The Rising of the Shield Hero – 04 – A Companion in Hell

At a royal gala celebrating the defeat of the latest Wave of Catastrophe, there might as well be a black cloud hanging over Naofumi. He doesn’t want to be there any more than anyone there wants him to be there. Raphalia tries to cheer him by offering him food, but when the Spear Hero…[checks MAL] Kitamura Motoyasu sees her, he challenges Naofumi to a duel on te spot.

Motoyasu doesn’t like how Naofumi is using a demi-human as his slave. Even if it’s legal in this world, he doesn’t think it’s right. Of course, he’s coming from a position of great ignorance in terms of the actual nature Naofumi and Raphtalia’s relationship. Myne eggs him on, and even when Naofumi refuses to fight Motoyasu, King Melromarc intervenes, ordering him to accept the challenge and arresting and gagging Raphtalia.

Clearly there are two sets of rules in this world: those Naofumi must follow, and no other rules. A duel between two people shouldn’t be something that can be thrust upon an unwilling participant, even by a king. But Melro straight up abuses his power, and nobody stops him, because he is king. All the while everyone, from the heroes to the assembled nobles, practically pelt Naofumi with a hail of insults and exhortations of disgust.

But if he has to fight, Naofumi is going to fight to win, something that might actually be possible since he’s leveled up and gained so many skills, including several that transform the shield into an offensive weapon. He has Motoyasu off balance until Myne interferes with a wind magic spell. The blatant cheating goes utterly unnoticed by everyone but Naofumi, but as a result he loses, and “Myne” makes sure to rub it in his face.

I put “Myne” in quotes because that’s not her real name; turns out she’s Princess Melty, the king’s daughter. Naofumi goes over in his head how he was set up every step of the way by Melty, using the power of her pops and manipulating Motoyasu into thinking Naofumi was The Worst. Even the other two heroes…[checks MAL] Kawasumi Itsuki and Amaki Ren saw that Myne interfered, making Motoyasu the loser.

But no one else will speak up about the cheating, and however ill-begotten the Spear Hero’s victory was, it was still a victory. That means Raphtalia’s slave contract with Naofumi is terminated. As she turns away to leave, Naofumi is consumed by some kind of miasma. But she doesn’t really leave; she admonishes Motoyasu for freeing her when she never actually asked to be freed, and tells him the truth: that Naofumi has only ever been kind to her, and she owes him her life.

Some time ago, in a moment of vulnerability when Raphtalia broke down, Naofumi was there to hold and comfort him. Now it’s Raphtalia’s turn to comfort him. He may think he’s in Hell, where no matter what he says or does, everything will be stacked against him, but that’s only the case if he completely disregards one very important fact: Raphtalia is his sword, and if need be she’ll follow him through Hell itself.

As she embraces Naofumi she levels up, growing into a grown woman in the process (a quirk of demi-humans and one reason they’re oppressed). The miasma is lifted, Naofumi rises, and is free to leave not with his slave, but with his ward, companion, and sword.

Motoyasu still suspects Raphtalia is somehow being brainwashed, but Ren and Itsuki don’t see how he can think that after hearing Raphtalia pour her heart out so publically. The King skulks away, either disappointed the plot didn’t work out or disappointed in his daughter (or both).

Best of all, when Raphtalia gives Naofumi a sandwich she made and he tastes it…he can finally taste it. It’s as if she broke the curse that made everything taste like nothing for him, either through a passive practical spell, or simply by being there for him when no one else was. Even if they got off to a rough start, he was there for her too. And so they’ve saved each other.

This was a standout episode that really got my blood boiling when things started again piling up against Naofumi, but things more or less worked out in the end. There was definitely some catharsis to him finally being cut some slack. I’m still not quite sure why Malty is so obsessively committed to making Naofumi’s life hell. It’s because she’s just, well, bad, that would be slightly disappointing. But what else could it be? She barely knows him.

After being so pissed off with the other heroes that I didn’t even bother to learn their names, Ren and Itsuki showed promising signs that their opinion of Naofumi was improving, or at least that they’d entertain his claims of unfair persecution. Perhaps that’s the first step towards the four heroes eventually working more closely together for a future Wave.

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TenSura – 12 – That’s a Lot of Bacon

Treyni the Dryad has come to confirm that an Orc Lord has risen. Not only that, his army of orcs are afflicted with “Starved”, a skill that allows them to gain the power and abilities of whoever they eat…including each other. This is an enemy that must be defeated with as few casualties as possible, lest they unwittingly refuel the army.

The Dryads know that no one of the groups of beings who dwell in the forest could take on the army, so they’ve reached out (through the potato chip-stealing Treyni) to the most powerful among them: Rimuru Tempest. Shion volunteers on her master’s behalf, but privately Rimuru is worried about losing. He’s never faced someone with an ability like his “Predator”, after all.

Souei volunteers to be Rimuru’s envoy with the Lizardmen, whose numbers Rimuru will need to achieve victory. Impressed by Souei’s intense Kajin aura, and the fact he’s only a mere messenger for an even more powerful master, the Lizardman Chieftain agrees to an audience with Rimuru in seven days’ time.

Before those seven days are up, however, everything gets messed up, all thanks to our overly-preening Chieftain’s son, Gabiru. Gelmud plants an underling named Laplace to easily manipulate Gabiru into staging a coup against his father, who has agreed to maintain a defensive stance but has alienated his younger comrades by doing so.

Gabiru gives those youngsters what they want: the opportunity to fight their enemies head-on rather than continue hiding in the caves. But since Gabiru imprisons his father and sister before hearing them out, he doesn’t learn about the orc army’s Starved ability until the orcs begin to eat their own dead. Rimuru was surely right to worry!

Violet Evergarden – 04

Violet Evergarden delivers yet another bravura character study, this time with a focus on Iris, the young, feisty, but not-yet-distinguished Memoir Doll. She’s so excited to get her first personal request—from her hometown of Kazaly, no less—she overdoes it, and ends up spraining her arm falling down some stairs.

That means the ghostwriter will need someone to ghostwrite for her—a ghostghostwriter, if you will—and newly-certified doll Violet accompanies her for that task. During a conversation on the train, Iris is miffed by Violet’s assessment of her hometown as lacking in valuable resources.

But what she doesn’t get about Violet in that moment is that she doesn’t have a mean or even passive-aggressive bone in her body. Violet actually considers Kazaly’s resource dearth a good thing, because it meant warring factions didn’t destroy it fighting over resources.

When Iris agrees that it’s good no one in her town was hurt, she then apologizes to Violet, who was hurt. Violet doesn’t see the distinction between Iris apologizing for what happened to her, and apologizing for being insensitive with her words.

Upon arriving in Kazaly, Iris is approached not by her client, but by her loving parents; her mother sent the request under a false name in order to lure Iris home. Her parents’ true intention to throw a birthday party, with many single young men invited, in hopes she’ll return home, get married, and settle down. Thus, Violet, on behalf of Iris, will type up invitations.

Among the invitees is Emmon Snow, whom Iris asks Violet not to invite. But the day of the party, Emmon shows up and offers his salutations, which throws Iris into a rage. She runs into the house and away from the party.

Violet is confused by Iris’ “change of condition”, so Iris spells it out: Emmon rejected her already. When Violet immediately relays this information to Iris’ parents, and Iris’ mother tells her they’ll find another, better match for her, Iris is furious at Violet for being completely incapable of understanding peoples’ feelings.

Then Violet issues an apology that’s as thorough and revealing as it is heartbreaking:

I’m sorry. I thought I’d come to understand them a little, but people’s emotions are extremely complicated and delicate. Not everyone puts all of their feelings into words. People can be contrary, or at times, untruthful. I can’t decipher them accurately. It’s proving all too difficult for me. I’m truly sorry.

Iris’ attitude towards Violet softens considerably, once she realizes the difficulties Violet faces and battles without complaint.

And despite Violet having parroted almost everything Iris has said to her, Iris opens up even more, giving her the details of her confession to Emmon and his subsequent, devastating FriendZone-ing. The words that “activate” Violet are “I love you.”

The way Iris used them, she deduces that it must take a great deal of courage to say them to someone, and she wonders if the Major felt the same way. Iris, in turn, learns that the Major Violet speaks of was the first person in her life to show her love. Then Violet suggests she help Iris write a letter to her parents, to tell them how she truly feels.

While last week’s letter from a sister to her troubled brother was so short and sweet it could have been a fluke, this week’s letter is no fluke. Violet strikes a balance of cold, straightforward facts and warm, resonant sentiments.

In the letter, Iris properly expresses her desire to return to the city and continue on the path she set out for herself. She is grateful to her parents for their love, and sorry for causing them to worry, but hopes they’ll give her more time and watch over her.

Iris narrates the letter, which is to say Tomatsu Haruka does, and she absolutely knocks it out of the park. By the time her parents finish reading it, they’re near tears; as am I. On the train ride home, Iris assures Violet it was a fine letter, and that her feelings reached those she loves.

Iris is given a bouquet before leaving: one of irises, which were in full bloom when she was born and which are in full bloom when they depart back to Leiden. When Iris tells Violet how her parents named her, she remembers the Major doing the same thing with her.

Gilbert spotted a solitary yet stalwart violet off in the distance, lit up by the sun, and decides that’s what his new charge will be called. It’s his hope she “won’t be a tool, but a person worthy of that name,” yet another episode-ending title drop that gave me all the feels.

P.S. On a lighter note: with the number of close-ups of feet, particularly Iris’, one could be forgiven for thinking this episode was guest-directed by Quentin Tarantino, well-known as one of Hollywood’s foremost foot enthusiasts.

Net-juu no Susume – 09

The penultimate NjS‘ cold open has a hell of a hook: Morioka taking a shower in Sakurai’s apartment! It’s safe to assume the episode to follow would tell the story of how such a seismic development in their relationship (“level up” in MMO terms) occurred. It’s also safe to assume that there’s nothing untoward going on; the two were caught in the rain and his place was closer seems about right.

But first, we go back to the aftermath of Sakurai’s confession that he’s both Lily and Harth, knows Morioka is Hayashi, and has been her beloved confidant and partner under her nose. At first, the news seems to break Morioka—it’s a lot to process, and her “CPU” overloads. She comes out of it to ask him when he first knew; he suspected when they started talking more in-game, but their “first date” was the confirmation.

In her head, Morioka is happy Sakurai rushed to her, lamenting how she might not have done the same, as she’s be so worried about upsetting the apple cart. The two have taken their next step, but neither has any idea how to proceed, nor are they remotely on the same page.

To whit: when Morioka tells Sakurai she wants them to “keep being good online friends”, she says it believing that’s all Sakurai will ever want, while Sakurai considers it a rejection—that she only wants to be good online friends and nothing else. Both are misunderstanding a great many things.

Sakurai’s belief he’s struck out is a weight that replaces the weight he just got off his shoulders with his confession, and he makes matters worse by not going online, leaving Morioka feeling lonely and unfocused in the MMO, as well as free to incorrectly interpret his motives.

Koiwai can totally deduce why Sakurai gets so uncharacteristically drunk on night, can reasonably conclude he’s misinterpreting things, and texts Morioka, asking if they can meet and talk something over.

That something is Sakurai, but Morioka never meets Koiwai in the park. Koiwai summons Sakurai into the park so he and Morioka meet. And that’s all he really has to do (though I wish he’d delete that photo of Morioka sleeping…that’s not cool, man!).

I’ve been up and down with Koiwai, but I never should have had any doubt that he’s a true and loyal friend to Sakurai and that Morioka’s a much better match for his blonde-haired friend…if only they could get together and relax…which he makes happen.

They relax, that is, until they go to the convenience store together and Morioka, already worried she looks like shit, gets even more self-conscious when the shopkeeper asks Sakurai if she’s his girlfriend, to the point of running off as the clouds gather. She believes, of course, that the shopkeeper meant “there’s no way she’s your girlfriend, right?” She was teasing, not condemning!

Sakurai chases her down, and after hearing her lay into herself and apologize for being seen with him, Sakurai sets the record straight: he doesn’t think like that at all. Then those clouds open up, he uses his coat to keep her dry(ish) and suggests they go to his place, which is just nearby, dry off, and he’ll cook some lunch.

Sakurai didn’t think, he just suggested this…and Morioka doesn’t think, she just agrees and comes up with him. As soon as they start thinking, she realizes she’s taking a shower, and he’s leaving out some of his clothes for her to change into. In other words, pretty boyfriend-girlfriend kinda stuff! I’m all for it. Hang in there, you crazy kids. Just one episode left!

Net-juu no Susume – 06

So, here we are: Hayashi and Lily IRL. Was it a setup by Koiwai? Apparently not; due to her Elite NEET status, Morioka got the day wrong. Little does she know that Sakurai is really Lily, which is the true reason he knew to where and when to “rescue” her from the wrong day.

Let’s not beat around the bush here: Sakurai is, like, totally into Morioka, and their date goes as swimmingly and is as enjoyable as when they’re hanging out in the MMO…maybe moreso! It’s just as enjoyable to watch, despite the fact neither party treats this as an official, “real” date.

I’m a little disappointed things are more complicated than Koiwai staging a setup to get the two together. That seems to be what he’s doing anyway, considering he stops joking around and directly asks Sakurai if he’s really okay with him going out alone with Mori-Mori tomorrow. I’d personally be fine with Koiwai graciously backing out of the triangle rather than keeping the heat on.

I was also a bit miffed that Sakurai made no serious effort to tell Morioka the truth about their being MMO partners. What could have been a built-in in with Morioka instead needlessly muddies the waters. There’s never going to be a good time to tell her, but he needn’t keep holding off the truth until it’s a unequivocally bad time; or worse, to late to salvage any kind of relationship.

Sure, I’m getting ahead of myself, but c’mon; we’re not honestly supposed to be rooting for Koiwai and Morioka. Still, while Koiwai teases both Sakurai and Morioka incessantly, he also shows that he genuinely cares about both of them, and isn’t putting on any act for Morioka (who is almost constantly selling herself short).

Morioka thinks the last two days to be almost too good to be true, but I was glad when she corrected herself earlier and said “thank you” instead of her usual unnecessary apologies. I also liked how she mentioned she might not have left her job if she had co-workers as kindhearted as Sakurai and Koiwai. This suggests that a part of her didn’t really want to resign, but it felt like the best way out of a bad situation.

In any case, it’s wonderful to behold Moiroka’s jubilation upon returning home and, more importantly, re-entering the MMO as Hayashi after two straight nights of going out and drinking as Morioka. It isn’t long before Lily shows up. Sakurai looked like he was in agony the whole night Koiwai was out with Morioka, but he’s decidedly relieved-looking upon her return to the MMO and his (well, Lily’s) side.

Still, I worry he’s being far too passive. Allow Koiwai go out with Morioka too much unchallenged, and there’s a good chance Koiwai falls for her and says “Sorry Sakura-chan, you had your chance!” Heck, that may already be happening! The only one who can do anything about this sad state of affairs is the one enduring them. And he’s only got four episodes left to do it!

Net-juu no Susume – 05

Last week, Sakurai seemed to have all but figured out that Hayashi is Morioka, and comes so tantalizingly close to asking her about it…only to back away at the last second. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!

Ah well, I guess it is bad online manners to guess someone’s identity out of the blue, and who knows how she’d react if he guessed correctly. But while he harbors serious doubts that such a series of coincidences could occur, his suspicions about Hayashi being Morioka IRL still remain (Also, the show apparently wasn’t quite ready to open up that can of worms).

Also, what’s this? Koiwai casually telling Sakurai he can come along? Saying the whole reason he arranged this was for his sake? This is the friend I knew Koiwai was; trying to jump-start a relationship that is stuck in, well, MMO-land (little does he know).

Morioka, meanwhile, tries to relax about the whole prospect of drinks with a guy, realizing it’s no big deal…but when she starts listing in her head all of the things she needs to do regarding her makeup, hair, and attire, she quickly becomes overwhelmed.

She’s snapped out of this state by the friendly clerk Fujimoto, who formally introduces himself. When he learns she and Morioka are on the same server, he comes right out and tells her his name…Kanbe. A guy finally does learn who “Hayashi” is…just not the right guy.

That being said, neither Kanbe nor Lilac (who doesn’t know, but partakes in a rhetorical discussion on the matter) would judge any friend for switching their gender online. Heck, Lilac’s friend at university plays a guy. Morioka is sorry to Kanbe for lying, but Kanbe tells her it’s up to her whether to tell anyone else, including Lily.

When Hayashi mentions he’s going out for drinks tomorrow, Sakurai starts to think maybe he isn’t Morioka, since she and Koiwai aren’t going for drinks until the day after tomorrow. When Hayashi asks Lily what to wear, he gives the best answer he can, only to be pressed further by Kanbe, backing Morioka up.

Kanbe and Lily get into a pretty heated argument about what length of hair is best, and Morioka settles on a medium length. The haircut, along with a new outfit matching Lily’s advice, runs Morioka a pretty penny, and she can’t help but itemize it in terms of loot boxes. She also realizes how rusty she’s become at things like applying mascara.

However, she gets herself made up, dressed, and together, and heads to the agreed-upon meeting place…on the wrong day. Koiwai is away on business until tomorrow, and Sakurai is worried. He’s worried Morioka got the day wrong, wait there, get shown up, and take it the wrong way.

So in the middle of a quest with the other members of the guild, Lily suddenly logs out, and Sakurai heads to the site of the date. I dreaded the fact he might not recognize her after her makeover, but thankfully he does notice her walking away looking sad, and calls out.

Now, this encounter doesn’t immediately, definitively prove to Sakurai that Morioka is Hayashi, nor to Morioka that Sakurai is Lily. But it comes pretty damn close! The question is, did Morioka really get the day mixed up, or did Koiwai arrange it so that only the two of them would meet?

If that’s the case, good-intentioned or not, and even if Sakurai’s a better fit for her, Koiwai will owe Morioka an apology and explanation for his machinations. After all, she expected, and waited an hour, for him, not Sakurai.

Re:Creators – 16

Those hoping for Re:CREATORS to deliver an action-packed episode after a two-week wait will be disappointed, unless their idea of action is more than half of the episode being spent lounging around a hot springs inn.

The reason everyone is at the retreat is to recharge and celebrate all their hard work, and is itself cause for celebration: it means that the Elimination Chamber Festival is finally, finally going to get started.

While there’s not a lot to note in the inn scenes, there are some nice character interactions between creators and creations alike, with particular focus on how the more time creations have spent in the human world, the more they come to appreciate it, as well as mundane things like the smell of the hot springs.

Also, Kikuchihara is a stern drunk.

At last, Nissan Stadium is filled up, Meteora and her comrades are powered up, and the grand premiere party of ECF is kicked off by animated versiosn Selesia and Rui’s real-life seiyus, Komatsu Mika and Amamiya Sora; a nice meta moment.

The team prepares and baits the birdcage, and Selesia is finally reunited with her Vogelchevalier (which I’m sure she prefers to a government-owned Toyota 86, as nice as that car is), and we cut to Altair and her crew, clearly ready to dive in.

Of course even promising, exciting build-up is just that: build-up. The pieces are in place, but we’ll have to wait yet another week to see how it all shakes out. I would be very surprised—and even disappointed—if everything goes according to the good guys’ plan.

Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 12 (Fin)

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The night before her fight with Ikki, Touka asks Shizuku to ask him to withdraw, a request she never ends up relaying. Touka makes the request out of concern for Ikki’s health after all he’s been through. But even if he doesn’t withdraw, she’s not sure she can be proud of the outcome, since it’s all been fixed by the adults.

But she can only control what she can control, which is having a fight she can be proud of, something Uta is sure Ikki wants as well. There may be one-dimensional adversaries in RKC, but Touka is most certainly not one of them, and no matter what the peripheral circumstances, she wants to fight Ikki.

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It’s nice to see even fleeting doubt in Touka, whom Ikki places on a pedestal as the paragon of self-assuredness and conviction, while he wallows in despair following his father’s quiet but devastating takedown of him. He’s never been lower, not knowing what he can do with his “empty worthless sword.” Never underestimate the power of a father’s candid words to his son.

At the main arena, Ikki’s battle with Touka is the Main Event, with a packed house, helicopters circling, and TV cameras rolling. It’s all been arranged, Gladiator style, to maximize Ikki’s humiliation should he be defeated, which Akaza believes is a foregone conclusion, after the “softening up” they did on him…and the fact if Ikki fails to show up in fifteen minutes, he forfeits.

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But Ikki is on his way, filthy and beaten and exhausted as he is, he still manages to remember his master’s advice: if he’s frustrated about the fact he’s the weakest, hold onto the feeling, since it’s proof he hasn’t given up. He always chose to take those words as the Gospel, and he’s not about to stop now.

Then he faints, but he wakes up to Shizuku smiling above him. She’s not going to tell him to withdraw from the fight; instead, she’s assembled all of the people rooting for him, who put their dreams in his hands. He’s responsible for taking their defeats and going as far as he can, for the sake of those dreams. Oh yeah, and Stella advanced to Seven Stars, so if Ikki wants to keep his promise, he must, too, even if the odds are extremely against him.

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The fight itself? It ends surprisingly quickly. After exchanging their mutual excitement for fighting one another and Ikki vows to “beat her strongest with his strongest”, he casts Itto Shura immediately, but puts everything he has into one swing, while Touka banks everything on her undefeated Raikiri. Like AsteriskRKC breaks out a special animation style for the singular occasion, but its battle is, as I said, far briefer, but still plenty exciting.

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Then there’s the traditional long pause before we know who won, but c’mon, we knew Ikki was going to win, right? …Right? Well, that’s what he does, he wins, in front of a crowd of thousands and an audience of millions around the world. Akaza tries one last-ditch attempt to deprive Ikki of what he is due (and, incidentally, his life as well), but Stella closes on him fast, blast him out of the way, and embraces Ikki before he falls.

He’s able to stay conscious long enough to publically propose marriage to her in front of those cameras, achieving what he had always dreamed to: present Stella as the one he wishes to share his life and soul with, in front of everyone who matters, along with everyone who doesn’t. The display is enough to move Stella’s father to call Ikki’s, insisting they no longer use their children as pawns in their games.

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Touka, who looked pretty rough after the fight, recovers along with Ikki, who regains his freedom and the admiration of his school. Touka names him school flag-bearer for Seven Stars, and wishes him well. No bad feelings here; he really did beat her strongest with his. Of course, even after the tournament, there’s still two more years of school, during which time Shizuku promises to teach Stella how to be the ideal Kurogane bride, having already assessed her fitness to join the family and determined Stella a worthy match for her big bro.

As far as I know, RKC isn’t continuing for a second season like Asterisk, despite the possibilities for further epic battles and romantic progression. That’s a shame, because I thought RKC was the better show. But I’m also not choked up about it, because the show built up the finale well and delivered a solid payoff. It truly reached the greatest heights of chivalry!

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 11

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I don’t believe the first and second halves of an episode of RKC have been as different as the the ones in this week’s outing. Things certainly start out foreboding with Ikki and Stella getting photographed kissing and the director warning him about the Ethics Committee chief Akaza (the gangster in the fedora we’ve seen in the shadows) snooping around, while promising she’ll protect him should the need arise.

But then the episode takes a turn for the lighthearted and fluffy, with Ikki and Stella officially meeting Toudo Touka for the first time, and learning she’s not at all the same person when not in the arena. She’s clumsy and highly susceptible to instances of fanservice, but also friendly, kind, and compassionate.

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To whit, she and the council spend a day with underprivileged children from a local orphanage, and Ikki and Stella are invited along; Stella because she’ll be a hit with the kids, and Ikki…well, Ikki helps out with the cooking. It lets him further observe what a generous and wonderful person Touka is (he also hears about it from the tiny white-haired council member, whose humanity Touka restored in his darkest hour).

To him, Touka’s trump card isn’t her lightning or her ability to essentially read the minds of her opponents. It’s a far less easily quantifiable power to make everyone around her better, and more importantly make them feel like they can be better, than their humble origins. Proving it and inspiring people every day is her source of strength, which makes Ikki ponder what his own source might be.

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And boy, is his strength tested in the second half, when things take such a dark and sinister turn, the very palette of the show dissolves into stark black and white with harsh spot color and the grainy texture of film, complete with multiple title cards documenting the passage of time.

After the newspaper with their kissing photo on it is circulated, Ikki is incarcerated by the Ethics Committee and forced to endure days, then weeks of interrogation before a tribunal led by Akaza (his fathers’ henchman), then locked in a room with no furniture and strange noises coming from the walls. The intent is clear: get Ikki out of the picture.

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On its face, his accusers’ case is ridiculously arbitrary and unsubstantiated; it’s all trumped up rumor and intrigue and public opinion. But that’s exactly what those accusers want, and those who control the levers of power and information have their way with Ikki; he never had a chance.

Back at school, Stella, Shizuku, Alice, and the newspaper girl read about Ikki still wining selection matches in captivity, but the cloud of rumors and looks and laughs and side comments eventually gets to Stella, to the point she wonders if it would be best for Ikki if she broke up with him, blaming herself for his treatment.

At this, Shizuku hits her with a splash of cold ultrapure water, and warns her she won’t forgive her if she betrays Ikki, who decided to willingly face his accusers out of his love of Stella, and his desire to be with her out in the open. Of course, with scandal in the air and the subtle truth of their relationship drowned out by innuendo, that may no longer be possible.

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Even so, Stella realizes she erred in considering a breakup as the solution. Ikki is fighting for her, in the arena and the courtroom, so she sends him a lock of her hair (relayed to him by the blood-puking teacher in a neat bit of guard misdirection) as a symbol of her solidarity in his efforts.

Seeing that Stella is still out there fighting for him and for them as well, he decides to swallow his pride and speak to his father Itsuki one-on-one; a request that is granted despite Akaza’s objections. There, Ikki plays the Good Son and tells him of his exploits and victories at school, hoping it’ll be enough for his dad to finally acknowledge his strength.

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Then the final hammer is brought down: his father has always acknowledged him, but only as a mediocre talent not deserving of instruction, who would only create a mediocre result. If he were to succeed, it would create hope in others who aren’t optimally skilled, putting strain on his organization. His father has the opposite aim of Touka: to keep those who are low low, “in their rightful place.” He considers Ikki one of those people who aren’t worth his time, effort, or love.

It’s a devastating blow to Ikki, who thought, perhaps unreasonably, that his father still had a loving bone in his body for him, but no. Further more, that Touka, who works to lift people up rather than let them keep being trampled on? She will be Ikki’s opponent in his 20th and final selection match. Akaza says if he wins, all charges will be dropped.

I know what my first reaction to this was: Maybe Touka will let him win? But I only thought that a viable possibility for a moment; there’s no way Touka would throw a duel. Still, if one is to believe Ikki’s dad, that Shizuku is the superior talent in their family, and she couldn’t come close to defeating Touka, what hope does Ikki have, who still doesn’t know his source of strength (maybe Stella, buddy?) and has just been crushed by his “father?”

First Half:
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Second Half:
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Oregairu 2 – 06

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Hikky, Yukino and Yui are again in a situation where they can sit in the same room together, stand each other, and even enjoy each other’s company somewhat without threatening to walk out or run for president. But the big question this week is: Now What? The Service Club may still exist…but why?

Shizuka originally paired Hikky and Yukino together to learn from one another, but have they finally reached an impasse? And has the club’s purpose of late only been to maintain the delicate balance of their love triangle with Yui?

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Yui never really feels like one of the “it crowd” despite their acceptance of her, so when Hikky stares at that crowd too long, Yui notices and points it out to him. Of course, after gaining perspective from Komachi, Hikky is a little more aware of how his methods repel others, and seems to be trying not to oppress others as much, even if he’s still quick to judge them in his head.

Walking to club together with Hikky makes Yui both excited and nervous, because it does upset that status quo she seems so intent on maintaining, even as the other two are wondering what comes next.

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When newly elected President Isshiki rolls in in a panic, it’s almost like the universe trying to throw the club a bone: Another job! Validation for existing! But Hikky doesn’t see her latest problem as something for the Service Club, and instead takes it on as a “personal” project. He’s taking responsibility for the situation he himself facilitated: Iroha is president even though she didn’t really want to be at first.

Hikky and Iroha’s conversation in the hall is very interesting, because this is something new for him: rather than two-on-one, he’s dealing with a single girl, who he’s starting to understand the more he interacts with her.

He notices the “sneaky” side of her, but it’s clear she’s being sneaky with herself as well: She gives the excuse that she didn’t go to her beloved Hayama with her problem because she didn’t want to bother him; but in reality, she doubts his competence, especially compared to Hikky, who has already proven himself capable of making things happen for her. Her agreement to work personally with him on this new problem is a ringing endorsement.

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Of course, by going it alone with Iroha, Hikky is further muddling or undermining the club’s reason for being…or maybe he’s clarifying it: the Service Club isn’t a “jack of all trades” operation, as he puts it: meaning he doesn’t want to include “regular student council consultation” in the clubs repertoire.

But the result of keeping these two things separate is that Yukino continues to maintain a “fine, whatever” attitude, even remarking that perhaps it’s better if the club doesn’t take on any more requests. She’s still dug into her “doing nothing” position, something her sister mocked her for. Is she content with this limbo of an outwardly-functioning but internally rotting club, even though on its present course it will surely die?

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Hikky is certainly invested enough in Iroha that he has a pretty wide berth in which to compartmentalize the existential issues of the club in favor of helping the prez on his own. And while Iroha strongly rejects him again without a hint of nuance, even in her rejection spiel she admits her heart “fluttered for a moment”. When Hikky is with Iroha, he’s focused on Iroha, and the larger problems in his social life fade away. They’re dancing a delicate dance.

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As for Iroha’s problem: partnering with another high school for a Christmas Event? It’s a vehicle for hilarious comedy, as the other school fancies themselves a corporate board, whose discussion sounds good and thoughtful on the surface, but is mostly…no, entirely meaningless double-talk, accompanied by overly zealous hand gestures. Never has so much been said without anything beind said! SO many absurd quotes. What’s scary is that this is how people actually talk in the corporate world.

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And yet, Hikky not only sticks with Iroha, but comes back for another round the next day. Each time, he takes the grocery bags Iroha is carrying; a classic gesture of easy chivalry that both he and Iroha acknowledge…and yet she still seems moved by it, and with Hikky’s devotion to her in general. He probably isn’t the guy she saw herself someday falling for, but she can’t argue that he’s coming through for her. He’s just as “sneaky” as she is to him.

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Hikky can’t help but be drawn in and try to play by their rules. He ends up impressing the other school officials with his word salad, but confusing both Iroha—and himself! Meanwhile, Iroha’s Veep and underlings seem to have a problem with Iroha, but it’s not being communicated, so the council’s rot festers as the other school fizzes and pops with vapid enthusiasm.

In an interesting move, his old crush Kaori just happens to have tagged along with the council as he did with Iroha, being a student at the school they’ve partnered with. Kaori’s interactions are always eye-opening and a little uncomfortable, but they’re also unique, like Hikky’s interactions with Iroha, Komachi, Haruno, and Yui. And unique is always good!

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It’s refreshing and not even that surprising that someone like Kaori let the unpleasantness of their last encounter slide off so easily and she’s back to interacting cordially with him like nothing happened, because nothing that did happen really affected her or her friend that much.

It’s also interesting that as teflon-y as Kaori is, she’s still perceptive enough to see what’s going on with Hikky and Iroha, even if they don’t quite see it yet: she assumed he’d moved on from Yukino or Yui and is now going after Iroha. And you know what? Maybe he has! And when he mentions he’s in the “Service Club”, Kaori LOLs at the wishy-washy absurdity of such an organization, even breaking out her first “seriously!” of the day.

Hikky understands Kaori’s reaction, and can’t blame her for it…but for him it’s no laughing matter—It’s his life.

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Oregairu 2 – 05

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This week, Hikky has a lot of work to do, much of it damage control he knows he’s been holding off too long. Last week’s bleak scene of two siblings in the dark turned out to be the perfect opportunity for Hikky to get the easy stuff out of the way: reconnecting with his little sister.

Komachi forgives him far more readily than anyone else will, because of her fifteen years of living with him, she’s learned, unlike Yukino, that there are things about people you can’t change, and in time they grow endearing. Love is acceptance of those things. Far more than wanting him to change his ways, Komachi just wants Hikky to talk to her about what’s troubling him.

The cold open thaws the atmosphere, and the scene with the siblings that follows is a masterclass in familial dialogue. It also serves to throw us, the audience yearning for something positive, a much appreciated bone.

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Hikky may not be able to put into words why he wants the Service Club preserved, but he doesn’t need to: Komachi wants it preserved too, which means he has a new mission, one that’s more important than Iroha’s, because it’s from his sister. Fulfilling it means preventing Yukino or Yui from winning.

His need for counsel coincides with the alignment of all his allies not involved in the current unpleasantness, starting with Zaimozuka, whose even greater isolation from normal school society is expressed by the fact he spends his lunch breaks in the library.

Komachi, appreciative of Hikky working hard, ends up assembling Kawasaki and Saika, and when the former is asked to come up with a list of good candidates for president, she makes sure to include him seriously, even though he has zero chance.

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The counsel helps Hikky decide what to do, which is to double down on his interpretation of Iroha’s true desire: to preserve her “brand image” by avoiding a “high-risk, low-return” commitment like StuCo president, along with her desire to get closer to Hayato.

With some Facebook-hacking help from Zaimozuka, he’s able to assure her the backers she needs to win the election, while assuring her she’ll not only be protected from the sting of failure because she’s only a first-year, but will also be able to avoid failure altogether by reaching out to Hayato for support, giving her the in she needs.

I’ll note that he doesn’t include Hayato or Miura Yumiko in on his plan, but they’re not his clients on this: Komachi and Iroha are. And Iroha agrees with the plan, after all but proving Hikky right about her persona by delivering a super-quick boilerplate rejection the moment she suspects he’s flirting with her (which he isn’t trying to do).

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While Iroha is convinced of his plan, the truth is even with the extra backers he’s not sure she can win. Getting her to go along with it was only the first step in his primary mission given to him by Komachi; a mission that means more to him as well: keeping the club together. Hikky uses the satisfaction of Iroha’s contract as a bluff to get Yukino and Yui to drop out of the race, assuring Iroha’s victory and the preservation of the club.

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It’s a gamble, but it works. Yui is elated Hikky worked so hard for her sake to protect the place she treasures the most, and because he worked in silence and secrecy, without exposing himself, she has cover to forgive him for his methods.

It’s not so much “I don’t want to know” or “out of sight out of mind” (though it’s partly both); it’s more that like Komachi, Yui is accepting of the way Hikky is and always will be. Or as Hikky puts it: “So long as a problem doesn’t cause problems, it can’t be called a problem.”

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The fruits of his hard work are seen almost immediately once Yui expresses her approval and accepts his apology. She affectionately fixes his scruffy hair against his protests, and moves her chair right next to him. I don’t want to pick sides, and all three friends are partly to blame for their predicament, but I’d wager Yui was suffering the most with the prospect of losing the club, and even she admits it would indeed be lost even if she won.

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So Iroha wins, and is already using the very willing Tabe as her personal assistant in setting up the office when Hikky congratulates her and asks her to make it a good school, what with Komachi attending next year. Iroha takes this as another attempt at hitting on her, which creeps her out.

I must say Iroha wasn’t what I expected this season: she’s better. I thought she’d be a new love interest and wedge between Hikky and the other two, but thanks to her cooperation he was able to save the club and make up with Yui without the kind of undue damage to himself the girls hate.

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So what about Yukino, the hardest nut to crack? Well, that remains to be seen. This wasn’t a total victory (it couldn’t be one, not even halfway in): the club is saved for now, but the smell of tea no the room. What worked for Komachi and Yui doesn’t quite work for Yukino. Her line as she agrees to bow out of the race and then leaves the clubroom is “You thought you understood, didn’t you?” I take this to mean Hikky thought she was running to fulfill the client’s request.

Then I thought back to the beginning of this episode, with Hikky and Komachi making up so easily because of their unique status as siblings, and I thought of Haruna rattling Yukino’s cage. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of Yukino’s continued dissatisfaction is that even though Hikky got the job done without resorting tot he most distasteful tactics imaginable, he also kept her from meeting the challenge set by her big sister.

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That challenge was to leave the service club and take her rightful spot atop the school, where she can be of the most help to everyone in accordance with her noblesse oblige. A future with Yukino as president, Yui as Veep, and Hikky in some unspecified utility role without an official title, is also a possible future Hikky imagines while walking with the outgoing president, who would have liked to see such a future.

Rhetorically speaking, “strictly rhetorically,” Hikky wonders if life would have changed had he taken a different route with the election. Same people, same dynamics, only a different room, a different organization, and a Yukino who is more fulfilled as President, and who has answered Haruna’s challenge. But Hikky took a different route, which had its benefits and its consequences. We’ll see what the latter consist of.

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Oregairu 2 – 04

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Wow, so much to unpack here. Where to begin? Well, for starters, by episode’s end, the club has set itself on the path to total destruction, though perhaps it was on that path all along, with Hikky’s false confession to Ebina just the latest but possibly last straw.

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Both in exchange for helping out with Ebina (thus keeping his circle of friends close) and because he thinks Hikky is too harsh on himself, Hayato sets up a rehabilitation project for him, the true intentions of which Hikky fails to discern throughout most of their double date with the girl who likes Hayato and Kaori. Mostly, he just scowl-grins and bears it as Kaori laughs at everything Hikky says and does.

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Whether due to coincidence or the fact Hayato public invited Hikky in the classroom, all their other classmates seem to have gravitated to the same mall. Bumping into Iroha probably wasn’t any more intentional than bumping into Yumiko and Ebina, but it serves Hayato’s desire purpose to show Hikky in a different light to their unenlightened dates.

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Iroha approaches Hikky like a normal friend, not some weirdo like Kaori thinks he is, but Hikky genuinely senses Iroha is annoyed he’s out playing around rather than working on her problem. I’m glad the show doesn’t always put what Hikky thinks characters are really saying to him in subtitles, but in this case, it could serve as a useful mirror to Hikky: Not everyone can interpret Iroha like this, which means they can’t interpret him either.

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What they see is what they believe, and how they judge. Not that’s it’s right, it’s just the way some people are. Hikky is more enduring than enjoying this double date, so it surprises him when Hayato suddenly calls out Kaori and the other girl on their surface judgement-based selfish comments. They can think what they want about Hikky, but that doesn’t mean he wants to hear about it.

Then Hayato takes his heroic project to the next stage, bringing Yukino and Yui into the mix under false pretenses. Hayato called on them to serve as props to prove to the other girls there’s a lot more to Hikky than they’re getting.

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But the very reason Yukino and Yui work as props is because Kaori makes a surface judgement based on their fabulous good looks and Hayato’s praise. He also makes sacrifices of Kaori and the other girl; whether they’re sorry or not, this more a demonstration for Hikky than for them.

Once the dates bail, Haruno enters the mix, pushing all of Yukino’s buttons as only an older sister can: it’s a harsh, biting exchange, in which I wasn’t certain if Haruno was expressing genuine resentment or simply rattling Yukino’s cage. Knowing this show, all of the above. Did she plan this whole thing with Hayato?

When Yukino and Yui take off, Haruno turns to Hikky, pointing out his “cute” tendency to always assume everyone has evil intentions. To be sure, Haruno seems to get off putting people in situations they can’t handle and watching what happens.

Then Haruno leaves, and it’s just the two guys again. Hayato will surely get backlash for his dressing down of their dates, something both Hikky knows could be a problem and Hayato is pissed about. But at the same time, he makes it clear to Hikky: he did what he wanted. He isn’t going to stand around and let people undervalue Hikky, even if Hikky has no intention of defending himself.

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The next morning, Hikky has to learn from Shizuka, and then Yui from Hikky, that Yukino has indeed challenged her sister’s words by deciding to run for president. Or was that something she always considered doing, and Haruno only gave her the nudge she needed? Either way, if she’s in it to win it, and wins, the club will suffer and possibly end altogether. Whether that’s okay with Yukino or not, the fact is, things can go on the way they are. She won’t let Hikky sacrifice himself to the whole school. Even if she hates the way he does things, better for her to do them than him.

Yui desperately catches up to Hikky to walk home with him, for probably the first time in a while. There, she delcares she’s running for president too. If she wins, she won’t take it as seriously as Yukino, and the club will survive. And she needs the club to survive, because an imperfect, even painful situation is better than a void. So she’ll beat Yukinon.

Hikky calls that a selfish decision, which is tiramisu-rich coming from someone who thinks the rest of the world cares about him enough to hate his guts. All three are being selfish, trying to pull this election in a direction that serves their needs, all looking for the same answer, but being put off by their methods.

As for Yui’s confession that she likes this club…that she…likes…it…is another attempt to get her feelings to reach Hikky, and her tearful close-up and darting eyes sell the hell out of it, even if Hikky’s reaction is predictably blah. I am officially on Team Yui! Screw those other guys for making her so sad.

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Speaking of voids, the second bookend of the episode with Komachi is almost a grim portent. These two siblings are so distant now, they can’t even exist in the same room with the lights on, let alone speak. It’s a void of Hikky’s making, utterly shutting her out of his life when she’s so keen to help. Komachi is no Haruno, but Hikky is now a feral self-consciousness monster lurking in his dank lair, and Komachi is treating him as such, staying away lest he lash out.

But who will he endorse? Or will he run himself? Heck, let’s through Hayato and Ebina in there, too! As we know, any problem a high schooler faces can be solved by running for StuCo President.

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