No Guns Life – 04 – Spiders Are People Too

This week the sprawling gritty cyberpunk world of NGL shrinks considerably to a small area in the labyrinthine Kyusei pit where Tetsuro (via Juuzou’s body) is locked in a standoff with Cunningham, Anne, and Spider-Ende. Being trapped in this spot for a half episode gets increasingly claustrophobic, but also tedious. It actually felt more like an episode of a shounen anime…just not a particularly good one.

The bad guy spends a lot of time jabbering, Tetsuro’s inflexible morality is decried as selfish arrogance by Anne, poor Ende occasionally makes a peep, rinse repeat. But eventually something does happen, when Cunningham puts shoots Ende with a drug that puts her into a comatose state, such that there’s nothing keeping the spider part of her from going completely berserk.

Monster-Ende sends Anne flying, and while Tetsuro manages to somewhat cushion her impact with the wall, Juuzou’s body ain’t exactly soft, and she seemingly dies of her injuries just after telling Tetsuro to “save Ende in her place”. His connection with Juuzou’s body severed, all Tetsuro can do is use his Harmony, but he’s in luck: Juuzou comes to, and gets Tetsuro out of there.

From there, things get more interesting, as the episode is finally moving again. Monster-Ende’s relentless pursuit is particularly well done—not to mention very appropriate for Halloween. Once Juuzou and Tetsuro (and some poor bystander) are trapped in an elevator and Ende’s tearing apart its ceiling, Juuzou has no choice but to let Tetsuro fire the big gun that is his head.

That does the trick—Ende’s humanity is momentarily restored before she dies in the gun blast, and she seems to smile in gratitude that she’s finally freed of her constant torture. Only, as we learn later when Juuzou and Tetsuro are vacating the Kyusei Pit, Ende didn’t die…and neither did Anne. They’re both fine in Mary’s care.

When things started going badly for the two girls, I wondered why they featured so prominently in the OP—even appearing as a Polaroid on Juuzou’s bulletin board—if they were just going to kill them off here. It felt like a waste, so I’m glad they’re still alive. But that they are, and it’s announced quite suddenly in a new scene, sapped much of the drama and tragedy at the heart of the episode.

I’m also not sure what to make of Juuzou possibly being able to wrest control of his body back from Tetsuro, even though he said when he woke up that while he was conscious, he was just a “passenger.” There were definitely times when it made no sense to give him free rein, especially when it came to his overarching job of protecting Tetsuro.

So yeah, this wasn’t the best NGL, but it did still manage raise the stakes for Juuzou and Tetsuro. As we said, Juuzou isn’t welcome in the Kyusei Pit anymore, while Tetsuro’s status has evolved from “prey” to “enemy” of Berühren. Not to mention when Juuzou fired his gun, a woman with blue hair and lips took notice. She definitely looked like she meant business.

No Guns Life – 03 – Pulling the Strings

Juuzou politely declines a job offer from the imposing Brother Huang of the Kyusei group to find and eliminate someone stealing extended limbs from kids, because he thinks people should “wipe their own asses.” But what if someone can’t, either because they don’t have arms, or can’t move the ones they have?

Juuzou trusts actions over words, even what he deems are sincere words from Tetsuro about saving the other children imprisoned and tortured by Berühren as they speak…only Tetsuro isn’t really speaking with his own voice; he’s using a spare Extended head’s voice.

Similarly, in order to actually carry out the saving of those kids, he’ll need to rely on bodies other than his own, which was made all but useless by the company. Juuzou tells him any attempt would be futile; the world is an unfair place, and Tetsuro needs to count what blessings he has and move forward thinking about himself.

Tetsuro can’t accept that, and won’t sit back and do nothing. Instead, he uses Harmony to hack into Juuzou’s body, which he uses to carry his own body (lest Mary try to disconnect the two) as he heads out in search of the people hurting kids. When he almost falls victim to parts scavengers, he covers Juuzou’s head with a sack.

Then he seemingly lucks out when he spots two distressed-looking girls in gray frocks running from a man with swords for arms—just the kind of people he wants to save. Only Ende and Anne are not really on the run; they’re the very people stealing parts from kids, on orders from Berühren. They were also ordered not to let any witnesses survive, making Tetsuro/Juuzou their next target.

Of the two, Ende is capable of transforming into a monstrous mecha-spider woman, but even with Anne by her side for emotional support, she easily goes berserk, and in any case is in constant pain. Anne just hopes they can return home to Berühren for maintenance, and believes that Ende’s body will be put “back to normal” as a reward if they complete their mission.

Berühren’s stooge, however, considers the two to have failed their mission when he meets up with them, and orders the two test subjects immediately “retired” (in another nice nod to Blade Runner). Both he and the company never saw Ende and Anne as human beings, but mere puppets; tools to be used and discarded when the desired results aren’t achieved.

And yet, even though Anne and Ende tried to kill Tetsuro/Juuzou, he still comes to their rescue here, since he already knows what they’ve only just figured out: Berühren can’t be trusted, and can only be opposed. The girls don’t trust adults, but hopefully someone who can transform into a mecha-spider woman can come to believe Tetsuro when he insists he’s one of them, and is merely controlling the big burly adult body they see. It’s a tough sell, I know.

Vinland Saga – 15 – Every Father Loves His Child

In the aftermath of Askeladd’s cruel slaughter of the villagers, Prince Canute, Ragnar, and the priest pray to God the Father before the mass grave. When the drunken priest voices his doubt of that father’s love, Canute erupts in outrage, saying all fathers love their children.

But if the priest’s faith was shaken by the massacre, it should be buoyed somewhat by the fact a survivor—Anne, from last week’s masterpiece—managed to get away without anyone noticing. She makes it to Gloucester, where as luck would have it, Thorkell’s army is encamped. Eager both to see Canute and fight Thorfinn again, he immediately prepares to head Askeladd’s way.

The foundation for Canute’s outburst at the priest was no doubt laid by his first outburst, which was in response to Thorfinn’s disrespect. In other words, the kid is finally growing a bit of a spine, at least insomuch he’s less weary of speaking his mind. In the same way, Finn’s “domestication” continues thanks to being around Canute, who secretly cooks as a hobby despite his father’s deep disapproval with his son “acting like a slave.”

Ultimately, Canute will probably have to rely on his frenemy Thorfinn after the events of the episode’s final act, in which Ragnar is killed and Askeladd assumes Canute’s guardianship.

Askeladd believes it’s for his own good, and considering how much Ragnar had coddled Canute to that point, it’s hard to argue that point. Still, Askeladd makes this move unaware of a truth Ragnar ironically would only tell him with his dying breath: King Sweyn always intended for Canute to die in battle so his other son Harald would assume the throne.

Despite how badly his father has treated him, Canute still believes his earthly father loves him, but that’s not the case; he was fine with discarding him. Thankfully, the father upstairs may still love Canute, because Canute still has Thorfinn by his side.

Vinland Saga – 14 – The Luck of the Wicked

I’ve seen much of the rest of the world. It is brutal and cruel and dark, Rome is the light. —Maximus, Gladiator

Forget about Thorfinn for a moment. He’s not the protagonist this week, Anne is. Anne is a young Englishwoman whose family is large, poor, and devoutly Christian. But even if Rome was once “the light”, it has long since fallen, while the world remains as brutal and cruel and dark as ever, if not more so.

Anne has a secret: she’s come into possession of a beautiful ring. We later learn she’s not sure how much it cost, because she didn’t buy it; she stole it from the market. By doing so, she broke one of the Ten Commandments, which her pious father has no doubt drilled into her means a one-way ticket to hell.

Anne understands she’s sinned on one level, because she keeps the ring hidden from her family in the hollow of a tree. But on another level entirely, she’s just so goddamn delighted to have this gorgeous ring! It seems to give her no end of pleasure. At present, her love for the ring overrides her fear of God’s judgment.

Two of Askeladd’s men, whose banter we’ve seen during various marches and battles, are trying to understand the drunk priest’s concept of “love.” Does the longstanding brotherly bond between the two constitute that kind of love? The priest doesn’t know.

Does whatever amount of silver would break that bond constitute that love? Is the priest’s own veneration of booze love? He wouldn’t call it that; needing booze due to addiction and loving it are far from the same thing.

Ultimately, the warriors can’t understand the priest’s words, but they can remember another “weirdo” who used to talk in strange, seemingly contradictory riddles. Thors said “a true warrior didn’t need a sword”. Thors may not have been Christian, but to the drunken priest who never met him, Thors may as well have been describing Jesus.

Still, most warriors in this cruel dark world still carry swords, like Askeladd. He’s a man like Askeladd, who would probably be the first to say he owes a lot amount of his success as a warrior and a commander to luck. Even all the skill and experience he has, he could not have gathered without luck.

But his luck seems to have hit a snag: the countryside has been beset by harsh wintry weather that threatens to kill his men long before he reaches his destination. Ragnar believes Askeladd’s luck has run out altogether, and that nothing he does will be able to change that.

But Askeladd isn’t out of luck; not really. If he were, they wouldn’t have encountered a village to plunder for food…Anne’s village.

When Anne’s large, devout Christian family sits around the table for a meager (but very much appreciated) repast, her father says the Lord’s Prayer as Grace, and explains to the younger children why it is important to say it, and to obey the Commandments. When the day of judgment comes—and father believes it will comes soon—the faithful and righteous will ascend to heaven, while the sinners will descend into hell.

This is enough to frighten the little ones, but when Anne quietly excuses herself from the table to “go pee,” it seems more out of discomfort than fear. Outside, as the cold winds and snow lash, she recovers her precious ring, puts it on her raw, rough hand, and revels in its beauty. And while she’s out by the tree, Bjorn bursts into her family’s house.

Askeladd still has luck, but it isn’t perfect, and isn’t without cost. When he learns there’s only enough food in the village for fifty villagers to last the winter, the choice is plain: either he and his men starve, or they kill the villagers and take their food. He decides on the latter, making use of what luck he was given.

The villagers—men, women and children—are rounded up and slaughtered. Anne survives that slaughter, because she’s hiding behind a tree. You could say she was lucky, at least in terms of being able to stay alive, in spite of the fact she broke one of God’s commandments. If she hadn’t stolen the ring, or gone out to admire it, she’d have met her family’s fate.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God—Matthew 5:8

Was Anne’s father’s heart pure? Her mother’s? The hearts of her younger siblings and other relations? Did they ascend to heaven upon being murdered, leaving her alone in the cruel dark world below? Was her luck merely a curse, keeping her bound to cruelty and darkness her family will no longer have to endure?

Anne wanders off, neither spotted nor followed by Askeladd’s men, and the winter storm passes. She reaches a spot where the crescent moon looms large. She asks God if her family made it to heaven, but declares that she’s “elated” not to be sent there herself.

Shocked to have witnessed what Askeladd and his men did without fearing God’s punishment in the slightest (since, of course, they believe in entirely different gods), she’s as elated in that moment staring at the moon as she was when she stole the ring.

Maybe she sees in those wicked men, and in her own wickedness, a different kind of purity—of a kind she can’t quite describe, but which bestowed upon those wicked men the luck to find food, and upon her the luck to survive at least one more harsh winter night.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 24 – Environmental Factors

Not surprisingly, Kinokuni Nene’s dish is a sublime expression of the Edo-style soba tradition coursing through her veins. Creating a dish composed of two distinct light delicate flavors is no mean feat, but Nene pulls it off effortlessly, almost automatically. As if we didn’t know already, Souma is facing an uphill battle.

Souma also has to worry about the judges getting too stuffed on Nene’s soba. The noodles and sakura shrimp tempura disappear so easily from their plates, they seem to create an infinite time loop. Nene may have an inferiority complex when it comes to Satoshi, but he never failed to bear witness to the immense amount of hard work and dedication Nene put into everything she did—not just cooking—while other kids her age played around.

Her “environmental factors”, i.e. her strict upbringing that demanded results and perfection, are why she’s in the Elite Ten, and why she thoroughly impressed three Priests of The Book. But Souma also has something he’s “sunk a lot of time into”, and he calls it “Yukihira-style Seared Soba”. And at first glance it looks…kinda tragic? Especially compared to the austere work of art that was Nene’s dish.

Of course, if an ugly dish tastes better than the good-looking one (not to mention beats it in exciting every other sense), it’s easy to overlook it’s…looks. While Nene used the purest form of buckwheat flower (ichibanko, which only uses the endosperm), Souma used sanbanko, a flour made up of parts very near the outer shell of the grain.

Sanbanko trades ideal mouthfeel for increased aromas, but in his quest to replicate the genre of instant noodles to gourmet stature, he leaned into that coarseness by crisping the noodles via stir-frying. Ichibanko’s delicate flavor would have been ruined, but the sanbanko noodles hold up.

Other bold touches include the generous use of duck, as well as a variety of seasoning spices to diversify the judges’ experience. While Nene’s soba let them travel through time to eat it over and over again, Souma’s seems to transport the judges back to an ideal moment in their lives: enjoying their friends’ company at a summer festival as fireworks blaze in the sky.

Nene is ultimately correct that she utilized all of her amassed knowledge and experience to create the very best Edo-style soba she could for the judges. BUT, it wasn’t the best dish FOR THE VENUE. The environment that matters most is the one in which the shokugeki is taking place, which grew colder and colder as the storm worsened outside.

As a result, the delicate aromas of her dish suffered, while Souma’s held up. Nene herself confirms this when she tastes her noodles and then Souma’s. Her soba is best enjoyed in a much more controlled environment. I believe this is the first instance in Food Wars anime of the ambient temperature of the shokugeki hall playing a factor in the judges’ decision. And I loved Alice conferring with Akira on the science of how Souma beat Nene.

One more environment that favored Souma is his upbringing in a busy diner. From a young age, he learned how to keep track of a lot of different things and dishes at once, because diners are places where the food is slung fast, eaten fast, and the customers turn over fast. Compare that to Nene’s restaurant, whose sophisticated clientele are willing to wait for the best possible meal.

Souma’s extra stamina and the speed with which he experiments and crafts new flavors and methods with which to defeat his opponents, is second to none (I’d wager Subaru is close, owing to his dedication to stalking and copying his targets). And it pays off here.

Megashima soundly defeats Kaburagi off-camera, proving even a former third-seat is still a formidable challenger; which gives the rebels a clean 3-0 sweep in the first bout of the Team Shokugeki. It’s a major setback for Azami, who only shows his frustration in the shadows.

However, that’s all for this second cour of Shokugeki no Souma 3; we won’t learn who wins (or more likely, how the rebels ultimately defeat Azami) until the third cour. Whenever that comes, I be waiting with an empty stomach.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 23 – The Natural

I was a little out of the loop regarding Isshiki’s pedigree, but that’s cleared up early this week: the Isshiki family has been, along with the Kinokuni family to which Nene belongs, one of the two pillars of Japanese cuisine in Kyoto. Not only that, when he turned four, Isshiki moved in with the Kinokunis to train away from home.

As such, he and Nene have known each other since they were little kids…though Nene resists the assertion that they’re “childhood friends.” When Satoshi asks why she’s always so opposed to his existence, she says “you know why.”

The judges are also introduced as belonging to the revered book of restaurant ratings known as the WGO Guide, led by their marshal Anne. The WGO is akin to the real-life Michelin Guide, giving one to three stars to gourmet restaurants which propels them to the apex of the culinary world. They’re kingmakers and kingbreakers.

Taking stars away can lead to a restaurant’s ruin, as well as the end of that chef’s confidence. Anne notes quite blatantly that Yukihira Diner isn’t even in “The Book”, but makes it clear that this fact has nothing to do with the Shokugeki at hand, and that she and her two colleagues will judge the dishes put before them with fairness and impartiality.

Shiratsu Jurio presents his dish: the quintessentially Italian capitone in umido. With a rich San Marzano tomato sauce and crispy-creamy polenta perfectly complementing the fatty umami of the eel, the judges feel like they’re being cradled in a large bosom of flavor. It’s a masterpiece of by-the-book Italian cooking, and a testament to Jurio’s tireless hard work trying to reach Isshiki’s level.

Isshiki’s dish is not traditional Japanese or anything else, except in its very basic structure, that of Hitsumabushi. However, this is “Polar Star Style”, which integrates a number of ingredients developed (and in some cases not yet perfected) by his beloved Polar Star juniors, which he admits he just flat-out stole from them in order to showcase their skill in their individual specializations.

It really is the best dish someone fighting for the rebellion could present: one that doesn’t just show the judges what a good chef he is, but the potential of chefs below him, as well as his own judgment and confidence in their skills, even if they don’t have the same confidence in themselves.

Satoshi wins the match with Jurio running away, but after curt congratulations, Nene tells him she’ll defeat him in the second bout. She sees this as yet another example of Satoshi, whom she’s known longer than anyone else present, excelling at things with minimal effort, as he did with everything she threw at him when they were kids.

Things that took her endless effort came frustratingly easily to Satoshi, but what has always angered her more than anything is that is was so clearly she felt he wasn’t putting in 100% of his effort. If he did, he’d surely have been above her in the Elite Ten rankings. Really, she’s not disputing his greatness, but lamenting that he isn’t as great as he could be if he, say, worked as hard as she has.

That distinction in her long-standing grievance with him makes all the difference; this isn’t petty jealousy, but disappointment. However, Satoshi tells her they won’t be facing off in the second bout, because Souma is going to defeat her. With one episode until the 24-ep mark, we’re potentially looking at tresults of the remaining two matches in this first bout.

Will Souma beat Nene with his “instant soba”, or will Nene crush his “desperate improvisation” with her Elite soba knowhow? Can Megishima make it a clean rebel sweep by defeating Kaburagi? Or will one of the remaining two rebels fall to Central, making the other win the clincher? We shall see.