As I mentioned last week, the thing I was really worried about in this edition of Kotoura-san is what was going to happen with Kumiko (Haruka’s mother). Given some of the concerns I had about the rushed nature of Moritani and Mifune’s redemption (which Moritani’s continued humble status in the social hierarchy of the cast have somewhat allayed in her case) Kuriko’s situation seemed rife with danger. But much to my surprise, it ended up playing a very small role in the episode itself – an episode which, like #6, seems to indicate that the show has found a nice middle ground between comedy and drama.
As it turned out, Kumiko’s presence was entirely due to the well-meaning Osho-san, not some mission of vengeance on her part. On balance you’d have to give Kotoura-san an “Incomplete” here because the series really didn’t address the conflict, merely deferred it. But on balance I think what they did address they did rather well. Kumiko is clearly not feeling especially loving towards the daughter she abandoned, but there are signs that she’s at least troubled by what’s happened – and for now at least, smart enough to realize that by intruding on Haruka’s happiness she’s likely to do little but ruin it.
Of course, Osho’s plan could hardly be kept from Haruka-chan, and she knew as soon as got close enough to the priest to read his thoughts that her mother had been watching her. I thought her reaction was pretty spot-on as well – wistful yes, but not overwrought (which constitutes some growth for her character). The fact is that Kotoura is such a forgiving person by nature that it won’t take much more than a sense of regret from Kumiko for her daughter to forgive her, and I’m looking at that possibility with a certain amount of trepidation even still. But it’s nevertheless nice to see Haruka not consumed with anger or fear of abandonment that she can’t appreciate the fact that things have gotten a whole lot better in her life. There’s still some bad places where this thread could lead, but for now so far, so good.
As for the rest of the episode, it amounted to some very well-executed comedy and character development. For the first time the series adopted a “mini-episode” format, which might not be an unusual occurrence given the track record of Ohta-sensei when dealing with 4-koma manga. The first of these dealt with the remainder of the ESP Club’s retreat at Grandpa’s estate, where he and Manabe strike oil when trying to dig up an onsen so that they might have a mixed bath with Kotoura (the rich make money without even trying to – such is life). The highlight of this chapter is no doubt Mori’s cooking – which is apparently not only vile but highly hallucinogenic as well. This leads to a rather hilarious sequence in which she more or less tries to rape Manabe and he tries to get to second-base with a Kotoura-sized vase (much of this imagined, of course) before the three of them wake up together, only Kotoura wearing clothes. Mori’s interpretation of Kotoura’s innocent “You two were really going at it” remark leads to the best single comic moment of the episode, Oedipus Rex style.
Back in Tokyo, Manabe is keeping secrets from Haruka – a fairly big deal, as his transparency was really at the heart of his character and relationship with Haruka. My first thought when seeing that he was constantly doing multiplication tables in his head when around her was that he was trying to block out his ecchi thoughts but no, he had a deeper reason. Meanwhile Haruka turns to Mifune for advice, which leads to a flashback that does a very nice job illuminating her past with Muroto-kun a little (there’s fair potential in that relationship I think – it’s refreshingly different from the usual osananajimi dynamic). Manabe’s real reason, meanwhile, in blocking Haruka out is that he’s been working (wearing a bear suit) to earn enough to plan a surprise party for Haruka-chan’s birthday. And of course he couldn’t tell anyone, because then their thoughts would be subject to piracy by her – and as he admits himself, he likes to show off once in a while.
I rather liked that last sequence. It was played mostly for laughs, but there was a nice amount of subtle meaning there too. If Kotoura and Manabe are going to enter into a real relationship – and I certainly hope they are – isn’t he entitled to a certain amount of privacy? How, exactly, would a romantic relationship with her work? For all his honesty and lack of deceit or pretense, he’s still a human and a teenaged guy at that – there are going to be moments when he doesn’t want her rummaging about in his brain. It’s a gentle reminder, I think, that there are very real challenges still facing Kotoura as a result of her unique nature. I’m not sure we’re going to see that explored in any real depth in a one-cour season, but if the series gets another go-around – and pre-sales look pretty good – we just might.