Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 07 – Kamiya-san Is Curious

The studio had an Izumi-style run of luck, enduring a Covid outbreak that delayed the episode, but Shikimori picks up without missing a beat, as the school culture fest commences. Last year Izumi and Shikimori had the same duties, but this time they’re separated as their class runs an animal-themed café.

Still, it doesn’t take long for them to come together as Izumi inevitably slips on a napkin and the Shikimori the bunny has to save Izumi the lion. While walking home after a busy first day, the two commit to spending the afternoon of the second day together.

It has to be the afternoon because both of them are busy in the morning: Shikimori with the café, and Izumi on library duty. He’s relieved to learn that his partner isn’t a stranger, but Kamiya, who has always been friendly and kind to him in their past library duty interactions.

As we enter the cultural festival stage of many anime series this season, Kamiya seems aware of the “magic” that leads to a surge of new couples. She’s uncharacteristically restless, and even delivers a wall slam to Izumi as she brings up his girlfriend Shikimori and wants to know how they met.

Izumi, who quite incorrectly assumes Kamiya likes Shikimori, obliges, telling her they got together thanks to that same culture fest magic. Last year, the numbers they got at the entrance matched, which was a rare fortunate moment for Izumi, as he had planned to ask her out during the festival.

After walking around and enjoying the festival in the clouds, when the time comes to take their photo (which legend has it bonds the matched couples together forever) Izumi loses his number. But Shikimori won’t let him give up, so they look for it. They come up empty, but put up a passionate united front in insisting the president let them have their picture taken anyway. The Prez can tell these two are keepers, and gives an exception.

The rest is history: Izumi asks Shikimori out behind the gym, and Shikimori’s response is a gorgeous, passionate embrace. Back in the library, Izumi apologizes for rambling on, but Kamiya is well and truly moved, striking an elegant pose that conceals what must be pained eyes.

While we’ve seen very little Kamiya so far, it’s been clear through her subtle glances at Izumi that she likes the guy, always has, and rues the fact she missed her chance. As amazing as Kamiya acknowledges Shikimori to be, she’s clearly frustrated Shikimori beat her to the punch.

It helps that Kamiya is an instantly likeable character, statuesque and noble and popular with both guys and girls, but not afraid to show another side to Izumi. Fukuhara Ayaka also lends her a wonderfully husky voice that’s lower than Izumi’s. We’ll see where this triangle goes as the festival continues.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 06 – There’s Always This Year

Izumi is still recovering from the sunburn he incurred at the river, but he’s still not missing the fireworks festival for the world. Shikimori says yes before he can even ask her to join him, and to his credit he doesn’t invite their other friends; this is a Capital-D date. Turns out Shikimori gets a little tangled up with her obi, but her brother helps her out. It’s a side of her we don’t often see.

Izumi comes fully prepared for a number of potential mishaps (including three separate wallets!) but nothing goes wrong as he gets to behold Shikimori in all her majestic pink glory. They take in the sights, and Izumi gets some cotton candy. It’s a bit too sweet for Shikimori, but she’s come around on sweet things since she and Izumi started dating.

When Izumi tries and fails to win a wolf plushie for Shikimori, she takes the rifle and vows to give it a try, engendering a chuckle from the attendant. She quickly avails him of his sexist belief by flashing the eyes of a huntress and shooting not only the wolf but everything else on the shelves. Her serious look is followed up by one of her biggest, sweetest smiles.

After spending a bit (but not too much) time with Neko, Inu, and Yui, misfortune strikes, but it’s Shikimori, not Izumi, on the receiving end: the strap of her sandal breaks. Izumi is able to fix it, but her feet end up covered in blisters. Izumi admits he wanted to take her somewhere special to view the fireworks, but it’s a bit of a walk and he doesn’t want her walking anymore. So he stoops down and tells her to hop on his back.

That’s right: Izumi may not look it but he’s pretty strong; certainly strong enough to carry his squeeze the required distance to the secluded spot. Shikimori is initially worried she’ll “snap him in two”, but she’s not as heavy as she thinks, nor is Izumi as weak as she thought. It’s a wonderful reversal for a show that so far has Shikimori providing most of the muscle. Izumi is unlucky, but not inept, and quite capable when it counts.

Sure enough, they’re all alone up at the top of the shrine grounds, and have a seat at a bench perfectly positioned for viewing the remainder of the fireworks. Shikimori has never seen them live, and Izumi admits that last year he was to scared to ask her to see them.

They were just friends at the time, and he was worried it would ruin what they had. Turns out Shikimori was waiting that whole night for him to call and invite her! But it doesn’t matter whether they didn’t go together last year. They’re there now, together, and they’ll be back next year.

As for the long walk back down those steps, Izumi doesn’t get far without slipping and falling with Shikimori on his back. Fortunately, his very stealthy dad swoops in Shikimori-style to save them both. Turns out Izumi’s folks came to the same spot to view the fireworks, and were sitting on a blanket just behind the lovebirds. Izumi’s dad was once strong enough to carry four people according to his mom, so he and Shikimori are no problem.

All in all, it’s another solid, sweet outing for our purple-and-pink-haired power duo. I feel an opportunity was missed for a kiss, or transition to a first-name-basis, but it was otherwise such a lovely time I really didn’t mind.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 05 – River Dance

Exams are over and summer break is here, so the gang takes the train to the river for a day of sun and fun…but not too much sun, since they don’t want their boy Izumi to die. Shikimori and Izumi are their cute selves throughout, while Neko and Inu continue to put out good vibes with the ever-sardonic Hachimitsu in the center.

The quintet preps food for some barbecue, and everyone is shocked by Izumi’s impressive knife skills. When Shikimori makes some ajillo (Spanish garlic shrimp) just for her him, Izumi learns she’s not perfect at everything … but he still eats as much as he can like a good bae because he knows how much heart she put into it.

After Izumi makes everyone S’mores the gang hits the river…though Shikimori briefly holds Izumi back to say they should have them again just the two of them some time. They test the water, which is nice and cool, then Shikimori lets Izumi out of her sight for just a moment, during which time he rescues a little girl being carried off by the current.

Once the girl is safe, Izumi’s foot cramps up, and then he is carried away. Shikimori spots him, and while everyone else panics she dives straight into the water and fishes him out. She’s furious he didn’t call for him to help, but can’t stay mad at him considering he may have saved a little girl’s life, for which she later thanks him with a kiss on the cheek.

Despite the girl being in grade school, Shikimori is still jealous, so when the gang gets gelato, she makes sure she at least gets an indirect kiss when Izumi tastes her cone. She’s about to taste his when Inu comes out of nowhere and gobbles it up. She in turn houses his gelato, and then gets horrible brain freeze, yet still claims victory in her agony.

On the train ride home, one by one everyone falls asleep…except for Izumi. Even Shikimori nods off and rests her head on his shoulder. Izumi reflects on how much fun he had, specifically because he was with Shikimori his friends. He doesn’t take any of it for granted. And when he nods off and Shikimori comes to, she places his head on her shoulder.

Aside from the near-drowning, it was just about as a perfect day by the river as the gang could ask for. Watching them goofing off, having fun, and being just great kids in general really brings all the warm feels.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 04 – Anywhere is Fine

Izumi, always sensitive to the heat and sun, is struggling on the roof where his friends have gathered to discuss plans for summer break. Not only do I salute these kids for being on top of things—how many times are anime are summer breaks wasted due to lack of communication? Enter Shikimori, who surprises him by touching his face with a cold sports drink.

Hachimitsu also offers him some space under her parasol. This notably doesn’t worry Shikimori, as “it’s just Hachimitsu”, i.e. not someone trying to steal her Izumi! As for where they’re going for break, they decide on the river, as the beach would prove too much for Izumi. They make it clear they’re not compromising on his account; they want to go somewhere where everyone will have fun.

Nekozaki Kyou, the energetic heart of the friend group whom I find myself loving more and more as the series progresses, decides that despite it just being the river, everyone should wear swimsuits. So instead of studying for upcoming final exams, she brings everyone out shopping. When Izumi says he probably won’t be swimming, she says she’s fine not buying a swimsuit.

…That is until she spots Izumi gazing a tad too intently on a poster of a swimsuit model in a skimpy black bikini. While Izumi is simply admiring her muscles (confirming that Izumi has a type) Shikimori races to the swimsuit store and finds the same bikini…but is hesitant to purchase it. Nekozaki seconds that, and assure her she and Hachimitsu will find her one that suits her.

Nekozaki can tlel when Shikimori’s fiery competitive spirit and hatred of losing rears its head; it’s what ended up being the icing on the cake for why she made it a point to become friends with Shikimori. She already had a girl-crush on her for being her idea of a perfect, pure, ideal woman, and then they played one hell of a passionate basketball game, and Nekozaki simply couldn’t stay on the friendship sideline a second longer.

I’m of the mind that Nekozaki is selling herself far too short, and that Inuzuka would be lucky to have her as a girlfriend. I know “Inu”zuka and “Neko”zaki indicate an incompatible dynamic (cats and dogs, oil and vinegar), I think if they’re honest with each other they’d make a good couple. Their sniping at each other feels like a practiced act.

Once the girls rejoin the guys in the food court, Izumi notices how excited Shikimori looks and asks her what she bought. When Shikimori says nothing, he knows she’s lying. Nekozaki saw Shikimori have Izumi in the palm of her hand earlier, but here the tides have turned; there are plenty times when she’s in his palm. It’s why they work so well as a couple.

The first day of finals arrives, and Izumi has a particularly cursed day, even for him; ending with Shikimori is pulling him away from an angry (tiny) dog (shades of the excellent video gamey ED). Later, Izumi is lamenting being unable to study properly when Shikimori gives him a call simply to hear his voice.

Night calls between girlfriend and boyfriend are often veritable fonts of big time feels, but this scene is the cream of the crop. The two sitting in their rooms in the dark, connected by the starry night sky. Izumi tells her about his love of the stars, but how he never got a chance to stargaze as a kid due to it always being cloudy when he wanted to.

When Shikimori assures him she’ll take him somewhere to see the stars, Izumi brings up the fact she lobbied for them to go to the river rather than the beach, and states his desire to take her somewhere she wants to go. The thing is, Shikimori is fine with anywhere as long as he’s there.

The two spout so many sweet somethings to each other, and they both want to desperately see each other’s faces—completely forgetting the fact that video calls are a thing. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most adorable and heartwarming moments yet between these two desperately beautiful, loving souls.

In the after-credit omake, Shikimori is at a cooking class with Izumi’s beautiful but accident-prone mom. She’s naturally nervous around Izumi’s mom, considering looks-and-kindness-wise she’s basically an older female version Izumi.

As such, the scene is humming with romantic tension, especially when Izumi’s trips while bringing Shikimori a left-handed knife, and Shikimori catches the knife with one hand and Izumi’s mom with the other. If mama didn’t already know Shikimori is far more than just a cutie, she sure as heck knows now!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – Sweet Dreams are Made of Tease

My dreams were answered: Master Teaser Takagi-san has returned for a third wonderfully warm, fuzzy season; the perfect balm for the bracing cold of a mid-Atlantic winter. After last season ended with Nishikata taking Takagi’s hand, this newest outing starts with them holding hands almost right away! After sensing she intended to beat him at the grip exercise tool, rather than hand it to him he took her hand instead.

Suddenly, Nishikata and Takagi are transported back to the steps of the shrine on that night. Then Takagi vanishes, and then he finds himself at the pool, with Takagi taking a dip. Then a number of his friends pretend to be Takagi. Then the main couple from their favorite manga/anime transfer to their class, and Takagi falls for the MC. Then Takagi in cowgirl cosplay shoots him with her six-gun. I believe she also appears in cow-full-stop cosplay, complete with moos.

Turns out the show was teasing us; it was all a dream. Nishikata hasn’t even been back to school since his festival date with Takagi; it’s still summer break. For a few moments, Nishikata panics: what if the festival, and with it all the good times he had with Takagi, was a dream too? He sees the robot mask he bought at one of the stalls and breathes a sigh of relief. It’s a welcome moment of honesty for Nishikata: He doesn’t want that night to be a dream. It happened, and he’s glad it did.

In the next segment, it’s the last day before school re-opens. Nishikata shows off the tan he got from going to the beach, remembering too late that his back was sunburnt and that Takagi would be quick to pat said back if she found out. Not only does she find out instantly, but challenges Nishikata to a guessing game: if he can tell her the reason she asked him to join her today, he wins. For each incorrect guess, he gets a pat on the back.

Nishikata eventually guesses that it was just so Takagi could tease him, but he’s only half-right. She gives him a telling hint: they’ve already been doing what she wanted to do. Even a simpleton like Nishikata can put two and two together: she just wanted to see him. But the challenge is to say the reason, and Nishikata is just too gosh-darn bashful to say it out loud, even if he’s secretly quite happy about it!

After an interstitial involving the trio of girls (who also got tanned and contemplate being three wrinkly grannies together due to the skin damage), the third segment announces itself as the first day of the new semester…yet both Nishikata and Takagi’s tans are gone, which I found odd. What isn’t odd is that Takagi is able to deduce that Nishikata wanted to spook her with a new dino-themed jack-in-the-box he meticulously hand-crafted rather than doing his summer homework.

When she finally opens it, she lets out a little yelp of surprise, thus handing Nishikata one of his only true wins against her! Then the two are transported onto a beach full of fireworks, and then to those same shrine stairs Nishikata dreamed of. Takagi holds out her hand, and as Nishikata reaches out to take it, they’re once more transported to a grove of cherry trees. Then Nishikata seemingly confesses to Takagi…and then she wakes up in her bed.

She throws open her window and basks in the morning sun and summer breeze, happy Nishikata said what he said in her dream, but also hopeful he’ll someday say it to her for real. I may have dreamed for a third season of the sweetest romance committed to television; little did I know dreams would play such a large role in the premiere.

Takagi and Nishikata are well and truly in each other’s heads, but I’m looking even more forward to watching their tender love continue to grow in the waking world in this season to come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Komi Can’t Communicate – 07 – Pool Girl

Most of this episode is made up of a pool episode, chronicling Komi’s very first trip day at the pool with friends. Unfortunately, it’s a bit crowded: Originally it was just going to be Komi, Tadano, Najimi, and Agari, but Ren invited herself and five of her friends, since she’d been stalking Ren and learned of the plan. Problematic! Still, it’s Ren who makes sure Komi buys a proper bikini rather than using her school swimsuit.

After the lads give scores for the girls (all the girls get 10s, except Komi who gets 100 million, school suit or no) it’s off to the water slide (which Komi wants to go on multiple times with Tadano), then a breath-holding contest that nets Komi nine cans of soda, since everyone else goes up for air after seeing her face underwater. Komi is so excited, she runs near the pool, slips, and scrapes her knee.

While I personally wouldn’t let a little scrape keep me out of the pool (the chlorine might sting but it’s disinfecting!) in this scenario, Komi becomes the equivalent of the pool leper. Najimi insists everyone else have fun without her, lest she feel bad for ruining the mood. But Tadano sits beside Komi and assures her she didn’t ruin anything for everyone, and she doesn’t have to worry about her friends “hating” her.

Najimi and the others end up bringing the fun to Komi in the form of a water gun battle royale. Komi gets to have a blast without worrying about getting her knee infected, and ends up nodding off on the evening train ride home, which is always a surefire sign you had a great time.

Following the pool antics, the remainder of the episode is a sequence of shorter skits, starting with Komi being escorted to the library by her similarly taciturn (and good-looking) dad. The two stop in for some shaved ice, but the dad just wants to know she’s doing well at school. Komi momentarily pretends it’s hell before softening her demeanor, and her relieved dad tousles her hair. Minimalist communication at its best!

At the library, Komi finds a book she likes but is unable to check it out since she feels the awestruck gazes of many fellow readers locked onto her inadvertent radiance. When a little baby nearby starts crying, she first silences it with what is meant to be a kind smile but looks like a murderous glare to the kid. Komi mixes it up by using her fingers to pull the ends of her mouth out, and the baby becomes transfixed. Tadano, returning books, just happens to watch the “precious event”, forgetting to return his books.

Finally, after the library Komi walks by a playground and decides to use it for what it’s for: playing. From the too-small swing and slide to the surprisingly high jungle gym and surprisingly tiring monkey bars, Komi has a great time all by her sweet, adorable self. When she works up a thirst, she makes use of the public fountain. Tadano witnesses this second “precious event”, forgetting to return his books again.

So while not without its cute and even moving moments, they don’t make up for the fact that the pool segment was too crowded with ill-defined tertiary characters and Ren is still a creep, which makes this the first sub-9 episode of Komi Can’t Communicate.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Komi Can’t Communicate – 06 – First Strike

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kageki Shoujo!! – 09 – A Beautiful Frame

Even Kouka has a sports festival, and every ten years it’s a grand sports festival; since this will be the centennial festival it’s even more significant. For instance, Kouka’s “Superiors” will be heavily involved in the festivities.

Since Ai, like us, has no idea what that meants, Sawa helpfully explains they’re venerable veteran actresses who don’t belong to any one troupe and enjoy a higher rank than top stars and troupe leads. They are the creme de la creme, and the episode really sells that fact.

That said, the four top otoko-yaku in one room is a pretty awe-inspiring sight too. These ladies are very, very good at portraying men and boys, and the first years are understandably starstruck; Sawa even bleeds from the nose at the sight of them.

The four are not just there to look handsome and get fawned upon. Just as their individual troupes compete for the most and most passionate fanbases, they’re equally passionate rivals in the sports festival. Each of them intends to win and beat the others.

At one point Sawa needs some scissors, so Sarasa voluntters to grab some from the faculty lounge. There, she encounters Andou-sensei for the first time since he basically told her to forget everything she knew about acting to that point and start over.

I love how Sarasa shows Andou what he was hoping for: that she wasn’t going to let harsh but true criticism keep her down in the dumps forever. After summer break that fleeting disappointment is in her rearview mirror. She’s back and ready to put in the work.

Back in episode 6 I mentioned my wish to learn more about the Sawada Twins, Chika and Chiaki. The remainder of this episode grants my wish and then some, delivering what I believe to be one of the most beautiful and realistic depictions of the unique issues that befall twins; namely the realization they’re not the same.

Chika, the “darker” twin, resents when Chiaki easily befriends one of the Superiors, Mirai—whom we later learn was the top star that inspired them as children to become Kouka actresses. When Mirai mistakes Chika for Chiaki and calls her “Juliet”, Chika ignores her and walks away.

It’s Chiaki who later gets in trouble with Mirai when she next sees her, ruining the good vibes of the rehearsals….but Chika, the real culprit, keeps quiet. Ultimately it’s Sarasa and her good hearing who clears up the mix-up.

That night, the twin sisters have a fight that quickly grows in nastiness, with Chika spewing most of the venom. Later we’ll learn it’s the first time they’ve fought. Now Chiaki moves out of the dorm room they share, switching places with Sarasa.

As we’d expect, Ai neither knows how nor tries to get Chiaki to open up, but Sarasa and Chika are a different story. We learn that the two did everything together and even walked in lockstep, but when they both applied for Kouka and only Chika got in, that suddenly ended their run of identicalness.

Rather than attend as was her right, Chika felt bad for Chiaki, who wasn’t eating or sleeping and didn’t leave their room, and as her twin knew the only way to console her was to turn down her acceptance and try again with her sister next year.

That pulled Chiaki out of her emotional nosedive, but it came as a cost: the twins were always going to be out of balance due to Chika’s sacrifice, which is both something she decided on her own to do and something she felt she was obligated to do, out of loyalty to her twin. She chose blood over fame.

But that resentment lingered, and festered, and caused Chika to become someone who’d pass up opportunities again and again for Chiaki’s sake. She felt she couldn’t do things for her sake and eventually came to hate Chiaki for it.

When Chika gets the opportunity to apologize to Mirai for her rudeness, she explains the dark thoughts that had overcome her, and Mirai understands. Jealous befalls us all, but the key is to turn it into ambition, and not let it twist us into self-destructive choices.

Rather than be a haughty Superior, Mirai comforts her junior like a mother would comfort a daughter, assuring her that her desire to apologize and make up with Chika means she’s a good person, and this bad experience will ultimately make her stronger person.

I’m not an identical twin, so I can’t imagine how scary and lonely it feels to them when they come upon a “fork in the road” past which they won’t be the same in everything. That fork came earlier than they expected; the mere fact they had to expect it would happen really speaks to that unique turmoil.

Part of Chika was just as apprehensive about taking off ahead of Chiaki on her side that fork in the road as Chiaki was about getting left behind. The two have accepted that they can’t be the same anymore, but they’re not ready to drift apart forever, either.

There’s potential in the Kouka Revue for twin roles, and Mirai, now friends with both twins, tells them they can realize that potential if they become popular enough. Nothing in Kouka comes easily; it takes blood, sweat, and tears. But the Superiors, and the Top Stars below them, embody what you get for all that hard work: a kind of apotheosis and immortality. Chika and Chiaki could be Kouka’s Apollo and Artemis…or twin Juliets.

Kageki Shoujo!! – 08 – The Bus Stop by the Sea

Back at school after summer break, Hoshino Kaoru is sporting a new super-short hairstyle, in keeping with her goal to become an otoko-yaku, but soon  scolds Sarasa and Ai for allowing themselves to get a tan. Flashback to a formative summer in Kaoru’s life: the summer before her third year of high school, her last chance to get into Kouka…and when she fell in love for the first time.

Kaoru walking on sunny days with an umbrella was derided by some, not only was it odd behavior, but also presumptuous to those who knew her pedigree. While using a bus stop to the hospital to visit her gran (recovering from surgery), she encounters Tsuji Rikuto, the younger brother of a famous rising star of baseball.

Since his gran is so into the Kouka Revue and he overheard from mean girls of Kaoru’s relation, Rikuto works up the courage to ask her about the troupe, but is interrupted by another girl in love with his brother to give him her love letter. He refuses, and shortly thereafter, Kaoru tells him her name.

At first, Rikuto thinks she’s another girl trying to get closer to his bro through him, but she quickly clears that up by telling him about the expectations being the daughter of a Kouka actress and granddaughter of a top star, and he gets it; they’re like kindred spirits.

Of the two, Kaoru is the one more keen to fight against those who would define them by their more accomplished relations, and it’s her texts to him encouraging him to be himself and not worry about being compared that causes an uptick in Rikuto’s baseball play.

Their bus stop encounters and bus rides soon become something both look forward to, such that Kaoru starts visiting her gran more so she can also see Rikuto. She confides in him how she’d never be somebody to say “I’m getting in” knowing how hard it really is (Sarasa doesn’t have that problem). Kaoru is all about the hard work, right down to covering up in the sun to avoid getting tanned.

When she shows off the skirt she’s wearing, eager to wear as many as she can before she gets into wearing men’s clothes when she’s an otoko-yaku, Rikuto is sure that even if she had a mustache she’d be pretty. It’s the first time a boy ever called her pretty, and she wasn’t prepared for how happy it made her.

Rikuto eventually asks Kaoru out to the fireworks festival marking the end of summer; unaware that it would also mark the end of their brief, cozy romance. Before meeting him there, his grandmother assures her she doesn’t have to keep trying to become a Kouka actress if she doesn’t want to.

Kaoru isn’t about to tell her still-recovering gran that she’s full of shit, but she’s still down in the dumps when she meets Rikuto. For a time, him complimenting her yukata catching her when she’s pushed by some kids, and holding her hand is enough to soothe her troubled heart.

But then she asks why Rikuto seems so down, and he tells her that he’s questioning what the point of forcing himself to follow in his brother’s footsteps and fulfill everyone’s expectations of him…then he says he’s sure Kaoru thinks the same way all the time.

Kaoru…does not. Like her gran, and practically everyone else in her life, Rikuto doesn’t understand her after all; that this is precisely the path she chose to walk and she’s never questioned why she was walking it. She’s not trying to get into Kouka for anyone other than herself.

As she runs away from Rikuto in tears, she calls herself stupid for feeling jealous of the “typical high school girl’s life”, including having a boy worry about her and cheer her up. She runs along the beach singing a song, her voice wavering from her flowing tears, but eventually her voice clears as heartbreak turns into iron determination.

She swears to herself she’s going to make it. The normal life isn’t for her. She’s bound for the world of dreams and glamour.

While she intends to make a clean break by blocking Rikuto on her phone, his team actually makes it to the Koshien prelim final, and he just so happens to hit a game-winning pinch-hit home run as Kaoru is walking past a TV in the window broadcasting his game.

Despite knowing nothing about baseball (except what he taught her), and how things turned out at the fireworks festival, Kaoru is still happy Rikuto got to play, and win. Seeing him succeed on TV showed her that he didn’t give up on his path after questioning the point of it all, and after he incorrectly assumed her motives for walking hers.

She still never went back to that seaside bus stop, but it reappears again at Kouka of all places, when Sarasa sees it going viral on social media. Some mystery person left a note on the wall of the stop saying he didn’t give up and thanking another mystery person. Being a hopeless romantic, this kind of thing is right up Sarasa’s alley.

As the newly-shorn Kaoru examines the picture, she smiles knowingly and blushes ever so slightly. Of the thousands sharing that picture, only she and Rikuto know who it’s for and what it means, just like only they know what they want to do in life and are going to go after it with everything they can.

Hoshino Kaoru closes this incredibly moving portrait of her character the way one would close an epic romantic movie: by saying that when she gets to walk out on that Silver Bridge, she’ll save Rikuto “a primo seat in the SS section”…and maybe even say she was in love with him one bright, beautiful summer.

The perfect parting shot of the two having fun at the bus stop by the sea, at the height of that summer and the height of their love, was a thing of exquisite bittersweet beauty—as was the closing theme as sung by Kaoru ‘s seiyu Taichi You. And just like that, I’m in love with yet another character in this show, along with Sarasa, Ai, and Ayako.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

Kageki Shoujo!! – 07 – The Curse of “Never”

Summer Break is upon Kouka’s hundredth class, but Ai’s version of giddiness over getting to spend it at Sarasa’s is somewhat tempered by how the semester ended: with Sarasa taking a major hit from Andou-sensei. As I suspected, perfect replication of other actors isn’t going to cut it if you’re going to be a Top Star in the Kouka Revue. This doesn’t mesh with what Sarasa learned about kabuki growing up, where succeeding generations of actors do their best to embody their predecessors as closely as possible.

But that’s Kabuki; and this is Kouka. Sarasa and Ai also get a little education on Andou-sensei and why he’s nicknamed “Phantom”, courtesy of the two top Kouka stars who happened to be seated in the row ahead of them! Apparently Andou was an esteemed actor with a musical troupe, most famous for his Phantom of the Opera, but due to a stage accident he had to retire, and decided to teach instead.

I’m glad he did, because as I said, as painful as it was to see Sarasa’s reaction and ensuing gloom, she was straying from the path to Lady Oscar, and needed a course correction. Fortunately, there’s plenty of family and friends waiting for Sarasa to take her mind off being “Sara-sad”, if only temporarily.

Ai insists on sitting formally for the duration of the gathering downstairs, even though she’s mostly ignored and suffering the agony needlessly (gramps told her to sit however she likes). Then Sarasa then goes to see her grandma at her grave, suggesting Ai can hang with the cat while she’s gone.

Of course, we know even when Sarasa and Ai don’t that it’s not just the cat waiting in her room, but Akiya. Ai, who is not good with people, comes off as curt with Akiya, who misinterprets it as intentional rudeness, but when Ai profusely apologizes and hides behind a wall, Akiya’s stance softens.

When asked about his “girlfriend” Sarasa, all he’ll tell Ai is that they were childhood friends since forever, and they took traditional dance classes together. Fortunately, we get to learn a lot more about both Sarasa and Akiya’s past, and Sarasa comes out even more amazing for having enduring what she had to endure.

Basically, the famous kabuki actor Kouzaburou was always very close to Sarasa, so much so that rumors floated around of her being his illegitimate daughter. Illegitimate or not, had she been a boy, she would have been the heir apparent to the venerable Shirakawa Kaou name…which Akiya is expected to assume instead. He’s far more loosely related, but he’s a boy.

It didn’t help matters for Akiya that while he liked Sarasa a lot for her strength and cheerfulness, she also happened to be a better natural talent than him when it came to Kabuki. Unfortunately, Sarasa was never sat down and told that grown women aren’t allowed to perform Kabuki.

That said, when another actor is ill, Sarasa is chosen to fill in during a performance of Sukeroku, since she memorized all the lines and movements (even back then, she was amazing). Young girls are allowed to perform, so there was no problem.

But while performing beside her, Akiya could tell how goddamn good Sarasa was, and how goddamn unfair it was that Sarasa’s Kabuki career would reach a harsh dead end due to tradition. After the performance, he first hears the rumor that Sarasa is related to Kouzaburou, which he shares with his mom/grandma/aunt/guardian (I forget her exact relation to him).

Tossing that pebble in the pond causes all kinds of drama, including his mom* chewing out poor Sarasa at the front door, telling her for the first time she’ll “never” be able to be something—in this case, Sukeroku. As soon as Sarasa runs off crying she’s immediately ashamed and regretful, but the damage is done.

Sarasa’s gramps comes to Kouzaburou’s house and chews him out for traumatizing Sarasa, and declares that she’ll have nothing to do with him or Kabuki ever again. That said, gramps softens considerably upon seeing a scared Akiya in the hall, and asks him if he’ll continue being Sarasa’s friend. He’s only cutting her off from Kabuki, he says.

Shortly after Sarasa stopped coming to dance classes, her grandma died, and Akiya and Kaou pay their respects from a distance. When Akiya sees Sarasa’s raw eyes, he starts to cry too…and Kaou tells him to hold on to the pain…it will make him a better actor.

Fast-forward to the present, and Akiya and Sarasa remain friends despite having been kinda-sorta rivals in the past. The rivalry never happened because the institution of Kabuki never let it. I’d say it’s for the best, since I have every confidence Sarasa will be okay in Kouka, but if ever there was going to be a first woman kabuki actor, it would be her!

After giving Sarasa her present of another bizarre figurine she’s super excited about (which is also see-through, for reasons), he also invites both Sarasa and Ai to a performance of Sukeroku he’ll be in. He already got clearance from her gramps.

That night, Ai learns about Sarasa’s performance in Sukeroku when she was only six. The two girls are transported into space as Sarasa beautifully, poetically describes what it was like being on that stage, feeling the audience like heat on her skin, feeling like the stage was a different world; feeling she had transformed into someone else.

It was clearly one of the most amazing moments of her life, making it doubly tragic that she was later deprived of pursuing a future there despite how much she loved it and how good she was. Even so, hearing Sarasa’s words makes Ai want to go see Sukeroku with Sarasa all the more, if only to catch a glimpse of the stage Sarasa once stood upon.

During the performance, Ai notices Sarasa crying, and isn’t sure whether it’s due to fond memories or “something else entirely.” Uh, why not both? From there, the episode abruptly cuts to the train platform where Sarasa and Ai are heading home. Akiya gives Sarasa some words of support and assurance from his heart.

He reminds her they’ve only just started down their paths; it’s okay to lose sight of what they want sometimes; and all they can do is keep moving forward. Sarasa still wants to play Lady Oscar, and she’s going to make it happen—”nevers” be damned!

She also wants Akiya to play Sukeroku. After a firm handshake (throwing Ai off a bit, as she assumed they’d at least hug), the two part ways, both feeling better than before they’d seen each other. They may not be a lovey-dovey couple, but they’re a couple where it matters.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 11 – Shedding the Mask

If Hinami was genuinely scared of the cicada, it was only for a moment. It certainly didn’t keep her from getting back to her feet by herself. No, the ensuing embrace and almost-kiss is only more practice, more training … more lies. Of course! Tomozaki wonders what would have happened had he not dodged her kiss. She probably would have kissed him, but it wouldn’t have meant anything.

How either she or Tomozaki feel about each other wouldn’t factor, because she wouldn’t ever let it. The test of courage ends with Misuzawa reporting that Nakamura and Yuzu agreed to make plans to hang out at some point in the future. It’s baby step, perhaps, but a meaningful one, because neither Nakamura or Yuzu are following a script or playing roles.

Later that night Hinami texts Tomozaki to see if he’s still up, and they review his progress throughout the trip. But they’re interrupted by Mizusawa, who is also up. Tomozaki hides, and Mizusawa has a very important chat with Hinami. Watching Nakamura and Yuzu fumble through their courtship, and Tomozaki fumble through socializing, he can’t help but admire and even envy how goshdarh sincere they are.

They do what they want and getting emotionally involved in everything. He mentions Tomozaki calling life a game, but Mizusawa feels like he’s holding the controller but moving someone else around. Because of that remove, he gets neither hurt nor happy when the player does. He feels like he’s merely putting on a show, and asks Hinami if it’s the same with her.

Hinami responds by saying maybe she is watching from a distance as she goes through the motions. But due to the perfect ideal she represents to everyone, she unconsciously suppresses her real self, and speaks of “one person” she can show her true self to. Tomozaki, listening in, knows that Hinami isn’t being sincere here; she’s just removed one mask to reveal another, subtler mask.

By not shedding all of her masks, Aoi puts Mizusawa in a position he’s not used to: being the sincere one to open up. He’s a high-tier character, but he’s no match for a top-tier. Mizusawa confesses he likes her, and while he already knows the answer, he’s still glad he came face-to-face with what he wanted and gave it an honest shot. One day he wants to know how Aoi really feels, and asks her how long she’ll “stay on that side.”

Hinami would probably have preferred if Tomozaki had stayed hidden, but he can’t, and when he emerges to apologize for seeming to eavesdrop, he explains the “it would be weird to stay hidden”. That’s very telling, because it reflects Misuzawa’s own thinking on the matter after watching Nakamura, Yuzu, and Tomozaki acting with sincerity the whole trip.

Hinami suggests they all head back to the cabins, and is content to pretend nothing that was discussed or heard ever happened. But neither Misuzawa or Tomozaki want to forget. Misuzawa exhibited growth by being sincere and confronting what he wanted. Hinami “wasn’t the slightest bit moved” and simply continued her “perfect performance” by keeping her mask on.

Watching how Hinami reacted to Misuzawa’s sincerity made him realize that he can’t continue to follow Hinami’s training regimen. She tells him to tell Fuuka how he feels after their fireworks date, but to him it sounds like she wants him to put on another show; another mask.

So for his date with Fuuka, he tries something different. He forgets all the conversation topics he memorized and simply speaks to her extemporaneously. It’s a little awkward at first because there’s more silence, but what he does say is sincere.

Sure enough, when asked, Fuuka tells him he’s been easy to talk to all night. His hunch was correct: on their first date, it wasn’t him going off-script that made it harder for her to talk to; it was the fact he was trying to follow a script at all.

Tomozaki doesn’t tell Fuuka how he feels, because he’s not sure yet, and their date doesn’t suffer for his omission, any more than it suffered because he ditched the script. When he meets Hinami at the station, she considers this not only a defeat, but a surrender—taking his hands off the controller.

Immediately, Hinami starts going into ways to minimize the stiltedness and clumsiness of his conversation with Fuuka, and Tomozaki does something he’s never done before: he asks her to stop it. To stop her cold, logical discussion of strategies and countermeasures that totally elide and ignore what he really wants.

Himani remarks that Misuzawa “got to him”, and now he’s being misled like most everybody else by an idea that doesn’t exist—”what I really want”—and being unable to move forward, not mincing words as she dismisses it as “textbook weak-human behavior”. Tomozaki the gamer calls Hinami out for viewing human connections in terms of tasks and goals, saying it’s “weird out of the gate”. But Hinami doesn’t want to hear someone like Tomozaki judging her for her methods.

As far as she’s concerned, abandoning her regimen and rejecting her advice is no different from abandoning his personal development; giving up on progress. She expresses the same disappointment in Tomozaki she expressed for Misuzawa when he dropped his mask, and judigng that there’s nothing more to be said, gives Tomozaki back the button he gave her, asks for the backpack she gave him back at a later date, and hops on the next train.

While I know there hasn’t been a lot of romantic chemistry between Tomozaki and Hinami, that doesn’t mean there’s none there whatsoever. In the spirit of the sincerity Tomozaki has chosen to start living his life and interacting with people, he’s not going to confess to Fuuka willy-nilly simply because it’s the next assigned task. Both he and Fuuka preferred him being his genuine self, warts and all.

By trying to be no less earnest and open with Hinami, Tomozaki thought he could bridge the gap between them. Like Misuzawa, he wants to know what she truly feels and wants behind the mask. But in trying to find out, he called her entire philosophy into question, causing her to retreat even deeper within her mask.

I think losing Tomozaki as a student genuinely hurt her. She saw in both him and Misuzawa kindred spirits who played the game at a remove. Now she perceives herself as being all alone, stubbornly clinging to her ideology. Hopefully Tomozaki won’t shrink before the most challenging boss yet: Hinami’s misguided obstinacy. If her mask can be shed, he still stands the best chance of shedding it.

Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 10 – Not-So-Laid-Back Camp▽

After a very cute meet-up with Mimimi at the local train, Tomozaki finds suddenly himself on a perfectly conventional normie event, in which he, Mimimi, Hinami, and Mizusawa are scheming to bring Nakamura and Yuzu closer together, starting with the two sitting next to each other on the train to their camping spot. Also, Takei is there. Hinami sits with Tomozaki, and assigns his task for the trip: tease, make a suggestion, and/or disagree with Nakamura three times, with the aim of becoming his friend.

As I suspected, both she and Tomozaki learned the wrong lesson from Fuuka’s “hard to talk to” comment: It’s clear Fuuka preferred when he was just being himself and talking with her naturally rather than parroting normie lines when he fundamentally isn’t a normie. I understand Tomozaki’s obliviousness, but why Hinami doesn’t grasp this I cannot say. Maybe she’s just that far removed from non-normie life?

After arriving at Hanno Station the group heads to their campsite and goes full Yuru Camp, complete with barbecue (prepared by Yuzu and Nakamura) tarp and chairs (Mizusawa, Mimimi and Takei) and a fire, which is handled by Hinami and Tomozaki. Himami later explains why she chose the groups, and in grouped herself with him in part so she wouldn’t have to “put on an act” all the time, as she admits its tiring.

While Tomozaki reacts with relief to learn she gets tired about something, I still feel her comment flies under his radar. Not only does it confirm that she’s not a true normie (who wouldn’t have to “put on” an act or even recognize it as such), but also feels most at ease around him, with whom she can be herself. She’s a wonderful enigma: she’s both the normiest normie who ever normied, and yet to maintain that requires someone who is literally not a normie.

After a feast, some mild riverside swimsuit fanservice, and a nice accidental assist by Takei to get Yuzu literally in Nakamura’s arms, the boys and girls retire to their respective cabins for some down time. Talk of Shuuji’s ex Shimano comes up, and Tomozaki scores the first of three points by teasing that Shimano is stringing him along, engendering laughter from Nakamura and Takei.

Takei unwittingly assists the others again by distracting Nakamura with arm wrestling while they all LINE about how the operation is going. The guys report that Shuuji mentioned a girl he could see himself going out with, but who is asking him for advice about a guy she likes. The girls confirm that it’s Yuzu telling Shuuji there’s a hypothetical guy she’s interested in.

During a game of tycoon in which Hinami and Tomozaki dominate, Tomozaki gets in his second tease by pointing out Nakamura never made it past Commoner in the game. Nakamura concedes the point, then moves on to Mizusawa, and how he’s been flirting with a girl from another school. This almost seems to irk Mizusawa, as he excuses himself to go to the bathroom.

Tomozaki follows him, and Mizusawa seems comfortable talking about it with him more. Tomozaki can’t imagine himself being bold enough to ask out a girl from another school, and when Mizusawa admits he might not like her, Tomozaki asks why he’d date someone he didn’t like. Mizusawa’s response under his breath, “You’re not just being polite, are you?” is cryptic.

Maybe the girl is just good in bed. Maybe he’s seeking to date someone outside of their circle, say, to give Tomozaki a chance at Hinami. In any case, when the boys are bathing, the other three learn that Tomozaki is hung, nicknaming him “Army Boy”, and he scores his first point by playfully calling Nakamura “tiny.” Hinami and Mimimi can apparently hear all of this.

While it was hinted that Hinami might’ve been lying when she denied she and Mizusawa were dating, but this episode seems to help make the case she was being honest. For while show is eminently comfortable executing its more nuanced version of the standard High School Camping Trip scenario, Tomozaki is anything but laid-back, especially when the Test of Courage comes around.

After Nakamura and Yuzu head off together as planned, rock-paper-scissors puts Hinami and Tomozaki together once more. This presumably means Hinami can relax and “drop the act” like when they were building the fire. Instead, she decides to make it walking-confidently-with-a-scared-girl practice for Tomozaki, suddenly acting timid and clinging to him.

Tomozaki is convinced Hinami is merely teasing her, deriving pleasure by getting him all flustered. But considering she’s never been this close and physical with him, you have to wonder if her motives go beyond mere teasing, and whether she’s using that as an excuse to be genuinely clingy with him. Otherwise, how far would this kind of “practice” go?

The episode seems on the cusp of answering that question when Tomozaki attempts to exact revenge by disturbing a live cicada. It works better than he expected, as she seems 100% genuine in being so horribly startled she ends up on her knees. She insists he help her up, and she wraps her arms around him, the two seem to realize in what a romantic position they’ve ended up. As his gaze settles on Hinami’s soft lips, both we and Tomozaki have to ponder: is simply practice taken to the HEXtreme, or is it something else … something real?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

 

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