Fruits Basket – 09 – Poker on a Cold Day

After seeing a bit of him last week, we’re formally introduced to another new Souma, Haruhatsu, who seems cool to some passing ladies until he gets on his deeply uncool bike with his uncool shades, clearly on some kind of mission.

Winter break is over, and Tooru has settled back into a fun daily life with the Soumas, though Yuki and Kyou remain stubbornly incapable of getting along. As it’s wintertime, Yuki also feels a cold coming on.

Despite this, Yuki doesn’t back down from Kyou’s challenge to beat him in the endurance race on the first day of the third term. Sure enough, the two blast ahead of all the other boys. Meanwhile, Uo skips entirely while Saki dramatically quits after one step and plays cards the rest of the time, to the annoyance of the teacher.

Kyou is literally tripped up by Haruhatsu, who wanted to fight Kyou on New Year’s but wasn’t able because Kyou skipped the family festivities. Now it’s go time…and Kyou isn’t one to back down from a fight.

Their mutual competitive spirit results in the emergence of “Dark Haru”, Haruhatsu’s other, more manic side, like Kagura only worse. Haru reiterates his undying love for Yuki while fighting Kyou like they’re in some kind fo martial arts movie.

Yuki notes that the two trained together when they were younger, and are both equally passionate about it. Tooru suspects Yuki loves martial arts too, but when he recalls a memory of watching the other two sparring and having his eyes suddenly covered by Akito, he faints.

The fight is called, and Haru decides the best way to get Yuki home is to carry him on his back in animal form, which is that of the Ox (though technically a cow).

When it’s just Haru and Tooru, he tells her the story of how he was always angry and losing his temper, and hated Yuki’s guts because of the “rat who rode the ox’s back” legend, and also because everyone always called him stupid and an idiot, for which he also blamed Yuki.

That all changed when he finally met him, and Yuki told him he wasn’t stupid; not really. He fell for him right then and there. With that, Yuki wakes up, not the worse for wear.

Haru suspects Tooru has had a “lightening” effect on the once standoffish Yuki and Kyou, and proves there’s something between Yuki and Tooru when he has the latter call the former by his given name and he immediately transforms into a rat.

Meanwhile, Saki has drawn a crowd to play poker by the school gates, but beats everyone running away (not literally though, as Saki isn’t fond of running). As a result of playing cards outside all afternoon in the cold, Kyou and Shigure also get colds. But Tooru is all too happy to take care of them!

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Bloom Into You – 09 – Ready, Set, Yuu

Sports Day has arrived, and the StuCo is so busy Yuu and Nanami hardly see each other, to say nothing of anything more. Just as Yuu is thinking about this as she’s leaving the storage shed, Nanami appears and the two go into the shed.

Yuu lets Nanami kiss her, but when Yuu pulls her off, Nanami agrees to behave until Sports Day is over, whereupon Yuu promises to give her a “reward” of her choosing: instead of Nanami initiating, Yuu will kiss her.

The Sports Day unfolds as one would expect: Yuu does her class relay, demonstrating she’s fast for a short kid, owing to her long-standing friendship with the far taller Akari. Yuu then gets to talk with Maki for the first time in a while, still adamant she has no feelings for Nanami despite his suspicions. She tells him she can’t fall in love with anybody, which in theory would make the two of them the same…but Maki doesn’t buy it.

There’s every reason to put stock in his doubt, considering how he’s basically carved out a life of observing relationships from afar rather than participating directly. As such, Maki has seen a lot of faces of both lonely and content people, and Yuu’s face looks lonely…too lonely for someone incapable of falling for someone.

Meanwhile, in a continuation of last week’s thread, Sayaka greets Hakozaki-sensei’s live-in girlfriend, who shows up to secretly watch her run in the teacher’s relay. When it’s time for the StuCo to do a relay against the basketball team, Yuu sees how much Nanami really wants to win, as well as her and the basketball captain Serizawa exchanging trash talk.

Yuu does her best, and manages to keep pace with the far more athletic Akari running beside her. She hands off to Sayaka smoothly, and Sayaka does the same with Nanami. As Yuu watches Nanami run with everything she’s got, everything else in her world fades into the light and it’s just the two of them. Perhaps a rare instance of her actually feeling that “special feeling” she claims she’s unable to feel?

The ballers win in the end, but it was close, and despite having to deal with Serizawa’s gloating, Nanami is happy her StuCo worked so hard. Then, with Sports Day in the books, Nanami and Yuu retire to the storage shed once more. Yuu is nervous, as she didn’t think Nanami meant immediately after Sports Day was over, and when Nanami waits for Yuu to come to her with her lips, Yuu feels like she’s crossing a boundary she shouldn’t, because she doesn’t like Nanami.

She tells Nanami to go instead, and she does, including putting her tongue in Yuu’s mouth for the first time. We haven’t seen the telltale blushing on Yuu’s face until that happens, because when Nanami pauses and asks if she should stop, Yuu tells her it actually feels good.

So Nanami keeps French kissing Yuu, as Yuu thinks about all of the positive physical and behavioral qualities Yuu finds comfort in. She considers them all “normal” and not something to be considered “special.” But as Maki would tell her, someone as incapable of love—and as comfortable with same—as Yuu claims simply wouldn’t be going around looking lonely or making out with someone.

That being said, just because Yuu seems to be on the road to falling for Nanami (if she hasn’t already), unless she’s actually aware she’s on that road and acknowledges it once and for all, her vacillating is doomed to continue.

That she’s still trying to explain/excuse her rapidly escalating romantic entanglement with Nanami after nine episodes suggests the series just might end without Yuu ever coming to believe she’s in love with her. Fortunately, four episodes is plenty of time to resolve this one way or another, and whatever the outcome, it’s been a wonderful ride.

Bloom Into You – 08 – A Friend and a Senpai

Yagate Kimi ni Naru is the finest school romance I’ve watched since Tsuki ga Kirei back in the Spring of last year, and I’ve known that for some weeks now. Both shows are wonderful to look at, but more importantly they feature some wonderfully fleshed-out characters and relationships, and the more I learn about both, the deeper I sink into the show.

It would have been so easy and expected for someone like Sayaka to launch a transparent full-scale war against Yuu once she determined she was a potential threat to her relationship with Touko. Not only did YKN not take that route, but continued to develop Sayaka as someone just as confused, frustrated, and yet still mostly happy as Yuu.

Watching Sayaka take “revenge” on her former senpai who so coldly dumped her was a thing of absolute beauty, and a perfect way to start the episode in which her and Yuu’s rivalry is laid bare (well, more bare). And how perfect was it that Touko swiftly delivered “payback” in the form of continuing to hold Sayaka’s hand?

Yuu gets the feeling that she and Sayaka have some things to talk about, and that the present chill is affecting their relay baton exchange game, so after school she invites Sayaka to join her for a repast of McDonalds. Sayaka almost immediately calls Yuu out for her “olive branch”, which could harm Sayaka’s image simply by dint of Yuu being her junior.

Yuu holds her own, saying she wouldn’t put it so “dramatically.” Still, the two come to a sort of mutual respect once they learn that neither is the person they expected: Sayaka isn’t so easygoing, and Yuu isn’t so timid and respectful. Both appreciate their directness with each other.

That directness breaks down when neither comes right out and says what they both insinuate by mincing words. Instead, Sayaka says she likes Touko very much “as a close friend” while Yuu likes her “as a senpai” … because what other possible way would they like her??? (Gee, I wonder.)

This first segment of the episode is called “Intersection,” which is fitting in many ways. First, Sayaka and Yuu find common ground and gain a bit more understanding of what makes one another tick, leading to them eventually getting the baton hand-off right.

But an intersection isn’t just a meeting, but a splitting into different directions. In the interests of being as open with Sayaka as possible regarding Touko, she expresses her hope that after the stage play Touko will be more open and “like herself”, dropping the Ms. Perfect act. Such a prospect frightens both of them, since they’re not sure what the hell they’d do in such an instance.

Would Sayaka finally confess her feelings? Would Yuu be left in the lurch? Neither has any idea what such a future holds? Regardless, I love every minute Yuu and Sayaka share the screen, especially now that they’ve reached a measure of détente.

The second segment deals with another common school romance trope: the Rainy Day Umbrella Share. It starts with Yuu Being Yuu, which is to say being super-kind to those she cares about, even if it means getting wet. When the guy Akari likes forgets his umbrella, she nudges her in the guy’s direction, though the two were going to walk home together. Akari is deeply grateful for the gesture, and off she goes with the guy, the two already looking like a couple.

This leaves Yuu stranded at school, as the only available loaner umbrella is useless. She calls her sister, but when Rei’s boyfriend answers, she says never mind; she doesn’t want to interrupt their date. She’s also hesitant to call Touko, not just because she doesn’t want to give her the wrong idea or just because she doesn’t want to burden her. There’s a number of factors that drive her hesitation; another reflection of her character that Rei has down to a T in a brief scene with her boyfriend.

When she says Yuu is great at getting on with things once she’s dipped her toe into the water, so to speak; it’s that initial hesitation that’s her problem. Now knowing pretty clearly how much Yuu’s friend Touko likes her sister, Rei expresses her hope Yuu will find the person she needs to give her those oh-so-important nudges—much like the one Yuu gave Akari so an opportunity wouldn’t be missed.

Much to Yuu’s surprise, Touko actually called her while she was on the phone with Rei, and shows up with an umbrella just when Yuu was about to call her. They walk together with Touko holding the umbrella, but once Yuu sees that Touko’s shoulder is getting soaked she insists on taking it; they compromise by holding it together.

When they take a rest under an awning, Yuu proceeds to dry Touko off with a towel, in a very warm and delicate scene. Yuu’s “pampering” makes Touko happy, but she’s worried she’s taking advantage of Yuu’s kindness and that resentment will build up in Yuu and curdle into hatred.

It’s a perfectly plausible scenario from Touko’s perspective, since she still believes Yuu when she says her feelings are still just one-sided. Of course, that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case, as Yuu betrays when she blushingly tells Touko how happy she was to be rescued by her and her umbrella.

Yuu quickly corrects by saying she “meant nothing weird” about it, and Touko thinks to herself “that’s more the Yuu I know.” But that’s the whole point: she doesn’t know the Whole Yuu…nor the Whole Sayaka. Both girls have acknowledged and accepted each others’ existences. Now comes the hard part: acknowledging and expressing Touko is much more to them than the words “friend” or “senpai” alone can express.

P.S. The piece of music that plays during particularly dramatic scenes reminds me of Uematsu’s “A Secret Sleeping in the Deep Sea,” one of my all-time favorite video game audio tracks. 

Bloom Into You – 07 – Plenty for Right Now

In middle school, a girl confessed to Sayaka. Sayaka thought it was weird, but went with it, and got very much into it, such that when she and the other girl were apart for a long time, her longing only grew. That made it particularly painful when they reunited and the other girl was just, suddenly…done with her. She laughs off what they did to be “what kids do”, and “just a phase.” But Sayaka’s heart was broken that day.

She decided to push the experience to the back of her head, and focus on her studies, enrolling at a co-ed high school where she imagined a boy would fall for and confess to her (or vice versa). But the heartbreak still stung so much she couldn’t quite focus enough to score the top grades of the class. So the role of freshman rep went instead to one Nanami Touko.

Whoever this Nanami was, Sayaka resolved to surpass her. But then she caught a look at her face and heard her voice, and she ended up never surpassing her, and moreover stopped caring about trying to. Despite never wanting to fall for another girl again, Sayaka fell for Touko.

Of course, Sayaka could never admit that to anyone, most of all Touko, because she could tell the burdens Touko bore even without knowing about the tragedy of her older sister. Touko was friendly and kind and approachable to all, but only to a point; she’d keep everyone, including Sayaka, at a certain distane to avoid exposing the old, flawed Nanami Touko she was hiding from everyone with her flawless facade.

Sayaka never thought she was special for detecting that other side, and so never seriously considered crossing that boundary to get closer to Touko, however much she might want to. Touko, in her words, belonged to no one. Rather, Sayaka carved out the role Touko’s right hand; her sidekick; her rock. Thus she could be pretty much closer than anyone else.

Touko is aware of this, and to the episodes credit, it takes time away from Sayaka’s head to spend some in Touko’s. Touko knows Sayaka is aware of “the other Touko,” but never oversteps any boundaries. Sayaka is only ever asking Touko to keep up that perfect version of herself while also supporting her in that effort. That’s the way things have been, that’s the way Sayaka likes it, and that’s the way Sayaka wants things to stay.

But now there’s a threat to that status quo named Koito Yuu. Sayaka didn’t consider Yuu a threat at first, and perhaps she still doesn’t; after all, Yuu hasn’t known Touko as long as she has. But at much as Sayaka prides herself on knowing Touko more than anyone, Touko and Yuu continue a gentle dance that is drawing them closer together. It frustrates Sayaka to no end that Yuu seems willing to so blithely cross the boundaries Sayaka established for herself…but still thinks she’ll fail, due to her “Touko belongs to no one” theory.

Touko’s reactions to calling Yuu “Yuu”—not to mention Yuu calling her “Touko-senpai”—make Yuu want to be more “aggressive;” to see how far she can make Touko go. Maybe, just maybe, if and when she does, Yuu will finally feel something as strongly as Touko does.

Like Sayaka, Yuu always thought it was puerile, weird or somehow not right for girls to like other girls. And it’s true that even in 2018 the LGBTQ community in Japan has it pretty rough, at least relative to other developed countries.

So it’s most gratifying that the show introduces a serious adult same-sex relationship in the form of the Japanese teacher Hakozaki Riko and her girlfriend, who owns the cafe where Touko, Sayaka and Yuu meet with Koyomi on writing the script for the stage play.

Hakozaki-sensei conceals this from her students when they ask how she knows the cafe owner, but like the intimacy of a first-name basis, the way the owner first greets Hakozaki before either of them are aware her students are there betrays the fact she’s hiding the true extent of her relationship. Ever the observer of human behavior, Sayaka also notices it in the way Hakozaki drinks her coffee at the counter.

While the other students are oblivious, Sayaka can tell something’s up, and her “suspicions” are confirmed when we see Hakozaki staying at her girlfriend’s place and kissing each other goodnight. It shouldn’t be such a big deal (again, this is 2018)…but it still feels like one. It’s not just what kids do. It’s not just a phase.

Sayaka’s isolation only intensifies when she hears Touko calling Yuu by her first name like it’s nothing. She stages a passive-aggressive protest, to no avail. Then, the next day, she visits the coffee shop and strikes up a chat with the cafe owner. She asks, as carefully as she dares, what her relationship is to Hakozaki-sensei. The owner states clearly and unequivocally that she’s her girlfriend.

Sayaka wasn’t prepared for such a frank, unambiguous response, but it’s something for which she’s greatly appreciative. It’s also liberating for her, and she opens up about her own feelings for another girl, even after having her heart broken by another (Touko’s name is left out of it, of course). It goes without saying (though Sayaka does mention it), but she really really needed to talk to someone about this, especially with someone who, like her, thought she should keep it a secret when she was younger.

When asked why she doesn’t simply confess, Sayaka lays out the reasons: there’s no room in Touko’s heart to accept the feelings of others; it would only be a source of stress for her; it could disrupt or even ruin what they have now, something Sayaka couldn’t bear. She asks the cafe owner if it’s okay to hide one’s feelings for someone in order to stay by her side…or is that just selfishness or cowardice?

The owner responds by giving Sayaka another coffee on the house…for being such a kind soul. Because that’s what she deems Sayaka to be. Someone who keeps her feelings hidden for the sake of her friend, who carries a lot of stress so their friend won’t have to, is very kind, in her book. Confessing wouldn’t be wrong…but neither is staying the course.

The truth is, Sayaka isn’t ready for things to change one way or another, so staying the course is the right path. Does Yuu get on her nerves? Absol-friggin’-lutely. Could it become more of a problem if Yuu and Touko get ever closer together? Of course. But as Touko makes it clear—almost as if she sensed Sayaka needed some reassuring on that particular day—is that she’s glad Sayaka is a part of her life.

If she weren’t, things would be too easy, and Touko would slack off. Standing in front of Sayaka helps her be the ideal person she strives for (which, as we know, is the person her late sister was). Wherever Yuu falls in the equation in the future, Touko will keep relying on Sayaka, which is, for Sayaka, plenty for right now.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 13 (Fin) – On Second Thought…Screw Duty!

Tada-kun never fell in love…until he did. And just his luck, it’s someone who is not only from very far away, but whose hand is promised to another. Against as a monumental, implacable an obstacle as Teresa’s stated duty to her country, he feels lost, defeated; like nothing matters anymore—even feelings that got him on a plane.

As Alec basically lets Teresa cry it out one more night (and cries right beside her, owing to her own unrequited love) Kaoru emerges from the sidelines to encourage Tada not to give in to despair or give up on saying what he came there to say to Teresa. While messing around, Kaoru accidentally lets the royal invite Rachel slipped in Tada’s bag.

That’s all the stimulus Tada needs to spring into action, retrieving the damp envelope at all costs. He’s regained the will and the imperative to see and speak with Teresa one last time…even if he’s being a bother.

Turns out Tada is far more of a bother to Charles and Alec than Teresa, but while Alec is quick to call for Tada to leave, Charles, who puts Teresa’s happiness before his own, lets her and Tada have some more time together. Nothing he says or does can change the fact Teresa simply doesn’t love him.

It sucks, but it’s not at all unexpected when two people are arranged, basically at birth, to marry one another. Love can certainly develop in such a scenario, but in my personal view it’s definitely putting the cart before the horse, and such arrangements aren’t a match for organically developing love such as Teresa and Tada’s.

When Tada finally confesses he’s loved Teresa since they met, she accuses him of being unfair. She left Japan so she could lock away all of her feelings deep inside for all time, but all it took was him following her to her home and saying a few words to break that lock.  There’s no “last day of crying” for Teresa, as long as she’s not in a situation where she can live with the one she loves.

As the credits roll, we return to Japan, where aside from Pin-senpai graduating, is more-or-less the status quo…with one very important development: Charles broke off his engagement to Teresa, rightfully acknowledging that it wouldn’t be fair for either of them to follow through with something that was not their choice.

In a bit of a surprise, Teresa not only seems happy to be free of her engagement to Charles, but took it further by “running after” Tada back to Japan, either delaying or outright cancelling her succession to the throne.

Tada is shocked that she would all but abdicate for him, but once they’re in each others arms, the whys, wherefores, and consequences melt away, and it’s just the two of them, Teresa, and Tada, no longer having never fallen in love. Is it a bit too neat and tidy of an ending? You bet…but who cares!

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 12 (Not Fin) – It’s Not You, it’s the Royal We

First, I have to applaud TKnS for shedding its comfortable Japanese high school milieu for something completely different that expands the story’s boundaries a whole hemisphere’s width and lends it a sense of occasion.

Second, I applaud Mitsuyoshi for getting over his aviophobia to make the trip to Larsenburg, for he feared something far more than flying: not knowing why Teresa left, and not telling her how he truly felt about her. (Kaoru also cheers his friend on, but keeps his distance)

Larsenberg is gorgeous, as one would expect of a fictitious Germanic-sounding miniature kingdom. You can’t help but notice how different it is from the Japan he left, right down to the fact it’s now wintertime.

Mitsuyoshi arrives at the address his gramps stipulated as the place where he’d find Reiko, AKA Rachel, but has trouble gaining access, because it’s a goddamn palace, complete with a Royal Guard that won’t answer his questions…or speak at all.

Meanwhile, Teresa, Alec, and Charles are busy with the duties of a royal couple and their bodyguard…only with a little bit of palace drama mixed in. Alec reveals her lifelong love for Charles when Teresa walks into find her hugging his recently-worn jacket.

Teresa also picks up on Alec’s tell, a grabbing of the arm that signifies lying. Alec denies and denies, not because she doesn’t believe Teresa knows about her feelings (she does), but because she knows nothing good could come of her expressing her feelings for Charles; he’s supposed to marry Teresa, not her.

Before Teresa and Alec can continue their discussion, Mitsuyoshi pops in. He had the good fortune of being spotted outside the palace by Rachel, who invites him in and tells him how she used to work at his gramps’ cafe when she was in college, before moving to Larsenburg to serve the royal family.

Rachel and Charles present Mitsuyoshi to a very shocked Teresa. He apologizes for surprising her, but she knows she’s the one who needs to apologize and properly tell him what the dealio is. Their reunion came far later in the episode than I expected, and it’s almost painfully brief and cordial.

In a sumptuous gilded drawing room the two sit across from one another, Mitsuyoshi expresses his relief that she’s okay and relays Teresa the others’ regards. Then Teresa comes out with it: she’s the future queen of Larsenburg, and thus there is, in her mind, “no way she can live the life she wants”, i.e. either as an ordinary woman in Japan, or as queen, but getting to choose her man.

In the latter case, Teresa drops a second bombshell on Mitsuyoshi: her lifelong betrothal to none other than Charles. We never see if or how he reacts to this verbally after his initial pained look; we only see the aftermath, with neither Alec nor Charles able to approach a sobbing Teresa in her darkened chambers, while Kaoru finaly reveals he followed Mitsuyoshi here, only to watch his friend crying for the first time.

And it’s about here when I was wondering “Wait, really? You’re going to end it like this, show?” But the show didn’t. MAL misled me into thinking this was the last episode, but there’s one more. Thus, there’s hope everyone can walk away with some kind of closure!

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 07 – If You Give Up, Then That’s That

Nyanko Big, Pillar of the Tada family since the loss of its mom and dad, is missing. Mitsuyoshi’s little sister Yui takes center stage in the search for him, riffing off of her favorite manga that chronicle the cases of Hercule Poirot’s half-Japanese granddaughter…which doesn’t sound like a half-bad anime!

Everyone joins in the search, even Sir Charles, who was the one who saw him last with his “girlfriend” (a raggedy foxtail toy). During the search, Yui is happy to be partnered with Yamashita Dog, on whom she’s been maintaining a crush. (Hinako and Hajime sit this one out).

When we first see Charles reacting to something earlier on, and Yui’s gramps mentions how pets “take a trip” when their “time has come”, the episode is trying to tint the proceedings with foreboding, but while the thought briefly occurred to me they might kill off the cat, that thought didn’t last due to the search’s lighthearted tone.

Sure enough, they find Nyanko attempting to woo the disinterested Cherry, who happens to be the pet of “Chia-nee”, a lovely woman who knows Yamashita and pats him on the head as he coos. The joy of finding her cat is replaced by the revelation the guy she likes likes someone else, and says as much later when they’re enjoying celebratory festival snacks.

Teresa knows something’s up, and when asked what’s up, Yui cannot hide her tears of frustration, asking Teresa if falling in love with someone is always so painful. Like Nyanko Big, Yui is meowing up the wrong awning, but Charles later confides in Nyanko that he senses he may be doing the same with Teresa.

That aside, Teresa is the one who once told him “if you give up, then that’s that!”, when he tried to give up looking for his cherished gold bracelet (perhaps given to him by Teresa). She didn’t give up, ended up finding it, and he still wears it to this day. He, in turn, won’t give up, and neither will Nyanko and Yui.

As for Mitsuyoshi? Well, once again he’s a non-factor, only managing a momentary awkward meeting of eyes with Teresa. You can’t give up something you haven’t started, and with only five episodes left, he’s running out of time to do so.

Devils Line – 01 – Back to the Well…of BLOOD (First Impressions)

“AND I’m a vampire…what a week!”

From Blood and Shiki to Dance in the Vampire Bund, Rosario + Vampire, Seraph of the End, and Help! My Little Sister is a Vampire!, there is no shortage of vampire anime out there, old and new, good and bad.

There’s so much, you might not have realized that I simply made up that last one, though for all I know it might actually exist (and Tasukete! Watashi no Imouto wa Kyuuketsuki! can be readily pared down to Tawamokyu!). 

The point is, we know all about vampires in anime. So any time a new one comes around, I ask two pretty standard questions:

#1: Does this add anything notably new to the table?
#2: If not, what makes it worth watching?

In the case of Devils Line, the answer to Question #1 is a firm “no.” Sure, the vamps’ chompers are a bit over-sized (not a great look!) and there’s an emphasis on vamps as crazed blood-and-sex addicts, but we’ve got a standard “pure maiden gets drawn into the dark side” story, which hearkens back to Lucy Westenra.

As to Question #2, I actually found a lot to like in the first 19/20ths of the episode (more on the final 20th later). First, the setting is realistic and grounded rather than surreal or baroque, and there’s a familiar Tokyo Nighttime atmosphere that pervades the episode and draws you in. I took note of the way characters were back-lit from various light sources.

In keeping with the much-like-real-life setting, the vamps, while ostensibly the “bad guys”, are also given a good degree of nuance and humanization. It’s not an accident that the blood-soaked cold open depicts a vamp tearing people apart…but not being all that happy about it! (no doubt because his fangs are so comically huge).

Finally, while it’s ultimately a red herring, the chase scene does good and efficient double duty, introducing us to the special division and their procedures for dealing with vamps in this world (a bad-ass cop lady fights on a higher footing than the vamp, probably because she too is a vamp) while also giving us a nifty Vamp-Speed chase and moonlit brawl.

So what didn’t work so well? Pretty much what the ED portends will be the entire premise of the show going forward: a Vampire Romance. College(?) student Taira Tsukasa goes with the flow, while sometimes looking off to the side like she needs new friends (or possibly very very old ones, amirite?!) but one thing I like about her is that she’s comfortable not having a boyfriend.

It doesn’t help when one of her two close friends confessed to her at school, she had to reject him, and he’s been basically tolerating the fact they’re “just friends” ever since…for now. Turns out Mr. Unrequited Love was the vampire she needed to watch her back for, and it’s to the kid’s credit that my disgust turned to pity once the Shadowy Subway Guy came between him and Tsukasa.

Subway Guy is a special division officer named Anzai, who suspected Tsukasa’s friend would soon crack from the pressure of having to hold in his vampiric nature, but concedes the kid’s desire not to hurt her was genuine…it’s just that Vamps can’t be trusted. When they see someone’s blood, they’re off to the sexy races.

And to the list of Vamps that can’t be trusted, go ahead and add Anzai in there, because once he notices Tsukasa’s scratched face, he starts French-kissing her. This burst explosion of passion might not have come out of nowhere, but it still felt sudden and oddly staged.  It looked less like the pure Tsukasa suddenly yearning and embracing a man’s touch, and more like he just jumped her.

So yes, this show has some good things going for it, but some big questions moving forward about whether and how the whole vampire romance thing will work. That she’s ostensibly dealing with a vamp who has his shit mostly under control (and is working for the “good guys” i.e. public safety) works to Anzai’s advantage, but I want to see more agency from Tsukasa, not for her to keep going with the (blood)flow.

 

Citrus – 08

Matsuri continues to Be The Worst when Mei tags along on her “date” with Yuzu, which Yuzu never meant to be a romantic date. Matsuri loudly embarrasses her about wanting to be a couple and have sex, while Mei mostly keeps her distance and lets Matsuri do as she pleases…for now.

But Mei’s presence alone is enough to enrage Matsuri to the point she decides to use it for a fresh bit of blackmail, which Mei is unusually vulnerable to due to her dad’s side of the family and position at school.

When she confronts Mei and tries to goad her into slapping her, Mei kisses her instead, “taking back” the kiss Matsuri stole from Yuzu. This surprises Matsuri, but only entertains her more. In any case, she has her incriminating photo.

Matsuri then takes off on her own. Mei feels responsible, but Yuzu doesn’t blame her. It gets colder, and they hold hands as they walk home. I love how Mei’s come to appreciate Yuzu’s warmth in the winter.

I don’t love how Matsuri didn’t go home, but wanted to creepily watch them from afar. Why? And aren’t all of them going to catch their death with such few layers out there?

Mei has apparently never celebrated Christmas, so Yuzu is excited to get her involved in their traditional family-only party. Hime shows more maturity by telling Mei to enjoy herself, while Harumin, who was barely in the episode, is playfully jealous she can’t join either.

As Yuzu makes the preparations, both culinary and stuffed bear-related, Mei works overtime after school so she doesn’t leave too much for her subordinates, and that’s when Matsuri shows up, no doubt to threaten her with the photo of them kissing.

So far Matsuri has been totally incapable of driving any kind of meaningful wedge between Yuzu and Mei, and that’s a good thing. Here’s hoping her string of failures continues and she’s left alone and miserable on Christmas and every other day.

Or maybe, if she eventually gives up these cruel and childish games and decides to change her awful ways, she can be rewarded with contentment in her friendship with Yuzu and maybe even Mei as well…But I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

Citrus – 07

Yuzu needs to score in the top 100 if she wants Mei and Gramps off her back, but she can’t concentrate after her last kiss with Mei, which felt different and more meaningful. Alas, Mei withdraws to the outmoded “we’re both girls” and more reasonable “we’re sisters, so we should stop this.”

Yuzu is devastated, because she takes Mei at her word; in reality there’s a lot of doubt behind Mei’s supposed certainty, as we’ll see later in the ep. Good Ol’ Harumin is there to console Yuzu with an after-school arcade session where commentary on her getting a game over matches commentary about her Mei dilemma.

Then THE DEVIL takes the stage. Satan has many forms, but chooses a pleasing and seemingly harmless one in Mizusawa Matsuri, Yuzu’s childhood friend. Now where have I heard of an anime in which one relationship is suddenly put at risk by a meddling childhood friend? Oh yeah, pretty much all of them.

Subtlety is not Matsuri’s strong suit, with her devil-may-care headphones, bubble gum (and bubble gum pink hair), and seiyu Izawa Shiori’s trademark apathetic drone. Because Yuzu is a sweet, innocent, kind person, she’s a sitting duck for Matsuri, who is not the girl Yuzu remembers, if she ever was.

Harumin immediately senses Pinky is BAD NEWS, even before Matsuri brings up her part-time job of sexting dirty old men, despite being in seventh grade. And yet Matsuri shows how skillful she is at manipulating people like Yuzu even with Harumin ostensibly in the way.

Matsuri snatches Yuzu’s phone and steals a picture of her with Mei, then drags Yuzu and Harumi to a karaoke when Yuzu is supposed to be buying things to make dinner. But she’s too nice to say “gotta go” to her former little-sister figure.

Worse still, Harumi suddenly has to duck out to take care of a family matter (part of me thought Matsuri sent her a false message), leaving Matsuri all alone with Yuzu. Matsuri promptly confesses her love and tries to kiss Yuzu, and is interrupted by a call from Mei asking about dinner.

Later, when Mei and Yuzu nearly cross paths at an intersection, Matsuri pulls Yuzu aside and kisses her in full view of Mei, whom Yuzu never saw. Frankly the coincidence and perfect execution of Matsuri’s fuck-you to Mei are a bit much; We get it, she’s pink scum.

Back home, Mei is less angry at Yuzu than I expected, which actually makes sense since Mei realizes she is the one who told Yuzu everything was over when it clearly wasn’t. When Yuzu is just to cute for her to resist any longer, Mei comes at her from behind and licks her neck, literally marking the Yuzu she won’t share with pink-haired interlopers.

Of course, Mei is almost as ill-equipped to deal with Matsuri as Yuzu, since she’s being driven primarily by emotions. Mizusawa Matsuri may say she loves Yuzu but I don’t think she loves anyone, except maybe Mizusawa Matsuri. The show introduced her as someone who manipulates people for the hell of it. Whether she derives fun, I can’t say; maybe this is all she thinks she can do.

The show is not yet ready to portray her as anything other than a villain so far, brazenly invading Yuzu and Mei’s school and making a big fuss about going on an after-school date. Mei shoos her off, but Matsuri won’t give up easily. We’ll see if Matsuri’s story gets a little more nuance and dimension like Hime’s, because right now, if she had a pink mustache, she’d be twirling it.

Citrus – 06

My first thought about Mei’s Dad showing up is Please don’t be a creep. But once it’s clear he’s not, it’s also clear what else he’s not: Mei’s strict “sensei.” Mei’s ideal of her father is who he was, not who he is or who he’ll ever be again. He chose to leave the academy and won’t go back.

That decision left Mei alone on a path she thought they’d share forever. Her father’s absence has only made things worse, as by not opening his letters she could convince herself there was still hope he’d come back to that path.

Now that Yuzu knows the score from both sides, her goal of bringing the two together has gotten a lot more complicated. Mei is so distraught and fatalistic, she seeks an easy escape in fooling around with Yuzu. Yuzu is understandably insulted and pained if Mei thinks the only way Yuzu can “accept” her and “be the one that needs” her is to submit to commiseratory sex.

After an awkward morning where Mei slips out without breakfast, Yuzu’s Mama adds another piece to the puzzle: she calls her husband a “tsundere”, able to spread education and love to kids the world over, but finds it almost cripplingly difficult to do the same with his own natural daughter. And yet, he accepts that maybe he’s just not cut out for it, and that it might be too late, and asks Yuzu to be the support Mei needs in his stead.

While attempting to ascertain what Mei needs and how to support her, Yuzu gets some very welcome emotional and logistical support from Harumin, who strikes about the right balance between being almost too perfectly helpful and being a character in her own right.

When Yuzu gets word from Mama that Papa is leaving for abroad in less than two hours, Harumin takes Yuzu to school on her bike so she can find Mei, not wanting her dad to leave with things the way they are.

When they just miss each other in the chairman’s office, Yuzu hijacks the P.A. system to get a message to Mei: that she’s done a good job; that she shouldn’t blame herself anymore; that she’s pushed herself enough for someone else’s sake.

Yuzu snatches up Mei and they race to the station, which Mei thinks is another example of Yuzu acting without thinking. But Yuzu has thought about it a lot, and this is what she’s decided to do: cultivate a situation in which Mei is able to let go of “sensei”, embrace her father for who he is, choose her own path, and move forward.

They get to the station right on time to catch Mei’s dad. After they share some words, they have a cordial goodbye, and Mei actually calls him “father” for once. It’s certainly a bittersweet moment, but it also must be exciting and relieving for her; she really will inherit the academy, because it’s what she has decided to do.

That night, she opens and reads all of her father’s letters to her with Yuzu by her side. Yuzu is so relieved and happy that Mei has made so much progress that she can’t help but tear up a little. That, in turn, brings Mei’s face close enough to hers for a kiss, and they do kiss, but it’s not anything like any of the other kisses they’ve shared before. For one thing, neither forced it on the other.

With Mei’s daddy dilemma largely resolved, we immediately move on to this next stage in their relationship, just as Yuzu’s pink-haired, conniving, scheming, manipulative childhood friend remembers her and plans to “get back in touch”, which could well mean an attempt to ruin Yuzu’s life for her own amusement. Should be fun!

Citrus – 05

Mei has no time for Yuzu and Himeko’s little competition for her, as she’s busy with both student council duties and filling in for her grandfather, the chairman. She orders the rivals to eat lunch together instead, and neither dare disobey.

Thus starts the first of many of the kind of interactions I was hoping for between Yuzu and Himeko: ones in which they put their gloves down for a second and simply exist adjacent to one another, as they must due to their associations with Mei.

Harumin serves as a great mediator in this venture, even suggesting the three of them and Mei go to Amagi Brilliant Park (well, something like it). Both Himeko and Yuzu doubt Mei will agree, but Yuzu will give it a try.

What Yuzu does manage is to get a day alone with Mei when they’re not at school; when Yuzu lies and said Mama would also like it if she accompanies Yuzu to visit her Papa. Note that Mei probably would have refused if Yuzu hadn’t lied, but it’s a good thing she did.

At first, Yuzu treats this like her first date with Mei, and tries to “cross a line” like Himeko claims to have done, first by breathing on Mei’s ear in a packed train (at first an accident, but repeated once she notices Mei’s reaction), then licking it.

When Mei asks her what the heck is up with her, Yuzu mentions what Himeko said, and Mei sets her straight: Himeko tried to do something weird to her and she scolded her. There’s nothing between them. This really puts a spark in Yuzu’s idea of her chances.

This leads to her trying to get an indirect kiss out of Mei by having a bite of her crepe, only for Mei to have only finished it. Mei delivers revenge for the ear-licking by wiping some cream off Yuzu’s face and eating it slowly, causing Yuzu to nearly boil over.

All these sensual gestures, combined with the simple pleasure of hanging out with Mei alone, gets Yuzu all worked up; she wants to kiss Mei and shout her love from the mountaintop more than ever.

But when she’s about to ask if they can hold hands (incremental steps), Himeko pulls up in her S-Class Benz and starts attacking Yuzu.

With a cruel, icy calmness, Mei basically tells Himeko to buzz off, and beckons for Yuzu to keep going. Mei and Yuzu walk away, leaving Himeko standing there, stunned, alone, and hurt.

It’s not the first time I felt for Himeko, but I’d never felt for her more before this moment. Even Yuzu can’t help but turn back, not to gloat, but with a pained, empathetic look.

It was around the time I was thinking “when the heck are they going to meet Yuzu’s Papa” that Yuzu brings Mei to a graveyard. It never occurred to me he was deceased, as I (wrongly) assumed her mom was divorced, not widowed. Mei also seems both surprised to have been brought there, but also honored.

It’s a very solemn, touching scene when Yuzu says all the good and bad things about Mei when introducing her and Mei doesn’t challenge any of it; this isn’t the time or place. Even more touching is Yuzu’s reaction when Mei silently prays at the grave. Yuzu is about to muster the courage to say something she needs to say…but Mei beats her to it.

The letters Mei gets from her father (whom she calls “Sensei”), one of which Yuzu jokingly threatened to open? Mei has never opened any of them. She’s afraid to, because if any of them contradict her long-standing hope that he’ll come back one day and everything “will be the way it was”, she’d be crushed.

When a shaken, tearful Mei asks Yuzu if such an outcome is really possible, Yuzu says the tactful thing, even if it isn’t something she can guarantee: everything will be fine, and she’ll help her in any way she can, like a sister should. The smile Mei gives Yuzu drives the point home: Mei doesn’t need love; at least not right now. She needs family.

As Yuzu cries out of Mei’s sight, Mei seems to be laboring to maintain consciousness, and sure enough, she collapses on the stairs at school the next day, right in front of Himeko. Trying to force herself up, she runs down Himeko just as Yuzu enters earshot, and, whatever bad shape she’s in, Yuzu doesn’t let Mei’s cruelty towards Himeko go unanswered.

What she does do is order Himeko to take Mei’s place at the various meetings she meant to attend, while she takes Mei to the nurse’s office. The two drop their rivalry for Mei’s sake, because Mei has not been looking out for herself properly enough, and their childish rivalry has blinded them to the toll Mei’s overwork has taken.

In the nurse’s, there’s no makeout scene, but a scolding scene. Mei explains how driven she is to become a worthy successor to her grandfather, especially now that his health may be failing. Yuzu wonders out loud why Mei’s father doesn’t take over, and Mei, for once, agrees with Yuzu’s  “nonsense”, which she likens to a broken watch—right twice a day.

And just to bring things around, Yuzu and Himeko have a nice little scene together in which Yuzu scolds her for overwork as well, tells her to be more honest, and the two come to a kind of detente.

That detente is sealed, in a way, when while walking to school the next day, Yuzu urges Mei to go ahead when they spot Himeko. Mei apologizes for being such a bitch to her and taking her for granted, and Himeko is instantly in tears, hugging her tightly, probably telling Mei she has nothing to apologize for.

That night, Mei’s father shows up, just like that. Yuzu has no idea who he is, and gets skeeved out when he hugs her and doesn’t let go (which, yeah guy, don’t hug a girl who doesn’t know you). Mei’s reaction to seeing her father again—as well as his reaction to seeing her—tells me things aren’t going to be the same in the Aihara household…but they’re definitely not going to be boring!

In the meantime, I really enjoyed both Himeko and Yuzu’s growth in this episode, the continued casual, reliable support role Harumin plays, and how Mei and Yuzu drew closer together not in a romantic way, but as family. Most importantly, Yuzu is now consciously weighing her own desires with what is actually best for her “little sister.”

Just Because! – 07

Things really come together in the Natsume-Izumi-Komiya love triangle this week, as both girls start to realize the feelings they have, things long left unsaid are finally said, nudging the narrative forward in a satisfying way.

Komiya clutching Izumi’s back was certainly a provocative image to leave use with two weeks ago—particularly in making Natsume bear witness to the display. As it happens, the embrace was instigated by a jubilant Komiya. We get to see what led up to that hug-from-behind, with Izumi saving Komiya from a run-in with a scary dude who thought she was snapping pics of him without his permission.

She blames Izumi for not giving her permission, but more importantly, finally tells him why it’s so important he give it: the photography club is a place where she finally belonged; if it’s gone, she’ll have nowhere.

While that’s not strictly true, I’m sure Izumi can relate to not having a true place to belong after being uprooted from his school and friends years back. And like Komiya, he’s working to preserve such a place, by trying to get into the same university as Natsume.

Izumi tellingly gets no sleep at all; perhaps he recognized Natsume last night when Komiya was on his back; and when it snows the morning of her test, all forms of transportation are snagged and delayed. It’s a common scenario for Natsume, as Izumi sees it: she’s always getting the short end of the stick; one could also call it plain ol’ bad luck.

It enabled her to see Izumi with Komiya at the worst (and most misunderstandable) possible time; it also caused it to snow the day of her big test, and to slip and fall right before the PA warning about the slippery floor.

But Izumi is on it; he does what he’s always done with Natsume; try to make up for her bad luck by being there with her; to help bear some of her burdens. After seeing him with Komiya, Izumi helping her off the cold wet ground was probably the last thing Natsume expected…and yet here he is.

Izumi also shields her on a crowded train, making things as comfortable as possible before her test. When she worries she’s forgotten all she’s studied, he throws history questions at her, which she answers with ease; she’s alright after all. She asks him to keep quizzing her.

Neither mentions what was up with Komiya last night, he’s just there, in the there and now, to offer his support, and it seems to work: Natsume arrives at the test center with a spring in her step and has a defiant, confident look in the testing room.

That train scene is my favorite of the show between the two; there’s so much quiet, gentle mutual affection there; both look so cozy and content. And it almost instantly turns Komiya—whom I was damn near ready to ship with Izumi last week, but who sneaks up on Izumi in a bookstore—into an interloper. Izumi barely has the time of day for her.

At the same time, I feel sorry that the timing of her “queasiness” is coming at about the same time Natsume is starting to realize her feelings for Izumi. After the test, Natsume watches a middle school couple interact on the train, with the boy carrying the larger load for the girl’s sake, albeit somewhat grumpily.

The boy reminds Natsume of Izumi, clearly carrying something too heavy but willing to do it for her. In that flashback, Natsume’s fellow council members skipped out on her, in another instance of her getting the short end of the stick, but Natsume’s quite right that Izumi got an even shorter end when he suddenly had to move away.

But now Izumi is back, and he’s still willing to go the extra mile for Natsume. Indeed, she’s not yet aware he’s aiming to go to the same university as her. I wonder how she’ll take that when she does learn? I guess it depends on whether he tells her or if she finds out.

Komiya does know; she saw the books Izumi was reading at the store. As such, and with her “queasiness” in mind, Komiya wastes no time asking permission again, this time asking Natsume if she can ask Izumi out on a date.

In baseball speak, this question to Natsume could be considered “chin music”, a fastball high and inside, meant to back the batter off the plate. It’s an aggressive move by a girl who has made many an aggressive move to get what she wants, though in a more pragmatic than selfish or hostile way.

Everyone is looking for a place to belong, and in Komiya’s case, that place might just be by Izumi’s side. Natsume may have been super-passive up to this point, but her response to Komiya is a swift and decisive “no, you can’t”, spoken almost under her breath, but from a higher physical point than Komiya, underscoring her precedence.

Those three words indicate so much: No, you can’t swoop in and take what would already be mine, if I’d realized and/or acted sooner. No, you can’t steal a march on me. You may be working through things faster, but that doesn’t mean I have to match your speed. I’m going to sit down, figure things out and talk with Izumi, and then we’ll see what’s what. Until then, REQUEST DENIED.

It’s an admirable first step and line in the sand for Natsume. Here’s hoping she keeps it up and has a good, productive conversation with Izumi very soon.