Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 11

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I find it interesting how this episode, my favorite episode of this second season of Food Wars, took place after the Autumn Elections, after all the student battles had been fought and settled. While the tension and energy of those episodes was often electric, and the finale was superb, I feel like I was suffering from a bit of ‘arena fatigue’.

This episode tosses Souma & Co. out into the real world, and a lot of this episode’s greatness lies in its realism. It melds the warlike theme of completing a mission—serving and making your mark in a real restaurant—with the slice of life comedy I found so infectious in shows like Working!!.

Even better, it doesn’t dart from place to place showing us how every single character is fairing. There’s a clear A-plot and B-plot, and the A-plot takes precedence for maximum immersiveness. When I learned it would be two students to a restaurant, my first thought was that Souma would be teamed up with Erina.

Instead, the show did us one better: it teamed him up with Erina’s self-appointed “aide”, Miss Secretary herself, Arato Hisako. It turns out to be an inspired pairing that, at least for an episode, upgrades Arato from the character nosebleeds to center stage.

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As she and Souma start out at Western Restaurant Mitamura, Arato is in the midst of a personal crisis following her defeat to Hayama. She believes she will only be a liability if she remains too close to Erina. Note that no one else has told her this, it’s just something she believes. Hayama’s words about her being “too small” in the scope of her dreams really hit her hard.

At first confrontational to the point of warning him not to speak to her, Souma gradually wears her down with his unique blend of reliable friendliness, restless ambition, and an unflappable competence in the midst of a multi-wave battle against hordes of bullet train passengers who fill the restaurant all at once and demand transactions a bit faster than humanly possible.

Arato is no fool: she can acknowledge Souma has more experience with this kind of thing than she does. She can even take his orders to make things go smoother. But she doesn’t have to like it, and she doesn’t, so Souma serves as a catalyst for her to learn the ropes and the rhythms of this very unique restaurant fast.

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The result of that effort is heaps of praise from her older co-workers, many of whom have been working there since the beginning (it’s a third-gen family establishment). At first she thinks the praise is just for Souma, but it’s for her too, and it’s so wonderful to receive those laurels, Arato quickly does what she’s always done: rest upon them. Settle.

Pairing Arato with Souma was better than pairing him with Erina, because where the latter would have been primarily confrontational, the pairing we get results in some wonderful characterization. In the beginning, estranged from her mistress or not, an enemy of Erina’s (Souma) is an enemy of Arato’s. But her relationship wtih Souma evolves swiftly and rapidly into something more complex and satisfying.

Even if they didn’t know about Arato’s issues regarding complacency and her self-imposed exile from Erina, Totsuki’s administrators did her a solid by pairing her with Souma, who enjoys the first couple days of training, but has a splinter in his head always festering, telling him they’ve gotta do more.

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At first Arato thinks he’s being absurd—things are going great!—but he eventually gets her to realize “making your mark” means more than just fitting nicely into the machinery. The machinery has faults that are harming profitability and may lead to the restaurant’s demise. If they’re to truly pass their first Staigaire, they have to help fix that machinery, and ensure it keeps working after they leave.

Calling an emergency staff meeting Arato, with Souma backing her up, proposes radical changes, such as cutting back on the menu options. The seasoned staff rightly push back; with a gutted menu it won’t be Mitamura anymore.

The owner is also adverse, since he’s trying to get back to the golden years of the restaurant, not cut corners. Everyone’s positions here make sense, but the undeniable reality is that those bullet train hordes are keeping Mitamura from being it’s best, and something has to give.

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The B-plot is far more lightweight and tuned towards comedy, but those aren’t marks against it, as Megumi and Erina make the most of their limited time. It’s another inspired pairing that, like Souma/Arato, features a take-charge go-getter half and a talented but meeker half struggling to make her mark.

We know how talented and capable Erina is, so it’s no surprise when she stanches control of the kitchen right out from under the grizzled chef’s feet. He can’t do anything about it, and not just because of politics: Erina makes his place better. He’s on the fast road to a Michelin star after a couple days. That’s the power of having the God Tongue under your employ. She’s the ultimate culinary ringer.

Megumi is almost exclusively relegated to dishwashing duty, simply trying to stay out of Erina’s path and doing her job, but she knows she has to distinguish herself somehow. She finds a way through her observation of the dirty plates that come to her, shrewdly suggesting (with de facto Chef Erina’s support) that customers be allowed to determine the portion of sauce they want on a popular dish.

The de jure chef can’t argue with her when a customer asks a waiter for more sauce, and Erina is impressed with Megumi’s subtle perceptiveness.

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As for Mitamura, rather than cut down the menu, they take perhaps an even greater risk: they make the restaurant by reservation only. But it pays off. Without hordes storming in and out, the kitchen and staff can shine brighter, and the regulars scared off by the train passenger business start to return and find they were fools to ever leave.

Souma effectively lit a fire under Arato, and the two show Mitamura’s owner and staff that they made the right decision to change, not for change’s sake, but for the sake of the identity they wanted the restaurant to have: a fine casual Western restaurant that takes care with its dishes and customers…not a station-side industrial feedbag.

As a result, they are confronted outside the restaurant by a stalky Totsuki agent who informs them they’ve passed the first round of their Staigaire. Arato allows herself a proud smile, but her estrangement with Erina remains an issue to be resolved, which Souma can also help her with.

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Erina, unsurprisingly, misses Arato, and wishes she’d come back. She recalls the time she asked her purple-haired friend to come closer, to take her hands and have fun with her, not simply watch from a respectful distance. Too improper was Arato’s reply.

She felt she could only walk behind, not beside Erina. But it’s pretty clear that’s not the case when Megumi brings up Arato and Erina reacts the exact same way Arato reacted when Souma brought up Erina.

So Souma tells her to work to become someone who can walk beside Erina, and in the meantime, stop the silly self-exile. He has just the excuse she needs: a bag full of manga he promised Erina. He gives Arato the bag and the directive to go back to her friend. Arato takes it and runs off with ebullient gratitude and optimism.

An all around triumph, this episode. Souma, Megumi remained largely their own likable selves, Erina kicked her usual ass, and most importantly I gained an entirely new and welcome appreciation for Arato Hisako, who no doubt will be less dismissive and confrontational towards Souma in the future. Seeing her in glasses was icing on the cake.

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Gakusen Toshi Asterisk – 14

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I saved this episode for last today because (a.) I wanted to check out the Spring shows premiering today and (b.) with a big battle last week I had a feeling this was going to be a rest episode, and so it was. But it’s because AW has thirteen episodes behind its belt that it can do quieter second episodes like this that focus not so much on the upcoming battle with the Li twins, but on characters and longer-term plotlines.

But man, they really give Flora the floor early on this week, and her sqeaky voice is, to be frank, really frikking annoying. Seriously, if an anime needs a kid voice, they should really just hire Kuno Misaki, who sounds much more like a genuine kid; Flora’s seiyu is just doing a baby voice, and it’s baaad.

That being said, I liked the running idea of Julis’ mischievous brother using Flora as his instrument to indirectly embarrass the princess. As for Flora’s photo of Julis washing her hair, that’s just her own treasured memory…just not one suitable for Ayato to see! All the girls’ knowing looks toward Ayato when Flora brought up “Julis’ rivals” was also funny.

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Just a couple episodes ago, Ayato and Julis were locked in near-mortal combat with the Urzaiz sisters, but they came away from the battle as friends, which is why I so enjoyed Ayato’s nighttime Skype session with Priscilla and Irene. Irene in particular is one very adorable tomboy when she thanks Ayato for saving her life.

Naturally, Ayato says it’s no biggie…but it is, which is why not only is Priscilla want to cook dinner for him again, but Irene is willing to give Ayato all the intelligence he wants regarding her school’s president, Dirk “The Tyrant” Eberwein, including his control over Le Wolfe’s intel org Grimalkin.

In the morning, Ayato’s roommate returns after a long absence (seriously, I barely remember the guy), gives Ayato some advice on the Taoist Li Twins, and even suggests an out-of-the-way cafe for Ayato and Julis to go on their date, though Julis is emphatic that it’s Flora, not her, who requested the get-together.

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Flora presumably has something important she has to ask Ayato, but first Julis spoils her with a big meal and an even bigger parfait, showing her softer, kid-loving side (she’d make a great mom!).

Of course, not only does Flora inadvertently organize an indirect kiss between Ayato and Julis (which only Julis blushes about) but her ‘important questions’ were provided by Julis’ brother, and start with how far she’s gone with Ayato so far.

The fun is broken up by Korona, yet another new doll-like character with a high voice (though less annoying than Flora’s).

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Korona is Dirk’s secretary, and she leads Ayato and Julis (who won’t let Ayato go alone…probably a good call) to a custom Rolls-Royce Phantom limo where Dirk is waiting for them. It comes a slight surprise that Ayato and Dirk have never met, even though the latter has been plotting against the former and his school for some time.

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Too many times an anime cheaps out on car models, but in this case, AW got themselves a bitchin’ CGI Roller, and they aren’t shy about showing it off from several angles both in the sunset and in a tunnel. During the mobile meeting, Dirk takes the measure of Ayato and Julis and agrees to answer a question Ayato has if he’ll return the favor.

With a deal in place, Ayato asks what Dirk knows about his sister Haruka. Dirk knows precious little, but far more than Ayato: the last time he saw Haruka, she was an entrant in a seedy underground fight club for super-rich patrons called the Eclipse Festa, organized by those disillusioned with the ‘kid-glove’ nature of the official festas, but shut down years ago.

Dirk watched Haruka lose her match, but believes she survived (matches ending in a death or two weren’t uncommon). This gives Ayato simultaneous relief and pause. His sister may still be alive, but what state is she in? Dirk has no more answers; only his question, which relates to Madiath Mesa, who Ayato knows as Chairman of the Festa Steering Committee.

With that, Dirk drops Ayato and Julis off, after which Korona mentions Flora to Dirk, who is intrigued, likely because she can be exploited as a liability to Julis if and when the need arises to have leverage over her. Always churning, the Tyrant’s mind.

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ISUCA – 03

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On the realization that last week’s romp wasn’t that bad, I’ve decided to share reviewing duties with Zane. And this episode wasn’t that bad either. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad. I can’t speak to how ISUCA compares to similar shows Franklin dropped, but I’m not willing to revisit those, and neither is Zane. Also, there are only seven episodes remaining, so it’s not like we’re wasting our lives here.

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Shinichirou (lets go ahead and shorten that to “Shin”) is excelling at his job as Sakuya’s trainer, to the point Nadeshiko has him move into Sakuya’s house full-time, something both of them are a little apprehensive about, because of the romantic tension and all. Their classmates can see the two have become an item; they’re just unaware of how strange an item they make.

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Anywho, we delve a little deeper into Sakuya’s family politics. Specifically, her cousin Suseri is going after her top spot. She’s also caught wind of Shin’s power, so despite being a sheltered girl unaccustomed to dealing with men in any way, it isn’t long after she introduces herself that she slips into his bath and starts washing his back with her boobs. She’s really sheltered.

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Okay, that’s pretty damn terrible, I know, but so damn cheeky and ridiculous that it circles back around to being kind of good, if that makes any sense (if it doesn’t, tough ^_^)

Also ridiculous and bizarre? When Suseri attempts to kidnap Shin (of course), her limo is suddenly pulled into another dimension where they are attacked by a pack of carnivorous gloom cars, the leader of which is a Honda S800 (thanks Zane). The badass Shimizu-trained driver is suddenly gooshed, raising the stakes nicely.

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Suseri isn’t strong enough on her own to defeat the Honda, so she demands Shin kiss her so she can power up. Before they can kiss, however, Sakuya looses an arrow between them, having broken through the barrier into this otherworld.

Nadeshiko then gets the bright idea to pile everyone into the limo, but doesn’t have the keys to start it (certainly a car that old could be hotwired?) Anyway, the Honda starts to crush them, and Sakuya conveniently ends up in the position where only she, not Suseri, can kiss Shin. When she does, the resulting powering-up destroys the evil Honda, and they return to the normal world.

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There, Suseri asks Sakuya once more if she’ll give her Shin. Sakuya refuses, but Suseri lets it go, but only for now; she still intends to usurp her. As for the man in the middle, Shin seems slightly more beholden to Sakuya, but if he had met Suseri first, I imagine he’d be more beholden to her. Still, as a high school guy with a cat-girl familiar who doesn’t wear underwear and two rich, powerful girls fighting over him, Shin doesn’t exactly have it that bad, does he?

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