Momokuri – 21 + 22

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In a monologue around the halfway point, Momo describes his girlfriend as cute, smart, kind, hardworking…and a little weird. That last adjective sets her apart from other cute/smart/kind girls, some of which Momo knows, and one of which (Rio) harbors unrequited feelings.

And Momo likes the weird. She may like collecting his “used stuff”, but he’s always thinking about her in clothes he sees on TV; and is only too happy to get an indirect kiss from the teddy bear he won for her. Her weirdness helps him realize he’s a little weird too.

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The only things that frustrate him are not knowing where Yuki gets information on him he himself did not provide. It’s a secret she possesses, which means it’s distance she’s keeping from him.

Mind you, all healthy relationships have a measure of distance – you can’t be with someone every waking moment – and this is hardly a major crisis for Momo. He’s just…curious. And yes, tartar sauce on omelette rice is perhaps the weirdest part of him revealed thus far!

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Momo is also an easy-to-read, jealous fellow who is very possessive of Yuki. Under normal circumstances this would be distasteful, but Yuki happens to love his fierce protective nature, even when he slaps away the hand of Seiichirou (Ikue’s brother), who happens to be Yuki’s “Momoformant”.

It demonstrates he thinks and cares about her every bit as much as she thinks and cares about him, which makes her very happy. Neither of these weirdos could be good matches for just anyone, but they seem to be perfect matches for each other, which is why it’s so easy to root for them.

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Qualidea Code – 10

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The truths of the real world our heads and subheads are now awakened to roll in like relentless waves this week, and it’s a lot for them to take in.

All this time, they’ve been captives of the Unknown, who altered their perception of the world so they would see adult humans as Unknown, and thus fight them. In a way, it’s worse than The Matrix, because they’re not just batteries, they’re weapons the Unknown are using to wipe out whats left of their families.

Suddenly having your world upside down is both frightening and un-mooring, and can mess with one’s sense of identity. The kids hold close to what they know to be true beyond any doubt, and reinforced through the years they were cared for by the Unknown: the bonds of friendship and love they all share.

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Kasumi and Asuha’s ambitious (and morally flexible) mother Johannes is in charge of the humans, having climbed a ladder constructed off those who once opposed her, be they dead or now under her heel.

She’s a handful, and while parts of Kasumi and Asuha are glad to reunite with their mother, this has all happened very fast, and an adjustment period will be necessary to process it all, especially the fact that they no longer need to fight, which is what defined them to this point.

Ichiya is also particularly un-moored, because his idea of who he was – a hero who was “all we need(ed)” and the only one who could protect Canaria – has blown up in his face with the knowledge that it was all an illusion. He was nothing but a clown; a puppet being manipulated along with all the other kids.

It’s really good to see Canaria back in the show. Her cheerful demeanor are welcome in such a harsh new world, but Ichiya just can’t function without her. We saw that, and we see just how much these two mean to each other in a lovely scene that nearly turns into a kiss before Ichiya panics and sends Cana flying in the opposite end of the room.

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Johannes seems singularly obsessed with three things (in no particular order): grabbing and holding power, protecting her kids, and utterly eliminating the Unknown down to the last one, with extreme prejudice.

Kasumi and Asuha have grown up to the point they don’t really need their mother, or anyone other than each other and their comrades to protect them and give them purpose. The Unknown may have stolen them from their human parents, but the crucial years of development they were separated aren’t coming back.

Not only that, but the Unknown, represented by Asanagi and Yunami, aren’t portrayed as evil this week, but rather as two people stuck in a system who only wants what’s best for the children they’ve come to love. Were they misguided in their actions? Surely.

But they’re not the monsters Johannes makes them out to be, and the kids’ opinions of them are at best conflicted, and in the case of Aoi, totally sympathetic.

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Surely the kids can figure out a way to come between their warring parents and the Unknown and come to some kind of negotiated peace or coexistence. That would seem to be the point here. The Adults, led by Johannes, are bent on revenge, and won’t stop attacking. It’s up to their offspring to create a world that moves past this conflict.

When the Unknowns attack Johannes’ fleet, its an indication Asanagi and Yunami didn’t get the final say—perhaps their are other Unknowns in higher positions that think about the humans how Johannes thinks about them.

Another point I want to make: we’ve learned just enough about the Unknown to make them far more interesting and nuanced. They have a face and emotions and dreams and desires just like humans. If they think and feel and act so alike, appearances aside, perhaps they’re not so “unknown” after all.

For the time being, Ichiya and Canara, Kasumi and Asuha, and Hime and Hotaru all decide to keep fighting beside one another, the ones they know for sure they can count on, whatever issues they may have with one another. Keeping things simple by fighting the enemy, staying alive, and having each others backs is the best way to stay centered in increasingly uncertain times.

Which is why Aoi’s isolation and anxiety worries me.

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P.S. I somehow forgot to publish the draft of last week’s episode review, so this week you get two. You’re welcome. :*

Qualidea Code – 09

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Kasumi is taking all of this weird stuff going on very slowly and carefully. He keeps Asuha out of it for the time being, so he can try to dig up some info on what it is that’s happening to him. He manages to find a ruined building that still has power, but it’s paper books that give him answers, and images, that suggests something very strange going on.

Asuha, with no one else to turn to, turns to Ichiya, who is still angsting over the loss of Cana, but still agrees to help lead the defense during the latest Unknown raid, since he believes he’s the only one who can give proper direction to said defence (making me wonder why they put Aoi in charge in the first place).

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Kasumi decides to use this battle to “jailbreak” Ichiya, in a very strange (from Ichiya’s perspective) way: he kills an adult trying to force Ichiya to retreat, then when Ichiya confronts him on a rooftop, Kasumi fires at him and not the humanoid Unknown in front of him. Indeed, Kasumi seems capable of communicating with the ‘enemy’.

At the same time, Asuha is outnumbered and starts to feel like things are going to get very bad, but the Unknown only target her Code, and once it’s shattered, see can see that the Unknown standing before her is actually…a person.

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All that’s left is for Kasumi to get Ichiya into a position where an Unknown can shatter his code, thus completing the “jailbreak.” This uncommonly affectionate Unknown turns out to be Canaria, whom I figured was going to return sooner or later.

I don’t mind her resurrection, because the details of her death were so strange I was never 100% convinced she was dead anyway. Her death also turned Ichiya into an even more insufferable wretch, so knowing she’s alive will certainly improve his character, since he’s going to do everything he can to make sure this time he’ll protect her.

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And just like that, all six main characters are now aware that the world they’ve seen and lived in as long as they can remember is not, indeed, real, or at least not the only world that exists. The “red” world they can now see, however, is hardly welcoming.

Is it merely the truth they’re seeing: a wrecked post-apocalyptic world the way it really is? Does the ED, which heavily features our characters wearing ordinary present-day school uniforms and doing ordinary present-day school stuff, represent still another reality, or the reality before everything went all “red” and ruined?

Qualidea Code ups the weird in a big way by bringing everyone in on the big secret. It really sells it with awesome sound design and an atmospheric Iwasaki score. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 11

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I find it interesting how this episode, my favorite episode of this second season of Food Wars, took place after the Autumn Elections, after all the student battles had been fought and settled. While the tension and energy of those episodes was often electric, and the finale was superb, I feel like I was suffering from a bit of ‘arena fatigue’.

This episode tosses Souma & Co. out into the real world, and a lot of this episode’s greatness lies in its realism. It melds the warlike theme of completing a mission—serving and making your mark in a real restaurant—with the slice of life comedy I found so infectious in shows like Working!!.

Even better, it doesn’t dart from place to place showing us how every single character is fairing. There’s a clear A-plot and B-plot, and the A-plot takes precedence for maximum immersiveness. When I learned it would be two students to a restaurant, my first thought was that Souma would be teamed up with Erina.

Instead, the show did us one better: it teamed him up with Erina’s self-appointed “aide”, Miss Secretary herself, Arato Hisako. It turns out to be an inspired pairing that, at least for an episode, upgrades Arato from the character nosebleeds to center stage.

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As she and Souma start out at Western Restaurant Mitamura, Arato is in the midst of a personal crisis following her defeat to Hayama. She believes she will only be a liability if she remains too close to Erina. Note that no one else has told her this, it’s just something she believes. Hayama’s words about her being “too small” in the scope of her dreams really hit her hard.

At first confrontational to the point of warning him not to speak to her, Souma gradually wears her down with his unique blend of reliable friendliness, restless ambition, and an unflappable competence in the midst of a multi-wave battle against hordes of bullet train passengers who fill the restaurant all at once and demand transactions a bit faster than humanly possible.

Arato is no fool: she can acknowledge Souma has more experience with this kind of thing than she does. She can even take his orders to make things go smoother. But she doesn’t have to like it, and she doesn’t, so Souma serves as a catalyst for her to learn the ropes and the rhythms of this very unique restaurant fast.

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The result of that effort is heaps of praise from her older co-workers, many of whom have been working there since the beginning (it’s a third-gen family establishment). At first she thinks the praise is just for Souma, but it’s for her too, and it’s so wonderful to receive those laurels, Arato quickly does what she’s always done: rest upon them. Settle.

Pairing Arato with Souma was better than pairing him with Erina, because where the latter would have been primarily confrontational, the pairing we get results in some wonderful characterization. In the beginning, estranged from her mistress or not, an enemy of Erina’s (Souma) is an enemy of Arato’s. But her relationship wtih Souma evolves swiftly and rapidly into something more complex and satisfying.

Even if they didn’t know about Arato’s issues regarding complacency and her self-imposed exile from Erina, Totsuki’s administrators did her a solid by pairing her with Souma, who enjoys the first couple days of training, but has a splinter in his head always festering, telling him they’ve gotta do more.

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At first Arato thinks he’s being absurd—things are going great!—but he eventually gets her to realize “making your mark” means more than just fitting nicely into the machinery. The machinery has faults that are harming profitability and may lead to the restaurant’s demise. If they’re to truly pass their first Staigaire, they have to help fix that machinery, and ensure it keeps working after they leave.

Calling an emergency staff meeting Arato, with Souma backing her up, proposes radical changes, such as cutting back on the menu options. The seasoned staff rightly push back; with a gutted menu it won’t be Mitamura anymore.

The owner is also adverse, since he’s trying to get back to the golden years of the restaurant, not cut corners. Everyone’s positions here make sense, but the undeniable reality is that those bullet train hordes are keeping Mitamura from being it’s best, and something has to give.

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The B-plot is far more lightweight and tuned towards comedy, but those aren’t marks against it, as Megumi and Erina make the most of their limited time. It’s another inspired pairing that, like Souma/Arato, features a take-charge go-getter half and a talented but meeker half struggling to make her mark.

We know how talented and capable Erina is, so it’s no surprise when she stanches control of the kitchen right out from under the grizzled chef’s feet. He can’t do anything about it, and not just because of politics: Erina makes his place better. He’s on the fast road to a Michelin star after a couple days. That’s the power of having the God Tongue under your employ. She’s the ultimate culinary ringer.

Megumi is almost exclusively relegated to dishwashing duty, simply trying to stay out of Erina’s path and doing her job, but she knows she has to distinguish herself somehow. She finds a way through her observation of the dirty plates that come to her, shrewdly suggesting (with de facto Chef Erina’s support) that customers be allowed to determine the portion of sauce they want on a popular dish.

The de jure chef can’t argue with her when a customer asks a waiter for more sauce, and Erina is impressed with Megumi’s subtle perceptiveness.

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As for Mitamura, rather than cut down the menu, they take perhaps an even greater risk: they make the restaurant by reservation only. But it pays off. Without hordes storming in and out, the kitchen and staff can shine brighter, and the regulars scared off by the train passenger business start to return and find they were fools to ever leave.

Souma effectively lit a fire under Arato, and the two show Mitamura’s owner and staff that they made the right decision to change, not for change’s sake, but for the sake of the identity they wanted the restaurant to have: a fine casual Western restaurant that takes care with its dishes and customers…not a station-side industrial feedbag.

As a result, they are confronted outside the restaurant by a stalky Totsuki agent who informs them they’ve passed the first round of their Staigaire. Arato allows herself a proud smile, but her estrangement with Erina remains an issue to be resolved, which Souma can also help her with.

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Erina, unsurprisingly, misses Arato, and wishes she’d come back. She recalls the time she asked her purple-haired friend to come closer, to take her hands and have fun with her, not simply watch from a respectful distance. Too improper was Arato’s reply.

She felt she could only walk behind, not beside Erina. But it’s pretty clear that’s not the case when Megumi brings up Arato and Erina reacts the exact same way Arato reacted when Souma brought up Erina.

So Souma tells her to work to become someone who can walk beside Erina, and in the meantime, stop the silly self-exile. He has just the excuse she needs: a bag full of manga he promised Erina. He gives Arato the bag and the directive to go back to her friend. Arato takes it and runs off with ebullient gratitude and optimism.

An all around triumph, this episode. Souma, Megumi remained largely their own likable selves, Erina kicked her usual ass, and most importantly I gained an entirely new and welcome appreciation for Arato Hisako, who no doubt will be less dismissive and confrontational towards Souma in the future. Seeing her in glasses was icing on the cake.

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