Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 01 (First Impressions) – Lean on Me

In the best tradition of any number of [Character Name] is [Character Trait] comes Aharen-san is Indecipherable, with a bone-simple premise and extremely solid execution throughout. Our protagonists Raidou and Aharen are trying to start fresh in their first year in high school, and end up complementing each other perfectly by remaining who they are.

In Raidou’s case, he’s one of those “scary resting face” guys who is hard to approach, and who thinks he’s smiling when he’s not. Aharen, he learns, has trouble gauging the proper distance and intensity of social interaction. She’s either too distant (literally and/or figuratively) or waaay too close than is socially acceptable. She also speaks with an extremely tiny voice (expertly provided by Minase Inori).

After a couple of two-ships-passing-in-the-night incidents, the two eventually connect; Aharen is her usual too-close self, but Raidou doesn’t mind because he wanted to make friends and has done so. And while he notes in his inner monologue when Aharen is way too close or clingy, he’s never embarrassed or over-the-top. Everything is handled super chill fashion.

Aharen and Raidou are so immediately likeable and adorable, it’s not hard to get swept up in their everyday school lives and not particularly care about anyone else in the class, as the episode doesn’t either. They’re both kind, decent, generous people, whether it’s plushies won in a crane game or Aharen sharing half of her enormous bento…or getting up extra-early to make him a lunch all his own when his mom is on a business trip.

There’s plenty of physical comedy to be wrung out of the pair, whether its their extreme size difference or the myriad ways Aharen fits onto his lap, tucked into his shoulder, or clinging to his leg. This gets taken to an extreme when she nods off in his lap and ends up head-over-heels. This is at the very end, which marks the first time the episode focuses on a third character—in this case, a jealous redheaded girl.

My Winter 2022 trio of Takagi-san 3, Dress-Up Darling, and Akebi’s Salior Uniform was outstanding, and are a hard act to follow. But Aharen-san is just the sweet and charming slice-of-life comedy I was ready to miss when those three shows ended. Looks like the cozy good times are going to keep rolling into the Spring.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 05 – The Ultimate Prize Catch

We begin with a girl who looks like Takagi beside a boy who doesn’t look like Nishikata sitting in the same part of the classroom as our two lovebirds. The girl is upset about having green peppers in her lunch, so the boy eats them. Her friend tells the girl he doesn’t like peppers either, but ate hers, and teases her, because he likes her.

The girl reacts just like Nishikata would, which makes sense, as she’s his daughter. That’s right, our cold open (which is actually quite warm) takes place in the future when Takagi and Nishikata have a kid. We even see Takagi from behind hanging laundry as the scene ends. Note I didn’t say “a possible” future. I said the future—because this is a sure thing. It’s only matter of time!

Back in the present, we see where their daughter gets her dislike of green peppers. Nishikata had to eat some for breakfast, and it’s enough to let out a big sigh. Because Takagi knows him, she immediately identifies what’s eating him (or rather what he doesn’t like eating).

He, in turn, proceeds to ask her what she dislikes as a new challenge, and she even offers him a number of hints…but not too many. Here’s how she  puts it: “You’ll eventually get it right if I just keep giving you hints forever.” The same can be said of their relationship.

Nishikata guessed wrong this time, but he won’t stay wrong forever about what matters, and Takagi won’t have to keep giving him hints forever. Why am I so sure? Well, why else would we get a glimpse of their adorable daughter?

Mina, Yukari and Sanae have a similar discussion about food dislikes, with Mina eating Yukari’s carrots and offering Yukari a gyoza as thanks. While Mina and Yukari bicker, Sanae snatches it up and eats it. Rather than apologize, she walks off, but soon returns with some melon bread, which she offers to exchange for the rest of Mina’s gyoza.

After that intricate transaction, Sanae, Yukari, and Mina take center stage, as they are the writer, director, and costume designer for the play the class will perform for the culture festival. After their presentation of the story, a mélange of the Princess and the Frog and role-reversal Cinderella, they immediately appoint Takagi for the role of the princess. Naturally, there are no objections.

That leaves the crucial role of the Prince. Naturally, all eyes fall upon Nishikata, as the three girls running the play clearly have him in mind for the role, at least initially. He’d have had it, too, had the girls not been distracted from his heartfelt and very real performance that moves Takagi.

They’re distracted by Nishikata’s own friend Kimura, who is still so verklempt from the class not having a karaage café, switching “karaage” for “hime” instantly wins him the role. Nishikata is consigned to the role of “dumpling A”—unfortunate, and yet oddly appropriate.

While both Takagi and Nishikata are disappointed in their ways, it’s hardly the end of the world. In fact, they’ve shaken it off completely by the next segment, when Nishikata leads Takagi to a fishing pond for their next challenge. Nishikata went out of his way to get up early to prepare the bait and tackle, so Takagi honors that effort by giving it her all.

For some time after they both cast, they’re simply sitting by the pond together, taking it easy, something Takagi points out is super-nice. She’s clearly overjoyed that Nishikata has decided to share something he loves with her.

Then she gets a bite, catches a fish, then shows Nishikata she knows how to unhook it, tosses it back, and catches another fish! She may not have fished before, but she is comfortable handling them since she deals with fish often in the kitchen at home.

A frustrated Nishikata suddenly gets a bite—a big one—and it appears to be the prize catch of the pond: a giant koi. It pulls so hard he gets pulled forward, and would have certainly fallen in the drink…if Takagi doesn’t rescue him in the nick of time by grabbing him from behind.

She tightens her grip around his waist, his line snaps, and the two linger in this embrace for a few moments before Takagi withdraws with catlike quickness, once she realizes just how close she and Nishikata are.

She seems to shake it off and even manages to gently tease Nishikata about it as they walk home during the golden hour. But Nishikata’s heart is thumping like a death metal bass drum. When his inner voice asks “what is this?” Takagi, seemingly hearing his thoughts, says “love”. Well, she says koi, which means both love and the kind of fish that got away from him.

As for his “penalty” for losing the fishing challenge, Takagi decides that he’ll help her prepare for her role as the princess. Nishikata doesn’t protest—it’s her win, so it’s her call. So it’s settled: even if the two won’t share the stage, Takagi will ensure her prince—her koi, her dumpling—is closely involved.

Every week Nishikata seems to make another encouraging stride in the right direction: closer to Takagi. Not only will that likely culminate in their ferry date from the OP and promo art, but also in that cute daughter, carrying on her dad’s tradition of taking a while to realize someone likes them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 03 – It’s a Nishikata Thing

It’s a hot October morning, so much so that both Nishikata and Takagi arrive at school early, and find themselves the only ones there. When Nishikata proudly whips out a fan and starts fanning himself, I knew it would only be a matter of time before he was fanning Takagi.

First she asks him straight up to fan her. When he won’t, she makes up a game to see who can move her eraser across her desk further with the fan. Nishikata, like a dolt, furiously fans the eraser, causing it to move…a few millimeters. In the process, he fans Takagi. Then Takagi beats him by pushing the eraser further than him with the fan.

That said, Takagi repositions herself for his fanning so that a.) he gets a bit of the cool air too, and more importantly b.) she can be closer to him!

Takagi’s desire to be closer goes beyond physical proximity. She knows Nishikata and his friends love a new baseball manga, so she baits him with a ping pong ball, then uses a broom to play the role of hitter to his star pitcher. Nishikata allows the fantasy of the manga to wash over him, with the rest of the cast playing the roles of other characters.

Takagi swings through the first pitch, but Nishikata isn’t even able to get her into an 0-2 count as she belts his next pitch “over the wall” for a homer. She said she wouldn’t tell anyone what she saw if he struck her out, and he couldn’t, but when he asks again nicely for her not to tell, she says fine; in exchange, lend her the baseball manga. She wants to know as much as possible about what he likes!

After an interlude featuring the three girls and a supposedly stuck fat cat who turns out to just be fluffy (and I loved that cat’s design and voice), the final segment—simply called “Rain”—has Nishikata in the driver’s seat. Before class is out it starts to rain, but he forgot his umbrella.  Moments after the bell rings, he rushes to the lost-and-found and is in luck: there’s one umbrella left.

He heads home alone with the borrowed pink umbrella, eager not to miss a minute of the baseball/soccer anime crossover where the two teams play kickball. But in his haste to secure an umbrella for a dry walk home, Nishikata neglected to ask Takagi if she had one, and concludes that he can’t be sure she didn’t forget her’s—especially when it’s happened before (back in 2018!).

Sure enough, Takagi is waiting out the rain by staying at school and doing her homework, when Nishikata enters and is surprised to find he didn’t worry needlessly: she did indeed forget her umbrella again. So Nishikata, blushing like a tomato the whole way, manages to ask her if she would “like to go together”. We only see the bottom half of Takagi’s face when the sides of her mouth turn up as high as they’ll go.

Takagi teases him about wanting to “get cozy” under his umbrella again, but checks herself, seeing as how he was kind enough to come back for her. She even knows he missed his special anime episode for her sake, and when he asks her how she knows that, she replies “that’s easy. Because I know everything about you.” She then plans to forget her umbrella next time it rains, too.

The title card parting shot of them walking together under the umbrella is a snapshot of where they stand right now as a couple: Takagi is all-in and having a gas, while Nishikata, all flushed cheeks and elusive gaze, can’t quite temper his self-consciousness. But he’s under the umbrella—this time of his own volition. He went back for her! He put her before anime! I tell ya, the kid’s learning.

Momokuri – 23 + 24

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Last week one of Momo’s descriptors for Yuki was “hardworking”, and this week all Yuki does is prove how apt that descriptor is. Not only does she do all she can to make sure Momo passes final exams (though he ends up still having to take make-ups), she also cooks lunch for him.

Indeed, her devotion for Momo has motivated Yuki to try to improve herself in all the home ec areas she’s weakest in. Norika is impressed, if still a bit weirded out by the way Yuki expresses her love.

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Even Rio can’t help but respect all the work Yuki is putting into becoming someone worthy of Momo…even if she really doesn’t have to go so far. Momo simply doesn’t seem to be putting in the same amount of effort to be worthy of Yuki, aside from trying to be seen by her as a strong and reliable man (and in this he often fails because she, and everyone else, merely sees him as cute).

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In the end, Yuki’s intense efforts result in her getting sick over the Chistmas holiday, but thanks to Norika, Momo ends up visiting her, and to his credit, he does all he really needs to do: be there. Yuki is over the moon by Momo’s presence, and when he worries he’s imposing, she insists he stick around, holding her hand until she drifts off to sleep.

It’s a simple but lovely little scene that shows that sometimes it doesn’t really take much effort to fulfill the dreams of the one you love. Simply being by Yuki’s side is enough.

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Momokuri – 21 + 22

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In a monologue around the halfway point, Momo describes his girlfriend as cute, smart, kind, hardworking…and a little weird. That last adjective sets her apart from other cute/smart/kind girls, some of which Momo knows, and one of which (Rio) harbors unrequited feelings.

And Momo likes the weird. She may like collecting his “used stuff”, but he’s always thinking about her in clothes he sees on TV; and is only too happy to get an indirect kiss from the teddy bear he won for her. Her weirdness helps him realize he’s a little weird too.

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The only things that frustrate him are not knowing where Yuki gets information on him he himself did not provide. It’s a secret she possesses, which means it’s distance she’s keeping from him.

Mind you, all healthy relationships have a measure of distance – you can’t be with someone every waking moment – and this is hardly a major crisis for Momo. He’s just…curious. And yes, tartar sauce on omelette rice is perhaps the weirdest part of him revealed thus far!

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Momo is also an easy-to-read, jealous fellow who is very possessive of Yuki. Under normal circumstances this would be distasteful, but Yuki happens to love his fierce protective nature, even when he slaps away the hand of Seiichirou (Ikue’s brother), who happens to be Yuki’s “Momoformant”.

It demonstrates he thinks and cares about her every bit as much as she thinks and cares about him, which makes her very happy. Neither of these weirdos could be good matches for just anyone, but they seem to be perfect matches for each other, which is why it’s so easy to root for them.

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Momokuri – 19 + 20

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Our next episode pair starts off with a nice monologue by Momo explaining where he’s coming from (loving parents he doesn’t see a lot) and how Yuki’s undivided attention is a new and exciting thing. This is the closest the show comes to drama, and while it’s no Orange, it gets the job done.

Since he’s come to like her attentions, Momo takes Rio’s words to heart about the distance Yuki seems to keep, but only confuses Yuki when he tries to rectify it.

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The thing is, there’s nothing that needs rectifying. Rio is observing this relationship from the outside; she can only tell Momo what she sees, how she sees it. Ditto Norika. But Yuki is just fine when it comes to Momo. While 90% of girlfriends would get jealous upon overhearing Momo call Rio cute, she seconds Momo’s opinion; Rio is cute.

Rio worries Yuki is an airhead, but it’s not really obliviousness. It’s a matter of point of view and confidence. Rio doesn’t have it, and Momo is still working on it, but Yuki is already there. She’s over the moon that Momo is on stage dressed up like a wolf, and not only happy all the other girls like him, but would think something was amiss if they didn’t. Momo’s a wonderful person; they should all like him.

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But it never crosses Yuki that Momo might slip out of her hands. What others think or her or Momo or the two of them as a couple is ultimately irrelevant. When Momo sees that as being passive or a pushover, and asks her to be a little jealous once in a while, it’s only more confirmation that he likes her. She’d probably be fine going out of her way to seem jealous for his sake, but not because he asked her to…because she wants to.

I honestly thought Momo already told Yuki he liked her, but perhaps I was taking his agreeing to go out with her as a confession. But the actual official confession happens here, and it only deepens Yuki’s feelings for him, to the point she gathers the courage to tell him the truth about her “collecting.”

The episode ends before Momo has quite grasped what Yuki means, but as I said, this isn’t a drama, so whether he ends up truly understanding the extent of Yuki’s…activities, I’m sure they’ll be fine.

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Tanaka-kun wa Itsumo Kedaruge – 12 (Fin)

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Tanaka-kun ends pretty much the way it began: quietly, with neither too much flash or too much kookiness. Sure, we’ve never seen Tanaka more focused, intense, or quick on his feet, but when his precious classroom seat is being threatened, he makes sure he puts in the effort to preserve his ability to be listless in class.

Opportunities open up for him, but switching with Miyano (trapped behind the Great Wall of Ohta) means he’s also next to Shiraishi, who sees the switch as fate, and this week she turns on the effort afterburners to get Tanaka’s attention.

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Predictably, none of the classic girl moves work, save opening her shirt, and even then she’d get any teenage guy’s attention; she wan’ts Tanaka’s. But cracking the nut that is Tanaka isn’t something you can learn in a magazine, nor is it even something that can be achieve the way his cushy new seat was acquired, and how Shiraishi has accomplished so much to reinvent her image: hard work.

Indeed, all her hard work trying to get closer to Tanaka results in him very nearly crushing her dreams by telling her he prefers to be alone, even if it’s less about her specifically (which is its own problem) and more about him not wanting to trouble people other than Ohta.

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In the end, Shiraishi comes to an understanding and a way forward—basically, stop rushing and take your time—when her monologue in what she thought was an empty classroom at sundown is interrupted by Tanaka, who just so happened to be sleeping in there.

Tanaka isn’t sure what Shiraishi is up to, but he won’t let her accept failure as the end-all-be-all; to him, failure is a fact of life, and leads to lessons learned that can be used to overturn that failure. All it takes is time. If Shiraishi is meant to be with Tanaka, it will happen eventually, just not in this final episode. And that’s okay.

Of course, Shiraishi and Tanaka end up in a bit of a quandary when the latter’s friends see him walking home with her in glasses-and-braids mode, assuming she’s a different girl and his secret girlfriend. This leads to lots of teasing and unwanted attention, and Tanaka reacts by pushing everyone away.

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Despite Echizen’s desire for Ohta to sweep her off her feet, his offer to platonically carry her Tanaka-kun elicits only a swift punch to the gut. Just as there’s a proper, specific way to Tanaka’s heart, there’s a proper, specific way to Echizen’s, and that ain’t it.

As for Tanaka, while walking home alone he runs into all kinds of obstacles he wouldn’t have had to deal with had Ohta or another friend been with him. The whole system depends on the kindness of and proximity to others, a lesson he relays to a Rino who’d rather he only rely on her.

Just to drive that point home, the next morning all is cleared up thanks to Shiraishi talking with Ohta and creating a new, more plausible story for everyone that still preserves her secret alternate look. And while the ordeal has only made Tanaka dread having a real girlfriend, to Shiraishi’s dismay, I imagine given enough time that position will also soften.

Tanaka-kun was a hoot, and it did it by staying understated and consistent. It was head-and-shoulders above any other shows I watched this season, and the school-based rom-coms and slice-of-lifes that are coming this Summer have big shoes to fill. Naturally, I also wouldn’t mind another twelve episodes of this some day. But there’s no rush.

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