Asagao to Kase-san. (OVA) – The Sun is Always Shining Above the Clouds

Asagaro to Kase-san, an OVA released in the Summer of 2018, is a concise but solid piece of serious yuri storytelling in the vein of Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto, and Sakura TrickIt strikes that delicate balance of covering a fair amount of material while never feeling like it’s trying to do too much. The stakes never stray from the future of a couple of young lovers who start dating in their final year of high school.

That they’re both girls, living in relatively conservative Japan, never comes up, because this isn’t about whether they can be together or not. It’s about their mutual love, plain and simple, and how they weather other challenges to remain together, a state neither of them at any point wish to leave.

Mild-mannered gardening fanatic Yamada Yui had never dated anyone before she and the athletic track star Kase Tomoka got together, but they’re together before the opening credits, which is a heck of a timesaver! Suffice it to say they liked each other to the extent they were equally enthusiastic about becoming a couple.

That mutual enthusiasm paid dividends, as before long the like turned to love. There’s never any doubt that Kase is as smitten with Yamada as vice-versa, even if the latter tends to feel inferior due to Kase’s social and literal stature at school. There are also times when she allows Kase to swept up by others, often interrupting potential time alone.

But while Yamada comes to realize she’ll have to be more assertive at times, the fact that Kase is so popular isn’t a problem for her; it serves to validate why she loves her so much in the first place: Kase’s a surpassingly kind and gregarious young woman.

In any case, in moments when Yamada might feel lonely due to indulging Kase’s natural gregariousness, Kase’s own desire to be alone with Yamada means it’s never that long before she seeks Yamada out, both grateful for her patience and relieved to have in her a kind of haven.

Time with Yamada is special to Kase; more special than time with anyone else. That’s whether they’re on an intimate nighttime phone call, alone together in Yamada’s room raising the temperature a bit, or on a beach in Okinawa making up and out after Yamada gets a bit too “surprised” seeing Kase nude.

The biggest threat to their relationship isn’t the fact that they’re both girls, which is refreshing. Instead, like any other relationship, it’s the unrelenting march of time and the changes it brings. Kase is on the fast track to Tokyo U on an athletic scholarship; Yamada’s inertia seems to be keeping her tethered to her hometown, commuting to the local college from home.

Especially when Kase calls to offer to turn down the scholarship and she essentially tells her not to, Yamada is on the cusp of relegating their relationship to a long-distance affair, with visits very few and far between. It’s only on the very day Kase leaves for Tokyo that Yamada wakes up and realizes she doesn’t want that at all. She wants as much Kase as she can get, and so she runs and keeps running until she’s in Kase’s arms aboard the Shinkansen.

How will Yamada manage to get into a Tokyo school? Ehh, she’ll figure it out! The most important thing is that they’re together, like they want to be. They’re also on the same wavelength; Kase really didn’t want to leave Yamada, but felt trapped by the circumstance of her athletic excellence. Fortunately for her, Yamada wasn’t going to let something like that cause what they had to fall apart.

Backed by gorgeous animation and superb voice work from Sakura Ayane and Takahashi Minami, Asagao to Kase-san delivers an elegant and captivating romance between two girls for whom simply no one else would do, and whose bond managed to withstand the winds of change. Give it a watch and your heart will grow at least three sizes!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 12 (Fin) – The Real Game Begins

The entirety of Takagi 2‘s finale is devoted to the summer festival, as it should be. We start with Nishikata waiting nervously for Takagi, his hands already sweating with anticipation. She arrives positively resplendent in a yukata, nearly bowling him over with her beauty.

As they walk to the festival together, little kids and old people alike see them for what they are: a couple on a date. Nishikata thinks he can win a game in which no adults say they’re on a date, but he has to rely on semantics, and ultimately loses at the candy apple stand.

As the other members of the cast enjoy the festival, Nishikata tries to distract from the fact he’s on a date with Takagi by engaging in one competition after the other, from goldfish scooping to ring toss. He loses at all of them, but Takagi gives him an out: if he does “date stuff” with her, he’ll automatically win.

For once, Nishikata doesn’t want to win, or rather the little timid voice inside him doesn’t want him to fully open himself to the experience. He won’t feed Takagi, but he does give her the gift of a cute hairpin, eschewing the childish toys also available to choose.

On two notable occasions, the large crowds separate Takagi and Nishikata. The first time, he’s able to locate her quickly, but the second almost spells disaster, as they can’t find each other when the fireworks begin. Thankfully, Nishikata’s mate Kimura, with the assist of the episode, directing Nishikata to Takagi’s location atop the shrine steps.

Takagi has to endure the bulk of fireworks all alone, and her face has never been more morose…but when she spots Nishikata running up the steps her face brightens, and meets him halfway down the steps. Sadly, the fireworks end just as they reunite.

Far more importantly to Takagi, Nishikata finally takes her hand into his, unbidden, calmly explaining how it would suck if they got separated, not to mention the steps can be perilous.

DAWWWWWWWWWW

Takagi’s reaction above tells you all you need to know about how much this means to her. Just one episode after he finally asked her out, he mustered the courage to take her hand, and even if it was the practical move, it shows HUGE growth on his part to actually, you know, make it.

They descend the steps hand-in-hand and later we find them playing with sparklers on the beach; unassailably a date thing. Takagi tells him that throughout all the “losses” he’s endured, he’s never really lost, because, well, he has her. Her attention, her affection, her eyes on him.

No matter how you slice it, Nishikata is a winner. And in what I dearly hope will be a third season of this beautiful, uplifting show, perhaps he’ll keep gaining confidence, shaking off his childish hang-ups, and making the right moves. There’s a lot of game left to be played. But if this is the ending to this particular story, I’m glad it ended on a happy note.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 12 (Fin) – Using the Same Words on a Train with No Brakes

The girls might be referring to the hostage situation, but the real train with no brakes each one of them is on is adolescence. It’s a crazy chemical, biological train where bodies take off before minds are ready; where feelings are felt before the words to express them can be found.

The reaction of Tomita-sensei, the principal and vice principal to the girl’s act of rebellion couldn’t be any appropriate: they shrug and go back home, hoping things will cool off by morning, or in about a day or so. They’re not looking down on their students or mocking their seriousness.

Instead, all they have to do is remember when they were that age to know that in this case, anything they try to do or say in this situation can only make things worse. Better to let the crazy kids work things out; to find the brakes. Also, Tomita will be by in the morning with McDonalds breakfast! She’s an angel.

What Tomita also does is call Rika, the person for whom the girls kidnapped Yamagishi-sensei, and who arrives with Amagi by her side. But this isn’t just about Rika anymore; it’s about settling things among each other, so they don’t let Rika or Amagi in.

Rika contacts Izumi, who contacts Kazusa to tell her he’s coming. He sneaks in to find Niina tangled up on the floor with Momoko as Kazusa looks on. Niina thinks it the best time to confess her feelings to Izumi, but Momoko doesn’t accept Kazusa “giving her permission”, and she sure as hell doesn’t have hers.

Izumi somehow makes things far worse by declaring he’ll clearly state how he feels about both of them, then proceeding to say that he loves Kazusa but is sexually attracted to Niina, words so lacking in nuance and open to interpretation they end up satisfying no one.

No one, that is, except Niina, who we’ve known for a while now is too far removed from traditional “love” to value it as much as the pure physical attraction she can make better sense of, since she’s experienced it herself, most powerfully on the train when, as she says “he touched her.”

Those words also lack nuance and serve to stir the shit further, until Kazusa suggests they simply dispense with further words and make it a pure neolithic fight, like their pillow war at the bathhouse. Rika, who arrived with Amagi in time to castigate Izumi for his harsh and imprecise words, laments that her girls have been “driven mad by lust” but doesn’t think abandoning language is the answer.

The only adult in the room, Yamagishi, free of his binds, suggests that they combine some kind of “fight” with language: color tag. By having those who aren’t “it” look for a color the person who is “it” describes in a very personal way, it will enable them to reach beyond mere words to find the thoughts and feelings behind them.

Momoko fails to find Hitoha’s “gray sigh,” but when she just blurts out “peach-colored Momoko” despite not knowing what it is at the time, Niina still runs at full speed to find it.  Niina wants to understand Momoko’s feelings so they can continue being friends. Happy that Niina feels that way, she embraces Niina, declaring she is now “it.”

Niina tells the others to find the “Blues of our youth,” which leads Kazusa to a dark hall, where she thinks about how she’s felt like she’s been lost in that darkness ever since Niina fist mentioned sex during club, confused about romance, sexual desire, and everything in between. But once her eyes adjust and the moon peeks out of the clouds, she and the hallway are bathed in blue light—the blues of their youth.

Izumi ends up right there with Kazusa, and manages to use the opportunity to put how he’s feeling into better, more useful words. To Kazusa’s dawning realization and delight, he’s finally using the same words she would use to describe how she feels. Now they both have a useful tool to fall back on if they ever get anxious in the future. Neither of them are experts on what they’re headed into, but they’re speaking the same language, so they won’t be walking that path alone.

On the other fronts, in addition to Niina and Momoko making up, Hitoha notes Milo-sensei’s dedication to the advisor role even in such an unusual situation. When he plays the “you’re nothing if not entertaining” card on her, she proudly warns him not to “attempt to satisfy me with half-hearted platitudes,” as that isn’t entertaining.

Finally, with things calming down around them, things aren’t as bad as Mom-Mode Rika initially feared. She’s more concerned about Amagi’s experience kissing other girls. But Amagi isn’t that experienced after all, as he’s never kissed anyone on the forehead before, as he does with Rika, and which he states makes his heart race more than any past kiss. Dawwww.

The other girls find them before they’re able to start making out, and Amagi, Izumi, and Milo are all dismissed so the five girls can finish working things out without further interruption from members of the opposite sex.

Their group catharsis takes the form of a massive poster and banner-painting project that leaves the facade of the school plastered in revolutionary slogans and the girls sleeping in their clubroom, spattered in paint of all colors.

Those literal colors represent the proverbial colors that color the blank white canvas of youth as one goes through one’s savage season. To be so colored is no curse, nor anything of which anyone need be ashamed. They are necessary and inevitable—as much as a train with no brakes will, after enough distance with the throttle pulled back, eventually slow down and become more manageable.

After some time passes, it seems all of these young women are managing fine with the bevy of new colors that have been splashed across their canvases. Jujou sends Rika a photo of her, her boyfriend, and their new baby, aged two months. Rika is on a date with Amagi. Hitoha is working on a performance for Milo and Tomita’s wedding. Niina and Momoko are hanging out and having fun.

And Kazusa and Izumi are holding hands, in public while taking a train together. In a marvelous callback to an earlier episode when their train enters a tunnel, she thinks to herself with a placid smile, “It fit.”

O Maidens satisfied my desire for a candid and genuine teen romantic drama that didn’t rely on cliches and didn’t hold back. It was packed with richly-rendered, distinctive, and ultimately lovable characters, and didn’t hesitate to put them—and us—through the wringer, but also didn’t keep us or them in that wringer, and balanced drama and comedy with aplomb. It looked great, too.

Finally, while that ship was built on stormy seas, it managed to sail the ship I wanted! It would have been a dealbreaker if it hadn’t, but that makes all the difference between simply liking or admiring a show, and actually loving it. O Maidens just…fit.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 11 – A Big Catch

In a desperate attempt for a win, any win, Nishikata manages to find out from Takagi’s friend that she’ll be walking down a certain road at a certain time, and arranges for a game to guess the steps to a certain spot.

Thinking more than one step ahead for once, he correctly predicts she’ll call for a further target, but he’s such an open book she changes it again, demonstrating that thinking just two steps ahead won’t cut it if you want to beat Takagi!

Still Takagi had fun, and is flattered that Nishikata would go so far to win a game, and asks what he wants her to get him as a souvenir on her family vacation. Later, Takagi’s friend can tell from her face “something nice happened.”

When Takagi is back, she presents Nishikata with another great gift: a 100% Unrequited Love-themed curry kit. He also went on vacation, and surprises her with a gift of cookies. Little does she know they’re sour cookies. When she suggests they go to the shrine to enjoy their gifts together, it’s the perfect chance to see her distressed, puckered face…

…But on the way there, Takagi expresses her happiness so genuinely, Nishikata has no choice but to warn her ahead of time. Turns out the cookies are actually pretty good. Takagi also uses their shrine visit to tell him she had her family vacation shortened so she could go to the upcoming summer festival.

Nishikata isn’t planning to go with anyone, and neither is Takagi, so she tells him in no uncertain terms that if someone asked her to go, she would—someone she teases all the time, for instance. Knowing him all to well, Takagi provides him with everything he needs…all he has to do is, well, ask her out.

The subtle animation really shines in this scene, conveying Takagi’s nervousness as she adjusts her legs and stretches her trembling hands, matching Takahashi Rie’s superb voice work.

Asking Takagi out is one of the hardest things Nishikata has ever had to do, because it pretty much throws out the window the fiction that, as he’s so fond of saying, “it isn’t like that” between them. When the two run into each other on the street and he offers to carry her groceries in his bike basket, the atmosphere gets more and more awkward as he utterly fails to speak up and say the words that need to be said.

I really can’t overstate how much tension is built up as they walk up to her house and say goodbye and he starts to walk away, without asking her out. Her usual cheerful smile vanishes, replaced by a look of resignation…she tried her best. But then she hears his bike returning, and the shy sonofabitch finally, finally asks her if she wants to go to the summer festival with him.

The answer, of course, is yes, and in her elation she tosses more canned drinks into his arms before he heads off to fish with his mates. Nishikata doesn’t get to see her adorable quivering look of relief and joy as he pedals off. Now this is how you build anticipation for the twelfth and final episode!

While fishing, even when he gets a bite on his line he doesn’t notice, as he’s in a kind of trance state. Not surprising, as he’d already snagged the biggest catch of his life.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 11 – No Time to Take Things Slow

Rika truly was transformed by her love of Amagi. Far from being disappointed or feeling betrayed by Juujo for going and getting herself knocked up, Rika is firmly in her corner. When Hitoha argues the other side too far, Rika almost calls out Hitoha’s own relationship before storming off, leading Hitoha to declare it’s “wrong to stop in the middle of things”—a glorious line considering its subtext.

Kazusa and Momoko are out of the loop, and so ponder and worry together right up until Momoko asks her who’d she’d rather sleep with to keep the world blowing up: her, or Milo-sensei. When Kazusa says she’d pick Milo because she’d “have to go with a guy,” then goes in for a “best friends!” hug, Momoko dodges, warning Kazusa to watch out for Niina before storming off herself.

Hitoha has noticed her interactions with Milo have become “softer and warmer” since their semi-cathartic encounter. She believes it’s because he interpreted her childish tears as being “overwhelmed by his kindness” when in reality, she felt so pathetic it actually felt good. With that in mind, she’s not quite ready to give up on him.

Meanwhile, Niina has never felt hatred about her present self, or more determined to eliminate that self as soon as possible. With Izumi unwilling to play ball, she arranges a meeting at a hotel with Saegusa, who is, unlike Milo, perfectly willing to follow through, the pervert.

But as he starts to touch her, Niina discovers something about that self she hates so much: it won’t be killed so easily. When Saegusa’s gross face and gross mouth and gross white nose hairs get too close, she instinctively slugs him, and flees.

The next morning, the only two who show up for lit club are Kazusa…and Niina. After a beautiful monologue that begins with her being lost in the haunted forest of those nose hairs, she tells Kazusa straight up that she’s in love with Izumi and plans to confess to him, even if he loves Kazusa.

To Niina’s shock, Izumi doesn’t react in anger, but in understanding, love, and gratitude. She wouldn’t have had the courage to confess to Izumi were it not for Niina’s help, so what kind of friend would she be to deny her the opportunity to do the same?

Niina and Kazusa go into the “best friends” hug Momoko wouldn’t, and everything seems hunky-dory…until we see Kazusa racing home in an absolute panic. She’s not sure what else she could have done in that situation, but she sure as shit isn’t happy about it!

In this episode full of people who believe they’re running out of time, Kazusa believes the only thing to do to stave off the threat of Niina is to put her mark on Izumi immediately. It just so happens his folks aren’t home, and she invites herself up to his room.

Her sexy underwear didn’t arrive in time, but she intends to make do, presenting herself for him to kiss, and when he expresses confusion, she declares her desire to do it with him, straight up. He tells Kazusa he wants to “treat her right” by taking things slow, but he also brings up Niina, souring the mood and leading to Kazusa’s early exit.

To add insult to injury, the underwear arrives, but Kazusa is so flustered by their presence she quickly snips them to tiny shreds with scissors. We segue from that particularly childish display to a very mature and elegant phone conversation between Rika, who is growing increasingly weary of herself (calling herself “a shameful disgrace”, and Amagi, warning her not to badmouth the girl he likes.

Their bliss is rudely interrupted by her mother bursting in the room. The next day there’s an all-school assembly where the principal and vice-principal announce that all “non-platonic interaction between the sexes” is banned with immediate effect. Rumors fly through the student body, including that Sonezaki and Amagi were spotted outside a love hotel and will now be expelled.

The scene of Rika being guided into a cab by her mom, like some kind of criminal, possibly never to return, is witnessed by Kazusa, Niina, Momoko and Hitoha, in an unlikely but very welcome reunion. It’s the start of the girls deciding to put aside their differences for Rika’s sake, their sakes, and the sake of the entire school.

Hitoha, who (rightly) blames herself for putting Rika and Amagi in that place at that time, is ready to confess, but Milo-sensei beats her to it, albeit keeping her name out of it (though he refers to her as “someone he’s considering a future with” in his lie). But the principals won’t budge; after Juujou, they’re prepared to make an example of Rika and Amagi.

Later, in the clubroom, Milo assures Hitoha he’ll keep fighting for Rika, but also admits he doesn’t quite have a plan for doing so at the moment. That’s unfortunately not good enough for these maidens in their savage season, who must make the most of this time and can’t afford to endure the oppression of the school’s new ban.

So, after Kazusa gives Izumi a solemn call telling him she’s about to commit a “grave sin,” she joins her sisters in kidnapping Milo-sensei, beating and tying him up, and using him as a hostage. The school staff is sent their demands, and when they arrive at the school the four girls are there to repeat them: lifting of the ban, reinstating of Rika, and an apology, or else.

No negotiations, no retreat: the maidens have spoken! As amazingly awful as it was to watch them nearly destroy each others’ friendships, this latest emergency of injustice has brought them back together, at least for now. Watching them use their powers to save one of their own another is an inspiring sight to behold, though I can’t see there not being serious consequences. Still, what’s done is done—and they did it together.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 10 – The Wrong Idea is the Right Idea

Whether by sheer chance or calculation as a result of her enduring affection for him, Takagi has been finding ways to progressively inch (or rather senchimetoru) a little bit closer to him. Her slow but steady pace exhibits sensitivity to the fact he’s still pretty childish.

While he’s just not quite at the stage of adolescence where he’s willing to be openly honest about his feelings for her, the pace could also be fine for her; after all, she’s had ample opportunities to push a little harder and further, but has remained immensely patient and incremental.

Knowing his patterns and habits is one way to get closer. She knows full well he was up late watching 100% Unrequited Love, so brings in some eye drops. When he can’t get the drops in without blinking, she offers to help, and tickles him into opening his eyes.

Then they switch places, and when Yukari (who already has her suspicions about the couple) enters the classroom it sure looks like they’re about to kiss. Yukari relays this to Houjou, who has a look but sees nothing untoward; then Yukari declares it a “scoop” but Sanae and Mina correct her; if she’s not sure what she saw it can’t be a scoop.

Whoever saw Takagi and Nishikata and whatever they think they saw, Takagi doesn’t mind, even if Nishikata still does. If the whole school manages to become comfortable with them as a pair before he does, so be it!

Takagi likely anticipates another opportunity to be close with Nishikata, as they engage in an after-school game of one-on-one hide-and-seek. She correctly predicts that despite the large field and long count, Nishikata will hide close by, and sure enough, she finds him behind a pair of oil drums.

What neither of them expected was for another couple to show up: Hamaguchi and Houjou, AKA “the ‘mature’ classmate.” Nishikata and Takagi play voyeurs for a bit as the other couple interacts in a way they probably wouldn’t if others were around.

Then Takagi makes her move, telling Nishikata that if they’re caught behind those drums, it’s better if what the others are assuming is the truth. Drawing closer and closer, Nishikata finally bails out, and he and Takagi have to awkwardly say hi, while Nishikata tells them they were just playing hide-and-seek, which, while the actual truth, probably sounds like a lie to Houjou and Hamaguchi.

At this point Nishikata is ready to head home to train for future teasing, but Takagi finds what looks like a treasure map on the ground, and he’s wrapped up in another roving adventure with her. The map eventually leads them to a tree that has a pair of names carved into the trunk. Takagi presumes it was the spot where a couple had their first kiss.

Hearing that, Nishikata wants to flee again, but Takagi suggests they sit down under the tree and enjoy the shade and gentle breeze. Out in the open yet all alone in a secluded, safe place known as the site of another first kiss, it looks like as good a place as any for Takagi to attempt to solicit her and Nishikata’s first kiss.

It’s certainly on Nishikata’s mind as she draws nearer and nearer…but she whips out her phone and headphones instead, asking if he’ll listen to some music with her. After playing him a recording of cats fighting outside her house last night, she pops one earbud into his ear so they can listen to the song that plays over the end credits together.

Sharing earbuds may not be a first kiss, but it is another first, and another centimeter closer. To quote Nishikata: “Crap, I really can’t compare with her, can I?” Nope!

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 10 – Maiden Abyss

God, where do I even start? I knew I’d be navigating an emotional minefield with a show like this, but in the spirit of one of this episode’s themes, the difference between thinking you know something and actually experiencing it in the moment is as vast as, well, the holes that threaten to swallow up every single character. Certainly far larger than the holes in the sexy underwear Kazusa is investigating on her phone.

Rika just happens to be hanging out with Amagi across the park where Hitoha gets picked up by Milo-sensei. Rika finds Hitoha’s underwear in the trash, freaks out for a minute, then calls a cab to follow them and hopefully save Hitoha and/or Milo from themselves/each other. She’s acting as a good friend would: as best she can with what little, highly concerning information she has.

Meanwhile, after all the hard work he did finding porn not set aboard trains, Niina has likely well and truly ruined them for him as anything pure and innocent, what with her placing his hand on her bum and keeping it there. Izumi pulls away and exits the train, but Niina follows him and demands to know why he’s going so far to refuse her.

Since he asked for advice, Niina offers to let him practice doing it on her. With all of her (not always consciously) honed powers of seduction in overdrive, she asks him straight up if he wants to do it with her, and he rejects her again, but not in the most convincing way.

Before leaving on the next train, Niina passes by and takes note of how hard he was—which is, of course, ludicrous: the hardness of one’s dick and one’s desire to sleep with someone are not the same thing at all. If Niina can’t ever get Izumi to love her like he loves Kazusa, she’ll do everything she can to make him desire her. She’s determined to kill that virginity of hers, and at the moment she has eyes only for him.

Momo plays Street Fighter alone in an empty arcade, and as she watches Chun Li get mercilessly wailed on by Ryu, she comes to a realization that had probably been gestating in her head and heart for some time. She texts Niina, asking to meet up and talk. Just then, Satoshi, a name I rather naively didn’t think I’d have to type again, texts her asking to meet up and talk.

Last week the window (or rather “hole”) seemed to be closing fast for Yamagishi-sensei to put a stop to a situation that, while not strictly illegal in Japan, is still a very bad idea for both parties involved. While yes, he picked up Hitoha, there’s still a possibility he’s just trying to scare her straight by only taking things so far.

Little does he know as he’s driving Hitoha is planning exactly what she’s going to do when they hit a red light: grab Milo’s hand and put it in her. It’s a bold plan to be sure, one I’m not sure she would have actually done, but we’ll never know, because they don’t hit another red light. Instead, Milo pulls in to a love hotel…the cheapest, seediest, least sexy love hotel he could find.

Rika arrives at the love hotel district, but there Hitoha’s trail goes cold, and Amagi really doesn’t want to hang around such a place, as it’s making him think and feel weird things when he’s committed to treating Rika right, a sentiment that makes her swoon when he expresses it.

To our unending relief, we finally learn definitively through his inner monologue that Milo has no intention whatsoever of going through with anything in that dingy lovenest, but makes the mistake of letting Hitoha go off to the bathroom (even more awful than the bedroom! They nailed the details on this shithole) to steel herself up, desperately swiping webpages on what to do in this situation.

She bursts out of the bathroom pounces on Milo, positions herself over his crotch, and starts unbuckling his belt and unzipping. Suddenly, a very stunned Milo has lost control of the situation. Hitoha is just as stunned, but feels if she’s gone this far there’s nowhere to go but forward.

But, once the zipper is down, and there’s no erection, Hitoha gives up and starts to cry, assuming it’s because she’s so “disgusting” to him. Always so condescending and rude in so many of their interactions, Milo drops that act, gently places his hand atop her head and tells her she’s wrong; this isn’t happening not because she’s ugly, but because he’s a coward.

As she cries in his arms, I breathe another sigh of relief. In the end, Yamagishi was the adult here, recognizing he had to to preserve her pride, and the best way to do that was to abandon his own for her sake. That may not satisfy or comfort her in the long run, but it stopped something very bad from happening for the wrong reasons.

Then comes an exchange I wish we didn’t have to witness, because it’s just so hard to watch and so gosh-darn realistic. Satoshi, “The Nice Guy,” didn’t take too kindly to being embarrassed in front of his friends at the cultural festival. He accuses Momo of leading him on, calls her a slut, and demands an apology lest he make it impossible for her to come back to cram school.

Momo isn’t apologizing, and she’s not going back to cram school either, and that’s that. But as she walks away, Satoshi grabs her arm, because he’s not done with her yet. She’s not showing him proper respect, you see? For that, Momo cries out so all the passersby can hear, and naturally Satoshi calls her weird and crazy and scurries off. What an apocalyptic boob. Maybe don’t grab girls who couldn’t be less interested in you and are trying to walk away, brah!

As Niina walks around the same district where we’ve already seen Rika, Amagi, Hitoha and Milo, she thinks about how she always, always gets comments and cat calls whenever she walks down this street…until now. It’s as if Izumi’s rejection of her has marked her as some kind of hideous creature from which all ment will keep their distance.

After years being looked at the wrong way, suddenly she no longer feels the attention…and she’s not feeling so great…like withdrawal from a drug you were forced to take. Then Momo calls her, again asking to meet up. After being touched by a guy, Momo wants Niina to touch her, to “purify” her, because she’s in love with her.

No longer feeling waves of desire from men in her radius, suddenly Niina is confronted by a woman, stating in no uncertain terms she wants to be touched by her. Niina isn’t sure how to respond, so she apologizes and ends the call.

And that, inexorably, brings is to Miss Smartphone Sexy Underwear Shopper. Kazusa is in a wonderful little bubble of bliss, as she has been ever since she and Izumi became a couple. That bubble only grows larger when Izumi gives her a quick “just calling to say I love you” call from the station where he’s still processing what happened with Niina.

It’s clear with this call Izumi is trying both to assuage the measure of guilt he feels and ease the swirling of confusing thoughts in his head by reiterating his feelings to Kazusa, clearly, out loud. He’s a mess, and the call does little to fix that.

After the call, Kazusa beams like we’ve never seen her before, then continues her underwear shopping. In voice-over, she states that at that time she had no idea what vast and widening holes her friends were staring down, nor that she’d soon be staring down her own once her blissful bubble inevitably bursts.

The next morning, Izumi can’t even hold hands on their walk to school for some vague fear of “the neighbors.” That last exchange with Niina really did a number on him, huh? Sure looks like it could be the beginning of the end for these two…before so much as a peck on the cheek.

That just leaves us with Rika and Amagi, the one couple that seems to actually, ya know, be okay! Just as Rika is starting to contemplate getting a little closer to him, the teacher (who is, let it be said, shitty for doing this) announces that her friend Sonoe got pregnant and is dropping out of school. As if the previous twenty minutes of carnage weren’t enough, one last savage dagger before the curtain.

I need a drink!

(Of Misery)

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 09 – Look Over Here

In Failed Attempt #5,704 to get one over on Takagi-san, Nishitaka challenges her to a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors With “Look Over There” (Acchi Muite Hoi), where the winner tries to get the loser to look where they point.

As usual, Nishikata underestimates Takagi, who not only fails to look where he points when he does win, but gets him to look exactly where she wants, distracting him by asking if he has a crush on her.

After Hina accidentally determines that Yukari’s talent is that she has none, Nishikata arrives at class the next day to find Takagi is…a little off. The whole day goes by without her teasing him, and she doesn’t offer to walk home together, so Nishikata is worried. He may claim to dislike her teasing, but if it doesn’t feel right when she doesn’t, what does that say about his true feelings on the matter?

On his way home he spots Takagi’s bike by a shrine, and finds her sitting by herself, as she says it, “spacing out.” Turns out she had a fight with her mom, and was feeling down. But without even trying, Nishikata manages to cheer her up, with the very “mystery box” full of cotton with which he intended to scare her. She has a laugh, and when Nishikata moves to leave, she gently, warmly asks if he’d stay a little longer. Who is he to refuse?

When Kimura shows Nishikata a dumb trick through text message, Nishikata reconsiders trying it on Takagi, worried she’s still feeling down because of her mom. But she texts him, saying she made up and everything is fine now, so he proceeds to send her a photo of his arm that vaguely looks like a butt.

Takagi punishes Nishikata for such a lame attempt to trick her/gross her out, she sends a number of questions to him that if he’s not careful how he words his responses, it could read as him confessing his love. He tries to play that game by texting “how about a kisu”, referring to the fish whose name sounds like “kiss.”

Takagi utterly defeats him once more by sending him a video response of her lying in bed, earnestly responding “I love (them),” then sending a text correctly assuming he’s blushing, and daring him to send a pic of his face to prove he isn’t. Of course, as she heads downstairs for dinner and bids him goodbye until school tomorrow, she’s blushing too.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 09 – What Now?

At least, for a little while, we get to experience the pure initial jubilation of Kazusa and Izumi being a couple, meeting outside their adjoining houses, and walking to and from school together. Everything looks brighter and shinier, food smells and tastes better, and Izumi looks cuter to Kazusa’s eyes. They’re very much on cloud nine, but throughout it all there’s the underlying knowledge that it just can’t last.

Rika, too, admits she has changed, as a “victim of love”, but has also learned that boys are far more sensitive and nuanced than she thought, and tells the rest of the club to value them as humans—something only she didn’t do before.

While all five girls were in one way or another “losers,” now suddenly Kazusa and Rika are “winners,” having broken the plane of boy-girl romance, and their subsequent floating on clouds does not go unnoticed by those left behind. As a self-proclaimed “loser” himself, it’s Milo-sensei’s experience that winning stifles the imagination, which suits Hitoha just fine.

You could also say that winners are so busy winning their guards are down. Kazusa buys Niina’s half-hearted congratulations, but what Niina doesn’t tell her is that she’s still considering whether to steal Izumi from her, and if so, how. Momo isn’t okay with that, and promises Niina that losing two friends (her and Kazusa) for one boy isn’t worth it.

Niina begs to differ: after all, saying she can’t have sex with mere friends—something Momo doesn’t seem that sure about.

So as their destruction is plotted, Kazusa and Izumi go about their wonderful glittery romance…only the glitter gives way to awkwardness when they find themselves alone in Izumi’s house together. What’s the next step for them? They have no idea, not just what they want to do, but what the other person wants to do.

They aren’t communicating properly yet, nor have they set boundaries or lack thereof, so they make assumptions, some of which are right, like Izumi sitting beside her. They hold hands together, but they both get hung up on how sweaty their hands are, and then Izumi’s mom comes in and suddenly they’re six feet apart.

Ultimately, they won’t know what they want to do until they try something, and they won’t know what to try with each other until they discuss it. Right now, their deep, ten-year familiarity is clashing with the newness of their boyfriend-girlfriend status, and resulting in a bit of a short-circuit.

Meanwhile, the fact Kasuza is with Izumi and Rika is with Amagi means the lit club is suddenly taking a break, giving the recent festival as an excuse, but let’s not fool ourselves: Momo and Hitoha and especially Niina are only going to sit and listen to Rika and Kazusa talk about how great it is to be dating boys for so long.

So Momo goes home alone, not knowing quite what to do about the rift between Niina and Kazusa. Niina invites Izumi to “ride the train” with him assuming she’s willing to offer advice as a friend. Hitoha ambushes Milo-sensei in the clubroom with an “expose,” and give him an ultimatum: sleep with her, just once, or everyone, including his beloved Tomita-sensei, will find out about all the things he’s said to a high school girl.

While I doubt Hitoha was simply bluffing here, the fact remains, she wasn’t 100% prepared for him to not only say “okay” to an offer of sex, but set a time and place for him to pick her up. Milo is quickly approaching the point of no return, but his feelings for Tomita, and the threat of her knowing how deviant he’s been, are clearly clouding his judgment.

Later, Hitoha waits at the agreed-upon time and place, and gets in when Milo-sensei stops and tells her to, tossing her underwear into a nearby garbage can. No good can come of this!

In a nice bit of synergy, the same book that Rika and her new gal friend Sonoe (with whom she now interacts far more comfortably) bond over in the library is the book Niina presents to Izumi on the train, describing his relationship with Kazusa to the The Little Prince and the one rose on his planet. When he went to earth, he found that roses were commonplace, but a fox told him that the sum of his time and experiences with that first rose make it unique.

Saegusa tells Niina that she’s the fox, saying the words that will lead to the Prince living the rest of his days with that one special rose, while the fox itself is never mentioned again once they part ways. To not be forgotten like the fox in the story, Niina has to make a bold move.

Whether someone was actually touching her bottom on the train once it gets crowded is immaterial; the point is, Niina wanted a situation in which she could tell Izumi to place his hand on her bottom. Not only that, there’s now a record of their exchange on their phones she could potentially use against Kazusa.

So one of Izumi’s hands is sweatily, awkwardly clutching Kazusa’s as the ticking of the clock grows louder and louder, and the other hand is resting on Niina’s bottom, with Niina’s hand guiding and keeping it there. So, as is asked many times in the heads of the characters this week, What Now?

Trouble…that’s what!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 08 – A Better Dream

This week Takagi and Nishikata get “stuck” in the storage shed after gym class, as Nishikata pretends he can’t open the door in order to scare Takagi. Honestly it’s a pretty sizable “own goal” on his part, as Takagi doesn’t mind being alone in a shed with Nishikata one bit. She even realizes pretty quickly that the door’s not really locked, but if he’s going to make conditions so perfect for teasing, who is she to resist?

While in the dim shed Nishikata scrapes a knee, so Takagi takes him to the conveniently empty nurse’s office to administer antiseptic. Again, the two are all alone, and Takagi makes sure to point this out, sitting on the bed with Nishikata (the second bed of the episode!) and putting her hand just an inch from his, daring him to hold it and claim victory. Unfortunately, Nishikata…just can’t do it.

When the two compare dreams of what they’d do with a million (then ten million) yen, we can see the recurring theme of Nishikata being an unapologetic, helpless…kid. He wants to buy all the video games and comics; she wants to go on vacation with “someone she loves”—someone Nishikata can’t yet realize or accept to be…him.

Presumably, at some point, Nishikata will grow up a little more and take Takagi’s numerous, increasingly obvious hints. Or perhaps the time will come when Takagi will stop “teasing” and simply tell him upfront how she feels, leaving no room for doubt and not following it up with a “just joking.”

Mind you, I’m not saying that’s Takagi’s responsibility to move this thing forward. For all I know, she’s fine with things the way they are—which is why she’s not pressing—or she’s waiting to see how things play out. In any case, her odds of a desirable outcome are surely better than winning a 10 million-yen lotto ticket.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 08 – Where Legends are Made

This week, with the cultural festival as the backdrop, every O Maiden decides they’re going to make a choice that will hopefully ensure them happiness and stability as they move forward.  Naturally, things don’t start out smoothly for anyone.

For Kazusa, it’s deciding to tell Izumi upfront how she feels. As her performance with Niina looms, Kazusa is mindul, and nervous, of the fact that Izumi is about to witness her essentially rehearse her confession to him with Niina on stage.

Momo decides she’s not going to entertain Sugimoto’s vapid attention any longer, something she’s even more sure of when he shows up with two of his friends. When Rika sees another girl flirting with Amagi, she starts to realize they can’t have relationship if she insists on keeping it secret from the world.

Then there’s Niina. She seems the most lost out of everyone, caught between feelings for Saegusa and Izumi, but neither sure what those feelings are or how to act on them. For his part, Izumi is taken aback when she puts her hand on his face, leading to her scurrying off while he struggles to hold three teapots—which I’m sure is a metaphor for something.

Hongou finds her encounters with Milo-sensei almost completely dominated by the presence of the modern Japanese teacher Tomita-sensei, who has clearly taken a liking to Milo. Tomita doesn’t see Hongou as a threat, she sees her as a child and a student, and there’s clearly the sense Milo appreciates having Tomita around, almost as a shield from Hongou’s potential mischief. But any discomfort he has comes out of his refusal thus far to set clear boundaries, a responsibility that’s his and his alone.

While wallowing in the rest area, Rika is joined by Sonoe, and the two get to talking about the latter’s boyfriend. Sonoe, who it should be said is clearly ready to move on from bullying Rika to a conventional friendship between hotties, tells Rika how her thing with her boyfriend was physical at first, but became romantic when she learned he was a nice guy. Also, that it’s only natural to want to show off and be proud of the person they like. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Izumi in the audience would be awkward enough, but Saegusa also joins the crowd, sitting right beside Izumi. Suddenly, it’s a rehearsal for Niina as well as Kazusa, in which to somehow prove to Saegusa that she’s not boring, that despite having become a woman, she can still be unpredictable like a child.

When nobody expects it, and just when Kazusa is starting to get into rhythm with Izumi less of a source of stress and more of a calming presence, Niina flips the script, walks out into the crowd, and puts her hand on Izumi’s chest, shocking everyone there (and no one more than Kazusa), but eliciting an impressed smirk from Saegusa.

Izumi takes Niina by the wrist to talk in private, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as they hoot and applaud what looks to all the world like two lovers shuffling off to be alone. In the moment, it looks like a heel turn for Niina (if you’re an KaZumi shipper, like me).

Izumi is surprised when Niina tells him even she didn’t really know what she was doing, he surmises that it may have been to make Saegusa jealous, and that if she still wants to do that kind of stuff because she still likes Saegusa, he’s willing to help her. The key is, she should focus on what she wants, not how others will see it. A tall task for someone all but defined by observers. But the one thing Izumi can’t see is the real reason Niina reached out to him: she likes him.

As for Kazusa, she also considered the fact that it may be game over for her and Izumi before she even took her shot, but she’s determined to take that shot anyway. Seeing how Niina looked when she touched Izumi clinched it for her: for someone who clearly likes him that much to still support Kazusa, who only ever thought about herself…that’s the person she’d want to be with Izumi, rather than some rando.

Everything comes to a head at the bonfire that concludes the festival. Due to the buzz caused by the performances—no doubt supercharged by Niina’s improvisation—the whole school is aware of the urban legend about standing in the shadow of the one you love, and people are trying it out.

It’s the first time Hongou’s work has reached an audience so large, and the pride in her accomplishment fuels her confidence in wanting to try it out on Milo-sensei. Unfortunately she doesn’t come close to getting a chance; Milo is well away from the bonfire’s flames, chatting with Tomita-sensei.

Rika fares better. Turns out Amagi wasn’t as close to giving up on them as it seemed last week, but Rika goes for broke and confesses to him in front of everyone, telling him she can now see the difference between romance and sexual desire, but more to the point, she doesn’t care anymore about anything other than Amagi knowing she’s in love with him. He responds by hugging her, telling her he’s never been so happy.

Momo was successful in getting Sugimoto to take a hike, but that leaves her alone at the bonfire when everyone else is busy with their respective love interests. Still, you get the feeling she’d rather be alone than have those annoying dudes buzzing around her, so it’s a win for her.

Niina tells Saegusa that she’s decided to let herself “obsess” over someone for the first time, and see where it goes, after a lifetime of keeping her distance. She’s pretty much asserting she has to look out for herself, even if it hurts Kazusa and ends up fruitless, as Izumi just doesn’t see her that way, and has—has always had—someone closer to him.

That brings us to Izumi, who beats Kazusa to the punch and and confesses to her first, moving her to tears of joy and relief. He references that day years ago when he first saw her as a girl, and after all those years of her protecting him, he decided he wanted to protect her too. Big sister, little sister, good friend…she’s been all of those things to him, but now he knows all of those characterizations are reflections of the love he’s always had for her.

The two walk to the riverfront hand-in-hand to admire the cityscape, at peace and happy as clams. So many weights have been lifted on this night, but the smooth sailing will only last so long with four episodes left. Storms lie ahead, and the strength of all of the night’s confessions and rejections place will be vigorously tested. I’m fist-pumpingly happy for Kazusa and Rika, but love and pain do go hand in hand!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 07 – Wandering Stars

Nishikata has big plans for teasing Takagi on the camping trip, no doubt hoping a change of scenery will restore some of his mojo. During the class photo, he plans to make a half-peace sign that will look like a creepy hand behind her back. Alas, no matter where the two are, Takagi is always a step ahead, flashing a face funny enough that not only does Nishikata miss his chance, but he’s in the midst of laugher camera shutter clicks.

The show pulls out of the photo, presumably into the future, to a grown-up, smiling Takagi. Something tells me that isn’t the smile of someone who didn’t end up getting her man when all was said and done and the teasing and games turned to straight-up love.

Takagi and Nishikata end up paired up again when Mano needs a rest and they both make sure Nakai stays with her. It starts to rain suddenly (they’re in the mountains, where weather actually is that fickle) and end up alone in a small shelter together, watching that rain (not, as Nishikata points out, for the first time).

He decides to challenge Takagi to another game, involving blind tasting of the snacks they’ve brought. Clearly he didn’t think this through, because Takagi all-too-easily exploits his opening to make him feed her, his hand to her mouth. Even when the rain stops, Takagi wants one more game…so she can feed him.

After that, it’s time for the old Japanese school camping trip standby of homemade curry. Yukari cuts her finger, so Mina and Sanae have to do all the cooking among them. Nishikata, meanwhile, is too preoccupied with how he can stem what is so far a complete rout of him by Takagi in the teasing department.

When she approaches him, correctly observing he’s thinking of a way to get back at her, she presents him with game that all too easy to win: all he has to do is hold her hand. Nishikata bristles at such a potentially embarrassing gesture, but then remembers that hand-holding between sexes is all too normal during the folk dance ’round the bonfire that night.

To make things a little more difficult for Nishikata, Takagi is arranged in such a way that it takes a good long time for them to come around to each other. As Nishikata sees Takagi holding hands with other boys and smiling, I couldn’t help but notice a tinge of jealousy in his face, along with the thought that Takagi actually wants to hold hands with him.

Both are shocked when the music stops just when they’re about to pair up; their hands remaining an inch apart as the other kids disperse. “That’s too bad, Nishikata” she says to him before joining the other girls for a bath. “Just a bit more and we would have fallen in love,” referring to the school legend.

The thing is, Takagi and Nishikata don’t need any help from bonfires or folk dances to enjoy spending time together. Fate seems to already paired them up; all Nishikata needs to do is grow up a bit more. After lights out, when Nishikata can’t sleep, he encounters her making a wishing on the stars. When the patrolling teacher approaches, they have to hide in a very small cave, huddled closely together.

When the teacher finally leaves, they stay put for a little while, ostensibly in case he comes back, but also because it’s just frikkin’ nice. As they gaze up at the stars together, Nishikata asks what she was wishing for earlier. She tells him she wished for exactly what she ended up getting: to go stargazing with him.

While he may consider that more teasing, one look at Takagi’s face makes it clear she was being completely honest. My wish is that Nishikata will realize that one day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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