The main heroine of Episode 7 is Suirenji Ruka, a super idol and currently the most active love rival of Nagi in the manga.
Well… how should I put it? Of course this is not the first time we see Ruka animated. She appeared on screen first in the Heaven is a Place on Earth movie, singing the OP and having one line (there were a few more in the Prologue). She then had regular cameos in the Can’t Take My Eyes off You anime, serving mostly as a remote narrator while also contributing to Nagi’s final plans. Yet this episode of Cuties really gives me the feeling that it is her “real” debut.
I guess the main reason is that, I have learnt very little about Ruka from her previous anime appearances. She carried out her “function”, but all I knew was that she was a popular idol whom Nagi and the others happened to know. Anybody who matched these two criteria could do Ruka’s job just as well. The focus has been put on “the idol”, not “Suirenji Ruka”.
This time, though, we are introduced to “Suirenji Ruka”, not “the idol”. Ruka finally has her identity, her soul and her thoughts. I can finally be satisfied that I am watching Ruka in action, not any other popular idol. This is the proper way of introducing a character to me. As such, I would take this episode as Ruka’s “real” debut.
Keeping in mind that Yamazaki Haruka-san, Ruka’s CV, is a rookie seiyu and singer (God, she is a lot younger than me!), I think we must accept that her performance is not exactly refined. There are certain lines I think that she is merely reading the script, without properly delivering Ruka’s emotions. Obviously Yamazaki-san (or -chan for me?) has a long career ahead of her, so let us hope that she would learn quickly and become a truly capable seiyu in the future.
I don’t really remember if I have heard Atsumari (voiced by Koshimizu Ami-san) talking before. Most probably I haven’t, because the youthfulness behind her voice surprises me. I actually expected her to have a more matured voice. Then again, I could have wrongly presumed that she was a matured manager in the first place. Given that she contributes to the idea of having Maid Star on the stage, I guess my presumption has been wrong…
The very first thing I know about Ruka is that she – once again – doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle. Once again she has to go through the “harsh lesson” from Hayate. In other words, the first half of this episode is the animation of Ch. 357 and Ch. 358.
If there is anything for me to complain about the training session, it is that there is a serious lack of sense of speed. In other words, I am not very convinced that Ruka has run downhill with high speed, and as such I do not really believe that Ruka is in any real danger. Episode 10 of Season 2, in which Ayumu ran downhill on her bicycle, has done a much better job in terms of the sense of speed.
On the other hand, this time I am more convinced that Newton’s First Law of Motion has been followed. The key is that as Hayate catches the bicycle, it is leaning more backwards, so it is more reasonable that Ruka is not thrown forward due to inertia. Small changes in details like this (it has never been a big deal, has it?) are very welcomed.
I am not entirely sure how to interpret the “This is…” line by Chiharu. In the manga, it was understandable that Chiharu would suspect Ruka had a crush on Hayate, because by Ch. 358 she wasn’t 100% sure about it. As Cuties is (assumed to be) set in September, a lot has already happened, including that Ruka has told Chiharu about her confession to Hayate. Chiharu’s “discovery” of Ruka’s feelings for Hayate is therefore unnecessary in this context.
If we are to sum up the second half of this episode, it is the animation of Ch. 297 to Ch. 299, Ruka’s very first concert for us readers. The manga chapters are, once again, heavily rewritten in order to fit into the context of this episode. Do note that the script for this episode is written by the same person who has written Episode 5, and once again Inotsume Shinichi-san (nice name, by the way) has done a very good job, despite the little flaw I have mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Oddly, Ruka has invited Hayate plus one to her concert, while the “one” happens to be Hinagiku. Of course, Hayate and Hinagiku have once attended Ruka’s concert together, but that was way before the so-called “Ruka’s side” has been disbanded (by Nagi). Now, in the Cuties context, it is actually quite interesting to see the “side” reunite for a event, in which Hayate and Hinagiku plan to support Ruka again, after everything that has happened during summer – or am I reading too much into a very simple scene that is Hayate taking Hinagiku on a date?
In any case, Hinagiku reveals that Chiharu has – for whatever reason – told her everything about Ruka’s training. Being a victim of Hayate’s “S-mode” herself (way back during the Freedom Marathon, in case you have forgotten), Hinagiku is not impressed that Hayate has shown his “S-mode” again. Hayate decides to dodge her death glare by getting angry at the SC Rangers, who are there to make sure that it is not a 2-people date. Hayate is so uncharacteristically mad at them, while Hinagiku looks extremely laid back for her friends’ presence. What kind of dynamics is this between them?
The “date” is cut short as Hayate is asked by Ruka for help. With her backup dancer fallen ill suddenly, and herself fallen from the rid during rehearsal, Ruka now has her fair share of bad luck, making her more and more a true mirror image of Hayate. She is still a bit luckier than Hayate because she can always ask for him to help, while Hayate…
The SC Rangers take Chiharu’s place as regular concert-goers, while Hinagiku is substitute to Nagi as the fish out of pond. We know that Hinagiku doesn’t have much entertainment – she has never been to amusement parks or aquariums until somebody took her to – so it is understandable that she has no clue on how to enjoy herself at first. Her appreciation of Ruka’s performance, however, pushes her to stand up and shout just like everyone else. Funny enough, she ends up dancing in her seat more passionately than her friends.
Gilbert takes the place of Housen Yozora
(who?) as the trouble-maker. Poor Yozora, I am still awaiting for her debut… Apparently Gilbert is one of the “Ruka’s Imperial Guard” who were rehearsing their dance before the concert, but now that he sees Hayate (who does not hesitate to reveal his true sex and identity), he decides that he would have another go at the Sanzen’in inheritance again. Eight, under the code name of… whatever, is of course the unwilling dancing robot which gets dragged onto the stage for the final song.
While Chiharu and Nagi were not entirely sure that the robot-kicker was Hayate (in maid uniform), Hinagiku and the SC Rangers have no doubt about it at all. Once again, Hinagiku is shown to be the only one who is not 100% happy seeing Hayate in girl’s clothes. Hayate shows himself to be a very capable dancer as well, but I must say that he keeps making me laugh…
We could hardly complain the abundance of Ruka’s songs in this episode. After all, she is an idol who specialises in singing. Just remember to buy her CD album, in which her ED “Pray to the Moon” is included. The said album, named “Gospel”, is available on Amazon…