But for how long? Well, that’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? After all, who knows what will happen after high school? Akira may very well have to marry the man that her parents pick out for her. So for now, Haruo should try and enjoy his time with the girl before reality hits them both square in the face. Maybe this is why these stories always take place during high school. Once we become adults, life becomes too pragmatic to dream about first loves.
— Wow, did Doi really win all those tokens? Do these characters all have hidden potential with regards to arcade games?
— Koharu’s trying to make conversation with Akira, but it’s like talking to a wall.
— I’m sure the girl likes people bringing up her mysterious aura all the time. This is probably why she gets along with Haruo the best. There’s the gaming thing, but also the fact that he doesn’t treat her like some sort of weirdo.
— Koharu challenges Akira to a match, but Miyao thinks it’s not such a good idea. A couple of adults are fighting in the background, and it looks like there’s no other adults around to break it up. Kinda silly.
— Doi’s trying his best, but no one’s impressed.
— Doi suggests that if he beats Akira at a basketball game, she should go to the movies with him. But of course, she’s good at everything. It’s kinda unbelievable. Being good at fighting games is one thing, but don’t tell me she’s been shooting hoops on the side as well.
— Ooh, Whisper of the Heart is in the theaters right now. It’s oddly one of my top Ghibli movies.
— Unfortunately, as soon as Koharu brings Haruo up, our silent princess immediately messes up. Boy, these two girls have got it bad for a woefully average kid who isn’t even the best at his one true passion.
— Miyao’s trying to get the girls to go home, because he doesn’t want them to get into a bit of a tiff over Haruo. I think he might be overreacting just a tad, though. I can’t really picture Akira and Koharu getting into an actual fight, y’know?
— I never really played Virtua Cop. It felt like one of those quarters-guzzling games, and I just didn’t have the money back then to play. I wonder if this led to me not caring all that much about the Sega Saturn. It just never felt like the console had any games that appealed to me. A flagship Sonic game never really came out for the Saturn, and as much as people seem to sing Nights into Dreams‘ praises, let’s be honest: it was decent, but it was not a console-selling game.
— Rather, I was still a huge Nintendo fan back then, and because I never had any fun at the arcade, it never mattered to me that games like Virtua Fighter or Virtua Cop were eventually ported to the Sega console.
— As a side, I fell in love with JRPGs and SRPGs at one point, so I eventually picked up a PSX for Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre.
— Nothing new here; Akira is super good at Virtua Cop and Koharu is impressed and maybe a bit intimidated. Still, she can sense that there’s something holding Akira back. There must be something, right? ‘Cause if Akira is truly this beautiful, popular, smart, and amazing, then why hasn’t she locked Haruo up yet? Our blonde girl has a chance, so she wants to know how Akira truly feels about the guy they both like.
— Again, any mention of Haruo instantly causes Akira to mess up. But Koharu continues to speak her mind. Essentially, she can tell that Haruo feels worthless for failing to get into Jouran High, and because of this, he doesn’t think he deserves to show his face around Akira. He didn’t deserve to be her rival back then, and right now, he doesn’t even feel as though he deserves to be her friend. He’s so scared of meeting her that he avoids the arcade, a place which had always been a source of happiness for the kid.
— But let’s talk about the fact that Haruo doesn’t think he deserves to be friends with Akira. Why give up when the girl hasn’t rejected you yet? I mean, doesn’t Akira get a choice? Well, when it comes right down to it, Haruo’s just scared. He’s scared of being rejected, so he takes that choice away from the girl. But ah, it’s not that simple, ’cause y’see, it’s not that Akira might reject him. Rather, it’s the fact that he’s a relative nobody. After all, she’s a rich girl who is likely destined to marry a rich guy just so her family’s zaibatsu can make even more money. That’s how things work over there, right? So how can a schlub like Haruo compete? Can you imagine the gossip if Akira marries a guy who works on a production line?
Look, I don’t have any disrespect for blue collar workers, but that’s just how society works. We all know how judgmental people can be, and there’s going to be hell to pay if an upper-class girl like Akira is seen getting serious with a lower to middle-class kid like Haruo. Let’s not forget the cultural stigma of being raised by a single mother. Even if Haruo achieves his dream of becoming a game developer, it probably wouldn’t be enough. I almost want to say this is especially true in Asian cultures where there’s a huge emphasis to marry a doctor, lawyer, or company executive. So when you look at a guy like Haruo, all you can say is that he can’t even study properly! This is the implicit bias that the kid has to work with. Not only will her parents likely reject him, society in general will reject him. Guys like him don’t usually get with girls like Akira. That’s not how the social calculus of our world works.
Things may have changed slightly in the past two decades, but the show is still set in the 1990s. Growing up, I remember it being drilled into my head that we have to be “deserving” of the girl of my dreams. We’re supposed to be the breadwinners in the relationship, so if our girls are already rich, we gotta be richer somehow. So when the going gets tough, the only winning move is to not play. If your salary or social status isn’t high enough, you just don’t get to participate in many areas of the game of life. But that’s why we have our modern distractions, right? Who needs a girlfriend when you can just play a visual novel and pretend that you have one? And if you really want something that feels a little more “real,” then just go to a hostess bar. In this day and age, it’s all about simulation and simulacra. Hell, you can even hire someone to pretend to be your kid’s father. How fucked up is that? But it’s not as fucked up as the fact that the real thing that we desire is often unavailable to us.
— When Koharu suggests that she should be with Haruo if Akira doesn’t have feelings for the guy, our silent princess suddenly gets very serious. Again, nothing new here. These two girls are rivals in love, and I suspect that after this meeting Koharu will train herself to be just as good as Akira in fighting games.
— It’s not that being the best at fighting games will win Haruo’s heart. Rather, this is just a way for the blonde girl to prove herself. She’s trying to show both Haruo and Akira just how serious she is about the guy. It’s like saying, “Look, it sucks that something is holding you back, but if it means you can’t be serious about your feelings for Haruo, then you should step back.”
— Of course, Akira will look all tough right now, but when she’s alone later, we’ll see how truly vulnerable she is. After all, it’s not really her fault that she can’t be as serious as she wants with Haruo.
— As soon as Akira gets back home, she is berated by her tutor for, y’know, being a kid. Imagine just taking this sort of verbal punishment day in and day out just because you don’t want to study all the goddamn time. It must be especially maddening, because adults are all hypocrites. “Do as I say, not as I do” is pretty much how our parents, guardians, and caregivers operate.
— It’s also kinda funny how certain individuals are obsessed with raising the perfect refined young lady, but any scientific literature will tell you that kids need to have fun.
— The sad truth is that people like Gouda are only hired to achieve a certain result, which, in this case, appears to be furthering the wealth and prestige of Akira’s family. The actual well-being of Akira herself is not really at the top of their list of concerns. They just convince themselves that they’re doing it for her sake. We are all heroes in our own stories.
— Akira’s chauffeur tries his best, but because he’s a chauffeur, people like Gouda would never take him seriously.
— The chauffeur suggests that they at least allow Akira to own a console, so he rattles off the Playstation, Saturn, and…. the Virtual Boy? Dude, do you want to give her headaches? ‘Cause you’re gonna give her headaches.
— Even to this day, some people think you’re an automatic loser if you play games. Oh well.
— See, I don’t really like taking a serious scene and injecting it with slapstick humor. It’s one of the few things I don’t like about this show.
— Akira is not even allowed to hang out with friends after school. How is she supposed to be well-adjusted later in life if you deprive her of social interactions?
— Gouda wants to mold Akira into the perfect upper-class woman, but it’s like she doesn’t even know what she’s doing. This is why kids rebel. This is why kids over-correct for their sheltered upbringing and go wild.
— During the harsh lecture, Akira reaches up and touches her necklace — the necklace that holds Haruo’s plastic ring. I’m surprised that the damn thing hasn’t been confiscated from her. “Rawr, no child of the Oono household would wear such cheap plastic trinkets!”
— Yeah, yeah, yeah, this is the will of Akira’s mother and father. It’s just one cycle of abuse after another. She gets bossed around as a kid, then she’ll grow up to become a woman who will boss around her kid. Some people escape that loop, but I see so many people who are more than content to treat their kids the same way they were treated when they were growing up. Look no further than the parents that are all too willing to spank their children. “Look, I got spanked, and I turned out just fine!” Great, I’m glad you’re willing to gamble with your own kids. All the scientific studies mean nothing!
— Elsewhere, Haruo is having a blast playing old video games in his room. If only he knew what Akira was going through.
— Wow, was the load time really that bad? This is why you go to the arcade and pay your hard-earned allowance to play. Ain’t nobody’s got time to sit here and wait for the game to load.
— I actually can’t remember the last game I played with the most insanely annoying load times. Maybe The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion if you jammed it full with mods? We’ve come a long way, I suppose.
— Honestly, I’ve never even seen a Neo Geo CD in person. It’s like the 3DO; these are consoles you only hear or read about in magazines. Nobody I knew owned either of those systems. After all, they were insanely expensive and niche. Most importantly, you need more than one good game to justify owning a console.
— This loading gag just keeps going and going and going. Holy shit, they’re really saving money on this episode.
— Meanwhile, poor Akira goes to bed in tears. Y’know, she’s probably used to Gouda and her stupid lectures. She has probably heard the same nonsense every week for the past ten years or whatever. But Koharu’s words about Haruo truly hurts. Hearing that the guy is avoiding her and feeling bad about himself… well, it’s not something she expected to encounter. It’s not something she can protect herself from.
— Tekken 7, huh? I dunno, I never got into it.
— After the commercial break, we see Haruo combing the neighborhood for Akira only to be disappointed that she’s nowhere to be found. It seems as though he’s gotten his groove back. All it took was playing a lot of games, huh? Weird.
— Funnily enough, he reveals that gaming on the Neo Geo CD has honed his patience.
— Unfortunately for the guy, Koharu has no intention of having a rematch anytime soon. She wants to gloat over him for a tiny bit more. Harsh. Where’s your competitive spirit, girl?
— Well, she also knows that once he beats her, he’ll be aiming for the top. We all know what that means: Akira.
— Goddamn, even this kid is saving his hard-earned money for a Virtual Boy. What a disaster. Imagining slaving away at the production line just to buy that piece of junk. Look, it’s not that the idea is bad, but the tech obviously couldn’t carry out Gunpei Yokoi’s grandiose vision. Hell, even ten years later, the tech wasn’t there. We still don’t really have it now. The most impressive full-fledged VR game so far is what? Resident Evil 7?
— Like before, Haruo thinks in terms of watershed moments in fighting games history. King of Fighters ’95 and Tekken 2 are about to come out! Where are you, Akira!
— Like Haruo, I also cry when I’m at work.
— He laments that things never seem to change. They get to know each other, then their relationship comes to a screeching halt when one of them inadvertently disappears. But this time, Haruo only has himself to blame. He deliberately avoided her, so this is his fault. He never should have given up, and I say that about everything. He should have kept being her friends, he should have kept going to the arcade, and he should have kept studying. Haruo gives up too easily.
— When Haruo returns home, there’s a surprise in store for him. Oddly enough, Akira’s chauffeur has dropped by, and he doesn’t have good news: Akira has run away from home. He proceeds to tell Haruo the absolute nightmare that the girl has been through. Curfew at 4pm? Locked up in her home every single day? Gouda will only push Akira away as she tries to tighten her grip. You don’t even need to be a child psychologist to realize this. For a woman who’s made it her career to raise “proper” children, she seems utterly clueless.
— I almost feel like we all know how this will go since next week’s episode will be the finale. Haruo will find Akira, because they share a connection. He’ll be the only one who would know where she is. In any case, these two will mend their relationship, but they won’t have made any significant progress. For now they’ll still just friends. And on a related note, Koharu will be more determined than ever to win Haruo’s affections.
— And after putting a scare in Gouda, Akira will find that her tutor will relent. Well, maybe just a tiny bit. Maybe the chauffeur will even convince the battle-axe of a woman to meet Haruo and understand why the kid is so important to Akira.
— Like with his studies, Haruo finds it a bit difficult to concentrate. He’s trying to think of where Akira might be, but all he can picture in his mind at the moment are fighting game locations. I wonder if he has sort of mild ADHD. It would explain a lot. In any case, Haruo feels a bit of self-doubt at first, that maybe he’s just a bother to Akira. But like the chauffeur says, he’s really her only friend.
— Haruo ends up going all the way to Kawasaki to look for Akira. He comes up with all these silly theories about where she might be, so the video game characters in his mind (i.e. his other alter egos) end up having to beat some sense into the kid. It’s obvious that Akira would try and make the most of her meager funds, i.e. fighting games.
— Still, he doesn’t find her immediately. It also doesn’t help that he’s easily distracted by all of the games in the area. Haruo constantly has to be beat himself up to stay on task.
— It’s kinda amazing how much trust Haruo’s mom has in him. Oh, your friend’s gone missing, and you’re just gonna wander around in the streets looking for her? Sure!
— Eventually, we cut to Akira on some insane winning streak in Darkstalkers. She looks bored until her next opponent locks in Bishamon. Well, we only know of one Bishamon player in this story, so in her mind, there’s a teensy-tiny chance that it might be Haruo on the other side.
— Still, Akira wins against the Bishamon player, so she sighs. Maybe she thinks that it can’t be Haruo. After all, she might be better at him at games in general, but he can still take matches from her from time to time… especially when she has a handicap.
— But much to her surprise, his voice calls out to her anyways. Aw, just look how her eyes light up.
— He doesn’t know it, but Akira now has issues facing Haruo too. After all, Koharu made it seem like it’s her fault that Haruo feels bad about himself. When we think we’ve hurt someone that we care about, this isn’t something that anyone would ever take lightly.
— But unlike everyone else, he doesn’t treat her with kids gloves. He likes her, but he doesn’t worship the ground that she was on. As a result, Haruo casually invites Akira to grab a bite to eat. She quickly gets up and follows him out of the arcade without any hesitation.