Yuru Camp△ – 11 – Campvengers: Sukiyaki War

Yuru Camp gets right down to the “final battle” of the season: the big unified Christmas Camping trip. After ten episodes of “forming a new team”, we finally get to watch them together in action, much like the Avengers was the culmination of numerous smaller stories. But first the team must meet at the appointed place and time: Asagiri Plateau Campgrounds, 2 PM.

There’s nothing like the beginning of these kinds of trips…so exciting and full of promise! Chiaki and Aoi are the first to arrive, having gotten a ride from Toba-sensei in her rugged-yet-cute Suzuki Hustler. They assure her not to worry about hiding her drinking, as she should enjoy the trip too. The next time they turn around, she’s tucking into her bacon and beer. It’s only noon, so they head to a nearby ice cream parlor.

Next to arrive is Rin via moped, who is also early. Even though she sees Aoi and Chiaki checked her in, they’re nowhere to be found (she fails to notice the sleeping Toba-sensei), so she sets her tent up where she feels is best, looking on her completed work with hands on her hips and a quietly spirited “Yosh!” A little later, “the hyper one” arrives, dropped off by her big sis.

Rather than join Aoi and Chiaki at the ice cream place, Rin whips up a tasty s’more-adjacent treat by placing stove-toasted marshmallows within chocolate sandwich cookies. Nadeshiko approves. When Aoi and Chiaki see that firewood is available for cheap, Rin takes her moped to their location to load it up…leaving one bundle for Chiaki to lug on her own.

Rin then gets a cryptic text from Saitou, saying she’s sent an “assassin” to the campsite. Turns out it’s just her fluffy Chihuahua Chikuwa, whom both Nadeshiko and Rin beckon to, only to be passed by in favor of the warm space beneath the sleeping Toba-sensei’s chair.

Everyone marvels at Saitou’s wonderful (and expensive!) down sleeping bag, then wander over to Rin’s spot to marvel at her setup. Rin isn’t used to the attention, but she doesn’t dislike it. Then the girls break out a frisbee and run around with the little kids, having fun and making the most of Asagiri’s wide open spaces.

As the sun starts to drop and the kids and their parents take off, the group has some hot cocoa—which of course Toba-sensei laces with rum. The group sits back and watch Fujiyama turn red, and then Aoi gets dinner started. Following the advice of her granny who told her to keep things simple when it comes to high quality beef (always good advice), she whips up a big pot of Kansai-style A5 beef sukiyaki.

When the sun is gone and it drops to freezing, Nadeshiko shows everyone her patent-pending “Blankiemonster” method of preserving body heat. Aoi delights in the different ways each girl reacts to the deliciousness of the dish, from Saitou and Rin’s quiet appreciation to Nadeshiko and Chiaki’s “full-body expressionism.” Toba-sensei cries because she forgot to bring sake, the perfect companion to sukiyaki.

Saitou then breaks out the Christmas trappings, including a little tree and Santa costumes for everyone and a reindeer headband for her pup. But Aoi isn’t done, using the leftover broth and onions and garlic fried in Chiaki’s skillet to make tomato sukiyaki, an altogether different experience.

When that’s done, she prepares for a third round of food, this time with cheese pasta. Only she and Nadeshiko seem game, but everyone else commits to no more than a bite or two, stuffed as they are. But disaster strikes: the stove runs out of gas, and Toba-sensei’s cylinder also runs out. Not only can they not use the range to make the pasta, but Nadeshiko won’t be able to make breakfast in the morning!

Nadeshiko starts to weep with despair, but Rin’s got this, changing back into her street clothes and heading out on her moped to a convenience store to buy more gas. Nadeshiko also asks her to buy a tube of ginger. Toba-sensei wants booze, but Rin’s too young to buy it, so tough.

As she heads out into the bitter cold night on her trusty steed, primed to return the hero of the group, a smile comes to Rin’s face: just as Saitou had said, it’s an entirely different vibe camping with a group, and especially so with this group of colorful characters. Rin admits that while it’s different fun, it’s still fun as hell—just as it’s ridiculously fun for the viewer to vicariously share in all their experiences.

Wonder Egg Priority – 06 – Omelette Rice

Now that each girl and the group as a whole have had their spotlight episodes, it’s time to return to Ohto Ai’s story. While she’s exhausted and sore from her last battle, Ai’s mom insists she get out of bed for breakfast. Her mom also made her omelette rice for lunch and they’ll be having sukiyaki for supper. Ai notes that they usually only have sukiyaki on special occasions. Then her mom asks if she’ll have a “proper talk” with Mr. Sawaki today.

When Ai joins the others, it’s clear she’s in a mood. First of all, she’s skipping emphatically, then starts kicking a traffic cone around and then a sandwich board that she accidentally shatters. The other three are understandably curious what caused this change in her. The four visit the Accas, who inform them of a new threat: Haters, who disguise themselves as Seeno Evils but are far more powerful.

Haters are the result of the four girls “standing out” by their protecting the egg girls. “Those who stand out pay for it”, Acca says, reminding me of how conformity was also the best defense in Ikuhara’s Yuri Kuma Arashi. They present the girls with a different kind of defense: cute pendants that awaken when spoken to in Latin and imprint upon their owners.

Each girl finds somewhere private to awaken their “Pomanders”. Neiru’s is a snake, Rika’s a turtle, Momo’s is an alligator, and Ai’s is a chameleon. While envy and spite birth the Haters that attack Ai and her latest egg girl, those same qualities are like “bread and butter” to her Pomander, who proceeds to gobble one up. As a big fan of beast-taming in FFXIII-2, I like the extra boost they provide to Ai as the difficulty level increases.

In life, Yoshida Yae could see dead people and “strong grudges” no one else could. Because only she could, no one believed her, and she was eventually committed. The facility was full of the very thing only Yae could see, which do doubt led to her suicide. Ai tries to keep her safe by hiding her, but this time the Wonder Killer itself is invisible.

While it’s a little confusing at first, it becomes apparent that Ai’s defense of Yae and battle against an invisible foe comes after the “special occasion” for which her mom is making sukiyaki: Mr. Sawaki is joining them for dinner…and not to talk about school. While the sukiyaki is a clue, it still feels like an ambush, especially when Ai is still drying her hair from a bath when he basically invades her safe space.

Ai’s mom and Sawaki aren’t done with the surprises, as they announce to her their intention to start dating, if it’s okay with her. YIKES. Look, I get it, her mom is divorced and ready to find love again, and Sawaki seems on the surface to be a kind and decent guy. But your daughter’s teacher, who was a major presence in both her and her only friend’s lives prior to Koito’s sudden suicide?

The cynic, i.e. the Rika in me smells something rotten in the state of Denmark. Just as she supposed Ai’s mom used Ai’s need for counseling as an excuse to make Sawaki’s visits a regular occurance, leading to their growing closer, Rika has even darker concerns based on her own mother’s relationships. In her experience, live-in boyfriends always abuse their girlfriend’s kids—violently if it’s a son, sexually if it’s a daughter.

When Ai tells the other girls about this, Momoe is giddily over the moon, as it could mean she and Ai could be family someday. She does not take Rika’s aspersion casting well, and not just because Rika makes a distinction between how a boy or girl would be abused. Momo trusts her uncle, and believes Rika is letting her perspective curdle Ai’s. For him to use Ai’s mom as a decoy to get to Ai…she just can’t believe he’d be that way.

And yet…sometimes it’s the closest friends and family members who have a blind spot where their loved one is concerned—just ask anyone who was close to someone who has been #MeToo’d in the last few years. “[What they are alleged to have done] isn’t them” is a common refrain. The bottom line is, Ai seems most troubled by the fact she still doesn’t know what caused Koito’s suicide, and as long as the mystery remains unresolved, Ai will understandably feel uneasy.

And then there’s Neiru’s input, which is to draw in so close to Ai she can’t hide her face. She brings up Occam’s Razor—the simplest theory is the best—and wonders if the bottom line is that Ai likes Mr. Sawaki. From where they each stand, Momoe, Rika, and Neiru all have valid reasons for how they feel about Ai’s predicament. There simply isn’t enough information for anyone to be proven right or wrong.

All that is certain is that the uncertainty is extremely frustrating for Ai, so much so that after getting beaten by Yae’s invisible Wonder Killer, and Yae tosses her prayer beads that enable Ai to see it, Ai wastes no time taking out those frustrations on the Killer, kicking and smashing it into oblivion.

Before Yae also vanishes, she gets to experience the release and relief of having Ai embrace her and tell her in no uncertain terms that she believes her. For Yae, Ai was the only one. Upon returning home, she decides to name her new chameleon buddy Leon. It’s a bit obvious, but it feels right.

The next day, it pours. Ai’s mom comes home while she’s still in the bad, and scolds her for leaving her dirty clothes out. When she says she’ll turn out the pockets before putting them through the wash, Ai bursts out of the bath without drying off, dresses herself, and runs out the door into the torrential rain. When her mom asks where she’s going, she defiantly yells “SCHOOL!”

Ai keeps running, and by the time she reaches her school, the rain has let up and the sky has become clear and beautiful. She spots Mr. Sawaki as two other schoolgirls are saying goodbye to him. She runs up to him takes hold of his arm, and catches her breath. It looks for all the world like she’s about to confess her love, but she doesn’t. Instead, she brightly declares that she’s going to start going to school again, purposefully brushing the hair out of her face to reveal her blue eye.

Ai doesn’t give Sawaki an answer about whether its okay for him to date her mom. She also doesn’t have any satisfying answers about Koito; at least not yet. Depsite all that, she’s emerged from her cocoon after a lengthy hibernation, and to give ordinary school life another go. Not for Koito, not for her mom, and not for Mr. Sawaki…but for herself.

Perhaps she was “egged on” (I’m so sorry) by her mom and Mr. Sawaki’s announcement, but defending all the egg girls and hearing their stories, as well as those of her fellow egg defenders, and even Leon helped her put her own situation into relief.

Avoiding school hasn’t brought her all the answers she’s sought since losing Koito. Maybe by returning to school they’ll reveal themselves…or maybe not! Either way, she’s moving forward with her her life. I just hope she didn’t catch a cold running forward through all that rain!

Uchouten Kazoku – 05

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Benten corners Yasaburou at an antique shop where he’s meeting with Kaisei and forces him to attend a night of sukiyaki with the Friday Fellows, with the unveiled threat that they’ll boil him if he isn’t entertaining. He dazzles the increasingly drunk fellows with his transformations, even changing into a sultrier Benten. One drunk fellow, Hotei, waxes lyrical about his love of tanukis, including an injured one he found in a thunderstorm and nursed to health. When Benten gets bored, she grabs Yasaburou and they share cocktails by the moonlight, she reminds him that one day she’ll eat him up.

Just as the tanukis ride pleasure barges through the sky during the fire festival, the Friday Fellows partake of tanuki hot pot every year because it’s what they’ve always done. “It’s the rule,” says one, warning that questioning it could spell excommunication in this very exclusive club of highly successful men plus the enigmatic, capricious Benten. As the alcohol loosens his tongue, Hotei points out to his fellow fellows that he doesn’t eat tanuki out of obligation to tradition, but because he truly loves them. He sees no hypocrisy in rescuing one tanuki – probably Yasaburou’s mother – then turning around at the end of the year and eating another – one of which was Yasaburou’s father.

Knowing Yasaburou and his family and the intricate lives and tanuki society, we still have a bit of a problem with Hotei’s glib attitude towards devouring them – and Benten’s similar feelings toward Yasaburou. Benten even admits that it makes little sense to eat what you love, because eating is a form of destruction, and then the thing you like will be gone, which is sad. But they almost can’t help themselves. Ultimately, despite our disagreement with their tradition, it’s fairer to look upon them not as villains, but as predators. Nature placed them higher on the food chain, and they’re only exercising the rights that position affords them. Eating what they love is their version of “idiot blood.”

8_great
Rating: 8 
(Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Yasaburou’s secret meeting(s?) with Kaisei are pretty cute…but we still haven’t actually seen Kaisei in the flesh. Show yourself!
  • Even though we stuffed ourselves with barbecue fare prior to watching this episode, that sukiyaki still made our mouths water.
  • We see Benten at perhaps her least adversarial as she has a cocktail with Benten (at the coolest “bar” in the universe). While she threatens him as usual, she makes it clear she actually really likes him, and is lamenting the fact she may not be able to stop herself from ultimately eating him.