Shokugeki no Souma – 21

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Sleeping Souma was a red herring! He was just nodding off a bit waiting for the perfect time to add his spices and fill the kitchen arena with a tantalizing aroma that even Hayama Akira must acknowledge has promise. But that’s pretty much it for Souma this week, as all eyes are on Megumi in much of the episode’s first half. Just when the “bumpkin” is being chastised for her lack of showmanship and clumsiness, she unveils a giant monkfish hanging from a tripod.

After remembering how hard she trained back home, under the tutelage of a big burly fisherman, she prays for Souma to lend her some of his courage, then butchers the ungainly fish like a pro, impressing everyone, even then very hard to impress Hojo Miyoko. Both girls have had to work that much harder to gain the respect of their elders due to their gender, and in Megumi’s case, her gentleness. But she’s a lot tougher thatn she looks, and proves it again here.

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With that performance, the clock runs out and the cooking is complete. Now all that’s left is for the five judges to grade the students’ dishes on a scale of 0-100 (with each judge having 20 points to award). Even though they heap praise on the first dish, they award a measly 33 points, jaded as they are by years of impeccable culinary excellence, “pretty good for a student” ain’t gonna cut it.

Student after student fails to break 40 points (50 being something to be proud of), and when Sadatsuka Nao unveils her putrid-smelling dish, I figured her to be the first chef to earn precisely zero points. And yet, she not only broke 40 point barrier, but was awarded 84 out of 100 to shoot up to the lead. Once the judges held their noses and tasted her horrifying kusaya-infused jet-black curry, they became enthralled in its bold, assertive flavors. In other words, they all fell under her curse. BDSM also comes into it, as all the judges willfully submit to Nao’s gastronomic punishment.

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With Nao having set the standard for her group thus far in the most unorthodox way possible, her arch-nemesis and rival for Erina’s heart (and verbal abuse) Arato Hisako steps to the plate with a seemingly safe-looking curry bowl made with mutton. But her approach, steeped in her family’s traditional focus on Eastern medicine and medicinal cuisine, has the opposite effect on the judges, purifying and revitalizing them rather than beating them into submission.

Hisako’s dish is essentially the antidote to Nao’s, which is apropos considering their diametrically-opposed personalities. Both are great chefs, but Nao cooks for her own sake, while Arato claims to cook for the sake of others, including Erina. She even gives Nao a bowl, destroying “Dark Nao” in a cascade of medicinal light and giving rise to a much purer “White Nao.” Nao’s defeat is so complete, her masochistic side causes her to shift her fixation from Erina to Hisako. Love is in the air!

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I’m guessing this is how the remainder of the episodes will pan out: episode 22 will cover the judging of the Aldini brothers, Alice, Megumi, and possibly a few others not seen in the preview (like Miyoko and Yuuki); episode 23 be Souma and Akira, and 24 will be the wrap up. That’s assuming this show will end at just 24 episodes…which if you ask me and Hannah, would be a crime.

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Ushio to Tora – 09

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Last week’s Fusuma side-story is followed by another side-story on Ushio and Tora’s journey to Hokkaido, and the show continues to prove it’s imminently competant at entertaining standalone stories that are part and parcel of Ushio’s new role in the world as a keeper of balance.

This week’s tale involve a family of fox-like Kamaitachi youkai siblings, two of whom are trying to reign in their wild, murderous brother Juurou, whom we meet as he rips the roof off a Honda, lopping off the heads of its occupants in the process. Kagari and Raishin are the sensible, older siblings, who test Ushio then bring him to their home in the forest.

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They don’t mince a bunch of words: they want Ushio to kill Juurou, before he kills enough humans to incite a reaction that will wipe out all kamaitachi. That being said, it’s never clear whether these three are all that’s left of their kind. All we know is, Raishin and particularly Kagari are immensely proud youkai, and while they love their brother (Kagari lops Tora’s arm off when he speaks ill of him), killing humans without reason is wrong.

Of course, when Juurou shows up, looking every inch the troubled, rebellious baby brother, he gives his reasons: every time he and his siblings are settled and content, the humans come and build something, destroying their home in the process and making them flee. He’s sick of it, and he’s become consumed by hatred, both of humans and for himself for not being strong enough to stop them. All he can do is lash out indiscriminately, treating all humans as guilty.

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Ushio can’t let that stand, so he rushes Juurou, but runs into a spot of trouble when he’s FRIKKIN’ KILLED. The look on Tora’s face when he realizes Ushio has died, and the panic that seems to course through him until Kagari heals him, is more evidence that Ushio and Tora are Best Frenemies Forever. I also like how Ushio dies, if only temporarily, even in a side-story episode. His life is a lot more dangerous. Fortunately, he’s an extremely tough kid, and they come right back at Juurou before he can kill any more humans.

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Once Ushio has met Juurou, he can relate to the hatred of having something he loved taken away—in his case, a “dangerous” jungle gym that was dismantled after a kid fell off it. Ushio’s always been the kind of guy who learns lessons by falling off or into things, perhaps not entirely sensitive to the frailer youths around him. But I can imagine being his age and losing something that cool would be devastating, even if it’s not the same scale as the Kamaitachi losing multiple homes to human development.

The site of the still under-construction freeway becomes a battlefield, but a sequence of events, from Juurou tearing off a big side of a rocky cliff to a truck falling on Kagari and Raishin and its gas leaking out, to the construction workers accidentally igniting the fuel with his cigarette, the situation just grows more and more tense. But Ushio and Tora keep the rock and truck from crushing Juurou’s family, and even a few construction workers hear Ushio’s pleas for help and are able to lift the truck off the Kamaitachi.

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It’s a night that shows Juurou the better side of humans, and that morning Ushio vows to find him and his brother and sister a new place to live where they’ll be safe. Juurou says that would be great, but leaps out to attack Ushio anyway, getting stabbed through the heart with the Beast Spear in the process.

There’s no happy ending here for the family of Kamaitachi, as perhaps Juurou believed it was too late for him, after all the killing he did and pain he endured. But hearing Ushio simply acknowledge the magnitude of what humans did to him, and earnestly apologizing, helped Juurou die a marginally happy youkai.

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GATE – 09

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GATE’s ninth episode starts out doing well by me, serving up more of what I want the show to focus on: Itami and his circle of comrades and friends in a slice-of-lifey manner. Sure, Pina’s constant mistaking the world for her own gets old pretty quick, but I chuckled at their sudden fascination with BL literature. It’s also fun watching Rory haughtily claiming not to need any other garb, then changing her mind as soon as she sees something she likes.

Then Itami is approached by none other than the Japanese Defense Minister in Akiba, who orders him to take the Special Regioners to the designated safe house: a hot spring inn. Thus begins one of the stranger and yet also somehow duller onsen episodes in recent memory.

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I say dull because there’s nothing that goes on that is particularly unique or interesting about their stay. They’re having a lot more fun than I am watching them, and other than learning a little more about Itami through his ex-wife (who apparently chose to marry him rather than starve) nothing much of consequence was revealed about anyone (save one person; more on that later). And fine, Drunk Kuribayashi was cool too.

I say strange because the whole time they’re relaxing and bathing and drinking, the inn is surrounded by Japanese special forces assigned to guard them, along with a bunch of American, (and Russian, and Chinese) agents, locked in a pretty uninspiring special forces forest battle.

International politics come to the fore when the U.S. President essentially blackmails the Japanese Prime Minister into taking the guards off of the Special Regioners, leaving them exposed to capture. The show also implies that had they not been ordered to stand down, the Japanese SFG would have eliminated all of the enemies easily. We get it, show; you reeeeally don’t like bureaucrats.

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But the whole idea of A.) those enemy forces getting so close to the inn in the first place and B.) everything about the president and prime minister mostly struck me as dumb. Dumb to the point of making me question continuing to watch this show, so tired am I of our diverging priorities. The high-level political stuff is already insufferable, and there’s every possibility there will only be more of it in the second cour.

There’s a little consolation in the fact Itami and Rory are the last two standing after a night of drinking (both of them would also be the two most aware of what’s going on outside), and Rory lamenting that once she rises to godhood she’ll lose both the pain and pleasures of the flesh, before coming onto Itami, who is, after all, unmarried, available, and conscious.

But the final scene isn’t fooling anyone. There will be no getting it on tonight for Itami and Rory, as their activities are sure to be rudely interrupted by an approaching group of American guerrillas. I hope they don’t get far with their kidnapping plans and/or Rory puts the righteous hurt on them for ruining one of the last moments in her semi-mortal life to get some.

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 08

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No Kamo no Chomei recitations this week; rather, we have an algae-covered Yuki and Taroumaru, resulting in the need for baths for both. But I must admit this episode, despite its ample charming slice-of-life and revelatory ending, had neither the drive nor the punch, nor the resonance of previous episodes. For the first time, GG! felt like it was, if not stalling, at least dawdling.

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The totem connecting the recent past to the present is a Polaroid camera, a pre-digital mechanism capable of producing instant images of the moment the shutter click captures. Moments that no longer exist, like those with Megu-nee. While searching the faculty lounge for the lock the mystery key fits, Yuuri recalls the day both she and Megumi came up with the whole idea of the School Life Club in order to break up the monotony of simple survival.

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But the very ease of their survival thus far has created a kernel of doubt and suspicion, not only in Rii-san, but Miki as well: both believe the school to be almost too well-equipped for long-term survival, which is why Rii-san wants to find out what the key unlocks so badly. It just takes a bit of aforementioned dawdling on the part of Yuki and the dog to get to this plot-propelling point.

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But it’s Yuki, the delusional one, who ends up finding the secret compartment where the safe that the key belongs to is located. Yet Yuki isn’t made privy to said contents: a DVD and documents relating to the effects of a biological weapon, contamination, and isolation, all but assuring that the present zombified state of the country and possibly the world is a man-made occurrence.

On the one hand, the revelation of these documents takes us deeper down the rabbit hole. On the other hand, some of the mystery has been eroded, leaving us with facts that may or may not provide ample recompense for what had been an immersive mystique. In so much fiction, sometimes the more you learn about something, the less you end up caring about it. Some things are better left unknown. It remains to be seen if this is one of them.

In the next four episodes, will anything come of Yuuri, Miki, and Kurumi learning more about what happened? Will they be able to use this information to enact significant change in the present state of the world? Or has their fate already been sealed, in which case they may have been better off in La-La Land with Yuki?

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Ore Monogatari!! – 21

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For White Day, Takeo gives Yamato cookies he baked. You heard that right: gives her cookies he baked. And while he’s his own toughest critic on said cookies, the fact that they even exist bowls Yamato over; she declares them too precious to eat—and meaning it—but still takes a bite and is delighted with them. Finally, Takeo gets to experience what she’s been able to since they met: watch someone he loves enjoying something he made.

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The Valentines/White Day proceedings were an effective and logical segue to the next arc, “Find Love For Suna.” Turns out there was no one to find; someone was watching him and circling him from afar all along, becoming a little bolder every year, especially after Valentines, and possibly borne out of the knowledge she’s running out of school years to follow Suna. This girl, Amami Yukika comes close enough that she enters Takeo’s keen “follower radar”, misjudging her as someone with malevolent intentions, then rescuing her letter from the river.

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If any show can make a stalker girl sympathetic, it’s Ore Monogatari!!, as well as the talented voice of Kayano Ai, who gives Amami the right blend of delicate femininity and forthright determination. Judging from Suna’s photo album, Amami has literally been in the background of Suna and Takeo’s lives since kindergarten when she fell for him when him after he saved her from a thrown dodgeball. The trouble is, she hasn’t made any moves to get him to acknowledge her (all her Valentines letters were anonymous), so she hasn’t been acknowledged.

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“Takeo Cupid” wants to help in any way he can, but he also realizes it’s Amami who will have to do the heavy lifting like, you know, talking to Suna. All she really needs is a push…or rather, several pushes, as she’s so overwhelmed by suddenly being in the foreground with Suna (rather than watching him from afar) it’s hard to breathe, let alone talk. Still, when he not only refers to her by name but the fact he’s known of her existence since kindergarten, she confesses her love to him right there in the street, with Takeo looking on. Then she runs.

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This is where a second nudge by Takeo is needed. He brings her back to Suna (who almost seemed to be waiting for them), where she tells him she wants him to watch her and learn more about her before he gives her his response. I thought this was overly cautious on her part, since it wasn’t completely outside the realm of possibility he’d say “sure, let’s go out.” Suna isn’t opposed to going out with girls, just girls who talk shit about Takeo.

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They exchange cell numbers, and an initial bond is formed, to my relief. But Amami needs a couple more nudges, as she finds it hard to break out of her usual routine of stalking-kinda-not-stalking. Takeo sends Suna off to walk her home, but she still can’t talk, so Takeo then brings in Yamato for a female perspective on the thing. She shares her experience having difficulty making moves toward a relationship, but as we’ve seen the benefits of making those moves have been more than worth the stress involved.

Ultimately, they determine the best way forward is for Amami, Suna, Takeo and Yamato to do a double date, in this case to the zoo, which Suna promptly agrees to. Takeo tells him he doesn’t have to, but Suna knows that, and wouldn’t say he’s going if he didn’t want to. That doesn’t mean he’s going to say straight-up “Yes, I want to go on a double date with Amami to see if it will work out because she seems like a genuinely good person and possibly a good match as well.”

Even if asked directly, he won’t answer that directly, but the seeming lack of enthusiasm can’t be taken as an actual lack of it. I imagine he’s just as interested to see where this goes as Takeo, Yamato…and me. Lord knows Suna has demonstrated throughout the show that he deserves a good woman, and not just because he’s good-looking.

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Sore ga Seiyuu! – 08

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This week Futa-Futa, Ichigo and Rin-Rin are reunited for an in-store event marking the release of their first CD single, “Into Your Ears.” There, they learn of the stress and anticipation prior to the event starting, along with the understanding that the designated performance room will not be packed, judging from the wider spacing of the seats and the fact a couple of employees will be in the crowd (I count 31 total people above).

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But despite all that, the girls do their best for their small but passionate mini-legion of fans who did turn out to watch their first performance, and while the song doesn’t start exactly when they think it will, they don’t make any mistakes in the actual performance, which is good. Far from a fiasco, everything goes pretty smoothly.

It becomes clear to Futaba that Rin and Ichigo are more popular than she, but is heartened by an encounter with one particular fan of hers who not only knows her C.V. and traveled from Saga to see her, but bought the same Korori doll she has. I’m also glad the show didn’t go too dark or cynical with regard to the intensity of the fans; they all behaved themselves…except, perhaps, Rin’s hyper classmate/”first fan” Sayo!

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Earphones as a group also learns that they have to be realistic about the speed of their ascent into J-pop relevance, and have to be satisfied with a few CD sales rather than selling out, just as they have to be satisfied with a third- to half-full hall. Everything takes time, patience, resilience, and work work work.

After the event, Futaba ends up being called into Gonzo’s TV studios to do a narration for a show, her first such job. She’s understandably nervous about this too, especially when she learns the guy doing the job with her is the famous TV voice Machi Yuji (also the voice of Ultraman Tiga, and Tsukino Usagi’s dad). Machi-san is a Pro with a capital P, having amassed enough skill and experience to nail a script that’s literally just been handed to him, even offering the producers corrections down to the frame.

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Watching Machi work and make it look so easy is obviously quite intimidating to Futaba, to the point she totally blows her dry run. But when Machi-san tells her he used to be in her position—no one starts out perfect, or even good—she’s stops worrying about how bad she was and starts working to be as good as she can be.

Her second try is much better, and Futaba’s seiyu Takahashi Rie does a fine job clearly differentiating between bad and better to even the untrained ear. She gets through the job, and impresses enough that Machi mentions finishing a story he started next time they meet, suggesting she’ll get more work there.

If she does, each time she goes, she’ll learn more and more, and get better and better. But she won’t ever be able to stop working any less hard than she is now. Constant improvement requires constant struggle, especially for people like Futaba.

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OverLord – 08

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Given that the show had built Clementine up to be one of the toughest baddies yet to appear, it was pretty clear Nphirea was going to end up being captured, even with the Swords of Darkness defending him (one of which, who I thought sounded like a girl, turned out to be a girl). In the time it takes for Momon to register Hamusuke, Clem takes care of the lot of them, not just killing them, but turning them into zombies whom Momon has to put out of their misery. But before she does, she details her great plan, as villains are wont to do:

“…Although it’s impossible to control all the undead we summon, we’ll be able to lead them in various general directions! IT’S THE PERFECT PLAN!”

love this monologue by Clem, because she prefaces her assertion that her plan is perfect by pointing out that it’s not perfect. But Clem is strong and evil enough not to care that much about the details. As long as the world is on fire, she’s happy to watch it burn. Yuuki Aoi continues to breathe life into the “inhuman warrior” with her zany, gusto-filled performance.

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When Momon learns all his former comrades are dead, just like that, he is “displeased”; he doesn’t wig out or scream or fume like your average shonen hero. This is the undead OverLord, people; and Clem’s victims were above all “tools to raise his name,” not friends. His beef with her is the fact she destroyed his tools, not that she cut his close human bonds.

Furthermore, he treats Nphirea’s rescue as a transaction; his granny agrees to pay him everything she has to save Nphi, and Momon has no cumpunction whatsoever about exploiting a grandmother’s unconditional love. Notably, there’s a lot less internal monologue from Momonga this week, suggesting an ever-greater comfort in his new, apparently permanent overlord skin.

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Like Clem’s imperfect plan, even in an episode where most of the characters from the last couple of episodes have been murdered finds places to infuse moments of comedy, such as when Nabe has to carry Hamusuke on her back as she flies over the undead army in the cemetery.

Between that and all the scroll spells they cast to locate Nphirea, there’s a firm practicality to Momon’s course of action, which isn’t ideal due to the time constraints. He may not know the bad guys’ plans, but he knows Nphi isn’t long for his world if he dawdles. But in taking out the bulk of the zombie army before several city guard witnesses, he’s already succeeded in furthering his name. He just has to stick the landing by defeating the bosses.

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Finally, Momon and Nabe come face to face with Clem and Khaj, and I’m reminded of the cocky Slane army with their formidable-looking mecha-angels. Clem and Khaj aren’t exactly shaking in their boots, and Nabe’s first lightning spell, while taking out all of Khaj’s subordinates, only manages to give him a small scratch. So either Nabe’s going too easy on him, or he’s the first truly tough customer she’s had to deal with.

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Similarly, Clementine, she of the many tones of voice and twisted facial expressions, is confident she can take Momon, because she only knows of a few people who can hold their own in a fight with her. Of course, since one of those names is Stronoff, we know for a fact Momon will have no trouble eliminating her…eventually.

So it’s less a matter of if he defeats Clem, but how. Just to turn things around and piss her off, Momon declares he’ll implement a handicap in fighting her, refusing to go all out on her, no matter what. We’ve only seen playful, confident Clem up to this point, but I’m certain next week we’ll see her truly pissed off and on the defensive for perhaps the first time in her life. But one thing I can’t believe is that Momon will lose. If he does, it’ll be because he wants to.

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