The Quintessential Quintuplets – 24 (Fin) – Kyoto Accords

When a despairing Miku is worried that she simply can’t compete with Nino or Ichika, Nino makes the observation that they’re all cute—they’re quintuplets—but Miku will never get her feelings through Fuutarou’s thick skull unless she tells him; telepathy sadly isn’t an option for the meekest quint. Nino also makes it clear she always considered Miku a legitimate rival and threat. Miku not even putting up a fight simply leaves a bad taste.

Meanwhile, Ichika asked Fuutarou in the hall to “hear Miku out”, only to disguise herself as Miku once more and take Fuu on the same walk he went on with Rena to jog his memory. After their day out, he recalls spending more time with Rena at the inn playing cards, but then asks if she’s done, removing her wig to reveal she’s Ichika.

He deduces she was the one in the hall, and when Ichika tries to redirect the conversation by saying she was the one he met that day, he tells her he can’t trust her anymore, and leaves her to cry in the pouring rain. All five quints agree that if this keeps up no one will be happy, including Fuu, so they’ll decide who’ll spend the last day with him by choosing each of the five elective field trips, leaving it up to chance.

Yet even here Ichika has a scheme afoot, only this time it’s to help Miku, not hurt her, even though she knows it’s not enough to excuse what she’s done so far. Having overheard which trip Fuu and his group would choose, Ichika switches hers with Miku so she ends up with him. Not only that, but Ichika, Nino, Yotsuba and Itsuki all decide independently to call in sick from their trips and instead follow Miku and Fuutarou to make sure their day goes well.

Thanks to impersonating Miku one more time, Ichika gets Miku to dress up period style along with Fuutarou, while Nino “deals” with the other guys—hopefully by drugging them and stuffing them somewhere, in keeping with her ruthless M.O.!

Seriously though, thanks to the efforts of her four sisters, Miku eventually stops running and starts talking normally and having fun with Fuutarou while they go on one of the more adorable dates in a show that’s been full of them, quasi-or-otherwise. The period environs and clothing suit the history buff Miku best anyway!

Not content to enjoy the date vicariously through Miku, Nino has a momentary lapse where she pushes herself into Fuutarou’s back, insisting she’s not simply going to let Miku have him. Fuutarou ends up bumping into Miku, who ends up in the drink. Soaked to her underwear, Itsuki sneaks the racy underwear she bought “in case of emergency”—call it Chekhov’s Thong—into Miku’s dressing room. Miku is mortified, but it’s better than going commando!

Miku and Fuu have a seat under an umbrella, and suddenly her croissants appear next to her, having been rushed there by the ever-athletic Yotsuba. Naturally, Fuu scarfs the croissants right down, and while he admits he may not have the most refined palate, he can appreciate how hard she worked to make them.

The four other sisters watch from inside the building behind them as Miku gets more and more comfortable talking with Fuutarou. She tells him how she wants to learn so much more about him, then starts to point out all the things around them she loves, ending by pointing at him and saying “I love you”, shocking her sisters.

Ichika breaks down, and we learn that Yotsuba was indeed “Rena” for most of the day, while Ichika was the one to play cards with him at the inn—she wasn’t lying! Still, through falling tears, Ichika resolves to be on better terms with her sisters from now on, especially since they now get to talk about something they all like for once.

However, Miku’s confession wasn’t what either they or Fuutarou thought: she was actually pointing at her sisters she could hear behind the wall when she said “I love you”. Fuutarou is flabberghasted by the fake-out, but Ichika is so happy she gives Miku a huge hug.

Fuutarou shuffles off, leaving the quintuplets alone together to share in the pain of falling in love, something they all now understand better having seen the various was they reacted to it (and yes, Itsuki admits she was trying to be alone with Fuu too). Ichika later catches up to Fuu to apologize, and he apologizes in turn. She teases him by saying “it’s all a lie” while kissing him on the cheek, a kiss he continues to feel on the train home.

It will not surprise you, then, to learn that we do not learn who Fuutarou ultimately ends up marrying quite yet. That final revelation will be saved for an already-announced sequel (though what form it takes—movie, OVA, third season—remains up in the air). But I’m not mad! In fact, I’m not even bothering with the rankings this week, just as I ended up juking the stats to make it a five-way tie at the end of last season.

Despite being a presumably zero-sum game, the journeys—all five of them—have continued to prove themselves far more important than the destination; i.e. who marries Fuutarou. The sisters called a cease-fire in Kyoto and more or less negotiated a pact in which they’ll all fight openly and honestly for Fuutarou’s heart from now on.

I’m not even mad Fuutarou is no closer to knowing who—if anyone—to choose above the others. It can be hard to choose from scene to scene! Perhaps the sequel will finally depict him earnestly wrestling with that choice, now that he has a good idea where most of the sisters stand. Until then!

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 23 – Give and Take Five

Yotsuba walks in on Itsuki just as she’s hiding the photo of Fuu with “Rena”. Commenting on how things aren’t so hot among the sisters, Yotsuba invites Itsuki out shopping, where they run into Fuu and Raiha, who is imparting on Fuu the importance of buying belated birthday gifts for the quints. Raiha also mentions “the photo”, and Yotsuba demands to know details. Raiha goes on to say the girl in the photo was her bro’s first love.

On the Shinkansen to Kyoto, Ichika, Nino, and Miku continue their war through spirited card games, while Itsuki joins in just for the card competition, while Yotsuba is a little intimidated by how heated things have gotten. She’s hoping this trip can be an opportunity for the five of them to make up…but also an opportunity for Miku to give Fuu her clandestinely-made baked goods.

Nino unilaterally decides to follow Fuutarou’s group up the temple steps, and while the others don’t have any objections, Yotsuba brandishes her card game victory on the train to insist that she and Miku go up the right steps while Ichika, Nino and Itsuki will go up the left steps. Some mild sniping between Ichika and Nino ensues, while Itsuki is left bemused.

When Itsuki and Nino use the restroom, Ichika abandons them and continues her descent, determined to see Fuu first and calculating she can beat the faster Yotsuba as Miku is surely slowing her down. Unwilling to take back the lie she’s already told Fuu, all Ichika thinks she can do to stay in the fighting is continue to lie and block Miku by posing as her.

But while she’s the first to reach the top, Fuu isn’t there. The next to arrive is Yotsuba, with Miku on her back, and they both see that Ichika is impersonating Miku. When asked for an explanation, Yotsuba says Ichika is trying to get in the way of Miku’s confession to Fuu. She says this just as Fuu makes it to the top, and hears what she said.

Miku runs off in tears as Nino and Itsuki arrive, and Nino has had it with Ichika’s bullshit now that she’s made someone cry. But Ichika doesn’t want to hear about it, considering how cutthroat Nino has been. It’s here where Nino admits she was being overly harsh, and that in reality she’d want to celebrate with whoever ended up “winning” because the bond between the five of them was just as important to her as Fuu.

Speaking of Fuu, he tries to lower the temperature, but it’s too late; Nino is already also crying, and orders him to chase after Miku. He’s unsuccessful, but Itsuki ran after her earlier and saw her get on a bus back to the hotel, so Fuu gets on the next bus, and Yotsuba joins him. She blames herself for making Miku cry, and may have created a monster by encouraging Ichika.

Fuu assures Yotsuba that he was already pretty sure of Miku’s feelings, such that the Fake Miku seemed fake even to him, “Uesugi the Dense.” He tells her she worries about the others too much, but Yotsuba still feels she owes them for making them follow her to another school when she was the only one to flunk out.

She wants to know how everyone can be happy, but Fuu tells her there’s only so far you can go; ultimately someone’s happiness must be gained by taking it from someone else. Like, say, when many girls like the same boy.

Back at the hotel during dinner, Nino informs Yotsuba and Itsuki that there’s a creep sneaking photos of them (as evidenced by the shutter sounds she’s heard behind her several times). When the three decide to go check on Miku and Ichika, Miku doesn’t answer the door, but they all hear another shutter and freak out.

Ichika, meanwhile, manages to bump into Fuu in the hall, and asks if he’s free tomorrow, because she needs to talk to him about something. Hopefully to come clean about impersonating Miku…but probably not! Meanwhile, Nino calls Miku to ask if she’s free to talk tomorrow.

The next day, Fuu ends up running into Itsuki and Yotsuba again, this time from the top of Kiyomizu Temple. Itsuki all of a sudden adopts a super-affectionate and clingy attitude, having Yotsuba snap a picture of them with the view as a backdrop. She’s hoping to jog his memory about another certain photo from six years ago.

Nino gets to stay at the hotel by impersonating Miku (which is apparently all the rage these days) and when Miku asks her what she wants, Nino jumps on top of her in order to rattle her cage. She says her rival “backed down by herself” on this class trip that should have been a golden opportunity for her to make progress. Now all she needs to do is defeat Ichika, that “sly fox”. Long story short: Nino is taking Fuu.

Miku may have fallen for him first, but as far as Nino’s concerned she loves him the most, even if it’s her first time in love and she’s not sure what’s right or wrong. To this, Miku voices her protest, insisting she’s not done fighting for him yet. It’s just…she’s scared. Scared that she’s not good enough; scared of fighting fair and square; more scared than she thought she’d be. But even if it’s scary, she’s not going to quit…not yet.

That’s good, because Itsuki knows for a fact that the sister who posed with Fuu in that six-year-old photo is none other than Yotsuba!

Episode Eleven Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Nino: Nino was busy this week! She was the sister who decided they were following Fuutarou’s group, setting some potentially cathartic scenes in motion. Calls out Ichika’s scheming, but also admits that she’s just as ruthless in trying to get what she wants. Most importantly, when Miku runs away crying, Nino puts the war on hold and sends Fuu after her. Finally, is the one to rattle Miku’s cage. Total Points: 43 (1st)
  2. Yotsuba: Turns in another strong showing by hanging with Fuu at the mall, serving as Miku’s emotional support, winning the card game so the sisters were forced to split up the way she dictated, literally carries Miku on her back, and has a solemn and frank convo with Fuu on the bus about the limits of happiness for all. Oh, and she’s the damn girl in the photo! Total Points: 34 (2nd)
  3. Ichika: Love or hate her, there’s no denying Ichika is a woman on a mission, and it’s take-no-prisoners. Her second use of the Miku disguise compounds the throne of lies upon which she sits, but when it backfires she doesn’t want to hear Nino scold her when Nino said she’d step over anyone who got between her and her man.  Total Points: 29 (Tied for 4th)
  4. Itsuki: There’s actual signs life in Camp Itsuki this week, as she plays big sister to Raiha at the mall. However, her cute photo moment with Fuu at the temple wasn’t self-serving so much as designed to get him to remember the Kyoto trip years ago. Total Points: 30 (3rd)
  5. Miku: While Ichika’s Fake Miku act didn’t work on Fuu, the fact Yotsuba blurted out her desire to confess sent her into a spiral of inadequacy, and she remained confined to her hotel room far too much to do anything. That said, she has nowhere to go but up! Total Points: 29 (4th)

The Quintessential Quintuplets – 22 – One Thing They Agree On

Takeda Yusuke, the glittery prettyboy teased last week finally reveals what his deal is: he’s the son of the school’s president, and has been nipping at Fuutarou’s heels in grades for two years. Fuutarou has never heard of him, nor does he care about school rankings.

Still, Takeda challenges him to prove the quints aren’t holding him back, by placing in the top one hundred of the upcoming national mock exams. Fuu sees that challenge and raises the stakes to top ten, all while helping the quints study for theirs. It won’t be easy, but his pride and their honor is on the line.

The quints are also aware that Fuutarou’s birthday is coming up. Ichika puts out the suggestion that they all hold off from giving him their gifts until after the exams. In truth, she intends to betray them all by being the only sister to give him a gift. She even stops Miku from talking to Fuu, knowing as far as Fuu knows, Miku told him Ichika likes him.

Ichika soon pays for her continued underhanded measures when she sees Nino already has a gift for Fuu and is planning to give it to him when she damn well feels like it. The group text put the brakes on the others, but Nino Train’s brakes don’t work!

When Nino brings up how Ichika failed to keep their dad occupied at the spa, frustration and desperation conspire to lend Ichika the courage to finally say what needs to be said: Despite the two having different tastes in everything else, they both like Fuutarou, and Ichika doesn’t intend to let Nino have him without a fight.

As both girls are planning to break the pact and give Fuu their gifts early, they walk in on Yotsuba making paper cranes for Fuu’s health and good luck, and then raking herself over the coals for not realizing the cranes would technically comprise a gift, thus making her a “horrible human being.” Naturally, Miku is also ready with her gift of couples tickets to the gym.

Seeing that she’s getting nowhere with this strategy, Ichika again suggests all of them give him his gift at once, after the exams. When Nino asks if she’s really okay with this, Ichika says none of them “get” Fuutarou. She’s confident he’ll like her gift—presumably a gift card—the best.

We get a rare Itsuki sighting, as she visits a fatigued Fuu and gives him an energy drink, which I guess technically makes her the first to actually give him a gift of any kind! She also tells him she’s going to aim to improve her academic capabilities while assisting Shimoda-san with tutoring, in hopes of getting a look at education in action. Education sans Fuutarou, it seems…

The mocks come and go, and Fuutarou buries Takeda, ranking third to his eighth, as Takeda reports to the quints’ dad. He also reports that all five of the quints have made considerable progress. Everyone then gives Fuu his gifts at once, though oddly enough we don’t get to watch his reactions.

Yotsuba checks in on Miku at her bakery, where she first serves a croissant that resembles a rock, then one that looks dead. The third time’s the charm, and while it’s not quite up to spec with something the bakery would charge money for, her manager is happy with her progress.

Miku seems to be putting all her efforts into lunch on the first day of the school trip, which is their class’s responsibility. Unfazed by the drubbing Nino gave her, she intends to impress Fuutarou with her best cooking yet in Kyoto. The only problem is, she doesn’t know for sure if they’re in the same touring group.

In fact, no one knows what group Fuutarou will choose, only that the groups can only be a maximum of five people. Again Ichika attempts to gain advantage by pulling Yotsuba aside and pretty much dictating that the two of them and Fuutarou will form their own group.

Presumably, Ichika isn’t aware of Yotsuba’s feelings for Fuu any more than Nino was aware of Ichika’s. And fate just so happens to smile on Yotsuba this week, perhaps because she’s not acting like a backstabbing hussy! Raiha reminds her brother that he needs to thank Yotsuba for helping him at school camp.

Fuutarou isn’t about to disobey his sister, so he stops by to ask Yotsuba what she wants as a thank you gift, not to exceed ¥1500. They end up spending the entire day and evening together, and while Yotsuba doesn’t come out and say it, that’s what she wanted. Not lunch, or a movie, or clothes—though they do all those things.

While wondering where Yotsuba ran off to, Ichika notices a strange box in the middle of the living room of their apartment that Itsuki says is hers. A quick peek inside reveals the Rena disguise, and as she carries it away, that famous photo of Young Fuu and one of the sisters falls out. She notes it’s from Kyoto, then says “I see.” You see what?!

When Fuutarou finally presses Yotsuba to tell him what she wants, she takes him to a playground after dark, a special place she goes to swing when she’s feeling bummed. She effortlessly manages to get the ever-serious, practical, and logical Fuutaoru to stand on the swing and see how high he can go, which is precisely what she does in order to get a better view of the city at night, seeing a family in each one of the countless glowing lights and feeling warm inside.

After Yotsuba executes a perfect dismount with record distance, Fuutarou tries the same, but ends up completely inverted, freaking both him and Yotsuba out. When he returns to right-side-up, he smiles and bursts into raucous laughter, and while he still thinks he wasn’t able to give Yotsuba anything, she got everything she wanted.

The next day, the class trip group composition comes up, and Ichika is ready to go with her suggestion that she and Yotsuba form a group with Fuutarou, attempting to pressure Yotsuba to go along with her. Instead, Yotsuba sacrifices herself (of course), suggesting the other five form a group; she’ll have no trouble finding another group, gregarious as she is.

Nino pipes up, saying no one wants that arrangement, then declares not only what she wants, but what is going to happen: she’ll form a group with Fuutarou, and warns him to be grateful about it. But while her honesty and straightforwardness should be commended, the fact of the matter is Fuutarou is already in a group with some guys, including Takeda.

So for the class trip, the five sisters will form a group together. Their classmates assume it’s because they’re so tight-knit, but in truth it’s something none of them are looking forward to, since most of them are now at war with each other. Should be a fun trip!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode Ten Quintuplet Ranking:

  1. Yotsuba: Explanation isn’t really necessary here; while everyone else was plotting and scheming, Yotsuba got an actual date and some truly magial moments with Fuu, and not out of the blue, but because she helped him out in the past. Still, it was disconcerting how quickly she volunteered to be the odd girl out for the class trip. Total Points: 30 (2nd)
  2. Nino: It was pretty close, but I’m calling Nino the winner from among the schemers, due to her continued dedication to saying exactly what’s on her mind without any possibility of misunderstandings. Total Points: 38 (1st)
  3. Miku: Is legitimately improving her cooking skills and has a plan of action, but is still unwittingly suffering the effect of Ichika’s conniving. She’ll need to remain extra vigilant against… Total Points: 28 (Tied for 4th)
  4. Ichika: Her underhanded tactics plumb new depths this week. She’s convinced the only way she can fight is dirty, but get very little to show for it. Try to stop the Nino train and see what happens, Ich. Total Points: 26 (5th)
  5. Itsuki: Remains very elusive and squirrelly this week, but that disguise was super sketch…she’s up to something, and very much still in the game.  Total Points: 28 (Tied for 4th)

Astra Lost in Space – 01 (First Impressions) – The Final Frontier: Getting Along

ALiS immediately sets the mood and grabs our attention by throwing us into the inky nothingness of space to float with poor Aries Spring (Minase Inori). She has no idea how she got there, but is understandably terrified, until she spots someone approaching her with an open hand.

Now that we know how bad things are going to get for Aries, the narrative rewinds back to the day Aries sets of for the five-day “Planet Camp.” Shortly after arriving at the spaceport, her bag is stolen, but the very fit and valorous Hoshijuma Kanata gets it back…only to be arrested by cop-bots.

No matter, Aries and Kanata eventually join their six fellow high school students (plus one little sister with an alter-ego in the form of a hand puppet) at the gate and before you know it, they’re on a 9-hour FTL journey to Planet McPa.

The meetup at the gate and the trip paint the characters in broad strokes, but the bottom line is they’re all very different personalities—pretty typical for a Lerche show. Within a couple minutes of setting foot on McPa, those clashing personalities are immediately tested by a weird floating orb, which I’ll just call a singularity. One by one, it sucks up the students who can’t outrun it.

After a very trippy visual sequence, everyone finds themselves floating in space, near a planet that doesn’t quite look like McPa. You couldn’t ask for a more nightmarish scenario, especially considering these are just kids with zero experience in space. Fortunately, there’s a spaceship in orbit, just within the range of their thruster suits.

They head to the ship, open the thankfully unlocked hatch, and climb aboard. There’s a grand sense of adventure afoot, and the music really helps to sell it. That’s when they realize there are only eight of them—poor Aries is still out there, drifting further and further away.

With insufficient fuel for a two-way trip in their suits, Kanata decides to use a tether to reach Aries, and we return to the end of the cold open, with Kanata reaching out to take Aries’ hand…only his rope is just too short. Disaster! Whatever to do? Kanata decides to go for broke and detach himself from the tether so he can grab an eternally grateful Aries.

But while they’re safe for the moment, there’s another problem: on the way back Kanata runs out of fuel, but his trajectory is five degrees off, meaning he and Aries will fly right past the ship. It’s time for the others, putting aside their initial differences to create a human chain outside of the airlock that snags Aries and Kanata and pulls them aboard.

That’s when they learn of several more problems—there are always more problems in space than in…not space, after all. They’re 5,012 light years, or more than three months, away from home, with only enough water for 20 days and only enough food for three.

With the aid of Zack Walker, he of the 200 IQ and spaceship license, he manages to calculate a route that will enable them to resupply at planets within twenty days of one another…but there’s only one possible route. Even so, the fact that there’s a remotely feasible plan bolsters everyone’s spirits.

With hope in their hearts (and probably very little food in their stomachs) Kanata is chosen as their captain, and they all take their places as the ship’s FTL activates, and they head off, through hardships, to the stars, on a very simple mission: Get Home Safe.

The last act seems to blow by extremely fast as solutions present themselves almost too easily, and while many members of the cast showed different sides, the jury is still out on others, but over all this was a strong start to a good old-fashioned space adventure. No convoluted factional conflicts or supernatural chosen ones…just nine kids probably in over their heads, but who have no choice but to grow up and do the best they can.

Gakkou Gurashi! – 05

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There’s no getting around it: these past two episodes, as fantastic as they were, had their peril somewhat dampened by the fact this is all happening in the past, and we know everyone will survive these events. They actually wouldn’t have made a bad first two episodes to GG!, but considering the shock the actual first episode delivered by delaying the story we get here (and feigning normalcy), I was more than willing to suspend my belief and dive into a good zombie mall episode. And it’s a good one.

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This episode is less about its inevitable destination (Yuuri, Kurumi and Yuki meeting Taroumaru and Miki) and more about the journey it takes to get there. The mall is dark and eerily silent, but Rii-san tells Yuki it’s because there’s a concert in session and they have to be quiet. Malls are usually so noisy with crowds and muzak, so in addition to visual impact of the trashed mall, there’s an aural impact from the white noise so unusual in such a place. And despite knowing she’ll be okay, watching Kurumi dart through the darker stores with her flashlight really does a good job isolating her in a hostile, threatening place that isn’t secure.

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I also liked how the girls spend a bit of time simply shopping like high school girls do, because that’s what they are. If they don’t want to be defined as simply survivors, they have to do more than just survive, but have fun when they can. Of course, that fun is cut short by a sound and their new ward Taroumaru’s yipping, indicating someone is near.

Because they’re on the fourth floor and the zombies have trouble climing steps, they consider the possibility it’s another survivor, but then Kurumi calls off the search when she peeks in a previously-barricaded theater packed with zombies. The wide shots peppered with quick close-ups and those horrible zombie noises accentuate the peril.

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The girls, led by Kurumi, blast through a gauntlet of zombies and hide in what looks like the child care room, which is apropos because Yuki is listing, exhausted from all the unexplained running. She also gets a couple of square looks at the zombies, and, at this point in the timeline, she’s still seeing partial flashes of what happened in her classroom the day of the fall, including an image of a blurry Megu-nee with a bloody arm, suggesting her teacher was infected.

As they rest, Kurumi thinks about the theater full of zombies—many of them kids—and shudders to think how their lives as humans ended, and how scared and alone they must have felt, before they were infected one by one. And in another unsettling juxtaposition of cheery high school girl life and the apocalyptic scenario, Kurumi makes Rii-san pinky-swear not to hesitate to kill her if she gets infected.

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Miki, meanwhile, has been sitting in her miniaturized, stifling little world, until she hears the yips of Taroumaru and is convinced they’re not in her cabin fever-addled brain. She braves the mall beyond her shelter, and immediately gets surrounded. She’s literally ten seconds from zombie lunch when Taroumaru, followed closely by Yuki and the others, come to her rescue.

Miki’s leaving the room and getting rescue shows her that survival isn’t just something to grasp  or hoard alone in a dark, stuffy room, but a gift to enjoy to its fullest, preferably with others. Before everyone piles into the Mini, Miki asks if the others saw anyone else, but it’s left up in the air what became of Kei. With Miki leaving the mall, it will be much trickier for them to ever reunite, but I for one hope she met a better fate than those kids in the theater, or Taroumaru’s owner.

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 04

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GG! has taken on a LOST-style narrative, in which the present is constantly being informed and updated by the pasts of its characters. This week it’s Naoki Miki’s turn. While helping Yuki with a hand-drawn yearbook, Yuki asks about one of Miki’s (very good!) drawings of her in a bookstore with another girl. It’s Kei, a good friend of Miki’s from before The Fall.

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An ordinary day at the mall turns into a life-upheaving nightmare for both of them. This is handled with the show’s usual deftness, with particular care taken to lighting, background sounds, camera angles and focus. Miki and Kei manage to hide from all the zombies and gain the puppy of an elderly woman who became one. Survival supersedes processing what the fuck is going on.

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They manage to make it to a safe room, where they hole up in a room with ample food and water. But Kei almost immediately grows curious about the outside world; about what’s going on, and worries that if they stay, they’ll never be found. Miki, on the other hand, is content to stay put and wait for help to come to them. Enough times passes that Kei’s patience runs out, and even Miki’s maneuver of tenderly taking Kei’s hand isn’t enough to keep her.

Kei promises she’ll be back with help, but right there and then, she’s abandoning Miki, who is too scared to leave the mall, or even that room. Her life has shrunk into a miniature, but she’s intent on holding on to what life it is, not risking it on the unknown beyond those walls. When Kei up and leaves, it’s a gut punch, but we knew it was coming, for no other reason than Kei doesn’t exist in the present.

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Meanwhile, at this time, Yuuri and Kurumi and Yuki are off on their own, having not yet met Miki (or Toromarou; we now understand a little more about why he’s a little standoffish with Miki in the present). Yuki spontaneously comes up with the idea for a school trip, using a loophole in the club rules prohibiting leaving school grounds by saying it’s a school function. Yuuri tells her to get Megu-nee’s approval, and she gets it, but we don’t see her get it, indicating Megu-nee isn’t alive at this point either, but just a delusion of Yuki.

That fact is reinforced when Kurumi volunteers to drive Megu-nee’s car. She and Yuuri are willing to maintain the Megu-nee delusion for Yuki’s sake, and must resort to loophole of their own (Megu-nee hasn’t driven in a while, and Kurumi insists she’s better, despite later confessing she only played racing video games).

Kurumi’s journey to the faculty parking lot, through a phalanx of vicious, but thankfully slow and dumb, zombies is breathless in its presentation. I know this is a flashback, but Kurumi still felt so vulnerable out there, especially when her trusty shovel was flicked away. But she gets to Megu-nee’s MINI Cooper, fires it up, and picks up Yuuri and Yuki (Megu-nee only appears in the car once Yuki’s in there, like anthropomorphic Hobbes).

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After a little bit of sliding around the schoolyard and hitting a couple of zombies for good measure, the car bursts out of the front gates, and all of a sudden the saturation of the episode intensifies, as if we were watching a visual manifestation of freedom itself. A quiet, gorgeous, haunting piece of music plays as the Mini drives through the desolate, ruined city, made beautiful by the vivid colors of the setting sun. It feels like a movie. If only it was only that, and they could walk out of the theater into a world where they didn’t have to fight every day for survival.

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That piece of music playing turns out to be on the Discman Kei left Miki before she left Miki. It wakes Miki up in that same room she’s been holed up in, and the contrast between her self-imposed captivity and the freedom being experience by the others isn’t lost on me. Nor is the open transom that indicates Toroumaru escaped, leaving Miki alone, though the dog may well be the one who unites her with the others.

The song plays through the credits, accompanied by black-and-white imagery from the episode. So lovely, mellow, soulful, and sad. This show just keeps getting better.

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Oregairu 2 – 03

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This was a pretty dark and depressing episode, one I thought I’d respect more than outright like, due to its necessity: it’s always darkest before the dawn. But I ended up liking it anyway. Having created a rift with Yukino and Yui, Hikky ends up further exploring his predicament through other women from both past, present, and future: apropos for Oregairu’s own Scrooge.

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Is it just me, or does he look way further away than when he and the girls were on better terms? Just as he refused to tell his concerned sister anything, that everything is normal, after downing an extra-bitter can of Georgia Extra Mountain Blend Black coffee, he walks back into the club after school like nothing’s the matter. But something is the matter, and nobody’s buying his feigned apathy anymore.

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Fortune seems to favor Hikky and his desire to slip back into normalcy when Shizuka brings them their latest client, Isshiki Iroha, who has been nominated to run unopposed in the student council president, but wants to lose. Only Isshiki is the kind of girl who juggles guys and makes enemies of the girls. He immediately tears down her kind in his mind, believing he knows everything he needs to about her without actually knowing her.

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Interestingly, but not surprisingly, it’s Yukino who is unable to keep things professional. When Hikky suggests another superficial easy-way-out plan (something involving a sacrificial campaign speech that will erode Isshiki’s cred), Yukino rejects it, and makes this about more than just Isshiki’s job.

Yukino walked away quickly after Hikky’s false confession to Hina with good reason: she can’t be around Hikky too long right now without losing her cool. That just speaks to how much she cares about him, but also to the depth of their impasse. Yukino isn’t just disappointed in Hikky; she’s wondering if she ever really knew him.

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Shizuka seems to understand, especially when put on the spot to reveal the current “standings”, as the three agreed a while back that the winner could order the loser around however they want. Yukino probably hoped she could order Hikky to stop his nonsense, but Shizuka points out not only that it’s a dead heat depending on the measure, but that Hikky, Yukino, and Yui are all but impossible to evaluate independently, as they depend so much on each others’ contributions.

Even in its darkest hour when the service club threatens to tear itself apart, Shizuka makes sure to point out that the club really has worked, and no matter what evil stares Hikky gets or gives, the work he’s done has proven to her he’s a good person. He just needs to come to terms with that himself.

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After Yukino again tells him off for his hypocrisy over the superficial confession, Hikky retreats from the clubroom entirely. He looks over superficial flicks to take his mind off things, but eventually finds shelter in a “Master Donut”, peddler of sweet-looking but ultimately superficial confections, that if not consumed in moderation, can also be detrimental to one’s health.

There, he finds Haruno, who like Komachi lends an open ear but doesn’t get much, while she tells him Yukino may hate her family, but she doesn’t want them to hate her, so she goes through motions like mailing them gifts from her school trip.

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Hikky also encounters Orimoto Kaori, a girl he liked in middle school who rejected him. Like Haruno, Orimoto acts like a with-it grown-up, recalling those days with fondness before happily saying none of that middle school stuff mattered because it was ages ago. Yet it’s as clear as yesterday in Hikky’s mind. Orimoto scarred him, and helped turn him on the path of avoiding contact out of fear of rejection. What’s even more biting is that she’s clearly moved on, having no idea how much torment she caused Hikky back then. Hikky’s quick assessment of her is one-sided and unfair to Orimoto, but it fits his self-destructive narrative of being beyond “this kind of girl.”

Haruno brings Hayama into the mix so Orimoto’s friend can meet him, but Hayama is really there to tell Hikky how Haruno only ever kills people she likes (like Hikky) with too much attention or crushes those she doesn’t like, without much middle ground. We shouldn’t be surprised then, that when Hikky spots her, she’s all alone in that donut shop.

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Yui the mediator gets Hikky back in the club, to at least listen as they discuss what to do about Isshiki’s election, but this latest attempt to reconstruct normalcy from the shattered shards of last week goes nowhere. Yukino admonishes him again for avoiding the real problem and taking reckless easy ways out, both with Hina and here. As long as Hikky remains stubbornly taciturn and haplessly defending methods even he isn’t sure are right, there will be no rapprochement.

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As Isshiki Iroha thanks Hikky for his help in her subtly manipulative “boy-juggler” way (as Hikky sees it, anyway), her performance no doubt calls to mind the easy, friendly, slightly flirty way Orimoto Kaori gave her email to him years ago. Hikky didn’t think about whether it was just out of courtesy or pity; he merely started to gnaw at the bone he was thrown, not realizing it was all he’d get from his crush.

But Yukino and Yui aren’t Isshiki, and they aren’t Orimoto. They represent Hikky’s only hope of moving beyond the romantic traumas of his past. I just hope he realizes that before their rift grows too wide. They both seem to be waiting for him, but no one’s patience is unlimited.

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Oregairu 2 – 02

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Jokes about Hikky’s non-classmates dreaming about him playing Uno…this show has range

If Nagato Yuki-chan is my go-to Feel Good show this Spring, Oregairu 2 is the place where more sophisticated, less comfortable feelings bubble and brew. But that means its the far more realistic and ultimately rewarding of the two shows, because rarely are things in real life as simple as finding your confidence, as they are for Nagato Yuki.

The characters of Oregairu—and I’m not just talking about the core trio, because the show puts great care into everyone—aren’t so lucky; it’s a constant balance of little lies and little fronts to protect the happiness that they have, even if the inevitable compromises erode their self-respect.

There are no easy answers or solutions…only complicated ones that can be given a sheen of simplicity with rationalization. And romance ain’t got nothin’ to do with rationalization!

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Great variety of reactions here

True to its title and its penchant for not taking the easy or well-tread routes of its genre, Oregairu 2’s second episode embraces the complexity of the situation. Tobe’s desire to get closer to Hina is clear cut, yet threatens the delicate high school equilibrium many are invested in, while Hina’s request is revealed as a means of gently heading off Tobe’s designs.

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You’re not REALLY reading that, are you?

It’s clear Hina is not going to go out with Tobe, or anyone else, as Miura says when she confronts Hikky about his meddling. Hina’s turned every confession her way down, and Tobe’s not the kind of guy who’s going to end that streak, period. That means the Service Club’s goal must shift to minimizing the damage to the circle of friends Tobe and Hina inhabit.

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There’s a knowing look in those eyes.

Hikky doesn’t have much that’s “tasty” for Hina in his progress report on the camaraderie of the guys, but the school trip isn’t over and there’s still opportunities to get her what she wants, which is the same thing Miura and Hayama want—for boats not to be rocked. Hina leaves it in Hikky’s capable hands.

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Hikky should probably file this reaction for future encounters

The club scouts out the a bamboo grove similar to the one Tamayo and Kato walked down in Saekano 00, and both Yui and Yukino agree it’s a good place for a confession. They’re talking about Tobe confessing to Hina, sure, but they’re also talking in general terms.

Both in the haunted house and while hanging out sharing food or simply spending time in that gorgeous, romantic grove, Yui and Yukino seem pretty happy and content themselves, because they’re in a place with Hikky where they can still imagine possibilities, despite the underlying problem of liking the same guy.

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Speaking of gorgeous, this episode is certainly that in terms of settings and backgrounds. The episode is replete with ideal spots in an non-ideal world. So it’s appropriate that Hayama and Hikky confer on the Tobe/Hina situation in a place that wouldn’t be a bad spot at all for a confession.

When Hikky calls the entente Hayama and Miura and Hina all seem to want as superficial and dishonest, Hayama asks him what he would do, and in his head Hikky isn’t honest with himself:

How I think or feel means nothing whatsoever, and it’s pointless to think about.

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He denies his own stewing thoughts and feelings and tacitly agrees to do something that will keep everything the same, but that way lies only further frustration and despair, by speaking and acting in ways that don’t respect the feelings of others. Yukino and Yui put their faith in Hikky, and just before a nervous-as-all-get-out Tobe is able to blurt out his confession, Hikky steps in an confesses to Hina in his place.

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Taking a bullet for Tobe gets the job done, but neither Yukino nor Yui can accept the means Hikky used. Yukino storms off rather than allow Hikky to see how much his actions hurt her, but Yui remains and tries to explain it to Hikky, but she’s hurt too and has to walk away in tears. Considering how much both of them saw this as an ideal place for a confession, Hikky’s stunt crassly trampled on their feelings. The mission is complete, but at what cost?

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Hina, who has quickly become one heck of a supporting character. got her happy balance back, and even muses non-jokingly about Hikky being a suitable mate for her, since she sees that they’re both “messed up” people. Hina avoids romantic relationships because she values the friendships she has so much, they’re both a security blanket and a ball-and-chain. It’s pragmatic and understandable, but it’s also profoundly sad.

She hates herself for relying on the equilibrium Hikky preserved, but it’s not just her: the tapestry of little lies and fronts is something everyone in that circle contributes to, and doesn’t want to see torn…so they stay stationary. Tobe’s confession would have torn that tapestry, a tapestry he’s a part of whether he’s aware or not.

Hikky is well aware he has his own tapestry of equilibrium with Yukino and Yui, but cynically tore it to fulfill Hina’s request. The lie neither Yukino nor Yui will accept is the lie that he doesn’t care about their tapestry, and that his feelings are meaningless. Hikky knows he erred, and isn’t sure how to mend it, or even if he can.

This adds greater stakes to the impending addition of a fourth club member. But even if there were no fourth member pending, Oregairu 2 is and would remain a complex, emotional powerhouse that is balancing its comedy, romance, and drama superbly.

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Oregairu 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

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Here’s what I said about Oregairu back in June 2013: “After this season brought the three misfits together and threw challenges at them to strengthen their bonds, we’d like to see a second season in which they, now firmly established as their own little posse, face more challenges, such as the romantic tension between Hikigaya and the girls, while continuing their service work, perhaps with a fourth freshman member? But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.”

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Not the best constructed sentence, but I feel it got the point across in terms of what I was looking for if and when a second season came around. Well, here it is! And what do you know, right off the bat we those challenges start to take shape, some nicely presented romantic tension between Hikky and his two comely club-mates, and a fresh mission involving what else, bringing two people together. The only thing missing is a fourth freshman member, but hey, it’s early!

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I won’t deny I’ve been both spoiled by the crackling good dialogue of Saekano and periodically put off by the overly advanced and pretentious dialogue of Violin Girl. But I never thought I’d be so happy to hear Hikky’s snarky inner monologue again. Hikky’s less wide-eyed than Tomoya and less feckless than Kousei, yet remains unjaded enough to allow himself to be surprised now and again, particularly by the two very different girls in his life right now.

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Oregairu is also playful and efficient when it comes to weaving two service missions into one, with the backdrop of a fun school trip to Kyoto. Tobe likes Hina and wants to get closer to her, which requires them being alone. But Hina wants to strengthen the bonds between her circle of friends, which requires her to not be alone with Tobe.

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Then there’s the fact that Hina is a fujoshi who likes to imagine her male classmates in exciting, complicated relationships, which compliments Hikky’s long-standing, not  necessarily one-sided crush on the very feminine Saika, though I wouldn’t go so far as to say Hikky’s bi; it’s more of an “if only he was a girl” situation.

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As for girls, Hikky’s relationships with both Yui and Yukina remain healthy and stong, if a smidge hamstrung by said romantic tension. Hikky’s discomfort with Yui being so close and friendly and touchy with him underlines the fact he sees her as more than just a friend, and there’s still unresolved things between these two that should provide nice fodder for the season as they work together to tackle missions.

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On the other end of the spectrum, Hikky also can’t deny the appeal of Yukino, nor Yukino Hikky. When talk in the girls’ hotel room turns to her, she escapes and finds refuge in his company. Fortune also favor them this week as their teacher brings them along for some not altogether kosher reason and bribes them with dinner, leaving them to walk home together.

Considering what drew her to Hikky tonight, Yukino is weary of being seen to close with him lest more rumors spiral, but it’s clear at the same time she doesn’t particularly mind Hikky’s company one bit.

My first impression of Oregairu 2 is that I’m glad I asked for and got a second season, and I’m looking forward to watching this intriguing triangle’s dynamics develop further, especially if and when the club is graced with a new member, representing yet another personality type.

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