Arte – 09 – The Tiny Gourmet

Katarina proves to be a handful to Arte, who is still disoriented by Venice, where not only do people dress differently but the very air she breathes smells different. While Arte received a crash course in Venetian etiquette from Yuri, to her shock Katarina is actually exemplary at etiquette; she simply chooses not to demonstrate it in public—or to her parents—because it’s “such a pain” and she’d rather spend her time napping.

Arte’s new servant friend Daphne tells her all the other tutors quit because of Katarina’s lousy attitude. Yuri admitted to Arte that painters are “a dime a dozen” in Venice, so she must assume he hired her more for her potential as a tutor to Katarina. But what does she, Arte, bring to the table that’s new?

Arte finds herself thinking and worrying so much about her fitness as a tutor that she gets pains in her stomach. But when Daphne takes her to a church so she can see and sketch the wonderful works housed therein, she’s approached by a couple men who praise her work then mock Florence for stooping to letting girls be artisans.

Much to Daphne’s shock, Arte not only takes their mocking in stride, but laughs about it. Those misogynist pricks showed her that not everything in Venice is different, and she’s not any different than the young woman who overcame overwhelming odds in Florence. She just needs to do her best here, like she’s always done. Doubt and anxiety won’t serve her.

The next day, Arte dithes the local garb and dons her workshop frock, which itself surprises Katarina. But part of Arte’s new wardrobe also meant removing the kid gloves: when Katarina tries to nod off, Arte plucks her out of bed and parks her in a chair, and in that chair she stays until she explains why she won’t practice the etiquette she knows in public.

She refuses, but Arte isn’t about to be discouraged now that she’s regained her confidence. She’s dealt with greater challenges in the past, and in a battle of wills between Arte and Katarina, I simply can’t bet against Arte.

That night, Arte makes a crude dress for Katarina to play in, and destroys a barrel so that they can go hoop rolling together, something at which Katarina is already an old hand. While this shows the girl that Arte can let loose and have fun, she can still smell her ulterior motive, and so her lips remain tight despite having had a genuinely good time.

Katarina’s mother Sofia tells Arte how her husband never wanted a daughter, and how all of her upbringing was to ensure she wouldn’t embarrass the family prior to being married off. Sofia believes that’s the reason Katarina hasn’t opened her heart to anyone in the house.

That night Arte visits Katarina’s room, having seen her light on late at night, and discovers her deep, dark secret, hinted at before: Katarina has a passion for cooking, deemed a job for lowly servants. Arte tries to reach out, but Katarina assumes she’ll rat her out, and demands that she leave at once.

The next day we see that Katarina has opened her heart to someone; namely her uncle Yuri, who unlike her father doesn’t see her as a burden to be married off, but a treasure whose passions should be nurtured. You can tell how close they are by the fact they’re cooking together without a care in the world…only Katarina is certain this will be the last time they do so.

Alas, when she returns home and her parents don’t broach the sore subject, it’s clear Arte didn’t snitch. Arte assures her she didn’t come to take what she likes away from her. Hell, she can relate to how Katarina feels, since her own mother burned her drawings.

Now that Katarina knows Arte is Good People, she’s willing to open her heart a bit when Arte joins her for dinner, when we’ll surely learn more about her “complicated past.” Until then, Arte’s basic decency, kindness, empathy, and determination—not to mention brute strength—contributed to coax Katarina into lowering her defenses. I came away from this episode liking both of them more!

Arte – 01 (First Impressions) – Her Own Power

Arte, an artistic girl approaching marriageable age in sixteenth century Florence, loves nothing more than capturing the world around around her on paper. The “caged bird” metaphor is immediately put into play: with her father deceased and her noble family barely clinging to solvency, she’ll have to work hard to make a man like her enough to accept a modest dowry. Just one issue: Arte doesn’t want to marry and be caged for life. She wants to be an artisan.

As is the case of oppressed groups throughout history, Arte has to work twice as hard to be noticed half as much, if at all. The sheer difficulty of her task becomes clear when all eighteen of the workshops angrily dismiss her without so much as glancing at her drawings. She’s so frustrated she cuts her hair and threatens to cut off her breasts, but she’s stopped by Leo, who ends up being the first and only man to take a look at her art.

Leo miraculously agrees to let Arte be his apprentice (he currently has none), but sets her on a seemingly impossible task: cleaning, sanding, and priming a huge stack of wooden boards by tomorrow morning, something even he and his fellow masters would be hard pressed to pull off. Yet Arte doesn’t see it as an intentionally undoable feat, and spends all night doing the undoable, ruined noble hands be damned.

Leo, returning home from a bender, is shocked she actually finished the boards, and admits he never intended to give her a real chance. But rather than overt sexism, it’s classism that drives his dubiousness and resentment towards Arte. He became an artisan to avoid a live of begging on the streets, while this rich girl initially tells him she wants to become one because she “loves drawing.”

Then Arte comes clean and tells him that was just putting on airs. In truth, she wants to live through her own power—not just some rich dude’s—Leo realizes he read the girl wrong. After all, even a former beggar like him had a better chance of becoming an apprentice than even the richest girl in Florence. He decides to give her a chance.

With that, Arte moves out of her family’s estate, against her mother’s explicit wishes (we’ll see if there are consequences for that) and into a decided fixer-upper of a shed atop Leo’s workshop. She initially finds the level of repairs and cleanup needed daunting and draws herself to sleep as the walls barely keep out the cold night rain. But in the morning the rising sun peeks through the cracks in those walls and she opens the shutters to reveal a glorious view of the Duomo that would make any master jealous.

Arte is as straightforward and earnest as its heroine. Her situation isn’t sugar-coated; most artisans in Florence are insulted by the mere idea of a woman in their line of work. But nor is it punishingly bleak. It simply took one person giving her a chance…her relentlessly working her ass off, but she’s on her way.

Arte’s dogged determination and optimism is both compelling and inspiring. Komatsu Mikako is well-cast for the role. That her character is loosely based on the real-life female artisan Artemisia Gentileschi lends the show a measure of historical legitimacy. I’m looking forward to watching her tough but rewarding journey towards self-actualization and independence.

Chihayafuru 3 – 19 – Hollow Man

I don’t like Master Suo.

I don’t like his creepily soft voice, or his obsession with sweets, or the way he macks on Chihaya, or the way he plays karuta, or the way he’s clogging up a throne I’d rather see Arata in sooner rather than later. The show hasn’t gone out of its way to make him a likable character, as it has so many others whose backstories we only get at a crucial point in a match, but at least this week it makes the attempt.

Suo has always seen himself as “hollow,” taken away from deadbeat parents to live in the main family’s house full of relations young and old. One of his aunts took him under her wing, insisting that he one day “make something of himself.” We learn that he has the same affliction she has that narrows the field of vision and may one day blind him.

He doesn’t learn of this prognosis until he’s already attempted several different paths and, not feeling passion for any of them, moved on to another. It’s a pretty lady at college who first attracts him to karuta, and like everything else he picks it up quickly.

That young woman gets a boyfriend who’s not him, but he still becomes so good at karuta he scares opponents away, leading to the adoption of a playing style in which he intentionally narrows his margin of victory and forces opponents to fault. He feeds on the passion of others because he has none himself.

Sympathy for Suo can be found for those looking hard enough, in his unenviable parentage, his loyalty and devotion to his aunt and her wish for him to make something of himself, and the two ticking clocks in his eye sockets. Backed into a corner with no more room for slacking off, Suo then feeds off Dr. Harada’s passion in order to turn an eight-card deficit into a one-card advantage.

Dr. Harada has passion to spare, but after three games and change his knee is starting to howl, as he knew it would, hurting his focus. That knee makes him a little less surer of his form and speed, and a refocused Suo capitalizes. Kitano, well aware of Harada’s discomfort, looks past their decades of fierce rivalry, sees how close one of them is to beating him to the throne, and tosses his friend a cushion to ease the agony.

Over on the women’s side, it’s becoming clear to Shinobu that the cards have become fickle, and that some of them like Inokuma too. Shinobu makes it a point not to get into a luck-of-the-draw scenario, no longer sure the remaining cards will side with her.

In the end, Inokuma double-faults at the worst possible time, while Shinobu uses her left hand to reach confidently across the field. Inokuma is devastated and tearful by her loss, but Queen Wakamiya shows her kind side by asking Inokuma to count the cards, assuring her they still like her despite the loss.

That result gets Arata out of his sickbed and onto the subway, hoping to catch the end of the Master tournament in person. However, he probably should have stayed put, as there’s no guarantee he’ll get there in time, and the internet signal on his tablet cuts out every time his train goes into a tunnel (which, in tunnel-filled Japan, is often).

In between service interruptions, he manages to hear the word “luck”—Harada and Suo are in the luck-of-the-draw Shinobu managed to avoid. While I’m still not a big fan of Suo, and will be disappointed if after coming so close Dr. Harada comes up short, I at least understand the four-time Master a little better now. I just hope his musings this episode don’t set him up to not only win, but to decide not to retire.

After all, he’s still Master Suo…whom I dislike.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 05 – Blue-Collar Giant Robot

The newly-validated Eizouken could be forgiven for taking it easy in the shadow of their triumph. They worked their butts off with very little sleep, and it’s never mentioned how badly it affected either their academic studies or Tsubame’s modeling schedule. However, Sayaka puts them right back on track for their next project, which will be bigger and more ambitious.

She’s secured a commission from the school’s robot club to create a giant robot anime, a key promotion for both clubs to be presented as the centerpiece of the upcoming cultural festival. During their initial meet-and-greet, Midori’s imagination gets the best of her, as she finds herself in the middle of a drama involving dark, secret facilities and brainwashed friends.

Never ones to stare at blank paper, the girls explore the sprawling underground network beneath the school, where the setting takes on a distinct Girls Last Tour look and feel, in order to stimulate and feed their imaginations. The trip is a fruitful one, as Midori and Tsubame work out the concept of a crab/turtle hybrid with a heat attack and shockwave-creating claw as the robot’s opponent.

Midori is the scaredy-cat of the group, but also the most cautious and prepared for contingencies. Sayaka and Tsubame would have been SOL had their friend not brought rope and a shovel when the three fall into a pit. Meanwhile the show’s real-life setting continues to amaze with its whimsical complexity.

The next step is ostensibly where Sayaka will shine: the negotiations that lead to the official start of the project. However, in this case she’s unable to secure any blackmail bait for negotiation purposes, and one of the robot club’s members is both passionate and obstinate in his vision.

His problem is that while he knows what he wants, he can’t visualize it, so he was liable to reject anything that deviated from that impossible ideal. Sayaka is bailed out from this ordeal when Tsubame and Midori relate to the stubborn member as comrades in frustration with the mundaneness of the world, its lack of real giant robots, spaceships, and hadokens.

With that obstacle removed, the girls collaborate with the robot club members in brainstorming a direction for the design of the robot and its weaponry, which will include a chainsaw, pile driver and metal drill (not wood!). All of its camera and sensor functions are streamlined into a sleek retro-style head.

This marks the first time others have borne witnesses to Midori and Tsubame’s visualized flights of fancy, but the extra input results in a complex final model that Sayaka is worried will be a bitch to animate. Even so, with official standing, additional resources, and a more realistic timeline, I don’t doubt Tsubame and Midori can pull it off, and it will be loads of fun to watch!

 

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 01 – No Ramen Peace in Our Time

New to Food Wars? I wouldn’t recommend starting with Season 4! Worry not; you can catch up with my reviews of the first, second, and third (parts one and two) seasons! Reading them all will only take you a few hours. What else do you have going on?!


Once more unto the culinary breach, dear gourmands! Food Wars is back, with the full year we’ve experienced amounting only to the hourlong break between the first and second bouts of the Team Shokugeki that will determine the future of the Elite Ten, Totsuki Academy, and the culinary world itself. Very high stakes!

But first, the momentum Erina is hoping to maintain in the second bout is undermined somewhat by a flashback to a month ago, when the rebels were still on the train (not the Rail Zeppelin) putting together their team. Souma has no problem recruiting Isshiki and Mimasaka to the rebel cause, but Megishima is a different animal entirely.

But before we get to that (and speaking of animals), the second bout matches are set: Mimasaka will face Fourth Seat Saitou Soumei, Kuga Terunori gets the duel with First Seat Tsukasa, while Megishima will tangle with Second Seat Kobayashi Rindou.

That’s right; Souma got managed to persuade Megishima to agree to join the rebellion. That knowledge dulls any suspense that could have been summoned from the episode’s saggy midsection, which commits the dual crimes of interrupting the momentum of the present bout and being a foregone conclusion.

Of course, it’s not a total loss. When Souma and Megumi travel to Megishima one month ago, it fleshes out the former Third Seat, making me more invested in his dual with Rindou, with whom I’m more familiar despite her being the “enemy” in this particular case. Turns out Megishima is a man of peace and ramen, and never liked Totsuki’s competitive aspect or Shokugeki in particular.

Souma’s strategy for getting Megi on board is simple: convince him with actions, not words, that he’s serious about saving the academy and, incidentally the ramen world, from Central’s oppression. Souma goes toe-to-toe with the ramen master in match after match, and gets struck down every time, but keeps getting up until his body shuts down. Megi’s impressed, forfeits their duel, and agrees to join their cause.

Back to the present, where the focus turns to Megishima vs. Kobayashi in a cayenne pepper battle. Both chefs stick to their specialty, or rather mastery, as Rare Ingredient Master Rindou is making a dish with alligator of all things.

Ramen Master Megishima knows her well—they were adjacent seats in the Elite Ten after all—and not only knows her “Three Faces” (The Epicure, The Field Researcher, and The Daring Barbarian), and knows that the last of those will compel her to go heavy on the pepper, so he does the same.

Their liberal use of the pepper creates a capsaicin squall that makes the Central loyalists and imprisoned rebels alike sweat and squirm in the heat, a stark contrast to the arctic conditions outside. The message is clear: Food Wars is back, hasn’t lost a step, and is just getting warmed up.

Hanebado! – 06 – Not Just One More Match

Prelims are upon us this week, and it’s Izumi Riko’s turn to be angsty. It’s her last year and last prelims, and she wants to win. The only problem is, her first opponent is her childhood friend Nozomi, who also happens to be one of last year’s final four. Riko is not confident she can hang with the likes of Nozomi, and even though Nagisa tries her best to fire her up, Riko ends up frustrated and the two part ways for the evening on a bad note.

The day of the matches arrives, and Riko and Nozomi are cordial but cool, as imminent opponents must be. The team rocks their slick new one-piece uniforms, and Riko’s four cute siblings are in attendance, but she still manages to stink up the joint in the first half of the first set overwhelmed by her own lack of confidence as well as Nozomi’s unbeatable aura.

When the interval comes, Riko knows she has to do something…so she goes over the shots of the match so far, analyzes them, and finds that Nozomi is avoiding her backhand. Riko goes on the offensive and gets a point or two before Nozomi re-adjusts. It’s a beautifully-animated, fast-paced story told through the smooth, graceful, yet powerful motions of the players; a chess match of adjustments and counter-adjustments.

Riko still loses, but she makes Nozomi work for her win, going against her opponent’s strict coache’s insistence she conserve her stamina. It was just another match for Nozomi; a stepping stone to the next round. But for Riko, it was the match; the only match left in her high school career. And as her coach directed, she had fun out there.

Whither Ayano? Well, for most of the episode she seems to be putting up a strong front of Everything’s Okay, and may even believe she’s past worrying about her mother or Connie. But these prelims are uniquely equipped to not let Ayano escape her troubles so easily. Not only is she facing Serigaya Kaoruko in the next round, but her mother will be in attendance to watch their rematch. That should be interesting…

Hanebado! – 05 – The Discarded Daughter

Ayano lived her childhood absolutely idolizing her mother and soaking up every bit of badminton know-how she could. Other than Elena, there was virtually no one else in her life she cared about. In other words, her mom was her family…until she took off, and Ayano has felt alone ever since (sorry, Elena).

Or, at least she had felt alone. Now that she’s been welcomed and embraced by her team, she feels like she can keep playing with their support. Riko offers as much at the end of their first game which they lost to Connie, 21-12. Kentarou resets the defense so Ayano has the run of the back 2/3rds of the court for the second game.

By throwing her out of the frying pan and into the fire, Ayano eventually picks up her game, returning shots that she’d previously let drop. Her sly persistence starts to frustrate Connie, who in turn steps up her game, and all of a sudden their respective teammates are treated to one hell of a grudge match, with neither Ayano nor Connie believing defeat to be an option.

Connie draws from her own childhood, which looks as lonely as Ayano’s post-mom time, while Ayano gets all Sadako-y like she did when she beat Nagisa in the nationals. The two competitors are so focused on each other, Connie ends up getting a cramp in her leg, and her partner leaps in to score the winning point, catching Ayano and Connie alike off guard and leading them to declare the result of the match corrupted.

Both go off skulking, only to be picked back up by the very people she felt were unnecessary (in Connie’s case) or the people whom she felt she’d let down (in Ayano’s). Sora, who’d been pretty quiet up to this point, confesses that she hated Ayano for seeming not to care despite being so talented, but has revised her feelings about her after seeing how far she went in that match. The two girls end up spending the evening having fun with their teammates.

The next morning when both teams are set to return home, Ayano confronts Connie, who tells her what I (and probably everyone else watching) had suspected last week: Connie is the girl Ayano’s mother replaced her with as daughter. Connie’s goal is to prove to her “mama” that she’s the better player by beating Ayano.

As I mentioned last week, one would assume the question of “who is best” had already long been settled by the fact Ayano’s mother f-ing abandoned her biological daughter for Connie. I guess Connie just isn’t satisfied with her mom’s decision, but wants to be sure she’s better than Ayano. As for Ayano, on the bus ride home she breaks out her crazy face once more, declaring that she “doesn’t need” her mother any more.

While that’s a depressing sentiment, somewhat creepily delivered, I can hardly blame her for wanting to give up on the person who gave up on her. But I still feel there’s a reconciliation story brewing here. Simply stating she’s done seeking her mom’s approval doesn’t magically make it so…right?

Hanebado! – 04 – A New Challenger Approaches

After her playground epiphany, Ayano joins the badminton club, and before she knows it she’s on a bus with the rest of the club to a summer practice facility. While on the ride, the classically alone Ayano has her hair tended to by Yu, resulting in a photo and a warm feeling of belonging; of finally not being alone, but part of something bigger: a team.

But wouldn’t you know it, the facility is already occupied by another badminton team, and not just any team, but the “FreGirls” of Frederica, one of the country’s top teams. One of their players wanted very much to play Ayano’s school. Ayano heads out to a konbini to buy water, but ends up lost thanks to Nagisa’s kiddy, nigh worthless map.

While lost, she meets a foreigner who’s also lost: a blonde from Denmark who offers her a lolly when they make progress with the map.

Things are going swimmingly until the foreigner learns the identity of the cute little girl she’s walked with. The moment she hears the name “Hanesaki” she freezes and drops her change, then accuses Ayano of playing mind games with her by “pretending to be friendly.”

The next they meet, the tall blonde, Connie C, is one half of Ayano and Riko’s doubles opponents, and promises to show her how “meaningless” Ayano’s “team” is. She warns her partner not to interfere and let her play alone. Clearly, what she really wants is a one-on-one match against Ayano.

When her partner does interfere, Connie quits in a huff, letting the other girl struggle alone in a two-on-one match until she basically taps out. Connie doesn’t believe in teams, after all; she’s a team of one, and gets what she wants. As for why her captain and coach do nothing to stop her selfish behavior, who knows?

Connie takes over, effortlessly turning a 10-3 deficit into an 11-10 lead with mammoth vertical leaps and a smash that even the guys doubt they could return. Neither Ayano or Izumi can do anything. It’s Serigaya Kaoruko all over again.

Only…it’s actually worse than Kaoruko. “Connie C” Is Connie Christensen, a Danish prodigy who has already won the world championship in her age group. In every physical measure pertinent to badminton, she’s Ayano’s superior, and wants to make it clear she’s superior in every other aspect of the game as well. Tachibana knows her, and doubts Ayano will be able to hang.

Connie is also the blonde girl in the magazine article in which Ayano learned her mother had basically replaced her as daughter, which makes this even more fucked up. Connie even ties back her hair the same way as Ayano’s mother, adding insult to injury.

Apparently not satisfied with everything she’s already taken from Ayano, Connie now seems to want to crush Ayano’s spirit, such that even being in a fun high school team won’t give her joy or relief. That said, she relied on an awful lot of coincidences to end up in the match. Among them:

  • She knew Ayano had joined the badminton club, even when Ayano herself wasn’t sure until very recently;
  • Her school’s team ended up at the same facility as Ayano’s club;
  • Ayano ended up going out for water, and ended up meeting Connie first;
  • They ended up playing against each other.

Coincidences aside, one has to wonder what Connie’s true motive is, and why she is so intent on psychologically crippling a stranger. I mean, isn’t the fact that Ayano’s mom abandoned Ayano for Connie enough proof for Connie that’s she’s better? Did she really travel all the way to Japan just to beat someone who had already ‘lost” to her? Apparently! And that makes Connie a garbage person…until further notice.

Hanebado! – 03 – For the Sheer Love of Badminton

Overshadowed last week by Nagisa’s slump was the fact that Ayano still didn’t really want to play badminton. The exact reason why was not explicitly laid out until now, and it paints both her reluctance to join the bad club and Elena’s adamant insistence she join anyway. By getting to the roots of the two girls’ motivations, the episode succeeds in strengthening both characters and elevating the show’s drama.

We start with a series of flashbacks from Elena’s perspective, always on the sidelines watching Ayano with a combination of awe and pride, but also loneliness, and even envy. Mostly though, since they were wee girls Elena has always known how much Ayano loves badminton, and so simply couldn’t allow her to reject it. It wasn’t just about wasting talent, but denying herself that which both of them know she loves.

Of course, we’ve known that love is tainted by the huge expectations others put upon her, and the unwanted attention she gets from other badminton lovers for her body and her skills. Elena watches the others fawning over Ayano, gets bored, and goes to the movies with Noriko…where she’s also bored.

Afterwards, Noriko goes off on a date with Saionji, leaving Elena alone. She spots Nagisa on her run, but doesn’t call out. It’s Nagisa, on her run back, who spots Elena, who explains she wanted to see how Ayano would do on her own. Nagisa asks Elena why Ayano quit badminton, because she’s since fallen far from the “perfect” player who crushed her at the junior nationals. Elena promises to get to the bottom of it.

The next day, Ayano’s personal slump is compounded by the sudden arrival of her former self-appointed rival, Serigaya Kaoruko. After nearly falling for the cool Tachibana, Kaoruko challenges a very lethargic Ayano to a set, and totally embarrasses her.

This is another beautifully-animated badminton game, and it’s thrilling to see Kaoruko so easily confound, befuddle, and decimate Ayano, who had been impressing her teammates with her skills thus far. Kaoruko is disappointed, and vows that Ayano will never beat her. Considering Ayano is lying on the floor drenched in sweat, it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

Ayano rushes out, and when Elena catches up to her, she says she’s quitting badminton after all; Elena can stay if she wants, but she won’t. In that moment I couldn’t help but feel bad for Elena, who had stuck with Ayano all this time only for her efforts to be impulsively discarded after just one frustrating set. It felt like Ayano was taking Elena for granted.

The next day, Ayano doesn’t come to school or practice. Tachibana and Nagisa visit her house where her stately, adorable grandparents take care of her; there, they learn that Ayano’s mother was Shindo Uchika, the greatest badminton player of her generation and winner of ten straight national titles.

Both Elena and I considered the pressure of following in the footsteps of an almost impossibly elite parent ample motive for feeling like one’s own badminton career is pointless…but Ayano’s situation turns out to be far more fucked up. Elena may know more about Ayano than anyone, but even she didn’t understand the depths of Ayano’s pain.

She also didn’t know who Kaoruko was. When the two were scheduled to have a match, Kaoruko caught a cold, so she tied Ayano up and gave her her cold so they could play “on even terms.” Kaoruko ended up beating Ayano by a hair, and Ayano passed out on the court.

While still in bed recovering, her mother turned her back on her, ignored the calls of her daughter, walked out the door…and never came back. Ayano kept playing and kept winning, transforming herself into a badminton WMD, hoping that if she won enough, her mom would come back.

Not only did her mother never come back, but Ayano had to learn from an article in Badminton Magazine at the konbini that her mother had taken on another student in a faraway land and trained her to be her successor. Earlier I wondered whether perhaps there was a good reason her mom had to go, but no, she was just a garbage mother and human being.

Elena ponders the shocking new information Ayano has given her on her walk home, but one image over all others continues to be prominent in her mind: that of a tiny her watching a tiny Ayano playing badminton with her mom and loving every minute of it.

Elena considers it her duty as Ayano’s friend to help her get that feeling back—a feeling independent of pressure and  betrayal. To do so, she elicits the help of Nagisa. Elena and Ayano meet at their usual meeting spot atop the red playground octopus. Elena tells Ayano she needs to go back to school, and Nagisa makes her appearance.

Then Elena tells Ayano something she didn’t know before: How then, and now, she felt/feels “left out” when she watches Ayano play. Elena always thought she doesn’t have anything she can devote herself to, but she does. Ayano loves and devotes herself to badminton, and Elena loves and devotes herself to Ayano. Even if she feels lonely, or left out, or envious at times, it’s all worth it to see Ayano have so much fun.

With that, Nagisa draws a makeshift court in the sand, and the two have a match. It’s a bit of a mess of a match, with the wind wreaking havoc on the shuttlecock…but it doesn’t matter. Ayano is able to drop the baggage surrounding the sport she loves and simply enjoy playing it again.

The rest of the club is contacted and they join in the fun. And the next day, Elena and Ayano turn in their forms indicating their intention to join the Badminton Club. Ayano was dealt a terrible hand in moms, but in turn was dealt a great hand in BFsF.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 18 – INFINHONEY WAR

SPOILER WARNING: This review contains *major* spoilers for the Marvel film Avengers: Infinity War. This serves as a warning not to read on if you have not seen it yet and do not wish to be spoiled. Furthermore, there are a number of references to the MCU herein, so if you don’t know nothing about (or hate) any of that stuff, you have my apologies.

Let me make some comparisons. If Totsuki is the universe, Nakiri Azami is Thanos. Thanos wants to cleave away all of what he deems to be unnecessary excess form the universe, just as Azami wants to do the same with the academy. In both cases their end product will be something harmonious and sustainable only they had the will to make possible, and are convinced that once they’re done the universe (and academy) will be grateful for their efforts.

Polar Star and its allies represent the Avengers. However noble Thanos/Azami believe themselves or their efforts to be, they are, on a human scale, amoral and must be opposed. I won’t get bogged down into which chef is which Avenger, but suffice it to say that Azami has been their greatest foe to date, and this week they take their heaviest losses, which will make an already uphill battle feel…well, even more uphill.

Hayama Akira isn’t trying to save anybody other than Shiomi Jun and the research lab they built together, and decided the best way to do that was to accept and join Azami’s Central regime. But even Jun herself cannot support his decision. In joining Central he creates a rift, and for the first time, she isn’t there to watch him from the sidelines.

At first, it doesn’t seem like that matters. Soue, Cilla and Berta can tell Akira’s chicken-fried bear is superior to Souma’s dish before it even touches their lips, and upon finally digging in, Soue has a full-blown Explosion (the family history of which is hilariously explained by Gin). The sisters try in vain to identify all of the chemical reactions going on, but are overcome by their foodgasms.

Akira’s bear and dipping sauce combine to form a one-two punch to put the metaphorically boxing Souma on the ropes, and creating another metaphor: that of an impenetrable fortress of flavor mastery. The only problem is, Akira locked himself in that fortress alone.

It isn’t over yet, because the judges still have to try Souma’s dipping sauce (in an interesting twist, considering you’d think they’d have finished the first dish before starting Akira’s, and not mixed them in their palates). To everyone’s amazement, Souma’s sauce…is just plain better, do in large part to his use of a very specific kind of honey.

Suoe’s reaction is even stronger, evolving from “The Explosion” to “The Gift”, in which his spontaneous disrobing expands in waves to the sisters (though in the very next scene their clothes are back on…continuity!) With Akira’s superior bear and Souma’s superior sauce, the sisters split their votes, leaving Suoe to break the 1-1 tie.

It’s here where I’ll break out another Avengers metaphor and compare Souma to Tony Stark. Sure, he’s no monetary billionaire, but he has an embarrassment of human riches at his disposal, along with Hokkaido’s vast natural bounty. Like Tony, his ambition to improve his skills and his drive to never stop tinkering is virtually boundless. It has to be; just as Tony has no innate superpowers, Souma lacks a superhuman sense of taste or smell.

Souma ran Kuga’s Chinese RS battalion ragged darting from mountain to valley to stream and back again, collecting every flavor in the bear’s habitat that could be exploited to improve the dish even one tiny amount. He approached his culinary testing with a passion Akira simply didn’t match, because Akira was so focused on protecting Jun that he was relegated to testing without her insights or anyone else’s.

While Souma caught up with him, Akira actually backtracked; as delicious as his bear is, it can’t match the passion that went into his Autumn Elections-winning dish. And he knows it. Moreover, he sought perfection and balance in his dish, but gave no thought to who it was for, while Souma’s was painstakingly crafted specifically for Akira to taste it and say it was delicious.

Jun arrives on cue to give Akira a well-deserved slap across the face (Guardian of the Year Jun, everyone!) and tell him continuing the research lab doesn’t matter to her anymore. All she wants is for Akira to keep having fun cooking with kids his own age…because he is still a kid, after all.

Her sentiments hit Akira hard, and his eyes go glassy as a result. Suoe casts the deciding vote naming Souma the victor, Souma says his “Glad you enjoyed it” catchphrase, and we move on to whatever is next. Erina arrives, short of breath and mussed of hair, to learn to her great relief, that Souma has survived his latest trial.

But Jun’s wish for Akira to cook with his friends hits a snag. As a result of losing to Souma, Azami sends his aide Ebony Maw Sean Aida to inform him he’s been summarily expelled. Not only that, the rebellion has been decimated: Hisako, Ryo, Nikumi, Asami, Shun, Zenji, Daigo, Shiouji, Ryouko, Yuuki, and Alice…are all expelled.

That’s a purge to rival (or exceed) the effects of The Snap on the Avengers, and leaves you in a similar defeated mood, completely overshadowing Souma’s momentous achievement of finally beating Akira.

Megumi and Tekumi weren’t in the montage, nor were lesser potential rebels in Nao, Miyoko, Subaru, etc. But how in the hell are Souma, Erina, and whoever else managed to survive the massacre going to proceed? Something tells me Carol Danvers’ cooking skills aren’t gonna cut it…

Little Witch Academia – 18

Miracle Magical Shining Tornado Punch!

The Gist: Constanze is the side character of choice this week and the setup is a popular ghost hunting event called Wild Hunt, which Croix has somehow gotten Constanze permission to participate in. Akko wouldn’t have any role to play at all, were it not for her ability to cause havoc (she destroys one of Constanze’s mech helpers) and her neurotic urge to ‘help’ (she feels righteously driven to make up for destroying the mech, no matter how much additional damage she causes and how many times Constanze chases her away)

There’s a lot of legacy Gianax/Trigger going on here, with TTGL-style mecha fights — pushing to the limit — as well as Space Patrol Luluco style anachronistic aesthetic blends. (Rocket Powered Pirate Ship) While these nods are executed very well, with all the tongue and cheek over the top delivery you would expect, they are transparent call backs to better series from the companies past, and that ultimately points out how not-glory-days LWA is itself at present.

As to Constanze herself… there isn’t a lick of dialog. Nor, really, is background provided. She’s this generation’s only technomage, but she doesn’t have a strong connection with Croix (they are never in the same scene together) and that tech/magic blending doesn’t even draw comment from the other students or teachers. That’s stuff we already knew of course and the only additions are the implication that she is a deeply unhappy girl, a loner, who’s parents took a family photo in front of a swedish tall ship once… yeah, not much there?

You could probably argue that Constanze experienced character development this week. Slowly accepting Akko, even seeing value in Akko’s silly mech-drawing, and ending on a smile… but who cares? Constanze has existed as little more than background art for seventeen episodes so far. Again, who cares?

So we have another generic Croix-villain plot, featuring another B-cast member tagging along with Akko, that ends with Croix closer to whatever her villainy is but Akko gaining another friend, which will probably be necessary to unlock the final word or words. No word was unlocked this week and nothing consequential about the plot was revealed to the characters. Sucy and Lotte aren’t even in the story, save some background elements. Diana isn’t in the episode at all.

So why do am giving this week a higher rating than last? For all its negatives, in a vacuum, this episode just had more charm — and a heck of a lot more creative visuals too. Yes, it was completely generic by Trigger’s elite standards but those standards provide powerful emotional anchors and excitement all the same.

The Verdict: as a series, LWA is profoundly ill constructed. Gradually introducing more classmates as part of Akko’s world is fine but giving them stand alone episodes in the last act of a second season is idiotic. Even more so when it cuts the main cast out of the story. (I guess Diana’s research into Ursula’s true identity is just gonna… wait a bit) Beating the villains doesn’t feel earned and the world-building-elements just come out of nowhere. (For a show so full of details, I kinda wish we’d had more build up for the wild hunt… or a pay off)

But as a self contained episode it was fun and, if it had happened 10 episodes ago, it would have done wonders to round out the classmates. That said, if the pattern holds, next week will feature the girl who’s always eating… and I can not imagine that being remotely as interesting.

Little Witch Academia – 17

The Gist: Shiny Rod indicates the 5th word is nearing but, before Professor Ursula can tell Akko much more than ‘it has to do with tradition’ she’s whisked away by school duties. So Akko and a very angsty Amanda O’neal head of to the Appleton Academy, which may be the hiding place of the Holy Grail. Hey, if the Holy Grail isn’t traditional enough, what would be?

Unfortunately, AA is an all boys school full of rich jerks that hate magic. Surprisingly, Amanda is able to pass for a while, but not before king of the jerks Louis Blackwell more or less becomes the main character of the episode. His father is chairman of the school and the Nation’s Minister of Defense but… its a very questionable decision to introduce another new character for an already bloated cast seventeen episodes in. Even less so when he’s just an assier version of Andrew…

Speaking of Andrew, he has a nice conversation with Akko which demonstrates how different their world views are. He is driven by duty and nearly only does things he is required to do, where she is driven by a sense of purpose and personal desire and almost never does what she is expected. The message clearly started to connect with Andrew, and was driven home even more when Akko wanders off before he finishes a tirade. (before he notices she’s left)

Eventually, Andrew has to intervene when Louis captures the girls. Being Andrew, his solution is to propose a formal duel, as is tradition at the academy. This goes well for Amanda twice and, as she’s saved Louise’ life by the end, she is free to go. Maybe the witches even gain a few young allies to boot!

The Verdict: LWA continues to do everything wrong but somehow be just charming enough to keep my attention. I appreciate that Akko doesn’t unlock a word this week but, in structure, the episode unfolds the same way it would have if that had been the case. It’s a weird throw-away module featuring mostly side characters and barely hinting at the core plot.

Amanda x Louis’ duel was nice enough (Amanda’s Chun’Li spinning kick was totally boss) but Amanda herself isn’t a terribly likable character and resolving that she will ultimately stay at school with Akko due to friendship solves a problem we didn’t have before this episode.

Sprinkel in a ton of unanimated panning shots, a very straight forward ‘Croix is still up to no good’ thread, and you have a big pile of meh?

Little Witch Academia – 16

The Gist: Team Akko visits Lotte’s family and immediately befalls an outrageously rare curse that slowly turns everyone into moss. (before eventual death) Without adult supervision, the Girls must band together and collect the ingredients for a cure. However, Akko quickly becomes the only one left and, not knowing the area or as much about magic as her friends, she struggles until the end.

But this is LWA we’re talking about. Akko learns patience and, coupled with her natural endurance, and Shiny Rod, she saves the day and unlocks another word! (MAYENAB DYSHEEBUDO)

This week gave us some great set pieces like the Yeti who’s self conscious due to internet bullying, the irritated reindeer who’s poop Akko must collect, and the general goofiness of the curse.

It also carried the usual Akko/Sucy/Lotte charm, with Sucy’s love of the Hapansilakka pies (and Akko’s hatred of it) playing for some good laughs.

However, episode 16 is absolutely rushed and it’s point about Akko needing to learn patience was too simplistic. The fact that we learn anger is the most efficient medium for magic to be absorbed by the villain’s robo/magic devices doesn’t really add anything. More so, because we see this from a disconnected viewer-point of view, and not through a revelation to our heroes.

If LWA was only 12 episodes long, I could forgive it, but that’s not the case. More importantly, many of the first 12 episodes felt rudderless and pointless diversions from the central plot.

The Verdict: From the moment Professor Ursula says the next word is something Akko lacks and really needs to learn, the entire point of the episode becomes groan-inducingly clear. It’s all delivered well enough, with plenty of quirky LWA details and nice animation, but there’s nothing creative under the surface.

Hopefully, Akko will learn the next few words through a more dramatic (or at least touching) process. Otherwise, the gains the show has made by establishing it’s long term focus will quickly fall apart.