Osamake – 03 – Flipping a Switch

The day of the cultural festival and its all-important confession session have arrived, and Sueharu is ready to do battle with Mitsuru for Kachi’s heart. But just as Sueharu is causing Kuro to blush by complimenting her cute café outfit, he gets an unexpected visitor: Shirou, the kid he hung out with when he was little.

Of course, we know it’s just Kachi, with her seiyu Sakura Ayane only making her voice a little more boyish. To her surprise and delight, not only does Sueharu remember who she is, but remembers the promise he made to appear in something she wrote. Shirou reveals she is and was Kachi all along, and asks that he call her Shiro, and she’ll start calling him Su-chan again.

Kuro overhears this all, and isn’t ready to give Sueharu up just yet. Sueharu may not have known until now that Shirou was Kachi, but he knows Kuro well enough to know when she’s seeking attention, since she goes off on frustrated rants to him and only him. Everytime Kuro and Sueharu share the screen, you know you’re in for some wonderful character work.

Unfortunately their time together leading up to his big performance ends on a bitter note, as Kuro decides it’s necessary to “hit the reset button” on her and Sueharu’s relationship. She commemorates the moment with a slap, saying whatever he does with Kachi isn’t her concern. Though she runs off, she can’t help but turn back when Sueharu calls her name, and gives him just the saddest, loneliest smile as she wishes him luck on stage.

With that, the confession festival begins, and by God what a cur-sed exercise. Sure, it works out for one guy confessing his love to a girl who feels the same way, but seriously, if this is a real thing in schools these days I’m glad I’m not in high school anymore. I’ll confess to someone in private, thaaaaaanks.

The resulting song-and-dance-off between Mitsuru and Sueharu is suitably anticlimactic. I’m no dance instructor, but it looks like they’re both dancing like Elaine from Seinfeld, and their mouths rarely, if ever, move while they’re supposedly singing. Still, the scene is notable for not going the way I thought, with Sueharu suffering a sudden bout of stage fright and ruining his big chance, as several flags set earlier suggested.

I made special mention of Kuro’s parting smile immediately before his performance because that’s what I believe caused Sueharu to flip a switch of his own, and I’m not talking about going into stage mode. While he woke up that morning intending to confess to Shiro, his interactions with Kuro before and since have finally gelled into the realization that she is the one most important to him.

When Sueharu confesses to Kuro instead of Shiro, it’s a tremendous shock for both girls. Shiro is shook, while Kuro is caught so off guard she impulsively and very publically turns him down, still sore from when he turned her down.

As we learn in the aftermath of this total romantic fiasco when he and Tetsuhiko do the postgame show, Mitsuru wasn’t an asshole after all! Shiro was never dating him; he simply went along with it when she lied and then was too proud to take it back. Mitsuru intentionally chose a song that Sueharu was far better at performing, because he selfishly wanted to see Mitsuru back on stage.

Both Mitsuru and Tetsuhiko did all they could for Shiro and Sueharu, respectively. But when Sueharu changed on a dime who he’d be confessing to, he sealed his fate; Haru was under no obligation to say yes, due to a part of her wanting revenge against him for taking her for granted and pining for Shiro. Shiro, in turn, could have gotten Sueharu if she hadn’t lied about Mitsuru, which caused him and Haru to plot revenge against her.

Finally, Kuro played herself, because in hindsight the satisfaction she got from rejecting Sueharu simply wasn’t worth it. Now she regrets rejecting him, just as Shiro did after learning him quitting acting wasn’t his fault. The timing of all three sucked, resulting in all of them being alone and miserable.

And as complicated as this whole business felt, this is the last time it’s just Sueharu, Kuro, and Shiro, as a third girl is introduced post-credits, discovering her “Onii-chan” has returned to the stage. The messiness has just begun!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 09 – New Digs, New Threads

As  foreshadowed last week, Nasa doesn’t lose much when they return home to find the apartment building burned down. All his valuable paperwork and data is either at the bank or in the cloud, and he not only has renter’s insurance, but a full grasp on what’s needed to make a claim. Tsukasa marvels at how much Nasa keeps proving why she loves him so much.

It’s not just because he keeps a cool head and doesn’t express anger or regret in the face of what would be a disaster for most people. It’s that the first thing on his mind is that everyone else in the building was okay (they are). The only possession that survived was the tree commemorating their marriage, which can easily be transplanted.

When Nasa and Tsukasa head to the bathhouse to have a nice long soak and consider what’s next, Kaname ends up offering a detatched house on their property where they can stay until they find a suitable new place. Nasa thinks it’s good luck, but Tsukasa knows otherwise: by being someone so kind and well-liked, people are quick to help someone like Nasa.

Kaname does consider one potential problem: now that Nasa and Tsukasa are staying on the Arisugawa’s property, the time will come when Aya finally realizes Tsukasa isn’t just any “relation” of Nasa’s, but his wedded wife. In the end, no amount of hints can crack Aya’s Airhead A.T. Field, but Kaname and Aya’s mom just comes right out and says it.

Aya starts to go into a flashback about Nasa, her first and only love, but her mom cuts her short. As someone whose own husband cheated on her and left her for a younger woman, Aya’s mom wants her to do whatever she needs to do—cut her hair, go to school abroad (on her own dime), whatever—to get over it and move on.

Aya knows that in times of heartbreak one should hold their head high, so she does so and congratulates Nasa and Tsukasa, then considers becoming a YouTube idol…an idea quickly shot down by everyone.

Nasa and Tsukasa may be set with a new place to live for the time being, but Tsukasa did lose quite a bit of her wardrobe in the fire. That means it’s time to go to the laundromat, but the new husband and wife quickly become embarrassed over the prospect of handling one another’s…unmentionables.

They decide to go to the ‘mat together, and watch their clothes mingle in the wash together, something that’s so mundane and yet also so intimate. Tsukasa also lets slip that under her tracksuit she’s not wearing any underwear, since it’s all in the wash. Not wanting to make a big public display of affection, Nasa instead snaps a picture…and draws Tsukasa’s ire.

At the end of the day, what’s called for is a clothes shopping trip, and not to the department store’s discount clothes section, but to Harajuku, a place Nasa has neither ever been to shop. He gets to see Tsukasa try on one cute outfit after another, and even a few outfits he picks out for her, revealing his girly side.

When the time comes to buy underwear, Tsukasa initially holds Nasa’s hand, but changes her mind and deposits him on a bench, instructing him to simply not look like someone who should be arrested. When their shopping is done, Nasa makes, as Kaname calls it, another manly “move”, asking Tsukasa if, at some point, he, her husband, would be able to see her in her underwear.

She turns beet red and turns away, but doesn’t reject the request out of hand; in fact, she says he can see “as much as he wants”. Of course, that won’t be much for the foreseeable future; the two are so embarrassed by the subject being broached that they drop it immediately so they can then shop for clothes for Nasa. Still, it’s a good thing those questions are being posed. They are married, after all!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Oregairu 3 – 11 – The Best Time to Buy In

“There are infinite ways to express a single word,” says Shizuka-sensei, literally illustrating that by writing all the rather harsh negative words she can conjure to describe her relationship with Hikki, then scribbling them all over until the word “love” remains. She tells Hikki if he can’t find a single word, use all the words he needs (he’s no stranger to this practice). If words aren’t enough, pair them up with actions.

This week, Hikki does just that. He finds his words—not the ideal words or the words easiest to understand—but the words that are at least imperfectly sufficient to get his point across, and he pairs them up with bold action. The next day after school Hikki shares an afternoon of nothing with Yui, and she tells him her wish is for Yukinon to be part of them.

With the end of the service club, that seems unlikely to be east or even possible for Hikki, who is so bad at expressing or responding to people’s feelings. The word he uses most is associated, as in he does not want to stop being associated with Yukino.

When Yui hears this, a heartbreaking display of emotions runs across her face, but to her surprise and pride, no tears come out. They do, however, come out once she comes home, and her mom is there to hug her. For all the words Yui and Hikki said, the ones that are meant are “Yui, it’s not you, I love…it’s Yukino”. What she knew all along.

On to Hikki’s action. With the prom over and the service club disbanded, he decides to take his fake decoy prom out of mothballs and make it an actual thing, lack of resources be damned. This provokes an emergency meeting with Yukino, Yukino’s mom, and Haruno, the latter of whom seems to finally be getting satisfaction from how Hikki is doing things.

In effect, Hikki is setting himself for abject failure…unless Yukino takes charge and “saves” him. As someone who ran the first prom so splendidly her mother acknowledged her, Yukino couldn’t save face if she turned this down, and the Yukinoshita family would suffer a blow to its vaunted reputation. So she accepts.

In return, Hikki says he’ll “take responsibility” for anything and everything that results from this supposedly ill-fated venture. Even though none of the words explicitly indicate it, the exchange sounds an awful lot like Hikki is asking Yukino’s mom for her daughter’s hand in marriage.

In the end, the PTO had no say in whether the fake prom became real, so Hikki wasn’t negotiating with Yukino’s mom or Haruno. It was all about creating a new opportunity to regularly associate with Yukino…and she took the bait. That night while walking home, Yukino is confused about what Hikki thinks he’s doing, when she told him to respect Yui’s wish.

Since Yui’s wish is for the three of them to remain together, Hikki tells Yukino he’s fulfilling Yui’s wish by doing this. This angers Yukino, who doesn’t like all the verbal gymnastics being used and wants to “get better at doing this”, but Hikki is more pessimistic: in the process of trying to get better, he believes they’ll drift further apart.

Hikki streamlines these sentiments with a pretty cool line: “If I let you go, I can’t grab hold of you again,” backing up the words by grabbing her hand as she power walks away. He then clarifies that saying he’ll “take responsibility” isn’t sufficient to express his true emotions about it. What he really wants is to have responsibility; for her to let him have it.

Initially Hikki hesitated in telling Yukino what he wanted, but Yui told him he had to tell Yukino anyway, even if it’s not the same thing she wants. So he does: he wants to remain involved with Yukino, not out of obligation, but desire. Putting it only the way Hikki can, he asks for the “privilege of distorting” Yukino’s life.

Yukino is a little put off by the innate harshness of such a word as “distortion”, but Hikki points out that distorting each other’s lives is not only unavoidable, but not a bad thing. And while he knows he doesn’t have a lot to offer her, he pledges anything and everything if he can be involved in her life.

A flustered Yukino tells him she’s troublesome and will cause nothing but problems and will eventually become more useless when she relies on him. He responds that he’ll just have to become more useless. After she play punches him and he tenderly takes her hand and holds it at his hear, she hugs him and asks her way: “Please allow me to have your life.”

“A bit stiff,” as Hikki says, but he’s hardly in a position to complain! And that, my friends, is how these two crazy kids confess to one another and ask to continue to be part of each other’s lives. I feel bad for Yui, but she’ll be okay. And that’s the point: no matter how much of a SNAFU their relationships have been or will be, they’re still young, and still learning what romance is and how love feels. They’re all going to be okay!

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 11 – Their Own Campfire

There are two distinct sensors that can’t be tripped when she and Fuutaoru are trapped in the storage shed, potentially overnight: the burglar sensor on the door to the shed, or the sensor in her heart. It’s a corny line, but it’s said internally, where as we all know all manner of corny things are said in the comfort of our own heads, so it’s fine. It’s also adorable, and another reason why Ichika has pulled away as my favorite of the five Nakano quintuplets. That, and amazing lines like “No enjoying my thighs!”

As Yotsuba, Miku and Itsuki notice that both Ichika and Fuutarou are missing, Ichika tries to pass the time chatting with Fuutarou, only for him to be preoccupied with making a fire. What finally gets his attention is her telling him she’s thinking of quitting school—something she couldn’t tell any of the sisters. To her surprise, he doesn’t judge or condemn her. Instead, he lauds her for finding something she wants to do, and envies her for having the requisite options.

Ichika needed someone to tell her it’s okay, and he does so, unaware of how significant it is coming from him. Then he successfully starts the fire, and Ichika assents to calling off their dance at the school campfire. However, that doesn’t preclude them having their own little campfire dance right then and there, and further driven by her heart, she holds out her hand with the brightest smile we’ve seen from any quint to date.

If that invitation to dance didn’t cause your eyes to shimmer at least a little, you might be a Grinch! But then Fuutarou brings up the campfire legend that Ichika did not know about, and she withdraws from him, overcome by guilt for inadvertently hurting Miku. In the process, she knocks over a big log, which almost falls on her before Fuutarou swoops in to rescue her, locking the two in a romantic dance-like pose.

When the log falls it damages the door, trips the alarm, and activates the sprinklers, but fortunately it’s switched off before security is called. Unfortunately for both Fuutarou and Ichika, Miku and Itsuki are the ones who deactivate the alarm and unlock the door, discovering Fuutarou and Big Sis in what could artfully described as in flagrante delicto, through no fault of their own.

The next day, both Ichika has caught cold (due to the sprinklers) but Fuutarou is yanked out of bed by Yotsuba to go skiing. When he meets Miku on the slopes she’s cold towards him, as neither she nor Itsuki 100% believed his and Ichika’s explanation of last night’s events. Mostly, Miku is frustrated with her predicament: if she and her four sisters are all “equal”, what is she supposed to do with her feelings for Fuutarou if Ichika has already taken steps?

Yotsuba proposes a game of ski-tag, Ichika eventually joins the others, and while she’s skiing beside Fuutarou makes sure he hasn’t/won’t tell anyone else what she told him about quitting school. Not knowing how to stop, Fuutarou crashes, and ends up in the vicinity of where Nino was snowboarding. When wiping his brow, the band-aid she put on “Kintarou’s” forehead comes off and she finds it.

Once again, I wish he’d simply reveal to Nino that Kintarou is an invention and that he’s the cool guy she likes, only with different hair. But at least when he hides from her (and Yotsuba, as the game of tag is still on), he ends up in the same igloo as Miku, and in the warmth of that space her frustration gradually fades. It’s a lovely, cozy, disarming scene between the two.

Miku proposes a handicap against Yotsuba, but he doesn’t want to ignore the work she put into being the most athletic quint. He wants to be “fair, not equal” in their treatment of her, and that’s when a light bulb blinks on in Miku’s head. She doesn’t have to feel restricted by the notion that she and her sisters are all equal. All is fair in love and war!

As Itsuki skis all by her lonesome, Miku gives Ichika a call. Hopefully some air can be cleared in the last episode of the season…and I’m not talking about ski jumps! Whatever happens, I’m just not ready to say goodbye to these characters.

As expected, Ichika’s extended time with Fuutarou gained her top ranking in the penultimate episode, giving her an insurmountable 11-point lead over Yotsuba going into the finale. Miku’s igloo scene gave her a boost this week. Yotsuba, Nino and Itsuki rounded out the episode ranking.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 07 – You Mustn’t Become Boring

At the inn where he was extorted by Hitoha to take the Lit Club, Yamagishi-sensei is perfectly content to spend the evening with his folks, until he’s confronted by Hitoha in a particularly frisky mood. Forget her literary ambitions, she just wants to get with Milo-sensei, period. But thank goodness, he says four words that start to restore my faith in him: “Will you please stop?”

Sure, he’s pretty mean when he laughs at her inability to handle an imminent (but ultimately aborted) kiss when she was talking big about letting him lift her up by her thong and toss her to the floor. And when he tells her not to “bite off more than you can chew.” Hitoha may consider herself “a wretched sight,” but the alternative—if Milo-sensei had given in—would have been far, far worse.

As Momo withdraws from the baths, she can’t get the image of a totally naked and uninhibited Niina out of her mind, eliminating any doubt that she has a crush on her. Not only that, when Sugimoto RINEs her with a number of in-your-face stamps enthusiastically inquiring about how she’s doing, Momo almost seems resentful—how dare you, vapid boy, try to occupy headspace I’d rather have occupied by the fair Miss Sugawara?

Just before Momo returns to the bedroom, Rika is also exchanging innocuous texts with a boy—Amagi—the difference being Rika is loving every moment of it. Still, not so much that she’d let Momo know, as she rushes back to the brainstorming table. Momo muses that the idea of guys being simple and shallow is “an urban legend in itself,” and wonders why girls are supposed to couple with them instead of what she deems to be simpler girls she finds cuter.

Rika initially believes the two of them are far apart when it comes to how they feel, but in reality, they both liken how they feel to the bittersweet taste of a dark chocolate Pocky. They’re both interrupted by a rejected and thoroughly pissed-off Hitoha, who barges in with an urban legend about sweethearts wearing matching thongs…not knowing that might actually work for someone like Momo!

While the nature of the distance may vary, the love interests of all five girls are far away. Niina and Kazusa are unique in that they likely share the same love interest. It’s Niina who is there when Kazusa comes out of her overheated state, which is really for the best, as Niina gets to instigate the fight they really need to have in order to move forward, either as friends or something else.

The other three interrupt the fight, in part deeming it unfair due to Kazusa’s heat-fatigued state, but the five come up with a solution that serves everyone: a lively, no-holds-barred pillow fight. It’s a wonderful, semi-cathartic release, and thankfully Yamagishi-sensei has precisely no part in it whatsoever, keeping a distance and letting these girls in their savage season have it out with one another in an aggressive (fight) yet gentle (pillows) way.

The night Kazusa returns, she has dinner with Izumi’s family, but Izumi himself isn’t present. In another beautiful sequence, the two end up encountering one another from the windows of their respective bedrooms—a cliche to be sure, but an effective one in this case, especially as both had just been thinking of one another; specifically the fact they like one another.

Having learned a lot from her trip and gained quite a bit of confidence and courage, Kazusa draws on what she and only she knows—that Izumi is particularly into retro trains—and tosses him one in the form of a keychain. Izumi first thought of Kazusa as a girl when he could throw a baseball further than her. But this time, both the keychain and her feelings make it to him. It’s a small step, but definitely one in the right direction.

Back at school, Kazusa makes sure to apologize to Niina for being presumptuous about her stealing Izumi, but does so under the impression Niina has no interest in Izumi, which is actually just another presumption on her part! Ironically, Kazusa takes another confident step in volunteering to be the role of the girl to Niina’s boy in the lit club’s cultural festival performance.

As Momo adjusts Niina’s costume and blushes at the sight of her nape, and Rika continues to flush her relationship with Amagi down the toilet, Kazusa continues to reiterate in her head how she loves Izumi, and has always loved and treasured him back when she was his big-sister figure. But while Kazusa has probably never been more at peace, that peace is built on shaky ground.

As Kazusa confides to Niina that she’s just about ready to confess her feelings to Izumi, Niina is not quite ready to concede Izumi to her so easily, though she might ultimately do so out of respect for their friendship. Where she goes wrong is seeking advice from her middle-aged pedophile former acting coach Saegusa, whom she visits just as he’s calling his latest prized talent “boring”…apparently for being so obedient.

Saegusa doesn’t want to witness obedience, on the stage or off it; he wants to see rapture; the explosive moment when a girl spreads her wings and takes off, transforming into a woman, even if that woman holds no interest for him beyond the “final moment” of transition.

With that in mind, and considering his loyalties lie nowhere else, he urges Niina not to be boring like his young student, but rather to damn the torpedoes. It’s a heartbreaking scene, not least because it’s quite likely Niina will do whatever her old mentor says, no matter how much it might hurt her and/or Kazusa.

But like Momo’s near-total disinterest in boys, Rika’s near-total inability to be the girlfriend Amagi wants, Hitoha’s near-total commitment to pursuing a forbidden affair, and Kazusa’s near-total confidence in her love for Izumi, Sugawara Niina is beholden to the road paved by the sum total of her life experiences thus far.

As much as she might want to, she has yet to escape Saegusa’s influence, and can no more turn off that road than Momo can start liking boys. And so, it seems a war with Izumi is inevitable—and no longer the kind with mere pillows.

Net-juu no Susume – 08

Sakurai Yuuta was adopted by a wealthy, elderly couple. When they passed away they left their sprawling home to him, but he moved somewhere more reasonably-sized, both because he couldn’t maintain it himself, and because the empty house only intensified his loneliness.

In MMOs, specifically KanterSG, he found the sweet spot where he could be alone without being lonely; where he could meet and interact with people without leaving his digs; where he could regain that feeling of family and mutual support.

And in KanterSG, he met Yuki, whom he strongly suspects to be Molly/Hayashi/Morioka, despite the perceived ridiculousness of such a coincidence. To find out for sure, he decides to rely on whether she remembers him as he was, by adopting the same look as his KanterSG character, Harth.

At first, it seems to Sakurai that he might be mistaken, as Yuki doesn’t seem to react to the name “Harth.” However, she actually has, she just needs a little nudge to start the memories flying, and that’s hearing him pronounce it. After logging out, Morioka calls Sakurai to ask if he ever knew a character named Yuki, giving Sakurai the opening he needs to say it was him.

The ensuing phone conversation is one of the most adorable—and best—things this show has ever done; the elation of both Sakurai and Morioka at the news they’ve always known each other positively radiates through the screen like warm rays of light. Morioka’s torrent of expressions and gestures are wonderful to behold.

Unfortunately, Sakurai’s phone dies before he can volunteer one more crucial nugget of info: that he’s not just Harth, but Lily as well.

Morioka and Sakurai bump into each other in the street, and act in that combination of awkward and giddy that you expect of two people who suddenly find themselves much closer. Sakurai offers his coat and a snack to a hungry Morioka, whose stomach-growling reminded him of the time they both ordered Christmas chicken at the convenience store.

When Morioka starts to go on about Lily, how much she reminds her of him, and how they should play FdM together as a trio sometime, Sakurai must tell her the truth, and he does: he’s Lily. Morioka’s reaction seems to be of surprise if not shock, but unfortunately we leave things right there.

How will Morioka feel about Sakurai having kept the truth from her for so long? Will she be mad at him, or, more likely, blame herself for not having figured it out, even though she was aware of the similarities? I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out, and glad the show and its couple got to move forward as much as they did here, with just two episodes remaining.

Saekano 2 – 11 (Fin)

Megumi and Tomoya go on a date, not just because it seems like the thing to do after the rest of the harem has cleared out, but to cheer one another up. It’s clear it’s not a one-sided case of Megumi cheering Tomoya up from the look of a soundless flashback in which she reacts dramatically to Eriri’s news she’s moving on from the group.

Megumi also seems to take great joy in shopping for clothes and shoes with Tomoya around. Even if he has no fashion sense or money to speak of, his company is appreciated and their instincts—like the one to hold hands in the crowded section—are often in sync.

By the end of the trip, Tomoya is feeling much better, as is Megumi, and the former makes sure they stop by a hat store so he can get her the same white hat she was wearing when he first envisioned her as his main heroine, as thanks both for her company and for getting him glasses last time.

Megumi is touched by the gesture, and when they return to that fateful hill, she tells Tomoya “she’s not giving up”. It strikes me as having dual meaning, as she intends to move forward with the doujin group even without Eriri and Utaha…and intends to make Tomoya fall completely for her.

Tomoya agrees they should move forward, but when his laughter turns to tears of loss, she reaches out to embrace him, only to then pulls back.

Now sufficiently cheered up, cried out, and ready to move forward, Tomoya takes it upon himself to see Eriri and Utaha off, surprising them both on the platform of their train to Osaka. Their looks say it all; Eriri in particular can’t believe he’ll forgive them.

But it’s not about forgiveness at all for Tomoya; it’s about wishing his two dear and wonderfully talented friends good luck on their exciting new venture. And I don’t think he’s putting on airs—one doesn’t turn down something like Fields Chronicle, and he thinks their “god-tier” talent can make it the best ever.

This sendoff, complete with a Megumi phone call with the same positive, concilatory intent, is enough to bring Eriri, Tomoya, and even Utaha to tears. It’s a bittersweet moment, one perhaps made a bit more silly when after Eriri removes Tomoya’s glasses, intending to keep them, then leans in to kiss, it’s Utaha who steals a big, long smooth with Tomoya, and Eriri is forced to whip out her twintails for the first time in a long while. They also miss their train in the excitement.

But no matter; they’re on their way. Post-credits, Tomoya and Megumi are both on first name terms, now seniors in school, chattering away with their usual excellent chemistry and bonhomie. Then, to their surprise, Hashima Izumi appears, a recent transfer, and Tomoya understands Iori’s words about sending his sister to a place where her talents can be put to best use.

Will Izumi be the artist for Tomoya and Megumi’s game? Perhaps, but it’s a certainty that Michiru will score the music once again. Hey, remember Michiru? The show makes sure to let us know it’s in on the joke regarding her absence for the back half of the season (which, frankly, was fine).

But notably, Michiru is conversing with Eriri and Utaha, who are watching Tomoya from afar. Eriri is still enrolled in the school, but the graduated Utaha is there because “it’s a free country.” The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Saekano 2 – 10

It’s very rare indeed for an episode to come around that gives you everything you wanted; everything you held out hope would come to pass but didn’t dare expect. And yet, well, here we are.

The completion of Cherry Blessing was an arc closure at an odd time in the run of a season, but the groundwork that was laid thereafter pays off wonderfully here, as Kashiwagi Eri decides to Take Her Talents to Rouge Beach, thus enabling Kasumi Utako to come along for the ride.

We start in the aftermath of that hellish meeting with Akane, still shaken from the abuse they were forced to endure. Utaha is no less honest and upfront as Akane was: she’s steaming mad that she’s being treated as an afterthought; a James Jones, if you will.

But as much as she hates Akane for doing so, she still agrees with the producer that Eriri is many years too early and too green to presume she’s “in a slump.” If Eriri agrees to do Fields Chronicle, Utaha will strive to crush her, even as they collaborate.

Of course she does. Competition, even outside one’s own field, drives a creative like Utaha. She wouldn’t be who she is if she didn’t treat Eriri as a rival; and when such a massive job comes around such as this, her’s is the name she’ll want spoken first in praise of the game.

Eriri laments that Utaha is dumping such a huge decision on her alone, but Utaha points out she’s not the one doing the dumping; that’s Akane. Utaha never had a choice. But if Eriri says yes, she’ll work with her, and not just because she’ll be able to as part of the deal with Akane, but because she believes the two of them can move forward together.

Not long thereafter, Eriri calls Utaha out of the blue, inviting her to join her back at school, where Eriri announces she’s defeated her slump and has her drawing touch back.

She forgot to bring the sketches to prove it to a giddy, over-the-moon Utaha (who curses Eriri for being so damn useless), but Eriri doesn’t need them, and instead proves it by sketching then coloring a gorgeous portrait right before a stunned Utaha.

She is indeed back, and Eriri responds to Utaha’s approval with smiles and laughter, but those turn to bitter tears when Eriri thinks of the reason she can draw again. As much as she wanted it to be because Tomoya wanted her and because of his support and love, she can draw again because of the less-than two minutes Akane spent insulting her.

Akane’s tirade did what it was meant to do, whether Akane meant to do it or not: Rattle Eriri’s cage; rattle it until the latch slips loose and Kashiwagi Eri can be fully released from behind the iron bars of Tomoya’s safe, comfortable doujin group.

That place is no longer conducive to the creative growth required for Eriri to be as amazing as she can be—and as Tomoya said she could be. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but Eriri does so, and Utaha offers a comforting hug in the process. You heard right: Eriri and Utaha hug. 

In return for her empathy, Eriri warns Utaha not to let Akane look down on her. Utaha had seemed thus far to be taking Akane’s words as gospel because she’s so experienced and successful, but Eriri, staunch Kasumi Utako fan, offers a different view: Akane “isn’t anything special” if she would so blithely underestimate Utaha’s talent.

That, in turn, elicits tears from Utaha, but she wipes them before bumping fists with Eriri, the first step on their new and exciting journey that is almost asssured to make them a part of video game history.

That leaves Tomoya Aki, whom I half-expected to blow his top and throw some kind of temper tantrum at the news that not only would Utaha be backing out of his group, but Eriri would too, thus “betraying” him for the second time in their long years together.

But I found that such a half-prediction was selling Tomoya short. He’s certainly not elated by the (off-camera) defections, but he’s a big boy, and he’ll get over it. I was pleased with how mature he acted, while Hashima Iori, who left rouge en rouge with Izumi for, presumably, the same reason Eriri and Utaha left Blessing (to grow), urges Tomoya not to quit game developing and creating just because he lost his two “golden geese.”

And I totally get why: Eriri and Utaha were just as much training wheels as geese; he’ll now have to test his producer mettle other people; creatives who may not be as hugely talented, and people who won’t be lured into working for him by the feelings they harbor for him!

But there’s another reason Tomoya will be just fine: his harem has been shattered, and with it all the myriad routes he could have chosen to take. Now there is one route, and it leads him up the same sakura-scattered hill, where a familiar figure seems to be waiting for him…

That figure is, naturally, Kato Megumi, the girl who is best suited for Tomoya, and always was; a girl he won’t be stifling creatively, because they work so well together. She’s returned to the short hair that first inspired Tomoya into making a video game about a nice, astonishingly ordinary, “boring” girl.

Tomoya, in turn, drew Eriri and Utaha into his orbit. Normal as she may sound and appear, without Megumi there’s no Blessing Software, no Cherry Blessing, and no Fields Chronicle offer. She was their heroine, the heroine, and now he’s his. And like any good heroine, she makes the first move, suggesting they go out on a date at once.

Sounds good to me! Well done, show: Satisfying resolutions, character growth, and so many feels.

Saekano 2 – 09

After the high spirits attained by watching Tomoya and Megumi finally reconcile last week, the angst and despair prevalent in this latest installment of Saekano presents a stark contrast. It’s a place we know the show is as comfortable with as the goofier comedy, and it’s fairly apparent by the end of the episode that whatever happens, things won’t be the same…or at least they shouldn’t easily revert back there.

After meeting Utaha after her graduation and presenting his proposal, which she reads and gives high marks, Tomoya asks if she’ll be on board for the new game, and Utaha says she can’t. She can’t for precisely the concessions Tomoya offers to persuade her to do it: he will only ask her for as much as she can handle when she has the time.

Essentially, Utaha cannot work for a producer who won’t push her to make sacrifices and challenge herself. Because of Tomoya at its head, Blessing Software is no longer a place where Utaha can feel she’s being the best creative she can be. That realization was probably reached on her own in some form, but it was certainly helped by the meeting she had one month ago.

In that meeting, the famous, ultra-successful and popular Kousaka Akane offers Utaha the task of writing the story for the newest in a celebrated, 20-year-old line of RPGs, Fields Chronicle. Not only that, Kousaka offered Eriri the job as character designer. In fact, she wanted Eriri more than Utaha. And Tomoya is just now hearing about this.

As Tomoya stews in despair and wonders if this is all really happening, we rewind one month. Utaha talks with Eriri about her slump, and about the same issues with Tomoya she brings up with him a month later.

Ever since her art from the winter villa, she hasn’t been able to draw anything as good, but takes comfort in knowing Tomoya will give her all the time she needs, and forgive and stick with her if she never draws anything again.

Utaha can relate – she once “lost herself to a guy” and it negatively affected her ability to be the best creative she could be, but Eriri won’t admit that’s what’s going on, even as she states Tomoya will never be the asshole producer-type he actually needs to be to get the most out of his creatives.

Then Utaha’s editor tells her about the meeting Kousaka wants with her, and Eriri comes along, not because she’ll be willing to hear anything Kousaka wants to say, but to try to stop Utaha from being drawn into Kousaka’s web and agreeing to the RPG project.

But while Eriri ostensibly came to provide a stronger front against the older, more experienced, and more successful (and therefore seductive) Kousaka, neither she nor Utaha come out of the meeting unscathed.

Kousaka may be drunk when they arrive, but she’s perfectly lucid in her no-nonsense approach. She’s makes it clear it’s Kashiwagi Eri she wants more than anything, and if Kasumi Utako can’t bring her on board, she isn’t needed. Eriri tells Kousaka it’s too big a job and she’s in a bad slump, but Kousaka laughs in her face and calls her trash.

While one could easily dismiss Kousaka as a horrible person, there’s no doubting her passion for her work and the work she spearheads, and it’s clear this is a knock-down, drag-out cage-rattling. Eriri’s piddling excuses are of no consequence to her; no doubt she had the same excuses before she came into her own as an artist.

It’s also a big deal that after watching Eriri and Utaha go at each other as near-equals for nearly two seasons, the proven pro Kousaka considers Eriri the superior talent, the end. That’s gotta sting for Utaha, who hasn’t always felt superior but has rarely hesitated to push all of Eriri’s inferiority buttons in their interactions.

So I don’t think she’s wrong in trying to get both Eriri and Utaha to give up on silly little small-potatoes doujin work and really push themselves. That being said, it wasn’t fun watching the two get put through the ringer like that.

As for Tomoya? I can’t say I feel bad for the guy. For one thing, it was presumptuous enough to ask a writer and artist of Utaha and Eriri’s caliber to help him make one game. For another, he doesn’t have the proper producer mentality (in part because they’re all friends) to properly push them.

Even if the final two episodes deal with Tomoya getting them back, I’m not sure it will feel like a victory to me. A second game might be an accomplishment for Tomoya and Megumi, but it would be stagnation for the creatives. They’ve already proven themselves. Time to move on to bigger things…provided that’s what they really want, of course.

Saekano 2 – 08

~Revised from an earlier review~

Here it is: the much-anticipated episode in which Tomoya tries to make up with Megumi. He, and we, spend the entire episode with Megumi and only Megumi, for what feels like the first time in a long while. He ultimately succeeds, and she even ends up in his bed (get your head out of the gutter)!

I know full well no matter how “far” Tomoya seems to get with one girl or another, he may never actually choose one. And yet I can’t deny that one of the reasons I’ve stuck with the show is that there are episodes like these (and the previous ones with Utaha and Eriri) in which Tomoya comes very close to choosing, to the point where the featured girl is his choice of the week, and all others fall away.

Megumi straight-up dismisses the possibility she might like Tomoya, which is discouraging both to me and to Tomoya. But the truth is, Megumi’s dismissal of the possibility feels more and more hollow as the two to share a night of food (and underwear) shopping, cooking, talking, bathing, and finally sleeping over, that wouldn’t be out of place for an old married couple.

Megumi is reliably adorable throughout, and Tomoya is lucky to be in her presence. Entering his house first (where his parents are away), giving him a taste of her curry, wiping food off his face—this is the Tomoya and Megumi I love so much: glorious in their mundane domesticity.

The longer we spend with Tomoya and Megumi in such intimate environment, the less certain Megumi’s earlier rebuff of Tomoya’s “tentative” theory about her feels. I mean, if these two aren’t a couple, then nobody is, right?  I’m not taking crazy pills here.

While quick to reject Tomoya at the mere mention of being jealous of him and Eriri, Megumi couldn’t help but show her hand both then and throughout the episode. Tomoya is his usual dense self in accepting the rejection, but the evening he proceeds to share with Megumi surely have him questioning the finality of that exchange in the A/V room.

Saekano 2 – 07

It’s been two months since Winter Comiket, and Cherry Blessing has done well in both sales and critical reception. But with their first game released, Blessing Software is at a crossroads. Utaha is finishing up her newest novel, while Eriri is still blowing past art deadlines (what she’s painting, we never see).

Tomoya’s rival Iori surmises that Cherry was able to surpass his game in reviews (if not in sales) because both writer and artist grew and surpassed themselves. Now that the trio has been through it all together, the girls are far less careful about how they act at school around Tomoya.

Tomoya, Eri, and Utaha are all getting along swimmingly post-Comiket, but Tomoya has been unable to make any progress whatsoever in making up with Megumi. She gives him a listless “good morning” and doesn’t answer her phone when he calls her.

That ignored call is the beginning of Tomoya starting to actually stop and carefully consider everything Megumi had done for and with him, and the manner in which treated her in return. Because he took her commitment lightly and shut her out at a crucial moment, she’s not picking up now to discuss with him the pros and cons of a new, second game.

Valentine’s Day arrives, and when he brings up the possibility of giving her more work, Eriri simply wants more time to relax, not worry about such things, give him chocolate, take his arm and walk with him.

To her chagrin, he has lunch with Utaha, who also gives him chocolate, and offers to sign her real name (not her pen name) “all over his body”, in a classic Utaha tease that’s probably more sincere than Tomoya is willing to realize.

Utaha also released her latest novel, and plans to start another soon. Since she’s already in university, she won’t be coming to school anymore after today. So Tomoya asks her, almost desperately, if she’d write for him again.

Despite her resentment of Tomoya’s protectiveness with Eriri, she bashfully admits she wants to make another game with her. Eriri, out in the hall making sure Utaha doesn’t make any moves, hears Utaha’s warm tone.

If Tomoya can come up with an idea, it looks like Utako Kasumi and Kashiwagi Eri are all on board. Which leaves Megumi (sorry Hyoudou, you’re not a main!). Tomoya makes an effort to track her down, but she slips out just as school ends. He spots her eating alone in a cafe, texts her a request for a circle meeting, and watches her not ignore it, giving him hope that maybe their friendship hasn’t “run its natural course” quite yet after all.

Then he goes home, and late into the night, he plays Cherry Blessing through. Playing it brings up all of the memories he has of Megumi working tirelessly by his side to make the game such a success, and how little appreciation he showed in his words, actions, or lack thereof. So Tomoya curls up in shame. At last—a glimmer of self-awareness from the guy.

Thinking of her also inspires Tomoya to come up with a title for the upcoming game he’ll aim to release in time for Summer Comiket: How to Raise a Boring Girlfriend. Meta! Here’s hoping he can make proper amends—and Megumi is willing to take the fool back.

Cross Ange: Tenshi to Ryuu no Rondo – 03

Poor Miranda! She never had a chance, and more than Coco
Poor Miranda! She never had a chance, any more than Coco did

Cross Ange is a dark, gritty, brutal, sometimes just-plain-wrong mecha series done right. As First Troop battles a battleship-sized DRAGON and its twenty-odd underlings, Miranda is simply told to keep back and stay alive, an order she cannot follow. Just when you thought, “well, maybe they’ll have Miranda resent Ange for Coco’s death later”, she dies too, just as she’s told not to!

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But just so you know, the show isn’t content just with killing off rookie redshirts, as the highly capable, experienced bad-ass Captain Zola also meets her end in the fiasco of a battle where Ange first tries to desert, then freaks out and flies around, then slams into Zola’s Paramail, preventing her from landing the killing blow on the DRAGON. For her trouble, Ange gets to await rescue as the blood from Zola’s empty eye socket drips all over her cockpit. Frankly, I’m surprised more pilots didn’t lose their lives out there: those DRAGONS are exceedingly efficient at tearing people to pieces.

Everyone hates you. You are the worst.
Everyone hates you. You are the worst.

Even if it’s not all due not entirely to Ange, her selfish actions contributed greatly. She’s also gone and made even greater enemies of Zola’s three lovers: Hilda, Roselie and Chris. And Jill even sent her official petitions to several nations: all were rejected, as no one has ever heard of the Misurugi Empire or a Princess Angelise. She hasn’t just been plucked from her world: that world doesn’t even exist anymore.

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Nice touch that Norma get their full names back when they die

Once healed up and out of her Gaultier Leeloo bandages, Jill has her lug the tombstones of the dead to their final resting places – the duty of the person responsible for their deaths. It’s here she learns her cushy mana-filled world is built atop the bones of the Norma, all fighting to protect a civilization that spits on them. When she learns fallen Norma get their names back, she starts to wish for death, to escape the hell and return to a place of peace, even if it is the afterlife – because she’ll at least once again be Angelise Ikaruga Misurugi.

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Villkiss – Ange’s (old) new ride

With her first paramail trashed, Jill bestows Vilkiss on Ange – while awesome-looking, it’s hard to control and has seen better days; the perfect ride for someone with a death wish. But the Vilk is no lemon; and in giving it to Ange Jill seems to be challenging the voracity of her wish.

Salia is the new First Troop Captain…for better or worse, as she’s extremely rigid and by-the-book leader, probably a better lieutenant than captain. When they find the DRAGON and it’s revealed it’s basically acting as a decoy for a sea-to-air attack, Salia kind of just freezes. She’s only saved from the fates of Coco & Co because Ange lures it away — not because she particularly cares about Salia (or anything), but because she’s trying to die.

Vilkiss, Resplendent in Assault Mode
Vilkiss, Resplendent in Assault Mode

That is, until that DRAGON grabs her paramail and stares her down, and she remembers the dying words of her mother: “Live on.” Her ring, which was returned to her, glows, and when blood from her head drips upon it, there’s a reaction that’s both surprising and utterly un-surprising considering Ange’s natural course from now on. She’s not going to die there, because she realizes she doesn’t want to die.

Ange's not ready to die yet after all
Ange’s not ready to die yet after all

To that end, she does what it takes to live on — wasting the dragon in a heated blaze of gun and sword attacks and ending the battle on an exclamation point, bailing out the tactically deficient Salia in the first sortie under her command. By the end, Ange is flushed with excitement, just as Zola said she’d get when she hit her back. Ange is still ashamed to feel this way, but she can’t deny she does.

I have Nothing. I am Nothing. I will live. Kill and live. That is all.
I have Nothing. I am Nothing. I will live. Kill and live. That is all.

She hasn’t been a knowing Norma long, and having not grown up as one doesn’t harbor the same deep scars, but she’s very quickly starting to understand what kind of living Norma must cling to. Even if it involves killing and a whole host of other nasty stuff, they have to take what they can get and find peace and solace however they can.

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So Angelise cuts her long flowing locks and tosses them into the wind, to join her name, her past; everything else she’s ever had or been. She decides she will live on, as Ange, at any cost; not die as quickly or easily as her mother or young comrades. Then she takes the pudding Coco gave her out of the dustbin and dutifully chokes it down. It tastes disgusting, but it will nourish her soul. When in Hell, you savor every compromised comfort you can get your hands on.

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