Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 12 (Fin) – Virgin Saints to Kissing Experts

After consulting with Miyabi on kissing (who is just as much a novice as she is and thus no help), Ao realizes that in all of her scenarios in which she and Kijima do it, she overlooked the fact that a first kiss should happen first. But who should initiate? She’s confident that “Virgin Saint” Kijima won’t, so she resolves to be a saint herself and not expect anything.

That all goes out the window virtually the next time they see each other. Kijima meets Ao in an empty classroom at sunset, he calls her beautiful, she brings up kissing, and when he gives her an opening, she moves with the sudden gust of wind and takes it. Apologizing for breaking their promise, Kijima kisses her right back, twice, so that both of them have broken it and can now start fresh.

That creates a new problem, as even after her first kiss(es) with Kijima, Ao becomes fixated on his previous kisses, when she hears classmates talk about him being “good at it.” Kijima doesn’t know what they’re talking about, as Ao is not only the first girl he kissed, but he practiced with a pillow (as many do). Still, she lets out one last “I’m done!” and scurries away in outrage.

Later, when she realizes she overreacted and really just wants to see Kijima’s face, there he is, at the same bookstore she’s at, and they leave hand in hand. Kijima, after consulting his friends, decides to be as honest as he dares—admitting his first kiss was with Ao (though he doesn’t mention the pillow). They realize neither of them is a “natural” at kissing, but they liked their kiss because they like each other.

Unfortunately for Ao, the title of this show ends up being on point: due to her preoccupation with Kijima and kissing, she does horribly on her mock exams. Even so, thanks to Kijima she learned something very valuable: Never underestimate how much your ideas about love have been warped by your erotic novelist Pops!

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Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 11 – Takumi Can’t Get the Picture!

Takumi suggests he and Ao study together some time, but Ao is against it because she knows what such things can lead to. However, Takumi says “pretty please,” so she grudgingly agrees, and orders her first pair of silky panties so that if and when Takumi makes his move, she’ll be prepared.

Then she goes to Takumi’s and they’re both alone together, and there’s never an if or when. One, two hours pass, and Takumi only seems interested in…studying. Even when they make a wager for the loser to do whatever the winner wants, he just wants her to make her lunch again.

This steams Ao’s beans, because she went out of her way to wear sexy panties for the occasion, and Takumi is so pure and dense he can’t take the hint that it’s okay for him to make a move. It either never occurs to Ao that SHE should make the first move instead, or she, like Takumi, is too inexperienced and timid and afraid of coming on to strong.

So Takumi fails to resemble anything like the crazed sex beast of her imagination, and ends up a lot more like…well, like her. Only he likely wore comfortable boxers with the knowledge she’d never see them, while she ends up with a stomachache due to being unaccustomed to low-riding underwear. If she wants…that from Takumi, simply waiting isn’t going to cut it. She’s going to have to say or do something, and deal however he ends up responding.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 10 – …But She CAN Run!

Ao is utterly apathetic about the upcoming sports festival, until she learns Takumi will be on the cheer squad, and dedicates herself to training hard for the 800m run so she can experience the joy of being cheered on by the guy she likes.

Kudos for the show finally portraying these two as a comfortable, easygoing couple, even if they’re not 100% officially “dating;” it’s nice to see Ao not only publicly acknowledging her interest in Takumi (already well known in her class) but contributing to him making the decision to participate.

Of course, there has to be a conflict of some kind (beyond winning the race) and it comes in the form of her father, who has embarrassed her at every level of her education during the sports festival. When she bans him from this one, he bans her from ever moving out, and the two.

Yet, despite their fight, and despite the fact Ao made sure Yabe increased his workload tenfold, her father still makes it to the festival. Ao notices him just after having a talk with Takumi, who tells her he’s probably not that upset over their fight and that she should just talk to him.

While Pops gets to apologize, and explains his presence as having done all the work put before him with maximum efficiency, all so he could watch her compete, Ao is about to apologize back, but it’s time to run. Her dad joins Takumi and the cheer squad, and Ao takes the lead, but starts flagging in the home stretch.

This is when Pops fulfills Ao’s worst fear, yelling for her to hold onto her “G-cups” so she can run faster. This embarrasses her, Takumi, the cheer squad, and also freezes the other runners, as well as energizes Ao into finding her second wind and finishing first. But her Pops doesn’t escape a beatdown for his raunchy words.

Of course all of this could have been avoided if the show remembered there are these things called sports bras, to be used while running, jumping, and doing other athletic things!

Fruits Basket – 06 – Not One to Ask for the Moon

After a particularly narratively and emotionally heavy episode that ends with Tooru back where she belongs, we get something much lighter, starting with the cultural festival at school, the great success of Tooru’s onigiri, and Yuki giving his upperclassmen the going-away present of cross-dressing for them.

We also meet a Souma relative somehow more annoying than Kagura (though mercifully less violent): Momiji, the pint-sized half-German who is brazen enough to hug Tooru in the middle of school and transform into his Zodiac form, the rabbit. Thankfully Yuki manages to distract the class with his charms.

We also meed Momiji’s minder, Souma Hatori, whose animal remains a mystery for now (my money’s on Ox), and who was the one who altered memories the last time Yuki’s secret was exposed to normies. Once he and Momiji are gone, Yuki laments to Tooru how unmanly it is to be called “cute”, and she can’t deny she thinks he’s cute-looking too.

Yuki throws her for a sudden dokidoki loop when he tells her he’s sure she’d look much cuter than him in his princess dress. While heading inside, Tooru is confronted by her BFFs Uotani and Hanajima, who are concerned she’s hiding something from them from the way she’s acting around the Soumas. When she says she’s living with them, she assures them there’s nothing to worry about.

Uotani and Hanajima decide to determine that for themselves, leading to an impromptu visit and sleepover at Shigure’s house. Tooru learns (and is duly #impressed) that Shigure is an author, of both “high” and “low” literature. While Tooru is grabbing some playing cards, Uotani and Hanajima wonder if they’re actually useful friends to her anymore, considering in her dire need they weren’t there to help.

Kyou and Yuki tell them she doesn’t sweat things like that, nor does she “ask the moon” of her friends. It’s more than enough for Uo and Hana to be by her side, like they were at her mom’s funeral, like they are at school, and like they are tonight at her new home. Tooru confirms this by telling them the story of her baseball cap, which a boy (that looked an awful lot like Yuki or Kyou in silhouette) gave her when she was feeling sad and lonely years ago.

After a good night’s sleep in Tooru’s awesome bed, Uo and Hana have some breakfast and give the Soumas their official approval. Not only are they kind gents (despite their spirited cat-and-rat rivalry), but they already know Tooru well, and appreciate her. Yuki and Kyou also agree that Uo and Hana can come back anytime…as long as the Souma family secret is maintained.

Speaking of which…Souma “Memory Modifier” Hatori is Tooru’s latest “Ominous End-of-Episode Phone Call,” basically ordering her to report to the main house on her next day off school to speak to him and possibly meet Akito, the family head—who admits in a scene with Shigure that he does ask the moon. Now what could they want with Tooru?

Fruits Basket – 05 – Rescuing the Princess

This episode’s cold open moved me to tears. Tooru’s grandfather has informed her that his house is sufficiently ready for them to move back in. Just like that, her new life with her unique new friends has been snatched away from her.

There’s a palpable atmosphere of gloom and emptiness to the scene in which she tells the others, before realizing she hasn’t started dinner. Then, while in the kitchen, her mom suddenly walks in the door, and she’s in her old kitchen, making dinner despite suffering a fever.

When she tells her mom she couldn’t just stay in bed while she’s working so hard, her mom simply hugs her, and says sometimes it’s okay to be discouraged or selfish, once in a while. It’s as if she almost did too good a job raising her daughter!

When the kettle whistles she’s brought back to the Souma house, and declares that no, she’s okay. It doesn’t matter if she can get discouraged, she won’t get discouraged. Gramps’ newly renovated house may well be fine; and definitely better than her tent!

But for someone who’s come so far in so short a time, it feels like moving backwards, and that she’s deferring her happiness in order to go with the flow. Trying to convince herself she and the Soumas can’t be family when they already are just that.

It’s heartbreaking and yes, tear-jerking. It remains so as she tells herself she was never the brightest bulb, hearkening back to grade school when she played in the “Fruits Basket” game that gives this series its name, and in which she was cruelly excluded by being declared an onigiri.

She declares it foolish to ever believe she could join the Fruits Basket group of Zodiac animals that is the Souma clan. But she’s wrong, you see. She’s foolish to think she was or is foolish. It’s when she’s welcomed “home”, where her grandfather can’t even get her fucking name right, when I thought to myself it can’t end this way.

I’m not alone, as a melancholy Yuki and Kyou recall all the good times they had with their dear friend Tooru, whom they allowed to depart without any resistance, and suddenly sport defiant looks on their faces. They’re on my side; they’re not gonna let it end this way.

Every second Tooru is in that hellish house with those trash people, it made my blood boil. Being asked to hurry up and unpack her meager two shopping bags of effects. Her mother’s older sister hiring a P.I. to investigate where Tooru was living to protect her son, who’s going to be a police officer and can’t have any bad apples in the family mucking that up. Calling her sister a bad seed and declaring “like mother, like daughter.” Tooru’s asshole of a cousin, leering at her while asking if the men she lived with did anything indecent.

Gramps may confuse Tooru with his daughter, but he’s still sharp enough to slap his would-be cop punk of a grandson for speaking to “Kyouko” that way, and condemning his family as a bunch of “unpleasant people”…which they most certainly are! Go Gramps! He concedes that he has to put up with them, but tells her that she doesn’t. Her late father said Kyouko deserved to live where she could “spread her wings,” so if there’s a place where she’s happier, she should go there.

Still, Tooru resists. She doesn’t deserve “more.” She has to be grateful with what she has. She’s “blessed”. She shouldn’t say “I want to go home,” and home not be her gramps’. She can’t say “I didn’t want to leave!” If she did, that would be selfish, and mean she’s too soft on herself? “Yes,” replies Yuki, suddenly in the living room, dazzling the stage.

Flashback to before his surprise appearance; he and Kyou are taking out their frustration on each other, as per ususal, with Shigure in the middle. Yuki notices the note with Tooru’s address on the table, and excuses himself to take a walk. Kyou has the same thought, but is just a step behind.

He catches up, and after walking around in circles, remember the exterior walls of the house aren’t finished. They knock on the door but no one answers, then watch the scene we just saw unfold and wait for the right time to swoop in. When that moment arrives, Yuki is there, followed closely by Kyou, who escorts her out while Yuki grabs her things and calls her cousin a lowlife.

Kyou tells her he’s been on edge since the moment she left, and now knows why: she didn’t want to leave. It’d piss him off to indulge someone’s daily selfishness, but in Tooru’s case, it’s okay once in a while, repeating the words her mother said to her. So she finally lets herself be selfish, and declares she wants to go home to where he and Yuki and Shigure are.

Yuki and Kyou take her hands and do just that. Finally, in the Fruits Basket game of her life, the onigiri has been chosen. Her new tribe may not be perfect, and their house always on the verge of being destroyed by familial strife, but she’s home, with her family, where she belongs. As the cameras pan up from the exterior of the house to the dusk sky, it’s never looked more beautiful.

Fruits Basket – 04 – Boarish Manners

That meek, soft-spoken girl at the door who wants to see Ryou? Uh, she’s not so meek once she sees him for the first time in four months. She delivers upon him a beatdown the likes of which we’d yet to see if this series, far beyond his sparring with Yuki. Turns out that’s just how Souma Kagura expresses her affection…with extreme prejudice. Her two-sided personality is voiced by the supremely talented Kugimiya Rie.

Kyou’s two years older, self-professed fiancee (based on a promise he made at knife-point when they were kids), Kagura demands to know where she stands, and doesn’t like how there’s another woman living in his house, albeit one who can’t hug him without making him turn into a cat. Since they’re both Soumas and Zodiac animals, she can hug him freely.

Kagura is clearly much stronger than Kyou, and so basically rolls himself into a ball and endures her savage beatings, but he dares to silence her when she starts mentioning his “true form” to Tooru. As someone who hasn’t yet found her first love, Tooru can’t help but feel a little jealous that Kagura loves someone as deeply as she does.

Repairing the substantial damage to Shigure’s house takes up much of the day (especially with Shigure and Yuki pointedly not helping), and before long, Kyou’s stomach starts to grumble. Tooru offers to start dinner, as is routine, but Kagura stops her in her tracks. Tonight, she’ll be the one to feed her beloved Kyou. The resulting feast reduces the food supply in the fridge to nothing, but as seems to be Kagura’s M.O., she got a little carried away.

As good as the food looked, part of me expected it to taste vile or some such, but nobody even gets to eat any of it, as Kyou snaps at Kagura when she says it’s ready, and she responds by driving him through the floor and onto the feast, ruining it all. With no other food to cook, Kagura heads out to the grocery store in a huff.

It isn’t until she’s at the checkout that she realizes she left her purse at home, but Tooru bails her out by paying for her, and the two women walk home together. When asked, Tooru specifies her “love” the sign of the Cat more than overt romantic love for Kyou himself, and is “humbled” by the extent of Kagura’s love.

Here we have another example of Tooru not judging someone as volatile as Kagura, but rather believing in her and her long-standing love for Kyou. Kagura in turn thanks Tooru for coming for her, and the two make hamburger steaks together. This time, when everything is ready, Tooru climbs up to the roof to tell Kyou.

Up there, she tells him how lucky he is that someone cares for him and worries about him so much—not surprising, coming from someone who was loved by her parents, but lost them far too soon.

She also brings up peoples’ dreams, whether Kagura’s dream of marriage to someone she can truly embrace, to Kyou’s love of martial arts. Tooru sees another side of Kyou as he lights up talking about martial arts. It’s clearly not just about beating Yuki, but becoming better and better at it.

When Tooru gets Kyou to come down to eat, Kagura presents him with a hamburger steak a little different from the others: his has a fried egg on top, like the fried egg he was drawing in the sand when they first met, which was when Kagura basically fell for him. Kyou tastes his dinner and through his sheepish silence expresses his approval and thanks.

The next morning, Kagura has to leave, and bids Kyou farewell with a big hug, followed by one last beatdown. Kyou says some unkind words, and Kagura responds by punching through the front door…and straight into the chest of the paperboy.

Yuki manages to distract the civilian, but Tooru finally learns that Kagura is the sign of the Boar—very appropriate considering her propensity for charging headlong towards her goals. When Tooru compliments her as the cutest boar anyone could ever ask for, she transforms back into a woman—a naked woman, on Kyou’s back.

That brings us to a cliffhanger that threatens the relative peace of the last four episodes, as well as the status as Tooru’s new home and life. She gets a call from her grandfather, and the contents of the message are enough of a shock for her to drop the gardening books she checked out. Is Tooru doomed to lose everything once more, after an all-too-brief taste of happiness?

Fruits Basket – 03 – The Different Shapes of Kindness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fruits Basket – 02 – Sodium in Water

When Kyou, Yuki and Shigure all transform into animals, Tooru panics, right up until the dog signs for a package with his seal, and they start talking with human speech. Turns out each member of the Souma clan is possessed by an animal of the Zodiac, and when hugged by the opposite sex, they transform into those animals for a time, eventually changing back to (buck naked) humans.

To call Yuki and Kyou like oil and water would be inaccurate: oil kinda just sits on top of water. Yuki’s more like sodium and Kyou water; it always ends up with an unpleasantly violent explosion. Once’s everyone’s dressed they go at it again, and Kyou breaks a table in his rage, accidentally injuring Tooru’s forehead. Yuki has had enough, and decides to show why sparring with Kyou is never fun for him: he always wins handily.

At school, suspicions from Yuki’s fan club persist, but he doesn’t pay them any mind, and meets with Tooru in an empty classroom, asking if she told anyone about “them.” Tooru takes this to mean the Souma family secret of animal transformation, but it could just as easily be asking if Tooru told her friends she was now friends with Yuki and living in his house.

Regardless, Yuki informs Tooru that Shigure has to report to the Souma family head, Akito, who will determine what if anything is to be done about Tooru knowing, up to and including memory-suppressing hypnosis. Tooru accidentally bumps into him, turning him into a rat, but once the shock of that is over, Tooru expresses her wish that even if her memories do have to be altered, she’d like to still be friends with Yuki afterwards.

Back home, Kyou is making preliminary repairs on Tooru’s ceiling, and is about to offer some kind of apology when Shigure returns home with good news: as long as Tooru keeps their secret, she’s free to live there without any memory modification. Tooru celebrates by putting her well-honed cleaning and cooking skills to use. That night, she learns Shigure has arranged for Kyou to transfer to Yuki and Tooru’s school.

The reason for this is because he essentially dropped out of the school he was attending to train his body and mind to defeat Yuki, and he could use a fresh start to learn more about interacting with people in ways other than confrontation and combat. True to his Zodiac sign, this is better said than done.

He causes an instant sensation at school, as the girls flock to his desk to chat with him. Not used to so much attention, he tries to get away, but one of the girls clings to him, and he puts her in a painful arm lock before jumping out a high window (and landing on his feet, natch). In other words, not a good start!

Outside, Yuki tracks Kyou down and scolds him, and their two diametrically opposed goals are made plain: Kyou wants to work to become a full-fledged member of the Souma clan, something Yuki considers a cage he’d rather escape.

The fight gets heated, and Tooru intervenes, resulting in Kyou transforming into a cat. The enraged Kyou snaps at Tooru once more, and she slinks away, believing Kyou truly hates him. Yuki doesn’t even bother punching him.

Back home, Shigure tells Kyou it’s simply not going to be easy, but he has to keep going to school, and consider it training. That means hurting, being hurt, and developing empathy that informs his future words and actions, not just going with his impulses.

As Tooru walks home from work later that night, she remembers her vow to her mom to cease being a Dog and become a Cat in solidarity for the way the Cat was treated in the Zodiac legend, but now that she’s met the Cat, he seems to hate her. Of course, that’s not strictly true; Kyou simply isn’t sure how to act around Tooru yet, and takes Yuki’s place as her escort home as an olive branch.

He snaps at her again once or twice, but takes the advice from Shigure—not every strike, verbal or physical, needs to be carried through. He can stop short; hold his tongue or fist; consider a less extreme response. He tells her she can call his name even if she doesn’t need anything, can hang around where he can see her, and she’s welcome to hit him if she says or does something she doesn’t like. It’s his way of apologizing, and it lifts Tooru’s spirits considerably. She tells Kyou about her love of the Cat, and her desire to be friends with its vessel.

Kyou reacts somewhat like a tsundere would, and Tooru feels she finally understands Kyou has a gentle heart under the rough exterior. Having thus made peace with Cat and having official permission from the family head to live with Yuki and Shigure, Tooru is looking forward to fun-filled days ahead. Here’s hoping she gets them; she’s already experienced enough of the other kind.

Fruits Basket (2019) – 01 (First Impressions) – Anywhere Can Be Home

Honda Tooru’s backstory is almost comically tragic: her father died of an illness when she was three, and one day her mother was killed in an auto accident. The only relative who’d bring her in was her pensioner grandfather, for whom she didn’t want to be a burden.

Then his house needed months of renovations, so he told her it might be best if she moved into a friend’s house…only she felt too bad about staying at her one friend’s tiny apartment or to be another mouth to feed at her other’s. So she started living in a tent she bought on sale.

Unbeknownst to her, this tent is on private property belonging to the Souma family, one member of which, Yuki, is in her class. When they cross paths while she’s exploring her tent’s surroundings, she meets Yuki’s older cousin, Shigure.

When Yuki and Tooru walk to school together, his fan club, “Prince Yuki” aren’t having it, and give her a multi-pronged verbal attack. She’s saved by her yankee BFFs, Uotani and Hanajima, who you’ll remember, are not aware that their lovely friend is essentially homeless. But they have her back. In exchange, she helps them ace Home Ec by doing all the cooking, which she’s of course happy to do.

After school, Yuki walks with Tooru and they discuss the Zodiac (a subject first broached when she saw Shigure’s Zodiac knickknacks). In particular, Tooru voices her love of the Cat, even though it has no official place in the Chinese Zodiac. Tooru declares the Cat an “idiot” and that the math was never there for it to begin with. Before Tooru rushes off to work, Yuki tells her to look out for her health—no doubt sensing how thin she’s stretched.

After Tooru gives her appalling sad life story so far, through which she’s remained strong, upbeat, and committed to taking care of herself and burdening no one, we see her working so hard at her job that her older co-workers consider her a godsend.

Later that night, as she’s walking (or more accurately teetering) “home”—to her tent—she’s spotted by Yuki and Shigure, on a stroll of their own. That’s when she first learns she’s squatting on Souma land. Shigure can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of a high school girl living in a tent…but as Yuki says, it’s not that funny. And it isn’t! It’s heartbreaking!

It’s doubly heartbreaking because no one, not even someone as strong-willed and determined as Tooru, can go to school, keep up with her studies, and work as many jobs as she can to pay for that school, all while living in a tent. When Shigure hears a wolf howling, that indicates to him that there was a landslide nearby; possibly near her campsite.

They rush there to find her tent buried under a huge mound of earth, but because the photo of her mother is in there, she starts clawing at it, despite the fact she’s already running on fumes and about to keel over from fever and exhaustion. Shigure makes sure she’s in bed at their place while Yuki employs thousands of rats to help him dig out Tooru’s effects.

Wait…thousands of rats? What’s that about???

Before falling asleep, Tooru tells Shigure about how her mom only had a middle school diploma, and wanted her daughter to experience high school life rather than go right into the labor force. Tooru also recalls the last morning her mother was alive. She’s haunted by the fact she was studying all night and so slept in and didn’t get to say “itterasshai.” 

It was the one and only time she never said it, and that was the day she was killed in the accident. Like I said, Tooru’s story would be ridiculous if it weren’t presented to straight-forwardly and soberly. Once she’s out, Yuki admits that compared to her, he’s spoiled beyond belief.

After a dream of her mom that has her waking up with tears in her eyes, her first thought is to recover the picture, only to find Yuki outside, picture in one hand, and her other stuff in the other. He says there’s an extra bedroom on the second floor, and she’s welcome to stay there until the renovations at her grandfather’s are complete.

True to form, Tooru doesn’t want to be any trouble to them…but she isn’t. Besides, he and Shigure were just talking about how their household is in dire need of someone who is good at cooking and cleaning; Tooru likes doing those things—she even cooked for her mom! So it’s not like she’s going to be a freeloader.

All she has to do, Yuki says, is be Tooru and “go at her own pace.” That moves Tooru, because her mom said those same words to her.

It doesn’t take long for Tooru to learn that she’s not going to be the main source of trouble here, nor a source of strangeness. There’s plenty of that in the Souma family, as while they’re airing out her new room, a guy named Kyou who was lurking in a tree bursts through the ceiling and picks a fight with Yuki.

In the ensuing chaos, Tooru trips on a piece of wood and lands in Kyou’s chest in a kind of pseudo-hug. Kyou instantly transforms…into a cat. Her first thought is to rush him to a hospital, but a piece of wood falls on her head, and she falls into both Shigure and Yuki, transforming them into a dog and rat, respectively.

So there you have it; the secrets out: the Soumas are a family of animals representing the Chinese Zodiac, who normally have human form, but transform when hugged. Shigure understanding the wolves’ howling; Yuki’s inherent hatred of cats, it’s all explained. But more importantly, Tooru is no longer on her own.

There are people—strange, supernatural people, but people all the same—who have opened their home to her, and won’t hear of her roughing it any longer as she works herself into another fever. And while neither Yuki or Shigure represent a pig, their place is a mess, which is where Tooru’s skills come in. It’s a mutually beneficial situation.

I’m happy for Tooru, and can’t wait to see how her new housemates handle her discovering their secret. I may have gotten into this show nine weeks late, but it’s right up my alley, with a winning premise reminding me a lot of Kamisama Hajimemashita. Of course, that show is based on a manga first published seven years after the original anime adaptation of this show, so this has the older pedigree.

In any case, there’s a lot of warmth, moving drama, lighthearted comedy, and plenty of potential for romance here, and I’m looking forward to catching up with the rest of the anime-watching masses on what looks like one of the Spring’s consensus best.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 09 – Another Goal

Ao has successfully gotten rid of Kijima. At school, he avoids her, and warns others not to interrupt “Miss Horie’s” studying. At home, she has only a super-creepy companionship doll and her dad to comfort her.

Oh, and Yabe, who is determined to assist her studying, but finds she’s far too distracted to make any progress. So he does what any tutor would do: punishes her by making her dress as a catgirl maid. AS YOU DO!

When Kijima comes calling and encounters Yabe, he’s surprised how accepting he is about letting him have one last try. But it makes perfect sense to Yabe; if Ao feels better, she’ll study better. So Kijima sneaks into Ao’s room and hears her talk to herself about having nothing but him on her mind.

A little mild friskiness ensues—Ao is a little miffed he goes for her stomach first and doesn’t touch anything else, but melts when he kisses her head—and the two have a bit of a breakthrough in their relationship, now that the cards are on the table.

Furthermore, Kijima is prepared to help Ao study, and is find holding off on dating (and other activities) until she gets into a good school and moves out of the nest. Ao’s a little disappointed Kijima is being so accommodating, but considers dating him another goal to strive for through study. In other words, welcome motivation.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 08 – Aphrodisiacs and Brass Tacks

After beating the crap out of a metal pole (and scaring off a couple dudes who were going to chat her up) A frustrated Ao retires to her room to study. The subject: Takumi, of course! Specifically, why, despite all of the compromising times he could have made a move on her, including when they were alone in the ocean.

After imagining their roles (and genders) reversed, and breaking her mechanical pencil agonizing over it, she gets a text from Takumi inviting her to watch his soccer game. Then it dawns on her: he lacks the stamina to do what she wants him to do so she can reject him!

She accepts his invitation, and prepares a magnificent multi-level bento packed with aphrodisiacs, including oysters, truffles, and eels. The plan is, she’ll feed him the stuff that will turn him into a savage beast that can’t keep his hands off her, and she’ll reject him fair and square, leaving her free to study again.

Of course, it doesn’t go as planned. While Takumi loses the game, his spirits are immediately raised when he sees Ao’s bento. Little do either of them know that Ao’s pops spiked the eel with one of his patented “energy” elixirs.

As a result, Takumi starts feeling all hot and bothered, and before she knows it, he’s on top of her. But he still manages to hold back, telling her he’s suddenly not himself today and that she should leave before he does something. That’s when Ao asks why he won’t do it.

The answer is instructive: because he values her more than his own desires. Ao turns that around on herself: if her desire is to get into a good university, feeling the way she feels about Takumi would naturally place him above those desires. That’s just how love works; it can literally sweep you away from the best-laid plans to just…getting laid.

Unable to accept such an outcome, no matter how happy it might make her, Ao decides to leave and tells Takumi not to ask her out anymore. The more time she spends with him, the more she’ll value him over studying. Of course, she’s oversimplifying things, and there’s such a thing as work-life balance. If she just lays out her concerns, there’s no reason to think he can’t keep his distance until she’s in a good school, or assist with her studying in some way.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 07 – Beach Study

Ao truly cannot study now that she’s thinking about Takumi more, which means her grades drop precipitously, necessitating a trip to a studying retreat. Naturally, that retreat is at a beach so Ao will end up in a swimsuit—a very revealing, cherry-print swimsuit selected by Miyabi to accentuate Ao’s bust.

Takumi and his friend (who is interested in Miyabi) are also there, thanks to Ao’s dad blabbing about her whereabouts. Since Ao is three whole hours early for her study session, she decides a little time on the beach couldn’t hurt.

Ao looks so good in the bikini, Takumi has trouble summoning words. When they’re out on the water together, Ao assumes sex to be imminent, when in reality Takumi isn’t coming close to doing anything of the sort. Ao is almost disappointed when he doesn’t make any move at all, and in her anger, her top pops off, its strap sabotaged by Miyabi’s scissors.

The intent is clear: create a moment so embarrassing Ao retreats from her slow-burn courtship experiment, paving the way for Miyabi to swoop in and deflower Takumi. Only problem is, yup, Takumi still has no romantic feelings for Miyabi. So it’s a battle of attrition.

Dororo – 19 – When Words Fail

After a very thematically and emotionally heavy multi-part episode, it felt right to get into some lighter fare. After his battle with Tahoumaru, Hyougou and Mutsu, Hyakkimaru’s arm-swords are ruined, and so with Dororo’s new cash, they set out to find the venerable swordmaker Munetsuna.

A passing peddler told them Munetsuna was the best, but when they arrive in his village, the first villager they meet tells them the hatchet he made for him is crap. Dororo tests it, it cuts perfectly. The guy also says Munetsuna’s daughter Okowa is ugly and has a bad personality, but when they finally meet her, she’s drop-dead gorgeous, warm, and sociable.

Okowa also takes an immediate liking to Hyakkimaru, calling him “Hyaku-sama” and “joking” that he’s come to marry her. Her dad can tell Hyakki’s swords have been used to kill demons, and so they head to a shrine to purify them. That’s where we meet the demon-of-the-week who seems able to manipulate people into saying the opposite of what they mean.

It’s a novel skill for a demon that makes for a delightful rom-com conceit, consisting of the triangle of Dororo, Hyakkimaru and Okowa. Before Dororo knows it, Okowa is proposing to Hyakki, who says he will abandon Dororo their adventures and stay with Okowa. Dororo can’t believe what he’s hearing.

But the next day, he can’t believe what he’s saying: everything that comes out of his mouth is in support of Hyakki and Okowa’s marriage, for which Okowa couldn’t be happier. I can’t place Okowa’s seiyu (I’ll post it when I learn it) but she does a wonderful job bringing the adorable and eminently likable guest star to life.

Even as I sympathized with Dororo after Hyakki’s apparent turn against him, their traveling and/or living with this woman wouldn’t be the end of the world. Still, before Dororo figures out all this opposite-talking is the work of a mischievous demon, he finds an outlet for his frustration and loneliness in Munetsuna.

Ultimately, Dororo figures out something is amiss, and decides he has to stay by Hyakki’s side like he promised, no matter what bro said to make him not want to.

The day of the wedding arrives, and despite saying he was all for it, “Hyaku-sama” has no intention of actually going through with marriage, as he’s not even sure what marriage is. This is all pretty humorous, and the episode makes sure we know it’s okay to find it humorous, as the Amanojaku is far from the killer sharks or lake creatures our duo has fought before. He’s more of a trickster; a nuisance.

Mind you, that nuisance nearly becomes deadly when he makes Hyakki choke Dororo, but Munetsuna bonks him in the head with a log while wearing the mask of Hyottoko, one of their protective deities, and the “spell” he put on both Hyakki and Dororo is lifted. Hyakki embraces Dororo apologetically, and Dororo is happy his bro is back to normal.

As for Okowa, she figures out that Hyakki was saying the opposite of what he meant all that time, which means he never wanted to marry her. Fortunately, with the capture of the Amanojaku, one of the villagers who previously had nothing but unkind words for her is finally able to properly tell her how he really feels, and proposes to her.

As Hyakkimaru tries out his sweet new swords, he demonstrates to Munetsuna and Okowa that it never would have worked out; Hyakkimaru is someone who has dedicated himself to a journey to make himself whole again. So, with a warning to him not to rub his head against anyone unbidden (like he did when he met her), Okowa sees Hyakkimaru off, wishing him and Dororo well on their continuing adventures.

While perhaps not an essential addition to that main journey, this was nonetheless an enjoyable, warm, and above all funny episode that had its “other girl steals Hyakkimaru” cake and ate it too. It reaffirmed both that Dororo need not always be all dark and dire, and that no matter what supernatural foe they face, there’s no breaking up Hyakki and Dororo.