3-gatsu no Lion – 44 (Fin) – From Darkest Depths to Highest Heights

The eight minutes that kick off 3GL’s final episode (for a while at least), in which Rei visits the Kouda household, were some of the most hauntingly beautiful, unsettling, and emotionally gutting eight minutes I’ve ever seen. He is received only by the mother, who narrates the entire segment.

Rei was always capable—more capable than her children, which is why he had to go—but she finds him even more so now; he’s become an adult. Meanwhile, Kyouko and Ayumu (seen but never heard here) continue to flounder; they remain children, seeking immediate enjoyment.

Rei’s visit confirms to Mother Kouda that it was for the best for Rei to leave, and she is grateful that he did it of his own volition. Rei was such a genuinely good boy, it was a weight the rest of the family could not bear. When she dreams of Rei being her real son, he’s a sassy layabout like the others.

I was already in tears before the OP, but this episode wasn’t done, as Rei takes Takahashi and Rina out for monja to congratulate their graduation and bid farewell to the brawny baseball kid. Going pro is no longer a dream for him, it’s a goal, and leaving the home he loves was something he had to do to achieve it.

As they talk about how there won’t be monja where Takahashi is going, and that he’ll simply bring it with him to represent March Town, it dawns on Hina that while people may move away, they remain children of the town.

As the minutes and seconds left with Takahashi tick implacably down to zero, Hina savors those remaining moments with everything she has before saying goodbye. Again I held back tears…watching her hold back tears.

Takahashi leaves for his new school the day of the cherry blossom festival, which means he’ll miss it, but Hina doesn’t see him off. For one thing, the previous night’s farewell was just fine; for another, she’s got work to do, working at the Crescent Moon food stall.

She, Akari and Gramps clean up, capitalizing on the slight remnants of the winter chill by selling hot red bean soup and dumplings. Like so much with the Kawamotos, it’s warm, tasty, cozy, and fun.

And as Hina remembers a younger, smaller Takahashi sitting on the steps with an ice cream bar in his baseball uniform, she commits to doing her best where she is, just as he’ll be doing his best farther away.

Soon thereafter, just before she starts high school, Hina decides she’s going to get her hair cut. Privately (or rather in the presence of their aunt), Akari has bittersweet pangs about Hina’s choice to give her childhood self a “proper sendoff” and take a step forward as “the new me.” Akari is sad that one stage of her little sister’s life is ending, but excited and even a little envious of the next; Hina’s “springtime of life.”

However, that first step forward seems to go horribly awry when only an older hair stylist was at the salon. Hina asked for an “adult-like bob”, but once she get it, Akari can barely contain her shock, while Gramps, in his most hilarious reaction to date, thought on first glance that Hina was the household deity. Momo thinks she looks like a kokeshi doll, while Akari asks her to pose with a box of candy.

But when’s all said and done and we get a decent look at it (from numerous intimate close-up angles) I’m in agreement with Rei’s first impression: it’s nice. It’s a really nice new look! Despite the references made by her family, she looks a little more mature and serious, especially in her new high school uniform.

The more Rei looks at it, the more he likes it…and the more embarrassed Hina gets. But let’s not forget what’s happening: the two are walking to school together! This is huge. What will his classmates think? What will they say? How will Rei and Hina handle the fact that they look like one of history’s most perfect couples, straight out of the gate?

Unfortunately, all of that must be left up to my imagination, because 3-gatsu no Lion closes the book on the life of Rei, Hina, the Kawamotos, the Koudas, and all of the shogi folk. Hopefully it will be back, but if this is truly the end of the anime, it couldn’t have ended on a higher, brighter note, rising from the sullen depths of the Kouda household.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 43 – Some are Gone, but Some Remain

Gramps’ doctor is impressed with how far he’s been able to lower his blood pressure, especially when he used to say things like “I don’t need doctors!” and “I’ll die when like!” which are, let’s face it, Big Time Granddad things to say. But when his wife and daughter left him with “three little ones” he resolved to stay alive until they were all married off, which he realizes is a big ask considering Momo is still in preschool.

One of those little ones, Hinata, is making fine progress with studying, and Rei is putting on a tutoring clinice…until he tells Hina that Takahashi is going to school all the way in Shikoku, something she didn’t know until Rei told her; something Rei immediately feels very shitty for doing.

The news totally throws her off her studying game and into a spiral of despair over yet another person suddenly vanishing from her life. She stays out in the cold and catches one, and since Akari has to work late it falls to Rei to take care of her and assure her she’s studied enough, won’t forget what she knows, and will be okay in time for the exams.

That night, Hina can’t hold back the flood of tears from thinking about everyone who is or will soon be gone from her life. But with Rei there by her side, even to walk her to exams, she realizes that things aren’t all bad; for as many people who have left her life, just as many remain, like Rei, to help her up when she slips. She takes comfort in that.

She passes the entrance exams, which means in April she’ll officially be Rei’s kohai at his high school. While her aunt was initially very skeptical of a second-year high schooler spending so much time alone with her young and vulnerable niece, her fears are met with chillingly identical reactions from Akari and Gramps…Kiriyama/”the Kid” isn’t going to do anything weird. I mean, he’s Kiriyama/”the Kid”! 

Indeed, even Hinata tells him he’s “like a mother,” to which he should say “what’s wrong with mothers? Mothers are great!”

While very pure and oblivious to some if not most of what is said about him and Hinata, he knows one thing for sure: when he heard she wanted to come to his high school, he did everything he could to help her achieve that goal, and didn’t worry about whether that was right or wrong.

When she showed up at home with mismatched slippers, and stayed utterly true to her heart even in the face of gross injustice, she lit a light within him he didn’t have before. She made a part of him.

Then Rei gets a surprise of his own: his father shows up, having avoided demotion, which means they’ll both be in B-2 next period, and he wants to pick up where they left off…which is just fine with Rei.

3-gatsu no Lion – 42 – High School Should Be Fun

It’s still summer vacation for Hina, and she was so inspired by the town festival that ideas for new sweets are exploding in her head…yet those dreams of expanding her confectionary repertoire are being deferred by summer homework and school days.

Hina proudly shows her adorably delicious designs to a duly impressed Rei. When he decided to get into shogi, he believed it was his only path; the only thing he could do at the time. It worked out, but that wasn’t guaranteed.

Hina, looking toward the future like few eighth graders do, has a lot more options, so Rei agrees with others who have told her she really should go to high school…even if she ultimately does decide to work at her gramps’ sweets shop she loves so much.

After a not-so-fun year in middle school, Hina is understandably weary of going to high school, particularly having to make all new friends. But Rei has an idea. He takes Hina (who also brings Momo) to his school, Hashi High, where Noguchi, Mr. Hayashida, and the Science Club have set up a bitchin’ flume noodle stream out of surplus bamboo.

On first sight, both Hina and Momo mistake the mustachioed Noguchi for a teacher (natch), while Hayashida spots Hina and understands instantly why Rei wanted to help this girl so much. When Akari, an older version of her, arrives, disheveled and sweaty, Hayashida is nearly blown away by smitten-ness.

The noodle bonanza commences, with the lads adjusting the stream angle and stream to help an overmatched Momo, and showing Hina the proper way to catch the noodles. They then play a little game where the color of the accent noodle they catch determines whether they get tempura; Hayashida runs into a streak of bad luck here.

In any case, everyone has a ton of fun, which leads Hina and Akari to wonder out loud if maybe she should try to get into Rei’s high school. It’s an idea I don’t think has ever come up before, but I like it. I like it a lot!

3GL is equally adept at portraying the sizzling summer heat as the warm, cozy interior of the Kawamoto house in winter, as a serious time leap takes place in the second half. It’s new years, and Hina and Rei are under the electric kotatsu.

Ever since Rei heard Hina’s intention to apply to his school, he’s (a notion by which he’s clearly elated), he’s been gung-ho about helping Hina study for the entrance exams, putting the same passion and diligence into it than he does while preparing for a shogi tournament.

When Akari was Hina’s age studying late for exams, their mother once asked if she wanted tempura or fried tofu in her udon. Akari couldn’t decide, so her mom put both in, and thus Kawamoto Pampering Udon was born.

By making the same udon for Hina and Rei, Akari is both passing on a tradition and remembering her mother’s love while paying it forward. Plus that shit looks guuuuud.

Hina takes a look back to when she was still weary of trying for Hashi High, mostly because it’s a fancy and thus expensive private school and she didn’t want to be a burden on Gramps or his sweet shop’s steady but modest revenue.

Gramps, not one who believes kids shouldn’t think about finances, is chuffed that Hina thought of him while considering her choice. But he believes they’ll be fine money-wise, and in any case, his granddaughter’s happiness is paramount. If she’ll have fun at “the kid’s” high school after suffering in middle school, her choice has his full blessing.

Back in the present, Hina asks Rei for help on a math problem, but he’s so absorbed in his shogi study he doesn’t notice. Far from being annoyed, Hina actually feeds off the infectiously incredible concentration. In another sign these two were destined for each other, they are completely at ease without saying any words. Hina pulls back her window curtain, and after noting how hushed it seemed, discovers the first snowfall of the year.

A masterpiece need not always contain shocking revelations, twists, or developments, although Hina trying to join Rei in high school is a pretty big deal. This was a quiet, peaceful episode filled with fun, love, and ambitious yet very achievable dreams to aspire to.

The show created little pockets of happiness one wants to wrap around oneself like a blanket, all while organically building the very close and loving bond between Rei and Hina, both souls beyond their years. Few shows do this kind of stuff better.

3-gatsu no Lion – 41

I much prefer my 3GL with the Kawamoto sisters, and when they’re not around, regardless of whether Rei is with them, it’s just not the same. So I’m happy to report this week has no shortage of Akari, Hinata, Momo, and their Gramps.

In preparation for a town festival where Moon Crescent will have a stall, Gramps has left the production of rice flour dumplings to the sisters, who make them even better than Gramps was expecting (though he never lets on that they surpassed his expectations).

As for the proper dipping syrup to accompany the dumplings, Gramps likes the plum the best, which Hinata got from Chiho on her first visit to the farm where she’s slowly, gradually building back her ability to interact with kids her own age. Even the sight of Hinata can cause the profoundly tramatized Chiho to simply freeze up.

Hinata and Akari do not leave Chiho with smiles on their faces, but they take solace in knowing Chiho is fighting with everything she’s got to get better.

“Everything You’ve Got” could well be the Kawamoto family slogan. Even down a mother, a father, and a grandmother, Gramps and the sisters (with drudgery help from a game Rei) don’t have ass a single thing, and pull off a marvelous festival. People buy everything they make so quickly Gramps has to pull up his sleeves and make more dumplings.

In the middle of it, Hina and Rei share a nice little moment in the doorway of the store, simply taking in the cozy warmth of the festival, and all the happy customers and couples and families around them. Takahashi pays a visit, taller than ever, but let’s not kid ourselves about who’s #1 in Hina’s heart!

Despite it being summer vacation, Hinata’s class has a summer term test, while Mr. Kokubu prepares to step down as their interim teacher, passing the duties to a young and extremely nervous new homeroom teacher, not just terrified by having to deal with Takagi, but her fire-breathing mother as well.

Kokubu’s time with Takagi Megumi is just about at an end as well. Takagi, ever the wannabe nihilist, scoffs upon hearing Kokubu was never able to give her a definitive answer for why everyone has to put in effort and do their best.

However, what Kokubu has been able to determine is that Takagi is paralyzed by anxiety over not knowing what to do with herself. She never makes an effort because she’s scared of learning her “capacity” and being disappointed by it.

His departing lesson to her is that it’s okay to be disappointed; it is simply part of life. One cannot go anywhere in life until they find their capacity that will give them an understanding of what they should do, which will make more clear what she wants to do, thus reducing if not eliminating her terrible anxiety. In short, Takagi needs to do her best so she can learn what her best is.

One other lesson Kokubu could have given Takagi is that it might not be a bad idea to hang around Hinata more. Not necessarily to seek forgiveness, but to witness someone her own age who always does her best,

Hinata knows what she can do and wants to do, and is always looking to expand what those two things are. The festival just ended, and she’s already planning next year’s menu…but until after studying for her test.

Then again, perhaps that’s not such a good idea. Takagi in her current state could well be blinded to death by getting too close to Hinata!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 09

You’d hope Nishikata getting a cell phone would be a chance for him to grow up a little, but he only sees it as the trump card in his futile quest to successfully tease Takagi.

Perhaps he grew up a bit in spite of his intentions, since it doesn’t take long for him to cave and spout his whole plan to Takagi, who saw it coming from miles away. In any case, Takagi wants his contact info anyway, so they exchange it, and she promises to use it.

For calling him out on his attempted tease, Takagi appeals to Nishikata’s general honor by telling him he should make it up to her by helping her with classroom day duty; Nishikata does not resist. He’s tired because he couldn’t sleep after watching a scary video on his phone.

When he sends it to Takagi, she first teases him by showing him a picture of a woman in a bikini, asking if that’s what he sent, then watches the video, only to not be that scared at all because it’s not nighttime (and because let’s face it, it’s a dumb video).

That night, at the same time Nishikata is about to send her another scary video, she calls him to head it off, again correctly predicting his behavior (though that isn’t that hard at this point).

What results is what she wanted all along: to simply talk on the phone with Nishikata, for the first time at night, even saying it makes her heart flutter. Because of that, Nishikata can’t sleep a second straight night, though for a totally different reason!

Nishikata’s efforts to take a phone photo that will beat his friends’ lead him to beg Takagi to do her patented funny face so he can snap it; Takagi’s cost is high: he’ll have to do “whatever she says.” When she finally does the face, Nishikata isn’t ready. Then Takagi pulls out a toy snake and snaps three pictures of his reactions.

While she’s laughing at those pics she’s so happy to have taken, Nishikata tries to take her picture, but she snaps immediately into a normal peace-sign pose. Nishikata proposes they each delete the photos of one another, but Takagi refuses, and tells him not to delete her picture off his phone, though also asks him not to show it to anyone else, as it’s “embarrassing.”

While he may have thought he’d have a new weapon to even the odds in his cell phone, the truth is Takagi is far more adept in its use. It’s a tool, after all; it’s all about the talent of the person wielding it. So he’s merely given her another avenue to “tease” him, though it’s mainly a means for them to get a little closer.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san – 08

This episode is bookended by instances of Takagi making physical contact with Nishikata and Nishikata having to deal with it. He seems to be mostly fine with her holding onto him while they bike, but it was a long, tough road, and his ribs are ticklish.

Now that they’ve mastered the skill, Takagi says they won’t have to practice anymore, and gets Nishikata to say he’s both relieved and bummed out (though in truth its probably mostly the latter).

The second term starts in a typhoon, and Nishikata stands in the wind and spouts giddy shonen lines like a chuuni. Naturally Takagi spots him doing this, and gives him a chance to win her silence. He fails, yet again because he dismissed his first, correct guess as to why she didn’t have her bike.

The marathon segment is an apparent test of wills, as the two have stakes on winning – having to do what the other says, as usual. When Nishikata’s classmates ask if he’s going out with Takagi, his reaction is Pure Girl-from-100%UL.

He’s also been training extensively in order to be good at long distance, and initially employs a “mind emptying” running mentality, but emptying his mind only makes it easier for him to fill that space up with Takagi.

He gets trapped in a mind game in which he tries to run far enough ahead to spook Takagi, only for her to pull the very same trick on him, only successfully. And again, she gave him an honest chance for him to win (he merely had to touch her) which he simply did not take.

On another trip to/from school, the touching theme continues, with Takagi taking the initiative (of course) by starting a habit of poking Nishikata in the ribs, with the very clear implication that he is welcome to poke her back.

When he doesn’t, she beats him in another match (making a funny face to make him laugh), and rather than forbid him from eating rice or reading 100%UL, she has a simple punishment: all he has to do is poke her ribs.

He gives one half-hearted tap against Takagi’s side after much hemming and hawing, and Takagi reveals that while she’s not ticklish in the ribs, she is ticklish in the armpits. Again, Nishikata is welcome to test her claim, but he’s too embarrassed.

Summer may have given Takagi a few new opportunities to tease Nishikata, but it also brought the two much closer together. We’ll see what the new term will bring.

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 – 06

It’s Summer Vacation, which means, presumably, that Nishikata won’t have to deal with Takagi’s teasing. But one can never presume when it comes to young love, as Takagi and Nishikata end up spending a lot of time together despite not being beholden to it by school schedules.

When Takagi proposes the two of them practice tandem riding during the summer, Takagi might bristle, but he doesn’t refuse. After all, while he’d probably never admit it he enjoys her company, and not just for the challenge of trying to best her.

Because Nishikata can’t pull off the tandem riding on the first day, he owes Takagi a juice, but can’t afford one of his own. Takagi first offers a sip from her can, which would be an indirect kiss, but then buys him a juice with her own change, because more than wanting to tease him, she wants him to be hydrated.

After a rainy day during which only the class president does her homework, Nishikata is late for his “appointment” with Takagi, and when she arrives, she’s in such a cute summer outfit he hardly recognizes her, so used he is to seeing her in her sailor fuku.

But there are too many puddles in their practice lot, so Takagi proposes they hang out anyway by doing a test of courage in a nearby “haunted” tunnel. Predictably, Nishikata falls for a number of pranks Takagi all too easily executes, capitalizing on the fact he’s scared even though he insists he isn’t.

Once they emerge on the other end, two young siblings passing by spot them and the sister deduces Nishikata and Takagi are another couple having a date. Which, sorry Nishikata, you kinda are. Sucks to be you! Oh wait, no it doesn’t.

The next day Nishikata doesn’t expect to see Takagi, who is on a family vacation. But when he spots her in the road (in another adorable outfit) he attempts to follow and surprise her, only for her to spot him first and devise a countermeasure.

She succeeds in scaring him, but more importantly, she wants to know what he’s up to, and since they’re both going shopping, she makes it another “date.” However, she did not expect a cicada to be under her hat, and almost falls backwards; Nishikata tries reflexively to catch her, but trips and falls himself, skinning his knee, while Takagi managed to regain her balance.

The caring Takagi comes out once more, insisting Nishikata wash the wound at a water tap. She gives him her personalized handkerchief to tie around his knee (thereby literally marking him as hers), then slips off her sandals and soaks her feet in the tap, inviting Nishikata to join her.

Nishikata had been having the “worst summer vacation day”, but Takagi counters his assertion by saying she’s having a good one because she got to see “a certain someone.” Lady, just tell him you got to see him. Either that, or fall for someone less dense!

Tsurezure Children – 12 (Fin)

Tsurezure Children’s finale starts with Sports Day and a soccer tournament, during which time Kurihara cheers for Yamane, Kanda wonders if it’s okay to cheer Takase, Takase wonders if it’s okay to look her way, Kana and Chiaki are still cool to each other, and Patricia joins the boys.

Chiaki gets the opportunity to save Kana from getting hit by the ball, and as thanks, Kana starts cheering for Chiaki—in her own way, telling the idiot to impress her. Chiaki can’t help but oblige, and comes this close to scoring (a goal) when his run is blocked by Noro, who, not having a girlfriend, resents the guys who do. Patricia then swoops in and scores, ruining Chiaki’s chance to be cool for Kana.

On the last day of school before Summer Break, plans for a beach trip crop up. Takano’s friend tells her Sugawara may come, and Sugawara’s friend (Chiaki) tells him Takano will. But neither believe the other cares whether they go or not, and so remain noncommittal.

However, this is only the beginning of an apparent conspiracy between their friends to get the two alone together, and in the process, Kana ends up alone with Chiaki, even though he didn’t get her message because his phone battery died.

Chiaki concedes that they’re broken up, but he realizes the error of his ways in being so comfortable in a relationship with Kana he thought he could do no wrong. He asks that the existing breakup stand, but that Kana allow him to confess to her once more, because he doesn’t want to lose her again. When he asks her out, Kana, who never truly wanted to break up in the first place, quickly says yes, her face drenched with tears of joy.

In the classroom, it’s Takano who takes the initiative, first asking Sugawara in a voice well above her usual volume whether he’s going to the beach, and then, when he’s ready to sheepishly leave, telling him it won’t be fun without him. Just like that, the two are able to connect and move forward. It’s a happy ending and smiles all ’round for two couples who had suffered so much, as we suffered with them, and a sweet place to end.

Tsurezure Children stuck to a simple formula and executed it admirably, utilizing the variety, realism, relatability and rootability of its sprawling ensemble cast. Of course, not every relationship has been resolved; I wouldn’t mind another go.

Aho Girl – 05

Summer Vacation is here. A-kun wants to study. Yoshiko wants to play. For once, I’m on her side (wait…when am I ever not?). Ruri has recovered from last week’s unintentional assault. Yoshiko invites her to go see a new magical girl anime movie. A-kun tells her that stuff’s for kids, and Ruri starts to cry…so A-kun agrees they’ll all go to the movies.

BIG mistake. Neither Yoshiko nor Ruri can keep it down, making such a disturbance A-kun has to smack them both and carry them out with apologies to the rest of the audience. Though I must say, Yoshiko breaking out of her tape binds, magical girl transformation-style, was pretty nifty.

Next, Yoshiko wants to go to the beach. She’s not alone; Sayaka thinks it’ll be fun times as well. Fuuki Iinchou and Ryuuichi happen to be in the neighborhood (stalking A-kun in various ways) so they want in as well. Suddenly A-kun is all alone on an island of people who don’t want to go to the beach.

While everyone is shopping for swimsuits (don’t they own any?) he mentions he won’t be joining them on the trip. Then Sayaka pulls out all the stops to guilt trip A-kun into coming along, by calling him a weirdo who draws other weirdos, like Yoshiko and Ryuuichi and Fuuki Iinchou…and yes, even Sayaka. But she bets—correctly—that even if she is a weirdo, A-kun will still be her friend.

The morning of the trip arrives, and Fuuki ends up facing off against Yoshiko’s mom, who smells an “A-kun-stealing homewrecker” and a “sow”. Neither Fuuki nor Ryuuichi are a match for Yoshiko’s mom’s extensive cat fight experience…but A-kun is, and warns her to knock off the violent behavior and leave them in peace.

She does, but not before slipping A-kun her still-warm bra (for some reason) before scampering off while laughing maniacally. I think I’m realizing where Yoshiko got a lot of her brash theatricality…

Kuromukuro – 12

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As the Gezon-Reco of Efidolg decide to send another of their own (Nouet) down to Japan to deal with the Black Relic that’s been ruining their plans, the school term has given way to Summer break for Yukina, Ken, and Noelle, as well as Akagi, Mika, and Kaya.

Yukina boasts that she needn’t participate in extra lessons despite her deplorable marks, since she’s already been enrolled in what amounts to boot camp at Kurobe, with the always pleasantly profane Tom Borden as drill sargeant and Noelle, Shenmei, and Seb joining both out of solidarity and to stay sharp. Akagi also joins, in hopes of becoming a geoframe pilot.

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What ensues is your standard boot-camp/training episode, with Yukina predictably bad at pretty much everything early on. Indeed, after the first day of exertion she’s skipping dinner to throw up in the sink, but Shenmei grabs her from behind, throws her on the bed, sits on her, and…gives her deep massage and reiki. We’ve seen precious little of Shenmei, but I like how she’s so quietly supportive during Yukina’s descent into her Summer of Hell.

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To add insult to injury, Seb is assigned by her teacher to make sure she and Ken don’t fall behind on lessons. But the training is a long time coming now that Yukina is committed to co-piloting the Black Relic with Ken: she can’t rely on him to rescue her from every little thing.

That being said, Ken still saves her on numerous occasions, whether it’s a hand or word of encouragement, or something more dramatic like saving her from drowning when Tom shoves her into a pool in full kit.

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Ken is punished for “babying the Princess”, but thanks to Tom not thinking when activating the shock collar, Yukina and Noelle also get zapped, and the three zappees get a day off while Shenmei and Tom test the experimental GAUS water-walking system.

The unusual-for-Kuromukuro level of fanservice continues when Noelle shares photos of Mika in sexy fantasy cosplay that Ken can neither resist voicing his outrage and snapping a pic of the pic for his own, erm, records.

When the water-walking GAUS goes literally sideways and water starts leaking in the sinking frame, Shenmei remains almost comically (but also impressively) cool as a cucumber.

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The training continues, with Ken having to push Yukina less and less since she’s pushing herself (though Noelle notices how much he stares at Yukina), and things get easier as she grows stronger and more confident. Where once she couldn’t shoot with her eyes open, now she at least opens one, so it’s only a matter of time before she opens both.

For his continues heroism and lack of betrayal, Ken is rewarded by having his sword returned to him (by Yukina) and his collar removed (also by Yukina), resulting in some very close proximity between the two.

I’m enjoying the slow burn of their mutual attraction and respect, even if it doesn’t go far. Like it or not, Ken has found a new “princess” in Yukina, and thus a new commitment and purpose.

Yukina tells him he gets the sword on the condition he won’t seek his death with it through reckless action. And as the episode closes with a descending Nouet, Yukina’s newfound skills and stamina will be put to the test very soon.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 16 (Fin)

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Back at the start of this Haruhi spin-off, Nagato Yuki’s goal was clear: work up the courage to confess her feelings to Kyon. Well, it took a car accident and a case of temporary dysmnesia, but she achieved that goal, back in episode 13. I say she did so, even though she had a different personality at the time and doesn’t remember it afterward, because it was Nagato Yuki who said those words, and it was most definitely Kyon who heard them and didn’t forget them. Ever since then, the ball’s been in his court. And that would be the case even if Yuki remembered confessing.

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In his monologues, Kyon is constantly updating us as to where he stands on the Fujiyama of Summer: he’s somewhere around the middle; somewhere where he’s sure he’ll have plenty of time to talk to Yuki normally. As for the show, this is the last episode, so when so much time is spent on Haruhi-mandated Summer activities without progress and the Summer passes by, I got a little nervous.

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But since the episode is called “fireworks”, I knew we’d get some in one form or another, and when the night of fireworks festival showed up, and after more awkwardness Kyon asks Ryouko what he should do, she makes him realize he’s distancing himself from Yuki without telling her why, which is hurting her. That revelation, that he’s personally detracting from Yuki’s—this Yuki’s—happiness, motivates him to suck it up and take that wonderfully-yukata’d girl aside to talk.

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You see, Kyon uses the fireworks to mask his words, so while he’s technically saying them to Yuki and thus clearing the air in his mind, she doesn’t hear anything, and so isn’t upset. When he tells Yuki he could’ve seen himself falling for her, even though he never considered the possibility of being liked that way, he sees New Yuki, in her sailor fuku, smile in recognition; not the yukata’d Old Yuki not hearing anything he’s saying.

What he does let her hear is his apology for being distant, and his promise he’ll start treating her like he always has, which doesn’t preclude the occasional romantic moment. So in the end, Yuki confessed her feelings and Kyon knowing she’d forget, and Kyon confessed to Yuki knowing she couldn’t hear. Hmm…let’s call it a draw, shall we?

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But hold on…what are all these knowing, possibly heartbroken, near-tearful expressions on adorably hair-bunned Haruhi’s visage? Why, it’s her giving up on Kyon; accepting Yuki’s won with grace…right? But what if, that night, Haruhi decided she never wanted the Summer to end; never wanted to come to the point where she’d have to concede defeat? In another show, she had that power…

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Oh show….you had to go there, didn’t you? Post-credits, we get the second “Kyon-kun Denwa!” of the episode, and suddenly we’re back in “Endless Eight” territory (full disclosure, I loved that arc). It would seem, unconsciously or not, that Haruhi managed to reset time. Has Kyon been being distant and awkward with Yuki for 594 years??

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Koufuku Graffiti – 05

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I’ve been intentionally conservative with rating KG’s episodes thus far because, at the end of the day, while the artistry is clear and present and the presentation of food is deliciously creative, the story is as ultra-lightweight and fluffy as a marshmallow. But this show will still make you think a little more about what you’re eating, why you’re eating it, who you’re eating it with, and how it really makes you feel. It will also, obviously, make you hungry.

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I decided to be a little more generous this week because, of all weeks, this KG brought the house; compressing an entire notebook of Summer vacation activities (much of it involving eating) into one gorgeous episode. It’s all achieved thanks to Shiina, who finally invites her new friends to her house.

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“House” doesn’t quite do it justice; it’s more like a sprawling estate that looks like the countryside even though they’re still within the Tokyo Metropolis. It reminds me of Kabaru Suruga’s place, though like Suruga, Shiina isn’t the least bit stuffy, stuck-up, or spoiled as her luxurious quality of life would suggest.

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In this gorgeous, ornate new setting the painters and director can really let their hair down, and they don’t disappoint with Shiina’s digs. It’s also the kind of place where Kirin can start to cross off various items from her Summer Activity checklist, even if some are merely technically being fulfilled (animal traps for a zoo, etc.)

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The episode also fakes us out by first having Kirin meet Shiina’s quiet, kimono’d mom in her garden (who is actually the house maid, Tsuyuko), then showing us that her real mom is like a hyperactive version of Shiina, and just as warm and generous, dispensing ungodly amounts of sweets, and even inviting the girls to partake of flowing somen noodles, a whole big production that requires cutting down bamboo to make the track, before any cooking commences.

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Ryou and Kirin get a little overzealous with the manual labor, but once they’re in the kitchen they’re back in their element, and Ryou helpfully goes over all the sauces and condiments that go with somen, including an orthodoz kombu-and-katsuobushi dashi, which I have made from scratch only a couple times but is far superior to the powdered stuff. I also accidentally leave green onions connected on occasion, as Tsuyuko did.

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Yeah, that’s not how flowing somen works…

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Shiina’s mom gets a nice little meta moment when she expresses relief her daughter isn’t the only one who acts like this when she eats, what with the saturated color, slow-motion and eye-sparkling. As Kirin says in the cold open, eating is a serious duel between the eater and the eaten. In enjoying their noodles so thoroughly (and explaining in detail why), they do their food the attention and justice it deserves.

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While Shiina is inside, her mother thanks Ryou and Kirin for continuing to be her friend, as she was also worried her daughter didn’t have any. Now she notices that Shiina talks a lot more about her day, much of it involving the two of them. The girls react to this by being so overly affectionate to Shiina, she’s a little creeped out, but it’s all cute and charming as hell.

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And thanks to Shiina, Kirin could cross every last item off her checklist (in one way or another), not to mention create priceless memories, which was the purpose of the checklist. An episode that started with three miserable friends stuck in school drawing Summer became three elated, satisfied friends experiencing Summer to its fullest.

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