Hourou Musuko – 8

One of the early chapters of the Hourou Musuko manga is called “It Keeps Getting Weirder” – and that’s a fitting sentiment for this series, especially this week. As if adolescence weren’t stressful enough, the circumstances these characters find themselves in add a layer of tension that’s almost too much to bear. Considering there’s no action and no mortal danger, this is a series that sure makes you sweat.

Wow, it’s 8th grade already – I guess that’s what happens when you only have 11 episodes to play with. A new grade means new classes, and our heroes are split up – but Shu doesn’t just have Sasa in his class, he has an old nemesis named Doi seated directly in front of him. Doi takes an interest in Shu and that can’t be a good thing. When he spots Shu and Yuki having a (soft) drink together, he gets even more curious and proposes they be “friends” – and that can’t help but be a very bad thing. The entire scenario has an ominous air to it.

While one wonders if that track will finally get the blood in the water the sharks – claiming the show is unrealistically nice – have been clamoring for, there would seem to be only so far they can go down that path with three eps to go. The main character dramas are certainly nowhere close to being resolved. Chiba and Yoshino seem to have thawed somewhat if not outright made up. Shu is still dating Anna and finally decides to admit his cross-dressing to her – an anti-climax as she already knew. She says he’s like a “little sister” and Shu doesn’t know if he wants to kiss her or not – so it’s hard to say where that relationship is. Meanwhile, Anna encourages Shu to go out on a date with her with both of them dressed as glasses-girls – and when Yoshino and Chiba (yes, getting food together) walk in on them, the stage is set for the best moments of the episode.

The reactions of all concerned when the girls walk in on the couple upstairs at “Foss Burger” are hilarious, but the entire scene that follows at the karaoke club is a wonder of tension, humor and wistful sadness. The character dynamics of everyone in that little room are so blissfully convoluted – Chiba loves Shu who turned her down, Shu loved Yoshino who turned him down (and may regret it) and now may love Anna, who’s the newbie to the group but takes a pretty quick read on the two girls. Anna is a fascinating girl – a year older than the others and it shows, kind but inscrutable. She calls Chiba out right away for her crap attitude – exemplified by insisting (hilariously) that Anna order her a beer – and Yoshino tries to save the day but makes things worse by telling Anna about Chiba’s love for Shu. Shu, meanwhile, just wants everybody to get along and starts singing.

That scene is also wonderful because everyone involved is so totally themselves, unable to or uninterested in putting up a front. They’re all so different and yet so tied together, and the tension between them is thick enough to cut with a knife. Life is always complicated, but when you’re 13 or 14 – well… It’s clear than neither Chiba or Yoshino is over Shu, and he continually hurts over the distance between himself and Yoshino. What isn’t clear is how he feels about Anna, and she about him. Does this gentle and kind boy who loves girls clothes want to be in a physical relationship with Anna – to kiss her, or more? If not, is the problem simply that she’s a girl – or is it that she isn’t Yoshino? Anna for her part clearly likes Shu – she finds him sweet and cute, but is there any attraction there beyond that? And what of Yoshino – the kind and gentle girl who says she wants to be a boy? Does she want to be a girl in a relationship with Shu the boy, or does she simply miss having him to herself?

About the only thing that’s 100% clear is that Chiba likes Shu romantically and that he doesn’t share those feelings. Above and beyond that all is doubt and uncertainty. And again, there’s now the uncertainty of the Doi situation casting an ominous shadow over everything. Interestingly, the fourth boy on the bridge with Doi, Mako-chan and Shu when they were walking home is a character who plays a prominent role early on in the manga, before the TV series timeline – it was interesting to see his face pop up unexpectedly there.

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