I’ll admit that when this episode was in its early stages, I thought it was going to be an amusing one-off – entertaining, but not really critical to the long-term plot. Boy, was I ever wrong, as the B-part proved – and while I think it’d be fair to question just how serious a potential relationship challenge this ep presented, I think it cast the main relationship in a more interesting light than we’ve seen for a while.
Nominally, this was Ore Monogatari’s sports festival episode. It’s no surprise that Class 1-6 would love to use Takeo in as many events as possible, but the rules dictate that no student can participate in more than two (it’s unclear whether this is in-fact specifically an “anti-Takeo” safeguard, but it may as well be). Takeo is chosen for the softball throw and the coed Swedish relay (100-200-300-400 meters) – I suppose any event he’s in is an automatic win, but the Swedish relay is the final event, and the one that carries the most points.
There’s a lot of amusing time-wasting concerning running in the A-part. Takeo is very fast. Rinko is very slow. She doesn’t swing her arms enough. And we get a glimpse of Rinko’s insecurity over Takeo, and his insistence (Suna disagrees) that he’s not popular. But the episode really begins when the girl running the 3rd leg is hurt, forcing the class to find a replacement not already signed up for two events. That proves to be Saijou Mariya (Maeda Rina), a slightly shy and non-athletic girl who’s not especially gifted at running. I assume the rules dictate a girl must run the first and third legs; why Saijou didn’t got the short 100M opening slot I don’t know (maybe a straight substitution rule) but the entire plot for the rest of the episode (and the next too, it looks like) hinges on Saijou running that penultimate leg.
You may remember Maeda-san from Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii, which was her first real lead role in anime – she did an absolutely stellar job as Nike, and she’s pretty great here too. Saijou is pretty slow – though Takeo describes her as average – and you have to feel for her a little bit at being roped into an event with high visibility she knows she sucks at. In fact, she ends up faking a stomachache to skive off practice, but Takeo later stumbles on her scarfing down a crepe and eventually “volunteers” her for solo practice with him the next morning.
Well, at this point it’s pretty easy to see where this is going. There’s some really funny stuff here, like Saijou discovering she’s actually fast when fleeing terrified from a chasing Takeo (too bad you can’t use that in the race). But eventually Takeo wins her over doing what he does – he delivers none of the anger or impatience with her limited skills Saijou was expecting – instead, he’s patient and encouraging, and let’s her know (and oh, how true it is) that he’ll take care of everything on race day. The essence of Takeo’s appeal is once again reinforced here – he’s just not a typical high-school boy. He may be dense and naive (he and Rinko are a matched set) but in his way, he’s very mature and grounded.
The way all this plays out is interesting. Rinko enlists her friends for help in establishing clear ownership here, but Saijou definitely develops feelings for Takeo. The race is won of course – despite Saijou falling, 400 meters is more than enough for Takeo to storm the barricades – and things come to a head when both Rinko and Saijou seek out Takeo after school to give him gifts. Rinko’s is a phone strap (how did Takeo know it would be a rabbit?) and Mariya’s a towel (“My first towel!”), both of which speak to love in their own way. The next day, when Saijou sprains her ankle on the stairs, it’s Suna who clearly sees where this is headed (and I don’t mean the hilarious “Lean on my shoulder” moment) and does everything he can to try and head off a disaster – but Takeo is not the type to say no to a girl in distress.
It’s obvious that both Rinko and Takeo are incredibly naive to take Saiyou’s “I like you as a person – can I call you Shishou?” as anything less than a declaration of intent. Yet the truth is Rinko really does have nothing to worry about, because he’s just not the kind of guy to give another girl a second glance when he’s involved with someone. So in truth, there’s not a whole lot of peril in the air here, but it does take Takeo and Rinko’s predictable romantic path in a potentially interesting direction – it’ll be interesting to see how both of them deal with a rival who’s actually willing to be proactive in trying to win Takeo over.