Fate/Extra Last Encore – 04

As they ascend to the next level, Hakuno ponders Rider’s dying question to him: Why does he want to ascend? All he can come up with is hatred, and a desire to simply ascent, but Saber, once again demonstrating her lack of modesty, does not consider his motivations relevant; he’ll surely find what he desires as they continue to “climb the ladder”, so to speak; she’ll help.

When they arrive, the setting is a lot simpler than the complex, futuristic city: a vast forest with mountains on the horizon, and a few buildings in a clearing. In one of those buildings, someone has been waiting for them; a aging Master who also desires to ascend—and believes defeating another Master will do the trick.

To that end, he fires shots with his sniper rifle from his perch in the clock tower, and Saber and Hakuno have to flee into the forest.

There, Hakuno makes sure to thank Saber for keeping him alive to that point, and Saber tells him to essentially not forget to stop and smell the roses—to enjoy what is beautiful, whether it’s the forest, some flowers, or her own purty face.

That face is threatened once more, not by the Master, but by his Servant, Archer, who drops a poison cloud on Saber and Hakuno and stays invisible, shooting invisible arrows, one of which pierces Saber’s shoulder.

Hakuno must expend a command seal so Saber can raze all of the forest around them with fire (she IS Nero after all, isn’t she), but that’s just what Archer wants: a clear shot.

Archer’s arrows don’t find their target, however, because they’re destroyed by a surprise ally to Saber and Hakuno, the Servant-less Master Rani VIII. She takes them to her home, where she explains she is the last “rebel” Master fighting against the sniper, and has been waiting for someone like Hakuno to come along, with a Servant, to arrive on this level.

She concedes that for all of its inherent stagnation, SERAPH may well be an “ideal heaven”, but that’s irrelevant, because it’s on the brink of destruction. When Hakuno sleeps, he dreams of the man in the white coat he met lower down, making him to wonder if he’s trying to ascend to a place he had already descended from.

After all, not only does his thus-far-inexplicable drive to ascend simply “feels like the right thing to do”, but he’s completely clueless about the actual year; he thinks it’s still the 21st Century, but Rani informs him it’s actually 3020. Worse, the humans living in SERAPH will soon be all that’s left of their race; if SERAPH goes, humans go extinct.

It would seem Rani has far grander designs for Hakuno than he himself could ever have envisioned—that will determine not just the course of humanity, but its very existence in the universe. Perhaps, then, Hakuno finally has a reason to ascend…other than hatred.

I was a little confused about what happened to Rin after seeing her in the bath with Saber. It seemed a bit convenient they’d be shorthanded when Archer attacked them. I guess she had other matters to attend to this week?

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Fate/Extra Last Encore – 03

Shinji’s attempt to destroy Hakuno and Saber fails when Toosaka Rin shows up, hacks Shinji’s systems, and lends Hakuno and Saber a ride out of the tower on her flying motorcycle—all good stuff. We don’t learn anything more about Hakuno’s “Dead Face”, only that it drew Rin to their location.

Rin takes them to a run-down but still very stylish safe house, and explains why she interceded on their behalf: while she is only a former Master, she is the only one in the city (other than Hakuno) to have not fully surrendered to the stagnation of Mayor Matou’s grand plan.

She’s a resistance of one, and now that Hakuno, a fully-active Master, and his Servant Saber have appeared, that resistance grows to three. The only means of reaching the upper level is to defeat the “king” of the one they’re on: Shinji—who also happens to be an active Master. Hakuno and Saber met his Servant in the bar.

The morning of their assault on Central Tower, Hakuno glimpses Saber resplendent on the rooftop’s morning light, surrounded by birds. This show is nothing if not pretty and sometimes drop-dead gorgeous in its staging of people and places.

Rin assists in Hakuno and Saber’s infiltration of the tower, which necessitates her remaining behind to fight Shinji’s Berserkers, leaving the other two free to ride the elevators to the non-projection Shinji’s location.

Once they reach that location—which appears in the form of a standard Japanese school rooftop, Shinji recalls the victory that got him to where he is today. In light of that victory, he is game for a duel against Hakuno and Saber.

With that, massive walls begin to rise above the cityscape, great hatches open, and the entire level is quickly flooded with water, turning the city into an ocean. I love how intricately rendered this city has been the last two episodes, only for the show to completely destroy it here.

The reason for the transformation is that Shinji’s Servant Rider has a naval theme: she is Francis(ca?) Drake, and leads an armada of flying sailing ships to face Saber and her…saber.

Rider’s Noble Phantasm is the “Golden Wild Hunt” / Temesoro el Draque, and Saber is seemingly overwhelmed and sinks into the deluge, too low on mana to mount a counterattack.

That is, until Hakuno dives to her location on the “sea floor” and transfer his plentiful stores of mana through a kiss, which I don’t believe I’ve seen before in a Fate series.

It works a treat, and Saber rises out of the water and rams Rider’s flagship with a ship of her own, revealing her Noble Phantasm one of her skills is “Imperial Privilege”, which enables her to copy her opponent’s ability. Rider and Saber face off in a decisive dual, but Rider’s flintlocks appear to jam at a crucial moment, while Saber’s sword does not miss Rider.

Shinji gets to have an uncharacteristically noble end when he decides to ascend with his Servant rather than break his contract at the last moment to continue living.

And that’s pretty much Mission Accomplished for Hakuno and Saber. With Shinji gone, the level is restored to its true state: that of a vast, eerie, deserted ruin. That majestic city was only ever an illusion in which cowards could stagnate for all time. While that state wasn’t ideal, there is still a measure of sadness in what was lost…even if I won’t miss Shinji, as usual.

With that, a lift descends for Hakuno and Saber, which will bear them to the next level up. Rin, who obviously did not drown in the deluge, trails right behind them on her flying motorcycle. What visual wonders, challenges, Masters and Servants await them on the second level? I can’t wait to find out.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 02

Our introduction to this new Fate world and story continues with a classic Shaft-type episode that is dense in conversation and exposition, but festooned with lavish trappings that befit a story of this scope. F/ELE (as I’ll be calling it for brevity’s sake) has a lot that is familiar to fans of Fate, fans of Shaft, and fans of both such as myself.

Indeed, the manner in which Kishinami Hakuno summons Saber when he is on death’s door is essentially a reversal of Araragi Koyomi’s first meeting and rescue of Kiss-Shot, another blonde of legendary status, in Kizumonogatari. And while Hakuno is so far a walking bag of virtues, this new-look Saber, voiced by all-star seiyu Tange Sakura, is a lot of fun to watch.

We also get a Nisemonogatari-esque bath scene, not just in any bath, but a sprawling, elaborate Roman-style mixed bath strewn with rose petals. It’s hardly a Shinbo production without such a bath, where a young man and a young woman talk business utterly unfazed by the fact they’re both stark nakked.

When they arrive at the first level, which Saber believes will be the first battlefield of the next Holy Grail War, she is surprised to find a bustling metropolis that, far from being ravaged by war, is united in celebration. At first Saber doesn’t mind this twist at all, and soaks it all in, and we learn that while Tange’s Cardcaptor Sakura says “ho’e,” her Saber says “umu.”

They visit an empty bar occupied by only one, somewhat suspicious woman with pink hair dressed as a bartender. When Saber presents herself as a foe and bids her chosen opponent defend herself, the lady scoffs; surely Saber jests. There is no Holy Grail War here, she says; the Masters have sold off their Servants to live in eternal happiness and peace; that’s what’s being celebrated.

Both Saber and Hakuno seem a bit disappointed by this news, but also somewhat skeptical. When seven splendidly uniformed policewomen arrive, surround the pair, and ask them to accompany them to the Mayor’s office, Saber may gush about how pretty they look, but just as with her outwardly carefree soaking in of the city, Saber is likely staying on her guard and gathering information as if there were a war in progress, which is as it should be.

As they’re escorted to the Central Tower and ride its super-fancy elevator to the top, Hakuno starts to remember some of what happened before he arrived here. Saber said his memory would start to return upon becoming a Master, and his vision of a pile of dead classmates serve to remind him of what had to be done to get this far.

However, the mayor—who turns out to be Matou Shinji, appearing before the pair as a hologram—would prefer if they go no farther. After waxing poetic about the benefits of the AI and NPC-rich Utopia he’s helped build (and performing the Shaft Head Tilt), he finally brings up the price of all this happiness. Citizenship requires all Masters to sell off their Servants.

Naturally, Hakuno refuses, and Shinji stops playing nice, reveally he had physically isolated Saber some time ago with his suite of high-tech digital smoke and mirrors, and sics not one or two but three nasty-looking Berserkers upon Saber. She seems to relish a fight at last, as I did, but at the same time she doesn’t seem that impressed by her foes.

Meanwhile, Shinji’s sexy police all stab Hakuno with their swords. For defying the order of things, the plan is to use Saber as a power source as other Servants have been used, and for Hakuno to simply die.

Only Hakuno didn’t get the right script, and refuses to let a few impalings bring him down. To his attackers’ shock, he pulls out their swords one by one and then seemingly powers-up/transforms, a phenomenon Toosaka Rin senses from the top of a building elsewhere in the city.

Rin calls it “Dead Face.” Whatever that is, it’s clear Hakuno isn’t there to celebrate, or live comfortably, or die. He is there to fight.

Fate/Extra Last Encore – 01 (First Impressions)

After an appropriately intense prologue in which a red Saber is magnificently defeated by what looks like some kind of golden deity. She starts falling and her eyes meet those of a dying girl—perhaps the female version of our protagonist (in a different life). Like Bakemonogatari or Madoka Magica, Shinjo starts things out loud and brash.

Things tone down a bit (or possibly reset), as we settle into a more-or-less ordinary high school class. There, familiar faces abound as our protagonist, Kishinami Hakuno, has interactions with Matou Shinji, Toosaka Rin, Matou Sakura in short order.

These faces are familiar, but the setting is strange, and there are constant flashes to a darker, more sinister reality lurking beneath the bright top layer. Kishinami can sense the death, and he questions what anyone is doing in this place, or why it even exists.

When he goes against a teacher’s warnings and approaches “Limbo”, the incinerator in the bowels of the school, he gets a fresh lecture from a bespectacled teacher. This is indeed an artificial paradise; a “digital hell” made in the image of heaven. He calls it a “Moon Cage”, where those with Master compatibility are sent.

Once the number of potentials reaches 100, there is a purge, and only the strongest selectees survive. An already disoriented Kishinami is quickly stabbed in the back by Matou Shinji (I guess he’s a jackass in any reality!) and as he starts to bleed out, an army of terminators starts mopping up the losers.

But Kishinami refuses to die, not without “vengeance” or “bliss, ” and presumably, not without more answers. As he’s chased by some kind of stone golem, he makes it to Limbo and falls in.

When he’s at the bottom, he finds a red sword waiting to be plucked…some version of Excalibur? His would-be destroyer is breathing down is neck, but Kishinami reaches and grasps the sword in time, summoning the servant Saber, who cleaves the foe in two in a sumptuous display.

By choosing to fight rather than simply run or survive, Kishinami seems to have earned the favor of the most powerful of Heroic Spirits, and a chance at an “encore” to attain vengeance for his plight and the bliss of victory—and Kotomine Kirei seems to be rooting for the kid, in his way.

Hmm…I found this a fresh an interesting twist on the Fate formula, going virtual and combining advanced Matrix-esque technology with the more low-tech history of the various servants. The Holy Grail would seem to be, at least in part, release from all of the layers of virtual prisons; a “true freedom”.

Akiyuki Shinbo directs this much like Bakemonogatari and Madoka, juxtaposing epic spectacles with mundane daily life and not afraid to let things get a bit trippy. While I would like to see a little more humor infused in the proceedings, I understand the need to establish this world with a straight face. Let’s see where this leads.

Kizumonogatari III: Reiketsu-hen

Araragi Koyomi has beaten Dramaturgy, Episode, and Guillotinecutter with relative ease, and secured his master Kiss-Shot’s four extremities.
This third movie isn’t about that mission; that’s over now. It’s about everything that comes after, and how we get to Kiss-Shot being at full power to the greatly diminished state in which we were introduced to her in 2009’s Bakemonogatari.

Kiss-Shot promised Koyomi she’d make him a human if he got her arms and legs back, and while Oshino was meant to be Koyomi’s fourth opponent—he in possession of Kiss-Shot’s heart—he is satisfied that the balance has been restored. He not only surrenders the heart, but forgives Koyomi’s 5 million in debt before taking off.

So, will Kiss-Shot keep up her end of the bargain she struck with Koyomi? She’s certainly happy to be in her 26-year-old form; giddy, even. They meet on the roof of the cram school and talk simply like two old chums.

Kiss-Shot tells Koyomi about her first servant, whom she lost to suicide (she tells him more about this during Onimonogatari), and pulls Kokoro-watari, a memento from that time, out of her body.

After watching Kiss-Shot frolick on the roof, Koyomi realizes he’s a bit hungry, so volunteers to pick up some snacks at the local 7-Eleven while Kiss-Shot ‘prepares’ to restore his humanity.

Upon his return, he discovers the nature of that preparation: Kiss-Shot graphically devouring Guillotinecutter, then wondering where Koyomi’s “mobile snack”, i.e. Hanekawa is.

It’s a devastating revelation to Koyomi that yeah, when Kiss-Shot is talking about food she’s talking about humans. She feeds on humans, and he not only saved her life, but restored her to full power. As he rages in the gym equipment room, blaming himself for Guillotinecutter’s death, Hanekawa pays him a visit.

As far as Koyomi’s concerned, he doesn’t deserve to get his humanity back after everything he’s done. He doesn’t even deserve to live, and certainly doesn’t want to live to the point where he sees Tsubasa as food. He’s already disgusted with the fact that the three hunters he defeated were on the side of justice.

Tsubasa, not surprisingly, has his back when he doesn’t have his own. She’s made her selfishness known to Koyomi, and she wants to see him next term, so he can’t die. Besides, throwing away all he’s accomplished thus far would just be running away. Even if he eats her, she’s fine with it, because she wouldn’t call someone a friend unless she’s willing to die for them, no matter the reason.

No, pointing the blame on and killing himself isn’t the right path for Koyomi. Not when he’s the only one who has a chance against a Full Power Kiss-Shot. Knowing he has to go up against her, Koyomi asks, for the first time ever, if he can touch Tsubasa’s boobs, in order to “build up his tolerance” for Kiss-Shot’s own substantial bust.

That attempt goes bust, however, when Tsubasa is more than willing to let him fondle her boobs and even take her maidenhood if he likes, but he chickens out and instead gives her a weak shoulder massage.

Hitagi may end up being Koyomi’s beloved, but there can be no doubt who his best friend is after watching these movies. Because all this takes place before he even meets Hitagi, Tsubasa is free to be the one and only girl, and thus one hell of a best one.

Alright, no more fooling around, it’s time to fight his master Kiss-Shot, who makes one hell of a fiery, explosive entrance in the stadium, the venue of their duel. Kiss-Shot know realizes she was insensitive in being so casual about how she took her meal. With that in mind, she asks him to return to her side, but of course he can’t, because she ate someone.

Koyomi saved her life, and won back her limbs, because she was weak. Once she was no longer weak, and Koyomi saw what she was capable of, he essentially woke up from the spell he had been under. At an impasse, they begin to go at it.

Because they’re both immortal, quick-healing vampires, it’s an absolutely bonkers fight, with heads and limbs flying all over the place, oftentimes sprouting back up before the old parts faded away. But as bloody and brutal as it is, the fight is a stalemate, with neither party able to inflict lasting damage on the other.

Once again unable to stay away when her friend is in need, Tsubasa tells Koyomi something isn’t right, and it’s something everyone but Koyomi would have realize by now: Kiss-Shot wants to be killed; it’s the only way for Koyomi to get his humanity back.

When Kiss-Shot tries to lash out at the interfering Tsubasa, Koyomi (or rather, his head and some neckbones) latch on to Kiss-Shot’s neck, and he starts sucking her blood, a lot of it, until fully half of it is gone, leaving her shriveled and powerless.

But he doesn’t want Kiss-Shot to die.

Instead, he wants everyone to get what they want; everyone to be satisfied. So he calls out to Oshino, whom he knows is watching, and hires him (for five million) to come up with a solution. Unfortunately, no amount of money will change the fact that it’s impossible for everyone to be satisfied.

So instead, Oshino, true to his nature of attaining balance everywhere he can, proposes a way for everyone to be dissatisfied in equal measure. Kiss-Shot can live on as pseudo-vampire mimicking a human, robbed of all her power and dependent on Koyomi to survive.

Koyomi, meanwhile, will become a pseudo-human mimicking a vampire; and both will continue to live, and the risk to humanity will be greatly reduced, but not completely eliminated. Koyomi won’t let Kiss-Shot die, so he takes the deal.

Fast-forward to August and the beginning of a new term for Koyomi and Tsubasa. He still heals quickly for a human, but not nearly as quickly as he was. He also views the world differently now that he can walk in the sun again, something Tsubasa thinks is very positive.

Koyomi pays a visit to Oshino at the cram school to give what’s left of Kiss-Shot some of his blood. On the roof, Oshino characterizes the situation thusly:

What you remember of a vampire eating someone…is like the disillusionment of watching a cute cat devour a live mouse.

And here you are, having chosen to keep your own little vampire like a pet.

You’ve dulled its fangs, pulled out its claws, crushed its throat and neutered it, right?

You, who was once treated as a pet, are getting back at your former master by treating her as one…not a moving tale, is it?

Well, it was, and is, most definitely a moving tale, but I prefer Koyomi’s more poetic way of characterizing it:

We, who hurt each other so terribly, will sit here licking each others wounds. We damaged goods will seek the other out in comfort.

If you are to die tomorrow, I’m fine with my life ending then as well.

But if you want to live for me for one more day, I’ll go on living with you today as well.

And thus begins a tale of kindred bound by their scars.

Soaked in red and written in black, a story of blood.

One of which I’ll never speak.

Our very own, precious as it is, story of scars.

And I have no intention of reciting it to anyone.

It’s not just a beautiful way to end this fantastically epic prequel trilogy, but an artfully powerfully-stated mission statement for all of the stories in the Monogatari Series that follow chronologically. It’s inspired me to re-watch Nekomonogatari (Kuro) and then Bakemonogatari from the beginning, with a new appreciation for where Koyomi has been, andthanks to the recently completed Owarimonogatari—where he’s going.

Finally, major kudos to Kamiya Hiroshi, Horie Yui, and Sakamoto Maaya; all three elevated these movies that much more with their layered, engaging performances.

Kizumonogatari II: Nekketsu-hen

Just because Araragi Koyomi is a vampire doesn’t mean he has the slightest idea what he’s doing, so in preparation for his fight with Dramaturgy—a fellow vampire, and vampire hunter—he bones up on both Aikido and baseball.

One thing Koyomi knows for sure is that the battle, and indeed his presence in general, is no place for a human, in particular the lovely Hanekawa Tsubasa, who shows up at the place where he’s to fight.

Koyomi decides to get rid of her—for her own sake—in the most expeditious way possible: by cruelly deleting her contact on his phone, demanding she stop following him, and basically telling her to piss off.

Dramaturgy is a kick-ass name for a vampire hunter, and Dramaturgy himself is terrifying to behold in his sheer size, speed, and purposefulness. Koyomi tries an Aikido approach, and loses his left arm in the first blow. Ovetaken by pain and horror, he runs away screaming.

But he forgets himself, quite literally: as the subordinate of Heart-Under-Blade, he can instantly regenerate his limbs, and so does so, then switches to a baseball approach until he beans Dramaturgy straight in the eye with some cheese.

To Koyomi’s shock, this is enough to get Drama to concede their duel and surrender Kiss-Shot’s leg. After all, he’s just a regular vampire, not of her lineage; he can’t regenerate nearly as quickly as she, and by extension Koyomi. The moment Koyomi figured that out, he’d lost.

In the immediate aftermath of his fist victory, Tsubasa emerges from her hiding spot; she’d watched the entire battle and wants to know what the hell just happened. Koyomi starts off with his ‘none of your business’ business, continuing to say mean things he doesn’t mean, even telling Tsubasa he only cared about her body, and asking her to show him her panties again.

But Tsubasa does show him her panties, because it’s what she wants to do, and knows that the Koyomi she knows wouldn’t have said such hurtful things unless he was trying to protect her. He sees right through his mean guy act, and the real Koyomi emerges, contrite and appreciative of her friendship.

Back at the cram school, Kiss-Shot is presented with her leg, and devours it, much to Koyomi’s shock. While she digests, Koyomi and Oshino give her some privacy, during which time Oshino explains how by methodically taking her limbs, her three (now two) hunters also managed to take her vampirism and all the abilities it entails.

Koyomi isn’t 100% trusting that Kiss-Shot will fulfill her end of the bargain by making him human again, and Oshino rightfully calls him an ingrate for it. If you can’t trust the person you saved your life, who can you trust?

When he goes back inside, he finds that Kiss-Shot has morphed from a young girl to a teenager. Somewhat creeped out by his reactions, she hides behind the lectern and sticks out her tongue at him.

Koyomi’s next opponent is Episode, a half-vampire filled with hate for his vampire side because it keeps him from truly fitting into either the vampire or human worlds. But before that, Koyomi introduces Tsubasa to (a soundly dozing) Kiss-Shot, thus sating her curiosity.

Tsubasa blames herself for somehow summoning vampires by simply bringing them up in conversation, and laments she can’t do more to help her friend, but Koyomi assures her that bringing him fresh clothes and moral support is more than enough.

Tsubasa also gets a measure of revenge by caressing Koyomi’s shirtless, suddenly much-more-built (as a result of his vampirism) body, which turns her on enough to make her a little uncomfortable when he gets too close to thank her. Still, before departing, she promises she’ll continue to support him in any way she can.

As with Dramaturgy, Koyomi’s battle with Episode doesn’t start out so well for him, as Episode is able to teleport from place to place in a blink of an eye, making him hard to target, not to mention his massive cross which he heaves at Koyomi like a projectile.

Tsubasa appears to help Koyomi out with a vital tip—Episode is turning himself into fog—but gets caught in the cross-er-cross, and she gets a nasty disembowling wound to her side, a most gutwrenching and upsetting sight to behold, for both me and Koyomi.

Seeing her urge Koyomi to keep fighting even as she bleeds out motivates him to stop going easy on Episode, and he flies to a nearby stadium to kick up a tremendous amount of dust in order to scatter the fog, which is only water, after all.

Once he has Episode in his clutches, he recalls flashes of holding the dying Tsubasa in his hands, and those hands tighten around Episode’s throat. He’d have killed him if not for Oshino stepping in to stop him, warning that he’ll “lose his humanity” if he carried out the execution.

Oshino also extracts an extra fee of three million yen in exchange for the key to saving Tsubasa, which Koyomi could have figured out for himself but for the fact he’s panicking—he cuts himself open and pours his vampire blood all over her, and she is immediately healed and wakes up.

Koyomi is so happy to see her alive and okay, he foregoes bashfulness regarding her torn uniform and cuddles with her a little longer. Kiss-Shot gets her other leg back, and upon re-absorbing it, morphs into a young adult, having very nearly recovered her immortality, but still unable to use any vampire abilities.

Last up, Guillotinecutter: neither a vampire nor a half-vampire, he’s merely a human, if a particularly well-built human. Rather than professionalism or hatred, he fights for faith, and his ability to exorcise vampires means Koyomi will have to be both extra-careful and extra-ruthless. In fact, Kiss-Shot suggests the only way to beat him is for Koyomi to abandon the humanity to which he’s been trying so hard to cling.

Before this third and final fight, Koyomi meets with Tsubasa once more, this time in the wheat(?) fields that surround the cram school. She provides sandwiches, (which he doesn’t eat since he’s a vampire) Coca-Cola (with a refreshing taste even vampires can’t refuse), and more moral suppport.

Koyomi tells her once more to stay away from him for her own safety, especially now. When she got hurt, he thinks it hurt him more than if it were him getting hurt. He’s recoving Kiss-Shot’s limbs so she’ll restore him to being a human, but he won’t sacrifice Tsubasa for that goal, and thinks Tsubasa is being too selfless, too bright for the likes of him.

Tsubasa reiterates that she’s not doing what’s good or right, but what she wants to do, no more, no less. Indeed, she sees herself as being selfish, self-centered, deceitful and stubborn, but she won’t apologize for any of it. But if there’s nothing more she can do for him regarding his current mission, she’s willing to step back.

To that, Koyomi tells her there is one more thing she can do: Wait for him. Wait until after Spring Break when they’re back in school, and be someone he can have fun talking with again. Koyomi says this romantically enough to literally make Tsubasa surrender her panties, with the implied promise that he’ll give them back when next they meet.

Koyomi, being pervy, isn’t super-committal about that last part, but he does want to see her again, so he’ll likely give them up when the time comes. With that, they part ways.

Unfortunately, when he faces Guillotinecutter, the priest immediately takes Tsubasa hostage and threatens to kill her if Koyomi challenges him. Tsubasa, of course, urges Koyomi to carry out his mission and not to worry about her, but there’s no way he can’t.

But as Kiss-Shot said, the only way Koyomi can defeat Guillotinecutter without killing Tsubasa is by going further than he went in his battles with Episode and Dramaturgy; beyond the point where Oshino stopped him. He has to be utterly inhuman in his strength, speed, and ability.

And so he does: Transforming his arms into vine-like tree limbs, he plucks Tsubasa from Guillotinecutter and crucifies him. Tsubasa is safe in those tree-like arms, and Kiss-Shot’s arms would seem to be free…but can Araragi Koyomi, Human recover from what he had to do? It’s left to the third and final film to decide.

Kizumonogatari I: Tekketsu-hen

I haven’t read any of the Monogatari novels, but I have seen the events of Kizumonogatari before—in extremely condensed form, in the cold open of Bakemonogatari way back in July of 2009.

That immediate Tsubasa upskirt, followed a dark, bloody, brutal, prologue was one hell of an introduction to the agony and ecstasy of the Monogatari Series. Ever since, I’d hoped we’d get a proper telling of those intense events. Seven-plus years (and a hell of a lot of Monogataris) later, we finally get that story; in the form of a three-part film, no less.

Right off the bat, I have to say the franchise has never looked or sounded better: Shaft and co-directors Oishi Tatsuya and Shinbo Akiyuki pull out all the visual and auditory stops to really give this story the weight (sorry Hitagi) and grandeur it deserves. Familiar buildings and vistas are given a bit of a makeover with no expense spared.

We start with that upskirt from the very beginning of Bakemonogatari, in which Araragi Koyomi happens to catch a good long look at the lacey undergarments of one Hanekawa Tsubasa.

Rather than react the way your typical anime character would after such an incident, Tsubasa laughs it off and discovers that it’s very easy—and fun—to talk with Koyomi, despite the fact he’s a loner-by-choice with no friends.

By the end of their encounter, she’s given him her contact info and declared herself his friend. Tsubasa’s friendly down-to-earth manner is infectious, and Koyomi is over the moon by his encounter, and gets so excited he ends up racing to the adult bookstore.

While talking with Tsubasa, she informs Koyomi of rumors going around town about a hauntingly beautiful blonde woman with piercing gaze. That prepares us for when he discovers a very long trail of blood that leads him deeper and deeper into a deserted subway station that feels like a descent into the underworld.

With Kubrickian precision, a marvelous tension is built up as signs of a horrendous struggle mar the otherwise pristine metal, tile, glass, and white of the station. And then he finds her: our favorite super-vampire, Kiss-Shot Acerola-Orion Heart-Under-Blade, lying in a pile of her own blood, relieved of her limbs, and near death.

She beseeches, or actually more like commands Koyomi to give him her blood to save her—all of it will probably do—but the kid is understandably terrified beyond rational thought, and his first instinct is to run the fuck away screaming, even as she too screams and pleads for help.

Eventually, however, the thing we all knew was coming occurs: Koyomi has a change of heart, and decides to head back down and offer his blood, which he believes to mean his life, to the vampire, hoping to earn the right to have a next life that isn’t so horribly fucked up.

But that’s just the thing: his life doesn’t end; his ‘clock’ starts right back up in a revamped-for-film, more impressive than ever abandoned cram school. Beside him is a dozing little blonde girl who isn’t ready to wake up yet.

Koyomi steps outside, and we return to the dramatic cold open of the film in which he’s set ablaze. I thought at the time it was just a nightmare, but no, his flesh actually bursts into flames upon exposure to the sun, but is continually regenerated.

Kiss-shot runs out and brings him back inside, and warns him not to go out during the day now that he’s an immortal vampire, and her second and newest servant.

As Koyomi points out, she’s no longer as “mature” as she was when they met, but it’s to be expected: Koyomi’s blood alone was not enough to fully restore her; she must be content with her smaller form. And while she’s been reduced in size, her personality is as big and imperious as ever.

Kiss-shot has little power remaining, and so must rely on Koyomi to destroy her enemies: three specialist vampire hunters whom she initially underestimated and allowed to attack her all at once. She believes if Koyomi takes them on one-by-one it should be a simple matter.

Of course, Kiss-shot’s perspective is somewhat skewed by the fact she’s over 500 years old and did things like jump from Antarctica to Japan over three centuries before the Meiji Restoration. If Koyomi can pull it off and get Kiss-shot’s limbs back, she promises she’ll turn him back into a human.

Unfortunately, when Koyomi first encounters these three hunters: Dramaturgy, Episode, and Guillotine Cutter, not only does he have no idea how to fight the extremely tough customers, they come at him all at once just like they did Kiss-shot.

All Koyomi can do is crumple into a ball and wait for another inevitable end, but the universe ain’t done with him yet, because one particularly badass dude stops all three specialists in their tracks at once.

We know this guy, even if Koyomi hadn’t yet been introduced: he’s Oshino Meme, who describes himself as a keeper of “balance” between the worlds of humans and oddities (AKA monsters).

In this instance, at least, maintaining the balance means helping Koyomi and Kiss-shot get her limbs back so she can return to full strength and restore Koyomi’s humanity. And so off we go!

There’s a unique exhilaration in watching earlier versions of characters I’ve known for years meeting for the very first time, particularly a Koyomi who is new to all this oddity stuff and extremely out of his depth.

Prequels are notoriously tricky to pull off, but if the first of three parts is any indication, with a neat balance of levity and gravitas, Kizumonogatari is one of the rare ones that succeeds and excels; actually more powerful and engaging for arriving so long after the series it precedes.

Made in Abyss – 09

Riko and Reg descend the four thousand meters of the Great Fault (over ten Empire State Buildings, for those keeping count) using the “weakling’s way”, as Ozen suggested: the network of tunnels within the fault’s walls.

They quickly learn why when they inadvertently scare some flat, fluffy Neritantans out onto the edge, where a few quickly become lunch for the flying Madokajacks.

The Neritantans are ridiculously adorable, but this isn’t a place where you can be sentimental about such things if those animals are the only thing you can use to distract the predators that make no distinction between them and you.

Riko and Reg find the ancient ruins of a ship embedded in the fault wall, which raises so many questions, chief among them how it got there. In any case, it’s super cool. But just as the Madokajacks were distracted by the Neritantans, Riko is distracted by the prospect of finding cool relics.

She doesn’t realize until it’s too late that she’s strayed right into a Madokajack nest. Ozen warned Reg not to use Incinerator recklessly, but he’s confident Riko will be safe for the two hours he’s out if he uses it, so he does…and it continues to be a fantastic, if terrifying, sight to see.

What Reg didn’t know is that the strange distant sound he’d been hearing was a Crimson Splitjaw, who he grazed with the beam from Incinerator. He and Riko have to book it fast before he passes out, and they seem to receive som karmic justic when their only avenue of escape is blocked by tightly-packed, Neritantans.

If I didn’t know better, I thought I saw the thirst for vengeance in their beady little eyes. But the roar of the Splitjaw spooks them and they disperse. In a place of relative safety, Reg warns Riko to stay where she is and then passes out. Now who seriously thought Riko was just going to sit around?

No, She’s Got This, and wraps Reg’s extendo-arms around her and drags him behind her…straight into the digestive chamber of a Amakagame, yet another wonderfully bizarre beast of the Abyss. But this is Riko we’re talking about. Does she panic? No, she breaks out her knife and stabs the shit out of the Amakagame until she’s pierced its skin and escaped.

At first, I thought the legions of Neritantans that amassed around her were there to celebrate her vanquishing of the monster that claimed so many of their own—an “okay, we’re even now, you’re not so bad” kinda moment.

Then I remembered she smells like the fruit they love, and they swarm ravenously at her, the cute fluffy-looking animals suddenly a little more threatening. They cause Riko to fall down another steep tunnel, but far from a shortcut, it dumps her at the bottom of hexagonal basalt cave, and the only way out requires an ascent of several hundred feet.

It’s rough going, as Riko experiences headaches, dizziness, nausea, and the kicker: extremely realistic visual and auditory hallucinations. I mean, she might as well be on the holodeck, because she’s in a full-fledged dreamworld.

She knows what (and who) she’s looking at isn’t real…until her mother appears and they ascend all the way back up to Orth in the same gondola at the Seeker Camp. There, the entire city has come out to celebrate their return to the surface. What snaps her out of it? The fact that Reg isn’t there. He’s her totem, and he saves her butt again, without even being awake.

However, at nearly two hours, it’s really time he does wake up, and none too soon, either, as the Splitjaw that was after them before has found them again. Riko decides it’s time for Blaze Reap, but even as she wielded it and faced down the Splitjaw’s charge, it just didn’t look like she’d be able to do much damage.

Fortunately, Reg does, and uses his superior strength and speed to land a critical blow on the Splitjaw’s jaw, with the axe’s power causing multiple explosions that disable the beast once and for all.

With both kids awake and safe, Reg apologizes for going out so long, but Riko is actually appreciative: she learned by doing that taking this journey all by her self really would have been impossible, while Reg is certain it’d be impossible for him too if he didn’t have Riko with him.

Next up, the Fourth Layer: The Goblet of Giants.

Koufuku Graffiti – 05

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I’ve been intentionally conservative with rating KG’s episodes thus far because, at the end of the day, while the artistry is clear and present and the presentation of food is deliciously creative, the story is as ultra-lightweight and fluffy as a marshmallow. But this show will still make you think a little more about what you’re eating, why you’re eating it, who you’re eating it with, and how it really makes you feel. It will also, obviously, make you hungry.

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I decided to be a little more generous this week because, of all weeks, this KG brought the house; compressing an entire notebook of Summer vacation activities (much of it involving eating) into one gorgeous episode. It’s all achieved thanks to Shiina, who finally invites her new friends to her house.

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“House” doesn’t quite do it justice; it’s more like a sprawling estate that looks like the countryside even though they’re still within the Tokyo Metropolis. It reminds me of Kabaru Suruga’s place, though like Suruga, Shiina isn’t the least bit stuffy, stuck-up, or spoiled as her luxurious quality of life would suggest.

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In this gorgeous, ornate new setting the painters and director can really let their hair down, and they don’t disappoint with Shiina’s digs. It’s also the kind of place where Kirin can start to cross off various items from her Summer Activity checklist, even if some are merely technically being fulfilled (animal traps for a zoo, etc.)

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The episode also fakes us out by first having Kirin meet Shiina’s quiet, kimono’d mom in her garden (who is actually the house maid, Tsuyuko), then showing us that her real mom is like a hyperactive version of Shiina, and just as warm and generous, dispensing ungodly amounts of sweets, and even inviting the girls to partake of flowing somen noodles, a whole big production that requires cutting down bamboo to make the track, before any cooking commences.

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Ryou and Kirin get a little overzealous with the manual labor, but once they’re in the kitchen they’re back in their element, and Ryou helpfully goes over all the sauces and condiments that go with somen, including an orthodoz kombu-and-katsuobushi dashi, which I have made from scratch only a couple times but is far superior to the powdered stuff. I also accidentally leave green onions connected on occasion, as Tsuyuko did.

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Yeah, that’s not how flowing somen works…

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Shiina’s mom gets a nice little meta moment when she expresses relief her daughter isn’t the only one who acts like this when she eats, what with the saturated color, slow-motion and eye-sparkling. As Kirin says in the cold open, eating is a serious duel between the eater and the eaten. In enjoying their noodles so thoroughly (and explaining in detail why), they do their food the attention and justice it deserves.

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While Shiina is inside, her mother thanks Ryou and Kirin for continuing to be her friend, as she was also worried her daughter didn’t have any. Now she notices that Shiina talks a lot more about her day, much of it involving the two of them. The girls react to this by being so overly affectionate to Shiina, she’s a little creeped out, but it’s all cute and charming as hell.

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And thanks to Shiina, Kirin could cross every last item off her checklist (in one way or another), not to mention create priceless memories, which was the purpose of the checklist. An episode that started with three miserable friends stuck in school drawing Summer became three elated, satisfied friends experiencing Summer to its fullest.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 04

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This week’s KG cold open is the strangest yet, with Ryou biting the head off an Onigiri Girl in a toon-shaded dream sequence. It also heralds the beginning of the strangest episode of KG to date, though only really in terms of format.

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Ryou had gotten used to the routine of Kirin coming over on the weekends to eat her food and keep her company. But with classes cancelled for a week, Kirin ditching Ryou for her parents’ reservation to a three-star Chinese restaurant, and Shiina getting sick after getting drenched, Ryou finds herself all alone for the first time since the beginning of the show.

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That was when, if you recall, Ryou wasn’t very good at cooking, because she wasn’t putting any love into it. The scenes of Ryou alone in her house again (and even making a second serving of breakfast for a non-existant person) really do convey her profound loneliness and depression. And even though Kirin said she could text her anytime, she doesn’t respond to any of Ryou’s texts.

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Ryou wisely chooses to get out of that house before she goes mad, and decides to hit the library for some cookbooks. She hadn’t been there since her grandma used to take her, and it’s here where Ryou learns a dark truth: her grandma used to suck at cooking hardcore. It wasn’t until Ryou started staying with her that she checked out cooking for beginners books and honed her craft. She also modified the recipes in the books to cater to Ryou’s tastes, “cooking with love”, as it were.

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Ryou also hits up the corner store by the library where she and her grandma always used to go to indulge on pre-packaged food and drink. (The store has the same shopkeep who looks exactly the same). Overwhelmed by choice, she goes with her standby corner store lunch of onigiri, popcorn chicken, OJ, and a creme puff for desert. Not a bad set, if you ask me.

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As she goes to town, SHAFT-style, she realizes that the very same food she used to enjoy so much as a little kid is food she still enjoys today, only now, with her refined palate, she gains an even deeper appreciation for the tastes and textures. And while she may be eating alone, the mere fact she’s thinking of her loving grandma while enjoying the meal makes it that much tastier.

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The lunch cheers her up, and clears away the rain clouds. Ryou commits herself to becoming a great cook for Kirin the way her grandma became one for her, starting with predicting—correctly—that even though Kirin just had Chinese food, she’ll still want to try Ryou’s gyoza. Especially since the restaurant had tiny portions and Kirin is looking forward to Ryou stuffing her.

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Koufuku Graffiti – 03

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This week’s warm open (calling it ‘cold’ wouldn’t do it justice) is a three-way: with Shiina joining Ryou and Kirin in gastronomic bliss over some particularly delectable-looking omelettes designed to flow over rice just so. I’m already hungry.

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After the credits, it is now April, Ryou is in ninth grade, and her parents have just sent her a 5kg bag of rice and a note telling her to study hard, among other things. Ryou is fired up about both written and practical exams…

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…But when it’s time for the practical, she sees ingredients displayed for the still life motif and she can’t help but draw a dish that encompasses those ingredients, rather than drawing what’s actually there. It’s a pretty bizarre screw-up, but one that was apparently impossible to avoid, what with the way food makes Ryou’s mind work. It’s not enough just to draw them; she has to draw their potential.

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That compulsion gets her third in her class…from the bottom, and generally ruins her day. Not to worry: Kirin springs into action, grabbing the bamboo shoots from class and grabbing Shiina to accompany her to Ryou’s so she can cook them food, and they can eat it and cheer her up.

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The bamboo blanched in water and rice bran then added to rice, looks absolutely outstanding, and the taste and texture are so spot-on, it changes Shiina’s very character design! By the time the meal is over, it’s late, so Ryou invites Shiina to stay over, and the usually possessive Kirin has no objection.

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The next morning, after watching a show they all love in which omelette rice play a large role, Kirin and Shiina run out to grab ingredients so Ryou can make some. And make some she does: omelette rice a half-dozen ways, all of them positively mouth-watering. I for one love using leftover Golden Curry rice to make mine, though I’ve yet to find a ketchup bottle that allows for precision writing.

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Ryou is an old hand at these omelettes. Her holy grail is the soft-cooked one, which is solid on the outside, but when sliced down the middle, runs down the sides of the rice mound and covers the rice. Many failed attempts dozens of eggs, and many grams of cholesterol later, she finally succeeds, leading to the warm-open triple foodgasm up top. Most importantly for Kirin, Ryou is fully cheered up.

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When Ryou takes stock of her rice supply—lowered a surprising amount, but all for a good cause—she notices her parents’ letter doesn’t just tell her to study, but to make good friends, too. She’d already made one in Kirin; now Shiina makes two. Kirin has also warmed to Shiina…though she’s not about to let her and Ryou “cheat” on her by going out for cake without her!

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Koufuku Graffiti – 02

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Two episodes in, and KG is definitely my cup of tea…and my tamagoyaki, and my grilled squid, and my corn on the cob…and my Russian Roulette sandwiches. This week is bursting with gorgeous sights, smells, and tastes, but while last week Ryou learned that her food tastes infinitely better when she shares it with someone, this week the food is a medium for Ryou and Kirin to learn more about each other and grow closer as both family and friends.

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Like last week, the joy is all in the delectable culinary details. Ryou carefully, lovingly prepares lunches for the sakura festival (damn, I wish it was Spring already), and Kirin contributes her own bento: one that at first seems to be a pure white void, but then the seams of delicious-looking sandwiches become visible. The fact that Kirin’s mom helped her shows that the two have made up, in part thanks to Ryou’s hot pot recipe.

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Food doesn’t just taste better depending on the company you keep, but the environs. And what better place to eat than in a city park exploding with cherry blossoms?

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Kirin meets Ryou’s Aunt Akira for the first time, and while she’s initially shy, Akira’s wild, laid-back, but friendly demeanor puts her at ease. However, Ryou is a bit cross that Akira brought plenty of Asahi Super Dry for herself, but contributed no food. Akira makes up for it by presenting the girls with cash and sending them out into the fair.

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It turns out to be the first real fair Kirin’s ever been too, and thus encounters several different and wonderful fair treats for the first time. Ryou tells Kirin she used to look forward to Spring like no other because she got to enjoy a picnic with her mom, dad, grandma, and Akira. Now only Akira is here…and Kirin.  It may not be exactly the same, but it’s still good.

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We formally meet Ryou and Kirin’s fellow cram schooler Shiina (Komatsu Mikako), who has come to the festival with very clear goals in mind: “sketch it all (including drunk salarymen) and eat it all”. Her encounter is marked by a classic slo-mo Shaft Head-Tilt™, followed by an impatient Akira doing the same thing in short succession.

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Kirin, exhibiting a child’s weariness to strangers to match her small stature, seems to see Shiina as a rival for Ryou’s affection, but more than anything she’s envious that Shiina knows a side of Ryou (the super-focused side she shows in class) she doesn’t. Shiina apologizes for assuming she’s a grade-schooler with a candy apple—a somewhat juvenile food—but the thought is what counts, and though she may not know it yet, Kirin has made another friend just like that.

Back at the picnic blanket, Akira jumped the gun and paid dearly, having gotten the sandwich with gobs of hot mustard; Kirin’s mom’s contribution to the meal.

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Ryou and Kirin return, and a three-way FOODGASM ensues, complete with very specific food sound effects, extreme close-ups, and precise yet flowery descriptions of the mouth-watering food being scarfed down. I wanted to jump into the TV and scoop of a dollop of that cold, crisp potato salad, or crunch into that perfectly-charred corn.

At this point I feel I point out I make a clear distinction between highly enthusiastic consumption of food and any potential sexual acts either the act of eating or description of the food might conjure. KG dances on the edge with these fetishy sequences, but never crosses the line into ‘ew, gross’ territory, IMO. Don’t be like George Costanza: There is sex, and there is food. This is food.

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When the two set up another blanket under the blooming cherry tree outside Ryou’s place so Kirin can sketch, Ryou surprises her with the steamy, sweet and fluffy tamagoyaki we saw her enjoying in the cold open, it’s obvious that food is far more than just sustenance for the body. It’s also the mortar used to build the friendship blooming between two sweet, formerly lonely souls in Ryou and Kirin.

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P.S.: I’m really digging the Alice in Wonderland-themed OP, with Ryou as the White Rabbit and Kirin as Alice following her down the culinary rabbit hole. The stirring opening theme, “The 5 Ways I Know to Become Happy”, is structurally and thematically similar to “No Need for Promises”, the theme of Escaflowne (one of my favorites). As it happens, both are passionately performed by Sakamoto Maaya, more than eighteen years apart.

Koufuku Graffiti – 01 (First Impressions)

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I see no better way to wrap up my evening docket than a cute, lighthearted, salubrious slice-of-life comedy about one of my favorite things to do: cooking and feeding people. It also isn’t afraid to show its protagonist Ryou (Satou Rina, the Railgun) essentially having a foodgasm over a plate of delectable-looking inarizushi.

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It’s brought to us by none other than Mister Shinbo and Shaft, eschewing a lot of the usual Shafty quirks like head-kinks, word cards, and dramatic shifts to other art styles. Still, his exacting environmental aesthetic and delicate attention to character gestures comes are present and accounted for.

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That being said, it’s a very richly-produced show, and its style is such that one could easily see this show taking place in the same world as the Monogatari series, only in Tokyo, and without any supernatural stuff.

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Ryou and her visiting second-cousin Kirin, are an immediately likable couple of kids. Both have a problem: Ryou is lonely (parents abroad, grandma passed), thinks her cooking tastes awful, and wants to get better; the pint-sized Kirin is lonely, thinks her mother’s cooking is awful, and wants to learn how to cook herself. It’s a good match.

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Ryou assumes she’s losing her touch because her Grandma is no longer around to coach her. She’s only half-right. She actually hasn’t lost her touch; her food simply doesn’t taste as good when she’s eating it alone. That’s remedied with Kirin’s visit, and Kiri, an independent adjudicator, assures her, her cooking is da bomb.

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Shaft doesn’t skimp on the sights and sounds of the food (some decent ASMR moments), and each dish Ryou prepares carries a special meaning. But the bottom line is, food tastes better when you’re eating with someone, period. We catch a glimpse of a third girl ordering some kind of take-out…which she’s going to eat alone and it’s going to be miserable, so she needs to come over to Ryou’s.

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This is the first food-focused episode of anime I’ve watched since the Girl Friend BETA about the substitute cafeteria staff. Koufuku Graffiti is FAR more polished and better looking, and has FAR fewer characters. That’s a winning formula for my ‘kick back and relax’ show of the season.

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