Takunomi. – 11 – Hot Pot, Hot Sake

Michiru is full of energy and kitted out in full yukata as all four housemates visit a shrine to pray for a prosperous New Year. Since everyone else is in modern garb, Michiru can’t keep up and get lost in the crowd, missing a chance to drink some traditional amazake with the others.

She also gets pretty cold with no coat, so when they get home Kae whips up the perfect meal for a cold day off: hot pot. Nao provides the booze-of-the-week: a special sake called Daishichi Junmai Kimoto, especially well-suited to be enjoyed hot (but also great cold). One thing I didn’t know: how quickly you heat it and the specific temperature results in different flavors being released.

Nao heats it up to “Atsukan” packs a rich punch that goes perfectly with the hot pot proteins, vegetables, and broth. The combination of hot food and hot sake quickly make Michiru very relaxed, changing into her PJ’s and cuddling up to Nao like she’s back home—where she was the talk of the town for her big city exploits.

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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.

Koufuku Graffiti – 01 (First Impressions)

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I see no better way to wrap up my evening docket than a cute, lighthearted, salubrious slice-of-life comedy about one of my favorite things to do: cooking and feeding people. It also isn’t afraid to show its protagonist Ryou (Satou Rina, the Railgun) essentially having a foodgasm over a plate of delectable-looking inarizushi.

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It’s brought to us by none other than Mister Shinbo and Shaft, eschewing a lot of the usual Shafty quirks like head-kinks, word cards, and dramatic shifts to other art styles. Still, his exacting environmental aesthetic and delicate attention to character gestures comes are present and accounted for.

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That being said, it’s a very richly-produced show, and its style is such that one could easily see this show taking place in the same world as the Monogatari series, only in Tokyo, and without any supernatural stuff.

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Ryou and her visiting second-cousin Kirin, are an immediately likable couple of kids. Both have a problem: Ryou is lonely (parents abroad, grandma passed), thinks her cooking tastes awful, and wants to get better; the pint-sized Kirin is lonely, thinks her mother’s cooking is awful, and wants to learn how to cook herself. It’s a good match.

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Ryou assumes she’s losing her touch because her Grandma is no longer around to coach her. She’s only half-right. She actually hasn’t lost her touch; her food simply doesn’t taste as good when she’s eating it alone. That’s remedied with Kirin’s visit, and Kiri, an independent adjudicator, assures her, her cooking is da bomb.

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Shaft doesn’t skimp on the sights and sounds of the food (some decent ASMR moments), and each dish Ryou prepares carries a special meaning. But the bottom line is, food tastes better when you’re eating with someone, period. We catch a glimpse of a third girl ordering some kind of take-out…which she’s going to eat alone and it’s going to be miserable, so she needs to come over to Ryou’s.

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This is the first food-focused episode of anime I’ve watched since the Girl Friend BETA about the substitute cafeteria staff. Koufuku Graffiti is FAR more polished and better looking, and has FAR fewer characters. That’s a winning formula for my ‘kick back and relax’ show of the season.

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Uchouten Kazoku – 07

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Yaichirou, Yasaburou, and Yashirou drag Akadama to the bathhouse to clean himself up. The Ebisugawa Elite Guard barges in and Yaichirou is confronted by Kinkaku and Ginkaku, who want him to drop out of the race for Nise-emon. If he doesn’t, they’ll use their ace-in-the-hole to seal Ebisugawa’s victory: information that Soichirou got extremely drunk with Yajirou the night before he was boiled in a hot pot. Yaichiruo disperses the twins and rushes to confront Yajirou in his well, who admits that he got wasted with dad and left him behind, and ultimately to his doom.

All the strife and uncertainty swirling around the wounded Shimogamo family can all be traced back to the sudden boiling of their patriarch in a hot pot, and the mystery of how such a great tanuki ended up meeting such an ignoble fate. This week that mystery is revealed to Yaichirou and Yasaburou, and the truth they get stings all the more because it comes first from their feuding relatives, not Yajirou. Instead of ever telling them what happened after he stumbled home and passed out, Yajirou became a frog and never changed back, shedding his tanuki existence and all the baggage that comes with it.

Last week Yasaburou learned more about how his father faced his demise from the guy who ate him, but his father would have never even ended up in that cage had he not gotten drunk with Yajirou. It could be argued Soichirou died before Yaichirou was fully prepared to succeed him. Now Yaichirou’s election as Nise-emon on his own merits is threatened by the scandal the Ebisugawas will use as ammunition. Knowing how dearly his mistake cost him and his family, no one can blame Yajirou for preferring to live in the bottom of a well. Not for his sake – even as a frog he can’t escape his guilt – but for everyone else’s, taking himself out of the game lest he make another costly mistake.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Uchouten Kazoku – 06

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Yasaburou and Hotei follow Benten along the rooftops of Kyoto, stopping at a rooftop garden, where Hotei tells the story of how he met Benten, and fell in love with her on the spot. After she leaves, Hotei tells Yasaburou of the tanuki he met that same night: Nise-emon Shimogamo Soichiro, who spoke with him for a long time. After finally finding a way down to the street (thanks to Kaisei being a ladder) Hotei and Yasaburou part ways, Yasaburou changes to a frog to visit his brother, and Benten appears at the top of the well to cry.

This week the series made the choice not to end the Friday Fellows night to move on to the next day and another story, like the upcoming Nise-emon election, for instance. Instead, we delve deeper into the full-mooned night as Benten, Hotei, and Yasaburou continue to talk about things. Benten (or should we say Batman) never looks comfortable being followed or talked to in this way, and eventually peaces out. Then Yasaburou spends more time with Hotei, the man who saved his mother but ate his father, and the more time he spends with him, the more he likes him, even though he feels like he shouldn’t.

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There’s a good deal of philosophical discussion on this long night of drinking, eating, and talking. Hotei (AKA Prof. Yodogawa Chotaro) has most of the episode to simply talk about things he wouldn’t be able to talk with just anyone about: talking tanukis, loving to eat them (and anything else, for that matter), loving Benten, wanting tanukis to eat him when his time is up, and lamenting, like Yasaburou’s father, that he might not taste good. He doesn’t want to shrivel in a hospital and then be turned to ash. He wants to nourish that which he loved; to contribute to the life-stream as food for his food.

This episode also further reinforces Benten’s sheer, universal inscrutability. Neither tengu nor tanuki, she can’t quite just be called a human, either. Plucked from the riverbank by Akadama and trained in the way of the tengu, Suzuki Satomi threw her master to the curb as soon as she’d learned all she could, and for that Yasaburou may never fully forgive her. But for all her past misdeeds or her cold demeanor and refusal to let anyone in, she must still visit Yajirou’s well to empty her eyes of tears she’d bottled up all night, a bottling which could be a manifestation of her idiot blood.

9_superiorRating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • This episode was gorgeous even by Uchouten Kazoku standards. From the moonlit rooftops, to the bold autumn colors of the awesome rooftop garden, to Benten disappearing into a spotlight, back to the moonlight at the bottom of Yaijirou’s well. Lighting and shot composition were both magnificent.
  • We love every thing Hotei says in this episode, and you really can’t help but soften your opinion of him as an antagonist.
  • Ditto Soichirou, whom we see in that pivotal flashback, saying he’s fulfilled his duty as a Tanuki and feels nothing but gratitude for all the extra days he’s been blessed with, and trusts his family will be fine without him.
  • Kaisei has a neat cameo as a useful if out-of-place ladder, lending more credence to our theory we’ll never see her in human form.
  • We’re now about halfway through the series, and with the Nise-emon election looming, we suspect we’ll learn if Soichirou was right about his family surviving just fine without him.

Uchouten Kazoku – 05

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Benten corners Yasaburou at an antique shop where he’s meeting with Kaisei and forces him to attend a night of sukiyaki with the Friday Fellows, with the unveiled threat that they’ll boil him if he isn’t entertaining. He dazzles the increasingly drunk fellows with his transformations, even changing into a sultrier Benten. One drunk fellow, Hotei, waxes lyrical about his love of tanukis, including an injured one he found in a thunderstorm and nursed to health. When Benten gets bored, she grabs Yasaburou and they share cocktails by the moonlight, she reminds him that one day she’ll eat him up.

Just as the tanukis ride pleasure barges through the sky during the fire festival, the Friday Fellows partake of tanuki hot pot every year because it’s what they’ve always done. “It’s the rule,” says one, warning that questioning it could spell excommunication in this very exclusive club of highly successful men plus the enigmatic, capricious Benten. As the alcohol loosens his tongue, Hotei points out to his fellow fellows that he doesn’t eat tanuki out of obligation to tradition, but because he truly loves them. He sees no hypocrisy in rescuing one tanuki – probably Yasaburou’s mother – then turning around at the end of the year and eating another – one of which was Yasaburou’s father.

Knowing Yasaburou and his family and the intricate lives and tanuki society, we still have a bit of a problem with Hotei’s glib attitude towards devouring them – and Benten’s similar feelings toward Yasaburou. Benten even admits that it makes little sense to eat what you love, because eating is a form of destruction, and then the thing you like will be gone, which is sad. But they almost can’t help themselves. Ultimately, despite our disagreement with their tradition, it’s fairer to look upon them not as villains, but as predators. Nature placed them higher on the food chain, and they’re only exercising the rights that position affords them. Eating what they love is their version of “idiot blood.”

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Yasaburou’s secret meeting(s?) with Kaisei are pretty cute…but we still haven’t actually seen Kaisei in the flesh. Show yourself!
  • Even though we stuffed ourselves with barbecue fare prior to watching this episode, that sukiyaki still made our mouths water.
  • We see Benten at perhaps her least adversarial as she has a cocktail with Benten (at the coolest “bar” in the universe). While she threatens him as usual, she makes it clear she actually really likes him, and is lamenting the fact she may not be able to stop herself from ultimately eating him.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun S – 17

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Mikoto, Shirai, Saten, and Uiharu are all prepping for a study group. Shirai notes how peaceful Academy City is, Mikoto checks in on the sisters, who are on the mend but will require treatment to extend their lifespans. Shirai bumps into Kongo, and later she and Mikoto cross paths with Mugino and Frenda. Mikoto, Shirai and Uiharu arrive at Saten’s place with their diverse yet complimentary ingredients  and they have a hot pot feast, which Haruue eventually joins as well.

With the Sisters vs. Accelerator arc completed, Railgun S exhales with a transitional episode with lots of light, pleasant slice-of-life which takes stock of where everyone is and, more importantly, serves as a vehicle to reunite the four core girls with something non-life-threatening. Mikoto’s duty had definitely distanced her not only from Shirai, but Saten and Uiharu as well, and the “hot pot study group” was a nice way to shorten that distance, at least until the next crisis (which isn’t hinted at this week; something we’re actually thankful for).

This episode was also a means of having various supporting characters make an appearence, including the Frog-Faced Doctor (AKA Heaven Canceler), Kongou Mitsuko (as stuck-up as ever), Shirai’s clover kids, and, perhaps most surprisingly, members of ITEM. Mugino/Frenda jaw with Mikoto/Shirai (and Shirai’s ignorance of who they are help the comedy here), but things don’t get out of hand, underlining this episode’s commitment to being peril- and stress-free, which after so much of both in the last arc, was welcome.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Editors Note: We apologize for being a bit behind on our weekend anime schedule, as we are currently engaged in various non-RABUJOI activities. Please excuse the lateness of the subsequent reviews. 

 

Uchouten Kazoku – 02

Yasaburou, Yashirou, Mother ("Prince"), and Yachirou

After masquerading as Benten to comfort Professor Akadama, Yasaburou hangs out at a pool hall, with her mother, who takes the form of a flamboyant “prince”. He then checks on his brother Yajirou, who is stuck in the form of a frog and lives in the bottom of a well. He goes to the power plant to pick up Yashirou as a storm brews, and the two are cornered by the Ebisugawa twins, but Yachirou rescues them. They then search for their mother, who reverts to a tanuki in storms, finding her under a bridge with the twins’ sister Keisei. Back home, she waxes about how lucky she is to have such nice sons.

Japan knows a few things about adapting to change. For centuries, they stood alone and isolated, either warring among themselves to being ruled by divine emperors. Even today, they still have an emperor from an unbroken line, but like the Queen of England, at the end of the day, he’s a figurehead. It’s a modern democracy now. He’s just not the boss of everyone anymore. It’s the same with the Shimogamos. When the patriarch Soichirou died, his widow and sons weren’t able to carry on his legacy and the united tanuki society he spent his life building fell into disarray. Only the eldest, Yachirou, seems dedicated to keeping the flames burning, but he’s also just a figurehead, and not the most respected one at that. Yachriou probably looks at the lives of his brothers with disdain because they represent a future (or possibly even a present) where Shimogamo is…just another name.

Rather than stubbornly stand against the winds of change, they let the change flow around them and adapted; it’s what raccoons do; tanukis too (probably). Their mother did the same. They still have their abilities and their name and their house and all the honor that entails, but they don’t live and die by that honor anymore; they live for themselves. Yajirou (the frog) believes Yasaburou was their father’s favorite, and it could’ve been for all the same reasons Yachirou believes he is shaming the family name. The Shimogamos may never rule over tanuki society again, but it’s enough to keep looking out for one another and live happy, full lives. Yasaburou and his mom seem to understand this intrinsically, while Yachirou is either unwilling or unable to let go of the past. His mom may be known as the “Prince”, but he’s the one still playing royal House.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Looks like Benten doesn’t have a soft spot after all; it was just Yasaburou pretending to be her. You got us, show!
  • The Ebisugawa twins were thoroughly unpleasant, weren’t they? Kudos to Yachirou for dealing with them.
  • Talk about going off the reservation; by becoming a frog, it’s as if Yajirou is living some kind of pared-down monastic existence as a simpler form of life. No one can say the brothers aren’t a diverse bunch!
  • Apparently, the brothers’ dad was killed and boiled in a hot pot, and Benten may have had something to do with it. Yikes!
  • We got the impression storms make their mother revert to her tanuki form, thus rendering her vulnerable to the same fate as her husband. We may be wrong on that, but it explains why her sons worried about her so much.
  • Those twins may be shits, but their sister – who appears as nothing but a twinkling light, Doonesbury-style, is apparently much nicer.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai – 00

The preview episode begins with a hallucination, as Kadoka dreams of an ideal world with ideal versions of his friends having fun together, with a recurring image of a hot pot always simmering nearby said fun activities. He wakes up in the midst of a dark hot pot, in which two of the girls he’d been dreaming about – Yozura and Sena – are trying to see who can outlast t’other in an eating duel. They both end up vomiting and passing out with the others. It’s established that Kodaka, Yozura, Sena, and four others are members of a school “Neighbor Club” dedicated to building relationships.

This is another case of a lull in the output of fall 2011 series we’ll be reviewing (Last Exile won’t air till Friday), so in the meantime we take a look at this 11-minute preview of a series we won’t will be reviewing, the title of wihch translates to “I don’t have many friends”. If “I” is Kodaka, it would seem he has many friends, and they’re all have distinguishing marks making them easy to distinguish: Rika has the glasses; Yozura, Black hair; Sena, the busty blonde; Maria, the nun; Yukimura, the redhead; and Kodaka, who is odd-eyed. It would appear on the surface to be a harem of Index rejects.

We’ll admit, we actually started the first episode of Kimi to Boku, but scrubbing through it we realized there were five main characters, and not one of them was a girl. On the other side of the spectrum we have this series, with six girls, but at least one member of the opposite sex, and it doesn’t seem like everyone’s in love with the one guy. And while that was a rather slow-paced school slice-of-life, this was far quicker-paced, and threw a lot of curveballs vis-a-vis reality vs. fiction; showing us an idealized version of Kadoka’s friends before the real thing.


Rating: 2.5