I’d go out on a limb and say this episode deals with the issue of body image and body autonomy in teenaged girls, but these serious matters are parcelled in such slapstick bizarreness that it would be an extraordinary reach to say it’s attempting to discuss them seriously. I mean, you could have looked into the pressures a model like Ami is under to maintain a picture perfect body, or you could have her get grabbed and tickle-attacked by “diet warriors” Taiga and Minorin for gloating about her fast metabolism. Clearly the entertainment value in the latter option won over the emotional pull of the former.
Also, somewhat ironically (and by “somewhat” I mean “holy hell, did you guys seriously not notice this?”) the boob-and-butt fan service has amped up with the arrival of Ami, mostly in the form of camera angles… and we find out this episode that Ami moved schools and took time off work because she was being stalked. By a pervy young guy who takes photos of her and objectifies her. Like, no one noticed the hypocrisy there? For reals?
Jeez, anyway. Ami dives into Ryuji’s arms on the walk home from school, back in the Cute Mode that conceals her true pettiness and wins hearts and minds, and asks if he can walk with her for a bit. Ryuji notices, not for the first time that day, a lingering dude in the background sporting a backpack and camera, who seems to be eyeing Ami from afar. His concern that this guy’s presence clearly has Ami distressed is interrupted by the oblivious and rage-clouded Taiga, who gets so pissed that Ami is draping herself all over Ryuji and hasn’t even acknowledged her that she hurls a trash can at her. Fortunately the crash of it scares the stalker-who-we-don’t-yet-know-is-a-stalker off, so Ami is… weirdly grateful that someone threw a bin at her head. Like, not very, but more grateful than you would normally expect someone to be.
When Ami asks if she can stay with Ryuji, Taiga enquires whether Ami would, hypothetically, prefer a draughty old place that anyone can break into or a fancy apartment. Ami, ever the sensible soul and material girl, says the fancy apartment of course, so Taiga declares Ami should come home with her. Ryuji begrudgingly admits that yes, Taiga broke into his house with frightening ease, so even more begrudgingly Ami goes to hang out in Taiga’s big empty flat. Where they start bickering, the logical result of two angry (though in different ways) girls being jammed together in a small space. It escalates into Taiga “seeing just how fake Ami can be” by forcing her on pain of eviction to do a bunch of wacky impressions.
Which is kind of mean and nasty, considering Ami is hiding in the apartment from a stalker, but Taiga doesn’t really know this yet I guess, and Ami did spend the entirety of the previous episode being mean and nasty. The comparison between them is becoming increasingly interesting; they’re almost mirrors to each other in a way, and Ami even laments at the end of the episode that Taiga is lucky, because she can show her true angry, assholish personality and still make friends. Directly after this she also goes all melty-eyed and asks Ryuji if he’d fall for her if she showed him her true self, and we get a prime and lovingly-animated shot of her ass, but that’s another frustrating matter entirely.
Again, the irony of which must have been lost on the showrunners, because the climax of the episode is the voyeuristic stalker being reprimanded, chased, and emotionally destroyed, and it’s very much portrayed as the right thing to do. The students head out into the gloomy, rainy afternoon to help with a community garbage pick-up program the student council organised (naturally Taiga volunteered herself, and poor Ryuji, so she could spend time with Kitamura) and Ami encounters both trash and mud and is forced out of her cutesy shell into a roar of disgust and frustration. Ryuji says, quite significantly, that she doesn’t have to keep up the act around him. She goes from stage-persona gleeful to mopey and mysterious, and says she couldn’t expect him to understand how she feels. Then bolts for shelter as she spies her stalker.
I love how expressive Ami is, really—it shows that even if the animators are intent on showing us her thighs every chance they get, they’re also not afraid to give her a real and vivid emotional range, even if some of those emotions do make her distinctly less pretty. And Ami is sick of being reduced to eye candy—she’s frustrated and stressed out that this creep is following her around, even after she moved schools to get away from him. When he makes a pass at Taiga and her immediate response is to tell him to piss off and hit him with a heavy bag full of trash, Ami is shocked but also feels even more defeated. If Taiga can stand up to him, why can’t she?
And so Ami decides that she will stand up to him. Harnessing her anger into manic energy, she takes off after the guy at a predatory sprint to rival the cheetah, overtaking the vengeful Taiga and succeeding in stealing the pervert’s camera and smashing it to pieces. He’s horrified that his pure beautiful idol is showing this dark side (funny that—he’s treating his teen idol like a fictional character and pursuing his crush on her with a sense of ownership akin to a “waifu” too. I would say, again, that it was a deliberate commentary on the otaku industry, but that would be even more of a reach) and runs for the hills, presumably never to return. Ami is intensely rattled by the whole experience but also a huge weight has been lifted off her shoulders, and so Ryuji takes the shaky girl home to recover from her bout of violent catharsis.
Aaaand then we get the heartfelt moment complete with the ass-shot, which, by the way, Taiga walks in on, entering the house to find Ryuji blushing on the floor with Ami looming over him with her booty popped. If this episode—which did not directly follow on from last time’s cliffhanger as I had hoped—is any indication, we won’t get an immediate follow up of this moment, but it will lead thematically into the next part of the story and seed some of the drama to come. Does Ami actually like Ryuji, or is she still flirting with him as part of a power-grabbing ploy? Either way, Taiga is not impressed. There will no doubt be hell to pay, but since Ami has finally piped up as the voice of reason and asked Ryuji why he lets Taiga push him around so much, I’d be intrigued to see if he reacts differently now this has been pointed out to him…
Ami, you complex, sympathetic, layered, nasty little firestarter. I love you.