BokuBen – 03 – Acts of Defiance

In direct and efficient 78-second cold open, Yuiga’s mission is suddenly made tougher: Furuhashi and Ogata must receive an average score or higher on the upcoming midterms. Both the headmaster and their former tutor (pink hair) believe its in the best general interest to steer the girls towards the fields of study in which they excel, believing their desire to study elsewhere frivolous.

The ex-tutor even considers it negligent not to press more strongly for the girls to get in their lane. The adults aren’t factoring Furuhashi or Ogata’s dreams or happiness into the equation. But Yuiga has been here before himself, and so he’s uniquely equipped to empathize with and fully support them in their bold endeavor to forge their own paths based on their passions, not their natural gifts.

Of course, only Furuhashi and Ogata overhear the headmaster and tutor, and now feel the pressure to succeed lest another tutor—and their favorite by far—be relieved of his duties (though I can’t imagine that would have stopped him from tutoring them anyway). Takemoto wonders why they look so down; she can sense the sudden heightened pressure now on their shoulders, and Ogata’s commitment to get results.

Now that all parties (save Takemoto) are aware of the raised bar for those results, Ogata, whose Japanese midterms come first, asks Yuiga to come to her house to supervise her studying. The fact she’s so comfortable not only inviting him, but also interacting with him at her family’s udon restaurant, speaks to the evolution of their relationship from adversarial and suspicious to something far more like a real friendship.

Meanwhile Yuiga isn’t just doing this so he’ll get a free ride; he has a philosophical horse in this race, plus he just likes these girls and wants to help if he can…not to mention Ogata looks fantastic in her restaurant outfit. He doesn’t know he’ll be fired if they fail, so Ogata simply asks the rhetorical question of what will happen if she fails. His answer—they’ll just keep studying for the next test—is comforting…as is his patting of her head.

When the day of the test comes, Ogata is immediately fearful when she sees parts of the test are areas she didn’t study as thoroughly, but resolves to do her best, and lo and behold, she scores an above-class-average 71, to her own bewilderment and Yuiga and Takemoto’s delight. Ogata refrains from mentioning out loud that a little bit of dumb luck factored into that score, but that’s just another reason to keep at it.

That means it’s up to Furuhashi. Only problem is, she has a cough and a high fever. Yuiga suggests she delay and take the make-up test; she declines, as it would mean an automatic 20% deduction in score (which hardly seems fair). To prepare, she invites Yuiga and Takemoto to her house…which turns out to be huge, with a genkan with more square footage than Yuiga’s living room.

Being unaccustomed to visiting female classmates at home, Yuiga takes Furuhashi’s “just come on in” too literally and walks in when she’s topless. Yuiga realizes the error of his ways and stays out until needed.

Just like he saw Ogata in a new light at her home, Yuiga learns something new about his old pal Takemoto: she’s a superb cook. When he likens her appearance to that a new wife, Takemoto’s imagination conjures a scene of domestic bliss between her and a salaryman Yuiga.

Turns out Takemoto was right: some hot food and rest were just what Furuhashi needed, and she feels ready for the midterms. Like Ogata, she voices her hope that he’ll keep tutoring her, and that she trusts she’ll reach her dreams if she sticks with him. Yuiga is flattered, but urges Furuhashi, whos pajamas a a little see-through, return to bed.

Furuhashi manages a score higher than average as well, impressing the headmaster and further irking the former tutor. Yuiga and the three girls celebrate at a family restaurant. Yuiga may not know that his tutoring job and VIP consideration was just saved.

With Ogata and Furuhashi out of the woods, the second half of the episode focuses on Takemoto Uruka, and IMO reinforces her standing as Best Girl. Her swim club friends, impatient with her pureness and lack of progress in nabbing Yuiga, take matters into their own hands by taking her to a hip clothier and dressing her up all adorable-like; a way in which she can’t help but feel extremely self-conscious.

In this suddenly out-of-sorts state achieved by her caring friends, Takemoto has no idea how she’d act around Yuiga, but immediately gets her chance as the two cross paths in town. Since she’s right next to the bookstore, she tells him she’s going to buy some textbooks; he decides to join her, while failing to remark on her very different and extremely cute new look.

While initially weary, Takemoto soon finds comfort and joy in being so close to Yuiga; feeling the warmth of his shoulder and feeling his breath in her ear as he talks. A little boy points at them and declares them a couple, and when a kid does that you know you look like one.

Outside the store, they come across a store selling an accessory Yuiga’s sister wants; but the competition to win it is couples-only. Sensing another opportunity, Takemoto seizes Yuiga by the arm and leads the way.

The competition turns out to be a “princess carry” endurance contest, and Takemoto is worried she’s too heavy because she’s recently gained a lot of muscle in swim club. She soon tears up about the prospect of being too heavy for Yuiga, but he interprets those tears as abject embarrassment over having to be held by him, and he commits himself to winning the contest, which they do.

Takemoto is happy beyond words. Her friends dressed her up cute so she’d more easily “attack” Yuiga, but the fact is she’s always wanted to be a princess; people have just noted her athleticism and placed her in the “tomboy” mold, and inertia has kept her there.

It was immensely fun to watch Takemoto’s girly side openly expressed. She was the third of three girls this week defiantly moving against the grain set for them by others, and her resulting glee really emanated through the screen. She may not have confessed—and perhaps never will!—but spending a day as a couple was at least something, and seemingly enough for her for now.

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BokuBen – 02 – The Third Tutee

When Yuiga reports the girls’ slow but steady progress to the headmaster, he gets a surprise: the assignment of another troubled student. This time, it’s someone he knows, and who has mooched homework and notes from him since middle school: the “Shimmering Ebony Mermaid Princess”, Takemoto Uruka.

While Furuhashi is a poet and Ogata is a scientist, Takemoto is a straight-up jock; going so full-on with swimming that she doesn’t even have time for studying. But as Yuiga informs her by the pool, colleges want more well-rounded enrollees, which means she’s going to have to study.

Takemoto reacts by physically running away, and while giving chase Yuiga falls in the pool and can’t swim. Takemoto rescues him, but he then captures her, and the first time Furuhashi and Ogata see the two together, it looks awfully like he’s assaulting her! Thankfully the misunderstanding is cleared up and the three become fast friends (or at least, Furuhashi and Takemoto do).

There’s another wrinkle to this beyond Yuiga adding to his stable of talented beauties: Takemoto likes him. She’s had feelings ever since she fortuitously overheard him say how he wouldn’t just give his homework and notes to anyone, and admires how much she sacrificed to be the best swimmer she could, and wants to help her if he can. Again, Yuiga is a nice guy, even when he thinks nobody’s watching.

He’s such a nice guy, he allows Ogata to come by his house (while his family is out) with the blatant bribe of her family’s udon (of which they’re quite proud) in exchange for help on an essay her teacher has rejected numerous times. The tutoring is interrupted by a invite to karaoke by Takemoto, but when Ogata mentions she’s at Yuiga, the ground shakes and suddenly Takemoto is there in a flash (she is a jock, after all!)

While she’s not overt about it, Takemoto probably isn’t so high on the idea of another girl spending time alone at Yuiga’s, so she invites herself to join the tutoring session. Only they get almost nowhere when the power goes out.

Ogata uncharacteristically clings to Yuiga, clearly afraid of the dark despite unconvincing claims to the contrary; Takemoto wants in on the fun too and so pretends to be afraid so she can cling to him too…only is too bashful and merely grabs some fabric.

Yuiga comforts the girls by crafting a makeshift candle that he studies by during the frequent blackouts his house experiences (another reminder of his family’s modest means). He reflects on how the lack of electricity brings people closer together, both physically and emotionally.

When Takemoto accidentally blows it out, he fumbles around in the pitch black; not a great idea when there’s two girls in close proximity. When the lights are back on both of them are scandalized and Ogata flees in a huff, but later we learn she managed to write an essay her teacher accepted, all thanks to Yuiga’s reflections on darkness and closeness.

A pink-haired teacher who will no doubt join Yuiga’s group at some point seems almost jealous of the progress he’s making with the girls no one else could successfully tutor. That brings us back to Takemoto, who cannot for the life of her memorize the meanings of any English words. She’s got swimming on the brain, at all times.

After hours of futile family restaurant studying, Yuiga gets creative: if she wants to swim, he’ll let her. With Furuhashi and Ogata’s help, he designs a studying method uniquely suited to Takemoto’s stengths, diving underwater to grab the correct meaning of 50 out of 50 English words, all because she can truly focus when she’s in the water. Perhaps she is a mermaid who one day grew legs…

Takemoto decides to thank Yuiga properly by presenting him with a gift in a bag that’s of a very similar color to Tiffany & Co., out of gratitude both for his tutoring and all the other assistance he’s rendered over the years, and as a token of her unspoken feelings for him. I personally maintain they’d make a good couple, but she’s gotta speak up and he’s gotta be made aware!

There’s also the little matter of her giving him the wrong Tiffany-colored bag, so instead of a new pencil case, he got her used swimsuit, something for which he can only scratch his head and ask why; while at home with his intended gift, her plan totally undermined, all Takemoto can do is writhe furiously on the bed, asking for someone to please kill her now…

Takemoto is a welcome addition to the cast. I have a soft spot for childhood friend-characters, especially energetic athletic types (regardless of their success in winning the guy/girl) and her feelings for him are both clear and justified, even if her refusal to ever act on them is frustrating. The easy, caring way Yuiga interacts with them makes it easy to understand why both she and others are fond of the guy. Takemoto is also, frankly, freaking adorable.

I also appreciated that the show kept Furuhashi out of Yuiga’s home study session in order to give the other two girls’ interactions room to breathe; no doubt she’ll get more attention, and Ogata or Takemoto less, in a future episode. And then there’s still two more girls yet to get their official intros, including the pink-haired teacher. Along with One Punch Man 2 and Carole & Tuesday, I think I’ve got my Top 3 Spring shows locked in!

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 02 – Kijima Wants to Study

“I have no time to concern myself with sexual desires,” Ao thinks to herself, but her curiosity about those desires, along with her ill-fated attempts to suppress them, only puts them even more at the forefront. Matters aren’t helped by class chatter about Kijima being big…down there, to the point where it’s not comfortable for a woman.

Ao goes to the vaunted authority on such things, her dad, who gives her the brass tacks about long shafts, so to speak. She’s understandably mortified about such a scenario, but decides to “confirm” whether Kijima is really that big before outright rejecting him. Considering how well her first knee-jerk rejection worked out, it’s unsurprising that her clumsy attempt to “touch” Kijima while he’s sleeping leads to her hands in his (and they are big hands).

He tells her didn’t confess on a whim, but because he wanted to give it his all and do things properly. And so far, he’s been nothing but a gentleman, despite Ao’s weird thoughts. He admits there’ll be times when he too will be uneasy about certain things if they go down that road, but that doesn’t make that road any less worth travelling.

Despite herself, Ao is touched (emotionally, dammit!), and returns to her dad for further advice. He understands how it must be tough to talk to him, but he wants to help, and so gives her a novel to read that also serves as a kind of “training manual.” Naturally the cover looks just like the cover of Kijima’s studying notes, and when the two come together in class the books get switched.

When Ao learns of the switch and reads Kijima’s apparent reactions to it, she gets extremely anxious, especially when he suggests they “do it” outside in the park, suggesting he’s into “public play.” Of course, Kijima hasn’t read the contents of Ao’s book, and so by “doing it” he’s only talking about studying together.

Bottom line, Ao’s belief that Kijima is some kind of crazed sexual animal is gradually eroding, and only her own dirty thoughts, obviously influenced by her illustrious father, only make things worse for her. This was a better episode than the first, but it’s still pretty inessential.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 01 (First Impressions) – Please Value Yourself More!

In this half-length rom-com, Love isn’t War, but it is an unknown concept to Horie Ao. She hates men, whom she views as rabid demon animals who will fill any hole, and needs neither friends nor her youth. She just wants to study hard enough to go to a university far away from home.

Why is she so uptight about guys and desperate to escape her family? Her (tiny!) father is renowned as the “Pleasure Master,” famous author of erotic fiction, and her home is known as the “House of Lewd”. I kinda feel bad for anyone who has to serve her dad pudding shaped and colored like a boob.

Ao’s classmate male Kijima keeps approaching her to talk, and seems friendly, but she suspects he’s just like the others, a rabid animal hiding their true slobbering face. But when she resolves to tell him she hates him and wants him to stop talking to her, she finds out that things aren’t so simple.

This results in a ridiculous scenario in which she is asked to deliver his uniform to the nurse’s office, and her dad somehow teleports in and lifts up her shirt with a fishing pole, which is pretty dumb! And since Dad’s so small Kijima doesn’t notice (?) and thinks Ao is throwing herself at him. He covers her up, telling her to value herself more, then confesses that he’s in love with her, leaving Ao stunned and with no idea how to begin to respond.

Ao’s dad may be a lecherous little creep, but she needs to learn that not every member of the opposite sex is quite that bad, and there is already evidence Kijima is nothing like the sex-crazed animal she imagined. Perhaps interacting with him on a more consistent basis is the first step towards a healthier approach to social interaction.

This isn’t nearly as sharp or sophisticated as Love is War, or as diverse and manic as Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro, or as weird and touching as Hinamatsuri or as warm and cozy as WotaKoi. In my advancing years I’ve apparently developed more stringent standards for my comedy and rom-coms. ACS isn’t exceptional in any way, and will have to work awfully hard to keep me interested, even as a guilty pleasure. At least it’s short.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 24 (Fin) – Better Late Than Never

The last two weeks of 3D Kanojo: Real Girl have been odd and honestly a little frustrating. First of all, with Iroha facing a potentially life-and/or-memory-threatening medical operation, Iroha and Hikari basically break up, saying their final goodbyes.

The question I had at the end was, why? Why is Iorha cutting Hikari loose now? Certainly not to spare him the pain of losing her! And why is Hikari okay with this, and not insisting on staying by her side so she doesn’t have to face this trial alone? Then, last week, without providing a satisfying answer to that question, the show simply moves on with a HUGE leap in time, after which we learn Iroha survived the operation, but her memories didn’t.

That’s all well and good, but when they broke up, neither Iroha nor Hikari knew with 100% certainty that this would be the case. Iroha could have emerged from the operation with her memories intact, allowing them to remain the loving couple they clearly wanted to be. More troubling is the possibility that even though she lost her memories post-op, she might be more likely to regain them with her lover present (another reason I questioned them breaking up when they did).

Alas, none of that happened. And that was a little strange! But hey, sometimes things don’t work out the way you expect. I’m sure Hikari is well versed in this concept early in the episode, as he ponders whether it’s time to finally forget about Iroha. Who would have thought that Iroha’s brother Chika of all people would be the one to actually make the right choice at the right time?

If he wanted, Iroha would move back to L.A. and live with him. He obviously adores her. But his love is not the kind that would deprive her of that which she needed most, just for his own benefit. So after six months of being a total dick to Hikari in high school, he pulls a 180 (seven years later, for some reason) and tells Iroha why she feels there’s a big hole in her heart she’s unable to fill: there’s a guy out there who knows and understands her better than he.

So Chika arranges for Hikari and Iroha to meet—something that should have happened ages ago, mind you—and Hikari is his usual self-flagellating self. While he’s happy beyond belief that she’s alive, he stops short of giving his name. He’s prepared to let her go all over again, content that she survived. But then Iroha sees the strap on his bag that matches hers, and she suddenly remembers Tsutsun.

Hikari was ready to let her go because he feels he didn’t deserve to have her remember him (always nailing himself to the cross, Hikari). There’s definitely a case to be made for why he didn’t fight harder to stay by her side…or even suggest it for that matter, but one can chalk that up to Hikari being a romantic naif. But that hopelessly kind side of him is what finally causes Iroha’s memories of him to surface.

Fast-forward to Takanashi and a very pregnant Ishino’s wedding, where we’re introduced to 25-year-old Itou (who’s not that different), but no Ayado (it’s as if she was written off the show!), and during which Hikari of all people accidentally catches the bouquet. That’s right about when Ishino discovers one of her wedding guests is none other than Iroha.

It goes without saying that she, Takanashi, and Itou are beyond elated to see her, and simply by reuniting with them, Iroha is able to remember bits and pieces of her old friends (which, again, if only she’d done this years ago her memories would already be back!)

At the reception, we finally learn that Ayado married someone else, and simply couldn’t make it to the wedding. After the reception, Hikari tells Iroha they should get together again sometime, even if she’s going back to L.A. That’s when Iroha tells him she’s remembered more—a lot more—about the person she was, and how she was once terrible.

At first, dating him was only about curiosity than actually caring about him, but that soon changed when she got to know him, and being with him changed her as well, for the better. She now remembers those six months with him were the happiest of her life. Hikari feels the same way, and if he ever found out she was alive again, he’d always hoped she’d fall in love with him again.

Hikari doesn’t want her to go back to Los Angeles after all, and so does something he should have done seven frikkin’ years ago, and what he needs to to do stay by her side: he tells her not to go back. As Iroha feels the same way, she wholeheartedly agrees.

Fast-forward to another wedding, this time, that of Iroha and Hikari. Ayado is there—with long hair! Everyone’s doing the opposite length of what they had in high school, apparently—and not only that, she’s recently divorced! Itou, in his eternal awkwardness, sees this as an immediate opportunity to ask her out to dinner!

Thankfully poor Ayado is spared having to respond when the bride and groom appear. Hikari’s family is there, and even Kaoru is blushing a bit while their folks are crying tears of joy, and Chika is there too, good sport that he is—heck, Hikari and Iroha owe their joyful reunion entirely to him not being a total dick for once.

I still shrug at the point of the seven-year gap, which in hindsight seemed only to inflate the drama of the lovers’ inevitable reunion, but it happened so fast it didn’t quite land. Also in hindsight, I appreciated the ambition that went into such a development.

Let’s say Hikari and Iroha didn’t break up, and Hikari stayed by her side throughout the operation and immediate recovery. I posit there’d still be plenty of drama to be mined from the period immediately following the surgery when Hikari would have to wait and see not only if Iroha would live, but would return to being the Iroha he knew and loved. That would have been a smaller-scale denouement, but still effective.

Still, had it stayed in their high-school years we wouldn’t have witnessed their wedding, or that of Ishino and Takanashi, or their little one, or see Itou ask the recently-divorced Ayado out on a date at a wedding! So I’m content to say MEDETASHI MEDETASHI.

 

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 23 – No Way But Forward

Hikari is, understandably, a wreck post-Goodbye to Iroha. He is indeed such a wreck that he stops caring about school—or anything else, for that matter—all together. Adding insult to injury is the fact everyone thinks Iroha simply dumped him before splitting town.

After a blow-up with Takanashi, Itou meets Hikari on the roof and gets the scoop—it’s not like Iroha swore him to secrecy about it. One by one his friends and family learn about Iroha’s illness, and can then not only sympathize with him far more, but curse themselves for initially being too hard on him.

The last person to hear the truth is Hikari’s mother, who immediately delivers a swift dropkick to her firstborn. However much pain he’s in, Iroha’s in more, and his mom thinks she’d be even more sad if she knew what became of him.

Hikari fully agrees, and starts to shape up. He returns to school and studies night and day, much to the relief of his friends. When he learns he got into Tokyo U, he shows no emotion, leading the others to think he didn’t get in, and are there to support him. Turns out he did get in, but he hasn’t a clue where to go from here. Hearkening back to his last night with Iroha, Hikari remembers the final promise Iroha asks of him: “forget me.”

It’s a promise he hasn’t been able to keep, and more to the point doesn’t want to. But Iroha at the time is certain that someone as blessed as Hikari has been—with a loving family and dear friends—he’ll make so many happy new memories in the future, they’ll hardly be any for…his first love? Uhhhh…that’s wishful thinking right there, Iro-han! Still, there’s only one way, and it’s forward.

Fast-forward—seven frikkin’ years!—and Hikari is now 25 and a salaryman at a trading company on the rise. A number of female co-workers admire his combination of work ethic and humility and seem interested in him, but he always seems to dash off after work.

On this particular night, it’s to catch an anime, but not just any anime: one in which Itou did the mechanical design! He then gets a call from Takanashi inviting him out to drinks with “Arisa” and Itou in his usual Takanashi way that brooks no argument. Turns out there’s a good reason for that: Arisa and he announce that she’s going to have a baby.

Hikari, clearly far more comfortable in his 25-year-old skin, confidently picks up the check when he has to leave to fix a problem at work. His friends are impressed by how far he’s come; Takanashi even goes so far as to call him amazing!

And he has, especially when you consider the pain he carries from losing his first and only love. Ezomichi pays him the first visit in ages, but despite the pain in his heart—which he carries gladly rather than face an alternate past where he never met Iroha at all—there’s really no need for her to counsel him, and she vanishes—possibly to wherever poor Ayado ended up…the show has cut her out of the circle of friends! T_T

Someone who vanished seven years earlier, on the other hand, makes a semi-triumphant return to Japan, alive and well, which is wonderful to see. Unfortunately, in exchange for her life, she’s seemingly lost all of her memories, and can’t recall anything about the family home, neighborhood, or school.

Her brother chooses this place to profess his love for, and to promise he’ll be by her side no matter where she chooses to live out her re-charged life. Not picking up on anything worth staying for, Iroha says she’s fine returning to L.A. which for seven years has been far more of a home to her.

So, is that it? Are Hikari and Iroha going in different directions, never to cross paths again? Or will a chance encounter with him be the one thing that can rouse her memories, kinda like Your Name.?

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 08 – Study Long, Study Wrong

Three stories this week! Story the First: Kaguya encounters a cute visitor who she remembers is really Miyuki’s little sister Kei, StuCo treasurer of the middle school division. Kaguya gets it into her head (deep, deep into her head) that if she suceeds in nurturing a close friendship with Kei, she’ll look at her as a sister, giving her the familial love she craves and bringing her closer to Miyuki.

Heartbreak strikes when it turns out Chika (whose imouto is in Kei’s class) is a shitload closer to Kei than Kaguya could ever imagine. But the true twist is that the end, when we learn Kei is actually infatuated with Kaguya, and laments to her oblivious bro that she wasn’t able to close the distance between them. Thus Kei loses.

Story the Second:  With final exams approaching, both Miyuki and Kaguya engage in elaborate games of lies and deception, both of them absolutely determined to claim the top student ranking with their grades. They manage to convince Chika that she doesn’t need to study to do well, but neither of them particularly care one way or another about Chika’s fate, only their own.

When the scores and rankings are posted, Miyuki has prevailed once again, with Kaguya finishing a close second. Internally, Kaguya wants to roll around in the pool of blood that threatens to shoot out of her eyes, but she keeps her composure and congratulates the President, noting that he must be pleased.

At the same time, Miyuki claims that he can’t feel any joy over such a close and hard-fought victory, only relief…but when he retires to the men’s room it’s a different story, as he’s so overjoyed he starts shadowboxing for no reason…as one does. Winner: Miyuki.

Story the Third takes place a week before the finals. Kaguya is aware that the next exam Yuu fails will force him to repeat the grade, a black mark against the honor of the StuCo she as its veep cannot allow. To that end, she grabs his hand and spirits him away to a dark supply closet where she commits to making sure he studies enough not to fail, on her honor as a Shinomiya.

Yuu is initially as terrified of Kaguya as usual—she makes him do the two things he fears most, after all: studying, and eating tiny dried sardines—but when two classmates spot the two in the library and look primed to spread weird rumors, Kaguya stands up for Yuu, telling them she doesn’t judge people by what others say, only by her personal experiences with those people.

Yuu ends up passing, and rising a number of spots in the rankings (up from second to last), but Kaguya is still furious that he only barely passed after all the hard work she put in. Miyuki drops his guard in assuring Yuu that while Kaguya may seem cold-hearted, she is someone who can always be relied upon to follow through. For his unsolicited flattery of his opponent in the War of Love, Miyuki loses the round.

Bloom Into You – 06 – Flawless Performance

With midterms over, the council is full speed ahead on the cultural festival stage play…although they don’t yet have a scriptwriter. Yuu thinks she knows the perfect one in Koyomi, whose novel was so interesting she read it twice before handing it back with her endorsement.

But Yuu still isn’t 100% in on even having a play, and if circumstances such as having no scriptwriter means there won’t be one, well…better that than having to worry about Touko working too hard.

This is the week Sayaka’s silk gloves come off, as she takes every opportunity to lay into Yuu on stepping the fuck off her turf. Sayaka knows the “real” Touko just as Yuu does, and deems herself the one, only, and best person to look after her.

She also gives Yuu a clue to start digging into why she’s adopted the “perfect” girl persona so far from who she really is. Her sleuthing leads her to learning that seven years ago Touko’s sister Mio was StuCo President, but before the stage play she was killed by a traffic accident.

It’s pretty clear to Yuu now why Touko is so gung-ho about the play, and about continuing to put on a “flawless performance:” since she was ten and badgered by everyone around her to do so, she’s always been committed to being just like her sister. Someone beloved, praised, and relied upon. Even if it’s all an act, she’s not going to stop…not even for Yuu.

What Yuu leaves unsaid when she confronts Touko with what she knows and asks if she’d reconsider not doing the play is that she’s coming close to falling in love with Touko. Not “Perfect” Touko, but “Weak” Touko, who you could also call “Real Touko.”

Yuu wants Touko to be who Yuu deems to be “her true self,” but it’s ultimately not her call, and she knows that. But it pains her to wonder who she’ll ever love if she can’t ever fall for the Touko she’s been dealt; one who detests the very idea of giving up on being like Mio to everyone else.

As her self-proclaimed guardian, Sayaka seems to be fine with the status quo, and doesn’t want Yuu mucking it up. But when Yuu holds back what she should say in order to maintain her comfortable limbo with Touko, it seems like a seed that could grow into something unpleasant.

Add to that the post-credit sequence, which repeats Yuu and Touko’s evening walk while holding hands but switches from Yuu’s to Touko’s head. In Yuu’s head, we can hear her desire to change…specifically into someone who can fall in love with Touko.

But here’s Touko telling her to never change. Why’s that? Touko believes words like love to be “shackles”, and that if Yuu changes she might become someone Touko won’t love anymore, leaving her alone again (clearly, Sayaka doesn’t do much for her).

It’s a reasonable position for a little sister who was essentially treated as a spare by her family and utterly lost in the dazzling glare of her big sister, only for that light to suddenly go out. Touko filled the vacuum by transforming. It wasn’t just obligation; it was fear of loneliness.

Bloom Into You – 05 – Nice to Be Chosen; Nicer to Choose

Yuu likes working at her family’s bookstore, because it lends her some insight into her friends via the kid of literature they purchase. She’s primed to excoriate Touko when she shows up during her shift to buy a raunchy yuri novel, but it turns out she doesn’t know the story takes such a turn until later, and then she’s contrite.

I was mistaken about what Koyomi was working on; it wasn’t a love letter, but a novel, something she took on and didn’t let things like fatigue or looming midterms to keep her from finishing it. She lends it to Yuu to read, but Yuu is focused on midterms first and foremost. She’s also constantly telling herself that Maki is wrong. He must be.

He may claim to see affection for Touko in Yuu’s behavior, but she’d insist she’d worry about anyone she deemed fragile and in need of someone for support—even if it wasn’t Touko. She’d be “happy with anyone,” to which I say, isn’t she assuming a lot, not tomention missing the forest for the trees?

When Maki slickly declines studying with Yuu in the library the moment Touko comes up from behind her, Yuu ends up in a series of study sessions with a senpai with a crush on her, and that crush is only intensifying. The first time, Yuu isn’t sure how to repay Touko for tutoring her, but Touko simply says she did it because she wanted to, and Yuu will “just have get used to it”.

Again, Yuu insists to herself (and us) that she’d be happy studying with anyone; that she didn’t choose Touko. Still, she admits she doesn’t hate being chosen. There’s anyone, and there’s the person in front of you. Yuu may say she’d be fine with anyone, but the fact remains, she’s fine with Touko, and so not opposed at all to “getting used” to being around her.

To that end, when the library is completely full, it is Yuu who invites Touko to her place to study, not t’other way round. Indeed, of the two of them only Yuu is clear-headed (and bold) enough to suggest they continue their studying in private.

This is not, then, a matter of will, only intensity for Yuu. Touko is desperately and adorably nervous alone in Yuu’s room as she prepares tea. She’s delighted to meet Yuu’s mom, older sister Rei, and Rei’s boyfriend (who “jokes” that Touko might be Yuu’s girlfriend). She’s elated to learn more about Yuu, who talks about herself so infrequently at school.

It isn’t until Touko’s longing eyes meet Yuu’s that Yuu asks her if anything’s wrong or if she’s not feeling well or too hot. Reading Touko’s blushing face finally clues Yuu in on what’s going on, and she confirms it by taking Touko’s hand and reading her very quick pulse. Touko is taken aback by Yuu’s boldness, but that boldness is tempered by the fact she’s not acting out of lust, but pure logic.

And that logic is the barrier Yuu must cross. If she “waits for her heart” to tell her she likes Touko, she’ll be waiting forever. She has to move beyond the probability that someone, anyone else could make her happy when there’s already someone right there, and their being there isn’t just a matter of coincidence or convenience. Yuu is overthinking and over-analyzing things. She was alone. Now she’s not. Go with that.

Meanwhile, as she’s leaving Yuu’s house, Touko is a completely, helplessly open book to Rei and boyfriend. Touko is bashful when Rei tells her to “take care” of Yuu; and Touko is way too eager to learn the recipe for the cheesecake Yuu likes so much. That’s why, in addition to the recipe, Rei sends Touko a photo of Yuu sleeping on the floor.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 07

Nishikata may not be able to fully appreciate it because of all the stress he assigns to his interactions with Takagi, but he’s having the best summer vacation of his life. And he’s simply not being honest with himself if he privately enjoys manga like 100% Unrequited Love but can’t see the requited love right in front of his face. When Takagi leaves her mom’s side at the mall to buy a bathing suit, her first thought is what kind would Nishikata like?

She doesn’t have to see Nishikata buy the latest volume of 100%, since he’s already established he’s a fan of it. She plows through all of his lame obfuscating and happily takes the bet that what she believes he bought is what he actually bought. Not sure what he was going for with his futile bluff; he should know by now he simply can’t fool Takagi. He’s “punished” by being “forced” to pick out a swimsuit with her.

Now I get it; Nishikata’s right in that awkward phase between thinking girls have cooties and actually liking them. Those conflicting feelings are constantly swirling chaotically, while Takagi is an island of tranquility. He can’t hide his embarrassment at the situation, but she lets him call it “being hot”—as long as he helps her pick out a bathing suit she looks good in.

Nishikata is simultaneously thrilled at the prospect that Takagi is a mere few feet away from him removing her clothes, but also terrified of being seen, worried about what his classmates might think. Well, two of his classmates actually do appear, but they’re a couple, and they’re there for the exact same reason he and Takagi are there.

Finally, Takagi takes advantage of Nishikata’s automatic “yeahs” in response to the suits she shows him by slipping in a swimming date proposal, knowing once he says “yeah”, he won’t go back on that “yeah,” because going swimming with her is hardly the end of the world.

After the girl trio heads to the beach, we’re back with Nishikata and Takagi, and the latter proposes they do some of their summer homework together. The most logical place to do it turns out to be Nishikata’s house, and suddenly, like some kind of surreal dream, Takagi is in his house, in his room, and doing homework on his bed.

While watching the lovely Takagi right beside him writing lovely kanji, Nishikata makes a mistake in his book and reaches for the eraser…at the same time she does. Their hands touch and linger.

He’s reminded of an identical scene in 100% where the guy doesn’t let go and draws the girl in for a kiss…but he’s currently incapable of doing such a thing, preferring to live through the guy vicariously…despite the fact he’s far more similar to the girl in that manga than the guy!

In any case, while Takagi’s visit is stressful as all interactions with her are, he doesn’t not enjoy himself, and when she leaves for the day, saying she’ll be back soon, he decides it’s only proper to clean his room for that future occasion. Maybe, just maybe, Nishikata is getting into the swing of things.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 05

Takagi and Nishikata’s delicate dance continues, as Takagi slyly inserts herself in nearly every aspect of Nishikata’s life. Knowing her teasing has caused him no shortage of distractions, she feels obligated to tutor him in math.

At first, she sits opposite Nishikata, reading a regular book and not studying herself. But when she notices he answered a question wrong, that’s her opening to sit much closer to him and help him through the equations.

Of course, while she taught him something he didn’t know, she didn’t teach him what’s actually on the test. Can’t be doing all the work for him!

The next day, Nishikata manages to pass with a 59, while Takagi is praised by the teacher but tells Nishikata she got less than a perfect 100. Then she suggests they engage in yet another game: whoever guesses closest to each others’ scores wins.

Nishikata has no poker face Takagi can’t read, so she easily narrows down his score to within three. She acts sincerely surprised when he guesses 92, but he doesn’t trust her face, and decides on 97 instead.

In the end, he was right with 92 the first time, while she was going to guess 59 but decided to give herself a three-point handicap. She gave Nishikata a shot, even though she didn’t have to, and both end up staring at each other quite a lot, which she clearly doesn’t mind.

In another skit outside of school, Takagi “coincidentally” bumps into Nishikata leaving a bookstore after  clandestinely purchase the shoujo manga 100% Unrequited Love. Takagi spotted him buying it, but again gives him a chance to tell her the truth. Naturally, he fails, but he also admits he lied, and begs her not to tell anyone.

Takagi decides she’ll give him a secret of hers, so they’ll both have secrets. She then tells Nishikata, flat out, that she likes him. Big move, Takagi! Nishikata turns beet red, much to her delight, right before she pulls back. Because he lied to her, she lied to him; she says she doesn’t like him.

Of course, that is the true lie; Nishikata just doesn’t know it, even though he has all the evidence in the world to confirm it sitting right in front of him.

Not satisfied with getting away with confessing in his ear or teaching him math, when Takagi is stuck under a shrine in the rain, she decides to claim his clothes as well. Specifically, she changes out of her wet school shirt and into his gym shirt. Later, he puts on her gym shirt, and notes how doing so feels kinda ‘dirty.’

Having swapped shirts and scents, Takagi proposes another game—guessing whether the rain will end by 5—and wins yet again. What she wins is Nishikata’s obedience, and even if he wants to hurry home so as not to miss his anime, he wisely seems poised to obey and follow her rather than run off. TV or nice girl…not really a tough choice.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 05

I only realized at the end of last week’s episode, with the camera lingering on a sad and lonely-looking Megumi, that she might not be particularly pleased about Mari actually going through with her Antarctica trip; especially without her.

This week, in an emotional powerhouse of an episode, all of the resentment and negativity that had been festering within Megumi comes to the forefront; but while there are constant signs she’s Had It, Mari doesn’t realize until the very last moment: the morning she leaves for Australia.

Before that, the show strikes a scintillating balance between being excited for Mari and thinking she’s being an awful friend to Megumi. Case in point: while packing for three months (she’s only allowed 100kg, including her own weight), she finds the game she once borrowed from Megumi under her bed (another sign of the friendship she took for granted)

She invites herself to Megumi’s house to play the game, but Megumi couldn’t be any clearer about how few fucks she gives about the game. When Mari can’t take a hint, Megumi pulls the plug, pretending to have slipped, and that’s the end of it.

It’s really quite brilliant what goes on here, because I honestly can’t even blame Mari for being such an oblivious ditz, because that’s the friend Megumi cultivated all the years they’ve known each other. Compound that with her very understandable building excitement and anticipation for a life-changing adventure, and it’s all too devastatingly obvious why Mari can’t respond to or even sense Megumi’s growing miasma.

Meanwhile, there’s just such a grand sense of occasion to the quartet of new friends finishing up their packing. They may only be going abroad for three-odd months, but it feels like they’re packing for much more than that. It feels like they’re packing for a new chapter in their lives, in which they’ll see and experience things they never have before.

The episode proceeds to throw everything it possibly can towards the goal of pissing off Megumi as much as possible, as Mari and Shirase (whom Megumi continues to stubbornly, scornfully call “Antarctica”) suddenly become a big deal at school. And it IS a big deal for high schoolers to be going to Antarcitca, for crying out loud!

But for Megumi, it’s just a constant and unyielding reminder that Mari is “leaving the nest”, so to speak. Megumi fires back by bringing up rumors going around about Mari, Shirase, and the depths they sunk to to acquire the funds to go on the trip. Megumi is then almost immediately punished when Shirase herself shows up, along with Hinata.

When Shirase hears of the rumors, she wants blood immediately. Three Cheers for the wonderfully mature-when-it-matters Hinata experly talking her down by being the adult in the shrine. Yet even she seems to inadvertently take a dig at Megumi’s macchinations with her latest self-quote: “Sometimes, people are just mean. Don’t fight mean with mean. Hold your head high.” Almost a haiku!

The torture of being outnumbered by Mari’s new friends wasn’t enough, apparently, so poor Megumi has to be dragged along to karaoke, despite the fact she is in no mood to hang out with anyone, especially Mari, but especially her new friends. Still, here more than elsewhere she seems able to mask her contempt.

It must very much take Megumi aback, then, that despite Mari’s complete inability to pick up the signals, she is still able to speak surprisingly candidly and eloquently about how she sees this turning point in her life.

First, Mari assumes Megumi considered the fact they hadn’t been hanging out a lot lately a “relief.” Then, Mari talks of how she always wanted to go far away, how she hated being where she was, and how she hated herself.

Megumi’s long acceptance of Mari as someone who would always cling to her had the unintended side effect of driving Mari to become someone who wouldn’t have to cling. Someone with worth of their own.

After parting ways, Mari comes home to find her entire family cooking their butts off to celebrate her imminent departure. Mari’s reflex is to send Megumi a photo message and an invite…but Megumi never responds.

The morning of departure comes, and what a morning. First, we watch Mari get up, wash her face, brush her teeth, comb her hair, get dressed, and give herself a final check.

All very routine morning activities given monumental status by the fact they’re the last such activities she’ll be doing for some time. And to be perfectly candid, when Rin gave Mari a big hug, I had already started to tear up, just like Mari’s dad.

And that was before a dark, brooding Megumi confronts Mari, who is just SO freaking ready to tear the world a new one, and tells her she came not to say “see you later”, but to break up; to cease being friends.

At first, Mari has no idea what’s happening, but once Megumi starts to list all the things she and she alone has done—spread false rumors, told the bullies about Shirase’s cash; told Mari’s mother before Mari could told her herself—it all comes into focus. All Mari can say is “Why?”

All those things—and even going there in the morning to confront her—were all meant to return the pain she felt from the feeling that Mari was abandoning her, and that it wasn’t Mari who had been clinging to her for some time now, it was the opposite. Without Mari, Megumi considered herself nothing, and if she was to be nothing, she didn’t want Mari to have anything either.

Megumi thought, even hoped that at some point Mari would catch on and get mad, but she never did, nor did her new friends. She considers that not just evidence of what morons they are, but that she wasn’t even worth being figured out; that Mari had moved on so much from what Megumi thought of her. That could only make someone feel even more worthless.

Mari begs Megumi to come with her, but Megumi is ready to take her “first step into a world without” Mari. In a way, she’s trying to do the same thing as Mari, Hinata, Shirase and Yuzuki: step into a world without any of the things they usually rely on; where they don’t know what lies around the corner; where they won’t know where they’ll be tomorrow.

Those sentiments are narrated by Mari as we watch scenes of the other three saying their goodbyes and taking those first steps. And then, before Mari joins her, she takes a few steps toward Megumi, hugs her from behind, and declares her breakup rejected.

Maybe Megumi wanted Mari to come to hate her that morning after all of the things she said and did without remorse. But sometimes people are just mean. Mari doesn’t fight mean with mean. She holds her head high. It’s an abrupt, almost brusque end to what had been an epic Friend Fight, and a clear instance of Mari having the last word.

But it’s also an acknowledgement that while Mari no longer sees Megumi as someone she must cling to at all costs or look to for guidance, that doesn’t automatically mean the end of a friendship. It just means that a change has taken place.

Now everything springs into action.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 04

Step by step, episode by episode, Sora yori mo Tooi Basho keeps building up the anticipation while continuing to build up the stories of its characters and their growing friendship as they embark on a life-changing adventure…but they still need permission from their parents!

That’s when we learn Mari hasn’t so much as mentioned this life-changing adventure to her mother, who has to find out from the neighbors. The slasher film-esque scen in which Mari tries to break the news she senses her mother already knows is a tour-de-force of tension and comedy.

Mari gets permission…but only if she passes all of her tests at school, meaning she’s going to have to study her ass off, and nobody is going to help her, because if she can’t do this much, how is she ever going to make it in the Antarctic?

The quartet meet up to be whisked off to their mountain training retreat, and while they’re underwhelmed by the beat-up HiAce, their instructor Maekawa (Hikasa Yoko) notes they’ve got to pinch every penny (she also mentions that Shirase still has her million yen, and in the next sentence, the fundraising needs of the expedition).

She also remarks that those outside of the expedition team have always been concerned about its viability and whether the ship will even leave port. But Maekawa tells the girls they tell those people to shut up. Back at school Shirase doesn’t even do that; she’ll show everyone up when they least expect it, leading to this golden exchange between her and Mari:

Mari: You’re kind of a jerk, you know.
Shirase: I certainly am. You mind?
Mari: Nope!

Once they arrive at the mountain training course, they are quickly given an overview of the basics, and then Maekawa introduces the expedition’s leader Toudou Gin (Noto Mamiko in her tough lady voice) whose no-nonsense demeanor and stirring oratory intimidate and inspire Mari, Hinata, and Yuzuki in equal measure.

What about Shirase? Well, she reacts differently; clearly they know each other, and Mari senses that, but leaves it be for the time being. That night, as the girls bone up on Antarctic exploration in what feels like a field trip sleepover, Maekawa and Toudou share a solemn moment outside.

Toudou didn’t want Shirase on the trip, but Maekawa didn’t help her; she got there by her own efforts (with the help of Mari, Hinata, and Yuzuki, but she befriended them on her own). Toudou accepts this, but the fact she know Shirase’s mother weighs on her.

The next morning, the quartet is sent off to plot a route with a compass, GPS, and marker flags. They start out a little rough and off course (as everyone does at first), but Mari turns out to have a knack for the compass, and soon they’re on the right track, make camp, and settle down for bed.

Mari doesn’t want to sleep yet, thinking this is like any other camping trip, but getting enough sleep is crucial to survival, so the other girls promptly rebuke her attempts to converse. Only Yuzuki flubs her words, leading Hinata to start giggling, which leads Hinata and Mari to start laughing.

Things turn a bit somber when Mari asks a clearly preoccupied Shirase how she knows “Captain” Toudou, and Shirase’s answer is heartbreaking in its brevity: “Toudou and my mother were friends in high school. They both went to Antarctica. Toudou returned. My mother didn’t.”

After a quick by-the-book radio check in with base, the four go to sleep, but Mari, who opened her bag in her sleep, is the first to awaken, and is greeted not only by a gorgeous pre-dawn, but Toudou, almost standing guard out there. Mari asks her about Shirase’s Mom, Toudou says she was “very strange” (sound familiar?) and that her daughter is her spitting image in stubbornness and conviction (not surprising).

Shirase, like her mom, is “trouble”, but Mari says “Isn’t trouble the best?” Indeed, it’s Shirase’s trouble(s) that got Mari to this point, where she’s finally realizing her goal of making the most of her high school years. She didn’t want them to end “the way they were going”, and so decided to join Shirase of her own free will.

This is Peak Awesome Tamaki Mari right here, clearly expressing her intention, desire, and excitement for the impending expedition. And when you see that conviction on her rising sun-washed face, you know she’s going to pass all of those tests. She has to.

Before the sunrise is complete, Mari wakes up the others (none of whom are morning people), and they all climb up a rock face and admire the beauty of the glowing mountains; just a small taste, mind you, of the jaw-dropping, otherworldly majesty they’ll experience way down south.

And in one of the more surprising ways to end the episode, Mari sends a picture of the sunrise to her friend Megumi, who looks incredibly lonely and left out. It occurs to me that Mari never once asked if she wanted to come along. Is this closing scene meant to convey that Megumi is proud of Mari, or dejected over Mari not even considering her participation?