Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 09 – Another Goal

Ao has successfully gotten rid of Kijima. At school, he avoids her, and warns others not to interrupt “Miss Horie’s” studying. At home, she has only a super-creepy companionship doll and her dad to comfort her.

Oh, and Yabe, who is determined to assist her studying, but finds she’s far too distracted to make any progress. So he does what any tutor would do: punishes her by making her dress as a catgirl maid. AS YOU DO!

When Kijima comes calling and encounters Yabe, he’s surprised how accepting he is about letting him have one last try. But it makes perfect sense to Yabe; if Ao feels better, she’ll study better. So Kijima sneaks into Ao’s room and hears her talk to herself about having nothing but him on her mind.

A little mild friskiness ensues—Ao is a little miffed he goes for her stomach first and doesn’t touch anything else, but melts when he kisses her head—and the two have a bit of a breakthrough in their relationship, now that the cards are on the table.

Furthermore, Kijima is prepared to help Ao study, and is find holding off on dating (and other activities) until she gets into a good school and moves out of the nest. Ao’s a little disappointed Kijima is being so accommodating, but considers dating him another goal to strive for through study. In other words, welcome motivation.

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Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 08 – Aphrodisiacs and Brass Tacks

After beating the crap out of a metal pole (and scaring off a couple dudes who were going to chat her up) A frustrated Ao retires to her room to study. The subject: Takumi, of course! Specifically, why, despite all of the compromising times he could have made a move on her, including when they were alone in the ocean.

After imagining their roles (and genders) reversed, and breaking her mechanical pencil agonizing over it, she gets a text from Takumi inviting her to watch his soccer game. Then it dawns on her: he lacks the stamina to do what she wants him to do so she can reject him!

She accepts his invitation, and prepares a magnificent multi-level bento packed with aphrodisiacs, including oysters, truffles, and eels. The plan is, she’ll feed him the stuff that will turn him into a savage beast that can’t keep his hands off her, and she’ll reject him fair and square, leaving her free to study again.

Of course, it doesn’t go as planned. While Takumi loses the game, his spirits are immediately raised when he sees Ao’s bento. Little do either of them know that Ao’s pops spiked the eel with one of his patented “energy” elixirs.

As a result, Takumi starts feeling all hot and bothered, and before she knows it, he’s on top of her. But he still manages to hold back, telling her he’s suddenly not himself today and that she should leave before he does something. That’s when Ao asks why he won’t do it.

The answer is instructive: because he values her more than his own desires. Ao turns that around on herself: if her desire is to get into a good university, feeling the way she feels about Takumi would naturally place him above those desires. That’s just how love works; it can literally sweep you away from the best-laid plans to just…getting laid.

Unable to accept such an outcome, no matter how happy it might make her, Ao decides to leave and tells Takumi not to ask her out anymore. The more time she spends with him, the more she’ll value him over studying. Of course, she’s oversimplifying things, and there’s such a thing as work-life balance. If she just lays out her concerns, there’s no reason to think he can’t keep his distance until she’s in a good school, or assist with her studying in some way.

Hanebado! – 06 – Not Just One More Match

Prelims are upon us this week, and it’s Izumi Riko’s turn to be angsty. It’s her last year and last prelims, and she wants to win. The only problem is, her first opponent is her childhood friend Nozomi, who also happens to be one of last year’s final four. Riko is not confident she can hang with the likes of Nozomi, and even though Nagisa tries her best to fire her up, Riko ends up frustrated and the two part ways for the evening on a bad note.

The day of the matches arrives, and Riko and Nozomi are cordial but cool, as imminent opponents must be. The team rocks their slick new one-piece uniforms, and Riko’s four cute siblings are in attendance, but she still manages to stink up the joint in the first half of the first set overwhelmed by her own lack of confidence as well as Nozomi’s unbeatable aura.

When the interval comes, Riko knows she has to do something…so she goes over the shots of the match so far, analyzes them, and finds that Nozomi is avoiding her backhand. Riko goes on the offensive and gets a point or two before Nozomi re-adjusts. It’s a beautifully-animated, fast-paced story told through the smooth, graceful, yet powerful motions of the players; a chess match of adjustments and counter-adjustments.

Riko still loses, but she makes Nozomi work for her win, going against her opponent’s strict coache’s insistence she conserve her stamina. It was just another match for Nozomi; a stepping stone to the next round. But for Riko, it was the match; the only match left in her high school career. And as her coach directed, she had fun out there.

Whither Ayano? Well, for most of the episode she seems to be putting up a strong front of Everything’s Okay, and may even believe she’s past worrying about her mother or Connie. But these prelims are uniquely equipped to not let Ayano escape her troubles so easily. Not only is she facing Serigaya Kaoruko in the next round, but her mother will be in attendance to watch their rematch. That should be interesting…

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 08

The girls are understandably excited to be shoving off for their great life-changing expedition, but not a one of them, even Shirase, really gave much thought to how life would be aboard an icebreaker at sea.

Of course, none of them have any experience being on ships period, so that’s to be expected. And at first, things don’t seem that bad: sure, they’re four to a room, and they’re almost immediately put to work peeling potatoes and the like, but it’s not that bad!

Then the crew is invited to go topside for exercise, and the girls learn just how much toughening they’ll need to function aboard ship. Between the drudgery below and the training above, wasting even small amounts of time (and they waste a lot in the bath) is like digging a hole of lost time from which they’ll never return.

As if settling into an efficient routine in which not a moment in the day is wasted (or night, as they need good sleep to be ready for the day) wasn’t enough on their plate, their anti-seasickness medicine wears off, and once they’re on the high seas, that becomes a devastating problem for the entire quartet.

Okay, I told myself, now they’re going to start to feel the challenge they set for themselves when they agreed to do this. And they do, the poor wretches…they do. They lie in bed, unable to sleep, unable to keep down the food they have to try to keep down, dealing with the unceasing rolling of the ship as they sail further south, where there’s nothing stopping the currents.

This is all great stuff, both pre- and post-seasickness. It never feels like the girls are being tortured, because the whole time they’re enduring all these problems, the rest of the crew, far more experienced as they are, seem completely unaffected by the changing conditions. They are a constant reminder that while it may be tough now, given enough time and perseverance, the girls will get through this.

Heck, when the ship starts hitting some really serious waves, Gin shows her “old salt” side, like the captains of the age of sail, standing on the deck of their ships, fighting with the ocean as if it were an opponent in the boxing ring. She’s ready to take some licks, but she’s not going to be counted out.

Similar sentiments come to Shirase as the four lie in their bunks, miserable and exhausted. Gin and the crew may seem like a “different kind of organism” as Yuzu puts it, but all the girls can do is their best; they have no choice. Mari corrects them: they did have a choice, and it was to do exactly what they’re doing. (Hinata seems inspired by Mari’s words, but in truth she just has to use the toilet).

Before heading back to their bunks, the four open a hatch to take a look outside…which seemed like an extraordinarly bad and reckless thing to do considering how little experience they have being on the deck of a ship during such severe conditions. But they all manage to hold on, and even revel at getting pummeled by the waves crashing over them.

The experience changes them for the better; the next day when things calm down they have their sea legs and are full of energy. A big part of the transition is a matter of one’s state of mind; one’s attitude. Mari knows that no matter how tough or harrowing things might seem in the moment, she knows they’ll all look back on these times as some of the most fun and exciting of their lives.

And things are only going to get more exciting, and harrowing, and possibly miserable and painful and terrifying, as icebergs start coming into view on the horizon. This episode does something truly clever: depict how hard it is to adjust to life on a boat, all the while implying that a boat is nothing compared to Antarctica.

Watashi ga Motete Dousunda – 05

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This week Kae quickly gains a lot of weight and puts her gang of boys on the spot about why they stay with her. It’s an episode that tries to have its failed Valentine’s chocolate and eat it too, and it almost worked.

First, I like the idea that Shina, whom we don’t know that well, may have actually planned to fatten Kae back up, even if it’s never explicit that’s the case. All we know is, she wan’t entirely joking in drawing a line in the sand between her and the guys for Kae’s heart. She likes Kae, and not simply because she’s thin.

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When Kae shows up at school back to her original self, the guys’ reactions are predictable: Nana and Shi don’t know what to do with themselves and what it to just be a bad dream, as they’re the shallowest and least adaptable of the guys. Kae’s weight has never been much of an issue with Asuma, but he barely makes an impression in the episode.

And while Kae is willing to train to lose weight back, Nana and Shi are overzealous and as a result she ends up overworked and exhausted, without any quick loss to show for it. That gets the protective Shina mad at them for having ulterior motives for her “re-self-improvement”, but she’s no saint herself, as she goes on record as saying she loves round cute things like Kae has become.

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I like then how neither Shina nor Nana are portrayed as right or wrong, only that they both need to think about what’s motivating their actions (their own desires), blinding them from what Kae might actually want herself.

It’s Igarashi who attains a certain level of growth this week, when after a whole day of being doted on by Shina, he takes Kae to the roof and her inner beauty of kindness and honesty is re-revealed to him. Regardless of Kae’s appearance, Igarashi is certain that he likes her.

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Where the episode kinda falls down is when Kae inevitably returns back to her rail-thin, magazine-gorgeous self by the end, returning things to the status quo. I liked how despite some very vigorous attempts by the guys, simply changing Kae back wasn’t as quick or easy as her regression-by-chocolate.

While Fat Kae really yuk-yuks it up with her exaggerated voice and movements, I still would have preferred a more gradual, less black-and-white transition that felt less “magic”. The first time she slimmed down, it was due to an extended fast. At least this time it was coming from a far more positive and healthy place, but it’s still rushed, moving us along without fully exploring the ramifications.

It makes me wonder if the show will bother with another “regression” to her original self, or if this has closed the matter of whether the guys will stick with her no matter what.

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Watashi ga Motete Dousunda – 04

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Because they all have the hots for her, the guys let Kae drive the itinerary for Christmas Eve, and because Kae is not your conventional young woman, that itinerary is similarly unconventional.

It also takes place at a convention center, but even that is unconventional because it’s Tokyo Big Sight, which to many looks like a conventional convention center flipped upside-down.

The plan is to attend Comiket, split up to buy everything on Kae’s list, and get out early enough to still have the “Cris-Pa” the guys want to have with Kae.

Only they sorely underestimate the popularity of Winter Comiket, and that the lengths required to get there and back take up most of the day and night. It takes six hours from the time they wake up just to get inside.

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Once there, however, the guys find that it’s not all bad. Even though Kae feels kinda bad she’s being so selfish, no one has a gun to the lads’ heads; they want to help her out, and also to make her stay there shorter so they can spend more time with her.

Not only that, but because all four guys are hot in their own ways, they attract quite a bit of attention from the female authors and artists, many of whom imagine (as Kae does) that they are BL couples, and swooning accordingly.

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Kae also experiences something at Comiket for the first time: a pushy creepy photog, snapping every angle of her against her wishes. She is eventually castigated, shamed and forced to apologize by an exceedingly debonair young man doing butler cosplay. Just as the guys arrive, late because they were lost, they see this butler all close and personal with their Kae, and they don’t like it.

In a nice nod to Kae’s years of “training” by going to these day-consuming things, the four guys are utterly spent by the end of it, and still not quite right the next morning at school. Kae on the other hand looks like she could sing karaoke all night, and seems, if anything, energized by the Comiket visit.

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Then she, and the guys, learn that the young butler who helped her wasn’t a guy, but a girl, and a student at their school: first-year Nishima Shina, voiced by Sawashiro Miyuki. Mind you, I knew she was a girl all along, because she’s in the OP as such, but the shock isn’t meant for us, it was meant for Kae and the guys.

And they are shocked. Kae, because she and Shina hit it off so quickly; the guys, because Shina swiftly and efficiently threatens to edge them out entirely, claiming Kae to herself by inviting her to her place. The guys invite themselves, and Shina doesn’t object…but like Comiket, they don’t know the magnitude of what they’re getting into.

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Shina is perfect. She’s perfect-looking, she does everything just about perfectly, and she’s obscenely wealthy, having not just a room but an entire wing devoted to her many hobbies, many of which are also Kae’s hobbies, only on steroids.

Kae quickly falls under Shina’s “spell”, and at times, all Shina has to offer, and how earnestly complimentary she is, the guys drop their guards one by one.

Shina is also the perfect otaku; someone for Kae to look up to, even though she’s the senpai here. The “small favor” Shina requested of the guys in exchange for letting them come over turns out to be a private BL photo shoot, which is of course heaven for Kae.

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The thing is, the guys are nervous and a little confused about what’s going on, so they’re not that great at posing. So Kae, who knows far more about the subject than they do, demonstrates the proper way to do it, using Shina as her partner. She gets so into it, she doesn’t realize she’s actually turning Shina on.

That’s right: Shina isn’t just competing for Kae’s time as a friend. She’s after her heart, like they are, and she won’t stand for them not taking her seriously. When Kae presents an opportunity by play-acting, Shina can’t help but pull her in for a long kiss.

Like the guys, Kae is initially confused. But it’s quite simple: her gang of four is now five, and while the guys have their various strengths and weaknesses, Shina is poised to outshine all of them with her perfection, wrapped in a feminine package Kae is much more comfortable with.

It will be interesting to see if this competition remains diplomatic, or if another, less perfect side of Shina comes out when provoked. Until then, Shina is an interesting new wrinkle in this milieu, and Sawashiro Miyuki brings her characteristic sultry wryness to the role.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 08

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On her way to her father’s former martial arts school, Ayase recounts to Ikki and Stella the story of how he came to end up “mortified” and comatose. His school fell to the whims of Kurashiki Kuraudo. This wasn’t the first school the pointy-toothed punk brought down with his raw brutality.

The last words her father said before he passed out were “I’m Sorry,” but these past two years it’s been Ayase who was sorry she didn’t step in and fight on her father’s behalf, even if it meant she’d have been the one to end up that way. After all, his school is all about pride and protecting.

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Aside from that additional insight into the plight of the Ayatsuji Itto-ryuu School, this episode wastes no time at the pool or in the showers, or even with fighting the front-line grunts in Karaudo’s operation.

Flanked by two tough, lovely young ladies, Ikki marches right into the dojo, challenges Karaudo to a duel for control of the school on Ayase’s behalf, and drops the IDs of the guys whose asses he just beat. We didn’t see that fight, but we didn’t need to. The fight that matters is this one.

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Not needing any further proof he’s worthy of fighting him, Karaudo stands up and summons his sword, Orochimaru (which is the name of a Naruto arch-villain and happens to resemble Renji’s zanpakuto Zabimaru in Bleach, BTW).  It’s a sick-looking blade that can take any form, but more important is just how daggone quick Karaudo is.

While he boasts about how great his sword is, laughs a lot, and bares his silly pointy teeth, Karaudo at least avoids threatening Ayase or Stella, or spewing any other kind of assholish trash talk. This is all about the fight.

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Ikki quickly determines Karaudo’s true weapon against the Last Samurai wasn’t just due to his strength or brutality or swordsmanship, but the ridiculously fast reflexes he was simply born with.

He calls the characteristic (not technique) “Marginal Counter”, and it’s the thing he’s exploited in order to successfully bring down school after school, as if to say “all your technique and practice, all your philosophy and discipline, is nothing compared to my raw talent.” He’s the rare bad guy on shows like this that’s actually justified in his arrogance.

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But while he’s a tough customer, he’s not flawless, and while he probably didn’t expect going into the fight that a stiff like Ikki would survive long enough to discover his weakness (lack of stamina), he expected even less that Ikki would be having as much fun as he did. The two fighters actually reach a kind of understanding with each other in the fight, making a connection through the mutual fun they’re having that would have been impossible with words or other actions.

At the same time, Stella starts to realize that maybe it wasn’t Karaudo alone who brought Ayase’s father’s school down, but the burden Kaito bore as the leader of the school. At his point in his life, he just didn’t have the glint in his eye or the smirk on his face to defeat Karaudo. But Ikki’s a different story.

But once Ikki has dodged and blocked and parried enough of his attacks and gotten him good and winded, Ikki breaks out Ten-i-muho, the finishing move Kaito once tried on him years ago. Karaudo is wounded, admits defeat, and relinquishes the school, but he’s already looking ahead to Seven Stars, where he now knows he can’t let a battle with Ikki go on too long.

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Ayase, meanwhile, who felt so helpless when her father went down, and felt so ashamed when Ikki used Ten-i-Muho so flawlessly, is rebuked by Ikki, who tells her the only reason he was able to use it was because she herself had mastered it so well. He merely stole her skill. She’s a true Ayatsuji Ikki-ryuu successor, and always was, and it’s her duty and honor to re-open the school.

With that, Ikki calls it “Case Closed,” he and Stella hold hands (I loved her line before about Ikki being the “right guy to chase”) until an eavesdropping Alice and Shizuku reveal themselves, sore that they were barely in this “Sword Eater” arc at all. But that was for the best, as it gave Ikki, Stella, and Ayase’s story room to breathe. Speaking of breathing, Ayase’s father eventually wakes up, so happy ending all ’round.

Combined with the cementing of Karaudo’s role as worthy (if uncomplicated) villain, this wasn’t a bad episode of RKC at all.

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