Here’s my basic feeling after this episode of Ore Monogatari. It was inevitable that we get an episode focused on a love rival for Takeo sooner or later. It was an episode built around the least interesting relationship amongst the main cast, with a lot of drama inserted into it. And it featured Fukuyama Jun in a major role. All things being equal there was a lot to be worried about with this episode, so even if it wasn’t on a level with the just-ended Suna-Yukika arc, the fact that it was still really good is a reason to be happy.
The catalyst for potential trouble between our seemingly ever-blissful couple is Rinko getting a job at a bakery, Les Circes. Ironically (though not coincidentally) it’s Takeo who suggests to Rinko that she apply for the part-time job they’ve posted, knowing that Rinko is a huge fan of their artistically ambitious cakes. Being the baking otaku she is working at a place like this is a natural fit, and Takeo consoles his unease with the notion that he’s helped Rinko to do something positive for herself.
The problem is Ichinose Kouki (Fukuyama), the handsome and talented 21 year-old pâtissier at the heart of Les Circes’ success. He’s a brilliant pastry chef but a bit of a social misfit, and it’s easy to see what’s going to happen – he’s going to mistake Rinko’s rapt admiration for romantic love (if indeed it is 100% a mistake, though I believe it will prove to be). The first clue is when he lies to Rinko in telling her he’s entered competitions (cleverly accompanied by a Pinocchio special effect) – which is also a clue about his own social anxiety and insecurity.
Happily this is a role perfectly suited to Fukuyama, and he runs with it to great effect. Fukuyama-san can take over a series in a bad way with his vamping, but as the simultaneously vain and on-the-edge-of-panic baker he’s spot-on. Being less experienced in life than he is Rinko can’t spot the signs that Inchinose-san is falling for her, and allows herself to be drawn into his confidence. Being called by a first name is a big deal in Japan – especially between a young man and woman who barely know each other – but she still manages to miss the sign (just call her Furuya).
Of course the name thing is an even bigger deal here, because even after (while eavesdropping posed as a mailbox) overhearing Ichinose call Yamato Rinko, Takeo still can’t imagine doing so himself. As always with Ore Monogatari it’s the secondary elements that are the most interesting – in this event Takeo’s self-doubt, and the depth of concern Makoto and Ai have for him. It’s a fact that to an outside observer Takeo and Rinko look like a mismatched couple, and I don’t think Takeo has ever totally gotten past that. Ichinose can indeed relate to Rinko in ways Takeo can’t, and he may indeed be a “better match” for her, as he so rudely tells Takeo he is. But the heart wants what it wants, and Takeo is going to have to trust his.
The scene where Ichinose confronts Takeo and the follow-up conversation between the Sunakawa siblings are the two best of the episode. I was sincerely worried about Ichinose for a moment or two, and to say that he was completely out of line is an understatement. But Takeo simply isn’t the sort of guy to get violent with someone for insulting him – Rinko or Makoto or A maybe, but not him. Part of him has believed what Ichinose says all along, and that’s why Ichinose’s words cut him so deeply. Suna remains a great wingman – he spots what’s really going on well before Takeo does, and agonizes over what his friend is going through. But ultimately this is something Takeo is going to have to work through himself.
It’s to Takeo’s credit that he shows no rage towards Ichinose, and that even here he can think about what might be best for her rather than for himself. But love demands selfishness sometimes, a girl is not a lost dog, and if Takeo loves Rinko (he sure says he does often enough) the time has come for him to fight for her – not with his fists, but fight nonetheless. And he has to be strong enough to trust Rinko even after seeing her riding off in the rain the backseat of Ichinose’s car, because she’s never once given him a good reason not to. We won’t find out next week (the final episode airs in two weeks) but the resolution of this crisis is a logical place to end the season.