Asagao to Kase-san. (OVA) – The Sun is Always Shining Above the Clouds

Asagaro to Kase-san, an OVA released in the Summer of 2018, is a concise but solid piece of serious yuri storytelling in the vein of Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto, and Sakura TrickIt strikes that delicate balance of covering a fair amount of material while never feeling like it’s trying to do too much. The stakes never stray from the future of a couple of young lovers who start dating in their final year of high school.

That they’re both girls, living in relatively conservative Japan, never comes up, because this isn’t about whether they can be together or not. It’s about their mutual love, plain and simple, and how they weather other challenges to remain together, a state neither of them at any point wish to leave.

Mild-mannered gardening fanatic Yamada Yui had never dated anyone before she and the athletic track star Kase Tomoka got together, but they’re together before the opening credits, which is a heck of a timesaver! Suffice it to say they liked each other to the extent they were equally enthusiastic about becoming a couple.

That mutual enthusiasm paid dividends, as before long the like turned to love. There’s never any doubt that Kase is as smitten with Yamada as vice-versa, even if the latter tends to feel inferior due to Kase’s social and literal stature at school. There are also times when she allows Kase to swept up by others, often interrupting potential time alone.

But while Yamada comes to realize she’ll have to be more assertive at times, the fact that Kase is so popular isn’t a problem for her; it serves to validate why she loves her so much in the first place: Kase’s a surpassingly kind and gregarious young woman.

In any case, in moments when Yamada might feel lonely due to indulging Kase’s natural gregariousness, Kase’s own desire to be alone with Yamada means it’s never that long before she seeks Yamada out, both grateful for her patience and relieved to have in her a kind of haven.

Time with Yamada is special to Kase; more special than time with anyone else. That’s whether they’re on an intimate nighttime phone call, alone together in Yamada’s room raising the temperature a bit, or on a beach in Okinawa making up and out after Yamada gets a bit too “surprised” seeing Kase nude.

The biggest threat to their relationship isn’t the fact that they’re both girls, which is refreshing. Instead, like any other relationship, it’s the unrelenting march of time and the changes it brings. Kase is on the fast track to Tokyo U on an athletic scholarship; Yamada’s inertia seems to be keeping her tethered to her hometown, commuting to the local college from home.

Especially when Kase calls to offer to turn down the scholarship and she essentially tells her not to, Yamada is on the cusp of relegating their relationship to a long-distance affair, with visits very few and far between. It’s only on the very day Kase leaves for Tokyo that Yamada wakes up and realizes she doesn’t want that at all. She wants as much Kase as she can get, and so she runs and keeps running until she’s in Kase’s arms aboard the Shinkansen.

How will Yamada manage to get into a Tokyo school? Ehh, she’ll figure it out! The most important thing is that they’re together, like they want to be. They’re also on the same wavelength; Kase really didn’t want to leave Yamada, but felt trapped by the circumstance of her athletic excellence. Fortunately for her, Yamada wasn’t going to let something like that cause what they had to fall apart.

Backed by gorgeous animation and superb voice work from Sakura Ayane and Takahashi Minami, Asagao to Kase-san delivers an elegant and captivating romance between two girls for whom simply no one else would do, and whose bond managed to withstand the winds of change. Give it a watch and your heart will grow at least three sizes!

Bloom Into You – 13 (Fin) – Right Now Is Different

As she visits her family grave, Touko remains determined to “see things through” and put on the stage show in her sister’s place. And that’s all fine and dandy…for the present. But what about when the show is over? Who is she, who does she become once there’s nothing left to do in her sister’s name?

Miyako’s Café Echo is a quiet and intimate place that draws both Yuu and Kanou (to start the process of re-writing the play’s ending) and Touko and Sayaka. While the latter two are there, Miyako and Sayaka share some knowing glances and phrases, and Sayaka finally asks Touko about her sister: What was she like?

Touko is somewhat hesitant to answer, as she’s realized the Mio she knew wasn’t the whole picture. Sayaka responds that just because what she knew of Mio wasn’t complete doesn’t mean that part wasn’t a real and legitimate part of who she was—and a part about which Sayaka wants to hear.

Talking about her sister puts Touko back in a forlorn, uneasy state, and she just wants to see Yuu at times like that, to simply exist with her in the right now. Yet even though she’s been told she’s allowed to “indulge herself” Touko still hesitates to send a text…until Yuu sends her one first, inviting her to hang out.

Just that one simple little text completely changes Touko’s right now. Back at the cafe, Riko arrives, and Miyako asks her if she prefers men or women; a kind of loaded question. Riko admits, she’s not especially attracted to women, but right now, she’s dating one: Miyako. Life is full of exceptions, contradictions, and imperfections. They can or can’t be explained, and can only either be accepted or not.

Yuu and Touko go to Aqua World and have a blast, and I couldn’t be happier. I’d much rather the series end on a lovely date that explores where they’re at in their relationship right now, rather than focus on the festival and stage play. I’m far less interested as a play than as a mirror to who Touko “is.” I shouldn’t, then, be surprised that Bloom Into You gave me what I wanted.

What I also didn’t want, and thankfully didn’t get, was a confession or “awakening” from Yuu. What I did get was Touko explaining why she says I love you so easily and often to Yuu. Regardless of how Yuu reacts, simply saying it makes Touko feel relieved. Relieved that she can actually fall in love with someone, something the sister she knew never did (as far as she knows).

That means that she’s not falling in love simply to check off another box on the list of things her sister did. It’s something that happened to her, Touko, organically and without influence. And however much of who she is is only a lie or an emulation of Mio, the part of her that likes Yuu is most assuredly neither. It’s real, and it’s relieving.

She admits that sounds self-contradictory, but Yuu further comforts her by stating what she believes: that it’s perfectly fine to be self-contradictory. To be so is to be human.

While outside before the penguin march, Yuu starts performing the play, and Touko joins in once she realizes there’s no one else around. When Yuu changes some of her lines from the script, she says she’s improvising, that Touko follow suit, and that Kanou is changing things up because she wasn’t satisfied with the script as-is.

When the part comes when Touko’s character is apprehensive about which person she should choose to be based on the different stories she’s received, Yuu asks why she needs to make a choice at all. “I don’t know anyone aside from ‘you'”,  Yuu’s nurse character says. It’s not like Touko’s character has no memories, she’s gained enough during the hospital stay to lay out the groundwork of who she is right now, not who she might’ve been.

The penguin show interrupts their rehearsal, and the two continue to enjoy the aquarium. Eventually Yuu takes Touko by the hand and leads her through the transparent underwater tunnels, to other exhibits, and to the gift shop. Touko wishes this would never end, but the exit approaches … they’re there already; too soon for her taste.

On the train home, both Touko and Yuu are sleepy and close to drifting off. Yuu tells Touko she can, and she does, leaning her shoulder and head against her. In idea for the title of Kanou’s play comes to Yuu: “Only You Know.” She takes the sleeping Touko’s hand and draws nearer, gently waking her and saying they need to change trains…

…And that’s it! Such a quiet, delicate ending full of warmth and love. Do I wish we got to see more of Touko and Yuu’s relationship blooming, and possibly Yuu eventually figuring out that what she feels for Touko is indeed a kind of love? Sure, and in that regard, this series has left us with naught but an elipsis, and a second season has not yet been confirmed.

So Like Touko with her memories of her sister, we have to be content with what we have and the fact that it’s not the whole picture…though I hope we get a little more down the road.—sesameacrylic

Bloom Into You – 12 – Changing the Ending

Actors put draw from personal pain to express pain in their performances, but in light of what Ichigaya told her about her sister, the line between performance and real emotion is perilously thin. Sure, Touko blows everyone away with her line-reading, but they don’t know that almost all of those lines could be said about her!

Everyone, except for Yuu and Sayaka. But all throughout camp, just as Yuu’s affection for Touko seems to be growing, the combination of Touko’s promise to hold back and Sayaka assigning herself in charge of “looking after” Touko, you can see Yuu grow increasingly lonely and frustrated. Yuu knows that Touko wasn’t acting when talking about who the “real her” was.

After Sayaka dismisses Yuu’s concerns (and frankly doesn’t see the need to discuss it with a kohei at all), Yuu seizes an opportunity when she and Touko are alone and all but orders her to walk her home. She asks about Touko and her family’s further Summer plans. She stops at the railroad crossing and remembers the kiss Touko gave her.

Then, she takes the initiative once more. When Touko’s about to go her separate way, Yuu invites her to her room, and is honest about why: if they part there, they won’t see each other for a while, and she doesn’t like that. She wants Touko to have more faith in her, for she’s holding up her end of the bargain, neither loving nor hating her. Touko accepts, but warns Yuu that she’s going to “indulge” herself.

What ensues is the steamiest scene between the two yet, and another demonstration of how Yuu is probably not being fully honest with herself when it comes to how she feels about Touko.

The show pulls no bush-league parent barge-ins; the two have each other all to themselves, and spend it on the bed until dusk. Kudos to the sound designer and the voice actors for the very immersive blowing fan, as well as the extremely subtle sound effect of the girls’ lips meeting. Touko’s flowing hair is also impressively handled.

During that time, Touko opens up to her about why she’s upset, just as she hoped she would. She expresses how lost and aimless she feels now that her idea of who her sister was might not be remotely accurate. Yuu asks why she needs to “become” someone other than who she currently is.

Again, Touko’s self-loathing surfaces in response. Assuming (perhaps wrongly) Yuu feels nothing for her, she questions why she’d stay the way she is. Then, after getting on top and kissing Yuu some more, Touko whispers in her ear “Don’t fall in love with me. Because, you know, I hate myself. And I can’t be in love with someone who likes the things I hate, right?”

Well, wrong, Touko! Staking her love entirely on the person she loves never loving her back just…that’s not how this works! That assumes Yuu’s feelings will never change no matter what, even as Touko insists upon changing into someone better than she is.  Like she can evolve, but Yuu can’t. It’s unfair, selfish, and utterly misguided. But it’s also what you’d expect of someone with Touko’s experiences.

Yuu agrees with me, in that just because you can logically explain why Touko feels this way doesn’t mean you have to accept it. And Yuu won’t. She yells “Senpai, you idiot!!” when they part, hoping Touko heard her. After spending some time alone with her thoughts, she calls Kanou: she wants to change the ending.

She runs to Kanou’s house to explain, and ends up drawing out the very reason Kanou was so frustrating with the ending as she wrote it (the girl ends up becoming the person her lover remembers).  It all comes down to why the character would pick that version of her: the motivations are totally couched in the past, rather than in the present duration when she’s lacked memories but gained insights from three different people.

The need to choose one and only one of the three version to “become” was always a false one; both Kanou and Yuu see this strongly implicitly. Realistically, there’s a fourth way to go, an ending where that false choice isn’t made. But Yuu doesn’t simply seek to change the play’s ending. She wants to change Touko herself; to somehow get her to see that there’s no single answer. She doesn’t want Touko to hate herself.

It may be selfish or arrogant (and her gaze into the stars of the mini-planetarium do give her a very imperious bearing), but it’s what she’s setting out to do. Hopefully, she’ll take a second at some point and figure out why she has to…though something tells me she already knows.

Bloom Into You – 11 – Working from Incomplete Blueprints

The StuCo summer rehearsal camp seems like a whole world of trouble for Touko and Yuu, not to mention Sayaka, and the three only grow more nervous and excited as the day turns to night and relatively normal StuCo operations switch to a bath and sleepover setting.

For her part, Yuu is committed to not letting herself get too flustered while in the bath with Touko (or at least not appearing as such), and Touko and Sayaka take her complete lack of hesitation in stripping down to be “going too fast.”

But once they’re in the bath together as a trio, they calm down, as all three know it’s just not the right environment to make a move, were a move to be made, due to the very presence of three of them. Were it just Touko and Yuu, or Sayaka and Yuu, or Sayaka and Touko, things might be different, but each serves as a firewall for the other, resulting in a less romantic and more collegial vibe, both before and during bedtime.

I particularly liked the three lying awake, wondering if the others were similarly awake, voicing to themselves the impossibility of anything happening that night. But while there’s perhaps a bit of frustration from being “blocked” by one another, most of what they feel is relief it’s the three of them. After all, they have a play to get down, such distractions are for another time…if they’re for any time at all!

With it thus established that no “first moves” will be made by any of the three, day two arrives with much less anticipation and suspense. But the day also marks the arrival of Tomoyuki Ichigaya to coach up the council. Not only is he in Hakozaki-sensei’s theater troupe, but he was a former student at their school, a member of the student council…and as such was close to Mio.

Kanno’s play is about a girl known as three different things based on who is remembering. Touko has spent so long trying to mold herself into a perfect replica of her sister Mio, she never stopped to wonder who Mio really was, beyond the physical manifestation of perfection she saw as a little girl.

She never considered that maybe what she knew of Mio was just one small piece of a much larger tapestry. Like the three people who know her character in the play, she’s working without the full picture she thought she had, which means she isn’t as perfect replica as she thought.

Indeed, according to Ichigaya, Touko has already surpassed Mio as a StuCo prez, and while he himself doesn’t have the full picture of Touko, we know that she’s been working a hell of a lot harder than he claims Mio worked. Mio seems to be someone who used the council as her own personal force of worker bees, using her charm to get them to do her bidding. And Ichigaya maintains that he and the others didn’t necessarily feel taken advantage of, since they genuinely liked Mio and it was fun being around her.

Still, this is a big blow to Touko, and she can’t hide how it affects her from either Yuu or Touko. Further, Touko can tell from just one little look from Yuu that she’ll be there for her, should she tell her what’s up. Touko wants to just melt into Yuu’s arms and bathe in her kindness, but is still worried about taking that kindness for granted too often, leading to it “drying up.”

Of course, as Yuu has said, that will never happen, but Touko holds back anyway. Instead, she sits back with Sayaka as the three kohais play with fireworks, content with their more old-fashioned sparklers. Sayaka goes first, asking about what she talked about with Ichigaya, and admitting she knows he was in Mio’s council.

Touko mentions the discrepancy between his memories of her sister and her own, and how she now feels lost now knowing she never had a “complete blueprint” to work from. Sayaka apologizes for not mentioning Ichigaya connection before, but Touko doesn’t blame her, doesn’t mind her knowing, and thanks her for worrying about her, which brings a bashful smile to Sayaka’s face. All the while, Yuu watches the two from afar, wondering what they’re talking about…and why Touko felt she couldn’t come to her.

Things seemed to slow down a bit this week, and while it may just be me noticing now, but some of the animation took a bit of a nosedive in quality, which was pretty distracting. Nevertheless, Touko’s Mio revelation is an crucial development going forward.

Bloom Into You – 10 – Holding Back

Koyomi’s script is complete, but she’s loath to hand it over to Yuu, since it’s her first. After taking possession, Yuu makes copies and gives one to Touko, who will play the main role of a woman with amnesia being told what kind of person she is by a friend, a family member, and a lover.

The only problem is they have three completely different ideas about who she is, creating a conundrum. After last week’s shed-anigans, Yuu breaks off from Touko to walk home with her friends, leading Touko to wonder if she’s being avoided because took things too far.

Touko also finds it pretty scary how Koyomi was able to craft a role that fits her so well: that of the “empty girl.” As for the other roles, Yuu plays her nurse, Maki her younger brother, and Doujima her friend. Sayaka plays her lover, which was designed to be a girl—another element of the play inadvertently drawn from life.

Touko also uses the student council meeting to announce a three-day, two-night study camp during the approaching summer break, at the school lodge designated for such things. While Touko is tutoring Yuu over donuts, she admits she’s considered “holding back” a little more, and not just due to the fact they’ll be sleeping in the same room in the lodge.

It’s that Touko doesn’t want Yuu to come to hate her. Yuu tells her she doesn’t have to worry about, but is also happy she worried. She later calls Touko by her name (with a -senpai added on), but apparently too quietly for Touko to hear. Touko also eats the donut Yuu wanted, once more showing how she has all the initiative in their relationship.

Yuu seems to want to initiate something—anything—but just can’t; not due to lack of enthusiasm for spending time with Touko. It’s almost like she’s afraid to lose the excuse of always being led around by the nose or taken advantage of. Not to mention, what if she proposes something to Touko and it’s rejected? Or perhaps more frightening, what if it’s accepted?

Much to Yuu’s surprise, Touko makes good on her promise to take things down a notch, by not calling or even texting Yuu the first days of Summer break. Yuu instead keeps busy by playing video games, minding the store, and one day, hanging out with her middle school friend and former softball teammate Natsuki. That Yuu isn’t hanging out with Touko irks Yuu’s late-to-rise sister Rei, who finds such a situation to be “dull”, even if their mother is oblivious.

Yuu may think she hasn’t changed, but all it takes is a day with her for Natsuki to conclude otherwise. Specifically, she always admired and sometimes envied Yuu’s ability to tolerate any situation or hardship—i.e. not crying after a tough loss. But after hearing Yuu go on so much about her senpai in the student council, Natsuki can tell she’s finally become “invested” in something, or rather someone.

Natsuki considered asking Yuu to join her at her high school and join the softball team there…and knew Yuu would say yes, but decided against it. While she misses Yuu, she’s glad her “hands are full” with something. Of course, Yuu doesn’t necessarily take Natsuki’s insights to heart, but that doesn’t mean they’re not spot on!

Shift to Touko, having a quiet dinner with her family, talking about her impending study camp for the play. Her father, unbidden to anyone, tells her “she doesn’t have to do this,” referring to putting on a play like her sister did. Touko quickly excuses herself—she’s doing what she wants to do, not what she thinks she needs to.

One thing she needs after that exchange is to hear Yuu’s voice, so after starting and cancelling various texts and staring at her phone, she finally closes her eyes and hits “call”…and Yuu answers. They talk about their days, and as they do, Touko says she knows, deep down, Yuu “doesn’t really care” about what’s going on with her, which couldn’t be less true.

Yuu may sound “indifferent” over the phone, but her body language on her bed—alert, smiling, hugging a pillow, playfully peddling her feet—tells a different story. Touko may not know it, but Yuu isn’t just a nurse dispassionately looking out for her. She’s invested. Her happiness is starting to tie into Touko’s. She appreciates Touko holding back, but doesn’t want her to do so too much.

Which is what makes the post-credit sequence with Touko so goshdarn heartbreaking. Book-ending a cold open in which Touko mentioned she was having “dreams of the past”, in what Sayaka says is simply Touko “dreaming about herself in the midst of remembering something.”

In this case, Touko dreams of hanging out with her big sister on the couch. Their mother asks one of them to go out to buy more tea; they play rock-paper-scissors and her sister loses, so she goes out…and never comes back. Touko nods off while awaiting her return, but wakes up to the chilling sound of sirens.

Then she wakes up in real life, pulls out a photo of her family with her sister, and voices again, out loud, her resolve to become her sister. There’s no “like” in there—she’s talking complete transformation with nothing remaining of whoever Nanami Touko was before her sister’s death. Assuming it’s even possible (or appropriate) for someone to dissuade Touko from such a goal, Yuu certainly has her work cut out for her. Hell, it sure left me in tears…

Bloom Into You – 09 – Ready, Set, Yuu

Sports Day has arrived, and the StuCo is so busy Yuu and Nanami hardly see each other, to say nothing of anything more. Just as Yuu is thinking about this as she’s leaving the storage shed, Nanami appears and the two go into the shed.

Yuu lets Nanami kiss her, but when Yuu pulls her off, Nanami agrees to behave until Sports Day is over, whereupon Yuu promises to give her a “reward” of her choosing: instead of Nanami initiating, Yuu will kiss her.

The Sports Day unfolds as one would expect: Yuu does her class relay, demonstrating she’s fast for a short kid, owing to her long-standing friendship with the far taller Akari. Yuu then gets to talk with Maki for the first time in a while, still adamant she has no feelings for Nanami despite his suspicions. She tells him she can’t fall in love with anybody, which in theory would make the two of them the same…but Maki doesn’t buy it.

There’s every reason to put stock in his doubt, considering how he’s basically carved out a life of observing relationships from afar rather than participating directly. As such, Maki has seen a lot of faces of both lonely and content people, and Yuu’s face looks lonely…too lonely for someone incapable of falling for someone.

Meanwhile, in a continuation of last week’s thread, Sayaka greets Hakozaki-sensei’s live-in girlfriend, who shows up to secretly watch her run in the teacher’s relay. When it’s time for the StuCo to do a relay against the basketball team, Yuu sees how much Nanami really wants to win, as well as her and the basketball captain Serizawa exchanging trash talk.

Yuu does her best, and manages to keep pace with the far more athletic Akari running beside her. She hands off to Sayaka smoothly, and Sayaka does the same with Nanami. As Yuu watches Nanami run with everything she’s got, everything else in her world fades into the light and it’s just the two of them. Perhaps a rare instance of her actually feeling that “special feeling” she claims she’s unable to feel?

The ballers win in the end, but it was close, and despite having to deal with Serizawa’s gloating, Nanami is happy her StuCo worked so hard. Then, with Sports Day in the books, Nanami and Yuu retire to the storage shed once more. Yuu is nervous, as she didn’t think Nanami meant immediately after Sports Day was over, and when Nanami waits for Yuu to come to her with her lips, Yuu feels like she’s crossing a boundary she shouldn’t, because she doesn’t like Nanami.

She tells Nanami to go instead, and she does, including putting her tongue in Yuu’s mouth for the first time. We haven’t seen the telltale blushing on Yuu’s face until that happens, because when Nanami pauses and asks if she should stop, Yuu tells her it actually feels good.

So Nanami keeps French kissing Yuu, as Yuu thinks about all of the positive physical and behavioral qualities Yuu finds comfort in. She considers them all “normal” and not something to be considered “special.” But as Maki would tell her, someone as incapable of love—and as comfortable with same—as Yuu claims simply wouldn’t be going around looking lonely or making out with someone.

That being said, just because Yuu seems to be on the road to falling for Nanami (if she hasn’t already), unless she’s actually aware she’s on that road and acknowledges it once and for all, her vacillating is doomed to continue.

That she’s still trying to explain/excuse her rapidly escalating romantic entanglement with Nanami after nine episodes suggests the series just might end without Yuu ever coming to believe she’s in love with her. Fortunately, four episodes is plenty of time to resolve this one way or another, and whatever the outcome, it’s been a wonderful ride.

Bloom Into You – 08 – A Friend and a Senpai

Yagate Kimi ni Naru is the finest school romance I’ve watched since Tsuki ga Kirei back in the Spring of last year, and I’ve known that for some weeks now. Both shows are wonderful to look at, but more importantly they feature some wonderfully fleshed-out characters and relationships, and the more I learn about both, the deeper I sink into the show.

It would have been so easy and expected for someone like Sayaka to launch a transparent full-scale war against Yuu once she determined she was a potential threat to her relationship with Touko. Not only did YKN not take that route, but continued to develop Sayaka as someone just as confused, frustrated, and yet still mostly happy as Yuu.

Watching Sayaka take “revenge” on her former senpai who so coldly dumped her was a thing of absolute beauty, and a perfect way to start the episode in which her and Yuu’s rivalry is laid bare (well, more bare). And how perfect was it that Touko swiftly delivered “payback” in the form of continuing to hold Sayaka’s hand?

Yuu gets the feeling that she and Sayaka have some things to talk about, and that the present chill is affecting their relay baton exchange game, so after school she invites Sayaka to join her for a repast of McDonalds. Sayaka almost immediately calls Yuu out for her “olive branch”, which could harm Sayaka’s image simply by dint of Yuu being her junior.

Yuu holds her own, saying she wouldn’t put it so “dramatically.” Still, the two come to a sort of mutual respect once they learn that neither is the person they expected: Sayaka isn’t so easygoing, and Yuu isn’t so timid and respectful. Both appreciate their directness with each other.

That directness breaks down when neither comes right out and says what they both insinuate by mincing words. Instead, Sayaka says she likes Touko very much “as a close friend” while Yuu likes her “as a senpai” … because what other possible way would they like her??? (Gee, I wonder.)

This first segment of the episode is called “Intersection,” which is fitting in many ways. First, Sayaka and Yuu find common ground and gain a bit more understanding of what makes one another tick, leading to them eventually getting the baton hand-off right.

But an intersection isn’t just a meeting, but a splitting into different directions. In the interests of being as open with Sayaka as possible regarding Touko, she expresses her hope that after the stage play Touko will be more open and “like herself”, dropping the Ms. Perfect act. Such a prospect frightens both of them, since they’re not sure what the hell they’d do in such an instance.

Would Sayaka finally confess her feelings? Would Yuu be left in the lurch? Neither has any idea what such a future holds? Regardless, I love every minute Yuu and Sayaka share the screen, especially now that they’ve reached a measure of détente.

The second segment deals with another common school romance trope: the Rainy Day Umbrella Share. It starts with Yuu Being Yuu, which is to say being super-kind to those she cares about, even if it means getting wet. When the guy Akari likes forgets his umbrella, she nudges her in the guy’s direction, though the two were going to walk home together. Akari is deeply grateful for the gesture, and off she goes with the guy, the two already looking like a couple.

This leaves Yuu stranded at school, as the only available loaner umbrella is useless. She calls her sister, but when Rei’s boyfriend answers, she says never mind; she doesn’t want to interrupt their date. She’s also hesitant to call Touko, not just because she doesn’t want to give her the wrong idea or just because she doesn’t want to burden her. There’s a number of factors that drive her hesitation; another reflection of her character that Rei has down to a T in a brief scene with her boyfriend.

When she says Yuu is great at getting on with things once she’s dipped her toe into the water, so to speak; it’s that initial hesitation that’s her problem. Now knowing pretty clearly how much Yuu’s friend Touko likes her sister, Rei expresses her hope Yuu will find the person she needs to give her those oh-so-important nudges—much like the one Yuu gave Akari so an opportunity wouldn’t be missed.

Much to Yuu’s surprise, Touko actually called her while she was on the phone with Rei, and shows up with an umbrella just when Yuu was about to call her. They walk together with Touko holding the umbrella, but once Yuu sees that Touko’s shoulder is getting soaked she insists on taking it; they compromise by holding it together.

When they take a rest under an awning, Yuu proceeds to dry Touko off with a towel, in a very warm and delicate scene. Yuu’s “pampering” makes Touko happy, but she’s worried she’s taking advantage of Yuu’s kindness and that resentment will build up in Yuu and curdle into hatred.

It’s a perfectly plausible scenario from Touko’s perspective, since she still believes Yuu when she says her feelings are still just one-sided. Of course, that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, as Yuu betrays when she blushingly tells Touko how happy she was to be rescued by her and her umbrella.

Yuu quickly corrects by saying she “meant nothing weird” about it, and Touko thinks to herself “that’s more the Yuu I know.” But that’s the whole point: she doesn’t know the Whole Yuu…nor the Whole Sayaka. Both girls have acknowledged and accepted each others’ existences. Now comes the hard part: acknowledging and expressing Touko is much more to them than the words “friend” or “senpai” alone can express.

P.S. The piece of music that plays during particularly dramatic scenes reminds me of Uematsu’s “A Secret Sleeping in the Deep Sea,” one of my all-time favorite video game audio tracks. 

Bloom Into You – 07 – Plenty for Right Now

In middle school, a girl confessed to Sayaka. Sayaka thought it was weird, but went with it, and got very much into it, such that when she and the other girl were apart for a long time, her longing only grew. That made it particularly painful when they reunited and the other girl was just, suddenly…done with her. She laughs off what they did to be “what kids do”, and “just a phase.” But Sayaka’s heart was broken that day.

She decided to push the experience to the back of her head, and focus on her studies, enrolling at a co-ed high school where she imagined a boy would fall for and confess to her (or vice versa). But the heartbreak still stung so much she couldn’t quite focus enough to score the top grades of the class. So the role of freshman rep went instead to one Nanami Touko.

Whoever this Nanami was, Sayaka resolved to surpass her. But then she caught a look at her face and heard her voice, and she ended up never surpassing her, and moreover stopped caring about trying to. Despite never wanting to fall for another girl again, Sayaka fell for Touko.

Of course, Sayaka could never admit that to anyone, most of all Touko, because she could tell the burdens Touko bore even without knowing about the tragedy of her older sister. Touko was friendly and kind and approachable to all, but only to a point; she’d keep everyone, including Sayaka, at a certain distane to avoid exposing the old, flawed Nanami Touko she was hiding from everyone with her flawless facade.

Sayaka never thought she was special for detecting that other side, and so never seriously considered crossing that boundary to get closer to Touko, however much she might want to. Touko, in her words, belonged to no one. Rather, Sayaka carved out the role Touko’s right hand; her sidekick; her rock. Thus she could be pretty much closer than anyone else.

Touko is aware of this, and to the episodes credit, it takes time away from Sayaka’s head to spend some in Touko’s. Touko knows Sayaka is aware of “the other Touko,” but never oversteps any boundaries. Sayaka is only ever asking Touko to keep up that perfect version of herself while also supporting her in that effort. That’s the way things have been, that’s the way Sayaka likes it, and that’s the way Sayaka wants things to stay.

But now there’s a threat to that status quo named Koito Yuu. Sayaka didn’t consider Yuu a threat at first, and perhaps she still doesn’t; after all, Yuu hasn’t known Touko as long as she has. But at much as Sayaka prides herself on knowing Touko more than anyone, Touko and Yuu continue a gentle dance that is drawing them closer together. It frustrates Sayaka to no end that Yuu seems willing to so blithely cross the boundaries Sayaka established for herself…but still thinks she’ll fail, due to her “Touko belongs to no one” theory.

Touko’s reactions to calling Yuu “Yuu”—not to mention Yuu calling her “Touko-senpai”—make Yuu want to be more “aggressive;” to see how far she can make Touko go. Maybe, just maybe, if and when she does, Yuu will finally feel something as strongly as Touko does.

Like Sayaka, Yuu always thought it was puerile, weird or somehow not right for girls to like other girls. And it’s true that even in 2018 the LGBTQ community in Japan has it pretty rough, at least relative to other developed countries.

So it’s most gratifying that the show introduces a serious adult same-sex relationship in the form of the Japanese teacher Hakozaki Riko and her girlfriend, who owns the cafe where Touko, Sayaka and Yuu meet with Koyomi on writing the script for the stage play.

Hakozaki-sensei conceals this from her students when they ask how she knows the cafe owner, but like the intimacy of a first-name basis, the way the owner first greets Hakozaki before either of them are aware her students are there betrays the fact she’s hiding the true extent of her relationship. Ever the observer of human behavior, Sayaka also notices it in the way Hakozaki drinks her coffee at the counter.

While the other students are oblivious, Sayaka can tell something’s up, and her “suspicions” are confirmed when we see Hakozaki staying at her girlfriend’s place and kissing each other goodnight. It shouldn’t be such a big deal (again, this is 2018)…but it still feels like one. It’s not just what kids do. It’s not just a phase.

Sayaka’s isolation only intensifies when she hears Touko calling Yuu by her first name like it’s nothing. She stages a passive-aggressive protest, to no avail. Then, the next day, she visits the coffee shop and strikes up a chat with the cafe owner. She asks, as carefully as she dares, what her relationship is to Hakozaki-sensei. The owner states clearly and unequivocally that she’s her girlfriend.

Sayaka wasn’t prepared for such a frank, unambiguous response, but it’s something for which she’s greatly appreciative. It’s also liberating for her, and she opens up about her own feelings for another girl, even after having her heart broken by another (Touko’s name is left out of it, of course). It goes without saying (though Sayaka does mention it), but she really really needed to talk to someone about this, especially with someone who, like her, thought she should keep it a secret when she was younger.

When asked why she doesn’t simply confess, Sayaka lays out the reasons: there’s no room in Touko’s heart to accept the feelings of others; it would only be a source of stress for her; it could disrupt or even ruin what they have now, something Sayaka couldn’t bear. She asks the cafe owner if it’s okay to hide one’s feelings for someone in order to stay by her side…or is that just selfishness or cowardice?

The owner responds by giving Sayaka another coffee on the house…for being such a kind soul. Because that’s what she deems Sayaka to be. Someone who keeps her feelings hidden for the sake of her friend, who carries a lot of stress so their friend won’t have to, is very kind, in her book. Confessing wouldn’t be wrong…but neither is staying the course.

The truth is, Sayaka isn’t ready for things to change one way or another, so staying the course is the right path. Does Yuu get on her nerves? Absol-friggin’-lutely. Could it become more of a problem if Yuu and Touko get ever closer together? Of course. But as Touko makes it clear—almost as if she sensed Sayaka needed some reassuring on that particular day—is that she’s glad Sayaka is a part of her life.

If she weren’t, things would be too easy, and Touko would slack off. Standing in front of Sayaka helps her be the ideal person she strives for (which, as we know, is the person her late sister was). Wherever Yuu falls in the equation in the future, Touko will keep relying on Sayaka, which is, for Sayaka, plenty for right now.

Bloom Into You – 06 – Flawless Performance

With midterms over, the council is full speed ahead on the cultural festival stage play…although they don’t yet have a scriptwriter. Yuu thinks she knows the perfect one in Koyomi, whose novel was so interesting she read it twice before handing it back with her endorsement.

But Yuu still isn’t 100% in on even having a play, and if circumstances such as having no scriptwriter means there won’t be one, well…better that than having to worry about Touko working too hard.

This is the week Sayaka’s silk gloves come off, as she takes every opportunity to lay into Yuu on stepping the fuck off her turf. Sayaka knows the “real” Touko just as Yuu does, and deems herself the one, only, and best person to look after her.

She also gives Yuu a clue to start digging into why she’s adopted the “perfect” girl persona so far from who she really is. Her sleuthing leads her to learning that seven years ago Touko’s sister Mio was StuCo President, but before the stage play she was killed by a traffic accident.

It’s pretty clear to Yuu now why Touko is so gung-ho about the play, and about continuing to put on a “flawless performance:” since she was ten and badgered by everyone around her to do so, she’s always been committed to being just like her sister. Someone beloved, praised, and relied upon. Even if it’s all an act, she’s not going to stop…not even for Yuu.

What Yuu leaves unsaid when she confronts Touko with what she knows and asks if she’d reconsider not doing the play is that she’s coming close to falling in love with Touko. Not “Perfect” Touko, but “Weak” Touko, who you could also call “Real Touko.”

Yuu wants Touko to be who Yuu deems to be “her true self,” but it’s ultimately not her call, and she knows that. But it pains her to wonder who she’ll ever love if she can’t ever fall for the Touko she’s been dealt; one who detests the very idea of giving up on being like Mio to everyone else.

As her self-proclaimed guardian, Sayaka seems to be fine with the status quo, and doesn’t want Yuu mucking it up. But when Yuu holds back what she should say in order to maintain her comfortable limbo with Touko, it seems like a seed that could grow into something unpleasant.

Add to that the post-credit sequence, which repeats Yuu and Touko’s evening walk while holding hands but switches from Yuu’s to Touko’s head. In Yuu’s head, we can hear her desire to change…specifically into someone who can fall in love with Touko.

But here’s Touko telling her to never change. Why’s that? Touko believes words like love to be “shackles”, and that if Yuu changes she might become someone Touko won’t love anymore, leaving her alone again (clearly, Sayaka doesn’t do much for her).

It’s a reasonable position for a little sister who was essentially treated as a spare by her family and utterly lost in the dazzling glare of her big sister, only for that light to suddenly go out. Touko filled the vacuum by transforming. It wasn’t just obligation; it was fear of loneliness.

Bloom Into You – 05 – Nice to Be Chosen; Nicer to Choose

Yuu likes working at her family’s bookstore, because it lends her some insight into her friends via the kid of literature they purchase. She’s primed to excoriate Touko when she shows up during her shift to buy a raunchy yuri novel, but it turns out she doesn’t know the story takes such a turn until later, and then she’s contrite.

I was mistaken about what Koyomi was working on; it wasn’t a love letter, but a novel, something she took on and didn’t let things like fatigue or looming midterms to keep her from finishing it. She lends it to Yuu to read, but Yuu is focused on midterms first and foremost. She’s also constantly telling herself that Maki is wrong. He must be.

He may claim to see affection for Touko in Yuu’s behavior, but she’d insist she’d worry about anyone she deemed fragile and in need of someone for support—even if it wasn’t Touko. She’d be “happy with anyone,” to which I say, isn’t she assuming a lot, not tomention missing the forest for the trees?

When Maki slickly declines studying with Yuu in the library the moment Touko comes up from behind her, Yuu ends up in a series of study sessions with a senpai with a crush on her, and that crush is only intensifying. The first time, Yuu isn’t sure how to repay Touko for tutoring her, but Touko simply says she did it because she wanted to, and Yuu will “just have get used to it”.

Again, Yuu insists to herself (and us) that she’d be happy studying with anyone; that she didn’t choose Touko. Still, she admits she doesn’t hate being chosen. There’s anyone, and there’s the person in front of you. Yuu may say she’d be fine with anyone, but the fact remains, she’s fine with Touko, and so not opposed at all to “getting used” to being around her.

To that end, when the library is completely full, it is Yuu who invites Touko to her place to study, not t’other way round. Indeed, of the two of them only Yuu is clear-headed (and bold) enough to suggest they continue their studying in private.

This is not, then, a matter of will, only intensity for Yuu. Touko is desperately and adorably nervous alone in Yuu’s room as she prepares tea. She’s delighted to meet Yuu’s mom, older sister Rei, and Rei’s boyfriend (who “jokes” that Touko might be Yuu’s girlfriend). She’s elated to learn more about Yuu, who talks about herself so infrequently at school.

It isn’t until Touko’s longing eyes meet Yuu’s that Yuu asks her if anything’s wrong or if she’s not feeling well or too hot. Reading Touko’s blushing face finally clues Yuu in on what’s going on, and she confirms it by taking Touko’s hand and reading her very quick pulse. Touko is taken aback by Yuu’s boldness, but that boldness is tempered by the fact she’s not acting out of lust, but pure logic.

And that logic is the barrier Yuu must cross. If she “waits for her heart” to tell her she likes Touko, she’ll be waiting forever. She has to move beyond the probability that someone, anyone else could make her happy when there’s already someone right there, and their being there isn’t just a matter of coincidence or convenience. Yuu is overthinking and over-analyzing things. She was alone. Now she’s not. Go with that.

Meanwhile, as she’s leaving Yuu’s house, Touko is a completely, helplessly open book to Rei and boyfriend. Touko is bashful when Rei tells her to “take care” of Yuu; and Touko is way too eager to learn the recipe for the cheesecake Yuu likes so much. That’s why, in addition to the recipe, Rei sends Touko a photo of Yuu sleeping on the floor.

Bloom Into You – 04 – The Spectator

Yuu’s friend Koyomi is distracted from after-school study since she’s busy writing what I’m guessing is a love letter. She doesn’t reveal this fact to Yuu, preferring to keep it secret, as such things should be, at least until you have a better handle on how it will go. Yuu doesn’t have time to give her friend’s reaction too much thought, because new Student Council President Nanami Touko has arrived to pick her up to go to the council office. Touko also introduces the fifth and newest member, a first-year boy, Doujima Suguru.

Touko lays out the general areas when they’ll be busiest, no more so than the cultural festival. She wants to bring back the StuCo stage play, in which they’ll fill performing roles while the various creative clubs provide script, costumes, sets, etc., in lieu of a theater club (which the school doesn’t have). Touko is enthusiastic about the idea (obviously; it’s hers), as is Doujima. VP Sayaka can be counted on to go along with whatever Touko wants, as always.

The two holdouts are Yuu and Maki Seiji. Yuu doesn’t like big crowds (she did quite well with her speech, but that doesn’t mean she enjoyed it), while Maki prefers to work “in the background” in a support role, as he did in the past in sports clubs. Ironically, it was that speech that inspired Doujima to join; Yuu seemed so fired up about joining in that moment!

After a long day of council work, much of it organizing the mess of files of the previous administration, everyone heads out except for Touko and Yuu. Yuu was going to leave too, but gets a Look from Touko that keeps her there. The fact she stays, and for no reason other than to keep Touko company…that innate kindness of Yuu gets Touko all hot and bothered.

She wants to kiss Yuu…badly. Yuu brings up how she made it clear ‘she can’t return the same feelings so why is Touko coming on to her’. But it’s Yuu letting Touko love her that makes Touko love her that much more. That same kind Yuu doesn’t exactly hate being kissed, and if she said she “wasn’t interested”, she’d be lying. So they kiss. And as they kiss, Maki comes back to grab his pencil case…and sees them. But they don’t see him.

The next day, Maki acts naturally with Yuu, which is to say, they have a good working relationship as student council colleagues. Yuu brings him the pencil case he couldn’t grab. We don’t know Maki all that well, except that we know that “the background” is his wheelhouse; he likes to help out, not stand out. To that end, him spreading rumors isn’t something he’d do.

All I can say is, thank God it wasn’t Doujima who spotted Yuu and Touko, or it might already have spread to the whole school. Maybe that’s not being entirely fair to Doujima, whom I also barely know, but from what we gather in his interaction with a distracted-looking Maki, we can glean that he’s a more “conventional” high school boy; he has a specific type of girl he’s into and asks Maki what his type is (to which he says he has none).

The more he observes Touko and Yuu, the more he learns and realizes about them. He also observes Sayaka, who he can tell feels threatened by Yuu, and she isn’t even that good at hiding it, saying, in effect, Touko’s first-year obsession “will pass” which is clearly wishful thinking on her part. That outcome serves her, but she’s not really thinking about what Touko wants, is she now?

When Maki heads back to the school from the office, Yuu accompanies him, and on the way. They talk about her and Touko, and he informs her that he saw them kiss, asking if they’re dating. Yuu is petrified; not knowing who Maki is, she envisions her version of the worst-case scenario: word spreads, and it hurts Touko.

But again, Maki isn’t going to use what he knows for anything malicious; it’s just not who he is. Touko and Yuu didn’t do anything to him; why would he do something to hurt them? It does nothing for him. What does do something for him, on the other hand, is knowing they’re a couple, and specifically being the only one who knows.

You see, Maki is not your normal high school kid either. He’s not interested in getting into or being in a relationship; only observing them from a comfortable place. It doesn’t matter if it’s a girl and a guy, or two guys or two girls; as long as he’s a spectator and not a participant (the closest to anger we see him exhibit is when he himself was confessed to in the past, shattering his “fourth wall.”

Somehow, some way, this doesn’t come off as creepy. Perhaps it’s because the way he expresses it felt so innocent to me. I’m not saying it’s a healthy or unhealthy way to live your life, and neither does the show judge him either way.

What matters to Yuu is that Maki discretely told her, alone, in a prompt fashion. So when he says he won’t tell anyone—not even Touko—both Yuu and I trust him.

Maki’s passive way of navigating the tempestuous seas of high school affords him unique insights that more active participants will often overlook. For instance: he can tell Touko is special to Yuu, because without even thinking Yuu put Touko’s wellfare before her own vis-a-vis their secret.

Maki doesn’t hate love, he just wants to be above the fray and watch it…one more reason he won’t mess with Yuu and Touko. To do so would be as unthinkable as standing up in the middle of a play and interrupting the actors on the stage (assuming, of course, it’s a non-interactive play).

And so for the first time, Yuu is flustered by someone other than Touko on the subject of her feelings for her. What she thought to be “normal” may actually be the “special”-ness she thought she’d never achieve. This changes everything.

Bloom Into You – 03 – Too Kind, or Just Normal?

This week Yuu stays by Touko’s side at every turn, giving her an indirect kiss-through-bottle-sharing like it’s not biggie and then surprising Touko about her family owning the bookstore she likes. Yuu’s fam is certainly impressed with Touko (and why wouldn’t they be) while Yuu’s older sister Rei seems to cut right to it, perhaps without realizing what she’s doing, by referring to Touko Yuu’s “girlfriend.”

During vacay Yuu hangs out with friends, one of whom the others know is pursuing a senpai. She doesn’t break it to them until after they watch the mushy romance movie that she already confessed but was kinda-sorta rejected, with the guy saying he wants to focus on basketball.

Yuu is both envious and bemused by her friend, but also her other friends’ insistence things will “turn around” if she keeps at it. Speaking of persistence, before Vacay is over Touko makes it a point to stop by Yuu’s to give her a gift…but also, likely, simply to see Yuu at work at the store.

Yuu “guesses” she’s “pretty” happy about being given the gift of a mini-planetarium, but seeing the stars projected on her ceiling call to mind how the distance from her understanding of why Touko likes her sometimes feels as vast as the distance from those stars.

She just might gain a little bit of understanding the day of the stump speeches. Touko looks like a picture of calm…until Yuu notices her hands are shaking. She takes Touko outside, where Touko admits she can’t hide from the likes of Yuu. So she doesn’t: she bares her feelings right there, and also goes into her past, when she was “nothing” (i.e. shy and introverted).

Yuu isn’t shocked by Touko’s sharing. Even if others see Touko as perfect, Yuu knows perfect people don’t exist…but nor does she look down on Touko for not being perfect and trying to hide it. Touko may say she’s “hardly special” for showing her “weak side”, but Yuu thinks having such a side is perfectly normal.

But out there, Yuu realizes she saw a “special” side of Touko, one she wouldn’t show to anyone else. Simply being that person makes Yuu herself special, and not just to Touko, but in general. Her speech doesn’t betray what she’s learned about Touko, but nor does it lie about who Touko the Student Council member is. She really does put the work in, and really is kind, and really would make a good president.

But it also means Touko’s hands will shake sometimes, and she’ll need someone to help her steady them. Yuu lists the boxes Touko checks, but includes her personal take on her, including using the speech to announce that she’s joining the council.

Touko win the election handily, and celebrates with Yuu via a PDA that their classmates don’t read too much into. As for Yuu, she’ll stay close to Touko and see where this goes. Will things “turn around” if she merely “keeps at it”? She’s resolved to find out.

Bloom Into You – 02 – Really Unfair

It’s not just Yuu; Nanami Touko IS pushy. It looks like she has been for a while. I don’t think she works at it, its just the way she is. Others may hold back or defer or concede, but she knows what she wants, she knows who she wants to help her get it, and as of the other day, she also knows who she loves, and it’s Yuu. If you can’t present a strong enough argument not to go along with her, you’ll get caught in her current by default.

Nanami choosing Yuu as her campaign manager has caused a rift in her longtime friendship with Saeki Sayaka. Nanami knew it would, but she did it anyway, and she presents a solid argument why: to reach out to and galvanize the first-year vote when no one else will. Nanami and Sayaka are always in sync on the volleyball court, but this is a lesson to Sayaka that at some point quite suddenly they weren’t, and that time has come.

Sayaka doesn’t fight it, and shows absolutely no outward aggression towards Yuu, save agreeing with Yuu’s assertion that Sayaka may well do a better job as Nanami’s manager. Sayaka isn’t blaming Yuu for this; she knows Yuu is as swept up as she is.

When Yuu finally brings up Nanami’s sunset confession, it’s at a railroad crossing. When the barriers come down and the train passes, Nanami steal’s Yuu’s first kiss, to make no mistake what kind of love she was talking about. Considering neither of them know much “what to do” following that kiss, it’s apparent Nanami may just as along for the ride as everyone in her orbit.

When Nanami asserts that she didn’t choose Yuu simply because she loves her, but still asks again to stand by her in the election as a friend, Yuu doesn’t have a problem with it. What she does have a problem with is that she feels she can’t properly respond to Nanami’s feelings, not matter how much she may want to.

During an interview and photo shoot with the school paper, Yuu suddenly takes Nanami’s hand in her’s, behind their backs where no one else csan see. She sees Nanami’s reaction, and is further frustrated: how can Nanami feel that “special feeling”, while Yuu feels nothing? What drew her to Nanami was the feeling they were similar in being unable to fall for anyone. That’s no longer the case. She feels left behind.

A meeting at a cafe to go over a speech provides Yuu with another opportunity to express how she can’t fall in love with Nanami, but the barista interrupts them with their coffee, and then Nanami steps in and speaks first: She knows what Yuu is going to say, and is willing to accept it. All she asks is that Yuu let her love her, not expecting anything in return.

Yuu thinks that’s weird, and it kinda is, but for someone like Nanami, who was like Yuu for so long—never knowing what that special feeling was like—finally feeling it made her that much more fulfilled. Yuu says fine, she doesn’t mind…but she doesn’t know why she said it, as she’s not even sure whether she really doesn’t mind.

For all of this, Yuu calls Nanami “unfair”, but that’s not really, well fair; it’s just that Nanami is a little older, and a lot can happen in the years between them. Yuu shouldn’t be measuring her own feelings against the older, wiser, more daring Nanami’s—that’s not being fair to herself. Nanami is a little older, a little wiser, and most importantly, a different person. It’s not a question of fairness for Yuu…it’s a question of patience.