Re:Creators – 22 (Fin)

With Altair, well, not defeated per say, but ceasing to be a threat to the world last week, Re:Creators can relax and do a leisurely victory lap. The five creators remaining on the battlefield accept their supporting roles in a story that ended up being primarily about Altair and Setsuna. The other creators congratulate Souta for his achievement, even if, especially for Matsubara and Takarada, it hurts that their heroines had to die in order to win.

But Meteora steps in to assure Matsubara that only one possible Selesia’s story ended there; there are countless others that remain alive, and more still as long as he’s committed to keep adding to her world…coffee, for instance.

After a celebratory feast at a down-home restaurant, Meteora also points out to the other creations that they will all have to return to their respective worlds soon, as her magic will eventually cease to work as the world restores its proper order (an order in which her magic doesn’t exist).

After the creations and their creators spend one last day together, saying what they want to say and suggesting what they want to suggest, Meteora opens a return gate.

One by one, the Creations say their final goodbyes and walk through the gate, disappearing from the world in physical form but not in the hearts and minds of their creators and fans. I was kinda wondering where Magane was in all of this, and I really wish we’d been able to see more of her…did she de-coalesce off-camera after using her ability to help Souta?

In any case, Meteora has one more plot twist in store: she’s staying. I mean, even if she wanted to go back, she can’t go through a gate she is keeping open any more than she can pick up and throw herself. But she loves this world, and has always seemed quite comfortable here. So while she loses the rest of her magic as soon as the gate closes, I have no doubt someone as strong and brilliant and charming as she will land on her feet.

A bit of time passes, marked by the emergence of several new advertisements around the city promoting new seasons of the creators’ creations, each with new stories that reflect their experiences during the Chamber Festival: Shou and Yuuya fighting side by side, Blitz with his daughter by his; Hikayu’s new martial-arts master alter-ego; Magical Slayer Mamika meeting Aliceteria.

Everyone continues to create. Whatever problems people had with the story of the Chamber Festival (and it did kinda go all over the place, if we’re honest), creators can’t look up to a standard they worry they’ll never approach; they can only keep moving forward, and keep creating. That’s the surest way to achieving happiness not just for themselves and those who consume their work, but for their creations too.

I’m also heartened to see Souta and Meteora exchanging texts in much the same way Souta used to do with Setsuna, only now he’s a little older, a lot wiser, and more importantly, confident enough in his ability as a creator in his own right, to be anything but proud and supportive of his friend’s efforts.

Meteora has pivoted to creation herself, and has decided to name her first work Re:CREATORS—the very work we just spent 22-plus weeks watching.

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Re:Creators – 21

Thanks to Magane, Souta was able to create a miracle in bringing Shimazaki Setsuna back to reunite with her creation Altair. But early in the reunion, I was filled with a constant uneasiness—and was no doubt meant to be—would the all powerful Altair truly accept this?

If not, how long would it take before the spell was broken, she breaks the train station world, and returns to the real world. What the heck will Team Meteora do then? Everything is on the line here.

Well fortunately, there are no further twists or turns or defeats for Souta and the team; this really is it, and as soon as Setsuna speaks, Altair is well and truly neutralized as a mustache-twirling, world-ending villain. She becomes something far more complicated and interesting; something she only could have become by meeting her creator.

Setsuna doesn’t transparently beg Altair not to destroy the world. Instead, she starts by apologizing for making Altair carry the burden of “curses” she carried with her until death and transferred to Altair. Without judging her, Setsuna earnestly thanks Altair for her efforts, even if they were ultimately misguided.

Setsuna also impresses upon Altair the fact that she is no longer simply her creation; she’s become accepted and loved by everyone as a “king” or “knight of the weak” who took her weaknesses and made them strengths. Altair will always have power, and never be alone, as long as those others exist.

So, realizing her presence is a miracle, but a “twisted” one that shouldn’t be (at least in her world), when the train alarm sounds, she walks to the same spot where she walked before and leaps out over the tracks. Only this time, because she’s not alone, Altair rushes in front of the train and destroys it with her Holopiscon.

When she finds no matter how much she hacks at it, the train will still come in a fraction of a second, Altair redirects the infinite power Setsuna and the world has bestowed on her, into creating Setsuna’s story from now on.

That means creating a world where she and Setsuna can live—them, and no one else, it would seem. Altair is no longer interested in destroying worlds, only creating one world where she and Setsuna can be together, and where her story can continue. They’re basically gods now.

There, in the water, Altair finds a pair of glasses, but they’re not Setsuna’s—they’re Souta’s. Setsuna recognizes them as such, and without saying his name, tells Altair that she was drawn in the first place because of Souta, and others who liked her creations and wanted to see more.

Whether the Setsuna we saw was a combination of who she really was and Souta’s own interpretation of who she was, or one or the other, Souta poured his own heart and soul into creating her, which makes her basically the opposite of Sirius.

All Souta wanted was to “see the same world” as Setsuna. And he did, thanks not just to his own efforts, but to those of the other Creators, their Creations, and the people whose acceptance made them endure.

With one more strum of her Holopiscon, Altair and Setsuna are transported away to their own little infinite world, leaving the normal world safe and bringing a happy (if somewhat bittersweet) ending to Chamber Festival. The hosts sign off, the stadium roars with approval, and the creators and Meteora stand in the control room, basking in the knowledge they saved their world.

While Altair’s transformation was quite sudden, and doesn’t fully absolve the fact that she was fairly one-dimensional up to this point, the means by which she transformed were credible and even, at times, genuinely affecting, for which a lot of the credit goes to seiyus Toyosaki Aki and Ohashi Ayaka.

I also appreciate that the main conflict of the story came to a climax and was resolved with one episode to go, which means there’s time for a closure-giving epilogue.

Re:Creators – 20

One by one, Team Meteora’s bag of tricks are neutralized or absorbed by Altair, who unlike other creations, never had a backstory or any distinct story at all that she is tied to. Instead, she’s an open source character whose abilities and power are as infinite as the internet.

She is, as she says, a product of emotion, not logic, both in her sole motivation (to avenge her creator by destroying the world that rejected her), and the way the vast and ever-expanding network of creators who fuel her existence and acceptance has reached a near-relativistic scale.

This is why she can take away Hikayu’s new martial arts abilities with one strum of her rifle and even turn the tables on Sirius, her essential copy and the last remnants of Shimazaki Setsuna’s original creations, turning their secret weapon into one of her own to restore herself, complete with new outfit.

Throughout their struggles, Meteora and the Creators and Creations on their side have had to abide by certain rules, which means they were never going to be able to defeat an entity that surpasses those rules and can change them or make new ones on the fly.

Enter Chikujouin Magane and Mizushino Souta, with the last weapon against Altair, one that, if it’s ineffective like the previous ones, will result in them resigning themselves to the fact the world really will end.

A lie about a lie (in this case, the impossibility of beating Altair) turns inside out, transporting Altair and the others to the day Setsuna took her life, just as she is approaching the train platform from which she intends to jump.

This development, prepared mostly in the background by Magane and Souta, totally flips the script, as it messes with cause, effect, and reality in ways nothing else in their arsenal had been able to touch.

Will Altair find a way around this as well, her rage further fueled by her foes’ readiness to drag her dead creator ‘out of her grave’? Are hours numbered? Or will she stand down on her own, without having to be destroyed?

Re:Creators – 19

Never count Altair out, even when she’s imprisoned in a glowing yellow cube, she still has Charon on her side to protect her. This creates all sorts of problems for Team Meteora, as throughout much of the episode Selesia has no idea what she should do, and only ends up mucking things up, including continually getting in Kanoya’s way.

Down on the ground, Yuuya manages to get Shou to fight on their side, and Shou notes how the Yuuya in this world is different from the villain in their world. Aliceteria gets her chance against the now-freed Altair, but mistakes Altair’s despair for contempt. Altair is barely a character; she’s merely a force of nature. Destroying the world that destroyed her Creator is less will and more instinct.

While this episode gets its usual top marks for style as everyone battles Altair and Charon in their various unique ways, there’s one major problem hanging over it all: I simply do not care about Charon. He’s been introduced to the conflict so late, he’s little more than a plot device. That Altair was able to so easily and completely convince him that her cause was just; that he’s so stubbornly non-receptive to the protests of Selesia—purportedly one of his closest friends; it just doesn’t jibe for me.

But as this is the fourth-to-last episode, it’s time for some Creations’ stories to end, and with that in mind Aliceteria’s exit doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Her arc was basically complete; she went over to the right side after overcoming Altair’s manipulations, only for her forthright chivalry to be pissed on by Altair’s glorified parlor tricks, turning the damage of her coups-de-grace on Alice and erasing her from the world. RIP Aliceteria February. Your raw brawn and bluster simply weren’t suitable for this kind of battle.

Yuuya, Shou, Tokar, and Hikayu gang up on Altair, but she’s able to counter each and every one of their simultaneous attacks, as her nearly-limitless power is just as accepted by the crowds watching than everyone else. It looks very much like another stalemate, but if they can bring Charon down they can at least take away her final ally and shield, allowing all the remaining Creations to go after Altair at once.

Sadly, the remaining Creations are reduced by one more in order to get rid of Charon, and that Creation is Selesia Yupitilia. Finally deciding to fight Charon rather than join him, she lets him stab her Vogelchevalier, she locks him in a bear hug and holds him there for Kanoya to blow them both away, after Selesia has delivered her goodbyes to everyone, including her good friend Meteora, who looks suitably devastated as the Vogelchevaliers explode. R.I.P. Selesia. Good riddance, Charon.

With three episodes left, Altair is finally on her own…unless you count the countless fans in the world unknowingly helping her accelerate the destruction of their own world. Will the remaining Creations on Team Meteora be able to overcome their grief and summon enough power to defeat her? If anyone can counter her cause-and-effect abilities, it’s Magane…and Magane is rooting for Souta.

Re:Creators – 18

Whatever wasn’t working for me last week as the Chamber Festival kicked off, it mostly worked this week, while the best thing about last week—Suruga’s gutsy confrontation with Blitz and the reunion with her resurrected daughter—was carried to a satisfying climax: Blitz switches sides to protect Erina.

The merging together of Blitz and Meteora’s stories was accepted by the audience because, well, who doesn’t like parents reuniting with children thought dead? Also, Suruga was wearing one hell of a bulletproof vest, so she’ll be fine; she didn’t have to sacrifice herself to save the world…yet.

Yuuya and Shou go at it, and because Yuuya doesn’t have Hangaku, he’s at a distinct disadvantage…until Extreme Final Legend Martial Artist Hikayu appears, perfectly matched to Yuuya’s skilled set and ready to bring the pain…while retaining Hoshikawa’s easily-embarrassed personality.

I’ve loathed Oonishi since he appeared, but have to give him props here. Armed with a dating sim protagonist with no fighting abilities, he converted her into a badass fighting machine, and the audience just rolls with it, because they truly DO like ‘this kind of thing’—that thing being fanservice.

What held back last week to some degree was the absence of the most intriguing creation, Magane, who until now has been merely observing. The ‘side’ she ultimately chooses to ‘put her money (or pyrite) on is Souta, and Souta alone, whom she sees as being “just like her” in how the ends justify the means.

Souta has decided to move beyond selfish regrets, and gotten better at knowing how to talk to Magane, but she still gets him wound up, allowing her to use her Infinite Deception of Words. Fortunately, she uses it to his advantage, promising him his creation will not only be set into motion, but be accepted and stir people’s hearts.

I like the move: it feels like something Magane would do to make things as entertaining as possible. She likes fun things, and believes she’ll get to witness a lot more fun if Souta is free to do his thing, so she offers him this indirect help against Altair as an endorsement that however he handles things is okay with her.

As Shou, Hikayu and Yuuya bicker over who will fight whom, Blitz arrives, and Shou assumes he’s there to back him up. But Blitz shoots at Shou instead, Hangaku suddenly reappears beside Yuuya (Souta lied about Magane not giving him back), and we have ourselves a three-on-one fight (four-on-two if you count the dolls).

Shou holds his own until Hikayu brings down the hammer with her Killing Cosmo Hell Fist (summoned with a lot of mumbo-jumbo about Arhat and Vajra and accompanied by calligraphy) to put him out of commission. I love how useful Hikayu has suddenly became this week.

Even better, Shou doesn’t get back up or try to fight to the death, because Hikayu and Yuuya also manage to convince him of the truth: Yuuya didn’t kill who Shou thought he killed. Yuuya blurts out some spoilers about the mastermind in their story, but somehow the audience—entertained so much by what’s gone down thus far—also roll with that, and the story remains stable.

That brings us to what has ended up the least interesting part of the Festival so far: the aerial battle with Altair. Don’t get me wrong; I liked Altair’s spinning array of sabres and her ability to stop a Vogelchevalier’s blade with one hand was badass, as was Alicetaria’s big smile while riding Gigas Machina.

But throughout the match there’s the underlying feeling that whatever more powerful thing Selesia, Kanoya, and Aliceteria throw at her (and they finally get her in a cage, separated from her weapons), she’ll be ready with a countermeasue and a smirk, making all the action to that point somewhat pointless. But even that is a a common thing in drawn-out shounen battles, so it’s at least consistent.

We’re also well aware that while she’s lost Mamika, Aliceteria, Blitz, and Shou so far, she still has Charon in her back pocket, and Charon seems fully on her side, despite his history with Selesia. Indeed, I am not sure Meteora, Selesia & Co. were even aware of Charon’s existence, rendering him the latest wild card that would muck up their plans to cage Altair.

How will Selesia deal with her former ally (and lover?) fighting on the other side? Will they be able to muster some on-the-fly writing that will bring Charon to their side? Four episodes remain…plenty of time for more twists and turns.

Re:Creators – 17

After another week off for another special following a calm-before-the-storm episode, Re:Creators has been giving the impression that it’s not keen on ever ending, even though it must five episodes from now. The supposed “final” Chamber Festival battle has been built up and hyped for so long, its beginning was always going to be hard-pressed to live up to it.

In a distinct case of “be careful what you wish for,” this episode finally initiates that beginning, and is almost all action, with physical, magical, and verbal ammunition filling every nook and cranny of the screen. Selesia and Kanoya fight an arrogant-as-ever Altair, who deflects all their attacks with her infinite arrays of sabres.

As they dual the boss, Yuuya faces off against his old buddy Hakua Shou, which made me wonder when Selesia’s partner would come out of the woodwork and present her with the unexpected scenario of having to fight him. Even Magane shows up to scare Souta, suggesting all of their best-laid plans are far from certain to end this conflict.

Indeed, Altair kinda does what I did with these battles, which is shrug. She seems all too aware of the artiface that has been building around her, and the perfect nature of the military weapons being deployed against her screams Meteora. Even when Selesia uses a powerful “infinite gate” imprisonment protocol, Altair simply slips out of it and comes at Selesia from behind, as Magane did with Souta.

But if all of this is just foreplay, and Altair isn’t falling to (or for) it…why should we care? Sure, the crowds seem entertained, but to me it feels like various groups of combatants sniping at one another with increasingly insipid slogans, Altair being the most guilty of this. For all the evidence this battle has begun, there’s still the feeling that some stalling going on.

That’s why I appreciated the final scene, in which Blitz just kinda casually walks into the stadium’s locker room where Suruga is alone smoking, fully prepared to kill her before moving on to his other enemies. Suruga may be “his god” but he can’t stand that fact, because she’s the one who decided to kill off his daughter to make her story “more interesting.”

For a moment, I thought Suruga was not only expecting Blitz, but okay with him killing her. Hearing her talk about the pain and sleepless nights and despair she endured before she gained success isn’t quite enough to make Blitz stand down, but Suruga’s status as his creator is, as a strike team blasts into the room, accompanied by…Blitz’s very not-dead daughter, Erina. Has Team Meteora poached another ally from Altair?

Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 06

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Barring something bizarre (like a tie with one judge abstaining), this battle was only going to end one way: with Souma victorious. There’s no way he’d lose and give up cooking six episodes in.

The show knows we know the outcome, so it must, as it often has in the past, dazzle and entertain us with the process that leads to that outcome. And it succeeds!

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After whipping out bacon that demonstrates his curing and smoking expertise are on par with Ibusaki’s, and revealing that his profiling job was made much easier by guessing Sotsuda’s password and reading all his notes on Souma’s prep.

The very harsh alumnai judges believe the multifaceted umami of the bacon is something Souma simply cannot overcome, until he starts improvising, whipping out four distinct cuts of meat—cheek, tongue, tripe, and fillet—each perfectly prepared in a manner ideal to it, and added as garniture for the stew, in what Souma deems a “meet theme park.”

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Mimasaka predicted someone of Souma’s confidence would turn to improv, but is confident his profiling and detailed preparations will be able to weather anything Souma throws at the judges.

Mimasaka serves his dish first, and the beef/pork umami is violently, knock-’em-sock-’em good, leaving Mimasaka laughing villainously and the judges more weary than ever that Souma’s seemingly thrown-together dish will be any match.

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…But of course it is. Rather than being tossed around in a boxing ring with meat heavyweights, the judges are spirited away to “Yukihee Land” (trademark pending), where they transform into giddy high school girls (yes, including Dojima) running around enjoying life and youth.

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While Mimasaka’s carefully erected house of cards is impressive, it pales in comparison to the encyclopedic display of skill on display, as he puts a Chikuzen stew-like twist on beef stew rather than sticking with the French classic. The individual meats he used impress the judges with how well each was prepared and how they create and exhilarating ride in their mouths and imaginations.

By the end of their meal, the judges are gleefully holding hands without knowing it. The voting is unanimous, and Souma defeats Mimasaka…but he also teaches Mimasaka a lesson.

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Growing up, Mimasaka imitated his stern father’s cooking, and the first time he put a twist on it, he beat his father’s cooking, leading to his exile. He used that same approach intentionally—and with increasing cruelty—throughout his cooking career to advance himself, because it worked.

But for the first time, it didn’t work, and Mimasaka must surrender all of the treasured tools that embody the pride of the previous chefs he beat (in a scene that looks a lot like Hunger Games, what with all the past losers rushing into a container full of knives). Only Takumi refuses to take back his Mezzaluna; it goes to Souma instead, and he’ll get it back when he beats him in a Shokugeki.

Now that Mimasaka has experienced the same shameful, pride-robbing defeat what all the chefs he defeated, like them he begins to question whether he should even cook anymore. But the point of Souma’s lesson was to demonstrate that a true professional chef takes the worst defeat of their life in stride, because the kitchen must open tomorrow, and the customers must be fed.

Meanwhile, Souma continues to look ahead to his future match with Erina (who looks down imperiously before demanding he get her that manga she wanted), while Round 2 of the semifinals between Hayama and Kurokiba begins immediately. And what do you know, I have no idea who’s going to win this one!

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 05

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Souma made a big, bold bet, one that Nikumi, for one, is none too pleased about, because unlike us she can’t be sure that he’ll win, which means someone she deeply respects will be throwing their life of cooking away if he loses.

The wager also attracts the attention of a young, eager Totsuki junior high student who spends way more time with journalism than cooking. After relentlessly courting Souma for an exclusive, Souma uses him as his taste tester.

The dish for the Shokugeki is the same thing Souma served Mimasaka in his dorm when the challenge was made: beef stew. And unlike (or more likely, like) many Mimasaka’s previous 99 victims, he’s trying to switch things up by being very transparent about what he’s doing.

Souma knows he’s not going to win by being secretive; Mimasaka will find out or predict what he’s up to. Nor can he win by emulating his opponent’s specialty: Mimasaka doesn’t have one. Instead, Souma is treating this like the ultimate creative battle…against himself.

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After her loss to Hayama, Arato is too ashamed to stay by Erina’s side, and takes a leave of absense. Mind you, she makes this decision before Erina had a chance to talk about the match with her (during which time she’d likely have told her she was proud of her effort and wanted her to remain by her side).

On the bright side, when Erina needs the next volume in a shoujo manga she’s reading, the absence of Arato means Souma has something to compensate her for in exchange for her tasting duties (since someone at the dorm has the complete set).

Erina has her largest role in an episode this season, and she shines. By not making things easy for Souma, she (intentionally or not) contributes greatly to setting Souma on the proper path, being immediately dismissive of his pathetic diner stew (and its white miso secret ingredient) without elaborating why.

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While Mimasaka relives the last 28 episodes as Souma, starting back at the diner with Souma’s hometown friends, Nikumi, like Erina, lends Souma a subtle hint for how to proceed in the form of a meat care package, warning him she won’t let him lose and give up being a chef as she runs away flustered.

The final four days leading up to the match pass by in montage form, with Souma ditching the journalist (no longer useful at this stage in his dish development) and Megumi and Nikumi periodically looking in to see how he’s progressing.

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The day of the match Souma must win arrives, judged by five Totsuki alumni (including Dojima, Mizuhara and Hinako), who along with Kikuchi, Tsunozaki, and Erina, imagine how difficult it will be for Souma to break out of the diner mentality of dishes tasting best on the third bite (gourmet dishes must taste good on the first).

Erina expects a crushing defeat for Souma, meaning the end of his stinking up her academy once and for all, right up until she notices what he’s up to down in the arena. Instead of the usual cuts of beef, he goes with high-gelatin oxtail seasoned with cloves to deepen the white miso, and a veggie matignon to add sweetness near the end.

Souma has always been a sponge for culinary knowledge, even if it isn’t being directly taught to him by those he absorbs it from. But he caught on to what Erina was hinting at, as well as the meat that Nikumi gave him, and crafted a game plan for evolving his diner’s signature dish into something one would be proud to serve in the kind of elite gourmet restaurants the judges run.

Conspicuous in his lack of screen timeat the start of the match is Mimasaka; because Souma bet everything on this match, he’s the center of attention, but once he and the crowd notice the opponent, they see that he’s mimicked him in every regard. There is simply no way to surprise Mimasaka; he’s always going to be one step ahead. Oxtail, cloves, matignon – he’s got all that…plus his signature twists that usually corner and decimate his opponents.

Souma will have to weather those twists—some possibly drawn from his own culinary history, some of Mimasaka’s own imagining—keep his cool, and simply out-cook his clone. How will he prevail where 99 chefs fell? Will he put it all on that first bite, or manage to flip the script in a way even Mimasaka could not predict?

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 04

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In hindsight, SnS wouldn’t have brought a character like Mimasaka Subaru into the foreground unless he had some extended role to play. And if he knew so much about Arata and Hayama, he’s doubtless know even more about open book Takumi. That meant Takumi probably never had a chance.

This week, Mimasaka takes Takumi apart, matching him move for move, then adding “twists” that push him even further into the corner, until his own gameplan and emotions become the enemy on top of the incredibly talented but demented chef he’s up against.

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He may not be the most nuanced character (frankly, it might have been nice if his character design weren’t so huge and threatening to so obviously match his predatory personality), but there’s no denying Mimasaka has a system, is utterly committed to it, because it works.

Even a judge has some real problems with how Mimasaka goes about his business in the kitchen, but Mimasaka knows people don’t like him, and doesn’t care. In a Shokugeki, it’s all about the food, and Mimasaka’s food is simply better than Takumi’s, and it’s not close.

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Thankfully, Takumi doesn’t simply curl into a ball and accept his defeat, even when it’s too late to start over with something new (and he’s limited by the ingredients on hand he himself chose). He manages to produce an ace in the hole with his homemade lemon curd layer made with the family olive oil.

It’s a brilliant, clutch counter to Mimasaka’s many twists, and at just the right time…but Mimasaka knows everything about Takumi, including the lemons and the oil, and his dish’s true genius isn’t revealed until the judges have tasted both and can compare. Mimasaka’s preserved lemons are in every layer of the semifreddo, and beat out Takumi’s curd.

It’s a total victory for Mimasaka—his 100th Shokugeki win—and he claims Takumi’s beloved mezzaluna, confident he’s stomped out yet another career. On to the semifinals, which occur in a week’s time.

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Rather than console Takumi, Souma simply goes home, and whether he expected it or not, Mimasaka is in his room (having used the spare key, to the girls’ horror). Souma maintains a neutral calm throughout most of their talk, being just as gracious a host as Mimasaka was to him last week. Mimasaka has come to announce they’ll be going up against each other. He wants a Shokugeki with Souma, and he wants his beloved knife.

Just as he knew how to push Takumi’s buttons, Mimasaka things he has Souma right where he wants him: angered that someone he respected has been so thoroughly humiliated. Indeed, it could be argued Mimasaka trampled Takumi as part of his overall strategy should he get Souma in the next round, which he did.

And he’s right: Souma is angry, and does take the challenge. But the terms are different. If Souma wins, Mimasaka will give him all of the hundred tools he’s claimed from those he’s beaten, essentially undoing his entire legacy. Souma considers Mimasaka and his methods more of a virus than an opponent; something to be wiped out entirely. He also considers those methods a waste of Mimasaka’s own considerable skills.

If Souma loses, he’ll quit being a chef. Well, we’re only four episodes into the season, and Souma is not going to quit being a chef…so I guess the result of his next match is clear, right? Perhaps, but it will surely be something to see how (not if) he bests someone who knows him better than he knows himself…at least on the outside.

I’m excited to see that, but I can’t help but think Mimasaka has been a wasted opportunity thus far, lacking the nuance of Souma’s other rivals. We’ve yet to see anyone defend Mimasaka’s philosophy or methods, nor has there been any attempt to explain how he came to adopt them. Perhaps that will come to light in his battle with Souma.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 08

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Hwelp, I’m an idiot. I was pretty darn sure the end of last week was the beginning of the end of Kayo–again–but I was mercifully mistaken: it was only a very, very close call. That’s not to lessen the seething tension of the episode’s first moments when Kayo isn’t sure what’s going to happen, but a lot of that weight I talked about (not all, but a lot) was lifted. Who the shit cares if I read the scene wrong, or the show “tricked” me by deviating from its usual pattern? Kayo’s still free and breathing!

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This means Satoru gets to see Kayo again, and is able to provide her with lunch thanks to his mom, who was up even earlier than he was preparing meals. One for him, another for “lunch”, but really for Kayo, as the note in the bento box confirms. At this point, Kayo’s mom has a pretty good idea what her son is up to, and is letting him keep his secret for now, having faith he’s doing the right thing and silently supporting him.

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At school, Kayo’s consecutive absences draw the attention and conjecture of the whole class, and Satoru asks the Yashiro of this timeline to act once more. Turns out he already has contacted social services, and accompanies them to Kayo’s home.

Kayo’s mom managed to sneak out just as they arrived, meaning it’s not yet time to rest easy, but at least the proper authorities are aware of the situation and intend to get Kayo away from her mother as soon as they can.

Satoru, Kenya and Hiromi keep Kayo company that night, giving her the opportunity to present Satoru with his belated birthday present: a pair of mittens she knit for him. Considering what became of the mittens back when Satoru failed to save her, I’m not surprised Satoru can’t help but tear up with joy and relief at the sight of them.

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The previous night’s intrusion didn’t result in Kayo’s demise, but it did spell the demise of the bus as a viable hideout, especially when they discover the contents of the backpack the man left behind, which Satoru instantly recognizes as the tools of the serial murderer, including that damnable spray bottle used to accelerate hypothermia.

I don’t think he noticed future first victim in Nakanishi Aya as he walked past her that morning, but with Hiromi as the second victim, it’s abundantly clear the bus and its environs are the nexus of the tragedy he hopes to avoid. They all have to get the hell out of there. But where will he stash Kayo? Why, at his house, of course.

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Such is Satoru’s knowledge of and faith in his loving mother, he knows bringing her there is the right move, and a move she’ll gladly accept. She’s seen Kayo and knows the miserable, loveless life she’s been forced to lead until meeting her son.

Nowhere is it clearer how raw her wounds from that life still are when Kayo instinctively recoils at the sight of Satoru’s mom’s approaching arm. Were it her own mom’s arm, it would have meant a strike; instead, her head is gently patted.

After feeding everyone and sending Kenya and Hiromi home, Sachiko calls Yashiro to inform him of what he expected – Kayo is safe and sound with Satoru. When she asks if Kayo really has to go away, I thought about the possibility of Sachiko adopting her, so she could have some constancy in her life.

Sachiko then goes out of her way to make sure Kayo feels as loved as possible on this night. The hot dinner with friends, a hot bath, having her hair washed, being given new, fresh pajamas, drying her hair properly, and sharing a warm futon with Satoru and his mom (lying strategically between the two) – everything is a new and wonderful experience for Kayo.

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That morning, Sachiko cooks her a hot multi-course breakfast, so far removed from the lazy, thoughtless breakfasts of cup ramen, bread, or spare change her “mom” provided, and Kayo can’t hold it in anymore.

She starts bawling at this attention and care and love she’s never gotten before. The 11-year-old Satoru might’ve taken this kind of treatment from his mom for granted, but the 29-year-old knows better, and understands Kayo’s tears as well as his own good fortune.

Later, Kayo knocks on her own apartment door, and her furious mother, who was in the process of trashing Kayo’s room, answers, winds up for a vicious slap, but stops in her tracks when she notices Kayo isn’t alone. Kayo and Sachiko flank her like bodyguards. Hopefully Kayo will never have to be alone with her pathetic coward of a mother ever again.

This was a generous episode not just because it didn’t kill Kayo in the beginning, but because it ends not on a note of uncertainty or imminent disaster, but on a note of potential triumph. Certainly, a lot of setbacks can occur in the four remaining episodes, but for now those possible troubles feel far away.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 07

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As expected, shortly after Satoru is arrested he’s able to activate another revival (there wasn’t much he could have done in a jail cell), but despite knowing it was going to happen an infectious wave of relief still washed over me, just as it washed over Satoru upon realizing he was back in the museum with a very alive Kayo. This time he thinks out loud and means it, and starts responding to Kayo’s “Are you stupids” with “Yeah!”

This time Satoru is doing away with all pretense and restraint. If he’s suddenly acting strangely for a kid of his age to people around him, so be it. No matter what the consequences are for him, he won’t let Kayo die again…and he’s operating under the assumption this is his last revival, having already been given an unheard-of third chance.

As such, the relief soon washes away, replaced with the weight and suspense of everything he must accomplish in the next couple of days; a weight that never lets up.

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For a moment at school, I thought he was in trouble again, because I still can’t bring myself to fully trust Kenya, but again I was all but proven wrong for suspecting him of anything but the noblest of intentions. He’s simply a good enough friend to know when Satoru has completely changed.

When he asks Satoru “Who are you?”, Satoru gets to think out loud on purpose again: “A superhero.” He hopes to become one, anyway, but as far as Kenya’s concerned, he already is one, even if he doesn’t have the results yet.

I loved how Satoru’s plight is filtered through the prism of two kids talking about friends and heroes. It doesn’t feel like material that should be over the kids’ heads because we know Kenya isn’t your typical 10/11-year old, and Satoru is an adult.

Another tense scene was with Satoru at Yuuki’s place, where he probes Yuuki in preparation to give him an alibi, so that whatever happens, his life won’t be ruined by the events to come. What’s striking, and highly disturbing in its ambiguity, is Yuuki’s initial reaction to hearing that Kayo is in Satoru’s group of friends now.

This was the first time since siding with Satoru on Yuuki that I thought both of us might be being overly naive, and that Yuuki’s odd interest in Kayo could have been something going on for a while now.

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Regardless, Satoru takes Yuuki’s secondary reaction – one of joy – to mean he’s still good, so he proceeds to duck out on his birthday party to toss a rock through Yuuki’s dad’s window so that the cops will come, securing Yuuki’s alibi.

After that, Satoru spots Kayo’s mom, and seriously considers pushing her down a flight of steps to her death, but he’s stopped by Kenya, who has been following him. Kenya agreed to help him out, and he realizes he may have to get his hands dirty, but killing Kayo’s mom will only create new problems, and Satoru was too close to the situation to see that.

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From there, Satoru starts walking Kayo to her house as before, but this time, in another magical little back-and-forth, he announces his intent to “abduct” her, and she consents to let him. Satoru takes her to an abandoned bus hideout with a heater and blankets.

I understand the plan: simply keep Kayo out of the equation altogether; away from those who might kill her. But unless someone is with Kayo the entire time, it also looks like the perfect place to kill her where no one would notice. What makes it a great hideout also makes it a great grave.

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The first time she’s left alone, however, that doesn’t happen, allowing me to lower my guard just a little. She’s knitting away when Satoru calls on her, and they have a hot meal and fall asleep huddled together (something they’re embarrassed about upon being woken up by Kenya in the morning…they are kids, after all.)

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It worked for a day…but so did Satoru’s first plan. And that crushing weight I was talking about didn’t go away just because Satoru brought not just Kenya but Hiromi into the hideout. Kayo makes a neat little adjustment Satoru hadn’t though of: that she was the one who instigated all of this, thus absolving everyone involved of blame whatever may happen.

Rather than pick Satoru’s Joker, she takes an Ace to match her last card. She wins here, but the foreboding at this point is almost unbearable. I couldn’t help but wonder why the guy smirking under the umbrella in the present was so emotionally invested in Satoru’s downfall, or Yuuki’s bizarre reaction, or the ominous scenes of Yashiro noticing Kayo gone in class, then making a phone call in the faculty lounge.

It’s also just the seventh of twelve episodes, so it’s clearly not all smooth sailing form here. Sure enough, when an adult with a backpack pays a visit to the bus, not knocking the way Satoru would or saying a word, but just entering, Kayo under her blanket already looks like a body under a shroud, and the bus a cold, dark tomb.

Once again, the show mercilessly cuts to credits just before confirming that Kayo has in fact been lost to us once more. That leaves us simmering with a tiny shard of irrational hope for another week, knowing we know that hope is irrational, but not being able to let it go.

In reality, all I can realistically hope is that Satoru can engage revival and try again. Because if I put my heart aside and use my head, this isn’t going to go well for Kayo.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 06

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The events of this episode reveal that the antagonist of BokuMachi doesn’t have any particular desire to erase everyone in Satoru’s life before erasing him. If he did, he’d have made sure Airi was killed. Instead, Satoru manages to rescue her, only to find he’s too weak to carry her out. But he only foils the enemy temporarily.

Enter the pizzeria manager to take over (and claim the credit), though this time he lets Satoru leave rather than screw him over again. But in a crucial moment of consciousness, Airi sees who really saved her – Satoru – and slips her phone into his pocket.

So begins the first episode of BokuMachi that didn’t totally bowl me over in rapt awe (hence the 8), but did begin the necessary work of establishing the basics of what’s going on, who’s doing it, and why – much like a detective starts piecing photos together on a cork-board.

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The phone shows that the arsonist meant to frame Satoru for the crime. When he contacts his mother’s colleague Sawada, a bigger picture takes shape than a simple comprehensive destruction of Satoru. He’s only the latest in a string of innocent men framed for the crimes of the criminal who killed Kayo and the other two youths.

His M.O. is to manipulate the crimes in order to divert police suspicion on those innocent men. The more they investigate, the further from the truth – and from the actual culprit – they get. This is a very intriguing crime story, though I did feel the show lag a bit as a lot of information was dispensed in very straightforward fashion.

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When talk moves to Airi, who is in the hospital under somewhat incompetent guard, Satoru suspects she wasn’t targeted just to strengthen the case for his guilt in his mother’s murder. Instead, the culprit was someone who know both his and Airi’s schedules – someone who was at the pizzeria. Obviously, not the manager, but the suited fellow whose face we didn’t see is the obvious choice.

Meanwhile, Airi is upset about how things have turned out, and wastes no time breaking out of the hospital to continue helping Satoru. It’s clear she’s being watched, and when a hand comes down on her shoulder from behind, we expect nothing good. But then Sawada visits Airi in the hospital, only to find her mother, who was the one who grabbed her.

Her mom, still inspired by her daughters faith in her dad, is willing to believe in Airi here as well, and takes her place in the hospital bed to allow her to move freely. What a cool, nice mom!

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Airi meets Satoru, and Satoru says his embarrassing thoughts aloud not once but twice. I liked this little detail because it shows that even if he’s not a 29 in a 10-year-old’s body, he’s still an introverted guy whose communication skills aren’t the best.

However, the name Airi suggets could be their man – Nishizono – doesn’t match the list of suspects from Sawada’s files. He’s hit a roadblock, and at the worst possible time: turns out Airi was followed without her knowledge, and the police surround and arrest Satoru.

But before they do, Satoru tells Airi about an idea he had for a manga: a Grim Reaper who made a clerical error and killed a young boy. He resolved to fix his mistake, but only ended up drawing more and more people to their doom. When he compares himself to the reaper, Airi objects: both the reaper and he should have more faith in themselves, and not focus too hard on their subjective impressions of how their actions affect others.

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After all, Airi is still alive and unhurt. As Satoru is taken away and Airi’s cries of protest go ignored, Satoru turns around and says what he thinks a hero would in such a situation: that he can keep fighting because she believes him. Then everything freezes and goes black-and-white as Satoru spots the same suited fellow with red eyes who he saw on the balcony the night his mother was killed.

Considering there’s little Satoru can do in jail, I imagine this is a Revival. Assuming it is, I wonder when he’ll end up as we enter the second half of the season, and what he’ll be able to do differently in that time now that he has a much firmer handle of the situation, but also knowing his adversary is an extremely crafty son of a bitch.

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi – 05

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Boku dake ga Inai Machi has made it sparkling clear that it has absolutely no intention of going easy on Satoru or the audience. He may be mentally 29, but that doesn’t blunt the devastation of losing Kayo one bit. He sees suspicious footprints by the shed, but nothing else. In an immensely disturbing cut, we see Kayo’s mother and her male friend inside, Kayo’s badly beaten, lifeless body lying on the floor.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter right now who killed Kayo or how. All that matters to Satoru is that he failed in his mission to save her. His mom tries to comfort him by saying it’s not his fault, but she’s not aware of her son’s journey to this point, nor the pain of having come up so short.

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To add insult to injury, both the school and media keep the disappearance under wraps or outright lie about it (to avoid traumatizing the other children). When a second girl goes missing, the story kinda goes away, as if swept away by the wind.

The last straw comes when Satoru sees Kayo’s mom take out the trash, and for one horrible moment I thought she might just be crazy enough dispose of Kayo’s body in such a fashion. It isn’t that bad (though one shutters to think what really happened to her body), but for Satoru, it’s pretty bad nonetheless: it’s a translucent bag, and through it he can see the gift Kayo promised to give him: a pair of knit gloves.

Seeing those poor gloves sends Satoru into a fit, and before he knows it, he and we out of the letterboxed past and back in full-frame 2006, only moments after he fled his apartment after finding his slain mother.

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Satoru is dejected to be back having accomplished next to nothing, but remains determined to discover what the heck is going on. But he initially doesn’t have the luxury of moving around freely like his past self. He’s a person of interest in a murder investigation, and while he’s a mangaka, he’s not incredibly imaginative when it comes to being on the lam.

His cheerful, supportive pizzeria manager lets him stay at his place, but one click of the remote is all it takes for Satoru to learn the crime and his framing in it is already public record. He doesn’t begrudge his manager apparently turning him in, but he doesn’t give up, either, and his desire to stay free bears fruit in the form of a timely encounter with…Katagiri Airi!

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I wasn’t alone in my almost instant love of the character upon her introduction, as well as my hope we’d see more of her. The show is not usually forgiving, but in this it seemed willing to cut us a little slack. Airi isn’t infatuated with Satoru or anything, she just trusts he didn’t and couldn’t possibly do what’s been reported, and wants to help in any way she can.

Airi provides Satoru a place to crash, and even a ray of hope when she pulls out the crime book he left at work with the bookmarked entry on Kayo. Turns out his actions in the past had an effect on the present after all: Kayo went missing March 3, after turning eleven. If Satoru can get back armed with more knowledge, he may be able to save her…or at least keep her alive longer and longer with each attempt, which could quickly turn into a Steins;Gatean obsession before long.

How she acts on her belief in his innocence contrasts sharply with the more pragmatic manager. No sooner is he meeting with a suspicious suited man whose face we never see (another one of those guys…or could it be the same guy who killed Sachiko?) thanking him for political favors, then he’s catching up toe Airi (whom he likes) and telling her he doesn’t think Satoru did it, and to help him if he approaches her.

Did the suit cut him a deal in order for his cooperation in one small part a larger conspiracy?

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If so, the manager probably believes the kind, naive Airi will do as he says and in doing so, get Satoru into a place where the police can nab him. But he’s foolish to lie about believing in Satoru, and even more foolish to be slinking around her house about to call the cops when she confronts him from behind.

Here we see a wrathful, fiercely loyal, and oh yeah, quite strong Airi, destroying the manager’s phone and punching him in the face with authority. Despite the potential danger, she’s staying on Team Satoru, and is committed to protecting him with everything she’s got.

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When they meet under a bridge, she admits she’s not doing this only for him, but for herself as well. She tells the story of how her dad was accused of stealing a candy bar in her hometown’s store, and while he always claimed his innocence, he lost his job, got divorced, and was basically ruined.

Yet Airi has always decided to side with her dad, because she loves him, and was there with him, and she though him a good person who’d never steal. She wants to believe Satoru in the same way, without him even having to beg her to believe him.

Unfortunately, the parties at work trying to ruin Satoru’s life at every turn are more sophistocated and diabolical in their methods than either Satoru or Airi are prepared for. Tough and careful as she is, she ends up trapped in her room when her house is set ablaze, and when she opens her door she gets knocked out by the smoke.

Is it “Airi, we hardly knew ye” so soon after her reunion with Satoru? I doubt it. But what comes next, I have no idea. She may survive. She may die, and trigger another “revival”. But if that happens, it means one more life he must try to save, even as he only managed to forestall Kayo’s death by two days.

The tide, in other words, is very much against Satoru. Everyone close to him is being killed; he’s being slowly erased. I sorely hope he can find a way to turn that tide.

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