3-gatsu no Lion – 31

Rei is enjoying a big feast with the Kawamotos before he heads off to Osaka for the Newcomer Tournament final, but Hana isn’t. She can’t eat a bite; her stomach hurts. It’s because she’ll be heading off too: to Kyoto, on a multi-day class trip.

Rei immediately knows why Hina is feeling the way she is, and gives what advice he can to help ease her pain, since he’s felt it too. He vividly imagines the hell she’ll have to face while on the trip, ostracized by her peers. She’s going into battle just as much as he is. And like him, she wants to win.

When Rei meets Kawasaki Junko, the game records of his semifinal match with Nikaidou have already said a lot about the guy (except that he looks really old for someone 26 and under). Knowing he couldn’t beat Nikaidou in a quick game, Kawasaki did everything he could to lengthen it, knowing Nikaidou’s health would give out and the match would be his.

Knowing this is how Kawasaki wins fills Rei with rage, and he almost plays right into his opponent’s hands when a voice inside him stays his hand: it’s Nikaidou’s words ringing out: don’t attack, defend; take care of your shogi and yourselfPerservere. It’s what Nikaidou did, even though he failed. It’s what Hina is doing in Kyoto.

Back on course, Rei contains his anger and focuses it on persevering, on enduring the mind games Kawasaki is playing, and by focusing on the shogi, and when the match is over, Rei is the new Newcomer King, while Kawasaki is a fief in the land of losers where he deserves to be for his callus, unchivalrous play.

Rei does not savor the victory long, because he knows Hina’s still out there battling. After a fellow player gives him some stomach medicine Shimada recommended, Rei races to Kyoto by bullet train, and using Hina’s class trip schedule, combs the shopping venue where her class is supposed to be.

Then he remembers his own times of loneliness during such trips, and how a mall full of laughter and fun would be the last place he’d be. Instead, he searches the river, the place back home where she’s always run to be alone.

Her reaction to Rei suddenly appearing there, just when she was about to start crying, is hard to put into words. Poweful? Sure. Heartlifting? You bet. When he was younger, Rei had to face many battles alone.

Now he knows how much better he’d have fared if he had someone beside him to make things even a little more endurable, and happens to have someone in Hina who he can ensure won’t endure her battles alone.

All it took was being there—in that particular time and place—to be hugged, to be a font for her tears, to remind her she isn’t fighting in vain, and that it’s going to be alright.

Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen – 03

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In the dining hall, Konekomaru is taken aback by Shima’s rediscovered chumminess, and later calls him out for it, but Shima repeats his assertion from last week that it’s far more hassle to avoid Rin than simply slip back into their friendship; that, and Rin’s a good guy.

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Meanwhile, the Impure King plot gets mired in infighting when the gathered families gather and it’s believed there’s a traitor in their midst. My first instinct is to go for the snake-people, but that’s kinda profiling; besides, it could just as easily be Shima’s brother…or Bon’s father, who is absent.

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The resulting meeting is tense and full of accusations. This is not how you want to see a group of exorcists tasked with protecting a dangerous artifact like the right eye. But it also creates a sense of intrigue: we’ve got the suspects, but I, at least, will need more info in order to determine whodunit.

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And now, your weekly Ao no Exorcist Shiemi Report: Does Shiemi actually have lines in this, the third episode? She does! Unfortunately, most of them are used running herself down for being so “useless” and “underfoot.” Izumo counters that she shouldn’t stress, since she’s strong, or rather resilient, like a weed. Shiemi is a big greenthumb, so she takes it as a compliment and as motivation to try harder.

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Later, Shiemi spots Rin training, and recommits herself to trying her best so she can catch up to him. So yeah, no contact between the two quite yet, but she’s well on her way to getting there. As is Konekomaru, whose hard line fades when Rin assures him he’ll prove to him he’s not a threat, despite his blue flames.

Of course, the toughest friend in whose good graces to get back into is Bon, who is currently occupied with wondering if his Dad is the traitor in their midst. Another decent episode that balanced Rin’s efforts to make up with his pals with the right eye plot.

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Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen – 02

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I for one found it refreshing that Rin & Co. didn’t immediately end up in the middle of a war zone upon arriving in Kyoto. There’s definitely casualties whom they must tend to, but the main battle feels far away. Instead, Rin finds himself in the hometown of three friends of his who are feeling very uneasy around him.

He meets Bon’s parents, who are nothing like he imagined. After two minutes with his dad, Rin is prepared to label him a “degenerate monk”, which just so happens to be what a lot of others in his sect have called him for years, much to the frustration of his son Bon.

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Rather than end up in the middle of a fight against the forces trying to revive the Impure King (or whatever), Rin and his mates perform relatively menial tasks, but those tasks still have to be performed, as they’re important.

During their service we see the long-standing rivalry between different clans within the sect, one of which is really into snakes. Bon’s dad is nowhere to be found, so it falls to him to break up fights – and hear what people call Pops.

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We get some nice peaks into Bon’s past, and see how much he loved and admired his dad, who always kept to himself chanting sutras. Bon learned those sutras, but he also watched as the order his father belonged to wither away, to the point they had to align themselves with the True Cross Order in order to stave off oblivion.

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Meanwhile, Rin tries to think of a way to mend fences with Bon, as well as his other spooked friends. Unfortunately he and Shiemi don’t say a peep to each other for the second straight week, but hopefully they’ll reconcile at some point.

For now, Rin has to be content with Shima, who ends up the last person with Rin with no excuse for slinking away, but also finds that it’s a much bigger hassle to avoid Rin than to talk to and treat him like he did before Rin went berserk. Shima’s are probably the easiest good graces to return to, however.

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Bon’s deal is that he always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, but he had the kind of father who didn’t want that, and so conflict arose between them, which hasn’t been sufficiently resolved since before he dyed his hair.

But Bon’s no innkeeper, and he never was. He’s an exorcist, a damn good one, and he’ll play a big role in the coming battle against pro-Impure King forces. I think when Rin learned Bon has been having a long fight with his Dad, he was heartened, a bit. Bon only butts heads with those who matter in his life. Relationships will have to be prepared if the good guys are going to have a chance. And despite having Satan as a father, Rin is a good guy.

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Ao no Exorcist: Kyoto Fujouou-hen – 01

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Five years, three months, and five days. That’s how long ago I last laid eyes on Ao no Exorcist. Back then, we hadn’t even split up writer accounts yet! As such, I was seriously worried about not knowing what the heck was going on, and was both hoping for and hating myself for needing at least some kind of recap to bring me up to speed. Imagine waiting until 2021 for the next season Game of Thrones!

The first episode of this sequel, “Small Beginnings”, largely drops us right back in the world of the Okunuma brothers, exorcists, and True Cross, and to my relief, it’s like riding a bike: it all started coming back. By starting small as the episode title suggests, the show avoids the need for too much lengthy expostition about what has happened (though there is a bit of that, in addition to exposition about what will be happening this season).

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This is the Kyoto Fujouou-hen, or Kyoto Impure King Arc, and one of his eyes is stolen by Todo Saburota, one of the grizzled mid-level exorcists entrusted with guarding it. Todo is disaffected by his station, feeling it too small commensurate to the effort and loyalty he put in, so he’s gone over to the demons.

After saving a kid hostage Todo didn’t seem terribly interested in, Rin, Yukio, and Shura join the rest of the gang aboard a Kyoto-bound Shinkansen bound to locate and retrieve the eyes of the Impure King, lest they be used to kill more people. On the train, Rin encounters some fallout from going berserk last season, and his friends, even Shiemi, express various combinations of fear, anger, mistrust and betrayal.

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That doesn’t seem like the ideal dynamic for a team with such a seemingly important mission, but as Shura says this shouldn’t be the toughest mission (it isn’t as if they’re dealing with Satan himself; Todo seems to have traded one mid-level role for another) and perhaps the best way to mend fences is through work.

The only one who deigns to sit beside Rin is Kamiki Izumo, who (in her tsundere way) doesn’t feel it fair to condemn Rin simply for being what he is, which isn’t his fault. Lots of exorcists having demon lineage, after all (and I for one wouldn’t mind sitting next to a kitty on a train). That being said, Bon and Konekomaru have lost family to demons, and aren’t so quick to trust Rin.

I’m not so quick to start liking Rin either. He has a point, but he could be a little less brusque about it, just like he didn’t need to laugh back in the immediate aftermath of his friends discovering his true roots. One of the most annoying elements of AnE is having to endure Okamoto Nobuhiko’s harsh, petulant depiction of Rin, but otherwise this was a far smoother re-entry into the worl than I expected.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 11

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I find it interesting how this episode, my favorite episode of this second season of Food Wars, took place after the Autumn Elections, after all the student battles had been fought and settled. While the tension and energy of those episodes was often electric, and the finale was superb, I feel like I was suffering from a bit of ‘arena fatigue’.

This episode tosses Souma & Co. out into the real world, and a lot of this episode’s greatness lies in its realism. It melds the warlike theme of completing a mission—serving and making your mark in a real restaurant—with the slice of life comedy I found so infectious in shows like Working!!.

Even better, it doesn’t dart from place to place showing us how every single character is fairing. There’s a clear A-plot and B-plot, and the A-plot takes precedence for maximum immersiveness. When I learned it would be two students to a restaurant, my first thought was that Souma would be teamed up with Erina.

Instead, the show did us one better: it teamed him up with Erina’s self-appointed “aide”, Miss Secretary herself, Arato Hisako. It turns out to be an inspired pairing that, at least for an episode, upgrades Arato from the character nosebleeds to center stage.

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As she and Souma start out at Western Restaurant Mitamura, Arato is in the midst of a personal crisis following her defeat to Hayama. She believes she will only be a liability if she remains too close to Erina. Note that no one else has told her this, it’s just something she believes. Hayama’s words about her being “too small” in the scope of her dreams really hit her hard.

At first confrontational to the point of warning him not to speak to her, Souma gradually wears her down with his unique blend of reliable friendliness, restless ambition, and an unflappable competence in the midst of a multi-wave battle against hordes of bullet train passengers who fill the restaurant all at once and demand transactions a bit faster than humanly possible.

Arato is no fool: she can acknowledge Souma has more experience with this kind of thing than she does. She can even take his orders to make things go smoother. But she doesn’t have to like it, and she doesn’t, so Souma serves as a catalyst for her to learn the ropes and the rhythms of this very unique restaurant fast.

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The result of that effort is heaps of praise from her older co-workers, many of whom have been working there since the beginning (it’s a third-gen family establishment). At first she thinks the praise is just for Souma, but it’s for her too, and it’s so wonderful to receive those laurels, Arato quickly does what she’s always done: rest upon them. Settle.

Pairing Arato with Souma was better than pairing him with Erina, because where the latter would have been primarily confrontational, the pairing we get results in some wonderful characterization. In the beginning, estranged from her mistress or not, an enemy of Erina’s (Souma) is an enemy of Arato’s. But her relationship wtih Souma evolves swiftly and rapidly into something more complex and satisfying.

Even if they didn’t know about Arato’s issues regarding complacency and her self-imposed exile from Erina, Totsuki’s administrators did her a solid by pairing her with Souma, who enjoys the first couple days of training, but has a splinter in his head always festering, telling him they’ve gotta do more.

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At first Arato thinks he’s being absurd—things are going great!—but he eventually gets her to realize “making your mark” means more than just fitting nicely into the machinery. The machinery has faults that are harming profitability and may lead to the restaurant’s demise. If they’re to truly pass their first Staigaire, they have to help fix that machinery, and ensure it keeps working after they leave.

Calling an emergency staff meeting Arato, with Souma backing her up, proposes radical changes, such as cutting back on the menu options. The seasoned staff rightly push back; with a gutted menu it won’t be Mitamura anymore.

The owner is also adverse, since he’s trying to get back to the golden years of the restaurant, not cut corners. Everyone’s positions here make sense, but the undeniable reality is that those bullet train hordes are keeping Mitamura from being it’s best, and something has to give.

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The B-plot is far more lightweight and tuned towards comedy, but those aren’t marks against it, as Megumi and Erina make the most of their limited time. It’s another inspired pairing that, like Souma/Arato, features a take-charge go-getter half and a talented but meeker half struggling to make her mark.

We know how talented and capable Erina is, so it’s no surprise when she stanches control of the kitchen right out from under the grizzled chef’s feet. He can’t do anything about it, and not just because of politics: Erina makes his place better. He’s on the fast road to a Michelin star after a couple days. That’s the power of having the God Tongue under your employ. She’s the ultimate culinary ringer.

Megumi is almost exclusively relegated to dishwashing duty, simply trying to stay out of Erina’s path and doing her job, but she knows she has to distinguish herself somehow. She finds a way through her observation of the dirty plates that come to her, shrewdly suggesting (with de facto Chef Erina’s support) that customers be allowed to determine the portion of sauce they want on a popular dish.

The de jure chef can’t argue with her when a customer asks a waiter for more sauce, and Erina is impressed with Megumi’s subtle perceptiveness.

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As for Mitamura, rather than cut down the menu, they take perhaps an even greater risk: they make the restaurant by reservation only. But it pays off. Without hordes storming in and out, the kitchen and staff can shine brighter, and the regulars scared off by the train passenger business start to return and find they were fools to ever leave.

Souma effectively lit a fire under Arato, and the two show Mitamura’s owner and staff that they made the right decision to change, not for change’s sake, but for the sake of the identity they wanted the restaurant to have: a fine casual Western restaurant that takes care with its dishes and customers…not a station-side industrial feedbag.

As a result, they are confronted outside the restaurant by a stalky Totsuki agent who informs them they’ve passed the first round of their Staigaire. Arato allows herself a proud smile, but her estrangement with Erina remains an issue to be resolved, which Souma can also help her with.

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Erina, unsurprisingly, misses Arato, and wishes she’d come back. She recalls the time she asked her purple-haired friend to come closer, to take her hands and have fun with her, not simply watch from a respectful distance. Too improper was Arato’s reply.

She felt she could only walk behind, not beside Erina. But it’s pretty clear that’s not the case when Megumi brings up Arato and Erina reacts the exact same way Arato reacted when Souma brought up Erina.

So Souma tells her to work to become someone who can walk beside Erina, and in the meantime, stop the silly self-exile. He has just the excuse she needs: a bag full of manga he promised Erina. He gives Arato the bag and the directive to go back to her friend. Arato takes it and runs off with ebullient gratitude and optimism.

An all around triumph, this episode. Souma, Megumi remained largely their own likable selves, Erina kicked her usual ass, and most importantly I gained an entirely new and welcome appreciation for Arato Hisako, who no doubt will be less dismissive and confrontational towards Souma in the future. Seeing her in glasses was icing on the cake.

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Samurai Flamenco – 19

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Ah, the quiet life in a world with no evil, where there is only love, peace…and Maya Mari. Kudos to the show for putting all the world-saving on hold for a least an episode and putting the focus back on the lives of Masayoshi, Goto, and MMM (the Flamengers get abridged status reports, but they’re far less central characters).

While we knew the next global crisis was just over the horizon (being announced rather abruptly in the final minute of the episode), we’ll take all the Samurai Flamenco slice-of-life we can. Masayoshi learns Goto is going to visit his long-distance girlfriend back in his hometown. This is huge, as Goto’s girlfriend has been nothing but very animated texts since the beginning, and we thought we’d never see her face as following through with the joke.

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Turns out it’s no joke at all, more of a tragedy, as Masayoshi learns when he tells Mari about Goto’s plans and gets sucked into a four-hour bullet train ride followed by some standard stalking. During the trip Mari suggests something we had been pondering for a long while, which the show hadn’t so much at hinted at: the possibility of Masayoshi going out with Sumi. It’s a new world, after all: there isn’t much to do besides settle down and find love.

It’s when they meet Goto’s mom, and then find Goto himself waiting at a bus stop with a bouquet of roses and, as always, his cell phone in hand, they learn the heartbreaking truth: Goto’s girlfriend in question was his high school sweetheart who got on a bus and disappeared years ago; he started texting messages to himself as her as a way of coping with the crushing grief…and never stopped. All the time the show had laughed off the fact Goto never had any real contact with his girlfriend is brought into heartbreaking focus…and now we know why he’s a cop.

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Mari, who’s been pining for him all this time, is similarly devastated at being passed up for an imaginary girl, but at this point he’s been “talking” to her for so long, she may be just as real as Mari, if not more so. So while there seems to be no more evil in the world, there’s still pain, loss, anguish, and frustration. There’s still times when you just need your two friends to meet you at a hot spring to feast on lobster and de-compress.

Oh, and obviously, there still IS evil in the world, after all! What Samurai Flamenco did threatens all who—profit directly or indirectly—from that evil (the press and the police among them) The boy who shakes Masayoshi’s hand just before blowing up his apartment essentially tells him what Masayoshi (and Mari) were likely so uneasy about all along: that a world without strife is a world without movement or change, of stagnation and ruin.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)