Wonder Egg Priority – 03 – Soft-Boiled

The bright colors and dark themes continue to intermesh as the third girl of the series is introduced. Kawai Rika’s ash-blonde hair is set off by a hot pink highlight and a magenta-and-purple jacket. Like Ai, she has a statue of someone she’s trying to save, though she makes a point to tell her she’s fat and ugly and her palm sweaty. When Ai meets her at the egg gachapon, Rika is on the ground, holding her ribs, but soon recovers miraculously.

After commenting on Ai’s heterochromia, and promptly asks for some spare change. Aka and Ura-Aka, always seated around a game of go, aren’t concerned with the injuries the girls endure; it’s part of the job. Ai’s excitement to meet a new egg heroine quickly shifts to bemusement, as her interaction with Rika feels like a “one-girl handshake event”, as Ai puts it to Neiru, with whom she’s now texting on the regular.

Between barging in on Ai’s visit with Neiru, always making sure people know her name is Kawai because she’s so darn cute, calling the doctor hot, labeling Neiru a tsundere, and most distressingly eating up all the kiwi, Rika creates the impression of a superficial, shameless, self-involved brat. Nevertheless, she keeps following Ai around, inviting herself over to her house (causing Ai’s counselor Sawaki—whom Rika also calls hot—to leave) and unilaterally deciding to sleep over.

When Ai tells her about why she’s currently a shut-in, Rika immediately jumps to the conclusion Ai is seeking attention from the hot Sawaki. Then Ai tells her about Koito, then asks about the person Rika is trying to save. Rika makes clear the “ugly fatty” Chiemi isn’t her friend, but her fan, and also refers to her as a patron and a wallet. Ai is more or less appalled.

As Rika bathes we see scars on her arm from cutting, which she’s promised to stop. It was clear she was using a veneer of carefree bravado to hide deeper issues, but the scars confirm it without anyone saying a word. She says everyone’s the same in that when you “scratch the surface” they’re all “slimy”—something you could also say of an egg. Neiru texts Ai to be careful with Rika, warning that “junior idol could mean bedroom stuff.” That Ai earnestly asks “like pillow fights?” really says it all about Ai’s sheltered existence.

Ai dreams of a memory of her walking in on Koito crying while in Sawaki’s arms, adding a fresh dimension to their past together. One could interpret such a scene in any number of ways both innocent and otherwise, but Ai quickly apologizes and shuts the classroom door, believing she’d seen something she shouldn’t have. She’s also pondered ever since whether Sawaki was a factor Koito’s suicide. She wakes up in her cocoon bed, over 50% of which is being taken up by the smaller Rika.

Ai then awakes in Rika’s dream. Due to their proximity in bed they “synchonized”, as Ura-Aka tells them, and it’s Rika’s dream because she’s apparently the one with the stronger feelings. They crack their eggs at once, revealing two fans of the singer “Yu-Yu”. They were so fanatical, in fact, that when Yu-Yu committed suicide, they did the same. When Ai says “just like that?” Rika corrects her: their choice was neither easy nor casual. She knows, because she had a fan.

When the usual horde of Seeno Evils (which Rika calls “bystanders”) starts to swarm, Rika and Ai get to work smiting them with their weapons; Rika’s two swords resembling giant versions of the box cutter she used to cut herself. It’s determined the field of flowers is too wide open, so the four girls head to a lighthouse within the nearby woods. It’s there, while they have a couple minutes to catch their breath, that Ai asks Rika to tell her about Chiemi.

After hand-waving the scars Ai spots as “just a youthful whatever”, Rika starts out by explaining the formal and emotional context of a junior-idol handshake event. When you’re only mildly popular like her group was, the lines were shorter, which meant the same fans would line up over and over. Chiemi did this with Rika, who shook her sweaty hand many hundreds of times.

Eventually, Chiemi would give Rika money. Rika accepted it, and began to expect and even rely on it. Like the two Yu-Yu fans who had “sugar daddies”, Rika saw Chiemi as a rich patron. She later learned Chiemi was shoplifting and fencing stuff to make money to give her. When Chiemi started to think of them as friends, Rika ended their relationship, ripping Chiemi off like a Band-Aid and telling her she was too fat and ugly to be anything more than a fan and a wallet.

She never saw Chiemi again until her funeral, and was forever haunted by what she saw that day. In a gutting inversion of the geography of the handshake event, Rika and Chiemi have switched places. Peering into the open casket, Rika saw nothing but skin and bones, like a mummy. Knowing she’ll never be able to forget her if she tried, Rika took Chiemi’s hand one more time. Since then, she’s vowed to kill as many Seenos and Wonder Killers as it takes if it will bring her back.

The Seenos break through, leading to a frenetic chase up the spiraling lighthouse stairs. Ai stumbles, still processing Rika’s heartbreaking tale, but also acknowledging that while she receded into the Seenos at a crucial time due to fear, a part of her also resented Koito for never talking to her like friends should; the kind of talking she just experienced with Rika, which helped her understand better where she’s coming from and why she is the way she is.

She also looks on the Yu-Yu fangirls with a measure of envy. They were able to die with their idol. If Koito had asked her to die with her, she thinks she would have. But what’s done is done, and what was left unsaid remains so. Ai gets back on her feet and powers up her rainbow mace, striking a very cool heroine pose at the top of the steps and assuring Rika she’ll kill ’em all with her. Rika’s quizzical reaction is priceless.

From there, we meet the fangirls’ Wonder Killer, an older woman who stalked Yu-Yu and pushed her into suicide. Ai and Rika spring into action like the pair of valiant heroines they are. Rika frees the fans by slicing off the Killer’s arm, while Ai delivers a crushing blow to the face with her mace.

What follows is why it’s particularly hazardous to engage in boss fights before you’re aware of their special moves. The Killer unleashes a cloud of dark smoke that everyone is able to dodge except Rika, who is immediately paralyzed and soon turns to stone. Before her face petrifies, she wishes Ai good luck. It’s all up to Ai now: she must protect the petrified Rika and the helpless Yu-Yu fans while defeating the biggest toughest Wonder Killer yet.

Perhaps Ai and/or Rika haven’t considered that Aka and Ura-Aka are just using them. Or they’re fighting even while part of them is well aware they may end up getting cheated. But in either case they have no other choice. Now Ai’s mettle will be tested like never before. Hopefully she can get the job done and wake up beside Rika, with neither of them too seriously injured.

Fruits Basket – 47 – Nothing Like a Prince

Yuki continues to open up to Manabe, expounding on the evolution of his relationship to Tooru. First she was a wierd classmate who lived in a tent, then he saw he could use her to rebel against the Souma clan. At some point, he started to realize strong maternal vibes coming off of her as a result of her showering him with unconditional love and kindness.

It started when she told him to become friends with her again even if her memories were taken by Hatori. And Yuki panicked when he felt this way, and immediately tried to deny and suppress those feelings, even trying to interact with her more “like a man does a woman,” creating a love triangle with Kyou even though the two men weren’t seeking the same thing.

It’s the first time Yuki’s able to talk at all about this being about more than competing or not being able to “beat” Kyou for Tooru’s heart, but rather feeling something other than romantic attraction and being okay with her and Kyou as a couple; after all, he’s observed the two together and is pretty confident they love each other.

The one thing Yuki doesn’t want is to waste the kindness and warmth Tooru gave so freely. He wants to use it to move forward and discover his own “special purpose in life.” He’s buoyed by being able to discuss it so candidly with Kakeru—who he notes is also a kind (in his way) person to listen without judgment. However, Yuki wisely doesn’t discuss any of this with Todou Miki!

Yuki sees a day coming that he’ll be able to tell Tooru how he truly feels and about the purpose he’s found thanks to her love and support. Until then, he’ll keep watching over her, as he does right after casually confronting Kyou about the hat, which causes Kyou to withdraw into his room.

Before Yuki came home, Tooru and Kyou were having a flirt-fight in the entryway over his confiscating of her Cinderella script after she let Shigure know about it. Kyou still hasn’t committed to even participating in the play, and he certainly doesn’t want Shisho to know about it.

There’s also the matter of Tooru simply not being able to act like anything resembling an evil stepsister, as expected. She promises to work hard and even go without food in order to master the role, but it seems hopeless. With Ayame and Mine sure to provide some unique takes on Cinderella costumes and both Kyou and Saki also seeming miscast, the scriptwriter decides to scrap what she has and write a script that better fits the actors.

I’m all for that, and it’s great to see Ayame trying to support his brother in any way he can, once again making up for all the neglect Yuki suffered in the past, including from a then-indifferent big bro. It’s also fun watching Yuki’s classmates react to finally meeting his very different brother—while I’m sure Mine probably felt like she just struck gold upon meeting Saki and Arisa!

When Yuki goes off to look for Kyou for Tooru, he finds him sulking on the staircase. Kyou is going over what he said to Yuki when his hat was offered back to him. Remember: Kyou still considers Yuki not only a rival for Tooru’s heart, but the underdog, even if the truth is he’s running more or less unopposed.

As such, Kyou interprets Yuki bringing up the hat and the fact he gave it to Tooru to be another instance of looking down on him. When Yuki dares bring up Tooru (specifically why Kyou is making her worry by ditching rehearsal), all of Kyou’s insecurities come pouring out.

He lists all the ways he sees Yuki as better—having a living mom and dad, being needed and praised by others, surpassing him easily as he desperately struggles, etc. Had they ever deigned to open up to one another, Kyou would know all those things Yuki has “over” him are more curses than blessings. What I’d give for Kyou to watch last week’s episode and the first half of this one!

Instead, Kyou sees Yuki’s expression—one not of anger but of sadness, almost on the brink of tears—and sees it as yet another instance of looking down on him. So he punches a window and storms off. This results in another welcome interaction betweeen Yuki and Machi, as Machi contradicts her classmate saying he’s the least prince-like person she knows—again, because she knows Yuki’s pain.

Kyou finds Tooru sitting in the classroom after everyone else left, and his thoughts stray towards what she was thinking about before he arrived, when she was alone. When she excitedly presents Kyou with the revised script, I was fully prepared for him to dismiss it out of hand, or even slap it out of hers, like the old Kyou; like the Kyou who might’ve resurfaced after his rant to Yuki.

Instead, he draws ever so close to Tooru, and then agrees to do the play, warning her not to laugh at him! The two share blushing looks before heading home together. The now-explicit contrast between Yuki’s and Kyou’s feelings for Tooru paves the way for potential happiness for all three of them in the future. I’m also not discounting the potential for a relationship between Yuki and Machi—stranger things have and will happen!

Cardcaptor Sakura – 43 – Meiling Out

While in the middle of another disastrous attempt to bake an edible cake for Syaoran (has she never heard of a timer?) Meiling gets a call from her mother: she’s to return to Hong Kong in a week. When Mizuki-sensei announces she’ll be transferring out the class is shocked, but it’s Syaoran’s tepid reaction that hurts her the most.

Say what you will about Meiling’s possessiveness and clinginess since arriving; Syaoran has almost always been a cold jerk to her, making her feel like she’s only in the way. They seem poised to part ways on not so great terms when Cardcaptor Sakura decides to try her hand at fence-mending, inviting Meiling to sleep over at her house for the first time.

After a delicious meal courtesy of Sakura’s dad, Sakura and Meiling get to have a nice chat over tea and later while curled up in their beds. Sakura tries to reassure Meiling that Syaoran does indeed care for her. During the sleepover, a Clow Card in the form of twins starts to cause mischief in town by doubling things, starting with a mailbox.

While Sakura admits it was love at first sight vis-a-vis Yukito, Meiling reveals her falling for Syaoran wasn’t immediate, due to how stoic and indifferent he acted around her while they trained together. It wasn’t until he saw her crying over losing her pet bird that he comforted her, went out in the rain, and retrieved the bird. It’s a sweet story unfortunately interrupted by Sakura sensing the TWIN card, and suiting up in a cool new battle costume as Tomoyo meets her at her house.

It’s at Syaoran’s suddenly twinned house (complete with twin Weis) that Sakura attempts to subdue and seal the twins, but when she only manages to immobilize one of the two, she’s not able to seal the card. She and Syaoran decide to try launching twin lightning attacks, but the fact they have to signal each other causes a lag that allows the card to escape.

Even though Meiling was ready to stay behind lest she “get in the way”, Sakura took her hand and had her join the party, because, as she says, there are things only Meiling can do sometimes. In this case, that’s stay in perfect rhythm with Syaoran as the two deliver a twin beatdown to the twins, restraining them long enough for Sakura to seal the card. It flies into Syaoran’s hand, but it’s just as much Meiling’s card.

With that, Syaoran and Meiling make up, and at the airport before departing, she asks him if he remembers their promise. Soon after he found her bird Meiling confesses to Syaoran, and badgers him into agreeing to make her his fiancee…until he finds someone he likes more. Whether she’s noticed Syaoran’s attitude towards Sakura softening/warming, and that’s the reason she’s not fighting her summons home, who can say. All I know is, I’ll miss the adorable, clingy, goodhearted little brat!

Fruits Basket – 03 – The Different Shapes of Kindness

Yuki, Tooru and Kyou’s class decides to do an onigiri stand, and we see again the dynamic between Prince Yuki fangirls and Tooru’s delinquent friends, as well as the fact the class has warmed to Kyou despite—or possibly partly due to—his hot temperament. Oh, and because cute cats flock to him!

Still, when they criticize his idea and accept Yuki’s, he storms off to skulk on the roof. Kyou opens up about his long-held resentment of his “golden boy” cousin, who was always respected and trusted more than him, and excelled at everything he did better and faster than Kyou. He admits if he could be like Yuki, he would be.

That sentiment proves vital to Tooru as she attempts to figure out why these two hate each other so much. She gathers more intelligence when Kyou becomes the life of the party when the class plays cards, while Yuki is off rejecting the umpteenth girl to ask him out. She tells him he’s nice, but closed off to people, and that everyone says a “normal girl” isn’t worthy of him.

It doesn’t sound like a compliment to him, and it puts him in a sour mood when he ends up in Kyou’s presence. The two go at it verbally until Yuki loses his cool and kicks Kyou across the room. All Tooru knows is that this is about more than the fact they’re rat and cat; and probably quite a bit about Kyou waning badly to become the thirteenth member of the Zodiac.

In what feels like a non sequitur of a mini-scene, Tooru falls down the steps at work after her shift is over and encounters a strange blonde who speaks German to her and kisses her before Tooru runs outside. Obviously, we’ll see more of this person in the near future, but all I could do for now was chuckle at Tooru’s extremely flusteredness around someone seemingly not from Japan.

When Yuki arrives to walk her home, Tooru tells him he and Kyou are both so kind, and Yuki flashes a sad smile and turns to walk. Tooru stops him to say he can tell her anything that’s troubling him and she’ll listen and try to help. She’s so passionate about this point she doesn’t notice the drunk salaryman who shoves her into Yuki, transforming him into a rat.

While walking with Rat-Yuki, he tells her his deal with Kyou, which is basically that once the ice is broken it’s easy for him to fit into a group of people, who flock to him just like cats do once they learn the rough edges are only skin deep. Thus Tooru learns that Kyou and Yuki resent each other because they’re both jealous of the ways they’re not like the other. Tooru tells him how kind he is and how that draws people to him too, but Yuki dismisses his kindness as merely self-serving; phony.

When a typhoon suddenly hits, Tooru assists Yuki in protecting his secret base—a vegetable garden—from the harsh weather. Tooru tells him what his mom told her to be, which is a believer and not a doubter in people. When everyone is born they have nothing but desires, but gradually develop their own unique “shape” of kindness; their hearts growing with their bodies and minds. To her, Yuki’s kindness is like a warm, bright candle.

Yuki apologizes for bringing this stuff up, but she assures him she’s glad he did, because it means he trusts her enough to share his problems, and that they’re becoming closer as friends. Yuki promises to try harder to interact naturally with people at school, even if it’s intimidating, because that’s what he wants.

After a night protecting the vegetables, Tooru decides to use some as she spends the rest of the morning experimenting with onigiri in the kitchen. Kyou wakes up before Yuki, but since he’s cat-based he hates the chive filling, and would prefer something meatier. He makes some of his own, showing Tooru that he’s actually a natural at forming onigiri, though he doesn’t think it’s so great.

Tooru disagrees. In fact, she decides to create another metaphor to describe both Kyou and Yuki’s issue, which is not so rare: if a person is a rice ball and the plum is what’s great about them, they have “plums on their backs,” meaning they can’t see them. But people are drawn to both of them, just as all people are drawn to their friends, because they can see those plums. Hence, both he and Yuki are great.

With that, Yuki arrives on cue and force-feeds Kyou a chive onigiri to show him that one politely eats something someone has made for you, even if you don’t like it. Then a knock comes at the door, and Tooru finds a shy young woman outside, asking about Kyou. Could this be an admirer of his, or another member of the Souma clan? Whoever she is, it seems pretty clear she can see his plum!

Tooru could come of to some as overly preachy and poetic this week, but she’s so goshdarn cute and sincere it’s hard to fault her. She had such a good Mama, and duitifully honors her memory by being the best possible person she can be, while sharing the lessons she learned from  her.

For all the loss, grief, and pain she endured, Tooru remains a staunch believer in people, as well as in her ability to help those people. If Kyou and Yuki can’t find each other’s good aspects or make any kind of peace with each other on their own, then she’ll lend them a hand.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 12 – Trying Your Best ‘Till You Disappear

Sakuta tells Mai and Nodoka the story of Kaede he’s never told anyone, but now that Kaede is making friends and thinking about going back to school, he can’t hold it off. It’s also the story of himself and the rest of his family. When Kaede suddenly enters a dissociative state as a result of online abuse, she loses her memories and becomes the “Kaede” we know.

Other than her outward appearance, everything about her is different, to the point she could have switched personalities with someone the way Mai and Nodoka did. She walks different, talks different, eats different. Kaede’s Mon can’t deal, and due in part to being a big brother who is utterly powerless to stop whatever Kaede’s going through, the slash marks on his chest appear one night.

The doctors believe they’re self-inflicted, as “Adolescence Syndrome” isn’t a theory they’d subscribe to. But Sakuta gets sick of the hospital and sneaks out, finds himself on the beach, and meets his “first crush”, Shouko. Shouko tells him “life is here for us to be kinder”, and she strives every day to become a little kinder than she was the day before.

Sakuta adopts that credo; one could say it’s all thanks to Shouko that he’s able to do any of the stuff he does to help his friends later on. But here, before he meets Nodoka or Tomoe or Mai, we see that the first person he helped was Kaede. He helped her simply by acknowledging that she was Kaede. She didn’t have to be the old Kaede. He was the first and only one to accept her, not as an anomaly, but a person.

Back in the present, where Kaede is on the cusp of “leaving the nest”, Sakuta gives her a book the old Kaede apparently lent to her friend. In it is a note expressing that friend’s wish to be friends with “Kae-chan” again. Tears well up, and Kaede suddenly faints.

She wakes up in the hospital, none the worse for wear, but the doctors believe that her dissociative state may be wearing off. The note was apparently the trigger. The Kaede we’ve known all this time is still there, but she overhears Sakuta reporting to Mai that he doesn’t know how long she has.

Kaede accelerates her plans to go to school, even risking her well-being to do so (the dark red bruises appear when she gets overly stressed, and rushing things when it comes to going back to school is definitely stressful. Sakuta, hoping there’s something he can do for her as her big brother, promises he’ll show her the school.

But first they go to the zoo and watch the pandas, tigers, giraffes, elephants, meerkats, and all the other animals, all just “doing their best to live their lives”. Like Pandas with their not-very-nutritious bamboo diet, Kaede—specifically this Kaede—has it rough. But all she can do is keep doing her best.

That night, before heading home, Sakuta delivers on his promise to take her to school: an empty school at night. It proves just the thing. Having seen the place in the flesh for the first time, Kaede is more optimistic and motivated than ever to go to school during the day. Not because she might be out of time in her current state, but because it’s the next natural step.

Her opportunity to go to put that optimism and motivation to the test never comes. The Kaede who wakes up is the old, pre-breakdown Kaede. You can tell, too: Kubo Yurika totally switches up her voice. She remembers Sakuta, but doesn’t remember going to the zoo, and doesn’t speak in the third person. “Kaede” is gone.

Will it be for good…and isn’t that okay? It’s not like Kaede died, after all. Sakuta may feel like he lost someone precious—and in a way, he did—but that person was never going to be around permanently. We’ll also have to see how the “original” Kaede reacts to everything in her life, from her parents, friends, even her room layout, being different from how she remembers. Will Sakuta seek to bring back a part of “Kaede” to help bridge the other Kaede’s gap of experience?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 11 – #KaedeGoals

That little cliffhanger about Mai (actually Nodoka in Mai’s body) being seen with Sakuta by a photographer? No biggie; the director of her upcoming film decides to spin it into a marketing opportunity, while Mai admits to the relationship and is candid not only in how it occurred (a kohai confessed in front of the entire school) but why it matters (were it not for him she wouldn’t be back in show business).

Now Mai and Sakuta get to hang out without any problems, and the two are on cloud nine. Then Sakuta gets a letter from “Shouko” whom he later confirms is not the middle schooler of the same name who hasn’t come by the house in a while, but rather his “first crush.”

When he confides in Futaba seeking advice, Futaba texts everything he tells her to Mai, making her status as a confidant now somewhat suspect! It’s all good, once more: Mai is fine with him meeting Shouko, as long as he’s back by six so she can make him dinner. He doesn’t get a kiss, though.

The main dilemma this week isn’t Sakuta and Mai’s relationship or the return of “Shouko”, but Sakuta’s little sister Kaede, who’d kinda served as the show’s mascot up to this point. Still, as a victim of such intense bullying she and Sakuta had to move and she stopped going outside, it was clear the show was going to promote her to the lead in an arc at some point.

Sakuta is about to go to the beach to meet with Shouko, but he’s delayed by the sudden appearance of one of Kaede’s classmates, who saw Sakuta in a magazine tracked him down. She wants to meet with Kaede to apologize for not doing more to stop the bullying, now that the ones who bullied her were themselves bullied out of the school. Back home, the numerous visits from the other girls Sakuta has helped has convinced Kaede that she can’t remain stagnant, and begins compiling a list of goals to become more independent.

Her first small step is to answer the phone when someone other than Sakuta is on the line (in this case, Mai), but the stress of doing that for the first time in a long time causes her to nearly faint. Even more distressing, when Kaede is resting to recover from a fever, Sakuta notices a dark red blotch on her neck; no doubt another symptom of adolescence syndrome, much like his own chest slash marks.

However, Kaede recovers, the blotch disappears, and she keeps taking smal steps, aided in no small part by an extremely kind and understanding Mai, who offers a number of cute outfits she wore in magazine shoots for Kaede to wear when she goes outside.

The day finally arrives, and Sakuta comes home to a fully resolved sister. Still, it takes Sakuta lying about how far outside of the entryway they’ve strayed to get Kaede to follow through; call it one last little nudge to get her where she herself wants to be. It’s a truly triumphant, emotional moment that’s a long time coming; even Sakuta can’t help but tear up.

Kaede was scared of the outside, where the love of their home, like a security blanket, wasn’t out there to protect her. She still is. But she’s far more scared of staying inside, so even though her brother tricked her, she’s grateful.

From there, Kaede takes larger and larger steps until she’s able to roam around outside without clinging to Sakuta. He decides to surprise her by taking a trip to the beach, along with Mai and Nodoka. They have a grand old time, and Kaede is having fun…until her friend arrives, and she retreats behind Sakuta once more.

This friend doesn’t understand why Kaede doesn’t remember her, but Sakuta has an explanation, and it’s something he’s been waiting for the right moment to tell Mai too: Kaede has no memories. I suspect that is to say, no memories from after whatever psychological break she suffered as a result of her bullying.

Obviously, that’s still objectively not good, and looking back at Kaede’s behavior, it has seemed like a part of her was missing beyond the part that could go outside and interact with people. The stagnancy she fears isn’t just about remaining shut in, but about that yawning gap in her memory.

The two main questions are 1.) will and how will Sakuta & Co. help Kaede get those memories back, and 2.) where do “Shouko” and Makinohara Shouko” fit into this equation, if at all?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 10 – Damn You, You’re Too Awesome!!

Nodoka prepares for the second day of commercial filming by watching DVDs of her sister in action, including a horror movie, which seems apt; body-swapping carries its own kind of horror, and she’s essentially wearing her big sister’s skin!

The prospect of screwing up similarly fills Nodoka with dread, but after twelve takes she does eventually get the job done.  When Mai calls her, she gives the phone to Sakuta, still not ready to talk to the person she’s made out to be her nemesis. But Mai tells Sakuta to congratulate her nonetheless; it can’t be easy to do your big sister’s job…especially if you come into it not believing you can do it from the start.

As for little sisters, Kaede has seen enough pretty girls pass through the doors of their apartment to start thinking like someone who knows that at some point they have to start going outside again. Putting on her school uniform is a small but meaningful first step on that path, and it’s good to see she’s not just some static mascot of a character. Like Futaba, her own story has been subtly maintained.

Nodoka’s personal horror movie inludes a banshee of a mother who confronts “Mai” to cease harboring her daughter; Nodoka-as-Mai truthfully replies that she’s doing no such thing (since she’s at Sakuta’s…but she wisely leaves him out of the equation).

Mai gives Sakuta and Nodoka tickets to her latest gig in Nodoka’s body, but before that Sakuta has a rare meeting with his Dad. When Kaede became a shut-in, their mother apparently had some kind of breakdown of her own (it’s kept pretty vague). It was serious enough for their father to have to basically choose between continuing to live with his kids, or taking care of their mother full-time and trusting that Sakuta will be able to take care of himself and Kaede.

While at a family restaurant (fitting), Sakuta gleans fresh insight into his Dad; specifically how completely frazzled clueless he was upon his son’s birth. Sakuta says “all of the above” in response to Nodoka’s choices of “love, hate, piss you off, are annoying” as how he feels about his parents. Clearly a part of him has concluded that if he’s able to run a household with his little sister and solve cases involving one girl after another, he can’t really rag on his folks that much.

As for the Sweet Bullet gig, Mai-as-Nodoka is flawlesss, a testament to her consummate professionalism, attention to detail. Hell, she even saves the group leader’s ass when she trips by catching her mic and continuing to sing her part without missing a beat. Her performance is rewarded by the announcement she’ll be singling lead for the next song they release.

Nodoka and Sakuta watch, utterly enthralled. After the concert, Nodoka’s mom is among those who “high-fives” Mai-as-Nodoka, and she smiles, tears up, and congratulates her, things she never did to Nodoka-as-Nodoka. Nodoka demands to go to the beach, and starts striding into the sea, believing she isn’t needed by anyone anymore.

Sakuta stops her, and assures her that’s not the case: if anything happened to her, Mai would be sad, and Sakuta can’t have that. Nodoka doubts him, but he assures her it’s true, and furthermore knows it’s true, especially after looking into the forbidden cabinet at Mai’s place.

He shows Nodoka the box in that cabinet, which contains every single letter Nodoka wrote to her big sis, from before they knew they were sisters. Mai’s always treasured them because they gave her courage and strength knowing someone specific (as opposed to the other faceless masses) was cheering her on.

It was thanks to Nodoka that Mai even started enjoying her work. Mai appears (it is her apartment they’re in) to thank her sister. Nodoka comes back with a tirade about how it’s “too late” since Mai managed to get her mother to smile and approve, and get her own lead singing gig before her.

In response Mai slaps not Nodoka, but Sakuta (since Mai has a shoot tomorrow  and she doesn’t want to risk marring her face). She describes how Nodoka’s Mom’s hands were trembling when she held hers; how she could tell her mom was uneasy about whether her daughter was truly happy; seeing her perform so well all but confirmed she was.

Nodoka asks why her Mom never said anything, but unlike, say, Sakuta’s Dad at the restaurant, parents are always loath to tell their kids how uneasy they feel about raising them, and about whether they’re doing it right. Mai’s solution for Nodoka, as the sisters embrace, is to make her mother happy doing something she wants to do, not just what she’s told. To show that she can stand on her own, without direction, and shine. Seto Asami does a tremendous job voicing Nodoka through Mai in the emotionally cathartic scene.

The sisters now sufficiently made up, their bodies switch back to normal like the snapping of a soap bubble, before Sakuta’s eyes. Later, Futaba posits that Nodoka’s believed need to “be like her big sister” resulted in the swap (possibly through a variant of quantum teleportation), while Mai changed her appearance to Nodoka, out of momentary jealousy.

As for Sakuta, he’s just happy he can be lovey-dovey with the real Mai. But two new obstacles threaten that desire. One, Nodoka moves in with Mai (she got in another fight with her Mom, but hey—that’s what family does sometimes; it’s not the end of their relationship, she just wanted a change—and the little matter of Nodoka-as-Mai being photographed with Sakuta by her side by a photographer. Now there’s buzz out there that Mai Has A Boyfriendsomething Mai calls a “slight problem.”

But I agree with her assessment; it’s not as huge an emergency as a bout of Adolescence Syndrome (the next case of which looks to finally focus on Kaede next week), nor a rift between sisters that was just amicably closed. She and Sakuta are a strong, dependable, shrewd couple. They’ll get through it!

ReLIFE – 10

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Both gifted and cursed by immense natural athletic talent that made her peers resent her and take her for granted, Honoka turned down all the powerhouses and sought refuge at Aoba High, a prep school not too serious about sports, where no one knew who she was.

But when she tried out for the team, someone knew who she was, and was angry she didn’t give it her all. She makes Honoka spike a ball at her as hard as she can, knocking her down, but she gets up laughing, her suspicions confirmed. Her name is Kariu Rena, and she wants to play volleyball with Honoka.

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For three years they played and had fun, but one thing that goes unmentioned is that the rift caused by her ankle injury wasn’t helped by the fact she never really caught up to Honoka’s level, and trying to stand beside her on a still-tender ankle felt impossible.

So Kariu said some very mean things and retired from the team, two actions she felt she could not undo, no matter how much she wanted to. She didn’t realize just how genuinely worried her friends were, and how they’d let her undo whatever she said or did if she’d just…play and be friends with Honoka again. It’s what everyone wants.

Hishiro’s role in the talk with Honoka is masterful, chronicling all the times she transferred and introduced herself with less and less enthusiasm, “giving up on knowing people” as her heart gradually numbed. The bond between Kariu and Honoka makes her jealous. She won’t let it crumble needlessly.

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Kariu is caught listening in on Honoka, and maintains her stubborn iron guard. Oga remains to assure Honoka she didn’t mean the things she said (again), and Honoka is in agreement. Kaizaki, basically acting as Hishiro’s backup thus far, surveys his friends and Honokas; they’re all of the same mind. They give Kariu time and space, trusting her to show up for the tournament.

When she doesn’t, Hishiro is pissed, and vows to drag Kariu there if she has to. Yoake helplfully provides Kaizaki with Kariu’s address. An points out to Yoake that he’s getting more involved these days, because he likes how things are changing. So does she. Kaizaki & Friends exploits are changing them too.

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Hishiro almost makes the rookie mistake of stating her name after ringing Kariu’s bell. Kaizaki shushes her and pretends to be a delivery man, Kariu answers the door, and they barge in. She’s in her tracksuit, with her uniform on underneath. It would appear their trust in her was not misplaced, only their confidence in her ability take the step of going to the tournament on her own. She’s still stuck at home.

Kariu calls Hishiro dense, that she can’t possibly understand how she feels, but Hishiro doesn’t care. Kariu’s her friend; she’s allowed to be worried about her. She’s come to fulfill her own selfish desire: to make Kariu play with Honoka again. She takes Kariu’s head in her hands and ask her what her selfish desire is.

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Turns out, it’s the same thing; Kariu was just afraid it was too late to achieve, but it wasn’t. All their selfish desires align. All that’s left is to act. Kariu accompanies Hishiro and Kaizaki back to school. Kariu enters the gym, and the match. Honoka stops looking, as Hishiro puts it, “ugly” and “dead.” They play, and have fun, like they’ve played for three years.

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They also lose, and are eliminated, and are officially done with high school volleyball for good. But as they both share a good cry behind the gym (with Hishiro sitting between them, a choice she initially regrets), Honoka makes it clear that winning without Kariu would not have been fun or made her happy. Losing is fine if it means she has Kariu back. And Kariu points out they can still play volleyball in college. Duh!

They exchange apologies before turning their gratitude and affection on Hishiro, who couldn’t be happier herself. She’d only just become friends with these two, and she was going to be damned if she was going to let their bond crumble. So she worked her butt off and it paid off marvelously, to the joy and relief of all. Stellar stuff.

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Hanayamata – 09

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While Naru has a serious case of “Oh no, not again!” with regards to her little slip-up, it is quickly acknowledged by everyone else that this is, indeed, not the end of the world, and Naru needn’t commit seppuku about it. If anything, the crowd was probably moved by the camaraderie and love inherent in the other three helping her back to her feet and finishing out their routine.

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The fact that Naru passed out moments after they finished and the general fatigue from lack of sleep due to excitement meant the group wasn’t going to put on a flawless show anyway; Naru just happened to be the first to stumble. However they fared (and they didn’t fare that badly), it was valuable experience to build upon for Hanairo.

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Everything is peachy…until the members find out their club isn’t official yet, since Sally-chan-sensei is just a substitute. This news is first relayed by Sari’s sister, Machi…and that’s no coincidence: Machi doesn’t want messing up Tami and the others like she messed her up. The balance of the episode is about how Machi’s idolization of her big sis evaporated after Sari left home to pursue her own interests.

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It was, as Machi oft repeats, “selfish and irresponsible”, but let’s be honest here: Machi herself is just as guilty of those adjectives. She thinks Sachi will betray and abandon them just they put the most faith in her, but isn’t Machi also afraid that the opposite could happen? That her sister could find happiness advising the Yosakoi Club, and “rub it in her face?”

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Machi has been staring at the flame of resentment she’s kept burning so long, she can’t see past her younger wounded self. In hindsight, she sees that she overreacted to her sister leaving. She knows how much pressure their doctor parents put on them, and Sari didn’t want to be a doctor, she wanted to be a teacher. She also learns that Sari wants to repair their rift, which is why she’s at the school at all. You could say if it wasn’t for Machi, there’d be no Yosakoi Club.

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Now that Machi’s older and wiser, she’s aware of the fact Sari did what she did out of her own personal drive, which everyone has to follow, even if it doesn’t hew to the expectations of those we hold most dear. But Machi wouldn’t have put out that flame if it wasn’t for Tami’s diplomacy. And in exchange for her help, Machi doesn’t refuse an invitation to the Yosakoi Club. We were wondering how she was going to join!

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