First K-ON! and now Hatsukoi Limited - It must be the week for Christmas-themed anime episodes. Much like K-ON!, that also means that the focus of the latest instalment of this particular series if also a Christmas party, albeit a hastily arranged one on Hiroyuki's part in an attempt to spend some time with Chikuru.
However, ignoring that particular pairing for the time being, this episode is all about Kei and Etsu Kusuda, acting as a continuation of the odd but budding relationship between the pair of them during the school festival episode a few weeks back. With those goings-on in mind, it's probably no surprise to say that this episode is full of misunderstandings between the pair of them, not helped at all by either Kei's acerbic tongue or Kusuda's propensity to sulk at any given provocation. The whole thing comes to a head when the two bump into one another while shopping for Christmas presents for the party, and the insults that fly as a result cast a shadow over the build-up to the party.
Just when it seems that things couldn't get any worse, the rest of the invitees to said party go AWOL for various reasons, leaving just Kei and Kusuda to spend Christmas Eve together. It's fair to say that this doesn't exactly go swimmingly, although it does at least end in some kind of awkward return to a vague understanding between the two of them.
While the whole relationship between this pairing couldn't be a more blatant case of opposites attract, and arguably a ridiculous one juding by the way Kei doesn't really seem to have pinned down any likeable characteristics of her object of interest, the two of them do actually work quite well together in their own odd kind of way - The pair of them clearly understand how the other's mind works (which is never a good thing when it comes to arguments, as it only ever causes the maximum amount of emotional damage to be dished out), while they both somewhat play off one another's weaknesses when it comes down to it. Thus, the normally "spoilt princess" that is Kei ends up eating at a downmarket restaurant and hanging out in a park, while Kusuda at last has someone to remind him to be a little more sensitive and thoughtful in his behaviour. Is this the start of something beautiful then? I very much doubt it.
Anyhow, now Hatsukoi Limited is getting into its groove it has improved notably, despite its propensity to drift into blatant fan service quite needlessly at times. Whether you can believe in any kind of dynamic or relationship between Kei and Kusuda here is probably a big factor in how you judge this episode, but despite my raised eyebrows at such a mismatch it works kind of well in its own eccentric way, and although I still think the series needs to give more meat to Kei's interest in Kusuda to at least explain her train of thought, beyond that the actual portrayal of a girl who tries to look and act mature but is still as much a lovestruck teenager as the next girl actually worked pretty well. I'm not sure whether there's much more life in that particular pairing, but it looks like we're moving on to pastures new in the next episode anyway.