Happy Sugar Life – 06 – Losing the Moon

Shouko, who is consistently the most normal of characters in this show full of loons, encounters Asahi, and she isn’t one to just keep walking. At her heart she’s a “good girl”, even as she once made a habit of staying out late at night to fool around with men.

She’s also good enough friends with Satou that she knows when she’s hiding something. She’s just not ready to believe Taiyo’s accusations. Meanwhile, Satou tries to hem in Taiyo from further interference by offering to let him meet Shio, while the masochistic teacher is dedicated to finding proof Satou murdered her aunt.

Satou’s far-too-together demeanor at work continuies to elicit suspicion in Shoko, who walks the same shopping district she and Satou used to hang out looking for guys. Only this time, she goes to the park to find Asahi sleeping under a bench, and gives him more food. She has no ulterior motives, she has no hidden neurosis; she’s just helping someone in need.

She wants to know how Asahi got into this state, and he tells her the story of how his mother and Shio escaped the house where her drunk husband was beating her. Asahi stayed behind so “the devil” wouldn’t go looking for his mom and Chio.

Staying meant enduring beatings and KGB-style fingernail torture, but Asahi it was worth it; he’d take the abuse so Mom and Chio could be safe and free. He had his moments of despair, but ultimately endured until his father drank himself to death.

The unbridled joy of discovering this fact is quickly marred when Asahi goes to his mom’s house to find Chio has been kidnapped. His Mom, who from the look of the place was not coping well with living and caring for her kid on her own (even though the alternative would’ve obviously been worse; at least she’s not being beaten) simply tells Asahi it was “too late.”

Shouko scores a day out with Satou, their first time hanging out as friends in a good long time. They have a lot of fun, but Shouko has a mission in mind: she wants to know the truth. Satou is initially totally unwilling to tell her, since it’s something she doesn’t want a good girl like Shouko getting mixed up in.

Shouko forces the issue by telling Satou that she wants nothing else but to know what she’s involved in, because she loves her friend more than anyone else. These words seem to move Satou, and she invites Shouko to come to her house to learn what secret she’s been hiding with a non-existent boyfriend.

Even so, I’m not convinced Satou is capable of trusting Shouko with all of the dark things she’s done that even she herself has compartmentalized. Then again, I find it hard to believe Satou would do anything to Shouko in the presence of Shio—which calls to mind how exactly Shio’s kidnapping went down. More concerning is the fact the masochistic teacher is tailing Satou. I can’t see any of this ending well.

Happy Sugar Life – 05 – Crime and Punishment

Just as she senses something’s off about Shio, Satou finds her latest challenge at work in her kohai Su-chan. After expertly disarming an unruly customer, Satou notices someone’s been through her locker, and that’s when Su-chan tells her all of the obsessive things she’s done to try to be just like her, from copying her bag to wearing the same makeup and underwear.

But it’s not enough, and Su-chan thinks it’s because there are still pieces of Satou’s life she’s missing…her home life. For Su-chan, getting into that is like stepping on a pink macaron land-mine. But Satou has become very adept at dealing with people without violence (like that customer) as much as with. You can catch more bees with honey than with vinegar, after all.

So Satou calms down from the panic of Su-chan bringing up her home life…and proceeds to make out with Su-chan, confessing that she loves her “just the way she is” and ever-so-gently warning her to stop prying. Su-chan is so overwhelmed by the object of her infatuation all over her—and spooked by the warning—that she seems to fall in line. But who can be sure it will stay that way?

Meanwhile, Shouko is one of the only halfway decent human beings in this show. She takes a day off work and pays a visit to Taiyo’s house to see how he’s doing. She inadvertently enters his room, sees the dozens of Shio flyers, and freaks. Taiyo explains how the girl in the flyers is his purifying angel. Does that convince Shouko everything’s fine? Reader, it does not.

He then pushes Shouko against the door, grabs her too hard, and demands that she help him get Shio back from the one who is hoarding her all for herself: Satou. The unwanted physical contact and accusations towards her friend comprise the final straws for Shouko, who shoves Taiyo down and leaves, disgusted that someone “so hot” is so, well, disgusting.

But as she passes another Shio flyer in the street, the seed Taiyo planted begins to sprout—Satou couldn’t kidnap somebody…or could she? Shio’s brother Asahi appears behind her, no doubt to answer that question if asked.

Back home Satou finds Shio crumpled lying on the floor in the dark, talking about “punishment.” She confesses that while she was outside she did talk to someone, and believes her headaches and vision and need to draw a creepy image of her mother, who it seems was harmfully overprotective.

But Satou starts to think this bitter, bitter-tasting situation is her punishment, for lying to Shio. No, not about the people she’s killed, maimed, seduced, or extorted. Because she lied about loving someone else! That, to her, was the one and only crime she committed that is causing the bitterness.

After confessing, Shio forgives her, and the two seem back on the Happy Sugar side. But while Satou believes hiding and omitting things from her love isn’t lying, it ultimately has the same effect…especially if and when those lies are exposed. Too many people now have their eyes fixed on Satou’s life and Shio’s whereabouts. Her true punishment hasn’t really begun.

Happy Sugar Life – 04 – This is Also Love

The blood from the beating of Mitsuboshi by two sociopath guys dredges up unpleasant memories for Shio: those of her mother saying she’ll never forgive her for letting go of her hand. Uh, that’s really unreasonable, Shio’s Mom! Why is everyone in this show have to be so goddamn INSANE smh.

Satou rolls the dice and manages to take out both of the guys with taser (which thankfully didn’t die on her; anime tasers are very fickle) and a knife (gouging out the eyes of one). She scoops up the unconscious Shio and whisks her home to her suddenly very insecure feeling “castle.”

It’s clear Shio had problems well before Satou met her, but Satou has similar traumatic memories of interacting with an adult guardian who was not okay in the head. In this case, Satou’s aunt, who was always covered in bruises and bandages, explaining them away to her niece as “another kind of love.” Yeaaah, notsomuch. Control is not love.

The next morning things seem to be back to normal, but the previous night Satou saw fit to install exterior locks to keep her Happy Sugar Girl “safe” (i.e. under control). Words of trust are no longer sufficient, not after last night, the outcome of which Satou is at least lucid enough to know was extremely lucky.

This is a show where it’s almost never good when two people are together (except I guess for Satou and Shio), but things aren’t much better when anyone is alone: Satou’s teacher is suspicious that her aunt isn’t answering the phone, but also just wants Satou to insult and punish him more.

Mitsuboshi witnessed Satou making off with Shio, posters of whom he’s plastered all over his room, because now he’s a demented lolicon who has become fixated on the girl be belives to be his “angel” and salvation. Even Shio has her private secret: scrawling a crude drawing in the closet while in a trance and chanting “spinning.” 2018, AMIRITE?

Shio snaps out of it when Satou comes home early, which is because her cafe staff was sent home early due to the violent attacks in the vicinity. Still, Satou needs to keep working so she can keep saving to buy (hopefully not rent) a stronger “castle” in which to preserve her HSL. While she only speaks of an expensive dream to her co-workers, her brown-haired kohai is impressed by her dedication.

That night, after giving up on cleaning the blood off the wall of the murder room (maybe she needs to call The Wolf), Satou gazes at her account balance on her phone, which I may henceforth call Chekhov’s Account Balance on her phone, since, at some point, those savings could either be spent or vanished via some foul play. In any case, Satou doesn’t really love Shio; she just wants something all hers that she can control.

Meanwhile, the drawing of Chio’s mother lurks menacingly in the closet—another stain Satou can’t remove—while at the closed cafe the brown-haired kohai breaks into Satou’s locker and smells her clothes with alarming gusto. What can you say—she’s a psycho magnet.

Happy Sugar Life – 03 – Escalating Bitterness

This episode operates within the same night that Mitsuboshi brings Asahi to the staff room of the cafe, and as a result, it feels a lot more claustrophobic; there’s no sunlight; only the brief but blinding light of Mitsuboshi offering to escort Asahi home.

Asahi doesn’t know he just survived a crowbar attack by Satou because she realized this was not the place to cut loose; to do so would end her Happy Sugar Life for sure. Unfortunately, that life is jeopardized anyway when Shio, scared that Satou still hasn’t come home, ventures outside the apartment to search for her.

Later, we’re reminded it isn’t just adults who are all horrible people in this show, but most people in general, as Mitsuboshi is just way too into the poster of Shio. By the time Satou gets home to find Shio gone, Shio has gotten lost, and since she’s not wearing shoes, has cut her foot.

Shio also continually has a hallucination of what I imagine to be her mother, who Asahi tried to get out of the house with Shio, and away from their abusive father (or whoever the man was who was living there). Shio only remembers bits and pieces; no doubt the memories of witnessing abuse are repressed.

Mitsuboshi finds Shio before Satou does, and that’s when things get weird. Mitsuboshi, sweating, panting, and barely able to restrain himself believes that being touched by Shio will “purify”, undoing the “corruption” of his old manager. He takes it a step further by saying that his touching her will have the same effect and…yyeeeaaah, anytime a guy is talking about touching a little kid, that’s when we have to put up our hands and say NOPE.

I hate to say it, but the return of two more awful younger dudes, the ones who beat up Asahi for no real reason, is a blessing in disguise for Shio. On the one hand, Mitsuboshi was himself the victim of sexual abuse, but that doesn’t entitle him to abuse others. It’s terrible that he gets beaten, but it does buy precious time for Satou to try to find Shio. Better the devil you know…I guess?

Happy Sugar Life – 02 – All Adults are Terrible

Are those bags of human remains Satou’s former classmates, Shio’s parents…or her former Aunt? Flashes back to her past seem to strongly suggest the emotional toll from that past is what molded her into what she is today, only clinging to normalcy with the knowledge there’ll be a cute Shio waiting for her at home…but how long will that remain the case?

It certainly feels so far like that aunt let her down after her parents died, and after having to deal with an awful adult in the cafe manager last week, this time Satou’s adult nemesis is a teacher at her school—one who the other girls fawn over for being “single and hot” but who is not only married with a kid, but gets off on the thrill of stalking girls.

This time, he stalked the wrong girl.

Satou pulls a personal alarm, and the teacher slinks away, and she’s able to get home to Shio and cancel out the adult’s bitterness with Shio’s almost overwhelming sweetness. The next morning Satou is at the gate of the teacher’s house, and his wife almost sees her unbuttoning her blouse.

Satou knows threatening an M like him will only get him excited, but she still does it to make it perfectly clear she won’t brook any more nonsense from him, especially comparing his version of love to hers. She also makes him dispose of her body part bags…which he also likes.

Meanwhile, we get some Shio day-in-the-life, where she tries to help out by cleaning but can’t grasp the need to plug in a vacuum, and has no idea how to cook. She also notices the locked door to Satou’s death room, and actually passes out when the outside balcony triggers a flashback of her own; perhaps to the time when Satou first snatched her.

Of course, it isn’t just adults who are awful on this show. Mitsuboshi, who starts work at Satou’s other cafe, may be a victim of an older woman (and the trauma makes him nauseous whenever another older woman touches him), but he privately reveals he’s a lolicon, with specific hots for Shio, who he knows from the missing posters Shio’s older brother has distributed.

Strange connections are made when Satou’s co-worker Shoko, then Mitsuboshi come across the brother getting beaten up by punks. The brother’s state of hygiene suggests his parents are dead and he’s all alone on the streets, desperate to find Shio. Mitsuboshi brings him to the cafe break room, where the brother starts muttering the same “marriage vows” she and Shio made.

All alone with the brother, who is a direct risk to her only recently-stabilized happy sugar life, Satou snaps into the mode she deems necessary to preserve and protect that life, and prepares to brain the brother with a crowbar. Does she end up killing him right there in her very public workspace?

Happy Sugar Life – 01 (First Impressions) – A Bittersweet Symphony

Sooooo, this is a show about a crazy person! She was once not crazy, but just kinda…there, sleeping around, feeling nothing. But then she felt something she never felt before: pure, true love. Interestingly, she felt it for a young girl, Chio, whom she keeps at an apartment she’s maintaining, and treats her like something between a daughter and a little sister.

Upon meeting her, Chio became Satou’s everything, so she now does anything and everything she can to ensure they can remain together and keep the lights on and their bellies full. And I mean anything.

She has to work in order to afford utilities, food, and the like, so Satou gets a job at a cafe run by an older (but still young) woman. When Satou becomes the toast of the town there due to her innate cuteness, and a waiter confesses and asks her out, her coworker snitches on her about rejecting him.

The manager then proceeds to make Satou’s life miserable, making her work overtime doing pointless tasks. But when she docks her pay, the very thing keeping Satou in her titular “happy sugar life” with Chio, Satou snaps, and fights back, proving she can be just as ruthless as those who wronged her.

Satou gets the manager to confess on video ranting about what she did to the rejected waiter (who is locked in her closet, naked and crying, the victim of sexual assault) but isn’t interested in justice, only blackmail and getting paid. The ordeal is a very bitter experience for her, but it all melts away to sweetness when she returns home to Chio.

The only problem is, their “home” is a house whose original occupants she murdered and still stores their hacked-up remains in a spare room, the bags drawn shut with, presumably, the hair ribbons of Satou’s victims. We also learn that Chio is a missing child, and that her older sister might be Satou’s only friend in the episode, whose body fat content she could calculate with creepy precision.

So it would seem her experience at the restaurant didn’t make her crazy; she was crazy long before that but was simply trying to keep it together. Obviously, it’s a bit difficult to root per se for a homicidal kidnapping monster, especially when her charge Chio is pretty much a cipher.

Chio may not be in immediate danger—she’s the one thing in the world Satou seems to actually value—but then again, Chio never once asks what’s going on, where her family is, or whether it’s okay if she can please go now. Does Satou love Chio enough to give her back to her real family, or is her love wholly dependent on possession? Hmmmm…

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 05 – A Good Meal, a Nice Bath, and an Unexpected Guest

The first minutes of this episode of Tada-kun are, in a word, heartbreaking. A grown Mitsuyoshi and Yui pray at their parents’ grave with their gramps, and we’re taken back to the rainy day their dad suddenly has to hop on a flight, and their mom drives him to the airport.

As they pull away, his dad pokes his head out the window and snaps a picture of his kids. Mitsuyoshi is sullen. Yui is cheerful. It turns out to be the last picture their dad took; he and their mom were killed in an accident, and would never return.

Back in the present, Kaoru blasts into the Tadas’ cafe to announce the “Tenth Annual Ijuuin Kaoru Show” is on, and it’s live. This year, all are welcome, from Hajime, Hinako and Yamashita Dog, to newcomers Teresa and Alec. Kaoru asks them all to sit back while he utilizes his not inconsiderable culinary skillz to prepare all their favorite dishes.

When Mitsuyoshi and Teresa are tasked with putting some food away in the fridge in the upstairs apartment, she’s drawn to that last photo Mitsuyoshi’s dad took, and when he explains the context, she remembers when she fell in the drink and was saved by Alec around the same time Mitsu and Yui lost their folks. She considers both times when they decided they had to try to become stronger; in her case for Alec’s sake; in his case for Yui’s.

The exchange is interrupted when Kaoru announces he’s completed everyone’s dishes and it’s time to dig in. Everyone agrees Kaoru (who comes from a restaurant family) is damn good at cooking, even if, in Alec’s case, she doesn’t outwardly say it. Instead, she merely polishes of every last bit of her katsu bowl and asks for seconds.

The Kaoru Show continues after dinner with a trip to a bathhouse he’s rented out for the evening (he’s a young man of means, after all), and the two genders split off to their respective sides of the bath. Since they’re in the bath, there is talk of boob size on both sides, as well as Yui thinking out loud that Teresa would be a great girlfriend for her big brother. Alec says Teresa already has one, only to dismiss it as a “joke.”

Over on the boys’ side, Yamashita pines for an “older girl” presumed to be Hinako, while Hajime overheats and slips on a bowl, nearly cracking his skull. When the two groups reunite, Hinako is right there by Hajime’s side to help him, for which he’s grateful, even if he told his friends in the bath that his getting romantically involved with her would never happen (likely because he’s still mostly convinced Hinako and HINA are different people).

After the bathhouse, the Tenth Annual Ijuuin Kaoru Show comes to a close, and we learn about it’s raison d’etre: ten years ago, when Mitsuyoshi lost his folks, Kaoru, who was his classmate but never got along with him before, took pity on Mitsuyoshi, and made cheering him up at any cost his life’s work from that point on.

In other words, or more accurately in Alec’s words, Kaoru is a “pest”, but “has some good points too”, one of them being he can always be relied on to cheer you up when you’re feeling low. He’s never failed to do so with Mitsuyoshi (and Yui!) for a decade and counting.

After everyone goes their seperate ways and the credits roll, we move on to an entirely new development: the arrival of Teresa’s apparent fiancee/suitor/betrothed, Charles, who not only can stop Alec’s attacks with one hand, but confirms that Teresa is not only a princess of “Larsenberg” (maybe not Luxembourg?), but its future queen.

That makes things a bit more complicated for her and Mitsuyoshi, now doesn’t it?

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 04 – A Daifuku is a Daifuku

I’m compelled to preface this review with a bit of a rant: I simply couldn’t buy Hajime not knowing that his childhood friend Hinako is his favorite idol, HINA.

Most anime rely on a certain degree of suspension of disbelief, but I can tell quite plainly that Hinako is HINA, and so can Alec. Both of us have just met her. And the only elements that “disguise” her are glasses, a big braid, and hair that magically changes color (what’s up with that?)

Therefore it’s nigh inexcusable that someone Hajime has known since they were little kids, and seen nearly every day, could not discern the resemblance, unless he were “face-blind” like Oliver Sacks or Chuck Close. Since there’s no indication he is, his inability to see HINA in Hinako makes him look stupid, and made me feel stupid for going along with it.

Now, an amendment to that rant: I wrote it before I watched the entire episode, pausing it after the cold open. And here’s the thing: once I did watch it, the show managed to not only restore my suspension of disbelief, but reinforce it.

By the end, the charm of the episode convinced me that maybe it’s okay, for now, for Hajime to be an oblivious dolt. Perhaps because, for the time being, it’s okay for Hinako herself, and that’s what matters here.

When Hajime announces to the club that he’s won one of only 100 passes to a live meet-and-greet with his beloved HINA, it suddenly places Hajime in a bind: there’s no way he won’t recognize her when they come face-to-face, bereft of the filters of photos on glossy paper or the scan of television screens and the internet.

Moreover, Hajime is an emotional wreck, and cannot fathom coming face-to-face with HINA at all without collapsing in a puddle of flop sweat. His club members suggest he “practice” how to interact with one of them, and that one of them ends up being Hinako.

It’s definitely interesting seeing the two interact together, as Hajime lists all the weird ways he loves HINA, and Hinako outwardly saying no girl wants to hear those things while being inwardly flattered. She also tells her childhood friend the best way to calm oneself: write the character for “person” on his hand and “swallow” it.

Somewhat dragging down the perceived intelligence of the entire cast, Alec and Alec alone is the only one who clearly and immediately realized that Hinako was HINA. Thankfully, it’s something Teresa also realizes as soon as she’s told the truth, giving Hinako two allies in which to confide.

She tells them how a one-time deal taking the place of an ill model suddenly snowballed into a side-career, and when Hajime announced he was a fan of “HINA”, Hinako felt it impossible to tell him. It’s clear to Alec and Teresa that Hinako likes Hajime, but Hinako wants him to figure it out for himself that she and HINA are one and the same.

When Alec calls Hajime “an unfortunate man” for unknowingly worshiping the girl right in front of him, Hinako objects, as Hajime’s oldest and dearest friend has every right to. As she puts it, he may be “stupid and a little perverted” but he’s also a shy sensitive boy with a gentle heart who will always have her back when push comes to shove.

Hinako is worried Hajime will be “disappointed” if he learns the truth, and wishes he’d simply take a stronger interest in the “real her”, but Teresa objects to that: HINA is a part of the real her; she shouldn’t forget that.

The day of the meet-and-greet arrives, and despite their earlier grumblings, everyone turns out to support Hajime (except Hinako, who had “errands to run”). Sure enough, Hajime overcompensates for his shyness by dressing way too…too much, and the boys play rock-paper-scissors, resulting in Tada having to swap clothes with him.

He heads in, and it’s all over so fast. Hajime lost his precious notes in the clothes he gave Tada, and is initially a nervous, sweaty mess with the clock ticking. But HINA asks him what he should do when he’s nervous, and he remembers Hinako telling him about writing “person” and swallowing it.

That just barely does the trick; the staff is about to shuffle him off, but he makes contact with HINA and says what he came to say: to thank her for being born. He’s then taken away by security, leaving Hinako wondering if he finally noticed who she really was.

I’m of the mind that perhaps it did…a little, subconsciously. But Hajime plays his cards close and maintains the belief that Hinako and HINA are two different people when he calls her up later. He first describes how amazingly beautiful HINA was in the flesh, then thanks Hinako for the advice that ended up saving his ass.

While initially disappointed, Hajime’s heartfelt thanks put a smile on Hinako’s face, and she later confides in Teresa and Alec that she’s fine with things the way they are, at least until she summons the confidence to tell him herself. I’m totally fine with that; the ball is in her court. I’m not holding my breath Hajime will ever take the initiative, even if the truth fully comes to him.

As for Teresa, she laments to Alec that she’s kept something from everyone else in the club—namely, I suspect, that she’s Luxembourgian royalty—but Alec tells her not to sweat it and just to enjoy the time they have in Japan, because, after all, it’s only a study abroad trip, and one day it will end and they’ll return to Europe.

As Teresa quietly develops feelings for Tada, she can’t help but relate to Hinako’s dilemma, as Tada perhaps hasn’t shown as much interest in her as she’d like. Only one thing for it: more time and more interactions together.

Tada-kun wa Koi wo Shinai – 03 – A Day in the Life of Nyanko Big

Much of this week’s story is told by the Tada family cat, Nyanko Big, who is over ten years old and hence not only knows a few things about life and the Tada family, but has a very deep voice that commands respect. But he’s also a fat-ass glutton, and so cannot leap nearly as far as he thinks he can. The cat-POV premise is a bit twee/hokey, but never offensively so; it’s mostly just charming.

Nyanko Big observes Mitsuyoshi with Teresa and Alec, two human women even he can see are pretty special, but he knows the boy who saved him ten years ago has never been that into women. The universe seems committed to changing that, both by having Teresa and Alec live right next door to his home and family cafe, but have then help out at the cafe while his gramps is out.

We encounter both newcomers in a young nervous couple and regulars like an elderly couple and someone who gives off a hitman vibe but shares Teresa’s love for the Rainbow Shogun, and also has the reflexes to catch a pitcher of water Teresa nearly drops.

The group takes a break, during which time Mitsu makes everyone coffee, while Teresa provides “hot chocolate spoons” to dip in their cups. Mitsu nonchalantly takes a taste from Teresa’s cup, making it an unspoken indirect kiss, but he doesn’t seem to realize it.

Later, the photography club gathers at Hibiya Park for some Spring-themed photos, and not only does Ijuuin remember when Mitsuyoshi saved him from a “kappa” the river years ago, but Teresa remembers when Alec saved her after Teresa jumped in to retrieve the crown of flowers Alec made for her.

Nyanko Big, who had finished his patrol and was lounging in the park, encounters and falls in love with the local salon cat, Cherry, but once again his leap is far shorter than he’d like, and he ends up in the drink, then quickly up a tree.

But when he slips and falls, Teresa is there to catch him…and Mitsuyoshi is there to catch her. So far their romance has been extremely quiet and low-key, with no words at all said about it…save those of a cat. Whatever there is between Teresa and Mitsu, it’s clearly going to take some time.

Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 12

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What better way to follow up an episode that brought back the magic…than the Magician of Legumes himself? Food Wars goes right there in its next-to-last episode, focusing the entire episode on Souma as he advances to the next level: SHINO’S brand-new Tokyo destination.

Everyone’s very casual and genial to start out (Lucie, whom I believe to be voiced by the great Arai Satomi, is a standout), and Shino even cooks everyone a lovely mushroom burdock quiche after they finish cleaning and prepping for the day. Yay! But once the lights come on, Souma gets a rude awakening: this ain’t a family restaurant, and it ain’t gonna be a cakewalk like his first residency.

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This is haute cuisine, and Lucie, Gao, Abel, and Shino are polished PROS. They would be; back in Paris SHINO’S has two Michelin Stars. Thus it’s as if Souma’s difficulty level has been jacked up from 2 to 10. He’s astounded by the speed, precision, and silence of the intentionally short-staffed kitchen. Even on the first pre-open night, Souma can just barely get by.

The episode does a great job illustrating the whirlwind of pressure and activity, frazzling and intimidating Souma like never before. He’s not alone: the Staigaire gets tougher for everyone, as we see in the only cutaway to students other than Souma: all seem to be locked in some kind of epic battle, and everyone’s trying to hide a degree of fear and inadequacy and focus on the tasks at hand. Many anonymous students fail.

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But this is Souma we’re talking about; he’s not going to give up. In the deep end of the pool without floaties, he spends the week learning how to swim, and not just doggie paddle.

He foregoes sleep to absorb all of the kitchen’s precise and intricate French cooking techniques, all while getting into the pace and rhythms of the kitchen. He doesn’t have time to feel sorry for himself as the staff berates him mercilessly. He starts having a blast.

Shino’s team is wowed. but Shino is less impressed; after all this was the kid who challenged him to a Shokugeki; it would be a huge shame if he turned out to be anything less than what he’s become now. And despite all the gruntwork required of him, Souma has been developing a specialty he wishes to submit for the staff presentation following the pre-open. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 11

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I find it interesting how this episode, my favorite episode of this second season of Food Wars, took place after the Autumn Elections, after all the student battles had been fought and settled. While the tension and energy of those episodes was often electric, and the finale was superb, I feel like I was suffering from a bit of ‘arena fatigue’.

This episode tosses Souma & Co. out into the real world, and a lot of this episode’s greatness lies in its realism. It melds the warlike theme of completing a mission—serving and making your mark in a real restaurant—with the slice of life comedy I found so infectious in shows like Working!!.

Even better, it doesn’t dart from place to place showing us how every single character is fairing. There’s a clear A-plot and B-plot, and the A-plot takes precedence for maximum immersiveness. When I learned it would be two students to a restaurant, my first thought was that Souma would be teamed up with Erina.

Instead, the show did us one better: it teamed him up with Erina’s self-appointed “aide”, Miss Secretary herself, Arato Hisako. It turns out to be an inspired pairing that, at least for an episode, upgrades Arato from the character nosebleeds to center stage.

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As she and Souma start out at Western Restaurant Mitamura, Arato is in the midst of a personal crisis following her defeat to Hayama. She believes she will only be a liability if she remains too close to Erina. Note that no one else has told her this, it’s just something she believes. Hayama’s words about her being “too small” in the scope of her dreams really hit her hard.

At first confrontational to the point of warning him not to speak to her, Souma gradually wears her down with his unique blend of reliable friendliness, restless ambition, and an unflappable competence in the midst of a multi-wave battle against hordes of bullet train passengers who fill the restaurant all at once and demand transactions a bit faster than humanly possible.

Arato is no fool: she can acknowledge Souma has more experience with this kind of thing than she does. She can even take his orders to make things go smoother. But she doesn’t have to like it, and she doesn’t, so Souma serves as a catalyst for her to learn the ropes and the rhythms of this very unique restaurant fast.

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The result of that effort is heaps of praise from her older co-workers, many of whom have been working there since the beginning (it’s a third-gen family establishment). At first she thinks the praise is just for Souma, but it’s for her too, and it’s so wonderful to receive those laurels, Arato quickly does what she’s always done: rest upon them. Settle.

Pairing Arato with Souma was better than pairing him with Erina, because where the latter would have been primarily confrontational, the pairing we get results in some wonderful characterization. In the beginning, estranged from her mistress or not, an enemy of Erina’s (Souma) is an enemy of Arato’s. But her relationship wtih Souma evolves swiftly and rapidly into something more complex and satisfying.

Even if they didn’t know about Arato’s issues regarding complacency and her self-imposed exile from Erina, Totsuki’s administrators did her a solid by pairing her with Souma, who enjoys the first couple days of training, but has a splinter in his head always festering, telling him they’ve gotta do more.

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At first Arato thinks he’s being absurd—things are going great!—but he eventually gets her to realize “making your mark” means more than just fitting nicely into the machinery. The machinery has faults that are harming profitability and may lead to the restaurant’s demise. If they’re to truly pass their first Staigaire, they have to help fix that machinery, and ensure it keeps working after they leave.

Calling an emergency staff meeting Arato, with Souma backing her up, proposes radical changes, such as cutting back on the menu options. The seasoned staff rightly push back; with a gutted menu it won’t be Mitamura anymore.

The owner is also adverse, since he’s trying to get back to the golden years of the restaurant, not cut corners. Everyone’s positions here make sense, but the undeniable reality is that those bullet train hordes are keeping Mitamura from being it’s best, and something has to give.

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The B-plot is far more lightweight and tuned towards comedy, but those aren’t marks against it, as Megumi and Erina make the most of their limited time. It’s another inspired pairing that, like Souma/Arato, features a take-charge go-getter half and a talented but meeker half struggling to make her mark.

We know how talented and capable Erina is, so it’s no surprise when she stanches control of the kitchen right out from under the grizzled chef’s feet. He can’t do anything about it, and not just because of politics: Erina makes his place better. He’s on the fast road to a Michelin star after a couple days. That’s the power of having the God Tongue under your employ. She’s the ultimate culinary ringer.

Megumi is almost exclusively relegated to dishwashing duty, simply trying to stay out of Erina’s path and doing her job, but she knows she has to distinguish herself somehow. She finds a way through her observation of the dirty plates that come to her, shrewdly suggesting (with de facto Chef Erina’s support) that customers be allowed to determine the portion of sauce they want on a popular dish.

The de jure chef can’t argue with her when a customer asks a waiter for more sauce, and Erina is impressed with Megumi’s subtle perceptiveness.

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As for Mitamura, rather than cut down the menu, they take perhaps an even greater risk: they make the restaurant by reservation only. But it pays off. Without hordes storming in and out, the kitchen and staff can shine brighter, and the regulars scared off by the train passenger business start to return and find they were fools to ever leave.

Souma effectively lit a fire under Arato, and the two show Mitamura’s owner and staff that they made the right decision to change, not for change’s sake, but for the sake of the identity they wanted the restaurant to have: a fine casual Western restaurant that takes care with its dishes and customers…not a station-side industrial feedbag.

As a result, they are confronted outside the restaurant by a stalky Totsuki agent who informs them they’ve passed the first round of their Staigaire. Arato allows herself a proud smile, but her estrangement with Erina remains an issue to be resolved, which Souma can also help her with.

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Erina, unsurprisingly, misses Arato, and wishes she’d come back. She recalls the time she asked her purple-haired friend to come closer, to take her hands and have fun with her, not simply watch from a respectful distance. Too improper was Arato’s reply.

She felt she could only walk behind, not beside Erina. But it’s pretty clear that’s not the case when Megumi brings up Arato and Erina reacts the exact same way Arato reacted when Souma brought up Erina.

So Souma tells her to work to become someone who can walk beside Erina, and in the meantime, stop the silly self-exile. He has just the excuse she needs: a bag full of manga he promised Erina. He gives Arato the bag and the directive to go back to her friend. Arato takes it and runs off with ebullient gratitude and optimism.

An all around triumph, this episode. Souma, Megumi remained largely their own likable selves, Erina kicked her usual ass, and most importantly I gained an entirely new and welcome appreciation for Arato Hisako, who no doubt will be less dismissive and confrontational towards Souma in the future. Seeing her in glasses was icing on the cake.

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Working’!! – 13 (Fin)

Popura is able to reach the broken dish report sheet for the first time, troubling both Takenashi and Sato. Yamada also mishears that Taneshima is planning to quit working at Wagnaria, and word travels fast. Maya Matsumoto is introduced as a normal, no-nonsense young woman, caught in the middle of Wagnaria’s insanity. Popura clarifies that she isn’t going anywhere, and life at the restaurant returns to normal.

Ah, at last, we learn the mystery girl’s name. We don’t learn much else though, other than the fact her hair spiral is extremely elastic, and she wants nothing to do with all her nutso co-workers. She really just came to the surface in this episode to provide a fresh foil for Takenashi (calls her a hag), Sato (sticks a cucumber in her hair) and Yamada’s bro (calls her normally-cute).

Other than Maya’s introduction and brief appearence, this is an episode in which all the drama revolves around a misunderstanding that Popura is quitting, which will obviously be a huge blow to the rest of the staff. She was the reason Takenashi started working at Wagnaria to begin with, but he promises Inami he won’t quit too. But of course, since it isn’t really true she’s quitting – and we knew this all along – there really isn’t that much drama at all; just irritation with the trickster Yamada.


Rating: 3

Working’!! – 12

Inami has gone a record number of days without hitting a guy, but Yamada wants to challenge her further. She gets her a guys uniform – later revealed as Takenashi’s – so she can look at herself in the mirror, but it has no effect. Takenashi goes home and eagerly awaits a text from Inami saying she’s home while his sister observes him. Yamada is locked out of the restaurant, but Sato helps her. In another effort to challenge Inami, they put her in proximity to Sato, then Soma, and nearly punches him when he slips and gets too close. Sato saves him by sacrificing Yamada’s teddy.

When Yamada’s brother hears the chronology of Takenashi’s exploits with Inami Mahiru, he reacts like anyone would to the other guy’s ignorance of who she likes. She likes him. He even comments to himself that with all this progress being made – no punching, exchanging texts – what is Inami becoming to him? Of course, it’s understood he may not be capable of fully reciprocating her feelings for him, since he only cares about young, tiny, cute things.

Still, we’re liking the very gradual but noticable development explored here. The only time Inami throws a punch is when Soma nearly falls on her as a result of Yamada tripping him; an accident. But what if a guy came too close to her on purpose – like Takenashi, for whatever reason? It would probably require Yamada’s teddy to take another one for the team…


Rating: 3.5