Butlers X Battlers, Episode One

You know, I like to think of myself as a pretty generous anime viewer. I don’t write off shows just because I’m not in the target demographic, and often find surprising substance in shows that others won’t even give a chance. I don’t get as caught up in things like animation quality and voice actor name recognition as a lot of fans do, and I don’t care much about studio pedigree; I judge a show based on whether I’m interested in it or not, regardless of who makes it. And on the rare occasion when I do think a show is really poor, I make it clear that’s just my take on it; I don’t try to make a case for why it’s objectively terrible because a)you can’t and b)that’s insulting the fans of the show for no good reason.*

However, even as a generous viewer I have…certain expectations. One of them is, if the show is called “Butlers,” it should be about butlers, and not just a bunch of obnoxious high school students doing their typical student-council nonsense. We find out that main guy J is a Butler, but in this universe that seems to mean that he’s some kind of magical armed guard, and not a butler in any traditional sense. The other main character, Hayakawa, acts a little more butler-like in his role as a coffee shop barista, but that’s not saying much.

Really it’s just a boring episode. The mystery of who J is, and why he’s looking for Hayakawa, is uninteresting because neither of them are interesting characters. The surrounding characters are bland as well, and there’s a ton of them; this show seems to want us to get to know the name of every single student at this ridiculously posh academy. Why? Why do I need to know the names of all these people? Why does it matter when they’re all boring?

By the end of the episode, when J’s mysterious past has been semi-revealed, then everything that’s come before makes even less sense. Why would J take on the role of student council president, when he’s trying to investigate something that happened 100 years earlier? Wouldn’t he want to keep a low profile to keep other students from finding out about the Secret Order of Not-Butlers or something? It seems like everything has been contrived so the show can have a typical high school student council setting/plot, even though it doesn’t work with the rest of the story.

If you want to see a bunch of pretty guys talking to each other, than maybe this is the show for you, but so far, it doesn’t seem to have much to offer beyond that. I really hesitate to call shows boring, because too many shows try too hard to grab the viewer in the first episode and end up feeling forced and frenetic; I respect the decision to let the story develop at its own pace. However, when I don’t care about any of the characters, and the whole thing seems wildly disjointed, slow pacing is just another nail in the coffin.

I’m disappointed, because I thought this might be a fun, time travelling butlers show. So far, it’s just incredibly tedious, and even if you’re into it for the “pretty boys hanging out” angle, you’d be better served by watching Yotsuiro Biyori, which has cute guys that I don’t want to punch in the face. This is the first real dud of the season for me.

*That’s my stance now, anyway. You can find articles from, say, 2010 when I was a less generous viewer, but seriously, does anyone care? No one cares.

Food Wars, The Third Plate, Episode 13

The OCD part of me is annoyed that I’m starting off here with Episode 13 of this season. Plus, I only blogged part of The Second Plate back in the day, so really, to appease the OCD Gods, I should go back and blog every episode, starting with the first season. However, I’m going to choose to believe– despite a complete lack of evidence to the contrary– that my time is too valuable for that.

Anyway, whatever, Food Wars! is back! No more tiding ourselves over with oddly specific stuff like Miss Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles, it’s time for the show with copious, multi-disciplinary food porn! Currently, the perky culinary students of Polar Star Dormitory are busy fighting communism, or whatever this stupid arc with Erina’s Dad is about, but let’s gloss over that and focus on what matters: people eating delicious food and then hallucinating vividly.

Today’s food porn is a classic egg-over-rice dish, with a twist. Can I just say I have a love-hate relationship with the Asian habit of serving dishes with a runny egg on top? I get the appeal of the creaminess of the egg yolk mixing with the other flavors, but err, food poisoning is a terrible risk. Back when I ate eggs, I ate those suckers cooked to hell and back, let me tell you.

Actually, to go back to the political aspect, I do kind of get it. The original model of Totsuki Academy functioned as an extreme meritocracy, where only cooking quality mattered and anyone who couldn’t cook to a certain level on their own was immediately expelled. So, kind of an extreme capitalist model, the kind of thing that would give Ayn Rand the warm fuzzies. Nakiri Azami, main girl Erina’s evil-ish daddy, wants to change the system to something more forgiving of failure, but also incredibly authoritarian and anti-creativity. So it’s a pretty classic political struggle, and I suspect we’ll eventually end up somewhere in the middle, since the original Totsuki “one mistake and you’re GONE” model was pretty cruel. It makes sense to me, but I think asking why Food Wars! felt the need to get political in the first place is a valid question; it feels a little pompous.

“ATTENTION: No authoritarianism allowed at this cooking school anymore! Now all of you do as the God Tongue tells you! Fresh, seasonal ingredients good, communism BAD!”

Oh and also, Nakiri Azami apparently wants to destroy every restaurant in the world (or at least Japan) that doesn’t feature white-tablecloth fine dining. How many economics classes do they have at Totsuki Academy? Clearly, not even one, or Azami might notice all 14 million practical problems with this approach. Erina’s mom must have been the brains in this family.

Speaking of Erina, this is really her episode, giving us insight into what it’s like to grow up as the girl with a world-famous palette called “the God Tongue.” First, since she’s been working as a culinary consultant since she was barely out of diapers, she’s essentially had her childhood stolen from her. Second, having hyper-sensitive taste buds has got to suck when every upstart chef wants you to taste their edgy new fusion dish, possibly with sheep offal. Third, a brief encounter with Soma’s dad changed her life, because for one meal, she was able to enjoy food just as a diner, and not as a judge.

The relationship between Erina and Soma’s dad has been hinted at before, but it’s kind of surprising how limited it actually was; it seems like she was only in his company for a few hours, once. The way the show has been foreshadowing it, I thought he had been clandestinely tutoring her for years or something. Nevertheless, her connection to his father strengthens the bond between Soma and Erina, which gives Erina the courage to do something she’s always been terrified to do: stand up to her insanely domineering father.

I don’t think anyone looks to Food Wars! for great character development, but this has been a solid arc for Erina and it’s satisfying to see her fully emerge as one of the good guys, after playing sometimes-antagonist to Soma and friends for so long. Now Erina is going to be helping the Polar Star kids pass an Advancement Exam, where the judges are going to be gunning for them because they’re rebels who openly disapprove of her father’s agenda.

I’m curious how this is going to play out. It could be a simple as Erina using her experience and palette to help coach her dormmates to make food so delicious that the judges can’t eliminate them in good conscience, but I kind of hope they go another way: that she starts throwing her weight around as The God Tongue.

Like, imagine the judges are trying to evict Megumi, and they say her Salmon en Croute tastes “bland and uninspiring,” then Erina walks in with her entourage, tastes Megumi’s dish and says “ACTUALLY I think this is some delicious salmon, and I’m the God Tongue; go fuck yourselves.” Then the judges go off to a corner to cry and Megumi slowly backs out of the room, wondering what just happened.

Except only the highest quality, Grade A eggs with spiky red hair and an attitude problem.

This episode also features what may be my favorite Foodgasm thus far: Erina being assaulted by tiny chicks who all look like Soma. He feeds her an innovative egg-over-rice dish, and her resistance to calling it delicious is countered by a million tiny Soma-chickens who nibble on her extremities, or something. I want the Soma mini-chickens to be the new norm for foodgasm scenes, even if he’s making something totally unrelated; diners takes a bite of Soma’s chocolate pudding, suddenly they hallucinate a flock of Soma mini-chickens poking their belly buttons, because why not?

So yes, a fun episode with fun food that manages to work pretty well despite my lack of engagement in the larger plot. If the show keeps this up, maybe I’ll keep covering it weekly for the whole thing, and not getting distracted halfway through like I did with the second season.

 

Golden Kamuy, Episode One

Wow, what an incredibly well-done episode of an anime that I will never watch any more of.

I was excited for this preseason because of the opportunity to learn about Ainu culture, but the violence is just too much for me. When a single episode includes a battle from the Russo-Japanese war (with bayonets), cutting a person’s skin off, and killing multiple bears, that’s past my limit for dark stuff.

Granted, I think with the themes Golden Kamuy seems to be dealing with here, it should be visceral and dark; I’m not disputing that. I just have minimal tolerance for violence and gore, and that’s my problem. I am intrigued by several aspects of the story though, so I could see myself reading a summary of it after it’s aired, or something to that effect; it’s just, if I try to watch any more, I’ll be watching through my fingers.

So I give this show the weird recommendation that if you have a tolerance for something that I absolutely do not, you will probably enjoy it. And hey, all you guys out there who love to say that “moe is killing anime?” That modern anime is too fluffy and cutesy, and you want to go back to the good old days when it was all hyper-violent OVAs, like that part with the dog getting ripped apart in Battle Angel Alita? You guys had better watch the hell out of this. Watch it, buy the Blu-Ray, cosplay as the Immortal Sugimoto at cons, whatever it takes to show your support.

Because this is the kind of anime that a huge chunk of anime fans keep claiming they want, and if it doesn’t end up being successful, I’m going to have to wonder what the fuck you’re all talking about.

Amanchu! ~Advance~ Episode One

This show outsmarted me, dammit. I was saying preseason that I would only keep up with Amanchu! S2 if the show actually showed the girls scuba diving, instead of just talking about scuba diving a lot and doing random, unrelated things. This episode contains not one, but two dives, only we see each of them on screen for about ten seconds.  So technically, there is a lot of diving going on, we just don’t get to see most of it.  The lion’s share of screentime is used up by Pikari accidentally going topless, surprising amounts of food porn, and perhaps the most unnecessary love confession scene in the history of anime love confession scenes.

I feel so used.

This was a lovely three seconds of animation.

Okay, so Amanchu! gamed my requirements just like films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe game the Bechdel Test; I can be salty over it or I can just get over it like an adult blogger. All that aside, this was a pretty good season opener. It could have used more scuba diving (which is always true), but it covers a lot of ground in further fleshing out the relationship between Teko and Pikari, which is the core of the show.

However, before talking about stuff that relates to plot and character development or whatnot, can we just take a moment to appreciate the return of Pikari’s Awesome Troll Face?

Oh my God, THIS. This is what I wanted from Amanchu S2, even though I was too stupid to realize it at first: Ridiculous chibi Pikari. When Pikari makes this face, all is forgiven.

I don’t really know why, but seeing Pikari’s face like this always makes me incredibly happy. Maybe it’s because it’s the closest we’re ever likely to get to an animated Yotsuba, and we all could use more Yotsuba in our lives? Possibly.

Anyway, after establishing that Teko really, really loves Pikari (duh), we get a plot where she seemingly pulls away from Pikari, and Pikari misinterprets it. Turns out that Teko is aware that all the joy in her life comes from Pikari, and she’s afraid that when she and Pikari are inevitably separated at some point in the future, she’ll have nothing left. Teko is trying to find a way to enjoy life even on her own, demonstrating a surprising amount of foresight for a high school student. Pikari’s wrong (but completely in-character) solution to this problem is that, while she can’t deny their time together might be limited, they can get around the time limitation by having “Infinite Fun!” during the time they do have. Because Fun is an infinite resource.

Oh Pikari…that’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. But I kind of love your optimistic cluelessness, it matches your ridiculous face.

Two of my favorite things in the universe are a)curry and b)Pikari’s Insane Troll Face, and this screenshot has both. BOTH! I told you this episode was a winner.

This episode also focuses quite a bit on the Amanchu beachside restaurant, something I barely remember existing in the previous season. Later on the girls (and one boy) have a barbecue together, and the quantity of food porn begin to approach Food Wars! levels. Come to think of it, aren’t Amanchu! and Food Wars! both JC Staff shows? I like to think that some of the Amanchu! staff went over to the Food Wars! department and were like, “We need to make a simple bowl of pork soup look insanely fucking delicious,” and the Food Wars! animators were like, “Bwahahahahaha you’ve come to the RIGHT PLACE!!!” Then they all went out for yakitori and beer afterwards.

Yes, I’m aware that the anime industry probably doesn’t work like this, with shows being made in adjacent rooms and whatnot. Still, it’s nice to think about; don’t disabuse me of this notion with any real information about how JC Staff operates, I probably don’t want to know.

Okay, it’s normal to make beef and curry and stuff look delicious in anime, but when they go to this much effort to show the perfect char on a piece of corn, you know this shit has to be deliberate. They were determined to make sure even the vegans were salivating during this episode.

All in all, I’m more excited to be watching this show again than I was expecting, and that bodes well for the future of this season– although I am fervently hoping that we’ll get a few episodes that are solidly devoted to scenic underwater dives, instead of barbecues and other silliness. Of course, if Amanchu! decides to take this new penchant for excessive food porn underwater, that would be the best possible scenario. Those tiny little fish swimming around during all the underwater shots are probably delicious as sashimi.

Stop posing, you only have ten seconds of underwater screentime and there’s no call for this silliness. Practice ballroom dancing with an octopus, or something productive like that.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode One

This episode was well done overall– the atmosphere was almost palpable, the action was exciting, we’re left with some intriguing questions about the characters. and so on and so forth. I have a fundamental problem with the Gun Gale Online setting though, and it’s kind of a deal-breaker.

Think about it: in the SAO continuity, in the post-“death game” world, there are a nigh-infinite numbers of MMORPGs people can play. These games have magic, fantastic creatures, beautiful scenery of the kind that it’s very difficult, if not impossible to find in real life, and even amazing features like fully-VR flight. I don’t understand why, when presented with this buffet of scrumtious RPG delicacies, people would choose to play GGO: the game where you get to experience what it was like to be fighting insurgents in Fallujah circa 2007. It’s just a dank, depressing setting, and I don’t know why anyone would spend time there if they didn’t have to.

I guess it comes down to the allure of playing around with guns for people who never get to play around with guns; after all, I was already bored of hanging around the rifle range by the time I was 14. Nevertheless, whatever the reason, I just don’t see the appeal.

LLENN’s winning strategy is to be so much shorter than everybody else that they’re usually not aiming down far enough to hit her. I wonder if this is going to keep working as she gets more notoriety in game? You’d think eventually, GGO players would just be like “when in doubt, aim waaay down.”

And yet, despite my lack of interest in the game world, there are things that make me want to keep watching. It looks like LLENN’s player, Karen (woo, that’s my name!) has a very different lifestyle than you would expect of a hardcore PVP MMO player, and I’m interested to learn more about her. Plus, I have no idea why LLENN and her teammate were competing as a duo when everyone else in the Squad Jam seemed to be in groups of six, and that’s intriguing. Then there’s LLENN’s super-speed, which, according to the reaction of the other characters, isn’t a normal thing in GGO and may be the result of some secret behind the LLENN avatar that she might not want her fellow gamers to know about.

It’s just, if they were going to make an SAO spinoff with this much potential, why did it have to be centered on Gun Gale Online? What’s wrong with Alfheim? I like Alfheim. You can tell Alfheim is better than GGO, because Sinon was huge into GGO, then she was invited to play ALO and was like “it’s been real, fellas” and booked out of there. Trust Sinon, she is a smart young lady.

Oh well. Looks like I’m interested enough to keep watching this show, at least for now, but whether or not I do anymore pontificating about it on this blog probably depends on how they develop Karen, more so than LLENN. Maybe it’s just narcissism on my part, but I’m really curious to learn more about her, and if her real life is interesting, that might cancel out my general antipathy towards the setting.

Comic Girls, Episode One

Despite how excited I was for this show in the lead-up to this season, I find myself with surprisingly little to say about it now that it’s started. It’s doing the right thing in that it’s actually about what it says it’s about, girls drawing comics– it’s not just a generic “cute girls in high school” show with a thin layer of manga-styled window dressing, which was my fear for it. The fact that the girls spend about half the of the first episode actively working on manga together makes that perfectly clear.

Here is Kaos, our protagonist. It’s like someone took Nadeshiko from Laid Back Camp and made her even cuter, which should not even be possible. I just want to hug her, feed her delicious cookies, and tell her that drawing comics is a beautiful dream that only ends in terrible emotional pain.

Plus, the challenges the girls encounter in their manga efforts (like drawing in proportion, learning to draw both sexes equally well, etc.) are things that anyone who’s ever tried to draw comics can probably relate to, but haven’t come up much in anime. Bakuman was a great show about creating manga, but in that story, Mashiro started out as such a competent artist, we never really saw him struggle with beginner problems like “Is this character’s head waaaaay too small for her body?” It’s nice to see comic artists who kind of suck at drawing, I can relate to that.

Yup, I relate to this. I don’t know why it’s so darned hard to draw people in proportion, you’ll go back the next day and the mistake will be glaringly obvious, but it never looks that way while you’re at the drawing board. WHY?

The more successful artists, Ruki and Tsubasa, have accomplished the dream of having serialized manga series in high school, which is pretty much the dream of every kid who doodles comics in their notebook. Appropriately though, the two serialized artists are too stressed out by deadlines to fully appreciate what they have, and it’s only through Kaos and Koyume’s eyes that we can really see how awesome it is to have gotten so far in the field at such a young age.

No, no no get this OFF my screen! I sat through like five seasons of Hidamari Sketch, I do not need to see even one more scene of an artistically inclined girl taking a bath. MAKE IT STOP– oh wait it was only a short scene, I guess that’s alright then.

Surprisingly, we even get some character development this early on; the episode starts with Kaos hearing bad feedback on her manga and nearly disintegrating in despair; after getting acclimated to living in the comics dorm, she’s able to accept similar bad news without getting discouraged. The fact that she’s already showing growth makes me optimistic that she (and Koyume) are really going to improve their manga over the course of the show, which will be much more interesting than if everyone just stays at the same level. I’d especially like it if Ruri and Tsubasa start hitting some walls in their careers, but that may be due to my being stupidly jealous of their success, rather than hoping for interesting plot developments. Yes, I just admitted to being jealous of fictional characters, today is really not a great day for me.

“Someday, young Comic Girl, you too will master the art of drawing characters in proportion; seriously, their arms will be the same length and everything. It’ll be totally awesome. If  you’re lucky, that might even happen before you get a repetitive stress injury in your drawing hand!”

So uh, yeah, Comic Girls: it has a nice premise, it’s funny, the characters are likable, and all that good jazz. I recommend it, I’m just hoping I start to feel a bit more passionate about it as it goes on. Because right now this show is in this weird category of “I think this is pretty good, so why don’t I care?”