Ahiru no Sora – 02 (Second Chance)

Kurumatani defeats the punk basket ball club, earns the respect of the girl’s team captain, and starts to warm the punk-captain’s heart through endless practice and flash backs. There is also a panty-hook.

Most sports anime feature an under dog with endless optimism and dedication to practice. This makes sense, practice is key to getting better, and the only way to make practice watchable is to show how much fun a person is having while doing it. In this regard, AnS has nothing special going for it. Except a panty hook.

Ahiru no Sora – 01 (First Impressions)


Kurumatani is a short kid who’s mom was good at basketball BEFORE SHE DIED! (and gave him her shoes) He gets in fights he cannot win. He unintentionally becomes friends with a giant Afro-Japanese kid and becomes enemies with his new school’s basketball team. He also peeps on the girl’s basketball team while they get changed in the room next to the boys’ club room.

Yeah it’s hard not to compare it to Haikyuu, which I watched for 3 seasons. However, where AnS lacks the ‘spunk’ and energy of Haikyuu!!! AnS has good comedic timing. That said, it doesn’t contain much comedy to begin with (what with Kurumatani’s downer mom and being beaten up and all). The visual style is little gray and… well it’s a short kid wins basketball anime?

Shingeki no Bahamut: Virgin Soul – 17

“Kill it on sight,” Charioce says to the Black Knight leader, referring to the red dragon…but is he saying that because that’s what he’s expecting to say, knowing Nina will doubtless put up a good fight? The two sides of Charioce come out again, bringing his roller-coaster romance with Nina to the fore.

Once the whole group is reunited, “gathering intel” is the order of the day. Those of you who were waiting for Rita and Nina to dress up as sexy demons, you got your wish this week. It’s not really that great a disguise, but Nina runs out alone anyway, eager to try it out.

It isn’t long before she runs into the other person in a bad disguise, Charioce, AKA “Chris.” Specifically, he’s visiting the grave of his dead mother (killed by Bahamut’s fire, like Nina’s father).

This, and playing football with the little demon children in the slums, is all meant for Christ to score brownie points with both Nina and us the audience. But for me, those points won’t be easily doled out, and even then are highly provisional.

The moment we all knew was coming: when Chris opens up enough that Nina wants to get closer and closer to him until they embrace and eventually kiss for the first time. It’s a very romantic scene (again, if you buy what’s happening, more on that later).

Things get even more Disney-esque when Nina realizes she can now transform into the red dragon at will, perhaps because of Chris’ kiss. She takes him on a moonlit ride over a calm, peaceful Anatae.

When they land (and Nina finds a robe), Chris gives her a token of his affection: a necklace with a red claw, before sending her on her way, promising the next time they meet he’ll explain more clearly what he’s after. I for one am waiting with baited breath for him to please, for the love of God, explain how all of the monstrous stuff he’s done will be worth it, and how having a dead mom justifies it?

For now, I’ll work with this theory: Charioce is literally two distinct personalities, and becomes the kind and gentle Chris when he is around Nina. We saw his change in expression after she left, so unless he continues to play her, that must be the case. To be redeemed, Chris would have to have no control over the horrific things King Charioce has done.

It’s thin, but another piece of evidence comes post-credits: The Black Knight leader, suspicious of Charioce’s “kill on sight” order, is convinced the king is “under the red dragon’s spell”—the spell that makes him Chris. Considering Nina is, in a way, under his “spell” as well, enabling her to transform at will, it would seem that spell is love, and the only thing holding Charioce back from attaining his goals.

Though even as Chris, it’s clear he still has every intention of carrying through with his plans. So is the Black Knight right, and his king is wavering due to Nina? Or is Charioce in full control after all, fully intending to use Nina, who has well and truly fell for him?

Is Chris real, and can he prevail over Charioce? That is apparently the question on which the fate of many people, demons, and gods now rests.

Amaama to Inazuma – 12

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The Gist: Tsumugi and Kouhei grab dinner at an okonomiyaki restaurant but it goes completely sideways when Tsumugi’s expectations are not met. To patch up their hurt feelings, Kouhei sets up an okonomiyaki date with Kotori, who brings all of the major characters together in one big event.

Megumi, Kotori’s mother, finally meets Kouhei (and Yoki, who’s a big fan of her on TV but she totally doesn’t notice he’s there) and there are hints of a potential romance or, at least, friendship between the single parents. However, the episode closes without anything concrete being in place beyond a happy time shared by two teens, 3 adults, and a small child.

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The Verdict: another solid, emotionally nuanced episode under the belt, another recipe we could theoretically reproduce, and some parenting lessons we could consider. Finally bringing the cast together, and the possibility of a long term plot goal between the adults, is a long step closer to earning a perfect ten.

But this week didn’t cross that line yet. All the ingredients are nearly perfect — from charm to specific behaviors and effective rendering and framing. But only nearly perfect, due to a very consistent (but not especially wow) color pallet and no official overall arc.

We’re in the final run of the show and the question remains: what will the payoff be? Are we past the point where a twist can work? Will a romantic pairing feel tacked on? Or will the lack of a long term goal lock AtI in as a solid 9 that didn’t totally become excellent?

Next week will tell

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Amaama to Inazuma – 11

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The Gist: Tsumugi has a fight with Hana-chan (over wearing the same costume at the class play) and Kotori is asked to choose a recipe to make the class’ crepe recepe stand out amongst all the classes doing crepes at the cultural festival.

So our intrepid quartette has a crepe tasting party. Then Kohei makes a Mr Pig costume. Then everyone eats tasty crepes. Then everyone is happy again. Roll credits…

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The Verdict: the episode functions perfectly well. Everything is sweet, the art is varied, and the kid-stuff is on the mark. However… nothing really stands out compared to AtI’s high points?

As a paint-by-AtI numbers episode, that means it’s still an excellent episode. If it weren’t for the mild growth of Kotori’s class, where they actively engage her now (breaking her out of her food bubble) the arc could have felt throw away. Thankfully, that little evolution kept things fresh.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 10

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The Gist: Tsumugi goes to the beech but has a string of outbursts and devolves into a kitty-girl. This lets her process a freshly caught fish being gutted and prepared for food as well as some other social anxiety.

And that fresh fish to meal is the central point that brings the entire cast together at the restaurant. Shinobu’s enthusiasm and flexibility with children keeps Tsumugi engaged and comfortable, Yagi’s grounded nature moves the meal along and gives Kouhei an actual adult to interact with, and Kotori mistresses the recipes and acts as host.

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“It’s scary and fun and amazing!” Tsumugi after the fish is cleaned in front of her.

What really makes this episode shine is how simple and approachable its central conflict is, and how specific and precious its young protagonist reacts to it. Fish are among the few creatures she could experience as alive, then dead, then food and anxiety from that is very understandable. Extra understandable for a child who’s lost a parent at a very young age.

Tsumugi’s focus on the fish’s eye and her use of ‘I’m a Kitty so I can’t be scared’ to be brave enough to witness preparation were excellent touches. And let’s not forget that AtI is also a cooking show at heart, with a lengthy process you could probably follow at home to experience the meal too.

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The Verdict: the only thing holding AtI back from a perfect ten is a lack of long term plot. I get the sense that, as excellent as this all is, as much as the characters have grown and fleshed out on screen, the story doesn’t have a goal in mind. No central drama beyond life being lived.

This is certainly not a fault or wrong per-see. However, it does force the show into an episodic structure, which makes the formula more obvious and limits each episode’s ability to shine on its own.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 09

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The Gist: Tsumugi and her class have a summer break sleepover, where they spend the night at school, make curry and play with fireworks. Tsumugi even gets to chop some vegetables — with a kid’s knife.

From the boys crying, to the girls using more proper language and talking about the different kinds of curry they know, it’s a lovely scene that expands on the various children’s personalities and relationships.

The scene where Kouhei is at home alone, which is almost completely without dialog, is also masterful. As often is the case, Amaama to Inazuma can express a broad emotional range without using spoken words.

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Later, Kouhei finds his wife’s cook book where they used to keep spices (a place he never thought to look) and he and Kotori plan to make dry curry. Tsumugi even gets to cut the vegetables herself… with supervision and Kotori about to pass out from anxiety!

While the meal-making includes a lovely Tsumugi dance, this time about bubbles boiling, the real emotional power emerges after the meal, when Father and Child come to terms with Mother/Wife never coming back. Kouhei makes the special food now and, even though it is wonderful, even though it is the way mother used to make it, her death is all the more permanent now.

I love that Tsumugi bashes his chin with her forehead repeatedly while crying about this point. It’s painfully accurate to how a child responds, in my experience.

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The Verdict: this was a masterful episode. It plays with scale of characters, silence, and emotional expectations. Joy as sadness. Sadness as joy. Being together but feeling alone and, of course, the bubble dance.

It also shook up AtI’s somewhat predictable visual range with the bright night pallet of the sparklers and seeing Yoki’s bar. I had not realized how in a rut AtI’s sticking with the Kindergarten, the High School, the Restaurant and the Apartment was getting until I saw these 2 new color arrangements –and now I hope we see more in the remaining episodes!

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Amaama to Inazuma – 08

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The Gist: It’s parent visit day at Tsmugi’s kindergarten and that means we get a healthy does of cast development and relationship refinement! If it wasn’t already obvious, Mikio has a total crush on Tsmugi, who pleasantly wants nothing to do with his affections.

What was less obvious was how central Tsmugi is to the class’ social construct: when Mikio has to poop, her reassurance that she will wait for him maneuvers the entire class into happily supporting him and in his time of need.

Later, Tsmugi Kohei and Kotori cook squid. Tsmugi gets another dance session in and it is adorable.

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The Verdict: AtI is at its strongest when it treats its child stars most specifically and this week, where a lot of time is spent in their class room, captured many gems. Other details, like how Kohei holds Tsmugi up on his knees while talking about recipes, and the social interactions of the parents all feel believable.

But what really elevates this week above others is how much of Kohei’s observation and thought process is expressed to us as viewers without words. He doesn’t know how to balance putting himself in Tsmugi’s life without replacing the little treasures she has kept from her dead mother and watching him think, fail, and try again is fascinating. Top notch!

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Amaama to Inazuma – 07

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The Gist: after months of little sleep, Kouhei is finally down for the count! Worried but armed with street smarts only a bright 6 year old can muster, Tsumugi leaves their apartment and makes her way to the restaurant.

Unfortunately, Kouhei is not especially happy with her brave success and, after finding her with Kotori, loses his temper. It takes some time but all returns to normal after a meal and understanding.

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The Verdict: this week was a return to top form for AtI. It absolutely nailed the imagination and problem solving of a young child and it did so with tremendous charm. Tsumugi’s shark song was pure joy to watch!

This week also nailed the absolute terror a parent feels when their child has disappeared, and the back and forth conflict that ensues when that child doesn’t understand the danger or anger for their ‘good deed.’ Smeary tear face tantrum and all.

As my fellow reviewers would say, this had all the feels.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 06

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The Gist: after a few missteps, the entire cast finally ends up in the restaurant together for a fun meal. Even Yagi, who just sort of appears via an invitation from Tsmugi.

This time they are making Gyoza and preparing the meal brings AtI’s typical charms. However, Yagi and Shinobu bring significantly more skill to the table. Shinobu notices this and, after a chat with Kotori, decides she’ll stay out of their fun for the most part. The experience is, after all, as much about these 3 damaged people having a family moment, as it is about the food itself.

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The Verdict: at its worst, AtI is heart meltingly charming with a recipe-a-weekas a do it yourself bonus. But at it’s best, it captures the intricate emotions and nuances that separate us by age and experience with a masterful hand.

While we got to see a little more of Kotori’s inner workings, and the understanding Shinobu can muster as a psudo-mother herself, but this episode played it safe, as the majority of episodes have. Thank goodness heartwarming is good enough!

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Amaama to Inazuma – 06 (Error Edition)

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The Verdict: it took me an embarrassingly long moment to realize my copy of this week’s episode carried the subtitle track of this week’s Re:Zero — and was not actually making a pop culture reference in real time.

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So I actually don’t really know what happened this week. At least, not in a way that wasn’t hilariously funny in a totally unintended way…

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Amaama to Inazuma – 05

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The Gist: Kotori sees Tsumugi walking around with a strange blond man. She follows them to a park and watches them share snacks until it looks like the blond man is offering Tsumugi a cigarette. Fortunately, Kouhei arrives and sets things straight.

Yagi is a high school friend who watches Tsumugi during lunch. He’s gruff but knows how to have a good time and that’s important to Kouhei, since he considers himself and overly safe roll model. Kotori, who obviously has a hooooudge crush on her sensei, objects but it is what it is…

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“I’m super aggro now, you know.”

The rest of the episode is about making donuts.

No! There really isn’t much to say beyond that! If you’ve seen any AtI you know exactly how it would handle the recipe and character interactions.

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The Verdict: this was a cute one, with charm and some humor — and of course instructive cooking! That said, I don’t feel like we learned anything new about the characters, nor was there anything especially insightful about children in play.

It was what it was: enjoyable, pleasant to the core, and now I know how to make Japanese Donuts. Spoilers! It takes way longer than how we make them here.

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Amaama to Inazuma – 04

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The Gist: Tsumugi doesn’t like bitter vegetables, especially green peppers. Unfortunately, Kouhei’s coworker AND Tsumugi’s grandmother are showering the family in fresh produce.

Health and life lessons aside, Kouhei wants Tsumugi to share his love for a variety of foods, even though he didn’t like peppers as a boy either. Kotori to the rescue! and, of course, and a big fun happy meal together. Even though Tsumugi sneakily doesn’t eat the peppers in her Gratin, she does enjoy the meal over all.

Roll credits…

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Like last season’s Flying Witch, AtI is extremely pleasant to watch because it’s quiet, the characters are charming, and the narrative has an instructional quality to it.

I’m reasonably confident you could make the delicious food Kotori step-by-step walks you through and, if you have small children, I’m sure some of the parenting tips couldn’t hurt either.

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is your child afraid of peppers? try using them as cups for juice…

AtI is a little more formulaic than Flying Witch, in that each episode has a consistent structure. However, that formula makes AtI’s characters feel like they are sharing an experience, where Flying Witch’s characters often felt experiencing the same world, but not the same experiences.

Coupled with the sense of purpose a structure gives to each episode, AtI’s faster tempo probably spares it the criticisms we had for mid-late season Flying Witch: too little purpose or momentum lost our attention.

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The Verdict: Along with Flying Witch, I feel like we’re seeing the birth of a new genre: the instructional feel good show. The goal of this genre appears to be capturing culture that modern families and children may be missing. It’s remarkable how instructive this is without being preachy.

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