Urusei Yatsura – 08 – A Ran for Her Money

After seven episodes of floating around class causing a commotion, Lum officially enrolls at the school, surprising Ataru so much he nearly chokes to death. He insists Lum attending school will “cramp his style” but I know not of what style he speaks.

Lum isn’t the only transfer student either: the other is the newest addition to this boisterous and chaotic bunch: Ran, Lum’s childhood friend. Ataru starts hitting on her immediately, which is when Lum recognizes her and asks for a talk behind the school.

Once there, Lum and Ran greet each other like the old friends they are, and Ran says she’s disguised herself as a human so she could see Lum. But when reminiscing about old times brings up the boy they both fell for—Rei. who looks like a complete bore—Ran’s personality suddenly curdles into that of an enraged ogre.

Ran hasn’t forgotten how Lum stole Rei from her, and has come to earth to take revenge on her. Specifically, she intends to use her succubus-like ability to suck the life out of people with her mouth on an unwitting, two-timing Ataru who will be all too eager to kiss.

Lum tries her best to stick close to Ataru, committed to protecting her darling despite the fact he’d still cheat on her in front of her face without batting an eye. This episode does not show Ataru at his best, but I suppose it shows him at his most libido-first Ataru-ness.

Ran manages to get Ataru alone under a tree, but is unable to apply a smooch due to Lum flattening Ataru at the last minute with a tatami mat. I guess the injuries he receives as she keeps him away from Ran’s mouth aren’t as bad as what would happen if she kissed him.

During the cavalry clash, Ataru gets the chance to witness what happens as Ran accidentally kisses another boy, who ends up transforming into a feeble old bansai-watering fogey. And yet, Ataru doesn’t care in the slightest. He’s always been about the hunt. If capturing the hot babe of his dreams will result in his death, it will have been worth it.

Yet the day passes with Lum successfully defending her baka-darling from Ran’s lips. Ran slips back into her more mild-mannered mode, only to get all worked up again when she remembers the wedge that split the two of them apart: her would-be darling Rei—whom I must point out chose Lum over her.

The second segment involves Ran saying, Poochie-style, that she’ll be returning to her home planet shortly, but wants to spend one more day of tea and cookies with her best friend and her darling. Why she chooses to relay this message via self-destructing Ran doll is a mystery I fear we’ll never solve.

Ditto Ran’s insistence on passing as human while her house is very clearly an alien spacecraft. Ran makes sure she looks her cutest and most innocent, as she tries to convince Lum that 1.) she’s really leaving and 2.) she’s given up on stealing Ataru from her. That fiction evaporates when Lum feeds her drugged cookies to a sentient vase that then falls fast asleep.

But Ran has more than one trick up her lavender sleeve, as she’s preparing a copy of Ataru in her oven, identical in every way except for an apostrophe near his head (looking like a kind of floating ahoge). That apostrophe is actually one of the first things the real Ataru notices, and he snatches it just as Ran grabs him and returns him to Lum, thinking he’s the copy.

Ataru doesn’t know it, but he accidentally saved his ass by grabbing that little thingy. As Lum forces him to leave with her, Ran storms out holding a wholly deflated Ataru clone, madder than ever. That night, Lum, ever the optimist, wishes she’d tried to get along better with Ran before she returned to her home planet.

Of course, Ran doesn’t return to her home planet, but back to Ataru and Lum’s school the next morning, still maniacally determined to steal Ataru from Lum and suck the vitality out of him. So for all intents and purposes, she’s here to stay … and I’m fine with that! The more intensely-haired shiny alien beauties, the better, I say. I’m simple like that!

Ran is, you’d probably guessed voiced by the incomparable Hanazawa Kana, and I’m glad Urusei Yatsura saved one of the biggest guns in its massive seiyuu arsenal for a character with a split personality; the better to utilize Hanazawa’s fantastic vocal range. She has the ability to jump from syrupy-sweet to pure venom on a dime.

She also makes Ran, for all her flaws, a lot more likable than if someone else voiced her. The episode also wisely kept Shinobu, Mendou, and all the other characters out to the periphery so it could focus on the Ran-Ataru-Lum triangle at hand. I’m sure it won’t be long before Rei arrives on Earth to try to reclaim Lum’s heart. His efforts are sure to be met with failure, since Lum only has eyes for Darling now.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Urusei Yatsura – 07 – Pochi’s Odyssey

This week’s UY further expands its world, though not with more foxy alien chicks. Combining a pool episode with a beach episode, it introduces a lonely little demon living underwater who suddenly has a visitor. He happens to live at the bottom of the pool where Ataru, Lum, Shinobu and Mendou pay a visit. Since Lum’s default outfit is a bikini, it makes sense she’d pick a one-piece, while Shinobu opts for a bolder two-piece.

Even so, Mendou ignores her in favor of Lum’s new look, while both he and Ataru are distracted by Sakura in an even sultrier one-piece. When Ataru lunges at her, she rightfully pops him, and he ends up sinking to the pool’s bottom where the little demon guy lives. While Shinobu asks about Sakura’s fancy parfait, Lum is legit concerned about Ataru, who tags out when she arrives so he can surface for air.

After eating roughly a hundred parfaits, Sakura joins Mendou and Cherry in following Ataru, who swears there’s a freaky demon thing underwater. But when they reach his “home”, he’s surfaced to procure (read: steal) more snacks for his guests. Lum tags everyone to surface.

Eventually, everyone is back above water, studying the weird little guy. After all the commotion he caused making customers flee (his dad owns the pool) Mendou demands that the guy vacate the premises immediately. The others, feeling this was a bit harsh, wish the guy well as he departs, only for Ataru to find him having relocated to his family’s bathtub.

The conundrum of What To Do About The Weird Little Blue Guy continues in the second segment, and that question is answered immediately by Ataru’s mom, who asks him and Lum to take the guy to the beach and leave him there, since he’s been in their tub for a month.

Like the pool, Shinobu’s in a bikini and Lum’s in a one piece, but they’re different prints from the previous swimsuits they wore, which is a nice touch. Sakura also shows off her ability to eat massive quantities of food, but this time she’s with her fiancé Tsubame.

When Ataru tries to take the pool demon somewhere secluded, that happens to be the same spot where Sakura and Tsubame end up to be alone together. This results in Ataru, the pool demon, Mendou, Shinobu, and Lum all watching intently as the couple draw closer into a kiss that’s sadly broken up by the pool demon walking up to point-blank range to stare at them.

He apologizes to Ataru, Lum, Shinobu, and Mendou by throwing a goodbye picnic, offering food he’d procured/stolen from around the beach. Everyone eats, but they can’t be merry with the guy constantly bringing up the fact that they’re leaving him there all alone.

Throughout the background of this segment, there’s a very sweet and wholesome little vignette of a gentle little boy taking his beloved pet Pochi to the beach because he can’t keep it anymore. When all his most treasured moments with Pochi (who is never shown) flash before the boy’s eyes, he suddenly can’t go through with it anymore.

The boy races back to the beach, sees Ataru with a cardboard box, and snatches it up, thinking it’s the cardboard box containing Pochi that he left of the beach when it’s actually a second box into which Ataru put the pool demon.

Shinobu discovers the boy’s box, and opens it to reveal that “Pochi” is just Cherry. The kid had been spending all this time with (and feeding) Sakura’s uncle like he was a pet. That’s a great-ass punchline right there. No sooner do Ataru and Lum return home than they receive a postcard from the pool demon—who now goes by Pochi—saying he’s found a great new home and life with the kind boy. All’s well that ends well!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Urusei Yatsura – 05 – Hand Over Fist

“A man gotta have a code.”—Omar Little

When Ataru spots Cherry parked outside school grilling fish, the little guy explains that he’s on chaperone duty for Sakura, who is the new school nurse. Ataru hears about this too late, as there’s already a long line of boys wanting to her to examine them (including Mendou), but he invokes their envy when she calls him by his name.

Sakura kicks all the lechers out (after hitting them with her shoe) and the gym teachers come in with a job for Sakura the shrine maiden: exorcising a pair of possessed gloves. One of those gloves ends up bopping a flying Lum in the head, and she takes it to Ataru, who promptly puts it on and find he can no longer control his right arm.

After embracing every cute girl in class (and getting slapped for it), the glove takes a liking to Mendou, who whips out his katana. Sakura arrives in maiden garb to take care of the glove, and when she watches Ataru take his own punch to protect Lum from getting hit, she gets an idea.

Ataru may seem like a chaotic lecher, but he has strict rules, and one of them is that he’d never, ever hit a girl. So Sakura puts him in a ring where he’ll float like a butterfly and sting like a bee … on himself, using his own face as Lum’s shield (something that moves Lum to tears). It works: he knocks himself out, and the gloves come off.

While that’s the end of the boxing glove hijinx, hands play an important role in the second segment. Lum witnesses other lovey-dovey couples holding hands, but Ataru gives her the cold shoulder in favor of Shinobu, who gives him the cold shoulder. If she has any feelings left for this guy she’s hiding them extraordinarily well.

When the other guys in class watch a procession of girls delivering love letters to Mendou, then see Lum glomming on Ataru, they see a couple of extremely lucky guys who need to be brought down a peg. So they write a fake love letter to Ataru by “Kumino Otoko”, an invented girl who insists Mendou is an uggo and a loser compared to her dear Ataru.

Ataru jumps on the hastily wrought fiction like stink on a skunk, and Mendou is also troubled, so he issues a challenge: if this Kumino Otoko is real, he’ll pay Ataru 10,000 yen. If she’s fake, Mendou takes over as class president. This is unexpected blowback for the guys, who do not want to live under an oppressive Mendou regime.

That said, the girl they paid 3,000 yen to play the role of Otoko spent all the cash on food and ends up staying home with a stomachache, so Ataru is doomed to be stood up by a girl who never existed. Lum, who has lately felt underappreciated and even claimed to be considering dumping Ataru and going to Mendou (though not really), is initially content to perch on an electrical pole and let the boy learn his lesson.

I say “initially”, because for whatever reason, Lum truly does love Ataru, and eventually grows worried about him being hurt and lonely. So, showing she’s the best alien waifu a guy could ask for, she walks into the cafe in disguise as “Kumino Otoko,” shocking all in attendance.

Ataru is the first (and only) guy there to notice Otoko is actually Lum, and almost gives up the ghost like a dope, but she draws near and tells him to play along, and so he does, though later still pines for a girl that never existed while one that does just saved his ass.

As they walk home, Lum isn’t happy with how unappreciative Ataru is, and even when she spots another laughing couple holding hands ahead of them, she prepares to fly off on her own. But Ataru, noticing in the dramatic light of the sunset how beautiful Lum is for the first time, reflexively reaches out and takes her hand.

Lum is surprised, but when Ataru asks if they can walk together a little while longer, her elated beaming face just melts Ataru’s heart, and the two walk along hand-in-hand. Lum laughs just like the other girls laugh, but when Ataru asks why she won’t say. If he doesn’t know why, nothing she says will change that, so she might as well just enjoy this moment. I know I did!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Urusei Yatsura – 02 – Ataru’s Girl

You would think that having an alien babe as a wife would be pretty sweet, but lest we forget, Moroboshi Ataru is a pathologically unlucky young feller, while Lum is either ignorant or uncaring of Earther concepts such as personal space, privacy, or not wanting to be electrocuted. Almost every waking moment involves Ataru fighting off Lum’s cuddling, getting daggers from every other girl in his life, and then getting shocked into near-oblivion.

The cold open does a very effective job portraying just how ridiculously stressful and intolerable the situation actually is, rather than it being a case of Ataru being sour despite clearly hitting the jackpot. This is legit not fun for him, so he runs away from home. But it’s not long before Lum, Shinobu, and his parents are on TV begging him to come home.

On his way out he meets Sakura (via accidentally copping a feel), a beautiful but sickly shrine maiden who immediately pegs him as the single most accurséd person she’s ever met. Sakura she invites him to her home/shrine for an exorcism, which her mom (who looks exactly like Cherry’s sister, because she is!) promises she’s very good at.

It certainly doesn’t start off good, as Sakura (Sawashiro Miyuki, clearly having a blast) enters sporting a canker sore the size of a golf ball, and then her chanting (much of it food ingredients and condiments) causes scores of tiny little demons to manifest and surround Ataru. But Sakura persists, and before long, all of the miasma in the room vanishes, and she finds herself feeling healthier than ever.

Ataru and his horrible fortune were no doubt the lure that drew them all out of Sakura, but since they all represent various maladies from which she suffered, she finishes the job and exorcises them, demonstrating that her mom wasn’t lying about her competence. That said, there’s an unexpected visit from the Grim Reaper, who seemingly comes for Ataru.

A distraught Shinobu, Lum, and his parents surround him on his apparent death bed…until a pretty nurse walks in and Ataru sits up in bed and chats her up. A moment ago they were praying for him to wake up, and now they wish he was dead all over again. Lum, one to hold a grudge, continually punishes him with electrocutions, from which there is no escape because she can fly and he can’t.

After witnessing just how bad Ataru has it, Cherry prepares a yelow ribbon for Ataru to tie around Lum’s horns. Once tied, only he can untie it, and Lum’s powers of flight and electricity are nullified. Ataru plays it off as giving her a new accessory so his wife can look her best, but when she leaps out the window and takes a tumble, he knows it really works.

The grounded Lum feels heavy and disoriented, so she grabs the first person she meets on the street—one of Ataru’s horny friends—to test her elecrocution power, only to find that’s not working either. When Shinobu catches her clinging to Ataru once more and hears about the ribbons, she charges Lum to try to get them off, but Ataru comes between her, so she takes the baked treats she made for him, kicks him in the face, and storms off.

That night, Lum wants to sleep together with Ataru, as she’s still out of sorts and wants to be close to her darling. Indeed, she wants to be by his side for life! Realizing the ribbon is a double-edged sword, he tries to remove it, but she won’t let him…until Cherry’s note is one of the things she throws at his interfering friends, and one of them reads it, revealing Ataru and Cherry conspired to ground and de-electrify Lum.

Lum proceeds to show that she doesn’t need her powers to kick Ataru’s ass, and when he removes the ribbons, she’s got a whole day of electricity stored up to discharge all at once. How this doesn’t stop Ataru’s heart or burn him to a crisp fifty times over I have no idea, but one thing’s for sure: it hurts like heck!

Ataru isn’t the typical rom-com protagonist you simply envy for lucking out on his situation. He’s a womanizing scumbag, sure, but factoring in how and swiftly and often he receives his just desserts for being said scumbag—and even for simply existing—he strikes the fine balance between loathsome and sympathetic. And he’s about to have company in the form of an ultra-rich parachuting pretty boy!

Sonny Boy – 11 – Excelsior

I would have been content with episode 8 being Peak Sonny Boy, but I knew it probably had at least one more ten or Lister in it. So we come to the Achingly sad, joyful, empty, bursting, whimsical, utilitarian, lonely, warm, humdrum and epic episode yet. It begins with two humans, a dog, and three cats celebrating the life of Nozomi—the episode confirming what I’d feared without using words (though the explicit words come later).

After preparing the funeral venue with the kind of mirth Nozomi would have totally gotten down with, the sun eventually goes down, no one comes to mourn her, and Mizuho and Nagara set her shrine into the sea to be carried away to parts unknown. Mizuho starts to cry, but Nagara is both too awkward to comfort her and a steady emotional rock sitting beside her.

When live takes away a Nozomi in This World, it gives you a Rajdhani, and while I missed Nozomi more than I thought I could miss a fictional character, it’s to Sonny Boys credit that it softens the blow by bringing back the smartest and one of the kindest and most empathetic characters in the show. He’s been on his own for over 2,000 years, but he’s still Rajdhani. You could say he’s mellowed out a bit.

Mizuho, Nagara, Rajdhani embark upon the most ambitious project to date: Project Robinson, an Apollo-like program with just the three of them, Yamabiko and Nyamazon as the people involved (meanwhile Apollo involved 400,000 people, or more than the population of Iceland). Robinson is Mizuho and Nagara’s ticket out of This World and back to their own, where they figure about two years have passed, but they’re ready to go home anyway…because it’s home.

As work progresses on the Vehicle Assembly Building (an exact copy of the one in Florida), Rajdhani regales both Mizuho and Nagara with some of his more memorable travels to far-flung worlds. In one, a guy refused to accept reality and became trapped in a world of his own embellishment, starting with the depiction of the one he loved.

In another, the entire population of students ate neither plants nor animals but simply fasted—something you can do when you can’t starve—until challenged by a meat-eating devil. And then there was an inventor who invented “death”—or at least as close to death in the world they came from as you can get in This World—which is pretty similar.

The inventor who invented “death” had become “Buddha-like” in Rajdhani’s words, a “well-adjusted person” who was content with what was in front of him. And yet, that was the literal end of his life, for even the most complacent or enlightened humans still age and die.

This World is inhumanly, inhumanely static, which means there comes a point when existence…well, isn’t necessarily a curse, but simply doesn’t matter. Rajdhani admits that he feels like he’s being drained away by time. He calls life “an endless exercise in vain effort”, yet it’s that very meaninglessness that makes every moment in life so precious and brilliant, because each one of those moments is the only one that was, is, or will ever be.

That brings us to a flashback on the beach with Nagara and Nozomi, before her ill-fated trip to War. He’s showing her an earlier version of Project Robinson, which he’d been working on in Rajdhani’s absence. Nozomi ponders the ramifications of suddenly returning home after two years, how they may be different people than who they were, and how she may even be dead.

But one thing Nozomi the Compass knows for sure: the first thing she’ll do when she’s back in their “original” world (that doesn’t involve eating something) will be to seek Nagara out and re-befriend him without delay. It’s after remembering this moment with Nozomi, who promised they’d be friends in any world, that Nagara finally breaks down. And even after over 2,000 years of absorbing knowledge and wisdom, Rajdhani still can’t do anything but sit next to him…and that’s okay.

The completed heart of Project Robinson is revealed as the Saturn V rocket that propelled human beings to the moon, something that remains such a staggeringly awesome achievement, especially considering how long ago it happened. The Saturn V is perhaps the most awesome thing humanity has ever built, and it worked…more than once, is something of a miracle.

And while there were certainly political considerations to be made—the Soviets beat the U.S. to space, so apparently the U.S. had to beat them to the moon—so much labor was put into a mission of pure peaceful exploration and discovery. That the fruit of all that labor brought science closer to the cusp of the unknowable and infinite that our simple carbon-based bi-pedal species had ever come before or since.

It was a simply glorious achievement that makes me misty eyed just thinking about it…so it’s especially fun to see three high schoolers pull if off with a dog and three cats. The Robinson rocket is a 363-foot-tall metaphor for spreading one’s tender, untested new wings and leaving the nest, which is what Mizuho does by leaving her three cats behind. They can’t come back with her to where she belongs, but that’s okay. They did their job. She’ll be okay on her own.

Well, not entirely on her own; she has Nagara. And for an episode in which he mourned the loss of his first friend Nozomi, he smiled and laughed more in this episode than any previous ones. He wouldn’t be the person he is without Nozomi, which is why on the spaceflight up into the infinite, near the boundary between This World and That, he still has a compass watch with arrows that never move, representing Nozomi’s inspiring, indomitable will.

We don’t know what awaits Nagara and Mizuho on the other side any more than they do, but that’s entirely okay. I haven’t had the slightest idea what Sonny Boy will throw our way from one week to the next; I highly doubt it will try for predictable, obvious, or boring in its (assumed) finale next week.

As Rajdhani said, Nothing matters in This World…but once in a while, cool things do happen. Sonny Boy shows us that experiencing those cool things alongside people you love can make what shouldn’t matter…matter.

RABUJOI WORLD HERITAGE LIST

Sonny Boy – 10 – The Girl Who Knew Too Much

This week’s Sonny Boy experience comes from the POV of Tsubasa, AKA Sarah Plain and Tall With Broken Arm. We learn her power is “Monologue”—the ability to hear everyone’s inner voices. In order to not be ostracized, she’s kept the power a secret from everyone. She listens, but she doesn’t act in a way that would arouse suspicion.

Tsubasa likes Asakaze. She knows he’s kind of an ill-natured prick, but it doesn’t matter; she still likes him. But as she can read minds, she knows it’s unrequited; she also knows Asakaze likes Nozomi. He doesn’t like how close Nozomi is with Nagara. All the while, he’s unconsciously closer to Tsubasa than anyone; only she can hear his inner voice.

Tsubasa can’t help but like Asakaze, but while you’d think she’d try to use her power to try to make him feel the same way, all she does is quietly admire him from a distance. She hears all his thoughts about Nozomi, all the while dreaming of the day all his other romantic options will be exhausted and he’ll “land at her feet.” But between Nozomi (who doesn’t return his feelings) and Aki-sense (who is only wielding Asakaze like a tool), there’s too much competition.

Tsubasa and Nozomi end up accompanying Asakaze and Aki-sensei on the “grand task” he wishes to complete: defeating “War” before he can cause undue destruction. Tsubasa can’t fault Asakaze for liking Nozomi, because she knows that Inner Nozomi is just as wholesome and noble and honest as Outer Nozomi. Everyone practices some degree of deceit…except Nozomi. On the treacherous hike in “War’s” strange ceramic world, it’s Nozomi who comes to Tsubasa’s aid when she twists her ankle.

When they encounter “War” while falling down an endless gorge with a blood red bottom they never reach, he’s a student constantly falling and buffeted by the wind like the Maxell guy. Tsubasa can’t hear his thoughts; the guy is totally empty. Kinda like warD’YOU GET IT?!?!! Ahem…anyway, Aki-sensei (and apparently God AKA Dr. Strangelove) wants Asakaze to eliminate “War” from this world by creating “Death”, leading Nozomi to take him to task for trying to play God.

This causes Aki-sensei to retreat with Asakaze somewhere where she can bury him in her bust and keep him under her thumb. But as Tsubasa always knew since the drifting began, the only person who could truly change Asakaze was Nozomi. Nozomi won’t pretend to pander to him. Asakaze can probably sense that there’s never any deceit with her.

So when Nozomi says “Even if I’m dead, I can accept my own fate,” she means it. Maybe that’s why, after he turns “War” into a gun and the red into white, when the cliff crumbles and she falls, Asakaze doesn’t use his power to save her. Or maybe he can’t.

Meanwhile, Nagara picks up the mantle of island researcher from the long-departed Rajdhani, and continues to experiment with Mizuho’s powers. When he orders a chicken with Nyamazon and then kills it, it stays dead. When Mizuho orders one and he kills it…it comes back. Between having three wise talking cats protecting her and the potential power over life and death, I’m starting to wonder if Mizuho is the true God around these surreal parts.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Sonny Boy – 09 – 3 Cats and a Kotatsu

I’m still thinking about Episode 8, so I knew it would be hard to top it…for anything to top it anytime soon. Episode 9 doesn’t come close…but it does begin with the three Nyamazon cats shooting the shit like three wise old farts under a kotatsu. It’s just the latest reminder that predicting what Sonny Boy will throw at you from one week to the next is like trying to predict every move in a chess game when you’re not in the same room.

The cats, famous lovers of warmth, are under the kotatsu because outside the kotatsu is a frozen, snowy world. Nozomi, Nagara, Yamabiko, and their human Mizuho have traveled there to try to settle a thousands-of-years-old battle between two twins over who has the most hairs on their head (one claims to have one more). But it’s also a look back at Mizuho, and how the white cat Sakura believes she can’t survive without the three of them.

Honestly, the twin story is a bit dull, but it at least ties into the concept of duplication, which we learn is to be Mizuho’s true power. Everything the cats deliver to Mizuho and the others is a copy of products from the original world they came from. While Mizuho’s inner circle certainly wouldn’t hold it against her, the cats, who have been with Mizuho since she was a kid and still believe her to be one, are determined to keep it under wraps.

It’s Yamabiko who approaches Sakura with his suspicion that everything the cats deliver is copies. Sakura then admits that Rajdhani had previously figured out that Mizuho had copied everyone from the world, and now they’re drifting as copies of the people they once were, both the same and different, like the twins. Mind you, this dawned on Rajdhani when two copies of a tick dating Game Boy game(!) arrived, even though he knows there was only ever one in existence.

Yet Rajdhani didn’t tell a soul, proving to the cats he had “a fine character, for being so hairless”. Two copies were made of Sou Seiji, like someone accidentally ordering two of something on Amazon by clicking twice.

Sakura is caught in a bear trap to be a sacrifice of one of the twins, but Mizuho and Yamabiko save her. When armed with a gold ray gun by the shit-stirrer Aki-sensei, the other twin ends up with another ray gun, resulting in a duel that ends with only one twin standing, only for that surviving twin to take his own life.

Mixed in with this is how Asakaze seems to be making a habit of lashing out at Nozomi for not liking him romantically, leading to her spending the night outside sulking. One of the cats keeps her company all night, and in the blood red morning Nagara joins them, thanking her for “showing him the light”, leading him to change.

In a world full of copies and sheep, Nozomi, Nagara, Mizuho and Yamabiko (not to mention Rajdhani) stand out as one-of-a-kind souls who all thank the likes of Aki-sensei or Asakaze to let them pick their own places.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 12 (Fin) – The Exhibition

With the cultural festival fast approaching, Naoto has managed to belt out a whole series of Nagatoro Being Nagatoro, and her friends are impressed. Hayacchi herself is happy they turned out well, even if they give off “creepy virgin vibes”—though it’s obvious by now she’s a virgin too.

When the others go to the other side of the clubroom to spy on the President’s progress, Naoto doesn’t go with them, and Nagatoro tells him even if the Prez is “Queen of the Lewds”, he can still beat her. That is, until she sees the Prez’s piece and passes out. Gamo assures the two that she, Yosshi and Sakura will figure something out to help them.

Naoto and Prez have a slightly tense but also very honest little scene together, with the Prez making it clear this is less about winning and losing and more about tapping into the artistic potential she knows Naoto has within him. She’s not holding back, so she urges him to “hit her with a soulful work of passion.”

She then produces a “Torocat” strap that closely resembles Nagatoro, and the next day Naoto learns what that’s all about: Yosshi and Sakura are in costume as Torocats to support Nagatoro in her now familiar catgirl cosplay—though it’s clear Nagatoro is not at all into having to “toy with” all the guys who come to visit Senpai’s exhibition.

That said, as the day goes on, she becomes less stiff and starts to have more fun. When Naoto sees her basically flirting with other guys the same way she does with him, it’s hard for him to hide his jealousy.

The reverse occurs when other girls approach Naoto, express how impressed they are with his work, and ask him to teach them how to draw. Nagatoro doesn’t like that one bit!

That said, when Naoto asks her to join him for lunch, she still comes along. She calls him out for suddenly being so popular with the ladies now, and he chalks that up to the paintings turning out so well, for which he credits her. This causes a rapid succession of Nagatoro faces, and ends with her toying with him, but unlike with the other guys, she genuinely enjoys it.

When they return from their break, which essentially serves as a little mini-date during the festival, they find a huge commotion outside the Prez’s side of the club: the Disciplinary Committee is censoring her super-provocative painting, citing it a threat to “moral order” after hearing rumors it was being used to “play with the male students’ lust”.

While I initially thought we saw the Prez meeting with the committee last week to set this whole thing up in order to create more buzz and win the competition, it seems that isn’t the case, and she’s not in on anything. In fact, she’s outraged her art is being censored.

That’s when her kohai Naoto comes in to defend her, stating that her amazing art has inspired him to find the subject he wanted to draw the most: Nagatoro. Gamo and Sakua push Nagatoro in to back Paisen up, and even she admits that Prez’s art is amazing. Yosshi even produces video footage that proves that there were more people were taking the art seriously than horny boys leering at it.

This might’ve been one of my favorite scenes not involving just Naoto and Nagatoro, because it subverts the “competition with the club on the line” trope in favor of something more interesting: doing the right thing, even if the person you’re doing it for is a rival. It’s not just Nagatoro; Yosshi, Sakura, and Gamo are good people at heart!

When the Prez returns, tells the others she worked out a compromise, and voices her appreciation for their support with her very first expression resembling a smile, the girls can’t help but gloat over the fact that she lost. That said, the Prez isn’t a sore loser, and even takes their chosen punishment: that she dress up as a bunny girl to help sell Torocat merch. Naturally, it all sells out.

With the festival in the rearview mirror, Prez pays Naoto a visit on his side, explaining her getup as “the fate of the defeated.” She admits it’s humiliating, but also “a new form of oppression” to “stimulate her creative desire” and bring her “unprecedented deliverance.” Let it never be said Prez doesn’t have a way with words, but Naoto’s reply—“Just get changed already!”—is equally sublime!

When Nagatoro, eager to see Naoto, leaves her friends and enters the club room to find the Prez seemingly about to undress, she nearly flips her shit…but the Prez is only joking. She has a sense of humor! She also admits she likes Naoto’s paintings of Nagatoro, which not only contain “a definite passsion”, but love as well.

She may have lost the competition, but the fact her underclassman learned a valuable lesson about art and vastly improved his work renders that competition moot. As a senpai, the President actually won. When Naoto is hesitant to admit his pieces contain his love for Nagatoro, he’s mercifully saved by the bell for the festival’s closing concert.

Remembering Nagatoro’s words at the summer festival, Naoto meekly comes out and asks her if she’d like to go together. Nagatoro, happy beyond words, asks him to ask again, only louder, then takes him by the hand and off they go!

After the credits, we see Nagatoro and Naoto alone again in the clubroom they won back together. Nagatoro is resting her eyes, but looks up to flash a soft smile before returning to her catnap. When Naoto’s drawing is complete, she tells him to close his eyes and accept his reward, which this time is a real kiss on the cheek.

Even this chaste peck proves too much for Nagatoro, who runs out of the club room after pulling down an eyelid and sticking out her tongue. But she can’t undo that kiss, nor does she want to. This has been a relationship of small but meaningful steps forward all along, and I have no reason to think that slow but steady progress won’t continue.

And that’s a wrap! Don’t Toy with Me may have started out with a sharp edge of kinkiness, but turned out to be one of the sweeter loves stories of the last couple years. We watched both Naoto and Nagatoro come into their own as two people who found each other, navigated the often stormy waters, and found happiness and inspiration in one another. We should all be so lucky!

Episode 12 “Senpai” Count: 9 (+2 “Paisens”)—hardly any at all!
Final Count: 391

Super Cub – 12 (Fin) – Girls’ First Tour

Koguma says “I’m off” to no one as she leaves her spartan apartment (put up some Super Cub posters!) in the early morning to meet up with Reiko and Shii at Buerre. Back when Shii begged her to use her Cub, which had rescued her from the ravine, to take Winter and send it away, Koguma said her Cub couldn’t do that. But one thing it can do is take them to where Spring has sprung so they can seize it and bring it back home.

After Shii’s doting parents see them off with their blessing and some military-grade komisbrot, Shii rides double with Reiko and the girls set off on their grandest tour yet, headed all the way down to Kagoshima, on the southwestern tip of Kyushu. There lie the first cherry blossoms. After just their first hour on the road, known as “the devil’s 60 minutes” Koguma and Reiko stop to check their steeds from stem to stern.

They take the famous historic routes used in the Edo period, which happen to include many cute cafes where Shii can gather some pointers. They also enjoy a quick lunch of the hearty rye bread with cream cheese and local smoked salmon—very Scandinavian!

They spend their first night at an economical business hotel near Lake Biwa, where Reiko again demonstrates her complete lack of modesty, claiming curry should be eaten while naked; Koguma is having none of it. They pass the stirring Shirahige torii gate, pass the Tottori dunes, shell out for some seriously huge crabs, reach the far end of Honshu, then spend the night at a net cafe in Kyushu.

As they ride through all of these famous places and take in the sights and tastes, there’s a very straightforwardness to it all; it’s essentially one long breathless montage with only a few brief stops to eat or sleep. Through it all, the three girls grow even closer and more comfortable with each other.

When they finally reach their destination of Kagoshima, the rewarding feeling of having made it all that way there on two Cubs (no cheating with trains!) is matched by the ephemeral gorgeousity of the bloossoms. They set out to find out if they could achieve this, and they did it: they seized spring and basked in its beauty.

By the time they return home, Spring arrived there as well, as if they had brought it with them. And in the midst of Spring, Shii reveals she decided to buy a Cub of her own, an elegant “Little Cub” in her preferred powder blue. When she can’t help but pet it like a new puppy, Koguma and Reiko break into laughter, having both been there and done that!

The series closes on a triumphant shot I had been hoping for since Shii first entered the lives of the rich politician’s daughter and reserved loner: the three girls on their three Cubs riding together in single file. Koguma’s final voiceover says if you sit back and do nothing, a Cub can’t and won’t help you, but if you hop on and decide to take a corner you’ve never turned at before, that Cub will be right there with you for whatever may come.

I’ll admit it: I’m a lot more enticed to buy a motorbike than I was before watching this show! I also have a similar affinity for my trusty Civic. What I thought was a gussied-up advertisement turned out to be one of the most earnest, heartfelt, unique, and beautiful stories of friendship, love, adventure and accomplishment to come along in a long time. I’ll miss my Cub girls!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 11 – Art Is Thus To Pursue

The girls try to encourage Senpai by laying into the President and her scolding, scripted manner of speaking, but Naoto doesn’t want them talking shit about her, from whom he’s learned so much about art and still deeply respects.

He’s also dubious about a cosplay art cafe being sufficient to beat the Prez, who helped the Art Club nab sixth place last year—out of over sixty presentations—with a bold, provocative nude self portrait.

Gamo points out what she believes to be a simple fact: when it comes to mass appeal, Senpai and Hayacchi don’t have “the goods” with which to compete with the Prez’s Kardashian-esque proportions. Nagatoro takes it as being dissed—but Gamo still has a point; a lot of horny guys are going to be voting for the better club.

But there’s one horny guy—Naoto—who tells Gamo and the others that he doesn’t think any less of Nagatoro than the President. Both have their charms, and he wants to try to win by depicting Nagatoro as she normally is. Even though he imagines President as a Titan swallowing him whole, he’s still feeling positive.

Nagatoro is determined to ensure he wins, and when her swimsuit isn’t motivating enough, she dons nothing but a white sheet. But in doing so, and with the constant interruptions of the other girls, Naoto becomes increasingly iffy in his drawing, and grows frustrated with the whole venture, deeming any attempt to beat the Prez as futile.

Finally, as the show takes on a de-saturated palette akin to Super Cub, Naoto says this isn’t going to work. He doesn’t want to draw Nagatoro, because if he fails, he’ll drag her down with him. She says she doesn’t care about that, but Naoto insists this is between him and the President. A genuinely angry and hurt Nagatoro storms off in her sheet. The others call Senpai a loser…and in that moment, he absolutely is!

Alone again in his club room (well, half the club room; in an amazingly petty gesture President has cordoned off the other half for third years only!) he gets back to his bread-and-butter: dull still-lifes. President pays him a visit —also wearing only a sheet, as she was taking pictures for her next piece, and tells him it’s dull and no good.

She’s not just being a bitch; she’s right! Naoto’s painting is technically fine, but lacks any kind of passion, other than the desire to be neat and tidy. Prez tells him the most important aspect of a piece isn’t its theme, but love. And when she witnesses Nagatoro peek in and promptly run away after she sees Senpai with her, Prez orders Naoto to pursue her with all due haste.

He does, but when he catches up to her in the hall he blanks on what to say, and the moment is spoiled by two other girls who think he’s stalking Nagatoro. The chase continues until the sun starts to go down, ending at the swimming pool. As he runs after her, he summons all his favorite memories of her, which aren’t of her teasing him, but revealing her genuine self to him.

As she hops from starting block to another away from him, Naoto tells her he wants her to model for him. When she tells him to go back to his precious president, she slips off a block, but before she can go into the pool he grabs her, both demonstrating he does have some strength. When he repeats his desire to draw her the way she usually is, she asks him why, and this time he doesn’t waver: because she’s more attractive to him.

Nagatoro is so shocked by this declaration, and turns so red, she kinda almost has to jump into the pool, taking Senpai with her. They end up walking home soaked, but Naoto’s honesty and the quick plunge into the pool washed away their fight and brought them back together. When he lets slip that he often notices how cute she in ordinary times (as opposed to wearing cosplay) it’s another blushfest for both of them.

Senpai walks right up to the line of confession this week, while Nagatoro leaves no doubt about how she feels when he keeps defending her nemesis. But while she’s scheming something with who I presume to be the StuCo President, the President came off as less of a villain (or Titan) this week.

Instead, she’s issued this challenge to push Naoto out of his comfort zone so he can be the best artist he can be. You can only do that by pursuing your passions—and when it comes to his passions, there’s no beating Nagatoro. Even if he and Nagatoro do lose to her voluptuous magnificence, they’ll lose together, having fought their hardest!

Episode 11 “Senpai” Count: 14 (+3 “Paisens”)—the fewest yet!
Total: 380

Those Snow White Notes – 12 (Fin) – An Abrupt Coda

Last week I railed against Notes for splitting Setsu’s climactic performance across two episodes, since it left us hanging in the middle with no cathartic payoff. Now I understand that such a choice was probably intentional: the last episode marked the end of him merely imitating his gramps, and this final one marked the first time we’ve heard Setsu at 100% His Own Sound.

Kudos to the musical direction and performance here; Setsu As Setsu sounds like no one else, and this sound not only fills the physical venue, but summons long-forgotten memories in one of the judges, moves Sakura and Shuri to tears, makes Mai to make a face that screams “I KNEW it!”…and pisses off his mom royally. It also makes young master Kamiki want to play the shamisen in the worst way.

It’s a triumphant performance, and I’ll admit I was as caught up in it as Setsu and his friends, to the point I felt it impossible that he would lose. Alas, he’s not the final performer, and the best was saved for last. I was fully prepared to listen to Souichi and declare him inferior, but credit where it’s due: Souichi’s performance was better the Setsu’s and everyone else’s.

More to the point, Souichi is confident, even after hearing Setsu (or maybe because of hearing him,), that he would win. I have no problem with that. But like Sakura, I was super-steamed that Setsu came not in second but in third, behind that twangy jackass Arakawa Ushio, who might be tied with Mai for most one-dimensional character of the season.

Umeko hands out the rewards, but intentionally drops Setsu’s and lets it shatter between their feet. Never mind that this was the first time he ever played in a competition, has no teacher, and can’t read music. She leans in and tells him he’s pathetic and he embarrassed her. What a mom!

But while Umeko gives off SAO villain vibes, Setsu’s dad—whom we only found out a couple of weeks ago even was his dad—is more Ikari Gendo. [Soup Nazi Voice]: NO LOVE FOR YOU! Honestly, both of Setsu’s parents should be jailed. Once it’s Kamiki’s turn to point out to Setsu how such a two-faced performance was always giong to suffer in a competition, well…

Having your angsty protagonist reach his highest high only to be ground into the dirt by evil adults is a strange way to end a series it’s by no means guaranteed will get a second season. There isn’t even any glimmer of hope that things will look up for him, as the episode ends with him sulking in the darkness, too immersed in his own despair to notice Sakura is on the other side of his door.

The musical performances were spellbinding, but they were overshadowed by all the doom and gloom at the end. Even if everything Kamiki said about Setsu was absolutely right, I don’t watch anime to get depressed, man! We’re rewarded for watching for twelve weeks with a big ‘ol F-You. If this is a one-and-done season, this finale is as big of a failure as Umeko perceives her son to be.

I’ll end with another Simpsons quote, which perfectly encapsulates Setsu’s journey:

“You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

Super Cub – 11 – No More Enemies to Fight

When Shii’s in big trouble, Koguma answers the call…literally! She’s able to spot a snapped twig on the cat trail and find Shii awkwardly submerged in water that must be somewhere in the forties (though the fact it’s not frozen solid indicates it’s not that cold out). Even so, Koguma took a risk she could find Shii fast enough, and that Shii—who is effin’ tiny—wouldn’t suffer hypothermia.

Everything works out, as Koguma, a picture of calm and collectedness, helps Shii out of the ravine, picks up all 70-or-so pounds of her, and plops her in her front basket for the ride to her place. That’s right, Koguma stole Reiko’s dream of carrying Shii along this way—but quite by necessity!

Once home, Koguma draws a bath and cooks a dinner of curry udon. Reiko, whom she called earlier, arrives with Shii’s ruined Alex Moulton, takes a bath of her own, and joins the other two for dinner. It’s the first time Koguma has had company, but she doesn’t make a big deal of it; but just slurps up her udon with the others, enjoying their company.

While washing the dishes, Reiko lets Shii know—quite tactlessly!—that her Mouton is donezo. Shii breaks down, cursing winter and begging Koguma to use her Super Cub to end the wretched season. Koguma deadpans that her Cub can’t do that…and seems a little sad that it can’t.

The next day, Shii’s parents thank Koguma and Reiko with a pass good for a year’s free coffee, sandwiches, and bread items, which they begin to cash in on immediately, much to Shii’s relief. If Shii ever thought they’d stop hanging out with her after her incident in the creek, then she needs to have more faith in her friends!

Shii gets what Koguma ruthlessly declares a “granny bike”, and the days of Winter continue on, only with no more preparations to make to their bikes or clothes. Then one morning Koguma hears on the radio that the cherry blossomes have bloomed early in Kagoshima. She proposes they go see them…together, escaping the winter by going where—as far as those trees are concerned—it’s already over.

It’s just what Shii needs to cheer up, and when she takes Koguma’s hands in friendship, Koguma’s world colors up bolder and faster than ever. She recounts how when it was her trudging her way uphill on her bike that she saw Shii glide past her on her Moulton, eventually inspiring her to buy her Cub, which led to her befriending Reiko.

Shii may not know it, but this all started with Koguma chasing her and her cooler, faster bike. What better way to thank her for the inspiration by giving her an early taste of spring?

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 10 – Taking It Seriously

A day after feeding Senpai “steamy snaps” (of chicken, not her), Nagatoro watches him lollygagging during a marathon, and makes her displeasure with his performance plain. He tries to say he’s good at nothing but drawing and practicing is only for talented people, but Nagatoro knows better on both counts.

She’s not about to let her Senpai get off with such a lousy defeatist attitude, and orders him to show up at the park bright and early, where she meets him in a skintight two-piece track suit and ponytail, ready to run with him and show him he can do it if he tries.

While I’m sure on some level Nagatoro understands her attire turns Senpai on, to the point he tries to overtake her because he’s too embarrassed to watch her running from behind, that’s just the icing on the cake for her. She wants Senpai to see her and thouroughly enjoys his reactions, but she’s just as invested in helping him improve himself and to dispossess him of the notion it’s okay to just give up because something is hard.

Speaking of hard, Naoto is revealed is extremely inflexible during the crucial post-run stretching, so after putting herself into some teasing poses to get him all red, Nagatoro helps him stretch properly, which gives her an excuse to get as close and physical and sweaty with him as she dares. This culminates in the two doing a side-stretch together when Yosshi stops by with her dog…though at this point it should come as no surprise to her with whom Nagatoro is spending her weekend.

The Cultural Festival is approaching, and Naoto needs to start putting out some work worthy of the Art Club exhibition. He wants to have a male model so he doesn’t get embarrassed looking closely at them, but Nagatoro insists on modelling for him, showing him the sketch of her as a catgirl as proof of where his true artistic desires lie.

When he gives her the condition that she has to model in catgirl cosplay, he feels bad about it later, as he assumes she’d never be able to find such a costume, much less wear it for him. I don’t know why he thought this, considering the clothes she’s worn (or not worn) for him so far, but the next day she shows up in the literal costume of his dreams, courtesy of the needlecraft club.

She is playfully beating him with her big paws for not having complimented her enough when Gamo, Yosshi and Sakura come in, wondering if they interrupted something they shouldn’t have. But eventually the whole group is there hanging out and Naoto settles down and starts drawing Nagatoro.

The girls even offer to help Senpai make his exhibit more “hype”, not because they’re keen to use that scenario to torment him (well, not only because), but because they’re all friends now, and friends help each other out. This is in stark contrast to his relationship to the estranged Art Club President, whose stern, purposeful footsteps Naoto hears approaching and has the girls hide in the prep room.

When the unnamed President (voiced by the effortlessly imperious Mizuki Nana) enters, it’s clear from the couch and the snacks that she believes the “unsavory rumors” she’s heard about the club room becoming a gathering place for some “nasty characters”. At no point in this scene or Naoto’s flashback of her does the President treat Naoto as anyone other than an employee, at an emotional remove but also exerting absolute control.

There’s no give-and-take in their exchange, and both Nagatoro and the others feel bad for Senpai getting reamed out due in large part to their entering his world. When the President asserts that the club room is “no place for merrymaking”—as if you can’t do good work and have fun doing it—and threatens to turn a termination form for the art club into the faculty office, Naoto is unable to speak up for himself.

But before President leaves, Nagatoro emerges from the prep room with the others, having heard quite enough. She calls the President selfish for having been AWOL so long and leaving Senpai all alone only to come back out of nowhere to shut it down. The President doesn’t flinch in her assertion that the club shouldn’t exist if its members won’t take it seriously.

Surely Nagatoro also must realize how unserious she looks in her getup, but it doesn’t matter; she’s going to stand up for her Senpai! She draws upon her amassed wealth of knowledge about Senpai to declare that President simply can’t make that assertion. After all, she hasn’t been watching Senpai off by himself drawing like a man possessed. She has, and she knows he takes it seriously—so seriously, in fact, he wrongly believes he isn’t good at anything else!

The President accepts this challenge to her judgment, and decides to settle the fate of the art club with a festival competition. She will run the art club’s exhibit, while Naoto will have to run his own separate exhibit, and whoever gets more votes will be the victor; in his case, the art club will survive. If she wins it gets shut down.

Naoto can’t even fathom taking on the President all by himself…but he doesn’t have to. Nagatoro puts her hand on Senpai’s shoulder, just like the President did after last year’s successful exhibit. The President said “they made a good memory” but otherwise didn’t him much of anything emotionally, and since then has left him completely alone.

If President hadn’t done this, Nagatoro would have never had the opening she needed to begin her relationship with Senpai, so it’s not all bad. But she, and her girlfriends who were clearly moved by her passionate defense of her boyfriend Senpai, will surely help him do whatever it takes to beat the President. And even if he can’t, who’s to say they can’t start a new club; one will art and fun are allowed?

Episode 10 “Senpai” Count: 29 (+3 “Paisens”)
Total: 363

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