Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 09

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The hall is rented, the orchestra engaged. Now it’s time to see who can DANCE.

There’s an extra drama to that ‘hall’, thanks to the retractable roof opening to reveal the autumn moon, the transit of which across the opening marks the match’s two-hour time limit. It also lends the festivities an extra air of drama.

Off the bat, Dojima is impressed that Ryo doesn’t exhibit the slightest bit of nerves, but Alice tells him that’s no surprise at all, after years of cooking against her. Ryo lost a lot, but that motivated him to become good enough to beat her…on occasion. That, in turn, angered Alice, who upped her game even more.

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The result is that Ryo creates explosively successful dishes that have elevated him to the finals. His herb butter-enhanced saury cartoccio is an “aroma bomb” that produces heretofore unseen reactions in the judges.

We get the rare “Grin” from the chairman, while Alice’s mom unexpectedly “bares” a much better command of Japanese, explaining the dish in great detail with perfect grammar.

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The rare reactions do not cause Hayama to waver, as he presents his saury carpaccio immediately after they finish Ryo’s dish. It seems pretty pedestrian until he takes a blowtorch to the fish, searing it and the kaeshi sauce glaze, while highlighting the since spice he used, allspice.

This stunt makes the entire arena feel like they’ve already tasted the dish before it even leaves the plate. The judges remark how the two competitors evolved in different ways after their tie in the semis, with Ryo doubling down on explosive force and Hayama refining his scimitar into a precise rapier or arrow.

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That leaves Souma with not one but two tough acts to follow up, especially since the judges are probably more used to eating two dishes before deciding a winner. For them, the match might already feel over, especially since what they tasted was so amazing.

Souma doesn’t flinch any more than Hayama did summoning the advice and know-how from his friends and rivals to help craft the proper blade to battle those of his opponents. It didn’t look like much at first, but he succeeds in exceeding the judges’ expectations and keeping pace with the others.

…Or does he? There’s much enthusiasm and praise, but once the initial glow of his dish wears off, Dojima and Leonora have set down their chopsticks, and the chairman’s robe remains on. Everyone assumes the match is over and that the winner will come down to Hayama or Ryo.

But Souma isn’t done yet. He insists the judges have seconds, and that they pour something over the rice and dig back in. I have no idea what that something is, but it’s sure to put him back in the running. I just hope that rally doesn’t result in a three-way tie. I feel there has to be a winner and two losers here.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 08

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When we learned the ingredient for the Autumn Elections final would be something as pure and elemental Pacific Saury (AKA sanma), I had a feeling the show would go all out in explaining the multitudes the seemingly simply fish contains.

Sure enough, when Todoroki accompanies Souma to the bustling pre-dawn fish market (a setting begging for an anime dedicated to it), the two spout off the usual tricks for picking the best fish—which turn out to be woefully inadequate compared to Souma’s opponents.

Ryo is also at the market. Ryo has always been at the market. He’s gone every morning for ten years, continually sharpening his instincts for picking the best fish by sight and feel. Hayama regularly attends, but needs neither hands nor eyes—he can pick the best fish by smell.

Alice is there to explain the differing curves in rigor index and muscle breaking strength, but Ryo, like Hayama, doesn’t care about any of that; he just knows when the fish is best. Sure enough, an impromptu sashimi mini-duel proves Souma’s fish-picking ability is worryingly deficient, when compared to the harsh competition.

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In a rare display for Souma, he kinda freezes at the task before him: he has neither the natural instincts nor the time necessary to acquire them; on this matter, Ryo and Hayama simply have him beat. But as is so often the case with Souma, when he doesn’t like what’s being said, he changes the conversation (to paraphrase Don Draper).

Forget getting the the market first and picking the ideal fish; the other two will do it better. Instead, he’ll AGE the fish. He amasses a team of experts who just happen to be his friends/dormmates: Sakaki, Ibusaki, and Nikumi, a veritable dream team of food-aging consultants who are happy to lend their expertise.

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Souma experiments with salt, smoke, temperature, humidity, and time to make up for his deficiency in fish selection and create the ideal blend of mouthfeel and umami. Due to sanma’s general simplicity, there’s nowhere for one’s weaknesses to hide; but at the same time, one cannot win this final without bringing out the fish’s complexity, like one unlocks a door.

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Souma is close…very close. But Todoroko confirms his suspicion he’s still not quite there. With the final almost upon him, he comes up with one last idea that he doesn’t let anyone else (or us) in on. I like how the episode shows Ryo and Hayama’s doubt and unease when they see Souma isn’t there. They know he hasn’t thrown in the towel, so what is he up to?

That little scene of the two thinking is crucial, because it shows that Souma isn’t simply up against two elite heavyweights, but two other human beings with their own insecurities and uncertainties. They’re very very good, but they’re not invincible; no one is.

The day of the long-awaited final is marked by the introduction of a new third judge to accompany Dojima and Senzaemon…and it’s Alice’s mom from Denmark! She is every bit her daughter’s mother, even teasing Erina with Alice. And the initial sight of her as some kind of norse goddess being totally undone by her woeful command of Japanese created a big laugh.

This was a great build-up to the final, and increased by regard for samna immensely. Too bad my roommate can’t deal with all the bones!

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Nagi no Asukara – 15

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Not surprisingly, the episode after Hikari returns is an episode all about change. Tsumugu tells Chisaki Hikari “hasn’t changed at all” in five years, but that’s not entirely true: even if he didn’t age, the shock of waking up five years into the future defintiely changes him. He puts up a brave front at first, but the sheer weight of it all overwhelms him. All the change, and not knowing what has become of Manaka, Kaname, and his Dad, has left him lost.

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When Hikari finally breaks down to Tsumugu, Miuna is also listening in, and realizes that she was so happy he was back, she never stopped to grasp the sheer burden of lost time weighing on him. I’m loving how Miuna is now being treated like a main character, and five years have clearly turned what had been puppy love into a more serious longing. Yet as small as her chances with Hikari (who is technically her step-uncle), I can’t help but root for her.

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But here’s the thing: one doesn’t have to choose sides or pick winners and losers among all the romantic scenarios in play (or on hold due to hibernation); in fact it’s probably best not to dwell on who’s going to end up with whom. The show has never been interested in people pairing off and living happily ever after. The drama in all the yearning and waiting and wrestling with emotions, the journey that matters here, and it’s a rough, unyielding sea. One that Akari and Itaru have already crossed, and now dwell in calm, stable waters.

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In addition to having to deal with the new world where everyone he knows is five years old, Hikari also has to live in a world without his love Manaka, much like Chisaki had to live without him. Chisaki hesitates seeing Hikari because she doesn’t want him to see how much she’s changed, while Hikari is afraid of the same thing. When they do finally meet, it’s by chance; brought together a loudspeaker playing a song for Shioshishio.

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The sight of each other puts them both at ease; Chisaki may be older (and prettier, as Tsumugu boldly remarked earlier), but the fact she apologized to him for changing was enough for him to realize she’s the same old Chisaki in there. And that’s precisely the problem for poor Tsumugu: his feelings for Chisaki may have grown in the last five years, but her feelings for Hikari never changed. Like Miuna, being the same age and living in the same house isn’t enough.

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This makes two straight fantastic episodes for Nagi’s second season; right now it’s the best thing I’m watching. That shouldn’t be interpreted as a knock against the Spring season, but as an affirmation of the immense quality these last two episodes have delivered. The show has really stepped up its game with its sublime visuals and an atmosphere so absorbing the twenty-odd minutes of the episode felt much larger in scope. And lest I forget, it also packed in a few genuinely funny comedic moments.

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Sket Dance 23

Momoka, who has had some success with her voice-acting, is stuggling with capturing the voice and character of a little kid, so the Sket-dan invites her to join them in a series of childlike activities to recall how it feels to be young again. Later, Himeko and Momoka injest a mysterious cola that shrinks them into three-year-olds. Council members Kikuno and Unyuu also drink the cola and transform. It’s up to Bossun and Tsubaki to watch them until Chuuma makes the anecdote.

Apparently the writers couldn’t resist another Muppet Babies episode, only this time involving all the girls. Like the episode where Bossun shrunk, there’s a very nice texture and palette and smoothness to the animation. This episode distinguishes itself with much more action, including the girls chasing a cat, and Bossun chasing a truck on a bike (this seems to be a recurring thing in anime).

I am not a fan of chibi-style anime, which is basically how the three-year-olds are drawn here, but still enjoyed the episode. Besides the quality animation, there were plenty of funny moments – Himeko pretending to be a sumo wrestler, then hilariously trying to reach her hockey stick, for example. Or the return of the mustachioed PapaSwitch(TM). And the twist at the end where the antedote nets the girls the bodies of 27-year-old women, overshooting the mark. And of course, the fact that all of this kidding around was for naught: Momoka has to voice an infant.


Rating: 3