The Gist: Tsumugi goes to the beech but has a string of outbursts and devolves into a kitty-girl. This lets her process a freshly caught fish being gutted and prepared for food as well as some other social anxiety.
And that fresh fish to meal is the central point that brings the entire cast together at the restaurant. Shinobu’s enthusiasm and flexibility with children keeps Tsumugi engaged and comfortable, Yagi’s grounded nature moves the meal along and gives Kouhei an actual adult to interact with, and Kotori mistresses the recipes and acts as host.
“It’s scary and fun and amazing!” Tsumugi after the fish is cleaned in front of her.
What really makes this episode shine is how simple and approachable its central conflict is, and how specific and precious its young protagonist reacts to it. Fish are among the few creatures she could experience as alive, then dead, then food and anxiety from that is very understandable. Extra understandable for a child who’s lost a parent at a very young age.
Tsumugi’s focus on the fish’s eye and her use of ‘I’m a Kitty so I can’t be scared’ to be brave enough to witness preparation were excellent touches. And let’s not forget that AtI is also a cooking show at heart, with a lengthy process you could probably follow at home to experience the meal too.
The Verdict: the only thing holding AtI back from a perfect ten is a lack of long term plot. I get the sense that, as excellent as this all is, as much as the characters have grown and fleshed out on screen, the story doesn’t have a goal in mind. No central drama beyond life being lived.
This is certainly not a fault or wrong per-see. However, it does force the show into an episodic structure, which makes the formula more obvious and limits each episode’s ability to shine on its own.