Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 08 – Stroke of Noon

Izumi learns a lot of new things about his library buddy Kamiya during their quiet library rest area shifts…except what she’s thinking the whole time. That she’s an idiot for “waiting around” and not taking the initiative when he was still single; that she’s a bad person for having such feelings for someone whose heart belongs to another.

When Nekozaki asks if they can trade numbers, Kamiya does so with her usual quiet smile, but holds on just a little bit before letting it go: a wonderfully animated moment. Shikimori notices that hesitation, and also a measure of the pain hiding behind Kaimya’s smile. Kamiya’s face does a lot of heavy lifting this week.

Kamiya puts her hair up returns to her fawning fans, but soon the din of praise and speculation about her grows deafening, and she just can’t be there anymore. The cool beauty is overheating in that gaggle, and especially doesn’t want to hear people praise her when she feels like the biggest, worst loser ever.

Kamiya is soon joined on the roof, under a cloudy sky that matches her mood, by Shikimori, who offers back the number along with an apology. Now that she knows how Kamiya feels, trading with her feels cruel, and she doesn’t want to be cruel to anyone who likes Izumi, because no one who likes who she likes could ever be bad.

We’ve seen jealous Shikimori before, but Empathetic Shikimori is a far superior mode. While admitting she might seem “high and mighty”, she owns that 100% and assures Kamiya that nothing of what she’s feeling is wrong, and she shouldn’t feel compelled to bottle it up or throw it away for her sake.

Suddenly faced with the second person not to put her on a pedestal but simply let her be her (after Izumi, a large part of his appeal for her), Kamiya is overcome and lets those feelings flow out, sobbing uncontrollably. Shikimori does what you’d expect her to: draw the taller Kamiya into a warm, supportive hug.

Kamiya walks away from the experience glad that Izumi is with someone like Shikimori, and ready to move forward not in denial but in full acknowledgement of her feelings for him. But later that night, after the after-party when Izumi gives Shikimori a birthday/anniversary present, Shikimori feels weary.

She’s not weary specifically of Kamiya, but she’s a symptom of a larger problem on the horizon that she fears: that so many people will see what she’s seen in him all along, he’ll drift further and further away from her. She doesn’t want him to change, but she’s worrying too much.

Izumi credits much of his change for the better to Shikimori, and he’s not done changing and getting stronger she she can smile and relax and not worry about a grand piano falling out of the sky and onto her boyfriend. Hearing that he wants the exact same she does makes her start bawling like a baby.

One might think this means Izumi is singularly capable of tearing down Shikimori’s badass poise, but they’d be wrong. Shikimori is cool precisely because she’s not afraid to cry big sloppy tears over her love of Izumi. It’s a new high point for this pair of splendidly sweet, honest lovebirds.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie – 07 – Kamiya-san Is Curious

The studio had an Izumi-style run of luck, enduring a Covid outbreak that delayed the episode, but Shikimori picks up without missing a beat, as the school culture fest commences. Last year Izumi and Shikimori had the same duties, but this time they’re separated as their class runs an animal-themed café.

Still, it doesn’t take long for them to come together as Izumi inevitably slips on a napkin and the Shikimori the bunny has to save Izumi the lion. While walking home after a busy first day, the two commit to spending the afternoon of the second day together.

It has to be the afternoon because both of them are busy in the morning: Shikimori with the café, and Izumi on library duty. He’s relieved to learn that his partner isn’t a stranger, but Kamiya, who has always been friendly and kind to him in their past library duty interactions.

As we enter the cultural festival stage of many anime series this season, Kamiya seems aware of the “magic” that leads to a surge of new couples. She’s uncharacteristically restless, and even delivers a wall slam to Izumi as she brings up his girlfriend Shikimori and wants to know how they met.

Izumi, who quite incorrectly assumes Kamiya likes Shikimori, obliges, telling her they got together thanks to that same culture fest magic. Last year, the numbers they got at the entrance matched, which was a rare fortunate moment for Izumi, as he had planned to ask her out during the festival.

After walking around and enjoying the festival in the clouds, when the time comes to take their photo (which legend has it bonds the matched couples together forever) Izumi loses his number. But Shikimori won’t let him give up, so they look for it. They come up empty, but put up a passionate united front in insisting the president let them have their picture taken anyway. The Prez can tell these two are keepers, and gives an exception.

The rest is history: Izumi asks Shikimori out behind the gym, and Shikimori’s response is a gorgeous, passionate embrace. Back in the library, Izumi apologizes for rambling on, but Kamiya is well and truly moved, striking an elegant pose that conceals what must be pained eyes.

While we’ve seen very little Kamiya so far, it’s been clear through her subtle glances at Izumi that she likes the guy, always has, and rues the fact she missed her chance. As amazing as Kamiya acknowledges Shikimori to be, she’s clearly frustrated Shikimori beat her to the punch.

It helps that Kamiya is an instantly likeable character, statuesque and noble and popular with both guys and girls, but not afraid to show another side to Izumi. Fukuhara Ayaka also lends her a wonderfully husky voice that’s lower than Izumi’s. We’ll see where this triangle goes as the festival continues.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vlad Love – 08 – The Hematologist’s Lament

Chihiro describes her daily battle as school nurse, Blood Donation Club advisor, night class instructor, and researcher, while gazing at the moon and grasping a bottle of blood marked “Memories.” An intrigued Mitsugu tells everyone to call in sick for night class, and once Chihiro heads home, they break into her office to locate the blood.

Thanks to transfer student “Franken”, who is a giant robot who apparently isn’t supposed to transfer for two more episodes, they break the lock, but Mitsugu is electrocuted when she touches the cabinet. Chihiro appears, knowing the kids wouldn’t be able to resist the intrigue of her bottle of Memories.

Since everyone is eager to know what exactly the bottle contains (even though it should be clear from the label), they gather ’round Chihiro as she lights up a cigarette or seven and uncorks that bottle, regailing them with a tale of youth, infatuation, betrayal and heartbreak…none of which seems to have anything to do with the blood!

Young Chimatsuri Chihiro, being smart in hematology but dumb at life, falls for one sketchy character after another (literally—they’re typically sketched out with pencil or ink!), who either empties her bank accounts with excessive dating actitivies or just plain leaves her Casablanca-style.

It must be noted that Chihiro should at all times be considered an unreliable narrator. For one thing, there’s no way steam locomotives ever ran regularly in her time! The bit about her falling instantly in love with people who deliver her dinner is a nice nod to the beginning, when it’s Mitsugu with cup ramen.

While her story intentionally drags on and repeats itself, and it’s generous to even call this episode half-animated, as it’s mostly flashbacks slideshow format, I still enjoyed the episode. It set itself apart from the others by being relatively calm and relaxed, and its gags and pratfalls are in service of actual character work, albeit of questionable provenance.

Also, while it’s little more than a bunch of stills, those stills are gorgeously rendered and accompanied by a suitably weighty score that really sells Chihiro’s lamentations, even if her students all fall nod off before she reveals the “Memories” bottle contains a blend of blood she drew from the various men in her past while they were unconscious.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 08 – Valhalla’s Gate

We open with Miyako, Satomi, the Shield Squadron, and the maintenance crew breaking through a barrier to reach a secret stash of equipment with which to continue the fight. Twelve hours earlier at Shimofusa Base, Satomi tells the Valkyries about this stash, located under Mt. Nokogiri in case of dire need.

Once again Azu is both frustrated and smitten with Miko’s determination to keep fighting despite the increasingly desperate odds. As for poor Sono, her last sortie and the loss of her Big Sis has rendered her too traumatized and distraught to get out of bed, let alone climb into a cockpit.

Satomi takes Azu aside to have her listen to a recording of General Okita’s last moments, during which Odin refers to such odd terms as “Valhalla” and “Asgard”. Azu isn’t familiar, but their resident Norther European Valkyrie and Odin’s favorite just might. Claudy, meanwhile, visits Lizbet, who recovers quickly, something she attributes to the blessing of Odin enduring even if his body was destroyed in the attack.

The bottom falls out of Lizbet’s heart when she hears Lily is dead, but tells Claudy that Yayoi’s last message to her was that Odin is hiding something and Claudy holds the key. Sure enough, when Azu asks her about it, Claudy recites something Odin once said about “Valhalla’s Gate” always being open to her. Sure enough, such a gate appears right there in the corridor.

The question now is should they move forward with trying to retake Takeyama with the Nokogiri stash, or go through the gate and explore Valhalla. The answer is, Why Not Both? Miko, backed up by her devoted Shield Squadron, volunteers to take Takeyama back on their own, while Azu and three escorts will accompany Claudy through the gate.

Just as they walk through it and it closes behind them, Sono appears, on her feet for the first time. At the sight of Miko she bolts but Miko chases her down. Sono is worried that every time she sees someone off it’s bad luck, but Miko takes hold of her and tells her not to think such things, and that there are ways for Valkyries to help even if they can’t fly.

As Claudy and Azu explore a grand, ornate and otherworldly corridor and Miko and the Shields prepare to sortie, Sono aids the civilian evac by helping out at the outdoor canteen. There, she’s approached by the two young pilots (lower-class Valkyries I imagine) from last week, who thank her profusely for, well, their lives, which they’re certain they wouldn’t have if not for her heroics. They vow to become “strong like her”, even though Sono breaks down after they leave, asserting she’s “not strong at all”.

Despite pushing back against the praise and gratitude of those pilots, hopefully it nevertheless helps nudge Sono closer to again stepping into a cockpit. It’s probably not a great idea at this point, but it may be necessary very soon, judging from what happens to her comrades. First, Claudy touches some rotating runes and starts to sing, then a nasty-looking golem appears, poised to attack.

As for Miko, she and her Shield take out a number of tertiary Pillars on their way to Takeyama, but there are simply Too Many Of Them, and they eventually clump together and coalesce into a secondary Pillar that totally envelops Miko’s Hero Wing. She’d flying through an otherwordly plane consisting of giant gears and strange eddies.

When the Gjallarhorn sounds, indicating the Pillars are heading towards Shimofusa, Sono urges the evacuees to remain calm, but one civilian woman collapses, having suddenly gone into labor. While the others have uphill battles with uncertain outcomes, Sono will have to do her best to help deliver the woman’s child. In other words, everyone is officially too busy to grief.

Warlords of Sigrdrifa – 07 – Ragnarok Salt in the Wound

Programming Note: Our other Cute Girls Battling Things show, Assault Lily: Bouquet, took the week off, so its episode 07 will air next week.—Hannah

Warlords of Sigrdrifa is not fucking around with the drama.

As soon as we open on the battle in progress both within and without the Primary Pillar, it’s clear everyone is in over their heads, and this battle was far more desperate and last-ditch than I initially imagined. You can see the weight of all those kids’ lives on Satomi’s shoulders, while General Okita adopts a Shinji Gendo/Oigakkosan pose.

There are two things inside the Pillar their forces didn’t expect and aren’t quite equipped to deal with: the seemingly undead fallen Valkyries like Jinguugi and Sakura piloting black Hero Wings who are just as skilled as they were when alive but are now the damn enemy, and the gigantic Thor guy against whom bullets are useless and the Hero Cannon only makes him mad.

Amidst all the ensuing chaos, second-string pilots Kurumi and Moe (call ’em the Biggs and Wedge of this episode) end up drifting into the Pillar, where they have no business being. Not that it’s any safer outside, with Thor’s bellow calling every Secondary in Japan to Fuji. Okita orders a full retreat and evacuation, but Sonoka wants to help Kurumi and Moe like Claudia and the European Valkyries.

Yayoi tells her that’s the prerogative of a Named and she should obey the order to flee. Sono suspects Yayoi is going to leave her behind like she did before, but in doing so she almost proves why she shouldn’t even be in a cockpit in her present state, as she’s hit bad by one of the black Hero Wings, losing both one of her landing pontoons and consciousness.

Just as Okita tries to ask Odin about Thor (who says it’s “too soon” to answer), Thor fires up his mighty hammer Mjolnir, which fires a massive green beam of destruction that takes out most of the air base and command center, and any unfortunate souls who were in the line of fire.

Sonoka wakes up in a field hospital bed surrounded by her three comrades and Yayoi. Satomi also arrives with the three-girl operations team; they were able to evacuate before the beam destroyed Fuji’s control tower. Okita’s final order was for them to regroup at an auxiliary site. As for Odin, he’s “missing”…but something tells me while the humans consider this a total defeat, for him, everything went according to plan.

Then Yayoi asks for privacy with Sonoka, and tells her that there are still comrades left behind in the Pillar, and she’s going back in to rescue them. I fail to see how Satomi sanctioned such a clearly suicidal operation considering how few viable forces remain, but Yayoi is a Named, which apparently gives her free reign to sortie at her pleasure.

After kinda-sorta making up with Sonoka, she takes her locket containing the photo of their old unit, then gives Sono her Safe Flying Charm to hold on to, and promises to return, even if she’s shot down. Claudia, Azu and Miku join the rest of the remaining forces in rendering formal honors to send off Yayoi and her escort, who toast to good luck with a shot of Satomi’s good booze.

Then Yayoi heads into the hornet’s nest, and at that point I thought we wouldn’t learn their fate until next week at the earliest. Instead, we learn immediately: Yayoi doesn’t make it back, and neither do her escorts. Instead it’s just Lizbet who limps home in her barely-functioning Hero Wing. She gives Sono the locket back, saying it’s all she could bring back.

So four went in, and only one came back…another defeat. Strategically it could be a wash with one Named going in and one coming out, but Lizbet’s eye one bit; she may not be the same pilot anymore. So humans face an even more uphill battle, and there seems to be no end to Sonoka’s despair and suffering. She wasn’t in the right mind to fly earlier, she certainly isn’t now, but there may not be a choice. Whatever their next move, every last Valkyrie will be needed.

After that gut-wrenching ending and the solemn end credits, we’re treated to the usual goofy upbeat preview music and the return of the nearly-naked manly men. Talk about tonal whiplash! That aside, this was a wonderfully tense and dramatic outing that didn’t let any of the characters off easy. Will Yayoi end up keeping her promise of returning even if she’s shot down? Can the humans scrounge together some kind of win from these ruins? Whither Odin? Stay tuned…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Ikebukuro West Gate Park – 02 – New Kids on the ‘Bukuro

It was just the G-Boys in Ikebukuro, until one night at the Global Ring a young lad with fiery red hair and angel wing tattoos captivated a crowd with his flawless, shirtless ballet. That lad is Ozaki Kyouichi, and his upstart Red Angels are positioned to be the most serious rival to the G-Boys yet.

The question isn’t whether the G-Boys’ hegemony will be challenged, but when and how. But like last week’s IWGP, things don’t develop quite as predictably as I initially expected, once again demonstrating a preference for nuance and realism over black-and-white conflict.

But first, it’s lunchtime, and Makoto joins G-Boy King Takashi for a meal at OK Curry, a suddenly popular restaurant in the ‘Buro that also treats its mostly young, impressionable employees like shit. That, combined to the okay-but-not-great grub, suggests a company only concerned with maximizing its profits, not helping their community.

There’s an interesting choice to juxtapose the almost too-enthusiastic smiling employees in the front of the shop with one being mercilessly berated in an alley by OK’s suspiciously burly “management”. Since many of OK’s employees are G-Boys, Takashi suspects this is the Red Angels’ doing, and wants Makoto to investigate.

He starts with G-Boy Masaru, who knows Mitsuki, the blonde kid who was being abused by OK’s suspiciously burly “management”. Masaru doesn’t like how he and others are being treated, but he used to be a useless delinquent and his job at OK Curry put him back on the right track and made his parents happy, so he’s loath to mess that up.

Makoto also tries to meet the Red Angels’ ballet virtuoso leader, Ozaki Kyouichi, but is blocked by a bunch of thugs in red. Fortunately there’s someone among them with a level head—not too dissimilar to Makoto—who politely tells him Kyouichi isn’t currently around. Makoto says he’ll try again later.

That night, Mitsuki climbs to the top of the OK Curry building and prepares to jump to his death, believing he simply isn’t cut out for life. Masaru tries to talk him down with a police megaphone, but Mitsuki doesn’t want to trouble his friend, and jumps. Uh, killing yourself when he tried to stop it will definitely trouble him, my guy!

Fortunately, he only falls a few stories and the fire brigade catches him on a trampoline; his injuries aren’t life-threatening. But the two OK thugs were present for the incident, and before long Makoto gets a call from Takashi: Masaru was jumped, and ends up in the hospital beside his friend.

Makoto and Takashi visit Masaru, and then Kyouichi soon joins them, flanked by two toughs and a bouquet in hand. For a moment it seems like Masaru was attacked just to get Takashi’s attention, but as the two sides draw closer, Makoto wisely talks first, addressing Kyouichi’s friendly lieutenant to de-escalate.

Turns out Mitsuki is a new member of the Red Angels, and Kyouichi was just there to visit a member, just as Takashi came for Masaru. They also learn that OK Holdings are pitting the G-Boys and Angels against each other with rumors that each are moving against the other, thus keeping the two gangs off-balance enough to be ineffective at curtailing OK’s appalling labor practices.

But while there are a lot of ragged toughs on both sides, the two gangs are led by cooler heads; even Kyouichi comes off as far more reasonable and less aggressive than his hair portended. Makoto comes up with a plan whereby he uses his press credentials to enter an OK Holdings shareholder meeting and confronts the president with their former employee Masaru.

Mitsuki’s near-miss convinced Masaru to do everything he can legally to put a stop to OK Holdings’ crap before anyone else gets hurt, and the G-Boys find him a lawyer to give his threat teeth. He’s then immediately surrounded by the black-clad toughs, who are themselves surrounded by an alliance of G-Boys and Red Angels—Masaru was acting as bait to draw out OK-hired mercenary goons, who are too violent and unscrupulous for either gang.

While Takashi and Kyouichi were able to talk things through and discover they had no real beef, talking won’t work against these goons, which means both gangs need to back up their words with action. It’s not a long fight, as the free-agent goons are no match against Takashi’s boxing prowess or Kyouichi’s balletic kicks.

The G-Boy/Red Angel team-up may have been a one-time thing, but as long as both sides put the well-being of Ikebukuro and their respective guys above pointless turf squabbles, coexistence is possible. That’s underscored when Makoto and Tomomi Isogai, the Red Angels’ friendly lieutenant, watch another one of  Kyouichi’s performances together in a mixed crowd of red and blue.

IWGP is as unflashy as Akudama Drive is flashy, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it boring. It’s confidently presenting very down-to-earth scenarios that you’d see in any big city district anywhere, where open dialogue and compromise can and should always come before violence and destruction. Makoto keeping all possible channels of communication open in his town isn’t always thrilling, but it is admirable. So far that’s enough to keep be invested.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 09

I had high hopes for some enjoyable festival times with a newly reunited Akira and Haruka, but the reveal of the episode’s title, “Rain of Sorrow” (yikes!), After the Rain had other ideas. While Akira made a nice gesture by inviting Haruka out, there’s no avoiding the fact the two have drifted apart considerably.

When Haruka watches Akira interact with Kondou (who is there with Yuuto), Haruka is thrown for a loop when Akira makes it clear she likes someone so “old.” It’s a reasonable thing for a high schooler to say, but Akira doesn’t take kindly to it, and cuts off the discussion.

That, in turn, leads Haruka to lose her temper, since Akira has made it almost impossible to talk to her about anything anymore. With a few words that probably weren’t meant to cut as deeply as they do, Akira has Haruka running home crying. Those words? “We can’t go back to how we used to be.”

That’s damned harsh, and I’m a little disappointed in Akira for going there so quickly, but then again, perhaps a degree of maturity and pragmatism have rubbed off on her, both from Kondou and the reality of not being able to run. Bottom line, harsh or not, Akira is right, and she’s not quite sure how to integrate Haruka back into her life.

Somewhat conveniently, Kondou is going through the same thing, only at a more advanced stage: he’s meeting an old friend and classmate Kujou Chihiro at their old watering hole, where they’re the only two guys who aren’t college students.

Kujou is the author of the book Kondou checked out of the library and got mad at the Amazon reviewer about. And it’s lovely to see these old friends gel so nicely right out of the gate (beer and delicious food help grease the proverbial wheels).

It’s also apparent Kujou holds Kondou’s opinion and skills as a writer in high regard; perhaps even beyond his own, which is why he doesn’t believe Kondou when he says he doesn’t write anymore. He does, but rather than a dream he wishes to achieve, it’s “just a little something.”

But there’s a reason Kondou and Kujou haven’t seen each other in ten years. Kondou was meant to join Kujou and other classmates on a trip to India, but he ditched them to marry Yuuto’s mother, while Kujou’s experience kicked off his successful writing career Kondou wanted but apparently put aside for love and family.

Kondou and Kujou never had a grand public yelling match in full yukata regalia like our girls, but through their individual choices and the passage of time, grew apart to the point they couldn’t go back to how they used to be. There may be other times when they see each other to drink and talk. When together, they’re not adults, but classmates. But there will never be a time like back they enjoyed in their youth. Nostalgia, indeed!

The new term starts for Akira, and while her other track friends are friendly, since she hasn’t made up with Haruka, things are still awkward between them, and Akira isn’t sure how or even if she can mend fences, because she’s just as behind in what Haruka is thinking and feeling as vice versa.

Kondou (who made sure to tell Kujou his depiction of high school girls was inaccurate, no doubt based in part on his friendship with Akira), can sense Akira is down about something, and unlike with Haruka, Akira can relatively easily tell him what that something is.

Their talk is interrupted by work, but at close Kondou has Akira join him outside once more, where he presents her with a gorgeous supermoon (and what a great closeup of Akira’s eyes reacting to it’s glory) upon which to wish.

Kondou also lays down some adulty wisdom: even if she and her friend are growing apart, the irreplaceable moments they shared won’t disappear, so perhaps neither will the possibility they’ll grow closer again someday. Sometimes people need to grow apart to truly find themselves. But in Akira’s case, I think she should attempt to make up sooner rather than later; I don’t think they’re irreconcilable.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 08

The opening moments of this week’s episode almost felt like a dreaded recap, but thankfully was just meant to establish the fact that Akira and Kondou are FRIENDS! Yes, JUST FRIENDS.

After that hug, the show—and Kondou!—wisely slows things way down while the episode spends a lot more time with the secondary characters that populate the couple’s life, to very pleasing effect. Also, Akira has a big pimple on her right cheek!

Take Yoshizawa: He’s spent many an episode trying to befriend Akira, to absolutely no avail. When Yoshizawa hears Kondou is friends with Akira he wants to be friends too, but Kondou sidesteps the issue by scolding his long bangs, threatening termination before they have a chance to be friends. It’s a joke, but Yoshizawa takes it seriously.

Enter Akira’s other co-worker of similar age, Nishida, who likes Yoshizawa and wants to get closer. She finds one in offering to cut his hair for him after work, which he’s a lot more enthusiastic about than she expected. After he leaves, she and Akira engage in “guy talk” for the first time, to the benefit of both.

Nishida stresses the importance of taking things step by step, which Akira needs to hear, while Akira tells Nishida that a friendship can turn romantic given enough chances for them to get to know one another and deem them more than friends. But there’s no rush!

What’s nice about this post-hug transition is that Kondou doesn’t avoid or ignore Akira; he’s not even bothered or uncomfortable by her presence. This is to be expected: we know, especially from last week, that Kondou is a decent sort, along with being, you know, a full-fledged adult.

As such, Akira uses his loud proclamation of their friendship to take a very logical step: she says “friends text each other”, and successfully acquires his contact info. A little step that brings them closer; now she can converse with him and learn from him even when he’s not around.

As she leaves work she’s practically floating on air, but so are Nishida and Yoshizawa, clearly hitting it off as he’s given a haircut. There’s just good vibes all ’round, and Akira finally gets to dance in giddy delight without being interrupted by a self-important Kase!

The second half expands the show’s horizons to a very satisfying scene between Haruka, arguably Akira’s best friend, and the recently-retired captain of the soccer team, Yamamoto. At first his presence displeases her, especially when he brings up Akira (imitating her almondlike eyes). But when she runs away, he follows, and he gets hurt.

Like Akira, Yamamoto had to leave the club because of a leg injury. Haruka wonders if Akira doesn’t love running anymore. Yamamoto asks if Akira said as much, and if she didn’t, it means that’s not the case. He considers Akira far more talented than him, so while both he and she might still want to play soccer or run, respectively, the high expectations the track star has from both within and without make her extra-cautious.

Yamamoto thinks Akira will be fine, especially when she has friends like Haruka who care about her. It’s just what Haruka needs to hear, and he manages to cheer her up considerably. Like Nishida and Yoshizawa hitting it off, Yamamoto and Haruka simply feel right together, showing that After the Rain isn’t just a one-couple pony!

From there we’re back in the office with Akira doing her homework. She’s unfortunate enough to be applying ointment to her pimple right as the manager comes in, but much more fortunate that the subject of her homework is in Modern Japanese, specifically Rashomon, which he’s recently read, and not for the first time.

I love how into it Kondou gets, calling the very question she’s stuck on a bad one, unless it doesn’t count towards her grade, because it’s a question with many answers depending on the individual. It’s almost fate that Akira has a pimple in the same place as the servant-thief of the story.

The end of the story—with the servant running into the RAIN towards a town to commit a robbery—finishes with the words “what happened to the lowly servant, no one knows,” which Akira believes is the perfect opportunity for a sequel, something Kondou had never considered.

Kondou also says that if he were the thief he’d likely stay under the rashomon, out of the RAIN, to avoid causing trouble, since he’s old and lives timidly. He also sees her pimple as a sign of youth, since he doesn’t get them anymore. It’s all him trying to maintain his stance that he’s not worth Akira’s affection, and that she’s better off with some guy who still gets pimples.

In any case, the discussion is cut short when, while flipping through her book, Kondou finds the same doodles that first got her in trouble with Kase, and the manager retreats. In the meantime, Nishida is on cloud nine and Yoshizawa gets the praise he so desperately wanted from the manager.

While watching a potential couple blossom before her, one of whom she can consider a new friend in Nishida, Akira looks at all the Summer Festival posters Kondou put up and thinks about her older friend Haruka. A couple taps on her phone, and the next we Akira she’s positively resplendent in her yukata, meeting up with an overjoyed Haruka and taking her hand.

Akira has apparently decided to take her time and trust the process vis-a-vis Kondou, having faith that in time a friendship can become more, but not to worry about it so much she can’t enjoy that friendship with him or anyone else. It’s very encouraging that she can contact and hang out with Haruka. Like Haruka, I was worried about her for a little bit there!

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 07

For good and ill, things take a major step forward for Kondou and Akira, though you might not have expected such progress early in the episode. Unable to come right out and ask if it’s okay to text him, Akira resorts to small talk, and ends up praising Kondou a bit too much for his taste while he’s working on spreadsheets.

He abruptly ends their chat by practically snarling the dreaded ‘You don’t know anything about me’—six words people who know plenty about each other say all the timeand the last words somebody who is awfully sure she likes someone wants to hear from the person they like. It’s no coincidence in a show called After the Rain that it starts to rain immediately afterwards.

Those words haunt Akira, but she’s determined to go to work and face the person who said them, even though there’s a typhoon approaching Yokohama. She gets there to find Kondou is out with a cold, and his absence, combined with the stress of their unresolves “spat”, throws her off her game, something Kase notices.

Kase, perhaps not thinking just about himself, warns Akira that Kondou may be trying to protect his position and uncomfortable about her attention to him, while she doesn’t want to lose something that’s “fun for her” again. It’s none of his business, but he manages to hit on what Akira is worried about most: that she’s just being a nuisance.

After work, as the weather gets worse and worse, Akira finds herself at Kondou’s front door, and it’s not as if he can turn her away in such conditions. Still, Akira hides her face in her arms, and tells him what she wants: to know him more.

Kondou apologizes for his earlier words, which he realizes were too harsh, but what he meant was that he’s nobody special who isn’t the adult she thinks he is. When she says he’s wonderful, he scoffs and returns the compiment, but she asks him why, if he’s nobody special, her heart aches so damn much.

Kondou demonstrates his affinity for pure literature by giving her a beautiful, almost lyrical response: youthfulness can be rough and vicious, but the emotions felt during that time become a treasure later in life.

Is she a nuisance? Is she not good enough? Both are absurd questions to Kondou. If anything, he’s grateful to Akira for making him remember the treasured emotions he felt in his youth but had forgotten.

The power is out from the storm, but lightning gives the room a gorgeous otherworldly light. This praise makes Akira blush, cry, and tremble, and all Kondou wants to do in that moment is relieve the anxiety of the girl sitting before him, even if he has no right to do so.

So he slowly draws nearer until she is gently in her arms. While he isn’t ready to call what he’s feeling “love”, he decides there and then that he’ll “get wet along side her in her pouring rain.”

Now, the translation probably doesn’t do that  line justice (and indeed may well do it quite a bit of harm), but I get what he’s saying: if she insists on being in his life with her rough, vicious youthfulness, he’ll weather it as they both weather the storm outside.

I’ll be honest, this scene made me very nervous, as in once-a-line-is-crossed-there’s-no-going-back nervous. But the show, mercifully, keeps things above board (though their two umbrellas falling on each other gave me a scare!), and the hug is just a hug.

With that said, I can’t underscore the stunning beauty and energy of this scene, perhaps the show’s best to date. Everything clicks: lighting, music (an orchestral version of the Aimer ED, “Ref:rain”), and of course, the emotions floating around. Our anxiety over how far this will go matches the characters’. The weight of that anxiety is balanced by the lightness of the ethereal atmosphere surrounding our protagonists. Really good stuff.

When Akira grasps his shoulders harder, Kondou promptly pulls away, tells her he only hugged her “as a friend” (riiight), briefly passes out (he is suffering a bad cold), then comes to and gets Akira into a cab.

The next day at the restaurant, Kondou is back but Tachibana is out with a cold. The rest of the staff remarks on the coincidence of the consecutive absences, but not in any way that would incriminate either party.

Akira is at home, in bed, with a fever and ice pack on her head. She then begins to fantasize about hugging Kondou…naked…and, well, you can surely connect the dots from there, though the editing indicates she keeps her hands above the belt.

Regardless, such is to be expected from a healthy young person who just experienced some of the closet and most emotionally meaningful contact with someone else in her life thus far. Her smittenness is tempered by the fact Kondou said it was only “between friends”

Meanwhile, Kondou smokes alone in the restaurant office, restless and doubtless uneasy about what he might have wrought with that hug, both in Akira’s heart and in his own. Here was a man, who if not content, was certainly resigned to a lonely life doing his job and raising his boy. That certainly seems to have changed. To be honest, nothing in his monologue indicated he desired Akira, but he does care about her very much.

P.S. After reading some discussion on this episode, someone brought up the possibility that Kondou’s “you know nothing about me” wasn’t even directed at Akira, but was a response to the Amazon reviews of the book that he wrote under a pseudonym. The “acquaintance” is actually him! I really like that angle.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 06

Akira is more than just her infatuation with Kondou; she’s just choosing to dedicate all of her headspace to him at the cost of everything and everyone else. I’m not judging her choice—I have no right to, and don’t even really disagree with it—I’m just stating the facts here.

One of the casualties is Kyan Haruka, who has been friends with Akira for ages. Theirs is a friendship that endured being separated for their last year and change of junior high. They said they’d be back together again, and then they were. Then Akira was injured and was torn away from the thing she loved most,  and the primary reason for their hanging out: running.

Haruka now finds herself in the unintentional, unfortunate position of being a constant reminder of what Akira has lost. That can wear down a friendship in a hurry, so when Haruka spots Akira at a bookstore, she’s weary of approaching her (especially after their last, not-so-smooth encounter) and almost seems relieved when Akira’s co-worker appears.

It’s not just Haruka keeping her distance. Even when Akira doesn’t have her head in the clouds about Kondou, when she spots Haruka, her friend is seemingly constantly being orbited by a host of other runners. It’s not intimidating per se, but perhaps too brazen for her to be able to handle.

This week’s episode covers Akira’s latest efforts to court Kondou while Haruka seeks a way to reconnect, and while that’s about it in the plot department—and that’s all very nicely done—what truly made this a treasure (and a 9) for me was the wonderful atmosphere, and the amount of breathing space one has within the episode.

After the flashback to Akira and Haruka, we’re treated to a virtually dialogue-free montage of Akira getting on with her day: missing a bus; trekking in the Summer heat; catching a gorgeous view of the town; and going to work.

It’s a beautiful and effective way of showing us that there is indeed more to Akira than her Kondou crush or Haruka troubles. She’s her own person, living life and taking the time to stop and enjoy its scenery.

While waiting for a bus, Akira hears from two younger girls about the magical romantic properties of a certain rare cat keychain, and attacks the dispenser with her yen, gaining dozens of keychains, but none of them the one she needed.

It’s while she’s obsessively turning the crank when Haruka spots her. She hides at first, but when Akira doesn’t stop buying keychains, she intervenes, as a good friend should.

Their ensuing time together is rather distant, but cordial. After all, these two have no particular beef; they’re both victims of circumstances that have limited their interactions of late. But Akira gives Haruka some duplicate keychains she has, and before parting ways at cram school, wishes her good luck at practice.

Haruka and I both agree that “good luck” is an olive branch on Akira’s part; and an acknowledgement that just because Haruka can run and she can’t doesn’t mean she hates her.

I tellya, the skies just keep getting better and better in this episode, like the brewing thunderstorm near dusk when Haruka does a practice run. She remembers Akira’s smile earlier in the day, as well as the keychain(s) she gave her, and Haruka is suddenly taken back to the day she learned why Akira always ran so fast and far ahead of her despite her protestations.

It’s not because she doesn’t like Haruka, it’s because she loves the feeling and sound of the wind that one only gets from running. When Haruka says she guess she understands what she’s on about, Akira beams so brightly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruka fell for her right then and there. She certainly caught the running bug after that day.

Haruka doesn’t want to lose the person who made her realize how fun running was, especially when it was with that person. So the next day she tosses a plastic egg to Akira, who opens it to find not only the rare black keychain she couldn’t get on her own, but a note from Haruka clarifying (or hoping) that their friendship isn’t just about track and field.

I’m guessing Akira is grateful for Haruka’s gift, because it then proceeds to work immediately, and she finds herself in the same library where Kondou happens to be. Akira brings up classic Japanese literature (his fave) and asks if he’d recommend anything; he tells her that’s not the best way to discover books, since everyone has different tastes.

He then invites her to explore the library, which he likens to a sea of books, and see what sticks out. She thinks it’s more of an aquarium than a sea, and her surroundings change to match that feeling. She settles on a track-and-field picture book and the famous Souseki novel Botchan.

Juxtaposed with Haruka standing at a bus stop proudly displaying one of the keychains Akira gave her, Akira stands beside Kondou, offering to borrow a book for him to read. Window by the Wave by Kujou Chihiro jumps out at him. They settle up at the front desk, then walk a little ways together before parting for the night, and I can’t help but think finding that book created the tiniest little rift in their flow.

For while Akira was “called” to the library where Kondou was by her black cat keychain, Kondou seems to believe he might’ve been called there by Window on the Wave, calling the author by her first name. Could this book have been written by his ex-wife?

Finally, while walking home the rest of the way, Akira repeats in her head Kondou’s words about a book “calling out to her”, when all of a sudden a gust of wind kicks up and reveals a majestic full moon.

The sight, sound, and feeling of that wind called to mind the same sensations one experiences whilst running at top speed; the feeling she’s loved far longer than she’s loved Kondou.

Koe no Katachi – (Film Review)

Koe no Katachi isn’t just the redemption story of a guy who bullied a deaf girl in elementary school, got caught, became ostracized, and came a hair’s length from offing himself. It’s more than just the tale of a deaf girl trying to do the best she can to fit into a world in which everyone else can hear. It isn’t just the story of a little sister being so worried about her big sister that she neglects her own life.

It’s all of those things, and far more. It’s really a story about all of us, because we all have flaws. We can’t always fix those flaws, either due to lack of understanding or guidance. All of us have at some point or another hurt others, or been selfish, just as others have hurt us or been selfish themselves. These are not unique qualities to have, they are the things that make us human.

Can people truly love themselves, or anyone else, completely unconditionally? Rarely. There are always conditions and compromises, and transactions. Words fly and are heard or not heard, but actions are felt, and ultimately they define us. Not one action or two, but all of the actions in one’s life, good or bad. And the sequence of those actions are crucial.

Ishida Shouya WAS a colossal dick in elementary school. He DID bully Nishimiya Shouko mercilessly until she had to transfer out. When confronted with his crimes, he DID lash out at his friends, who then turned on him one by one. But he’s trying to make things right; he’s trying to make amends. And he’s lucky; Shouko is as kind and forgiving in the present as she was in the past; almost to a fault.

And yet meeting Shouko again, seeing that she harbored no ill will, and even seemed interested in being friends with him aftrer all that happened, changes everything for Shouya. One by one, he makes friends again, through acts of kindness, forgiveness, and selflessness. Yet he learns that friendship isn’t a right attained by fulfilling qualifications or conditions, but about the simple gesture of reaching out and grasping someone else’s hand.

Of course, friendships can and almost always do get a lot more complicated. Back in elementary school, Shouya likely did what he did not just for personal amusement, but for approval and acceptance. When those things suddenly didn’t work, and in fact had the opposite effect, he was suddenly un-moored, and left with nothing but his own regret for all of the pain he caused.

But as long as there are other people in the world who will even consider sharing the same space or breathing the same air, recognizing pain and sharing it is the best way to go. We are social creatures. We may hurt each other sometimes, but we need each other to survive; to help each other live.

Whew…that’s probably enough pretentious babbling like I’m some kind of expert in psychology or sociology for one sitting! It’s just that Koe no Kotachi, as I said, is far more than the sum of its parts, and even those parts are phenomenal in their construction and presentation, be it its fully-realized and complex characters, KyoAni’s seemingly more obsessive-than-usual attention to human and environmental detail, marvelous dialogue, voice acting, music, etc.

Koe no Kotachi is BIG, and it’s often messy, much like life. There are moments of despair and disgust, but also moments of grace and astonishing beauty. Scenes filled with hate and loathing mixed with scenes of love, understanding, and camaraderie.

It’s immensely though-provoking and impeccably performed. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (probably more than you’ll laugh) but mostly it will tear your heart to pieces and then meticulously reconstruct it, bigger and better than ever. Mostly it’s just really really good. I highly recommend it!

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 05

When Yuuto shows up at the restaurant with a hamster but it’s his dad’s day off, Tachibana escorts him home, and is surprised to find the manager is not there, either.

Yuuto invites her in in his stead, and Tachibana takes full advantage of the opportunity to gather intelligence on her target. Placing her shoes right between his and Yuuto’s is enough to make her blush…Why, it’s like they’re already a family!

Kondou is always running himself down as a loser, but while much of the somewhat messy apartment kinda supports that claim, Tachibana finds Kondou’s “man cave” through a cracked door that betrays a passion for both historic literature and a writing bug she had no idea he had.

When Yuuto is hungry, Tachibana makes do with the paltry contents of the fridge to make omurice, something Yuuto likely doesn’t get often. As she cooks at the stove, she’s in pure heaven.

When Kondou returns home, Yuuto thinks it will be fun if Tachibana hid herself. But she’s still in earshot when Yuuto, almost unconsciously sensing Tachibana’s curiosity, talks to his dad in a way that gets him to reveal that besides his job, reading and writing, he doesn’t have much going on…though he did enjoy going on a movie recently.

When the heat of the confined space is too much, Tachibana bursts forth and plops to the ground, surprising the dickens out of Kondou, who has no earthly idea what she’s doing in his house (nor does he ever get an answer, at least on-camera).

The harm of Yuuto’s little practical joke is seemingly compounded when he accidentally spills barley tea all over the back of her shirt, revealing her bra. However, even this is a win for the Kondou-crazy Tachibana, who gets to change into one of his big t-shirts; borrowing clothes is a big couple thing, after all.

Kondou is far more self-conscious about washing her shirt with his laundry, and takes it to the laundromat (yes…one shirt), but when it rains, Tachibana shows up with Yuuto and an umbrella to pick him up.

Tachibana uses this opportunity to tell him she wants to know more about him; that which she cannot glean merely by being in his apartment, cooking for his son, or wearing his shirt.

The last act takes place at the restaurant, and we get dual perspectives from Kondou and Tachibana, as he learns that it doesn’t take how-to books to get oneself on good speaking terms with one’s staff; one just needs to have a hamster, as all of them have had hamsters and are eager to dispense advice.

This irks Tachibana, who is trying to give the manager a note in private, but cannot because he’s constantly surrounded; suddenly Mr. Popular. She finally puts a stop to it by urging everyone to get back to work (only Kase remained in the kitchen; Tachibana’s interaction with him is mercifully brief and unremarkable this week).

Once alone with Kondou, she tells him the only source of info on caring for hamsters is her, and hands him the note: not a love letter but a list of supplies he’ll need. It’s a sweet, practical interaction, but also an instance of Tachibana acting swiftly and decisively to thwart any efforts to impede her progress with the manager.

Koi wa Ameagari no You ni – 04

Akira’s straightforward, iron persistence wears Kondou down almost immediately, and he promises they’ll go on a date. This fills Akira with joy, but she tries to hide it in the restaurant, with good reason; in the wrong hands, the knowledge she’s into the manager and that he’s indulging her desire to date him could be bad, bad news.

So naturally that information falls into the hands of Kase, one of the kitchen staff, and he’s definitely the wrong hands. Not about to let Old Man Kondou get one over on him, Kase uses Akira’s secret to leverage a date of his own with her. It’s flat-out despicable conduct, perpetrated against someone who clearly has no romantic interest in him whatsoever. He doesn’t care. She’s hot, and he has dirt.

Akira, clearly not wanting things with Kondou blown up before they’ve even begun, quickly accepts his proposal: a date for his silence. All because she drew a cute little drawing depicting her love for Kondou, and let Kase get his grubby mitts on it. But just because Akira slipped up early and badly doesn’t mean she deserves the trying farce Kase puts her through.

She throws something on, an immediate signal she doesn’t give a shit about this date (though still manages to look stylish, btw). She sits through a bad movie, and afterward, when she voices her intent to leave after paying him back, he grabs her arm and pulls her into a cafe for tea.

He presumes to have her all figured out: She’s fallen in love with someone because she can’t be on the track team anymore. Then he says it’s “creepy” that that someone is 45. The irony of someone who just forcefully extended his “date” with a girl against her will calling someone else creepy…the irony is too much.

He grabs her again when she tries to leave again, just as Kondou is calling, and Akira has to wrench herself loose. Words can’t express how goddamn worried I was when, in her haste to talk to Kondou (who grudgingly agrees to pick someplace for their date), she wanders into a dark and isolated place; perfect for an ambush.

Because Kase is an utter piece of shit, of course he kept following her, and watched her very private moment of giddiness. This is a man who is not happy, and so will not let anyone else be happy, or even safe. He assures her it won’t work out with Kondou, and that she’s better off with him, leaning in for an unwanted kiss and telling her this isn’t over before finally fucking off.

Calling Kase scum would be an insult to scum, but it’s a testament to Akira’s toughness that she’s able to so quickly shake off the unpleasantness of her forced date, but I’m still gravely worried. After all, Kase made it clear he’s by no means done harassing her.

The logistics of her date with Kondou are all but identical to those with Kase—same meeting spot, same movie, same cafe—but the fact she’s on a date with someone she actually likes, who would never pull the shit Kase pulled, makes all the difference in the world.

Akira dresses to the nines and does her hair all fancy, and while the date doesn’t seem to be the best ever or anything, that doesn’t matter in the slightest because all she really wants is to spend time with him. Kondou, meanwhile, can’t see any way that this girl is enjoying herself, and when he sees how young everyone is in the cafe, he freaks and bolts.

Akira stays with him, even when he has a lengthy phone call on a bridge at sunset—bad form, but then this guy hasn’t dated in decades—and he spots her waiting patiently as the light catches her just right (such a beautiful sight), and he’s not so much ashamed to be on a date with someone so young and innocent, but ashamed and depressed because he’s so old and worn out and pathetic.

Of course, that’s just, like, his opinion, man, because Akira enjoyed her date quite a lot. She even fantasizes about running to the turnstile where Kondou is departing and kissing him on the cheek from behind, but does not do so. Again, we have a stark contrast between how Akira, as the instigator of the date, treats Kondou, and how Kase treated her.

When Akira gets home to find her mother didn’t throw out the movie pamphlet from her date with Kase, and mixed it with the identical pamphlet with Kondou, her mom doesn’t understand why she’s so furious; they’re the same, what does it matter?

But it does matter; the two dates she had were the difference between night and day. I earnestly hope there’s more day to come, while being very cognizant of the fact there’s the night of Kase lurking nearby. Of course, it’s ultimately not as simple as night and day, or black and white.

In Kase we clearly have a guy who has demonstrated he is not at all a good guy, while Kondou has given us no reason to doubt he’s anything but the kind, self-effacing man he appears to be. Indeed, we see he’s scared of getting close to anyone, regardless of age, because he doesn’t want to get hurt again.

On the other hand, assholishness aside, Kase does have a point regarding Akira suddenly crushing on someone virtually the moment she loses her place on the track team. I just wish he didn’t have to deliver that point while on a date into which he blackmailed her.

But the questions remain: how sustainable is her crush? How long can she divert all of her energies to thinking of Kondou? How much is Kondou willing to indulge her? Is she in love with Kondou, or the idea of Kondou in her head?

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