The Day I Became a God – 10 – The Disappearance of Satou Hina

Hina is gone from Youta’s life, as well as those of Kyouko, Ashura, Sora, and the rest of the gang. After a period of restless but fruitless searching, life has returned to normal—or at least to what it was before Hina appeared—though Kyouko seems to hang out with the boys a lot more often.

Before they know it, their group of three friends swells to four with the addition of transfer student Suzuki Hiroto. Hiroto randomly approaches Youta one day, hacks his number onto his phone, and just like that, they’re hanging out on the regular.

He even has Youta and Ashura to teach him basketball, though he already seems pretty good at it. When the others suggest going out for burgers, Hiroto suggests ramen, so they go to Jinguuji’s. He suggests all four of them play a game, and so they play mahjongg.

Youta still tends to the “Lost Hina” posters around town, even if it seems futile, because each day he hangs out with his friends, there nevertheless feels a sense of emptiness, that Hina should be among them. When Hiroto asks if he can watch Sora’s movie, Youta vetoes, because it’s “not finished. Fall turns to Winter, and then entrance exams in the new year.

It’s clear by now to us that Hiroto is very consciously getting Youta & Co. to go through all of the same experiences they went through with Hina…but Youta’s melancholy is such that he doesn’t pick up on it until Hiroto loses his temper, gives up, and threatens to leave.

That’s when it dawns on Hiroto what he’s doing, and Hiroto reiterates that he’s a genius who do “just about anything”—and that includes letting Youta access to Hina. It’s just that his boss insisted that he not directly tell Youta why he showed up in his life; Youta had to figure it out for himself.

Now that he has, Hiroto offers him the opportunity to see Hina. He warns him that she won’t be the Hina he remembers, but Youta doesn’t hesitate for a moment. Just like that, Hiroto’s drive gives them a ride to the Yamada Sanitarium, where Hina is currently a patient.

Hiroto wielded his hacking magic to ensure Youta had full access, but only for a maximum of two weeks. He strides right in and is met by a matter-of-fact visiting researcher, who takes him to Hina’s room. We discover what’s become of her…and it’s predictably gutting.

Bedridden, lean, wan, and very out of it, it would appear her Logos Syndrome has picked up where it left off before her grandfather cured her with the quantum computer in her brain. When that computer was cruelly removed from her brain, they had to shave her hair, which has only recently grown back.

The researcher also warns Youta not to yell or be provocative, as Hina is acutely fearful of men, hence the all-female staff of the facility. She can’t discern between Youta’s anger for those who did this to her and anger directed at her specifically, and she freaks out. Their visit has to be cut short.

Youta sits outside in the cold, and snow starts to collect on his head. He is lost. The emptiness remains, and it expands and festers from the sheer heartbreaking injustice of it all. Hina didn’t do anything to deserve such treatment. Youta can scarcely believe this is real life. Not having a remote idea what to do, his confidence is flickering away like a dying flame in frigid winds.

Where does he go from here? My suggestion? Maybe slowly, gently try again with Hina…only KNOCK IT OFF WITH THE YELLING!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Day I Became a God – 09 – Higher Powers

Finally, Suzuki’s story fully merges with Hina and Youta’s, resulting in tragedy for all three—just as we’d suspected! Suzuki runs an analysis of Hina and Youta’s interactions and discovers that Dr. Korogi’s research has somehow enabled Hina to live healthy life despite her Logos Syndrome.

Under her influence the painfully ordinary Narukami Youta has achieved extraordinary things. This is all theoretically fascinating to Suzuki, but when his Handler reports his findings to the CEO, Hina’s Doomsday Clock’s hands accelerate towards midnight.

Before we’re invited to sow what we’ve reaped by fully emotionally investing in Hina and Youta’s relationship, we get a little context into where Suzuki Hiroto is coming from. A hacking prodigy from a young age, his parents exploited his talents for their own monetary gain. When he refused to continue on moral grounds, they beat him.

He now finds himself a virtual ward of a corporation and its CEO, likely as the result of a settlement that kept him out of prison—a glorified whitehat. He’s dreadfully frustrated to still find himself figuratively and literally under the heel of cynical humans who lack his intellect and imagination.

But while he may be smarter than virtually everyone, he’s not able to see how they’re exploiting his abilities and innate curiosity to basically dig Hina’s grave for them. He starts with a deep dive into the digital ether, visualized perhaps too on-the-nose-ly as a deep blue sea complete with dolphins, whales, and a very conspicuous red goldfish.

More than sticking it to the adults he hates so much and who have done nothing other than step on him, Suzuki above all wishes to have capital-W Worth, and at this stage in his existence he believes his hacking talent to be the sum total of that worth. So he can’t help but reach out and grab that which probably shouldn’t be touched, and as such, he seemingly achieves a digital connection with Hina.

That is, he’s able to access the quantum computer chip placed in Hina’s brain by Professor Korogi in order to cure her Logos Syndrome. Practically moments after his findings are presented to the CEO, they are run up the flagpole to Higher Powers, i.e. the government leaders of the world. Such people are concerned with far bigger pictures and longer games than the happiness of one boy, one girl, and one small circle of friends in Japan.

In fact, they believe that the continued existence of the quantum computer out in the world presents an unacceptable risk to global peace. They have decided—and have the power to enforce—the notion that the computer must be retrieved and hidden away until such a time that mankind is ready for it.

Once Hina is made aware of the order to apprehend her and take her computer, she apologizes to Youta, who thinks she’s trying to apologize for the sudden rainstorm she predicted before the drops fell. She isn’t; she’s apologizing for wrongfully assuming that because she in her omniscience could not see beyond thirty days, that it would be the end of the world…not simply the end of hers.

At no point does it occur to Hina that she could or should resist this fate; she is oddly detached and almost clinical in her confusion when Youta grabs her and runs out of the park pavilion as the film crew buys them time. Finally Youta stops and explains: He had fun this Summer with Hina, and doesn’t want to lose her. He wants to spend the rest of his life with her, because he loves her—something Hina never thought she’d hear from anyone other than her gramps.

He wants that to be enough of a reason for protecting her, but while Hina tearfully confesses she’s come to love him too, she still doesn’t believe there’s any sense in fighting that which her own omniscience has already decided cannot be fought. The pertinent governments of the world are unanimous: Her world is to end without delay.

The question is, will it really end? Suzuki managed to warn Hina, but only gave her enough time to say her rather rushed goodbyes. Could he somehow escape his handlers’ clutches and aid Youta & Co. in some way? Or will this outcome stand, Hina is doomed, and what comes next is Youta & Co. processing the grief and moving on with her memory in their hearts driving them to be better people?

Personally, I hope there’s still some way to save Hina despite the ridiculous odds stacked against the good guys. But I have to admit…It is not looking good!

The Day I Became a God – 08 – The Temporary Luster of a Miracle

Hina cries as she dreams of her late, beloved grandfather once again, but the next day—only the fifth left in the whole world—she’s her usual cheerful self as Sora shoots footage for the “making of” movie. Watching Hina interact with the others, he can’t help but want to know more about her.

If the world is to end as she says, he feels they’d be parting far too soon for his taste. So he asks his parents, and they’re refreshingly open with him. Hina isn’t a relation, but the granddaughter of a teacher and mentor to both of them. Her mother passed away, her father abandoned her, so gramps is all she had.

When he died, he made sure arrangements were made, dressing her up in conspicuous clothes so Youta’s parents would know it was her. They gladly took their mentor’s granddaughter in, but it’s up to Hina—and Youta—how long her stay lasts. It’s interesting to note that at no point do Youta’s parents mention the countdown to the end of the world.

The next day, Hina is ready for video games when Youta tells her he wants to find her real father. Hina is not nearly as enthusiastic about this, but if Youta thinks it will help him learn more about her, she’s game, and helps him locate his current residence. It just happens to be by the ocean, which Hina has never seen, so there’s a built-in incentive for her to come.

Youta comments that it almost feels like they’re eloping, but for the bento boxes his mom prepared for them. After a train ride, a bus ride, and a bit of a walk, they finally arrive at what looks like a dream house. Hina’s father guardedly welcomes them in. For a moment Youta believes neither her dad nor his wife can see Hina, but she merely requested a different kind of tea.

In truth they can see her just fine; they just have no idea the girl with lilac hair in nun cosplay is Hina. When Youta clarifies that it is indeed her, her father reacts as if he’s seen a ghost, while his wife drops her royal milk tea and completely loses it.

Hina’s dad moves their conversation to the beach and has Hina play with the family dog while he explains his shock to Youta. You see, he only knew Hina until age 7. All her life to that point, she suffered from the hereditary condition known as Logos Syndrome, which negatively affected both the brain and the muscles.

The last time he saw her she could barely stand or speak. As he tries to sort through his swirling emotions, part of him feels he should be angry, telling Youta how cruel it is to show him a healthy, happy Hina he had, to be perfectly frank, left for dead, and replaced with a new wife and kids. When Youta asks if there’s any way the father and Hina can reunite, he says it’s impossible.

Hina’s father already cut that bond, and every time an increasingly agitated Youta tries to take him to task for that—Your daughter is right there!, and such—he responds with “You’re young; you wouldn’t understand.” Youta admits he doesn’t, but Hina’s father says the time will come when he will. There is no cure or treatment for Logos, and he considers the luster of the miracle of a healthy Hina to be fleeting.

Hina has nothing to say to her biological father, so she and Youta take their leave. On the bus to the hotel where they’ll spend the night before returning home, Youta wonders what the point of the trip was. He’s pretty sure he would have preferred to remain ignorant of the existence of Hina’s father, just as he probably would have preferred not to know Hina still lived.

As for Hina, she’s her usual joyous, laughing self, playing with her food then getting excited about vintage Space Invaders in the rec room. When she notes Youta’s constant glum expression, she reminds him the world is about to end, which should be cause not to panic or despair, but to not worry about what one cannot control.

Youta has come to love Hina, as I have, but it sure looks like she’ll be a goner in four days. The rest of the world won’t end; Hina’s father and his happy family, Youta, Sora, their parents, Ashura, Kyouko, Kakou…they’ll all live on. Only Hina, who “became a god” 335 days ago, won’t be around in four more. But like Youta, I don’t want that, and I don’t want to believe her father.

Perhaps whatever treatment her grandfather administered allowed her to live for 339 days and no more. Or maybe Youta, possibly aided by Suzuki (who visits Hina’s dad that same night) and others, could end up saving her, delaying the end of her world indefinitely. One can hope…

The Day I Became a God – 07 – ‘Tis a Great Luxury

Seven days remain till the “end of the world”, whatever that entails (more on that later), so why spend them studying? Youta has the perfect out in the form of Sora completing her new script. Hina decides she’ll be the heroinc, but as Sora’s, like, the only member of the film club and her friends are, like, busy, it’s up to Youta to assemble a crew to shoot the flick.

Due to all of the good deeds Youta has done and lives he’s touched so far this summer, Hina assures him that all he needs to do is make some calls and he’ll get his crew. Sure enough, he gets the same group who showed up for the festival, plus Jinguugi’s ex-loan shark who mended his ways and Tengan Kakou’s, er…let’s call him her valet!

Like the festival, the film shoot enables these colorful characters to bounce off one another, particularly Hina and Kakou, who act like members of warring street gangs in their rivalry of one another. As Sora draws up some storyboards, Kakou and Kyouko watch Hina and Youta playing video games and are sticklers for the game’s lack of intelligent enemies.

Once the shooting starts, Youta quickly learns he must deal with Hina’s usual imperious old-timey way of talking even as she portrays a clumsy girl, since her character will eventually become the world’s savior. Kakou does the best she can do portraying an old man, while Hina and Youta share a surprisingly tender moment after she ruins a dozen eggs.

After Hina messes around with free CGI software to spice up the scenery of the footage, Director Sora wraps shooting for the day, and everyone goes their separate ways once more. Kyouko had so much fun she can’t help but smile and laugh to herself, and was particularly happy to see Youta and Hina get along so well.

Indeed, she even confesses to feeling a little jealous about their rapport. Back home, Youta wonders out loud if it’s really okay to be having so much fun when he should be studying…or preparing for the end of the world. Hina acknowledges that what they’re doing is a luxury, but one that is both called for…and earned.

Cut to Suzuki…Remember him; the hacker boy? In the final five minutes we follow him breathlessly from the back of a Lexus to infiltrating a lab where Dr. Korogi is believed to have spent time. Once in the server room, he digs up some research on “natural immune systems”.

Korogi’s old house is being demolished, so he and his handler Oguma must race to a junkyard to recover more clues. Suzuki saves some books and a frame picture from the chipper, and Oguma saves him from that same chipper. As for the photo, it’s of Dr. Korogi and…our girl Hina. With six days left, Suzuki and Youta’s worlds have finally merged.

Hina was the person Youta spent the most time with this week; before, during, and after the shoot. The reveal Hina is Dr. Korogi’s subject/creation gives their time together greater weight, and also contextualizes Hina’s belief in the imminent world’s end. More than ever, I’m convinced the “world” she speaks of is her own life, with the expectation that she will die having showed Youta a better way to live. Sounds pretty Maeda Jun-y to me!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Day I Became a God – 05 – Letting the Spell Land

Last week, many a viewer not well-versed in the minutiae of mahjong (such as myself) struggled to keep up with the onslaught of game rules and terminology, even as we were eminently entertained by the spectacle. This week mostly dispenses with the comedy and bombast to tell a far more accessible, relatable, and straightforward tale: how we deal with loss.

Izanami Kyouko’s mother is dead. She’s been dead for ten years, and ever since her death, Kyouko and her father have been different people. The loss of their mother and wife left such a gaping void in their lives, they couldn’t possibly fathom how to fill it. Rather than moving forward with their lives, they both remained more or less stagnant.

When Youta and Hina learn that Izanami’s father has barely left their house since his wife’s passing, and with only twelve days left till the end of the world, Hina has Youta lure him out onto the town with them under the pretense of helping find a gift for Kyouko’s approaching birthday.

While Youta and Hina are with Papa Iza, he marvels at a “future” in which curry is white, and they go on a culinary journey composed exclusively of cheese. Ultimately they learn that Kyouko’s mom left video messages for her and her father, but he hasn’t told Izanami about them nor shown them to her, no doubt terrified of how she might react to them.

Youta agrees not to tell Kyouko about the messages, but Pops didn’t say anything about Hina telling by means of a magical smartphone that enables Kyouko’s dead mother to speak with her. It’s actually Hina speaking with Kyouko’s mother’s voice, and just hearing that voice brightens Kyouko’s face and her day.

Hina is confident Kyouko’s knowledge of the videos will “shake things up” for her and her father…and she’s not wrong! Both Kyouko and her dad sit entranced when her mom appears on the screen, providing messages for her birthdays from age seven through eighteen. Her main message is for the two of them to buck up, “forget” about her, and destroy the video.

Back then, when she was near death, she was pleading for her daughter and husband to move forward without her…because they were without her, and there’s nothing any of them could do to change that. She stages it as a magic trick, complete with hat and wand, and Kyouko is indeed enchanted, compelled to abide by her mother’s final wish…for her daughter and husband to be happy.

As the gorgeous, heartbreaking, utterly devastating sequence during end credits deftly illustrate, they certainly were happy with her…they just have to learn to be happy without her. I can’t remember something making me cry this much since the infamous life sequence from Pixar’s Up—or hell, probably some other Maeda Jun work(s)! This was the Goddamn Tearjerker I’ve been expecting…and it’s probably only the beginning.

Again, thanks to Hina, Youta arrives at the cusp of a romantic breakthrough, this time with his childhood friend and longtime crush. Kyouko arrives at his door short of breath, her heart having rushed ahead of her head, to thank him for the magic phone call. Alas, Youta doesn’t feel right cashing in on what he considers “cheating” by Hina to bring them closer. But with just eleven days left till the end, he’ll soon find himself bereft of such precious opportunities.

GODDAMN TEARJERKER™ CERTIFIED

The Day I Became a God – 04 – Slapping the Winds Together

After a virtually incomprehensible cold open in which Suzuki watches an interview between two scientists that left me scratching my head, we’re back to the Narukami residence, with Youta catching the beautiful, brilliant lawyer Tengan Kakou on the TV.

Before he knows it, Hina is winning an online mahjong preliminary in his name, stamping his ticket to the in-person tournament organized by his TV crush! Even Izanami, a mahjong buff herself, attends along with his best mate Ashura.

I’m just going to put this out there: I don’t know jack-squat about competitive Mahjong, having only played the solitaire version that’s just matching up like tiles. Narukami is similarly a complete novice, but received precise divine instruction from Hina. His resulting tactics in the game do not conform to the traditional competitive play—which just happens to be what Tengan Kakou wants.

This episode seems like a case of me enjoying watching Narukami fall far behind as if he had no idea what he was doing (because he didn’t, he’s just following Hina to the letter) then come roaring back with some frankly ludicrous bending of the rules, which even leads to the adoption of Uno rules. At the same time, I kept feeling a bit left out due to my aforementioned ignorance of Mahjong’s rules and terminology.

Fortunately, what we saw probably couldn’t be described as anything resembling a “normal” game, and indeed there were times when it seemed the show was parodying serious obscure game competition shows like Chihayafuru. Youta simply kept bastardizing the obscure terms until he adopted a game language all his own.

Not only does he win fame (and likely a tidy cash prize), but the attention of Tengan Kakou, who is initially cordial in her congratulations but before long is macking strongly on someone I assumed hasn’t quite reached age 18. Those uncomfortable undertones aside, their use of Mahjong terms as double entendres makes for quite the side-splitting exchange between the two:

“I’d like to see your infinite reiichi.”

“But you can score! An incredibly high-value hand! It’s an extraordinary yaku you may never encounter again!”

“I’m in unrequited love with another woman, which earns me the furiten penalty. Therefore, I am unable to score!”

Sadly for Youta, the unrequited love for whom he spurned the Great Tengan Kakou (leading to her sic’ing her bodyguard on him, who tears off the sleave of the suit he borrowed from his dad) took off for home without waiting for him, rendering this entire enterprise somewhat pointless.

There are thirteen days left until the end of the world. Unless something of genuine substance comes from the hacker-and-scientist side of things, it’s looking like Hina’s goal isn’t for Youta to help her save the world from ending, but simply living his life to the fullest until it does end. Or perhaps these experiences are somehow preparing him to save the world when the time is right?

All we know is, Youta has performed a piece of music for Izanami, rescued a family ramen joint, and won a mahjong tournament all in the same summer, with more to come. He’s having himself quite a summer. Like the ridiculous mahjong match he played, I’m fine just enjoying the crazy ride for now.

The Day I Became a God – 03 – Shouting for the Future of Ramen

Youta’s little sister Sora has a strong sense of justice, since she feels obligated to help her senpai (and film club alumnus) Jinguuji Hikari out at her struggling ramen restaurant. Sora ended up getting chased by an unscrupulous debt collector, but her family and Hina won’t let her fight this fight alone. And by that, they all agree Youta should help her out.

Hina is supremely confident in her plan from the start, almost as if she knows how it will turn out—which I guess she does, seeing as how she’s a god and all. But it requires more strenuous work from Youta, who poses as a babyfaced 40-year-old “revitalization contractor” who promises to turn Hikari’s business around in a week—for the low price of ¥300!

Following Hina’s instructions to the letter, Youta practices tough love as he picks apart all of the flaws in Hikari’s menu and business model, and gets her to reformulate her ramen and develop a cold noodle substitute. He does this while shouting quite a bit, as if to shake the lovely Hikari from complacency.

Youta’s seiyu Hanae Natsuki is up to the task of strict taskmaster, and his detailed explanations for the changes Hikari is making—even changing the name from “Heavanward Ramen” to “Fallen Angel”—are delivered with hilarious conviction and intensity.

With the restaurant now serving food that’s tasty and cheaper to make, Hina’s next phase involves Youta the “40-year-old contractor” doing an interview for TV in order to create media buzz. The resulting segment is extremely well-produced, with Youta not just sitting in a chair between two ferns but in thematically-appropriate settings.

Like the film spoofs last week, Kamisama ni Natta Hi knows when to let its hair down and get silly, but here gets silly with such a stern straight face it accentuates the absurdity of, say, Youta’s claim to have worn the same one suit for ten years, even during his climb up Mt. Everest!

In an interesting segue, we meet a new character while he’s watching Youta’s interview in the back of a car. His fingers are bound and he’s being driven by a MiB handler, and we learn why when a mom calls out for her lost child: he’s some kind of master hacker who uses computer gloves to create a Minority Report-style floating 3D interface wherever he happens to be.

The silver-haired (and silver-tongued) lad quickly locates the lost daughter and reunites her with her mom, after which his handler re-locks his hands and return to the car. How exactly this hacker kid will connect with Youta and Hina, we’re left to speculate.

Meanwhile, Hina’s plan is a huge success, as there’s a line going outside Fallen Angel for its grand re-opening. That only leaves one more matter her plan must account for: the predatory lender. When he arrives to throw his weight around, Hina has Youta fight him.

While this would normally be impossible, as Youta is far more into basketball than martial arts, Hina laid out a sequential series of steps on the floor for Youta to follow so he’s able to dodge the low-level gangster’s punches and land a couple of his own, hastening the tough’s retreat.

With Hikari’s family business saved and the threat of the loan shark neutralized, Youta comes clean about being Sora’s brother, not uncle, and having never won a baby-face contest (as, he hilariously puts it, such contests don’t exist).

Hikari admits she already knew he was putting on an act (thanks to her film club experience) but adds that his efforts were real, as were their effect the restaurant. Youta, in turn, urges her to direct all praise to Hina. He’s not sure if she’s really a god, but is she isn’t that was a lot of coincidences, right down to his fight!

The episode closes with our learning the hacker’s name—Suzuki—as he’s been conscripted to find dirt on a preeminent quantum physicist and computer scientist. Could that be the guy who causes the end of the world, which is now in just seventeen days? We shall see. Until then, this was a fun “project” episode that gave Youta another chance to demonstrate he’s an uncommonly capable lad when following a divine plan.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shokugeki no Souma 5 – 03 – Black and Blue

OK, I LOL’d a bit at Megumi’s Gyaru transformation after tasting Souma’s pork cutlet fondue lunch kit…but there was a distinct feeling of the franchise scraping the bottom of the barrel. If Suzuki-sensei, AKA Saiba Asahi, is supposed to be the uber-villain of this whole series, let’s just say he’s falling short, despite the fact we learn a little bit more about him.

Saiba ends up defeating Souma easily with a far superior pork cutlet lunch kit, leading Souma to believe he’s a master tracer like Mimasaka. However, there’s a good reason his food is so similar to Souma’s diner-bred fare: he was the only student of Souma’s father Jouichirou. While he won Souma’s knife in the duel, he decides not to take it since he already has Jouichirou’s superior blade. What a dick!

When Erina eventually comes to, she’s in Saiba’s arms, being called a princess and being told that she’s going to be Saiba’s bride. I couldn’t help but think of Princess Jasmine’s line in Aladdin: “I am not a prize to be won!” Yet that’s exactly what this season is trying to do: eliminate her agency just as she’s taken over leadership of Totsuki so that she can be a trophy in a contest between two dudes. It’s a bit sickening, honestly.

The middle of this episode involves parallel infodumps regarding Saiba; one between Doujima Gin and Erina (who is in her workout clothes during the call for no reason other than fanservice) and Souma and his dad at the diner. We get what I believe to be the first clear-ish glimpses of his mother Tamako, but only in flashes. Bringing her up now, in the final season, seems a bit…late?

I love cooking, and for years I’ve loved Food Wars, but the formula frankly feels played out. I’ll confess to having less-than-stellar enthusiasm for The Fifth (and Final) Plate when it dropped in April. Three uninspiring episodes and over two months later, that enthusiasm has not improved. A lot of it has to do with the fact there was a finality to our heroes beating Azami, re-taking the academy, and taking their rightful seats in the Elite Ten.

To immediately introduce a new villain (not to mention Noir, whose members look like KKK klansmen in black) who looks almost exactly like the previous villain but lacks his gravitas (as well as that of seiyu Hayami Show) feels like running in place, if not going backwards. I feel like it’s going to be one long slog getting through this…so much so I may not get through it. And that’s a damned shame!

Shokugeki no Souma 5 – 02 – Tha Last Meal is Delayed

These first two episodes of SnS‘s fifth season weren’t supposed to be merely a two-part preview of a series that won’t return for many months, if ever. Yet that’s what happened, and it’s impossible not to approach this episode with that in mind.

With the BLUE Competition looming, Totsuki must pick three chefs (four if you count Erina, who’s automatically in) to represent the academy. They need not be in the Elite Ten, but any chef at Totsuki.

The resulting preliminaries are hastily organized and involve so many different chefs making different kinds of soup, it all ended up a bit of a chaotic mess—more a stream of things happening than the truly compelling culinary competition I’d expect of the best of Food Wars. This was the equivalent of throwing a bunch of stuff on the screen, be it dishes or “foodgasm” reactions, and seeing what sticks. Nothing much stuck.

Two of the winners of the three BLUE spots come as no surprise: Souma and Aldini, while the third is a bit of a surprise. Megumi gains first place with an initially “lame”looking dish of meatballs, until the judges discover that each ball contains a miso soup using miso from all of the areas of Japan. It’s definitely the most clever dish presented, both a symbol of her collected Good Times and a flavor tour of Japan. Megumi also reacts to her win with her usual fluster.

Later, while walking the halls of the school(!!!) Souma and Megumi are reeled into a first-year class at Suzuki-sensei’s request to regail the youngins of some Totsuki war stories. This sequence doesn’t last long enough to have much of an impact, but is merely the preamble to Suzuki staking his claim to ownership of Erina’s hand in marriage (despite looking a lot like an illegitimate son of her dad??)

Souma isn’t so ready to let Suzuki swoop in and marry Erina, while Megumi’s dialect breaks out in her head as she ponders a poential teenage wedding. Still, Souma accepts Suzuki’s challenge to a non-official shokugeki right here and now, with Megumi as the judge, all while Erina listens from the hall to people who apparently think she’s a prize to be won. Maybe leave it up to her who she’ll marry and when, my guys?

Of course, a cooking duel that was meant to take place next week will now come…TBA. And that’s pretty much that. Nothing much to do now but wait, and hope the wait was worth it!

Shokugeki no Souma 5 – 01 – Tha Last Meal Begins

It’s a New Day, yes it is at Totsuki Academy. The rebellion is over, the evil empire fell, and now it’s time to rule. Erina does the ruling as the new Director, while Souma achieved what he set out to do back on Day One of Year One: claim the First Seat of the Elite Ten.

Filling out the other seats are chefs he’s fought beside and against. For the final exams, Erina puts the new Elite Ten at several disadvantages as they attempt to make 3 million in profit with a ramshackle beach hut on the dark corner of the beach.

Erina seems genuinely happy in her new role leading the academy to educational and creative freedom. Similarly, she’s never had an easier or warmer manner with Souma. The two are two peas in a pod right up until he tells her she’s prettier when she smiles (she did not solicit such explicit flirting!).

Erina also learns a little about how Souma’s mom used to man the kitchen with his dad. I imagine we’ll learn more about this mystery mom this season. If not, we’ll never learn…this is the final season, isn’t it?

As for the exam challenge, the Elite Ten bounce off each other and bicker for the first two days as they try to get the hut in usable order, but they’ve been in stickier situations before, and as Souma tells a camo-bikini’d Ikumi (who has a lot of screen time this week—not complaining!) it’s the Elite Ten’s job to inspire the rest of the students by achieving the impossible.

In this case, that’s clearing over 3.5 million in just one day’s serving, thanks to putting their heads together and crafting a yakisoba with an irresistible Hayama-developed aroma that ensnares all of the customers on the beach at once. It’s a very quick and rushed challenge, but it’s fun to see everyone working together again without the threat of expulsion looming.

Two new antagonists emerge from this opening episode: first-year rich kid Dakekanba Ken, who vows to make Souma’s Elite Ten reign as brief as possible. Souma for his part admires the kid’s spirit—Ken’s doing exactly what he did, after all! A far larger threat seems poised to emerge in Suzuki-sensei, who shares Erina’s dad’s ghostly white complexion and hair, to the point I initially thought it was Azami with an assumed identity (for whatever reason)!

In any case, this new Defense Against the Dark Culinary Arts teacher admired by all for his good looks wouldn’t look this much like Azami if he wasn’t related. I’ve heard mumblings that the Food Wars manga kind of crashed burned with a disastrous final arc, but my completionist nature precludes me from not finishing the anime adaptation to the end, whether that end is bitter, sweet, salty, sour…or umami.

Bakuon!! – 08

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Its christmas on Bakoun is a remarkably bike-lite affair. Sure, the girls ride everywhere from start to finish, but the motorcycle-splanation is mostly contained by the first act, where Hijiri gets her first taste of non-sidecar cycling.

And honestly, focusing on the girls and their warm friendships during the cold winter season sits just fine with me. In many ways, underplaying the bikes and over playing how unnecessary they are — how unpleasant it is to start them in the cold or to ride them in cold wind — only emphasized how close our 4 ladies (and 1 ghost) have become over the last 8 episodes.

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In act 1, Hijiri puts her life on the line to ride the world’s best selling bike, a simple Honda. It’s a slow, simple and rugged bike that gives workers the world over the affordable flexibly to move people and material. And since Hijiri is so green (she doesn’t even ride bicycles!) the little Honda’s durability is put to the test, crash after crash after crash.

At one point, Hijiri is so angry she gets a giant sledgehammer and goes to town, only to have the bike start anyway. It’s a cute scene, and I took it as a play on the reliability of friendship central to the riding club.

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Act 2 happens around the club’s christmas party/gift exchange. Rin and Hane take center stage, with Rin being called away by her pizza delivery work and Hane being the glue of the club dressing up as santa to deliver Rin a present. Jesus also makes an appearance.

Act 3 pushes new years into the mix and ends with a frozen dash to see the first sunrise. It too is Hane focused, but this time her luck is all wrong: she’s cold and the hand warmer has failed and she lags behind the pack.

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Verdict: I smiled at the puns, I basked in the friendship, I enjoyed the monster skull on Hijiri’s silly bike. Nothing spectacular happened but it was a solid, pleasant romp with the girls — and there was no exploitation to be seen.

Having gone back and rewatched the last 2 weeks that I missed, I have to say if you missed them, you didn’t miss much. (it was a 2 part school festival arc focused on the club’s costumed bike race) By far, this was much worthier of my time.

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Bakuon!! – 05

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This week’s Bakoun is simple enough – the girls come to the northern end of Hokkaido and accidentally meet their recently-dumped sensei, who tries to commit suicide and, failing that, rape them. Later, the girls ride back to the ferry and lament their time on the island is over.

Along the way, Rin shows us that she is pure of heart and won’t run over the red foxes, even if they deserve it. Also, Frizzy-chan is remarkably insightful, even if her lines are corny.

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Then the girls put on bikinis and sexy-wash their bikes for the episode’s final five minutes in the most WTF pandering moment imaginable. Roll Credits…

If you can pretend the final scene didn’t happen, episode 5 has a lot of heart. Rin hanging back to balls-out test her max speed, only to be thwarted by the foxes in the road, only to be reminded of her humanity by Jesus’ holy cup, all had an honest feel to it. Almost a moral message, even.

But that final scene…what the heck? Watching Hane sploosh soap on her breasts so she can deep grind her bike clean, foam billowing up her crotch – and then having Rin do the same? Really??

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Sure, It was funny in a totally awkward way but man, following such a sweet, heartfelt story about girls on the road, the ending cheapens the whole thing. Roll in the totally weird attempted rape scene by their teacher halfway through and I don’t know what to think.

Yeesh Bakoun, you can be really funny without sexualizing your characters, you know? smh

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Bakuon!! – 04

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For summer break, the girls decide to tour Hokkaido. Why Hokkaido? Well… Rin was there a long time ago with her dad and had quite an experience. They wrecked while trying to avoid foxes on the road, her dad got parasites from the foxes and she was sent home alone on a train.

For some reason this realization doesn’t dissuade Bakuon’s girls and so they set in for a long ride and a string of misadventures. By the end, their relationships are a bit closer. Also, Hane finds Jesus.

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This week’s theme is fathers. Sorta. Rin’s father obviously features heavily and his hilariously terrible parenting is repeatedly on display. In addition to their terrible Hokkaido trip of old, we later learn that he jack-knifed Rin into the air and she landed on the hood of a car… only to be BRANDED with a Sazuki logo on her butt.

Speaking of butts, Hijiri’s butler is like a father too. He gives her sage (and wacky) advice about Ducati bikes having souls, which apparently makes them terrible self-destructive things. They also share a tender moment where he fears his days are coming to an end — that they will end when his bike next breaks down — only for it to immediately break down. Continuing to smile, they wait for the family’s ever present helicopter to fly in a replacement and act as if nothing has happened.

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And father of all fathers, a Jesus of sorts makes an appearance. While Onsa and Rin leave Hane behind, and her gas tank is nearly empty, there he is by the road. She shares what little gas she has and they creep to a gas station and he tells her about Bikes in the old testament.

Then he teleports her ahead of the other girls. A ferry ride to Hokkaido finally ensues and the adventure ends with a glorious dip in hot springs. Roll credits!

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This was, by far, the funniest episode so far. The details were great: Rin’s uniquely terrible life shames, the fact the Suzuki logo was put on the car backwards, Lime wearing a helmet in the bath, the weird ‘masks’ the various NPCs wear for no reason, the X-Ray to reveal a bike under an old painting, and the reveal of the fox parasites!

More than funny though, the episode had heart. The various relationships, be it rivalry or love, all grew and they all had fun in the process.

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