Most weeks, watching “Terrace House: Tokyo 2019-2020” is a fun indulgence that lets viewers bask in the low-stakes drama of six 20-somethings (and an occasional 30-something) pursuing crushes, following their dreams, going on dates and cooking meals. But Episode 37 was different because when it comes to taking a stance on the subject of consent, “Terrace House” has a history of missing the mark. The panelists’ critiques (or rather roasts) of the housemates are often the best parts of the show, but as we all watch Toshiyuki aggressively pursue Yume over the last few episodes — smearing her mouth with lip balm before moving in for a kiss and planning an overnight trip to Kyoto as part of a double date with Kai and Hana — the commentators start out with sympathy for Yume only to conclude that her actions are partially to blame for Toshiyuki’s creepy behavior.

The episode begins with the panelists agreeing that while Toshiyuki is “unpleasant,” he provides a lot of entertainment. “I hope he remains undaunted,” says You.

Unlike Toshiyuki, Kai has second thoughts about going away to Kyoto for the weekend double date, coming up with a list of reasons why he’s hesitant: his stand-up career still needs a lot of work; he doesn’t have much money at the moment; and he has a lot on his mind. Toshiyuki quickly says that he’ll cover the costs of the trip, seeing as how he basically piggybacked onto Kai and Hana’s aquarium date plans. As for balancing love and comedy, Toshiyuki assures Kai that the more experiences he has, like going on a double date, the more material he’ll have for his act. Plus, he’ll only mope around the house if he doesn’t go. Convinced, Kai agrees to go, but nothing ever turns out as planned.

The four housemates make their way to Kyoto, all dressed up to enjoy the sealife Japan’s former capital has to offer. Toshiyuki is in high spirits, greeting a random cluster of tourists in English and wearing his jacket draped over his shoulders like a cape. At Kyoto Aquarium, the group splits into two, agreeing to meet up later at the dolphin show. Yume and Toshiyuki take their time snapping pictures with seals and stingrays while holding hands. Meanwhile, Hana and Kai ponder whether sea cucumbers have free will.

Fish face: Toshiyuki and Yume are all smiles at Kyoto Aquarium on 'Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020.' | © FUJI TELEVISION / EAST ENTERTAINMENT
Plenty of fish: Toshiyuki and Yume are all smiles at Kyoto Aquarium on ‘Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020.’ | © FUJI TELEVISION / EAST ENTERTAINMENT

The four reconvene at the dolphin show, although the hand-holding pair show up fashionably late, and then move on to dine on Kyoto cuisine and sip sake. It turns out that Kai has been to Kyoto once before — on an overnighter with a girl he wasn’t going out with, in fact. Hana is surprised he would spend so much time with someone and not end up dating them. Toshiyuki interjects that he’s surprised, too. “I’d be like, ‘Why did you come, then?’” he says, making it clear what his expectations are, to which Hana responds, “That’s kind of scary.”

Hard to swallow: Hana learns some surprising information about Kai's dating history on 'Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020.' | © FUJI TELEVISION / EAST ENTERTAINMENT
Hard to swallow: Hana learns some surprising information about Kai’s dating history on ‘Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020.’ | © FUJI TELEVISION / EAST ENTERTAINMENT

When the crew get to their Airbnb, there’s more squealing over the retro chic of the traditional-style house, complete with a tatami room and a kotatsu (a table with a heater underneath). We also see the bedroom, which has four futons set up side-by-side.

Back in the studio, the panelists are puzzled by how much Yume is willing to put up with Toshiyuki’s advances: Although she doesn’t have particularly strong feelings for him, she wasn’t upset when he kissed her and they held hands at the aquarium, so maybe she has a hard time saying no. If she doesn’t like him, she should be more clear. Tori-chan is the first to comment on the sleeping arrangements and Toshiyuki’s behavior, though: “I just don’t like it. … A sleepover is weird. It feels uncomfortable.” Yama-chan makes a few attempts to defend Toshiyuki — he doesn’t mean any harm, but he obviously troubles others — but mostly makes crude jokes about how badly Toshiyuki must want to spend the night with Yume.

Up until this point, Yume seems to be having a good enough time with Toshiyuki, going along with his advances and not rebuffing him outright. But in the following scenes in which the two go up to the observation deck of Kyoto Tower to take in the night view of the city and he insistently tries to coax her into facing him so he can kiss her again, it becomes obvious that Toshiyuki doesn’t take no for an answer. There is a flash of wide-eyed panic on Yume’s face as she repeatedly refuses to turn her face toward him. Toshiyuki tugs at her shoulder, pulling her closer to him, insisting that he won’t do anything, all the while leaning in. She may be giggling but her discomfort is clear as she pushes his hands off of her. “We kissed at Christmas,” he reminds her petulantly. “I didn’t hate it,” she says, but she isn’t interested in repeating that exchange until they get to know each other better.

Meanwhile, Hana and Kai are having an honest conversation about Kai’s priorities. Ultimately, he needs to focus on what’s most important to him, which is his career, rather than half-heartedly going through the motions of a relationship and not valuing his time with Hana. “I’d prefer someone who makes me feel cherished,” Hana says, noting their relationship expectations are different.

Back at the Airbnb, Toshiyuki continues to come on too strong. As Hana and Yume prepare to take a bath, he tells them to leave their bathwater because he’s looking forward to bathing in it afterward, which the women laugh about but refuse. Recapping their day while they soak in the tub, Hana concludes that Kai didn’t step up to be more involved in the date, which turned her off. And Yume says that while she thinks Toshiyuki is a nice guy, she’s not ready to kiss him again. On the subject of sleeping arrangements, the women decide that leaving Yume alone with Toshiyuki would be “dangerous,” so they’ll move their futons to a separate room, giving the flimsy excuse that they want to get up early in the morning to put on makeup.

Again, Toshiyuki tries to put pressure on Yume (and Hana), saying they shouldn’t be so self-conscious about sleeping in the same room. “We’re friends,” he says in a way that isn’t reassuring at all. At the end of the night, the women manage to make their escape and crawl into bed exhausted.

Too close for comfort: Hana and Yume decide against sleeping in the same room as the men on 'Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020.' | © FUJI TELEVISION / EAST ENTERTAINMENT
Too close for comfort: Hana and Yume decide against sleeping in the same room as the men on ‘Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020.’ | © FUJI TELEVISION / EAST ENTERTAINMENT

It’s disappointing that the panelists’ reaction to Toshiyuki’s actions is one of glee. Yes, he’s incredibly pushy and creepy, and, yes, they feel bad for Yume having to turn him down repeatedly. But also, “I kind of feel sorry for (Toshiyuki) for getting played with,” says Yama-chan. They liken Yume to a hostess who wants to keep her high-rolling client hooked so he’ll keep paying for fancy dates and dinners. Toshiyuki may be “repulsive” and “crazy,” but “I want him to stay like that,” says You. While they don’t excuse his behavior, they put part of the blame on Yume and even encourage him for their amusement. I, for one, don’t want Yume’s right to decide who kisses her and when to be made into a joke for entertainment value. If “Terrace House” continues down this track, they could be losing me as a viewer.

The Japan Times is posting weekly recaps of “Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020.” Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section. New episodes of “Terrace House Tokyo 2019-2020” stream on Netflix and Fuji TV on Demand (FOD) and air on Fuji TV on Tuesdays.

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