Masamune-kun no Revenge – 12 (Fin)

Last week I predicted that Masamune would fill in for Kanetsugu in the Class-A play—a safe prediction, since that’s what came to pass. The show tries to be coy about it, what with showing Masamune arrive in the auditorium to see Aki already on the stage performing, and not immediately revealing his plan. But really, we all knew where this was going.

What I did not know was how much I would enjoy the performance scene, telegraphed as it was. Simply taking Kanetsugu’s place is no mean feat for Masamune in his ill and weakened state, but the well-rehearsed cast (which includes his master) catches on fast, as his fatigue is explained as the result of his “long journey.”

Back to another safe assumption: that Masamune would, in fact, give Aki a real kiss. I mean, how could he not, that’s what the role demands! But when Aki said the kiss would be “pretend” while waiting in her coffin, it all but confirmed to me that it wouldn’t be. It wasn’t a bad kiss at all, and it even compels Aki to do a little improvisation of her own, by decking him for stealing a kiss. Because he’s so weak, he’s out for the count.

Fast Forward to the conclusion of the festival (thankfully) as reps from both classes meet at a karaoke joint for the after-party. This is where the episode kinda stretches out and relaxes, and where it was clear, if it wasn’t in past weeks, that this whole Masamune’s Revenge thing wasn’t going to be wrapped up in just twelve episodes. The last half feels more like a self-contained OVA.

Which, yeah, makes sense. Masamune feels a lot of tension at the karaoke bar, and when his turn in the sing-off approaches, he’s hassled by Sonoka and Kikuon, warning he won’t be able to run away from humiliating himself at the mic in front of their mistress. But it’s Aki who scolds them and sends them off, taking his side. She later regrets it, as Masamune’s singing is so bad everyone looks dead by the end, and quickly clear out afterward.

At least that leaves Masamune and Aki alone together for one last scene, which is as nice way as any to close out the show. They exchange thanks and apologies, and Aki earnestly asks him what she should do as far as tokens of appreciation go. Masamune swings for the fences and asks for a kiss, and to his shock, she accepts.

Aki’s lips do come within less than an inch of Masamune’s, but she stops short and pops a baked yam (I think) in his mouth, provided by Yoshino, who just showed up to feed Aki. Aki feels they got “close enough for now,” and strides off, far more playful than aloof.

Thus, Masamune and Aki end this 12-episode run on pretty good terms. However, obstacles still exist. We know Kanetsugu is deceiving both Aki and Masamune, something Yoshino hasn’t informed her of. Neko doesn’t quite seem ready to give up now that she’s been given a new lease on life. And then there’s the whole matter of whether Masamune wants to actually exact his titular revenge and dump Aki once he’s earned her favor (eh, likely not).

I assume Masamune-kun no Revenge will be back…someday, to resolve these remaining issues. If it does, the show has earned my loyalty, so I’ll be taking a look. If it doesn’t, well…it was a nice, if incomplete, ride.

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Masamune-kun no Revenge – 11

I’ll admit I am not the biggest fan of “school play” episodes, but MnR’s wasn’t just an admirably-paced example of the type, but also the most consistently funny and best episode of MnR yet. It’s a joke-laden, increasingly wacky series of unexpected events that build up to a denouement I can look forward to watching.

It all starts with Masamune worried about Class Rep Futaba’s sudden transformation into your typical overbearing director. At the same time, Kojuurou is just about sick of people treating him like a girl (even though he’s voiced by one, the great Hayami Saori), but glad that at least Neko doesn’t, leading to him kinda falling for her.

We also see more of Kanetsugu treating Aki so very nicely, but then revealing to us his true intentions. Obviously, he’s not the Masamune Aki knew as a kid (that’s the thin Masamune), so who is he? A fat kid Aki’s mom mistook for Masamune, assuming he’d never lose weight.

Because Kanetsugu’s once-rich family has fallen on hard times, he’s been tasked with restoring their financial standing to go with the prestige of their name, hence Kanetsugu pretending he’s the boy Aki once knew. It immediately makes his character much better because A.) now we know what exactly his deal is and B.) he’s not perfect, like everyone else in the show.

Everyone…except Neko. Neko is perfect. I guess you could call her health imperfect, but there’s nothing wrong with her personality. Back from her life-threatening illness and surgery, Neko hasn’t skipped a beat, and despite having her heart broken, would still like to be Masamune’s dance partner should he lose to the other play.

She also notices that he’s ill and takes him to the nurse’s office to rest (he spent a chunk of the night outside in his skivvies to prove how hardy he is, then caught a cold). Masamune can’t refuse her offer, should it come to that.

How could he refuse? Fujinomiya Neko is THE BEST, and this warm, caring scene is more proof that she wouldn’t be a consolation girl. KOJUUROU knows what I’m talking about, though his attempt to assert his manliness by speaking in a weird dialect only serves to confuse, not woo, an oblivious Neko. I know it’s a bit late for his development, but I like how Koujuurou is trying to escape his typecasting…even if it’s futile.

Aki’s self-appointed “personal guard” hatches a plan to sabotage Class B’s play, in the silliest way possible: Kikuon kidnaps Masamune, ties him up in a big mattress, and imprisons him in a storeroom.

That’s…pretty lame, not to mention unsporting and even cowardly, which is exactly what Masamune tells Kikuon, who, to her credit, takes his words to heart and immediately starts to have a moral crisis about what she’s doing…until she learns from Masamune’s call to Mari (and his poor attempts to hide it) that their prince, Kanetsugu, has also been taken hostage. Masamune only knows that he’s missing from Mari, but he knows that it was Master Yoshino who nabbed him.

I like how Masamune knows this, and how he’s right that it was Yoshino. They’re operating on the same wavelength, it’s just that she thought to do it pretty much the same time as Mari (who pitches a hissyfit when she thinks she’s bested), while Masamune, who we know is a tourist in these kind of dark dealings, only of kidnapping his counterpart as a tactic once Mari mentioned it had already gone down.

Still, Masamune isn’t all brawn no brains…though Kikuon might be, as he manages to get the slip on her by pretending to leap out at least a third story window.  She leaps out to chase him down, only to fall into a pool below and somehow not break several bones, while he’s hanging onto the window sill. Call it Kikuon’s Wile E. Coyote moment.

But you know what? I’ll allow it, because Kikuon is, if nothing else, devoted to Aki, for without even knowing it, doing something that made Kikuon feel good after a tough loss to someone who cheated: Aki turned the guy down and called him a coward.

Mari and Sonoka doubtless have similar stories that lionized Aki in their eyes…but Aki didn’t ask for their loyalty and devotion; she simply has it, whether it’s in her best interest to have it or not. I say this because she, like Masamune, wanted to perform the plays and determine who would win fair and square. It’s their proxies who complicated matters by playing dirty.

Well, the show will go on for Aki, with or without Kanetsugu (she considers his sudden absence at such a crucial time to be a repeat of abandoning her when they were little kids). I feel bad that Kanetsugu is deceiving her, while loving the irony of Masamune’s extreme physical makeover actually forestalling Aki’s falling for him.

Of course, with Kanetsugu still absent and Kujuurou sick of being treated like a princess, the solution for both Class A and B would seem to be clear: pair up Masamune and Aki. I hope they finally go there (it’s the logical path) and I also hope Aki finds out about Kanetsugu, be it from his being found out or from his own mouth.

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Turns out the mystery fatty isn’t some stunted clone of Masamune, but Gasou Kanetsugu, who is, at least according to an apparently genuine letter, Aki’s betrothed. For now, it appears to be just a coincidence that he looks a lot like our “Pig’s Foot” if he never lost weight (or gained height).

Aki’s household accepts Gasou’s sudden claim, and when the next term starts, he’s a transfer student at the school. Unlike the hunky baseball ace, Aki can’t contain her smitteness for the round lil’ guy, much to the shock and consternation of her fan club, which consists of Sonoka (twin tailed loli) Kikuon (tall and sporty) and Mari (serious/dark glasses).

Even more gobsmacked is Masamune, who just dosn’t understand how this could happen just when he thought the path was clear (in other news, Neko’s surgery went off without a hitch and she’s back at school, though no longer pursuing him).

To his surprise, even his master Yoshino is at a loss regarding Aki’s new squeeze, and feels like she’s let her apprentice down, even though he doesn’t blame her.

There’s a tension that runs throughout this episode, once once accepts the suddenness and coincidence of Kanetsugu’s appearance. On the one hand, I can’t deny I’m on Masamune’s side, even though I know he only wants to win Aki’s heart so he can immediately break it.

Kanetsugu is a huge obstacle to that, but I can’t help but admire Aki not abiding by the typical norms of attraction, confused friends, fans and suitors be damned. Kanetsugu is a good kid, too. When Neko first showed up, I felt like she was hiding a secret, which turned out to be nothing evil.

But Kanetsugu doesn’t give off that vibe. There’s no ulterior motive here, beyond fulfilling his obligation as 17th-gen-whatever. In fact, he holds Aki in such high regard he dare not even entertain the possibility of getting romantic with her, either in the present or the future. He thinks he’s too far beneath her; in reality, she’d be just fine with that!

In any case, though she’s mistaking Kanetsugu for the younger, fatter Masamune, the fact is Aki likes what she sees, and her betrothed seems to have completely usurped thin Masamune from her thoughts. Her fan club, who gets a lot of screen time, also ends up allying themselves with Kanetsugu when he promises he has no intention of touching their goddess.

That alliance is somewhat undermined by Class Rep Futaba, who insists her class put on a performance of Snow White with Masamune and Kojuurou as the prince and princess, respectively. Mari, fan club member, and her class are putting on a Snow White of their own, only with Aki and Kanetsugu.

Masamune helps the two warring classes come to a compromise: both performances will be held, and the school will get to vote for the one they like best. It will also determine which “prince”; which Masamune gets to dance with Aki (though she herself isn’t informed of this wager).

If the pro-BL caucus propels our Masamune to victory in the drama battle, what then? How will he be able to wrest Aki from Kanetsugu’s pudgy clutches?

Masamune-kun no Revenge – 09

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Whether due to her suspicions about him going to Neko’s place, or the fact that Neko being missing takes precedence, Aki completely ignores the fact Masamune said he “chose” her and rejected Neko. The girls (and Kojuurou) pile into the car to go look for Neko, and there isn’t room for him.

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And yet, after nothing comes of searching the immediate vicinity of Neko’s apartment, Masamune and Aki both end up at school. There, Aki tells Masamune she doesn’t want Neko wallowing in despair. She feels bad that he rejected her…which is pretty rich, considering she did the same thing to Masamune years back, which leads him to bring up “pig’s foot” to her.

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That conversation is curtailed by the re-enactment of a scene in the manga Masamune owns which Neko also started reading, in which a girl turns her unrequited love letters into paper airplanes. Only when they finds her on the roof, it isn’t long before she collapses from exhaustion. Clearly Neko is frailer than Masamune ever imagined.

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While recovering in hospital, Neko asks to speak to Aki alone. After that, she has Masamune brought in to talk to him alone, and reveals her plan to him to fall in love before undergoing a risky operation that could improve her condition (or not).

She says he was chosen at random to be her suitor, but a later flashback indicates the two did meet little kids, and were thought by his family to be a good match. Alas, Masamune only ever had feelings for Aki. She thanks him for giving her “lovely memories,” then excuses him.

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Neko’s talk with Masamune about not walking the “same path” as her through an uncertain fog, and he redoubles his efforts to block out “unnecessary thoughts” and recommit himself to his goal: to make Aki fall for him and then “throw her away in the best way possible.” He’s not thinking about what happens after.

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We thankfully also get Neko’s frank talk with Aki. Neko was soundly rejected, so now she sees no good reason why Aki should keep acting tough and denying the love Masamune has for her.

Neko is conceding defeat, and Aki can’t dance around the fact that she feels something…but interestingly, she thinks back to the fat Masamune of her childhood as her ideal of love. After all, Masamune has only showed us his version of their relationship. It’s not a great leap to assume she teased him because she liked him…he was just to thick to realize that.

As for what happens in the end, with a fat little guy who looks like Masamune showing up in Aki’s garden…I don’t know what to think. Did she fall asleep beside the fountain and is simply dreaming? Or is she mistaking this random kid for the real Masamune?

It was a very bizarre and confusing—if mildly intriguing—way to end another solid, earnest, emotional episode.

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Masamune-kun no Revenge – 08

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I was right at the edge with Masamune-kun no Revenge, and with the gang planning to hang at the pool, it looked like we were in for another color-by-numbers harem outing. Instead, things got a little more serious…all because Masamune’s photo is gone, and he suspects Neko of taking it—which she did.

While meeting Akagaki at a family restaurant so she can give him back luggage he left at her villa, the photo distracts Masamune to the point where Adagaki is insulted by his distance and leaves. The minute she leaves (without paying for the four sundaes she ate) Masamune gets a call from Neko, which leads to him asking if they can meet so he can somehow bring up the photo she stole.

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It’s here where things get hot and heavy in a hurry, and very unexpectedly so. Neko doesn’t jump his bones like a cat in heat, no; in fact, it’s Masamune who sneaks into her room to look for the photo, then comes across the same romance novel she saw at his house.

Neko catches him snooping, but thinks nothing of it, and before long owns up to the theft of the photo, saying the young him—not the young Adagaki—was just too cute for her to resist. His self-image poisoned by his interactions with Adagaki and others, Masamune never once considered himself cute, but Neko means it.

So what if he was fat? Well, the fact he was once fat means everything to Masamune, both in terms of his present obsession with fitness and his vendetta with Adagaki.

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Masamune is so messed up, to the end he believes Neko is working some other angle, some ulterior motive he’s on the cusp of discovering. So when she advances on him, he questions whether she really likes him, then takes the photo and leaves, telling her choosing Adagaki is his…revenge.

After he leaves, Neko doesn’t seem like her plan had failed. She looks heartbroken, and says as much. For his part, Masamune is pretty messed up too – he just had his first kiss with a girl, and having rejected her out of hand, his stomach hurts something fierce. He’s just not sure whether he did the right thing, only that he can’t get Adagaki off his mind.

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The pool party is an afterthought, both narratively (because the Neko incident takes precedence) and practically (there’s no animation, just a bunch of panning stills). But that’s okay; what matters isn’t what happened at the pool, but who didn’t attend: Neko told Futaba she wasn’t feeling well. And again, Masamune feels frustratingly far away to Adagaki.

While everyone is leaving the pool, Neko’s attendant pulls up, asking what Masamue did to her, as she’s now missing and without her meds. That’s right: Neko isn’t just some vitamin junkie; she’s a very sickly young woman and a seizure risk. Masamune was wrong. So he tells the truth – he went to Neko’s to tell her he couldn’t go out with her because he was choosing Adagaki.

The episode ends there, with us wondering how much those words may have affected Adagaki, and knowing that with Neko who-knows-where without vital meds, this isn’t a game or test of courage. They’ve gotta find her first, then deal with the romantic ramifications.

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Masamune-kun no Revenge – 07

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Masamune-kun no Revenge got off to a halfway clever start, but in the last few weeks has been leaning heavily on overused rom-com tropes. This episode is no different, combining three such tropes: The Beach Trip, The Test of Courage, and the Man-Hating Older Woman (MHOW). As such, it’s an adequate but unexceptional outing.

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In an attempt to add stakes, while on the yacht to the island where the Adagaki beach manse is located Koiwai warns Masamune that if he doesn’t make progress on this trip, she’ll spill the beans to her master – all of them.

It spooks Masamune into taking risks, like telling the trip chaperone—Adagaki’s dad’s secretary Yuisaki Midori (the MHOW)—that he’s Adagaki’s boyfriend. He knows Adagaki cares greatly about appearances where other women are concerned, and it pays off…just.

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We know the reason why: on some level, Adagaki wouldn’t mind actually dating Masamune. She’s keeping up appearances, both by allowing the lie and making sure Neko stays away from her man, but also because she doesn’t want Neko sniffing around Masamune anyway.

Masamune later goes to Yuisaki for suggestions on what to do that’s good for a dating pair, and she suggests the dreaded Test of Courage (I like how she considers it childish, but the still pretty childish Masamune is fine with it).

He rigs it so he’ll have to save Adagaki when she’s trembling in fear, and we get another one of his far-fetched fantasies where she says and does things the really Adagaki never would, at least not yet.

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But because Yusaki hates men, and wants Adagaki to become like her, she tries to dispose of Masamune by trying to scare him. Instead, Koiwai (whom Masamune sent in first so she could brandish a chainsaw) ends up scaring Yuisaki, who hits her head and has to be carried home by Masamune. Yuisaki learns that the dating is a lie, but also learns that Masamune is actually a good guy and she feels bad for prejudging him.

I never thought for a second Koiwai was going to spill the beans, so there wasn’t really much in the way of stakes this week. He doesn’t make much in the way of progress, nor do we learn anything more of Neko (oddly we now know more about Yuisaki than her). Here’s hoping the show is troped out and will do something a little more interesting next week.

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Masamune-kun no Revenge – 06

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That Masamune-kun’s big grand scheme to destroy Adagaki is put in jeopardy by the mere offer of a kiss is yet another indication that he simply hasn’t thought this through that much, that he’s better at losing weight and keeping it off than relationship stuff, and that he’s very lucky to have Yoshino on his side; otherwise he’d be toast.

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Masamune’s outer timidity around Adagaki belies his tougher inner revenge plotter, and Adagaki seems to make it clear: if he can’t kiss her, he must not really like her.

Watching his plan’s life flash before his eyes, he quickly envisions Adagaki as a piece of meat and goes in for a bite, only for a flustered Adagaki to recoil and delivering unto him a crushing (and physics-defying) uppercut.

This is two people inexperienced in love and romance fumbling around, unable to read or predict one another because they can scarcely predict themselves.

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After an awkward scene in the school courtyard, Yoshino decides Neko needs to be tailed, lest she be up to something that will disrupt her accord with Masamune regarding her master. When Neko ends up at Masamune’s house, both she and Yoshino are snatched up by Masamune’s tiny loli mom.

I’m all for representation of little people in anime, but I’m not sure that’s what his mom is, and it’s kind of irritating that her character design is indistinguishable from that of a grade schooler. It was less of a concern when she was a background, but we see a lot more of her this week.

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In fact, the whole episode kinda grinds to a halt at Masamune’s house when he comes home to find two members of his harem plus the two female members of his family amicably mingling. All he manages to do is complain that Yoshino and Neko are there, that the food is fattening, and that they dress up in yukata to light fireworks after dinner.

Masamune deems all of this a waste of time he could be spending lifting weights or something, but I can’t say I relate to his displeasure with what seemed by all accounts a warm, pleasant weeknight. As for Neko, she’s happy her obsession with health (through more medicinal means) mirrors Masamune’s obsession with fitness. She also steals his photo of him and Adagaki. Not cool, Neko!

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Masamune-kun no Revenge – 05

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I’ve found that it’s tricky switching gears from Kuzu no Honkai, an R-rated seinen show, with Masamune-kun’s Revenge, a PG-13 rom-com that’s becoming increasingly harem-y. You won’t see a lot of girls posing with airsoft guns in Kuzu.

The two shows, while ostensibly about relationships between people, go about their business in very different ways. Revenge, even at its most serious, is still a much “lighter” show than the leaden Kuzu. I realize I’m not saying anything particularly groundbreaking here, just noting an observation.

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For one thing, Revenge utilizes an array of familiar, well-trodden elements from its genre as it progresses. Masamune truly wants to get Adagaki to fall for him so he can exact his revenge, but he’s unwittingly finding himself flush with women, due partially to his hot guy status, but also his genuine, if sometimes, reluctant, kindness, borne from once being on the other side.

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Put up against Adagaki, Yoshino, and even class-rep Futaba, so far Fujinomiya Neko is the weakest of the girls now in his orbit, for two big reasons. First, she’s less of a character than a collection of odd quirks (elaborate lies, going commando, fake blood) that doesn’t yet add up to anything. Second, like Masamune we know nothing about her, why she truly respects/admires him, and why she transferred.

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Her most interesting moment comes when she spots her competition, Adagaki (which had me thinking of and comparing her to Akane over at Kuzu, which I really shouldn’t do). But again, because we have no idea why she’s going after Masamune specifically, I’m not really invested in her mission to beat Adagaki.

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Masamune, meanwhile, ends up firmly back on Adagaki’s bad side, for, among other reasons not being more forceful in rebuke her advances. Adagaki is still figuring out what she feels about this guy, but it’s clear she really doesn’t like watching another girl get too close to him, or the fact he does next to nothing to stop it. It makes her think he’s shallow to fall under another’s spell so easily.

The two get to have it out, somewhat, when they’re punished for skipping class by having to clean the pool (which is oddly full of water). Because it’s a pool, Adagaki naturally ends up in it, can’t swim, and almost has to be rescued.

When pressed, Masamune admits he can’t help but want to save her, since he likes her so much. Adagaki wants proof: a kiss. Looks like the turbulence caused by Neko didn’t fully snuff out the flame…unless, like last week, another unfortunate interruption ruins the moment…again!

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Masamune-kun no Revenge – 04

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Masamune continues to expose the fact all he knows about courting girls is through shoujo manga. Staring at Adagaki throughout class and then lending her his umbrella, all while spouting canned lines, just ends up kinda creeping her out. Yoshino suggests he cool it, literally, by mixing it up and starting to ignore her.

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That turns out to be a lot more difficult than Masamune could have imagined, as he feels he’s throwing away all the goodwill he’s built up with Adagaki. But, despite how badly he’s flailing, it does actually work: Adagaki doesn’t consider him a bug.

She can’t, not when he’s irritating her this much with all the ignoring. When she confronts him roughly in the hall (not at all what he imagined), Masamune can only say he likes “everything” about her before running off…to see Yoshino again. But because of the camera angles, you know Adagaki followed them, and gets the wrong idea about the two.

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While playing hooky for the first time, Adagaki is approached by Yoshino, and tries to play it cool, but Yoshino comes right out and tells her about all her contact with Masamune. “He only has eyes for you,” she says to Adagaki, getting more and more flustered. Before Yoshino can deny she feels the same, Yoshino vanishes.

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It’s while Adagaki is rushing around aimlessly, stuck in her thoughts, that we learn what she thinks of herself, and why it’s so “inconceivable” that she’d like anyone, or that anyone would like her. The Cruel Princess act is an intentional one, designed to keep others away.

She wants to keep others away because, as she says, she ” hurts others to avoid being hurt,” and we see her there dressing down Pig’s Foot. I imagine she did not expect Masamune to leave when he did, and branded him a liar, but also wonders if he left because she drove him away.

To avoid history repeating itself, she’s been aloof and kept her distance from everyone. Whether she’s worshiped or hated, she’s not close enough to anyone to hurt anyone or get hurt.

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But now things are changing. Masamune’s cold shoulder awoke feelings in her, and when he saves her from getting hit by a car, she’s right on the cusp of telling him when the driver of the car gets out…and embraces Masamune.

Apparently, the story of Masamune and Adagaki cannot be so neatly wrapped up so quickly and easily. Whoever this girl is, she’s competition, which is something Adagaki has never had, reigning as she has over all the boys and girls at school. And like class rep Futaba, this girl is someone else threatening to knock Masamune off course.

But what’s the fun of things being too easy? I’m game for the complication New Girl brings.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 13 (Fin)

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Food Wars 2’s final episode wraps up the brief but wonderful Staigaire mini-arc with, what else, a food war, inviting some familiar faces to help judge the best staff dish, immediately following the end SHINO’S TOKYO’s pre-open.

Inui seems more hyper than usual, but otherwise she and the others mainly here to make curtain calls, and also to provide a distinguished audience and extra pressure for Souma. Whether he passes this Staigaire depends entirely on the dish he’s been developing.

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Everything, from the camp to the elections to the staigaire, has been building up to this. Souma has always been good at replicating dishes, following recipes, and finding creative, resourceful, even unorthodox ways to succeed. He’s even made quite a few “signature”-style dishes to win.

But this is different. Here, he has to craft something he can only make, but that is also worthy of being placed on a Two-Michelin Star restaurant hoping to win a third. The shounen transition/evolution Souma must undergo is perfectly boiled down to getting pincushioned by a rain of fancy french cutlery (i.e. aborbing French culinary techniquies), which crack his old self and reveal a new, refined chef.

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He successfully makes that transition by serving a playful oyakodon dish that looks like a classic french whole quail. Shino sees room for improvement before it goes on the menu, but it’s a sucessful dish, so Souma passes.

While Shino has always been driven by the desire to make his mom happy, Souma’s drive is largely sourced by his desire to surpass his dad. He sees that being at Totsuki, a melting pot of culinary knowledge from faculty and peer alike, is the best path to that goal.

That means picking up the box full of shokugeki challenges and getting to work knocking them off, each time learning something new from the process. He wants no less than the first seat; the top rung. As the pot lid falls on this solid second helping of that quest, I’d neither rule out nor oppose a third sometime down the road.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 12

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What better way to follow up an episode that brought back the magic…than the Magician of Legumes himself? Food Wars goes right there in its next-to-last episode, focusing the entire episode on Souma as he advances to the next level: SHINO’S brand-new Tokyo destination.

Everyone’s very casual and genial to start out (Lucie, whom I believe to be voiced by the great Arai Satomi, is a standout), and Shino even cooks everyone a lovely mushroom burdock quiche after they finish cleaning and prepping for the day. Yay! But once the lights come on, Souma gets a rude awakening: this ain’t a family restaurant, and it ain’t gonna be a cakewalk like his first residency.

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This is haute cuisine, and Lucie, Gao, Abel, and Shino are polished PROS. They would be; back in Paris SHINO’S has two Michelin Stars. Thus it’s as if Souma’s difficulty level has been jacked up from 2 to 10. He’s astounded by the speed, precision, and silence of the intentionally short-staffed kitchen. Even on the first pre-open night, Souma can just barely get by.

The episode does a great job illustrating the whirlwind of pressure and activity, frazzling and intimidating Souma like never before. He’s not alone: the Staigaire gets tougher for everyone, as we see in the only cutaway to students other than Souma: all seem to be locked in some kind of epic battle, and everyone’s trying to hide a degree of fear and inadequacy and focus on the tasks at hand. Many anonymous students fail.

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But this is Souma we’re talking about; he’s not going to give up. In the deep end of the pool without floaties, he spends the week learning how to swim, and not just doggie paddle.

He foregoes sleep to absorb all of the kitchen’s precise and intricate French cooking techniques, all while getting into the pace and rhythms of the kitchen. He doesn’t have time to feel sorry for himself as the staff berates him mercilessly. He starts having a blast.

Shino’s team is wowed. but Shino is less impressed; after all this was the kid who challenged him to a Shokugeki; it would be a huge shame if he turned out to be anything less than what he’s become now. And despite all the gruntwork required of him, Souma has been developing a specialty he wishes to submit for the staff presentation following the pre-open. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 11

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I find it interesting how this episode, my favorite episode of this second season of Food Wars, took place after the Autumn Elections, after all the student battles had been fought and settled. While the tension and energy of those episodes was often electric, and the finale was superb, I feel like I was suffering from a bit of ‘arena fatigue’.

This episode tosses Souma & Co. out into the real world, and a lot of this episode’s greatness lies in its realism. It melds the warlike theme of completing a mission—serving and making your mark in a real restaurant—with the slice of life comedy I found so infectious in shows like Working!!.

Even better, it doesn’t dart from place to place showing us how every single character is fairing. There’s a clear A-plot and B-plot, and the A-plot takes precedence for maximum immersiveness. When I learned it would be two students to a restaurant, my first thought was that Souma would be teamed up with Erina.

Instead, the show did us one better: it teamed him up with Erina’s self-appointed “aide”, Miss Secretary herself, Arato Hisako. It turns out to be an inspired pairing that, at least for an episode, upgrades Arato from the character nosebleeds to center stage.

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As she and Souma start out at Western Restaurant Mitamura, Arato is in the midst of a personal crisis following her defeat to Hayama. She believes she will only be a liability if she remains too close to Erina. Note that no one else has told her this, it’s just something she believes. Hayama’s words about her being “too small” in the scope of her dreams really hit her hard.

At first confrontational to the point of warning him not to speak to her, Souma gradually wears her down with his unique blend of reliable friendliness, restless ambition, and an unflappable competence in the midst of a multi-wave battle against hordes of bullet train passengers who fill the restaurant all at once and demand transactions a bit faster than humanly possible.

Arato is no fool: she can acknowledge Souma has more experience with this kind of thing than she does. She can even take his orders to make things go smoother. But she doesn’t have to like it, and she doesn’t, so Souma serves as a catalyst for her to learn the ropes and the rhythms of this very unique restaurant fast.

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The result of that effort is heaps of praise from her older co-workers, many of whom have been working there since the beginning (it’s a third-gen family establishment). At first she thinks the praise is just for Souma, but it’s for her too, and it’s so wonderful to receive those laurels, Arato quickly does what she’s always done: rest upon them. Settle.

Pairing Arato with Souma was better than pairing him with Erina, because where the latter would have been primarily confrontational, the pairing we get results in some wonderful characterization. In the beginning, estranged from her mistress or not, an enemy of Erina’s (Souma) is an enemy of Arato’s. But her relationship wtih Souma evolves swiftly and rapidly into something more complex and satisfying.

Even if they didn’t know about Arato’s issues regarding complacency and her self-imposed exile from Erina, Totsuki’s administrators did her a solid by pairing her with Souma, who enjoys the first couple days of training, but has a splinter in his head always festering, telling him they’ve gotta do more.

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At first Arato thinks he’s being absurd—things are going great!—but he eventually gets her to realize “making your mark” means more than just fitting nicely into the machinery. The machinery has faults that are harming profitability and may lead to the restaurant’s demise. If they’re to truly pass their first Staigaire, they have to help fix that machinery, and ensure it keeps working after they leave.

Calling an emergency staff meeting Arato, with Souma backing her up, proposes radical changes, such as cutting back on the menu options. The seasoned staff rightly push back; with a gutted menu it won’t be Mitamura anymore.

The owner is also adverse, since he’s trying to get back to the golden years of the restaurant, not cut corners. Everyone’s positions here make sense, but the undeniable reality is that those bullet train hordes are keeping Mitamura from being it’s best, and something has to give.

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The B-plot is far more lightweight and tuned towards comedy, but those aren’t marks against it, as Megumi and Erina make the most of their limited time. It’s another inspired pairing that, like Souma/Arato, features a take-charge go-getter half and a talented but meeker half struggling to make her mark.

We know how talented and capable Erina is, so it’s no surprise when she stanches control of the kitchen right out from under the grizzled chef’s feet. He can’t do anything about it, and not just because of politics: Erina makes his place better. He’s on the fast road to a Michelin star after a couple days. That’s the power of having the God Tongue under your employ. She’s the ultimate culinary ringer.

Megumi is almost exclusively relegated to dishwashing duty, simply trying to stay out of Erina’s path and doing her job, but she knows she has to distinguish herself somehow. She finds a way through her observation of the dirty plates that come to her, shrewdly suggesting (with de facto Chef Erina’s support) that customers be allowed to determine the portion of sauce they want on a popular dish.

The de jure chef can’t argue with her when a customer asks a waiter for more sauce, and Erina is impressed with Megumi’s subtle perceptiveness.

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As for Mitamura, rather than cut down the menu, they take perhaps an even greater risk: they make the restaurant by reservation only. But it pays off. Without hordes storming in and out, the kitchen and staff can shine brighter, and the regulars scared off by the train passenger business start to return and find they were fools to ever leave.

Souma effectively lit a fire under Arato, and the two show Mitamura’s owner and staff that they made the right decision to change, not for change’s sake, but for the sake of the identity they wanted the restaurant to have: a fine casual Western restaurant that takes care with its dishes and customers…not a station-side industrial feedbag.

As a result, they are confronted outside the restaurant by a stalky Totsuki agent who informs them they’ve passed the first round of their Staigaire. Arato allows herself a proud smile, but her estrangement with Erina remains an issue to be resolved, which Souma can also help her with.

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Erina, unsurprisingly, misses Arato, and wishes she’d come back. She recalls the time she asked her purple-haired friend to come closer, to take her hands and have fun with her, not simply watch from a respectful distance. Too improper was Arato’s reply.

She felt she could only walk behind, not beside Erina. But it’s pretty clear that’s not the case when Megumi brings up Arato and Erina reacts the exact same way Arato reacted when Souma brought up Erina.

So Souma tells her to work to become someone who can walk beside Erina, and in the meantime, stop the silly self-exile. He has just the excuse she needs: a bag full of manga he promised Erina. He gives Arato the bag and the directive to go back to her friend. Arato takes it and runs off with ebullient gratitude and optimism.

An all around triumph, this episode. Souma, Megumi remained largely their own likable selves, Erina kicked her usual ass, and most importantly I gained an entirely new and welcome appreciation for Arato Hisako, who no doubt will be less dismissive and confrontational towards Souma in the future. Seeing her in glasses was icing on the cake.

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Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun – Special – 02

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Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun’s Blu-Ray micro episode bonus feature number 2 is another just three minute-run and, like many long-form minis, it just feels like the carved 180 seconds out of a single full length episode.

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The Story: Waka is freaking out and stalking Seo around the school when he sees Chiyo and Kashima and Seo all agree to go on the drama club vacation and get swimsuits together!

Later, Waka intercepts them at the mall and gets brought along to try on swimsuits. He still doesn’t get it — even when Kashima goes in to try on a bikini!

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It’s funny that Kashima doesn’t like Waka and thinks he may be a pervert because I doubt the next mini will reveal Kashima’s gender… somehow. So I’m assuming this is all a setup for a future season maybe but I haven’t read the manga so I don’t know.

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Was this duo of specials a Pocky-like treat or was it just an empty box?

Mmmmmm… I’m leaning towards the empty box, personally. The eps are harmless, and make a lot of sense as bonus content for a disc-release but, if you’re going to miss any GSN dash K, this is what it should be.

If anything, just because hunting down all the chapters will eventually get more annoying that simply watching 30 seconds of flashback, if a flashback is even needed, at the beginning of a second season, is a second season every gets made!

Woo!

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