A Couple of Cuckoos – 06 – Naked and Engaged

Erika not only doesn’t have a problem with Nagi confessing to Hiro; she wants to help him, unaware that Hiro is engaged (since Nagi doesn’t share that detail). She tells Nagi that Hiro “putting him on hold” isn’t the end of the world; if she truly didn’t like him she would have summarily rejected him.

For their first study session, Erika and Nagi arrive at school at the same time despite taking different modes of transportation, and despite Erika dressing up like a literal cupid, Hiro can’t help but notice how close the pair seem to be. Erika and Nagi themselves aren’t aware how good they are together!

In an effort to catch up (and eventually beat) Nagi in a contest of with whom Erika is closest, Hiro invites herself over to Erika’s house. She diverts Hiro to her parents’ house, which Nagi believes puts him in the clear to have a nudist evening with their house all to himself. However, Erika’s parents’ house is “being renovated”, so she has no choice but to bring Hiro there.

It’s a classic sitcom scenario in the mold of shows like Fraiser, with Nagi not only having to remove any evidence that he lives there, but spend most of the time hiding around the corner naked. Erika does her best to keep diverting Hiro, but then things get even more complicated when three of Erika’s stalkers show up at her house. Thankfully, Nagi dispatches their leader with ease, and without being detected.

Ultimately, it’s not just about being caught for Nagi. He genuinely wants Erika’s first friendship and first houseguest to go well. That plan is almost torpedoed when Hiro finds his shrine stamp book on the counter, but Erika is able to explain it away as having borrowed the wrong book. This, of course, only confirms to Hiro that Erika and Nagi are very close.

Her solution to that is to invite Erika (and fellow study buddy Nagi) to her house, which turns out to be a huge shrine. Shrine Maiden Hiro is indeed cute as hell, while Hiro’s mom is extremely prejudiced against Nagi, giving him only a small hard candy while Erika gets a delicious-looking jelly roll-like  confection.

Nagi does get a personal shrine stamp from Hiro, who demonstrates that her stamp game is far better than her regular handwriting. When Erika goes to the bathroom, she asks Nagi if he understands now what she meant by “engaged”. She isn’t promised to another man, but is poised to inherit the shrine.

Why that should mean romance is a no-go when—well, she exists, which means her mom and dad had a kid—I don’t know, but Hiro doesn’t want to burden Erika with such a “heavy truth”. As for why she told Nagi? She thought he could handle that burden. He may be “on hold” indefinitely, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t like and respect him.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Spy x Family – 07 – Making It Work With Less Than Ideal

“I’m sorry I’m bad at school”, a still-drowsy Anya says to Loid and Yor. “The peace of the world rests on you making amends”, she hears Loid thinking. It’s a lot of pressure for a little girl on her second day of school, but she’s resolved to apologize to Damian. The problem is, both his toadies and her her rich girl friend Becky make that almost impossible.

Reading minds clearly takes a lot out of Anya, so between hearing the inner voices of all her classmates and probably not sleeping much last night, she nods off in first period. But when Loid sees Becky working against the apology plan, he starts disguising himself as school staff to make it clear to Anya that the apology must happen, the sooner the better.

It takes Loid calling Becky away on the PA for Anya to finally get her shot, and Damian’s toadies bully her so much in their minds they make her start bawling as she apologizes. As I’d suspected, Damian has confusing new feelings about Anya, the girl who was the first to “defy” him. When she sobs during her apology, making clear she only wanted to be friends, the resulting shot to his heart is so much he has no choice but to run away.

While Loid witnesses all this unfold and concludes that the Friendship Plan may be doomed, I’d say he’s making far too quick an assessment of the situation. Sure, on the surface Damian hates her, but he actually likes her; his behavior is the result of simply not knowing what to do about it. This is 100% classic little kid (and some times bigger kid) behavior.

That said, Loid is new to this, and Twilight didn’t get where he is by taking risks or operating under less-than-ideal circumstances. But there’s so much not in his control here and the circumstances couldn’t be less ideal, so he’s trying to overcompensate. Today Damian ran away from Anya, so he has to try to get her those eight Stella. That night Loid has an intense study session with Anya, but his anxious thoughts and calculations flood into her head and overwhelm her, and she runs into her room to sulk.

Here is where Yor’s lighter touch (if only where Anya is concerned) comes in. At first Yor feels she’s being presumptuous in offering Loid advice and insisting they not be to hard on themselves. But by doing so she reminds Loid that he’s not alone in this parenting business.

He and Yor are legally husband and wife and parents to Anya. They’re in this together, through thick and thin. They need to be patient, but also confident. All parents go through this; that this one was constructed for a spy mission doesn’t change that in the slightest.

I loved how much simpler and more macabre Yor’s inner thoughts are compared to Loid’s during the study session, but I also love how Anya truly wants to do her best, which is why Loid finds her asleep at her desk. She stopped sulking and started studying all on her own.

She’s a good girl, Yor’s a good mom, and he’s a good dad for caring about all of Anya—not just how she figures into the mission. They’ll get through this…even if Yor’s brother Yuri is only now finding out Yor has a husband and daughter.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 05 – Shrine Stamp Maiden

Nagi is loathing returning to school, not sure he can face Segawa Hiro after she rejected him because she was already engaged. However, once he actually goes, he finds he’s the only one making this weird. Hiro has been “researching” him, and learned that he studies alone in the library an hour before school starts, and so decided to join him for a morning study session.

While Nagi is again initially hopeless, preoccupied with whether Hiro wants to steal her from her fiancé or is simply friendzoning him, eventually the two find common ground in their shared love of collecting shrine stamps. Sure, she has over four times more stamps, but he has a couple of rare ones she doesn’t. Oh, and she arrived at school earlier than him. Looks like Nagi’s in for a high school life of cozy study sessions and competing with the girl he likes in all things…

Then things go all Cuckoo and Erika not only transfers to Nagi’s school, but end sup in his and Hiro’s class. No doubt that was not an accident on the part of Erika’s parents. Turns out she was expelled from her fancy girls school when she accidentally posted the picture of them looking like a natural couple. Since such relationships are forbidden, she got the heave-ho. Nagi can’t fathom why her friends would be such “sticklers for the rules”, and Erika quietly muttered that they weren’t friends.

Erika doesn’t let that linger, and Nagi doesn’t press, but he remembers those words when he sees hordes of people surrounding Erika (though keeping a semi-respectful distance), and Erika looking thoroughly uncomfortable and lonely. Erika told him that their engagement has to remain a secret from everyone at school, so Nagi hesitates to approach her. That’s when Class Rep Segawa Hiro approaches her and breaks the ice.

Nagi isn’t surprised by Hiro’s kindness—it’s a big part why he likes her so much—while the other classmates go absolutely apeshit over sharing the air of two higher forms of life. Honestly, you’d think especially a prestigious school like this would have rules and such in place against this kind of behavior which too often feels like harassment rather than the harmless admiration the episode makes it out to be. And Nagi takes part in it!…though not for the same reasons as everyone else.

As soon as Erika and Hiro started hitting it off, Nagi imagined a metaphorical guillotine blade hanging over his head should Erika find out he confessed to Hiro and Hiro find out he’s engaged to Erika. While he’s trying to find the right time to approach Erika, it ends up being a day of stalking instead. This is the first episode of Cuckoos where I just wasn’t a fan of Nagi whatsoever…he was too cartoonish with a side of creepy (the less said about the shot of Nagi and Erika unbuttoning their shirts the better).

Nagi finally breaks the stalemate when he witnesses Hiro suddenly crouch to the ground and start sobbing. He rushes out of his hiding spot to tell Hiro that whatever Erika said or did, she didn’t mean it, she’s just nervous and is actually a good person. But Erika didn’t say anything; Hiro’s tears are of joy, because she just might be Erika’s biggest fangirl.

She just couldn’t hold it in anymore, ya know? And while I’m sure Erika is flattered, my heart sunk a little now knowing Hiro isn’t above the drooling masses wigging out over their new classmate being a big deal online. I laughed at Hiro’s threatening face after Erika tells her that Nagi is “another one of her fans”, but the flimsiness of that lie will certainly present a problem down the road.

What I did like was Erika being genuinely touched by Nagi came to her defense and called her a good person (which she is), even if he misunderstood what was happening. She blushes and tells him she’s “not half bad”, definitely a compliment coming from his reluctant fiancée. I also liked learning that Erika takes after her biological mom’s athleticism. Neither she nor Hiro are just pretty faces.

The idea of the three having morning study sessions should prove a font of comedy and drama. But between Nagi’s aggressive stalking the school losing their mind over a minor celebrity, and how Erika often comes off as traumatized because of it, this outing had its share of blemishes. Fortunately, that’s far more forgivable for a two-cour show—we’ve got a long way to go.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 04 – Sister Act

Within the two weeks he and Erika are living together, Nagi apparently is able to study enough to ace the exams and conquer the legend that is Segawa Hiro. Both the nerds and normies salute him following through on his boasts. When Hiro again invites him to the rooftop, he should have known beating her at one exam wasn’t going to cut it as far as winning her over.

As far as she’s concerned, she’s still beating him in exams, 10-1, so his confession “will not be processed”. When she declares all the other ways she surpasses him when it comes to both studies and life, the two end up chasing each other around the school and messing up a classroom and panting on the ground. Hiro had fun, but she makes it clear there’s no way she and Nagi can go out. You see, she’s engaged too!

He has had so much fun, in fact, he’s surprised to learn that his time playing Erika has already come to an end. He says he appreciated having a place to “let off steam” and how it was fun overall; Erika said it was the worst, but he can probably tell she’s not being entirely sincere. But once he packs up his stuff and bows to the house, suddenly it’s all over, and they go their separate ways…

…Except Nagi returns home to find it dark and locked; turns out his family is temporarily staying at an inn while the plumbing is fixed. There’s no room for him at said inn, so it’s back to his birth father’s house…where Erika is still making herself at home. Turns out she wanted to have a go at living on her own without help. Nagi is surprised she wants to improve herself, and vows to help her become a “professionally independent person” like him.

When Sachi comes by to drop off some of Nagi’s stuff, she finally gets to meet her biological big sister, something both she and Erika are understandably nervous about. Despite Nagi saying how friendly Sachi is and how easily she warms up to people, their first encounter is extremely stif and awkward. Sachi later confides in Nagi that she’d looked up Erika on IG before, and finding out she’s even cuter in person threw her off.

Nagi commences “Operation Sister Besties” by getting the two to cook some karaage together. While Erika is a nightmare chopping cabbage, she gets to see Nagi and Sachi interact like a real brother and sister that they are, while Nagi gets to see Sachi and Erika very much acting similar…they even eat the same way. When he points this out, they protest his assertion…by heaping praise on one another.

Erika decides to interrupt dinner by having Sachi try on some of her clothes. With Nagi not around, Erika makes clear she has no intention of marrying Sachi’s brother, something that seems like a load of Sachi’s mind. They also exchange contact info. Back home, Sachi’s folks are irked that she went and hung out with Erika. This is rich for people who went behind both Nagi and Erika’s backs to set them up to be married!

Whatever Hiro’s deal is with her engagement, it seems like a hard stop in Nagi’s quest to win her heart. Nagi and Erika are living together again, this time indefinitely. Sachi has finally met her sister and Nagi’s fiancée and can’t help but like her, but how long these good vibes last is anyone’s guess. I’m surprised how much has happened just four episodes into a twenty-four episode series. Things have moved very swiftly, but there’s clearly a lot more in store for our cuckoos.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 03 – Too Close to the Sun on Wings of Okonomiyaki

Just like that, Erika and Nagi are living alone together under the same roof. A text from Nagi’s mom and birth dad seals their fate: they’re stuck here for two weeks. They also both acknowledge that if they don’t go on defense, they’re going to end up married before they know it. So before heading to their separate rooms, they agree not to interact with each other in any way for  the duration of their stay.

AS. FRIKKIN’. IF. Moments after waking up later than he ever has (a product of not being slapped awake by his mom or Sachi) he hears a scream and comes to Erika’s rescue, only to get even more freaked out by the gecko in the bath than she is. A scenario like this begs for a bathroom walk-in, and while switching the roles would have been more refreshing, the execution get is both funny and tasteful.

Their pact last night has Nagi excited for a weekend of uninterrupted studying in his room, but he is betrayed by the nature of his arrival here: he doesn’t have his charger or textbooks. When they’re delivered, Erika takes delivery, and won’t give them up unless Nagi helps her with her Insta photo shoot of the day. This, in turn, leads to him tripping and falling into another romantic pose on her bed that’s caught on camera.

Erika doesn’t know what it is, but her pics just come out better when Nagi takes them, so she borrows him for the rest of the day, which leads to a water fight. While Nagi just wants to study, and Erika just wants to go viral, those more cynical motivations get pushed to the background as the two simply have a fun day in each other’s company. They’re in violation of their pact, but neither of them does anything about it.

Instead, Erika finds herself wanting to know more about Nagi, like why he loves studying so much. It’s a fair question from someone who is already financially set for life, and Nagi’s answer, while only a half-truth, about wanting to provide for his family of modest means gets through to her.

Erika’s reason for wanting to be popular on SM goes beyond “just ’cause” and into her desire to connect with “someone” out there—whether this someone is literal or figurative remains to be seen.

As for the other, and arguable more immediately important half of Nagi’s motivation, the challenge he issued to Segawa Hiro the other day has circled the school several times and he receives the expected extra attention and ribbing.

I like how Nagi’s a tough kid and doesn’t let any of this get him down, and even mistakes three guy’s genuine desire for him to win for teasing (if only because they’re betting on him…26-to-1 odds!). He gets it from the normies and the nerds, one of whom declares him Icarus and Hiro the sun. Nagi’s response to this guy is perfect: “Who the hell was that?”

Nagi gets a rooftop invite from Hiro that he’s sure is a prank, but when he learns that he, not her, is currently the top-ranked student prior to the upcoming waves of exams, he realizes it’s genuine. Sure enough, Hiro meets him on the rooftop, but not to confess her love to him, but to declare to him that she won’t lose to him…not in exams, class ranking, sports, cleaning and eating speed…she won’t give up a millimeter of ground anything.

This is a side of Hiro Nagi has never seen, and it only endears her to him more, and now both of them are each other’s prime motivating factors for pursuing greatness. We’ll see if one’s bitter rival really makes for a better match than a fiancée raised by your birth parents. I also imagine Hiro will cross Erika’s path eventually, and the two will have some thoughts about things.

But first things first: Nagi really does need to study. Unfortunately, not only did hanging out with Erika cost him the weekend, but the water fight gives him a cold. Erika dresses up like a nurse to take care of him, but he tries to power through, and ends up passing out. Erika, in turn, cancels her plans for the day to tend to him, and when he comes to, admits she’s duly impressed by how hard he works to achieve his goals.

This doesn’t just affect Nagi because a cutey is saying it, but because literally no one has ever said they’re impressed with his academic work ethic. His birth parents might’ve had they raised him, so it’s apropos that Erika, who was raised by them, is the first to do so.

It’s the kind of unforced gesture that should sow doubt in Nagi’s mind that he should choose Hiro (who let’s not forget could well reject him anyway) over Erika. Unless he and Hiro hang out more, that soil of doubt will only grow more fertile as he and Erika continue to interact and learn about each other. Those parents might’ve been on to something.

Three episodes in, A Couple of Cuckoos is a solid textbook rom-com that succeeds in making all parties (save Sachi) dynamic and likeable—not just cogs—while finding ways to ground the chaotic premise. This is not the car wreck in slow motion I thought it’d be. It’s just a good, fun, and engaging show, full-stop.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 05 – Win-Win

When Aharen tells Raidou about a Pokemon Go-style mobile game that was launched seven years ago like it’s a new trend, he dusts off his maxed-out Yankee Godzilla character, believing her tiny, harmless-looking Shirorin will be no match against him. He’s eager to score a win against Aharen, but instead he gets stomped. It’s the classic Cactuar Conundrum: tiny and cute doesn’t automatically spell weak.

We’ve seen how strong Aharen is in the crane game department, so when Futaba spends almost all her pocket change in vain trying to win a Yankee Godzilla doll, Aharen proceeds to win nine of them. I don’t think she’s trying to show up a kid; merely show her how it’s done. She even leaves a gimme right near the out spout for Futaba to win with her last 100-yen coin.

The next segment is one of those that crops up often in a 4-panel comic: where one character changes dramatically—in this case Raidou becoming overweight overnight. When it dawns on Aharen it could be her fault for feeding him so much of her massive lunches, she reads up on dieting, hoping to help him.

But when Raidou spots her with the diet book, he assumes she’s trying to diet, something he doesn’t think is necessary, so he decides to lead by example and show her that exercise, not dieting, is the key to success. He loses all the weight he gained, only to learn Aharen never had any intention of dieting…but will surely consider leaner lunches in future!

The re-slimmed Raidou is in trouble; if he fails the midterms he’ll have to take supplementary classes. To avoid this, he proposes that he and Aharen study together, assuming from her serene demeanor that she’s already fully prepared to do well in the exams.

The two try a number of different venues for their studying, but be it the library, a restaurant, or the park, they find themselves distracted by something and can’t study. Ultimately, the classroom turns out to be the ideal spot for studying, with their desks pushed together as usual.

When Aharen, Raidou, and two classmates have after-school cleaning duty, Raidou marvels at how seriously Aharen takes this. She’s so professional in her cleaning, his vivid imagination starts to wonder if she’s also a cleaner, i.e. an assassin. She certainly seems to have a cool head for it…

After the other two kids leave, Aharen tries to move a dusted bookshelf back where it belongs, only to lose her balance and almost have it fall on her. Raidou exhibits catlike reflexes by rushing to Aharen’s rescue. Later, they continue studying, and Raidou thanks her for helping him with studying. Aharen’s response is so quiet even his trained ears can’t hear…

…So she draws closer to him and gathers him into a long, warm, affectionate hug. She expresses her happiness at being able to finally help Raidou, after all this time she’s caused trouble and relied upon him. Raidou’s response is as expected: he’s never once thought she was trouble, and he relies on her too, so he thanks her in return.

It’s easily the swetest and most romantic things have ever gotten between these two. So many anime couples have trouble communicating, but these two are crystal clear in how they feel about one another, and aren’t even embarrassed to walk about arm-in-arm or to share such a long hug.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Couple of Cuckoos – 02 – A Princess in a Doghouse

At the breakfast table, Nagi is adamant that he’s not going through with the marriage, but his parents, who very much still possess delinquent streak, will book no insolence. His mom asks if there’s any reason he can’t marry Erika, but Nagi can’t exactly tell her he’s in love with someone who doesn’t know his name! Sachi, meanwhile, wants nothing to do with this whole situation, even though Erika is her big sister…and soon to be sister-in-law.

Nagi’s folks head off to work, telling him to keep Erika company when she visits. He cleans up the place, but when she’s an hour late he looks outside the door to see she’s been sitting there the whole time, apparently unaware of doorbells. She also finds his modest Japanese home confusing, what with its tiny size and lack of chairs. She actually assumed they were in a tool shed!

After Nagi gives her a grudging tour of the house (which doesn’t take long), Erika takes him on a tour of her palatial mansion, where the damn doghouse is larger and fancier than Nagi’s whole house. The thing is, there isn’t the slightest inkling that Erika is showing off…this is just how her life is. Nagi, who wanted to tell her he has feelings for someone else, now sees that even if he wanted to marry her, reconciling their wildly different lifestyles seems impossible.

So it comes as a shock to him when Erika interrupts him to say she won’t be marrying him, which is exactly what he wanted to tell her but couldn’t find the right time. Like him, it simply comes down to her wanting to choose who she marries. She can tell Nagi is a nice guy, just like he can tell she’s a nice gal, but they’re also modern young people who don’t like things being arrange.

She didn’t even go to Nagi’s to see him, but to talk about this with his…with her birth parents. When Nagi says they’re working at the family diner until midnight, Erika has him take her there. While at first things are cordial, the Umino in Erika comes out as she gets into a heated standoff with Nagi’s folks. Hikasa Youko and Kimura Ryuuhei are pitch-perfect in their respective Delinquent Modes, telling Erika she’ll do what they say and like it, damn it!

But once everyone’s hackles are lowered and hot tempers cool, Nagi’s parents boast to a couple of regulars that the beauty before tham is Nagi’s fiancée. Then they whip up their special ginger pork, which Erika has never had before but loves instantly, then her biological folks get in close and start comparing her face and hair to their own and Sachi’s. They invite her to spend the night, and Nagi’s mom wants to have a bath with her. Nagi has the feeling his folks are manhandling a bomb that’s about to go off.

Instead, she suddenly excuses herself and runs out of the diner. Nagi gives chase, and learns he grossly misunderstood her feelings at the time. She wasn’t a bomb about to explode…she was simply overwhelmed by how warm and welcoming her birth parents were, and overcome by apprehension over whether they’d like her if she stuck around. She wants nothing more than to be closer to them, but doesn’t know how to tell them that. Nagi assures her no such formalities are necessary.

His folks are “really dense” former delinquents, and thus she doesn’t have to be so considerate with them. It’s enough to just be there and be herself, and they’ll love her all the same. Sure enough, when Nagi and Erika return to the diner, his mom gives Erika a big hug, while his dad wipes away a tear reacting to the heartfelt reunion. They have a big meal together, but Erika takes a raincheck on a sleepover.

While Nagi walks her to the main streets, Erika tells him she had fun and was glad she got to get closer to her birth parents. Sachi, who still has complicated feelings about all this, is left unmentioned. Erika also asks what Nagi was so anxious to talk to her about all day, and Nagi can’t say it. He thought it would get easier with time to say he loved someone else, but instead it got harder.

It gets harder still when Erika’s dad rolls up in his Lexus. He reveals that he knew they weren’t really dating (a dude that rich has a head on his shoulders), and also gives them both a ride…to a large house set up specifically for them to live in together as a couple. Their names are even on the engraved doorplate.

If Nagi’s folks knew about this, they kept it to themselves. But hey, this premise is already freakin’ absurd, so I am completely on board with this escalation. Domestic bliss awaits our beloved cuckoos!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kaguya-sama: Love Is War – Ultra Romantic – 04 – The Eyes that Propelled Him

YUU CAN’T DIE

No sooner is Yuu shooting death lasers at Kashiwagi and her bae once they leave the office and talking about how students should be focused on their studies (stated while playing video games) than he’s melting into a puddle of goo when his crush, third-year Koyasu Tsubame stops by to drop off some foreshadowing…er, an application for the upcoming cultural festival.

I’m pleased as punch Tsubame is back, she and Yuu had great chemistry, and it was only near the end of that momentous sports fest arc that we even saw her eyes. But is Yuu simply infatuated with her because she’s nice to him, or does he have an actual chance? Ever the pessimist, he’s certain it’s the latter.

Kaguya won’t suffer Yuu’s moping about what can and can’t be done; she’s been in a slog of a romantic stalemate with her crush for over two damn cours, it’s as much sage advice as a warning that it’s best to come out and confess sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, Yuu’s “innate creepiness” has him imagining a flower-a-day at Tsubame’s desk or an album of himself with a note are good ways to do it.

Kaguya, as inept as she’d been with her own romance, continues to prove her value as an advisor to Yuu, steering him away from certain disaster and putting him on a long but doable path to not only making his feelings known to Tsubame, but realizing his potential to be someone Tsubame likes.

Since Yuu is neither strong, rich, or popular, Kaguya sends him on the path of academic achievement, assisting him in studying for the lofty goal of scoring in the top 50 of his grade in the upcoming exams. The next segment is tied to the first, as each of the other four StuCo members agree with Miyuki’s suggestion that they go on hiatus so that everyone can study from home.

Everyone is hiding ulterior motives (and A-1 faces): Miyuki can’t study in the office because he’s too distracted by Kaguya’s beauty; Kaguya can’t study at home because she’s too distracted by her new smartphone; Iino, like Miyuki, wants to keep her #1 ranking, and Chika…Chika already gets double allowance so she stands to lose the least here.

As for Yuu? No lies and no face; he’s already hard at work studying at home. But when the exams come and go and the rankings are posted, he doesn’t make it to the Top 50. Kaguya suspects he rose about 20 spots from his  previous position near the bottom of his class. A tremendous improvement, but also a crushing defeat too.

Yuu pretends he’s not bitter about it to Kaguya and shuffles off to the boy’s room to stew in abject bitterness. Fortunately, Kaguya didn’t buy his act, and brazenly violates the bathroom rule to confirm that, indeed, Yuu is super pissed-off, and that he’ll take this small step forward as merely the loss of a battle for which expectations were naturally high. If love is war, losing this first battle can, and must, motivate him to keep fighting on.

Super Butler Herthaka-kun

With the show showering so much darma and character love on Yuu, who now has two potential love interests (like Miyuki with Kaguya and Ai), Chika is now, by default, the least developed and most mysterious member of the StuCo. Maybe that’s on purpose due to her simplistic nature, but one wonders if there will be room for her to have a major character-defining arc this season.

For now, she presents an open dinner invitation to Kaguya, Miyuki, and Kei in appreciation for their help and friendship. With exams out of the way, Kaguya is pumped up for a dinner party and sleepover, if for no other reason than the opportunity for Miyuki to nod off on her shoulder. She wants to do it that night, but Chika’s dad is out of town.

Chika suggests an alternate site for the sleepover: Kaguya’s place! There, Chika is met by “Herthaka-kun”, Ai’s…(deep breath) gay-male-crybaby-war orphan-Harvard graduate butler persona. While Kaguya scolds Ai for weaving such rococo lies, Chika simply stands in awe of “Super Butler Herthaka-kun”…yet another potentially awesome Kaguya spin-off.

Kaguya and Chika proceed to have a lovely girls night together, and while Miyuki and Kei can’t make it to the sleepover, they are offered a window into it when Chika calls him up. She’s able to do this not only without Kaguya’s objection but her encouragement because Kaguya rarely stays up past 11, and Chika’s prattle has now kept her up past midnight.

This has the effect of rendering Kaguya into a state not dissimilar from drunkenness, where her usual inhibitions drop and her judgment is compromised. She’s in full Go-with-the-Flow Mode, so Chika FaceTimes Miyuki and asks him straight-up if he’s in love with someone.

Kei happens to be in the room when Miyuki receives the call, and becomes fully engaged in the conversation when she spots Kaguya and Chika-nee on his screen. After adorably picking up the place even though they’re not there, Kei confirms to Chika that her brother is definitely in love, because he’s always LINEing with “someone named “Herthaka.”

When Chika hears this name, and she turns to face Herthaka-kun the butler, who is presently texting, her nose bleeds and she excuses herself from the segment.

That leaves Kaguya and Miyuki on the call together. Kaguya sleepily declares her furiousness at him right now for sending texts to someone else, but says she’ll forgive him if he tells her who he’s in love with. When he hesitates, she says she’ll go first…only to fall asleep before saying the name.

Miyuki is left with female Herthaka on his screen telling him Kaguya is asleep and she’s hanging up, but not before Kei gets a good look at the girl her bro is apparently courting. Kaguya wins the round because despite her fatigue she doesn’t let slip who she loves, but in my book both she and Miyuki lose the round because they’re still stuck in an endless slog.

Maybe the cultural festival will progress things further. I’m not saying I need a confession from either or both of them for this season to be a success—it’s the ride, not the destination that counts, and this is the Rolls-Royce of rides—but it would be nice for these two to join Takagi and Nishikata in the “Official-At-Last” corner.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 01 (First Impressions) – Family Knots

Umino Nagi is a straight-A student at a good school who spends most of his time studying and battling his academic rival. He was also accidentally switched at birth. Now that he’s sixteen, he’s going to meet his birth parents. While his sister Sachi, who has been his sister for those sixteen years, decries her brother as an egg-headed loner, her tough act quickly falls when faced with the possibility of losing her brother.

Nagi pats her head and assures Sachi he has no intention of changing his family this late in the game. On his way to the meeting, he encounters a beautiful young woman with twin tails in a frilly dress, seemingly about to jump to her death. Nagi leaps into action, but inadvertently gropes the girl while trying to keep her from jumping. And she wasn’t going to really jump, she was just recording something for her Insta.

While not the most auspicious (or original) manner of meeting, the two soon bond over a common problem: family issues. The girl, one Amano Erika, is trying to start drama in order to convince her mom that she’s not getting married, while Nagi is a mix-up baby. When he learns what school he attends, she decides that he will be her fake boyfriend so she can gt the wedding called off.

When Nagi bristles at this plan and tries to walk away, she holds up very crisp 8K video of him groping her. While I wish there had been one of those *ding-dong* sounds accompanied by a PSA saying “Let’s not blackmail people”, this puts Nagi in a bind, and surrenders. The speed with which Erika resorts to an underhanded tactic is later revealed to be a clue about who she really is and where she comes from.

Despite having the wherewithal to blackmail and mocking Nagi for having never dated anyone, Erika has to google what boyfriends and girlfriends do. Both agree “doin’ it” isn’t a viable option, so she settles for photos of her with her bae. She gets it in her head that if they wear matching badass outfits and he looks tough, her parents will be more inclined to back down. Thus in the middle of this fake boyfriend ploy, they have a dress-up date.

Despite Erika blowing over $3,800 (on her limitless credit card, confirming she’s a rich girl in net worth) none of the photos they take look genuine, but rather look exactly like what they are: staged. Erika ends up going with their first photo, which was taken on accident and thus totally candid and natural, giving you “a sense of the air of the moment,” as she rather poetically put it. Alas, it doesn’t work, and her parents urge her to stop messing around and head home before curfew.

Before she can, Nagi enters another very well-worn but in this case nicely-executed trope of accidental romance anime: revealing surprising toughness when the girl is threatened by three stalkers. This happens very suddenly after an episode that had a nice steady flow, and I feel like another comic disclaimer not to commit assault should have popped up, but I still like how it revealed a new side to Erika: that Nagi’s former delinquent parents brought him up to win any fight he found himself in.

Erika genuinely appreciates his chivalrous behavior, and when her car shows up to take her home, lets him know she’ll delete the blackmail video, something I appreciated being resolved here and now rather than continue to loom over Nagi. Erika reveals that because she’s “like this” she has no friends, but that she and Nagi felt like friends for a day and it was fun. She also says, claiming to be joking later, that if it were him she had to marry, she might not have as much of a problem with it.

Naturally, when Nagi arrives to meet his birth parents, he learns both they and his own parents have arranged for their two kids to marry, so that they can all be one happy family. They just assumed the photo meant they’d already met and were dating!

Tha means his birth parents’ kid, the one he was switched with, is Erika, which explains why she has more of a delinquent streak in her (and sense of street fashion!) than a hoity-toity rich princess. In keeping with the nature she inherited form her birth parents, she follows through on her promise to punch her fiancé the way Nagi punched those punks.

That is one hell of a conceit, and once you suspend your disbelief such a ridiculous arrangement would ever be made between two very different pairs of parents without any input from their children, it looks to be an extremely fun one too. A Couple of Cuckoos arrives fashionably late but looks great and has a goofy but engaging concept, while the 24-episode run means we’ll have ample time to dig into who Nagi and Erika are and how they handle this arrangement.

The two cours also means there’ll be ample time to tell three parallel relationships: between Nagi and Erika, the kids switched at birth, between Nagi and Sachi, siblings not related by blood, and finally the surprise reveal of Nagi’s aforementioned academic rival, who is also his crush, Segawa Hiro (Touyama Nao), whom he’s vowed to confess to once he’s usurped her class ranking throne. Did I mention she can’t remember his name? It’s all a big, beautiful mess!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 03 – Princely When it Counts

It was only a matter of time before LIPxLIP warmed up to Hiyori’s wholesome country charm. Yuujirou and Aizou were hostile towards her initially simply because they didn’t know her. That’s rectified by Uchida, who tells Yuujirou (who then tells Aizou) that Hiyori came to Tokyo to run, and took a job to live.

The boys call each other out on being okay with this girl among all the others (in Aizou’s case) and having no qualms about showing his true self (in Yuujirou’s). Knowing how hard she works, they can’t help but show grudging respect; at least from afar.

Closer in, they’re much more comfortable messing with her, though when they learn that she failed her midterms and is desperately crunching for the finals so she can compete in athletics, they eventually close the distance and give her some pointers on what to study for in the little time she has left.

What good boys! And here I was calling them assholes last week. They were, and often still are, but it’s goot to see their sharp edges softening due to Hiyori not only being someone you want to support and protect, but also someone you admire for not giving up no matter how high the hurdles.

Going to school together and working together, these three high school-age people were always going to gradually become friends, I just didn’t expect it to come so fast and yet so organically. But that rapidity is facilitated by a catalyst when the three are on a music video shoot for their song “Nonfantasy”.

Their co-star in the video is the up-and-coming amateur model Yumeru-chan, whom we meet in an elegant red dress. She’s a big fan of LIPxLIP, so when she spots the boys goofing around with Hiyori, she gets right pissed off. She wants to be their clothing tree, dagnabit!

Fishing for juicy rumors and looking to put a rival in their place, Yumeru takes Hiyori aside and asks her straight-up what her relationship to the others is. Hiyori deflects and is clearly uncomfortable, and why wouldn’t she be? This world of desperately beautiful people dressed like royalty isn’t her world; they’re stars, and she’s just a bit player.

And while yes, Yumeru is meant to be more “classically pretty”, Hiyori is a far more beautiful person, because she’s not looking to put others down to lift herself up. She just wants to run, and make her friends and family happy they gave her their support.

During a dinner break, Yuujirou and Aizou laugh when Hiyori’s stomach grumbles, and happily offer her some of what looks like an epic craft services spread. Yumeru, again both mystified and enraged, trips Hiyori while she’s walking away, and coffee spills on her dress. The boys apologize profusely for their “staff member.”

Hiyori hides under the lectern of a wedding chapel, but the boys soon track her down, clearly concerned with her. Yumeru shows up and asks for their numbers, but they don’t give them out; company policy. Then Yumeru spots Hiyori in the shadows and asks why they’re fine with her?

Yumeru has the nerve to warn them that Hiyori may have just taken the job to get closer to them—right after she took this job tried to get closer to them. Aizou—not Yuujirou—drops the idol mask and points out this hypocrisy. Yuujirou then adds that he saw Yumeru trip Hiyori.

When she claims she didn’t, he says they can check the security cameras to be sure. He then praises her fake crying but suggests she doesn’t take up acting as she “lacks imagination” to realize messing with their staff would piss them off. After Yumeru storms off, Aizou tells Yuu he might’ve gone too far, but Yu isn’t concerned. If Yumeru wants to start a shit fight, he can sling it with the best of them.

The bottom line is, the risk of exposing their mean sides was worth it if it meant telling someone that Hiyori may be a somewhat plain, simple country girl staff member, she’s also not someone they’ll tolerate being abused. Yumeru made Hiyori an enemy for no reason, and when the boys saw that, it likely reminded them of their shitty attitudes when Hiyori was first hired, thus compounding their irritation.

I’m happy to report that while they will likely continue to mess with Hiyori because she’s such an easy target, they’re also doing it good-naturedly, because they’ve come to like her, and anyway wouldn’t mess with someone they didn’t. They’re also genuinely concerned about how her exams turns out, and flash their best idol smiles upon learning she barely passed.

The power of those idol smiles is enough  to make even Hiyori blush. After all, even after they took off their prince costumes for the music video, they still looked pretty damn princely to Hiyori, because they defended her against someone who didn’t know her. Now that they do, they’ll slay any dragon for her.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 08 – Feels Like Summer

Exams are over and the athletics festival is nigh. President Tanigawa and Vice President Tatsumori Ai assign everyone the sport(s) in which they’ll be participating. Not only is Akebi (as well as Tanigawa) in the cheer squad, but also on the relay swim team. She’ll be swimming with Ohkuma, Tatsumori and anchor Minakami Riri, voiced by Ishikawa Yui affecting a Kansai dialect. Erika suggests Akebi should also be considered for the anchor position

It’s decided that Akebi and Minakami should race, one-on-one. Minakami makes it interesting: if Akebi wins, she’ll do anything Akebi wants. If she wins, she gets Akebi’s sailor uniform. It’s the closest thing to conflict and discomfort that Akebi has yet faced, and as her mother is prepping a summer sailor uniform for her, she can tell her daughter is troubled. I mean, the anime’s title might have to change!

If Minakami believes that since Akebi smiles too much she won’t take this seriously, she has another thing coming. Akebi ranked fifth in exam score in the whole class simply by studying hard, having never been ranked. She’s also never measured her times, but the focused, defiant look she gives Minakami says it all: she’s not surrendering that uniform!

The race commences, picking up where the cold open left off, and as expected, the water and swimming animation is a cut above. It’s almost not fair how good this show looks doing whatever it wants; I almost wish the school had a spaceship in addition to a pool! Erika’s role in this episode is small but important; the race might not have happened had she not spoken up for her friend, and she alone starts to cheer for Akebi, loudly and proudly.

In the end, Minakami wins, but it’s bang-bang at the wall due to her quicker wall touch, a product of her experience. Akebi’s eyes fill with tears, but Minakami stretches across the lanes to give her a hug, overjoyed to have been so seriously challenged. I mean, she was in the nationals, and even going all out Akebi almost beat her. When Akebi mentions the uniform, Minakami puts her hands together in apology: she was just joking about that; rattling Akebi’s cage to ensure she’d give this her all.

Minakami is more pumped up than ever to compete beside Akebi, Ohkuma and Tatsumori. The only problem is, unlike them, she did horribly on her exams, and needs some help. Cashing in her win over Akebi, she asks her to help tutor, but Tatsumori and Tanigawa also help, and Minakami presumably passes her make-ups, meaning she can train with the others for the festival.

It was nice to see Akebi make friends in a different way; with Minakami initially starting out as the closest thing to an antagonist before revealing that she meant well all along and is truly looking forward to swimming with—and being friends with—Akebi. After the credits, her mom finishes the summer uni, and her dad and sister are blown away—as Akebi says, it’s a “whole new level of cuteness”!

But the cutest and most heartmelting moment is saved for the end, when Kao sneaks into Akebi’s room to try on her sailor uniform. When Akebi comes in to tell Kao their bath is ready, she sees Kao, swimming in the huge pullover and looking very blue because she “doesn’t look as cool” as her big sister.

Akebi, once again demonstrating what a good big sis she is, promises Kao that when she’s a little bigger she’ll definitely look cool in a sailor uniform. Until then, she ties her winter bow around Kao like a scarf, so she can look cool right now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must step out into the cold so my completely melted heart can re-solidify!

Komi Can’t Communicate – 08 – Last of the Summer Juusu

Obon has come, so we get to spend some time with Komi’s family, both immediate and extended, talkative and taciturn. Turns out she’s even nervous about what to pray about and so has nothing to say to her ancestors, but she bonds with her middle school-aged cousin, and gets to lay her head in the lap of her granny, who is glad she’s having fun and making friends…but who is this Tadano Hitohito fellah on her phone?!

From there we move on to the next Summer Event: the festival. Najimi has Tadano arrive in a yukata, and he gets to be the first to see Komi in hers, looking tremendous as usual. Komi tries to get some actual words out, but only manages a staccato “Ta-“ until she finally hunkers down and says Tadano looks good too, which is the response to his compliment of her yukata hours ago. Better late than never…and always good to hear Komi speak.

When the two get separated from the rest of the gang, Tadano remarks at how fun it is with everyone. Komi writes with a twig in the dirt how it’s also fun when it’s just the two of them, but Tadano isn’t watching as she writes, so when he prepares to glance over, she wipes it all away. Komi, if you like Tadano, you’re going to have to be very obvious about it, because he’ll never believe it otherwise!

With the end of summer break comes the last dash to get summer homework done. Najimi invites themself over to Tadano’s, and Komi and Yamai also come, which means Tadano’s sister Hitomi gets to meet the two main women in her brother’s world.

She gets the wrong first impression of Komi, but by the time they’re reminicing on all the fun things they did and Komi tearfully presents her notebook saying how she wish it wouldn’t end, she gets it: this is a sweet gal whom her brother would be immensely lucky to snag.

Komi Can’t Communicate – 06 – First Strike

This week Komi’s Got Jokes! Unfortunately, they’re dad jokes, delivered by writing them down on paper. Scurrying away to call Tadano and sheepishly recite such jokes doesn’t improve matters. But what she lacks in comedic ability she makes up for in pure adorability. I’m surprised Tadano couldn’t at least…humor her!

The next segment is Komi’s very first shopping trip with friends, as well as the first time buying her own clothes (something usually left to her mom). Najimi makes it a competition—possibly just so they can see Komi in a cheongsam—but the one who wins with all “10” scores is Tadano, who chooses a simple light summer dress and cute sandals. Despite having never picked out clothes for a girl, he knows what suits Komi best.

Following her new threads, Komi works up the courage to go to the salon to get a haircut. The salon’s newest employee Arai almost  but is understandably in awe of both Komi and her boss Karisu’s beauty. It isn’t until Komi has Arai keep the change as a tip and points at the word “thank you” in a magazine that Arai understands Komi didn’t dislike her at all, but simply doesn’t like chatting at the salon.

Exams are almost here, which means it’s time to hit the library and study. Agari warns Tadano, Najimi, and Komi that if the burly quietude monitor Gorimi-senpai hits any of them with a paper fan three times, they’re ejected from the library. Najimi is obviously the first to be tossed; their third strike coming when the trio’s Jenga tower collapses. Even so, Komi is happy to have played another game and received her “first strike”—as is Tadano.

Finally, with exams out of the way it’s time for summer break. We see Komi bored and desperately wanting to call Tadano to hang out, but just can’t hit the “Call” button, and when she finally works up the courage to do so, quickly panics and hits “End Call” as soon as he answers.

Tadano, by the way, is equally hesitant to call Komi even though he perfectly diagnoses her situation. Fortunately Najimi cleans everything up by arranging for the three to hang out, and both Komi and Tadano are elated to be scoring some summer time together. Maybe she’ll don the outfit he chose for her!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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