Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 08

Thanks to his consulting network, Eizan Etsuya is one of Totsuki’s greatest wheeler-dealers, and his profits greatly exceed the combined tuition fees of the entire enrollment. He has connections with everyone, including the three Shokugeki judges. He also has a fifty-strong eviction force about to knock down Polar Star’s doors. Souma doesn’t have a chance in hell, nor do the Polar Star residents…right?

Well, not so fast. Food Wars didn’t back our friends into a corner just to hit the trap door and send them plummeting to their doom. Simply put, neither Souma nor his dorm-mates are going to take this raw deal sitting down. Even if Eizan and the judges say it’s hopeless, Souma just has to believe…it isn’t.

He finds a degree of support in Rindo, who clearly sees something in Souma, and wouldn’t want to see him expelled. Of course, he wouldn’t have been worth supporting if he does lose; she seems to be waiting for him to show what he can do, which is more than you can say for the dismissive Eizan and his puppet judges.

Satsuma chicken is the ingredient, and Eizan shows that yes, he can still cook by preparing some exquisite Haianese Chicken Rice, a dish as much of strict orthodoxy as it is a dish of elegance and restraint. The judges go nuts over it, and Souma is also impressed by the taste, which is most definitely refined.

But he isn’t going to win this thing, or even get to a point where the judges taste his dish, by trying to surpass Eizan in refinement or sticking to a script. If Eizan is classical, Souma’s got to bring the jazz. Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the red dawn! 

His resulting dish, gyoza made with boned wings and a sauce composed of, among other things, ketchup and Parmesan, does indeed sound like a desperate cobbling together of disparate ingredients that will only do the noble Satsuma fowl a disservice. That’s what everyone thinks, at least.

The judges were in Eizan’s pocket. There was no way they were even going to entertain picking up a fork to taste Souma’s food. They were that sure Eizan’s dish was superior. And yet…I guess the smell was just a bit too irresistible, or maybe Eizan’s rice wasn’t quite filling enough.

Whatever the case, after Eizan tastes the gyoza and is left speechless, one of the judges digs in, then another, then another. And all of sudden, Souma has won 3-0, and the eviction (which had been thwarted by Polar Star in riot gear) is called off. Suddenly, the impossible is possible.

It’s a win for all of Polar Star, not just Souma, as he wouldn’t have stumbled upon the flavor combinations that beat Eizan’s competent but by-the-book cuisine were it not for their input and collaboration. Erina, having witnessed this dorm-as-a-culinary-think-tank, can’t believe such a chaotic system could work. And yet…it did. I wonder what her father will say about this.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 07

During an exceedingly rare instance of Yukihira and the others actually being in class, new Totsuki boss Nakiri Azami gives another inaugural speech, this time laying out the nature of his “revolution.” And hey, it really is a revolution—a authoritarian one.

He immediately bans all groups, clubs, and research societies, then sets up a paramilitary organization called Central to enforce his strict culinary dogma. No more pockets of like-minded weirdos, and no more individual creativity. Azami and the Elite Ten will decide what is food and what is “animal feed.”

Azami believes that by eliminating the meritocracy and replacing the current system with his, Totsuki will be a more just and equal place, and a few low-level plebs can kinda dig it if it means they get to learn how the Elite Ten cook. But a lot of people are unhappy and unwilling to accept this.

Worse still, the banning of all autonomous entities in the school besides Central includes Polar Star Dormitory! I should have known such a warm and fluffy rendition of dorm life experienced by Erina was a bit of a danger flag, and now we see the beloved home and melting pot of the central core of the shows characters is in the crosshairs.

Many, including Souma, intend to challenge these edicts with Shokugekis, but Eizan buys off all the judges, who don’t even eat his challenger’s food before declaring Eizan the winner. It’s meant as a warning: challenge the new system, and you will be expelled.

Rather than break Souma’s spirit, Eizan only draws the redheaded kid’s ire. I’m not sure what Souma’s game plan will be, other than cooking chicken that smells so amazing even bought judges can’t help but eat and judge it, but Eizan has also arranged things so that in the three hours Souma is occupied with cooking in what could be another farce of a shokugeki, a band of delinquents is dispatched to evict Polar Star immediately.

I’m telling you, everything the good guys know and love has been turned on its head. #THISISNOTNORMAL. How in the heck are they going to get out of this awful mess?

Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 06

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All ye Izana+Nagate shippers can rejoice, if only briefly, as the two settle into a lovely little domestic situation, complete with Izana making Nagate dinner and tripping on the tatami. The hungry Nagate has the choice of saving the onigiri or Izana, and in the moment when both she and the onigiri are in the air, I wondered which he would save. He made the right choice.

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Their honeymoon doesn’t last long, however, as Tsugumi manages to find a path into Izana’s house and lets herself in, having made creepy noises beforehand that made Izana happy to see Nagate’s face. What I imagined was residual damage from deceleration was only their friend trying to reach them.

Tsugumi may be awkward within Sidonia, but out in space her thrust enables her to accelerate eight times the speed of the Type 18s, even if she meekly admits she has no idea how she can do it.

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Not as far as I can throw you, mate.

Discovering the how she can’t explain is certainly one of Kunato’s objectives, along with Ochiai, Yure, and Kobayashi. The mad scientists and megalomaniacs with dwarf planet-sized chips on their shoulders are now running Sidonia, and I’m not sure they’re the best people to keep the colony safe. More like they’re about to plunge it into oblivion to satisfy their hubristic desire to dominate the Gauna.

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On a more personal level, Tsugumi’s new pilot Mozuku can tell that Tsugumi really likes Nagate, and I imagine her performance and efficiency increase when he’s around. That makes Nagate a valuable asset to Mozuku’s brother…for now. But when they’ve developed a new chimera who’s faster and stronger than Tsugumi, all bets will be off. Tsugumi’s sentience, and desire to live a peaceful life with Nagate, mean nothing to these people. She’s a tool, and Nagate is grease.

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That grease is on a mission to find a new home on the outer wall, leading him to the Residence Bureau and its enthusiastic, yellow pantsu-wearing realty officer. I’ve said this show is a bit clumsy with comedy, but one beat that elicited a good chuckle was Nagate’s “I’m not looking up your skirt” look as he rapidly turns away the moment she turns around. Her “You lucky dog!” line refers both to his dispensation to live wherever he wants (owing to his rank and status) and the fact he got a peek.

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Both the residential office and the hobby shop Yuhata frequents are nice world-building moments that expand the scope of Sidonia beyond the military we see every week. People are going about their normal lives amidst all the shooting and fighting and exploding outside. Showing us these places lend the episode a distinct calm before the storm feeling to this episode.

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Izana is understandably disappointed when she learns Nagate is moving; the liked the thing they had going on, she’d given him a spare key, and she was just about to tell him he could stay for good if he wanted to. But Nagate isn’t leaving Izana; he’s inviting her to move in to his house with him and Tsugumi, and she accepts, after making him squirm a bit. Izana has always had the best facial expressions on this show, and she displays some great ones here.

Did I mention the new house perched on the outer wall is amazing? Sidonia regularly elicits “I want to go to there” feelings, but rarely as strong as here. It’s also nice to see Nagate actually reaping the rewards of putting his life on the line day in day out for Sidonia. Tsugumi’s wish to sleep in bed with him is sweet, if a little weird. Nagate may either want to set some house rules or procure a bigger bed.

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We transition from domestic bliss on the outer wall to an epic multi-shot pull-in to a research facility where Ochiai and Yure’s new Graviton Beam Emitter is about to be test-fired. In addition to providing a sense of the ships humongous scale (though peanuts compared to their ultimate target), the bright lights on the ship’s barren, crater-pocked surface evokes the iconic moon scene in 2001.

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The bring white lights give way to the piercing red of the unsettlingly Gauna-ish light of the beam, which punches a 100km-wide hole in a passing dwarf planet the crew thought would be a good target for mining. Nope, just target practice. The ambitious new class of leadership is interested in one thing: taking out that giant Hive Cluster. If it means hundreds of people will die horribly, so be it.

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Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 05

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Last week’s violent, harrowing battle took place just a third of the way in the season, so a cooling-off episode was expected and not entirely unwelcome. Now that we know the lengths Tsumugi will go to protect her friends, it’s nice to spend time with them as the recover from their wounds and try to make it up to her.

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Since Izana was alive and in contact with Sidonia at the end of last week, I knew Nagate was alive, I just didn’t know how bad her injuries would be. So it’s with great joy and relief to see her recover from those injuries. She lost an arm and a leg, but in this sci-fi world limbs can grow back, she chose mechanical prostheses so she could recover faster and get back on the line.

While part of this choice is her not wanting to be left behind or to be useless for too long, I still respect her going with her non-mad scientist grandma’s suggestion, and I liked her positive attitude about the whole thing. Nagate and Yuhata’s reaction to her suddenly splitting the fingers on her new hand from five to ten is pretty priceless: by turns surprised, fearful, and impressed.

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Tsumugi was the big question mark last week. We learn after the battle she’s lost 90% of her body mass, and as we know, that kind of diet can kill a human. But she’s super tough, and all she needs is time and patience to grow her placenta back. Nagate, extremely concerned for her well-being, sits at her proverbial hospital bedside.

In what turns out to be a tease from last week’s preview for this episode, the nude Shizuka Nagate encounters is merely in his dream, albeit a dream he’s having while a recovering Tsugumi has her “arms” on his head.

Nagate calls the girl in his dream “Shizuka”, the name he first assigned to her face, but it might’ve been more accurate to address her as Tsumugi, as this could be her unconscious avatar, hinting that she can communicate this way, in addition to her half-cute, half-unsettling dolphin balloon puppet.

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When Nagate wakes up, he’s so elated Tsumugi is okay, he hugs that puppet, whose reaction to the sudden intimacy rivals Asahina Mikuru for pure adorableness. She moves to beautiful new digs with a view of the stars and a bookshelf to read from (her studious bookworm persona is super-endearing, BTW), but Nagate is troubled with how isolated she is, which is confirmed when Tsugumi, all alone in her tower of solitude, lets off a sigh.

Nagate and Izana ask Yuhata if she’ll let Tsumugi move to the residential area where she can be closer to everyone else, but she refuses them flatly. As much as I love Tsumugi, I knew their request would be a long shot, practically speaking. Tsumugi could cause a lot of damage in there if the ride gets bumpy.

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And it does get bumpy, as Sidonia is closing on the Lem solar system and must initiate another harrowing deceleration maneuvers. This is where Sidonia the character comes into play in the episode; simply slowing down in space is a momentous event fraught with peril. An air raid siren pierces the tranquil residential block, warning everyone to lock their harness into something sturdy.

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Unfortunately, Nagate and Izana don’t hear the sirens or the warnings, because they’re spending their downtime deep in the guts of the ship, finding themselves in a ladder shaft when the bumpy ride begins. Thankfully, due to Nagate’s incredible luck and physical toughness with an assist from Izana’s bionic limbs, they survive the maneuver with bumps and bruises.

Those are a small price to pay for achieving their goal: locating a hatch in a pipe that leads to Tsumugi’s room. She can now stick her balloon avatar out and gaze upon the gorgeous residential block.

Giving her her first look at the civilization she’s protecting, and feeling the community of the res area, is Nagate and Izana’s way of thanking her for saving them, and doing their best to quell her loneliness. It’s a great feel-good, non-battle victory.

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The feel-goodness continues when Nagate heads home to find he’s been evicted an his dorm is now the home of a new recruit. But that’s okay, because all he has to do is call a friend and crash with them until he can find a place of his own! Who does he call: Kunato? He probably labels his food. The Honoka sisters? He’ll walk in on them naked and get thrashed again. Yuhata? “Fraternizing with a superior officer” issues.

No, he calls Izana, who is relaxing and soaking in her very cozy-looking bath, talking with her grandma on the videophone. Izana has been trying to get closer to Nagate since before Shizuka died. Now, thanks to fate, Nagate has come to her. Will she capitalize on this latest chance? Her initial reaction suggests she’ll have to overcome some nervousness.

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Kekkai Sensen – 04

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A third of the way into Spring ’15, Blood Blockade Battlefront is my number one. Nothing can match its scale and complexity, and creativity of its world(s), the swiftness and confidence of its storytelling, or its rapidly expanding yet increasingly diverse and charming cast, anchored by perhaps the weakest among them, possessing the strongest of weapons in their battle for balance.

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Elaborate action and effective comedy go hand in hand with Kekkai, as demonstrated when a big Libra party to let their hair down comes to screetching halt when Leo finally decides to say something, which happens to be his description of something he saw in the subway that matches the description of the greatest potential threat to humanity: blood breeds, AKA vampires.

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Just like that the stakes are raised significantly. We only got the smallest glimpse of what Angel Scale could do to the balance, but this feels like a much more existential threat. Vampires are taken seriously here; something I’m thankful for after seven seasons of True Blood, in which they did everything from play Wii Golf in their living rooms to have sex with their head turned around backwards. But they were never very frightening, nor are the ones in Owari no Seraph. The Blood Breeds of Kekkai are, because they’re strange and unknown and…er…variably corporeal.

That doesn’t mean the leading expert on them can be the hilariously lucky Blitz T. Abrams, who possesses a curse that only affects people (and vehicles) around him, meaning he’s never that fun to be around if you don’t like physical pain, even if it’s not his fault. It doesn’t bother Klaus, who sees Abrams as a mentor of sorts.

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With Leo’s eyes, Abrams is confident they can really get the lay of the vampire land (normally people aren’t able to see vamps unless they want to be seen.) So they plunge into the depths of Hell—on public transportation!—so Leo can take a good look at the “Edge of Nothingness” so Libra can get a better idea of what they’re up against.

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Like previous journeys to the Alterworld, this was another lush symphony of bizarre dreamscapes—I really dug the Final Fantasy vibe of the train station carved into a tree, below which is their ultimate destination. Along with all its narrative and character pros, this eye candy, and the eclectic soundtrack, are what pull Kekkai ahead of the rest.

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While there are a lot of bright sparks affecting his vision, Leo is still able to discern the blood breeds within the nothingness, and it’s not good: more than the 13 believed to exist, there are hundreds of them lurking down there, and if any one of them wanted to take human form and wreak havoc in Hellsalem’s Lot, they’d do plenty of damage indeed. And As the members of Libra back in Hellsalem report, that’s exactly what’s happening.

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When the traditional authorities prove not to be up to the challenge against elite vampires, “specialists” Steven and KK take over, and at least for a time, hold their own with their special abilities, before the female vampire brings the hammer down on them. Klaus, who is watching a live video stream courtesy of Chain (use of modern mobile tech is another neat aspect of Kekkai’s world-building), hops back on the train with Abrams and Zapp, and implores Leo to find those vamps’ weaknesses, because only he has the eyes to see them.

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Steve and KK weren’t sure if they’d survive the fight they were getting into. All they knew was that they had to buy as much time for Klaus and Leo as they could before being neutralized, trusting they’d come through. They do: Klaus makes almost as awesome an entrance as Abrams, and armed with the Vampire’s true name, seals her into a cyberpunk cross.

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Leo is amazed they made it, and weary that it took so much exertion to take out one elite blood breed when there are perhaps a thousand lurking in hell. But the lesson that sets him a little more at ease is as simple as the world he lives in is complicated: no one knows what’s coming tomorrow. Plenty of pain and suffering may be in store. But defeat is assured if one gives up.

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Kekkai Sensen – 03

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Leo isn’t one to freak out when confronted by a ghost, especially if she’s cute. Instead, he takes her picture to confirm if she’s a ghost, but she shows up in the photos. White tells him she likes him and draws nearer, only for Leo to wake up in his apartment. The transition has us wondering how much of his interactino with White is in his head, but there’s no time to ponder such things, as he’s being evicted and has forty seconds to vacate or, presumably, be eaten. Just another day in the ‘Lot!

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From there, we see him dozing on the couch in Libra HQ, refusing a stipend any higher than the standard rate even though he’s still delivering pizzas and sending money home. But this week Leo is on the sidelines, as the bulk of the episode follows Klaus on his quest to satisfy his fix of Prosfair, which is perhaps best described as “Chess on Acid”. It’s a game as intricate and bonkers as the world that conceived it.

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Initially, the game is introduced as a little joke, with the physically imposing yet cultured Klaus getting way to into it on his original Macintosh(!), to the bemusement of his colleagues. But when Zapp and Chain’s efforts to investigate the distribution of an advanced (and world-unbalancing) new drug called Angel Scale, it rises to the utmost importance, since one of the most powerful overbosses in the Alterworld, Arlelelle Eruca Fulgrouche (what a name!), happens to be a huge fan of Prosfair.

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When he arrives with his comely colleague K.K., Klaus is shocked to find Prosfair grandmaster Ulchenko has also come to challenge Fulgrouche. In the Russian’s mind, he has risen as high as he can amongst mankind in the game, and so playing a non-human is the next logical step. Also, he wants his country to have nuclear weapons, something Fulgrouche can make happen.

Alas, Ulchenko is no match for the don, coming up two minutes short of the nine hours he had to survive in a game. The exponentialy increasing speed and complexity of the game as it drags out nearly kills Ulchenko, and as per their agreement, since he lost, Fulgrouche will take the rest of that life.

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That’s when Klaus finds his opening to finally connect these events with the mission to uncover the Angel Scale ring. If Klaus lasts 99 hours straight, Fulgrouche agrees to not only reveal the trafficking routes of the drug, but also spare the Russian. And doggone it, the guy does it! As K.K. chain smokes and Ulchenko waits in stunned disbelief.

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Klaus doesn’t win, but he hangs with Fulgrouche for the full 99 hours, and all to the lovely stylings of Ludwig van’s vaunted Ninth Symphony, Ode to Joy, an inspired use of a classic piece of music that really lends the duel otherworldly grandeur, as befits a prosfair battle taking place in the Alterworld.

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Klaus gets the trafficking routes, Ulchenko is freed, and K.K. makes sure Libra takes out all the cells pushing Angel Scale. It’s all made possible thanks to Klaus’ unparalleled strength, selflessness, and perseverance. Yet, to hear it from Leo, book-ending the episode with his interactions with White, he has no idea what Klaus did for the firm, and he may never know.

All Steve Starphase said is that “anything in this world can happen”, which has so far proven true. For Leo, those words must be pretty reassuring, because the one thing he wants most in the world is to heal Michella.

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