Sword Art Online: Alicization – 09 – Stay Cool

When it comes to baddies, SAO isn’t exactly subtle. Lord Raios and his toadie Sir Humbert are both extremely hoity-toity noblemen, and it would seem they draw their power from their conceitedness and by comparing themselves to others. They seem acutely aware that Kirito and Eugeo are Good Guys and thus it’s basically in their nature to want to fuck with them at every turn.

After experiencing the power of Humbert’s conceit in a duel that Raios cuts short in a draw, the two noblemen warn Eugeo that “battle is more than swinging a sword,” suggesting they’ll seek other ways to mess with him. Humbert seems to find a way in Frenica, the dorm-mate of Eugeo’s page Tiese. Specifically, he’s sexually abusing her by, likely among other things, ordering her to massage him in nothing but her underwear.

Until now the duo seemed almost pathetically petty in their bullying (Stomping some flowers? Seriously?). But with his casual cruelty toward Frenica—while staying within academy regs—Humbert, and by extention Raios, have crossed the line into Despicable SAO Baddie territory. Rooting for Eugeo in putting a stop to the abuse is almost too easy.

But the fact that regs aren’t being explicitly broken (the page is merely following orders of her mentor, as is the order of things) and the extreme deference Eugeo must show to his social betters make things tricky for Eugeo. Last week he was holding Kirito back, but now it’s he who must be held back by Kirito. The baddies are counting on him making an unforced error and getting into trouble, or worse.

Of course, that’s not going to stop Eugeo from doing everything he can. He asks Raios and Humbert to knock if off the nicest way he can, though I doubt they’ll heed him, which means stronger measures will be needed that still fall within the strict rules of the academy and the world at large.

Then there’s the relationship between Eugeo and his page Tiese, which escalades very rapidly due to the Frenica incident. Tiese is of a lower-level aristocrat family, and once she becomes the head of the family a husband will be chosen from an equal or higher level. Tiese is terribly afraid of ending up with a man like Humbert.

So after making her formal report, she appeals to Eugeo, whom she knows to be kind, gentle, and honorable, to fight and win the Four Empires Tournament, which will allow him to become an aristocrat and thus an acceptable match for her*. It’s a big ask, but Eugeo will need to do a bit of social climbing anyway to have any shot at reuniting with Alice, so he agrees.

But in the meantime, Raios and Humbert won’t leave Eugeo or Frenica alone easily. I’m worried about what kind of trap they might have planned for him. It might be safer or easier for Eugeo to keep his head down and take everything they throw at him in stride. But that’s not who Eugeo is, any more than it’s who Kirito is. If there’s a wrong being done that they can stop, even the laws can’t get in the way of justice and honor.

*Since Tiese doesn’t explicitly ask for Eugeo to marry her, it could be she’s asking, and he’s agreeing, to simply be there for her when she marries someone else, which would also require him to rise to a higher station. Though marrying her makes the most sense to me. LN readers, set me straight!

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Sword Art Online: Alicization – 08 – Blooming in Foreign Soil

After a quick pep talk from Liena telling him not to remember that Volo’s power comes from his vaunted family line as well as the power of his imagination, and to keep his promise to her to show her everything he’s got, Kirito engages in his real-swords duel with the First Seat.

Volo also gives it everything he has, but Kirito remembers he has a family too; not just in Eugeo and Liena but in all his friends IRL. He also draws from the power of the Gigas Cedar his sword is made with, and successfully blocks Volo’s strike.

The faculty member ends the fight in a draw, but Volo is satisfied Kirito has been sufficiently chastened for staining his uniform. It’s good to see Volo has a good head on his shoulders and wasn’t going to take things too far. Liena is elated at Kirito’s feat, as are the rest of the assembled students.

After celebrating at Liena’s quarters, Kirito meets the two highborn bullies who didn’t like the result of Kirito’s fight with Volo, and come to deliver a message in the form of the snipped-off bud of the flowers Kirito had been growing in the garden. As I thought, the jerks just couldn’t lay off the garden…

Kirito had come to feel he had a lot in common with the flowers that don’t usually bloom in such a climate; he too is a stranger in a strange land, far from the family that knew, loved, and supported him. Sure, there’s Eugeo and Liena, but it’s not the same.

Then, suddenly, a voice comes out of the air, urging him to ask for the other flowers in the garden to aid him in restoring his plant. They answer the call and send some of their life energy to the ruined planter, resurrecting the buds.

Liena, having both learned from and been inspired by Kirito’s previous fight with Volo, manages to dig deep and defeat him to graduate as First Seat, and thanks to Kirito learning something new about the world he’s in, he has a bouquet of flowers from her homeland waiting for her.

Liena, Volo, and the other elites graduate, and Kirito and Eugeo become Elite Deciples themselves, complete with cute Novice Trainee pages in Tiese and Ronie. Eugeo may tell the latter that Kirito will be nothing but trouble, but the other side of the deal is she gets to be the first artificial fluctlight trained in his unique Aincrad Style.

Meanwhile, Kirito and Eugeo, after going at it like an old married couple, keep their eyes on the prize: Alice’s most likely whereabouts, the grand white tower in the center of the city. Swordcraft Academy may be fun, but it’s only a stepping stone.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 20 – Shattering and Clashing to Victory

When Gin and Jouichirou start bebopping and scatting all over the train kitchen, Takumi, Megumi, Souma and Erina have to find a way to contribute to the “music” the master chefs are playing, or fail the challenge. For Takumi and Erina in particular, it means leaving their comfort zones—the cooking philosophies they’ve always lived by—and going for gusto.

If they completely shatter or abandon everything they’ve known thus far, they risk losing their vital identities as chefs, but that’s not truly what’s going on here: they contribute in ways only they, with their uniquely amassed knowledge and experience, can contribute.

They’re not so much changing who they are, but changing how they use that, and in doing so unlocking another level in their growth.

The resulting hachis Parmentier from both teams scarcely resemble that classic French dish, yet both embody the spirit of the dish while elevating it into more rarefied culinary air. Senzaemon makes a last minute addendum to the rules of this mock battle: the four young participants, not he, will judge who deserves to win.

Everyone loses their clothes in foodgasms, and when the moment of truth arrives, the kids all point…at each other. Erina likens Team Doujima’s dish as a perfectly in-sync jazz band, while Takumi likens Team Saiba to an avant-garde group art project. In both cases, chaos is used to create things harmony couldn’t, resulting in dishes that are both cohesive in concept and strongly individualized in execution.

The point of Senzaemon’s mock battle wasn’t to decide who’d be the captain of the team that will face Azami’s Elite Ten. It was to get the youngins to experience their abilities firsthand in order to know what to expect of one another when the battle and the stakes are real.

And brother, is there anything realer, or more appallingly hilarious, than watching the ghost-white, skunk-haired Nakiri Azami skiing down a slope in his black suit? Talk about pumping him up as a Bond villain!

His collection of Central stooges also looks the part; they’re as diverse in personality and appearance as our rebels—and in the case of Eishi and Rindou, we’ve seen they have good sides—and yet because they’re determined to defeat the rebels at the behest of Azami, here and now they’re nothing but The Enemy.

Azami tries once more to bring Erina back into the fold simply by stating the duty of all Elite Ten members to obey his orders. He wants Erina on his team, and like almost everybody, expects Erina to be cowed by the certitude and force of his words and sheepishly defer to her father. Even Souma calls her a “doormat” when it comes to her dad—out loud!

But Erina stands her ground. If being the Tenth Seat means having to join Central in the Team Shokugeki, then she will simply relinquish said seat, and join the rebels as simply Nakiri Erina.

While impressed by her continued insolence, Azami comes back at her with one last stipulation in the Team Shokugeki: If the rebels are defeated, she will have to return to his side, commit herself to central, and never disobey him again.

Since losing means all her friends’ expulsions will stick, all the rebels still standing will be expelled, and her beloved Saiba-senpai will have to become Azami’s ally, Erina figures “what the heck, might as well add to the already epic stakes.”

She’s so pumped up by successfully standing up to her father that she starts acting like the Queen of the Rebels, vowing to take the First Seat once they are victorious. Takumi and Megumi like this new rebellious-yet-regal “Queen Erina.” Souma, while initially irked (since he wants to stand at the top of the Elite Ten), nonetheless pledges his life to her, along with the others, in the decisive battle to come.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 12

Here we are: at the midpoint of what I assume will be a 24/25-episode third season of Food Wars, and Souma has finally taken it on himself to challenge the First Seat of Totsuki’s Elite Ten.

But it wasn’t arrogance that led him to this position! What would you do if Tsukasa told you Nakiri Azami’s ultimate goal is to shut down every restaurant in Japan? Somebody has to take a stand, even if it’s foolhardy.

Despite the stakes, Souma remains calm and does his thing. I appreciated the meta nod to his bag of secret ingredients that have won him challenges in the past. He whips out a new one to use with the venison—sweet chestnuts—then cooks the meat in a seemingly very un-French way—with a charcoal brazier.

When his dish is complete, Tsukasa wonders who will judge it, clearly too focused on his cooking to notice the eavesdroppers in the hall. Souma, however, knew Megumi, Hisako and Erina were there all along, and encourages them to serve as judges.

Souma’s dish tears both Megumi and Hisako’s clothes off, and even Erina is pleasantly surprised; despite the charcoal, Souma used the bitterness of instant coffee to balance his dish, and it is presented in a way that barely passes the French cuisine test.

Then it’s time to taste Tsukasa’s dish—absolutely perfectly-cooked venison with two exquisite sauces—and it isn’t even a matter of clothes coming off or foodgasms…the girls are transported to an Eden-like dimension where they are one with the deer, the trees, and the sunshine.

So yeah…it was kinda silly to imagine Souma was never going to come anywhere close to beating Tsukasa, unless Tsukasa was jobbing. As much as they don’t want Souma working for Central, they have no choice but to pick Tsukasa’s dish as the winner; it’s just…better.

But hey, turns out Souma doesn’t have to work for Central even though he lost! He put up a good fight, and in the process demonstrated to Tsukasa that he’s far too wild and unpredictable to serve as his right hand. So he declares a draw and takes his leave. No harm, no foul!

With that, the episode moves on, with two quick, surprising wins for Megumi’s Cultural RS Nikumi’s Don RS. While sadly there wasn’t time to get into them in any kind of detail, it’s good to see that it isn’t just Souma and Ryo who can beat Central. The morale of the rebellion reaches a new high.

While celebrating Megumi’s win, Polar Star holds a grand tasting session for the God Tongue (much to her chagrin), but Hisako is nevertheless glad Erina’s fitting in with everyone (though someone needs to take that dour brown frock away from Erina and burn it, IMO).

Just when it looks like the episode will end on a happy upbeat note, Azami darkens Polar Star’s doorstep. He invites himself in, ignores demands to leave, and orders Erina to come with him. Erina almost starts to move reflexively, so completely has he conditioner her to obey, but he’s blocked by the other dorm members, Hisako, and even Fumio, who reveals Azami is a Polar Star alumnus.

Isshiki reports the results of his research on Nakamura Azami, and how he rose to Third Seat in his first year, First Seat in his second, and became a top star…until Senzaemon exiled him. Outnumbered, Azami takes his leave, but Souma follows him outside and asks, basically, why he hates Polar Star so much.

But Polar Star is nothing to Azami; neither love nor hate. He’s after bigger things. Besides, Polar Star’s Golden Age is long gone; during that time, Azami looked up to a senpai named Saiba Jouichirou. Azami’s revolution is meant to be the “salvation of the culinary world that ruined Saiba-senpai.”

Erina peaked her head out at just the right time to hear that the chef she always admired and even loved has a son, and that son is Yukihira Souma. That knowledge should make the second half of the season interesting!

Kakegurui – 12 (Fin)

Jamabi Yumeko’s charisma and obsession with her craft has netted her loyal friends in Suzui Ryouta, Sumeragi Itsuki, and Saotome Mary. Suzui isn’t even going to oppose her decision to challenge the President; he’ll stay by her side. So will the girls, but when they present a variety of ways to cheat in the upcoming gamble, Yumeko is grateful, but declines any shenanigans, which will only ruin the fun.

All she wants is to gamble with Momobami, and all Momobami wants is to gamble with her. They both decide to leave things up to fate—literally: the scoring in their game will be determined by the values on various cards in a Tarot deck. Momobami will pick for the past, Yumeko for the present, and Ryouta for the future.

But just one card, The Fool, could determine Momobami and Yumeko’s fates. Whomever loses must leave the academy forever.

This is pretty simple stuff, and it’s basically a means of determining if either gambler has the “stars aligned”, as it were, in their favor; considering the success both have found in past gambles, they’re both pretty “lucky” gamblers, but it’s their drive to make greater and riskier bets that enables them to access that luck, where more timid players may shrink.

I will say that the overseer of the game, the lolipop-sucking, fang-bearing Yomozuki Runa, is a frequent and grating distraction; it was never explained why she’s so tiny or why she wears an animal costume or how and why she’s so good at gambling that she’s on the student council, so it’s hard to care about her that much. But at least she’s not a direct participant in the game, just the ref.

When Yumeko draws a +1 card and Kirari draws a -21, putting Yumeko in a 20-point hole, one person who is a participant and ultimately does not shrink before his duty is Ryouta. While initially clearly scared of all the responsibility foisted upon him to the point of being overwhelmed, Yumeko calms him by assuring him that the responsibility is hers and hers alone; she chose this game, and will accept whatever outcome.

But Ryouta says she’s wrong: he is responsible for the card he chooses, and how it will affect both Yumeko’s future and his own. He doesn’t want her to leave the academy; he wants to remain by her side, either supporting her or playing against her.

His speech voicing his commitment causes Yumeko to have one of her patented gambling-gasms, the last of the season, and he avoids the card almost too obviously marked as potentially The Fool (the card that will cause Yumeko to automatically win) and instead draws Judgment, which nets Yumeko 20 points for a total of +21 to Kirari’s -21. It’s a draw – no one has to leave the academy.

With this result, essentially everyone wins: Momobami stays on as president, but seems open to dissolving the council in light of someone like Yumeko blowing up her “aquarium” for the better; Ryouta, Mary, and Itsuki don’t lose their crazy new friend; and Yumeko remains at the academy, and is able to continue doing what she loves best.

Despite the stakes, Kirari and Yumeko’s final gamble can’t really touch some of the previous gambles that had more time to marinate. As for the reveal that Runa is in contact with “Momobami Ririka”, the mask-wearing council member Kirari disguised herself as last week, elicited little more than a shrug from me.

But the stage is set for a possible second season down the road, perhaps with a fresh set of new, distorted faces, new alliances, and new gambles. If this episiode didn’t mark the end of Kakegurui, I’ll probably take a peek at its continuation.

Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 07

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Unlike the past few Autumn Elections battles, I didn’t have a horse in this race. I like Kurokiba and Hayama…just fine, and while Hayama carries himself like he’s the best of his generation (and just might be), there’s a fire to Kurokiba (only once he has his bandanna on) you just can’t sell short.

They also have strong women supporting them, with Jun serving in a nurturing maternal capacity as mentor (despite the visual suggestions of bondage) while Alice treats Kurokiba more like a ferocious feral beast she keeps calm until it’s time to be unleashed on his prey.

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What got me into this battle between guys I don’t have strong opinions on was the featured audience: Souma somehow ends up being able to sit with Erina, and Alice soon joins them to complete a Nakiri Souma Sandwich.

Alice is a vital resource on All Things Ryo while Erina’s wealth of culinary knowledge and insight are well-documented. He couldn’t have two better people to help him scout his future opponent, whether the raptor or the tiger prevails.

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Hayama’s aloof calm (as the soaring bird) irks the nearly-manic Kurokiba, but Hayama soon demonstrates he doesn’t have to yell and shout, because his spices do all the talking. He commands the entire arena with his waves of fragrance and grasps the judges in his talons of flavor.

When Kurokiba’s dish arrives, Judge Taki (who almost got in a brawl with the similarly fiery chef) is unimpressed with the aroma, but her false sense of security and confidence are soon undone. Ryo was lurking in the bushes, and strikes with an electrifying bomb of plums within the eel. Very vivid foodgasms this week, if far from the weirdest or most creative the show has done.

It’s all too fitting that I had a problem deciding who I wanted to win, though Ryo is probably the more interesting/unconventional one (as well as the underdog), because the judges can’t decide either! Four of them split the vote, and the fifth, Sonoka, cannot choose one over the other.

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Doujima decides to recommend both chefs move on to face Souma in an unprecedented three-way final. Chairman Nakiri allows it, shocking everyone, including Hayama and Kurokiba, who both seem pretty sore about not being able to knock the other out of the competition.

But hey, the OP had been teasing this all along this season, and here we are: a chef with encyclopedic knowledge of spice and how to wield it, a chef with a surging inner fire of molten lava, and Souma – who I daresay is somewhat between the superego and id of the other two, and perhaps the best of both worlds.

Totsuki’s first ever 3-way Autumn Election Final will feature Pacific Saury, something I can easily grab from the H-Mart should I get the urge to attempt to duplicate one (or all) of the dishes they come up with. But it also symbolizes each of the three chefs’ strengths: it’s fragrant (Hayama), it’s seafood (Kurokiba), and it has strong roots to the common people (Souma). Should be an epic match.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 12

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Hannah: You know Zane, there wasn’t even a battle in this episode, but I was still bowled over by how much power lay in the deliberations, judgement and, aftermath, along with the surprise resolution that actually served both parties, thus transcending the typical Good Guys Win, Bad Guys Lose formula. A Food Wars episode without a Food War might sound transitory, but it sure didn’t feel that way. Instead, what it felt like was a masterpiece.

Zane: I’m inclined to agree, Han, that was an emotional spin cycle right there! Even with the cookoff concluded, it still had all the elements I’ve loved from previous previous showdowns, what with the highly-detailed analysis of the dish and its unique, metaphorical effect on the alumni-judges. At least in this Shokugeki, 7 > 9!

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Hannah: I like that; and I’m no math whiz, as you know. I also liked how the warm, earthy, nurturing flavor of Megumi’s terrine each evoked a different benevolent deity forthe judges. It spoke to them in different ways, but it spoke to them all, touching their hearts in a way Shinomiya’s simply didn’t.

Zane: Yeah, those Megumi gods were the best! I also appreciated how Megumi decided her best option was to try to put forth the best damn veggie terrine she could, freed of the limitations of Shino’s recette. Her Mature-vs.-Fresh treatment impressed the judges, and also laid the groundwork for the excellent character work to follow.

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Hannah: Was your heart, just warmed by the effect of her food when she’s on her game, suddenly cleaved in two upon the sight of those three coins on Shinomiya’s plate, indicating our heroine’s defeat? Even though I knew this wouldn’t be the end for her or Souma, mine certainly was.

Zane: Absolutely. I also knew Shino’s far more technically proficient, real-world-tested, award-winning cuisine was going to blow Megumi’s earnest but sloppy effort out of the water. I mean, the guy has the Pluspol. The PLUSPOL, fer cryin’ out loud! And yet, the suddenness of the judgement, and the look on Megumi’s face as she realizes she’s done, still had impact.

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Hannah: That brings us to the Deus Ex Doujima [Gin], which turned out not to be what I thought. When he put his coin on Megumi’s plate, breaking the rules of the Shokugeki, I thought we were in for a predictable-ish 12 Angry Men scenario in which he convinces the other judges to change their votes one by one. What happened instead was…much better.

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Zane: It was…it so was! Last week Doujima opined that Shino was holding back against a student, and now we see why: he graduated from Totsuki, moved to France, and became the chef-owner of a restaurant, i.e. got to the top so frikkin’ quickly, he finds himself at the top of a precipice, unsure of his next move.

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Hannah: You gotta stop agreeing with me…it’s kinda freaking me out. Anyway. His stagnation is regression. He’s moved forward so forcefully by sheer will and talent, he’s left the heart behind…a heart he finds when he finally takes a bite of Megumi’s cooking.

I’m glad to see the tripartite Megumi-deities show up again, but I’m even more impressed that rather than a goofy ridiculous fantasy played for laughs, which is often how people react to Souma’s food, Megumi’s food creates a pang of nostalgia for Shinomiya, transporting him back to a simpler, safer time, before he was on a “knife’s edge.”

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Zane: It’s a beautiful memory, to be sure. And as you say, the other judges don’t change their votes. Doujima puts his coin on Megumi’s plate, followed by Shino himself. He scoffed at Doujima’s apparent “pity vote” for the loser, but now sees that the power of Megumi’s food must be acknowledged. …Then Hinako, who isn’t even a judge, puts a 500-yen piece (these guys are rich, after all!) on the plate, making the Shokugeki a tie. The rules are bent, but Shino not only approves of the bending, but is a dang part of it.

Hannah: The flashback of Shinomiya with Hinako and the others gives us a glimpse into how far back these guys go, and how they continue to want to look out for him. Doujima allows this shokugeki because he sensed Shinomiya was in a rut and crafted an opportunity to show, not tell, him what he was missing; what he lost sight of: caring for the customers. Showing hospitality, of which Megumi is apparently the goddess, at least in her class. Shinomiya found a way forward, while Megumi found her strength.

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Zane: Well said. I also enjoyed the little scene between Megumi and Souma on their way back to the hotel room. Free from the oppressive concrete and stainless steel of the basement kitchen, they now walk in a cool, soothing night, a great weight lifted. Megumi no knows without a doubt that Souma is a good person, someone she wants to keep cooking with for a long time yet, and thanks him for helping her get that opportunity.

Hannah: Yes, if it weren’t for his reckless gambit, she’d be packing her bags for home. But to his credit, Souma doesn’t take credit; he only provided a nudge—breaking through the light mesh of Shinomiya’s unfairness—in order to bust through the brick wall and inspire both the judges and the chef who would’ve expelled her, Megumi herself had to rise to the occasion and show what she’s made of…and she did.

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Zane: So, all’s well that ends well! Except when Megumi goes ahead, Souma expresses his intense displeasure with losing, smacking his fist against a wall so hard his friends notice it when he returns to the hotel room. However well things ended, he still drew, rather than beat, Shino, and Doujima saved both their asses. Even as the sous chef, he takes responsibility, and will likely take the draw as a bitter pill of wisdom: as we saw from Shino’s rise, you don’t always win.

Hannah: And that brings us to the midpoint of this awesome show that blends your love of cooking with my love of intense battles. I’m really looking forward to the second half, which I’m sure will be just as entertaining a watch.

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2014 World Cup – KUSO!

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Well, Japan was aggressive, hogging the ball a whopping 75% of the time and out-passing something like 5-to-1, but none of their shots went in the goal. Even though Greece was a man down, they seemed to be playing for a hold, which would net them at least one point, and not trying to win for three, while depriving Japan of two more.

After their scoreless draw, Japan and Greece share the dank basement of Group C. All is technically not lost, but Japan missed a crucial opportunity to control their own destiny, and it doesn’t bode well that they weren’t able to deliver a decisive blow to the weakest team in the group.They play Colombia next Tuesday, and they’ll be playing for pride…and a very slight glimmer of hope.