Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 07 – The Aquarium

LIW’s second season continues to take anime comedy to dizzying new heights and unexpected places. There’s literally no telling what it’s going to throw at you next, and that unpredictability combined with top-notch execution at every level of production means this is a show that keeps getting better and more entertaining.

We begin with Chika and Kaguya learning that Yuu is a briefs man, followed by his passionate assertion that boxer-brief men are nothing but “man whores.” Kaguya is determined to learn what kind of underwear Miyuki wears, she formulates an entire perverted plan in her head before rejecting it, showing just how demented by love she’s become.

Naturally, that same derangement compels her to ask Miyuki the question casually while serving tea, and Miyuki naturally assumes she’s talking about his preference in girl’s underwear. Not wanting to come off like a cad, he proceeds to describe girls’ bloomers (since anything he’d pick for Kaguya would be hot), but the same traits apply to mens’ boxer briefs, Kaguya loudly proclaims Miyuki is a man whore!

Suffice it to say, this is not proper behavior in the StuCo office of a prestigious school, but this is where Kaguya, Miyuki are. So it’s most inauspicious that Iino Miko should come through the office door just as Kaguya is yelling this, and Miko runs off in fear Miyuki will attack her “next”.

In the next segment, Kaguya offers to give Miyuki a hand massage as an apology for disparaging him. Her true motive, however, is to use the pressure points in his hand to secrete “prevent-men-from-cheating” hormones of the type released during “se-“.

Note that Kaguya can never complete the word “sex”, but only utters the first half of the word in a high-pitched voice that Hayasaka can’t help but imitate while explaining sex hormones to her.

The resulting hand massage is a stirring tale of two nervous systems. While Kaguya’s hands are small and soft, they’re causing extreme pain to Miyuki’s hand, releasing stress hormones like beta-endorphins and cortisol. Simultaneously, love hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin are being secreted in Kaguya’s brain. It’s as if the StuCo office has suddenly turned into a biochemistry lab!

With all those love hormones suddenly swimming in Kaguya’s already love-addled head, she gets a little more comfortable and offers to do Miyuki’s back. She ends up on top of Miyuki on the couch, which is again the precise moment Miko decides to enter the StuCo office.

Combined with all of the misleading things she hears from them (“If I feel any better than this I’ll die!”) the mere sight of two students going at it in the sacred StuCo office is enough to cause Miko to flee in terror once more. Miko’s minimal usage in these first two segments is truly inspired.

Not only is it a means of gradually easing her into the office (if she ever manages to set foot in there, of course!), but it shows just how unprepared an outsider like her truly is for the demented antics of that room. One does not simply walk into that room!

The opening moments of Segment #3 would seem to hint at a shift to a Kei-focused story, but she’s only there in order to pass on an accursed shougo manga that is 100% guaranteed to make you weep uncontrollably no matter how much or little you like manga or the shoujo genre.

A skeptical Miyuki is converted that very night, and decides that introducing the manga to Kaguya is the perfect strategy for getting her to ask him to go out with her so they can enjoy a flowey, lovey-dovey shoujo manga-like romance.

But as has been established from her taste in eyes, Kaguya doesn’t really go for common romantic archetypes, and proves a tough nut to crack even as Miyuki has both Yuu and Chika in full agreement that the manga is a must-read tearjerker.

The trio’s enthusiasm for the story causes them to leak too many details and spoilers, and the second-hand synopses still fail to move Kaguya. Heck, she can’t even understand what they’re saying once they’ve all covered each others’ mouths to stop blabbing.

It’s at this point when Miko enters the office a third time to find something strange and horrifying waiting for her. Then as the narrator declares the result (everyone loses but Kaguya), Miko asks if this is really “what happens at the end?” of segments, in a lovely breaking of the fourth wall.

However…this is not the end.

At this point the episode had a solid-“9” in the bag, but there was still a ton of time left after the end credits, so I was curious and excited about where it would go for the finale. It turns out Kaguya did end up reading the shoujo manga the previous night, and joins the ranks of her StuCo comrades (sans Miko) in the Shoujo Manga Brain club.

The next day is presented as an entirely different anime, one that is a straight-up high school shoujo romance with Kaguya as the heroine and Miyuki and Yuu as competing love interests. It’s as ambitious as it is hilarious.

Everyone’s character design has been “beautified” and their voices either more lovey-dovey (in the case of Kaguya) or more “cool-sounding” (the boys). Heck, even the damn narrator has “gone goofy!”

Once Chika arrives at school, we learn that the change in her personality is negligible, but she interrupts what was about to become fisticuffs between Miyuki and Yuu for the right to take Kaguya to the aquarium.

In the end, Miyuki wins out by insisting on valiantly escorting Kaguya to the infirmary hand-in-hand. He then manages to ask Kaguya to go to the aquarium with him, only for her to decline since, so overcome by longing for love, she already feels like she’s at the aquarium!

So Miyuki and Yuu go instead, and end up having more fun than they thought they would! Note that at no point did Miko set foot anywhere close to the StuCo office for this latest bout of nonsense. You know what they say: “Once bitten, twice shy…thrice traumatized.”

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 06 – Winning the Right Way

Only one battle is covered this week, and it’s not in Kaguya and Miyuki’s War of Love, but the StuCo Presidential Election. Osaragi, Iino Miko’s best and only friend, gives an impassioned speech on behalf of her candidate, but only half the crowd at best is even listening. By comparison, Kaguya’s speech is preceded by intentional mic feedback.

Kaguya speaks with equal or greater passion than Osaragi, but with all the attention and none of the desperation. More to the point, everyone adores and idolizes Kaguya, and the lavishly-produced visual aids are, as Osaragi says, “full of shameless baloney” but nonetheless incredibly effective.

This one was in the bag from the start, but what bothers Yuu isn’t that Miko will lose, it’s how she will lose, which is the same way she’s lost every election she’s run in with increasingly dire results: she’s a terrible public speaker. Yuu doesn’t like how someone who works as hard as Miko ends up the laughingstock of the student body simply because of stage fright.

Again and again Osaragi’s heart has been broken by her friend’s defeats, knowing that while everyone sees Miko as serious, no one ever saw her cry bitter tears in the bathroom stall, wondering why her message fell on not just deaf but maliciously mocking ears.

Miyuki picks up what Yuu is putting down, and just when Miko looks like she’s going to secure her worst defeat yet in an embarrasing, self-destructive fiasco of a campaign speech, Miyuki…interrupts. She forces Miko to forget about the crowd that is causing her so much anxiety and simply focus on him, the person she’s running against.

By asking her pointed questions about her policies, Miyuki helps Miko get back on point. Because she’s simply talking to one person, Miko can summon her pride, confidence, and passion.

Not only that, the crowd Miko forgot about is finally seeing Miko stand up for herself against an opponent, and it never occurs to them this is only happening because Miyuki furnished the conditions with which to stand up to him.

Miko ends up losing to Miyuki, but it’s a damned close race: he only beats her 320 to 280. Far more importantly, their spontaneous debate, which stretched on for over half and hour and captivated students and faculty alike.

As such, Miko the toast of the school: a scrappy, righteous underdog who fought the good fought, came up a bit short, but is in prime position for a victory in the next election. Osaragi has never been more proud to be Miko’s friend now that she’s finally been acknowledged…and it’s all thanks to Miyuki.

Kaguya, meanwhile, suffered a number of stomachaches that landed her in the school infirmary. There, she asks Hayasaka where the hell Miyuki is and why he didn’t come to her bedside immediately to watch over her. Did he discover all of the political dirty tricks she pulled to secure his victory?

Was his assist to Miko meant as a stand against the “horrible girl who relied on foul play?” Was she wrong about Miyuki being nice to her as a sign he liked her, since he was also nice to Miko, and come to think of it, is nice to everyone?

The answer to all of those questions is either “no” or “it doesn’t matter.” Miyuki was only delayed because the first duty of the new StuCo is to clean up the post-election mess—which he achieves with the help of Chika and Yuu, who retain their positions as secretary and treasurer, respectively.

When he comes to her bedside, he apologizes for his impulsive behavior on the stage, but tells her he was only able to do it the same reason he’s able to do anything: thanks to help from her and the others. He doesn’t just like Kaguya, he needs her. He needed her for his campaign, and he needs her by his side as vice president for the next year. Elated but not quite able to face him, Kaguya flashes an “ok” sign, and all is right in her world once more.

With that, the stressful StuCo Election is finally behind us, but we won’t be returning to the status quo ante. That’s because, acknowledging her value, Miyuki has invited Miko to join the StuCo to perform their forthcoming financial audit, and to be in charge of “general affairs.” Having a fifth member in the StuCo office of Miko’s caliber should prove to be a lot of fun!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 05 – Together We Will Rise: A Symphony in Three Movements

First Movement: When the Glare’s Not There

Chika is the first to behold Miyuki’s terrifying new face, or rather un-terrifying new face. As the result of his break from StuCo duties he’s been getting three extra free hours per day, giving him time to sleep more and fix his bed-head.

This has had the effect of making his eyes less heavy, so rather than glaring, his expression is bright and cheerful. This is very unsettling for both Chika and Yuu, so used to his usual scowl. But as other students greet him and invite him to hang out, it dawns on Yuu that Miyuki might have entered his Popular Phase!

Far more than make more friends, Miyuki wants to get Kaguya confess her love for him, and sees his new face as the latest weapon in that war. Unfortunately, Kaguya loves his ordinary intimidating glare, misses his “cool eyes”, and is thrown into a crisis of confidence in her love.

She goes to Nagisa for advice, mentioning a problem “her friend” is having. Nagisa instantly sees through the half-assed subterfuge, but admits she’s not nearly pure enough to endure—let alone discuss—on a topic as embarrassing as “What is true love?” Still, she tries her best, telling Kaguya she has nothing to worry about.

Chika overhears the conversation and declares love based on appearances to be fake and bad, but then Yuu pops by and argues that all love is true love if it comes from the heart, or some such. Kaguya eats it all up while Nagisa worries about losing her lunch.

Then, in a beat so unexpected and hilarious I had to pause the show to laugh, Miyuki appears looking like a dried-out demented wooden doll (exhausted from campaign work), scaring the Hell out of Nagi but delighting Kaguya, who is relieved her Miyuki’s face no longer resembles that of a stock shoujo manga love interest. Kashiwagi loses, while Hayasaka worries her mistress has adopted a particularly worrying face fetish.

Second (Bowel) Movement: Producing the Same Sound

The first movement explored the distinctive qualities that move someone to love that outsiders will never understand. This middle movement is all about a dark secret and deep yearning that dwell within Miyuki, which only comes to Chika’s attention while she’s conducting the student body in the singing of the school anthem, and notices Miyuki is lip synching. From her perspective, a former president and current candidate not knowing the words to the anthem is a scandal-in-waiting.

But Miyuki knows the words, and he wants to sing. He just doesn’t, because he’s “a little crap” at it. Despite reservations about the last time she trained him, this time Chika is right in her musical wheelhouse and wants to help him out. But when she hears him (and boy is it something to hear), she realizes she may have repeated a grave mistake and dug her own grave in the process. He’s not “a little” crap. He’s a veritable Cthulhu dump post-gorging on civilization!

No matter; Chika is a virtuoso, and if she can’t teach him he can’t be taught. She starts with the basics in a very beautifully directed sequence where she’s carrying a note and guides him to match that note using comments on the chalkboard. When they match, it’s a beautiful sound is produced, and Miyuki’s confidence is boosted.

When he tells her how his own elementary school teacher told him “you don’t have to sing” and his middle school classmates begged him to lip-sync, he stopped singing altogether and never looked back, but always felt left out and unfulfilled.

Chika displays a fierce maternal instinct in taking it upon herself to make a proper singer of Miyuki, so he no longer has to suffer in silence. A quick montage ensues with the two doing various exercises, and then the moment of truth arrives: another singing of the anthem.

To my surprise, Miyuki not only sings, but sings right on key! This show doesn’t always rip the rug out from under you! Even better, the anthem’s bittersweet lyrics very closely match the epic struggle she and Miyuki went through. By the time the anthem arrives at its coda, Chika is wading in a pool of her own tears…but they’re tears of pride and accomplishment. It’s a stirring win for both her and Miyuki.

Final Movement: Perfect Compatibility

Now we approach the end of this exquisitely crafted and performed symphony. The focus returns to the election, all-important to Kaguya in particular because the StuCo is the least suspicious means of spending time with Miyuki. The movement opens with Kaguya in Political Operator Mode, conferring with her contact Hayasaka on how oppo research on Iino Miko is going.

Hayasaka has their best internal and external people working on it, and we’re reminded of the long reach of the Shinomiya Empire, making it that much more charming that hardly any of it matters at all when it comes to Kaguya trying to get Miyuki to confess his love for her! Still, Kaguya’s not discouraged by the lack of dirt on their opponent. She simply has to turn Miko’s own pristine-ness against her.

When Kaguya meets with Miko in the darkened StuCo office in a nice bit of venue-as-posturing, we recall how when it comes to matter not related to love or Miyuki, she’s as competent and ruthless an operator as high school girls come. She’s able to assess Miko’s reliance on her strict ideals and their fragility in her moments of anxiety.

In far more words, Kaguya proposes a deal whereby she and Miyuki will support her in next year’s election if she bows out of this one. Miko can smell the dirty tricks a mile away, and proceeds to dress Kaguya down by saying she and Miyuki are “two of a kind” with “perfect compatibility.” Kaguya is delighted by her kind words, but thrown just enough off balance to be left open for Miko’s counter offer.

In President Miko and Vice President Chika’s administration, Miyuki and Kaguya will remain in their StuCo, albeit in reduced roles. Miko’s goal is to “restore order” to an academy wracked with chaos. Kaguya is instantly intrigued by this proposal, since it means she and Miyuki will still be together. It may even be preferable to him winning reelection, since he’ll have less exhausting work to do (though she doesn’t consider what that will do to his cool eyes!).

Miko may be petite, but she has big plans for the StuCo, who will act as an extention of the Morals Committee she already heads: Uniform checks in the morning, garbage pickup in the afternoon…she and Miyuki could do all of these things together! But the bubble bursts on this ideal scenario when Miko declares that the academy will be a strict No-Romance-Zone. That’s a dealbreaker for Kaguya, and so negotiations break down!

But while a soft resignation and coalition with Miko may be impossible due to her staunch morals, those same morals may well sink Miko’s chances of gaining much support beyond her loyal base. High schoolers typically like the freedom to engage in hanky-panky. It’s a school, not a church. Can Kaguya craft the narrative that exposes the disconnect between Miko’s policies and the will of the student body? I wouldn’t bet against her!

 

 

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 04 – Little Girl, Big Talk

It’s been three days since the StuCo disbanded, but Kaguya and Miyuki haven’t so much as spoken. Hayasaka finds Kaguya’s lack of progress pathetic considering how many romantic events she and Miyuki have shared.

A frustrated Kaguya lashes out, challenging Hayasaka to get Miyuki to fall for her. Hayasaka accepts, breaking out an adorable new persona with which to seduce Miyuki as Kaguya jealously watches in the shadows.

Hayasaka is a pro at this (what else is new), and gets off to a great start by chatting Miyuki up in a bookstore then getting him to have a coffee with her as she considers a computer purchase. Ultimately, Hayasaka ends up the loser, even though she offers to be a “side piece” should he already like someone.

Turns out liking someone else means Miyuki’s not interested in anyone else, period. A bitter Hayasaka insists her loss was due to the need to get the job done in one day; given more time, she’s confident she would have prevailed. I believe her!

Miyuki determines there’s no one better to write his campaign speeches than Kaguya, but has trouble approaching her in her class. Enter Hayasaka in “Gal” mode (whom he can’t tell is the same person who asked him out the other day), who bursts in and makes a huge production of Miyuki coming to see Kaguya on a matter of great importance.

News that he asked to meet her behind the school causes the entire student body to convulse in anticipation that these two top students are going to become a couple. The hype takes on a mind of its own as their meeting is built up as the can’t-miss school event of the decade.

When the big moment comes, both Miyuki and Kaguya are very much aware of their huge, expectant audience. Only Kaguya says she doesn’t mind it, while Chika is completely oblivious to the vibe and complicates matters by coming off as the third side of a love triangle.

Miyuki knows he’s suffer a political price if he embarasses Kaguya with his piddling speech request, so he makes the request in a whisper, inches from her face. Similarly safe from prying ears, Kaguya tells him the answer is yes—whether it’s to write him speeches or something else entirely.

It’s a good thing Kaguya is on Miyuki’s team, because he may have some stiff competition in the election in the person of first-year Iino Miko, this season’s newest character. Miko is at the top of her class, president of the morals committee, and believes having a “commoner” like Miyuki as president is an affront.

Tomita Miyu (Made in Abyss’ Riko, BokuBen’s Rizu)’s performance is appropriate for a pint-sized character packed with power. Before he knows it, Miyuki is caught up in her competitive, adversarial spirit, seeing her as his political rival in the fight of his life.

He and Yuu even mock her for relying on her pure ideals without a track record of success to fall back on, to the point Chika tries to stop them from sounding like villains. Then Miko brings Chika over to her side by expressing her admiration for Chika’s piano prowess and other positive qualities, and offering her the vice presidency if she joins Team Iino.

Chika later reconsiders her quick turnabout, but the fact remains Miko seems to be a larger threat than Miyuki or Yuu think. When Miyuki sees her wholesome flyer his confidence in beating her only rises, when I really think he shouldn’t be listening to Yuu and be preparing for a tough campaign.

Right off the bat, Miko is thankfully presented as someone who isn’t interested in Miyuki, and not just because she doesn’t know him and he’s in her way. Rather than a rival to Kaguya, I can see Kaguya closing ranks with Miyuki even more in the face of an adversary who thinks so little of the man she loves—a catalyst for their growing closer. In any case, this should be a fun campaign!

Hamefura – 04 – Breaking Flags and Taking Names

Now that Catarina is a teen attending magic academy, the game as it unfolded in Fortune Lover truly begins. Yet as the Inner Claes Council reports, she’s made progress changing some of the characters. Nevertheless, Gerald still meets the heroine Maria Campbell by chance, making Catarina nervous about the doom flags that will sprout should the wrong love triangle form.

Keith is no longer a affection-starved playboy, which means he’s turned into a “nice young man” (AKA goody-goody), so when he tells Catarina he picked up Maria’s handkerchief, he doesn’t use it to hit on the heroine. Still, Catarina is worried about inadvertently coming between Keith and Maria should he fall for her, and assures a very confused Keith that such a thing won’t occur.

With both Gerald and Keith encounter Maria before Catarina, and first steps on conquest routes may have been officially started, her inner council decides that she should continue developing her farming skills so in any scenario in which she’s exiled she’ll have a marketable skill (and won’t go hungry). But when she finally does meet Maria at the Student Council office, she proceeds to have a far more consequential first encounter than either of the boys.

It all comes down to Catarina’s sweet tooth, and the fact the otaku within makes no distinction between commoner or noble when it comes to tasty treats. She kindly asks Maria if she’ll bake something for her, but while Maria is on her way with said treats, she’s intercepted by three bullies. Catarina leaps out of the bushes to rescue Maria, then eats her delicious sweets even though they’d fallen on the ground.

While Catarina was just trying to be nice, her actions resulted in her stealing an event from Gerald. In the game, Catarina was one of the bullies, and she was run off by Gerald. Without that opportunity for Gerald and Maria to get closer, Catarina successfully broke a doom flag. Nice!

Also, most importantly, while there was no possible Catarina X Maria route, that looks to have already gotten started. Gerald catches a glimpse of that route when he sees the two hand-in-hand. It’s definitely a route I’d like to see explored, even if it ends up creating new doom flags!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 03 – Okay to Be Selfish

Kaguya and Miyuki are both dedicated combatants in their ongoing War of Love, except for certain special occasions. This week is one of those occasions: there’s a bright harvest moon and a clear sky, and Miyuki wants to gaze at it from the roof of the school.

Kaguya tries to find a way to embarrass him by getting him to lend her his jacket or share the same teacup, but Miyuki is so “moony from the moon” all pride and shame fall by the wayside. When Kaguya brings up her legendary royal namesake as the reason she hates the moon, Miyuki presents his interpretation of the tale.

To him, Princess Kaguya didn’t offer her lover on earth an immortality potion so he could find another love, but as a message that she’d one day return to him, long after a human’s normal lifespan…and he’d wait as long as it took for Kaguya to return.

He continues to wax poetic until an overheated Kaguya can’t endure anymore and flees. However, Miyuki still loses when he comes off his “moon high” the next day and realizes all the embarrassing things he said.

One reason everyone went along with Miyuki’s moongazing session was that the StuCo will be disbanding soon, so opportunities will grow less frequent and carry more weight. In the second and final segment the council members go through the accumulated items from their various adventures together—some of which Yuu is sore about not being present for.

Once everything is packed up, the lights are out, and the doors to the 67th Student Council close for the last time, Chika can’t help but start to tear up, and Kaguya can’t help but cry in response.

During a celebratory dinner at a family restaurant, Kaguya realizes that since Miyuki isn’t President anymore she has to call him something else…but just can’t because it’s too embarrassing and scandalous.

Of course, Chika inadvertently rubs Kaguya’s inability in her face by calling the former president by his first name like it’s nothing. Yuu even gives him a cute nickname “Myu.”

Once Chika and Yuu have gone home and Miyuki has walked Kaguya to her front gate, she considers how few opportunities they’ll have to see each other without the StuCo or any classes to connect them. It makes her feel lonely, but even if she became the new president and Miyuki was her veep, she knows he’d work too hard, when he already has the letter of recommendation from the Board of Trustees.

To want more would be selfish, and she tells herself she shouldn’t be selfish…but when push comes to shove she can’t give up Miyuki that easily. She grabs his arm and asks him if she can be selfish, by asking him to serve as president one more year. Turns out he’d already secretly filled out the candidate application, hoping she’d be the one to bring it up.

So, as is usually the case, Romantic Kaguya wins when Combatant Kaguya loses, as she does here. That is, if Miyuki ends up winning the election; there seems to be a new contender interested in the job!

Fruits Basket – 26 (S2 01) – The Hideous One

First of all, let me say how good it feels to have Fruits Basket back in my life. It’s truly a salve for the heart! Those who haven’t watched the first season probably wouldn’t agree. It should go without saying: make sure you watch those 25 episodes before getting anywhere near this episode. That said, holy crap, what a return to greatness!

A gorgeous new OP, followed by an episode centered squarely on … Minagawa Motoko! In which she recognizes Tooru’s positive effect on Yuki. And stops living in a world of fantasy. And acknowledges her flaws. And commits to pursuing Yuki the right way. In other words, Motoko changes…and in doing so becomes yet another character I love and can’t wait to see again. And lest we forget, she’s brilliantly voiced by MAO!

Tooru shows up to put an iron uncomfortably close to the faces of Kyou and Yuki, but otherwise this is basically The Minagawa Motoko Show from start to finish (with a sprinkling of Yuki). It’s a ballsy move to make Tooru’s arrogant, one-dimensional, self-deluded love “rival” the protagonist-of-the-week, especially as the first episode back.

But Fruits Basket has already demonstrated time and again that none of its cast is really shallow; it’s just a matter of how much we know them, and this was the time to really hunker down and get to know Motoko, beyond the scheming president of Prince Yuki—someone nearly bowled over by Arisa’s eager new delinquent minions (a great potential pairing for a future episode, by the way).

Motoko puts her war with Tooru aside to deal with a more pressing matter: the identity of the new StuCo board members. Specifically, she wants to make sure none of them are hussies that will steal her man (who, let it be said, has already been all but stolen by Tooru!) But former StuCo prez Takei can sense Motoko’s intent and isn’t spilling the beans.

Meanwhile, it’s new StuCo prez Yuki who meets the new board members in question, in a very bizarrely staged scene. When he enters, he hears a girl seemingly weeping in the dark in a giant mess of files. Yet after recoiling from his touch, she adopts a stoic demeanor and goes about cleaning up. This is the new StuCo treasurer, Kuragi Machi.

Then he meets the new veep, the brash and grigarious Manabe Kakeru, who had been napping in the next room and reminds Yuki of his repellent brother Ayamu. He has a particularly weird exchange with Manabe later, leading him to wonder if there’s something Zodiac-y or Zodiac-adjacent about these new members…or if they’re just a bit eccentric.

That night, we end up in Motoko’s very rich-girly room as she waxes poetic about Yuki and curses those who would stand between her and him, only to be rudely interrupted by her no-nonsense mom in curls. Turns out Motoko puts on Kongou Mitsuko rich girl airs at school, but is actually from a working-class family who lives above their shop. I’m already more fascinated with her!

The next day, Motoko decides to bypass Takei entirely, enlisting the aid of third-year and fellow Prince Yuki member Aida Rika, to pick the lock of the StuCo office. Turns out the office unlocked, and Motoko and Rika are in luck: the only person in there is their beloved Yuki. Quietly cheered on by Rika, Motoko gets off to a rough start by asking Yuki…about what he ate for breakfast.

But because Yuki is such a nice guy, he dutifully tells her what he ate, and she discovers they like the same kind of natto. Then, unbidden, Yuki asks Motoko if she normally speaks so formally, commenting that it’s “kind of cute.” Motoko would normally be happy beyond words by being called cute by Yuki, but when she sees his warm easy smile that accompanies the words of praise, she sees a Yuki she doesn’t recognize.

The adoring distance she’s kept from Yuki means the Yuki she saw was rarely the Yuki he really was underneath a much cooler, at times forced smile. She realizes how far that distance remains when Yuki could change so much without her knowing, and with the help of someone else … someone not her by his side. It’s suddenly too much to bear, so she runs off.

As she flips on a faucet to wash her suddenly tear-filled face, Motoko professes her hatred of all women who “dare get near Yuki”, but hates none of them more than herself, the “hideous one” who thinks those kinds of thoughts as she’s reflected in her mirror. It’s the kind of honest self-reflection I was hoping from Motoko after her fateful visit to the Hanajima residence (a veritable bastion of Keeping It Realness).

Motoko shouldn’t just thank Tooru’s influence for giving her a Yuki who can smile, but one who didn’t let things sit where they were. He goes after her to make sure she’s alright, and in doing so, confides in her that despite looking so “unruffled”, he’s barely keeping his cool. Motoko can relate, as she just lost her cool back in the office!

Heartened by Yuki’s smile, Motoko vows not to give up the fight. He may have changed, and Tooru may have changed him, but she still adores him and wants him to be hers. Now that she’s actually exchanged more than just polite pleasantries, but shared a moment of mutual vulnerability, that affection has gained intensity and legitimacy.

As I sat staggered at how well they fleshed out Motoko and made her someone I half want to root for in just an episode, Yuki returns home and washes dishes with Tooru, and mentions the almost Zodiac-like strangeness of his new council-mates. He also confesses that he was happy when Manabe said he was “more interesting than [he] thought.”

Earlier, Kyou called Yuki lame, and privately, Yuki acknowledges that yeah, he is lame. It’s why Kyou’s barb is so painful; he believes it. But Tooru assures him that even if tough times are coming, either in the StuCo (maybe) or the Souma family (most assuredly) there will be fun times to cherish as well. Life is a never-ending string of getting hurt and healed by words and actions big and small.

After Tooru delivers those wise-beyond-her-years words, the episode closes perfectly on its heroine Minagawa Motoko, positively angelic in her frilly nightgown and glorious pink palace above a workaday store, gazing at the stars in quiet, hopeful, healing prayer.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 12 (Fin) – Such Sweet Sorrow

It wouldn’t be an Eizouken production if it wasn’t completed after an all-nighter, during which Midori, Tsubame and Doumeki modify the ending to omit the dance party, in order to match the only track of music they’re going to get, which has a more somber tone. When their last-minute changes cause them to miss their window for their go-to DVD publisher, Sayaka bails out her creatives by making a deal with the club that got busted by the StuCo.

The dance party is left out as an extra scene to be released when proper music is procured—a necessary sacrifice in order to come in on schedule and under budget. The next day at Comet A (which is held at a very Tokyo Big Sight-looking venue), Tsubame dutifully interacts with customers, until Sayaka deems the time is right for her and Midori to don paper bags, thus increasing word of mouth and social media interest.

Thanks to their genuinely good work and Sayaka’s gift for marketing, the Eizouken sells every last one of their DVDs moments before the chime marking the conclusion of Comet A. Midori, who had to interact less with people and generally took it easy, suddenly has a burst of energy, and suggests the three of them go to her house to watch their finished creation, which for them will be the first time.

The sight of the three comrades gathered beside the warm blue glow of the TV, surrounded by food and drink, Midori safe and content within her hermit crab-like blanket, is just so cozy and beautiful. They slide the DVD into the player just as everyone else who bought one does, and the show begins.

Like Gas Mask Machete Girl and Robot vs. Crab, Shibahama UFO Wars packs an immediate visual punch, with both Midori’s talent for intricate conceptualization and Tsubame’s passion for lyrical motion on full display. The music track wasn’t at all what they expected, but they make it work for the short, and no one outside of the production would ever have suspected otherwise. As people watch, they imagine residential towers like the ones in the short suddenly bursting forth from the ground.

By the time the short ends, Midori has fallen asleep, and Tsubame and Sayaka deem it unnecessary to wake her before heading home. After all, they’re sure she’d say that while it was something they could be proud of, there is always always always room for improvement, and they’ll be working to improve it starting tomorrow, after a well-earned good night’s sleep.

Sure enough, the next morning Midori dashes in and animatedly describes to Tsubame and Sayaka her latest insight into how to improve the short. As she does, the camera pulls out of their studio, past the river to the other shore, and…just keeps going, getting more and more fanciful until an entirely alien world is revealed. Which is only fitting, as Midori might as well not be of our world. ;)

And just like that, we’re no longer privy to the daily goings-on of the Eizouken. They’ll keep at it, but it’s sad we can’t keep watching. At least, not until a second season comes…if it ever comes. I’ll cross my fingers for that, but like Sayaka’s attempt to delay the initial DVD order, it might not work out, and that’s okay. This was a particularly special dozen episodes; a lush and imaginative love letter to anime I almost instantly fell in love with.

It’s been easy-breezy.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 11 – Ripples of Peace

With 45 days until their deadline, the Eizouken creatives are working furiously while Sayaka conducts business in the same space, giving her the idea for partitions in the future. Things get even more lively when their studio hosts a raid by the Security Club.

The StuCo arrives and expels the president of the Transcription Club for “arranging deals using school funds without permission.” Eizouken is not affected, but the Secretary warns Sayaka not to let something like this happen to her. Sayaka responds with a bill for the property damage. Touche!

While working on the weekend—as they must for all weekends—the trio finally notices their adviser is supervising them at all times, even without overtime. As their adviser, he advises them not to work so long and have some fun from time to time, for “the best work comes from a sense of play.”

This permission to goof off is his highly inconvenient for Sayaka, who is just barely keeping Midori and Tsubame on schedule, but the three go on a fun trip anyway. An underground tunnel leads to a sheer cliff, and the promise of a tire swing leads them to an abandoned, flooded “Solar City” that gives Midori all kinds of ideas about underwater civilizations.

One day, Midori and Tsubame arrive to find a sign posted on the studio entrance strongly warning against acquisition of outside-of-school funds. Sayaka is home sick(!) so Midori and Tsubame catch a train to visit her. We learn how Sayaka and Midori met: they were the only two loners in middle school P.E.

Having endured partnering up with a stranger, Midori follows Sayaka around and even makes money collecting special leaves for a restaurant that serves grilled fish on them (a very Kanamori Sayaka hustle), and even rides a train for the first time. Sayaka’s thoughts about how people temporarily allying for mutual benefit doesn’t automatically denote friendship.

It’s probably why Midori to this day considers both Sayaka and Tsubame “comrades”, not “friends” (or, in Japanese, nakama, not tomodachi). More importantly, it gets to the heart about how people see things in different ways. Where once she saw leaves, Midori now she sees cash, thanks to Sayaka.

When Midori and Tsubame show Sayaka the threatening sign, she tells them not to worry about it; she’s secured another checkmate against the commerce-ruining adults of the school in the form of widespread and overwhelmingly supportive publicity for their Shibahama film project. They’re now virtually bulletproof against the school’s retaliation.

That again underscores the concept of people seeing things in different ways; the school sees the Eizouken’s activities as “anti-educational”; Sayaka considers them the exact opposite. Then, when asked about her progress with the story and ending, Midori is ready with a full rundown of the film, which she gives in a gorgeous illustrative scene.

In the process, Midori utilizes the concept of different perspectives by having the human and kappa societies be a mirror of one another. She also integrates all of the weird and seemingly unrelated ideas she came up with during their adventures! Ironically, the skeptical vice principal planting Cosmos (a symbol of peace) may have been the spark Midori needed to tie everything together.

It looks like an exciting film with no shortage of action and battles, but the central theme of peaceful coexistence and understanding will certainly play well with the city officials. Making the humans and kappa so visually alike is both thematically on-point and a time-saver, indicating the creatives have gotten better at managing their creative ambitions and embracing shortcuts when appropriate.

Armed with a strong story and all the leeway they’ll need to execute, the Eizouken gets to work, and even manages to complete the animation with time to spare (though not much). That’s when they hit an unexpected snag: the music track they acquired for the film’s score is nothing like the demo they heard, and doesn’t match the animation at all.

Assuming there’s no time to draw anything new, they’ll need a musical miracle. Maybe one of them knows someone who knows someone who could bail them out…

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 10 – Watch the Tan Lines…and the Tangents

You can’t get much past Kanamori, her business sense forged as it is in the fires of her family’s past failure. Eizouken relies almost solely on Tsubame’s fame right now…but her sock has created a tan line on her leg, and she hasn’t been taking any modelling jobs recently.

Neither Tsubame nor Midori see what the big deal is, but thankfully they have Kanamori to explain it to them: if Tsubame’s star dims, so will the Eizouken’s. She has to take on the occasional job to keep her star bright.

As if Kanamori didn’t have enough problems herding creative cats, the StuCo stops by the studio personally to drag them before a conference with the teachers, who have found out about the festival they’re attending and the Eizouken’s intentions to turn a profit.

Kanamori, head turned arrogantly skyward at all times as a sign of protest and disdain, tries her best to justify the model, but the decision has already been made by the adults. As a school club, they can attend and participate in Comet-A, but they can’t accept any payment.

In the following montage, the Eizouken carries on with their big, complex  Shibahama-funded project. As Tsubame indeed continues modelling (though her face almost betrays a certain annoyance about it), Midori churns out drawings and paintings, sounds are recorded, and all of it cataloged on the computer.

I just hope they don’t run into any technical problems wherein they lose vast chunks of work. This fortunately doesn’t seem like the kind of show to drop cheap sandbags like that. Instead, the challenge comes in Midori actually being able to craft a cohesive and satisfying story from her myriad crazy concepts, and is able to “perform” her intentions to the team they’ll need to pull it off.

One key player is Doumeki, who finds herself napping for the first time—and making amazing weapon beam noises while she’s doing it! This leads to the four comrades meeting up on bikes for a “sound hunting” trip.

Kanamori (stunting AKIRA-style) is dubious about Midori tagging along when she has so much work to do, but I’m with Midori when she says it’s a director’s job to sometimes witness the work she’d normally delegate firsthand.

Besides, the resulting trip pays more dividends than simply collecting the sounds Doumeki wanted, including the latest iteration of the town’s famous bell across the water. Like the trip to the undergound restaurant, the trip fills Midori’s head with new ideas.

Some of these ideas are unrelated and can be filed away for future projects, irking Kanamori, but still other ideas help her to connect her disparate concepts into something resembling a story. That only Midori knows what that’s shaping up to be also irks Kanamori. She wants to see concrete results, and soon.

Still, she can’t put a price on the bonding that takes place between the Eizouken members on a trip that’s equal parts work, wonder, and fun. As the sun starts to fall, Midori gets one more crazy idea about the early origins of human clockwork mechanisms, and the StuCo secretary is along for the ride.

I particularly enjoyed seeing this girl, who seems very much like Kanamori, simply sitting by the river with her, asking how she’s dealing with the new restrictions. She doesn’t seem there to gloat or shove the Eizouken’s problems in their faces. Indeed, it even brings a smile to her face to watch one of Midori’s patented flights of fancy, which again isn’t immediately related to their current project.

The secretary (whom I assumed was the president until this week) had just warned Kanamori that the school is its own world, with special protections for its students, and to leave that behind. But when they’re creating, Midori and Tsubame are in a third world, neither inside nor outside the school; a world of their making. As for Kanamori, she can handle the outside world. It’s really more a question of whether it can handle her!

P.S. As pointed out by ANN’s Zac Bertschy, the Eizouken is basically an early Studio Ghibli analog. Midori is Miyazaki (hence the beard), Tsubame is Takahata Isao, and Kanamori is Suzuki Toshio. Love it!

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 11 (Fin) – Awakening

The schools sports and cultural clubs all defy the StuCo and meet with the members of the former Hero Club to lend them their support and to ask for assistance in the shadows. Everyone probably overdoes it with the disguises—not sure what’s going on with the black klansmen-looking dudes—but both school and town have spoken: they were better off with the Hero Club, and more than willing to accept their eccentricities in exchange for their hard work and kindness.

When the recent string of thefts and attacks leads to the postponement of visits by prospective students, the StuCo can no longer hold the Hero Club back, and they know it. Like astronauts marching towards their rockey, the heroes led by Mizuki approach the StuCo president and voice their intentions to do something. Having done next to nothing except ban their club, the prez can only let them pass.

That night the heroes stake out the location of the attacks, and find an iguana, Faust, and Benjamin, but also a fourth animal: a penguin that has escaped from the zoo. They chase it to the pool, where it has an advantage, and that’s when Mizuki decides to finally “awaken” and join forces with Yamato to unleash the half-drowned Touga’s ultimate attack. What’s described later as a freak meteorological phenomenon occurs, and the penguin is secured by the student who, as it happens, stole food and supplies to keep it happy.

The StuCo president publicly praises the heroes for their services to the school in an assembly, but they want something more than a fancy certificate of gratitude: they want their club room back, and the voices of the assembled student body demand the reinstatement of the club. Thus cornered, the president acquiesces to the will of the people (one wonders where the adults are in all of this…?)

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy was a quaint, lighthearted, fun and charming little show about a group of weirdo boys who are actually good people (imagine that!) and a girl who, while reluctant to be associated with them at first, is now proud to call herself a member of the Hero Club. Not much more to say about it. I enjoyed it!

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 10 – Creating a Vacuum

As expected, the StuCo takes one final infraction as an excuse to shut the Hero Club down. Locking up their clubroom and banning them from helping people inside or outside school, on pain of expulsion. That infraction? Allowing a non-student in “Setsuna Kirito” on school grounds during the festival.

Mizuki might’ve had a chance to clear things up, but to do so would’ve meant breaking her promise to keep Futaba’s alter-ego a secret. Besides, they would have found another excuse anyway. With the club shuttered, Sekiya is attacked by an unknown entity, while a rash of thefts are perpetrated at school.

Mysterious thefts and assaults aside, killing the Hero Club was extremely short-sighted (which I guess becomes the StuCo, all of whom wear glasses): all of the school clubs they helped out relied on them being around, and now they’re all in big pinches.

As their normie emissary, Mizuki is the one who has to hear from these parties about how unfortunate it is, but while there’s talk of them giving the StuCo a piece of their minds, that doesn’t take place here, and the other Hero Club members mostly go off and do their own thing, albiet badly because they’re depressed about losing their meeting place and mandate.

It’s just as bad outside of school, as Mizuki has to turn down a girl who loved Tomoki’s Sora-chan performance and wants him for another one. The elderly folks who the Hero Club helped blame themselves for relying too much and getting them in trouble, which Mizuki has to reassure them isn’t the case.

Whether in or outside of school, the Hero Club was a vital resource whose importance belied the eccentricity of its members. Disbanding them left a huge void in the fabric of both school and community. After partnering with Mizuki and a member drama club to help out the Sora-chan girl, Nanako assures Mizuki that together they’ll find a way to rescue the Hero Club from the StuCo unjust and reckless judgment.

They certainly have public opinion in their favor. As for the mysterious culprit of the assault and thefts, that’s something the StuCo seems incpable of solving. They may have no choice but to rely on the rule-breaking weirdos they loathe.

Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy – 09 – Saved by Setsuna

When Mizuki gets a break from serving at her class cafe, Rei asks if she wants to wander around with him, but Futaba hijacks the opportunity by tagging along so the three can scout the competition. That includes Kazuhiro’s class’ haunted house, which wigs Rei out to no end. They then help the drama club hand out flyers advertising the impending play.

When the play is about to start, Sekiya takes the outdoor stage and poaches their audience, breaking the rules in the process. Futaba turns the tables by appearing on the screen behind them as the web-famous Setsuna Kirito, who urges everyone to head to the gym for the performance, which they all dutifully do.

The crowds are charmed by the cross-dressing princesses, as expected, but when there’s a sudden blackout, instigated by Futaba, they must call upon the audience to light the stage with their phones and help defeat the witch. A fun time is had by all (except Sekiya, who is punished with wood-chopping duty) and the drama club wins the competition, meaning they won’t be shut down buy StuCo.

That night at the bonfire, Futaba confesses he’s a full-fledged otaku, and vows not to hide it anymore, though that costs him a dance with two girls who like him.

Rei asks Mizuki to join him in the folk dance, but again she’s distracted by another friend. Perhaps she’s hung out with these attractive weirdo boys so long, she’s oblivious to the fact that one of them wants to spend more time with her and only her. With only two episodes left and the hero club’s future still in doubt, it’s unlikely that will change.