Yuru Camp△ 2 – 09 – You’ll Never Ride Alone

Nadeshiko is back from her solo trip, and admits that after her dinner of foil-wrapped salmon (the veggies were apparently only an appetizer!), things got a little boring. With bad cell signal, she looked out at the scenery and thought, and came to the conclusion that she wanted to go camping with everyone again. It’s not that she dislikes solo camping, but she’ll definitely be staggering solo trips with group trips.

When Nade, Chiaki, and Aoi go to Toba-sensei to voice their intention to go on another trip, she’s ready with the suggestion of Izu in March. For one thing, she wants to visit the Iida’s to thank them for saving her students—left unsaid: she also wants more of that sake! Izu won’t be cheap, hence setting the date a month in the future. That’ll give the girls time to make some extra money to fund the trip and time to study for finals.

When Rin and Ena get the invite, it doesn’t take long for Rin to agree to go “if she can go”. While on her way out, Ena mentions how good a person Rin is to have gone all the way to Fujikawa to check on Nadeshiko, leaving Rin wondering how the hell Ena found out about that!

Chiaki mentions that Aoi’s birthday is March 4…which as it happens, is also Nadeshiko’s birthday! It’s also the birthday of historical figure Ohshio Heihachirou, leading to one of the more disturbing cutaway shot of the two girls with Ohshio’s face…pure Nightmare Fuel! I’ll take Ojou-sama Nadeshiko any day! When home, Aoi learns that her little sis Akari wants to go with them, not necessarily for the camping, but because there are capybarasHot spring capybaras.

The next day during club Toba-sensei informs everyone of the loose itinerary, starting with a night by the shore at Shimoda, followed by a night on a mountaintop with a view of Suruga Bay and Fujiyama. She approves Akari coming, and when asked how all seven of them will be transported, Toba-sensei says she’ll be borrowing her sister’s minivan.

Rin respectfully asks that she be allowed to go on her moped, but not because she’s worried the van trip will be too rambunctious. Instead, it’s because her initial New Years plans to ride to Izu were cancelled, and she’d been rearing to go ever since.

With the whens and where’s settled, all that’s left is to get to the date. A month passes in pleasant montage form, with Chiaki, Aoi, Rin, and Nadeshiko hard at work at their jobs (only Ena’s job isn’t shown). The group minus Rin also studies together in the library (though Rin isn’t far away), and Chiaki, the one everyone was most worried about, ends up passing the finals along with everyone else.

Chiaki also reaches out to Rin and Ena about pitching in to buy a gift with which to surprise Nadeshiko and Aoi on their birthday. It’s from Caribou, so it must be camping equipment. It’s also reasonably priced, so it’s definitely not the huggable Caribou statue, which costs the equivalent of $3300!

Rin plans her route, choosing to leave early and take the long way so she’s riding along the coast as the sun comes up. Nadeshiko is trying to think of recipes for their meals without success and gets some pointers from her dad (Izu is known for its wasabi, alfonsino, and deep sea fish). He also plans to slip her some petty cash with which to buy tasty souvenirs.

The night before Rin leaves, she gets her package containing a luggage rack and phone clip, which combined with a windshield her grandfather has lying around will make her moped journey significantly easier and more comfortable. Her dad comes home having gotten her moped serviced, inspected, and thoroughly cleaned.

Rin and her dad spend some quality time installing the rack and clip, but when her grandfather arrives for dinner and inspects the ignition switch, he notices something amiss: the phone keeps charging even with the engine off, which will drain the battery if she forgets to unplug it. Even though dinner is almost ready, he hops right back on his motorcycle to buy a relay in Kofu.

By the time he returns and has the relay installed, it’s almost nine, so the Shimas have a late dinner. We learn that both of Rin’s parents used to ride, and her mom in particular was extremely talented. Her dad even mentions some photos of her mom from that time, which really spark Rin’s curiosity —and her mom’s embarrassment—but Rin needs to head to bed since she’s got an early start.

When her alarm wakes her at three in the morning, Rin suits up and prepares to leave, only to find her grandfather in the genkan also gearing up. He’s not just leaving at the same time, but no doubt inspired by the reminiscing during dinner, he proposes they ride together for a little while.

Grandfather and granddaughter ride out in the middle of the night, two birds of a feather both in the way they might appear cool and distant at first glance but in actuality are two of the nicest, warmest, and most caring souls you could ever meet. There’s a quiet thrill in watching them ride together through dramatically lit tunnels and a past a slumbering Fujiyama, both the visuals and music rising to the occasion.

They stop at a konbini for a quick coffee before parting ways. Before riding off, her grandfather, not a man of many words or extreme emotions, expresses how happy he is he got to ride with his precious granddaughter. After this episode, you could say the Shimas’ hearts pump two-stroke fuel, and now in at least its generation with Rin, the family legacy is still going strong. Onward, to Izu!

Yuru Camp△ 2 – 07 – Going Solo

Chiaki, Aoi, and Ena were a lot of fun these past two episodes, but by the end of their Lake Yamanaka trip I was ready for some Rin and Nadeshiko time, and that’s what we get here! After Ena shows Chiaki some photos from their almost-ill-fated trip, it finally happens: Rin’s little grill is used as an offertory box, as they drop a coin in and praise their mutual savior. Rin’s deadpan reply is simple and perfect: “No worshipping.”

Ena splits, enabling Nadeshiko to talk solo camping with Rin. Rin’s a little surprised someone as gregarious as Nadeshiko has taken an interest in it, but is happy to offer all the advice she can. In what seems like an intentional contrast to Chiaki mostly winging it, relying on luck, and paying the price, Nadeshiko is determined to plan her first trip The Right Way, and not bite off more than she can chew.

Rin’s insights and advice prove indispensable as Nadeshiko makes a master list of things to do. First, she tells her family she’s going solo, and Sakura quickly and clandestinely downloads a GPS app so they’ll know where she is—a move that’s as wise as Nadeshiko’s curious “What are you doing?” is hilarious.

She finds a spot that won’t be too cold that’s within walking distance of a train station (and in cellular range), checks the weather and in particular the day-to-night changes in temperature, and makes a list of things to do while she’s there so she doesn’t get bored. The big day arrives, and after sliding all of her gear onto her back with a “hup”, she’s off to Fujikawa by way of Fujinomiya.

Rin, who also has the weekend off, decides to take a solo trip of her own, this time heading to Lake Amehata in picturesque Hayakawa, first stopping at a super-cozy home café in Akasawa for mamemochi and amazake (with barley tea on the house).

Nadeshiko reports via photo of her arrival in Fujinomiya, and after praying at the temple there for a safe and fun solo camping trip, she stays the growling of her stomach as she passes restaurants on the way to the yakisoba place her sister recommended.

Sakura, who is also getting her sister’s photo updates, is driving … somewhere. Where precisely, we’re not told, but it looks for all the world like she’s trailing Nadeshiko like an overprotective parent, even though that seems like overkill. Nadeshiko even senses she’s being followed and looks behind her several times.

Rin leaves Akasawa and visits the Giant Cedar of Yushima. All the gorgeous scenery she rides and walks through really gives you the warm exciting feeling of exploring new and unfamiliar places. And then, as she pulls into a café near the Lake Narada Hot Springs, the Sakura mystery is solved, with Rin finding her car parked in the lot.

As Rin spots Sakura and starts to follow her, Nadeshiko finally gets a spot in the yakisoba place, and once seated, she quickly learns she’d better shout out her order when requested or she’ll be passed up. Trusting in her fellow orderers, she gets a gomoku shigure-yaki, a thoroughly rib-sticking local specialty of okonomiyaki and Fujinomiya yakisoba.

Due to the set up, we’re able to watch along with Nadeshiko every step of the way as her food comes together, and the opposite is true as well: the cook is able to see Nadeshiko’s patented “This is Super Tasty” Face. She snaps a pic for Rin, who is viewing it just as Sakura walks up to her.

Her “cover” blown, Rin decides to have some tea with Sakura, and while initially finds their silence awkward due to Nadeshiko not being there, Sakura is always ready to talk Moped Stories, the show Rin watched with the others during Christmas Camping. Rin also learns that Sakura is a fellow solo-er, taking a drive once a month or so to places featured on travel shows.

When talk turns to Nadeshiko, Rin can tell Sakura is worried, but right on cue Nadeshiko texts both of them a photo of her superbly round and jolly face standing outside the Tomato Food Market, where she’ll shop for dinner supplies before heading to the campsite.

Sakura heads to the hot spring, Rin continues on to her campsite, and Nadeshiko arrives in Fujikawa. She’s only a 5.5km (around 3.4 miles) walk from the “Fujikawa Healthy Greenspace Campsite”, the fictional version of Nodayama Health Ryokuchi Park. Thanks to the physical conditioning her sister forced upon her, it should indeed be a walk in the park!

Yuru Camp△ – 04 – Go-Go Outclub Rangers!

The newly three-member Outclub kicks into gear with preparations for their first camping trip together, starting with trying to keep the budget as tight as possible. While experimenting with different forms of insulation for an otherwise useless-in-the-winter summer sleeping bag, Nadeshiko repeatedly runs into the school and back to retrieve materials they need, like an eager puppy.

Nadeshiko and Aoi are able to make Chiaki warm, but at the cost of being all packed up and ready to ship to Abu Dhabi, like Nermal. They ultimately decide to buy winter sleeping bags, ensuring they each get a unique color. Nadeshiko will be Outclub Red, Aoi Outclub Blue, and Chiaki Outclub Yellow.

Meanwhile, Rin prepares to kick into literal gear of her moped, now that she’s gotten her license. We also learns she works part-time at at bookstore to fund her solo camping obsession. What a good kid! Nadeshiko texts her a photo of Chiaki all packed up, leading Rin to wonder just what the heck those weird girls are up to!

The Outclub picks a campground and a date, and hit up the store to buy all of the stuff they don’t already have. My one wish is that we’d have gotten an exact figure for the total cost of their supplies, but that’s okay. As for Rin, by God is she inspiring, heading out in the early morn with her little bike packed to the gills with gear.

The next day, Nadeshiko misses a bus, but it’s no big deal. The three of them aren’t in any rush; the whole point of their excursion is to relax! Chiaki and Aoi note that Nadeshiko is carrying all her gear on her back, while they have more convenient dollies. They worry she won’t be able to make the four-kilometer hike from the station to the campground.

In what should come as no surprise, Nadeshiko’s energy stores prove inexhaustible. She’s not just a puppy, she’s a pack mule! Speaking of cute animals, Rin encounters a puppy in the back window of a van that moves to whatever side of the lane on which she stops. When the van turns off, Rin is sad, only to find another van ahead of her filled with many dogs!

When the Outclub reaches a famous vantage point at Fuefuki Park, Nadeshiko can’t resist a photo shoot, which she shares with Rin via LINE-like app. The three decide to hit up a café for some sugary treats to recharge their batteries, each sharing one another’s desserts and making me wish I could safely go to cafés with my friends! Maybe someday…

Rin gets Nadeshiko’s message about the apple soft just as she’s pulled into a rest stop at Kirigamine, and decides to stop in to warm up a bit; the closer she gets to her destination of Nagano, the colder it gets, but it’s clear she’s not afraid of a challenge. She picks a cozy spot by the iron wood stove in a room she has all to herself.

Recalling she has some cash to spend from her job, she decides to splurge on a Borscht lunch set with a Caramel Macchiato, and does not regret it, as the Slavic soup quickly distributes warmth to every corner of her body. She texts her feast to Nadeshiko, who asks where she’s headed, and rather than simply text back “Nagano”, Rin chooses a unique way to respond: by sending Nadeshiko a link to a live webcam then waving to her in real time.

The Outclub unanimously decided to stop by the Hottokeya Hot Springs before continuing on to the Eastwood Campgrounds, but as soon as they enter the lounging area, they worry about relaxing so damn hard they won’t be able to leave and go do what they came to do…camp!

This Yuru Camp felt like the best of both worlds: the Outclub’s more spirited and boisterous three-girl journey, cross-cut with Rin’s more Zen solo trip. Both look like a lot of fun! There’s also a wonderful shifting between hot and cold; between exertion and relaxation. Every Outclub member is a ton of fun, but Rin remains the show’s undisputed MVP and my personal hero.

Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau – 06

The people—specifically the youth—of Falaina prepare for battle. After a certain age even the Marked can’t use Thymia, so they’ll be depending on children to fight, many of them quite small, and like everyone else, tought their entire lives not to use their power to hurt people.

They must unlearn all that pacifist conditioning and learn to kill, which is what their enemies will be experts at right out of the gate. A seldom-seen elder makes sure Suou understands what leadership is: he’ll be sending children to kill and die. Suou seems to. I mean, what’s the alternative; just sit around and wait to be killed?

One Falainan who’s never had trouble hurting people with his Thymia is Ouni, and he mentally prepares for the task ahead with his old friend Nibi, who welcomed him into his gang when they were kids when Ouni showed him that things like the Bowels weren’t really that scary.

There are scary times ahead, but it certainly seems that Nibi will be by Ouni’s side for them. Whether that spells the end for him when they infiltrate Skylos and try to kill its Nous…this isn’t the episode about that fight, but the final build-up to it. And at that, it works generally well.

As one of the people going on the infiltration mission, Chakuro will be doing more than simply witnessing events, he’ll be a direct participant in them; forced to use his infamous “destroyer” powers for actual destroying; maybe of the Nous, maybe of fellow humans, maybe both. It’s uncharted territory.

Fortunately, Lykos will be by his side, and while her gradual falling for Chakuro was both inevitable and predictable, it sure beats her having no emotions at all, even if, as she says, “feelings get in the way.” It’s true! But without feelings, would life really be worth living? I mean, what are we doin’ here, trying to win a stoicism contest, or LIVING?!

While preparing for the battle that may decide the fate of many a person, as well as that of the entire Mud Whale, the show remains content to keep us in the dark about Neri and her apparent twin, Ema, or what is up with her angel wings of light.

Suffice it to say, she’ll play a more satisfying role educating Chakuro on the secrets of the Mud Whale perhaps nobody knows besides the elders; and some stuff that even they might not know. But for Ema to start spilling the beans, Chakuro has to come out of this in one piece.

The villagers throw sand at each other in a tradition called the “sand returning” which kicks up those who have been lost into the air. In a touching scene Lykos witnesses Chakuro doing this for the late, dearly departed Sami.

After that calm comes the storm—a sandstorm, of course! Skylos can be heard before its red lights can be seen, but the great battleship doesn’t fully emerge quite yet; we get the credits. That means next week will be the battle – no more procrastinating!

Made in Abyss – 13 (Fin)

Always cold and hungry yet full of longing to see the wonders of the Abyss, the still-human Nanachi was lured, along with a good deal of other disadvantaged children, to their doom by the dastardly White Whistle Bondrewd the Novel.

On the way down to the unreassuringly-named Sea of Corpses, Nanachi meets the ebullient Mitty. Weary at first, they hit it off almost immediately, buoyed by the exciting, life-changing adventure they’re about to undertake.

Did I say exciting and life-changing? I meant nightmarish and life-ruining/ending. One by one Bondrewd comes for the children until Nanachi and Mitty are the only ones left.

Neither has any idea what’s happening to the others until Bondrewd comes for Mitty, but not Nanachi, in the night. But Nanachi, now all alone, follows them, and sees and hears things she shouldn’t.

Bondrewd takes Nanachi’s disobedience as an auspicious event, and places them in a tube right beside a frightened, already-trapped Mitty, and calmly explains how the “experiment” is going to go down. The two descend to the Sixth Layer, where a horde of formerly-human things gather around their tubes.

Then the ascent begins, and all of the Curse is transferred to Mitty in a graphic, gruesome, and thoroughly upsetting sequence. Nanachi can only watch in the other tube, absolutely powerless to help. Mitty was Nanachi’s one and only true “treasure”, more important than any relic they might have found in the Abyss.

But, as we know, Mitty isn’t gone. Well, not totally. To Bondrewd’s delight, the double-dose of Sixth-Layer Curse not only took Mitty’s human form, but made it impossible for her to die. She is constantly disintegrating, regenerating…and suffering.

Nanachi flees Bondrewd’s clutches with Mitty (though it’s highly likely he lets them go) and eventually finds a place to live. But there is nothing Nanachi can do for Mitty. It’s not that they can’t put Mitty out of her misery due to emotional considerations…it simply isn’t possible.

Not until Reg and Riko came around. With his Incinerator, which Nanachi calls “Sparagmos”, or the “light that returns to the cardinal point”, Nanachi believes she can finally free Mitty’s long-suffering soul from what’s left of her body.

Reg asks for time to think it over, and worries that if he kills Mitty, Nanachi will feel they have no more reason to live, and might take their own life. Nanachi promises they won’t, and convinces Reg of the only right and proper course of action when they tell him that when they one day do die, Mitty will be left alone, suffering for all eternity.

After preparing a tasteful site for “sending off” Mitty, Nanachi only halts Reg from firing Incinerator for one last goodbye to her treasure, then tells him to do it. The ensuing inferno consumes every bit of Mitty until there’s nothing left. Just like that, she’s gone.

It’s ruinously sad, but I’ll admit, a HUGE relief her suffering is at an end. After all, her last words as a human to Nanachi in that tube were “kill me.” Hers was the kind of pure lasting suffering that’s hard to imagine or even comprehend, but I can grasp the catharsis, even if the hurt remains in the hearts of those who sent her off.

Things thankfully take a lighter turn when Reg awakens to find Riko is also awake, and starting her rehabilitation. Riko takes an instant liking to the cute and fuzzy Nanachi, and both Nanachi and Reg appreciate Riko’s far superior culinary skills.

After going through that emotional, visceral ringer, It’s awfully nice to see Riko back to normal. Then she asks if there wasn’t someone else there besides the three of them, and recalls a dream that made her think that.

The creepy dream we saw part of last week is put into context thanks to Riko. She is consumed by a kind of skin (representing her deep illness) and can only cry and panic, but when she sees that terrified, crying eye—Mitty’s eye in the waking world—she calms down, stares back, and tries to comfort her.

Then, after Reg sends Mitty off, Riko perceives it as Mitty (or rather, her soul) being restored to its human form before passing on. Then Riko realizes she needs to “get going”, and follows the light back to consciousness and out of her wounded stupor.

Upon hearing this “dream”, which was likely something more significant, Nanachi looks grateful that someone saw their treasure in the moment she finally achieved her freedom.

Nanachi takes Riko and Reg to a kind of healing hot spring, and enjoys watching Reg squirm as Riko proceeds to have no qualms whatsoever about bathing with him naked, all while quietly asking Mitty to wait “a little longer,” which could either be interpreted as Nanachi planning to take her life and join Mitty soon, or not until after she’s lived a life that now includes two new potential “treasures” in Reg and Riko.

After removing the mushrooms from her arm (another highly painful, unpleasant ordeal), Riko eventually regains the ability to lift her arm and even move her thumb. Reg blames his crappy amputation attempt for the state of her arm, but Riko doesn’t blame him; she asked him to do it, after all. She also heared from Nanachi how tearfully and desperately Reg tried to save her, and thanks him for that, regarding her nasty scar as “precious proof” he protected her.

Riko, like Reg before her, asks Nanachi if they’ll join them as they continue their journey further down the Abyss, and Nanachi agrees. The credits then roll over a lovely montage: Riko ties her backpack to a balloon and releases it, and they prepare for their journey as it makes its harrowing ascent past all the layers they’d passed, even requiring Marulk to free it from a branch and repair it.

It eventually reaches Nat, who looks shocked and elated to finally possess evidence of Riko and Reg’s progress. Having completed their preparations (and the construction of a big, sturdy new backpack), the new party of Riko, Reg, and Nanachi leave Nanachi’s cozy house behind, in search of trying to satisfy that most unstoppable longing for the unknown.

Meanwhile, in Bondrewd the Novel’s lab, he notices one of dozens of lights has gone out; a light signifying Mitty’s life. He is proud of and grateful to Nanachi for having finally gotten it done, as if letting them escape was yet another experiment. And he’s eager to meet her again. Ouzen was right; she’s kind and pleasant compared to this evil bastard.

And there we are; that’s a wrap! At least until a second season comes along. While I can assure you there are very few shows I’d want to jump into the second season of immediately, and this is one of them, I think a good long rest is in order, to recover from the emotional wounds it left in this final, epic, horrendously devastating yet still somehow hopeful, and achingly beautiful finale. I want to believe Riko’s mom is waiting for her. I have to.

3-gatsu no Lion – 16

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While it could be argued Hayashida-sensei got Rei in this hole by miscounting his absences, he gets resourceful in a bid to dig him out of it, including introducing Rei to the After School (Bunsen) Burners Club, a group of passionate nerds happy to help Rei out with science-y stuff. This was a lot of fun and engendered the most laughs; the mustachioed guy in particular was hilarious, somewhat Excalibur-like.

It’s a relief to the teacher to see Rei interacting and laughing with fellow students. The lesson he imparts upon Rei is that when he cannot overcome something alone, seek out someone to help; otherwise no one will ever seek him out.

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After a brief fake-out with a too-confident looking Gotou, we learn that Shimada was the victor in the third and final match, making him the challenger against the ethereal reigning champion Touji Souya. Gotou was prepared to give remarks on his loss, while Shimada is so spent from the exertion he can barely stand or talk. His spirits are buoyed when Rin asks if he can join his shogi workshop.

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Back at the Kawamoto’s, the girls and gramps are making special boxes for the girls festival and planning what kind of meal to prepare for the special occasion. Hina is frustrated that Rei hasn’t been by, and doesn’t understand why he’d deprive himself of food (and their company) for so long. Gramps understands, though; it’s a matter of pride. He’ll come back when he’s ready.

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The workshop is at Shimada’s house, a modest but gorgeous little home dramatically perched atop a hill in the oldest part of town. There’s a sense Rei has climbed a mountain to reach some kind of temple in order to aid him on his quest to enlightenment. In reality, he doesn’t spend enough time playing in non-competitive matches with peers, which is why Shimada was able to run roughshod over him.

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Shimada is glad to host three gung-ho shogi players in his home for the workshop, but once the three start getting defensive, digging in their heels and barking like petty feudal lords, the toll Shimada’s matches exacted upon his body are amplified, and he cuts the ‘shop short, blaming a stomachache.

Nevertheless, Rei is being exposed to different forms of play, with nothing on the line except his still-narrow personal view of shogi play. Nikaidou even follows him home, as their argument over use of certain pieces at a certain time inspires him to want to demonstrate to Rei what he’s on about on a shogi board.

Overall, this was a pleasant (if a bit thin-feeling) episode that shows some of the incremental steps Rei is taking towards…well, growing up, becoming both a better shogi player and a better man. Notably, there were no scary flashbacks (or scary Kyouko) to be had, but like Hina I too hope he’ll end his self-imposed exile from the Kawamotos soon.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 15

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Rei gets back to analyzing Kyouko, likening her to a glass with cracks that can never be fully filled. Rei blames himself and Kyouko’s and his dad for creating those cracks. Dad might’ve been the instigator, but Rei puts just as much weight in his role as object of favoritism, whether it was justified or not.

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The new wrinkle here is that Kyouko didn’t want Rei to go away, leaving her even more lonely. But he did. He felt he had to. Considering what Kyouko and her brother had to pay for Rei to be in the position he’s in, he felt it necessary to become an adult as soon as possible so he could “protect them”.

But leaving didn’t end Kyouko’s suffering, it only created a new void in her heart; a new crack. We also learn she first connected with Gotou because his wife is in the hospital, and the loneliness she perceives in him mirrors her own. I wonder if Kyouko ever expected Rei would up and leave the way he did – that he would challenge the status quo so forcefully, at such a young age.

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But leave and challenge it he did…and he failed, and got humiliated, and had his whole world turned upside down. And you know what? Even Grandpa Kawamoto knows (from experience) that failure is good; failure is necessary. No one ever knows that when it’s happening, because it feels terrible, as losing to Gotou in the first of three final matches feels to Shimada.

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Rei already shows some growth by ceasing his skulking and going back to the shogi hall to watch Shimada and Gotou in action with his colleagues. Unfortunately, due to a clerical error by Hayashida-sensei, Rei finds himself two attendance days in the red and heaps of schoolwork to do in order to prevent repeating the grade. Again, he faces potential humiliation and failure, but it will ultimately make him a better person.

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Shimada regathers himself and expends a great deal of his charisma in the second match, in which he manages to defeat Gotou and bring the series even. Afterwards Shimada walks with Nikaidou, who tells him why he wanted him to kick Rei’s ass so soundly.

Nikaidou’s many victories against uninspiring opponents who clearly didn’t work as hard as he did left him “reduced to a lump of ego”, with a head to match. That big head was split in two when he faced off against Rei, but Rei also pulled him out of the dirt and offered him water in the searing heat. Rei saved him, and he repaid the favor with Shimada’s help.

In an interesting merging of the two plot lines, Shimada spots Kyouko yelling over being rejected once more by Gotou on his way home. Seing the young, beautiful woman so strongly affected by the far older Gotou serves as another means of indirect psychological warfare (to go along with Gotou’s impressive arsenal of the direct kind).

But Shimada quickly snaps out of it: it’s just another momentary humiliation; another fleeting failure; either of which will only serve to make him stronger. So too will Rei grow stronger from such things. Now, Shimada, for the love of God: beat that pompous gangster!

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3-gatsu no Lion – 14

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3GL gets back on track by bringing Rei and Shimada’s match to an end, and I realize the match was supposed to start out boring at the beginning last week, to reflect how little of it Rei thought. Shimada was only a hurdle to leap over on the way to teaching Gotou a lesson.

How wrong Rei was: Shimada wasn’t an opponent to toss aside with half-assed preparation. Rei totally misjudged his level and got totally destroyed. Finding out how early in the match he was toast (far earlier than he realized when playing) only pours gas on the fire.

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He runs off like someone rejected by their crush, thinking he’s lost everything. He loads up on sleep, gets depressed and dehydrated, and even starts to think of other ways to make his way in the world besides shogi (which is tough when one is only seventeen). Rei had taken on the trappings of adulthood without having the experiences necessary to become one.

But as Shimada and Smith say, this happens to everyone, in one way or another. You’re young, you feel invincible, then you’re struck down and never saw it coming, and think It’s All Over. Heck, it sounds a lot like one’s first rejection or breakup.

But such defeats are necessary and vital to growth, which is probably why Nikaidou asked Shimada to “crack [Rei’s] head in two.” Rei needed a jolt like this, because more defeats will come in life and he needs to learn how to deal with them.

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Rei tries to find some solace at school, but it’s just as unapproachable and incompatible to him as ever. Again, the only one he talks with is Hayashida-sensei, making him one of the least social high school anime characters (who isn’t just a shut-in) in recent memory.

Hayashida also wants to impress upon Rei the fact that if he’s “over-capacity”, and it certainly looks like he is, there’s no shame in stepping back from those adult trappings, moving back home, and having at least some of the things currently overloading his life be taken care of.

Additionally, Hayashida suggests Rei join Shimada’s workshop (of which Nikaido is also a member), as learning from someone who beat you (especially so badly) is a great opportunity.

Rei has to get past his anger with Shimada for getting beaten, his uneasiness with being back home, and of course, his own obsessive insistence on not running. Doing these things isn’t running, it’s learning and growing.

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3-gatsu no Lion – 13

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Well, that was surprising. After 12 episodes with nothing lower than an 8, 3GL lays an egg in its thirteenth. Was it because Friday the 13th was yesterday? Maybe, but there were a lot of other reasons this episode…just didn’t work for me.

First, it almost seems at times like the episode is marking time, in no particular hurry to show or tell us anything new. The cold open is literally the last few minutes of the last episode.

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The show also repeated the scene between Gotou and Rei where the latter has to be held back by Misumi. Considering there was a recap just a couple weeks ago, it seemed like needless padding.

Once it got into new material, we get an interminable, clunkily-animated scene of Misumi of all people eating various things while vigorously preparing for his shogi match with Gotou, which he then goes on lose anyway.

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It’s all well and good to build up Gotou into a kind of Goliath Rei must slay, and it lays on the pressure even more when Rei gets off his game against Shimada and ends up in real trouble, but Misumi just hasn’t been that integral a character in the show, and that was a lot of time spent on him. Rei is supposed to face off against Gotou, but that was delayed here, and with little to show for it.

Even though this show typically splits episodes into two or more episodic pieces, the flow was far worse than usual, and lacked urgency. The bits of recap padding, the editing, and the animation, something was just off with this episode, and it kept me at arm’s length.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 09

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The hall is rented, the orchestra engaged. Now it’s time to see who can DANCE.

There’s an extra drama to that ‘hall’, thanks to the retractable roof opening to reveal the autumn moon, the transit of which across the opening marks the match’s two-hour time limit. It also lends the festivities an extra air of drama.

Off the bat, Dojima is impressed that Ryo doesn’t exhibit the slightest bit of nerves, but Alice tells him that’s no surprise at all, after years of cooking against her. Ryo lost a lot, but that motivated him to become good enough to beat her…on occasion. That, in turn, angered Alice, who upped her game even more.

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The result is that Ryo creates explosively successful dishes that have elevated him to the finals. His herb butter-enhanced saury cartoccio is an “aroma bomb” that produces heretofore unseen reactions in the judges.

We get the rare “Grin” from the chairman, while Alice’s mom unexpectedly “bares” a much better command of Japanese, explaining the dish in great detail with perfect grammar.

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The rare reactions do not cause Hayama to waver, as he presents his saury carpaccio immediately after they finish Ryo’s dish. It seems pretty pedestrian until he takes a blowtorch to the fish, searing it and the kaeshi sauce glaze, while highlighting the since spice he used, allspice.

This stunt makes the entire arena feel like they’ve already tasted the dish before it even leaves the plate. The judges remark how the two competitors evolved in different ways after their tie in the semis, with Ryo doubling down on explosive force and Hayama refining his scimitar into a precise rapier or arrow.

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That leaves Souma with not one but two tough acts to follow up, especially since the judges are probably more used to eating two dishes before deciding a winner. For them, the match might already feel over, especially since what they tasted was so amazing.

Souma doesn’t flinch any more than Hayama did summoning the advice and know-how from his friends and rivals to help craft the proper blade to battle those of his opponents. It didn’t look like much at first, but he succeeds in exceeding the judges’ expectations and keeping pace with the others.

…Or does he? There’s much enthusiasm and praise, but once the initial glow of his dish wears off, Dojima and Leonora have set down their chopsticks, and the chairman’s robe remains on. Everyone assumes the match is over and that the winner will come down to Hayama or Ryo.

But Souma isn’t done yet. He insists the judges have seconds, and that they pour something over the rice and dig back in. I have no idea what that something is, but it’s sure to put him back in the running. I just hope that rally doesn’t result in a three-way tie. I feel there has to be a winner and two losers here.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 08

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When we learned the ingredient for the Autumn Elections final would be something as pure and elemental Pacific Saury (AKA sanma), I had a feeling the show would go all out in explaining the multitudes the seemingly simply fish contains.

Sure enough, when Todoroki accompanies Souma to the bustling pre-dawn fish market (a setting begging for an anime dedicated to it), the two spout off the usual tricks for picking the best fish—which turn out to be woefully inadequate compared to Souma’s opponents.

Ryo is also at the market. Ryo has always been at the market. He’s gone every morning for ten years, continually sharpening his instincts for picking the best fish by sight and feel. Hayama regularly attends, but needs neither hands nor eyes—he can pick the best fish by smell.

Alice is there to explain the differing curves in rigor index and muscle breaking strength, but Ryo, like Hayama, doesn’t care about any of that; he just knows when the fish is best. Sure enough, an impromptu sashimi mini-duel proves Souma’s fish-picking ability is worryingly deficient, when compared to the harsh competition.

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In a rare display for Souma, he kinda freezes at the task before him: he has neither the natural instincts nor the time necessary to acquire them; on this matter, Ryo and Hayama simply have him beat. But as is so often the case with Souma, when he doesn’t like what’s being said, he changes the conversation (to paraphrase Don Draper).

Forget getting the the market first and picking the ideal fish; the other two will do it better. Instead, he’ll AGE the fish. He amasses a team of experts who just happen to be his friends/dormmates: Sakaki, Ibusaki, and Nikumi, a veritable dream team of food-aging consultants who are happy to lend their expertise.

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Souma experiments with salt, smoke, temperature, humidity, and time to make up for his deficiency in fish selection and create the ideal blend of mouthfeel and umami. Due to sanma’s general simplicity, there’s nowhere for one’s weaknesses to hide; but at the same time, one cannot win this final without bringing out the fish’s complexity, like one unlocks a door.

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Souma is close…very close. But Todoroko confirms his suspicion he’s still not quite there. With the final almost upon him, he comes up with one last idea that he doesn’t let anyone else (or us) in on. I like how the episode shows Ryo and Hayama’s doubt and unease when they see Souma isn’t there. They know he hasn’t thrown in the towel, so what is he up to?

That little scene of the two thinking is crucial, because it shows that Souma isn’t simply up against two elite heavyweights, but two other human beings with their own insecurities and uncertainties. They’re very very good, but they’re not invincible; no one is.

The day of the long-awaited final is marked by the introduction of a new third judge to accompany Dojima and Senzaemon…and it’s Alice’s mom from Denmark! She is every bit her daughter’s mother, even teasing Erina with Alice. And the initial sight of her as some kind of norse goddess being totally undone by her woeful command of Japanese created a big laugh.

This was a great build-up to the final, and increased by regard for samna immensely. Too bad my roommate can’t deal with all the bones!

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 06

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Barring something bizarre (like a tie with one judge abstaining), this battle was only going to end one way: with Souma victorious. There’s no way he’d lose and give up cooking six episodes in.

The show knows we know the outcome, so it must, as it often has in the past, dazzle and entertain us with the process that leads to that outcome. And it succeeds!

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After whipping out bacon that demonstrates his curing and smoking expertise are on par with Ibusaki’s, and revealing that his profiling job was made much easier by guessing Sotsuda’s password and reading all his notes on Souma’s prep.

The very harsh alumnai judges believe the multifaceted umami of the bacon is something Souma simply cannot overcome, until he starts improvising, whipping out four distinct cuts of meat—cheek, tongue, tripe, and fillet—each perfectly prepared in a manner ideal to it, and added as garniture for the stew, in what Souma deems a “meet theme park.”

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Mimasaka predicted someone of Souma’s confidence would turn to improv, but is confident his profiling and detailed preparations will be able to weather anything Souma throws at the judges.

Mimasaka serves his dish first, and the beef/pork umami is violently, knock-’em-sock-’em good, leaving Mimasaka laughing villainously and the judges more weary than ever that Souma’s seemingly thrown-together dish will be any match.

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…But of course it is. Rather than being tossed around in a boxing ring with meat heavyweights, the judges are spirited away to “Yukihee Land” (trademark pending), where they transform into giddy high school girls (yes, including Dojima) running around enjoying life and youth.

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While Mimasaka’s carefully erected house of cards is impressive, it pales in comparison to the encyclopedic display of skill on display, as he puts a Chikuzen stew-like twist on beef stew rather than sticking with the French classic. The individual meats he used impress the judges with how well each was prepared and how they create and exhilarating ride in their mouths and imaginations.

By the end of their meal, the judges are gleefully holding hands without knowing it. The voting is unanimous, and Souma defeats Mimasaka…but he also teaches Mimasaka a lesson.

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Growing up, Mimasaka imitated his stern father’s cooking, and the first time he put a twist on it, he beat his father’s cooking, leading to his exile. He used that same approach intentionally—and with increasing cruelty—throughout his cooking career to advance himself, because it worked.

But for the first time, it didn’t work, and Mimasaka must surrender all of the treasured tools that embody the pride of the previous chefs he beat (in a scene that looks a lot like Hunger Games, what with all the past losers rushing into a container full of knives). Only Takumi refuses to take back his Mezzaluna; it goes to Souma instead, and he’ll get it back when he beats him in a Shokugeki.

Now that Mimasaka has experienced the same shameful, pride-robbing defeat what all the chefs he defeated, like them he begins to question whether he should even cook anymore. But the point of Souma’s lesson was to demonstrate that a true professional chef takes the worst defeat of their life in stride, because the kitchen must open tomorrow, and the customers must be fed.

Meanwhile, Souma continues to look ahead to his future match with Erina (who looks down imperiously before demanding he get her that manga she wanted), while Round 2 of the semifinals between Hayama and Kurokiba begins immediately. And what do you know, I have no idea who’s going to win this one!

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Tokyo Ghoul 2 – 10

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Unlike the last two episodes’ cold opens, which could have stood alone as masterful short films, this week’s doesn’t even feel necessary, since we already know a concerned Touka is rushing towards CCG siege on Anteiku. On the other hand, it’s only 55 seconds long…because there’s shit to get done this week.

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While the Mall and Prison super-battles felt larger in scale, this one brings more emotional and dramatic weight, because this time it’s Anteiku, which has always striven to live and let live, and the battle isn’t going well, because the CCG are bringing it.

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Koma and Kaya are ready to make their last stand tonight, fighting beside Yoshimura, who brought them together in peace, and going out in a blaze of glory, or at least with one last good fight. Koma and Kaya don’t get their wish, as Kaneki arrives just in time to save them from the finishing moves of the Doves attacking them.

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A lot of the glory this week goes to our two favorite white-heads, Kaneki and Juuozu, who both show just how terrifying they are when they’re serious. It’s kind of a shame that they don’t meet or cross blades this time, but I can see why the two sub-battles were separated. Koma and Kaya were able to be saved by Kaneki because Yoshimura is attracting all the CCG heavies, Juuzou included.

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Even with Shinohara, Iwa, Juuzou, Ui, Houji hacking away at him all night in varying states of coordination, Yoshimura is one tough sonofabitch, which seems to almost work against his plan to pay for his sins and pave the way for the future by all but letting himself get killed. He can’t help but fight back, and his status as the Owl means even if he doesn’t lift a finger in defense (and he very much does), it takes a good long time for him to go down.

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That emotional weight I mentioned? It comes in a flurry of flashes as Yoshimura remembers all the various people in his life he either saved or was saved by. The last thing he sees is his beloved Ukina, the human who accepted him and even bore his child, who is now out there somewhere. You want to hope now that he’s paid for his sins with his life at last, he’ll be able to rest in peace with Ukina in the hereafter.

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Unlike Kaneki, who saves Koma and Kaya, Touka takes no action in the battle. This was probably a good move on her part, as I imagine she would have been outclassed here. Still, she doesn’t particularly look happy about sitting this one out. As for Hide, he’s somehow able to suit up as a CCG grunt to watch, which…well, that doesn’t exactly reflect well on their security procedures, now does it?

As for Kaneki, he isn’t able to simply walk away after dispatching the Second and Third CCG divisions. The Fourth still stands in his way, led by a particularly focused-looking Amon. I don’t imagine he’s in the mood for talk. And while Amon is the underdog in a fight with Kaneki, he’s got friends, and he hung in there versus an admittedly more unstable Kaneki at Cochlea, so he won’t be a slouch.

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Finally, as soon as Yoshimura is defeated, the other Owl, his daughter, arrives on the scene, ready to rumble against the by-now exhausted Doves. Yoshimura’s last request to Kaneki was to not squander his unique status as the one person who bridges the gap between ghouls and humans.

He also told him to try to save his daughter. With Kaneki and Eto about to enter into fierce battles of their own, prospects for either of those things happening seem pretty bleak.

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