Just Because! – 06

Morikawa’s Sunday request to Souma for a chat goes unanswered into Wednesday. Why? Souma is weary of breaking the “stalemate,” unaware of what someone who outright rejected him could possibly want to talk about.

While that’s festering, Komiya continues her campaign to become Izumi’s friend, believing it will net her the benefit of him giving permission to use the photo. Rather than absense, she’s hoping her constant presence will make his heart grow stronger.

They have lunch in the depressing office where Izumi studies alone, and Souma catches him being fed by Komiya. “It’s not what it looks like!” Izumi protests. Maybe not, but things seem to be moving in that direction!

Souma and Izumi have a talk about Morikawa’s text, and Izumi suggests they settle it with baseball…again. If he hits a homer off Izumi, Souma must respond. If Izumi strikes him out, he’ll “be clear” with someone whose name he’d rather not say (though I’m assuming it’s Natsume; isn’t that why he’s studying; to get into a college near hers?)

Once more, Souma and Izumi’s two-man, one-out game becomes the focal point on which all others are focused, from Komiya (literally focused with her camera) and Natsume (who can tell Izumi’s doing his best) to Morikawa, who almost, almost breaks out her trumpet, remembering Souma liking it, even though she thinks she sucks.

The next day, Komiya gets some reasonable advice to back off from Izumi since getting closer isn’t working, but it becomes immediately clear Komiya isn’t capable of backing off in a realistic manner, and even if she did, it would have no effect on Izumi.

Natsume, inspired by both Izumi and Souma, gives Souma an eraser as thanks for him lending her one years ago. Souma is understandably confused, and unfortunately Natsume leaves it there without any further information, forcing Souma to, as Izumi says “figure it out for himself.”

Later, one of Natsume’s friends (one of three all rooting for her and Souma) asks straight-up if Natsume even likes Souma. Natsume doesn’t know anymore. She’s torn between the elation of that eraser lend in the past, and the presence of Morikawa in the present, and of course, the tests that will determine her future.

Souma, meanwhile, finally gets back to Morikawa, only for her to procrastinate over responding to him. These damn kids, I tellya! Fortunately, Inui kinda forces the issue by telling Souma where to find Morikawa, who is practicing trumpet by the river. She plays for him, and it only makes him repeat how much he likes her. Her playing! But her too.

Then Souma gets a victory (well, he’d call it that) he never saw coming: Morikawa wants more time to give him a final answer; he’s not rejected. His raw elation upon hearing this was palpable. They come to a detente; planning a celebration when Natsume’s tests are done. But they dare not hang out one-on-one…why, I don’t know.

Meanwhile, Izumi is jogging when he comes upon Komiya, who has been busted by the cops for taking photos of someone without permission. The sequence is chopped up a bit, but it’s apparent he came to her aid, and he offered to ride her home on her moped.

Natsume just happens to spot the two, looking every bit like a couple to the untrained eye, before they motor off. Could Izumi actually be warming to the more accessible girl? Or is he just being the good friend Komiya wanted him to be? Whatever the case, it’s pretty likely Natsume will see what anyone else would see: Izumi and Komiya looking very close.

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Net-juu no Susume – 05

Last week, Sakurai seemed to have all but figured out that Hayashi is Morioka, and comes so tantalizingly close to asking her about it…only to back away at the last second. AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!

Ah well, I guess it is bad online manners to guess someone’s identity out of the blue, and who knows how she’d react if he guessed correctly. But while he harbors serious doubts that such a series of coincidences could occur, his suspicions about Hayashi being Morioka IRL still remain (Also, the show apparently wasn’t quite ready to open up that can of worms).

Also, what’s this? Koiwai casually telling Sakurai he can come along? Saying the whole reason he arranged this was for his sake? This is the friend I knew Koiwai was; trying to jump-start a relationship that is stuck in, well, MMO-land (little does he know).

Morioka, meanwhile, tries to relax about the whole prospect of drinks with a guy, realizing it’s no big deal…but when she starts listing in her head all of the things she needs to do regarding her makeup, hair, and attire, she quickly becomes overwhelmed.

She’s snapped out of this state by the friendly clerk Fujimoto, who formally introduces himself. When he learns she and Morioka are on the same server, he comes right out and tells her his name…Kanbe. A guy finally does learn who “Hayashi” is…just not the right guy.

That being said, neither Kanbe nor Lilac (who doesn’t know, but partakes in a rhetorical discussion on the matter) would judge any friend for switching their gender online. Heck, Lilac’s friend at university plays a guy. Morioka is sorry to Kanbe for lying, but Kanbe tells her it’s up to her whether to tell anyone else, including Lily.

When Hayashi mentions he’s going out for drinks tomorrow, Sakurai starts to think maybe he isn’t Morioka, since she and Koiwai aren’t going for drinks until the day after tomorrow. When Hayashi asks Lily what to wear, he gives the best answer he can, only to be pressed further by Kanbe, backing Morioka up.

Kanbe and Lily get into a pretty heated argument about what length of hair is best, and Morioka settles on a medium length. The haircut, along with a new outfit matching Lily’s advice, runs Morioka a pretty penny, and she can’t help but itemize it in terms of loot boxes. She also realizes how rusty she’s become at things like applying mascara.

However, she gets herself made up, dressed, and together, and heads to the agreed-upon meeting place…on the wrong day. Koiwai is away on business until tomorrow, and Sakurai is worried. He’s worried Morioka got the day wrong, wait there, get shown up, and take it the wrong way.

So in the middle of a quest with the other members of the guild, Lily suddenly logs out, and Sakurai heads to the site of the date. I dreaded the fact he might not recognize her after her makeover, but thankfully he does notice her walking away looking sad, and calls out.

Now, this encounter doesn’t immediately, definitively prove to Sakurai that Morioka is Hayashi, nor to Morioka that Sakurai is Lily. But it comes pretty damn close! The question is, did Morioka really get the day mixed up, or did Koiwai arrange it so that only the two of them would meet?

If that’s the case, good-intentioned or not, and even if Sakurai’s a better fit for her, Koiwai will owe Morioka an apology and explanation for his machinations. After all, she expected, and waited an hour, for him, not Sakurai.

Just Because! – 05

It’s a new year and a new semester; the last for all of our main characters (save Komiya). So why is everyone so bent out of shape (save Komiya)? Well, the events of last weeK—Natsume and Izumi having a fight and leaving on bad terms, and Morikawa shooting Souma down—had lasting repercussions.

Neither Izumi nor Souma want to go to school, and who can blame them? But now that Izumi and Natsume had time to cool down, both realize the error of their ways and wish to apologize to one another, because they really do care about each other. If anything, the fight demonstrated to both of them that they cared more than they knew.

Unfortunately, the reconciliation isn’t prompt; Natsume finally finds Izumi (who studies by himself in his own room…?), but Komiya is already there, monopolizing him, so Natsume bails with Morikawa and Noriko, and she ends up telling them what transpired with Izumi, and how she wants to fix it.

Morikawa also wants to fix things with Souma. Even if her rejection would ultimately stand (nothing’s 100% certain), in hindsight she believes she brought the hammer down too hard; it was her first confession, and one could say she panicked. It’s not that she dislikes Souma, she just doesn’t think she knows him well enough to start dating.

Natsume, putting Morikawa’s feelings ahead of her own in this matter, encourages her to talk it out with Souma; he’ll probably be happy for increased dialogue, and come to understand Morikawa’s position as more nuanced than “you’re trash.”

It’s not just Morikawa’s rejection that has Souma down in the dumps. This is his last semester, then it’s off to the factory, where he thinks he won’t be able to have fun anymore. A senpai invites him to a factory baseball game, and he’s shocked to see how into it the old fogies are.

Thanks to Izumi being in the right place at the right time, he’s able to produce the glove Souma tossed in the dumpster (the incorrect dumpster, mind you!), and Souma immediately makes an impact on the game that endears him to his future comrades.

On his way home, Souma runs into his mom, also on her way home. We see that Souma has been looked after by his grandparents, as his mom is really frikkin’ busy at work. But in a really sweet scene between the two, she tells him it’s worth it.

In a day’s time, Souma is feeling much better about himself, life, and the future…and that’s before Morikawa reaches out to him so they can talk more.

Having given Morikawa advice that talking things out properly is best, Natsume can’t very well not practice what she preaches! In a particularly romcom-ish coincidence, she and Izumi encounter each other at the monorail stop, and have the whole train to themselves.

Natsume tries to break the ice by joking about what book he bought (he says it’s manga, but it’s really a college prep book), but it backfires, so she says sorry, and then says she’s sorry about the other night as well. Izumi, in turn, apologizes back.

And while she says it’s not because of him or anything, she’s going to make a concerted effort to make her feelings clear to Souma, and face whatever’s to come after that. However, they part ways before it’s clear to Natsume why Izumi said what he said, nor is it clear to Izumi if Natsume realized how he actually felt about her.

There’s still lots of work to do…but everyone’s either talking again or about to talk again, so there’s hope that more will become clear in time.

Net-juu no Susume – 04

A new series of cute loot and a bonus point campaign spur Morika, already in high spirits upon becoming partners with Lily, to splurge a little. Only a happy circumstance takes place at the convenience store as she has to wait a few minutes for the store’s e-money system to boot.

Those minutes are spent suddenly learning that the store clerk is also a fan of Fruits de Mer, and goes on and on about it in a way Morioka find very fulfilling. They have so much fun talking, the clerk neglects the fact there’s a guy who needs his cigs!

Even so, it was exhilarating for Morioka to finally talk with someone about MMOs in real life. In the game, Hayashi encounters Kanbe and Lilac, the latter of which has just gone to the loot outlet and picked out some stuff that’s very fluffy and cute, but Kanbe prefers what she usually wears.

We also meet Lilac’s real-life player, who both laments not having snatched up Hayashi as her partner and seems to have a bit of a spark with Kanbe. Hayashi manages to score both rare and common loot, but lucky Lily takes the cake by scoring the whole set.

When in-game, NjS packs a lot of neat details, like the way Lilac sees Hayashi as a sensitive guy (compared to Kanbe) rather than what he actually is—a she; Pokotarou suddenly spawning in the same space as Lilac, obscuring her avatar; or Himeralda’s player playing as her husband, who plays Pokotarou; a surprising and clever occurrence.

But NjS makes good use of both of its worlds, and seems really balanced this week. Sakurai is depressed about not being able to see Morioka, and as he lists off all the ways he’s tried, Koiwai rightly suspects him of stalking, which isn’t good.

But then…Koiwai stakes out the convenience store, bumps into Morioka as planned, and works his businessman magic. Morioka is initially like, “why is this guy talking to me?!” and rightly so, even if she weren’t naturally shy; but once they get to talking they establish a quick rapport, though Koiwai comes off as a little pushy in gaining her contact info.

When Koiwai shows Sakurai what he’s done, how he managed to get a date with Morioka, Sakurai’s expression is of shock, which if the camera had lingered would have surely turns to dejection. Is Koiwai simply helping Sakurai out, or does he want to date Morioka? I hope it’s the former; besides seeming like a nice guy, what kind of friend would stab him in the back like that?

That brings us back into the game, where Hayashi goes to a, yup, dejected-looking Lily, who reminds them that since they’re partners, he can come to her to talk any time. Morioka, through Hayashi, words things very carefully in telling Lily the story of how she ended up in the hospital on an IV all the way to accepting a date from a former work colleague.

The coincidences are far too many, and Sakurai is no fool; he connects the dots, flipping Hayashi’s gender to make her Morioka. Now all he needs to do is believe the deduction he’s just made and proceed from there. After all, despite thinking he’s had no contact with Morioka, all this time he’s had all the contact, and they’re already partners, for gosh sakes. It’s high time the RL players need to catch up to their MMO counterparts.

Just Because! – 04

I’ve got some nice variety in my Fall watchlist. Food Wars is chugging along, with Souma scoring a big win thanks to his friends; MMO Junkie our elite NEET seems to be where she wants; and in ShoBitch we’ve had a steady, happy couple since the first episode, with all the comedy coming out of their mutual inexperience with being in a relationship.

That leaves Just Because!, the Fall show I’m watching in which people seem to suffer the most without much in the way of payoff. Just take Natsume’s interactions with Souma, trying to be a good friend by helping him get closer to Morikawa, despite the fact she still harbors feelings for him.

An experienced anime watcher it’s clear Natsume is in pain, but Souma’s your typical oblivious guy, and combined with Natsume’s silence on the matter and apparent interest in helping him with Morikawa, there’s really no way for him to question her smiles, even if she’s forcing them.

As a photog, Komiya knows all about smiles…and other expressions, like the one on Izumi’s face as he’s looking at Natsume in a candid photo Komiya took of them. Even after failing her last mission with Izumi (she brought a cat instead of a dog), she says she’ll delete the embarrassing shot if Izumi tells her something he likes about Natsume.

When she says “her awkwardness”, Komiya laughs, because it’s such an earnest, unflattering answer. It is itself an awkward answer, coming from someone just as awkward as Natsume (and, like her, unable to get his feelings to reach the one he likes).

Komiya then proposes another deal with Izumi: she’ll support him in trying to go out with the (former) president, and in exchange he’ll let her submit that photo she took of him, which she believes will win her a award and keep the photo club alive.

Of the five, Komiya is the hardest to read; she comes right out and says “I like you” to Izumi, throwing him off, before finishing with “…as a person”, inviting his ire. She’s clearly there to provide a yang counterbalance to Izumi’s yin main love interest and present multiple possible routes for the various characters.

When New Years comes around and it’s time for a shrine visit, Souma and Morikawa’s friends conspire to flake out on the visit, leaving the two alone. The two have a nice time, though Souma is often at a loss for words due to his stress over the task at hand.

That stress would seem to have been justified, for no sooner does he finally get the words “I like you” out and ask if Morikawa will go out with him, Morikawa…gravely declines. 

Ouch…that’s gotta be a fastball to the gut of Souma; all that preparation and anticipation, and at the end of the day, it wasn’t whether he could confess, but whether Morikawa would say yes, and she does not. Another sign Just Because! isn’t interested in doing things the easy way or taking the pressure off its characters.

After several instances of having someone—either Natsume’s plucky older sister or Yoriko—be a third wheel, Izumi and Natsume finally find themselves alone, and they continue to circle one another warily, putting on antagonistic airs to conceal the fact both of them have basically the same problem: their first choice likes someone else.

The fact that Souma was rejected is irrelevant here. Whether he wanted her to or not, Izumi is inspired enough by Komiya’s encouragement to at least broach the subject blocking any possible move in Natsume’s direction: her crush on Souma. She brings up exams again and again, which he calls nothing but an excuse.

That angers Natsume, who says the worst thing she can to Izumi in that moment: that it doesn’t involve him. That he doesn’t matter at all in this. Izumi sets the record straight: he’s always “cared about her”, so she can’t say it doesn’t involve him.

This may well be news to Natsume, and she’s definitely affected by the look on Izumi’s face as he passes her by to head home. Elsewhere, Souma also retreats following Morikawa’s rejection. Lots of emotions to sort through and pieces to pick up for everyone involved.

Net-juu no Susume – 03

Sakurai receives a reply from Morioka first thing in the morning, and he looks nervous, but also excited. We later learn that it’s a gentle and respectful decline on his offer of dinner out of a misplaced sense of not wanting to “cause any more trouble” after he did so much for her post-elbowing. But it’s pretty clear Sakurai wants “trouble” from Morioka. Why offer dinner in the first place?

When he does research on her career at a prestigious Bussan, he learns both from his own research and his co-worker Koiwai (who interacted with before) that Morioka was an exemplary employee and businessperson…who suddenly resigned. A old photo of her confirms she’s the one he accidentally knocked over.

Perhaps he’ll learn, as we have, that despite being damn good at her job, it just wasn’t something she wanted to do anymore. She wants to be a NEET and play MMOs now, and if she can afford to, who’s to say she can’t?

I’ll say, from the perfect structure and syntax of her text message to Sakurai, Morioka’s business skills probably haven’t dulled that much. She’s a talented, capable woman. But she does get a bit nervous in any kind of social situations, which is why after sending her reply, Morioka feels as though a great weight has been lifted from her shoulders, and she goes out to buy some snacks, some beer, and some extra points for FdM.

There, she quickly receives a gift from Lily – a super-expensive coat, and wonders what the underlying purpose of the gift was, considering it will be hard to reciprocate considering its cost. Lily is briefly taken aback by the, well, accusation of ulterior motives, but cannot entirely plead innocence. In fact, she’s come to feel a deep connection for Hayashi and wants him to be her partner in the game.

It’s a big step, and even though it may be a while before Sakurai and Morioka connect the dots on who each other are in the real world, it’s a good sign that they’re growing close enough in-game that a truth-revealing real-world meetup won’t be out of the question down the road. Of course, Morioka needs to realize that she’s not the only one using an avatar of the opposite sex.

NjS is getting better and better as we spend more time with “Mori-Mori” and “Sakura-chan;” particularly their moments of victory and elation when things go well for them. The narrative method of switching between worlds rather than going “full-dive” (ala SAO, NGNL, or KonoSuba) also tethers the story and makes it feel more real. It’s a great balance other shows with similar themes lacked. The music’s pretty bangin’, too.

Just Because! – 03

Izumi’s entanglement with Komiya Ena proves all to brief, as she’s forgotten the photo that she wants permission to submit. Showing zero consideration for Izumi, she zooms off on her moped to grab it, and it’s no surprise when she returns, in the rain, to find he’s gone.

The next day is Christmas (?), and everyone seems a bit listless, mimicking the somewhat grayish day with their moods. Izumi and Natsume type messages into LINE, but delete them without sending, seemingly hesitant to make any forward motion that will evoke a response from the other. It’s a stalemate, I tellya!

Things are dreary at Casa Morikawa too, as Morikawa confides to Yoriko that her life plan after high school doesn’t include furthering her trumpet performance, but rather college, a job, and eventually taking over the family business. It’s all said with the enthusiasm of someone inspecting turnips.

Left unsaid is any discussion of starting her own family, and as Morikawa seems almost criminally oblivious to Souma’s feelings (mostly his fault, BTW), that’s not surprising.

When Komiya reaches out to Natsume for info on Souma, Natsume uses it as an excuse/opportunity to message and meet up with Izumi. When they meet up, they’re still very cold and distant to one another, and the energy completely changes when Komiya spots her elusive transfer student.

Komiya’s casual nature with Izumi doubtless irks Natsume even more, since neither she not Izumi know what the heck they’re doing or what they should do. And while Komiya’s mission to get Izumi’s permission or LINE ID fails, she doesn’t seem like the type to give up easily.

Meanwhile, Souma is invited by Yoriko to join her and Morikawa for a walk, and his resulting meandering bike ride to their location is a constant source of suspense…will he ever get to them?

He does, only to freak out when Morikawa’s dog barks at him, which he thinks is a deal-breaker where dating her is concerned. Frankly, he should be more worried about, you know, telling her how he feels about her and asking her out on a proper date…but who am I?

When Souma reports the dog incident to Izumi and begs him for help getting better with dogs, Izumi tells him he has no pets, but Komiya stealthily enters the frame and offers her help…in exchange for Izumi’s LINE ID, which he gives her.

Interestingly, Komiya makes it clear she’s “over” the fact Izumi didn’t give her permission to use the photo, but with his ID, maybe she’s playing a longer game. Heck, maybe she just likes the cut of Izumi’s jib and wants to be friends…or more, which would complicate the love polygon even further.

Speaking of complications, Souma, unaware of the deal Izumi struck with Komiya, messages Natsume about helping him with dogs, since she has one too. This basically puts Natsume in the friendzone area of helping her unrequited crush get along with his own crush.

Over the most mundane circumstances, and in the absence of direct, honest, face-to-face conversation regarding how people feel about one another, the web of conflicting or one-sided romantic interests grows ever more tangled.

Net-juu no Susume – 02

Well, first of all, NJS has a solid OP. Great vocals, orchestration, and visuals. Really gets you pumped for the episode!

While exploring a dungeon deep into the night, Hayashi’s fellow guild member Lilac notices she’s always online, and guesses that she’s 21 and a university student, like her. That leads to the guildmaster Kanbe having to pay out for losing the bet on Hayashi’s real age.

Moriko feels bad for lying about her age, but is also relieved it won’t come up anymore. Meanwhile, Lily is pretty upfront about being older than Hayashi, and calls him “serious and kindhearted.” Moriko wants to tell Lily more, and wants to learn more about her, so they make a promise to do just that.

Fate strikes both Moriko and Lily’s player once again when he elbows Moriko (out to get cold medicine) while rounding a corner on his way to work (ironically, because he stayed up playing a netoge with Moriko!)

While out cold, Moriko meets an angel (perhaps her online friend from the previous MMO she played) and also enters a Brazil-style distopia in which endless columns of identitcal salarymen enter the Tower of Bebel only to jump into an abyss. Grim!

Moriko awakens in hospital, with a handsome young man with blond hair  sitting beside her bed. He’s Sakurai Yuuta, and he wants to make amends for accidentaly elbowing her. He leaves her his contact info and assures her she can text or call anytime, for any reason.

Moriko returns to FdM, where his comrades are ready and willing to hear what’s eating Hayashi. When he tells them, Lilac and Himeralda think it sounds like the intro to a romance manga and, thinking Hayashi’s player is a guy, urge him to ask her out…he may even get lucky!

Guildmaster Kanbe is more down-to-earth; nothing need be done except for what must: she should send a text thanking him at the very least and telling him she’s all good; as it would do no good to make him worry. Moriko agrees, and jumps offline to text Sakurai. She’s shocked to get an immediate reply asking if she’d let him take her out to eat as an apology.

Morioka likes this guy, but thinks he’s too good and too “blinding” for her, and a look in the mirror doesn’t help her confidence (though character design-wise, she’s hardly unattractive). Ironically, then it’s another encounter with Lily (i.e. Sakurai) that convinces her to send him a proper reply—which she sends at two in the morning!—though we’ll have to wait and see the contents of said reply.

Lily makes Morioka’s chest feel warm, reminding her that no matter how perfect someone may seem, everyone has problems and doubts, and she need not fear how someone who has already been so kind to her will regard her. The only way to know for sure is to move forward. Even eyebrow-plucking isn’t mandatory!

Tsurezure Children – 07

Jun’s sister Hotaru becomes Yuki’s next victim of teasing when she swipes her brother’s phone and impersonates him. Yuki instantly knows it’s her, and dispenses swift justice in a string of texts suggesting not only have she and Jun slept together, but she’s pregnant. Don’t touch your older sibling’s stuff!

Takeru and Ayaka are enjoying a walk home together, but Ayaka would like to hear the words “I love you” come out of Takeru’s mouth, and by the time she finally gets him to understand (he’s quite dense), the words sound forced…even though they’re not.

Few couples have hit a rough patch as bad as Takase and Kanda after he accidentally called her shitty. Takase wants to make things right, but Kanda won’t talk to her. Enter Shinichi, who after staring intently at Takase while the two are taking a piss (don’t do that either, by the way!) gives him advice…or Takase thinks it’s advice; Shinichi is really just rambling about himself. In any case, here’s hoping Takase doesn’t make things worse!

Finally we check in on perhaps the most hopeless couple, mostly because Takano believes the slight pain in her chest and her wandering thoughts are the result of a fever and not love, and Sugawara still doesn’t have the slightest confidence in clearly expressing his feelings for her, since she’ll only twist them into something innocuous and non-romantic. Not sure how these two will be able to break through their issues.

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…

Tsuki ga Kirei – 12 (Fin)

Going into the finale, I held out a glimmer of hope that Kotarou would be able eke out a high enough score to get into Akane’s school, and even if he wasn’t accepted, they’d figure something out.

Well, the finale wastes no time giving us the answer, dropping the news that Kotarou was not accepted in the first minute. It’s a crushing blow, especially knowing how many “first loves” like this are ended by long distance.

Still, if he had passed and been able to attend high school with Akane, where would the drama be? Kotarou’s mentor tells him that nothing an author goes through is for naught; one could say the same of lovers.

One person who hopes long distance will change things is Akane’s sister, who reasonably asks Akane if she’ll take the move as an opportunity to break up with Kotarou and turn the page rather than endure the pain of the distance. Akane is adamant that that’s not what she wants…and that her sister is a jerk.

Another is Chinatsu, who is ecstatic when Kotarou is accepted to the municipal school and takes it to mean fate has worked out in her favor. She decides the time is right to confess to Kotarou; to tell him she’s always like him, and ask if she’s good enough.

And she’s just…not. Everything worked out in her favor except the most important thing: that Kotarou is able to return her feelings. He’s not. She accepts the loss (again) and tries to look forward to the next year with Kotarou as just a friend.

Chinatsu tells Akane about her confession attempt, but Kotarou doesn’t, which makes their last date together before her move more fraught. When Kotarou tells her all the ways HE will make this work—getting a job to afford train fare to Chiba as many times a week as he can manage—she becomes overwhelmed by the burden she believes she’s putting on him.

This is another case of these two being in uncharted territory with no map compass, or experience. Kotarou’s a great guy who loves Akane, but she needs more than for him to say HE’s got this; she has to be a participant in making their relationship survive, and because she’s anxious by nature (doubly so when it comes to him), his unceasing niceness actually works against him as she becomes overwhelmed, cries, kisses him, and runs off.

That meeting on the river is the last time they see each other…before the move, but Kotarou decides to take the advice of friends and start writing as a way to process his feelings. He posts the stories of his first tender love to an online board, where they resonate because everyone has been there, and many even wish they could go back to a time when love was so simple.

Ironically, he’s posting these stories at the end of those simple times. From here on out, things will get more complicated by all of the things in life that interfere or threaten what we want most: to simply be with the person we love.

Yet even though he’s too late to say goodbye to Akane in person either at her now-vacant house or at the train station, Kotarou’s feelings, and the fact they’ll never change, manage to get through to her, and they’re the same feelings she has for him: a deep, warm love that is poised to endure the challenges of growing into adulthood.

And so ends the first stage of the romance between Kotarou and Akane. It turns out not to be fleeting, as thanks to the magic of LINE they stay in touch almost constantly, and also meet up quite a bit once Kotarou makes enough money.

As the credits roll, we see the couple enjoying more firsts like movie night alone (with the parents coming home too early); their first trip together alone; missing out on chatting when Akane gets home too late; Kotarou having drinks with Akane’s parents; Akane being fitted for a wedding dress.

It may seem like jumping ahead, but Tsuki ga Kirei isn’t about these moments and days and nights years…it was the story of how these two found each other, fell in love, and never stopped loving. It was a foundation, and it was a damned strong one.

By the end, after the challenges of long distance and high school and entering the workplace and more hard work and more distance, Kotarou and Akane come out of it wonderfully, get married, and have a child.

It’s the happy ending I hoped for, but with the added bonus of having been earned due to the challenges endured and sacrifices made. And brothers and sisters, if any of you came out of this episode—and that beautiful closing montage in particular—with totally dry eyes, you may want to check your pulse!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 11

Sooo…this episode was just about perfect, which doesn’t really surprise me at this point. Kotarou and Akane are on splendid terms, so Kotarou faces two new conflicts this week, which prove more complex and challenging than winning Akane’s heart. Gaining the approval of his parents, and being accepted into Koumei.

We know Akane’s grades are great and her family is the reason she’s changing schools, so there’s not much tension on her end; just whether or not Kotarou will like her hand-knit scarf (which…DUH of course he will).  So instead we delve deep into Kotarou’s small, quiet family, and navigate the treacherous waters with him.

Like Kotarou and Akane’s romance, Kotarou’s problems with his folks are portrayed with a heightened sense of realism and equilibrium. His mom may sound worse than nails on a chalkboard when nagging Kotarou, but she’s only nagging because she cares so fiercely about her son’s future.

That being said, I don’t decry Kotarou pushing back against the path she’s already laid out in her head for him. It is HIS future, after all. But just as Kotarou was initially so bad at communicating his feelings (or anything else) with Akane, he’s equally bad at explaining why he’s so hellbent on attending Koumei.

Hell, he never even seems to try, which works against him early on as his mother quickly dismisses his intention to follow a “girl he likes” as teenage caprice. We know better—Kotarou near-as-makes-no-difference loves Akane, and she loves him, but his folks have no choice but to work with the information they have, which is scanty.

Rather than hearing it from him, Kotarou’s mother comes to gather more information on her own, as she watches her son furiously studying late into the night. She can tell he’s working hard for something he believes in, so obviously she’s not going to come in and crush his dreams by forcing him into a municipal school. Instead, she adopts a wait-and-see approach, putting her faith in her son by letting him hold the keys to his future.

The constant studying wears Kotarou down, and his mock exams are, uh, nothing special, so it’s great to see Akane spearhead a Christmas meetup that serves as a much-needed break for both of them, as well as an opportunity to exchange presents.

It’s lovely to watch the couple so comfortable and warm around each other, especially the lack of hesitation when they lean in for another kiss. You really get the feeling, both here and after all we’ve seen, that this isn’t mere puppy love; these kids have a future together…even if they don’t end up in the same school.

One night, Kotarou’s father lays it out: they’ll let him apply for Koumei, but if he fails, he’s going to a public school. Kotarou accepts the fair conditions, then stands slack-jawed when his dad tells him when his homeroom teacher told his mom Koumei wasn’t a realistic choice for Kotarou, she fought back, leading to an awesome thunderbolt of a quintessential Dad Line: “She can be naggy, but…Well, there you have it.”

Sure enough, when heading downstairs at 1 am for a snack, Kotarou finds his mother there, making some fresh onigiri; forming the balls with love, care, and gentleness before heading off to bed. His mom is no longer an impediment to his dreams of attending school with Akane. She never was. She saw the effort he was putting in, and decided to support and even fight for him.

The morning of his big, decisive exam—the last true impediment to his happiness (though not really since as I said their love seems likely to endure the lengthy but non-permanent distance)—both Kotarou’s mom and dad are up to make sure he has everything he needs, to wish him luck, and to see him off. And Kotarou does something he hadn’t done all episode, but sorely needed to do: he thanks his mom.

These family interactions are so understated and relatable, and really form a nice little arc within the episode as understanding is achieved between the parties and the conflict is revealed only as a measure of concern. Kotarou puts in the work to assure them they needn’t worry, and they show him that they are and always will be on his side.

Now he just needs to pass that goddamn exam!

Tsuki ga Kirei – 10

Akane’s text about moving is such a shock to Kotarou, he actually calls her on the phone (!) in what is known as a “phone call” for all of you born after the iPhone. Both seem terribly down about the idea of being apart, but also agree that they’ll make it work somehow.

That, despite the dubious success of long-distance relationships throughout history they can’t and shouldn’t think about, lest they get way too depressed. Kotarou also considers applying for the same school in Chiba she’ll be transferring to, which would obviously allow them to see each other regularly.

The festival that follows their talk will be the last one Akane attends as a resident of Kawagoe, so it too has a pall of sadness over it, even though the presence of Kotarou in full fox regalia performing the Hayashi dance on the mobile stage in the streets combines that sadness with a sense of awe and venerability.

But since Akane attends the festival with the track team, she inevitably ends up alone with Hira again, and at the worst possible time – when Akane is about to meet Kotarou on his break. Worse still, Kotarou happens to see the two together. Hira confesses to Akane, who promptly turns him down, but when she sees Kotarou, he can’t hide his annoyance and, yes, his anger; he can deny it all he wants!

While one could say he’s been over-possessive here (especially since Hira has no chance against him), let’s not forget how young and inexperienced in the relationship arts this kid is. He’s never been in a true “fight” with Akane until now; with “fight” meaning a failure to properly communicate at the proper time and place.

Both are miserable and still unable to talk to one another the next day, but by the time that day is at an end and Akane and Kotarou are done cram school, Akane notices a book on Koumei high schools was requested at the municipal-office-thingy-place, and Akane uses her mad running skillz to track down Kotarou.

He’s not coy; he was the one who requested the book. He’s seriously applying to her school, and was going to tell her once he told his parents (who still don’t know and at least one of whom, his mother, will be hard to convince).

Their silly row at the festival quickly fades away as a rush of happiness comes over Akane, after hearing Kotarou tell her whatever shape his future takes, he wants them to be together in it. That’s what Akane wants too, and after rushing into Kotarou’s arms, crying tears not of frustration, but joy, she quickly dries her raw eyes and leans in to kiss him.

Their road ahead will have more bumps, but I’m pretty dang confident in the staying power of this couple’s love…and confident the show isn’t about to break their—and our—hearts in the home stretch. They’re going to be just fine. I take comfort in that.