Bloom Into You – 06 – Flawless Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bloom Into You – 04 – The Spectator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Attack on Titan – 48 – A Story Utterly Useless to Humanity

Since ascending to the throne, Queen Historia seems to have led a very modest lifestyle, preferring to run an orphanage in the countryside than sitting on some gilded chair in a stuffy hall. The people call her the “Cattle-Farming Goddess”, and it’s not at all meant as an insult.

Also, as both she and Eren continue to adjust to their new roles they are spending a lot of time together, side-by-side, and some of that time they are engaged in what some could call flirting, and I am THERE for it. I am also there for Mikasa shutting such instances down with a glare for the ages.

Speaking of glares, all of the scouts we’ve followed realize how much they’ve been through in the last few months, and how they’re no longer newbies or rookies or greenhorns. They are veterans, and their ‘resting grave faces’ practically scream “we’ve been through some shit” to their “juniors” in the 104th who relatively speaking haven’t seen much action. They certainly haven’t seen their former comrades and friends turn into Titans.

But whatever shit they’ve been through pales compared to Eren, who has been through some truly existential, philosophical shit. As Jean remarks, he’s always off in the corner muttering weird shit to himself, like whether those who are Titans are merely being tormented by some kind of nightmare (Ymir’s word for it) that takes a terrifying physical form.

However, thanks to the flashes he’s been getting, he now knows who to talk to next about his father: no less than the cadet corps commandant (i.e. hardass drill sergeant) Keith Sadies. He, Levi, and the other scouts in their circle return to where their training began. Keith can tell how much they’ve been through, and how they’re no longer the maggots who crawled into his camp not too long ago.

Still, he doesn’t know how helpful he can be to Eren & Co., other than telling them the story of how he first met Grisha Yeager twenty years ago, at the gates of Shiganshina, dazed confused, and lacking memories of how he got outside the wall.

Grisha eventually remembers he is a doctor, and starts serving the people of the district in that role curing them of plague and other maladies—including the bar waitress Carla, in whom Keith seemed interested, but who would later become Grisha’s wife and give birth to Eren.

Keith also distinguished himself, rising to Scout Regiment commander (Erwin’s predecessor). He was well-suited for scouting, as life inside the walls always felt too cramped for him. But he also could sense that he wasn’t “special” enough to do much with his position or his life outside the walls, something all but confirmed when he led an assault on the Titans that ended in defeat and an embarrassing retreat that harmed the Scouts’ reputation with the people.

By the time he returns from this defeat, he, Grisha, and Carla, once so close, had drifted far apart, and Carla had little Eren. Carla and her husband worry about Keith and when his next mission will kill him, but Keith angrily tells her that he’s not like the other multitudes of people within the walls, utterly lacking imagination and unashamed of living “useless” lives producing “nothing but shit.”

It’s perhaps too harsh a diatribe to subject to a mother holding her young child, but considering what he just returned from, his rage and exasperation were understandable.

By the time the Colossal and Armored Titans breach the wall at Shiganshina, Keith had already stepped down as Commander. Lacking that “special” quality he felt to be absolutely essential, Keith felt he had accomplished nothing, because that’s all normal people can do. All he could hope for was to be a “bystander,” not a leader or agent of change. He joined the flow of those he once despised, feeling he had no other choice.

Hange is disgusted by what she sees as nothing but puerile self-pity on Keith’s part…but being pretty damn special herself, she can’t really ever relate to how he felt in the past when he gave up his title, or how he feels now.

In the aftermath of Shiganshina, he and Grisha crossed paths once more, but not for long. Rather than avenge Carla as Keith suspected he would, Grisha took Eren away and fashioned him into his instrument of vengeance.

The utter hatred for and desire to kill all Titans that Eren possesses at the very beginning of the series was instilled not only by what he witnessed, but also at the urging of his father. And Keith was the one to find him unconscious in the woods, with Grisha, who’d likely injected him with the power of the Titan earlier, nowhere to be found.

Eren too has also come to believe he’s not special either, merely the son of someone special. He was chosen, sure, but by that father. Everything he is and does, he became because of that father’s choices.

It’s a somewhat narrow view that ignores the fact he had to make his own choices along the way, but never mind; his mother Carla never cared whether his son was “special” or “normal”; instead, she felt it was special enough simply to be alive, and to be able to survive.

Out of worry for his ultimate well-being, Keith worked hard to keep Eren from getting into the Scout Regiment. But Eren was able to overcome everything he threw at him, including sabotage to his ODM training gear. But it wasn’t that Keith Sadies couldn’t do anything because he was’t special; it was because he was Keith Sadies.

Darling in the FranXX – 13 – Recalling a Forgotten Fairy Tale

When Zero Two goes on a rampage and takes Hiro with her, the consciousnesses and memories of the two are merged, and Hiro begins to  remember forgotten events involving a younger, redder Zero Two, as if she was the key to unlocking his repressed memories.

The appearance of Zero Two in Hiro’s early life is a revelation to someone who has always asked questions and sought answers but received none, and named other children like Ichigo and Mitsuru so they could be people and not mere numbers.

Hiro is indeed quite “special”, and Dr. Franxx always wanted him that way, to see how someone like him would fare as a parasite. But that comes at the cost of Hiro discovering the existence of the little girl with horns.

Dr. Franxx is not painted in the best light here, as if there was ever a good light to in which paint him to begin with. Whatever he seeks to learn from the girl he calls a “specimen”, all that matters to Hiro is that this very different and amazing little girl is being hurt by the adults, and he’s not okay with that.

When the adults stonewall him, he searches for a way to get to her, casting aside all fear of punishment from the adults precisely because they’ve always told him he’s so special. As far as he knows, he’s supposed to rescue the red girl.

He does, and for a brief, beautiful few hours, but not much more, the two are blissful in their freedom and gratitude for one another. Hiro gives the girl a name—Zero Two—literally licks her wounds, and reads from her beloved picture book, the story in which just happens to mirror theirs precisely: a beast princess and a human prince falling in love, then losing each other in tragic storybook fashion.

Unfortunately, that’s how the story of young Hiro and Zero Two ends, with the adults tracking them down, capturing and separating them, and forcibly removing their memories.

But back in the present, the sad ending of that story has been usurped by the writing of new chapter, in which Hiro remembers Zero Two was the girl with the picture book. Not a monster, just a girl who just happened to have red skin and horns, and who, like him, needs friendship, family, and love.

At the same time, Zero Two remembers that Hiro isn’t just fodder to help her become more human. He’s her Darling from “back then” after all—her one and only Darling. Perhaps the two have turned the next corner in their always twisted, often tragic, yet occasionally joyous lives. One can hope.

Kuzu no Honkai – 10

Mugi may have been able to sleep with Akane while Hanabi was rejected, but Mugi isn’t under any illusions the reason is anything other than Akane “just felt like it today”; that she’s role-playing, student-and-teacher; because it seemed like a lark. His connection with her matches the episode’s title: “Fragile and Empty.”

The thing is, Mugi does know Akane better than most, if far from as well as she knows herself. He knows from watching her all these years how she jumps from man to man. In her inner thoughts, she tells us how it was always like that since her first: taking all of a man’s love and giving nothing back; taking all the jealousy of the other women and wrapping herself in it. This is the process by which she assigns worth to herself, and it’s the only process she’s ever known.

She executes the same process with Mugi, “shattering his world” so that she can keep standing. But unlike other men, Mugi knows her game, and wants to change the rules. But he also knows changing her is no mean feat, as she isn’t someone who’s ever fallen for anyone, only had others fall for her.

After scores of random, inconsequential men who simply played the game her way, Akane now finds herself afoul of not one but two very different men. Even though Mugi knows what kind of person Akane is, and even when another man tells Kanai, neither of them flinch in their devotion to her. The difference is, Kanai doesn’t care, and wants her to be herself. Mugi, on the other hand, still wants to change her.

During their aquarium date, Akane racked her brain about what exactly Kanai’s deal was. She felt like she was the one pursuing him by committing so much of her thoughts to him, and didn’t like how it felt, so tried to make the date their last. She thought if she told him enough about who she is (or at least the perception of that person that had been crafted both within and without), but Kanai still stopped her from leaving.

Akane has been unique in Kuzu no Honkai as the only character not “in love” with another. Indeed, Akane may not even know what it is to love someone. She’s been loved by men many times before, and every time she shattered their worlds and danced on the ashes. Now things are different.

Neither Kanai nor Mugi will back down. Both know who and what she is, yet still yearn for something she’s never experienced: a relationship that endures, a prospect that doubtless terrifies all parties involved. But Mugi knows the only way he can change someone else is by starting with himself. That’s advice he got from his pact-mate, Hanabi.

Can Mugi actually succeed, and if he does, where does that leave Kanai? Hanabi, Ecchan, and Moca are in pretty good places emotionally right now, but it feels like Mugi’s still operating deep in that murky soup they once inhabited. Who, if not himself or Akane, will be able to help him out?

Kuzu no Honkai – 09

When this week’s Scum’s Wish starts, Hanabi is alone, and wants to die. When it ends, she still feels alone, but realizes she isn’t, and doesn’t want to die. But first thing’s first: Both Narumi and Mugi reject her on the same day (poor girl!) a trip to a forest getaway with Ecchan is a welcome distraction. Any time her mind is busy is better than not.

Ecchan is looking forward to having Hanabi all to herself, but they find her cousin Atsuya is at the cabin. Atsuya feels like an interloper the whole time, but he’s not just there to mark his territory. In his opinion, Hanabi is a dead end for Ecchan: she’ll never get her to feel how she feels about her. And he doesn’t want Hanabi continuing to string her along.

But this trip was never about “making Hanabi hers”, but about saying goodbye for good. Atsuya in the next room or no, Ecchan still gets one last night of bliss with Hanabi. But after that, she vows to be alone. Hanabi wakes up early, and on a walk with Atsuya he tells her Ecchan can’t be used as a replacement.

After they spend one last day out on the town, as the couple Ecchan had at some point hoped they could be, Ecchan expresses her pride in Hanabi for “going for it” with Kanai-sensei, even though she knew how much the rejection would hurt. She did, in effect, what Ecchan had already done, only Hanabi has been “too nice” to reject her, so she has to break it off herself.

With a heartfelt, genuine display of affection and an intense desire to keep knowing Ecchan and learning more about her, Hanabi manages to secure consideration that Ecchan may come back to her, but it may take a long time. Forgetting how to love someone after loving them for so long, takes time, if it happens at all.

Now down Narumi, Mugi, and Ecchan, Hanabi returns to school in a haze of loneliness and despair. She wouldn’t be out of place in Zetsubou-sensei‘s class. Neko spots her looking forlorn and at first appears eager to gloat about how now, finally, Hanabi is getting her comeuppance; a taste of the bitter medicine Neko’s been tasting for years.

But doesn’t gloat; not really. She also has an earnest nugget of recently-earned wisdom to deliver: being rejected is a kind of liberation. Once one starts doing things for themselves—even something as small as buying and wolfing down a danish—you can start to feel better. And having heard these words from Neko, Hanabi realizes she isn’t alone. Her pain isn’t unique, and it’s not implacable.

The episode closes with Akane at Mugi’s for a “teacher home meeting”, only with the parents not home, it’s actually a booty call. And despite Mugi’s clear discomfort with the premise, she is very insistent that he acknowledge that it is an official teacher meeting, and that he call her “teacher.” Yikes.

On the one hand, Mugi is getting something he’s wanted for years. But there’s no indication he’s succeeding in “changing” her as he vowed to do last week. Instead, he seems to be falling deeper under her control, with no discernible way out as of yet. Hanabi thinks Mugi’s being “tricked.” Akane (at least the one in her head) agrees, but adds that he wants to be tricked; that all men do.

Maybe Mugi will go on like this, content with what he has. Or maybe, in time, he’ll come to see the real Akane as nothing but a replacement for the Akane of his dreams…and that he can’t go on like this.

Kuzu no Honkai – 08

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Nice hat!

This episode was so strong throughout, and its ending had so much impact, I nearly forgot that it started with Ecchan and her cousin Atsuya, automatically the weakest of all the pairings simply because we’ve never met Atsuya before.

Aside from being tall, long-haired, and a bit shy, we don’t learn much, except that he’s certain he still has a chance with Ecchan (despite most evidence to the contrary). Ecchan, interestingly, doesn’t seem so certain he doesn’t either.

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Now, on to the Big Event(s): the Dual Confession of Hanabi and Mugi to their respective crushes. I like how they make sure they do all their Summer homework first. Not only are they being proactive, responsible honor students, but they’re operating under the assumption that they’ll be in no state to study later.

Naturally, they don’t study the whole time, but fool around a bit, and that’s when Mugi tells her he’s had trouble imagining her as Akane. Which is interesting because she hasn’t been thinking of him as Narumi either.

From what I gather from their pre-confession interactions is that Hanabi and Mugi are gradually falling for one another, and starting to become aware of it.

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Of course, they still believe (and are probably correct) that their lingering hope of being with their crushes is an impediment that must be extinguished. Whether they move on as a couple together, to them, moving forward means confronting those crushes and getting rejected.

They’re both scared, but in another sign of how her feelings for Mugi have evolved, when he hugs her, his intent doesn’t matter: the hug calms her and stops her hands from shaking. No one but Narumi ever excited Hanabi, and yet here’s Mugi, doing just that.

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Hanabi and Mugi agree to meet back up at 10pm the evening of the Sunday they’ll confess, but I didn’t believe for a second that they would actually meet up at 10pm. Mugi meets with Akane during the day, and she immediately takes command.

When Mugi manages to quickly get out an “I love you”, Akane doesn’t react, because she knew. Mugi, we know, knew she knew. But she didn’t know that he knew she knew, so the knowing stopped at two levels.

And if Akane ever had anything resembling a match, it would be the person who has watched her and knows the person behind the mask. Mugi only liked her because he couldn’t have her.

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Just as Hanabi is meeting up with Narumi, Mugi finds himself in a hotel room, in bed with Akane, removing her clothes. As the RPG shot above shows, he knows he’s outmatched against such a tough boss, but doesn’t care. Akane may be a “horrible, promiscuous, broken narcissist”, but he wants to believe she can change, and that he can be the one to change her.

Can Mugi be her “first”, as in the first person she actually cared about? Mugi assumes she’s incapable of caring about him, but we don’t get in Akane’s head, so he may be wrong about that. We certainly see expressions from Akane we never have before, and they appear genuine, as if the sheer audacity of Mugi’s gambit threw her off balance.

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Of the two confessions, I always assumed Mugi’s would get messier, because of the object of his desire would make it messy with her masks and manipulations. What I didn’t expect is that Mugi was well aware of what he was getting into, but that he still had hope Akane could be redeemed in some way (and if the one who knows her and how she’s lived her life the most believes that, there could well be hope).

Because Narumi is so guileless and kind—basically the opposite of the Akane—it was a good bet that, pending a sudden unrealistic shift in his character, he’d make his rejection of Hanabi as clean and gentle as possible.

That doesn’t make it any easier or less painful for Hanabi, but once it’s all over—and it’s over pretty fast—she feels like a weight has been lifted, because this impediment to her future happiness had been extinguished. Call it a ripping off of a band-aid.

But part of why she’s relatively fine with how things go down with Narumi is because of how she’s started to feel towards Mugi. She believes she’s not alone because both he and she have unrequited loves, but Akane’s love didn’t out-and-out reject him.

Instead, he rejected the awful person she is and vowed to make her a better one. And now he’s in bed with her, and Hanabi is alone.

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Kuzu no Honkai – 07

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Moca startin’ the day of ACCA-style!

The morning of her date with Mugi, Moca is on cloud nine, but she doesn’t have any illusions about suddenly winning his heart. Having an elegant breakfast and getting all dolled up is as much or more for her than for Mugi’s sake. Still, she has to try today, for she, a student of fairy tales, doesn’t think people should settle for replacements.

This week Moca accomplishes something neither Hanabi nor Mugi have been unable to in seven: confront her unrequited love head-on, face the object of that love, and, through a clean-ish rejection, be able to move forward. By doing so, she becomes, by default, the bravest of those three people.

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While Mugi is off on a date with Moca (unbeknownst to her, obv) Hanabi continues her half-cocked mission to seduce Takeya, but soon learns it isn’t so easy to elicit love in someone. All Takeya wants from her is sex right now, Hanabi doesn’t give it to him, so he leaves her to go bang some other chick.

That’s where Takeya is at at this point. It looks pretty hopeless for Hanabi, and I must have mistaken all the confidence she seemed to exude at the end of last week when getting her “project” off the ground.

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Moca, meanwhile, is always on the verge of tears, she’s both so happy about the dream-like date with Mugi, and devastated that the happiness is tempered and sullied by the fact Mugi feels obligated to take his childhood friend on a date.

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Since we’re in Moca’s head most of this week, we learn a lot, like how she’s always loved Mugi, since they were little kids, and how with waterworks, she knew precisely how to get him to do her bidding and acknowledge their special bond.

Mugi and Moca got used to this cycle of behavior for years, and the nature of their past is ultimately what stops things from going too far in the present.

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Moca is cute. She knows she’s cute, and while in Mugi’s bed, she thinks it might be enough to hear it from Mugi to allow her to keep on living (just as his not recoiling when she held his hand did). Mugi curses himself as a pathetic coward who is going straight to hell, because there’s something deep within him that is screaming this is Moca; this is wrong, and things go no further than the removal of clothes.

For too long she was, as she says, a sacred ornament to be admired, and he can’t sully her, even though he tries his darnedest. At the same time, now that things have gotten so real with Mugi, the “dream” of the two living happily ever seems to shatter for Moca. This is the way she and Mugi are; she’s “important” and “special” to him, but that only goes so far. They can’t be a man and a woman.

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Moca really put herself out there, and by the end, there’s a kind of release of pressure. And she also becomes a kind of catalyst, as Mugi’s night with her has the same general effect as Hanabi’s lonely, aimless night, and one fine day on a hill overlooking the town, the two agree that they’ll tell Akane and Onii-san how they truly feel, before the end of Summer vacation.

They are cowards, they admit that. But Moca showed them they don’t have to stay cowards. And if they’re both rejected, Hanabi wonders what will happen next; whether she and Mugi will start to date for real; whether they’ll both be able to say goodbye to their respective loves forever and accept what life has given them…or another path is needed.

Playing the Moca Card this late in the game turned out to be another good move. She’d been the weakest, least developed character in the love polygon to this point, but this week really fleshed her out nicely. More to the point, both by staying on Mugi and keeping him from Hanabi, she inadvertently showed them the only way forward.

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Fate/Grand Order: First Order

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“Who are you callin’ a foo?”
What do we have here? A Fate/stay night spin-off involving a time-travelling, future-saving organization. The first fifteen minutes are full of interminably dull introductions and info-dumping, including those of the supposed two leads, Fujimaru and Mash, who are also dull.

There’s also Fou, a weird white squirrel thingy that wears clothes, makes awful high-pitched sounds, and generally doesn’t need to exist, and Director Olga Aminusphere, who aside from having an obnoxious name, seems like a low-rent Tousaka Rin.

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When the doctor’s the highest-ranked officer left in your compound, time to start worrying
First Order essentially blows up that dull beginning by putting Fujimaru and Mash in an emergency situation that has them travelling back to 2004 where the outcome of a standard Fate-style Holy Grail War has ended up suspended for some reason.

Mash becomes a demi-servant prior to dying, with the inexperienced “commoner” Fujimaru becoming her master, to the chagrin of the aristocratic Olga.

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Dark Saber – Almost worth the price of admission
The two dull protagonists must, with the limited help of Olga and a lot of help from a particularly helpful (and badass) Caster, take out the remaining “dark” versions of Archer and Saber, in order to end the Holy Grail War and correct the singularity that is dooming humanity’s future.

If that sounds a bit vague, it is. And while there’s a bit of a thrill seeing the heroic spirits back in action, albeit on different sides, it’s all a bit bloodless. No, not literally; there’s plenty of blood, but the dead, empty city isn’t the most exciting stage for otherwise cool-looking battles.

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“Look Mash, I’m helping!”
Mash’s transformation into demi-servant may have been a sign of her inner courage and toughness, and her new dominatrixy outfit is pretty boss, but neither she nor Fujimaru manage to ever make me care all that much about them or their sudden newfound friendship, as they’re less actual characters and more combinations of character traits. Takahashi Rie and Shimazaki Nobunaga try their best, but simply don’t have enough to work with here.

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And aside from a few nice images and some competent action, the most striking thing about this Fate spin-off is its lack of the same distinct visual sumptuousness of Unlimited Blade Works (to date the only other Fate property I’ve watched), due to this not being a ufotable series, and clearly having a smaller budget to work with.

Placing the fate of humanity’s future on the shoulders of two barely-there, uninspiring characters we barely got to know in over an hour-long special just doesn’t provide the gravity or stakes it should. As we’re between seasons, I had time to check this out, so I did. And it was…okay. In all, it feels like a superfluous wade into the shallow end of the Fate franchise pool, rather than a deep or meaningful dive.

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Hibike! Euphonium – 08

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Now THAT, ladies and gentleman, is how it’s done. All hail KyoAni. Nagato Who-ki?

You’ll have to forgive all the incoming gushing, as I’m still a little overcome with ALL THE FEELS from this latest, greatest episode of Hibike! Euphonium, which also happens to be the best thing I’ve seen all Spring; maybe all year.

This episode was every bit a carefully, lovingly composed masterpiece with nary a note out of place, starting with not letting Kumiko off the hook. We’re right back at those desks with Hazuki, having dredged up the courage (and you can see her nervousness in the way her feet shift below that desks).

Kumiko has no clue what’s going on, but she’s about to. Surprising candidate for class yenta Sapphire takes Kumiko’s noncommittal attitude as tacit approval for Hazuki to ask Shuu out for the upcoming Agata Festival, a traditional ceremony of pairing-off for her peers.

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But as we’ve seen, Shuu isn’t interested in any other girls. He asks Kumiko out, and she again acts like a deer in the headlights. As she makes the transition from dark winter to more cheery summer uniform, the sky is appropriately as cloudy as her muddle of racing thoughts. He told her to think about it, but she’s having trouble thinking about anything. This state of mind is totally new for her, and it seems equal parts frightening and exhilarating.

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Kumiko didn’t ask to be thrown into a love triangle, which she literally draws out in her notebook just so she can behold it in a space other than the inside of her reeling head. Nor did she want to be put in a position where her chipper friend Hazuki gets hurt. But the aggressive Sapphire literally pushes Hazuki into doing what she wants to do and would probably regret not doing.

In a sign that Shuu simply isn’t on the same wavelength as her, he misjudges Kumiko’s efforts to slink away from him as a signal for him to follow her. Literally cornered, she grabs the arm of the first person to exit the practice room, who as fate would have it, is Reina! Hazuki also comes out, and asks Shuu for a moment; Shuu asks Kumiko if it’s really “okay”, and she tells him it is.

But it isn’t. Of course it isn’t. It’s almost not fair!

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I say almost, because Kumiko’s “consolation” prize is no consolation at all; but the jackpot; she just doesn’t know it yet. She may have grabbed Reina at random, but Reina considers the act a binding contract, and Kumiko’s in no position to argue. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kumiko was looking more forward to going with Reina, who’s telling her they’re going, than Shuu, whom she would’ve had to say “yes” to— something she’s apparently not ready for.

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I liked the episode’s inclusion of the normal couple Riko and Gotou as a sign that not everyone is locked in fraught triangles at school. But I also like how the show doesn’t play favorites for any particular vertex of the triangle we think is in play. Because of that, I was still rooting for the super-cute Hazuki, who eschews a yukata for a miniskirt and short-crop tee.

As for Reina, well…what is there to say? She’s hauntingly gorgeous, so much so that a more slapsticky show would have almost certainly gone inside an SD Kumiko’s head as she gulps comically loudly. Kumiko is also dressed decidedly boyishly compared to Reina’s ethereal snow-white one piece. But on this date, it’s Reina who leads: up a mountain and into another entirely new world for Kumiko; one she never saw coming.

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Like I said, I wanted to root for Hazuki and Shuu, but as cute as she is, the spark just isn’t there. At least Hazuki has the good sense to be quick and efficient about things, so that when Shuu does gently but firmly reject her, it doesn’t feel quite as sudden when she’s suddenly resolving to get him and Kumiko together, despite his claim there’s nothing there. Still, that shot of Hazuki from behind, gazing at the shimmering moonlit water that may as well be her tears, is a powerful image.

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This must be how it feels to lose your life, drawn to a beautiful thing, despite your fears.

As good as Hazuki’s failed confession was, it is quickly overshadowed by Kumiko’s date with Reina, as they trudge up the mountain, periodically switching instruments so they share the load.

Seeing you in that white one-piece, holding my euphonium, seems so wrong.

On this trek, far from all the other festival-goers Reina fearlessly lays her feelings for Kumiko bare.

—Don’t your feet hurt?
—They hurt. But I don’t hate pain.
—What? That’s kind of hot.
—Freak.

It would have been easy for Shuu to accept Hazuki’s confession and go out with her, having been spurned by Kumiko in a golden opportunity passed by. But the true love triangle doesn’t involve Hazuki at all; we now know it’s between Shuu, Kumiko, and Reina.

It’s like you put on a kind, good-girl face, but inside, you’re actually really distant. It makes me want to peel that good-girl skin off of you.

Bandmate Natsuki also remarked that Kumiko “is kind of distant like that”, and it’s true. It’s why we hear Kumiko narrating to us all the time: not just to explain how the concert band works, but she’s observing and reporting on her life, all the while keeping it at arm’s length.

It’s a side she didn’t know anyone noticed—heck, it might be a side she didn’t even know she had. But Reina has seen it. Reina stays away from people who “don’t interest her”, and believes fitting in, and being relieved about being the same as someone else is “stupid.”

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It was pretty ingenious how effortlessly Reina scooped Reina up and put her under her spell. I must say I did not expect a confession of romantic love, nor was there an indication the show would take a yuri turn so soon, but hey, it is Springtime, and by the time they’d finally reached the summit and seen the entire town and festival at their feet, as if they were standing in heaven, I wasn’t ruling out a kiss. Reina’s “not the same as the others” line seems to underline the fact that no guy in her life interests her as much as Kumiko does.

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On the one hand I couldn’t help but think Reina seems awfully happy to have found a kind of kindred spirit in Kumiko, which some might say makes her a hypocrite, only with different taste than most. But on the other, I really like her belief a life without pain or struggle isn’t a life at all. One only needs to see Hazuki’s struggles this week to understand that. She’s all smiles when she meets back up with Sapphire…until she isn’t. But she tried; she put her heart on the line. That matters.

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Kumiko’s life isn’t made any simpler by Reina’s confession—she’s still in a love triangle, just not the one she drew—but that hardly matters right now. On this particular night, she and Reina play the same song they played in middle school—because Reina likes it—and they play beautifully and in perfect harmony. As Sapphire said, all music begins with love, and Reina’s desire to be “special”, even more special than she already is, is also fueled by love.

In her narration, Kumiko admits to being “sucked in” by this “snow maiden”, and feeling like she wouldn’t mind “losing her life” to her. Only Reina isn’t a yuki-onna; she’s a girl who just confessed to her. Kumiko’s lack of a good reaction makes Reina repeat her assertion that Kumiko has a “terrible personality”, but she means it as a compliment; Reina doesn’t want perfect. And reaction or no, Kumiko now knows what it feels like to want or need to go out on a limb; take a risk; lay one’s heart bare, even if it might hurt or not work out. I daresay Kumiko lost her innocence this week. So…what will she do now?

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Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun – Special – 02

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Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun’s Blu-Ray micro episode bonus feature number 2 is another just three minute-run and, like many long-form minis, it just feels like the carved 180 seconds out of a single full length episode.

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The Story: Waka is freaking out and stalking Seo around the school when he sees Chiyo and Kashima and Seo all agree to go on the drama club vacation and get swimsuits together!

Later, Waka intercepts them at the mall and gets brought along to try on swimsuits. He still doesn’t get it — even when Kashima goes in to try on a bikini!

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It’s funny that Kashima doesn’t like Waka and thinks he may be a pervert because I doubt the next mini will reveal Kashima’s gender… somehow. So I’m assuming this is all a setup for a future season maybe but I haven’t read the manga so I don’t know.

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Was this duo of specials a Pocky-like treat or was it just an empty box?

Mmmmmm… I’m leaning towards the empty box, personally. The eps are harmless, and make a lot of sense as bonus content for a disc-release but, if you’re going to miss any GSN dash K, this is what it should be.

If anything, just because hunting down all the chapters will eventually get more annoying that simply watching 30 seconds of flashback, if a flashback is even needed, at the beginning of a second season, is a second season every gets made!

Woo!

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