Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 12 (Fin) – Virgin Saints to Kissing Experts

After consulting with Miyabi on kissing (who is just as much a novice as she is and thus no help), Ao realizes that in all of her scenarios in which she and Kijima do it, she overlooked the fact that a first kiss should happen first. But who should initiate? She’s confident that “Virgin Saint” Kijima won’t, so she resolves to be a saint herself and not expect anything.

That all goes out the window virtually the next time they see each other. Kijima meets Ao in an empty classroom at sunset, he calls her beautiful, she brings up kissing, and when he gives her an opening, she moves with the sudden gust of wind and takes it. Apologizing for breaking their promise, Kijima kisses her right back, twice, so that both of them have broken it and can now start fresh.

That creates a new problem, as even after her first kiss(es) with Kijima, Ao becomes fixated on his previous kisses, when she hears classmates talk about him being “good at it.” Kijima doesn’t know what they’re talking about, as Ao is not only the first girl he kissed, but he practiced with a pillow (as many do). Still, she lets out one last “I’m done!” and scurries away in outrage.

Later, when she realizes she overreacted and really just wants to see Kijima’s face, there he is, at the same bookstore she’s at, and they leave hand in hand. Kijima, after consulting his friends, decides to be as honest as he dares—admitting his first kiss was with Ao (though he doesn’t mention the pillow). They realize neither of them is a “natural” at kissing, but they liked their kiss because they like each other.

Unfortunately for Ao, the title of this show ends up being on point: due to her preoccupation with Kijima and kissing, she does horribly on her mock exams. Even so, thanks to Kijima she learned something very valuable: Never underestimate how much your ideas about love have been warped by your erotic novelist Pops!

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The Promised Neverland – 06 – The Sting of Omission

Don and Gilda are extremely lucky it’s just Lil’ Phil who comes through that door, quickly defusing the cliffhanger from last week. But Don persists in creating increasingly tense situations for himself and Gilda, and is obsessed with learning the truth the other three won’t tell them, so he steals Mama’s key.

Meanwhile Norman, Gilda, and “Two-Face” Ray agree that in order to escape and survive they’ll have to gather as much info as possible about the outside world, and how they’ll be able to live out there. Emma “introduces” the guys to a potential ally on the outside, discovered by chance by Phil—that squirt’s dropping mad dimes! 

Within many books in the library there are bookplates bearing the name “William Minerva” and various words in morse code. If they can figure out the order of those words, they may be able to glean some kind of useful information Bill is trying to secretly relay to them. It gives the kids hope there might be other humans out there, resisting the demon hegemony.

As for Don and Gilda, they explore deeper and deeper into Mama’s secret chambers, finding all of the stuffed animals and toys (including Little Bunny) that not only confirm that what Norman said about the adults being bad was true, but make them suspect something far worse is going on. Again, a little kid ends up saving them by distracting Mama, who is this close to catching them red-handed.

Norman and Ray scold Don and Gilda, but they know they haven’t gotten the whole story. Norman decides to tell them the truth, and as expected, it’s a lot to take. Don takes out his frustration by slugging both Norman and Ray—the most violent exchange we’ve yet seen between the orphans.

But Don doesn’t hate them, he hates that he was so weak and useless they felt they had to shield him from the truth. After he cools off with Gilda’s help, the other three go outside to properly apologize for lying, and asking if they’re still with them even if failure means death. Without hesitating, Don and Gilda say they are.

Emma feels like a weight has been lifted, but it’s not as if their job has gotten any easier. It only means now there’s no further tension between the five orphans “in the know.” Don and Gilda help steal certain materials that Ray mentions in his report to Mama, detailing Norman’s plot to kill her.

But Norman tells Emma he’s having Ray feed Mama false intel, no doubt so she’ll ultimately be misdirected or otherwise distracted when they make their escape. During his report, Ray also learns that when the monthly shipment occurs in January, he will be the one being shipped out. His time grows short.

Only a week remains until the agreed-upon date of the escape, but the kids get a bit too careless in their open conspiring, and Sister Krone suddenly pops out from behind a tree to announce that she knows everything about what the five of them are plotting.

However, she isn’t angry, nor does she threaten them (not that she has to); instead, she suggests they “join forces” against Mama. I don’t know about the orphans, but I wouldn’t want to legitimately ally myself with any of the adults, particularly Sister, who’s kind of nuts. Then again, if they don’t play ball with her, she could rat them out to Mama. It’s quite the predicament. Where’s William Minerva—or hell, Lil’ Phil—when you need him?

Tsurezure Children – 06

Now that just about everyone’s introduced, the show can use more of a shorthand with its established couples and expand on their personalities around one another. And while Ryouko x Akagi haven’t been my favorite, it’s only because it’s one of the innumerable different kinds of relationships—where one is always teasing the other because they love the other person—isn’t my cup of tea personally. But I am glad it’s represented here. And Ryouko is cute.

Meanwhile, Chiaki and Kana continue to have issues with intimacy, which may have been made worse by Kana’s mom walking in on them not once but twice. Chiaki tries to kiss Kana with her eyes closed through a skit, but she opens her eyes and spooks Chiaki. She later gets on board, but they still come a few millimeters short of a kiss.

But hey, at least they both know what their relationship is, even if they’re unable to easily act on it. Yamane is still convinced Kurihara is way out of his league and not actually trying to date him. When he accidentally learns he’s double-booked a movie date with her and his fellow “loser” friend, he lies, worried he’ll offend him. This is the most manic segment of the episode, and manages to pack a lot of verbal and physical humor into a couple of minutes.

Finally, perhaps the least interesting (but still common) scenario of a girl (Hosogawa) almost immediately falling for her “prince” (Kotori) but the guy turning her down, declaring himself “everyone’s prince.” So Hosogawa makes like a cat and falls out of a tree, forcing Kotori to catch her. But he’s still not going to date her…or anyone else. Do not play a drinking game in which you take a shot every time Kotori strikes a pose…you will not survive!

Tsurezure Children – 05

Ahh, conversations through texting. So fraught with danger. You’d think communication would be a cinch in these heady days of high technology! NOPE. Take Takase and Saki. They both like each other and want to confess, but Saki is too scared to do it in person, so after a string of texts goes very well, she sends that text.

Unfortunately, Takase was about to do the same thing at the same time, but bailed at the last second, instead asking if she’d meet up with him later. But he just had to include a comment about how confessing via text is shitty. And so both Saki and Takase end the evening not as a happy couple…but wishing they were dead.

MOVING ON! Kaga Yuki’s childhood friend Nanase Kaoru joins the astronomy club, and she laments how Yuki’s clearly only there because he has a crush on Sasahara. But when Sasahara steps out for a bit, Kaoru pounces.

She tries in vain to lead an entirely Yuki along to the realization that she likes him, but ultimately has to resort to kissing him, lest their be any doubt. A kiss that Sasahara walks in on, no less! Still, by episode’s end, Yuki is willing to knock on Kaoru’s door for a family errand. They’ll be fine.

LASTLY, we have Kamine Ayaka and Gouda Takeru. Ayaka is worried that since they started going out, things aren’t going so swell with Takeru, making her wonder if he’s not into it. As if to confirm her fears, Takeru is very standoffish after school and even starts talking as if he’s trying to gently but firmly dump her.

But it’s all good; it’s fine…he’s not trying to dump her, he’s saying their awkward tension is what can’t go on…not their relationship. To that end, he wonders if it’s okay if they hold hands. And Ayaka’s instincts were right on at least one front: he avoided her because he was sweaty…which makes her so happy she gloms onto him with glee. Daawww…

Kimi no Na wa. (Your Name.)

Simply diving into a review immediately after watching a film as devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally affecting as Kimi no Na wa is probably not a great idea, but this is an anime review blog, so here goes.

Kimi no Na wa isn’t just a charming body-swap rom-com, or a time-travelling odyssey, or a disaster prevention caper, or a tale of impossibly cruel temporal and physical distance between two soul mates, or a reflection on the fragility and impermanence of everything from memories to cities, or a tissue-depleting tearjerker.

It’s all of those things and more. And it’s also one of, if not the best, movies I’ve ever seen, anime or otherwise.

After a cryptic prologue, Kimi no Na wa starts out modestly: Miyamizu Mitsuha, Shinto shrine maiden and daughter of a mayor, has grown restless in her small town world, so one night, shouts out tot he night that she wants to be reborn as a boy in Tokyo.

This, mind you, happens after an odd incident in which Mitsuha essentially lost a day, during which all her family and friends say she was acting very strange and non-Mitsuha-y…like a different person.

That’s because she was. She and a boy from Tokyo, Tachibana Taki, randomly swap bodies every so often when they’re dreaming. As such, they end up in the middle of their couldn’t-be-any-different lives; the only similarity being that both of them yearn for more.

Despite just meeting these characters, watching Mitsuha and Taki stumble through each other’s lives is immensely fun. And because this is a Shinkai film, that enjoyment is augmented by the master director’s preternatural visual sumptuousness and realism. Every frame of Mitsuha’s town and the grand vastness of Tokyo is so full of detail I found myself wanting to linger in all of them.

As the body-swapping continues, the two decide to lay down “ground rules” when in one another’s bodies—albeit rules both either bend or break with impunity—and make intricate reports in one another’s phone diaries detailing their activities during the swaps.

Interestingly, Mitsuha makes more progress with Taki’s restaurant co-worker crush Okudera than Taki (she like’s Taki’s “feminine side”), while the more assertive Taki proves more popular with boys and girls when Taki’s in her body.

Taki happens to be in Mitsuha’s body when her grandmother and sister Yotsuha make the long, epic trek from their home to the resting place of the “body” of their Shinto shrine’s god, an otherworldly place in more ways than one, to make an offering of kuchikamisake (sake made from saliva-fermented rice).

While the three admire the sunset, Mitsuha’s granny takes a good look at her and asks if he, Taki, is dreaming. Just then he wakes up back in his own body to learn Mitsuha has arranged a date with him and Okudera—one she genuinely wanted to attend.

Okudera seems to notice the change in Taki from the one Mitsuha inhabited; she can tell his mind is elsewhere, and even presumes he’s come to like someone else. Taki tries to call that someone else on his phone, but he gets an automated message.

Then, just like that, the body-swapping stops.

After having cut her hair, her red ribbon gone, Mitsuha attends the Autumn Festival with her friends Sayaka and Teshi. They’re treated to a glorious display in the night sky, as the comet Tiamat makes its once-every-1,200-years visit.

Taki decides if he can’t visit Mitsuha’s world in his dreams anymore, he’ll simply have to visit Mitsuha. Only problem is, he doesn’t know exactly what village she lives in. Okudera and one of his high school friends, who are worried about him, decide to tag along on his wild goose chase.

After a day of fruitless searching, Taki’s about to throw in the towel, when one of the proprietors of a restaurant notices his detailed sketch of Mitsuha’s town, recognizing it instantly as Itomori. Itomori…a town made famous when it was utterly destroyed three years ago by a meteor created from a fragment of the comet that fell to earth.

The grim reality that Taki and Mitsuha’s worlds were not in the same timeline is a horrendous gut punch, as is the bleak scenery of the site of the former town. Every lovingly-depicted detail of the town, and all of its unique culture, were blasted into oblivion.

Taki is incredulous (and freaked out), checking his phone for Mitsuha’s reports, but they disappear one by one, like the details of a dream slipping away from one’s memory. Later, Taki checks the register of 500 people who lost their lives in the disaster, and the punches only grow deeper: among the lost are Teshi, Sayaka…and Miyamizu Mitsuha.

After the initial levity of the body-swapping, this realization was a bitter pill to swallow, but would ultimately elevate the film to something far more epic and profound, especially when Taki doesn’t give up trying to somehow go back to the past, get back into Mitsuha’s body, and prevent all those people from getting killed, including her.

The thing that reminds him is the braided cord ribbon around his wrist, given to him at some point in the past by someone he doesn’t remember. He returns to the site where the offering was made to the shrine’s god, drinks the sake made by Mitsuha, stumbles and falls on his back, and sees a depiction of a meteor shower drawn on the cave ceiling.

I haven’t provided stills of the sequence that follows, but suffice it to say it looked and felt different from anything we’d seen and heard prior in the film, and evoked emotion on the same level as the famous flashback in Pixar’s Up. If you can stay dry-eyed during this sequence, good for you; consider a career being a Vulcan.

Taki then wakes up, miraculously back in Mitsuha’s body, and sets to work. The same hustle we saw in Taki’s restaurant job is put to a far more important end: preventing a horrific disaster. The town itself may be doomed—there’s no stopping that comet—but the people don’t have to be.

Convincing anyone that “we’re all going to die unless” is a tall order, but Taki doesn’t waver, formulating a plan with Teshi and Sayaka, and even trying (in vain) to convince Mitsuha’s father, the mayor, to evacuate.

While the stakes couldn’t be higher and the potential devastation still clear in the mind, it’s good to see some fun return. Sayaka’s “we have to save the town” to the shopkeep is a keeper.

Meanwhile, Mitsuha wakes up in the cave in Taki’s body, and is horrified by the results of the meteor strike. She recalls her quick day trip to Tokyo, when she encountered Taki on a subway train, but he didn’t remember her, because it would be three more years before their first swap.

Even so, he can’t help but ask her her name, and she gives it to him, as well as something to remember her by later: her hair ribbon, which he would keep around his wrist from that point on.

Both Taki-as-Mitsuha and Mitsuha-as-Taki finally meet face-to-face, in their proper bodies, thanks to the mysterious power of kataware-doki or twilight. It’s a gloriously-staged, momentous, and hugely gratifying moment…

…But it’s all too brief. Taki is able to write on Mitsuha’s hand, but she only gets one stoke on his when twilight ends, and Taki finds himself back in his body, in his time, still staring down that awful crater where Itomori used to be. And again, like a dream, the more moments pass, the harder it gets for him to remember her.

Back on the night of the Autumn Festival, Mitsuha, back in her time and body, takes over Taki’s evacuation plan. Teshi blows up a power substation with contractor explosives and hacks the town-wide broadcast system, and Sayaka sounds the evacuation. The townsfolk are mostly confused, however, and before long Sayaka is apprehended by authorities, who tell everyone to stay where they are, and Teshi is nabbed by his dad.

With her team out of commission, it’s all up to Mitsuha, who races to her father to make a final plea. On the way, she gets tripped up and takes a nasty spill. In the same timeline, a three-years-younger Taki, her ribbon around his wrist, watches the impossibly gorgeous display in the Tokyo sky as the comet breaks up. Mitsuha looks at her hand and finds that Taki didn’t write his name: he wrote “I love you.”

The meteor falls and unleashes a vast swath of destruction across the landscape, not sparing the horrors of seeing Itomori wiped off the face of the earth—another gut punch. Game Over, too, it would seem. After spending a cold lonely night up atop the former site of the town, he returns to Tokyo and moves on with his life, gradually forgetting all about Mitsuha, but still feeling for all the world like he should be remembering something, that he should be looking for someplace or someone.

Bit by bit, those unknowns start to appear before him; a grown Sayaka and Teshi in a Starbucks; a  passing woman with a red ribbon in her hair that makes him pause, just as his walking by makes her pause. But alas, it’s another missed connection; another classic Shinkai move: they may be on the same bridge in Shinjuku, but the distance between them in time and memory remains formidable.

Mitsuha goes job-hunting, enduring one failed interview after another, getting negative feedback about his suit from everyone, including Okudera, now married and hopeful Taki will one day find happiness.

While giving his spiel about why he wants to be an architect, he waxes poetic about building landscapes that leave heartwarming memories, since you’ll never know when such a landscape will suddenly not be there.

A sequence of Winter scenes of Tokyo flash by, and in light of what happened to Itomori quite by chance, that sequence makes a powerful and solemn statement: this is Tokyo, it is massive and complex and full of structures and people and culture found nowhere else in the world, but it is not permanent.

Nothing built by men can stand against the forces of nature and the heavens. All we can do is live among, appreciate, and preseve our works while we can. We’re only human, after all.

And yet, for all that harsh celestial certainty, there is one other thing that isn’t permanent in this film: Taki and Mitsuha’s separation. Eventually, the two find each other through the windows of separate trains, and race to a spot where they experience that odd feeling of knowing each other, while also being reasonably certain they’re strangers.

Taki almost walks away, but turns back and asks if they’ve met before. Mitsuha feels the exact same way, and as tears fill their eyes, they ask for each others names. Hey, what do you know, a happy ending that feels earned! And a meteor doesn’t fall on Tokyo, which is a huge bonus.

Last August this film was released, and gradually I started to hear rumblings of its quality, and of how it could very well be Shinkai’s Magnum Opus. I went in expecting a lot, and was not disappointed; if anything, I was bowled over by just how good this was.

Many millions of words have been written about Kimi no Na wa long before I finally gave it a watch, but I nevertheless submit this modest, ill-organized collection words and thoughts as a humble tribute to the greatness I’ve just witnessed. I’ll be seeing it again soon.

And if for some reason you haven’t seen it yourself…what are you doing reading this drivel? Find it and watch it at your nearest convenience. You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll pump your fist in elation.

Saekano 2 – 11 (Fin)

Megumi and Tomoya go on a date, not just because it seems like the thing to do after the rest of the harem has cleared out, but to cheer one another up. It’s clear it’s not a one-sided case of Megumi cheering Tomoya up from the look of a soundless flashback in which she reacts dramatically to Eriri’s news she’s moving on from the group.

Megumi also seems to take great joy in shopping for clothes and shoes with Tomoya around. Even if he has no fashion sense or money to speak of, his company is appreciated and their instincts—like the one to hold hands in the crowded section—are often in sync.

By the end of the trip, Tomoya is feeling much better, as is Megumi, and the former makes sure they stop by a hat store so he can get her the same white hat she was wearing when he first envisioned her as his main heroine, as thanks both for her company and for getting him glasses last time.

Megumi is touched by the gesture, and when they return to that fateful hill, she tells Tomoya “she’s not giving up”. It strikes me as having dual meaning, as she intends to move forward with the doujin group even without Eriri and Utaha…and intends to make Tomoya fall completely for her.

Tomoya agrees they should move forward, but when his laughter turns to tears of loss, she reaches out to embrace him, only to then pulls back.

Now sufficiently cheered up, cried out, and ready to move forward, Tomoya takes it upon himself to see Eriri and Utaha off, surprising them both on the platform of their train to Osaka. Their looks say it all; Eriri in particular can’t believe he’ll forgive them.

But it’s not about forgiveness at all for Tomoya; it’s about wishing his two dear and wonderfully talented friends good luck on their exciting new venture. And I don’t think he’s putting on airs—one doesn’t turn down something like Fields Chronicle, and he thinks their “god-tier” talent can make it the best ever.

This sendoff, complete with a Megumi phone call with the same positive, concilatory intent, is enough to bring Eriri, Tomoya, and even Utaha to tears. It’s a bittersweet moment, one perhaps made a bit more silly when after Eriri removes Tomoya’s glasses, intending to keep them, then leans in to kiss, it’s Utaha who steals a big, long smooth with Tomoya, and Eriri is forced to whip out her twintails for the first time in a long while. They also miss their train in the excitement.

But no matter; they’re on their way. Post-credits, Tomoya and Megumi are both on first name terms, now seniors in school, chattering away with their usual excellent chemistry and bonhomie. Then, to their surprise, Hashima Izumi appears, a recent transfer, and Tomoya understands Iori’s words about sending his sister to a place where her talents can be put to best use.

Will Izumi be the artist for Tomoya and Megumi’s game? Perhaps, but it’s a certainty that Michiru will score the music once again. Hey, remember Michiru? The show makes sure to let us know it’s in on the joke regarding her absence for the back half of the season (which, frankly, was fine).

But notably, Michiru is conversing with Eriri and Utaha, who are watching Tomoya from afar. Eriri is still enrolled in the school, but the graduated Utaha is there because “it’s a free country.” The more things change, the more they stay the same!

Saekano 2 – 10

It’s very rare indeed for an episode to come around that gives you everything you wanted; everything you held out hope would come to pass but didn’t dare expect. And yet, well, here we are.

The completion of Cherry Blessing was an arc closure at an odd time in the run of a season, but the groundwork that was laid thereafter pays off wonderfully here, as Kashiwagi Eri decides to Take Her Talents to Rouge Beach, thus enabling Kasumi Utako to come along for the ride.

We start in the aftermath of that hellish meeting with Akane, still shaken from the abuse they were forced to endure. Utaha is no less honest and upfront as Akane was: she’s steaming mad that she’s being treated as an afterthought; a James Jones, if you will.

But as much as she hates Akane for doing so, she still agrees with the producer that Eriri is many years too early and too green to presume she’s “in a slump.” If Eriri agrees to do Fields Chronicle, Utaha will strive to crush her, even as they collaborate.

Of course she does. Competition, even outside one’s own field, drives a creative like Utaha. She wouldn’t be who she is if she didn’t treat Eriri as a rival; and when such a massive job comes around such as this, her’s is the name she’ll want spoken first in praise of the game.

Eriri laments that Utaha is dumping such a huge decision on her alone, but Utaha points out she’s not the one doing the dumping; that’s Akane. Utaha never had a choice. But if Eriri says yes, she’ll work with her, and not just because she’ll be able to as part of the deal with Akane, but because she believes the two of them can move forward together.

Not long thereafter, Eriri calls Utaha out of the blue, inviting her to join her back at school, where Eriri announces she’s defeated her slump and has her drawing touch back.

She forgot to bring the sketches to prove it to a giddy, over-the-moon Utaha (who curses Eriri for being so damn useless), but Eriri doesn’t need them, and instead proves it by sketching then coloring a gorgeous portrait right before a stunned Utaha.

She is indeed back, and Eriri responds to Utaha’s approval with smiles and laughter, but those turn to bitter tears when Eriri thinks of the reason she can draw again. As much as she wanted it to be because Tomoya wanted her and because of his support and love, she can draw again because of the less-than two minutes Akane spent insulting her.

Akane’s tirade did what it was meant to do, whether Akane meant to do it or not: Rattle Eriri’s cage; rattle it until the latch slips loose and Kashiwagi Eri can be fully released from behind the iron bars of Tomoya’s safe, comfortable doujin group.

That place is no longer conducive to the creative growth required for Eriri to be as amazing as she can be—and as Tomoya said she could be. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but Eriri does so, and Utaha offers a comforting hug in the process. You heard right: Eriri and Utaha hug. 

In return for her empathy, Eriri warns Utaha not to let Akane look down on her. Utaha had seemed thus far to be taking Akane’s words as gospel because she’s so experienced and successful, but Eriri, staunch Kasumi Utako fan, offers a different view: Akane “isn’t anything special” if she would so blithely underestimate Utaha’s talent.

That, in turn, elicits tears from Utaha, but she wipes them before bumping fists with Eriri, the first step on their new and exciting journey that is almost asssured to make them a part of video game history.

That leaves Tomoya Aki, whom I half-expected to blow his top and throw some kind of temper tantrum at the news that not only would Utaha be backing out of his group, but Eriri would too, thus “betraying” him for the second time in their long years together.

But I found that such a half-prediction was selling Tomoya short. He’s certainly not elated by the (off-camera) defections, but he’s a big boy, and he’ll get over it. I was pleased with how mature he acted, while Hashima Iori, who left rouge en rouge with Izumi for, presumably, the same reason Eriri and Utaha left Blessing (to grow), urges Tomoya not to quit game developing and creating just because he lost his two “golden geese.”

And I totally get why: Eriri and Utaha were just as much training wheels as geese; he’ll now have to test his producer mettle other people; creatives who may not be as hugely talented, and people who won’t be lured into working for him by the feelings they harbor for him!

But there’s another reason Tomoya will be just fine: his harem has been shattered, and with it all the myriad routes he could have chosen to take. Now there is one route, and it leads him up the same sakura-scattered hill, where a familiar figure seems to be waiting for him…

That figure is, naturally, Kato Megumi, the girl who is best suited for Tomoya, and always was; a girl he won’t be stifling creatively, because they work so well together. She’s returned to the short hair that first inspired Tomoya into making a video game about a nice, astonishingly ordinary, “boring” girl.

Tomoya, in turn, drew Eriri and Utaha into his orbit. Normal as she may sound and appear, without Megumi there’s no Blessing Software, no Cherry Blessing, and no Fields Chronicle offer. She was their heroine, the heroine, and now he’s his. And like any good heroine, she makes the first move, suggesting they go out on a date at once.

Sounds good to me! Well done, show: Satisfying resolutions, character growth, and so many feels.

Saekano 2 – 09

After the high spirits attained by watching Tomoya and Megumi finally reconcile last week, the angst and despair prevalent in this latest installment of Saekano presents a stark contrast. It’s a place we know the show is as comfortable with as the goofier comedy, and it’s fairly apparent by the end of the episode that whatever happens, things won’t be the same…or at least they shouldn’t easily revert back there.

After meeting Utaha after her graduation and presenting his proposal, which she reads and gives high marks, Tomoya asks if she’ll be on board for the new game, and Utaha says she can’t. She can’t for precisely the concessions Tomoya offers to persuade her to do it: he will only ask her for as much as she can handle when she has the time.

Essentially, Utaha cannot work for a producer who won’t push her to make sacrifices and challenge herself. Because of Tomoya at its head, Blessing Software is no longer a place where Utaha can feel she’s being the best creative she can be. That realization was probably reached on her own in some form, but it was certainly helped by the meeting she had one month ago.

In that meeting, the famous, ultra-successful and popular Kousaka Akane offers Utaha the task of writing the story for the newest in a celebrated, 20-year-old line of RPGs, Fields Chronicle. Not only that, Kousaka offered Eriri the job as character designer. In fact, she wanted Eriri more than Utaha. And Tomoya is just now hearing about this.

As Tomoya stews in despair and wonders if this is all really happening, we rewind one month. Utaha talks with Eriri about her slump, and about the same issues with Tomoya she brings up with him a month later.

Ever since her art from the winter villa, she hasn’t been able to draw anything as good, but takes comfort in knowing Tomoya will give her all the time she needs, and forgive and stick with her if she never draws anything again.

Utaha can relate – she once “lost herself to a guy” and it negatively affected her ability to be the best creative she could be, but Eriri won’t admit that’s what’s going on, even as she states Tomoya will never be the asshole producer-type he actually needs to be to get the most out of his creatives.

Then Utaha’s editor tells her about the meeting Kousaka wants with her, and Eriri comes along, not because she’ll be willing to hear anything Kousaka wants to say, but to try to stop Utaha from being drawn into Kousaka’s web and agreeing to the RPG project.

But while Eriri ostensibly came to provide a stronger front against the older, more experienced, and more successful (and therefore seductive) Kousaka, neither she nor Utaha come out of the meeting unscathed.

Kousaka may be drunk when they arrive, but she’s perfectly lucid in her no-nonsense approach. She’s makes it clear it’s Kashiwagi Eri she wants more than anything, and if Kasumi Utako can’t bring her on board, she isn’t needed. Eriri tells Kousaka it’s too big a job and she’s in a bad slump, but Kousaka laughs in her face and calls her trash.

While one could easily dismiss Kousaka as a horrible person, there’s no doubting her passion for her work and the work she spearheads, and it’s clear this is a knock-down, drag-out cage-rattling. Eriri’s piddling excuses are of no consequence to her; no doubt she had the same excuses before she came into her own as an artist.

It’s also a big deal that after watching Eriri and Utaha go at each other as near-equals for nearly two seasons, the proven pro Kousaka considers Eriri the superior talent, the end. That’s gotta sting for Utaha, who hasn’t always felt superior but has rarely hesitated to push all of Eriri’s inferiority buttons in their interactions.

So I don’t think she’s wrong in trying to get both Eriri and Utaha to give up on silly little small-potatoes doujin work and really push themselves. That being said, it wasn’t fun watching the two get put through the ringer like that.

As for Tomoya? I can’t say I feel bad for the guy. For one thing, it was presumptuous enough to ask a writer and artist of Utaha and Eriri’s caliber to help him make one game. For another, he doesn’t have the proper producer mentality (in part because they’re all friends) to properly push them.

Even if the final two episodes deal with Tomoya getting them back, I’m not sure it will feel like a victory to me. A second game might be an accomplishment for Tomoya and Megumi, but it would be stagnation for the creatives. They’ve already proven themselves. Time to move on to bigger things…provided that’s what they really want, of course.

Orange – 04

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I’ve mentioned how cold and bleak and dreary things look in Naho’s “bad future.” With Kakeru dating Ueda, it’s like that coldness has seeped into present-day Naho’s world. Heck, the first image in the present is of a futuristic—and somewhat frightening—looking interior of an automatic ice cream cone-serving machine.

In it, two cones are stuck in their stands, so close together and yet inexorably separate, being pushed and pulled by outside forces ever further away. One is filled with pink ice cream – which I saw as a symbol of the aggressive redhead Ueda’s new regime in Kakeru’s life.

The workings of the ice cream machine seem unchangeable, but that’s just an illusion brought on by its cold, intimidating, mechanical nature. In order to prevent the same thing happening this time, the machine has to be unplugged and reprogrammed. And Naho is the only technician who can do it.

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Kakeru is most definitely dating Ueda-senpai. He is also most definitely miserable, because of the note he got from Naho a hair too late. Now he’s trapped, and Ueda will not leave him alone. She’s hot, but she’s also clingy, monopolizing, and singleminded. She’s also not a fool, so she sees the glances between Naho and Kakeru, and doesn’t like them one bit.

There’s already tension—like Weyoun and Dukat when DS9 was occupied—that Naho could capitalize on if only she had the nerve to. Alas, she still doesn’t. Letters that tell her she can’t keep ignoring Kakeru, even when he calls you to her and Ueda is nearby (as she always is) seem all well and good to Naho, but her future self is looking back; she’s not in the moment, trying the best she can but coming up a few seconds or a few inches too short.

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What present Naho doesn’t realize is that those seconds and inches become the years and miles that end up dooming Kakeru. Ueda will be the death of him if Naho doesn’t stop running away.

When Kakeru says “bye” to Naho, and Naho calls out his name, Ueda hears it all and takes her revenge by knocking Naho over on her way to her boyfriend. But it backfires: Kakeru doesn’t take the side of his current girlfriend—who just demonstrated that one should never pick someone based on looks alone—but Naho’s side, angering Ueda, who storms off in a snit. Smell ya later, missy.

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Back to the subject of color temperature: what had been a cold and bleak episode got much warmer and more comfortable, starting with the Ueda fight and continuing throughout the remainder of the episode, as things start to turn around for Naho, her colors of green and yellow (or, ya know, orange) start to replace the blues and reds.

Naho alone may not have the strength to do what her future self asks of her, but her friends lend her some of theirs, including Suwa, who is putting Naho’s happiness ahead of his own feelings. He, Azusa and Takako have plainly seen what Ueda (whom they loathe) has done to their Naho and Kakeru. They want Naho to know it’s okay to talk to Kakeru; after all, he wants to talk to her too.

Interestingly, Suwa’s mini-intervention wasn’t in future Naho’s letter; Naho takes it as a sign that the positive change she’s affected so far has already started to change the timeline. She can’t very well stop now.

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She doesn’t, and we finally get to end an episode NOT in the depths of despair. Yay! Naho speaks up, from across the street (then crosses after looking both ways. Good Naho!), and she and Kakeru reopen a very enlightening dialogue.

Kakeru is thinking about dumping Ueda, and not just because of the little public fight they had. Naho’s “no”, which she assumed he’d forgotten or ignored, has weighed heavily on him ever since he said yes to Ueda. It’s never felt right as a result, because he only chose Ueda because, at the time, he didn’t know Naho’s position, and Naho’s position is far more important to him than arm candy.

What Kakeru won’t reveal to Naho is the person he likes more than Ueda, even though it would be clear to anyone who wasn’t Naho that he’s talking about her, and like her is too afraid to just come out and say it. But never mind; just the fact he’s considering dumping Ueda makes this a small but crucial victory for Naho.

She realized that her future self doesn’t  have it easy. She’s dealt with ten years of regret of not doing what she’s telling her to do; Naho’s only dealt with a few weeks. And while future Naho can do nothing about any of it because Kakeru is gone, Naho doesn’t have that problem. Kakeru is right there. She has to keep her chin up, and think warm thoughts.

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Orange – 03

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Mother of God…this show. The emotional hold it has over me was maintained this week; in fact, it only tightened and intensified its formidable grip on my heart. I have to tip my cap to any show that is able to make such an relatively small, personal drama and tragedy feel like a world-reaching epic.

Naho seemed so confident and resolved to change the future, and so convince it was happening, and so happy that her efforts were bearing results.

And then Ueda-senpai happened. I know, right? A “prettier” love interest moving in on the heroine’s man…Naho will surely prevail, because it’s true love between her and Kakeru, right?

This shouldn’t be such a big deal, and yet it is. It’s a huge deal, because Kakeru has no future if he dates Ueda. The two things are firmly intertwined.

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This isn’t just about Naho getting the guy. It’s about saving him from oblivion.

Sure, I care far more for Naho’s happiness than anyone else’s (which is as it should be), but the specter of that increasingly bleak, almost nightmarish future considerably raises the stakes for Naho to win the Kakeru Sweepstakes.

Naho’s fatal flaw now—and in her future self’s original past—was that she cares for others before herself. She questions whether it’s right to trample on Ueda’s feelings to satisfy her own desire. She hesitates, and before she knows it, what had been an iron resolve to save him last week starts to rust and bend.

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What’s so impressive is just how goshdarned fast just a little bit of hesitation can get Naho into such serious trouble. Kakeru asked her flat out if she likes anyone; she couldn’t answer. He asks her “what she wants” before going to get drinks; all she can say is “orange juice.” In both cases, Kakeru is, consciously or not, reaching out to Naho, and it’s either not the appropriate time, or she just can’t muster the words she needs to.

So she ends up behind the curve, and Ueda steals a march on her with the tools Naho desperately needs to develop in a hurry: Directness. Persistence. Initiative Guts. She gets his hidden eraser note too late. She writes her reply to the question of whether it’s okay if he dates Ueda (Hell No) and sticks it in his shoe locker, instead of running to Kakeru herself and yelling “NO!” at the top of her lungs in front of him and Ueda.

Instead, Ueda corners Kakeru, and both overwhelmed by Ueda and absent a clear answer from Naho, Kakeru says yes, he’ll date Ueda, and go out during the break. I was so devastated by this development, even though it was sure to come along, I had to pause the TV and pour a glass of water to calm myself. It wrecked me.

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The only, and I mean only faint glimmer of hope comes when Kakeru finds her “No.” But I imagine he’s too nice a guy to dump someone so enthusiastic about dating him so soon after saying yes, so it could well be that Naho’s response was too little, a hair too late.

As expected, Naho is so crestfallen by the events of the day, she can’t eat, let alone pretend to hide her feelings to her mom. She goes up to the bed, pulls out the juice box Kakeru bought her before everything turned to shit, and drinks it as tears fall from her eyes. Sweet, sour, sorrowful…and utterly devoid of solace (Sorry, Suwa…)

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There are a couple of “post-apocalyptic” shows out this Summer, but none of their dystopias have been as and desolate and dismal as Naho’s future in Orange. It’s still, cold, desaturated, and the trees are leafless. Kakeru’s friends find that his note isn’t to himself, but to all of them.

He didn’t write to himself because he knew he didn’t have a future, which obviously insinuates he may have taken similar steps as his mother rather than suffer an accident. At the same time, no one’s dreams for the future came true, even his wish that they were all still close.

Tears well up in everyone. They shed those tears not just for Kakeru, but a bit for themselves, past and present: This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.

Despite all that went awry for Naho and how steep a hill she must climb, I have to believe things can be made right; that a more hopeful future can be made. I may well end up even more disappointed and disheartened than I am now, but so be it.

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Orange – 02

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I never like awarding 10s and RWHL certifications willy-nilly, but I was compelled to give this episode the score it deserved, which was, to me, the highest score possible. This episode was an emotional roller coaster that sucked me in and wouldn’t let go. It contained no less than All The Feels. And it made missing the next episode, or indeed the rest of the run of the show, seem like as big a mistake as Naho not listening to her future letters.

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Naho is a good girl. She has a gentle, generous heart, but she also lacks confidence, and sometimes isn’t able to say or do what she wants. The letters she’s getting say in no uncertain terms that if the behaviors that come naturally to her in the present persist unchanged, Kakeru will be out of her life in ten years. Naho is currently falling in love with Kakeru, so she really doesn’t want that to happen.

So when the letter tells her to make Kakeru a lunch, she plans to do so. She doesn’t tell him when it seems like the best time to do so, hesitating until the latest possible moment in the day, and only after her friends tell Kakeru she makes her own lunches and Kakeru “jokes” about wanting her to make one.

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Saying it was just a joke, and worrying about “bothering” Kakeru by foisting her unworthy slop upon him (well, she’s not that harsh on herself), vex Naho terribly. Interestingly, her thought process mimics her mom’s.

Initially, she casts my heart into the cellar by deciding against making a lunch for him. But thankfully she reconsiders, and gets “fired up” making the best damn lunch Kakeru will ever have tasted.

For a second, I thought she was making lunches for everyone to provide cover and hold back rumors of favoratism. Of course, to all her friends, including Suwa, who likes her, they already know the score with her and Naho.

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But making the lunch is only half the battle for Naho. She must inform Kakeru she’s done so, and deliver the meal to him at the proper time. The time between when she nervously greets him to the lunch bell is tortuously long, as demonstrated by the montage of various teachers giving lectures intercut with quick shots of Naho and the bag containing the lunch.

But when that lunch bell rings…she CHOKES! My heart, having just started back up the stairs, ends up in the sub-basement. I was literally banging my fist on the coffee table, furious by her self-defeating inaction. But then, she waits after school for Kakeru to be done soccer practice with Suwa. And again, Kakeru gives Naho the fresh opening she needs, offering to walk home with her—and only her.

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Naho engages in idle conversation meant to learn more about Naho in basic terms: where she lives; what she does when she gets home, her hobbies. Naho’s truthful answers are nothing flashy, but Kakeru still seems to enjoy them.

Then Naho starts to ask him questions, but gets more specific…like where he was and what he was doing those two weeks he was absent. Because Kakeru has feelings for Naho, he wants her to know, but also clearly exhibits some courage of his own by coming out and saying it:

The very day of their opening ceremony—the day the future letter warned Naho not to invite Kakeru to hang out with them—his mother committed suicide. With that, my heart busted through the floor of the sub-basement and into a subterranean aquifer.

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At this point, even though they were sitting down and Kakeru clearly expressed his hunger, Naho had not yet revealed she had made a lunch for him. But by hearing Kakeru tell her something so intimate and sad, and realizing what not listening to the letters did, Naho finally summons the courage she needs to present the lunch to him.

He accepts it with elation, having hoped she’d followed through on fulfilling his desire, even though he called it a joke at the time. My heart starts another long descent as she finds her footing, promising she’ll make him lunch every day from now on, and give him wake-up calls if he needs them, or any of the other things a parent does until you find someone you love who does them instead.

Returning to her letters, details emerge: Kakeru dies in an accident in the Winter of his seventeenth year, and she and the others always regretted not saving him when, as her future self sees it, they could have. Well, that’s that; Naho WILL save him, no matter what.

GO NAHO. (Sorry, Suwa.)

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 10

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Haru’s party takes to the mines, and their skills and teamwork shine in their efficient dispatching of the first level’s lesser kobolds, which aren’t really much tougher than gobs. Sure, Ranta spends a bit too long fighting one-on-one without asking for help, which irks Haru, but so far so good!

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Actually, as they trek deeper into the mines, Ranta goes off about how he’s a badass dark knight who doesn’t subscribe to ideals or morals they way everyone else does, because at the end of the day no one can escape death’s cold embrace, or something. Like most Rantaness, it’s irritating, butnot harmful to the party.

Still, Haru simply doesn’t like it. The lack of respect for the dead kobolds, all the talk about being amoral and beholden to no one, saying it’s lame when they back out of the mine after a good day’s hunting. Ranta is a skilled warrior, Haru can’t deny; but he remains as bad a team member as ever.

It doesn’t help Ranta that everyone else is “on board” the way Haru is; considering the party to be more than just a collection of soldiers doing their jobs, but a family of people who care about each other. Ranta doesn’t seem to care, or at least is always talking about how he doesn’t.

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As leader, Haru knows he has to at least try to address this, as much for himself as anything. He thinks Manato would have similarly tried to do something as the leader, though he doesn’t know what. In fact, he remembers Manato didn’t seem to like Ranta much either.

In his one-on-one talk with Ranta that night, he learns Ranta went to the trouble to take a kobold on alone because he’s preparing for the very real possibility he’ll have to, say if the rest of the party is injured or busy with other foes. It’s a smart move, but he did it without saying anything. “Doing things his way” means not communicating, just acting.

Haru wants to communicate, but isn’t able to get remotely all of what he wants to say out, so it’s almost irrelevant. Ranta also says the “I’m not here to make friends” speech to Haru, which has got to hurt because Haru has been operating under the assumption that they are all friends.

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Not to mention just because Ranta says he doesn’t want to be “pretend friends” with the party, doesn’t mean that he isn’t friends. After all, they consider him more than just a party comrade, and Ranta is well-known for saying overly-harsh things he may not mean.

I liked the contrast between Ranta stalking off and Haru waking up under a blanket provided by Yume, who then practice knife-throwing. His exchange with Yume—and their exchange with Moguzo—is the day to Ranta’s night. But maybe, Haru thinks, there’s simply no way around that.

The clash with Ranta is nothing particularly new, but it’s at least not the whole story: there’s also the fact that Mary is doing pretty well in the mines despite her past trauma there, and Haru is thankful that everyone (save Ranta) has learned valuable new skills in order to help each other out.

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Before long, they’re able to reach the lower levels of the mines, where they’re surprised to find subterranean crops and livestock. Here, Haru executes his plan going forward with Ranta in miniature: when Ranta points his sword at a rat mole-like animal, Haru backs off, accepting Ranta’s line of thinking, and moves on.

Confronting him on every little thing or trying to bend him to his way of thinking is a waste of time, effort, and focus. Better to let him be who he is. Haru has to realize he’s not a bad leader just because one of this comrades isn’t the best fit.

Of course, Ranta’s carelessness with his surroundings end up sounding the alarm for the kobolds, and the same giant kobold that Mary’s team failed to defeat makes its appearance.

As Mary goes through any number of emotions—shock, fear, guilt, regret, panic—I was hoping Haru’s hand would come down on her shoulder to calm her. It doesn’t, but that doesn’t mean Mary’s alone in this.

Considering they haven’t gone over how to tackle a beast like that yet, I’d think retreat would be the best option, though that might not be possible now. But if the party sticks together, and Mary watches her magic level, things can and will be different.

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Hai to Gensou no Grimgar – 09

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This week wasn’t under any illusions about what it was: a day off, slowing the life of Haruhiro and his party to a crawl as they all take to the day in different ways. Ranta is off early to fish; Moguzo makes breakfast like he always does, and plans to see to his armor and sword maintenance; Shihoru feeds the birds (like Manato used to do); Yume sleeps in.

Haru is a little restless. After all that fighting and action and the routine they had established, he’s not sure what to do with this sudden glut of free time. So he visits Mary, who he finds resplendent on the balcony of the women’s lodgings, where men are okay to be.

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Mary recommends if the party members move out of the ratty default volunteer lodgings, the girls should come live with her. It’s hard to argue; it’s a sweet place. But she still thinks fondly of the old lodgings as the place where she started out with her previous party.

While waiting for a bite in the river, Ranta spots a figure on the cliff face: Yume is mountain climbing. Is this a skill she picked up as part of her hunting job, or is this a relfection of a hobby she had in her previous life? Regardless, Ranta looks spellbound, and along with Haru’s newfound comfiness with Mary is more evidence of how the couples would pair off.

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After wordlessly admiring the sun setting into the sea, Mary and Haru join the rest of the party at Sherry’s Tavern to plan their next move. Demuro is out for various reasons, and Haru is worried too much of the same thing could breed boredom and carelessness.

He’s thinking like a volunteer soldier: don’t get too comfortable, don’t get soft; find new challenges and become stronger. However, the place that comes to mind as a suitable new hunting grounds is the Cyrene Mine, and the mere mention of the place gets Mary upset to the point she has to leave.

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Whereas many times before he would have let her go, Haru is now in the habit of following Mary, not letting her think she’s alone in anything. When he comes, she’s clearly glad, but worries she’s become a burden to the party. Like Haru with the place where Manato was killed, a part of Mary wants to forget the mines ever existed.

But she also wants to move forward and face the mines, for herself and for the party. She just doesn’t think she can do it alone. If she had help from others, she might be able to do it. And she wants it to be him and the others. When she says she’s just causing trouble, Haru actually starts tearing up, though not, he thinks, because he’s sad.

Rather, he’s happy Mary wants the same thing he does, and she’s only mistaken if she thinks it’s not possible. When he brushes the tears away and says he feels stupid, Mary tells him he’s “fine just like that,” and thanks him for his support. Sorry shippers, no hug or kiss.

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The bulk of Haru’s physical contact this week, rather, comes from his master, Barbara, who beats the hell out of him in order to teach him her Spider technique. In the process of all the wrestling (and while sitting on him even as he takes a breather), Barb tells him to make one of the girls in his party his, preferably all of them.

Haru changes the subject to his ability to see enemies’ weak spots, and perhaps out of frustration from his inability to candidly talk about love, she goes at him even harder. Presumably some time passes and he masters the Spider skill, because the next we see the whole party in the mountains, poised to enter the Cyrene Mine.

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