Isn’t Virtua Fighter 2 awesome?
— Haruo’s mom is quite a character.
— Damn, did we get yet another time skip? I don’t remember Haruo being this lanky. His hairstyle never changes, though.
— The kid’s mom wants to go watch a movie with him, but he feels too embarrassed to hang out with her. She then leaves for the living room in a huff. Yeah, my mom threw the same tantrum during those teenage years. For me, it was more that I just didn’t (and still don’t) have anything in common with my mother. Plus, they may say they want to be your friend, but parents can never truly detach themselves from parenting-mode. And by that, I mean the fact that they can transition seamlessly from casual conversation to “I’m going to spend the next 20 minutes lecturing you about your life choices” without breaking a sweat. Friends don’t do that. Or at the very least, they shouldn’t.
— 1994, huh? Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Super Metroid came out this year, didn’t it? But for obvious reasons, this anime can only show us a slice of the gaming world, so I doubt Haruo will mention either of those games. Instead, he’s looking for a Darkstalkers cabinet. I’ve honestly never played it. All I know about the game is, well, Morrigan. I guess the game had great animation for its time.
— Haruo once again encounters Akira at the arcades. She might have gotten taller, but she’s still wearing the same purple outfit. And as always, she has her studies to worry about.
— The girl still isn’t talking, but we do hear her screaming as she tries to break free from her chauffeur’s grasp. This is probably the most noise she’s made since that sad airport scene. On the other hand, the chauffeur apparently loves pachinko. I blame him and his ilk for Konami’s fall from grace.
— I never liked Virtua Fighter. I found it clunky to play and unpleasant to look at. Why stare at janky 3-D models when 2-D sprites were so beautiful?
— Just like old times.
— Oh yeah, this also sucked. You deal and take way too much damage in that game. I felt like rounds would last less than 10 seconds. That’s just not exciting. Tension doesn’t have enough time to mount.
— Haruo racks his brain trying to figure out how someone who has to study so much can still be so good at video games. I dunno, maybe Akira just takes gaming more seriously than Haruo does. Haruo loves games for sure. You can’t question his passion for it. Nevertheless, I feel like maybe the girl appreciates what little time she has to game, so she doesn’t take it for granted. Meanwhile, someone like Haruo can afford to goof around.
— Or maybe it’s just talent. I doubt it, though.
— When he manages to win by forcing Akira to ring out on round three, he’s actually shocked to see that she isn’t mad at him. Maybe she’s mellowed out over the years? Or maybe she’s just thankful that Haruo convinced her chauffeur to leave them alone. Well, who can really say when the girl won’t speak a single word.
— This is also a familiar scene.
— In another scene, Haruo is going on and on about the Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn. Growing up on the NES and SNES, I waited for the N64 when I probably should’ve gotten the Playstation right from the get-go. I mean, the N64 was fun, but you had to wait months between great games. That part sucked. Also, the game never got any decent JRPGs. God, I still remember the monstrosity that was Quest 64. I think the closest thing to a decent JRPG on the system was Ogre Battle 64, but that was more strategy than anything.
— Haruo is trying to make casual conversation like always, but Akira seems more withdrawn than usual. He doesn’t really know why, but he may have inadvertently answered his own question later that night: their time as middle schoolers is coming to an end. Soon they’ll be taking their assessment exams, and because she’s clearly way more studious than Haruo (whether or not she wants to be), Akira will likely end up at a different school. Maybe Akira’s afraid that she’ll have even less time for fun in high school.
— But like before, Haruo and Akira travel long distances just to play games. This time, they put forth all this effort just to play Darkstalkers.
— Did companies really release arcade games early with just single player? That seems lame.
— On her first attempt, Akira manages to beat the game on her first try with Victor. Good for her, I guess. Of course, Haruo is always impressed.
— Hell, she even excels at the sillier arcade games like this punching thing. The only thing she’s bad at is having a conversation.
— What a day: playing games for hours then enjoying a hot bowl of ramen. It sounds like the ideal date to me.
— Haruo starts off by saying how they won’t be able to hang out like this once they become high schoolers, but then he starts talking about future fighting games. That’s just how he gets his point across, I guess. I will miss you, because we could have had so much fun playing fighting games in the future! Samurai Shodown 2 is coming out! Virtua Fighter 2 as well!
— But y’know what he could do to try and bridge the gap between them? He could always try and get into her school. After all, this is such a common subplot in anime. It’s a cliche at this point. Remember when the two main characters in Just Because! spent all series studying just to get into each other’s school? In the end, the girl succeeded, but the guy failed. The silver lining here was that they ended up going to same school ’cause he couldn’t hack it. In Tsuki ga Kirei, however, the main character also tried to get into his girlfriend’s school only to fail. Still, their relationship persevered, and they ended up getting married in the end.
— Anyways, if Haruo suddenly tries to take his education seriously, that’s a good thing. But if recent anime series are anything to go by, he’ll probably fail to get into her school.
— At the end of the day, Haruo suddenly wants to know if Akira had fun with him. She gives that half-smile that is accompanied by her melancholy eyes. Basically, she had fun, but life is still the same. She’s still a caged bird.
— Still, it’s an interesting question from Haruo, because it marks an important stage in the development of his feelings towards the girl. This isn’t the first time that they’ve hung out on their free time. Plus, he knows that she has fun with him. She’s not an idiot; she wouldn’t waste her time with him if she didn’t have to. As a result, Haruo’s question isn’t really about Akira. It’s about him. It’s about how it’s suddenly important to him that she enjoys their time together. It’s about how much he actually cares now about her. To put it another way, when things are finally getting serious between you and your SO, you often ask them, “Do you love me?” You want their affirmation in return even though you already know deep down that they do love you. On the other hand, when you’re in the early stages of the relationship, no one asks that question. It’s too hot and heavy.
— After Akira disappears from view, Haruo tells himself that it’ll be up to him to keep her company even when they’re in high school. He’s probably right about Akira still having trouble making friends, but even so, what would he do done if things are different? It’s not like he would give up on her if she suddenly has new friends. So the kid forces himself to be honest and admit that he just wants to be with her. Haruo didn’t just spend all this time with her because he was a nice guy. He is a nice guy, but let’s face it: he spends time with her because he actually enjoys it. He was jealous of her, then he admired her, and now, he just plain likes her.
— Now that Haruo’s serious about Akira, he’s also going to be serious about studying. It’s enough to bring a poor mother to tears. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. After years of slacking off, it’s going to be very difficult for Haruo to develop good studying habits. Like a muscle, your brain needs to be whipped into shape. Not surprisingly, the kid has a hard time focusing tonight. He wants to study, but all he can think about are fighting game combos.
— Thanks to the Yakuza games, I got to try out old arcade classics like Space Harrier and Virtua Fighter 2. Sorry, but those games are not fun anymore.
— At school, Haruo tells both Koharu and Miyao that he’s going to apply to Jouran High, the same school that Akira is going to. Well, good luck with that. You can’t blame his friends for being skeptical of his chances.
— His own homeroom teacher calls this a reckless decision. I dunno, what’s reckless about it? He either gets in or he doesn’t, right? Isn’t that why you have a safety school?
— Everyone wants to know what’s triggered this sudden change in Haruo, and when he closes his eyes and thinks about it, all he can picture is Akira. But c’mon, he’s not going to admit that he’s in love. At his age, I wouldn’t have admitted it either.
— Amusingly enough, his own mom knows when Virtua Fighter 2 is coming out, and how it could potentially be a big distraction for him. I don’t think my mom knows a damn thing about video games.
— Miyao is such a bro that it doesn’t take him long to realize what Haruo’s up to. As a result, he throws his full support behind his best friend. Everyone needs a Miyao in their life.
— On the other hand, Koharu also wants to help Haruo study, but doing so would only help him get closer to her rival. Well, it’s not like she really has a chance of beating out Akira anyways. In these stories, people usually stick to their first love.
— Haruo is so behind in his studies that he’s gotta start with primary school material. Bruh…
— Things aren’t going so well. Haruo’s trying, but he can’t get the basics down. Like with everything else in life, there’s always going to be a struggle before you break through that proverbial wall. You can’t do a 5K run just because you suddenly want to. And likewise, Haruo’s going to find studying very frustrating until his brain rewires its synapses to give a damn about schoolwork. All you can do is just stick to it.
— Elsewhere, Akira’s skills seem to be slipping. I wonder if it’s because she hasn’t been able to spend as much time with Haruo lately.
— It’s now 1995. Look at all the cool games that Haruo will be missing out on. Honestly, the only one here that I really care about is Final Fantasy VI.
— On the day of the exam, his mom tells him that she’s so proud of his efforts that she would buy him a Sega Saturn no question. Go for the Sony Playstation, man.
— When Haruo leaves his house, he sees Akira’s chauffeur waiting for him. The old man heard about everything from Haruo’s mother, and even he wants to support the kid. Well, I suppose he’s not blind. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander; he knows Akira’s happiness is tied to Haruo.
— The chauffeur then reveals that Akira goes to the arcades just in hopes of seeing Haruo. But since he’s been studying so much, they haven’t been able to see each other. Well, that would explain her slump. I’m surprised he didn’t tell her first that he was going to be studying hard for the past few months. Maybe he was just too embarrassed to do so.
— During the awkward car ride, Haruo can’t quite summon the courage to tell Akira what he’s been up to, so instead, he breaks the ice by talking about (what else?) Virtua Fighter 2 and how the it’s so much better than the first game that it left him dizzy and bewildered. Even though he loves fighting games so much, he sometimes feels as though he can’t keep up. Well, Akira’s kinda like his Virtua Fighter 2. They had one thing in common, and while she was overseas, he thought he could just hone in on that one thing and become her rival. But when Akira returned to Japan, not only did she get even better at fighting games, she still manages to juggle all of her other responsibilities. She’s good at video games and she’s going somewhere in life. Haruo just has games and he still couldn’t keep up.
— Still, what’s important is that Haruo still wants to. He wants to be there with her now that there isn’t an ocean between them. When she went overseas, they missed out on so many fighting game milestones. Now that she’s back, he doesn’t want to waste this opportunity. Essentially, the ball is in his court. They can still share major milestones in the future, but in order to do so, he’ll have to try and keep up with her. What’s more important to Haruo than video games? Akira, apparently. After all, he sacrificed his games just to try and be with her.
— Just look at the girl blush. This is basically a love confession. It’s not direct, but since when has romance ever been direct in this culture? That’s why they rather ask, “Isn’t the moon beautiful?” For Haruo, it’s more like, “Isn’t Virtua Fighter 2 awesome?”
— When he finally tells her that he’s applying to the same school, Akira grimaces. It’s just like the chauffeur says: when she’s with Haruo, she can forget about her terrible home life. The last thing she wants is for Haruo to have to deal with the same crap just to be with her. Obviously, he doesn’t have it has hard as her, but even so, she can empathize. But what can she do? Tell him to stop what he’s doing? After all the hard work he’s put in? Nah. All she can do is hold his hand in support.
— During the test, Haruo tells himself that he’ll tell Akira his true feelings if he passes. I mean, he kinda already did. The girl can read between the lines. Nevertheless, the fact that he feels this way is probably a good indicator that he won’t pass. The story probably wants to string us along even further.
— Plus, we still have that love triangle to deal with. What’s the point of Koharu being in love with Haruo if he’s going to just confess to Akira? If that happens, she’s already lost.
— Welp, Haruo’s number is nowhere to be found. You just can’t just flip the switch with studying. Some people are geniuses, but they are outliers. For Average Joes like you and me, we have to put in the years of hard work. Still, Haruo tried and that counts for something. And as long as he keeps this up, they could always go to the same university.
I love this show, but this was the first episode that actually felt kind of unrealistic, melodramatic, and cliche. As you note, anime is full of couples trying to get into the same school, and while by itself that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be a satisfying plot line – after all, rushing to the airport to say goodbye is cliche, too, but it was pulled off brilliantly in High Score Girl – in this case, it just seemed kind of rushed and shoehorned in. Would someone like Haruo actually focus on studying over gaming out of the blue like that? Maybe if they had spent more time showing him slowly becoming more studious I could have accepted it better. This show is always nostalgic, warm, and melancholy, but this was the first time it just felt kind of forced and predictable.
At least it wasn’t saved for the final episode.