Classroom of the Elite – 06

Dayum, this show keeps finding new heights of awesomeness. Not only does it constantly zag when I expect it to zig, it manages to juggle a whole array of different plot lines of varying importance with staggering ease.

Did I think Sakura was going to end up being the target of a stalker? No, but the incident is instrumental in Ayanokouji continuing to gain her trust, especially after he says her good works at the trial gained his, Horitika’s Kushida’s, and probably Sudo’s and the rest of the class’s. The timing is perfect for Sakura; unfortunately, when she’s about to bring up her problem, Ayano is called away.

Did I think the latest Sudo situation would be resolved so cleverly, outside the walls of the courtroom? No, and neither did Horikita, until Ayano brings up security cameras. This gets the wheels turning, resulting in a gambit in which Kushida lures Sudo’s accusers to a certain spot where there are cameras, but instead of her meeting them, it’s Ayano and Horikita.

There, the two set to work stuffing the accusers into a smaller and smaller box. Horikita tells them they believe the school has acted the way it did because it is testing them to resolve it themselves, and will expel the accusers for lying because they already know everything…because there are cameras everywhere.

Driving that point home when one of the guy’s temper gets the best of him, the accusers surrender and agree to withdraw their complaint. It’s a masterfully-executed plan that came out of nowhere. No more trial!

It’s a stunning victory that gets Class D its meager but significant points back and clears Sudo of wrongdoing. As for the cameras, they were purchased and planted by Ayano, using funds he borrowed from Ichinose (who as we know is swimming in cash).

Just beneath the main Sudo storyline lurks Sakura’s plight, as she’s finally cornered in a dark alley by her creepy stalker, who is exactly who we thought would be her stalker: the camera store guy. Sakura is in a very bad way here, with the guy starting to force himself on her.

It looks for all the world that in order to save Sudo and the class, Ayano had to neglect someone, and that someone unfortunately would end up being Sakura. But that turns out not to be the case, as Sakua managed to call Ayano, and he uses that call to pinpoint her position and stop the assault, with Ichinose and two cops in tow.

Now that she’s in a safe position, Sakua finds the courage to give her stalker a piece of her mind (even though a part of me wondered if some of his rambling was actually true…and yes I feel dirty about that but this is a show that seems to keep all its options on the table). She then removes her glasses, a symbolic gesture of taking off her “mask.”

Chabashira-sensei has some questions for Horikita, but doesn’t press the issue when her student “leaves it to her imagination” how she managed to get the Class C accusers to withdraw. What sensei does do is ask Horikita why, rhetorically, someone as talented as Ayano is dabbling in obscurity in Class D, suggesting he is the most “defective” of the class by far. Sudo, meanwhile, seems genuinely grateful to Horikita, calling her “amazing” to Ayano.

President Horikita is similarly impressed with Ayanokouji, who mananged to somehow bypass the trial altogether and resolve the conflict between the classes without breaking a sweat or even leaving any fingerprints.

We also get a glimpse at the power struggle between Ryuuen, who suffered a defeat when the accusers recanted, and Sakayanaki, his Class A rival for kingship of the school. Looks like the show is going to keep expanding beyond the core triad of Ayano, Horikita, and Kushida—and I have every confidence it will be able to pull it off.

That being said, the episode ends right back with Ayano and Horikita, with the latter calling the former out for planting the seed of security cameras in her head, leading her to forge false evidence to win the day. Horikita is eager to know what Ayano is thinking and who exactly he is.

All Ayano does is reiterate his promise to help Horikita get to Class A. Other than that, he asks her not to “pry into his life.” From the glimpse of his past as a child in a line of others undergoing some kind of conditioning, it’s clear the character with the darkest secrets of all in  Classroom of the Elite seems to be its protagonist, one Ayanokouji Kiyotaka.

Tsurezure Children – 07

Jun’s sister Hotaru becomes Yuki’s next victim of teasing when she swipes her brother’s phone and impersonates him. Yuki instantly knows it’s her, and dispenses swift justice in a string of texts suggesting not only have she and Jun slept together, but she’s pregnant. Don’t touch your older sibling’s stuff!

Takeru and Ayaka are enjoying a walk home together, but Ayaka would like to hear the words “I love you” come out of Takeru’s mouth, and by the time she finally gets him to understand (he’s quite dense), the words sound forced…even though they’re not.

Few couples have hit a rough patch as bad as Takase and Kanda after he accidentally called her shitty. Takase wants to make things right, but Kanda won’t talk to her. Enter Shinichi, who after staring intently at Takase while the two are taking a piss (don’t do that either, by the way!) gives him advice…or Takase thinks it’s advice; Shinichi is really just rambling about himself. In any case, here’s hoping Takase doesn’t make things worse!

Finally we check in on perhaps the most hopeless couple, mostly because Takano believes the slight pain in her chest and her wandering thoughts are the result of a fever and not love, and Sugawara still doesn’t have the slightest confidence in clearly expressing his feelings for her, since she’ll only twist them into something innocuous and non-romantic. Not sure how these two will be able to break through their issues.

Koi to Uso – 07

Neither Yukari nor Ririna are remotely ready for…whatever it is Yukari thinks they have to do to not get penalized, so it’s a huge relief to see that they don’t make love here and now.

Romantic feelings have only just started to well up in Ririna’s heart and challenge her head, and it’s never occurred to her until now that her head could lose. She’s afraid of the person she becomes when Yukari gets so close to her, because it’s a person she simply doesn’t know.

As for Yukari, he’s so scared that they’re being watched to make sure they do it, he gets it in his head to try to “pretend” in order to fool them. That’s all you really need to know to determine that his head is already fighting a losing battle…and it wasn’t that great a head to begin with.

Saying the word “pretend” anywhere near an already vulnerable and confused Ririna is just a terrible move, but at least Yukari apologizes, and when she says she just needs some space and time, he gives it to her. You’d think the classic “cultural festival play” scenario would take his mind off of things, but…wait, what am I saying? SHIT no it wouldn’t! Yukari’s a dreary mess.

At least, I thought to myself, Yukari wasn’t chosen to play Juliet. When Yukari drops the figure Ririna gave him and takes a hammer strike to the hand to protect it, he ends up in the infirmary, where a worried-sick Misaki enters, but takes a few moments to collect herself before talking.

She and Yukari haven’t talked in almost a month, because she’s instituted a “Neji ban” on herself, lest fall even more in love with the guy. I would say the ship has sailed on that.

When Yukari is vague even when pressed—saying ‘some things happened and I hurt Ririna’s feelings’, Misaki uses her strong diplomatic ties with Ririna to try to learn more from her. In the process she remembers a story from middle school when Yukari made the best hotcakes, and Ririna learns he can cook.

Still, Ririna says she doesn’t want to see him, but feels terribly lonely without him. Wellsir, whatcha got there is a bad case of being in love. Misaki’s spirits plummet when she hears this, because now she and Ririna are both trapped in a spiral of longing and guilt, trying in vain to organize or balance their feelings with the other person’s.

It turns out Yajima, the ministry officer who messed with Yukari last week was in virtually the same position Yukari now finds himself in. The girl in question who he loved is his Ministry colleague Ichijou (the redhead), who don’t you know it, offered to reject her official match if he, the man she really loved, married her instead.

But he BLEW IT, and now he works beside that person every day, hiding the feelings that have never fully dispersed, and taking it out on poor innocent, dimwitted burial mound enthusiasts. Joking aside, Yajima doesn’t think their situations are truly identical, because in Yukari’s case, even as he harbors feelings for Misaki, he’s developing feelings for Ririna as well.

Yajima recommends Yukari not think too much, since teenagers aren’t good at that anyway. Instead, he should act, and he does, by writing Ririna a long text from the heart telling her how he felt about her taking an interest in his interests, and hoping they can go see burial mounds someday.

Ririna doesn’t respond by text that day, to Yukari’s further dejection, but in the morning post a beautifully hand-written letter from Ririna arrives, which is even more honest and moving than Yukari’s text. It even moves him to tears…in front of his mom! In any case, while trying to fix things and getting discouraged, Ririna wrote exactly what was needed to cheer her future husband up.

It certainly feels like they’ll be even more on the mend next week, but now that Misaki is certain that Ririna also loves Yukari, she finds herself stuck between supporting her friends and wishing them the best, and the selfish girl wanting the giant toy in the window.

Misaki believes she has the power to influence (i.e. advance) their relationship with just three words to Ririna—you’re in love—but wasn’t able to when they met up, and probably will continue to have a great deal of difficulty ever doing so, and with good reason: she’s not a masochist!

Classroom of the Elite – 05

Ayanokouji is a very well-studied observer of human behavior. He doubtless knows every one of the quotes that provide the titles for each episode; this one being “Hell is other people”, from Sartre’s “No Exit”.

Ayano observes that other people are indeed hell for his potential star witness Sakura Airi: he notices that while Kushida is able to easily invade people’s personal space, Sakura resists her, nullifying whatever power Kushida has over the vast majority of people.

(Naturally, Horitika is also immune to her charms, while Ayano knows her true identity, so throw in Sakura and Kushida is far from invincible.)

Luck is on Ayano’s side, however, as a trip to the electronics store with Sakura and Kushida ends up providing him the opportunity to show Sakura that not all other people are Hell; or at least that she can trust him.

Because Ayano is simply being Ayano (at least the one we know) and nothing else, Sakura’s intuition doesn’t see deception, while her reticence around Kushida suggests it does detect hers.

All of this is to say that Sakura takes Ayano’s advice to “do what she wants” and agrees to testify in the Sudo case; it shows that despite her (quite sensible) hiding of her secret—a sexy modelling side-gig—Sakura has a strong sense of justice, like Ayano, and her gut is telling her to listen to it, even if it means going through Hell (i.e., other people).

COURTROOM of the Elite  takes over in short order, and has all the makings of a show trial, with the Class C victims and their partially self-inflicted injuries given all the benefit of the doubt because, well, Sudo doesn’t have a scratch on him, and is a short-tempered asshole to boot.

If a summary “guilty” verdict is to be avoided, someone has to come to Sudo’s defense. But because Horikita’s brother the President (her kryptonite) is attending the trial, she freezes, completely losing all composure and confidence, and Ayano has to pinch her in her side in order to restore her to coherence.

It works, and she immediately begins the work of wearing down the credibility of three guys who weren’t looking for a fight all ending up injured. When they simply rebut with the correct assertion that Sudo often defies common sense, she whips out her Sakura Card.

We’ve only just met Sakura Airi, and yet there I was, so proud of her, and hopeful that I’d be as strong and brave in the situation in which she chose to be, exposing her revealing photos in order to establish why she was using her camera, before providing another photo of the fight itself, proving she was there…but not proving who instigated the fight.

Sakura Airi’s boss witnessing got Team Sudo past Level 1, but it doesn’t look like she’ll play a further role in helping to ease the burden of proof where who started it is concerned. But her good work also gave the defense a way out: Class C’s homeroom teacher offers a compromise, which is really more of a plea-out: only a two-week suspension for Sudo and one-week for his students.

But that plea requires that Sudo plead guilty, and we’re at least operating under the assumption that as awful and destructive as he is, he didn’t start the fight. So the offer is rejected. Instead, Horikita doesn’t hold back in her harsh and completely accurate assessment of Sudo’s attitude problems, and posits that Class C aimed to exploit those problems by setting him up.

Her brother, perhaps more impressed than he’d admit by his sister’s performance thus far (after a shaky start he probably thought was par for the course), will allow another day’s time for each party to prove their innocence or the other party’s guilt. He then raises the stakes, as one does in courtroom dramas: if they fail, expulsion is on the table.

This was a dense, thrilling outing of Elite Classroom that made me an immediate fan of Sakura, and a continued fan of Ayanokouji, Kushida, and Horikita. That Sakura won Sudo’s defense team more time makes me confident that they’ll find a way to clear his name and show up Horikita’s brother.

Tsurezure Children – 06

Now that just about everyone’s introduced, the show can use more of a shorthand with its established couples and expand on their personalities around one another. And while Ryouko x Akagi haven’t been my favorite, it’s only because it’s one of the innumerable different kinds of relationships—where one is always teasing the other because they love the other person—isn’t my cup of tea personally. But I am glad it’s represented here. And Ryouko is cute.

Meanwhile, Chiaki and Kana continue to have issues with intimacy, which may have been made worse by Kana’s mom walking in on them not once but twice. Chiaki tries to kiss Kana with her eyes closed through a skit, but she opens her eyes and spooks Chiaki. She later gets on board, but they still come a few millimeters short of a kiss.

But hey, at least they both know what their relationship is, even if they’re unable to easily act on it. Yamane is still convinced Kurihara is way out of his league and not actually trying to date him. When he accidentally learns he’s double-booked a movie date with her and his fellow “loser” friend, he lies, worried he’ll offend him. This is the most manic segment of the episode, and manages to pack a lot of verbal and physical humor into a couple of minutes.

Finally, perhaps the least interesting (but still common) scenario of a girl (Hosogawa) almost immediately falling for her “prince” (Kotori) but the guy turning her down, declaring himself “everyone’s prince.” So Hosogawa makes like a cat and falls out of a tree, forcing Kotori to catch her. But he’s still not going to date her…or anyone else. Do not play a drinking game in which you take a shot every time Kotori strikes a pose…you will not survive!

Koi to Uso – 06

Whoa, hold on, what are Yukari and Ririna doing, making out in bed? Oh, it’s just Ririna’s first sexy dream about Yukari. Little did she—or I—know that by episode’s end that dream would become shockingly close to reality.

This is due to a combination of factors, including a genuine growing affection for one another as they get to know each other better, the scientific process by which they were chosen to marry one another, and oh yeah, a ruthless alternate-universe Japanese government that is NOT FUCKING AROUND when it comes to population growth.

Yes, this episode checks in momentarily with Misaki and Nisaka, and new characters are introduced in Ririna’s new friend Arisa and Yukari’s middle-school classmate Igarashi, but thankfully the focus is on the two people that aggressive government program determined should get hitched, get it on, and have at least 2 children.

To that end, everyone who recently got their notices are instructed to leave school early and report to…a hotel…uh-oh. The strangeness of the situation is definitely felt by our surrogates, Yukari and Ririna. He sees aa classmate with his “pre-Yukari way-out-of-his-league” future wife, and turns inward to wonder if people look at him and Ririna like he’s looking at them.

Then that very thing happens. Ririna arrives sporting a new hairstyle and the gift of a creepy figuring that Yukari loses his shit over. He has a gift for her two, and his classmate and future wife marvel at how well this system seems to pick people who clearly like each other.

Both Yukari and Ririna bristle at that, but as the afternoon progresses, The State systematically runs roughshod over whatever doubts and reservations the two may have. Indeed, Ririna, having only recently researched French kissing, is particularly uncomfortable with all the sex talk going on by the Ministry’s presenter, a True Believer in the Yukari System if ever there was one.

Condoms are passed out. The now-healthy birthrate is mentioned to tout the success of the system. Sex is healthily discussed in terms of its physiological and mental benefits, in addition to just feeling good. It’s gotta be a lot to take in for a bunch of 16-year-olds, and that is no accident on the part of the Ministry.

After concluding the lecture with a very informative porno that leaves Ririna shaking and Yukari desperate to keep Misaki out of his head, all of the husband-wife pairs are assigned hotel rooms and ordered to spend the night together. A random Ministry guy hinting (in jest) that they’ll be “watched” and an overheard rumor about consequences for “not banging” only hikes up the pressure.

Before they know it, Yukari and Ririna are alone in a tastefully lit, comfortable room, staring down a big bed. There are no chairs, as Ririna helpfully points out. Yukari is LOSING IT. He’s stuck in his head, and at least finally realizes it, but when he tries to think of what he can do for Ririna, what he comes up with mirrors the beginning of her dream in which they make out: he pins her to the bed. As she awaits the next move, the episode mercilessly (or mercifully) fades to black…

The Yukari Law was born out of necessity. Japan’s birthrate hovered around 1.46 births per woman in 2015. That’s just not good enough to make up for the people aging and dying. There’s no telling what the economic, social, and cultural consequences will be, but you can bet they’ll be bad. Robots aren’t the answer. People study and work too much to get by or get ahead. Family often takes a backseat to success. A lot of younger people just don’t want it.

These are the harsh realities that face the Japan here, in our world. And while it’s doubtful anything as comprehensively invasive as Yukari will ever be implemented, Koi to Uso still serves as a kind of thought experiment in which a relatively simple fix is applied: get people to make more babies. Simple in concept, but ridiculously complex and problem-fraught in execution.

Its exploration of that what-if scenario, with a focus on four youths going against the grain, is as unsettling as it is riveting.

Classroom of the Elite – 04

Oh man, that elevator trip…so awkward…so much going on beneath the surface! To her credit, Kushida doesn’t break from her usual character once, not just there, but for the entire episode. It’s simply a given that she and Ayanokouji have this dark secret, and they have a deal, and he’ll honor it or else. We also never learn where Horitika stabbed him.

Everyone seems to be hiding the truth, both from others and from themselves. The truth seems like such a distant, unattainable thing now. And yet they must press on, and put one foot in front of the other. That pressing-on includes Ayanokouji moonlighting as reluctant romantic adviser to Class B’s idol, Ichinose Honami.

Still, the kid knows what he’s talking about, and talks to Ichinose about how someone in love suffers with trying to get the words out. Is he speaking from experience? In any case, he rejects her plan to make him her fake boyfriend (rightly so considering what an old cliche that is) and tells her The Truth is best. The girl who likes her is able to come out and confess, and Ichinose is able to gently reject her so that girl can move on.

That’s the end of act one, and while it may feel like a self-contained “mission” for Ayanokouji, in addition to the themes about hidden truths resonating in act two, Ichinose also incurs a debt to Ayanokouji that she intends to pay back. That will come in handy in act two, in which Sudou fucks up again, exposing the class to forfeiture of points.

The latest incident is another hidden truth: we don’t know what happened, just that Sudou was confronted by three Class C basketball players, and a fight ensued. He claims self-defense. Meanwhile, the incident has piqued Horikita’s brother’s interest, while at the club, one of Sudou’s accusers, Ryuen Kakeru, has an underling beaten up to help their case.

(I hasten to point out here that if Kushida was prepared to rely on fingerprint evidence to accuse Ayanokouji of raping her, I was left wondering later if a similar method could prove that Sudou didn’t beat up Ryuen’s co-conspirator).

Hirata, essentially Class 1-D’s male Kushida (only not secretly evil), decides to believe Sudou’s self-defense claim and an investigation ensues, with the class banding together to find witnesses and evidence. In this venture, Kushida teams up with Ayanokouji without any reservations, while Horikita is reluctant to participate.

They aren’t making much progress until Ichinose Honami hears about the investigation and offers to help out, citing that she owes Ayanokouji one. She even arranges an online venue where people can post information in exchange for rewards.

When someone posts anonymously, she isn’t sure how to transfer her points to the guy, so enlists Ayanokouji’s technical know-how…in the process, showing him her personal points balance to be in excess of 2.6 million yen ($23,000) immediately setting off alarms in both his head and mine.

Ayanokouji’s dorm room has apparently become the meeting spot for the three misfits, including Sudou, as well as Kushida. When Horikita stops by with info on a witness—one Sakura Airi, based on her body language in class—she’s quick to retreat once she sees Kushida there. (Now, of course, I totally understand why she’d rather interact with Kushida as little as possible!)

The case wears on Kushida, who visits Ayanokouji in the evening. They go on a walk and discuss it, leaving their own personal issues totally aside. Ayanokouji thinks he knows why Horikita is reluctant to help Sudou: because he never learns his frikkin’ lesson and keeps getting into trouble immediately after being bailed out of it. In a case with so little to go on, Sudou’s character makeup is a huge liability, and he can’t go on like this.

That leaves the very skittish Miss Pink Hair, Pink Camera, Sakura Airi. Kushida tries to gently ask to speak with her about what she might’ve seen, but Sakura panics and tries to run off, dropping and breaking her camera. While I’m sure the data chip containing potentially conclusive photographic evidence wasn’t lost, I still know far too little about her to know what she intends to do with it, if anything.

Was Sakura, for instance, the girl who cried out at the club before that guy got beat up for suggesting there was a witness? Horikita’s bro is clearly trying to sabotage Class D (and by extension his sister); will Ayanokouji’s suspicions about the cash-flush Ichinose prove to be justified?

A lot of truth has yet to be found, and many not only like it that way but are actively trying to distort it. And now I’m out of new episodes to watch…drat.

Hajimete no Gal – 04

While wholesomely innocently researching “gals” on the interwebs to learn how to interact with Yame and Ranko better, Junichi comes across an extremely cute gal with a loyal following. This gal’s necklace has the same snake motif as Kashii Yui’s hairpin, so yeah, it’s pretty evident from the start that “Boa-sama” is Yui in disguise.

Yui is always presenting a calm, mature identity at school, but beneath that exterior she’s a vain, arrogant, imperious girl, labeling all of her classmates with various servant’s names and titles. Junichi has always been a loyal “doggy” to her, and isn’t interested in sharing him with some uncultured gal.

While Yame is hanging out with her galfriends, Yui springs out of the bushes and strikes like the snake she loves wearing, taking an extremely dumb Junichi on a date.

Meanwhile it’s on the tip of Shinpei’s tongue who Boa-sama reminds him of; an increasingly irritated and thus less careful Boa throws him a bone by describing him and his crew of losers to a man.

While secretly recording her flirting with Junichi in the classroom (which is illegal in Japan), Boa-sama gets final visual proof and shares it with the lads, who are shocked by the revelation. Despite Shinpei’s efforts to reveal his discovery in secret, Ranko gets wind of it.

Sensing that being blunt will be best against the painfully dense Junichi, Yui passionately confesses to him on the roof. When he turns her down (as he’s dating Yame), she immediately cracks and her extremely fiery, petulant personality gushes out.

She also plays her trump card: she secretly recorded her date with him (which is illegal in Japan), and orders him to break up with Yame and go out with her, or she’ll send the video to Yame.

That’s checkmate for Junichi…or it would be if he didn’t have a gang of friends watching both his back and Yame’s. Ranko arrives with the three losers, superhero-style (complete with ill-advised high jump off a ledge; Ranko lands as a hero would; the guys eat shit).

Ranko counters Yui’s Yame-harming blackmail with blackmail of her own: the knowledge that Yui is Boa-sama. Yui surrenders, but she won’t give up so easily, and the war has only begun…just as Junichi’s well-endowed childhood friend prepares to take the stage.

While the lack of any real suspense regarding who Boa-sama was, and Junichi’s general incompetence in everything but being an easy mark for…just about anyone, the episode was buoyed by Taketatsu Ayana’s strong performance voicing the many sides of Yui, and while the lolicon guy still needs to stop talking, the losers, Shinpei in particular, were in top form this week.

Tsurezure Children – 05

Ahh, conversations through texting. So fraught with danger. You’d think communication would be a cinch in these heady days of high technology! NOPE. Take Takase and Saki. They both like each other and want to confess, but Saki is too scared to do it in person, so after a string of texts goes very well, she sends that text.

Unfortunately, Takase was about to do the same thing at the same time, but bailed at the last second, instead asking if she’d meet up with him later. But he just had to include a comment about how confessing via text is shitty. And so both Saki and Takase end the evening not as a happy couple…but wishing they were dead.

MOVING ON! Kaga Yuki’s childhood friend Nanase Kaoru joins the astronomy club, and she laments how Yuki’s clearly only there because he has a crush on Sasahara. But when Sasahara steps out for a bit, Kaoru pounces.

She tries in vain to lead an entirely Yuki along to the realization that she likes him, but ultimately has to resort to kissing him, lest their be any doubt. A kiss that Sasahara walks in on, no less! Still, by episode’s end, Yuki is willing to knock on Kaoru’s door for a family errand. They’ll be fine.

LASTLY, we have Kamine Ayaka and Gouda Takeru. Ayaka is worried that since they started going out, things aren’t going so swell with Takeru, making her wonder if he’s not into it. As if to confirm her fears, Takeru is very standoffish after school and even starts talking as if he’s trying to gently but firmly dump her.

But it’s all good; it’s fine…he’s not trying to dump her, he’s saying their awkward tension is what can’t go on…not their relationship. To that end, he wonders if it’s okay if they hold hands. And Ayaka’s instincts were right on at least one front: he avoided her because he was sweaty…which makes her so happy she gloms onto him with glee. Daawww…

Koi to Uso – 05

The potentially infamous Love Quadrangle Camping Trip from Hell is upon us, and things start out expectedly bumpy, with Ririna protesting Yukari’s choice to invite Nisaka along and Nisaka and Misaki exchanging looks that to us clearly look like two rivals in love, but to Yukari like they’re into each other.

Inevitably, Yukari ends up catching the girls playing in the river in their swimsuits, but neither accuses him of being a pervert. Indeed, Ririna thinks nothing of calling him over to play with them, only to twist her ankle and require he princess-carry her back to camp (since she considers piggyback to be too lewd).

Ririna is a bit of a tsundere for most of this trip where Yukari is concerned, but there’s a good reason for that: she’s increasingly unable to hold back her own feelings for Yukari for her good friend Misaki’s sake. Her face even blushes when she finds herself admiring Yukari as he talks so passionately about researching burial mounds.

Then there’s Nisaka, who Yukari has the exact wrong idea about. Nisaka isn’t into Misaki; he’s into Yukari. But despite having a golden opportunity to do so, Nisaka is unable to come out and confess this. But to be fair, this is a guy who likes guys in a society where guys are matched up with girls by the government and told in no uncertain terms (a la Adama) to “make babies.” Also he values his friendship with Yukari and doesn’t want to ruin it.

Despite the conflicting feelings floating around her head, Ririna is still committed to getting true lovers together as often as she can, even to the point of pairing herself with Nisaka, whom she has a very low opinion of, so Yukari and Misaki can be alone together.

Again, things turn out how one would expect: while chasing a firefly, Misaki slips and starts to fall down a hill. Yukari can’t catch her, but she grabs his arm and takes him down with her. They then spend a good long time on the ground, in each others’ arms, simply listening to their hearts pound against each other.

Nisaka is aware of Ririna’s gambit and straight-up questions what she hopes to get out of it. If Misaki and Yukari marry, it’s not like there’ll be some kind of ménage à trois situation, like the creator of Wonder Woman. Ririna could fall by the wayside…or would she?

And while we finally learn there are no overt criminal penalties, it’s made clear by Nisaka that those who reject their matches are marked for life, and will find it tougher to realize their futures. Nisaka minces no words in accusing Ririna of courting disaster. (I say if you’re as desperately in love as Misaki and Yukari seem to be, I’d say it’s worth it. You can’t put a price on happiness, be it fines or lost wages.)

But Ririna…just wants two people in love to be together. When the two pairs reunite and find the clearing where a cloud of fireflies pepper the night, she defiantly takes the hands of both Misaki and Yukari. Yukari then inadvertently twists her intention by taking Nisaka’s hand as well.

Whatever labels society wants to put on his relationships, Yukari just wants to exist in that beautiful place with people he likes. The camping trip ends with him still thinking Nisaka likes Misaki, but I’ll allow him his blissful ignorance a little longer. A new notice in the mail suggests this love quadrangle’s trials have only just begun.

Hajimete no Gal – 03

As expected, Yukana’s very tan best friend Honjou Ranko inserts herself into her relationship with Junichi by writing him a love letter then mounting him behind the school. After a brief feint, Yukana laughs off Ranko’ actions as just messing around with Junichi…but Ranko seems determined to break them up.

A very predictable development, combined with a lot less comedy (a lot of it recycled jokes that don’t hit as hard, or at all, the third or fourth time around) made for a less-than-stellar Hajimete no Gal.

While out on a shopping trip, Junichi learns more of the challenges of dating a gal, like the need to properly choose which clothes look better on her, or defending her from man-sluts. In both cases, Ranko tries to upstage Junichi, finally meeting him at his house to talk.

She mounts him again, assuring him she’d rather take his virginity then let him get with Yukana, whom she’s secretly in love with. Ranko’s kinda all over the place, and Kitamura Eri does fine voice work, she doesn’t have much to work with here.

I guess I should be glad Ranko’s not in love with Junichi, but he still gets off the hook way too easily. Indeed, Junichi moves at the speed of a sloth throughout this episode, which I suppose is par for the course considering his self-image as a loser, but it’s still pretty annoying.

This week he did next to nothing—other than halfheartedly trying to tell off the guys hitting on Yukana, which failed—to deserve all the attention he’s getting. Next week it appears will involve more Kashii Yui, who was obviously going to be more than just the Miss Perfect Junichi believes her to be. She looks particularly pissed watching Ranko tease him.

Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

Simply diving into a review immediately after watching a film as devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally affecting as Kimi no Na wa is probably not a great idea, but this is an anime review blog, so here goes.

Kimi no Na wa isn’t just a charming body-swap rom-com, or a time-travelling odyssey, or a disaster prevention caper, or a tale of impossibly cruel temporal and physical distance between two soul mates, or a reflection on the fragility and impermanence of everything from memories to cities, or a tissue-depleting tearjerker.

It’s all of those things and more. And it’s also one of, if not the best, movies I’ve ever seen, anime or otherwise.

After a cryptic prologue, Kimi no Na wa starts out modestly: Miyamizu Mitsuha, Shinto shrine maiden and daughter of a mayor, has grown restless in her small town world, so one night, shouts out tot he night that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo.

This, mind you, happens after an odd incident in which Mitsuha essentially lost a day, during which all her family and friends say she was acting very strange and non-Mitsuha-y…like a different person.

That’s because she was. She and a boy from Tokyo, Tachibana Taki, randomly swap bodies every so often when they’re dreaming. As such, they end up in the middle of their couldn’t-be-any-different lives; the only similarity being that both of them yearn for more.

Despite just meeting these characters, watching Mitsuha and Taki stumble through each other’s lives is immensely fun. And because this is a Shinkai film, that enjoyment is augmented by the master director’s preternatural visual sumptuousness and realism. Every frame of Mitsuha’s town and the grand vastness of Tokyo is so full of detail I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.

As the body-swapping continues, the two decide to lay down “ground rules” when in one another’s bodies—albeit rules both either bend or break with impunity—and make intricate reports in one another’s phone diaries detailing their activities during the swaps.

Interestingly, Mitsuha makes more progress with Taki’s restaurant co-worker crush Okudera than Taki (she like’s Taki’s “feminine side”), while the more assertive Taki proves more popular with boys and girls when Taki’s in her body.

Taki happens to be in Mitsuha’s body when her grandmother and sister Yotsuha make the long, epic trek from their home to the resting place of the “body” of their Shinto shrine’s god, an otherworldly place in more ways than one, to make an offering of kuchikamisake (sake made from saliva-fermented rice).

While the three admire the sunset, Mitsuha’s granny takes a good look at her and asks if he, Taki, is dreaming. Just then he wakes up back in his own body to learn Mitsuha has arranged a date with him and Okudera—one she genuinely wanted to attend.

Okudera seems to notice the change in Taki from the one Mitsuha inhabited; she can tell his mind is elsewhere, and even presumes he’s come to like someone else. Taki tries to call that someone else on his phone, but he gets an automated message.

Then, just like that, the body-swapping stops.

After having cut her hair, her red ribbon gone, Mitsuha attends the Autumn Festival with her friends Sayaka and Teshi. They’re treated to a glorious display in the night sky, as the comet Tiamat makes its once-every-1,200-years visit.

Taki decides if he can’t visit Mitsuha’s world in his dreams anymore, he’ll simply have to visit Mitsuha. Only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly what village she lives in. Okudera and one of his high school friends, who are worried about him, decide to tag along on his wild goose chase.

After a day of fruitless searching, Taki’s about to throw in the towel, when one of the proprietors of a restaurant notices his detailed sketch of Mitsuha’s town, recognizing it instantly as Itomori. Itomori…a town made famous when it was utterly destroyed three years ago by a meteor created from a fragment of the comet that fell to earth.

The grim reality that Taki and Mitsuha’s worlds were not in the same timeline is a horrendous gut punch, as is the bleak scenery of the site of the former town. Every lovingly-depicted detail of the town, and all of its unique culture, were blasted into oblivion.

Taki is incredulous (and freaked out), checking his phone for Mitsuha’s reports, but they disappear one by one, like the details of a dream slipping away from one’s memory. Later, Taki checks the register of 500 people who lost their lives in the disaster, and the punches only grow deeper: among the lost are Teshi, Sayaka…and Miyamizu Mitsuha.

After the initial levity of the body-swapping, this realization was a bitter pill to swallow, but would ultimately elevate the film to something far more epic and profound, especially when Taki doesn’t give up trying to somehow go back to the past, get back into Mitsuha’s body, and prevent all those people from getting killed, including her.

The thing that reminds him is the braided cord ribbon around his wrist, given to him at some point in the past by someone he doesn’t remember. He returns to the site where the offering was made to the shrine’s god, drinks the sake made by Mitsuha, stumbles and falls on his back, and sees a depiction of a meteor shower drawn on the cave ceiling.

I haven’t provided stills of the sequence that follows, but suffice it to say it looked and felt different from anything we’d seen and heard prior in the film, and evoked emotion on the same level as the famous flashback in Pixar’s Up. If you can stay dry-eyed during this sequence, good for you; consider a career being a Vulcan.

Taki then wakes up, miraculously back in Mitsuha’s body, and sets to work. The same hustle we saw in Taki’s restaurant job is put to a far more important end: preventing a horrific disaster. The town itself may be doomed—there’s no stopping that comet—but the people don’t have to be.

Convincing anyone that “we’re all going to die unless” is a tall order, but Taki doesn’t waver, formulating a plan with Teshi and Sayaka, and even trying (in vain) to convince Mitsuha’s father, the mayor, to evacuate.

While the stakes couldn’t be higher and the potential devastation still clear in the mind, it’s good to see some fun return. Sayaka’s “we have to save the town” to the shopkeep is a keeper.

Meanwhile, Mitsuha wakes up in the cave in Taki’s body, and is horrified by the results of the meteor strike. She recalls her quick day trip to Tokyo, when she encountered Taki on a subway train, but he didn’t remember her, because it would be three more years before their first swap.

Even so, he can’t help but ask her her name, and she gives it to him, as well as something to remember her by later: her hair ribbon, which he would keep around his wrist from that point on.

Both Taki-as-Mitsuha and Mitsuha-as-Taki finally meet face-to-face, in their proper bodies, thanks to the mysterious power of kataware-doki or twilight. It’s a gloriously-staged, momentous, and hugely gratifying moment…

…But it’s all too brief. Taki is able to write on Mitsuha’s hand, but she only gets one stoke on his when twilight ends, and Taki finds himself back in his body, in his time, still staring down that awful crater where Itomori used to be. And again, like a dream, the more moments pass, the harder it gets for him to remember her.

Back on the night of the Autumn Festival, Mitsuha, back in her time and body, takes over Taki’s evacuation plan. Teshi blows up a power substation with contractor explosives and hacks the town-wide broadcast system, and Sayaka sounds the evacuation. The townsfolk are mostly confused, however, and before long Sayaka is apprehended by authorities, who tell everyone to stay where they are, and Teshi is nabbed by his dad.

With her team out of commission, it’s all up to Mitsuha, who races to her father to make a final plea. On the way, she gets tripped up and takes a nasty spill. In the same timeline, a three-years-younger Taki, her ribbon around his wrist, watches the impossibly gorgeous display in the Tokyo sky as the comet breaks up. Mitsuha looks at her hand and finds that Taki didn’t write his name: he wrote “I love you.”

The meteor falls and unleashes a vast swath of destruction across the landscape, not sparing the horrors of seeing Itomori wiped off the face of the earth—another gut punch. Game Over, too, it would seem. After spending a cold lonely night up atop the former site of the town, he returns to Tokyo and moves on with his life, gradually forgetting all about Mitsuha, but still feeling for all the world like he should be remembering something, that he should be looking for someplace or someone.

Bit by bit, those unknowns start to appear before him; a grown Sayaka and Teshi in a Starbucks; a  passing woman with a red ribbon in her hair that makes him pause, just as his walking by makes her pause. But alas, it’s another missed connection; another classic Shinkai move: they may be on the same bridge in Shinjuku, but the distance between them in time and memory remains formidable.

Mitsuha goes job-hunting, enduring one failed interview after another, getting negative feedback about his suit from everyone, including Okudera, now married and hopeful Taki will one day find happiness.

While giving his spiel about why he wants to be an architect, he waxes poetic about building landscapes that leave heartwarming memories, since you’ll never know when such a landscape will suddenly not be there.

A sequence of Winter scenes of Tokyo flash by, and in light of what happened to Itomori quite by chance, that sequence makes a powerful and solemn statement: this is Tokyo, it is massive and complex and full of structures and people and culture found nowhere else in the world, but it is not permanent.

Nothing built by men can stand against the forces of nature and the heavens. All we can do is live among, appreciate, and preseve our works while we can. We’re only human, after all.

And yet, for all that harsh celestial certainty, there is one other thing that isn’t permanent in this film: Taki and Mitsuha’s separation. Eventually, the two find each other through the windows of separate trains, and race to a spot where they experience that odd feeling of knowing each other, while also being reasonably certain they’re strangers.

Taki almost walks away, but turns back and asks if they’ve met before. Mitsuha feels the exact same way, and as tears fill their eyes, they ask for each others names. Hey, what do you know, a happy ending that feels earned! And a meteor doesn’t fall on Tokyo, which is a huge bonus.

Last August this film was released, and gradually I started to hear rumblings of its quality, and of how it could very well be Shinkai’s Magnum Opus. I went in expecting a lot, and was not disappointed; if anything, I was bowled over by just how good this was.

Many millions of words have been written about Kimi no Na wa long before I finally gave it a watch, but I nevertheless submit this modest, ill-organized collection words and thoughts as a humble tribute to the greatness I’ve just witnessed. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

And if for some reason you haven’t seen it yourself…what are you doing reading this drivel? Find it and watch it at your nearest convenience. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll pump your fist in elation.

Tsurezure Children – 04

For three of the four couples, “futility” is the name of the game this week. Kana and Chiaki are now officially together, but forces conspire to keep them from taking their relationship to a more physical place.

After some initial awkwardness and another one of their little comedy bits, they’re well and truly ready to do the deed (Kana even brought protection), only to be stymied by not one but two rude interruptions by Chiaki’s curious mom. Chiaki, brah, lock your damn door.

I’m finding the more complex relationship rooted in a long-standing friendship the more interesting pairing in TC so far, as demonstrated by my lack of enthusiasm for the two skits in the middle.

Neither the painfully blunt Akagi asserting dominance on the tentative Ryouko, nor Ruruya’s inability to answer Yuki’s confession because he fears she’s just teasing him really resonated for me. Hopefully both stories will go to more interesting places at a later date.

Sugawara and Takano’s latest appearance splits the difference between the first skit I liked and the later two I didn’t. But yet again, the situation is the same for Sugawara: the onus is on him to communicate in no uncertain terms that he likes Takano, that he’s not joking around, and that he wants to be her boyfriend.

He’s worried about being friend-zoned, but at least there’ll be closure. And we know that Takano wishes she was…exactly what she is: someone Sugawara would want to date. These two simply need to get on the same page for once. I think they at least inched a little closer.