Sansha Sanyou – 05

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Sonobe adds to her collection of cute high school part-timers as Hayama and Futaba fill in for an exhausted Yoko-sama. In the process, Hayama learns her outwardly sweet personality works wonders for customer service, as does Futaba’s encyclopedic knowledge of pastries.

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When Hayama’s sister stops by wanting to bake sweets with her, she is politely shoo-ed off, but somehow gets one of her home remedies to the back room for Yoko to eat. The next day Yoko is full of energy, but perhaps too full, as she did not sleep last night and is still eerily alert, almost robotic. The mind boggles over what was in that purple sludge!

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The three friends learn they can work together at the cafe just as amicably, but when Kondou twists Nishiyama to come with her to the cafe, the Hayama-Nishiyama feud continues…something Sonobe tries to perpetuate for her own entertainment at every turn, invoking the wrath of Yamagi, who would prefer if she not play games with people’s lives in such a way.

The ensuing duel between Sonobe and Yamagi freaks out Nishiyama, but also creates an opening through which Hayama offers her pink-haired frenemy an olive branch: treats she made for her beloved cat.

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The next day, Nishiyama falls into Sonobe’s web, is put in a frilly pink maid uniform, and made to work a shift for the day; an experiment to see if she really can do everything Hayama can do better. Hayama does not revel in Nishiyama’s embarrassment, but when things get busy, she along with Futaba and Yoko, offer help with customers in their plainclothes.

Nishiyama leaves not quite sur ehow she ended up working at Sonobe’s cafe, but happy she has more treats for her kitty, and a little more money to go towards an SLR camera. As for Sonobe, she was able to collect many a photo of Nishiyama for use in promotional materials…or blackmail!

Another fine, breezy episode with some welcome sharp edges to the soft-focus pastel aesthetic, and a fairly genuine look at how frenemies are made and maintained.

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Sansha Sanyou – 04

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Sansha Sanyou is proving a consistently enjoyable low-effort watch because just when you think it’s getting too cute and soft and fluffy, its sharper, more sardonic or absurd sides spring up.

One such absurdity is the cat photo rivalry between Serina and Teru, which is called off when they both admit their cats are cute. The thing is, both are only imagining the cats are there, so they’re only petting air!

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Another is Yamagi, who could easily turn into a nuisance, but his preternatural stick-fetching skills, combined with the fact you never know from what angle he’ll pop up from, creates an amusing tension between him and the girls, who really don’t like it when he goes all ninja on them.

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For all its cynical or buzz-killing moments, SanSan also has a few tender ones mixed in, like when Hayama and Futaba join Yoko for her first visit to a fast food joint, thus fulfilling one of her dreams, which includes sitting in the McD’s “talking endlessly about vague and silly things!”

The joke is, they end up talking about isn’t vague or silly at all, with Hayama and Futaba learning that Yoko’s mother is deceased and her Dad is out in the world somewhere trying to get back what he lost. They re-double their devotion to her, assuring her they’ll be there should she ever need anything. It’s very sweet and unexpected.

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We return to silliness when Yoko’s young “betrothed” Yu shows up to re-establish his intent to marry Yoko someday, even if there’s no official arrangement between their families and Yoko has moved on.

We also meet Futaba’s cousin Sakura, who is cute…and knows it, not being the slightest bit modest in the fact she’s in the upper percentiles and has planned out her entire life, including her post-idol career and overseas retirement (a dream brilliantly visualized as an isometric RPG, complete with the recently-ruined Yoko in a wasteland far below Sakura).

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Yu seems like a well-cultured, polite, kind young man, but informing Yoko & Co. he’s still loaded was a warning sign of another side to him, which we see when he cruelly mocks Yamagi for “pretending to still be her servant.”

The truth is, Yamagi still is her servant regardless of whether he’s paid. And there’s honor and nobility in that Yu clearly lacks. Which is why I’m glad Sakura gloms onto Yu when the two cross paths. Those two twerps deserve each other!

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Finally, in a segment that wouldn’t be out of place in Koufuku Graffiti, Futaba finally proves to a dubious Teru and an eager Yoko that she has legit cooking chops, and isn’t just an eater. Yoko attempts to cook the splendid Wagyu beef Yu gifted to her, but ends up ruining it.

Enter Futaba, who treats the beef with all due care and respect and flashes her home cooking skills. By the end of it, the previously skeptical Teru is calling her “mom”, and Yoko is over the moon for having had her first meal with friends at her house, which likely feels more like a home now. She also vows to improve her cooking skills, lest future quality ingredients make the ultimate sacrifice.

Lots of variety this week, with diverse sources of laughs, and a good balance between cutesiness, cynicism, and warm sentimentality.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 12 (Fin)

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This final episode of Saekano that we know of had the air of a show that was merely saying “see you later down the road” rather than a full-on sayonara. So while it crossed its Ts and dotted its Is for the (remote, IMO) possibility that it wouldn’t be back, it made the right move by not trying to do too much in its finale. Mainly, it focused on sealing the deal on Michiru joining the circle.

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Tomoya got Michiru and her three bandmates their first gig, and while it’s not much, they’re glad to have it. Kato is on her way to the venue with a still very dubious Utaha and Eriri, and finds herself acting as mediator between the bullying Utaha and the sensitive Eriri. Both are still sore from their experiences with Michiru and are acting out in their own ways, but Kato is confident in Tomoya’s ability to achieve his objective. Michiru’s going to come on board and the game’s going to be great.

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It’s interesting that Utaha and Eriri grudgingly accept Kato as something resembling a friend, not the threat they may have perceived her as when she first came on the scene. Heck, they even agree with one another in their little faith in Tomoya, but one can hardly blame them for being so unenthusiastic; it’s like they’re well aware they’re dealing with two very potent competitors in Kato and now Michiru.

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For her part, Michiru doesn’t disappoint in proving she’s by far the most overtly physical member of Tomoya’s harem, essentially mounting him out of shock and anger that she has to play her set in cosplay. She’s too ashamed of one thing—having to play with cat ears—than she is about being on top of her cousin, moving up and down rhythmically just as the others enter.

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In what is definitely a forced, unnatural plot twist (Eriri’s words, not mine), Michiru’s three band-mates fess up to being otakus themselves, and all the music she’s played with them have been anime cover songs. They agreed to let Michiru make the music for Tomoya’s game if he gave them the opportunity to come out of their shells and declare their otakuness to Michiru.

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Tomoya then proceeds to offer a still-uncertain Michiru a heartfelt pep talk (while she’s on top of him the whole time), convincing her that they’ll do great things together, and that her affinity for the anime music she’s already played is proof enough of her respect for the world of otaku that she’ll do fine in front of a crowd of same. He even reverses her past insistence grow out of otakudom by assuring her one day she’ll grow into a fine otaku.

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She takes the stage, and suddenly there’s a tinge of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso in my Saekano. But Icy Tail (which when said with a Japanese accent sounds like “aishiteru” or “I love you”) breaks the ice not with piano or violin, but with Soairo Days from TTGL…nice choice!

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I didn’t catch Michiru’s seiyu Yahagi Sayuri (whom I also loved in Bakuman and Sankarea) being credited for the insert song performance, but whoever did sing it did a decent job, even if the band sounds rather polished considering it’s there first time on stage before a crowd. More than anything though, the episode really captured joy and fun of the concert. Everyone other than Utaha and Eriri looked like they were having a blast.

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And Tomoya’s plot, assisted in no small part by the rest of Icy Tail, works: Michiru agrees to score Blessing’s game. When she draws in far closer than first cousins should for what could be a deal-sealing kiss, then bends over for something even more improprietous, it turns out she’s just pulling one of her patented wrestling moves on him, like her lakeside suplex in the prologue, she’s an athletically gifted girl, and wants to let Tomoya know he doesn’t hold all the cards here, and she hasn’t completely forgiven him for ambushing her with the cosplay.

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From there, the episode starts to wind down, but not before Megumi and Eriri have a nice little talk. Before she knew it, Eriri had Megumi over for all-night game work, so they can’t very well refer to each other so formally anymore, so they agree to start addressing each other by their first names. This is a pretty big gesture for Eriri, who calls Utaha by her full nine-syllable name on purpose.

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After a look at the happy ending of the seemingly completed dating sim, and then the credits, we jump forward to the assmbled group admiring their work, which gets close to Aku no Hana levels of plot compression. But it turns out they’re only done the first route, with two months left till Summer Comiket. So there’s still much work to be done.

It’s as good a stopping place as any, but I’ll gladly join the chorus of voices who look forward to a second season where we see those other routes unfold, both in and out of the game. Throughout its run, Saekano was a smart, sexy breath of fresh air: cheekily self-aware, but never obnoxiously so, and full of so much witty banter and laughs that I wouldn’t rule out a full re-watch as I await a sequel. Until then, matane, Saekano.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 11

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It sounds like Hannah was pretty disappointed about her show squandering its promise…though that’s partly on her for even remotely thinking that show was going anywhere daring or compelling.

Not to be smug, but didn’t have that problem with this latest Saekano. Last week focused heavily on the wild card Machiru, setting her up as someone who could genuinely challenge Tomoya, who was in need of some challenging in the midst of all his ladykillin’.

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What last week failed to do was show us what would happen when his harem came into direct contact with his purple-haired, skantily-clad cousin. The results were momentous; everything I hoped for and more. Utaha hawkishly defends otaku culture, while an initially flabberghasted Eriri even finds some common ground when Machiru mentions that, on some rare occasion, Tomoya can be cool and come through for you.

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We also find that exposing oneself to Michiru isn’t enough to convince her to compose your dating sim’s soundtrack; far from it. In fact, part of what gets Utaha so steamed is Michiru’s outsider-looking-in perspective of Tomoya, and his obsession with otaku culture, is something to mature out of rather than cultivate. When Michiru disses Tomo, she disses everyone in that room. Except for Kato…who is definitely in that room…watching and waiting.

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Michiru’s reasons for not jumping into Tomoya’s project go beyond her semi-maternal dubiousness with his present course in life. She’s got her own dream of being in a band, after all. When she says she needs a manager to appease her dad, Tomoya is eager to step in, but when she tells him it won’t be a part-time job, it becomes her dream versus his. That’s right: Michiru isn’t perfect; she’s selfish too.

What’s so awesome is how much sense her selfishness makes. She’s known Tomoya all their lives; and she has an idea what he could and should be that just doesn’t jibe with what he is and wants to be. But it’s her affection and concern for him, not merely her own self-interest, that comes through when she says this manager job could be just the excuse he needs to drop this whole gamemaker charade.

And she calls it a charade because she had a good look at his fellow circle members. While she’s well aware that they all have their reasons for being in that circle (calling Tomoya a sly dog in the process), she doubts their commitment to making the game is anywhere near Tomoya’s level.

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Of course, we know better, and so should Tomoya, but Michiru’s words create genuine conflict in his heart. Suddenly he’s not just the fumbling leader of a haremy doujin circle, but a guy trying to find out whether his dream is really as quixotic as she says. But Kato is up all night at Eriri’s working on the game, knowing Tomoya is a week behind; and Utaha is up too. They’re all working their pants off while he worries.

He then makes the best decision of this episode and calls Kato early in the morning, and they have this lovely, natural boyfriend-girlfriend phone conversation, in which he voices his anxieties.

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Yet again, Tomoya luxuriates in the very thing he has no idea he has with Kato, yet simultaneously must know on some level he has. Kato gets him out of his house, where he’d been worrying all night rather than working, and gets some breakfast into him, ever the practical mind. But in an ingenious gambit, she talks through the game prototype to comfort and reassure him.

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And in an even more ingenious and somewhat diabolical scheme, she keeps her hand firmly planted on Tomoya’s and the mouse as the dialogue starts going to places Tomoya rather wouldn’t; things about having feelings for attractive cousins, something to which she can relate.

While Kato claims the dialogue was simply random, let’s get real: there’s no way it was random. This was calculated payback for Tomoya “steppin’ out” on Kato, and it was absolutely glorious. For the first time in a while, she’s able to make Tomoya squirm as much as Michiru.

At the same time, she proves how good she is for him by picking up his slack without even being asked to, and not feeling forced or obligated to. It’s a brilliant dynamic.

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His confidence in the project thus restored, and his apology delivered, he shares an earbud with Kato so she can hear Michiru’s music, and she agrees that she’d be perfect for the soundtrack. And it could be that Kato’s little piece of mischievousness also inspired Tomoya to come up with a plan to snag his cousin.

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As he is a man of wide-ranging otaku means and connections, he’s able to get Michiru’s band a slot at a live performance, a gesture he uses to prove to her he can be an effective manager. In turn, Michiru lets him see her get teary-eyed for the first time since he carried her on his back when she twisted her ankle years and years ago. She also apologizes, admitting she was being selfish.

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Thus, Tomoya has his cousin right where he wants her: in his debt. Tomoya looks awfully proud of himself as the episode cuts to black, but I’m certain more compromises are in store for him, and managing both Michiru’s band and a circle full of girls competing against each other won’t be a cakewalk either.

Still, I’m willing to come out and say these past two episodes cemented Michiru’s place as my second-favorite girl after Kato. As she demonstrated quite emphatically, there’s simply no beating Kato!

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P.S. I’ll be watching Saekano’s final (for now) episode later tonight and hopefully have a review of it up not long thereafter.

Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 10

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AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR. Or FIVE, if you count IZUMI. OMG, WHY AM I SHOUTING AT YOU WHERE ARE MY MANNERS?!

Anywho, everyone’s favorite purple-haired tomboy Hyoudou Michiru is here, and her timing couldn’t have been better. Why? Because after a seemingly long string of episodes in which Tomoya is fawned over by one girl after another for various reasons, this week Tomoya is the fawner—perhaps not by choice, at least at first—and not the fawnee.

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Tomoya is content to bury himself in Blessing Software, as he holds teleconferences with his staff and make progress on the dating sim (though Kato’s line deliveries either need more work or none at all, bwahahaha). Then his only cousin Michiru appears, topless, in his bathroom, having run away from home after the latest disagreement with her dad (Tomoya’s uncle).

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Whether she is oblivious to her power over her cousin of the same age (who was born on the same day in the same hospital as her!) is having fun torturing a horny teenage boy, or is herself into Tomoya (the truth is likely a combination of the three) calling Michiru a disruptive force in Tomoya’s little otaku world would be a grim understatement.

The sudden 3D onslaught nearly drives Tomoya to insanity. The camera reflects his uneasy but utterly-unable-to-avert gaze, and it’s all over the voluptuous, scantily-clad Michiru. This episode features the most fanservice since the prologue; possibly more.

But like that promising if totally out of chronological order start, the fanservice is never tiresome because a.) it’s also character-service and plot-service, and b.) it’s very well-done, right up there with Monogatari. For example, animators are notoriously bad at feet, but not here.

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For one reason or another it’s a long night for Tomoya, so in the A.V. clubroom, he’s all but asleep at the laptop, causing him to spout supportive dialogue that gets Utaha all hot and bothered—and forces Eriri to quarantine her in the broadcast booth, where she nonetheless continues to participate in the discussion via the P.A. system.

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I like how the show clearly isn’t interested in such tedious minutiae as why Tomoya’s circle has such unfettered access to such slick digs. You’d think the A.V. Club would be in there, or at the very least some paperwork and lobbying would be required to gain access to the facilities. But this isn’t that kind of show. Saekano doesn’t care, and nor do we. They’ve got a place at school to work, and that’s all we need or care to know.

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Just as the circle’s topic of discussion turns to determining who will score the game, a very big oversight to this point, considering the awesome power of music (cough-Violin Girl-cough), Tomoya gets a cheerful text from Michiru asking when he’s coming home and stating she’s ordering pizza (or possibly four pizzas in one).

It’s innocent enough, reflecting Michiru’s unique position as friend, family, and love interest. Kato, possibly exercising Stealth Mode, “can’t help” but glance at Tomoya’s phone and read every word.

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That maks Eriri curious, which in tern makes Utaha curious, and Tomoya has a full-scale riot on his hands. He’s tied up in caution tape and interrogated, and each girl stays true to character: Utaha remains her seductive self, but is clearly annoyed and maintains a certain intentional unpredictability to put Tomoya that much more on edge.

Meanwhile, Eriri recedes to the very edge of the room, flustered and on the brink of panic. Kato is just Kato; meaning she kinda stays in the background and lets the two heavies do all the outragin’.

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When Tomoya tells them who Michiru is and why she’s in his house, it hardly assuages their anxiety. On the contrary, it sets these two creatives types’ imaginations ablaze, as Utaha writes a scenario about the cousins on the spot, one so troubling it just about does Eriri in, which may have been Utaha’s intent all along.

But it’s true that while Utaha teases, often very seductively so, she can’t touch the inherent intimacy of Michiru, nor her fearlessness and utter lack of inhibition regarding Tomoya. Eriri, meanwhile, may be a childhood friend, but Michiru, who was present at Tomoya’s birth, is the Ultimate Childhood Friend.

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What I didn’t think I’d see was so much of the family side of Michiru. I’d thought all along that she was at least a little older than Tomoya rather than the same age, but even so Michiru lives in a more “normal” world than Tomoya, and takes immediate (and unsolicited) attempts to make him grow up, first by tossing all his otaku crap and replacing it with her own, more sober musically-themed room decorations.

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This means that in addition to having Utaha’s seduction and Eriri’s longevity beat, she also gives Kato’s domesticity and practicality a run for their money. Keep in mind Michiru is not being mocking, but giving her honest opinion as someone who’s known Tomoya longer than anyone, when she tells him he could easily get a girlfriend if he stopped acting like a weirdo. The fact that Tomoya wouldn’t be interested in that kind of girl is irrelevant; Michiru is looking out for a family member. One has to think about marriage at some point!

Similarly, when Tomoya is finally able to segue into telling Michiru his dream of creating the ultimate dating sim, Michiru couldn’t be less impressed. In fact, she finds it ridiculous that Tomoya would try to make a living off his childish hobbies. She even strikes a concerned parent/wife pose…which wouldn’t look bad painted on the fuselage of a P-51.

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Tomoya has always had a blind spot for the non-otaku Michiru, who has flitted from passion to passion, always abandoning something when she’s bored, while it’s in his nature to stick to one thing like stink in a Basset Hound’s un-groomed ear. But here’s the thing: Michiru is really good at everything she tries. Of late, she’s been in an all-girl band, which was the cause of her argument with her dad. So we know she’s good at that too.

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So good, in fact, that when she decides to defy Tomoya while he’s taking a bath by plugging her guitar into an amp and playing a piece she’s working on, Tomoya sees the same cherry blossom petals that flew by his face when he first saw Kato on that hill. Not only that, he sees the entire dating sim story unfold to Michiru’s stirring tunes.

He’s so spellbound, he forgets he’s in nothing but a towel when he enters the room, a reversal of their first encounter this week. Michiru is about to apologize, but Tomoya isn’t there to hear one. He’s there to ask her to join his circle as composer.

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Then his towel slips off, and Michiru gets the Full Aki. She neither accepts nor declines. She simply stares. Having been built up so much recently by the fawning of Utaha and Izumi and Eriri, Tomoya has come back down to earth and stands before Michiru, as naked as the day they were both born in the same hospital.

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Saenai Heroine no Sodatekata – 04

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We open in Utaha’s room, where she’s on the phone with her editor Machida, who tells her something so surprising, Utaha moves too quickly and smacks her foot against her desk, hard. This is a mishap that befalls me all too often, and that visceral bang really brings both Utaha and the scene to life. It’s also nice to see that like “Mr. Ethical”—and myself!—she spends much of her creating time…staring at a blank screen.

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Following the credits is a live taste of her work, in which Sayuka chooses her dreams over tearfully clinging to Naoto, even though she truly love him and always will. It’s a nice segue to Tomoya on the train with Kato, who has just blasted through Utaha’s five-volume Metronome in Love series and is impressed with it.

Tomoya couldn’t be happier, as he utterly worships Utako Kasumi, and isn’t afraid to profess it emphatically on the train (Tomoya does a lot of emphatic professing in this episode, all of it good). Notably, he seems capable of separating Utako from Utaha, with whom he shares a past we only see in brief flashes; a past that may have inspired Utako’s work, as well as the Mr. Ethical moniker.

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Utaha’s foot-stubbing shock was a reaction to the news the inteview she didn’t want to do will be performed by none other than Aki Tomoya (I love how diverse his part-time jobs are). Initially, Utaha comes in and puts up a Beast Mode-esque wall, but Tomoya is able to get her to cooperate (sorta) by telling her he took the job so he’d get a chance to learn more about her next book before anyone else.

The interview takes many twists and turns, including Utaha’s assertion that it wasn’t her that made her books take off, it was him. Machida qualifies that by saying Tomoya’s review caused a spike in interest and increased sales at a crucial time for the novel, but I heard Utaha loud and clear: she wasn’t just talking about the publicity or buzz Tomoya provided. I like to think the novels are based, at least in part, on her experiences with “Mr. Ethical”.

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It’s for that same reason that Utaha agrees to show up for their first official circle meeting to talk about the details and responsibilities. Eriri repeats a misstep by going all tsundere at Tomoya before seeing who’s actually in the room with him: Utaha, as well as Kato. Though Kato is mostly out of the frame, I’ve trained myself to keep my eyes peeled for her.

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That’s the last we see of Kato for 90% of this scene. The rest is dominated by Utaha and Eriri alternating between teasing or torturing Tomoya and fighting each other tooth and nail. They turn Tomoya’s lovely whiteboard diagram of the project schedule into a piece of modern art, while Utaha offers to provide funding in exchange for “favors” from Tomoya, which earns Tomoya some twin-tail slaps from an irate Eriri.

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Eventually, they literally toss Tomoya aside and simply start bickering nonstop, with neither girl prepared to give an inch, although Utaha’s calmer demeanor means she’ll have more stamina. Tomoya breaks them up and gets them to work by again appealing to their vanity. Utaha will write up the plot, while Eriri will get some character designs going.

Tomoya asks them if they’re capable of that, and both girls put down their dagger for each other and grab a laptop and a sketchbook. The success of Tomoya’s dating sim depends on how well he can manage/juggle these two undeniably talented but just as undeniably prickly and emotionally needy artists.

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Of course, it also depends, at least form Tomoya’s perspective, on his ability to transform Kato into the ultimate dating sim heroine. Of course, considering she was in the a/v club room that long without any of the other three noticing her, as well as the substantial talent of said artists, I’d argue Kato isn’t really needed for the circle to belt out a decent dating sim. The one who needs Kato, rather, is Tomoya.

At the end of the day, this dating sim is a way for him to make the world care about and worry about and love Kato Megumi just as much as he does. He’s not going to come out and say it, but his actions and demeanor speak louder than words.

The way she affected him when he first “met” her on that hill (and their other encounter, for that matter); the fun they had simply hanging out in his room all night; the way they talk on the phone; and the jealousy he feels when she walks into the restaurant he’s working at with a tall, handsome young man; it’s all there, plain to see.

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I must admit my heart sank a little when I saw Kato with that guy, but it turns out to be her cousin, and they were simply going out to eat because their parents were at the theater. Being an otaku and thus a consumer of media in which blood is not always an obstacle to romance (his voice actor Matsuoka Yoshitsugu also played Kirito in SAO, whose sister liked him), Tomoya is still worried, but Kato makes it clear in her passive way that this is his problem, not hers.

That means, if he feels threatened by the fact she hangs out with her tall, attractive cousin, it’s up to him to step in and take the cousin’s place. So he does: he asks her he can accompany her shopping instead of her cousin, and she accepts instantly.

At that point Tomoya seems worried that it could be construed as a date. As ever, he’s in surface denial about what he has with Kato, even as he embarks on an incredibly tough road to create a dating sim from scratch in time for Winter Comiket that will essentially validate his feelings for Kato to the rest of the world.

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Stray Observations:

  • “What’s with that reaction, like you’re reliving past trauma?” Kato, hitting the nail on the head
  • I was immensely pleased by the fact that Utaha and Eriri drew on each other off-camera.
  • I also enjoyed how they scared Tomoya by telling him just how much they make off their work, with the actual yen figures censored by tweeting birds and gunshots.
  • “I’m gonna take that utterly moe-less heroine and raise her into the ultimate main heroine that everyone will worry about!” Tomoya, not realizing that if Kato wasn’t moe-less, he wouldn’t care about her so much.
  • “Kato, do you understand your position here?”
    “I’m a second-year high school girl with absolutely no agency who was brought into a game circle by the biggest otaku in school?”
    “That’s your pre-transformation, assumed identity! The real Megumi Kato is a pure beautiful dating sim heroine who makes everyone’s hearts beat faster!”

    All of this.
  • Tomoya’s classmates occasionally stopped talking and looked over in his direction, possibly worried that he was raving at himself, due to Kato’s inconspicuousness. Remember Tomoya himself didn’t know she was in his class for a year!

Koufuku Graffiti – 04

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This week’s KG cold open is the strangest yet, with Ryou biting the head off an Onigiri Girl in a toon-shaded dream sequence. It also heralds the beginning of the strangest episode of KG to date, though only really in terms of format.

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Ryou had gotten used to the routine of Kirin coming over on the weekends to eat her food and keep her company. But with classes cancelled for a week, Kirin ditching Ryou for her parents’ reservation to a three-star Chinese restaurant, and Shiina getting sick after getting drenched, Ryou finds herself all alone for the first time since the beginning of the show.

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That was when, if you recall, Ryou wasn’t very good at cooking, because she wasn’t putting any love into it. The scenes of Ryou alone in her house again (and even making a second serving of breakfast for a non-existant person) really do convey her profound loneliness and depression. And even though Kirin said she could text her anytime, she doesn’t respond to any of Ryou’s texts.

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Ryou wisely chooses to get out of that house before she goes mad, and decides to hit the library for some cookbooks. She hadn’t been there since her grandma used to take her, and it’s here where Ryou learns a dark truth: her grandma used to suck at cooking hardcore. It wasn’t until Ryou started staying with her that she checked out cooking for beginners books and honed her craft. She also modified the recipes in the books to cater to Ryou’s tastes, “cooking with love”, as it were.

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Ryou also hits up the corner store by the library where she and her grandma always used to go to indulge on pre-packaged food and drink. (The store has the same shopkeep who looks exactly the same). Overwhelmed by choice, she goes with her standby corner store lunch of onigiri, popcorn chicken, OJ, and a creme puff for desert. Not a bad set, if you ask me.

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As she goes to town, SHAFT-style, she realizes that the very same food she used to enjoy so much as a little kid is food she still enjoys today, only now, with her refined palate, she gains an even deeper appreciation for the tastes and textures. And while she may be eating alone, the mere fact she’s thinking of her loving grandma while enjoying the meal makes it that much tastier.

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The lunch cheers her up, and clears away the rain clouds. Ryou commits herself to becoming a great cook for Kirin the way her grandma became one for her, starting with predicting—correctly—that even though Kirin just had Chinese food, she’ll still want to try Ryou’s gyoza. Especially since the restaurant had tiny portions and Kirin is looking forward to Ryou stuffing her.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 03

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This week’s warm open (calling it ‘cold’ wouldn’t do it justice) is a three-way: with Shiina joining Ryou and Kirin in gastronomic bliss over some particularly delectable-looking omelettes designed to flow over rice just so. I’m already hungry.

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After the credits, it is now April, Ryou is in ninth grade, and her parents have just sent her a 5kg bag of rice and a note telling her to study hard, among other things. Ryou is fired up about both written and practical exams…

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…But when it’s time for the practical, she sees ingredients displayed for the still life motif and she can’t help but draw a dish that encompasses those ingredients, rather than drawing what’s actually there. It’s a pretty bizarre screw-up, but one that was apparently impossible to avoid, what with the way food makes Ryou’s mind work. It’s not enough just to draw them; she has to draw their potential.

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That compulsion gets her third in her class…from the bottom, and generally ruins her day. Not to worry: Kirin springs into action, grabbing the bamboo shoots from class and grabbing Shiina to accompany her to Ryou’s so she can cook them food, and they can eat it and cheer her up.

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The bamboo blanched in water and rice bran then added to rice, looks absolutely outstanding, and the taste and texture are so spot-on, it changes Shiina’s very character design! By the time the meal is over, it’s late, so Ryou invites Shiina to stay over, and the usually possessive Kirin has no objection.

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The next morning, after watching a show they all love in which omelette rice play a large role, Kirin and Shiina run out to grab ingredients so Ryou can make some. And make some she does: omelette rice a half-dozen ways, all of them positively mouth-watering. I for one love using leftover Golden Curry rice to make mine, though I’ve yet to find a ketchup bottle that allows for precision writing.

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Ryou is an old hand at these omelettes. Her holy grail is the soft-cooked one, which is solid on the outside, but when sliced down the middle, runs down the sides of the rice mound and covers the rice. Many failed attempts dozens of eggs, and many grams of cholesterol later, she finally succeeds, leading to the warm-open triple foodgasm up top. Most importantly for Kirin, Ryou is fully cheered up.

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When Ryou takes stock of her rice supply—lowered a surprising amount, but all for a good cause—she notices her parents’ letter doesn’t just tell her to study, but to make good friends, too. She’d already made one in Kirin; now Shiina makes two. Kirin has also warmed to Shiina…though she’s not about to let her and Ryou “cheat” on her by going out for cake without her!

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Koufuku Graffiti – 02

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Two episodes in, and KG is definitely my cup of tea…and my tamagoyaki, and my grilled squid, and my corn on the cob…and my Russian Roulette sandwiches. This week is bursting with gorgeous sights, smells, and tastes, but while last week Ryou learned that her food tastes infinitely better when she shares it with someone, this week the food is a medium for Ryou and Kirin to learn more about each other and grow closer as both family and friends.

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Like last week, the joy is all in the delectable culinary details. Ryou carefully, lovingly prepares lunches for the sakura festival (damn, I wish it was Spring already), and Kirin contributes her own bento: one that at first seems to be a pure white void, but then the seams of delicious-looking sandwiches become visible. The fact that Kirin’s mom helped her shows that the two have made up, in part thanks to Ryou’s hot pot recipe.

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Food doesn’t just taste better depending on the company you keep, but the environs. And what better place to eat than in a city park exploding with cherry blossoms?

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Kirin meets Ryou’s Aunt Akira for the first time, and while she’s initially shy, Akira’s wild, laid-back, but friendly demeanor puts her at ease. However, Ryou is a bit cross that Akira brought plenty of Asahi Super Dry for herself, but contributed no food. Akira makes up for it by presenting the girls with cash and sending them out into the fair.

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It turns out to be the first real fair Kirin’s ever been too, and thus encounters several different and wonderful fair treats for the first time. Ryou tells Kirin she used to look forward to Spring like no other because she got to enjoy a picnic with her mom, dad, grandma, and Akira. Now only Akira is here…and Kirin.  It may not be exactly the same, but it’s still good.

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We formally meet Ryou and Kirin’s fellow cram schooler Shiina (Komatsu Mikako), who has come to the festival with very clear goals in mind: “sketch it all (including drunk salarymen) and eat it all”. Her encounter is marked by a classic slo-mo Shaft Head-Tilt™, followed by an impatient Akira doing the same thing in short succession.

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Kirin, exhibiting a child’s weariness to strangers to match her small stature, seems to see Shiina as a rival for Ryou’s affection, but more than anything she’s envious that Shiina knows a side of Ryou (the super-focused side she shows in class) she doesn’t. Shiina apologizes for assuming she’s a grade-schooler with a candy apple—a somewhat juvenile food—but the thought is what counts, and though she may not know it yet, Kirin has made another friend just like that.

Back at the picnic blanket, Akira jumped the gun and paid dearly, having gotten the sandwich with gobs of hot mustard; Kirin’s mom’s contribution to the meal.

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Ryou and Kirin return, and a three-way FOODGASM ensues, complete with very specific food sound effects, extreme close-ups, and precise yet flowery descriptions of the mouth-watering food being scarfed down. I wanted to jump into the TV and scoop of a dollop of that cold, crisp potato salad, or crunch into that perfectly-charred corn.

At this point I feel I point out I make a clear distinction between highly enthusiastic consumption of food and any potential sexual acts either the act of eating or description of the food might conjure. KG dances on the edge with these fetishy sequences, but never crosses the line into ‘ew, gross’ territory, IMO. Don’t be like George Costanza: There is sex, and there is food. This is food.

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When the two set up another blanket under the blooming cherry tree outside Ryou’s place so Kirin can sketch, Ryou surprises her with the steamy, sweet and fluffy tamagoyaki we saw her enjoying in the cold open, it’s obvious that food is far more than just sustenance for the body. It’s also the mortar used to build the friendship blooming between two sweet, formerly lonely souls in Ryou and Kirin.

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P.S.: I’m really digging the Alice in Wonderland-themed OP, with Ryou as the White Rabbit and Kirin as Alice following her down the culinary rabbit hole. The stirring opening theme, “The 5 Ways I Know to Become Happy”, is structurally and thematically similar to “No Need for Promises”, the theme of Escaflowne (one of my favorites). As it happens, both are passionately performed by Sakamoto Maaya, more than eighteen years apart.

Koufuku Graffiti – 01 (First Impressions)

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I see no better way to wrap up my evening docket than a cute, lighthearted, salubrious slice-of-life comedy about one of my favorite things to do: cooking and feeding people. It also isn’t afraid to show its protagonist Ryou (Satou Rina, the Railgun) essentially having a foodgasm over a plate of delectable-looking inarizushi.

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It’s brought to us by none other than Mister Shinbo and Shaft, eschewing a lot of the usual Shafty quirks like head-kinks, word cards, and dramatic shifts to other art styles. Still, his exacting environmental aesthetic and delicate attention to character gestures comes are present and accounted for.

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That being said, it’s a very richly-produced show, and its style is such that one could easily see this show taking place in the same world as the Monogatari series, only in Tokyo, and without any supernatural stuff.

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Ryou and her visiting second-cousin Kirin, are an immediately likable couple of kids. Both have a problem: Ryou is lonely (parents abroad, grandma passed), thinks her cooking tastes awful, and wants to get better; the pint-sized Kirin is lonely, thinks her mother’s cooking is awful, and wants to learn how to cook herself. It’s a good match.

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Ryou assumes she’s losing her touch because her Grandma is no longer around to coach her. She’s only half-right. She actually hasn’t lost her touch; her food simply doesn’t taste as good when she’s eating it alone. That’s remedied with Kirin’s visit, and Kiri, an independent adjudicator, assures her, her cooking is da bomb.

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Shaft doesn’t skimp on the sights and sounds of the food (some decent ASMR moments), and each dish Ryou prepares carries a special meaning. But the bottom line is, food tastes better when you’re eating with someone, period. We catch a glimpse of a third girl ordering some kind of take-out…which she’s going to eat alone and it’s going to be miserable, so she needs to come over to Ryou’s.

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This is the first food-focused episode of anime I’ve watched since the Girl Friend BETA about the substitute cafeteria staff. Koufuku Graffiti is FAR more polished and better looking, and has FAR fewer characters. That’s a winning formula for my ‘kick back and relax’ show of the season.

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Sword Art Online – 16

Kazuto visits Agil, who tells him the pixelated photo of Asuna was taken by players of a new MMO called ALfeim Online, after flying to the highest level they could reach. Agil lends him the game, and Kazuto uses his NerveGear to jump in. Once he registers as Kirito, he learns he still has all his SAO parameters and skill levels compatable with ALfeim, but all his items are unknown save one: the file he copied Yui into. She is resurrected as a Navigation Pixie. Kirito watches two other players, Lyfa and Recon, get chased by baddies; Recon is knocked out of the game, and Lyfa is cornered. Kirito comes to the rescue, owning the baddies.

Let’s get this outta the way – SPOILER ALERT: Lyfa is Kazuto’s sister Sugu. Book it. Yeah, she doesn’t look like her, but she sounds like her, and she yells the same when she’s swinging her sword. Also, she’s good with that sword. Like a kendo quarterfinalist. So now Kirito (he’s Kirito again!) finds himself in another MMO (though not trapped in it) with both his little sister and his soulmate Asuna (who is trapped). The underlying SAO architecture is the same. Asuna didn’t wake up because she remained trapped in that architecture  Why is anyone’s guess, but it certainly is a raw hand to be dealt.

While the new fairy look makes Kirito look dumber, this game is already cooler in our books because players can fly. That’s a nice feature. It does suck, however, that all of Kirito’s inventory except for Yui was corrupted, and Yui isn’t even omnipotent anymore (if they had to bring her back, this was a clever way to do it). But despite that, Kirito is able to kick some ass, impressing someone he probably doesn’t realize is his sister/cousin. And we can bet he’ll be trying his darnedest to get up into that World Tree to free Asuna from her big birdcage. She remains off-screen and inactive this week; naught but a damsel in distress. And she was once so much more, long ago…well, actually just two episodes ago.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Accel World – 08

Now Level 4, Haru undergoes extreme training so he’ll be strong enough to start helping his legion gain territory. While returning home he finds a tiny, cute red-haired girl in his apartment, baking cookies and claiming to be a second cousin. Suspicious of her story, he does some digging and discovers she is the second Red King, Scarlet Rain, whom he pisses off by accidentally groping her when she falls in the bath with him. She challenges him to a duel, and Silver Crow is no match for her stalwart defense and overwhelming firepower. Rather than kill him, she demands he get her an audience with Kuroyukihime, in the real world.

There’s something to be said for uncomplicated, non-mystical, straightforward stories like this one: legions of various colors led by kings vying for dominance in a virtual game. This series continues its imaginitive execution with a very cool climactic battle against his first king, even if that king is a pint-sized firecracker. We appreciated how her introduction was as a not-so-convincing cute little sister act, and for once, Haru isn’t buying it (in expressing his suspicions in his thoughts, he rather hilariously says the long-form title of Oreimo). Hime may scold him for not doing enough research on the legions, but at least he’s growing less gullible. His only mistake is being in a vulnerable position – in the tub – when she shows her true colors.

Frankly, this Scarlet Rain girl should thank her lucky stars Haru did catch her, even if he incidentally copped a feel in the process; she’d have lost her throne and possibly motor skills had she landed headfirst on the edge of the tub. He saved her life, which is why she spares his in the duel. Well, also because he’s the closest link to Kuroyukihime, whom she likely harbors a vendetta. Hime, you see, beheaded Rain’s predcessor. It could be she did Rain a favor by doing this (it allowed her to take the Red throne), but more likely than not she wants revenge. Hime is reluctant to give Haru details about her past with the first Red King one way or another, so we’ll see.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

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The calm, placid little world of Daikichi and Rin is suddenly interrupted this week by Dai’s cousin Haruka and her loud daughter Reina. Haruka has left home, leaving her husband and his parents behind. She needs a break. She’s considering divorce. Can she and Reina stay at Dai-chan’s for a spell, onegaishimasu?

Daikichi is suitibly hospitable, and Rin and Reina continue to hit it off. Add Kouki into the mix and you’ve got quite a collection of rugrats. I love how Dai’s daily life changes when there’s suddenly two more women in the house, for a total of three. I especially like how he sheepishly explains to Yukari that Haruka “isn’t what it looks like.” He continues to tread very carefully regarding courting Yukari. Of course Haruka was the focus here, and we get a little insight into her not-so-happy marriage.

Like Dai and Rin, she’s perfectly content with just her and Reina; she sees the rest of the people in her home enemies. But after a couple days to cool down and reflect, Haruka goes back home. It’s what’s best for Reina, and even if it’s tough for her, it’s tougher still being a single parent. Dai admires the strength he sees in Haruka that he didn’t when she was a kid. Great characterization all around this week, and a bunch of funny little lines from the kids are thrown in for good measure.


Rating: 3.5