As it turns out, Pin to Kona (ぴんとこな) still has some surprises up its sleeve. Take how this episode starts, for instance. In the conclusion of episode 2, Kyonosuke (Tamamori Yuta) resolved not to lose to Ichiya (Nakayama Yuma), telling so to his rival’s face. This time, we find out that Ichiya actually anticipated this response and was prepared with a training regimen to help Kyonosuke shape up. That came as quite a surprise – especially to Kyonosuke.

I think Ichiya is actually trying to torture Kyonosuke – getting him to do 100 pull-ups – but when Kyonosuke complains, wondering whether the training really has anything to do with their performance, Ichiya gives a reasonable explanation.

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Could this be the beginning of a new phase in the rivalry – one where they work together to keep kabuki alive? Well, the moment is spoiled by a redundant speech from Ichiya about what he’s willing to do to fulfill his promise to Ayame (Kawashima Umika) – the writers have already done enough to show this, so it’s just an attempt to increase the tension between the two characters. So much for the brief cooperation.

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Meanwhile, Ayame scores two tickets to an aquarium thanks to her co-worker, who suggests that she invite Ichiya.

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Ayame is worried about her limited selection of clothes, so her friend offers help in this area as well and gets a well-deserved hug for her trouble.

Right on cue, Ichiya walks in to Ayame’s workplace and asks to speak with her. That makes her go all blushy, in sharp contrast to the image of her we got in the first episode. Really, I thought she was the strong-willed independent sort, but somewhere early in episode two that went all wrong, and now she might as well just be any other wide-eyed girl stock character. Maybe she only gets this way around Ichiya?

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He accepts the invitation, but we really can’t feel good about this arrangement – while Ichiya is a compelling character, he isn’t really a likeable one, especially as long as he has to keep Yuna (Yoshikura Aoi ) happy to pursue his dream.

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And the viewer’s sympathies are clearly supposed to be with Kyonosuke, even though he can’t really compete for Ayame’s heart at this point. He isn’t even sure he can compete with Ichiya on the kabuki stage.

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Ichiya greets Yuna as she exits her house the next morning, and she asks if he can join her shopping on Saturday – the day he’s supposed to meet Ayame for the aquarium trip. How . . . predictable. I said at the start that this drama still had some surprises, but will it have enough.

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Well, how about this – Ichiya flatly turns down the invitation, saying that he has an appointment with an old friend. That’s quite daring of him. Has he really not detected that she’s suspicious his loyalty is divided?

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At school, Yuna looks dejected, but rises to thank Ayame for helping her against the bullies the other day (you know, back when Ayame was tough and self-sufficient). Of course, Yuna and Ayame don’t know they’re rivals for Ichiya.

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When Ayame notes that Yuna looks down, Yuna tantalizingly explains that she doesn’t know what to do about the guy she likes. Will she reveal that it’s Ichiya?

Well, no, the conversation ends immediately when Ayame’s friend from work calls to her. But then Ayame somehow manages to bump into the re-shelving cart and spills her things (so now she’s a clutz?). Sure enough, among the things that spill is the old picture of her and Ichiya when they were little kids – the same one Yuna already found among Ichiya’s things.

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So that’s a relief, at least – I was worried they’d drag the uncertainty on longer. With this, only Ayame is in the dark about Yuna – everyone else should be fully aware of the dimensions of the love square.

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On top of that, now Yuna knows who Ichiya is meeting on Saturday, so we already have some tension in this episode.

But I’m not really interested in romantic tension – let’s have some serious kabuki struggle to really spice things up!

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The chemistry between Ichiya and Kyonosuke is poor, as expected, but Kyonosuke is still under-par in his own right and really wouldn’t be fit for any partner. But the other kabuki students watching aren’t critical of Kyonosuke – they’re clearly jealous of Ichiya, who they already say only got his part by ingratiating himself with Yuna – the daughter of the head of the school. Is this really the way Ichiya wants to rise to the top of the kabuki world? Then again, is it really worse than just being born into the right family?

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The problem is clearly that Ichiya and Kyonosuke are not spending enough time practicing together, but the teacher didn’t seem to give them any constructive recommendations – just barking at them.

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And they don’t seem likely to work on the solution themselves. Ichiya actually tells Kyonosuke that he’s going on a date to the aquarium with Ayame on Saturday. So much for trying to mend things a bit to put on a good performance.

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As if things weren’t bad enough, the normally stable Ichiya is about to get into some Yuna trouble. She doesn’t say anything about Ayame, of course – that would be too easy. But she does make it very clear that she means to possess him.

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Ayame is excited about her date and Kyonosuke is tormented by it when they meet each other at school the next morning.

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She explains that she’s never been to an aquarium because her family was poor – another ham-handed way the writers decided to remind us about her economic state.

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We really didn’t need another kabuki practice scene just to tell us that these two aren’t working well together, but I enjoyed watching their teacher, Oiwa Matsukichi (Takashima Masahiro), get totally pissed at them to the point where he threw his fan.

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Oiwa and Kyonosuke’s father (Kishitani Goro) have a little heart-to-heart about the young master’s issues. They reminisce about performing the same play together at that age, and lament that the younger generation doesn’t understand or have the same passion – you know, the way old people always complain about the younger generation while glossing over how they really were at that age.

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Ichiya continues practicing into the night, and gets a call from Ayame, who wants to confirm the meeting again and to tell him how he’ll recognize her. I . . . don’t get this at all, and neither does Ichiya, who points out that he’ll recognize her without any problem. Really, Ayame is getting all . . . mushy in the head. I know love can do that, but it’s especially disconcerting to see it all one-sided.

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Ichiya might thing that he’s escaped Yuna’s grasp, heading out for his Saturday date, but Yuna has a creepy look on her face that suggests she has something devious or disturbing in mind.

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And I’m not going to tell you what her plan might or might not be.

I can tell you that Kyonosuke has a very active imagination, as his mind takes him from the fish in his meal to the aquarium to a bizarro-world view of how the Ichiya-Ayame date might go.

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Kyonosuke simply can’t take this sitting down – he sets out to . . . actually, I don’t have any idea what he was planning to do – possibly save Ayame from a perverted Ichiya.

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What’s going to happen at the aquarium? More importantly, what’s going to happen in the kabuki theater when these two have to perform?

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Don’t worry, we do get on-stage full-makeup kabuki this time:

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To sum things up, I feel like the victim of false advertising when it comes to Ayame. In the first episode she seemed to be confident and capable. In this episode she was the complete opposite – shaky, nervous, and unreliable. Again, I understand that love is the culprit of significant personality changes, but in this case I’d rather Ayame wasn’t in love because she’s a totally unremarkable character in this state, and better when she was telling Kyonosuke how horrible his performance was. If the writers really wanted me to root for her in her relationship, they should show that the relationship makes her a better person, not weak-kneed and gushy.

We got some good development in Kyonosuke, though. I thought the way his rivalry with Ichiya was handled artfully, both in the build-up and the extent to which it was resolved. And since that it what I’m really watching for – romance isn’t my thing – I thought this was a good episode in terms of plot. One detracting aspect was the way Kyonosuke is portrayed as a natural – as if the fact that he was born into a kabuki family really means that it takes him less effort to excel on stage than it takes Ichiya. Ichiya seems to have to do extensive physical training and study, while all Kyonosuke has to do is put his mind to it and decide to do it properly. Insofar as there is a class distinction at work in this series, I don’t get the sense that the series is going far enough to challenge those class assumptions.

As a side note, I don’t think it’s credible that Ichiya notices what he does about the audience – performing on stage requires a certain amount of focus, and the lighting helps to focus all attention onto the stage.

Pacing was a bit on the slow side, but that was largely because it was part two of the story started in the last episode. The entire story should probably have been condensed to around an hour and ten minutes of program time rather than an hour and a half, but time slots are what they are.

So, there were issues, but it was still a good contribution to the series, and we got a solid dose of kabuki.