Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro 2nd Attack – 04 – Hayase

Once Nagatoro’s big sister, who Naoto calls “Anetoro”, realizes the famous “Senpai-kun” is here, she sees a perfect opportunity to toy with both him and her sister. It’s abundantly clear to her, an adult, that these two are absolutely a couple already, and are just been silly kids about it. Giving Naoto a glimpse of Nagatoro with bed head asking for pudding is a unique gift.

When Anetoro prods and lures her crankly little sister with a deluxe pudding bowl, it’s instructive to Naoto, because he’s able to witness Nagatoro with her defenses down. She can’t toy with him, because she’s being toyed with. The result is that Naoto gets to see a new side of the girl who, if he’s honest, he likes.

Indeed, once Nagatoro whisks him into her room to eat their pudding bowls without her sister’s interference, it’s clear that Naoto is not only ready and somewhat willing to slip back into his normal dynamic with Nagatoro, but can tell more than ever that her schtick is performative and not malicious. Toying with him has always been Nagatoro’s coping mechanism for showing affection.

She’s mortified when her sister sees her feeding Naoto, because she’d prefer to keep her thing with Naoto all to herself. It’s the same deal whenever her friends interfere or pry too much. She’s even willing to tell Senpai more about herself…if he can beat her at the video game they played before, and at which she’s been practicing.

While her improved play and ability to distract Senpai results in two straight wins, the decisive battle times out, and per their bet, the “secret” Naoto wants to learn is Nagatoro’s real first name. Not anything pervy. Nagatoro is caught off guard by the request, but realizes she’s never told him. But when she’s about to, he tells her he’d rather ask her fair and square than force her to by losing a bet. That ingratiates him with her even more.

And then, Anetoro goes and ruins their shit by bursting in and hollering her name—Hayase—and offering to show Naoto some albums of her when she was younger. She 1000% was eavesdropping, because this is surely the first and only boy Hayase has ever brought home, and she is also a Nagatoro, which means if someone can be messed with, you must mess with them!

Before departing, Hayase shows her genuine side first by thanking Naoto for checking on her and hanging out, then switches gears into Teasing Hayase by warning him that she’ll be back at school tomorrow to toy with him anew. Naoto’s comeback—”Have some mercy”, is delivered confidently, because he’s not loathing tomorrow; he’s looking forward to it. Also, now he knows her first name. If he ever needs to get her to simmer down with the aggressive teasing, he’s got that first-name bullet in the chamber.

We don’t have to wait till next week for Hayase to be back at school messing with Naoto, though when she strikes a Bruce Lee kicking pose and Naoto agrees they should go with that for his drawing, she has to hold that pose far longer than she had bargained for. Her thighs start barking at her, but she’s on pins and needles and can’t move. Then she stumbles and starts to fall.

Rather than hitting the ground, she lands on soft, fluffy Senpai. The two blush and scream and separate immediately, but it’s clear Hayase is impressed that he was able to move fast enough (and was bold enough) to break her fall. Of course, she covers that up with more teasing about whether he was trying to “get lucky”.

Then Naoto sneezes, and even before the preview confirmed it, I knew it would be Hayase’s turn to pay Naoto a house visit. After all, she just got over a cold, they just had a lot of contact with each other. It would be weird if he didn’t catch her cold!

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro 2nd Attack – 03 – Tortoise and the Bunny Girl

This is a week of Naoto taking the initiative, which is progress! When Hayase heads to her homeroom for girl talk with her friends, she leaves her phone in the art clubroom. Rather than wait for her to come back, she heads down to the first-years’ hall and even asks one of them where Nagatoro’s classroom is.

It dawns on him he doesn’t know her first name beyond the “Hayacchi” nickname, but that’s enough for the girl to point him in the right direction. Unfortunately, when Hayase comes in with Sakura and two other friends, he panics, hides in the broom closet, and inadvertently eavesdrops.

It’s there where he hears Hayase reluctantly tell her friends that “her type” is someone she likes hanging out with. Someone…like Naoto? He ends up banging the side of the closet, and he’s lucky Hayase goes to check it out, distracts her friends, and gets him out of there.

Hayase thanks Naoto, but says he was being “actually creepy” in a very stern tone…and she’s right! Accident or not, Naoto shouldn’t be hiding in the broom closet of her classroom while she’s engaged in girl talk! This also pretty much confirms that when she says “creepy” and words like it, most of the time she doesn’t mean it.

Naoto wants to impress Hayase for once, so he actually practices running in preparation for the next school marathon. Unfortunately, he twists his ankle the night before, but it feels good enough to run the next day. That’s when Hayase and her friends catch up to him and challenge him to a race.

When the girls watch Sana running in bunny girl cosplay as performance art, they decide that they’ll help the tortoise (Naoto) beat the hare by giving him a boost. The train gets separated at a crosswalk, but Hayase and Naoto continue on their own.

When Naoto’s ankle barks at him again, Hayase can tell what’s up, and decides right then and there she’s not going to leave Senpai behind. She supports him and they walk in each others’ arms. When the pain gets worse, she insists he let her carry him on her back.

Naoto is impressed how far the tiny Hayase is able to carry him, but it becomes clear that even a “twiggy string bean” like him is a bit too much weight. Fortunately, Hayase’s pals meet back up, and propose a cavalry formation, with Paisen as the rider.

The combined strength of the four girls is enough to catch up to Sana. When she kicks into another gear, Yoshi takes point and makes herself big so the others are in her slipstream. They end up beating Sana to the finish, but are promptly disqualified for not running separately.

Nevertheless, it’s a wholesome and heartening exercise in which Hayase and her pals help Naoto out without any teasing, bullying, or insults. They’re just having fun out there!

Naoto’s final instance of taking the initiative is when Hayase doesn’t visit the club room for two straight days. Curious about her whereabouts (and apparently unable to message her) he asks Gamou and Yoshi, who are surprised he’s approaching them on his own for the first time.

They tell him Hayacchi has a cold, then do him a solid by handing him printouts to deliver. When no one answers the doorbell, Naoto worries Hayase is in dire straits and peeks in the window. As with delivering her phone to her classroom, good intentions lead to more “actually creepy” behavior.

This time he’s caught not by Hayase…but by her big sister! She snaps a photo and threatens to report him to the police, but he tells her he’s from Hayase’s school and has brought her printouts and a gift, the sister softens her stance, now that she’s finally in the presence of “the Senpai.” Clearly, she’s heard a bit about him!

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro 2nd Attack – 02 – Her Favorite Animal

Sana-senpai pays Naoto a visit for the first time since the art festival, and suggests he go the zoo to reignite his passion for drawing, reminding him that love is the most important aspect of art. Hayase only catches the tail end of the conversation, in which Sana orders him to make Hayase “come with him.” She googles “zoo date” on her phone and gets super excited.

An awkward battle of wills ensues, in which Hayase blushes and eagerly awaits a proper invitation, and Naoto attempts the most roundabout, least propositional way to invite her. Eventually the right combination of words comes out of his mouth, enabling Hayase to say what she would have said no matter how he asked her: Yes.

When Hayase meets Naoto at the zoo, it looks every bit like the proper date, but she didn’t realize he invited her so they could draw animals. She’s initially grumpy, but when he offers to walk around with her instead, she decides to make lemonade. It’s also an opportunity to tease him into teaching her “hand-in-hand”, but she eventually get serious and has fun drawing.

Hayase’s drawings aren’t nearly as precise and realistic as Naoto’s, but they have an essential charm to them (like Hayase herself), and Naoto is honest when he tells her she’s getting much better, which brightens her up to no end. When she goes to the washroom, Naoto is approached by two annoying “it” people who start laughing at Hayase’s drawings. Naoto gets up and speaks up for Hayase, saying it’s wrong to laugh at people doing their best.

This only incurs the guy’s irritation, but before things get nasty Hayase comes to the rescue, asking what exactly the couple wants with his senpai. While she then tosses a flurry of insults at him for being such a wimpy wimp, the truth is she overheard him defending her, which truly touched her and led to her wanting to protect him that much more.

Before they leave for the day they agree to one more animal drawing. Naoto asks what Hayase’s favorite is, and she points to a sloth enclosure. But while Naoto draws the sloth up close, Hayase sketches further away, revealing that she was actually drawing him.

Naoto is sore about her teasing him once more, but on closer inspection he determines that while it’s not the best drawing, it’s drawn with care, further reinforcing Sana’s words about love being the most important element of art.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible – 01 (First Impressions) – Getting a Little Closer

I wasn’t initially going to pick this show up, as it sounded awfully familiar to shows I’d already seen (most prominently Takagi-san). However, I needed some Tuesday evening comfort food, and two words sealed the deal: Hanazawa. Kana. She voices the titular Kubo, the smart, popular, athletic, and beautiful class idol who has eyes only for Shiraishi. This, despite the fact Shiraishi has such a severe lack of presence, most of the class doesn’t notice he’s there, and considers it good luck when they do.

Kubo sees him just fine, and no one else will do when it comes to killing time in class. She decides they should experiment whether he’ll be noticed if he stands on his chair during a lecture (he can), then “punishes” him by sitting on him for failing to say Good Morning back to her (he assumed she was greeting one of her girlfriends). She initiates little bets, but is neither as competitive as Takagi or as aggressive as Hayase.

Like those other two rascals, Kubo’s primary purpose is to get closer to the boy she likes, and even if he hasn’t yet gotten the message (and probably won’t for some time), she looks determined to keep trying until she does, and in the meantime enjoy herself immensely. She even arranges for him to be able to give an answer in class by being called upon and giving him the floor.

At the end of a day Kubo tries to casually ask for Shiraishi’s LINE contact (called PINE in the show), but they’re interrupted by her friends, and before she knows it, he’s vanished. But when she spots him at a park on a school holiday, she cannot hide her elation, and uses her phone’s difficulty focusing on Shiraishi’s face to draw closer to his than ever to take a selfie together.

She then gets his PINE info, and proposes both verbally and in a text that they should hang out together sometime. Shiraishi wonders if she’s just messing/toying with him, but responds “all right”. He has no idea just how happy that makes Kubo. Her big sister even remarks at how cute her face looks, and asks her (and also can guess without asking) what happened to give her such an expression. Just love, baby.

Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible is a bright, breezy, fluffly school rom-com with cute character designs, exemplary voice wrok from both Hanazawa and Kawanishi Kengo (Rei from 3-gatsu No Lion, among other things), and generally low-key cozy vibes perfectly suited for a Tuesday Winter anime.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro 2nd Attack – 01 – Sushi Violation

Whether you identify as a Hayase or Naoto, if you liked the first season of Don’t Toy with Me, you’re in luck: the “second attack” isn’t rocking any boats. It also thankfully doesn’t push any reset buttons. Hayase still teases Naoto and calls him names, but the two are a lot closer after all their experiences last season.

Both that comfort and their dynamic is reflected back at them in the meta stinger, in which Naoto is reading about an underclassman who makes her student council president senpai her slave after she catches him cheating. Naoto identifies with the put-upon four-eyes, while Hayase identifies with the conniving kohai.

Another key part of the dynamic is that the embarrassment is never a one-way street. Hayase gets her wish when water is accidentally spilled on her new loafer. When Naoto stoops over, she panics: is he actually going to lick it off like the prez in the manga? But no, he just wipes it off with a hanky.

Naoto has also grown to the point where he actually considers taking the initiative in terms of suggesting things they can do together. This is undermined when he hesitates to greet her and she accuses him of acting like a stalker. This leads to a lesson in high school girl greetings, all of which involve either violence or close contact.

Naturally, Naoto messes up and trips while contemplating how to greet Hayase, and ends up accidentally copping a feel. When she shoves him back, he’s caught by Hayase’s friend Gamou, and we know Hayase always prefers to have Naoto to herself.

In the next segment she gets just that, whipping out a pair of black tights since it’s getting cold out. When she senses Naoto is a little disappointed he won’t get to see her bare legs as usual, she asks him to put them on for her. This is where Hayase once again gets more than she bargained for, as Naoto isn’t he only one who gets a little too excited by the ensuing close contact.

The reason for the tights is the two are going out to an after-party at a conveyor sushi restaurant with Gamou, Yoshi and Sakura. Hayase doesn’t put on any airs in inviting Naoto even though it’ll be him and four girls, and Naoto doesn’t hesitate to accept the invite.

Once there, he worries they only got him so he could work for them getting the sushi they want off the conveyor. But then Hayase leans over him to grab his preferred fish, and announces that everyone should treat him with respect and dignity “just for today” in acknowledgment of his hard work at the festival. They also treat him with their profits selling straps.

When the other girls make special sushi combos just for Naoto, and he exclaims that they’re all delicious, Hayase’s jealous side comes out, and she overcompensates by making a “dirty joke sushi” that puts everyone off (combining cod roe and soft roe to make a “pregnant sushi”).

But while the others make faces and comments that make Hayase blush with embarrassment, Naoto knows just what to do. He tastes the sushi she made for him, and what do you know, it’s good too! Like him, Hayase doesn’t always react the best to being teased, so it’s nice to see him have her back here.

I’m definitely glad these lovable goofballs are back in my life, and looking forward to Hayase devising new methods to toy with Naoto, Naoto unveiling new reaction noises, and the two generally becoming closer as a couple.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 09 – Not like that other summer

Summer Break has arrived, and Kamo has lined up a 3-day live-in beach resort job, both for himself and for Jirou. Jirou is not enthusiastic until he learns that Shiori will also be working there with Mei, and then he’s on board 100%. When Jirou comes home, Akari shows him her new skimpy, strappy bikini and revel in his embarrassment.

Talk of summer break feels kind of lonely to Akari (as she wears his sweatshirt), but when Akari hesitates to say he’ll be lonely without her, she starts to feel lonely herself, and pulls herself into an embrace to “recharge her batteries.” It’s yet another “couch event” that pits her longstanding desire to date Minami and her growing feelings for Jirou.

But as it turns out, they won’t be apart at all: she, along with Sachi and Natsumi, will also be working at the beach resort. So we end up with Jirou, Kamo, Minami, Shuu, Akari, Shiori, Mei, Natsumi, and Sachi all under the same roof for three days (albeit separated by gender).

Shiori is determined to make some progress this summer, and while Mei blushes at Shiori’s complements of her uncharacteristically cute waitstaff outfit, she also encourages Shiori to be more aggressive in pursuing Jirou. This results in her approaching Jirou, asking him where he’ll be working, and deciding on the spot she’ll be working there too.

That turns out to be the kitchen, where Mei sets up a situation for Jirou to grab something from a high shelf for Shiori, and then Shiori guides Jirou in the proper way to apply whipped cream to a parfait. This results in Shiori saying a lot of sexy-sounding double-entendres, and then Jirou squirting whipped cream all over his and Shiori’s faces.

When Shiori feels the warmth of Jirou’s hands on her face as he cleans her up, the two draw closer and closer into an imminent kiss—which is then rudely interrupted by Sachi and Natsumi. They get what they came to the kitchen for and then depart, telling the two they’re free to go back to their fun.

They don’t, which might be a mistake. Both of them think “there’s plenty of time”, but there really isn’t! They get three days, and then they’ll be with their parents the rest of the summer, unless they’re proactive about hanging out over that time (fat chance).

Despite the fact Akari and Shiori continue to be extremely cute together, and are making a little progress just enjoying each other’s company, it remains unlikely Jirou will end up with his childhood friend; that’s just not how these shows work!

I just hope that even if Shiori may never return Mei’s romantic feelings, Mei will still be there for her when Shiori’s heart is broken. It’s also unclear if, in a situation where Akari and Jirou are a couple, Shiori even wants anything to do with him anymore, or if they can make it work as friends.

We only have three episodes left, so this episode, in which the summer job everyone was hired for and the live-in scenario is established, is mere setup for (hopefully) bigger things to transpire. When Jirou spots Akari on the beach in her other swimsuit, he realizes she wasn’t joking when she said she was saving the racy one just for him. Could Akari be using this trip to confirm that her feelings for Minami have cooled and that Jirou is the one for her?

I’m almost certain Shiori wasn’t pointing at the love hotel perched above the beach like Jirou and Kamo excitedly believe. But we’ll have to wait until next week to see how that misunderstanding is corrected, and if this summer live-in job scenario will pay any dividends for its participants.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 08 – Lost in the forest of decision

This week was difficult at times, but also necessary in a satisfying way. We start with Shiori, Mei, Jirou, and Akari all alone, wondering how long things will stay “this way”, in a state of confusion, frustration, and longing. Not forever, surely!

Even Jirou’s video game is asking him to make a choice between two princesses, warning him the wrong one would “destroy the kingdom”. That’s not far off! Suffice it to say, the current state of things is becoming untenable for everyone.

When the new monthly rankings come out, Jirou and Akari only make it to thirteenth place, which means they still lack the mechanism to enact a decision regarding whom they wish to truly be with. Even so, the marriage practical is a false obstacle. They really don’t need to make it to the Top 10 to sort this out!

In the meantime, Jirou and Akari’s marriage continues apace. Akari’s arachnophobia supplants any modesty about running in on Jirou when he’s nakked in the bath, and in her state of fear and vulnerability she’s never squeezed him tighter. Since the 2mm spider has disappeared, Akari insists on Jirou staying by her side all day, even as she does her nails.

Jirou can shrug off all this sudden intimacy with Akari as a product of her fear of spiders and need for someone by her side to protect her, not necessarily a romantic partner. Since they’re still playing the marriage game to make the Top 10 and swap for their crushes, he remains convinced Akari isn’t interested in him in any other way.

Of course, she is, and she wouldn’t bring up “what ifs” like asking what would’ve happened if they’d met outside the bounds of the compulsory marriage practical. Nor would she ask if they should try dating, like the fifth-ranked couple apparently has started to do. She only says “just kidding” because the silence grows too long, while Jirou wonders why he thought seriously about it for a second. Dude, because she was serious.

This is not the first, nor will it be the last time Akari says something straight-up only to amend it or dismiss it as messing around. The beautifully staged and lit overhead shot of the two alone in their bed that night says still more than her overt words. That thick, dark wall is doing a lot of work, visually and thematically.

Over at Casa de Sakurazawa-Tenjin, Minami can tell something’s troubling Shiori and offers to help, even if he’s not confident he’ll be able to. Shiori confides in him her “friend’s” situation, in which she’s kissed the person they like and now can’t think of anything else. Minami picks up pretty easily that Shiori is talking about herself, but steadfastly doesn’t break the charade.

We finally learn something interesting about Minami in that he apparently missed his chance to confess to the person he loved, and urges Shiori’s “friend” to have confidence and keep trying if there’s a possibility it will work out. We knew that he and Shiori had nothing going on romantically, but this proves it. Also, pretty rich telling her to be confident when he apparently has so little of his own!

As for the true third vertex in the Shiori-Jirou love triangle, Hamano Mei and Shiori have a deeply romantic little scene in the classroom after school, even if Shiori isn’t at all aware of  how her compliments truly affect Mei. Even Mei’s husband Shuu is aware of how much she loves Shiori, and arranges to go out with Minami on a karaoke all-nighter so the two girls can have a sleepover.

Shuu learns another nugget about Minami when he hangs out with him and their café boss that night: Minami has an older brother, and their boss says since it’s a family of “ikemen” even siblings are rivals. Sounds like his bro might’ve stolen his true love? As for the boss, he’s Sadaharu’s older brother.

When Shiori and Mei are planning sleeping arrangements, talk turns to looking at old photos. Mei looks forward to seeing lil’ Shiori … right up until Shiori bashfully says most of the photos contain Jirou as well. Mei checks her phone and heads off on a family errand, abandoning the sleepover plan because she knows who Shiori really loves.

Sadaharu ends up at a restaurant with Jirou, and despite not drinking like his big bro, comes up with the hair-brained idea that he needs to bring his new accidentally lecherous friend back down to his level … by kissing him. While he’s leaning in for that smooch, Shiori, now alone, just happens to pass by, and seemingly gets a look at them, and walks off with no reaction.

Jirou chases after her to explain things, but as she didn’t actually see him and Sadaharu, she assumes he’s talking about their accidental kiss. She was looking at the restaurant sign that contained the symbol for “kiss”. When they thankfully clear up this misunderstanding, they each take one of the handles of the bag and walk together.

When conversation turns back to their kiss, Shiori insists that Jirou hear her out. He doesn’t have to apologize for the kiss, because she asked him to kiss her for practice, and she admits she learned a lot, so she earnestly thanks him. Jirou is confused, since he still thinks she wants to be “friends (and only friends) forever”, but he can’t deny that she sets up another potential kiss for them right then and there.

Sadly, when two cats interrupt their moment Shiori quickly shifts to small talk, but hey, at least these two are talking again, and Jirou understands that Shiori doesn’t feel bad about their kiss.

Jirou’s video game princess warned that the kingdom will be destroyed if he makes the wrong choice. The “kingdom” in this case could be his friendship with Shiori, whether they take it to the next level or if he chooses Akari. The same scenarios apply to Mei: confessing to Shiori means possibly abandoning regular friendship in the future.

In either case, the old has to be torn down before something new can be built in its place. The fear and hesitance of doing so is all too understandable and relatable—as is the result of not making choices: the aforementioned increasingly untenable purgatory. Something’s gotta give, and hopefully something will!

I’ve watched many a frustrating-as-hell rom-rom in which characters didn’t make what I felt to be the obvious, easy choice. This show is doing a great job really putting us in each character’s shoes and explaining why they’re having so much difficulty, and making clear that there are no easy choices.

Call of the Night – 06 – A Private Place

Kou insists he’s not giving Shirakawa Kiyosumi a massage so Nazuna will give her a kiss; no, he’s all about the Murasakis, baby. Last time Kiyosumi came to Nazuna’s she got the best massage of her life. Kou’s is…less so, to the point she’s wearing a distinct “Is that it?” kind of face throughout the course. It leads Kiyosumi to ask how old he is, and when he says fourteen she’s amazed he’s working at such a young age, but sure he must have his reasons.

When she asks, Kou tells her how school was boring and he got tired of it, and how much more fun and exciting the streets are at night. Hearing how he wants to “enjoy the night” reminds her of the first time she went out late on her own, and felt like she was in a special place just for her. From there, the two start to have a lively conversation about their shared love of the night.

When that talk turns bitter when Kiyosumi brings up work and how all the things she has to endure, she starts to tear up, and then her boss calls her, even though it’s the middle of the night she’s expected to answer and go back into the office. But Kou blocks the door, tells her she isn’t going anywhere, and summons Nazuna, who comes through the wall. The massage course isn’t over.

When Kou tells Nazuna to make sure Kiyosumi doesn’t go to work, she tosses her out the window. Kiyosumi has the similar feeling of confusion about what the hell just happened, followed immediately by the terror of falling and the strange feeling of whether this is it.

Kou dives out the window after her and catches her, and the two of them are suspended in the air by Nazuna. As it was with him, it feels like a rite of passage: thinking you’re going to die, and then being plucked from that certain death by a vampire saying “nah, you’re actually not.”

When they land, Kiyosumi asks why Kou did this; he says anything that makes you cry isn’t something you should have to do. This is where their age gap rears its head again, as she tells him he’s still just a kid and doesn’t understand. Adults have to keep enduring, even if something makes them cry.

Then he tells her his dream to become a vampire so he can keep enjoying the night, and it’s so earnest and serious she can’t help but burst into laughter. He Kou walks out into the middle of the road—something you can do at night since it’s not busy—and Kiyosumi joins him, once again feeling that old feeling of doing something wrong but feeling so right.

Kiyosumi tells Kou she hopes he achieves his goal of becoming a vampire, and in turn Kou tells her that when he becomes one, he promises to make her into one too. Nazuna seems taken aback by this, and later reminds Kou that to change Kiyosumi he’d have to make her fall for him, but he’s not worried; “girls tend to like him.”

That lovely character portrait of the overworked businesswoman and her night of enjoyment is followed up by Nazuna greeting Kou in her entryway and telling him to come up with different stuff for them to do. This leads to them going to a nighttime pool, which Kou remarks is “nothing like the pool in P.E.”

For one thing, it’s extremely gaudily and even raunchily lit; for another, the swimsuits are a lot more revealing, though ironically he finds Nazuna’s choice to wear more fabric than she usually does more erotic than her standard swimsuit-like garb.

It’s also here where Kou feels every bit like the fourteen-year-old he is, including rushing to jealousy and possessiveness. When Nazuna decides to tease him by letting two other dudes hit on her, He grabs her and pitches a hissyfit, even though the two guys are totally fine with him.

Nazuna apologizes for teasing by taking Kou on another aerial trip, then dumping the two of them into his school’s pool, which is nice and deserted at this time of night. As we’ve seen from his interactions with Akira and now Kiyosumi, Kou isn’t socially awkward or anything.  But his intense dislike of the other night pool came down to it being crowded and with people too casually trying to make friends with Nazuna.

Nazuna, who after all hasn’t been drinking anyone else’s blood since she and Kou started hanging out, understands his desire for quiet and solitude, where the only two eyes on her are his. Considering how tasty his blood is and how fun he is to spend her nights with, Nazuna seems fine with that. But there’s still something to be said for exploring parts of the night out of one’s comfort zone.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 12 (Fin) – Nishikata’s Quest

For three seasons and dozens of vignettes, we’ve watched Nishikata undertake a gradual journey of enlightenment and awakening, from an origin point of modest, adolescent…dumbness. This season and this episode in particular, Nishikata’s brain has finally started to get wise to the fact that it has never been about winning or teasing with Takagi. It was more simply about being with him.

As these confusing feelings sprout up in his dinosaur-filled mind, Takagi must know that he’s distracted by the imminent coming of White Day, even if she doesn’t know that Hamaguchi urged him to confess to her on that day. Faced with such a monumental task, Nishikata retreats into the games, creating his most elaborate yet: Nishikata Quest, a series of boxes containing riddles leading to other riddles.

But when there are no more riddles, and he hopes Takagi to be at her most frustrated and defeated, that he’ll give her his White Day present In other words, when all is said and done he not only wants Takagi to be comforted, he wants to be the one to brighten her mood. Alas, his grand plan is dashed when Takagi is unable to make it to school on White Day due to strong winds delaying her ferry.

When he thinks she’ll only be gone for first period, Nishikata tries his best to take good notes that he’ll share with her. But when she texts him that she won’t be coming at all, he realizes how lonely he is without her sitting at the desk beside him…how things just feel “off”. After school, Hamaguchi gives Houjou some white chocolate, but just can’t manage to confess his love to her. But Houjou still looks happy he at least made the attempt.

When Mina finds the first of Nishikata’s boxes on the floor of the classroom (jostled off Takagi’s chair when Takao and Kimura are fighting), she leads Sanae and Yukari on his epic mind-bending quest. When they find the final box bearing Nishikata’s name, Yukari realizes this was all one big gesture of love for Takagi, and insists they put all the boxes back where they found them, lest they spoil loverboy’s efforts.

When Kimura kept Nishikata company during solo library duty, Nishikata noticed that Kimura was reading the same novel as Takagi when she said “I love you”. Kimura recommends the book and lends it to Nishikata, who reads it when he gets home and can’t find the “I love you” Takagi purportedly took from the page. It’s here where the dusty light bulb in his head finally switches on. That time she said “I love you”, like so many other times he remembers, were Takagi expressing her honest feelings.

For that reason, Nishikata can’t wait until tomorrow to see Takagi or give her her White Day gift. Heck, he can’t wait one more minute, running out the door, onto the bus, and running some more to the docks. When he spots Takagi getting into her car and driving off, he chases the car…on foot. Finally, fate smiles on him as Takagi’s car happens to turn at just such an angle that she spots him running behind, asks to stop the car, gets out, and runs to meet him.

In effect, it’s a romantic climax I’ve probably seen dozens of times both in anime and movies and other TV. But there’s something about the way it’s executed so beautifully, and with all the accumulated feelings and experiences these two have been through in three seasons, that elevates what could have felt clichéd in less skilled hands to truly epic status.

Even better, we don’t need the classic “I love you” confession; the fact Nishikata is there at all, chasing Takagi down, is all Takagi needs to know how he feels. And then he comes right out and says he’s there “because I wanted to see you.”

He may think he failed when his White Day gift got dropped and smashed by a car, but the gift doesn’t matter; she doesn’t even open it, instead taking his scuffed up hands into hers and saying he’s already given her the best gift she could have asked for: him, there, with her.

It’s pretty much the best ending a Takagi-san fan could ask for, made all the more satisfying because there’s an upcoming movie that could well elaborate on their new adorable normal. As we’ve come to the end of this season, there few things I’m looking more forward to than seeing these two on the screen again as soon as humanly possible.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 11 – Merry Dried Sardine Day

Last week might’ve been the last “standard” episode of Takagi-san,  because this week is anything but normal. It’s suddenly Valentine’s Day, and for much as Takagi and Nishikata interact, there’s hardly any teasing. It’s pretty clear why from the moment Nishikata opens his locker and finds three boxes of chocolates from three different kouhai. For as predictable as Nishikata is, we’ve known Takagi long enough to know what’s up.

Major Kudos to both the animation team and Takahashi Rie for making it plain that Takagi is just a little “off” this week. She came to school early so she could put chocolates in Nishikata’s shoe locker, only to find three girls had beaten her to the punch. That Nishikata tries to hide the fact he got chocolates only makes things more awkward, even though he tries to find the right opportunity to tell her.

Meanwhile, Houjou interrupts Hamaguchi talking with the boys to nonchalantly hand him a bar of store-bought chocolate before sauntering off. Hamaguchi assumes the worst, since he spotted her at the grocery store buying ingredients for homemade chocolate. If he gets a Meiji bar, that means she doesn’t love him! Of course, even here, I knew Houjou must’ve just screwed up the homemade chocolate.

Oftentimes predictability can make a show boring or unengaging, but the opposite was true here. As we watch Nishikata struggle to tell Takagi about the other girls’ chocolate, even trying to intentionally lose a contest to cheer her up, it is wonderfully, heartwarmingly plain that winning and losing those little games doesn’t matter to him nearly as much as wanting to turn Takagi’s frown upside-down. And hey, he does—albeit accidentally when the teacher catches him goofing off.

Fortune favors Nishikata, as Takagi just happens to be walking down the hall when she sees him respectfully return the chocolate to the three girls who gave it to him. Takagi knows why. It doesn’t matter whether the girls made a mistake and meant to put it in another boy’s locker (the one who played the dog at the culture fest). Nishikata takes this entirely in stride, because he’s not interested in those three girls. He never was.

Their innocent mistake may have screwed up Takagi and Nishikata’s February 14th, but after school the universe rights that wrong by once again having the two cross paths by chance. Their timing is so precise, the moment Takagi finally decides on a text to send him, she hears the alert on his phone as he’s already arrived. It’s kismet!

What follows is one of the most serious, dramatic, honest, and beautifulest exchanges between these two in all these three seasons. Takagi admits she was bummed out all day because when she saw those three boxes of chocolates, she was worried Nishikata would mention them, and that she’d respond by “acting mean” again.

Takagi doesn’t like the part of her that’s mean when she’s jealous. I adore the empathy they express for each other in this scene; how awful even the thought of hurting each other makes them feel. That said, all’s well that ends well, and Takagi manages to give Nishikata a box of chocolates. Only the first box she gives him is actually full of dried sardines.

She just happened to prepare that little prank before he mentioned it being “National Dried Sardine Day” (because of how the numbers “214” resemble the Japanese word for dried sardines). That their two adorkable minds thought alike—and are thinking alike more and more—delights Takagi to no end.

The next day, Nishikata sees Hamaguchi sitting in the hall looking super-cool. Since the store-bought/homemade chocolate mixup was all cleared up, he’s resolved to confess his love to Houjou on White Day. Not only that, he tells Nishikata that’d he’d better confess to Takagi on that day too.

And I fuly agree with Hamaguchi…he sure as shit better! Or, if it’s Takagi who confesses to him, he’d better accept his damn destiny. I don’t want any cliffhangers for a fourth season…let’s get this done!

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 10 – A Better Snowman

Dang photo bombers…your ruining the shot!

Knowing it would be hard-pressed to top last week’s full-length Takagi x Nishikata wonder-date, this week’s episode doesn’t bother; instead it returns to the warm, cozy, less dramatic flow of the couple’s interactions. Last week wasn’t an official acknowledgment that they’re dating now, but such a formality isn’t needed with these two. They’re fine just existing beside one another, fitting like, well, gloves!

To whit: the two didn’t plan to meet at the shrine visit; their families just happened to come at the same time. It sure looks like those two married couples were their parents, doesn’t it? I feel like at some point they’ll have to meet each other’s parents, but that they don’t mean we get more time with these two. hen Takagi is called back to her folks, Nishikata says they should do it again next year…which she says happened to be her shrine wish. Who’s to say it wasn’t?

Yes, that’s right…make that ball bigger…

The next segment is classic Master Teaser, with Takagi up to her old tricks in cornering Nishikata into a snowman-building contest knowing full well that he’ll get to ambitious. While he’s sweatily rolling dirty lumpen mounds trying to build a Snow Titan, Takagi puts a lot of time and care and quite effortlessly builds the cutest lil’ snowman in all the land…so cute Nishikata doubts he’d have won. even if he’d finished…which Takagi helps him do.

NGL, from a distance this looks like a confession…

After Nishikata’s friends and the three girls have their little mini-scenes talking about the new year, we come to “Advice”, when Houjou takes Nishikata aside and asks him what he thinks Hamaguchi might like for his birthday. Yuuki Aoi is masterful at sounding both mature and incredibly hot-and-cold. For his part, Nishikata is both thoughtful and helpful. Then Houjou asks him to keep their chat a secret.

Little did Nishikata know that Takagi spotted him talking with Houjou, and asks him what about. When Nishikata demurs, she guesses correctly on the first guess, and pretty much knows, but Nishikata still won’t break his secret. Takagi’s facial expressions are so subtle here, but you can tell she’s a little mad Nishikata is keeping something from her…even if she knows what it is with 99.99% certainty!

Takagi expresses her jealousy by trying to stoke Nishikata’s, saying she wants to know what to get a “15-year-old boy”—not a Chihuahua, but a third-year middle schooler. This does affect Nishikata, who doesn’t want to give advice for some other guy…even though these two spend so much time together he would know of such a guy!

Of course, this time, Takagi is referring to Nishikata on his next birthday. He’s quite relieved, and apologizes for not being able to break his promise. Takagi apologizes too, owning up to the fact she did do something a little mean. When Nishikata asks her why she doesn’t always think that, she says this and her usual gentle teasing are two different things!

When Nishikata flat-out asks Takagi why she teases him, her answer is as expected…“Who knows?” But she knows, and so does Nishikata, and it’s the same reason they’re already making plans for spending next year together.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 05 – The Ultimate Prize Catch

We begin with a girl who looks like Takagi beside a boy who doesn’t look like Nishikata sitting in the same part of the classroom as our two lovebirds. The girl is upset about having green peppers in her lunch, so the boy eats them. Her friend tells the girl he doesn’t like peppers either, but ate hers, and teases her, because he likes her.

The girl reacts just like Nishikata would, which makes sense, as she’s his daughter. That’s right, our cold open (which is actually quite warm) takes place in the future when Takagi and Nishikata have a kid. We even see Takagi from behind hanging laundry as the scene ends. Note I didn’t say “a possible” future. I said the future—because this is a sure thing. It’s only matter of time!

Back in the present, we see where their daughter gets her dislike of green peppers. Nishikata had to eat some for breakfast, and it’s enough to let out a big sigh. Because Takagi knows him, she immediately identifies what’s eating him (or rather what he doesn’t like eating).

He, in turn, proceeds to ask her what she dislikes as a new challenge, and she even offers him a number of hints…but not too many. Here’s how she  puts it: “You’ll eventually get it right if I just keep giving you hints forever.” The same can be said of their relationship.

Nishikata guessed wrong this time, but he won’t stay wrong forever about what matters, and Takagi won’t have to keep giving him hints forever. Why am I so sure? Well, why else would we get a glimpse of their adorable daughter?

Mina, Yukari and Sanae have a similar discussion about food dislikes, with Mina eating Yukari’s carrots and offering Yukari a gyoza as thanks. While Mina and Yukari bicker, Sanae snatches it up and eats it. Rather than apologize, she walks off, but soon returns with some melon bread, which she offers to exchange for the rest of Mina’s gyoza.

After that intricate transaction, Sanae, Yukari, and Mina take center stage, as they are the writer, director, and costume designer for the play the class will perform for the culture festival. After their presentation of the story, a mélange of the Princess and the Frog and role-reversal Cinderella, they immediately appoint Takagi for the role of the princess. Naturally, there are no objections.

That leaves the crucial role of the Prince. Naturally, all eyes fall upon Nishikata, as the three girls running the play clearly have him in mind for the role, at least initially. He’d have had it, too, had the girls not been distracted from his heartfelt and very real performance that moves Takagi.

They’re distracted by Nishikata’s own friend Kimura, who is still so verklempt from the class not having a karaage café, switching “karaage” for “hime” instantly wins him the role. Nishikata is consigned to the role of “dumpling A”—unfortunate, and yet oddly appropriate.

While both Takagi and Nishikata are disappointed in their ways, it’s hardly the end of the world. In fact, they’ve shaken it off completely by the next segment, when Nishikata leads Takagi to a fishing pond for their next challenge. Nishikata went out of his way to get up early to prepare the bait and tackle, so Takagi honors that effort by giving it her all.

For some time after they both cast, they’re simply sitting by the pond together, taking it easy, something Takagi points out is super-nice. She’s clearly overjoyed that Nishikata has decided to share something he loves with her.

Then she gets a bite, catches a fish, then shows Nishikata she knows how to unhook it, tosses it back, and catches another fish! She may not have fished before, but she is comfortable handling them since she deals with fish often in the kitchen at home.

A frustrated Nishikata suddenly gets a bite—a big one—and it appears to be the prize catch of the pond: a giant koi. It pulls so hard he gets pulled forward, and would have certainly fallen in the drink…if Takagi doesn’t rescue him in the nick of time by grabbing him from behind.

She tightens her grip around his waist, his line snaps, and the two linger in this embrace for a few moments before Takagi withdraws with catlike quickness, once she realizes just how close she and Nishikata are.

She seems to shake it off and even manages to gently tease Nishikata about it as they walk home during the golden hour. But Nishikata’s heart is thumping like a death metal bass drum. When his inner voice asks “what is this?” Takagi, seemingly hearing his thoughts, says “love”. Well, she says koi, which means both love and the kind of fish that got away from him.

As for his “penalty” for losing the fishing challenge, Takagi decides that he’ll help her prepare for her role as the princess. Nishikata doesn’t protest—it’s her win, so it’s her call. So it’s settled: even if the two won’t share the stage, Takagi will ensure her prince—her koi, her dumpling—is closely involved.

Every week Nishikata seems to make another encouraging stride in the right direction: closer to Takagi. Not only will that likely culminate in their ferry date from the OP and promo art, but also in that cute daughter, carrying on her dad’s tradition of taking a while to realize someone likes them.

Karakai Jouzu no Takagi-san 3 – 04 – Tease the Night

The weather is starting to turn in TakaKata Land, but the day Nishikata decides to change to his warmer winter uni, Takagi is still in her short-sleeved summer fuku. We see just how accustomed to losing challenges Nishikata is when she says that because he changed first, he wins a game she had goin on in her head—that doesn’t sit right with him!

He makes up a new game—one he’s sure to lose—in which Takagi loses if she says the word “cold”. He tries to get her to respond in a manner that would sound like the word cold, but as usual she’s too sharp for him. When he tries again, she turns the game to her advantage, drawing very close and asking if she says “cold” like he wants, will he…warm her up?

After the three girls are out of sync due to an undelivered text, Nishikata finds all his usual lunch buddies are out sick (or pretending to be sick), so he resigns himself to eating lunch alone on the steps, which he tries to make the best of but can’t help but feel lonely. Sure enough, Takagi sensed he might be lonely and joins him.

It occurs to me that these two rarely eat lunch together since they each have their own circles of lunch buddies. It’s so lovely to see them just sitting together silently munching away. Then Takagi has Nishikata guess what’s in her onigiri, claiming one of his prized karaage should he be wrong. She wins, but feels bad about taking his food, so gives him one of her crispy lotus roots, acting until the very last second like she was going to feed him, lovey-dovey style.

The next segment involves Nishikata trying to snap a photo of a thrown rock that looks like a UFO in the sky. Takagi helps by doing the throwing, and while she admits she doesn’t really believe, she likes that Nishikata does. It’s part of what makes her adore him. In a lovely whimsical twist, she spots a actual UFO, but he doesn’t see it.

One day the bath in the Nishikata household is inoperable, so he has to use the public baths. Takagi asks him what time he’s going and he tells her, then spends the entire time there either looking for her or wondering why she didn’t come. Then she surprises him by the milk vending machine, admitting she not only came, but came early, perfectly calculating how much longer she’d take compared to him.

Nishikata’s longing for Takagi’s company, even if they were separated by the different sections of the bathhouse, speaks to his growing affection for her and desire to be by her side more often than not. The feeling is obviously (to everyone but him, of course) mutual, as Takagi remarks how they don’t usually walk together at night, and how it obscures their faces.

After Nishikata very foolishly challenges Takagi to a “whose face turns red first” contest— as soon as she leans into him he loses—the two continue their nighttime walk until it’s time to part ways to head to their respective homes. As she departs, Nishikata offers, unbidden, to walk her home, since it’s nighttime and thus not as safe for a young lady.

Takagi is so shocked by his offer, and loves so much how it sounds like something a boyfriend would say, she simply stands there in a perfect blend of befuddlement and delight. Then she thanks Nishikata for the offer and darts off, strategically hiding from him what must be a beet-red face.

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