Jaku-Chara Tomozaki-kun – 04 – Standing Up to the Queen

Tomozaki just landed a lucky break. If there was no reason for Izumi Yuzu to approach him, he’d been making his presence known to the point that when he approached her, she felt she could come to him with her TackFam problem, which is really a Nakamura Shuuji problem. Bottom line: Izumi likes Shuuji, and wants to get good enough at the game to take him on. We also learn Shuuji recently turned down the Konno Erika, leader of the Neckties to which Yuzu belongs.

Yuzu invites Tomozaki to her place so he can teach her, and after one match he knows exactly what she needs to get better, starting with learning how to execute a short jump, which is simply a matter of practice and muscle memory. Yuzu is grateful for Tomozaki’s advice but wonders what the deal is with his various poses and gestures…turns out he’s mimicking Hinami’s teaching style without knowing it!

By the time Tomozaki is drawing detailed diagrams of all the moves Yuzu will have to memorize, she asks him: What is all the intense effort even for? He tells her what it’s not for: making friends or winning praise. When Yuzu claims she can’t ever change from her current status of superficially laughing with her necktie-wearing friends, he assures her he is proof that anyone can change; they just need to commit themselves and put in the effort.

While Hinami calls Tomozaki’s break with Yuzu pretty “miraculous” when they meet up for a debrief, she can’t deny he properly capitalized, using what he knows best (TackFam) to really connect with someone. That said, she still wants him to ask Fuuka out on a date, even producing movie tickets for them to use.

The night before, Tomozaki practices asking Fuuka out on the recorder Hinami gave her, showing how he’s learning how to listen to himself and adjust. But he also accidentally opens a folder of recordings Hinami didn’t delete: ones in which she too practices talking. He already considers it amazing she’s so good at the Game of Life; to hear the process firsthand is even more amazing.

Like him with TackFam, no matter how high a level you achieve, you can never stop practicing. But with practice comes the realization that sometimes circumstances won’t always accommodate your plans, nor will practice always inform what to do when it’s go time. To whit: Tomozaki calls an laudable audible: coming clean to Fuuka about having not read any of her favorite author, and thus not yet being ready to read her own novel.

This could have turned out disastrously, but the risk was well worth the reward of starting fresh from a position of honesty. A white lie or misunderstanding rarely forms a strong foundation for a relationship. While there’s clear and justifiable disappointment in Fuuka’s reaction, there’s also the sense she’s happy he’s being so honest. He’s also able to break the news naturally and casually enough not to come off as dismissive or cruel.

Working entirely outside the letter of Hinami’s plan while hewing to the spirit of her training, Tomozaki shows great growth here, while rejecting her “an in is an in” mentality. Yes, the author misunderstanding, got Fuuka talking to him, but so did simply asking Yuzu for a tissue.

He also wisely realizes that to ask her out on a date so soon after basically restarting their friendship from a place of honesty would be overdoing it, so he withholds the tickets for now. If he gets any flak from Hinami, he’ll be ready with a pretty good explanation. However, their next meeting is preempted by Shuuji’s two mates: he wants a TackFam rematch, now.

In the AV room, Tomozaki plays Shuuji while Shuuji’s mates, Yuzu, and Erika and her two Necktie acolytes watch. Tomozaki proceeds to beat Shuuji handily in match after match, but Shuuji keeps asking to play again. He grows more frustrated, even as he starts to improve slightly, to the point he’s able to take out one of Tomozaki’s health stocks.

That frustration creates an increasingly unpleasant tension and aura of desperation around Shuuji, to the point Erika begins to mock him as “weak”, his obsession with a “stupid game” as “creepy”, and that she dodged a bullet when he turned her down. The “stupid game” comment draws the ire of Tomozaki, as does her assertion that all of Shuuji’s hard work and practice amounts to nothing.

The old Tomozaki would have muttered something and not followed through, but this newly Hinami-trained Tomozaki is at least adept enough at the Game of Life to call Erika out for the haughty tourist she is. Shuuji may have been a dick to him all this time, but at least he’s committed to improving and keeps fighting no matter how much he loses. All Erika can do is mock someone else’s effort when she (at least as far as Tomozaki knows) puts in none at all.

Yuzu even has the courage to chime in and call Shuuji’s efforts “beautiful in a boyish way”, despite the fact doing so is contradicting the vaunted Queen of the Neckties. But I have no doubt it was Tomozaki’s earlier words about her ability to change that helped her summon the courage to speak up. Erika slinks away, pretending not to have learned anything, but she did. So did Shuuji, who probably resents Tomozaki defending him but also appreciated it.

Notable for her silence during all this is Hinami, which was no accident. The thing is, while she observed that Tomozaki had things well in hand, I also think she stayed above the fray in order to avoid needlessly upsetting the apple cart with Erika & Co., who would have likely felt ganged up on if she’d joined Tomozaki and Yuzu—an example of maintaining balance through inaction. Regardless, both Erika and Shuuji stop giving Tomozaki a hard time, now knowing better what he’s made of.

At their next meeting over lunch, Hinami asks how things are going with Fuuka, wondering if he’s lost motivation. He assures her he hasn’t, but without explaining the whole situation with coming clean and not wanting to pile on with a date request, Tomozaki pulls another laudable audible: whipping out the very tickets she gave him and asking Hinami if she’ll join him instead.

Hinami’s look of surprise is followed by the kind of proud face a master makes when their student has just done something good. Unfortunately, she’s not free tomorrow (what do you know, she does have other obligations!), but she is free for a movie now. Is it just me, or do these two just make a good couple, full stop?

It’s too early to tell, but I appreciate that Hinami doesn’t go all cliché blushy or tsundere at the prospect of Tomozaki asking her out. Maybe she gets that it’s for more “training”, or as thanks for her help so far. But at some point all these times they’re meeting up one-on-one and having fun will start painting the picture of two people…going out. We’ll see if anything comes of their consistently pleasant proximity, and more importantly, if more people start noticing them together all the damn time!

Crucially, this outing proved Tomozaki isn’t just some automaton carrying out Hinami’s directives, nor does she want him to be. She’s taught him the basics, and it’s up to him to experience how to properly use them and switch things up when warranted. The recording of Hinami also shows that her life game is an ongoing work in progress. I know it’s Tomozaki’s name in the title, but I would love to delve more into Hinami’s growth, and if Tomozaki has anything to teach her—something his recent shrewd freestyling might portend.

Hanebado! – 07 – The Power and Price of Hard Work

The best and most thrilling episode of Hanebado! yet, in which Ayano and Kaoruko have their fated rematch, comes with a surprise: Ayano’s mom is nowhere to be seen; none of Ayano’s teammates mention her again; and there’s no indication she watched the Kaoruko rematch. Where’d she go? We never find out. But she’s there, and she’ll surely be back.

Her total absence reflects the new attitude towards her mother Ayano wishes to adopt: that she doesn’t have a mother, or at least not one whose opinions matter to her anymore. Ayano looks initially rattled by Kaoruko’s gift of a hankie for the tears/snot when she loses, but her pained look morphs into a wry girn.

Ayano isn’t scared of Kaoruko anymore; at least not on the surface. Her inner thoughts/feelings are off limits to Ayano’s teammates, Kaoruko, and we the audience, but it could well be she’s just as calm, cool, and committed to obliterating her opponent inside as out.

Yu loses her match, making Ayano, Nagisa and Sora the only three players left standing in the prelims. But frankly I just wasn’t that interested in the little subplots of the other characters. This was about a suddenly supremely confident Ayano and a Kaoruko humming with arrogance: an Unstoppable Force vs. an Unmovable Object.

Despite the distractions, the match lives up to the hype and then some. It’s the most high stakes match we’ve been able to watch, and the animation team pulls out all the stops, utilizing all manner of angles, zooms, pans, sweeps, etc. as well as a 3-D “floating camera” that soars from one end of the court to t’other. It really got the adrenaline pumping.

But even more important: for once, Ayano, supposedly one of the most talented players in the show, isn’t embarrassed or overwhelmed, physically or psychologically. She is in complete command of the match, and demonstrates virtual telepathy when it comes to diagnosing Kaoruko’s game plan and sabotaging it at every turn with unexpected counters.

This is where Kaoruko’s tireless hard work, ultra-granular attention to detail, and the ruthless drive to defeat Ayano at all costs actually work against her. She prepared so intricately carefully for an opponent based on what she thought she knew of them up and down, leaving no time to consider how Ayano’s skills would have improved or evolved parallel to her own.

Ayano is no stranger to hard work either, after all. She employs it here, and her grit on the court is reinforced by her conscious effort to block all of those negative and unpleasant thoughts that plagued her for so long. Free of the need for validation from her mother, she’s a player possessed.

She’s also in rare form on the trash talking front. Kaoruko talked a big game, but Ayano’s retorts are strategically toned and timed for maximum damage. Long story short: Ayano is all that’s in Kaoruko’s head. Winning is al that’s in Ayano’s head.

The final 21-16, 21-17 score in Ayano’s favor doesn’t do justice to the level of dominance she displayed against Kaoruko in 90% of the match. The defeat is devastating, and not just because she gave her entire team the middle finger prior to the match, so confident was she that she’d “mop the floor” with Ayano.

Ayano broke a fantasy that Kaoruko kept playing in her head as she worked so hard: that she could beat the first player her own age to beat her, without cheating by giving her a cold. She thought she was psychologically stronger. Her only loyal, sympathetic teammate helps her stretch post-match, both of them cry, for Ayano crushed those fantasies, then offered Kaoruko her hankie back.

Ayano, for her part, calls Kaoruko’s effort “pathetic”, which rubs Elena the wrong way. Ayano’s cold response is simply that on that court, winning is the only thing that matters (Sorry, Riko, Yu and Sora!). Another way to say that is that if you don’t win, then nothing matters. So yeah, Ayano may be playing her best badminton, but she’s gone to a dark, lonely place to do it.

Next up is Nagisa vs. Nozomi, but you know what? However it turns out, I can’t see how it won’t feel like a bit of a letdown after Ayano vs. Kaoruko. Both players are lower down on the character significance list. What could mitigate that is if we finally get the Ayano-Ayano’s mom reunion we’ve been waiting for all season. Who knows, maybe she did watch the match; the episode just never cut to her…

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 17 – The Gloves (and Clothes) Come Off

I may have been down on Akira for bending the knee to a tyrant like Azami, but I held out the possibility there was a good reason he was doing it other than self-advancement, and there is. Akira owes everything he is to his beloved Jun, and Azami threatened to make life extremely difficult for her if he didn’t cooperate, so he did.

That’s what Azami does: he finds your weak spot, but offers an out that suits his purposes before going in for the kill. Just because Akira is an amazing chef doesn’t change the fact that protecting Jun was more important than his culinary independence.

Thanks to Doujima, Souma and Kuga learn about Akira’s circumstances, but as far as Souma’s concerned, Akira still took the easy way out. Souma has no quarrel with Jun and indeed would lament contributing to her suffering in any way, but these are the cards he’s been dealt. His only choice to avoid expulsion is to defeat Akira, and that’s what he intends to do.

In the fairest and most impartial examination of this whole process thus far, Doujima introduces the judges: brain physiology genius sisters Cilla and Berta, along with Alice’s straight-shooting dad Suoe. There are no other Central machinations to make Souma’s job tougher; this is between him, Akira, and their cooking. May the best man win.

Everyone observing the two chefs immediately picks up on the fact that there’s a level of intensity they were not inspecting. Souma does not shrink before Akira’s objective superiority in spice, and both of them decide to take a great risk by frying the bear meat, which will either enhance the umami or amplify the smelliness.

The smell and tiniest taste of Hayama’s gravy is enough to “domesticate” the sisters, but Souma is the first to complete his dish, and after following Suoe’s lead, grabbing the hot cutlet with a napkin and digging in, Cilla and Berta are immediately relieved of their clothes. Souma took great risks, and walked the tightrope along with Akira, and it all paid off.

By grinding different cuts of the bear meat together, including meat close to the bone, Souma expertly crafted a “umami gradient” of a level of sophistication that not only impresses the sisters, but causes Suoe to bear his chest like his father, the former chairman, in recognition of Souma’s skill.

So Souma didn’t screw up, and won the respect and acknowledgement of three of the best minds in the business, regardless of age. But will it be enough to defeat Akira? Will the third time be the charm? Will it end in a draw, meaning he won’t be expelled? We’ll have to tune in next week to find out.

KonoSuba – 06

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This week lampoons the “Epic Boss Rematch” common to fantasy anime, inverting it in numerous, hilarious ways. First, the Dullahan Verdia has to come to town to confront Team Kazuma and complain about how they haven’t come to his castle yet.

Unbeknownst to Kazuma, Megumin has continued her bombardment of that castle, while Aqua assisted by carrying her home each day. You didn’t think she stopped blowing the joint up just because she didn’t appear on camera doing so, did ya?

Verdia then attempts to look down on the party (having formerly been a noble knight) for not avenging their fallen comrade, only to see Darkness is alive and well and appreciates his praise. It’s only when a fed-up Verdia threatens to slaughter the town that Aqua switches from mocking mode to attack mode.

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Her impressive Holy-based magic proves painful against Verdia, but doesn’t have the effect she intended (utter decimation). Now that she’s shown she’s not the magic novice he assumed, the gloves come off as he summons an undead army to, well, chase Aqua, then Aqua and Kazuma around.

Kazuma gets the idea to lead the army and Verdia into a trap with Aqua so that Megumin can blast them – and she does blast them, creating a giant crater in the earth – but while Megumin is out for the count, her efforts only made Verdia even madder.

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When other adventurers attack him, he uses more of his own magic to apparently kill them, and for a few moments, the show almost seems to enter serious territory, as Darkness is visibly horrified by this turn of events. It’s her turn to take on Verdia, to avenge those dead men, so she leaps into action.

Only problem is, as awesome as she appears as she’s fighting him, her “finishing blow” completely misses, turning her pink with embarrassment. Even so, she wields an effective weapon against Verdia: her ability to weird him out with her masochistic ranting. This is a chaotic party that can keep any foe off balance enough for one of them to discover a weakness, which Kazuma does…and it’s water.

The whole town starts firing water spells at Verdia, turning the battle into a kind of aquatic dodgeball. Amusingly, Aqua wasn’t paying attention this whole time, and when Kazuma insults her, she makes the prevailing issue herself rather than the battle at hand.

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When she finally unleashes her high-level water spell on Verdia, she exhibits the same profound lack of subtlety that is Megumin’s specialty, only with water instead of fire. A vast column of the wet stuff comes crashing down on Verdia, dousing him but also wrecking the city walls. Oops.

Greatly weakened by the torrent, Kazuma is able to steal Verdia’s head, and Aqua finishes him off with Holy magic. Victory is theirs! But Darkness knows that victory came at a cost: she reminisces on her interactions with the three fighters who Verdia killed (another funny send-up of an activity common to the genre), only to turn around to find them alive and well, thanks to Aqua’s resurrection magic, leaving her with egg on her face.

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After a job – well, not well done, but done, the party celebrates at the guild hall (with Aqua getting toasted pretty quickly). Kazuma, to his surprise, his praised by everyone in the hall for his party’s deeds, and they’re awarded a cool 300 million Eris for taking out a General of the Devil King.

With this new fortune, Kazuma announces he’s going to retire and live a simple, quiet life henceforth, abandoning his plans to defeat the Devil King himself. This disappoints his three party-mates, but he doesn’t care. But when the guild official comes back with the bill for all the damage Aqua’s flood did to the city, they end up 40 million Eris in the hole, and Kazuma ends up having to cancel his retirement before he was even finished announcing it.

It’s the very end, when Kazuma laments the possibility of spending the rest of his life fighting battles with this inept party that will often cost more than they’ll make them in profit, that rings a bit false. This life looks like a shitload of fun, with minimal risk. I know Kazuma and I are different personalities, but I don’t see why he’s in such a hurry to leave this world. Methinks he doth protest too much!

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Oreimo 2 – 04

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Ria, Kirino’s old roommate and track rival from America, comes to visit. She’s very lovey-dovey to Kyousuke, irking Kirino, who constantly calls him a lolicon. They go to Akiba to sight-see and shop, but both Kirino and Ria are dressed to run, and the day ends with a race. Kyousuke cheers Kirino on, but Ria still wins by a nose. Ria admits she not only came to Japan for revenge, but to learn how Kirino summoned the speed to beat her in the first place: her friends, her eroge, and her big brother.

After a couple of episodes focused on Ayase and Saori, we return to the Kyousuke and Kirino dynamic, picking up where the end of the last series left off. Kirino went to America to run, but learned she couldn’t be herself there, and wasn’t willing to throw away everything that made her who she is in the service of running. Her rival Ria, on the other hand, is singularly committed to running, and it shows. Just as Kirino surpassed Kyousuke, Ria surpasses Kirino. Having experienced what Kirino’s going through, Kyousuke can’t help but sympathize and cheer for her when they hold a rematch at the school track.

As is typical of Oreimo, there’s a lot of petty noise from Kirino to get through. One simply has to tune out the scolds and insults lobbed at her brother every time he deigns to interact with Ria. Refreshingly, Ria is very affectionate to Kyousuke, exhibiting a wisdom beyond her years in not taking the horrible things Kirino says about him at face value, seeing through the surface to the love Kirino actually harbors for Kyousuke. As if the first race in America wasn’t enough to convince her, this second race confirms that Kyousuke’s love and support really does make her faster. That, and eroge.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Hearing Kirino and Kyousuke’s dad try his hand at English was a highlight of the episode.
  • Clearly the Kousaka family’s bathroom could use a lock.
  • Kyousuke and Kirino’s exchange about the availability of new anime in America was very meta.