There’s a number of things I found pleasing about this week’s episode of Mashifoni, which continued the superb run to the finish the series has been on. Not least of them was the refreshingly direct way it addressed the growing sexual tension between Shingo and Miu (the humans, not the cats). For most of the series that side of the equation has been extremely low-key, a kind of background hum that was barely perceptible but always present. Yet with the acknowledgement of mutual affection the two leads shared last week, the chemistry fundamentally changed. This wasn’t ignored or danced around – it simply edged its way into the atmosphere of the show, as Shingo and Miu became aware of each other in a way that hadn’t seemed so urgent before.
I’ll return to that in a minute, but another thing I especially liked is that the romance remained a part of the picture, but didn’t consume everything around it. Some have complained that the show is “wrong” because the girl who turned out to be the romantic lead wasn’t the “main” girl for most of the show. I think that premise is faulty to begin with, but the fact is that whatever your view of who is or isn’t the main girl, the show was always about more than just the male lead and his harem. All that stuff that was happening at the beginning with the difficulties of the school merger was important too, and hasn’t been forgotten – in fact it looks to be a vital component in the final episode. That this storyline naturally made Airi the first girl to stand out isn’t a weakness of the writing, it’s a strength, and I think the problem is not in the dramatic structure but in the limitations viewers put on their own expectations. Shingo and Miu are only one part of the show – a very important part, of course, but still just a part.
I’m fascinated to see the contrast between Sana and Airi in the way they’ve dealt with losing out on Shingo’s affections. Sana, like Airi, didn’t suddenly become unimportant when Shingo chose Miu. But she’s made the situation (understandably) about herself and her feelings, and been quite direct in the way she’s confronted them. She continues to play a very dangerous game, going shopping with Shingo and even testing his interest in her as a backup girlfriend. That Shingo is too classy to consider such a thing is lucky, because with a lesser guy Sana could have gotten herself in even more trouble. Her very funny joke about castrating Shingo (the cat – yeah, right) and her plausible deniability about “wanting the one she likes to be happy” aside, it’s clear she’s still in an emotional minefield here.
Airi, by contrast, has lost herself in counseling Sana as a way of not confronting her own feelings. Where Sana’s instinct is to reach out for someone to comfort her, Airi retreats inside – perhaps as a result of the way her mother has clearly been a distant figure in her life who doesn’t offer much emotional support. Right up the end Airi denies that she’s fallen in love with anyone, indeed that she ever could fall in love with anyone. Independence is everything for Airi – her color, if you will. She needs to be independent from her parents, from a boy, even from her own feelings. So when she’s in pain, she can’t allow herself to seek solace in the arms of another like Sana can. She’s being a good friend, and that’s undeniably a part of her motivation – but mostly I think it’s that desire not to be exposed in any way.
Getting back to the romantic couple, as always I loved their scenes together and I continue to think they’re an exceptionally good match. Miu has become quite a different character in these last few episodes as we’ve seen her out of her comfort zone. We’ve seen her embarrassed and awkward as a result of her Mother’s shocking directness about sex (methinks this cougar would like to do some tutoring of her own) and we’ve seen her become the aggressor in her courtship with Shingo. It makes sense in that she’s older, and that he’s such a gentleman – but he’s also not such a gentleman that when Miu gave him every hint in the book, he didn’t take them and take their first kiss (and second, and third, and fourth). The two of them were charmingly awkward, yet clearly not in denial about their feelings. Kudos to Sakuno for being a good sister and leaving the two of them alone for Christmas Eve, something I can’t imagine was much easier for her than it was for Airi or Sana. As to what happened after the credits rolled, I think there are strong indications that there was more kissing, and more than kissing (just what are you doing with your hand, Young Man?) but that’s not really the most important thing.
With only one episode left, it looks as if the focus of the finale will turn at least in part to the school merger, which seems to have hit a snag. This should provide a good opportunity to wrap up everyone’s story, especially as Shingo and Miu’s ending has already more or less been written. Airi is going to have a meeting with her Mother, I suspect, perhaps to plead for the merger to go through. The series will probably return to the themes it started out with, and that feels like a good decision. Manglobe has made a startling number of good creative decisions with Mashifoni over the last 11 weeks, so I’m not at all surprised.