O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 11 – No Time to Take Things Slow

Rika truly was transformed by her love of Amagi. Far from being disappointed or feeling betrayed by Juujo for going and getting herself knocked up, Rika is firmly in her corner. When Hitoha argues the other side too far, Rika almost calls out Hitoha’s own relationship before storming off, leading Hitoha to declare it’s “wrong to stop in the middle of things”—a glorious line considering its subtext.

Kazusa and Momoko are out of the loop, and so ponder and worry together right up until Momoko asks her who’d she’d rather sleep with to keep the world blowing up: her, or Milo-sensei. When Kazusa says she’d pick Milo because she’d “have to go with a guy,” then goes in for a “best friends!” hug, Momoko dodges, warning Kazusa to watch out for Niina before storming off herself.

Hitoha has noticed her interactions with Milo have become “softer and warmer” since their semi-cathartic encounter. She believes it’s because he interpreted her childish tears as being “overwhelmed by his kindness” when in reality, she felt so pathetic it actually felt good. With that in mind, she’s not quite ready to give up on him.

Meanwhile, Niina has never felt hatred about her present self, or more determined to eliminate that self as soon as possible. With Izumi unwilling to play ball, she arranges a meeting at a hotel with Saegusa, who is, unlike Milo, perfectly willing to follow through, the pervert.

But as he starts to touch her, Niina discovers something about that self she hates so much: it won’t be killed so easily. When Saegusa’s gross face and gross mouth and gross white nose hairs get too close, she instinctively slugs him, and flees.

The next morning, the only two who show up for lit club are Kazusa…and Niina. After a beautiful monologue that begins with her being lost in the haunted forest of those nose hairs, she tells Kazusa straight up that she’s in love with Izumi and plans to confess to him, even if he loves Kazusa.

To Niina’s shock, Izumi doesn’t react in anger, but in understanding, love, and gratitude. She wouldn’t have had the courage to confess to Izumi were it not for Niina’s help, so what kind of friend would she be to deny her the opportunity to do the same?

Niina and Kazusa go into the “best friends” hug Momoko wouldn’t, and everything seems hunky-dory…until we see Kazusa racing home in an absolute panic. She’s not sure what else she could have done in that situation, but she sure as shit isn’t happy about it!

In this episode full of people who believe they’re running out of time, Kazusa believes the only thing to do to stave off the threat of Niina is to put her mark on Izumi immediately. It just so happens his folks aren’t home, and she invites herself up to his room.

Her sexy underwear didn’t arrive in time, but she intends to make do, presenting herself for him to kiss, and when he expresses confusion, she declares her desire to do it with him, straight up. He tells Kazusa he wants to “treat her right” by taking things slow, but he also brings up Niina, souring the mood and leading to Kazusa’s early exit.

To add insult to injury, the underwear arrives, but Kazusa is so flustered by their presence she quickly snips them to tiny shreds with scissors. We segue from that particularly childish display to a very mature and elegant phone conversation between Rika, who is growing increasingly weary of herself (calling herself “a shameful disgrace”, and Amagi, warning her not to badmouth the girl he likes.

Their bliss is rudely interrupted by her mother bursting in the room. The next day there’s an all-school assembly where the principal and vice-principal announce that all “non-platonic interaction between the sexes” is banned with immediate effect. Rumors fly through the student body, including that Sonezaki and Amagi were spotted outside a love hotel and will now be expelled.

The scene of Rika being guided into a cab by her mom, like some kind of criminal, possibly never to return, is witnessed by Kazusa, Niina, Momoko and Hitoha, in an unlikely but very welcome reunion. It’s the start of the girls deciding to put aside their differences for Rika’s sake, their sakes, and the sake of the entire school.

Hitoha, who (rightly) blames herself for putting Rika and Amagi in that place at that time, is ready to confess, but Milo-sensei beats her to it, albeit keeping her name out of it (though he refers to her as “someone he’s considering a future with” in his lie). But the principals won’t budge; after Juujou, they’re prepared to make an example of Rika and Amagi.

Later, in the clubroom, Milo assures Hitoha he’ll keep fighting for Rika, but also admits he doesn’t quite have a plan for doing so at the moment. That’s unfortunately not good enough for these maidens in their savage season, who must make the most of this time and can’t afford to endure the oppression of the school’s new ban.

So, after Kazusa gives Izumi a solemn call telling him she’s about to commit a “grave sin,” she joins her sisters in kidnapping Milo-sensei, beating and tying him up, and using him as a hostage. The school staff is sent their demands, and when they arrive at the school the four girls are there to repeat them: lifting of the ban, reinstating of Rika, and an apology, or else.

No negotiations, no retreat: the maidens have spoken! As amazingly awful as it was to watch them nearly destroy each others’ friendships, this latest emergency of injustice has brought them back together, at least for now. Watching them use their powers to save one of their own another is an inspiring sight to behold, though I can’t see there not being serious consequences. Still, what’s done is done—and they did it together.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 09

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Things move fast this week, but most of the things that occur are basically foregone conclusions. Kikuhiko and Sukeroku both become Shin’uchi, but in his debut, Sukeroku sticks it to the association president by performing his specialty, “Inokori”, in which he must embody multiple sides of one character, Saheiji, depending on who else he’s talking to. It’s a challenging story, but Sukeroku pulls it off and gets the only approval he needs: that of the crowd.

Now a Shin’uchi, Kikuhiko is committed to shedding a woman he feels someone of his stature can no longer be with. It’s not pride so much as obligation to the structures he was raised into, which demand that a man put things above his own personal feelings. His breakup with Miyokichi had been telegraphed for some time, but that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking when the hammer comes down.

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Miyokichi, as it happens, isn’t the only one who gets dumped: as a result of his insolence in his debut, Sukeroku is taken aside by his master, who informs him Kiku, not he, will be the Eighth Generation Yakumo. Again, the writing was on the wall. As well-intending as Sukeroku is, and no matter how much practical sense it makes, he was never going to be able to successfully convince the old guard of his “change or die” views of rakugo.

For the elders, including his master, change is death; there is no difference. Oral tradition cannot truly survive if it becomes a game of Telephone. Tweaking tradition is a slippery slope, one that the elders would rather fall to their death by clinging to rather than allow it to be propped up with new ideas.

Furthermore, Sukeroku was always hampered by his modest origin; he was always an interloper, a “stray dog” who clawed his way into this world. There’s no way the master would allow such a person to succeed him, no matter how unassailable his talent. There may be TVs now, but castes still matter.

When Sukeroku argues too forcefully, Yakumo expels him, throwing him out of his house. And that’s how our two dumped and dejected people find and comfort each other.

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Speaking of comfort, Kikuhiko isn’t experiencing it just because everything seems to be going his way. In his mind, Sukeroku is still better at rakugo than him, no matter how many elders or syncophants say otherwise. He’s particularly irritated when a dilettante-ish rakugo critic tears down Sukeroku in an apparent effort to curry favor. Kiku ends the interview right there.

Then Master Yakumo’s wife dies, and with mortality on his mind, he informs Kikuhiko that he intends to give him his name. Kiku’s initial reaction is that it’s a mistake; Sukeroku should get the name; he’s more skilled; he doesn’t have any skill compared to that raw talent. But Yakumo reproaches his apprentice.

It’s not Kiku’s place to tell him who he should give his name to, nor to say whether he’s better or worse than Sukeroku. Just like his brother, Kiku spoke out of place, but out of humility and inferiority, not arrogance and outsize obligation to take rakugo upon his shoulders and “save” it, as Sukeroku wants to do. There’s more to being Eighth Generation than being The Best At Rakugo. 

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As Kiku continues to thrive but derive no joy from anything other than doing rakugo, Sukeroku and the scorned Miyokichi quickly shack up together and become an item. Just as Sukeroku and Kikuhiko must embody different people to perform their stories to suit their audiences, so too does Miyo, a skilled and experienced geisha, know how to be exactly the woman a particular man wants. She could be classy and prudish for Kiku, whom she loved, but knows Sukeroku less propriety.

I’m glad Miyo doesn’t waste any more time than she needs to worrying about Kiku; what’s done is done, and she’s moving on with someone who actually wants to be with her. Sukeroku doesn’t know if he’s quite that person yet…but he does like boobies. There’s something sad and close-looped about the two being depressed about the same person—Kikuhiko—but they must make do with each other.

Also, she doesn’t have time to wait around or worry; she has a baby on the way, and wants to raise it in the countryside. Her geisha house is shut down, so she steals the till with the intention of running off with Sukeroku.

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He stops by Kiku’s not for money or a place to stay, but to say goodbye, even as Kiku urges him to make peace with the master so he can give him his name. Sukeroku knows what he has to do to get back in the good graces of their master, and he can’t do it. He tells Kiku about Miyo and the baby and the country, and Kiku is not happy.

What is Kiku going to do without Sukeroku around annoying him and challenging him to be his best? What is he going to do with Yakumo’s name when he’s certain his drunk, uncouth, stray dog of a brother deserves it more? Someone he wants to punch and embrace in the same moment?

These unanswerable questions (which must attempt to be answered anyway, one day at a time) sow the seeds of a bitterness and regret that will stay with Kiku for years, then made worse one day when Sukeroku loses his life in his prime. That bitterness will come to define the man telling this story to Yotarou and Konatsu in the present.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 02

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I was glad for the hour-long first episode that really established a present day for the show; giving it the confidence to go decades into the past in only its second. And while Yotarou was the main protagonist of the first episode, he and Konatsu are entirely absent here, as we have only the old Yakumo narrating the past, and how he met Sukeroku.

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This story explains why the present-day Yakumo has bouts of bitterness and insecurity that can manifest as cruel or petty treatment towards those in his life, be it Konatsu or Yotarou. It all boils down to this: Rakugo was an arranged marriage for Yakumo, while it was true love for Sukeroku.

For Yakumo, then known as Bon, was into a geisha house. He was a dancer until he ruined his leg, and so he got dumped off at Yuurakutei’s house to be his apprentice and learn rakugo. He didn’t even want to get into rakugo, but he had to. His entire future was neatly laid out for him…by people other than himself.

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Sukeroku, then known as Shin, was a filthy, orphaned street urchin, who always used to be able to get into theaters for free. He convinces the master to let him be his apprentice in much the same manner as Yotarou convinces Yakumo: a combination of charm – from his overabundance of enthusiasm, and pity – the implication he truly has no where else to go.

The master can when Shin shows him what he’s got that he’s doing a lot of straight mimickry, but the fact he makes Bon smile and laugh tells him he could be more than just another mouth to feed.

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OH MY GOD LOOK IT’S A YOUNG MATSUDA!!! Holy crap, that’s so cool that Yakumo would not only inherit his master’s title, but his manservant as well. This makes Matsuda the only character other than the narrator Yakumo whom we know form the first episode.

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Oh, but where were we? Ah yes, Bon and Shin. Another reason the master takes Shin in is so that Bon has a foil, and learns to loosen up a little. Sure enough, after Shin says out loud something Bon dare not—they were both abandoned by their families—Bon has himself a cathartic cry and tells Shin his entire story, which Shin earnestly listens to and responds appropriately: basically, “Yeah man, that’s a pretty raw deal.” But it means so much just for Bon to have someone to talk to.

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The two grow up together, alike in how they came to be in the master’s house, but otherwise total opposites, except for their ability to accept one another, much like to very different brothers who still share blood and love for one another, even as they compete for their “father’s” approval.

Once they’ve studied and practices and grown up enough, their master gives them names and deems them ready to open for him at the theater. Bon gets the elegant, refined name Kikuhiko; while Shin gets Hatsutaro, which he feels will sink him before he even jumps in the pool.

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Now we know that Kikuhiko would end up being given the title of eighth-generation Yakumo, but I’m certain the master doesn’t arrive at that decision after Kiku’s first performance, which was an unqualified disaster, though not in any over-the-top or overly cartoonish way (say, he slips and falls or flubs his lines).

He gets all the words out, it just all feels so flat. And he’s super nervous, shaking and sweating from the get-go. No nice way to say it: he bombs. And he knows it, even before he sees Hatsutaro backstage, and dares him to do better in his very first performance opening for their master.

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Hatsutaro does better. Almost too much better. His performance, starting with a loud “HEY!” that wakes up those in the sparse crowd Kiku put to sleep, is far more energetic, warm, loose, and inviting. Rather than no laughs, he gets many, and from a diverse cross-section of people.

Kiku only succeeded in making the crowd almost as uncomfortable as he was. That’s some kind of theater, but it’s not rakugo. Hatsu did some damn fine rakugo in his first performance. He even turns Kiku’s frown upside down. But that’s just it: right now, Kiku simply has no confidence in his future, because he never actually wanted to do this, and still doesn’t. He knew that truth would come out in his performance, and sure enough, it did.

This is only the first part of Yakumo’s tale, which he did fairly warn us was long. We have yet to learn how he clawed back from that sorry first performance to become the living legend he is in the present (and who inspired Yotarou to seek him out), not to mention how his relationship with Sukeroku progressed/regressed; and at some point Sukeroku will meet Konatsu’s mother.

However much more story Yakumo has to tell, I am all ears.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 01 (First Impressions)

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I enter Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu a little late–it almost flew past my radar–until a commenter mentioned it as one of the season’s best – and I’m inclined to agree.

SGRS‘s first episode may be 47 minutes long (and they don’t fly by quickly), but it starts off strong, immersed me in both sides of the obscure world of rakugo – and offered numerous fantastic performances on and off the stage. It’s also the rare show that made me laugh out loud and get me all misty-eyed.

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Recent parolee and former gang member Yotarou begs the great rakugo master Yakumo, who once performed at his prison, to make him his apprentice. On a lark, the initially reluctant Yakumo agrees, and brings him to his house. Which is good, because Yotarou had no Plan B!

Yakumo doesn’t live alone, however: he’s the guardian of Konatsu, the daughter of his late rakugo colleague, Sukeroku. From first glance, Konatsu looks interested in following in her father’s footsteps, but hides her practicing from Yakumo, who apparently doesn’t approve.

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After moving in, Yotarou gets to experience Yakumo live once more, amidst a packed and enthusiastic theater Yakumo has eating out of his hand, and not by any trick. He’s simply extremely good at telling comedic stories with multiple voices that draw the audience in, and you can bet I was drawn right in with ’em.

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But while Yakumo has the adoration of many in this small niche of theater, he betrays his prickly side when he learns of Konatsu studying her father on the sly. Konatsu loses her short temper (it’s clear Yakumo knows exactly how to push her buttons) and is held back by Yotarou in a very theatrical and beautifully-framed shot, seen above.

This is a show whose main characters are all, well, characters, and you get the feeling they’re playing roles even when there’s no audience (other than us, that is). And when these strong personalities clash, like Konatsu and Yakumo often do, the atmosphere crackles with electricity.

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The show puts a roadblock ahead of Yotarou’s journey to become a rakugo star before it even gets off the ground when his old boss from the gang shows up with another job for him. This guy’s a rakugo outsider, for sure: both ignorant to and unwilling to learn about its charms, having already deemed it “tepid rubbish.”

He’s also someone Yotarou was always extremely obedient to, so I was glad when Konatsu spoke up when it looked like he was wavering. Ultimately, it’s Yakumo who resolves the standoff, entering the room and instantly snatching all the authority in that room, sending Yotarou off to practice and inviting the boss to come see his old soldier’s first very show in front of a crowd.

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This long episode’s centerpiece is Yotarou’s performance of “Dekigokoro”, in which he uses his vocal talent with his own crime experience to get consistent laughs out of the sparse but intent crowd. This is a ten-minute long sequence with no interruptions, and it was spellbinding, particularly when accompanied by jazz.

His old boss laughs once he sees the light, and how well-suited the chatterbox is to rakugo. Konatsu also can’t help laughing, though she tries to stifle it. As for Yakumo, he seems proud that Yotarou was able to send his old boss away with his performance, but he also seems a bit miffed that his apprentice is eschewing his tight, precise style for the looser mode of Sukeroku.

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Yakumo takes this opportunity to get another dig at Konatsu, calling her out for what he considers her attempts to “bring her father back to life” through Yotarou, even though he has “no skill” and is only a “passing fancy.” This jealousy, pettiness, and cruelty he displays comprises a “dark side” he shows only to a select few people closest to him, and it’s ugly; he makes Konatsu cry, but to what end? His own self-aggrandizement.

In the episode’s dramatic and emotional apex, a distraught Konatsu visits the friend of her late mother, begging her to tell her the truth about what happened. The friend only tells her what she’s already heard, but can’t accept: her parents died in an unfortunate accident, and no one was to blame.

Konatsu survived the accident, but now she curses she was born a woman, because she’ll never be accepted as Sukeroku’s successor. I hope she’s wrong about that. Both her grief and frustration were strongly felt through the screen; Kobayashi Yuu does stunning work throughout the episode and here in particular.

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After Yotarou stays up too late the previous night listening to Sukeroku (sent to bed by a flattered and concerned Konatsu in a lovely scene between them), Yakumo makes him open one of his own performances with zero notice. The packed crowd only has sporadic polite applause for him, as Yakumo watches him in the dressing room, still not over Yotarou’s apparent obsession with his late rival.

Then Yotarou commits a seemingly unforgivable sin of dozing off just offstage. His snores momentarily interrupt Yakumo’s story, but because he’s a master, he smooths over the disturbance with a little bit of improv. Still, when the performance is over, he formally expels Yotarou, calls a rickshaw in the thick snow, and heads home without him.

The rickshaw is a great touch, as Yakumo is imperiousness incarnate with his wheeled throne and arrogant pipe as Yotarou prostrates himself in the snow to deaf ears. The Winter snow is also an easy way to up the stakes for Yotarou, who will literally be out in the cold if the expulsion sticks.

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I honestly felt really bad for Yotarou, despite pretty heinous screw-up. But the fact his expulsion is as much about Sukeroku as it is the snoring is not lost on me. It’s Konatsu who takes pity on a freezing Yotarou loitering outside her house, and gets him an audience with Yakumo once the latter had time to cool down.

While Yotarou and Konatsu probably won’t ever be a couple per se, their many interactions this week built a solid a foundation for a close relationship hovering somewhere between friends and adoptive siblings.

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After having time to think about it, Yakumo takes a more pragmatic approach to Yotarou, realizing that the rakugo flame will go out when he dies if he discards young people who wish to carry it on. It doesn’t redeem him entirely–he still doesn’t seem open to Konatsu being a rakugoka-but it does paint him as a complex human being, with good and bad parts interspersed in his character.

So he gives Yotarou three conditions for reversing his expulsion and moving forward with his apprenticeship: he must memorize everything Yakumo gives him; he must find and nuture his own rakugo, not merely continue to imitate Sukeroku’s or his own; and most importantly, he must outlive him; which considering Yotarou’s criminal past, isn’t necessarily a given! He also makes Konatsu promise to outlive him.

Yotarou agrees to it all, though he’s not sure at that moment if he’ll be able to follow through, he’s not going to squander his second chance. Then Yakumo tells the two to get ready for a long night, because he intends to tell them the story of a promise he and Sukeroku made. I can’t wait to hear it!

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Prison School – 05

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Rarely has an anime made me feel so goddamn down as when Kiyoshi’s house of cards crumbled. So very much was riding on him performing the mission perfectly, and more to the point, the first nine tenths of the episode, with its sense of optimism, occasion, and essentially adolescent paradise, perfectly set us up to be as devastated as possible when the curtain fell.

But the show was cleverer than simply having Shiraki kicking in the door to find an empty stall. Instead, it played us once more, juxtaposing two scenes without indicating their exact timing with regard to one another. By the time the jig is up and Shiraki kicks in that door, Kiyoshi not only got back, but got back with Gakuto’s prized figurines.

Then Kiyoshi walks outside, and Mari is waiting for him, and she knows everything. Not because she realized he was the girl she stopped at the gate, but because her sister Chiyo texted her and their dad a picture of her with him. Pretty damning evidence, right there! But crucially, Chiyo didn’t send it in scorn or spite; she sent it before she found her uni in Kiyoshi’s bag, back when she was so overjoyed by the experience she was having she couldn’t resist sharing it. She also assumed Kiyoshi got permission from her sister and father.

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Chiyo’s intent, however, doesn’t change the fact that Kiyoshi is in deep shit, and not just with Mari and Chiyo, but with his comrades in stripes. Shingo in particular is extremely hurt and upset Kiyoshi didn’t trust them enough to tell them of his plans; had he done so, they wouldn’t necessarily have stopped him, but things might’ve gone smoother. He’s also extended everyone’s sentence another month, so they have every right to feel mad and betrayed.

As for Kiyoshi, Mari informs him he’ll be expelled, but we later learn behind closed doors she technically lacks the authority to do so and would prefer not to involve other parties. Whatever Kiyoshi’s intentions (and she of course assumes the worst, in part because of how her dad has shaped her opinion of men in general), his predicament is just what Mari needs to further her agenda of making her school all-girls once more.

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Mari can probably tell Kiyoshi feels terrible about what he did (which would indicate he’s not the degenerate she’s make him out to be—of course, that doesn’t serve her needs), and what lies in store for him in the next three years now that rumors of his misdeeds are already being spread. She intends to use that fear and despair to induce him to sign a withdrawal form, giving her the legal cover she needs to dispose of him. He’s ready to sign it, too; but he’d regret one thing from doing so: never having the opportunity to clear up the misunderstanding with Chiyo over her uni.

It would seem fortune wasn’t done smiling on Kiyoshi, and his inherent kindness and goodness thus far comes in to play as much a role in his fate as his badness. Chiyo, you see, is mostly upset that she stormed off without hearing an explanation, delivering a verdict with the barests of cases. Sure, her uniform in his bag looks bad, but she feels he deserves the chance to explain himself nonetheless.

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That fierce sense of decency and empathy leads her to storm into the office where Mari has Kiyoshi in her clutches, having heard rumors of him being expelled for what he did. She won’t stand for that, as she played a considerable role in getting him in the mess he’s in. Mari wants this situation to be seen as her looking out for her poor, naive, victimized sister, but Chiyo is a lot less messed up than Mari. She has a clear head and knows exactly what she’s saying and doing.

When Kiyoshi is about to fall for Mari’s bluff, Chiyo descends like an angel from on high, to call that bluff: if she makes Kiyoshi leave, she’s leaving too. Kiyoshi tells her—honestly—that he just grabbed her uniform from among hundreds by chance, and she believes him. And she doesn’t seem naive in doing so. Instead, she only ends up putting Mari in a tighter and tighter corner (even bringing up Kiyoshi’s affinity for Mari’s beloved crows), until she has to basically concede this battle.

But the reason I’ve come to love Chiyo so much—and why Kiyoshi probably only loves her more after all this—is not because she pressed his head to her chest, but because she showed us what she was made of. She’s not just some shallow pristine angel to be placed on a pedestal; she’s a fully fleshed-out individual with all manner of motivations and desires, ideals, and an iron will. She is Kiyoshi’s rock and his salvation. Now he must strive to be worthy of her.

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Mari may have lost this round, but she intends to wage a full-scale war on Kiyoshi and the other four boys, officially forming the “DTO”, or Boy’s Expulsion Operation. Shiraki, so strong and dominant towards the boys, cowers and sweats profusely in her president’s presence, and will do whatever she commands in service of this operation. I wouldn’t be surprised if they bend or break all the rules that are necessary; the ends will justify the means.

As for Kiyoshi, he managed to remain enrolled at school thanks almost entirely to Chiyo, but he immediately starts to see the effects of the means he employed to reach the ends (his sumo date). They seemed so innocent and logical and perfect at the time, but failure wouldn’t just mean more jail time or possible estrangement from Chiyo.

It also fundamentally damaged his relationship with Shingo, Joe, and Andre—but mostly Shingo, who forces the others to ostracize Kiyoshi. These wounds won’t be easily healed, if ever, but regardless Kiyoshi intends to bear the consequences of what he did.

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And that brings us, impeccably logically, to the Return of Hana. I said when they last parted that she wouldn’t be above pissing on him as payment for him pissing on her, and here we see her present that very idea to Kiyoshi in the bathroom, where she all but orders him to prove he doesn’t find her “dirty” by allowing her to do this at some point in the near future.

This could mean several things, or a combination of them, and more: Her sense of justice and equatability may be so rigid and literal, that this is the only way to settle the score. She could be a Mari plant, working towards inducing him to slip up again, in a way that will get him yet another month in jail and only one more infraction away from official expulsion.

Or perhaps Hana simply liked how things went down and wants to reciprocate, furthering her dominance of Kiyoshi (similar to Nakamura’s relationship with Kasuga in Aku no Hana). Last week everything seemed to be over for Kiyoshi. But everything—from his struggles in prison to his enduring relationship with Chiyo to Mari’s war agains the boys—is only just beginning.

With every episode of Prison School I watch, I feel dumber for not giving it a look when it was airing. The title scared me away, of all things! But it’s far more than its title, and it’s far more than silly ecchi comedy (though there is plenty of that); it’s a rich and dynamic exploration of the complexities of morality and adolescence. The two most compelling, relatable characters in Kiyoshi and Chiyo are also the most balanced on both fronts.

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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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Shokugeki no Souma – 11

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Shinomiya concedes that shokugekis of the type Souma proposes aren’t unprecidented, but like any other shokugeki, they requite the consent of both parties; consent he’s not willing to provide. That would be that, but Doujima Gin, who is running this show and its venue, and Inui decide otherwise.

Gin authorizes an unofficial or “street” shokugeki in the basement kitchen of the resort annex. If Souma and Megumi wins, they’re both still in Totsuki. If they lose, they’re both expelled.

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Not suprisingly, Megumi feels responsible for putting Souma in this predicament, but he won’t have her blaming herself for a choice he made. He says he made it because it’s not time for her to drop out yet, but the unspoken reason is, of course, she’s a dear friend who he couldn’t stand by and watch get unfairly washed out. They’re in this together now, because that’s what he wanted.

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When the contestants, Gin, and four other alumai judges assemble in the basement kitchen, Gin sets the rules: two hours, veggies leftover from the day’s training sessions, and most importantly, Megumi is the head chef who will be going up against Shinomiya. Souma will be a sous chef, nothing more, who must follow Megumi’s vision without alteration.

The reason for this is both plain and very welcome: if Souma is in charge and wins the shokugeki for Megumi, she’ll remain a tagalong, and continue to need to be saved by him. By putting her in the chef’s seat, Gin is hoping this shokugeki is the crucible through which they’ll finally see what Megumi’s made of, and whether Souma is justified in believing it’s worth un-expelling her.

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I loved the playful banter and horseplay between Gin, Shino, and the judges; all of whom are old classmates, if not friends who’ve known each other a long time. They also keep each other in check, the same way Aldini’s more reasonable brother kept him in check as his character was built, so not even Shino can become a full-blown villain.

Of course, the fact she’s going up against a seasoned, up-and-coming French chef-owner straight up freezes Megumi, until Souma slaps her hands together with his, a trick that always stops his hands from shaking, but require two people to do it. The message is clear: he’s here for her, only this time he’s behind her rather than the other way around.

She needn’t be concerned about her opponent or what he’s making, all she can do is put everything she has into her dish, using the skills she’s honed since she used to watch her mom cook as a young girl. Watching her stride proudly into battle with Souma as her trusty sidekick was a great image.

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Also a great image? DAT CHOU FARCI. Honestly, I’ve had cabbage rolls before, some delicious, some gross, but never anything like Chef Shino prepares. The judges put on a clinic in gastronomic know-how in analyzing his dish, and the animators do a great job whetting my own appetite by showing us the intricate step-by-step of its preparation.

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The foodgasm fantasy of the week is the four judges playing off of the fact it tastes like Shino put a spell on his dish, turning them into a magical girl team, complete with Gin in drag. I’ll admit, I’d probably watch a couple episodes of that show!

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Alas, this battle is not settled this week; in fact, we only catch a passing glimpse of the fruits of Chef Tadokoro’s labors, though we saw that she and Souma are like a well-oiled machine, with him supporting her in everything without making his own tasks suffer or taking over. You can literally see Megumi’s confidence surge as they cook, but she gets nervous again when it’s time to present.

Again, Souma gives her the push she needs to approach the alumni with her dish: an elaborate and delectable-looking terrine, this time not limited by Shino’s recette. We won’t know how they feel about it until next week, but we do know one thing: Shino held back, believing he could beat Megumi without breaking out his signature dish (or food bankai, if you will.) While Gin doesn’t think it likely Shino will lose, he does wonder if Shino’s arrogance is his Achilles Heel.

My take? It probably is. If Megumi really put everything she is and has into that terrine, while Shino just kinda half-assed things (at least by his standards), I believe the judges will be able to taste the difference.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 10

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Somewhat predictably based on how we’ve seen her act around Souma before, Erina is not particularly prepared to bump into Souma in the hallway after taking her bath. To whit: she denies she was humming the ED (she was, like Souma) and claims she’s not interested in playing cards later (which she is, as Hisako procured cards from the front desk). Still, it was nice to see a slightly more vulnerable side of her, even if she tried her darnedest to keep up a hostile front.

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Souma, who is perfectly comfortable expressing his happiness at being through the day’s trials, maintains his “whatever” attitude, and is surprised to find Doujima Gin already in the bath, stretching and making manly noises. While Gin oozes super-manliness, Souma isn’t intimidated, and the two actually bond, with Gin telling him more about Erina and her “God Tongue.”

Souma, not the sharpest tack with non-cooking-related things, realizes Erina beat him to the baths. He also learns Isshiki was the first back last year. He’s among greatness everywhere he looks, and fulfilling his wish to graduate at the top of his class will be no small feat.

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Thankfully, Souma’s whole dorm of first-years are able to survive the first day, and while many of them are all gung-ho about enjoying their fancy digs and playing through the night, those same people fall asleep quickly. Megumi doesn’t, though: fighting alongside Souma and rising to the occasion both with the first challenge and with dinner, she’s so full of confidence, she’s wide awake even though she’s exhausted.

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So naturally, the second day consists of a challenge that immediately puts that newfound confidence to the test by taking away her security blanket (Souma) in an every-person-for-themselves battle to prepare the best nine vegetable terrine for one Shinomiya Koujirou, who washed out 30 students in the first day.

Megumi initially freezes up at the sight of the bedlam before her, but clenches her fists and joins the fray, grabbing all the vegetables she needs…save one: the only cauliflower left when she gets to them are discolored due to oxidation. And in a dish where looks are as important as flavor, discolored cauli will sink her.

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I liked how Shinomiya gave Souma’s dish one bite, pondered it, and said “Pass.” No foodgasm, no elaborate fantasy; this guy is all business, and you don’t get any extra fanfare or praise for doing your job. Even Souma seems surprised by the lack of reaction.

But this isn’t Souma’s show this week; it’s Megumi’s. The A-part ended with a portentious scene of Megumi’s dish failing and Shinomiya expelling her, and that’s exactly what happens here. Yet even though we were fairly warned it would happen, when he brings the hammer down my heart sinks right along with Megumi’s.

The kicker: Shinomiya, while a dick, has a pretty ironclad reason for washing her out: she changed the chef’s recipe without his leave. Sure, the resulting dish was a success, but the point of the exercise was to show whether one was quick and tough enough to secure the freshest ingredients the fastest, and in this Megumi failed.

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But again, Shinomiya IS a dick, because there was no reason to include unfresh vegetables other than to increase the number of students who failed. Had she gotten a good cauli, she would have surely passed. Basically, Shinomiya’s logic is flawed, because in a restaurant situation, with a hungry customer waiting for a terrine, you’d probably do what Megumi did…though not necessarily in haute cuisine

At the end of the day, I’m siding with Megumi because I like her and don’t want her to go away, even if it’s unrealistic to expect everyone Souma knows to make it past the training camp, let alone graduate. It’s a bullshit reason to expel someone, and I’m glad Souma is standing up for her, even though the last thing she wants is for someone else to get expelled on her behalf—by challenging Shinomiya to a shokugeki. 

Shinomiya is by far the toughest foe he’s ever gone up against, so it should be a hell of a fight.

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