Koisenu Futari: Is this the Perfect AroAce Rep!?

We did it. We found the PERFECT AroAce rep! If you’re looking for fully grown, live-action adult, queer-platonic found family goodness with a couple who experience no romantic or sexual feelings, then look no further than J-drama Koisenu Futari.


Courtney: Hello, everyone, and welcome back to The Ace Couple podcast. My name is Courtney, I am here with my spouse, Royce, together we are The Ace Couple. We are, in fact, a married asexual couple of over eight years at this point. And when we first started this podcast of ours, we sort of threw it out to the Ace community and we said, “What would you like to hear an asexual couple talk about on microphone?” And we got a lot of great requests, some of which we’ve already covered, some of which is yet to come. But by far and away the most common response was, “We want to hear about asexual representation in the media.” So if you’ve been following along with us for over this last year, you know we’ve done a lot of episodes covering ace media, some very good, some very bad, some just… lukewarm. But I’m happy to say that we can all pack our bags and go home because we did it. We found the perfect aroace rep. We’re done. We don’t need any more, we’re good. We– success! [laughs] I jest, obviously we could always use more representation, but we are coming off of the high that is watching Koisenu Futari, which is a J-drama about two aromantic asexual people, and it’s brilliant. It might actually be the perfect aroace rep.

Royce: So before we get into it, obviously spoilers, if you are wanting to go watch it for yourself. This is a Japanese Drama Series. It is not broadcast or licensed by any major western streaming service-things.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: You’ll have to do a little bit of googling, but it’s not hard to find.

Courtney: You can’t exactly netflix this, you will need to find a way to watch it with subtitles. If you do not know Japanese.

Royce: Many, many streaming sites exist that will have it, it will just take some googling. And I would recommend an ad-blocker and use a VPN.

Courtney: [laughs] If you’re a big anime fan, or a fan of Asian media in general, you probably know what we’re talking about. But this is really, really good stuff. So we’re going to break it all down for you. Major spoilers, because we’re too excited to not just talk about everything. It’s a TV series. It was eight episodes and it seems to be a full all-encompassing story across those eight episodes. Like, I don’t anticipate a season two or anything. This was, like, a very satisfying story beginning to end.

Royce: I didn’t see any reason for there to be more than the eight episodes they made.

Courtney: So right off the bat the name Koisenu Futari means something along the lines of “Two people who can’t fall in love.” So nothing about this is subtle. Nothing about this relies on coding, which I love. We have had many a gripe with past instances of representation that sort of tiptoed around the language, or just gave us a brief little scene. But this is like, this is the plot. These are the people. And I also love that we have a man and a woman as our two lead characters, and they’re not teenagers or young adults. I love all the teenage and young adult rep for all of you out there who need that, and want that and like to see that in your life, But I like seeing older adults. And we have an instance here where I believe the leading man, he– Takahashi, he was 40, was– Am I remembering that right?

Royce: I don’t remember a specific age. I know that our two main characters are mentioned to be 12 years apart and the younger of them has a younger sibling with a second child on the way.

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: So she’s definitely, I would believe, late 20s, early 30s, with Takahashi being in his 40s.

Courtney: Yeah, I definitely– I remember 40. So, I don’t know if it was like 40 on the dot, or in his 40s. And when– when we watched it with our subtitles, it was a good enough translation that we– we knew what was going on nearly all of the time, and most of it was translated very well and very clearly. But one thing which was actually kind of a treat once we realized what was going on, because it accidentally made it like way more queer… [laughs]

Royce: Oh yeah, yeah. The pronouns were just all over the place.

Courtney: All over the place.

Royce: We– After seeing an episode or two and figuring out what was going on, it appeared to be subtitled by an, I believe, Indonesian subtitling group…?

Courtney: That’s right, yes.

Royce: And that language doesn’t have gender pronouns.

Courtney: So, it was really interesting because like, for the first episode there is a moment we were like, “Wait a minute, is one of the characters trans, and someone is like misgendering them?” Because they’re– they’re setting them up like a conservative kind of a family who doesn’t really get them and we’re like, “Oh, this is also a trans character.” But then we realized as we continued watching that, like, anytime you’d say he or she, anytime you’d say like brother or sister,

Royce: Or boyfriend/girlfriend.

Courtney: Boyfriend/girlfriend. It’s, like, “Flip a coin. It’s just gonna be random and all over the place.” So once– once we realized that, that was just lost in translation, then it’s like, “Oh, okay, got it.” But for a moment, it’s like, “Everyone is gender-fluid, everyone’s– everyone’s genders and pronouns are changing all the time, brilliant.” [laughs]

Courtney: So, our very first episode opens with three people at a grocery store and they are looking at, like, a big advertisement, kind of a stand. And it’s just like a prepackaged stew. It’s called nikujaga, but the signs were all translated as, like, “The nikujaga of love.” [laughs] And it was like, “Oh, the love fair.” And, “For at home dates.” And so it was all very much like, “Uh, romance, the romance food.” And we learned that these three employees are all sort of from, I guess corporate. They are from the corporate office of this grocery store and they were in charge of this advertising campaign. And the youngest of the three employees turns to the only woman of the group and is thanking her profusely, saying, “Thank you for helping research this, and putting in extra hours and helping me get this finished.” But then the eldest man of the group gives the kind of, I mean, most of you listening to this podcast probably know the old wink-wink-nudge-nudge, like, “Oh! You two seem really close!”

Courtney: And the woman just oblivious to this is like, “Of course we’re close, he’s like my younger brother.” And that’s when he kind of confesses, “I don’t want to be like your younger brother.” And she’s like, “What does that mean?” He’s like, “I said what I said,” basically. And so then the– the younger man and the older man are sort of just, like, going off talking about, like, “Oh, after all, there’s no one who can’t fall in love, right?” Well, the woman of this group just sort of starts zoning off and making a really kind of uncomfortable face. And this older guy of the group– I didn’t make a note of his name because he only kind of pops up a couple of times, he wasn’t a main character but he’s definitely like the boss, a supervisor of sorts. He even just, and I’m sure this is an HR violation, he started encouraging her like, “Oh, isn’t it time for you to think about love?” And, and so he says, “Love is what makes us mature, and falling in love can help in many aspects of our life.” And he even said just this incredibly condescending thing to her at one point, he’s like, “Oh, listen to the adults.” And she’s like, “I am an adult.”

Courtney: So that is very much how our society is built. We think of things like romance and sex as being not only key milestones in one’s life, but mandatory milestones in one’s life. And there can be a certain amount of infantilization that happens to people who haven’t started dating by a certain age, who haven’t had sex by a certain age, who– I mean once you are getting into at least your late 20s, in– in this woman’s case, by the time you aren’t in a committed relationship, by the time you aren’t married, don’t have kids, there are definitely people who are going to take notice and think that that’s odd. Like, “It’s about that time.” Like, “Hurry up, we should all be on the same schedule.” And that’s very much– We’ve talked about concepts like amatonormativity, where our society believes that this is a core building block of all interpersonal relationships, and compulsory sexuality, where we all believe that not only does everyone have sex but they should all have sex. Sometimes that comes with very, very strict confines, like, “Must be within the confines of marriage.” Depending on your time and place and culture. But one way or another, it is very often seen as necessary. And I think this scene did such a good job of demonstrating that without needing to over-explain it.

Courtney: And I think the entirety of this show did that very, very well. Because, when we break out the terms, like, amatonormativity and compulsory sexuality, there is a very much– like an academic theory about it, and an academic air to it. Which is something that I eat up, I am– I am all for that. Not everyone is quite as theory-minded as I am in that sense, and not everyone enjoys engaging in the academic/sociology nature of that. So whether or not you’re talking about these in these terms, and whether or not you’re saying, “We need to break down amatonormativity and rebel against it,” you have still felt the effects of these concepts. Especially if you have an experience that runs counter to what is expected. And this show, I think, throughout the eight episodes hit just about every note, that I’m sure all aroaces– and most just either aromantic and/or asexual, a lot of these have overlap in the way society will perceive you if you’re not doing the, quote, “right thing.” I think it’s very, very relatable.

Courtney: So while they’re off talking about, “Oh, there isn’t anyone who can’t fall in love.” And, “Love is what makes you mature.” And– and they’re going off about this, they end up knocking over a cabbage stand.

Royce: Well, it was a single cabbage, right? This wasn’t like a scene out of Avatar.

Courtney: [laughs] “My cabbages!!” One of them, like bumps, like one of them shoved the other and he, like, fell into a cabbage stand, but one of the cabbages, like, went flying off onto the floor. Yes. [laughs] So, the entire cabbage stand was not destroyed. But enter our cabbage man! Takahashi. And I thought this was also just brilliant, because– what is the word for this trope? There is a trope in romance media where two people go to pick up the same thing at the same time, and then they brush hands, and then they make eye contact. So, they do that trope, but they subvert it beautifully. Because the cabbage goes flying and the woman in our scene goes to pick up the cabbage, but also so does an employee at the grocery store who is working in the produce section, also goes to pick it up at the same time. And their hands touch, but he immediately pulls back, very quickly, and– and drops the cabbage again. So, it wasn’t like, “Oh… our fingers touched and now we’re making eye contact.” It was like, “Oh, don’t touch me.”

Courtney: But then they do look at each other and they start talking. She introduces herself, her name is Sakuko. She calls him by the name on his name tag, which is Takahashi. And then just the insufferable men that she works with see all of this happening. And I’m sure under their very romance-focused purview they saw this trope play out, they didn’t see the subversion of it where he immediately pulled away, they’re probably like “Ah! It’s a love story. This is how love stories start.” And they comment on it, they say, like, “Oh, look at you falling in love right in front of the love nikujaga.” Like, “A-ha! See, this– this stew is special. This is the romance stew. You don’t even need to buy and eat this stew. You just need to be in the very presence of– of the love soup.” [laughs]

Courtney: So they start ribbing them, but then Sakuko says, “No, we’re not falling in love. I’m just a fan of the way he arranges vegetables.” But then Takahashi looks at her very pointedly and says, “And moreover, I believe they exist, people who can’t fall in love.” Ah! Roll credits, beautiful opening, I love it. But then more HR violations ensue.

Royce: There are a lot of those.

Courtney: There are a lot of those. But you know, I have kind of been there, done that. The one and only time I worked at a very, like, corporate office setting, it was very, very like, bro-y kind of culture and there were a lot of inappropriate sexual and/or romantic comments. So not altogether unlikely, just exceedingly unfortunate. So this– this younger fellow is like, “But senpai, that guy at the grocery store you just called him by his name, haven’t you considered my feelings? You shouldn’t just be getting so familiar and so comfortable with just any random stranger.” And she’s like, “What are you talking about?” She’s like– and he’s like, “Senpai, I don’t want to be like your younger brother. I’m in love with you.” And they were– they were using the senpai/kouhai language. So he was like, “Senpai, I don’t want to be your kouhai.” And he, like, outright grabbed her hand while they’re in the office, they are back at the office at this point and he’s like, “You must know how I feel. We’re so good together. And besides, you like it, right?” And she’s clearly flabbergasted. She’s like, “Ah… I’m sorry…?” And he, like, storms out. Never to be seen again. Did we just never see him again?

Royce: I think he was only in episode 1. I think he transferred departments.

Courtney: Yes, we did hear that, because the older boss comes back at one point and is like, “Do you know why you just decided to transfer department so abruptly?” So, dude who was assigning romantic feelings where there were none in a very inappropriate situation, can’t handle being told that he misread things and absolutely throws a fit about it. Relatable! Courtney has also been there, done that. I feel like– Okay, so I have to ask you, Royce, because basically everything that was shown in here was a bit of an over-dramatization but also not really. Because nearly all of the things that happen in here has happened to me in some way or another. I’ve had people who have, like, misread situations, once they’ve been rejected have, like, just vanished – poof – out of nowhere, like, “Will not talk to you again.” There was a bit of a, like, creepy kind of stalking situation that also happened, someone who also couldn’t handle being rejected but took it the opposite way, and was like, “I’m gonna trample over all of your boundaries.” That has also happened to me. Has anyone ever fallen so hopelessly in love with you that you rejected them and they couldn’t bear that?

Royce: No, not really that I can think of. But there’s also just, I mean, our culture for one thing puts a lot more– a much heavier expectation on men to be the more aggressive ones in trying to form relationships. That’s a big part of it. Like, I feel like women get that a lot more. Also, I remember a friend of mine in high school, who you’ve met before, just be like, “A lot of people around school just think you’re intimidating and don’t, like, go up and talk to you.”

Courtney: [laughs]

Royce: And we were both like, “Huh? That’s weird. I don’t know why.”

Courtney: [laughs] Are you talking about the friend who’s, like, huge?

Royce: Physically?

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: Like, 6’5? Yeah.

Courtney: And you’re the intimidating one!? [laughs]

Royce: Apparently.

Courtney: You didn’t even have long hair back then. [laughs] Okay, fascinating. But yeah, maybe– so maybe it is also the expectation that, you know, [mockingly] men are to be the pursuers. But there’s also, especially in like romantic comedies and other romance media– It’s gotten marginally better over the years, but I think about like growing up in the 90s and you think about, like, all of the media and how it portrayed romance, like– If you go back and watch 90% of that now you’re like, “This is toxic as hell. This is– this is abusive. This is manipulative. Why– why did we idolize this?” So I do think there were a lot of people who did grow up to see these tropes as like, “Oh well, if you get rejected you just have to prove your love. Pursue them harder. Do the big rom-com, like third-act romantic gesture, and you’ll win the girls.” So, unfortunately, too many people have taken that to heart and try to apply that to real life. Can confirm.

Courtney: So later on, we see Sakuko relaying this story to a friend of hers who has been a friend since high school, and she’s just lamenting. She’s like, “Is this my fault?” Like, “Is it my fault he behaved this way?” And her friend, for the most part, is quite supportive. She’s like “No, no, he’s the one who misunderstood the situation.” And she says, “And besides, there are people who will just link everything to love.” And poor Sakuko’s like, “I don’t want to be linked. I just want to focus on work. I don’t want to be linked to love.” And said friend gives us this beautiful flashback. She’s like, “You’ve kind of always been this way. Like, you’ve– you always sucked at romance, you’ve always been out of luck when it comes to love. Because, remember back in high school, when we all went to the cake buffet and all the love chatter started…” And you see this flashback and you hear this, like, gossip, like, “Oh, can you believe that they’re dating?” And just very, like, scandalous teenage girl talk. [laughs] And she says, “You didn’t join the conversation at all and you just ate five plates of cakes until your stomach hurt.” [sighs] Relatable. And again with the cakes.

Courtney: I always appreciate when there’s just a little bit of an insertion into, like, the cake metaphor because many in the Ace community will recognize that as a long-standing symbol of Ace Pride. And we don’t need our media to be like, “Oh, aces love cakes.” But when they put in those sly little easter eggs, it’s like, “I see you... I see you.” And so we do have this– a bit of this self-exploration component with Sakuko, because she is repeatedly blaming herself or she’s questioning herself. And even to her friend here, she’s saying, “Maybe the problem is me, like, everyone else seems to be into this, so maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m the issue.” And her friend says, “You know what?” We learned that she has recently broken up with her boyfriend, and she says, “I think I’ve had enough about thinking of love, it’s up to me whether or not I feel love even.” And Sakuko’s like, “O-M-G. You’re the best.” Like, “You are– you are so strong. You’re so cool.” And the friend’s like, “Well, you know, since I broke up with my boyfriend, I’m gonna be needing a new roommate.” And Sakuko jumps on this chance. She’s like, “Yes! Let’s move in together!” At this point, she is still living with her parents.

Royce: And has been getting a lot of overt comments about that, particularly from her younger sister.

Courtney: Yeah. Younger sister, also mom. Younger sister, who, as you mentioned earlier, is pregnant with her second child right now. Does this whole, like, “Oh, are you sure you want to move in with your friend? Because, you know, they say that if you leave your parents house and need to come back, then you’ll never get married.” But also says, like, “Oh well, maybe your friend could introduce you to somebody, so maybe– maybe that could be a good thing.” So, sister’s very marriage-focused in most of what she said. Mother is very much like, “You need to give me a grandson as soon as possible.” So very– uh… that’s, that’s a thing parents do pretty often.

Courtney: And her friend, at one point, even says, like, “I thought you would never leave your parents house.” And Sakuko says, “Well, I actually like living at home, but every time my sister comes to visit all of these comments come out.” And she’s really disheartened and talks about how when that happens, and when people make these comments, she feels like she doesn’t actually have a place at home anymore.

Courtney: She doesn’t feel like she fits into her family any longer, which is a really, really depressing feeling. But I think a lot of us have been there at one point or another. And that sort of also the, like, societal preconception of maturity very often, once you’re at a certain age, like, you should not be living with your parents anymore. And sure, living with your family, living with your parents, your blood family, isn’t for everybody because not everybody has very loving and supportive families. Not everyone has a family structure that can support that, but I do find it unfortunate how looked down upon it can be for family units where that does work, and people are happy with that. Because family’s held up to be such a big important concept, like, “Family is everything.” And it’s like, once you get to a certain age, it’s like you almost get kicked out of your family, like, “Go make your own!” And that’s not going to work for everybody. So she says, “You know, I like it but it doesn’t feel like they want me here anymore.” But she also says that she doesn’t want to live alone, which is a sometimes contentious subject in aroace conversations online; because there are definitely some aroaces who are very content to live alone, love living alone. Do not want a partner or a roommate. Does not want to live with family or friends, and that’s great. Living alone can be great. I really enjoyed living alone for a while when I did. I also really enjoy living with my spouse. I don’t think I would enjoy living with roommates. That is one thing that I have always had a feeling where it’s like, I don’t think I could do it. I do not think I could do it.

Courtney: So, living situations are very personal, person to person. But even if you are aroace, even if you do not want a romantic and/or sexual partner, some people still feel lonely living alone and they want other people around them. And I’ve unfortunately seen this odd thing start to happen where people will almost get looked down upon for talking about being lonely and being aroace. And I don’t like that, because that is very much a big issue. And saying, you know, “I am lonely, I do want a partner,” or, “I do want a close-knit group of friends, or a queerplatonic partnership, or a found family of some sort that I can live with and share my life with,” I don’t think that is reinforcing amatonormativity. Which is a real argument I’ve heard people make. I don’t think that is setting us back on our journey to abolish compulsory sexuality and amatonormativity, and to change societal preconceptions. Because it’s all personal, all of it is personal.

Courtney: And when we talk about things from a sexual side of the, like, a very sex positive queer sort of reading of society, we talk about how it’s okay to be polyamorous… It’s okay to be in an open sexual relationship... There are all these different ways to be. And yet I don’t feel like aroaces have often been given the same level of freedom in the way they approach their lives and relationships. Because it’s still such an odd thing for someone to want to be single and alone, and aspire to have that, that that’s kind of become almost like the standard in the discourse. Like, “Look I don’t need anybody else. I am enough. I am happy with this lifestyle.” And that is true and that is great for those people. But we need to stop looking down on people who say, “Look, I’m aroace and sometimes this is a lonely life. I want to have relationships where people prioritize me.” Because as a result of the broader societal amatonormativity, chances are a lot of your friends, and a lot of your family, are going to have monogamous romantic relationships and chances are they are going to prioritize those over the platonic relationships. Not always, but very often because our society encourages that and that is how we are brought up. That is how we’re told to see things and how to structure our lives.

Courtney: So the people who don’t fit into that, don’t always find their found family of people who will prioritize each other, despite not having those preconceived societal notions of what their relationship should look like. And yeah, that can be really hecking lonely! And that– we need to have space to have that conversation. We need to let people feel the way they feel, and not look down on them for that. Because just like there’s a lot of ways to be asexual, there are a lot of ways to be aromantic.

Courtney: And I think, I think for those of you who have had an anxiety about maybe not being able to find someone like this, or find a group of people like this, where you can have that sort of deeply meaningful relationship without romance and without sex, this show could potentially be very cathartic. It could be very aspirational.

Courtney: So, these two women in the show, who have been friends for a very long time, decide that they’re going to get their own place. And they’re going to live together and they’re going to make the perfect life without anything distracting, like love or romance. And they keep saying, “It’ll be our own castle.” So they’re – dare I say romanticizing – the concept of having their own place, that is just for the two of them.

Courtney: And some of the brochures they’re looking through for apartments, even say things like, “Dream life for two people.” And of course, she’s looking at these brochures in the break room at work and so someone catches it and is like, “Oh, since when do you have a boyfriend?” She’s like, “I don’t have a boyfriend.” And when co-workers learn, well, she’s moving in with a friend of hers from high school, they make these comments like, “Oh, well don’t be getting too excited about buying furniture or anything, because you know this has a deadline, the deadline is until one of you gets a boyfriend.” And at that point I just want to say, like, “How dare you?” Like, these two women are going to go live their loveless fantasy. They’ve been good friends for so long that they’re going to just get their own place and enjoy their lives.

Courtney: They’re not old enough to be living, like, The Golden Girls fantasy, but that’s kind of how I equated, like, they’re going to live their Golden Girls fantasy. They’re going to grow old, maybe they’ll date occasionally, or maybe one of the two will date occasionally, but they’re always going to come back home to their real family. Which is their best friend! I was very much rooting for that. And poor Sakuko was also rooting for that, they were getting all excited. And she bought a lamp, a very pretty decorative lamp. And she’s like, “Oh, I got a lamp for our new apartment.”

Courtney: And that was unfortunately a very short-lived fantasy, because– Her friend’s name is Chizuru, I don’t think I said that yet. She asks to meet and looks absolutely distraught and just apologizes right off the bat. And she ends up saying that she is back with her ex, who asked him to move in with her. And Sakuko’s really surprised and taken off guard by this at first is like, “Oh, I’m supposed to congratulate you, right?” And then she realizes, “Oh, that’s– that’s not very supportive of me.” So she puts on like a chipper face and she’s like, “Oh, I’m sorry, that came out wrong, I didn’t convey that properly.” But then the friend lashes out, and I thought this was very, very weird at the time. We’ll put a pin on that because we learn more about this later. But the friend, even though she’s, like, trying to perk up and she’s like, “Oh, I– I didn’t mean it that way. I’m actually very happy for you.” The friend just, like, yells at her and says, “I said I’m sorry but it can’t be helped! Because I’m an ordinary human.” And– oof… And she says, “I hope that one day you will find your soulmate.” Ow… ouch, the worst. Just the worst.

Courtney: So what do you do if you are an aroace person who hasn’t necessarily found that vocabulary yet, but you don’t really understand why you seem to experience things and relationships and feeling so much differently than everyone else around you? You turn to Google. And she googles, “What is a soulmate?” And of course, a lot of the initial responses are very unhelpful. They’re like dating sites that are like, “Find your soulmate,” and they’re, like, fortune-telling sites that are, like, “Learn who your soulmate will be.” So then she tries again, and she googles like, “Can’t fall in love, don’t understand, weird.” And again, with another dating app responds, but then you’ll see things like, “Oh, women are in danger if they don’t fall in love.” And, “Three steps to find your soulmate. Change your love-deprived life with these steps.” So a lot less “It is okay if you feel this way,” and more like–

Royce: “Here’s how to fix it.”

Courtney: “Here’s how to fix it.” Very self-helpy-guru-y bullshit. But then as we were reading through all these translations of these hits that came up, one of them also just really, really resonated, because I feel like we see articles like this come out like every few months for years. And it’s like, “The reason why today’s young people don’t fall in love!” And it’s like, yeah there are some statistics where people are waiting longer to get married, but this very alarmist headline that comes out all the time like, “Oh, the young people! They’re not doing the way things we used to do it!”

Royce: “They’re not doing the way things!”

Courtney: “They’re not–” Is that what I said? [laughs] Oops. See, I can’t, I can’t with these articles. They just scramble my brain and thereby also my words. But then while scrolling she sees a line that’s talking about, “Oh, even though there is information regarding aroace.” So in fact, I actually wanted to look this up because some of the translations for the text on the screen seemed a little bit clunky, and I wondered if there was a better translation out there. So I kind of just googled the name of this blog that she stumbled on which was basically AroDiary of Haneiro Cabbage, was the name of the author. And it might also be worth pointing out, anytime they said aro, or aroace, it was very much a borrowed English word. So we would hear like ah-ro for aro. Actually, more often than not I think it was ah-ro-mah-n. So instead of shorted– shortened to just aro, was like aroman for aromantic. And then ah-sseh for ace.

Courtney: Which I do find very interesting, because there are some Asian languages that do have their own words for concepts like asexuality and aromanticism. Some of the accounts we follow on Twitter have done a great job of spreading posts about vocabulary from different languages. The Indian Aces account especially I’ve seen a lot of that coming from, and that’s always very interesting. But some languages don’t necessarily have their own words, they use borrowed words, or they might have their own words but the borrowed words end up getting more popular and widespread usage. So on this aroace blog, I found a really good translation on a Tumblr page actually by musicdramalove, which reads, “What I think about love. Regardless of your knowledge about aroaces, it’s weird to say that to not fall in love is weird. They say, ‘if you’re not married at that age, people will think there’s some problem.’ That thought process is the most problematic. The cabbage rolls I made yesterday were excellent. So that’s good.”

Courtney: I like this hybrid like food/aroace ranting blog because that’s just very internet. And usually, if I’m trying to find, like, a recipe or a food blog or something, normally I don’t care at all about the life story. Because more often than not, if you’re just googling a recipe for something, at least where we’re at, you’ll see, like, a very basic, probably christian, stay-at-home mom, like, white woman with a food blog are the top results usually. So the life story is normally very not interesting. Like, “I made this and all five of my kids liked it.” Okay… But I– I would read a food blog if it was just like, “Here are cabbage rolls. And also down with amatonormativity.” [laughs]

Courtney: But some more of these quotes, [reading] “You won’t meet anyone if you just keep waiting,” in quotes, is what they say, “But I’m not waiting for anyone. I’m rather avoiding.” [laughs] “Someone at work suggested me to go on a blind date. When I turned them down, they said, ‘That’s a shame, you’re not in a position to be choosy.’ I can tell right away that they’re looking down on people by that comment. Why do people make so much fun out of those who don’t fall in love?” And I do remember the moment, because as she’s reading this you can sort of see the gears turning in her head. She’s like, “I’ve never seen someone else say these things that I’ve also thought!” Which I think it’s a pretty relatable moment for a lot of aroaces out there.

Courtney: I think that comment really struck her because there is a moment where she’s like, “Oh, I see there are people who are making fun of people like me and that was kind of disappointing.” Because she’s heard the general comments that don’t feel right, and that’s been uncomfortable, and awkward, and has made her feel bad. But at this point I don’t think she’s been, like, explicitly made fun of. So also seeing that, like, “If people know that I’m this way, I could get made fun of for that,” is also just an upsetting revelation. Which is also not something we talk about a lot, because normally it’s very healing to find other people who feel the same way you do. And very often people are like, “Oh, I’m so happy I found this word. I’m so happy I found this online community.” But sometimes finding the community can also add an additional layer of trauma as well, because everyone has different experiences, and sometimes learning about some of the discrimination that other people have faced – even if you haven’t necessarily felt it yet – that can be really disconcerting. So it’s not all sunshine and roses all the time, when you find other people like you because you can also find some really unfortunate revelations that way sometimes.

Courtney: But it ends with, “People say, ‘You like being alone, don’t you?’ This troubles me because that’s not true.” Which– Actually, now that I got to the bottom of this, I found this on Tumblr but they are crediting the English translation by a Twitter account @KaizenSubs. So we’ll link all appropriate links in the show notes as per usual. And like, somehow she didn’t connect who this blog was by, I thought the whole cabbage thing was pretty obvious. [laughs] Pretty obvious.

Royce: Well, we have special viewer perspective. This person doesn’t know that they are the protagonist in a J-drama.

Courtney: [laughs] It’s true, they don’t know they’re in a J-drama, but we do. But she, like, of course subscribes to the blog. To the point where she’s getting notifications on her phone every time there’s a new post and she is reading very intently. But then, at a later time, she goes back to the grocery store where she’s waiting for her supervisor. The older man who is doing them the whole wink-wink nudge-nudge bit. And while she’s waiting there, she runs into Takahashi again and says hello, they have a short little conversation. And she points out a stain on his shirt and he talks about, like, “Oh, it’s curry. The curry attacked.” And he goes back to work. She goes back to waiting, and then she gets a notification from the blog. And the blog is talking about the curry he made. And none of the blog posts show his face. Like, he’s very comfortable in his aroace identity and he’s thinking about it a lot, he’s writing about it a lot, but he’s not, like, very publicly out.

Courtney: So none of the pictures he shows has his face or his real name, but he does post a picture of just like the stain on his shirt, without his face being in the picture. So, when she gets that notification, she flips out! She’s like, “It’s you! You’re the aroace cabbage! You’re the one!” And so she’s, like, holding up her phone and she is just– He is so uncomfortable, the looks on his face by the way– like the actor who played Takahashi I thought was brilliant. Like, his facial expressions, his delivery of lines, I thought it was beautiful. I love this character so much. But after she freaks out and is like, “This is you isn’t it? You– you’re writing these!” Then he freaks out a little bit and he’s just like, “Don’t talk to me.” And tries to leave. And she’s like, “But, no. No, you don’t understand. I think I might be aroace.” And he, like, cuts her off and he’s like, “You can’t say that out loud. Stop it.” [laughs] And so, he agrees to meet and talk with her after work as long as she stops talking right now. [laughs]

Courtney: And so they have a conversation. He actually ends up taking her back to his house. And she’s just talking about how she feels, and how she felt when she saw his blog and started reading this. She said, at one point, “I guess I’m not complete as a human,” which whether it be romantic or sexual attraction, both of those have definitely been used to dehumanize people in the A-spectrum. Because people do think that this is just part of being human. Experiencing these attractions is just human. So that hits pretty hard to people who can relate to that. And– and he shares a little bit of himself with her. He says, he– he actually lost his grandmother recently. His grandmother had raised him, his grandmother left him this house, which is very old-timey Japanese style by the way, several of the characters comment on that and he mentioned that, yeah, since his grandmother died, he does feel very lost and lonely at times.

Courtney: And so she very, very abruptly stands up and asks him, “Will you be my family?” Like, she just had this revelation. She’s like, “Well, you can be my family. We can be family together without the romance, and without the sex.” And he is so taken off guard by that that he just, like, long pause, stares at her and just says, “Are you making fun of me?” [laughs] And that’s where the first episode ends, I love it. And the thing is– So this first episode was really, really dense, and a lot of it was serving as a self exploration for one character, but it was also kind of serving as education for any viewers who might not know about these identities.

Royce: These episodes have a 30-minute broadcast runtime by the way, so we might have just spent more time talking about the first episode, then the first episode actually is.

Courtney: We’re really good at doing that. [laughs] So on one hand, I usually say I don’t like representation that just serves as a PSA, but on the other hand I don’t think this hit that because it’s not just a single episode. It’s not just a single scene, this is the central starting conflict and these are the two main characters and these are big issues in their life right now. But also normally if someone would say, like, “Do you want to see a show or do you want to read a book that is just about an aroace person coming to terms with their identity and learning about this?” And normally my brain would go to like a YA novel because there’s a lot of that out there. Well, I say a lot, there’s more of that in YA novels than there is in other forms of media. And normally that’s just not my personal cup of tea, because I personally went through that so long ago, that even a modern version of it, where people are like finding themselves on Tumblr or they’re finding a blog, I can’t even relate to the details for the way people learn about themselves.

Courtney: And by this point, I have talked to so many other Ace-spectrum people, I’ve heard so many coming out stories, self-realization stories, that none of it is new to me. And just learning about yourself in and of itself is not appealing to me in the form of media. I’m happy it exists for people who do need it. But for me, I’m not like, “Well, this sounds like a good time.” But the thing about this J-drama, it’s a very different type of medium. First of all there is– it is live action, which we don’t always get to see live action. It is adults, which we don’t always get to see. Normally it’s adults, like, playing teenagers or very young adult, like, college age or fresh out of college adult. It’s very much not that. So that’s giving us a– a slightly older perspective, a slightly different set of societal expectations.

Courtney: And also just the acting, and directing, and writing is so good. It’s so good! And there is at times, like, strategic over acting. Like some of it can get really kind of cheesy and campy, but it’s not that way the entire time, it’s very strategic moments to punch something up. So, even in the acting style, I think if someone was telling the same story but they were just playing it straight the entire time, it probably wouldn’t be that exciting. But it worked for me. It really, really worked for me. I loved it. In fact, I think Takahashi is probably the only character who is acting completely straight all of the time, and that serves this character really well.

Royce: Yeah, I think that’s right. Sakuko is very excitable and there are some other characters that also either… either don’t have a lot of screen time and just sort of play into tropes, or also have some exaggerated excitable mannerisms.

Courtney: Mm-hmm. Actually some of the moments or some of the things Takahashi said, kind of remind me of you. ‘Cause he very much does not have patience for things that don’t make sense to him. [laughs]

Royce: Yeah, I can see that. And he goes off on a few, like, mini rants here and there.

Courtney: Yes. And I’m the excitable one who overacts! [laughs] And I mean, here’s– here’s also the part that– I would love for this to get picked up on a streaming site or become more well-known over here. Because we’ve known about this for a while, we’ve had it on our list, we had high expectations and thought that it was going to be very good – and luckily, those expectations were met – but by very nature of the fact that it is Japanese media there’s not a quick easy way to watch it. The fact that you need to find, like, third-party subtitled versions if you don’t know Japanese to watch it, there’s going to be a certain number of people who have just never heard of it. Or if they have heard of it, they’re never going to watch it. And I’ve even seen some claims recently like, “Oh, we don’t have any male characters.” Which is not true. There’s a debate over whether or not we have any good aroace male characters. But, like, we have one right here. And I love him. And he is so good. And I don’t want any of the credit of that to be taken away just because this is Japanese media, because it isn’t in English, since it isn’t, you know, western made. And for that matter because they aren’t white characters. We have a lot of white characters in aro and/or ace media.

Courtney: And let me say too. I’m still planning to read it. I still bought the book. I still told you all that I’m going to read it and I will. I got Loveless by Alice Oseman when that first came out in the States and I was really excited to read it. I must say after watching this show, I’m almost less excited to read it because there is almost certainly, almost certainly no way that that book is going to do anything better for me than the show did. Maybe, I’ll eat my words. I’ll read the book and I will report back. But I just, I don’t see it! I don’t see it!

Courtney: So as we move on to episode 2– it has become abundantly clear that this is probably going to need to be a two-part episode, but we’ll press on a little further for today. They do agree to move in together. The reasons at first are kind of funny because Takahashi says that ever since his grandmother died, his neighbors have been pestering him. And there’s like a neighbor who’s trying to set him up with their niece, and there are neighbors who are bringing brochures for matchmaking businesses. And he’s like, “Well, if you, a woman, moved in then my neighbors will stop bothering me and this is to my benefit.” Meanwhile, Sakuko’s ex-roommate to be, who sort of pulled that rug out from under her real fast, sent a box of apology crabs to her parents house. And now her parents know that she’s not living with Sakuko, which oops. She didn’t tell her parents that. She just moved out. And her parents still assumed it was the same arrangement. So now her parents are calling and are like, “What are you doing? Where are you at?” They find out she’s [feigns surprise] living with a man! And of course, by the end of the conversation, her mom clearly thinks that if you’re living with a man that must be your boyfriend. And there is nothing she can say that will convince her mom otherwise.

Courtney: So she reluctantly explains this to Takahashi, she’s like, “My parents think you’re my boyfriend.” And– and he’s like, “Just ignore them.” And too, “Why don’t you just stop answering their calls if they’re gonna bother you?” And she’s very much like, “Uh, that isn’t an option.” But he’s like, “That’s what I would do.” And he’s like, he– This is one of the rants he kind of starts going on, and this is the first time he really gets, like, verbally fired up about something and just starts going off. And he’s in his garden. He’s, like, gardening while this is happening. And he’s just like, “I don’t care what my parents think.” And then he starts, like, quoting things other people have said, like, “Oh, they say you will grow up once you have a family and kids. And what basis do they have to say something like that? And all these restraints that you put on your own child, and not being able to let go of your child, is that what being a parent means? And imposing your value on others.” And [laughs] “Everyone has to adhere to what your image of a family is. It’s ridiculous. Forget about understanding individuals like us. They don’t even acknowledge our existence!”

Courtney: And at this point Sakuko’s like– she doesn’t know what to do. She has never seen him like this, and it’s like the entire room is melted away. He’s just– he’s just going off on his tangent. He’s– This struck a nerve, clearly. He’s like, “Oh, the majority opinion is the most correct. There’s nothing like family in the name of love. What I said is the absolute truth.” And he’s just like, “All old people like that must disappear.” [laughs] And I’m like, buddy… You clearly– you– you have some– some pent-up trauma there. But I am here for the rant, absolutely.

Courtney: I kind of got the impression as he starts going off on a couple of these tangents every now and then, that he’s been writing about this in his blog but he’s clearly not out to people at work.

Courtney: There was one moment where he mentioned that he couldn’t explain to his grandmother who he was. So his blog is kind of the only way that he is out and getting these feelings out. So I very much got the impression that this was the first time he was kind of free to verbally rant about these things to someone who kind of gets it.

Royce: I mean, he may have been ranting to the vegetables in the vegetable garden for a long time now, but it’s not the same.

Courtney: He’s absolutely been ranting to the vegetables in the vegetable garden. Classic Takahashi. [laughs] But yeah, after he finishes this rant he kind of comes back to himself and he’s like, “Oh. Sorry about that. I got– I got– I got a little fired up there.” And so Sakuko’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s– It’s okay. But now my mom is insisting that we come over to eat crab.” And he stops a moment and he kind of, [intrigued uhm-ing] he’s like, “Well, I wouldn’t say no to going out to eat.” And she’s like, “Really?! You’d– You’d come to my parents’ house?” And he’s like, “Yeah, I like crab.” He’s like, “I like crab, and besides all I’d have to do is pretend to be your boyfriend.” And she’s like, “I really don’t think we should go.” Like, “You do not have to do that.” And he’s like, “No, no no. I mean, the neighbors stopped bothering me when you moved in, like, I’ll return the favor. Maybe, your parents will stop bothering you if I go. And– and I want that crab.” [laughs] It’s so good. It’s so very good.

Courtney: So on their way, to this family dinner of crab, they– they start plotting like, “Oh, what’s the story of how we met? And how long have we been together?” And it just kind of a sweet– starts a little bit silly kind of conversation, and it’s really funny because it’s– it ends up boiling down to two aroaces who are like, “What other things do couples do? How else do couples behave?” And they mention, “Oh well, usually couples, you know, hold hands and touch each other.” And it’s at this point that Takahashi reveals that he absolutely cannot stand it when other people touch him. It makes him miserable. He asks her if she’s okay with people touching her and she’s like, “Yeah, I don’t mind touching hands but I don’t like when other people overdo the physical contact.” So that’s a fun component of this show as well. Is that since we have two aroaces, they have different boundaries, they have their own desires.

Courtney: They’re able to have these conversations that are just personal conversations that any two people, navigating a relationship, need to have. And I like it because it’s so much more organic than what we sometimes get with aroace representation, where you might have a character who is a certain way, but they have to add all the qualifiers like, “Oh, but some aces do this, some aros actually that.” And we don’t need to have that because we have two of them. They can have this conversation on their own and sort of demonstrate to people that there is no one monolithic way to be without needing to just like, I guess, preach it. It’s a much more organic way to show different sides of the spectrum and different limits and boundaries.

Courtney: So, although they don’t use the word repulsed or averse, Takahashi does tend in his descriptions and limits of things to be more touch averse, more potentially sex repulsed sort of in the language that we normally use in our community.

Courtney: And we’ll get a little more into their demonstration of the spectrum in a bit, but as they’re just coming off of this conversation, Sakuko’s younger sister and her husband show up. They’re also heading to the family dinner and meet them on the street and definitely start teasing them, which is very much a thing that a lot of families do when they meet someone’s partner for the first time. And I don’t know why this became the, like, largely acceptable way to be, but it’s a thing that happens. And they’re– they’re teasing them. They’re like, “Oh, why are you both standing so far away from each other?” And, “Does that mean you’re fighting?” And they even kind of do the like, “Come on now, give us a kiss,” kind of a thing. Like, “Hug and make up. Let’s see you hold hands.” Which has never made any sense to me. Never once. I don’t like seeing other people kiss. Like, I couldn’t imagine me in any situation being like, “Come on! Kiss!”

Royce: It is weirdly voyeuristic.

Courtney: [laughs]

Royce: Like if two people are just going about their day, and it’s how they’re acting that’s fine. But to, like, crowd around and chant, like, “Do it! Go for it!”

Courtney: “Kiss! Kiss!” Yes– Yes! Well, and it’s also a difference between, like, liking that in your media, like you could be reading a book and liking a scene where two characters kiss for the first time. You can be seeing a TV show and liking the moment when they have their kiss. But like, to me, that is so much different than in real life when someone’s, like, “Kiss for us.” Like I hate it! Why did that become acceptable? [laughs] But they get inside. And for a moment, Takahashi’s almost like, “I guess we can hold hands if we have to.” And then he’s like, “No, nah, never mind.” Walking that back - not gonna happen. And then you have all the family conversation. The, like, “So when are you two getting married?” You have mom being like, “Oh, he’s so handsome!” There was yet another comment that was like, “Oh, after all there isn’t– There’s no one who can’t fall in love. And you’re gonna make a great wife,” kind of a thing.

Courtney: And the last comment from it was either the sister or her husband– I don’t know if it was the sister or the brother-in-law, but there was definitely a comment like, “Oh, you’re going to live happily ever after with my sister, and you two are going to create a nice normal family. And I just know you’re destined to be happy together.” And at this Sakuko just, like, absolutely snaps, and she’s like, “What does that even mean? A normal family?” And kind of confronts them all and is like, “Why have you been saying all of these rude things all night?” And just kind of asks like, “What is a normal family? Come on, let’s hear, what do you mean by that?” And kind of without being able to help herself, she comes out as aroace. Like on the spot. And admits to all of it. Like, “He’s just pretending to be my boyfriend.”

Courtney: And at first, the family, like, kind of tries to change the subject. They don’t necessarily feel eager to engage with that. But Sakuko presses them further, and she explains, “I’ve never understood romance. I’ve never understood kissing or sex.” And her mom doesn’t like that she said sex, she’s like, “Sakuko! How could you say that?” And I thought this was such a beautiful point. ’Cause Sakuko says, “Why can’t I say the word sex when you are constantly asking me to give birth?” Oh, that is so good! Because that’s, that’s a thing. Like, giving birth, being pregnant, is a very socially acceptable, borderline requirement that people are eager to talk about. When are you having kids? When are you having kids? But the sex side of it is the more, like, taboo in friendly conversation. Like, we’re not going to talk about the conception of the child but we’re going to fixate and obsess over the pregnancy.

Courtney: And the brother-in-law, he’s kind of a goof… He– it occurs to him, and he’s some kind of teacher, and he’s like, “Oh! Is this something like LGBT? Why, I teach that in school, are you one of them?” And she’s like, “Why are you saying it like that? What’s wrong with being one of them?” And yeah, she– she even says like, “I want to stop feeling miserable in front of the people I most care about.” And everyone just goes stunned silence. Mom asks Takahashi, and is like, “Are you the same way?” And he’s like, “Yeah, yes, I am.” And she’s like, “Well, then the two of you should just date then. If you’re both the same way, you’re already living together, maybe– maybe love will blossom someday if you just do with it.” And of course, that’s not cool.

Courtney: Although I have actually heard that. I have heard that. Actually, when we first got married, I had like a couple of different people who are like, “You should just, like, have sex and get it over with and like, just just do it and it’ll be fine.” And I’m like, “What are you talking about…?” Because – I guess this is like, early days of our relationship – I might have mentioned this on a previous podcast, but we lived together for like, three months before you even like, saw me undressed. Like, that was totally fine and well, but like, I literally had people, like, “Just– just fuck and get it over with.” And I’m like, “But… why?” It’s– it’s also kind of like the ‘just kiss’ but like, kissing is allowed to happen in front of other people, the sex part is not. But either way, they’re still this culture of, like, just telling people to do something and it’s weird! It’s weird! Takahashi knows, he knows how weird it is.

Courtney: Although he equates it to everything. There were some comments– because he’d be talking to, like, allo people, and he’d be like, “Why are you trying to press your views on us?” And then the same allo person would be like, “Oh, you should add this ingredient to your cabbage rolls. Why aren’t you making food like this?” And he’s like, “Again with the trying to press your views on people!” Like he’s over it, he has had it. But yeah, mom is really not understanding it. She even says, like, “What’s the use of a man and a woman who don’t love each other and aren’t going to build a family?” And, “I don’t understand it at all.”

Royce: The father is completely frozen at this point, right?

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: The younger sister’s like, “You made dad freeze!”

Courtney: “You froze dad!” [laughs] That was a funny comment. I liked that one. But yeah at that Takahashi even steps in and he’s like, “You don’t need to understand it. You just need to accept it. You just have to acknowledge that people like us exist. And that the two of us, we are on our own path and we’re trying to see if it’s possible for the two of us to build a happy family in a way that works for us.” And father does eventually unfreeze and says something that’s like, minorly supportive. Like, “You are my daughter and that won’t change.” But then he also, like, tells her to go home. So they don’t– after all that, they still don’t get to have the crab. They went home crabless.

Royce: Which Takahashi brings up a few times.

Courtney: [laughs]

Royce: Disappointment at not getting the crab.

Courtney: But this does kind of send Sakuko into a spiral, because the two of them go back home and she’s still really questioning herself. She’s like, “Oh, I didn’t mean to go off on my family like that. I’m sorry you had to see that.” And Takahashi is very supportive. He’s like, “It’s better than not knowing what to do.” Like, “You don’t want to tiptoe around your family the whole time.” So– but she’s taking this as, like, “Yeah, what my mom said is right.” Like, “I have always been useless.” Like she is so down on herself. And she is kind of questioning. She’s like, “Can two people like us have a family?”

Courtney: And he tells this very sweet personal story about how his grandmother always liked to eat rice for breakfast, but he always wanted to be eating bread for breakfast. So when she died, he tried to eat bread for breakfast like he always wanted to, but it still didn’t feel right.

Courtney: So he went on this, like, food journey of trying to find the perfect breakfast for him. And he tried all these foods and decided that udon was the best. But he went all out, like, making his own udon noodles, like, by scratch every morning. And he said that he didn’t have the motivation to do it when he was just cooking for himself. And now that Sakuko is there he feels motivated to make udon for breakfast for the two of them every single day. And I think that’s really sweet! Because it is about the udon, but it’s also about more than the udon. First of all, just on a practical standpoint, it is very difficult to go all out cooking, like, for one for all the meals. And it is a little easier when you are cooking for other people also.

Royce: There is also a trope that, I want to say, I’ve seen much more frequently in like anime and manga that I have in western media, that food tastes better amongst friends or family.

Courtney: Mm-hmm. There are lots of cultures that have ideals like that. I mean food is food, but food is very often also cultural and social. And yeah, you could look at it practically. Like practically, it makes more sense to go all out and make this udon every single day if there’s two of us eating it. But also, he now has someone that he cares for, who isn’t just himself, and it’s beautiful and I like it. But, of course, she questions, she’s like, “Is that really enough of a reason to be a family? Because udon?” Takahashi, very food focused fellow. Not necessarily cakes, but definitely he is all about fresh vegetables. He’s all about making noodles, making fresh food. And I would be curious about what different translations may have used for this line, but the one we got, he said, “I think perhaps you glamorize the word family too much.” And he says, “I see the two of us as allies.” Was– was the word that was used in this translation. And he said, “When you were angry today, I felt sad at the same time. And I feel like I have an ally, and I haven’t had the feeling of being protected by others in a really long time.”

Courtney: And she’s like, “Yeah allies! I like that.” And she’s like, “What if when we’re introducing each other instead of saying this is my family, what if we say this is my ally?” And he was like, “No, that’s way too embarrassing. Rejected. We are not going to introduce each other as allies.” And so they agree that they’re going to introduce each other as family and Sakuko says, “Every time we say family aloud, in my head I’m gonna be thinking allies.” And so that’s just like a cute little moment. Like, that’s a thing that they’re gonna– they’re gonna share.

Courtney: And they ended up talking way into the night, off camera. We don’t, we don’t see what all these conversations are, but we definitely have an air of like, excitement, rejuvenated hope in– in the future of this relationship.

Courtney: But they stay up so late that Takahashi ends up oversleeping. Oh no, he doesn’t have time to make the fresh udon. But Sakuko, knowing how much udon in the morning means to him, but also not knowing how to cook very well, she goes to the store and picks up like, instant udon. And she even gets an extra small bowl of instant noodles to put on his grandmother’s shrine. And that was all very sweet because he’s like in a panic. He’s like, “Oh no, I overslept!” And she’s like, “But I got store-bought udon for us.” And so it was just very, very sweet.

Courtney: So he ends up pulling out a questionnaire, an asexuality questionnaire. And he’s like, “Why don’t you fill this out so that we can both feel comfortable?” And he gives her his own completed questionnaire, and he’s like, “Oh, for your reference, here are my answers. Don’t worry if they don’t line up perfectly, but just– just so you know.” And so she’s reading through this questionnaire at work, in the break room again. And another fellow co-worker, not the original one who stormed out and changed departments, a different one, like, reads it over her shoulder and grabs it from her, and gets all creepy. And is, like, mad and yelling at her. And he’s like, “Oh, this new boyfriend of yours is creepy.” And she’s like, “Not my boyfriend.” And then he’s like, “After all, like, Sakuko, you’re my woman.” And it’s like [sighs] this again… Girl, I’m so sorry. I have been there. I’ve done that, it’s really unfortunate. I feel you.

Courtney: So then that’s how episode 2 ends. Episode 3, we get a little more back story about this guy… Yep, Royce, you’re gonna have to help me out with his name. Because when I was taking notes for things that happen in each episode that I really liked, I just ended up calling him, like, Creepy Guy. [laughs]

Royce: Before we knew that he was going to have more screen time?

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: Yeah, his name is Kazu.

Courtney: Kazu, okay. So we learn that she and Kazu did date. Very, very briefly. Once upon a time. And this was kind of alluded to earlier. Her friend, Chizuru, who she was originally going to move in with, said something like, “Oh, and even when you’re in a relationship that looks good, it ends so quickly.” So we’re like, “Oh, this was that relationship.” But she’s very much thinking like, “We are done. All ties severed. Not in a relationship. Not going to be in a relationship.” But this guy, in his head, he was pulling, like, the reverse Ross from Friends. He was definitely pulling like a ‘we were on a break’. But instead of ‘we were on a break, we’re allowed to see other people’, he’s doing, like, we were on a break which implies that we’re getting back together. So he is just, like, so mad at her. He’s like, “I can’t believe you. You have this creepy boyfriend who’s making you fill out this weird questionnaire. And you’re moving in with him when really you’re my woman. And we both know it.” And it’s like, buddy… And all this happening on like the second worst day of Takahashi’s year. [laughs]

Courtney: She wakes up and reads the blog that he wrote that was like, “This is the second worst day of the year,” which the first one has to be, like, his grandmother dying because it was like six months ago or something. And she’s like, “Oh no. What’s wrong? What happened?” And he was like, “Look on the table.” And there are just, like, tons of, like, loyalty program, like, shopping cards. And she’s like, “Oh, look at all these loyalty points!” And he’s like, “Yes, I like having loyalty points at these– at my favorite stores.” And she’s like, “Well, and I don’t see the issue.” And he’s like, “Look at the last time I’ve been to the store.” And it was like exactly one year ago today he went to all of these stores. And he’s like, “That means all of my loyalty points expire today and I don’t have time to go to all of them.” And it’s like, oh, Takahashi…

Courtney: It’s very precious. But Sakuko’s like, “Well, we are family and we are allies. And I want you to be happy. So gosh darn it, we are going to use these loyalty points. After work we are going to meet up. We are going to get a game plan. You go to one store, I’ll go to the other. We are going to knock all of these out. Because if these loyalty points make you happy, then they make me happy and we’re gonna do it!”

Royce: Do you remember how many stores there were? Was it like half a dozen or more?

Courtney: Probably, I don’t know the exact number.

Royce: They go on like a shopping montage.

Courtney: Yes. [laughs] Well, yeah, that’s what he was saying is like, “I don’t have time to go to all of these because I have to work today.” And she’s like, “Aha! Maybe you didn’t have time to go to all of them when it was just you. But now you have an ally and we are in fact two.” And it was very cute too, because of, like, the different shops. Like one of them was just like a flower shop, one of them was a restaurant with, like, tea and a little dessert that he didn’t even want to eat, but he’s like, “I always got this for my grandmother.” So he gave the cake to Sakuko, which was also very sweet! And there’s like a clothing shop. But he’s like, “I don’t actually need clothes right now.” So she ended up using the points and buying herself something. Just all over the place. Did they buy, like, rice balls too or something? Like there was also food involved.

Royce: There were some food items too, yeah.

Courtney: So just like a bunch of random items from varying places. So she does have a moment where, as she’s sitting down to this questionnaire, she’s kind of having some trouble filling it out because some of the questions are prompting, like, less than favorable memories. So we see some of her own flashbacks. And actually, while they’re at the restaurant, at the end of the day with the loyalty points, she kind of explains, like, “I’m having trouble filling it out, but can I just tell you this story?” So she kind of shares her own backstory and, like, relationship history with him and why it’s so difficult for her. And yeah, the flashbacks were really cool because you can tell that she definitely missed a lot of, like, subtle romance cues… which girl, same!

Courtney: There were kind of, only two relationships. One was in college, which– with a boy that she knew in high school and he even said to her, like, “I’ve been sending signals that I like you all throughout high school.” But she clearly didn’t see them. And he started like just trying to make more excuses to be around her more often. Like he got a job where she was working, just because she worked there, which mmm… ill-advised, ill-advised. I don’t much care for that. But she enjoyed his company, and they were friends, and she liked hanging out. So when he said something to her one point that was like, “I just want it to always be like this. I always want to be with you.” She was like, “Yeah, me too!” And he took that to mean like, “Oh, I just asked her out and she said yes, and now we’re dating.” And she was just like, “No, we’re just like really good friends. And we should always be friends like this.”

Courtney: So when he tried to kiss her at one point, she just, like, completely pulled away and was really surprised and confused. And being a cruel college boy, he started, like, gossiping about her and– and telling other people how– how weird she is. And so we saw sort of her past self walking around on campus with people whispering, and laughing. And looked like a really rough time, and she ended up actually, like, pulling out of extracurricular activities she liked doing because of the way people were treating her. And like, just awful, awful stuff. And then, she never really attempted to get close with anyone until six years later, where she kind of logics to herself into, like, “Well, that thing that happened– that was 6 years ago. Like, I’m older now, maybe I just wasn’t ready then.”

Courtney: She gets asked out by this co-worker, who is now being very creepy and is like, “You’re my woman.” Even though they aren’t dating anymore. When he asked her out, she kind of asked him. She’s like, “What does it mean to date?” And he gave these very weird answers which are not necessarily wrong, but they aren’t tangible enough for someone who doesn’t interface with relationships in the same way to really grasp what you’re saying, which is true for a lot of these things. Like, if you ask someone to explain like what is romance, or what is sexual attraction, like, a lot of people can’t give an answer. Or if they do it’s an answer that’s different from what other people give.

Royce: There’s also the sort of self-censoring that happens. Like, back with the mother earlier; we can talk about forming families but we can’t talk about anything explicit. We can’t say sex.

Courtney: Like the sex is implied, but I’m not going to say it out loud.

Royce: Exactly.

Courtney: Yeah. And like, oh what’s the difference between loving someone and being in love with someone? Like a lot of these are in truth very abstract concepts, but no one talks about them as if they’re abstract, everyone talks about them as if it’s just a given. It’s a black and white thing that, like, you’ll know it when you see it. It just is. And that doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help aroaces. It doesn’t– it doesn’t help the allos either. It doesn’t help anyone. But his comments like, “Oh, dating, like, that means that we laugh together, and we have fun together, and we hang out, and we enjoy each other’s company.” And she’s like, “Oh, well if that’s what dating is, then yeah, let’s do it!” Like, “I enjoy hanging out with you. Perfect! Sounds good.” Which like, all of this started because, when he started working at the office, they realized that they liked the same idol group. And so they started, like, really nerding out over this idol group that they liked, and they learned that they liked some of the same, like, anime and manga, and just various media things.

Courtney: So in her eyes, like, laughing and having fun and enjoying each other’s company is what this dating means. But then he tries to make a move on her sexually when she was, like, “I thought we were just gonna watch a concert.” But she ends up conceding to him. They tried to have sex and she doesn’t like it, she doesn’t like it. But she also mentions that he countered with like, “Everyone feels that way their first time” Which is also such– such a trope that I feel like, especially women hear, because, you know, your first time is made out to be this, like, big thing and you’re always told that– Well, a lot of women are told that it’s going to be painful the first time. But a lot of people are also told, like, your first time is going to be this beautiful, magnificent, like, spiritual, almost religious experience, sometimes literally religious experience.

Courtney: If you’re one of those people who thinks that sex in marriage is a very religiously connotated thing.

Courtney: But like, how often have we also heard the other side of that in media? Where it’s like, not necessarily painful, not necessarily great, but some people are like, “Uh… that– that was it? That’s– that was all the– what all the hype was about? That…” And people also still kind of rationalize that as like, “Yeah, it’s fine. That’s normal, but like keep going even if you really don’t want to.” Like, it’ll get good, keep going. And why… Why? Why, I ask? So she didn’t like it, but they tried a second time. She still didn’t like it. Because she was told like, “Yeah, your first time it’s not supposed to be good, but it will be good, promise. Just keep doing that thing you don’t really like.” Which is, like, almost never good logic for anything that you could apply to. Unless it’s like basic things you need to do to take care of yourself. Like, very rarely does that advice work for anything, let alone something as, you know, big as sex and romance and structuring your life around certain relationship types.

Courtney: So after they tried a second time, and she still didn’t like it, she said that there’s something she doesn’t understand about love, and that’s when they went on their break. Their break that she thought was done and over, the break that he thought was like inevitably will get back together. And then… he gets very stalkery. He stalked her going home at the end of the day and followed the two of them to their shopping with all the loyalty points. And then ended up following them back home. And this is why in my notes I was like, Creepy Guy. [laughs] Because nothing about that is okay. But he confronts them at their doorstep when they’re going home at the end of the night. And he’s like, “Aha! So you are dating. I knew it.” And they’re like, “No, we’re not.” He’s like, “Oh, are you just friends with benefits then”? And Takahashi was like, “No, nothing like that. We’re family.” And then he’s like “Family!? Did you get married?” And then he’s like, [exaggerated gasp] looks at Sakuko and he’s like, “Are you pregnant?!” And she’s like, “No, we’re family, but without the romantic feelings.” And this dude– yeah, he clearly doesn’t understand. He is like his brain is short-circuiting, he doesn’t get it.

Courtney: I did really like Takahashi’s line after this, because he already made the friends-with-benefits thing, but she’s like, “No, we’re family without the romantic feelings.” He’s like, “How can such a thing exist?” Takahashi’s like, “So, you’re telling me that you can understand sex without love but not love without sex?” Thank you. Thank you, Takahashi. Exactly. And this ends up being like a big confrontation, this guy is like, “I just can’t help myself. It’s all because of Sakuko.” And Takahashi is, like, calling him on his shit. He’s like, “Oh, you’re blaming Sakuko now? You’re blaming her for this, your behavior right now. You’re blaming her?” And he’s like, “What kind of person are you?” And I’ve seen a couple of different translations of this line, but I’ve seen a couple of people screenshot it and every translation iteration I’ve seen of it is very good, because the concept still stands, regardless of what vocabulary you use. But he says, “Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you can act abnormally.” It’s beautiful! Thank you Takahashi! I love this character. And so this guy who’s just, like, outright stalking her, like, gets kind of physically intimidating and, like, goes to fight. And Takahashi does not want to fight at all. He’s like sidestepping, like uh… but he ends up falling down the steps of the house into the street and–

Royce: Well, Kazu starts to fall and Takahashi grabs him and pulls him up and falls instead.

Courtney: Yeah, because Takahashi’s a really good dude. Kazu has got some growing to do. He’s not a good dude in this episode. So that’s how that episode ends, that’s the end of episode three. So, I– It’s interesting. I do– I do like that they show all the ways that allo people act abnormally when they’re rejected. They cut themselves out of your life or they double down and become a stalker. Surely those aren’t the only two options, but… uh… in my experience, they’re pretty common actually, unfortunately. So that’s the first three episodes of this beautiful, beautiful show. Now that the main plot is established, I don’t think the remaining episodes are quite as dense, so I think– I think this should be a comfortable two-parter. I think we’ll be able to finish it next episode. So that means, if you don’t want to be spoiled on the end, you have seven days to go and watch this show. Do it! Go now! But otherwise we will see you all again next Wednesday for part 2.