The aquatope on white sand – 09 – Compassion for the unfamiliar

Two very common ways anime deal with an interlopers is by either turning them into friends or putting them in their place. Aquatope does neither, opting for a far more nuanced, multifaceted, and ultimately more satisfying and enriching experience. In the complexity of emotions it expresses (and elicits), Aquatope is as diverse and colorful as its sea life.

Haebaru Chiyu is the interloper, and immediately an interesting choice was made to have Ishikawa Yui voice her. Ishikawa has one of the most charming and likable voices around, even as she voiced Mikasa Ackerman, one of the toughest motherfuckers in all animedom. I automatically like everyone she voices, even if they’re not easy to like otherwise.

Despite the only reason Chiyu agreed to go to Gama Gama for training was because of the “Legendary Aquarium Keeper”, Gramps pairs her up with Kukuru. Kukuru doesn’t know Chiyu, but hates everything she represents, and cannot mask her disdain and hostility.

It quickly becomes clear that beneath her polite façade Chiyu masks a similar contempt, but for an aquarium she believes (not without good reason!) to be a failure. The place is mostly empty and the equipment is falling apart. Not only is it a depressing place with which she has no emotional ties, it is to her the antithesis of a properly run aquarium.

Gramps and Fuuka are in the middle of the ensuing rivalry of passive aggression and pointed barbs; Gramps tells Kukuru it doesn’t matter what building an aquarium occupies; what matters is that people get to enjoy and come to love the creatures of the sea. Gran backs him up by telling Kukuru it would do her well to occasionally think outside her proverbial seashell.

To her credit, Kukuru does take a look at why exactly she’s trying so hard to save Gama Gama, and if she’s just selfishly clinging to her memories rather than facing reality and coming to terms with it. Fuuka tells Kukuru that she’s chasing her dream, and she’ll keep supporting her.

In response to this loving gesture, Kukuru brings up the possibility of having a sibling to someone for the first time. As the omniscient audience we’ve seen her look at those two maternity books, but now we know why: they’re in her parents’ shrine, but she’s never had the courage to ask Gran why there’s a second one.

Before going to sleep while holding hands, Kukuru promises she’ll be more civil to Chiyu tomorrow, but Chiyu has already had her fill of a teenaged assistant director, and basically demands that Gramps train her from now on. Gramps does his rounds, and Chiyu is suitably unimpressed with the “Legendary Aquarium Keeper.”

And why is that? Because with her outsider’s perspective she can’t quite see what he’s doing, and what he’s done, with Gama Gama. To him, an aquarium is more than just the building, but also more than just the fish. He knows and greets everyone, asks them how they’re doing. It’s a vibrant community of people young and old.

One could castigate Chiyu for so thoroughly missing the forest for the trees, but as we learn in her private moments, she has a dream too, and she’s not going to let what she regards to be a half-assed failing aquarium to hurt her chances at gainful employment.

That night in her Western-style hotel room—another sign she’s not interested in straying too far from her established world—she demands that her boss assign her somewhere else, and he agrees. She can’t afford to waste time…not when she’s come so far on her own.

Honestly, as much as she clashes with Kukuru and simply doesn’t “get” the appeal and value of Gama Gama, I can’t fault Chiyu for feeling or acting as she does. When Kukuru asks her what deficiencies she found there, Chiyu doesn’t hold back, and also makes the very good point that at the end of the day, Kukuru isn’t doing this for a living.

She may be slacking in her studies, but Kukuru is still young enough to do anything with her life. That’s less true for Chiyu, and because she desperately wants to work at an aquarium, she has to work that much harder in a country of 126 million with only about 100 aquariums.

Kukuru needs to use an unwitting Kai as a stress-relieving punching bag (a wonderful moment between the two old friends) not only because Chiyu pisses her off royally, but because Chiyu is right about a lot of what she said. For someone who earlier questioned her motives about saving Gama Gama, Chiyu adds salt to that wound.

The previous day, Fuuka overheard Chiyu remarking how no one at Gama Gama is actually looking at the fish. But as Fuuka learns, Chiyu was wrong: theyu have looked at the fish, over and over, with their cheap annual passes they’ve memorized most of them. They’re past that “tourist” phase of aquarium visitor. Now, Gama Gama is their living room, their lounge, their game room, their parlor….their home away from home.

Oh, and one of the kids mentioned he once say his dead dog, which means there’s something even more inscrutable and intangible about Gama Gama at which Ciyu turned her nose up. Between that kid’s comment and the brief look at Fijimunaa, the show wants to make it clear it hasn’t forgotten its magical realism elements.

Lest we forget Fuuka has her own baggage, she finally picks up when her old group-mate Ruka calls her. She eventually had to face her mom, and so it only made sense she’d have to face her very different past life as well. Unfortunately we don’t get to learn what exactly Ruka has to say to Fuuka, but it’s a great hook for next week.

Fuuka only gets this chance in part because Kukuru doesn’t go home with her, instead riding out to the big city to see the great nemesis itself. And just as her nighttime ride reminded me of Akira, seeing her behold and be dwarfed by the towering behemoth, still under construction and looking like a great sleeping beast.

This episode defly introduced a new character who was both likable in her own right while also providing a welcome thorn in the whole Gama Gama kubaya environment. Not everyone needs to be friends, and sometimes that makes for great, sometimes downright thrilling  anime, as it did here.

It also marked what looks like the beginning of some significant growth and soul-searching for Kukuru. She’s faced the beast…but what does she make of it, and what will she do next?

Higehiro – 05 – The Mysterious Woman

I love the series that can replicate the same butterflies in the viewer’s stomach that the characters have in a particular scene, such as when Yoshida takes Gotou to his place to see Sayu. They stop at a konbini first, where Gotou prepares an extravagant bag of drinks and snacks to break the ice.

It’s not like there was going to be any melodramatic blow-up between Gotou and Sayu, but the episode is always cognizant of how strange this particular scenario is without going too over the top with it. It’s an episode titled “Reality”, after all, so Gotou and Sayu’s meeting unfolds realistically.

Gotou also has Sayu send Yoshida off on a shopping errand in short order so they can talk in private as two women. Gotou asks simple and direct questions—where Sayu is from, how long ago she ran away—but also knows not to press when she asks a question Sayu isn’t ready to answer (why she ran). Another important question Sayu tries to consider is how long she intends to stay with Yoshida.

Gotou makes clear that no matter how hard or respectable Sayu is, a high school girl cannot escape the high-school girl label, so it’s best to use it to her benefit rather than detriment. Sayu admits that in the process of running she was probably looking for someone to tell her not to run away.

Before Yoshida, the men she let use her body in exchange for a place to stay were only enabling her. “Something inside me just went crazy”, and she couldn’t deny that, at times,  when they wanted her it made her feel good. Then she met Yoshida, who not only didn’t do anything to her, but said he’d set her straight.

Gotou may not have Sayu’s sexual experience, but she’s still a woman who was a teenager and knows how hard it was and is. So shetells Sayu she’s glad she found somewhere safe, and because she knows and trusts Yoshida, she thinks it’s fine to let him be nice to her…as long as it’s the right way.

Sayu knows she shouldn’t run from her past forever, and resolves to face it, leave Yoshida’s, and “go back to where I was”. But Gotou, gathering Sayu into a supportive hug, makes clear she should take her time facing what she needs to face, while accepting the kindness she needs to accept.

It’s such a staggeringly lovely and understated scene of empathy and sisterhood, with superb voice performances from Ichinose Kana and Kanemoto Hisato, it makes what goes on with Yoshida in the meantime that much more disappointing. Because he happens to run into Yuzuha…who has been stalking him and Gotou all night. Yikes!

It’s the first time on this show I didn’t quite buy a character’s behavior. After inviting herself to go shopping with Yoshida, she makes a scene at the station as if Yoshida were two-timing her. While she initially accepted that Sayu was living with him, she deems it “weird” for him to let Gotou and Sayu in the same room on a night she thought he and Gotou were spending the night.

While Yoshida could have cleared up matters rather quickly by simply telling Yuzuha that Gotou wanted to meet Sayu, and that was the sum total reason she went to Yoshida’s place, the fact remains Yuzuha is reacting to a situation she knows far too little abhout to make judgments.

Especially when she questions Yoshida’s “priorities” and doubts whether he actually loves Gotou, she seems motivated by her own jealous rather than genuine concern for him or Sayu. She is right about one thing, however: Yoshida is far too nice…in not more forcefully telling her off!

Before Yoshida returns home, Gotou makes clear to Sayu that she loves Yoshida and isn’t interested in anyone else, while Sayu confirms that Yoshida loves Gotou. Sayu is frustrated by Gotou’s “mysterious woman” act but still offers her blessing. Then Gotou puts some makeup on Sayu, partly so Sayu can feel better after her little cry, and partly to mess with Yoshida when he comes home.

Yoshida walks Gotou home, and learns that she and Sayu have a “hotline” if he tries anything. But Gotou is impressed by Sayu, whom she regards a a great girl. Yes, she’s a little unstable and “doesn’t understand herself at all”—but she’s a teenager, what else is new?—but she thinks it will all work out. After all, Yoshida is known by the bosses at work as the “problem-solver.”

With Gotou making clear her true feelings for Yoshida, it’s lookig likelier than ever that neither Yuzuha nor Sayu have a chance, should the latter end up truly falling for him. As for the introduction of a young man who works at the konbini with Asami , I’m desperately hoping he doesn’t turn out to be one of the men Sayu stayed with.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Higehiro – 04 – Protective Lies and Different Smiles

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I Shaved. Then I Brought a High School Girl Home. is a crap title. It reads more like a cheap hook for what this show isn’t, and so does the show it’s attached to a grave disservice. Hell, it’s not even accurate; his grooming habits didn’t improve until after he invites Sayu into her home. Basically any title would have been better than this. Fortunately, we can abbreviate the Japanese title to Higehiro, which at least rolls of the tongue, and leave it at that.

[Long Title Rant Over]

This week begins with Sayu begging Yoshida to let her get a job, then learning she never had to beg: he’s fully on board with her getting out of the apartment, keeping busy, and meeting new friends. Sayu gets a job at the local konbini, and immediately hits it off with her work senpai Yuuki Asami, who becomes the latest in this show’s much-appreciated procession of kind, thoughtful decent characters who feel and act like real people.

When talk of Sayu’s place comes up, Asami learns that Sayu is living with a man who isn’t her boyfriend, and invites herself over to check the guy out. When Yoshida gets Sayu’s text about her guest, Hashimoto learns Yuzuha also knows about Sayu, while on the other end of the office Gotou looks at the downward slope of the graph on her monitor also serving as a graph for her increasingly left-out mood.

Yoshida’s cramped apartment becomes even more so with the bold and expressive Asami there, but she’s immediately relieved that he seems like a good guy. And as an attractive high school girl, with all the unique experiences they face, her assessment, while quick, doesn’t seem rushed or half-assed. Both at school and work, she’s surely interacted with enough guys to know Yoshida is different.

As she stays for dinner, she also learns that Yoshida is incredibly lucky to share his home with a cute girl who is also a great cook. Asami has Yoshida walk her home, where she reveals she knew he and Sayu were lying about being old childhood friends, and asks him what the truth of their relationship is. Yoshida says not going to lie more, but he’s also not going to talk about things Sayu still wants to hide.

Hearing Yoshida be so considerate of Sayu’s feelings earns him more high marks in good-dudeness from Asami, who agrees to drop the matter and bring it up with Sayu when she thinks she’s more ready. She understands that while you choose who you get involved with, you can’t choose who you can meet, so it’s lucky when you meet a good one.

She’s certain both Yoshida and Sayu are good people, and looks forward to seeing more of them. Yoshida, in turn, asks Asami to be Sayu’s friend, just like a good dad. Asami’s only warning to Yoshida is to be careful, as “Sayu-chiso”, as she nicknamed her, is “really good at using different smiles.” Of course, we’re already aware Yoshida is aware of this, as he was able to see through some of Sayu’s smiles last week.

Sayu has a safe, comfortable, and supportive home, a new job and a new friend. The second half of the episode opens new opportunities for Yoshida, and I’m not talking about advancement at work. At the end of the day, Gotou approaches him, draws a bit closer than workplace sexual harrassment rules would probably be okay with, and takes him out for yakiniku.

They leave Yuzuha alone holding two cups of coffee; suddenly she’s the left-out one. Gotou doesn’t beat around the bush: she wants to know what’s been up with Yoshida, between all the time he’s spent with Yuzuha, passing up a work trip, and checking his phone all the time. While he’s under no obligation to answer any of that, he agrees to do so if, and only if, she answers his question: why is she so fixated on him?

That’s when, in between a lot of nervous fidgeting, that she actually likes him. When she said she had a long-term boyfriend, she was lying. Stating she (like Asami) has good intuition, she lied because while she was happy enough to jump for joy upon hearing he liked her, she didn’t think it was time, and was scared it wouldn’t go well.

Yoshida, who actually doesn’t have any reason to trust what Gotou is saying now, oversteps a boundary by saying she can prove she’s not lying about liking him…by sleeping with him. It oversteps because he’s not 100% lying. Only when he sees how flustered this makes her does he say he was only kidding. But she also admits the reason she was worried it wouldn’t work out: she’s a virgin.

Gotou’s behavior, from lying about having a boyfriend and confessing her feelings to revealing her virginity, could all feel like a goofy soap opera if handled improperly. But here’s the thing, it isn’t. None of it is out of left field or simply for the sake of increased romantic drama. It absolutely tracks that Gotou’s lack of experience with sex would make her reluctant to rush into something with a guy she really likes.

Gotou truly did wound Yoshida’s heart with her false rejection, because at the end of the day if she’d explained her true intent he’d have understood; we know that much about him from his interactions with Sayu and Yuzuha. And to their credit neither the show nor Yoshida let her off the hook without a penalty, as Yoshida vows never to ask her out.

Instead, he’ll wait until the time comes when she can ask him out on a date, and he’ll look forward to it. So yes, Gotou initially made a big mess of things and hurt the guy she liked. But it wasn’t the end of the world with him, and he’s happy to forgive her as long as their interactions going forward are open and honest. Both Yoshida and Gotou are able to leave that yakiniku restaurant feeling a lot better about things, and it all feels earned.

But wait: their agreement is only half-complete: Now that Gotou has answered his question—and he learns that Sayu has more sexual experience than the adult woman he likes—it’s time for him to return the favor. Instead of sticking with Yoshida and Gotou as he answers, we return to his apartment, where Sayu is eating some pretty bangin’ looking beef stew.

It doesn’t taste “as good as it should” because food always tastes better when you’re eating it with others (that’s an unwavering truth). But especially after experiencing the apartment with both Yoshida and Asami around, being alone still feels lonely. It also gives Sayu’s trauma-addled brain a chance to leak glimpses from her past.

These glimpses include what could be her first sexual encounter along with a very stark POV image of her on a bed with what looks like ejaculate in her hand—and an unidentified crying girl. Sayu starts to blame Yoshida for not coming home and heading off these painful, unwanted thoughts, but she scolds herself for “blaming it on someone else,” not yet ready to assign blame only to those who exploited her. It’s in this state of mind that she receives a text from Yoshida saying he’s bringing Gotou home.

This is it, Sayu laments, this is when I’m abandoned again. She texts back she’ll stay somewhere else (and thank goodness she knows Asami now, as she could stay there if she needed to), but Yoshida texts back that it’s not like that: Gotou wants to meet her. It’s a great way to reveal that, like Yuzuha, Gotou learned the truth from Yoshida, and because she knows him to be a good guy (and no one on this show has watched him closer or longer), is ready, willing, and eager to know more about it, not less.

Yoshida, in turn, is learning like Gotou that lies (and omissions!) can only hurt more than they can help. The only way forward is in the light of the truth. And I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait for Gotou to meet Sayu. I think she’ll not only be impressed by what a nice girl she is, but understand completely how Sayu and Yoshida ended up in this scenario. I officially love this show. Even at its messiest, it’s brimming with good faith and empathy and I am here for it.

 

The Day I Became a God – 12 (Fin) – The Easy Way Out

Up to this point, The Day I Became a God had told a compelling and reasonably plausible sci-fi tale about a child who was given a new lease on life (i.e. “became a god”) thanks to bleeding-edge technology, only to have that tech stripped away when the ramifications of its wider use were considered too constructive.

That decision was made by the highest world powers who had to that point played no role in the narrative, and play no role afterwards. Thanks to Suzuki Hiroto’s hacking, Youta is able to find the Hina who is no longer a god and even gain entry to her care facility.

Youta put the consequences of his fraud out of his mind because he held out hope one more miracle would occur: Hina would not only remember him and their happy summer together with his friends and family, but make the decision to return home with him.

Rather than accept the new normal and move forward, Youta insisted on getting everything back to the way it was—on moving backward. And while I certainly sympathized with, and may even have acted as he did in his position, in the end he was wrong, and misguided. Just being in that facility under false pretenses marked him as a criminal.

Throughout the sanitarium part of the series, Shiba had been painted as Youta’s adversary; his rival for the deciding of Hina’s future. It was even implied Shiba had a personal stake in remaining in the here-and-now Hina’s care, which is considerable and not to be undertaken lightly. This week she confronts him about his fraud, but rather than expel him immediately from the facility and turn him over to the police, she gives him One More Day.

The show had me until then, then lost me as soon as that decision was made. I understand this is a fictional show that makes choices out of dramatic license, but for someone who claims to be so committed to Hina’s health and safety, Shiba’s “small kindness” to Youta is as baffling as it is reckless.

Sure, we may know Youta means no harm, but have neither the training or experience to know the extent of how much he may harm her nonetheless. Shiba does, and rather than immediately remove a potential agent of further harm, she lets him not only linger, but take Hina away.

Youta is depicted as being at his lowest point as he’s roughly escorted out of the facility to a waiting car. That should be it, but Shiba takes Hina out into the freezing cold to allow for an extended goodbye, during which it dawns on Youta why Hina kept discarding the card with the drawing of him. The real him was already there, unlike the others, so his card wasn’t needed.

With the real Youta now about to be “missing” Hina verbally protests, repeating how she “loves Yoha[sic]”, jumping out of Shiba’s arms, steadying herself, then walking barefoot into his waiting arms. Finally, Youta has evidence that her memories aren’t gone. She remembers him and his family and friends.

The Hina he knew is still “in there”, merely in a more frail body with a smaller vocabulary, and we can deduce that she wants him to remain in her life.

And hey, that’s great! It really is! But Hina remembering Youta, and even declaring she loves him, doesn’t mean he can immediately take her back home like nothing happened! Shiba was preparing to take Hina to a better facility overseas, implying that the current facility—clearly no slouch itself—wasn’t quite up to spec in terms of being the best place for Hina’s continued care and development.

Youta’s house may be a loving home, but I have to question whether Youta and his parents truly have Hina’s best interests at heart. None of them have caregiver training for special needs children. Worse, Youta returns home immediately, and it’s clear his house hasn’t been modified for Hina’s needs.

If there were plans for Shiba to take Hina abroad, why would she simply give up guardianship and custody to someone she knew was a high school student pretending to be a pediatric researcher? At the very least, Shiba would move into Youta’s house to help with Hina. I’m sorry, but none of these events make any logical sense if you push past the emotional manipulation and think about any of it for one second.

Instead, things carry on as if Hina had simply been kidnapped and returned safe and sound. Youta figures out that the things she did as “Odin”—playing basketball, eating ramen, making a film, etc.—were things the pre-chip Hina wanted to do but couldn’t due to her Logos Syndrome. But then why did pre-chip Hina want to revitalize a restaurant…or get Youta laid by a mahjongg otaku??

Youta decides that Hina always was a god, and even remains one, and credits her with helping him decide his path in life: he’ll go to college to become the foremost researcher on her condition. Wonderful sentiments, but the fact of the matter is he is woefully ill-equipped to help her now.

While he’s plugging away at the books (pre-med is no joke), Hina will need 24-hour care. Assuming he’ll leave that to his parents, will they get the training they need? Again, the fact Shiba simply vanishes without a trace is maddening.

Sora finally finishes her movie, which turns out to be a reflection of Youta and Hina’s arc: a guy rescuing a girl the world needed sacrifice in order to save it. The film sidesteps what effect the actual end of the world would have on their happiness; I guess they’d just enjoy their lives together until the oxygen ran out, because that’s better than being apart and the world going on?

The film is followed by the making-of segments, during which Hina sits down and gets real about her time on the earth with Youta & company. She likens the memories she’s made with them to be a chest full of dazzling jewels she’ll treasure for all of her days—even if “the world should end.”

You’d be forgiven for tearing up during this scene, as with other touching scenes designed to invoke tears. Youta and the others were tearing up. Heck, I teared up too! But once the tears dried, I was simply frustrated to the point of indignation.

This was a show that had all the resources to deliver a realistic ending, in which the acceptance of the loss and change in Youta’s life would spur his own growth and change, bolstering the change God-Hina had already caused. The previous two episodes paved the way for that kind of ending. It would have been difficult, and sad, but it would have felt genuine.

Instead, the show took the easy way out and gave Youta everything he wanted in a painfully artificial happy ending that shredded all previous nuance or appeals to realism. There are no apparent consequences for the fraud he committed, nor for removing Hina from a highly-controlled care facility and dropping her into the chaos of his family and friends.

Youta claims to now know the path he wants to walk, but reached that epiphany only after being unjustly rewarded for his missteps and ignorance. He learned that if he was stubborn and passionate enough, all obstacles would fold and he’d get his way…and they did. Finally, the less said about any romantic undertones to his bond with Hina, the better. I wish this ending didn’t leave such a bitter taste in my mouth, but here we are.

The Day I Became a God – 11 – Goddess in the Machine

Narukami backs off and observes Shiba interacting with Hina. Her daily routine is full of reluctant meals, a minimal physical exertion, and basic learning time. Through it all, Shiba is gentle and patient in all of her interactions, knowing when to stimulate and encourage and knowing the precursors and remedies to Hina’s tantrums.

Youta feels like a big, unruly wrench in Shiba’s delicate clockwork of care. He’s not a pediatrician or behavioral researcher, and it shows; he’s way out of his depth when it comes to the proper way to treat this Hina. He’s also under the mistaken impression that if he simply provides the right stimuli or flips the right behavioral switches, the Hina he knew will suddenly re-appear.

Shiba, who has no choice but to accept his perfectly forged credentials, nevertheless harbors a healthy weariness of Youta’s erratic, ad hoc methods. She knows the jist of what happened to Hina—an “innovative machine” was removed from her brain. She makes the devastating (but very plausible) suggestion that the “Hina he knew” was nothing but that machine processing stimuli and producing the proper responses.

This means he never knew “the Real Hina”—the girl lying in that room now. Rather than worrying about the simulacrum with which he interacted once, she believes everyone who cares about Hina should focus on the memories and progress she makes going forward.

Youta already fears he has no idea what he’s doing, but Shiba’s words send him into a fresh spiral of doubt and despair. Fortunately, he gets some well-timed calls and texts from Kyouko, Ashura, Sora, and the others, not only expressing their love for him and Hina, but their unwavering certitude that the Hina with whom they shared their summer was the real one.

With a fresh infusion of confidence and hope, Youta thinks of ways to stimulate Hina beyond what Shiba is doing, and comes up with the games she loved so much; specifically video games. Shiba is dubious of exposing Hina to the “addictive” games, but grudgingly allows Youta to proceed.

As Youta was hoping, playing the video game does perk Hina up, but he makes another mistake you’d expect of someone simply not trained to care for kids with special needs: he gets all pedantic about how the game is played. It’s also not at all a basic game, which means when Hina’s inputs cause an unpleasant outcome, she gets frustrated and upset.

Shiba comes to the rescue once again, and we delve into her past to see why she is so passionate about not just the practical minutiae of taking care of Hina, but making sure she’s happy. Shiba’s own child died in its infancy due to a similar developmental condition.

She fell into a pit of despair, but was saved by the kids she met at the kind of pediatric facility where she now works. Watching them perservere and grow and knowing how she could affect positive change in their lives, her heart gradually re-filled.

While Shiba is initially presented as an obstacle to Youta’s progress with Hina, in reality Youta wouldn’t have gotten anywhere at all with Hina if he hadn’t simply sat back at a respectful distance, watched, and learned from Shiba’s gentle example.

Youta realizes he’s been trying to make Hina do things, while Shiba stays close and waits for Hina to do them on her own. It’s why when Youta draws little picture cards of their circle of friends and she tosses the one of him away not once but twice, he lets her action stand.

He also realizes if he wants Hina to be happy playing the video game, he has to level up her character so he’ll be able to deal with whatever situation Hina gets him into. This is a long process, and Youta pulls an all-nighter upping the character form Level 4 to 47, but it pays off, and Hina is not only re-engaged, but actually smiling in his presence for the first time!

It’s a huge breakthrough, now that Youta understands the limits of what he can do. But just when he seems close to getting Hina out of her shell, Shiba does some digging and determines that Youta is an impostor filing false reports. She communicates this discovery to him via curt chat messages.

Hina may be making progress with Youta, but the fact Youta came to the facility with an assumed identity and in reality had no right to ever be there in the first place, should prove to be a fatal betrayal of Shiba’s and the facility’s trust. Good intentions or not, what Youta did was bad.

I don’t see how this doesn’t result in another swift separation of Youta and Hina, only this time without the benefit of a goodbye, as Hina’s not quite there yet. Frankly, I don’t see how he avoids criminal charges—and then there’s the matter of how much longer Hina has to live. In short, he’s going to need another miracle or two. The question is, does he have any miracles left?

The Day I Became a God – 10 – The Disappearance of Satou Hina

Hina is gone from Youta’s life, as well as those of Kyouko, Ashura, Sora, and the rest of the gang. After a period of restless but fruitless searching, life has returned to normal—or at least to what it was before Hina appeared—though Kyouko seems to hang out with the boys a lot more often.

Before they know it, their group of three friends swells to four with the addition of transfer student Suzuki Hiroto. Hiroto randomly approaches Youta one day, hacks his number onto his phone, and just like that, they’re hanging out on the regular.

He even has Youta and Ashura to teach him basketball, though he already seems pretty good at it. When the others suggest going out for burgers, Hiroto suggests ramen, so they go to Jinguuji’s. He suggests all four of them play a game, and so they play mahjongg.

Youta still tends to the “Lost Hina” posters around town, even if it seems futile, because each day he hangs out with his friends, there nevertheless feels a sense of emptiness, that Hina should be among them. When Hiroto asks if he can watch Sora’s movie, Youta vetoes, because it’s “not finished. Fall turns to Winter, and then entrance exams in the new year.

It’s clear by now to us that Hiroto is very consciously getting Youta & Co. to go through all of the same experiences they went through with Hina…but Youta’s melancholy is such that he doesn’t pick up on it until Hiroto loses his temper, gives up, and threatens to leave.

That’s when it dawns on Hiroto what he’s doing, and Hiroto reiterates that he’s a genius who do “just about anything”—and that includes letting Youta access to Hina. It’s just that his boss insisted that he not directly tell Youta why he showed up in his life; Youta had to figure it out for himself.

Now that he has, Hiroto offers him the opportunity to see Hina. He warns him that she won’t be the Hina he remembers, but Youta doesn’t hesitate for a moment. Just like that, Hiroto’s drive gives them a ride to the Yamada Sanitarium, where Hina is currently a patient.

Hiroto wielded his hacking magic to ensure Youta had full access, but only for a maximum of two weeks. He strides right in and is met by a matter-of-fact visiting researcher, who takes him to Hina’s room. We discover what’s become of her…and it’s predictably gutting.

Bedridden, lean, wan, and very out of it, it would appear her Logos Syndrome has picked up where it left off before her grandfather cured her with the quantum computer in her brain. When that computer was cruelly removed from her brain, they had to shave her hair, which has only recently grown back.

The researcher also warns Youta not to yell or be provocative, as Hina is acutely fearful of men, hence the all-female staff of the facility. She can’t discern between Youta’s anger for those who did this to her and anger directed at her specifically, and she freaks out. Their visit has to be cut short.

Youta sits outside in the cold, and snow starts to collect on his head. He is lost. The emptiness remains, and it expands and festers from the sheer heartbreaking injustice of it all. Hina didn’t do anything to deserve such treatment. Youta can scarcely believe this is real life. Not having a remote idea what to do, his confidence is flickering away like a dying flame in frigid winds.

Where does he go from here? My suggestion? Maybe slowly, gently try again with Hina…only KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE YELLING!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Day I Became a God – 09 – Higher Powers

Finally, Suzuki’s story fully merges with Hina and Youta’s, resulting in tragedy for all three—just as we’d suspected! Suzuki runs an analysis of Hina and Youta’s interactions and discovers that Dr. Korogi’s research has somehow enabled Hina to live healthy life despite her Logos Syndrome.

Under her influence the painfully ordinary Narukami Youta has achieved extraordinary things. This is all theoretically fascinating to Suzuki, but when his Handler reports his findings to the CEO, Hina’s Doomsday Clock’s hands accelerate towards midnight.

Before we’re invited to sow what we’ve reaped by fully emotionally investing in Hina and Youta’s relationship, we get a little context into where Suzuki Hiroto is coming from. A hacking prodigy from a young age, his parents exploited his talents for their own monetary gain. When he refused to continue on moral grounds, they beat him.

He now finds himself a virtual ward of a corporation and its CEO, likely as the result of a settlement that kept him out of prison—a glorified whitehat. He’s dreadfully frustrated to still find himself figuratively and literally under the heel of cynical humans who lack his intellect and imagination.

But while he may be smarter than virtually everyone, he’s not able to see how they’re exploiting his abilities and innate curiosity to basically dig Hina’s grave for them. He starts with a deep dive into the digital ether, visualized perhaps too on-the-nose-ly as a deep blue sea complete with dolphins, whales, and a very conspicuous red goldfish.

More than sticking it to the adults he hates so much and who have done nothing other than step on him, Suzuki above all wishes to have capital-W Worth, and at this stage in his existence he believes his hacking talent to be the sum total of that worth. So he can’t help but reach out and grab that which probably shouldn’t be touched, and as such, he seemingly achieves a digital connection with Hina.

That is, he’s able to access the quantum computer chip placed in Hina’s brain by Professor Korogi in order to cure her Logos Syndrome. Practically moments after his findings are presented to the CEO, they are run up the flagpole to Higher Powers, i.e. the government leaders of the world. Such people are concerned with far bigger pictures and longer games than the happiness of one boy, one girl, and one small circle of friends in Japan.

In fact, they believe that the continued existence of the quantum computer out in the world presents an unacceptable risk to global peace. They have decided—and have the power to enforce—the notion that the computer must be retrieved and hidden away until such a time that mankind is ready for it.

Once Hina is made aware of the order to apprehend her and take her computer, she apologizes to Youta, who thinks she’s trying to apologize for the sudden rainstorm she predicted before the drops fell. She isn’t; she’s apologizing for wrongfully assuming that because she in her omniscience could not see beyond thirty days, that it would be the end of the world…not simply the end of hers.

At no point does it occur to Hina that she could or should resist this fate; she is oddly detached and almost clinical in her confusion when Youta grabs her and runs out of the park pavilion as the film crew buys them time. Finally Youta stops and explains: He had fun this Summer with Hina, and doesn’t want to lose her. He wants to spend the rest of his life with her, because he loves her—something Hina never thought she’d hear from anyone other than her gramps.

He wants that to be enough of a reason for protecting her, but while Hina tearfully confesses she’s come to love him too, she still doesn’t believe there’s any sense in fighting that which her own omniscience has already decided cannot be fought. The pertinent governments of the world are unanimous: Her world is to end without delay.

The question is, will it really end? Suzuki managed to warn Hina, but only gave her enough time to say her rather rushed goodbyes. Could he somehow escape his handlers’ clutches and aid Youta & Co. in some way? Or will this outcome stand, Hina is doomed, and what comes next is Youta & Co. processing the grief and moving on with her memory in their hearts driving them to be better people?

Personally, I hope there’s still some way to save Hina despite the ridiculous odds stacked against the good guys. But I have to admit…It is not looking good!

The Day I Became a God – 08 – The Temporary Luster of a Miracle

Hina cries as she dreams of her late, beloved grandfather once again, but the next day—only the fifth left in the whole world—she’s her usual cheerful self as Sora shoots footage for the “making of” movie. Watching Hina interact with the others, he can’t help but want to know more about her.

If the world is to end as she says, he feels they’d be parting far too soon for his taste. So he asks his parents, and they’re refreshingly open with him. Hina isn’t a relation, but the granddaughter of a teacher and mentor to both of them. Her mother passed away, her father abandoned her, so gramps is all she had.

When he died, he made sure arrangements were made, dressing her up in conspicuous clothes so Youta’s parents would know it was her. They gladly took their mentor’s granddaughter in, but it’s up to Hina—and Youta—how long her stay lasts. It’s interesting to note that at no point do Youta’s parents mention the countdown to the end of the world.

The next day, Hina is ready for video games when Youta tells her he wants to find her real father. Hina is not nearly as enthusiastic about this, but if Youta thinks it will help him learn more about her, she’s game, and helps him locate his current residence. It just happens to be by the ocean, which Hina has never seen, so there’s a built-in incentive for her to come.

Youta comments that it almost feels like they’re eloping, but for the bento boxes his mom prepared for them. After a train ride, a bus ride, and a bit of a walk, they finally arrive at what looks like a dream house. Hina’s father guardedly welcomes them in. For a moment Youta believes neither her dad nor his wife can see Hina, but she merely requested a different kind of tea.

In truth they can see her just fine; they just have no idea the girl with lilac hair in nun cosplay is Hina. When Youta clarifies that it is indeed her, her father reacts as if he’s seen a ghost, while his wife drops her royal milk tea and completely loses it.

Hina’s dad moves their conversation to the beach and has Hina play with the family dog while he explains his shock to Youta. You see, he only knew Hina until age 7. All her life to that point, she suffered from the hereditary condition known as Logos Syndrome, which negatively affected both the brain and the muscles.

The last time he saw her she could barely stand or speak. As he tries to sort through his swirling emotions, part of him feels he should be angry, telling Youta how cruel it is to show him a healthy, happy Hina he had, to be perfectly frank, left for dead, and replaced with a new wife and kids. When Youta asks if there’s any way the father and Hina can reunite, he says it’s impossible.

Hina’s father already cut that bond, and every time an increasingly agitated Youta tries to take him to task for that—Your daughter is right there!, and such—he responds with “You’re young; you wouldn’t understand.” Youta admits he doesn’t, but Hina’s father says the time will come when he will. There is no cure or treatment for Logos, and he considers the luster of the miracle of a healthy Hina to be fleeting.

Hina has nothing to say to her biological father, so she and Youta take their leave. On the bus to the hotel where they’ll spend the night before returning home, Youta wonders what the point of the trip was. He’s pretty sure he would have preferred to remain ignorant of the existence of Hina’s father, just as he probably would have preferred not to know Hina still lived.

As for Hina, she’s her usual joyous, laughing self, playing with her food then getting excited about vintage Space Invaders in the rec room. When she notes Youta’s constant glum expression, she reminds him the world is about to end, which should be cause not to panic or despair, but to not worry about what one cannot control.

Youta has come to love Hina, as I have, but it sure looks like she’ll be a goner in four days. The rest of the world won’t end; Hina’s father and his happy family, Youta, Sora, their parents, Ashura, Kyouko, Kakou…they’ll all live on. Only Hina, who “became a god” 335 days ago, won’t be around in four more. But like Youta, I don’t want that, and I don’t want to believe her father.

Perhaps whatever treatment her grandfather administered allowed her to live for 339 days and no more. Or maybe Youta, possibly aided by Suzuki (who visits Hina’s dad that same night) and others, could end up saving her, delaying the end of her world indefinitely. One can hope…

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 02 – Another Bang for Another Buck

After two episodes, one thing that stands out about MOK is the quality of animation…or rather lack thereof. There’s a number of things drawn in a fast, iffy, haphazard way that all combine to distract from a story that probably needs better production values to hold my interest.

Which is a shame, because MOK is as strong with the Japanese mythology as it is weak in actually showing it, from the nekomata Yuki who reunites with Arata (who thought Yuki was just a regular cat years ago) to a mysterious nine-headed kishi that threatens to cause further Another disturbance.

Arata and the other midnight occult civil servants are putting in overtime to investigate a string of recent burglaries involving very particular magical objects. Arata, with his “Ears of Sand” that can understand Anothers, is immediately one of the more in-demand members of the office, as if it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t be able to gather the information they need to connect the dots.

There’s also a weird tension between Arata’s desire to reason with all Anothers through dialogue and his co-worker’s belief that’s naive and even reckless. They maintain that Anothers are distinctly another, and that they and humans just aren’t going to see eye-to-eye on things. I tend to side with Arata on this; after all, the position of the others is due largely to the inability to ever properly communicate prior to Arata’s arrival.

Still, Arata manages to do something stupid and touch a magical circle of some kind before determining whether it’s safe. He and Kyouichi are teleported deep beneath a mountain, where the “oni” who was riding the kishi, stole all the magical objects, and created the magical circle, is there to welcome “Abe no Seimei” with a horde of kyoushi, or Japanese zombies.

That last-minute reveal finally introduces some serious peril to what had thus far been a mostly harmless job; the kyoushi can’t be talked to or reasoned with, so Arata had better hope he can convince their master to make them stand down. I bet Arata wishes he’d listened to his grandpa more…

Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin – 01 (First Impressions) – Believe What You See

MOK’s first episode takes place entirely at night, as Miyako Arata reports to his first shift at the Shinjuku Ward Office “Nocturnal Community Relations Division”, the exact nature of which is something Arata himself is a little fuzzy about.

He meets two of his new colleages, the bishounen scientist Himezuka Seo and their bespectacled shift leader, Sakaki Kyouichi. They’re both warm and friendly, and inform Arata most of his shifts will take place outside, which only compounds his confusion with what their division does.

Kyouichi and Seo take him to the entrance to Shinjuku Gyoen, unlock the gate, and head inside for a “rite of passage” that involves spraying a “helper spray” that makes fairies and other supernatural creatures visible to those who aren’t able to see them.

Arata meets a tiny (and somewhat surly) pixie, a giant, cuddly Cu Sith, and more, and learns that it’s the NCR Division’s job to maintain good relations with the various supernatural beings that inhabit the forests. It’s most comforting to learn that Tokyo’s ultra-urbanization over the decades hasn’t resulted in the destruction of these beings.

Rather, they exist much like conventional city animals—pigeons, crows, raccoons and squirrels—they’ve adapted to exist beside humans, albeit out of sight to most. Only occasionally, they can cause a disturbance, such as a fight breaking out between angels and tengu.

Arata discovers that an angel and a tengu are lovers who wish to elope, but neither the angel’s older sister nor the tengu’s father approve, and since the two races just naturally don’t get along, it isn’t long before their bickering spills outside of the park and into the city proper.

While Arata can tell the angels and tengu mean no harm, Kyouichi and Seo both seem to ignore them and present a defensive posture, ready to use gas grenades and the like to disperse them. However, Arata informs them that he can hear what they’re saying, and manages to defuse the situation by being the one person who can have a calm dialogue with everyone.

Arata’s colleagues are amazed that Arata can understand what the angels and tengu are saying—it’s a rare if not impossible gift for a mere human, and sure enough when an elder tengu appears and addresses Arata as Abe no Seimei, it’s all but confirmation Arata isn’t a mere human at all.

MOK follows a long tradition of night-oriented Tokyo-set shows like Tokyo Ghoul and Durarara!! in creating a rich and lived in animated version of the Eastern Capital. It also follows the latter of those two shows with a usually laid back, upbeat tone, helped in no small part by the jazzy score by Evan Call (previously of Violet Evergarden and currently of YU-NO). I found MOK—or Midnight Occult Civil Servants—clever, cozy, and cool.

Hanebado! – 02 – Smashing a Slump

The epic clash between Nagisa and Ayano…doesn’t go well, mostly due to the massive differential in both talent and motivation. Ayano just doesn’t care, so when Nagisa gets too into it, she just gives up, which of course makes Nagisa even more angry.

Ayano still stays in the club—ostensibly because Elena elects to become the manager, and she and Ayano can never be apart…I guess?—but Nagisa is caught in a bad slump, and feels she can’t get out of it unless she beats Ayano in a match in which both players are invested…easier said than done.

The three quitters also converse with another first-year, Yuu, who has a ritual of eating a hot dog on a stick after every workout. They can tell things are no less tense at practices than before they quit.

When paired up for doubles, Nagisa and Ayano crash into each other, but you get the feeling the collisions are all Nagisa’s fault, because she’s thinking about coming out of her slump and proving something far more than she’s thinking about the team. Coach Tachibana switches her out for Riko, who ducks to let Ayano return the shot.

Nagisa sees this as nothing but making Tachibana’s “favorite” look good, which she says is all everyone thinks people without talent are good for: making the talented look better. Nagisa’s huge chip on her shoulder is long-standing; she’s always been tall for her age, and despite working harder than almost everyone, that height was seen as a natural (and unfair) advantage.

When the quitters see Nagisa yelling at Yuu out of frustration, one of them confronts her, saying she used to envy her love of badminton. Left unsaid is the fact she probably pities her now.

Having watched enough of Nagisa’s play (and attitude) to diagnose the cause of her slump, Tachibana engages in a bit of tough love by having a match with her. Before he blew out his knee he was an Olympics-bound player, and it shows: he straight-up schools the slumping Nagisa.

But then, he says all the things she needed to hear: the misconceptions people have for tall people like her; the acknowledgement she’s good because of hard work, not her height; and perhaps most important, that she can’t just rely on being tall to deliver jumping smashes at this stage in her career, but have more trust in her shot and be less obsessed with controlling everything.

It’s a pep talk with immediate positive effects, and by the end of their match, Nagisa has scored a point against a would-be Olympian, and a smile returns to her face. She later apologizes to the team, promises she’ll be less selfish going forward, but also vows to one day beat Ayano. I’m just glad she’s out of her funk!

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 10 – Love is Painful, but Also Fun

I’ll admit the title above isn’t a particularly original observation, but one thing it definitely is is true, as anyone who loves or has ever loved someone else can attest. When 3DK started I noted the balance in its core couple, and I stand by that assessment.

Whatever they may feel about their situation, the fact is both of them are at pretty much an equal disadvantage when it comes to matters of love and intimacy. Before falling for one another, neither had any experience with intimacy. Hikari had never liked or been liked by someone like Iroha, and Iroha had never liked or been liked by someone like Hikari.

Their mutual lack of experience has made for a bumpy road as their affection for one another intensifies, but it also leads to some novel strategies someone with more experience than Hikari might not attempt, such as having Iroha present for his gentle rejection of Ayado.

It wasn’t even a stone-cold rejection of Ayado, so much as a calm and measured affirmation that he’s simply already in love with Iroha. More importantly, he showed his work, explaining how he used to feel and how those feelings changed when he learned more about her, and when his preconceptions were replaced by truths.

Iroha, who only wanted to hear Hikari say the words “I love you”, wants to hear them again later, and Hikari knows not to refuse her. Ayado feels bad about being turned down, and both she and Hikari find themselves weighed down by their 3D problems in the immediate aftermath, but after that both are fine; Ayado is refreshed.

Itou knows now is not the time to confess his love for Ayado, nor is he sure such a time will ever come. When making up with Hikari after yelling at him by sleeping over, Itou reveals to Hikari that there’s a girl he likes, but believes he’s already been given his answer.

I wouldn’t be too sure about that; Ayado is coming off a rejection, but given time, she might be receptive to someone like Itou’s feelings provided, ya know, she is aware of them, and that’s up to Itou. It’s up to him whether he can get past the fact she once loved Hikari. In any case, as Itou says, it’s painful being in love, but also fun.

Hikari’s tale of romantic ineptitude is a simple one: he buried himself in games after he decided interacting with people was too hard and painful. It was Iroha who brought him back to the 3D world, and showed him how it wasn’t only pain that awaited him there, but a good deal of joy as well. He also learned how well-equipped he was to live in such a world, owing to his basic decency and kindness.

Iroha’s tale is one we hadn’t delved into, but I’m glad this episode finally does so. Iroha has a pretty face, and so she never wanted for the attentions of men of all ages, whether that attention was appropriate or not. When she pressed those who confessed to her what they liked, they gave only superficial answers.

What changed Iroha from an insular person not any more sure how to interact with people into someone approaching gregariousness was, apparently, a medical diagnosis. She decided she’d interact with as many people as she could, but she only managed to attract those like her; people only looked at the surface and never dug deeper.

In a way it’s hard to blame them, because like her it was all they knew. Then she met Hikari, someone who wasn’t simply looking to share in the kindred understanding of attractive people that your real self will always elude others. Hikari got past that, found the awkward person beneath the surface, and wanted to protect that person…and stuff.

Hikari is still nervous being alone with Iroha, particularly in his room, but after a day of karaoke and bowling during which Iroha discovers Hikari’s cool, intense side (going all out singing) as well as his delicate, nurturing side (clipping her nails when she breaks them while bowling), he comes to the realization he’s okay being with her.

When he and Iroha spotted his little brother holding hands with Takanashi’s little sister, Hikari lamented that he sometimes feels his life moves five times slower than average. But when you only have three months left with your girlfriend before she moves, he realizes that slowing of time is a good thing.

3D Kanojo: Real Girl – 09 – She Loves Me as I am; I Hurt Her as I am

Hikari manages to find Iroha, but their communication impasse continues unabated. Iroha knows she shouldn’t get so mad whenever he’s kind to others, but doesn’t quite know how. Hikari doesn’t know much of anything, just that something’s wrong and he wants someone—Iroha, Ishino, Takahashi—to give him all the answers.

Itou’s doomed pursuit of Ayado has him accompanying her into town for a post-fever hospital visit, but what with her talk of needing to confess to Hikari, he never gets what he deems a decent chance to tell her of his own feelings for her.

While on the train home (alone), Hikari dreams of Julia, the only other girl who ever interacted with him on a regular basis, in elementary school. She liked how he was good at drawing, but he didn’t know how else to get approval from others, so he kept drawing, even after everyone else, Julia included, moved on.

He repeats his assertion it’s a miracle someone like Iroha likes him, but decides a grand gesture like confessing his feelings for her might get things back on track. To his dismay, Iroha doesn’t want to talk, but Hikari only makes things worse by answering a text from Ayado when his attention should be on Iroha first and foremost.

I don’t care how indiscriminately kind you are; the person standing in front of you is almost always more important than a text or phone call. Hikari blows it, then gets completely blindsided by Ayado’s confession. So much so he runs away, engendering the scorn of Itou, who tells him he’s “the worst” for responding to Ayado’s courage with such cowardice.

Hikari surely looks like he’d like to go back to not having any friends at all, but it’s too late for that. He may not be on the best terms with some of them, but they’re still his friends. He may be on rough seas with Iroha, but they’re still boyfriend and girlfriend.

Ishino and Takanashi serve as sounding boards for Hikari and Iroha, and both find themselves giving out serious advice in spite of themselves. Like it or not, these two have become good friends with this dysfunctional couple, and so they’ll lend a hand whenever they can, because beneath Ishino’s rough and Takanashi’s douchey exteriors, they’re both good people.

Takanashi tells Iroha the only way to figure things out is to keep seeing Hikari and talking with him. Hikari, meanwhile, gets punched by Ishino…but at his request, leading him to properly respond to Ayado’s confession.