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 – 11 – Volleydaaaaaw

As soon as Erika learns the Athletic Festival after-party will include a solo dance by Akebi, she decides she wants to be the one accompanying her on the piano. Usagihara gives her the encouragement (and the Miki-chan CD) she needs to make it happen, while keeping it a pleasant surprise for Akebi when the time comes.

As for Akebi, she and her volleyball team learn, through playing against an actual volleyball player like Washio Hitomi, that they aren’t that god at volleyball. They don’t lack heart, but they need practice, and more critically a place to practice. Akebi has a tearful call with Mako-sensei, who is so happy Akebi has made friends and gives her permission to use her old school gym.

At first it looks like it’s going to be just Akebi, Usagihara, Shijou and Minakami (plus Kao, who wants to know what it’s like to not be at that school all alone), but Washio and Nawashiro, initially thought to have been indisposed that day, show up to help the novices practice. I love Kao’s reaction to seeing the statuesque Washio, as well as Washio’s response: lifting Kao as high as only she can.

I never watched Haikyuu!! but speaking as someone who has watched a bit of anime, I’m confident in saying the volleyball action animation is excellent. From the power and grace of the experienced Washio to the fumbling and incoordination of the newbies, it captures all of the beauty inherent the sport. Perhaps more importantly, it’s another opportunity for Akebi to revel in all of the friendships she’s made, working together in hopes of winning at the festival.

When Akebi shows her to the restroom, Usagihara notes just how old the school is, and learns that their little practice session is not only the most activity that gym has seen in years, but also might be the last time such a session can take place. Once Kao graduates, the school will close. So Akebi is happy she could bring friends there.

Akebi returns to the gym just as Mako-sensei decided to peek in on their practice, and is surprised to find that practically her whole class turned out to practice with her, preparations Usagihara made in case Washio and Nawashiro couldn’t make it. Mako-sensei and Akebi cant help but get emotional, while Kao leads her big sis by the hand to continue practice with everyone. Akebi shows her gratitude by giving Usagihara a big and lasting hug.

As for Erika, she’s in her own little world in her dorm room, practicing the Miki-chan piece while wearing earbuds and envisioning Akebi dancing around her in a placid ocean. Akebi truly transforms into a magical girl, gracefully darting around as Erika accompanies her. It’s another big flex from the animation staff, as the scene is simply bursting with love, tranquility, energy, and beauty.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 10 – Cheers for Fears

Akebi arrives at class in her new summer sailor fuku and is once again a sensation, but the other girls also have their summer unis to show off. They only lament that they just made the switch, but most of the day they’ll be in their P.E. uniforms, practicing for the athletics festival.

After Nawashiro teaches Akebi, Tanigawa, and Kamimoku how to make pompoms, the cheer squad can start practicing their cheers in earnest. The only problem is, none of them, including Akebi, really know all that much about cheering. Tougeguchi, who is in the table tennis club, has to teach Akebi basic choreography.

While Akebi flits hither and thither, cheering on the various other clubs, Erika finds a tennis partner in Shijou, whose body has developed faster than most girls her age and has thus left her with something of a complex about that. While she has experience playing tennis, all of it came before these changes, so she can’t quite find a rhythm on the court.

Not to fret: Erika offers Shijou some calming black tea, while Akebi takes her by the hand and has her do some cheer practice to loosen up a bit. Shijou only ends up in this unplanned situation because she became fixated on Akebi’s slender midriff and absent-mindedly poked her navel while saying “must be nice”. Akebi, bless her heart, assumed cheering was “what must be nice.”.

With Tanigawa recording their practice, Akebi finds areas to improve, while Shijou sees how stiff and restricted her movements are. But rather than give up, she pulls up her sleeves, ties off her shirt, and gets back to it, feeding off of Akebi’s boundless stores of exuberance. She even assists Akebi with a more advanced lift. Despite her initial misgivings, seeing Akebi give it all makes her want to give her all.

The cheering also reminded Shijou why she loved tennis to begin with: because it gives one the chance to look really cool. And indeed, Akebi’s Sailor Uniform animates Shijou’s powerful serve with all the camera angles and slow-motion of a superhero pulling off a special move. In essence, Shijou got her groove back!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 05 – Observe and Befriend

This week’s spotlight character is Ookuma Minoru, who isn’t the most sociable girl, but does love observing nature, and immediately takes a shine to Akebi when she observes her in a forest glade near the dorm showing a butterfly to her little sister. Once classes begin, Ookuma continues to observe Akebi, but is unsure how to approach her.

Ookuma gets an unexpected opportunity when a harmless Japanese rat snake appears in a hallway, scaring all the other girls…except for Akebi, who not only thinks the snake is cute, but knows it’s best to take it somewhere quieter and safer. I loved the staging of this scene, with gasping gaggle of girls fading into the background as Ookuma and Akebi become the focus.

After releasing Mr. Snakey into the woods, Ookuma and Akebi learn they both keep diligent notes of their observations; this applies both to wildlife and their peers. Now we know why Akebi remembers everyone’s names and likes and dislikes: she keeps notes. But while a “queen bee” character might use such a notebook for evil, it’s Akebi’s way to learn more about her classmates so she can more easily approach and befriend them.

That said, there are many classmates Akebi still doesn’t klnow much about besides their names, so she and Ookuma engage in a number of observation sessions. Ookuma stesses the need to stay hidden so as not to interfere in the organic actions of their subjects, but when Akebi witnesses the tiny Hiraiwa Hotaru unable to reach the warm red bean soup button of the vending machine, she can’t help but give her a helping lift!

The next girls they observe from a bush are Washio and a girl from Class 1, who almost looks like she’s confessing to the tall, athletic Washio. Nawashiro Yasuko joins Ookuma and Akebi, and the latter proves too loud and conspicuous. Turns out the girl from class 1 wanted to befriend Nawashiro, and knew she was friends with Washio. As Ookuma and Akebi learn more about their classmates, they fill their notebooks with important notes.

They get to learn a lot more from what and how everyone in their class draws/paints during an outdoor art class. Ookuma makes very precise, realistic sketches of her subjects, while Akebi takes a more simplified/stylized approach that accentuates the distinctive features of her subjects. But while they’re doing all this observing, Ookuma can’t help but feel like someone is oberving them.

That someone turns out to be her roommate at the Mangetsu Dorm, Tougeguchi Ayumi, a girl with social anxiety who met Akebi back during entrance exams. Tougeguchi forgot her handkerchief, but Akebi offers hers. Like Tougeguchi, Akebi is in the more isolated bathroom because she gets nervous around too many people. When the PA sounds, Akebi runs off, telling Ayumi to return her hanky next time they meet.

Tougeguchi takes that to mean she must pass the exam and get into Roubai at all costs…and she does! But to her dismay, Akebi shows up to class in a gaudy sailor uniform and is soon surrounded by friends, making fellow country girl (judging by her accent) Tougeguchi feel like she was betrayed. But as with Ookuma, her opportunity to interact with Akebi happens quite naturally when Akebi spots her hanky in Tougeguchi’s hands.

Akebi greets Tougeguchi warmly, and looks forward to their next meeting when Tougeguchi  departs. That leaves Akebi and Ookuma to stroll through the forest in the afternoon, satisfied with their observation mission. As she’s gradually surrounded by butterflies, Akebi says she looks forward to their next mission together. Ookuma suggests they observe insects next, and Akebi leaps with joy and gives her new friend a big hug.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 04 – Shots, Socks, and Sweets

Every day Akebi runs to school and waves good morning to the bus. Tanigawa is on that bus, and gets Akebi to agree to be her model for a photo shoot with the theme of “Friends”. Tanigawa chooses the tea ceremony’s classy clubhouse, and when she manages to capture some candid (rather than posed) shots of Akebi, it helps to capture what makes Akebi Akebi.

Akebi is dubious about how helpful a model she’s being (unaware of how much Tanigawa already adores her) and wonders what her “image” is, if she even has one; she started the shoot imitating her favorite idol. Her question is largely answered thanks to an errant baseball that lands in a puddle and splashes mud on Akebi’s prized fuku.

Her friend Usagihara Touko invites her to her dorm, where there are laundry facilities. It’s the first time either Akebi or Tanigawa haven’t gone straight home after school, and they’re both moved by Usagihara’s hospitality. Usagihara also uses the opportunity to dress Akebi up in a cute dress she bought impulsively, making her look even more like an idol.

Usagihara also shows off her baking skills by whipping up some delicious, professional-quality treats for her guests. Turns out her family is in the sweets business, but it wasn’t until she came to the academy that she really wanted to get into the baking part. She saw a demand for sweets among her fellow classmates who give her pocket change for ingredients and get treats in exchange.

Akebi and Tanigawa are impressed by Usagihara’s talent and enterprising nature, but she says anyone can do it, and proceeds to learn that, well, not everyone can. Akebi, who warns her ahead of time she’s not big on the whole “cooking” thing, makes a nigh-inedible “crepe”. It actually makes Usagihara relieved, since she thought Akebi was perfect and could do anything.

Now that she knows Akebi is not only a bad cook, but also has holes in her socks(!), she’s a little less intimidated, and I’m sure will feel comfortable growing closer to her as a friend. Thanks to the community of the dorm, Usagihara found a niche, something she can do better than anyone else, and in turn gets to reap the benefits of everyone else’s myriad talents and quirks.

After their fun first day at a friend’s place after school, Tanigawa looks through all the photos she took of Akebi, and believes she’s finally gotten a better idea of her image. Like Usagihara, spending time with Akebi and getting to see her goofy and clumsy sides helped her understand her better, which in turn leads to her adoring her that much more as a friend.

You can see that adoration in her completed photo series, which Akebi shares with a delighted Kao. The most powerful image graces the cover, which Tanigawa shot from the bus, shows Akebi running and waving good morning from afar. Tanigawa tells Akebi that she’s on the bus she waves to every morning.

The photo is a perfect encapsulation of who Akebi is: always dashing forward, full of energy and love. The beauty of both the image and the emotions behind it brought a genuine tear to my eye, which made it an ideal parting shot for the episode.

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform – 03 – Free as a Cloud

Akebi Komichi isn’t trying to stand out, she’s just being the best damn Akebi Komichi she can be. That Akebi is bereft of guile, devoid of ego…and runs fastest while barefoot. So fast, in fact, she posts the best time in P.E., and attracts three upperclassmen who want her to join their sports clubs.

Those upperclassmen burst in on Akebi’s class just before the bell, and have to be set straight by the class president, Tanigawa Kei. When she comes over to thank her, Akebi mentions how beautiful Tanigawa’s legs and skin are. Tanigawa isn’t sure what to make of Akebi quite yet, but she knows one thing: Akebi keeps talking to her.

After Akebi’s other three friends head home, she runs into Tanigawa again, and shares her earbuds with her as they listen to her favorite idol’s music, music Tanigawa is amazed Akebi can dance to. But Akebi doesn’t think anything she does is amazing; just the product of hard work, practice, and love of Fukumoto Miki-chan.

Tanigawa is amazed though, by how easily Akebi can do things she wants to do. It makes her want to come out of her shell a little, if only for Akebi. When they exchange numbers, Tanigawa even considers sending her new friend a selfie of her legs…and torso. She even ends up sending this rather risqué pic, albeit accidentally when her mom startles her. But Akebi is ecstatic to receive it, and believes Tanigawa has a real talent for photos. It’s another lovely new friendship forged.

Due to Akebi’s considerable athletic attributes, a sports club seems like a no-brainer. But after spending the day with Kojou checking out all the clubs,  she’s still not able to pick one.

She and Kojou are caught in the rain, and upon finding shelter, Kojou gives Akebi her warm blazer, which her thin sailor uniform lacks. Akebi finds one of Kojou’s book in a pocket, and decides to read to Kojou like she does to her little sister as they wait out the rain.

Kojou is impressed with Akebi’s ability to bring the characters in the book to life—she even does all the distinct voices like a rakugo performer—but it’s been a long day and she eventually nods off. She wakes up with her head resting in Akebi’s lap, looks up and sees Akebi wearing her glasses, and for a moment thinks it’s her mom.

The next day, Akebi learns Tanigawa has chosen the photography club, while Akebi announces that she’s joined the drama club. It’s a place where she’ll be free to employ all of her acquired talents, while utilizing her innate ability to draw attention and admiration.

Just about every frame of Akebi is a joy to watch, and not just due to the intense love, care, and detail put into the production by Cloverworks. I can’t stop watching because Akebi is such a gregarious, magnetic presence. She really is Cardcaptor Sakura without the card capturing!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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