The choir club defies the school board chairman with the support of the principal and vice principal, and hold their White Festival in the school’s central courtyard as the rainclouds part. Afterwords, Sawa announces she’s going abroad to train to be a jockey. The others graduate and send her a video, then set to work pursuing their various goals.
So in the end, the club gets its way, with the bad guy merely stepping aside and allowing the White Festival shortly after being assaulted by Principal Ikezaki and having his pants pulled down in front of five minors. For someone who has a chaffeur and designated umbrella holder, he sure gives in easily, but we suppose with the growing audience to the confrontation, he wanted to avoid bad PR. So, the club got to sing the song Wakana and her mom wrote. And while we don’t want to pooh-pooh one of the focal points of the series, we have to point out that if you’re going to make that focal point a song, it had better be a good one. So to be painfully honest, we found the song, and the dramatic performance, a bit cloying. It just didn’t do it for us.
We were always more interested in the characters, not in their songs, but everyone other than Wakana is given a bit of a short shrift. Konatsu remains unsure of what she wants to do, so she goes to college. Sawa rides horses abroad. Taichi plays badminton, and misses Sawa, whom he never asked out. Wien…goes back to Austria and meets his pen pal. All of these are kernals and jumping-off points for potentially interesting stories, but the series had no more time to delve into them. A serviceable end to a pleasant-enough series that never quite got there with the characters – something Kokoro Connect has thus far excelled at.
Rating: 6 (Good)
The Choir/Badminton Club continues preparing for their white festival musical drama, despite having their formal request denied by the student council. They reach out to the shopping district association, which agrees to distribute pamphlets for their show. Taichi continues to delegate to other, more skilled parties, and Konatsu secures Ueno for piano, despite Hirohata’s objections. Wakana bumps into Naoko while visiting her mom’s grave and lets her listen to her song. The principal tries to take a stand, but the developers are having none of it and institute a strict curfew for all students.
There are many at Shiro High who are ready and willing to lie down and listen to whomever seems most like being in charge; in this case, the developers who are replacing the school with condos. Konatsu isn’t one of those people, and she makes her voice heard whenever she can. As little as we’ve actually enjoyed her character throughout the run, we have to give it to her here, she’s not taking anything lying down. Her obstinancy is a rarity among her classmates, but her fellow club members are behind her 100%. In fact, it was Wakana, not Konatsu, who first insisted the show must go on. She goes to bat for the club by begging the shopping district to help with advertising, but this has the unhappy side effect of gaining the attention of the bad guys.
But one thing Konatsu did was inspire that pathetic wimp of a principal to at least try to stand up against the developers. He doesn’t succeed, but the weight of what he’s done is definitely still upon him, and we’ll look to him to step in and use whatever power authority he has left – little as it may be – to assist the likes of Konatsu and the Choir Club. At episode’s end, it’s raining the evening before the show. Without having peeked at the preview for the final episode, we suspect weather won’t be the problem. But we would hope those haughty developers get put in their place.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
Konatsu has written a script for the musical drama, and sets the club to work preparing. Wakana is writing the song, Sawa is doing the choreography, Taichi the sets, and Wien the props. However, the principal finally makes an announcement to the teachers, parents, and eventually students: the White Festival is being cancelled and the school is being shut down to make way for luxury condominiums. The club drifts apart as construction vehicles descend on the school, but one afternoon they all meet by chance in the hall. Wakana announces she’s finished her song, and wants everyone to sing it.
In Hanasaku Iroha, the Kissuiso inn was a character in and of itself: old and unappreciated by the winds of change, but beautiful, traditional, and warm. With five lively characters to keep track of, it could be easy to overlook the school they attend, but when we think back, it’s also a gorgeous building, with its gleaming hardwood floors, intricate outside tiling, ample natural light, neat half-moon sliding doors. We’ll bet the students took the beauty of this place for granted, and are only now appreciating it now that news has come down that it will be taken from them. This is something hinted at for some time, but it comes as a complete surprise to all.
The meek pushover principal procrastinates far too long, and culture fair preparations are already in high gear when he belatedly brings the hammer down, and a cruel hammer it is. In a painfully ironic scene, he cites Japan’s declining birthrate as Mrs. Takahashi’s newborn is crying, as if in defiance. For as big and beautiful as the school is, higher-ups have deemed it too big and occupying too valuable a property to allow a dwindling student body to continue using it. They want rich people living there. That baby isn’t the only one protesting: festival or no, Wakana wants her song heard, and the club is willing to sing it with her.
Rating: 8 (Great)
The “WestShopRangers” make their debut in the district. Their tempo and timing are off, but the improve with each performance, going up against “baddies” – the shop owners in disguise. When the vice principal takes them to task for having a job, they remind her she approved it, and keep doing it. Wakana goes back to ask the vice principal, Naoko, how her mother wrote songs, just when “Nao” is remembering the only time she visited Mahiru before she died. She repeats what Mahiru told her: song isn’t work; it flows from the heart. During a show, Konatsu’s purse is snatched by a cyclist. Wien chases him down on foot, and the rest of the rangers back him up. They get the purse back and teach the guy a lesson through song. Wien writes Jan of their victory.
We like how Wien propels the others into rushing straight into their ranger show. They’re nervous and uncoordinated, but they get the job done. Even funnier is watching the old owners battle the rangers, and one throws his back out, which pits Sawa against her mother Shiho. It’s all great fun and you can totally see shoppers getting into it – most especially the kids. Also, they get better with each performance. There’s no mention of the nature of the drama they’ll be putting on for the White Festival, but it seems like it would be easy to make that a Rangers-based narrative – almost as if these shop performances were practice.
In between these shows we delve into Naoko’s memories – even in high school she was a serious girl who rarely smiled – but she shared a love for music with the more outgoing, outwardly passionate Mahiru. There’s a scene when Mahiru tells Nao she’s not going to make it that makes us tear up – it’s pretty grim statement, but as it turned out, a true one. Now Mahiru’s daughter is at Nao’s school – like a little Mahiru – and while she won’t show favoritism to a friend’s child, Nao does offer solid advice – don’t overthink, have fun, and the music will come. We also get a taste of Wien’s near-obsessive determination. He simply doesn’t quit, pursuing a thief across half of town and even taking a couple punches. For a second there, we thought he’d be defeated, but then the other rangers showed up. It was a great victory – and this was a great episode, with a little of everything.
Rating: 8 (Great)
Car Cameos: Cars passing by in the shopping district include a JDM Honda Odyssey, Mitsubishi eK, Suzuki Swift, Toyota Vitz, Mercedes-Benz C-Class (W203), Nissan March, and a fourth-generation Toyota HiAce.
Wakana decides to ask Sawa’s mother if she knew anything about how her mom wrote songs. Konatsu decides the club will put on a musical drama for the White Festival, but it will require a lot of money to produce it. At the Western shopping district association meeting, Shiho proposes they boost business by using “local superheroes” in costumes to bust moves and hand out flyers. She conscipts Sawa and the other club members for this purpose, and Wien gets serious about it. So serious, Tanaka asks why. All of Wien’s letters to his friend in Austria – who shared his love of the “Gambaraijers” – were sent back to him, but he still yearns to be a hero, and this is his shot. The club catches the Vice Principal when she’s distracted and troubled, and she grants them permission to work an after-school job to raise funds.
As soon as Shiho brought up superheroes at the shopowners’ meeting, we knew it was just a matter of time before the Choir and Sometimes Badminton club were being given Power Ranger costumes. We won’t waste time asking silly questions like “Why is Wien so obsessed with the simplistic idealism of the Power Rangers well into his high school years when he should be into girls?” or “Why does Wien have a seven-year-old pen pal?” Suffice it to say, this is his time to shine. He’s going to whip the club into world-saving shape so they can earn that 30,000 yen. Which brings us to another obvious possibility: that the musical drama the club will perform follow the same Power Ranger theme. Why not?
They already have the costumes, so they can spend more money on sets and props. We’ll see. The only snag may be Wakana, who is mired in a songwriter’s block that’s far worse than not having an idea for a song – she’s not even sure what a song is or what it is to write one, as she’s never done so. Her dad isn’t any help, but Shiho tells her to try to ask the mean ol’ Vice Principal, who as it turns out co-wrote that song with her mom. There’s a great moment when her cat lands on the piano, and the tune her paws play isn’t that bad for something totally random. Perhaps a superhero song is a good place to start: full of big, bold ideas and pure, unadulterated emotion.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
Sawa’s injuries are minor, but cause enough of a scare that she must withdraw from the tournament for liability reasons. He also tells her to step back from her dream of beinga jockey and go to college. Back at school, the club’s practice room has been stolen by the music majors; a pissed-off Sawa chews them out. They go to Wien’s house to practice, but his piano is out of tune. Sawa tells everyone what’s biting her, but Wakana echoes Sawa’s dad, and Sawa snaps at her. When the vice principal allows the club to audition for the main stage, Sawa is home sulking, but the rest of the club convinces her to come. With her bike at school, she must ride Sabure.
First of all, kudos to Tari Tari for not going the easy route of injuring Sawa to the extent she can’t continue; falling off the horse isn’t life- or limb-threatening, though it does expose her malnutrition to her father. Instead, this episode makes Sawa wrestle with trying to keep her dream alive when the facts of her life simply aren’t favorable to that dream. Even if she starves herself to the weight limit, she may grow too tall to be a jockey – and what’s the point of being light enough if you’re too weak to stay on your horse? Her dad isn’t the best at conveying his feelings to his teenage daughter, but he once again makes sense: it was naive for Sawa to simply press on without a backup plan, belieiving everything will turn out okay.
We like how Sawa’s realization is a weight that sours her usually pleasant disposition (we were pumping our fists when she unleashed a devastating tirade against the stuck-up music majors.) Another great moment is when Sawa hears her dad arguing her case on the phone with the equestrian school. This is after Sawa’s friends sang her a song over the phone to show they care about her and want her by their side. Fittingly, Sawa rides her horse to school, in a scene that’s equal parts heroic, redemptive, and absurd. We don’t even hear the last-minute audition, but considering what a stick-in-the-mud the vice principal is, we won’t speculate on whether they got a spot on the main stage. Sawa’s struggles aren’t over, but she’s not without hope – and she’s not alone.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
Car Cameos: Sawa and her father take a Toyota Comfort taxi home, and a Toyota Alphard can be seen just before the train to Wien’s house passes by. While riding her horse Sabure through town, Sawa encounters a Toyota Soarer, AKA Lexus SC430.
Wakana officially joins the Choir & Badminton Club, which begins brainstorming for the upcoming White Festival. Meanwhile, tensions intensify between Sawa and her father over her intention to pursue a career as a jockey. She isn’t eating and is out of sorts. Konatsu learns that the Vice Principal will have control of who is on the main gym stage for the festival. While auditioning for mounted archery, a fatigued Sawa falls from her horse.
This week was about everyone juggling their participation in the club with all the necessary requisites towards building a future for themselves, or not. Wien and Wakana (and probably Konatsu too) have no idea what they want to do yet, and while Sawa and Taichi walk confidently on specific paths, that they’ll lead to success is no sure thing. We also liked the stark contrast between Wakana’s relationship to her father and Sawa’s toward hers – which brings us to this week’s focus: after significant Wakana development, the series shifts to Okita Sawa, the least fleshed-out of the three female characters.
For someone raised on temple grounds, she’s a pretty normal modern teenage daughter. Her heart is set on something, her father disapproves, and she hates him for it. Opening her mail doesn’t help matters for Pops, while Mom tries to stay above the fray. To his credit, Dad tries to be fair and offers numerous practical alternatives, but the one thing neither will negotiate on is her making a living on horseback. And then there’s Chekhov’s Horse: we’ve waiting for her to fall off that damn thing for seven episodes now, and it finally happens. What. A Surprise.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
Car Cameos: The Mazda MPV (we think) and the previously-seen first-gen Honda Stepwgn and Nissan March are among the vehicles that occupy the background.
Wakana catches a cold and misses the first days of school. Konatsu visits with cake and they talk about promises made to dead relatives. Wakana stops by Sawa’s to pick up a copy of her mother’s class, along with a tape of her singing. Sawa lets Wakana ride Sabure, mentioning the rift with her father. Wakana returns home and her father has prepared a feast for his anniversary/her birthday. She asks him why they never told her she was sick. Her mother didn’t want them to fulfill their promise by writing a sad song. Her dad gives her unfinished sheet music so she can finish the song her mom started.
At long last, Wakana seems to have dealt with her guilt and grief over her mother’s passing, and is willing to stop punishing herself and return to the world of music her mother instilled so deeply in her. This is an All-Wakana episode in which she gets perspectives from Konatsu and Sawa and finally wrings the truth out of her father, who basically says her mom didn’t want her daughter feeling sorry for her, or to write a song that would be a goodbye to her. Her mom’s decision still caused Wakana pain, but kept their promise alive. Now Wakana has her mother’s unfinished song, and can complete it with hope and love rather than despair.
Tari Tari has benefited by having the focus on Wakana these last couple episodes; she’s now the most developed and interesting among the cast of five, and with this weight lifted from her shoulders. With her major personal conflict essentially resolved, we suspect the series will do another group episode or to before moving on to another character. Sawa in particular shows promise, with goals that don’t jive with her father. But the others have their work cut out for them after this very moving Wakana arc.
Rating: 8 (Great)
Konatsu, Sawa, Wien and Wakana attend Taichi’s badminton match. He loses and fails to advance to the Nationals. Wakana is preoccupied by memories of her mother’s last days, in which she wasn’t the best daughter she could have been. She has her dad arrange to have the piano in her room removed, along with boxes of other junk and a memento her mother made her. She regrets having never said goodbye, sorry, or thank you before her mother passed.
Thanks a lot, Condor Queens…thanks to that letter, you made Wakana – already a walking frown – descend into despair this week. This episode gets good marks for plumbing the depths of grief and guilt Wakana bears, while getting us to feel a bit of it with her. In her mother’s last days and weeks, Wakana’s frown was a perpetual scowl, as she was that age when her mother was suddenly no longer her best friend, but an annoyance and eyesore. Little did she know that she’d never have a chance to make up for all that harsh treatment – she took her mother’s love for granted and is almost lost without it.
Wakana can’t stand the fact she was a self-centered brat more concerned with getting into a good school than her mother’s illness. Right up to the point when she got the news of her death – while in the middle of her school interview. Now it’s as if Wakana doesn’t want to let herself have fun or be happy anymore, which is why she avoids Konatsu and the others. Maybe she thinks she doesn’t deserve happiness as punishment for her past transgressions. But from what we saw of her in memories, her mother was a joyful person who wouldn’t want her daughter to waste her youth wallowing in despair.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
Car Cameos: On Wakana’s sad walk home, the background traffic includes a 5-door Suzuki Swift, a first-generation Honda Fit, a Nissan March, and the Audi A4 sedan we’ve seen before.
When she realizes the old men who acccompanied her audition are a famous band called the Condor Queens, Konatsu gives up her stage slot to them. They park their RV on Sawa’s property and make themselves at home. One of the members chases down Wakana because they knew her mother, who helped write their big hit. When Konatsu suggests the club skip practice to hear the Queens rehearse, Sawa snaps at Konatsu, doubting whether she’s taking the choir club seriously. The Queens tell Konatsu to ‘find her own stage’, and she secures a venue outside a flower shop. The club practices hard and performs for a small but engaged group. That evening, one of the Queens gives Wakana a letter her from her mother.
So, just so we’re clear on this: Wakana’s riding her bike and just happens to encounter a man who was friends with her mother, and a member of the band that just happens to be at the cafe where Konatsu, Sawa and Taichi are auditioning; the band Konatsu and her grandfather just happened to listen and dance to. What a carnival of coincidences! Frankly, we’re not quite sure why there had to be so many. It didn’t ruin the episode, it kinda made us scratch our heads a little: couldn’t Wakana have come upon someone who knew her mother a little more naturally, in a way that didn’t conveniently involve everyone else?
Coincidence aside, the band of old men play the role of three sages/mentors, providing advice both to Konatsu, whose excitement over meeting them causes her to neglect the choir club, which irks Sawa. We’ve mentioned Sawa’s dedication to going along with Konatsu’s ventures and helping in any way she can, but once Konatsu starts to goof off, Sawa rightly lets her have it, getting her eye back on the ball. As for Wakana, she’s told by the band who knew and loved her mom flat out: you can’t just give up on music; it’s a “constant companion”, right down to her heartbeat. The episode doesn’t let on what her mother wrote, but her demeanor on the beach at sunset suggested longing.
Rating: 6 (Good)
Car Cameo: The foreign Condor Queens are living out of an equally foreign early 2000’s-era Fiat Ducato motorhome.
After their first recital, most of the Choir Club quits, and with only Konatsu, Sawa and Wakana remaining, they no longer meet the minimum five for a club, and the vice principal eliminates both their club and Taichi’s Badminton Club; he’s only able to recruit Wien. After a quick 3-on-2 badminton game that Konatsu’s side wins, she decides to form a new club combining choir and badminton, which the principal signs off on. At an impromptu audition for an upcoming market music festival, Konatsu, Sawa and Taichi are suddenly accompanied by Spanish mucicians, one of whom is very interested in Wakana.
Just as quickly as Konatsu’s Choir Club was established, in the opening minutes of this episode, she’s back at square one. Still, the five main characters join forces in the end to create the unorthodox but not illegitimate Choir and Sometimes Badminton Club, and much to the chagrin of the now incredibly stuck-up vice principal, the principal gives it his blessing. We learn why he’s interested in Wakana: he taught her mother, who was apparently a musical revelation. Wakana, meanwhile, continues to let herself be pushed and pulled around, while remaining unsure what she should be doing.
This series continues to portray foreigners with a bit of a heavy hand for comedic purposes (see: Wien feeding squirrels and getting excited by a net birdie; the Spanish-speaking guy coming on too strong to Wakana) but also adds some flavor to the proceedings (the sudden musical outburst by the Spanish guy’s musical friends) and more sublte details (Wien not saying “excuse me” when entering Taichi’s home). We’ve also noticed a trend of a few moments of a character’s childhood taking up the first moments of the episode; this week it was Taichi being bullied, then defended by his tomboyish older sister. We’ll see where these go.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
With Sawa’s help, Konatsu is able to recruit Wakana as a non-participatory member of her new choir club, and the principal approves the application and volunteers as the advisor. Konatsu begins to conscript other misfit students with singing ability, including her younger brother. When the day of a dual recital with the official choir arrives, the principal isn’t around. Sawa attempts to track down Mrs.Takahashi while Konatsu finds out the principal is laid up in the hospital from a minor bike accident. She and Sawa make it back just in time, but the bus containing the rest of the choir is late, so they go on as a duet, accompanied by Wakana on piano.
We were a little reticent about continuing on with a show that so closely resembles Hanasaku Iroha in both looks and subject matter, and the fact Sawa and Wakana still looked so similar to us. The scene after the credits of the five characters all talking over each other, having numerous conversations, was also a little overwhelming right out of the gate, but we can’t deny it was very well done. It wasn’t long before we could tell the Sawa and Wakana apart and became invested in Konatsu’s goal of starting up a new choir. It’s hard not to root for someone considering she’s fighting the oppression of a vice principal who has a major stick up her ass. If this is a high school drama, she’s definitely the villainess.
We were amazed how fast everything progressed, from getting approval from the eccentric principal to recruiting a quorum of singers and rehearsing. We also liked Wakana’s running tally of cakes she’s due for all the favors she does for Konatsu, as well as Sawa’s dedication to her friend, including what has to be the most sincere, justified spanking we can recall ever seeing in an anime. Sawa’s delivery of the word “NO” in response to her teacher asking if she’s in the maternity ward because she’s pregnant had us LOL’ing profusely. And Konatsu and Sawa’s little duet at the end was sweet and moving. Konatsu got over her stage fright and rose to the occasion, with sticktoitiveness and a little help from her friends. After this episode, we’re confident this is no Hanasaku Iroha carbon copy, but something else altogether.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
Car Cameos: Mrs. Takahashi’s Daihatsu Move makes another appearence; a Toyota Coaster conveys the choir club to the recital hall; background cars include an Audi A4, Toyota Alphard, and Subaru Sambar.