I really feel badly that more people aren’t watching this series, especially when it delivers gems like this week’s ep. The balance of elements was just right, and it captured all the charm that endeared me to R-15 from the beginning, when it was being torched in nearly all quarters.
The premise of the episode was an interesting twist on the hot springs episode cliché. This being a school for geniuses, naturally a hot springs has been been discovered on campus and an onsen town built up around it. When two seniors – the yuri queen Botan and new character Tentsubou Meguru (Nagashima Yuchiro) a genius (and genki) gymnast – decide the first-year classes need to have a competition to decide they can do more than lounge around on their asses at an onsen, it’s time for Utae and Taketo to show their stuff for their rival classes.
It was natural that Utae’s star power would be the big draw for Class 1-3, but I liked how all the girls in Taketo’s Class 1-2 immediately relied on him to devise a winning strategy. Their relationship with him really has evolved over the course of the series, especially Raika’s. In fact, this much-maligned little ero series has much more genuine character development than many more “respectable” series I could name – but more on that in a minute. The contest provides fodder for some terrific humor – Class 1-1 isn’t much of a threat, as their BL play “Romeo-kun and Juliet-kun” manages to win over “only a few female fans”. When Ritsu’s mathematical fortunetelling (based on “naughty milk bottles and lone left socks”) fails to draw the crowds to their entertainment booths, Taketo decides to ecchify the entire town – with cap guns shooting at breasts (Yes – he hit the areola!), bikinis in the yo-yo (ya-ya?) tank, choco-bananas and Ran providing a running ero soundtrack.
Where all this really leads is the interesting and quite complex rivalry that’s building between Utae and Fukune for Taketo’s affections. Utae is in a rival class, but her heart is with Taketo – and she even tries to help Class 1-2 with their own idol, Fukune, away performing at the National Theater. I’ve been a big believer that Fukune was the inevitable and probably correct choice, but Utae is getting a ton of development and she’s really winning me over. She’s clearly been friend-zoned by Taketo and she knows it, but she keeps supporting him – and makes a strong play of her own by shyly slipping into the hot springs with him when everyone else is gone. As Taketo reminds her, his porn writing is fantasy and this is a reality – he’s never even seen a naked girl. Yet even as she tries to seduce him Utae is realizing that Taketo’s heart is still with Fukune, and she encourages him to confess to her – both his secret life and secret love.
Fukune, meanwhile, has gotten a mysterious call from her father, who shows up at her concert. And when she arrives back on campus, she breaks down in tears and embraces Taketo when he suggests she accompany the class on clarinet for the choral contest that will close out the competition. Is she leaving for France, at his insistence? What’s more, each girl appears to have acquired an advocate – with the Chief carrying over her mysterious admonition from last week that Taketo needed to learn more about Fukune, and Raika clearly taking offense that Taketo can’t see just how much Utae loves him.
This is a tough one. Fukune was first, she adorably odd, and clearly likes Taketo. But Utae is softening my resistance. She’s quite a noble figure in her way, and capable of real wisdom like “Rivals are fun – except in love”. As Taketo himself says, she’s the only one who really understands him and he can tell her anything. Isn’t that a pretty solid basis for a relationship? This one is tough for the right reasons – you’d genuinely like to see both girls win. Yes, that’s right – this little smut series that all the smart viewers love to dump on has developed a compelling love triangle with three characters who are all likable, nice and genuinely sweet people – in my view the best love triangle of the season by a wide margin. Who would have thought that was possible? But that’s why I watch the shows, and don’t just read what someone else says about them…