Koufuku Graffiti – 05

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I’ve been intentionally conservative with rating KG’s episodes thus far because, at the end of the day, while the artistry is clear and present and the presentation of food is deliciously creative, the story is as ultra-lightweight and fluffy as a marshmallow. But this show will still make you think a little more about what you’re eating, why you’re eating it, who you’re eating it with, and how it really makes you feel. It will also, obviously, make you hungry.

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I decided to be a little more generous this week because, of all weeks, this KG brought the house; compressing an entire notebook of Summer vacation activities (much of it involving eating) into one gorgeous episode. It’s all achieved thanks to Shiina, who finally invites her new friends to her house.

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“House” doesn’t quite do it justice; it’s more like a sprawling estate that looks like the countryside even though they’re still within the Tokyo Metropolis. It reminds me of Kabaru Suruga’s place, though like Suruga, Shiina isn’t the least bit stuffy, stuck-up, or spoiled as her luxurious quality of life would suggest.

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In this gorgeous, ornate new setting the painters and director can really let their hair down, and they don’t disappoint with Shiina’s digs. It’s also the kind of place where Kirin can start to cross off various items from her Summer Activity checklist, even if some are merely technically being fulfilled (animal traps for a zoo, etc.)

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The episode also fakes us out by first having Kirin meet Shiina’s quiet, kimono’d mom in her garden (who is actually the house maid, Tsuyuko), then showing us that her real mom is like a hyperactive version of Shiina, and just as warm and generous, dispensing ungodly amounts of sweets, and even inviting the girls to partake of flowing somen noodles, a whole big production that requires cutting down bamboo to make the track, before any cooking commences.

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Ryou and Kirin get a little overzealous with the manual labor, but once they’re in the kitchen they’re back in their element, and Ryou helpfully goes over all the sauces and condiments that go with somen, including an orthodoz kombu-and-katsuobushi dashi, which I have made from scratch only a couple times but is far superior to the powdered stuff. I also accidentally leave green onions connected on occasion, as Tsuyuko did.

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Yeah, that’s not how flowing somen works…

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Shiina’s mom gets a nice little meta moment when she expresses relief her daughter isn’t the only one who acts like this when she eats, what with the saturated color, slow-motion and eye-sparkling. As Kirin says in the cold open, eating is a serious duel between the eater and the eaten. In enjoying their noodles so thoroughly (and explaining in detail why), they do their food the attention and justice it deserves.

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While Shiina is inside, her mother thanks Ryou and Kirin for continuing to be her friend, as she was also worried her daughter didn’t have any. Now she notices that Shiina talks a lot more about her day, much of it involving the two of them. The girls react to this by being so overly affectionate to Shiina, she’s a little creeped out, but it’s all cute and charming as hell.

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And thanks to Shiina, Kirin could cross every last item off her checklist (in one way or another), not to mention create priceless memories, which was the purpose of the checklist. An episode that started with three miserable friends stuck in school drawing Summer became three elated, satisfied friends experiencing Summer to its fullest.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 04

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This week’s KG cold open is the strangest yet, with Ryou biting the head off an Onigiri Girl in a toon-shaded dream sequence. It also heralds the beginning of the strangest episode of KG to date, though only really in terms of format.

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Ryou had gotten used to the routine of Kirin coming over on the weekends to eat her food and keep her company. But with classes cancelled for a week, Kirin ditching Ryou for her parents’ reservation to a three-star Chinese restaurant, and Shiina getting sick after getting drenched, Ryou finds herself all alone for the first time since the beginning of the show.

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That was when, if you recall, Ryou wasn’t very good at cooking, because she wasn’t putting any love into it. The scenes of Ryou alone in her house again (and even making a second serving of breakfast for a non-existant person) really do convey her profound loneliness and depression. And even though Kirin said she could text her anytime, she doesn’t respond to any of Ryou’s texts.

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Ryou wisely chooses to get out of that house before she goes mad, and decides to hit the library for some cookbooks. She hadn’t been there since her grandma used to take her, and it’s here where Ryou learns a dark truth: her grandma used to suck at cooking hardcore. It wasn’t until Ryou started staying with her that she checked out cooking for beginners books and honed her craft. She also modified the recipes in the books to cater to Ryou’s tastes, “cooking with love”, as it were.

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Ryou also hits up the corner store by the library where she and her grandma always used to go to indulge on pre-packaged food and drink. (The store has the same shopkeep who looks exactly the same). Overwhelmed by choice, she goes with her standby corner store lunch of onigiri, popcorn chicken, OJ, and a creme puff for desert. Not a bad set, if you ask me.

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As she goes to town, SHAFT-style, she realizes that the very same food she used to enjoy so much as a little kid is food she still enjoys today, only now, with her refined palate, she gains an even deeper appreciation for the tastes and textures. And while she may be eating alone, the mere fact she’s thinking of her loving grandma while enjoying the meal makes it that much tastier.

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The lunch cheers her up, and clears away the rain clouds. Ryou commits herself to becoming a great cook for Kirin the way her grandma became one for her, starting with predicting—correctly—that even though Kirin just had Chinese food, she’ll still want to try Ryou’s gyoza. Especially since the restaurant had tiny portions and Kirin is looking forward to Ryou stuffing her.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 03

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This week’s warm open (calling it ‘cold’ wouldn’t do it justice) is a three-way: with Shiina joining Ryou and Kirin in gastronomic bliss over some particularly delectable-looking omelettes designed to flow over rice just so. I’m already hungry.

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After the credits, it is now April, Ryou is in ninth grade, and her parents have just sent her a 5kg bag of rice and a note telling her to study hard, among other things. Ryou is fired up about both written and practical exams…

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…But when it’s time for the practical, she sees ingredients displayed for the still life motif and she can’t help but draw a dish that encompasses those ingredients, rather than drawing what’s actually there. It’s a pretty bizarre screw-up, but one that was apparently impossible to avoid, what with the way food makes Ryou’s mind work. It’s not enough just to draw them; she has to draw their potential.

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That compulsion gets her third in her class…from the bottom, and generally ruins her day. Not to worry: Kirin springs into action, grabbing the bamboo shoots from class and grabbing Shiina to accompany her to Ryou’s so she can cook them food, and they can eat it and cheer her up.

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The bamboo blanched in water and rice bran then added to rice, looks absolutely outstanding, and the taste and texture are so spot-on, it changes Shiina’s very character design! By the time the meal is over, it’s late, so Ryou invites Shiina to stay over, and the usually possessive Kirin has no objection.

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The next morning, after watching a show they all love in which omelette rice play a large role, Kirin and Shiina run out to grab ingredients so Ryou can make some. And make some she does: omelette rice a half-dozen ways, all of them positively mouth-watering. I for one love using leftover Golden Curry rice to make mine, though I’ve yet to find a ketchup bottle that allows for precision writing.

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Ryou is an old hand at these omelettes. Her holy grail is the soft-cooked one, which is solid on the outside, but when sliced down the middle, runs down the sides of the rice mound and covers the rice. Many failed attempts dozens of eggs, and many grams of cholesterol later, she finally succeeds, leading to the warm-open triple foodgasm up top. Most importantly for Kirin, Ryou is fully cheered up.

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When Ryou takes stock of her rice supply—lowered a surprising amount, but all for a good cause—she notices her parents’ letter doesn’t just tell her to study, but to make good friends, too. She’d already made one in Kirin; now Shiina makes two. Kirin has also warmed to Shiina…though she’s not about to let her and Ryou “cheat” on her by going out for cake without her!

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Koufuku Graffiti – 02

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Two episodes in, and KG is definitely my cup of tea…and my tamagoyaki, and my grilled squid, and my corn on the cob…and my Russian Roulette sandwiches. This week is bursting with gorgeous sights, smells, and tastes, but while last week Ryou learned that her food tastes infinitely better when she shares it with someone, this week the food is a medium for Ryou and Kirin to learn more about each other and grow closer as both family and friends.

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Like last week, the joy is all in the delectable culinary details. Ryou carefully, lovingly prepares lunches for the sakura festival (damn, I wish it was Spring already), and Kirin contributes her own bento: one that at first seems to be a pure white void, but then the seams of delicious-looking sandwiches become visible. The fact that Kirin’s mom helped her shows that the two have made up, in part thanks to Ryou’s hot pot recipe.

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Food doesn’t just taste better depending on the company you keep, but the environs. And what better place to eat than in a city park exploding with cherry blossoms?

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Kirin meets Ryou’s Aunt Akira for the first time, and while she’s initially shy, Akira’s wild, laid-back, but friendly demeanor puts her at ease. However, Ryou is a bit cross that Akira brought plenty of Asahi Super Dry for herself, but contributed no food. Akira makes up for it by presenting the girls with cash and sending them out into the fair.

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It turns out to be the first real fair Kirin’s ever been too, and thus encounters several different and wonderful fair treats for the first time. Ryou tells Kirin she used to look forward to Spring like no other because she got to enjoy a picnic with her mom, dad, grandma, and Akira. Now only Akira is here…and Kirin.  It may not be exactly the same, but it’s still good.

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We formally meet Ryou and Kirin’s fellow cram schooler Shiina (Komatsu Mikako), who has come to the festival with very clear goals in mind: “sketch it all (including drunk salarymen) and eat it all”. Her encounter is marked by a classic slo-mo Shaft Head-Tilt™, followed by an impatient Akira doing the same thing in short succession.

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Kirin, exhibiting a child’s weariness to strangers to match her small stature, seems to see Shiina as a rival for Ryou’s affection, but more than anything she’s envious that Shiina knows a side of Ryou (the super-focused side she shows in class) she doesn’t. Shiina apologizes for assuming she’s a grade-schooler with a candy apple—a somewhat juvenile food—but the thought is what counts, and though she may not know it yet, Kirin has made another friend just like that.

Back at the picnic blanket, Akira jumped the gun and paid dearly, having gotten the sandwich with gobs of hot mustard; Kirin’s mom’s contribution to the meal.

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Ryou and Kirin return, and a three-way FOODGASM ensues, complete with very specific food sound effects, extreme close-ups, and precise yet flowery descriptions of the mouth-watering food being scarfed down. I wanted to jump into the TV and scoop of a dollop of that cold, crisp potato salad, or crunch into that perfectly-charred corn.

At this point I feel I point out I make a clear distinction between highly enthusiastic consumption of food and any potential sexual acts either the act of eating or description of the food might conjure. KG dances on the edge with these fetishy sequences, but never crosses the line into ‘ew, gross’ territory, IMO. Don’t be like George Costanza: There is sex, and there is food. This is food.

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When the two set up another blanket under the blooming cherry tree outside Ryou’s place so Kirin can sketch, Ryou surprises her with the steamy, sweet and fluffy tamagoyaki we saw her enjoying in the cold open, it’s obvious that food is far more than just sustenance for the body. It’s also the mortar used to build the friendship blooming between two sweet, formerly lonely souls in Ryou and Kirin.

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P.S.: I’m really digging the Alice in Wonderland-themed OP, with Ryou as the White Rabbit and Kirin as Alice following her down the culinary rabbit hole. The stirring opening theme, “The 5 Ways I Know to Become Happy”, is structurally and thematically similar to “No Need for Promises”, the theme of Escaflowne (one of my favorites). As it happens, both are passionately performed by Sakamoto Maaya, more than eighteen years apart.