「碓氷のライバル？深谷陽向」 (Usui no Raibaru? Shintani Hinata)
“Usui’s Rival? Shintani Hinata”
Misaki going Super Saiyajin, Usui feeling the pressure from a rival, Kanou noticing how their relationship’s at a standstill, and the childhood friend Shintani Hinata (Abe Atsushi) being another instance of dramatic weight loss. This episode had development in almost all areas and provided the tension that may finally take Misaki and Usui’s relationship to the next level. The premise to tie it all together was Misaki getting on the case of all the sports clubs for not cleaning their clubrooms, and Yukimura convincing them to do so by offering them all a meal for staying late. Thus began the mass production of onigiri, which Misaki doesn’t have a knack for whatsoever. Hinata arrived as a new transfer student at the same time in search of his childhood love “Misa-chan” and things pretty much took off from there.
Relationship-wise, Kanou in particular proved to be one of the key factors by seeing through Misaki’s feelings for Usui and speaking the truth that she didn’t want to hear, whereas Hinata’s love for Misaki provided not only a humorous take on his character, but also a charismatic personality with looks to match that make him a hard rival for Usui to swallow. Unlike Usui, Hinata is a purehearted, earnest, and most of all goofy character that sets him apart from the “perverted stalker” that Misaki’s used to putting up with, yet can look just as cool as him too. The fact that he’ll nonchalantly talk about his past as a fat kid, his parents passing away in an accident, his grandfather kicking him off his farm for eating all his crops, and be completely unfazed by any of it in light of his love for food makes him an “unusually difficult” person to compete with.
As such, Hinata’s definitely not our run-of-the-mill love rival, whose drastic transformation from eating vegetables all day was just as impressive as Ryuuguu Otohime’s in Ookami-san. Incidentally, he isn’t a picky eater either, which bad cooks like Misaki would probably appreciate when it comes to her rock-hard onigiri baseballs. While Usui ate all the other ones she had remaining, his palette can hardly be compared to Hinata’s one that loves eating bread crust trimmings. If we were to talk about comparing a life of hardships and being as frugal as possible, Hinata easily takes the cake in mirroring Misaki’s lifestyle as well, with that dog-like nose of his that he uses for sniffing out food and candy. With the way he’ll play the sympathy card, he’s also more suited to get bullied by Misaki instead of the other way around with Usui. He did fall in love with her out of a childhood promise to follow her forever after falling from a tree, so I’d even go as far as saying he’ll gladly let her wear the pants in their relationship.
What sets him far beyond Usui though is his earnest behavior and how he won’t hesitate to tell and show everyone that he’s in love with “Misa-chan”. It’s a pretty stark contrast to Usui anyway, who told Kanou that getting into a serious relationship is just as troublesome as receiving love letters all the time. Well it finally looks like Usui can’t afford to idle around any longer unless he’s going to let Hinata snatch up his beloved Misaki. As much as I love Usui and his superhuman feats in just about everything, it’s really due to how he can bring out the girlish side of Misaki. He always keeps his distance a fair degree though, so Hinata’s direct approach is a very refreshing way of achieving the same result. In any case, it looks like things are finally heating up in the relationship department. From what I hear, Hinata’s introduction is really late compared to the manga (he’s been in the opening sequence all this time), so it’s about time he arrived to stir things up.
* Gotta love how it wasn’t only Hinata’s dramatic weight loss that prevented Misaki from recognizing him, but also the fact that she didn’t read his name right before. Youkou -> Hinata. Talk about a lifelong misunderstanding.