romance

Your Friday Fix 12/18/09: Winter Sonata

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Winter Sonata

Winter Sonata ImagesGenres: Drama, Romance

Ratings R4 Ratings
L3
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L3
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Note: This series is originally based on a Korean drama of the same name. All spoken dialogue is done by the original series actors but is airing in Japan for a 26 episode run.

Kang Joon Sang reminisces over the events that led to his present predicament. He begins to narrate them to the viewer, the series is the visualization of this narration, starting with what he believes is the only picture he has of his father. Kang Joon Sang’s mother has told him that his father is dead, and that he shouldn’t be concerned with that topic any more. This only seems to add to the rift of hatred between mother and son.

At school, Kang Joon Sang avoids social interaction and generally keeps to himself. He is far brighter than any other student there but seems loath to apply that ability. After a brief argument on the bus to class one day, a girl named Jung Yu-jin decides to break Kang Joon Sang out of his shell. She attends the same class as him and her long time friend Kim Sang-Hyuk. Kim Sang-Hyuk’s attempts to befriend Kang Joon Sang met with utter failure.

Using the school radio club as a starting point, Jung Yu-jin begins to get Kang Joon Sang to socialize a bit more. It is only after he saves her from a drunk man in an alley way that they truly seem to begin bonding. Kim Sang-Hyuk also notices this change in their demeanor and his feelings for his friend Jung Yu-jin begin to surface as jealousy. At one point, while walking between classes, Kim Sang-Hyuk attempts to hold Jung Yu-jin’s hand for “safety” while she balances on a railing. She denies him this, stating that she will only hold the hand of the man she chooses.

It is on a snowy path that she makes the decision to hold Kang Joon Sang’s while balancing on a log. He begins to open up to her and its apparent that there is some degree of mutual attraction forming between them. That, is when they run into Kim Sang-Hyuk on their way back home…

This series is off to a rather slow start and the pace could definitely throw some potential viewers. The bulk of the story lines does not begin to fall into place until episode 3 and 4, where events hinted at the beginning of the series and during the credits unfold. As drama goes, Korea really knows how to roll a story together, which may be the saving grace for this series.

Overall Hook Rating: C

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Me and Orson Welles

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A week in the life of a player in 1937, those early days of Orson Welles’ famed Mercury Theatre, might sound like it can’t encompass much, but you may be forgetting just what a towering figure Welles was.  After seeing this film, you won’t seen forget it; nor will you soon forget Christian McKay who plays him.  Zac Efron, as the young actor swept up into the maelstrom of the Mercury Theatre, may be the lead in this film, but McKay is most definitely the star.  McKay has the ungovernable fire, the burning eyes, the imperious tone, and the ticking brain box of Welles down.  In this script he is endowed by every other character with a panoply of larger-than-life qualities and he portrays them all without ever turning into a cartoon.  His performance alone merits a viewing.

Efron seems to me to be beginning to travel the Johnny Depp career path, and I hope he is as fortunate as Mr. Depp in doing so.  After High School Musical (21 Jump Street, anyone?) he has generally made choices that demand he produce more than just another singing dreamboat.  In this film, no one responds to him as if he is anything special, as if he doesn’t have a laser-cut facial structure, and we get to see him act.  His interactions with a young, ambitious writer (Zoe Kazan) aren’t about him charming her off her feet, but her passion inspiring him.  His Richard is earnest, eager, young, positive, and full of trust.  We care about this kid and he humanizes the surreality of his adventure in Welles’ orbit.  Claire Danes warns him to guard himself from Welles, but not from her charms.  She plays her part with a mellow, womanly confidence and wise resignation, it’s an interesting fence between self-actualized and beholden that she straddles.  Ben Chaplin plays George Coulouris, a real-life actor who went on to be in Welles’ seminal 1941 film Citizen Kane.  Chaplin nails that particular transatlantic cadence that marks the period (he, like Coulouris, is British) and gives us a sense of the rest of the cast in the shadows of their director and star.

The film centers around the week before opening of Welles’ daring production of Shakespeare’s (Julius) Casear.  He takes very modern artistic liberties during the very fecund 1930’s and defines his career and character thus.  A member of my audience actually saw this production when he was a child.  He said he didn’t remember much, but he did recall the impact of the uniforms.  I am still jealous.  The late 1930’s was such a rich time for the arts, with the WPA and the responses to WWI and the Depression and Black Friday and the news coming over from Europe about fascism on the rise.  It’s an exciting time in history and an exciting week in Richard’s life as well.  Me and Orson Welles speaks of the transformative power of creating art and the power of those who can create it over others.  It’s also a little coming of age, a little romance, and a lot of enjoying the spectacle of Welles and Caesar.

Robert Kaplow’s novel was inspired by a photograph from this play of an unknown actor playing lute next to Welles in a scene.  The film isn’t pat, it isn’t aimless, and it isn’t epic.  It’s just a nice tidy wondering about that bit player and what his life must have been like, with the sweet aftertaste of a fable.  What surprised me the most about this film is that it was directed by Richard Linklater, a man whose work almost universally bores me.  All my usual issues with Linklater (dialogue, pacing) are gone here and as a result I got to really enjoy the story.  I thrilled to my geeky bones over all the delicious period details and the visceral emulation of the chaos of a disorganized theatre production.  Me and Orson Welles taken as a whole isn’t going to set the world on fire, but it is a well made, nicely-performed fable about art and self-actualization and theatre.  It’s worth a look.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 12/11/09

Time in minutes 109

Director Richard Linklater

Studio CinemaNX

Your Friday Fix 11/27/09: Kimi ni Todoke

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Kimi ni Todoke

Kimi ni Todoke ImagesGenres: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Ratings R4 Ratings
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Sawako Kuronuma could be your average high school girl: striving for popularity, playing sports and excelling at her studies. However, her downfall lies in both her mannerisms and lack of ability to communicate with others. Where most people would talk normally with their peers, Sawako will drift off into spooky discussions or actions that make others mistake her intentions. Instead of making oneself known to others in the room, she has a habit of silently appearing behind them, appearing much like the ghost from The Ring. This effect has student’s labeling her Sadako (the name of the ghost girl from The Ring).

Sawako strives for friends and understanding from those she interacts with, but know that she is unable to truly communicate. That is, until she meets Shouta Kazehaya. On Shouta’s first day at their school he got lost on the way to the campus. Fortunately, Sawako was there and was able to direct him correctly. It’s not until later that she realizes that she had none of her usual problems while talking with him. Shouta is extremely charismatic and is admired by many of the girls at the school. Sawako thinks that he is the more radiant and cheerful person she has ever met.

Now slowly gaining her confidence, thanks to Shouta, Sawako begins to interact with two other classmates who used to mock her: Ayane Yano and Chizuru Yoshida. The girls discuss the upcoming “bravery challenge” where they will send pairs of students into the forest at night and see who chickens out. They volunteer Sawako to be the ghost, but in the end she accepts on her own terms, as it would be fun. Shouta meets up with her later than night, thinking she didn’t show up that night, and thus leaving him by himself. He begins to express his feeling toward Sawako when the class begins teasing him for hanging out with her. Afraid of affecting his social status, Sawako tells everyone that nothing is going on and then leaves.

Shouta takes this as a message that Sawako is not interested in him. But soon after, she does begin to feel something for him. When Sawako uses her umbrella to shade an abandoned puppy from the rain, she gets drenched. Shouta helps her dry off and the girls lend her some clothes to wear for the day. During the beginning of the semester, she seats are being assigned, no one wants to sit by Sawako. Shouta, Ayane, Chizuru and soon to be another of their group Ryuu Sanada take up the positions around her, proudly showing their support.

This anime may sound slow moving, but it is a very sweet story with well placed comedy to keep the momentum flowing. The occasional chibi aspects are not overdone and you will find yourself with a grin on your face in no time.

Overall Hook Rating: A

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The Princess and The Frog

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Oh Disney! You invented feature-length animation, revolutionized the children’s film industry, and infected little girls the world over with princess worship. Then Pixar swooped in and taught you how to make stories fancy looking (you skipped the class where they reminded you to also have stories in CG movies), and then you got distracted with Renderman (Chicken Little, Meet The Robinsons) and lost your way. Until now.

Walt Disney Animation Studios is back on form with The Princess and The Frog. I loved it! Wonderful classic story, flawless hand-drawn animation, fun and appropriately arranged music, it’s all there. To every parent of a young girl who has sworn fealty to the galaxy of Disney princesses, this movie turns that nonsense on its head and features the first African-American animated heroine.

That heroine, Tiana, is a hard-working girl in Depression-Era New Orleans with one lifelong dream — to open a restaurant with her daddy. Life intervenes and she grows up single-mindedly focused on that dream. Dreamgirls’ Anika Noni Rose speaks and sings Tiana with grace and power. She is as refreshing as bookworm Belle, as forward thinking as cross-dressing Mulan, and she needs a prince to come save her like a frog needs a banjo.

Enter Prince Naveen (Brazilian Bruno Campos), channeling Antonio Banderas and Gene Kelly as a layabout prince of Maldonia (not Caledonia?) and Dr. Facilier the Shadow Man (Keith David, perfectly cast), and you’ve got a stew going. From the age-old kiss a frog to get a prince story to parables about being careful what one wishes for, The Princess and the Frog knocks over all those romantic fairy tale conventions, yet turns it all into a new classic. It’s all according to Disney formula, but feels different somehow. It pains me to say it, but Randy Newman’s music is great. Nearly everyone gets a song and they may be Cajun or jazzy or showtunesy, but they are all toe-tappin’.

Can you imagine being in New Orleans during the jazz age? There’s a romance about the city and the bayou and the voodoo and the obeah that takes on its own character. Tiana and Naveen come from different worlds and don’t care a fig for the other’s world, and are forced into an exciting adventure in a strange world neither of them have known. The Shadow Man is scary and his shadow minions are extremely cool and scary; I would hesitate to bring a small child to see it. The side characters Louis and Ray, respectively Dreamgirls’ Michael-Leon Wooley and versatile and prolific voice actor Jim Cummings, are hilarious and lovable. The La Bouff father/daughter voiced by John Goodman and Jennifer Cody are affectionate and amusing parodies of the wealthy whites of the era.

As hand-drawn animated features have been more and more scarce, we have become inured to the depth and realism of computer animation. My readers know I love me some Pixar, but hand-drawn, like claymation, has a warmth and charm that cannot be replicated in bytes. Disney has always set the gold standard for hand-drawn, and this film continues their reign. Each sequence is more lovely than the last, from deco dreams to fireflies dancing to voodoo menace. Here and there directors Ron Clements and John Musker insert small, unobtrusive winks to some classic princesses without distracting from Tiana’s triumph as a romantic lead and female role model. This movie is love and food and music and I highly recommend it.

MPAA G

Release date 11/25/09

Time in minutes 95

Director Ron Clements, John Musker

Studio Walt Disney Animation Studios

Your Friday Fix 11/13/09: Nyan Koi!

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Nyan Koi

Nyan Koi ImagesGenres: Comedy, Romance, Supernatural

Ratings L2 Ratings
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Junpei Kousaka hates cats. He is allergic to them, they annoy him… even the fat cat his family owns, Nyamsus, constantly picks on him. It goes without saying that as a comedy, it’s all downhill from there. On his way home from school he innocently kicks a can into the trash. However, fate decides that he will miss this attempt and instead behead the statue of a neko-jizo, a cat guardian deity. This act brings upon his the curse of the neko-jizo; if he does not assist 100 cats with their tasks on earth, he will become a cat himself. This is when he begins to hear the voices of every cat around him.

Knowing that his allergies would probably kill him at that point, he goes about seeking alternate ways to break his fate. He first consults with the monk at the cat shrine, Keizou Kirishima, about the history of this deity. Midway through the long wandering stories dating back to the Edo Period, Junpei begins to argue with the monk’s cat, Tama. Tama explains the curse to Junpei further and he begins to hallucinate that he is becoming a cat (after badmouthing the cat deity). He wakes in his bed again, only hazily remembering what happened after the hallucination that day.

Junpei ‘s first task is the stop a bully from picking on stray cats in his neighborhood. As it turns out, this bully is his friend (and secret crush from school), Kaede Mizuno. He tries to explain to her that, unlike the dogs her parents own, cats cannot be handled roughly. Nyamsus and Tama begin to harass Junpei and he ends up yelling at them to just “knock it off already.” Kaede assumes he is talking to her and runs off apologizing.

In attempts to complete his second contractual obligation to a cat, Junpei is reintroduced to Kanako Sumiyoshi, a friend from his distant past. There was a time when they were younger that she had feelings for him. She took a situation she walked in on out of context and began a long running feud with him. The cat, however, requires Junpei to pass on its feelings to Kanako for it, as she took care of the cat for some time. A few tears are shed, but things end up MOSTLY patched between the two. This moment also begins the roll of this series toward a more harem-ish spin.

This series has some good potential and as long as the harem aspects to not get trashy, we should be in for a good show. As anyone with cats will know, they find a way to get as close as possible to those who want nothing to do with them. This does add a bit of slapstick comedy to the situation, and we have yet to see the series take a fully serious note.

Overall Hook Rating: B

Check out a clip from episode 1 after the jump…

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Read On

Your Friday Fix 10/16/09: Kampfer

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Kampfer

Kampfer ImagesGenres: Action, Magical, Romance

Ratings L2 Ratings
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R3
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Imaging having an intense dream of being chased by a maniac with a gun. You are lost, confused, and terrified. Upon waking you realize that, on top of this not actually being a dream, you have also switched genders to enter this death game! All of the details of said game are now explained to you by a stuffed animal with its guts hanging out. Welcome to the life of Natsuru Senou. The boy, who must become a girl to fight for his life.

Natsuru has become a Kampfer (German for “fighter”), who have to be female, and must do battle as such. There has been no explanation for why this is going on (other than the mysterious “Moderators” bidding), so he must learn to fight to survive. His power set is noted as Zauber (German for “magic”), specifically: fire ball casting. The two other power types are Schwert (German for “blade”) and Gewehr (German for “gun”). The first other Kampfer he encounters/fights is Akane Mishima, who is a Gewehr type, and apparently actually on his own team (denoted by the blue bracelet they wear).

She explains to him that there will be two red Kampfer they must battle. Her mascot is a black rabbit; its guts hang out, seppuku style. The first red Kampfer they encounter is Shizuku Sangou, a Schwert type, and is played by their school’s student council president. Her positing on power puts the two blue fighters in a pinch, as she effectively runs the school. Her mascot is an electrocuted cat.

In the end of the second episode the stage it set for the battles to come. Natsuru is transferred to the girls campus by Shizuku so that no questions will be raised about him (as he is male) trespassing, and then she makes him stick in his “girl mode”.

There is an undercurrent of girl-girl romance with Natsuru’s friend Kaede Sakura in both episodes, as she has a crush on the girl-him, and that crushes him. The humor is a bit dark, but still thoroughly funny… I just do not see this making the grade without stooping to the typical yuri harem tricks. Let’s hope it proves me wrong.

Overall Hook Rating: C

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Check out a clip after the break…
Read On

Your Friday Fix 10/09/09: Sora no Manimani

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Sora No Manimani

Sora No Manimani ImagesGenres: Comedy, Romance

Ratings R4 Ratings
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Saku Oyagi only ever wanted to sit inside and read peacefully. His neighbor, Mihoshi Akeno, had other plans for his free time. From the time they were in the first grade together, Mihioshi was dragging Saku out to play or to go star gazing. Mihioshi wishes to pass on her love of the stars to her best friend… but he is resistant. She decides to climb a tree to get Saku a star but falls, injuring them both. Saku’s family moves away, and he holds some animosity toward her for his broken arm (and that she never came to say goodbye).

During Saku’s freshman year of high school he is moved back to his home town. While his intentions are to forget the past, he runs right into Mihoshi again. Now a senior member of the Astronomy Club, Mihoshi is desperately recruiting members to meet their 5 person minimum enrollment. Saku is, again, very resistant at first. Once he learns that Mihoshi couldn’t see him off because she was in the hospital from the fall, he finally comes around.

The remainder of the cast if laid out, including: Sayo Yarai, a mostly quiet girl who tries to keep Mihioshi in check; Takeyasu Roma, the Astronomy Club president (whos weak constitution leads to much bleeding from the mouth); Masashi Edogawa, Saku’s new friend from the freshman class; and Hime Makita, who has a crush on Saku since he complimented her on her hair during their entrance exams.

This series is very cute and seems to have enough open ended love interestes to remain interesting for now. While it could have taken the traditional harem route, I find it stays a step above, earning it top marks.

Overall Hook Rating: A

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Watch the first part of episode 1 after the jump…
Read On

An Education

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Based on Lynn Barber’s memoir, An Education plays out rather like a diary read. When you write of exciting moments in your life, you don’t need to elaborate on certain things, like best friends’ names or schoolwork, and this film doesn’t bother to either. Jenny (Carey Mulligan) is a schoolgirl, almost but not quite of age, who falls into a relationship with David, an older man (Peter Sarsgaard). It’s more than that, of course. Her education at school suffers at the hands of the education in life she receives from David — but also she learns about the importance of both for women in 1961, when it was “a waste” for a marriageable woman to go to university — what would she use her education for? Jenny is a model student being pushed by her reclusive, narrow father (terrifically portrayed by Alfred Molina) to get into Oxford. Her book education is vast — she can speak of paintings she has never seen, speak the languages of countries she has never visited, and read novels about lives neither she nor her parents ever live. Molina is a puckered, tight-fisted near-agoraphobe and has trapped Jenny’s mother (Cara Seymour) in his web of fear and rigidity. It’s a wonder Jenny didn’t rebel sooner.

Enter, oh so casually, Peter Sarsgaard, a man genetically engineered for the role of David. Sarsgaard is both non-threatening and feral — he’s got a boyish face with impish laugh-lines well set into his charming face. He’s too sweet, too smooth, such that the wise old woman sitting in my seat didn’t trust him for a millisecond. He seduces her parents into a foggy state of permissiveness that could only take root in a home so sheltered from life. David continually comes up with new sides to his character, shady and sunny. He’s never predatory, always generous, but one still has to wonder, why a girl so young? Mulligan would tempt any man to be sure — she’s beautiful and sparkly, and can hold forth on all her book-learning better than the more uncultured adults in David’s life (particularly Rosamund Pike). It was hard to watch Jenny fall so easily to chaotic neutral David, but it was deliriously romantic as well. He wears down our resistance and we fall for him too.

Balancing Jenny’s tumultuous emotional education are the pillars of her academic one, teacher Olivia Williams and headmistress Emma Thompson. What Jenny sees when she looks at these women, contrasted with her world with Sarsgaard and Pike and Dominic Cooper, is pointless drudgery. Screenwriter Nick Hornby is an old hand at writing stories about men finding their sea legs in life and taking off the blinders that keep them single-minded precluding all else (Fever Pitch, About A Boy, High Fidelity). It’s lovely to see that he can translate his narrative skills and insight to a female’s perspective. The diary feel is all the more a triumph for having been translated through a man.

The production is gorgeous, from the lush elegance of the grown-up world to the chalky stultification of the classroom. The soundtrack is pretty, the costumes are dashing (even before Mad Men this has always been my favorite sartorial period). An Education is deliciously shot by John De Norman (check out his filmography to be impressed). Jenny grows wiser — and wisdom comes from life, not books. She receives an education, and through Barber’s memoir, seeks to educate us — not on the follies of her youth, but the importance of life teaching and knowing why we learn what we learn. It’s great, check it out.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 10/9/09

Time in minutes 100

Director Lone Scherfig

Studio Sony Pictures Classics

Your Friday Fix 9/18/09: Kanamemo

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Kanamemo

Kanamemo StripGenres: Comedy, Romance

Ratings R4 Ratings
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Kana Nakamachi has just lost her grandmother. In the years before, her mother and father have also died. Now alone in the world, afraid the movers will sell her to foreigners, she runs away. She passes the Fuhshin Gazette, advertising a job with an included on-site room. However, the people out front scare her off with their strange personalities. She continues onward, checking with businesses all over town, but has no luck finding an alternative. As she walks down one street she is struck by a delivery bike.

She wakes in the main room of the Fuhshin Gazette, a small newspaper that is apparently run by Saki Amano, a grade school girl. As Deputy Chief she takes care of the day to day workings of the newspaper (it is not explained yet as to why she holds this post); she is mature beyond her years. Seeing Kana’s circumstances, she allows her to work there and provides her room and board.

The other girls working there include: Yume Kitaoka, a pastry chef in training; Yuuki Minami, who is in love with Yume and extremely jealous of her attention to others; Haruka Nishida, who is some sort of biology student, and frequently drunk on her concoctions; and Hinata Azuma, a gambler who has twice-failed at her college entrance exams.

Kana must learn her new trade fast, being that she does not know how to read directions, ride a bike, nor much other than cook (which the other girls REALLY appreciate). Her first assignment nearly ends in disaster when she is caught in a sudden rainstorm. There she meets a competing delivery girl, Mika Kujiin, who has an abrasive attitude, but warms to Kana as she helps her find her way.

This series is rather cute with over the top comedy, yuri overtones, and a general light hearted nature. The addition of a competing business may lead to additional story material, but the main cast have layers left to be revealed as well. Kana’s sadness at being left along gradually lifts, and it is not certain if that sad portion of the storyline will take prevalence again.

Overall Hook Rating: B

Episode one preview after the jump:

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Read On

Your Friday Fix 8/28/09: Aoi Hana

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Aoi Hana

Genres: Drama, Romance

Ratings R4 Ratings
L3
L4
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L4
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Aoi Hana Image 2Roughly ten years before the start of the story we are shown two young girls, Akira Okudaira and Fumi Manjoume, why are best friends in elementary school. Fumi is a fragile crybaby who heavily relies on Akira, who is a stronger tom-boy. Akira, the taller of the two cares for Fumi until her family moves away, leaving Akira alone. Fast forward to the present day and the story begins.

Fumi returns to her childhood town to attend a private girls’ academy. She is nervous at the change in her life, and leans heavily on her cousin Chizu (whom she deeply cares for, and is hinted that things may have gone a bit further than would normally be prudent). On the train to school, Fumi is discreetly accosted by a pervert and is saved by Akira. There is no mutual recognition, as both have changed a great deal since childhood.

Aoi Hana Image 1Later in the first episode, their mother’s reunite and they realize who each other are. Although much time has passed they fall into their usual roles, even though Akira is now shorter, and Fumi seemingly much more refined. Their roles become even further cemented when Chizu suddenly returns with her new husband, and neglecting to tell Fumi anything about the situation. Fumi is crushed, and Akira begins to suspect what may have been going on.

The two girls attend different all-girls academies, and have both begun to kind potential romances. Fumi has gravitated to the older Yasuki Sugimoto, a third-year on the basketball team. Akira has begun to spend more time with a girl named Kyouko Ikumi, who in fact has a history with Yasuki.

The potential love-triangles in the series spirals out into a veritable web of plausible connections that I feel overcomplicates matters. While cute and mostly innocent, there appear to be some darker undertones that have not yet come to light.

Overall Hook Rating: C