In a somewhat unexpected change of narrative this week Ao no Kanata turned its focus away from Asuka and brought its gaze onto Mashiro. As mentioned last week it became quite clear that Mashiro was the weakest member of Kunahama High’s Flying Circus club – she was roundly decimated by the Vice President of Takafuji’s club in their practice match, if you remember – and this episode focuses on her painful awareness and frustration at the fact, brought to all the more keen of an edge by Asuka’s astounding growth on a literal day by day basis. It turns out that Mashiro is not only the weakest member of the Flying Circus club in terms of playing skill, she is also the weakest in the area of academics.

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A testing period came and went, and only Mashiro’s grades were poor enough that she had to take makeup classes and exams. To do so, though, she asked a classmate of hers for tutoring help, and this classmate happens to be a member of the Broadcasting Club, one Hosaka Minori. Minori is … a character personality wise – sort of your classic image of someone who is involved in the paparazzi.

In any event Mashiro does pass, but Minori’s “price” for the tutoring is to allow her to look in on the Flying Circus club’s activities. As Mashiro arrives from the makeup exams with Minori they arrive just in time to see Asuka perform what can only be called an inhuman feat of athleticism, stopping on a dime while being chased and doing a standing backflip something like 15 feet in the air and 20 feet backwards?! O.O Everyone present was dumbfounded (including myself).

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Not surprisingly Mashiro begins to feel the pressure from Asuka’s astounding growth and her own lack of skill. This becomes even more apparent in the first practice match the club undertakes when the weather clears up (it was raining early in the episode). Not only is Mashiro slow and … clunky is the only word I can think of … in her flying, but Asuka is already at a level where she can practice with Misaki to the benefit of both of them.

The training regimen thus far is not very focused on individual one-on-one physical oriented training – rather it is largely verbal. Masaya is without a doubt a talented and extremely intelligent player, but he is not the best for being a coach. In some ways he is “best we can do at the moment” option for the club, but it is not an ideal option. And Mashiro’s difficulties (and how it is resolved in this episode) are certainly a testimonial to this limited, flawed and perhaps even constricted method of instruction that is being adopted.

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Fortunately Mashiro is able to find help in her training in Flying Circus, and it comes through the attention of Ichinose Rika (the speeder from Takafuji that Masaya stumbled across in the first two episodes). She provides precisely what Mashiro needed to complete her training – a hands on, side by side instruction in the basics of the game, yes, but also in flight. And to Mashiro’s credit she learns well … I would even say learns incredibly quickly; she has some talent and all it needed was the right sort of mentoring and encouragement to bring it out.

In the process of it being brought out she even discovers that she also has a “natural orientation” to be the “speeder” type of Flying Circus player – partly thanks to her petite frame – and the fruits of her training impress and surprise her team members. As a pleasant bonus, we also get screen time for both Mashiro and Rika in ways they have not been shown before (they become fast friends) and their characters shine the better for it. Both of them come across as wonderful young people in the midst of their blossoming into adulthood. ^^

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At the end of the episode we are shown a tiny portent (or foreshadowing) of possible events to come. The evening after Mashiro shines at club practice Asuka accidentally drops her cell phone while standing at a take-off platform and it is saved by a flying passerby who snatches it up at incredible speed and reaction time and hands it back. After Asuka thanks her she flies away and some sombre, ominous music plays in the background.

Later on after the ED she shows up among those coming in the next episode and in a Flying Circus flight suit, too. I wonder if next episode is another training camp or if we were shown footage of the summer competition finally? If the latter then the events thereat are likely to be a turning point in the story – something big will happen. Be interesting if it was in relation to the flying passerby and Asuka – a rivalry? A friendship? Can only wait to see!

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Currently the “oji-san” of the staff members age wise (in his mid 40’s) yet the most recent addition, he is also a Japanophile from his teen years while not quite an “otaku” who lives in the United States. Came to actively following anime late in life (in 2008), but in general loves the traditional arts, history and culture of Japan as a whole, both ancient and modern.

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