Grand Blue – 03 – Stepping into a New World

Diving involves a lot of equipment in good order, which means it’s quite a costly activity for a college club to be involved in; far costlier than, say, the tiddly winks club or the pogo stick club. Iori and Kouhei are informed of this in a matter-of-fact way, meaning they will have to help contribute to club funds.

They already have a way for them to contribute right away: by participating in the Izu Spring Festival’s Inter-Club Men’s Beauty Pageant. But before that, Ryuu takes Iori out for his very first scuba-diving lesson. Before he departs, he gets words from encouragement from Chisa.

Chisa is clearly excited that her old friend is about to experience something she’s already familiar with—and which she loves. Things start out a bit rough, as Iori isn’t used to the kind of breathing one does in scuba gear, and when his mask floods he panics.

But once everything is readjusted, he remembers what Chisa showed him at the aquarium, and it’s like stepping through the doorway into a new world. You can see the switch flip in Iori’s head from panic to nirvana, and the look of joy and wonder on his face is plain to see—and something that delights Chisa. “Good, he gets it now,” she seems to be thinking.

The wonder and joy lead to excessive celebration, which is nothing new to Iori and Kouhei, but what is new is the manner in which Iori finds himself waking up: beside a buxom half-naked woman a couple years her senior. This is how he meets third-year student and fellow diving club member Hamaoka Azusa.

Azusa is the kind of girl who doesn’t mind sleeping in the same room with a bunch of guys, but she’s also a good cook, and teaches Iori, Kouhei and Chisa how to make okonomiyaki to raise more funds for the club at the festival. The festival where, in exchange for not having to compete in the boy’s pageant, the boys must convince Chisa to compete in the girls’ pageant.

The lads, likely still hungover, decide the best way to convince Chisa is to liquor her up so she’ll be more open to the pageant. However, each time they try to slip her a spiked drink, she either already has one, politely declines, it’s taken by Azusa, or one or both of them have to take the drink. Before long, they’re drunk as skunks.

Azusa also reveals she knows what they’re up to—to the heretofore unaware but now horrified Chisa—and forces them to confess their true goal. They ask Chisa to enter the pageant; she refuses; and they reveal that they’re trying to get her to enter so they don’t have to.

That night, the lads play naked rock-paper-scissors, which Azusa joins in but doesn’t have to shed a single article of clothing as she whoops everyone. She gets Chisa to admit that it’s not that she doesn’t want to enter, but more that she doesn’t want to bear the embarrassment of the pageant all alone. Azusa also points out that the only reason they asked her at all is because they were supremely confident all she’d have to do is enter and her victory would be assured.

So Chisa agrees to enter…but only if Iori and Kouhei enter too. Thus the embarrassment is shared, if one loses one of the other two could still win, and if all three win, the club funds are tripled, so everyone wins. When the means with which to enter a new world are so expensive, sometimes you just gotta shake what your mama gave ya…proverbially!

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Grand Blue – 02 – Underwater Isn’t So Bad

Iori continues to contend with the constant nudity of his male peers, but everyone dresses for dinner, which is when Nanaka observes he’s gone out every day he’s been in Izu, and doesn’t even know where his room is!

Nanaka forcefully forbids him from spending a third night out, but when the boys say they’ll be having drinks with students at a women’s university, Iori begs Nanaka to let him go. She refuses.

Iori doesn’t give up there, an decides he’ll unpack his stuff and set his room up in a way that will convince Nanaka to change her mind. Kotobuki and Tokita volunteer to help, and eventually Imamura is also involved in various ill-conceived makeovers.

They festoon his room in porn, then lolis, then BL, and finally, in order to sway Nanaka most powerfully, slap Chisa’s face on everything. In the last case, Chisa ends up seeing their handiwork before her sister.

It’s a competent example of the “best laid plans” comedy trope, in which Iori keeps trusting his friends, things just keep getting worse, and he just grows more angry and frustrated. His own idea is worse still, suggesting the entire venture was doomed from the start!

Chisa banishes him to an isolated room that also happens to be the meeting room for the diving club; Iori only learns this when he wakes up to find a meeting taking place in the room, and the club ain’t vacating!

Kotobuki and Tokita decide to give the three freshmen—Iori, Imamura, and Chisa—some basic lessons. Chisa is forced to participate despite already being well-versed in said basics.

The swimming lesson goes south when Iori is treated to the sight of way more underwater manhood than with he’s comfortable. The senpais even trick him into totally disrobing just when Chisa emerges from the changing room in her orange bikini.

Iori just can’t seem to prevent Chisa from seeing him in almost exclusively embarrassing and shameful situations!

But when Iori idly says he’s not interested in underwater—something she’s painfully passionate about—Chisa has Nanaka take Iori to the aquarium after-hours.

This visit and the majesty of the underwater to which divers have access doubtlessly inspires Iori, but so does video he sees of an entirely different side of Chisa; one he never sees because he always looks like a jackass around her.

Nanaka is honest about Chisa telling her to take him and why, and the next time Iori sees Chisa, he makes sure to express his gratitude, both by being fully clothed, and by giving her a souvenir. Chisa would’ve preferred a cuter trinket, but she clearly appreciates the gesture.

This was by far the least cringe-worthy interactions between the two childhood friends, and hopefully the start of a trend of more cordial encounters. Still, I also hope the show doesn’t stop mining Iori’s embarrassment/jackassery around Chisa for comedy…it’s still a rich mine!

Grand Blue – 01 (First Impressions) – Learning to Swim

Kitahara Iori moves back to the seaside town of Izu where he grew up in order to attend university. He’ll be living with his uncle, who runs the Grand Blue Diving Shop. Upon entering, Iori is met with a scene he never thought he’d see: a huge group of naked burly guys playing rock-paper-scissors.

Iori flees the site, but is quickly caught by two of the dudes, and learns they’re juniors at Izu University, making them his senpais. They were playing a game to determine who would fill their scuba tanks; they’re in a diving club and want to recruit Iori, who declines as he can’t swim.

Iori won’t just be living with his uncle, but his two female cousins as well, Nanaka and Chisa, both of whom have grown quite beautiful in the ten years since he’s seen them. There’s a particular aura around Chisa that suggests she’s looking forward to seeing Iori, or at the very least will give him a chance.

Iori blows that chance without even realizing he had one, because just as he walked in to a debaucherous display, so too does she, with him at its center, half-naked, drinking, shouting, and generally acting a damn fool (i.e., a college freshman). His attempt to smooth things over fails specatularly; Chisa’s first impression of him is that anything he touches must be thrown away.

His senpais Shinji and Ryuu demand he party with them that night, assuring him they’ll get him to orientation on-time. They do, but with two caveats: he’s hungover six ways from Sunday, and he’s in nothing but his boxers. That is how the whole of his freshman class meets him.

Iori has been swept up in the waves of college life, and it feels like his seniors are giving him a “swimming” lesson of sorts. The only way to learn is to jump in and start paddling, but Iori’s attempts to do so only invite more scorn, not just from Chisa, but from a hot blonde guy named Imamura Kouhei, who wears a t-shirt declaring his otaku-ism.

He also gets plenty of attention from the cops for continuing to ask people for their clothes. He finally gets a shirt by recruiting Kouhei to the Diving Club, which is called “Peek-a-Boo.”

Iori is inevitably thrown into more situations of cavorting and heavy drinking, and both he and Kouhei prove ill-equipped to resist the temptation to overdo things. To be fair, the peer pressure to drink as much strong liquor as possible is extremely high…though we see that Chisa is able to sip responsibly and stay above the fray.

The morning after their latest college party experience (involving a staring contest in which one person tries to get the other to spray their drink) both Iori and Kouhei arrive at class in their underwear. Clearly more swimming lessons will be needed…but despite Iori’s insistence the Diving Club is not for him….c’maaahn. You know that cat’s joining.

Grand Blue looks great and is a lot of fun, effectively capturing the raw energy and abandon of early adulthood. Those who have attended college know that it isn’t just about studies, but the experience; the change in one’s lifestyle to something more independent than one’s home. It’s about making a new home, and making a new family.

Most importantly, it’s about trying new things (and yes, sometimes failing and/or suffering). But as Yoda said in The Last Jedi: “The greatest teacher, failure is.”

Wotaku ni Koi wa Muzukashii – 08 – Wind, Lightning, and New Fire

If you’ve ever worked at an office, you have a pretty good idea of the atmosphere of the first half of this week’s episode. When it’s dark and stormy, suddenly its darker outside than in in the middle of the day, there’s a strange cozy feeling to the office, occasionally someone’s sunroof will be open, and you have to remember to SAVE YOUR WORK often, lest a power outage claim the building.

It’s much the same at the office where our four otaku work, but we learn that Hirotaka is afraid of lightning (or rather, traumatized by years of having the power go out while he’s in the middle of gaming). But when he remembers many years ago when he answered the door during the storm, Narumi was on the other side of the door. Then, as now, she puts him at ease, and he her.

Hirotaka is considerably less at ease when during a night of drinking his ability to make Narumi jealous by flirting with other girls is cited as a virtual impossibility. Hirotaka remembers being jealous of the guy Narumi dated, even to the point of getting an ear pierced that probably didn’t need it.

As Hirotaka comes to the always-dueling-in-public Kabakura and Koyonagi, curious what they do when they’re not arguing, Narumi is at Starbocks (Naoya’s eyes still swollen from sensitivity training earlier this week), wondering what a real date is; all she and Hirotaka do are the same things they’d do if they were good otaku friends as before.

Well, both seem to feel uncomfortable about that at the same time, as if the flames below their seats had finally made that seat uncomfortable enough to get up out of it. Just as Narumi is expecting another “at-home” date of reading and/or gaming, Hirotaka asks her out to do the things she used to do with her previous, normie boyfriends.

Takunomi. – 12 (Fin) – Makoto Super Dry

Michiru wakes up to strange sounds an fears a burglary, but it’s just Makoto, up late and binge-eating over the stress of her job hunt. She’s perhaps a bit too worried about how she’ll come off to elders.

Michiru recommends she have drinks with alumni from her school, and Nao recommends the designated beer for business events: Asahi Super Dry, once an upstart, now Japan’s #1-Selling Beer—as well as one of my personal favorites.

Makoto’s housemates give her a “Super Dry run” by role-playing as pantsuit-donning salarypeople, and hilarity ensues.

They go through all of the subtle rules of etiquette, from the proper place to sit, pour, and hold the bottle and glass, to the very obvious rule of not getting too drunk and rowdy. Since Asahi was developed as a beer to go perfectly with sashimi, they tuck into some delectable dead fish as well.

By the end, Makoto’s confidence is built up, and she proceeds to have a very fun alumni night. Unfortunately, she was so focused on making a good impression with her perfect beer etiquette (which she did), she forgot what any of them said about job hunting.

No matter; by sticking to her core concept, like Asahi Super Dry, Makoto will be just fine, and join Michiru, Nao, and Kae in the ranks of the working public. Takunomi was a fun little show that reminded me that all of the answers in life can be provided by good food, good spirits, and good friends to share them with.

Takunomi. – 11 – Hot Pot, Hot Sake

Michiru is full of energy and kitted out in full yukata as all four housemates visit a shrine to pray for a prosperous New Year. Since everyone else is in modern garb, Michiru can’t keep up and get lost in the crowd, missing a chance to drink some traditional amazake with the others.

She also gets pretty cold with no coat, so when they get home Kae whips up the perfect meal for a cold day off: hot pot. Nao provides the booze-of-the-week: a special sake called Daishichi Junmai Kimoto, especially well-suited to be enjoyed hot (but also great cold). One thing I didn’t know: how quickly you heat it and the specific temperature results in different flavors being released.

Nao heats it up to “Atsukan” packs a rich punch that goes perfectly with the hot pot proteins, vegetables, and broth. The combination of hot food and hot sake quickly make Michiru very relaxed, changing into her PJ’s and cuddling up to Nao like she’s back home—where she was the talk of the town for her big city exploits.

Takunomi. – 10

It’s the end of the year, and Kae is going to Okinawa with a colleague, reminding Nao of the time they went together so Kae could get over a heartbreak (both have embarrassing pics of one another from that trip). Nao is too busy at work to go, and eventually becomes burnt out, so Kae, with Michiru and Makoto’s help, arranges a way restore Nao’s spirits.

That results in an Okinawan-themed dinner and drinking party, which immediately cheers Nao up. Okinawa is a relatively small island, so it stands to reason they use every possible bit of the pig in their cuisine.

In a neat fact not mentioned in the ep, some of the pork Nao and Kae ate when they went was likely descended from the pigs shipped to the island by Japanese Americans in Hawaii after WWII to help deal with the food shortage.

The perfect beer to wash down the rich, fatty pork is Orion beer, which like all beers brewed for tropical locals, has a light, clean, refreshing taste, a sensation that comes through in the precise animation of the characters drinking.

Makoto managed to find Orion beer at a store a little further out of the way, prompting Nao to embrace her sister, pronounce her love, and beg her to never find a man so they can be together forever (Makoto is understandably noncommittal).

The quartet also remarks how they’ve been together a whole half-year, and it’s been so much fun they should all go to Okinawa together next year.

As it is, Michiru is headed home to spend New Year’s with her mom, but due to all the Okinawan celebrating, she oversleeps and nearly misses her flight; another reminder that part of mastering drinking is making sure you can meet your scheduling obligations afterwards. Still, lots of good food, beer, and fellowship this week.

Takunomi. – 09

I never thought I’d see a young Shidare Hotaru cameo in Takunomi, but I shouldn’t be surprised, as this week is all about dagashi, or junk food. In Japanese dagashi means “futile snacks”, as in it’s futile for Michiru to try to shed those Winter pounds when there’s dagashi around, courtesy of Nao.

Of course, since this is a show about booze, Nao presents the best alky for pigging out on cheap snacks: a Sapporo Otoko Ume Sour drink, a pre-mixed canned drink based on “Manly Pickled Plums.” Pouring it into a mug with ice, a salted rim, and some real pickled plums compounds the effect.

From there, Michiru (and Kae, who is drawn in) give in to the all-too-easy-to-consume empty calories, which fill the various holes in their souls. As Michiru looks on in pity, Nao and Kae salute the fact that while they may not have men, at least they have manly plums in their life!

Takunomi. – 08

From slice-of-office-life, history and life lessons, to the usual drink and food pairings, Takunomi. has a little bit of everything this week, which made me inclined to offer my first “recommended” score after seven straight “watchables.”

We dive a little deeper into Michiru’s office experience as she’s chosen to head up a client presentation the same day she dreams about it. Things don’t go as smoothly as she imagined, but she wins the client over, netting her her first work victory.

It’s a special occasion, which necessitates a special beverage: the venerable Suntory Kabukin (亀, tortoise) Whisky. Around since the 30s, it’s the first whisky by Japanese for Japanese, and still going strong. While it says Kabukin nowhere on the bottle, it’s always been called that because of its tortoise-shell bottle design.

The whisky goes perfectly in a 4:1 highball, though I might want to try it neat or on the rocks. It’s also the perfect drink to go with freshly fried chicken karaage.

But with Michiru’s work victory come a slew of new responsibilities, and in an attempt to keep up with the breakneck pace, she simply overworks herself—not a tenable strategy if one wants to live a long life.

After showing up late for a meeting, Michiru works right up to the time of the after-work office celebration meant to celebrate her. She’d have worked through it to, were it not for her 5-year veteran co-worker Hanamori, who has her back, doing the remaining work for her at hare-speed.

She also has advice for Michiru at the pub: young workers should expect to keep up with the hustle and bustle, they have to be more like tortoises, focused on getting it done, period, without worrying too much about how fast they can get it done. It’s what their boss said to Hanamori when she started out.

Michiru takes to that mentality, pulling her coat over her head to show her boss she knows what he was talking about, and takes care of business. The speed will come in time.

Takunomi. – 07

Aside from one extra-brief cameo from Nao, it’s a Michiru-and-Makoto episode this week, as Michiru tries to act like a cool Tokyoite by doing work in a Starbucks…only to scurry away when a barista approaches her!

Fortunately, the barista is Makoto, who just wanted to say Hi. But Michiru notices something off with Makoto, blames herself for bothering her at work, and makes up for it by preparing a little “home cafe” roleplay with donuts and coffee rum to unwind.

Turns out it’s “typical work stuff” bothering Makoto—not Michiru’s presence at the cafe—but that won’t stop her from having a coffee rum latte and trying out a few of the easy-drinking mixers one can make with Kahlua, which was actually the first alcohol I bought as a teenager! (The second was a King Cobra 40. My tastes were diverse!)

Once Michiru has unwittingly “greased the hinges”, Makoto opens up about what’s got her off her game: while on a job interview, someone said she had a fake smile. She asks how Michiru smiles, leading both into a very self-conscious mirror-viewing session, with no positive results in real smile development. Meanwhile, Nao’s drunken cat smile is a bit too real.

The next day, having unwound from coffee rum and sweets, Michiru greets her next customer with a perfectly warm, easy, genuine smile—and that customer happens to be Michiru again! Michiru tells her not to let a one-time comment in another environment get her discouraged about her face, and whenever she does, well, that’s when you break out the Kahlua!

Takunomi. – 06

Ah, nothing wakes you up and gets you ready for the morning than the upbeat stylings of RaFa and meg rock…even if that show is primarily about drinking booze, which in the morning usually only comes in the form of the occasional mimosa or bloody mary (for the record, Takunomi. airs at 2:43 in the morning JST).

At first, this episode seems more interested in a suddenly somewhat homesick Michiru’s futile quest for fish to eat; ironically back home there was hardly anything but fish and she always craved meat, but the protein tables have turned. It’s fortunate, then, that Nao and Makoto’s folks shipped them a care package full of fish from Hokkaido, and that fish is waiting for Michiru when she gets home.

It’s when Michiru finally gets some fish that Nao introduces the booze of the week: sake, and not just any sake, but Dassai, made from 50% polished rice for extra fragrance. Nao welcomes Michiru to the “Fish-and-Sake Pairing Crew”, and the new squab learns firsthand how blissful a bite of fish is when paired with a sip of Dassai. “Captain” Nao goes on to list the higher quality sakes, the highest of which don’t even disclose how much they polish the rice prior to brewing.

The first time Michiru tried sake, she could barely handle it, but now that she knows it’s all about the kind of sake you drink and what you pair it with, she’s expanded her drinking horizons thanks to Captain Nao, and shares her rekindled passion for the occasional fancy fish set with a co-worker at lunch.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 07

The girls’ fantastic journey to Antarctica is feeling closer and realer than ever now that they’re in Fremantle, not just looking at the Penguin Manju but boarding her, getting settled into their four-person berth (where there will be fights, LOL) and touring its gigantic-ness.

But the girls are just as united in their suspicion that something…odd is going on on the ship as they are in their awe at being aboard her. There’s a lot of negative press about the expedition not having a chance of actually getting to Antarctica, let alone accomplish anything.

When Kanae will only vaguely tell them that their crew is “determined” to “see the sky”,  the girls take matters into their own hands and stealthily follow the adults around while wearing masks. What they hear and observe confirms their worries that what they thought would be an ironclad operation is threadbare and held together with a lot of hope and not much cash or manpower.

What can the girls do but have faith everything will work out? Perhaps the discovery of the glow-in-the-dark stars on the underside of a bunk is a good omen; the other girls give Shirase that bunk, assuming her mom must’ve painted them.

Walking the deck at night, Shirase runs into Gin, who fills in most of the blanks related to the hardships they’ve encountered, as well as the ill-fated previous trip when they lost Shirase’s mom in the unforgiving cold. Gin says despite their scrappy underdog status, most of the original team has returned in spite of everything.

Gin speaks with such confidence and conviction that she manages to convince the other girls (who were listening off to the side). And on the eve of their departure, Kanae introduces the girls to the rest of the crew (and indicates that they are not legal, repeat, they are not legal) and gives them a chance to introduce themselves.

There, after having failed in front of Hinata’s camera so many times, Shirase gets a pat on the back from Hinata, steps forward, and delivers the most charismatic intro of the four, pledging her commitment to “do catchy, witty, sensational reporting” (we’ll see) and opening the “treasure box” of Antarctica with her own two hands.

The crowd is pumped—all that beer probably helps!—but I think having the older members seeing such passion in a high schooler, particularly the daughter of one of their founders, can’t be anything but inspiring as they prepare to shove off. It isn’t just Shirase; everyone on that boat is out to prove the doubters and the haters wrong. They’re like the Philadelphia Eagles. And they’re going to freakin’ Antarctica.

Takunomi. – 05

This week we learn a little more about Midorikawa Kae, who at 27 is the eldest member of Stella House Haruno. Specifically, we learn she isn’t the most excited about continuing to grow older and remain single, as well as her preferred drink (red wine).

Neither Michiru or Makoto like the wine straight (probably the tannins), but Kae cuts it with ginger ale to make a “kitty” (akin to a spritzer) that many guests at her weddings are able to enjoy.

Kae has a few too many of these amidst a light accompaniment of almonds, crackers, cheese and ham, and shows Michiru and Makoto the kind of drunk she is: a bit of a pessimist at first, and devolving into someone who simply wants someone or something to spoon for the night.

When Michiru brings her phone, Kae is in the latter state, and Michiru is snatched up and becomes Kae’s warm stuffed animal for the night. The next morning, Michiru can scarcely look a much-better-put-together Kae in the eyes, but Kae doesn’t remember last night…until Michiru jogs her memory.

The moral of the story is as simple as it is universal: Try not to drink too much…especially if you have some not-so-happy thoughts on your mind!