Rent-a-Girlfriend – 21 – Scents of Hokkaido

It’s time for the annual family birthday party Kazuya’s grandmother and parents always throw for him, and when he informs gran that her beloved Chizuru’s birthday has already passed, she hits him with an air-to-grandson cruise missile of anger and then insists that he invite Chizuru to a shared party.

Kazuya invites Chizuru to the shindig on their balconies, and while she can’t make the 5 PM time, she can come later, after she visits her ailing gran in the hospital. Shortly thereafter, Ruka calls Kazuya to wish him a happy birthday, and catches wind of the party. That afternoon she shows up all dolled up, ready to join the party.

Since Kazuya’s fam knows Ruka as “Chizuru’s friend” it’s not that strange that she shows up with him, and Ruka is quite right that however Kazuya feels for Ruka, he did agree to be her boyfriend (rather than reject her) and making her cover for him and Chizuru isn’t fair.

Thus ensues a wonderfully lively sitcom scenario where conceits like the fact Ruka’s yelling at Kazuya in the kitchen can’t be heard by the fam in the next room. Ruka sees she’s started out with a deficit, imagining a virtual Reversi game of who can be the best future daughter/granddaughter.

But Ruka has no shortage of charm, and quickly ingratiates herself with Kazuya’s fam. This sucks for him in terms of maintaining the fiction of him and Chizuru for his gran’s sake, but it also shows a nice what-if if only he had genuine romantic feelings for Ruka rather than Chizuru…things would go pretty smoothly!

Instead, Ruka comes within mere seconds of telling Kazuya’s fam that she’s his actual girlfriend when he’s saved by a text from Chizuru asking what’s up. Kazuya sucks it up and adds her as a friend, then calls her on her personal line—unthinkable in the first season, but accepted as a necessity here.

When she says she’s still at the hospital, Kazuya does what’s right and tells her she doesn’t have to come, but then a jealous Ruka rips the phone out of his hand and demonstrates to Chizuru that it really is a good idea to show herself before things get messy.

I totally get Ruka’s anger, but if her goal was to keep Chizuru away from the fam tonight, her rant to Chizuru had the opposite effect. Chizuru surprises Kazuya’s fam by showing up and immediately being her perfect professional girl self, even asking to pray at the family shrine, something Ruka didn’t even think of.

As Kazuya’s gran learns he and Chizuru live in the same area (but not that they’re next-door neighbors) she asks why they don’t just live together, Chizuru blushes and says she’d lean on him too much. Ruka spots the lipstick on Chizuru’s glass and heads to the bathroom without saying anything.

When Kazuya heads to the bathroom, Ruka, who is getting absolutely slaughtered by Chizuru out there, decides to resort to drastic (and readily available) measures, i.e. her lips. She gets on her toes, pulls Kazuya in by the goofy gaudy tie she bought him for his birthday, and gives him a long lasting smooch.

It’s given all the weight of a climactic romantic development, but lest we forget, at this moment Kazuya simply likes Chizuru more, and the fact the two of them can call and text each other whenever constitutes Reversi discs that can’t be flipped back over.

This episode featured some fun and genuinely funny girlfriends-family sitcom action, but also made me hope that at some point before this cour is out we get some kind of legitimate development towards untangling some of the romantic knots Kazuya has made. I realize I may be setting myself up for disappointment, but it’s always nice to dream.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 18 – INFINHONEY WAR

SPOILER WARNING: This review contains *major* spoilers for the Marvel film Avengers: Infinity War. This serves as a warning not to read on if you have not seen it yet and do not wish to be spoiled. Furthermore, there are a number of references to the MCU herein, so if you don’t know nothing about (or hate) any of that stuff, you have my apologies.

Let me make some comparisons. If Totsuki is the universe, Nakiri Azami is Thanos. Thanos wants to cleave away all of what he deems to be unnecessary excess form the universe, just as Azami wants to do the same with the academy. In both cases their end product will be something harmonious and sustainable only they had the will to make possible, and are convinced that once they’re done the universe (and academy) will be grateful for their efforts.

Polar Star and its allies represent the Avengers. However noble Thanos/Azami believe themselves or their efforts to be, they are, on a human scale, amoral and must be opposed. I won’t get bogged down into which chef is which Avenger, but suffice it to say that Azami has been their greatest foe to date, and this week they take their heaviest losses, which will make an already uphill battle feel…well, even more uphill.

Hayama Akira isn’t trying to save anybody other than Shiomi Jun and the research lab they built together, and decided the best way to do that was to accept and join Azami’s Central regime. But even Jun herself cannot support his decision. In joining Central he creates a rift, and for the first time, she isn’t there to watch him from the sidelines.

At first, it doesn’t seem like that matters. Soue, Cilla and Berta can tell Akira’s chicken-fried bear is superior to Souma’s dish before it even touches their lips, and upon finally digging in, Soue has a full-blown Explosion (the family history of which is hilariously explained by Gin). The sisters try in vain to identify all of the chemical reactions going on, but are overcome by their foodgasms.

Akira’s bear and dipping sauce combine to form a one-two punch to put the metaphorically boxing Souma on the ropes, and creating another metaphor: that of an impenetrable fortress of flavor mastery. The only problem is, Akira locked himself in that fortress alone.

It isn’t over yet, because the judges still have to try Souma’s dipping sauce (in an interesting twist, considering you’d think they’d have finished the first dish before starting Akira’s, and not mixed them in their palates). To everyone’s amazement, Souma’s sauce…is just plain better, do in large part to his use of a very specific kind of honey.

Suoe’s reaction is even stronger, evolving from “The Explosion” to “The Gift”, in which his spontaneous disrobing expands in waves to the sisters (though in the very next scene their clothes are back on…continuity!) With Akira’s superior bear and Souma’s superior sauce, the sisters split their votes, leaving Suoe to break the 1-1 tie.

It’s here where I’ll break out another Avengers metaphor and compare Souma to Tony Stark. Sure, he’s no monetary billionaire, but he has an embarrassment of human riches at his disposal, along with Hokkaido’s vast natural bounty. Like Tony, his ambition to improve his skills and his drive to never stop tinkering is virtually boundless. It has to be; just as Tony has no innate superpowers, Souma lacks a superhuman sense of taste or smell.

Souma ran Kuga’s Chinese RS battalion ragged darting from mountain to valley to stream and back again, collecting every flavor in the bear’s habitat that could be exploited to improve the dish even one tiny amount. He approached his culinary testing with a passion Akira simply didn’t match, because Akira was so focused on protecting Jun that he was relegated to testing without her insights or anyone else’s.

While Souma caught up with him, Akira actually backtracked; as delicious as his bear is, it can’t match the passion that went into his Autumn Elections-winning dish. And he knows it. Moreover, he sought perfection and balance in his dish, but gave no thought to who it was for, while Souma’s was painstakingly crafted specifically for Akira to taste it and say it was delicious.

Jun arrives on cue to give Akira a well-deserved slap across the face (Guardian of the Year Jun, everyone!) and tell him continuing the research lab doesn’t matter to her anymore. All she wants is for Akira to keep having fun cooking with kids his own age…because he is still a kid, after all.

Her sentiments hit Akira hard, and his eyes go glassy as a result. Suoe casts the deciding vote naming Souma the victor, Souma says his “Glad you enjoyed it” catchphrase, and we move on to whatever is next. Erina arrives, short of breath and mussed of hair, to learn to her great relief, that Souma has survived his latest trial.

But Jun’s wish for Akira to cook with his friends hits a snag. As a result of losing to Souma, Azami sends his aide Ebony Maw Sean Aida to inform him he’s been summarily expelled. Not only that, the rebellion has been decimated: Hisako, Ryo, Nikumi, Asami, Shun, Zenji, Daigo, Shiouji, Ryouko, Yuuki, and Alice…are all expelled.

That’s a purge to rival (or exceed) the effects of The Snap on the Avengers, and leaves you in a similar defeated mood, completely overshadowing Souma’s momentous achievement of finally beating Akira.

Megumi and Tekumi weren’t in the montage, nor were lesser potential rebels in Nao, Miyoko, Subaru, etc. But how in the hell are Souma, Erina, and whoever else managed to survive the massacre going to proceed? Something tells me Carol Danvers’ cooking skills aren’t gonna cut it…

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 17 – The Gloves (and Clothes) Come Off

I may have been down on Akira for bending the knee to a tyrant like Azami, but I held out the possibility there was a good reason he was doing it other than self-advancement, and there is. Akira owes everything he is to his beloved Jun, and Azami threatened to make life extremely difficult for her if he didn’t cooperate, so he did.

That’s what Azami does: he finds your weak spot, but offers an out that suits his purposes before going in for the kill. Just because Akira is an amazing chef doesn’t change the fact that protecting Jun was more important than his culinary independence.

Thanks to Doujima, Souma and Kuga learn about Akira’s circumstances, but as far as Souma’s concerned, Akira still took the easy way out. Souma has no quarrel with Jun and indeed would lament contributing to her suffering in any way, but these are the cards he’s been dealt. His only choice to avoid expulsion is to defeat Akira, and that’s what he intends to do.

In the fairest and most impartial examination of this whole process thus far, Doujima introduces the judges: brain physiology genius sisters Cilla and Berta, along with Alice’s straight-shooting dad Suoe. There are no other Central machinations to make Souma’s job tougher; this is between him, Akira, and their cooking. May the best man win.

Everyone observing the two chefs immediately picks up on the fact that there’s a level of intensity they were not inspecting. Souma does not shrink before Akira’s objective superiority in spice, and both of them decide to take a great risk by frying the bear meat, which will either enhance the umami or amplify the smelliness.

The smell and tiniest taste of Hayama’s gravy is enough to “domesticate” the sisters, but Souma is the first to complete his dish, and after following Suoe’s lead, grabbing the hot cutlet with a napkin and digging in, Cilla and Berta are immediately relieved of their clothes. Souma took great risks, and walked the tightrope along with Akira, and it all paid off.

By grinding different cuts of the bear meat together, including meat close to the bone, Souma expertly crafted a “umami gradient” of a level of sophistication that not only impresses the sisters, but causes Suoe to bear his chest like his father, the former chairman, in recognition of Souma’s skill.

So Souma didn’t screw up, and won the respect and acknowledgement of three of the best minds in the business, regardless of age. But will it be enough to defeat Akira? Will the third time be the charm? Will it end in a draw, meaning he won’t be expelled? We’ll have to tune in next week to find out.

Durarara!!x2 Ketsu – 02 (26)

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This week’s narrator is Shingen, whose wise, matter-of-fact tone is somewhat offset by the fact his voice is slightly muffled by the gas mask he never takes off (He’d be right at home in a Gundam anime). And what does Shingen talk about all episode? Women. No, nothing so crude as how they be shoppin’ all the time, but how women are women, whether they’re human or not.

Just take Anri and Erika at the hospital when Chikage arrives with his harem in tow. The two girls donning black may as well be sisters, but only Erika is fully human; Anri is a vessel for Saika, her calm, timid facade concealing churning multitudes of power and potential for destruction. By comparison Erika can’t do much besides not call Chikage back after giving him her email.

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Later, then Izaya shows up to have his injuries checked out, he tries to lure Saika into losing her cool and proving she’s not human but just a pretender…and Izaya knows humans, loves them, and believes that gives him leave to mess with them all he likes.

His tortured metaphor of Mikado and Masaomi walking a tightrope with nooses around their necks connecting them, and all the various people trying to help or hurt him, is nevertheless enough to get Anri’s Saika blood boiling, until it’s all she can do to not kill him.

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The whole episode, Manami is walking around with a bag we later learn contains Celty’s head. She’s ostensibly working for Izaya but also trying to hurt him wherever she can after failing to kill him before. But Izaya has made it clear humans who hate him are free to try to kill him, but he’ll never stop loving and forgiving them. But that love means nothing to Manami.

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Erika consoles a very disturbed Anri; after all, it’s plenty human to feel like killing Izaya now and again. And just as Izaya will always forgive humans no matter what they tried to to to him, Erika will always love and forgive Anri, even if she becomes the dark instrument of the world’s destruction.

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As Celty, another non-human whose human friend (and lover) Shinra will always love and forgive even if she destroys the world, is run ragged getting all the freeloaders situated in the apartment, her “still unknown enemy”

Kujiragi Kasane shows that she isn’t always Saika, or the shadowy leader of an organization using body doubles as the now-dead Yadogiri Jinnai to conduct business, or Ruri’s mothers half-sister (as we learn from the gossipy Shingen). Sometimes, she’s just a woman who buys cat ears, takes her shoes off and relaxes in the park, contemplating cafes to try out.

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When Erika sees how Anri smiles and cries and feels such concern for her troubled friends, she can’t help but disregard “humanity” as some kind of requisite for being a good person. Anri is a good person, whatever’s stewing within her, and I think she has a crucial role to play in mediating the war between her two friends soon.

It’s a little heartbreaking, then, that just when Anri is accepting Erika’s words of encouragement (and going to buy cat ears for her, only to find they’re sold out), she runs into Niekawa Haruna in the street, who asks her to come with her, or else.

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As I said, Shinra, like Erika with Anri, sees Celty as a woman first and foremost, but a woman who, due to her non-humanity, is disposed to act even kinder than humans usually act towards one another, aware of the stigma of what she is and how hard it is to hide. Without even thinking, Celty is a passionate, warm, caring, generous woman, and all Shinra asks is that she not think any less of herself.

But like Anri with Niewkawa, Celty has her non-humanity thrown in her face, as Manami took her head from Niekawa and unceremoniously hucked it in the bushes for all to see. It even making the news, which after chatting with the twins is how Celty finds out. And when she sees her head, exposed and vulnerable; the very object she was made the head of a new guild to retrieve, she does something a woman is more likely to do than a dullahan – she faints.

Shingen completes his monologue about “women being women” human or not, telling the women listening he has nothing more to say, but warning the men they “can’t be too careful,” implying the woman you choose may be someone like Anri, Ruri, Kasane, Haruna, or Celty, who are all more than just women.

It’s less of a condescending warning to stay away, and more of a warning to make sure you’re worthy of such women, and are resolved and prepared to stand with them when things get tough.

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