Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 20 – Shattering and Clashing to Victory

When Gin and Jouichirou start bebopping and scatting all over the train kitchen, Takumi, Megumi, Souma and Erina have to find a way to contribute to the “music” the master chefs are playing, or fail the challenge. For Takumi and Erina in particular, it means leaving their comfort zones—the cooking philosophies they’ve always lived by—and going for gusto.

If they completely shatter or abandon everything they’ve known thus far, they risk losing their vital identities as chefs, but that’s not truly what’s going on here: they contribute in ways only they, with their uniquely amassed knowledge and experience, can contribute.

They’re not so much changing who they are, but changing how they use that, and in doing so unlocking another level in their growth.

The resulting hachis Parmentier from both teams scarcely resemble that classic French dish, yet both embody the spirit of the dish while elevating it into more rarefied culinary air. Senzaemon makes a last minute addendum to the rules of this mock battle: the four young participants, not he, will judge who deserves to win.

Everyone loses their clothes in foodgasms, and when the moment of truth arrives, the kids all point…at each other. Erina likens Team Doujima’s dish as a perfectly in-sync jazz band, while Takumi likens Team Saiba to an avant-garde group art project. In both cases, chaos is used to create things harmony couldn’t, resulting in dishes that are both cohesive in concept and strongly individualized in execution.

The point of Senzaemon’s mock battle wasn’t to decide who’d be the captain of the team that will face Azami’s Elite Ten. It was to get the youngins to experience their abilities firsthand in order to know what to expect of one another when the battle and the stakes are real.

And brother, is there anything realer, or more appallingly hilarious, than watching the ghost-white, skunk-haired Nakiri Azami skiing down a slope in his black suit? Talk about pumping him up as a Bond villain!

His collection of Central stooges also looks the part; they’re as diverse in personality and appearance as our rebels—and in the case of Eishi and Rindou, we’ve seen they have good sides—and yet because they’re determined to defeat the rebels at the behest of Azami, here and now they’re nothing but The Enemy.

Azami tries once more to bring Erina back into the fold simply by stating the duty of all Elite Ten members to obey his orders. He wants Erina on his team, and like almost everybody, expects Erina to be cowed by the certitude and force of his words and sheepishly defer to her father. Even Souma calls her a “doormat” when it comes to her dad—out loud!

But Erina stands her ground. If being the Tenth Seat means having to join Central in the Team Shokugeki, then she will simply relinquish said seat, and join the rebels as simply Nakiri Erina.

While impressed by her continued insolence, Azami comes back at her with one last stipulation in the Team Shokugeki: If the rebels are defeated, she will have to return to his side, commit herself to central, and never disobey him again.

Since losing means all her friends’ expulsions will stick, all the rebels still standing will be expelled, and her beloved Saiba-senpai will have to become Azami’s ally, Erina figures “what the heck, might as well add to the already epic stakes.”

She’s so pumped up by successfully standing up to her father that she starts acting like the Queen of the Rebels, vowing to take the First Seat once they are victorious. Takumi and Megumi like this new rebellious-yet-regal “Queen Erina.” Souma, while initially irked (since he wants to stand at the top of the Elite Ten), nonetheless pledges his life to her, along with the others, in the decisive battle to come.

Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt – 01

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Sunrise had a Christmas present of a kind ready for me today: another Gundam series that looks and feels like it could take place in the same universe and timeline as IBO, even exist in the same debris field that show’s cast is currently engaged in. In fact, IBO takes place in “P.D.” (Post Disaster) 323, while Thunderbolt takes place in U.C. 0079, the same year as the original Gundam, making it a direct spin-off.

Unlike Recon in G, but like the new Star Wars movie, it’s easy to settle into this world, which comes down to the juicy details. A melange of the ordinary (smoking, romances, jazz drumming on consoles, waiting on standby) and the extraordinary (the tremendous speed of battle, how quickly tides can turn, the blood-and-guts brutality of the battles) create a rich world in a scant fifteen minutes and change.

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The show also makes clear there’s no good or bad guy here, only two different warring sides who each have their reasons to fight. The Federation ace Io Fleming loves the freedom of space combat. Zeon’s Daryl Lorenz, who like many of his comrades has prosthetic legs, seems more serious, duty- and honor-bound. Many of their comrades die beside them in this episode, causing a great deal of grief for everyone who knew them but they keep on ticking.

Above all Thunderbolt portrays this futuristic life as a hard one, no matter which side you’re on, and no matter what you’re fighting for. It’s scuffed and gritty and bleak, so one living in such a world would tend to retreat into the embrace of the opposite sex, or porn, or carve out a little hollow of peace, be it girls or plants or music. Notably, Io prefers free jazz, while Daryl’s tastes hew more towards more structured pop music.

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After his own suit is destroyed, Io manages to EVA over to the Zeon snipers, take one out, and steal his suit to return to his ship. His captain (with whom he seems to be on close terms with) assigns him to a new prototype, Gundam, because everyone who outranked him is dead.

Whether it’s mobile suits, trained pilots, or simply flesh-and-blood limbs, everything is in short supply here in Thunderbolt, on the bleeding edge. And while Io embraces the increased  power of his iconic new suit, Daryl plans revenge against him for the death of his comrade.

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P.S. If the music reminded you of Cowboy Bebop, that’s because it was composed by Kikuchi Naruyoshi, saxophonist for The Seatbelts.

Sakamichi no Apollon – 10

When Kaoru learns the gloves are indeed for him, he’s unsure about what it means. He asks Ritsuko why she made them for him and not Sentaro, frustrating him. When he takes ill, Ritsuko visits him, and finally snaps him out of it; as she’s leaving he races out to meet her and confess, but passes out before he can kiss her. Kaoru and Sentaro plan to perform at the school festival again, but when news comes that Sentaro’s father is returning, he takes off, sending Kaoru a note by pigeon.

And then there were two. With Yurika eloping with Jun and now Sentaro taking off for parts unknown, it’s just Kaoru and Ritsuko, which, at one point in the series, was all he ever wanted. And to his credit, he stands up (not an easy feat when you’re riddled with fever) and makes his feelings clear, after much hand-wringing and looking of gift horses in the mouth. It was thanks to him Ritsuko built up the confidence to knit him gloves as a symbol of her love; she makes it clear she may lose that confidence if he doesn’t cut the crap and exhibit some of his own, which he thankfully does in a very romantic scene that even impresses his aloof cousin. There’s no kiss, but he already stole one a while back, so we don’t feel cheated.

On to Sentaro: throughout the episode, he hides the pain of losing Yurika well, even letting two students take down Yurika’s painting he modeled for. But the moment we see the look on his face when he hears his father’s returning, we knew something would come up. The question is, will Kaoru blame himself for Sentaro leaving – for coming between him and Ritsuko, or will both he and Ritsuko be overcome by sadness and possibly even anger towards Sentaro for checking out so suddenly. If his dad is a problem, he should face it, not run away…but he runs away anyway.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Sakamichi no Apollon – 07

The day of the school cultural festival draws near, and Kaoru still won’t speak to Sentaro. Kaoru and Ritsuko are elected to the festival committee by their class, who have begun to noticce their mutual affection for one another. Sentaro makes a move on Yurika, but they’re interrupted by a bedraggled Jun, who Sentaro punches. Kaoru wastes an opportunity to clear the air with Sentaro, and the two drift far apart. When the festival arrives, the rock concert is cut short by electrical problems. On a whim, Kaoru decides to occupy the crowd by playing jazz on the piano. Sentaro joins him on the drums, and their jamming draws the whole school to the gym, spellbound. When they’re done their impromptu set, they run down the slope.

Whew…now that was a goddamn powerhouse of an episode. Just as jazz was the catalyst for Kaoru and Sentaro’s friendship, it’s also the salve that mends it when it’s asunder. The episode is a roller coaster of bleak emotional valleys balanced by dizzyingly estatic peaks. Beginning with a breif recap of Kaoru telling Sentaro off, potentially (though unlikely) for good, and ends with the most jaw-droppingly epic jam session in the most unlikely venue. The entire school witnesses their catharsis, and are so captivated they almost forget to applaud (Yurika gets it going). The scenes of students running into classrooms beckoning their peers to come to the gym adds to the energy. This week the school learned a lot more about Sentaro and Kaoru.

They jam for just over three and a half minutes, but times seems to drift away altogether during that period. We’re dared to not tap our feet or drum our hands on the coffee table to the music, and we can’t resist. The medley harks back to all the pieces they’ve played thus far – and one Kaoru played just for Ritsuko – but all of them have a new energy, which Ri’ko puts very nicely: “Like two princes arguing good-naturedly as they come back home.” It is an argument: between two momentarily estranged friends; between piano and drums; but once they’re both on the same wavelength and jamming away with such energy and purpose, not even a drunken racist Yankee sailor would deign to interrupt. Ri’ko’s dad mourns the loss of Coltrane at the episode’s start: it’s no time for silent halls or friends…and rock ‘n’ roll just ain’t gonna cut it.

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Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Sakamichi no Apollon – 06

A new school year begins, and Sentaro is in a different class than Ritsuko and Kaoru. Sentaro asks Ritsuko to look after him more. Kaoru tells Yurika about Jun being missing, and then she asks Sentaro on a date to get him a gift for modelling for her. Art Club member Matsuoka Seiji wants to recruit Sentaro for his rock band during the school festival, lending him a Beatles album. While on the beach clamming with Kaoru and Ritsuko, he finally asks, and Sentaro agrees. Feeling betrayed, Kaoru storms off. Ritsuko’s dad finds Jun drunk in a bar.

Kaoru tried reminding her estranged son not to fret over one rejection, and that he’s in the heydey of his youth, but enjoying said youth is easier said than done, especially with someone as cerebral and introspective as Kaoru. Sentaro and Ritsuko are his first real, good friends, and he fears losing them even as he pines for Ritsuko’s heart. A new character threatens the status quo, and he doesn’t like it. About this Seiji fellow: he’s very friendly and even a little effeminate, and rubs Kaoru the wrong way. But he’s not really a threat until he seduces Sentaro into drumming in his -gasp- rock band. ‘Who needs rock, especially early Beatles pop rock, when you have jazz?’, Kaoru must be wondering.

What Kaoru doesn’t understand is that Sentaro and Seiji have more in common than meets the eye: both are poor with big families, and hope to support those families in the future. But the way Sentaro tries to comfort him makes him remember when he was little, and was told the same stuff by other friends, only to be alone in the end. Kaoru lashes out like a little kid, and even better, knows he’s acting like a little kid, and almost instantly regrets it, but then thinks about how he’s never been a social creature, and continues on the bus route of isolation and lonliness, which he apparently believes to be his natural state. It will be interesting to see where he’ll go from here…not to mention what the heck is up with Jun.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

 

Sakamichi no Apollon – 02

After hearing Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ “Moanin'”, Kaoru practices his jazz piano intently, wanting to Show up Sentaro. On the way home from school, he’s cornered by a gang of bullies; Ritsuko sees, alters Sentaro, and they both come to Kaoru’s rescue. Kaoru tries and fails to insert himself in the counterattack. The arrival of Jun at the record store leads to a jam session with Jun, Sentaro, Ritsuko’s dad, and Kaoru, who holds his own.

Kaoru asks Ritsuko out on a summer homework date, and when he arrives at the meeting place, he learns both Ritsuko and Sentaro are Christians. They take a bus to the sea, rent a boat, and dive off a cliff. Kaoru is frustrated by Sentaro’s presence, wanting to be alone with Ritsuko. Later Sentaro rescues a girl from more thugs, and the two seem to fall in love right then and there…

One of our favorite non-anime shows on television is Treme, in for no other reason than because for large chunks of the show, there is nothing happening save the playing of music. Jazz, Blues, R&B, Rock…Bounce…doesn’t matter; those moments are why I watch. No dialogue or plot can compare to the pure, primal, eclectic languages being spoken. This week, there was one of those moments: an impromptu jazz session; Kaoru’s first, which perfectly and effortlessly captures both his initial jitters, to finally settling down and having fun.

But there was a lot more to like this week: Kaoru may not be the strongest kid, but he isn’t going to sit back and let Sentaro do all his fighting (and rowing) for him. We like that beyond his wimpy looks, he’s got fire, and he won’t be cowed by bullies. We also like his interactions with Ritsuko. He seems to be falling for her quickly (he’s likely as inexperienced with women as jazz) but there’s a carefree beauty to their summer day in the sea that’s only blemished by the presence of Sentaro. By the episode’s end, the boy/girl ratio balances out at 2:2, which should console Kaoru. But we can’t help but think Ritsuko doesn’t quite feel the same way about him.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Sakamichi no Apollon – 01

It’s 1966, and Nishimi Kaoru has move to Kyushu to live with his aunt while his dad is away at work. He is a shy and asocial kid who manages high grades and plays the piano, but makes a prime target for bullies. The most notorious is Kawabuchi Sentaro, who actually takes an odd liking to him after fighting three seniors over the key to the roof. Kaoru also quickly makes friends with class rep Mukae Ritsuko, Sentaro’s childhood friend, whose family owns a record store with a practice room in the basement. Kaoru is inspired when he hears Sentaro play jazz on the drums.

It’s series like this that make us feel like we’re seriously wasting our time on drivel like Shining Hearts or unfocused dreck like Dusk Maiden, shows we’ll gladly drop to spend more time on something like this. First of all, when we learned both Shinichiro Wantanabe and Yoko Kanno were working on this, a light went on in our head; it’s doubtful this would be a dud. This whole episodes swings, and has a really nice lived-in feel to it. None of the characters are over-pretty or over-huge; though Sentaro looks a bit like Archie.

Most importantly, everyone is likeable, from the kind and friendly Ritsuko to Kaoru himself, who may be a bit angsty but at least has a reason to be. Sentaro is a big, lovable goof, who can handle himself in a fight and lay it down at the drums. The animation of his drumwork (both on drums and with twigs earlier on, before we even meet him) are a highlight of the episode, as is the promise of more excellent jazz to accompany the series. We’ve already got a nice nucleus of friends, and it looks like Kaoru is going to be just fine judging from the way he jaunts down the hill with Ritsuko by episode’s end.


Rating: 9 (Superior)