Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 22 – Family Matters

Souma, Erina, Megumi and Takumi’s recently expelled friends arrive on Rebun Island, granted permission by Azami to watch what he believes will be the decisive crushing of the rebellion with one swift stroke. It’s at the shokugeki arena when we’re reminded just how large a portion of Totsuki is totally in the bag with Azami, from the demented idol Urara to the plebs in the stands, to the extremely quality collection of Elite Ten chefs he’s installed.

The crowd is firmly against the rebels, and at moments, I must admit that even I felt occasional pangs of doubt just from the sheer charisma of the majority. Central is making the rank-and-file students’ lives easier, but at the cost of stifling unsolicited creativity and innovation. Meanwhile, the expelled are treated like literal convicts and must watch the shokugeki from a giant cage with iron bars, which is a bit much if you ask me!

In order to match the Elite Ten’s eight current members in numbers, the rebel quartet recruited the most elite chefs available: former third-seat Megishima (whom we’ve seen very little of, but if he was third-seat he must be something), Isshiki (whose first loyalty is to his kohais), Kuga-senpai, who wants to stick it to the Installed Eight, and our favorite stalker chef, Mimasaka Subaru. That’s a damn good team!

Team leaders Azami and Erina agree to start with three duels, and the fixtures are Isshiki vs. eighth-seat Shiratsu Jurio; Megishima vs. fifth-seat Kaburagi Shouko, and Souma vs. … sixth-seat Kinokuni Nene. While what we get about who she is is a rapid-fire affair, the show has proven adept and quickly making characters people we can care about, even if they’re not on the right side. They also saved Hanazawa Kana, employing her huskier voice, for the role of Nene; an elite seiyu for an elite character.

Despite her participation in the Azami regime, Nene is a woman of honor and propriety, well-bred in traditional Japanese cooking, dance, music, calligraphy…and soba making. Her family owns the final word in soba restaurants, and if she comes off as a bit aloof, well, she’s earned it. She hasn’t glided her way to where she is on the backs of her family name; she’s worked her own ass off.

When Souma, in his infinite bad luck at the worst times, manages to pick “soba” from the random battle themes, Nene is justified in declaring she’ll mop the floor with him. It’s calm, cool confidence, not cockiness. Her textbook handmade noodlemaking skills are unparalleled, having been honed over years. Souma can’t compete with them, so he doesn’t try.

Instead, he makes the best soba noodles he can possibly make, which in his case, means using a machine. What’s worse than machine-made noodles? Badly-handmade noodles. Juichirou warned his son that his usual seat-of-the-pants, bold-for-bold’s-sake improv act won’t cut it against such highly-specialized talents as Nene. He has to know when to make a strategic pivot, not take the bait, and wait for an opportunity.

At the same time, his win over Hayama due having made something that best represented the chef he is, Souma isn’t doing a rarified-air flavor only a paltry few can comprehend, let alone enjoy. The “time and history” from which he’ll draw power is in his diner upbringing: creating flavors with wide appeal, yet elevated to gourmet status for the shokugeki.

We then pivot to the second of the three first duels, an eel battle between Isshiki and the never-before (by me at least) seen or noticed Shiratsu Jurio. Like Nene, he has a lofty pedigree; as his family has served the Italian consulate in Japan for years and is highly regarded in both countries’ culinary circles. He’s also a master of stagecraft with his various “rondos.”

Where Nene trash-talked Souma with mostly quantifiable facts and logic, Jurio tries to get under the almost eternally-cheerful Isshiki’s skin by castigating him for betraying his own bigshot family. When that doesn’t work, Jurio insults the Polar Star expellees, and immediately wishes he hadn’t.

Leave it to Isshiki to let all insults directed at him and his biological family slide off like raindrops off a fireman’s helmet, but hearing his beloved dormmates dragged lights in him a fire and energy that wasn’t there earlier in the match. Isshiki resolves to crush Jurio simply for running his mouth.

The third match is barely mentioned, but I’m sure we’ll learn more about the rarely-seen Megishima and virtually never-seen Kaburagi next week. As for who will win, well…I can’t see Souma ever achieving the goal of becoming first-seat if he can’t beat a sixth at her specialty. He’s gotta win, somehow.

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Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 21 – The Storm

As the Central Elite Ten trains hard for the upcoming Team Shokugeki and an exhausted Erina sleeps soundly after standing up to her father for the first time, Souma, Megumi and Takumi finally learn what exactly happened between Jouichirou, Gin, and Azami back in the day when they were all Polar Star members at Totsuki.

As Souma hears from his pops and the other two hear from Gin, the three were inseparable friends, but Jouichirou was so far ahead of Gin and Azami in sheer culinary talent and innovation it wasn’t even funny. Gin, one of Totsuki’s most accomplished graduates, has a 20-101 record against Jouichirou. I doubt the Azami of the time would have fared any better.

Meanwhile, Jouichirou was a lot like Souma in not taking anything too seriously, and occasionally making weird gross dishes for lil’ Shiomi Jun to taste. We later learn the stark difference between why Jouichirou and Souma engage in such a practice.

(I’ll also note that the fact the three amigos are voiced by extremely talented veterans in the present works against them in the flashback; none of them sound remotely credible as middle/high schoolers.)

In the lead-up to Jouichirou’s entry into the predigious BLUE competition for up-and-coming chefs, he is challenged to a Team Shokugeki against one of Totsuki’s old money family heirs who wasn’t good enough to get into the Elite Ten. Jouichirou decides he’ll go up not only against this loser, but 49 of his friends in a 50-on-1 marathon.

You’d think Jouichirou would be at a huge disadvantage, but no number of inferior chefs can make up for a once-in-a-century talent like him, so it’s no contest. Gin is worried about the chef Jouichirou had to become in order to win such a contest, but Azami is delighted, as Jouichirou is nicknamed “The Demon” and is no longer seriously challenged by anyone at school.

Jouichirou continues to crush outside competitions, but as BLUE approaches, he slowly begins to shut down, no longer knowing what he’s doing or why. He ends up flaking out on BLUE, and Senzaemon, who had predicted that a talent as huge as Jouichirou would eventually turn in on itself.

Jouichirou, Gin, and Azami were at the top of the Golden Age of Polar Star, trudging through a great storm in the desert, seeking out new flavors and ways of doing things. But Gin and Azami let him get too far ahead, and he lost himself. Senzaemon suggests Jouichirou leave Japan—and leave cooking—for a time to try to restore what so much success had caused him to lose.

Years later Gin gets a call; Jouichirou has been back in Japan for a while, has a son and a diner. Gin is just happy he’s cooking again. But Azami isn’t as forgiving. He idolized Jouichirou, and seeing him brought so low was traumatizing. He isn’t just revolutionizing Totsuki and global cuisine to stick it to Jouichirou, but to make sure Jouichirou’s sad scenario is never repeated.

While admirable on some levels, it’s also a choice that will ultimately lead to stagnation. Jouichirou had the talent to go as far as he did, but lacked the tools to deal with the inevitable trials that befell him. His son is the opposite; perhaps far less talented, but a lot stronger when it comes to accepting his weaknesses, staring failure right in the nose and drawing strength from every setback.

It’s why Souma never stops battling his pops, even with an 0-490 record against him. And it’s why I believe Azami’s team will lose. After all, it won’t just be Souma out there alone.

Aldnoah.Zero – 24 (Fin)

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I knew every Orbital Knight wouldn’t immediately heed Asseylum’s out-of-the-blue call for an end to hostilities, but that didn’t matter: as long as some of them stopped to see which was the wind was blowing, it was going to be a huge blow to Slaine’s power base, drawing things that much closer to an endgame.

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Neither Lemrina and Harklight want Slaine to give up, but neither of them have the benefit of his experience, all of which runs through his head in the corridor, where he has a clear view of the death and destruction taking place in his name. From there, he decides to evacuate Lemrina and order Harklight and the rest to surrender while he blows the Moonbase up.

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Harklight isn’t going down quietly, however, and neither are his Stygis comrades. They end up changing Slaine’s mind, at least insofar as he’d rather go out dueling Inaho one last time then dying in that control room. And so their final battle begins.

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When Inaho engages Slaine and asks him (via radio channel…SEE, Gundam G? Mecha pilots CAN communicate with each other once in a while), Slaine assumes Inaho wants to fight him as much as he wants to fight Inaho. But Inaho’s “different objective” isn’t that.

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Asseylum had her big badass announcement that turned the tide of the battle, so even though we know this has to be about Inaho and Slaine at this point, it’s a bit disappointing that all she can do here is clasp her fingers together, watch, and wait, hoping the boys don’t succeed in destroying each other.

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They very nearly do, too, exhausting their ammo, snapping all of their swords, and finally just pummeling each other like rock-’em-sock-’em robots. But Inaho, even without relying on his magic eye, is the better tactician, and he manages to neutralize Slaine as a threat and serve as an ablative shield for their mutual re-entry into the atmo.

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Once back on good old Earth, Slaine again gets the wrong idea, thinking he’s in a reversal of last season’s finale and that Inaho is going to put a bullet in his head. Inaho might want to do that, considering everything Slaine’s put him and Earth and Seylum through, but I knew he wouldn’t.

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That brings us to the epilogue, in which Empress Asseylum activates the first Terran Aldnoah Drive as a gesture of goodwill, and EYEPATCH INAHO visits Slaine, who is believed dead by the public, but remains alive in a creepy lucite prison cell.

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Not that the creepy cell is helping, but he’s not in a great place emotionally, and not eating his meals. He’s still waiting for Inaho to finish him, to exact justice upon him for all of his sins. But while Inaho has been many things throughout the run of this show—Mary Stu; know-it-all; humblebragger; cyborg; savior of mankind—but he’s no executioner, and he entrusts Slaine’s fate to the one most equipped to properly judge him: Seylum.

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Slaine taught Asseylum a lot of things about Earth (some of them, like why the sky is blue, weren’t accurate, but still). But it’s Asseylum who teaches Slaine something about Vers that he may not have picked up on while hanging out with all those Orbital Knights: pages can be turned, people can be forgiven, and lives can be redeemed in time.

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Aldnoah.Zero – 23

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With the Moonbase Chase and Princess Shuffle completed successfully, Asseylum is now in the hands of Count Cruhteo the Younger, and it’s confirmed that those are far better hands to be in than Slaine’s.

And hey, Cruhteo doesn’t seem to have an ulterior motive here: he’s simply loyal to the Emperor of Vers, who ordered him to retrieve his granddaughter. He even helps Asseylum hold firm in refusing to return even after Slaine tries to trick her with an offer to negotiate. Slaine isn’t negotiating anymore. If he says he is, you run.

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As I’d hoped, Mazuurek comes into play as Asseylum’s other ally. Between him and Cruhteo Jr., I can happily report the quality of Martian Counts has improved greatly in the home stretch. Here’s hoping there are other Orbital Knights who will take after them and do the right thing: abandon that little tyrant Troyard for the rightful princess.

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Slaine, obviously thinking he’s come too far to turn back or show weakness, is keen to launch an all-out assault on Earth, a repeat of the Shock-and-Awe campaign the O.K.’s started with, which, you may remember, ultimately didn’t work. Not that that matters to someone who seems to have developed a personal vendetta against Earth.

As he fiddles with Asseylum’s necklace in the chamber where Asseylum had once been in a coma, Lemrina pays him a visit to express how sorry she feels for both of them. I think she’s pretty much done with this palace intrigue bullshit, especially if she senses she may not be on the losing side.

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Somehow, Inko is able to retrieve Inaho, something that happens off camera that I wish we could have witnessed. While sitting with the Captain and Doctor, Inko learns Inaho has given over part of his brain to the AI in his eye, taxing his cranial nerves, which must lead her to wonder if she’s slowly losing the guy she likes.

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Asseylum is surprised but happy to learn that Mazuurek has come to her side, in part, to pay a debt he owes Inaho. Like Cruhteo, his true colors are proven pure: paying his debts are more important to him than grabbing power. While resting aboard his landing castle, Asseylum wonders what became of the gentle, peace-loving Slaine she once knew. Eddelrittuo tearfully corrects her, saying Slaine hasn’t changed at all, insofar as he’s always cared for her, even at the risk of his position or love.

Perhaps Eddelrittuo is right, or perhaps it’s only wishful thinking. My take is that a part of Slaine may still care for Asseylum, but she woke up too late, and as long as she doesn’t feel the same way about her, he will never be at peace.

In an echo of one of the more beautiful scenes of this cour, Inaho wakes up to the sound of his relieved big sister, sitting by his side. When Inaho resolves to get right back to work immediately, Yuki knows she can’t stop him, and not just because he outranks her. Instead, they wish each other good luck and agree to have dinner when he gets back, though Inaho remarks that to promise such a thing could be construed as a death flag.

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Inko tries to stop him too, showing her concern without going so far as to confess or anything, but as Calm knows, no one is going to stop Inaho from going out there and fighting. This leads to an oddly meta exchange:

Inko: Do you think you’re some hotshot ace? That you’re special?
Inaho: I’ve never thought that about myself.

Inaho is joking here, right? He’s just super deadpan about it.

When Asseylum is finally able to contact her grandfather, she sees that he’s too far gone mentally to be fit to rule, knows what her next step must be, and takes it.

Her gramps is also upset that his son died in Heaven’s Fall, but revenge is no reason to subjugate another planet, even if he was of sound mind.

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As the UEF musters for a Final Showdown, Slaine prepares to address his fellow Orbital Knights with a motivational speech. Unfortunately for him, Cruhteo II has more clever techs, because Asseylum is able to override that speech and broadcast on all channels.

She’s got some big news for everyone: First of all, she declares her succession to Empress of the Vers Empire. Then she confirms her betrothal to Baby Cruhteo. Finally, she expresses her, and by extension, the royal family’s, desire for peace with Earth.

Inaho helped get her here, but she had to take the stand, and she did, even if it dooms Slaine. Now we’ll see who among the Orbital Knights will recognize her authority.

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Though I consider myself a strong Seylum+Inaho shipper, I’m not perturbed by the fact that Asseylum—the real Asseylum, not her sister in disguise—must ultimately sacrifice any possible romantic future with Inaho for the good of the empire.

It just makes sense: she’s going to have a hard enough time garnering the support of the Orbital Knights with a real, non-adopted Count by her side; asking them to accept a Terran would be too much, so that’s that. But hey, if Inaho survives, maybe he’ll get smart and pursue Inko. She’s an ace too, you know!

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Aldnoah.Zero – 22

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The Deucalion launches into the Satellite Belt with its space loadout and catapult module, and with it launches the best chance of Inaho saving his princess.

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Before that, Captain Magbaredge is briefed on the particulars of the battle, in which, no surprise, the Deucalion will be used as little more than bait to split the Vers defenses. Darzana doesn’t like it, and neither does the crew, but they carry that plan out…with one slight adjustment.

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Asseylum, Lemrina, and Eddelrittuo locked in the observation room is about what you’d expect: Lemrina blaming Asseylum for waking up and ruining everything, and Asseylum picking up the fact her sister must care for Slaine quite a bit to have gone this far for and with him.

What angers Lemrina more than Slaine loving her sister more than her is the fact that Asseylum won’t return that love. She tells Lemrina her heart belongs to the world and people of Vers—or so she’s always been raised to believe. We’ll see, won’t we?

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Meanwhile, Lord Troyard meets with the newly-arrived Count Klancain Cruhteo. It’s a meeting replete with mutual etiquette and flattery, but in between sips of tea, it’s clear Klancain is sizing him up. It’s obviously suspicious that Slaine speaks of starting a new kingdom, but the princess he claims wishes for a “dream” is nowhere in sight.

Slaine, on the other hand, seems hopeful he can bring Cruhteo to his side, which he believes will cause a domino effect with the other “loyalists”, consolidating his position. Cruhteo doesn’t strike me as that pliable, and despite his successful coup against Asseylum, Slaine doesn’t strike me as that capable.

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As for the slight adjustment to the Deuc’s mission: Inaho consults with Darzana, who apparently approves his plan to sneak into the moon base and rescue Asseylum. He and Inko spot a friendly transport dropping off a covert ops squad Inaho suspects are tasked with assassinating the princess.

This discovery betrays a surprisingly shrewed, if unethical, competence on the part of the heretofore appallingly dunder-headed UE military brass. It’s clear they were never going for a tactical victory with this attack; the idea was for a loud and shouty battle to obscure the death team that would take out Slaine’s Aldnoah source.

If Magbaredge sent Inaho and Inko off to save Asseylum, she’d be ruining the brass’ plans; but it can’t be called insubordination, because she was never officially informed of their true plans. Even so, her trust in Inaho is formidable. There’s also something sad about poor Inko having to literally (and figuratively) “let go” of Inaho so he can go save another woman. But hey, she volunteered.

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Another miscalculation by Slaine is sticking the princesses with the most inept bodyguards imaginable. Sure, they’re up against hardened special ops infiltrators, but shouldn’t that be exactly the kind of foe they should be able to hang with? Instead, like rats in a maze, they dart all over the moon base and get headed off time and again.

In the middle of this chace, Lemrina stops and tells Asseylum and Eddelrittuo to continue on without her. It’s not because she doesn’t want to slow them down, but because she has nowhere to go, which is also really sad and lonely. A/Z is not being particularly charitable towards anyone with unrequited feelings this week.

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We also get—at last—the much-anticipated square-off between Inaho and Slaine, and…it’s pretty underwhelming. I guess that’s par for the course; neither are what I’d call brawlers (I think I’d rather have Rayet on my side in a hand-to-hand fight), and the zero-g conditions contribute to a stalemate after a brief exchange of gunfire. That, and the ever-wily Inaho hits some steam pipes, the steam of which covers his escape.

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By that point, Inaho has really used his Google Glass implant way too much, to the extent that just moments after finally reuniting with his beloved Seylum, he passes out. That’s when something strange and unexpected happens: the implant takes over his brain and voice; a totally artificial “backup program” for Inaho the human being. Whoa.

For a second I wondered if this Inaho was an android—it would explain a great many things—but the AI puts that matter to rest at once with these deeply romantic words:

Even though this boy is aware that Princess Asseylum is a separate individual, he misidentifies her as a part of himself. He therefore placed maximum priority on her safety and has acted to protect her.

What a novel way to confess. The AI also tells Asseylum and Eddelrittuo where to go to get picked up by Inko, and Asseylum tells it to thank him when he wakes up, and confesses that she also thinks of Inaho as a part of herself. As if there was any doubt.

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With the last standing assassin cornering Asseylum and Eddelrittuo, combined with Inaho’s breakdown, those who are loved by the one they love didn’t have it any easier than the losers.

When Eddelrittuo valiantly stepped in front of her princess, I feared the worst, but the assassin is taken out by none other than Count Cruhteo…who may either be our new best friend, or a cure that’s worse than the disease if he intends to exploit the the princess just as Slaine did.

He’s quite the wild card, but the glass-half-full part of me wants to think his intentions are honorable, but I do wonder what will become of Inaho, unconscious behind enemy lines, along with Mazuurek, who was a no-show this week.

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One Week Friends – 10

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I went there recently in Nisekoi, and Golden Time before it…down to rock bottom: the lowest possible point for our protagonist in dealings with his love interest. The question going into this week was, will things start to look up this week, or would One Week Friends still have deeper depths for Yuuki to plumb?

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Well, things aren’t great, but they could certainly be worse. Kaori’s memories have reset, but she still has her diary, it informs her that Yuuki is her friend, and she seems willing to continue along that path with him. But Yuuki’s frustration is both palpable and understandable. All of his work, ruined by a random transfer student. I can imagine him protesting through the fourth wall: “Who’s writing this stuff?”

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Having Hajime around could be a source of constant strife for Yuuki, as its possible anything he happens to say to Kaori, regardless of motive, could reset her all over again, and there’s only so much a guy can take (the realization Kaori doesn’t know what the 18 grams of sugar means causes him to break down on the staircase). It’s an untenable limbo.

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Something has to give, and that something oddly turns out to be Hajime’s ignorance of Kaori’s condition. He’s as skeptical as Yuuki was, but now he at least knows how his words could have been a bit harsh under the circumstances. One couldn’t really blame him for believing she had simply discarded him, but now he knows the truth, or at least the truth Yuuki is aware of.

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When Hajime hears about how Yuuki and Kaori maintain their friendship, the pain from Kaori’s perceived betrayal likely fuels his opinion on the matter: it doesn’t sound like a real friendship to him at all. Kaori is merely writing in a diary, after all, and the facts in a diary can be changed by the author. It’s true, a diary is no substitute for memory, but the latter can be just as open to interpretation.

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Hajime tries to re-germinate a kernel that Yuuki had previously tabled; the possibility Kaori is making this all up. He’s aware of that possibility, but he feels he wouldn’t be worthy of being her friend if he didn’t trust her, and he’s decided to keep trusting her, even if she’s making him jump through more hoops than most normal friends would. The last thing he wants to be is someone like Hajime.

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Stray Observations:

  • After Yuuki’s first, somewhat hostile chat with Hajime by the drink machines, when Hajime leaves, we half-expected Shogo to say “I kinda like that guy!” half just to mess with him, half because he means it.
  • Further complicating matters for Yuuki: Hajime is much more on par with Kaori in the academics department. They also used to study poetry together. Aw, jeez…
  • Big development in Shogo+Saki: unable to marry Kaori (she doesn’t live in any of the twenty U.S. states that allow same-sex marriage), Saki comes right out and adorably proposes to Shogo, not jokingly at all. Shogo, caught off guard, quickly retreats, but Yuuki sees how red his face got. That’s one damn fine supporting romance there. So economical, yet hits hard!
  • I’m convinced the show is just trolling us now with the Crêpe Dates. How many times now has Yuuki tried and failed to take Kaori out for crêpes? Will it ever happen without a hitch? IT HAD BETTER.

One Week Friends – 09

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Following this show’s convention of naming episodes, I thought “Last Day” this episode’s title referred to was the last day of summer vacation, a day I remember always feeling longer than the ones that preceded it, and with good reason: I made a concerted effort to savor every last minute of it.

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For academic underachievers like Yuuki and Saki, it’s a day to cram a summer’s worth of homework into one day, and for Kaori and Kiryu to politely keep them company. Much of the episode is limited to Kaori’s room, and time indeed slows to a placid crawl. But the “Last Day” in the title wasn’t just about the end of summer, but about the end of all the progress Yuuki had made with Kaori.

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The threat of this happening stayed in my mind throughout the last few episodes, but was pushed further and further back, replaced by hope and optimism. The last day of vacation and the start of the next semester couldn’t have gone any better, and things stay good right up until Kujou Hajime arrives and causes Kaori to faint. And just like that, Yuuki is crushed…as am I.

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I was even, like Yuuki probably was, entertaining the possibility Kaori was getting over her psychological issues with friendship (knowing she’d suffered no brain damage in the accident); that, like her monologue about math and the journey being as fulfilling as the solution, the solution to her problems was something that would come just by continuing to be friends with her, and nothing more.

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But the revelation that Kaori had a friend like Yuuki before Yuuki, made a promise, and broke it, earning his ire, throws the neat, tidy order of that arrangement into chaos. I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if Kaori’s diary fails to rekindle the feelings she once held for him; all bets are off, thanks to the wild card Hajime; whom I’m sure we’ll learn more about, but for now, I’m going to go cower in the nearest dark corner and sob!

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Stray Observations:

  • On the brighter side, we delve a little deeper into the relationship between Kiryu and Saki; basically, Kiryu has always protected and helped her because it makes him happy. And now she’s starting to notice and remember him. They’re exceedingly cute together.
  • When Yuuki trips and falls on Kaori in classic anime rom-com fashion, he meets a very non-classic fate: Kaori isn’t upset in the slightest, and when her mom barges in, she’s excited rather than mad.
  • To have Yuuki and Kaori walk to school together and give them adjacent desks in the back of the classroom, suggesting boundless potential…talk about softening us up with elation before bringing the hammer down.
  • The bleak lighting and lack of color in that nurse’s office was pitch-perfect. Really nice contrast to the heady halcyon summer days.