Shokugeki no Souma 5 – 03 – Black and Blue

OK, I LOL’d a bit at Megumi’s Gyaru transformation after tasting Souma’s pork cutlet fondue lunch kit…but there was a distinct feeling of the franchise scraping the bottom of the barrel. If Suzuki-sensei, AKA Saiba Asahi, is supposed to be the uber-villain of this whole series, let’s just say he’s falling short, despite the fact we learn a little bit more about him.

Saiba ends up defeating Souma easily with a far superior pork cutlet lunch kit, leading Souma to believe he’s a master tracer like Mimasaka. However, there’s a good reason his food is so similar to Souma’s diner-bred fare: he was the only student of Souma’s father Jouichirou. While he won Souma’s knife in the duel, he decides not to take it since he already has Jouichirou’s superior blade. What a dick!

When Erina eventually comes to, she’s in Saiba’s arms, being called a princess and being told that she’s going to be Saiba’s bride. I couldn’t help but think of Princess Jasmine’s line in Aladdin: “I am not a prize to be won!” Yet that’s exactly what this season is trying to do: eliminate her agency just as she’s taken over leadership of Totsuki so that she can be a trophy in a contest between two dudes. It’s a bit sickening, honestly.

The middle of this episode involves parallel infodumps regarding Saiba; one between Doujima Gin and Erina (who is in her workout clothes during the call for no reason other than fanservice) and Souma and his dad at the diner. We get what I believe to be the first clear-ish glimpses of his mother Tamako, but only in flashes. Bringing her up now, in the final season, seems a bit…late?

I love cooking, and for years I’ve loved Food Wars, but the formula frankly feels played out. I’ll confess to having less-than-stellar enthusiasm for The Fifth (and Final) Plate when it dropped in April. Three uninspiring episodes and over two months later, that enthusiasm has not improved. A lot of it has to do with the fact there was a finality to our heroes beating Azami, re-taking the academy, and taking their rightful seats in the Elite Ten.

To immediately introduce a new villain (not to mention Noir, whose members look like KKK klansmen in black) who looks almost exactly like the previous villain but lacks his gravitas (as well as that of seiyu Hayami Show) feels like running in place, if not going backwards. I feel like it’s going to be one long slog getting through this…so much so I may not get through it. And that’s a damned shame!

Hamefura – 11 – Waking Bakarina

That was a goddamn tearjerker.—Steve Zissou

That was…that was outstanding. This episode left me speechless, so I’ll simply type what I want to shout from the mountaintops.

It’s not everyday a protagonist in an isekai anime ends up right back in the “original” world where they started, but after falling victim to Sirius Dieke’s dark magic, that’s where Catarina ends up. She’s initially disoriented—calling her mom okaa-sama—but after dealing with her many morning cowlicks (wondering where, and then who Anne is) she’s off to school…with a cucumber instead of the classic toast?!

There, she finally reunites with her best friend Acchan, but it’s played out as just any other day. They talk about Fortune Lover—she’s currently on the Alan route—and read manga during a break from classes. This world is like a pair of old shoes, fitting so smoothly and comfortably that it’s as if she’s wearing no shoes at all (like when she had a romantic scene with Alan in a tree).

But back in the world of Fortune Lover, Catarina has been asleep for over two days. She cannot be revived, and one of the best docs in the land is clueless. All he knows is that if she never wakes up, her body will eventually weaken until she dies. The news hits her pansexual harem like a ton of bricks.

One by one, we see the women and men who love Catarina wallow in abject despair, suddenly lost and facing incalculable hurt. Talking as if giving a eulogy at her memorial, each of them describes what she means to them and why they can’t live without her.

She brought Color to Gerald’s world, and light to Keith’s. She helped Mary learn to love herself and fall in love with her in turn. She relieved Alan’s stress about being the lesser twin. She alone understood Nicol felt blessed to have such a special sister. She alone told Sophia, and helped her to believe, that she was indeed beautiful.

The last person in this sequence is Sophia, who suddenly hears the voice and senses the presence of…someone else. As we learned a few weeks back, Sophia and Acchan share a strange connection that bridges their two worlds. In a window reflection, Acchan assures Sophia that she’ll bring Catarina back, but she needs a little help. Sophia has to return to Catarina’s bedside.

As Sophia springs into action, everyone else similarly breaks out of their respective sorrow spirals, standing tall and vowing to stay by Catarina’s side until she wakes up. It’s almost as if Acchan’s guarantee to Sophia spread to everyone else, and they realized that sitting around crying won’t solve anything; they have to be there for the one they all love.

As dusk descends on the “real” world, Catarina meets Acchan in their classroom, where the latter tells her that while she’s immeasurably happy to have been able to spend a little more time with Catarina, this place is no longer her world, and there are many people who love her waiting for her to return.

As a parting gift, Acchan tells Catarina where Sophia is being held, then flashes a bittersweet smile as she says goodbye to her precious best friend for the last time. The tears…I had them.

Catarina finally wakes up in her bed, surrounded by her harem, and promptly lets them know where Maria is. When they ask how she knows, she credits both her dream and intuition, leading everyone to flash a skeptical look. Still, they’re no doubt enthralled their Bakarina hath returned to them. Now life is worth living again!

The group treks to the Dieke family-built storeroom, locate the secret door, and find Maria safe and sound, and release her. It’s a shame we weren’t privy to Maria’s thoughts about how Catarina changed her life, but after all she had no idea Catarina was unconscious to begin with, so her omission ultimately made sense.

That just leaves dealing with Sirius, who is painted as far more of a tortured, misguided tragic figure than a mustache-twirling villain this week. He feels obliged to heed his mother’s dying wish to avenge her no matter the cost, and he’s resigned to putting his humanity up as collateral.

Even so, he remembers Catarina telling him how “gentle” his tea tasted, and how they were the same words someone else said (I’m guessing his mother). That’s when Catarina and the others arrive in his candle-filled lair. Her aim is not to fight or punish him, but to save him from certain doom—the same way saving everyone else staved off hers.

Peeps, this Hamefura shit is for real.

Kakushigoto – 07 – What They Grow Beyond

Hime voices interest in a puppy, and researches a bunch to prepare, she comes across the “ten commandments of dog ownership”, one of which is to spend as much time as possible with your dog, as chances are they’ll only live ten years. Having any lifetime put in such stark terms is particularly upsetting to Kakushi, who later equates it to the life of a manga artist.

Kakushi comes around to having a dog when he learns through Ichiko how having one will help an only child feel less lonely (though Ichiko is not an only child), just as Hime learns from some mothers in an alley that they (i.e. what she and Kakushi don’t have) are necessary to properly care for a dog. If they knew Hime’s situation they probably wouldn’t have said that within earshot. Meanwhile, the original litter of puppies all found homes, but Kakushi’s father-in-law produces one for Kakushi to present to Hime.

It’s not just any dog, but the descendent of the dog Hime’s mother had (and the subject of her father’s painting, which one of Kakushi’s assistants find at the ocean house). While the moms discouraged Hime a bit, the sight of the new puppy erases those doubts, and she vows to sleep beside the puppy on its first night home (though later ends up kind of between her dad and the puppy).

Kakushi’s father isn’t done with anonymous gifts for Hime: Kakushi comes home to find a baby grand piano has been delivered. Like the dog with the long and distinguished lineage, the piano is a kind of inheritance. That gets Kakushi and the assistants thinking about how assistants inherit some of their masters’ style, but because they end up doing most of the physical work, it’s more of a new synthesis. Similarly, as master age their skills often wane while their apprentices rise.

In the midst of all this talk of lineage, and inheritance in the present, some new clues are presented in the obligatory flash forward. Hime’s classmates tailed her to the seaside house, continuing their detective club from school, but also because they’re worried about her. Then Ichiko appears, shockingly not in a tracksuit, bearing “good news and bad news.”

This got me thinking: perhaps Kakushi isn’t dead yet in this timeline? Maybe he’s just ill, bedridden, and possibly near the end. Maybe during this time he told Hime about the house, finally revealing the hidden thing he’d kept hidden so long even at 18 she had no idea what he did for a living. And maybe the good and bad news relate to his present condition. Or maybe not.

In any case, the consistent trickle of future information is starting to create a conflict: While I’ve enjoyed the present-day adventures of Kakushi, Hime & Co. (and the ensuing comedy), I’m beginning to care more about these more drama-oriented future events. There are essentially two shows here running in parallel, with the future one by far getting the short end of the stick runtime-wise. We’ll see whether and how the show manages to bridge these two times.

Kakushigoto – 06 – Pride and Privilege

Someone keeps giving Hime expensive backpacks every year, despite the fact her dad already bought her one. Because she’s a kind and gentle soul, Hime tries to wear both at once, inspiring Kakushi. But to him, giving a kid a backpack is a privilege that must be earned and appreciated, not an obligation to be fulfilled.

When this philosophy is applied to the manga industry, Kakushi imagines a kind new world where everything is a privilege to be grateful for, whether it’s the artists being grateful for the privilege of having their art published, or the readers being grateful for the privilege of that art. But when taken too far, Kakushi ends up overextending himself, having accepted the privilege of too much extra work. Rasuna thinks he sounds like a corporate slave, but as he’s self-employed he’s more of a “man-slave”. 

We eventually learn that the mysterious serial backpack provider is Kakushi’s father-in-law, who judging from the Toyota Century is some kind of big shot. Kakushi still seems to hold a grudge for the man’s reluctance to allow his daughter to marry a gag manga. But now that Kakushi has been a father for ten years, he would feel the same way if Hime brought someone like him home. As Kakushi says, he’s “a freakin’ paradox.”

One of the extra tasks Kakushi took on to realize his Kind World was an autograph session, which is booked the same time as his day-date with Hime at the very popular and sought-after Kidzanira, where kids get to try out a bunch of adult jobs in a controlled environment. Fortunately, the bookstore where he’ll be signing autographs and the Kidzanira are in the same mall. But that also means a risk of Hime finding out his job, so his assistants take turns keeping an eye on her.

During the morning session Kakushi is convinced everyone in line is either someone he knows (Ichiko), a friend of someone he knows, or people paid by his editor to stand in line. The way he phrases his questions to the latter group furthers his misinterpretation of events. It’s not until after spotting a poster for a famous painter that he realizes that those in the line are there because they are legitimate fans who love and respect his work. Even a father and young son are united in their love of Balls of Fury.

Just as his confidence returns and he yells “I’m a manga artist, damnit!”, his exuberance accidentally knocks down a partition, revealing Hime in a cloud of smoke. For a moment it looks like the gig’s up, but Ichiko swoops in with a tremendously creative save, telling Hime she and Kakushi are at the “Kidzanira for adults” trying out different jobs. Even so, Hime doesn’t even recognize her dad in his manga uniform, so he didn’t have to worry. What he may have to worry about? Hime wanting to work in a bookstore!

Fast forward to the future, where the older Hime opens the “17” box to reveal envelopes full of manuscripts. At first she seems unmoved by the manga, which is about a father, mother, and daughter. It’s all so boring and ordinary…which is why as she continues to read the tears start welling up. There may not be swords or magic on those pages, but there is a bunch of real life; a life very familiar to Hime.

This closing scene is one more emotional “bomb” that had been intricately constructed in the “past” sequences that preceded it. All those mundane moments of her and Kakushi just living life together given gain deeper resonance in the future where he’s suddenly absent.

Despite Kakushi’s reservations—not to mention his father-in-laws about him—Hime may well fall for someone like him. Not because that person will be a gag mangaka, but because they’ll be kind and loving, and consider loving and caring for her to be an honor and a privilege…because that’s exactly what it is.

Kakushigoto – 05 – Bathrobe Party!

Tomaruin has signed Kakushi up as a judge for a manga competition. Despite his gag manga specialty, he actually proves quite astute at judging his assistant Keshi’s manga (which is far too verbose), impressing the other assistants. He’s initially against being a judge, but convinced by Hime that he should do his duty, or “society will crumble.”

Tomaruin makes a big mess of things, first by almost burying Hime in boxes of submissions (though only one submission per box, Amazon package-style), then adding “(LOL)” to the end of every one of Kakushi’s published assessments, leading to internet ire about him not taking the duty seriously.

Speaking of duty, we see Kakei delivering manuscripts to the hilltop house Hime visits in the future, since it’s Kakei’s turn for that particular duty. The sight of a chore wheel confirms that Kakushi, his wife, and Hime lived together there once.

When the editorial board demands the last eight pages of a manuscript be redrawn, Tomaruin seals Kakushi up in a fancy hotel room, where he’s to stay until the work’s done. He’s worried about Hime being lonely (and unattended), so asks Nadila to stay past her usual time. When she can’t, Tomaruin volunteers to watch her. But for him, “her” is Nadila, on whom he has a crush, not Hime.

Kakushi is surprised when Sumita exits the shower of his hotel room, but she came to help him with his work. Because he can’t work in a suit, he changes into a bathrobe, and Sumita follows suit. As other assistants arrive to help throughout the night it gradually becomes a bathrobe party.

Meanwhile, Nadila arrives to watch Hime (her other client canceled) but Naru is already there, having run away from a fight with her parents. She and Nadila have a fun sleepover with Hime.

Tomaruin continues stalking Nadila until he’s caught by Ichiko (seemingly always on predator patrol), and Nadila, Hime, and Naru all identify him as someone different based on their past dealings with him.

While this sequence is fun, and it’s good Hime wasn’t lonely, Kakushi should probably be a bit more on top of, ya know, who comes and goes in his house, and who watches his daughter!

Another night while watching an athletic medal ceremony, Hime presents her dad with a gold medal she made. Kakushi knows that it’s likely that one day Hime will fall in love with someone and Kakushi will be relegated to “silver medal” status, but he writes the date on the medal so that when that time comes—hopefully years from then—he’ll be able to bear it.

Fast-forward to the future, when older Hime recalls when her dad wrote on the back of the medal she gave him. She realizes these newer boxes weren’t prepared by her mom, but by her dad. Tearing up, she pulls out the “17” box and hugs it, as if she were hugging a part of her dad…who it seems stills holds the “gold” for now.

Because really, she is. That eliminates any lingering doubt that she’s now an orphan. I wonder if we’ll ever learn what happened to Kakushi and more about what future Hime will do. Perhaps in the future timeline some combination of Ichiko, Naru, Nadila, and the assistants continue to figure into her equation.

Kakushigoto – 04 – Somewhere Far Away

This week’s time leap occurs at the beginning, with 18-year-old Hime explaining that the boxes her mother left her were full of things she’d need for the age labeled. Because everything was pre-stored, some if not most of those items were out of date by the time Hime attained those ages.

But she doesn’t mind. Thanks to the boxes, she’s able to experience a unique closeness to her mother she couldn’t have experienced. They serve as both time capsules and something like prophesies about a future Hime’s mother couldn’t possibly see…and yet at the same time, could.

But it’s back to the more lighthearted present-day of the show, when an assistant notes Kakushi is signing unimportant documents with “Kazushi”, assuming it’s his real name. However, Kakushi is his real name, and used it when he got published, so it’s his pen name as well.

When Kakushi’s editor Tomaruin goes to the EiC to declare his artists’ wish to change his pen name, the higher-ups are worried Kakushi has fallen in with fortune-tellers who may brainwash him not just to change his name, but start a cult! While having lunch with Ichiko, considers what it would be like for people to name their children after characters he created…only to find a woman named a dog after one of them…purely coincidentally.

Also coincidentally, Hime gets into onomancy (divination through names) and determines that while her pop has 5-star luck in just about everything, he should avoid the artistic fields at all costs. Later, Tomaruin stops by Kakushi’s house to find Hime engaging in Nadila’s native version of fortune-telling.

The editor is immediately smitten with Nadila, and returns to the bosses with the glazed cult member look, declaring his new name is “CEO”. But at the end of the day, Hime tells her dad they can rest assured, because there’s a guardian spirit watching over them both. That spirit is, of course, her mom.

When Hime comes to her father with an art assignment and asks for help with the background, the subject of “can dad draw?” comes up, something Kakushi would really rather avoid. That said, his assistant worry about his background skills as he hasn’t had to draw them in years (to say nothing of coloring).

While at first Kakushi wanted to balance helping Hime create an impressive work of art and exposing the fact he’s a professional artist, the assistants bring him back down to earth, making him raise the question of whether he can cut it with non-manga art after doing nothing but manga for so long!

The answer is, well…not really! Not because he’s particularly bad at backgrounds or coloring, but because his manga background unconsciously influences his style. He discovers this when on a lark he attends an art class run by none other than…Future Idol Senda Naru, who assumes he’s there to see her!

Naru is pretty good herself, and it’s she who gets Kakushi to realize manga has been so absorbed throughout his artistic language, he’ll sketch a stone bust like a shounen hero without even trying. But this is all moot, as Ichiko informs him when he leaves the class: he’s not allowed to help Hime with her drawing at all!

Now Kakushi isn’t worried about embarrassing Hime with manga-style backgrounds, but of Ichiko and Hime’s peers questioning her integrity. To avoid any question of him directly aiding Hime with her drawing, he arranges to have Ichiko accompany them to the zoo.

Ichiko rightly sees this as a date, belieiving Kakushi wants to keep them at a distance in case people see a teacher on a date with a student’s parent and get the wrong idea. Of course, this is the wrong idea, and Kakushi is just trying to protect Hime’s honor, but by the end of the date Ichiko thought the date was wonderful!

Kakushi’s odd date parameters also cause Ichiko to pay a different price with her other students: when she tells them her date is “far away” while looking wistfully up in the sky, they assume she’s gone crazy from the grief of a dead lover, and promise to behave in class from now on!

The myriad misunderstandings—some positive, some negative—are all a matter of the perspective of the observers. And so it is with Hime’s drawing: when the tigers don’t come out of their cave, she decides to draw herself and her dad from the tigers’ perspective—an idea both beyond her years and just the kind of creative thinking a kid would come up with organically.

Kakushi proceeds to buy the most gaudy, expensive frame for the drawing and hangs it prominently on the wall, despite Hime’s believe it disrupts the feng shui. Kakushi finds something very familiar about the drawing. Sure (and eerily) enough, the composition is identical to a photo he and his wife had taken with baby Hime at the same tiger enclosure, on the same bench.

In that regard Hime wasn’t just drawing what the tigers in the cave saw, but what her mother saw from her perspective “far away”, up in the sky: her daughter and father safe and happy, returning to a spot they once all shared. And so even without a time leap, the ending made me tear up all the same!

Kakushigoto – 03 – The Accidental Harem

I came into Kakushigoto hoping it would be a lightweight feel-good slice-of-life father/daughter comedy. Yet every time it jumps to a future where an 18-year-old Hime has apparently lost her father pushes it into striaght-up drama territory. Everything in the present and 10-year-old Hime exhibits a thin layer of wistfulness, lending even mundane or comedic scenes more emotional weight, like the shading of a manga frame.

This week only begins (and doesn’t end) with a time leap, so we can still ease into the present-day slice-of-lifeness. But we learn something definitively that I had been suspecting: the house at the top of the hill is the exact same plan as the one 10-year-old Hime lived in. Kakushi apparently had a copy of the house built to the exact specs of the older one…where perhaps he and his wife lived before Hime?

In Mangaland, Kakushi’s entire staff has injuries, a stroke of bad luck and coincidence, so his editor hires a substitute replacement. The regular assistants are impressed with his speed and efficiency, but Kakushi deems him “too efficient” for an assistant.

That confuses them at first—how could an assistant be too fast and efficient?—until they find that assistant published his first work. Once an assistant has reached a certain level of skill, there’s nothing stopping them from striking out on their own, without even mentioning how he worked for Kakushi for a few days or so!

As for the curious design of the house, Hime’s friends wonder out loud if Hime and her dad are poor (of course, one of them has an elevator and concierge in her house, so wealth is surely relative). Hime had never thought about finances before, but takes it upon herself to pinch every penny.

Kakushi comes home on a hot summer day to find the A/C suspiciously turned off and Hime pressing her body against the nice, cool floor. He proceeds to tell her he makes far more than the average salaryman, almost betaying that he’s not really a salaryman before recovering and saying he’s more like upper middle management. He also almost explains why the house looks the way it does, but stops himself.

Since Hime found not only clothes but age-appropriate cooking recipes in her 10-year-old box (her mom really went the extra mile), Kakushi allows Hime to cook with the housekeeper. Turns out the housekeeper is from Indonesia, and so puts an Indonesian flair on the recipe. This mirrors a situation at work where the studio is digitized and they receive a rainy day from a remote artist, only it’s an Indonesian day, not a Japanese one.

Hime’s school sports festival arrives, and Kakushi tries to get himself in shape should he have to do anything athletic. There’s a fun bit discussing the various muscle groups used while reading manga. Then he has trouble drawing a high school girl character aspiring to be an idol, only to come home and find a high school girl aspiring to be an idol in his house, the guest of her first-ever fan, Hime.

The girl, Senda Naru, is so surprised that an adult (and a man) is so eager to hear her story (because Kakushi needs material for his manga), that by the time they part ways she’s developed a bit of a thing for him. She won’t be the first!

As Kakushi openly expresses his worries about his daughter not having a mother around, he inadvertently compliments both his cooking teacher You and the local florist Kumi. When the clothier sells his salaryman disguise and he has to go out in public in white tie like a groom, he runs into Rokujou, who assumes he’s proposing and wigs out.

By the time the festival rolls around, Hime has an entire cheering section composed of her dad, and his rather sudden but diverse harem: You, Kumi, Rokujou (who turns into a demon when she sees Kakushi with the other women), and the aspiring idol Naru. Yet Hime is more bemused than appreciative; for all of Kakushi’s worries, Hime isn’t missing a mother in the slightest. If anything, she’d rather spend more time with just him!

The fact she’s so naturally mature about these things at ten years old (not to mention how quickly she learns how to clean and cook) makes be believe that despite having neither parent alive, 18-year-old Hime is going to be just fine. That means Kakushi did a great job, despite his insecurities … which makes the time leaps a little less sad.

Kakushigoto – 02 – Boxes Within Boxes

In addition to being about a single father and daughter, Kakushigoto offers a glimpse into the lives of manga artists. Kakushi’s team is up against a deadline, so they escape reality by getting absorbed in doing chores or cooking. They end up completing the manuscript in time, and while it might sound counter-intuitive, they were only able to do it because of the gyoza-making session session.

Since a manuscript is done, Kakushi and crew have some free time, so they head to a beach (and a villa owned by a manga artist who, like many, dreamed of working by the sea, only to soon regret it). Unfortunately for Kakushi’s assistants, the villa is in dire need of a deep clean.

Meanwhile, Kakushi spies on Hime, who is on a school field trip. He’s caught several times by Ichiko, who thinks he’s talking about her (and not Hime) when he says “the cuteness is undeniable.”

Kakushi also goes to great lengths to ensure Hime doesn’t endure teasing, first by buying a beetle for her to easily catch (though it’s the wrong species), then flying in an Indian master chef to add seasoning to her curry (though it’s too spicy for the kids).

He returns to find his assistants are too exhausted from cleaning to go out, so they aim to have double the fun tomorrow. Alas, a typhoon hits the area hard, and they’re stuck inside with the power out and nothing to do…but draw manga. One of them, Rasuna, draws in her swimsuit, because she brought a swimsuit so she has to wear it somewhere, dammit!

While taking Hime to a festival, Kakushi keeps spotting bootlegged merchandise bearing the face of a character from his manga. Mortified Hime will put two and two together, he buys up all of the masks, cotton candy, and attempts to shoot all of the targets, using his assistants to carry the huge loads of merch away.

In the process of doing all of this, poor Hime has to sit on a bench and wait instead of spending time with her dad. It’s a case of Kakushi worrying and thinking way too much. Hime isn’t actively trying to find out the truth of his livelihood.

In another segment that bends reality, a pair of police investigators come to Kakushi’s makeshift studio, on suspicion they’re running an antisocial cult. With every piece of “evidence” the detectives find, their crazy suspicions grow more ridiculous, until they fear Kakushi and his comrades are planning to overthrow the government.

Three of his four assistants surrender, hoping they’ll receive leniency, and Kakushi follows suit when he considers the possibility of not being there for Hime. Ultimately it’s Rasuna who proves to the cops that Kakushi is indeed a manga artist and harmless—as long as you consider a naked artist’s portrait in the back of his book!

Finally, while printing out photos of their festival trip, Kakushi wonders where Hime’s yukata came from. She tells him it’s hand-sewn, and she found it in the closet. Kakushi opens said closed, for the first time, and discovers boxes for every year of Hime’s life up to 16, no doubt packed with age-appropriate, hand-made clothes. Kakushi has been so busy with his manga and keeping his job a secret, he never knew his wife too great strides to ensure Hime would be well-dressed after she was gone.

Fast-forward to the present day when Hime is 18, lamenting how she never tried to find out what her dad really did and is only learning now. She finds new boxes for ages 17-20 in the storage house. It sure seems like Kakushi has died at this point, and that lends an extra layer of melancholy to all the segments in the past—especially when you consider how much time (and money) Kakushi spends keeping his job secret.

If he’s dead when she’s 18, that means the 10-year-old Hime only has seven years left with her dad. It’s kind of heartbreaking!

Fruits Basket – 26 (S2 01) – The Hideous One

First of all, let me say how good it feels to have Fruits Basket back in my life. It’s truly a salve for the heart! Those who haven’t watched the first season probably wouldn’t agree. It should go without saying: make sure you watch those 25 episodes before getting anywhere near this episode. That said, holy crap, what a return to greatness!

A gorgeous new OP, followed by an episode centered squarely on … Minagawa Motoko! In which she recognizes Tooru’s positive effect on Yuki. And stops living in a world of fantasy. And acknowledges her flaws. And commits to pursuing Yuki the right way. In other words, Motoko changes…and in doing so becomes yet another character I love and can’t wait to see again. And lest we forget, she’s brilliantly voiced by MAO!

Tooru shows up to put an iron uncomfortably close to the faces of Kyou and Yuki, but otherwise this is basically The Minagawa Motoko Show from start to finish (with a sprinkling of Yuki). It’s a ballsy move to make Tooru’s arrogant, one-dimensional, self-deluded love “rival” the protagonist-of-the-week, especially as the first episode back.

But Fruits Basket has already demonstrated time and again that none of its cast is really shallow; it’s just a matter of how much we know them, and this was the time to really hunker down and get to know Motoko, beyond the scheming president of Prince Yuki—someone nearly bowled over by Arisa’s eager new delinquent minions (a great potential pairing for a future episode, by the way).

Motoko puts her war with Tooru aside to deal with a more pressing matter: the identity of the new StuCo board members. Specifically, she wants to make sure none of them are hussies that will steal her man (who, let it be said, has already been all but stolen by Tooru!) But former StuCo prez Takei can sense Motoko’s intent and isn’t spilling the beans.

Meanwhile, it’s new StuCo prez Yuki who meets the new board members in question, in a very bizarrely staged scene. When he enters, he hears a girl seemingly weeping in the dark in a giant mess of files. Yet after recoiling from his touch, she adopts a stoic demeanor and goes about cleaning up. This is the new StuCo treasurer, Kuragi Machi.

Then he meets the new veep, the brash and grigarious Manabe Kakeru, who had been napping in the next room and reminds Yuki of his repellent brother Ayamu. He has a particularly weird exchange with Manabe later, leading him to wonder if there’s something Zodiac-y or Zodiac-adjacent about these new members…or if they’re just a bit eccentric.

That night, we end up in Motoko’s very rich-girly room as she waxes poetic about Yuki and curses those who would stand between her and him, only to be rudely interrupted by her no-nonsense mom in curls. Turns out Motoko puts on Kongou Mitsuko rich girl airs at school, but is actually from a working-class family who lives above their shop. I’m already more fascinated with her!

The next day, Motoko decides to bypass Takei entirely, enlisting the aid of third-year and fellow Prince Yuki member Aida Rika, to pick the lock of the StuCo office. Turns out the office unlocked, and Motoko and Rika are in luck: the only person in there is their beloved Yuki. Quietly cheered on by Rika, Motoko gets off to a rough start by asking Yuki…about what he ate for breakfast.

But because Yuki is such a nice guy, he dutifully tells her what he ate, and she discovers they like the same kind of natto. Then, unbidden, Yuki asks Motoko if she normally speaks so formally, commenting that it’s “kind of cute.” Motoko would normally be happy beyond words by being called cute by Yuki, but when she sees his warm easy smile that accompanies the words of praise, she sees a Yuki she doesn’t recognize.

The adoring distance she’s kept from Yuki means the Yuki she saw was rarely the Yuki he really was underneath a much cooler, at times forced smile. She realizes how far that distance remains when Yuki could change so much without her knowing, and with the help of someone else … someone not her by his side. It’s suddenly too much to bear, so she runs off.

As she flips on a faucet to wash her suddenly tear-filled face, Motoko professes her hatred of all women who “dare get near Yuki”, but hates none of them more than herself, the “hideous one” who thinks those kinds of thoughts as she’s reflected in her mirror. It’s the kind of honest self-reflection I was hoping from Motoko after her fateful visit to the Hanajima residence (a veritable bastion of Keeping It Realness).

Motoko shouldn’t just thank Tooru’s influence for giving her a Yuki who can smile, but one who didn’t let things sit where they were. He goes after her to make sure she’s alright, and in doing so, confides in her that despite looking so “unruffled”, he’s barely keeping his cool. Motoko can relate, as she just lost her cool back in the office!

Heartened by Yuki’s smile, Motoko vows not to give up the fight. He may have changed, and Tooru may have changed him, but she still adores him and wants him to be hers. Now that she’s actually exchanged more than just polite pleasantries, but shared a moment of mutual vulnerability, that affection has gained intensity and legitimacy.

As I sat staggered at how well they fleshed out Motoko and made her someone I half want to root for in just an episode, Yuki returns home and washes dishes with Tooru, and mentions the almost Zodiac-like strangeness of his new council-mates. He also confesses that he was happy when Manabe said he was “more interesting than [he] thought.”

Earlier, Kyou called Yuki lame, and privately, Yuki acknowledges that yeah, he is lame. It’s why Kyou’s barb is so painful; he believes it. But Tooru assures him that even if tough times are coming, either in the StuCo (maybe) or the Souma family (most assuredly) there will be fun times to cherish as well. Life is a never-ending string of getting hurt and healed by words and actions big and small.

After Tooru delivers those wise-beyond-her-years words, the episode closes perfectly on its heroine Minagawa Motoko, positively angelic in her frilly nightgown and glorious pink palace above a workaday store, gazing at the stars in quiet, hopeful, healing prayer.

Kakushigoto – 01 (First Impressions) – Den of the Fancypeeps

Hime’s father Gotou Kakushi has a secret (kakushigoto): he draws for a living (kaku shigoto). That right there is triple wordplay! But that’s to be expected of Kumeta Kouji, original creator of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Gotou is voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi, one of the most famous and recognizable male seiyuu of his generation.

Hime is voiced by Takahashi Rie, an immensely talented young voice whose career continues to soar. The show’s music is composed by Hashimoto Yukari, responsible for scoring many RABUJOI all-time favorite series. This is an anime Dream Team. So I immediately expected great things … and Kakushigoto mostly delivered.

While the prologue takes place as an 18-year-old Hime is finally given the key to her father’s secret repository of dirty joke manga manuscripts, the rest of the episode (and likely show) takes place years later, when Hime is in grade school. While I didn’t spot a shrine in their house, it’s implied she passed away, leaving Kakushi to juggle his secret job with Hime’s upbringing—two elements he keeps as separate as oil and water.

Fearing that learning his profession will make her think less of him and might even warp her, Kakushi makes every effort to keep Hime from learning about his job. But everyday circumstances—like a new editor wearing a t-shirt bearing his art coming to his house—make his efforts more difficult.

Adding to the complication of child-rearing in general, Kakushi is not the only person Hime sees and hears things from. Through her friends at school she’s exposed to ideas about having a good job and the importance of…well, being important. You could say Kakushi has a good job—he loves doing it and is good at it—but he’s no “CEO”, a term Hime doesn’t learn from him!

What’s great about Hime is that she is, at the end of the day, a good girl, but not a overly gullible one. She hangs the wish for her father to “be important someday” because she thinks it will make him happy, not because’s she’s disappointed. In this regard, Kakushi is a very lucky man; he could easily have a daughter who’s nosier, or more critical.

That said, Hime does inevitably get caught up in a “Girl’s Detective Agency” mission with her friends when one of them wants to track down the man who saved a cat from a stream (with his buoyant seat pad, no less).

In another instance of clever wordplay, Kakushi warned Hime of a monster named “Oshapi.” The other girls interpret this as “Fancypeeps”, or “fashionable people.” Their teacher confirms the existence of such people who occupy bookstores that don’t sell manga (she’s a fan of Kakuchi’s) and order drinks that sound like “spell names”.

When the girls manage to locate the “hero” (i.e. Kakuchi) they follow him into that “lair” of books and spell-drinks that’s really just an ordinary Starbucks. The other girls let their imaginations run away with them, but Hime remains levelheaded through it all. Though fortunately for Kakuchi, he doesn’t spot him, so his secret as both cat hero and mangaka is safe for now.

In addition to being full of clever language jokes, Kakushigoto is a solid story of a single parent keeping their child safe and happy, and that child weathering external stimuli with that emotional and philosophical happiness intact. In other words, she’s going to be alright, and she’d still love her dad, even if his secret is exposed.

As Hime continues to grow and learn more from sources other than Kakushi, he’ll have to adjust to the fact that his secret will be less and less of a big deal (also it’s not as if he’s an eroge artist). Between Kakuchi’s assistants and other acquaintances and Hime’s teacher and friends, a lot of peripheral players are introduced this week.

Still, the core duo of Kakuchi and Hime shine through as the rightful dual anchors of the show. Their respective social circles should provide quite a bit of variety; this episode featured 2 1/2 to 3 distinct stories in one. The competent direction lacks the flair of an Akiyuki Shinbo, but the writing and performances more than make up for it. I very much like what I’m seeing so far, and looking forward to more!

 

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 12 (Fin) – Hanging In There

Berserk Golem is terrifying to behold, but at least initially, his attacks aren’t very coordinated. That gives Yabashira a chance to intervene before Golem makes Somali witness something she shouldn’t. He’s tossed aside, and Golem targets Rosa, only for the freed Somali to come between them.

She has enough trust in her dad that he won’t hurt her with his outstretched hand, but pat her on the head. He may have lost a lot of resources when he went into overload, but the love he has for her wasn’t among them, and it serves as a fail-safe switch, and he passes out after acknowledging his daughter.

We part ways with Rosa off-camera, though I’d hope she learned a lesson and will do some serious soul-searching about her attitude towards humans after the one she was ready to dissect saved her life. Golem comes to in a forest, with Somali sleeping by his side.

The pair continue their journey with Shizuno and Yabashira, but after assessing his damage, it’s not looking good for Golem. His left arm is gone for good, as is nearly a third of his skin and much of his internal fluids. He’s at 76%, max, and it’s all downhill from there…though he notably can’t set an exact date of final shutdown.

The quartet arrives in a new town full of horned dog people celebrating their harvest. Never mind that there may be more human hunters here who would recognize Somali’s smell; the show clearly cedes that the time of external threats to Somali are done, as long as she keeps her hood down. I’m skeptical!

Of course, the main issue is that while on their way to town, Golem noticed that his senses are becoming duller and it’s getting increasingly hard to move. Add to that the potential for him to lose control like he did in the cave, and he considers his continued proximity to Somali a liability. So at the town festival, while Somali is distracted by performers, he gives her the slip.

Shizuno fills Yabashira and Somali in on why Golem left, and why he couldn’t persuade him otherwise; he made his choice. But Somali is hardly satisfied with such an adult conclusion, and chases after her dad, leaving town and finding him in the nearby woods, staring at a pond. When he spots her, Golem orders her to stay away, but she won’t obey, and demands to know why they can’t be together like he promised.

When he denies it’s because of anything she said or did or because he doesn’t like her anymore (Somali is just a little kid, this is where her mind would go first) and tells her he’s worried about being a danger to her, she again rejects his reasoning. She’ll be too lonely without him, and she knows he’ll be lonely too. She gets him to admit the emotions within him (despite that not jiving with his “natural order”)—and even sheds the equivalent of a golem tear.

With that, Golem reverses his decision to run away, and instead vows to stay by Somali’s side as long as he can, enduring whatever hardships might arise. The two of them acquire some nifty new threads and continue their travels with the Shizuno and Yabashira.

This seal the ending as an ellipsis rather than a period, and opens the door for a possible sequel. But that aside, I was pretty certain the show wouldn’t kill off Golem in the last episode, despite some of the “death is not the end” flags during the town festival.

Instead, it galvanized its hopeful outlook with a hopeful ending, in which there’s still time for Golem to find a way to repair himself, and in the meantime, Somali’s formative years can continue to be filled with happy and fun memories with her dad, as long as they can.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 11 – Defense Over Insulation

We know shit is about to hit the fan. So it’s somehow even crueler that after
showing us Aunt Rosa’s true colors last week, the episode keeps things light and pleasant. Rosa tells Golem about a shortcut to “avoid” trouble, Somali and Golem exchange bracelets, and the two have a snowball fight with the oni. Even the score is oblivious to the impending unpleasantness.

Then, later that night after Somali has gone to bed, Golem detects five human hunters. Yabashira is quickly told Somali is indeed a human (he’s fine with it, like any decent person), and acts as a decoy, allowing Golem, Somali and Shizuno to flee into the nearby subterranean tunnels. However, Golem and Shizuno were both fooled by the kindly Aunt Rosa, who meets them right before the supposed exit and leads them straight into a holding cell.

She tells them a personal story about how her village once coexisted with a human village, but the humans’ prejudice led to needless killing, and eventually all non-humans agreed it would be safer for everyone if the humans were persecuted and killed. She also sings the same song Kikila sang for Somali, revealing the lyrics are about cooking humans.

At this point, Golem’s body is nearing its end, as he had to exert considerable energy to evade the second set of hunters in the tunnels. He can’t risk destroying the cell gate, but when it’s opened and Somali is snatched away by the hunters, he has no choice. Only when he prepares to attack the hunters his whole left arm shatters (and his new bracelet snaps), while the rest of his body shuts down.

Shizuno’s pleas for understanding fall on deaf ears, and Somali is tied to a table as the hunters prepare to cut her into pieces—one wants the brain, while Rosa wants the liver. Still, Golem is down but not yet out: his eye turns read, he gets back to his feet, and he transforms into something wild and brutal we haven’t seen before as his core churns and smolders.

It may be the beginning of the end for Golem, but his attempts to insulate her from the cold truth of the world were not only futile, but are no longer possible. Now all that matters is defending her from harm with everything he has left—as any father of any species would do for their child.

Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front – Babylonia – 20 – Flowers in the Underworld

If you’re going to have a final boss to the final singularity in your narrative universe, go big or go home. F/GO goes monumental, and everyone has a role to play. First in the order of battle against Beast Tiamat is Assassin, who helpfully slashes both its eyes and delivers various other blows. Tiamat responds by unleashing a brood of Divine Spirit-class lahmu.

As Tiamat begins to climb back up to the living world, the quicker and dealier than ever lahmu prove too much for Ritsuka and the Servants, who are riddled with cuts and bruises and are starting to tire. That’s when they’re bailed out by the arrival of Gilgamesh, this time in his Servant form. He doesn’t spare the treasury in unleashing a gold-steel rain upon the lahmu, while Tiamat is forced back down to the ground.

Tiamat’s bonkers response to this setback is to create a Nega-Genesis, an attempt to restart the very universe. A huge bubble forms around the beast, poised to rewrite life itself and negate every Servant in Ritsuka’s stable. Ereshkigal is able to stop this process by using her impressive Noble Phantasm Kur Ki Gal Irkalla, but even this is naught but a time-buying measure.

While Beast is temporarily sealed away, the only person who can enter the Nega-Genesis, Ritsuka, but deliver the killing blow. Gilgamesh provides the blade, while Mash and Merlin will use their Noble Phantasms Lord Camelot and Garden of Avalon simultaneously, creating a path for Ritsuka.

There’s a palpable vulnerability to the prospect of Ritsuka heading to perhaps the most dangerous spot in the universe without his trusty aid—but the two trust in one another to take care of business on their different sides of the battlefield.

Ereshkigal’s gambit turns out to be a sacrifice, as she used up all of her authority to give Ritsuka and the others maximum time to prepare a final assault. She disappears in a distraught Ishtar’s arms, smiling at the sight of so many gorgeous flowers in her underworld (the product of Garden of Avalon).

A victory against Tiamat wasn’t going to be without cost, but it’s surely gutting that Ereshkigal is part of that cost. Ueda Kana does moving work voicing both Servants in the scene, and indeed throughout the two Servants’ interactions. So alike and yet so different.

Her sacrifice isn’t in vain, however; after some effort and a last minute assist by Assassin (who can be in the Nega-Genesis because he’s technically dead…?) keeping the last of the lahmu off his back, Ritsuka is able to reach Tiamat’s head and plunge the dagger in.

The Nega-Genesis begins to collapse, and Gilgamesh breaks out Ea and delivers the coup-de-grace—the good ol’ Enuma Elish, delivered with such unrepentant ferocity I was momentarily worried my speakers would blow out.

In the midst of all the external sturm und drang Ritsuka finds himself in a tranquil oasis where Tiamat’s true form of a horned woman stands alone in a white, soundless void. She quietly laments how her children made a ladder of her and gone far away, and asks if her love for them was mistaken. Ritsuka assures her that all her children love her, which is why she has to get going.

I honestly felt sympathy for Tiamat, so soft and lonesome were her words. A lot of that is down to the stark minimalism of the scene and Yuuki Aoi’s deep yet restrained performance. After she is destroyed by Gilgamesh’s Phantasm, the underworld that was their last battlefield begins to crumble.

Merlin quickly shoots Ritsuka and Mash, hand-in-hand, back up to the surface on a stream of flowers. A stunning victory has been achieved by their hands and those of their friends. Humanity will go on. Hopefully there’s some time to celebrate—and mourn—before the duo heads on home.