Hanebado! – 02 – Smashing a Slump

The epic clash between Nagisa and Ayano…doesn’t go well, mostly due to the massive differential in both talent and motivation. Ayano just doesn’t care, so when Nagisa gets too into it, she just gives up, which of course makes Nagisa even more angry.

Ayano still stays in the club—ostensibly because Elena elects to become the manager, and she and Ayano can never be apart…I guess?—but Nagisa is caught in a bad slump, and feels she can’t get out of it unless she beats Ayano in a match in which both players are invested…easier said than done.

The three quitters also converse with another first-year, Yuu, who has a ritual of eating a hot dog on a stick after every workout. They can tell things are no less tense at practices than before they quit.

When paired up for doubles, Nagisa and Ayano crash into each other, but you get the feeling the collisions are all Nagisa’s fault, because she’s thinking about coming out of her slump and proving something far more than she’s thinking about the team. Coach Tachibana switches her out for Riko, who ducks to let Ayano return the shot.

Nagisa sees this as nothing but making Tachibana’s “favorite” look good, which she says is all everyone thinks people without talent are good for: making the talented look better. Nagisa’s huge chip on her shoulder is long-standing; she’s always been tall for her age, and despite working harder than almost everyone, that height was seen as a natural (and unfair) advantage.

When the quitters see Nagisa yelling at Yuu out of frustration, one of them confronts her, saying she used to envy her love of badminton. Left unsaid is the fact she probably pities her now.

Having watched enough of Nagisa’s play (and attitude) to diagnose the cause of her slump, Tachibana engages in a bit of tough love by having a match with her. Before he blew out his knee he was an Olympics-bound player, and it shows: he straight-up schools the slumping Nagisa.

But then, he says all the things she needed to hear: the misconceptions people have for tall people like her; the acknowledgement she’s good because of hard work, not her height; and perhaps most important, that she can’t just rely on being tall to deliver jumping smashes at this stage in her career, but have more trust in her shot and be less obsessed with controlling everything.

It’s a pep talk with immediate positive effects, and by the end of their match, Nagisa has scored a point against a would-be Olympian, and a smile returns to her face. She later apologizes to the team, promises she’ll be less selfish going forward, but also vows to one day beat Ayano. I’m just glad she’s out of her funk!

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Hanebado! – 01 (First Impressions) – Everything is Pointless

Hanebado! opens fast and crisp, in the midst of a match in the badminton nationals. One player is struggling as hard as she can and sweating bullets; the other is just calmly, coolly blowing her opponent away with a 21-o game.

The scene features some really decent sports animation, elevating the action to a kind of heightened reality with viewing angles, cuts, and shifts in speed. But as exciting as the match looks, neither player is happy at the end; neither the victor nor the defeated.

Cut to six months later, the victor (Hanesaki Ayano) along with her longtime friend (Fujisawa Elena) are first years at the same school as third-year player she defeated (Aragaki Nagisa), who is so upset over the loss she’s taking it out on the other players in the club, forcing several to quit rather than endure more abuse.

Ayano wants nothing to do with badminton, but while exchanging easy volleys with Elena on a tennis court, an errant bounce of a serve by the boy’s tennis club’s first-year ace Saionji nearly hits Elena in the face, but Ayano lunges in front of her and smashes it away, gaining a point in a game she wasn’t even playing.

A coach grabs Ayano and inspects her wrists and hands, forcing Elena to defend her. Meanwhile Nagisa (whom Ayano beat) wanders off, regretting how harsh she was with the now-departed players. She’s comforted by her friend Riko, who remains with the team and is likely the only person Nagisa is comfortable crying around.

So the main players in Hanebado! are a girl possessed with phenomenal natural talent who has no motivation to actually play, and a girl who is basically the opposite, with a good metric fuckton of angst between them. A classic talent-vs.-hard work dynamic, which results in a very shounen manga-style challenge at the end: If Ayano beats Nagisa, she won’t have to join.

That means in this rematch, Nagisa will have to find some way to turn the tables. Perhaps in the last six months she’s narrowed the gap between them? I’m a couple weeks behind in this show because I was trying to avoid watching a sports anime, but there’s no way I’m backing out of this before I watch the result, which will no doubt feature more of that sweet sweet shuttlecock action!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 24 – Environmental Factors

Not surprisingly, Kinokuni Nene’s dish is a sublime expression of the Edo-style soba tradition coursing through her veins. Creating a dish composed of two distinct light delicate flavors is no mean feat, but Nene pulls it off effortlessly, almost automatically. As if we didn’t know already, Souma is facing an uphill battle.

Souma also has to worry about the judges getting too stuffed on Nene’s soba. The noodles and sakura shrimp tempura disappear so easily from their plates, they seem to create an infinite time loop. Nene may have an inferiority complex when it comes to Satoshi, but he never failed to bear witness to the immense amount of hard work and dedication Nene put into everything she did—not just cooking—while other kids her age played around.

Her “environmental factors”, i.e. her strict upbringing that demanded results and perfection, are why she’s in the Elite Ten, and why she thoroughly impressed three Priests of The Book. But Souma also has something he’s “sunk a lot of time into”, and he calls it “Yukihira-style Seared Soba”. And at first glance it looks…kinda tragic? Especially compared to the austere work of art that was Nene’s dish.

Of course, if an ugly dish tastes better than the good-looking one (not to mention beats it in exciting every other sense), it’s easy to overlook it’s…looks. While Nene used the purest form of buckwheat flower (ichibanko, which only uses the endosperm), Souma used sanbanko, a flour made up of parts very near the outer shell of the grain.

Sanbanko trades ideal mouthfeel for increased aromas, but in his quest to replicate the genre of instant noodles to gourmet stature, he leaned into that coarseness by crisping the noodles via stir-frying. Ichibanko’s delicate flavor would have been ruined, but the sanbanko noodles hold up.

Other bold touches include the generous use of duck, as well as a variety of seasoning spices to diversify the judges’ experience. While Nene’s soba let them travel through time to eat it over and over again, Souma’s seems to transport the judges back to an ideal moment in their lives: enjoying their friends’ company at a summer festival as fireworks blaze in the sky.

Nene is ultimately correct that she utilized all of her amassed knowledge and experience to create the very best Edo-style soba she could for the judges. BUT, it wasn’t the best dish FOR THE VENUE. The environment that matters most is the one in which the shokugeki is taking place, which grew colder and colder as the storm worsened outside.

As a result, the delicate aromas of her dish suffered, while Souma’s held up. Nene herself confirms this when she tastes her noodles and then Souma’s. Her soba is best enjoyed in a much more controlled environment. I believe this is the first instance in Food Wars anime of the ambient temperature of the shokugeki hall playing a factor in the judges’ decision. And I loved Alice conferring with Akira on the science of how Souma beat Nene.

One more environment that favored Souma is his upbringing in a busy diner. From a young age, he learned how to keep track of a lot of different things and dishes at once, because diners are places where the food is slung fast, eaten fast, and the customers turn over fast. Compare that to Nene’s restaurant, whose sophisticated clientele are willing to wait for the best possible meal.

Souma’s extra stamina and the speed with which he experiments and crafts new flavors and methods with which to defeat his opponents, is second to none (I’d wager Subaru is close, owing to his dedication to stalking and copying his targets). And it pays off here.

Megashima soundly defeats Kaburagi off-camera, proving even a former third-seat is still a formidable challenger; which gives the rebels a clean 3-0 sweep in the first bout of the Team Shokugeki. It’s a major setback for Azami, who only shows his frustration in the shadows.

However, that’s all for this second cour of Shokugeki no Souma 3; we won’t learn who wins (or more likely, how the rebels ultimately defeat Azami) until the third cour. Whenever that comes, I be waiting with an empty stomach.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 23 – The Natural

I was a little out of the loop regarding Isshiki’s pedigree, but that’s cleared up early this week: the Isshiki family has been, along with the Kinokuni family to which Nene belongs, one of the two pillars of Japanese cuisine in Kyoto. Not only that, when he turned four, Isshiki moved in with the Kinokunis to train away from home.

As such, he and Nene have known each other since they were little kids…though Nene resists the assertion that they’re “childhood friends.” When Satoshi asks why she’s always so opposed to his existence, she says “you know why.”

The judges are also introduced as belonging to the revered book of restaurant ratings known as the WGO Guide, led by their marshal Anne. The WGO is akin to the real-life Michelin Guide, giving one to three stars to gourmet restaurants which propels them to the apex of the culinary world. They’re kingmakers and kingbreakers.

Taking stars away can lead to a restaurant’s ruin, as well as the end of that chef’s confidence. Anne notes quite blatantly that Yukihira Diner isn’t even in “The Book”, but makes it clear that this fact has nothing to do with the Shokugeki at hand, and that she and her two colleagues will judge the dishes put before them with fairness and impartiality.

Shiratsu Jurio presents his dish: the quintessentially Italian capitone in umido. With a rich San Marzano tomato sauce and crispy-creamy polenta perfectly complementing the fatty umami of the eel, the judges feel like they’re being cradled in a large bosom of flavor. It’s a masterpiece of by-the-book Italian cooking, and a testament to Jurio’s tireless hard work trying to reach Isshiki’s level.

Isshiki’s dish is not traditional Japanese or anything else, except in its very basic structure, that of Hitsumabushi. However, this is “Polar Star Style”, which integrates a number of ingredients developed (and in some cases not yet perfected) by his beloved Polar Star juniors, which he admits he just flat-out stole from them in order to showcase their skill in their individual specializations.

It really is the best dish someone fighting for the rebellion could present: one that doesn’t just show the judges what a good chef he is, but the potential of chefs below him, as well as his own judgment and confidence in their skills, even if they don’t have the same confidence in themselves.

Satoshi wins the match with Jurio running away, but after curt congratulations, Nene tells him she’ll defeat him in the second bout. She sees this as yet another example of Satoshi, whom she’s known longer than anyone else present, excelling at things with minimal effort, as he did with everything she threw at him when they were kids.

Things that took her endless effort came frustratingly easily to Satoshi, but what has always angered her more than anything is that is was so clearly she felt he wasn’t putting in 100% of his effort. If he did, he’d surely have been above her in the Elite Ten rankings. Really, she’s not disputing his greatness, but lamenting that he isn’t as great as he could be if he, say, worked as hard as she has.

That distinction in her long-standing grievance with him makes all the difference; this isn’t petty jealousy, but disappointment. However, Satoshi tells her they won’t be facing off in the second bout, because Souma is going to defeat her. With one episode until the 24-ep mark, we’re potentially looking at tresults of the remaining two matches in this first bout.

Will Souma beat Nene with his “instant soba”, or will Nene crush his “desperate improvisation” with her Elite soba knowhow? Can Megishima make it a clean rebel sweep by defeating Kaburagi? Or will one of the remaining two rebels fall to Central, making the other win the clincher? We shall see.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 13 (Fin) – Ten Thousand Times More Beautiful

With no more conflicts or catharses left to have, the girls enjoy their final days in Antarctica. They’ve settled into such a routine and gotten so used to the astonishing environment, one adult jokes they won’t be able to reintegrate into society, presenting Shirase and the other Mahjong junkies as evidence.

Their final journey to the frozen sea affords them the opportunity to taste snowcones made from ice with thousand-year-old air pockets, which Mari attests to be delicious. They also learn that much of the winter team’s activities will include sleeping, drinking, and games to pass the time.

Shirase finally gets her wish to be surrounded by adorable penguins, but she’s locked in a cycle of being disgusted by the smell and delighted by being in their presence while asking for some unspecified form of help. I imagine many of us would feel the same way.

Mari is getting cold feet about leaving, and wonders out loud to the others why they can’t just stay. Hinata flicks her forehead and doles out reality; they have to get back to their homes, their families, and their school. But all four promise that they’ll come back together someday.

They then present their final request to the rest of the team: that they play a game of snow softball. Captain Toudou is, naturally, the ace, but just like Takako, Shirase is not only able to hit her pitch, but drive it out of the “park.”

On the eve of departing, Shirase decides to have her hair cut short—her heart wasn’t broken by a guy, but such a change makes sense after her catharsis with the laptop (she also wisely chooses Hinata to cut it, not Mari). The whole team musters for the girls’ farewell ceremony, and after a heartfelt speech by Gin that starts everyone crying, Shirase confidently delivers and even more heartfelt, tear-jerking speech.

In it, she expresses the understanding she reached in this place beyond the universe, and why both her mother and her love it so much: It’s a place that strips everything bare, with nothing to protect you and nowhere to hide. It’s a place where someone can come face-to-face with who they really are…and she did that.

Before embarking for home, Shirase hands Gin her mom’s laptop, stating she no longer needs it. Later, Gin discovers there’s still a message from Takako in the outbox; the last she ever composed. The quartet waves goodbye to their Antarctic summer home where they experienced and learned so much about the world, each other, and themselves.

Yuzu wonders if maybe they all got a little stronger during the journey. A ‘little’? I think she sells herself and the others short here. They were the first high school-age students to explore Antarctica, and they made it. Now, all of a sudden, they’re headed back to the normal world. Even if and when they come back, it will never be the same as their first time.

When night falls, Mari finally gets to experience the one thing they couldn’t due to the laughably short Antarctic nights: view the aurora. Just when they do, Gin sends the last email Takako wrote to Shirase, stating how the real thing is “ten thousand times more beautiful”—something of which, in that moment, Shirase and the others are all to aware.

The four friends, having forged their bonds in the coldest and harshest crucible on the planet, go their separate ways with confidence and return to their lives that were with a serious sense of accomplishment, self-awareness, and maturity.

They discovered as much about themselves in Antarctica as they discovered about the place itself, like how there are no “nothing” days but there’s still more to discover upon returning, like the smell of one’s house.

And in a perfect capper to a marvelous series, Mari texts Megumi that she’s home, and gets a near-immediate response, along with a photo of her posing with the aurora: “Too bad. Right now, I’m in the Arctic.” Well played, Megu-chan; well played.

 

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 12

Shirase vividly remembers the day she was suddenly pulled out of class and informed of her mother’s death. How can she not? We all carry days like that in our memories. For her, it was the end of life feeling as it had before, and the beginning of a dream; an awful dream from which she hoped every day to wake up from.

She’s worked so hard, endured mockery, made and fought with friends, and arrived at the place where she lost her mother. Yet she still doesn’t feel like the dream is over. Now Gin has invited her and the other girls to join the team that will press inland, to the observatory site from which Takako never returned.

Shirase tells her friends it’s not so much that she’s depressed to stressed out about her mother. Rather, she’s weary that if and when she gets to the end of the road, there will be nowhere left to go. If nothing changes, the way it hasn’t thus far, what if she keeps feeling the way she does the rest of her life? What if she can’t wake up?

The girls decide to give Shirase space, proof, according to an adult colleague, that they’re truly good friends. Shirase sits with Gin, who tells her that neither of them know what Takako felt, or whether she wanted them to return to Antarctica, where she’d be waiting in some form.

All Gin can say for certain is that she came because she wanted to come: “At the end of the day, those ideas we latch on to aren’t enough to motivate us. But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.”

After laying out all of her cash and listing all the ways she made it, Shirase regains the idea that brought her to Antarcica, and joins Gin and the other girls on the inland trip…because her mother is waiting there.

Along the slow, cold slog of a trip, Shirase and he girls experience the harshest conditions so far, but still have to work in them, because there’s no other choice. They also experience some of the most otherworldly sights, like a sun pillar.

When Shirase asks Gin if her mother saw the same thing, Gin answers in the affirmative. Later, Gin has Shirase check in with Syowa Station. From then on, as Shirase realizes she’s following in her mother’s last footsteps, the journey adopts an increasingly melancholy mood.

When a punishing blizzard arrives identical to the one that suddenly claimed Takako, Gin remembers Takako’s last call on the radio, saying “it’s beautiful” but not telling Gin where she was, because if Gin went out to attempt rescue, nature would likely have claimed her as well.

The girls are snug in their sleeping bags as the winds lash against the snowcat, and Shirase sees a vision of her mother sitting nearby, working on her laptop. Mari wakes up to thank Shirase for taking her for allowing her to get the most out of her youth.

It doesn’t matter to her whether they went to Antartica or the Arctic or anywhere else; what made the trip special was that they took it together, as friends. Shirase then tells her mother that she, who thought she’d be fine alone forever, now has friends: slightly weird, frustrating, and broken friends, but friends who were willing to come this far with her.

Now, there’s only a little further to go, and once the snowcats arrive at the observatory site, those same friends rush into the underground complex to try to find something, anything that serves as proof Shirase’s mother was there. And boy do they ever find it: Takako’s laptop, with a photo of Takako and Shirase taped to the back.

Again Shirase’s friends recede to the hallway as Shirase fires up the laptop. She gets the password right on the second try, and when Takako’s inbox opens, it immediately starts updating, with a dozen, then a hundred, then a thousand emails gradually pouring in…and Shirase loses it. Her friends hear her anguish and then they start crying.

In a show that’s had no shortage of episode climaxes that tug at the heartstrings, no scene to date has tugged quite this far (I pretty much lost it too!). It truly feels like Shirase has finally awakened from her hazy three-year-long dream, having experienced a profound measure of closure from this. In any case, her fear of not feeling anything once she came to the end of her journey didn’t come to pass. She didn’t just feel something; she felt everything.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 11

It’s the year’s end, and the members of the expedition get to communicate with family and/or friends via a satellite feed. This is how Mari’s mom and sister get to laugh at her ski goggle tan, but it’s also how three high school track club members reopen a wound for Hinata; a wound she decided to forget about and move on from in…the furthest place in the universe.

But just the sight of those three girls boils Hinata’s blood to the extent she must run outside and wreck some shit while yelling for them to “piss off!” Shirase witnesses this display, and it only reinforces the concern she felt the minute Hinata covered up the camera lens.

Hinata—and, unwittingly, Mari—conspire to keep Shirase from ever being able to broach the topic with Hinata, almost intuitively senses what Shirase wants to talk about, and wants nothing to do with it. Shirase gets so worked up about what Hinata might be hiding, she crosses a line and opens Hinata’s email.

I was as curious as Shirase to learn why Hinata was acting this way, and truly wanted both her, Mari and Yuzu to find some way to make things better for Hinata. I may have even done what Shirase did…but it doesn’t make it right.

Hinata comes to realize she’s partly to blame for Shirase’s breach of privacy by being so inaccessible. So she tells Shirase and the others her sob story of being too good at running, showing up the upperclassmen, and getting ostracized. Not only does she leave the club, but she quits school due to the fallout.

Now the girls know why she was so put off by seeing her friends on camera: she doesn’t see them as friends. Later, when the girls get to do some expeditionary work in an alien landscape that looks kind of like chocolate cake with white frosting, Hinata reiterates that she doesn’t care about the noise from the past, and came to Antarcitca precisely to get away…not just from petty high school drama, but everything.

Shirase ponders all that Hinata said, and puts herself in Hinata’s shoes. Taking Hinata aside to get some of that pure, crisp Antarctica water (my mouth hadn’t watered over water since Last Exile; good job, show!), Shirase tells her that she wouldn’t be okay with it, or be able to smile with it hanging over her.

Hinata makes the good point that she’s not her; different people get to deal with things in different ways. But she also admits she may still simply be too scared to face those track girls, whether it’s to forgive them, to tell them to eat shit…or both. She thanks Shirase for having her back, but tells her she doesn’t need all the words Shirase wants to say…the warmth of her hands is enough.

When those three girls show back up in the satellite feed, Shirase shows she isn’t done. With Hinata’s emotional well-being at stake, Shirase completely shaks off her usual camera shyness, interrupts the planned schedule of the broadcast, and confronts the track girls directly, telling them to leave Hinata the hell alone.

Shirase goes OFF with an epic tirade that only further expanded my love for both Shirase and Hanazawa Kana. Hinata is doing fine without your lame asses, she basically says. She is taking steps forward, with her real friends:

“Unlike Hinata, I’m a real jerk, so I’ll say it straight: You can’t live your lives in this halfway state forever! You hurt someone and made them suffer! Now you get to live with that! That’s what you get for hurting someone…for hurting my friend! You think you can come crawling back now? PISS OFF!”

Masterful shit right there…that not only brings Hinata, but the other girls and Shirase herself to tears, while Toudou Gin has a glint of pride in her eye, surely seeing the passion of her dearly departed friend burn in her daughter. When they ring in the new year, it may be with a block of wood and an steel drum, but it’s no less triumphant. Time to turn the f’in page. A new year and new experiences await.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 10

Now that they’ve arrived at Antarctica, the expedition weighs anchor and starts to bring supplies ashore using a very badass helicopter. The high school girls take a trip (which Yuzu likes not at all) and get to see the ship from the sky (it’s a thrilling bit of CGI) before being deposited at Syowa Station.

Kanae gives the girls—and by extension us—a tour of the facilities, including seperate bedrooms for all four of them, a luxury after having to share a berth at sea. While spartan, the habitations are also quite cozy and homey, far nicer than what I was expecting.

I really enjoyed the contrast between the cool Antarctic “night” (light-wise it stays dusk at its darkest) and the warm, inviting, lived-in interiors; the perfect place to kick back after a hard day’s work.

As unloading, cleaning, and other duties mount, Yuzu learns she’s been offered a role on a popular Japanese TV drama (there’s cell service at the station), but is worried it would mean, as it’s always meant throughout her career, the end of her time with Mari, Shirase and Hinata.

True to that career, she even comes up with a “friendship contract” for them to sign, causing Mari to cry and hug Yuzu with a distinct “you poor thing” vibe.

There were times when Yuzu seemed almost painfully naive about what friends and friendship are, but then I remembered that these three girls are her first, so naturally she wouldn’t be sure when the threshold of friendship had passed. Of course, no one really knows when that happens; friendships may not be as solid and structured as marriages or parenthood, but that’s what sets them apart as something special.

Mari takes the time to impart some wisdom to Yuzu regarding what she considers friendship (since it can be different for everyone) using Megumi as an example. Mari has been sending her pics, and whether Megu responds right away or as often or not, she always knows when Megumi has seen the message by the notification on the phone. That, in turn, helps Mari imagine what Megumi might be doing or thinking about in that moment.

With that, the other three arrive and unveil what they had been planning for Yuzu all along: a surprise birthday party. Her real birthday passed when they were all horribly seasick, so the Christmas party made her sad.

So the girls prepped some poppers and cake so that she could celebrate her very first birthday with friends. It’s almost too much to handle, as Yuzu starts bawling and can’t even speak clearly because of all the tears and snot.

But the next day, when Mari and Yuzu are off doing different tasks, Yuzu sends Mari a text not apologizing, but thanking her. Just a simple little check-in that lets both Mari and Yuzu know that they’re thinking of one another. Finally, Yuzu seems to get what friendship is, and that one should never overthink it.

Fune wo Amu – 11 (Fin)

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Last week restored my faith in Fune wo Amu’s ability to engage and pull its audience in with an up-against-the-wall crisis that requires a tremendous group effort to pull off. But that same goodwill didn’t quite carry over in the show’s eleventh and final episode, which only reinforced a problem I’ve had since the eighth episode pushed us forward so many years without warning.

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I understand how the show basically needed to show us the ultimate payoff of a published Great Passage, but I maintain that it didn’t have enough time to tell that story, nor would extending the effort across, say, a full 26-episode series would have been possible before getting stale, monotonous, or over-contrived in an effort to stoke up some drama.

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Before the dictionary officially goes on sale, Matsumoto suddenly succombs to esophageal cancer he only told his comrades a day or so before his death. His death has been telegraphed so much, it didn’t elicit a shock in me so much as a shrug. Again, his death only underlines the problematic nature of leaping so far ahead in the dictionary’s timeline to a point where most people only look slightly different, but suddenly Matsumoto is at death’s door.

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The missing words episode was a temporary diversion from the fact the development of the dictionary didn’t feel as epic as it should have because the show skipped too much time.  Ditto Matsumoto’s death. He seemed like a nice guy and all, but he was a character with a tendency to spout flowery philosophy and little else. Post time-jump, it was hard to get a handle on the characters were; spending so much time with the new hire didn’t help matters.

So yeah, Fune wo Amu was, to me, the definition of “watchable,” but I won’t lie: I’m glad there’s no twelfth episode, because I’ve been mostly checked out since episode 6, when Majime’s attainment of Kaguya was sold as the Most Important Thing going on in the show, without ever really getting into why the two liked, let alone loved, each other.

The show had glimmers of greatness, but couldn’t help but feel either too drawn-out (earlier in the story) or too rushed (after the time jump). And there’s only so many ways you can present the metaphor of a ship lighting the way.

Considering how carefully the dictionary at the heart of its story was planned and prepared, Fune wo Amu too often felt unsure of itself and random in where it chose to focus its attention. That made it hard to stay involved.

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Fune wo Amu – 10

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There’s a missing word in The Great Passage. The ship has a hole in the hull before it’s been launched. That’s actually a good thing; better now than when it was on sale. But Majime can’t let this one word go.

There could be others, so he mobilizes a small army of temps, and together with Kishibe and Araki, sets to work re-checking each and every one of the Passage’s 240,000 words.

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It’s a massive undertaking due to the limited time frame — which is never actually stated, but must limited, or else everyone wouldn’t work almost around the clock and not leave the editorial office. Fatigue inevitable sets in, and like it did in “33”, the first (and best) episode of Battlestar Galactica, it’s engrossing to behold.

Not necessarily Majime’s too-on-the-nose dreams of words escaping through a tear in his “construct“, but in the way people start to get slower and more tired, but still have a job to do, and struggle through. It adds a welcome touch of adventure to the proceedings.

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Of course, eventually Majime has to send everyone home to get some real sleep (no Cylons chasing them, thankfully), and he comes home to a Kaguya who is nothing but warm, loving, and caring, feeding Majime a home-cooked meal before sending him back out to fight the good fight.

Kaguya understands pride in one’s work; she’s an accomplished restaurateur. She knows it’s pride that drives her husband to ensure without a shadow of a doubt that the ship he’s building is as perfect as he can make it.

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Marking time throughout the episode (in addition to the changes in people as they tire) is a huge table where each section completed is marked in red. For much of the episode less than half of it is marked, but it eventually becomes fully red.

In the surprisingly thrilling final minutes, Kishibe, Araki, and lastly Majime officially finish the checking, immediately after which the legion of temps, all of them having just shared a life-changing experience they won’t soon forget, either cheer in exultation or breathe deep sighs of relief it’s finally over.

Only it isn’t. The book still must be printed, bound, put on sale, marketed, and most importantly, it must sell, or everyone involved will likely have to fall on their swords, Majime most of all.

As for Matsumoto, he’s seemed ill since the time-shift (which the show somewhat cheekily nearly admits was pretty abrupt, as hardly anyone’s appearance has changed), and the episode’s final shot in his empty house seems to suggest he may not live to see The Great Passage leave port.

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Fune wo Amu – 09

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Kishibe is a lover of words – but also, apparently, of alcohol, and is a bit of a lightweight. Still, she powers through hangovers to work hard under Majime, and The Great Passage starts its final phases of construction. It’s about this time Kishibe tries, through Nishioka, to understand her chief a little better.

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Nishioka sets her on a little mini treasure hunt that leads her to Majime’s love letter to Kaguya, which Nishioka (somewhat creepily) photocopied and hid in a book in the stacks. Still, it gets the job done: Kishibe sees how carefully (if variably successfully) Majime chooses words from the many many words he knows, and is amused, heartened, and inspired by his efforts to woo his future wife.

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The overwhelmed feeling Kishibe had is replaced by stalwart optimism, which she successfully transfers to the paper guy, Miyamoto, even as Majime rejects paper after paper. But since the editors like Kishibe are working so hard, Miaymoto keeps at it, until he finally gets the right balance of strength and stickiness.

Unfortunately, with The Great Passage set to be launched (i.e. published), Kishibe spots a leak, and all of a sudden Majime wonders in horror what other words may be missing. Will the great ship sink on its maiden voyage, or is this just a problem all of those who dared to make great dictionaries were faced with in the final stages?

This was another *okay* episode, but ever since Majime finally made his feelings known to Kaguya, the show has frankly felt a bit sedate (well, more sedate than usual). The time jump of many years still seems like an awkward move, as the characters look pretty much the same.

As for characters continuing to wax philosophical about the power of dictionaries and words, well…everything’s pretty much been said already, so it’s getting rather repetitive.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 07

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And endless succession of episodes in which Rei wanders around alone with the wind in his face, wallowing in despair and self-pity over everything he’s been through and all the choices he’s made, was going to get old fast. That would be too dark and brooding, and keep us at a distance.

I wanted in, so to speak, and I got in, thanks in part to a jauntier, more playful week of 3GL, and in part to Hina’s crush Takahashi. While Rei is initially intimidated, Takahashi is actually a great admirer of Rei, and comes to him for serious advice about where to steer his life.

That Takahashi essentially comes out of nowhere to have such a profound effect on Rei and how he looks at the world is of no consequence. I like how a childhood friend of Hina, whom Rei often looks to for comfort, peace, and perspective, is inadvertently responsible for showing Rei “the light.”

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Takahashi’s seriousness, forceful determination, and earnest attentiveness to any and all Rei has to say, gets Rei to open up despite himself, breaking through a barrier he’d never crossed before, letting someone in to his inner thoughts and doubts, and receiving gratitude and further admiration in return.

Even when Takahashi, invited to dinner (much to Hina’s exasperation; however she delivers a sumptuous repast), shows Rei a video of his loss in shogi (a video that exposes Rei’s “secret”/omission to the younger sisters that he and Nikaido are pros), Takahashi does it not out of malice, but to hear from the person who made the move why he made it, and what he thinks about such a move now.

Even when Rei says it was a bad move, and Nikaido almost seems to come through the TV and yell at him directly, over and over, that he needs to “take better care of his shogi and himself”, Takahashi doesn’t dismiss his father and grandfather’s assertion the move wasn’t bad, but was even “aggressive and manly,” qualities Takahashi can relate to on the road to a baseball career; a road that requires similarly bold moves.

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Nikaido’s on-video obnoxious commentary gets Rei so riled up he raises his voice for the first time, yelling at the TV as if Nikaido was there. Rei is amazed to find Hina smiling wider than ever at his outburst, as if it was a privilege to witness. And maybe it was: seeing him display so much passion, even to protest his “best friend” saying far too much to the camera, spurs Hina to ask Rei to teach her how to play shogi.

That’s when Nikaido actually comes out of the TV and appears in person at the Kawamoto household to add some humor and humanity to Rei’s stiff explanation of the game. He even presents a book he presumably wrote and illustrated in which all the shogi pieces are realized as cats, charming not only Hina but Momo too (who already regards Nikaido AKA Bodoro as a kind of demigod).

Rei has finally tasted what it’s like not only to have his thoughts and feelings listened to and validated, but what it’s like to lose it in front of people he cares about, and to share his amassed wisdom to an eager audience. All in all, its a pretty good week for the kid. Here’s hoping he keeps it going.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 06

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We continue an in-depth journey and the running self-commentary of Rei’s life, including the recent slump that has kept him from advancing, even though as one of five players ever to become pros in middle school, he’s expected to become a master like the other four at some point.

Because Rei is still so young, his childhood was disrupted by such tragedy and trauma, the bad times always seemed to overshadow the good, and his “stepsister” Kyouko dug into him so deeply with hurtful words that sounded like the truth, Rei is left unable to process why he’s so unhappy and unable to move forward in life.

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Shogi, so far, hasn’t been the answer. Sure, he threw himself into it with all he had and has been celebrated as a prodigy, but when he’s not playing or training, he has a tendency to shut down. He doesn’t have friends (who aren’t also shogi players).

He barely goes to school, and keeps to himself when he does (I can’t recall even seeing one of his classmates). He admires master Touji Souya, who despite being as old as his teacher still has the face of a teenager; as if his distinguished, decorated career has caused time to stop.

Touji is the titular “God Child”, but I wonder if Rei looks up at him as an ideal to follow, or something he can never attain. Then again, he doesn’t know of Touji delved into shogi not out of love, but out of necessity, as he did. Maybe time stopping isn’t a good thing.

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After nearly a whole episode of navel-gazing and listing all of his problems, Rei and we get a welcome respite, as he runs into Hina in town and treats her to a McDonalds shake. It doesn’t take long for the kind and lovable Hina to notice Rei is feeling gloomy, and invites him to dinner back home.

Hina makes Rei feel ashamed and pathetic for worrying so much about his own issues when Hina is sitting there, a middle schooler worrying about a high schooler, putting his feelings before her own (then crashing and burning when her crush the baseball ace shows up).

If Rei’s going to move—if he wants to move—in life, hanging out more with the Kawamotos seems the way to go.

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