「ようこそ3年1組」 (Youkoso San Nen Ichi Kumi)
“Welcome to Class 3-1”
I didn’t expect to see Go-Toubun no Hanayome get as deep into the material as it is now, but with Episode 09, we’ve reached the Sisters’ War arc where the Nakano’s are starting to get more intense about their fight for Fuutarou. With the measures that the sisters are taking to actively compete for their tutor’s heart, it’s also the point where it gets harder and harder to imagine an outcome where the sisters don’t end up disowning each other by the end of all this.
With the pacing racing past key moments with Yotsuba, we don’t get as much with her bond with Fuutarou as they start to work with each other in the student council. The beloved prettyboy Takeda shows up, but it wasn’t quite the right time for him to enlist Fuutarou into the “Bros over Nakanos” support group. The manga made a larger deal of the sister that tackles Fuutarou by the bell tower, but with the lightning-fast pacing, I’d wager a guess that they figured it didn’t matter.
If there was anyone that benefited from Episode 09, it was Nino, who had the golden opportunity to bond together with Fuutarou as his co-worker at the bakery. With Fuutarou still processing her confession, she has the flexibility of trying to let him know that she wants to make amends for treating Fuutarou like less than garbage for most of the series. It’s the type of hustle that makes Nino a popular character, and it’s hard not to be smitten when she starts to get flirtier and more affectionate around him. She might’ve been his worst enemy at one point in time, but it’s admirable to see how she’d take on a “ride-or-die” approach towards trying to match Fuutarou’s interests on her terms.
But Nino’s main struggle is how cold and uncaring Fuutarou is about the girls’ emotions. Most of her efforts at the bakery are shrugging off as merely the prerequisites to doing hard work because what would a posh rich girl know about effort? He might not really owe her anything based off of the two times she tried to drug him, but it’s still painful to see how much Nino is dunked on while she’s trying her best at being more self-aware and prove herself to Fuutarou.
It’s also a character trait of his that would ultimately damn Miku to the wayside. She’s more than happy to let the other sisters race past her if it means she’ll eventually gain the right personality traits for Fuutarou to fall in love with her. But even if it’s a great way for her to better herself, she’ll have to give up one of her lofty goals of getting with Fuutarou if she’s gonna keep dragging her feet on giving him a confession as the very first girl who openly fell for him.
At the same time, there are worse ways to handle the anxiety of everyone else having a head-start at expressing their romantic feelings for Fuutarou. For example, Ichika letting Fuutarou’s comfort with her sisters bother her enough that she’d internalize the advice she received as the green light to sabotage the others.
The cynical side of me knew full-well that Ichika was forced into playing a villainous role so that she would have a reason to lose her chance at getting Fuutarou to like her. With Yotsuba claiming she was a bully in the past and Ichika getting high marks on her exam to ruin Miku’s confession challenge, the story ended up clinging to the idea of Ichika going from being in 2nd-to-3rd place to being the fandom’s punching bag. Yes, the wounds I had reopened back from when Ichika first slapped on the Miku wig and pretended to bow out to cheer on Fuutarou choosing Ichika have reopened. And yes, I am still salty about all of this.
At the same time, the Ichika drama is the closest the story gets to being as compelling and bleak as Negi would’ve hoped for a romantic comedy that subverts the expectations of a harem. It’s pretty rough to see how Fuutarou twists the knife whenever Ichika makes an earnest effort to be acknowledged by him. He barely recognizes the films she’s involved with, refuses any of the indirect ways Ichika tries to get to know him, and knowing that she’s actually getting famous from acting in higher profile films merely warranted a congratulations that she’s finally a good liar now.
The anime does a lot to heighten the pain for Ichika as she spends the latter half of the episode tormented by the thoughts in her head. Her inner monologue begs Fuutarou to stop hurting her by acknowledging how much her other sisters have grown compared to her. She replays the moments in her head where Nino and Miku express wanting to make the next move on Fuutarou without having to hide their feelings.
Even Ichika’s big heel-turn has added gravitas to it with how her eyes are drawn. Rather than a blank, shameless Yandere void, Ichika’s eyes in the anime give off the feeling of uncomfortable, soul-sucking horror as she realizes that she chose the path of actively sabotaging the girl she promised to support from the beginning.
It’s a turn of events that might’ve made me begrudgingly accept that she won’t end up being the bridge, but also end up making Go-Toubun no Hanayome a far more fascinating rom-com for the twists it’s willing to undergo. Ichika fighting the guilt of shifting towards sabotaging her sisters to gain any kind of recognition from Fuutarou has far more emotional stakes to it than the “will-they/won’t-they” shenanigans or easily explainable misunderstandings that your typical romance anime tackles.