Higehiro – 03 – Fated Encounters

Sayu has a dream about a past night she spent with a man in exchange for a place to stay. She lies under him passively, her eyes devoid of their usual glimmer, making no noise except to say “yeah” when he asks if it feels good. It’s not a love scene; it’s a transaction scene, depicted in all its awkward frankness. Sayu wakes up in her own bed as Yoshida dozes away in his. The glimmer is back in her eyes, but there’s also worry.

When Yoshida heads off to work, all Sayu has are household chores and her thoughts. And her thoughts are constantly asking why Yoshida won’t touch her. Shouldn’t he want to, at least a little? All the other men did, and took what they could. We learn Yoshida turned down a business trip, and his male co-worker assumes it’s because he has a girlfriend.

That prospect upsets Mishima, who asks him out to a movie after work. On the way out he and Gotou nearly walk into each other. Seeing him leave with Mishima, Gotou wears a look I’d describe as…left out?

Long before Yoshida returns home, Sayu is simply out of things to do around the house, so she has nothing but those lingering, worrying thoughts. Even though Yoshida hasn’t touched her like all the other men, she still believes he’ll kick her out when he doesn’t want her anymore.

When he texts her that he’s going out for a movie with a colleague, Sayu decides to stalk him…just a little. She happens to be watching just as Mishima finished talking to Yoshida about fated encounters, both the ones in the sad movie and ones in reality. Mishima is certain it’s better to realize that it’s fate the moment it happens, rather than months or years later.

While Yoshida isn’t 100% with her on this line of thinking (one, because he considers her a co-worker and friend first; two, he’s a bit dense), Mishima thinks she’s having such an encounter with him now, and doesn’t want to let it go. He’s taken aback when she hugs him, but the hug is all Sayu sees when she rushes off.

She doesn’t see Yoshida rebuff Mishima; not that she’s going to give up on him anytime soon. When Yoshida comes home to find Sayu’s phone but no Sayu, his first worry is that she was kidnapped, not that she ran away because she saw him with Mishima.

Even though I knew her running away would be a distinct possibility, I was still hugely relieved to see she didn’t go far; just to a nearby park to think. Heavy on her thoughts is how Yoshida looked when Mishima hugged him, how different it was from how he is with her. It made her jealous, but also reinforces her worry that once a guy as kind as him finds a girlfriend, she’ll be abandoned.

But this episode deals with three fated encounters: Yoshida and Sayu, Yoshida and Mishima…and Sayu and Mishima, who happens to find Sayu in the park looking forlorn (and out of place!) before Yoshida does. She sits with her so she can think without being bothered by a cop, and asks what’s troubling her. She’s not in a fight with her “parents”—i.e. Yoshida—as “they’re unbelievably nice”.

Rather, there’s something Sayu can’t tell “them”, or they might abandon her. Mishima tells her that fear can freeze you in place, but it can also spur forward action. In her book, the latter way is the better one. From what she’s heard, Mishima thinks whoever this is believes in Sayu, so she should believe in them and say This is who I am! This is part of me! Will you stay with me anyway?

Of course, Mishima is speaking from her experiences with Yoshida, who just happens to be the same person Sayu is talking about. Mishima learns this when Yoshida arrives at the park. And from the way he treats Sayu—like a worried-sick guardian would treat his lost kid—it’s clear Sayu and Yoshida have some “family stuff” to discuss. So she takes her leave, but insists that Yoshida explain himself later.

I love how low-key and empathetic Mishima’s reaction is to learning Yoshida is looking after a teenage runaway. She knows she doesn’t have the whole story, and while she very much wants to hear it, it’s not the time or place, so she’ll wait until it is. She doesn’t jump to conclusions or express premature outrage.

When Yoshida and Sayu comes home, Sayu takes Mishima’s advice, stops standing in place, and steps forward … in her black underwear … towards Yoshida. She refuses to dress before they talk. She again mentions how her breasts are big for someone in high school. She presses against Yoshida, and asks again if he wants to have sex her, like all the other men wanted to.

When pressed (literally) by Sayu, Yoshida admits that of course he finds her extremely cute and attractive. Sayu is flattered by his praise, and explains that this is the way she decided on to be able to live without going back home. She knows there are disadvantages to an adult having a teenage girl around, and so thought there must be some kind of advantage way to make up for that.

At first, she hated using her body in that way. But while she was doing it with someone she also felt she could be herself; that she was needed. The advantage she provided to the other men made her feel fulfilled. Maybe in her dream, when she said ‘yeah’ when asked if it felt good, she wasn’t lying. It felt good emotionally for there to be what she saw as a balanced give-and-take; something for something.

But ultimately the disadvantages would win out, and she’d get kicked out. However many times this happened to Sayu, she’s now of the mind that her crushing uneasiness won’t be quelled unless Yoshida sleeps with her. So she asks once more, if it won’t upset him, if he’ll do so. Yoshida gathers Sayu into a solid but thoroughly platonic hug, and make it clear that sleeping with someone he’s not in love with would upset her, so the answer is no.

Once she’s dressed again and they’re seated at the table, Yoshida calmly rejects Sayu’s assertion that she “hasn’t done anything” for him in return to justify keeping her around. Again, he tries to reorient her belief that only sex can pay for the roof under her head and make up for the disadvantages of having her there.

He admits he’s changed since she came. He takes better care of himself. They eat and talk about nothing special. His apartment feels like a real home with her there, and a place he wants to hurry back to after work. Just having her there has made his life more fun and more rewarding. She doesn’t have to do or say anything special to maintain that atmosphere; she just has to be there. That’s it.

Saying this moves Sayu to tears. Yoshida realizes that he wasn’t doing himself or Sayu any favors by thinking he could change her back into a “normal teenage girl”, and that there was nothing more to it than that. Denying her transactional mindset and sexuality only heightened her anxiety about properly paying him back for his kindness.

Acknowledging the role of sex in Sayu’s life up to this point was a crucial step in acknowledging Sayu herself, just as making it clear that sex with her is neither wanted nor required establishes firm boundaries. It sets him apart from all the other men, thank goodness.

Thanks to Mishima, Sayu was able to break their stalemate of unspoken tension, and was able to learn from Yoshida not only why he didn’t want to sleep with her, but why just being there was enough for him. Now that they’ve bared their hearts and cleared the air, they can begin truly living together, like a family. It’s an honest, beautiful, and heartwarming catharsis between two lonely souls who claim to be pathetic, but are actually inspiring!

Higehiro – 02 – Freedom and Choices

A princess raised in castles is going to act like royalty, like Queen Elizabeth. A princess raised by wolves is going to act like a wolf, like San, AKA Princess Mononoke. Behaviors are learned through social interactions and time. Sayu has apparently lived a life where her choices were few and her freedom nonexistent.

Leaving home only gave her a fleeting freedom, and she eventually had to do what conditions at the time demanded her of her to survive. As a result, she still behaves around Yoshida the way she had to behave around other men with whom she treated her body for shelter. He notes that the smiles she flashes often feel forced, strange, and wrong.

It’s doubly frustrating to him that someone so young had been forced into a situation where she didn’t feel safe not smiling when she didn’t feel like it. He calls her out on it with what I’d call “harsh kindness”, assuring her that even if his home isn’t hers, she’s allowed to be there, and doesn’t have to be “weird” or “lie to him” with those smiles.

Sayu understands what Yoshida is on about, and so tells him that she was thinking to herself why he’s so nice. He reiterates that he’s not being overly nice at all; he’s just being decent, the way everyone should be to each other. She says she’ll try her best not to refuse when he offers her things, or smile when she doesn’t mean it.

But she also points out that those smiles and refusals are habits that will be hard to break, since she’s still not quite used to the unprecedented freedom and choices Yoshida has given her. But through her attitude and the housework she does for him, she hopes to make him think he’s glad she came into his life. Despite everything that’s happened to her, Sayu remains a kind and decent person herself.

While last week focused on the establishment of Yoshida’s new normal at home, here we get a look into his work environment, where his crisper shirts, enhanced hygiene, and shorter-than-usual work days have led to rumors he has a girlfriend. But when his immediate underling Mishima’s code has some bugs in it, and she’s forced to work late, he works late with her, and even gets takeout.

Mishima takes their ensuing alone time to learn that Yoshida doens’t have a girlfriend, and was recently rejected by Gotou. Mishima considers herself “lucky” Gotou rejected him, and wouldn’t mind going out for a beer sometime. Like Sayu, she tells him he’s kinder than most by not simply giving up on her, but as with Sayu, he doesn’t think he’s any nicer than everyone should be.

When he gets home, Sayu is wrapped in her blanket like a Yuru Camp character, apparently angry he’s home late after she cooked dinner. But she follows her annoyed tone with genuine giggling, as she was just messing with him. As she reads manga and he has an after-work beer, he realizes that he really should have a way to get a hold of her.

Sayu threw her old phone in the ocean, and while at the mall she refuses to let him buy a new one, so he does so when she’s not around. Hashimoto, the only other person who knows about Sayu, can tell that Yoshida likes Sayu by the care he’s putting into choosing a case for her. Hashimoto gently warns him that it’s fine to be nice, but he should start thinking about how things are going to go, before she settles in too much, or she falls for him, or he falls for her.

Yoshida assures Hashimoto that that won’t happen, but while romance is out of the question, there are already glimmers of familial and paternal love. Hashimoto didn’t go so far as to say “she’s not a lost puppy”, but he’s right that Yoshida needs to come up with some kind of plan beyond keeping her off the streets.

One day at work, Gotou approaches Yoshida and they end up going out for yakiniku and beer, which she confesses she can only go out for with him, since all other men expect her to be a “sweet, proper lady.” That’s now three women who consider him to be uncommonly kind and understanding to them. One wonders why she’s with the man she’s with if she can’t be herself with him!

Gotou commences an anything-goes Q-&-A between them, starting first by asking if he’s dating someone. When he refuses, she lists all the evidence that he is—leaving work on time, cleaning himself up better—and mentions how Mishima seems to have a thing for him. He repeats that there’s nothing there, because in his give years at the office he’s always been in love with her.

When Gotou caught wind of the rumors, she was bothered by the fact he’d immediately been “taken in by another younger girl.” With the rumor staunched, Yoshida loses some points by asking Gotou what cup size she is. I know she said “ask me anything”, but c’mon, man!

When Yoshida comes home, late again, and not eating the dinner Sayu made again, she can tell he’s feeling down and needs a hug, so she hugs him. Like when she put her hand on his earlier, she does it because she wants to, and because she thinks it will make him feel better. And while in the bath he laments being a grown man cheered up by a teenage girl, it shouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of…ask any dad!

When he presents Sayu with a new phone, we learn he chose the white case for her over the black. White, the color of purity and chastity, yes, but also, Sayu just happens to like white! In that same vein, he didn’t buy it for her as a gift or a sign of his affection, but as a practical means of communication when they’re not both home.

Of course, he also doesn’t want her to worry if he is late. He doesn’t want to do or say anything to make her feel bad. He wants her to have every choice and opportunity someone her age should have. In this and in basically everything he’s done for her thus far, he’s acted like a father.

Yoshida acknowledges that Sayu is a woman, but to him, she’s a little kid. Someone to protect unconditionally. Someone who doesn’t have to force herself to smile to make him feel better. Maybe the endgame, then, is to simply adopt her.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 01 (First Impressions) – Inadvertent Guardian

Yoshida had the evening with his attractive co-worker Gotou all planned out in his head. They’d have a nice dinner at a fancy restaurant, and if things went well, he’d ask if she wanted to come home with him. He hadn’t banked on the possibility Gotou was already seeing someone for years, and simply never mentioned it at work because she wanted to keep life and work separate—which is perfectly reasonable.

Thus rejected, Yoshida goes and gets drunk with a friend until that friend has to head back home to his wife. Yoshida blabbers about how Gotou “tricked” him, and stole his heart and won’t give it back, but I’ll forgive his attitude as he’s allowed to wallow in defeat, drunk and horny as he is. The bottom line is Yoshida didn’t want to look past sleeping Gotou, and now he’s a little lost at sea.

He most certainly didn’t plan to encounter a runaway teenage girl (voiced by Ichinose Kana) outside his apartment, nor for this girl to offer to let him sleep with her in exchange for a roof over her head for the night. But even when her other options are seemingly ruled out, Yoshida makes it quite clear that he’s not sleeping with a “little kid”, nor is he prepared to leave her to the tender mercies of the night.

So, in his drunk and staggering state, he invites her in, then collapses into his bed to pass out. The girl, no stranger to crashing at men’s houses in exchange for sex (though she is thankfully not shamed for this), sits on the bed and asks matter-of-factly “Hey, are you sure you don’t want to do me?” He’s sure. When asked if there’s anything else he wants, before passing out he mumbles “miso soup.” The next morning, that’s what he gets: miso soup, made by the girl he flat-out forgot he invited in last night!

When he hears how he rejected her offer of sex, he salutes his last-night self, relieved nothing sordid happened. She also mentions how he mumbled about being rejected by someone named Gotou, and whether he wanted her to make him “feel better”. Once again, he declines, saying he’s not so far-gone he needs “a tiny little teenage girl” to do that.

When she points out that her breasts are quite big and asks “aren’t F-cups you can touch better than H-cups you can’t?” he flat-out asks why she’s trying to seduce him…and if she even wants to sleep with him. She says she doesn’t, but then embraces him and says she’s never met a man willing to let her stay for nothing in return, so maybe he’s the “abnormal” one. That’s when Yoshida, God bless him, asks for her ID, a gesture that again makes clear he’s not interested in her in that way.

He learns her name is Ogiwara Sayu, that she ran away from high school in Hokkaido six months ago. When he tells her to go home already, she says she’s sure they’re happy she’s gone, Ichinose Kana’s voice breaking ever-so-slightly. The more Yoshida thinks about Sayu, the worse he feels about it. He takes it out on her to a degree by calling her “stupid”, “dumb as a rock”, and “a spoiled brat”.

But beneath those harsh barbs, he understands that Sayu is not “fine” as she says in the slightest; that what she’s had to do to survive since leaving home is not right or okay. More than she’s an idiot, she’s a victim: both of a home that she felt she had to leave, and to a world apparently full of men who taught her all the wrong lessons and twisted values and standards. He’s also angry that such a kind and sweet young woman couldn’t have a “normal life” and a “normal love”.

Obviously, Yoshida’s positions are showing both his privilege and paternalism. The former was a result of his own upbringing and life experience; the latter was learned through both, just as Sayu learned a certain way of living the last six months. But I can forgive the motives behind his fundamentally principled choice to stop this child from being harmed anymore by offering her a safe, clean place to stay.

I’m not going to pretend that in the real world this isn’t his choice to make. As a matter of law, he should probably go to the police, right? And yet who’s to say Sayu wouldn’t be harmed anyway if he took that route? Considering what she’s been doing to stay away from her home, it’s clear going back there isn’t what’s best for her. Being placed into an overworked and uncaring social services system also wouldn’t be much better.

The fact there are no easy answers or cut-and-dried solutions add a lot of welcome emotional heft to the whole scenario. Yoshida, whom I mentioned is somewhat lost at sea, has encountered a fellow castaway adrift and rudderless, who has the added disadvantage of being far too young to have to endure the waves. So for now, he decides to lash their ramshackle rafts together and chart the course of least harm.

The more time he spends with Sayu, the more disappointed in his fellow man he becomes. When he heads out to the patio to smoke, she calls him “nice”, but our boy Yoshida is not so deluded to think he’s some saint, and makes it clear to her in perhaps his best line of the episode: “Listen up! I’m not nice. They were shit.” He contemplates the environment that put Sayu in such an unfairly precarious situation, and even implicates himself for “letting her stay spoiled” by giving her a place to run to.

But even as he checks headlines about an unrelated case of a man arrested for kidnapping a teenager, and Sayu walks over him, inadvertently giving him a look up her skirt, Yoshida isn’t about to cut the ropes of her raft free. He found her on those waves, which means he feels responsible for her well-being. That doesn’t just mean a roof under her head, but more appropriate clothes, pajamas, and a futon to sleep on.

Sayu isn’t ready to accept all this without worrying about not being able to repay him in some way. Yoshida is again disheartened by the fact a kid has to think that way, but indulges her by insisting that the cooking and cleaning she’s done constitute more than adequate payment, and that arrangement will serve for the time being.

The next morning over breakfast, Yoshida explains to Sayu that it isn’t the act of shaving that makes him feel old, but becoming too lazy to shave every day. Sayu spares no tact in saying he doesn’t look good with stubble, so he decides to shave after all. The exchange indicates this won’t be a one-way street. Perhaps in helping keep this lonely damaged girl safe, Yoshida can find a new course in life post-Gotou rejection.

Higehiro is fraught with potential problems, as all series involving an adult and a child always are. And yet unlike the horrifically skeevy KoikimoHigehiro presents its situation, questions and arguments in good faith, and from a place of human decency and empathy. It’s a compelling, hopeful tale of an imperfect person trying to do the right thing for someone who has already been wronged far too much. Unlike Koikimo, I don’t feel like I need a shower after what I saw, but rather want to see what happens next!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Horimiya – 10 – Pure White Snow

First of all, I’d like to simply make the observation that for a show called Horimiya, which is short for Hori-san to Miyamura-kun, there sure hasn’t been a lot of the title characters! They show up in the beginning for a brief comedy bit in which Hori is more worried about Miyamura being stolen from her not by girls, but guys like Tanihara and Shindo.

Miyamura’s growing discomfort with Hori’s kink isn’t addressed, and so simply continues to hang there in the background without a satisfying resolution. Hori simply hasn’t been a very likable character lately, and doesn’t help her case with her biphobia this week. Instead, the episode is dominated by Yoshikawa Yuki, who for me was always a character best enjoyed in small portions.

To be frank, Yuki’s crisis isn’t compelling enough to me to carry a whole episode, and starts to grow repetitive as she continues her M.O. of running away from her problems. Unlike her sister, I don’t mind her turning down Yanagi, as she barely knows the guy, and likes Tooru. What I do mind is just about everything else she does and says.

While we don’t hear her say the actual words, it’s later clear Yoshikawa comes clean to Remi about her feelings for Tooru at least to some degree, and in exchange Remi agrees not to correct Kouno’s misunderstanding about Tooru and Yuki dating. Yuki doesn’t like lying or pretending, and wants the lie to be real. She’s just too scared to put herself on the line.

As such, she runs away from the problem, staying home from school for four whole days and stewing in her present state of frustration simply because she fears feeling something far worse if she were to take action: the sting of knowing for sure that Tooru doesn’t like her “that way”, shattering the limbo in which she resided all this time.

Yuki’s sister points out something it’s logical for a big sister to know, but which we already knew from watching Yuki: she never tells anyone what she wants, and almost always regrets it. Yuki is also hung up symbolism surrounding her name, which means “snow”, while “sakura” means the beautiful things that bloom after the snow melts.

Still, when her sister requests she make more of the “snow white” cookies she baked, Yuki at least finds the courage to turn her phone back on. As she suspected, she’s confronted with hard truths, as one of the dozen texts she got is from Tooru telling her that Sakura told him she likes him.

Yuki returns to school but pretends like nothing is wrong, but Tooru wants to talk about it. Yuki assumes he said yes, and that this is the end of their game of pretend, but Tooru surprises her when he says Sakura didn’t ask for a response; she just wanted to get it off her chest. More to the point, Tooru considers Sakura way out of his league, and is certain she’ll find someone better than him.

Yuki ponders the effort Sakura must’ve mustered to bake cookies for Tooru everyday, and the courage she amassed to tell him how she felt. Meanwhile, she just runs, at all times terrified of rejection. Sakura is warm cherry blossoms in the spring while she’s “gross, muddy, freezing” snow, like her name.

Then Yuki exhales, and Tooru notes he can see her breath, and says if it’s going to be this cold it could at least snow, as he was bummed it didn’t snow as much as usual this year. Yuki lists all of the negative aspects of snow and why no one wants it, particularly the part where it ends up melting in the spring.

Tooru surprises her again, saying the snow doesn’t melt because it’s spring, but because it decides to melt…to recede…to run, even when there are some (cough) who want it to stick around. It doesn’t melt because the cherry blossoms ask it to. Hearing all this from Tooru makes Yuki happy, as does when he gently takes her index finger in his hand and leads her back inside where it’s warmer.

For the first time, Yuki hopes it will snow…the pure-white kind. And then it does. Sengoku doesn’t make the symbolic connection, instead asking Remi what’s up with Sakura, as she seems to be acting especially happy. All Remi says is that it’s “the exact opposite” and heads out for tutoring. Sakura arrives in the office, notices Remi didn’t open the window.

She walks over to open it and spots Yuki and Tooru together outside, clearly enjoying each other’s company. Suddenly Sakura has to go, but Sengoku stops her to ask what’s wrong. Going by what Remi agreed to do for Yuki, we can assume Sakura believes Yuki and Tooru are dating, which means she was rejected before she had a chance to ask the guy out.

Sengoku calls this guy a complete idiot and moron who should be expelled—who wouldn’t want to be with her? I’m sure he considers this the right thing to say, and Sakura is grateful for his compliments, but there’s really nothing he can say to stop her from dropping to the ground and sobbing, because her heart was just recently broken. She’ll get over it, but right now it sucks.

That said, if Yuki and Tooru have come to an understanding, they never did come right out and say it. Does Tooru know how Yuki feels about him? Does she know he feels the same way? The next time we see them will they be the way they always are, with neither having explicitly confessed to the other? Can they graduate from pretend dating to the real thing? I hope so, considering all the time we’ve spent on this triangle—and not spent on Hori and Miyamura!

The Day I Became a God – 11 – Goddess in the Machine

Narukami backs off and observes Shiba interacting with Hina. Her daily routine is full of reluctant meals, a minimal physical exertion, and basic learning time. Through it all, Shiba is gentle and patient in all of her interactions, knowing when to stimulate and encourage and knowing the precursors and remedies to Hina’s tantrums.

Youta feels like a big, unruly wrench in Shiba’s delicate clockwork of care. He’s not a pediatrician or behavioral researcher, and it shows; he’s way out of his depth when it comes to the proper way to treat this Hina. He’s also under the mistaken impression that if he simply provides the right stimuli or flips the right behavioral switches, the Hina he knew will suddenly re-appear.

Shiba, who has no choice but to accept his perfectly forged credentials, nevertheless harbors a healthy weariness of Youta’s erratic, ad hoc methods. She knows the jist of what happened to Hina—an “innovative machine” was removed from her brain. She makes the devastating (but very plausible) suggestion that the “Hina he knew” was nothing but that machine processing stimuli and producing the proper responses.

This means he never knew “the Real Hina”—the girl lying in that room now. Rather than worrying about the simulacrum with which he interacted once, she believes everyone who cares about Hina should focus on the memories and progress she makes going forward.

Youta already fears he has no idea what he’s doing, but Shiba’s words send him into a fresh spiral of doubt and despair. Fortunately, he gets some well-timed calls and texts from Kyouko, Ashura, Sora, and the others, not only expressing their love for him and Hina, but their unwavering certitude that the Hina with whom they shared their summer was the real one.

With a fresh infusion of confidence and hope, Youta thinks of ways to stimulate Hina beyond what Shiba is doing, and comes up with the games she loved so much; specifically video games. Shiba is dubious of exposing Hina to the “addictive” games, but grudgingly allows Youta to proceed.

As Youta was hoping, playing the video game does perk Hina up, but he makes another mistake you’d expect of someone simply not trained to care for kids with special needs: he gets all pedantic about how the game is played. It’s also not at all a basic game, which means when Hina’s inputs cause an unpleasant outcome, she gets frustrated and upset.

Shiba comes to the rescue once again, and we delve into her past to see why she is so passionate about not just the practical minutiae of taking care of Hina, but making sure she’s happy. Shiba’s own child died in its infancy due to a similar developmental condition.

She fell into a pit of despair, but was saved by the kids she met at the kind of pediatric facility where she now works. Watching them perservere and grow and knowing how she could affect positive change in their lives, her heart gradually re-filled.

While Shiba is initially presented as an obstacle to Youta’s progress with Hina, in reality Youta wouldn’t have gotten anywhere at all with Hina if he hadn’t simply sat back at a respectful distance, watched, and learned from Shiba’s gentle example.

Youta realizes he’s been trying to make Hina do things, while Shiba stays close and waits for Hina to do them on her own. It’s why when Youta draws little picture cards of their circle of friends and she tosses the one of him away not once but twice, he lets her action stand.

He also realizes if he wants Hina to be happy playing the video game, he has to level up her character so he’ll be able to deal with whatever situation Hina gets him into. This is a long process, and Youta pulls an all-nighter upping the character form Level 4 to 47, but it pays off, and Hina is not only re-engaged, but actually smiling in his presence for the first time!

It’s a huge breakthrough, now that Youta understands the limits of what he can do. But just when he seems close to getting Hina out of her shell, Shiba does some digging and determines that Youta is an impostor filing false reports. She communicates this discovery to him via curt chat messages.

Hina may be making progress with Youta, but the fact Youta came to the facility with an assumed identity and in reality had no right to ever be there in the first place, should prove to be a fatal betrayal of Shiba’s and the facility’s trust. Good intentions or not, what Youta did was bad.

I don’t see how this doesn’t result in another swift separation of Youta and Hina, only this time without the benefit of a goodbye, as Hina’s not quite there yet. Frankly, I don’t see how he avoids criminal charges—and then there’s the matter of how much longer Hina has to live. In short, he’s going to need another miracle or two. The question is, does he have any miracles left?

The Day I Became a God – 10 – The Disappearance of Satou Hina

Hina is gone from Youta’s life, as well as those of Kyouko, Ashura, Sora, and the rest of the gang. After a period of restless but fruitless searching, life has returned to normal—or at least to what it was before Hina appeared—though Kyouko seems to hang out with the boys a lot more often.

Before they know it, their group of three friends swells to four with the addition of transfer student Suzuki Hiroto. Hiroto randomly approaches Youta one day, hacks his number onto his phone, and just like that, they’re hanging out on the regular.

He even has Youta and Ashura to teach him basketball, though he already seems pretty good at it. When the others suggest going out for burgers, Hiroto suggests ramen, so they go to Jinguuji’s. He suggests all four of them play a game, and so they play mahjongg.

Youta still tends to the “Lost Hina” posters around town, even if it seems futile, because each day he hangs out with his friends, there nevertheless feels a sense of emptiness, that Hina should be among them. When Hiroto asks if he can watch Sora’s movie, Youta vetoes, because it’s “not finished. Fall turns to Winter, and then entrance exams in the new year.

It’s clear by now to us that Hiroto is very consciously getting Youta & Co. to go through all of the same experiences they went through with Hina…but Youta’s melancholy is such that he doesn’t pick up on it until Hiroto loses his temper, gives up, and threatens to leave.

That’s when it dawns on Hiroto what he’s doing, and Hiroto reiterates that he’s a genius who do “just about anything”—and that includes letting Youta access to Hina. It’s just that his boss insisted that he not directly tell Youta why he showed up in his life; Youta had to figure it out for himself.

Now that he has, Hiroto offers him the opportunity to see Hina. He warns him that she won’t be the Hina he remembers, but Youta doesn’t hesitate for a moment. Just like that, Hiroto’s drive gives them a ride to the Yamada Sanitarium, where Hina is currently a patient.

Hiroto wielded his hacking magic to ensure Youta had full access, but only for a maximum of two weeks. He strides right in and is met by a matter-of-fact visiting researcher, who takes him to Hina’s room. We discover what’s become of her…and it’s predictably gutting.

Bedridden, lean, wan, and very out of it, it would appear her Logos Syndrome has picked up where it left off before her grandfather cured her with the quantum computer in her brain. When that computer was cruelly removed from her brain, they had to shave her hair, which has only recently grown back.

The researcher also warns Youta not to yell or be provocative, as Hina is acutely fearful of men, hence the all-female staff of the facility. She can’t discern between Youta’s anger for those who did this to her and anger directed at her specifically, and she freaks out. Their visit has to be cut short.

Youta sits outside in the cold, and snow starts to collect on his head. He is lost. The emptiness remains, and it expands and festers from the sheer heartbreaking injustice of it all. Hina didn’t do anything to deserve such treatment. Youta can scarcely believe this is real life. Not having a remote idea what to do, his confidence is flickering away like a dying flame in frigid winds.

Where does he go from here? My suggestion? Maybe slowly, gently try again with Hina…only KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE YELLING!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 13 – In It to Win It

Well well well, if it isn’t my favorite poorly-animated romance of Spring 2018, picking back up like nothing happened. In truth, it looks a little better, if still not very good. At least the light pastel palette is soothing enough. Visual shortcomings aside, I’ve always thought of 3DK as more than the sum of its parts, and stayed invested enough in the first dozen episodes to welcome a dozen more. Also, it’s a slow Winter so far.

So. Reaching another normie milestone, Hikari is voted cultural festival rep by his class. He and Itou have classically peace’d out for such things but this year is different, and he doesn’t have a choice. As for Itou, he’s trying to evolve, which means finally mustering up the guts to confess to the eternally pleasant Ayado, who turns him down simply because she’s not quite over the emotional turmoil of her first crush and rejection.

Hikari is there for Itou, and it doesn’t even take that long for Itou and Ayado to encounter one another and recover from the incident. They value each other too much as friends to throw that away, and so they agree to continue on as they have.

Ayado also offers to assist Itou with his class’ maid cafe, seeing as how she’s a pro at that. The next day Itou cuts his hair—which Ishino really likes—continuing to move forward with purpose.

The stress of Hikari’s job as festival rep is somewhat undercut by Itou’s exploits, but that’s actually okay. It’s Iroha who gets the really short shrift this first week. She and Hikari are cordial enough to start, but when he misreads her reluctance to enter the beauty pageant, she storms off, and by the time he sees her again, she’s already decided she’s going to do the pageant anyway. Hikari may be lucky, but he often lacks the best timing.

Itou worrying about Iroha slipping away from him when the pageant makes her more popular also feels like an older version of Itou; the one who didn’t understand why Iroha actually loves him.

Never mind; he’s been appointed a judge in the pageant, which means he’ll be judging his girlfriend. That shouldn’t prove awkward at all, no siree! So this was a brisk episode full of stuff, enough of it that I wonder where characters like Itou go from here if that is indeed that as far as Ayado is concerned. But I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?

Violet Evergarden – 04

Violet Evergarden delivers yet another bravura character study, this time with a focus on Iris, the young, feisty, but not-yet-distinguished Memoir Doll. She’s so excited to get her first personal request—from her hometown of Kazaly, no less—she overdoes it, and ends up spraining her arm falling down some stairs.

That means the ghostwriter will need someone to ghostwrite for her—a ghostghostwriter, if you will—and newly-certified doll Violet accompanies her for that task. During a conversation on the train, Iris is miffed by Violet’s assessment of her hometown as lacking in valuable resources.

But what she doesn’t get about Violet in that moment is that she doesn’t have a mean or even passive-aggressive bone in her body. Violet actually considers Kazaly’s resource dearth a good thing, because it meant warring factions didn’t destroy it fighting over resources.

When Iris agrees that it’s good no one in her town was hurt, she then apologizes to Violet, who was hurt. Violet doesn’t see the distinction between Iris apologizing for what happened to her, and apologizing for being insensitive with her words.

Upon arriving in Kazaly, Iris is approached not by her client, but by her loving parents; her mother sent the request under a false name in order to lure Iris home. Her parents’ true intention to throw a birthday party, with many single young men invited, in hopes she’ll return home, get married, and settle down. Thus, Violet, on behalf of Iris, will type up invitations.

Among the invitees is Emmon Snow, whom Iris asks Violet not to invite. But the day of the party, Emmon shows up and offers his salutations, which throws Iris into a rage. She runs into the house and away from the party.

Violet is confused by Iris’ “change of condition”, so Iris spells it out: Emmon rejected her already. When Violet immediately relays this information to Iris’ parents, and Iris’ mother tells her they’ll find another, better match for her, Iris is furious at Violet for being completely incapable of understanding peoples’ feelings.

Then Violet issues an apology that’s as thorough and revealing as it is heartbreaking:

I’m sorry. I thought I’d come to understand them a little, but people’s emotions are extremely complicated and delicate. Not everyone puts all of their feelings into words. People can be contrary, or at times, untruthful. I can’t decipher them accurately. It’s proving all too difficult for me. I’m truly sorry.

Iris’ attitude towards Violet softens considerably, once she realizes the difficulties Violet faces and battles without complaint.

And despite Violet having parroted almost everything Iris has said to her, Iris opens up even more, giving her the details of her confession to Emmon and his subsequent, devastating FriendZone-ing. The words that “activate” Violet are “I love you.”

The way Iris used them, she deduces that it must take a great deal of courage to say them to someone, and she wonders if the Major felt the same way. Iris, in turn, learns that the Major Violet speaks of was the first person in her life to show her love. Then Violet suggests she help Iris write a letter to her parents, to tell them how she truly feels.

While last week’s letter from a sister to her troubled brother was so short and sweet it could have been a fluke, this week’s letter is no fluke. Violet strikes a balance of cold, straightforward facts and warm, resonant sentiments.

In the letter, Iris properly expresses her desire to return to the city and continue on the path she set out for herself. She is grateful to her parents for their love, and sorry for causing them to worry, but hopes they’ll give her more time and watch over her.

Iris narrates the letter, which is to say Tomatsu Haruka does, and she absolutely knocks it out of the park. By the time her parents finish reading it, they’re near tears; as am I. On the train ride home, Iris assures Violet it was a fine letter, and that her feelings reached those she loves.

Iris is given a bouquet before leaving: one of irises, which were in full bloom when she was born and which are in full bloom when they depart back to Leiden. When Iris tells Violet how her parents named her, she remembers the Major doing the same thing with her.

Gilbert spotted a solitary yet stalwart violet off in the distance, lit up by the sun, and decides that’s what his new charge will be called. It’s his hope she “won’t be a tool, but a person worthy of that name,” yet another episode-ending title drop that gave me all the feels.

P.S. On a lighter note: with the number of close-ups of feet, particularly Iris’, one could be forgiven for thinking this episode was guest-directed by Quentin Tarantino, well-known as one of Hollywood’s foremost foot enthusiasts.

Masamune-kun no Revenge – 11

I’ll admit I am not the biggest fan of “school play” episodes, but MnR’s wasn’t just an admirably-paced example of the type, but also the most consistently funny and best episode of MnR yet. It’s a joke-laden, increasingly wacky series of unexpected events that build up to a denouement I can look forward to watching.

It all starts with Masamune worried about Class Rep Futaba’s sudden transformation into your typical overbearing director. At the same time, Kojuurou is just about sick of people treating him like a girl (even though he’s voiced by one, the great Hayami Saori), but glad that at least Neko doesn’t, leading to him kinda falling for her.

We also see more of Kanetsugu treating Aki so very nicely, but then revealing to us his true intentions. Obviously, he’s not the Masamune Aki knew as a kid (that’s the thin Masamune), so who is he? A fat kid Aki’s mom mistook for Masamune, assuming he’d never lose weight.

Because Kanetsugu’s once-rich family has fallen on hard times, he’s been tasked with restoring their financial standing to go with the prestige of their name, hence Kanetsugu pretending he’s the boy Aki once knew. It immediately makes his character much better because A.) now we know what exactly his deal is and B.) he’s not perfect, like everyone else in the show.

Everyone…except Neko. Neko is perfect. I guess you could call her health imperfect, but there’s nothing wrong with her personality. Back from her life-threatening illness and surgery, Neko hasn’t skipped a beat, and despite having her heart broken, would still like to be Masamune’s dance partner should he lose to the other play.

She also notices that he’s ill and takes him to the nurse’s office to rest (he spent a chunk of the night outside in his skivvies to prove how hardy he is, then caught a cold). Masamune can’t refuse her offer, should it come to that.

How could he refuse? Fujinomiya Neko is THE BEST, and this warm, caring scene is more proof that she wouldn’t be a consolation girl. KOJUUROU knows what I’m talking about, though his attempt to assert his manliness by speaking in a weird dialect only serves to confuse, not woo, an oblivious Neko. I know it’s a bit late for his development, but I like how Koujuurou is trying to escape his typecasting…even if it’s futile.

Aki’s self-appointed “personal guard” hatches a plan to sabotage Class B’s play, in the silliest way possible: Kikuon kidnaps Masamune, ties him up in a big mattress, and imprisons him in a storeroom.

That’s…pretty lame, not to mention unsporting and even cowardly, which is exactly what Masamune tells Kikuon, who, to her credit, takes his words to heart and immediately starts to have a moral crisis about what she’s doing…until she learns from Masamune’s call to Mari (and his poor attempts to hide it) that their prince, Kanetsugu, has also been taken hostage. Masamune only knows that he’s missing from Mari, but he knows that it was Master Yoshino who nabbed him.

I like how Masamune knows this, and how he’s right that it was Yoshino. They’re operating on the same wavelength, it’s just that she thought to do it pretty much the same time as Mari (who pitches a hissyfit when she thinks she’s bested), while Masamune, who we know is a tourist in these kind of dark dealings, only of kidnapping his counterpart as a tactic once Mari mentioned it had already gone down.

Still, Masamune isn’t all brawn no brains…though Kikuon might be, as he manages to get the slip on her by pretending to leap out at least a third story window.  She leaps out to chase him down, only to fall into a pool below and somehow not break several bones, while he’s hanging onto the window sill. Call it Kikuon’s Wile E. Coyote moment.

But you know what? I’ll allow it, because Kikuon is, if nothing else, devoted to Aki, for without even knowing it, doing something that made Kikuon feel good after a tough loss to someone who cheated: Aki turned the guy down and called him a coward.

Mari and Sonoka doubtless have similar stories that lionized Aki in their eyes…but Aki didn’t ask for their loyalty and devotion; she simply has it, whether it’s in her best interest to have it or not. I say this because she, like Masamune, wanted to perform the plays and determine who would win fair and square. It’s their proxies who complicated matters by playing dirty.

Well, the show will go on for Aki, with or without Kanetsugu (she considers his sudden absence at such a crucial time to be a repeat of abandoning her when they were little kids). I feel bad that Kanetsugu is deceiving her, while loving the irony of Masamune’s extreme physical makeover actually forestalling Aki’s falling for him.

Of course, with Kanetsugu still absent and Kujuurou sick of being treated like a princess, the solution for both Class A and B would seem to be clear: pair up Masamune and Aki. I hope they finally go there (it’s the logical path) and I also hope Aki finds out about Kanetsugu, be it from his being found out or from his own mouth.

Masamune-kun no Revenge – 10

Turns out the mystery fatty isn’t some stunted clone of Masamune, but Gasou Kanetsugu, who is, at least according to an apparently genuine letter, Aki’s betrothed. For now, it appears to be just a coincidence that he looks a lot like our “Pig’s Foot” if he never lost weight (or gained height).

Aki’s household accepts Gasou’s sudden claim, and when the next term starts, he’s a transfer student at the school. Unlike the hunky baseball ace, Aki can’t contain her smitteness for the round lil’ guy, much to the shock and consternation of her fan club, which consists of Sonoka (twin tailed loli) Kikuon (tall and sporty) and Mari (serious/dark glasses).

Even more gobsmacked is Masamune, who just dosn’t understand how this could happen just when he thought the path was clear (in other news, Neko’s surgery went off without a hitch and she’s back at school, though no longer pursuing him).

To his surprise, even his master Yoshino is at a loss regarding Aki’s new squeeze, and feels like she’s let her apprentice down, even though he doesn’t blame her.

There’s a tension that runs throughout this episode, once once accepts the suddenness and coincidence of Kanetsugu’s appearance. On the one hand, I can’t deny I’m on Masamune’s side, even though I know he only wants to win Aki’s heart so he can immediately break it.

Kanetsugu is a huge obstacle to that, but I can’t help but admire Aki not abiding by the typical norms of attraction, confused friends, fans and suitors be damned. Kanetsugu is a good kid, too. When Neko first showed up, I felt like she was hiding a secret, which turned out to be nothing evil.

But Kanetsugu doesn’t give off that vibe. There’s no ulterior motive here, beyond fulfilling his obligation as 17th-gen-whatever. In fact, he holds Aki in such high regard he dare not even entertain the possibility of getting romantic with her, either in the present or the future. He thinks he’s too far beneath her; in reality, she’d be just fine with that!

In any case, though she’s mistaking Kanetsugu for the younger, fatter Masamune, the fact is Aki likes what she sees, and her betrothed seems to have completely usurped thin Masamune from her thoughts. Her fan club, who gets a lot of screen time, also ends up allying themselves with Kanetsugu when he promises he has no intention of touching their goddess.

That alliance is somewhat undermined by Class Rep Futaba, who insists her class put on a performance of Snow White with Masamune and Kojuurou as the prince and princess, respectively. Mari, fan club member, and her class are putting on a Snow White of their own, only with Aki and Kanetsugu.

Masamune helps the two warring classes come to a compromise: both performances will be held, and the school will get to vote for the one they like best. It will also determine which “prince”; which Masamune gets to dance with Aki (though she herself isn’t informed of this wager).

If the pro-BL caucus propels our Masamune to victory in the drama battle, what then? How will he be able to wrest Aki from Kanetsugu’s pudgy clutches?

Masamune-kun no Revenge – 09

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Whether due to her suspicions about him going to Neko’s place, or the fact that Neko being missing takes precedence, Aki completely ignores the fact Masamune said he “chose” her and rejected Neko. The girls (and Kojuurou) pile into the car to go look for Neko, and there isn’t room for him.

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And yet, after nothing comes of searching the immediate vicinity of Neko’s apartment, Masamune and Aki both end up at school. There, Aki tells Masamune she doesn’t want Neko wallowing in despair. She feels bad that he rejected her…which is pretty rich, considering she did the same thing to Masamune years back, which leads him to bring up “pig’s foot” to her.

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That conversation is curtailed by the re-enactment of a scene in the manga Masamune owns which Neko also started reading, in which a girl turns her unrequited love letters into paper airplanes. Only when they finds her on the roof, it isn’t long before she collapses from exhaustion. Clearly Neko is frailer than Masamune ever imagined.

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While recovering in hospital, Neko asks to speak to Aki alone. After that, she has Masamune brought in to talk to him alone, and reveals her plan to him to fall in love before undergoing a risky operation that could improve her condition (or not).

She says he was chosen at random to be her suitor, but a later flashback indicates the two did meet little kids, and were thought by his family to be a good match. Alas, Masamune only ever had feelings for Aki. She thanks him for giving her “lovely memories,” then excuses him.

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Neko’s talk with Masamune about not walking the “same path” as her through an uncertain fog, and he redoubles his efforts to block out “unnecessary thoughts” and recommit himself to his goal: to make Aki fall for him and then “throw her away in the best way possible.” He’s not thinking about what happens after.

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We thankfully also get Neko’s frank talk with Aki. Neko was soundly rejected, so now she sees no good reason why Aki should keep acting tough and denying the love Masamune has for her.

Neko is conceding defeat, and Aki can’t dance around the fact that she feels something…but interestingly, she thinks back to the fat Masamune of her childhood as her ideal of love. After all, Masamune has only showed us his version of their relationship. It’s not a great leap to assume she teased him because she liked him…he was just to thick to realize that.

As for what happens in the end, with a fat little guy who looks like Masamune showing up in Aki’s garden…I don’t know what to think. Did she fall asleep beside the fountain and is simply dreaming? Or is she mistaking this random kid for the real Masamune?

It was a very bizarre and confusing—if mildly intriguing—way to end another solid, earnest, emotional episode.

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