Appare-Ranman! – 04 – Win With Something Else

While working diligently at the diner, Kosame learns how expensive automobiles are, and gets the idea to simply sell the car they won from Al Lyon. Even with just his half share he’s sure he can book passage back home. Alas, Appare has already dissected the BNW down to the last bolt, and is already preparing to integrate its components into his custom racer.

Meanwhile, Xialian’s boss turns her down simply because “women don’t race.” She just wants a chance to prove she’s capable, and thanks to getting into a fight with lead driver David, the team owner decides to allow an informal race before practice Wednesday. If Xialian loses, she’s fired.

The owner also lends Xialian the team’s infamous Number 0 car, which has engine gremlins so bad it doesn’t even make it to Appare’s garage. The odds are certainly stacked against her, but all the elements are present for an vital upset against the sexist good-old-boy club of racing.

When Xialian arrives pushing Number 0, laughing in the face of those odds, Appare recommends giving it acceleration mods so she can easily win the race, but she just wants it serviced normally. Appare, an engineer first and driver second, doesn’t see the point, but he has Al Lyon’s team work on the car.

Then he shows that while he’s not a driver first, he knows what it means to drive, and win, despite not having the best or fastest car. In the previous episode he used his technical know-how and the terrain. With no time for prototypes, he must visualize test driving his racer in his head, and Xialian follows along until the two are steering and shifting in unison.

Xialian takes the creatively-delivered advice to heart on the day of the race. David has his usual sexist comments ready, but she’s the one who gets of to a better start, which the men chalk up to her lighter weight. That may be the case, but no matter the gender a driver must exploit every advantage.

As Kosame, Hototo, Al and Sofia watch and cheer for Xialian, she lets David maintain a slim lead without letting him pull away. Since she started ahead of him, he wore his tires out aggressively driving to take that nominal lead. That puts her in his draft, so his car is displacing air hers doesn’t have to, lessening her fuel consumption and tire wear.

Xialian re-takes the lead and David can’t get it back, so on the last corner he makes contact with her car in order to take the lead. Her car spins, but she never loses control, keeping her foot on the gas and keeping the car out of the wall.

At the end, David is ready to celebrate his win while Xialian is ready to slug him. But to her shock, it’s the owner whose fist reaches David’s face first. He saw exactly what he did, and it nearly got two of his cars wrecked in an exhibition race.

Meanwhile, he also saw how Xialian handled herself, both during the race and when David hit her, and he’s impressed. His “hate the culture, not the owner” stance regarding a woman pro racer is still a cop-out, but he won’t deny she’s a true racer. He also decides to lend her Number 0 for the Trans American Race, while the similarly impressed mechanics offer to help outfit the car for cross-country racing.

The scenes in which Dylan and his ambitious business friend discuss the players in the upcoming race, and in which the press only has time for one hasty photo of Kosame shielding his eyes from the camera flash, feel out of place at the end of this episode, and more like a prologue of the next.

Nevertheless, Appare-Ranman! emerges from its three-month hiatus having not skipped a beat. It was cool to see two conventional race cars go at it on a track, and I’m glad Xialian’s hard work paid off. Appare was mostly his usual passive self, but his “mind-driving” session with Xialian was beautiful. It looks like we’ll be out of L.A. and on the road soon!

Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2 – 11 – The Other Side of the Story

The Cheer Squad’s cross-dressing skit goes off without a hitch, pleasing Yuu, who feared everyone would think he was gross. He starts to finally think about enjoying life more instead of dwelling on past regrets and failures…only for the greatest regret of his life to show up to anti-cheer him.

Just as Yuu is drafted to fill in for an injured Kazeno as anchor on the club relay race, all of the past unpleasantness rushes back into the forefront of his mind. All his ears hear around him are the discouraged and annoyed voices of the crowd cursing his name and everything about him.

The mystery girl who arrives is Otomo Kyouko, who was neither a crush nor a friend in middle school. She was just a kind classmate who’d look out for him whenever she could. She was a good person. Then she started dating Ogino Kou, whom Yuu soon learns is cheating on Kyouko with other girls.

Honestly I don’t remember middle school being this sexed up, but Kou further demonstrates how pure a scum he truly is by refusing to stop cheating, then using footage of Kyouko on his phone to threaten Yuu into silence.

Not about to let a good person, even someone who’s barely an acquaintance get hurt by a bad one, Yuu’s sense of justice curdles into rage before the despicable Kou, and he punches the shit out of him in the middle of class. He aimed to ruin his face so no girl would approach it again, but Kou quietly threatens to abuse Kyouko if Yuu doesn’t stand down.

If that wasn’t enough, Kou also loudly professes that Yuu is a stalker. To both her and everyone else around, it looks like a crazed Yuu is beating up her boyfriend because he’s jealous and obsessed, and he’s too shocked by how badly things are going for him to defend himself, though I doubt it would have helped.

For the assault, Yuu is suspended for a month and ordered to write a letter of apology to Kou, but despite writing and erasing over the paper hundreds of times, he’s unable to write a single word of anything; neither a false apology nor an indictment of Kou’s own misdeeds. In his absence at school his reputation as a creep crystallizes.

Back in the present, the relay anchors are ordered to their marks, but Yuu is so out of it he forgets what color team he’s on…until Miyuki puts his red headband on his head and offers him words of encouragement and a pat on the back. This mirrors Miyuki’s eventual visit to Yuu’s house to present the “Student Council Secret Report” he prepared with Miyuki and Chika.

While Miyuki doesn’t judge whether Yuu’s actions were right or wrong (merely that they could have been better), he cannot deny that Yuu’s ultimate objective was to protect Otomo Kyouko, and that objective was achieved when Kou broke up with her days after the beating. Turns out all those months of refusing to apologize made Kou paranoid, and he released his grip on the poor girl.

However, Kyouko never saw this report, and still has the same idea of what went down. She still believes Kou to be a good guy and blames Yuu for their breakup. She came to the festival specifically to “unload” on Yuu, but rather than continue to wallow in despair, Yuu draws strength from the knowledge someone—specifically Miyuki, Kaguya and Chika—learned his side of the story and supported him.

So before running his leg of the relay, Yuu responds to Kyouko’s heckling with the same words Miyuki wrote in thick black permanent marker way outside the gridlines of the apology letter stock…so hard that to this day the ink residue is embedded in the desk: GO TO HELL, DUMBASS.

As the race progresses, Yuu is determined to win. He believes he has to win to prove he truly “shake Kyouko off” and move on with his life. Kaguya and Miyuki and Chika cheer him on, hoping the good person they know can overcome adversity. Kobachi loudly cheers him on, while Miko, who helped get Yuu reinstated, cheers for him almost under her breath—but with no less conviction.

Yuu ends up losing by a hair. Like the lack of a forced reconciliation with Kyouko, the defeat is an excellent subversion of how these races usually go. But the fact is, he still tried his best and his cheer squad comrades appreciate that. Koyasu, the pink-haired girl, even tears up, so moved by his genuine frustration. Rather than calling him a loser and failure and weirdo like he feared, they tell him he did good.

Suddenly, as his tears give way and his field of vision clears, he can finally see the EYES of the cheer squad members, a pack of Normies with whom he thought he’d never get along and inherently distrusted due to past traumas. But there they are in all their glory. We’d never seen their eyes either because Yuu never looked at them properly. Now he does, and he’s elated to discover they’re all good people.

As Kyouko departs, she tells her former classmates she was glad to be able to give Yuu a piece of her mind, and leaves Shuchiin with fun memories despite how things turned out. As Kaguya and Ai observe, she’s blissfully ignorant, but the smile she wears as she leaves is the very thing Yuu worked and suffered to protect, and he succeeded.

That Yuu would do that for a classmate he barely knew, at the cost of so much personal turmoil and with no reward, then he must be the very best quality of person. It’s no wonder he was recruited into the StuCo. This episode of Love is War had virtually no jokes or gags, but it didn’t matter. What it offered instead was masterful character drama, further cementing its status as Anime of the Year.

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 14 – Here There Be Dragons (and Dancing)

With all other conflicts resolved, all that’s left is for Touma to capitalize on all of the breaks his allies have given him, charge in, and break that nasty shell around Mikoto once and for all. When he does so, his arm flies off from the impact, but a veritable novelty nuts can full of multicolored frikkin’ dragons erupts and attacks the shell from every angle until it finally shatters. Even Sogiita is impressed by such a grand display of Guts.

Since her Level 6 pupa destroyed her clothes, Mikoto ends up naked once the remnants of the shell crumble from her body, but Touma is ready to cover her up with his big jacket. He could sense she was mulling some kind of suicide tactic that would purge all the sinister elite forces of Academy City all by her lonesome.

But if there’s anything he learned from this arc, and which she can impart from her eventual rescue, is that nothing can be done about that all at once, or by just one person. Little by little, they’ll change things and shine light on the dark corners together. Before leaving the site of their battle, Sogiita notices the strange metal residue that wasn’t there before, and is likely similar to the material Saten was investigating before everything went nuts.

With that, Mikoto makes her rounds, starting with MISAKA, who is on the mend thanks to Heaven Canceller’s ministrations and the elimination of the virus affecting the Sisters as a whole. But the real treat is when she visits a recovering Mitsuko in the hospital. She offers her heartfelt apologies, but Mitsuko offers her own for not following through on her big words. Mikoto is someone she and others will always naturally gravitate toward.

By watching so many be inspired to action on Mikoto’s behalf, Mitsuko herself has become more compassionate towards others, especially when she learns what Wannai and Akatsuki did on her behalf. Mikoto thinks she’s “not that great” a person, but that’s for others to decide—and they’ve long since decided she is great, and worth putting their lives on the line to aid.

In the aftermath of their epic sub-boss battle, a depleted Kuroko simply left a handcuffed Mitori in the sewers for others to pick up later. As Mitori resigns herself to becoming rat food after realizing the mission has failed if she’s still breathing, she’s visited not by a member of Judgment, but by Misaki. Will she free Mitori as a fellow friend of the dearly departed Dolly? Is there something else afoot for the scheming-yet-slow sparkly-eyed beauty?

Only time will tell, but having learned of all Misaki did to protect the city, Mikoto is committed to seeking common ground with Misaki in future endeavors, citing “her own brand of justice and convictions.” Of course, once Mikoto learns that the memories Misaki implanted in her friends involved her gastrointestinal distress the whole damn school knows about, Mikoto immediately reconsiders simply killing Misaki the next chance she gets.

Misaki also restored the memories of Kuroko, Saten and Uiharu, which almost felt like a bittersweet, almost cruel move, since it meant the off-camera demise of the more nuanced Amnesia!Kuroko, truly one of this arc’s MVPs. I for one would have liked to see her give Mikoto a proper goodbye, even though that would have been tricky as a practical matter.

Aside from Sogiita’s mention of the metal at the battle site and Misaki locating Mitori, this episode doesn’t provide a lot of hints about what future threats are to come, and that’s a good thing; especially after all the episode delays, I was looking for closure on the arc and an opportunity for everyone to kick back, relax, and celebrate their victory, even if none of the city will ever know what transpired.

That means fireworks, festival stall foods…and a positively adorkable folk dance between Mikoto and Touma, set up beautifully by Saten and Uiharu. Kuroko may have her objections to sharing her onee-sama, but the other two acknowledge what Touma did for Mikoto, not to mention how Mikoto acts all flustered whenever he’s around. Of course, Mikoto manages to make herself turn beet red when she also acknowledges she treasures Touma by dint of saying she treasured everyone who helped her this time.

Of course, Saten and Uiharu can only keep Kuroko at bay so long, as she eventually teleport-kicks Touma to the side in order to claim Mikoto for herself, citing “time’s up!” Similarly, while this was a much needed episode to wrap up the arc and provide closure and a period of relief, the preview for the next episode indicates we’ll be getting right back down to business (Edit: it will be an epilogue episode after all…but I don’t mind). All I know is, this was one of if not the best arcs of the entire Index/Railgun franchise, and it will be hard to top.

Tower of God – 05 – Cheap Instant Coffee in a Fine Ceramic Bowl

“What do you *mean* you didn’t notice me putting my hair up? HMMPH!”

This episode sputters a bit in the first half, starting with a mostly redundant explanation Khun’s Crown gambit (other characters catching up to where we are), and a third round of fighting Khun admits is a waste of time. Rather than face the new challengers directly, Khun uses three allies he secured in the first test, when he was supposed to be killing them. The allies prove more than capable of eliminating all comers.

That leads to the fourth and final round of the Crown Game, involving a party consisting of someone who has both the looks and strength to be a Princess of Jahad like Yuri, a towering beast-man in the mold of Rak, and…Rachel. She sidles up to the throne and mutters to Bam that they won’t steal his crown; they’re apparently there to protect it. Only the remaining challengers prove too much for them, and Rachel is injured and tossed into the air.

Bam leaves the throne to catch her, and the two meet eyes, leaving no doubt for Bam of who she is, and that she means more to him than the throne, the crown, or the whole damn Tower. Things look bad for them both when an enormous power suddenly awakens in Bam, blasting the challengers away. Black March seemingly stops time to warn Bam about losing control before knocking him unconscious.

With the Crown destroyed by Bam’s blast (which Lero Ro thinks might’ve been an instance of Bam becoming Shinsu itself) the game is ended without a winner. Lero meets with Yu Han Sung, who treats him to powdered caffe latte served ironically in a chawan. Han tells Lero that the purpose of the tests in the first place isn’t to gauge one’s worthiness, but to ascertain whether they pose any threat to the Tower.

It’s a nice scene between two administrators, but Han clearly knows more than Lero, and Lero knows not to trust the word of someone in Han’s position. Lero also gave his teams three days off following the Crown Game, but with only one day to go, Bam is still unconscious despite Khun’s urgings. That’s when a recovered Rachel arrives with a request for Khun. Based on her behavior thus far, I wouldn’t be shocked if she wanted Khun’s cooperation in keeping her and Bam as apart as possible.

P.S. I love the super-energizing OP, with its bopping theme performed by a Korean boy band Stray Kids, but the ED is the one of the laziest things I’ve ever seen, consisting of a static shot of an intermittently napping Rachel. At first I thought this was a temporary sequence until the “final” ED animation was complete, but apparently it isn’t, which is strange because…there’s just not much there.

Tower of God – 04 – Weak, Yet Amazing

When no one steps forward to challenge Anaak, Hatz, and Shibisu (really just Anaak and Hatz), two groups of three are released, including Serena (fiery dagger lady), Hoh (horned dude) and Lauroe (sleepy). Lauroe stays back while the other two keep the lads busy, until Lauroe can launch a shinsu attack directly at Anaak. She manages to survive and keep both the crown and the sword, thanks to her Ignition Weapon Green April.

I’m liking the wide variety of colorful characters and personalities and the playful banter, though it can feel a bit stiff or forced at times. And while the sudden interruption of Dramatic Kevin Penkin Music with a Kooky Cartoon Reaction is fun the first two or three times, it ran the risk of wearing out its welcome.

Because Bam’s borrowed sword Black March is also one of the 13 Month Series forged exclusively for princesses of Jahal, it reacts violently to the presence of Anaak’s sword. She’s so flabbergasted that Bam has it, she leaves the throne and breaks into his waiting room in an attempt to retrieve it, disqualifying (and angering) her team. She gives Bam two choices: agree to surrender the sword if his team loses the crown game, or die by her hand after the game.

Both Khun and Rak are impressed with Bam’s response: he can’t give her the sword, because it’s not his. He borrowed it from Yuri, so to surrender it would be betraying a girl, something Rachel warned him never to do, as it would be the same as “making an enemy of the entire world”. Anaak is restrained by both Lero Ro and Hatz, and the game continues, which Khun quickly takes over, using a massive wind attack and a duplicate crown to place Bam on the throne.

They’ve won this round, but the game is not over as there are still teams waiting to be released, including the one that contains not only another (apparent) Princess of Jahad (who calls Anaak an “impostor”), but Rachel, who gives the okay for the princess to kill “everyone”, even Bam. I guess Rachel’s rule about betrayal doesn’t apply to guys, huh?

Regardless, her attitude tracks with what we’ve known since episode one: she values climbing the Tower more than she values Bam. Still, I have questions: How did the two end up in the same bonus game when she left before him? Did he follow her to the Tower the day after she left? Did her rounds last longer than his? If she doesn’t care about Bam as much as the Tower, why is she bothering to hide when Bam has already noticed and called out to her?

P.S. Read Crow’s review of Tower of God Episode 4 here.

In / Spectre – 12 (Fin) – What a Lovely Day

Whew…Rikka doesn’t play any last-minute trump cards, and Steel Lady Nanase vanishes in a wisp of smoke; the forum have had their say and decided she wasn’t a realy ghost—even though she was.

It turns out Rikka was aware she was dueling with Kotoko and Kurou all along, and emails the latter to congratulate their victory…and warn them that This Isn’t Over. But for now, Kotoko can celebrate her momentous, hard-fought win with Kurou and her youkai associates.

That said, having exerted so much mental energy outwitting Rikka, Kotoko has to rest for a while…a while that turns out to be 28 hours. While she’s asleep, Kurou goes behind her back and has a dinner date with Saki, the scoundrel!

Just kidding; the two have a very proper and cordial dinner as a form of closure on their relationship that ended so abruptly years ago. It’s also an opportunity for Kurou to tell Saki that Rikka is basically trying to create a god who has the power to turn her into a normal human.

The next morning, Kotoko is furious and suspicious about Kurou’s goings-on, and punishes him by getting his only remaining clean shirt wet by pouncing on him straight from the bath and shaking her hair on him, then tumbling around in the bed.

This is why I was so glad the Steel Lady story was wrapped up last week: so we could watch more of this fascinating and endlessly rootable couple interact and bounce off one another. Kotoko is such a formidable firecracker, she practically requires an immortal as a partner.

The two check out of the hotel as it looks close to rain, and Kurou assures Kotoko that he and Saki are so over (which is the truth after all) by comparing her to Princess Iwanaga from the KojikiWhen she’s offended (the princess was sent away because she was homely), he makes an appeal to her surpassing beauty.

After a momentary blush she scolds him for being superficial, then suggests they head for her house to meet with her parents, casually taking Kurou’s hand and holds it tighter and tighter. Honestly, I could watch this pair of lovebirds playfully bicker for another two seasons! Hopefully we’ll get at least one more, since there’s plenty of potential for more supernatural mysteries, not to mention a Rikka rematch.

Read Crow’s review of In/Spectre Episode 12 here.

Chihayafuru 3 – 21 – It’s A New Day, Yes it Is!

Chihaya may be frustrated that Taichi stayed behind to play in the Takamatsu Memorial Cup without telling her, but she shouldn’t be surprised; Taichi’s always been like this. Rather than dwell on how much further Taichi might progress as she’s on the train home, she needs to think about how she’s going to become Shinobu’s preferred opponent in the next Queen tournament.

Chihaya registers for the co-ed Bunkyo New Year’s Tournament, which after the two biggest events in karuta truly does herald a new year, despite it being held on Jan 11th. We unfortunately spend some time with Retro-kun, about whom I could really care less; his goofy design, voice, and mannerisms belong in a different show and undercut any dramatic weight he might emit.

Back in Kyoto, Taichi is paired up with Arata, but no longer how late at night Taichi stayed up practicing in his hotel room, there’s no way Arata is going to lose to him; not after the challenge he issued to Suo (who actually shows up to watch their match). Taichi can only claim 4th Place, while Chihaya shows Sudo how much her game has matured by beating him to win the whole damn thing. It’s officially morning in Chihayamerica. Time to get to work.

Chihayafuru 3 – 20 – Sticking Around

On a luck-of-the-draw that would have sealed Dr. Harada’s victory, he faults, giving he win to Master Suo and forcing a fifth decisive match. It’s really the closest of close outcomes, but Harada tries not to let it get to him, and retires to his chambers to rest. But the moment Suo won, I knew not only that he’d win it all, but that he’d be back for more next year.

Between matches, Shinobu unties the tasuki Chihaya gave her and notices the bear motifs. Just as the cards ultimately decided to side with her, Chihaya’s good wishes were always there under her arms, letting her move freely and confidently. She says as much in her post-victory interview, giving Inokuma her fair due while also saying she won today because of those beside her.

As for Chihaya, she goes off on her own, cursing herself for not being born a man so she could teach that nasty Master Suo a lesson in her own arena. That’s when Arata arrives—at the exact moment Taichi finds her—resulting in Chihayafuru going into Full Soap Opera Mode for a few fleeting moments, as an enamored Oe and Sumire watch. Suffice it to say Chihaya is in no position to respond to Arata’s confession yet.

Harada’s best chance of becoming Master slipped thorough his fingers when the fourth match ended in a luck-of-the-draw, but he still had a chance if Suo played as lazily as he did in the first two matches. Yeah…that wasn’t gonna happen. Due in large part to the older Harada’s unrelenting intensity, Suo is shaken from his apathy, and after scarfing down a whole box of daifuku, ties his hair up and shaves his beard, getting correct before his swift and almost foregone victory to clinch his fifth win and successful defense.

Surely Harada saw how he gradually poked the karuta monster that is Master Suo awake simply by wanting to take his throne so badly. The sting of Harada’s defeat is softened by two factors: his wife never actually cared about him becoming Master, just in having fun; and the young bucks who watched his epic duel with Suo now have more ammo for going after him in the future. After all, Harada is a player, a teacher, and a mentor. You could even say he taught Suo a lesson by playing him so damn hard he almost won.

When Suo is phoning in his live interview, Arata beats Chihaya to the punch and loudly urges Suo not to retire, but return next year, so he can beat him. Suo doesn’t tell his interviewer how much goddamn fun he had playing Harada, but he sure as hell is thinking it, and Arata provides the little nudge Suo needed to reverse his decision to retire. This, after Taichi was expressing inner relief that he wouldn’t have to deal with Suo, in another stark contrast to Arata.

Inokuma Haruka is pretty sure she’s done too, and even comes to believe she’s finally carrying her first daughter after two sons (she told god a third son was fine as long as she won, but alas). But Sion’s grandmother isn’t buying it. From her perspective, Haruka is still a spring chicken, and it’s ludicrous to her to think she’s done with competitive karuta. It’s all about perspective.

After ten long hours of tense karuta, the Mizusawa gang rushes to catch the last Shinkansen out of Kyoto, but in their haste, Chihaya neglects to notice Taichi didn’t board the train with them. That’s because he’s staying behind to play in the Takamatsu Memorial Cup tomorrow. I guess his thinking is if Arata’s going to go behind his back and confess to Chihaya, he’s going steal a march on Chihaya to jump back on a different train: the train to karuta greatness.

Chihayafuru 3 – 19 – Hollow Man

I don’t like Master Suo.

I don’t like his creepily soft voice, or his obsession with sweets, or the way he macks on Chihaya, or the way he plays karuta, or the way he’s clogging up a throne I’d rather see Arata in sooner rather than later. The show hasn’t gone out of its way to make him a likable character, as it has so many others whose backstories we only get at a crucial point in a match, but at least this week it makes the attempt.

Suo has always seen himself as “hollow,” taken away from deadbeat parents to live in the main family’s house full of relations young and old. One of his aunts took him under her wing, insisting that he one day “make something of himself.” We learn that he has the same affliction she has that narrows the field of vision and may one day blind him.

He doesn’t learn of this prognosis until he’s already attempted several different paths and, not feeling passion for any of them, moved on to another. It’s a pretty lady at college who first attracts him to karuta, and like everything else he picks it up quickly.

That young woman gets a boyfriend who’s not him, but he still becomes so good at karuta he scares opponents away, leading to the adoption of a playing style in which he intentionally narrows his margin of victory and forces opponents to fault. He feeds on the passion of others because he has none himself.

Sympathy for Suo can be found for those looking hard enough, in his unenviable parentage, his loyalty and devotion to his aunt and her wish for him to make something of himself, and the two ticking clocks in his eye sockets. Backed into a corner with no more room for slacking off, Suo then feeds off Dr. Harada’s passion in order to turn an eight-card deficit into a one-card advantage.

Dr. Harada has passion to spare, but after three games and change his knee is starting to howl, as he knew it would, hurting his focus. That knee makes him a little less surer of his form and speed, and a refocused Suo capitalizes. Kitano, well aware of Harada’s discomfort, looks past their decades of fierce rivalry, sees how close one of them is to beating him to the throne, and tosses his friend a cushion to ease the agony.

Over on the women’s side, it’s becoming clear to Shinobu that the cards have become fickle, and that some of them like Inokuma too. Shinobu makes it a point not to get into a luck-of-the-draw scenario, no longer sure the remaining cards will side with her.

In the end, Inokuma double-faults at the worst possible time, while Shinobu uses her left hand to reach confidently across the field. Inokuma is devastated and tearful by her loss, but Queen Wakamiya shows her kind side by asking Inokuma to count the cards, assuring her they still like her despite the loss.

That result gets Arata out of his sickbed and onto the subway, hoping to catch the end of the Master tournament in person. However, he probably should have stayed put, as there’s no guarantee he’ll get there in time, and the internet signal on his tablet cuts out every time his train goes into a tunnel (which, in tunnel-filled Japan, is often).

In between service interruptions, he manages to hear the word “luck”—Harada and Suo are in the luck-of-the-draw Shinobu managed to avoid. While I’m still not a big fan of Suo, and will be disappointed if after coming so close Dr. Harada comes up short, I at least understand the four-time Master a little better now. I just hope his musings this episode don’t set him up to not only win, but to decide not to retire.

After all, he’s still Master Suo…whom I dislike.

Chihayafuru 3 – 14 – Beware the Dried Persimmon

Last week Harada Hideo looked like he was doing absolutely all he physically could to maintain a six-card deficit with Arata, and then his knee seemingly gives way. The surging, crackling pain is ably expressed by a nest of rough crayon scrawls. But this could be his last chance at claiming the title of Master, so he plays through it and ups the aggression of his moves.

In doing so, his hands move before the rest of his body, resulting in Harada taking a nasty spill more than once that unsettles the entire game. As expected, Arata isn’t able to resist being the good guy that he is and help Harada pick up his cards, and he doesn’t call out Harada when he faults.

He also reverts to following the edicts of his grandfather in seeking balance on his right side. That ends up being such a critical error that it couldn’t even be said Arata lost the match playing as himself; he lost it too closely emulating his gramps…and by being too nice to an his mentor.

Still, it’s those kinds of things that separate the young from the old in a game like this. It was certainly touch-and-go with a couple of questionable calls and lucky breaks, but Harada Hideo beat Arata fair and square. Frankly, he needed the win more than Arata, who is, after all, only 17 for cryin’ out loud.

Unlike Arata, Harada wasn’t related to an Eternal Master. He was also dealt a serious blow to his career when his medical duties sent him to regions of Japan where Karuta simply wasn’t popular. Harada waited decades for the right time—and the right reader—to claim his victory. And his students and peers are to a person so moved by his win they’re all in tears…even Kitaro!

Arata wonders if he fussed too much over the one card he had to have—the Chihaya furu card; the first card Chihaya memorized—leading to his fatal fault. At the same time, when Chihaya comes to congratulate him for a close and thrilling match, he comes right out and says I love you, then tells her he wants to play more karuta with her.

Chihaya seems stunned into catatonia and slithers off to be by herself, while Oe and Sumire are gobsmacked. Only time will tell if Arata’s simple words reached her and  how she’ll respond to them, if she responds at all. In any case, it was a damned brave, manly thing to do moments after one of the greater defeats of his life!

Taichi is similarly manly in returning to Suo the scarf he gave Chihaya, envisioning her as his “bride.” I’m sorry, but I don’t much care for the prospect of Suo stalking Chihaya, no siree! Thank goodness Taichi had the guts to tell him Chihaya was “his girlfriend”—and that those words seemed to spell the end of his creepy pursuit!

In his evening phone call to Shinobu to report the results of the playoffs, which amounted to two instances of veterans defeating youth, Suo uses fruits as a metaphor. While Arata—and perhaps in the Queen match, Shinobu—are “fresh apples”: cool, crisp, and sweet, Harada and Inokuma were “dried persimmons”: deep, complex, and of a flavor able to completely overpower the apples.

It’s clear he’s also warning himself: an apple a day won’t keep Dr. Harada away!

Chihayafuru 3 – 13 – The Iceman Cometh


After receiving a bouquet from her adorable firstborn, Haruka wins the second match and becomes the challenger to the Queen. Not a lot of time was spent on their match, which is good, because while Haruka’s a perfectly likable character neither she or Megumu have very fleshed out characters.

During the break he got when Harada withdrew, Arata takes a stroll and thinks about what Chihaya whispered to her, and returns with the face of someone envisioning their imminent victory.

Chihaya also took the opportunity to get some fresh air in the park near the karuta hall, and encounters Suo. When she asks why he always gives out pastries, he says it’s because they contain vitamins, but when she asks why he speaks so softly, he wonders if that’s all she wants to ask him. He’s not wrong on that point.

Chihaya wants to ask him karuta questions she’ll probably never get satisfying answers to, but even something from the guy could prove useful. Unfortunately, Suo takes Chihaya’s attention the wrong way and repeatedly tells her he doesn’t have a girlfriend!

When the third and final match begins, what Chihaya said to Arata is revealed: he’s not going to beat their mentor just by being the same ol’ Arata. He has to channel his grandfather, Master Wataya, and everyone is struck by how much he succeeds in doing so, both in how he carries himself and how his tactics are constantly changing to foil Harada’s uber-offensive style.

By channeling a much older man—someone fifteen years older than Harada himself—Arata is able to take control of the game, but he also inadvertently lends his opponent a second wind, since Harada feels like a young man again (he was nineteen the one time he faced Master Wataya). He’s truly raging against the dying of the light, but disaster strikes when his knee suddenly gives out. Will the kind-hearted Arata subconsciously take pity and ease off his game, or will he do what has to be done to face Master Suo?

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 12 (Fin) – Victory Lap

With the Team Shokugeki won by the Rebels, everyone’s expulsions are canceled and their student IDs returned—albeit in far worse condition thanks to the abuse to which Momo subjects Bucchi. Azami steps down from the directorship, while the eight Elite Ten members who participated in the Shokugeki for Central lose their positions, freeing up the spots for the rebels.

At first I thought Erina would take the first position in the New Elite Ten, but instead she acknowledges that none of the rebels would have been victorious were it not for Souma’s actions, so she recommends him for the top spot. At the same time, Senzaemon is content to remain retired, so it’s Erina who takes over as director when Azami vacates the position.

With the third years moving on to the next stage of their lives, the New Elite Ten consists of Souma, Satoshi, Terunori, Akira, Ryou, Alice, Takumi, Etsuya, Nene, and Megumi. Both Souma and Erina are far busier with their lofty new positions, but Souma makes it clear to the whole school that no one will be punished for siding with Central, and anyone—anyone—is free to challenge him to a Shokugeki at any time.

With the Rebellion triumphant, the episode basically takes an extended victory lap, as the framing device of a letter narrated by Tenth Seat Megumi shows us where everyone has ended up, and how a number of characters  have made slight updates to their appearance for the new school year. There’s even a quick glance a a new potential challenger to Souma and/or Erina, who may be a new first-year. Further developments will have to wait until the fifth—and likely final final—season.

Chihayafuru 3 – 12 – Damming the River

As Chihaya makes dreamy eyes at Arata, wondering if he’ll be the first of them to realize their dream of reaching the highest Karuta summit, Dr. Harada has a plan. He once played Arata’s grandfather years ago when he was a young lad, and considers it a great joy to be playing Arata now.

That said, he must use every tool at his disposal to try to throw the kid off his game. That means suddenly interrupting the opening stanzas to ask that the A/C be shut off. If Arata plays in the style of water, he’ll disrupt the flow.

Harada also has a lot of intel on Arata from his other two students in Chihaya and Taichi, but that doesn’t give him the full picture of who Arata is, how his game has advanced, and how it will continue to advance even in this very match. For instance, Arata was never one to move cards at the rate he does here, but it’s to counter Harada’s strategy of hitting one side hard by making sure there’s as little on that side as possible.

Chihaya is ultimately torn over who to root for, which she takes as a sign she’s matured, since the younger her would have rooted shamelessly and enthusiastically for Arata alone.

But Arata is also glad he’s playing Harada and that he’s still playing at such a high level, since Harada was the first one to tell him he could pursue his dream of Karuta and gave him and the other two a safe space to explore it to their heart’s content.

With a Herculean effort, Harada manages to eke out a victory in the first of three matches, proving that youthful exuberance and momentum won’t always win the day—and inspiring Inokuma to rally and defeat her high school opponent.

Throughout the match, two of Harada’s peers are decidedly not rooting for him, but very much for Arata to crush him. That’s because he and Kitano were once set to win a match read by Makino Midori, Kitano’s “Madonna,” only for Harada to withdraw from the match, citing Midori’s reading skills.

It seems Midori was so angered by Harada’s slight that she ended up working her ass off to become a certified Grade 6 reader. Ironically, Harada ends up acknowledging her efforts by withdrawing from the second match altogether and banking on the third, for which she’ll be reading.

By withdrawing from the second match, Harada ensures his fifty-plus year-old body will be fresh for the third. Arata, young and spry, can only stew in anger over getting an automatic win, while the third match will carry that much more tension because he didn’t learn anything new about Harada’s game, which Harada could completely change up in the third match.

This puts Arata at a disadvantage, since he was expecting to play the second match (with the second reader). Sensing his frustration, Chihaya comes to his side to whisper advice in his ear, a gesture that’s a lot more romantically charged than it would have been were it not Arata….and Taichi notices. Will their mentor really end up blocking Arata’s best chance yet to become Master?