Re: Zero – 29 – Take Care, Natsuki Subaru

Having episodes end with Emilia unconscious two weeks in a row was a bummer, but returning to the real world and getting to spend some time with Subaru’s remarkable parents made up for that and then some. Right from the word go, we know we’re in for a ride: Subaru’s dad executes wrestling moves to welcome him to the morning, while his mom (who shares his “scary eyes”) insists he eat a giant mountain of peas, which neither she nor his dad like.

They may have their amusing quirks, but his folks are alive, present, and relatively normal…which makes them among the rarest anime parents out there!

Subaru is a shut-in; he has been since about three months after high school began. His dad manages to coax him out for a walk, and sakura-strewn park in which they have that walk is particularly dreamlike and bright, as bright as his bedroom is dark.

Also bright, to the point of blinding: his parent’s absolute unconditional love and support, no matter how far off “the prescribed path” he’s strayed. Like so many others, Subaru’s problems weren’t caused by a rough or abusive childhood.

When periodic stabs of pain in his head resolve to the spirit of Emilia thanking him for saving her all the time, his memories from the New World flood back in, and with all that amassed experience and wisdom, is able to look at his past objectively and wrestle with it.

Subaru’s dad is a gregarious renaissance man, which put pressure on Subaru to achieve a similar level of greatness in anything and everything he did. But as he grew, he became less than the best, and eventually not that good at those things.

He tried to make up for the lack of talent and ability by acting out, gathering people around him he called friends but who ultimately were only around until he got boring. High school was the rude awakening for which he was not socially or emotionally prepared, and he gradually just stopped going.

Even so, his mom and dad treated him with the same affection and cheer as they always did, despite his desire for them to punish him or even throw him out for being such a pathetic loser. At a couple points during their talks, his dad asks if he likes someone. That’s because as his father he must sense a positive change in Subaru; that he’d figured out to get back on his own two feet.

Without naming names, Subaru admits there is a girl he likes, and a girl who loves him. Rem once told him giving up doesn’t suit him. She and Emilia saved him from his own complex because they didn’t have to pretend he wasn’t the son of the great Natsuki Kenichi—obviously neither of them know his dad. Subaru didn’t know how bad he needed to know it was okay to just be Subaru.

After a little cry and hug with dad, Subaru puts on his school uniform and prepares to return to school, Starting Over from Zero just as he did on Rem’s recommendation…only with school. His mom decides to walk him part of the way there.

She reiterates the things Subaru and his dad talked about, and when Subaru tells her he’ll never let go of people who helped him get over his troubles, and be sure to make himself worthy of them later, she declares he’s definitely “his kid”.

While those two words once caused stabs of pain (and still do one more time), his mom assures him not to worry about being “just as awesome” as his dad. After all, he’s only half his dad, and half his mom, so half as cool constitutes a “filled quota”.

Subaru, knowing he’ll leave both his parents soon and may never see them again, offers tearful apologies for not being able to do anything for them before going off to do his own thing. Again, his mom tells him not to fret; she and his father didn’t have him so he’d do something for him, but so they could do something for him. And they have, just by being there for him, loving him, and never judging him.

Subaru’s dad may have cast a shadow that inadvertently, temporarily stunted his son’s development as an individual. But because his son was half-him, he was eventually able to make it out of that shadow. It’s why when his dad says “do your best” and his mom says “take care”, he can hold his head high, smile, and go to school.

In this case, “going to school”, and specifically opening the door to his homeroom constitutes the completion of the trial, and Echidna is waiting for him (in his school’s uniform!) when he does so, remarking how he made it there faster than she expected.

As we return to his trials in the new world, it was both instructive and at times downright emotionally compelling to see of the old world from which Subaru came. The struggles he faced before arriving in the new world underscore why ending up there and meeting Emilia, Rem and the others was not only the best thing that could have happened to him, but also possibly meant to be.

Re: Zero – 28 – Desirable Existence

Subaru agrees to join Echidna for her “tea party” and brusquely gulps down the contents of the cup, which she identifies as “a body fluid of mine.” From there, the two proceed to have a spirited yet affable back-and-forth, with Subaru evoking quite a bit of amusement from the Witch of Greed. Echidna strikes a lovely balance between cool menace and warm feline playfulness.

For a few terrifying moments she transports them into an eerie void where she mentions all of the witches and what they were all about before the Witch of Envy killed them all. She then reveals the tea strengthens his resistance to the magical power that would already have caused most others to vomit or go mad.

Subaru is only able to chat with Echidna thanks to the “Sloth Witch Factor” that made him its new vessel after Betelgeuse died. The ruins in the forest are the Witch’s Graveyard, where Echidna’s soul is held prisoner. She grants him the right to face the trial of the Sanctuary, no doubt in hopes she can use him to free her soul. Before he leaves she licks her hand like a cat and warns Subaru: “I’m a very, very evil magic user.”

Subaru then finds himself out of the freezer and into the frying pan, with the fiery Garfiel about to pummel him into dust (having already done the same with Otto and the ground dragon). When Subaru mentions Frederica, with whom Garfiel shares hair color and tooth sharpness, Garfiel stands down.

Emilia is safe and sound in the wagon, and when she comes to, she adorably, belatedly shields Subaru from Garfiel. Still, her crystal grants her (relatively) safe passage to the Sanctuary, and Garfiel sees to that. Turns out the Sanctuary is a bit of a dump, with an ill-favored aura neither Lia nor Subie can shake.

Still, Ram is a sight for sore eyes, and welcomes Subaru with a Barusu rejoinder. Roswaal’s dulcet voice is also a sound for sore ears, but he looks sore all over, covered in bandages as a result of failing the trial of the Sanctuary. He had to try, you see, for neither he, Ram, the villagers of Arlam, or even Lia or Subie are allowed to leave the Sanctuary…at least not until someone passes the trial and breaks the barrier.

Subie and Lia address the villagers, in that order. While they’re happy to see the former, they’re weary as always of the latter. But again Emilia shows her growth by telling them how she feels, what she intends to do for them, and why. It boils down to her wanting families to be able to stay together.

She isn’t asking for their support in the royal selection in return, but even though she still feels unworthy, she’d appreciate the villagers’ friendship. An impressed Ram wonders what Barusu said to Emilia to enact this change; Subaru says Emilia figured it out for herself.

That night, Emilia stands before the entrance to the Witch’s Graveyard, and it glows with light in a sign that it accepts her as a valid challenger for the trial. Naturally, something soon goes wrong: the light goes out, even though it’s supposed to stay on for the duration of the trial. Subaru approaches the ruins, the light returns, and he rushes in to find Emilia passed out again.

He’s stopped in his tracks, but not by Return by Death. A voices says “first you need to face your own past”, and he wakes up in a bed. His bed…in his world. A world not depicted since he was transported away from the konbini parking lot. Before he can get his bearings his muscular dad rolls in and jumps on him as a wake-up call.

Like his otherworldly meeting with Echidna who definitely has Big Plans for him, Subie’s journey to the home of his past may only last a third of an episode, or it could be the whole episode, or the entirety of a mini-arc. Whatever the duration, this development gives me, to quote Echidna, “such beautiful expectations.” I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Hamefura – 11 – Waking Bakarina

That was a goddamn tearjerker.—Steve Zissou

That was…that was outstanding. This episode left me speechless, so I’ll simply type what I want to shout from the mountaintops.

It’s not everyday a protagonist in an isekai anime ends up right back in the “original” world where they started, but after falling victim to Sirius Dieke’s dark magic, that’s where Catarina ends up. She’s initially disoriented—calling her mom okaa-sama—but after dealing with her many morning cowlicks (wondering where, and then who Anne is) she’s off to school…with a cucumber instead of the classic toast?!

There, she finally reunites with her best friend Acchan, but it’s played out as just any other day. They talk about Fortune Lover—she’s currently on the Alan route—and read manga during a break from classes. This world is like a pair of old shoes, fitting so smoothly and comfortably that it’s as if she’s wearing no shoes at all (like when she had a romantic scene with Alan in a tree).

But back in the world of Fortune Lover, Catarina has been asleep for over two days. She cannot be revived, and one of the best docs in the land is clueless. All he knows is that if she never wakes up, her body will eventually weaken until she dies. The news hits her pansexual harem like a ton of bricks.

One by one, we see the women and men who love Catarina wallow in abject despair, suddenly lost and facing incalculable hurt. Talking as if giving a eulogy at her memorial, each of them describes what she means to them and why they can’t live without her.

She brought Color to Gerald’s world, and light to Keith’s. She helped Mary learn to love herself and fall in love with her in turn. She relieved Alan’s stress about being the lesser twin. She alone understood Nicol felt blessed to have such a special sister. She alone told Sophia, and helped her to believe, that she was indeed beautiful.

The last person in this sequence is Sophia, who suddenly hears the voice and senses the presence of…someone else. As we learned a few weeks back, Sophia and Acchan share a strange connection that bridges their two worlds. In a window reflection, Acchan assures Sophia that she’ll bring Catarina back, but she needs a little help. Sophia has to return to Catarina’s bedside.

As Sophia springs into action, everyone else similarly breaks out of their respective sorrow spirals, standing tall and vowing to stay by Catarina’s side until she wakes up. It’s almost as if Acchan’s guarantee to Sophia spread to everyone else, and they realized that sitting around crying won’t solve anything; they have to be there for the one they all love.

As dusk descends on the “real” world, Catarina meets Acchan in their classroom, where the latter tells her that while she’s immeasurably happy to have been able to spend a little more time with Catarina, this place is no longer her world, and there are many people who love her waiting for her to return.

As a parting gift, Acchan tells Catarina where Sophia is being held, then flashes a bittersweet smile as she says goodbye to her precious best friend for the last time. The tears…I had them.

Catarina finally wakes up in her bed, surrounded by her harem, and promptly lets them know where Maria is. When they ask how she knows, she credits both her dream and intuition, leading everyone to flash a skeptical look. Still, they’re no doubt enthralled their Bakarina hath returned to them. Now life is worth living again!

The group treks to the Dieke family-built storeroom, locate the secret door, and find Maria safe and sound, and release her. It’s a shame we weren’t privy to Maria’s thoughts about how Catarina changed her life, but after all she had no idea Catarina was unconscious to begin with, so her omission ultimately made sense.

That just leaves dealing with Sirius, who is painted as far more of a tortured, misguided tragic figure than a mustache-twirling villain this week. He feels obliged to heed his mother’s dying wish to avenge her no matter the cost, and he’s resigned to putting his humanity up as collateral.

Even so, he remembers Catarina telling him how “gentle” his tea tasted, and how they were the same words someone else said (I’m guessing his mother). That’s when Catarina and the others arrive in his candle-filled lair. Her aim is not to fight or punish him, but to save him from certain doom—the same way saving everyone else staved off hers.

Peeps, this Hamefura shit is for real.

Hamefura – 07 – A Dream of Long Ago

Sasaki Atsuko was a shy, quiet transfer student who suddenly found herself under a girl who’ fallen on her from a tree. We never learn this tree climber’s real name or see her eyes, but it’s the one who is reincarnated as Catarina. Atsuko introduces her to Fortune Lover, while she becomes Atsuko’s first real friend.

Of course, to be reincarnated, one has to die, and Atsuko’s friend falls victim to that most common of anime deaths, the car accident (I swear they should ban motor vehicles in Anime Japan!) For such a brief sequence, it packs an emotional wallup…especially when Sophia wakes up; it was all a sad dream. She rushes to the arms of Catarina. So Sophia is totally the reincarnated Acchan…right?

That day Catarina & Co. are split into two teams for the practical portion of their exams, which consists of a dungeon quest in some ancient ruins. It’s an atmospheric new setting and a prime venue for some Bakarina antics, but thanks to her cultivating such strong bonds with her more magically-inclined companions, every booby trap she sets off is successfully defended—with nice displays of magic by Gerald and Keith. One of those traps—a collapsing floor—even borrows it’s sound effect from Castle in the Sky!

Well, almost every trap. Catarina falls down a suddenly-opened hole in the wall and becomes isolated. She quickly becomes primarily concerned with securing food, but ends up harvesting what look for all the world like highly poisonous mushrooms. As her inner council freaks out over the prospect of her dying in a glorified sidequest, the Ascart siblings use their wind magic to track her voice—wisely assuming she’ll be using it!

Bakarina uses a suspiciously key-to-the-exam green crystal to cut the mushrooms growing from a yawning chasm, into which she immediately almost falls before Sophia grabs her hand. Suddenly, a gust of wind lifts them both up to safety, coming from a figure made of shadow who’d been following Catarina this whole time. Maria notably notices it too.

All’s well that ends well and the exam is passed thanks to Catarina finding the crystal…but whither the shadow? Someone else from Catarina’s life, who has yet to fully reincarnate as a character in the otome? Will Sophia continue to regain memories of the real world through her dreams? With no more roots headed to doom, Hamefura has gained a new layer of metaphysical mystery, and I’m here for it!

Hamefura – 06 – Pax Catarina

As it turns out, there are no negative repercussions resulting from the confrontation with Catarina’s mom. Instead, this episode is all about her Summer Break, split into seven parts and punctuated by the same crude crayon drawing of Cat and her friends. We start with Keith, who seems poised to kiss his half-sister Cat while she’s sleeping under a tree!

Geordo invites Cat out to an intimate day by the lake, but Cat ends up inviting everyone else, including those who consider themselves (and not Geordo) to belong by her side always. This includes Keith, but don’t count out Mary, who wins the Share a Boat with Cat sweepstakes, something she’s very happy about.

Cat goes out on a big shopping trip to town with Sophia for the first time, with Nicole in tow. While the ladies have a lot of fun picking out accessories and books together, Sophia seems to have an ulterior motive: excusing herself so that Cat and Nicole can be alone together.

The Stuarts hold a grand gala recital for Alan, where hordes of fangirls form a mosh pit in front of his piano. After he plays, Mary insists he spend time with his fans, and seems to be worried about Alan “catching on” to something…perhaps her love for Catarina?! Of course, Cat thinks Mary doesn’t like her fiancee being so popular.

It’s basically a continuous string of events in which Catarina is basically new New Maria: everybody loves her and/or wants to be her, they’re all in competition for her time and attention…and she’s oblivious to it all. “Bakarina”, indeed! She’s set things up so nicely for herself, her inner council takes a Summer Break of their own, since there’s no immediate business.

While attempting to do her Summer homework—the night before the first day back to school, of course—Cat has a dream about her life in the real world, discussing Fortune Lover with her friend Acchan. It’s an intriguing look back at a life we’d never seen before, but I wonder what bearing it has on the present, when the game is now her life and has completely changed thanks to her choices.

Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 11

sns2111

I find it interesting how this episode, my favorite episode of this second season of Food Wars, took place after the Autumn Elections, after all the student battles had been fought and settled. While the tension and energy of those episodes was often electric, and the finale was superb, I feel like I was suffering from a bit of ‘arena fatigue’.

This episode tosses Souma & Co. out into the real world, and a lot of this episode’s greatness lies in its realism. It melds the warlike theme of completing a mission—serving and making your mark in a real restaurant—with the slice of life comedy I found so infectious in shows like Working!!.

Even better, it doesn’t dart from place to place showing us how every single character is fairing. There’s a clear A-plot and B-plot, and the A-plot takes precedence for maximum immersiveness. When I learned it would be two students to a restaurant, my first thought was that Souma would be teamed up with Erina.

Instead, the show did us one better: it teamed him up with Erina’s self-appointed “aide”, Miss Secretary herself, Arato Hisako. It turns out to be an inspired pairing that, at least for an episode, upgrades Arato from the character nosebleeds to center stage.

sns2112

As she and Souma start out at Western Restaurant Mitamura, Arato is in the midst of a personal crisis following her defeat to Hayama. She believes she will only be a liability if she remains too close to Erina. Note that no one else has told her this, it’s just something she believes. Hayama’s words about her being “too small” in the scope of her dreams really hit her hard.

At first confrontational to the point of warning him not to speak to her, Souma gradually wears her down with his unique blend of reliable friendliness, restless ambition, and an unflappable competence in the midst of a multi-wave battle against hordes of bullet train passengers who fill the restaurant all at once and demand transactions a bit faster than humanly possible.

Arato is no fool: she can acknowledge Souma has more experience with this kind of thing than she does. She can even take his orders to make things go smoother. But she doesn’t have to like it, and she doesn’t, so Souma serves as a catalyst for her to learn the ropes and the rhythms of this very unique restaurant fast.

sns2113

The result of that effort is heaps of praise from her older co-workers, many of whom have been working there since the beginning (it’s a third-gen family establishment). At first she thinks the praise is just for Souma, but it’s for her too, and it’s so wonderful to receive those laurels, Arato quickly does what she’s always done: rest upon them. Settle.

Pairing Arato with Souma was better than pairing him with Erina, because where the latter would have been primarily confrontational, the pairing we get results in some wonderful characterization. In the beginning, estranged from her mistress or not, an enemy of Erina’s (Souma) is an enemy of Arato’s. But her relationship wtih Souma evolves swiftly and rapidly into something more complex and satisfying.

Even if they didn’t know about Arato’s issues regarding complacency and her self-imposed exile from Erina, Totsuki’s administrators did her a solid by pairing her with Souma, who enjoys the first couple days of training, but has a splinter in his head always festering, telling him they’ve gotta do more.

sns2113a

At first Arato thinks he’s being absurd—things are going great!—but he eventually gets her to realize “making your mark” means more than just fitting nicely into the machinery. The machinery has faults that are harming profitability and may lead to the restaurant’s demise. If they’re to truly pass their first Staigaire, they have to help fix that machinery, and ensure it keeps working after they leave.

Calling an emergency staff meeting Arato, with Souma backing her up, proposes radical changes, such as cutting back on the menu options. The seasoned staff rightly push back; with a gutted menu it won’t be Mitamura anymore.

The owner is also adverse, since he’s trying to get back to the golden years of the restaurant, not cut corners. Everyone’s positions here make sense, but the undeniable reality is that those bullet train hordes are keeping Mitamura from being it’s best, and something has to give.

sns2114

The B-plot is far more lightweight and tuned towards comedy, but those aren’t marks against it, as Megumi and Erina make the most of their limited time. It’s another inspired pairing that, like Souma/Arato, features a take-charge go-getter half and a talented but meeker half struggling to make her mark.

We know how talented and capable Erina is, so it’s no surprise when she stanches control of the kitchen right out from under the grizzled chef’s feet. He can’t do anything about it, and not just because of politics: Erina makes his place better. He’s on the fast road to a Michelin star after a couple days. That’s the power of having the God Tongue under your employ. She’s the ultimate culinary ringer.

Megumi is almost exclusively relegated to dishwashing duty, simply trying to stay out of Erina’s path and doing her job, but she knows she has to distinguish herself somehow. She finds a way through her observation of the dirty plates that come to her, shrewdly suggesting (with de facto Chef Erina’s support) that customers be allowed to determine the portion of sauce they want on a popular dish.

The de jure chef can’t argue with her when a customer asks a waiter for more sauce, and Erina is impressed with Megumi’s subtle perceptiveness.

sns2115

As for Mitamura, rather than cut down the menu, they take perhaps an even greater risk: they make the restaurant by reservation only. But it pays off. Without hordes storming in and out, the kitchen and staff can shine brighter, and the regulars scared off by the train passenger business start to return and find they were fools to ever leave.

Souma effectively lit a fire under Arato, and the two show Mitamura’s owner and staff that they made the right decision to change, not for change’s sake, but for the sake of the identity they wanted the restaurant to have: a fine casual Western restaurant that takes care with its dishes and customers…not a station-side industrial feedbag.

As a result, they are confronted outside the restaurant by a stalky Totsuki agent who informs them they’ve passed the first round of their Staigaire. Arato allows herself a proud smile, but her estrangement with Erina remains an issue to be resolved, which Souma can also help her with.

sns2116

Erina, unsurprisingly, misses Arato, and wishes she’d come back. She recalls the time she asked her purple-haired friend to come closer, to take her hands and have fun with her, not simply watch from a respectful distance. Too improper was Arato’s reply.

She felt she could only walk behind, not beside Erina. But it’s pretty clear that’s not the case when Megumi brings up Arato and Erina reacts the exact same way Arato reacted when Souma brought up Erina.

So Souma tells her to work to become someone who can walk beside Erina, and in the meantime, stop the silly self-exile. He has just the excuse she needs: a bag full of manga he promised Erina. He gives Arato the bag and the directive to go back to her friend. Arato takes it and runs off with ebullient gratitude and optimism.

An all around triumph, this episode. Souma, Megumi remained largely their own likable selves, Erina kicked her usual ass, and most importantly I gained an entirely new and welcome appreciation for Arato Hisako, who no doubt will be less dismissive and confrontational towards Souma in the future. Seeing her in glasses was icing on the cake.

16rating_10

Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 06

neto61

This is probably my last Netoge review. It’s not unwatchable, and there’s a certain charm about it that draws you in, but it’s so safe, and formulaic, and devoid of interpersonal conflict and stakes. I’m not saying I need conflict in my rom-coms, but it does spice things up, and its absence in Netoge is impossible to overlook. Cute character designs, in this case, aren’t enough to sustain my interest.

neto62

Netoge doesn’t do itself any favors in its latest outing, which, Ako studying and passing her exams aside, is all about one thing: Nishimura properly confessing to Ako. He spends the whole episode worried about how and when to do it, completely oblivious to the fact a girl like Ako would naturally reject an offer to be his girlfriend, because she already considers herself his wife, both on- and offline.

It would be one thing if Nishimura/Rusian actually had to lift a finger for Ako’s affections, or if Segawa or Kyou took exception to that finger-lifting because they harbored feelings for him. But he’s already got the girl. She’s presented herself nude for him, for crying out loud! All he has left to do is come to terms with the fact he has her, and in the process learn more about her…if there is anyting else to learn, that is.

neto63

I’m sorry, but watching the interminable process of this particular lug hesitating at the finish line just doesn’t sound appealing. The other two female leads playing game matchmakers from the sidelines only serve to make things even easier for him, making it that much more frustrating that he’s not able to seal the deal. It also makes the intense love Ako has for him feel unearned; shallow, even.

Sorry Netoge, but this isn’t working, and the promise of a beach episode isn’t enough to change my mind: I’m announcing a summary divorce!

16rating_6

Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 05

neto51

Turns out Sette-san isn’t Nishimura’s sister, but his pink-haired classmate (and friend of Segawa’s), Akiyama. She teases both him and Ako by glomming on him in class, but she causes a lot more trouble than she expected, as she creates an environment Ako no longer feels comfortable in. She even suggests the club play an FPS unrelated to LA, likely to avoid Akiyama/Sette.

neto52

Ako then recedes again from school life, vowing only to live in LA, where she knows Rusian is his wife, if nowhere else. At long last, Nishimura’s wishy-washiness and failure to clearly define his real world relationship with Ako has been laid bare, and this is the sum product: an Ako more reclusive than ever, who wishes to “reincarnate” into someone cooler.

neto53

The club pretty easily figures out that Ako herself is caught up in a spiral of stubbornness and a desire not to lose further face, and that Nishimura is the only one who has a shot to bring her back to school. While walking home with Segawa, she relays to him how important he was to Ako, both in the game and in her life, and how she, like Ako, wouldn’t mind spending a good long time with Nishimura…gaming, of course. Just gaming. As usual, Segawa fools precisely no one but the guy she’s trying to pretend she doesn’t like.

neto54

When he arrives at Ako’s house, Nishimura is confronted by Ako’s mom, who looks more like an equally attractive older sister and is delighted that Ako’s “future husband” has come to sort her “problem daughter” out. She then shuffles off to work, leaving him with the key to Ako’s room, of all things.

When he enters, Ako isn’t ready for him, being in her underwear and all. When she tells him she is ready and he can come in, she’s totally naked, revealing her and Nishimura’s definitions of “ready” in this instance differ greatly. She eventually gets some damn clothes on, however, and to her surprise, Nishimura isn’t there to drag her back to school; he’s just there to play LA with her.

neto55

After a day of this, during which they were supposed to be at school, Nishimura essentially proposes mutually assured destruction: if Ako can stay home forever and never go to school or see any of their friends, so can he, and whatever fallout there is from that, so be it.

While I kinda doubt Nishimura’s parents would allow him to ruin his chances of getting into college or securing a good job, Ako is touched by Rusian’s devotion. The knowledge that he’d stay home with her forever if that’s what she eventually decided gives her the strength to tough it out at school with him.

Once she’s there, Akiyama mends fences by proclaiming to Ako’s peers that she has a dutiful boyfriend who visited her when she wasn’t feeling well. That’s a narrative Ako can get behind. Do I buy that it’s enough to mitigate all her other mental and social issues? Not really. Is Nishimura now Ako’s explicitly public boyfriend? No. Is that fundamental ambiguity a problem going forward? Certainly.

Furthermore, the last few episodes have felt like slightly-tweaked versions of the same story, beginning and ending in virtually the same space. Characters can talk about Ako “progressing”, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.

And everyone’s too…nice. This is high school, where are the “normie” antagonists? Those issues, combined with its Thursday night time slot (my movie night) and lackluster production values, are making this a hard show to stick with.

16rating_6

Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 04

neto41

There were three main story thrusts this week: Segawa’s attempts to keep her “twisted” net game-playing second life a secret; Nishimura’s insistence on drawing semantic boundaries in his relationship with an ever-increasingly enthusiastic Ako; and the introduction of Sette, who immediately threatens to rend the married couple asunder.

The first two stories are re-treads of what we’ve already seen: Segawa isn’t ready to be totally exposed for the gamer she is, even as she fails to realize all the effort and stress she’s exerting is to perpetuate a lie, and not even a necessary one.

neto42

This doesn’t seem to be that hostile a school environment, socially speaking, and Nishimura is proof you can be openly otaku without becoming a pariah.

Segawa’s issue is that she doesn’t want to be viewed for what she really is, but rather some obscure ideal she must have consumed somewhere. The “perfect high school life” she seeks will always be a mirage as long as she’s mired in efforts to maintain a false identity.

neto43

Also a bit of a re-tread, with little progress one way or another, is Nishimura’s careful dance with Ako. In spite of his mates having a good idea what his hobbies are, like Segawa he’s trying to have his normal life cake and eat it too; project an image of someone at least more normal than Ako.

And while he’s clearly uncomfortable with anyone mistaking Ako for his girlfriend or wife, the reality is he’s become very close to this person. I had thought they’d reached more of an understanding, but Nishimura’s discomfort and awkwardness in the fact of any advance by Ako…it’s all a bit dilatory.

neto44

Ako doesn’t help matters by overreacting to every interaction Nishimura has with the opposite sex. It was Nekohime/his teacher last week, and Segawa’s friend Akiyama this week.

But Sette looks to be the first true threat she should actually worry about, but not because the newbie is in danger of usurping her role as Rusian’s wife, but seems more like and admiring imouto.  Heck, Sette could well be Nishimura’s real-life sister for all I know.

16rating_7

Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 03

neto31

The “Modern Communication Electronic Game Club” (too wordy IMO) has been ostensibly organized with the purpose of getting Ako to discern between the real world and the game world, but the road to that outcome is a long and perilous one, as Rusi—er—Nishimura quickly finds out.

neto32

That being said, there is only a slight learning curve to playing in the same room together, and the party eventually gets more efficient in their first grinding session. Ako, under Nishimura’s guidance, equips herself properly. I also liked how Ako had to be reminded she doesn’t have to chat in-game; he’s right there. Force of habit!

neto33

After the session, Ako is in a glow of happiness, a parade Nishimura really doesn’t want to rain on, because he must realize on some level it’s not the end of the world for the two of them to be mistaken for boyfriend and girlfriend, if not more.

But as the club sessions continue, Segawa points out that they seem having the opposite effect on Ako: only bringing the two worlds that should be separate closer together. Nishimura seeks guidance from Nekohime, the cross-player he previously proposed to, but Ako gets wind of it and her jealous side is revealed.

neto35

After a pretty harsh sit-down with Ako, Nishimura tells her flat-out they’re not married in the real world, they’re just classmates and friends. The full effect of that statement doesn’t come until Ako doesn’t show up for school the next day, and in-game talks about meeting offline with a “friend” who is a guy (whom I immediately assumed was Nekohime).

Nishimura wants to stop her from meeting a random dude on her own offline, but is worried he’d be going against his code of keeping world separate if he did. Balderdash, say both Segawa and Goshouin, in a united front against Nishimura’s wishy-washiness.

It’s clear he likes real-life Ako too, and so there’s no way he’d stand by and let her do something imprudent at best and potentially dangerous at worst. I like how the other two girls in the club are supportive of what Nishimura and Ako have, and quick to show him the proper path.

neto36

In a nice twist, we don’t get the heartfelt reunion between Nishimura and Ako I thought was coming. Instead, the cross-playing Nekohime turns out to not only be a woman, but Nishimura’s teacher, Saitou-sensei. Which means that yes, he once unknowingly proposed to his teacher.

Now, this is an awkward situation for all parties involved—save Ako, who has come prepared to punish whoever the real Nekohime turned out to be, teacher or no, for breaking her beloved Rusian’s pure heart.

For a second, I thought like Nishimura and Saitou that she was about to pull some kind of serious weapon. Thankfully, it’s just a toy mage staff; but Saitou still instinctively defends herself, taking Ako out.

neto37

That puts Saitou in the pefect position—from the club’s perspective—to fill a role the club needed to ensure its survival: a faculty advisor. As someone who not only understands the club’s purpose but also plays LA, she’s the perfect person to advise the club (whether it’s under duress or not).

As for the purpose of the club, well, it seems to have taught Nishimura more of a lesson than Ako. While she considers the two worlds too similar, he’s kept them too separate, putting his actions an his manner with real-life Ako at odds with his actual feelings for her.

Yes, Ako still needs work in the real world, but that’s accomplished here too when Saitou makes her agree to come to school as much as she can. Another fine Netoge that highlights a rarity in these kinds of shows: a club in which all the members are likable characters that still have their own personalities and quirks. Rusian and Ako are also a lovely, fun-to-watch couple, even if Rusian has trouble seeing them as such.

16rating_8

Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 02

neto21

This second episode of NetoYome didn’t cover quite as much ground as the first, and seemed to lag at times, but didn’t do any harm to my impression that this is one of the better school comedies airing this Spring. There’s an inscrutable exhilaration from watching Nishimura suddenly find himself among the real-world equivalents of his game comrades.

They seem just as exhilarated…even Segawa. As for Ako, she barely acts any differently in real life, professing her steadfast love for Rusian, and being elated to hear he chose her irregardless of what age or gender she was in the real world.

neto22

It’s interesting, then, that throughout the scenes in which Nishimura is gaming, his mind’s eye no longer sees Apricot and Schwein as exclusively men, which he assumed they were. That makes Apricot’s garb suddenly extremely racy, but he can’t help it. He’s met the real Apricot, Schwein, and Ako, and there’s no going back.

What’s interesting is that both Nishimura and Segawa are determined to go back to their normal high school lives after the real-world meetup, and they have no reason to suspect they couldn’t. Segawa doesn’t help matters by greeting Nishimura, something I doubt she did before they met.

neto23

But the most doom befalls the two when Ako enters the classroom, refers to them by their game names and calls Rusian her husband in front of the entire class. The class is more bemused than anything else, but Segawa in particular finds this whole situation a serious breach of what she considers a sacrosanct barrier between the game and reality.

But here’s the thing: Ako knows of no such barrier, which is why she floats right over it. Rusian is Rusian, even when Rusian is named Nishimura Hideki. Same with Schew-chan. This ‘condition’ of not being able to discern between their real and in-game personalities troubles both Segawa and Nishimura…but I wasn’t as quick to condemn her.

Initially, I thought, people fall in love sight unseen all the time, and I was backed up by Ako asserting that her and Nishimura’s hearts connected through their in-game chatting. The difference is, Nishimura and Segawa were attempting to affect personas distinct from who they really are, while Ako was doing everything she could to be herself.

neto24

Ako is firm in her belief that that doesn’t matter. I think the answer is in the middle, and Ako’s very different mindset from Segawa and Nishimura makes for an enticing character dynamic going forward, not just as a matter of debating these matters, but the fact Nishimura is closer to Segawa on this issue, despite Ako being his waifu.

One thing I’ll say is that while Ako is usually all over Nishimura, neither Segawa or the Prez seem intent on rocking that boat, at least not for the moment. As to Goshouin, she sets up a club where their game and real selves will be in the same place at the same time, which, if Real Nishimura’s as good a person as Ako already believes, is a gesture not so much tailored to ‘curing’ her of her inability to separate games from reality, as much as it could only confirm to Ako that she’s right.

No matter wha airs the others put on in the game, they remain essentially who they are, and those are the people Ako wants to be friends with in both worlds.

16rating_7

Netoge no Yome wa Onnanoko ja Nai to Omotta? – 01 (First Impressions)

neto11

It feels like it’s been a while since I’ve watched a long-titled school quartet rom-com—KonoSuba doesn’t count b/c it took place entirely in a fantasy world (and didn’t have any rom; just com).

NetoYome, which I’m shortening this to for now, has a distinct game world and real world, and the group of four close friends and colleagues in the online RPG Legendary Age are actually quite distant in the real world…at least at first.

That distance is there despite all four members of the Alley Cat Guild going to the same school. It’s that intrigue; that sense of dual personalities, one of which is concealed by the anonymity of the net, that provides appeal initially.

neto12

Of course, we realize before Nishimura Hideki who his fellow guild members are in real life. The shy girl who doesn’t show her face is clearly Tamaki Ako; enough seems a bit off about Student Council President Goshouin Kyou to suspect her, and Segawa, turning her nose up at Hideki’s public otakuism, is clearly being a hypocrite.

The last hint needed is that Hideki once confessed to a cute catgirl who turned out to be a guy in real life, making him swear off falling for girls in the game until he got over it and realized it doesn’t really matter what gender people are in the real world, becaue LA isn’t real. As long as their in-game alias is cute, he’s fine with it.

neto13

Of course, things change when the guildmaster Apricot announces an offline get-together, and the four classmates come face-to-face with each other and learn that rather than three guys and a girl, their party is actually three girls and a guy.

Despite all the telegraphing it’s a legitimately exciting moment, whether it’s Ako suddenly realizing it’s okay to act towards Hideki the way she does in-game, to Kyou being able to discern who is who, to Segawa’s hypocrisy being exposed, and having no defense.

She is who she is; it doesn’t change the fact she still thinks Hideki is gross!

neto14

In fact, all four members are who they are; and that’s why they’re so likable; they’re genuine. When it comes down to it, even the tsundere Segawa doesn’t deny her nature. She won’t date anyone in the real world despite getting offers because it would take away from what she truly enjoys: playing LA with the others.

I was also touched when Ako voiced her relief and joy that she can consider her comrades real friends she can talk to, as to this point she’s had no friends (neither has Kyou). Or Hideki telling Segawa he much prefers who she is to her school persona. Or Hideki hardly being able to believe his luck that this time the cute waifu he chose in-game is actually a cute real girl offline.

It started a little slow (the RPG action early on was pretty lame), but NetoYome gradually grew on me. It’s cute, it’s earnest, and it’s got lots of heart and rom-com potential.

16rating_8

Sword Art Online II – 24 (Fin)

saoii241

SAO completed the Sleeping Knights’ mission and resolved Asuna’s family problems to my satisfaction, leaving one episode to do, well, whatever it wanted as a curtain call. Preston seemed pretty miffed that she watched so much Chaika only to get a rudely rushed finale, but I knew that wasn’t going to be the case here.

The episode opens with a barbecue at Asuna and Kirito’s cabin; an opportunity for her new friends to meet her old friends. A montage follows, showing how they go on to fight more battles and go on missions as a united super-party, along with Asuna hanging out with her friends in the real world.

saoii242

But this isn’t just a goodbye to SAO, it’s a goodbye for Yuuki as well, who takes a turn for the worst. There’s nothing out of left field about this, though Asuna is still distraught that so soon after meeting Yuuki the universe means to rip her away.

sao243

The Yuuki of the real world is too weak to talk, so Asuna grabs an Amusphere and meets her where they first met, on the isle with the great tree. Seeing the hale, healthy, and alert Yuuki there is a sight for sore eyes, but we know it won’t last long. This is her last full dive, and this time when she logs out, she won’t be waking up.

sao244

There’s not much to say about Yuuki’s sendoff, except that it was pretty much perfectly done. Yes, it got pretty mushy there (even my roommate, who was watching SAO for the first time, teared up a little bit) but the emotions that let loose here were earned a long time ago. Asuna summons not only the other Sleeping Knights to say goodbye to Yuuki properly, but hundreds if not thousands of fellow players gather to pray for her safe journey to the hereafter, a fitting farewell to the finest swordsperson in the game.

sao245

Yuuki could not have imagined a better way to go either; surrounded by friends and admirees alike; closing her eyes for the last time in the arms of someone she’s come to love like a sister. At her memorial service in the real world, those same masses from the game come to pay their respects, and Asuna is surprised to be able to meet Siune (An Si-eun), who took a turn for the better when her leukemia went into full remission not long after saying goodbye to Yuuki.

She also reports that at least one other Sleeping Knight seems to be on the mend as well. These aren’t taken as miracles endowed upon them by the departed Yuuki, but her love and strength, as well as Asuna’s, obviously helped their spirits and mindsets. And it’s understood that not all of the Knights will get better.

sao246

Asuna also learns that Kirito knows Kurahashi too, and Kurahashi tells them that the original designs that led to the creation of the medical full-dive technology that’s now in development (and vastly helped by Yuuki’s cooperation in her last days) were created by none other than the late Kayaba Akihito AKA Heathcliff, the creator of SAO; an interesting (if sudden and oddly-timed) callback.

saoii247

We close with Asuna and Kirito enjoying a picnic with Sugu, Shino, Klein and the others in a park in Shinjuku. Yui is on Asuna’s shoulder, with eyes and ears to the real world, and probably more in the near future. Kirito and Asuna reiterate their desire to never leave each others’ sides, and as long as she keeps her grades up, she’ll be able to honor that desire. So Kirito…where’s the ring?

8_brav