For a show that’s basically school life with a small side of romance, Hourou Musuko can be as nerve-wracking for me as any fast-paced action or horror series. The show does a great job of capturing the looming anxiety that permeates every part of adolescent existence – the looming threat of hurt of embarrassment that always seems to be hanging overhead. And a school play – a cross-dressing one, no less – is certainly fertile ground for anxiety.
It was quite remarkable how this arc tied together the fates of all the major characters. Nitori basically wrote a play about himself and Yoshino – a chance for him to live out the desires he dare not in real life. Chiba put her own stamp on it, using it as an opportunity to act out her feelings for Nitori. For Mako, it was a terrifying opportunity to step out of Nitorin’s shadow at last – to confront his great fear that he would forever be a supporting player in life. For all four of them it was a cathartic episode in their lives, but in the end this arc ended up being more about Mako and Chiba than Shu and Yoshino.
I enjoyed the culture festival scenes that built up to the play itself, especially the screaming through the lame haunted house that had the resident ghosts terrified. I also liked the building sense of nervousness in the classroom – not just among the kids – especially Mako, obviously – but also Saisho-sensei. He’s a hapless one, this guy – but you can’t help but admire the obvious concern and affection he has for his kids. His obvious anxiety wasn’t helping matters but having lived through that build-up to the junior high school play I can tell you they nailed it – that sweaty excitement mixed with abject terror knowing the stage lights will be on you in a few moments. There’s nothing quite like it.
As for the play itself, I think it’s fair to say it went more or less as expected. Chiba was wonderful, Mako-chan was terrified but eventually steeled his resolve and got through it, and Nitori was a more than interested observer as the narrator – rooting for Mako-chan, but also knowing Mako was really playing Shu, not Juliet. The key line of dialogue from the play itself, of course, was the switching of the names – the moment that mattered most to Shu. The most important moment of the aftermath was when Chiba gave her annoying friend’s flowers (I really want to strangle that kid) to Mako, telling him they were an anonymous gift – a sign that he had reached at least one person in the audience and to them, he was Juliet. That was as close to an act of selflessness as I’ve seen from her in six episodes.
So what does the play arc tell us about our main characters, in the end? Nothing so much new, I suppose – it mostly acts as a confirmation of what we already knew. Mako sees himself as a caterpillar but longs to be a butterfly like Shu. Chiba wants Shu for herself and is willing to put her endless reserves of intelligence and energy towards the goal. And for Shu, all he wants is for he and the person he loves to be able to be who they truly want to be – and be together – even if it can only happen on stage. Next week it appears that Maho’s model friend – the one who “looks mean” and has already taken an interest in Shu – is going to step up the pursuit. These characters are so complicated, and there’s so much development in store – what a shame to only have five more episodes to barely scratch the surface. It’s like Kuragehime all over again – probably even more of a shame as these are kids with even more untapped potential waiting to be explored. As was the case with that show, I’m just going to enjoy it for as long as it lasts.