More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 12 (Fin) – Double rainbow

Akari knew she faced an uphill battle to win Jirou’s heart before he and Shiori arrive back at the beach house looking very suspicious. As summer break continues after the beach trip, She offers a thousand-yen bill to the shrine of romantic success. But because Shiori’s sudden kiss in the rain wasn’t a 100% confession of love (she apologized profusely after it happened), Akari isn’t as long a shot as she fears.

Shiori can think of nothing but that kiss, even smelling the dress she wore when it happened, and wants to know what Jirou was feeling. Jirou, in turn, wants to know what Shiori was feeling, and why she apologized. In any case, both of them realize they need to talk about this more, which is definitely the right instinct! They just didn’t expect to bump into each other at the manga store.

Remembering Mei’s advice, Shiori once again takes the initiative, inviting Jirou to her practice dorm. The fact the furniture and layout is the same as his lends a built-in comfort just like the one he has with his childhood friend. When she goes in to make sure it’s not a mess and returns to the door with a “Welcome Home, Darling!”,  I just about squee’d out of my chair.

When Jirou says [the tea] “smells so good”, Shiori briefly thought he was talking about her. They proceed to just hang out on the couch and read, but neither is actually reading their books so much as one another. When she notices him watching her closely, she has to retreat to her room, where she looks in the mirror and worries whether he might hate her, he worries the exact same thing.

The building awkwardness is softened by the auspicious appearance of a double rainbow in the sky, which Shiori says brings happiness. The selfie of the two of them with the rainbow behind certainly brings it too, and Jirou is about to take a step and bring up their kiss in the rain when Shiori shows him another photo: a photo of all of them. A photo of friends.

Presented with a photo like this where it’s not just the two of them, Jirou admirably asks himself the right questions: Which feeling is friendship? Where does love start? He knows he has feelings, but can’t quite understand them yet. But he should also know he’s not alone in this.

After a Jirou x Shiori summer break segment, it’s Akari’s turn. She’s bored, Jirou’s bored, so she LINEs him and nonchalantly schedules a date. He has no earthly idea just how nervous she really is, or how important it is that she look just right for him, which is why she’s fifteen minutes late.

But when she arrives, she’s wearing the kind of demure (for her) dress she believes to be more his taste (which is also generally how Shiori dresses). It’s a little thing, but the fact she wants to suit his tastes while remaining fundamentally Akari is sweet as all-get-out, and even he starts to realize that this gyaru isn’t just messing with him.

Jirou also shows he’s a Good Boy Who Remembers Things, as Akari takes them to a café she’d mentioned before was a favorite of hers. Akari is touched that he remembers, as it bodes well for her overall mission.

She also casually leans in for an indirect kiss (“there is some bitterness, but it’s good” is a resonant line) and when she calls Jirou out for being embarrassed about it, he’s honest, and so is she: she’d rather they get used to this kind of thing than lose their minds about it, because if all goes well they’ll be doing a lot more of it!

The date continues at a cat café, where Jirou gets to see the side of Akari who squees to the max in the presence of fluffy animals. When she shows him a picture of them as she’s holding a cat, he notes that it looks kind of like a family photo, which makes Akari laugh rather than creeping her out (she’s also clearly elated to hear him say that).

While he hews to his standing opinion that spending summer days gaming is best, he admits days like this are nice too. And it’s weird when they prepare to say goodbye at the station, since they’re so used to going home together. That’s when she suddenly heads back to the shrine, and as he follows behind her they run into Shiori. What a coincidence!

Shiori can see what’s going on here, and what needs to be done, but is aggressive and assertive in the best, sweetest, most Shiori way. She happens to be on her way to the shrine too, and challenges Akari to a race to the shrine. Akari, of course, is game, they make Jirou schlep their stuff, and off they go.

As they run with everything they’ve got, they pass a number of people who reflect their past, present, and future. Two childhood friends, a boy and a girl; a young couple, a couple getting married, having kids, and finally, at the top (where the two tie, of course), and old elderly couple, the husband of which is named Jirou!

I love how their competitive pursuit of Jirou goes unspoken, but is clear to both women all the same, even if it’s still somewhat irritatingly less clear to Jirou: this isn’t really the finish line, only the end of the first leg. And both Shiori and Akari are in it to win it.

Thus Fuukoi ends without a clear resolution to who Jirou will choose, and it’s to the episodes credit that it does not try to rush towards one after so much careful deliberation and development. Rather, this feels like a solid culmination of the episodes that came before.

It’s also a credit to the series that after twelve episodes I am myself still on the fence about whom Jirou should end up with, as both women make very strong cases for themselves this week, and there isn’t the slightest hint of mean-spiritedness to their competition. While not a tearjerker, my heart felt fuller for watching Fuukoi, and hopefully we’ll be blessed with a second season in which the three face their next adventure.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 11 – Giving Love A Try

Shiori may have been sacred by the voices she heard on the beach, but she’s even more troubled when she hears that both Akari and Jirou were on the beach at the same time. When the obligatory test of courage comes up, she’s worried she’ll be a liability to whomever she’s paired up with.

Jirou hopes that he’ll be the one paired up with her, as he knows she scares easily and will be able to deal. In an unguarded but welcome moment, she says she loves “that [kind] side of him”. Of course, we know Shiori loves Jirou, period.

Answering his friends’ call, Sadaharu conspires with Mei to make sure that Jirou and Shiori end up with each other. In their clandestine meeting Sadaharu says Mei is “kind”, something she doesn’t want to hear since she remains conflicted by her own feelings for Shiori.

Nevertheless, Shiori and Jirou end up together for the test, as do Akari and Minami, which was a specific request of Jirou’s. He didn’t want to be the only one ending up with the one he loved when he and Akari are in this together. We learn later that Shiori was so scared throughout the test that nothing happened between them.

As for Akari, when she loses her phone and goes to look for it, she ends up separated from Minami, who relays the situation to the others. When Jirou hears that Akari is out there all alone as it starts to rain, he leaves Shiori’s side to go look for her. It’s Minami, not Jirou, who finds her, but when she hears someone near, Akari  calls out Jirou’s name.

Minami apologizes for not being Jirou, and goes on to say that Akari’s face is way too red for him to be mistaken about who she truly likes. That said, he knows there was a time when she seemed interested in him, so he uses this time to tell her that while he’s flattered, he loves someone else; someone who doesn’t love him back, so he gets it.

(Minami also had the misfortune of having seen that someone in bed with his older brother, which must have been quite the knife twist).

Shiori ends up finding Jirou and brings him an umbrella. They get to talk about the time they practiced kissing, and Shiori makes clear nothing has happened since then. Her first kiss was with Jirou, and she liked it that way. She draws close to him, expressing how she knows simply being a childhood friend won’t be enough to keep her by his side.

Ever since the practical started, Shiori has felt lonely, because she didn’t get to see the “husband” version of the boy she loved. As she gets on her tiptoes to Jirou, she asks him if he’ll show her a side of him Akari hasn’t seen, if Akari isn’t special to him.

But that’s just the thing: Akari is special to Jirou, or at least she’s not not special. It’s more complicated than a black-and-white “like/not like”. With Akari and Minami it’s different, and made quite clear: Minami isn’t interested in Akari, and Akari isn’t in love with Minami anymore.

Minami knows this since he sees himself in Akari. He tells her he’s happy she fell for him, and Akari tells him she was happy she fell for him too. But unlike him and the woman who ended up with his big brother, he believes Akari still has a chance with Jirou, for whom it’s quite clear she has feelings.

When Akari asks him what if things get “weird” between her and Jirou, he simply asks if things are “weird” between them now. They’re not; now that the air has been cleared they can both move forward. They both promise to do their best to do just that, but with Jirou firmly in his childhood friend’s arms (and their lips quite firmly locked together), Akari will have to work very hard indeed. But it’s too soon to throw in the towel!

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.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 07 – Okaeri, Akari

I just want to express my surprise and gratitude that Akari’s gyaru-friends Sachi and Natsumi are actually good people too! When they see Shiori with too many bags of garbage (a powerful metaphor for how accommodating and self-subordinating she is), they offer to help, even conscripting Jirou and Sadaharu when they slouch past.

When Shiori declines to carry a bag with Jirou, it’s a critical hit to his heart, but also shows their accidental kiss has left the two more awkward and distant than ever. Sachi and Natsumi can also tell that Akari must feel something for Jirou at this point, and she doesn’t deny it.

They’re not pushing her towards Jirou or Minami—in fact, they say those aren’t the only two guys in the world. They want her to be happy, and to settle on her own choice on her terms. Opportunity knocks when the girls see a poster for an upcoming fireworks festival.

Naturally, dressing Akari in her yukata is a job for her “husband”, and while her talk with her friends leads to her mentioning Minami more as she teases Jirou, the fact of the matter is, having Jirou dress her is as big a deal for her as it is for him; he just can’t see her red face since he’s behind her. It’s also telling that she says a bow-style obi tie is too “childish”—again assuming Minami only likes mature things.

Akari meets Sachi and Natsumi at the festival with her head held high, ready to take a step forward in figuring (gestures everywhere) all this out. Of course, it’s not that easy, as she’s trying to go back to a place where she’s comfortable play-acting as a wife to Jirou and she’s back to thinking only of Minami in a romantic capacity. In effect, she’s trying to go back to a place that no longer exists.

Even if spending the evening with Minami cleared things up, that opportunity is torn away from her at the last minuite, as his friends arrive Minami-less and contrite; he had to take an extra shift at work due to the festival, and was too nice to turn it down.

Sachi tries to salvage the night by having the boys buy them a bunch of snacks and sweets as penance, but after psyching herself up, Akari is rightfully deflated. To add insult to injury, she spots Minami at the festival after all, in street clothes with Shiori and in what looks like pleasant conversation.

It turns out they’re just taking the shortest route to a point where he’ll go off to work while she’ll head home. They’re not on a date, and from their scene together, there’s still no actual romantic chemistry between them. They’re simply both doing their part as partners in a practical exercise.

Of course, that’s not what it looked liked to Akari, and that’s all that matters. Her friends see her turn pale and assume she’s disappointed in not getting to be with Minami. In reality, she’s that way because she did see him. When the other boys said he wouldn’t be coming, a part of her even felt relieved.

Jirou doesn’t have to spend this night alone at home. He could have called Shiori and taken a step towards that route had he wanted; I doubt she would have refused judging from her look back after she and Minami parted. I wouldn’t really have felt bad for him if his self-imposed loneliness had endured.

However, I do feel bad that, like Akari, he’s simply not sure of anything anymore. If he and Akari are a functional and happy fake couple, he knows one day they won’t be, like when it comes time to swap partners. He worries about what they’ll be after that, and even if they’ll be anything at all.

But when he gets a call from Akari and there are only tears on the other side of the line, if he’s paying attention he’s answering his own question with his reaction: slipping on his coat and running to wherever she is. Luckily for him, that turns out to be right outside their door. As Akari sobs into her hands, she apologizes to Jirou, and by extention, everyone who worked so hard to create an opportunity for her to move forward.

She also worked hard herself, taking extra time to make her hair, nails, and makeup perfect for Minami. And yet, at the end, she just came home. Jirou dries her eyes with his sleeve, then offers a hand up, saying “Welcome home”. Akari collapses into his arms, saying “I’m home”, and has the big, wet, cathartic cry she needs to have. And only Jirou’s arms will do.

Once the tears have passed, the two stand on the balcony as the fireworks start in the distance. When she teases him more and accuses him of being jealous, he doesn’t deny it, which surprises her, but she likes it. Then she takes his hands, puts them on her obi, and asks him to make the bow he wants to make.

When he gets to a step he can’t do, she takes out her phone to find the instructional video. When it slips out of her hands, it falls into his, and she puts her hands over his and draws them close, asking him to simply hold her and say her name, again and again. If he does, she thinks she can “try again”.

Jirou remembers Akari saying how she loses her confidence sometimes, and this is definitely one of those times. In this moment, and while upside-down heart-shaped fireworks start to explode above them, Jirou does as he’s told. She thanks him for not asking what happened, but simply being there for her.

In his mind, Jirou admits he didn’t ask because he didn’t want to know. Just as Akari felt relieved when she heard Minami wouldn’t be coming, Jirou felt relieved when she came home. While he still considers their happiness in this moment to be fleeting, perhaps both he and Akari would be better-served listening to those little pangs of relief and what that means not for Minami, or Shiori, but the two of them.

This episode surpassed the previous racy couch scenes because this felt a lot more overtly romantic. The two have identified those moments of relief and want to understand them better, even as they are still on some level committed to rooting for each other with their other potential partners. Combine the beautiful visuals, lighting, and colors of these scenes with Akari’s friends being The Best and we have the best Fuukoi outing yet.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 04 – Shoulder to cry on

During P.E. class when Minami is playing basketball and generally looking like a higher form of life, both Akari and Jirou hear from their friend(s) that he and Shiori are considering staying with one another as a marriage practical couple despite making A-rank.

This news obviously puts a wrench in Akari and Jirou’s plan, leaving both feeling blue. Jirou, knowing how much Akari likes Minami, imagines he’s in a fantasy video game and Minami ends up beating the final boss and winning the hearts of both heroines.

When Jirou and Shiori cross paths, to Jirou’s credit he doesn’t pretend something isn’t bothering him, and Shiori’s known him long enough to know that something is. She says she’s not sure yet whether she and Minami are extending their time together, so Jirou starts to try to tell her he’ll work hard to attain A-rank so that they can be paired together.

Meanwhile, Akari gets cleanup duty for chatting during P.E., and ends up crossing paths with Minami. His sudden presence in the storage room startles her, and she bumps into a shelf, causing a box to start to fall. Minami rushes towards her and starts to fall, leaving them face-to-face.

Akari asks Minami what Jirou asked Shiori, and his answer is yes, he’ll stay by Shiori’s side “forever” if that’s what she wants. Throughout the whole exchange but unbeknownst to Minami, Akari’s heart is beating like a hummingbird, and when she hears what sounds like a rejection from his lips, she starts to cry. Then Minami puts his hand on her chin…

I say Jirou started to tell Shiori he wanted to pair with her, because he isn’t able to get the words out. I would have hoped Shiori would have gotten the gist but she apparently doesn’t when Jirou’s friend Kamo interrupts, having seen Akari and Minami in the storage room together.

But before Kamo can say anything, Minami and Akari exit the school, and Jirou senses a strange atmosphere. Minami and Shiori head home together chatting spiritedly about nothing in particular, while Akari acts awkward and distant towards Jirou and heads off on her own.

He later learns that Akari ditched class, and Kamo tells him he witnessed “kissing going on” between Minami and Akari. He shrugs it off as having nothing to do with him, but it’s clear that he has conflicting feelings about it, what with he and Akari getting along so well of late.

When he comes home, Akari is lying on the couch on her phone, looking morose. He sits down beside her, sarcastically apologizes for not being Minami, and she asks him upfront why he’d bring him up. That’s when, again, to his credit, Jirou doesn’t beat around the bush, but says what he heard: that she was kissing Minami after P.E.

Akari laughs it off, as in reality he was just checking her eye for dust; Kamo saw what he wanted to saw from the angle he had. Akari thinks it’s “hilarious” that Jirou thought a misunderstanding from “straight out of a manga” took place. But Jirou tells her he was ready to root for her, and it’s only fair to expect her to get some kind of return considering how hard she’s been working to get Minami to look her way.

At this, Akari’s mask of sarcasm drops, and bitter tears of frustration start to fall. Jirou is right in theory, but the reality is Minami doesn’t see her that way, and more and more seems to be content to be with Shiori, even beyond the marriage practical situation. When she realizes she’s crying in front of Jirou, she tells him to look away, and he does … kinda. He pulls her into an embrace so that his head is next to hers.

In this way, he’s technically “looking away”, but he’s also there for her, in a moment when she needs someone to be there. She needs to have a good cry without the pressure of having to hold it in to keep up appearances. At this point, Jirou knows who Watanabe Akari is more than anyone else at school, Minami included. And Akari, no doubt having that feeling of being safe and secure in Jirou’s arms, puts her arm around him and cries it out.

After this cathartic moment, Jirou feels self-conscious for overreaching, literally and figuratively, but he did the right thing, as evidenced by Akari’s mood after a cleansing shower. First, she borrows one of his t-shirts, resulting in the deceptively powerful boyfriend shirt scenario. Then she plops right down beside him, leans on him, and has some ice cream as she watches TV.

When he insists he’s no longer overwhelmed by situations like this, she puts her ear to his chest and calls him a liar, as his heart is racing. Of course, since she was worried Minami could hear her beating heart in the storage room, she can relate, which is why she’s so comfortable around Jirou now.

She also hastens to mention that she’s not so “easy” that she’d kiss Minami on a whim, and in any case, she says to him for the first time that her first kiss ever was with Jirou. Jirou sits there unresponsive as she shakes him and urges him to answer for that kiss, and as he does, he admits in his thoughts how happy he feels.

Perhaps for the first time, he’s not thinking about losing Shiori to Minami, or Akari preferring Minami to him. He and and Akari are simply sitting together on their couch, enjoying each other’s company; a cozy, caring family of two. It’s something I could honestly watch all day.

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 03 – Starting over from zero

Akari knows Jirou is in love with Shiori, but wants to know specifically why he’s drawn to an earnest, family-oriented girl, and what he wants such a girl to do for him. He wisely says “lunch”, which sets Akari off on a homemade bento kick.

She proves to be a very good bento cook, and they gain lots of points as cook and taste-tester, but one little detail—a lack of sugar in the rolled omelet—reminds Jirou that she’s doing all of this for Minami, not him. That shouldn’t bother him, as he’s into Shiori…and yet.

Jirou also can’t help but feel a little…left out when Akari goes all out to look as cute as possible to deliver a bento to Minami at his part-time job. But then Akari asks him for another goodbye kiss as a reward for her hard work, and tells him she only wants his kiss, since it made her feel safe.

Before he can summon the guts to kiss her again, Shiori shows up with extra apple pies she made for Minami, citing his sweet tooth. When she sees Akari with Jirou and a box lunch for an apparent picnic, she leaves feeling lonely. Little does she know she caused Akari’s confidence to absolutely plummet.

She never delivers the bento, and sits on the couch with her head in her knees. Jirou tries to cheer her up, but the bottom line is, she though she could appeal to Minami with cooking, but was wrong about him not liking sweet things, and now doesn’t know what to do.

Jirou tells her she has “tons more good points”, but when put on the spot, the only things he lists are related to her looks, body, and sex appeal. When she asks if he’s ever though about her that way, he says no, but she knows he’s lying. Then she jumps on top of him.

The animation and Oonishi Saori’s voice acting do a lot of strong, heavy lifting here, as the scene strides the line between being amorous and a little forced. You can see in Akari’s face and hear in her voice that she’s just as unsure about this as Jirou is, and yet she’s trying to press forward.

Jirou pushes through his body’s urge to “graduate” from virginity and rejects Akari’s advances, saying it’s only something you do with someone you love. Leaving aside that this is false, this results in Akari getting off him and saying they should stop this whole fake marriage thing.

That’s just what they do, and at the next month-end eval, Shiori sees that they’ve fallen to 75th place while she and Minami are up to 8th. She knows something’s wrong; Jirou knows it too, and knows that he erred. When he felt Akari’s cold trembling hand, he knew that he was wrong about her: what they were doing on that couch was just as new to her as it was to him.

Shiori invites Jirou onto the school roof to talk to him about things, and really does yeoman’s work as his trusty childhood friend, albeit by subordinating her own feelings. She promises him that no matter how much he screwed up with Akari, he can make things right.

Shiori’s pep talk is just what Jirou needs to break the awkwardness stalemate and give him the courage to knock on his fake wife’s door. To his shock, she not only answers but invites him into her uber-girly room, where he proceeds to apologize, but also provides a lot of real, honest talk.

He admits the obvious, that he’s fantasized about her, but also that it wasn’t like he didn’t want to do it with her, only that he wanted to do it with more care than the spur-the-moment scenario they found themselves in when she was discouraged about cooking for Minami.

He doesn’t go so far as to “out” Akari as just as much a virgin as she is, but he almost doesn’t have to, as hearing him come out and say all these things makes her face red as a beet and has her retreating into her bedsheet. But Jirou also asserts that he doesn’t like it when things are awkward between them.

Pulling back the sheet from her head like a bride’s vail, he declares that he wants them to be a married couple again. When he realizes he left out “for the practical” and stumbles all over his words, it evokes a hearty laugh from Akari, who attempts to save face by mocking him for being so desperate.

But she also ends up telling him—in just as disarmed a way as he just said all those embarrassing but true things—that she “likes him quite a lot”, even calling him by his first name. She laughs it off, but later on her balcony she covers her mouth with her hands in shock over having “said it.”

She says it in a way that could mean she’s been meaning to say it for a while. In any case, they’re giving this marriage another go, but this time they both have a deeper understanding of the kind of people the two of them actually are. That new understanding definitely has the potential to make them more attracted to one another as partners.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 02 – Hearing her out to the end

Jirou is having a lovely dream about Shiori visiting him in the night, only to be woken up by Akari wanting the same thing. Not so fast: she wants him to watch scary movies with her so they’ll earn points—while wearing matching PJs she’s comfortable enough to change into with him right there (with his back turned). When there’s a blackout, Jirou also learns Akari’s not great with storms or the dark.

Jirou may not learn here that Akari’s as inexperienced in love as he is, but her little vulnerabilities help bring her down to earth, as someone more approaching an equal to Jirou rather than someone to place on a pedestal and venerate (or resent her elite gyaru status). Between the close quarters and a sweet-smelling aromatherapy candle, a cozy chemistry emerges, with Jirou even admitting how cute Akari is and how hard she’s working, thinking she’s asleep when she’s not…and is very flattered!

As a result of spending the night together on the couch (avoiding the no-going-in-each-other’s-rooms rule) Jirou and Akari earn enough points to end up ranked 8th in their class. But both are shocked to find that Shiori and Minami are ranked 71st. If the other couple doesn’t make Rank A, all their efforts are for naught.

While Jirou can’t deny he’s a little happy things aren’t going well with Shiroi and Minami, as he friend he wants to help, but can’t broach the subject, and then he’s out with a cold. Shiori’s best friend Mei, who is either overprotective or has a crush on her herself (maybe both!) cheers Shiori up with her piano play and a willing ear.

Just as Jirou admits to be being a little hurt Akari went out with her friends instead of taking care of him, while also dreaming of Shiori taking care of him, it’s Shiori who is at the door with a bag of stuff to nurse him back to health.

Rather than an angel sent by heaven, Shiori was asked by Akari to look after Jirou, both knowing Jirou is in love with her and that, most likely, Shiori feels the same way. I’m not sure how premeditated this was for Akari, but this results in us getting almost the full measure of Jirou and Shiori’s history together.

Shiori still cherishes the day she was sick in elementary school and Jirou came and replaced her forehead compress, and relishes the opportunity to repay the favor. Jirou also watches intently as Shiori puts on an apron like a pro to whip up some rice porridge for him.

He’s worried this sudden wife-like attention will “give him the wrong idea”, but he’s had that ever since they parted ways when she had to transfer schools in middle school. Before he could summon the courage to confess to her, she asked him if they could remain friends despite the new geographic distance.

Jirou thought he was being friendzoned, so he canceled the confession, but he was mistaken. Just as he needed to make a great effort to even consider voicing his feelings for her, so too did Shiori, and those were the compromised words that came out at the wrong time. These two have loved each other all along, but that misunderstanding kept them from getting what they both wanted.

Now they’re “married” to separate people for this ridiculous school training, but Jirou’s cold afforded them the chance to live out what life might’ve been like if they had gotten their confessions for each other out into the open. It broke my heart when Shiori’s voice broke after she said, quite genuinely, that she thought it would be better if he were her husband. But my heart was re-forged when Jirou took her hand and, without thinking, called her “Shiori”, which causes her heart to similarly swell.

Shiori remembers that day just as much as Jirou does as a missed opportunity. Shiori was mere words from asking him on a date to see fireworks, but since he believed that would be as “just friends” he made an excuse to part ways right then and there. When Jirou called her “Shiori”, her mind went blank from happiness.

Not only that, when she’s sure he’s asleep, she leans in to steal a kiss…just as Akari’s galfriends are teasing her about the possibility of Shiori stealing Minami away. Shiori doesn’t kiss Jirou, but still prays that one day he’ll hear her out to the end. If only he did, he’d know that she wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with her.

The thing is, things are no longer so simple. Despite her haughty gal front and enduring crush on Minami, the fact is Jirou is the one with whom she’s experiencing all these new things. It’s gotten to the point that even when Jirou thanks her when she gets home for asking Shiori to come by, and resolves to work his hardest so she can be with Minami, she’s actually annoyed, despite herself.

Shiori isn’t going to be falling for Minami anytime soon. Maybe we’ll get Minami-centric episode at some point, but for now he’s simply a placeholder. Ironically, the harder Jirou and Akari work to make Rank A, the more good times they’ll have and the more they’ll learn about each other that overwrites their shallow first impressions of one another. By the time they’re offered the opportunity to exchange partners, who’s to say they’ll want to?

Rating: 4/5 Stars

More than a married couple, but not lovers. – 01 (First Impressions) – Mismatch

Fuukoi, as it is also known, begins with the two female leads meeting at a shrine. The “plain” but cute Sakurazaka Shiori stumbles on the stairs and into the stylush gyaru Watanabe Akari, asking if she’s also there to pray for good luck with their forthcoming “marriage practical”.

What is a marriage practical, you say? An extremely weird and far-fetched means of the country trying to up its birth rate (?), I guess, and by far the weakest part of this debut episode. Male and female students are paired up and must live like a married couple in a Big Brother-style apartment, but are pointedly not allowed to sleep in the same bedroom. This system also apparently makes no accommodations for same-sex couples.

Our drab protagonist Yakuin Jirou, another weak point (never a good thing) wants to be paired with his childhood friend Shiori, while Akari wants to be paired with the equally stylish, blonde (and genuine Nice Guy) Tenjin Minami. So naturally, Jirou and Akari end up paired together, while his and Akari’s preferred matches end up paired up.

Neither Jirou nor Akari are happy about this, but it is what it is, but the good news is there’s a way to exchange partners: score enough points as a couple to make the A-Rank by the end of the month. Akari suggests they take the relationship lemons they’ve been given and make lemonade, but this is all A Lot for Jirou, considering the “love experience gap” between them.

Of course, Jirou’s wrong about this: Akari is just as chaste as he is, and all this as new to her as it is him. It’s too bad then, that she never tells him this to reduce the tension; call it pride and an unwillingness to admit they’re on the same level in that arena.

When Jirou goes to get them drinks and spots Shiroi with Minami, he gets even more depressed, but Akari tells him, and is right, that being mopey and indecisive won’t get him anywhere. They’ve got work to do scoring enough points to get the partners they want. So when Jirou’s annoying nerdy friend Sadaharu comes by to hang out, she asks for a goodbye kiss.

Caught between Akari and his insistent friend, Jirou kisses her without thinking … on the lips. It’s his kiss, but little does he know it’s also hers. The next day, Jirou wakes up on the couch, having apparently spent the night there (a little odd, considering I doubt he and Sadaharu got blackout drunk), and Akari urging him to get up and pull his weight.

A week passes, and Jirou and Akari make no progress. Shiroi and Minami, on the other hand, look like two peas in a pod, further frustrating and depressing Jirou. Their teacher asks him and Akari to come to the faculty office after school for a check-up. When Jirou tells Akari, she’s already off to karaoke with Minami, and tells him to do it solo.

He calls this his “worst day ever”, but Sadaharu says he’s got “a flower in each hand”—Shiroi the lily, Akari the rose. With no umbrella, he waits for the rain to subside, and then chance smile upon him when Shiori appears, having also forgotten hers.

As they talk, Shiori suddenly clutches him, because she thought she saw a bug (it was just a comical doodle of one). Turns out that’s why she clung to Minami earlier in the day—completely innocent, as expected. Shiori also objects to Jirou, her childhood friend, calling her “Sakurazaka” instead of her first name, which makes her feel lonely.

Jirou is taken aback by this, wondering if Shiori has the same feelings for him after all, but before he can say “Shiori” properly, Minami appears with her umbrella, and the two take off.

On the other side of the wall, Akari stands and waits a few beats, then approaches Jirou with an umbrella that they share on the walk home. She tells him how he struck out on trying to make something happen vis-a-vis Shiori. Indeed, by saying goodbye by calling her Sakurazaka, he actually left things worse off than they were before.

Yet again, it’s up to Akari to grab the mopey Jirou by the cheek and tell him to cheer up and focus his energy on the goal they agreed upon. It’s unfortunate Akari has to carry the mental load of her own issues while also trying to prop Jirou up. Dude needs to get his shit together because he’s quite unlikeable at the moment, whereas I like Akari a lot.

There’s another reason to like her when they come home, as she prepares perfect omurice for dinner, and even writes “love” on top in ketchup (while spouting quite a few double entendres). Jirou can’t deny it tastes amazing, and for once takes the initiative and offers to feed Akari with his spoon. After briefly hesitating, she takes the bite, leaving their faces oh-so-close together.

The moment is interrupted by a call form Sadaharu (silence your phone at dinner, dude!), for which Jirou is extremely relieved. But both their hearts are left pounding, which of course sets up the most likely endgame of shows like this with mismatched opposites gradually becoming closer and possibly eventually choosing one other over their original crushes.

The forced big brother scenario is dumb and troublesome to be sure, and Jirou needs a lot of work (obviously he’s supposed to be pathetic at this point) while, Akari has some great Kitagawa Marin vibes (albeit not nearly as honest with herself) and her and Shiori’s character designs are solid.

Aside from Akari, the main draw is the general look of the show: the scenery and colors are gorgeous and bold, making the darker rainy scenes feel that much more morose. It’s just so nice to look at, lacking the modeling or animation flaws of lesser productions.

ANN’s writers all hate this show, and I won’t argue with their reasons why. But for me, for now, the show’s pros are outweighing the cons. Sometimes you just need a bright, shiny, slightly horny show with a super-dumb premise. I had fun watching it.

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