Fruits Basket – 53 – Let’s Make Footprints Together

Kuragi Machi hates perfection. She hates it wherever it is, such that when presented with a fresh box of chalk, she must dash it on the floor, shattering every piece. Two classmates report her stunt to Yuki at the StuCo office, mentioning a rumor she was kicked out of her home for trying to kill her brother. Machi stops by the office just in time to see her classmates have spread the rumor to Yuki, and runs off with her awful parents’ voices in her head.

Manabe partially corroborates the classmates’ story, but he admits he only knows the story the parents fed him, so it might not be true. What Manabe does know is that he once watched Machi obsessively make footprints in the freshly fallen snow. Manabe takes Yuki to Machi’s apartment, which Yuki charitiably describes as the “Sea of Decay”, while Manabe hands him one of her bras. Manabe then leaves the two alone to take out the trash.

Manabe leaves the two alone to take out the trash, and as Yuki tapes her cracked window, Machi tells him to ask and believe whatever he wants, since she’s given up trying to set the record straight. Yuki rather easily deduces that Machi is bothered by orderly things. It harkens to the fact her awful parents demanded absolute perfection, then dismissed her as boring and lacking in individuality.

When her little brother was born, her parents got the son they wanted, and had no further use for her. Yuki rejects her being something her parents “got wrong”, as she worked hard to be the Machi he knows and he’s glad she’s there. Machi admits she was never jealous of her brother; she was only trying to place a blanket on him when she thought he might get cold.

It was her psycho mom who accused her of trying to kill him, leading to her exile and the rumors. Then Yuki says if the snow piles up, he’ll make footprints in it with her. That hella-smooth line almost leads to a kiss between the two, were it not for the unsilenced phone of an  eavesdropping Manabe.

The next day at the StuCo meeting, Kimi thoughtlessly slides another fresh box of chalk in Machi’s face, but just as Machi is freaking out, Yuki reaches over and snaps one of the pieces without interrupting his announcements.

For the first time, Machi looks forward to the next time it snows, while I look forward to Machi and Yuki growing closer. After the meeting, Yuki makes a quick check-in and is just in time to save Tooru from a ladder off which Kyou falls. Then he heads to an “appointment” with none other than graduating senior Minagawa Motoko.

I’ve always had a soft spot for Motoko despite her often underhanded tactics to get a little closer to Yuki, so I was perfectly fine with her getting a proper sendoff scene here, in which she wants to make clear and plain her feelings to Yuki not so he’ll return them, but just so he knows she loved him, he made her school days happy, and she hopes he’ll find happiness too, or greater happiness if he’s already happy.

We then learn why Nao has been so hostile towards Yuki and even called him his “rival”, when he locates Motoko giving the classroom one last look and tries his best to make his feelings known to her. Like she did with Yuki, it’s more about wishing her well in the future than confessing and expecting an answer, and Motoko’s response seems more than enough for Nao.

The final few minutes are a grab bag, as Hiro meets his baby sister Hinata, Kagura worries about Isuzu’s whereabouts to Hatori and Shigure, and Isuzu emerges from what looks like a building on the Souma compound, donning a white robe and having just cut her hair short. I couldn’t help but notice how closely she resembles Akito from behind, and that might just be intentional on her part. To be continued…

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Vlad Love – 06 – The World’s a Stage, Not at Stake

The title above is essentially the thesis for my review: by not involving combat aircraft or blowing up entire cities and simply focusing on something, Vlad Love’s quirky hyperactivity can be distilled into something competent, approaching greatness. Nothing like a good old class play to lend structure and purpose!

After the inaugural night class roll is called, Chihiro gets right to the point: they’re going to put on a show. Kaoru suggests an adaptation of the disk version of something very similar to Castlevania—an inspired choice not just because of the vampire theme but because earlier video games were so wonderfully elemental.

Mai is the final vampire boss/love interest, while the hunter is played by Mitsugu, with Nami, Kaoru, and Katsuno playing level bosses. Maki relishes filming a “making-of” docu.

The most controversial assignment is Sumida Jinko as director. Her Ultra-Type-A blood ensures a production fraught with tension and drama, as she immediately treats everyone as if they were professional stage performers and crew.

Every major cast member has something to do, and each voice actor is clearly having a metric fuckton of fun—looking at you, Kobayashi Yuu…Sasha lives on in Nami! The show puts a welcome fun spin on its beloved insets by having Jinko pop out of her windows to kick and push others around.

A tough day of rehearsal ends with a rarity these days—a scene with Mitsugu and Mai actually alone, staged like the yuri romance it should be, only for Jinko to interrupt with some midnight whippin’ lessons.

Before anyone knows it, it’s showtime. To its credit the rehearsals don’t go on too long, allowing the show itself room to breathe. Of course, there’s a crisis just before the curtain rises: Mai is suffering from anxiety-fueled acute anemia. She needs someone’s blood, and because things are so hectic, Jinko is chosen as the donor without thinking about it too much.

The play actually starts relatively smoothly, with just the right amount of following the script and improvising. I liked how Mitsugu had to exit stage left and run down steps, through corridors beneath the stage, and up steps to enter stage right…because it’s a sidescroller play!

Once Mai takes the stage, it’s clear she’s operating under the influence of Jinko’s perfectionist Type-A blood. As such, she decides to play her own role, ignoring the script. An enraged Jinko runs on stage to scold her, but Mai attacks her, and the curtain has to drop, and Chihiro manages to tranquilize Mai.

Jinko is beside herself and starts bawling from the fiasco that has unfolded, but Chihiro tells her to listen to the crowd: her play isn’t the disaster she thinks it is. The cast and crew walk out for their curtain call, and by the time the crowd is chanting “Jinko, Jinko, Jinko”, Jinko is holding back tears of pride and joy, which come after a veritable Odyssey of complex facial expressions.

This was the best episode of Vlad Love yet, and it did it by not biting off more than it could chew and simply capitalizing on the immense voice talent at its disposal. It’s the first episode where Jinko is utilized properly and Hikasa Yoko gives the Type-A stickler texture and appeal as her character transitions from outsider to “one of them”, them being the Blood Donation Club’s collection of big ol’ weirdos. Most importantly, this episode had a satisfying share of Mai x Mitsugu moments. Well played!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 11 – Making Beautiful Music Together

After a moment’s confusion by Souma’s insistence Erina treat their two-course meal as a Shokugeki in and of itself, it occurs to her that he’s right: classic teamwork has never been their strong suit and never will be. Instead, they have to challenge each other to the very hilt, which means an inter-Shokugeki Shokugeki is the only way to go.

Because I am a joyless person, I often skip to the end of Shokugeki no Souma episodes to get a glimpse at who might win, even if it’s somewhat obvious. I won’t do that for potentially game-changing or arc-resolving episodes, however, and so I didn’t do that here.

With only ten minutes remaining, Erina crafts the dish that will beat Souma’s and score the rebels victory over his father and Central. Everyone notices she’s working with a lot more forceful passion—like Souma usually works. She also uses Souma as an assistant, trusting him tasks that will be essential to the success of her dish, and thereby demonstrating splendid teamwork under fire.

When Erina describes her completed main course as a “chicken-and-egg rice bowl”, Azami refuses to even taste it, so disappointed in how far his daughter has fallen. Instead, he has Eishi and Rindou serve as his tasters. Of course, first they have to taste Souma’s dish, which they find so impressive they can’t imagine anything better could follow it up.

But not only does Erina’s Le Plat Veritable: The True Gourmet That Escaped Paradise, Delinquent Daughter Style surpass Souma’s dish, a reality is created for its tasters in which basically no dish could ever have followed Souma’s up so perfectly or surpassed it further. Even more shocking, a vital part of the dish is a croute containing…squid and peanut butter!

Long derided as a form of culinary torture, in the hands of the god tongue it elevates the Jidori chicken in her dish, but also connects it to Souma’s appetizer, creating a synergy between two seemingly vastly different plates that could never have been predicted. Erina may have had to push herself beyond her usual effortless culinary elegance, but when you see her beaming face, you know she enjoyed the hell out of it.

But while Eishi and Tsukasa acknowledge the dish, Azami is still dismissive, calling it a “pile of slop” filled with the “unnecassay passion”, pain and suffering of its chef. He likens Erina’s chosen path to that of his senpai, Souma’s dad, and said it will only lead her to the “Wastelands,” suffocation, and despair. But then Erina insists he taste it and give her and the rest of Totsuki his impressions.

Try as Azami might to fight back the reflexes of his body with the stern logic of his mind, but he cannot. When he reiterates his fear Erina will walk the Wastelands alone, Hisako comes forward and contradicts him, not as Erina’s servant, but as her friend.

Azami’s Gifting ability affects not just those in his immediate facility, but the other members of the Elite Ten, the rebels, Hisako, even Urara! Clothes are torn off left and right as a great distant hammer drums out a beat: beautiful music that Souma and Erina have created. Then Azami’s clothes tear away as well.

What her father calls “contamination” are the precious experiences Erina has had with people of so many backgrounds, skill sets, and values, expanding her culinary universe in ways she could never have imagined, providing the “ulimate spice” for her cooking. Urara has no choice but to declare the rebels the winner of the final bout and of the Team Shokugeki.

All that’s left to do is for someone to say “Glad you enjoyed it!”…and Souma defers to Erina, who is, after all, The Boss.

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 10 – The Battle Within the Battle

The final bout is here, and Souma and Erina are forced to work together on a two-course meal. It goes about as well as you’d expect. Souma seems determined to challenge Erina at every turn, even after he lost rock-paper-scissors and got stuck with the first course. Meanwhile, Eishi and Rindou work like a well-oiled machine, and the latter presents their appetizer before the rebels even start cooking.

It’s a mushroom mille-fille using the formic acid from ants of all things to provide a unique and tantalizing tang, and it’s so delicious and well-composed, Azami’s “Gifting” ability—inherited by marrying into the Nakiri family—suddenly activates, disrobing some of the rebels (though I’m not sure why Ikumi is embarrassed, she rarely wears much to start with!)

Rindou’s dish is specifically crafted not just to show what her mastery of rare ingredients can do, but to provide the perfect preamble for Eishi’s main: a delicate yet powerful salt-crusted venison that transports everyone who eats it to a culinary Eden. It’s the ideal Azami talks about when he talks about Central, and even Souma has to admit it’s pretty powerful. But this isn’t a battle to determine whose cooking is best, necessarily, but how they come upon those flavors. It’s about the creative freedom of all chefs, not just an elite few.

As Souma cooks, he is constantly turning to Erina to taste things, tuning each of his ingredients like one would tune the strings of a guitar before a concert, “taking advantage” of her God Tongue the way her father wants to in his Central regime. His resulting dish combines two of his specialties—dishes only he could come up with—into one super-specialty that maximizes both his resourcefulness and playfulness with Erina’s God Tongue ability.

That resulting dish, “Countdown Caveman Meat, Cheeky Youngster Style”, wows all the judges and even causes another bout of Gifting from Azami, who cannot deny Souma juggled some very disparate flavors and techniques into a fascinatingly odd yet still cohesive plate. Unfortunately…it ain’t an appetizer. For one thing, the portion of meat presented is huge, and comes with a side of veggies. It appears to be its own meal, and for that reason, in this two-course Shokugeki, it gets a zero.

Everyone on both sides of the war is shocked that Souma, known for his rashness, would be so thoughtless as to sabotage the crucial final bout by failing to follow the simple rule of creating a dish that must come before another. But Souma hasn’t gone mad; he’s done this to challenge Erina one final time, when it matters most.

He tasted all of the mains she made the previous night; none of them would have beaten Eishi’s venison, because they weren’t her specialty. Souma went and created the best flavors he, Yukihira Souma, could make. Now it falls upon Erina to beat those flavors, and even overcome his un-appetizery portions, with her own gourmet specialty. In effect, Souma started a Shokugeki within the Shokugeki. If she can beat his dish, they lose. Time to put up or shut up!

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 09 – And Then There Were Four

Tsukasa Eishi’s exquisite, multifaceted Lievre a la Royale easily defeats Satoshi, which is a little disappointing after the latter had been built up as a worthy challenger. Anyone is going to have a hard time beating Eishi, because the kid puts absolutely everything he has improving his art.

The thing is, the rebels are going to have to find a way to beat him, because the fifth bout will be the final, one way or another. Eishi and Rindou will go up against Souma and Erina, with the task of creating both an appetizer and main course that exemplify a “true gourmet meal.”

In the aftermath of the bout, Takumi asks Rindou why he sensed so much unease from her during their match. She dismisses him and runs off, but Megishima also sensed that unease.

In a flashback sequence, we see that despite Eishi’s less-than-stellar social skills, he and Rindou were nigh-inseparable friends who always had fun cooking. Somewhere along the way, Eishi stopped having fun. After gaining the First Seat he was always endlessly praised at banquets, but always felt a bit…off.

Then, in Las Vegas and again in L.A., he met Nakiri Azami, who put his off-ness into words: the people who praise him are pigs who don’t really know what true cuisine is. Azami gradually built Eishi up to believe he was the up-and-coming Picasso of cooking, and there’s only two people who can truly judge Eishi’s cooking, him, and Eishi himself.

Meanwhile, on the rebels side, Souma and Erina bicker constantly on who is going to cook what dish and who will take the lead with the main course. I’m with Erina on this one; she’s got the God Tongue and the former Elite Ten seat, after all.

Their dispute lasts until the next day, when the bout is about to begin, an exhausted-looking Erina finally wins a game of rock-paper-scissors against an equally exhausted-looking Souma. It’s not the best start for the rebels’ last hopes, especially since Eishi and Rindou come out looking like a million bucks.

I’m well aware this ain’t gonna end with Souma & Co. getting expelled, but I’m interested to see how the seemingly invincible Eishi is rendered vincible. If anyone can do it, it’s our boy Souma and Miss God Tongue.

Inou-Battle wa Nichijou-kei no Naka de – 06

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InoBato’s sixth outing tables the exploration of the potential rift between the girls as a result of their shared feelings for Jurai to take an entirely different Route: the one from Jurai to Sayumi, the tall, proper, raven-haired beauty who hasn’t had an episode devoted to her yet, while also revealing that she tried to use her power to erase everyone’s powers (including her own), ten months prior.

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When she feels under the weather after doing most of the work making a video game for Jurai’s birthday (a very sweet gesture on the part of the whole club, though Jurai’s in-game fantasy can’t touch Chu2Koi delusion for pizazz) Sayumi stays home for the day to rest. Jurai visits and learns she wears glasses and has a little sister nothing like her, and is generally happy to see her home-ier side. Then, while flipping through her middle school yearbook, he asks her why she didn’t try to become StuCo president in high school. She abruptly asks Jurai to leave.

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Combined with flashbacks – ostensibly from Jurai’s POV – of he and Sayumi having a fight over whether she should erase everyone’s powers, it seems clear he struck a nerve. But the fact is, Jurai is mistaken, and spends the entire episode worrying and investigating Sayumi and blaming himself needlessly. Sayumi doesn’t blame Jurai for anything…on the contrary, she’s grateful for the way things turned out.

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Sayumi, you see, strove to be the perfect, “proper woman”, as her strong, stern grandmother told her to. She still does. But in middle school, as StuCo Prez, that obsession made her lose sight of her friends. And when her powers awakened, she was frightened and didn’t know what to do – both natural, imperfect reactions to gaining seemingly boundless powers.

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She’s grateful because Jurai was essentially her hero on both counts. First, she helped put Sayumi’s mind at ease by setting a boundary to her powers. He does so with a daring gamble: fighting an unwinnable physical fight (because he won’t hit a girl) and letting her use her power…and it doesn’t work. She can’t use her powers to erase their powers. They’re stuck with them, but Jurai assures her and the others that he’ll watch over them.

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Sayumi and the others (except maybe Chifuyu) realize he’s likely just blowing smoke…but heck, they have these crazy powers…the possibility isn’t zero Jurai could actually be right. His tireless optimism galvanizes, cheers, and buoys her and the rest of the club. Thanks to him, she has friends she’d never have made had she joined the StuCo for selfish reasons.

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Sayumi is very different from Tomoyo and yet this episode did a great job making her almost as suitable and plausible a love interest for Jurai as the crimson-haired light novel author. The early, rigorous establishment of the Jurai’s distinct bonds with each of the girls is most welcome, and crucial to my being emotionally invested if and when the implied future conflict between said girls is revisited…or should Jurai have to make good on his boasts of being able to stop them should their powers go haywire. Either way, or both — I’m properly on board.

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Medaka Box – 04

With Medaka insisting he win for her, Zenkichi defeats Akune in their Judo match by scoring a point before he could score ten. His victory is short-lived when Akune is cut from the team and joins the student council as secretary. Medaka puts Akune to work immediately, tasking him with assisting third-year tomboy Yatsushiro with writing a love letter. When he brings his first attempt to Medaka for approval, it is summarily rejected. Akune changes his strategy and tutors Yatsushiro so she can write the letter herself. For this, Medaka gives him a pat on the head, and the flowers start to extend past the council room.

We’re definitely noticing similarities between Medaka Box and Sket Dance: obviously, both are about small but spirited organizations that help anyone with anything they might require. The difference so far is that Sket Dance’s comedy is typically centered around how they’re often totally unprepared for their missions, and the difficulties and frustrations they face. Medaka Box, which we like just as much at this point, is about people who are very good at many things. There’s rarely any doubt that a mission will be accomplished, it’s just a matter of how it’s done. Even so, Medaka would never call herself perfect or a prodigy, even if she kinda is; she believes everyone is the same and has equal potential for greatness.

Also unlike Sket Dance, we have a love triangle of sorts in play that really isn’t there between Bossun, Himeko and Switch. Sure, Zenkichi isn’t about to ask Medaka out, but nor will he allow anyone else to take his place by her side, even if it’s a platonic side. Enter Akune, who very much wants to win her heart, even though she’s stated categorically “she can never belong to one person”, which is a little haughty of her. But that’s what we love about Medaka: she’s perfect in somethings, and not perfect in others, but gets away with it. We look forward to the council of three swelling to four, as the opening and ending foretell a second girl in the works.


Rating: 6 (Good)