Arte – 09 – The Tiny Gourmet

Katarina proves to be a handful to Arte, who is still disoriented by Venice, where not only do people dress differently but the very air she breathes smells different. While Arte received a crash course in Venetian etiquette from Yuri, to her shock Katarina is actually exemplary at etiquette; she simply chooses not to demonstrate it in public—or to her parents—because it’s “such a pain” and she’d rather spend her time napping.

Arte’s new servant friend Daphne tells her all the other tutors quit because of Katarina’s lousy attitude. Yuri admitted to Arte that painters are “a dime a dozen” in Venice, so she must assume he hired her more for her potential as a tutor to Katarina. But what does she, Arte, bring to the table that’s new?

Arte finds herself thinking and worrying so much about her fitness as a tutor that she gets pains in her stomach. But when Daphne takes her to a church so she can see and sketch the wonderful works housed therein, she’s approached by a couple men who praise her work then mock Florence for stooping to letting girls be artisans.

Much to Daphne’s shock, Arte not only takes their mocking in stride, but laughs about it. Those misogynist pricks showed her that not everything in Venice is different, and she’s not any different than the young woman who overcame overwhelming odds in Florence. She just needs to do her best here, like she’s always done. Doubt and anxiety won’t serve her.

The next day, Arte dithes the local garb and dons her workshop frock, which itself surprises Katarina. But part of Arte’s new wardrobe also meant removing the kid gloves: when Katarina tries to nod off, Arte plucks her out of bed and parks her in a chair, and in that chair she stays until she explains why she won’t practice the etiquette she knows in public.

She refuses, but Arte isn’t about to be discouraged now that she’s regained her confidence. She’s dealt with greater challenges in the past, and in a battle of wills between Arte and Katarina, I simply can’t bet against Arte.

That night, Arte makes a crude dress for Katarina to play in, and destroys a barrel so that they can go hoop rolling together, something at which Katarina is already an old hand. While this shows the girl that Arte can let loose and have fun, she can still smell her ulterior motive, and so her lips remain tight despite having had a genuinely good time.

Katarina’s mother Sofia tells Arte how her husband never wanted a daughter, and how all of her upbringing was to ensure she wouldn’t embarrass the family prior to being married off. Sofia believes that’s the reason Katarina hasn’t opened her heart to anyone in the house.

That night Arte visits Katarina’s room, having seen her light on late at night, and discovers her deep, dark secret, hinted at before: Katarina has a passion for cooking, deemed a job for lowly servants. Arte tries to reach out, but Katarina assumes she’ll rat her out, and demands that she leave at once.

The next day we see that Katarina has opened her heart to someone; namely her uncle Yuri, who unlike her father doesn’t see her as a burden to be married off, but a treasure whose passions should be nurtured. You can tell how close they are by the fact they’re cooking together without a care in the world…only Katarina is certain this will be the last time they do so.

Alas, when she returns home and her parents don’t broach the sore subject, it’s clear Arte didn’t snitch. Arte assures her she didn’t come to take what she likes away from her. Hell, she can relate to how Katarina feels, since her own mother burned her drawings.

Now that Katarina knows Arte is Good People, she’s willing to open her heart a bit when Arte joins her for dinner, when we’ll surely learn more about her “complicated past.” Until then, Arte’s basic decency, kindness, empathy, and determination—not to mention brute strength—contributed to coax Katarina into lowering her defenses. I came away from this episode liking both of them more!

Hanebado! – 07 – The Power and Price of Hard Work

The best and most thrilling episode of Hanebado! yet, in which Ayano and Kaoruko have their fated rematch, comes with a surprise: Ayano’s mom is nowhere to be seen; none of Ayano’s teammates mention her again; and there’s no indication she watched the Kaoruko rematch. Where’d she go? We never find out. But she’s there, and she’ll surely be back.

Her total absence reflects the new attitude towards her mother Ayano wishes to adopt: that she doesn’t have a mother, or at least not one whose opinions matter to her anymore. Ayano looks initially rattled by Kaoruko’s gift of a hankie for the tears/snot when she loses, but her pained look morphs into a wry girn.

Ayano isn’t scared of Kaoruko anymore; at least not on the surface. Her inner thoughts/feelings are off limits to Ayano’s teammates, Kaoruko, and we the audience, but it could well be she’s just as calm, cool, and committed to obliterating her opponent inside as out.

Yu loses her match, making Ayano, Nagisa and Sora the only three players left standing in the prelims. But frankly I just wasn’t that interested in the little subplots of the other characters. This was about a suddenly supremely confident Ayano and a Kaoruko humming with arrogance: an Unstoppable Force vs. an Unmovable Object.

Despite the distractions, the match lives up to the hype and then some. It’s the most high stakes match we’ve been able to watch, and the animation team pulls out all the stops, utilizing all manner of angles, zooms, pans, sweeps, etc. as well as a 3-D “floating camera” that soars from one end of the court to t’other. It really got the adrenaline pumping.

But even more important: for once, Ayano, supposedly one of the most talented players in the show, isn’t embarrassed or overwhelmed, physically or psychologically. She is in complete command of the match, and demonstrates virtual telepathy when it comes to diagnosing Kaoruko’s game plan and sabotaging it at every turn with unexpected counters.

This is where Kaoruko’s tireless hard work, ultra-granular attention to detail, and the ruthless drive to defeat Ayano at all costs actually work against her. She prepared so intricately carefully for an opponent based on what she thought she knew of them up and down, leaving no time to consider how Ayano’s skills would have improved or evolved parallel to her own.

Ayano is no stranger to hard work either, after all. She employs it here, and her grit on the court is reinforced by her conscious effort to block all of those negative and unpleasant thoughts that plagued her for so long. Free of the need for validation from her mother, she’s a player possessed.

She’s also in rare form on the trash talking front. Kaoruko talked a big game, but Ayano’s retorts are strategically toned and timed for maximum damage. Long story short: Ayano is all that’s in Kaoruko’s head. Winning is al that’s in Ayano’s head.

The final 21-16, 21-17 score in Ayano’s favor doesn’t do justice to the level of dominance she displayed against Kaoruko in 90% of the match. The defeat is devastating, and not just because she gave her entire team the middle finger prior to the match, so confident was she that she’d “mop the floor” with Ayano.

Ayano broke a fantasy that Kaoruko kept playing in her head as she worked so hard: that she could beat the first player her own age to beat her, without cheating by giving her a cold. She thought she was psychologically stronger. Her only loyal, sympathetic teammate helps her stretch post-match, both of them cry, for Ayano crushed those fantasies, then offered Kaoruko her hankie back.

Ayano, for her part, calls Kaoruko’s effort “pathetic”, which rubs Elena the wrong way. Ayano’s cold response is simply that on that court, winning is the only thing that matters (Sorry, Riko, Yu and Sora!). Another way to say that is that if you don’t win, then nothing matters. So yeah, Ayano may be playing her best badminton, but she’s gone to a dark, lonely place to do it.

Next up is Nagisa vs. Nozomi, but you know what? However it turns out, I can’t see how it won’t feel like a bit of a letdown after Ayano vs. Kaoruko. Both players are lower down on the character significance list. What could mitigate that is if we finally get the Ayano-Ayano’s mom reunion we’ve been waiting for all season. Who knows, maybe she did watch the match; the episode just never cut to her…