Hanebado! – 13 (Fin) – The Other Side of the Net

Hanebado! seemed to take a bit of a nosedive in critical reception as it progressed, with most of the criticism centering on writing perceived as poor and character reactions and attitudes that were too often over-the-top or unrealistic.

Frankly, neither of these things ever bothered me, because the primary draw for me was always watching two players slap the shit out of a birdie (or shuttlecock, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing). Ayano and Nagisa close out their match, and the show, doing just that.

As such, the animation of the match and of the character’s reactions grows ever more dramatic and stylized throughout the roller coaster of an episode. Ayano crawls all the way back, and Nagisa and her knee seem poised to crumble before the might of her opponent’s honed talent.

Coach Tachibana looks ready to pounce at any moment should Nagisa desire to end the match to possibly preserve her career; to lose to live to fight another day. But she doesn’t give up, nor does she let her knee stop her from hanging in there against Ayano.

After several end-of-match deuces (ties), it gets to the point that even Ayano’s body starts to give out. Indeed, when Nagisa’s winning point is scored, securing the narrowest of victories, Ayano’s racket flies right out of her hand and hits one of the net posts.

Once Nagisa realizes she’s won, she bursts into tears right there on the court, while an exhausted Ayano is helped off by her senpais, and takes that opportunity to thank them for supporting her, something that catches them off guard, since she was such an unapologetic bitch to them not too long ago!

Even though Ayano lost, she doesn’t feel like she’s going to be abandoned, nor that it’s the end of the world. Rather, both she and Nagisa realized during the match that they both love and play badminton because it’s fun; and it’s never more fun than when you’re playing such a close match against someone on or around your level.

Ayano and Nagisa might just represent the two peaks of their respective corners (talent and hard work), though it’s also clear that Nagisa has plenty of talent (otherwise she wouldn’t have beaten Ayano, period), while Ayano works plenty hard (otherwise she wouldn’t have had the stamina to almost knock Nagisa off).

Ayano also confronts her mother and states that she hated her, past-tense, because she thought she was abandoned for not having any talent. Uchika repeats her offer to bring Ayano back with her to Denmark, but Ayano wishes to remain in Japan, where she intends to keep playing and keep getting better. Uchika is impressed and moved by her daughter’s words.

As friends Riko and Nagisa share a post-victory moment of friendship, Ayano also takes the time to thank her friend Erena for always standing by her side, as well as for persuading her to get back into badminton.

When Ayano and Nagisa next meet, the latter is being told to take things easy, what with her patellar tendinitis. But Ayano immediately challenges her to a match. She quickly switches back to “Evil Ayanon”, but not out of straight-up malice; her intention to inspire Nagisa, not provoke her.

It’s also a way of acknowledging Nagisa’s skill; trash talk aside, Ayano wouldn’t play someone she believed wasn’t worth playing. And so the two arrange to practice together more and more in preparation for the inter-high tournament. After all, the person on the other side of the net is a “reflection of themselves”. Beat that, and they can beat anyone.

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Hanebado! – 12 – Crossfire

Hanesaki Ayano is good, but not invincible, and while she wins the first game, it’s not a blowout but a 20-16 eke-through, because Nagisa refuses to play the game Ayano thought she’d play. Put simply, Nagisa goes on the defense, forcing Ayano to be the aggressor, which gives Nagisa time to think and keep Ayano off-balance, all while sapping her stamina.

Nagisa’s knee is a concern, but Tachibana examines it and she seems to be okay. Erena hears from Ayano’s mom that her intent, however monstrous, was to get Ayano to become a better player by playing for herself, not for the sake of her mother. Abandoning her made her hate her mother, and thus made her find a new reason to improve: revenge.

But while she won the first game and is determined to beat Nagisa in straight sets, it just doesn’t go that way. Nagisa keeps up the defense and keeps hanging in there long enough to finally release her jumping smash at the most devastating moment. It’s everything Ayano has not to completely melt down on the court.

That’s because despite her brave face and resolve to reject her mom, Ayano still fears abandonment over everything else. By losing the second set, she feels she’s on the cusp of being abandoned again; this time by everyone who isn’t her mom. She enters a tailspin, going down 0-8 in the third game, causing some to consider the match over before it officially ends.

But then something happens: despite how badly she treated her teammates, they still cheer her on and urge her to do her best, not just for her own sake, but for the sake of the team, who can say they sent two teammates to the Nationals. Erena adds her voice to a crowd that is suddenly on Ayano’s side, as if sensing the emotional turmoil in which she’s roiling.

The sudden surge of support works. No longer afraid she’ll be discarded for being useless, Ayano breaks out something new from her back of tricks: she ends Nagisa’s 8-point scoring streak by scoring a point of her own, with her right hand. Could it be she’s a natural righty even though she’s been playing lefty all this time? Or is she simply ambidextrous?

In any case, she’s back in the game. Also worth looking for in the final episode: whether Ayano’s come-from-behind win is really in the cards. Maybe Nagisa will upset her, but then again, maybe Ayano needs to learn that she doesn’t need to win all the time to avoid being abandoned.

Hanebado! – 11 – Creating a Monster

“Why do you play badminton?” That question is oft asked in Hanebado!. Characters ask other characters, and also ask themselves. “Because I love it” seems to be a pretty popular answer. I mean, why participate in a sport and work hard at it if you don’t feel a kind of affinity for it, or because it makes you feel good?

Ayano claims not to subscribe to such a glib answer. Everyone who says they play because they love it seems to get on her nerves. Perhaps it’s envy, or perhaps it’s obfuscation. Regardless, Ayano isn’t in this for the love of the game; she’s in it for revenge against the mother who abandoned her—even as that mother claims she left her so she would become stronger.

You can call Ayano’s decision to renounce her mother a kind of growth, but there’s just as much Nagisa growth on display this week. For one thing, she’s learned not to get bothered by Ayano’s haughty provocations. She’s also learned not to push herself too far.

As Ayano is trying her best not to let the sudden reappearance of her mother throw her off her game (she sees it as yet another hurdle to clear), Nagisa is trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour the night before the match; though she can’t sleep and instead studies film of Ayano, ending up with less than three hours of sleep.

The day of the match, Ayano’s “teammates” encourage her, but she rejects that encouragement as a waste of time; her performance won’t be affected either way by their words. It’s the last display of cruel pomposity Elena is willing to bear. She takes Ayano aside and learns of Ayano’s plan to abandon her mom. And Elena blames herself for making Ayano join the club.

I can’t say I disagree with that placing of blame; while Ayano was hardly in a good place emotionally prior to being forced into joining club, the fact that she had come to hate badminton meant she had find a reason other than love of the game in order to prosper in it. With the best of intentions, Elena created a monster.

When play begins, Nagisa shows growth once more by playing a different game; not relying too much on her smash, and using more deception and less aggressive bull-headedness. She’s rewarded by winning the first two points of the first set. She also has the crowd behind her.

Elena spots Uchika walking out after her daughter’s two lost points, and as the rain starts to fall, expresses her desire to talk about Ayano with her. Meanwhile, Ayano, who didn’t see Uchika leave and probably doesn’t much care anymore, is hardly fazed by Nagisa’s surprisingly strong start.

In fact, she’s mildly amused, and then blurts out the strategy Nagisa is trying to employ. Nagisa was able to use the element of surprise to steal a couple of points, but she knew it wouldn’t be long before Ayano picked up on what was going on and adjusted her game.

While it only took Ayano two points for her to analyze Nagisa’s strategy, the show seems to want to present the possibility Nagisa could beat Ayano…but we’ll have to wait at least one of the final two episodes to know the final result. All we know is that Ayano will have a counterattack…and that we’re probably in for more flashbacks next week!

Citrus – 07

Yuzu needs to score in the top 100 if she wants Mei and Gramps off her back, but she can’t concentrate after her last kiss with Mei, which felt different and more meaningful. Alas, Mei withdraws to the outmoded “we’re both girls” and more reasonable “we’re sisters, so we should stop this.”

Yuzu is devastated, because she takes Mei at her word; in reality there’s a lot of doubt behind Mei’s supposed certainty, as we’ll see later in the ep. Good Ol’ Harumin is there to console Yuzu with an after-school arcade session where commentary on her getting a game over matches commentary about her Mei dilemma.

Then THE DEVIL takes the stage. Satan has many forms, but chooses a pleasing and seemingly harmless one in Mizusawa Matsuri, Yuzu’s childhood friend. Now where have I heard of an anime in which one relationship is suddenly put at risk by a meddling childhood friend? Oh yeah, pretty much all of them.

Subtlety is not Matsuri’s strong suit, with her devil-may-care headphones, bubble gum (and bubble gum pink hair), and seiyu Izawa Shiori’s trademark apathetic drone. Because Yuzu is a sweet, innocent, kind person, she’s a sitting duck for Matsuri, who is not the girl Yuzu remembers, if she ever was.

Harumin immediately senses Pinky is BAD NEWS, even before Matsuri brings up her part-time job of sexting dirty old men, despite being in seventh grade. And yet Matsuri shows how skillful she is at manipulating people like Yuzu even with Harumin ostensibly in the way.

Matsuri snatches Yuzu’s phone and steals a picture of her with Mei, then drags Yuzu and Harumi to a karaoke when Yuzu is supposed to be buying things to make dinner. But she’s too nice to say “gotta go” to her former little-sister figure.

Worse still, Harumi suddenly has to duck out to take care of a family matter (part of me thought Matsuri sent her a false message), leaving Matsuri all alone with Yuzu. Matsuri promptly confesses her love and tries to kiss Yuzu, and is interrupted by a call from Mei asking about dinner.

Later, when Mei and Yuzu nearly cross paths at an intersection, Matsuri pulls Yuzu aside and kisses her in full view of Mei, whom Yuzu never saw. Frankly the coincidence and perfect execution of Matsuri’s fuck-you to Mei are a bit much; We get it, she’s pink scum.

Back home, Mei is less angry at Yuzu than I expected, which actually makes sense since Mei realizes she is the one who told Yuzu everything was over when it clearly wasn’t. When Yuzu is just to cute for her to resist any longer, Mei comes at her from behind and licks her neck, literally marking the Yuzu she won’t share with pink-haired interlopers.

Of course, Mei is almost as ill-equipped to deal with Matsuri as Yuzu, since she’s being driven primarily by emotions. Mizusawa Matsuri may say she loves Yuzu but I don’t think she loves anyone, except maybe Mizusawa Matsuri. The show introduced her as someone who manipulates people for the hell of it. Whether she derives fun, I can’t say; maybe this is all she thinks she can do.

The show is not yet ready to portray her as anything other than a villain so far, brazenly invading Yuzu and Mei’s school and making a big fuss about going on an after-school date. Mei shoos her off, but Matsuri won’t give up easily. We’ll see if Matsuri’s story gets a little more nuance and dimension like Hime’s, because right now, if she had a pink mustache, she’d be twirling it.

Citrus – 06

My first thought about Mei’s Dad showing up is Please don’t be a creep. But once it’s clear he’s not, it’s also clear what else he’s not: Mei’s strict “sensei.” Mei’s ideal of her father is who he was, not who he is or who he’ll ever be again. He chose to leave the academy and won’t go back.

That decision left Mei alone on a path she thought they’d share forever. Her father’s absence has only made things worse, as by not opening his letters she could convince herself there was still hope he’d come back to that path.

Now that Yuzu knows the score from both sides, her goal of bringing the two together has gotten a lot more complicated. Mei is so distraught and fatalistic, she seeks an easy escape in fooling around with Yuzu. Yuzu is understandably insulted and pained if Mei thinks the only way Yuzu can “accept” her and “be the one that needs” her is to submit to commiseratory sex.

After an awkward morning where Mei slips out without breakfast, Yuzu’s Mama adds another piece to the puzzle: she calls her husband a “tsundere”, able to spread education and love to kids the world over, but finds it almost cripplingly difficult to do the same with his own natural daughter. And yet, he accepts that maybe he’s just not cut out for it, and that it might be too late, and asks Yuzu to be the support Mei needs in his stead.

While attempting to ascertain what Mei needs and how to support her, Yuzu gets some very welcome emotional and logistical support from Harumin, who strikes about the right balance between being almost too perfectly helpful and being a character in her own right.

When Yuzu gets word from Mama that Papa is leaving for abroad in less than two hours, Harumin takes Yuzu to school on her bike so she can find Mei, not wanting her dad to leave with things the way they are.

When they just miss each other in the chairman’s office, Yuzu hijacks the P.A. system to get a message to Mei: that she’s done a good job; that she shouldn’t blame herself anymore; that she’s pushed herself enough for someone else’s sake.

Yuzu snatches up Mei and they race to the station, which Mei thinks is another example of Yuzu acting without thinking. But Yuzu has thought about it a lot, and this is what she’s decided to do: cultivate a situation in which Mei is able to let go of “sensei”, embrace her father for who he is, choose her own path, and move forward.

They get to the station right on time to catch Mei’s dad. After they share some words, they have a cordial goodbye, and Mei actually calls him “father” for once. It’s certainly a bittersweet moment, but it also must be exciting and relieving for her; she really will inherit the academy, because it’s what she has decided to do.

That night, she opens and reads all of her father’s letters to her with Yuzu by her side. Yuzu is so relieved and happy that Mei has made so much progress that she can’t help but tear up a little. That, in turn, brings Mei’s face close enough to hers for a kiss, and they do kiss, but it’s not anything like any of the other kisses they’ve shared before. For one thing, neither forced it on the other.

With Mei’s daddy dilemma largely resolved, we immediately move on to this next stage in their relationship, just as Yuzu’s pink-haired, conniving, scheming, manipulative childhood friend remembers her and plans to “get back in touch”, which could well mean an attempt to ruin Yuzu’s life for her own amusement. Should be fun!

Citrus – 05

Mei has no time for Yuzu and Himeko’s little competition for her, as she’s busy with both student council duties and filling in for her grandfather, the chairman. She orders the rivals to eat lunch together instead, and neither dare disobey.

Thus starts the first of many of the kind of interactions I was hoping for between Yuzu and Himeko: ones in which they put their gloves down for a second and simply exist adjacent to one another, as they must due to their associations with Mei.

Harumin serves as a great mediator in this venture, even suggesting the three of them and Mei go to Amagi Brilliant Park (well, something like it). Both Himeko and Yuzu doubt Mei will agree, but Yuzu will give it a try.

What Yuzu does manage is to get a day alone with Mei when they’re not at school; when Yuzu lies and said Mama would also like it if she accompanies Yuzu to visit her Papa. Note that Mei probably would have refused if Yuzu hadn’t lied, but it’s a good thing she did.

At first, Yuzu treats this like her first date with Mei, and tries to “cross a line” like Himeko claims to have done, first by breathing on Mei’s ear in a packed train (at first an accident, but repeated once she notices Mei’s reaction), then licking it.

When Mei asks her what the heck is up with her, Yuzu mentions what Himeko said, and Mei sets her straight: Himeko tried to do something weird to her and she scolded her. There’s nothing between them. This really puts a spark in Yuzu’s idea of her chances.

This leads to her trying to get an indirect kiss out of Mei by having a bite of her crepe, only for Mei to have only finished it. Mei delivers revenge for the ear-licking by wiping some cream off Yuzu’s face and eating it slowly, causing Yuzu to nearly boil over.

All these sensual gestures, combined with the simple pleasure of hanging out with Mei alone, gets Yuzu all worked up; she wants to kiss Mei and shout her love from the mountaintop more than ever.

But when she’s about to ask if they can hold hands (incremental steps), Himeko pulls up in her S-Class Benz and starts attacking Yuzu.

With a cruel, icy calmness, Mei basically tells Himeko to buzz off, and beckons for Yuzu to keep going. Mei and Yuzu walk away, leaving Himeko standing there, stunned, alone, and hurt.

It’s not the first time I felt for Himeko, but I’d never felt for her more before this moment. Even Yuzu can’t help but turn back, not to gloat, but with a pained, empathetic look.

It was around the time I was thinking “when the heck are they going to meet Yuzu’s Papa” that Yuzu brings Mei to a graveyard. It never occurred to me he was deceased, as I (wrongly) assumed her mom was divorced, not widowed. Mei also seems both surprised to have been brought there, but also honored.

It’s a very solemn, touching scene when Yuzu says all the good and bad things about Mei when introducing her and Mei doesn’t challenge any of it; this isn’t the time or place. Even more touching is Yuzu’s reaction when Mei silently prays at the grave. Yuzu is about to muster the courage to say something she needs to say…but Mei beats her to it.

The letters Mei gets from her father (whom she calls “Sensei”), one of which Yuzu jokingly threatened to open? Mei has never opened any of them. She’s afraid to, because if any of them contradict her long-standing hope that he’ll come back one day and everything “will be the way it was”, she’d be crushed.

When a shaken, tearful Mei asks Yuzu if such an outcome is really possible, Yuzu says the tactful thing, even if it isn’t something she can guarantee: everything will be fine, and she’ll help her in any way she can, like a sister should. The smile Mei gives Yuzu drives the point home: Mei doesn’t need love; at least not right now. She needs family.

As Yuzu cries out of Mei’s sight, Mei seems to be laboring to maintain consciousness, and sure enough, she collapses on the stairs at school the next day, right in front of Himeko. Trying to force herself up, she runs down Himeko just as Yuzu enters earshot, and, whatever bad shape she’s in, Yuzu doesn’t let Mei’s cruelty towards Himeko go unanswered.

What she does do is order Himeko to take Mei’s place at the various meetings she meant to attend, while she takes Mei to the nurse’s office. The two drop their rivalry for Mei’s sake, because Mei has not been looking out for herself properly enough, and their childish rivalry has blinded them to the toll Mei’s overwork has taken.

In the nurse’s, there’s no makeout scene, but a scolding scene. Mei explains how driven she is to become a worthy successor to her grandfather, especially now that his health may be failing. Yuzu wonders out loud why Mei’s father doesn’t take over, and Mei, for once, agrees with Yuzu’s  “nonsense”, which she likens to a broken watch—right twice a day.

And just to bring things around, Yuzu and Himeko have a nice little scene together in which Yuzu scolds her for overwork as well, tells her to be more honest, and the two come to a kind of detente.

That detente is sealed, in a way, when while walking to school the next day, Yuzu urges Mei to go ahead when they spot Himeko. Mei apologizes for being such a bitch to her and taking her for granted, and Himeko is instantly in tears, hugging her tightly, probably telling Mei she has nothing to apologize for.

That night, Mei’s father shows up, just like that. Yuzu has no idea who he is, and gets skeeved out when he hugs her and doesn’t let go (which, yeah guy, don’t hug a girl who doesn’t know you). Mei’s reaction to seeing her father again—as well as his reaction to seeing her—tells me things aren’t going to be the same in the Aihara household…but they’re definitely not going to be boring!

In the meantime, I really enjoyed both Himeko and Yuzu’s growth in this episode, the continued casual, reliable support role Harumin plays, and how Mei and Yuzu drew closer together not in a romantic way, but as family. Most importantly, Yuzu is now consciously weighing her own desires with what is actually best for her “little sister.”

Just Because! – 12 (Fin)

Setting the final episode on the seniors’ final day of high school is an obvious touch, but a very effective one here on Just Because!. We can share that sense of accomplishment, relief, and anxiety the new grads are going through. There’s also the sense that everyone feels a bit out of place, from little details like flowers and parents to a completely different schedule of events from the usual routine.

Unfortunately, we have to wait quite a long time for the inevitable payoff of Izumi and Natsume meeting in college. That’s because they don’t see each other the entire episode. This seems at once a wry nod to viewers that such an inevitable payoff, while desired, isn’t something that can sustain an entire episode.

Rather than pad it out, JB! does a curtain roll of everything and everyone else, starting with the news that Izumi didn’t get into the fancy college he thinks Natsume is going to. She only texts him that she got in “her first choice”, without indicating that she changed it to his.

That profound misunderstanding threatened to mar all of the events in the episode that weren’t dedicated to resolving it, but it turned out to be an episode that rewarded patience. We also get an arguably superior scene to the episode’s final moments in Izumi and Komiya’s last scene together.

She won and lost the competition: lost because her photo of him didn’t win, but won because her fellow club member’s photo of her taking a picture of Izumi did win, which means the club, and her place of belonging survives. It’s little consolation for Izumi’s formal rejection, however, and both animators and seiyu LYNN really knock it out of the park with Komiya’s understandable reaction.

Speaking of dingers, we get a nice symmetry to the series when Izumi and Souma play ball in the yard again, only this time with their positions reversed. When Souma hands him the bat and says “hit a home run”, Izumi knows what he’s talking about, because of what hitting one meant for Souma.

That being said, Souma’s fiert first pitch immediately lets Izumi know he’s not lobbing a batting practice toss…Izumi has to earn his homer—and he does, making crisp contact that sends the ball flying, just as a jetliner screams overhead, the vapor trail imitating the ball’s path, making the homer seem that much more epic. Izumi runs off to Natsume.

Unfortunately, Natsume doesn’t wait on the hill long, as she assumes that Izumi won’t come, and a phone call from Yuriko and her celebrating friends lures her away before Izumi can get to the rendezvous point.

So that’s kinda that…and an entire month passes, without them speaking or even texting each other. To this, all I can say is, WTF, show? A month? Seriously? A longer period of time apart than the two have ever suffered, at so crucial a time in their lives? I’m not a fan of the choice, or the persistent lack of communication that caused it.

That being said, their encounter at college, in which both un-bottle that month of longing with quick confessions to one another, was very well done. Not as nice as Komiya’s scene, but still nice.

Some shows are about what happens after two people who really had to labor to end up with each other enter a romantic relationship, but this was just about how it happened. I’m always for at least a taste of seeing the new couple fall into a new rhythm together, but we didn’t get that here.

Oh well, what we did get was most enjoyable regardless. Just Because! is no Tsuki ga Kirei, but there were certainly moments when it came close.

Hajimete no Gal – 04

While wholesomely innocently researching “gals” on the interwebs to learn how to interact with Yame and Ranko better, Junichi comes across an extremely cute gal with a loyal following. This gal’s necklace has the same snake motif as Kashii Yui’s hairpin, so yeah, it’s pretty evident from the start that “Boa-sama” is Yui in disguise.

Yui is always presenting a calm, mature identity at school, but beneath that exterior she’s a vain, arrogant, imperious girl, labeling all of her classmates with various servant’s names and titles. Junichi has always been a loyal “doggy” to her, and isn’t interested in sharing him with some uncultured gal.

While Yame is hanging out with her galfriends, Yui springs out of the bushes and strikes like the snake she loves wearing, taking an extremely dumb Junichi on a date.

Meanwhile it’s on the tip of Shinpei’s tongue who Boa-sama reminds him of; an increasingly irritated and thus less careful Boa throws him a bone by describing him and his crew of losers to a man.

While secretly recording her flirting with Junichi in the classroom (which is illegal in Japan), Boa-sama gets final visual proof and shares it with the lads, who are shocked by the revelation. Despite Shinpei’s efforts to reveal his discovery in secret, Ranko gets wind of it.

Sensing that being blunt will be best against the painfully dense Junichi, Yui passionately confesses to him on the roof. When he turns her down (as he’s dating Yame), she immediately cracks and her extremely fiery, petulant personality gushes out.

She also plays her trump card: she secretly recorded her date with him (which is illegal in Japan), and orders him to break up with Yame and go out with her, or she’ll send the video to Yame.

That’s checkmate for Junichi…or it would be if he didn’t have a gang of friends watching both his back and Yame’s. Ranko arrives with the three losers, superhero-style (complete with ill-advised high jump off a ledge; Ranko lands as a hero would; the guys eat shit).

Ranko counters Yui’s Yame-harming blackmail with blackmail of her own: the knowledge that Yui is Boa-sama. Yui surrenders, but she won’t give up so easily, and the war has only begun…just as Junichi’s well-endowed childhood friend prepares to take the stage.

While the lack of any real suspense regarding who Boa-sama was, and Junichi’s general incompetence in everything but being an easy mark for…just about anyone, the episode was buoyed by Taketatsu Ayana’s strong performance voicing the many sides of Yui, and while the lolicon guy still needs to stop talking, the losers, Shinpei in particular, were in top form this week.

Hajimete no Gal – 03

As expected, Yukana’s very tan best friend Honjou Ranko inserts herself into her relationship with Junichi by writing him a love letter then mounting him behind the school. After a brief feint, Yukana laughs off Ranko’ actions as just messing around with Junichi…but Ranko seems determined to break them up.

A very predictable development, combined with a lot less comedy (a lot of it recycled jokes that don’t hit as hard, or at all, the third or fourth time around) made for a less-than-stellar Hajimete no Gal.

While out on a shopping trip, Junichi learns more of the challenges of dating a gal, like the need to properly choose which clothes look better on her, or defending her from man-sluts. In both cases, Ranko tries to upstage Junichi, finally meeting him at his house to talk.

She mounts him again, assuring him she’d rather take his virginity then let him get with Yukana, whom she’s secretly in love with. Ranko’s kinda all over the place, and Kitamura Eri does fine voice work, she doesn’t have much to work with here.

I guess I should be glad Ranko’s not in love with Junichi, but he still gets off the hook way too easily. Indeed, Junichi moves at the speed of a sloth throughout this episode, which I suppose is par for the course considering his self-image as a loser, but it’s still pretty annoying.

This week he did next to nothing—other than halfheartedly trying to tell off the guys hitting on Yukana, which failed—to deserve all the attention he’s getting. Next week it appears will involve more Kashii Yui, who was obviously going to be more than just the Miss Perfect Junichi believes her to be. She looks particularly pissed watching Ranko tease him.

Hajimete no Gal – 02

After Yame accepted his request to go out with her, Junichi is in a bit of a daze, not sure whether it’s all a prank or not, considering what he believes to be the logical fallacy of a cute gal dating the likes of him. His loser friends commit to standing by him come what may, only to immediately turn their backs on him when he receives a sexy selfie from Yame.

Despite this, Shinpei still offers advice to Junichi: take Yame to karaoke, which is how popular kids “get a room” for sex. He elaborates on the process with his “Karaoke XXX Rule”, before “dying” from exasperation that karaoke parlors have become indistinguishable from dens of ill repute.

Later that morning, Yame proves she’s not messing around by announcing to the entire class that she’s dating Junichi, then fielding questions. Both Kashii Yui and his “little sister” are dumbfounded. Junichi tries to ask her out to karaoke, but never finds the right opportunity until she asks him out after school to that very thing.

Corrupted by Shinpei’s overblown theory about karaoke parlors (which seems to be confirmed by a sign), Junichi is initially weary of their date, but once he sees how much fun Yame is having, he stops overthinking things and has fun himself. To his surprise, she even knows anime songs; the only kind he can sing.

But after Shinpei’s three tenets of the Karaoke XXX Rule are fulfilled (Yame singing a suggestive song; the two singing a duet; Yame removing her sweater), Junichi re-enters his head for a conference with all his various alter-egos, including ‘Good’, ‘Pessimistic’, ‘Horny’, and ‘Cool’, with ‘Cool” him eventually convincing the others that if he’s a true man, he’ll give her a kiss before moving on to sex.

Junichi tries to kiss Yame, only for her to point out an errant hair sticking out of his nose and excuse herself. Out in the hall, she regains her composure, certain Junichi just tried to kiss her. Far from the easy girl for whom sex is no big deal Shinpei, his friends, and Junichi himself believe her to be, Yame isn’t the kind of girl to even kiss someone so easily. She’s more like Junichi than he presently realizes.

Hopefully he’ll find this out in time, and stop interacting with Yame with misconceptions about who and what she is, just as she seems to be embracing him for who he is, not assigning a silly label. As for Yame’s friend Ranko, it appears we’ll soon learn how she feels about this new boyfriend.

Hajimete no Gal – 01 (First Impressions)

Hashiba Junichi is a pathetic loser and knows it. He’s in his second year of high school, saddled with the same trio of even sadder friends in Shinpei, Keigo, and Minoru, who if anything are partially responsible for holding Junichi back from his goal of nabbing a girlfriend and losing his virginity by now.

Note I said “partially”, because the major contributor to Junichi’s lack of success in securing a partner (sexual or otherwise) is himself. His friends truly have no one but themselves, but in the first few minutes Junichi is visited by not one but two “total hotties”: his well-endowed loli childhood friend Shizune, and the ethereally gorgeous academic ace Yui, who comes on pretty dang strong.

And yet Junichi turns Shizune away, still considering her a “little sister” with a “child body” (completely ignoring her huge boobs), and pretty much freezes when Yui talks to him, eager to talk more.

Blame for Jun-kun’s predicament shifts back to his very embarrassing friends—one of whom may be a straight-up pedo—when they brazenly peruse their smut mags in class, shoving a tasty one into his hands. And that’s when the titular Gal, Yame Yukana (God, what a Gal name) appears in Junichi’s life—to look down on him and call him disgusting.

But disgusting and pervy or no, Junichi’s friends have hatched a plan, and he’s their guinea pig (democracy in action): They choose him—tacitly acknowledging is the least repulsive of their sorry little band—to ask the Gal out, since, in their virgin minds, she’ll presumably put out without much fuss. (Junichi’s hastily-conjured sex fantasy with Yukana is suitably ecchi, with all the naughty bits covered by carefully-manicured hands).

One planted false love letter later, Junichi finds himself behind the school after class, and to his shock, Yukana has deigned to give her admirer an audience. After some rather lengthy, 7-grade setup and introductions, this is where the episode comes into its own, as we continue to be privy to every thought that crosses Jun-kun’s mind.

To his continued shock, Yukana is being incredibly patient and open-minded with him, and when he does what his friends said to do and beg on his knees, there’s the sense even she knows this is beneath him—and she barely knows him! From there, Junichi remains in survival mode, doing all he can to avoid an even worse scenario than rejection: the reputation for being a prevert and/or virgin for the rest of his high school life.

But as was demonstrated at the start of the ep with Shizune and Yui, Junichi is in a far better position than he realizes. That’s because, despite all logic, Yukana likes him, and agrees to go out with him. Or maybe not despite all logic; perhaps she’s as lonely—and trapped in her present persona (her a gal, him a loser)—as he is.

The art is crude and the boobs are over-sized, and Junichi’s friends can be really annoyingbut once this episode got into gear, I was really enjoying the passionate yet puerile discussion and display of sheer teenaged sex-and-bitterness-fueled awfulness that is high school.

And hey, sometimes it’s just satisfying to see a loser win for once, even if he’s only a loser because he believes himself to be one. It looks like both sides are poised to get something out of this, so let’s see where it goes, shall we?

Fuuka – 05

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Fuuka continues to cement its role as my guilty pleasure of the Winter, thanks to its utterly shameless tendency to put protagonist Haruna Yuu in the most favorable situations imaginable, and still have him complain about it. That might sound unpleasant, but it’s actually pretty fun.

Adorable childhood friend coming by his house to reminisce? Sure, why not? Flipping through photo albums, where most of the pics are of Koyuki yelling at Yuu for various reasons, most of them related to him being a pushover? You got it! Yuu managing to blurt out that he liked her then…b-b-but not now! Seriously! (Now as well.)

Koyuki leaves suddenly, which Yuu takes as meaning he said the wrong thing, but little does he know she’s weeping tears of joy at the news her love wasn’t one-sided. I still don’t see her beating Fuuka. Fuuka’s the title.

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You know what this show didn’t need? Another girl! Especially not one who is impossibly tall and gorgeous, like she just jumped out of a magazine or something. But we get one nonetheless in the person of Iwami Sara, who seems very standoffish and aloof but I’m sure is really sweet deep down.

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She also happens to be the sister of Hisashi, one of the members of Hedgehogs (styled as HEDGEHOGS…because you have to YELL IT) who also graciouslly offers the use of one of his studios for the new light music club to practice…free of charge. Where’s this guy’s sense of entrepreneurialism?

In any case, the band…kinda sucks, particularly Yuu and Fuuka, but Sara is kicked off her third band and Fuuka decides to invite her into theirs, and the girl can not only play, but look very cool doing it.

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After practice they head over to Denny’s, I mean Danny’s, which—wait a second…

Kuzu no Honkai – 03

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Oh, that was Banny’s, not Danny’s. Nevermind…

…Back to Fuuka – 05

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Anyhow, the whole band is at some Denny’s ripoff, when all of a sudden everyone has somewhere to be…except Yuu and Sara. Did I mention Yuu’s face accidentally made contact with Sara’s boobs? Yeah…that happened, and then she smacked him in the face with a guitar, which should have caused a lot more damage to Yuu than it did. The magic of anime!

I’ve been ragging on this episode up to this point, but I have to say, I did not expect Sara to end up being one of Yuu’s best Twitter buddies, @0704-yamato.

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It happens so subtly as you expect Sara to be bored and checking her phone with just Yuu there struggling to find words to say. Turns out Sara’s the same way: finding it far easier to communicate through tweets than with her vocal cords, which so often uses the wrong words, or the right words the wrong way, resulting in misunderstandings (and getting kicked off bands).

When Yuu first started tweeting I was like “Oh great, this gimmick again,” but it paid off big league here, from the sundae, to Sara’s sudden change of character, for which she actually apologizes for by saying “sorry for the sudden change in character!”

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The next practice, held not at the full-up studio, but at Nachi’s ideal place (which he withheld so it didn’t look like he was as into this band thing as he really was), everyone has practiced a lot more, and they play a much smoother version of the show’s theme song, “Climber’s High!”

When Sara’s praise of Yuu’s progress is interrupted by Fuuka’s praise, and Yuu thanks her, Sara punishes him for allowing the interruption by jamming her guitar into his back. So this is how it’s gonna be, huh? Look out Koyuki: you’ve got more competition. (Note: next week’s episode is titled “Hinashi Koyuki”. Should be interesting.

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Seiren – 03

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“Seiren” means “honest” in Japanese, and I said in my first review that it’s a pretty honest show. Sure weird things may happen like a soaked Hikari climbing into Shou’s window, but there’s a logical explanation for it, however far-fetched.

More importantly, the show is honest about how Shou, from whose POV we’re watching most of the time, has no idea what to make of Hikari. Does he like her, or is he just reacting as programmed due to her popular princess status at school? Does she like him, or is she just messing with him in lieu of any other suitable boy at the hotel?

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Shou’s only at the study camp at all because Hikari inspired him to improve himself. He finds it hard to balance the need to actually study with the nervous but exhilarating fun he has whenever Hikari is around, being so “provocative” at least for a conservative chap like him.

This week Hikari gets Shou to cut loose, wearing the wrap that came with her bikini as they sneak into the boy’s bath after hours for a dip. Here the honesty is carried through: they don’t get intimate or anything; Shou is nowhere near that stage. But he does find out exactly what it’s like to have an illicit bath with a pretty girl, and the resulting tent he pitches comes in handy when scaring off the teacher, saving Hikari from being discovered.

Be it studying in his room with Hikari on his bed, sneaking into the bath, or sharing a nice night outside (finally, they went outside!) by a drained pool, Shou stocks up on lots of nice memories with this girl he can’t quite figure out, but is trying to do so.

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He feels it’s the proper time to ask her why she lied about the mixer being a “family affair”, but she claims she wasn’t lying, as it could potentially lead to her making a family. He also learns the older man at the restaruant was never her boyfriend.

And while she had a fair amount of fun with Shou in the mountains, Hikari still seems sore about missing the mixer, particularly when her friend says “it wasn’t anything special” but is then seen back at school hanging off the arm of Araki.

Meanwhile, Hikari and Shou haven’t talked since that memorable night at the inn. He feels a rift of sorts was formed when he delved into her personal life, like he’s on the outside, looking in; unsure how to re-engage with her.

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