TONIKAWA might have pulled off a miracle in “The Exciting Expert of the Hot Springs.” It’s a hot springs episode—an anime staple, to be sure—but with virtually no lewdness, sexual humor, or fanservice whatsoever. Instead, this week’s outing sticks to the series’ core themes of Nasa and Tsukasa’s maturing relationship while introducing a new character who’s looking to shake things up. The episode confirms both of them (and especially Tsukasa) are still very, very nervous about intimacy and moving towards a more mature relationship, and it’s still not clear if they’re going to cross that threshold any time soon.
One positive of “The Exciting Expert of the Hot Springs” is how it continues to focus on Nasa and Tsukasa gradually easing into physical intimacy. But while last week’s episode had them kissing alone in their own apartment, this time they’re at the famous Kusatsu hot spring, courtesy of two tickets gifted to them by Kaname’s mother. It’s a significant step up, since this is the most “adult” setting they’ve ever been in, and they’re clearly overwhelmed by it. Specifically, Nasa is anxious about providing Tsukasa with an enjoyable experience, while Tsukasa is more worried about physical closeness and her personal side being seen in public. One has to appreciate how their individual anxieties are clear outgrowths of their different personalities, and consistent with what we’ve seen from them all season.
The big twist this time is the introduction of Chitose’s grandmother Tokiko, who was briefly mentioned in Season 2’s first episode. She’s already shaping up to be the mischievous type who pushes the younger main characters out of their comfort zone and encourages them to mature. Her scene with Nasa and Tsukasa in her hotel suite is a nice balance of charming and funny, as she prods them to be more intimate with each other during their stay. The contrasting reactions speak volumes about the character differences, though: Nasa is curious and intrigued with Tokiko’s suggestion, while Tsukasa can’t stop blushing and trying to change the subject. And the choice of music—the stereotypical “sexy” saxophone solo and jazz combo—just makes the whole scene that much funnier.
Still, some of Tokiko’s dialogue hints at deeper family secrets: her reference to Tsukasa as “the ice queen,” and her comment that Nasa will accomplish “what nobody else has been able to all these years,” are cryptic enough to make us want to know more. It also effectively reminds us how little we actually know about Tsukasa’s background and family history—perhaps we’ll learn by the end of the season.
Otherwise, the main plot gets broken up midway through in a clever scene where Kaname coerces Aya and Chitose into cleaning her family’s bathhouse. The only problem is, it quickly devolves into Kaname spraying them with water, and Aya and Chitose nearly tearing each other’s swimsuits off when they get into a fight. It literally has nothing to do with, well, anything, but that’s the point. The whole scene is actually one brilliant meta joke, a grab bag of all the “hot spring episode” tropes—girls in swimsuits, fanservice, etc.—that don’t appear in the rest of the episode. Basically, this is the show’s way of making it a “real” hot springs episode while still keeping Nasa and Tsukasa’s relationship wholesome and innocent. Kaname also gets to continue her streak of fantastic one-liners with a brilliant fourth wall-breaking punchline at the end of the scene.
“The Exciting Expert of the Hot Springs” closes with Nasa and Tsukasa in their hotel room, staring at their private bath and blushing, so we’ll have to wait a week to find out if they actually take the leap of faith and share a bath together. Tokiko also gives them a special “Big Three Tour Card” listing the three major hot springs in Kusatsu, which essentially sets up the events of the next episode. All in all, though, this week’s outing is an adequate prelude to what seems like a major turning point in Nasa and Tsukasa’s marriage. Considering they’re at a hot springs resort they’ve never been to before, and on the verge of being physically closer than ever for the first time, it’s safe to say Nasa and Tsukasa are literally and figuratively in uncharted waters.
You can watch season 2 of TONIKAWA: Over the Moon for You on Crunchyroll, and vote for it in our weekly poll.
©Kenjiro Hata, Shogakukan / Tonikaku Kawaii Production Committee