The Genius Prince’s Guide – 03 – Two Peas in a Pod

Last week’s episode might’ve featured a literal gold mine, but the ambitious battle animation of the first two episodes was writing checks it couldn’t cash, which I found distracting. This week is much more my speed, as even though it is mostly just characters standing or sitting around talking, the characters and the things they’re talking about present a gold mine of narrative and interpersonal intrigue.

Last week the only thing tethering me to this show was the winsome dynamic between Prince Wein and his self-professed “Heart” Ninym. But now I have a third character to invest in: Touyama Nao’s Second Imperial Princess Lowellmina Earthwold, AKA Lowa. Wein and Ninym’s old classmate and notorious partner in crime at Imperial military academy has come to propose marriage to Wein.

Lowa is, in a word, awesome, defying standard princess archetypes, and someone I fell for immediately. Lowa and Wein’s audacious scheming (and Ninym’s patience with both of them) harkens back to when they were all teenagers. When in public, in the presence of members of the court and other underlings, they comport themselves the way a Prince of Natra and a Princess of Earhwold are expected: formal and cordial.

Of course, Wein suspects the marriage proposal to be nothing but a pretext for Lowa’s latest scheme, so he and Ninym hide in chests reported to contain local Natran garb for Lowa to wear. She sniffs out the ruse instantly, then asks Fisch, the Imperial ambassador who now works directly under her, to guard the door while she chats with her old friends.

It’s here where Lowa, Wein, and Ninym can speak more like the comrades they were. At first it seems Fisch occupies too high a station for guard duty, but then Lowa reveals her purpose beyond marriage to Wein: she wishes to take advantage of the power struggle between her three brothers to seize the empire for herself…with Wein’s help!

All three princes could easily stomp out Natra, but they’re not united, and Lowa believes that she, a fourth choice, could break through the chaos and bring stability to the empire. Wein believes that Lowa proposing a coup is a bluff, but isn’t yet sure of her true true goal.

This is the same kind of scheming that made Lowa, Wein, and Ninym’s circle of friends famous at the academy, only now writ large, as both she and Wein occupy thrones and are now playing the real game. And not for one moment does Lowa seem in over her head or overly arrogant.

She’s just as sharp-witted and detail-oriented as Wein (likely more so since he’s the lazier of the two) leading Ninym and the others to call them two peas in a pod. But with at least the pretext of marriage and potential bluff of war laid out, the episode splits into little vignettes that enrich both the setting and its characters.

Falanya summons Ninym, weary about all the changes going on and worried she’ll be left behind. Ninym, showing her tender side, assures Falanya that with all the changes going on, one thing will stay the same: her brother will always cherish her, as she cherishes him. We learn Falanya always thought her brother would wed Ninym, but Ninym tells her she doesn’t need to be his consort; she’s already his heart. While that’s a sweet sentiment, it’s a bit bittersweet that even Ninym is certain Wein could never marry a Flahm like her.

Lowa continues her charm offensive by having Ninym and Fisch join her for a hot bath in Natra’s luxurious facilities. There, she insists Ninym dispense with all the formalities just as the three of them dispensed with their clothes. The two regail Fisch with a story from their military years, when Ninym challenged someone to a duel for being a racist jackass and mopped the floor with him, thereby gaining the esteem of the whole class.

I love the built-in history with Ninym and Wein that accompanied Lowa’s introduction. She just feels like an old friend. There’s also a wonderful bit of tension in not quite knowing exactly what she’s up to, though I’m loath to believe whatever it is would make enemies of her two friends.

From the baths, we check in on Wein tutoring Falanya, and by extension us, in the history of the empire, specifically how one formerly independent kingdom neighboring Natra, Antgatal, betrayed an alliance of similar kingdoms by joining the empire. Antgatal’s king was rewarded the title of marquess and given leave to govern his own lands. This segues nicely with Ninym mentioning Lowa’s prime suitor, the son of Antagatal’s marquess.

But Lowa doesn’t seem particularly interested in a political marriage to the grandson of an infamous charlatan. Indeed, she doesn’t want to be anyone’s consort, but has designs to rule as Empress. The genesis of this ambition was nurtured by Wein himself back in their academy days, when he said that just as people stopped eating with their hands and started using utensils, great change can come once enough people adopt it.

Wein knows Lowa would face a treacherous road should she decide to upheave the male chauvanist imperialist structure, where the majority of vassals support one of her three brothers while ignoring her despite her talents. To defeat the existing ideology, she must strengthen her own and wage war; the only other path is submitting to social norms and feeling dead inside.

Back then, Lowa asked Wein if, should she wage this war, he’d help her. He quickly responded “no”—and got a swift kick for it—but that’s mostly due to his lackadaisical nature that abhors responsibility, which to a degree still endures but is something he can ill afford to flaunt what with the fact he is prince regent of a relatively vulnerable kingdom. He eventually told her that if he couldn’t escape her entreaties, he “might help out a bit”, which brings an easy smile to Lowa’s face.

Back in the present, Princess Lowa wakes up, having dreamed of that conversation with Wein, to learn from Fisch that she’s been invited to tea by the Prince Regent. Knowing full well he’s not just interested in small talk, but trying to pry more information out of her about her designs, she enthusiastically accepts the invite. I too can’t wait for their next interaction.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Oregairu 2 – 05

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This week, Hikky has a lot of work to do, much of it damage control he knows he’s been holding off too long. Last week’s bleak scene of two siblings in the dark turned out to be the perfect opportunity for Hikky to get the easy stuff out of the way: reconnecting with his little sister.

Komachi forgives him far more readily than anyone else will, because of her fifteen years of living with him, she’s learned, unlike Yukino, that there are things about people you can’t change, and in time they grow endearing. Love is acceptance of those things. Far more than wanting him to change his ways, Komachi just wants Hikky to talk to her about what’s troubling him.

The cold open thaws the atmosphere, and the scene with the siblings that follows is a masterclass in familial dialogue. It also serves to throw us, the audience yearning for something positive, a much appreciated bone.

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Hikky may not be able to put into words why he wants the Service Club preserved, but he doesn’t need to: Komachi wants it preserved too, which means he has a new mission, one that’s more important than Iroha’s, because it’s from his sister. Fulfilling it means preventing Yukino or Yui from winning.

His need for counsel coincides with the alignment of all his allies not involved in the current unpleasantness, starting with Zaimozuka, whose even greater isolation from normal school society is expressed by the fact he spends his lunch breaks in the library.

Komachi, appreciative of Hikky working hard, ends up assembling Kawasaki and Saika, and when the former is asked to come up with a list of good candidates for president, she makes sure to include him seriously, even though he has zero chance.

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The counsel helps Hikky decide what to do, which is to double down on his interpretation of Iroha’s true desire: to preserve her “brand image” by avoiding a “high-risk, low-return” commitment like StuCo president, along with her desire to get closer to Hayato.

With some Facebook-hacking help from Zaimozuka, he’s able to assure her the backers she needs to win the election, while assuring her she’ll not only be protected from the sting of failure because she’s only a first-year, but will also be able to avoid failure altogether by reaching out to Hayato for support, giving her the in she needs.

I’ll note that he doesn’t include Hayato or Miura Yumiko in on his plan, but they’re not his clients on this: Komachi and Iroha are. And Iroha agrees with the plan, after all but proving Hikky right about her persona by delivering a super-quick boilerplate rejection the moment she suspects he’s flirting with her (which he isn’t trying to do).

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While Iroha is convinced of his plan, the truth is even with the extra backers he’s not sure she can win. Getting her to go along with it was only the first step in his primary mission given to him by Komachi; a mission that means more to him as well: keeping the club together. Hikky uses the satisfaction of Iroha’s contract as a bluff to get Yukino and Yui to drop out of the race, assuring Iroha’s victory and the preservation of the club.

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It’s a gamble, but it works. Yui is elated Hikky worked so hard for her sake to protect the place she treasures the most, and because he worked in silence and secrecy, without exposing himself, she has cover to forgive him for his methods.

It’s not so much “I don’t want to know” or “out of sight out of mind” (though it’s partly both); it’s more that like Komachi, Yui is accepting of the way Hikky is and always will be. Or as Hikky puts it: “So long as a problem doesn’t cause problems, it can’t be called a problem.”

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The fruits of his hard work are seen almost immediately once Yui expresses her approval and accepts his apology. She affectionately fixes his scruffy hair against his protests, and moves her chair right next to him. I don’t want to pick sides, and all three friends are partly to blame for their predicament, but I’d wager Yui was suffering the most with the prospect of losing the club, and even she admits it would indeed be lost even if she won.

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So Iroha wins, and is already using the very willing Tabe as her personal assistant in setting up the office when Hikky congratulates her and asks her to make it a good school, what with Komachi attending next year. Iroha takes this as another attempt at hitting on her, which creeps her out.

I must say Iroha wasn’t what I expected this season: she’s better. I thought she’d be a new love interest and wedge between Hikky and the other two, but thanks to her cooperation he was able to save the club and make up with Yui without the kind of undue damage to himself the girls hate.

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So what about Yukino, the hardest nut to crack? Well, that remains to be seen. This wasn’t a total victory (it couldn’t be one, not even halfway in): the club is saved for now, but the smell of tea no the room. What worked for Komachi and Yui doesn’t quite work for Yukino. Her line as she agrees to bow out of the race and then leaves the clubroom is “You thought you understood, didn’t you?” I take this to mean Hikky thought she was running to fulfill the client’s request.

Then I thought back to the beginning of this episode, with Hikky and Komachi making up so easily because of their unique status as siblings, and I thought of Haruna rattling Yukino’s cage. I wouldn’t be surprised if part of Yukino’s continued dissatisfaction is that even though Hikky got the job done without resorting tot he most distasteful tactics imaginable, he also kept her from meeting the challenge set by her big sister.

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That challenge was to leave the service club and take her rightful spot atop the school, where she can be of the most help to everyone in accordance with her noblesse oblige. A future with Yukino as president, Yui as Veep, and Hikky in some unspecified utility role without an official title, is also a possible future Hikky imagines while walking with the outgoing president, who would have liked to see such a future.

Rhetorically speaking, “strictly rhetorically,” Hikky wonders if life would have changed had he taken a different route with the election. Same people, same dynamics, only a different room, a different organization, and a Yukino who is more fulfilled as President, and who has answered Haruna’s challenge. But Hikky took a different route, which had its benefits and its consequences. We’ll see what the latter consist of.

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Oregairu 2 – 04

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Wow, so much to unpack here. Where to begin? Well, for starters, by episode’s end, the club has set itself on the path to total destruction, though perhaps it was on that path all along, with Hikky’s false confession to Ebina just the latest but possibly last straw.

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Both in exchange for helping out with Ebina (thus keeping his circle of friends close) and because he thinks Hikky is too harsh on himself, Hayato sets up a rehabilitation project for him, the true intentions of which Hikky fails to discern throughout most of their double date with the girl who likes Hayato and Kaori. Mostly, he just scowl-grins and bears it as Kaori laughs at everything Hikky says and does.

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Whether due to coincidence or the fact Hayato public invited Hikky in the classroom, all their other classmates seem to have gravitated to the same mall. Bumping into Iroha probably wasn’t any more intentional than bumping into Yumiko and Ebina, but it serves Hayato’s desire purpose to show Hikky in a different light to their unenlightened dates.

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Iroha approaches Hikky like a normal friend, not some weirdo like Kaori thinks he is, but Hikky genuinely senses Iroha is annoyed he’s out playing around rather than working on her problem. I’m glad the show doesn’t always put what Hikky thinks characters are really saying to him in subtitles, but in this case, it could serve as a useful mirror to Hikky: Not everyone can interpret Iroha like this, which means they can’t interpret him either.

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What they see is what they believe, and how they judge. Not that’s it’s right, it’s just the way some people are. Hikky is more enduring than enjoying this double date, so it surprises him when Hayato suddenly calls out Kaori and the other girl on their surface judgement-based selfish comments. They can think what they want about Hikky, but that doesn’t mean he wants to hear about it.

Then Hayato takes his heroic project to the next stage, bringing Yukino and Yui into the mix under false pretenses. Hayato called on them to serve as props to prove to the other girls there’s a lot more to Hikky than they’re getting.

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But the very reason Yukino and Yui work as props is because Kaori makes a surface judgement based on their fabulous good looks and Hayato’s praise. He also makes sacrifices of Kaori and the other girl; whether they’re sorry or not, this more a demonstration for Hikky than for them.

Once the dates bail, Haruno enters the mix, pushing all of Yukino’s buttons as only an older sister can: it’s a harsh, biting exchange, in which I wasn’t certain if Haruno was expressing genuine resentment or simply rattling Yukino’s cage. Knowing this show, all of the above. Did she plan this whole thing with Hayato?

When Yukino and Yui take off, Haruno turns to Hikky, pointing out his “cute” tendency to always assume everyone has evil intentions. To be sure, Haruno seems to get off putting people in situations they can’t handle and watching what happens.

Then Haruno leaves, and it’s just the two guys again. Hayato will surely get backlash for his dressing down of their dates, something both Hikky knows could be a problem and Hayato is pissed about. But at the same time, he makes it clear to Hikky: he did what he wanted. He isn’t going to stand around and let people undervalue Hikky, even if Hikky has no intention of defending himself.

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The next morning, Hikky has to learn from Shizuka, and then Yui from Hikky, that Yukino has indeed challenged her sister’s words by deciding to run for president. Or was that something she always considered doing, and Haruno only gave her the nudge she needed? Either way, if she’s in it to win it, and wins, the club will suffer and possibly end altogether. Whether that’s okay with Yukino or not, the fact is, things can go on the way they are. She won’t let Hikky sacrifice himself to the whole school. Even if she hates the way he does things, better for her to do them than him.

Yui desperately catches up to Hikky to walk home with him, for probably the first time in a while. There, she delcares she’s running for president too. If she wins, she won’t take it as seriously as Yukino, and the club will survive. And she needs the club to survive, because an imperfect, even painful situation is better than a void. So she’ll beat Yukinon.

Hikky calls that a selfish decision, which is tiramisu-rich coming from someone who thinks the rest of the world cares about him enough to hate his guts. All three are being selfish, trying to pull this election in a direction that serves their needs, all looking for the same answer, but being put off by their methods.

As for Yui’s confession that she likes this club…that she…likes…it…is another attempt to get her feelings to reach Hikky, and her tearful close-up and darting eyes sell the hell out of it, even if Hikky’s reaction is predictably blah. I am officially on Team Yui! Screw those other guys for making her so sad.

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Speaking of voids, the second bookend of the episode with Komachi is almost a grim portent. These two siblings are so distant now, they can’t even exist in the same room with the lights on, let alone speak. It’s a void of Hikky’s making, utterly shutting her out of his life when she’s so keen to help. Komachi is no Haruno, but Hikky is now a feral self-consciousness monster lurking in his dank lair, and Komachi is treating him as such, staying away lest he lash out.

But who will he endorse? Or will he run himself? Heck, let’s through Hayato and Ebina in there, too! As we know, any problem a high schooler faces can be solved by running for StuCo President.

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