Mob Psycho 100 vs Amaama to Inazuma

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While I certainly enjoyed Amaama to Inazuma more than Mob Psycho 100, which I stopped reviewing after the 7th episode, now that both shows are over, I must admit they both fail at greatness for remarkably similar reasons.

AtI being a slice of life gentle drama/cooking show with a small cast and MP100 being quirky action “comedy” with a huge cast, is a surprisingly small barrier to their comparison, since both focus on the dynamics of family and friendship and struggle with purpose.

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In the case of Mob, the first 6 episodes introduce multiple characters which only move Mob from plot point to plot point, yet do not participate in the larger narrative themselves and do not significantly effect Mob himself. For example, Tsubomi-chan, Mob’s love interest, only exists as a reason for Mob to join the body improvement club, and the clubs only purpose is to connect Mob with the telepathy club president (who only exists to make him go to a park and encounter an adult psychic enemy) and to connect Mob with the delinquents (who only exist to introduce Hanazawa and to add a minor extra reason people would mistake Ritsu for his older brother).

Ultimately, these baby steps towards characters who effect the plot, through characters that do not, delays the plot from taking shape coherently until episode 7. Sprinkle in Reagen’s one-note con artist jokes, and MP100 feels like it has no purpose and is wasting your time.

And that is terribly unfortunate, because Mob and Ritsu’s relationship has a great arc in the second half of the season, and the plot “Evil esper organization trying to take over the world” is the perfect format for more One Punch Man style antics.

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In the case of AtI, where there are really only 6 characters, a sad tragedy, and the slice of life / recipe an episode structure, things start out much more quickly. Tsumugi is carfully rendered as a believable child, from her silly dances, to the way she lightly flinches when being chastised, to the weird way she uses language, facial expressions, and emotional challenges to mundane-to-adults situations. Coupled with her father, her father’s college friend, her class mates, and Kotori and the restaurant, and the show has a sense of purpose: we are watching how these people grow and deal with tragedy.

While this works wonderfully in episodic chunks, AtI flounders at the point Mob finally became good: half way through the episodes became all the same. Kotori’s objectives are never explored or explained, Yaki and Kotori’s friend don’t have any goals, and Kouhei and Kotori’s mom only meet in the second half of the final episode — just long enough to imply a love triangle could form, and that some drama could build around that… but then roll credits. (this was so jarring I didn’t even realize I’d watched the final episode until Zane listed the show as complete in my review list!)

This is a shame because cutting 2-4 episodes out of the beginning and middle and introducing the adults, and the adult conflicts earlier would make for a fine show. And AtI proved regularly that, when it tried, the production staff were masters of human expression and nuance and charm.

Bizarrely, both shows end with hooks for future seasons and, despite their strengths, it’s hard to imagine watching either of them again. Mob clearly ends with more filler-humor and the idea of 12 episodes setting up and executing adult relationship drama around Tsumugi’s characters just sounds laborious.

What a weird season :-)

Amaama to Inazuma – 12

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The Gist: Tsumugi and Kouhei grab dinner at an okonomiyaki restaurant but it goes completely sideways when Tsumugi’s expectations are not met. To patch up their hurt feelings, Kouhei sets up an okonomiyaki date with Kotori, who brings all of the major characters together in one big event.

Megumi, Kotori’s mother, finally meets Kouhei (and Yoki, who’s a big fan of her on TV but she totally doesn’t notice he’s there) and there are hints of a potential romance or, at least, friendship between the single parents. However, the episode closes without anything concrete being in place beyond a happy time shared by two teens, 3 adults, and a small child.

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The Verdict: another solid, emotionally nuanced episode under the belt, another recipe we could theoretically reproduce, and some parenting lessons we could consider. Finally bringing the cast together, and the possibility of a long term plot goal between the adults, is a long step closer to earning a perfect ten.

But this week didn’t cross that line yet. All the ingredients are nearly perfect — from charm to specific behaviors and effective rendering and framing. But only nearly perfect, due to a very consistent (but not especially wow) color pallet and no official overall arc.

We’re in the final run of the show and the question remains: what will the payoff be? Are we past the point where a twist can work? Will a romantic pairing feel tacked on? Or will the lack of a long term goal lock AtI in as a solid 9 that didn’t totally become excellent?

Next week will tell

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Amaama to Inazuma – 11

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The Gist: Tsumugi has a fight with Hana-chan (over wearing the same costume at the class play) and Kotori is asked to choose a recipe to make the class’ crepe recepe stand out amongst all the classes doing crepes at the cultural festival.

So our intrepid quartette has a crepe tasting party. Then Kohei makes a Mr Pig costume. Then everyone eats tasty crepes. Then everyone is happy again. Roll credits…

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The Verdict: the episode functions perfectly well. Everything is sweet, the art is varied, and the kid-stuff is on the mark. However… nothing really stands out compared to AtI’s high points?

As a paint-by-AtI numbers episode, that means it’s still an excellent episode. If it weren’t for the mild growth of Kotori’s class, where they actively engage her now (breaking her out of her food bubble) the arc could have felt throw away. Thankfully, that little evolution kept things fresh.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 10

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 09

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The Gist: Tsumugi and her class have a summer break sleepover, where they spend the night at school, make curry and play with fireworks. Tsumugi even gets to chop some vegetables — with a kid’s knife.

From the boys crying, to the girls using more proper language and talking about the different kinds of curry they know, it’s a lovely scene that expands on the various children’s personalities and relationships.

The scene where Kouhei is at home alone, which is almost completely without dialog, is also masterful. As often is the case, Amaama to Inazuma can express a broad emotional range without using spoken words.

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Later, Kouhei finds his wife’s cook book where they used to keep spices (a place he never thought to look) and he and Kotori plan to make dry curry. Tsumugi even gets to cut the vegetables herself… with supervision and Kotori about to pass out from anxiety!

While the meal-making includes a lovely Tsumugi dance, this time about bubbles boiling, the real emotional power emerges after the meal, when Father and Child come to terms with Mother/Wife never coming back. Kouhei makes the special food now and, even though it is wonderful, even though it is the way mother used to make it, her death is all the more permanent now.

I love that Tsumugi bashes his chin with her forehead repeatedly while crying about this point. It’s painfully accurate to how a child responds, in my experience.

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The Verdict: this was a masterful episode. It plays with scale of characters, silence, and emotional expectations. Joy as sadness. Sadness as joy. Being together but feeling alone and, of course, the bubble dance.

It also shook up AtI’s somewhat predictable visual range with the bright night pallet of the sparklers and seeing Yoki’s bar. I had not realized how in a rut AtI’s sticking with the Kindergarten, the High School, the Restaurant and the Apartment was getting until I saw these 2 new color arrangements –and now I hope we see more in the remaining episodes!

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Amaama to Inazuma – 08

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The Gist: It’s parent visit day at Tsmugi’s kindergarten and that means we get a healthy does of cast development and relationship refinement! If it wasn’t already obvious, Mikio has a total crush on Tsmugi, who pleasantly wants nothing to do with his affections.

What was less obvious was how central Tsmugi is to the class’ social construct: when Mikio has to poop, her reassurance that she will wait for him maneuvers the entire class into happily supporting him and in his time of need.

Later, Tsmugi Kohei and Kotori cook squid. Tsmugi gets another dance session in and it is adorable.

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The Verdict: AtI is at its strongest when it treats its child stars most specifically and this week, where a lot of time is spent in their class room, captured many gems. Other details, like how Kohei holds Tsmugi up on his knees while talking about recipes, and the social interactions of the parents all feel believable.

But what really elevates this week above others is how much of Kohei’s observation and thought process is expressed to us as viewers without words. He doesn’t know how to balance putting himself in Tsmugi’s life without replacing the little treasures she has kept from her dead mother and watching him think, fail, and try again is fascinating. Top notch!

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Amaama to Inazuma – 07

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The Gist: after months of little sleep, Kouhei is finally down for the count! Worried but armed with street smarts only a bright 6 year old can muster, Tsumugi leaves their apartment and makes her way to the restaurant.

Unfortunately, Kouhei is not especially happy with her brave success and, after finding her with Kotori, loses his temper. It takes some time but all returns to normal after a meal and understanding.

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The Verdict: this week was a return to top form for AtI. It absolutely nailed the imagination and problem solving of a young child and it did so with tremendous charm. Tsumugi’s shark song was pure joy to watch!

This week also nailed the absolute terror a parent feels when their child has disappeared, and the back and forth conflict that ensues when that child doesn’t understand the danger or anger for their ‘good deed.’ Smeary tear face tantrum and all.

As my fellow reviewers would say, this had all the feels.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 06

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The Gist: after a few missteps, the entire cast finally ends up in the restaurant together for a fun meal. Even Yagi, who just sort of appears via an invitation from Tsmugi.

This time they are making Gyoza and preparing the meal brings AtI’s typical charms. However, Yagi and Shinobu bring significantly more skill to the table. Shinobu notices this and, after a chat with Kotori, decides she’ll stay out of their fun for the most part. The experience is, after all, as much about these 3 damaged people having a family moment, as it is about the food itself.

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The Verdict: at its worst, AtI is heart meltingly charming with a recipe-a-weekas a do it yourself bonus. But at it’s best, it captures the intricate emotions and nuances that separate us by age and experience with a masterful hand.

While we got to see a little more of Kotori’s inner workings, and the understanding Shinobu can muster as a psudo-mother herself, but this episode played it safe, as the majority of episodes have. Thank goodness heartwarming is good enough!

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Amaama to Inazuma – 06 (Error Edition)

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The Verdict: it took me an embarrassingly long moment to realize my copy of this week’s episode carried the subtitle track of this week’s Re:Zero — and was not actually making a pop culture reference in real time.

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So I actually don’t really know what happened this week. At least, not in a way that wasn’t hilariously funny in a totally unintended way…

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Amaama to Inazuma – 05

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The Gist: Kotori sees Tsumugi walking around with a strange blond man. She follows them to a park and watches them share snacks until it looks like the blond man is offering Tsumugi a cigarette. Fortunately, Kouhei arrives and sets things straight.

Yagi is a high school friend who watches Tsumugi during lunch. He’s gruff but knows how to have a good time and that’s important to Kouhei, since he considers himself and overly safe roll model. Kotori, who obviously has a hooooudge crush on her sensei, objects but it is what it is…

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“I’m super aggro now, you know.”

The rest of the episode is about making donuts.

No! There really isn’t much to say beyond that! If you’ve seen any AtI you know exactly how it would handle the recipe and character interactions.

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The Verdict: this was a cute one, with charm and some humor — and of course instructive cooking! That said, I don’t feel like we learned anything new about the characters, nor was there anything especially insightful about children in play.

It was what it was: enjoyable, pleasant to the core, and now I know how to make Japanese Donuts. Spoilers! It takes way longer than how we make them here.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 04

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The Gist: Tsumugi doesn’t like bitter vegetables, especially green peppers. Unfortunately, Kouhei’s coworker AND Tsumugi’s grandmother are showering the family in fresh produce.

Health and life lessons aside, Kouhei wants Tsumugi to share his love for a variety of foods, even though he didn’t like peppers as a boy either. Kotori to the rescue! and, of course, and a big fun happy meal together. Even though Tsumugi sneakily doesn’t eat the peppers in her Gratin, she does enjoy the meal over all.

Roll credits…

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Like last season’s Flying Witch, AtI is extremely pleasant to watch because it’s quiet, the characters are charming, and the narrative has an instructional quality to it.

I’m reasonably confident you could make the delicious food Kotori step-by-step walks you through and, if you have small children, I’m sure some of the parenting tips couldn’t hurt either.

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is your child afraid of peppers? try using them as cups for juice…

AtI is a little more formulaic than Flying Witch, in that each episode has a consistent structure. However, that formula makes AtI’s characters feel like they are sharing an experience, where Flying Witch’s characters often felt experiencing the same world, but not the same experiences.

Coupled with the sense of purpose a structure gives to each episode, AtI’s faster tempo probably spares it the criticisms we had for mid-late season Flying Witch: too little purpose or momentum lost our attention.

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The Verdict: Along with Flying Witch, I feel like we’re seeing the birth of a new genre: the instructional feel good show. The goal of this genre appears to be capturing culture that modern families and children may be missing. It’s remarkable how instructive this is without being preachy.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 03

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The Gist: Kouhei is slowly getting used to cooking meals for Tsumugi, but his caution for food safety leads him to overcook everything. Tsumugi doesn’t mind but Kouhei is determined to get better…with Kotori’s help.

Meanwhile, Tsumugi wants to make her father a present (hamburg-steak and plates) and her friends give her their clay so she has extra to work with. This goes absolutely sideways when Mikio accuses Tsumugi of being a thief and, after shoving her, gets his arm scratched. Tsumugi curls into an adorable ball—her kindergarten dress literally over her head in shame—and doesn’t unwind until the end of the episode.

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This week was packed with great moments big and small but the final reveal is the best. Behind her tears and frustration, Tsumugi isn’t truly upset with the fight so much as she’s upset it thwarted her making a present on her father’s birthday. A birthday he’s even forgotten and, judging from Tsumugi’s possible flashback, she learned and marked in the calendar with her dead mother.

Drama aside, AtI is a great watch. From their occasionally horrifying faces to Tsumugi hiding in her cubby face-first – the art and writing for the children is spot on. Bizarrely, the treatment for the adults is much more average and Kotori toes the line of clunky, render wise.

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We also got to see Kotori’s mother this week. She was on live morning TV promoting a quiz show to air later in the evening. To Kotori’s horror, her mother chose to go wearing a cute sailor suit and calls her out on TV. Also to Kotori’s horror, her mother actually looked really good in the sailor suit…maybe even better than she would herself.

You could probably already guess that Kotori’s mother existed and/or wasn’t dead from the illustrated cooking instructions, but it was a cute aside all the same. At least it makes it clear that Kotori isn’t abused, so much as lonely. Companionship aside, we know she’s not even neglected, as her mother leaves her wonderful meals to eat.

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The Verdict: another week and another slow, lovely, believable glimpse into these characters’ lives. It lacks the first episode’s bold reveal and simplicity and, if I had one complaint, I can’t remember the musical score, but this is good anime through and through.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 02

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This week set up and resolved the first social conflict between Kotori and the Inuzaka family — that Kouhei was not entirely comfortable spending time at a student’s restaurant, making meals for himself and his daughter, without first talking to that student’s parents.

At first, he tries to completely dodge the situation but an older teacher encourages him with tales of a gone-by era where teachers used to engage students outside of school. Also, Tsumugi is so completely enamored with Kotori that he can’t realistically unwind their encounter quickly.

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After a rocky start, with Kotori’s mother having run off before team Inuzaka arrives, Tsumugi gets them moving forward. Kotori admits she is afraid the restaurant will close (her mother is a food expert on tv and rarely around) and she herself has none of the tools necessary to keep it going. She’s even afraid of knives!

By the end of the meal, Kouhei agrees to continue coming over but they must set some ground rules first. Stick to them or not, he’s in for a while if only because it makes his daughter smile.

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heart melting: little girls with gigantic lion’s mane hair making food with cookie cutters!

The stakes were lower, and a little less happened this time out, but AtI remains a lovely show. This week had great little details, like Mugi seeing Kotori’s doodles under the counter and wanting to hang up her own menu.

Like the food itself, everything is warm, perhaps a little too cautious, but so warm. Like Mugi herself, I can taste the individual ingredients at work here and even at their simplest, that is fantastically more enjoyable than complex pre-packaged by the numbers show.

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