BokuBen – 03 – Acts of Defiance

In direct and efficient 78-second cold open, Yuiga’s mission is suddenly made tougher: Furuhashi and Ogata must receive an average score or higher on the upcoming midterms. Both the headmaster and their former tutor (pink hair) believe its in the best general interest to steer the girls towards the fields of study in which they excel, believing their desire to study elsewhere frivolous.

The ex-tutor even considers it negligent not to press more strongly for the girls to get in their lane. The adults aren’t factoring Furuhashi or Ogata’s dreams or happiness into the equation. But Yuiga has been here before himself, and so he’s uniquely equipped to empathize with and fully support them in their bold endeavor to forge their own paths based on their passions, not their natural gifts.

Of course, only Furuhashi and Ogata overhear the headmaster and tutor, and now feel the pressure to succeed lest another tutor—and their favorite by far—be relieved of his duties (though I can’t imagine that would have stopped him from tutoring them anyway). Takemoto wonders why they look so down; she can sense the sudden heightened pressure now on their shoulders, and Ogata’s commitment to get results.

Now that all parties (save Takemoto) are aware of the raised bar for those results, Ogata, whose Japanese midterms come first, asks Yuiga to come to her house to supervise her studying. The fact she’s so comfortable not only inviting him, but also interacting with him at her family’s udon restaurant, speaks to the evolution of their relationship from adversarial and suspicious to something far more like a real friendship.

Meanwhile Yuiga isn’t just doing this so he’ll get a free ride; he has a philosophical horse in this race, plus he just likes these girls and wants to help if he can…not to mention Ogata looks fantastic in her restaurant outfit. He doesn’t know he’ll be fired if they fail, so Ogata simply asks the rhetorical question of what will happen if she fails. His answer—they’ll just keep studying for the next test—is comforting…as is his patting of her head.

When the day of the test comes, Ogata is immediately fearful when she sees parts of the test are areas she didn’t study as thoroughly, but resolves to do her best, and lo and behold, she scores an above-class-average 71, to her own bewilderment and Yuiga and Takemoto’s delight. Ogata refrains from mentioning out loud that a little bit of dumb luck factored into that score, but that’s just another reason to keep at it.

That means it’s up to Furuhashi. Only problem is, she has a cough and a high fever. Yuiga suggests she delay and take the make-up test; she declines, as it would mean an automatic 20% deduction in score (which hardly seems fair). To prepare, she invites Yuiga and Takemoto to her house…which turns out to be huge, with a genkan with more square footage than Yuiga’s living room.

Being unaccustomed to visiting female classmates at home, Yuiga takes Furuhashi’s “just come on in” too literally and walks in when she’s topless. Yuiga realizes the error of his ways and stays out until needed.

Just like he saw Ogata in a new light at her home, Yuiga learns something new about his old pal Takemoto: she’s a superb cook. When he likens her appearance to that a new wife, Takemoto’s imagination conjures a scene of domestic bliss between her and a salaryman Yuiga.

Turns out Takemoto was right: some hot food and rest were just what Furuhashi needed, and she feels ready for the midterms. Like Ogata, she voices her hope that he’ll keep tutoring her, and that she trusts she’ll reach her dreams if she sticks with him. Yuiga is flattered, but urges Furuhashi, whos pajamas a a little see-through, return to bed.

Furuhashi manages a score higher than average as well, impressing the headmaster and further irking the former tutor. Yuiga and the three girls celebrate at a family restaurant. Yuiga may not know that his tutoring job and VIP consideration was just saved.

With Ogata and Furuhashi out of the woods, the second half of the episode focuses on Takemoto Uruka, and IMO reinforces her standing as Best Girl. Her swim club friends, impatient with her pureness and lack of progress in nabbing Yuiga, take matters into their own hands by taking her to a hip clothier and dressing her up all adorable-like; a way in which she can’t help but feel extremely self-conscious.

In this suddenly out-of-sorts state achieved by her caring friends, Takemoto has no idea how she’d act around Yuiga, but immediately gets her chance as the two cross paths in town. Since she’s right next to the bookstore, she tells him she’s going to buy some textbooks; he decides to join her, while failing to remark on her very different and extremely cute new look.

While initially weary, Takemoto soon finds comfort and joy in being so close to Yuiga; feeling the warmth of his shoulder and feeling his breath in her ear as he talks. A little boy points at them and declares them a couple, and when a kid does that you know you look like one.

Outside the store, they come across a store selling an accessory Yuiga’s sister wants; but the competition to win it is couples-only. Sensing another opportunity, Takemoto seizes Yuiga by the arm and leads the way.

The competition turns out to be a “princess carry” endurance contest, and Takemoto is worried she’s too heavy because she’s recently gained a lot of muscle in swim club. She soon tears up about the prospect of being too heavy for Yuiga, but he interprets those tears as abject embarrassment over having to be held by him, and he commits himself to winning the contest, which they do.

Takemoto is happy beyond words. Her friends dressed her up cute so she’d more easily “attack” Yuiga, but the fact is she’s always wanted to be a princess; people have just noted her athleticism and placed her in the “tomboy” mold, and inertia has kept her there.

It was immensely fun to watch Takemoto’s girly side openly expressed. She was the third of three girls this week defiantly moving against the grain set for them by others, and her resulting glee really emanated through the screen. She may not have confessed—and perhaps never will!—but spending a day as a couple was at least something, and seemingly enough for her for now.

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BokuBen – 02 – The Third Tutee

When Yuiga reports the girls’ slow but steady progress to the headmaster, he gets a surprise: the assignment of another troubled student. This time, it’s someone he knows, and who has mooched homework and notes from him since middle school: the “Shimmering Ebony Mermaid Princess”, Takemoto Uruka.

While Furuhashi is a poet and Ogata is a scientist, Takemoto is a straight-up jock; going so full-on with swimming that she doesn’t even have time for studying. But as Yuiga informs her by the pool, colleges want more well-rounded enrollees, which means she’s going to have to study.

Takemoto reacts by physically running away, and while giving chase Yuiga falls in the pool and can’t swim. Takemoto rescues him, but he then captures her, and the first time Furuhashi and Ogata see the two together, it looks awfully like he’s assaulting her! Thankfully the misunderstanding is cleared up and the three become fast friends (or at least, Furuhashi and Takemoto do).

There’s another wrinkle to this beyond Yuiga adding to his stable of talented beauties: Takemoto likes him. She’s had feelings ever since she fortuitously overheard him say how he wouldn’t just give his homework and notes to anyone, and admires how much she sacrificed to be the best swimmer she could, and wants to help her if he can. Again, Yuiga is a nice guy, even when he thinks nobody’s watching.

He’s such a nice guy, he allows Ogata to come by his house (while his family is out) with the blatant bribe of her family’s udon (of which they’re quite proud) in exchange for help on an essay her teacher has rejected numerous times. The tutoring is interrupted by a invite to karaoke by Takemoto, but when Ogata mentions she’s at Yuiga, the ground shakes and suddenly Takemoto is there in a flash (she is a jock, after all!)

While she’s not overt about it, Takemoto probably isn’t so high on the idea of another girl spending time alone at Yuiga’s, so she invites herself to join the tutoring session. Only they get almost nowhere when the power goes out.

Ogata uncharacteristically clings to Yuiga, clearly afraid of the dark despite unconvincing claims to the contrary; Takemoto wants in on the fun too and so pretends to be afraid so she can cling to him too…only is too bashful and merely grabs some fabric.

Yuiga comforts the girls by crafting a makeshift candle that he studies by during the frequent blackouts his house experiences (another reminder of his family’s modest means). He reflects on how the lack of electricity brings people closer together, both physically and emotionally.

When Takemoto accidentally blows it out, he fumbles around in the pitch black; not a great idea when there’s two girls in close proximity. When the lights are back on both of them are scandalized and Ogata flees in a huff, but later we learn she managed to write an essay her teacher accepted, all thanks to Yuiga’s reflections on darkness and closeness.

A pink-haired teacher who will no doubt join Yuiga’s group at some point seems almost jealous of the progress he’s making with the girls no one else could successfully tutor. That brings us back to Takemoto, who cannot for the life of her memorize the meanings of any English words. She’s got swimming on the brain, at all times.

After hours of futile family restaurant studying, Yuiga gets creative: if she wants to swim, he’ll let her. With Furuhashi and Ogata’s help, he designs a studying method uniquely suited to Takemoto’s stengths, diving underwater to grab the correct meaning of 50 out of 50 English words, all because she can truly focus when she’s in the water. Perhaps she is a mermaid who one day grew legs…

Takemoto decides to thank Yuiga properly by presenting him with a gift in a bag that’s of a very similar color to Tiffany & Co., out of gratitude both for his tutoring and all the other assistance he’s rendered over the years, and as a token of her unspoken feelings for him. I personally maintain they’d make a good couple, but she’s gotta speak up and he’s gotta be made aware!

There’s also the little matter of her giving him the wrong Tiffany-colored bag, so instead of a new pencil case, he got her used swimsuit, something for which he can only scratch his head and ask why; while at home with his intended gift, her plan totally undermined, all Takemoto can do is writhe furiously on the bed, asking for someone to please kill her now…

Takemoto is a welcome addition to the cast. I have a soft spot for childhood friend-characters, especially energetic athletic types (regardless of their success in winning the guy/girl) and her feelings for him are both clear and justified, even if her refusal to ever act on them is frustrating. The easy, caring way Yuiga interacts with them makes it easy to understand why both she and others are fond of the guy. Takemoto is also, frankly, freaking adorable.

I also appreciated that the show kept Furuhashi out of Yuiga’s home study session in order to give the other two girls’ interactions room to breathe; no doubt she’ll get more attention, and Ogata or Takemoto less, in a future episode. And then there’s still two more girls yet to get their official intros, including the pink-haired teacher. Along with One Punch Man 2 and Carole & Tuesday, I think I’ve got my Top 3 Spring shows locked in!

BokuBen – 01 (First Impressions) – Don’t Forget the Frustration

BokuBen or We Never Learn pulls off a fine trick; one so admirable knowing the potential underlying cynicism for its formula doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the show. First, it draws you in with its catchy, vibrant OP, two girls as lovably drawn and animated as Trigger or Shaft fare, and brings three consummate-professional seiyuu in Shiraishi Haruka (wonderful as Asirpa in Golden Kamuy), Tomita Miyu (excellent as Abyss’ Riku) and Osaka Ryouta (from everything) to the party.

Then, once you’re at that party, you learn that the beauty is more than skin deep, and that the three main characters presented so far are richly detailed and both their dreams and motivations are clearly and strongly defined. More to the point, all three are extremely likable rootable characters, so let’s meet ’em!

Osaka’s Yuiga Nariyuki is your standard hard-working kid with a good heart. We learn his family is poor, his father deceased, and later, that he’s the man of a dilapidated house, desperate to help hold both it and the family within it together. And there’s your motivation for why he’d accept almost any condition in exchange for getting a free ride at the college affiliated with his high school.

That condition involves him having to tutor the two school geniuses, Furuhashi Fumino (Shiraishi), the “Sleeping Beauty of the Literary Forest”, and Ogata Rizu (Tomita), the “Thumbelina Supercomputer.” Those amazing nicknames are incredibly accurate in describing the two girls’ strengths, but fall far short of describing the full measure of their respective characters.

That is because Furuhashi, a genius in liberal arts, wants to go to college for science, while Rizu, a genius in science, wants to go to college for liberal arts. The scenario almost too deliciously perfect, right down to their hair and eye color resembling Eva’s Rei and Asuka.

Yuiga quickly learns that Furuhashi is as hopeless at math as Rizu is hopeless at literature, and that this will be no easy task. But the reward will be getting into college without burdening his family, which makes it worth the challenge.

At first, his frustration with their ineptitude in the fields they wish to pursue, and suggestion that they simply tutor one another, lead the girls to suspect that he’ll abandon them just like all the (numerous!) previous tutors. I mean, he’s saying the same thing they all did: stick with what you know, you’re both geniuses in that! Let your talent take you as far as it can! USE YOUR GIFTS.

But like any gift someone didn’t specifically ask for (nor had the opportunity to do so) if it’s not something they wanted, they should be free to pursue something they do.

The polite, apologetic, self-berating Furuhashi and fiery, direct, and suspicious Rizu may differ in many ways but one way in which they do not is in their steadfast determination not to take the paths of least resistance, nor let a consensus of outside voices they had no control over determine what they should be.

In their haste to take their leave of yet another tutor who doesn’t understand where they’re coming from, the girls leave their practice books behind with Yuiga, and when he finds them packed with notes proving how hard the two of them worked to understand, Yuiga proceeds to understand where they’re coming from, because it’s a place he’s been to too.

Yuiga used to suck in school, and remembered the pain and frustration of simply not understanding something, not matter how hard he tried. He’s able to empathize with them not possibly being happy if they gave up on what they wanted to do simply because what they could do was easy.

So he supplies them with advisory notes and suggests they study in the library together. I loved how he got so into his explanation of how he got them and relates to them, it sounded at first to both of them that he was confessing his love for them at the same time! Thankfully, he’s able to quickly diffuse that misunderstanding and they head to the library.

There, Yuiga learns another layer of difficulty beyond the practical matter of getting these two into the colleges of their choice—the fact that he’s a high school guy, and they’re both insanely cute high school girls. Getting his VIP recommendation and free ride doesn’t just mean making sure they succeed; he has to continue keeping his grades up.

But it’s hard to focus when, for instance, Furuhashi nods off and rests her head on his shoulder, during which he gets a whiff of her hair, or when Rizu draws in so close to show him a problem that her chest brushes against his side. Yuiga’s romantic history isn’t mentioned here (it’s likely he’s devoted all his time to studying and improving his grades), but it’s clear both of those events were probably firsts for him.

Meanwhile, Fusuhashi and Rizu remain charmingly unaware of the effect they’re inadvertently having on Yuiga. I appreciate this distinction: they’re not intentionally flirting with him, nor are they in conscious competition for him. This is all in Yuiga’s head right now. They’re both there to study. So when he starts blushing and breathing heavily, they assume he’s not feeling well due to a fever.

Yuiga’s interactions with Furuhashi and Rizu post-“confession” plumb satisfying new depths in both their character stories, both for Yuiga and me. Those new layers further explain why Furuhashi and Rizu are pursuing fields opposite their strengths, and it isn’t just for the sheer challenge.

Furuhashi wants to pursue a career in astronomy because she loves the stars and wants to have a closer connection to them, especially as one of them might be her late mother’s star. Meanwhile, Rizu’s family owns an udon restaurant, but while on break between deliveries she is playing a card game for 2-10 players…by herself. Yuiga plays her learns she sucks at it, but she still loves board and card games, and wants a career that will help her understand more about the human emotions that blend with the math to make those games special.

In both cases, Yuiga promises both he’ll support them, and again, their conversations take a turn that could be construed as romantic, only this time he isn’t being supportive to them both at the same time, like his “confession,” so each girl has more cover to express their gratitude for his continued support.

The episode closes by putting faces on the family Yuiga wants to protect: his mother, two younger sisters, and younger brother. But he’s no mercenary in this effort; and his family is no longer the one and only reason. He seems genuinely invested in working to help secure Furuhashi and Rizu’s happiness, as someone whose late father urged him to value failure, and the pain and frustration that result form it, as among the most important teachers in life.

When he’s approached by both Furuhashi and Rizu at school in front of his friends, and both of them whisper in his ear not to mention to anyone what they talked about last night, it creates a third layer to Yuiga’s increasingly complicated mission: the social aspect outside the trio’s dynamic. This is high school; rumors will spread and misconceptions will develop. How will the three of them deal? Not to mention there’s a third girl on the horizon: one who may be a genius in swimming.

I’m over 1200 words here, so I should wrap this sucker up—BokuBen had a very strong start, as I’m invested in everyone I’ve met so far. It’s a great-looking show with great-sounding seiyuu and has a very promising premise. If it can maintain the quality of its premiere, I’ll have no problem tuning in.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 23 – The Natural

I was a little out of the loop regarding Isshiki’s pedigree, but that’s cleared up early this week: the Isshiki family has been, along with the Kinokuni family to which Nene belongs, one of the two pillars of Japanese cuisine in Kyoto. Not only that, when he turned four, Isshiki moved in with the Kinokunis to train away from home.

As such, he and Nene have known each other since they were little kids…though Nene resists the assertion that they’re “childhood friends.” When Satoshi asks why she’s always so opposed to his existence, she says “you know why.”

The judges are also introduced as belonging to the revered book of restaurant ratings known as the WGO Guide, led by their marshal Anne. The WGO is akin to the real-life Michelin Guide, giving one to three stars to gourmet restaurants which propels them to the apex of the culinary world. They’re kingmakers and kingbreakers.

Taking stars away can lead to a restaurant’s ruin, as well as the end of that chef’s confidence. Anne notes quite blatantly that Yukihira Diner isn’t even in “The Book”, but makes it clear that this fact has nothing to do with the Shokugeki at hand, and that she and her two colleagues will judge the dishes put before them with fairness and impartiality.

Shiratsu Jurio presents his dish: the quintessentially Italian capitone in umido. With a rich San Marzano tomato sauce and crispy-creamy polenta perfectly complementing the fatty umami of the eel, the judges feel like they’re being cradled in a large bosom of flavor. It’s a masterpiece of by-the-book Italian cooking, and a testament to Jurio’s tireless hard work trying to reach Isshiki’s level.

Isshiki’s dish is not traditional Japanese or anything else, except in its very basic structure, that of Hitsumabushi. However, this is “Polar Star Style”, which integrates a number of ingredients developed (and in some cases not yet perfected) by his beloved Polar Star juniors, which he admits he just flat-out stole from them in order to showcase their skill in their individual specializations.

It really is the best dish someone fighting for the rebellion could present: one that doesn’t just show the judges what a good chef he is, but the potential of chefs below him, as well as his own judgment and confidence in their skills, even if they don’t have the same confidence in themselves.

Satoshi wins the match with Jurio running away, but after curt congratulations, Nene tells him she’ll defeat him in the second bout. She sees this as yet another example of Satoshi, whom she’s known longer than anyone else present, excelling at things with minimal effort, as he did with everything she threw at him when they were kids.

Things that took her endless effort came frustratingly easily to Satoshi, but what has always angered her more than anything is that is was so clearly she felt he wasn’t putting in 100% of his effort. If he did, he’d surely have been above her in the Elite Ten rankings. Really, she’s not disputing his greatness, but lamenting that he isn’t as great as he could be if he, say, worked as hard as she has.

That distinction in her long-standing grievance with him makes all the difference; this isn’t petty jealousy, but disappointment. However, Satoshi tells her they won’t be facing off in the second bout, because Souma is going to defeat her. With one episode until the 24-ep mark, we’re potentially looking at tresults of the remaining two matches in this first bout.

Will Souma beat Nene with his “instant soba”, or will Nene crush his “desperate improvisation” with her Elite soba knowhow? Can Megishima make it a clean rebel sweep by defeating Kaburagi? Or will one of the remaining two rebels fall to Central, making the other win the clincher? We shall see.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 22 – Family Matters

Souma, Erina, Megumi and Takumi’s recently expelled friends arrive on Rebun Island, granted permission by Azami to watch what he believes will be the decisive crushing of the rebellion with one swift stroke. It’s at the shokugeki arena when we’re reminded just how large a portion of Totsuki is totally in the bag with Azami, from the demented idol Urara to the plebs in the stands, to the extremely quality collection of Elite Ten chefs he’s installed.

The crowd is firmly against the rebels, and at moments, I must admit that even I felt occasional pangs of doubt just from the sheer charisma of the majority. Central is making the rank-and-file students’ lives easier, but at the cost of stifling unsolicited creativity and innovation. Meanwhile, the expelled are treated like literal convicts and must watch the shokugeki from a giant cage with iron bars, which is a bit much if you ask me!

In order to match the Elite Ten’s eight current members in numbers, the rebel quartet recruited the most elite chefs available: former third-seat Megishima (whom we’ve seen very little of, but if he was third-seat he must be something), Isshiki (whose first loyalty is to his kohais), Kuga-senpai, who wants to stick it to the Installed Eight, and our favorite stalker chef, Mimasaka Subaru. That’s a damn good team!

Team leaders Azami and Erina agree to start with three duels, and the fixtures are Isshiki vs. eighth-seat Shiratsu Jurio; Megishima vs. fifth-seat Kaburagi Shouko, and Souma vs. … sixth-seat Kinokuni Nene. While what we get about who she is is a rapid-fire affair, the show has proven adept and quickly making characters people we can care about, even if they’re not on the right side. They also saved Hanazawa Kana, employing her huskier voice, for the role of Nene; an elite seiyu for an elite character.

Despite her participation in the Azami regime, Nene is a woman of honor and propriety, well-bred in traditional Japanese cooking, dance, music, calligraphy…and soba making. Her family owns the final word in soba restaurants, and if she comes off as a bit aloof, well, she’s earned it. She hasn’t glided her way to where she is on the backs of her family name; she’s worked her own ass off.

When Souma, in his infinite bad luck at the worst times, manages to pick “soba” from the random battle themes, Nene is justified in declaring she’ll mop the floor with him. It’s calm, cool confidence, not cockiness. Her textbook handmade noodlemaking skills are unparalleled, having been honed over years. Souma can’t compete with them, so he doesn’t try.

Instead, he makes the best soba noodles he can possibly make, which in his case, means using a machine. What’s worse than machine-made noodles? Badly-handmade noodles. Juichirou warned his son that his usual seat-of-the-pants, bold-for-bold’s-sake improv act won’t cut it against such highly-specialized talents as Nene. He has to know when to make a strategic pivot, not take the bait, and wait for an opportunity.

At the same time, his win over Hayama due having made something that best represented the chef he is, Souma isn’t doing a rarified-air flavor only a paltry few can comprehend, let alone enjoy. The “time and history” from which he’ll draw power is in his diner upbringing: creating flavors with wide appeal, yet elevated to gourmet status for the shokugeki.

We then pivot to the second of the three first duels, an eel battle between Isshiki and the never-before (by me at least) seen or noticed Shiratsu Jurio. Like Nene, he has a lofty pedigree; as his family has served the Italian consulate in Japan for years and is highly regarded in both countries’ culinary circles. He’s also a master of stagecraft with his various “rondos.”

Where Nene trash-talked Souma with mostly quantifiable facts and logic, Jurio tries to get under the almost eternally-cheerful Isshiki’s skin by castigating him for betraying his own bigshot family. When that doesn’t work, Jurio insults the Polar Star expellees, and immediately wishes he hadn’t.

Leave it to Isshiki to let all insults directed at him and his biological family slide off like raindrops off a fireman’s helmet, but hearing his beloved dormmates dragged lights in him a fire and energy that wasn’t there earlier in the match. Isshiki resolves to crush Jurio simply for running his mouth.

The third match is barely mentioned, but I’m sure we’ll learn more about the rarely-seen Megishima and virtually never-seen Kaburagi next week. As for who will win, well…I can’t see Souma ever achieving the goal of becoming first-seat if he can’t beat a sixth at her specialty. He’s gotta win, somehow.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 21 – The Storm

As the Central Elite Ten trains hard for the upcoming Team Shokugeki and an exhausted Erina sleeps soundly after standing up to her father for the first time, Souma, Megumi and Takumi finally learn what exactly happened between Jouichirou, Gin, and Azami back in the day when they were all Polar Star members at Totsuki.

As Souma hears from his pops and the other two hear from Gin, the three were inseparable friends, but Jouichirou was so far ahead of Gin and Azami in sheer culinary talent and innovation it wasn’t even funny. Gin, one of Totsuki’s most accomplished graduates, has a 20-101 record against Jouichirou. I doubt the Azami of the time would have fared any better.

Meanwhile, Jouichirou was a lot like Souma in not taking anything too seriously, and occasionally making weird gross dishes for lil’ Shiomi Jun to taste. We later learn the stark difference between why Jouichirou and Souma engage in such a practice.

(I’ll also note that the fact the three amigos are voiced by extremely talented veterans in the present works against them in the flashback; none of them sound remotely credible as middle/high schoolers.)

In the lead-up to Jouichirou’s entry into the predigious BLUE competition for up-and-coming chefs, he is challenged to a Team Shokugeki against one of Totsuki’s old money family heirs who wasn’t good enough to get into the Elite Ten. Jouichirou decides he’ll go up not only against this loser, but 49 of his friends in a 50-on-1 marathon.

You’d think Jouichirou would be at a huge disadvantage, but no number of inferior chefs can make up for a once-in-a-century talent like him, so it’s no contest. Gin is worried about the chef Jouichirou had to become in order to win such a contest, but Azami is delighted, as Jouichirou is nicknamed “The Demon” and is no longer seriously challenged by anyone at school.

Jouichirou continues to crush outside competitions, but as BLUE approaches, he slowly begins to shut down, no longer knowing what he’s doing or why. He ends up flaking out on BLUE, and Senzaemon, who had predicted that a talent as huge as Jouichirou would eventually turn in on itself.

Jouichirou, Gin, and Azami were at the top of the Golden Age of Polar Star, trudging through a great storm in the desert, seeking out new flavors and ways of doing things. But Gin and Azami let him get too far ahead, and he lost himself. Senzaemon suggests Jouichirou leave Japan—and leave cooking—for a time to try to restore what so much success had caused him to lose.

Years later Gin gets a call; Jouichirou has been back in Japan for a while, has a son and a diner. Gin is just happy he’s cooking again. But Azami isn’t as forgiving. He idolized Jouichirou, and seeing him brought so low was traumatizing. He isn’t just revolutionizing Totsuki and global cuisine to stick it to Jouichirou, but to make sure Jouichirou’s sad scenario is never repeated.

While admirable on some levels, it’s also a choice that will ultimately lead to stagnation. Jouichirou had the talent to go as far as he did, but lacked the tools to deal with the inevitable trials that befell him. His son is the opposite; perhaps far less talented, but a lot stronger when it comes to accepting his weaknesses, staring failure right in the nose and drawing strength from every setback.

It’s why Souma never stops battling his pops, even with an 0-490 record against him. And it’s why I believe Azami’s team will lose. After all, it won’t just be Souma out there alone.

Imouto sae Ireba Ii. – 01 (First Impressions)

Our protagonist wakes up with his little sister Alice, naked as a jaybird, sitting on top of him. After giving him a sloppy kiss with tongue, he washes his face in her bathwater, wipes it dry with her bra, then sits down to breakfast with her (still naked) and some random other girl. He drinks Alice’s milk(?), eats an omelette with Alice’s eggs(?!?) and she wipes his mouth with her underwear, which he then eats (?!?!?!?1?!!!2)…

But wait! This isn’t the show, thank God. It’s just novelist Hashima Itsuki’s demented idea for a follow-up to his last piece, which had precious little to do with little sisters. It’s a story that’s rudely but mercifully interrupted by a hearty “WTF” from his editor, who summarily rejects the disgusting tale.

First of all, great fake-out, show. You had me going there. I was ready to switch off the TV and go hide in a deep dark hole to get away from that trash. It pushed all the buttons of what a “little sister rom-com” would be in these trying times, then kicked it all up to 11.

The actual show is much more tolerable, even if it suffers from some of the same problems as Itsuki’s treatment, only far more low-key. Itsuki is an unrepentant siscon…but doesn’t actually have a little sister. He does have a very cute, responsible, hard-working, androgynous younger stepbrother in Chihiro, as well as a kohai in the silver-haired novelist Kani Nayuta. His fellow novelist Haruto and friend Miyako round out the group who converge on his apartment for a nice dinner party.

Everyone sits around while Chihiro does all the cooking like some kind of traditional housewife. Rather than help out, the others spend most of the episode having a lot more fun playing a “lateral thinking puzzle” than I had watching it. A bunch of diagrams and graphics are used, but the whole thing seems like a stall, which in a first episode that already scared the shit out of me in its cold open, is…not great.

The game is an opportunity to demonstrate what a dirty mind the silver-haired Kani Nayuta has, as she’s constantly throwing lewd comments Itsuki’s way; a clear indication she likes him, but getting little in the way of a response from the little-sister-obsessed Itsuki.

The two end up alone together, but nothing comes of it, and she retires to the hotel room where she’s supposed to be holed up working. As Itsuki checks out a particular book on his shelf (one written by Nayuta), he recalls when he and Nayuta met; she threw up on him, then later confessed her love for him after reading his work.

Itsuki then reads her work, and can’t put the book down. It’s in another league, and he’s immediately inspired to get back tot he laptop and belt out some work of his own. It seems then, that in addition to preferring little sisters (despite, or perhaps because he has none), Itsuki can’t stand beside someone liky Nayuta until he gets better. More then, of a muse than a romantic interest.

That surprising reveal at the end, that there’s mutual respect and affection below the raunchy repartee, and the fake-out at the beginning, were both nice touches, but the guessing game that dominated the middle really bogged this episode down, and there’s also a disconnect between everyone’s appearance and their age (the adults look like high schoolers, the high schooler looks like a middle schooler).

But it might be worth watching the second episode to see whether those structural choices are repeated or corrected.

Gi(a)rlish Number – 04

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Now that she’s preparing for voice roles and singing like a professional should, Chitose gets way ahead of herself in a daydream where she, not Momoka or Kazuha, is the top star beloved by all whose fans wear robes that say “Chitose Is Life.” In reality, she still has a very long way to go, but as her brother suspected, her guts are helping to carry her along, making up for her lack of talent.

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The anime she’s working on is seemingly doomed, as the first episode preview is replaced with a slightly altered repeat of the PV, as the first episode is nowhere near done and no one seems to be in a hurry to finish it. This ain’t KyoAni, folks. Though she’s nervous, Chitose is still able to wrangle the understandably frustrated crowd with her charms, as the five cast members sing the long version of the theme song.

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It goes pretty well, but by the time the awful first episode actually airs, even Chitose has to struggle to find the good in it: adoring Twitter followers, another sign that she’s “WINNING” at being a seiyu idol. She knows how to be all buddy-buddy with Kuzu-P, but he’s already planning to use her and the others as a tool for recruiting more talent, all of whom will likely be so excited to be working, they won’t feel as Kazuha feels, that this all feels very stupid.

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Gi(a)rlish Number – 03

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Chitose, having judged others harshly and beleiving she’s God’s gift to voice acting, gets a rude awakening as the honeymoon ends and the actual voice acting starts. In the first sesson, she walks in the studio like she owns the place, but comes out, after many re-takes, feeling considerably less confident.

Her official stance is the line above, and while she drank the Kool-Aid of the glad-handing execs, her brother Gojou is all too willing to bring her back down to earth, and as dense as she is, even she knows she didn’t do a very good job.

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Her second session goes even worse, to the point we get to listen in on the producers talk about how they’re probably not going to be able to get anything more out of her than what they’re getting.

Whether Chitose has any future at all in this industry depends on how she responds to the realization that she’s not All That, or even Anything At All. She must identify and acknowledge her flaws, and work that much harder than everyone else in order to improve.

After a talk with Momoka, Chitose hunkers down and starts taking this gig seriously. Her bro is surprised but also probably relieved to see her at the TV researching and taking notes, rather than out drinking with Koto and Yae (who are better than her by every measure).

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The result of actually putting in effort, and in capitalizing on the “spunk” her bro said was one of her few redeeming qualities, Chitose knocks the third sesson out of the park, impressing everyone, even Momoka and Kazuha, with her rapid improvement and showing them that she might just belong in there with them after all. Koto and Yae also look proud of her. More importantly, she’s proud of herself, but not overly so.

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Rather than staying late for endless, futile retakes, the group actually finishes early due to Chitose actually being a pro. This way, everyone can go out drinking without reservation, even Kazuha. There, Kazuha laments that the work they do can barely be called “acting”, but Momoka is less cynical: If it’s what they (the producers) want from them, it’s good enough, right?

It certainly seems to be enough for Chitose, for now. A lead role, even a cliched one in an increasingly troubled (at the top) anime production, is still a lead role. And it’s clear Chitose would much rather be a seiyu than another, more conventional (read: dull) profession.

This was an episode that definitely didn’t go easy on its protagonist, which worked out for the best because as confident as she was at the start, she wasn’t approaching her work the right way, and it was suffering as a result.

It’s not that she has NO talent; only that she had to figure out the way to unlock it. To channel her spunk into a job well done, in an industry that seems at times to be far harsher to the seiyus than to the often subpar works they lend their voices to.

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ReLIFE – 09

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Much like the way Kariu fell on her ankle, things have gotten very awkward between her and Honoka post-spraining. Kariu has elected to keep her distance, partly because she’s ashamed for what she said to her friend. Honoka sits with Hishiro, who instantly notices she’s looking “uglier” (due to the crying).

Inukai hates to see Honoka like this, wants to force Kariu to apologize; the more diplomatic Asaji holds him back. When two people on ReLIFEare out of balance, everyone is affected adversely. The question is, what to do about it?

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Someone I didn’t mention above is Kaizaki, who all but sat out last week, and is paying the price for not being more attuned to things. He knows something’s up with Kariu, however, and thinks the best thing for it is to leave Oga alone with her and let youth do the rest.

In addition to placating Oga x Kariu shippers, Kaizaki also taps into Oga’s chivilrous nature, sticking around specifically to help Kariu walk home, and not leaving even when she yells at him. She’s not surrendering to his kindness here so much as cutting him some slack. It’s difficult and scary to be honest with one’s feelings, and the truth is she does appreciate Oga.

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Two really great things about ReLIFE: it always finds ways to involve characters who aren’t in the present spotlight. Take Kaizaki and Hishiro, united in their need to figure out what’s up with their friends and what to do about it. Or take Yoake and An, who monitor Kaizaki’s talk with Hishiro. An grows closer and closer to Yoake as the conversation grows more personal and, well, dark.

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The fact is, both Hishiro and Kaizaki ended up heeding peers’ demands they stay out of a bullying situation. Hishiro’s friend left school; Kaizaki’s senpai…well, it sure looks like something awful happened that scarred Kaizaki emotionally. Suicide, I’m guessing.

In any case, the discussion triggers that memory, and for a moment Kaizaki mistakes Hishiro for his poor doomed senpai, and embraces her tightly. Before he does, Hishiro is very concerned for Kaizaki, and comes this close to touching his face before he hugs her.

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True to character, Hishiro doesn’t freak out by the close contact. On the contrary, I daresay she probably enjoyed it, as yet another step toward growing closer to others. But she’s not going to sit back and let what happened to her friend and Kaizaki’s senpai happen again. She wants “revenge”, against the mistakes of her own past self.

Neither she nor Kaizaki would have been able to act were it not for each other and their united front. Taking that next step to actively help your friends, without being asked or even when they specifically tell you not to do anything, is scary as well. They’re essentially each other’s courage.

Hishiro’s friend and Kaizaki’s senpai put Hishiro and Kaizaki before their own well-being and happiness, successfully compelling them to stifle their instincts to act. No longer. Hishiro and Kaizaki corner Honoka and get her to tell them what’s up.

In an interesting assist by Inukai, he tracks down Kariu and brings her to the closed door of the locker room where Honoka is talking with Hishiro and Kaizaki. The first thing Kariu hears shocks her, but not so much me: Honoka never wanted to play volleyball to begin with.

Next episode: Kariu/Honoka flashback! Till then, glad to see Kaizaki’s finger back on the pulse of things, and working so well with Hishiro. It’s been a joy watching these two grow as friends—and as people—side by side.

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ReLIFE – 08

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From the preview, I suspected for some reason that Tamarai Honoka would become interested in Kaizaki, but I was mistaken because I got his room confused with Inukai Akira’s, her childhood friend’s. That being said, Honoka does bond with Kaizaki a bit this week, as he becomes someone she’s comfortable confiding in on matters of volleyball, Kariu, and whether Onoya likes Oga (she doesn’t!).

And while ReLIFE continues its recent trend of focusing on a different character each week, this time Honoka, Kaizaki still gets a key scene in with Hishino, who expresses her envy of Honoka and Kariu’s close friendship. She also seems happy to walk to the station with Kaizaki, indicating her feelings for him are on a steady simmer in the background.

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The foreground this week, however, is all Tamarai Honoka, Volleyball Ace. She’s painted as a victim of her own immense athletic talent, as her coach tells her she’s pivotal to the team (and worries she lacks “appetite”), and her teammates talk about her behind her back like she doesn’t have to actually work to be as good as she is.

Honoka is disheartened when she overhears those teammates, but when Kariu hears them, she storms into the locker room and sets them straight, as Honoka listens around the corner, so happy she has such a good friend, she can’t help but cry. Kariu is absolutely honest about her feelings toward Honoka, including occasional envy and frustration, but she still loves the girl.

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Unlike Kariu, Honoka also has to deal with make-up tests after failing most of her midterms (which is how she comes to befriend Kaizaki), but her ever-loyal childhood friend Inukai Akira (whose older sister is the school nurse, as it happens) helps her study through the night.

Kaizaki is also studying, on his own, even, when Yoake calls to encourage him. An is with Yoake, causing Kaizaki to think the same thing I thought last week: Yoake and An like each other…right?

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The intense studying results in Honoka passing her make-ups (Kaizaki, alas, does not), but she’s exhausted and pale, and even blacks out during practice. Not long after getting back up, Kariu has a spill of her own, trying to avoid a ball that wouldn’t have gone her way had Honoka not blacked out.

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This episode is called “Rift”, and I assumed it meant some kind of rift between Kaizaki and someone else, but it turns out to be one between Honoka and Kariu, sparked by Kariu’s sprained ankle. Nurse Inukai estimates she’l need 2-3 weeks to fully heal, which Kariu takes to mean she’ll miss the last tournament they’ll play in high school. It’s a crushing blow.

But Honoka tries to be optimistic: if the ankle heals in two weeks, Kariu can play! Kariu rebukes her; even if it did, she can’t play without practice. And that’s when it comes out: Kariu says she’s not a “genius” like Honoka; she can’t just run out onto the court and ball like it’s nothing.

In this moment, Kariu is vulnerable and devastated and pissed off, and ends up saying the same things Honoka has heard from other teammates and friends—former teammates and friends—in the past, but never thought she’d her from Kariu, who made volleyball fun for her again.

And so the rift is open. Honoka has Inukai’s and Asaji’s shoulders to cry on, but that rift ain’t gonna repair itself. I’d say Kaizaki could moderate some kind of detente as he did with Hishiro and Kariu, but with Hishiro seemingly growing ever more enamored of him, he may have his own fish to fry.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 02

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It’s nice to see how well Stella and Ikki are already getting along even before their first day of school; it’s a testament to the equity and fairness with which they each treat each other. They’re both on first-name terms without any reservations, and Stella makes a habit of bringing up things like the possibility of indirect kisses as a big deal, but never once denies that she doesn’t mind such things, when sharing Ikki’s sports drink. She also insists on running the full 20km a day that he runs, which speaks to her competitiveness.

But this, like Asterisk War is still a harem, which means there will be plenty of competition for Ikki’s attention. The first to glom onto him is Kusakabe Kagami, who means to run the school newspaper and saw him fight. Whether you’re a boy or a girl, people dig ability, and it’s clear Ikki has skills, even if there’s no surefire way to evaluate it. Still, the way the six school reps will be chosen works in his favor: rather than assess people by their stats, everyone will be fighting for those spots.

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Kagami essentially fades into the background, however, when a petite silver-haired girl everyone calls “Lorelei” beckons to Ikki. As we gleaned from the cold open, she’s his little sister Shizuku, and the only member of his family who she believes really loves him. Because of that, on top of her sheltered, upper-crust upbringing, to her, that means she needs to show Ikki enough love to make up for all the family members who show none.

To Shizuku, that means French-kissing him in front of Stella and half the school. Now, this is some standard brocon incest ikkiness? On the surface, sure, but it’s nicely mitigated by two factors: Shizuku’s aforementioned strange upbringing, and the fact no one else, including Ikki, is okay with his sister Frenching him.

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Then a catfight breaks out between Shizuku and Stella, who draw their devices, but they get in trouble with the director and must clean all 27 of the school’s girls’ restrooms, which they do while exchanging insults about one another’s breast size and body type.

It’s petty, but it’s conflict born out of mutual misunderstanding. Shizuku doesn’t yet know the full extent of Stella’s bond with Ikki, and Stella doesn’t yet know why Shizuku is acting so possessive.

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That changes quick when Shizuku mentions that the rest of the Kurogane family has always treated Ikki like he didn’t exist, and she hates them for it. Stella, concerned and eager to learn more about her roommate (and master, a promise she hasn’t forgotten), wastes no time asking Ikki about it, and he’s very open about it: due to his lack of verifiable talent, he was shunned as the family’s black sheep. The ostracization was so bad, he once ran away from home into the brutal cold.

He was saved from death by his grandfather Ryouma—a samurai so famous even Stella knows the name—who told him to harness his frustration with being called the weakest or the worst; make that weakness a strength, and never give up or stop working to prove everyone wrong. Ikki then started to train alone—something Stella also did when she was younger. Thus Stella’s understanding of Ikki deepens, as does her affection.

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Those affections lead her to make a move on Ikki for the second week in a row, entirely on a whim while cooking. Her excuse is that a good servant must fulfill a master’s wishes before he even asks, but really, she liked what she saw and felt last week, and wants more. Ikki is understandably a bit on-edge about the whole thing—Stella is a knockout in her pink bikini (her concession to modesty and not letting things get too far too fast)—but lets Stella do what she wants to do, and tells her what she wants to hear.

A nice detail: when the newspaper girl Kagami put Ikki’s arm against her chest, Stella noticed, and so brings it up here, because it looked like Ikki liked it…and Stella wants Ikki to like when she does it. I loved the honesty and equity of this romantic encounter: both Stella and Ikki are getting something they want out of it…right up until Stella loses her top, which she didn’t want to happen. Scream; Slap; Womp-Womp.

Lastly, we come to the show’s ED, with all the girls in Ikki’s prospective harem lounging around nude in a bed of roses with their weapons, to the welcome eclectic tunes of ALI PROJECT.

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Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry – 01 (First Impressions)

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Fall 2015 is the season of battling magical school anime, and after previously sampling the very similar Gakusen Toshi Asterisk, I’m going to come right out and declare Rakudai Kishi no Cavalry the week one winner, and it wasn’t really close. Rakudai had the smarter, fleeter, more engaging intro, and featured far stronger characters and an actual arc. It even handled fanservice better, as Ikki manages not to use any boobs as handrests.

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Stella Vermillion, like Asterisk’s Julis, is also a pink-haired princess with high-ranked magical skills and initially reacts in a similar fashion when Ikki, a much lower-ranked student accidentally peeps on her. But her later reactions are a lot more nuanced, as she’s actually impressed by Ikki’s “manliness”, and is disarmed by his appeal to her rare beauty.

The show is also pretty cheeky in witholding the reason Stella (finely voiced by Ishigami Shizuka) was even in Ikki’s room changing. The director of the school, in an effort to shake things up, brings together the strongest and weakest Magic Knights at her school by making them roommates. When the two quibble over house rules, she also suggests they settle matters with a mock battle.

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The method in her madness becomes clear when the two knights clash in the arena. Ikki may have the least natural talent, but he works uncommonly hard to overcome his weaknesses.

Stella, who came to Japan to escape the box labeled “Genius” her people put her in, wants to prove she works hard too, and isn’t just gliding on her natural talent.

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To Stella’s surprise, not only is Ikki not a pushover, but he notices how hard she works in the way she’s fighting. He also steals her sword skills in order to keep up, and uses a once-per-day trump card to nullify her coup-de-grace and nab the victory.

In the hospital, Stella realizes she wasn’t any better than her legions of worshipers, putting Ikki in a box labeled “The Worst One.” But as the director asserts, and what is proven in their battle, is that there’s no reliable way to evaluate Ikki’s true strength. And there’s value in sticking around someone like him if she wants to grow as a knight.

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In a nice inversion of the scene where he walked in on her dressing, Stella almost grows up too much when she comes home to find Ikki asleep, and can’t help but touch him, curious as to how a man really feels. He’s a twist-and-turner in bed, so she gets snagged by one of his arms, and seems on the verge of having a crisis when he wakes up asking what she’s doing on top of him.

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And that gets to the strength of Rakudai so far: its central couple, Stella and Ikki. When they meet they misunderstand one another, but they never outright hate each other, and by the end, they fully embrace sharing a living space and learning more from one another.

This is partly because Stella lost the duel and is merely honoring their arrangement, but also because she gained a lot of respect for Ikki, now that she knows more about him. And while Ikki does slip up early, he is, well, very chivalrous. This isn’t rocket science: decent characters can go a long way towards making a decent show.

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