See, involving Erika in the seriously studying aspect of the plot is where A Couple of Cuckoos should have headed first going into its second cour. As opposed to last week’s focus, which mainly served to highlight how little Nagi has going on as a character, this week’s entry actually clarifies some previously underrepresented aspects of Erika, and even rounds back to some of the main themes of the series. It definitely makes for a refreshing highlight to me, and while it’s only the first half of this episode, it works along with the dramatic cliffhanger of this one to give me a bit more hope for Cuckoos‘s future.
Part of the success, I think, is that the general fun factor of the presentation has been dialed up here. Erika’s predilection for silly cosplay has always been an entertaining element of Cuckoos, so putting her in a funny military outfit to mess around in as she grapples with the concept of actually making an effort in her studies spins the whole thing as a half-decent chuckle-worthy situation. Sachi getting in on the action, Erika’s bizarre nonsequiturs of exam-question ponderings—it all does well to play up the ‘comedy’ in this supposed romantic comedy. It sells Erika’s base appeal, which makes us want her to succeed on her test even aside from the plot mandating that.
As well, the actual story told by this swerve works on more levels than I’d been conditioned to expect from Cuckoos. Explaining how her grades even became an issue means the writing touches on the difference between the previous academy she attended and Nagi’s more competitive school she followed him to. Remember when contrasts between the pair’s environment and upbringing were once a key feature of this series? Demonstrating that Erika hasn’t turned out suited for these kinds of academic rigors helps dial up that contrast. Yes, her complete failure to understand the concept of pi is funny for indicating how slow she is, which contributes to that aforementioned endearing element, but it also gives her a new struggle to overcome. This directly impacts her desire to assert her independence from her father (well, as independent as she can be when she’s still living in a house he owns) and Nagi’s role in assisting her with that. It fits into Cuckoos‘s overall idea of children trying to exercise agency apart from their parents’ plans. Though it is also revealed at the end that Erika’s dad would have gotten something he wanted from her regardless of the outcome—either her returning home or having her grades improve—like the dude is some sort of marriage-arranging Xanatos.
I do think there’s a bit of a shortcoming to this story segment in the mechanical elements of the studying it glosses over. Despite Nagi alluding to his understanding of what Erika’s problems were with studying for the test, making a point regarding memorization, we don’t see that play out. It feels like a missed opportunity given it had grabbed my interest, and instead we just cut to Erika having passed the test. But that’s a minor complaint given that the emotional and thematic elements are so on-point. They make use of Nagi’s ambiguous evolving feelings on his odd living situation with Erika and how much he’s trying to convince himself if he wants to have it continue or return home. It’s a nice illustrative character focus that plays off the post-first-cour idea of Nagi realizing how much he’s coming to appreciate Erika. And his assistance even lets her espouse something else she actually likes about him besides his cooking, that being his strong work ethic. That’s what I mean about this episode stepping up as a better example of things the previous one was trying to do.
As I said though, that’s only the first half of this episode. The B-part does have the tangential story thread connected to its predecessor of Erika attending the festival as a celebration for passing her test, so there’s that at least. But what we actually get turns out to be so unventful that it can’t help but feel like the show killing time after that stronger storyline before they can really start something else with next week’s episode. And a lot of it revolves around Nagi and Sachi continuing their awkward interactions so, uh, great. Part of my issue with this plot thread, apart from the whole sibling aspect, is how little movement has happened in the situation mostly on account of characters simply not realizing things. Like a few episodes ago, I thought Erika’s conversation with Nagi had made apparent to him that Sachi might have some less-than-pure interest in her brother from another mother. But Nagi seemingly has the situational awareness of one of those drinking-bird toys, and thus can only bob from proximity with one girl to the next, acting mystified as to why Sachi might be acting weird with him.
The weird siloing off of characters’ knowledge also manifests in the lead-up to this one’s big plot twist. It’s odd for the show to only now make it clear that Segawa wasn’t aware that Nagi’s family ran a restaurant, nor had she actually met Sachi yet. It’s the sort of separation of leads that highlights how Nagi-centric all the storytelling involving the characters has been thus far. The silver lining, however, is that twist that comes as a result of this, with Erika, loveable dumbass that she is, inadvertently cluing Segawa in on that foundational switcheroo situation. It makes for an ending that’s simultaneously hilarious and interesting. So for as much as they took their time in the latter half getting to that setup, and as much of a mixed bag as it made this episode overall, I still must admit that it worked, marking this one as a general success.
A Couple of Cuckoos is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Chris is a freewheeling Fresno-based freelancer with a love for anime and a shelf full of too many Transformers. He can be found spending way too much time on his Twitterand irregularly updating his blog.