Kandagawa Jet Girls – 02

Why not devote 12+ minutes of airtime to Rin and Misa’s first jet ski race? Why not break the fourth wall nearly as often as the commentator’s and exposition break the momentum of said race? Why not swap awkwardly between hand drawn and 3D rendered versions of the girls while they race? Why not follow the race with balloon-bewbs!, more exposition, and some fat shaming?

Because boring, boring, boring, awkward, boring, boring, awkward? (in that order)

Well… that didn’t take long did it? Where last week featured many puzzling design choices, which worked to elevate the material from slop to creepy psychodrama, this week couldn’t reach ‘slop.’ If you are earnestly excited by the made up rules to a water-gun shooting + jet ski racing sports anime, I guess you got something from it. Otherwise, not so much.

Kandagawa Jet Girls – 01 (First Impressions)

Rin is surrounded by a warmth as adults chat aimlessly and give us a glimpse of their family-like fishing community. Their world buzzes with detail but stands motionless. Not even a ripple ebbs near the boats docked at port. Not until Rin’s mother is announced as Jet Girl World Champion! As she speaks into without a sound, we zoom in close to her exposed chest and watch her gently wrest a hand above her heart. Rin mirrors this while dry-humping an oversized dolphin plushie beneath her.

Now grown up, teen-Rin saddles a jet ski, buffeted by sports graphics and announcer narration. A delicate smile dances on her lips and a yellow wetsuit like her mother’s hugs her ample curves. There is joy in her and her partner’s face as they ride from wave into the air, rising to the upbeat throb of the opening theme music.

Teen-Rin now sits in darkness before a picture of her trophy-holding mother at the family shrine. Rain and stillness hang like death in the air.

Elsewhere in the dark, a phone alarm wakes another girl. The emptily-chirping phone lays loose in her sleepless hand. Her eyes do not hide her depression. Her student’s room describes an empty life to us in clean but heartless stills. Pens not quite neatly arranged beside a pad on her desk. A simple mug holds her plain tooth brush by the window.

The girl strips for us and her young breasts bounce with natural weight, as if rejecting their sexual impact. The scene is almost silent, broken only by her sliding door sticking in it’s track. It fights to keep her inside before letting her pass. Misa Aoi is written on the name plaque as the hooded girl marches passed.

Rin now sits by her father at the docks, sharing empty chatter about moving to Tokyo for school and part time jobs. He stands there and does not look at her, nor do either turn to face us. We do not see his face. While the setting and color and coldness match, it becomes clear the girls live far apart.

A steam boats horn blares and music returns. In the distance, Rin now faces us waving. Briefly we come close to her smiling face, and as briefly see the smile slacken, her inner shadow cast long by the rising sun.

Misa dons VR Goggles and we see a machine’s hydraulics flex with her weight. We see a simulation through her eyes, and we see her eyes too, each we see tightly framed. Virtual water splashes but Misa never leaves the dirty wooden room. Nor do we see Misa’s projection into  the simulation. She can not see herself there. She curses, feeling the representation is lacking, and hurts her leg in anger.

Rin returns, eyes wide and balled fists held together in surprise. Pair after hyper-sexualized pair, Rin encounters stylish Tokyo girls in love with each other. A foreign couple offers sepuku. Another, selfies. Later, she is mugged by a plain man, who is ultimately tripped by Misa a short chase later.

As Misa stands, Rin’s eyes trace shapely legs, lingering on the dress shirt,  and distant eyes. Rin’s hand returns to her heart, where it hasn’t been since her mother won the championship. Judging from the shrine photo, perhaps moments before she died. Rin exhales and blushes with glistening eyes and lust. Delicate piano keys finger a short rise. Unable to contain her excitement, Rin unzips her duffle bag and her dolphin plushie erupts forth like a skyward facing erection.

Later still, the girls become roommates. Rin attempts to make Misa touch her breasts before leaning in to smell Misa’s neck. She can smell Misa on their bunk bed. Misa violently pushes her away, disturbed but their name plaques now hang together. Rin’s childish mug and personal items sit next to Misa’s on the walls and desk.

The creeper factor runs thick with deceptive charming, as if Misa’s alarm over a sexual predator and stalker could be gently batted away by Rin’s playful grin, poking and chest rubbing. Misa eventually cowers behind a wall to hide, while Rin chats-up another student. The conversation is yet again inane, but introduces Rin’s Jet Ski experience within range for Misa to hear.

The episode culminates in a race against a river side mean girls, during which most of the sexual themes and azure colors are repeated with gusto. Misa is anally penetrated by rifle fire. Tears flow from her eyes. Her clothes detach and fall away.

Point of view impacts storytelling. Not only who’s point of view, but how they see (what angle, the framing, what they focus on) feed us details about their character and the world overall. In KJG’s case, we mostly share Rin’s point of view but the contrast of what that view shows us, and how people see Rin (a smiling happy girl played straight), creates a deeply unsettling juxtaposition.

What makes any of this interesting is that Rin is not simply a ‘flip’ on a male anime creeper. Where most anime and manga would use creeper icons and conventional expressions like drool and ‘that elbows bent arms up wiggle gesture’ to convey Rin’s desires to the audience, KJG does not. Rin’s expression is played straight. In part, this hides her inner feelings from the other cast members as well, which in turn makes her feel dangerous because we, the viewers, are the only ones who can see more is going on with Rin underneath the surface.

KJG sprinkles other weirdness like suicide, the cheapening of Japanese cultural icons, and untreated (and socially ignored) depression. None of these are pushed to the forefront as much as the sexuality but the sexuality is obviously more the point: if you don’t think about how KJG presents itself, you could be forgiven assuming it was just cheap smut.

what the **** did I just watch? (twice)

Asagao to Kase-san. (OVA) – The Sun is Always Shining Above the Clouds

Asagaro to Kase-san, an OVA released in the Summer of 2018, is a concise but solid piece of serious yuri storytelling in the vein of Aoi Hana, Sasameki Koto, and Sakura TrickIt strikes that delicate balance of covering a fair amount of material while never feeling like it’s trying to do too much. The stakes never stray from the future of a couple of young lovers who start dating in their final year of high school.

That they’re both girls, living in relatively conservative Japan, never comes up, because this isn’t about whether they can be together or not. It’s about their mutual love, plain and simple, and how they weather other challenges to remain together, a state neither of them at any point wish to leave.

Mild-mannered gardening fanatic Yamada Yui had never dated anyone before she and the athletic track star Kase Tomoka got together, but they’re together before the opening credits, which is a heck of a timesaver! Suffice it to say they liked each other to the extent they were equally enthusiastic about becoming a couple.

That mutual enthusiasm paid dividends, as before long the like turned to love. There’s never any doubt that Kase is as smitten with Yamada as vice-versa, even if the latter tends to feel inferior due to Kase’s social and literal stature at school. There are also times when she allows Kase to swept up by others, often interrupting potential time alone.

But while Yamada comes to realize she’ll have to be more assertive at times, the fact that Kase is so popular isn’t a problem for her; it serves to validate why she loves her so much in the first place: Kase’s a surpassingly kind and gregarious young woman.

In any case, in moments when Yamada might feel lonely due to indulging Kase’s natural gregariousness, Kase’s own desire to be alone with Yamada means it’s never that long before she seeks Yamada out, both grateful for her patience and relieved to have in her a kind of haven.

Time with Yamada is special to Kase; more special than time with anyone else. That’s whether they’re on an intimate nighttime phone call, alone together in Yamada’s room raising the temperature a bit, or on a beach in Okinawa making up and out after Yamada gets a bit too “surprised” seeing Kase nude.

The biggest threat to their relationship isn’t the fact that they’re both girls, which is refreshing. Instead, like any other relationship, it’s the unrelenting march of time and the changes it brings. Kase is on the fast track to Tokyo U on an athletic scholarship; Yamada’s inertia seems to be keeping her tethered to her hometown, commuting to the local college from home.

Especially when Kase calls to offer to turn down the scholarship and she essentially tells her not to, Yamada is on the cusp of relegating their relationship to a long-distance affair, with visits very few and far between. It’s only on the very day Kase leaves for Tokyo that Yamada wakes up and realizes she doesn’t want that at all. She wants as much Kase as she can get, and so she runs and keeps running until she’s in Kase’s arms aboard the Shinkansen.

How will Yamada manage to get into a Tokyo school? Ehh, she’ll figure it out! The most important thing is that they’re together, like they want to be. They’re also on the same wavelength; Kase really didn’t want to leave Yamada, but felt trapped by the circumstance of her athletic excellence. Fortunately for her, Yamada wasn’t going to let something like that cause what they had to fall apart.

Backed by gorgeous animation and superb voice work from Sakura Ayane and Takahashi Minami, Asagao to Kase-san delivers an elegant and captivating romance between two girls for whom simply no one else would do, and whose bond managed to withstand the winds of change. Give it a watch and your heart will grow at least three sizes!

Bloom Into You – 10 – Holding Back

Koyomi’s script is complete, but she’s loath to hand it over to Yuu, since it’s her first. After taking possession, Yuu makes copies and gives one to Touko, who will play the main role of a woman with amnesia being told what kind of person she is by a friend, a family member, and a lover.

The only problem is they have three completely different ideas about who she is, creating a conundrum. After last week’s shed-anigans, Yuu breaks off from Touko to walk home with her friends, leading Touko to wonder if she’s being avoided because took things too far.

Touko also finds it pretty scary how Koyomi was able to craft a role that fits her so well: that of the “empty girl.” As for the other roles, Yuu plays her nurse, Maki her younger brother, and Doujima her friend. Sayaka plays her lover, which was designed to be a girl—another element of the play inadvertently drawn from life.

Touko also uses the student council meeting to announce a three-day, two-night study camp during the approaching summer break, at the school lodge designated for such things. While Touko is tutoring Yuu over donuts, she admits she’s considered “holding back” a little more, and not just due to the fact they’ll be sleeping in the same room in the lodge.

It’s that Touko doesn’t want Yuu to come to hate her. Yuu tells her she doesn’t have to worry about, but is also happy she worried. She later calls Touko by her name (with a -senpai added on), but apparently too quietly for Touko to hear. Touko also eats the donut Yuu wanted, once more showing how she has all the initiative in their relationship.

Yuu seems to want to initiate something—anything—but just can’t; not due to lack of enthusiasm for spending time with Touko. It’s almost like she’s afraid to lose the excuse of always being led around by the nose or taken advantage of. Not to mention, what if she proposes something to Touko and it’s rejected? Or perhaps more frightening, what if it’s accepted?

Much to Yuu’s surprise, Touko makes good on her promise to take things down a notch, by not calling or even texting Yuu the first days of Summer break. Yuu instead keeps busy by playing video games, minding the store, and one day, hanging out with her middle school friend and former softball teammate Natsuki. That Yuu isn’t hanging out with Touko irks Yuu’s late-to-rise sister Rei, who finds such a situation to be “dull”, even if their mother is oblivious.

Yuu may think she hasn’t changed, but all it takes is a day with her for Natsuki to conclude otherwise. Specifically, she always admired and sometimes envied Yuu’s ability to tolerate any situation or hardship—i.e. not crying after a tough loss. But after hearing Yuu go on so much about her senpai in the student council, Natsuki can tell she’s finally become “invested” in something, or rather someone.

Natsuki considered asking Yuu to join her at her high school and join the softball team there…and knew Yuu would say yes, but decided against it. While she misses Yuu, she’s glad her “hands are full” with something. Of course, Yuu doesn’t necessarily take Natsuki’s insights to heart, but that doesn’t mean they’re not spot on!

Shift to Touko, having a quiet dinner with her family, talking about her impending study camp for the play. Her father, unbidden to anyone, tells her “she doesn’t have to do this,” referring to putting on a play like her sister did. Touko quickly excuses herself—she’s doing what she wants to do, not what she thinks she needs to.

One thing she needs after that exchange is to hear Yuu’s voice, so after starting and cancelling various texts and staring at her phone, she finally closes her eyes and hits “call”…and Yuu answers. They talk about their days, and as they do, Touko says she knows, deep down, Yuu “doesn’t really care” about what’s going on with her, which couldn’t be less true.

Yuu may sound “indifferent” over the phone, but her body language on her bed—alert, smiling, hugging a pillow, playfully peddling her feet—tells a different story. Touko may not know it, but Yuu isn’t just a nurse dispassionately looking out for her. She’s invested. Her happiness is starting to tie into Touko’s. She appreciates Touko holding back, but doesn’t want her to do so too much.

Which is what makes the post-credit sequence with Touko so goshdarn heartbreaking. Book-ending a cold open in which Touko mentioned she was having “dreams of the past”, in what Sayaka says is simply Touko “dreaming about herself in the midst of remembering something.”

In this case, Touko dreams of hanging out with her big sister on the couch. Their mother asks one of them to go out to buy more tea; they play rock-paper-scissors and her sister loses, so she goes out…and never comes back. Touko nods off while awaiting her return, but wakes up to the chilling sound of sirens.

Then she wakes up in real life, pulls out a photo of her family with her sister, and voices again, out loud, her resolve to become her sister. There’s no “like” in there—she’s talking complete transformation with nothing remaining of whoever Nanami Touko was before her sister’s death. Assuming it’s even possible (or appropriate) for someone to dissuade Touko from such a goal, Yuu certainly has her work cut out for her. Hell, it sure left me in tears…

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.

Bloom Into You – 06 – Flawless Performance

With midterms over, the council is full speed ahead on the cultural festival stage play…although they don’t yet have a scriptwriter. Yuu thinks she knows the perfect one in Koyomi, whose novel was so interesting she read it twice before handing it back with her endorsement.

But Yuu still isn’t 100% in on even having a play, and if circumstances such as having no scriptwriter means there won’t be one, well…better that than having to worry about Touko working too hard.

This is the week Sayaka’s silk gloves come off, as she takes every opportunity to lay into Yuu on stepping the fuck off her turf. Sayaka knows the “real” Touko just as Yuu does, and deems herself the one, only, and best person to look after her.

She also gives Yuu a clue to start digging into why she’s adopted the “perfect” girl persona so far from who she really is. Her sleuthing leads her to learning that seven years ago Touko’s sister Mio was StuCo President, but before the stage play she was killed by a traffic accident.

It’s pretty clear to Yuu now why Touko is so gung-ho about the play, and about continuing to put on a “flawless performance:” since she was ten and badgered by everyone around her to do so, she’s always been committed to being just like her sister. Someone beloved, praised, and relied upon. Even if it’s all an act, she’s not going to stop…not even for Yuu.

What Yuu leaves unsaid when she confronts Touko with what she knows and asks if she’d reconsider not doing the play is that she’s coming close to falling in love with Touko. Not “Perfect” Touko, but “Weak” Touko, who you could also call “Real Touko.”

Yuu wants Touko to be who Yuu deems to be “her true self,” but it’s ultimately not her call, and she knows that. But it pains her to wonder who she’ll ever love if she can’t ever fall for the Touko she’s been dealt; one who detests the very idea of giving up on being like Mio to everyone else.

As her self-proclaimed guardian, Sayaka seems to be fine with the status quo, and doesn’t want Yuu mucking it up. But when Yuu holds back what she should say in order to maintain her comfortable limbo with Touko, it seems like a seed that could grow into something unpleasant.

Add to that the post-credit sequence, which repeats Yuu and Touko’s evening walk while holding hands but switches from Yuu’s to Touko’s head. In Yuu’s head, we can hear her desire to change…specifically into someone who can fall in love with Touko.

But here’s Touko telling her to never change. Why’s that? Touko believes words like love to be “shackles”, and that if Yuu changes she might become someone Touko won’t love anymore, leaving her alone again (clearly, Sayaka doesn’t do much for her).

It’s a reasonable position for a little sister who was essentially treated as a spare by her family and utterly lost in the dazzling glare of her big sister, only for that light to suddenly go out. Touko filled the vacuum by transforming. It wasn’t just obligation; it was fear of loneliness.

Bloom Into You – 05 – Nice to Be Chosen; Nicer to Choose

Yuu likes working at her family’s bookstore, because it lends her some insight into her friends via the kid of literature they purchase. She’s primed to excoriate Touko when she shows up during her shift to buy a raunchy yuri novel, but it turns out she doesn’t know the story takes such a turn until later, and then she’s contrite.

I was mistaken about what Koyomi was working on; it wasn’t a love letter, but a novel, something she took on and didn’t let things like fatigue or looming midterms to keep her from finishing it. She lends it to Yuu to read, but Yuu is focused on midterms first and foremost. She’s also constantly telling herself that Maki is wrong. He must be.

He may claim to see affection for Touko in Yuu’s behavior, but she’d insist she’d worry about anyone she deemed fragile and in need of someone for support—even if it wasn’t Touko. She’d be “happy with anyone,” to which I say, isn’t she assuming a lot, not tomention missing the forest for the trees?

When Maki slickly declines studying with Yuu in the library the moment Touko comes up from behind her, Yuu ends up in a series of study sessions with a senpai with a crush on her, and that crush is only intensifying. The first time, Yuu isn’t sure how to repay Touko for tutoring her, but Touko simply says she did it because she wanted to, and Yuu will “just have get used to it”.

Again, Yuu insists to herself (and us) that she’d be happy studying with anyone; that she didn’t choose Touko. Still, she admits she doesn’t hate being chosen. There’s anyone, and there’s the person in front of you. Yuu may say she’d be fine with anyone, but the fact remains, she’s fine with Touko, and so not opposed at all to “getting used” to being around her.

To that end, when the library is completely full, it is Yuu who invites Touko to her place to study, not t’other way round. Indeed, of the two of them only Yuu is clear-headed (and bold) enough to suggest they continue their studying in private.

This is not, then, a matter of will, only intensity for Yuu. Touko is desperately and adorably nervous alone in Yuu’s room as she prepares tea. She’s delighted to meet Yuu’s mom, older sister Rei, and Rei’s boyfriend (who “jokes” that Touko might be Yuu’s girlfriend). She’s elated to learn more about Yuu, who talks about herself so infrequently at school.

It isn’t until Touko’s longing eyes meet Yuu’s that Yuu asks her if anything’s wrong or if she’s not feeling well or too hot. Reading Touko’s blushing face finally clues Yuu in on what’s going on, and she confirms it by taking Touko’s hand and reading her very quick pulse. Touko is taken aback by Yuu’s boldness, but that boldness is tempered by the fact she’s not acting out of lust, but pure logic.

And that logic is the barrier Yuu must cross. If she “waits for her heart” to tell her she likes Touko, she’ll be waiting forever. She has to move beyond the probability that someone, anyone else could make her happy when there’s already someone right there, and their being there isn’t just a matter of coincidence or convenience. Yuu is overthinking and over-analyzing things. She was alone. Now she’s not. Go with that.

Meanwhile, as she’s leaving Yuu’s house, Touko is a completely, helplessly open book to Rei and boyfriend. Touko is bashful when Rei tells her to “take care” of Yuu; and Touko is way too eager to learn the recipe for the cheesecake Yuu likes so much. That’s why, in addition to the recipe, Rei sends Touko a photo of Yuu sleeping on the floor.

Bloom Into You – 04 – The Spectator

Yuu’s friend Koyomi is distracted from after-school study since she’s busy writing what I’m guessing is a love letter. She doesn’t reveal this fact to Yuu, preferring to keep it secret, as such things should be, at least until you have a better handle on how it will go. Yuu doesn’t have time to give her friend’s reaction too much thought, because new Student Council President Nanami Touko has arrived to pick her up to go to the council office. Touko also introduces the fifth and newest member, a first-year boy, Doujima Suguru.

Touko lays out the general areas when they’ll be busiest, no more so than the cultural festival. She wants to bring back the StuCo stage play, in which they’ll fill performing roles while the various creative clubs provide script, costumes, sets, etc., in lieu of a theater club (which the school doesn’t have). Touko is enthusiastic about the idea (obviously; it’s hers), as is Doujima. VP Sayaka can be counted on to go along with whatever Touko wants, as always.

The two holdouts are Yuu and Maki Seiji. Yuu doesn’t like big crowds (she did quite well with her speech, but that doesn’t mean she enjoyed it), while Maki prefers to work “in the background” in a support role, as he did in the past in sports clubs. Ironically, it was that speech that inspired Doujima to join; Yuu seemed so fired up about joining in that moment!

After a long day of council work, much of it organizing the mess of files of the previous administration, everyone heads out except for Touko and Yuu. Yuu was going to leave too, but gets a Look from Touko that keeps her there. The fact she stays, and for no reason other than to keep Touko company…that innate kindness of Yuu gets Touko all hot and bothered.

She wants to kiss Yuu…badly. Yuu brings up how she made it clear ‘she can’t return the same feelings so why is Touko coming on to her’. But it’s Yuu letting Touko love her that makes Touko love her that much more. That same kind Yuu doesn’t exactly hate being kissed, and if she said she “wasn’t interested”, she’d be lying. So they kiss. And as they kiss, Maki comes back to grab his pencil case…and sees them. But they don’t see him.

The next day, Maki acts naturally with Yuu, which is to say, they have a good working relationship as student council colleagues. Yuu brings him the pencil case he couldn’t grab. We don’t know Maki all that well, except that we know that “the background” is his wheelhouse; he likes to help out, not stand out. To that end, him spreading rumors isn’t something he’d do.

All I can say is, thank God it wasn’t Doujima who spotted Yuu and Touko, or it might already have spread to the whole school. Maybe that’s not being entirely fair to Doujima, whom I also barely know, but from what we gather in his interaction with a distracted-looking Maki, we can glean that he’s a more “conventional” high school boy; he has a specific type of girl he’s into and asks Maki what his type is (to which he says he has none).

The more he observes Touko and Yuu, the more he learns and realizes about them. He also observes Sayaka, who he can tell feels threatened by Yuu, and she isn’t even that good at hiding it, saying, in effect, Touko’s first-year obsession “will pass” which is clearly wishful thinking on her part. That outcome serves her, but she’s not really thinking about what Touko wants, is she now?

When Maki heads back to the school from the office, Yuu accompanies him, and on the way. They talk about her and Touko, and he informs her that he saw them kiss, asking if they’re dating. Yuu is petrified; not knowing who Maki is, she envisions her version of the worst-case scenario: word spreads, and it hurts Touko.

But again, Maki isn’t going to use what he knows for anything malicious; it’s just not who he is. Touko and Yuu didn’t do anything to him; why would he do something to hurt them? It does nothing for him. What does do something for him, on the other hand, is knowing they’re a couple, and specifically being the only one who knows.

You see, Maki is not your normal high school kid either. He’s not interested in getting into or being in a relationship; only observing them from a comfortable place. It doesn’t matter if it’s a girl and a guy, or two guys or two girls; as long as he’s a spectator and not a participant (the closest to anger we see him exhibit is when he himself was confessed to in the past, shattering his “fourth wall.”

Somehow, some way, this doesn’t come off as creepy. Perhaps it’s because the way he expresses it felt so innocent to me. I’m not saying it’s a healthy or unhealthy way to live your life, and neither does the show judge him either way.

What matters to Yuu is that Maki discretely told her, alone, in a prompt fashion. So when he says he won’t tell anyone—not even Touko—both Yuu and I trust him.

Maki’s passive way of navigating the tempestuous seas of high school affords him unique insights that more active participants will often overlook. For instance: he can tell Touko is special to Yuu, because without even thinking Yuu put Touko’s wellfare before her own vis-a-vis their secret.

Maki doesn’t hate love, he just wants to be above the fray and watch it…one more reason he won’t mess with Yuu and Touko. To do so would be as unthinkable as standing up in the middle of a play and interrupting the actors on the stage (assuming, of course, it’s a non-interactive play).

And so for the first time, Yuu is flustered by someone other than Touko on the subject of her feelings for her. What she thought to be “normal” may actually be the “special”-ness she thought she’d never achieve. This changes everything.

Citrus – 12 (Fin)

The Citrus finale ends predictably, but starts with a bit of a surprise: Nina’s brute strength is all but neutralized by Yuzu’s sheer force of will. Nina realizes she can’t hold Yuzu back from doing something she may regret the rest of her life. But that doesn’t mean she won’t tag along when Sara summons Yuzu.

Nina has always seen her sister as someone who will put her own happiness last, and when she and Yuzu arrive, Sara appears to be doing just that by giving Yuzu a chance to confess to Mei. But letting Mei go and supporting Yuzu does make Sara happy. She can tell they’re a better match; they just need to work harder at understanding each other.

Sara is also happy because she has a little sister who cares about and protects her so much. And she has no intention of ceasing to be friends with either Yuzu or Mei. When you put it all together, Sara gained more than she lost.

As Yuzu takes the long walk to the shrine where Mei is waiting, her friends give her a wide berth. Matsuri wanted to inject herself into Yuzu’s trip, but resists the urge to bother her.

Harumin and Himeko spot Yuzu running like a bat out of hell, and both admit that her whirlwind nature is what draws them to her. Harumin has never minded supporting Yuzu as much as she has because she has so much fun watching her figure things out (that, and she’s a natural mama bird).

Night has fallen by the time Yuzu finds Mei on one of those bridges where confessions usually happen, but Mei is not in a receptive mood, and bolts when Yuzu tries to press the issue. Not quite sure if the ensuing chase was absolutely necessary, but it does add to the dramatic mood, especially when it ends with an accidental full-body tackle by Yuzu.

By the time Yuzu has Mei down by contact, she’s said a lot of the things she hadn’t said before but needed to, like admitting a lot of what Mei says and does just doesn’t make any damn sense to her, but also knows Mei feels the same way about her. She goes through the times Mei tried to reach out with her feelings when Yuzu was only thinking about her own.

Yuzu regrets putting Mei through those things, but it doesn’t change the fact she loves her and wants to do better, so if Mei loves her too, she should give her a kiss. Suddenly too bashful to do so, Mei has her mini teddy bear kiss Yuzu instead. Yuzu, in turn, gives Mei a kiss.

After much groping (literal and figurative) in the dark, the sisters are finally sure about one thing, even if Mei says she needs to date Yuzu to find out for sure. With that, they hook back up with Sara and Nina, Nina gives Mei and Yuzu her blessing and tells Mei to try to be more selfish at times, and they part ways with a promise to take a trip to Kyoto again, just the four of them.

Sara also said she’d “forgive” Mei for choosing Yuzu if Mei held Yuzu’s hand as they headed back to the hotel. On another cold night, Yuzu is thankful for Mei’s warm touch, leading to them sharing another kiss on another romantic bridge.

Back at school, Mei, Yuzu, Harumin and Himeko make a fine quartet, and Mei shows how much Yuzu’s confession meant by holding hands with her, even there on school grounds. Whatever the future holds for Yuzu and Mei, they’re going to enjoy their present.

That’s nice! I’m glad the stepsisters aren’t on tenterhooks and are moving forward with an attitude of honesty, openness, and a desire to understand each other more. With friends like Harumin, Himeko, and Sara (and…okay, fine, Nina too) supporting them, who at times threatened to steal the show away from the core couple, they’ll be just fine.

Citrus – 11

Best Girl Harumin always has a way of coming in at the perfect time in this ridiculous show about sisters loving other sisters who love their sisters to splash water on the whole affair. She makes a down-in-the-dumps (and at this point disgustingly self-involved) Yuzu pay dearly for her negative aura in the form of a ruthless tickling.

I love how quickly and casually Harumin moves on to reveal yet another thing to love about her—she’s a history buff! But also, she’s just got other things going on…unlike Yuzu, who has let this Mei situation consume nearly every waking moment.

The next day, the class trip visits a “relationship-forming shrine”, a decision made at Himeko’s urging, still fighting to get closer to Mei. Sara’s sister Nina gets wind of this, and despite knowing Mei and Yuzu are “already invovled”, as a fiercely loyal sister, she’s committed to doing all she can to help Sara.

That also means bringing Sara to the same shrine. It also means keeping Sara in the dark about Yuzu and Mei, something I see coming to bite her later.

Both Yuzu and Himeko are enthusiastic about visiting the shrine and offering their very long prayers that make Harumin wait. Once the three are back together, it’s not five seconds until Sara appears, to Yuzu’s surprise. Since neither is aware they’re in love with the same girl, they each offer one another their blessings and hope to hear of their success later. Oh dear.

On a brighter note, Himeko’s underlying good-girl nature meshes well with Harumin’s innate maternal aura, as the two conspire to offer Yuzu charms to aid her future beauty and luck and success in love. Harumin also hilariously shuts down Himeko’s tsundere act – Himeko cares about Yuzu as a friend.

If only Yuzu pulled her weight, especially in her friendship with Harumin. Any way you look at it, Harumin gives and gives while Yuzu simply takes and takes. But the thing is, if Harumin didn’t want to be friends with someone like Yuzu, she wouldn’t be. So I’ll respect her choice.

When the weather turns, Nina makes sure she’s in the same place as Mei. She informs Mei of her sister Sara’s affection for her, and asks whether she’d consider entering into a relationship with her. Mei declines, but Nina asks her to think it over.

Clearly, Nina did not intend for Mei to have more than a minute or so to think it over, because it isn’t long after she leaves that Sara appears. Determined not to let her chance slip by, Sara confesses her love. When Mei asks if Sara would “need” her, Sara answers of course she would; she loves her, after all.

It’s a directness Mei wanted from Yuzu, but didn’t get, and doesn’t get even later that evening when Yuzu confronts Mei once more and can’t get the words out. Mei interrupts her to say she was already confessed to that very day, and decided to start dating that person.

Having reached a new low, Yuzu get’s “sauced” on orange soda and rants to herself in the hotel lobby, making a big scene. Her shot, it would seem, was at the end of last week. She blew it, and left the opening for someone else (who she still doesn’t know is Sara).

Nina isn’t about to tell her…at least not until she gets an ironclad promise from Yuzu that she’ll support Sara in her love, no matter what. She secures that promise when Yuzu is at her most miserable and vulnerable. I tellya, this Nina is one cool operator.

After another unpleasant run-in with Mei over hitting up the bath too late— breaking both school and hotel rules, *gasp*—Yuzu ends up encountering Sara in the bath. A very happy, if nervous Sara. Yuzu is happy for Sara, but when she reports her own failure, Sara urges her not to give up. Even if she’s dating someone else, Sara believes Yuzu has to tell her how she feels.

Yuzu tries to do just that, waiting until Mei’s roommate Himeko leaves to sneak in and talk. Mei isn’t having it, but when Himeko suddenly returns, she turns out the lights and pulls Yuzu under the covers with her, literally covering for her.

This time, Yuzu doesn’t squander her chance, embracing Mei, blowing on her neck, and preparing to kiss her, perhaps in hope her actions will speak louder than her thus-far lack of words. Mei stops her and orders her to leave, but the experience emboldens Yuzu. The time wasn’t right to say what she wanted to say, but now she’s committed to finding that time.

Yuzu was hoping that would be the next day, but Mei has already gone off on a date. Yuzu rushes to the location of that date and tries to determine where Mei might be, but she’s intercepted by Nina, who finally tells her the truth: Mei is Sara’s girlfriend, and she’s going to keep it that way.

Nina’s statuesque physique was played for laughs last week, but both when she squeezed a promise from “drunk” Yuzu (hugging her just a bit too hard) and when she’s backing her into a railing here, Nina’s size becomes a threatening proposition—one Yuzu simply never saw coming.

Meanwhile, atop an observation tower, Mei spaces out. Last night after the bath, Sara found Yuzu’s dropped student ID, saw the same last name as Mei’s, and remembered Yuzu saying she was in love with her stepsister. Even so, she can’t deny her heart, which is telling her she wants to kiss Mei.

With Sara wanting to go all in,  Mei simply wanting someone to need her for who she is, and Yuzu cowering in a tight corner, everything seems to be coming up Nina…except of course if the ultimate truth is that Nina harbors an unrequited love for Sara.

The stigma of incest combined with Sara falling for someone else seem to have helped Nina decide to give up on Sara for herself and instead use every resource at her disposal to ensure her sister’s happiness, even at the cost of her own.

I appreciated the added layers given to both Tachibana twins. Like Yuzu, Sara is the purer of the two sisters, more easily manipulated for good and ill, while Nina, due in part to the world denying her the love she chose, is the more cynical sister who doesn’t believe in fate, only will and effort. She may be hurting Yuzu deeply, but better Yuzu than Sara.

We should be in for quite a finale.

Citrus – 10

Mei unblinkingly offers Yuzu her body with open arms, ostensibly out of gratitude for how Yuzu helped her with her grandfather and father. But when Yuzu finally has the object of her infatuation in her arms…she just can’t do it.

Emphasis on she; Mei looked ready to go all the way, and from the look of her reaction to Yuzu’s declining, isn’t cool with being turned down. That feeling lasts the length of the month of January, with the two stepsisters rarely talking.

When Matsuri hears the two didn’t do it on Christmas after all, she mocks Yuzu for wanting her romance to be perfect like the shoujo-ai manga she hides in her bookshelf. She also scolds Yuzu for not properly considering Mei’s feelings. Even if that’s a bit rich coming from her, she’s not wrong. Mei opened up, and Yuzu ran.

When Yuzu oversleeps the morning of their class trip to Kyoto, Mei leaves without her, and Yuzu misses her class’s train. As it would happen, another big sister from another school ends up missing her train and separated from her little sister.

That sister is Tachibana Sara, and she and Yuzu end up meeting and getting on the next train headed to Kyoto, and from there, the coincidences keep piling up. Yuzu and Sara set out to find their respective classes and learn they each have virtually the same schedule and are even staying at the same hotel.

In the process, Yuzu and Sara become friends, which I knew would make things interesting when Sara learns that the nice girl she fell for (and mentions to her sister Nina earlier in the ep) is Yuzu’s stepsister, whom Yuzu told her she fell for and is currently unable to reconcile with.

Sara and Nina reunite, and Yuzu learns Sara’s “little” sister is huge, and a gyaru to boot! But Himeko catches Yuzu and gives her the third degree, even interrupting Yuzu’s attempt to get Mei to talk.

They eventually do meet, later that night, but Mei is not in a patient mood, and when she asks Yuzu “What do you think of me?”, Yuzu has nothing but shallow answers, even if they’re the best she can come up with on short notice. Mei isn’t moved, and tells Yuzu to forget Christmas night.

In one final coincidence, Nina happens to overhear this conversation between Sara’s new friend Yuzu and the black-haired girl Nina knows her sister likes.

A coincidence or two can be perfectly fine, but when there are this many it can make the resulting drama a bit manufactured and thus less satisfying. And while I knew the Tachibana twins were coming from the promo art, and they weren’t nearly as grating as Matsuri, they were also just a bit dull.