Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 12 (Fin) – Life Goes On

Rou is his usual puerile self upon discovering Shinako with Rikuo (though you can’t really blame him!) and runs off in a tizzy, Shinako chases him down and tries to explain. She valued their relationship and was afraid of ruining it.

To his credit, Rou takes the high road, telling Shinako all that mattered was her happiness, and he was a “chump” for not noticing her feelings for Rikuo. Despite telling her “it will take time” for him to comes to terms with it but that he gets it now, Shinako assumes she’s just ruined everything with Rou forever.

The next time Shinako and Rikuo meet, its at a park bench, and as they analyze what they are to each other and how things went with Rou and Haru, the meeting gradually morphs into a more-or-less mutual breakup.

It’s only natural; things haven’t quite felt right because Rikuo hasn’t been able to properly tell her he loves her, but when he asks her simply “me or Rou”, she can’t help but summon much more emotion for Rou, who is family.

Rikuo owns up to becoming terrified of the happiness that suddenly rained down upon him when he found himself in a relationship with Shinako, but perhaps the reason it never felt 100% real for him is that…it wasn’t. He and Shinako had a natural distance from their long friendship that could not be closed, no matter what either party tried.

At the same time, Rikuo assures Shinako that Rou, who is still mostly a kid after all, will eventually come back around to talking with her. He just needs time to cool off, and as we saw, he already exhibited the self-consciousness to admit the mistakes he made. The two cordially shake hands, committing to maintaining what they know works: their friendship, and just like that, Shinako x Rikuo is dead.

Despite this breakup occurring in the last episode, there’s nothing rushed about it. After all, these three had been milling around for three months without the slightest romantic progression, which all confirmed that they’re not meant to be in that kind of relationship, however logical it might’ve seemed.

Meanwhile, Haru notes how little has actually changed in the world since what she felt was a categorical rejection by Rikuo, but still can’t help but wear a gloomy face as she fries vegetables, much to her mom’s dismay. It turns out she’s only taken some time off from Kyouko’s cafe and moved back in with her mom and stepdad. She spends the time away contemplating what love and happiness are to her, not

Rikuo ends up securing Haru’s address and bus route from Kyouko, and sets off to meet with and talk with her about what’s happened, if she’ll have her. During his long journey we get all of his naysaying inner thoughts in real time, negative and dismissive sentiments he must force his way through in order to take action.

He doesn’t like how things ended with Haru, and despite not knowing how she’ll react to seeing him again (or even if she’ll agree to do so), he’ll never forgive himself for not making he attempt, even if it makes him look selfish and foolish.

When he finally crosses paths with her (kudos to Kansuke for keeping her off the bus he just got off!) she’d been remembering when she met him and fell for him in middle school, assumes he’s just another vision, and proceeds to punch him. But when she realizes he’s real, she regrets the assault…but not too much.

All of Rikuo’s inner dialogue was a fight with himself over whether he should even be attempting to reconnect with Haru, which means when Haru is finally there in front of him, he has almost no plan for how to describe his feelings. He initially comes off as having only come to her because Shinako dumped him, but when he elaborates on the details Haru can sense it was more nuanced than that.

Rikuo comes out and says what we all know: he likes it when a woman is nice to him, and for a long time, he thought that was love…until he took the next step with Shinako and it didn’t work out. Then an “incomprehensible, bothersome chick” came along, and Rikuo didn’t realize until recently that love was staring at him all along from the opposite end of the konbini counter.

He thinks everything he thought about love and feelings up to now had been mistaken, but he knows one thing for sure: he thought Haru was cute, and that all of the time she was suddenly away from him, and all hemming and hawing on his way to seeing her, mean that he’s in love with her. It’s something he can come out and relatively easily say to her, while he could never say it about Shinako.

Seeing the shock, embarrassment, joy, and relief wash over Haru’s face is a season standout, as is her instinct to immediately embrace Rikuo and give him a kiss before he knows what hit him. Then she allots only 35 points to his confession and orders him to give another one. After three futile months and so much overthinking, I was astounded and delighted by how comparatively easily the distance between these two was closed!

A little time passes, and Rikuo and Haru prepare to go on their first official date together. Haru, always one to wear her heart on her sleeve, is clearly on cloud nine as she glides around the cafe where she returned to work. Meanwhile as Rou’s classmates celebrate him moving in to his own place, Shinako pays him a surprise visit.

This isn’t exactly how I thought things would end up between these four, but I can’t say I’m not satisfied. The events of this last episode, in hindsight, didn’t even feel at all like sudden twists, but a logical, necessary, and welcome corrective to the awkward confusion of previous alignments. It made me immediately giddy and excited for a Haru x Rikuo future. Not a bad trick for a show based on a 23-year-old manga!

For those asking “Wait, weren’t there going to be eighteen episodes, not just twelve?” Alas, that was an unfortunate miscommunication. Turns out the final six episodes are streaming-only shorts, so this is the final episode, with an anime-original ending. That’s obviously extremely disappointing as I was watching this show unfold as if it had six more eps to work with, but oh well…at least it ended on an upbeat note!

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 11 – Driving With the Parking Brake On

Haru was calling because her house was broken into, but she’s fine and nothing was taken. Still, she asks Rikuo if he’s really the kind of man who would leave a young woman in her state all alone and go home. Rikuo isn’t that kind of man, so he sleeps on the floor, ignoring her offer to stay in her room.

Nothing happens in the night, but Haru makes Rikuo a modest but hearty breakfast as thanks, blissfully unaware his current status with Shinako because Rikuo never comes around to telling her. Even if the timing stinks, he’ll never get a better opportunity to let her down relatively easy.

Rikuo and Shinako are a picture of domestic bliss as he accompanies her grocery shopping and she cooks at both their places. Rikuo calls her cooking “leagues apart” (from Haru’s), though Shinako wonders if he’s making fun of her, since to her it’s just self-taught cooking; nothing special. But it is special to him, just as cooking for him is special to her.

Still, when Rou calls on her phone, she tells Rou there’s no one else there. Like Rikuo with Haru, the timing for telling Rou about them sucks, because she doesn’t want the impact of knowing to affect his college entrance exams. But like Rikuo, she’ll never have a better opportunity to tell Rou, despite logic suggesting she keep them a secret for a little while longer.

But I don’t think mere fear of hurting Haru and Rou is what drives their inability to make their new relationship public. That they’re the only two who know about each other means it’s not yet official, or even 100% real yet. While they’ve shown tremendous courage in taking the first steps toward each other, it’s as if they still have the parking brake on, slowing their progress and its legitimization to an awkward crawl.

It’s why Shinako still can’t let Rikuo kiss her when he draws in. He doesn’t mind, but in drawing in he’s already established that he’s ready for a kiss; that he sought to release that E-brake and drive a little further down the road, while Shinako’s brake is still on. It doesn’t, nor should it, irritate Rikuo, who is just happy to be with her, but he automatically starts to think of what he still needs to do to get her to release that brake.

Whatever issues the two are having in transitioning into a more romantic relationship, the fact remains they’ve both procrastinated too long in letting the other man and woman in their lives know what’s up. Because Rikuo didn’t tell Haru that morning to spare her feelings, Haru ends up learning about the two when she stops by Rikuo’s with food from the cafe as thanks for him spending the night at her place.

The looks on Haru’s face as she repeatedly tries and fails to cover her true feelings with a brave smile over and over makes for the most heartbreaking sequences of the show so far. Any notion of sparing her feelings is thrown out the window. Haru knew this moment would come, but she didn’t truly know how it would feel until it did. Rikuo didn’t make things any easier for her, so he and Shinako also feel shitty.

Rou ends up passing his entrance exams, and is officially heading for college, which means it’s time to tell him lest he face the same moment of embarrassment and despair as poor Haru (not that I particularly care about Rou, mind you!) But when Rou tells Shinako he’ll be moving closer to her place and she gently bristles at him presuming she’ll keep cooking for him, Rou’s reaction is so callow and impudent, she dare not say more to upset him further. Yikes! Later, Shinako tells Rikuo that she’ll surely, definitely tell Rou about them soon, when the time is right. MmHmm.

Then she has drinks with her still-single friend, who learns that Shinako may be going with her guy, but that nothing has happened in that department for three months. THREE. MONTHS. There’s taking it slow, and there’s frikkin’ pitch drop experiments. Her friend is understanding, but wisely wonders if Shinako will ever feel comfortable doing “anything” with Rikuo.

Some time passes, and Rikuo learns from Kyouko that Haru has quit her job at the cafe. That night, Rikuo takes Shinako out to dinner as thanks for all his cooking (per his boss’ suggestion), and invites her to the aquarium. Unfortunately, Shinako already agreed to help Rou move, and once again assures Rikuo she’ll tell Rou about them.

When he walks Shinako home, she ask him if he wants to “stop by”, and he politely declines, he detects relief in her voice. He’s not feeling restless or anything, but she should let him know if there’s any way he can better meet her expectations. Shinako tells him he’s fine the way he is, and she won’t expect more or as him to make any promises. As long as he stays by her side and be who he’s always been, it’s all gravy.

Then Rou shows up, sees Shinako clutching Rikuo’s shirt, is outraged, and asks what the hell is going on between them. There was never going to be a good time to tell Rou or Haru, but the absolute worst time could have been avoided in both cases. Another unforced error for the fledgling couple. I’m thoroughly rooting for them at this point, but they have got to do better.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 10 – Making an Effort

First of all, thank goodness for the Fukudas, for hosting a party that doubles as an excuse to bring Rikuo and Shinako to see each other. Kozue even insists Rikuo give Shinako the moonstone pendant his boss gave him.

When he can’t hide the gift’s provenance, Shinako is still charmed by his honesty with her, and feels good about it being the first gift he’s ever given a woman. It’s a sign they’re starting to find some comfort in each others’ romantic inexperience. Rikuo’s gesture also enables Shinako to suggest they spend New Year’s Eve together.

It’s ironic, then, that the woman who ends up at Rikuo’s place that night isn’t Shinako, but Haru, who waited outside his door for untold hours in the cold. Rikuo isn’t so cold-hearted he won’t offer her the warmth of his apartment and something warm to drink. Haru’s been dealing with a lack of Rikuo so long she can’t help giving him a big hug.

While Rikuo’s slightly stronger insistence Haru stop “this kind of thing” makes for a heartbreaking interaction between the two—not to mention Haru settling for way too little in my book—there’s a nobility in her sticking this out regardless, even if she comes off as clingy or desperate, she’s making the effort to see him because she likes him, so he should cut her some slack.

Speaking of effort, neither Shinako or Rikuo call each other to make plans until New Year’s Eve. Rikuo eventually is the one to call her, and the call is awkward, but also appreciated. Both of them accept partial responsibility for the temporary communications breakdown, since both were anxious about what form their New Years Eve date would take.

Thankfully, once they end up at a restaurant together and have some drinks, the two hit it off splendidly, and are able to talk naturally, have fun together, and talk about one another in ways beyond mere small talk.

The romantic tension increases a hundredfold when Shinako finally  decides to take the initiative (again) and invite Rikuo to her place (again). Thankfully the show skips the long hallway walk and the door-opening and we finally have the two in the same apartment together after spending a wonderful evening together—an evening that marks a literal new beginning with the new year, but also a different kind of beginning for their relationship…hopefully!

Again, Shinako finds herself apologizing for so slowly realizing that it’s possible to experience a kind of love that’s different from her first; that of Rou’s brother. Expanding her view of what forms love takes makes it easier for her to avoid pitting those two loves against each other, and she makes sure Rikuo knows she wants to move forward and learn what forms this new love takes.

Even if she has to take it slow, it’s something she wants to do. Rikuo pulls her into a passionate embrace and the two come close to a kiss, but ultimately pull away amicably. Rikuo no doubt respects Shinako’s desire to take things slow and it probably makes a lot of sense for him as well—taking a long friendship to another place is tricky in the best of conditions.

We then shift somewhat abruptly from the beautiful tension of Shinako’s apartment to the dread of Haru alone in her vast accommodations after spending the evening with her mom and her new husband. Something goes bump in the night, Haru investigates, and then Rikuo gets a phone call he reacts to with shock.

A lot can happen in the remaining eight episodes, and it’s telling that the “Game Over” video game ED has already been replaced with a new ED that gives the four protagonists relatively equal treatment.

I’m worried that this cliffhanger-y final scene portends a sudden stamping-out of the slight but very meaningful progress Rikuo and Shinako made this week. Why introduce a “bump in the night” if Haru isn’t about to be in some kind of danger or trouble?

Rail Wars! – 11

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A good action story rule of thumb is that things are always more exciting on a speeding train. A train job is more exciting than a bank job; a bank train job would be the ultimate. Heck, a train shower is better than a shower in some lame stationary structure. Rail Wars! instinctively understands and capitalizes on this fact in its penultimate episode.

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Like the draisine miniarc, the characters are almost constantly on a speeding train here, which lends a lot more adrenaline and momentum. Prince Bernina doesn’t take up a lot of time here, as she’s whisked off to safety by Iida after D4 successfully fends off the thugs and captures two of them in a team effort (and thanks to that really weak taser). With the guest star out of the way, we can focus on the regulars; a focus I favor, especially so close to the end of the run.

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When the other thugs take Haruka hostage and tell them they’ll exchange her for the prince, Naoto dresses up as the prince. It’s a gambit that doesn’t work a moment longer than it needs to for D4’s heavies—Aoi and Shou—to do what they do. It gets a bit hairy, but in the end the bad guys are vanquished and Haruka is safe and sound. Unfortunately, the train’s controls are also vanquished, thanks to all the gunfire.

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That’s what’s so great about employing trains in an action scenario: it ain’t over till the train is successfully stopped. Naoto does the brave thing: deciding to disconnect the engines so the cars behind will slow and eventually stop on their own. Not wanting him to steal all the glory, Aoi stays with him to decouple, but she later reveals the shootout left her wounded. But when Naoto has his chance to jump off, he stays right there with Aoi.

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He says it’s because he was scared, but let’s be real: he’s not the kind of person to save himself and leave someone behind, especially Aoi. He tenderly dresses her wound, and catches her in his arms when the track turns, and for maybe the first time, Aoi looks like she’s finally going to confess. Hey, if they’re about to die, why not?

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Alas, the cavalry interrupts their lovey-dovey moment, but what a cavalry: three DF51s in tandem going down the up line! RW has had a huge wealth of equipment to work with throughout its run, and has always been adept at breaking out the big toys when the situation warrants it. Fittingly, the episode ends with Naoto, looking every bit the shining prince, gallantly carrying Aoi off the train, to reunite with their colleagues.

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Rail Wars! – 10

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After D4’s biggest challenge yet, there’s no rest for the weary, as we go straight into the next mission, which is just as well, as there are only two more episodes left after this one. Naoto & Co. are charged with protecting Prince Bernina, fifth in line for the throne of Atela, as his highness travels in style aboard the Hakutosai to Sapporo for a sister city ceremony. “I thought broads loved this royalty shit!” C’mon, Naoto, don’t you know Aoi? She’s a knight.

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Why Bernina is putting his faith in JNR public safety trainees rather than having his own entourage of highly-skilled royal guards is never explained, but whatevs. Also, we know D4 is more than capable. For his part, Bernie’s is your typical delicate blonde European type, but rather than be an entitled little snot, he’s quite nice and down-to-earth, and really into trains, just like Naoto. I can’t blame him; that Hakutosai looks like fantastic way to travel.

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Unfortunately, Aoi misses the train because she’s chasing someone, intent not just on protecting the prince because its her duty, but protecting Naoto because she looooves him (we can assume). Her blank expression as a wordless response to Naoto’s comment that “anyone she seduces is in for a lot of pain” is more evidence, as if we needed any. Naoto’s kinda got a big mouth this week; he also kinda tells a shorter-skirted (for mobility) Haruka she only has to be bait.

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Shuu can’t hold off two would-be baddies going after the prince, and one of them shocks Naoto repeatedly with a taser, which seems to be set to “tickle.” Even if Aoi’s training involved building up Naoto’s pain threshold, he seems to take a ridiculous amount of shocks. That stalls the baddie long enough for Aoi to swoop in and clean up. We missed Aoi, but her absence for most of the episode gave her surprise arrival more heft. The first threats to Prince Bernie’s life have been neutralized, but there will surely be more as this story continues next week.

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The central twist, which wasn’t all that surprising, is that the prince is actually a princess, a secret known only to the royal family…and Naoto, who busts in on her when he hears her fall in the shower. I chuckled at Naoto’s strategic placement of his head and arms when he made this realization, but it remains to be seen if there’s a connection between her secret femininity and the baddies after her. For now, we’ll rate this as Aoi rated Naoto’s performance: “Not bad.”

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Rail Wars! – 09

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Halfway into last week D4 wrestled their Little Draisine That Could to life and started their harrowing journey across the Usui Pass on a retired line. That draisine keeps rolling throughout most of this episode as they battle tree roots, a punishing ride from the ABT that keeps them planted to the rails, and gravity and brake fade when it fails.

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The draisine is therefore the entire world for D4 for an extended period of time. It’s a world that depends on their constant alertness, smooth cooperation, and quick thinking when disaster threatens to strike, which it does, again and again. Had the team simply sat in their seats for the ride, they’d have derailed a half-dozen times over last week alone, before they got to the old tunnels.

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Due to the close quarters and the constant demands of the draisine, it’s also an intimate and physical world, with bodies flying all over the place, hanging (or almost falling) out; pushing and pulling and yanking and pedaling and sweating…“Almost sexual, isn’t it Smithers?” Unsurprisingly, Naoto and Aoi come together the most, but what’s clever is that all their contact is incidental, and crucial for that task at hand.

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Everyone gets pretty trashed, including the Draisine, which leaves a trail of shed parts in its wake. Shou hurts his foot pushing off the tunnel wall to right the train, but still pedals with all his might, and even jumps out the back and slides along the rails on his rubber soles, trying to slow the draisine. Ultimately, the others have to bail out, with Naoto cushioning both Haruka and the organ box.

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Ah yes, the box. While Haruka’s role in the mission is largely non-physical (or at least less taxing than those of the others), she’s also responsible for taking care of that organ box. If it’s damaged or falls off the train, it’s Mission Failed. That, and her quickly-acquired mechanical know-how comes in handy again this week, and on the last curve, all four have to lean out, including her.

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The draisine was a micro-world for a while, but it was also a crucible: one in which D4 became stronger and closer. Naoto thanks his team and tells them even if he wants to be a driver, right now he’s public safety, and there’s no where he’d rather be now. Once the mission is complete, they have another go at the simulator and pass, and the group finally gets to relax and have fun—or rather less death-defying fun—together.

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Rail Wars! – 08

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The girl standoff is defused in the ep’s first two minutes, which I thought was a good move. Goofy harems? Not so exciting. Emergency organ delivery runs via draisine? Way more exciting…not to mention topical! The story is simple: a storm has caused rockfalls and mudslides, knocking out rail service, but one of the train’s passengers is delivering an organ that won’t be viable by the time service is restored.

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Enter D4, who are in earshot of the dilemma and are ready and willing to do what they can to get that organ to its destination. Naoto, Aoi, Haruka and Shou have the blessing of both Narita and a high-ranking JNR official, and are assigned to a vintage four-man draisine to make the trip along the abandoned but possibly open old line.

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Naoto comes up with the idea, after Haruka offers to deliver the organ on foot, which is admirable, but would probably take too long. The draisine itself is a nifty mechanism in which to place D4: a small, temperamental machine in which the four members of D4 must work together as a cohesive unit, relying on one another’s individual strengths to traverse the not unperilous 11.2 km distance.

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I also like how this draisine’s operation isn’t as simple as pedaling and braking, as D4 finds out. Due to time constraints, Haruka speed-reads the manual and fills in the others in transit. Notably, the numerous bends in the track make the little car lean to one side, requiring the muscle of the group, Shou and Aoi, to lean out of one side or the other to provide counterbalance.

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It’s super-dangerous, daredevil work, but it’s absolutely necessary to prevent catastrophe, and neither hesitate in their task. Aoi even tears up her best dress in order to gain more freedom of motion. This crazy roller coaster ride turns out to be a far better test than any simulation without being as heavy a responsibility as driving a full-size train loaded with passengers. They still have lives to protect: their own, and one life to save: the organ recipient.

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At episode’s end they’re halfway there, reaching the old part of the line fouled by branches, roots, and other obstacles. That is, the “easy part” is over, and it didn’t feel that easy, which means the hard part should be that much more interesting. What I know for sure is that this episode was a lot of fun, which along with the bomb threat and concert episodes, form the three reasons I’m glad I’ve stuck with this show.

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Rail Wars! – 07

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Things could scarcely get worse than last week’s fiasco, so this week I reveled in the fact the episode was at least partially about actual trains and advanced training, as well as the fact no one was acting like a crazy person.

Sure, a (simulated) train is derailed, there’s a pointless bath scene, and we get perhaps far more Haruka camel toe than we needed, but at least she’s not running around naked while Aoi fires wildly across city streets. More than anything though, by the end of this episode it’s clear the show has laid the tracks for a Naoto-centered harem of generous proportions, and that’s exactly what we get.

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Mind you, it’s not terrible. Naoto may have some weak qualities about him, but I’m not going to sit here and say he doesn’t deserve the affection of any individual girl who is presently pursuing him at this time, be it Aoi, Mari, Haruka, or Aoi (he’s had the most time and contact with the latter). But to all go after him at once…it’s just a little exhausting.

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However, I do like how it affects their training. During the Usui Pass simulator run, which D4 thinks is the real thing, Aoi is upset about Naoto saying he wants to be a driver, which is another way of saying “I don’t want to be a public safety officer”, which she interprets as “I don’t want to be with you; you smell.” So she’s understandably upset, and they don’t go over anything before they set off with her in the rear locomotive and Naoto up front.

Because they never worked out the signals, Aoi increases speed when he signals for brakes, and I guess she’s either unwilling or unable to use the phone Shou and Haruka use to keep in contact with Naoto. So they end up derailing magnificently. If it were a real train, that would have been more than enough for them to wash out of the JNR entirely.

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It’s kind of a perfect storm of Naoto being coy about being a driver because he doesn’t want to upset Aoi, while Aoi lets herself be blissfully unaware that Naoto might want to be a driver, despite the fact he’s constantly geeking out about the engines. It all blows up in their faces, and then they blow up a train, which is thankfully fake, but they’ll have to work that much harder to gain back the trust of their instructor.

As for why Naoto wants to be a driver (beyond loving the engines), that’s a bit thin. I’m not sure how he ended up by a mountain railway “starving and alone out in the cold”, yet he has a camera and tripod. Were his parents that neglectful? Also, he wants to be a driver to “cherish lives”…but isn’t that more a public safety officer’s job? How often is he realistically going to have to pull his train over to rescue urchins?

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In any case, Naoto still isn’t quite sure what he should do, but his good friend (who wouldn’t mind being more, natch) Mari is there to cheer him up, while Aoi slips an apology in his door. And then, the next day, we have this huge harem explosion, with Iida ordering Naoto to a chapel in the woods, Aoi meets him there, Haruka shows up feeling betrayed, and then Noa pops out of the confession booth.

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I was kind of hoping Naoto would eventually settle down with someone—Aoi (holy crap she’s adorbs at the end of this episode) or Mari, preferably—but that’s looking far less likely, unless he gathers the agency to sort through all these girls and pick the one he wants, a task arduous enough to be deemed the Usui Pass of character development. With all that pushing and pulling, things can go off the rails fast.

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Rail Wars! – 06

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Um…what in the ever-loving name of nationalized railways was that? What a train wreck of an episode. There were better ways to deepen Naoto and Haruka’s relationship…like any other way imaginable! Instead, the show decides to turn everyone into crazy people. Ugh, where to begin? Better go into…RABUJOI LIST MODE…List Mode…List Mode…

1. Everyone in D4 is supposed to be under house arrest for the events of last week, but no one is actually home. What does that say about the level of discipline at JNR? I didn’t even think what they did last week was that bad. Was it punishment, or forced leave due to trauma?

2. Never mind, because no one is home anyway. Naoto receives a letter in the mail that he does not read or inspect completely, and decides to break the rules of the organization he claims to love so dear to meet up with Haruka and talk about this letter. Why didn’t he just meet at her house, or vice versa? At least then one of them would still be home.

3. Anyway, Aoi, who is also not home, just happens to spot Haruka, who is meeting up with Naoto. Alright, fine; coincidences happen. But then it happens again. And Aoi, for some reason, decides to take out her loaded and ready-to-fire sidearm and point it at Naoto and Haruka across the street. Aoi should be in jail.

4. Some giant mascot thingy that bumped into Naoto and Haruka also bumps into Aoi, causing her to discharge her firearm. Aoi should really be in jail! Naoto and Haruka think it’s a sniper, and bolt from place to place, hand-in-hand. Yet despite spending the entire episode together, Haruka is unable to fully express her feelings to Naoto. Not the most irritating shortcoming of this ep, but just putting it out there.

5. “What’s going on?! Why are there cats?!” Why Indeed, Naoto…Why Indeed.

6. As the cute couple runs around the city like lunatics for no reason, Haruka sheds clothing article after clothing article, until, by the climax of the episode, she’s completely naked. No bra or panties; apparently they were “torn off” by random guys in masks. Sorry, but that’s just dumb. And WTF is with the guys in masks?

7. Shou is barely in the episode, only appearing for a few moments on an LCD screen, having won a curry-eating contest. Again with the defying of JNR regs. I don’t watch the show because of Shou, but…after this episode, now I’m questioning why I’m watching this show at all.

8. Where does one go when being ruthlessly pursued by clowder of assassin cats? (Hits top of head with palm) the Transportation Museum…of course! What the hell, let’s add breaking and entering to the myriad crimes of D4 this week. They can’t be stopped.

9. The museum is the same place where Naoto “rescued” Haruka from a dark room full of boxes eight years ago, and he “rescues” her again this time, too, though Iida, Hitomi and Aoi handle those masked guys who exist for some reason, so he actually ends up relying on several people after pledging not to rely on people so much.

10. Turns out all the paranoid darting around town was for no reason, because had Naoto merely opened the seemingly threatening letter, he’d have seen it was just an overly provocative life insurance pamphlet. Also something that happened for no reason? This episode. Go Home, Rail Wars!…You’re Drunk.

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Rail Wars! – 05

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If you want a single image of Rail Wars!, imagine Aoi’s boob stopping a model train—forever.

If you made a drinking game out of all the times Naoto and Aoi end up in extremely close contact, or all of the times something embarrassing happened involving a part of Aoi’s body, well…you’d be extremely drunk before the halfway point. And if you happen to be an Naoto+Aoi supporter, this ep was right up your alley, as it’s roughly 90% them. I happen to be one, so I was a happy camper.

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Whether it’s Aoi storming into Naoto’s bedroom and derailing a model train with her boob (a portent of the situation to come), or Naoto is getting a lucky paintball shot between her legs; or Aoi is going bare-legged with her miniskirt, the romantic tension comes as hot and heavy as an economic boom-era dual-engine locomotive on a mountain line.

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As has been well established by now, Aoi is a tough-ass chick, but her girly side seems to come out with greater regularity the more she hangs out with Naoto. He represents everything she should hate: pacifism, poor marksmanship, general non-physicality. But even when she wanders off on her own and gets into tight spots, he always tracks her down. He’s always there for her, even as a gun mount, of all things.

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But a gun mount couldn’t anchor her as well, or hold her when the danger has passed and she’s short of breath and wiped out from the stress. Aoi is not only learning that being a JNR public safety officer isn’t the same as being a cop, but also that Naoto isn’t the cowardly weenie she first thought him to be. There’s grit and guts behind his easy smile and slender frame, with a patience and prudence that nicely balances her wildness.

7_brav

Rail Wars! – 04

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Rail Wars! manages to contrive a fairly logical reason to have a beach episode: Defense Four is appointed as the security detail of the pop idol Kashima Noa, who is having a concert on the beach in Izu in order to promote the National Railway, which so effortlessly, comfortably conveyed them to Izu. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a train with panoramic windows to the beach? I’m living in the wrong dang country!

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Noa comes off as most idols initially come of in these kinds of situations: aloof and largely indifferent to her latest minders (she even dozes off as Naoto waxes poetic about the train they’re on being named after a famous short story “Izu no Odoriko”, for which there’s probably been an anime or two at some point.) But when they alight from the train at Ito station and an overzealous fan goes for Queen Noa, Naoto is there to stop him, though Noa and her manager end up making a Naoto sandwich.

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It’s the latest in a series of incidents and threats, including one that promises Izu will be Noa’s final show, but this is where Noa shows her grit. She got to where she is by never stopping singing, and she’s not cancelling the concert under any circumstances. Since she’s not backing down, it’s up to Defense Four to protect her, and judging from their past exploits, it was never in any doubt that they’d succeed; only a matter of how they’d do so.

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What struck me is that even in a beach episode where the camera spends an inordinate amount of time on various parts of the girls’ bodies, the show still sweats the practical procedural details. When talking about searching a place for dangerous people or objects in earshot of the public, its better to use euphemisms so as not to induce worry in said public. Iida also insists Defense Four and in particular the lovely Aoi and Haruka don swimsuits that make them stand out in a crowd; a clear, busty message to any bad guys around that they’re out in force.

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The day of the concert arrives. After her first (very catchy) song, JNR reps join her on stage to make her an honorary security captain. The crim shows himself and brandishes a knife, but again Naoto is there to shield Noa from harm. The blade pierces his Kevlar vest (which all D4 members wisely wore while on duty) but is stopped by, of all things, the station stamp book Noa had returned to him after the sandwich incident that knocked him out. Because of that, in a way, after saving her, she saved him right back.

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Aoi, however, fears the worst when she sees the stabbing, and treats the perp to a righteous take-down, not missing a beat despite wearing a sultry one-piece and flip-flops, not her preferred garb. It’s a very cute reminder that Aoi really does have a thing for Naoto, who once again was looking at another woman most of the episode. And all of Naoto’s dedication, courage, and heroism has the effect of successfully wooing the idol, making me wonder if she’ll ever show up again.

8_brav

Rail Wars! – 03

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The literal cold open with two unidentified young girls crouch in the snow and record the sounds of an oncoming train, an obvious hobby, is an enticing way to start the episode. Turns out of those girls is Sasshou Mari, a former classmate of Takayama’s who’s joining the OJT.

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It looks like a relatively quiet week for Defense 4, with Koumi bailing out Takayama with her decent English skills and Sakurai having to hand-write and apology for using excessive force on an alleged perp (glad that last part, and Sakurai’s general ruthlessness, is still in force here). But Sasshou provides them their latest “mission” when she reports her friend Kaori is missing.

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With that…it’s time to hit the binders of incident reports, illustrating just how diligent and detail-oriented the operation is; but there’s nothing in them on Kaori. When Kaori’s phone shows up at the lost-and-found, Sasshou’s super-sensitive ears are able to pore over the last sound recording on the phone’s memory and identify the quayside station where she was abducted.

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From there, Defense 4 conduct a thorough search of the station’s environs, finding a bound and gagged Kaori in a dark warehouse. When the drug dealing gangsters who captured her return, The Railway Public Safety Crew is ready for them with extended batons. Unfortunately the battle isn’t shown, but Takayama apparently doesn’t embarrass himself in it, as Sasshou proclaims he was “cool back there” when it’s all over.

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And when this episode is all over what we had was, again, a scenario in which the unique skill sets of certain characters prove decisive in winning the day, from Koumi’s English to Sasshou’s ears. I also enjoyed the pleasant chemistry and subtle flirting between Takayama and Sasshou that overshadowed whatever lingering passion Takayama and Sakurai still bore from last week’s crisis.

7_brav

Rail Wars! – 02

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“The higher-ups were a good judge of my character, seeing how they assigned me to Public Safety”, says Sakurai, while kissing her enormous handgun; the handgun Iida Nana ultimately takes away in order to try to cool her jets; Public Safety at the national railway isn’t just about run-and-gun action, day in, day out. The passengers’ safety comes first—not Sakurai’s desire to beat up and/or shoot people.

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When the Special Assault Team is called away from Tokyo station to deal with the threat of explosives planted in Yokohama, Sakurai and Defense Four are basically put on standby, walking the station beat and helping passengers with whatever they need. The individual strengths of the team members shine here; from Takayama’s practiced people skills to Koumi’s way with kids. Meanwhile, Sakurai does a lot of pouting.

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Then, while she and Koumi are at lunch break with Iida, Iwaizumi saves Takayama from an exploding locker bomb. Turns out it was just a taste of a larger bomb a perp has planted in Tokyo station, having called in a false report to Yokohama to lure the NRSAT away. It’s up to Defense Four to deal with this threat, though the people in charge are prepared to answer the perp’s demands for one third of the station’s daily takings.

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That would be a hit, and Sakurai bristles at the idea of basically “surrendering” to terror, but again, it’s not about money or pride, but the safety of the passengers. Still, D4 is authorized to search for the bomb; a formidable task in a huge station with over 3,000 lockers. When Koumi is told the lost dog from last week started barking after its owner called lost-and-found, Iwaizumi’s “wild intuition” tells him the bomb’s in the unnecessarily-large dog carrier, and he’s right.

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It’s here where the very tight-skirted Sakurai, after gloomily going about her duties, finally gets a chance to shine, albeit by bypassing her supervisors and making an on-site judgement call to attempt to disarm the bomb, something her father taught her but she’s never done for real. To her surprise, Takayama stays right by her side, even if the wrong wire cut could mean both their deaths. Things get really intimate under there too, but there’s no time for embarrassment; if Takayama has to lodge his arm between her boobs to pin two wires down, so be it.

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With less than two minutes left on the bomb timer, Sakurai suddenly bolts out of the room, asking Takayama to trust her, which he does. Her solution is a brilliant use of the tools at hand: a mini liquid nitrogen gun, used for desserts back at the ladies’ lunch, which seemed like a throwaway novelty at the time but proves pivotal here. She freezes the circuitry, stopping the timer, and finishes defusing the bomb. When it’s all over, she’s so physically and emotionally spent she collapses into Takayama, a touching moment of vulnerability and closeness she tells him he can forget about later…but which he probably doesn’t want to.

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Sure, she bent protocol, but ultimately, the fiery Sakurai was the hero here, along with Takayama. Both of them, along with Koumi and Iwaizumi, put their lives on the line for the passengers, which is their job. Sakurai didn’t need her precious gun or her martial arts to be effective at her job, and Takayama isn’t as weak and spineless as she initially thought. For his valor, Takayama is made substitute leader of D4, a promotion even she can’t deny he deserves. This was a satisfying outing full of unconventional action, a surprisingly thrilling ticking time bomb, and some rather nice character beats.

8_brav