Shokugeki no Souma – 09

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Aldini Takumi and his bro made a pretty bangin’ dish for Chef Hinako, but when pondering his response, Souma shows that two can tango. As soon as he asked Hinako to repeat the condition of the test about using anything inside the confines of the hotel grounds, I knew he was going for her beloved rice crackers, which means unlike all of the other students who are grilling the char, he’s now got a coating with which to deep fry it.

Now that’s resourcefulness; hinging one’s entire dish on a snack the judge just happened to have on her. I also like the cut from students wondering why Hinako was known as the “Empress of Mist”, to the “mists” of tea steam emanating from her, explaining the nickname.

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I also like SnS‘s insitence, at least at this point in the game, to have rivals, not villains or antagonists, face off against Souma. Takumi is a rival. He left home to attend this academy specifically because he wants to go toe-to-toe with worthy rivals like Souma. He’s even worried and apologetic when he accidentally crushes Souma’s crackers, afraid he may have inadvertently sabotaged Souma’s dish. Luckily, he needs those crackers pulverized.

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Also heartening: as down to the wire and in the dark as she initially was for this test, Megumi doesn’t just shrink before the task at hand. Once it’s Go Time, she’s fighting right beside Souma, delicately preparing the mountain veggies she has experience foraging for back home as he bones, coats, and fries the fish.

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The final dish that’s served is, like every other one he’s made (except the peanut butter squid) looks tantalizingly scrumptious, especialy that airy egg, oil, and herb dipping sauce.

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We knew this dish was going to be a hit with Hinako, it was just a matter of what spit-take-inducing fantasy she’d have in her taste-ecstasy. SnS doesn’t dissapoint here, either, with a mermaid Hinako (with an embellished bust) being taken into the muscular arms of an anthropomorphized rice cracker. You gotta love the creativity of  SnS‘s visual symbolism.

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Hinako passes Souma and Megumi, but contrary to her agreement with Takumi, never determines whose dish is superior. This is either because she’s a bit of an airhead (another reason for her “Empress of Mist nom de guerre”) or because she’s deliberately toying with the overeager guys. Probably a bit of both.

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And in the end, it doesn’t matter whose dish was better: both Souma and Takumi learned that the other is the real deal, and more importantly, someone they’d never have met if they both stayed in their family restaurants. Only by putting your skills up against others and being exposed to their methods can these two find their true passion; the passion that will take them beyond merely surpassing their elders.

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And that’s a wrap….oh wait, no it isn’t. We get Bonus SnS this week, which underlines how strenuous the training camp truly is. Poor Yuuki thinks they can kick back with extravagant meals prepared for them by the hotel staff, a nice hot bath, and a sumptuous hotel room. But she and the other students are the hotel kitchen staff, and they have to make 50 servings of a steak set each before they can feed themselves, to say nothing of the other comforts of the hotel.

Yuuki is crestfallen, but it’s not long before the intense situation puts her into Battle Mode, feeding an endless horde of ravenous bodybuilders, wrestlers, and football players. It’s good training for those who wish to run a restaruant, no matter what kind it is.

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Unsurprisingly, “Short-Order” Souma is the first to finish, and doesn’t even break a sweat. He heads cheerfully to the communal bath, certain he’ll have it all to himself. But as an extended version of the lovely ED plays and he sings along to it, an equally cheerful and relaxed Erina is singing the same song. It ends with the lyric “Fate is the spice of life” as the two bump into each other, as if by fate. Be it cordial or hostile, I look forward to seeing how this encounter pans out.

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Nagato Yuki-chan no Shoushitsu – 09

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Even though it starts with an innocuous late night game of cards, it feels like a lot more happens in this episode than last week’s, thanks both to Ryouko’s vivid imagination and Tsuruya’s stargazing suggestion. It’s also a better episode...IF we forgive its deeply disconcerting final moments.

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At first Yuki loses, and as a penalty she has to get food and drinks for eveyrone. Naturally, Kyon comes along, for chivalrous purposes (it’s dark out and Yuki’s a klutz). Indeed. she trips and ends up in Kyon’s arms, and from Ryouko (and everyone else’s) POV they seem to even lean in to kiss.

But then, quite unexpectedly, it all turns out to have been a fantasy Ryouko made up in her head. In fact, the lovebirds never went out; she’s the one who ends up with the Old Maid.

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Thankfully, Yuki and Kyon do go out together when Ryouko and Haruhi conk out and Tsuruya suggests they go to a perfect spot for stargazing, which is quite a hike away. Kyon offers to hold Yuki’s hand, but she can’t quite do it, settling for his sleeve. They end up in a whimsical park full of huge dinosaur models.

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Turns out they’re being tailed by Ryouko and Haruhi here as well, and it’s here where Ryouko confesses to Haruhi she’s not worried about Yuki and Kyon alone together, she’s jealous, and lonely. But the ever-chipper Haruhi assures Ryouko her relationship with Yuki won’t change for fall by the wayside, whatever happens between Yuki and Kyon. They’re words Ryouko needed to hear and wants to believe.

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Everyone ends up reuniting at the stargazing spot, which is as awesome as advertised. When Yuki ends up off on her own, reaching out to starts that look close enough for her to touch, but can’t be, it’s Kyon who touches her hand, and takes it into his.

As their love theme—Debussy’s Clair de Lune—plays, Kyon leads Yuki back to the others, hand-in-hand. Yuki, who had been momentarily preoccupied by her insignificance in the vast universe above, is brought back down to earth, a place where she’s valued and loved not just by Kyon, but Ryouko as well.

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They get to sit next to each other on the train ride home, and just like that, the long, sprawling, eventful “training camp” is over, and Yuki is a little closer to reaching her goal. Cut to the rains that precede Summer, a time when Ryouko remarks Yuki will have to come up with excuses to see Kyon, and after they part ways, Yuki walks out into the street with the Walk sign, and it sure looks like she gets hit by a fucking car.

This…was upsetting. Not because I think it will be the death of Yuki—she appears alive and well in the preview—but because it’s so damned random. So far all of her nice romantic moments with Kyon have just kind of worked out, and now it’s as if the show wants Yuki to pay the piper or something for all of the good luck she’s had. It’s cruel.

Then again, the universe only needs one fraction of a second to everything away from you, and Yuki isn’t immune to that possibility. Also, disappearance is part of the title; I just sorely hope it isn’t her memory and love of Kyon that disappears. That would suck, frankly. I just want Yuki to be happy in her spin-off. Is that so much to ask?

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DanMachi – 09

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Beating an oversouled Minotaur is a pretty big deal, elevating Bell to Level 2 faster than anyone, ever. It makes him an overnight celebrity—complete with the new title “Little Rookie”—though that results in more envious looks directed at him, at least in the tavern.

When one fellow Level 2 (who’s probably been at Level 2 for some time) offers his services in exchange for a little alone time with Bell’s many fetching lady friends, Bell doesn’t have a chance to say, Dr. McCoy-style, “I’m an adventurer, not a pimp!” That’s because Ryuu has his back, making it clear she won’t let her friend be insulted.

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But it’s Ryuu who tells him if he ventures beyond the 13th floor of the dungeon, he can’t hope to take on the enemies alone, so he must expand their party. It just so happens that the smith who made Bell’s light armor (which he likes very much) is right next to Bell when he asks about his wares. That smith, Welf Crozzo, contracts with Bell, making him his exclusive supplier of weapons, armor, and equipment.

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Bell being Bell, he adds Welf to his party and even agrees to help him gain a Blacksmith skill at a lower level, despite knowing nothing about the guy. A more weary Lili (whom Welf adorably nicknames Lilisuke or “Lil’ Lili”) knows that the Crozzos were a once-renowned family of smiths who made magical items, but are now destitute. Basically, Lili scolds Bell for having the same sympathy for Welf as he did for her, but I’m not sure what else she expects: this is the kindhearted, generous, unselfish Bell we’re talking about.

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I like how the enemies on this floor seem so much slower and weaker to Bell now that he’s Level 2; it’s almost like the higher, tougher floors are beckoning to him. But when a baby dragon shows up and threatens Lili, Bell also learns what his new “Argonaut” skill does: it’s “the possibility to overcome any difficulty.” That seems pretty overpowered, but I imagine he can only use it in a pinch, or once it’s charged up; a Limit Break, if you will: e.g. Braver or Renzokuken. In other words, a very useful skill for someone who wants to be a hero like him.

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Because of what happened with Lili before, I was a little suspicious of Welf, especially with his family’s background and his possible desire to bring that family name back to respectability, meaning Bell just might be a convenient stepping stone. So it’s refreshing to see Welf is a man of his word, who actually isn’t interested in restoring his family’s fame at all.

He believes weapons should be extensions of their users, not tools for victory and fame. He notices Bell still has the minotaur horn on him, and fashions it into a really nice-looking dagger which he dubs Ushiwakamaru (Cattle…young…circle?), then asks a very formal, grateful Bell to treat him like a companion, like Lilisuke.

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And then there were three! I liked Lili barking out the order of battle before they venture to the higher floors. Sure, there’s still the specter of Freya wanting Bell to keep getting stronger for some nefarious purpose even Hestia isn’t aware of, but regardless of the plots he’s an unwitting pawn in, it’s great to see his excited party of three proudly going forth into the dungeon.

Bell is well on his way to becoming the hero he wants to become. And tellingly, he reached Level 2 far sooner than even Ais. Now catching up to her seems halfway doable!

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Nisekoi 2 – 08

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Whew, talk about a grab bag. Not only is this week split into two completely different stories, but the first half doesn’t even take place in Nisekoi’s world. Instead, it tries its hand at the magical girl genre, with Kosaki as a pastry-themed heroine, Marika is a kind of magical cop, and Chitoge is a gorilla girl.

The running gag is that their case worker Rurin, who is some kind of mouse thing, not only piles a bunch of bureaucratic paperwork onto Kosaki, who won leadership by rock-paper-scissors, but also seems to take a kind of perverse glee in watching the meek Kosaki transform, which requires a moment of stark nakedness she never really gets used to (though Marika couldn’t care less about being naked).

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The villain, “Dr.” Maikou, is also motivated by wanting to watch the girls transform fight, and beat him, because he’s a bit masochistic that way. When the finishing move to get rid of his minion requires five straight minutes of nakedness, we never actually see it, and Maikou himself is defeated when the mouse flips Kosaki’s skirt and then punches him into orbit.

To borrow Kosaki’s pastry theme, while the show successfully pokes fun at the maho shojo genre here and there, the whole thing is pretty half-baked and inconsequential, which is appropriate as it only takes up a half-episode. It felt like one long omake.

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The second half of the episode is just as thin, as it rehashes Haru’s determination not to give Raku the time of day, even as he volunteers to fill in at the Onoderas’ sweet shop. At least we see from the girls’ mother that Haru is indeed a “little man-hater” who will only be “cured” if she actually interacts with guys, rather than craft elaborate narratives about them in her head.

Raku wants to play nice, and they even connect over their shared love of and devotion to Big Sis Kosaki, who strategically left them alone so they’d have no choice but to gel more. Raku even thoughtfully praises Haru’s skills, while demonstrating he has some of his own, borne from his past experience helping Kosaki at the shop.

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There are signs, then, that Haru is ever-so-slowly coming around to maybe accepting and even tolerating Raku’s existence, even if she still (rightfully) thinks it’s wrong for him to be going after her sister when he already has a girlfriend. And that’s kinda the pall cast over this whole Onodera situation: Raku has been wrong in spinning all these girl-plates without giving any of them the answers they deserve, and the broken locket is a poor excuse for his continued inaction.

Raku has no one to blame than himself if an outside observer like Haru sees him as a playboy, because he kinda is. Yet, as he gets close and personal with Haru—by necessity—when she tries to carry too much, it seems Haru is on her way to being one more member of the harm; albeit not by choice.

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