Nisekoi 2 – 04

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I suppose it was predictable that Hana-san would turn out to be a better person than last week made her out to be, so I’m glad I was on the right track in hoping there was love behind her tough, intimidation, uncaring exterior.

A great symbol that Raku and Chitoge were both wrong about her is the cut to her breaking off a piece of her cigarette and eating it. It’s candy she uses for her oral fixation; she quit cold turkey when she got pregnant with Chitoge.

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Even so, Hana is not the world’s best mother, though she provides for her daughter. She said all those harsh things out of the mistaken impression Chitoge hated her, for raising her strictly, as she was raised.

She has a drawer full of personally-chosen Christmas presents for her dating back ten years, but has never found the right opportunity to give them to her, and always asks her age because she’s nervous and isn’t sure how to treat her. There’s no bitterness or apathy here; only a lack of communication.

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Enter Raku, with his most selfless and awesome heroics yet. It’s up to him to get these two very similar women in his lives who love each other deeply to overcome their misunderstandings about each other, while getting Hana to stop hiding behind her job and face her daughter properly.

It’s unfortunate Raku and Chitoge’s entire class, including the rest of his harem, is present when Raku whisks her off to a five-star hotel room, but there’s simply no time to explain. :3

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Not knowing initially what his gesture’s all about, Chitoge is also flustered and overwhelmed, but when Raku explains on the way and asks her to simply “trust in him”, she does so without a fuss, nestling her head into Raku’s back as he pedals with all his might for her and Hana’s sakes.

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Hana almost gets away on her private jet, but Raku manages to catch her on the phone, and puts Chitoge on the line to basically beg Hana to come back. Like any momma, the distressed cries of her young create a powerful urge for her to return to her offsprings’ side.

The resulting reunion on the runway goes from hilarious (Raku and Chitoge have to avoid being run down by the landing jet) to so heartwarming one forgets it’s Christmas and snowing out. Nice work, Raku!

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Raku gives the hotel room to Hana to spend some quality time with her daughter after they go out to eat, and Chitoge finally learns why she treasures her red ribbon so much: it was the same as a character in a book she loved as a child, and ten years ago during the summer they spent together, Raku told her she’d look good in it.

All this time she’s treasured it because it was a connection to her distant mom, but it also connects her to Raku, which combined with her current feelings for him, lends Chitoge an extra layer of destiny to their reunion ten years later.

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With that, Hana tells Chitoge to be a good girlfriend and go to the one who made their wonderful evening of reconciliation possible. Raku really worked his ass of this week like none other, so Chitoge doesn’t wake him up, but puts his head in her lap and enjoys the warmed of the guy she loves.

As for Raku himself, Hana doesn’t offer any revelations about his locket, but does figure out they’re pretend-dating, and wonders out loud if his feelings are really a sham. We know they’re not, and Chitoge’s certainly aren’t, but it’s more complicated than just that, especially in a post-credits scene with Kosaki expressing her relief to Ruri that Raku and Chitoge didn’t really spend the night in a hotel. Kosaki isn’t the best girl right now, but Raku likes her a lot too, so the battle is far from over.

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Nisekoi 2 – 03

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After a brief detour with Tsugumi last week we’re back to Chitoge. Specifically, Christmas is coming around, and she’s not particularly worried about how to spend it with Raku or the rest of her friends or anything else. Rather, her mind is preoccupied with the impending arrival of her mother, Kirisaki Hana, who is so busy Chitoge only sees her about once a year. Still, from Raku’s perspective, the fact she makes it a point to come ever Christmas Eve means her mom can’t be all bad.

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His ridiculously easy defense of Hana would soon be thrown in his face, as Hana is, for all her corporations and billions of dollars and imposing aura, is an emotional deadbeat. Her first question to her daughter is “how old are you”, and while Raku knows Chitoge is wearing the red ribbon her mom gave her years ago, all Hana tells her to replace the ratty thing.

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When her umpteenth secretary keels over from over-work (clearly she isn’t even the best manager of people, if she expects everyone to go at her literally peerless pace) Hana conscripts Raku as a kind of test to see if he’s worthy (with the promise of a five-star hotel suite for him and Chitoge to spend Christmas Eve if he succeeds).

Raku is a capable fellow, so he manages to get by by the skin of his teeth. When he finally gets a break he calls Chitoge up, worried she may be feeling down. After spending the day with Hana, he feels she should try being upfront about wanting to see her, not Raku, on Christmas Eve.

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There’s no inner monologue mention of Chitoge’s present feelings for Raku, and at least on the outside this week she tries to keep a distance from him in the affection department, but it’s nice to see that even in an episode where her love life is on hold due to family issues, Chitoge still can’t help open up to her real/fake boyfriend, and is clearly heartened and grateful by his advice.

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But the pace of this episode just didn’t indicate to me this was going to be resolved with a nice happy lovey-dovey ending with Chitoge and her mom. Chitoge tries to grab hold of the swirling tornado that is Kirisaki Hana, but ends up recoiling her hand, burnt by the sheer winds. Chitoge could maybe be clearer and more emphatic, but her mother cuts her off and hangs up, leaving her feeling like just another of her thousands of twenty-second calls with underlings.

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Raku is there in Hana’s office when she rejects her daughter, and gosh bless him, he braves her wrath to call her out. Hana’s noblesse oblige self-defense is thin, and a little pathetic. Sure, there’s no one else who can do what she does quite the way she does it, and she’s needed everywhere all the time, but she’s also the only mother Chitoge has, and Chitoge needs her most of all.

If Hana’s corporate empire is so delicate that a month or a week or even a full day in which she’s not intricately involved in every facet of it will cause it to collapse, then it’s not much of an empire, is it? I get it; she had Chitoge when she was very young; maybe a part of her sees her as a mistake; a living breathing symbol of the failure she narrowly avoided. But I want to think somewhere in that cold, micromanaging heart of hers there’s some genuine love mixed in with that bitterness.

Still, Hana doesn’t deserve a daughter like Chitoge. She deserves Xanthippe Lannister Voorhees. Well, Xan’s “bad-girl” persona, anyway.

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Nisekoi 2 – 02

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Unlike the kind yet shy Onodera and the confident, aggressive Marika, Tsugumi and Chitoge are actually pretty similar characters, with strong tsundere tendencies. But while Chitoge seems to be coming to terms with the fact she has real feelings for Raku, Tsugumi is still in denial like a past version of Chitoge, but with the added wrinkle of guarding the girl who is with the guy she likes.

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Tsugumi is a professional, so she can live with Chitoge and Raku as a false couple, especially since she’s unaware of Chitoge’s own feelings for him, leaving us with a love triangle in which Chitoge has the distinct advantage. But it’s also because of Tsugumi’s profession, and her past in America, that Raku ends up in the middle of a different triangle: one of score-setting and acknowledgement. Tsugumi’s challenger: her fellow hitman and former partner, Paula McCoy.

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Paula has been watching Tsugumi for a while now, and believes she’s gone soft, and has come to finally beat the girl who always beat her in jobs, pay, efficiency, and everything else one keeps score of in the hitman business. She also rightly suspects Tsugumi likes Raku, though considering Tsugumi’s reactions, Paula would have to be pretty dumb not to suspect that!

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But Paula sees Raku, and guys in general, as Tsugumi’s kryptonite, and gets her to accept a challenge before she knows what it is: whoever steals a kiss from Raku wins, and if Paula wins, Tsugumi goes back to the U.S. Cue suspension of disbelief, because we all know Tsugumi isn’t going anywhere in the second episode.

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I kinda also suspected neither Paula nor Tsugumi would actually lock lips with Raku, who aside from delivering some solid compliments to Tsugumi early in the ep, has very little to do other than not get shot by the resulting spray of bullets. Sure enough, Tsugumi gets Raku into position but can’t pull the trigger on the  only weapons that matter in this challenge: her lips.

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Paula gets away and ties Raku up in an abandoned warehouse (why is no one renting that place?!) where Raku tells Paula flat out he doesn’t want his treasured first kiss to happen under such circumstances, and even though Paula claims to not care when, where and with whom her first kiss is with, Raku protests for both their sakes.

The debate gives Tsugumi time to stew in the suffocating dread of knowing somewhere out there Paula might be kissing Raku, the guy she likes even if she won’t admit it to herself or anyone else, until she finally blows, instantly  pinpoints Paula’s hideout, and scared the bejesus out of her by fully unleashing the “Black Tiger”.

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With Paula thoroughly subdued, all that stands in the way of Tsugumi’s victory is that kiss, and she creates a workaround by touching Raku’s lips than her own, thus “stealing a kiss from his lips” without her lips ever touching them. Paula is in no position to protest, scared as she is Tsugumi might do to her what she did to a giant concrete pillar (don’t mess up that cool warehouse!)

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Tsugumi may be aethetically the most masculine of Raku’s girls, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have an adorable feminine side, nicely demonstrated on her good-winner lap, as she embraces, comforts, and praises Paula, giving her the acknowledgment she wanted all along.

Before returning to the U.S., Paula asks Tsugumi if she’s really okay with Raku dating the young mistress, and Tsugumi is responds with a very professional, warm domestic bodyguard smile, claiming not to know what Paula’s talking about. It’s kind of sad, but what else can Tsugumi do right now?

Paula discovered a lot more sides to the Black Tiger she thought she knew, and also learned that her skills haven’t dulled; on the contrary, she’s tougher than ever. And part of that toughness is having to perform all her official duties while bearing the pain of not being in Raku’s crosshairs. I’m sure Paula will root for her, and this week at least, I was in her court, too.

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Nisekoi 2 – 01 (First Impressions)

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To be honest, I didn’t NEED a second season of Nisekoi, but this first episode gradually sucked me in and now I’ve totally bought in anew, emerging late as the best striaght-up romantic comedy I’ve seen this Spring. I accomplished this by delivering more of what we loved about the first season, but also by subverting expectations along with Chitoge’s.

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The premiere also struck a good balance between re-introducing the series premise, and later focusing on one girl exclusively. I say “good” because the first third of the episode was a high 7, tops. The locket is back in play as a plot device, but it inexplicably still can’t be opened, which seemed a bit of a cheat. In any case, the significance of its contents have grown far less important compared to the development between the various characters.

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I preferred if the show moved on from the damn locket, and to its credit, it does at least move on in this episode. CHITOGEISTHEBESTGIRL is a popular refrain on the interwebs, and after a Chitoge showcase like the final two-thirds of this episode, it’s pretty damn hard to argue with that group of smushed together words.

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We’re given unfettered access to every thought and insecurity in Chitoge’s strawberry blond head, from her newly-acquired self-honesty with the fact that yes, she is in love with Raku, to the anxiety and suffering she endures trying to get Raku to notice changes she makes to her appearance in order to engender compliments.

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She’s well aware, as we are, how dense Raku can be about such things, and she was hoping against hope that he’d surprise her, but it’s nothing doing. The episode also does a great job accentuating her changes, be it her lip gloss, shampoo, nails, or ribbon (she thankfully stops short of wearing special panties…this ain’t Punchline!). This makes Raku look all the denser and more idiotic for failing to notice any of it…not to mention make us angry at him for frustrating Chitoge so.

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We wouldn’t be so pissed at him if we didn’t know exactly how hard Chitoge is trying and how futile it all is, which is underscored by Nisekoi’s trademark tremendous close-ups, showing Chitoge’s face in increasing levels of contortion and torture at the sheer cluenessness of this boy. When she asks “why did it have to be him”, I can’t help but agree with her, at least after all this. Chitoge may be being petty and superficial, but that’s her goddamn right, as far as I’m concerned. Call me old-fashioned if you must!

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Was Nisekoi simply going to torture Chitoge for the final two acts and keep the wall up between Chitoge and Raku? No, and that’s what really made this episode for me: the subversion of all of her expectations. It’s all well and good to paint a picture of Raku as a villainously clueless twerp when we’re constantly in Chitoge’s head.

But not only did Raku really notice the gloss and the shampoo and the nails, but he also noticed a lot more, like when she was hungry, or when she changed her lunch choice from beef to ham (he is a chef, after all). If anything, he’s acting more like a dutiful husband, a domestic partner; something even deeper than a casual boyfriend, since he’s so comfortable with her he assumed he was beyond dishing out embarrassing compliments.

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Perhaps he’s learned that even someone he can be himself with wants a little bit of superficial praise now and again, just for the heck of it…because, well…just look at that face! And maybe he’ll keep his eyes open in the future for things such as the new ribbon he failed to notice. Hey, nobody’s perfect. Neither was this episode, but it was pretty great nonetheless.

Now, let’s see if the show makes us shift our allegiance to another girl next week, as it tended to do its first season!

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Otorimonogatari – 04

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Koyomi orders Nadeko to put the talisman down, but she swallows it instead, reviving the serpant god with her body as its vessel. Fast-forward to the shrine, where Nadeko quickly dispatches Koyomi and Shinobu. She converses with the serpent – i.e. herself – about how she came to be in this situation. When she’s about to kill Koyomi, Senjougahara calls his phone. Nadeko answers and agrees to a half-year truce before killing her, Shinobu, and Koyomi, in that order. The episodes ends with a “trailer” for the battle that takes place in half a year, with Nadeko taking on Koyomi, Senjougahara, Shinobu, Kanbaru, and Hanekawa.

Monogatari likes to mess with our expectations. After an arc about time travel, Nadeko’s story starts at the climax, when she’s about to kill pretty much everyone we know and then, who knows, chill at that shrine for a few millenia. Things come full circle this week, but instead of a conventional resolution, the arc lobs another curveball. Most of this episode is simply Nadeko, in the moments just prior to her final victory, reflecting on how she got here. Koyomi and Shinobu just lie there bleeding as she talks to herself, and in the end, none of the contemplation really matters. She was just lost in thought.

Except that it does, because that amount of time she was ruminating ended up delaying Koyomi’s death just long enough to allow Senjougahara to call and postpone Nadeko’s plans. Had she not called, Nadeko would have killed Koyomi before killing Shinobu, which wouldn’t have been good for anyone (see last arc). And then the series switches gears again with that bizarre post-credits trailer, presented by Nadeko, who, at least from her own perspective, has that final boss battle in the bag. But that confidence might be premature. After all, she gave the enemy a half-year to prepare for her.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Otorimonogatari – 03

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Expecting to find Koyomi in his bed, Tsukihi is surprised to find Nadeko there. They have a heart-to-heart, in which Tsukihi suspects Nadeko takes comfort in persistently loving someone who will always be unattainable. Bored with that stance, Tsukihi snips Nadeko’s bangs. The next day at school, Nadeko is as different a person, confidently, angrily chewing out her teacher and classmates. She leaves school early, and asks Kuchinawa to tell her where his object of worship is so they can part ways quickly. The object is at Koyomi’s house – a talisman hidden in porn. When Kuchinawa asks her what she wants (other than her bangs back) in return for helping him, she asks if he can make Koyomi fall in love with her. Koyomi enters the room and says no.

Well, Nadeko’s “honeymoon” with Kuchinawa is over; and by episode’s end she wants a separation. After an immersive, somewhat wall-crumbling talk with (and haircut by) Tsukihi, Nadeko becomes a new person at school. To that end, Hanazawa Kana dispenses with her cutesy affectation and goes into full Bimbougami-ga mode, firing with both barrels. Nadeko shocks her teacher and classmates, but she, Kuchinawa, and we all know that this wasn’t a case of Kuchinawa taking over her mind and body. This was a look at the Nadeko within – prodded by the oddity and enabled by Tsukihi’s frustration with her. Disheartened by the realization all she’s been has been cute, in one day she upturns that persona – without even thinking.

We think she scares the crap out of herself, leading to her suggestion to split with Kuchinawa at the earliest possible convenience. Her desire for alacrity suits Kuchinawa just fine, since he’s after his object of worship…which just so happens to be in the house of Nadeko’s long-time object of desire. Once Kuchinawa offers to do more than simply restore her bangs, Nadeko contemplates doing what those bangs allowed her to do: take the easy way. Instead of looking straight at people and speaking her mind, she’d always look down and apologize. Instead of going after Koyomi’s heart the hard way (like Tsukihi wished she would), the shortcut tempts her. And then Koyomi catches her in his room. We’ll see if the jig is finally up.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)