Bunny Girl Senpai – 13 (Fin) – Everything is Going to Be Alright

Upon the return of her memories, Kaede doesn’t really seem to grasp why this is all such a big deal; from her perspective, she was never actually ever “gone.” But it’s a huge shock and a gut punch to Sakuta; bigger than he could have expected or was prepared for.

“Kaede”, the entirely new personality he’d loved and cared for as his little sister for two years, isn’t just gone; it’s as if she never existed, and that deletion of her existence occurred just when she was starting to take her biggest steps yet towards living a normal life. It’s enough of a shock for Sakuta to simply lose it upon leaving Kaede’s hospital room.

He simply wasn’t ready to lose Kaede. Even the three huge slash marks reopen and bleed. And just when Sakuta needs someone—anyone, but also not just anyone—most, who should appear but his first crush; the girl no one else can see: “Shouko-san.”

Shouko-san takes the soaked and suffering Sakuta home, gets him into a hot bath, and proceeds to read Kaede’s diary to him. While this may seem like a gross breach of privacy, this is mitigated by the fact that the Kaede that wrote the diary is now gone, and thus the diary is the only link to her Sakuta has left.

Through the diary and Shouko-san’s words of support and reassurance, Sakuta learns that both Kaedes never stopped loving him, and while it might’ve seemed only natural to regret not helping her back when she was being horribly bullied, she never held that against him, and thus there was never any reason for regret, self-hatred, or the physical manifestation of those emotions, his chest slashes.

Knowing that we’ll never see or hear Kaede as we knew her ever again, its a particularly poignant diary/farewell letter, narrated in both Shouko-san and Kaede’s voices. More importantly, it finally gives Sakuta, who had been so busy helping others to help himself for so long, a kind of catharsis and closure. The next morning, Shouko is gone, leaving only a note behind.

Sakuta has no other way of reaching Shouko-san, and can’t even reach the younger Shouko on the phone. He does finally call Mai back, and fills her in on what happened, without really getting into his whole ordeal in the bathtub. When she surprises him by coming over, prepared to spend the night with him, she finds Shouko’s note.

Since this is Mai we’re talking about, there’s no way she’d get jealous over such a note, or that she wouldn’t believe Sakuta’s explanations; rushed and verbose as they are, everything he’s saying is the truth. But Mai is still hurt, and has to leave as soon as she arrives.

Part repaying a debt, part helping out her sister, and part being a good friend, Nodoka meets with Sakuta and tells him to make things right. It’s Mai’s birthday, after all. Sakuta double-times it onto a bullet train to catch up to her in Kanazawa.

Things are chilly both inside the car in which Mai and her manager give Sakuta a ride, and outside, where some snowflakes start to fall. But once Sakuta shares his coat with Mai, the ice is broken and they both proceed to apologize to each other. What caused Mai to say the things she did and leave wasn’t jealousy, but frustration that she wasn’t able to be with Sakuta when he needed her the most; “Shouko-san”, whoever she is, filled that role instead. She feels bad about that and apologizes.

Of course, there’s nothing to apologize for; Sakuta is just happy to have Mai by his side whenever he can, even if it wasn’t at a crucial time this time. She’s his girlfriend, and he loves her, and that’s more than enough for him. She almost leans in for a kiss, but instead gives his cheek a yank, remarking that being “punished” is probably the ideal thing for him anyway.

All is well that ends well, as Sakuta introduces Mai to his parents and re-introduces her to Kaede, continues hanging out with Tomoe and Futaba and Nodoka, and re-bonds with his little sister, who is ready to go to school and ready to see some pandas with her big brother for the first time…again.

While the Kaede and Sakuta arc wasn’t my favorite, it was still a solid way to bring the anime to a close. It’s a shame we couldn’t see more of the “new old” Kaede as herself, or going back to school, and it’s also a shame there was so much mystery surrounding the nature of the Shouko(s), but it sounds like at least the latter will be covered in an upcoming film.

I for one wouldn’t mind returning to this pleasant, charming world where people who feel so alone it starts to do weird things to them are saved by friends and family whose help proves that they’re not alone after all, and never were.

Bunny Girl Senpai – 12 – Trying Your Best ‘Till You Disappear

Sakuta tells Mai and Nodoka the story of Kaede he’s never told anyone, but now that Kaede is making friends and thinking about going back to school, he can’t hold it off. It’s also the story of himself and the rest of his family. When Kaede suddenly enters a dissociative state as a result of online abuse, she loses her memories and becomes the “Kaede” we know.

Other than her outward appearance, everything about her is different, to the point she could have switched personalities with someone the way Mai and Nodoka did. She walks different, talks different, eats different. Kaede’s Mon can’t deal, and due in part to being a big brother who is utterly powerless to stop whatever Kaede’s going through, the slash marks on his chest appear one night.

The doctors believe they’re self-inflicted, as “Adolescence Syndrome” isn’t a theory they’d subscribe to. But Sakuta gets sick of the hospital and sneaks out, finds himself on the beach, and meets his “first crush”, Shouko. Shouko tells him “life is here for us to be kinder”, and she strives every day to become a little kinder than she was the day before.

Sakuta adopts that credo; one could say it’s all thanks to Shouko that he’s able to do any of the stuff he does to help his friends later on. But here, before he meets Nodoka or Tomoe or Mai, we see that the first person he helped was Kaede. He helped her simply by acknowledging that she was Kaede. She didn’t have to be the old Kaede. He was the first and only one to accept her, not as an anomaly, but a person.

Back in the present, where Kaede is on the cusp of “leaving the nest”, Sakuta gives her a book the old Kaede apparently lent to her friend. In it is a note expressing that friend’s wish to be friends with “Kae-chan” again. Tears well up, and Kaede suddenly faints.

She wakes up in the hospital, none the worse for wear, but the doctors believe that her dissociative state may be wearing off. The note was apparently the trigger. The Kaede we’ve known all this time is still there, but she overhears Sakuta reporting to Mai that he doesn’t know how long she has.

Kaede accelerates her plans to go to school, even risking her well-being to do so (the dark red bruises appear when she gets overly stressed, and rushing things when it comes to going back to school is definitely stressful. Sakuta, hoping there’s something he can do for her as her big brother, promises he’ll show her the school.

But first they go to the zoo and watch the pandas, tigers, giraffes, elephants, meerkats, and all the other animals, all just “doing their best to live their lives”. Like Pandas with their not-very-nutritious bamboo diet, Kaede—specifically this Kaede—has it rough. But all she can do is keep doing her best.

That night, before heading home, Sakuta delivers on his promise to take her to school: an empty school at night. It proves just the thing. Having seen the place in the flesh for the first time, Kaede is more optimistic and motivated than ever to go to school during the day. Not because she might be out of time in her current state, but because it’s the next natural step.

Her opportunity to go to put that optimism and motivation to the test never comes. The Kaede who wakes up is the old, pre-breakdown Kaede. You can tell, too: Kubo Yurika totally switches up her voice. She remembers Sakuta, but doesn’t remember going to the zoo, and doesn’t speak in the third person. “Kaede” is gone.

Will it be for good…and isn’t that okay? It’s not like Kaede died, after all. Sakuta may feel like he lost someone precious—and in a way, he did—but that person was never going to be around permanently. We’ll also have to see how the “original” Kaede reacts to everything in her life, from her parents, friends, even her room layout, being different from how she remembers. Will Sakuta seek to bring back a part of “Kaede” to help bridge the other Kaede’s gap of experience?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 11 – #KaedeGoals

That little cliffhanger about Mai (actually Nodoka in Mai’s body) being seen with Sakuta by a photographer? No biggie; the director of her upcoming film decides to spin it into a marketing opportunity, while Mai admits to the relationship and is candid not only in how it occurred (a kohai confessed in front of the entire school) but why it matters (were it not for him she wouldn’t be back in show business).

Now Mai and Sakuta get to hang out without any problems, and the two are on cloud nine. Then Sakuta gets a letter from “Shouko” whom he later confirms is not the middle schooler of the same name who hasn’t come by the house in a while, but rather his “first crush.”

When he confides in Futaba seeking advice, Futaba texts everything he tells her to Mai, making her status as a confidant now somewhat suspect! It’s all good, once more: Mai is fine with him meeting Shouko, as long as he’s back by six so she can make him dinner. He doesn’t get a kiss, though.

The main dilemma this week isn’t Sakuta and Mai’s relationship or the return of “Shouko”, but Sakuta’s little sister Kaede, who’d kinda served as the show’s mascot up to this point. Still, as a victim of such intense bullying she and Sakuta had to move and she stopped going outside, it was clear the show was going to promote her to the lead in an arc at some point.

Sakuta is about to go to the beach to meet with Shouko, but he’s delayed by the sudden appearance of one of Kaede’s classmates, who saw Sakuta in a magazine tracked him down. She wants to meet with Kaede to apologize for not doing more to stop the bullying, now that the ones who bullied her were themselves bullied out of the school. Back home, the numerous visits from the other girls Sakuta has helped has convinced Kaede that she can’t remain stagnant, and begins compiling a list of goals to become more independent.

Her first small step is to answer the phone when someone other than Sakuta is on the line (in this case, Mai), but the stress of doing that for the first time in a long time causes her to nearly faint. Even more distressing, when Kaede is resting to recover from a fever, Sakuta notices a dark red blotch on her neck; no doubt another symptom of adolescence syndrome, much like his own chest slash marks.

However, Kaede recovers, the blotch disappears, and she keeps taking smal steps, aided in no small part by an extremely kind and understanding Mai, who offers a number of cute outfits she wore in magazine shoots for Kaede to wear when she goes outside.

The day finally arrives, and Sakuta comes home to a fully resolved sister. Still, it takes Sakuta lying about how far outside of the entryway they’ve strayed to get Kaede to follow through; call it one last little nudge to get her where she herself wants to be. It’s a truly triumphant, emotional moment that’s a long time coming; even Sakuta can’t help but tear up.

Kaede was scared of the outside, where the love of their home, like a security blanket, wasn’t out there to protect her. She still is. But she’s far more scared of staying inside, so even though her brother tricked her, she’s grateful.

From there, Kaede takes larger and larger steps until she’s able to roam around outside without clinging to Sakuta. He decides to surprise her by taking a trip to the beach, along with Mai and Nodoka. They have a grand old time, and Kaede is having fun…until her friend arrives, and she retreats behind Sakuta once more.

This friend doesn’t understand why Kaede doesn’t remember her, but Sakuta has an explanation, and it’s something he’s been waiting for the right moment to tell Mai too: Kaede has no memories. I suspect that is to say, no memories from after whatever psychological break she suffered as a result of her bullying.

Obviously, that’s still objectively not good, and looking back at Kaede’s behavior, it has seemed like a part of her was missing beyond the part that could go outside and interact with people. The stagnancy she fears isn’t just about remaining shut in, but about that yawning gap in her memory.

The two main questions are 1.) will and how will Sakuta & Co. help Kaede get those memories back, and 2.) where do “Shouko” and Makinohara Shouko” fit into this equation, if at all?

Bunny Girl Senpai – 10 – Damn You, You’re Too Awesome!!

Nodoka prepares for the second day of commercial filming by watching DVDs of her sister in action, including a horror movie, which seems apt; body-swapping carries its own kind of horror, and she’s essentially wearing her big sister’s skin!

The prospect of screwing up similarly fills Nodoka with dread, but after twelve takes she does eventually get the job done.  When Mai calls her, she gives the phone to Sakuta, still not ready to talk to the person she’s made out to be her nemesis. But Mai tells Sakuta to congratulate her nonetheless; it can’t be easy to do your big sister’s job…especially if you come into it not believing you can do it from the start.

As for little sisters, Kaede has seen enough pretty girls pass through the doors of their apartment to start thinking like someone who knows that at some point they have to start going outside again. Putting on her school uniform is a small but meaningful first step on that path, and it’s good to see she’s not just some static mascot of a character. Like Futaba, her own story has been subtly maintained.

Nodoka’s personal horror movie inludes a banshee of a mother who confronts “Mai” to cease harboring her daughter; Nodoka-as-Mai truthfully replies that she’s doing no such thing (since she’s at Sakuta’s…but she wisely leaves him out of the equation).

Mai gives Sakuta and Nodoka tickets to her latest gig in Nodoka’s body, but before that Sakuta has a rare meeting with his Dad. When Kaede became a shut-in, their mother apparently had some kind of breakdown of her own (it’s kept pretty vague). It was serious enough for their father to have to basically choose between continuing to live with his kids, or taking care of their mother full-time and trusting that Sakuta will be able to take care of himself and Kaede.

While at a family restaurant (fitting), Sakuta gleans fresh insight into his Dad; specifically how completely frazzled clueless he was upon his son’s birth. Sakuta says “all of the above” in response to Nodoka’s choices of “love, hate, piss you off, are annoying” as how he feels about his parents. Clearly a part of him has concluded that if he’s able to run a household with his little sister and solve cases involving one girl after another, he can’t really rag on his folks that much.

As for the Sweet Bullet gig, Mai-as-Nodoka is flawlesss, a testament to her consummate professionalism, attention to detail. Hell, she even saves the group leader’s ass when she trips by catching her mic and continuing to sing her part without missing a beat. Her performance is rewarded by the announcement she’ll be singling lead for the next song they release.

Nodoka and Sakuta watch, utterly enthralled. After the concert, Nodoka’s mom is among those who “high-fives” Mai-as-Nodoka, and she smiles, tears up, and congratulates her, things she never did to Nodoka-as-Nodoka. Nodoka demands to go to the beach, and starts striding into the sea, believing she isn’t needed by anyone anymore.

Sakuta stops her, and assures her that’s not the case: if anything happened to her, Mai would be sad, and Sakuta can’t have that. Nodoka doubts him, but he assures her it’s true, and furthermore knows it’s true, especially after looking into the forbidden cabinet at Mai’s place.

He shows Nodoka the box in that cabinet, which contains every single letter Nodoka wrote to her big sis, from before they knew they were sisters. Mai’s always treasured them because they gave her courage and strength knowing someone specific (as opposed to the other faceless masses) was cheering her on.

It was thanks to Nodoka that Mai even started enjoying her work. Mai appears (it is her apartment they’re in) to thank her sister. Nodoka comes back with a tirade about how it’s “too late” since Mai managed to get her mother to smile and approve, and get her own lead singing gig before her.

In response Mai slaps not Nodoka, but Sakuta (since Mai has a shoot tomorrow  and she doesn’t want to risk marring her face). She describes how Nodoka’s Mom’s hands were trembling when she held hers; how she could tell her mom was uneasy about whether her daughter was truly happy; seeing her perform so well all but confirmed she was.

Nodoka asks why her Mom never said anything, but unlike, say, Sakuta’s Dad at the restaurant, parents are always loath to tell their kids how uneasy they feel about raising them, and about whether they’re doing it right. Mai’s solution for Nodoka, as the sisters embrace, is to make her mother happy doing something she wants to do, not just what she’s told. To show that she can stand on her own, without direction, and shine. Seto Asami does a tremendous job voicing Nodoka through Mai in the emotionally cathartic scene.

The sisters now sufficiently made up, their bodies switch back to normal like the snapping of a soap bubble, before Sakuta’s eyes. Later, Futaba posits that Nodoka’s believed need to “be like her big sister” resulted in the swap (possibly through a variant of quantum teleportation), while Mai changed her appearance to Nodoka, out of momentary jealousy.

As for Sakuta, he’s just happy he can be lovey-dovey with the real Mai. But two new obstacles threaten that desire. One, Nodoka moves in with Mai (she got in another fight with her Mom, but hey—that’s what family does sometimes; it’s not the end of their relationship, she just wanted a change—and the little matter of Nodoka-as-Mai being photographed with Sakuta by her side by a photographer. Now there’s buzz out there that Mai Has A Boyfriendsomething Mai calls a “slight problem.”

But I agree with her assessment; it’s not as huge an emergency as a bout of Adolescence Syndrome (the next case of which looks to finally focus on Kaede next week), nor a rift between sisters that was just amicably closed. She and Sakuta are a strong, dependable, shrewd couple. They’ll get through it!

Bunny Girl Senpai – 09 – Two Friendless Sisters

When the second school term begins in September, Sakuta just can’t wait to see Mai. Due to the dating ban and her busy schedule he’s seen neither hide nor tail of her, and that trend continues when she fails to show up to school.

When he finally does happen upon her on a random street, there’s something…off about her. She claims to not know who Sakuta is. Then a short blonde girl appears, telling him she’s the real Mai, and that she and her half-sister Toyohama Nodoka have swapped bodies.

This happened quite suddenly after Nodoka ran away from home and her domineering mother (she and Mai have the same dad) and spent the night at Mai’s impressive, self-bought condo. When they woke up, they were switched.

This is clearly adolescence syndrome, but while the cause becomes clear enough—Nodoka has a lot of built-up resentment for her “perfect” big sis—the means to undo the swap remain elusive, short of propelling Nodoka to the top of the idol charts (something most likely beyond Sakuta’s abilities).

So the two carry on in each others’ lives, trying not to draw to much attention. The fact that Mai’s schedule is comparatively paltry compared to Nodoka’s not only speaks to how hard Nodoka’s mom is pushing her to succeed, but Mai’s desire to have as much time to hang out with Sakuta as possible during the second term.

Despite not having a perfect big sister, Sakuta diagnoses Nodoka’s issues pretty easily, leading to Nodoka confronting Mai and telling her things she’s kept inside, hoping honesty might be a step towards undoing the swap. Instead, Mai shoots her negative emotions regarding Nodoka right back at her.

While it’s not immediately clear from the montage of Mai and Nodoka’s days as one another is just how much easier Mai is able to slip into her little sister’s life, doing the necessary singing, dancing, and training required of a rising idol and purporting herself well.

Nodoka does alright with the photo shoots and interviews—things she’s done before—but when it comes time to film a commercial and memorize lines when a camera is rolling and an entire crew is surrounding her…it’s too much. She hyperventilates and the shoot has to be cancelled. When Sakuta reports the incident, Mai is surprised; she figured Nodoka would have been able to get a good take from that particular director.

Being somewhat out of his element with regards to younger siblings, Sakuta gets some insight from the most unlikely of sources: Kunimi’s girlfriend, Kumisato, who like Nodoka, has a hardworking, overachieving, brilliant, perfect big sister (I assume she’s pretty too).

Kumisato neither likes nor hates her, because it’s nothing that simple. What she can say is that she’s always annoyed by her mom’s constant urging that she take her sister as an example and study more.

Being a middle child myself, I can state that there was always the push-pull of wanting to set a good example for my little sis while not falling too far behind my big bro (who is much more academically inclined than me…not to mention more historically and politically informed. I can paint way better though!) But my siblings and I aren’t competing in the same field, so we never really competed the way Mai and Nodoka seem to be.

More importantly, we had parents who pushed us to be the best individuals we could be; we weren’t used as pawns in a proxy war between our mothers (for one thing, we all had the same mother, but still). I have no doubt a part of Nodoka is proud of her half-sis, and a part of Mai is happy to have a younger sister to inspire and support. But their folks have not made it easy for them to interact with each other on their own terms.

Body-swap episodes seem to be a dime a dozen these days, but I’ll admit to being a big fan of them when they’re well-executed, as this one is. It’s nice to hear Seto Asami switch up her voice style to match the Nodoka in Mai’s body, not to mention Uchida Maaya’s more upright measure as Mai in Nodoka’s body. The fact they are swapped, and the novelty therein, is secondary to why the swap occurred, as well as how to undo it, which, as with the other solutions to adolescence syndrome outbreaks, will require character growth to achieve.

But my main gripe with this arc is that I found it hard to garner as much enthusiasm as I did for the previous ones. Perhaps that’s due in part to the brisk, sudden manner in which Nodoka is introduced, and the fact the only time we saw her in her own body was in that brief TV interview with her idol group. Futaba, who interacted plenty with Sakuta prior to her own arc, is thus proving a tough act to follow for Nodoka, who entered this episode a virtual unknown.