Rent-a-Girlfriend – 17 – Sumi Can Communicate

Three days after Ruka spent the night, Kazuya shows some genuine personal growth by taking out the goddamn trashChizuru had the same idea, and their timing is so synced up he almost wallops her when he opens his door. When she brings up Ruka, he assures her nothing happened, but the fact is she did spend the night. Later, when Chizuru is reading lines, she can’t focus thanks to Ruka’s words that morning.

On top of wanting to clear up the misunderstanding, Kazuya learns from the app that Chizuru’s birthday is coming up. He wants to give her a gift that means something, and also to thank her for getting him his phone case—which as we know played a key factor in him declining Ruka’s advances. He knows he can’t ask Ruka or Mami for ideas, so on Chizuru’s birthday he books Sumi, the forgotten Rent-a-Girlfriend.

Sumi, as we know, overheard Kazuya yelling out his feelings to Chizuru in episode 1, but other than that and being at Chizuru’s performance, she’s been a ghost, which is a shame, because every time she gets the spotlight, I find myself wishing Kazuya would just open his eyes and make her his girlfriend. It’s painfully clear (to everyone but him) throughout their date that she likes him!

Not only that, while she’s quiet and shy (though very verbose via text), she’s also perhaps the most thoughtful, kind, and caring of the four girls. Despite having so much less screen time than the others (or maybe because of that) she just constantly gives off Best Girl vibes. And Kazuya notes that she’s really making progress as a rental girlfriend, which she no doubt attributes to his help.

Kazuya procrastinates to the very end of the date to ask Sumi what she thinks would make a good gift for Chizuru. And while Sumi momentarily seems gloomy being asked about another girl, she quickly gets over that and helps the boy who has helped her. In her distinctive, adorable style of communication of gestures, little noises, texts, and the occasional spoken word, she suggests various gift ideas, all of which Kazuya considers but feels none of them are quite the right fit.

Sumi seems to have a Eureka moment and takes Kazuya by the hand, out of the department store where their date took place, and onto the roof of another department store where a “Rent-a-Fighters” power rangers-style show is going on. When Kazuya hears the pink fighter talking he realizes it’s Chizuru, working her ass off at yet another job in order to make her dream to perform in front of her Gran come true.

Watching Chizuru in action and delivering rent-a-kicks and punches inspires Kazuya to a degree, as he decides to stop wallowing and power through his indecision. Before parting ways, Sumi also tells him that sentiment matters most when it comes to gifts; as long as it’s from the heart, any gift from him would make him happy. Sumi isn’t only speaking rhetorically, mind you, but Kazuya doesn’t pick up on the nuance of her text.

Even so, when Kazuya starts walking away, Sumi looks at the photos they took together, her eyes start to get glassy, and before Kazuya knows it Sumi has him by the sleeve. Having not thought this through, Sumi remains silent and blushing profusely for a good long time, but eventually asks Kazuya for his birthday. They part ways again, and Sumi immediately puts the date in her calendar—an opportunity for her to give him something from the heart. Her satisfied smile melted my already melted heart.

Chizuru comes home well after dark, on the phone with her Gran declining an offer of dinner as she’s just too wiped. She takes a shower, gets a text from her idol frenemy Chi, then goes out on her balcony and finds a bag with a “Happy Birthday” note from Kazuya, who slipped it there from his side.

It’s a heartfelt note, explaining why he’s giving her a gift and that it can alleviate fatigue, which is especially timely sentiment considering how tired Chizuru is in that moment. When she opens the box within the box and finds pickled plums, her first reaction is “…Why?” She then notices Kazuya’s postscript insisting nothing happened with Ruka, and she remembers how passionately he spoke to her about not giving up, and pops a plum in her mouth.

Now, if you’ve ever had a pickled plum (I highly recommend them) you know how powerful the flavor is. They’re sweet, salty, and above all oh so sour. It’s a flavor that brings a smile to Chizuru’s face, and it’s a good flavor to represent the complicated nature of her and Kazuya’s relationship. It’s not necessarily comfort food, but slight discomfort food, giving you the kick you need when you need it.

Poor adorable Sumi doesn’t stand a chance, does she? T_T

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Komi Can’t Communicate S2 – 10 – Tomo-Choco

The first day back from the school trip, everyone’s got a little Komi in them, as everyone tentatively approaches the new friends they made in Kyoto in the much more familiar setting of their classroom. Tadano can tell Komi wants to go talk to Mikuni, and watches her go from normal to negative to fired up to negative again. All she needs is a little push, which he literally gives her, enabling her an Mikuni to reconnect. Ayami soon joins them when she sees them talking.

We shift to a pair of Komi’s older friends when Onemine invites her and Kaede to her house to make chocolates for Valentines Day. Her many younger siblings are bemused by Komi, so beautiful yet so quiet. Once she does say something, they praise how lovely a voice it is. The three girls and Onemine’s fam exude warmth and good vibes, and that chocolate cake looked hella delicious.

The rubber meets the road the next day at school, when Valentines is in full swing. The three lads envision how different girls in their class would give them chocolate, but those are just delusions. Ren has to make things gross and weird, but Katai makes up for it by getting chocolate from Mikuni and then giving friendship chocolate to Tadano.

Little did Tadano know it would be the only chocolate he’d get that day. Komi was going to put some in his shoe locker, but he showed up before she could do so and she scurried away and things were awkward between them the rest of the day. It isn’t until he goes out on an errand for his sister and mom that he bonks Komi with his door.

They go to a park, where Komi reveals that the thing she brought for him was a printout for when he wasn’t in class. They part ways, but thankfully Komi summons some courage and runs back to Tadano’s place, even calling out his name with the loudest voice we’ve ever heard from her!

She almost punks out again when she says it’s just “friendship” chocolate as opposed to the other kind, then makes the caveat that she made sure Tadano got the best of the batch she made. I’m not sure why Tadano would ever think this girl hates him…She yelled for him, for goshsakes!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 12 (Fin) – The One He Wants

We’ve finally arrived at the end of one of the most frustrating, problematic rom-coms I’ve experienced in quite some time, and it ends pretty much how I expected: by not ending. But despite how hard it was to watch at times, I could never quite look away.

On not one but two occasions this week Kazuya shows signs of not only knowing what he must do but stepping up and doing or saying it, only to abandon the effort a half-step short of the finish line. First he does this with Ruka, realizing how lucky he is to have her and how unreasonable he is for feeling like she’s not enough.

He is right in the middle of telling her he’s ready to move past the “trial” period of their relationship and declare them “official”—only to be distracted by the arrival of Mizuhara and Mami at the karaoke parlor. It’s the first of two “showdown” scenes between the two women, and in this first one Mami has all the power and relishes wielding it.

Mami tells Mizuhara she didn’t book her to rag on her profession, but now that she knows she’s a rental, she couldn’t stay quiet. She doesn’t like the fact Mizuhara and Kazuya have had a fake relationship this long, and aside from deeming it bad for Kazuya, just watching it in practice pisses her off “a teensy bit.” None of her words are that harsh or cruel, but Yuuki Aoi’s expert delivery and Mami’s odd expressions make them feel like icy daggers.

Because this is a show where Everything is About Kazuya, Kazuya feels it’s his duty to not only eavesdrop on Mizuhara and Mami’s date, but pretend to be sick and excuse himself from work to follow them. Mizuhara rewarded him last time he did this, so why wouldn’t he do it again? He has an excuse ready to go: he doesn’t want Mizuhara to bear the brunt of Mami’s hate.

Meanwhile Ruka is left holding the bag, wondering if Kazuya was serious about making them official. Kazuya finds Mizuhara and Mami on a bridge about to wrap up the date, but not before a “rematch” of sorts, only this time with Mizuhara having a slight rhetorical edge.

Mizuhara asks Mami straight up how she feels about Kazuya, as she’s sure Mami still occupies a special place in the guy’s heart. Mami doesn’t take the bait, but tosses the question back to Mizuhara, suspicious that in a year of fake-dating, she’s fallen for Kazuya for real. Mizuhara simply states “He’s my boyfriend”, not adding the “rental” part because at this point, until the end of their contract, whether it’s a rental or not is irrelevant.

Mami considers that a dodging of the question and turns to leave, but Mizuhara grabs her hand and tells her they’re not done. As scenes of Kazuya crying about Mami flash by, Mizuhara tells Mami how being a rental girlfriend helped her realize the importance and difficulty of falling in love. She asks if Mami ever faced Kazuya’s feelings head on, in good faith, seriously engaged with his love, or considered that he may be the one to make her “happy for life”.

Mami tells her to buzz off under her breath, and states that all of that is between her and Kazuya. Fair enough, but Mizuhara wins this round. She knows Mami wouldn’t have bothered with this date if she didn’t care one way or another about Kazuya. Of the three lead women, Mami is the one most unready, unwilling, and unable to reckon with her feelings, preferring her cool, aloof, gives-no-fucks, bored-with-everything…facade.

That night, Kazuya is waiting by Mizuhara’s door when she comes home, confessing he saw and heart what she said to Mami, thanking her for having his back once again, and apologizing for not being able to do those things himself. Mizuhara then shocks Kazuya by apologizing in turn, for not being able to secure him a real girlfriend (apparently Ruka doesn’t count!).

As she’s suggesting he consider asking Mami out again, for closure if nothing else, Kazuya steps up to the plate, as he did with Ruka, and says something he should have said long ago: “You’re the one I want. It’s gotta be you.” At last, some progress! Only no, he immediately recants, saying he wants her “as a rental girlfriend”, before rushing into his apartment with a curt good night.

Yet another disappointing, immensely frustrating moment of failure for Kazuya, who comes away from the incident thinking it’s a sure thing that Mizuhara isn’t into him. Meanwhile, next door, a blushing Mizuhara wonders WTF just happened. I have no doubt if Kazuya had made it clear he truly did want her as a real girlfriend, it would have been better for both of them, whether Mizuhara accepted or rejected him.

Instead, as a closing montage indicates, it’s still very much anyone’s game when it comes to winning the Kazuya Sweepstakes. Sumi’s out there doing her job with renewed confidence, Ruka smiles at the phone background of her and Kazuya, Mami is utterly bored to death by her latest rich old dude, and Mizuhara is still showing up early for dates with Kazuya.

They’re still rental dates, and she’s still a rental girlfriend. I get it; that’s the name of the show. And the point of the show wasn’t really about Kazuya to end up with one girl over the others, but to explore the different ways in which we fall in love, now made more complex and at times strange via new technologies.

Kazuya was almost always abysmally hard to watch, but that was kind of the point too. What kept me coming back were Ruka, Mizuhara, Mami and Sumi—in that order—as much care was put into their voices, character designs, clothing, and personalities. They were the stars, while Kazuya was an unfortunate but necessary variable in the equation. If RaG were to return for a sequel, they’d be the ones who’d bring me back.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 11 – Beauty and the Least

After a TV-style cold open intro to Sakurasawa Sumi and her morning routine, which is the most we ever hear her talk, Kazuya meets her for their date, and he’s equally astonished by her innocent beauty and her social awkwardness. Seiyu Takahashi Rie does a great job with all of Sumi’s various flustered peeps.

What Kazuya soon learns (besides confirming the fact he really wants a real girlfriend) is that Sumi is working extremely hard to have as much fun doing things on their date as possible. It turns into a sports extravaganza, with Sumi giving her all (and mostly failing) at bowling, batting, soccer, rollerblading, etc.

Kazuya himself feels pretty useless and inept at helping Sumi with her problem, but he at least has the sack to rescue her from some leering punks, and she rewards him by holding hands and sharing her ice cream. When he comes back from a bathroom break, he’s shocked to find Mami sitting across from Sumi.

Mami spotted Kazuya with Sumi earlier in the date, and has been observing them ever since, much like Kazuya followed Mizuhara. He has to walk an extremely fine line with Mami since as far as she knows he’s with Mizuhara and this looks like two-timing, especially when Sumi clings to him as if defending her real boyfriend from a rival.

At least a partial truth would have probably sufficed: he’s helping Mizuhara’s friend, who is a rental girlfriend. But even that isn’t quite bulletproof, as it plants the idea that Mizuhara is also a rental, and if she were Kazuya’s real GF she wouldn’t have him going on dates with other girls, even for practice.

Kazuya’s date with Sumi ends well despite Mami’s interruption, and while Mami’s brother implies she’s messing around with another guy at college, she’s still fixated on Kazuya, and frustrated by that fact). Then it dawns on her: is he really dating Sumi? A quick search of Sumi’s name turns up her rental profile.

Just like that, the one person Kazuya wants to know about the truth the least has a pretty good idea anyway. He and Kuri are able to keep the secret about their respective GFs from Kibe, but with Mizuhara out on rental dates in the same place they’re hanging out, that too is a tenuous fiction.

Bottom line, something’s got to give, and with only one episode left after this one, something will! That night Kazuya gets another impromptu balcony meeting with Mizuhara, which I believe to be their best and most genuine interactions, because they don’t put on airs. She thanks him for helping Sumi, who was over the moon from their date, but also tells Kazuya she’s thinking about quitting the rental biz once her acting career picks up some momentum.

That said, she’s not in a hurry to quit yet, and will be honoring the promise she made to him to be his girlfriend a bit longer. She even has a date in the morning, and so turns in early, only to discover that her date, one “Maya”, is actually Mami! The jig is now well and truly up—unless Mizuhara insists to Mami that despite her rental job, she’s Kazuya’s real girlfriend, or something to that effect.

I for one am hoping that most if not all of the lies stop next week (if Mami fails to secure a second season, that is), no matter the consequences. Kazuya and Mizuhara have been shuffling their feet all this time, and it’s time to put up or shut up. And then there’s Ruka…

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.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 10 – Let’s Play Together

Naoya is about to go on break when he spots a student studying. Upon closer inspection, they’re playing a handheld game, the one Hirotaka happens to also play. When Nao approaches the student they run away and say “I’m sorry” way more than necessary, but he eventually gets a name—Sakuragi Kou—and an invitation to game with them.

I say “them”, as Nao may well assume Kou is a guy from their deep voice and short hair. But through his college classmates we learn Kou is actually a woman…a very introverted one, but one who’s open to being friends with Nao. In Kou, Nao has a gaming companion who will never get mad or frustrated due to his ineptitude.

Still, Nao feels he’s holding Kou back, so arranges to join a party with Narumi, Kabakura and Koyanagi to tackle a high-level quest in hopes he can level up enough to play beside Kou properly.

Hirotaka was supposed to join the party, but only shows up late, after the rest of them find themselves in a big spot. The one who ends up saving them with overpowered attackes is Kou, who darts in and out of the game so quickly hardly anyone notices…except Nao, who later thanks her for saving them.

Back IRL, both Narumi and Hirotaka are on the verge of being late for work. In Hirotaka’s case, it’s because he stepped on and broke his glasses (this is a bad week for characters’ glasses!)  and can’t see a damn thing. This affects his productivity at work because he has to come within inches of a screen or a face to see it, and it affects Narumi’s productivity because she’s distracted by and concerned for his predicament.

Kabakura (who’s a bit of a strict taskmaster this week…can’t workers take their eyes off the monitor for two seconds?) sends both of them off on break early so Hirotaka can acquire new glasses. Before then, rumors were starting to spread at the office that Hirotaka without glasses was “pretty hot.” When Narumi notices he’s not squinting or drawing close to notice her, his response is surprisingly romantic: “I know it’s you, even if I can’t see you.” Dokidoki!

In the final segment we’re back to the game, where Kou (who has a very cool avatar) is trying to support Nao in developing his solo game before doing multiplayer quests. Nao fails again and again, and apologizes for it, but Kou never loses patience; she’s just having fun playing the game with him.

That applies even when Nao IRL leaves the computer to take a phone call and Hirotaka takes over his avatar and completely obliterates a group of baddies even Kou had trouble with. Once Nao takes back control, he prepares to log out so Kou can take care of business on her own, but Kou stops him by grabbing his sleeve, saying she doesn’t mind him sticking around.  When Nao agrees to stay, Kou IRL cracks a smile. Kou so cute!

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 11 – Just Trying to Help

With Hikari and Iroha’s problems behind them the focus turns to Itou and Ishino, both apparent victims of unrequited love (or in Ishino’s case, lust?) On Hikari’s suggestion, Itou works up the courage to ask Ayado out to a movie, without overtly labeling it a date, but her easy acceptance and lingering smile doesn’t set Itou at ease; quite the contrary.

Hikari watched Itou asking her out from the classroom, and starts to wonder if Ayado, the girl who just confessed to him, is the girl his first (and for a long time only) friend has come to like after years of saying 3D girls aren’t for him (a philosophy Hikari himself subscribed to until meeting Iroha).

As for Ishino, she sees everyone apparently pairing off and having fun, and is jelly. She’s also feeling legitimately lonely and undesirable due to Takanashi’s constant rejections, so when her objectively awful ex offers to hang out with her on the weekend, she not only accepts, but cuteifies herself up to the max. I honestly mistook Ishino for Iroha, so infrequently does she clean up thus.

Itou and Ayado’s movie date-not-date goes swimmingly, though Itou can scarely deride any enjoyment, so skittish and silent she is around the always bright and ebullient Ayado. Her enthusiasm and gratitude for being invited is all well and good, but the one thing Itou is afraid of revealing through further engaging her is the fact that she, the girl he’s come to like, doesn’t like him that way. So he keeps his feelings to himself.

The next day at school Ayado visits Hikari and Itou’s class to give Itou his ticket stub she accidentally took. Hikari, acting a lot like his mom acts toward him (proud of and excited for Itou), but one careless question has Ayado asking Hikari if he wants to see it, she’ll see it a second time.

That has the one-two punch of demonstrating to Itou that Ayado still has eyes for Hikari and devaluing their date by saying it could be so easily replicated. Mind you, neither were Ayado’s intentions, but if she still likes Hikari and has no idea how Itou feels, who can blame her?

Hikari tries to make things right with a “double date” picnic with him and Iroha and Itou and Ayado. He even grabs Iroha and runs off so the Itou can have some time alone with Ayado. When Iroha learns what he’s up to, she scolds him, because he’s taking romantic shortcuts.

That evening on the ride home, Hikari apologizes for being careless, and sees now how Itou needing so much help could make him feel pathetic. Hikari’s heart, as usual is in the right place: he just wants Itou to be happy, like he is, now that he knows how fortunate it feels not only to love someone, but to be loved by that same person.

As for Ishino, she’s stood up by her ex, but Takanashi happens to pass by, and as much of a cad as the guy is, he’s not about to walk past a crying Ishino, and takes her out for ramen.

While walking hand-in-hand, both hoping things work out for Itou and Ayado, Hikari and Iroha come across a very handsome young man in a red jacket whose immediate reaction upon seeing them holding hands is to cold-cock Iroha, breaking his glasses (and almost his jaw). It turns out not to be an ex of Iroha’s but her younger brother Chika.

Iroha is furious with Chika, but still lets herself get whisked away by him, despite the fact he just committed assault on her boyfriend. Chika’s a guy who makes judgments based on covers, and thought Hikari was a stalker and can’t understand why Iroha is dating him

Back home things get a little creepier when he caresses Iroha’s face. Possessive and possibly incestuous? Greeeaaaat. Looks like Hikari’s final trial of the show will be winning over this guy, or at least punching him back! That, and enduring the inevitable goodbye that was pre-loaded into his romance with Iroha when it began.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 04 – A Daifuku is a Daifuku

I’m compelled to preface this review with a bit of a rant: I simply couldn’t buy Hajime not knowing that his childhood friend Hinako is his favorite idol, HINA.

Most anime rely on a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, but I can tell quite plainly that Hinako is HINA, and so can Alec. Both of us have just met her. And the only elements that “disguise” her are glasses, a big braid, and hair that magically changes color (what’s up with that?)

Therefore it’s nigh inexcusable that someone Hajime has known since they were little kids, and seen nearly every day, could not discern the resemblance, unless he were “face-blind” like Oliver Sacks or Chuck Close. Since there’s no indication he is, his inability to see HINA in Hinako makes him look stupid, and made me feel stupid for going along with it.

Now, an amendment to that rant: I wrote it before I watched the entire episode, pausing it after the cold open. And here’s the thing: once I did watch it, the show managed to not only restore my suspension of disbelief, but reinforce it.

By the end, the charm of the episode convinced me that maybe it’s okay, for now, for Hajime to be an oblivious dolt. Perhaps because, for the time being, it’s okay for Hinako herself, and that’s what matters here.

When Hajime announces to the club that he’s won one of only 100 passes to a live meet-and-greet with his beloved HINA, it suddenly places Hajime in a bind: there’s no way he won’t recognize her when they come face-to-face, bereft of the filters of photos on glossy paper or the scan of television screens and the internet.

Moreover, Hajime is an emotional wreck, and cannot fathom coming face-to-face with HINA at all without collapsing in a puddle of flop sweat. His club members suggest he “practice” how to interact with one of them, and that one of them ends up being Hinako.

It’s definitely interesting seeing the two interact together, as Hajime lists all the weird ways he loves HINA, and Hinako outwardly saying no girl wants to hear those things while being inwardly flattered. She also tells her childhood friend the best way to calm oneself: write the character for “person” on his hand and “swallow” it.

Somewhat dragging down the perceived intelligence of the entire cast, Alec and Alec alone is the only one who clearly and immediately realized that Hinako was HINA. Thankfully, it’s something Teresa also realizes as soon as she’s told the truth, giving Hinako two allies in which to confide.

She tells them how a one-time deal taking the place of an ill model suddenly snowballed into a side-career, and when Hajime announced he was a fan of “HINA”, Hinako felt it impossible to tell him. It’s clear to Alec and Teresa that Hinako likes Hajime, but Hinako wants him to figure it out for himself that she and HINA are one and the same.

When Alec calls Hajime “an unfortunate man” for unknowingly worshiping the girl right in front of him, Hinako objects, as Hajime’s oldest and dearest friend has every right to. As she puts it, he may be “stupid and a little perverted” but he’s also a shy sensitive boy with a gentle heart who will always have her back when push comes to shove.

Hinako is worried Hajime will be “disappointed” if he learns the truth, and wishes he’d simply take a stronger interest in the “real her”, but Teresa objects to that: HINA is a part of the real her; she shouldn’t forget that.

The day of the meet-and-greet arrives, and despite their earlier grumblings, everyone turns out to support Hajime (except Hinako, who had “errands to run”). Sure enough, Hajime overcompensates for his shyness by dressing way too…too much, and the boys play rock-paper-scissors, resulting in Tada having to swap clothes with him.

He heads in, and it’s all over so fast. Hajime lost his precious notes in the clothes he gave Tada, and is initially a nervous, sweaty mess with the clock ticking. But HINA asks him what he should do when he’s nervous, and he remembers Hinako telling him about writing “person” and swallowing it.

That just barely does the trick; the staff is about to shuffle him off, but he makes contact with HINA and says what he came to say: to thank her for being born. He’s then taken away by security, leaving Hinako wondering if he finally noticed who she really was.

I’m of the mind that perhaps it did…a little, subconsciously. But Hajime plays his cards close and maintains the belief that Hinako and HINA are two different people when he calls her up later. He first describes how amazingly beautiful HINA was in the flesh, then thanks Hinako for the advice that ended up saving his ass.

While initially disappointed, Hajime’s heartfelt thanks put a smile on Hinako’s face, and she later confides in Teresa and Alec that she’s fine with things the way they are, at least until she summons the confidence to tell him herself. I’m totally fine with that; the ball is in her court. I’m not holding my breath Hajime will ever take the initiative, even if the truth fully comes to him.

As for Teresa, she laments to Alec that she’s kept something from everyone else in the club—namely, I suspect, that she’s Luxembourgian royalty—but Alec tells her not to sweat it and just to enjoy the time they have in Japan, because, after all, it’s only a study abroad trip, and one day it will end and they’ll return to Europe.

As Teresa quietly develops feelings for Tada, she can’t help but relate to Hinako’s dilemma, as Tada perhaps hasn’t shown as much interest in her as she’d like. Only one thing for it: more time and more interactions together.

Net-juu no Susume – 07

NJS episode 7 is a bit of a let-down, and almost feels like a waste of time, were it not for the development at the very end. Otherwise, we’re in a familiar holding pattern, in which Sakurai tries in vain to give up on Morioka while still interacting with her in Fruits de Mer.

It’s a really untenable position, especially when “Hayashi” gets to talking with “Lily” about her two dates and has a lot more to say about the first one with him than the second one with Koiwai. When Hayashi notes that the first “woman” reminded her of Lily, it really starts to test Sakurai’s resolve.

That resolve is ultimately eroded even further when Koiwai starts playing Fruits de Mer and Morioka creates a new, female avatar, “Molly” who is visually the grown-up version of “Yuki”, whom Sakurai was good friends with in a past MMO.

Koiwai was more irritating than usual this week, for while I can’t fault the guy for wanting to get closer to Morimori, there’s something to be said for letting a NEET have her safe places to escape to, and his sudden imposing of himself into the world of FdM resembled a bull in a china shop (except when he stepped away to email Sakurai; then the bull stood perfectly still).

But if the show is trying to sell us the story of Sakurai and Morioka, there’s something distasteful about every scene with Morioka and Koiwai; it triggers an impatience, especially when combined with Morioka’s continued ignorance of Lily’s true identity and her believe a guy like Sakurai would never be interested in her.

Perhaps once Sakurai creates a new male avatar resembling his old one who Yuki confided in, maybe she’ll start to put the pieces together. But just as I can’t fault Koiwai for continuing to pursue Morioka, I can’t fault Morioka for not knowing the truth, because the easiest way for that to happen is with Sakurai simply telling her, which he has utterly failed to do for yet another week.

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.

Net-juu no Susume – 04

A new series of cute loot and a bonus point campaign spur Morika, already in high spirits upon becoming partners with Lily, to splurge a little. Only a happy circumstance takes place at the convenience store as she has to wait a few minutes for the store’s e-money system to boot.

Those minutes are spent suddenly learning that the store clerk is also a fan of Fruits de Mer, and goes on and on about it in a way Morioka find very fulfilling. They have so much fun talking, the clerk neglects the fact there’s a guy who needs his cigs!

Even so, it was exhilarating for Morioka to finally talk with someone about MMOs in real life. In the game, Hayashi encounters Kanbe and Lilac, the latter of which has just gone to the loot outlet and picked out some stuff that’s very fluffy and cute, but Kanbe prefers what she usually wears.

We also meet Lilac’s real-life player, who both laments not having snatched up Hayashi as her partner and seems to have a bit of a spark with Kanbe. Hayashi manages to score both rare and common loot, but lucky Lily takes the cake by scoring the whole set.

When in-game, NjS packs a lot of neat details, like the way Lilac sees Hayashi as a sensitive guy (compared to Kanbe) rather than what he actually is—a she; Pokotarou suddenly spawning in the same space as Lilac, obscuring her avatar; or Himeralda’s player playing as her husband, who plays Pokotarou; a surprising and clever occurrence.

But NjS makes good use of both of its worlds, and seems really balanced this week. Sakurai is depressed about not being able to see Morioka, and as he lists off all the ways he’s tried, Koiwai rightly suspects him of stalking, which isn’t good.

But then…Koiwai stakes out the convenience store, bumps into Morioka as planned, and works his businessman magic. Morioka is initially like, “why is this guy talking to me?!” and rightly so, even if she weren’t naturally shy; but once they get to talking they establish a quick rapport, though Koiwai comes off as a little pushy in gaining her contact info.

When Koiwai shows Sakurai what he’s done, how he managed to get a date with Morioka, Sakurai’s expression is of shock, which if the camera had lingered would have surely turns to dejection. Is Koiwai simply helping Sakurai out, or does he want to date Morioka? I hope it’s the former; besides seeming like a nice guy, what kind of friend would stab him in the back like that?

That brings us back into the game, where Hayashi goes to a, yup, dejected-looking Lily, who reminds them that since they’re partners, he can come to her to talk any time. Morioka, through Hayashi, words things very carefully in telling Lily the story of how she ended up in the hospital on an IV all the way to accepting a date from a former work colleague.

The coincidences are far too many, and Sakurai is no fool; he connects the dots, flipping Hayashi’s gender to make her Morioka. Now all he needs to do is believe the deduction he’s just made and proceed from there. After all, despite thinking he’s had no contact with Morioka, all this time he’s had all the contact, and they’re already partners, for gosh sakes. It’s high time the RL players need to catch up to their MMO counterparts.

Tsurezure Children – 05

Ahh, conversations through texting. So fraught with danger. You’d think communication would be a cinch in these heady days of high technology! NOPE. Take Takase and Saki. They both like each other and want to confess, but Saki is too scared to do it in person, so after a string of texts goes very well, she sends that text.

Unfortunately, Takase was about to do the same thing at the same time, but bailed at the last second, instead asking if she’d meet up with him later. But he just had to include a comment about how confessing via text is shitty. And so both Saki and Takase end the evening not as a happy couple…but wishing they were dead.

MOVING ON! Kaga Yuki’s childhood friend Nanase Kaoru joins the astronomy club, and she laments how Yuki’s clearly only there because he has a crush on Sasahara. But when Sasahara steps out for a bit, Kaoru pounces.

She tries in vain to lead an entirely Yuki along to the realization that she likes him, but ultimately has to resort to kissing him, lest their be any doubt. A kiss that Sasahara walks in on, no less! Still, by episode’s end, Yuki is willing to knock on Kaoru’s door for a family errand. They’ll be fine.

LASTLY, we have Kamine Ayaka and Gouda Takeru. Ayaka is worried that since they started going out, things aren’t going so swell with Takeru, making her wonder if he’s not into it. As if to confirm her fears, Takeru is very standoffish after school and even starts talking as if he’s trying to gently but firmly dump her.

But it’s all good; it’s fine…he’s not trying to dump her, he’s saying their awkward tension is what can’t go on…not their relationship. To that end, he wonders if it’s okay if they hold hands. And Ayaka’s instincts were right on at least one front: he avoided her because he was sweaty…which makes her so happy she gloms onto him with glee. Daawww…

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