Rent-a-Girlfriend – 18 – Ride That Wave

The morning after Chizuru’s birthday Kazuya checks under the wall separating their balconies to confirm she took the gift. The neighbors exchange good mornings, and while Kazuya is stressed about how she felt about the gift, she comes right out and says the plums were good. She’ll also believe him when he says nothing happened with Ruka.

He wants to rent her Wednesday night, but her college friends are taking her out for drinks. Kazuya’s mates (who always wear thin) happen to drag him along for drinks as well. Kazuya didn’t know they’d be meeting girls and Chizuru didn’t know they’d be meeting guys, so naturally the two end up at the same bar together by pure coincidence (or purified luck).

An increasingly rowdy college bacchanalian ensues, with both Chizuru’s and Kazuya’s friends going with the good vibes and getting right trashed, all while Chizuru sips her tasteful newbie drinks with a calm dignity. Alas, when her friends get sufficiently boiled they’re not above fondling her boobs or snatching her glasses.

It’s here where anime magic must hold sway, because tipsy or not these people would surely know Mizuhara Chizuru and Ichinose Chizuru are one and the same. That said, those bamboo shoot rounds are brutal. Not wanting Chizuru to get sick on her first night of legal drinking, he loses on purpose again and again.

The end result is that he leaves the bar with an acute case of the bad spins. If Chizuru despised him she’d just leave him to the night, but he’s a neighbor, and while she’d like to deny it, he’s more than just an acquaintance or client too. So she helps him home and unlocks his door so he can go inside and pass out.

Even then, she’s not about to leave him alone in this state, especially since she knows all too well he lost the drinking game on purpose. While praying to the porcelain god he mutters something about always causing trouble for Mizuhara, so he at least wanted to look out for Ichinose.

This moves Chizuru to the point she rubs his back to help him vomit more efficiently. And while Kazuya is a bad role model for basically binge drinking, he did it with noble intentions., and seeing the two of them in such a messy, human, vulnerable, relatable domestic scene, was very wholesome and satisfying. They really have each other’s backs.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

A Couple of Cuckoos – 14 – Thinking About Pi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Couple of Cuckoos – 11 – A Proper Woman

Sachi is out visiting her folks at the newly opened family diner, so when a storm causes a blackout, it’s just Nagi and Erika, who instinctually hold one another. Growing up loaded, Erika is so unaccustomed to outages she assumes the Martians are attacking.

Once she lights her aromatherapy candle, she and Nagi calm down, and have a cozy little conversation about how much fun they’re both having. Then Erika realizes there’s an emergency kit in the entry hall coat closet and has him go collect it.

While in the hall, Nagi finds a puddle, then trips and falls into who he thinks is Erika…but it’s actually Sachi, who just got home. When he falls into her, they lock lips, but he dismisses it as no big deal and returns to Erika, who is calling for him like a wife would.

But it is a big deal for Sachi, and there’s no way she can forget it! After hearing the exact same scenario play out on her and her friends’ favorite anime, she decides “Screw Onii” and avoids him for the next couple days, making the atmosphere at home awkward for everyone, including Erika.

When Nagi finally comes clean to Erika about what happened, Erika dons her sexy teacher cosplay and points out where Nagi erred. He may still see her as his brat of a kid sister, she’s close to marriageable age; a “proper woman”, and Nagi was insensitive.

When it’s just Nagi and Hiro at the next library study session, Hiro can tell something’s up and offers her services as spiritual counselor free of charge. She tells Nagi he can be insensitive, especially when he blew through her admitting she was engaged and publicly declared academic war against her. But she also likes how straightforward and direct he is, so she advises him to be that way here.

Thanks to the perspective and advice of two other people who care about both him and Sachi, Nagi arrives at Sachi’s door nervous but prepared to end this little row with honesty and contriteness.

He tells Sachi he’s sorry for hurting her and being so thoughtless, and declares his intention to no longer look at her or treat her as just his kid sister, but the proper woman she is fast becoming.

His words do the trick; we know that Sachi wanted this from Nagi, and hearing the words from his mouth without her having to beat him over the head with a baseball bat means the word to her.

Of course, Nagi remains blissfully unaware of the fact Sachi has feelings for him, but hey, at least they’re talking again. Erika is clearly relieved that the vibes will improve

I remain unenthused at the prospect of a Sachi Route, and their accidental kiss could reasonably be held in contempt of the laws of physics, but it was true that Nagi wasn’t being fair to Sachi, and his adjustment in thinking was both welcome and arrived upon thanks to the friendships he’s forged with Erika and Hiro.

Engage Kiss – 01 (First Impressions) – A Spare Key for Victory

From the fact his apartment lacks gas and electric when his pink-haired companion lets herself in to try to make dinner, to the fact his ex-partner Ayano foots the bill for his first meal in three days, Ogata Shuu is what is known in Japan as binbou—destitute. Regardless, he seems adamant about living his own life his way, even if his new independent business is not off to a strong start.

His companion, Kisara waits for him in the dark back home, having prepared a pretty impressive feast despite the lack of utilities. When he says he already ate, and vaguely smells of another woman, Kisara goes down a spiral of self-deprecation until he eats the cold repast. When he asks Kisara for the last of her savings for a cash-on-delivery, she posts an Insta of the two of them about to send themselves to heaven with sleeping pills.

But all is not lost. Poor as he is, Shuu still has a seat at the table of companies who bid over contracts to rid their floating city (in the water, not air) spelled either Veyron or Bayron of “Demon Hazards.” There’s a mid-level one wreaking havoc in a central casino, and Shuu ends up with the lowest dollar amount by far (less than $40K, vs. the second-lowest being $112).

The other bidders leave the virtual meeting in disgust, but Ayano’s mom’s company agrees to support him (with Ayano herself) in exchange for a hefty share of the extermination fee. Shuu shows up late for his own operation, but Ayano and her soldiers are consummate professionals as they mow down the demon’s minions.

The demon turns out to be tougher than its estimated C-Class level, putting Shuu’s back against the wall, but then Kisara, having forgiven him, arrives by passing through the floor. The only problem is, while her sword packs a punch, she only gets one good swing, which is deflected by the demon.

Kisara tells Shuu she’s out of power, and needs to recharge. The way she does that is by making out with Shuu, something he both seems to find uncomfortable and enjoys, but also causes him to pass out due to the exchange of energy. During their kissing, Kisara not only shows tongue, but fangs.

If passing through floors wasn’t enough of a giveaway, Kisara isn’t human; she’s a demoness who happens to be a higher level than the opponent in the casino. But initially she’s angry at Ayano for being another woman that exists in Shuu’s world and the two constantly launch attacks at each other that only hit the demon’s multiplying minions.

Their battle is the best part of the episode, but Shuu gets between the two, and Kisara declares she’ll finish his job if Shuu gives her an important token of their contract: his spare key. It doesn’t matter if she can walk right through his door; she wants to be able to unlock and open it whenever she wants, as a sign of his love and his trust in her.

Shuu relents, and upon receipt of the key, Kisara’s attack power reaches 11. The two count down together from ten, with Kisara blasting through the demon hazard’s shields and Kisara delivering the final coup-de-grace with a shot from his pistol. Their mission accomplished, Kisara ends up on top of Shuu and leans in for a celebratory kiss…

But unfortunately both of them went a little too far with the power, compromising the structural integrity of the entire skyscraper, which is actually crucial to keeping the entire city afloat. While I’m sure Veyron City is in no danger of sinking, Kisara flies around the skyscraper, apparently trying to keep it level, while Ayano remarks that B-Class or C-Class, the Demon Hazard they fought never had a chance against Kisara, who is a Super A-Class who happens to be on their side, possibly only due to her liking Shuu.

Part badass demon-hunting, part workplace romantic comedy, and part abject lesson in proper budgeting, Engage Kiss’ first episode is nothing if not…ahem…engaging. Shuu comes off as a useless mooch most of the time but comes through when it matters, while Kisara and Ayano should prove to be strong clashing personalities for Shuu’s attention and the spoils of demon-hunting victory. All in all, a fun and energetic start, but we’ll see if it will make the final Summer cut.

Heroines Run the Show – 10 – The Stir

The rumors of a LIPxLIP member romance around going away, as evidenced by the appearance of the photos on television, with Hiyori’s face pixelated. That makes it so Narumi Mona can’t quite recognize the girl she met a few weeks back, while Sena insists neither of the boys would be incautious enough to date a classmate.

But while the rumors and nasty online comments abound, it’s not that bad for our LIPxLIP and their manager-in-training. Her support network was already established last week, but the three also have the support of their teacher and by extension the school. Yuujirou’s father also sees this as evidence his son actually is making something of himself, and that the Someya family is far tougher than these petty rumors.

That said, Hiyori decides to keep her distance from the two and encourages them not to talk or interact with her, which they rightfully consider to be a pain. They may not admit it, but Hiyori is not just their manager-in-training, but a friend. Speaking of friends, Hiyori feels terrible having to lie about her connections to the boys, even to Chizuru and Juri.

Back at the studio, Uchida outlines the steps being taken to reduce the damage to the LIPxLIP brand, including explaining and apologizing to all of their corporate sponsors and supporters. Yuujirou’s kabuki prodigy brother Kouichirou makes a surprise appearance to help the lads track down whoever did this and punish them.

But for Hiyori’s that’s, as she would say it, crossin’ a line. Idols shouldn’t be accusing or fighting with fans. She’s read their fan mail; she knows the genuine love and support they have for LIPxLIP, and she knows that even if it was unintentional, she damaged that bond by simply being in those photos. For that reason, she decides to quit her job as manager-in-training.

It’s a very Hiyori move, putting the fans of her charges ahead of her own dreams, even if the boys remark that she’s not one to back down from a race or a challenge, considering they were that very thing at the beginning. But ultimately it’s a decision they let Hiyori make because it’s hers to make.

Suddenly bereft of their chipper manager-in-trainin’, Yuujirou and Aizou end up hanging out with their respective brothers. An odd shot of Ken earlier in the episode had me suspecting him as the sneak photographer, and his making what looks like a huge homemade meal of Aizou’s favorite dishes look like an apology.

As for Yuujirou, we learn the reason he got in trouble with the police: he was covering for his younger brother, who had been led astray by his senpais into a club where he was underage. It’s why Kouichirou wanted to help Yuujirou out with the scandal; he owes him.

But Yuujirou decides to hold onto that chip; he’s got this, along with Aizou. After all their time together, it’s amazing they don’t have each others cell phone numbers, and even though Aizou sneaks onto the Someya compound and climbs a tree as if to meet with his Juliet, they make no effort to exchange them.

That said, with help from Uchida, they set up a press conference in which they bare themselves to the masses salivating for content. All of their responses are quick, calm, well-rehearsed, no doubt also due to Uchida, but also the boys’ consummate professionalism, even when backed into a corner.

It’s also easy for fans and onlookers alike to relate to their situation: they could have gone full-in to professional entertainment, but chose to balance that with a legit high school life, and all the fun, simple little moments that make it. Moments like the ones the photos captured. At the end of the day, the photos tell the truth: these three are good friends.

The press conference invites the public to see their side of things, and their explanation of their “precious classmate” with whom they share their high school life is largely accepted, even embraced. But Hiyori watches it all in her darkened apartment, suddenly out of the picture and out of action. Again, this was her choice, but if she hadn’t made it, no one would have asked her to give up her job.

Uchida wasn’t being nice when she said she was glad she hired “Hiyako”. I just hope Hiyori comes to her senses and returns to work. If nothing else, her living expenses ain’t gonna pay for themselves!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Heroines Run the Show – 09 – Whose Girlfriend?

After what felt like a relatively sedate field day detour, HRS kicks back into gear, though there’s a bit of lag as the first half or so of the episode is slice-of-life luxuriating. This is not a complaint: it’s great to see Hiyori back on the track, her hard work motivating the boys to work harder towards their goal of a slot on Countdown Live. The guys even hang out with other guys at school for the first time, playing basketball in the schoolyard.

The episode briefly shifts to montage mode as we see Hiyori, Yuujirou, and Aizou growing closer and closer not as an idol unit and their manager, but three friends, culminating in their celebrating LIPxLIP getting a CDL slot with a three-way high-five. But that private moment is captured by a photographer hiding in the bushes, and the next morning photos of the happy trouple are made very public, causing a scandal.

Hiyori is ostracized by most of the school, but her friends show their quality by unconditionally supporting her all the way, even when she can’t properly explain the photos to anyone. Yuujirou and Aizou try their best to deflect, while Juri, Chizuru, and Hina offer Hiyori the support she needs in an unprecedented time in her life when all eyes are on her.

But while Hiyori the high schooler can power through the gossip and harassment, Hiyori the manager-in-training is another story. Throughout her difficulties, I kept thinking “just tell everyone you’re childhood friends!”, but once the photos are posted online they become a trending topic, and the narrative is officially out of Hiyori’s LIPxLIP’s, and their managers’ control.

Hiyori’s job would seem to be in jeopardy—the next episode is called “I’m Quittin’ Being a Manager”, for cryin’ out loud—but even if this is the beginning of the end, she can look on the bright side: she’ll have more time to hone her track dreams. I for one still hope she can pull out of this tailspin with a little help from her friends, some focused messaging from the adults, and a little luck.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 12 (Fin) – You’re Lithe in April

For its finale ASU takes a somewhat unique and refreshing approach to the sports festival formula: it starts at the end, with Akebi’s much-anticipated dance in front of the whole school. Before taking the stage she admits to Usagihara that she’s a little nervous.

Usagihara knows she’ll be fine, because there’s a surprise for Akebi: joining her on stage for accompaniment is Erika, who is clearly her best friend. Unsuccessfully holding back tears at this surprise, Akebi proceeds to do what she took the stage to do: dance her heart out. This is yet another opportunity for the production team to flex its animation muscles.

The dance is interspersed with scenes from the preceding festival, in which Akebi cheered on everyone in the crowd, while they cheered and supported her in her events, and now in the auditorium. It’s a nice way to break up the one weakness to the performance, which is a pretty but also somewhat bland and repetitive song, and also show all kinds of sports action.

A clever creative choice is for the assembled classmates and friends to recognize Akebi’s acrobatic dance moves in both her earlier cheer dancing and athletic feats, some of which reach incredible, lyrical heights. Then Erika switches to violin and the performance is taken to another level still. When the dancing’s over, Akebi and Erika hold hands as they bow to the crowd.

The Monday morning after the even, Akebi is naturally still fatigued from exertions both athletic and artistic. She almost can’t believe what went down during the festival and afterward, as if it were a dream. But it’s not, and she overslept so her sister made breakfast, and Akebi’s whole family is there to greet her and her bed head.

The final scenes echo the first episode, first when Akebi runs through gorgeous landscapes on her way to school, then encounters Erika alone in the classroom. This time, however, Erika isn’t smelling her nail clippers…and also, they’re the best of friends!

Akebi had once been in a class of one with no one her age to hang out with…but thanks to her joyful gregarious personality and her mom’s sewing skills, she now has not just one but at least fifteen friends in her class, and plenty more outside. They enrich her life, and she theirs—a bright and joyful balance.

SAKUGAN – 12 (FIN) – THICKER THAN BLOOD

The Big Twist that starts the SAKUGAN finale is that Memenpu actually is a “Rainbow Child”, a child with an exceptionally advanced brain. This not only explains why she’s a genius, but what the “place in her dream” is all about: it was never a dream, it was a memory. Rainbow Children retain vivid memories even from their infancy. As Rainbow Children were bred to be the guardians of the Labyrinth, they are anathema to Shibito, who want them all dead.

Fortunately, Muro’s boss doesn’t let her kill Memenpu right away, even though it’s debatable what if anything he intends to do with her before killing her. This gives the remaining members of Team Memenpu the time they need to zero in on her location and rescue her. It’s definitely a team effort, with Yuri using a second-hand computer in a store to guide Gagumber and Zackletu, then Zack distracting both Shibito and the Bureau with sheer ballistic chaos.

Gagumber locates Memenpu, but by then she’s been placed in a bell jar, which soon shatters due to the Animus dripping on top of it. Memenpu seems to be immune to its deleterious effects due to her Rainbow-ness. But by the time her pops arrives, Muro’s boss (I don’t believe we got his name) has convinced Memenpu that she has no father. Whether their surroundings were meant to evoke that same father-y scene from Empire, I don’t know.

All’s I know is, this Shibito guy is a huge prick for messing with Memenpu’s head, and for all her advanced intellect, Memenpu betrays just how sensitive and naïve she his, simply accepting the guy’s words about Gagumber not being her father. She even puts herself between the guy and Gagumber, offering up herself in exchange for her not-dad’s safety.

Gagumber, rightfully so, says fuck that, treading through the shallow pool of Animus to reach Memenpu, melting away his boots and burning his feet. He tells her he is, always was, and always will be her father, and she is, always was, and always will be his daughter. Whatever she wants to do and wherever it leads them, he’ll be by her side on her journey. Memenpu, realizing she does have a dad in Gagumber after all, has herself a good cry in his arms.

Seemingly moved by this dramatic and cathartic exchange, the Shibito boss decides to let Memenpu and Gagumber go…for now. Gagumber recharges Big Tony and they take the shortest route back to Dream Colony proper—by drilling through the colony’s retaining wall. There, Gagumber zeroes in on Muro and blasts her through a hole in the floor for making his daughter cry.

There’s a ceremony honoring Team Memenpu hosted by Merooro, but when he produces arrest warrants and the team is surrounded by Bureau cops and bots, Memenpu unleashes a cloud of purple smoke from Tony and the quartet escapes with the Bureau in hot pursuit. Not sure why Merooro held a ceremony just to arrest them, but whatevs.

Back on the Labyrinth “road”, Memenpu leads her team on their original mission: to find the place in her dreams, come what may. It’s what she truly wants to do, and that’s more than enough for Gagumber to accompany her, and by extension Zack and Yuri. It’s been fun watching this found family iron out their warts and beat the bad guys…fun enough that I’ll likely give the expected second season a watch.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

SAKUGAN – 11 – THE PRINCESS AND THE MARKERS

Memenpu, Gagumber, Zack, Yuri and Merooro arrive in the bustling Dream City, which true to its name is apparently a place where people can live out their dreams. Merooro got everyone tickets for a recital from the Diva Sina, who is also the colony’s princess. When Memenpu catches Gagumber trying to ditch the recital for a gentleman’s club, Sina literally drops in on them and basically declares asylum from her lofty role.

Sina happens to have a stack of drawings she’s made throughout her life, her means of escaping to the world of dreams and possibilities when her actual future was fixed. But just for today, she wants to experience all of the things she dreamt of and drew. Memenpu notes how simple all of these things are, but like any member of royalty, the little things of normal life are what they often yearn for.

A sweet and lovely adventure ensues, as Memenpu secures the three of them disguises (the colony authorities and Bureau have branded the father-daughter a duo dangerous Shibito kidnappers) and Sina gets to wear regular clothes, gets a haircut to blend in, rides the packed rail transport, drinks beer in a bar, and plays video games with kids. Things take a turn when Memenpu tries to ask the kids what their dreams are and they don’t understand.

Turns out Dream Colony has a very strict system wherein your family determines your job. If your parents are electricians, that’s what you’ll become. Obviously this is anathema to Memenpu’s spirit of freedom and self-determination, and is frustrated both by the kids’ inability to get what she’s on about, and Sina’s insistence she can’t follow her dream to be an artist.

Memenpu moves heaven and earth to secure canvases and paint supplies so the two can paint together, and Sina gets into it, and starts to sing, revealing to the bystanders that she is indeed their Princess and Diva. That also attracts her secret service, who secure her and roughly arrest Gagumber and a very upset Memenpu. Sina flexes her political muscle by ordering they unhand her friends, but also agrees to return to the concert venue to perform. Her day of realizing her little dreams was fun, but it’s over.

Memenpu and Gagumber rejoin the others in their box and Diva Sina performs as planned. Sina’s seiyuu Hayami Saori sings a gorgeous song that moves Merooro to tears, but Memenpu remains upset. Even when Gagumber shows her drawings Sina made of being the very Diva she’s become, for Memenpu those only represent a small part of what Sina dreamed of. She can’t understand why Sina has to “lie” and remain in her current unfulfilled life. She may never understand.

I say that, because Memenpu might not have a lot of time left. Even though the episode seemed to end on a wonderfully bittersweet note, after the credits SAKUGAN brings down the hammer it didn’t bring down last week. Shibito attacks as everyone expected, yet still manage to get close enough to Sina to assassinate her. Even so, Muro is singularly focused on Memenpu, and this time she seems to capture her for real.

Muro also says Memenpu neither knows who and what she really is and who her real father is. Could Memenpu be a Princess like Sina? Or an even more powerful “child” that Shibito is resolved to either control or destroy? You could say Shibito is an organization takes Memenpu’s philosophy to a deadly extreme, while Dream City is the ultimate haven for people supressing their dreams in favor of maintaining the societal structure. Surely there’s a happy medium to be found…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 13 (Fin) – Not the Last Time

With Yoshida having said his piece and even kinda-sorta getting through to Sayu’s awful mom, it’s Sayu’s turn to talk to her. She takes a page out of Yoshida’s playbook by prostrating herself, and once again, her mom almost loses it over not wanting to apologize for anything. But she does at least finally understand that he’s the only parent Sayu has, and it really helps Sayu to hear that from her.

Having taken the first step towards détente with her mom, Sayu slips into Yoshida’s bed one more time in the night, asking if he wants to do it just once so they won’t forget each other. As always, Yoshida’s answer is the same; “no”, and “knock it off!” At the airport, after receiving thanks and refusing cash from her brother, Sayu confesses her love to him, and vows to visit him again when she’s an adult. This isn’t goodbye.

That said, when it finally hits Yoshida that Sayu is gone and with her the entirety of the cozy found family they built together, he can’t help but tear up. Even if he followed her easy recipe, his miso soup just can’t measure up to her’s. That said, as time passes, Yoshida settles back into a life without Sayu, which still contains Mishima and Gotou, who continue to battle for his heart at work.

It seems neither has a shot, as Yoshida has become close to Asami, who is apparently now an adult and no longer has a tan or bleached hair. He’s ready to meet her at the stargazing spot when he arrives home to behold a familiar sight: a young woman sitting by his entrance. It’s Sayu, now a high school graduate and evidently an adult.

The two go through the same exchange as when they first met. It looks like whatever Yoshida’s got going on with Asami (if anything), Sayu didn’t waste any time getting back to the guy she fell for—the man she’s glad she ran away and met.

This is all fine—really, it’s fine—but I’ll admit to suffering a bit of Higehiro fatigue. Considering how these last three episodes languished, a thirteenth episode felt like one too many.

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 12 (Fin) – The Exhibition

With the cultural festival fast approaching, Naoto has managed to belt out a whole series of Nagatoro Being Nagatoro, and her friends are impressed. Hayacchi herself is happy they turned out well, even if they give off “creepy virgin vibes”—though it’s obvious by now she’s a virgin too.

When the others go to the other side of the clubroom to spy on the President’s progress, Naoto doesn’t go with them, and Nagatoro tells him even if the Prez is “Queen of the Lewds”, he can still beat her. That is, until she sees the Prez’s piece and passes out. Gamo assures the two that she, Yosshi and Sakura will figure something out to help them.

Naoto and Prez have a slightly tense but also very honest little scene together, with the Prez making it clear this is less about winning and losing and more about tapping into the artistic potential she knows Naoto has within him. She’s not holding back, so she urges him to “hit her with a soulful work of passion.”

She then produces a “Torocat” strap that closely resembles Nagatoro, and the next day Naoto learns what that’s all about: Yosshi and Sakura are in costume as Torocats to support Nagatoro in her now familiar catgirl cosplay—though it’s clear Nagatoro is not at all into having to “toy with” all the guys who come to visit Senpai’s exhibition.

That said, as the day goes on, she becomes less stiff and starts to have more fun. When Naoto sees her basically flirting with other guys the same way she does with him, it’s hard for him to hide his jealousy.

The reverse occurs when other girls approach Naoto, express how impressed they are with his work, and ask him to teach them how to draw. Nagatoro doesn’t like that one bit!

That said, when Naoto asks her to join him for lunch, she still comes along. She calls him out for suddenly being so popular with the ladies now, and he chalks that up to the paintings turning out so well, for which he credits her. This causes a rapid succession of Nagatoro faces, and ends with her toying with him, but unlike with the other guys, she genuinely enjoys it.

When they return from their break, which essentially serves as a little mini-date during the festival, they find a huge commotion outside the Prez’s side of the club: the Disciplinary Committee is censoring her super-provocative painting, citing it a threat to “moral order” after hearing rumors it was being used to “play with the male students’ lust”.

While I initially thought we saw the Prez meeting with the committee last week to set this whole thing up in order to create more buzz and win the competition, it seems that isn’t the case, and she’s not in on anything. In fact, she’s outraged her art is being censored.

That’s when her kohai Naoto comes in to defend her, stating that her amazing art has inspired him to find the subject he wanted to draw the most: Nagatoro. Gamo and Sakua push Nagatoro in to back Paisen up, and even she admits that Prez’s art is amazing. Yosshi even produces video footage that proves that there were more people were taking the art seriously than horny boys leering at it.

This might’ve been one of my favorite scenes not involving just Naoto and Nagatoro, because it subverts the “competition with the club on the line” trope in favor of something more interesting: doing the right thing, even if the person you’re doing it for is a rival. It’s not just Nagatoro; Yosshi, Sakura, and Gamo are good people at heart!

When the Prez returns, tells the others she worked out a compromise, and voices her appreciation for their support with her very first expression resembling a smile, the girls can’t help but gloat over the fact that she lost. That said, the Prez isn’t a sore loser, and even takes their chosen punishment: that she dress up as a bunny girl to help sell Torocat merch. Naturally, it all sells out.

With the festival in the rearview mirror, Prez pays Naoto a visit on his side, explaining her getup as “the fate of the defeated.” She admits it’s humiliating, but also “a new form of oppression” to “stimulate her creative desire” and bring her “unprecedented deliverance.” Let it never be said Prez doesn’t have a way with words, but Naoto’s reply—“Just get changed already!”—is equally sublime!

When Nagatoro, eager to see Naoto, leaves her friends and enters the club room to find the Prez seemingly about to undress, she nearly flips her shit…but the Prez is only joking. She has a sense of humor! She also admits she likes Naoto’s paintings of Nagatoro, which not only contain “a definite passsion”, but love as well.

She may have lost the competition, but the fact her underclassman learned a valuable lesson about art and vastly improved his work renders that competition moot. As a senpai, the President actually won. When Naoto is hesitant to admit his pieces contain his love for Nagatoro, he’s mercifully saved by the bell for the festival’s closing concert.

Remembering Nagatoro’s words at the summer festival, Naoto meekly comes out and asks her if she’d like to go together. Nagatoro, happy beyond words, asks him to ask again, only louder, then takes him by the hand and off they go!

After the credits, we see Nagatoro and Naoto alone again in the clubroom they won back together. Nagatoro is resting her eyes, but looks up to flash a soft smile before returning to her catnap. When Naoto’s drawing is complete, she tells him to close his eyes and accept his reward, which this time is a real kiss on the cheek.

Even this chaste peck proves too much for Nagatoro, who runs out of the club room after pulling down an eyelid and sticking out her tongue. But she can’t undo that kiss, nor does she want to. This has been a relationship of small but meaningful steps forward all along, and I have no reason to think that slow but steady progress won’t continue.

And that’s a wrap! Don’t Toy with Me may have started out with a sharp edge of kinkiness, but turned out to be one of the sweeter loves stories of the last couple years. We watched both Naoto and Nagatoro come into their own as two people who found each other, navigated the often stormy waters, and found happiness and inspiration in one another. We should all be so lucky!

Episode 12 “Senpai” Count: 9 (+2 “Paisens”)—hardly any at all!
Final Count: 391

Higehiro – 12 – We Have to Talk

So yeah, things are not off to a great start when the first thing Sayu’s mom does upon laying eyes on her for the first time in half a year is slap her in the face. It’s super awkward, and continues to be so, because they’ve entered Sayu’s mom’s castle and she’s in charge. Issa, as much of an independent and successful adult as he may be, still shuts up when his mom tells him to, which is often.

The discussion moves to the dining room, where it becomes clear Sayu’s mom isn’t interested in empathizing with Sayu as the young woman she is, let alone see her as a daughter to unconditionally love. Instead, she immediately airs her grievances, citing all the rumors that have cropped up since she disappeared.

She’s not glad her little girl is home, but still angry she left, because of how it affected her. It’s also clear she suspects Yoshida of taking advantage of her. Sayu does her best to state her case and demonstrate how she’s grown, but her mom has long since developed cloth ears to anything she says, no matter how true or perceptive it may be.

Once she inevitably declares that she wishes she had never given birth to Sayu, which, just fuck you, you despicable c-word—Yoshida, who had been sitting calmly and quietly the whole time, almost picks up his glass of iced tea and throws it in the bitch’s face. But rightly realizing that would accomplish nothing and possibly even hurt Sayu more, he does the opposite.

He calmly speaks from the heart about how just as a parent can’t choose the child they have, the child can’t pick the parent either. The difference is, a parent is (usually) an adult, and thus responsible for their life. Children aren’t. They need to be cared about and for by parents, or they can’t become proper adults themselves. If Sayu’s mom doesn’t want that responsibility, Yoshida would happily take it from her, adopting Sayu and raising her until she’s a real adult.

But he can’t do that, because Sayu has a mom, and she will never not be her mom. So he prostrates himself and begs her to take care of Sayu. Issa follows his lead and does the same. Faced with this unexpected groveling, Sayu’s mom simply freaks out, and Yoshida and Sayu have to leave the house while Issa tries to calm her down.

As Sayu and Yoshida sit outside and wait, Yoshida can’t fight back tears, lamenting just how much worse the situation between Sayu and her mom turned out to be. Sayu is surprised, but also can’t stop herself from crying once she sees him doing it. But it’s a good cleansing cry that transitions into looking up at the beautiful night sky and holding hands in solidarity.

Even though things are not great, they’re going to be alright. Sayu feels forgiven after Yoshida’s groveling, and after making her piece with her friend on the rooftop last week, feels confident in being able to stand for herself. She also admits that things aren’t going to get better with her mom overnight, but neither of them have even given it a try, so that’s really the first step.

Issa comes out, telling Yoshida that bowing before their mom seemed to do the trick. She’ll insist Sayu live there until graduation, and as long as she doesn’t cause problems for her, she’ll “leave her alone.” It sounds like more selfishness and an inability to see Sayu as anything other than a burden and a hassle, but again, we’re at the start of something. Sayu and her mom will have to adopt and entirely new way of interacting with each other, and that will take time.

What’s important is that not only Sayu is willing to put in the work to give it a try, but Sayu’s mom is too. After Yoshida meets with her again to apologize for lecturing her before, she asks if nothing really went on, he answers truthfully, and she seems to believe him. What puzzles her is why he’d go so far for her daughter, to which he can only say “because I met her that night, in that moment.”

Surely Sayu’s mom must understand how something like that might work; she was, after all, presumably in love with Sayu’s father. She simply didn’t know of any way to keep him around other than the hail mary of having Sayu. When it didn’t work and he left anyway, she put all of her scorn into her.

But she seems to finally understand that it can’t go on like that anymore. Sayu ran away to get away from her, but now she’s back, and she’s grown a little more. It’s up to her, the parent, to ensure that growing up is completed. So she’ll talk with Sayu about their future together, however much of it there ends up being, and go from there. And Yoshida will go back to Tokyo in the morning. But it’s a good thing he came.

 

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