There are a lot of different ways to watch the same show. Myriad perspectives and ways of reading into a show’s text and subtext exist—and I don’t believe that all those different interpretations are exclusive to our particular headspaces. Why do I bring this up? Because my take on this episode differs somewhat radically from my thoughts on last episode. And that’s okay. I spent a lot of time thinking about what some of you guys said in the comments on my last post and I spent this episode trying to think about it in different, more positive terms. And, you know what? It made for a pretty great experience—much of it thanks to some of the cool things Ore Monogatari!! was doing this week.
For me, the focal point of the episode doesn’t show up until almost the end of the episode, after the match has ended and Yamato, Takeo, and Suna are walking home together. Here, we get one of Takeo’s rare introspective moments:
On a number of levels, this quote really resonated with me. Personally, physical strength isn’t a quality I particularly value (which perhaps explains some of why the show’s focus on Takeo’s physical prowess as a defining characteristic for him doesn’t really work all that well for me )—but I do understand the abstract concept of wanting to be “strong.” But I’m not usually all that sure what it means to be strong. Does it matter? It doesn’t to Takeo. As he’s pondering what it means to be strong, observing the matches before his own, Takeo ends up considering Yamato’s perpetual gifts of food to him. The juxtaposition between Tsuyoshi’s defined association between masculinity and strength (made explicit by the way Tsuyoshi’s assumption that Takeo’s contact with a feminine presence has weakened him).
But, as Tsuyoshi will later experience and as we already know, Takeo hasn’t become weaker in Yamato’s presence. If anything, he’s been made stronger by it. This isn’t just an affirmation of romance; it’s a denial of the gendered stereotype that femininity is “weak.” The accompaniment to this reversal (ironically played out in the masculine field of sport) is, of course, Yamato’s own strength. As we’ve seen since the beginning, Yamato is nothing if not intrepid and persistent and bold. Her love for Takeo isn’t weak—it’s incredibly strong. Strong enough to make Takeo cry via rice balls. Strong enough to make her see him in the stars. Strong enough, even, to scare her with the force of her feelings.
Which, to tie things back to Takeo, judo, and what this episode was saying about masculinity and long, goes for Takeo, too. His epic training sequence is filtered through his text conversations with Yamato, he appears in sparkling shoujo flowers with her immediately before his match, and, at the end of his training, he just wants to hear her voice (leading to one of the most genuine, beautiful facial expressions we’ve ever seen from him). Yet, at the same time, this is the same man who gets framed in unequivocally strong shots.
In other words, the point Ore Monogatari!! drives home with all of this—climaxing in the quote I noted at the top of the post—is that strength, romance, masculinity, femininity…none of them are important as just being a great person. All of these images and thematic threads that are so often used in opposing contexts are brought together in the judo match at the same time. As Takeo throws Tsuyoshi and wins the match, he always throws down Tsuyoshi’s false ideal of strength.
If that was where things ended, I think I’d have come out of this episode of Ore Monogatari!! talking about how all those characteristics I listed in the prior paragraph work in balance. And, while I still think that’s at least one way to read the episode, I’m more interesting in the way Takeo discounts strength (and, along with it, all those other equalized traits) as a necessity in becoming “great.” Perhaps I’m giving undue emphasis to Takeo’s internal monologue, but I think their rarity (and general excellence) gives me the leeway to do so. Having Takeo himself, the epitome of strength, relieve himself of the need to understand “strength,” I think the audience is led to understand that it’s the third sentence—”I want to be a great man”—is the most important thing that’s been said all episode.
And the fact that this wish is something Takeo addresses to Yamato reaffirms her importance in that wish. Wanting to become a great man, in whatever way that means for Takeo, is a good thing to want. But, I think, wanting to become so for someone else is even better—more selfless, more honorable, more beautiful. And, so, even though I’m still somewhat left wishing we got a little more from Yamato than general lovestruck moeblob behavior, I’m remind that that this is My Love Story!! and that Takeo is the narrator. This is, ultimately, his journey, and I look forward to seeing how he become the great man he wants to be.
 I’ll admit it comes from a somewhat reactionary place. As a thin, lanky kid for most of my sporting years, I was never able to put on muscle the way other people were—and I think I ended up mentally devaluing the worth of physical strength to protect my own ego (and in resistance towards the hyper-masculinized attitudes that our society often links to physical strength).