Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 2 – 05 – Kyun Kyuun!

The Strong, Silent Type—That’s what Nishikata aims to be one day, not giving Takagi an opening to tease him, like the Dandy of the Old West, another show he watches. Of course, Nishikata always has an opening: his ticklish sides.

Also, Takagi is a fan of Dandy too, so the two play a game involving questions: the first person who can’t answer gets a bang—in this case, more tickling. Takagi asks loaded questions about her crush, who naturally can’t answer them.

In a short aside, Mina (who also watches Dandy) is thought by Yukari and Sanae to be kind due to her thick eyebrows, but since she initially thinks they’re mocking her, she says something very unkind about Yukari’s bangs that can’t really be taken back!

When Yukari has to flag Nishikata down for after-school committee activities, she feels bad about separating him and Takagi. When she sees him counting on his hand, she imagines he’s lamenting how many days he hasn’t been able to walk home with Takagi; in reality, he’s counting how many times she’s teased him, which is lower than usual due to their being apart.

Still, they don’t stay apart long, as when Nishikata’s birthday arrives and he’s sent out to pick up his birthday cake from the bakery, who does he run into but Takagi, once again resplendent in street clothes. Nishikata thinks going to get your own cake is pathetic, so tries to lie about where he’s going, but fails, because Takagi is headed to the same place.

Nishikata lets Takagi go ahead of him at the counter, hoping, for a moment, she’ll pick up her order and leave. Then he suddenly realizes it’s highly unlikely she’d actually do that! Instead, she takes his hand and places her order in it; it’s for him, as a gift for correctly guessing she was headed for the cake shop (But also because she knew it was his birthday, since she’d ordered ahead of time).

Once home, Nishikata rushes to his room to see what Takagi got him: some personalized cat-themed cookies and a talking 100% Unrequited Love keychain that goes “Kyun Kyuun”. Two sweet, thoughtful gifts from someone who knows him almost better than he knows himself. Daaaawwww.

The final segment involves sneezing, or rather, how people in Japan sneeze whenever someone’s talking about them. In a clever sequence, one sneeze is followed by the mention of someone else, who is then the next to sneeze, eventually looping back to Takagi, whom Nishikata almost notes has a cute sneeze, but holds his tongue.

But even if he can’t call Takagi cute to her face (and that’s how he’d truly beat her, by the way) he at least has the wherewithal to properly thank her for her gift. As Takagi tells him he’s welcome, she walks ahead of him. He can’t see it, but she’s blushing from his thanks. Kyun Kyuun indeed!

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Fruits Basket – 17 – Paying It Forward

Uotani Arisa was a broken and rudderless teen, subsumed by dirt and blood from pointless beatings; lost in the darkness. Things were briefly made worse when her idol Kyouko turned out to be the “lame” doting mom of the even lamer and impossibly sweet Tooru.

And yet, when Arisa is alone and on the run from more beating than she can take in a day, who does she barrel into once more but that sweet and polite Tooru, who immediately senses her friend is in danger, grabs her by the arm, and runs.

At Tooru’s apartment, Arisa finds herself back in an atmosphere of warmth, tranquility and love that is so foreign to her it’s uncomfortable. She figures her dirty delinquent self wouldn’t change even if she had such an atmosphere at her home, with her dad. Nevertheless, she’s jealous of it, and she wants it.

Tooru Kyouko are more than willing to share it with her, and to soothe her crushing loneliness that has been the core of her struggles in life so far. Back in the present, we see that Arisa is no longer lonely, and loves Tooru and Saki very much. That’s when the three young delinquent wannabes finally confront Arisa, but she ignores them as if they were mere gnats.

While her story about how she became besties with Tooru is complete, there remains the rest of her story: how she became the strong, beautiful, wonderful person she is. It’s a story she doesn’t tell the Souma boys, but is generous enough to share with us.

Hanging out with Tooru and Kyouko is a positive force for change in Arisa, but that change doesn’t come as quickly or easily as removing the stems peas. She may have returned to school and studies with Tooru, but her teachers assume she’s bullying her, while her gang takes none to kindly to her efforts to go straight.

Other students are weirded out by Tooru hanging out with Arisa all the time, and rumors spread about Tooru actually being a delinquent beneath a goody-goody facade. To Arisa’s relief and joy, Tooru pays such rumblings absolutely no mind. She’s going to make an extra muffin for her dear friend Uo-chan, no matter what anyone says.

But while the bond of friendship between Tooru and Arisa can’t be easily broken, the same doesn’t go for Arisa’s bones. While in the present she credits Kyouko and Tooru with saving her, it’s not like Arisa did nothing to help her own cause, and while she might not have known it at the time, going back to her gang to tell them she’s out and facing the consequences was actually the first step towards saving herself.

Thanks to her older gangmate Akimoto, Kyouko learns of the horrible beating Arisa’s doomed to receive if no one intervenes, so the Crimson Butterfly dons her duster for one last rodeo, intervening in the fight, extracting the battered Arisa, and carrying her back to her place on piggyback.

As Arisa demeans and insults her idiotic self for not realizing sooner she was on the wrong path, Kyouko offers some sage life advice, having experience quite a bit of that life herself. She tells Arisa that sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to realize you want to change; and that neither the light nor purity of life she seeks would be possible without the presence of darkness and dirt from which she emerged.

Arisa didn’t understand the feelings she bore until she got hurt exploring them, but now that she’s come out the other side, she knows with the clarity of a mountain lake what she wants to do: to become a strong, beautiful, wonderful best friend in whom Tooru can take pride.

So Arisa abandons her delinquent past to become just that, and eventually she and Tooru befriend Saki as well. And while she is utterly devastated when Kyouko suddenly dies, she’s also eternally grateful for the things Kyouko gave her and the things she left behind, with which she can not only continue to be a better person with a kinder soul, but pay the love and kindness and wisdom she received to others.

That means not simply socking the redheaded delinquent punk (Ishi-chan) who keeps bothering her, but offering her words of advice she wished she’d received earlier: Stop acting out while you still can, before something serious happens. If you need someone to scold you, I’ll do it anytime.

Ishi is immediately smitten by Arisa’s blend of warmth and coolness, and her two friends fall in line, becoming fans of Uotani Arisa on the spot. After the credits, Ishi not only cosplays as Arisa, but wears the exact same outfit Arisa wore the day they met! Needless to say, this is exceedingly cute and heartwarming.

Just like Arisa idolizing someone like Kyouko instead of a less savory gang member, it’s almost as if the universe is looking out for these three still very young kids who have a lot of life yet to live before giving up.

Because they chose the right woman to idolize, just as she did. And perhaps, one day, when they’re better people, they’ll pay Arisa’s wisdom and kindness forward, and help others become better too. Along with Tooru—essentially a demigoddess of love and kindness—this is the enduring gift Kyouko left behind, and why she’ll never really be gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

BokuBen – 09 – Mr. Taro’s Neighborhood

Nariyuki’s penchant for getting himself in the most ridiculous situations with women seems to have no bounds, as demonstrated this week when he’s simply walking down the street when he’s suddenly snagged by Kurisu-sensei.

Apparently, her apartment is back to being a cesspool despite him “tutoring” her on how to clean it. But while there, a cockroach appears, and Nariyuki learns that Kurisu harbors a paralyzing fear of bugs.

The roach gets away when Kurisu can’t stop clinging to Nariyuki, but he continues on with the cleaning. But since the bug is still at large, Kurisu tells him she’ll “do anything” if he just stays with her. Pure, innocent Nariyuki asks her to help him study more. It gets late, and Kurisu orders food…from Rizu’s family’s restaurant.

When Rizu shows up with the delivery and sees Nariyuki at Kurisu’s house, well, her reaction is as predictable as it is understandable. What exactly is going on here? Rizu’s feelings for Nariyuki aside, she and Kurisu have a turbulent history. Nariyuki tries to break the ice with Rizu’s card game, but forgets Rizu sucks at it and Kurisu’s domination only makes things more awkward and tense.

While Kurisu is in the kitchen, Nariyuki tells Rizu that someone likes her more than she knows. He’s talking about Kurisu actually being kind and caring, but Rizu initially misinterprets it as Nariyuki confessing. Then a scream comes from the kitchen: the roach is back.

The moment Nariyuki enters, Kurisu gloms on him, and claims she’s paralyzed with fear, thus incapacitating him as the roach advances. They’re both saved by Rizu, daughter of a restaurateur, who shows no fear or hesitation in smashing what the business refers to as “Mr. Taro.”

While walking home, Rizu admits that in Kurisu’s fear of bugs she finally saw another side of her former tutor; one she not only never knew, but also never bothered to learn, since their past adversity closed her off to that. She thanks him, but he gains her ire once more when he gives the wrong answer to the somewhat dirty-sounding question of “If Mr. Taro comes to my house, will you come by to help?”

Fighting cockroaches with Rizu at Kurisu’s is pretty up there on the list of bizarre experiences Nariyuki finds himself in, but the second half’s scenario bests it in all attributes by a fair margin. To get to where ultimately ends up, Nariyuki’s mom has to get sick, he has to fill in for her at work not knowing what it is she actually does.

Turns out his mom works at a sexy lingerie shop. When his mom’s co-worker sees how embarrassed he is, she dresses him up as the mall mascot, then gets a call about her daughter and rushes off, leaving him in charge of the store when he can neither talk or remove the costume by himself. The second that costume went on, Nariyuki was doomed to experience trials he’s all too ill-equipped to deal with.

That’s because his first customers are Uruka and Rizu, the latter of whom needs a new, bigger bra due to her growing bust. When Nariyuki hesitates to measure Rizu, Uruka helps him, then presents him with either an elegant, frilly bra or a sleek, sexy one and asking which would be best to charm a third-year  boy (the answer, of course, being either).

If that’s not enough, Kurisu makes her second-straight appearance, this time having trouble with a bra that’s a bit too small, and requiring an attendant to help her unhook it. Since Nariyuki is the only attendant there, it’s up to him.

And that’s how he ends up removing the bra of a teacher from his school while dressed as a mascot filling in for his sick mom. There is a tide in the affairs of men…

Uruka and Rizu invited Fumino to join them, but she said she had other plans. Those plans turned out to be shopping for a bra alone, since that’s her preference, and because shopping for bras with the larger-breasted Uruka and Rizu isn’t her idea of a good time.

Poor Fumino: when she blurts out to the attendant that she is, indeed, a Size A,  Nariyuki’s mom’s co-worker has returned and removed the head of the mascot, reavealing to Fumino that Nariyuki was there all along, and leading to her declaring that “God is dead.”

Nariyuki treats her to a “crepe-pology” and properly explains why he was in a lingere store, and Fumino simply tells him he’s lucky she’s the one who found out and not the other two. He asks why, but she keeps it secret, as the “fifth exercise” in understanding a woman’s heart.

The thing is, I’m not entirely sure it’s any better for him that she found out, considering her conflicting feelings for the lad. Whoever ends up with this kid is simply going to have to be okay with the fact that he gets himself into the weirdest plights.

BokuBen – 08 – Bath Study, Seductive Ramen

Nariyuki presents his new smartphone, which his mother won and which the whole family shares. Turns out he has no idea how to use it and is easily frazzled when he tries, something Uruka finds cute. She shows him how to search for studying pointers, and ends up on an article extolling the virtues of studying in the bath, which everyone says is silly and that they’d never do it.

That night, while studying in the tub, Nariyuki tries to access his dictionary app, but ends up texting Fumino instead. She becomes very self-conscious about the fact that she’s texting him in the bath, even envisioning them sitting in it together, back-to-back, then apologizes to Ri and Uruka for having such unsavory thoughts.

His next attempt to access an app ends up calling Rizu, who after snatching her phone back from her protective dad, admits she’s in the bath and doesn’t get what the big deal is; sure, they’re both nude, but they can’t see each other. Then she closes her eyes, and when Nariyuki talks, it sounds like he could be in the bath with her.

Things escalate when an attempted voice command calls Uruka, who accidentally makes it a FaceTime call, revealing every bit of her untanned body usually covered by her swimsuit. For her part, Uruka gets a good look at Nariyuki’s torso. In the ensuing chaos, Nariyuki drops the phone in the bath. The next day at school, it’s understandably a bit awkward.

That the last person he calls in the bath is Uruka segues nicely to the episode’s second half, which is entirely devoted to Uruka, who again demonstrates not only that she’s the Best Girl of BokuBen, but of the entire Spring season.

Balancing the twin strenuous activities of studying and swimming takes its toll, and one morning Uruka collapses from exhaustion in the hallway. Fortunately, Nariyuki is there to help her to the infirmary. While waiting for the nurse, Nariyuki says out loud that whoever she likes is a lucky guy.

A very woozy Uruka, eyes still closed, pulls Nariyuki into an embrace, saying his name. Then her friends show up, and Nariyuki hides under the bed without thinking. There, he learns for the first time about the guy Uruka likes: according to one of her swim teammates, it’s him!

From the moment he hears this, Nariyuki can barely sleep. When he sees her next, he short circuits and walks into a street pole. When they touch elbows, it’s like an electric shock making his heart race. Fumino gives him the fourth lesson in understanding a woman’s heart: taking Uruka home, as she’s still recovering.

When Uruka thanks him and offers him a token of her gratitude, Nariyuki’s scrambled mind immediately looks to the nearby Mermaid Love Hotel…but Uruka meant she’d treat him to ramen at the shop next door. There, he can’t help but notice Uruka seems to be eating the ramen very seductively. But she’s not; he’s just seeing her in a new light; as a woman, not a mere childhood friend.

After ramen, they walk past a number of couples, and Uruka finally summons the courage to at least ask Nariyuki if he has someone “like that.” His quick and assertive “no” (he’s waiting until after entrance exams) makes her very happy. But then, he throws her for a loop, asking out of the blue if the boy she likes is him.

Now, while Uruka may be the Best Girl, her actions aren’t always the best—and in this case, they don’t help her cause in the slightest. She sabotages the entire moment by denying it with a dismissive laugh, which Nariyuki takes as settling the matter, and to curse himself for being so stupid. To which I say…DRAT!

At this point, Uruka is her own worst enemy. Later, in the bath again (though not studying), she curses herself for denying it so enthusiastically. But she doesn’t want to press matters, especially when she knows Nariyuki is focused on studying for exams, as she should be. And she’s scared of rejection, and of ruining the extremely solid friendship they currently enjoy.

That’s all well and good…if there was no competition, but Rizu, Fumino, and even Kurisu-sensei are in various stages of participation in the Yuiga Sweepstakes. Setting the record straight after exams might be too late. As for the friendship? Well, whether she asks him out and he says no, or someone else asks him out and says yes, that seems destined to change regardless!

BokuBen – 07 – Storming of the Bastille

Rizu doesn’t know that Uruka likes Nariyuki, and Uruka doesn’t know that Ri likes Nariyuki, but Fumino knows both of those things, and she doesn’t want to rock the boat. However, fate seems to conspire against her, as she trips over her own feet and lands upon Nariyuki in an apparent passionate embrace that Ri happens to witness.

Fumino, convinced Rizu is furious, tries to make it right, ultimately by shoving Nariyuki into Rizu’s embrace; but his head ends up in Ri’s bust—no doubt due to poor calculations on the part of Fumino, for whom math is not her strong suit, as we know. Turns out Rizu only appeared angry because she was squinting due to using a backup pair of glasses.

From there we shift to Nariyuki’s increasingly complex relationship with Kirisu-sensei. When he attempts to rescue a cat from a tree, it ends up jumping off, and Kirisu twists her ankle catching it. Nariyuki helps her get to her apartment, which is an appalling mess.

But since Kirisu is actually a good person (which is why she saved the cat), she makes coffee for Nariyuki and helps him study some history as thanks for his assistance.

While helping her clean, Nariyuki stumbles upon a trophy case packed with accolades from when Kirisu was an ice skater, proving that her desire to steer the girls away from their “emotional” choice of life path is borne out of her having made the same choice when she was younger, and coming to regret it.

Nariyuki tells her that while he appreciates where she’s coming from, he’s decided he’s going to “hold his head high” and “regret it later” with them. It’s only a meaningless, foolish path if they fail, and he can’t yet say that they will.

With that, he takes his leave. When he asks if it’s really okay for a man to have come to her place, she dismisses him as still a child, but once he’s gone, she drops the pretense and reveals she was a nervous wreck, because he was actually the first man ever to be at her place.

One one of their now regular one-on-one chats, Nariyuki tells Fumino about being at Kurisu-sensei’s last night. Knowing it could enrage Rizu and/or Uruka, she drags him to a tree, pushes him against it, and makes him promise not to tell anyone what he just told her.

Naturally, the next time she’s in class, she’s hounded by classmates convinced that she’s in some kind of “special relationship” with Nariyuki, something Nariyuki himself doesn’t deny (since he considers both his tutoring of her and her coaching of him in matters of women to be “special”).

Fumino’s classmates are extremely protective of her, and aren’t about to let just any schmo go out with her, so they send a covert surveillance team to the library where the two are studying, and determine that there’s no overt romantic spark between them, but that they share a “deep trust that transcends the boyfriend-girlfriend barrier.”

Or was she? Fumino may be committed to not making either Rizu or Uruka sad (or mad), but she can’t deny she’s enjoyed all the time she’s spent with Nariyuki, and not just in a tutor-tutee scenario. He’s supporting her wish to pursue her dreams, after all!

When she finally informs Nariyuki of the rumors going around about the two of them, she “jokes” that maybe they should just go out for real. Only judging from Nariyuki’s reaction—and her reaction to his reaction—it sure doesn’t feel like it was a joke. As much as she wants to be above the love polygon, this episode leaves little doubt that she’s one of the vertices.

BokuBen – 06 – Imagine and Be Considerate

Kirisu-sensei somehow knows about Nariyuki and Rizu’s accidental kiss in the mountains, but she doesn’t know about all the other inappropriate incidents with the girls he’s tutoring. That is, until Fumino, Rizu and Uruka burst in one after the other to forcefully declare that those incidents—of which Kirisu had no prior knowledge—were all their fault, not Nariyuki’s.

Nariyuki is convinced this is the end for him: forget a VIP recommendation, he could get suspended for all the things that he did/were done to him. But instead Kirisu lets him go, and she does so precisely because Fumino and Rizu made it a point to come in and talk to her, something she imagines they wouldn’t normally want to do, considering how things turned out when she was their tutor.

Nariyuki sees Kirisu’s scratched-up hand and it dawns on him that she was up there in the mountains looking for Rizu because she was worried, and that there’s a nice person under that cold demeanor. Kirisu has of course nailed it, but Kirisu won’t give him the satisfaction of knowing that.

She’ll leave Nariyuki alone for now because the girls are clearly enthusiastic about him tutoring them, and because they’re making progress. But she still thinks it’s folly for them to let their fleeting emotions steer them on life paths that don’t match their considerable talents.

The girls are waiting outside with baited breath, each of them very contrite about blabbing about all the compromising situations they’ve been in with him, but it’s all water under the bridge. As Nariyuki walks off with them, Kirisu remembers him calling her a nice person and betrays a small blush and smile.

The main dilemma this week then isn’t the intrusion of Kirisu-sensei—who is dealt with in the first five minutes—but another issue that crops up which was inevitable considering how much time Nariyuki is spending with three lovely young women: untoward rumors.

When Nariyuki is smirking in class due to his tutoring plan having so much success (and a glowing assessment from the headmaster), his friends assume he’s acting like that because he got lucky in love. He vehemently denies such insinuations; he rarely if ever thinks romance with the three tutees, owing to the fact he no idea they have any romantic interest in him.

His ignorance of how his words could be used against him is exposed when he fails to properly refute rumors he kissed someone, calling the encounter an “accident.” That sends his puerile mate running out of the classroom crying about wanting to “kiss girls like Nariyuki.” Naturally, Uruka overhears this and her heart is suddenly in turmoil, because whatever girl(s) are kissing Nariyuki, it ain’t her!

In a clever use of an English lesson about yes-or-no questions, Uruka straight-up asks Nariyuki if he kissed someone, and continuing to shoot himself in the foot with his responses, doesn’t come right out and say “no” (because his and Rizu’s lips met, there just wasn’t anything to it). Absent any context, Uruka takes his non-denial as proof he has a girlfriend, gives a half-hearted endorsement, and races off to cry.

When Fumino offers a caring ear, Uruka tries her darndest to post the questions applying to her as being about “her friend”…a friend has known a guy for years, was cheered on when she swam, and who know studies with him. Fumino’s no foolmino, and her response is tailored to Uruka, not this non-existent “friend”: don’t assume one kiss that may or may not have happened means the guy has a girlfriend.

She tells Uruka’s “friend” to keep fighting, and that she’s rooting for her 100%. Also, she should ignore the rumors about Nariyuki…though the rumors are snowballs into the absurd so rapidly, Fumino knows she’s asking a lot. But when Rizu appears and drops her books when she overhears the rumors, Fumino realizes Rizu might like Nariyuki too.

That supposition is all but confirmed when both Uruka and Rizu’s test grades drop suddenly and drastically. Fumino is happy for both of them, and wants to root for them both, even if that’s ultimately impossible. As for me, I’m just glad she’s not in love with Nariyuki too…at least not yet.

Because of that, Fumino can act normally around him, and when he comes to her for advice about how to end the sudden awkwardness between him and the other two, Fumino knows she just can’t come out and say it’s because they like him. It’s really something he should figure out himself, so she tells him to imagine how they feel and be considerate of that in future interactions.

Naturally, there’s no way Nariyuki will use the advice the way Fumino intends. Instead, he takes what she’s saying to mean Uruka and Rizu may be acting awkwardly because they’ve grown too close, blurring the lines between tutor and tutee. So he decides he should take a step or two back and restore a measure of personal boundaries with the two.

Mind you, that’s precisely the opposite of what Uruka wants, and her two trusty, loving friends know just how to help her: by shortening her skirt and opening her blouse for her next encounter with Nariyuki. Like her cute date outfit last time her friends aided her, she ends up feeling ridiculous and embarrassed.

Nariyuki, committed to widening the distance even in the face of such adversity, tries to do just that in a physical sense, but Uruka stays with him, and the two are so focused on jockeying for position that they get lost right outside a shrine to academic and romantic success. What a coinkydink!

Once the two pray (Nari for academic success, Uruka for romance) the heavens suddenly open up, and with no umbrellas, the two wait it out under the shrine. Uruka lies down and suddenly falls asleep, and Nariyuki’s eyes can’t help but wander to her legs and tan-lined bust.

Of course, that’s the point: Uruka is only pretending to be asleep, hoping if she leaves herself “wide open” he’ll make a move. She feels something soft on her head, then tongues licking her everywhere, and imagines it’s Nariyuki doing so, but upon opening her eyes she discovers the various stray shrine cats find her tasty. Nariyuki has widened the distance.

As they walk home, and Uruka is wondering if she’s “just not attractive”, Nariyuki notes how her chest is. Taking the hint, Uruka draws closer, much closer, and can hear that his heart is racing, telling him so. He basically tells her it’s racing because she’s so close to him with her top open. He thinks she should only dress like that in front of the guy she likes, to which she says “OKAY NO PROBLEM!” beaming like the Best Girl she is.

When the next test comes along, her grades are suddenly back up, but Nariyuki doesn’t know why. You’d think someone who picked up on Kirisu being a good person would be a little more observant of how one of his oldest friends was acting around him, but what are ya gonna do. Otherwise, it’s another hard-won victory for Uruka, with an assist from her friends. I’ll savor it, even though she still has Rizu to contend with—not to mention Fumino, if Nariyuki should do or say something to make her fall for him.

Dororo – 11 – A Family Reunion

The two sons of Daigo may be meeting face to face for the very first time, but of course neither of them knows that, so their interactions don’t go too far beyond Dororo and Hyakkimaru’s usual dealings with people: kill a demon, collect a reward (and a handsome one at that). Hyakkimaru does, however, take an extra-long look at Tahoumaru’s soul: it’s “clean”, with no hints of red people get when they’ve killed another human.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru enter Daigo’s prosperous trading town and, after travelling around the sticks for so long, are positively overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sights, products, and activities. But someone spots them: a very disheveled woman who despite appearing like a lunatic to everyone around her actually has it exactly right: the “demon child” is alive.

While watching a play depicting Lord Daigo’s victory over the demons (ironic considering he actually struck a deal with them) Dororo spots Biwamaru, who sad to hear the news of what happened to Mio and the orphans. He’s there to check out what we know of as the Hall of Hell, where the Demons Daigo is believed to have defeated dwell.

Hyakkimaru overhears (now that he hears and all) rumors about the “curse of Banmon” being to blame for the lack of rain lately (little do the townsfolk know the reason is actually Hyakkimaru). Meanwhile, Hyougou and Mutsu report their encounter with a young lad with prosthetics and a small boy boasting that they’re high-level demon hunters. Needless to say, Daigo is concerned.

Dororo and Hyakkimaru pay a visit to the “Banmon”, the last survivng segment of a wall that was breached and destroyed by Daigo’s armies in his victory over Asakura. A young lad named Sukeroku is trapped on the wrong side of the border between the warring clans, and just wants to get back to his fam. He feeds Dororo and Hyakkimaru, so they agree to help him out.

Daigo informs his wife Nuinokata that their firstborn has most likely returned to their lands. He’s determined not to let anything, including him, spoil his prosperity. When Nuinokata voices her concerns that the two of them are going to properly pay for what they (really he) did to their son, Daigo dismisses her, making a remark about women “not knowing anything about politics.” Tahoumaru overhears everything, only increasing his curiosity.

Once the Asakura sentries call it a night, the site of the Banmon becomes a battlefield between Hyakkimaru and an ever-replenishing number of angry fox spirits, who eventually combine into one massive demon fox, or kyubi. He’s about to be overwhelmed when a volley of arrows hastens its retreat.

Just as Tahoumaru and his aides find the “crazy” woman in town, who is one of the midwives present for Hyakkimaru’s birth and knows what they did to him, Hyakkimaru is confronted by those who fired the arrows: the entourage of no less a person than Lord Kagemitsu Daigo himself.

For the first time since his birth, the firstborn and his father are finally face-to-face. I wonder if Tahoumaru will have something to say about what should be done with Hyakkimaru; considering what we’ve seen of him, it doesn’t seem like he’d hold his brother’s very existence against him considering what was done to him. But if he’s to adopt a sympathetic position regarding Hyakkimaru, he’ll be defying his lord father.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 05 – The Penguin that Follows the Others

I can definitely see the similarities to Bakemonogatari and Sakurada Reset here, and that, readers, is not a bad thing, at least for me. Both of those shows could subvert the concept of a Tsundere Girlfriend or Jealous Little Sister without breaking a sweat, and so too does Bunny Girl. 

In a lazier anime, agreeing to fake-date a kohai would land Sakuta in some seriously warm water, but after he explains everything properly to Mai, she withholds punishment, claiming that’s its own punishment, but really it’s a gesture of trust. Sakuta was the one and only person who never forgot her, after all (except for one brief period).

As with Araragi Koyomi, Mai can see her would-be-boyfriend is trying to help someone in need, and doesn’t judge that someone’s choices that led to them needing help. Instead she gives Sakuta her blessing, serves as the first person other than him to interact with his shut-in sister, and then bids him a good night.

However, she does warn him not to let “pretend” turn into “serious”—not to betray the trust she’s putting in him—and he laughs it off too casually for her taste, as well as mine.

The next day Sakuta is ready for his fake date with Koga Tomoe. She’s late, yawns on the train, and can’t keep her hands off her phone (he has neither smart nor flip, the damn hipster). 

When she lists the reasons for her fatigue (group chatting till 2AM; watching funny animal videos; preparing for the date “a bit”), Sakuta starts to get to the root of Koga’s frustration that led to her becoming an all-seeing, all-knowing Leplace’s Demon: She must be informed. She must join in on the conversation. She must be liked, and not seen as a loner or weirdo.

This point is driven home at the aquarium as they watch penguins: she deems Sakuta to be the penguin whom the others laugh at but doesn’t care, while she’s the penguin who follows the others in lockstep. Later, Sakuta gets more insight: Tomoe was once a “country bumpkin” from Fukuoka (hence her adorable lapses into drawl), but began a regimen of thorough reinvention and improvement to become the stylish and proper-speaking person she is.

Sakuta can surmise that she feels guilty about “abandoning” the person she is and wondering whether who she is now is who she really is, but he considers that kind of thinking “immature.” He assures her that who she is now is who she is; the culmination of choices she made and hard work she undertook. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Sakuta also shows Tomoe a few things, such as when they spot a classmate of hers from a group further down her class’ pecking order. The two of them help this classmate find a strap she lost on the beach, despite her feeling “unworthy” of someone of Tomoe’s stature wasting their time on her. Sakuta isn’t the kind of person who ranks people by their social stature; all are equal as long as they are virtuous.

When Tomoe catches a cold from falling into the water and spends a day in the nurse’s office, she asks Sakuta why he’s gone along with her “unreasonable” requests. He states it’s because she seemed desperate when she asked. Their differences in how they see the world are laid bare: she wants everyone to not hate her, while he wouldn’t mind if everyone hated him as long as there was One Person who needed him.

That one potential person Mai checks in with Sakuta on his land line phone, and he is honest about having enjoyed his “date” with Tomoe. Her nonverbal response is an enigma; is she intrigued; disappointed; neutral? She’s in Kagoshima on a TV shoot, and casually asks him to “bolt out of his house” to see her, but he doesn’t.

Futaba (who has unrequited feelings for his friend Kunimi) tells Sakuta that since Tomoe is satisfied with her current condition, there’s no need to relive it; the “demon” has found its desired path. Kunimi’s girlfriend Kamisato once again confronts him about spending time with her squeeze. Kamisato is another who only sees a ranking number hovering over someone’s head; if it’s not high enough, she wants nothing to do with them.

Sakuta tells Kunimi about the second fight picked by Kamisato, and it leads to Kunimi informing him of untoward rumors about Tomoe being loose/easy. Despite Tomoe’s efforts and veneer of satisfaction, her relationship with Sakuta has brought a different kind of unwanted attention. When Mai leaves a message on Sakuta’s phone, he moves to call her back, but stops. He has work to do.

Again, like Koyomi of the Monogatari series, Sakuta is going to perform the task he volunteered for to the best of his ability. He may not be the strongest or smartest, but that doesn’t mean he can’t outsmart someone who can easly outstrong him. As Tomoe already starts feeling the fallout by being left out of her friends’ conversation, Sakuta puts his plan into action.

That plan is nothing more than defending the honor of someone who doesn’t deserve the nasty rumors being told about her. He does so by letting the jock (who I believe originally tried to ask her out) come to him, provoking him into punching him, then getting back up, presenting himself as someone ready to throw hands, then kicks him hard in the shin.

The jock protests that Sakuta isn’t being “fair”, but…c’mon; pot, meet kettle! Sakuta ensures the exchange takes place on the train platform where the maximum number of peers watch how pathetic the jock is, giving him the negative attention he foisted upon Tomoe and then some.

In that moment, Sakuta was Tomoe’s boyfriend. She felt it; and surely he felt it too. They may not have spend much time together, but they both have a pretty good idea of who one another are. At her darkest hour, when it seemed everyone was ready to hate her (and indeed when it seemed she’d reset time to before this all happened), he was that One Person for her.

The person who’d go maybe too far to help her. The person she needed. You know…a friend! Hell, he announced in front of half the school he was a virgin for her sake. He’s a stand-up dude, and she couldn’t be blamed for falling for him right then and there.

Whether that’s precisely what happens, it’s without doubt a nudge in that direction; two people becoming a little closer through shared experiences, the most recent of which were fraught enough to require him to take her by the hand and run away, and the adrenaline of which caused them both to laugh uncontrollably as they ran.

Tomoe now understands a little more what Sakuta meant about his “One Person” position, and asks how she can repay him. Sakuta—ever classy yet also a bit arrogant—tells her she can be his friend “when all the lies are over.” The thing is, the lies may already be over, and Tomoe may just want something more than a friend. Why else would she frown at the sight of one of Mai’s TV commercials on her phone?

As for Sakuta…while he fought hard for Tomoe, there’s no overt indication he’s doing anything more or less than what he deems to be his duty, as he promised to be her boyfriend for the first term. As such, Mai may not have anything to worry about.

But he got awfully into the role on that train platform. He showed Tomoe that she only needs one person, and so far that one person is him. Can Mai—can we—trust that he’ll be able to extricate himself from a Leplace’s Demon so satisfied with him as her boyfriend?

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 04 – Your Understanding Is Not Necessary

The Ezomichi-chan in Hikari’s head tells him to stop feeling guilty about being happy, and he decides to take her advice and agrees to tutor Iroha in math. Being one-on-one with her is a bit much, however, as the vibes quickly turn from studious to romantic…until Hikari’s mom and brother are caught very blatantly snooping.

Up until this point it’s been pretty smooth sailing for Hikari. He’s gained a girlfriend, another friend who happens to be a girl, and his worst enemy seems to be himself and his own lack of self-esteem. He’s just waiting for something to come along and take all this stuff he thinks he doesn’t “deserve” to have.

The universe obliges: Takanashi Mitsuya lures him out after school with a fake love letter (one Hikari knew would be a trap), and tells him to surrender Iroha so he can date her, or else. Takanashi is bigger, stronger, more handsome, more popular, and more blonde than Hikari, who has no clear answer ready for why Iroha is with him.

After getting punched, Hikari feigns a cold to go home early, but ends up in the same playground as a little girl who turns out to be Takanashi’s little sister Anzu. When Hikari brings up the possibility of his only recourse against Takanashi would be spreading false rumors online, Takanashi decides to use that, ordering Anzu to scream as a policeman cycles past, then claiming Hikari tried to take her home with him.

Takanashi snaps pics of the incident and posts them on the chalkboard at school, and within a day everyone has been convinced that Hikari is a creepy lolicon and shuns him even more than they used to. Itou knows the rumors aren’t true, as does Iroha, but Hikari doesn’t want them to get too close to him lest it make life difficult for them (Ishino, however, believes the rumors and expresses her disappointment).

As perfectly as Takanashi’s plan to toss Hikari’s already shaky rep in the dumpster, the reason he did it in the first place—to steal Iroha—ends in abject failure, when Iroha won’t even let him talk to her. Hikari is enough for her, and she’ll certainly take a kind boy like him over someone who spreads such harmful rumors for his own gain. Takanashi is flabbergasted, but perhaps it’s a teachable moment for him.

Meanwhile, Hikari’s brother Kaoru turns out to be very good friends with Anzu, who learns that Kaoru’s brother was wrongly accused of being a lolicon. Hikari’s mother (who is always a hoot in her loving yet frank disposition) can’t help but go with what makes sense, and Hikari can’t really argue with her; he’s never gotten along with people in general; for a misunderstanding like this to spiral out of control was always a distinct possibility.

Still, Hikari is lonely enough to still reach out to Iroha over the phone, surprising her. Unfortunately, it’s to tell her she should stop wasting her time with someone like him. She ain’t hearing it, and won’t listen to another word of his self-loathing nonsense.

She says what he couldn’t say to Takanashi: why she’s with him. He’s a nice person who cares about his friends and awkward yet loving. There’s no one she’d rather be with, so he can dispense with further attempts to convince her to leave him.

Iroha is on fire this week, between shutting Takanashi the fuck down with immediate effect, and making it clear to Hikari that she’s going to go out with the person she wants, and that’s him, damnit! If he likes her like she likes him, she’ll let her be by his side, in good times and bad.

The next day, Iroha is the one who encounters Anzu, and helps her up after she trips racing to her brother’s school. Takanashi tries to start up another talk with Iroha, but Anzu insists he hear her out: Kaoru’s brother is in trouble because he told her to scream when the policeman was nearby.

Hopefully Takanashi’s love for his sister and realization that he was a gargantuan ass will spur him into correcting his mistakes, setting the record straight about Hikari at school, and accepting defeat.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 10

You’re not going to believe this, but this week Takagi teases Nishikata, he has no defense, and any feeble attempt to go on offense turns back on him. While Takagi engages in more physical contact and gets some interesting answers out of Nishikata, the fact remains he believes her primary motivation for hanging out with him is to tease him.

Their tandem riding lessons aren’t put to use, and neither do they ever text each other this week (although to be fair they’re rarely apart this week). But both the trio of girls and Nishikata’s nerd friends suspect he’s going out with Takagi, simply because they spend so much time together.

Takagi suggests they might think she’s the one in love with him because she’s always asking if they’ll walk home together, leading her to make Nishikata ask her directly, and seems very pleased when he does just that. He’s truly putty in her hands.

As for Nishikata’s grand scheme, it’s a poorly-planned game of asking Takagi “would you rather” questions, all of which she manages to answer without getting flustered, and then when it’s her turn to ask, Nishikata can’t help but get flustered.

That’s because Takagi wisely answers and chooses questions in a way that underscore one constant: she likes being with him. That means she’ll pick the tasty drink that gives her a fever, because it means he’ll come visit her, that he’d rather be teased forever than live in a world where she was gone…and would even rather kiss her than get zeros on all his tests.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 05

I only realized at the end of last week’s episode, with the camera lingering on a sad and lonely-looking Megumi, that she might not be particularly pleased about Mari actually going through with her Antarctica trip; especially without her.

This week, in an emotional powerhouse of an episode, all of the resentment and negativity that had been festering within Megumi comes to the forefront; but while there are constant signs she’s Had It, Mari doesn’t realize until the very last moment: the morning she leaves for Australia.

Before that, the show strikes a scintillating balance between being excited for Mari and thinking she’s being an awful friend to Megumi. Case in point: while packing for three months (she’s only allowed 100kg, including her own weight), she finds the game she once borrowed from Megumi under her bed (another sign of the friendship she took for granted)

She invites herself to Megumi’s house to play the game, but Megumi couldn’t be any clearer about how few fucks she gives about the game. When Mari can’t take a hint, Megumi pulls the plug, pretending to have slipped, and that’s the end of it.

It’s really quite brilliant what goes on here, because I honestly can’t even blame Mari for being such an oblivious ditz, because that’s the friend Megumi cultivated all the years they’ve known each other. Compound that with her very understandable building excitement and anticipation for a life-changing adventure, and it’s all too devastatingly obvious why Mari can’t respond to or even sense Megumi’s growing miasma.

Meanwhile, there’s just such a grand sense of occasion to the quartet of new friends finishing up their packing. They may only be going abroad for three-odd months, but it feels like they’re packing for much more than that. It feels like they’re packing for a new chapter in their lives, in which they’ll see and experience things they never have before.

The episode proceeds to throw everything it possibly can towards the goal of pissing off Megumi as much as possible, as Mari and Shirase (whom Megumi continues to stubbornly, scornfully call “Antarctica”) suddenly become a big deal at school. And it IS a big deal for high schoolers to be going to Antarcitca, for crying out loud!

But for Megumi, it’s just a constant and unyielding reminder that Mari is “leaving the nest”, so to speak. Megumi fires back by bringing up rumors going around about Mari, Shirase, and the depths they sunk to to acquire the funds to go on the trip. Megumi is then almost immediately punished when Shirase herself shows up, along with Hinata.

When Shirase hears of the rumors, she wants blood immediately. Three Cheers for the wonderfully mature-when-it-matters Hinata experly talking her down by being the adult in the shrine. Yet even she seems to inadvertently take a dig at Megumi’s macchinations with her latest self-quote: “Sometimes, people are just mean. Don’t fight mean with mean. Hold your head high.” Almost a haiku!

The torture of being outnumbered by Mari’s new friends wasn’t enough, apparently, so poor Megumi has to be dragged along to karaoke, despite the fact she is in no mood to hang out with anyone, especially Mari, but especially her new friends. Still, here more than elsewhere she seems able to mask her contempt.

It must very much take Megumi aback, then, that despite Mari’s complete inability to pick up the signals, she is still able to speak surprisingly candidly and eloquently about how she sees this turning point in her life.

First, Mari assumes Megumi considered the fact they hadn’t been hanging out a lot lately a “relief.” Then, Mari talks of how she always wanted to go far away, how she hated being where she was, and how she hated herself.

Megumi’s long acceptance of Mari as someone who would always cling to her had the unintended side effect of driving Mari to become someone who wouldn’t have to cling. Someone with worth of their own.

After parting ways, Mari comes home to find her entire family cooking their butts off to celebrate her imminent departure. Mari’s reflex is to send Megumi a photo message and an invite…but Megumi never responds.

The morning of departure comes, and what a morning. First, we watch Mari get up, wash her face, brush her teeth, comb her hair, get dressed, and give herself a final check.

All very routine morning activities given monumental status by the fact they’re the last such activities she’ll be doing for some time. And to be perfectly candid, when Rin gave Mari a big hug, I had already started to tear up, just like Mari’s dad.

And that was before a dark, brooding Megumi confronts Mari, who is just SO freaking ready to tear the world a new one, and tells her she came not to say “see you later”, but to break up; to cease being friends.

At first, Mari has no idea what’s happening, but once Megumi starts to list all the things she and she alone has done—spread false rumors, told the bullies about Shirase’s cash; told Mari’s mother before Mari could told her herself—it all comes into focus. All Mari can say is “Why?”

All those things—and even going there in the morning to confront her—were all meant to return the pain she felt from the feeling that Mari was abandoning her, and that it wasn’t Mari who had been clinging to her for some time now, it was the opposite. Without Mari, Megumi considered herself nothing, and if she was to be nothing, she didn’t want Mari to have anything either.

Megumi thought, even hoped that at some point Mari would catch on and get mad, but she never did, nor did her new friends. She considers that not just evidence of what morons they are, but that she wasn’t even worth being figured out; that Mari had moved on so much from what Megumi thought of her. That could only make someone feel even more worthless.

Mari begs Megumi to come with her, but Megumi is ready to take her “first step into a world without” Mari. In a way, she’s trying to do the same thing as Mari, Hinata, Shirase and Yuzuki: step into a world without any of the things they usually rely on; where they don’t know what lies around the corner; where they won’t know where they’ll be tomorrow.

Those sentiments are narrated by Mari as we watch scenes of the other three saying their goodbyes and taking those first steps. And then, before Mari joins her, she takes a few steps toward Megumi, hugs her from behind, and declares her breakup rejected.

Maybe Megumi wanted Mari to come to hate her that morning after all of the things she said and did without remorse. But sometimes people are just mean. Mari doesn’t fight mean with mean. She holds her head high. It’s an abrupt, almost brusque end to what had been an epic Friend Fight, and a clear instance of Mari having the last word.

But it’s also an acknowledgement that while Mari no longer sees Megumi as someone she must cling to at all costs or look to for guidance, that doesn’t automatically mean the end of a friendship. It just means that a change has taken place.

Now everything springs into action.

The Garden of Words (Film Review)

Tokyo is one of the largest, busiest, most lively cities in the world, but there’s an oasis of tranquility right near its heart, and I’m not talking about the mostly off-limits Imperial Palace Grounds. I speak of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, once a private estate in the Edo period, and also the primary setting of Shinkai Makoto’s 2013 film The Garden of Words.

I’ll admit my review comes very late—so late, in fact, in the time between the release of the film and the day I’m writing a review of it, its co-lead Akizuki Takao would be 19 (not 15), making a potential romantic relationship with Yukino Yukari, who would be 31 (not 27) more socially acceptable. But here it is!

Akizuki loves rainy mornings. He loves them so much, he’ll skip school to visit Shinjuku Gyoen and enjoy it. One day, while preparing to sit at a sheltered bench overlooking the gardens, he encounters Yukino: a beautiful, mysterious woman in work clothes drinking beer and eating chocolate alone.

While 15, Akizuki is wiser and more mature than his years. He finds high school a major drag, and mostly stresses about a practical way to support himself doing what he loves: designing and making shoes. But when he visits the park and shares the bench with Yukino, he feels like he’s in a more mature environment, where he can sketch shoes or just shoot the breeze with her.

Their encounters also become important to Yukino, who we learn is preparing to quit her job, and is clearly in the park to escape said job and the stress/pain it causes, which was apparently bad enough that she lost her sense of taste for a time, only being able to enjoy beer and chocolate.

Not only is the hard-working Akizuki a shoemaker-in-the-making, he’s also a part-timer at a restaurant and cooks a lot at home, making him a better cook than Yukino. Thanks to the meals he shares, Yukino starts to enjoy eating again.

Wanting to help him with a woman’s shoe design, Yukino removes her shoe and lets Akizuki hold and measure her bare foot, in an intimate, even sensual scene that also happens to be practical.

That intimacy is heightened by the made-for-a-couple sheltered-bench and the gorgeous environs. But while she’ll give him her foot, Yukino never talks about herself, her life, or her struggles, no matter how much Akizuki talks about his.

Unfortunately Akizuki has to find that out when he spots Yukino, or rather Yukino-sensei, at his school—she’s a teacher there. He had no idea of that, or that she’d been taking days off because the boyfriend of a student fell for her which led to unsavory rumors about her being promiscuous and verbal and emotional abuse from her upperclassmen students.

Yukino is pained to hear all this treatment, and that she’s quitting because of it, but likely also hurt that Yukino never told him anything, or that she could even possibly have known he was a student at the school but kept him in the dark.

Whatever the case, he decides the injustice done to Yukino should have a response from someone who has come to care about her, so he confronts the upperclassmen, starts a fight, and loses. After school, they meet at the gardens, but he doesn’t tell her he fought to protect her honor.

After giving her the correct answer to her tanka poem from their first encounter, Akizuki and Yukino find themselves caught in a torrential downpour, and even when they get back under cover, they’re both soaked.

They apparently take it as a good omen, and go to Yukino’s apartment, where they change into dry clothes, and while he’s waiting for his uniform to dry, Akizuki makes Yukino a delicious meal, both noting they’re having some of the happiest moments of their lives, right there and then.

Like the sunlight, it doesn’t last, and as the sky darkens with more rainclouds, a sudden confession of love from Akizuki is countered by Yukino correcting him: “Yukino-sensei”. Akizuki hears her loud and clear: he’s a kid; she’s not, and that’s the end of it. So he changes into his still-wet clothes and storms off, just as the storm outside picks up.

Yukino doesn’t want to leave things there, so after stewing, suddenly alone in her apartment, with even Akizuki’s coffee still steaming, she does the romantic movie thing where one comes to their senses, rushes out of the house, and chases after the one they love.

When she finds him paused on a balcony, he takes back his confession and starts spewing vitriol about her intentions, but later in the rant it becomes more about why she couldn’t simply tell him, a stupid little kid, to piss off and stop bothering her. Why she never said anything to him while sharing that bench.

Yukino’s response, also classic romantic movie, is to run into his arms and sob just as the sun peeks back out from between the clouds, finally telling him why she went to that bench again and again, and how being with him helped her “learn how to walk on her own” again; how he essentially saved her.

Yukino still moves out of that apartment, back to her hometown, where she’s still a teacher. But she later writes to Akizuki, and as he reads the letter in the park where they met and spent so much time and where they taught each other how to walk, he seriously considers going to her hometown someday to see her.

The Garden of Words is gorgeous, as is expected of a Shinkai film, with its near-photorealistic exteriors, lived-in interiors, and fantastic lighting and details all around. At just 46 minutes, it runs brisk but never feels rushed, but rather feels just as long as it should be.

It also felt like a particularly intimate/personal film, though not for the reason you’d expect: I once sat at the exact same bench in Shinjuku Gyoen they sat at, unhurriedly sketching the gardens and writing about my day (though as you can see, the real one has an ashtray.) If you’re ever there I highly recommend it, just as I recommend this lush and moving little film.