Shokugeki no Souma 5 – 03 – Black and Blue

OK, I LOL’d a bit at Megumi’s Gyaru transformation after tasting Souma’s pork cutlet fondue lunch kit…but there was a distinct feeling of the franchise scraping the bottom of the barrel. If Suzuki-sensei, AKA Saiba Asahi, is supposed to be the uber-villain of this whole series, let’s just say he’s falling short, despite the fact we learn a little bit more about him.

Saiba ends up defeating Souma easily with a far superior pork cutlet lunch kit, leading Souma to believe he’s a master tracer like Mimasaka. However, there’s a good reason his food is so similar to Souma’s diner-bred fare: he was the only student of Souma’s father Jouichirou. While he won Souma’s knife in the duel, he decides not to take it since he already has Jouichirou’s superior blade. What a dick!

When Erina eventually comes to, she’s in Saiba’s arms, being called a princess and being told that she’s going to be Saiba’s bride. I couldn’t help but think of Princess Jasmine’s line in Aladdin: “I am not a prize to be won!” Yet that’s exactly what this season is trying to do: eliminate her agency just as she’s taken over leadership of Totsuki so that she can be a trophy in a contest between two dudes. It’s a bit sickening, honestly.

The middle of this episode involves parallel infodumps regarding Saiba; one between Doujima Gin and Erina (who is in her workout clothes during the call for no reason other than fanservice) and Souma and his dad at the diner. We get what I believe to be the first clear-ish glimpses of his mother Tamako, but only in flashes. Bringing her up now, in the final season, seems a bit…late?

I love cooking, and for years I’ve loved Food Wars, but the formula frankly feels played out. I’ll confess to having less-than-stellar enthusiasm for The Fifth (and Final) Plate when it dropped in April. Three uninspiring episodes and over two months later, that enthusiasm has not improved. A lot of it has to do with the fact there was a finality to our heroes beating Azami, re-taking the academy, and taking their rightful seats in the Elite Ten.

To immediately introduce a new villain (not to mention Noir, whose members look like KKK klansmen in black) who looks almost exactly like the previous villain but lacks his gravitas (as well as that of seiyu Hayami Show) feels like running in place, if not going backwards. I feel like it’s going to be one long slog getting through this…so much so I may not get through it. And that’s a damned shame!

Rent-a-Girlfriend – 02 – A Beautiful Nightmare

Rent-a-Girlfriend is an absolute shitshow, and I mean that in the best way. Two episodes in a row, Kazuya and Chizuru dig themselves into deep holes and then, rather than climb out when it’s possible, decide at the last second to just keep digging.

This isn’t 100% their fault; part of it is the universe’s. Not only do the two attend the same college, they’re effing next-door neighbors! Do I buy that Kazuya never once saw Chizuru enter or exit her apartment? I do not, but who cares—it ups the absurdity wonderfully!

I will never tire of these crazy kids’ primary motivation for engaging in these ridiculous rom-com roleplaying scenarios (rather than digging themselves out of the holes they’ve dug) is…the desire not to hurt their grandmothers’ feelings. That tells you right there that both Kazuya and Chizuru are fundamentally good people. Stupid, stupid good people! XD

That’s also why despite putting up a hard line against further unsanctioned interactions with Kazuya, in violation of the terms and conditions of their Diamond contract, Chizuru still stops by his place to say hi to his gran, even bringing food she made to wow her even more. And this is after Gran already assumed Chizuru dumped Kazuya!

Had she just stayed in her apartment for ten more seconds it would have been over; she’d have been in the clear. And yet, for all the inconvenience and irritation it causes her, Chizuru isn’t the kind of person to hurt an old woman’s feelings. Even if that’s no fault of her own, she has the power to prevent it and uses it, to the tune of agreeing to visiting Kazuya’s gran with him for an hour every Wednesday.

Once again, I thought 24 minutes had passed and we’d come to the end—such is the amount of detail Rent-a-Girlfriend packs into its A-part. B-part brings Kazuya’s ex Nanami Mami into the picture with a vengeance, as he bumps into her on campus and has a not entirely torturous interaction with her. Just like that he has Mami on the brain, and is about to go for the tissues when his doorbell rings.

It’s Chizuru, ready for their trip to see his Gran. The moment money is exchanged, a switch flips and she’s in Girlfriend Mode. After the visit, they’re walking home when Kazuya’s two buddies spot him. They hilariously assume someone as attractive as Chizuru is a cult member trying to recruit or scame Kazuya, and beg her to release them.

Kazuya, digging the hole deeper, tells them she’s his girlfriend, and Chizuru has no choice but to play along. Then the two get pulled into group drinks, something they definitely could have politely refused and called it a day. What Kazuya couldn’t do is say he was merely renting Chizuru, since his best friend is close to his Gran, who is close to Chizuru’s Gran, and Chizuru wants to keep her job secret.

So they’re stuck! And as luck would have it, Mami is among the others in the group at the group drinks, and even though she masks it well, it’s clear she has feelings about Kazuya suddenly dating someone. For a minute I thought Mami might be another rent-a-girlfriend with Diamond and recognize Chizuru that way.

Instead, things go south in a hurry, as Mami switches seats so she’s across from Chizuru and proceeds to loudly run Kazuya down, describing him as pathetically horny. Seiyu Yuuki Aoi can pull off bitchy and manipulative as well as she can pull off sweet and innocent (i.e. Madoka), and puts on a tonal clinic here.

Kazuya simply sits and simmers as Mami goes off, so when he won’t defend himself, Chizuru does, and Mami is ready to counter, shrugging off her words as “part of the group dynamic” a stranger wouldn’t understand before finally turning to Kazuya himself with a cutesy-voice and asking him to stand up to her, which he does, leading a rightfully disgusted Chizuru to leave.

It’s an instance where Mami, who almost seems to revel in stirring up shit like this (or possibly punish Kazuya for having the audacity to date someone else) has way too much leverage on Kazuya. Nothing of what she says is actually strictly untrue, so Kazuya hesitates to dispute it. But he’s already sitting on a throne of lies with his fake girlfriend, so suddenly hewing to the truth here is counterproductive.

When it’s time to head home, Mami flags Kazuya down, telling him her “awkward side” got the best of her and she’s happy he “stood up” for her. She even tells him her place is close by, if he’s interested. Again Yuuki Aoi shines, portraying Mami as a cat with a mouse in its jaws, content to play around with him before making the kill.

Kazuya comes to think maybe this is okay; Chizuru was only a rental, after all. Not only did he and Mami really date, but from his perspective Mami seems interested in possibly maybe rekindling something, like she’d made a mistake in dumping him. As long as he has a girlfriend, his gran won’t be sad.

All of that is almost certainly not the case, but regardless Kazuya is overlooking one important thing: Chizuru is an unassailably good, kind person, while the jury’s very much still out on Mami. I forsee more wonderful cringeiness in the near future!

Dokyuu Hentai HxEros – 03 – The Dream is Over

We rejoin the Super HxEros in the middle of a battle with pixy-like kiseishuu with a penchant for stealing underwear. Momozono Momoka unleashes her powers (and loses her clothes), while Kirara’s would-be decisive blow has no power due to her presently low stores of H-energy. To add insult to injury, the kiseishuu nabs her underwear.

It’s then, and on numerous occasions when upper and lower bodies of characters are prominent—whether wearing underwear or not—that we learn there are two kinds of censorship in DHH: the four-pointed stars that appear when characters are in HxEro Mode, and the classic “soupy fog” of various colors that completely obscures partial or total nudity.

Frankly, around halfway through this episode when we were learning about Momoka’s long-held resentment of her well-endowed model of a big sister in one of the most generic and half-assed backstories in recent memory, my enthusiasm for this show went *poof*—lost into one of those censoring clouds.

After Momoka’s ill-advised long soy milk bath (from which Retto must rescue her), the underwear thieves strike the girl’s locker room, stealing Kirara’s classmate Yuna’s “lucky pair” for her date later that day. Retto ends up tracking the culprit down and retrieving the pair, and Kirara actually does him a solid by vouching for him to Yuna & Co.

Yuna then takes Kirara underwear shopping, with the latter hoping to gain some H-energy with a lucky pair of her own. We then learn that Yuna’s date is with female senpai, which is oddly treated like some kind of punchline, even though her friends are apparently aware Yuna likes girls.

That night Kirara sneaks into Retto’s room to sleep back-to-back with him in her new sexy underwear, hoping it will charge up her H-energy. Both she and Retto remember when they were kids sleeping under a kotatsu and he initially tried to draw on her sleeping face, only to find it too cute and froze up. Their futon session is disrupted by the discovery of Tenkuuji sleeping between them, something I highly doubt they’d have not noticed until that moment!

Kirara finally manages to unleash her HxEros power again, though it happens quite randomly while she’s in bed, and she ends up wasting all of that stored-up H-energy without even accidentally defeating a kiseishuu boss this time. So basically, she has a lot to learn about controlling her clearly considerable powers so they’e actually useful.

I’d usually refrain poking holes in the logic of an ecchi anime involving battling alien libido vampires, but with its branching plots this episode felt so long and ungainly and the censoring so considerable (no doubt since I watched the broadcast version), I found myself gradually checking out. Going by the three-episode rule, I’ve decided to pass on the remainder of Dokyuu Hentai HxEros.

Uzaki-chan wa Asobitai! – 02 – Cafe Jazz

Sakurai seeks both employment and refuge at a serene cafe run by an old man for the last ten years plus. His business policy is to have a calm atmosphere for his customers, and Sakurai has proven adept at enacting that policy in his fine barista work.

That is, until a hungry Uzaki shows up wanting to tease Sakurai. Their ensuing bickering completely changes the carefully-cultivated atmosphere, but the owner doesn’t care; these two are surprisingly fun to watch. After two episodes, I tend to agree….tentatively.

Turns out Sakurai is also a big fan of cats and dogs, but has limited experience due to growing up and living without pets. When a friendly alley cat runs off, Uzaki tries to chase it but gets very awkwardly caught in a hedge. Her underwear is exposed and if she’s pulled out to fast her shirt will flip off.

This results in some very adult-sounding double entendres (“Are you pulling out Senpai? Hurry!” “Almost…there…just behave, will you?”) which two passing women overhear and obviously get the wrong idea and flee screaming. It seems at least once per week Sakurai and Uzaki will end up in one of these … entanglements.

Sakurai seems neither ready or interested in an intimate relationship with someone, but whether it’s the college dining hall or the cafe, Uzaki can’t leave him be, though for now it seems she’s strictly interested in friendship. She asks him to help her with a report, and when his boss says it’s fine, he acquieses to her request.

During this time Uzaki asks if she can come to his place, stating how she’ll cook meals and its proximity to campus. Sakurai’s mind can’t help but take such proposals to imply she wishes to co-habitate, but she’s actually interesting in coming by to play video games.

Both seem to be in a state of arrested development, with Sakurai so inexperienced with women he blushes at the very thought of one in his living space, to Uzaki with her impish energy and innocent motives.

Despite some fanservice, this ep prompted me look past her appearance (which caused the seasoned cafe owner to mistake her for an elementary student) and see what makes these two young people more alike than they’d care to admit—which is what makes them so fun to watch.

P.S. Looks like both Uzaki and Sakurai have friends! But still just one each, and they don’t have much to do…yet.

Oregairu 3 – 02 – This Has to Be Done Now

The tipsy Haruno invites everyone upstairs so Yukino can say what she wants to say, and even pops out some solo champagne as she listens. The  operative word there is listen: she actually does so, now that she can tell Yukino has something to clearly say.

Haruno says she’ll support Yukino in her efforts as a big sis should, but warns that if she goes back home, she may not be able to leave for a while. Yukino already knows the difficulty of what she’s doing, but she can’t win (her independence) if she doesn’t play, so she’s decided to finally take the field.

As Yui stays over to help Yukino pack her things, Haruno walks with Hikigaya, and expresses her astonishment over her little sis finally making herself clear. The ol’ Haruno cynicism is still there, citing that “nothing will change” whether thing works out Yukino or not, but that giving up on “various things” is part of becoming an adult, and it’s good to see Yukino take those first steps.

She also confides in Hikki that she’s not actually drunk, even though her face is flush and she’s favoring his shoulder. The flushness suddenly fades and she stands straighter, and her demeanor and voice suddenly more closely resemble Yukino’s.

No matter how much Haruno has drunk, a part of her has always been able to stay calm and observe and temper herself. And she has a sneaking suspicion Hikki is the same, whispering “you can’t get drunk” in his ear.  Whether it’s alcohol…or love.

The next day at school, after a slight problem unlocking the club room, the trio are back at their places sipping tea when Isshiki Iroha makes her first appearance this season. She hooks up a portable projector and plays a TV drama, but not to just goof off. Instead of the end-of-year “thank you” party for grads, she wants to throw a prom, like Western high schools.

With so little time to prepare, it’s going to be a close call whether Iroha can actually get such an undertaking off the ground, and it wouldn’t even be for her class, but she’s determined to make it happen, stating her desire to be Prom Queen to be her primary motivator.

When Yukino tells her she’ll be queen for her own prom in two years even if she doesn’t “lay the groundwork”, Iroha stands her ground, insisting the prep is crucial to achieving her goals. Left unsaid is that within her selfish motivation there likely lies a desire to see Hikki, Yukino and Yui have a prom.

Yukino can probably sense this, and considering she has a lofty goal of her own, she’d be hypocritical if she pooh-pooh’s Iroha’s. So she agrees to help Iroha, but as an individual, not a Service Club member. She also tells Yui and Hikki they’re under no obligation to help her since it’s not an official request, but a personal one.

While they realize she wants to try to do this on her own, they’ll always be around to help out when needed (which is certain to be the case).

When Yui comes home and sees the photo of her between Yukino and Hikki, she frowns, and tells herself to forget the thing she saw while helping Yukino move: a photo of Yukino holding Hikki’s arm on the water ride, hidden behind the stuffed animals on her bed. Of course, Yui can’t forget what she saw, because it’s just another confirmation of the “place she can’t get into”, no matter how many times she stands in front of the door.

She interprets Yukino’s treasuring of that photo as further evidence she has feelings for Hikki. Yui has feelings for Hikki, but also loves Yukino, thus leaving her perpetually on the outside looking in. She’s had to be content with that limbo, in which her and Yukino and Hikki’s genuine feelings—and the conflicts they create—have been left unsaid, clearly or otherwise.

But with Yukino starting to speak clearly, that’s coming to an end. There’s an unavoidable element of destruction inherent in all acts of creation—in this case Yukino’s New Start, but also the overarching physical and psychological transition into adulthood. Yui sees that on the horizon and fears she’s unprepared…but isn’t everybody?

Great Pretender – 12 – The Unfathomable Subtleties of a Woman’s Heart

The con moves to London, with Makoto spearheading a revenge scam against art appraiser James Coleman. It starts with Abby approaching him and asking to be his protege, while Makoto and Kudou bug the house of Farrah Brown, a wealthy woman who buys the art he doesn’t want to sell at auction, and is also Coleman’s lover. That they’re able to plant bugs under the pretense of checking Farrah’s house for literal bugs is a nice touch.

When the team hears the recording of Farrah and James in bed, Abby concludes that Farrah is simply “a stupid woman”, but Laurent corrects her: she probably does know she’s being used, but “tells herself she doesn’t notice”—either because she genuinely values James’ companionship and attention or for some other reason only she knows.

In any case, this is an episode that may have more Cynthia than any other, and that’s a very good thing, as we see her separate from everyone else working a con of her own…or is it a con? This arc is called Snow of London after the Montoya piece, but the card used for the arc features the silhouettes of a couple I initially thought it was Cynthia and Laurent.

Turns out the man in the silhouette is Thomas, a starving London artist in the throes of painter’s block when he meets Cynthia, who is, presumably years ago, working at the cafe by his flat. The two have an instant easy chemistry, and eventually Thomas goes for broke and asks Cynthia to model for him.

In between taking dance classes and auditioning for acting roles, Cynthia ends up hitting it off with Thomas and becomes his muse. He paints gorgeous portraits of her that are filled with obvious love for the subject. Her stolen glances of the painter show that a part of her seems to be falling for him.

For all its lack of drug lab shootouts and planes threading through skyscrapers, this might just be my favorite episode of Great Pretender yet. It’s certainly the most human and intimate-feeling, with the coldness of London in winter creating a warm cozy atmosphere to the scenes with Cynthia and Thomas.

As this understated romance is taking place in the past, back in the present the gang scores a major victory. Snow of London comes up for auction and Laurent manages to outbid Farrah to get the painting back—for £30 million!—which Cynthia must liquidate some real estate to secure. It’s a slick case of Coleman’s greed (in this case having to accept the highest bid) undermining his own artwork-hoarding operation.

Still, Coleman thinks it could one day be worth ten times that, so he’s furious Farrah gave up. Knowing how Farrah operates, the team knows they can use her doghouse status with Coleman to compel her to buy back the painting in order to get back into his good graces. But the Snow of London they sell her won’t be the one Cynthia bought, but a fake.

Makoto gives forgery the ol’ college try, but he can only do so much with no experience, little practice and scant time. But as we know, Cynthia already knows an artist with the talent to reproduce Montoya’s masterpiece.

Back in the past, Coleman happens by Thomas’ painting stall and is duly impressed by the man’s reproductions, telling him straight-up that he’d do very well indeed in the world of forgery. This may be the genesis for the reasoning behind Cynthia’s present beef with Coleman, and why she wants to bilk him for as much as she can.