Takunomi. – 02

Michiru has somewhat overblown standards of how a young Tokyoite office woman should look, and her perceived failure to meet them leave her frustrated to the point of tears upon coming home. Enter Nao, who works at a clothing store. Michiru offers shochu as payment for fashion advice.

After the presentation of “chu-hi” (shochu highballs) as one of the more delicious alcoholic beverages one can enjoy (for those over the age of 20), Nao opens her closet for Michiru, who settles on an understated natural look. In doing so, Michiru rekindles the passion that drove Nao into clothing industry: that satisfying moment when a customer has found their look.

As for things like finding a man to accompany her to couples spots like Tokyo Sky Tree and an office demeanor in which she’s not mixing up words like “call” with “coal”, Michiru is on her own. But when she comes home, she can be assured of good drink, good food, and good friends.

Update: What do you know, my local state-run wine & spirits store actually sells shochu, a 50-proof mugi (barley) variety made in Kyoto. Earthy and nutty, it’s great neat, on the rocks, or with club or flavored soda. Kanpai!

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Takunomi. – 01 (First Impressions)

Takunomi is a good old-fashioned sitcom, centered on the lives of four young women who live together in Tokyo, and enjoy good food and good beer, particularly YEBISU premium beer.

That golden can is flashed on the screen so often you could make a drinking game out of it. But I didn’t really mind the blatant product placement, because A) I personally like Yebisu and B) the rest of the show is quick, simple, enjoyable enjoyable watch.

Takunomi isn’t trying to do that much, merely portray that Michiru had nothing to fear by moving to a Tokyo share-house with three strangers; they all turn out to be very friendly, kind, and generous. The first housemate she met, in fact, retrieved her purse from a thief at the station before they even knew each other, after all.

Everyone’s drawn to look at least five years younger than they are (Michiru is supposed to be 20), but it’s still good to have a show about adults who appreciate good beer, good food, and good company, and know how to properly kick back after the grind.

If I had to choose between Ramen Daisuki Koizumi-san and this—and I do—I’m choosing this. Kanpai!

Akagami no Shirayuki-hime – 14

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Shirayuki knows this visit to Tanbarun is a little suspicious, and so does everyone around her. Like Obi, who splits his time looking for the bishounen Kazuki and observing how Shirayuki is taking her sudden orders.

Naturally, she’s working as hard as she can to learn enough about dancing, etiquette, and comportment in order to not bring shame upon Clarines during her visit. Whatever plot, if any, has been hatched, it’s starting with a gentle whisper, rather than a bang, which if anything, is more unsettling, considering how many times Shirayuki has found herself captured by someone.

But maybe there isn’t a plot…right? (No, there definitely is.) But theoretically, if there weren’t one, Shirayuki wants to take advantage of this opportunity anyway. She’s also heard Raj is a “new man”; and I’m as curious as she is to see if that’s true.

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As for Zen, well, he’s pretty sore about the whole thing, but like Shirayuki, keeps himself busy with palace and state matters, and whenever he’s not, he’s sparring with himself, in order to vent his frustration. I enjoy watching his entourage watch and comment on their master, who is more than just their master.

More and more since he became a permanent member of the posse, Obi seems like he’s cultivating a little bit of a crush on Shirayuki, or otherwise wants to be close to and protect her. That would make his master his rival for her affections.

Even if he suspects he has little chance against what the two lovebirds have, he’ll do what he can, like beat Zen in a match (proving how tough he is even unarmed), and granting his permission to accompany Shirayuki instead of Mitsuhide.

And I like this development. Mitsuhide, bless him, is too stiff for this trip. Shirayuki and Obi’s chemistry, while perhaps not as magnetic as her and Zen, has its own strange-but not-in-bad-way energy; not to mention the show is pushing the suspicion that Obi likes her, not Mitsu.

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If Obi had been peeping in the windows of the palace wing where Shirayuki is boarding, he might’ve seen just how steep a hill he’d have to climb to change Shirayuki’s heart. For the first time in this second season, Shirayuki and Zen get to share some quality time, be calmed and reassured by each others’ presence.

Zen’s last-minute hug-from-behind may not have been steamy, but it was so warm and sweet and lovely, as the atmosphere tends to be when these two are alone. But lest we forget, this is a farewell, for perhaps up to a month, even if all goes smoothly. So the encounter’s sweetness is tinged with the bitter truth that they’ll be apart, something neither of them want but are strong enough to accept.

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Loved the very sudden surprise appearance by Lord Haruka, Eternal Stodgy Sourpuss, only this time he’s fully accepted Shirayuki’s right to be at court. Of course he doesn’t miss out on the chance to remind her not to return in disgrace. Shirayuki very adorably asks for a trinket of Zen’s to keep with her, and he gives her his pocket watch, which she promises to give back upon her return. Even Prince Izana, the apparent mastermind in this dastardly scheme, shows up to see Shirayuki off.

As for Izana’s reasons for doing this, I can think of three: he wants to make sure Prince Zen can still function as a Prince of Clarines when his girlfriend isn’t constantly by his side; he wants Shirayuki to learn more about court life, in preparation for her to one day become Zen’s consort; and finally, to give Shirayuki the opportunity to spend some time outside of Wistal Castle and return to her home; offering her a good look at other potential paths, to ensure she’s on the right one.

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And Shirayuki will definitely see other things and people on her journey, from an Obi who acts a specific way around her (and knows how to clean up and speak pretty when he needs to); and a Prince Raj who upon welcoming her (back) to his kingdom seems to have changed somewhat for the better…only to revert back to his old goofy, wishy-washy self once they’re in the throne room.

I actually thought the transition was too quick; I kinda wanted to see Raj on his best behavior a little longer. Nevertheless, he seems shocked and a little overwhelmed that the girl he tried to forceably marry not long ago is actually there. Maybe he has changed, in that he realizes how badly he acted, and acknowledges he owes her a debt to her from his last stop in Clarines. Time will tell, but for now, all eyes are on Shirayuki–and not just for that dazzling apple-red hair.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 08

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This week’s Food Wars leaves the confines of the school for an elaborate “training camp”, held on the premises of Totsuki’s famed (and very highly-priced) resorts. Isshiki warns his juniors that the purpose of the camp is to thin the herd; in some cases half of the students who participate end up on the expulsion block.

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Predictably, Megumi’s a nervous wreck, while Souma is perfectly relaxed, as he even calls out to “Nikumi” (a nickname he’s decided to use and she’ll just have to accept it) fresh off his victory over her. While I hope not every girl he beats gets the hots for him, I do like how nicely her haughtiness has been neutralized.

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Once at the resort, the students learn their various camp tasks will be judged by Totsuki alumni, all of whom went through this themselves and survived to graduation, and celebrity restaurateurs, who will be treating the students no differently than they treat their staff. If they’re no up to snuff, boom expelled. One judge makes their meaning plain by kicking out a kid just for having scented hair product.

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She’s paired with Souma again, to her sweet relief this time. The first time she thought she’d paired with a troublemaker who was all talk; but now she and many others know differently: he’s a troublemaker who is more than all talk. In fact, most of the talk is directed at him from one Takumi Aldini, who along with his fraternal twin bro Isumi, work at their family trattoria in Italy. Like Souma, he’s already a pro who’s served and satisfied thousands of customers.

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On top of their alumni judge Inui Hinako (a bubbly yet ruthless Noto Mamiko)’s challenge that they forage the resort grounds for the ingredients needed to create a Japanese-style dish, Takumi makes it a battle between him and Souma, with Inui deciding who’s best. In a nice character moment, Inui refuses, leaving Takumi stranded on his high horse, with even his own bro laughing at him. I like how everyone on the show is aware of Takumi’s overzealousness, as if he knows he’s in a shounen battle anime.

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He may be fiery, but he and Asumi are also one hell of a team, being the only students to find a duck, then perfectly timing their work to finish first with a Japanese-Italian fusion dish that makes Inui imagine herself in a Pavarotti-like opera singer’s arms as he serenades her while wearing a duck hat of sorts, in another bizarre foodgasm.

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Nikumi fell into a trap of “the best ingredients always win, period” and got clobbered by Souma, but these Aldini boys are a lot sharper and scrappier. The more limits you impose on them, the more creative and amazing the food they dish out. They’re a lot more on Souma’s level. On top of that, the brothers operate like a well-oiled machine, an efficiency we haven’t yet seen with Souma and Megumi.

Not only does Souma have to use river fish—the same thing everyone else is using—but he also has to properly coordinate its preparation with Megumi in the time remaining. Hopefully they Aldinis don’t try to sabotage them on top of all that, because their hill is steep enough as it is. Will Souma be able to turn Takumi’s loathing into grudging respect? I suspect so. What I look forward to is watching how.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 07

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Let’s face it: We all knew exactly how this would end. For all her bluster, trash-talking, attempts at mind games, and peerless A5 Wagyu Beef, Nikumi was going to loooooose. Souma wasn’t getting expelled, and the club he stood for wasn’t going to be shut down. The haters were going to hate. Souma just cooked; and outcooked Nikumi on the only field that matters: the field of a don battle.

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Her precious meat may be singular, and she may have formidable skill, flair, and grace in butchering, searing, roasting and slicing said meat (Erina compares her to a pianist, equal parts strength and delicacy). To the show’s credit, Nikumi IS a phenomenal chef, especially with meat.

But while here meat is fresh and beautiful and marbled six ways from Sunday, she’s been spoiled by it. Her arrogance and refusal to take Souma seriously cost her dearly, though you can’t blame her when Souma whips out discount half-off discount sirloin from the supermarket, seemingly spitting on the entire Shokugeki institution.

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Her meat is so lovely, laid out like a flower atop garlic rice, Nikumi tries to make it the star of the don, litterally sitting on top like oil on top of water. The rice is just okay, but the dish suffers in its essential don-ness, or cohesiveness, because the meat clobbers everything else in that bowl. The judges are impressed by the ingredients and preparation, as they should be, and are highly skeptical Souma’s dish is even worth trying.

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But this is Souma we’re talking about: not only is he sneaky as all hell when it comes to how he’s going to make something out of nothing, but that particular talent works far more in his favor than Nikumi’s mad eat skillz. From the pickled ginger in the rice to the onions sauteed in juices and wine, to the thick yet delicate sauce tickled with burnt soy, all the components of the dish work together to elevate one another out of the supermarket and into the stomachs of the venerable judges, who literally can’t stop eating it and are sad when it’s gone.

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And that’s why Souma wins the don battle: his don beat Nikumi because it didn’t put on airs and intimidate you with its pedigree, it merely welcomed you to eat as much of it as you wanted. The judges didn’t even finish Nikumi’s rice, nor could she have bumped it up with beef, because she’s already maxed out with the A5 on top, and would have been left with competing flavors. Her ingredient saved her from total embarrassment, but she was clearly out of her element here.

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Souma’s other knack is for neither looking up or down at people, but looking straight at them as an equal. To this end, he prepared a bowl for Nikumi as well (something she didn’t do for him), and one bite of the welcoming don transports her to the day her dad ripped her teddy and told her as a Mika woman she could not be ladylike, but must be strong and aggressive to succeed in life. Nikumi hadn’t thought of that day in years, or the pain of leaving her girly side behind, but Souma’s don took her there.

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Far from a sore winner or a gloater, Souma not only fed her after a tough battle, but complimented her nickname when spelled in hiragana. A combination of the shock of a defeat she didn’t think possible (and all the consequences that come with it), and Souma’s basic kindness and friendliness—matching the personality of his don—leads to her becoming all flustered and smitten with him.

Whether Souma intended for her to assume he was joining the Don RS to burn her, the point is you don’t run out of the arena until you figure out what’s really going to happen: She’s to report to the Don RS, which she dutifully does, trying to look cute for Souma, only to find that he never had any intention of joining himself; it’s just her and the hair guy.

Nikumi is thus humanized, and thankfully, their battle didn’t have any lame sabotage or cheating. Both played by the rules, and Souma beat Nikumi fair and square. Watching Erina, Megumi and the other Polars watch and react to the battle added to the stakes. Even the cute, two-faced MC was a nice touch. All in all, great first Shokugeki. I look forward to more.

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P.S. Yup, That’s Christina next to that 9, indicating yours truly will be handling most Shokugeki no Souma reviews henceforth. Now I just wished he’d cook some of this stuff for me. —Hannah

Shokugeki no Souma – 06

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Souma’s sixth episode is notable for having no big cooking challenge, an omission that was felt in terms of keeping up the momentum and tension the previous five episodes had built up. But while there were no Wars, there was plenty of delectable Food, starting with a tour of Polar Star’s impressive vegetable garden and other on-side ingredient facilities. Also, Isshiki has no qualms about gardening in a loincloth.

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I liked the camaraderie of the Polar Star tenants all working together to ensure the dorm has the best ingredients possible. Megumi also gets to shine for once by providing a lunch of delicious-sounding onigiri. Megumi is interesting because while she’s a great chef she’s prone to stage fright and is terrible in high-pressure situations…like Shokugeki. Here’s hoping being around Souma will help her confidence on the big stage. She already adopted his honey-tenderizing method.

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There’s more exposition explaining how the school works, in that there are “research socieities” rather than conventional clubs that focus on particular kinds of cuisine. As a self-professed proud “diner brat”, Souma gravitates toward the Donmono Research Society, or “Don RS,” which seeks to discover innovate ways of elevating the versatile, quick, affordable meals served in bowls. And Megumi, caught in his orbit, tags along.

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This kind of cooking is right up Souma’s alley. Unfortunately, the Don RS is down to just one member, who is surrounded by an aura of doom and gloom, thanks to it being the latest target in Nakiri Erina’s quest to consolidate power by eliminating what she deems to be societies undeserving of existence.

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Mind you, she’s not going to be the Don RS’s opponent. That role falls to her eager and fiercely loyal henchwoman, Mito Ikumi, whose pun-filled name and bodacious bod clues you into her specialty: MEAT. Souma doesn’t like how quick the snobbish “Nikumi” is to call the most expensive meat the best, and decides he’ll be the one to face her as the representative of the Don RS in the Shokugeki.

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With three days to prepare and not much money, Souma gets cooking, scouring the shelves of Don RS recipes and dishing out bowl after bowl of deliciousness. Every dish has its strength—I certainly wouldn’t mind tucking into one or all of them—but lack the punch that will be needed to have a chance against Nikumi and the vaunted A5 beef her family corporation is famed for.

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In an otherwise evenly matched culinary battle, it’s ingredients, resourcefulness, and creativity that determine the victor. Nikumi has the ingredients, so Souma will go after her in the other areas. Reminded by Megumi of his honey breakthrough, he decides he’ll make a don with Chaliapin steak, a unique, some would say obscure Japanese technique using onions and butter that makes even cheap meat melt in your mouth. Budget A5!

Will it be enough? Well, yes, it most certainly will. How do I know? Simple: I just don’t see Souma getting expelled seven episodes into the series, just when he’s settled into a nice living situation with some great peers.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 05

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Isshiki Satoshi is as mercurial and competitive as he is friendly and welcome, so even though it’s the middle of the night and the rest of Polar Star is out cold, he’s too restless to go to bed. He heard Souma at the opening ceremony go on about how he wants the top spot. Time to put up or shut up.

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Naturally, Souma’s just fine with that, and appreciates the chance to show off his mad cooking skillz to Satoshi and the others. His basted mackerel rice ball in kelp tea tears the proverbial clothes off everyone who tastes it.

Souma isn’t afraid to punctuate the deliciousness of its dishes with ample, unisex nudity. It’s also a surefire way of knowing when Souma’s hit the mark.

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Then you have Megumi, who totally missed the cook-off and wakes up to a baffling scene that freaks her out. The humor on this show isn’t subtle, but it is effective.

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The next morning (I also like how differently everyone wakes up), Souma is eager to hit Satoshi with a challenge of his own, gunning to take over Satoshi’s seventh seat on the Elite Ten. But obviously it’s not as simple as that. That being said, I like how everyone except Souma and Megumi were totally apathetic about Souma’s Big Bold Challenge because they knew it wouldn’t be happening then and there.

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There’s procedures to be followed, and people to assemble: a adjudicator to certify the challenge, an odd number of judges, and an agreement between contestants about the conditions. Souma also needs to stake something of equal value to Satoshi’s seventh seat, and even staking expulsion if he lost wouldn’t be enough, not to mention Satoshi doesn’t want Souma expelled.

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Still, despite the fact Souma isn’t ready to take on Satoshi, he’s still eager to take on somebody, and once he starts racking up wins, he can start going after bigger fish like Satoshi…or Erina. While Satoshi and the others are explaining the particulars of the formal challenges, called Shokugeki. They go down a lot like Iron Chef, but with more dire consequences for the loser, in this case the hot pot society’s entire clubhouse is demolished so Erina can build another kitchen for her personal use. Dayum, dis bitch is COLD!

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But the hot pot guy wasn’t anything resembling a challenge to her, only “trash.” Not only that, a dark-skinned girl with an American flag bra is itching to face the other challengers not worth Erina’s time. She apparently specializes in meat, and Souma will surely have to get through her before he can challenge Erina.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 04

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Souma is assigned a room at the Polar Star Dormitory, which he hopes will be as swanky as the rest of the academy’s facilities. As it’s a stately neoclassical manor,  it is quite swanky…but the crows give Souma a cold welcome.

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The creepy aura continues inside, where a strange girl chases game through the shadows while an old glowing woman greets him. Turns out they’re just all about energy conservation, as in conserving it for top-notch kitchen facilities, where Souma is to make something for the aged caretaker, Daimido Fumio, in order to be admitted to the dorm.

It’s yet again an opportunity for Souma to showcase his particular specialty thus far: cooking something spectacular out of whatever he happens to have on hand. He has a keen enough grasp of the fundamentals and enough experience in the kitchen cooking for real people to properly harness his creativity and resourcefulness.

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And in the best and most hilarious “food-llucination” yet, Souma’s mackerel hamburg steak and squid egg soup are powerful enough flavors to transport Fumio to the past, specifically, to the moonlit night she lost her virginity. Yowza, she was quite the catch in her day!

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Thus admitted, Fumio immediately has a little fun with Souma by refraining from warning him it’s the girls’ turn to bathe, so he accidentally walks in on a naked Megumi, who, coming from a small conservative town, now believes she’ll never be able to marry. Or she could look at the incident as a transaction: he saved her, he saw her; now they’re square!

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I thought this episode of Souma really captured that unique blend of loneliness, excitement, and anticipation of that first night in a new place; a place that doesn’t feel like home yet—look how sparse that room is—but definitely feels right, like it could feel like home, and will, before he knows it.

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That poignant moment is interrupted by the sudden intrusion of a dorm-mate looking down on Souma from the ceiling tiles, and all of a sudden the creepy aura is back. Not only is this a beautifully composed shot that came out of nowhere, it also had me LMAO.

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The ceiling weirdo is second-year Isshiki Satoshi, fetching Souma for his welcoming party. What do you know, not everyone at Totsuki is a stuck-up asshole! Well, we knew Megumi wasn’t, but now we have a whole dorm full of friendly, colorful, weird creative-types. That warm feeling of home and family missing from Souma’s empty room is here in abundance.

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The Castle In the Sky-style speaking tubes in every dorm are a nice touch…especially when used by Satoshi to invite Megumi to his room the creepiest way possible so he can share food with her.

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It’s cute how Souma and Megmi are seated next to each other and chat together before fully joining in the fun, like a veritable dipping of one’s toe in the water. Everyone else in that room are strangers now, and it’s probably more overwhelming than Souma lets on (we didn’t see any of his friends back home), so the fact Megumi, also his next-door neighbor is beside him is probably a nice thing.

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After generous consumption of “rice juice” (Fumio isn’t nearly as strict as I thought, allowing the students to have drinking parties for new residents), the group goes increasingly friendly and eventually break out the food, showing off their own unique specialties, and also go on about how Polar Star was once essentially the headquarters for the Elite Ten, of whom we learn Nakiri Erina is ranked tenth.

The post-credits surprise is that friendly, goofy, nothing-but-an-apron wearing Isshiki Satoshi is actually better than Erina…he’s seventh-seat, something he reveals to Souma when everyone else is passed out. But unlike Erina, he wants Souma to show him what he can do, and whether he has the potential to rise to the top as he did. In other words, the perfect senpai…even if he’s a little creepy at times.

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