Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 05 – Three Digits of Damage

We’re unfortunately not treated to Tomozaki’s movie date with Hinami, though we do get a glimpse of the all-important post-move café stop. Suffice it to say, there’s no movement on their matchup; things remain at a clinical master-pupil remove. Later that weekend they play TackFam together, where at least Tomozaki can still school her once in a while!

Tomozaki built confidence with his passionate defense of Nakamura and TackFam, and Izumi is now initiating chats with him in class, as is Nakamura’s friendlier mate Mizusawa, who suggests they go on a double date. Hinami, who’ll also go, leaves the second girl up to Tomozaki, and he chooses Izumi, wanting to build on the rapport they’ve developed thus far. The “in” he uses the group date is Nakamura’s birthday, which he learned from the flash cards.

While his invitation is rocky at first, he adjusts in “mid-battle” to brand Nakamura’s birthday as a good opportunity to make up with him. That suits Izumi, who is in. Later, Mizusawa calls out Tomozaki’s recent progress as him having read a “de-geekification book.” He’s not far off. Mizusawa also notes how chummy Tomozaki has been with Hinami, and thinks he’s “up to something” by then asking Izumi out.

Once Tomozaki navigates the initially intimidating TWINE app (quietly impressing his imouto), the shopping trip for Nakamura’s birthday is on. Hinami had imagined a much simpler bite to eat, and also seemed to object to Tomozaki inviting Izumi rather than someone else. In both cases, he upped the difficulty level of the event, and he only has himself to blame if it’s all too much.

His goal during the event is to make two successful suggestions related to the shopping trip. He actually does make one, as they head to the electronics store on his suggestion. It’s also his line of thinking that leads Izumi to purchasing styling wax, but that’s only an assist. To get a group to agree to your suggestions is to “control the mood”.

During the trip, Izumi draws close to Tomozaki and brings up the rumors about Hinami and Mizusawa—rumors that appear to be supported, but not proven, by how chummy they are together. Tomozaki doesn’t admit it to Hinami later, but learning of that rumor threw him off his game for the remainder of the trip…something Hinami does notice both during and afterwards.

When he asks Izumi for specifics about the rumors, he doesn’t get any—they’re just rumors. No doubt if he brought them up to Hinami, she’d deny them, and likely be justified in doing so, but who knows? We’re not any more privy to the rest of Hinami’s life as Tomozaki is. In any case, she keeps the focus on him in their sewing room briefing.

While it’s good that Tomozaki is starting to notice the improvement in his appearance (especially after the sample wax), he made a critical error in making no distinction between quality suggestions with persuasive suggestions. In reality, it can be hard to convince a group of a good suggestion, or easy to convince them of a bad one, and vice versa.

The only way to make headway in a group dynamic is to be ready to make suggestions that you know the group will accept. Misusawa did this organically, but Tomozaki will have to work at it to get it down. He briefly calls any game where crap suggestions can beat good ones due to social “trickery” to be “garbage” mechanics, but Hinami describes a theoretical “Negotiation Game” employing both effective speech skills and abundant info on one’s audience to unify interests and create consensus. In that context, Tomozaki sees it as a well-made game after all.

Mizusawa was impressed by his passion, but Tomozaki can’t achieve his goals by acting like Ace Attorney delivering a closing argument. Negotiation is key. And all this will imminently come into play as Hinami becomes a nominee for the student council. To her surprise, she’ll be opposed by Mimimi! Will this be the first instance of Tomozaki witnessing Hinami’s strategy falter? Either way, observing how Hinami fares should prove instructive.

P.S. I’ve never had shrimp on a pizza before, but the anime industry is apparently urging me to try it.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 04 – Standing Up to the Queen

Tomozaki just landed a lucky break. If there was no reason for Izumi Yuzu to approach him, he’d been making his presence known to the point that when he approached her, she felt she could come to him with her TackFam problem, which is really a Nakamura Shuuji problem. Bottom line: Izumi likes Shuuji, and wants to get good enough at the game to take him on. We also learn Shuuji recently turned down the Konno Erika, leader of the Neckties to which Yuzu belongs.

Yuzu invites Tomozaki to her place so he can teach her, and after one match he knows exactly what she needs to get better, starting with learning how to execute a short jump, which is simply a matter of practice and muscle memory. Yuzu is grateful for Tomozaki’s advice but wonders what the deal is with his various poses and gestures…turns out he’s mimicking Hinami’s teaching style without knowing it!

By the time Tomozaki is drawing detailed diagrams of all the moves Yuzu will have to memorize, she asks him: What is all the intense effort even for? He tells her what it’s not for: making friends or winning praise. When Yuzu claims she can’t ever change from her current status of superficially laughing with her necktie-wearing friends, he assures her he is proof that anyone can change; they just need to commit themselves and put in the effort.

While Hinami calls Tomozaki’s break with Yuzu pretty “miraculous” when they meet up for a debrief, she can’t deny he properly capitalized, using what he knows best (TackFam) to really connect with someone. That said, she still wants him to ask Fuuka out on a date, even producing movie tickets for them to use.

The night before, Tomozaki practices asking Fuuka out on the recorder Hinami gave her, showing how he’s learning how to listen to himself and adjust. But he also accidentally opens a folder of recordings Hinami didn’t delete: ones in which she too practices talking. He already considers it amazing she’s so good at the Game of Life; to hear the process firsthand is even more amazing.

Like him with TackFam, no matter how high a level you achieve, you can never stop practicing. But with practice comes the realization that sometimes circumstances won’t always accommodate your plans, nor will practice always inform what to do when it’s go time. To whit: Tomozaki calls an laudable audible: coming clean to Fuuka about having not read any of her favorite author, and thus not yet being ready to read her own novel.

This could have turned out disastrously, but the risk was well worth the reward of starting fresh from a position of honesty. A white lie or misunderstanding rarely forms a strong foundation for a relationship. While there’s clear and justifiable disappointment in Fuuka’s reaction, there’s also the sense she’s happy he’s being so honest. He’s also able to break the news naturally and casually enough not to come off as dismissive or cruel.

Working entirely outside the letter of Hinami’s plan while hewing to the spirit of her training, Tomozaki shows great growth here, while rejecting her “an in is an in” mentality. Yes, the author misunderstanding, got Fuuka talking to him, but so did simply asking Yuzu for a tissue.

He also wisely realizes that to ask her out on a date so soon after basically restarting their friendship from a place of honesty would be overdoing it, so he withholds the tickets for now. If he gets any flak from Hinami, he’ll be ready with a pretty good explanation. However, their next meeting is preempted by Shuuji’s two mates: he wants a TackFam rematch, now.

In the AV room, Tomozaki plays Shuuji while Shuuji’s mates, Yuzu, and Erika and her two Necktie acolytes watch. Tomozaki proceeds to beat Shuuji handily in match after match, but Shuuji keeps asking to play again. He grows more frustrated, even as he starts to improve slightly, to the point he’s able to take out one of Tomozaki’s health stocks.

That frustration creates an increasingly unpleasant tension and aura of desperation around Shuuji, to the point Erika begins to mock him as “weak”, his obsession with a “stupid game” as “creepy”, and that she dodged a bullet when he turned her down. The “stupid game” comment draws the ire of Tomozaki, as does her assertion that all of Shuuji’s hard work and practice amounts to nothing.

The old Tomozaki would have muttered something and not followed through, but this newly Hinami-trained Tomozaki is at least adept enough at the Game of Life to call Erika out for the haughty tourist she is. Shuuji may have been a dick to him all this time, but at least he’s committed to improving and keeps fighting no matter how much he loses. All Erika can do is mock someone else’s effort when she (at least as far as Tomozaki knows) puts in none at all.

Yuzu even has the courage to chime in and call Shuuji’s efforts “beautiful in a boyish way”, despite the fact doing so is contradicting the vaunted Queen of the Neckties. But I have no doubt it was Tomozaki’s earlier words about her ability to change that helped her summon the courage to speak up. Erika slinks away, pretending not to have learned anything, but she did. So did Shuuji, who probably resents Tomozaki defending him but also appreciated it.

Notable for her silence during all this is Hinami, which was no accident. The thing is, while she observed that Tomozaki had things well in hand, I also think she stayed above the fray in order to avoid needlessly upsetting the apple cart with Erika & Co., who would have likely felt ganged up on if she’d joined Tomozaki and Yuzu—an example of maintaining balance through inaction. Regardless, both Erika and Shuuji stop giving Tomozaki a hard time, now knowing better what he’s made of.

At their next meeting over lunch, Hinami asks how things are going with Fuuka, wondering if he’s lost motivation. He assures her he hasn’t, but without explaining the whole situation with coming clean and not wanting to pile on with a date request, Tomozaki pulls another laudable audible: whipping out the very tickets she gave him and asking Hinami if she’ll join him instead.

Hinami’s look of surprise is followed by the kind of proud face a master makes when their student has just done something good. Unfortunately, she’s not free tomorrow (what do you know, she does have other obligations!), but she is free for a movie now. Is it just me, or do these two just make a good couple, full stop?

It’s too early to tell, but I appreciate that Hinami doesn’t go all cliché blushy or tsundere at the prospect of Tomozaki asking her out. Maybe she gets that it’s for more “training”, or as thanks for her help so far. But at some point all these times they’re meeting up one-on-one and having fun will start painting the picture of two people…going out. We’ll see if anything comes of their consistently pleasant proximity, and more importantly, if more people start noticing them together all the damn time!

Crucially, this outing proved Tomozaki isn’t just some automaton carrying out Hinami’s directives, nor does she want him to be. She’s taught him the basics, and it’s up to him to experience how to properly use them and switch things up when warranted. The recording of Hinami also shows that her life game is an ongoing work in progress. I know it’s Tomozaki’s name in the title, but I would love to delve more into Hinami’s growth, and if Tomozaki has anything to teach her—something his recent shrewd freestyling might portend.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 03 – Character Creation, Phase 2

While a plethora of new characters were introduced last week, this episode keeps things simple by narrowing down the ones with whom Fumiya interacts to three: Aoi, Fuuka, and Yuzu. That not only keeps things from getting too scattered but is in keeping with Aoi’s desire to figure out who is best worth Fumiya’s time and effort.

Of course, first thing’s first: making him sufficiently presentable to converse with people. That means a trip to the mall for some new threads, a new haircut, and some lunch conversation practice. Fumiya has learned from the tapes that he has a tendency to mutter; Aoi tells him to use fewer words and rely more on gestures and tone to convey his emotions.

Quite by surprise, Fuuka is a waitress at the restaurant where they have lunch. Refreshingly, Fuuka doesn’t seem necessarily threatened by seeing them together, nor does she assume they’re on a date—she simply hadn’t pegged them as being friends material. Based on little details she noticed during their encounter, Aoi is convinced that Fuuka should be the “first heroine” Fumiya should pursue in his “playthrough.”

At their next meeting, Fumiya proudly reports that one of his small goals was achieved: his sister noticed he was putting more effort into his appearance. While Fumiya feels like he’s relying on “cheats” like dressing like the store mannquin or getting his hair done, Aoi insists that because he’s trusting in her and doing as she says, he deserves at least some of the credit for his success.

That said, Aoi isn’t going to start going easy on him. His next goal is to go somewhere alone with a girl who isn’t her. His related task for the week is to talk to Izumi Yuzu at least twice a day. Why Yuzu and not Fuuka? Because, as Aoi points out, real life isn’t a dating sim. Raising “affection levels” of one girl can raise them for all, along with increasing their innate possessiveness.

Fumiya is still weary that he’s not being “sincere”, but Aoi tells him it’s too early in his progress to worry about that. He’ll cross that bridge when he’s in a more serious relationship. For now, he needs “ins”, however he can get them. Things don’t go too smoothly with Yuzu at first; topics he chooses tend to lead to awkward conversational dead ends. But he keeps at it, and his quota for the week is eventually filled.

While in the library pretending to read a random book while coming up with TackFam strategies, Fumiya is approached by Fuuka, who notices the author he’s pretending to read is her favorite. Fumiya doesn’t correct her, and Fuuka ends up confessing something she’s never told anyone: she’s working on a novel, and would love it if he (and only he) read it sometime.

It’s a lovely little exchange because it’s the first of its kind fo Fuuka as well as Fumiya. Kayano Ai really sells Fuuka’s warmth and quiet enthusiasm, and Fuuka really does seem like a suitable person for Fumiya to pursue, and he has the perfect “in”.

As Aoi reiterates, it’s still too early to worry about “sincerity”; she can tell he’ll use it as an excuse to run away if she lets him. While he filled his quota in talking to Yuzu twice a day for a week, he may feel like he failed, like a battle he loses that results in KO and Game Over.

But unlike games of that kind, in the game of life you gain as much if not more XP by losing than by winning, so you’re better off keeping up the fight than starting over from scratch. That assertion really speaks to the gamer in Fumiya. The losses he tallied against Yuzu weren’t in vain; they got him to at least Level 3, and he can use what he learned from those failures to succeed with Fuuka.

But then life throws him for a loop when he spots Yuzu sitting alone and looking somewhat down. Remembering Aoi’s advice for him to mention something about her clothes or face, Fumiya tactlessly tells Yuzu she looks “gloomy”, but she doesn’t storm off. In fact, she just keeps looking gloomy, and even gets to the point that tears are welling in her eyes when she comes right out and asks him to teach her how to play TackFam.

I don’t believe this is the same kind of “in” as Fuuka’s secret novel reading—it’s possible Yuzu wants to learn to play so she can play with another boy she’s interested in, or maybe she just wants to learn TackFam, period. But the fact Fumiya reached out to her so much in the last week made him a viable person for Yuzu approach with such a request. So it could be an overture for a friendship. We shall see!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 02 – Boosting Social XP

With Fumiya’s goals laid out, it’s time to grind! Talking to three different girls is a steep task for someone who virtually never speaks to any, but Aoi has a detailed plan for  him. First, she’s already chosen to whom he should speak from her circle of friends—a measure of quality control. But she notably doesn’t hold his hand the whole way. He has to get out there and execute on his own.

An added wrinkle is the the fact girls at their school have a choice of wearing either a bow or necktie, and the custom of only the popular girls wearing the latter. Two of the girls he must speak to are with the “necktie team,” which feels like an added level of difficulty. But in his very first exchange with necktier Izumi Yuzu, simply asking her for a tissue, Fumiya does fine; he even interacts with a second girl in bow-tier Kikuchi Fuuka.

Fumiya hesitates in his next interaction during home ec, with the lively Nanami Minami (AKA Mimimi), because the plan said Aoi would be present to have his back, but this also seems like Aoi putting him on the deeper end of the pool to see what he’s got when faced with the unexpected. He ends up lauding Minami for her “empathy” when she says “I get that”, sounding like an old man and eliciting genuine, non-mocking laughter from her.

So far so good, but what happens when the social situation—or “battle”—is complicated by additional “combatants”? First, Natsubayashi Hanabi (AKA Tama) arrives, adding a completely different vibe to the conversation as Mimimi affectionately gloms onto her and tells her “Fumiya is funny!”

Before Mimimi or Fumiya can explain it to Tama so she doesn’t feel out of the loop, the three main “in-crowd” dudes arrive. They’re led by Nakamura Shuuji, whom we know to still be sore over his TackFam loss to Fumiya. Mimimi explains Fumiya’s “joke”, Shuuji dismisses it as no joke at all, and Mimimi puts it to a vote.

Fumiya notices that Tama doesn’t vote, so he also abstains so as not to keep her feeling left out. Finally, Aoi arrives and votes for Fumiya, giving both him and Tama the cover they needed to vote for him. She even uses the opportunity to bring up the fact Shuuji lost to Fumiya, and how his resultant sour attitude may be why he was dumped.

If all this sounds extremely complex, it’s because we’re watching all of the intricacy that lies behind seemingly mundane or effortless high school social interactions through Fumiya’s eyes: as a novice trying to familiarize himself with the game’s  mechanics and and pitfalls.

In their afterschool debriefing in the sewing room, Aoi explains how she wasted no time broached the topic of Shuuji’s TackFam loss as part of a larger effort to avoid Shuuji—who like her has considerable social clout—from being rude to Fumiya and hurting his progress (since it would give others permission to be rude).

Aoi believes that on balance, Fumiya’s first “field practice” was a huge success. He was a little shaky out there, but the conditions were met without cheating. She also has him rely on his own instincts by garnering comments form him. For instance, he noticed Tama seemed “a bit off”, which Aoi chalks up to Tama’s strong will and hesitance to “go along to get along”

Between the vote and debriefing, Fumiya witnesses the interactions between just the trio of Aoi, Mimimi and Tama, and learns why Hanabi is nicknamed Tama (b/c “hanabi” means fireworks, and you traditionally say “tamaya!” when they explode…pretty clever!) We also learn that Mimimi is not afraid of showing affection for her friends, whether it’s glomming on Tama or tickling Aoi’s navel.

Aoi “returns fire” by going in for a kiss—which seems to throw Mimimi off balance—only to gently blow on her lips. Both this incident and the fact Aoi being the only one in class with the “guts” to tease Shuuji further reinforce the reality that Aoi is an elite, “utterly terrifying” player of this game. Like Fumiya in TackFam, if you’re coming at Aoi IRL, you best come correct!

Now that Fumiya has familiarized himself with conversation somewhat, the next step is to get better at it by continuing to recognize the reactions of the girls he talks to, the shifts in mood those conversations take, and become comfortable with adjusting on the fly.

Being able to join in conversations with girls multiple times per day (no one-and-dones here) will also help him make progress towards his medium goal of getting a girlfriend. The more girls Fumiya converses with, the more reactions Aoi will have to gauge whom he should be talking to more. It’s like researching a boss before entering battle to ensure victory!

While becoming more agile in conversation through the accumulation of XP, Fumiya will simultaneously be practicing proper posture. A stronger posture will result in a stronger state of mind, just as confidence can be boosted by drawing on the positive reactions better posture will engender. Aoi clutches Fumiya’s buttock, but not as a flirtation. It’s merely a clinical check to ensure he’s using those muscles properly.

That afternoon, Aoi says she’ll be heading home with two of the three in guys (not Shuuji) and Mimimi, that he’ll be accompanying them, taking mental notes and honing his conversational skills. With Aoi with him this time, she’s able to support him with his “butt exercise” comment, which might’ve clanged to the floor without her seconding its efficacy.

Aoi then throws Fumiya a curveball mid-trip home: he and Mimimi are getting off early, since they live in the same area, so he’ll be interacting one-on-one with her, just like in home ec. Fortunately, Mimimi has no problem with his. On the contrary, she seems eager to help Fumiya come out of his shell even thought she’s unaware of his training, giving him an encouraging pat on the back.

Fumiya and Mimimi casually discuss his glumness and her liveliness, and when he asks if there’s ever times she’s not “all smiling and bubbly”, she says those times are when it’s most important to be that way. He then recalls what Aoi said about the body and mind being liked, and Mimimi can’t help but bring up the fact he and Aoi have been awfully buddy-buddy of late.

Fumiya sidesteps that by declaring Aoi out of his league, though that matter is far from closed. Mimimi maintains he should “let his fun side shine” more often, since he’s shown he’s actually pretty funny when he wants to be. Fumiya explains that fun isn’t the end-all-be-all for him; in TackFam, for instance, he plays because he loves it, and the fun is a bonus.

Mimimi also shows quite a bit of self-reflection when the subject turns to Tama, comparing her “won’t bend or be bent” nature to her “always be bending” attitude. It’s another great success for Fumiya, as he and Mimimi never had so much as an awkward silence while walking together.

As for determining who might be girlfriend material, that remains to be seen, but in their next debriefing Aoi has Fumiya acknowledge that his tendency to speak his mind regardless of the mood of the conversation makes him similar to Tama, who isn’t afraid to speak hers. Aoi believes that’s a strength in both, and Fumiya shouldn’t be afraid to use it.

Like the previous meeting, Aoi asks Fumiya to bring up anything else he learned, and he says he’s become aware that any productive conversation requires specific roles be filled, like different jobs in an RPG party: someone who introduces new topics (like Mimimi) and one who expands on existing ones (like Aoi).

Aoi is glad he’s picked up on this organically, and directs him to practice playing both roles. She expresses her joy with the phrase “HEXactly!”, which she finally explains was the catchphrase of a retro game she loved. She’s so delighted he’s heard of it she breaks out of teaching mode…but only momentarily!

To that end, Aoi has prepared flash cards of conversation topics for Fumiya to practice, and also recorded their meeting so he can listen to the sound of his voice. She also arranges their first Saturday meet-up. The fact she’s spending a day she’s free of club work on Fumiya means Aoi is determined to make her reclamation project a resounding success.

It’s great to see Fumiya not just making steady progress, but for the difficulty level not to be artificially heightened by, say, cartoonishly intractable personalities. At the end of the day these aren’t tough “bosses” Fumiya is being made to fight: Mimimi, Tama, Yuzu, and Fuuka are all nice people who aren’t hard to get along with, and all seem willing in one way or another to give him the benefit of the doubt despite his reputation.

At the same time, I’m thoroughly pleased Fumiya doesn’t need to be dragged kicking and screaming from his morose philosophy. While understandably a bit reticent at times, he’s neither resistant nor stubborn about submitting to Aoi’s prescribed plan. The best way he can show respect to her not inconsiderable efforts is by being a model trainee; a veritable sponge absorbing as much as he can, while not forgetting to have fun. So far, so good!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Blame the Game

“You cannot lose if you do not play.”—Marla Daniels, The Wire

“I’m not fucking crazy … I’m just goal-oriented.”—Annie Landsberg, Maniac

Our protagonist Tomozaki Fumiya (handle nanashi) is teen with a dearth of social skills and friends and seeks solace and contentment in the world of gaming. In the first of a veritable festival of metaphors this show dishes out, he’s a god-tier player of the popular fighting game Tackfam, but a bottom-tier player in the Game of Life. As such, even though he splashes the popular Nakamura Shuuji in Tackfam, it’s Shuuji who leaves school flanked by two pretty girls.

This leads Fumiya—who is not a refugee from a war-torn nation—to declare “The game of life is garbage”, followed immediately by an establishing shot of his family’s above average-sized detached home in a quiet neighborhood, thence to his spacious bedroom with hardwood floors, a Mr. Slim, and his own entertainment center.

I actually laughed out loud at this juxtaposition, even if it wasn’t quite the show’s intention. Then I couldn’t help but think: This guy is a whiny loser and I don’t like him. But hey, that’s the point: I’m not supposed to! In stories like this, something or someone becomes a catalyst for positive change.

In this case, it’s a someone—a fellow gamer (handle NO NAME) who is second only to Fumiya in the Tackfam national rankings. Fumiya respects NO NAME a great deal, and when he plays him he can tell how much effort and dedication he puts into training. When NO NAME suggests they meet up IRL, Fumiya doesn’t hesitate.

Little does Fumiya know that not only is NO NAME not a guy, but she’s someone he already interacted with at school prior to their meet-up, as she extended him some obligatory class-rep friendliness upon learning he and Shuuji played. NO NAME is Hinami Aoi, the “it” girl at his school: top grades, top athletes, loved by all. He considers Aoi a god-tier player of the game of life, like Shuuji.

Thankfully, Aoi’s reaction to Fumiya being nanashi is spot-on: “This sucks,” she declares, quickly losing her interest in further interaction. Her reason is plain: just as Fumiya is in awe of her as a player of life, she was in awe of nanashi as a player of Tackfam. To learn the real nanashi is a “rock-bottom loser” who has “given up on life” is deflating, and in turn reflects poorly on her, since she pegged nanashi to be a better person IRL.

Voiced by the wonderful Kanemoto Hisako, in with a feminine strictness that had me wondering if Aoi was really Nakiri Erina with dyed hair and contacts, Aoi brings legitimacy to “polite rudeness”—a term I may have just made up—in her takedown of Fumiya. She also has just the right response when Fumiya protests that the game of life is unbalanced, and her “high initial stats” imbue her and those like her with baseless confidence.

What’s so satisfying about her response, and can be tied to the tightness and cleverness of the dialogue throughout the episode, is that she repeats to Fumiya the very same words Fumiya said to Shuuji when he called Tackfam trash: There’s nothing more shameful than blaming the game, especially when you’d barely played. Fumiya goes on to argue that you can’t change characters IRL…and that’s when Aoi takes his hand, and before he knows it, he’s sitting in her bedroom.

It’s at this point in the ep when I began to develop a measure of concern about the emergence of a somewhat unpleasant subtext: Aoi seemed to be going extremely out of her way to be this dude’s archetypal “guardian angel”. After all, what does she get out of helping him? You can say she’s simply being every bit the “good person” and “perfect heroine” Fumiya saw her as to this point: helping those in need help themselves.

But there’s more to it than that, which justifies the extent of her effort vis-a-vis Fumiya, which we learn when she invites him to her room…her very similarly-sized and appointed room:

They’re practically mirror images of each other! Whether this was intentional or the creator/producers simply drew up some normal high school kid rooms, I appreciated the symbolism. There’s common ground between Aoi and Fumiya: their passion for the games at which they excel. Aoi happens to be good at both Tackfam and life, but she shows Fumiya the latter success isn’t due to high base stats.

She does this simply by being who she is—someone Fumiya didn’t know—by appearing before him in cozier clothes and without makeup. She assures him he can attain normie-level looks just fine by practicing better expressions and proper posture. When Aoi watched Fumiya play as nanashi, she saw the same serious effort she applied IRL—in fact, she thought him more capable of effort than she!

So yeah, from where Aoi stands and how hard she’s worked, Fumiya doesn’t get to say the game of life is unbalanced garbage. He just needs to start applying the same effort of which he’s already proven more than capable in Tackfam. She’ll prove he can—and validate her ideals—by helping him out. Fumiya is initially dubious because he assumes Aoi ranks life higher than Tackfam, but when she reveals her belief that life is tied for first with Tackfam, he’s moved.

He’s moved because while he’s always gotten online recognition for his online efforts, those same efforts have netted him precisely zero friends and recognition…until he met NO NAME/Aoi, who bridged the divide between games. In Aoi he finally has someone IRL who recognizes and moreover values his efforts.

As flawed as Fumiya is, he still recognizes his own hypocrisy and has a sense of honor, and is thus motivated to put more effort into “playing” life as Aoi suggests, so he can find out for himself if the game is actually good. This, along with Aoi using the Fumiya Reclamation Project as a means of continuing to grow herself, goes a long way towards making their budding relationship both balanced and compelling.

As for what form Fumiya’s training will take, well here’s where we must suspend disbelief in Aoi having a half-hour to spare in her clearly packed academic, athletic, and social schedule. They meet at the school’s deserted sewing room (where I thought for a moment she’d teach him how to make better clothes, LOL) and Aoi lays out an aggressive plan composed of large, medium, and small goals. The primary goal is “to be as satisfied with offline life” as she is.

Fumiya can see by the structure of the plan that it’s not all that different from how he trains for Tackfam, a realization Aoi was both counting on and appreciates as it will save some explanation time. She’s already given him a facemask behind which he must constantly smile behind in order to improve his expression (this leads to an awkward scene with his imouto, who asks him not to be more creepy than he already is).

But like Nakiri Erina, Aoi has no intention of going easy on Fumiya offline, considering she knows the effort he’s capable of online. He must acquire a girlfriend before starting his third year. Before that, he must get a third party to notice his appearance/vibe has improved, which has already started with the smiling training, but also means he must actually talk to at least three girls at school.

That’s no mean feat for a bottom-tier character in a game he’s barely played to this point, but part of improving one’s character involves occasional stumbling and getting ones ass kicked (figuratively, of course). I notice there are four girls in the middle ground of the promo art, so I imagine Fumiya will start with one of them. So begins a long, fraught, but hopefully rewarding journey towards not thinking life is a garbage game. And as you can tell by how many damn words I’ve written about it, I’m game!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 02 – Half a Year Won’t Be Enough

Last week I noted how 3DK succeeded because it was committed to depicting a relationship of equals from the start, and that continues early this week when Iroha immediately challenges those who whisper unkind things about her new boyfriend.

Hikari doesn’t mind—he thinks he is gloomy, at least at school—but would rather she didn’t call attention to him. But at this stage Hikari is also still weary of getting to deeply into a relationship that will probably end in half a year when she moves (let’s face it, long-distance sucks).

His inexperience in 3D girl relationships rears its ugly head when Iroha gives him a clear invitation to go on a date Sunday, but he doesn’t get the hint at the time, and sticks to his original plan of waiting in line, buying a game, and playing it. But when he sees Iroha with another man, he’s both hurt and angry (and likely calling to mind her rep at school, threatening to  fall into the classthink trap once more).

But suddenly Iroha is throwing stones at his window because she missed him, and assuming the other guy was a misunderstanding, had no reason to doubt her sincerity. Then he babbles about “not having the patience” of
those other guys” and doesn’t know how to find out whether he and she are seriously dating.

Iroha has an idea: take him to a hotel where they can sleep together. She says it’s her first time—another way they’re on the same level—but he feels like she’s “undervaluing herself” by consenting to sex when they still barely know each other.

Then…he runs out, just leaving her there, presumably to pay for the room. Sorry, but that’s just bad form. I understand not being ready for sex and This All Happening So Fast and not seeming as “special” as you thought, but you could, you know, stay and talk with her. Maybe he still had that other guy in his head…or maybe he just panicked.

The next day, Hikari encounters that other guy, who tells them he’s not dating Iroha, and Hikari takes that to mean there’s some other kind of relationship in play, and that Iroha would be better off with a normie than the gloomy likes of him.

The doc, for his part, is a wonderful neutral observer of Hikari, and takes note of Hikari’s lack of backbone. Even if he’s not really involved with Iroha, he would hope someone who is would fight for her rather than scurry off.

The situation is resolved when Hikari calls Iroha to the school roof and tells her about the other guy. Iroha in turn spits out a sequence of lies about the doc being her boyfriend and having a serious illness. But she cops to the lies almost immediately.

There’s a wonderful disarming vulnerability to those short-lived lies of hers, like she’s putting out feelers to test Hikari’s reactions. Eventually, the air is fully cleared (she only visits the doc for her asthma), after Hikari is inspired by his favorite magical girl anime and vows to protect her, which Iroha rightly points out is a bit narcissistic.

Still, she’s happy Hikari is thinking of her (in his own way). She also invites herself to his house, nearly causing his mom and little brother to lose their shit with vicarious excitement. Having a girl who likes you and who like in your room seems to simple in concept, but it’s momentous in practice.

In the process, Iroha has the same reaction to his anime as he had when he first watched it, and he realizes her open-mindedness has always been a reliable constant since they started interacting. That helps put him further at ease, and the two almost kiss, but are interrupted.

In any case, Hikari learns from the doc that Iroha’s birthday is imminent, and his mom rustles up some amusement park tickets, because she knows damn well how useless her son is with cultivating romance. With help from Hikari’s trusty friend Itou, he creates a clay figurine of Iroha-as-magical girl to give her after a fun-filled day at the park.

This could have easily been weird and a little creepy, so I’m glad it turned out to be a very sweet and heartfelt gesture. He worked long nights during which he’d otherwise have been gaming to craft something of sufficient quality, then offered it at precisely the perfect time as a surprise, complete with a pretty good line if you’re in high school: “You also use magic. When I’m with you, amazing things constantly happen.” For that, he gets a kiss, and since they’re in a Ferris Wheel, there are no interruptions.

Hikari and Iroha made a lot of progress this week towards learning more about and understanding one another. But the fact remains she’ll be out of his life again in less than half a year, and it’s already tearing him apart inside. But if it’s truly love between these two, I’m sure a way can be found to avoid permanent separation.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 01 – Sudden Romantic Adventures in the Third Dimension! (First Impressions)

Having watched my fare share of anime romances (and being in a couple of actual ones), if I’ve learned one thing it’s that balance appeals to me. One-sided relationships can evolve over time into mutual enthusiasm, but more often than not simply fizzle out, so it’s best when both parties—girl-guy, guy-guy, girl-girl, whatever—have an equal stake a prospective relationship.

That’s what we get with 3D Kanojo: two people who on the surface couldn’t be more different (gal and otaku) but who are both fundamentally good people, yet also lonely due to their personalities and mannerisms falling outside the social mainstream. This is the story of them coming together due to a realization that there’s more alike than different about them, especially in the places where it really matters.

Tsutsui Hikari is an otaku, and a middle school of being ostracized and mocked for it has hardened his heart, particularly against real girls. He brings that baggage and buys into the classthink about Igarashi Iroha being bad news, “gaudy, sleazy, and disliked by girls” as she is.

Already, a similarity: both are disliked by “normal” girls. He also latches onto a perceived insult from Iroha when the two have to clean the pool: she uses the word “gross”, which is clearly a trigger for the long-suffering Hikari. Nothing else about their early interactions suggests Iroha harbors any particular malice towards Hikari. In fact, she tells him she should “fall in love” or something.

That Sunday we witness the banality of malice Hikari and his only friend and fellow otaku Itou Yuuto endured when his former middle school classmate Mika recognizes him and continues treating him like a big gross joke. When he stands up for himself, Mika doubles down.

Then Iroha appears, in her Sunday Most Glamorous, acts as if she and Hikari are a couple, then shoos off  the “fugly” girls who were needlessly going after Iroha. She even clarifies “gross” remark she made was merely about how he might feel about his bangs in his eyes, not directed at him, while admitting that with Itou, Hikari has one more friend than she does.

Both Hikari and Itou have no choice but to consider that perhaps Iroha—someone they did not know—is actually a good person, now that they know a little more about her.

Back at school, Iroha finds herself in the middle of an unwanted love triangle, and the boy who believes she belongs to him yells at her and slaps her. After momentarily standing aside and allowing her to “get what she deserves”, Hikari thankfully and quickly corrects his assessment, and puts himself between Iroha and further physical danger.

The values of standing up for what’s right and not backing down are among the advantages of his anime fandom, if not his self-preservation. He may be far weaker than this karate captain guy, but it doesn’t matter, he’s in the right.

Boy or girl, preying on the weak is wrong, at least in human society. It may still go on all the damn time, but Hikari found himself in a position to stop an instance of it, so he did…even if people thinks he’s being “gross” for trying to be a hero.

Iroha doesn’t think it’s gross. She stays with the injured Hikari until he insists she let him be, giving him a kiss as thanks for his help. But when she approaches him in class and very publicly asks him out, Hikari panics and rejects her out of hand.

In doing so he again lets himself get taken in by the classthink, despite having a better, more nuanced idea of who Iroha is. Despite being saved by her, and despite saving her, Hikari’s lack of trust in girls remains a powerful, almost reflexive force in his psyche.

It’s a good thing Hikari has the one friend, because it’s Itou who repeats the words of their favorite magical girl, Ezomichi: “You call yourself a man? You Coward!” in assessing Hikari’s reluctance to trust or respond to Iroha’s feelings. But forget masculine conventions: any relationship means bearing a part of yourself.

Hikari will have to fight against the shell of distrust he’s created to do so. To his credit, he attempts to do so, first by gathering more information about Iroha. His method for doing so—doing a terrible job stalking her—isn’t ideal, but we’re dealing with someone not well-versed in social skills.

Iroha can be a bit of a trouble magnet, such as when she’s suddenly wrongfully accused of shoplifting at a bookstore. But Hikari steps between Iroha and her accuser before Iroha strips to prove her innocence, intricately detailing Iroha’s activities since he left the hospital.

When it’s time to part, and it’s raining, Hikari lends Iroha his umbrella, and she tells him she didn’t ask him out as a whim, or out of pity: but because of how he made her feel after he stopped the karate boy. She felt it again when he saved her from injustice.

Predictably, Hikari catches cold, but refuses to break his perfect attendance record, and is soon back at school with a mask. He’s late, and has to clean the pool again…but Iroha is late too…on purpose. The cleaning duty, as well as his cold, is partially her fault (she’s willing to share the blame with him), so she removes his mask and kisses him, before going to clean the pool herself

By now, Hikari knows how he feels for this real girl, but remains apprehensive to the point of inaction. Itou reminds him of the “unconquerable resilience” they’ve both developed after years of people being cruel to them.

It’s time to re-purpose that resilience by going out on a limb and trusting somebody. Being played with or manipulated; losing his pride or dignity…that may well happen anyway. There will always be some who deem him gross out of hand. He can’t worry about that, and in any case, he’s prepared to weather it.

So he runs to the pool, asks Iroha out, and they embrace, with the caveat that she’ll be transferring schools in half a year. Hikari’s first romance may well be short, but there’s every possibility in the world it can be a sweet and rewarding one…as long as it’s a relationship of equals.

Between Tada-kun and 3D Kanojo, week one is a clear win for 3D. It was more than a collection of happy coincidences and provided far more detail and nuance in its leads, making me more emotionally invested and excited for what comes next. Also, Hikari’s timid sidekick is a lot more tolerable than Mitsuyoshi’s brash one.

Sket Dance 20

The Sket-dan learned one major thing this week: their unique set of social skills really only work amongst them and the various other zany side characters. When they’re split up and put into situations where they have to talk to ordinary people of the opposite sex, they bomb, and bomb brutally. It all starts when Bossun accidentally cops a feel from Himeko.

This is very effectively illustrated in two parts: one where Switch and Bossun attend a mixer with Bossun’s former bandmate, Seiji, and three girls. Seiji splits almost immediately with the girl he was after, and well, the rest writes itself. Bossun instantly loses his cool, and nothing he says or Switch types have any effect whatsoever on the girls. Fortunately Himeko stalked them and bails them out.

They return the favor, as when Yabasawa invites her (along with the class’s hottest girl) to another mixer (at the same restaurant) and then splits with her guy (a fellow “3” mouth; but it’s ultimately not to be), she bombs even worse than the fellas. The three of them are a matched set; they can’t effectively break through to anyone else, and nobody else quite gets them. The boob touch is apparently forgiven.


Rating: 3.5