Friday, December 5, 2014

Retro Review: Dear Brother (Oniisama E) episode 18

This is the episode in which Nanako gets high, partly explaining the episode title "Into the Dream", and confesses her feelings to Rei. I guess that's one way to resolve a character hesitating to confess.

Nanako almost forgets she doesn't need to wait for Tomoko for a morning commute, because she has her head in the clouds over Rei. She helpfully recaps how amazing and hot and gorgeous Rei was playing basketball and how Mariko has a crush on Kaoru, before the bus lurches like it did when she first met Rei and she spies Rei reading in the back. Because the bus driver is a dick, the bus pulls away before she can get off even though she's lurching against the door right when it closes.

Rei is pretty chill about missing her stop, though, and invites Nanako to play hooky with her.

We get our obligatory shot of Mariko worrying about Nanako's absence in class, before we see Nanako and Rei put their school things in a locker.

Another shot of Mariko looking like she thinks Nanako died or something

even though for all she knows, Nanako could be sick since this is before the days when people could send texts. If this show took place today, Mariko's texting would probably have made Nanako's patience with her run out well before the birthday party.

Rei and Nanako walk through a park, Nanako being jittery about the possibility of people knowing they're cutting class, yet still elated to be doing it with her crush. Rei leaves to buy lunch, a truancy officer comes up to Nanako being suspicious, and Rei gets them out of the situation through a lie in which she feels compelled to explain that Nanako is from a village where you can see mountain boars. (I guess "We're college students" is too common of an excuse.) She's obviously a pro at this, to the point that she cooly lights a cigarette in front of the officer. Moments like this are the bread and butter of Rei's fandom.

And the show sort of lampshades that the non-freshman teenagers in this show look like the animated version of older actresses playing teenagers. "It's shocking that Katherine prefers this approach to character designs over the current baby-face trend" said no one ever.

Rei lols about that as well as the officer obliviously assuming she's a dude instead of a super-butchy chick.

She drops her cigarette and apologizes when she sees that Nanako was a lot more shaken by the encounter with the officer than she was, though.

Back at school, Kaoru raises Mariko's spirits by inviting her to her basketball practice, so that settles that.

Rei and Nanako have some banter in which Nanako learns Rei skips a lot and chides her for her ridiculous lie before panicking on seeing Takehiko and his friend in that same park. Surprisingly, Nanako doesn't try to hide in any way, just coolly walks by Takehiko and exchanges glances with him, before he's like "Oh, hey!" He invites her to attend his college's festival and asks if she's on holiday, causing his friend to be like "REI, SHE'S OBVIOUSLY SKIPPING BECAUSE OF YOU." You know Rei is agitated because she's chewing a twig.

Shit is on.

Rei sarcastically bows and reveals that he's her brother. Rei is Oniisama E's version of Rumplestiltskin from (the shittiness that is) Once Upon A Time- everyone's related to her.

Taking advantage of the awkward pause of the moment, Rei takes Nanako's hand and runs away from her brother and Takehiko.

Nanako stops her and get some exposition from her, and guesses why her surname isn't Ichinomiya like her two siblings. All will be confirmed in good time, Nanako. In a "subtle" bit of symbolism, we see three ducklings trailing their shared mother, all in one unified family.

Nanako takes a bite of her sandwich and notices that it's old and gross, but Rei didn't notice because she's used to eating the godawful expired food she peckishly eats from her fridge. Rei compares the significance of human life to an ant's life, and it's obvious she's talking more about herself than people in general.

Ah, nope, Mariko's still very worried, and consults with Tomoko, who figures Nanako just might be sick like most people would. Mariko has the comfort of lunch planned with Kaoru along with the basketball practice.

Kaoru (whose dub name according to autocorrect is Karol) finds out from Rei's fans that she's skipping

because Rei can apparently do nothing without their noting it and praising her as a free spirit.

Nanako enjoys her alone time spent in a lovely park with her choice for loveliest lady,

and they rest beneath a tree, where Rei lights another cigarette.

Being a true queerio, Nanako processes the implications of Rei saying "Ma chérie la poupée" and where to go from there,

but doesn't forget to enjoy the moment.

The opening theme's Cinderella imagery seems especially created with scenes like this in mind.

Rei mentions that one of her fans wants her cigarette butts so she can smoke them later, so Nanako (mentally noting that she tried to use one of Rei's butts for that) asks if she can try the cigarette she's smoking. Rei expects it to be too much for her, but she insists, so Rei suddenly acts like a Disney villain, being like "Ohoho, you want to smoke a cigarette, eh? *mustache swirl* We'll see if you can handle it."

And, uh, this happens from Nanako's perspective.

This is supposed to be Nanako spinning. Use your imagination, because I'm too lazy to make a .gif, although it would be a pretty great .gif.
Then the doll spinning, less entertainingly.
Cue symbol for another portion of Nanako's innocence being gone.

Back in reality, Nanako wakes up from her dream, and ponders what it's like to be attracted to her school's Heathcliff.

Rei says her point was to show Nanako that she's too good to regularly get high like her, and to some extent Nanako knows that having a thing for someone like Rei (personality-wise, not gender-wise) is a bad idea, but she still has them feelings... and then confesses while crying. (She uses "suki", but the context makes it obvious it's romantic "suki", not platonic.)

On that not at all awkward note, the episode ends as a bird flaps away. Godspeed, Nanako.

The next episode involves Nanako trying to read Rei's reaction and consulting Kaoru about it. This recap turned out pretty decently considering I wrote it with two straight liquor shots and a sad tolerance for alcohol. I've been meaning to try a couple nips (Jim Beam Honey bourbon and Dewar's Highlander Honey whiskey), and they're pretty decent if you want something concentrated but like sweet drinks. Sadly, they came with no hallucinations of my girlfriend playing a spinning piano while wearing a kabuki mask.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Anime Review: HaNaYaMaTa

HaNaYaMaTa is one of the better examples of the "a bunch of girls start a club" subgenre of anime, this time focusing on yosakoi.

Naru, like many an anime protagonist, is nice but kind of directionless. She wishes someone would whisk from her mundane life into a different, more dazzling world. Enter Hana N. Fountainstand (I love her name), an American girl who insists that everyone has the potential to be dazzling and introduces Naru to the world of yosakoi dance, which Naru develops a passion for. Hana and Naru start a club consisting of: Naru's childhood friend Yaya, who puts up a cool girl act but has a soft spot for Naru; Naru's other childhood friend Tami, who is your classic Yamato Nadeshiko but learns that it's okay to not always do what's expected of you; and Tami's friend Machi, who is the most mature and buttoned up one of the group, befitting her bespectacled-ness. Their club chaperone is their teacher "Sally-sensei", who works as the cynical adult who cares until episode 7, when the writing for her character becomes inexplicably horrible. The girls also get some mentorship from Masaru, the guy who runs the local yosakoi shop and looks like a yakuza but is basically a big teddy bear.

The series follows the girls forming their club, with each new club member getting at least one spotlight episode, and their preparations to dance in a yosakoi festival. Hana's mom unwittingly causes some drama towards the end by flying to Japan and instigating the most "yup, this is fiction" resolution to a divorce you'll ever see. I'm not complaining since more realism in that plot point would have ruined this series' tone. Befitting this series' iyashikei-ish-ness, everything turns out well, it's only a question of how.

Yuri comes in the form of some crushy interaction early in the series. (My girlfriend dubbed it "the gay dance show" when we watched episode 1.) You have Naru's lily-scented reaction to Hana playing the role of the Prince she wanted to her Princess by showing her a more exciting world, Yaya thinking Naru's cute and being willing to do pretty much anything Naru gives her puppy eyes over, and Naru's googly-eyed admiration of Tami as her ideal Princess. The eau de gay was pleasant, but in my ideal world, it would have gone somewhere instead of being bait-y and thus par for the course for this show's subgenre.

My only other knock on the show is that in episodes 7, 8, and 10, Sally-sensei acts like a stand-in for a creepy portion of this show's intended otaku audience that I never want to meet. I wouldn't have liked it in any show, but it was especially jarring here since until then, the show was something my friend could have shown his 9-year-old anime fan child, and I enjoyed it as a relaxing, optimistic show. It's also baffling because it's an obviously pander-y move, but anyone still watching the show seven episodes in would presumably be happy with it not having any weird shit like that. (The one show with a creepy teacher where I'm not bothered by it is Azumanga Daioh, since its characters react realistically to Kimura and the point is that he's creepy. Sally-sensei is a Frankensteinian combination of the ickiness of Kimura, the wackiness of Yukari, and the caring mentor-ness of Nyamo.)

Despite the baitiness of the yuri and Sally-sensei being turned into the kind of person I want to curb stomp for no good reason, overall this show was pleasant to watch. It develops its characters more than most shows in its subgenre bother to and Studio Madhouse does a much better job on the visuals than they needed to. It also has an unexpectedly great, unsurprisingly dance-themed opening animation.

HaNaYaMaTa is streaming on Crunchyroll. All Crunchyroll Premium members outside of Asia can watch it, and all Free members in the US, Canada, the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden can watch it.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Retro Review: Dear Brother (Oniisama E) episode 17

This is the romanciest episode of this show so far. It's about how Mariko's feelings for Kaoru make Nanako come to terms with her feelings for Rei, with a bitter dash of Fukiko manipulating Rei's feelings for her on the side.

We open the morning after Kaoru checked into the hospital, Nanako and Mariko waiting with flowers in the lobby. Mariko presents them to Kaoru. Mariko says she couldn't sleep out of worry, and coming from anyone else, I would think that was hyperbole.

After Kaoru is like "Thank you, Mariko-san" for the flowers, Mariko gloms onto her and is like

While most of the onlookers mirror my reaction,
Nanako is kind of hilariously like

Back at the beach, Nanako and Tomoko discuss Kaoru's release from the hospital and how surprised they are by Mariko's thing for her. When they talk, Tomoko uses "suki", which could easily refer to non-romantic love, but when Nanako internally comments on it, she uses "koi", which is always a word for romantic love, not platonic. Although regardless of Nanako's interpretation, that scene was pretty gay. Tomoko is like "Dang, Mariko beat me to her" and Nanako takes her seriously, but Tomoko passes it off as a joke. Pretty sure this whole portion of the episode just between Nanako and Tomoko illustrates the difference between the girls at Seiran who engage in queer behavior over the Magnificent Three without actually being queer (or at least not in a remotely self-aware way) because "lol this is a girls' school, akogare amirite" and someone like Nanako.

Writing to Takehiko, Nanako reflects on how she is jealous of Mariko's ability to be honest about her feelings (which I attribute as much to Nanako's feelings having more depth to them as Mariko having less of a filter) and how she's grown to like Mariko quite a bit. Here my girlfriend's like "My opinion of Mariko is still kind of meh" and I agree. Why do I think Nanako's feelings have at least somewhat more depth than Mariko's even though she kind of has your typical "I don't know better yet" thing for an angsty chick is...(my girlfriend: "Because she's the protagonist?") I guess, hmm, actually, I think it's the opposite and I'm projecting Nanako being more private about her feelings as evidence of there being more depth to them, especially given that she's in an environment that's very friendly to the idea of akogare, but not to actual "I might want to settle down with another lady someday" queerness.

Nanako takes an, uh, old cigarette of Rei's out of her desk and gets ready to light it,
but is cockblocked by her mom being like "You're dad wants to talk to you!"

Fukiko surprises Rei in the morning by picking her up so they can talk about Rei playing in the basketball game. Oh, shit.

When Rei says she had fun playing in the game despite Fukiko squeezing her hand, Fukiko is like "Oh really?" and squeezes harder. (As you might infer, these aren't affectionate squeezes.) Fukiko asks again if she had fun, and Rei is like
Their relationship is pretty well encapsulated by Rei telling Fukiko to let go of her hand and Fukiko pulling it towards her and being like "Never forget that I know what's best for you." Ugh.

Because popping pills has been Rei's way of numbing herself to the general pain she feels about her life, she almost does so after she gets to school- contrast this with how happy she seemed to go out on her way to school earlier. Kaoru conveniently shows up yet again, and stops her. Rei acts like she wasn't being serious, which I don't believe, but Kaoru did lighten her mood and cause her to toss away the pills, so like Kaoru, I am glad when she walks off as harps play and doves fly through the golden sunshine around her. No one ever said this was a subtle show.

Sadface for Mariko because Kaoru can't join her for lunch because of basketball stuff. We see this episode's Chekhov's gun, which is Nanako's latest letter to Takehiko that she brought to school.

Nanako and Mariko see Rei playing a flute surrounded by fangirls, and Nanako-
Well, then.

As a nice way of showing how much of an impression seeing Rei there made on Nanako, we continue to hear Rei's flute music for a bit after the cut to Nanako, Mariko, and Tomoko having lunch elsewhere.

Tomoko (who autocorrect named Tomato) gives Mariko (a.k.a. Mark) tips on how to bake a cake obviously meant for Kaoru, and Nanako, too distracted to participate, leaves to buy a stamp for her letter.

Nanako passes by a flower shop, and the flowers remind her of the corsage she saw on Rei when she was playing the flute.

Later in her school's gym, Nanako remembers Rei playing basketball. Rei shows up, and speaking like she's in a play monologue for the gajillionth time, says she can tell Nanako's there because of love ("koi"). Sadly for Nanako, Rei thinks her feelings are for Kaoru.
Nanako yells that she's wrong, but Rei just laughs while dribbling a basketball and runs off. I feel bad for Nanako, but Rei's behavior is kind of amusingly "wtf" here. 

Nanako tosses rocks into a pond while being like "It isn't Kaoru, damn it." And of course her letter falls out of her pocket when she runs back to class. She notices but can't skip to search for it. And from Nanako's perspective, we see that Mariko's feelings for Kaoru have made her even prettier.

When they have a class break, Nanako retraces her steps, Mariko being like "Watchu doing?" behind her, but has no success.

Mariko is like "Is this letter to a man? *gasp shock*" and like twenty students hear and are like "Whut, a man?", so before Nanako can respond at all, Mariko takes Nanako aside and is like "YOU CAN'T GO OUT WITH A MAN, THEY'LL HURT YOU" before crying into Nanako's arms. That sure escalated quickly.

To calm Mariko down, Nanako says she'll stop looking for the letter, figuring it's a pretty harmless letter, so whatever. But dun-dun-dun, the Sorority's Mona Lisa-sama and Borgia-sama are here to tell her Fukiko wants her to come to her mansion after school.
Have I mentioned that I kind of love this school's nicknames?

We once again see Fukiko's face completely blacked out as her cronies tell Nanako she pissed her off and Mariko is like "Uh-oh, did you make her mad?"

Cut to Fukiko continuing the fine tradition of prominent piano playing by ojousama in yuri, as Nanako waits anxiously. Fukiko's face is almost entirely blacked out as she turns from a window toward Nanako before making it clear she has the letter and knows it's for Takehiko. Fukiko unfairly tells Nanako off for being a potential target for gossip among the gossipy assholes at their school, and for ignoring her order to stop writing Takehiko. Unlike Rei, Nanako obviously doesn't personally give a shit about Fukiko, so she protests that it's just a letter.

Fukiko is like "Can you promise me that this letter-writing couldn't possibly ever lead to something romantic?" and Nanako doesn't answer. Why? Going by the overall show she likes guys too, but I'm not sure that's it in this immediate situation since she could have said yes to get Fukiko to leave her be. Maybe it's because the stress of the situation made her freeze, maybe it was another way to defy Fukiko, since she is one of the few students willing to do that. I think it is open to interpretation.

Fukiko is like "Tear up this letter"
but Nanako still doesn't do anything and starts crying, so she's like "lol it's just a joke" to play the classic asshole card of making it seem like the person you're being a dick to is just oversensitive.

Despite the pain in this episode, it ends on a triumphant note because Nanako decides to mail the letter as quickly as possible, noting that it's all the more valuable because of all the trouble she went through to be able to do so. She happily notes that her heart still goes doki-doki whenever she's around Rei, also.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Psycho-Pass 2: This Show So Far, episodes 1-4

As anyone who followed me on Twitter when Psycho-Pass season 1 aired knows, I loved its first season. I thought it was a thoughtful example of its genre, with a wonderfully-developed female lead ("You really like Akane, don't you?" said my girlfriend as I put the Akane magnet I got at GeekGirlCon on my fridge) and a refreshingly grown-up (for anime) lesbian couple I shipped hard.

This season, we get a new creepy bishounen who wants to overthrow the Sibyl System, Kamui. Kamui has his own following of latent criminals like season 1's Makishima did. Unlike Makishima, Kamui cries, sees himself as helpful to the people he manipulates (while Makishima, evil though he was, made no such pretensions) and has the ability to manipulate other people's crime coefficients so they can be unpunishable by the Sibyl System while committing actual horrible crimes. Makishima's people were just stealthy about what they did. (I just joked to my girlfriend that Kamui is like a more lesbian Makishima because he wants to talk about feelings.)

The current Division 1 team dynamic is that Akane is still a seasoned badass Inspector, Gino, now an Enforcer, is more mellow and at peace with himself for sad reasons, the woman who joined the group at the end of season 1, Mika, is now a rather dickish Inspector with 1.5 years of field experience under her belt and a thing for Yayoi, and a couple new folks, Tougane and Hinakawa, have joined Yayoi and Gino as Enforcers.

Re the two new members of the team, I don't care much about them (I don't think anyone does), but I have some thoughts:

  • Tougane's behavior is similar to Kougami's around Akane and he sure is evil-looking in the OP, but I think the obvious signs of him being ~evil~ are a red herring. Unless the writers are counting on us thinking he's a red herring and not really making him one. Unless they're counting on us thinking that they're trying to make us think he's a red herring... I'll stop. 
  • Hinakawa is voiced by Makishima's seiyuu, which either A) indicates he's ~evil~ or B) is just a way whoever made that casting choice decided to fuck with viewers. For now, I think it's the latter. I am ready to be totally wrong about either of these characters, of course.

So far, this season has dealt with a sequence of people Kamui set up to cause horrible shit for the sake of a plan that is becoming clearer.

The most recent Kamui-follower-of-the-week's case ended in a really horrific way. It is the darkest this season has been, but flows logically from what happened in episode 1 of season 1. (What would have happened if a key person hadn't been there?) The ineffectiveness of everyone who wasn't a law enforcement person in the face of immediate danger in this season's most recent episode is frustrating, but follows from what we saw in season 1 of the system fucking with most people's ability to deal with threats that the system hasn't deemed a threat. (i.e. The beating-in-public scene and Akane's inability to attack Makishima halfway through season 1 without relying on a Dominator despite what he was threatening.)

Given how much of the show has been set-up so far, I'm not ready to judge it yet. Imho, what'll make or break this season is how everyone reacts to what happened at the end of episode 4. Mika has been a dick since episode 1, but her attitude didn't result in any really awful consequences until now. Her cowardice failed to prevent the horrible thing in episode 4, and Akane, Yayoi, and Gino are pretty obviously pissed that it happened.

So yeah, Mika sure is a dick. Given how her introduction as an Inspector paralleled Akane's, I expected her to be sort of an Akane II like everyone else who watched season 1. But nope, she really hates latent criminals, including the Enforcers, and doesn't think Akane knows what she's doing.

I don't like Mika, but given her backstory, her behavior makes more sense than a lot of people think. You might recall that when we last saw her during the girls' school arc, she was mourning her murdered friend who she was in love with. And for all she knew, the killer got away. (Of course we know she didn't.) It doesn't make Mika's loathing of all latent criminals any more justifiable than Gino being shitty towards them in season 1 because of his family issues, but it does follow from her backstory. It also helps explain why she doesn't think her co-workers know wtf they're doing. Her still hating them as a group even though one of them, Yayoi, comforted her when she cried over her dead friend and saved her life after she became an Inspector, isn't unfathomable for me either because Yayoi could just be the exception that proves the rule. In real life, there are people who broadly hate certain groups while being fond of individual members of those groups, so yeah, it's shitty of her, but I can see it. Hopefully what happened in episode 4 will will jolt her into realizing she's doing it wrong.

As for her thing for Yayoi, the moment Mika's crush became obvious was funny, but I will not be a happy camper if she gets paired with Yayoi since Yayoi already has someone loads better/Shion. Given that Mika and Yayoi's most recent interaction involves Mika being cowardly despite Yayoi being like "Yo, we need to help these people" and Yayoi being pissed by having her hands tied from being unable to do anything, I don't see that happening, but let's not jinx it, eh?

Anyway, I actually think this season is interesting, but it's still mostly set-up. Hopefully the story will hold together as a whole.

Also, some Yayoi x Shion goodness, please. So far they've been separately competently doing their own thing on their jobs, but I'd like to see them lez it up together more.

Anyway, have some (partially NSFW) Yayoi x Shion fan art.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Retro Review: Oniisama E (Dear Brother) episode 16

In this episode, Oniisama E becomes a sports show.

We open with Rei chilling in bed, getting a phone call from Kaoru, who is nostalgic for how they used to compete against each other in basketball in middle school. Rei is like "God, not this again" because Kaoru has brought it up before to try to convince her to re-join the basketball team.

Kaoru makes it clear that playing for Seiran's basketball team is like shilling drugs for a crime gang- once you've helped them, you can never really leave.

Next we see Kaoru practicing shooting at Seiran at night, with Rei walking up to comment in a very theatrical/Rei-like way.

Kaoru is like "I'm glad you're here to play!", but Rei is like "No, I just came to school at night to chill", because who doesn't do that. She clearly used the same sixth sense to find Kaoru that she used to find Nanako at the beach.

They have some banter, and Rei is casually like "Oh yeah, one of your fangirls has been watching you from behind that tree." Kaoru is like "Who are you?" to the silhouette that is obviously Mariko. Mariko runs into the woods, and there is a hilarious chase sequence that involves Rei giggling while running sideways through the woods. In a horror show, she would probably make a good villain.
You know Mariko is tsundere for Kaoru because she's like "I-i-it's not like I was hiding in the woods for you, or anything!"

Kaoru humors her, but Rei won't let it go and grills her about why she would be at school at night for no real reason, completely unlike Rei's stated reason. I wonder how many girls come to school at night for no real reason because of Kaoru.

Mariko admits she's worried about Kaoru's condition since her first comeback game is tomorrow, and gives her a nicely wrapped present before running away.
While the hiding-behind-a-tree thing is reminiscent of her behavior when she was obsessed with Nanako, everything else about this scene feel more awkward blushing schoolgirl than creepy, which I think illustrates the shift her character is undergoing. Guess it helps that A) she did realize she became hella creepily possessive and B) even if she didn't and tried the same thing here, a more seasoned student like Kaoru would be harder to pull that kind of thing with than the baby lamb finding its legs that Nanako was when she started Seiran.

We see Nanako in her room, just letting Takehiko know that for once, everything is going pretty well, even though we know whatever allowed Fukiko to find out that Nanako became Takehiko's pen pal will let her know that Nanako ignored her order to stop writing Takehiko.

On the commute to school, Mariko tries to excite Tomoko into wanting to see Kaoru's basketball game with her and Nanako, but Tomoko's too disinterested in sports and too straight for it to work.
Tomoko ribs her about it, but Mariko pretends she isn't interested in butches.
At school, Nanako and Mariko see Kaoru being fangirled over even more than usual, and Mariko is like "Harumph, she doesn't even like that kind of behavior" and walks away.

Nanako and Rei have a short, friendly conversation, and Nanako is extra-chipper while thinking it's going to be a great day.

It's time for the game. Kaoru's coach gives her a pep talk about how doing her best is what's important, but Kaoru responds with the polite version of "Fuck that, I'm going to win." Once she's alone, her speech about winning turns to the subject of her trying to forget lost love and suddenly there are fireflies and she's naked. When I watched this scene next to my girlfriend and went "Awww" she looked just in time to see Kaoru's butt, which was awkward timing.
Fukiko and her two righthand women show up dressed like they're going to a gala to give Kaoru a bouquet. Kaoru effectively tells Fukiko to fuck off because of her treatment of Rei, including the fact that Rei doesn't play basketball because Fukiko forbade it.

The game starts and we get some imagery from the perspective of the students comparing Kaoru to Genji, in keeping with her school nickname. I always found that comparison amusingly inappropriate because Genji is a horrible person, despite the novel he is in wanting us to think otherwise. (But I know, it's Kaoru's looks and grace that are being compared to his even though their personalities are completely different.)

The way Kaoru's basketball dribbling is directed looks a lot like Utena's, so as a bunch of other people have noted, given Oniisama E's very distinct Osamu Dezaki directorial style and obvious influence on Utena, it's pretty clear the way Utena is animated playing basketball is a homage to this series.

The opposing team decides to pile on Kaoru. As they start racking up points, the other students are annoyingly like "Why isn't Kaoru single-handedly fending off this entire team going after her?" even though they know she just got back from being so sick she had to skip a year of school.

Kaoru gets a fresh rush of GUTS or whatever powers anime characters to suddenly pwn their opponents. Her coach is worried, but as an athlete, she is happy to be able to feel like she's pushing her physical limits again. We see that her love of the game can't make her forget her sad lost love because she suddenly looks like she's playing surrounded by nothing but fireflies,
like the fireflies in her sad flashback, but that bit of symbolism is cut short by some girl playing dirty and elbowing her in the chest. If someone intentionally elbowed me in the chest, there is a decent chance I would punch them back, but because Kaoru apparently had surgery there, she bleeds and collapses.

In a moment that probably fueled the Kaoru and Rei shippers, Kaoru refuses anyone's help and calls for Rei.
Rei starts to take her to the infirmary, and Kaoru insists that she play in her stead.

Rei does an awesome job and is cool, but I still feel the need to share this screencap.
Nanako notes that she looks more alive than she has ever looked before. Like me, Nanako finds hyper-competence sexy.

We get a scene of Fukiko being pissed while riding her horse because a Sorority member told her about Rei playing, although she has the comfort of knowing Seiran lost the game.

Rei finds Kaoru at the hospital and recounts the rest of the game, and like Fukiko, they laugh in response, but in a way that shows they're still happy with what they were able to do.

Mariko practically pushes Rei aside to get in and see how Kaoru is. She goes tsundere again, but drops any pretenses when she realizes Kaoru is genuinely glad she came.

Nanako has a realization about Mariko
and quietly leaves with Rei.

The next episode involves Nanako being jealous of Mariko's ability to be open about her feelings for Kaoru, and Fukiko trying to bring Rei back under her control.