In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki – 02 – Three Dogs, Three Sheep, a Duel and Double Meat

The repetitive conjecture about otoko (i.e., males) so prevalent in the opener is entirely absent here, with one half focusing on a Dog v. Sheep combat training. Tachiaoi invited Tsubaki to join them first, but cocky Team Sheep leader Benisumomo insists on taking Team Dog on. But Sheep member Touwata, obsessed with hard work and willpower, thinks her leader Beni is relying to much on her talen

Her concern leads her to parlay with Team Dog for Tsubaki to give Beni a “good thrashing” in hopes it will convince her to start working harder. Tsubaki agrees, and in the meantime Sazanka and Asagao break the parlay by capturing Touwata, only for both of them to get caught in Sheep’s trap expert Mizubahou’s rope net (a net she’d only set up due to habit!).

You immediately get the feeling Tsubaki is only humoring the younger Touwata, and sure enough, Tsubaki is one of the only people who knows that Benisumomo’s cool lazy act is just that: an act. In reality, Beni works her ass off and always has. She just worries that if anyone else knew her secret it would harm her carefully maintained rep.

After a friendly greeting, Tsubaki and Beni get down to business. It’s clear from their sparring that these are indeed two of the most talented kunoichi in the village, and their jumps, flips, feints, kicks, and punches comprise a beautiful, deadly dance. The two flow like water until breathing flame one another, creating a big boom that draws their kohai rush to the scene. Tsubaki and Beni say they came to a draw, but Beni promises Touwata that she’ll win next time.

In the second segment, Sazanka wants more of Tsubaki’s attention but the two are in different huts for their respective classes. But Tsubaki has apparently been more distracted because of otoko of late (though you wouldn’t know it from this episode). So Tsubaki sneaks out of class through the bathroom, telling Asagao to stay put and cover for her. Before long Asagao is threatened with no dinner and instructed to catch Sazanka at all costs.

While glancing out the window in class, Tsubaki spots her kohais playing hooky and intercepts them. I love how Sazanka rushes at her big sis only to catch nothing but air as Tsubaki flips over her while tying her up in one lovely acrobatic flourish. But when asked directly why she snuck out of class, Sazanka surprises Asagao by not giving the true reason, not wanting Tsubaki to feel like this was her fault for neglecting her kohai.

Tsubaki, however, is as wise as she is strong, and knows Sazanka was lying about simply wanting to go for a walk in the nice weather. So she keeps the camellias Sazanka picked for her (symbolizing love, natch), and makes sure to give her some love later. Sazanka makes good on her promise to give Asagao all of her meat, and Tsubaki shares half of hers with Sazanka.

From the friendly but intense competition between Tsubaki and Benisumomo, to the similar dynamic between the two older girls’ eager kohais, to the sisterly affection that surrounds both Team Dog and the Akane community as a whole, this episode was a compelling slice of kunoichi life.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki – 01 (First Impressions) – The Art of Perturbability

What if Takagi-san had a kunoichi ancestor…and instead of sitting next to the boy she likes in class, the ancestor lives in an all-female village where girls are raised to fear and avoid men? Even though said men are just on the other side of the mountain…and the ancestor really wants to meet one?

That’s In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki in a nutshell. The titular Tsubaki is the best kunoichi student in her village, but she’s also growing up and starting to think about boys, even though she’s never met or even seen one. But hey, sometimes it’s the unknown that drives us.

Most if not all of the other girls harbor a similar curiosity, but mixed with a hatred and prejudice for the gender, often to the tune of repeating the same jokes about them (they’re monkeys, their crotches are weak, they stink). Two of her own kohai, Sazanka and Ahegao, even go off on their own to try to meet and then beat up the men when reports come in that they’re nearby.

Tsubaki striking out into the night to bring the two younger girls home provides much of the episode’s action, and the chase is beautifully storyboarded, directed, and animated. These wee ninja are quick as darts and twice as sharp. They can also breath fire and change their forms, you get the feeling any men out there would be at a disadvantage.

Tsubaki very nearly lets her own curiosity about men (which again, is different and less hostile than that of the other girls) lead to contact with the men, as she concedes that no harm can come from simply watching them from afar.

However, when one of those men appears behind them, Tsubaki freaks out and they escape. The tiny Sazanka wanted to fight them (she wants to fight everyone), but Tsubaki had more than enough unknown for the night, having walked right up to the edge only to retreat in the end.

Whether the near-encounter with a man was real or just Tsubaki’s dream, what becomes clear that morning is that the Akane clan’s village is a lot like Takagi-san’s school (again, if it were all women), with a colorful array of characters at different stages of adolescence.

The Takagi-san style art with larger heads can make it hard to nail down how old everyone’s supposed to be, but judging by the character designs of both elementary and middle school students in Takagi, it’s a similar mix here, with some girls making more kiddy jokes like boys are some kind of beast, while others closer to Tsubaki in age seeming to share a more complex curiosity about them.

One thing is certain: Tsubaki’s recent preoccupation with men is distracting her from her training, both in class and out in on the grounds. Asagao Sazanka soon puts two and two together and notices her big sis seems to get flustered when she hears the word man. This is unfortunate development as a lot of people say “man” a lot in this episode.

Sazanka thus issues a challenge to Tsubaki: if she can use her flame jutsu to evaporate a large puddle of water while she whispers “man” in her ear, it will prove to her that Tsubaki isn’t afraid of men. Tsubaki ends up creating enough flames to make a huge crater, thus putting Sazanka’s concerns to rest.

Nevertheless, Tsubaki wants to meet a guy. She doesn’t know why, or even what she’d say or do if she did, she just knows she wants to meet one really bad. This, despite the fact her elders and peers have all been conditioned to believe men are brutal savages.

Leaving aside a more specific desire for romance, a part of Tsubaki is telling her there is more to this world than her village, and that it may just prove beneficial to learn more about what lies beyond its borders.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 12 (Fin) – You’re Lithe in April

For its finale ASU takes a somewhat unique and refreshing approach to the sports festival formula: it starts at the end, with Akebi’s much-anticipated dance in front of the whole school. Before taking the stage she admits to Usagihara that she’s a little nervous.

Usagihara knows she’ll be fine, because there’s a surprise for Akebi: joining her on stage for accompaniment is Erika, who is clearly her best friend. Unsuccessfully holding back tears at this surprise, Akebi proceeds to do what she took the stage to do: dance her heart out. This is yet another opportunity for the production team to flex its animation muscles.

The dance is interspersed with scenes from the preceding festival, in which Akebi cheered on everyone in the crowd, while they cheered and supported her in her events, and now in the auditorium. It’s a nice way to break up the one weakness to the performance, which is a pretty but also somewhat bland and repetitive song, and also show all kinds of sports action.

A clever creative choice is for the assembled classmates and friends to recognize Akebi’s acrobatic dance moves in both her earlier cheer dancing and athletic feats, some of which reach incredible, lyrical heights. Then Erika switches to violin and the performance is taken to another level still. When the dancing’s over, Akebi and Erika hold hands as they bow to the crowd.

The Monday morning after the even, Akebi is naturally still fatigued from exertions both athletic and artistic. She almost can’t believe what went down during the festival and afterward, as if it were a dream. But it’s not, and she overslept so her sister made breakfast, and Akebi’s whole family is there to greet her and her bed head.

The final scenes echo the first episode, first when Akebi runs through gorgeous landscapes on her way to school, then encounters Erika alone in the classroom. This time, however, Erika isn’t smelling her nail clippers…and also, they’re the best of friends!

Akebi had once been in a class of one with no one her age to hang out with…but thanks to her joyful gregarious personality and her mom’s sewing skills, she now has not just one but at least fifteen friends in her class, and plenty more outside. They enrich her life, and she theirs—a bright and joyful balance.

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

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 09 – Pipe Organ of Light

After a string of episodes in which new classmates were introduced, it’s nice to get back to the “core four” of Akebi, Erika, Usagihara, and Koujo, as they meet up on the weekend for a trip to the mall for festival supplies. After getting a haircut from her mom, Akebi actually encounters Koujo on the bus, but Koujo is so absorbed in her book, Akebi doesn’t disturb her, resulting in a beautiful, silent little scene of a bus ride through the gorgeous landscape.

When the four meet up, they all praise each other’s street attire, which is very appropriate for their respective characters: Akebi’s practical tee, slacks, and sturdy sandals; Usagihara with a flowing skirt, pink nails and classy braid; Erika in a very smart, mature blouse, tiny purse, and heels; and Koujo in a super-comfy overalls with huge pockets. A look at the directory is vetoed by Akebi, who says she’ll be their guide.

A number of non-festival-supply-related detours ensues as she gives them a tour of the places in the mall she goes to most—and, this is key, has gone to the most. Akebi has been coming here since she was little, and has a lot of fond memories of shopping with her mom and sister then meeting up with their dad if he was off work. When Usagihara recognizes clothes and accessory chains Akebi never visited, she gains a whole new appreciation for the place.

Everyone gets something out of the mall. The gang follow Kojou’s lead as she’s drawn to a bookstore, and Erika happens to pick out the very book Kojou had just finished on the bus, and offers to lend Erika her copy. Akebi also comments on Kojou’s pressed flower bookmark, which her mom made for her. At lunch, Erika, new to malls, experiences her first fast food hamburger, and her friends get a kick out of how happy she looks eating it.

But when the four are about to leave the mall, Kojou notices the bookmark her mom made her is missing. Since it’s a good luck charm to her, and she has nice friends, the four comb the mall, but come up with nothing. It’s not at the lost and found, nor did it turn up at the depot. Kojou, clearly upset about losing it, nevertheless suggests they head out anyway, as the bus will be there soon.

As luck would have it, somebody found her bookmark by the exit, and tied a red balloon to it, which Akebi spots through the windows of the exit. I breathed a sigh of relief with Kojou, but then the balloon slips out of her hand, and since it’s full of helium, starts to rise into the sky. Kojou’s past memories of the bookmark flash before us. Fortunately, the balloon gets snagged on a tree, but it’s out of reach…or is it?

I half expected Akebi to climb the tree like a lemur and grab it for Kojou, but instead, offers her shoulders as a boost. Kojou says she couldn’t possibly. Usagihara suggests they get all get into mock cavalry formation, but Kojou still needs a few more inches of height. That’s when Akebi suggests they hoise her up by her leg so she can jump up and reach it. Kojou is successful, and for a tick fears she’ll fall to the ground…but Akebi’s got her.

When it starts to rain, three of the girls seek shelter, as the bus stop’s a ways away. But Akebi simply dances in the rain, and her energy and joy compels the others to join her in racing to the bus stop together, wet clothes be damned. They laugh as they run through pink, purple, and blue hydrangeas, Akebi leading the way with her red balloon.

The rain suddenly stops when they reach the bus stop shelter; it was only a passing shower. But the rain causes crepuscular rays, of the same kind Akebi saw a pretty photo of at the bookstore, and which are also called “a pipe organ of light” by a famous writer. The rays might as well be pure love descending from the heavens.

This just might’ve been the loveliest, most life-affirming and heartwarming shopping trip episode I’ve ever seen, and by far the most dramatic lost bookmark dilemma! But it’s also the longest and best sustained interaction between these four and only these four girls. The simplified cast of the episode allows all four to shine.

We’re even given the possibility that Kojou, inspired by her friend of bottomless energy, optimism, and love, might just end up being the writer of Akebi’s Sailor Uniform! This outing was peak comfy slice-of-life/friendship/youth anime, and made me yearn for the days I was actually in awe of the fancier malls of my own youth.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 08 – Feels Like Summer

Exams are over and the athletics festival is nigh. President Tanigawa and Vice President Tatsumori Ai assign everyone the sport(s) in which they’ll be participating. Not only is Akebi (as well as Tanigawa) in the cheer squad, but also on the relay swim team. She’ll be swimming with Ohkuma, Tatsumori and anchor Minakami Riri, voiced by Ishikawa Yui affecting a Kansai dialect. Erika suggests Akebi should also be considered for the anchor position

It’s decided that Akebi and Minakami should race, one-on-one. Minakami makes it interesting: if Akebi wins, she’ll do anything Akebi wants. If she wins, she gets Akebi’s sailor uniform. It’s the closest thing to conflict and discomfort that Akebi has yet faced, and as her mother is prepping a summer sailor uniform for her, she can tell her daughter is troubled. I mean, the anime’s title might have to change!

If Minakami believes that since Akebi smiles too much she won’t take this seriously, she has another thing coming. Akebi ranked fifth in exam score in the whole class simply by studying hard, having never been ranked. She’s also never measured her times, but the focused, defiant look she gives Minakami says it all: she’s not surrendering that uniform!

The race commences, picking up where the cold open left off, and as expected, the water and swimming animation is a cut above. It’s almost not fair how good this show looks doing whatever it wants; I almost wish the school had a spaceship in addition to a pool! Erika’s role in this episode is small but important; the race might not have happened had she not spoken up for her friend, and she alone starts to cheer for Akebi, loudly and proudly.

In the end, Minakami wins, but it’s bang-bang at the wall due to her quicker wall touch, a product of her experience. Akebi’s eyes fill with tears, but Minakami stretches across the lanes to give her a hug, overjoyed to have been so seriously challenged. I mean, she was in the nationals, and even going all out Akebi almost beat her. When Akebi mentions the uniform, Minakami puts her hands together in apology: she was just joking about that; rattling Akebi’s cage to ensure she’d give this her all.

Minakami is more pumped up than ever to compete beside Akebi, Ohkuma and Tatsumori. The only problem is, unlike them, she did horribly on her exams, and needs some help. Cashing in her win over Akebi, she asks her to help tutor, but Tatsumori and Tanigawa also help, and Minakami presumably passes her make-ups, meaning she can train with the others for the festival.

It was nice to see Akebi make friends in a different way; with Minakami initially starting out as the closest thing to an antagonist before revealing that she meant well all along and is truly looking forward to swimming with—and being friends with—Akebi. After the credits, her mom finishes the summer uni, and her dad and sister are blown away—as Akebi says, it’s a “whole new level of cuteness”!

But the cutest and most heartmelting moment is saved for the end, when Kao sneaks into Akebi’s room to try on her sailor uniform. When Akebi comes in to tell Kao their bath is ready, she sees Kao, swimming in the huge pullover and looking very blue because she “doesn’t look as cool” as her big sister.

Akebi, once again demonstrating what a good big sis she is, promises Kao that when she’s a little bigger she’ll definitely look cool in a sailor uniform. Until then, she ties her winter bow around Kao like a scarf, so she can look cool right now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must step out into the cold so my completely melted heart can re-solidify!

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 07 – Hebimori Unplugged

Hebimori loves the sound of guitars, especially electric ones, but didn’t join the music club, preferring to simply listen to the music of others. But when Akebi notices the magazine she’s reading with her headphones on has sheet music, Akebi assumes Hebimori can play, and with eyes sparkling, states that she’s looking forward to hearing Hebimori play for her.

If Hebimori had simply said “Actually, Akebi-chan, I don’t know how to play at all,” Akebi would have surely understood. And yet Hebimori decides to use this opportunity to dust off her father’s old guitar and give it a strum. Once she does, she finds it so fun she dances around the dorm when her roommate, the quiet basketball clubber Togano, comes home.

Unlike Akebi and Erika, the skills they’ve chosen to master don’t come easily for Togano and Hebimori. Togano wonders whether it made sense for Hebimori to keep her inability to play from Akebi, but also understands how frustrating it can be to not be great at something upon first trying it. Like her shooting, Hebimori simply needs to put in the practice, starting a little at a time and not letting oneself get discouraged or overwhelmed.

And as Akebi practices annunciating and projecting with her voice outside and Togano keeps taking shots in the gym, Hebimori repairs the old string she broke, finds some beginner lessons, and gradually teaches herself to play the guitar. In one particularly heartwarming moment, Togano turns away from her studies to find her roommate asleep on the floor and gently lays a blanket on her.

When the time comes for Hebimori to finally play for Akebi, her jitters aren’t helped by Erika entering the music room and playing something on the piano just for the heck of it; because the piano was there. Akebi and Hebimori are hidden under the piano, and while Akebi learns that Erika can be scary when she’s mad (something she’s never seen), Hebimori decides she can’t follow Erika’s act with her shaky guitar, and confesses to being a complete newbie.

As she prepares to flee the room Akebi takes her hand and says, simply, “I want to hear.” Hebimori understands that Akebi isn’t looking to be wowed by a stellar, virtuoso performance. She’s there to hear her friend doing something she loves that she’s finally learned to do, and support her. Hebimori proceeds to play and sing with a lovely rawness and vulnerability.

It’s not perfect, but it is beautiful and from the heart, which is why Akebi stands up and applauds emphatically. There are a lot fo things Akebi can’t do, and playing guitar is one of them. In this way, Akebi is a muse to all her classmates, providing the enthusiasm, encouragement, inspiration, and motivation needed to carry through, while they in turn inspire her to work harder at what she’s invested in—a marvelous cycle of love, support, and good vibes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 06 – Call Me By My (First) Name

Where the last few episodes involved Akebi forging new friendships, this one returns to her first one: Erika. Akebi, having never invited a friend over to her house before, is unsure how to go about it and extremely nervous to boot. This results in her staring a lot at a puzzled Erika, who thinks Akebi is acting even weirder than she usually does.

Erika doesn’t buy that Akebi only wanted to ask her what she thought of houses with leaky roofs (obviously she thinks they should be repaired!). So she invites her to join her at the library, where she reads a book about fishing and learns Akebi fishes at a lake by her house.

Sensing Akebi wanted to hang out on Saturday, Erika asks if she can go fishing with her, whispering it in her ear since it’s the library, then helping Akebi execute a proper pinky promise.

Erika, who has never fished, gears up to the max, and arrives a full hour early, so excited she is she to fish with Akebi. I’d be pretty psyched too, considering how effing gorgeous the lake and its environs are. Like, it’s beauty that strains credulity, but that’s fine; a great slice-of-life can and should transport you to idyllic places.

Akebi uses nothing but sewing threat, a hook, and rice to catch a bevy of minnows, but the more traditionally-equipped Erika manages to get a bite from a char. Akebi rushes into the lake in her swimsuit to assist, and eventually secures the fish Erika caught in a satchel Erika is beyond overjoyed to have caught a fish on her first day trying, and Akebi makes sure to mark the occasion with some photos—which lends the series’ artists another opportunity to flex their considerable aesthetic muscles.

Erika and Akebi end their fishing day thoroughly satisfied…and thoroughly soaked. Akebi, somewhat hesitantly, invites Erika to shower and change at her house, which again, is something straight out of a picture book, and not something to be ashamed of in the least. Erika also gets to meet Kao AKA Mini-Akebi, as well as Akebi’s mom.

It’s here where Erika gets to see “Home Akebi” for the first time; someone who is always attentive and on top of things when it comes to the operations of said house, as well as a warm and caring host. The two bathe together, Akebi washes her back, then carefully blow dries and combs Erika’s hair, something she has a lot of practice with her little sister’s hair.

When Erika asks Kao what she likes about her sister, Kao has a perfect pecocious little kid response: smacking her sis on the bum and saying she likes the sound it makes.

Akebi’s mom drives Erika home, cementing Erika awe of this amazing loving family. After they drop her off, Erika calls out to Akebi, but by her first name Komichi, declaring she’ll be calling her that from now on, and she can call her Erika. Relieved by how well her first visit by a friend to her house went, Akebi enthusiastically agrees.

Akebi, or should I say Komichi’s interactions with all her friends have been lovely to behold, but her relationship with Erika just hits different, transcending mere “school friends” territory and entering the realm of sisterly, even yuri love. Regardless, it’s as crystal clear as that lake these two care about each other a great deal and had an absolute blast hanging out, so first name terms were long overdue!

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 05 – Observe and Befriend

This week’s spotlight character is Ookuma Minoru, who isn’t the most sociable girl, but does love observing nature, and immediately takes a shine to Akebi when she observes her in a forest glade near the dorm showing a butterfly to her little sister. Once classes begin, Ookuma continues to observe Akebi, but is unsure how to approach her.

Ookuma gets an unexpected opportunity when a harmless Japanese rat snake appears in a hallway, scaring all the other girls…except for Akebi, who not only thinks the snake is cute, but knows it’s best to take it somewhere quieter and safer. I loved the staging of this scene, with gasping gaggle of girls fading into the background as Ookuma and Akebi become the focus.

After releasing Mr. Snakey into the woods, Ookuma and Akebi learn they both keep diligent notes of their observations; this applies both to wildlife and their peers. Now we know why Akebi remembers everyone’s names and likes and dislikes: she keeps notes. But while a “queen bee” character might use such a notebook for evil, it’s Akebi’s way to learn more about her classmates so she can more easily approach and befriend them.

That said, there are many classmates Akebi still doesn’t klnow much about besides their names, so she and Ookuma engage in a number of observation sessions. Ookuma stesses the need to stay hidden so as not to interfere in the organic actions of their subjects, but when Akebi witnesses the tiny Hiraiwa Hotaru unable to reach the warm red bean soup button of the vending machine, she can’t help but give her a helping lift!

The next girls they observe from a bush are Washio and a girl from Class 1, who almost looks like she’s confessing to the tall, athletic Washio. Nawashiro Yasuko joins Ookuma and Akebi, and the latter proves too loud and conspicuous. Turns out the girl from class 1 wanted to befriend Nawashiro, and knew she was friends with Washio. As Ookuma and Akebi learn more about their classmates, they fill their notebooks with important notes.

They get to learn a lot more from what and how everyone in their class draws/paints during an outdoor art class. Ookuma makes very precise, realistic sketches of her subjects, while Akebi takes a more simplified/stylized approach that accentuates the distinctive features of her subjects. But while they’re doing all this observing, Ookuma can’t help but feel like someone is oberving them.

That someone turns out to be her roommate at the Mangetsu Dorm, Tougeguchi Ayumi, a girl with social anxiety who met Akebi back during entrance exams. Tougeguchi forgot her handkerchief, but Akebi offers hers. Like Tougeguchi, Akebi is in the more isolated bathroom because she gets nervous around too many people. When the PA sounds, Akebi runs off, telling Ayumi to return her hanky next time they meet.

Tougeguchi takes that to mean she must pass the exam and get into Roubai at all costs…and she does! But to her dismay, Akebi shows up to class in a gaudy sailor uniform and is soon surrounded by friends, making fellow country girl (judging by her accent) Tougeguchi feel like she was betrayed. But as with Ookuma, her opportunity to interact with Akebi happens quite naturally when Akebi spots her hanky in Tougeguchi’s hands.

Akebi greets Tougeguchi warmly, and looks forward to their next meeting when Tougeguchi  departs. That leaves Akebi and Ookuma to stroll through the forest in the afternoon, satisfied with their observation mission. As she’s gradually surrounded by butterflies, Akebi says she looks forward to their next mission together. Ookuma suggests they observe insects next, and Akebi leaps with joy and gives her new friend a big hug.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love of Kill – 03 – Chez Château

After a recap of last week’s episode that seems specifically designed to pad the runtime, Song opens the curtains of the motel room and learns that Chateau isn’t a morning person. She takes him up on the offer of a shower, only to find he’s taken her clothes to wash them. Chateau’s reactions are fun, and actually suggest she has a pulse, which is nice.

Their motel comedy gives way to a flashback to five years ago when Song, who is about to be promoted to executive in the criminal organization of which he’s a member, betrays his boss by shooting him in the head. But being presented with his treachery doesn’t explain why he did it, or why we should care.

After getting a talking-to from her boss (who is awfully one-note as exasperated bosses go) Chateau heads home to her tiny studio apartment in what looks like the 24th Ward’s Shantytown. Naturally, Song is waiting for her to invite him in—like an annoying vampire—but at least he brought some high-end cream puffs.

Chateau isn’t in the mood to talk, and remains befuddled that Song insists on all this contact with her. His comment about her smell not digusting him is something I’d hoped would be followed up on, but a call from Chateau’s mom puts Chateau in such a state that Song excuses himself for the time being.

Sigh…I don’t think I’ll ever forgive a show for such poorly drawn and animated cars, but I remain sufficiently intrigued by the mysteries Love of Kill is coyly dangling to stick around a bit longer.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 03 – Free as a Cloud

Akebi Komichi isn’t trying to stand out, she’s just being the best damn Akebi Komichi she can be. That Akebi is bereft of guile, devoid of ego…and runs fastest while barefoot. So fast, in fact, she posts the best time in P.E., and attracts three upperclassmen who want her to join their sports clubs.

Those upperclassmen burst in on Akebi’s class just before the bell, and have to be set straight by the class president, Tanigawa Kei. When she comes over to thank her, Akebi mentions how beautiful Tanigawa’s legs and skin are. Tanigawa isn’t sure what to make of Akebi quite yet, but she knows one thing: Akebi keeps talking to her.

After Akebi’s other three friends head home, she runs into Tanigawa again, and shares her earbuds with her as they listen to her favorite idol’s music, music Tanigawa is amazed Akebi can dance to. But Akebi doesn’t think anything she does is amazing; just the product of hard work, practice, and love of Fukumoto Miki-chan.

Tanigawa is amazed though, by how easily Akebi can do things she wants to do. It makes her want to come out of her shell a little, if only for Akebi. When they exchange numbers, Tanigawa even considers sending her new friend a selfie of her legs…and torso. She even ends up sending this rather risqué pic, albeit accidentally when her mom startles her. But Akebi is ecstatic to receive it, and believes Tanigawa has a real talent for photos. It’s another lovely new friendship forged.

Due to Akebi’s considerable athletic attributes, a sports club seems like a no-brainer. But after spending the day with Kojou checking out all the clubs,  she’s still not able to pick one.

She and Kojou are caught in the rain, and upon finding shelter, Kojou gives Akebi her warm blazer, which her thin sailor uniform lacks. Akebi finds one of Kojou’s book in a pocket, and decides to read to Kojou like she does to her little sister as they wait out the rain.

Kojou is impressed with Akebi’s ability to bring the characters in the book to life—she even does all the distinct voices like a rakugo performer—but it’s been a long day and she eventually nods off. She wakes up with her head resting in Akebi’s lap, looks up and sees Akebi wearing her glasses, and for a moment thinks it’s her mom.

The next day, Akebi learns Tanigawa has chosen the photography club, while Akebi announces that she’s joined the drama club. It’s a place where she’ll be free to employ all of her acquired talents, while utilizing her innate ability to draw attention and admiration.

Just about every frame of Akebi is a joy to watch, and not just due to the intense love, care, and detail put into the production by Cloverworks. I can’t stop watching because Akebi is such a gregarious, magnetic presence. She really is Cardcaptor Sakura without the card capturing!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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