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Dated 13 July 2021: The End of KoiKimo and HigeHiro ~Air/My Purest Love for JKs~

Ryo and Ichika
They're not flirting.

I started the Spring 2021 season with an entry covering both Koi to Yobu ni wa Kimochi Warui (It's Disgusting to Call This Love or KoiKimo) and Hige wo Soru. Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou. (I Shaved. Then I Brought a High School Girl Home. or HigeHiro), so I guess I should have a post wrapping them up as well. I found KoiKimo to be a better series, perhaps because of its straightforward story. It also helps that KoiKimo leaves Ichika in control of her fate. It is ultimately Ichika's decision whether her relationship with Ryo will advance or not.

Yoshida and Sayu
Platonic head pat.

Sayu does not have this luxury in HigeHiro. Maybe it's disingenuous to claim HigeHiro is about Yoshida "looking for something attractive to save" (my apologies to Liz Phair), but replace Yoshida's name here with "the audience's surrogate," and maybe it's not far off the mark. KoiKimo and HigeHiro both ended up where I expected, but Sayu had much less say over the path she took to get there.

Ryo and Ichika
Making the end credits look more like the manga art was a nice touch.

In contrast, KoiKimo is an honest romance. There is no real mystery whether Ichika and Ryo will actually end up together or not, even though KoiKimo does introduce rival love interests for both leads. Moreover, the rivals are genuinely more sensible partners from every objective metric. However, the most obvioius impediment—the age gap between Ichika and Ryo—is never depicted as a meaningful obstacle. When it is finally viewed as a problem, its solution is entirely unsurprising.

Yoshida and Sayu
Platonic head pat.

The solutions to the challenges presented in HigeHiro are also fairly obvious, but the series insists on pantomiming a number of unconvincing feints. They're unconvincing because Sayu basically has no flaws, and Yoshida clearly feels something for her. He never has a reason to turn her away, and Sayu's rivals for Yoshida's attention are dubious love interests who quickly end up supporting Sayu anyway.

Sayu
Relax, Sayu. Wonder Eggs are only 500 yen each.

In fact, Sayu's true adversaries are her lack of self-worth, her family's disinterest in her welfare, and the story's insistence at making Yoshida obtuse. Yoshida's behavior is baffling in HigeHiro, and not just because he denies being attracted to the sexually available high school girl living with him. Yoshida's behavior is baffling because he's willing to accept immediately on faith that Sayu would be better off returning to her home, without ever examining even the slightest bit the reasons why she ran away in the first place. It seems irresponsible to not at least contemplate the myriad awful situations that potentially compel teenagers to leave home and offer sex to strangers just to survive.

Sayu
HigeHiro showed Sayu orgasming on screen.

Of course, the real reason Yoshida never asks is because the story can't let him or the audience know before the narrative is ready. It turns out the unpleasant situation Sayu fled wasn't that bad, but that's the case only because HigeHiro insists on rehabilitating its antagonists immedately after introducing them. This sort of cowardice is a significant weakness of HigeHiro, as it makes its conflicts fairly hollow. The challenges presented in KoiKimo are not intractable either, but at least they don't take on a fraudulent quality.

Ichika
Ichika grew accustomed Ryo's nightly calls without realizing it.

KoiKimo succeeded by being forthright about its romance and committing to it unapologetically. In contrast, HigeHiro (like Yoshida himself) spends basically the entire series maintaining an unconvincing veneer of plausible deniability over whether or not Sayu is an actual love interest. At the risk of attracting accusations of being in favor of age-inappropriate pairings, I'm going to suggest HigeHiro does this to its detriment.

Sayu and Yoshida
They had to put him in a chair watching her sleep
so people wouldn't insist they still fucked.

I suppose I can't speak for its source material, but the anime most certainly portrays Sayu as an eligible partner. Does HigeHiro provide Sayu with agency by having her test Yoshida's resolve each time she propositions him? Or does the series undermine Sayu's agency by presenting these moments solely so Yoshida can continue to rebuff her and showcase his unflagging integrity? I'm not answering this rhetorical, but I think we all know.

Dated 20 April 2021: Koikimo is better than Higehiro even though both are missing the same thing

Ichika and Ryo
Stalker distancing.

News that the Spring 2021 anime season would feature TWO shows about adult men paired with high school girls created ripples across the Twitter, but even this mild outrage waned after viewers discovered neither show was as torrid as anticipated. Descriptions of Koi to Yobu ni wa Kimochi Warui (It's Disgusting to Call This Love, A.K.A. Koikimo) in particular concentrated on elements that ranged from misleading (characterizing its male lead as "a womanizer") to outright untruthful (e.g., calling him "sex-crazed...with a wandering eye for women"). At the risk of stereotyping too much, I suspect more attention should have been paid to the fact that the Koikimo manga is described as josei (i.e., for adult women) instead of seinen (i.e., for adult men who miss fucking teenage girls).

Sayu and Yoshida
I was too bothered by Sayu's lack of luggage to make a Fate/stay night joke.

Curiously, Hige wo Soru. Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou. (Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway) seemed to attract less pre-season attention than Koikimo, but perhaps its original novels and manga adaption were already known well enough to deflect unwarranted speculation that it was going to be a smutty romp. This, despite its synopsis outright stating that its characters meet when the titular teenage girl, Sayu, offers sex in exchange for a place to stay. Instead, Higehiro is about a man, Yoshida, who insists he is not attracted to the JK crashing at his place. The series begins with Yoshida being rejected by his long-term crush (his boss at work, no less) who claims she is already seeing someone. He is so devastated that he seemingly does not even notice she was CLEARLY LYING.

Gotou
Dude, you're staring.

Higehiro also draws attention to Yoshida's insistence that he is not a "nice guy" for letting Sayu live with him without strings attached (unlike everyone else she has stayed with during her previous six months as a runaway), but rather that the other men she has known are despicable people. Yoshida also repeatedly insists he is not attracted to Sayu because he only likes women with large breasts, but then the show promptly undercuts him by immediately alerting (and repeatedly reminding) the viewer that Sayu's boobs are also comfortably big.

Sayu
Higehiro even quantifies the comparison.

This is where I lose the ability to predict the path Higehiro will take. There is enough fan service and "male gaze" to the anime that we are obviously supposed to see Sayu as a legitimate love interest of Yoshida's, despite (or perhaps because of) his loud denials. But the show also retains the harem elements by keeping the CLEARLY LYING boss lady and deliberately slapdash co-worker near as potential romantic rivals. If I had to guess how this story ends, I would expect Yoshida's support to put Sayu on a path to success before re-uniting the two after a multi-year timeskip apart that has given Sayu time to become a self-sufficient adult with even bigger boobs than ever. Alternatively, we'll get a cop-out non-ending ending, potentially with all four of them living together for contrived reasons.

Ryo
You can tell he's sincere because of the sparkles.

While Higehiro is about a man who denies being attracted to the teenage girl living with him, Koikimo is about a man openly and aggressively wooing a high school girl 10 years his junior. At this point, I think it is necessary to acknowledge the tropes that govern this story's boundaries. Ryo and Ichika meet by chance and a suspension bridge moment sparks his sudden obsession with Ichika, who is coincidentally classmates with Ryo's kid sister, Rio. Fortunately for Ryo, his sister not only approves of his infatuation with her friend, but even volunteers as his wingman to provide opportunities for him to get closer with Ichika.

Ruri, Rio, Ichika, and Satsuki
Rio's anime bed is made of concrete.

Moreover, Ichika's own mother approves of Ryo's courtship, despite Ichika's clear displeasure. It is probably worth pointing out that Ryo has apparently never had to pursue a love interest before. He is not a pick-up artist chasing after fresh prey. Instead, girls and women have thrown themselves at him his entire life (Ichika's and Rio's classmates all unanimously agree Ryo is exceptionally handsome), so this is an entirely new experience for him.

Sayu and Yoshida
Dude, you're staring.

So what are Koikimo and Higehiro both missing? Lust. In the case of Koikimo, Ryo is clearly, genuinely smitten with Ichika, but he is arguably more drawn to her disinterest in him than he is to her physical appearance. Ichika is presented as being fairly unremarkable among her peers, and her own best friend describes her as "normal" (although at least one boy at her school has taken a liking to her). In the case of Higehiro, it takes three episodes of the show loudly signalling that Sayu is comely and sexually available before Yoshida finally admit he finds her attractive. However, his refusal to sleep with her is predicated on a critical, foundational cornerstone to the narrative's integrity, so I don't expect the story can too easily reverse this stance even if the audience comes to think he protests too much.

Ichika and Rio
She is upset because she is pleased.

After four episodes of Koi to Yobu ni wa Kimochi Warui and three episodes of Hige wo Soru. Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou., I enjoy Koikimo more than Higehiro. Neither series is especially realistic (although I could believe Higehiro, despite the melodrama, were it not for the CLEARLY LYING Christmas-cake boss lady and the co-worker who deliberately fucks up her work for Yoshida's attention), but I find Koikimo more amusing. I can't rule out the possibility that I'm simply more enamored of Ichika's seemingly endless barrage of disgusted faces than I am with Sayu's "pretty big for a high school girl" bosom, though.

Dated 29 September 2020: The End of Oregairu ~Air/My Purest Yahallo for Thee~

Iroha
BEST GIRL.

Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. Kan (My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Climax!, among other localized names) completed the three-season run of a harem comedy that fared surprisingly well despite my initial misgivings. Generally speaking, the term "harem comedy" itself feels anachronistic now and less appropriate even when applied to shows such as Gotoubun no Hanayome (The Quintessential Quintuplets) compared to the label's Love Hina-era association (at least in my mind). I suppose it's probably still applicable for shows such as Kanojo, Okarishimasu (Rent-a-Girlfriend). But I digress.

Yui
Oregairu might have been a better series if told from Yui's point of view.

These types of shows invoke a competitive element that pits various female protagonists against each other to vie for the male lead's affection, ultimately "winning" by becoming the romantic interest he selects at the conclusion of the series. Longtime readers of this blog may remember I'm not a fan of this construct when the male lead is so frequently a dull sap, to say nothing of the ones who are legitimately terrible cretins. I'm did not watch Kanojo, Okarishimasu, but I did watch it get shredded on the Twitter, and Potato-kun appears to be a colossal douche in addition to the show's numerous other problems. Does the girl who ultimately ends up with such a character really win? [Spoilers: No.]

Hachiman and Yukino
Kids and their selfies.

Oregairu does not suffer from this particular problem, at least by its conclusion. Hachiman in the third season is no longer the same person he was in the first season. Unfortunately, the girl who ultimately "wins" has her own issues. [Spoilers henceforth, obviously, if you haven't already either seen this coming or learned about it via some other way, such as discussions about the light novels' ending.]

Komachi and Iroha
It's about the future, Madam Chancellor.

Yukino is not interesting. She is supposed to be the most complex of the various love interests, and has some significant hang-ups that admittedly align well with Hachiman's character, but I never found her problems or growth compelling. As far as "winning" the harem comedy contest goes, she is the most sensible one to pair with Hachiman, but my lack of investment in their relationship makes the show's resolution somewhat hollow. Ultimately, it was still a good journey, and I can appreciate why Oregairu accumulated so much praise during its run, but I can't quite point to it as a much-watch show by any means.

Dated 1 September 2020: Maou Gakuin no Futekigousha (The Misfit of Demon King Academy) is okay

Anos and Sasha
If you keep making eye contact like that, she's gonna do the thing.

I started watching Maou Gakuin no Futekigousha (The Misfit of Demon King Academy) because I like the way its character designer draws eyes. True story. (This is also why I watched Toji no Miko (Katana Maidens. But I digress.) As it turns out, the Maou Academy anime has stayed reasonably entertaining through its first nine episodes, and about in line with what I hoped for after the first two episodes.

Eleanor
It took nine episodes to introduces this twin-braided character from the promo art.

One key to its success is having enough lore to keep the viewer guessing as to what's happened in the world during the two thousands years Anos was busy staying dead. Or rather, enough lore to make it interesting, but not so much lore that it becomes oppressingly sonorous. (Fate/stay night, I am looking in your direction.) I don't think anyone is going into Maou-kun Goes to Maou-kun School expecting the best thing ever, but anyone in the mood for casually lopsided fights and a fair amount of tsundere yammering has come to the right place.

Momoka
I don't know why they censored this. She's wearing panties.

Since I first introduced Maou Gakuin together with Dokyuu Hentai HxEros (SUPER HXEROS), I guess I should also include that I dropped HXEROS after five episodes. It is what it is, but there were other things I preferred to spend my time on instead.

Dated 18 August 2020: Sure not a lot of Alice in this season of Sword Art Online: Alicization

Asuna
How's it going, Asuna? Good?

I enjoyed the first half of Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld because it focused mainly on Alice Synthesis Thirty. Sword Art Online is still Kirito's show, but he spent most of those episodes sort of mentally checked out while ol' 30 wheeled him around the war. Well, Kirito hasn't been doing a whole lot during the current cours either. His mind is still locked in the nightmare prison of his psyche, but XXX hasn't been dragging him around because Alice herself hasn't been around much. Mostly it's just Asuna and various other characters from previous seasons having a bad time.

Eugeo and Kirito
Kirito is really busy right now, Eugeo.

About those various other characters.... Well, there is no way to talk about the following without spoiling Sword Art Online II and Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale as well as episode 18 of War of Underworld, so avert your eyes if you care about that sort of thing.

Asuna and Yuuki
Fortuitously, meeting Yuuki was not an SAO memory for Asuna.

I like watching Sword Art Online despite being dissatisfied with the vast majority of it. A notable exception is the "Mother's Rosario" arc (i.e., the AIDS arc) which I regard as legitimately good, or at least as good as SAO ever gets. Consequently, the very brief callback in the Ordinal Scale movie to Yuuki's gift genuinely resonated with me, and I still enjoy the scene now as much as I did the first time.

Yuuki and Asuna
This was probably better in the books or if you hadn't already seen the Ordinal Scale version.

Episode 18 of War of Underworld also invokes Yuuki, but in a much less satisfying manner. I'm pretty sure this scene was originally written before the Ordinal Scale one, so you could argue the movie stole its thunder. In any case, Asuna drawing strength from Yuuki simply did not work for me in this instance. What did work was the appearance of Eiji and Yuna in the previous week's episode. I was legitimately surprised (largely because I failed to recognize them at all in their earlier cameo). I don't have strong opinions about Eiji or Yuna one way or another, but I enjoyed their surprise appearance.

Yuna
LISTEN TO MY SONG!

There is something that I'm unsure about, though. As I understand it, anyone converting their ALfheim Online or whatever characters to enter the Underworld server risks permanent character death, which is why Lisbeth had such a hard time gathering support when she pleaded for help. So what character did Eiji use? Yuna, I imagine, just sort camps out on the old SAO server (which nobody has scrapped, luckily for her) and doesn't need to abide by any real rules, but Eiji was using an ALO character, right? Does it matter? Is he bummed that it's (presumably) gone now unless the dudes on the Ocean Turtle can get around to restoring it? Is there anything stopping Eiji from simply rejoining the way American, Korean, and Chinese griefers joined? For that matter, are any of them generating new characters and rejoining over and over? I get the feeling we're just not supposed to think about any of this.

Dated 4 August 2020: The End of Oregairu ~Air/My Purest Heart for Thee~

Yukino
I wonder if sales of blue-blocking computer glasses are down
now that you can just enable night mode on basically any OS.

I gave Oregairu a second chance in anticipation of Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. Kan (My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Climax!) completing the series this season. I'm glad this worked out a lot better this time than when I watched Shakugan no Shana II so I could watch Shakugan no Shana III. (Shana II is not great.) Through four episodes, the conclusion of Oregairu III contains the sort of emotional resonance you ought to expect by now if you've been following the previous seasons.

Yui and Hikigaya
Kids and their selfies.

It's a difficult balancing act, to be sure, capturing the stakes in a way that makes us care about the outcome without swinging too far into melodrama. Still, I'm only about 80-percent sure that this season will cover the source material's conclusion. I mean, I have at least heard that this is the case. But not having read the light novels, I'm a little unsure how the series will manage to wrap things up within the remaining episodes. My guess is that some characters just won't get covered to the satisfaction of their more ardent fans.

Dated 7 July 2020: Dokyuu Hentai HxEros and Maou Gakuin no Futekigousha demonstrate it can be better to be first than good

Retto
I bet this watch doesn't even keep time.

The Summer 2020 anime season is upon us, and the first shows I watched were Dokyuu Hentai HxEros (SUPER HXEROS) and Maou Gakuin no Futekigousha (The Misfit of Demon King Academy). These were not exactly shows I was looking forward to seeing, but they were among the ones first out the gate, so why not? As it turns out, neither are as bad as I might have feared, although I can't exactly call them good either.

Retto and Kirara
Ol' Red here is literally powered by this blonde girl's indefatigable libido.

In the case of Dokyuu Hentai HxEros, there have been multiple anime in the past that involved teenagers harnessing the power of their youth to battle various evildoers. Dakara Boku wa, Ecchi ga Dekinai. (So, I Can't Play H!) comes to mind, as does Hybrid × Heart Magias Academy Ataraxia (i.e., the other HxH anime—the one that is not Hunter x Hunter). SUPER HXEROS was actually sort of amusing thanks to its embrace of tokusatsu live-action tropes. The show is self-aware, but not to a negative extent.

Anos and Misha
Picking up The Precious Thing is apparently a big deal in Misha's eyes.

I'm expecting Maou Gakuin no Futekigousha to be light-novel rubbish, but I genuinely appreciate that the first episode skipped the backstory and setup entirely, dropping the reader straight into the reincarnated demon king's first day at Evil Hogswarth. (Okay, fine, at a slightly eviler Hogswarth.) The characters at school are entirely forgettable so far, and exist mostly so the "misfit demon king" has various assholes he can easily defeat. (They totally have it coming.) His parents seem really dumb, but in a good-natured sort of way, so I'm willing to watch more. Overall, not a great start to the Summer 2020 anime season, but good enough for its first week.

Dated 9 June 2020: Giving Oregairu a second chance

Yukino
Yukino, those twintails are wearing you.

I dropped the first season of Yahari Ore no Seishun Rabukome wa Machigatteiru. (localized as My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, As I Expected and My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, but also known simply as Oregairu) after three episodes seven years ago. However, the series has a lot of fans who insist it's really good, and its third season does start in a few weeks, so I figured it deserved another try. I've finished the first season now, but most of my complaints from 2013 still hold.

Yui
Yui is a fraud. That hair ball is a clip-on. Also, unrelatedly, she is bad at dogs.

Hachiman and Yukino simply aren't endearing characters. Maybe they appeal to viewers who identify with them. I guess Yui is okay, but I'm mostly ambivalent about her. One thing I will give the show credit for is its portrayal of the popular kids. Instead of being backstabbing sadists like you'll typically find in anime school cliques, it's pretty obvious why their classmates gravitate toward Hayato and Yumiko.

Rumi
This one kid who appeared in two episodes is a better character than most of the regular cast.

Unfortunately, Oregairu also has entirely worthless characters as well. Specifically, the chuuni guy never stopped being annoying, and the fujoshi literally has no scenes or dialogue that don't involve screaming about boys love. These two characters could not be any more one-note if you tried, and they really drag down the rest of the show, especially when the episode is trying to say something insightful about relationships or the challenges facing students who feel as if they don't fit in with their classmates or what society expects of them.

Hachiman
I hope those who compared Hachiman to Batman while Oregairu was airing were doing so in jest.

I'm hoping the second season will be much better, because so far I'm entirely unimpressed with Oregairu. At least the second season (Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. Zoku) adds Iroha to the cast. Granted, literally everything I know about Iroha comes from this video on the YouTube, but she also seems more popular than either Yukino or Yui, so presumably she has something going for her. Granted, that's sort of a low bar to clear considering how unimpressed I am by the show's two main girls so far. Really, the one to beat is Komachi, Hachiman's surprisingly reliable kid sister. She has her shit together and is clearly more intelligent than her brother, at least.