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

Those Snow White Notes – 11 – Get To the Good Part!

I don’t usually harp on structural issues, unless they’re detrimental to an episode on a level that can’t be overlooked. Unfortunately, this was one of those episodes. It just…wasn’t built right, and that starts with last week ending with Kaji breaking a string, instead of ending with him and all the other stiffs getting the hell off the stage and giving way to Setsu.

So, instead of getting all of the other stuff out of the way and giving us a climactic musical performance in which Setsu finally figures out the happy medium between imitating Gramps and building his own sound from what he’s experienced since Gramps…get get more other stuff.

Look, Kaji’s a nice guy, but I just don’t really care about him that much, and I’m certainly not that chuffed about having to watch him finish out his song on two strings. I could have also done without Umeko stepping up to Setsu when he’s just trying to eat the love-filled onigiri Sakura made for him and basically telling him he’d better resurrect her dead unsung father or else.

That said, I’ve never had a problem with the fact that Setsu’s mom is both a literal Bond Villain and Bond Girl, isn’t the issue, nor to I mind her fantastic royal blue dress or surpassingly cheesy hired cheer team. It’s just I wish Setsu could just have some time to himself to organize his thoughts and play however he was planning to play.

Instead, his mom’s unmistakable hold over him kicks in, and I was fully expecting him to lay an egg up there by constantly wavering between his own uncertain sound and perfectly imitating what he could never perfectly imitate, and coming off forced, boring, or even pathetic!

Once Setsu finally does take the stage—fifteen minutes into the episode!—I knew whatever performance he had, we were only going to get half of it, tops, due to the perfectly avoidable time constraints.

At the same time, we see that Setsu truly does love playing like his Gramps, or at least as close as he can come. He remembers a day he came home with a skinned knee, the victim of bullies, and his Gramps welcoming him with a soft smile and permission to cry as much as he wants, get angry at those who caused him to cry, and when he’s done, simply smile.

Setsu doesn’t turn in an embarrassing performance, but he is initially playing right into his mom’s hands by doing the best darn Matsugorou imitation anyone alive could ever do, which simply comes down to him having heard his gramps play for years. Umeko smirks her Dr. Evil smirk and holds her hands out to clutch not her son, but the tool with which she’ll show the world her father’s—not his—sound.

In the midst of his music, everyone who has heard Setsu’s real sound acknowledge that his performance is amazing, but also somehow deeply wrong. Those who haven’t heard him before are amazed a 16-year-old is producing such a simple yet mature sound. Setsu knows it’s wrong too; that even his Gramps told him simple imitation of the kind Umeko is demanding was “disgraceful”.

Perhaps Gramps could have chosen better words than that and “never play again”, but by taking a break from the instrument, Setsu got to live his life, meet new friends, experience new things and make new memories. Those, combined with past memories of Gramps and not just how he played but why—because he loved doing it, not to win—can be used to craft his own sound.

Now that Setsu has a blueprint, his performance suddenly changes to his more youthful, mercurial sound. Alas, that’s all the time we’ve got for this week, and so we cut to credits in the middle of a performance. The magic and the power of these musical performance scenes is in how they draw you in and cover you in goosebumps. To suddenly end in the middle without that needed final payoff (or climax, if you must) saps the scene of that immersive power.

Also constantly pulling us in and out of Setsu’s performance is the running commentary. I get it: this isn’t just about the awesome, sakugo-filled performances; the show is trying to tell more stories than that and wants us to be invested in a larger group of characters. But that doesn’t change the fact that filling scenes with dialogue, lowering the music he’s playing and replacing it with a comparatively subpar score, and cutting the performance off just feels like a real bummer, and a needless one to boot.

If I were the showrunner, I’d have wrapped up Kaji and the others plus Setsu’s scenes with Umeko and his friends, and ended last week with Setsu taking the stage, but not yet playing. Then this episode could have been his performance in its entirety. But this is the end of my ranting, and so I’ll close by saying for all its frustrating choices I still enjoyed this episode, and look forward to seeing where the second, more personal, more mom-enraging half Setsu’s performance takes everyone—and him—next week!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 09 – Rolling With the Punches

There have been plenty of cases of Nagatoro committing an unforced error that nets her a little more closeness with Senpai than she had initially bargained for, but let us not forget that Naoto also commits his fair share of blunders. For instance, he lent her a boxing movie, so now she shadowboxes all over the club room and eventually wants to spar with him.

He has no intention of even pretending to hit back, but when he dodges and loses his balance, he falls into her arms, and his self-own turns into hers. Nagatoro also plays with fire by letting her life with her circle of friends overlap with her Senpai time, such as when a bunch of loud gamers lead the four girls to flee the dining hall and make the club room their hangout space.

When Naoto expresses his surprise such otherwise aggressive girls gave up so easily, they say they’re taking care of it by sending Sakura in to flirt with the gamers and turn them against each other. But by going along with this strategy, Nagatoro is setting herself up for potential heartache in a later segment.

With Senpai and her friends in such consistent close contact, Nagatoro ends up in the unusual position of having to defend his honor…or rather, his depravity. Gamo, who is most definitely messing with Nagatoro because she knows she actually likes Senpai, declares him an “herbovore” with no libido.

Nagatoro strongly disagrees, calling Senpai a “closet perv” and insisting on proving it by finding a dirty book hidden somewhere in the club room. The thing is, she’s right: Naoto does have a pretty dirty (but also artistic) book hidden away; just not in the room where Nagatoro bet she’d find it.

When Naoto sees how frustrated Nagatoro gets, he slinks into the prep room and very transparently tries to hide it while she’s watching him. This leads her to pounce on him with with a mixture of joy and relief, clearly ecstatic she had him pegged correctly. Rather than watch further PDA, Gamo and Yoshi leave the club room.

In the next segment, Nagatoro not so subtly shows off her new earring, which Naoto naturally notices immediately and compliments. These two are now so close that the slightest change in appearance is a big deal. As a couple in everything but name and with their dynamic largely right up against the precipice of “real dating”, it’s the little details that excite them.

But this is, at the end of the day, dilly-dallying on the part of both Nagatoro and Naoto, and they’re punished by Sakura, the most complex, inscrutable, and possibly brightest of Nagatoro’s three girlfriends. As a result of flirting with the gamers, one of them is now stalking her, and she wants to get him to stop…by pretending to date Senpai-kun.

Gamo and Yosshi are all for this, and Naoto is too nice to decline, even knowing how Nagatoro will feel about it. Of course, Nagatoro fucking hates this, and never lets us forget it in her facial expressions throughout the segment. To her credit, she doesn’t seem to place outsize blame on the situation on Senpai. After all, if he wasn’t as stupidly nice as he was, she wouldn’t like him!

That doesn’t make it any easier to watch her smartly cardiagned Senpai being clung to by Sakura in a ridiculously cute outfit on their fake date. That’s especially when Gamo starts tapping against the fourth wall, calling this one of those situations from one of the rom-com anime Paisen watches, and how those dates start out fake but the feelings gradually become real.

Of course, Naoto is just too uncomfortable around Sakura, even when he doesn’t know Nagatoro is watching, for that to happen, while it’s pretty clear from the get-go that Sakura is only using Naoto to flush out the stalker. And yet there’s also clearly part of her using this scenario to try to light a fire under Nagatoro.

Gamo is content to mess with Nagatoro, but Sakura is more like me: growing a little impatient with their schtick and waiting for them to get real with each other. But there’s no guarantee that will ever happen. I’m sure both Naoto and Nagatoro harbor a measure of frustration over their “failure to launch”, as it were.

But that doesn’t change the fact that they still enjoy each other’s company and their daily interactions, some of them thrilling in their accidental (or not-so-accidental) steaminess, but ultimately safe in their mutual ambiguity and deniability. That might just be enough for them, and may continue to remain so indefinitely. I hope it isn’t, but I accept that as a distinct possibility as we head into the home stretch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 9 “Senpai” Count: 23 (+11 “Paisens”)
Total: 331

Those Snow White Notes – 10 – A Little Longer

Sakura has made a special bento for Setsu on the day he’s to perform in the individual competition. Of forty entrants, he’s to perform 36th, meaning he’s been given a place reserved for competitors with proven skills. While set up to be bitter rivals Souichi continues to treat Setsu as a friend, sitting close beside him while eating his red bean rice.

We then learn something of a bombshell: Setsu’s dad is also Mai and Souichi’s dad! In fact Setsu is the only child related to Kamiki Ryuugen by blood, as Souichi and Mai are adopted. Kamiki has come to “ascertain his son’s skills”, clearly not ashamed even in his wife’s presence of his love child with Umeko.

As Yui thinks impure thoughts about Setsu and Mai (quickly shot down by Kouta, Sakura delivers her special lunch to Setsu, along with the best wishes from the entire shopping district. This seems to be the first time Sakura and Shuri encounter one another, and each regards the other as incredibly cute.

Umeko has her hired goons escort Kamiki to her, where she declares her father’s sound to belong to her, and as such she’ll never let him take Setsu and train him. Kamiki, on the other hand, has the opposite goal: he wishes Setsu to inherit his title. He and Umeko have a spirited argument, and neither is particularly interested in Setsu, only how he can help either of them expand their power.

After that, that’s pretty much it for Setsu & Co., as the episode shifts to the individual performances of Arakawa Ushio and Kaji Takaomi. Ushio is naturally daring and rebellious, and while his super-twangy performance isn’t enough to win, the sheer fun he was having playing rubs off on the audience in a big way.

Knowing if he sticks to what he did in the group stage, he won’t be able to summon the full measure of his musical potential, Takaomi is forced by Arakawa’s brash performance to swing for the fences himself. All who know him in the crowd can tell hes fiercer than usual.

Through Takaomi’s sound, Setsu envisions a fierce gale blowing down from the mountain peaks. But he’s also described as “a good kid trying to be rebellious.” Then his frikkin’ string snaps, and since a shamisen only has three, I imagine that’s enough to keep Takaomi out of the running.

But we knew from the get-go that neither Ushio nor Takaomi were going to win. That’s why we’re getting their performances now, rather than at the end when they’d have more of an impact. This somewhat lessons my interest in the episode, as neither of these kids makes much of an impression besides “confident brat” and “meek puppy dog.”

Like his birth father, I’m waiting for Setsu, and to see how he compares to Souichi. But I’m also as disappointed as Mai herself that she’s not able to compete in the individual, and thus diurectly against Setsu.

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 08 – Just Messin’ Around

I imagine a big part of Naoto’s appeal for Nagatoro is that she’s stronger than him, but that sure doesn’t stop her from teasing him for it…or rather, from using that weakness as an excuse to mount him. Because the door to the art room is open, their horseplay becomes PDA when two girls walk past and catch them in the act.

While she may have become more accustomed to her close friends being aware of her special bond with her Senpai, relative strangers are a different story. And yet…why was that door open, except to court danger, thus adding spice to their relationship?

The next segment is all about studying, and whether between making art and Nagatoro making time with him will cause Naoto to repeat his grade. If that’s the case, he’ll be in the same class as Nagatoro…and will she then start calling him by his actual name? ‘Course not…in that scenario, he’ll be known as “Ex-Senpai”!

When Naoto bears down with his studying, Nagatoro is almost hurt; would it be so bad if they shared a class together—and spent an extra year together? Naoto envisions having to massage not only Nagatoro, but Gamo and Yosshi as well, so the answer is no, it wouldn’t be that bad at all. Still, the ever=elusive Sakura admits that all of them other than Nagatoro are in danger of repeating their grade if they don’t study themselves.

In the shortest sequence of the episode—it would an omake were it after the credits—Nagatoro listens through the door of the art club as Gamo, Yosshi, and Sakura say a whole bunch of suggestive things to Senpai, and he responds with some very suspicious noises. When she finally bursts in, she learns he helped Sakura carry some wooden stools, got a splinter, and they were going to take it out for him. Nagatoro swoops in and takes care of it instead.

After school while walking home, Nagatoro is still sore about Naoto two-timing him with the others, and devolves into elementary school mode by challenging him to rock-paper-scissors. The first game backfires when his (accidental) paper beats her rock, and she carries both of their bags. But when he lets her win once, and she wins a second time, she decides that she’ll be his payload going forward, hopping on his back.

The two bask in the thrill of their suddenly close contact, but Naoto’s lack of physical conditioning rears its ugly head and she starts to slip off. His hands slide back to her backside, which proves a bit too much stimulation for Nagatoro, who bolts off like a cat out of hell; her heart about to leap out of her chest.

Bcak home, Naoto does his homework, but his eyes are constantly looking at his phone, worried about Nagatoro and waiting for her to message him. Sure enough, she does, and decides to invert her own embarrassment by making it clear to him that she’s currently taking a bath.

In her mirth over his outsize reaction to this, Nagatoro accidentally switches on her video, giving Naoto a look a her as the Good Lord made her. When Naoto points this out, both of them go red as Atomic Fire Balls, but neither are about to say they regret it happened.

And that’s the thing: all of the teasing and play are almost getting in the way of what could be a perfectly normal and lovely boyfriend-girlfriend relationship. Add up all of the things these two have experienced together (and done to and for each other), there’s real, earnest affection between the two. Nagatoro can bray all she likes about how “gross” Senpai is, but it’s just a façade.

The truth of the matter is, this is a dyed-in-the-wool couple. They’re just avoiding acknowledgement of that because it’s new, and scary, and upheaves their safe, comfortable status quo. Will they ever admit this in the remaining episodes, or keep going in circles? The show seems to indicate the latter, but it’s written itself in a corner by creating a couple that’s just too damn cute to not make official.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 8 “Senpai” Count: 25 (+8 “Ex-Senpais” / 7 “Paisens”)
Total: 297