Vlad Love – 07 – Vla Vla Vland

Vlad Love goes from the “cultural festival play” episode to the “let’s make a movie” episode, with Maki as the director and Mai, Mitsugu and Katsuno starring (Katsuno also fronts the more than $4K budget). Maki’s vision is a promotional video for the Blood Donation Club that is also a homage to French New Wave director Nicolas Truffant.

Needless to say, chaos reigns. Maki has the lingo and bearing of a film director down, and she also knows her cinematic history and can rear-project a driving scene with the best of ’em, but the shoot itself is an unqualified disaster from start to finish as Chihiro insists they film the whole thing in five days. Those days are marked by title cards reminiscent of The Shining. Also, Kaoru’s cat runs away, and the backup cat doesn’t give a shit about milk.

While Maki seems to have recurring dreams about being a little girl surrounded by everyone staring and judging at her (probably a reference to something), in the end those dreams are justified, as the final product is a mess. Unlike the first Star Wars, even editing couldn’t save Meet Mai, but Maki isn’t even there for the premiere—she’s scarfing down a bento on the Shinkansen.

The episode was hurt by having to follow up the best one yet, as well as being the second straight involving a production with a demanding director. Mitsugu and Mai barely say or do anything, and there are so many jokes and asides there’s no room for anything else—including much of a reason to care! Still, as always, Vlad Love looks great, even when it’s little more than empty calories.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 10 (S1 Fin) – Nor Yet Favor to Women of Skill…

If you watched TOS you know about Beta III and how its pre-warp civilization was ruled by computer Landru until Captain Kirk shut it down. Apparently problem solved, but flash forward to the time of Lower Decks and the people of Beta III are once again under Landru’s heel.

While distributing art supplies, Brad tells Beckett he now knows she is the captain’s daughter, and since their comms are on an open channel, it isn’t long until the whole crew finds out. Beckett must contend with an uptick in nepotistic ass-kissing by her crewmates.

Elsewhere on the Cerritos, Rutherford tests out a new personality modifier that can make him optimistic, sexy, angry, and everything in between. This is as Tendi serves as liason for a new Exocomp crew member, Ensign…Peanut Hamper. Since the little guys were deemed sentient back in TNG’s “The Quality of Life”, it was only a matter of time!

Finally, Captain Bowman and the crew of the destroyed Rubidoux are breaking in their new ship, the Solvang, when they are captured (and blown up attempting to escape) by a powerful and gigantic ship made of a motley of cannibalized ship components…but the sharper-eyed nerds notice the ship at its core: Pakleds, last featured in TNG’s “Samaritan Snare.”

Needless to say, this episode is packed with stories big and small. And since this is the season finale, there are a number of big character changes to the status quo enjoyed in the previous nine episodes that will reverberate into the already-approved second season.

First is the cementing of Beckett and Boimler’s friendship in spite of their very different personalities. As predicted, Beckett is finally rolling down her sleeves, putting her hair up, and taking being a Starfleet officer seriously. Of course, this is for a very Beckett reason: she wants to run away from the hassle of being the Captain’s kid, and for that she’ll need to get promoted and transferred.

Tendi and Peanut Hamper turn get along like two space peas in a space pod, though the latter’s lack of hands makes it hard to manipulate objects meant for humans. Still, just when Tendi is about to warn the doctor that Peanut may not have the steadiest hands, Peanut executes perfect microsutures and even develops a new skin-grafting technique. The CMO is impressed, but is Tendi jealous? Of course not! She’s proud of Peanut Hamper!

Things take a sudden turn for the action-packed when the Cerritos receives a distress signal from the Solvang. When they arrive, the Pakled ship is already scavenging parts from the wreck of the Solvang. The ship gets its hooks in the Cerritos, but Freeman wisely notes that going to warp is probably what Bowman did, which doomed her ship, so instead she cuts power.

When they get their captors on screen and learn they’re Pakleds, everyone on the crew carries the same assumptions as the crew of the Enterprise: the Pakleds are slow and dumb, not a threat! And yet, here they are, carving the Cerritos up like a space turkey.

In such a strange and hazardous situation, Freeman leans on her daughter’s unorthodox methods for arriving at a plan to defeat the enemy. Beckett notes that the Pakleds are taking their time, meaning there’s time for Rutherford to create a virus that will hack into the Pakled’s “inviting” networks (due to the need to integrate so many different kinds of tech).

Ruthy turns to Badgey for help with the virus, but has to make a Faustian bargain: Badgey won’t cough up the virus without the safeties being taken off-line. Meanwhile, Beckett opens all the compartments where she’s hidden contraband (including her bat’leth) in order to arm the crew to repel Pakled boarders.

Just when it seems Peanut Hamper is the perfect crew member to deliver the virus to the Pakled ship…she declines, and beams herself into space to escape danger. Turns out she only joined Starfleet to piss off her mom. Hey, at least she didn’t go insane and try to kill everyone with her multi-tool nose!

Rutherford, who finally restores his “normal” personality, volunteers to deliver the virus. Tendi thinks he’s stuck on “heroic” mode, but he’s just being himself. Shaxs helps get him to a shuttlecraft and flies him to the Pakled ship, ramming through its hull in a nifty bit of tactical officering.

When Badgey, who Rutherford placed in his implants for the trip, refuses to finish downloading the virus unless his “dad” is killed by the Pakled. When Shaxs takes care of all the guards, Badgey sets the self-destruct, so Shaxs rips Rutherford’s implants out, tosses him on the shuttle, and shoves it back into space, before dying heroically in the explosion.

Rutherford and Shaxs have saved the day, but then three more Pakled ships just as huge and janky as the first converge on the Cerritos. Things are dire…until yet another ship dazzles the space-stage: The USS Titan, commanded by Captain William T. Riker (with his wife Commander Troi by his side).

It’s the second time he’s showed up in the nick of time (as he will decades later in Star Trek: Picard, though I’d prefer it if Picard took place in the future of an alternate universe. Do I buy that Riker knows Beckett? Sure, why not. They’re both the gregarious sort. The Titan scares off the Pakleds with its superior firepower and maneuverability, and the crew of the Cerritos can breathe easy.

In the final act, Freeman and Beckett agree to help each other out more rather than stay unproductively at each others’ throats. Rutherford loses his long-term memories, including his friendship with Tendi! She’s committed to becoming friends with him all over again, but it’s still a major bummer…the show just pressed a reset button on his character, and he wasn’t that developed to begin with!

Finally, Beckett and Boimler come to an understanding. He’s come to think of her as a valued mentor, but she insists it doesn’t have to be that way, they can just hang out as buds like they have been. However, when Riker offers Boimler a promotion to helmsman of the Titan, he takes that pip and runs, leaving Beckett in the dust. A captain mom, an admiral dad and years of experience, and a guy still gets promoted before her. Not that she wanted to leave, mind you, but she thought Boimler was happy where he was.

Will we follow his adventures on the Titan next season, or will he screw up and end up kicked back to the Cerritos? Only time will tell! Until then, this was a surprisingly strong first season of Lower Decks. I enjoyed it on a Star Trek level, a comedy level, and even an animation level; it looked consistently awesome and the classic orchestral soundtrack really sold the grandeur of space exploration and battle.

Trek-wise, it was able to pay homage and/or satirize without ever coming across as either too sappy or too mean; a delicate, difficult balance to be sure. The tone was always just-right, and even its bombastic finale managed to find time for the slice-of-life-on-a-starship moments that really immerse you in its world. I never thought I’d say this, but the extant live-action Trek series could learn a lot from Lower Decks. They probably won’t, but that’s okay…there’s more Lower Decks to come.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 09 – No Need For Theatrics

Ensign Mariner is in the midst of helping lizard people overthrow their oppressive masters (who also have a habit of eating them) and earnestly thinks she’s finally done something worthy of praise from her mom/captain, but Freeman isn’t having it, accusing Beckett of going against the Prime Directive.

Mariner vociferously protests in front of the aliens, and her mom orders her back to the ship, where she’s to report not to the brig, but somewhere even worse (to Mariner): therapy. Predictably, she makes no progress other than trashing a bonsai.

But when Boimler shows her a holodeck program of the Cerritos and near-perfect (and privacy-violating) approximation of its crew for the narrow purpose of practicing for an interview with the captain, it dawns on Mariner that the simulation could be used to work out her anger over her mom.

This results in one of the sendupiest good-natured sendups of Trek yet, this time focusing on the feature films. Appropriately, black letterbox bars appear to accommodate the wider aspect ratio and there’s suddenly a film grain and much more dramatic lighting and music. Boimler, Tendi, and Rutherford are all along for the ride, but only Mariner knows the script.

What’s hilarious is that interwoven within Mariner’s unofficial holo-therapy session, Boimler still tries to use the modified simulation to determine what to say to the captain during their interview, even interrupting her birthday jet-ski session reserved only for senior staff.

But when the Cerritos is given a mission (which Mariner notes would normally be given to the Enterprise), we get the full Star Trek: The Motion Picture dramatic starship flyaround, with some truly epic beauty shots of the ship in spacedock, while the bridge and corridors are also more cinematically lit (a contrast to the usual TNG-style even TV lighting).

The impostor ship the Cerritos investigates suddenly decloaks off their bow; it’s a klingon ship crewed by Mariner in her vengeful villainess persona “Vindicta” (a clear reference to Captain Proton’s Chaotica from Voyager).

Tendi somewhat reluctantly portrays an Orion pirate (as she’s not your usual Orion IRL), Rutherford is similarly unconvincing as a baddie, while Mariner simply replaced Boimler (still on the Cerritos) with a knockoff she quickly vaporizes (the first of many grisly deaths) to show she means business.

Vindicta & Co. board the Cerritos and a corridor firefight ensues. Boimler is about to learn from Ransom what the captain is allergic to, cookie-wise, when he’s shot and killed before he gets the words out.

As Mariner seemingly takes more and more sadistic glee in massacring simulations of actual Cerritos crew members, Tendi is put off and leaves the holodeck (as well as the letterboxed format!) Tendi does not think it’s okay for Mariner to play up the Orion pirate/slave stereotype, especially if it means offering her Shaxs’ Bajoran earring as a trophy…with part of his ear still on it.

Still very much reveling in her Vindicta character, Mariner has the Cerritos crippled and it careens through the atmosphere of the nearby planet and crash lands in some snowy mountains, a truly epic scene that references both the saucer crash in Star Trek: Generations (albeit at a differen saucer angle) and the crash from Voyager‘s excellent 100th episode, “Timeless”.

Rutherford, who like Tendi really isn’t into this whole villain thing, instead decides to use the program the way Boimler intended, to get more insight into his engineering chief. He even manages to create a program that systematically transports the entire crew to safety before the ship crashed, impressing his superior.

Vindicta ends up in the climactic fight with Captain Freeman, but it’s not as satisfying as she’d have liked, since Freeman character has no idea who Vindicta is. That’s when we get a very cinematic twist and the “real” Beckett Mariner appears to beam her mom to safety and duel Vindicta (shades of Kirk fighting himself in Star Trek VI). 

Out on the planet surface, Boimler presents Freeman with some chocolate chip cookies on a blind gamble, but it turns out the captain is allergic to chocolate, and when Jet accuses him of trying to assassinate her, Freeman recommends Jet, not Boimler for promotion.

The two-Beckett fight ends in an apparent stalemate, but the one created by Boimler’s program never meant to win, only to buy time while the rest of the crew escapes and the self-destruct counts down. Vindicta (AKA the real Mariner) realizes that while sometimes she feels like blowing up the ship and stabbing her mom with a metal pole, at the end of the day she loves her mom, her friends, and her ship.

The self-destruct of the Cerritos ends the program. Mariner ends up making up with Tendi, Rutherford is unable to reach out to his superior, and most importantly, Mariner properly apologizes to her mom for how she acted with the Prime Directive-breaking. The movie transitions to a standard Trek All’s Well That Ends Well conclusion.

But that’s not all: when holo-Captain Freeman honors Ensign Mariner for sacrificing herself saving them, she no longer has any reason to conceal the truth: Mariner is her daughter. Believe it or not in all these nine episodes this is the first Boimler has learned of this! Unsure how to process the bombshell, he forgets his preparation and totally bombs in the interview with the captain. So he’ll remain an ensign for a little while yet.

As for Mariner’s movie, it ends a lot like Star Trek II, with a soft-landed photon torpedo tube in a lush jungle. But rather than a baby Spock, Vindicta rises and prepares for another round of bloody vengeance…only to be shot dead by holo-Leonardo da Vinci! That irreverent ending is followed by a more heartfelt homage, as the Lower Deckers’ signatures fly across the screen like those of the cast of Star Trek VI. 

It all makes for a marvelously-detailed, deliciously indulgent homage-parody of Trek movies while still moving forward the serialized character elements in preparation for Lower Decks first season finale.

Stray Observations:

  • The cold open’s statue-toppling is a reference to the fall of the Saddam Hussein statue in Baghdad following the capture of the capital by coalition forces in 2003.
  • The vehicle used to pull down the statue is an ARGO, first seen in Nemesis.
  • The Cerritos therapist wears civilian clothes but has a Starfleet commbadge. He is also apparently a green hyperchicken, similar to the attorney in Futurama.
  • Voyager’s Captain Janeway often visited da Vinci’s workshop for advice and inspiration. He was played by Jonathan Rhys Davies, better known as Gimli (and the voice of Treebeard) from the LoTR trilogy.
  • That said, I love how the Cerritos’ Lower Deckers just do skeet shooting with him!
  • Mariner’s messing with Boimler’s program is reminicnet of Tom Paris and the Doctor’s dueling holo-novels in the Voyager episode “Author, Author”.
  • Mariner fills Vindicta’s early viewscreen dialogue with quotes from The Tempest, which is a nod to Klingon General Chang’s similar tendency throughout Star Trek VI.
  • The Cerritos’ warp effect is given more bells and whistles for the movie treatment, while there are numerous lens flares, a nod to J.J. Abrams’ lighting style in 2009’s rebooted Star Trek.
  • Shaxs mentions Pah-Wraiths, who were the evil version of the Prophets introduced in DS9.
  • In his engineering technobabble, Rutherford mentions both “sativa” and “indica”, the two major strains of marijuana.
  • Rutherford also explains how he was able to transport the whole crew to safety as the ship was crashing with the hand-waving line “It’s a movie! We can do whatever we want!” For good or worse, many of the movies did just that.
  • Due to technical difficulties, I had to take screenshots…with my phone.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 08 – Out of the Space Loop

Hoo boy, this was one extra-stuffed, extra-caffeinated episode of Lower Decks! We begin by being thrown into an unknown situation with the core quartet: a sinister dungeon, then an alien trial on K’Tuevon Prime in which they are apparently being forced to testify against the senior staff.

One by one, they must speak into a Horn of Truth about the events of a specific stardate, starting with Mariner, who regales the court of a day when she and Boimler are late for bridge duty and have no idea what’s going on, only that the aliens they’re dealing with consider gratitude an insult.

Unsatisfied with her testimony, the aliens suspend Mariner over a vat of eels. Rutherford is next, and one would think his cybernetically-enhanced memory would be perfect, that is not the case as on that particular stardate his implants were undergoing constant system updates that caused multiple blackouts.

Everytime he comes to, it’s in a totally different situation. One minute he’s in a Cerritos corridor, then on a stolan Vulcan warp shuttle, then a kind of starship museum, then in outer space clinging to the hull of a cloaked Romulan Bird-of-Prey, and finally at a Gorn wedding.

Needless to say, Rutherford gets suspended over the eels along with Mariner, and it’s up to Tendi to tell her story. She was the assigned cleaner of the conference room when Ransom and a team of handpicked commandoes are briefed on a top secret mission. Ransom wrongly assumes Tendi is a cleaner cleaner, as in part of their covert operation.

The op unfolds as follows: they use the stolen Bird-of Prey acquired by Rutherford & Co. to slip past Warbird patrols, transport down to Romulus, and retrieve a secret “package”. Tendi shows off some Trek Fu on some Romulan guards, and the team manages to get out without detection.

Having failed to get what he wants, the alien consigns Tendi to the vat and all three are dumped in. That’s when Boimler saves them by telling the court that they are Lower Decks, the senior officers almost never fill them in on what’s going on, so they truthfully don’t have the info he wants.

Boimler goes even further to state that oftentimes even the senior staff doesn’t know what’s going on, such as whenever Q(!) shows up. But that’s okay, part of Starfleet’s mission of exploration is facing the unknown and…muddling through.

But it turns out this isn’t an alien trial at all…but a party, held by Magistrate Klar to honor the senior staff for rescuing him from Romulan captivity. As is the case with all Lower Decks episodes, it’s a subversion of the old Trek trope. Back on the Cerritos, Freeman promises to do a better job of briefing the Lower Decks, but as Mariner aptly puts it, “knowing things means more work”, so it’s probably better to keep things need-to-know!

So yeah, there was a lot going on this week—almost too much for 24 minutes—but it was still a hell of a fun ride, and the trial/party conceit held together all the loosely connected vignettes well enough.

Stray Observations:

  • The design of the “party silo” is heavily influenced by the Klingon courtroom in Star Trek VI.
  • There’s a mention of Roga Danar, a supersoldier from the TNG episode “The Hunted.”
  • Mariner warns Boimler if they wash out of Starfleet they’ll end up on Earth where all there is to do is drink wine (at Chateau Picard) and eat soul food (at Sisko’s dad’s New Orleans bistro).
  • Boimler suggests a Crazy Ivan, which is really more of a Submarine thing.
  • Shaxs warns about a Denobulan parasite that infects the peen from the same planet as Dr. Phlox on Star Trek Enterprise.
  • Tons of Trek ship references this week. The Vulcan museum contains Starfleet shuttles from both TOS and TNG, the Vulcan ship from First Contact, the timeship Aeon from the 29th century, a Klingon battlecruiser, a yellow Work Bee, a Ferengi shuttle, and a Jem’hadar attack ship.
  • The shuttle they use to airdrop into the museum is a Vulcan Warp Shuttle of the exact kind that transported Spock to the Enterprise in The Motion Picture.
  • Rutherford is asked to distract the guards with the “fan dance”, last performed on screen by Uhura on Nimbus III in Star Trek V. He really should be nude when he’s doing it.
  • The eels in the vat sound just like the Ceti Eels Khan uses to control minds in The Wrath of Khan.
  • Dr. Crusher’s ghost lamp pertains to the very bad TNG episode “Sub Rosa”.
  • Q shows up! Voiced by the inimitable John de Lancie. Love how he adds a little more floridness to his animated Q.
  • Klar is voiced by another Trek guest star, Kurtwood Smith. Known primarily for That 70s Show, he was the Federation President in Star Trek VI and Annorax in “Year of Hell”, my personal favorite Voyager two-parter. If he was going to yell “DUMBASS!” in a Trek episode, this would have been it. Alas…
  • When the guy tells Klar he only paid for the party silo for 22 minutes, exactly 22 minutes of time had passed in the episode.

Carole & Tuesday – 05 – The Trees in the Wind Will Lead the Way

After burning down a famous DJ’s house and getting taken in by a scambot, the C&T Dream Team needs a win desperately…not to mention some scratch to keep the lights on! So Gus and Roddy set out to meet with their connections in order to arrange the duo’s first gig.

On the Angela front not visited last week, Mama comes to her daughters defense, accusing Tao of treating her like a lab rat due to his background in neuroscience. Tao’s rejoinder is to bring up Mama’s assault charges…and her apparent “androgynous” status.

Finally, Tuesday’s brother has arrived in Alba City, determined to find his sister and bring her home as per their Mama’s orders.

Upon trying to meet with his old pal Hofner without an appontment, Gus is met by stubborn guardbots, whom Hofner himself orders to stand down, after which Gus is able to voice his intent to do business.

Tao takes Angela to Schwarz, an investor at Intergalactic, and asks her to sing an a capella song she learned during the car ride to convince Schwarz to invest 12 million Woolong.

Roddy meets his friend Beth, who owns one of the last independent clubs, and asks her for a slot for C&T. The overarching theme here is, in order to make it big, you’ve got to put in the legwork, and connections are key.

C&T’s only connections are people with connections, who happen to have faith in their talent and charisma. As for Angela, she sings well (though I’m not a fan of the lyrics) and gets the 12 mil…but like us is still unclear exactly what Tao has in store for her.

Tuesday’s brother finds Carole’s landlord utterly unhelpful in positively identifying his sister, who gets a job as a poster girl for a food truck while Carole unsuccessfully walks AI pets. On the bright side (literally) the lights come back on and Carole’s AI suitcase finally makes it back to her.

Finally, there’s C&T’s first gig where they knew they were being watched. Despite the somewhat dingy digs and just ten people in the audience including him, Roddy considers this a seminal moment, the genesis of what will become a great musical duo, where those ten people will be able to say “I was there.”

Mind you, Roddy is pretty much in love with C&T at this point, so he might be biased. I for one found the song perfectly inoffensive but the lyrics were trite and cloying. It’s hard not to be harsh on the pedestrian nature of their tunes when the entire premise is that the duo are some kind of rare and monumental talents that will literally change the world with their music.

But if those in the world of the show say they’re really good, that’s I guess all that really matters. Watching Tuesday perform is enough for her brother to seemingly give up his search and let her be, despite the blowback he’ll get from Mom. I just wish their songs were amazing full stop, not just “amazing” in the context of the show.

Carole & Tuesday – 04 – Caveat Emptor Robotus

Unsuccessful in collabing with DJ Ertegun, Gus presents his second idea for Carole & Tuesday making it big: a music video. Despite my initial suspicion that they’d try to make it big without AI, they end up buying a 19-Woolong robot who will direct, film, and edit.

The low, low price immediately threw up a red flag for me, but the crew presses forward, throwing out a king’s ransom in pop culture references from Thriller to The Avengers, which the robot somehow manages to make sense of, and then provides a list of required things.

Gus meets with his stylish ex-wife Marie for her know-how with hair, makeup, and wardrobe. Perhaps impressed he’s off the bottle and serious about helping some new talent soar, Marie agrees, despite no upfront payment.

The SpielbergBot, AKA IDEA, turns out to be a beer fanatic in the vein of Futurama’s Bender, and mostly lazes around watching TV as C&T write a new song for the video (incidently, the one that plays over the end credits).

Meanwhile, Roddy manages to score an expensive car courtesy of DJ Ertegun. When Roddy is initially dishonest about knowing the girls, Ertegun flashes a number of looks at him—accompanied by hilarious EDM sounds—but ultimately helps his young friend out.

C&T meet Marie’s wardrobe friend and lover, then try on a number of outfits in another montage as Roddy practices his dance moves. When he shows up in the car all debonair an’ shit, the girls aren’t interested in him at all, only the car itself. Roddy also provides the “giant robot” in his ultra-rare limited-edition resin models, which IDEA will scale up in post.

The day of filming begins, and it’s a bit chaotic; befitting all the myriad ideas everyone threw out at the beginning. C&T jump from setting to setting and costume to costume with no real consistent narrative or theme, and from the look of Roddy by the end, something terrible happened to Ertegun’s car.

We then learn while IDEA is having a bath back at Carole’s place that he’s running some kind of scam on the humans, insulting their intelligence and threatening Carole’s owl alarm clock not to snitch.

Gus and Marie have a drink to celebrate the wrap of the video, and both admit to how much goshdarn fun they had getting back in the game like that. Marie even wonders what went wrong with their marriage, insinuating it wasn’t all Gus’ fault, then tells him she’s getting remarried to an amazing woman.

When IDEA is done editing, Carole, Tuesday and Gus prepare to watch with baited breath, while Roddy stays home and finds out on the news that IDEA is an AI scammer. It’s news delivered far too late, as after they watch his train wreck of a video (most of which isn’t even in focus), C, T, and G all glare menacingly at IDEA before boxing him up and sending him back to the fulfillment center.

After two episodes of relative realism (aided by coincidence and fate, but still realistic), C&T gets a little more madcap and cartoonish, and everyone is a little dumber for one episode as they put their complete trust, time, and effort in a totally dubious mechanism. Their “guerrilla” performances at the music hall and laundromat feel at once more effective and more sincere than any cut-rate video production anyway. When you’re broke, elegant minimalism is key. This was all too baroque.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 09 – Changing at Their Own Pace

Hirotaka and Narumi go on a normie date to a theme park, and Hirotaka takes the normie part very seriously, bringing along a piggy bank and fining Narumi whenever she uses an otaku reference or says something a yaoi would say. Never mind the fact that bringing a piggy bank to a date isn’t a very normie thing to do!

Hirotaka is doing this because he believes he won’t truly make progress in his relationship with Narumi until they can spend time as something other than otaku buddies. That is to say, he wants to see the same side of Narumi her other dates saw: the one actually trying to hide her otaku/yaoi sides.

The date proceeds normally, with both Hirotaka and Narumi incurring penalties for letting their true sides slip. Then they reach a haunted boat ride, and in her rush to get aboard, she ends up leaving the platform on a boat not with Hirotaka, but with Kabakura.

Turns out Koyanagi, who ends up in a boat with Hirotaka, made Kabakura take her to a theme park, because she heard Hirotaka and Narumi would be doing it and it sounded fun. Narumi has to cross her arms tightly so as not to accidentally hold Kabakura’s hand, and both are scaredy-cats.

Meanwhile nothing fazes Hirotaka or Koyanagi, though the latter can sense a bit of restlessness on the former’s part. He tells her not to worry too much about how fast things are progressing; it’s not often two people go at the exact same pace. There’s nothing wrong with taking things slow, and if that’s how things are going, there’s no reason to shake things up.

When the two couples meet up then part ways, Narumi and Hirotaka rest a spell on a bench, and Narumi scares the dickens out of Hirotaka by saying “this isn’t working” and “we should end this.” She’s not talking about their relationship, thank God, but about the piggy bank penalties. Once free to talk about otaku stuff, they both feel much more at ease.

She then gives Hirotaka a surprising gift: a pair of earrings. It turns out she too wanted to see a side of him she hadn’t seen before; in this case, the side of Hirotaka who wanted to grow up fast. While the looks of the show on the whole are pretty much average for the genre, the animators take their time on Narumi fiddling with her hair and Hirotaka suddenly pulling it back to reveal she’s wearing (clip-on) earrings too.

He leans in to what looks at first like a kiss to thank her, but it turns into a hug, albeit a tight and romantic one. He thanks her for the earrings, and admits he can be as childish as she claims to be. He had no reason to be concerned about them not going anywhere, or nothing changing, because they are…just at their own pace.