This was originally posted in February of 2011 here. It has been updated substantially here.

You can watch the episode here.

Spoiler Warning

This episode switches gears and focuses mostly on Saorin. It also gives us a much-needed flashback that provides the backstory on the relationship between Shūichi, Yoshino, and Saorin.

Near the end of the previous episode, Shūichi runs out of his house, distressed, after an encounter with his sister. I didn't get around to talking about that scene in that entry, so let's touch on it here. When I was still struggling to understand my gender identity, I mis-identified the desire to be a girl with the concept of cross-dressing (as did a number of other trans people that I know). So, for years, I cross-dressed when no one was around (the fact that this is an amusing phrase in light of my current understanding of my gender identity does not escape me - I eventually realized that 'cross-dressing' was what I was doing when everyone was looking at me). And like Shū, fear of discovery was a huge thing. I waited, always, until I was home alone, or the rest of my family was asleep. I always feared a sudden knock on my door. I think Shūichi's flight is best viewed in that context, in the mixture of shame and fear that is hard to escape when you feel like you are doing something deviant, something that your loved ones would disapprove of.

In his haste to escape his sister, Shūichi leaves half-dressed in only an undershirt and a skirt, and runs into Yoshino on a bridge. Yoshino offers her hoodie, commenting that Shūichi looks like a girl with a hoodie and a skirt on. This marks a reparation of their friendship. Which leads us to Saorin.

Saorin, up to this point, has only been seen briefly, and was then depicted as mostly quiet but emotionally unstable and prone to violent outbursts. In the first episode, she assaulted a classmate who insinuated that Shūichi and Yoshino had a relationship at one point. In this episode, we learn that she harbors a lot of resentment toward Shuuichi and Yoshino because of a love triangle that imploded at some point before the narrative picks up. Some time ago, Saorin expressed interest in Shūichi, only to find that Shūichi had already expressed interest in Yoshino. Saorin confronted Yoshino about it, and they both ended by expressing hatred for each other. Your basic love triangle story. I'd suggest maybe this is poly-fixable, but I'm pretty sure Saorin is way too unstable for that. More implicitly (and more importantly for our purposes), Saorin also seems to feel that she had already been left out because Shūichi and Yoshino had their trans experiences in common, and had bonded over them until Saorin felt like a third wheel.

Saorin comes across, in this episode, as fundamentally unsympathetic to the viewer. At the beginning of the episode she calls Shūichi and Yoshino ‘filth’ as she passes them in the hall. She also nearly assaults Chii’s friend Shirai Momoko (Momo), and when Yoshino expresses that they should perhaps set their differences aside, Saorin refuses.

Despite this, the episode ends with Saorin tentatively making peace with the rest of the group, after Sasa Kanako (Sasa), who has been trying to remain friends with both Saorin and the others, gets angry at their bickering and refuses to speak to them. So, it requires the coercion of her only remaining friend for her to stop being an asshole to the rest of her former friends. Like I said: unsympathetic.

The premise of the episode, though, seems to be that we should sympathize with Saorin. Ariga Makoto (Ariga) sums it up thus: “She’s got a rough life”. However, when juxtaposed to the issues the other characters are facing, Saorin (as portrayed so far, at least) comes across as whiny and privileged by comparison.

So, enough about Saorin, then. We don’t have time for whiny privileged girls who hold grudges. Let’s talk about Ariga, whom we just mentioned for the first time. He plays a slightly more prominent role in this episode, and seems to be Shūichi’s only (or at least closest) male friend. We also get a suggestion that he is also gender variant; Shūichi gives him a clover hairpin to match the one he bought in the first episode. In the same scene, they spend time chatting about private matters - notably, about the fact that Ariga feels he may be attracted to boys. This is the first explicit mention of sexual orientation on the show. Leaving aside gender variance (since all of the gender variant characters are still discovering their identities in this regard), Ariga thinks he might be gay. The line is a throwaway - we don’t dwell on it at all, but rather move on. Presumably, we will return to this later in the series.

On the subject of Shūichi and gender, the first relevant moment in this episode comes when Shūichi is called ‘a little girl’ as an insult by one of his male classmates; his response (unnoticed by everyone except Ariga) is to blush and then smile broadly. A similar scene happens when he takes his lunch to his older sister; one of her classmates says “he looks like a girl”, leading Shūichi to repeat the phrase, “I look like a girl”, with a happy look on his face.

These scenes, more than anything we’ve seen before, really work to differentiate Shūichi as being solidly transgender (as opposed to, say, a cross-dresser in the common understanding of the term). His response to being called a girl is joy, and I suspect it is stemming from a sense that it is the correct thing for him to be called.

On the whole, this episode is much more solidly put together than the first one - it has more cohesion between scenes, and the pacing is better. However, emotionally, it comes across as weaker. The first episode used a effective narrative repetition, with the 'What are little girls/boys made of' motif repeated through the episode, and the scene early on where Shūichi and Yoshino each narrate the phrase 'I/we have a secret'.* The music and the dialogue are still top notch, but the overall narrative feel of this episode did not have as powerful an impact on me.

* The subtitles translate the phrase 'We have a secret', but since pronouns don’t indicate number in Japanese, it could potentially be translated 'I have a secret' as well. Or 'I/we have secrets', for that matter. I certainly think the translators chose well here, though.