Shokugeki no Souma – 16

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When she doddered down the steps in search of some nosh, the sleep-deprived Megumi could not have imagined she’d end up as one of three judges, alongside Fumio and Isshiki, who would preside over a face-off between former Elite Ten Second Seat Junichirou and Souma. But the father wants to take the pulse of his son’s culinary growth, or lack thereof, and a tiebreaker was needed, and Megumi was around, so she’s a judge.

Knowing how fierce and formidable Junichirou is and how amazing his dinner was last night, Megumi doesn’t think Souma has the slightest chance of winning. And he doesn’t win, and, there’s never any indication that he would. Furthermore, she and the others learn that Souma’s record against his dad (whom he’s faced off against since grade school) is a truly abysmal 0 wins against 489 losses.

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Souma doesn’t worry about winning or losing in the face-off, though. He focuses on making the best dish he can with the requirements given: something that gives one energy for the morning without being too rich or heavy. His apple risotto, infused with apple flavor from juice with fresh raw apples warmed through, is a refreshingly creative dish, no doubt. It puts Snow White Megumi in the valiant arms of Prince Apple, and spurs another welcome appearance from Sexy Fumio, who dances with Isshiki in the lovely flavors.

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Then Junichirou presents his dish, a seemingly disappointing ramen, that turns out to be not nearly as rich and heavy as it looked. On the contrary, the judges can’t stop putting the ramen away, yet are never overwhelmed by the gorging, because all the immensely complex umami flavors are achieved without any meat or fish products, but various iterations of soy, tempeh, mushrooms, kelp, and sake. The dish is so rejuvenating, Isshiki and Megumi transform into little kids, and Fumio reverted to an earlier stage of human evolution!

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In the end, the vote is unanimous, and it isn’t close; Souma is handed loss #490 (which he and his dad both record in little notebooks containing all their face-offs over the years). Souma learns a lesson: he was conservative, minimizing (the chances of not meeting the needs of the judges), while his dad took more risks and made use of his encyclopedic knowledge of world cuisine to surprise and maximize their satisfaction.

Even so, Souma’s dish showed Junichirou that his son had grown to his satisfaction, and he tells him until he loses to him again, he’d better not lose to anyone else. I think that’s fine with Souma: the only chef he’s okay losing to is his dad. Megumi, Isshiki, and Fumio now understand Souma’s toughness and resilience: all those hundreds of losses were also hundreds of lessons doled out by his dad.

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Most of this episode was the face-off, and I appreciated the show going back to a simple old face-off between two cooks after the chaos of the training camp (that still keeps poor Megumi up at night). The dishes were absolutely mouth-watering, and while I probably couldn’t do the ramen justice, I’m going to try out the apple risotto as soon as I have the ingredients amassed.

What else happened? Well, Erina thought she saw Junichirou on the side of the road (probably because she did), but when she gets out of her beautiful BMW E38, he’s not there. It’s a shame she didn’t learn the truth about Souma, but I guess that’s for another time, if ever.

Also, with Junichirou asking Souma to “air out the diner”, and a cut to his hometown where his cute childhood friend (whom he subjected to his peanut butter squid) gazes longingly at said closed diner, it looks like Souma will finally be heading home next week. Looking forward to it.

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Ushio to Tora – 04

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Ushio to Tora continues its run of Very Good-ness serving up meaty portions of unsettling supernatural baddies-of-the-week, the gradual forging of something resembling a friendship between the titular characters, and exciting action with high stakes laced with hearty comedy.

There’s something both frightening and funny about the giant floating heads called the Gamin-sama, not to mention the fact they’re released by the greed of developers for whom there are no sacred cows. Frightening because they tear humans to pieces like wild dogs; funny because, well, they’re giant floating heads with extremely expressive faces and voices.

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They’re out for the blood, flesh, and bones of the beautiful shamaness Hizaki Mikado, who sealed them in the Meiji era, according to an old man who pleaded with the construction teams not to lift up the “keystone” that kept the demons sealed. When Ushio gets a look at Hizaki, he finds she bears more than a slight resemblance to his old friend Inoue Mayuko.

Mayuko just happens to be on a shopping trip into the city on her own, which was a situation that immediately spelled dread. But her doomed trip crosses with Tora’s own excursion into the city, for the first time, where he’s flummoxed by glittery skyscrapers, annoying cars, and those magical transparent barriers known as windows. It’s a great fish-out-of-water situation for a youkai out of his time.

Best of all, Tora is in town to eat someone, so he’ll have the strength to kill Ushio once and for all. But the smells of perfume and hair products and the presence of “anti-youkai trinkets” (i.e., accessories) on their bodies nearly puts him off his lunch…until he finds the soft, clean, nice-smelling Mayuko (who conveniently told Asako she’s not one for accessories).

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Not only is it clever to make Ushio target the same food as the giant heads, thus bringing them together in conflict, but Ushio chooses her specifically because she’s a more traditional human that looks and smells like the humans he’s used to. Kinda like Hizaki Mikado, whom the heads mistake her for (we’ll see if in turns out they’re actually related).

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Regardless, Mayuko puts up a pretty good fight, in that she’s able to successfully run away and evade the Gamin (and her death) for a good long time; she’s partly fueled by primal fear, sure (who wouldn’t be) but there’s a toughness to her refusal to be glomped up, not to mention put bystanders in harm’s way. That buys enough time for Ushio and Tora to show up and save her; Ushio because she’s a dear friend; Tora because he won’t let these moronic heads eat his food; the same reason he won’t let anyone else kill Ushio.

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It’s selfish altruism, but it’s altruism, and Tora is making more an more exceptions to his evil youkai ways and doing ever more semantic gymnastics to explain away what are, essentially, good deeds that make him more than just a monster and Ushio and Mayuko more than just dinner.

Once the five heads are squished, sliced, and speared into oblivion, Mayuko gets up, dusts herself off, and, realizing Ushio told her who Tora was, offers a cheeseburger in gratitude for his help. And it’s perhaps the most proportionally amazing feat anyone pulled off this week that despite everything she went through, she managed to hang on to those burgers!

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GATE – 04

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In this necessary and functional—if not particularly flashy or exciting—episode, many things come into focus as the various pieces are arranged on the board. It is clear now that Lt. Itami is a man who has always been in the right place at the right time: first Ginza, where his heroic actions gained him this new command, then his battle with the fire dragon, his decision to take on refugees.

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As his fellow lieutenant (a go-getter if I ever saw one) remarks, Itami’s circumstances make him a very valuable man who will likely have a lot more freedom to decide what is to be done about this Special Region. The Japanese government suddenly finds itself with a potential windfall of natural resources within its borders, which could be a game changer in geopolitical affairs.

Meanwhile, Itami’s unit is tasked with taking care of the refugees, which include the sorceress Lelei, the demigoddess Rory, and the grieving she-elf Tuka (or Blue, Red, and Yellow, if you like).

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Not surprisingly, the SDF’s technology awes the natives, and even the spartan military accommodations are treated as the height of luxury, and that’s a big part about what technological advancement is all about: making what was formerly luxurious available to all, everyday. I try to never forget that when I take a shower or switch on a light…or write an anime review on the information superhighway.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Gate, after getting a brief and somewhat unfortunate glimpse of America’s government salivating over the Special Region the Japanese found, we see that the Chinese are also interested (and yes, the Geely GE has an optional throne).

So interested, they want to ship half their population across the Gate. Of course, that would mean taking the Gate—and the territory around it—from Japan, which would mean war. Somehow the animators resisted giving the Chinese Premier a mustache so he could twirl it – and a fluffy white lap cat to pet as he discussed his plans. I must say, these quick peeks at the highest echelons of Japan’s rivals are the least interesting part of the show, so far.

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More interesting is the fact King Duran, who led his army to ruin but survived a couple limbs poorer, immediately knows what the Empire did and why, and won’t talk to the Emperor’s daughter Pina about what’s going on on Arnus Hill. Or that Tuka isn’t ready to accept her father is dead along with the rest of her village, and is worried that she and the others will have to repay the soldiers’ kindness with the only currency they have: their bodies.

Lelei tries to set her mind at ease about money, not just because the SDF lets them harvest valuable dragon scales from the battlefield, but because the “men in green” (and women too) aren’t going to charge them at all. Helping Tuka and the others is Itami’s best way to engender trust, win hearts and minds in the Special Region.

So he gives them a lift to Italica to peddle their wares. And Pina and her men are headed to the same place on their way to Arnus. When she encounters the SDF and their refugees, how will she play things?

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Gakkou Gurashi! – 03

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In the first two episodes, Sakura Megumi or “Megu-nee” was treated at turns like an apparently deceased teacher/semi-comic relief whom only Yuki, in her delusional state, can still see, hear, and interact with, and whom the other girls play along with so as not to further disturb their already disturbed friend. This episode goes deeper into who Megu-nee is, or rather who she was, by taking us back to the day Everything Went South.

Like the first two episodes, this third one expertly juggles normalcy with abnormality, with dread lurking just out of sight or in the far corner of the frame, at least early on. A perfect example: Megu-nee noticing an abnormal number of sirens while on her normal drive to school in her cute Mini Cooper.

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The normal day proceeds, with Megu-nee getting warned by the vice principal to maintain an appropriate emotional distance from her students. That morning, Megu-nee’s Mom expressed a similar worry with her daughter’s ability to “cut it” as a new teacher.

Yet when, say, Kurumi comes to her and is able to talk about her dilemma with the boy she likes, Megu-nee proves she actually is cut out to be a teacher, in that she’s a trustworthy, approachable nurturer of minds and an open ear or shoulder to cry on.

At the same time, she’s willing, nay, determined to go the extra mile for students in need of extra help like Yuki. It’s confirmed she was never a great student and had problems focusing.

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Interestingly, it’s Yuki who suggests she and Megu-nee head up to the rooftop to try to finagle some tomatoes from the gardening club member, namely Wakasa Yuuri, whom Yuki meets for the first time. This action essentially saves both Yuki and Megu-nee, because it isn’t long before everything goes to hell both in the school below them and the city beyond. The vista of just-out-of-focus students feeding off one another as buildings burn is another one of GnG!’s awesomely chilling images.

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Megu-nee takes a chance on opening the door to let Kurumi on the roof, with her beloved senpai in tow. This scene gives us the whole picture of how she came to kill him with a shovel, and we see that Yuki witnessed the whole thing and in fact grabbed Kurumi to stop her from whaling on an already-dead body. Yuki’s fear and disgust at watching a fellow human being in full-on, vicious Survival Mode, is another likely contributing factor to her eventual mental break.

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I like the fact that Megu-nee isn’t just an invented figment of Yuki’s imagination; she was a real person who, for a time, at least, did what she thought was her duty as a teacher, doing everything she could to protect the remaining students under her care at the school, even in a Zombiepocalypse. But while much of this episode is told from her perspective (with a grainy-film framing device), the fact remains, in the present, she is no longer alive, and exists only in Yuki’s head.

Even so, Kurumi, Yuuri, and even Miki let Yuki keep believing she’s still around, and I think it’s more than just humoring their troubled friend (and let’s face it, in a world like this, they’re all troubled). I also believe they take some comfort in the idea of Megu-nee still around protecting them.  Hell, five’s better than four.

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