Sprout (スプラウト) is a half-hour teen love story based on a popular manga by Nanba Atsuko. It stars Chinen Yuri as Souhei, Morikawa Aoi as Miku, and Lewis Jesse as Katagiri Hayato.

Sprout Title

Perhaps it’s fair to say up front that I think this was the best episode so far. I’ll explain why in detail along the way, but the main reason is that Miku finally tried to do something, and we also got a bit of the character development I’ve been begging for. The fact that I like soccer also helped a bit. Sure, it’s still chock full of teen angst, but considering the adult angst I’ve been up against with the stock market behaving in a very unfriendly manner, the teen stuff makes me feel nostalgic for simpler times.

When we left Miku, Katagiri had just kissed her. Unsurprisingly, we find out when Miku thinks back on the moment at the start of this episode that she pushed him away and ran.

KissRejection

Katagiri just stood there, and the expression on his face was inscrutable. This did not give me much hope at the start of this, because I would have much rather seen something on his face – confusion, at least. But don’t worry, it’s Katagiri’s character that gets the most development in this episode.

How is he feeling?

Before soccer practice, Souhei finds Miku making shaved ice, and he’s his usual smiling self as he tries making some himself.

About Shaved Ice 1About Shaved Ice 2About Shaved Ice 3About Shaved Ice 4

We get a look at soccer practice . . .

Soccer Practice 1Soccer Practice 2

. . . where apparently all the guys talk about is love interests.

Really? This is what they talk about?

Then we get the first appearance of Jinguji Yuta-kun, playing Katagiri’s younger brother Kou.

Kou 1Kou 2Kou 3

Kou quickly becomes my favorite character in the series, as he, his older brother, and Miku hang out together. Why? Because he seems bright and energetic while all the other characters are dull and unwilling to speak up. He’s also quite clever, seeing right through Miku’s trouble with his elder brother.

Kou and MikuKou and Miku 2Kou and Miku 3Kou and Miku 4

He even makes Miku laugh in her time of deep confusion:

Mentalist Kou

After that discussion with Kou, Miku seems to be much more spirited. At least, I think she spends a significant amount of the rest of the episode smiling.

Smiling Miku

Finding out that Souhei’s girlfriend Miyuki is unable to attend a soccer practice match, Miku begins to consider going after being invited (Souhei was recruiting audience members).

Talking Over Dinner

In her desperate state, she actually goes to Takigawa (Hashimoto Ryosuke) for advice, though she makes the request impersonal by doing the “a friend of mine has this problem” thing:

Talking with Takigawa 1Talking with Takigawa 2Talking with Takigawa 3

Takigawa wins points as a character for being wonderfully straightforward and applying his game otaku logic to the situation.

Talking with Takigawa 4

Sure, it leaves him painfully two-dimensional, but at least his comments have some relevance and aren’t just for comic relief this time. While Miku doesn’t think his advice of pushing a “reset” button is doable in her case, she sure wishes it was.

ResetIf Only She CouldIf Only She Could 2

Seeing Souhei talking on the phone with Miyuki doesn’t help her mood. It doesn’t help mine, either.

Talking With Miyuki

Souhei and Miyuki act like such an insufferably perfect couple, there’s a certain natural instinct that makes you want to see something there blow up. Nothing has a right to be that perfect. Am I being mean? Maybe, but it puts me firmly on the same page as Miku, which is nice. I like it when I have the same goals as the main character, even if the reasons are different.

We get the first sign of depth from Katagiri as he walks with Souhei and discusses Kou, who Katagiri says was “brainwashed” by Souhei into playing soccer. There’s a bit of frustration in his voice when he says it, and a hesitancy when he sees Miyuki approach.

Souhei Brainwashed KouExcusing Himself

After dinner, a comment by Miku’s mother leads her to cook up a little scheme to take advantage of Miyuki’s inability to attend the practice game. Literally cook up a scheme because, of course, the way to a guy’s heart is through his stomach, and there are few things more endearing than an elegantly constructed bento:

Cooking Up a PlanFussing With MomGood Bento

Will it work? Or perhaps, because we’re still early in the series, we should ask what could possibly go wrong?

Katagiri and Kou both attend the match as well, and Katagiri continues to stare at Miku:

Miku Waves to KouKou . . .. . . Plus Elder BrotherHe's Staring Again

Will he finally do something between staring and kissing – you know, actually talking to her? Well, I have no hesitation about answering that one at least: yes, yes he does. Without that, I don’t think I would have been nearly as enthusiastic about this episode.

There’s plenty more, but I’ll leave that out for your enjoyment. The point is: Miku makes an actual attempt to get Souhei, and Katagiri makes an attempt to get Miku. Things happen. There are real spoilers to leave out. Miku shows a full range of expressions instead of just being upset through the whole half-hour. I’ll take it.

Now, if only Souhei and Miyuki’s relationship goes down faster than European credit ratings, I’ll be a happy camper. I’m not trying to be mean – really – I just want to see top-billed Chinen Yuuri-kun act, and that’s only going to happen if he goes through some serious turmoil. He has to face some sort of conflict or crisis, or Morikawa Aoi really should have gotten the top spot in the credits.

Thanks to arisu_subs for the subtitles!