Isekai Quartet – 11 – Let’s Get Nuts!

Field Day starts orderly enough, with members of Class 2 and Class 1 exchanging pleasantries, and Yunyun, apparently from “Class 3” challenging Megumin to a battle (turns out she’s the only member of Class 3).

From there, a series of contests from tug-of-war to…donut grabbing(?), to the cavalry battle. The latter is worth 100 million points, rendering all the previous exercises and their somewhat random pointless.

Then the teachers join in, with Roswaal, Vanir, Pandora’s Actor, and a reluctant Rerugen wondering what he’s doing with these weirdos. Classes 1 and 2 decide to join forces to beat back the faculty, who then deploy their trump card, the Mobile Fortress Destroyer from KonoSuba.

While the show should be lauded for bringing in so many more familiar faces, it’s odd that Class 1 is only around half the size of Class 2 (though “Class 3” is a good joke), and for an episode with so much activity, there’s precious little action, which is to say…animation, only the suggestion of it through panning montages.

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Isekai Quartet – 10 – Hootin’ an’ Hollerin’

When Roswaal announces that their Field Trip will be immediately followed by a Field Day with the “other” class, everyone looks around like he’s crazy. What other class? Sure enough, Subaru peeks into the next classroom (the one that didn’t exist before that day) and spots a whole other class of characters from the four shows.

This includes not only Ainz’s Combat Maids (which Subaru says is “a bit much” even though he’s surrounded by Demon Maids) but a Sword Saint of Subaru and Emilia’s world, Reinhard van Astrea. Hey, if you have all four shows at your disposal, you might as well use everyone you can!

KonoSuba’s Chris is also there, and warns Kazuma and the others from her world that if you die in this weird school world, you won’t come back. Why she specifically has that information is not explained, but there’s no reason to doubt it.

Still, Subaru successfully tests his “Return by Death,” and sound effects I hadn’t heard in a long time suddenly brought everything he went through back. It also makes a “mabeast” like Hamusuke come running, even though she’s not sure why.

The class leaders decide that victory over Class A is absolutely imperative:  winning means the possibility of returning to their respective worlds. Everyone in the class rallies together to ensure that victory…except for Kazuma, who would prefer to stay in this world and is too lazy to bother going back to defeat the Demon King.

His stubborn apathy brings out the worst in Tanya, who whips him into shape by going aerial with Puck and putting him through a brutal boot camp. Excited by the crystal bombardment, Megumin decides to join in the fun with an Explosion. Meanwhile, I hope either Class A or another class has Felt, Clementine, Enri, or Kyouya; it would be nice to see those guys again.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 10 – …But She CAN Run!

Ao is utterly apathetic about the upcoming sports festival, until she learns Takumi will be on the cheer squad, and dedicates herself to training hard for the 800m run so she can experience the joy of being cheered on by the guy she likes.

Kudos for the show finally portraying these two as a comfortable, easygoing couple, even if they’re not 100% officially “dating;” it’s nice to see Ao not only publicly acknowledging her interest in Takumi (already well known in her class) but contributing to him making the decision to participate.

Of course, there has to be a conflict of some kind (beyond winning the race) and it comes in the form of her father, who has embarrassed her at every level of her education during the sports festival. When she bans him from this one, he bans her from ever moving out, and the two.

Yet, despite their fight, and despite the fact Ao made sure Yabe increased his workload tenfold, her father still makes it to the festival. Ao notices him just after having a talk with Takumi, who tells her he’s probably not that upset over their fight and that she should just talk to him.

While Pops gets to apologize, and explains his presence as having done all the work put before him with maximum efficiency, all so he could watch her compete, Ao is about to apologize back, but it’s time to run. Her dad joins Takumi and the cheer squad, and Ao takes the lead, but starts flagging in the home stretch.

This is when Pops fulfills Ao’s worst fear, yelling for her to hold onto her “G-cups” so she can run faster. This embarrasses her, Takumi, the cheer squad, and also freezes the other runners, as well as energizes Ao into finding her second wind and finishing first. But her Pops doesn’t escape a beatdown for his raunchy words.

Of course all of this could have been avoided if the show remembered there are these things called sports bras, to be used while running, jumping, and doing other athletic things!

Senryuu Shoujo – 02 – Close Enough

The Lit Club begins an initiative aimed at improving Eiji’s bad-boy image with the rest of the school, though Nanako likes him the way he is, even when his eyes roll back in his head when he’s deep in thought! That’s when Eiji’s beautiful “big sis” Ootsuki Koto shows up to thank Nanako and Amane for taking care of him. Turns out she’s just his childhood friend two years his senior. Then, while having a meal together, Eiji notes how much Nanako eats—not with malice, mind you—and Nanako starts to fear she’s gaining weight.

When her little brother teases her for eating as much as a sumo wrestler, Nanako resolves to go on a diet, but Koto offers to train her instead, using her military self-defense skills to whip her into shape. Time passes, and an excited Nanako takes Eiji’s hand and places it on her stomach…which would be quite forward if we didn’t know her true intentions were honorable. Instead, Eiji has to mention how he’s never felt a girl’s stomach and thus has no basis for comparison for Nanako to realize her faux pas.

Still, one think Nanako shouldn’t be ashamed of is that she likes Eiji—a genuinely nice guy—just the way he is. If others get to know him, they’ll learn the same thing. Koto already knows this, but when Amane asks if she likes anyone (if she had to give her a name, it would be Eiji), she says she doesn’t; not the way Amane means, anyway. Koto is fine with her and Eiji just the way they are, even if it means him getting closer to Nanako.

As it is, SS is a school slice-of-life with romantic undertones that just happens to integrate haiku wherever it can. And like that show about women enjoying various alcoholic beverages after work, it succeeds at its limited domain just as much as it needs to—which is to say, it’s fine.

The Promised Neverland – 12 (Fin) – A Nameless Song

As the kids begin their ascent up the wall, Emma informs Ray of a change in her plans: rather than rescue everyone tonight, she’s leaving all the little ones four and under behind, and is committed to coming back for them, and everyone else in the other plants, before their various shipping dates arrive. It’s a tough choice, but one that had to be made to ensure that the group of fifteen older kids survive the escape.

That’s why little Phil is with Mama as the house burns: turns out Phil is in on it, and even though he’s only four, he now understands what it means that Norman, Connie and the others were “harvested.” Emma leaves him in charge of training the next “wave”, his fellow younger kids, and getting him ready for when she returns.

But first things first, getting across that great yawning cliff. There’s another wrinkle in the plan for which Ray was kept in the dark, which meant Mama was kept in the dark: they don’t use the very obvious bridge to cross the cliff. Instead, Don heaves a stone across a narrower portion of the cliff, and the rope wraps successfully across a tree. He ziplines across, secures the other end of the rope, and secures the second and third ropes two of the kids use water rockets to launch across.

It’s a wonderful use of ingenuity and intense training, and the kids pull it off with aplomb. Phil also succeeds in distracting Mama just long enough so when she sounds the alarm the monsters go to the bridge, and when she realizes they’re not at the bridge, she doesn’t get to their location until Emma is the last person who hasn’t made the crossing. Emma flashes one last defiant look at her former Mama, and says goodbye before ziplining across. The lines are cut; Mama is beaten.

In her moment of defeat, we learn more about who Mama—who Isabella—was, thanks to a supremely affecting flashback that really humanizes her despite the monstrous things she’s done for her superiors. Isabella had a “Norman” of her own in Leslie, who played a beautiful lute and wrote a nameless song she loved. But Leslie’s shipping date came, and he said goodbye, and Isabella was devastated.

She used her ingenuity and athleticism to climb the wall, only to find the cliff and despair as Norman must have done when he first saw it. Her Mama comes to bring her back home, and eventually Isabella is given the same offer she’d later give Emma.

Only while Emma refused, Isabella accepted. She was trained to be a Sister, then a Mama, and even gave birth…to Ray. A younger Ray hums the same nameless song Leslie used to play, because Isabella hummed it when he was in the womb. Ray realizes Mama is his birth mother, asks why she gave birth to him (survival, plain and simple), and their “collaboration” continued from there.

If Leslie’s song were to ever have a title, one possibility could be “The Path Not Traveled,” as it’s the song Isabella held close and never forgot from her time as one of the same kind of kids Ray, Norman and Emma turned out to be, but it’s a song that reminds her that she chose to survive by joining the system rather than rebelling. In the end, Mama seems more proud than anything else that her beloved children outwitted her. Now that they’re beyond the wall and cliff, she wishes them good fortune.

Another title could be “The First Morning”, such as the one Emma and Ray encounter. The sun rises out of the horizon for the first time since they gained their hard-earned freedom. Seeing them silhouetted against the dawn’s light is one hell of a beautiful parting shot.

While I’m terribly worried for what might come next, or what dangers await them in the wilderness beyond, there simply wasn’t time to explore that in twelve episodes. But just the fact they managed to get out of the farm that was going to ship them off to be demon food is more than enough.

Kaguya-sama: Love is War – 05 – An Alarming Lack of Coordination

We get a triad of segments this week, the first being a girl asking Kaguya for advice about breaking up with someone, specifically the guy Miyuki coached on how to ask her out in the first place! The resulting awkward silence that plagues their relationship is a matter of having gotten together before getting to know each other.

“Love Detective” Chika intervenes, protesting her initial exclusion from the girl talk, and administers a test that proves that both the girl likes the guy and that Kaguya likes Miyuki. Kaguya has to take great strides not to reveal too much about that, and tries to steer towards the couple thriving by having a “common enemy.”

Chika takes that a bit too far and calls their enemy society itself, but the couple’s shared enemy turns out to be hunger and/or poverty, so they manage to hit it off while working together on a charity. As Kaguya surveys her good works, she notices Miyuki is there helping out too…another of the many reasons she likes him besides having a cute resting scowl. She can’t help but admit her feelings to herself and us, so she loses this one.

In segment two we learn that for all his academic prowess and general physical strength and wellness, Miyuki is pathetically, horrifically uncoordinated when it comes to sports. With P.E. volleyball quickly approaching, he tries and fails to train alone, until Chika (who is really just okay at sports, but light years beyond him at this point) takes him under her wing.

Chika doesn’t see why Miyuki is so into this until she realizes he’s doing it to impress (some) girl. Cut to a montage of Miyuki making progress as Chika yells and encourages and sweats right alongside. Just when she think’s she’s made a great volleyball player, he asks her to help him with the actions of the sport other than mere serving. She’s a mess by the time P.E. volleyball comes around, but Miyuki is the toast of the class thanks to her, so she shares his victory.

The final segment is Love is War’s version of the shared umbrella scenario (SUS, not to be confused with the Subaru Sport Utility Sedan). Sharing an umbrella has a twofold purpose: to get a lot closer to the one you like, and to mark that person so everyone else knows they’re yours. Of course, Kaguya and Miyuki have to make it another battle of wills despite both wanting very much to share an umbrella, but they sabotage each other’s plans by both pretending they forgot their umbrella.

Miyuki tries first to poke oles in Miyuki’s lie first, but has insufficient information. Kaguya actually meticulously planned all of this by studying the weather and slashing the tires of her ride. Just when she has Miyuki cornered, all but forcing him to reveal he has an umbrella, Chika pops up behind her with a spare she can borrow. With Kaguya now in possession of an umbrella, she decides to “sublet” it to Miyuki, letting him “do what he wants” with it.

The fact she offered it to him so freely exposes her conern for him, and would make her the loser. But Kaguya also freely exposes her desire to share the umbrella, changing the result to a tie. Kaguya’s smile upon Miyuki offering to share was simply priceless. Both lost by their own twisted, self-defeating logic, but both won because they got what they actually wanted: an excuse to get closer.

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro – 06 – Game Over IRL

Kabbadi Club captain Kushitori Madoka is missing, but it doesn’t take Chio and Manana long to find her. While she acts as if she’s training “in the mountains”, she’s really just been camping in a city park, and her “master” is just a old creep who used to be successful but gave it all up thanks to his obsession with high school girls’ infectious “energy.” Yikes!

Needless to say, this is a situation in which neither Chio nor Manana want to get involved…so Chio launches Manana into the situation while she continues to hide.

Madoka wanted to rid herself of her “wicked thoughts” but after hearing the creepy dude’s life story she abandons that venture and pursues the “you do you” philosophy instead…which involves groping the butts of Chio (who Manana sells out as revenge) and later Yuki.

With all the groping out of the way, the next segment deals with Chio being influenced by an American combat game she played by treating every blind corner as a potential hazard (a passing mother seems to pity Chio, but the mother’s little boy things she’s hella cool).

When Chio spots Manana on a bridge that looks very much like a part of the game, she decides to try to ambush her from below, utilizing her surprising athleticism. However, things do not go as easily or as well for Chio IRL as they did in the game.

She ends up having to abandon the ambush and call out for help. Manana knows Chio too well, and knows she was trying to pull a prank. Her hesitation to help causes Chio to find untapped well of strength, which she uses not to raise herself up but to pull Manana down.

A lot of awkward positioning ensues, until both girls are so tangled up and exhausted they need a Good Samaritan to assist them. When he asks the students their names (he knows which academy they attend) the two friends give each others names.

Chio and Manana may seem intent on destroying each other most of the time, yet at the end of the day remain the good friends they’ve always been, and no one, be it a gropy upperclassman, uptight disciplinary officer, or former bike gang leader, can come between them.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 24 – Environmental Factors

Not surprisingly, Kinokuni Nene’s dish is a sublime expression of the Edo-style soba tradition coursing through her veins. Creating a dish composed of two distinct light delicate flavors is no mean feat, but Nene pulls it off effortlessly, almost automatically. As if we didn’t know already, Souma is facing an uphill battle.

Souma also has to worry about the judges getting too stuffed on Nene’s soba. The noodles and sakura shrimp tempura disappear so easily from their plates, they seem to create an infinite time loop. Nene may have an inferiority complex when it comes to Satoshi, but he never failed to bear witness to the immense amount of hard work and dedication Nene put into everything she did—not just cooking—while other kids her age played around.

Her “environmental factors”, i.e. her strict upbringing that demanded results and perfection, are why she’s in the Elite Ten, and why she thoroughly impressed three Priests of The Book. But Souma also has something he’s “sunk a lot of time into”, and he calls it “Yukihira-style Seared Soba”. And at first glance it looks…kinda tragic? Especially compared to the austere work of art that was Nene’s dish.

Of course, if an ugly dish tastes better than the good-looking one (not to mention beats it in exciting every other sense), it’s easy to overlook it’s…looks. While Nene used the purest form of buckwheat flower (ichibanko, which only uses the endosperm), Souma used sanbanko, a flour made up of parts very near the outer shell of the grain.

Sanbanko trades ideal mouthfeel for increased aromas, but in his quest to replicate the genre of instant noodles to gourmet stature, he leaned into that coarseness by crisping the noodles via stir-frying. Ichibanko’s delicate flavor would have been ruined, but the sanbanko noodles hold up.

Other bold touches include the generous use of duck, as well as a variety of seasoning spices to diversify the judges’ experience. While Nene’s soba let them travel through time to eat it over and over again, Souma’s seems to transport the judges back to an ideal moment in their lives: enjoying their friends’ company at a summer festival as fireworks blaze in the sky.

Nene is ultimately correct that she utilized all of her amassed knowledge and experience to create the very best Edo-style soba she could for the judges. BUT, it wasn’t the best dish FOR THE VENUE. The environment that matters most is the one in which the shokugeki is taking place, which grew colder and colder as the storm worsened outside.

As a result, the delicate aromas of her dish suffered, while Souma’s held up. Nene herself confirms this when she tastes her noodles and then Souma’s. Her soba is best enjoyed in a much more controlled environment. I believe this is the first instance in Food Wars anime of the ambient temperature of the shokugeki hall playing a factor in the judges’ decision. And I loved Alice conferring with Akira on the science of how Souma beat Nene.

One more environment that favored Souma is his upbringing in a busy diner. From a young age, he learned how to keep track of a lot of different things and dishes at once, because diners are places where the food is slung fast, eaten fast, and the customers turn over fast. Compare that to Nene’s restaurant, whose sophisticated clientele are willing to wait for the best possible meal.

Souma’s extra stamina and the speed with which he experiments and crafts new flavors and methods with which to defeat his opponents, is second to none (I’d wager Subaru is close, owing to his dedication to stalking and copying his targets). And it pays off here.

Megashima soundly defeats Kaburagi off-camera, proving even a former third-seat is still a formidable challenger; which gives the rebels a clean 3-0 sweep in the first bout of the Team Shokugeki. It’s a major setback for Azami, who only shows his frustration in the shadows.

However, that’s all for this second cour of Shokugeki no Souma 3; we won’t learn who wins (or more likely, how the rebels ultimately defeat Azami) until the third cour. Whenever that comes, I be waiting with an empty stomach.

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 – 20 – Shattering and Clashing to Victory

When Gin and Jouichirou start bebopping and scatting all over the train kitchen, Takumi, Megumi, Souma and Erina have to find a way to contribute to the “music” the master chefs are playing, or fail the challenge. For Takumi and Erina in particular, it means leaving their comfort zones—the cooking philosophies they’ve always lived by—and going for gusto.

If they completely shatter or abandon everything they’ve known thus far, they risk losing their vital identities as chefs, but that’s not truly what’s going on here: they contribute in ways only they, with their uniquely amassed knowledge and experience, can contribute.

They’re not so much changing who they are, but changing how they use that, and in doing so unlocking another level in their growth.

The resulting hachis Parmentier from both teams scarcely resemble that classic French dish, yet both embody the spirit of the dish while elevating it into more rarefied culinary air. Senzaemon makes a last minute addendum to the rules of this mock battle: the four young participants, not he, will judge who deserves to win.

Everyone loses their clothes in foodgasms, and when the moment of truth arrives, the kids all point…at each other. Erina likens Team Doujima’s dish as a perfectly in-sync jazz band, while Takumi likens Team Saiba to an avant-garde group art project. In both cases, chaos is used to create things harmony couldn’t, resulting in dishes that are both cohesive in concept and strongly individualized in execution.

The point of Senzaemon’s mock battle wasn’t to decide who’d be the captain of the team that will face Azami’s Elite Ten. It was to get the youngins to experience their abilities firsthand in order to know what to expect of one another when the battle and the stakes are real.

And brother, is there anything realer, or more appallingly hilarious, than watching the ghost-white, skunk-haired Nakiri Azami skiing down a slope in his black suit? Talk about pumping him up as a Bond villain!

His collection of Central stooges also looks the part; they’re as diverse in personality and appearance as our rebels—and in the case of Eishi and Rindou, we’ve seen they have good sides—and yet because they’re determined to defeat the rebels at the behest of Azami, here and now they’re nothing but The Enemy.

Azami tries once more to bring Erina back into the fold simply by stating the duty of all Elite Ten members to obey his orders. He wants Erina on his team, and like almost everybody, expects Erina to be cowed by the certitude and force of his words and sheepishly defer to her father. Even Souma calls her a “doormat” when it comes to her dad—out loud!

But Erina stands her ground. If being the Tenth Seat means having to join Central in the Team Shokugeki, then she will simply relinquish said seat, and join the rebels as simply Nakiri Erina.

While impressed by her continued insolence, Azami comes back at her with one last stipulation in the Team Shokugeki: If the rebels are defeated, she will have to return to his side, commit herself to central, and never disobey him again.

Since losing means all her friends’ expulsions will stick, all the rebels still standing will be expelled, and her beloved Saiba-senpai will have to become Azami’s ally, Erina figures “what the heck, might as well add to the already epic stakes.”

She’s so pumped up by successfully standing up to her father that she starts acting like the Queen of the Rebels, vowing to take the First Seat once they are victorious. Takumi and Megumi like this new rebellious-yet-regal “Queen Erina.” Souma, while initially irked (since he wants to stand at the top of the Elite Ten), nonetheless pledges his life to her, along with the others, in the decisive battle to come.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 19 – Light at the End of the Tunnel

While Rindou has Souma and Erina hanging in suspense for a hot minute about the fate Megumi and Takumi, she ended up passing both. With just the four of them left, Souma proposes they challenge Central’s Elite Ten for their seats. With Erina and Akira they’ll have a majority of seats, and thus the power to reinstate their friends, and possibly sack Azami, stopping his grand plans in their tracks.

The only problem is, the Elite Ten members have to agree to even have shokugekis with the rebels. When Souma simply barges in and asks Rindou straight up, she laughs in his face; it’s not going to be that easy. Seemingly out of options, Erina decides she’ll appeal directly to her father to pardon her friend, hoping his love for her will sway him.

My peeps, it does not sway him. He has no reason to overturn the expulsions, and as someone who has carefully conditioned his daughter to do what he says, he’s not about to reverse that power dynamic just because Erina turns on the waterworks.

Souma calms Erina, and asserts the only way to make things right is in the kitchen. He formally asks for the right to challenge the Elite Ten, as it would solve once and for all whether Central’s cuisine truly is best, but Azami quite logically points out that Souma has nothing to offer to persuade Azami to allow the challenge, and so he will not do so.

That’s when Souma’s pops, Saiba Jouichirou, appears, along with Azami’s father-in-law Senzaemon.

Jouichirou repeats his son’s plea (after mussing Souma’s hair and angering him), but he is actually able to make it worth Azami’s while: if the rebels are defeated, he will bend the knee to Azami and his gastronomic philosophy.

Since virtually everything Azami is doing  with Totsuki is a means to beat his senpai Jouichirou, once he has assurances Jouichirou is serious he quickly agrees to let the challenge go forward: a Team Shokugeki between Central’s Elite Ten (well, eight of them anyway) and the rebels.

While aboard the train to the port that will no doubt take them to the island of this momentous shokugeki, Souma, Megumi and Takumi get a crash course in what a team shokugeki is: Individual team members duel with those on the other team, until only two remain. However, as the teams fight, they are able to help one another as needed, making up for one anothers’ weaknesses and filling gaps in the culinary work.

The kids later learn is was Doujima Gin who summoned Junichirou and Senzaemon, thus single-handedly saving the rebellion. He and Juni will be training them, and they decide the best way to do so is through trial-by-fire: a mock team battle. Gin, Megumi, and Takumi form one team, while Junichirou, Souma, and Erina form the other.

The one officiating and judging the battle (and who decided on the team makeups, as Gin and Junichirou constantly bickered over it) is Senzaemon-sama himself. He adds an extra wrinkle of difficulty by banning all chefs from verbal communication throughout the mock battle. With Gin and Junichirou as their teams’ respective captains, the kids serve as their assistants.

Both Takumi and Megumi quickly catch on by watching Gin make preparations for the featured dish (shepherd’s pie) and are able to have what he needs ready without his having to ask.

Team Jouichirou…has a bit of a rougher time at first. Jourichirou is one of the few people who can truly throw Souma off his usual happy-go-lucky, it’s-all-good vibe. It doesn’t take long for the bickering father and son to break Senzaemon’s no-talking rule, but since it’s a mock battle they’re merely sternly warned.

Erina, who is just chuffed to be cooking alongside her beloved idol Junichirou, has to serve as peacemaker…though even she breaks the no-talking rule while scolding Souma. Ultimately all four youngins start to realize their captains aren’t making run-of-the-mill shepherd’s pie, but putting their own individual spins on it (in Gin’s case, he’s making a “haute cuisine” version of the dish).

That’s key, because the whole point of challenging Azami and Central is that there are other paths to achieving great gourmet cuisine. Down-home shepherd’s pie ain’t gonna cut it. But more than that, the kids have front row seats for an unofficial but still heated duel between two former classmates in Gin and Jouichirou who are at the top of their games in very different ways and will never pass up an opportunity to go at each other.

That alone makes this training session well worth it, because as good as the Elite Ten kids are, these two are probably quite a bit better, owing to their experience.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 03 – Pressing Rewind with Middling Results

GGO’s first episode thrust us right into the middle of the Squad Jam, while the second took us back to Karen first got into the game. This third episode continues the flashback, bringing us up to the start of the SJ.

But since the result of the SJ is a foregone conclusion, the extended set-up felt superfluous, while calling attention to the fact it would have been a more effective episode had we not known how the SJ would unfold—that is, if the order of episodes had run 2-3-1 instead of 1-2-3.

Pitohui hooks Karen up with M, who seems way too into tactics and ways of killing, leading Karen to wonder who he really is IRL, and what form his relationship with Pitohui takes.

But rather than explore any of that, the M we meet here is bascially the same gruff, no-nonsense, yet still patient and affable lug we met in episode one. There’s nothing new gleaned here; he’s still a big mystery.

However, perhaps the most important goal of this episode wasn’t to establish the stakes of the SJ, but to pivot Karen from an IRL activity that wouldn’t have furthered her social skills (going to an Elsa concert with her old friend) to an activity that would (pairing up, training, and going into a battle royale with someone she just met).

Whatever GGO is to M, Pitohui and Karen are alike in that it’s an escape, and an opportunity to do things they simply cannot do IRL. Karen takes that further, intending to use her newfound freedom as a pink-clad chibi in GGO to change herself IRL, and to find a way to connect with people despite her great height and the anxiety towering over people causes.

Sword Art Online Alternative: Gun Gale Online – 02 – Standing Short

GGO backtracks a few months to when Kohiruimaki Karen, an uncommonly tall college student from Hokkaido now living in Tokyo, learns about the post-SAO VRMMORPG craze in which players no longer have to worry about getting trapped in the game and dying. Karen seeks escape from her height.

Personally, I find Karen statuesque and gorgeous, but as I’m of average height IRL, I can’t really judge someone far taller or shorter than the norm for having a complex about it. In Karen’s case, she has difficulty making friends, and is constantly being gawked at.

One of the friends she does have recommends ALfheim Online, but no matter how many times she converts her avatar, she ends up with someone big, tall, or both.

She eventually ends up in Gun Gale Online, not knowing much about it, and after some rough training sessions, eventually finds out she’s proficient with a submachine gun. More importantly, she’s tiny and cute.

Karen, or rather LLENN, leans hard into the cute angle, covering herself in pink from head to toe along with her gun, and finds a sweet spot in the pink desert where she can use her small size and agility to start earning a rep as a vicious PK’er.

She also attracts the attention of one Pitohui, a seasoned GGO veteran who’s been around since the game was launched. But rather than kill her, “Pito” suggests they become friends and team up; apparently the GGO gender balance is quite lopsided in favor of men.

LLENN and Pito become fast friends and form a two-person team, and even set some conditions for meeting one another in real life. Something tells me LLENN’s mentioning of her favorite singer Kanzaki Elsa to Pito, and Pito’s lack of a response, suggests she might actually be the singer IRL, which would make their live meet-up that much more special for Karen.

And that pretty much does it for this episode. It sets up who Karen is, why she became LLENN, and how she met her first friend in GGO, leading right up to the start of the Squad Jam. We also briefly see the group of girls we saw in Karen’s living room watching her play, suggesting she eventually befriends them all, and that getting into VR MMOs was a good way to meet people without the stigma of her stature.