Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 07

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Last week threatened to keep Shirayuki away from Zen in just the moment when she wanted to see him the most, but this episode washes that threat away by revealing Zen on the balcony above where she was looking. Somewhat surprisingly, rather than using the stairs Shirayuki climbs a tree in order to be on the same level as Zen, and they share a warm embrace neither is in a hurry to end.

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After they touch base about what was said at the banquet Shirayuki wasn’t invited to, Zen tells her a story about Prince Izana that paints a pretty succinct picture of the kind of man he is. One minute, he’s a 17-year-old playboy who has a palace built between two feuding countries, who proceed to send him riches to ingratiate themselves with him, to the detriment of their own people. The next, he’s a princely mastermind, expelling both lords, replacing them with the envoys he’s come to know and trust, and returned all the gold the old lords gave him to the countries to help their people. Thus ended the feud.

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Thus, we learn while Zen can sometimes use and manipulate people for his entertainment, the primary goal is the betterment of the people he rules. He knows what it means to be king, and believes Zen is staying from that path. When Izana takes the throne, should anything happen to him, Zen will succeed him.

Seeing him infatuated with some red-haired commoner is, like that feud between lords, something he feels responsible for solving. At the same time, he respects that Zen has grown a spine, and isn’t so quick to bow before his brother. Zen believes he can still be a good prince and a good king without leaving Shirayuki’s side. Izana is dubious, but allows Zen the chance to prove it.

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Meanwhile, Raj is still a guest of Izana’s, and as he tours the castle grows increasingly stressed about seeing Shirayuki. Last week he called her Zen’s fiancee, and the rumors have spread furiously throughout the castle. Knowing the power of his careless words all too well, Raj isn’t all that gung-ho about crossing paths with Shirayuki. It’s a great inversion of the power dynamic that formerly existed between these two.

Naturally, while seeking a medicine for his upset stomach (caused by all the stress), Raj does indeed cross paths with Shirayuki, and their equally awkward tense, and courteous encounter is punctuated when Shirayuki slaps away a topical medicine Raj is about to drink. She also tells Raj to become the prince of her homeland that she can be proud of, even if she isn’t living there anymore.

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Izana witnesses the entire exchange, and just as Shirayuki learned about him through Zen, he learns more about her. She makes it clear to him she isn’t leaving Clarines, or backing down, or even averting her eyes. Izana even kisses her above her eye (beating Zen to the punch in the facial kiss area), but she doesn’t flinch or recoil. Seeing how she dealt with Raj and himself, I’m certain Izana’s opinion of this red-haired “nuisance” has improved considerably, and may be coming to understand perhaps she won’t bring ruin to Zen’s prncely path.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 19

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For most of the run of this tremendously touching and often uproariously funny show, Gouda Takeo has been portrayed as both a mensch (a person of honor and integrity) and an Übermensch (a goal for humanity to set for itself, given form). Yamato certainly sees him as a virtually flawless mate.

Yet when Yamato gets to sit with Takeo’s tough (and very pregnant) mom Yuriko, she—and we—get an entirely new perspective on Takeo. His mom still sees him as a little kid who will run out in the street and get killed if you don’t stop him. She’s also pretty confident Takeo is a wimp, in that he, like his father, worries about her too much.

Yuriko is basically handing her grown son on to another woman so she can care for him. She’s teaching Yamato a valuable lesson that she already intrinsically understands: Takeo is tough and strong about some things, but not definitely not everything. That’s where she comes in: just as his mom did, Yamato needs to protect him.

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In Takeo’s cool dad’s flashback, we see that Yuriko has always been tough and selfless, putting herself in danger to spare others pain, a big part of being a mom. Those qualities made her future husband fall for her right then and there. Yuriko isn’t overestimating her abilities when she keeps a fellow pregnant woman from falling down steps, she’s acting reflexively.

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Yet the rescue ends up hurting Yuriko, and when Takeo has to get her in a cab to go to the hospital, we see the weakness she still sees in her boy: he kinda falls apart. It’s thanks to Suna that things don’t get worse. Takeo may be great at saving strangers, but when it’s his mom, who he’s always seen as an invincible, indomitable force of nature, in trouble, his worry overwhelms him and prevents quick and rational decisions.

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When we see Yamato during these trying times for Takeo, she’s never frowning or outwardly worried, but has her usual cheerful, glowing smile. She goes to Takeo’s and cooks dinner for him. She comforts him with a simple touch of his arm, like a magical girl. She takes care of him, in a preview for how things will be for the formal hand-off (i.e. marriage one day). Yamato may be much twee-er than Takeo’s mom, but she shows she’s just as tough and able to protect Takeo.

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Witnessing these strong women around him inspires Takeo to pull himself together. When his mom gives the wheelchair meant for her to another mother going into labor, Takeo picks his mom up and carries her to the delivery room, surprising her. It’s a gesture that makes her realize he’s not a dumb little kid anymore; he has grown up a little, and he’ll keep growing up into a good man, a good big brother, and if all goes well with Yamato, a good husband and father as well. I’m sure as hell pullin’ for him!

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 06

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Another week, another annoying obstacle to the nice thing Shirayuki and Zen have going on. Also, another week of the two of them not quite sure what that nice thing is, allowing people like Zen’s older brother, First Prince Izana, and others attempt to dictate what it is for them. But it’s pretty plain to see in their first enocunter this week: both are a little upset about the prospect of not being able to see each other as much due to their busy work schedules. They just aren’t able to fully express it.

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Izana comes in (where’s he been, anyway), and starts immediately throwing his weight around, playing power games like showing up without warning, barring Zen’s path with guards in his own castle, quizzing him on the changes in the castle he’s made, summoning him by wax-sealed invitation, and, of course, secretly letting Shirayuki listen in on their meeting before dismissing Zen.

All these games aside, he seems committed to security of Clarines, which means when his little brother invites a foreign girl into the palace, there’s either some definable value to that girl, or Zen is an unstable, “good-for-nothing” prince who is threatening his position and the kingdom he represents. At least, that seems to be Izana’s take.

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Shirayuki, when asks, can’t guarantee she can put into words what her value is to Zen, and again Izana capitalizes on the couple’s lack of eloquence on the matter. He also must have  a pretty good information network, because he invites Prince Raj to the palace for a state dinner…and also, perhaps, to hear another perspective on this Zen-Shirayuki business.

Raj, who is still weary of even speaking of Shirayuki after Zen threatened him, doesn’t appreciate the awkward position he’s in, and while he says what Zen wants—he supported the girl coming to Clarines—he also improvises, adding that she’s Zen’s fiancee.

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Zen drags Raj away to “get on the same page”, but his (lack of) explanation to Raj—they’re not fiancees, nor lovers; at least not yet—is hardly satisfying. Kind of like this episode. All the while, poor Shirayuki is listening in on men talking about her. She’s stopped on the side of the road she’s traveling, wondering if the way ahead is barricaded by these men.

But when she recalls what she said to Zen earlier—about wanting to see how he lives—and how he responded that he wanted her there to see him live—it looks like she’s finally able to find the words she needs to say to him to get on the same page themselves. Alas, when she runs to where she last saw Zen talking to Lord Haruka, he’s nowhere to be found.

Hopefully as the story progresses, the show won’t continue to use incidents of bad timing and missed connections to further bar progress in their relationship, or Shirayuki’s journey of self-actualization.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 18

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Ore Monogatari!! isn’t one to stray too far from its main couple for too long, so it’s back to the Rinko x Takeo Show this week, and as expected, Nanako and Kurihara’s quick first kiss puts pressure on the two, if for no other reason than kissing is now on their minds. Takeo is content to wait until the “autumn of his third year” of high school, but Rinko wants it to happen sooner. A lot sooner. Like, New Year’s, which is the day after she asks Suna and Ai for advice. Which is also Takeo’s sixteenth birthday.

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This is one of those episodes that brings up a certain fact about a couple—like, for instance, how they haven’t kissed yet, at least while both parties were awake—and thus commits to giving the audience some payoff. That is to say, if this episode had ended with no kiss, due to whatever circumstances (and early obstacles like Takeo’s prying mom or Takeo’s horde of childhood friends), that audience, i.e. me, would have been most displeased. I want mah damn kiss, yo.

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So I was a bit tense about the couple’s day together—right up to the moment Rinko shifted over to where Takeo is sitting and planted a kiss on him while his eyes are closed for his birthday wish. HOWEVA, it seems like Takeo didn’t notice the kiss at all, which makes sense: he’s a bit dude with big lips; if you want to kiss him, you’ve got to go all out. So, would Rinko’s little closed-eyes peck be all we get this week, after Rinko promised Takeo she’d give him a birthday he “wouldn’t forget”?

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I suspected not, since the episode still had a bit of time, and I seriously doubted it would cut away to Ai or Nanako x Kurihara at a time like this. Instead, as Takeo describes his birthday with Rinko in detail to Suna, his description of the “bug” that landed on his lips as he wished is the tidbit Suna needs to set him straight. Ashamed he didn’t recognize Rinko’s kiss for what it was (and remembering her body language throughout), Takeo goes to Rinko’s place to make things right.

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And then, without too much fuss, the two kiss, for real, for a long time, in the snowy night. We got the payoff, thank God. Yes, Takeo is comically taller and bigger than Rinko, but that doesn’t matter in this moment, just as it’s never mattered throughout the show’s run. These are two hearts beating as one. They’ve shed their embarrassment and misunderstandings in the past, and they do so here as well, thus progressing to the next level in their relationship: the post-first-kiss period.

Next up: the second kiss! A couple’s work is never done.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 05

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This week offers plenty of opportunities for Shirayuki to get kidnapped again, only for Zen to save her, but wisely avoids taking those roads. Instead, Shirayuki comes back from her solitary trip to town without incident, and Zen brings her to a fort where a mysterious sickness is sapping everyone of energy, even her.

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And as Zen tells her when she determines the cause of the sickness—toxic firewood—I’m in full agreement with him that Shirayuki is so damn cool. She and Zen make a great team, because they complement each others’ unique skills. Zen is the brawn and access when necessary; Shirayuki has the medicinal know-how and determination to restore the entire fort’s garrison in no time at all, earning all the soldiers’ gratitude and respect in the process.

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But not everything’s peachy. It turns out Shirayuki’s worst enemy this week is her own inability to take a damn break. She loses her balance on many occasions, even after the firewood mystery is solved, and Obi has to leap in to save her from taking a serious tumble, disobeying orders to stay away from her.

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Rather than blame Shirayuki for working too hard for too long, Zen blames himself as leader for not seeing her fatigued state sooner. He puts her to bed (once her eyes are closed, it takes less than three seconds for her to thankfully conk out), then takes care of the bandits who stole the forts weapons after drugging the soldiers.

He returns to her bedside to thank her for her hard work with a tender kiss to her hand; very princely. He also tells her never to keep quiet when she’s weak from overwork and insufficient sleep. He’ll certainly keep a sharper eye, but Zen needs her to take care of herself, not just everyone else. Her first herbalist mission outside of Wistal is both a resounding success and a learning experience.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 17

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With Takeo and Rinko’s relationship secure (as if there was going to be any doubt) after the Mariya Incursion, and Christmas approaching, Rinko asks Takeo if it would be okay to celebrate with her friends and his friends, and he’s find with it. After all, they’re on cloud nine, and they’re united in their desire to spread the love and happiness; paying it forward, if you will. And with one of each of their friends, Nanako and Kurihara, at the dating ten-yard line, they want to do everything they can to help.

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They end up doing just that…and it’s just too much. Combined with their own usual lovey-dovey behavior towards each other, Rinko and Takeo carefully set everything up so Nanako and Kurihara are together, and it puts a lot of pressure on both of them. Kurihara deals with that pressure by doing a lot of nervous laughing and joking, while Nanako seems to coil up into a ball of irritation, not to mention confusion over Kurihara’s words and gestures and the meaning behind them.

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She finally just leaves the karaoke booth, and as Rinko chases after her, a trio of roughs start bothering them. Kurihara does the practical thing: when he sees what happens, he runs off to get Takeo (who intimidated these same roughs in the cold open without even trying or, indeed, knowing they existed). But that makes Nanako even madder; why couldn’t he rescue her himself? She continues fleeing, and when Rinko tries to follow, she snaps at her that not everyone can be like her and Takeo.

It’s a bit harsh, but it’s also true, and Takeo and Rinko know it. They came together naturally without overt outside assistance (they both recall Suna simply sitting back and quietly supporting/rooting for them without getting too hands-on. Yet again, watching a secondary relationship in the making helps this couple grow.

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Kurihara decides to be a man and make up for his misstep with the roughs by performing a feat of manliness: climbing the giant Christmas tree to the top to grab an ornament that, it is said, will help you get the person you like to go out with you. Obviously there’s no real power in the thing; it’s just a totem, but the gesture of getting it (as Takeo spots and ultimately catches Kurihara when he falls) and the feelings behind it are what move Nanako, who returns when Rinko tells her what Kurihara’s doing. The two have a very public mutual confession, to the delight of all around them, especially Takeo and Rinko. It happened, without them having to push too hard, or at all. They just had to let it.

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The aftermath to this is fantastic, with Kurihara and Nanako starting to act totally differently, and just as lovey-dovey as Nanako poo-pooed before her own relationship bloomed. Indeed, the lovebirds were holding hands before they were a couple, and literally hours after they became one, already got their first kiss out of the way.

That gets Rinko feeling down, and all of a sudden the tables are turned as now it’s Nanako who will offer advice—but hopefully not do too much—to see to it Rinko gets her first kiss from Takeo. And just like that, we have a fun new couple different from the main one, whose portrait was very quickly and efficiently painted this week. The love is spreading. Soon no one will be safe.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 04

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What makes Shirayuki such a delight to watch isn’t just her striking hair, but her warm, striking, magnetic personality, and the fact that she’s not perfect, or even fully formed; she’s still searching and exploring, working hard and learning something new every day, picking up stones in sequence as she paves her chosen path.

And yet, it’s not a path she needs or wants to walk entirely alone. Zen may be a prince, but first and foremost he’s a friends, and someone who can calm her of exam nerves simply by resting her hand on his…and certainly not by using his position to get her a job.

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This week Shirayuki plunges into the world of court herbalism, first by meeting the castle’s chief herbalist, Garak, and then being given a small garden to tend and test her skills. She wants to do this right; gain the position with her own strength.

Zen, who as we know is under Shirayuki’s spell (who wouldn’t be?), is worried about her, so when he sees lights on in a greenhouse, he checks it out and they end up together, just before some unseen person locks them in together. His amplified concern is clear when she mentions a toxin in the water and he grabs her as if to save her life (the toxin isn’t harmful to humans).

What could have been a silly conceit, or an attempt to sabotage her exam through the appearance of nepotism, turns out to be something far more enticing, because Shirayuki changes the tone of the situation. Whether they’re locked in or not, she’s detected a toxin in the aqueducts that could kill everything in the garden if she doesn’t act quickly, even if it means having Zen help her. She simply rolls up her sleeves and gets to work.

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The sun rises, and with it comes Garak to unlock the door with her assistant. She’s surprised to find Zen there, but when she questions why Shirayuki let him help, she frames it as a matter of his highness’ safety. She also asks Zen why he doesn’t just snap his fingers and make Shirayuki is a court herbalist with his authority.

Garak probably already knows the answer that Zen gives her: that would defeat the purpose. Shirayuki doesn’t mind the occasional helping hand, but she won’t have someone doing all the work paving the road ahead; that’s hers to pave.

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Garak is impressed with Shirayuki’s skills, diligence, and I daresay wit, and passes her, making her officially an apprentice court herbalist. She’s paired with her superior Ryuu, who despite being a socially awkward little boy, is the herbalist version of Natural Police. 

Ryuu also tends to go with the flow, so when a patient comes in and refuses to be treated by Ryuu (fearing he’ll be made a test subject), Shirayuki wastes no time putting the asshat in his place, showing us her short temper for baseless conjecture, ignorance, and general prejudice. Fire-kissed hair, indeed!

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It doesn’t just hurt Shirayuki that the guy said those terrible things about Ryuu, but that Ryuu put up no defense. She’s been actively fighting for her freedom and her own kind of life for so long, she herself is ignorant to those like Ryuu who are more water than fire. When Shirayuki calls Ryuu “foolish” for telling her to let it go; it happens all the time, Ryuu is shaken, afraid he’s already ruined another relationship.

Still, the waterworks do come for Shirayuki when Garak, realizing she’s with Zen more than any of the other apprentices, decides to give her Zen’s medical records, so she knows what to do in “emergencies.” This isn’t something often given to a prospective girlfriend, but her position calls for it.

While I’m sure Garak probably saw it as a prudent, practical gesture, when Shirayuki reads through the journals intricately documenting the suffering Zen went through to work up his resistance to poisons, she is thoroughly shaken. And with good reason: she truly does care about Zen, and it’s more than fealty.

It turns out to be Ryuu, who sees her crying, who runs to Zen pleading for him to help her. Ryuu may have thought it was all his fault, but Zen knows that it’s his own. He also knows that Shirayuki isn’t going to turn her back at those records, but they might go down a little easier if their subject is right there beside her, alive and well.

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That’s exactly what Shirayuki needed, and when she returns to Ryuu both apologetic and grateful, everything turns out to be fine. And with Shirayuki smiling brightly, practically, glowing in the daylight, Ryuu not only betrays a blush, but stealthily confesses his affection for his new apprentice by telling her the plant that was the focus of her exam is his favorite because it’s “red and pretty.”

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Ore Monogatari!! – 16

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—”I wonder if I can like someone again.”
—”I’m sure you can.”
—”When?”
—”Eventually.”
—”I’m sick of this! I want to now! But I can’t right now!”

That exchange between a fiercely honest, freshly-heartbroken Saijou Mariya and a savvy, supportive, tissue-providing Suna, says it all: Falling for someone who’s already firmly in love with someone else SUCKS. But it’s also a near-universal feeling we all have at some point in our lives. Even “Nature Is My Master” Takeo felt that way, when he thought Rinko liked Suna and not him.

As such, it’s a near-ubiquitous theme in romance anime. But rarely have I seen it so beautifully—and efficiently!—handled than these last two episodes. Saijou’s arc went by breathlessly quickly, yet still allowed us to get lost in it, in her head, and in all those swirling emotions people in her situation tend to have.

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When she added “…as a person” to her confession to Takeo last week, I knew she actually liked him as a man, you knew she actually liked Takeo as a man, and after a couple periods of class, Suna knew she actually liked Takeo as a man. But Takeo? Forget it. In exchange for all his wonderful qualities, he’s an appallingly oblivious fellow, and that’s okay; I don’t need a perfect protagonist.

But more to the point, he simply trusts Saijou’s words as she spoke them, because he has no reason he knows of not to. He’s convinced he’s not popular with girls…and because neither Ai nor Saijou confessed their love, he has no reason to doubt that assessment of himself, either.

Similarly, Rinko trusts Saijou, and even decides to cultivate a kind of friendship with her, as they find it easy to talk to each other. Rinko is worried about other girls falling for Takeo, but not Saijou, because she said she likes him as a PERSON. That’s enough for Takeo, and it’s enough for Rinko, and neither will be hurt by Saijou continuing this charade indefinitely.

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No, the person who will end up hurt is Saijou herself. When Suna approaches her, she expects to be castigated and comes clean to him: “Yes, I know I’m a cheat, and I’m lying about the extent of my feelings. So what?” She knows the answer: because she’ll never be happy with things like this. At the end of the day, she’s a good person, and isn’t going to try to break anyone up. To her surprise, Suna isn’t concerned with her actions thus far, but rather the emotional toll they’re having on her. He…he cares about her! AS A PERSON!!

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Thanks to Suna, Saijou decides to nip things in the bud. The limbo she’s in is untenable; she has to be honest about her feelings, because Takeo and Rinko will never accuse her of being dishonest. The scene where she finds Takeo alone in the dark classroom, which then fills with gorgeous golden light, is as good a visual metaphor for a weight being lifted as one can ask for. It’s also mighty purty.

Takeo briefly sports an appropriately stunned look, followed by a quick and categorical rejection. But he’s not saying no because he already has a girlfriend; he’s saying it because he loves Rinko with all his heart, for any, all, and no reasons at all. He’s oblivious about a lot of things, but his heart never lets him doubt his love for Rinko for a minute.

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Saijou tells Takeo she wasn’t lying when she said she liked him as a person too, and is able to withdraw with dignity, but once she hits the bench outside, the tears come hard and fast, so it’s good Suna’s there with two(!) boxes of Kleenex to help her through this trying but ultimately necessary time. She fell for the wrong person, but it will pass, and she’ll fall for someone else eventually. Hopefully Suna, AMIRITE!?!

As for Takeo, the sudden realization that there are girls besides Rinko who do like him, make him look upon his constant protestations to the contrary with contempt. All this time he was telling Rinko something he believed was true, but wasn’t. So as soon as Saijou is gone, he runs as fast as he can to Rinko to make everything sparkling clear: it doesn’t matter whether other girls like him or not (sorry Ai!); Rinko is the only girl for him.

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As they walk home hand-in-hand, tears suddenly come to Rinko; tears of happiness, which finally spur Takeo to say “I love you” out loud. Woo! And she says the same. Saijou may have felt like a rival and a possible antagonist last week, but turned out to be neither, but something much, much better: a lifting of the misconception of Takeo’s popularity with girls, a catalyst for the deepening of his relationship with Rinko, and, as we see the next day, a new friend who still wants to call him “master.” Saijou Mariya was another revelation in a show positively stacked with ’em.

Now, start falling for Suna. Immediately.

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Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 03

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As Shirayuki pays a visit to an overworked Zen and studies by his side as he catches up on some sleep, I’m reminded of a lovely scene from Whisper of the Heart in which the lead couple is simply quietly enjoying each other’s company in the library, exchanging looks of happiness and contentment. The connection is made stronger with orchestral music that calls to mind Nomi Yuji’s score from that film, one of my favorites.

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Things are peachy for Zen and Shirayuki…until, of course, they aren’t. Shirayuki isn’t kidnapped this week, but she is looked down upon by one of Zen’s liege lords, Haruka. A stern, authority and class-obsessed man, he will not tolerate Zen bringing in towngirls of low birth, and considers her hair color “vulgar”.

This guy has clearly painted a picture of a girl who wants to get something from the prince, and honestly believes he’s protecting the prince and his reputation, from her selfish feminine wiles. In other words…he’s a conclusion-jumping asshole.

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This asshole, and a lithe, ninja-like fellow named Obi he’s loosely allied with, conspire to keep Shirayuki out of the castle, but she manages to get back in before they warn the guards, to grab a book she forgot in the prince’s chambers. Once she realizes people who don’t speak for Zen and aren’t acting according to his will are messing with her, and her answer to that is to simply blow past them.

When Lord Haruka bars her way and tells her to leave, she invites him to join her to meet with Zen. He then draws his sword and names her an intruder…but asshole he may be, he doesn’t follow through on his threat to cut her. In fact, he seems downright flummoxed by Shirayuki’s utterly badass defiance. Despite having a sword in her face, she keeps advancing, until Haruka can only sheathe it, defeated.

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It is as Prince Zen told him: this girl is not the kind of girl to continually rely on the strength of others. She has her own strength, too, and she means to use it to become Court Herbalist so she can enter the gates of her own accord. She may be low-born (at least as far as we know), but Haruka saw a nobility in her resolve.

One could say her birth and her hair make Shirayuki someone who “makes enemies easily”, like Zen. But she couldn’t call Haruka an enemy, nor he her, because he didn’t know her, or what she was really doing in the castle. Now he knows: Shirayuki is a resolute badass.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 15

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I’m not sure I’ve heard the parable about the bear who danced with the girl, but because Rinko likes big things the way Takanashi likes small things, in her version the girl who dances with the bear comes to like said bear. And so it comes to pass, when Takeo takes an athletically ungifted classmate everyone else is miffed about being in the upcoming Swedish relay under his wing. So just as the door seemed to be closed (for the time being) on Ai, it opens on one Saijou Mariya, she of short statue but ample bust.

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Saijou feels like she’s in the way and, like most people, assumes Takeo is mean, scary, and easily upset, when none of the above are the case. Gradually, as she spends more time with Takeo simply being Takeo, you can see the increased affection growing in her eyes, in the many gorgeous close-ups of her normally reserved for Rinko (and to a lesser extent, Ai). Ironically, it’s running from Takeo out of a misplaced sense of fear that motivates Mariya to run her fastest…along with his constant support.

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When the day of the relay arrives, he tells her, quite simply, just run as fast as she can and pass him the baton. Well, once everyone else passes her, she trips and drops that baton, but remembering his directives, she gets back up, keeps running, and passes that sucker off. Then Takeo does his thing and they win by a landslide. Then the kicker: he congratulates her, then asks her if she’s okay from her spill, and BOOM, without even trying, “not popular with girls” Takeo has finished unlocked Mariya’s heart.

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Let me say one thing: I like Mariya, even though she’s Rinko’s new rival. I like her a lot. She’s cute, she’s kind, and in some ways, she’s a lot more normal than the often eccentric Rinko. Not that eccentric is bad; Takeo is eccentric too (so is Suna, for that matter…and Takeo’s parents…and Ai…aw jeez, what have I done?!). But despite the fact she sees Rinko right there, and Takeo introduces her as “my girlfriend” she still has the guts to give him her gift of a towel (his first, somehow!) to him. This is a girl who knows how she feels, and is honest about her feelings, at least in this instance.

Meanwhile, because Rinko has always felt her grip on Takeo was precarious at best due to her own perceived inadequacies, she seeks advice from her girlfriends on how best to fight for Takeo. Despite Takeo’s protests he’s not popular with the girls, Rinko, to her credit, knows what she saw: Mariya danced with the bear, and liked it. (Oh God, that sounds so wrong!) 

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Mariya is also the recipient of some good luck vis-a-vis Takeo. She goes to the same school and is in his class. Even when she nervously mocks his couple background and matching straps (which IS a bit overkill, if not SO overkill)when she runs after him to apologize and trips down the stairs, she ends up in his arms, and after it’s clear the shoulder-leaning is out due to Takeo and Suna’s imposing height, she gets to choose Takeo to ride piggyback on. Suna really tried to do it so Takeo didn’t have to, but Mariya overruled him.

Unfortunately for Rinko, she chose this afternoon to wait outside Takeo’s school, though Takeo doesn’t act guilty, because he isn’t guilty, because he loves Rinko and is just giving Mariya a hand. When he runs straight back to Rinko after his errand, she can’t help but beam with glee. But in the normal universe where high schoolers of the opposite sex aren’t normally so friggin’ nice to each other—like the universe Mariya normally inhabits—Takeo with another girl riding him still looks bad.

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By the way, I’m not considering Mariya’s non-confession legit. She’s not giving up; she’s just decided to play the long game. She only tells Takeo (with Rinko eavesdropping) that she likes him “as a person”, but we know better, since we’re in her head too. Now that she’s allowed to call him “Master”, she has an excuse to stay by his side as his “student”. Rinko has been enjoying a “Pax Gouda” up until now, but love is war, and the battle has begun.

Takeo won’t be easily swayed—had Mariya had confessed for real here, I’m certain he’d have shot her down without hesitation—he does love Rinko deeply. But Mariya knows that, and I hope she’ll apply the same determination to pursuing Takeo as she did preparing for the relay with him.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 14

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Ai tells Hayato in no uncertain terms she’ll never let herself be caught alone with Takeo, and even if she does, she’s not just going to tell him how she feels. When Hayato introduced this plan last week, it seemed like a solid one with the possibility for some great emotional work…and it was, it just didn’t go quite as smoothly as Hayato intended.

But in the meantime, Takeo and Rinko practically lose it at MM Land, both laughing so much their faces hurt. The shot of a clown-like Takeo rendered as if he were part of the carousel triggered similar laughter in me, along with Takeo’s hilarious reactions to the haunted river ride.

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Hayato is a bright guy, so his chess moves end up outmaneuvering Ai, who ends up spending a lot more time alone with Takeo than she bargained for, and it’s at turns awkward and enjoyable, to the point she start to enter into the frame of mind of “well, we’re here…why don’t I tell him?” It doesn’t help matters that Takeo is pretty much his usual awesome self around her, enjoying himself with Ai and helping a lost kid get found.

When he says he doesn’t remember calling Ai a certain flower years ago, Ai is almost off the hook…until Takeo spots the very same flower and tells her if she was a flower, it would be that. This is the reinforcement of a powerful feeling Ai’s had buried in her heart ever since he said those words the first time, but that Takeo’s view of her hasn’t changed a bit even though he’s grown so much speaks volumes to her.

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Even so, she finally tries to confess, but you could say she undone by fate, in the form of the announcement that the Sparkly Parade Takeo and Yamato promised to meet up for is starting. This could have come off as a cheap conceit—doomed by the bell, rather than saved—but to Ai, it’s a fresh chance to forget about telling Takeo, which might well fundamentally change him, and simply be content with what she has.

And she is. A delicious coffee cake that represents her (bitter yet sweet) baked by Yamato, and being called a lily twice by Takeo at two different points in his life; this is enough to make her happy. She doesn’t need to look on the other side of the curtain. And because of that, perhaps Hayato’s chances aren’t as dire as he thought.

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As for Yamato, Ai prods her in the right direction once more, telling her not to worry about silly jinxes and trust in Takeo, as he trusts in her. She does so, and because they’re simply meant to be together, the crowds seem to part at just the right time for them to find each other, with Yamato jumping into Takeo’s arms with elation.

They get to watch the parade together as they hoped, and even get within kissing angle and distance before Suna accidentally interrupts with his apologies. But considering how happy these two make each other simply being in general proximity to each other, that first kiss can wait a while longer.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 13

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At the start of this episode, Takeo and Yamato prove not only that they’re an exceedingly awesome and adorable couple, but also a great team when it comes to doing nice things for people they care about. They’re also pretty proud themselves about how nicely their plan to surprise Suna goes, and are totally in sync, matching their gestures and expressions perfectly.

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Of course, Suna’s no fool, so he suspects something’s going on, but assumes that it’s just another case of his nice friends doing nice—and to his mind, unnecessary—things for him. But when the cake comes out and they remind him it’s his birthday, he suddenly gets it. Taken aback, he’s not sure how to react, until Takeo tells him simply to be happy, which Suna can get behind.

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From there, both Yamato and Suna get to witness Takeo at his job at the bro cafe (a job the owner wouldn’t let him walk away from, popular as he is). And here, we get the first sign of trouble this show has presented in some time, in the form of another guy looking for Takeo (but mistaking Suna for him).

Turns out this fellow, Oda Hayato, is a classmate of Ai’s at college, and wanted to meet the man she still clearly has feelings for, because he has feelings for Ai, and her unrequited love for Takeo is getting in the way. Still, she has no patience for him, and offers to take him to the station to be rid of him.

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When Takeo, flush with cash from his job, asks Yamato out to “MM Land” (Not Disneyland, lawyers!), Yamato gives a three-layer response of initial excitement, followed by the apparent memory of something, followed by a deflation of interest and a rejection.

It’s a complex response, one Takeo doesn’t have a hope of parsing. Thankfully, Ai is home for the long weekend right next door. Takeo meant to consult with Suna, but Ai proves even more helpful, as she says she’ll get to the bottom of it when the four go out for coffee tomorrow.

(I especially enjoyed Takeo’s inner embarrassment at storming into his best mate’s room, forgetting Ai was there, then reminiscing about how he’s done it often throughout the years, but she never seemed to mind at all.)

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The next day, Ai comes right out and asks Yamato about MM Land, and without wondering how Ai got the information, Yamato stands her ground. It takes the sudden surprise return of Hayato to wrench out the detail’s of Yamato’s hesitance to go: she’s worried about an apparent jinx that couples who go there will break up. (Hon, it’s not IKEA!)

So Hayato proposes all five of them go to MM Land tomorrow; since it isn’t a date, the jinx won’t apply. Yamato really wants to go, and go with Takeo, and vice versa, so they’re fine with it, while Suna goes along with whatever. The only one not 100% okay with this little plan is Ai.

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Later that night we find that Hayato is so serious about wanting Ai to come around to him, he came to her hometown without any plans about where to stay. Because Takeo is a great guy, and his family is totally chill and also great, he can stay at Takeo’s without any problem; an offer he takes with gratitude.

As they go to bed (way too early for his taste, but he’s a guest), Hayato talks with Takeo more about, who else, Ai, and what he says offers insight that’s in conflict with her standoffishness we see from her. She seemed genuinely concerned for him when he got in trouble, and helped him with a problem, likely saving his skin.

Like Suna, Hayato doesn’t have any trouble attracting ladies; it’s a matter of attracting the lady he likes. Right now, there’s an old flame in his way, keeping her from falling into his arms, and he wants to clear it. I don’t blame him.

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The next morning, Ai is shocked and pretty pissed off that Hayato took advantage of Takeo’s hospitality and ended up spending the night right next door to her, but in the hallway, after she threatens him with another fork (just like at the cafe!), Hayato informs her of the plan within the plan: at some point at MM Land, he’s going to separate Yamato and Takeo, giving Ai the opening she needs to tell Takeo her feelings.

Sure, it seems like this guy is barging in on Ai’s life and forcing her to do something she hasn’t done to this point, but when I consider that she’s the one who brought Takeo up in the first place (under hypnosis, mind you!) and the way he remains on her mind, tells me she may not necessarily decry an outside effort to break her out of her unrequited love cycle. The problem is she’s never told Takeo how she feels, and she should, so she can get real closure—because the closure she’s settled for isn’t cutting it.

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Of course, the way Hayato puts it—”separating” the inseparable couple—carries its own foreboding, especially when next week’s episode is called “My Jinx.” Will MM Land not care that Yamato and Takeo are with others and events conspire to threaten their bubbly relationship after all? How will Takeo take Ai’s confession (assuming she confesses)? Lots to ponder going into Ore’s second half.

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Ore Monogatari!! – 12

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It’s the halfway point of Ore Monogatari!!, so did the show do what anime of every genre typically do around this time and throw a new wrench into the works; a new conflict for Takeo and Yamato to overcome? Well, yes and no. But first, it was a pleasure to see Takeo’s athletic prowess on display in areas besides Judo.

He’s a literal wall of flesh at goalkeeper (and scores a goal on the other end by throwing it baseball-style), and surprisingly graceful on the ice rink; like a penguin underwater. The point is, Takeo is physically gifted; extremely gifted, and combined with his kind heart, makes him socially gifted; he’s always surrounded by friends.

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Yamato is just as popular with her peers, though not because she can perform awesome feats of strength. In addition to her kindness and general affability, Yamato is also pretty good at academics. In fact, it’s one thing she’s much better at than the hulking Takeo. So the “conflict”, if you even want to call it that, is borne out of the fact that eventually these two will go to college.

They both want to attend the same one, but Takeo doesn’t want to make Yamato enroll at a substandard one, so he has to study; exercising a muscle he rarely needs to simply because the rest of his body is so extraordinary.

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He initially enlists the help of Suna, but Yamato also starts stopping by Takeo’s place. When Takeo tells his mother Yamato is indeed his girlfriend, Mom and Dad gradually start to spruce the place up, even though Yamato would be the first one to tell them not to go through too much trouble for her.

What I like so much about Takeo’s parents is that A.), they’re both alive, which seems like a minority in anime; B.) they’re still happily married, with a baby on the way; and C.) they genuinely love their son and are both grateful for and protective of him. In addition, as Yamato remarks, Takeo really is a composite of his parents, with nearly equal parts of both of them in his physique and personality. Dad is tan and handsome and flashy; Mom is nurturing yet no-nonsense. Both are badass. Takeo is all of the above.

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The parents are so excited about Yamato that neither she nor Takeo can actually study, so they go to Suna’s When Takeo suddenly passes out from too much studying, it isn’t treated like any kind of serious emergency, but rather another opportunity for Yamato to snuggle with him. This time, to her horror, Suna walks in on her, but true to form he assuages her guilt, assuring her didn’t see anything and slinks out, basically saying “as you were.”

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This halfway point also didn’t provide any indications Sunakawa has any ulterior motives about being friends with Takeo, but is really just a caring, loving friend; a brother from another mother. This, again, goes against the usual anime romance archetypes, for which I’m glad. While the show was a smidge more ambiguous earlier on, it is now officially patently ridiculous to think Suna will one day try to steal Yamato from Takeo.

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Not only does he not seem to mind that this is the case, despite liking Yamato (in a non-romantic way, as a good match for his bro), but he doesn’t mope about it either. Suna’s not the most social or open guy despite his popularity, but that seems like a conscious choice rather than any kind of impasse or struggle he has to overcome. The show respects how he lives his life. Suna also derives quite a lot of fun and laughs from being friends with Takeo, as we see again when he plays charades during English study.

So the day of a benchmark (read: practice) exam for the three colleges Takeo and Yamato are trying to get into arrives. Both are bundles of nerves, but Yamato gives him moral support before they get started.

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Looking at the various subjects he studied as various enemies to vanquish, Takeo goes into the exam like a warrior entering a gauntlet. But like Yamato did in a previous test, his multiple choice answers are shifted, a mistake he feverishly tries to correct, resulting in a blizzard of eraser filings and a pool of Takeo sweat.

He gets a “D” in two of the three colleges he aimed for, and an “X” in the difficult-to-get-in one Yamato was trying for, but not only did she not get in either, in a nice bit of villainy from Suna, it’s a women’s only college anyway, so he was never going to get in no matter what!

Also, the “D”s aren’t even that big a deal, because it’s just a dry run. He’ll keep studying, Suna and Yamato will keep helping him, and I have every confidence he’ll get to go to college with Yamato, and maybe Suna too.

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