Sunday, September 14, 2014

I Enjoyed Playing a Huge Bitch in a Lesbian RPG

I guess weirdly for a nerd, I was never very interested in gaming. I have enjoyed some games, like The Walking Dead computer game (zombies are a hook for me) and what I've tried by Christine Love. And before I played this game, I hadn't played a role-playing game since a miserable middle school attempt at D&D. So given my non-gamer-ness, clearly I am the perfect reviewer for this role-playing game!

Origin story for this game, Blossoms In Winter: my and my girlfriend Amy's friend Ben Lehman birthed a historical m/m role-playing game called Hot Guys Making Out. Amy subsequently convinced influenced (Amy: "Convinced is a strong word.") him to write a lesbian game despite his reservations about being qualified to write one. It is still in development, so you can't buy it yet if you're interested. This review is based on a play test. Since Ben is my friend, there is a conflict of interest here, but if I didn't like the game, I honestly wouldn't be writing a post about it, so take that as you will.

In Blossoms' case, the promise of a lot of lesbian content was good baitbut I wasn't sure how much I would like the actual role-playing aspect of it.

Blossoms in Winter is about two high school girls coming outor not, depending on how you play it. It's set in Taiwan, or as the game puts it, "the version of modern-day Taiwan that appears in TV shows and romance comics." On a smaller scale, it is set in territory familiar to yuri fans, an elite girls' school. Its protagonists are the secretly lonely girl who everyone worships because she is gorgeous, smart, and, most crucially, filthy rich,

Pictured: filthy rich girl Ximen Peiwen
Art by Kamapon

and the earnest, principled scholarship student who attracts bad attention after she and the rich girl hook up.

Pictured: the Yumi/Nagisa/Nanako of this game, Peng Lihua
Art by Kamapon

Peiwen is one of Meihua Girls' Academy's four "Beautiful Blossoms", like Oniisama E's Magnificent Three except that they're all friends. Amy and I played as two of the Blossoms who aren't Peiwen.

The game begins the morning after Lihua and Peiwen sleep together, when the magic of their night together has given way to "Oh shit, what does this mean for us?"

The role-playing for this game requires only two people, but you'll obviously get a better experience out of what is essentially improvised storytelling within a set of rules if you have more people. Before starting to play, you'll also want to decide if you want to play this game in one sitting, a regular-length three to six sessions, or an epic-length extended game, which might take a dozen or more sessions. I played this game in one sitting.

You also get a list of places in which scenes can happen, and can set scenes in a limited number of them. And there are some other rules to provide structure, but it would be tedious if I listed them all. I didn't have trouble following them, though.

My girlfriend planned on making her character kind of an asshole, in true high school soap fashion, but she wound up being the good cop to the other non-Peiwen Blossom (played by our friend Karen) and I. In the case of Karen's character, she was very guilt trippy towards Peiwen, but slowly, scene-by-scene, I crafted a blackmailing sociopath. Amy compared my character to Fukiko from Oniisama E, if Fukiko had a media empire and spying drones and a sterile, all-white, cushion-covered office in Taipei 101. The drones and office were my invention. My character card simply reads:

  • level-headed, practical, political
  • trades favors
  • from family that owns newspapers and TV station

I just took the potential evil of this character to its logical extreme.

Basically, this game took off for me when I was able to start fleshing out my character and take her deeper and deeper into the abyss. I made her closetedly into Peiwen also (the blackmail entailed her and Peiwen having previously been at a lesbian club at the same time), and the other Blossoms were implied queer also. According to Ben, the Blossoms tend to be played as queer.

So there you have it, folks. As much as I love happy love-love romances, I made my character into a coldly vicious, intentionally destructive bitch in the lesbian thing I had a say in, although it was Peiwen's conglomerate-owning mom who ultimately drove the final conflict to its post-high school conclusion. If you want a gentler game, the nice thing about role-playing is that you can go for that when you play, unless you turn out to have fun being a fictional villain.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 15

This episode opens with an upbeat ditty playing as Nanako and Tomoko browse dresses for Nanako to wear at the Sorority's post-midterms party on Fukiko's private ship. It's the last day of post-midterm holidays, and the next day, exam scores will be posted. Tomoko aims to be average. Nanako is concerned about her score (although still not as much as your average Sorority member), and Tomoko is like "You get good grades, you're good."

The next day, we soon see that Nanako and Mariko ranked in the top 50. Their celebration is cut short by a Sorority candidate named Nakaya Junko crying and running away because she ranked 73rd because she got too sick to write anything on the first day of exams. (Tomoko notes that's still better than what she got.) The Sorority being as compassionate and sensitive about its members' well-being as it is, you know Nakaya will be fine.

In English class, Nanako thinks about how it's been three months since she fell down the rabbit hole that is this school. She feels more settled, and like weird shit is less likely to happen at this point, hahahahahaha.
(Fyi, the subs at the top are from her teacher's English speech example. It didn't seem as weird before I read it after screencapping it.)

Nanako's perspective reconfirms that even though Seiran has enough architectural and pastoral beauty to make Marie Antoinette's Petit Trianon jealous,
its ruling elite is pretty brutal. Like pretty much everyone at Seiran except Kaoru, Nanako didn't fully put together the implications of the Sorority's rules until she saw them used on someone. (I see what happens with Nakaya being for Nanako what seeing how a typical lower class family's life was like was for Rose of Versailles' Oscar. Obviously a starving family doesn't equal what happens to Nakaya on the horribleness scale, but I just think their respective effects on Oscar and Nanako's awareness of the shitty systemic aspects of the worlds they know, however different their scales, are similar enough to mention.)

At this point I mention the similarities between Oscar, Rei, and Claudine's character designs to my girlfriend Amy and tell her what I think their differences are. And then she pulls up this picture, this one, and this one, and proves that they are triplets. (Amy: "They're cosplaying as each other, basically.")

Anyway, Fukiko pulls a pretty cruel bait-and-switch. (Not sure it's intentional, since I'm not sure she is cognizant of how hurtful a good amount of her behavior is, despite her guilty hallucinations of Rei a couple episodes ago.)

Since pleading with Fukiko alone doesn't work, Nakaya asks her two best friends to help her out,
but they don't say anything on her behalf, which I think is loads worse than Fukiko's treatment of her.

Nanako stands up to vouch for Nakaya, though, and tells Fukiko she doesn't think the rules by which she's being judged are valid for good measure. I've seen Nanako criticized as a weak character, but lol she's the only one besides Kaoru vocally questioning Fukiko at their school for a good while in this show. (It reminds me a little of Akane from Psycho-Pass being called weak early on in the show even though she acts on what she thinks is right contrary to the shitty system that controls her world from episode 1 on. She does act in ways you would expect of a rookie cop, like Nanako acts in ways you would expect of a 15 year-old freshman. They both show poor judgment at points, but neither of them is weak.)

Fukiko ends the discussion by being like "Who do you think you owe your Sorority membership to?", leaving Nanako in shock because it confirms the rumors that she didn't get in fairly that she didn't think were true, because they were predicated on her being complicit in getting in unfairly. Mariko gives her the obligatory "OMG don't ever oppose Fukiko, what was that" speech and tells her to apologize to Fukiko with a big bouquet of red roses.

But first we see her asking two of her Oneesama, drinking tea and smoking in their private waterfront clubhouse(?) for help. Obviously that doesn't work.

When I first watched this episode, I thought Mariko was being melodramatic as usual with her red rose suggestion- not that this was an established custom for people begging pardon from Fukiko- until this scene.
Well, then.

In case we can't tell that Fukiko is being mean, we see her face ominously shadowed as she plays the same piano tune she always plays.

We see the party on Fukiko's private ship the next day, where Nanako can't enjoy herself. Mariko tries to cheer her up (and get her to apologize to Fukiko if she hasn't), but Nanako is just disturbed by how Nakaya could be kicked out just because Fukiko wants it, and how her admittance might have happened the same way.

Fukiko breaks out the champagne, and the party continues at her beachside mansion. Nanako steps outside, and Fukiko follows with her face completely blacked out, which has only happened so far in creepy scenes- and only with Fukiko, aside from Rei when she was high and thought Nanako was Fukiko in the previous episode.
Fukiko suddenly wants to be reconciliatory,
and her apology turns into an "apology."

The bird motif seems to be replaced by moths in this episode. I guess the director wanted to switch it up a bit.
After Nanako accepts her apology, Fukiko hugs her, and this apology gets weirder.
They walk along the water, and Nanako notes Fukiko's physical similarities to Rei. She also feels that Fukiko hates her life like Rei, although she doesn't know why.

Fukiko also somehow knows about Nanako exchanging letters with Takehiko. She presses a promise to stop writing to him out of Nanako, but Nanako intends to keep writing to him, and how would Fukiko find out anyway. (Nanako isn't thinking this through too well, because why wouldn't it be possible for Fukiko to find out it was continuing if she found out about it in the first place? That's some powerful wishful thinking.)

Nanako and Tomoko talk on the phone later, but it's interrupted by a call from Nakaya, who is waiting at a pay phone nearby.

Nakaya tells Nanako about how she's looked up to the Sorority since she was a kid, assuming its members would have the character to justify the prestige and glamour associated with them. Now she realizes it isn't true, and that looking back, she hasn't had a single happy moment as a member of the Sorority. Nanako is shocked because what Nakaya is saying is how she feels but hasn't articulated, and she isn't alone.

Nakaya admits she had a grudge against Nanako for Fukiko's favor towards her, but now sees that she misjudged her.
In a nice parallel to the obligatory red rose apology bouquet from earlier, she gives Nanako a single white flower, because she wants to.
Nakaya tells Nanako she won't ever forget what she did and leaves. Nanako admits what she thinks of the Sorority also,
and even though this is another bittersweet episode, I think Nanako's disillusionment is more sweet than bitter.

The next episode will feature Kaoru's basketball comeback, and conflict involving her illness and Mariko.

Friday, August 1, 2014

On Finding Trans Men in Old Manga

So a commenter left a comment on my review of Paros no Ken volume 1 rightly critiquing my initial written interpretation of the titular character of Ikeda Riyoko's Claudine...! for finding Claudine's gender identity somewhat ambiguous instead of "this character is a trans man." They also made a good argument for Paros no Ken's Erminia being read as a trans man. Because they brought up some great discussion points, I wound up practically writing an essay in response to it, and I think those discussion points are worth a blog post instead of being hidden in the comments of an old review.

The primary point of the comment was- why my interpretation of Claudine and Paros no Ken's protagonist Erminia as having some ambiguity to their gender identities?

In response to that, I wrote:

I am much more sure that Claudine is a trans man than I was when I first reviewed it years ago. As you read in my writing about Paros no Ken, it's harder to determine bona fide trans men in old manga because the folks writing older lgbtq stuff didn't have a lesbian lingo vocabulary (or couldn't use it) and somewhat clumsily described some characters (like Oniisama E's Rei and Sailor Moon's Haruka) as having "the aura of a man" (this being in the text of Oniisama E) or "the heart of a man" (which the creator of Sailor Moon said before clarifying that she did intend to write two girls who were a couple.)

I hesitate to definitively call Erminia a trans man (although there are definitely grounds for that interpretation) because of the broader context of the time, and the fact that whether Erminia is "both a man and a woman" or "neither a man nor a woman" is a major plot point in PnK. Regarding Claudine, when I first reviewed it, I was looking too much at historical context and not enough at how Ikeda Riyoko went the extra mile to make it more trans-specific than the other examples I mentioned in my discussion of trans straight male vs cis gay female identity in old manga. I will add a note to my review of Claudine...! about that.

In response to the points that "even in clearly trans stories like Hourou Musuko the mangaka have missed the importance of the chosen name. Since Nitori is a girl, the title should have been Wandering Girl and not 'Son'. (The same goes for Claudine and Paros no Ken's Erminia :/)", I wrote:

Re chosen names, yeah, Hourou Musume would better reflect Nitori's gender- ditto with Claudine...! being changed, although it's better there imo because Claudine himself didn't mention wanting a different/true name, like Nitori did. In the cases of Claudine and Erminia both not saying they wanted different names, I'm also pretty lenient because Claudine lived in the early 20th century and subsequently didn't seem to know what being "transsexual" is and how it applied to him until right before the end of the book, and Erminia (assuming the trans reading to be the right one) lived in some kind of Medieval kingdom. I'm reminded a little of how at the women's college I attended from 2008-2012, there were some trans men who didn't realize they were trans before they started school and were exposed to the queer awareness on campus, causing them to realize what they were and start publicly identifying as such- that's my reading of what went on for Claudine until the doctor told him what being transsexual is and what might be going on with Erminia. I realize that I am not the best judge and could be wrong about something, though. Anyway, that is the end of my long rambling!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 14

At the beginning of this episode, we are back in the clock tower, with Nanako discovering the awkwardness of being embraced by the girl she has feelings for, while said girl hallucinates that Nanako is the girl she loves who she once made a suicide pact with. We've all been there, Nanako.

From Rei's perspective, we see that she and Fukiko are in a flurry of pink shoujo petals
with Fukiko acting to fulfill the pact by cutting her wrist
so Rei tries to "fulfill" it on her side, but after she stabs the wall trying to do so, she comes to her senses, sees Nanako crying, and appropriately feels like shit. (My girlfriend Amy after I mentioned this scene to her: "That [a tortured backstory] is the kind of thing I would have found romantic in high school, but now I'd be like, 'I don't have time for this bullshit.'" I was like "This storyline works better in execution than when you just hear about it, but I'm not entirely sure why." When Amy asked if I would actually date someone like Rei, I was like "lol no" though, although I too probably would have in high school or early college. I do think she works as a character I can like- and ultimately like with Nanako, regardless of whether they would have worked in the long-term instead of being each other's first girlfriends- through some alchemy of writing, though.)
On her way home, Nanako processes what Rei said to her while thinking she was Fukiko and what it says about Rei and Fukiko's relationship and history.

The next morning, Nanako sees that Rei isn't in her homeroom and Fukiko is like "Whatchu doing?" Fukiko points out that she hasn't been attending the Sorority study sessions for the midterms, and is very subtle about her real reason for being vexed at Nanako.
The funny thing is that she has a point. I think this episode knows that Nanako should be focusing more on her midterms, even though it also knows that Fukiko's motives towards Nanako are dubious.

After school, Nanako stops by Rei's place and finds the front door not only unlocked, but ajar. She finds Rei lying motionless less to a mound of partially empty pill packets and is relieved when Rei wakes up. She warns Rei about someone dangerous entering with the door left open, but Rei is like "Eh, they can kill me for all I care."

The next morning on the way to school, Nanako impresses Tomoko with the mnemonic devices she learned from the Sorority for the exam. Tomoko picks up on Nanako having another secret thing, so she's like "lol Here we go again" and Nanako doesn't quite get how much Tomoko knows about how her school life rolls now.
Nanako falls into the all-too-common mistake of being too distracted by her crush to concentrate in class, so Mariko nudges her into jotting down what she needs for the exam. (Amy when she read my draft of this recap at this point: "Why does Nanako have a crush on Rei?" Me: "Because she is us in high school." Amy: "Well I was stupid in high school, and so were you." And then we laughed for no real reason.)

After class, Mariko tries to find Nanako to ask her something about French, but finds Kaoru in their classroom instead. Kaoru makes her day by offering to help her out instead.
This scene is too easy to make a double entendre about.

Back at Rei's place, Nanako enjoys watching Rei eat decent food and goes into the kitchen, where she sees yet more pills and tries to throw them away, before Rei is like "MY BABIES."
Rei is like "Leave me alone, I never asked for your help!" so Nanako runs away and heads to the beach to be sad.
This message brought to you by Oniisama E. Don't pop pills and leave expiring shit in your fridge, kids.

We also learn from Nanako's humming that she knows her own theme song.

Somehow Rei knows that Nanako is at this beach, so she shows up and says something about looking at the sea, and they have tea at her apartment, and even Rei is like "Thank you for seeing me home, but shouldn't you be focusing on your test right now?" Rei says that, at least for today, she won't take any more pills, and Nanako asks her about the doll. Rei hesitates, so Nanako decides to leave.

On her way to the elevator, Nanako runs into that guy who is Takehiko's friend and they briefly re-introduce themselves. We already know he knows about the Sorority and Nanako and Takehiko being pen pals, and he says he's here to meet "a friend" before saying bye to Nanako, before we see Rei be like
The significance of him referring to her that way is awfully sad knowing what their relationship is. I won't spoil it, although someone who has only seen this far can probably sort of guess if they eliminate romance based on Rei being gay.

Inside Rei's apartment, she and Takehiko's friend have a rather awkward conversation.

Takehiko's friend asks how she's doing, and she responds like someone who is inured to people pretending to care but not following through on actually showing it. I feel like she tests the patience of people who care about her because of that- sort of pre-empting the abandonment she expects by being flighty and distant herself.

Nanako and Tomoko are silly on the way to school, and Rei gives her the memorization cards she accidentally left at her apartment at school.

Kaoru shows up for their usual banter
and Rei responds in turn
and all is right with the world. Or something.

And it's time for midterms, which will determine whether Nanako stays in the Sorority. I wonder how much Nanako's lack of concern for the Sorority's exam requirement has to do with how little good the Sorority actually seems to be doing her.

The next episode involves Fukiko telling Nanako ~secrets~ on a Sorority party aboard her private ship.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Manga Review: Poor Poor Lips volume 4

I originally meant to review this volume in the form of JManga's release. But then JManga folded and my paper copy of this book was in a different part of the country from where I was, then I picked it up in my hometown and brought it when I moved to Seattle and, uh, just didn't get back to it until now. So here, finally, is my review of it!

You may remember that previously on Poor Poor Lips, our impoverished protagonist Nako got a job at a jewelry store belonging to a woman from a filthy rich family named Ren, who is a lesbian who developed feelings for her. Ren lost her store and other assets to her homophobic mom Nei, moved in with Nako, and grew from realizing how sheltered she was. Ren found out Nako was perpetually scraping by because her uncle made her think she was indebted to him. Ren got Nei to use her clout to stop him, at the cost of agreeing to an arranged marriage. After realizing she is head-over-heels in love with Ren, Nako got a job as a maid at Ren's family's mansion so she could stay by Ren's side. It is obvious to everyone they know that they are in love, but they still don't get that it's reciprocal. And raise curtain on volume 4, this series' final volume.

Nako sees Nei watching some movies of Ren as a child, and learns that her motive for trying to stick Ren in a marriage to a dude is a little more sympathetic than it previously seemed, although this series knows that her plan is horrible regardless. 

Nei tries to speed her plan for Ren along by introducing her to the heir of another rich family, Kenmochi. While not really attracted to Kenmochi, Ren finds herself not actively repulsed by Kenmochi the way she has been by her other suitors, which is an awkward way of foreshadowing that Kenmochi is a pre-op trans man. He wants to find a wife from among the ladies considered suitable for him and figures he can do a Princess Knight scenario by making Ren fall for him when he dons a long wig and dresses the way he occasionally has to to please his transphobic grandpa who thinks he's delusional. Thankfully, the storyline with grandpa is resolved satisfactorily, as is the Final Boss to Ren and Nako's love that is Nei. Just as basically every character who isn't Ren has been learning what being gay is since volume 1 (including Kenmochi), now Ren and Nako (and Kenmochi's grandpa) learn what being transsexual is, in this series' characteristically goofy manner.

Further misunderstandings happen, and Nako turns in her resignation because she is afraid of the Princess Knight plan working and doesn't want to see it. Ren, wanting to make Nako happy in some capacity one last time, tells her she will give her anything she wants. This leads to what everyone who likes this series has been waiting for.

Ren still needs to deal with the engagement, though, and I won't spoil how it resolves, but things turn out happily and the epilogue is wonderful.

If you rooted for Ren and Nako, you will find it immensely satisfying to see them get the hard-won happiness they deserve. I didn't expect Ren's fiancé's being a transsexual man to be a major plot point in this volume, but I thought it was handled mostly well. Ren sensing Kenmochi's pre-op-ness before Kenmochi is outed is problematic for the emphasis it puts on Kenmochi's body versus his gender early on, although that changes later. I know I'm not the best judge and could be wrong about the getting-it-wrong-to-getting-it-right ratio for how Kenmochi is written, though. As with the previous volume, this volume is angstier than the first two (tangent: spellcheck tried to make "angstier" into "gangster"), but it works because it isn't overwhelming and this series' author Goto Hayako still uses humor liberally. This is still a 4-koma, however unusually plotty it might be for its genre. 

As it has been from the beginning, this series is a sweet romance that is unusually blunt about lgbtq identity, starring a likable pair of leads. I am glad I tried it despite volume 1's cover, and you will probably enjoy it also if you're looking for a good romance starring adults.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 13

This episode begins by replaying the previous episode's confrontation between Kaoru and Fukiko. Kaoru shouts "Who's there?" and Nanako conspicuously runs away. Fukiko turns to leave, but Kaoru is like "Wait wait, we're not finished here" and Fukiko is like "Mind your own business." The way she says it has some blink-and-you'll miss it implications about Kaoru and Rei's friendship that are extra-interesting in the context of this episode.

Still shocked by what Kaoru said, Nanako makes her way to Rei's apartment, pondering what a sad and mirror-filled life she leads. She finds the picnic basket still outside Rei's apartment with the food untouched. Back home, she tries calling Rei and has an internal monologue about not wanting to intrude too much on Rei's life, just make sure she's alright, which you know means she's going to get very involved in Rei's life.

Tangent: If you haven't watched this show's theme song in a while, you might want to replay it after seeing the objects in Rei's apartment, especially the ones in the doll screencap above. I still think they primarily symbolize this show's coming-of-age theme. Re symbolism in the opening theme, you have a lot of childhood inconography, like the doll (which we now know is the doll Rei has) and the Cinderella imagery (you'll see a miniature version of the coach in Rei's apartment), with even the people in the Cinderella imagery who aren't supposed to be dolls posed in a doll-like way. The imagery of the necklace breaking, beads flying everywhere past the doll and the doll being shrouded in shadows at one point, along with the image of the doll in a puddle in front of what appear to be soldiers evokes the lessening of innocence that comes with growing up. The contrast between the childish-looking doll and the fully grown Cinderella, who look similar to each other, also fits the growing up theme, IMO. In short, Oniisama E's opening animation's theme seems to be letting go of the past. As my girlfriend pointed out, it's interesting to consider in the context of the events of this show (like the Nanako's storyline with Rei, Rei's storyline with her issues, Mariko's storyline with her issues, Takehiko's storyline with his issues, Fukiko's storyline with her... you get the picture) as a whole.

Getting back to the episode, Nanako ponders the why's of what she learned about Rei and Fukiko. We see Rei stopping in front of Fukiko's gated mansion while Fukiko plays piano inside, before walking away while downing more pills. Kaoru pops out of a cab that she must owe a ton of fare, since she's been looking all over for Rei.
In the cab, sadly, Rei still wants to apologize to Fukiko for not waiting longer under the elm tree, and Kaoru gently argues with her about it, but just wants to get her home.
I guess Rei's electricity that was never really gone is still working, because Kaoru turns on the light in her chandelier before tucking her in, and her cordless phone continues to function as Nanako calls. Kaoru answers, and Nanako is hugely relieved that Rei isn't alone. Even though it's late, Nanako decides to sneak out to get some food at a convenience store for Rei. I relate to Nanako being kind of fussy about making sure people eat properly. When she asks Kaoru what Rei likes, Kaoru isn't sure because she's never seen Rei eat anything with an appetite, which to me speaks volumes about how happy she is as someone who ate like a bird as a teenager at some hugely stressful points.

Anyway, Nanako makes it out of the house. Rei wakes up, hearing the piano song that she and Fukiko frequently play. She runs screaming to the shower and turns it on without removing her clothes, making her self-hatred abundantly clear.
Kaoru dries her off, Rei tells her she's cold, and I guess they are comfortable being naked in bed together.
(My girlfriend when I pointed it out: "That's weird. It's weird unless it's gay.") The Kaoru x Rei fodder in this episode is interesting, because I don't remember the manga having any.

Nanako arrives and doesn't seem to think anything of Kaoru still buttoning her shirt when she answers the door. Nanako helps Kaoru get Rei into her old-timey pajamas, and she and Kaoru leave. Kaoru and Nanako watch the sun rise and bond over being in Rei's harem. They both want to be there when Rei is ready to stop trying to deal with the shitty aspects of her life on her own, although Kaoru isn't sure she'll live long enough for it.

Nanako's outfit and body language in this portion of this episode are noticeably butchier than normal, which is interesting. I'm not sure it has any significance beyond whoever is in charge of the characters' gajillion outfits thinking it'd be neat to see her like that, though.
Anywho, Nanako compares her friendship with Tomoko to Kaoru and Rei's, and feels like there's not only more maturity between them, but a sense of destiny.

That day at school, we see Nanako, Tomoko, and Mariko having lunch together, and it feels a little creepy that they're getting along so well.

Fukiko's guilt starts catching up with her as she imagines seeing Rei under the elm tree.  The students make up some spooky rumors about the school (hi, every later girls' school series featuring supernatural school mysteries), including one that hits a little close to home for Nanako,

and Mariko explains that they do that every year before exams.

Then Mariko explains the spookiest rumor from the previous year.

It's basically about a butchy suit-wearing girl and a refined, ladylike girl who were students long ago being seen playing the piano together and going up and down a particular stairwell holding hands. The students the rumors are based on felt the weight of society against their being in love, 
and apparently committed suicide together under the elm tree.

Nanako's commentary on this story is interesting in light of how her romance with Rei turns out. It feels a little meta, and I wonder if that is intentional.

Nanako and Fukiko both hear Rei playing the piano in the clock tower and rush there. Fukiko doesn't see Rei there and thanks she's hallucinating again, but Rei pops up again.

Rei confronts Fukiko about her lying about meeting at the elm tree, and Fukiko falsely comforts her, Nanako watching all this in bewilderment and a little horror.
It isn't a coincidence that Fukiko's face is blacked out as she laughs while leaving. The direction of this scene in general is effectively creepy.

Rei jumps off the balcony, into a tree. She safely lands like a besuited cat and dashes off while Nanako calls to her. Nanako follows her to the clock tower, and finds that she is too hopped up on pills to distinguish her from Fukiko. Rei is like "Remember when we promised to die together?" and Nanako is like "What in the ever-loving fuck" and the episode ends there.

I was mistaken that there are daggers in this episode- they are in the next episode, along with more drama surrounding the layers peeling back from Rei and Fukiko's storyline.