「桜井梨穂子編 第一章 オモイデ」 (Sakurai Rihoko-hen Dai Isshou – Omoide)
“Sakurai Rihoko Chapter 1 – Memories”
The childhood friend arc has arrived, and with it a much cuter Rihoko than all the previous ones had me believe. I guess it’s true what they say about how one’s perception of someone can drastically change once you get to know them. As this is only the first episode, I’m nowhere near jumping on the Rihoko bandwagon just yet, but can definitely see some of her cuter charm points. For one, you can never go wrong with a sporty girl who loves to eat, even if it’s the cause of the resounding personality trait we’ve seen thus far — her self-consciousness over her weight. It’s not something that I really thought much of in the previous girls’ arcs, but found it really helped show the innocent and earnest side of her. Her decision to go on yet another diet was prompted by her feelings for Junichi after all, whom she’s had an unrequited love for all this time. As a result, I could get a real sense that she wanted to make herself more attractive in hopes that Junichi will finally see her as something more, and couldn’t help but want to support in her pursuit of happiness.
Incidentally, the above is in connection to the endearing aspect of her character that I took an immediate liking to this episode, where she exudes an almost child-like behavior with the way she wears her heart on her sleeve. It’s usually not too hard to figure out what’s on Rihoko’s mind, which both her good friend Itou Kanae (Matsuoka Yuki) and even Umehara easily picked up on and helped her by setting up an ice skating outing with Junichi on the weekend (i.e. next episode). At the same time, she isn’t one to speak out and say what’s truly on her mind, even when Junichi asked her to go out with him one time, only to find out that he wanted help picking out a gift for the girl who would later stand him up and leave him heartbroken. Given how she didn’t seize that opportunity to be there for Junichi, Rihiko probably isn’t the most assertive girl (nor a terribly graceful one either), but that in itself is what stood out the most to me. She’s fairly simple-minded and always means well, but can’t bring herself to tell Junichi how she feels about him since she knows he doesn’t see her that way. In short, she has all the makings of a girl that one wouldn’t be able to leave alone and would want to take care of (or help along), which may be an inadvertent charm point but a charm point nonetheless.
As for some episode specifics, this came off as mostly an introduction to “all things Rihoko” and featured a lot of the other girls crossing paths with her in some way to help contrast their differences. During all that, there was a pretty prominent comedic touch from Rihoko getting stuck in the fence when she tried to sneak onto school grounds for being late, as it was the only time we got to see how she and Junichi get along when they’re alone together. In light of how their relationship is very sibling-like both past and present, it’ll be interesting to see how that finally develops into something more. Rounding all that out was the Umehara and Junichi combination who mean business when it comes to whatever they can get their hands on with naked girls in it (even if it’s from the library) and the sight of Miya when she was younger. Lastly, there was Tsukasa, who I’m starting to believe is really perceptive of everything that’s going on around her yet always keeps it to herself. This includes how she was probably aware that the envelope she picked up had one of Umehara’s adult magazines inside. After all the foreshadowing of her character, I’m curious as to how Junichi will “handle” the class president in the last arc, but it’s Rihoko who will be getting his complete attention for now.
It’s a new arc and we have a new ending theme by Shintani Ryouko to commemorate it. Judging from the sequence, I think it’s probably safe to say that if Rihoko has gained some weight over the years, it’s the kind on top that any girl would be happy to have increasing. The song itself, “Love Isn’t in a Rush”, came off a bit too cutesy at the beginning, but sounds a lot better later on. Strangely, my opinion of it seems to keep improving the more I listen to it too. On a completely separate note, I’m thinking Kanae would’ve been an awesome heroine and can definitely see how she took first place in the Miss Santa contest at the end of Ai’s arc last time.
* The opening sequence has been updated with Rihoko near the end as expected.