Aharen-san wa Hakarenai – 06 – Raidolympic Games

This week’s grab bag of athletic segments follow a consistent pattern: Raidou and Aharen try to participate in a certain activity, Raidou initially believes Aharen is either good or sucks at said activity, Aharen and Raidou gradually get better and have a tough match, and Raidou overestimates how good they are and they both get beaten by stiffer competition.

Despite being huge and relatively fit (except for that one segment where he was tubby) Raidou isn’t that great at…much of anything. In that regard, Aharen makes for a perfect opponent for him, as she’s not that great at anyting either but when they play together, two things happen: they get a little better, and they both have fun.

After Ooshiro teaches the two how to swim, Raidou and Aharen have a half-lap race that Aharen wins by staying underwater the whole time and holding her breath. They actually play to a draw in table tennis and bowling, the former match being cut short by the bell and the latter due to a comeback from Raidou after he starts throwing underhand while Aharen’s beginner’s luck wears off.

Their fourth contest is in basketball, where usually the taller or bigger player prevails, but Aharen channels Muggsy Bogues, who played in the NBA despite being only 5’3″ (160cm) tall. Aharen, like Bogues, darts around or under the towering opponent, using her quickness to get past him. She only loses when she misses her last bucket.

After watching a violent movie together (which technically counts as a completely off-camera date?!) the two try their hand at a two-player zombie-themed first-person shooter. While Raidou initially envisions himself to Leon to Aharen’s Mathilda in The Professional (one of my favorite films), he quickly dies, and Aharen shows that her lack of judging distance means she can headshot every enemy with ease, even while dual-wielding.

When Aharen goes to the bathroom at the arcade, Raidou quickly encounters her again by the crane game, but there’s something off about her; she’s way louder and more expressive than his Aharen. Assuming (naturally) that she’s suffering a sudden bout of amnesia, he simply shows her a good time…before the real Aharen shows up and reveals that the other Aharen is actually her little brother Ren, who likes to dress in her clothes.

The final segment before credits is the shortest but sweetest, as Raidou sneezes and comments that it’s gotten cold. Aharen “runs hot” so she hugs him to warm him up. When he asks her to let go, she withdraws behind a utility pole, which is suddenly too far away. While there’s no movement on their status as a dating high school couple, they both seem happy where things are at, so it’s all good.

In the post-credits segment Ren tries on more of Aharen’s clothes, and she asks him why. His answer—because they’re cute and he loves them—is good enough for her, and when he asks if he shouldn’t, she simply gives him a hug and says it’s fine.

Aharen-oneesan unconditionally supporting her cross-dressing brother might be one of her sweetest, most heartwarming moments yet. If anyone has a problem with him, they’ll have to deal with her…and her hulking kinda-sorta boyfriend!

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.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 08 – Feels Like Summer

Exams are over and the athletics festival is nigh. President Tanigawa and Vice President Tatsumori Ai assign everyone the sport(s) in which they’ll be participating. Not only is Akebi (as well as Tanigawa) in the cheer squad, but also on the relay swim team. She’ll be swimming with Ohkuma, Tatsumori and anchor Minakami Riri, voiced by Ishikawa Yui affecting a Kansai dialect. Erika suggests Akebi should also be considered for the anchor position

It’s decided that Akebi and Minakami should race, one-on-one. Minakami makes it interesting: if Akebi wins, she’ll do anything Akebi wants. If she wins, she gets Akebi’s sailor uniform. It’s the closest thing to conflict and discomfort that Akebi has yet faced, and as her mother is prepping a summer sailor uniform for her, she can tell her daughter is troubled. I mean, the anime’s title might have to change!

If Minakami believes that since Akebi smiles too much she won’t take this seriously, she has another thing coming. Akebi ranked fifth in exam score in the whole class simply by studying hard, having never been ranked. She’s also never measured her times, but the focused, defiant look she gives Minakami says it all: she’s not surrendering that uniform!

The race commences, picking up where the cold open left off, and as expected, the water and swimming animation is a cut above. It’s almost not fair how good this show looks doing whatever it wants; I almost wish the school had a spaceship in addition to a pool! Erika’s role in this episode is small but important; the race might not have happened had she not spoken up for her friend, and she alone starts to cheer for Akebi, loudly and proudly.

In the end, Minakami wins, but it’s bang-bang at the wall due to her quicker wall touch, a product of her experience. Akebi’s eyes fill with tears, but Minakami stretches across the lanes to give her a hug, overjoyed to have been so seriously challenged. I mean, she was in the nationals, and even going all out Akebi almost beat her. When Akebi mentions the uniform, Minakami puts her hands together in apology: she was just joking about that; rattling Akebi’s cage to ensure she’d give this her all.

Minakami is more pumped up than ever to compete beside Akebi, Ohkuma and Tatsumori. The only problem is, unlike them, she did horribly on her exams, and needs some help. Cashing in her win over Akebi, she asks her to help tutor, but Tatsumori and Tanigawa also help, and Minakami presumably passes her make-ups, meaning she can train with the others for the festival.

It was nice to see Akebi make friends in a different way; with Minakami initially starting out as the closest thing to an antagonist before revealing that she meant well all along and is truly looking forward to swimming with—and being friends with—Akebi. After the credits, her mom finishes the summer uni, and her dad and sister are blown away—as Akebi says, it’s a “whole new level of cuteness”!

But the cutest and most heartmelting moment is saved for the end, when Kao sneaks into Akebi’s room to try on her sailor uniform. When Akebi comes in to tell Kao their bath is ready, she sees Kao, swimming in the huge pullover and looking very blue because she “doesn’t look as cool” as her big sister.

Akebi, once again demonstrating what a good big sis she is, promises Kao that when she’s a little bigger she’ll definitely look cool in a sailor uniform. Until then, she ties her winter bow around Kao like a scarf, so she can look cool right now. Now if you’ll excuse me, I must step out into the cold so my completely melted heart can re-solidify!

My Senpai is Annoying – 09 – Once More Unto the Beach

Futaba initially thought she’d be going on a trip to the beach with just Sakurai and her brother Yuuto, but Sakurai also invites Kazama (of course), Takeda, and Natsumi to make things more “fun”…which is to say, more interesting. What results is the two core couples having a blast together, with the added thrill of showing more skin.

As expected, Takeda is a mountain carved out of granite, but it’s to the show’s credit Futaba doesn’t show up in a school one-piece, but a cute polka-dot halter/skirt combo. While towing her really far from the shore, then teaching her to swim, Takeda makes it clear her outer characteristics aren’t as important to him as how hard-working and kind she is on the inside. At the same time, he says she looks cute.

After a day working up an appetite on the beach, the group heads to the inn for a sumptuous feast where Futaba fills Takeda’s oft-empty rice bowl, but shushes him when he talks about Futaba’s cooking. Clearly, he availed himself of her offer to make him Hamburger Steak. Meanwhile, fifth wheel Natsumi keeps herself entertained by watching Futaba and Takeda get along and making sure Yuuto, the only kid there, gets some attention.

That night, after fireworks, Sakurai and Natsumi try to get Futaba to admit that things are “going well” with Takeda, considering how close they are, but Futaba, embarrassed, just wants to sleep. Meanwhile their room is close enough to the guys’ that Kazama can hear them, and between that and Takeda’s snoring, doesn’t get any sleep. That morning, he and Futaba eavesdrop on Takeda and Sakurai talking about them in a way that makes their ears red.

On their last day on the beach, Kazama is too fatigued for more activities, so Sakurai stays with him under the umbrella, then suggests they head to a konbini for drinks. She also picks up an ice cream, and when it reminds Kazama of old times, she offers him a sip, which is really offering him an indirect kiss. He declines, but Sakurai, knowing Kazama well, had a second ice cream just for him.

As the sun gets low, Takeda and Futaba end up tiring themselves out to the point the latter is curled up on the arm of the former, giving their friends an opportunity to document with photos how close they truly are. Those photos probably aren’t 100% okay with the HR department, but then again they aren’t in the workplace. Besides, Sakurai and Kazama don’t mean any harm. They’re happy to see their co-workers happy.

The next morning back at work, Futaba is embarrassed to reveal how tanned she got at the beach, having previously been accustomed to being shaded by her gramps’ umbrella. When Takeda arrives just as tanned, it confirms to the whole office that these two had a lot of fun together on their summer break. That said, with both Takeda and Futaba intent on maintaining that they’re merely “senpai and kohai”, who knows if anything further will come of it than what we’ve got…which really isn’t so bad!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shin no Nakama – 06 – The Champions of Here

Red is making a routine delivery to Dr. Newman when the two of them suddenly hear someone freaking out. They discover one of their neighbors has overdosed on that recently approved drug that has become popular as a narcotic. These opening events, and an episode title like “The Rampage Begins”, portend a not-so-quiet slice of Red and Rit’s quiet life.

…Or so you’d think. Instead, these suddenly unpleasant events don’t suddenly take over their lives. They still find time for a leisurely omelette lunch, or a day by the river in their swimsuits. They even share their first kiss. Investigating drug crime is not their job, and they’re fine with that. Their job is to stock the necessary ingredients to counteract the drug, and take it easy.

I’ve been a steady defender of both Red and Rit’s individual freedom to live their lives how they see fit…but neither of them is The Hero. I’ll admit to seeming a bit dismissive of Ruti’s fate, but I wish to dispel that right here and now by declaring her the show’s most tragic figure.

Ruti’s Hero’s Blessing is more of a curse, overriding her life 95% of the time. The rest of the time, she’s just a lonesome young woman who loves and misses her brother, and is crushed by the weight of a duty she never asked for.

I felt bad enough last week when we learned she can’t even sleep at night. This week we learn she’s resistant to nice weather as well as bad, and never gets hungry and so doesn’t eat food. I wouldn’t be surprised if she didn’t have a sense of taste…being a hero in this world means being anhedonic.

When a bloodied and maimed man suddenly rushes into the apothecary, Red treats him while Rit heads into town to see what’s going on. Turns out it’s nothing good: a number of members of Albert’s party are apparently tweaking out on that drug, which has turned them into rampaging killers.

Rit is content to knock them all out, but Albert kills them with bolts from his crossbow, then nonchalantly apologizes if his party members inconvenienced her from her slow life with her “fiancé”. Rit seems ready to fight, but then suddenly drops her twin blades—something she says is a ritual to “douse” her blessing’s urge to attack.

Possessed of Blessings far less intense than Rutis, Red and Rit are able to maintain their quiet cozy days, but Zoltan seems primed for a major drug and violence epidemic. Red’s ability to produce healing medicines will be key, while Rit may have to use a lot more of her Blessing’s skills than she’d liked in order to maintain peace. The two of them are two talented to sit on the sidelines for long if shit really hits the fan in the village.

As if to herald the figurative storm for which this week seemed like the uneasy calm that always comes before, there’s a literal storm that requires Red and Rit to close up the house shutters and prepare for a long night of rain and thunder. That preparation includes a cup of warm milk and honey Red serves Rit as a calming and sleeping aid.

It’s something Red once made for his sister Ruti when she was little. In a flashback to a similar big storm, we see that even as a young girl Ruti was already exhibiting the qualities of an unfeeling hero, even though it’s clear in her words and actions that she adored her big brother. It’s heartbreaking to watch Red (well, Gideon back then) explain the concept of emotions like happiness and affection and why he thanked her for saying she loved him.

Ruti knows the words, and maybe deep down feels the feelings, but her Blessing is constantly tamping them down. It’s why, in the present, Ruti laments in her own way that she can’t go to where her brother is, even though she once asked him to promise never to leave her. Because she’s the Hero.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro – 06 – RPG Dreams and Triple Teams

Naoto wakes up in a heavenlike place, assigned a mage’s staff, and before he knows it he’s falling from the sky into a fantasy RPG world, complete with Nagatoro in skantily-dressed catgirl cosplay.

He manages to protect her from the fire breath of a dragon (who turns out to be Gamo-chan) and Nekotoro rewards him with a peck on the cheek—which would be his first kiss, were this not obviously a dream.

Because it was only a matter of time before things took a turn when Gamo and Yosshi showed up, the four arrive at the Demon Lord’s castle, where the three girls change into even skimpier outfits and reveal that collectively they are the Demon Lord.

They prepare to make him their toy, and he wakes up screaming…in the middle of the family restaurant, just as Nagatoro and her friends spot him. He quickly flees, but leaves behind his sketchbook…full of drawings of Nekotoro, which Nagatoro is surely secretly happy about.

In the next segment, Naoto is simply relaing in the miracle of air conditioning when he gets a call from Nagatoro—that’s right, a phone call—urging him to join her at the beach. When he meets up, he learns Gamo-chan and Yosshi are also in attendance, which serves as some nice symmetry to his RPG dream.

When they arrive, Gamo does what anyone who arrives at a beach would do: take off her shirt and shorts to reveal her black string bikini. When she notices Paisen gawking, she makes it a point to flaunt her bod, and Yosshi joins in with her frilly pink bikini.

Not to be outdone, Nagatoro removes her oversized undershirt to reveal her black-bordered white bikini…as well as her swim club tan lines. That’s right: no one-piece school swimsuits among these cool girls. Naoto retreats to buy the girls drinks.

Nagatoro, Gamo and Yosshi go swimming in the ocean, but Naoto remains under the beach umbrella sketching, worried about sunburn. Nagatoro engages him, offering to apply sunblock to her Senpai … “gently.” When he says that’s something only people dating should do—and he and her aren’t that—Nagatoro is clearly hurt.

She dispenses swift punishment, in the form of liberally squirting sunblock on Naoto, then rubbing it into his back…with her foot. As she does so, she starts to smirk and blush, and Naoto blushes too, indicating this is something both of them are into.

But when Yosshi puts her foot on Naoto as well, observing that it looked liked fun, Nagatoro makes clear she’s not having fun; she is doing her duty as a domme, putting her sub in his place for putting distance between them.

Gamo also joins in, which means Naoto has three beautiful girls pushing him into the sand with their feet. Once he’s sufficiently sunblocked, Nagatoro takes the lead in pushing him towards the water.

While Naoto is not the strongest swimmer, he’d buoyed—literally—by the fact that it’s easier to float in salt water. He, Nagatoro, Gamo and Yosshi proceed to have a blast swimming and splashing in the ocean and then having ramen at the seaside cafe.

That night, when Naoto is back home, Nagatoro calls him to ask if he had fun, and Naoto admits that he did. Of course he did! Not only did three drop-dead gorgeous girls deign to spend time with him and sully their feet so that he wouldn’t suffer sunburn; he also managed to sketch Nagatoro in a moment of pure joy. Thus his summer was not wasted.

Naoto and Hayase may not be “dating” per se, but it’s made abundantly clear by both his dream and the beach trip that the pair are good friends who enjoy hanging out, and her friends have fully accepted him as someone she genuinely cares about. Sure, they can go overboard in messing with him, but at the end of the day they enjoyed his company and he enjoyed theirs.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Episode 6 “Senpai” Count: 29 (+6 “Paisens”)
Total: 227

Cardcaptor Sakura – 63 – Waves, Listen to Her!

It’s still winter, but that doesn’t stop Sakura & Co. from donning their swimsuits and hitting up the new state-of-the-art indoor water park. It’s an episode heavy on character count and slice-of-life and light on…well, everything else! But that’s okay; sometimes it’s nice to just kick back and relax at the pool (though I’ll admit to being envious; pools in my city were closed all summer due to you-know-what!).

Like Tomoyo, Syaoran is smitten with Sakura’s swimsuit, but things have gotten to the point where all he can do is stare at her. Naturally, Touya and Yukito have part-time jobs at the park’s restaurant, but this time Nakuru joins them, lending her another opportunity to glom onto Touya, who is otherwise still concerned about Yukito’s tendency to, uh, fade out of existence now and then.

Even Kero-chan manages to smuggle himself into the park in Sakura’s bag and steals her cream soda when she’s not looking, only to get harshly scolded (Sakura even bears a fang, a rare occurrence unless she’s protesting her brother’s teasing). Otherwise everything’s peachy until Eriol summons a  massive wave that threatens to drown Rika (who is still learning to swim from Sakura), among others.

Sakura can’t very well summon her wand and cards out in the open, so she has a clever solution: do it while she’s in a water slide! She conjures and converts Watery to a Sakura Card, who proceeds to make it rain inside the park, which has the effect of lowering the water level, thus rescuing Rika.

In another private corner of the park Nakuru straight up asks Eriol why he insists on “doing cumbersome things” like this; he tells her she’ll find out soon enough. I certainly hope so!

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 08 – Beautiful from Any Angle

Ever since she got wasted and threw up on his futon, Uzaki has been out of sorts. While apologizing in public and offering money for the futon, bystanders get the wrong idea thanks to a lot of unfortunate phrasing. But at the cafe, Ami has the antidote for Uzaki’s recent blues. Sakurai will take Uzaki out to the fireworks festival, and if he’s nice and compliments the hell out of her yukata, she’ll cheer up: Ami guarantees it.

The night of the festival Ami is proven right; Uzaki is still down and things are awkward, and despite how annoying he’s typically found her, Sakurai just thinks it’s wrong for Uzaki to be so down. His steady stream of compliments eventually bring out the usual energetic Uzaki-chan, but also results in her accidentally hitting him too hard in the head with her purse.

Even before the blow, Uzaki’s quiet-and-meek disposition reminded him of her when they were still in high school, and while he’s out cold, he remembers one evening she was practicing alone (which is dangerous) and he jumped in the pool to help guide her. That night they came across the fireworks festival, he bought them grilled corn (perfect after all that swimming), and he watched Uzaki’s subdued face brighten up for the first time.

When Sakurai comes to, he’s in Uzaki’s lap, not quite able to see her face, but he can tell she’s back to being meek and contrite over braining him. So Sakurai does what a good guy would do: look back on their time together since reuniting at college and admitting it’s all been pretty fun. He’s been able to see and do so many things he otherwise wouldn’t, so he tells her not to be so down, and invites her to hang out more before summer is over.

Sakurai may not be able to see the reaction in Uzaki’s face either to his words or the fireworks, but it doesn’t matter; “the view is fine” from where he is. While last week’s interactions were lubricated by alcohol and looser inhibitions, this was the true romantic standout episode thus far, when Sakurai is open and honest about how he feels about their time together, and Uzaki shows more than her usual quasi-loner-bullying default mode. Nice work, all!

Fruits Basket – 31 (S2 06) – It’s NOT Okay!

In the midst of a bad storm, Momiji announces that he’s secured a Souma beach house for everyone to stay during summer break. He’s invited everyone but the Horse, the Rooster, and Rin. Tooru wants to go, but she hasn’t yet finished her summer homework. One wonders why she can’t just take it with her and finish it there…though I imagine with all those Soumas there will be too many distractions.

Leave it to Yuki, who is happy to help Tooru out. While in her room, he notices the old cap again and finally asks her about it. She keeps it because it represents a happy memory when a boy helped her out when she was lost. That she doesn’t remember what the boy looked like doesn’t change the fact that it’s a cherished memory, and why she still has the hat. That seems to comfort Yuki, who is on the cusp of discussing it more when Momiji interrupts.

The next day everyone clears out of Shigure’s house, and he prepares to join them after taking care of some “work” first. It seems Rin has paid him a visit, and wants…something from him. As tends to be the case when Shigure meets with someone in secret, the words spoken don’t always reveal what’s truly being said.

While what that “something” is isn’t 100% clear, one can make an educated guess from the way she kneels and draws closer to him, and Shigure’s gaze lingers on her low-cut blouse. Her addressing him as Gure-nii suggests they’re brother and sister, but this is the Soumas we’re talking about…so who the heck knows!

Down by the sea, Tooru revels in the sun, sand, and water, showing off her swimming skills (though she needs to learn how to breathe while doing so!) and playing with Momiji and Kisa. Kyou and Yuki eventually join in the fun, with Yuki even complimenting Tooru on the adorable swimsuit they all picked out for her.

He does so after remembering Akito’s past words about having to live a “pitch black path without potential or hope.” Rather than despair from those words, Yuki rejects them. He believes he can walk in the light, and that light is Tooru.

It looks like the summer fun will never end until Hiro ends it like a needle scratch after picking up Tooru’s wallet with her mom’s picture in it. He calls her out for not having a photo of her dad, and for always going on about her mom like she’s got some kind of complex.

If Hiro expected Tooru to come up with a retort or to defend herself, he doesn’t know Tooru! Instead she smiles a sad, defeated smile and gets saved by the Momiji bell. But Kisa can and will defend her friend, and asks why Hiro even came if he was just going to shit on poor Tooru!

That night Hiro apologizes to Kisa for being so harsh, and she apologizes for getting angry with him and questioning his motives for coming. Both these cute kids have grown quite a bit; I know that because time was it would take a whole episode to make up, now it’s adjacent scenes.

Meanwhile, Hiro’s words still ring in Tooru’s head, as do images from her memory: her mom at her dad’s shrine, a cup with two toothbrushes, suddenly finding herself with neither parent. They flash by so fast and yet carry so much seering sorrow and longing, and Tooru can only tell herself again and again that “it’s okay”, even if how she’s choosing to handle this isn’t particularly okay.

The next day Momiji’s regimen of summer fun continues with a beetle hunt, and Tooru is hiding behind a mask of cheer and enthusiasm, letting herself get swept up in Momiji’s flowery energy…anything to avoid burdening others with her grief. While Hiro initially sees her smiles and thinks all must be well, Kyou can tell she’s down, because he knows by now that sometimes it’s when Tooru looks most happy that she’s really the most depressed.

Meanwhile, Shigure stops by Akito’s before joining the others at the beach. Akito hates everything about the summer and curses the “ugly girl” and the others for getting cocky and deluding themselves. Akito wants to “teach them a lesson”, to which Shigure suggests Akito accompany him to the vacation house so the lesson can be taught in person.

Whether Shigure is plotting against Tooru and the others or merely being deferential to remain on Akito’s “good” side (as if such a thing existed), these interactions always makes my skin crawl and fill my heart with dread.

It’s a good thing, then, that the episode ends by replacing some of that dread with tenderness. Yuki comes down with a low-grade fever, but he is notably smiling the whole time. When Hatsu leaves him with Tooru, he takes a bit of her hair in his hands and gently, lovingly twirls it about as he tells her that one day he’ll have something important to tell her, and hopes she’ll listen when that day comes. It’s the day he plans to “open the lid” on a shut box.

That’s both the pitch black box Akito stuffed him in, and the boy-with-the-cap mystery box. Will Yuki’s avowal here spur Tooru to explore opening the lids on her own boxes containing the painful things she’s ashamed to share? Will she tire of carrying those burdens alone? Will she be a match for Akito’s curelty and scorn…or will her light get snuffed out like so many others in this wretched family’s history?

Bofuri – 02 – The No-Damage Duo

Bofuri’s second episode is split between Maple’s first NWO battle royale and when Risa finally joins her. The battle is a cakewalk for Maple, whose ultra-defensive specialization ensures she takes no damage in the process of bagging more than two thousand kills, most of them absorbed as MP by her Great Shield.

Maple actually gets pretty fierce once various parties start ganging up on her, even paralyzing and poisoning those who flee to up her kill count. Compare that to when she’s waiting for enemies, killing time by innocently drawing intricate Yakuza dragon and Nazca lines. I really dig Maple’s low-key drawing talent, which comes through in the game!

Leading up to Risa’s arrival, I was starting to think it would be a running joke for Maple to bring up the fact Risa hasn’t joined her in the game yet, and that she might never join her due to various circumstances IRL. However, once she finally enters (as “Sally”, her real name in reverse), it’s as a “Swashbuckler” class, high on agility and evasion.

This complements Maple’s tank class perfectly, especially when they have to get somewhere far away fast. Sally simply carries the ridiculously slow Maple on her back as she races across the overworld, while Maple dispatches incoming enemies with ease.

Their destination is an underground lake where they can find a particular kind of fish, the scales of which Maple needs for the white shield she’s having Iz forge once she has enough cash. The duo spends a lot of time fishing, while Sally maxes out her swimming and diving skills and finds a cool underwater dungeon.

Tanks like Maple can’t swim, so it’s all up to Sally to take out the beastly aquatic boss at the end of this dungeon. It’s a cool design with lots of pyrotechnic attacks. While both the boss and Sally are CG, and the frame rate screeches to a near-halt, that’s somewhat mitigated by the blur used to indicate they’re underwater. It’s also an exciting, fast-paced, and well-directed battle.

When it’s over, Sally returns to a worried Maple with a new awesome-looking outfit. That’s when the game’s dragon mascot informs them that the second level of the game will soon be opened for those who meet the conditions. In need of a new pair of boots to complete her Swashbuckling look, Sally tosses Maple on her back and races back to town.

The news of multiple levels to the game satisfactorily explains why Maple was able to become so powerful in so short a time: she’s still only on the first of those levels. This fact, and the tough fish boss fight, bode well for their future adventures and battles posing a greater challenge.

One of many details I’m liking about Bofuri is the restrained use of cutaways to online chatting, between the A- and B-parts and before the end credits. The chatting chronicles Maple and Risa’s progress and rise in notoriety. Like similar cutaways in Durarara!! it adds depth, texture and a sense of community to the show.

BokuBen – 12 – The Sting of Defeat

Nariyuki and Uruka are a great couple I’m proud to ship, and they’re only a five-minute proper conversation away from living happily ever after. While I’d like to say I’m under no illusions that BokuBen will actually ever make them a thing, the teasing keeps me coming back. I guess I’m saying I’m an idiot…but a generally happy one, so who cares!

This week both halves of my favorite couple are sick of the awkwardness that’s cast a pall over their once lively friendship, and both seek the advice of their sensei Fumino. In addition to stringing along a NariUka shipper like me, they continue to lock Fumino in a cycle of pushing her own potential feelings for Nariyuki aside in favor of supporting her friends, Uruka and Riko.

She’s unsure how to break out of this cycle, and is worried Uruka and Nariyuki’s continued problems will have an adverse effect on their studying, so she decides to break neutrality and help Uruka out this time. To closely supervise her two students, she shows up to their rendezvous in a shrewd disguise.

Fumino quickly learns things are much worse than she thought regarding these two. Every effort to spark a conversation is quickly snuffed out when the talk quickly goes back to the source of the awkwardness, whether it’s Uruka’s see-through top after the rain, or her sexily modified uniform at the shrine.

As the two grow more and more awkward and discouraged, their texts to Fumino grow less and less coherent. Matters aren’t helped by Nariyuki and Uruka constantly insisting they’re not talking about themselves, but “friends of theirs,” a conceit that grows less and less plausible as the meeting digresses.

Finally, Fumino’s complicated texting is interrupted by Sawako asking about hairstyles, and she sends the wrong texts to the wrong party by accident. Thanks to pure dumb luck (or good karma on Fumino’s part) it all works out somehow, thanks to one of the hairstyles Sawako mentioned being the same one Uruka has. Nariyuki follows the text and declares Uruka cute, and Uruka gets him to repeat that comment over and over. Ice broken!

Nariyuki attends Uruka’s swimming tournament, in which she wins the 200m free, but loses in the relay when a kohai has a false start. Nariyuki tries to cheer Uruka up afterwards, and ends up with more evidence for why Uruka would be such a good choice for a partner.

Uruka doesn’t pretend either to her kohai or to Nariyuki that it’s not a big deal to have lost, and that she doesn’t want to cry her eyes out about it. But, and this is key, if that kohai learned a lesson she can carry forward and succeed later in her career, their loss won’t have been in vain. That’s Uruka for you: an ace and a team player, through and through.

Uruka even shows signs of boosted confidence when she invites Nariyuki to hang out with her that night. She takes him to their old middle school, where “it all began,” with “it” being their friendship and her feelings for him. Those years ago, when she was ready to quit out of frustration for losing, he encouraged her to stick with it. To be as serious about something as she was about swimming was something rare and precious to him.

All this increasingly non-vague talk about their history together leads Nariyuki to ask her if she ever managed to confess to the “guy she likes”, still—and perhaps perpetually—unaware it’s him. Uruka really shot herself in the foot by lying about it not being him, since now he can offer, without a hint of awkwardness, to be the one she confesses her feelings to as a “dry run”.

But because Nariyuki’s words, out of context, sound like he’s urging her to tell him the truth, a flustered Uruka comes right out and does just that. She well and truly confesses that she likes Nariyuki, a lot, and always has. Too bad then that her previous lie dooms his ability to take her seriously. He thinks she’s practicing on him.

Rather than clear this up by saying something like “no, actually you are the guy I like and there truly isn’t another person”—admittedly out-of-character—she tosses Nariyuki into the drink. He takes her arm and drags her in too. When he protests, calling her Takemoto, she gets him to say her first name Uruka again, and is all better again.

With other characters with routes to wrap up, this may have been Uruka’s last chance. But I do think she’s being more honest than anything else when she told Fumino she just wants things to be good with Nariyuki…and for him to occasionally note her cuteness. So while, like me, Uruka may be a fool when it comes to settling for less than total victory, as long as she’s happy, that’s what matters. I just hope she keeps trying, because I won’t stop rooting!

BokuBen – 02 – The Third Tutee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Blue – 03 – Stepping into a New World

Diving involves a lot of equipment in good order, which means it’s quite a costly activity for a college club to be involved in; far costlier than, say, the tiddly winks club or the pogo stick club. Iori and Kouhei are informed of this in a matter-of-fact way, meaning they will have to help contribute to club funds.

They already have a way for them to contribute right away: by participating in the Izu Spring Festival’s Inter-Club Men’s Beauty Pageant. But before that, Ryuu takes Iori out for his very first scuba-diving lesson. Before he departs, he gets words from encouragement from Chisa.

Chisa is clearly excited that her old friend is about to experience something she’s already familiar with—and which she loves. Things start out a bit rough, as Iori isn’t used to the kind of breathing one does in scuba gear, and when his mask floods he panics.

But once everything is readjusted, he remembers what Chisa showed him at the aquarium, and it’s like stepping through the doorway into a new world. You can see the switch flip in Iori’s head from panic to nirvana, and the look of joy and wonder on his face is plain to see—and something that delights Chisa. “Good, he gets it now,” she seems to be thinking.

The wonder and joy lead to excessive celebration, which is nothing new to Iori and Kouhei, but what is new is the manner in which Iori finds himself waking up: beside a buxom half-naked woman a couple years her senior. This is how he meets third-year student and fellow diving club member Hamaoka Azusa.

Azusa is the kind of girl who doesn’t mind sleeping in the same room with a bunch of guys, but she’s also a good cook, and teaches Iori, Kouhei and Chisa how to make okonomiyaki to raise more funds for the club at the festival. The festival where, in exchange for not having to compete in the boy’s pageant, the boys must convince Chisa to compete in the girls’ pageant.

The lads, likely still hungover, decide the best way to convince Chisa is to liquor her up so she’ll be more open to the pageant. However, each time they try to slip her a spiked drink, she either already has one, politely declines, it’s taken by Azusa, or one or both of them have to take the drink. Before long, they’re drunk as skunks.

Azusa also reveals she knows what they’re up to—to the heretofore unaware but now horrified Chisa—and forces them to confess their true goal. They ask Chisa to enter the pageant; she refuses; and they reveal that they’re trying to get her to enter so they don’t have to.

That night, the lads play naked rock-paper-scissors, which Azusa joins in but doesn’t have to shed a single article of clothing as she whoops everyone. She gets Chisa to admit that it’s not that she doesn’t want to enter, but more that she doesn’t want to bear the embarrassment of the pageant all alone. Azusa also points out that the only reason they asked her at all is because they were supremely confident all she’d have to do is enter and her victory would be assured.

So Chisa agrees to enter…but only if Iori and Kouhei enter too. Thus the embarrassment is shared, if one loses one of the other two could still win, and if all three win, the club funds are tripled, so everyone wins. When the means with which to enter a new world are so expensive, sometimes you just gotta shake what your mama gave ya…proverbially!

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