Hibike! Euphonium – 10

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Not that it wasn’t going to anyway, Hibike! got on my good side early this week by elaborating on that dark flashback Kumiko keeps thinking of. Turns out she beat one of her senpais in auditions, and the senpai chewed her out, saying she’d be in the competition if only Kumiko…didn’t exist.

That’s a harsh thing for someone like Kumiko to hear, and it’s clearly stayed with her, because when Natsuki asks to talk, she’s worried she’s going to get it again.

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It’s not that Kumiko doesn’t believe she deserves her spot, it’s that she can’t help but feel in the way of a senpai. She deals with her objective supriority by recoiling almost apologeticaly before the one she beat. Fortunately, Natsuki is, as Kumiko aptly puts it, “a nice person.”

That is, she doesn’t hold it against Kumiko for winning the seat. On the contrary, she’s only been playing a year and didn’t expect to win, and knew she wouldn’t be able to hide either fact from Taki-sensei. So while she’s her senpai in age, Kumiko is her senpai in Euph experience, by six years!

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While I believe Natsuki when she says she didn’t have high hopes, Kaori is another story entirely. She really wanted the solo part in her final year, and while it’s clear she hasn’t made her peace with the fact she didn’t get it, she’s willing to accept the decision out of respect both for Taki-sensei, Reina, and the system.

But then rumors spread of Taki and Reina knowing each other, introducing suspicions of favoritism. Yuko relays these rumors second-hand to Kaori, and while I know she’s just trying to be a loyal and caring friend, she only made things worse in terms of Kaori getting over things, because things may not be on the straight and narrow.

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What’s disappointing is how indelicately Yuko brings the issue before Taki-sensei, in front of everyone. He doesn’t deny knowing Reina, but insists he showed no favoritism. When Yuko presses, Reina can no longer hold her tongue. Both she and Taki make things worse by refusing to to anything about it.

Reina storms out, followed closely by Kumiko, but rather than find Reina depressed or crying, Reina is simply frikkin’ PISSED OFF, unable to stand Yuko’s presence any longer. She gathers Kumiko in a big warm hug, seeking assurance that she’s right about being the best trumpeter for the soloist part. Kumiko gives it to her, not just because they’re friends, but because she believes it herself.

And because these two are so close and open now, Reina also informs Kumiko that she attended this school because she knew Taki would be directing the band. She probably knew rumors would surface, but they’d come from what amounts to sore losers, and she’d simply barrel through them and press forward. (Does this confirmation of her love for Taki mean Reina and Kumiko don’t have a yuri future? I guess we’ll see.)

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But that’s going to be tricky. As good as Reina is, the controversy has had a profound effect on band cohesion, with people taking sides all over again, and talking about everything behind Taki’s back. The bassists send Kumiko to try to get Asuka’s opinion on the matter, but off the record (and in confidence) Asuka admits she doesn’t care either way; insinuating she’s focused on her own path. Kumiko can’t tell if she’s putting up a facade; neither can we. Asuka remains wonderfully enigmatic.

Less enigmatic but still wonderful is Haruka, who can’t rely on Kaori again (since Kaori is mired in the middle of this) nor the ever-neutral Asuka. She knows that she, the president, needs to get the band back on track. So before Taki arrives, she addresses them, and gets a show of hands for those with problems with the auditions.

She gets a number of hands, but can’t do anything with them as Taki-sensei enters, having just gotten a brief talk with the faculty adviser, who also happened to know his father. She knows that he can’t help but be honest and only care about music when it’s good enough. But in this situation, he has to be more than a greatness detector: he has to regain his band’s trust, even if it means screwing over those who already won.

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To this end, he too breaks the silence about the controversy, and offers a second audition to anyone who wants one, only this time it will be held in the concert hall he rented, in front of the whole band. The first to raise her hand is Kaori, which we know has nothing to do with her thinking she’s better than Reina or believing Taki played favorites. I don’t think she believes either.

This is, as her friend said, about accepting herself, something she won’t be able to do if she doesn’t take this opportunity. Reina’s disappointment is clear and justified, but knowing her, she’ll take this as a fresh challenge on her path to become truly special. Even if she doesn’t care what others think of her, she can’t get to the nationals without the rest of the band.

I don’t think she’ll ever win the love Yuko and others have for Kaori, and it’s possible she’ll beat Kaori so badly they’ll still be against her. But who knows, perhaps this time, out in the open, she can convince them beyond doubt she deserves the solo part. It isn’t something she should have to do, but she has to all the same.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 02

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SnS keeps the energy pot at a rolling boil this week, delivering another gemstone to be played with by a dog such as myself. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun staring at a glowing screen. Probably because I stare at glowing screens too much. But one thing’s for sure, SnS has got it goin’ on.

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Souma’s dad ships him off to transfer at Totsuki Teahouse Culinary Academy, telling him from the dining room of a swanky hotel in Manhattan (where everyone from congressmen to monks would give their left nut to eat his food) that if he can’t get in and graduate, he has no business harboring dreams of surpassing his dad.

Souma doesn’t question any of that, but he knows it will be an uphill battle, as he sticks out like a sore thumb on a campus full of pompous, entitled asses, all of them with some kind of elite pedigree in the food industry.

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The most pompous of them all has been chosen to evaluate the transfer applicants, including Souma: the arrogant, imperious Nakiri Erina-sama (Taneda Risa), whose superhuman palate has earned her the nickname “God Tongue,” which if ever taken out of context, could really give some people the wrong idea…especially when you consider she has no problem using her power to melt the hearts of smitten subordinates like Arato Hisako.

Erina has been rejecting food since her first words decried a dearth of flavor…in her mother’s milk. Her whole life story is probably embellished, but the point is, she knows food, and she’s at the top of the food chain. And Souma’s at the bottom.

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Even though all the other applicants, dozens of them, flee upon being given permission to do so from Erina (so as to spare themselves being finished in the food world forever if she were to shoot down their food), Souma stays, because he’s got a job to do: surpass his dad. That means he needs to get in, so he mostly ignores the eccentric behavior of all these rich dummies, remains calm, and starts cooking.

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The exam revolves around the use of the egg, which is simultaneously the easiest food to prepare and the easiest to mess up royally. You want to know if someone can cook? Ask them to make a simple fried egg or omelette. This is essentially what Erina does, and while she maintains a strict dubiousness that this shaved gorilla from the muck will ever hope to excite her royal palate, his white rice seasoned with chicken wing/bonito aspic and egg does just that.

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Erina is the queen of bizarre flavor metaphors, from being hit with a jukebox under a waterfall, to baithing in a hot spring with a gorilla, to being tickled by angel feathers in heaven. But when those angels in her “ha-food-cination” start to bear the commoner Souma’s visage and they start to get all grabby with her sheet, she’s suddenly turned off.

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In this case, Souma’s food really did excite her palate, and indeed her whole body, but it’s interesting to see that everything is relative in SnS. It was far easier to tear the evil developer and her goons’ clothes off than those of one of the most refined palates in the world. On top of that, no matter how phenomenal Souma’s food is, Erina is simply too prejudiced against his bottom-feeder background and his tendency to, uh, treat her as an equal human being (how dare he!).

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Simply put, she doesn’t like him, so she fails him. While certainly a setback for our hero, there’s zero doubt he’ll find his way into the academy with or without Erina’s approval…probably without, which will mean the beginning of a tense rivalry between them. Still, for at least a time, Souma has to stew in the gross injustice of being rejected despite not only facing a formidable foe with unblinking eyes, but actually impressing her. What’s a bloke gotta do to get some respect around here?

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Fortunately for Souma (and us), Erina doesn’t run the academy; her grandfather does. And he happened to eavesdrop on Souma’s exam, and sneaks a taste of his rice. And because he’s not a stuck-up brat, he’s able to dive fully into the flavor and let it wash over him, leading him to shed a bit of his clothing in clear approval. Souma’s back in!

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