「桜井梨穂子編 第三章 ヒキツギ」 (Sakurai Rihoko-hen Dai Sanshou – Hikitsugi)
“Sakurai Rihoko Chapter 3 – Inheriting”
For a childhood character, there were probably numerous ways they could have spun Rihoko’s story. Going against the norm, it’s already gone beyond the usual Christmas cut-off for a conclusion and made it to New Year’s Day. However, after three episodes, her progression with Junichi has felt far too natural in the sense that not a whole lot is happening. In fact, compared to the previous episode, this one felt like a bit of step back. The skating outing and the Founders Festival during Christmas gave the two of them a chance to be alone together, whereas the focus on inheriting the Tea Ceremony club and the New Year’s shrine visit (Junichi’s thanks for her hand-knit gloves) had Ruri, Manaka, and Miya around. As a result, there wasn’t much of anything in the romance department, save for maybe Rihoko biting Junichi’s finger when he teased her about her ongoing diet. It’s kind of odd how there was such little headway in that regard, given that Ruri and Manaka were actively trying to pair the two of them together with the inheritance of the club as a guise. If I had to try and pinpoint a reason for that, it would likely be because of the time allocated towards the means rather than the end. As mentioned, it did make it seem like a much more plausible progression in their relationship, albeit much like real life tends to be, pretty boring as well. For viewers like us who are following Junichi and Rihoko every step of the way, something is definitely lacking. If I were looking at them from more of an outsider’s perspective (such as Ruri and even Kanae), then I would probably be more understanding of how childhood relationships like Junichi and Rihoko’s doesn’t happen overnight.
While being understandable is one thing, having a compelling romance story is another. In short, I’m not really “feeling it” with this one, even though Rihoko is one of the more believable characters in this series. There’s a real air of innocence in their friendship, which includes how Rihoko didn’t overreact when Junichi’s bath towel dropped right in front of her and how Junichi noticed Rihoko’s voluptuous curves even back in middle school. With that in mind, I do feel they would make a decent couple even if the passion seems to be missing. Of course, part of that may be due to the fact that Junichi is much more reserved around Rihoko since he’s known her for much longer and isn’t quick to suggest kissing her in strange and kinky places. Whatever the case, there’s one more episode to see if there will be anything to heat things up in their relationship. I’m a bit wary about how the final episode in this arc is titled “Goodbye”, but at least we know that Rihoko’s doing what she can within the bounds of her comfort zone. She even went back to the Ema that Junichi gave her to add a wish at the very bottom that her feelings will reach him. Much like the order of her wishes of the Ema, a successful diet and recruitment of new members into the club are highly overshadowing that, but there may be hope yet. I’m not expecting a spectacular finish at this point, but hope to see something that’s as cute as Rihoko humming to her own ending theme and mimicking an idol.