Things seem to be getting smoother between Haruka (Abe Aran) and his stepsister Ririko (Adachi Rika) in Kinkyori Renai (近キョリ恋愛). Sure, Haruka is still trying his best to keep some distance between them, but he’s smiling around her more often and speaking to her civilly. I guess getting mad at her in the previous episode and then worrying about her sort of broke the ice.

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Oh, and then there’s the fact that she’s a good cook, and tasty food smooths social interaction tremendously.

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It doesn’t keep Haruka from napping in class, though, and thereby giving Kanata (Kishi Yuta) a chance to sneak up on him and shock him awake. Kanata is such a great character so far – really brightens things up.

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Well, Kanata brightens things except for the grumpy Haruka. The fact that Kanata brought up Ririko probably didn’t help – Haruka would definitely like to keep his stepsister and his friends in separate worlds.

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The way Haruka reacts leaves Mirei (Ishibashi Anna) in a pensive mood, as she feels like he’s getting more distant. That, in turn, makes Kanata more thoughtful.

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We see Ririko with Tachibana (Nagayama Takashi) – the sleazy pseudo boyfriend who she can’t let go of even though she knows he’s cheating on her.

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Not that Tachibana makes it easy for her to make that decision, mind you.

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She’s still affected by his charms while eating dinner with Haruka, annoying her stepbrother. She puts him off even more when she suggests that he go out with Tachibana and her for dinner sometime.

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But other than that, conversations between them are definitely normalizing – this was a very brother-sister sort of dinner talk.

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The next day, Haruka is walking to the park and Kanata and Mirei suddenly join him. It sounds like he was intending to be there alone, but was still glad to see them.

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We get the explanation from Mirei writing one of those messages she won’t send. Five years before, she was the one who came to that spot while Haruka and Kanata were playing catch to tell Haruka that his father had died – from suicide, as it turned out.

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Haruka came to this spot because it’s the anniversary of that day. So, now we know a bit more about his history and the bonds that tie these three together.

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These scenes at the heart of this episode were really good – full of complicated feelings while being lighthearted on the surface.

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Ririko didn’t realize that this was the anniversary of Haruka’s father’s death (Haruka’s mother married Ririko’s father an unspecified time afterwards), but finds out when their mother calls to tell her.

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As they are trying to figure out what to eat, Haruka, Mirei, and Kanata spot Tachibana . . .

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. . . who they want to meet when Haruka tells them who he is . . .

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. . . but then the tone changes when they see him meeting with the other girl – or possibly, one of many other girls.

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Right then, Haruka receives a message from Ririko expressing her condolences about his father.

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That, combined with the sight he just saw, leads Haruka to decide that he ought to spend some time with his sister, after all.

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Naturally, Ririko is happy about that . . .

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. . . but Mirei is transparently distraught and in disarray. Right when Haruka left her and Kanata, she messaged Ririko, wondering why Haruka had changed his mind.

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It turns out that Kanata is the perceptive one of the three. Of course, he knows that Mirei is interested in Haruka – she’s not really hiding it well – but he also concludes that there’s no way that they’re friendship will continue into perpetuity (or even beyond high school), so she should just confess to Haruka.

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I still think Kanata has a thing for Mirei, and that’s probably why he paid attention to the fact that she always looked at Haruka before she turned her eyes to him. I’m not sure anything will come of that, since he’s sure not taking his own advice about confessing and he’s entirely supportive of the Haruka-Mirei match. That said, it’s a romantic drama and we’re only in episode four.

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So, will Mirei take Kanata’s advice?

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This was an excellent episode all around. We got more background as well as some key plot development and the pacing was reasonable.

The whole Ririko-Tachibana thing is difficult for me to get my head around. I’m not very sympathetic to Ririko since I’m still having trouble finding redeeming qualities in her character, but they’ve sure managed to make Tachibana detestable regardless of who he’s trying to charm.

The three main characters continue to be great, but Kishi-kun clearly won the day here with his portrayal of Kanata. Yes, the character is the same sort of amusing sidekick that so often appears in manga and anime, but Kishi-kun makes it unique with the precision of his expressions.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the next episode, considering the way this one ended, and that’s probably the best thing you can say about any series with an overarching story.