Higehiro – 05 – The Mysterious Woman

I love the series that can replicate the same butterflies in the viewer’s stomach that the characters have in a particular scene, such as when Yoshida takes Gotou to his place to see Sayu. They stop at a konbini first, where Gotou prepares an extravagant bag of drinks and snacks to break the ice.

It’s not like there was going to be any melodramatic blow-up between Gotou and Sayu, but the episode is always cognizant of how strange this particular scenario is without going too over the top with it. It’s an episode titled “Reality”, after all, so Gotou and Sayu’s meeting unfolds realistically.

Gotou also has Sayu send Yoshida off on a shopping errand in short order so they can talk in private as two women. Gotou asks simple and direct questions—where Sayu is from, how long ago she ran away—but also knows not to press when she asks a question Sayu isn’t ready to answer (why she ran). Another important question Sayu tries to consider is how long she intends to stay with Yoshida.

Gotou makes clear that no matter how hard or respectable Sayu is, a high school girl cannot escape the high-school girl label, so it’s best to use it to her benefit rather than detriment. Sayu admits that in the process of running she was probably looking for someone to tell her not to run away.

Before Yoshida, the men she let use her body in exchange for a place to stay were only enabling her. “Something inside me just went crazy”, and she couldn’t deny that, at times,  when they wanted her it made her feel good. Then she met Yoshida, who not only didn’t do anything to her, but said he’d set her straight.

Gotou may not have Sayu’s sexual experience, but she’s still a woman who was a teenager and knows how hard it was and is. So shetells Sayu she’s glad she found somewhere safe, and because she knows and trusts Yoshida, she thinks it’s fine to let him be nice to her…as long as it’s the right way.

Sayu knows she shouldn’t run from her past forever, and resolves to face it, leave Yoshida’s, and “go back to where I was”. But Gotou, gathering Sayu into a supportive hug, makes clear she should take her time facing what she needs to face, while accepting the kindness she needs to accept.

It’s such a staggeringly lovely and understated scene of empathy and sisterhood, with superb voice performances from Ichinose Kana and Kanemoto Hisato, it makes what goes on with Yoshida in the meantime that much more disappointing. Because he happens to run into Yuzuha…who has been stalking him and Gotou all night. Yikes!

It’s the first time on this show I didn’t quite buy a character’s behavior. After inviting herself to go shopping with Yoshida, she makes a scene at the station as if Yoshida were two-timing her. While she initially accepted that Sayu was living with him, she deems it “weird” for him to let Gotou and Sayu in the same room on a night she thought he and Gotou were spending the night.

While Yoshida could have cleared up matters rather quickly by simply telling Yuzuha that Gotou wanted to meet Sayu, and that was the sum total reason she went to Yoshida’s place, the fact remains Yuzuha is reacting to a situation she knows far too little abhout to make judgments.

Especially when she questions Yoshida’s “priorities” and doubts whether he actually loves Gotou, she seems motivated by her own jealous rather than genuine concern for him or Sayu. She is right about one thing, however: Yoshida is far too nice…in not more forcefully telling her off!

Before Yoshida returns home, Gotou makes clear to Sayu that she loves Yoshida and isn’t interested in anyone else, while Sayu confirms that Yoshida loves Gotou. Sayu is frustrated by Gotou’s “mysterious woman” act but still offers her blessing. Then Gotou puts some makeup on Sayu, partly so Sayu can feel better after her little cry, and partly to mess with Yoshida when he comes home.

Yoshida walks Gotou home, and learns that she and Sayu have a “hotline” if he tries anything. But Gotou is impressed by Sayu, whom she regards a a great girl. Yes, she’s a little unstable and “doesn’t understand herself at all”—but she’s a teenager, what else is new?—but she thinks it will all work out. After all, Yoshida is known by the bosses at work as the “problem-solver.”

With Gotou making clear her true feelings for Yoshida, it’s lookig likelier than ever that neither Yuzuha nor Sayu have a chance, should the latter end up truly falling for him. As for the introduction of a young man who works at the konbini with Asami , I’m desperately hoping he doesn’t turn out to be one of the men Sayu stayed with.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 08 – Nostalgic in Nara

The big day (well, evening) has arrived: It’s time for Tsukasa to meet the parents! When they arrive in Nara, she notes that they’re near the Kasuga Grand Shrine, making the unusual comment that “even after a thousand years, it’s not like the mountains move that much.” I guess she was here back then, huh?

Anywho, Nasa’s parents, Kanoka and Enishi both claim to not be quite emotionally prepared for something as momentous as meeting their son’s new wife, but his dad proves he’s a bit odd when, right in the middle of official introductions he basically orders Nasa to take a bath. He wants to talk with Tsukasa alone for a sec. But about what?

In Nasa’s room where he only ever stayed when he helped his folks move, Tsukasa notes the lack of material possessions, mirroring his apartment, and Nasa proudly proclaims he’d be fine even if their apartment building burned down, because all of his irreplaceable possessions and data are either on him, in a safe deposit box, or on his person.

Nasa’s mom warns him that while the walls are “pretty soundproof”, he and Tsukasa probably shouldn’t “overdo it”…causing Nasa to realize he’ll be spending his first night sleeping on the same level as Tsukasa. He offers his arm for her to sleep on and learns how painful a position can be, and Tsukasa gives him a sweet goodnight kiss when prompted.

Tsukasa ends up waking up early, since Nasa was too excited to sleep much (also, Tsukasa curled up beside him during her nighttime acrobatics). That said, he’s only pretending to be asleep so he doesn’t disturb her while she’s changing, and a momentary glance at her proves “too stimulating”.

Watching the sun rise, Tsukasa notes how the smell of the wind “really takes her back”. When her father can’t think of what to talk about with her, she suggests he show her his office, where she’s able to read ancient Japanese love letter without any trouble.

From there, Tsukasa decides to spice up their historical sightseeing by taking photos of her cute husband; eventually, he suggests they take one together, which is surely a picture they’ll both treasure.

Tsukasa is unusually knowledgeable about Nara’s landmarks—almost as if she were around when some of them were first built—and wistfully observes how many thousands of ordinary people faded from history, while modern technology will allow people to be remembered virtually forever.

We eventually learn why Nasa’s dad made him take a bath: it was so he could properly thank Tsukasa for saving his son’s life. Nasa’s parents feel almost undeserving of a son as great as Nasa; he is their pride and joy, which is why his finding love could only give them happiness.

Tsukasa takes her father-in-law’s request that she look after Nasa very seriously. On the bus ride home, Tsukasa admits that while it was fun to visit his folks, she’s looking forward to returning to their little place together, where she feels most at ease.

Unfortunately, while they were gone, the entire apartment building…burned down! 

Even if they were going to hold off on moving, now they have to find a new place. But with his parents’ enthusiastic blessing of their marriage, that shouldn’t be a problem. As for whether Tsukasa is the human incarnation of Princess Kaguya, well…the evidence continues to mount and is getting harder to overlook!

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 07 – Matrimonial Proof

As she and the maids observe the happy couple from a bush, Chitose declares without evidence that Tsukasa and Nasa’s honeymoon will end in divorce. Each time she believes the first crack in the armor has appeared, Tsukasa and Nasa quickly make up and continue being lovey-dovey.

TONIKAWA is many things: cute, endearing, heartwarming, pure…but is also very often quite funny, consistently delivering some of the better jokes of a Fall 2020 season that’s light on comedies. For instance, I enjoyed Tsukasa scolding Nasa for settling for a chain restaurant at the food court while ordering something local and bold, only to be thoroughly disappointed in her choice.

Does Nasa gloat to her? Nope! He tastes it (she feeds him) and agrees with her, then snaps a cute photo of her sour face after biting into a lime. Even when she’s cross about this and demands he “regain her favor”, he proceeds to do just that. As the maids observe, the couple’s micro-arguments only serve to make them a closer, cuter couple.

With the passive approach not working, Chitose reveals her presence to Tsukasa and reprimands her for being “in such a place” and falling for “such a guy”. Tsukasa retreats back to the bus with Nasa, but not because of Chitose; she wants to avoid appearing in the same morning show that burned her with the lime udon.

In a nice bit of irony, the maids enjoy the honest grub of the food court as much as Tsukasa and Nasa, and are in no hurry to pick up the chase (their luxury car can easily catch up to the bus). In the payoff of the morning show joke, someone declares the lime udon to be great…even though it wasn’t anything special!

Still, the words Nasa heard Chitose yell: “Why did you marry that guy?” still ring in Nasa’s ears. Tsukasa chalks it up to a marriage rarely involving only the two people getting married, but with the insinuation that you can’t please everyone; particularly Chitose.

The next morning Nasa wakes up on Tsukasa’s shoulder to find they’ve arrived in Kyoto. Calculating that they have a half-day of sightseeing in Kyoto before taking the train to Nara, Nasa asks Tsukasa where she’d like to go first, and she suggests a bakery or café. In a fun reversal, Nasa is as passionately opposed as she was to him ordering chain beef bowl at the rest area.

He beseeches her to avail herself of Kyoto’s unique attractions, which leads to her suggestion of visiting the Manga Museum, so he resorts to rapping to tell her Kyoto’s all about the history and culture. She relents, and decides to look the part by dressing traditionally. Unsurprisingly considering her still-unknown true age and origin, she knows exactly how to put on the kimono without assistance.

Just when she and Nasa are ready for sightseeing, Chitose arrives, flanked by her maids, resembling a trio of old-timey anime villains (which anime I am not sure). If Chitose’s goal is to judge Nasa’s worthiness to be married to Tsukasa, Nasa suggests they have a talk so he can provide what she needs. Charlotte and Aurora agree to take Tsukasa to the cafe and Manga Museum.

While going into the episode I was dreading the constant interruption of the happy couple’s honeymoon by an interfering brat, I’m actually really glad Chitose showed up in Kyoto! For one thing, it shows that Tsukasa and Nasa can and really should split off at times and do their own thing; independence is key to a lasting marriage.

More importantly, Nasa is able to demonstrate to Chitose that Tsukasa didn’t choose him on a whim; he truly is a prepared, thoughtful, and positive fellow, i.e. precisely Tsukasa’s type. The fruits of his extensive research of Kyoto leads to an enjoyable fake date for Chitose…even if she doesn’t openly admit it to him.

Charlotte and Aurora aren’t particularly tactful in asking Tsukasa about why she married Nasa, but they’d prefer to stop hounding her, so anything that will get Chitose off her back would help. Tsukasa starts by blushing up a storm and simply saying Nasa is “just…really cute”, and as she describes Nasa the maids realize that yup, he’s exactly her type.

But that’s not enough for Chitose, who knows a whole lot more about Tsukasa than he does, and ultimately feels it comes down to her having been in Tsukasa’s life first, and it’s not fair that an interloper should “claim” her. Yet even when Nasa learns for the first time that Tsukasa is athletic, he isn’t disheartened; he’s delighted!

When Nasa tells Chitose that Tsukasa saved his life, Chitose replies that Tsukasa saved hers as well—whether she means literally and how remain to be seen. Then Nasa tells her he felt—and feels—lucky, not because she saved his life, but because he met her. Then he launches into a monologue about math—but not to prove his love of Tsukasa to Chitose!

The Drake Equation, used to determing the likelihood of extraterrestrial planets, was modified to express the likelihood of finding the person you’re “fated to be with”. In both cases, the likelihood is 0.0000034%. But the moment he met her, he knew he’d beaten the odds. He’d found someone he felt he’d been searching for since before he was born.

He then mentions concepts like prime numbers and gravitational waves, which were intuited by scientists long before they were scientifically proven. In that same vein, he didn’t marry Tsukasa because he’d already proven his love for her, but because he intends to spend his entire life proving it, day by day. Chitose may yet still be swayed by the bitterness of “losing” Tsukasa to Nasa, but after that presentation she doesn’t have much of a logical argument to oppose the marriage.

Nasa’s worthiness to be with Tsukasa and vice versa is not in question, except for those like Chitose who are driven by personal interest and emotion. And Nasa assures Tsukasa that if his parents aren’t sure about their marriage, then he’ll simply convince them. It’s all part and parcel of his lifelong effort to prove his love is real. Anyone doubting his commitment or discounting his track record do so at their peril!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

TONIKAWA: Over the Moon For You – 06 – Benefits of a Bigger Place

Nasa is endlessly fascinated by his wife Tsukasa’s “ferality” while asleep. Her tied-up hair always comes loose, her covers are always strewn about, and when she half-consciously gets a glass of water, sometimes he steals his sheets.

Only one night, she gets into bed with him, leading to him being the big spoon to her little. In such a close embrace, you’d think she’d be upset upon suddenly awakening…but instead she leans in for a kiss, and before Nasa knows it, she’s rolled off his bed and back onto her futon.

Nasa ends up not sleeping a wink after the incident, but he becomes very gung-ho about getting a bigger bed they can share (being on the same “surface level” with one’s wife is important). That leads to discussion of getting a bigger place: one with a dedicated living room, sofa, and bath.

Tsukasa likes the intimate space they share, which enables her to remain close to her darling at all times, but when he accidentally walks in on her changing, she becomes more open to discussing a move…especially when Nasa carefully presents the pros that appeal to her most: like a projection system for movies and built-in shelving for her DVDs and manga.

But getting a new place means securing a guarantor, which is currently Nasa’s parents. Both he and the show seem to realize at the same time that he has yet to inform his parents he’s married. The resulting phone call doesn’t go too bad, and he and Tsukasa decide it best to visit them so they can meet her.

Because they live in Nara by way of Kyoto, Nasa sees this as a perfect opportunity for them to go on an official honeymoon. Tsukasa concurs, but first procures a digital camera, but not for sightseeing: she wants them to keep a daily secret record of their lives, to remind them that each day with someone they love is precious. Daaaaaaw. The two proceed to take lovingly candid pics of one another.

While Nasa assured her they could afford the faster Shinkansen, Tsukasa is fine, and indeed excited by the prospect of a bus adventure, citing that it once took two weeks on foot to get to where they’re going…150 years ago. More evidence that she’s Kaguya, or is she just a big ol’ wierdo?

The bus is clean, but the seats aren’t comfortable enough for Nasa to nap on. I know how he feels; I can’t sleep on most planes for the same reason. Naturally Tsukasa goes out like a light, and her husband marvels at her toughness and ability to adapt to suboptimal conditions without complaint. She’s also super excited for a midnight rest stop run for on-the-go food. I can’t argue with her there; I love that shit too!

Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to them so far, they are being tailed by Chitose and her two disapproving but duty-bound maids. Chitose is outraged Nasa is taking Tsukasa to meet his parents when she still hasn’t approved their marriage at all. That said, the bond between Nasa and Tsukasa doesn’t feel like something easily rent asunder by a mere honeymoon. It’s more likely Chitose will come around.

Halfway through the season, TONIKAWA has proven strikingly consistent, with four stars across the board and an excellent balance of romance, comedy. The only thing really keeping it from higher scores is its production values, which don’t exactly…shoot for the moon. That said, everything else about the show is so charming and warm and fuzzy and competent, it’s been easy to overlook its occasional visual shortcomings.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 09 – Fuel to the Fire

Last week Kazuya acted like a heinous criminal but suffered zero consequences and was actually rewarded with a phone case because Chizuru conveniently ceased to remotely resemble the character we’d known up to that point, while Ruka fell of the face of the earth. How do you come back from such a fiasco?

First, by bursting Kazuya’s bubble: he didn’t get a gift from Chizuru because he’s special, but because it’s a common rental girlfriend practice. And Chizuru still considers their relationship strictly business. When she straight-up asks if Kaz has fallen for her, he lies and denies it. But you can’t help but think she’s lying too.

Second, by welcoming Ruka back to the show, and with a vengeance! Devastated that he blew her off to go on a date with his rental, Ruka demands to immediately go on another date with him that same day, and it’s well within her rights as his GF to do so. When it’s clear to her his mind is elsewhere, she blindfolds him and spirits him away to a love hotel room.

There, she removes her socks (to get comfy) and Kazuya tells her about the situation with his and Chizuru’s grans. Ruka tells him straight up there’s no future for him and Chizuru, who can only ever be platonic, while his gran is very likely looking at the future in the form of a great-grandchild, which Ruka is ready and willing to provide when the time comes.

That time isn’t now, however. Kazuya is overwhelmed and retreats to the bathroom, which gives Ruka the opportunity to slow things down a bit. Her heart rate has never been faster but she knows she shouldn’t rush into sex.

When he fled to the toilet, however, Kazuya left his phone with Ruka, who sees a notification on his lock screen that tells her where and when he’s attending a New Year’s shrine visit with his family and Chizuru. She then decides to crash said visit…and good for her!

I for one have had enough of Kazuya and Chizuru comfortably maintaining a charade when the bottom line is they’re lying to their families. So I was elated to see Ruka invite herself and make them squirm. Kazuya agreed to be her boyfriend, after all; by rights, she should be there, and Chizuru should be off on some other rental date or acting shoot.

Ruka even comes right out and states the truth to Kazuya’s family that she’s his girlfriend, leading Kazuya to tell his grandmother that she’s a pathological liar. Kazuya, you absolute scumbag. Lowest of the low. Die in the garbage fire to which you and Chizuru keep adding fuel!

Ruka then confronts Chizuru in private, telling her Kazuya told him what the score is, and that she’s grossly overstepping her rental GF bounds. When Chizuru pleads “it’s complicated”, Ruka rightly responds that’s because they’re making it complicated.

Ruka suspects that’s intentional, perceiving that Chizuru has fallen for Kazuya and wants to stay on as his “girlfriend” indefinitely. She gives Chizuru an ultimatum: if she doesn’t love Kazuya, then walk away. It’s the right, fair thing to do. Shit or get off the pot, Chizu-chan!

At the shrine, Ruka takes Chizuru’s gran aside, and learns that it’s not just a great-grandchild she’s after. All Gran wants to do is ask Ruka—who in addition to being a “pathological liar” is also Chizuru’s “nearest, dearest friend”—all about her future granddaughter-in-law. It’s clear to Ruka that Gran loves Chizuru and wants her to be family. So it really is more complicated.

That doesn’t change the fact that as long as Chizuru and Kazuya only see themselves as a rental arrangement, it is wrong to keep leading Gran on. So after Kazuya earnestly apologizes to Ruka for the terrible things he told his fam, she makes it clear to him that she’s not giving up on winning both him and his Gran over, no matter how long it takes.

To that end, she gets a job at the same karaoke parlor where he’s working. He has to learn that further ghosting and two-timing of his real girlfriend will not be tolerated. Kazuya doesn’t deserve Ruka—honestly, Kazuya doesn’t deserve a quick death—but he’s got her.

The question is, will he be won over by her, or will she be the catalyst that forces him and Chizuru to abandon their ridiculous current arrangement for something—anything—real? My guess is the latter. Hopefully we’ll know the answer in three weeks’ time.

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 08 – Worst Christmas Ever

I had high hopes for Kazuya’s trial dating of Ruka, as it could help him and Mizuhara complete their post-rental separation. It could also have been a means of seeing more Ruka, someone actually honest about her feelings for Kazuya and thus a naturally more tolerable character than Mizuhara. Alas, the best episode of the series is immediately followed by the worst.

We never get to see Kazuya and Ruka’s “honeymoon” period, we just skip to him loathing his existence anew and desperate to cancel his Faustian deal with Ruka. And that’s despite him knowing full well Mizuhara may not think anything of him other than as a client.

The bottom line is he’s not happy with Ruka because he doesn’t like Ruka the way he likes Mizuhara. Which is fair! Meanwhile, Mizuhara looks unhappy too as she spots Ruka with Kazuya, suggesting she is also having second thoughts about going along with Ruka’s deal.

I get how Kazuya feels, but the despicable things he does throughout the episode threaten to make him irredeemable, not to mention excruciating to watch. For one thing, he doesn’t dump Ruka even though it’s clear it’s not working. Instead, he’s content to string her along, lies about having family Christmas plans, and Ruka is never seen again in the episode. WTF?

After thinking about why Mizuhara decided to work as a rental girlfriend for all of ten seconds, he hears her showering through the wall and jerks off. The next day, instead of enjoying a date with Ruka—something he’d consider torture for some reason—he spots Mizuhara with what appears to be a date…and proceeds to stalk her. ALL DAY. ON CHRISTMAS EVE.

That’s not just torturing himself, but the audience as well. This shit is hard to watch. Lest we forget, Kazuya is not a high schooler but an college student and full-grown-ass adult. At any point during his stalking he could—he should—get arrested and tossed in jail. Of all the boundaries of decency and privacy he’s broken, this is probably the worst instance, especially considering his goal to become a better person. All that progress went down the shitter this week.

When he starts to believe Umi-kun is Mizuhara’s real, perfect boyfriend, he feels solidarity with a brotherhood of her clients he doesn’t even know in opposition to a her personal life he also doesn’t know. By sumply watching them creepily from afar during their date (which might not be a date) and eavesdropping on Umi’s call, he has no context with which to jump to conclusions.

Umi could be a client, or an old childhood friend, or a brother or cousin, or a manager, or a gay friend, or a scout. With an incomplete picture gleaned from stalking them, Kazuya decides they’re boyfriend and girlfriend, and Umi is planning to sell Mizuhara into sexual slavery (or something to that effect).

For his hours of disgusting criminal conduct, culminating in him jumping out before Mizuhara and Umi can “kiss”, Kazuya is rewarded. Turns out they weren’t going to kiss, Umi was fixing her earrring, and they’re not dating, Umi is a fellow actor. That’s right, Mizuhara is starting out as an actress. She’s working as a rental girlfriend and living in the same dump as Kazuya to pay for acting school.

One after another, Kazuya presents up his incorrect assumptions and Mizuhara knocks em down, until it’s clear he’s been stalking her for hours, and listened in on Umi’s phone call. Yes aside from momentarily turning cold, calling what he did “simply stalking” and asking if he has “anything better to do in life”, he’s completely let off the hook!

This is Mizuhara, who in the past has legitimately threatened legal action against him if he doesn’t back off her life. But it’s also the Mizuhara who slowly seems to be falling for Kazuya, despite him being an absolute ghoulish cretin of an incel. Love has certainly made and idiot (and criminal) out of him, and so it’s made an idiot of Mizuhara as well.

She presents him with the gift of a new phone case (which she picked out with Umi) and he breaks down crying, which is good, because it means he is at least aware of how much pure trash he is, even if he seems incapable of changing. Among Mizuhara’s excuses for the gift is that she feels bad leaving him to deal with Ruka alone.

The mention of Ruka underscores how frustrating this entire episode was. It seems to be portending Mizuhara and Kazuya becoming a couple, but poor frail-hearted Ruka ends up being a placeholder and pawn while the inevitable is delayed. Ruka herself felt like gift to us for our endurance, only for her to be immediately ripped away so we can watch Kaz do crimes. Sorry, I wasn’t havin’ it!

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED – 04 – Two Lost Puppies

This might be my favorite episode of Balance: UNLIMITED yet, and it only cost Daisuke a scant $500: pocket change for the moths in Daisuke’s pockets if his pants weren’t mothproof. After some kind of quarrel (thankfully left undisclosed) he leaves his family’s palatial mansion on his day off.

Haru summons him to a park, where a fourth grader has guilted him into helping him find his lost puppy. Haru figures Daisuke can just employ the “magic” of his HEUSC and unlimited balance to find the pup, but Daisuke left home in such a hurry he’s without his interface earring, and left his phone in the butler Hattori’s minitruck.

With neither his tech nor any cash on hand and out in the world of ordinary people, Daisuke makes for an amusing fish out of water. Haru initially thinks he ditched him and the kid, but finds Daisuke waiting outside the station where Haru dropped the kid off to be united with his parents.

That’s when we learn that Suzue, who ran after him as he fled in the beginning, is desperate for Daisuke to return home; so much so that she hacks every electronic sign in his vicinity in order to urge him to return home.

Due to this cyber-stalking, Daisuke is resolute in not wanting to return home quite yet. Haru assumes he had a fight with his wife, but we officially learn Suzue isn’t Daisuke’s wife, but his “relative.” A relative who dotes on him excessively.

Instead, Daisuke elects to spend the night at Haru’s modest apartment; Haru must answer the question “You really live here?” far more times than he would like. He whips up a mean curry, presents Daisuke with some 1500-yen dry-cured ham that he declares “inedible” since it’s not Jamon Iberico de Bellota, and the two get drunk and watch crime dramas together.

It’s great to see these two do nothing together for once, but Suzue is a nervous wreck with Daisuke out in the world with nary a yen to his name, and pulls an all-nighter observing the giant monitors, drinking several energy shots and developing a strung-out Wednesday Addams appearance.

Seiyu Sakamoto Maaya brings a lot of energy, passion and enthusiasm to Suzue, who loses it when HEUSC almost mockingly declares “Balance: LIMITED.”

The next day Haru wakes to find Daisuke slept in the tub. Haru takes another day off to help the kid search for the dog, but they’re unsuccessful. It’s Daisuke who arrives at dusk with the puppy, or rather a member of the same litter; he learned the kid’s dog was hit by a car, and that it would be best if he didn’t know that.

Daisuke then heads home, not wanting to worry his family “too much”, and treats Suzue to Haru’s family recipe, “The Devil’s Natto Rice”, which of course she loves. In all, an extremely fun and informative low-key outing that was all about the characters.

It’s bonding episodes like these that God of High School desperately needed to establish the three leads as friends. Now that we’ve seen them hang out and do regular stuff together, it’s fully credible that Haru and Daisuke have grown a bit closer and learned a bit more about each other.

HenSuki – 03 – The Third Way

With Sayuki and Yuika declaring themselves masochist and sadist and their intent to make Keiki their master/slave respectively, one thing becomes clear: Keiki isn’t that into this. He avoided dating girls because he felt himself to normal and boring, but now he’s having nightmares as a result of Yuika’s “punishment” last week. He doesn’t even want to go to school, but Mizuha makes him, since he’s not really ill.

Things don’t get any easier for Keiki, as he’s greeted by Yuika’s bra in his shoe locker, followed by a photo of him with his shirt open lying with Sayuki, with the implication it will be distributed if he doesn’t meet with her. When he gets there, Sayuki is dressed as a maid and handcuffed; he must fish the key out of her cleavage.

All the while, the third girl in his life (not counting his sister), Nanjou Mao, keeps watching silently from afar, her gentle blushing going completely unnoticed by Keiki. But when he tells his best mate he doesn’t believe Sayuki or Keiki are the Cinderella, that friend points out Mao’s staring, who it’s directed at, and what that entails.

Mao’s passive role thus far becomes more active by necessity when Keiki is once again summoned to the clubroom by Sayuki, but is intercepted by Yuika, who ties him up and orders him to kiss her foot or she’ll steal his first kiss on the lips. Sayuki barges in to put a stop to it, and the girls, who have known about each other’s proclivities since they met, start to bicker, with Keiki in the middle.

Enter Mao, who drags Keiki, chair, rope and all, into the hall, away from the two warring girls. He blames him for being so nice to both of them and indulging them too much, and in the process betrays that she’s been observing his interactions with them very closely (we dohear a camera click when he’s fishing out the handcuff keys…was that Mao?).

When Keiki asks why this concerns her at all, Mao has no choice but to be more direct: she just plain doesn’t like it when he’s with other girls. That could well be because she’s developed feelings for her childhood friend, but it also means a third girl has decided to try and assert control over him. Perhaps not as a formal master or slave, but it’s definitely possessive and unbidden by Keiki.

Considering how uncomfortable the other two girls’ antics have made Keiki, perhaps Mao is the “Goldilocks” answer, but first he has to determine whether her particular kink (stalking?) is more or less manageable.

Domestic na Kanojo – 04 – This Is How It Should Be…Right?

Deciding they can’t just hole up at Natsuo’s friend’s house, Natsuo and Rui spend the better part of half this episode stalking Hina, but coming up with absolutely nothing. They even steal her phone while she’s in the bath so Rui can try to imitate her sister’s voice and break up with Shuu. It all fails. But then something fortuitous happens: Hina and Shuu come to them, at the very cafe where Natsuo’s friend works and where Natsuo and Rui are discussing their next steps.

Things accelerate quickly, as Natsuo comes right out and demands Shuu end it. Shuu is non-committal, and when he tells Hina he still needs more time before he can divorce his wife, Rui throws a glass of water in Shuu’s face and runs off. Natsuo catches up to her, to be a shoulder to cry on. This whole process of confronting Hina’s affair has definitely brought Natsuo and Rui closer together. Neither of them are happy with how things turned out, and both are in agreement that they want Shuu out of the picture.

Ultimately, however, it’s up to Hina to make the choice. Shuu seems fine with the status quo being maintained indefinitely, where he’s with both women and doesn’t have to take responsibility one way or the other. The next morning, Rui’s eyes are puffy from crying all night, and doesn’t speak to Hina when she suggests they go shopping together for a birthday gift for their mom.

Natsuo, meanwhile, is off to visit his mother’s grave. We get a flashback to ten years ago: Natsuo was in first grade, and a crybaby. Worried about, well, worrying his mom once she passes away, he resolves not to cry, even at the funeral where it’s expected. He wishes she were still alive, and wonders how life would be if that were so.

Then he’s surprised to find Hina and Rui join him at the grave. They’ve come to formally introduce themselves to his mom and give offerings. Hina also informs Natsuo that she’s broken up with Shuu. Natsuo is delighted, and Rui is beaming. Hina even says she’s been thinking about doing it anyway due to Shuu’s half-year-long reluctance to leave his wife.

What stopped her from leaving him was her genuine love for him…but ultimately family came first. She couldn’t go on with Shuu knowing it made them so unhappy. The show seems to be taking Natsuo and Rui’s side in this instance, but will things really be that simple as Hina pulling the plug? And what of Shuu’s observation that Hina doesn’t seem to treat Natsuo like a kid? I forsee more potholes on the road of familial bliss. This is a drama, after all—not…some kind of…“constantly happy times-having” show…

Just Because! – 03

Izumi’s entanglement with Komiya Ena proves all to brief, as she’s forgotten the photo that she wants permission to submit. Showing zero consideration for Izumi, she zooms off on her moped to grab it, and it’s no surprise when she returns, in the rain, to find he’s gone.

The next day is Christmas (?), and everyone seems a bit listless, mimicking the somewhat grayish day with their moods. Izumi and Natsume type messages into LINE, but delete them without sending, seemingly hesitant to make any forward motion that will evoke a response from the other. It’s a stalemate, I tellya!

Things are dreary at Casa Morikawa too, as Morikawa confides to Yoriko that her life plan after high school doesn’t include furthering her trumpet performance, but rather college, a job, and eventually taking over the family business. It’s all said with the enthusiasm of someone inspecting turnips.

Left unsaid is any discussion of starting her own family, and as Morikawa seems almost criminally oblivious to Souma’s feelings (mostly his fault, BTW), that’s not surprising.

When Komiya reaches out to Natsume for info on Souma, Natsume uses it as an excuse/opportunity to message and meet up with Izumi. When they meet up, they’re still very cold and distant to one another, and the energy completely changes when Komiya spots her elusive transfer student.

Komiya’s casual nature with Izumi doubtless irks Natsume even more, since neither she not Izumi know what the heck they’re doing or what they should do. And while Komiya’s mission to get Izumi’s permission or LINE ID fails, she doesn’t seem like the type to give up easily.

Meanwhile, Souma is invited by Yoriko to join her and Morikawa for a walk, and his resulting meandering bike ride to their location is a constant source of suspense…will he ever get to them?

He does, only to freak out when Morikawa’s dog barks at him, which he thinks is a deal-breaker where dating her is concerned. Frankly, he should be more worried about, you know, telling her how he feels about her and asking her out on a proper date…but who am I?

When Souma reports the dog incident to Izumi and begs him for help getting better with dogs, Izumi tells him he has no pets, but Komiya stealthily enters the frame and offers her help…in exchange for Izumi’s LINE ID, which he gives her.

Interestingly, Komiya makes it clear she’s “over” the fact Izumi didn’t give her permission to use the photo, but with his ID, maybe she’s playing a longer game. Heck, maybe she just likes the cut of Izumi’s jib and wants to be friends…or more, which would complicate the love polygon even further.

Speaking of complications, Souma, unaware of the deal Izumi struck with Komiya, messages Natsume about helping him with dogs, since she has one too. This basically puts Natsume in the friendzone area of helping her unrequited crush get along with his own crush.

Over the most mundane circumstances, and in the absence of direct, honest, face-to-face conversation regarding how people feel about one another, the web of conflicting or one-sided romantic interests grows ever more tangled.

Saekano 2 – 03

Tomoya and Eriri find themselves suddenly confronted by the Hashima siblings, whose Rouge en Rouge game company put out a demo of a game very similar to their own.

While Megumi does her best to keep things diplomatic, it isn’t long until Eriri and Izumi are coming to blows.

Sure, they’re low-impact blows, and each seems to want to empower the other to do their utmost to beat each other (at art, not physically), but then there’s the fact that, at the moment, I don’t much care particularly how well Blessing’s game does relative to Rouge’s.

Isn’t it enough that the team works hard and puts out a game they can be proud of, into which they put their blood, sweat, tears, and passion?

In between acting like she and Tomoya have been married for years, irking certain male classmates, Megumi is preoccupied and fired up by Utaha’s surprise story revision.

But the only way they’ll know whether it works or not, and which script to choose for the game, is by implementing it. That means a lot of work just to catch up to the Rouge demo, with no guarantee their output will surpass their rival’s.

When one all-nighter involving Tomoya and Megumi only nets 20% of the work, other measures need to be taken. When Michiru suddenly arrives, appalled that Megumi spent the night, Tomoya sees an opening, and asks his cousin to recruit her Icy Tail bandmates into doing the gruntwork necessary to plug Utaha’s new story into the game.

They pull a second all-nighter, and considering how late I’m writing this on a Thursday night, I can’t say I don’t relate to their exhausted state when they’ve completed their task.

All that work makes it that much more harsh a slap in the face when Tomoya meets with Utaha and utters the line above. Apparently, after story, art, music, and programming have been combined, neither of Utaha’s stories cut the mustard; at least not now that Tomoya is convinced Iori has a better story up his sleeve.

He requests a complete rewrite—certainly his prerogative as game director—but I assume Utaha is dismayed by his blunt assessment, as I was. In an attempt to outdo Rouge, could Tomoya be overplaying his hand? By demanding perfection when perfection may be unattainable, will he only end up driving his partners away one by one?

Saekano 2 – 02

Utaha has finished her script, and to celebrate has Tomoya take her out for a day of shopping, dining, and watching films that aren’t poorly-received (i.e. ghosty, shelly) live-action anime adaptations.

It’s a date, no doubt about it, at least as far as Eriri is concerned, observing the couple’s interactions from afar like, well, a stalker, with Megumi forced to tag along for plausible deniability.

But Utaha doesn’t merely toy with Mr. Ethical: she makes it a point to bring up the fact that now that the script is complete, her job with Blessing Software is also done, and she’s looking to the future.

She asks Tomoya his opinion not only on where she should attend university (out in Kansai or fifteen minutes away) as well as to pick which script should be used: she wrote two. She’s basically telling the director to choose a direction; not unreasonable.

When Eriri and Megumi meet with Tomoya (thanks to Megumi having a key to his place!) they see the ending and see Tomoya’s dilemma. Eriri both acknowledges Utaha’s artistry, comparing it to the Metronome of Love series she claims to have never read, while complaining that it’s a lot more work.

Still, she doesn’t automatically reject this new ending, nor does Megumi: they, like Utaha, leave it up to Tomoya. Sorry dude, gotta make some hard choices, and not everyone is going to be happy. Especially with Izumi’s doujin game already out there in demo form, living in the same genre as their game.

Saekano excels when Tomoya is one-on-one, as he is with the lovely Utaha most of this episode. But I also liked how their interactions were shadowed by Eriri and Megumi (especially the difference in Utaha and Eriri’s reactions to the movie, which chose a “childhood friend-friendly”, and thus Eriri-friendly, ending).

I can’t say whether the script of Saekano is cliched per se; all I can say is that it is unafraid of commenting on the very genre and medium it exists in, or of being almost self-back-pattingly self-referential and irreverent of those institutions.

But the dialogue is expertly delivered by the actors, and the character design is strong, so even if this show’s ‘weakness’ is its script (which I’m not saying is the case), it’s more than capable of making up for it in other areas, which makes this show enjoyable to watch on any given week.

But I don’t think it needs a live-action adaptation.

ReLIFE – 07

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While we learned a lot more about An in the last episode, it was still mostly driven by Kaizaki’s reactions to those revelations. This time, it’s Yoake who gets top-billing as protagonist-of-the-week, in an episode that takes place while he’s still supporting Subject 001.

The truth about An gave us an glimpse of the world of ReLIFE Lab that this episode expands by setting Kaizaki’s story aside and showing us how Yoake came to support him instead of An (who we see is very enthusiastic early on about the prospect of being Kaizaki’s support).

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ReLIFE Lab is portrayed as very much like any other workplace, just as Lacuna in Eternal Sunshine is very much like any other doctor’s office; a neat amalgam of the mundane and the fantastical. There’s a kind of bizarre magic in what ReLIFE does, and yet Yoake still has to deal with a board of suits concerned with their branch’s rep and interested in results.

My one gripe about this otherwise lovely episode is that we don’t really get much in the way of info about Subject 001, which seems like a cruel tease. However, ReLIFE has been so good up to this point I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt on this. Maybe they’re saving that 001 reveal for later (and 001 went to Aoba High just like Kaizaki) or maybe they’ll never reveal it.

As for Yoake and An, neither seem interested in the other romantically, but one can’t deny there’s have chemistry and warmness to their rapport. Maybe it’s just a senpai/kohai thing, or the fact that their peculiar line of work, what with all the masquerade and stalking, can be isolating. Their scene on the bridge in the rain was very nice; so many complex emotions going on.

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I also got the feeling that while An is obviously disappointed Kaizaki was transferred from her to Yoake, at least it was Yoake, whom she knows and trusts, who got him and not someone else. That, and she’ll be right there at school with both Yoake and Kaizaki.

The episode ends back in the present, with Yoake surveying all the people Kaizaki has changed as a result of gaining the confidence to act. In the past Yoake mentioned Kaizaki had the “trauma of losing someone”, and the uncertainty of knowing if he did enough when he should have led to present part-timer status.

Watching Kaizaki gradually overcome those issues through his ReLIFE is having an inspiring effect on Yoake, who is also pleased that he seems to have found a proper “distance” from Kaizaki that he lacked with 001. And so yet another ReLIFE character has been wonderfully rounded out and humanized, while the world has been further enriched without answering too many questions.

With everything going so well, I reckon it’ll be time to rock the boat again pretty soon!

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