|Travelling to Hiroshima (on the Shinkansen) to visit the Inter High track&field tournament together with his club mates makes Yamato feel like returning home. But unlike other "cheerleaders" on this journey he will have to practice hard, according to the special training menu his team captain set up for him. To escape further physical pressure by his captain in the train, Yamato runs off to buy juice - but not only does Suzuka not want any, she even tells the boy not to talk to her during her concentration phase... Yamato feels that Suzuka is treating him more icily than ever before. Honoka observed the scene - and Yasunobu [image1] gives the hesitating girl a slight push: "If you like Yamato that much, confess already - or else he might be taken away by somebody..."
Neither Yasunobu (wanting to go chick hunting) nor Miki (inviting Yamato to set up fireworks with the gang) is successful in preventing the boy from hanging around all alone and looking depressed. At dinner Miki reports her observation to Suzuka [image2] and even tells her where she can meet the boy all alone, but Suzuka replies it's none of her business.
Meanwhile Yamato is practicing all alone and gets frustrated about his performance [image3]. But guess who's coming to cheer him up? Honoka-chan, as always. Slowly and carefully she paves her way until asking the boy why he is so apparently depressed, and when Yamato tells her he lost his confidence to ever be in the Inter High tournament she takes his hand and successfully cheers him on. Honoka is happy... but then she hears footsteps of the one person approaching whom she absolutely doesn't want Yamato to see right now. So she has to prevent this at all cost...[image4] Yamato is still thunderstruck about his first kiss ever when suddenly Suzuka is sitting beside him, talking about - track&field, of course. Yamato denies being worried about his sprinting times, and Suzuka asks him to cheer her on tomorrow.
On the next day most of the team members cheer for their participants in the Inter High competition - but Yamato has other things to worry about, including a smiling Honoka-chan sitting next to him and naturally holding his hand. And of all things he actually misses out on observing Suzuka crossing 173 cm, her new personal record, and finishing third in her first Inter High participation! But the ruckus caused by this event, with Suzuka being in the spotlight of press and television [image5], makes him aware of his increasing distance to her - and Yamato returns the grip of Honoka's hand.
After the tournament the club is holding a Senior Send Off Party, additionally celebrating Suzuka's successful performance. Yamato can't keep his eyes and thoughts from Honoka and silently retreats into the hotel garden - and again Honoka is the first one to miss him and look for her boy. When one of the carps splashes Honoka with cold water, she finds herself close to Yamato very suddenly - and offers him to kiss her again. But Yamato hesitates - and Honoka starts crying...[image6]
|(2005-10-02, Devil Doll:)
This was an exciting experience for Yamato. Seeing him lost in thoughts for most of the episode is something I much prefer to having him act randomly. His evaluation of the situation when deciding not to ask Suzuka for a walk together shows another slight improvement; his behaviour when meeting Ariba was stupid as ever but at least didn't break any china this time. Yamato's observation about the Inter High athletes being different is actually correct: The two athletes in question do share something that Yamato doesn't have - arrogance. Hopefully he will never become like them...
Suzuka spoiled her opportunity right with her first line and her annoying tone. That's the main difference between the two girls: Honoka first and foremost wants to understand Yamato and ease his pain, while Suzuka reluctantly satisfied Miki's request and doesn't actually care about the boy: She didn't go to meet him because she wanted to help him, but more like because she felt guilty for his condition. She doesn't bother a bit about the true reason why Yamato is depressed (or else she should have asked after Miki's theory apparently proved wrong), she only read out Miki's script to Yamato. Okay, it's bad timing for her, on the evening of her first important tournament (as her words show oh so well) - but the opportunity is wasted and she won't get another one for quite some time. She could still have made a lasting impression on Yamato at this point, as we can see at the carp pond later.
Miki's performance is back on her usual high level - she noticed Yamato's condition although the boy tried to hide it, and she even arranged a meeting between him and Suzuka (note how she obviously doesn't believe Suzuka's words about not being close to Yamato), actively pulling strings. From here on she likely will be a great warrior in a battle that's apparently lost for her party, because:
Yasunobu rocks! Now that he openly sides with Honoka, pushing her into action, the speed of development is skyrocketing. Honoka would never have stolen the kiss from Yamato had he not shown her what she's about to lose! This is her advantage, compared to her rival: Honoka is completely honest about her own feelings, and she's willing to act if necessary, even though her kiss was more based on panic than on affection. She may appear selfish here, but the words she said right afterwards were her way of confessing, and when she apologized at the carp pond she didn't want to ignore the boy's feelings - and her tears were true.
The cliffhanger ending is most unfortunate: Yamato is shown as acting according to his momentary feeling, without thinking about the consequences. Episode 14 will surely tell us why he did so. Anyway, half way through the show something has happened that I didn't expect, based on the name of this series: Suzuka is out of the game.
Yamato's decision to go for Honoka is all too understandable. All he got from his obsession about Suzuka is being insulted and abused (mentally as well physically, remember Miyamoto's "I knew he's you're type" and Suzuka's reaction...), and now he's convinced he can't keep up with her anyway. But Honoka nursed him during his cold and cooked a meal for him when he was hungry (even though it ended up being devoured by the wolves); this miko is miraculously aware of his mood and condition, she cares for him and wants to make him happy. This is a completely new experience for the boy: Suzuka is "cool" but they're like cats and dogs (note how these are their respective family pets!); Honoka is willing to "always be there for him" (which can become quite bothersome if performed in Kimagure Orange Road style... Honoka may well do too much at some point and lose Yamato this way), and what's more: She's not sending any mixed signals! So for Yamato's degree of experience Honoka seems to be the perfect choice right now.
Given Yamato's character so far I expect him to be willing to "play fair" with Honoka, which would mean his biggest doubt should be whether he's able to love her back as much as she deserves - and I wonder whether he will trust her as much as to tell her. Honoka's reply should then be "I'll make you forget about Asahina-san and heal your wounds"... we now get the chance to observe what would have happened if Keitarou had ended up with Mutsumi at the end of Love Hina episode 24 (remember, Mutsumi didn't play fair either about the promise, although she asked Naru for permission about dating Keitarou just like Honoka did with Suzuka).
What would Yasunobu have told him if Yamato had asked him for advice? My guess is: "You can never know unless you tried." Isn't this new love a unique opportunity for the late bloomer to get more experience and self-confidence, regardless which girl he'll end up with? I wonder whether this was what Yasunobu had in mind when he pushed Honoka into action, as talking to Yamato directly wouldn't have had any effect.