Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 06

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Barring something bizarre (like a tie with one judge abstaining), this battle was only going to end one way: with Souma victorious. There’s no way he’d lose and give up cooking six episodes in.

The show knows we know the outcome, so it must, as it often has in the past, dazzle and entertain us with the process that leads to that outcome. And it succeeds!

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After whipping out bacon that demonstrates his curing and smoking expertise are on par with Ibusaki’s, and revealing that his profiling job was made much easier by guessing Sotsuda’s password and reading all his notes on Souma’s prep.

The very harsh alumnai judges believe the multifaceted umami of the bacon is something Souma simply cannot overcome, until he starts improvising, whipping out four distinct cuts of meat—cheek, tongue, tripe, and fillet—each perfectly prepared in a manner ideal to it, and added as garniture for the stew, in what Souma deems a “meet theme park.”

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Mimasaka predicted someone of Souma’s confidence would turn to improv, but is confident his profiling and detailed preparations will be able to weather anything Souma throws at the judges.

Mimasaka serves his dish first, and the beef/pork umami is violently, knock-’em-sock-’em good, leaving Mimasaka laughing villainously and the judges more weary than ever that Souma’s seemingly thrown-together dish will be any match.

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…But of course it is. Rather than being tossed around in a boxing ring with meat heavyweights, the judges are spirited away to “Yukihee Land” (trademark pending), where they transform into giddy high school girls (yes, including Dojima) running around enjoying life and youth.

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While Mimasaka’s carefully erected house of cards is impressive, it pales in comparison to the encyclopedic display of skill on display, as he puts a Chikuzen stew-like twist on beef stew rather than sticking with the French classic. The individual meats he used impress the judges with how well each was prepared and how they create and exhilarating ride in their mouths and imaginations.

By the end of their meal, the judges are gleefully holding hands without knowing it. The voting is unanimous, and Souma defeats Mimasaka…but he also teaches Mimasaka a lesson.

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Growing up, Mimasaka imitated his stern father’s cooking, and the first time he put a twist on it, he beat his father’s cooking, leading to his exile. He used that same approach intentionally—and with increasing cruelty—throughout his cooking career to advance himself, because it worked.

But for the first time, it didn’t work, and Mimasaka must surrender all of the treasured tools that embody the pride of the previous chefs he beat (in a scene that looks a lot like Hunger Games, what with all the past losers rushing into a container full of knives). Only Takumi refuses to take back his Mezzaluna; it goes to Souma instead, and he’ll get it back when he beats him in a Shokugeki.

Now that Mimasaka has experienced the same shameful, pride-robbing defeat what all the chefs he defeated, like them he begins to question whether he should even cook anymore. But the point of Souma’s lesson was to demonstrate that a true professional chef takes the worst defeat of their life in stride, because the kitchen must open tomorrow, and the customers must be fed.

Meanwhile, Souma continues to look ahead to his future match with Erina (who looks down imperiously before demanding he get her that manga she wanted), while Round 2 of the semifinals between Hayama and Kurokiba begins immediately. And what do you know, I have no idea who’s going to win this one!

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 05

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Souma made a big, bold bet, one that Nikumi, for one, is none too pleased about, because unlike us she can’t be sure that he’ll win, which means someone she deeply respects will be throwing their life of cooking away if he loses.

The wager also attracts the attention of a young, eager Totsuki junior high student who spends way more time with journalism than cooking. After relentlessly courting Souma for an exclusive, Souma uses him as his taste tester.

The dish for the Shokugeki is the same thing Souma served Mimasaka in his dorm when the challenge was made: beef stew. And unlike (or more likely, like) many Mimasaka’s previous 99 victims, he’s trying to switch things up by being very transparent about what he’s doing.

Souma knows he’s not going to win by being secretive; Mimasaka will find out or predict what he’s up to. Nor can he win by emulating his opponent’s specialty: Mimasaka doesn’t have one. Instead, Souma is treating this like the ultimate creative battle…against himself.

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After her loss to Hayama, Arato is too ashamed to stay by Erina’s side, and takes a leave of absense. Mind you, she makes this decision before Erina had a chance to talk about the match with her (during which time she’d likely have told her she was proud of her effort and wanted her to remain by her side).

On the bright side, when Erina needs the next volume in a shoujo manga she’s reading, the absence of Arato means Souma has something to compensate her for in exchange for her tasting duties (since someone at the dorm has the complete set).

Erina has her largest role in an episode this season, and she shines. By not making things easy for Souma, she (intentionally or not) contributes greatly to setting Souma on the proper path, being immediately dismissive of his pathetic diner stew (and its white miso secret ingredient) without elaborating why.

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While Mimasaka relives the last 28 episodes as Souma, starting back at the diner with Souma’s hometown friends, Nikumi, like Erina, lends Souma a subtle hint for how to proceed in the form of a meat care package, warning him she won’t let him lose and give up being a chef as she runs away flustered.

The final four days leading up to the match pass by in montage form, with Souma ditching the journalist (no longer useful at this stage in his dish development) and Megumi and Nikumi periodically looking in to see how he’s progressing.

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The day of the match Souma must win arrives, judged by five Totsuki alumni (including Dojima, Mizuhara and Hinako), who along with Kikuchi, Tsunozaki, and Erina, imagine how difficult it will be for Souma to break out of the diner mentality of dishes tasting best on the third bite (gourmet dishes must taste good on the first).

Erina expects a crushing defeat for Souma, meaning the end of his stinking up her academy once and for all, right up until she notices what he’s up to down in the arena. Instead of the usual cuts of beef, he goes with high-gelatin oxtail seasoned with cloves to deepen the white miso, and a veggie matignon to add sweetness near the end.

Souma has always been a sponge for culinary knowledge, even if it isn’t being directly taught to him by those he absorbs it from. But he caught on to what Erina was hinting at, as well as the meat that Nikumi gave him, and crafted a game plan for evolving his diner’s signature dish into something one would be proud to serve in the kind of elite gourmet restaurants the judges run.

Conspicuous in his lack of screen timeat the start of the match is Mimasaka; because Souma bet everything on this match, he’s the center of attention, but once he and the crowd notice the opponent, they see that he’s mimicked him in every regard. There is simply no way to surprise Mimasaka; he’s always going to be one step ahead. Oxtail, cloves, matignon – he’s got all that…plus his signature twists that usually corner and decimate his opponents.

Souma will have to weather those twists—some possibly drawn from his own culinary history, some of Mimasaka’s own imagining—keep his cool, and simply out-cook his clone. How will he prevail where 99 chefs fell? Will he put it all on that first bite, or manage to flip the script in a way even Mimasaka could not predict?

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 04

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In hindsight, SnS wouldn’t have brought a character like Mimasaka Subaru into the foreground unless he had some extended role to play. And if he knew so much about Arata and Hayama, he’s doubtless know even more about open book Takumi. That meant Takumi probably never had a chance.

This week, Mimasaka takes Takumi apart, matching him move for move, then adding “twists” that push him even further into the corner, until his own gameplan and emotions become the enemy on top of the incredibly talented but demented chef he’s up against.

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He may not be the most nuanced character (frankly, it might have been nice if his character design weren’t so huge and threatening to so obviously match his predatory personality), but there’s no denying Mimasaka has a system, is utterly committed to it, because it works.

Even a judge has some real problems with how Mimasaka goes about his business in the kitchen, but Mimasaka knows people don’t like him, and doesn’t care. In a Shokugeki, it’s all about the food, and Mimasaka’s food is simply better than Takumi’s, and it’s not close.

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Thankfully, Takumi doesn’t simply curl into a ball and accept his defeat, even when it’s too late to start over with something new (and he’s limited by the ingredients on hand he himself chose). He manages to produce an ace in the hole with his homemade lemon curd layer made with the family olive oil.

It’s a brilliant, clutch counter to Mimasaka’s many twists, and at just the right time…but Mimasaka knows everything about Takumi, including the lemons and the oil, and his dish’s true genius isn’t revealed until the judges have tasted both and can compare. Mimasaka’s preserved lemons are in every layer of the semifreddo, and beat out Takumi’s curd.

It’s a total victory for Mimasaka—his 100th Shokugeki win—and he claims Takumi’s beloved mezzaluna, confident he’s stomped out yet another career. On to the semifinals, which occur in a week’s time.

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Rather than console Takumi, Souma simply goes home, and whether he expected it or not, Mimasaka is in his room (having used the spare key, to the girls’ horror). Souma maintains a neutral calm throughout most of their talk, being just as gracious a host as Mimasaka was to him last week. Mimasaka has come to announce they’ll be going up against each other. He wants a Shokugeki with Souma, and he wants his beloved knife.

Just as he knew how to push Takumi’s buttons, Mimasaka things he has Souma right where he wants him: angered that someone he respected has been so thoroughly humiliated. Indeed, it could be argued Mimasaka trampled Takumi as part of his overall strategy should he get Souma in the next round, which he did.

And he’s right: Souma is angry, and does take the challenge. But the terms are different. If Souma wins, Mimasaka will give him all of the hundred tools he’s claimed from those he’s beaten, essentially undoing his entire legacy. Souma considers Mimasaka and his methods more of a virus than an opponent; something to be wiped out entirely. He also considers those methods a waste of Mimasaka’s own considerable skills.

If Souma loses, he’ll quit being a chef. Well, we’re only four episodes into the season, and Souma is not going to quit being a chef…so I guess the result of his next match is clear, right? Perhaps, but it will surely be something to see how (not if) he bests someone who knows him better than he knows himself…at least on the outside.

I’m excited to see that, but I can’t help but think Mimasaka has been a wasted opportunity thus far, lacking the nuance of Souma’s other rivals. We’ve yet to see anyone defend Mimasaka’s philosophy or methods, nor has there been any attempt to explain how he came to adopt them. Perhaps that will come to light in his battle with Souma.

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Dimension W – 06

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Despite their intimate level of involvement in the case, Kyouma and Mira felt like background tourists in the Lake Yasogami arc. This week finds the show back on track, largely because despite the fact there is another whole new set of characters, both Kyouma and Mira feel a lot more connected to the events.

One of those new faces is the “Wind of Africa” Prince Salva-Enna-Tibesti. Loved by the ladies but pissed by how obvious they are, Salva is both CEO of the world’s #1 Robot manufacturer, Islero, and COO of one of the Central coil stations; #60. His aide Lasithi is almost certainly a robot, as is his younger brother, Prince Lwai.

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We learn the former when Salva is able to “bind” Lasithi with a command, while we learn the latter when the precocious Lwai (or “Loo”), eager to experience Japan, latches onto Kyouma (who is just minding his own business) and ends up spending the day with him as he avoids being picked up by Salva’s men.

Kyouma takes a distinct “why me” stance towards Lwai’s continued following, but when he accidentally destroys a fish-catching kiosk at the market (revealing his superhuman strength), Kyouma decides to at least get the kid some less conspicuous clothes.

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That leads him to the clothing store of Azumaya Tsubaki, who has a past with Kyouma (she calls her his “big sister” but they’re the same age.) Tsubaki is also related to Miyabi, a girl Kyouma presumably once loved but lost, and since her death has been unable to visit her grave but struggled to move on. This would explain his hesitance to get closer to Mira (other than the fact he distrusts technology…and most everyone/thing else).

Basically, this episode finally lets us a little bit into Kyouma. We meet someone close to him whom he does trust, and we see the source of much of his present and lasting bitterness and depression. He even shows kindness towards Loo, though Tsubaki’s assistants dress him in a girl’s yukata because he’s so pretty. When Lesithi shows up wanting Lwai to come with him, no discussion, Kyouma lets him go, but wishes him well.

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Knowing at this point that Salva is concerned with Lwai because he’s his new secret weapon, it’s not surprising when Lwai – in a totally different state of mind (or “mode”, as it were) shows up at Mary’s simply to easily kick her bodyguard Four’s ass (after an earlier scene showed how tough Four is).

Meanwhile, somewhere remote, Loser continues his search for Numbers, needing only one more, while his daughter Elizabeth assists. It’s here when I finally realized Liz has been around since the first Loser episode and has simply had a different look each time we’ve seen her (I wrongly thought she was a boy at first, and so didn’t realize the same character was at Lake Yasogami).

Anyway, now I know. And now she and Loser know something’s up at Central 47 (in Tokyo).

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That something is an open challenge from Salva and Islero, announcing a grand battle royale or race for all worthy collectors, as he announces to Claire over a very old glass of wine. Mary, not taking Four’s destruction lying down, wants Kyouma to go.

The venue of this “war to avoid war” will be Easter Island, a “sealed off island of ruin.” It resembles the rocky place we see in flashes of Kyouma’s memory, and it’s likely sealed off due to something to do with Dimension W.

While Kyouma is headed for Easter Island, it doesn’t look like he intends to bring Mira with him. Part of that is obviously because he’s still used to working alone and wants her out of his hair. But perhaps he doesn’t want to involve Ponkatsu in anything that will get her exposed or worse. He already seems to bear the burden of losing someone under his care.

After shooing Mira away from the garage where he tinkers on a car, he starts to reminisce on how he met another pretty young lady, Miyabi, quite by chance. I’m looking forward to that tale.

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Dimension W – 05

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Part 2 of the Lake Yadogami Mystery was a little better than Part 1, with both fun and moving moments to be had, but to be honest it did not assuage my original concern that the mini-arc was simply too overstuffed and complex, making it hard to get properly invested.

One character I am invested in is Mira, who found a way out of her chain bondage by simply thinking it out and deciding even if she is a robot who can be repaired like nothing ever happened, she doesn’t think she’d be quite the same Mira that she is now, and she doesn’t want that.

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So she overrides the logic of the Numbers-maintained alternate world and frees herself. The show doesn’t miss out on another opportunity to show her nude when Ellie and the maid find her. As for Kyouma, he’s too quick to think she was doing nothing.

I don’t want to belabor this issue, but can’t say I approve of him punching her in the head. It only ended up hurting him, but it’s the principle: Mira is clearly more than just some robot, having just done something another robot wouldn’t have – not settle for being repaired and restarted. Can’t she also say something to the effect of “Please don’t hit me”?

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The show itself seemed to concur that it had too much going on at once, so it systematically started stripping characters and dilemmas out of the episode entirely, never to be bothered with again. Even if she becomes more important in later episodes, I just don’t see what Ellie was doing here. She leaves when her “papa” orders her to, since apparently Albert is there because of her. So if she wasn’t in the episode, Al wouldn’t have had to be either.

As for the trio of mercs who kidnapped the pixie-cut lady, they have so little presence except for that one action scene last week and are dispatched off-camera so easily, I also wonder why the episode bothered including them. I also thought eliminating all the flan-like ghosts attacking the mansion at once with a simple switch of the sprinklers was some weak sauce.

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Those were all instances of the episode doing some overdue pruning, only to replace them with yet more plot and characters. We’re taken back to 21 years ago where this business all began. The flashback introduces us to a cameraman who likes filming Sakai’s sister Enomori, only to try to assault/rape her in a shed not a minute later!

Many more unfortunate events occur, leading to a final act with so much multi-dimensional technobabble being thrown around it made me feel for Kyouma being stuck in the middle of such a convoluted mess, even though he smacks Mira again once they secure the Numbers. The denouement was so hard to follow I could only emotionally connect to it on the most basic level; that of a man relieved his sister didn’t die after all, but in the meantime still killed his alternate self to protect her.

When our two Collectors drove away in the Toyota all I could do was shrug and say “Well…at least they got the coil.” I respect this show’s ambition to tell an sprawling tragic tale that transcends dimensions. I’m not opposed to complexity, but I need more structure and focus and less stuffing in order to find a way in.

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Dimension W – 04

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I was initially intrigued by this week’s change of setting and mansion murder mystery theme, but Kyouma and Mira end up caught up in a frustratingly convoluted web of plot that features a little bit of everything presented with a “more is more” philosophy that turns out muddled and unfocused. It doesn’t help that this episode was mostly setup for a part-two payoff next week.

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You have a mysteriously drowned horror author, a mansion full of random people who would normally be the suspects, you have Albert tagging along on this one, being all buddy-buddy with Kyouma while bringing up their shared Dark Past. There’s even a gothic lolita collector who doesn’t really do much.

Then you have Mira (who Kyouma seems to have nicknamed Ponkotsu, or “piece of junk”) seeing “ghost” that could really be people involve in the past disaster that claimed many lives 21 years ago, being layered onto the real world due to the use of a Number delving into Dimension W.

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While ostensibly a soft sci-fi anime, one can feel the strain of combining so many different genres. Mira’s ability to build the world of the author’s book she can perceive in three dimensions in order to find clues is a neat idea, but somewhat overshadowed by the fact she’s either naked or in a little towel at the time; the camera’s fetishization of her body continues apace, and she ends up in a pretty standard horror movie chase.

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There also seems to be a recurring trend of Kyouma leaving Mira off on her own with mixed results; it worked out when she found the robotic pigeons, but last week she was almost exposed (which would have likely meant Kyouma, Mary, and Koorogi’s deaths), and this week she becomes a chained damsel in distress. At some point you hope Kyouma will keep better tabs on his partner.

As for the trio of suspicious characters from the lobby when Mira and Kyouma first arrive – they are operating under the assumption the present owner of the hotel’s dreams are connecting one world to the other, so they kidnap her, perhaps in hopes of retrieving the Numbered coil for themselves (or their client). So throw heist and a competing collectors themes into the mix! This DimW threw a lot of pasta at the wall, but not a lot of it stuck. Maybe the resolution will be more satisfying than the setup…

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Dimension W – 03

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After their first big job together (which nets Mira a cool ¥6 million cash) DW slows down a little, giving us a largely slice-of-life episode that still nudges some plot points forward. It also happens to be a slice of the lie of an android who thinks she’s a human and really might as well be one, since she has the same need for a place to live, relax, and heal her body.

After being paid and praised, Mira’s excited about interacting with society and carving out her little corner of it. I like how we first see Kyouma having bad dreams, then refuse to accept Mira in his house – too much gloom in there for her, plus he doesn’t want to lose privacy. Mira is plenty elated by the purchase of her very own trailer.

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However, that trailer doesn’t have a bathroom, so she has to use Kyouma’s. When he inevitably walks in on her, she doesn’t slap him, but just explains that for various reasons related to her unique specifications, she needs the damn toilet too sometimes, so they’ll just going to have to work out a system, whether it’s a door lock or simply knocking.

Kyouma, who hates all things Coil, seems to be (inadvertently or not) denying or at least limiting Mira’s humanity at every turn. He certainly has his reasons, but it’s not exactly nice that he doesn’t even bother saying goodbye before leaving, or help her transport her furnishings to her trailer (which she then has to carry herself, quite conspicuously!).

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He also leaves Mira to her own devices (tehe) in dealing with the snoopy neighborhood kids. Mira figures it out, being firm but not too strict with the youngins’, the most inquisitive of which, a girl named Shiora, asks if Mira is Kyouma’s new wife, and whether they’re “doin’ it” (complete with the vulgar Japanese gesture for sex I first saw in Shimoneta). Kids!

When the kids get a little rough in playing with Kyouma’s stacked car wrecks, and disaster is imminent, Mira springs into action like a superhero, putting the kids’ lives above worries about being exposed. She also scares the shit out of the kids, who assumed she was human.

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Man, I love the composition of first-person POV of Kyouma arriving at his place to see what chaos has been wrought in his absence. That clever camerawork is also used to reveal, in a way that’s both hilarious and heartbreaking, that Mira’s head popped off in the ruckus, and she’s been sheepishly sitting in her trailer all along, holding her head in her lap.

She’s worried that those kids will think she’s a monster, and also knowing she may have taken things a little far, since New Tesla could have easily discovered her, meaning the death of Kyouma, Mary, Koorogi, and probably others. Kyouma may see the beheaded Mira as proof she’s just a robotbut to do so would miss the fact that head aside, she’s acting like a human. The reality is, she’s much more than some robot.

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As for where Kyouma was while Mira was getting into trouble: he gets some info on the “Numbers”, which are mini-coils that draw from deep within Dimension W for their power, and which have caused bizarre accidents like the art museum, which NTE is always quick to cover up.

The incident with the cars has Kyouma brought to the Police department for questioning, but he’s soon released and summoned to the roof of NTE 47, where the COO, Clair Skyheart, is waiting for him.

Kyouma assumes she bailed him out for some reason, but it’s just a matter of her granddaughter Shiora telling her what happened and putting a good word in for him. Claire also wanted to meet another “beast of Grendel”, having been told about him by another apparent former beast, Albert.

Shiora whispers to Kyouma that she and the other kids didn’t tell anyone about Mira’s secret, and hope she feels better. The kids later pay a visit to Mira, who is glad they don’t hate or fear her. Of course they don’t; unlike Kyouma, technology has only ever been a force of good. On the other side of the spectrum, I could have done without Kyouma kicking her butt and calling her junk…

This was a fun episode that explores how far Mira’s come, how far she has yet to go, and how much more Kyouma has to learn about the right way to treat her, in addition to learning a little more about the Numbers. The teaser at the end is more of a preview for the next episode, which suggests Kyouma and Mira’s next mission will take them to a remote island castle where Robo-Murder Most Foul is afoot. Talk about a change of scenery!

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Dimension W – 02

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Before her first job as a collector under Kyouma, we learn the rest of the conversation cut off last week. Mira shows Mary footage of the murder of Shido’s daughter and mother, not long after she was first activated. This is information that could get everyone killed, so Mary elects to keep Mira under Kyouma’s supervision, partly because he’s competent, and partly because he’s the one who brought Mira to them, along with all her dangerous baggage.

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Mira is determined to become a good collector, which will in turn help her achieve her father’s dying directive: follow the illegal coils. Kyouma wants the coils, Mira wants info about where they came from and who built them. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership. But you can tell Kyouma doesn’t like suddenly having to deal with a partner, especially one who embodies the very technology he rejects.

Their first target as a pair is to extract the illegal coils being used by the flamboyant celebrity criminal Loser, who is staging a very flamboyant public robbery of an art museum for his legions of giddy fans. This crime-as-entertainment is another interesting detail of this futuristic society.

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Kyouma tells Mira to find the jamming devices hacking the communications grid around the museum, and it should lead her to the coils, while he goes after Loser himself. Kyouma goes off on his own, while also putting trust that his new partner will get her part of the job done.

Loser’s son and partner in crime is in constant contact, and does some research on Kyouma in the middle of the chase. Loser shows just how useful illegal coils can be when put to good use, learning about his enemy as he flees from him.

Among that which Loser learns explains how Kyouma can keep up with him despite lacking any coils of any kind. Our boy was once a member of Grendel, a kind of elite anti-coil assault squad. Kyouma is now using his skills and training from his dark past to pay the bills.

Then Loser tells him a bit abot him self, showing him his horribly burned, disfigured face, mentions his lost legs and wife, and blames New Tesla for all of it. He’s on a quest for revenge, and Kyouma would do well to stay out of it.

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But Kyouma will do no such thing. He’s on the job, and he’s not leaving without the illegal coils he came for. The museum curator inadvertently helps him lose the police, locking the place down to prevent them from discovering he himself uses illegal coils to power his sexy twin bodyguards.

What the curator doesn’t know is that within his most cherished work of art lies one of the “numbers”, special classified coils that are Loser’s true goal with the heists. He busies himself extracting the coil while Kyouma very easily dispatches the bodyguards.

Meanwhile, after racing to the highest point she can, Mira finds the devices she was looking for. They were disguised as pigeons flying amongst live ones, but her extra-human vision discerned differences in their patterns. After collecting the illegal coil-equipped robotic birds, she makes her presence known to their controller, Loser’s son, who can’t believe she’s human. But considering her sentience, I believe he’s mistaken. Though she is more than a human, she’s definitely a human.

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When the police start banging on the door to the chamber, the curator tries to fiddle with one of the illegal coils and sets it off, and we see for the first time just how terrifyingly awful a “dimensional collapse” can be, and how dangerous illegal coils are in the wrong hands. The curator is caught in the rift, which then hardens into a horrifying mass of duplicated robogirls mixed with pieces of the curator, who is still alive and conscious for it all. Yikes!

Illegal illegal coils are no joke. And while Mira doesn’t get any info from Loser, who is determined to get his revenge and so won’t recklessly reveal his sources, she did show that she’s collector material, and can work in concert with Kyouma even without supervision. This was another thrilling, stylish romp. Two eps in, Dimension W is looking…very good.

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Dimension W – 01 (First Impressions)

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Aesthetically, Dimension W has a lot in common with previous frenetic, detailed, stylish high-concept anime such as Rolling Girls, Classroom Crisis and Comet Lucifer. What DW has that those shows lacked is a certain maturity and focus to its world and the characters who inhabit it. Some proverbial meat to go with the candy.

In a world about fifty years from now when expensive gasoline is being quickly phased out for clean and infinite energy from the titular Dimension W, Mabuchi Kyouma kicks it old school: keeping his too-cool-for-school vintage Toyota 2000GT on the road by asking for half his pay in gas.

That pay comes from a job that’s become necessary in this new energy economy: he’s a “collector” of illegal coils, from which energy is drawn from Dimension W, getting them out of the hands of unsavory characters in the more shadowy parts of town.

Mabuchi wades in one side of the world to maintain his way of life while ostensibly working on behalf of the other, the imminent energy monopoly of New Tesla Corp. (Shinra, anyone?) which could well destroy that way of life someday.

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Mabuchi doesn’t seem to be thinking that far ahead; he works or money and gas, and has a good thing going. He’s also very good at his job, easily taking down his coil-using targets with good ol’ fashioned steel. But one variable is present at his latest job that he didn’t expect: a young girl one of his targets took captive.

Demonstrating what a consummate pro he is, Mabuchi doesn’t even care when his target has a gun pointed at the girl’s head, because rescuing her isn’t the job; collecting the coils is. So when the girl, who turns out to be an android who can pack a punch in a pinch, frees herself, she slaps Mabuchi for being such an uncaring jerk. This emotion, plus tears, from an alleged “robot,” throws Mabuchi off.

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When he’s woken up from unconsciousness by Albert Schumann, an acquaintance working for New Tesla (who looks forward to the day Mabuchi becomes “his”), he has to leave without the coils he came for, but then realizes he must’ve been had by the robot, using simulated emotions and tears to lower the guard of those she interacts with, making off with the coils.

What he doesn’t know, but we do, is that the girl, Mira, is gathering coilsfrom everywhere she can for her “father”, the reclusive and apparently dying former CEO of NT, Yurizaki Shidou.

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But Mabuchi can’t know that, so he assumes she’s the puppet of a rival collector, tracks her down and captures her. As he’s doing this, Schumann and his men have cornered Dr. Yurizaki, who activates some kind of elaborate coil “bomb” that blows out all the coils in the vicinity (including Mira’s).

The blast also apparently kills Yurizaki in the process, apparently to prevent his knowledge from ever being attained by the company he believes killed his wife and daughter and stole his research. Schumann tries to blame the incompetence of the past executive regime, to no avail.

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With all the excitement of the night givign way to the morning, Mabuchi takes Mira to his boss Mary, whose tech determine’s she’s far, far more than some other collector’s toy: she’s the most advanced and lifelike android he’s ever seen; something that could only have been built by Yurizaki.

Sure enough, when they plug new coils into her, she reacts to her half-nudity with shock and embarrassment (the camera is particularly interested in capturing every line and curve on her body). She even refers to herself as a girl, and it’s hard to argue with her. Finally, she prostrates herself and begs Mabuchi to take her on as his partner in collecting illegal coils.

With her father dead and leaving the implementation of his plans up to her, perhaps Mira sees Mabuchi as a skilled and useful partner in her mission, the particulars of which we’ll surely learn later on. And I’ll surely keep watching.

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Hanamonogatari – 05 (Fin)

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A revitalized Suruga returns home from her awesome mini-road trip with Araragi to find she has a package: a mummified monkey head, with a note from Kaiki telling her to do with it what she will. Armed thus with the Pièce de résistance of the devil, she returns to the gymnasium to find Rouka there. Both she and I now see her in a different light, now that we know she’s a ghost.

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Even so, Suruga challenges that ghost to another one-on-one match, this time consisting of just one play. If Rouka prevents Suruga from making a basket, she wins, and can have the head. If Suruga makes the basket, Rouka loses, and has to give up being a collector of misfortune and a gatherer of the devil. If Rouka refuses the challenge, Suruga will destroy the head, essentially ending Rouka’s quest anyway.

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Admitting it’s not much of a choice, Rouka accepts, warning she won’t hold back this time, though we know at this point Suruga has a plan to defeat her. Rouka doesn’t quite comprehend what Suruga aims to get out of this, but it’s clear to us: she wants to save her friend from becoming the devil. It’s also apparent to Suruga that Rouka doesn’t know she died and became a misfortune-collecting apparition/oddity. This delves into a common but poignant phenomenon in fiction where the dead don’t know they’re dead and keep living their lives as if they weren’t.

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I loved how the gym was dark and the court markings were backlit as Suruga brought forth the challenge, lending a very “final boss” atmosphere to the setting. When Rouka goes to the locker room for some shoes, the gym enters “Showtime Mode”, with the grandstands extending, the retractable roof opening to reveal the azure sky (Naoetsu is one swanky high school!), and a few inches of water flooding the court – perhaps a reference to Rouka’s “swampy defense” but also a metaphor for cleansing and renewal.

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The thrilling, intricately built-up duel between the two is over almost as soon as it starts. Suruga rushes ahead as usual, but then does something Rouka could never have predicted: she passes the ball to her, quickly stealing it back before she has full possession. In the moment of confusion she created, Suruga elevates and dunks over Rouka’s rushed block attempt. The two end up laughing in a heap on the (now dry) floor, with Suruga now on top of Rouka (the opposite of their last such encounter). Here, Suruga realizes how cute Rouka is, and considers kissing her.

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Rouka, in accepting defeat, voices her surprise, and ultimately, is grateful that Suruga passed to her, considering how rarely anyone on her team passed to her due to her choice to focus on defense, a choice not made due to lack of talent or skill, but to appease those less talented, just as she sought misfortune from those as unfortunate (or more) than her. Rouka also tells Suruga to stop drifting and get back on the active roster as soon as she can. With that, she vanishes into the aether while Suruga is crafting a comeback with her back turned, leaving behind the mummified monkey parts she had collected.

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Before the duel, Rouka and Suruga agreed on one thing: that it’s better to regret the lack of action than to regret what you’ve done. But Suruga tells her it’s better still to do something and not regret it. If there’s an overarching moral to be had from this story, that’s as good as any. Whatever else Kanbaru Suruga has been, she’s been a doer; on the offense. Sometimes, Suruga’s actions are reckless and/or lead to regrets, like wishing to the monkey paw, for instance. But her most recent actions freed Rouka from her torment. In a dream, she and her mother converse more as equals, as Suruga puts forth her own opinions rather than simply absorb those of others.

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Suruga wakes up from that dream to find Araragi in her room. As she sleeps in the nude, she’s taken aback for a moment, but Araragi isn’t there for “that”, but to help her clean her room, something she requested during the road trip. She also has him cut her hair, as she plans to return to basketball. Between the yellow bug, not being turned on by Suruga, and hairdressing, one might wonder if the producers are trying to say something about Araragi, but these are merely cosmetic characteristics that happen to match a certain stereotype, but aren’t meant to be read too much into, so I won’t. One thing’s for sure, though: the dude is good at setting up dominoes!

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As he shears off her flowing purple locks, returning her to the way she looked when we first met her in Bakemonogatari (a rare aesthetic rewind) he offers some closing words of solace to Suruga (It’s also worth mentioning that Suruga’s other idol, Senjougahara, also sports a short hairstyle when last we saw her). He tells her not to worry about what she did and whether it was right or wrong…because it was neither: It was just adolescence.

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Hanamonogatari – 04

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Because Suruga insists, Rouka tells her the full story: how she met Kaiki, who told her about apparitions, and how she acquired her first piece of the devil: her left leg. It once belonged to another girl named Rouka; a high-schooler who her older boyfriend had knocked up, and whose family wanted her to abort it. With this devil’s leg, Rouka-2 almost beat her mother to death, mirroring what happened to Suruga with her arm.

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The day after hugging Rouka-2 and saying she’d take the problem from her, the devil leg had replaced her crippled old one. Rouka has since replaced almost a third of her body with devil parts, and plans to “collect them all” so she can take control of the devil altogether, even though doing so will mean losing all of her body, head to toe. With that heartrendingly bleak goal announced, Rouka says farewell to Suruga, asking her to go out and “do all the human things” she can no longer do.

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That night, Suruga gets a call from Karen who informs her that Rouka committed suicide three years ago, presumably from a combination of her broken leg and her “bad” family situation. Now we’ve reached nadir of Suruga’s arc: she’s been talking with a ghost all this time. Shaken and never more uncertain, Suruga simply goes out and runs. She runs and runs across landscapes until collapsing in an intersection; a crossroads (subtle!). Then a car pulls up and honks at her, and holy shit, it’s Araragi!

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Like Kaiki, Araragi’s appearance couldn’t have been timed better, or be any more awesome. He now has long hair, a resplendent yellow VW New Beetle Suruga can’t help but hilariously gripe about (“What’s with this round car?”), a Shinobu keychain, and a little more life experience behind his belt. But Suruga gradually realizes once they talk that it’s the same old Araragi she’s leaned on, looked up to and missed so dearly. If anyone can help give her the guidance she needs at this point in her story, it’s him. A gorgeous, art-filmy all-night “road-trip” segment ensues.

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Also like Kaiki, Araragi isn’t interested in steering Suruga in a particular direction or in doing her own legwork for her, but he’s much nicer and more caring about it. He helps her realize she’s fee to obey the opinions of Rouka, Kaiki, of her mother if she wants, but she’s just as able to fight those opinions if she’s not convinced. Rather than go along with what those voices have said or done, she decides to strike out on her own path. Araragi asks if she needs any more help, and she says no, which pleases him. Suruga’s back, and she’s going on offense.

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Hanamonogatari – 03

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So, Rouka isn’t just gathering the misfortune of others, but also gathered Suruga’s devilish left arm, and shows it to her in Suruga’s classroom. Then she invites Suruga to join her for some one-on-one basketball, and whatever the extent of her career-ending leg injury, it certainly doesn’t seem to affect her anymore, as she puts up more than a fight against Suruga (who is herself understandably rusty).

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Suruga is still troubled by Rouka’s present existence, and wants to know what she’s been up to these last three years. After she agrees to tell her own story of how she came upon the monkey paw (which is skipped over, since that’s mostly covered in Bakemonogatari), Suruga fights back Rouka’s amorous advances and insists she tell her the story of how she became the Devil Lord. Rouka was always someone who learned to hide the full extent of her talents to avoid being hated by her less talented peers, which is how she became a defensive specialist.

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But once she was injured, people only ever looked down on her, even though she was doing the same to them. She remarks that when she was hospitalized for her leg, she wanted to talk to those as unfortunate and pitiable (if not more) than she was, so she could tell them she understood exactly how they felt (the truth) and that she’d solve it all (a lie), sending them on their way. When her first “client” returned, her problems were indeed gone (though ostensibly more as a result of time), and Rouka’s Collection of Misfortune began from there.

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The basketball match is brief but adds a welcome touch of action to what is essentially another long monologue with occasional commentary by Suruga, but that doesn’t mean the setting of that conversation is any less visually interesting. I especially dig the very upscale gymnasium with way more markings than it needs, and the court of is made up of the kind of wood you’d find in the Kia K900. Rouka’s appeal to Suruga’s bisexuality is also good continuity. But the fact remains, Rouka has only told half of her story. The other half centers on how she started gathering parts of the devil – a story she warns doesn’t have a happy ending.

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Hanamonogatari – 02

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This act begins with unbridled elation, as Suruga almost revels in the fact her regular human arm is back. She goes for a giddy run on a beautiful day, and the very air she breathes seems to smell better. But the new arm totally throws off the balance she had achieved with the hairy one, which tempers the elation somewhat. She’s initially happy by the fact the arm is gone, but now she’s troubled by how it might’ve happened.

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Suruga may not be the most classically bright of the Monogatari cast, but even she’s able to connect the dots between her arm and her encounter with Rouka. But her sources say the Devil Lord has ceased operations and disappeared, so Suruga heads to the train station to search for her out of town. There, she comes afoul of a wan but impeccably dressed and magnificently bearded Kaiki Deishuu. And as I for one am aware, adding Kaiki to the mix always makes things better.

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There’s a dark, predatory air to Kaiki early on as he chases Suruga throughout the station and outside into the streets. This reinforces all of the bad things her senpais have said about the man. They told her to run if she ever encountered him, and she does, not having any other information to work with. That changes when Kaiki, grabbing her by the scruff of her shirt like a helpless kitten, cordially offers to treat her to a cup of tea.

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That tea turns into an all-out sumptuous korean bbq feast. Who among those who include meat in their diet wouldn’t be elated at being in her shoes here? As Kaiki grills the succulent cuts of meat and organs and serves her, Kanbaru’s opinion on him becomes muddled. Moreso, when he states his business with her, it reveals a humanity she’d heretofore thought impossible for her senpais’ nemesis: Kaiki loved and admired Suruga’s biological mother, and promised to look after her daughter.

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To that end he gives her his card and tells her to contact him if she’s ever in a pinch, even though he admits its probably if she doesn’t. He also tells her to expect a “collector” to come and take her mummified monkey paw. That merges this present encounter with Rouka’s, leading Suruga to ask the simple question that wason all our minds form the start: how Kaiki knew Suruga would be at the station. He says the collector told him…a girl named Numachi Rouka.

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That’s not an unexpected twist, considering we certainly weren’t done with Rouka in this series, but still nicely staged. The atmosphere of the elaborate yet intimate korean bbq (contrasting with the huge open space where Suruga met Rouka), and the vaguely paternal way in which Kaiki seems to be upholding his promise to Suruga’s mom again shows us his softer side. But he isn’t about to tell Suruga everything. It’s up to her to investigate further.

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