More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 05 – Sharing fabric softener

Akari’s crush continues to be supplanted by feelings for the mock husband right in front of her, and throughout the episode she expresses this though lots of teasing and physical contact, starting with a loving wife’s hug before Jirou heads off for school duties. Little does he know that Shiori has arranged to swap duties with her sporty pianist wife Hamano Mei so she can get some quality time with Jirou.

Before the arrangement, Mei is trying to get Shiori to do what needs to be done to get the man she wants—which may yet involve a giant Acme-brand mallet with which to smack him over the head. Shiori says “Jirou doesn’t think of me that way” but Mei knows better; Shiori just needs to make her feelings plain and obvious before Akari snatches him up. Akari’s galfriends only tease her about the prospect of falling for Jirou, but they’re on the right track!

Despite my increasing affinity for Akari and Akari x Jirou, being a sucker for childhood friends I relished the opportunity for Shiori and Jirou to hang out together without interruptions from Akari, Minami, or Sadaharu (who sits this episode out; I don’t mind the guy but appreciated a break from him).

The results are predictable: having class duties together reminds them of when they had them in middle school, and the two settle into that warm, happy nostalgia and familiarity. But when it comes time to leave the safety of the past and try to grasp the future with a solicited kiss, Akari thinks he’s dreaming, while Shiori withdraws at the last moment and must beat the shit out of the erasers in frustration with herself.

Unfortunately, this leaves Jirou with the same impression as the start of the day: that while there are occasional signs here and there, Shiori doesn’t like him “that way”. That leaves him gloomy on the balcony an otherwise dazzlingly starry night, and Akari joins him with mugs of hot milk in a genuinely heartwarming gesture of trying to cheer him up.

That inherent kindness in Akari’s character is at odds with a deep resentment that he’s feeling so down over another girl, which of course reflects how he feels whenever she gets riled up about Minami. Akari decides to press the teasing by insisting he start calling her by her name, and is shocked when he does it immediately, while explaining why he had trouble before.

Akari gets much more than she bargained for here, and has to retreat before Jirou sees her beet-red face and ears. Gathering her patio door curtain around her, she curses these confusing feelings. To this point she’s been in love with the idea of Minami, but that idea is losing ground to the reality of Jirou.

When their teacher announces that practical couples’ scores will be combined and everaged together, Jirou is anxious, as he’s not sure the extent of Akari’s academic prowess. But rather than simply presume she’s a dunce, he asks her about it, and her tone and body language make it clear she’s far from confident about it.

He asks her to cancel her karaoke plans so they can study together, but she says it’s “not so easy” to break said plans because she was invited by other guys, as opposed to her galfriends. To this, Akari says “I’m asking for you too here,” and she relents, but believes he’s only being this “desperate” for Shiori’s sake. Meanwhile, Mei continues to prove that she may just be the most deserving of Shiori’s hand in marriage. If nothing else, she’s trying her best to make Shiori happy and successful in love.

Jirou finds that while Akari picks things up fast, she hates the fundamental idea of studying. Her frustration from the assumption he’s only doing this for him and Shiori leads her to up her teasing and flirting game considerably, cozying up to Jirou and saying he can “do whatever he wants”.

Jirou averts his gaze, and ends up seeing that Akari figured did a challenging math problem correctly. The rest of the study session progresses and their couple score continues to go up. When they’re done, Akari isn’t ready to eat dinner yet, and would rather get Jirou to admit she makes his heart race.

She does this by jumping into his lap, but she grows more frustrated when he tries to ignore her, so she turns around so they’re front-to-front, and tells him he can look at her if he wants. When he still won’t, she grabs him even tighter, and he ends up flipping them over so she’s on her back.

At this point the two are in dangerous territory, and Akari can hear his heart pounding now. It’s here where Jirou starts to let his hormones take over, caressing her cheek. Akari says he can’t once, then twice, but then takes hold of his shoulder to pull him nearer, and closes her eyes to prepare for a kiss …

I knew amorous congress was going to be interrupted by something, be it doorbell, phone, or Sadaharu. This time, it’s Jirou’s nose, which suddenly starts bleeding. Though Jirou thanks his nose profusely for stopping him from doing something he’d regret. Once the bleeding is stemmed by a tissue, the two fold laundry together—the hot-and-heaviness replaced by a picture of domestic bliss.

Akari laughs at Jirou for getting a bloody nose in such a situation, but Jirou in turn asks her what is up with her pestering him so heavily all night. She brings up how she’s frustrated by how desperately he’s trying to prevent Shiori from leaving him behind. He, in turn, tells her he’s not just doing it for him and Shiori, but her and Minami, and further tells her he’s sure she’d reach A-rank with anyone, not just him. He simply hoped that after she’d gained so many points for them, he’d try to contribute by helping with her studies.

Jirou doesn’t know just how happy it makes Akari to hear that, because as far as he’s concerned she doesn’t feel anything serious for him, and her amorous actions have only been to tease him. But Akari is feeling less grateful that he’s doing this for her and Minami when it’s currently the two of them together that makes her heart race for real. She thinks about a future where they switch partners, and their clothes no longer smell like the same fabric softener, and … it’s not necessarily something she wants.

Fuukoi continues to do tremendous character work in the midst of what will always be a silly and contrived premise, and its deft “couch time” animation and Akari’s facial expressions in general continue to impress. There’s still a lot of confusion and awkwardness from all parties, but Shiori is gradually fumbling her way closer to Jirou, while dangerous couch session Akari’s true feelings may be coming into better focus.

Jirou’s self-loathing-fueled obliviousness can’t hold out forever. If it isn’t already, his confidence in Shiori being his one and only will surely start taking the same dents as Akari’s in Minami being hers.

Spy x Family – 18 – No Leash is Power

Anya attends a school, so it’s not all arts and crafts. There are quiz and test scores, and even though Anya was confident she scored well, she ends up with supplemental lessons—and having to see her smug “friendly” face perfectly imitated by the high-scoring Damian. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Anya decides she’ll simply read Damian’s mind to attain a good score on the upcoming midterm exams—for which the highest scores get Stella and the failing ones get Bolts. But there’s a snag: Anya’s telepathy doesn’t work on the New Moon. To it’s credit, SxF doesn’t bother explaining why. What matters is that Anya will have to study for real.

Enter “Uncle” Yuri as a tutor. Yuri is immediately childishly envious of Loid’s “gremlin” of a spawn for getting to live with his dear sister, but when Yor give him her biggest smile, he resolves to tutor Anya gently but firmly. They study all day, and end up exhausted on the floor.

When Yuri asks Anya how she think she did on the grammar lessons and Anya asks what grammar is, his patience is exhausted and he leaves … but not before sampling some of Yor’s freshly-baked treats, which he chomps down on and then joy-vomits in the hall. When Loid comes home, he’s dismayed to learn that the whole time he was there Yuri tutored Anya in language arts, which are not even on the midterms.

This leads to the second segment of the episode, as he takes drastic measure to ensure Anya doesn’t get expelled due to failing grades. The high security North Tower of the school contains a vault where all the students’ exams are stored. Loid disguises as an instructor to infiltrate the vault and alter Anya’s scores.

However, someone had the same idea, and hired “Daybreak”, Twilight’s self-professed Number One Rival. His methods for infiltrating the tower and vault are about as thoughtful, subtle, and discreet as smashing cans of tomato soup with a sledgehammer at a funeral. And yet somehow he avoids the watching eye of guards and makes it inside without getting arrested.

Loid decides to help Daybreak get in so that his loud boorish actions will mask his own infiltration efforts. Once he opens the vault, Daybreak bonks him on the head and drags him in. Because Daybreak had his spy notes written on his hand, he knows he’s there to alter the Desmond brothers’ exams.

Once he’s done, Daybreak launches into a celebratory monologue, and when he prepares to leave an “autograph” among the scores, Loid can no longer pretend to be passed out and protests against Daybreak’s ridiculously un-spy-like behavior. To this, Daybreak simply asks Loid to tell everyone about how awesome he is.

Upon inspecting the exams, Loid sees that Daybreak doctored the Desmonds’ answers so they’d fail, an assumes one of their father’s business rivals hired the buffoon. He reverts the answers to what they were before moving on to Anya’s exam.

When she passes and ends up ranked 213th (compared to 46th for Becky and 11th for Damian), I assumed Loid only altered her scores a little so as no to rouse suspicion. But while it takes all four of her exam scores combined to exceed 100, the fact is she passed all four on her own; Loid didn’t have to alter anything. So no Stella, but no Bolts either. Meanwhile, Daybreak is fired for failing his mission. I wonder if he’ll cross Twilight’s path again …

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 07 – Irido de Bergerac

In one of her many “youthful indiscretions” of her middle school years, we watch Yume twist herself into knots trying and failing to deliver a love letter to Mizuto on the last day before summer break. The more the day dwindles away, the more anxious she gets, and yet she’s unable to muster the courage, which sends her into a spiral of self-loathing.

When she is finally able to present him with the letter, in the seeming eternity it takes for him to read it she’d rather be anyone or anywhere else. But then his answer to whether he’ll be her boyfriend is an cordially enthusiastic yes, all’s right in the world again. In fact, it’s better than ever.

That Yume knows what it’s like to waver and torture oneself before confessing so someone she likes, and Akatsuki probably knows it too, they (or rather mostly Akatsuki) lure Higashira Isana into a program by which they can vicariously experience that feeling once more.

They know Isana likes Mizuto (Akatsuki demonstrates it quite efficiently with a video of him sleeping) but they also soon learn that since she’s never been in love before (something they find nostalgic) she has no idea how to proceed, even if she agrees she’d like to give it a go.

And so Yume and Akatsuki hide behind the stacks in the library while Isana tries to communicate her desire to advance beyond mere friends, only for her efforts to go completely unnoticed by Mizuto. When she tries to get closer, he shifts away, saying he likes his personal space. But when he calls him on his threat to “unleash hell” he tussles her hair, then he gets her to comb it, so she does manage to get closer.

Throughout this process, Yume is understandably a bit worried about this succeeding, because just like Isana has never had feelings for someone before Mizuto, Yume has never experienced having an ex with a new girlfriend, let alone the fact they’re now stepsiblings. While on a nighttime call, Akatsuki says something we don’t hear about why Mizuto would have a girlfriend that invokes a strong reaction from Yume.

The big day of Isana’s after-school confession comes, and Akatsuki and Yume are right there with her hiding out of sight when Mizuto arrives. Isana struggles to get the words out, but he tells her to simply go at her own pace and he’ll connect the dots.

He notably allows her to speak her entire piece rather than cut her short, but when she does say she likes him and wants to be his girlfriend, his rejection is swift and brutal, even if it’s almost as delicate and eloquent as her confession was.

He also uses a lot of words to basically say that he likes someone else, or rather that someone else occupies the one and only slot that exists beside him. As Isana confessed, you could see Yume squirming in her hiding spot, possibly letting things progress so far, but it turns out she needn’t have worried; if there’s any chance dating Isana would make Yume cry, Mizuto won’t allow it.

Yume almost feels bad for him placing someone who isn’t even his girlfriend anymore, and probably never will be again, in such a vaunted position and not entertaining any replacements. But we go back to her phone call with Akatsuki and hear what was said: Mizuto wouldn’t have a girlfriend unless they were someone he truly, deeply wanted by his side.

As we learn, Isana quickly recovers from her heartbreak and she and Mizuto go back to being library buds, which utterly shocks both of her love coaches. But while they don’t get her, a part of them probably also envies her ability to turn the page and move forward. As someone in the same family and home as her ex-boyfriend, that’s a luxury Yume doesn’t have.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

My Stepmom’s Daughter Is My Ex – 06 – Arbitrary with the Friend Bar

Yume was always at the top of her class until one day her position was usurped by Mizuto. She was devastated, and studied without sleep to beat him at the next round of exams—only for it to look like he couldn’t care less when she did. But when they met in the library, she learned that the rivalry wasn’t in her head; that he was only pretending not to care, and he really was watching her. That was when she fell in love with him.

It’s a desperately sweet story, just the latest in a string of them that make one wonder what was really so bad about these two dating (though to be fair we haven’t seen much of the “dark times” that ultimately led to their breakup). In any case, Yume is reminiscing about class rankings because she and Mizuto find themselves locked in a new battle as high schoolers for the top spot. When she sees him taking it easy in the living room, she assumes he’s taking her lightly.

Then the first day of exams passes. With her self-grading she determines she probably got a 96, which is good but still leaves the window open for Mizuto. She sneaks into his room to try to find out how he did, and is so outraged that he left the last few questions blank that she abandons all pretense and angrily confronts him in front of their mom, who has to stop her from striking Mizuto.

Mizuto tells her that yes, he did skip those questions, because as she’s so fond of saying, he doesn’t care what anyone says or thinks, so it’s fine if she has the top spot. Of course, Yume doesn’t want it that way, and storms out of the room in tears. The next two days of exams pass with her trying to focus on her studies and not her jerk of a “little” brother.

When the scores are revealed, Yume finds she’s ranked second below Mizuto, and momentarily has an existential crisis. After all, she’s believed up until now that a key facet of her high school “rebirth” is maintaining that top spot, and anything less would be failure.

But when her friends treat her no differently, and in fact congratulate her for almost beating Mizuto, she realizes that the top spot wasn’t a defining characteristic upon which her entire high school life relied. In short: she’s going to be fine.

Yume assumes that Mizuto beat her to send her that message, and she’s grateful for it, and for his ability to understand her when no one else does. That said, when she races to the library to talk to him, he’s already in a conversation with another girl, one very much like the kind they’d engage in in middle school.

This girl is Higashira Isana, voiced by Tomita Miyu, and she and Mizuto get along like lobster and garlic butter. Even Mizuto is somewhat astounded by just how beautifully the two of them click, completely comfortable being themselves around one another. Isana, who prefers to read barefoot, even asks Mizuto to put her socks on her, and he does it, because what are friends for?!

Foot play aside, Isana is as uncomfortable around others as she is comfortable around Mizuto, as evidenced when the two of them encounter Yume and Akatsuki after school. Isana reverts to a six-year-old hiding behind her dad, but Mizuto, irked by this whole enterprise, heads home without comment.

Yume figures she must be jealous, but considers that wrong now that they’re no longer dating and stepsiblings. So she pretends everything’s fine, and then over-compensates by being friendly, kind, and thoughtful to him at every turn. This, of course, vexes Mizuto to no end.

He brings it up to his new bestie Isana, who suggests that everyone a set of criteria for how they think their life should go, and when that’s threatened, some, like her, get up in arms. When she admits she’s never been one to go with the flow, that triggers in Mizuto the problem: he’s been going with the flow too much around Yume. He needs to be more active and sincere in their interactions.

That said, he doesn’t miss an opportunity to tease Yume by arriving in her room in a fetching vest, drawing near, feeling her pulse, and noting how it’s double the normal heart rate. Yume was just talking about how forgetting about Mizuto made her life easier, only for that house of cards to come crashing down.

Instead of continuing to go along with her “unreasonably calm, sincere, and understanding” attitude, Mizuto asks her what’s up. To her credit, Yume tells the truth: she thinks she feels a little jealous of Isana. When she in turn asks why he was bothered by her not acting snide and sarcastic, he tells her it felt as if what they went through in the past didn’t happen.

Being honest with each other helps Yume and Mizuto make up, and the next time Yume meets Isana, she greets her as if she was Mizuto’s big sister. Isana comes out of her shell a little and shakes her hand, and the air is cleared vis-a-vis Mizuto and Isana, namely that they’re just friends. That said, the more Yume and Akatsuki see them interact, the closer they seem.

At the halfway point of the series, I’m happy about the introduction of Isana. I like her; she’s weird and cool, Tomita gives her a husky lilt that’s a nice contrast to the squeakier girls, and her chemistry with Mizuto is sublime. I’m looking forward to their future interactions.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Couple of Cuckoos – 14 – Thinking About Pi

Nagi agrees to help Erika study for her make-up exams as long as she stays focused, but let’s be honest: even he knew that wasn’t going to be easy. Erika cosplays in a military uniform (and dresses up Sachi too) and plays lip service to this studying “mission” to hold the “territory” of their house, but …she also just might have undiagnosed ADHD.

There’s also the matter of her previous rich girl’s school not being nearly as academically tough as Nagi’s, and even if it’s not Nagi’s fault her father enrolled her there, the fact it was done because they’re engaged lends him a measure of responsibility, so he tries to help her study, but she keeps getting hung up on things like why the symbol for Pi isn’t a cute emoji.

But after more than three hours of not getting through a single problem, Nagi is fed up, and reiterates that he needs to study too in order to beat Hiro. Hearing her brought up is the last straw for Erika, who gives up and skulks off to her room, apparently resigned to move back in with her parents. Nagi, too annoyed by the lack of progress, doesn’t stop her, and Sachi’s attempt at mediation fails.

Later that evening, Nagi realizes that he’s become accustomed to this place, and isn’t in a hurry to leave it, but that’s what will happen if Erika fails the make-ups. That would feel like moving backwards. When he goes downstairs for some coffee he sees Sachi crashing on the couch. She tells him that Erika is still studying, and he should help her.

When he enters her room (without knocking) Erika is sitting at her little desk lamp fighting back tears as she desperately tries to cram, so while Nagi’s sudden appearance is unexpected, it’s not unwelcome. When she asks why he’s helping her when he’s fine with her going home, he says her problems are his problems, because she’s his fiancée.

While Erika continues to prove a tough toutee, Nagi pulls two straight all-nighters with her, and he’s there in the classroom when she receives the result of their hard work and perseverance: her grade improved, and her dad calls off the summons. Erika and Nagi share both revel in their victory with wide smiles. Her text to her dad with the news, complete with eyelid-pull emoji, actually makes him happy.

As a reward for passing, Sachi invites Erika to the festival being held at the shopping district where the Uminos’ diner is. She’s late getting ready, and the folks wander off to mingle, so the family yakisoba stand is run by Nagi and Sachi. You can tell when Nagi catches her after she trips on her laces that Sachi is happy for some quality Onii time.

However, things get awkward with them again when Hiro shows up. Nagi introduces her, she remembers the text on Nagi’s phone about going on a date, and reacts coldly, turning her head and ignoring Nagi when he says she’s being rude. She’s also offended when Nagi so quickly agrees to walk around with Hiro later.

She assumed that Nagi would hang out with her and Erika, especially since this is in part a celebration of Erika passing her exams. It’s kind of cold and oblivious of Nagi too, considering Erika told him to think of Sachi as less of a little sister, and I thought it got through to him. Apparently not!

Naturally, before Nagi is done cleaning up the stand after they sell out of food, Erika arrives resplendent in a yukata lends one to Sachi, and the two head out without him and bump into Hiro, because of course they do! Not only that, Erika introduces Sachi as her sister, when Hiro had already heard that she was Hiro’s.

It’s weird to think that Hiro has never officially met Sachi, but then again she isn’t aware that Erika and Nagi (and Sachi) live in the same house, nor did she even know Nagi’s home was a diner. She and Nagi have been through a lot, but there’s still a lot she doesn’t know about him and Erika, and it looks like she’s going to learn more very soon.

Whether that new knowledge will change how she feels about Nagi “changing her fate”, or makes her feel betrayed and hurt, only time will tell. But I for one believe she’s been in the dark too long as Nagi’s “side girl”. It’s time for things to come to light and let the cards fall where they may.

A Couple of Cuckoos – 13 – It’s a New Morning

After Nagi’s realization sparked by dad that he harbors feelings for all three of Hiro, Erika, and Sachi, he realizes something else: he cannot think about anything else. This realization, combined with the reality that he hasn’t been studying nearly as much as he used to, comes crashing down on him in the middle of midterm exams. He ends up bombing, falling from first to thirteenth.

Nagi shambles home and holes up in his dark room, feeling like trash, since he believes his primary value to be studying and acing tests. Under the pretext of complaining about dinner not being ready (complete with growling stomach), Erika enters his room to tell him that’s simply not the case, and no matter his rank, he’s “just as valuable” to her.

It’s an extremely cute and bold move from Erika coming off her “not yet” amendment, and Nagi can’t help but smile when he realizes she’s both trying and succeeding to cheer him up.

Hiro is a slightly different story. Back at school, she starts blatantly avoiding him, but then leaves one of her signature not-love letters in his shoe locker. Erika suggests that Hiro feels betrayed because Nagi was on his high horse about beating her once only to fall so far on the next exam. But as we learn when Nagi meets Hiro at the beautifully lit basketball court after school, that’s only half of Hiro’s story.

After Nagi apologizes for letting his guard down and commits to doing better, Hiro passes him the rock, giving a playful rhythm to their make-up talk. But it wasn’t just her respect for him as an academic rival that made her upset; it was learning how quickly he cheered up without any input from her. She wanted to be the one to cheer him up first but Erika beat her to the punch.

Watching Hiro make a layup in dazzling slow motion, it occurs to Nagi that while things are a lot more complicated with regard to his romantic life, he still loves Hiro aplenty, and still wants to beat her enough times at exams so he can “change her fate” she’ll process his confession. But as we saw during times when he and Erika were having what amounted to lovers quarrels in earshot of both Hiro and Sachi, everyone coming out of this happy and satisfied is a tall ask.

I’m not surprised Nagi wants to try his best to simplify and work on things he knows he can by getting back to his intense studying regimen and climbing back to the top of the rankings. Even then, Erika makes it known she needs his help studying, or her folks will bring her back home.

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

%d bloggers like this: