I won’t deny a bit if trepidation based on last week’s preview, but that was mostly unfounded – we didn’t have another Yuuko atrocity on our hands with Rita Einswoltz (Kawasumi Ayako). Rita (despite looking about ten years older) was Mashiro’s roommate when she lived in England, and she’s mostly a fairly sensible girl. In fact, she’s come to Japan to bring Mashiro back from the frivolous world of manga to the responsible world of bit-time art from whence she came.
Probably the headline, though, is the long-awaited appearance of shut-in genius programmer Akasaka Ryuunosuke (Horie Yui, back with another male role). But it’s not Rita’a arrival that’s lured him from his lair, it’s school rules – apparently in this school district you can attend class once in five months and fulfill the attendance requirement sufficiently so as to avoid expulsion. Ryuunosuke is every bit the oddball you’d expect in some respects but quite surprising in others. His hair is long, straight and very feminine, and he’s certainly lacking in social graces. But he’s also perfectly confident in expressing himself verbally and seems to show no especial anxiety at being amongst people – though he does proudly profess that he “hates women”. It’s as if he’s chosen isolation for completely practical reasons (as long as he can get his tomatoes, he’s fine) but I suspect there’s more to the story than that. Whether he becomes a regular for the remainder of the series or goes back into proxy mode remains to be seen.
The twin storylines concern Rita’s attempts to get Mashiro to return to London and the high-falutin’ art world she left behind for manga, and the upcoming culture festival at school, for which Misaki has decided that Sakurasou will submit a project that will “dominate!” It starts out as an anime version of “Galactic Cat Nyaboron” , an idea she’s been gestating since kindergarten. Eventually, though, we can see this will develop into another vehicle for Sorata’s character development, as it’s his suggestion – an interactive RPG version that requires group cooperation to win – that gets adopted. This might be a vehicle for Ryuusuke to stay involved with the plot as well (as he’s been added to the OP and ED, signs are hopeful).
As to Mashiro and Rita, I consider the lame humor surrounding Rita ensconcing herself in Sorata’s bedroom just another descent into the kind of formula tripe that Sakurasou really has no need to resort to, but Ritaa’s presence does bring the question of Mashiro’s future to the fore. If she’s really as great an artist as Rita claims she is, perhaps manga really isn’t the most suitable use of her talent? Or perhaps the series will take this as an opportunity to advocate for manga as fine art in its own right. In any case it’s clear that Mashiro takes her desire to stay in Japan (i.e. with Sorata) very seriously, as witness her repeated “Sorata no baka!” admonitions after he fails to fight off Rita’s advances on his room. And indeed, after seeing her painting at an art exhibition Sorata proclaims that she really does belong in the art world – something that will surely score him no points in Sorata’s eyes. I don’t see Rita going anywhere anytime soon, so this debate may be center stage for a while.