Domestic na Kanojo – 01 (First Impressions) – So That’s How It Is

One minute Fujii Natsuo is at an innocuous mixer, the next he’s sneaking out with the least enthusiastic of the girls, Tachibana Rui who asks him for a favor. She wants to have sex, so she knows what it’s like and so it won’t feel like people are talking down to her.

She correctly assessed that Natsuo was also a virgin, and so she wouldn’t be taken advantage of or anything else by a more experienced guy. They get undressed, do the deed, get dressed, and part ways. There was never supposed to be any passion or emotion of any kind, so Rui tells him that if they ever meet again, they’re strangers.

As Natsuo confides to his dorkier best friend (who make it a point to de-dorkify Natsuo before high school so at least one of them would have a chance, socially speaking), the experience doesn’t quite sit that well with him, the more time that passes after The Act.

For one thing, there’s someone he likes—a pretty young teacher at school—and while it’s most likely to remain unrequited (at least as long as he’s a minor and her student), a part of him laments that his first time was so…impersonal.

But if you think the chain of events Natsuo has experienced to this point was sudden, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! One afternoon his father announces he’s going to remarry, ten years after Natsuo’s mother passed away. And oh yeah, she’s coming over right now, with her two daughters…who just happen to be Natsuo’s teacher Hina and Rui, with whom he had sex. OH, SNAP!

Natsuo faints from the shock, but when he comes to, Hina and Rui’s mother warmly introduces herself, and when asked, tells him why she likes him. She and his father really are a good match and both seem happier than any of the kids have ever seen them. It’s for that reason that Rui, who waits for Natsuo outside the toilet, is not going to get in the way of her mom’s happiness just for “some stupid reason” (read: their having sex that one time).

Natsuo gives his dad his blessing as well, and things only accelerate from there: his dad buys a new house big enough for the newly-combined family, and adding to Natsuo’s apparent woes. Hina insists on a dropping of formalities in the house, while Rui insists that Natsuo forget they ever did it, as it’s clearly still bothering him. Naturally, that’s not so easily done; Natsuo can’t get the images of making love to Rui out of his head.

Still, This Is All Happening and everyone has to make the best of it. For Hina’s part, she forgets she’s no longer in an all-women’s household and comes out of the bath half-naked, only to put on a loose tank and short shorts before drinking herself to sleep with Asahi Super Dry (not out of depression; she just likes to drink).

As she dozes on the couch, with everyone else in bed, Natsuo decides he’ll close the book on his one-sided crush on his teacher-now-stepsister once and for all…with a first and last kiss. But before his lips meet hers, Rui enters the room, and her expression isn’t one of total contempt, but something more like…a “how could you?” face.

Your enjoyment of a show like this (or Koi to Uso, or Kuzu no Honkai) will depend entirely on your stomach for love triangles (and other polygons) as well as your ability to swallow a premise this specific and weird. To its credit, because of the central reason for the new arrangement—his dad and their mom are truly in love and deserve happiness—helps temper the ridiculousness.

Because the dynamic between Hina and Natsuo and Rui and Natsuo are so different, it will be very interesting to see how the three navigate their new normal.

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Bloom Into You – 09 – Ready, Set, Yuu

Sports Day has arrived, and the StuCo is so busy Yuu and Nanami hardly see each other, to say nothing of anything more. Just as Yuu is thinking about this as she’s leaving the storage shed, Nanami appears and the two go into the shed.

Yuu lets Nanami kiss her, but when Yuu pulls her off, Nanami agrees to behave until Sports Day is over, whereupon Yuu promises to give her a “reward” of her choosing: instead of Nanami initiating, Yuu will kiss her.

The Sports Day unfolds as one would expect: Yuu does her class relay, demonstrating she’s fast for a short kid, owing to her long-standing friendship with the far taller Akari. Yuu then gets to talk with Maki for the first time in a while, still adamant she has no feelings for Nanami despite his suspicions. She tells him she can’t fall in love with anybody, which in theory would make the two of them the same…but Maki doesn’t buy it.

There’s every reason to put stock in his doubt, considering how he’s basically carved out a life of observing relationships from afar rather than participating directly. As such, Maki has seen a lot of faces of both lonely and content people, and Yuu’s face looks lonely…too lonely for someone incapable of falling for someone.

Meanwhile, in a continuation of last week’s thread, Sayaka greets Hakozaki-sensei’s live-in girlfriend, who shows up to secretly watch her run in the teacher’s relay. When it’s time for the StuCo to do a relay against the basketball team, Yuu sees how much Nanami really wants to win, as well as her and the basketball captain Serizawa exchanging trash talk.

Yuu does her best, and manages to keep pace with the far more athletic Akari running beside her. She hands off to Sayaka smoothly, and Sayaka does the same with Nanami. As Yuu watches Nanami run with everything she’s got, everything else in her world fades into the light and it’s just the two of them. Perhaps a rare instance of her actually feeling that “special feeling” she claims she’s unable to feel?

The ballers win in the end, but it was close, and despite having to deal with Serizawa’s gloating, Nanami is happy her StuCo worked so hard. Then, with Sports Day in the books, Nanami and Yuu retire to the storage shed once more. Yuu is nervous, as she didn’t think Nanami meant immediately after Sports Day was over, and when Nanami waits for Yuu to come to her with her lips, Yuu feels like she’s crossing a boundary she shouldn’t, because she doesn’t like Nanami.

She tells Nanami to go instead, and she does, including putting her tongue in Yuu’s mouth for the first time. We haven’t seen the telltale blushing on Yuu’s face until that happens, because when Nanami pauses and asks if she should stop, Yuu tells her it actually feels good.

So Nanami keeps French kissing Yuu, as Yuu thinks about all of the positive physical and behavioral qualities Yuu finds comfort in. She considers them all “normal” and not something to be considered “special.” But as Maki would tell her, someone as incapable of love—and as comfortable with same—as Yuu claims simply wouldn’t be going around looking lonely or making out with someone.

That being said, just because Yuu seems to be on the road to falling for Nanami (if she hasn’t already), unless she’s actually aware she’s on that road and acknowledges it once and for all, her vacillating is doomed to continue.

That she’s still trying to explain/excuse her rapidly escalating romantic entanglement with Nanami after nine episodes suggests the series just might end without Yuu ever coming to believe she’s in love with her. Fortunately, four episodes is plenty of time to resolve this one way or another, and whatever the outcome, it’s been a wonderful ride.

Bloom Into You – 08 – A Friend and a Senpai

Yagate Kimi ni Naru is the finest school romance I’ve watched since Tsuki ga Kirei back in the Spring of last year, and I’ve known that for some weeks now. Both shows are wonderful to look at, but more importantly they feature some wonderfully fleshed-out characters and relationships, and the more I learn about both, the deeper I sink into the show.

It would have been so easy and expected for someone like Sayaka to launch a transparent full-scale war against Yuu once she determined she was a potential threat to her relationship with Touko. Not only did YKN not take that route, but continued to develop Sayaka as someone just as confused, frustrated, and yet still mostly happy as Yuu.

Watching Sayaka take “revenge” on her former senpai who so coldly dumped her was a thing of absolute beauty, and a perfect way to start the episode in which her and Yuu’s rivalry is laid bare (well, more bare). And how perfect was it that Touko swiftly delivered “payback” in the form of continuing to hold Sayaka’s hand?

Yuu gets the feeling that she and Sayaka have some things to talk about, and that the present chill is affecting their relay baton exchange game, so after school she invites Sayaka to join her for a repast of McDonalds. Sayaka almost immediately calls Yuu out for her “olive branch”, which could harm Sayaka’s image simply by dint of Yuu being her junior.

Yuu holds her own, saying she wouldn’t put it so “dramatically.” Still, the two come to a sort of mutual respect once they learn that neither is the person they expected: Sayaka isn’t so easygoing, and Yuu isn’t so timid and respectful. Both appreciate their directness with each other.

That directness breaks down when neither comes right out and says what they both insinuate by mincing words. Instead, Sayaka says she likes Touko very much “as a close friend” while Yuu likes her “as a senpai” … because what other possible way would they like her??? (Gee, I wonder.)

This first segment of the episode is called “Intersection,” which is fitting in many ways. First, Sayaka and Yuu find common ground and gain a bit more understanding of what makes one another tick, leading to them eventually getting the baton hand-off right.

But an intersection isn’t just a meeting, but a splitting into different directions. In the interests of being as open with Sayaka as possible regarding Touko, she expresses her hope that after the stage play Touko will be more open and “like herself”, dropping the Ms. Perfect act. Such a prospect frightens both of them, since they’re not sure what the hell they’d do in such an instance.

Would Sayaka finally confess her feelings? Would Yuu be left in the lurch? Neither has any idea what such a future holds? Regardless, I love every minute Yuu and Sayaka share the screen, especially now that they’ve reached a measure of détente.

The second segment deals with another common school romance trope: the Rainy Day Umbrella Share. It starts with Yuu Being Yuu, which is to say being super-kind to those she cares about, even if it means getting wet. When the guy Akari likes forgets his umbrella, she nudges her in the guy’s direction, though the two were going to walk home together. Akari is deeply grateful for the gesture, and off she goes with the guy, the two already looking like a couple.

This leaves Yuu stranded at school, as the only available loaner umbrella is useless. She calls her sister, but when Rei’s boyfriend answers, she says never mind; she doesn’t want to interrupt their date. She’s also hesitant to call Touko, not just because she doesn’t want to give her the wrong idea or just because she doesn’t want to burden her. There’s a number of factors that drive her hesitation; another reflection of her character that Rei has down to a T in a brief scene with her boyfriend.

When she says Yuu is great at getting on with things once she’s dipped her toe into the water, so to speak; it’s that initial hesitation that’s her problem. Now knowing pretty clearly how much Yuu’s friend Touko likes her sister, Rei expresses her hope Yuu will find the person she needs to give her those oh-so-important nudges—much like the one Yuu gave Akari so an opportunity wouldn’t be missed.

Much to Yuu’s surprise, Touko actually called her while she was on the phone with Rei, and shows up with an umbrella just when Yuu was about to call her. They walk together with Touko holding the umbrella, but once Yuu sees that Touko’s shoulder is getting soaked she insists on taking it; they compromise by holding it together.

When they take a rest under an awning, Yuu proceeds to dry Touko off with a towel, in a very warm and delicate scene. Yuu’s “pampering” makes Touko happy, but she’s worried she’s taking advantage of Yuu’s kindness and that resentment will build up in Yuu and curdle into hatred.

It’s a perfectly plausible scenario from Touko’s perspective, since she still believes Yuu when she says her feelings are still just one-sided. Of course, that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, as Yuu betrays when she blushingly tells Touko how happy she was to be rescued by her and her umbrella.

Yuu quickly corrects by saying she “meant nothing weird” about it, and Touko thinks to herself “that’s more the Yuu I know.” But that’s the whole point: she doesn’t know the Whole Yuu…nor the Whole Sayaka. Both girls have acknowledged and accepted each others’ existences. Now comes the hard part: acknowledging and expressing Touko is much more to them than the words “friend” or “senpai” alone can express.

P.S. The piece of music that plays during particularly dramatic scenes reminds me of Uematsu’s “A Secret Sleeping in the Deep Sea,” one of my all-time favorite video game audio tracks. 

Bloom Into You – 07 – Plenty for Right Now

In middle school, a girl confessed to Sayaka. Sayaka thought it was weird, but went with it, and got very much into it, such that when she and the other girl were apart for a long time, her longing only grew. That made it particularly painful when they reunited and the other girl was just, suddenly…done with her. She laughs off what they did to be “what kids do”, and “just a phase.” But Sayaka’s heart was broken that day.

She decided to push the experience to the back of her head, and focus on her studies, enrolling at a co-ed high school where she imagined a boy would fall for and confess to her (or vice versa). But the heartbreak still stung so much she couldn’t quite focus enough to score the top grades of the class. So the role of freshman rep went instead to one Nanami Touko.

Whoever this Nanami was, Sayaka resolved to surpass her. But then she caught a look at her face and heard her voice, and she ended up never surpassing her, and moreover stopped caring about trying to. Despite never wanting to fall for another girl again, Sayaka fell for Touko.

Of course, Sayaka could never admit that to anyone, most of all Touko, because she could tell the burdens Touko bore even without knowing about the tragedy of her older sister. Touko was friendly and kind and approachable to all, but only to a point; she’d keep everyone, including Sayaka, at a certain distane to avoid exposing the old, flawed Nanami Touko she was hiding from everyone with her flawless facade.

Sayaka never thought she was special for detecting that other side, and so never seriously considered crossing that boundary to get closer to Touko, however much she might want to. Touko, in her words, belonged to no one. Rather, Sayaka carved out the role Touko’s right hand; her sidekick; her rock. Thus she could be pretty much closer than anyone else.

Touko is aware of this, and to the episodes credit, it takes time away from Sayaka’s head to spend some in Touko’s. Touko knows Sayaka is aware of “the other Touko,” but never oversteps any boundaries. Sayaka is only ever asking Touko to keep up that perfect version of herself while also supporting her in that effort. That’s the way things have been, that’s the way Sayaka likes it, and that’s the way Sayaka wants things to stay.

But now there’s a threat to that status quo named Koito Yuu. Sayaka didn’t consider Yuu a threat at first, and perhaps she still doesn’t; after all, Yuu hasn’t known Touko as long as she has. But at much as Sayaka prides herself on knowing Touko more than anyone, Touko and Yuu continue a gentle dance that is drawing them closer together. It frustrates Sayaka to no end that Yuu seems willing to so blithely cross the boundaries Sayaka established for herself…but still thinks she’ll fail, due to her “Touko belongs to no one” theory.

Touko’s reactions to calling Yuu “Yuu”—not to mention Yuu calling her “Touko-senpai”—make Yuu want to be more “aggressive;” to see how far she can make Touko go. Maybe, just maybe, if and when she does, Yuu will finally feel something as strongly as Touko does.

Like Sayaka, Yuu always thought it was puerile, weird or somehow not right for girls to like other girls. And it’s true that even in 2018 the LGBTQ community in Japan has it pretty rough, at least relative to other developed countries.

So it’s most gratifying that the show introduces a serious adult same-sex relationship in the form of the Japanese teacher Hakozaki Riko and her girlfriend, who owns the cafe where Touko, Sayaka and Yuu meet with Koyomi on writing the script for the stage play.

Hakozaki-sensei conceals this from her students when they ask how she knows the cafe owner, but like the intimacy of a first-name basis, the way the owner first greets Hakozaki before either of them are aware her students are there betrays the fact she’s hiding the true extent of her relationship. Ever the observer of human behavior, Sayaka also notices it in the way Hakozaki drinks her coffee at the counter.

While the other students are oblivious, Sayaka can tell something’s up, and her “suspicions” are confirmed when we see Hakozaki staying at her girlfriend’s place and kissing each other goodnight. It shouldn’t be such a big deal (again, this is 2018)…but it still feels like one. It’s not just what kids do. It’s not just a phase.

Sayaka’s isolation only intensifies when she hears Touko calling Yuu by her first name like it’s nothing. She stages a passive-aggressive protest, to no avail. Then, the next day, she visits the coffee shop and strikes up a chat with the cafe owner. She asks, as carefully as she dares, what her relationship is to Hakozaki-sensei. The owner states clearly and unequivocally that she’s her girlfriend.

Sayaka wasn’t prepared for such a frank, unambiguous response, but it’s something for which she’s greatly appreciative. It’s also liberating for her, and she opens up about her own feelings for another girl, even after having her heart broken by another (Touko’s name is left out of it, of course). It goes without saying (though Sayaka does mention it), but she really really needed to talk to someone about this, especially with someone who, like her, thought she should keep it a secret when she was younger.

When asked why she doesn’t simply confess, Sayaka lays out the reasons: there’s no room in Touko’s heart to accept the feelings of others; it would only be a source of stress for her; it could disrupt or even ruin what they have now, something Sayaka couldn’t bear. She asks the cafe owner if it’s okay to hide one’s feelings for someone in order to stay by her side…or is that just selfishness or cowardice?

The owner responds by giving Sayaka another coffee on the house…for being such a kind soul. Because that’s what she deems Sayaka to be. Someone who keeps her feelings hidden for the sake of her friend, who carries a lot of stress so their friend won’t have to, is very kind, in her book. Confessing wouldn’t be wrong…but neither is staying the course.

The truth is, Sayaka isn’t ready for things to change one way or another, so staying the course is the right path. Does Yuu get on her nerves? Absol-friggin’-lutely. Could it become more of a problem if Yuu and Touko get ever closer together? Of course. But as Touko makes it clear—almost as if she sensed Sayaka needed some reassuring on that particular day—is that she’s glad Sayaka is a part of her life.

If she weren’t, things would be too easy, and Touko would slack off. Standing in front of Sayaka helps her be the ideal person she strives for (which, as we know, is the person her late sister was). Wherever Yuu falls in the equation in the future, Touko will keep relying on Sayaka, which is, for Sayaka, plenty for right now.

Happy Sugar Life – 02 – All Adults are Terrible

Are those bags of human remains Satou’s former classmates, Shio’s parents…or her former Aunt? Flashes back to her past seem to strongly suggest the emotional toll from that past is what molded her into what she is today, only clinging to normalcy with the knowledge there’ll be a cute Shio waiting for her at home…but how long will that remain the case?

It certainly feels so far like that aunt let her down after her parents died, and after having to deal with an awful adult in the cafe manager last week, this time Satou’s adult nemesis is a teacher at her school—one who the other girls fawn over for being “single and hot” but who is not only married with a kid, but gets off on the thrill of stalking girls.

This time, he stalked the wrong girl.

Satou pulls a personal alarm, and the teacher slinks away, and she’s able to get home to Shio and cancel out the adult’s bitterness with Shio’s almost overwhelming sweetness. The next morning Satou is at the gate of the teacher’s house, and his wife almost sees her unbuttoning her blouse.

Satou knows threatening an M like him will only get him excited, but she still does it to make it perfectly clear she won’t brook any more nonsense from him, especially comparing his version of love to hers. She also makes him dispose of her body part bags…which he also likes.

Meanwhile, we get some Shio day-in-the-life, where she tries to help out by cleaning but can’t grasp the need to plug in a vacuum, and has no idea how to cook. She also notices the locked door to Satou’s death room, and actually passes out when the outside balcony triggers a flashback of her own; perhaps to the time when Satou first snatched her.

Of course, it isn’t just adults who are awful on this show. Mitsuboshi, who starts work at Satou’s other cafe, may be a victim of an older woman (and the trauma makes him nauseous whenever another older woman touches him), but he privately reveals he’s a lolicon, with specific hots for Shio, who he knows from the missing posters Shio’s older brother has distributed.

Strange connections are made when Satou’s co-worker Shoko, then Mitsuboshi come across the brother getting beaten up by punks. The brother’s state of hygiene suggests his parents are dead and he’s all alone on the streets, desperate to find Shio. Mitsuboshi brings him to the cafe break room, where the brother starts muttering the same “marriage vows” she and Shio made.

All alone with the brother, who is a direct risk to her only recently-stabilized happy sugar life, Satou snaps into the mode she deems necessary to preserve and protect that life, and prepares to brain the brother with a crowbar. Does she end up killing him right there in her very public workspace?

Hinamatsuri – 04 – Unfit to be Homeless

“I’m disowning you.” Those are the three words that suddenly upend Hina’s cushy life at the top, after she upends nearly everything Nitta owns. While decent parents sometimes say things like that in moments when they might be nearing their limits, they never mean it.

Only Nitta doesn’t see himself as her parent, merely a caretaker of heretofore bottomless generosity and patience…and now that Hina has exhausted his supply of those qualities, she’s out.

To the show’s credit, he has a well-established good reason not to feel like her parent—she showed up in a metal egg!—but Nitta eventually learns it doesn’t really matter how bizarrely she entered his life, only that entering it changed that life forever.

Surely a part of Nitta buried by his anger in the moment immediately regretted kicking Hina off, because it knew just how useless she’d be in the real world after the cushy life she’s been used to since arriving.

That uselessness is demonstrated when she immediately spends 10,000 yen on junk food and plays video games until her battery runs out, then latches on to a concerned Anzu, whose limits are quickly tested.

Nitta’s lack of thinking his plan through is also exposed when Hitomi comes to his front door with printouts for Hina. And because Utako is such a good person, she works at a soup run in the park and discovers what Nitta has done. None of the people in the bar who judge Nitta know where she really came from, and that she’s no ordinary defenseless kid who you couldn’t dream of kicking out of your house.

When Nitta tries to defend himself and they run him out of the bar like the one kid all the other kids agreed was Bad News, he gets a harsh lesson in how unimportant details like what Hina is and where she comes from really are. By kicking Hina out, Nitta is a bad guy, at least in the world he wants to keep living in—a world of conscience, selflessness, and kindness.

Kicking her out means Nitta not only has his cushy apartment to himself, but his own world; even Sabu is not having it. Meanwhile, Anzu learns what it’s like to be Nitta, only in accelerated form, as Hina reaches her bike gang-coated friend’s limits and is kicked out after just three days.

Mind you, he’s right that Hina isn’t entirely hopeless. She does befriend some buskers and uses her telekinesis to pep up their show, and is able to make money on her own for the first time. Like the homeless people Anzu befriends, Hina is lucky not to end up with bad people who might to weird things, and even if they tried, she’s be more than capable of fighting them off.

Would Hina have been fine with the band indefinitely? In terms of money and food, perhaps, but where would she stay? And what if she hits the band’s limits like she did Nitta’s and Anzu’s? As Anzu tells Nitta when the two cross paths, Hina simply isn’t fit to be homeless, a devastating line to behold, in no small part due to its blinding accuracy.

But the main reason Hina wouldn’t make it out there is because she doesn’t want to. She liked being with Nitta the most, and so waits outside his door with a newly bought 2900-yen vase and a sincere apology. Nitta, having been banned from Utako’s bar until he makes up with Hina, makes up with Hina.

Yes, it’s a really nice bar, but also Nitta had reached a new limit: he’d gone as far as he could go without Hina, and vice versa, and so the two are back together, and he proudly displays her cheap vase beside the pricey ones, because like HIna, it doesn’t matter where it came from.

Hina’s expulsion from and eventual reinstatement in the good life takes up three-quarters of the episode; the balance is made up of another Hitomi portrait, cementing Hitomi’s role as without doubt the Best and most fascinating character on the show.

While Hina needs to learn the hard way the value of hard work, “half-assed” is not and has never been in Hitomi’s category. She knows she’s good at bartending, and continues to perform that job with pride. Not only can she mix drinks like an adult pro, but she’s now able to dispense advice and say just the words her customers need to hear, whether it’s Nitta’s superior or her own homeroom teacher.

Most importantly, her advice comes from her own experiences, which are numerous despite her modest age. She tells the yakuza boss that a bar is where you can come to be your honest self and not worry about their “real life” outside the door because that’s exactly what she’s doing.

And Hitomi won’t stop doing it, not just because she gets paid, but because she enjoys it, even on the weekends when she works through the night.

It’s in that exhausted state after an all-night shift that Hitomi comes upon Anzu in the alley, and learns that she collects cans. Hitomi, going all out in all things, directs Anzu to a windfall of cans (and gently blackmails a fellow bar employee to gain access to them. She learns fast).

Things get “heavy” in a hurry when Hitomi learns the extent of Anzu’s destitution, and feels bad about even eating the 200-yen ramen she’s offered, especially after learning Anzu usually makes 600 yen a day; the same amount Hina can make in a half-hour.

Suddenly confronted with someone living what appears to be a much tougher life with much smaller rewards weighs heavily on a Hitomi already physically taxed by her dual life. And so, during a protracted game of tag through the forest, Hitomi finally reaches her limit, and falls asleep standing up. If Hina is unfit to be homeless, Hitomi is unfit to be idle…or apathetic.

 

Hinamatsuri – 03 – Shaken AND Stirred

This week three of Hinamatsuri’s young women learn the value, rewards, and pitfalls of hard work from three very different vantage points, starting with Anzu. Anzu is unable to return to her mystery home, so she is homeless. She resorts to petty theft in Utako’s shopping district, but the constant chasing is getting exhausting, and one never knows when she might accidentally cut loose with her powers.

The hobo that once gave up her location to Sabu takes Anzu under his wing and shows her how to make honest money to pay for food. It’s a lot of work for a pittance, and even when she and Yassan show up to the hobo camp with sake to share, the mostly old men there treat her like crap…until she sings them an old nostalgic song that brings many of them to tears.

Anzu is rewarded with a canned drink and membership into the tribe, with all the benefits that entails. But the next day it’s back to the drudgery of searching for stray coins and collecting cans, during which time she runs into Nitta. Seeing her situation and seeing through her half-hearted explanations, Nitta assumes the worst and attempts to solve it with money.

The same stubborn pride that keeps Anzu on the streets also makes her angry at the handout, and she throws the 40,000 yen back in his face. However, when she remembers the hobos talking about how steel and aluminum price drops will cut deeply into their haul, she swallows her pride, chases Nitta’s car down, and accepts his gift.

When she’s immediately surrounded by Usako and the other proprietors she stole from, she loses more than 39,000 of it as repayment, and returns to camp dejected and ashamed. But Yassan assures her it’s for the best: she’s no longer wanted for theft; she has a fresh start as a “homeless girl.” If she keeps working hard as she can (and accepts gifts like Nitta’s when they come), she’ll be able to survive, as they have. Without using her powers.

Next we move on to Mishima Hitomi, who already knows the value of hard work and has applied it to studying, resulting in her position as top student in class, a position she takes great pride in. However, after her impromptu go at bartending last week, Utako wants her to keep working there, and is willing to blackmail her with an incriminating photo to make it happen.

Hitomi counters with a recording of Utako blackmailing her, and Utako takes a different tack, suggesting they both delete their data on each other…but Utako had already downloaded the photo to her PC, so it’s Game, Set, and Match Utako: Hitomi starts working at her bar for 1,500 yen an hour. She is a hit, not because she’s a middle schooler, but because she’s just too damn good at mixing drinks.

Just as at school, she works hard, takes no shortcuts, and comes to take great pride in her good work at the bar. But her two world collide when her homeroom teacher comes into the bar with the vice principal (who is already drunk), trying to nab the position of head teacher.

The teacher is not drunk, and quickly recognizes Hitomi, but decides its in both their best interests to keep the secret to himself. But he still doesn’t let Hitomi off the hook: as something of a mixology aficionado, he challenges Hitomi to make him a Million Dollar, and then a Bartender, to test her shaking and stirring skills. Hitomi passes with flying colors, and he’s duly impressed in her skills, as Usako and the other patrons knew he would be.

While a misunderstanding and her own passivity got her into the job to start, and she was blackmailed into continuing it, her natural talent for the job keeps her coming back…and the mad stacks she’s depositing into the bank account her parents don’t know about don’t hurt one bit! Not only that you watch Hitomi work behind the bar, you can tell she’s in her happy place.

Anzu expanded her world by transitioning from theft to a modest but honest living, while Hitomi expanded hers by adding paid labor to a repertoire that had once been unpaid study, though that will pay off when she needs to get in a good high school and college. And because she’s making so much bank, she needn’t worry about burdening her folks with tuition.

That brings us to the young woman at the top of the social ladder, simply by having her egg land in a rich yakuza’s apartment and that yakuza having a heart of gold…in other words, privilege and luck. Though she may have helped Nitta out off-camera, since the first episode she hasn’t really worked. Having seen Anzu surviving on the streets, Nitta wonders out loud why Hina couldn’t try to do the same thing (is he half-joking? quarter-joking?)

Hina gets the message, and after a frightening dream in which she’s filthy and destitute on the street while Nitta walks past with a glamorous Anzu on his arm, Hina adopts a more genial and eager-to-please attitude that understandably throws him off. When he goes off to work late, she attempts to work hard so he won’t throw her out.

But unlike Anzu and Hitomi, Hina’s hard work ends up working against her goals, not towards them, while her attempt to expand her skills through various household chores ends in one huge mess after another. Her comedy of errors, while predictable, is nonetheless cleverly depicted. I especially liked her attempt to air out a blanket, only for it to fly away into the Tokyo cityscape like a  magic carpet.

Worse, when things get messy, Hina simply gives up and moves on to the next chore, and when she finds a bowl of ikura in the fridge marked “rewards for Hina” she unilaterally decides she’s worked hard enough to give herself the reward.

Fittingly, as Nitta tells his associates, it’s been so long since Hina has done anything to earn a reward, the ikura in the fridge has gone bad, something Hina’s stomach suddenly realizes while she has every dish in the house levitating and dripping soapy water all over the hardwood floors. The dishes shatter, she goes down, and Nitta, who was impressed by how nice she was being before he left, is poised for a rude surprise.

Basically, Hina could learn a lot from Anzu and Hitomi about the importance of being competent at the hard work you are attempting. She did it before with the forestry (and the raid of Nitta’s rivals); she can do it again. She just needs more practice! Ultimately, everyone, even Hina, wants to feel needed, and to strike a proper balance between taking and giving.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 14 – An Unlikely Team-up Gets the Rebels on the Train

Erina has decided she’s going to do what she wants…which just so happens to be the right thing and benefits the Totsuki rebels AND means she’s bound to spend more time with Souma.

The structure of the advancement exams are laid out by Hisako and it feels more like a military campaign against Hokkaido, and for that, Polar Star needs a drill sargeant to train them up. Erina lands on a sexy teacher look instead, and nobody complains.

During the week in which Erina whips Polar Star into shape, Nikumi and the Aldini Bros. listen in, and Erina ends up pulling them into the Hokkaido seminar as well. They have nothing to lose; they’re rebels too.

On two separate occasions, Erina makes sure to remove her glasses before talking to Souma. She puts her faith in his ability to come up with a solution to whatever they throw at them, and later she tells him whatever she might have said in the past about wanting him to fail, she doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Naturally she frames it in terms of not wanting anyone to be expelled…but Souma is part of that “anyone”, and he appreciates it.

The class is bussed to the first of many examination venue (Totsuki’s resources really are formidable), and the rebels are all grouped together among the 5-person teams—all but Erina, who is intentionally placed in a group of faceless classmates who have abandoned their own cooking for Central’s orthodoxy. Azami can’t be losing his God Tongue, after all.

Not only are the rebels isolated, but the salmon they’re given is subpar. Fortunately, they’re given from roughly noon till sundown to come up with a dish, and the group, made up of Souma, Megumi, Alice, Ryo, and Yuuki, have more than enough skills and resourcefulness between them to come up with something. Erina allows a wry grin of understanding. She’s taught them all up, now it’s time to see if they can fly.

Her faith in them is matched only by her clear disgust for the other kids’ blindl following of the step-by-step instructions to creating Central mandated salmon dishes. Only the steps matter, and the only answer to “Why” is “because Azami wishes it.” That’s not cooking. That’s cynical mass production of one and only one way of cooking.

After facing off against Alice and Ryo in the past, it’s great to see them on the same side as Souma, working to their strengths with the precision and speed they’ve come to expect of one another. Of course, it’s not 100% smooth, as Alice constantly takes exception to Souma asserting himself as the leader…as well she should!

While they arrived in the kitchen with their salmon less than a half hour before time expires, it’s such a quality fish (brine-frozen at its peak of freshness), a half-hour is all they need to put their instructor on her back, leaving her no choice but to pass them.

I’m appreciative that at least at this first stage of the exams, despite all of the roadblocks Central puts in their way, when it comes time to judge their cooking the clearly-biased instructor cannot deny what her taste buds are telling her—that the rebels made the best dish in the room.

Indeed, Azami and Central are actually helping the rebels to become better chefs by piling so many challenges ahead of them. If they can overcome them and advance to the second year, it won’t just be a repudiation of Central orthodoxy, but a back-door defense of it as a tool with which to forge great chefs from the crucible of adversity.

With the first hurdle cleared, the rebels join the rest of the advancees aboard Totsuki’s grand luxury sleeper train, the Tsukikage, which brought back memories of Rail Wars! and explains the OP’s train imagery. While Hisako continues drilling some Polar Stars, others take the opportunity to avail themselves of the sumptuous train’s many features.

Erina, meanwhile, holes up in her personal compartment, but is visited many times by Fat Aldini, Ryouko, Megumi, and finally Souma. She doesn’t realize they’re coming to express their appreciation for all she’s done. Of course, she was never after gratitude, nor did she expect it; Erina is doing what she wants…and loving it.

Souma joins her just as the train leaves the forest, revealing a sky packed with twinkling stars that remind Souma of salmon roe, and he even gets her to drop her guard and laugh at him (rather than scoff or harrumph). Then Erina takes note in her head that Souma’s face, the mere mental image of which used to annoy her to no end, is something she’s come not to mind so much. Baaaaaaaaw. Erina’s the best.

Citrus – 02

While all of Yuzu’s thoughts are focused on what Mei’s kiss was all about, she falls into a fountain and takes Mei with her, and ends up in an even more inimate situation when they bathe together. Yuzu thinks about how Mei’s skin feels, Mei is pressing her against the wall, as if she could read Yuzu’s mind. However, it’s too much contact too quickly; Yuzu is again flustered by her little sister.

At school, Yuzu continues to make no effort to follow the dress code, and notices many of the girls are paired up, holding hands and flirting. Harumi says since most of them are already engaged, it’s more a matter of “being in heat” and fooling around while they still can; lust, not love. Their chat is interrupted when Harumi notices the chairman, Mei’s grandfather, is at the gates.

Yuzu brashly approaches him and calls him “gramps”, but he’s having none of it, turning to Mei and reaming her out for allowing “such a fool” to be near school grounds. Yuzu sticks up for her sister, but is banished from the grounds. Either Gramps didn’t get the memo about the marriage, or worse, he doesn’t care; doesn’t see Yuzu as real family.

While sneaking back in, Yuzu and Harumi spot Mei’s betrothed in the parking lot, and overhear him talking to his girlfriend about how he doesn’t really care about Mei, and will only string her along because her family is rich. It’s an awfully specific phone convo for a guy to have out in the open just when Yuzu happens to hear it, but it also shows what a jerk this guy is.

Yuzu tells Mei about her fiancee’s infidelity, but Mei, not surprisingly, already knows, and, well, she’s not fine with it, but she clearly seems resigned to proceeding regardless. She also dismisses Yuzu’s “big sister” status in this issue, since she’s never kissed anyone and thus can’t possibly understand. Yuzu only seems to make things worse the next day when she hijacks a school assembly to tell everyone how she saw the teacher forcing himself on Mei.

That little stunt leads to the chairman sending men to pick Mei up from Yuzu and her Mom’s and having her live with him from now on; Yuzu’s mom says Mei didn’t resist. When Yuzu confronts Mei, Mei pretends nothing is amiss. When Yuzu presses, Mei tells her she’s been ordered to stay away, and that’s how it is.

Yuzu doesn’t stay away. She can’t sleep in the empty room without Mei, knowing there’s clearly something bothering her (what with the crying in her sleep) and she can’t stand feeling partially responsible for her mom’s pain. So she goes to Mei’s grandfather’s mansion and confronts her again, bringing up the pained looks and cries for her father in her sleep.

Mei gets violent, tossing Yuzu on the bed and tearing her blouse. As tears fall from Mei’s eyes to Yuzu’s face, Yuzu gets up and takes hold of Mei, saying “I’m with you now!”, which seems to have an effect. Alas, their grandfather enters the room and expels Yuzu right then and there.

While shopping with Harumi (who is in Full Glamorous Gal Mode outside of school), a very forlorn Yuzu finally tells her friend about her and Mei being related and her expulsion (though doesn’t mention how Mei has kissed her and pushed her into walls and onto beds).

Harumi tells her that despite Mei’s demeanor Yuzu’s feelings on wanting to protect her are probably getting through to her, but that gets Yuzu thinking about what her feelings for Mei truly are, and whether they’re love, something she’s never experienced before. It certainly seems that way.

Citrus – 01 (First Impressions)

The flashy, glamorous Aihara Yuzu tries to make it clear to the outside world that she’s a gal who gets around, but has never actually been in love or even kissed anyone.

This is hardly a new story, but what makes things a little more interesting is that when she transfers to a new, all-girls school where she sticks out like a sore thumb, the hard-nosed student council president Aihara Mei turns out to be her new, slightly younger stepsister.

The knowledge that Mei is betrothed to an “elite teacher” is seemingly confirmed when Yuzu accidentally catches Mei and the teacher making out in a secluded spot; Yuzu is so flustered she flees in a not-so-inconspicuous manner.

In any case, her insistence on dolling herself up and flaunting the school dress code in every way possible brand her as a delinquent in the eyes of the mostly drab, sheltered student body (one exception being Taniguchi Harumi, a “gal in disguise”).

While Yuzu may talk the talk, Mei seems to walk the walk, and Mei essentially sends Yuzu’s perfect maze of deception crashing down around her when Yuzu tries to force Mei into talking to her by bringing up her sucking face with the hot teacher.

Mei reacts by pinning Yuzu down and giving her a long, deep kiss with tongue before leaving the room, telling her “that’s what a kiss is like.” Yuzu’s first kiss is thus not only with a girl, but with someone she just learned is her “little” sister…and someone she butted heads with the moment they met.

Mei has also demonstrated beyond doubt that while Yuzu possesses all the outward trappings of boy-crazy gal, like Jon Snow, she really knows nothing, while Mei has actually experienced a measure of love and desire.

Decent yuri anime are few and far between, but this one at least shows glimmers of promise with its full-length episode format, attractive visuals, and a complex (if somewhat contrived) scenario that should be fraught with similarly complicated emotions on the part of both leads as their relationship evolves beyond the sizing-up stage.

Itsudatte Bokura no Koi wa 10 cm Datta. – 06 (Fin)

After much cathartic yelling and crying last week, it’s all gravy as Miou, Haruki, and their friends graduate from high school on a positive, if bittersweet, note.

Miou and Haruki get the time they need alone together and write all their dreams on the chalkboard, emulating the promo art with one important difference: a tiny “I love you” Miou rights just out of Haruki’s sight.

The two also avoid closing that 10cm gap they’ve always had, knowing that if they did, they’d likely never let go. That is, they’d never give each other the time and space to realize their individual dreams. A very mature move by both, and one that pays dividends later on.

Much, much, much later on, as in SEVEN GODDAMN YEARS LATER. Sheesh, what is it with these Fall romances and their huge time jumps? And here I thought Just Because!’s month was a long time!

At any rate, Miou is a mostly content art teacher at her old school, Yuu proposes to Natsuki in one the most adorable scenes of the episode, and even Souta and Akari remain a strong item. Miou’s friends worry about Miou, but Miou said she’d wait for Haruki, and wait she does.

Fortunately, all her waiting doesn’t come to naught, as the moment Haruki wins a rookie director’s award in L.A., he’s on the first plane back to Japan to tell Miou first (though Miou already finds out through Natsuki).

Despite the well-known amount of, er, temptation in the Hollywood scene, Haruki kept his head down the whole time, and was there to work and realize one of his dreams. And he missed Miou as much as she missed him.

At the top of the steps where they always sat 10cm apart as kids, they confess their love as grownups, and finally, mercifully, close that infernal gap with a hand-hold and a smooch. Medetashi medetashi!

And that’s a wrap for Fall 2017! I should hope so; it’s literally Winter now, and frikkin’ freezing to boot. Thanks for reading! We’ll be back in action soon checking out the new shows Winter 2018 has to offer.

Houseki no Kuni – 11

One of the many enduring charms of HnK is how every character’s traits are derived from their namesake gem in creative ways. Take Alexandrite, AKA Alex, AKA Lexi. The two nicknames are apropos, as Alex/Lexi has a split personality; extremely timid when green-haired; but going berserk when looking upon a Lunarian.

Real-life alexandrite changes color depending on the light; green in daylight, red in artificial light. While moonlight is reflected sunlight, there’s no doubt that the moon’s reflection adds another dimension to it; if we consider the Lunarian to represent moonlight as opposed to daylight, Alex/Lexi’s color change (and personality change to boot) makes sense.

Lexi proves handy with a sword, but only manages what Dia and Bort managed: to cleave the Lunarian into smaller and smaller clones of itself, albeit less and less threatening ones, kind of like a Matryoshka doll with its nested duplicates of reducing scale.

Before long the hulking beast is reduced to dozens of fluffy half-sheep, half-puppies, but when the gems round them all up, they merge back into that single hulking beast. Phos is ready to lure it away with another new alloy membrane trick: making an all-alloy decoy of a gem.

Phos’ vigilance proves unnecessary once Master Kongou appears. Despite its size the Lunarian is as docile as its one hundred-plus mini-clones; and even does a series of tricks at Kongou’s command. Phos finds it odd that Kongou calls the beast “Shiro” and acts very familiar towards it. It leads Phos to suspect there may be some kind of connection between the master and the enemy that he hasn’t revealed.

Phos goes out to ponder this and comes afoul of Cinnabar once more. Cinnabar bears two “gifts”: Bort’s loafers, and the last piece of the fluffy Lunarian. Cinna also has news for Phos: most of the Gems already knew about Kongou in relation to the Lunarians, but as he seems so committed to their care and safety, they’ve decided to trust him. Cinna is on the fence, and actually seems to take interest in what Pho plans to do…only to turn around before Phos can answer.

Phos has a little alloy malfunction while calculating the amount of courage needed to confront the master…but Phos wants to know the truth. When Phos returns to HQ, Kongou is asleep beside the beast (with many gems curled up asleep in its fluffy tail).

Before Phos can open her mouth, she has a vision of Antarc, who shushes Phos. The last “puppy” merges with the larger beast, which disperses in a cloud of light, having become whole and, in Kongou’s words, “found peace.”

After that, Phos gives her report on her partnering with Bort, stating that all Gems should have the opportunity to work with Bort. Phos, however, wishes to pursue another matter on their own: regarding Lunarians. Believing the only way to get answers is to ask them directly, Phos stands on guard awaiting their return.

From there, the episode shifts to something completely different, hastily introducing the new character of Padparadscha, an incomplete gem Rutile has been painstakingly reconstructing in the lab. While the prospects for this character are intriguing, especially when they open their eyes to end the episode, it feels like another episode altogether.

The awkward, arbitrary nature of the transition was almost enough for me to bump this down to a 7. However, this episode managed to earn my recommendation anyway, thanks to the interesting development of the “Shiro” incident, both with its ingrained comedy and its role in giving Phos a new goal to pursue.

Houseki no Kuni – 10

Old Phos used to cause trouble and get in the way. New Phos holds court—with Alex (AKA Lexi) over detailed descriptions of Lunarians; agreeing to take on Jade’s patrols while Kongou sleeps; and even with Bort, who wants to team up with Phos.

But always not far from Phos’ thoughts is the ghost of Antarc. While Phos might initially hesitate over teaming up with Bort (a little of the Old “what a pain” Phos seeping out), it’s a step Phos has to take in order to get stronger and learn more about how to fight properly.

Phos’ only concern is how Diamond will feel; Bort is basically dumping Dia sight unseen; Dia hears it from Phos first. But Phos has Dia’s blessing; after all, it was Dia who told Pho she needed to change back when Dia was Phos’ only advocate.

That being said, Dia still seems awfully dejected, quietly picking flowers for a lonely-looking bouquet as Bort departs with Phos. Unfortunately for the pair, their first mission as partners is not an easy one, as an entirely new and powerful Lunarian emerges from a “double sunspot.”

Bort plays right into the Lunarian’s trap. Bort’s first strike only multiplies the apertures, through which more than four limbs emerge and grab Bort. Phos delivers a gold-plated assist, but the fuzzy white many-armed beast isn’t going to go down easily.

As “recklessness is for the inept”, Bort grabs Phos and falls back to HQ, then tosses Phos at the bell to strike it six times (an order for all other Gems to hold position). Bort’s plan involves luring the Lunarian to Kongou, who will hopefully awaken in time to destroy it.

But the Lunarian doesn’t follow Bort and Phos…it goes its own way, which turns out to be where Diamond is sulking. From here until the time Dia takes the upper hand, the episode takes on the flavor of a creepy horror movie where the protagonist must quietly hide from the monster hunting them.

Dia watching the flower vase jostle from the monster’s booming steps is a neat Jurassic Park reference, and some niftily subtle animation to boot (the way Dia gently arranged the flowers earlier was also an elegant moment).

Diamond eventually gets sick of hiding and decides to do what Bort always yells at Dia for: get reckless. This is Dia in full-on Badass Mode, without a care for how much bigger or stronger their opponent is.

Dia’s first strikes don’t do much (even a diamond limb-as-a-weapon doesn’t make a major mark), but Dia only needs one leg to rush the Lunarian, dodge its swipes, and deliver a killing blow before collapsing into a half-shattered pile—just as Bort is watching from outside the window.

But even that isn’t the end of things, as Dia’s strike only managed to cut the one big enemy into two smaller ones. With Dia out of commission, it falls to Bort to face the pair, which Bort does without fear, as usual.

But as tough as Bort is (tougher than nails, literally), I’d feel a lot better if Phos, other Gems, and hell, why not, Master Kongou arrived in time to assist Bort. I tell you, these Lunarians get nastier and more devious with each passing week.