Lycoris Recoil – 03 – Moving on for Now

When Takina was tossed out of the DA, it packed way more of a punch than her colleague Harukawa Fuki’s actual punch. Now that her face is fully healed, it’s only natural someone as dedicated to the DA as Takina would immediately try to heal the figurative punch by making her case to the boss.

That means when LycoReco has an after-hours game party, Takina doesn’t participate, because doing so won’t help her get back into the DA’s good graces. But when Mika tells Chisato that she needs to head to DA HQ for fitness tests to get her license renewed, Takina insists on tagging along.

True to Chisato’s general Fuck-the-DA attitude, she leaves the renewal tests to the very last possible day, and also eats candy on the train. Takina remains all business. DA Commander Kusunoki is indisposed when they arrive at the sprawling and heavily-guarded HQ.

Takina passes the time with target practice, ignoring all the whispers from other Lycoris about the “friend-killer” who shot at a friendly. Erika, the girl she saved by disobeying orders (but also could have killed) clearly feels responsible for what happened to Takina.

As for Takina’s old partner Fuki, Chisato ends up meeting her in the locker room, as she’s having her fitness tests at the same time. Considering how calculating Kusunoki is, that can’t be a coincidence.

I’m not doubting that company girl Fuki is capable and likely one of the best Lycoris the DA have, but as the two chat, it’s clear that Chiasto is far superior in every way, and without even seeming to try. Running, hand-eye coordination, vertical leaps; she obliterates Fuki in everything without breaking a sweat.

When Chisato encounters Kusunoki after the tests, she pleads her case on Takina’s behalf, pointing out that not only was Fuki partially responsible for what happened as Takina’s First, but so was the DA itself for somehow letting their AI system get hacked at a crucial moment.

The thing is, Kusunoki is under no obligation to admit the truth about anything that day. Takina acted out of turn, and was thus made the scapegoat for everything else that went wrong. She’s also already been replaced as Fuki’s Second by the cocky go-getter Otome Sakura, who really rubs salt in the wound when she meets Takina.

Ever since she was banished from the DA, Takina was under the impression she’d be welcomed back in the fold if she performed well in the missions she did with Chisato. But if Kusunoki ever promised that, she denies it now. Takina does not take this well, and runs off.

Chisato finds her by a fountain that’s a popular spot for all Lycoris, and tells Takina that she’s still needed. But Takina can’t fathom being useful to anyone if she’s not allowed to be where she’s always dreamt of being—there in the DA—where she belongs.

When Chisato’s explanations of how the devious DA operates doesn’t help, she instead draws Takina into a hug, telling her the only thing she can do for now is move forward. Sometimes there are things you gain by losing something. When onlookers mock their embrace, Chisato doubles down, lifting Takina into the air affectionately and telling her she’s glad they met.

She leaves Takina to consider embracing her new home at LycoReco, then returns to Fuki and Sakura to accept their challenge of a mock battle. Word gets around of the exercise, and Erika is excited at the possibility of Takina getting to redeem herself.

As you’d expect form how Chisato performed in the fitness tests, she’s perfectly capable of taking on both Fuki and her rookie Second with one hand tied behind her back. Sure enough, she toys with Sakura by “killing” her twice in quick succession, without shooting any paintballs at her. The message is clear: “look to your own self before looking down on others, young scamp!”

Fuki knows she’s no match for Chisato, so she uses Sakura as a sacrifice to swing around and try to catch Chisato from behind. That’s when Takina appears, having made her choice to move on for now as Chisato suggested. Before pelting Fuki wth paintballs, she punches her in the same place Fuki punched her, making them even.

Erika is delighted by Takina and Chisato’s overwhelming victory, while Sakura is freaked out by the prospect that Chisato can literally dodge bullets like a manga character. Takina already knows this all to well, which is why she intentionally aimed at Chisato when she arrived at the mock battle, knowing she’d definitely dodge.

Not only does this underscore how much she’s learned about Chisato and come to trust her despite her chaotic quirks, it also highlights Takina’s penchant for risky decisive moves, which the DA forbade. At the end of the day, Takina may want to return to the DA, but it wasn’t the right place (nor Fuki the right person) for her to fully explore her potential.

Chisato and LycoReco are, and she’s finally starting to recognize that. It’s why she takes the candy Chisato offers on the train back to her new home, and why she agrees to join the rest of the LycoReco staff for some after-hours games.

The first two episodes were largely mission-based, but this one focused on what Takina had been carrying, revealed the cold hard truth of her situation, and offered her a kind warm hand of support on a new path. It was an extraordinarily satisfying character piece with some truly righteous score-settling.

Spy x Family – 12 (Part 1 Fin) – Aquatope of Spy Fam

It was pretty apparent SPY x FAMILY wasn’t going to end at twelve episodes, but not so apparent was how it would wrap up its first cour. Rather than a big new development or thrilling cliffhanger, it elects for a bit of a grab bag palate cleanser. The first few minutes are easily it’s weakest, as the heavy narration and retreading of facts we already know had the stench of a recap.

Thankfully, that soon transitions to Loid’s current predicament, which is that Operation Strix is not his only job as Twilight, it’s just his most important. Due to short staffing, he’s called upon to take on numerous side missions that keep him out late or otherwise separated from his fake family.

When he overhears the neighbors gossiping about it, he decides action must be taken to shore up his standing as husband and father in his apartment block by taking Anya and Yor to the aquarium on a day off. Of course, this means completing all of his side missions beforehand, leaving him particularly haggard on the big day.

Still, Loid shakes it off for the good of Operation Strix. As his fellow spy who works at the subway store makes clear, spies work towards peace and a day when they’re no longer needed. She also has a mission for Loid on the day of his family aquarium trip, but the mission happens to also take place at the aquarium.

It involves a secret microfilm containing intel on a new chemical weapon that could bring the country to its knees if it fell into the wrong hands. Fortunately, it is currently in no one’s hands, but down the gullet of one of the two hundred penguins at the Aquarium.

Loid, whom it’s been established is already exhausted from overwork, must balance time with his family (and keeping up appearances with the neighbors, who are also at the aquarium) and disguise himself as a far-too-competent newbie aquarium worker.

When he finds the penguin with the film, he’s soon confronted by its intended recipient, whose lousy fake professor ID doesn’t fool Loid for a second. The bad guy bolts, but Anya (who had previously used her ESP to find the right penguin for Papa) tracks him down, grabs him, and pretends to be kidnapped.

When she calls out to her Mama, Yor springs into action, once again demonstrating she has a bright future as a hero of justice if she ever wanted to ditch the whole cold-blooded assassin thing. She kicks the dude so hard his head goes through the ceiling and keeps him hanging there.

I love how Loid’s difficult day is made much easier by his daughter, who as we know cannot reveal her powers to him, lest the show lose a third of its conceit. Loid uses the energy saved to make a big show of being a Number One Dad to Anya by winning her a giant penguin plushie.

Being between five and six (like my own niece), Anya immediately makes use of her vivid imagination to create her own intelligence agency with her new penguin plushie. She gives him a hilarious tour of the apartment as if it were a secret spy hideout, and also uses the tour as a pretense to enter her Mama and Papa’s rooms, which is forbidden due to all the “dangerous things” that are in them.

Loid yells at Anya for trying to go into his room without permission, and as you would expect of a little kid, Anya also overreacts, saying she hates Papa and Mama and threatens to run away from home. Loid and Yor quickly improvise to improve Anya’s mood by lending their voices to her Penguin plushie and toy robot. Their roleplaying continues out on the city streets, where passersby note what a “sweet family” they are.

It is an incredibly sweet, if low-key, way to end this first cour: with the core family at perhaps its most charming and convincing. The word “fake” is thrown around a lot, but while Loid, Yor, and Anya are all hiding huge secrets form one another, the more they interact with each other and experience new things together, the less fake a family they become.

Spy x Family – 11 – A Dog Will Bring Peace

The agency expects Anya to earn eight Stella in four months, but it’s becoming apparent to Loid (thanks to Anya’s test scores) that academics might not be the way. Fortunately, there are other ways to earn Stella. Unfortunately, Anya is also not great at those other ways either.

Loid thinks her drawing of a moo cow is a cheetah or a panda; Anya plays the violin like a cello and breaks all the strings; she can’t hit a tennis ball she tosses in the air (I felt seen). There’s also volunteer work, but no sooner do Loid and Anya show up eager to work that the kindly head nurse loses her cool and tells them to clear out.

It’s important to Loid/Twilight that Anya earn these stars without any undue “outside assistance”, but with even a volunteer Stella feeling as far away as an actual star, he may have to ask his agency for that assistance in order to get Desmond in a room. Then Anya hears a boy’s thoughts: he’s fallen into the pool and he can’t move his legs.

Without any regard for her secret, Anya tells her dad that there’s a boy drowning in the pool, before taking advantage of Loid’s confusion to walk it back and come up with a (slightly) more plausible reason for racing to the pool. She dives in and swims with all her might, but soon tires out. Loid, having seen where Anya went, jumps in and pulls both her and the boy out.

Loid is too proud of his daughter to think too much about how she knew what she knew. There’s also the matter of Anya literally putting her life on the line to save a little boy’s life. It’s an act of heroism that earns her a Stella, the first in her class and the fastest ever to earn one at Eden.

While Anya’s legend grows among her peers, Loid and Handler meet in disguises that make them unrecognizable. Handler asks if any agency resources could be used to help quicken Anya’s rise to Imperial Scholar, but again Loid declines. He doesn’t want to put anyone else at risk. If Anya won one Stella on her own, she can win another. That may not be Twilight’s cold logic and practicality, but Loid Forger’s pride, trust, and love.

The dangers of Anya rising to far too fast are evident at her return to normal classes. While she earns the esteem of some classmates, rumors start to swirl about the legitimacy of her Stella. But when Damian is asked by a couple of girls to add his two cents, they get more than they bargained for: he scolds them for besmirching Eden’s good name with such spurious accusations.

He’d never admit he was standing up for Anya, but he is standing up for truth and justice, which make him good and cool. When Becky brings up Anya’s new opportunity to ask her parents for a reward, Anya tables her desire for a large amount of peanuts and decides that the right way to befriend Damian is by getting a dog.

When she makes the request at home, Loid is open to the idea for its security benefits, while Yor can’t help but imagine the ways dogs big and small might kill Anya if given the chance. All the while, we get a little closing sequence of what I presume to be the Forger’s future dog, currently in a cruel, dark kennel where experiments are being run on the dogs

Spy x Family – 10 – Star Seizer Anya

Professor Henderson continues to observe rancor between Damian and his lackeys and Anya and Becky, while the M.V.P. of a P.E. dodgeball tournament is rumored to be awarded a Stella. Loid steps back and leaves Anya’s intense training to Yor, and we’re awarded a lovely Rocky-style montage of Yor being her usual badass self and Anya just barely keeping up, while also learning the merits of hard work and stick-to-itiveness.

Of course, Anya isn’t the only one who wants that Stella for her dad’s mission. Damian believes he needs to be the first to earn a Stella, and Anya can read his mind as he reveals why: as the second son, if he doesn’t meet or surpass his older brother, his father won’t notice him. Damian may be a “shithead”, but he’s not iredeemable.

As for the third student rearin’ for that MVP star, we have our first exercise in Spy x Family descending into the absurd with Bill Watkins, who despite being six years old has the physique of Brock Lesnar. Just the sight of the large lad amongst all his tiny-mite classmates is enough to elicit a hearty chuckle; learning his dad is literally M. Bison kicked that up to a full belly laugh.

Against a normal human opponent, Damian’s shot and his teamwork with his lackeys would likely be enough to win the match and earn MVP (I got a kick out of the Calvin & Hobbes-style bending of reality in the glimpses of their training). Unfortunately, like being born second, Damian has he misfortune of having Watkins for an opponent.

Bill easily catches Damian’s best shot and takes out four opposing players at once. Damian’s lackeys sacrifice themselves to keep him in the game. When it’s down to Damian, Anya, and a third guy, Bill targets Anya, but thanks to a combination of knowing where he’ll throw it and Yor’s training, he just can’t hit her, and soon shows his age by getting very frustrated.

That leads to him yelling “DIE!” and forgetting all about “going easy on the women” by firing a fastball directly at Anya, who is a sitting duck when she trips and falls. This is when Damian exhibits his inherent “goodness” by sacrificing himself so Anya doesn’t take the hit. In that moment, he stopped caring about winning and status, and only cared about Anya’s safety.

After he tsunderes the heck out of his explanation for why he did it, the end result is it’s all up to Anya to bring Watkins down. Recalling Yor’s teachings in the park, Anya unleashes her killer move, “Star Catch Arrow”, and for a moment, appears to become a Powerpuff Girl.

Alas, despite perfect form and creating an intense atmosphere that has both teams and Bill in her thrall, she releases the ball so it bounces straight up into the air, then harmlessly in front of Bill, who swiftly ends the game by beaning a stunned Anya.

The consolation is that no one was ever going to win a Stella for exceling in a game of dodgeball. Henderson doesn’t know how such a silly rumor came about, but does know that anyone who yells “DIE!” in a friendly game is asking for a Tonitrus Bolt! Watkins stands chastened and rebuked.

While he praised her for her “not bad” dodging and took a direct blow for her, Damian is so disappointed in the end result of Anya’s ratcheting up of suspense that he can’t help but yell at her and call her “stubby legs”, even as he’d probably be the first to admit that until those last moments Anya was cool as hell out there. As for Henderson, observing these brats bickering, he wonders if this new class is really worthy of Stella…

This Spy x Family did not care how ridiculous Bill Watkins looked or how seriously this dodgeball game was being taken. It summoned and harnessed the outsized importance of mundane things all little kids engage in, taking after their adult counterparts while infusing the proceedings with their vivid imaginations. The result is another thrilling and hilarious outing.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 07 – The Curse of “Never”

Summer Break is upon Kouka’s hundredth class, but Ai’s version of giddiness over getting to spend it at Sarasa’s is somewhat tempered by how the semester ended: with Sarasa taking a major hit from Andou-sensei. As I suspected, perfect replication of other actors isn’t going to cut it if you’re going to be a Top Star in the Kouka Revue. This doesn’t mesh with what Sarasa learned about kabuki growing up, where succeeding generations of actors do their best to embody their predecessors as closely as possible.

But that’s Kabuki; and this is Kouka. Sarasa and Ai also get a little education on Andou-sensei and why he’s nicknamed “Phantom”, courtesy of the two top Kouka stars who happened to be seated in the row ahead of them! Apparently Andou was an esteemed actor with a musical troupe, most famous for his Phantom of the Opera, but due to a stage accident he had to retire, and decided to teach instead.

I’m glad he did, because as I said, as painful as it was to see Sarasa’s reaction and ensuing gloom, she was straying from the path to Lady Oscar, and needed a course correction. Fortunately, there’s plenty of family and friends waiting for Sarasa to take her mind off being “Sara-sad”, if only temporarily.

Ai insists on sitting formally for the duration of the gathering downstairs, even though she’s mostly ignored and suffering the agony needlessly (gramps told her to sit however she likes). Then Sarasa then goes to see her grandma at her grave, suggesting Ai can hang with the cat while she’s gone.

Of course, we know even when Sarasa and Ai don’t that it’s not just the cat waiting in her room, but Akiya. Ai, who is not good with people, comes off as curt with Akiya, who misinterprets it as intentional rudeness, but when Ai profusely apologizes and hides behind a wall, Akiya’s stance softens.

When asked about his “girlfriend” Sarasa, all he’ll tell Ai is that they were childhood friends since forever, and they took traditional dance classes together. Fortunately, we get to learn a lot more about both Sarasa and Akiya’s past, and Sarasa comes out even more amazing for having enduring what she had to endure.

Basically, the famous kabuki actor Kouzaburou was always very close to Sarasa, so much so that rumors floated around of her being his illegitimate daughter. Illegitimate or not, had she been a boy, she would have been the heir apparent to the venerable Shirakawa Kaou name…which Akiya is expected to assume instead. He’s far more loosely related, but he’s a boy.

It didn’t help matters for Akiya that while he liked Sarasa a lot for her strength and cheerfulness, she also happened to be a better natural talent than him when it came to Kabuki. Unfortunately, Sarasa was never sat down and told that grown women aren’t allowed to perform Kabuki.

That said, when another actor is ill, Sarasa is chosen to fill in during a performance of Sukeroku, since she memorized all the lines and movements (even back then, she was amazing). Young girls are allowed to perform, so there was no problem.

But while performing beside her, Akiya could tell how goddamn good Sarasa was, and how goddamn unfair it was that Sarasa’s Kabuki career would reach a harsh dead end due to tradition. After the performance, he first hears the rumor that Sarasa is related to Kouzaburou, which he shares with his mom/grandma/aunt/guardian (I forget her exact relation to him).

Tossing that pebble in the pond causes all kinds of drama, including his mom* chewing out poor Sarasa at the front door, telling her for the first time she’ll “never” be able to be something—in this case, Sukeroku. As soon as Sarasa runs off crying she’s immediately ashamed and regretful, but the damage is done.

Sarasa’s gramps comes to Kouzaburou’s house and chews him out for traumatizing Sarasa, and declares that she’ll have nothing to do with him or Kabuki ever again. That said, gramps softens considerably upon seeing a scared Akiya in the hall, and asks him if he’ll continue being Sarasa’s friend. He’s only cutting her off from Kabuki, he says.

Shortly after Sarasa stopped coming to dance classes, her grandma died, and Akiya and Kaou pay their respects from a distance. When Akiya sees Sarasa’s raw eyes, he starts to cry too…and Kaou tells him to hold on to the pain…it will make him a better actor.

Fast-forward to the present, and Akiya and Sarasa remain friends despite having been kinda-sorta rivals in the past. The rivalry never happened because the institution of Kabuki never let it. I’d say it’s for the best, since I have every confidence Sarasa will be okay in Kouka, but if ever there was going to be a first woman kabuki actor, it would be her!

After giving Sarasa her present of another bizarre figurine she’s super excited about (which is also see-through, for reasons), he also invites both Sarasa and Ai to a performance of Sukeroku he’ll be in. He already got clearance from her gramps.

That night, Ai learns about Sarasa’s performance in Sukeroku when she was only six. The two girls are transported into space as Sarasa beautifully, poetically describes what it was like being on that stage, feeling the audience like heat on her skin, feeling like the stage was a different world; feeling she had transformed into someone else.

It was clearly one of the most amazing moments of her life, making it doubly tragic that she was later deprived of pursuing a future there despite how much she loved it and how good she was. Even so, hearing Sarasa’s words makes Ai want to go see Sukeroku with Sarasa all the more, if only to catch a glimpse of the stage Sarasa once stood upon.

During the performance, Ai notices Sarasa crying, and isn’t sure whether it’s due to fond memories or “something else entirely.” Uh, why not both? From there, the episode abruptly cuts to the train platform where Sarasa and Ai are heading home. Akiya gives Sarasa some words of support and assurance from his heart.

He reminds her they’ve only just started down their paths; it’s okay to lose sight of what they want sometimes; and all they can do is keep moving forward. Sarasa still wants to play Lady Oscar, and she’s going to make it happen—”nevers” be damned!

She also wants Akiya to play Sukeroku. After a firm handshake (throwing Ai off a bit, as she assumed they’d at least hug), the two part ways, both feeling better than before they’d seen each other. They may not be a lovey-dovey couple, but they’re a couple where it matters.

TenSura – 42 – The Gods Stir

Rimuru starts to head to Walpurgis (though with his teleportation magic one would think there’d be no further need to “head out” anywhere; he can go wherever he wants instantly and can take whoever he wants with him. But this episode isn’t about Rimuru; it’s about Clayman, his plans, and the elite Demon Lords know and think about all these goings-on leading to the Walpurgis.

Clayman is being set up for an epic downfall. For one thing, he wrongly assumes it was Veldora and not Rimuru who destroyed Falmuth’s army. Second, he still believes his former tool Mjurran to be dead. Thirdly, he took the frankly suicidal step of turning Milim into his doll and puppet by having Sky Queen Frey place an enchanting pendant around her neck. Just to up his evil cred, he beats the everloving shit out of the defenseless Milim. There’s no way he doesn’t pay for all of this somewhere down the line!

Meanwhile, Demon Lords who consider the likes of Clayman naught but a whelp confer before the Walpurgis. Demon Lord Guy Crimson, one of the oldest and strongest lords along with Milim, summons the less powerful but still really really powerful Demon Lord Leon Cromwell to his ice palace to discuss things. While Guy seems content to lounge around his ice palace, a merchant spy (I think we all know who) has been steadily feeding Leon intelligence about Clayman, Rimuru, and Velora.

It isn’t long before Guy’s paramour, White Ice Dragon Velzard, who just happens to be Veldora’s big sister, joins the discussion. These three just emanate power, dignity, and above all shrewdness. They don’t come off as villains, either, but well-rounded people, albeit people who can rend the earth asunder with a snap. By comparison, Clayman and his pack of clowns seem like…well, a bunch of pathetic clowns.

While he could probably only defeat Guy one out of a million or so times, Leon may be the smartest demon lord of them all (most certainly brighter than our dumb blue protagonist), able to see through both Clayman’s lies and the cover story Rimuru put out there. He suspects that rather than being the recipient of tremendous luck, Rimuru could’ve been the one who broke Veldora’s seal, which would put him on their level.

Leon’s even learned that it was Rimuru who cured the summoned children before he could take them in. This makes Leon very excited for the upcoming Walpurgis, though Velzard pointedly declines to accompany him there. No doubt she’s going to go look up her brother in Tempest.

All this lends credence to the fact that Clayman isn’t really someone Rimuru needs to worry about. I mean for gosh sakes, Clayman isn’t even a real Demon Lord yet, while Rimuru is! ‘Nuff said! But it’s not, because as long as people like Guy and Leon are around, Rimuru can’t really take it easy. Aw, who am I kidding, he’s going to keep taking it easy!

Higehiro – 03 – Fated Encounters

Sayu has a dream about a past night she spent with a man in exchange for a place to stay. She lies under him passively, her eyes devoid of their usual glimmer, making no noise except to say “yeah” when he asks if it feels good. It’s not a love scene; it’s a transaction scene, depicted in all its awkward frankness. Sayu wakes up in her own bed as Yoshida dozes away in his. The glimmer is back in her eyes, but there’s also worry.

When Yoshida heads off to work, all Sayu has are household chores and her thoughts. And her thoughts are constantly asking why Yoshida won’t touch her. Shouldn’t he want to, at least a little? All the other men did, and took what they could. We learn Yoshida turned down a business trip, and his male co-worker assumes it’s because he has a girlfriend.

That prospect upsets Mishima, who asks him out to a movie after work. On the way out he and Gotou nearly walk into each other. Seeing him leave with Mishima, Gotou wears a look I’d describe as…left out?

Long before Yoshida returns home, Sayu is simply out of things to do around the house, so she has nothing but those lingering, worrying thoughts. Even though Yoshida hasn’t touched her like all the other men, she still believes he’ll kick her out when he doesn’t want her anymore.

When he texts her that he’s going out for a movie with a colleague, Sayu decides to stalk him…just a little. She happens to be watching just as Mishima finished talking to Yoshida about fated encounters, both the ones in the sad movie and ones in reality. Mishima is certain it’s better to realize that it’s fate the moment it happens, rather than months or years later.

While Yoshida isn’t 100% with her on this line of thinking (one, because he considers her a co-worker and friend first; two, he’s a bit dense), Mishima thinks she’s having such an encounter with him now, and doesn’t want to let it go. He’s taken aback when she hugs him, but the hug is all Sayu sees when she rushes off.

She doesn’t see Yoshida rebuff Mishima; not that she’s going to give up on him anytime soon. When Yoshida comes home to find Sayu’s phone but no Sayu, his first worry is that she was kidnapped, not that she ran away because she saw him with Mishima.

Even though I knew her running away would be a distinct possibility, I was still hugely relieved to see she didn’t go far; just to a nearby park to think. Heavy on her thoughts is how Yoshida looked when Mishima hugged him, how different it was from how he is with her. It made her jealous, but also reinforces her worry that once a guy as kind as him finds a girlfriend, she’ll be abandoned.

But this episode deals with three fated encounters: Yoshida and Sayu, Yoshida and Mishima…and Sayu and Mishima, who happens to find Sayu in the park looking forlorn (and out of place!) before Yoshida does. She sits with her so she can think without being bothered by a cop, and asks what’s troubling her. She’s not in a fight with her “parents”—i.e. Yoshida—as “they’re unbelievably nice”.

Rather, there’s something Sayu can’t tell “them”, or they might abandon her. Mishima tells her that fear can freeze you in place, but it can also spur forward action. In her book, the latter way is the better one. From what she’s heard, Mishima thinks whoever this is believes in Sayu, so she should believe in them and say This is who I am! This is part of me! Will you stay with me anyway?

Of course, Mishima is speaking from her experiences with Yoshida, who just happens to be the same person Sayu is talking about. Mishima learns this when Yoshida arrives at the park. And from the way he treats Sayu—like a worried-sick guardian would treat his lost kid—it’s clear Sayu and Yoshida have some “family stuff” to discuss. So she takes her leave, but insists that Yoshida explain himself later.

I love how low-key and empathetic Mishima’s reaction is to learning Yoshida is looking after a teenage runaway. She knows she doesn’t have the whole story, and while she very much wants to hear it, it’s not the time or place, so she’ll wait until it is. She doesn’t jump to conclusions or express premature outrage.

When Yoshida and Sayu comes home, Sayu takes Mishima’s advice, stops standing in place, and steps forward … in her black underwear … towards Yoshida. She refuses to dress before they talk. She again mentions how her breasts are big for someone in high school. She presses against Yoshida, and asks again if he wants to have sex her, like all the other men wanted to.

When pressed (literally) by Sayu, Yoshida admits that of course he finds her extremely cute and attractive. Sayu is flattered by his praise, and explains that this is the way she decided on to be able to live without going back home. She knows there are disadvantages to an adult having a teenage girl around, and so thought there must be some kind of advantage way to make up for that.

At first, she hated using her body in that way. But while she was doing it with someone she also felt she could be herself; that she was needed. The advantage she provided to the other men made her feel fulfilled. Maybe in her dream, when she said ‘yeah’ when asked if it felt good, she wasn’t lying. It felt good emotionally for there to be what she saw as a balanced give-and-take; something for something.

But ultimately the disadvantages would win out, and she’d get kicked out. However many times this happened to Sayu, she’s now of the mind that her crushing uneasiness won’t be quelled unless Yoshida sleeps with her. So she asks once more, if it won’t upset him, if he’ll do so. Yoshida gathers Sayu into a solid but thoroughly platonic hug, and make it clear that sleeping with someone he’s not in love with would upset her, so the answer is no.

Once she’s dressed again and they’re seated at the table, Yoshida calmly rejects Sayu’s assertion that she “hasn’t done anything” for him in return to justify keeping her around. Again, he tries to reorient her belief that only sex can pay for the roof under her head and make up for the disadvantages of having her there.

He admits he’s changed since she came. He takes better care of himself. They eat and talk about nothing special. His apartment feels like a real home with her there, and a place he wants to hurry back to after work. Just having her there has made his life more fun and more rewarding. She doesn’t have to do or say anything special to maintain that atmosphere; she just has to be there. That’s it.

Saying this moves Sayu to tears. Yoshida realizes that he wasn’t doing himself or Sayu any favors by thinking he could change her back into a “normal teenage girl”, and that there was nothing more to it than that. Denying her transactional mindset and sexuality only heightened her anxiety about properly paying him back for his kindness.

Acknowledging the role of sex in Sayu’s life up to this point was a crucial step in acknowledging Sayu herself, just as making it clear that sex with her is neither wanted nor required establishes firm boundaries. It sets him apart from all the other men, thank goodness.

Thanks to Mishima, Sayu was able to break their stalemate of unspoken tension, and was able to learn from Yoshida not only why he didn’t want to sleep with her, but why just being there was enough for him. Now that they’ve bared their hearts and cleared the air, they can begin truly living together, like a family. It’s an honest, beautiful, and heartwarming catharsis between two lonely souls who claim to be pathetic, but are actually inspiring!

Higehiro – 02 – Freedom and Choices

A princess raised in castles is going to act like royalty, like Queen Elizabeth. A princess raised by wolves is going to act like a wolf, like San, AKA Princess Mononoke. Behaviors are learned through social interactions and time. Sayu has apparently lived a life where her choices were few and her freedom nonexistent.

Leaving home only gave her a fleeting freedom, and she eventually had to do what conditions at the time demanded her of her to survive. As a result, she still behaves around Yoshida the way she had to behave around other men with whom she treated her body for shelter. He notes that the smiles she flashes often feel forced, strange, and wrong.

It’s doubly frustrating to him that someone so young had been forced into a situation where she didn’t feel safe not smiling when she didn’t feel like it. He calls her out on it with what I’d call “harsh kindness”, assuring her that even if his home isn’t hers, she’s allowed to be there, and doesn’t have to be “weird” or “lie to him” with those smiles.

Sayu understands what Yoshida is on about, and so tells him that she was thinking to herself why he’s so nice. He reiterates that he’s not being overly nice at all; he’s just being decent, the way everyone should be to each other. She says she’ll try her best not to refuse when he offers her things, or smile when she doesn’t mean it.

But she also points out that those smiles and refusals are habits that will be hard to break, since she’s still not quite used to the unprecedented freedom and choices Yoshida has given her. But through her attitude and the housework she does for him, she hopes to make him think he’s glad she came into his life. Despite everything that’s happened to her, Sayu remains a kind and decent person herself.

While last week focused on the establishment of Yoshida’s new normal at home, here we get a look into his work environment, where his crisper shirts, enhanced hygiene, and shorter-than-usual work days have led to rumors he has a girlfriend. But when his immediate underling Mishima’s code has some bugs in it, and she’s forced to work late, he works late with her, and even gets takeout.

Mishima takes their ensuing alone time to learn that Yoshida doens’t have a girlfriend, and was recently rejected by Gotou. Mishima considers herself “lucky” Gotou rejected him, and wouldn’t mind going out for a beer sometime. Like Sayu, she tells him he’s kinder than most by not simply giving up on her, but as with Sayu, he doesn’t think he’s any nicer than everyone should be.

When he gets home, Sayu is wrapped in her blanket like a Yuru Camp character, apparently angry he’s home late after she cooked dinner. But she follows her annoyed tone with genuine giggling, as she was just messing with him. As she reads manga and he has an after-work beer, he realizes that he really should have a way to get a hold of her.

Sayu threw her old phone in the ocean, and while at the mall she refuses to let him buy a new one, so he does so when she’s not around. Hashimoto, the only other person who knows about Sayu, can tell that Yoshida likes Sayu by the care he’s putting into choosing a case for her. Hashimoto gently warns him that it’s fine to be nice, but he should start thinking about how things are going to go, before she settles in too much, or she falls for him, or he falls for her.

Yoshida assures Hashimoto that that won’t happen, but while romance is out of the question, there are already glimmers of familial and paternal love. Hashimoto didn’t go so far as to say “she’s not a lost puppy”, but he’s right that Yoshida needs to come up with some kind of plan beyond keeping her off the streets.

One day at work, Gotou approaches Yoshida and they end up going out for yakiniku and beer, which she confesses she can only go out for with him, since all other men expect her to be a “sweet, proper lady.” That’s now three women who consider him to be uncommonly kind and understanding to them. One wonders why she’s with the man she’s with if she can’t be herself with him!

Gotou commences an anything-goes Q-&-A between them, starting first by asking if he’s dating someone. When he refuses, she lists all the evidence that he is—leaving work on time, cleaning himself up better—and mentions how Mishima seems to have a thing for him. He repeats that there’s nothing there, because in his give years at the office he’s always been in love with her.

When Gotou caught wind of the rumors, she was bothered by the fact he’d immediately been “taken in by another younger girl.” With the rumor staunched, Yoshida loses some points by asking Gotou what cup size she is. I know she said “ask me anything”, but c’mon, man!

When Yoshida comes home, late again, and not eating the dinner Sayu made again, she can tell he’s feeling down and needs a hug, so she hugs him. Like when she put her hand on his earlier, she does it because she wants to, and because she thinks it will make him feel better. And while in the bath he laments being a grown man cheered up by a teenage girl, it shouldn’t be anything to be ashamed of…ask any dad!

When he presents Sayu with a new phone, we learn he chose the white case for her over the black. White, the color of purity and chastity, yes, but also, Sayu just happens to like white! In that same vein, he didn’t buy it for her as a gift or a sign of his affection, but as a practical means of communication when they’re not both home.

Of course, he also doesn’t want her to worry if he is late. He doesn’t want to do or say anything to make her feel bad. He wants her to have every choice and opportunity someone her age should have. In this and in basically everything he’s done for her thus far, he’s acted like a father.

Yoshida acknowledges that Sayu is a woman, but to him, she’s a little kid. Someone to protect unconditionally. Someone who doesn’t have to force herself to smile to make him feel better. Maybe the endgame, then, is to simply adopt her.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Horimiya – 06 – It’s Getting Hot in Here

It’s still rather cold in these parts, so it’s refreshing for this week’s Horimiya to take place in the middle of summer. But even if it didn’t, it still radiates warmth and good vibes from every angle. Hori’s dad sees Miyamura in his school look for the first time and momentarily wonders who the hell he is.

Once he realizes it’s Miyamura, he insists they take a bath together to wash off the day’s heat. Coincidentally, Hori is watching a TV show wherein a lecher is about to assault a young woman, only for that woman to reveal she’s a skilled MMA fighter and kicks his ass.

In addition to being an amusing prism to Miyamura and Kyosuke’s dynamic, it also foreshadows a number of wonderful subversions of typical high school rom-com clichés, which like the warm and cozy aura of its main couple has fast become Horimiya specialty.

After dinner and past 8:30, Miyamura assumes he’s “worn out his welcome”, but that’s not for him to decide. Hori’s suggests he spend the night, though it’s Hori’s dad he’ll be sleeping beside. Kyousuke doesn’t interrogate him that night, only asking what Miyamura likes about his daughter. His response: she doesn’t judge people by appearances.

While this is primarily the story of Hori and Miyamura’s understated yet potently blossoming love, it’s also the story of Miyamura being accepted for who he is by his new friends at school, as well as flat-out becoming a member of Hori’s family.

It’s in this scenario he gets to see something no one else could: Hori wearing her middle school gym uniform as pajamas (when she stomps on her father to open the blinds that morning). It’s also so goddamn lovely when Hori’s mom corrects him when he’s headed out the door. He’s family, not a guest, so he should say ittekimasu, not ojamashimashita. My heart just about burst right there, but Horimiya was just getting started!

Unfortunately, most of the kids at Miyamura’s school either don’t know what a sweet guy he is and are all too willing to judge him by his “emo” appearance. When a couple guys spot him leaving the same house with Hori, it sets off a torrent of rumors at school that they’re dating.

I like how we get a little shot of Tooru and Yuki legitimately upset by this development, with Yuki actually weeping at the prospect of things turning sour just when Miyamura and Hori got their act together. I like more how despite the unsolicited attention and rumor-mongering, Hori takes everything in perfect stride. By now she’s quite comfortable confirming that Miyamura is her boyfriend, and doesn’t need to explain that relationship to anyone.

Miyamura, however, doesn’t fare as well. A common refrain in the halls is “wait…that Miyamura?”, as Hori is both hugely popular and has rejected a number of more “conventional” suitors. So Miyamura apparently decides that if the school wants a prettier cover, they’ll get it: he arrives the next day having cut his hair short, revealing his piercings and eyelashes.

It’s an interesting and complex choice by Miyamura that instantly changes the conversation, as he becomes an immediate sensation with the ladies. Rather than do it because he’s worried about adversely affecting Hori’s reputation (though that could be part of it) it feels more like an act of empowerment. It indicates that Miyamura is well aware he’s got the goods, he’s just never flaunted them at school.

Rather than passively keeping his chin up or not listening to the murmurings, Miyamura took an active step in the realignment of the conversation around him and Hori. With his new ‘do and the striking beauty it reveals, “wait…that Miyamura?” turns to “oh, that Miyamura!”. 

As one would expect, Hori isn’t used to Miyamura getting the added attention and adoration, and her reaction is to create a cold enough atmosphere around her that it shoos away the newcomers. When a girl snaps candid pics of Miyamura with their phone (without asking him, WTF!), Hori gets right in his face with a DSLR!

Despite the increased liveliness at school, what I love more than anything about both the news of Horimiya dating and Miyamura’s new look is that it doesn’t really affect their core relationship. Hori doesn’t seem hurt that Miyamura cut his hair without consulting her, and seems content with his prefab excuse that it’s summer and long hair is hot.

Hori may grow possessive at school—Miyamura is her bf; so she has every right to be!—but not so much so that she makes a federal case out of his makeover. Hori has Miyamura, and vice versa, and it’s no longer important that no one knows he’s a hottie or that they’re dating.

Since they’re the usual Horimiya, Miyamura comes home with Hori as usual, and has the unlikely but hilarious distinction of having a third distinctive look in three straight encounters with Hori’s dad. Before long, they’re answering an invite from Shindo to come to his place and help him eat bizarrely flavored hard candy.

It’s here where Miyamura again demonstrates his whimsical timing with romantic gestures, as he asks Hori how her candy tastes, then leans in and steals it from out of her mouth. She sheepishly says “he stole my candy” the way Jujutsu Kaisen’s Kasumi sheepishly says Maki stole her sword, but what he really stole was their first kiss….just like that! For the record, that candy tasted like clay, which should make the kiss that much harder to forget!

Horimiya lets that kiss simmer on the back burner a bit as we return to school, where the novelty of Miyamura’s new look has thankfully worn off…with one exception: a diminutive girl with similarly black hair and similarly blue eyes seems to be watching, following, straight-up stalking Miyamura.

When Hori and Yuki encounter her in the hall, she asks if Hori and Miyamura are dating, Hori says yes, what of it?!, and the girl beats a hasty retreat, seemingly intimidated. Miyamura’s sudden popularity bounce perfectly sets up this latest high school rom-com cliché, the new love rival, second-year Sawada Honoka.

Before long, Sawada is striding up to Miyamura and flat-out telling him to break up with Hori already, in earshot of others. But in another excellent subversion, it’s not Miyamura Sawada likes…it’s Hori. Thanks to the rumors, she’s learned Miyamura stole a march on her. But she declares she liked Hori first, and won’t accept Miyamura dating her.

This turns into a physical tug-of-war between Sawada and Miyamura, with a flustered Hori as the rope. Tooru can only watch with other classmates in amusement at the spectacle before them, and even texts Yuki to hurry over to watch. Miyamura, clearly no longer hiding who he is at school, finally forcefully grabs Hori into his arms and declares “she’s mine!”, echoing her own words when Remi prodded her about him.

After school, Sawada seemingly follows Miyamura home, only for them to realize that not only are they both heading home in the same direction, they are goddamn next-door neighbors! This is the kind of twist a show that’s built up as much goodwill and credibility as Horimiya can get away with all day long, in my book.

It also marks a further expansion of Miyamura’s relationships, as it’s clear these two aren’t going to just ignore each other from here on out. Sawada forgot her key, so he does what any decent person would do and invites her over to sample some cake from his family’s bakery. Their ensuing conversation starts with, but is not dominated by, Hori, as Sawada learns Hori rarely visits Miyamura’s place since he always goes to her place.

Sawada also assumed that Miyamura had a little brother or sister, since he’s clearly good at taking care of people. Miyamura laughs at that comment, which reminds Sawada of the older brother she says she “had”—past tense—before laughing it off herself. She’s saved by the bell when her folks come home, so she heads out, but Miyamura says she’s always welcome to stop by for some cake.

Miyamura isn’t fooled by Sawada’s last-second fakeout. Sure enough, he learns from his mom that the Sawadas lost their eldest son some time last year, who attended a different school from Izumi but was “such a nice boy”.

At first I wondered why the character designer took such pains to make Sawada so closely resemble Miyamura—was she his long-lost little sister? When we learned she liked Hori, I abandoned that theory as a bridge too far for this show, but it isn’t lost on me how quickly and easily Miyamura is portrayed as a potential surrogate big bro.

Sure enough, the next day Sawada is hounded by three boys, and she retreats to Miyamura, digging her head in his back. It only takes a momentary glare from Miyamura to disperse the lads, but it can’t be understated how glad Sawada must’ve been to have him in that moment. Naturally, when Hori shows up they’re back to competing over who likes Hori more.

Finally, in another wonderful use of what Hori’s watching on TV as a reflection of what goes on in the Hori household, she is forcing both Miyamura and, more pointedly, her dad, to watch a horror movie in which a daughter kills her father. It underscores both Hori’s taste in cinema and the tactics she’ll use to try to get her dad to leave the room, which he eventually does.

Almost the moment her dad’s gone, Hori brushes her knees together and tries her hand at Miyamura’s patented casual romantic utterances, stating “you never make any moves on me, huh.” When Miyaura responds by asking “do you want me to?” she turns red with embarrassment, causing him to chuckle over how cute she looks. Then he asks what kind of moves she wants him to make, then leans in to kiss her.

Kyousuke barges back in asking for change to buy his smokes, and the two lovebirds immediately separate, invoking her dad’s cheeky suspicion, and causing Hori to attempt to reenact the dad-murdering scene from the movie. While I’d hoped they could have shared their first kiss in which both of them were aware a kiss was going to happen here and now, at least they didn’t chicken out; they were simply interrupted. They’ll soon learn to seek places with a bit more privacy!


Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 05 – Three Digits of Damage

We’re unfortunately not treated to Tomozaki’s movie date with Hinami, though we do get a glimpse of the all-important post-move café stop. Suffice it to say, there’s no movement on their matchup; things remain at a clinical master-pupil remove. Later that weekend they play TackFam together, where at least Tomozaki can still school her once in a while!

Tomozaki built confidence with his passionate defense of Nakamura and TackFam, and Izumi is now initiating chats with him in class, as is Nakamura’s friendlier mate Mizusawa, who suggests they go on a double date. Hinami, who’ll also go, leaves the second girl up to Tomozaki, and he chooses Izumi, wanting to build on the rapport they’ve developed thus far. The “in” he uses the group date is Nakamura’s birthday, which he learned from the flash cards.

While his invitation is rocky at first, he adjusts in “mid-battle” to brand Nakamura’s birthday as a good opportunity to make up with him. That suits Izumi, who is in. Later, Mizusawa calls out Tomozaki’s recent progress as him having read a “de-geekification book.” He’s not far off. Mizusawa also notes how chummy Tomozaki has been with Hinami, and thinks he’s “up to something” by then asking Izumi out.

Once Tomozaki navigates the initially intimidating TWINE app (quietly impressing his imouto), the shopping trip for Nakamura’s birthday is on. Hinami had imagined a much simpler bite to eat, and also seemed to object to Tomozaki inviting Izumi rather than someone else. In both cases, he upped the difficulty level of the event, and he only has himself to blame if it’s all too much.

His goal during the event is to make two successful suggestions related to the shopping trip. He actually does make one, as they head to the electronics store on his suggestion. It’s also his line of thinking that leads Izumi to purchasing styling wax, but that’s only an assist. To get a group to agree to your suggestions is to “control the mood”.

During the trip, Izumi draws close to Tomozaki and brings up the rumors about Hinami and Mizusawa—rumors that appear to be supported, but not proven, by how chummy they are together. Tomozaki doesn’t admit it to Hinami later, but learning of that rumor threw him off his game for the remainder of the trip…something Hinami does notice both during and afterwards.

When he asks Izumi for specifics about the rumors, he doesn’t get any—they’re just rumors. No doubt if he brought them up to Hinami, she’d deny them, and likely be justified in doing so, but who knows? We’re not any more privy to the rest of Hinami’s life as Tomozaki is. In any case, she keeps the focus on him in their sewing room briefing.

While it’s good that Tomozaki is starting to notice the improvement in his appearance (especially after the sample wax), he made a critical error in making no distinction between quality suggestions with persuasive suggestions. In reality, it can be hard to convince a group of a good suggestion, or easy to convince them of a bad one, and vice versa.

The only way to make headway in a group dynamic is to be ready to make suggestions that you know the group will accept. Misusawa did this organically, but Tomozaki will have to work at it to get it down. He briefly calls any game where crap suggestions can beat good ones due to social “trickery” to be “garbage” mechanics, but Hinami describes a theoretical “Negotiation Game” employing both effective speech skills and abundant info on one’s audience to unify interests and create consensus. In that context, Tomozaki sees it as a well-made game after all.

Mizusawa was impressed by his passion, but Tomozaki can’t achieve his goals by acting like Ace Attorney delivering a closing argument. Negotiation is key. And all this will imminently come into play as Hinami becomes a nominee for the student council. To her surprise, she’ll be opposed by Mimimi! Will this be the first instance of Tomozaki witnessing Hinami’s strategy falter? Either way, observing how Hinami fares should prove instructive.

P.S. I’ve never had shrimp on a pizza before, but the anime industry is apparently urging me to try it.

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