Bocchi the Rock! – 05 – Not Just for Me

Seika distributes the girls’ pay, and for a moment Bocchi dreams of all the nice things she can spend it on. Unfortunately, she forgot that every one of the 10,000 yen she received goes into the band’s quota fund.

When Nijika lists all of the bands other expenses down the road that will necessitate second jobs in the summer, Bocchi retreats to the nearest trash can, then looks for a sketchy online website that buys livers from minors.

But in addition to receiving their first pay, Ryou has big news: she’s finished their song. Once she read Bocchi’s lyrics, the music just poured out of her. As thanks, Ryou gives Bocchi a chin scratch that makes Ikuyo green with envy. All that’s left is for Nijika to ask her sister for a slot for them to play.

But what she thought was a mere formality turns out to be a firm obstacle: Seika won’t book them. She only made an exception the last time so Nijika could make a memory, but doesn’t sugarcoat things at all when she says she can’t have a repeat of “that awful May performance”, and tells Nijika to stick with it “as a hobby.”

Nijika storms out of the club, and Ikuyo insists that she and Ryou run after her. Bocchi starts to follow, but is held back by Seika. When she rejoins her bandmates, she tells them what Seika told her: if they want to perform on stage, they’ll have to audition in a week. That means Bocchi has to get better at playing in a band and Ikuyo has to get better at playing period.

Nijika and Ryou believe they’ll be fine as long as they show her sister that they’re “bank-like”, which for the whimsical Ryou means dressing up in suits and mop-top wigs. But as the week of practice proceeds, Bocchi thinks long and hard about what she’s trying to accomplish now that she’s in a band, and what “growth” means beyond simply exerting a lot of effort.

Nijika misreads Bocchi’s distraction with these big questions, and after their last practice before the audition, catches up with her at the vending machines, buys her a cola, and apologizes for roping her into a band without asking her what kind of band she wanted.

Bocchi assures her she’s not doing this against her will, but still won’t tell her that she wanted to join for fame and adoration. By the same measure, Bocchi knows Nijika wants to play at the Budokan, but Nijika has a dream beyond that, which she’s keeping secret for now.

I really liked this scene both artistically (the light of the vending machines is both dramatic and warm) and as a sign that Nijika and Bocchi are still relatively new friends, and still have a lot to learn about each other. That will happen in time as they share more experiences.

The day of the audition arrives, and I felt a pit in my stomach for the girls as they took the stage. It’s the first full song we get to watch the band play, and after four episodes and change, it feels momentous. The performance animation looks great, and more importantly the band sounds great … but crucially not too perfect. There’s plenty of room for polish.

As they play, Bocchi asserts that she’s grown from someone who wanted to become famous for herself, but now that she’s in a band and has friends, she wants to help them achieve their dreams too. Beyond personal motivation, she doesn’t want to let them down or be a weak link.

Infused with that passion to lift herself and the others, her stage play takes a noticeable step up in quality. She’s able to enter a zone where she’s comfortable enough to play almost as well as she plays when she’s recording covers in her closet. A previously private Bocchi, now performing in public and turning heads, just like she dreamed.

Granted, the heads she turns are those of Seika, P.A., and her bandmates, but you gotta start somewhere! When the song ends and everyone is catching their breath, Seika starts with criticism—the drums are too tight, the bass is too distant, etc.—before noting that she now knows what kind of band they are. That means they pass!

The ordeal is so taxing on Bocchi that the show has to cut to live-action video of various Japanese dams while she boots next to the stage. Turns out Seika is a big ol’ softie who had an open slot for her sister’s band all along, but didn’t want to make it too easy for Nijika. She challenged them to work hard and play their butts off, and they did.

Seika also wants to try to encourage Bocchi and further unlock talents being held back by lack of confidence. But in what’s looking like a penchant, Seika’s attempt is worded so that Bocchi misinterprets her “I see you, okay?” as a threat, not a supportive acknowledgement.

While Bocchi panics over having one family member short of the five-ticket quota (two, if you don’t count her dog) the bottom line is shit is starting to get real for Kessoku Band. They have a song, and another on the way, and they have a venue and slot for their first concert as a unit. It’s not “all over” at all!

Bocchi the Rock! – 01 (First Impressions) – Guitar Heroine

I never did replace Renai Flops after dropping it, and I’ve heard and read good things about Bocchi the Rock!, so I thought better to check it out late than never! Reviews to come as I find time to watch back episodes.—Zane

First-year middle schooler Gotou Hitori describes herself as an “archetypal introvert”, but when she learns from TV that even introverts can become cool and popular if they join bands, she borrows her dad’s guitar and starts practicing, with the plan to create a band and perform at the cultural festival.

Those plans would prove … optimistic. Three years pass, and while she never puts the guitar down, gets quite good at it, and posts covers on YouTube and gets good feedback, she never made a band, never performed, and never even made a friend. She aims to change all that in her first year of high school.

But despite psyching herself up and decking herself out in Rocker Chick garb and accessories, no one approaches Hitori in the first month of the school year. Granted, she’s just passively waiting for people to approach her. She has social anxiety, stammers, and has trouble making eye contact.

But even if Hitori can’t communicate externally, her colorful, dynamic inner voice is a genuine delight. Props to Aoyama Yoshino for nailing both sides of Hitori, which make her an instantly likeable protagonist you want to see succeed.

Sure enough, when hanging out on a swing a girl with red boots and a blonde sidetail approaches her while yelling “Guitar!” Ijichi Nijika is her name, and a guitarist is what she needs for a show … today.

After a quick train to the stylish Shimo-Kitagawa district, Nijika leads Hitori to the basement club called Starry. Immediately Hitori is encouraged by the darkness and stuffiness, reminding her of the closet where she spent most of the last three years. She also meets Yamada Ryou, a cool beauty and bassist.

A quick scan of the sheet music for the set reveals nothing Hitori can’t handle musically, but after her first-ever practice with other human beings, they’re unable to hold back the hard honest truth: she sucks. Or, rather, she sucks staying in synch in a band. But that’s what you’d you expect … she’s never been in one!

After curling up into the fetal position, the “sub-water flea” Hitori jumps into a garbage can, and even considers committing guitar hara-kiri on stage. But Nijika and Ryou insist she’s being too hard on herself, and everything will be fine. When she mentions she uploads covers, she learns that not only to both girls know about her (through her YT handle “guitarhero”), but think she’s awesome.

While this revitalizes her, Hitori still has legitimate concerns about being able to stand on a stage and play (this is someone who only recently became capable of speaking to Nijika) so her bandmates produce a big mango box she can play inside. They immediately notice the change in her personality once she feels safe and secure.

Nijika and Ryou tell Hitori that their band is called Kessoku Band (as in zip-tie band), and then give her an appropriate nickname: “Bocchi”, as in hitoribocchi (“all alone”).

With that, it is time to rock, and while we don’t get to hear most of the set, all we need to know is that it wasn’t that great, at least by the standards the band is trying to meet. That’s not just on Hitori, mind you: Nijika and Ryou know they have flaws too. They’re grateful Bocchi was able to play with them, and look forward to playing with her again.

Nijika wants to take Bocchi out to celebrate her first ever set in her first ever band, but all this social interaction has exhausted Hitori to the point she simply has to head home for the night, so she takes a rain check (Ryou also falls asleep on her feet).

Honestly, I would have been disappointed if Bocchi and Kessoku Band kicked ass right out of the gate. Rather, it will be fun to watch Bocchi grow more comfortable talking to her new bandmates, meeting the fourth member who appears in both OP and ED, and watching the band learn from and get better together. It’s a very solid, fun start to a show I wish I’d picked up eight weeks ago!

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 06 – Hearts Racing Together

One morning, Akari is acting like a caring, loving wife, the kind that is again propelling her and Jirou into the top of the practical rankings (which are a thing I find myself caring less and less about as the show goes on). The only thing that gives Jirou pause is the fact that Akari keeps calling him by his last name, even seemingly accentuating the “Yakuin”.

Jirou doesn’t know why, but it bothers him, and he even googles “why is a girlfriend suddenly calling you by your last name”. Seems like a step backwards, or some kind of message, right? Then Jirou and Sadaharu happen to witness Hamano Mei rejecting female kohai who just confessed her love for her.

Aside from it being a magnificently gay scene I was waiting for, Mei demonstrates that she’s very good at the gentle turn-down, and I have no reason to doubt she truly is happy that this girl fell for her, even if she can’t return the feelings. Mei also bears part of the burden for not “being mindful enough to notice” the girl’s feelings, then indulges her with a warm embrace and calls her by her first name.

Jirou wants to notice what’s causing Akari to use his last name, so that already shows he’s being mindful. He’s a good kid, thinking about how she feels! When he’s about to shower, Akari barges in with the rankings on her phone: they’re now in eighth place, and she hugs him while he’s shirtless, which is a first.

Later, she helps him dry his hair—which he washed with a shampoo she chose for both of them. When she hits the hair dryer, Jirou says her first name, then again. The third time he says it is when she switches it off, and she hears it, and calls him Jirou in turn. Now he gets it: she simply wanted him to call her Akari first. She says its for the benefit of their artificial marriage, but it’s clear him calling her Akari makes her blush every time.

While Jirou figured out this little mini-mystery of how he and Akari address one another, he’s still largely in the dark about Shiori’s true feelings. In that regard, his lack of mindfulness stems from her years-old friendzoning of him, which he felt at the time meant that was that and there were lines beyond childhood friendship she’d rather not cross.

But that was then, and Shiori regretted it then and has yet to resolve matters. In this, her best friend Mei most likely subordinated her own unrequited romantic feelings for Shiori in order to ensure she’s happy, by doing everything possible to bring her and Jirou together. She makes it clear if Shiori isn’t more aggressive in letting Jirou know her feelings, Akari (or some other girl) will beat her to the punch.

When Shiori gets hit in the head by an errant football, Mei sends her to the nurses office and promises to send Jirou there, where it’s clear she wants Shiori to do what she couldn’t do during their shared classroom duties. When Jirou hesitates, Mei verbally kicks him in the butt to get in there and see Shiori already.

But while Mei can’t understand why her Shiori loves a “coward” like Jirou, she’s missing the fact that Shiori’s been a coward too! Coward is probably too strong a term; more like stubborn in their shared belief that the other isn’t interested despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

When Jirou visits the nurse’s office to see Shiori, the two find themselves all alone in the dark. They exchange some awkward small talk, Jirou notices that Minami brought her a sandwich and sports drink before he did (though Mei gave him his). Shiori mentions how well Jirou and Akari are doing, he says they still fight a lot, and Shiori remarks how she’d like to see Jirou angry sometime. That is to say, she wants to know more about him beyond the childhood friend.

She also makes it clear when Jirou brings up making romantic progress that she and Minami have done no such thing, and that furthermore, even if it was with someone she liked, she’d worry about being too nervous and inexperienced. This must feel to Jirou like a comfortable mirror.

Shiori makes another blunder by saying she wants to “practice” kissing with Jirou, which suggests she’d rather kiss someone else “for real”, but Jirou, who had just gotten a talking-to from Mei to “go for it”, agrees and leans in to kiss Shiori.

At the very last second Shiori hesitates again, which happens before Akari’s gyaru-friend Sachi comes in to skip class, hears the bed creaking, and sees boy’s and girl’s shoes through the gap in the curtain. Sachi is scandalized and makes a quick exit, but her entrance caused Jirou to slip and fall … right onto Shiori and her lips.

Accident or not, the two have finally kissed, and it was so unexpected and so … so much for both of them they basically short-circuit in unison and agree to part ways for the time being. I feel so bad for both Mei and Akari, as these two are—and I can’t stress this enough—the fucking worst.

I mean everyone has their pace that they must follow (I think about Chuu2Koi handled this quite well). But you don’t have to jump each other’s bones; you can use their words and clear all this up! Say you like him! Say you like her! Boom! But they don’t.

All throughout this time, Akari has been trying to get ahold of Jirou, but he’s ignored her last four texts. Then Sachi shows up and tells her what went down in the nurse’s office, and right after hearing this Akari gets a text from Jirou saying he was in the nurse’s office. Naturally, her thoughts go straight to Shiori.

I continue to feel so bad for Akari. I’m sure Minami is a nice guy, but she doesn’t really know him. She does know Jirou a lot more, and is developing feelings for him that are quickly replacing the more shallow attraction nad idolization for Minami. Also, I doubt Minami is any more interested in her than he is Shiori.

And hey, what do you know, Akari is so preoccupied with Jirou that she doesn’t even notice Minami served her that drink! I am HERE for the Minami erasure. We’re in episode six. If we go another six without him so much as uttering a line, I’ll be perfectly content.

What we have here, then, is a love triangle. And with her assumption Jirou went and did something with Shiori in the nurse’s office, Akari is understandably lonely and depressed. It doesn’t help matters that her gyaru-friends stand her up at the café, though Minami gives her some free extra whipped cream and a note to cheer her up (though again, you get the impression he’d do this with anyone).

When she comes home late, Jirou is passed out on the couch. Akari sees the chocolates and deduces he waited for her. She doesn’t check her phone and see the text warning that the chocolates contained whiskey. She does unfold the couch (which of course becomes a bed), disrobe and curl up next to the dozing Jirou, asking him if this is what he did with Shiori, or did they take things even further.

What’s so heartbreaking is that Akari isn’t mad that Jirou might’ve slept with Shiori. After all, who wouldn’t want to have their first time be with someone so clearly important to them? Even more heartbreaking? Lines like “Did you go off and become an adult without me?” and “Don’t leave me behind,” and “I’ll cheer on in your love … but just for now, while I’m your wife, could you wait?” Just one dagger after the other.

Jirou regains consciousness from his inadvertent choco-bender very confused Akari is sleeping beside him in her underwear. When he asks what happened, Akari teases him for forgetting what happened … for forgetting what he did to her. She then asks “was last night your first time?” to which he answers yes, because he assumes she means the two of them.

When he proceeds to apologize if he didn’t perform to her standards and such, she admits she was lying, they didn’t do it. When Jirou is a bit too emphatic in his relief, since it means he’s still a virgin, Akari is miffed. I’m not sure he meant to imply he’s glad he didn’t lose it to her because he’d rather lose it to Shiori (I think he’s just glad he didn’t pop his cherry and not remember it)—but that’s how she interprets it.

It sucks that this is how the episode, and the first half of the season, wraps up: with another misunderstanding. But even if Jirou picks up on what Akari is mad and is able to smooth things over, the underlying triangle remains. While Shiori did stop them from kissing for real, they did lock lips, and once she and Jirou fully process that, that dance will continue. And this conflict will surely drive the second half.

Could Akari be clearer about how she’s acting toward Jirou is less about being a great pretend wife for the sake of getting Minami and more about legitimate feelings for him? Sure! Could Shiori, for the benefit of both Akari and the long-suffering Mei, please kindly shit or get off the pot? Perhaps! But Jirou can also keep being as mindful as he can be. As long as he’s wracking his brain, there’s potential for progress on all fronts. Whatever happens, I’m loving these characters, and this show.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 10 – So Cute, So Cool

Hot on the heels of the cultural festival is the athletics festival, and while I was fully ready to throw my hands up and shout “no more festivals”, this episode soon convinced me otherwise. That’s entirely because the five-person mixed relay team is none other than our five friends Shikimori, Izumi, Nekozaki, Inuzuka…and Hachimitsu.

The three jocks of the group help train the fast but mishap-prone Izumi and the slow, indoorsy, generally reluctant Hachimitsu. Both are amazed and heartened by how kind and patient Shikimori, Nekozaki, and Inuzuka are. Hachimitsu has the most athletic ground to cover, but she has the right teachers.

In fact, both she and Izumi are sufficiently inspired to keep training together even when their sporty friends have to head off to practice for their other events. Izumi wonders why Hachimitsu is working herself to the bone for running, something she’s never been a fan of.

As she zips her jacket over half her face, Hachimitsu’s answer is simple; if it makes everyone happy, then she’s happy. On the day of the festival, the girls watch the guys do the human cavalry thing, and Hachimitsu notices Shikimori ogling Izumi, looks a little jealous for a moment, then tells a joke. It’s a nifty little exchange that really deepens the complexity of this group’s bond.

When Hachimitsu participates in the bag toss, she turns out to be quite exemplary at it. No doubt she was motivated by watching the boys working hard, and by the warm and enthusiastic support of all of them. Her reward for her near-victory is one of Shikimori’s biggest smiles, and Hachimitsu can’t help but beam back in pride and satisfaction.

With the mixed relay approaching, Hachitmitsu can’t help but feel nervous. Shikimori, who looks so calm and cool, takes her hand in hers, revealing it’s ice cold because she’s nervous too. But nervousness and lack of confidence are two very different things. Shikimori says that having fun is most important, but if it’s all the same, she’s going to have fun winning. Hachimitsu can’t repel competitive fire of that magnitude.

Nekozaki gets their team into first place in the first leg, then hands it off to Hachimitsu. She’s moving so much faster than she’s used to she gets disoriented and trips herself. She falls on her face and skins her knee, but the baton never left her hand; they’re still in it. She gets back up and keeps running, handing the baton off to Izumi cleanly.

Izumi loses a shoe, but simply loses the other and keeps running in his stocking feet, and does not trip and fall, or fall further behind. He hands it off to Shikimori, who singlehandedly gets the team from the rear back into second place with acceleration that uniformly shocks all in attendance.

Just before Inuzuka receives the baton from her, he gets one good look at her intense face and knows that he just can’t let her or the others down. He only has one man to beat, and he beats him to the finish. Izumi is the first to tackle him into a celebratory hug, followed closely by Nekozaki.

Izumi is so high on their upset victory, he exhibits absolutely no propriety by taking Shikimori into his arms and holding her close, very nearly causing her to overheat. Then Hachimitsu—indoorsy, wisecrakin’ ol’ Hachimitsu—smiles a genuine smile of glee as she thanks everyone for working hard, shocking her friends.

The victorious quintet then poses for a beautiful Postcard Memory as Hachimitsu reiterates how happy and proud she is to have such fine friends. I tell you, it’s legit goddamn tearjerker material, and it’s also one of Shikimori’s best episodes. Just five incredibly cute, cool friends, supporting each other, making each other better, and having a blast. Who could ask for more?

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 11 – Volleydaaaaaw

As soon as Erika learns the Athletic Festival after-party will include a solo dance by Akebi, she decides she wants to be the one accompanying her on the piano. Usagihara gives her the encouragement (and the Miki-chan CD) she needs to make it happen, while keeping it a pleasant surprise for Akebi when the time comes.

As for Akebi, she and her volleyball team learn, through playing against an actual volleyball player like Washio Hitomi, that they aren’t that god at volleyball. They don’t lack heart, but they need practice, and more critically a place to practice. Akebi has a tearful call with Mako-sensei, who is so happy Akebi has made friends and gives her permission to use her old school gym.

At first it looks like it’s going to be just Akebi, Usagihara, Shijou and Minakami (plus Kao, who wants to know what it’s like to not be at that school all alone), but Washio and Nawashiro, initially thought to have been indisposed that day, show up to help the novices practice. I love Kao’s reaction to seeing the statuesque Washio, as well as Washio’s response: lifting Kao as high as only she can.

I never watched Haikyuu!! but speaking as someone who has watched a bit of anime, I’m confident in saying the volleyball action animation is excellent. From the power and grace of the experienced Washio to the fumbling and incoordination of the newbies, it captures all of the beauty inherent the sport. Perhaps more importantly, it’s another opportunity for Akebi to revel in all of the friendships she’s made, working together in hopes of winning at the festival.

When Akebi shows her to the restroom, Usagihara notes just how old the school is, and learns that their little practice session is not only the most activity that gym has seen in years, but also might be the last time such a session can take place. Once Kao graduates, the school will close. So Akebi is happy she could bring friends there.

Akebi returns to the gym just as Mako-sensei decided to peek in on their practice, and is surprised to find that practically her whole class turned out to practice with her, preparations Usagihara made in case Washio and Nawashiro couldn’t make it. Mako-sensei and Akebi cant help but get emotional, while Kao leads her big sis by the hand to continue practice with everyone. Akebi shows her gratitude by giving Usagihara a big and lasting hug.

As for Erika, she’s in her own little world in her dorm room, practicing the Miki-chan piece while wearing earbuds and envisioning Akebi dancing around her in a placid ocean. Akebi truly transforms into a magical girl, gracefully darting around as Erika accompanies her. It’s another big flex from the animation staff, as the scene is simply bursting with love, tranquility, energy, and beauty.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 10 – Cheers for Fears

Akebi arrives at class in her new summer sailor fuku and is once again a sensation, but the other girls also have their summer unis to show off. They only lament that they just made the switch, but most of the day they’ll be in their P.E. uniforms, practicing for the athletics festival.

After Nawashiro teaches Akebi, Tanigawa, and Kamimoku how to make pompoms, the cheer squad can start practicing their cheers in earnest. The only problem is, none of them, including Akebi, really know all that much about cheering. Tougeguchi, who is in the table tennis club, has to teach Akebi basic choreography.

While Akebi flits hither and thither, cheering on the various other clubs, Erika finds a tennis partner in Shijou, whose body has developed faster than most girls her age and has thus left her with something of a complex about that. While she has experience playing tennis, all of it came before these changes, so she can’t quite find a rhythm on the court.

Not to fret: Erika offers Shijou some calming black tea, while Akebi takes her by the hand and has her do some cheer practice to loosen up a bit. Shijou only ends up in this unplanned situation because she became fixated on Akebi’s slender midriff and absent-mindedly poked her navel while saying “must be nice”. Akebi, bless her heart, assumed cheering was “what must be nice.”.

With Tanigawa recording their practice, Akebi finds areas to improve, while Shijou sees how stiff and restricted her movements are. But rather than give up, she pulls up her sleeves, ties off her shirt, and gets back to it, feeding off of Akebi’s boundless stores of exuberance. She even assists Akebi with a more advanced lift. Despite her initial misgivings, seeing Akebi give it all makes her want to give her all.

The cheering also reminded Shijou why she loved tennis to begin with: because it gives one the chance to look really cool. And indeed, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform animates Shijou’s powerful serve with all the camera angles and slow-motion of a superhero pulling off a special move. In essence, Shijou got her groove back!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 06 – It Was Spring When We Met

With the Culture Fest imminent, rehearsals for Romiya and Juliot are well under way, but when Nishikata first lays eyes on Takagi in her princess regalia, he forgets half of his lines as Dumpling A and gets an earful from Director Yukari. Nishikata knows he needs practice, so he arranges for Takagi to meet him…on a rooftop…at sunset.

It’s not until he’s almost to the top of the steps that he realized that in his absent-mindedness he set up the perfect conditions to ask Takagi out, recalling an iconic chapter of 100% Unrequited Love, in which he should know by now Takagi is also well-versed. But such is her knowledge of the workings of his mind, she knows he’s up there to practice their lines…though she’s a little disappointed it’s not for more than that.

The day of the festival arrives, and Nishikata is 5 billion percent certain he can beat Takagi in a contest of who can get out of the haunted “diner” first (can I just say how wonderfully random a haunted diner is?). Takagi gets in and out in 43 seconds, dashing his hopes of her getting freaked out. But for a moment there, he considered going in, so concerned that she’d be too scared. Sure enough, Takagi wants to go through the house with him together, not separately.

Intertwined with Nishikata and Takagi’s slow dance of love are Houjou and Hamaguchi, the latter of which initially disappoints and pisses off the former by telling her not to come to his class café. When she arrives anyway to spite him for being a jerk, she discovers why he didn’t want her there: all the guys in his class had to dress like maids!

But the big draw of the fest is the play, and things get off to a smooth and encouraging start. Even Nishikata knows all of his lines and delivers them with confidence, no doubt a product of his thorough off-camera practicing with Takagi. But when Kimura is “turned into a ham” and leaves the stage, the chestnut atop his scepter pops off. Then Kimura has digestive issues after winning the eating contest.

This leaves Nishikata to fill in for him, but things don’t go as Yukari, Sanae, or Nishikata planned. That’s because during the scene where she’s about to take her life, Takagi trips on the chestnut, and Nishikata darts onto stage to catch her so fast his pig head falls off. The crowd believes this is all intentional, so he runs with it—emphatically declaring his return to human form is a “miracle born from our love.”

Surely the adrenaline has him, but that doesn’t matter. Takagi is loving every moment of this improvisation, as it means she gets to be in the arms of the boy she loves for real, and Nishikata has nowhere to hide. It’s only when an entire gym full of eyes are on them that they’re finally able to say how they truly feel, even if Nishikata would dispute that’s what’s going on.

At the after-festival karaoke party, I was glad to see Nishikata and Takagi sitting next to each other. She praises him for the improv, and he claims not to remember any of what he said on stage. Takagi assures him she remembers “each and every second” of it, and probably will never forget it.

Then Nishikata asks why one of her improvised lines mentioned how they met in spring when Romiya and Juliot met in the fall…to which Takagi says, while looking straight into Nishikata’s eyes, that “it was spring when we met each other.” We, not the characters they played. While Nishikata’s 8-bit brain tries to process these words and their meaning, Takagi is called to the mic to sing another lovely vintage song. A perfect ending to a perfect episode.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Sonny Boy – 05 – The Creator

If you thought Sonny Boy was going to pick up right where it left off with the Bond Girl-like arrival of a teacher (like ahem me) well…you haven’t been paying proper attention. Sonny Boy, you see, picks up where and when it feels like it: in this case, a 2D Pac-Man-like world that Nagara, Nozomi, Asakaze and Mizuho manipulate in order to “liberate” all of the digital mice.

Their “reward” for “conquering” (i.e. clearing) this world is a corded desktop mouse with the power to unravel things, from computer code to sweaters. Turns out each time a world is conquered, a new power is “unlocked”. Back at Rajdhani’s lab on the beach, he’s recording and cataloguing all of the team’s successes and failures, gradually narrowing down what can and can’t be done…slowly unraveling the big tangle that is their predicament.

The rest of the class probably would have tolerated this as long as they were kept fed and busy, but along came that Aki-sensei, who claims to have been sent by “God” and only seems to be their to stir up some shit. She immediately plays favorites with Asakaze, and encourages him to take up the mantle of the class’s savior. With him, she’s less Swiss Family Robinson and more Mrs. Robinson.

She also insists that no matter what they do, none of the students will ever be able to return home. She also assigns a scapegoat in Nagara, cultivating the idea that the only one of them with the power to teleport was trying to escape the world they came from, and happened to drag them all along with him. The StuCo brings Nagara before the class, but due to his social anxiety and ineloquence, his answers only make them more suspicious and angry, and even Hoshi can’t sway them to take it easy.

Happily, Nagara at least gets a small respite from all the finger-pointing when he joins Nozomi for some nighttime fishing. When she spots “guardian angels” in the otherwise inky black water, she dives in without hesitation, and pulls Nagara in with her. Under the water they soon become surrounded by a shimmering silver school of minnows, a wondrous and beautiful moment in an episode full of bleak cynicism. Nagara is glad he jumped in. He’s also glad he met Nozomi.

Things go south when Nagara is again confronted by the class, with Aki-sensei apparently trying to get everyone to turn against him as the one villain on whom they can pin all their blames. One student even shoves Nagara to the ground, causing him to run away once again. As she pulls Nagara down she builds Asakaze up, as he demonstrates he can cut through the world Nagara teleported them to and return to the island.

But that’s the first clue that Nagara’s power isn’t actually teleportation. He ends up escaping to a burned version of the island from before they set up a barter system that obeyed the world’s rules of fair exchange. Nozomi, Mizuho, and Rajdhani end up being able to travel to this burned island where they find Nagara. Mizuho in particular masks her genuine concern for him by being super prickly with him upon their reunion.

But the fact that the burned island wasn’t healed, but a second island created, seals one of the many theories Rajdhani’s simmering in his head: Nagara isn’t a teleporter…he’s a creator. Each and every one of the worlds they’ve visited was made from his power.

With Aki-sensei grooming Asakaze into Nagara’s nemesis, destroyer of those worlds, and savior of the class, all while painting Nagara as the devil, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before things boil over into something ugly.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 04 – Monkey League

While cliff-jumping into a pool of…voidness, Nagara is almost dashed on the rocks, but his latent power kicks in, transporting him and everyone else seemingly back home, if only for a moment. Everyone, especially Asakaze, is convinced that Nagara can get them home if he would just give a shit and try. The thing is, I’m not sure Nagara cares what world he’s in. He’s just not tied to the world he came from like some.

But enough about that; let’s play some baseball. Yep, after Nagara and Mizuho’s friendship was forged in last week’s buddy detective story, this week is a straight-up sports episode. Turns out there’s a baseball diamond on the island, which is used by a league of mysterious invisble monkeys who were taught the rules of baseball. Cap bends everyone’s ears off singing the praises of that noble league.

Nozomi and Mizuho, who settle into a nice rapport this week, are eager to see these monkeys, requiring a special flashlight only Ace, the pitching star, possesses. His girlfriend, however, doesn’t like Mizuho or Nozomi, so no dice. Ace decides to challenge the two girls and Nagara to a one-inning game. If they win, they get the flashlight. If he wins, well…he only whispers to Nagara whe he gets in return.

The ensuring three-batter game starts as you’d expect, with Mizuho wildly whiffing far too late to catch up to Ace’s fastballs, followed by a more capable but still outmatched Nozomi striking out. It’s all up to Nagara, who at no point throughout their rigorous practices had any confidence whatsoever he’d ever be able to hit one of Ace’s pitches.

Even so, the story of the Monkey League umpire who ruined an immaculate game for the pitcher, his team, and all of the amassed spectators resonates as Nagara prepares for the third pitch. That monkey umpire did not bend to the will of the people, but held fast tot he rules of the game as they stood.

His call was correct and just, but it didn’t matter; he was killed by the mob. Nagara ends up using his warp in the middle of his at bat and adopting a more assured stance, but still swings and misses for strike three.

That means Nagara has to do what Ace asked of him: use his power to warp him and everyone else home without delay. Ace, you see, wishes more than anything to return to the place where he’s “properly appreciated.” But since Nagara doesn’t share that wish, he’s unable to warp them back home. Indeed, he confirms he has little to no control over where he warps.

Just when Nagara was being primned to be the savior of the class, he lets most everyone down when they all return to the beach, having gotten all their hopes up and then dashed them. But just when they return, they spot a woman coming out of the surf: one of their teachers, Aki-sensei, who declares that the “fun and games” are over.

This was an episode that really got lost in its invented Monkey League lore and quick-and-dirty underdog sports story, but also managed to develop Nagara’s ability while giving us some fun Mizuho-Nozomi camaraderie. Still, Cap’s elaborate stories did go on a bit long, and if they referenced real-world Japanese baseball history, it went entirely over my head.

Bokutachi no Remake – 05 – Wings of Song

I know I almost always rag on a series doing a cultural festival episode, as they typically end up pretty formulaic. But at the same time, there’s a reason that formula often works so well: it raises the stakes for all the characters by making them do things outside their routines or comfort zones. Remake’s art festival gives us a ton of wonderful little moments, plus a couple of big ones with lasting ramifications.

Things start out in Nanako’s favor, as Kyouya is so supportive of her honing her singing, she instinctively falls into his arms—though she warn him later not to get “the wrong idea.” She’s similarly flustered when Kyouya first sees her in her outfit for the maid cafe, with her, Shinoaki, and Keiko each donning different styles. The cafe is such a success, they actually poach people who were going to watch the films.

One of those who came for the films but also stopped by the cafe is Eiko, whom Kyouya can’t quite mask his surprise for showing up to something that fundamentally doesn’t seem to be her thing. I really enjoy the interaction of Eiko and Kyouya as two people who did interact in Kyouya’s initial future (unlike the others)—I just wish she had more to do than try to apologize to Nanako, only for Kyouya to say theres no need, as her stern lecture helped Nanako more than it hurt her.

On the last day, Kyouya attends the visual art exhibition with Shinoaki, spots a painting that looks familiar, and when he studies the name tag he recognizes the name, then gets all dizzy and faints. Whether due to overwork, a side effect of his time travel, or a little of both, he wakes up in Shinoaki’s lap in a quite, private back room. It’s here where Shinoaki tells Kyouya how much his care and support and praise has helped her, and leans in for a kiss, only to be stopped an inch from Kyouya’s lips by a phone call.

There’s an emergency on the main stage, as the “secret guest” band got double-booked and will be a no-show. Keiko suggests they just ask around; it’s an art school, there are plenty of people who will want to perform on stage. But both Kyouya and the music professor believe Nanako can and should do it. Nanako disagrees, feels the pressure of all those people rejecting her, and flees the tent.

Kyouya chases after her while Tsurayuki keps the crowd busy with some clown tricks. Nanako expresses how terrified she is; he tells her she’s scared because she’s serious about doing a good job. And to assuage her fear about the crowd of hundreds, she shows her the YouTube page of her singing videos, which have quickly garnered tens of thousands of views and spirited discussion about the unique appeal of her voice.

Of course, we don’t learn that this is what Kyouya showed Nanako until after we see her take the stage in her maid outfit, give a meek introductory speech, and then kick into full Performance Mode. It only taks a couple of bars for the crowd to get drawn in, and before long, they’re dancing and swaying and fully on board. Nanako, in turn, feeds off their energy and truly shines. Kyouya knew she would, because she’s the famous N@NA from his time.

After her encore, a winded but joyful Nanako rushes to the tent to see Kyouya, who among the crowd of hundreds was likely the one person she was singing for, in addition to herself. But the others tell her Kyouya went off somewhere. We then see him with Shinoaki, who mustve gotten a little lightheaded as a result of all the hard work she’s done and the size and heat from the crowd. Shinoaki stands up so she and the seated Kyouya are of a height, and then leans in and finishes the first kiss they started earlier.

Nanako is just in time to witness this kiss, and watches Kyouya and Shinoaki looking every bit like a couple through the light of a fountain, holding crepes for her and Kyouya. You can see her post-performance high evaporate from her face, and her reflection in the babbling fountain is a nice visualization of how all of a sudden everything is out of sorts again, just when things seemed to be on the right track.

And all because despite herself she’s developed feelings for Kyouya, who let it be said is fully deserving of those feelings. It’s just, Shinoaki likes him too, and unlike Nanako she’s never tried to qualify or deny it. We’ll certainly see how this incident affects the group dynamic, and whether the official establishment of this love triangle will destroy what Kyouya believes he was brought back in time to do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardcaptor Sakura – 29 – The Great Japanese Baking Show

Sakura is on a cake-baking kick since learning she’ll be baking them in home-ec class. One of the many many things her dad is good at is baking cakes, so he gives her a few pointers. Sakura especially wants to bake a cake for Yukito to try, while Meiling simply wants a wedding cake for her and Syaoran to share. Since they’re definitely getting married. For sure.

Syaoran and Sakura actually have the same idea to observe professional cake-makers at one of the local bakeries, and happen upon Yukito, who lets them know that he’s down for any cake, any time. I must admit it’s been a little disheartening to see Sakura and Syaoran both expend so much energy trying to woo someone who isn’t interested in either of them. Meanwhile poor Meiling is so eager to have a cake ready for Syaoran when he comes home she ends up burning it, earning nothing but his ire.

When the big baking day comes, everyone seemingly brings their A-game…only when everything comes out of the oven and is ready to taste, it’s all way too sweet. Sakura doesn’t understand how she and Tomoyo screwed up, or how everyone could have screwed up at once. Back at Chez Li, Syaoran finally gives Meiling some kind words, telling her it’s not her fault the cake was too sweet.

He’s not just saying that; he sensed a Clow Card in operation, and eventually so does Sakura—and Mizuki-sensei for that matter. When their home-ec class bakes another round of cakes, the Sakura and Syaoran hang back, and eventually get a glimpse of the Sweet card.

She may just be the most adorable card yet, tiny and fairy-like, and able to not just turn cakes sweeter, but turn anything into sweets, from the chalkboard to the stools. Sakura devises a plan with a trail of salt in order to trap Sweet without hurting her and then sealing her back into card form. To her and everyone’s delight, everyone’s cake turns out great as a result.

Sakura also ends up winning the Yukitostakes-of-the-Week by getting her cake to Yukito first, causing Syaoran to glare ruefully at the two through a fence. It’s a shame, because Yukito would have likely accepted cake from him and enjoyed it just fine. We’ve seen how the kid can pack it away!

Meiling comes to comfort him, but he’s got a one-track mind, and that track is Yukito. Honestly I felt pretty bad for Meiling. Granted, Syaoran never asked her to follow him to Japan, and she can be a haughty pest, but his aggressive indifference towards her borders on cruel here. Despite being an episode full of sweets, that fact left a rather bitter taste in my mouth.

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