Koufuku Graffiti – 11

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As exams draw nearer, quick and easy meals are the order of the day. While Ryou would probably prefer to spend all day cooking and eating, she and Kirin need to study.

It’s fortuitous then, that Ryou’s mysterious parents send her her second care package, which is full of packaged ramen in various flavors. There’s nothing like opening a big box full of food!

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The package has Kirin, whom we know has had a tenuous relationship with adults anyway, thinking about Ryou’s parents. What kind of people are they? What do they do? Kirin’s mom doesn’t have straight answers, but Kirin’s imagination runs wild when she hears they wanted to get Ryou a bodyguard. Satou Rina only gets a couple of lines as these alternate, bitchier Ryous, but she makes the most of them.

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Ryou has been a little lonely lately because her mom isn’t around to make late night study snacks for her, so the timing of the package is perfect. Also, Kirin knows how to make tasty ramen, so Ryou has a snack made for her after all, and it’s predictably that much more delicious because it was made with love.

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At the bottom of the ramen box is a secret letter specifically addressed to Kirin from Ryou’s mom; Kirin’s stealth crawl to a private place to read it is pretty dang cute, and the “top secret” label on the envelope, along with Ryou’s mom’s standing offer to provide both girls with bodyguards, helps fuel Kirin’s intense curiosity.

Ryou doesn’t help by calling her parents “two of the most important people in the world.” Still, the fact their true occupations remain secrets is a fun little running gag. At the end of the day, whatever they do, they made a good daughter.

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In part two the exams are even closer, and Ryou and Kiri visit a shrine to pray for good luck and success. Then Shiina drops a bomb: she already got accepted into the same high school they’re trying to get into. On the one hand, both I and they are relieved they’ll remain together. But Kirin in particular feels miffed that Shiina was so secretive about it.

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More to the point, the fact Shiina has already achieved what Ryou and Kirin have yet to gives her an almost godlike status in their eyes, but when she says an exam is a solitary battle, and one has to rely on oneself and not others or gods, the blinding light of her wisdom is powerful to behold…but Kirin isn’t so sure Shiina’s 100% right about that.

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Case in point, when Shiina opens up a huge case of beautiful-looking pork cutlet sandwiches—resembling a suitcase full of money, only tastier—and everyone digs in to the deliciousness, they react in the usual way, but with a cut to Tsuyuko infusing the sandwiches with plenty good luck aura, proving Kirin was correct: Shiina did have help during exams, because every time she took a bite into the sandwiches, she remembered the person who made them, and felt less lonely in her task.

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Shiina decides to pay it forward by learning how to make the good luck sandwiches and providing them to Ryou and Kirin for lunch as they head to their exams, showing that while she can be cold and stoic under certain circumstances, there’s still a sweet, caring person within who asserts herself in the clutch. I’ll admit I missed Uchiki Yuki this week, but in return we got lots of awesome Shiina, so I can’t complain.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 10

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We were a little confused at first by the new face of Uchiki Yuki (Iguchi Yuka; or Index to Ryou’s Railgun), but this was a beautiful episode about anxiety, loneliness, and the power of pizza to tackle both.

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With Winter in its last throes but Spring yet to bloom (much like the weather where I am), Kirin is worried about a lot of things, from getting into high school to making friends there, to the state of the country’s crops and the effect of environmental damage on the earth.

After a horror movie doesn’t help Kirin’s mood, Ryou remembers she left the futons out on the balcony, and that’s when the two of them hear a depressing phone conversation from Ryou’s shy, sad, lonely neighbor directly below them.

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When one of Ryou’s futons slips off the balcony, it takes Kirin with it, which turns out to be a fateful incident. Ryou was ready to stop eavesdropping and go inside, but Kirin’s spill means they have no choice but to interact with Yuki, and vice-versa.

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Because we’re dealing with three uncommonly nice people, the earnest apologies fly where insults might infect the interactions of lesser humans. Ryou and Kirin both notice Yuki gets so stuck in her thoughts she creates and reacts outwardly to entire narratives she cooks up in there.

Kirin sees the same anxiety in Yuki that she herself is feeling, and that anxiety, while negative on its own, becomes a positive because it brings these two together. It also shows Yuki that if someone as bright and spunky as Kirin can feel the same things she can, she suddenly doesn’t feel so alone.

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A ring at the doorbell comes; it’s a pizza delivery girl. And boy, this might just be the tastiest pizza I have ever seen animated. In fact, it is. But while she obviously doesn’t skimp when it comes to quality, there’s still a pointed sadness to Yuki’s practicality: the pizza’s toppings are split four ways so she won’t get sick of it even if she eats it for all three meals—which she’s been doing for three weeks.

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Yuki offers the pizza to Ryou and Kirin for their trouble, but Ryou has a far better idea—an idea borne out of her experience sharing food with others, something she’s still rather new to herself: she invites Yuki upstairs so they can eat the pizza together.

As if the pizza wasn’t tasty-looking enough, Ryou and Kirin sweeten the deal with their usual poetic, over-the-top reactions to enjoying food, a display that Yuki finds both intriguing and uplifting.

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Ryou insists Yuki have a slice herself, assuring her it will taste better if she eats with them. Yuki gives in, and sure enough, she has the same kind of experience we’ve come to expect from Ryou, Kirin, and Shiina. In fact, eating the pizza with them brings out a whole other side of her personality. She doesn’t hold her tongue when it comes to describing the deliciousness.

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The unexpectedly joyful evening, along with Ryou and Kirin’s invitation for home-cooked meal in the future, infuses Yuki with a fresh courage and outlook on her situation, which she uses to bravely face an orientation the next day.

Meanwhile, Ryou learned that a very nice person lives close by whom she should hang out more with, and Kirin learned that as long as she has as a full stomach, she too can face whatever the future brings.

As for me, in all honesty I would have ordered a fancy pizza from a gourmet pizzeria nearby, but it’s St. Patrick’s Day and I’ve corned beef on the stove. Oh well; there’s always tomorrow!

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Koufuku Graffiti – 09

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This week, it’s not just New Year’s Eve, but also the anniversary of Ryou and Kirin meeting. That calls for more than just New Year’s Soba. Shiina, who will be off with her family (apparently a dangerous affair) suggests Oden, and Ryou agrees: Oden it is.

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Kirin doesn’t reserve a seat and has to wait for an late train because she was watching TV, while Ryou polishes her home to a blinding sheen, starts cooking, and a single innocent taste ends up being closer to a dozen tastes, to the point we thought Ryou might accidentally eat all the oden before Kirin arrived.

To me, this sequence kind of felt like early Thanksgiving day, when everyone is either in transit or preparing the feast. To avoid further temptation, Ryou leaves the house to wait for Kirin at the station, as she did the first time they met.

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She recalls how lonely it once felt to watch loved ones reunite at the station. Now, she has someone to wait for, and after waiting out in the cold so long with a skirt and no gloves or hat, Kirin, who is still warm from the train, is a welcome presence. You can really feel the love as they hug again on the way to Ryou’s house.

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After positively stuffing themselves on soba, boiled eggs, daikon, konjac, fishcakes, and mochi-stuffed fried tofu (!), they, along with Ryou’s aunt, strike back out into the cold night for their first shrine visit of the year, and cut through that cold with piping cups of amazake, which I’ve never tried before but now MUST, as the way its described and the manner in which it’s enjoyed make it all but irresistible.

There’s also the fact that after a year, Kirin has gotten better at acting like her lovely charming self around adults. It’s a subtle but welcome development, as one day Kirin will be an adult herself, so she’d better get used to interacting with them, beyond her own parents.

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Akira ditches Kirin and her niece to drink with some dudes, so Ryou and Kirin head back home and have some oden leftovers. As Ryou watches a content Kirin resting her head on the table, she tells Kirin how it was her who taught her that food tastes better when sharing it with those you love.

Ryou also wishes, in her head, that even many New Years from now, the two of them will remain friends who share their cooking with one another. Kirin then echoes Ryou’s thoughts out loud, suggesting they will indeed be good friends many years down the road.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 08

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This week, Ryou lets herself rely a little more on Kirin, even though a little voice inside her is worried she’ll be too much of a burden…not to mention the fact she hasn’t had anyone do anything for her since her grandmother died. Doing things, particularly cooking, by herself, means she’s developed very particular ways of doing things, and she can’t help but be worried someone else won’t know those particular ways. Relying on people also means letting go and yielding control.

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However, this episode isn’t just about Ryou relying on, or rather letting go and putting her trust in Kirin’s cooking. Ryou, never one for athletic activity, asks Kirin, a thin, compact, lithe, and thus naturally more coordinated girl, to assist her with training, so she can hopefully avoid nosebleeds, ankle sprains, and other mishaps.

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All of Kirin’s assistance with the training, on top of her plans to prepare a special bento box for Ryou, seems like too much, so while Ryou makes a wish list of dishes, she quickly scraps it. After all, each of those dishes require a lot of myriad ingredients and techniques to make. Kirin knocks over the wastebasket in the middle of the night, finds the list, and decides right then and there to make it a reality for Ryou.

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As Ryou’s field day approaches, Kirin asks her parents and gathers as much intel as she can about the impending bento mission. She even jogs/powerwalks into a grocery store to pick up what for Ryou seems like a suspicious amount of groceries. Kirin admits she found the list, and despite Ryou’s protestations, she’s going to give it her best shot.

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The resulting lunch is something I would love to be able to make and eat everyday: fish sausage and cucumber salad; tamagoyaki with kelp, bone-in fried chicken, tako weiners, Salisbury steak with chopped cheese nibs, broccoli, sweet potatoes with lemon, and rice wrapped in nori. All of it looks mouth-wateringly delicious.

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Every morsel is like music in Ryou’s mouth, to the extent she can’t hold in her exuberance for the excellence of the meal, leading some peers to wonder if she’s afflicted with some form of chuunibyou. Her threee classmates see and taste the veyr same bento, and are disappointed with how straightforward it is, which just goes to prove that flavor is in the eye, or rather mouth of the beholder.

It all tastes so good for Ryou because Kirin made it for her, and it’s infused with a love the other girls can’t detect. Also, while it’s all basic bento dishes, the fact Kirin made them all for the first time and they turned out as well as they did is impressive. It’s just like her grandmother, whose food might not have seemed all that special to anyone else, but it meant the world to Ryou. So does Kirin’s cooking.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 07

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Shiina’s family is always given way too much saury (AKA mackerel pike), leading to an infestation of cats. To prevent that, she proposes a cookout at her estate to cook the fish off. Ryou and Kirin agree immediately. But there’ll be a catch this time: Ryou won’t be doing any of the cooking or cleaning. She’s done enough; now it’s time for the other two to cook and clean for her.

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Their sensei in this enterprise is Tsuyuko, who is apparently an iron chef-caliber culinary master who just happens to be content as the maid of a wealthy family. Grilling saury is about as basic as it gets, which means even the slightest mistake in preparation and cooking is exposed.

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Tsuyuko is a firm yet patient teacher, showing Kirin and Shiina the simple yet very exacting way of seasoning and scoring the fish, and the importance of not making eye contact, even if the fresh fish’s eyes are mesmorizingly clear and sparkling.

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Throughout their trials, Ryou is forced to simply hang back and watch. Giving up control isn’t easy, but not because Ryou thinks the others won’t do as good a job. It’s more a matter of her having always either cooked for herself or others since her grandma passed away. It’s become a habit, and any habit is hard to suddenly break, but she does her best not to interfere.

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The finished product Kirin and Shiina present her with—a splendidly grilled fish with crispy salty skin and fluffy, succulent flesh—is a revelation for Ryou. She knew food tasted better when sharing it with others, but thanks to her friends, now she knows that having food cooked for you makes it taste even better…in most cases.

Some people, of course, just flat-out can’t cook, but lucky for her Kirin and Shiina aren’t bad. Now that she’s a recipient of their cooking, she now knows firsthand the joy her cooking has brought them, inspiring them to repay her.

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Naturally, later that night Ryou can’t help using some of the leftover saury in a dish with ginger, bamboo shoot and rice. The show thus far has been good at showing how the leftovers of one meal can lead to another, totally different second meal.

Kirin wants to cook, but so does Ryou, so they compromise and share the work, making it that much more fun and the food that much tastier, because a meal prepared together is the best of both worlds. And now I must keep my eyes peeled for some saury at my local Asian grocery.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 06

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After having a blast compressing a Summer’s worth of activities into one day at Shiina’s estate, this week finds the girls mired in acute Summer Fatigue, a state that would have had more impact if I were watching this in the actual Summer, rather than in the dead of winter with sub-zero winds howling outside my window.

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After snapping a rare picture of Kirin with no appetite, Ryou decides that broiled eel is the answer: a tasty meal that will give them the stamina to stand up to Summer. Personally, I’m a huge fan of eel (I usually acquire it in the form of unagi maki rolls) and this dish looked as delectable as ever.

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But even after the eel, Kirin still feels like her “body is asking for something” she hasn’t yet eaten. Then the A/C goes out, and they retreat to the bath to wash off their sweat. Kirin then gets the idea to eat ice cream in the bath, which is, as she says, a very luxurious thing to do, like doing anything in the bathtub that isn’t bathing (watching TV, for instance, is pretty fun. Just keep the cord away from the water!)

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Yet even that doesn’t hit the spot bothering Kirin. Once out of the bath, she spots a can of sweet beans and Ryou makes her a quick Azuki bean soup with mochi, which turns out to be what her body was asking for. Ryou acts against her better judgement and tries some soup too, and pays for it with a stomachache. There’s no way eel, ice cream, beans and mochi will go well together in any stomach (other than Kirin’s, which seems to be perfectly fine.)

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This episode was more about the tastes and textures of food, but the whole sensory experience of cooling off in the Summer, which consists of a variety of specific sights and sounds. The color of the sky, the smell of a mosquito coil, the sound of a wind chime, the waving of a fan; all these little things contribute to the cooling sensation that made non-A/C Summer days and nights not only tolerable, but pleasing.

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