BokuBen – 13 (Fin) – The Lights in the Sky are Stars

This is it—The episode we’ve all been waiting for: when Nariyuki finally chooses which of the girls he’s going to go out with! Pfft, sure. If only it were that simple! Every girl has good qualities—though as discussed ad nauseum last week, some people have a particular preference, depending on their own type—but however Nariyuki feels about them, he’s either unaware of their feelings for him (in the case of Fumino and Rizu) or has been misled or messed with so much he doesn’t know what to think (Uruka, Kirisu, Asumi).

While she’s serving as a kind of “substitute Nariyuki” at an all-girls pajama study session at Rizu’s, Sekijo Sawako impresses upon them how lucky they are to have such a dedicated tutor, though she’s not sure if it’s because he’s a pushover or simply gets “caught up in stuff so easily”—the answer is somewhere in the middle. Alas, that’s the last we see of Sawako, one of BokuBen’s more intriguing but underutilized supporting players.

Later, Nariyuki intends to help his mom with his littlest brother and sister at the summer festival, but when his fam sees his two cute friends in yukata, they quickly ditch him, and Fumino soon follows, leaving Nariyuki with Uruka, which came as a bit of a surprise considering they arrived at a pretty good stopping point last week.

Aside from her showing him her tongue (stained pink from shaved ice) and offering some to him (for an indirect kiss), there’s no further romantic awkwardness between them, as they chip in to help an overworked Rizu and her dad at their udon stand.

Kirisu ends up attending the festival in disguise to keep an eye on students, but when Nariyuki makes her, she runs away, trips, and injures her knee. He has to give her a second piggyback ride (only this time she’s not sauced) to the first aid tent, which of course is being tended by Asumi and her dad.

Asumi leaves Kirisu’s skinned knee to Nariyuki, but he ends up helping out the rest of the night, showing that Sawako is indeed correct about him being a bit of a pushover and easily caught up in things. But hey, if he enjoys helping everyone out, so what if he’s not the one instigating these scenarios?

Fumino, who split off to let Nariyuki and Uruka be alone, ends up losing track of time gazing at the stars, and on her way to the last train, she has to corral a little lost girl and get her back to her mom. Nariyuki also loses track of time at the first aid tent, and ends up finding the little lost girl’s twin sister.

With the twins back with their mom, Fumino and Nariyuki end up missing that last train, and encounter one other at the station. With no taxis (or indeed any cars) around and only an inn to turn to, the do-gooders have to consider an action that, if taken out of context of their situation, could be seen as very bad.

That action, of course, is spending the night together at a ryokan, which only has one room left, and that room has only one futon, and because it’s a chilly night they have to share it. These two have clearly never heard of sleeping head-to-foot to avoid awkwardness, but that’s rarely a comfortable way to sleep anyway.

For the first time, Nariyuki and Fumino find themselves sleeping in a bed with a member of the opposite sex, and it’s tough. Thankfully, it’s a gorgeous, clear, starry night, so they manage to find a topic that sets them both at ease; the very subject Fumino intends to pursue: astronomy.

Fumino tells Nariyuki about a book she first read when her mother was on her death bed, about an old astronaut continuing to chase his dream and conquering his weakness—something she, Rizu, Uruka, and Asumi are all doing. Nariyuki points out how cool he thinks they are for doing so, and expresses envy for not having any particular personal goal of his own.

Fumino tells him she doesn’t consider herself particularly special for having a dream, and it’s clear she doesn’t think he should discount his desire to help make his family more comfortable and prosperous. But if he ever comes up with another dream, she promises to help him, as his “big sis” (they checked in to the room as siblings).

Fumino ends up falling asleep while grasping Nariyuki’s hand, and he doesn’t have the heart to wake her up. Turns out she’s dreaming of that day she read that book with her mom, and when she wakes up, her hand and his are still intertwined. While initially surprised and bashful, she doesn’t see any need to break their embrace, and so curls up a little closer to him.

The night after on the train, the two are mortified by the choice they made last night, but as they part ways, Fumino, back to calling him by his family name Yuiga, smiles and tells him simply that she’ll see him later. And indeed we shall, as a second season of BokuBen is coming this Fall, where I’m sure we’ll be presented with more adventures both wackily comedic and poignantly warm between Nariyuki and the girls he tutors.

I can’t see why I wouldn’t be around to keep watching them. After all, it seems when it comes to this kind of show…I never learn.

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Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 10 – Recovering From Fevergate

Splashed across a tabloid spread, “the sleepover incident” has created fresh and lingering tension between Kaguya and Miyuki, which should go without saying: it was a major step forward, even if it was utterly innocent. Still, neither is prepared to admit the incident for what it was, or their frustration with how it turned out, resulting in heightened passive aggression.

Things boil over when there’s only one slice of cake left (Yuu ate the second), leading to an epic, hour-long battle of wills with the two insisting the other eat it, even bringing up memories that make each of them have to turn away and blush about. The eventually come around to feeding each other simultaneously, but before they can do so Chika comes in to break it up, eat both bites, leading to a loss for both of them.

In the next segment, Kaguya seeks advice from Kashiwagi, while Miyuki goes to Yuu for advice on how to resolve the issue “for a friend.” Both tell their sides of the story, and each of their confidants is outraged by the injustice, leading to both Kaguya and Miyuki qualifying those events with other factors.

By the end of it, both Kashiwagi and Yuu agree (albeit quite independently) that if nothing happened and they both properly apologized, there is nothing left to be angry about. Of course, neither knows that the reason Kaguya is upset is that Miyuki didn’t even try to lay a finger on her.

Miyuki confronts her in the hall and says that he actually, did, but it was only one finger on her lips. Sufficiently satisfied (not to mention elated beyond belief), Kaguya returns the favor by touching his lips with her finger, making them even. This is how despite starting out in a state of tug-of-cake-carnage, both come out winners.

Now fully made up and back to normal, the term ends and Summer Vacation is about to begin. Both Kaguya and Miyuki are relying on Chika to use as a co-ed conduit to hanging out with each other without exposing how they feel (even though, if they’re honest, they already did that with the lip-touching).

Unfortunately for them, and as Kaguya quietly predicted, attempting to control Chika into getting your way is a lot tougher than you’d think. She’s off to Hawaii for a week in the Summer, and thus won’t have time for any other trip of that length, so she’s pretty much out. That’s when Yuu chimes in, wanting to make memories with his senpai.

That gives Miyuki an opening to suggest the end-of-Summer fireworks festival, which all four agree upon (Chika and Kaguya with particular enthusiasm). The only problem is, the August 24 date doesn’t work for Chika, who’ll be at a “tomato festival in Spain.”

No matter—Kaguya and Miyuki are committed to not wasting the vacation without ever hanging out with each other, and now they’ve found a new willing, and more malleable co-ed conduit to do so in Yuu. Could such a scenario provide the necessary conditions for either of them to move past feverish bed-sharing and coy lip-touching? We will see…

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 09 – Their First Sleepover

A typhoon that shuts down the trains brings good fortune for Kaguya, if only she’d simply use it and not make things more complicated. However, asking Miyuki if he wants a ride, thus initiating a “car date”, would be breaking her code, so she waits for him to ask for a ride instead.

Her hesitation ends up opening other opportunities for Miyuki. First, Chika offers to share her taxi, and Kaguya has to use her fear of lightning stealing her belly button to usher her out of the StuCo office. But then the trains start running when the typhoon dies down, further threatening the car date.

Kaguya resorts to sabotaging Miyuki’s phone battery, but he still doesn’t ask for a ride, and when her phone rings, she panics and runs outside where Hayasaka and the car are waiting.

Still, Kaguya waits outside, in the lashing wind rain, for Miyuki to come outside, get down on his knees, and beg for a ride. Instead, he races out of the school on his bike, resigned to get soaked but intent on getting to work as quickly as possible. He utterly drenches Kaguya in his wake.

The next day, Kaguya has a terrible fever and is consigned to bed. Someone from the StuCo has to visit her to drop off printouts, and Miyuki leaves himself open until Chika brings up the fact Kaguya talks and acts like a baby when she’s sick. Suddenly, Miyuki is motivated to be the one.

But Chika decides they’ll determine who goes with a game of Concentration, and she cheats numerous times, so intent she is on seeing Kaguya in her cutest state. All the time, I was wondering why Miyuki didn’t simply use his authority as president to decree that he was going.

Once he hears from Yuu that Kaguya was waiting outside for someone and starts to remember drenching someone, Miyuki does what he needs to win the card game, while shaming Chika into oblivion; Chika leaves the office the way Yuu usually does: pondering death.

Miyuki arrives to find Hayasaka disguised as a maid, and she escorts him to Kaguya’s room where she’s ransacking the place looking for fireworks. Chika was right: Kaguya isn’t just a baby, but completely off when she’s sick. Hayasaka explains that her ego is being suppressed by the fever, leaving only the id.

She then leaves Miyuki along with Kaguya, making sure to drive into his head the fact that they won’t be disturbed, the walls are soundproof, and Kaguya won’t remember anything he says or does while in her feverish state…BUT tells him not to do anything appropriate, wink-wink.

Miyuki is on his best behavior, but the fever-drunk Kaguya is the one who ends up doing something inappropriate. She opens her covers, pulls Miyuki into the bed, and won’t hear of him leaving her side. Miyuki is exhausted anyway, and so falls asleep.

Kaguya wakes up before him, the fever passed and of sound mind, and completely freaks out when she finds Miyuki beside her. She rouses him from sleep, shoves him out of the bed and her room, and asks a coy Hayasaka “how far she got” with Miyuki while she was feverish.

Thus ends the least romantic first sleepover either Kaguya or Miyuki could have asked for; one in which one of them wasn’t really all there, and the other was rightly very careful not to take advantage. I liked how this entire episode told one continuous story, though I doubt there will be lasting repercussions from the “sleepover” due to the unique circumstances involved.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 20 – Opening The Door To A Frightening World

“Never mind, I don’t care,” Takanashi lied. That’s where he finds himself at the beginning of this week: in denial of his feelings for Ishino and the feeling that he’s letting her slip away in his friend Sakurada’s arms. This week Sakurada is revealed as less of a character (or viable love interest to Ishino) and more of a catalyst for Takanashi to stop playing games.

When his mom ends up in hospital with a mild concussion, Takanashi hits the supermarket so he make hijiki for Anzu, and on his way out, he runs into Ishino, who can just tell something’s up. Takanashi resists the urge to tell her to butt out of his business (in fact she’s the one to bring up her meddling), but does tell her he doesn’t need her pity.

That grinds Ishino’s gears, as it should: forget never giving her the time of day: Takanashi has a serious habit of acting cool to hide his emotional struggles. He relents and asks Ishino to join him at his house, since she knows how to make hijiki.

Ishino also has a problem: it’s virtually impossible for her say “no” to Takanashi, no matter how selfish or mocking his request. But this isn’t about him playing games; it’s about him actually making some kind of effort, in his way, to let her know that her help at the house would be tolerated, appreciated…even preferred.

Meanwhile, someone who would prefer it if Hikari were to fall into a ditch and die is Iroha’s brother Chika, who has heard about the two of them going on an overnight trip. Hikari insists nothing will happen (which isn’t exactly fair to Iroha, if she wants something to happen!) and that the trip had to be postponed anyway; Chika gets his lick and death threat in anyway.

That feels like the first real ripple in Hikari and Iroha’s relationship in ages, and even then it’s due to a third party, not any conflict between the two of them. Back at Takanashi’s it’s pure domestic bliss—complete with spousal bickering, something Anzu probably isn’t used to considering they have a single parent.

Their argument is over whether Takanashi is justified in limiting Anzu’s exposure to Kaoru, or whether he’s just being  overprotective and even petty. Ishino and Takanashi make up in front of Anzu to calm her, but it isn’t long before they’re at it again, and this time it’s when he brings up Sakurada.

He asks, and almost orders Ishino not to go on the date with Sakurada, a serious request that he treats with his usual teasing jocularity (doesn’t want anyone taking his “pet”). While Takanashi is again trying his best to say what he wants to say, the fact is his best isn’t quite good enough. He has to be better.

He runs after a crying Ishino to apologize, and also properly explain his feelings: he feels like she’ll be an important part of his life, and if he lets her go on a date with his friend, he will regret it. So he asks if she’ll be his girlfriend, a question Ishino has been waiting for so long it barely feels real.

It’s been a recurring joke for him to immediately reject her when she asks him, but when he finally asks her, she’s just as quick in saying “yes.” Then he kisses her, daring to open a “door to a frightening world”, but opening it nonetheless. I have no doubt he’ll still tease her (and she’ll tease him back) but at least now there’s no doubt about his feelings.

Shifting from Newly-formed couples to Recently-formed couples, Itou ends up alone at Ayado’s house when something “comes up” with her parents. After four hours of wholesome video game-playing, Ayado can’t take it anymore: she wants to make out.

Itou worries that he’d be betraying her parents’ trust in him if he did anything with her, but Ayado disagrees. Ayado wants him to do something, and will be dejected and miserable if he doesn’t. You’re good, dude…Carry On. And carry on they do…though the episode is somewhat coy about how far.

Back to the couple that inspired all these new doors being opened: Iroha comes over for dinner with Hikari’s whole family again and has an absolute blast, as always. She loves how kind his family is, and how it explains why he’s so kind. Case in point: he offers to walk Iroha home, but she declines.

I can’t have been the only one to think that slightly awkward goodbye was foreboding, and what do you know, the next day Iroha is at the hospital talking with the doctor Hikari thought she was dating back in the beginning, telling her “it has to stop,” presumably due to her undisclosed health condition.

While new doors have been opened for the others, it looks like Iroha and Hikari’s is going to start closing. It’s something both of them have known would eventually come to pass. I just wish we had more of an explanation about why there’s such a seemingly firm clock on her life expectancy. At least Hikari deserves to know, even if it crushes him.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 19 – Tabasco In The Orange Juice

From Iroha slapping her brother with a wet towel when he accuses her geeky boyfriend of dragging her down to his level, to Hikari showing that he’s grown into a far better boyfriend than Iroha’s boyfriend could imagine, I loved every minute of this episode.

It was full of instances of friends leaning on one another in times of need, quickly sorting out misunderstandings, and, of course, Ishino gettin’ some legit attention from a guy other than Takanashi! The only major mark against this episode is that there’s no Ayado, but that allows the episode to maximize its time with everyone else.

First, a brief rift between Itou and Hikari emerges when Itou asks Takanashi for advice on how to proceed with Ayado. Hikari knows he’s not the one to go to for advice of that nature, but is still embarrassed enough to avoid Itou, until Itou himself calls him out and they sort it out together.

Itou assures him every couple goes at its own pace, and that if Hikari doesn’t even intend to go all the way with Iroha (as Itou suspects he will with Ayado, very soon), Itou respects and will support him. It’s some very mature conversation between best mates, clarifying that this isn’t a race!

Speaking of early bloomers, Kaoru comes to Takanashi’s house to apologize for keeping Anzu out late, but manages to pierce Takanashi’s innate distrust and loathing for All Things Tsutsui with a heartfelt monologue about why he loves Anzu and wants to help her big brother keep her safe. Still, Takanashi is frustrated enough with Kaoru’s shrewdness that he decides to take it out on Hikari, who after all only wants some of the same advice as Itou.

While heading back downstairs from the roof, Takanashi very clearly tries to get the attention of Ishino, and ask her if she’s free for…something. But his friend, who met Ishino at the maid cafe, asks her out first, having already gotten a half-hearted okay from Takanashi to pursue her. It’s clear despite his aloof attitude, Takanashi doesn’t like his friend spending all this time with Ishino. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve had until you’ve lost it!

Hikari and Ishino have been just humming along, but with another three-day weekend coming up Iroha wants to go on a trip…an overnight trip—to eat and see the sights in another town. But Hikari is overwhelmed by the possibility that they may end up doing it, and gets so stuck in his head he appears outwardly opposed to and stressed out about going on the trip, and Iroha drops the issue and heads home.

For her part, Ishino told Hikari before he met with Iroha to just get fucking laid already…though at the same time no one reinforces Hikari’s own insecurities and sense of non-worth than Ishino, even though she’s just messing around.

But Ishino now finds herself in a bit of a love triangle. I doubt this new guy (I didn’t even hear his name) is anything other than a means to show Takanashi that he actually does requite Ishino’s feelings, at least to some degree, whether it’s true love or he’s simply pleasantly accustomed to having her around.

Ishino assumes the worst; that he’s some kind of playboy just trying to get in her pants. I’m not 100% convinced that’s not the case either. Good luck, Ishino! As for Takanashi, he should take after his friends and reconcile his feelings.

Hikari, good man that he is, doesn’t spend days worrying about what a shit he is, and corrects himself almost immediately, actually taking the time to look at the travel books Iroha marked, then running after her, embracing her from behind, and agreeing that it will be a fun time. He just had to get out of his own head, and put himself in her shoes: she must have been excited to tell him about the trip, and was looking forward to it since the last three-day weekend.

Unfortunately, due to Iroha’s poor test scores, she has to take remedial classes over the weekend, but Hikari assures her they’ll go the next time. Here’s hoping there is one—it would be a great step forward for their relationship.

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.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 08 – A Boring Yet Sound Argument

On another night at the Azusagawa residence, Futaba Rio lends Sakuta some insight into how her separation into two different Futabas took place: it was the result of her inability to reconcile her need for attention with her inability to forgive the means of getting that attention.

Futaba developed faster than the other girls in her class—a lonely development, to be sure. It isolated her; made her feel alone, conspicuous, even dirty. And yet, her need to not be alone led her to start the photo stream; any reactions, no matter who from, were a consolation; they made her feel a little less lonely.

This debunks my theory about the competing sides of her psyche splitting off, but only partially: you could still say the Futaba living at Sakuta’s is the one more like the superego, while the one living in Futaba’s house is more like the id. One can live in an imperfect world far easier than the other.

While accepting the judgment of Mai’s manager that she cut out most private meetings with her boyfriend as a “strategic retreat” for the sake of her just-restarted career, Sakuta digs fully into this Futaba Dilemma. After all, he’s dealing with a childhood friend.

“Shut-in” Futaba wants “Wild” Futaba to shut down the account, and while meeting with her she shows him pictures from when she was in middle school; a form of “self-mutilation” in which she intentionally posted pics of her developing form. Both Futabas say they “hate” themselves.

After a day when “Wild” Futaba gets to fan a hot Kunimi, she starts to get unwanted propositions and threats to expose her from strangers looking at her pics online. This naturally freaks Futaba out, and she deletes her account, runs to her (huge!) house with Sakuta, and has him sleepover.

There, she reveals to Sakuta that she felt like she’d be all alone again after both Kunimi and Sakuta got themselves girlfriends. She already feels like Kunimi is so far away, but all it takes is one call from Sakuta on her phone for him to come running (well, biking) to her side in the middle of the night.

Unknown to Kunimi, Sakuta just proved what a loyal and dedicated friend he is. When she realizes she was never alone after all, she tears up, and Kunimi has Sakuta buy them both drinks to rehydrate: him for his biking, her for her tears.

Sakuta also buys fireworks and they go to the beach, lighting sparklers and candles and crackers and rockets until the night sky starts to brighten. Futaba smiles and laughs and the three old friends have the most fun they’ve had together in ages.

Futaba’s “separation” may have been unfortunate, but one could argue it was also necessary in order for her to be reminded of what she has, not to mention bring the three back together after some distance was created between them due to extenuating circumstances.

More importantly, “Wild” Futaba started the day wanting Sakuta to take a side—since “the world only needs one Futaba Rio”—and ending with her urging Sakuta to help the other Futaba. He heads home to report  that the account is history, then passes out, leaving the other Futaba her phone.

The background shows “Wild” Futaba with Sakuta and Kunimi during their idyllic evening. When Sakuta wakes up, she’s gone, but the other Futaba tells him “if it were her” where she’d be: the school, in their classroom.

There, Futaba repeats the other Futaba’s words about there only needing to be one of them in the world, and how the “Wild” one is clearly being “the better Futaba”, and that she should just disappear. Sakuta rejects all of that, an invites her to the fireworks festival he, Kunimi, and the other Futaba agreed to attend (since he and Mai can’t date and Kunimi is having a fight with his GF).

He leaves it at that…then passes out a product of his bike ride in the pounding rain being a bit too much exertion immediately following an all-nighter. He wakes up in the hospital with Mai by his bedside, having been called by Futaba.

By being there for Sakuta, Futaba proved that she actually is needed. And when Sakuta sits with her later, he neither tries to tell her all of her positive qualities nor tells her how she needs to start gradually liking or loving herself, as a friend might be expected to do.

It’s because Sakuta is “the worst” in this way, not saying what a usual friend would say, Futaba is relieved and comforted. She then calls the other Futaba on a pay phone, voices her desire to go to the festival, and in a neat trick where the phone receiver suddenly falls, she disappears. But she’s not gone. Futaba Rio is simply whole again.

Whole, and no longer alone. While watching the fireworks at the festival, she seems to tell Kunimi her feelings, but rather than seeking an answer she already knows, she simply urges him to make up with his girlfriend.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 07 – A Tale of Two Futabas

Fresh off the amicable resolution of the Koga Tomoe arc, we are presented with not one but two new mysteries, both involving characters we’ve dealt with before. Just as Sakuta’s earlier, seemingly random encounter with Koga paid off nicely (butt-kicking leading to quantum entanglement), his past established crush on “Makinohara Shouko” makes the sudden appearance of someone with the same name who looks just like her, only two years or so younger, that much  more intriguing.

At the same time, Futaba Rio is elevated from Sakuta’s sounding board and scientific consultant to an actual participant in Adolescence Syndrome weirdness. Sporting a fresh look with ponytail and contacts, Futaba doesn’t have any answers for Sakuta about why some younger copy of his crush suddenly appeared. If it’s not causing any harm, just don’t worry about it for now.

And the episode doesn’t; not really. Shouko is mostly tabled as the episode veers toward the slow-burn relationship of Sakuta and Mai, who is done with a job early and surprises him by showing up at the restaurant where he works, and even implies he’ll let him make out with her later.

After his shift, the two spot Futaba entering a Net Cafe and follow her. Using Mai’s phone, Sakuta calls her (presumably so the sound of her phone will indicate where in the cafe she is) but as he’s talking to Futaba on the phone, he and Mai spot a second Futaba. Yup, she’s got herself a doppelganger!

This Futaba, with glasses and no pony tail, finds herself temporarily homeless, since the other Futaba is already living in her house. Sakuta invites her to stay at his place, something Mai only approves if she can spend the night there as well.

This Futaba is extremely coy about what could have brought on Adolescence Syndrome to the point she’d split in two. Sakuta puts her up in his room with Mai, but Mai soon comes out to the living room where he’s sleeping, giving him the hints and nudges he needs to indicate she’s open to him making a move whenever, not just a special occasion for an apology. After all, he’s her boyfriend. Unfortunately, their kiss attempt fails when they bump heads. These guys are just to frikkin’ cute together.

The next day, after some domestic bliss with his full house, Sakuta has Mai watch one Futaba while he goes to school to track down the other. Shouko shows up, but nothing further on her situation is explored; it’s just an opportunity to confirm to Futaba that there is a new Makinohara Shouko in Sakuta’s life.

At school, while on the way to science club (which consists only of her) Futaba stops to watch Kunimi play basketball, which is where Sakuta finds her. After talking with her for a bit, it’s obvious he’s not dealing with “real and fake” Futabas; they are both Futaba, through and through.

That’s not to say the two aren’t very different; not just in appearance (though that’s a start): the ponytailed, contact-wearing Futaba just seems far more assertive, confident, and active, whereas the Futaba back at his place seems, well, almost the opposite of those qualities.

When Kunimi’s girlfriend confronts Sakuta with a social media feed of Futaba taking risque pictures of herself, my theory solidified: the two Futabas embody her id and ego (or super-ego). She is out of balance, and her unrequited feelings for Kunimi seem to be the cause. The question is, how is Sakuta going to help her restore that balance and become one again…and where does Shouko fit into all this?

P.S. A powerful little moment is when Mai’s cell phone goes off and Kaede suddenly looks like she’s about to be shot. Now we know why Sakuta doesn’t own one!

P.P.S. Futaba fell for Kunimi when he bought her a Choco-Cornet; Id-Futaba makes that her social media handle for her photo feed.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 10 – Love is Painful, but Also Fun

I’ll admit the title above isn’t a particularly original observation, but one thing it definitely is is true, as anyone who loves or has ever loved someone else can attest. When 3DK started I noted the balance in its core couple, and I stand by that assessment.

Whatever they may feel about their situation, the fact is both of them are at pretty much an equal disadvantage when it comes to matters of love and intimacy. Before falling for one another, neither had any experience with intimacy. Hikari had never liked or been liked by someone like Iroha, and Iroha had never liked or been liked by someone like Hikari.

Their mutual lack of experience has made for a bumpy road as their affection for one another intensifies, but it also leads to some novel strategies someone with more experience than Hikari might not attempt, such as having Iroha present for his gentle rejection of Ayado.

It wasn’t even a stone-cold rejection of Ayado, so much as a calm and measured affirmation that he’s simply already in love with Iroha. More importantly, he showed his work, explaining how he used to feel and how those feelings changed when he learned more about her, and when his preconceptions were replaced by truths.

Iroha, who only wanted to hear Hikari say the words “I love you”, wants to hear them again later, and Hikari knows not to refuse her. Ayado feels bad about being turned down, and both she and Hikari find themselves weighed down by their 3D problems in the immediate aftermath, but after that both are fine; Ayado is refreshed.

Itou knows now is not the time to confess his love for Ayado, nor is he sure such a time will ever come. When making up with Hikari after yelling at him by sleeping over, Itou reveals to Hikari that there’s a girl he likes, but believes he’s already been given his answer.

I wouldn’t be too sure about that; Ayado is coming off a rejection, but given time, she might be receptive to someone like Itou’s feelings provided, ya know, she is aware of them, and that’s up to Itou. It’s up to him whether he can get past the fact she once loved Hikari. In any case, as Itou says, it’s painful being in love, but also fun.

Hikari’s tale of romantic ineptitude is a simple one: he buried himself in games after he decided interacting with people was too hard and painful. It was Iroha who brought him back to the 3D world, and showed him how it wasn’t only pain that awaited him there, but a good deal of joy as well. He also learned how well-equipped he was to live in such a world, owing to his basic decency and kindness.

Iroha’s tale is one we hadn’t delved into, but I’m glad this episode finally does so. Iroha has a pretty face, and so she never wanted for the attentions of men of all ages, whether that attention was appropriate or not. When she pressed those who confessed to her what they liked, they gave only superficial answers.

What changed Iroha from an insular person not any more sure how to interact with people into someone approaching gregariousness was, apparently, a medical diagnosis. She decided she’d interact with as many people as she could, but she only managed to attract those like her; people only looked at the surface and never dug deeper.

In a way it’s hard to blame them, because like her it was all they knew. Then she met Hikari, someone who wasn’t simply looking to share in the kindred understanding of attractive people that your real self will always elude others. Hikari got past that, found the awkward person beneath the surface, and wanted to protect that person…and stuff.

Hikari is still nervous being alone with Iroha, particularly in his room, but after a day of karaoke and bowling during which Iroha discovers Hikari’s cool, intense side (going all out singing) as well as his delicate, nurturing side (clipping her nails when she breaks them while bowling), he comes to the realization he’s okay being with her.

When he and Iroha spotted his little brother holding hands with Takanashi’s little sister, Hikari lamented that he sometimes feels his life moves five times slower than average. But when you only have three months left with your girlfriend before she moves, he realizes that slowing of time is a good thing.

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 03 – Beige or Pink, It Doesn’t Matter

Hirotaka proves he’s a good man to have in a pinch when Narumi falls behind on her BL doujinshi for Comiket, perhaps due in part to the two dating. He helps her complete her work in time and helps man her table when the day of the event arrives. It’s never explicitly said, but it’s clear Hirotaka derives enjoyment from assisting the woman he likes with her creative passion, so it’s not even a question of feeling put out or overly relied on.

Hirotaka does have to run off for a smoke when he observes one too many of Narumi’s fans fawning over her work, and finds solace in Kabakura, who is in a similar situation with his girlfriend dressing up as a super-suave dude and being quickly surrounded by fangirls.

Still, when Narumi realizes there are still so many “gods” whose work she loves she has yet to visit, Hirotaka sends her off with his blessing, manning her table in her place, and quickly drawing the admiration of many a customer turned on by a tall, dark, and handsome guy peddling BL doujinshi, forcing Narumi to return and “save” him. But it’s all good; Hirotaka is having fun.

In the second half, Narumi and Hirotaka navigate the rough waters of transition from the platonic childhood friends that they were to something more…adult. When Hirotaka invites Narumi to his place for drinks, her first thought is of what color underwear she’s wearing, lest the night take that kind of turn.

To her combined relief (since she’s wearing beige) and mild disappointment, the only turning that seems to be in store is that of Wii-wheels as they play Mario Kart together. She’s initially terribly nervous about being alone in Hirotaka’s apartment, but quickly remembers who he is and eventually relaxes.

She’s hit with another surprise when Koyanagi and Kabakura join them for the “sleepover”, and while Hirotaka takes his shower, the girls search his room for his print stash, which Koyanagi is convinced all red-blooded Japanese otaku still cling to, even in this age of digitization.

Harumi is initially put off by the big-boobed figures out in the open, but then takes a trip down memory lane when she finds his true stash: that of magic cards and other collectibles. Hirotaka joins her in reminiscing, stating that the time he traded cute characters for powerful ones was the genesis of their friendship, something Narumi feels guilty about not remembering.

She wants their relationship to be “fair” and for  Hirotaka to be honest with her and not hesitate to “punch” her if he thinks she’s a terrible person, but c’mon…there’s no way Hirotaka thinks that. But if she insists on penance, he exacts it by leaning in for a kiss—a real one this time—reminding her that he is, in fact, a man. A man concerned neither her bust size nor the color of her undergarments.

Also, how cute are Koyanagi and Kabakura with their matching necklaces, extremely competitive video gameplay, and drifting off on the couch together? They’re a very different couple from Narumi and Hirotaka, but no less fun to watch.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 13 – Meiling It In

After cheerleading practice, Sakura gets a surprising phone call from Meiling announcing that she has arrived in Japan. Since this is my first foray into CCS such an arrival means less to me than those who’ve watched the franchise in its entirety, but despite not knowing much about her or her past exploits with the other characters, she’s still a welcome and refreshing (re-)addition to Sakura’s circle of friends.

Rather than stay with her cousin Syaoran, Meiling decides to stay at Sakura’s permission for which she receives from Sakura’s dad over the phone, using such polite and formal language she shocks her old friend.

While Sakura’s brother stays at Yukito’s, avoiding answering questions about whether his powers are returning, Meiling and Sakura make delectable homemade gyoza, while Meiling and Kero square off multiple times, requiring Sakura to play peacemaker.

After helping Sakura dry her hair (resulting in a slightly different, more refined look), Meiling gets Sakura (a “natural airhead”) to open up about Syaoran. Sakura knows that Syaoran is hiding something, but also trusts him enough to believe if it were something he should and could tell her, he would, or will when he’s ready. I hope her trust isn’t misplaced.

As for Akiho, she continues to read from the tome of stories, one of which depicts a girl who grew cat ears and a tail—which is precisely what Sakura sees Meiling growing at various moments before they go to bed. She and Meiling chalk it up to Sakura simply being half-asleep and seeing things, but it’s clear the ears and tail are not only real, but something being instigated by Akiho, seemingly at the behest of her watch-wearing butler.

Tsuki ga Kirei – 04

It’s the School Trip episode, and there’s a sense of adventure to the proceedings, as the whole amassed class boards the Shinkansen and arrives in a bustling Kyoto. It’s just the start of a dense, lush, richly-detailed episode that nevertheless has a light touch due to the elegant plot.

You see, amidst this big trip, all Kotarou really wants is to know Akane’s answer to whether she’ll go out with him; the sooner the better. Because cell phones are officially forbidden, he has to hide his and hope it’s not confiscated; otherwise he’s doomed.

And I’m not kidding when I say Kyoto is bustling; the scenes of throngs of tourists milling around are pretty impressive, even if the CGI models are a little stiff, it’s better than panning stills; not to mention the accurate-to-Kyoto environs look great.

The fact that Kotarou and Akane have to contend not only with their nosy classmates, but also the vast space and volume of humanity Kyoto throws at them, really heightens the tension. Will they be able to meet on this trip?

C’mon, haven’t we all been there at some point: staring at our phone, the only light in the room at night, willing that next text to come in from the person you like? Even if you haven’t, the tension is thick enough to cut through with a knife.

The show does an excellent job thrusting us into the shoes of both Kotarou and Akane, making their various friends, nice that they are, feel like hovering irritants. They want to reach out to each other, but they’re mired in their respective circles.

Kotarou finally gathers the courage to send Akane a place and a time to meet…only for his phone to be confiscated by a (drunk) teacher at the worst possible time.

From there, it’s a textbook “missed/lost connection” scenario, as Akane sent a text asking Kotarou to elaborate on what he meant by the time and place…and she waits and waits, to no avail. So much must fly through her head: did he lose his phone, or is he intentionally ignoring her replies?

The beauty of this particular situation is that it simply unfolds before us without undue explanation, exposition, and precious little inner dialogue, really giving the increasingly awful-feeling situation room to breathe without undue verbal interference.

Kotarou has to muster courage once more, in order to borrow Chinatsu’s phone to call Akane. And Akane is rightly pissed, though neither she nor Kotarou should place so much hope in the reliability of cell phones. That’ll lead them to ruin!

All’s well that ends well, thankfully, and the tension is released when, after voicing her frustration with her ordeal and with their inability to clearly communicate thus far, Akane is the one who musters the courage to say something: that she wants to talk with Kotarou more.

That’s her answer, all but eliminating the ambiguity her fortune said would lead to calamity. Sure enough, the pouring rain ceases and the clouds part to reveal the beautiful blue sky. Now let’s hope these two crazy kids didn’t catch colds!

3-gatsu no Lion – 08

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3GL doesn’t conform to the usual one-twentyish-minute-episode per week, usually splitting into two or more parts. Never has the transition between two segments been as dramatic as this week, but it works in the show’s favor: Nikaidou’s teaching sessions and all the cat stuff was cute, but was also getting kinda old. I will say that it was nice of Nikaidou to buy Rei a sofa bed. That apartment needs more stuff in it!

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The hook for the much darker and emotionally dense second segment is beautifully illustrated when Rei recalls seeing a bolt of lightning in a clear blue sky: the harbinger of a storm. It’s one of his most powerful memories, and it appears – in a sense – at his doorstep when he comes home one night in the form of his estranged (I guess?) adoptive sister, Kouda Kyouko.

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From the moment we see this present-day, all-grown-up Kyouko, it’s clear the camera is a stand-in for Rei’s gaze. The camera loves Kyouko. Her piercing eyes, her golden locks, her painted toes – it’s all lovingly, enthusiastically captured, and evokes quite a bit of thought about what’s going on beneath the surface of this human bolt of lightning.

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What’s certain is that for all her talk of not knowing Rei very well, she does know one thing perhaps no one else does: she knows he doesn’t love shogi, or at least his relationship to shogi isn’t a simple as love or hate. I loved the ambiguity of Kyouko’s visit – at times she seems almost half-nice – before saying something she knows full well will upset her adoptive little brother.

Some scenes, out of context, make it appear like Rei and Kyouko might be involved in that way; which wouldn’t be a first, considering one of Rei’s darker memories has her on top of him. But the segment unfolds like a fantastic, seductive two-person play, brimming with atmosphere, tension, and malice, it wrapped around me like that overly-fluffy futon. The soundtrack that accompanied it was fantastic.

Kyouko saves her sharpest dagger for the morning, as walks out the door, warning Rei that the match he probably has to win will be against an elderly player who will be demoted and retire if he loses. Kyouko is the bolt that brings pounding rain to Rei’s life. Rei’s better at shogi, but she’s better at mind games. And yet…I don’t loathe, or even dislike her.

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