how good “Sis” is at rakugo and thinks if she loves it so much she should just do it. What’s the harm in going out there and trying it? Such an idea is unspeakable to Konatsu, however, and considering the man who raised her, her attitude is hardly surprising. Instead, she’s being trained in shamisen, so she can play her husband and others in and out.

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But when they both go to their kid’s school to perform, Yota gets inspired by the scenario, warms the crowd of mostly little kids up, and then…hands the show over to Konatsu. All of a sudden, she’s doing something she hasn’t done since she was a pint-sized urchin, living with her father.

While initially flustered and overwhelmed, a switch flips and all of a sudden Konatsu us that urchin in the bar, without skipping a beat. Scratch that; after years with Yakumo as a father, she’s gotten better, despite having never performed in public. She’s also, in my opinion, better than Yota, at least in terms of better differentiating between the characters she voices (all kudos to the great Kobayashi Yuu here).

“Jugemu” is a simple story that’s not too raunchy or complicated for the kids, and it involves quite a bit of linguistic limberness to repeat the overly-long name of the titular child over and over at increasingly faster speeds. But it’s a cakewalk for Konatsu. She’d have brought down the house no matter what the makeup of the crowd was.

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And holy crap, the surging of emotions going through Konatsu before, during and after her impromptu performance were just a delight to behold, right up until she embraces her hubby with tears of relief and joy, and he essentially says “See? Rakugo’s hella fun, right?”

The next morning, Konatsu’s back to “usual”, and despite Yota’s protests, she still won’t commit to ever doing rakugo again. It just doesn’t seem right to her to crash something that’s been a “boy’s-only” affair for so long.

It’s an old-fashioned view of a very old-fashioned art, but par for the course for someone with her upbringing, which may have been laissez-faire with Sukeroku, but got real conservative real fast with Yakumo. So while, like Yota, I’m disappointed, and think it’s a waste, I understand why she feels the way she does.

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Yakumo, meanwhile, holds Sukeroku’s fan – old Sukeroku’s; not Yota’s. And as he holds it, a figure appears behind him – Sukeroku’s ghost, I presume. There’s no hint of arrogance or superiority in this moment, as Yakumo seems haunted by the fact a someone as loathsome and untalented as he is “all that’s left” of rakugo.

Yota will probably never be able to impress him, just as he won’t be able to impress himself. Eisuke may be right that rakugo needs to evolve, and Yota may be right that someone of Konatsu’s talent should be a part of that evolution. But you’ll never convince Yakumo of that, and Konatsu will never think it’s appropriate to be anything but musical accompaniment.

That leaves the youngin’. Who knows what future he’ll see that no one else will be around to see. What I hope we do see is Yota’s rakugo continuing to be popular, and that rakugo continuing to grow into something his son can inherit. But Yakumo’s warning about how quickly a fall can come makes me weary of too many good times to come.

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Seiren – 02

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Despite entering his window soaking wet, it’s Hikari who continues to her merciless campaign of messing with Shouichi. She borrows his sweats, but being seen by him in her skimpier outfit leads to rumors throughout the inn, which Hikari feeds into, because she likes watching Shouichi squirm.

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She eventually ends up cooking a midnight snack of a Spanish omelette for Shouichi (along with Ikuo and Hikari’s friend Mako), which along with the laundry, reveals domestic skills Shouichi didn’t know she had. He also protectively gets her to agree not to try to run away from the inn again, in case there are more killer deer or other dangers out there.

Speaking of out there, for being set in the mountains it’s a pretty stuffy episode, with no scenes outdoors and full of drab, monotonous in rooms and halls. Everyone feels a little boxed in, and if the characters were fascinating that could make up for it.

Alas…Seiren doesn’t really excel at much of anything, and with the emergence of Kuzu no Honkai, it’s the show I’m most likely to drop to get down to five total for Winter ’17. I could retain it as a guilty pleasure, but Fuuka is kinda already serving that role.

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Seiren – 01 (First Impressions)

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Kamita Shouichi is a second-year student who is always being messed with by Tsuneki Hikari, the prettiest and most popular girl in his class, but doesn’t think he has a chance, as she’s rumored to be going out with an adult.

Instead, he focuses on studying for exams with his friend Ikuo so he can get into college, which leads him to a summer course at a mountain inn. One night, to his shock, a soaked Hikari ends up entering his room through the window.

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Seiren is nothing if not earnest and straightforward. Characters are blunt in their banter and assessments, and they sound the way high schoolers might sound. Shouichi lives a pretty good life, and he’s commendably average and lacking in annoying quirks or gimmicks.

He calls his high school life “gloomy” and is starting to think about what comes next…but this show’s OP heavily implies he (or his friends) be going along several different routes with various girls, similar to Amagami SS.

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Seiren is also a very cleanly-animated, attractive show, whose creator, series compositor, and character designer are all the same person. It’s full of subtle expressions, gestures, and poses that wouldn’t be out of place in a KyoAni joint, albeit with less lushness.

That being said, Shouichi and his studying saga aren’t terribly compelling, as I’m sure they’re not yet meant to be. The best parts of the episode are when he and his would-be love interest Tsuneki are interacting. How exactly she ends up where she does at the end of the episode, I don’t know (I guess she went to the study retreat too, maybe on a different bus?) but it’s a good hook for the next episode.

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Watashi ga Motete Dousunda – 02

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After just two weeks, Kiss Him Not Me is shaping up to be my top Fall comedy (Euphonium is my top drama), as it manages to pack so much fun in its episodes. This week efficiently covers the sports underdog and study group scenarios with vigorous aplomb and a unique, contagiously feisty energy.

The members of Kae’s ‘he-rem’ are already very well-defined: Igarashi (Iga) is the friendly athlete; Mutsumi (Mu) is the kind, mature senpai; Shinomiya (Shi) is the smitten kohai; and Nanashima (Nana) is, well, so I liken him to the tsundere of the gang.

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I say this because of the four, Nana is least amenable to carrying around otaku tokens she gave them on their group date, and when she tries to translate her newfound ease of motion with a soccer gig, he’s the most skeptical. Mind you, he’s not far off base: As self-described “indoor person”, Kae soon finds out lighter isn’t stronger.

I’d also point out that for someone typically uncomfortable with anime, Nana picks up on Kae’s Captain Tsubasa reference about being friends with the ball, even getting combative about her arrogance (Tsubasa practiced 24/7). But when Nana hears the same girls who recruited Kae shitting on her disappointing showing in practice, he can’t help but rebuke them and help coach Kae up, a dedication that surprises the others.

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Everything is resolved with a big come-from-behind draw, (not win, mind you) when Kae decides to use her nigh-impossibly backwards kick to score the equalizer in extra time (managing not to hit herself in the face, showing improvement.)

While not a true victory, it demonstrated Kae’s dedication to trying hard at something totally new, as well as Nana’s willingness to prove Kae’s haters wrong and instill some soccer knowledge in a girl who suddenly makes his heart skip.

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With sports out of the way, the episode effortlessly moves on to exams. If Kae fails her next round, she’ll have to take summer classes, grenading her summer plans, all involving otaku events such as formally saying goodbye to her beloved Shion, who is as far as she’s concerned as real a person as any of the boys.

Studying is not Nana’s strength, and because first-year Shi studies at second-year level, the two are almost constantly at each other’s throats, getting the whole study group kicked out of all public venues. This leads Mu to suggest they all study at Kae’s house, requiring Kae to do a super-quick cleaning session (referring to her room as the “Sea of Rot”, perhaps referencing Nausicaa). 

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The otaku gags fly freely, from Kae’s Shion pillow and sheets and store cut-out, to the pristine shrine she keeps in her room. Kae’s mom embarrasses her by using a makeup gun, and Kae’s brother (who resembles the other main lead in Kae’s anime) tries to scare off the lads, but to no avail.

Even if they’re not to-a-man comfortable with her passion (like Mu), they are willing to keep open minds, and are rewarded by having a good time. Mu confidently mans the rudder of this stormy sea of otakuness, asking if everyone can pray at Shion shrine with her, pointedly asking Kae’s bro to beat it, and insisting everyone help Kae carefully pick up the BL stash that means so much to her. The result is, the study group works, and Kae avoids extra classes.

Her new challenge: Summer Vacation, already packed with otaku events, just got a lot more full, as her gang will surely want to supplement that stuff with their own preferred Summer activities, from going to the pool to exploring castles. Kiss Him Not Me offers an embarrassment of riches, and Kobayashi Yuu continues to do superb work voicing the multifaceted Kae.

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Watashi ga Motete Dousunda – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: Serinuma Kae, a plus-sized fujoshi second-year high schooler, loves to pair off hot guys in her head. When her favorite anime character dies, she inadvertently loses a bunch of weight, becoming a stunning beauty who garners the persistent attention of four guys at her school. On a group date she tries intently to hide her “flaws”, but in the end they accept her for the otaku she is; as long as she’s happy, they’re happy.

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Why You Should Watch: While the Ugly Duckling trope is as old as time, WgMD (AKA Kiss Him, Not Me) freshens things up by making said duckling a closet otaku, then building a reverse harem around her, so quickly it makes her head spin.

And yet, as her friend Akane points out, Kae has always had a way with hot guys, even before she lose the weight, because while she can be privately creepy, she’s always been kind. She wants only what’s best for the guys, which she thinks is…each other.

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I enjoyed how peripheral the guys were; this is Kae’s show, and they’re in the dark for most of her inner conflicts and conversations with herself. Akane is a solid friend who suddenly finds herself no longer “the hot one” among them (though she already has a boyfriend, so it’s no biggie).

It’s also interesting to see how all four react to Kae compared to how they treated her when she was bigger. In particular, her senpai Mutsumi is the first to immediately recognize her post-transformation. He’d always been more attuned to Kae’s inner beauty and kindness.

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Why You Shouldn’t Watch: Stepping back a bit, Kae’s transformation strains credulity, and there don’t seem to be any consequences to, ya know, starving herself. While pre-weight loss Kae is treated relatively well by her peers there’s still the feeling she’s regarded by most as a lovable mascot-like figure. And while society is more or less works this way, it doesn’t exactly look great that these four guys only pursue Kae when she becomes slim and hot.

Those problems aside, this show could definitely just get repetitive, with Kae going through the romantic motions with guy after guy. We’ll see if she can have her otaku otome cake and eat it too. We’ll also see what will happen if (when?) she gains her weight back; after all, Shion can only die once (unless the show brings him back and kills him off again).

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Zane’s Verdict: WgMD takes what could have been a mess of trite gimmicks and executes a solid rom-com that’s more than the sum of its parts. Kobayashi Yuu excels at giving Kae a wide range of voices to suit her emotional state, and the guys differ enough in personality to provide some interesting dynamics down the road. It’s far from perfect, but it’s more than watchable, and for now I’m interested to see how things play out for Kae & Co.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 04

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Tanaka-kun has done a wonderful job establishing its cast so far, starting out with just Tanaka and Ohta and a bento box of small skits that gradually, hilariously paint the picture of what makes ’em tick.

Then it’s branched out with more in-depth, emotionally satisfying stories, introducing one new character at a time, until eventually the full group we see in the OP and ED will be fully assembled. It’s something Marvel does well with its movies.

This week Miyano and Echizen take the week off so that the show can focus methodically on someone new, namely the class rep Shiraishi. She truly takes center stage, as the episode shifts to her perspective the more we learn about her.

It’s icing on the cake that the official start of the development of her friendship with the boys starts out with two classic anime images: running to class (or in Tanaka’s case being carried by Ohta) with toast in the mouth, and (almost) bumping into the pretty girl. And because it’s been well-established Tanaka and Ohta are nice guys, they help her out with replacing the printouts they accidentally ruined.

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Everyone knows Shiraishi; she’s damn near perfect, and every guy wants a wife like her someday. Smart, kind, beautiful, she inspires jocks depicted as bears to protect her every move. She literally sparkles, and yet has such an easy, down-to-earth manner with everyone, no one envies or resents that perfection, they simply bask in it.

But as the episode title indicates, Shiraishi has a secret: that secret is that the idol-like school princess she portrays at school is naught but a carefully-wrought fiction; a mirage; a skin she puts on and maintains with great difficulty. When the day is done and she sends Tanaka and Ohta off, it’s not just because she’s being nice: her contacts hurt, her skirt’s too short, and her hair isn’t comfortable.

She’s cultivated her Matrix-like reverse-“residual self-image” so long, when her “resting-dweeb-mode” is finally found out—by Ohta and Tanaka, who forgot his bag—she panics, because she believes her idol skin is the only thing allowing her to have a beautiful high school life.

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Of course she’s wrong. Not just wrong about needing to doll herself up so obsessively, but wrong to stress out and stalk the boys to make sure they don’t spread the word of her secret. In fact, Ohta and Tanaka have nothing but nice things to say about her, even behind her back, and Ohta mistook her dweeb mode for another girl altogether, so her secret is safe.

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A wave of relief washes over her, and that relief makes her bold and ‘reckless’ enough to try to walk around school looking like herself. Most everyone doesn’t take notice of her non-sparkly self, until she passes Tanaka, who recognizes her—of all things—due to her bust size (something Ohta hilariously warns him never to tell her).

She’s initially devastated and ready to be mocked and laughed at, but of course Tanaka and Ohta don’t think that way at all. In fact, knowing Shiraishi has flaws is a relief to Tanaka, who wasn’t sure how such a perfect person could exist, and admires the effort to change herself; an effort he’d never bother with.

Tanaka doesn’t get away with calling himself worthless scum, however. Neither Ohta or Shiraishi (or even Echizen) genuinely believe that, because through all his unapologetic listlessness, he’s a kind, perceptive, supportive friend to them all.

The next day, Shiraishi wears her glasses to school, eschewing painful contacts, and to her surprise her friends don’t abandon her. She’s learned a valuable lesson about what it is to be loved and admired and be a friend to others, and it’s about far more than just surface. The real sparkling comes from within.

Shiraishi is a wonderful addition to the circle of friends, and I look forward both to her interactions with the others, and the addition of yet more members of that circle.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 03

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Tanaka may be always listless, but I’ll tellya what else he’s becoming: popular. After a very filling meal makes him more listless than usual, the person who left a letter of challenge in his shoe cubby confronts him.

This week marks the introduction of Echizen, a blonde Yankee sporting a super-long skirt, slipped-on school shoes, and multiple piercings. She wants to fight Tanaka, to find out what kind of person he is.

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Fortunately, Echizan is far more than a delinquent, and the show quickly molds her into a three-dimensional character I truly wish to root for, even if she’s hassling Tanaka…nay, because she is. She’s also Ohta’s childhood friend, so he knows her from before she became…this way. She also doesn’t overdo it, and her manner of speaking is actually quite refreshing.

When Tanaka discourages her from starting a physical fight she’d easily win, she challenges him to Othello (AKA Reversi) instead.  She wins handily, but hold on: Tanaka was playing by different rules, and because he spelled out the character for “white” on the board with his white pieces, it stands to reason he won a game in which the winner had to do just that.

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An attempt to beat him at cards also fails, as he’s so intent on showing off his mad shuffling skillz, the wind on the rooftop blows all the cards away and they’re left one card short of a deck. It’s as if nature itself is allied with Tanaka against engaging in a serious challenge with Echizen.

But then the person on whose behalf Echizen is fighting appears: Miyano, or “Myaano” as “Ecchan” calls her. We learn both from her reluctantance to eat Osha’s bunny-shaped bread to her friendship with the tiny, cute Miyano that Echizen loves cute things.

The Skirt swap bumper was hilarious.

Exhizen’s love of cute things, and inability to eat them, gets her in trouble in the next segment, which results in a row with Miyano. She can’t eat the cute bunny cookie Miyano baked for her, so it gets old and grows white fluffy mold.

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Miyano is PISSED (in an adorably similar way to Popura in Working!!)—as is Ohta, who shares Miyano’s love of sweets and belief that wasting them is sacrilege.

Interestingly, Echizen enlists Tanaka of all people to help her, first acting as a shield (which fails when Miyano goes cold when peaking out from behind him) then writing a letter to express her feelings (which Miyano misinterprets as a challenge).

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Throughout Echizen’s crisis (which is really just an honest misunderstanding), she forms a nice rapport Tanaka, depending on his open ear and honest responses as she bounces ideas off him. He comes up with things she’s too wound up to consider, and comforts her when she suspects Miyano never wanted to be friends.

Tanaka, rightly, believes it’s a waste of time to let things fester with a friend (he considers himself and Ohta to be as steady as an old married couple…which they are!), while Miyano is listening in while they talk (it’s a school, there’s only so much privacy).

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Miyano is still angry about her cookie going to waste, but she doesn’t want to make it any bigger than it is; it’s certainly not as important a matter as the fact that she is deeply in love with Echizen (She has good taste!). Yes, Echizen is the one Miyano wanted to train with Tanaka to become more listless and mature.

The thing is, Echizen likes her the way she is, as Tanaka said, and upon hearing such wonderful news, the two make up nicely. The next time Miyano makes sweets for Echizen (as well as for Tanaka and Ohta), the makes them “not cute at all”, resulting in chocolate bodybuilders. Ecchan has no problem wolfing them down, but now the boys are the ones with a thing about eating things that look like certain things.

As they converse, now a genial quartet, Shiraishi, the cutest girl in class, walks by. I presume she’ll be the next likable, rootable, well-rounded character to make it a cool quintet. I look forward to whatever distinct quirkiness she’ll bring to the show.

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Dagashi Kashi – 12 (Fin)

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Here it is: the last episode of the Winter for RABUJOI, ending it with, well, not a whimper, but not really a bang either. The show was clearly never interested in brining the candy shop succession plot to any kind of resolution, and so instead stuck to its usual formula of crafting a slice-of-life skit around particular brands or types of candies.

Specifically, Saya is momentarily freaked out by the possibility of having a yuri moment with Hotaru, who asks her about the “flavor of love”, but she’s only talking about a cherry candy with a poem on the package called Sakuranbo no Uta. Meanwhile, Koko and Tou have a very over-dramatic exchange about the proper use of fortune-telling Taberun Desu Hi candies.

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The next skit is devoted to Morinaga Milk Caramels, with Hotaru sitting in the smoking section of Saya and Tou’s family cafe as a kind of acknowledgement that they used to be marketed to adults as a tobacco substitute.

Mind you, before she comes in Koko is worried about “tying down” Hotaru with his indecision about succeeding the store, which Saya incorrectly imagines to be bondage. But Hotaru leaves impressed that Koko fulfilled her expectations, talking about the caramel’s history and mentioning its many flavors, including coconut.

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The final skit is notable for its visual beauty as well as the transformation of the weather from beginning to end. While running after Hotaru to talk to her about his concerns, it starts to rain hard, and the two end up sheletering at a bus stop. There, Hotaru tries to break open a tin of Sakumashiki Drops, but can’t get it open; Koko pries the top with a 10-yen-coin, amazing Hotaru.

Then he tries to put the peppermint flavor drop he gets back in the tin, which Hotaru stops him. He tries it, and it turns out to be much better than he thought, which is again what Hotaru wanted him to realize: one has to try new things to be surprised.

As for tying her down and keeping her from her own business, Hotaru tells him that’s simply not the case: she’s in Koko’s town not just because she wants to recruit his father and get him to succeed the shop, but because she enjoys hanging out there; that’s all. He’s been overthinking things, and like overthinking this show, that gets you nowhere.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 19

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For most of the run of this tremendously touching and often uproariously funny show, Gouda Takeo has been portrayed as both a mensch (a person of honor and integrity) and an Übermensch (a goal for humanity to set for itself, given form). Yamato certainly sees him as a virtually flawless mate.

Yet when Yamato gets to sit with Takeo’s tough (and very pregnant) mom Yuriko, she—and we—get an entirely new perspective on Takeo. His mom still sees him as a little kid who will run out in the street and get killed if you don’t stop him. She’s also pretty confident Takeo is a wimp, in that he, like his father, worries about her too much.

Yuriko is basically handing her grown son on to another woman so she can care for him. She’s teaching Yamato a valuable lesson that she already intrinsically understands: Takeo is tough and strong about some things, but not definitely not everything. That’s where she comes in: just as his mom did, Yamato needs to protect him.

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In Takeo’s cool dad’s flashback, we see that Yuriko has always been tough and selfless, putting herself in danger to spare others pain, a big part of being a mom. Those qualities made her future husband fall for her right then and there. Yuriko isn’t overestimating her abilities when she keeps a fellow pregnant woman from falling down steps, she’s acting reflexively.

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Yet the rescue ends up hurting Yuriko, and when Takeo has to get her in a cab to go to the hospital, we see the weakness she still sees in her boy: he kinda falls apart. It’s thanks to Suna that things don’t get worse. Takeo may be great at saving strangers, but when it’s his mom, who he’s always seen as an invincible, indomitable force of nature, in trouble, his worry overwhelms him and prevents quick and rational decisions.

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When we see Yamato during these trying times for Takeo, she’s never frowning or outwardly worried, but has her usual cheerful, glowing smile. She goes to Takeo’s and cooks dinner for him. She comforts him with a simple touch of his arm, like a magical girl. She takes care of him, in a preview for how things will be for the formal hand-off (i.e. marriage one day). Yamato may be much twee-er than Takeo’s mom, but she shows she’s just as tough and able to protect Takeo.

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Witnessing these strong women around him inspires Takeo to pull himself together. When his mom gives the wheelchair meant for her to another mother going into labor, Takeo picks his mom up and carries her to the delivery room, surprising her. It’s a gesture that makes her realize he’s not a dumb little kid anymore; he has grown up a little, and he’ll keep growing up into a good man, a good big brother, and if all goes well with Yamato, a good husband and father as well. I’m sure as hell pullin’ for him!

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