Amanchu!~Advance~, Episode 7

This episode left me scratching my head. This supernatural route definitely isn’t where I expected this show to go, and I’m not sure yet if I like it or not.  I said I wanted Mato-chan-sensei to get her own story, and  we’re getting that (since it looks like next week’s episode will cover some of her backstory), but…did I want ghosts? Who ordered ghosts?

On the other hand, this does put all the quasi-magical dreams they’ve been doing this season into proper context. The focus on dreams seemed to come out of nowhere at first, but it makes a lot more sense knowing that the show was veering in a more magical direction all along.

Oh, and before we go any further, PIKARI TROLL FACE!

Since this episode didn’t feature Pikari and Teko very much, my choices in troll face screenshots were limited; I hope this one meets with your approval.

We’re having a school festival episode, which means everyone’s doing projects with huge amounts of construction paper and posterboard and it looks kind of wasteful; I always wonder with school festival episodes if all that stuff gets recycled afterward, or if it gets thrown out. Ai, one of the twins who fills out the ranks of the diving club, nearly gets abducted by a ghost who only shows up at special school events. Mato-chan sensei is on guard against this, however, since apparently she’s unusually attuned to the supernatural and can sense the presence of ghosts. Or maybe she keeps her head around ghosts, while other people get fuzzy and confused, I’m not sure; it’s not clear what her supernatural attunement entails.

Find something you love to do as much as the artists on this show love drawing butts; you will never work a day in your life. I noticed the butt-emphasis way back at the beginning of season one, but it’s REALLY noticeable in this episode.

The sequences of “Peter” trying to abduct Ai are beautifully done, and there is some satisfaction here in crossing over from the realm of nebulous magical realism to proper supernatural hijinks; I just can’t decide if this really fits with the rest of the show or not. Amanchu is very much about adolescence, so the idea of people wanting to freeze themselves in time during their adolescence (or get lost in it perhaps), is very apt. However, this is also a show about scuba diving, and some cynical part of me feels like the supernatural elements have only been introduced to give the girls something interesting to do when they’re not underwater. And it might be trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.

“I’ve been woefully underdeveloped, but did you know that I can see ghosts?” “Oh…I thought your backstory was going to be about what made you so passionate about scuba diving, or–” “No. GHOSTS.”

For now, I’m going to try to keep an open mind and see how this story resolves before I decide whether or not I like this direction. I’m not sold on this ghost stuff being territory Amanchu needed to investigate, but Amanchu doesn’t really need to do anything, does it? Hmmph, I’m confused now. Hopefully I’ll have a better handle on what I actually want from this show after next week’s episode.

Comic Girls, Episode 7

Time for more horror with Fuura-sensei, which I could generally do without, however it kind of works on a meta-level this week. See, this episode is about Kaos learning how to draw backgrounds, and that’s a terrifying subject for most newbie comic artists, so it’s only fitting that she has to do it in an attic, literally surrounded by skeletons, dripping candles and creepy dolls. It’s a clever bit of juxtaposition that might not be immediately obvious, but I’m pretty sure it’s intentional.

Kaos seems to pick up background-drawing rather quickly though, while I still struggle with it, which makes me wonder; would I allow Fuura-sensei to tutor me, even if it means I have to be subjected to her horror shtick for an hour or so? I don’t know if even I love comics enough to go through with that….

This is about my reaction when I realize that I have to draw backgrounds. I have this weird mental block with linear perspective, where I never seem to do it right no matter how many times I read about it or have it explained to me. It’s actually pretty sad.

The best part of this episode is when Fuura-sensei shows Ruki a panel that Kaos drew, and Ruki doesn’t believe it because everyone knows that Kaos can’t draw well, then realizes how cruel it is to say that out loud in front of Kaos. It’s funny to me that “Kaos can’t draw” is basically a house rule that everyone acknowledges in a dorm specifically intended for artists. I would say “Git Gud, Kaos,” except now that she can draw bg, she’s technically better than me, so I’ll shut up.

The other significant thing in this episode is the revelation that Koyume got a magazine serialization, so she’s jumped ahead of Kaos in terms of professional credits. She says it’s a short serialization, so she’s not quite on Ruki and Tsubasa’s level yet, but she’s getting there. I wonder: did she ever learn how to draw guys? I feel like she must have, and I feel kind of robbed that we never got to see that. No major improvements off-camera, Comic Girls!

The rest of this episode is about Kaos getting glasses, which is typical CGDCT fodder that I really have nothing to say about. I don’t have a problem with this show having the girls do cutesy humor (it’s kind of part of the mandate and all), but I would be really stretching to find anything to say about that whole sequence beyond “it’s cute, I guess.”

Hopefully the next episode will have a little more substance, because they were on a roll there for a little while.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 6

I could have sat down and guessed at potential plots for this show all day long, and I have to admit, I never would have predicted this one. I thought there would be some mysterious, shadowy conspiracy, or an evil villain trying to hack the game, but Karen drawn into the romantic nonsense of two certifiably insane people? Did not see that coming.

First, let’s deal with the rhythmic gymnastics team. Initially I thought having the girls meet up with Karen post-Squad Jam was just a pointless bit of fluff, but as the girls explained their motivation for playing GGO, they presented a good justification for the existence of violent video games in general. Thanks to GGO, the girls were able to become “war buddies,” without the risk or inconvenience of actual war. They’ve bonded as a team, and while they could have done that in many different ways, fighting for their virtual lives together was a very effective way to do it.

However, before you think the show is declaring “Violent games are great! Video Games will solve all problems!” it becomes pretty obvious that there’s a downside; the girls don’t seem to care too much about their chosen sport anymore. They started playing to improve their teamwork, but the means became an end unto itself. I wonder how often this happens in real life; people play games in part to address specific problems, only to get so into the game that they forgot about the problem in the first place. It’s something that’s likely to only become more common as games get more immersive, so it’s an important thing to look out for.

Gun Gale Online: Quite possibly the only MMO where the gamers are actually more attractive in real life than they are in the game.

Then there’s Pito, who’s so upset that she missed out on Sword Art Online the first time around that she’s trying to put another Death Game together. Logically, thinking about the way even the most horrible things seem to become memes that people want to repeat, it makes perfect sense that someone would do this. I mean, Pito and M are clearly nuts (which Karen realizes immediately), but it’s completely believable that they would be crazy in this exact way.

What this storyline seems to be dealing with is how the world would have changed in the wake of the Death Game, but from a different angle from the original series. The main show dealt with a lot of the details, like how SAO kids were sent to a special school for survivors and whatnot, but this show seems to be dealing with how the broader culture has changed as a result.*

I hesitate to bring up school shootings, because I don’t want to get dragged into a gun control argument (and whatever merits those arguments may have, I don’t think there’s any point to having one here), but there are obvious parallels. No matter what we try to do about it, school shootings are part of the culture of the United States right now: it’s awful, frightening, sickening culture, but it’s real. Now, in this anime’s world, killing and dying in real life based on video games is becoming the new culture.

I wonder how much we have to worry about this in the future. Up until now, video games (violent and otherwise) have done little to inspire real-life violence. I’m sure there’re cases where players have hunted down other players in real life to get revenge for in-game altercations, but considering just how many people play video games, that sort of thing is still astonishingly rare. Will it remain so? Are we just waiting on a grisly, seminal event, to get it ingrained in the public consciousness to the point where it becomes a meme, and thus, infinitely repeatable?

This is getting a little too dark for one of my typical anime posts, I think. But one of the things SAO does well, just like Ghost in the Shell, is get us to anticipate societal problems that new technology may enable, before that technology exists. Maybe it’ll never exist; maybe virtual reality will remain as basically clunky and limited as it is now (unlikely, but possible I guess), and we’ll never experience the full-dive games Karen and Pito play. Maybe killing yourself in real life because you died in a game will never take off as a concept. But if games continue to become more and more immersive, this is something we’re eventually going to have to deal with.

I’m impressed that this show brought this problem to my attention, but I think I probably would have been happier if I could have remained ignorant a little longer. So I’m an impressed, depressed anime blogger right now.

Just in case this was all too serious for you, here’s Goushi being ridiculous, because he is a crazy man with an even crazier girlfriend. Come to think of it, is Pito even his girlfriend? He could just work for her, for all we know.

*I don’t want to say that mainline SAO never tackles these themes, because I haven’t read novels. I’m just comparing this show to the other animated entries in the franchise that we’ve had so far.

Food Wars! The Third Plate, Episode 19

Another Open Letter to J.C. Staff:

YOU  MONSTERS.

YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID.

Love,

Karen


Now that JC Staff has betrayed me yet again, they are forever dead to me and I hope they’re reduced to making sequels to Taboo Tattoo for the rest of their miserable existence, this was a pretty darn stellar episode. Finally, the anti-Azami plans that have been in the works for some time come to light, beloved characters return, and there’s  one hell of a cooking battle on the horizon. I don’t know how this show did it, since I’ve been complaining all along that Azami’s evil plans are actually pretty stupid, almost to the point of being immersion-breaking, yet somehow, the political drama remains fun and exciting. Backdoor plotting with Erina Grandpa! Rindou the true neutral! Megumi on the warpath! Yukihira diner is ON THE LINE! Man, what an episode.

THANK GOD.

Okay, before we get into the plot here, I have a question: For those of you keeping up with the manga, do they ever reveal what Rindou’s specialty is? I get that it’s become an ongoing joke at this point that we never get to see her cook, and I think I’ve written enough strongly-worded letters on the subject, but I’m still really curious. I don’t want anyone to spoil me on what her specialty is, just if she’s ever been given one.

From this moment on, I will stop being so obsessed with Rindou on this blog. I will not cease worshipping her as a God, but I’ll do that on my own time.

Okay, so either because she’s secretly on the good guys’ side, or because she just lives for any excuse to throw a monkey wrench in people’s best-laid plans, Rindou gives Megumi and Takumi an easy pass to the next round. We’re left with four unexpelled rebel freshman: Soma, Erina, Megumi, and Takumi. The first three are kind of a given, but I find Takumi’s inclusion interesting; it could have been anyone in that fourth spot, and I’m wondering what Takumi brings to the table (quite literally) that places him here instead of someone like Alice or Ryo.

Soma, with his typical “The enemy gate is DOWN” approach to problem solving, decides that their only recourse is to fight for seats in the Elite 10, because once they have a majority on the school’s obscenely powerful student body, they’ll be able to rescind everyone’s expulsions. One thing I only noticed upon rewatch is that Soma’s math is wrong; even if Soma, Megumi and Takumi all win spots on the Elite 10, they’ll still only have a coalition of four (including Erina). That’s not enough for a majority. Soma seems to think they’re going to get a fifth competitor from somewhere, but how are they going to do that if everyone else is expelled? It’s possible I’m missing some aspect of the plan here, and it’ll be better explained later.

Erina has a better idea, or what would be a better idea if her father wasn’t such an unmitigated jerk. She tearfully asks Azami to reverse the expulsions, hoping that his feelings for her as his daughter will force him to listen to reason. Of course, since Azami is incapable of feeling human emotion, this gets her nowhere. It’s a pretty big deal for Erina to swallow her pride and outright ask her father for anything, but considering how fast Erina has been changing this season, it feels like a natural progression.

Soma, who is still stuck on “Whatever strategy is left to you, no matter how unrealistic, must be your plan” tries to challenge Azami to a cooking Battle Royale, but to no avail; Azami has nothing to gain by accepting challenges from anybody, and he knows it. Just when all hope seems lost, Soma’s Dad returns! And Erina’s Grandpa! And Jesus! Well, maybe not Jesus, but the effect is about the same.

Now all the stuff I’ve been bugged about for a month is starting to make sense. All the bigwigs at Totsuki (including Alice’s Dad, I’ll bet), know that Jouichirou Saiba is somehow The One That Got Away to Azami, and his presence clouds Azami’s judgment. They knew that Azami will be unable to say no to challenge from Saiba, no matter how risky. Rather than fighting Azami outright, the plan has been to go along with him and let him think he won, only for him to hang himself with his own rope when he risks his entire empire on a match with his rival.

Does that really make all of this political craziness worthwhile, when in reality, the Powers that Be at Totsuki could probably have shut Azami down before he began if they really wanted to? Probably not, but hey, at least this whole arc is starting to make sense. It actually makes more sense if you assume that everyone who’s been supporting Azami up to this point secretly hates his guts, and wants to have him almost win just so he can get crushed right before his plan comes to fruition. Why else jump through this many hoops?

One thing I’m not sure of is how much the Elite 10 is in on this; I’m pretty sure Rindou is (I could see her being another secret student of Saiba, actually; that would be a cool little twist, especially because she kind of looks like she could be Soma’s sister), but the others are up in the air. I guess it’s possible they’re all huge snobs and were the only people supporting the Azami administration sincerely.

Gin is already beginning to regret the ‘bring in Saiba to take down Azami plan’; it is possible he did not fully think this through.

One interesting little nuance in this episode is that Azami’s old classmates all call him Nakamura, not Nakiri; he married into the Nakiri family, and was not born into it. This is a not-so-subtle dig at Azami’s outsider status, but it’s also interesting when you think of the Magical Nakiri Chest-Bearing gene; maybe that’s what this is all about? As a non-biological Nakiri, Azumi lacks the Chest Bare power, Erina’s Mom felt that he couldn’t measure up to her husband and brother, and he’s been itching to prove his manhood culinary worthiness ever since.

Suddenly I’m imagining the dinner table at Little Erina’s house, where Erina Mommy is like, “The way I was raised, real men bare their chests when they eat something delicious,” and Azami is like “If you love your father so much, maybe you should have married him, Lorraine!” and then Chibi Erina is like “I just want to let you both know this dish has too much thyme, it stings my Divine Tongue.”

Today’s Food Porn is Hachis Parmentier, a dish I have never heard of, which is kind of impressive considering how many stupid food shows I watch. It seems more Italian than French to me, but what do I know? I am but a humble anime blogger who lives on microwaved quinoa.

Okay, enough fanfiction about young Erina’s life, time to return to the actual story. The good guys, including Saiba and Gin, are going up against some of the Elite 10 in a team battle, and if they win, they’ll have the power to put an end to Azami’s nonsense. However, since it’s a team battle, teamwork is going to be important for arguably the first time. Soma and Megumi have been working together for a while, but for the most part, the Totsuki way is to focus on individual achievement at the cost of everything else.

What’s interesting is that this isn’t really a case of the old Totsuki way (Grandpa, Saiba, Gin) versus the new Totsuki way (Azami), since succeeding through teamwork has never been the Totsuki way, as far as we know. However, the fact that the format for a Team Shokugeki exists in the first place hints at the idea that Totsuki’s culture might have been more team-oriented in the past, which is interesting. Maybe this whole thing is an extremely roundabout plot by Grandpa to return Totsuki to a warmer, more cooperative time, by necessitating the use of teamwork? Talk about playing the long game.

Oh, and speaking of Grandpa Senzaemon, we learn in this episode that Soma ended up attending Totsuki Academy in the first place because he pushed for it, over Saiba’s objections. Considering how much Grandpa cares about Erina’s wellbeing, I wonder if he foresaw that Soma’s presence would help Erina overcome her father’s toxic influence? Yup, I think it’s safe to say that Grandpa is playing 4D chess at this point.

“Don’t worry Erina, I am here for you, just like your Grandpa planned; also, my Dad is about to show up in five seconds, also according to your Grandpa’s plan. Your Gramps has it covered, is basically what I’m saying here.”

Naturally we need some training matches before we get the Amazing Battle Royale Team Shokugeki, so the rebels are broken up into teams and tasked with making a classic French dish. At first the teams seem sort of stacked with Soma, Erina and Saiba all on the same team, but of course father and son are much too alike to possibly get along, so their chances look grim. This is going to be about headstrong personalities learning how to work together, which isn’t the most original thing in the world, but appropriate for this point in the series; after all, a chef is supposed to be a leader of a team of cooks. He’s not supposed to be in the kitchen by himself, which is mostly what the series has been about until now.

Huh. You know, one way of looking at this arc is it’s about the kids making the transition from talented cooks (people who can make delicious dishes using traditional techniques) to chefs, people who can lead a kitchen as a coordinated unit. It’s a really obvious theme for a story about culinary education, but it kind of snuck up on me from left field, and I have to give the show props for that. Another way of looking at this arc is that it’s about fatherhood, with Saiba’s laissez-faire parenting contrasted with Azami’s controlling nature. But I think there will be more to say about that once we finally get the backstory between Azami and Saiba, and I think I’ve gone on just about long enough about this episode, so I’ll wrap up here.

Buildings made of ice and snow? Are you telling me they have Ice Hotels in Hokkaido? I thought they were only in Sweden and Quebec! Do a Shokugeki inside an Ice Hotel! Do it! DO IT!

Food Wars! The Third Plate, Episode 18

An Open Letter to JC Staff

To Whom it May Concern: I am writing to you about an issue of grave importance. In episode 16 of your show Food Wars! The Third Plate, there was a cliffhanger featuring Rindou, No. 2 on the Elite 10 at Totsuki Academy, and also possibly a vampire. In such cases, it is standard for the cliffhanger to be resolved at the start of, or (at the very least), partway through the next episode. Now, though I am but hours away from the airing of episode 19, I still don’t know what Rindou’s specialty cuisine is, because the cliffhanger remains unresolved. This is unacceptable as-is, but becomes even worse considering the larger context.

As you know, Rindou was introduced early on in The Third Plate as a mysterious redhead of mayhem all the way back in the fall of 2017; that means, at this point, I have been waiting nearly a year to find out what kind of food Rindou cooks. Every night I go to bed wondering if Rindou cooks up a mean spinach pie, or perhaps does something innovative with lamb kidneys and parsnips, and it’s beginning to feel like I’ll never know. The indication at the end of episode 18 was that Rindou’s battle with Megumi and Aldini will be shown henceforth, however, after the tease of episode 16, I’m skeptical that this will actually happen. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

Now I live my life in a kind of Rindou-craze, consumed every waking moment with the mystery of my favorite borderline-sociopath Executive Chef and whether or not I’d be able to eat anything she cooks on a vegan diet. Someone must pay for this upheaval in my life, and I think it’s clear that you people at JC Staff are the ones responsible. I’m afraid I’m going to have to take extreme measures to express my displeasure; I’m not going to stop watching JC Staff anime (that’s crazy person talk), but I will immediately cease all labor on my forthcoming book, JC Staff: Underappreciated Geniuses of the Anime Industry. Don’t complain, you did this to yourselves.

Love, Karen


Today’s Food Porn is…more chicken-friend bear. Not exciting at this point, but to be fair, it does look more refined than Soma’s dish; Soma’s croquette looked like something you might buy at a carnival, if carnivals served bears.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s return to episode 18 and the fact that this Hayama X Soma fried bear party is FINALLY over. In a nutshell, Hayama makes an amazing Chicken-Fried Bear, with more refinement than Soma’s dish, but he didn’t push the flavors as far as he could have because he no longer had Jun hanging around to cook for. Soma, on the other hand, went absolutely insane trying to make his dish as good as possible, ending up with a better dish even though his general techniques (such as the fry on the meat) were not as good; victory Soma.

A good moment in anime that I think we can all come together to admire, political differences aside.

We really did not need three episodes for this. However, seeing Jun come in and hit Hayama in the face was rather satisfying, because the way Hayama was acting, he was going to be slapped by someone and it may as well be Jun. The other worthwhile part of this episode was seeing all the mythology being built around the Nakiri Chest Bare; what started out as a one-off joke has become amazingly elaborate, to the point where you get the impression this idiotic Nakiri “superpower” was foretold in ancient scrolls or something. I’m beginning to hope that Erina does have this ability, only it’s latent, and only Soma’s most delicious chicken soup will bring out her hidden Nakiri getting-naked powers. In fact, I’m putting $5 down on them manga ending that way, any takers?

Berta and Cilla are on hand to demonstrate that the Nakiri clothes-ripping power is communicable through the air, so uh, good on them; I’d be just as happy never to see them again.

Most of the action in this episode takes place in the last few minutes where we find out that Hayama’s being expelled (not surprising, given that he just lost to Soma), but virtually everyone else we care about is being expelled too. I don’t take issue with most of the Polar Star kids being expelled, since they were overmatched against the Elite 10, but seeing Alice knocked out gives me pause. Obviously, Alice’s dad still wields a lot of power at Totsuki, and we know he’s a caring father; he can’t possibly be okay with his only child being unceremoniously booted. This makes it seem even more likely that there’s some sort of tricky long game being played here, because I don’t think he’d allow her to be expelled if he had any reason to believe that it would be permanent.

This is just wrong. Alice is some kind of immortal succubus, I REFUSE to believe that she could be taken out by any of the Elite 10…except maybe Rindou. Assuming Rindou ever sets food in the kitchen, ever.

At this point, I’m pretty sure there’s going to be some extremely important reason revealed for why all these people are following Erina’s dad’s crazy agenda, other than “they all woke up and decided to be communists one morning,” I’m just afraid the reason can’t possibly be good enough to justify all this tomfoolery.

Anyway, just about the only chefs who haven’t been confirmed for expulsion are Megumi and Aldini, meaning the series has to finally show the pair battle Rindou, after teasing it for three episodes. I fervently hope this happens, but knowing this show, next episode will be a filler about Grandpa Nakiri’s boyhood years in Okinawa or something, and we’ll just get one split-second screenshot of Rindou holding a ladle with a devilish expression on her face. If that happens, I will have to follow up my strongly-worded letter to JC Staff above with another strongly-worded letter, and I’m running out of things to threaten them with! Please I just want to know what kind of a chef Rindou is, why is this so hard?

Amanchu!~Advance~, Episode 6

This is the kind of episode that’s tough to write about. Visually, it’s really appealing, with our girls and company decked out in gorgeous costumes, but not much really happens. Basically it’s an Amanchu! Halloween special, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s just not that interesting.

Oh, before I forget, TROLL FACE:

The only thing of note that happens is the meeting of Teko and Kokoro, Pikari’s younger friend. Teko’s jealous reactions to Kokoro are fun to watch, because she doesn’t go over the top; she still stays rather prim and hesitant, even while she’s stewing inside that Kokoro might have shared special experiences with Pikari that she doesn’t know about. It would have been easy to make Teko act extremely over-the-top jealous to go for the broad comedy of it, but I like the way they did it.

But then they do a scavenger hunt, and argh…I hate this kind of thing in real life, and it doesn’t seem much more fun in animated form. Going up to random people and asking them to give you stuff just seems incredibly awkward for everyone involved, and you just know people are sweating bullets in those costumes, and why would you even have a Halloween event that doesn’t feature candy at all?

The attempt at zany humor doesn’t really work for me here, and I was just hoping for it to end so we could move onto something more interesting. Katori-sensei threatened to reveal something interesting about herself, but in the end she just downed some beer and did nothing else of note. I’m really getting impatient for the show to start doing something with her, because you can just sense there’s an interesting backstory there somewhere.

Does anyone remember this guy from season one? Apparently he’s the school principal, but I have no memory of him at all. This episode did remind me of the pets’ names (Admiral Cha and Ohime(above)), so it has that going for it.

I thought the lucid dreaming business from episode 4 was a one-time thing, but it comes back in a big way in this episode, with mixed results. The imagery of Teko and Pikari’s shared dream is beautiful, actually somewhat reminiscent of the Adolescence of Utena, but we’re left at the end wondering what, if anything, in this episode really happened. I think it’s just supposed to be the last sequence that was a dream (because if the whole episode was a dream, then Teko has still never met Kokoro, and that would be damn inconvenient), but I can’t really be sure. Considering how little I care though, this is not something that’s going to keep me up at night.

Oh my, it was all a dream! Or maybe only part of it was! Who even cares, naked girls at the spa!!!!

It probably sounds like I’m really down on this episode, but honestly, I don’t think it’s that bad; it’s just not what I want from this show, and not something I have a lot to say about. I feel pretty confident that the second half of the season will contain plenty of diving and meaningful character moments, so I hardly mind that they took an episode out to just have some fun; I do hope they’re done with this lucid dreaming business though, because that’s just out of place to me. Teko is not a “Professional Dreamer,” that’s not a thing.

Comic Girls, Episode 6

Sometimes my personal quirks put me in a weird position where I hate something, but I know that’s totally on me and does not reflect badly on the media in any way. I pretty much hate horror and have no tolerance for jump-scares and stuff like that, so the fact that this episode is half over-the-top horror was pretty unpleasant to me. That said, I can appreciate that it was well done; in fact, I think this show did a better job creating a horror atmosphere, even with tongue-planted firmly in cheek, than a lot of horror anime that try to do it seriously. Of course, I’ve just admitted that I don’t really watch horror anymore, so I guess I wouldn’t know? The point is, the animators captured the horror vibe really well.

Please stop with these shockingly effective mood shots, I want a tepid Cute Girls Doing Cute Things show and I won’t stand for any insubordination! Wow, I get bossy when I’m terrified.

Once again, I find myself strongly identifying with Kaos, who was screaming her head off during this whole segment; if only I, too, could harness the power of my love of boobs for strength the way she does. Unfortunately, I’m only just okay on boobs (don’t really have strong feelings for them one way or the other), and the more anime I watch, the more I’m beginning to feel that this is a disadvantage. Kaos may be a boiling cauldron of crippling insecurities, but she could probably summon the courage to slay a dragon if someone just told her that she could see some awesome boobs afterwards, and it’s kind of inspiring.

A pretty accurate depiction of my face during the first half of this episode, if only I could watch TV while I was in the bath…waitaminute. Why can’t I watch TV in the bath? A TV in the bathroom sounds unsafe, but it’s only a matter of time before they start making baths with included waterproof TVs, right?

To change the subject from my excessive wussiness, I do like the fact that the new girl embodies her genre of manga, and it would be cool to see more of this. Imagine if they introduce a magical girl manga artist, only she’s actually a magical girl? That would be surreal, but really cool if done right.

Fuura-sensei; I wish I was better able to appreciate her character, because I know a lot of fans of the show took to her immediately. I just can’t get past the fact that she shows suddenly behind people in mirrors, that’s way too creepy dammit.

The second half of the episode focuses on Tsubasa, who is my least favorite of the four main girls. I don’t dislike her exactly, but she’s just so darned successful at such a young age, it’s hard to relate to her. Ruki is successful as well, but in a different way than she expected or wanted, whereas Tsu has gotten successful drawing exactly what she wants all the time, which isn’t that interesting. We’re supposed to be sympathetic to her because she’s hiding her identity as a girl, thus she can’t go to signings and connect with her fans, but….eh, I just don’t find that very compelling. I’m pretty sure she could come out at as a girl tomorrow, and if anything it would just serve as a PR boost for her manga. It seems like a non-problem.

Homeroom teacher Nijino-sensei, as seen through patented Kaos-vision. I joke about Kaos having no talent, but to be fair, her art style is very cute and well-suited to 4Koma. Now she just needs everything else….

I like the character of the otaku teacher, and she serves an important practical purpose; now that the girls have an ally inside the school, maybe they can stop running themselves so ragged trying to keep up with academics and their manga. Look, I’m not suggesting that Nijino-sensei fabricate their grades or anything, but maybe she could cut them a little slack, y’know?

Plus, the fact that Tsubasa’s biggest fan is someone simultaneously really close to her, yet far from her in terms of social rank creates an interesting dynamic. I’m hoping they’re going to come up with some fun things for Nijino to do to try to “help” Tsubasa with her manga that add to the gleeful everyday insanity.

Finally, Kaos seems to be developing as an artist since she’s learning to create characters inspired by people she finds interesting in real life, which is a really useful tool for her to have in her arsenal. She still doesn’t know anything about writing a story, but baby steps kids; baby steps. Frankly, considering the amount of investment Kaos’ editor is putting into her development, Kaos darned well turn out to be the next Rumiko Takahashi at the end of all this, but who’s to say she won’t be? It’s a goofy, surreal, wish-fulfillment kind of anime; nothing is off the table, and that’s what I like about it.

Food Wars! The Third Plate, Episodes 16 and 17

Once again, it’s just as well I’m doubling up on episodes here, because not a whole lot happens in 16 and 17. Soma’s match against Hayama is being really dragged out, which wouldn’t bother me so much were it not for the fact that every other cooking battle that’s meant to be going on simultaneously looks way more interesting. I mean, it looks like Nikumi is going to be facing off against the Pastry Loli from the Elite 10, how is she supposed to deal with that? Make an elegant wedding cake out of ground beef? I’m afraid we’ll never know.

Episode 16: Let’s Cook Bear

I predicted that they would end up cooking bear meat in this arc, although I thought they would be a little further north first. In any case, Soma realizes that he knows nothing about bears, so he goes into the wilderness in hopes of meeting one…but doesn’t. Because the bear is onto him and his army of Kuga’s Chinese-food cooking slaves (don’t ask). Still, going into the bear’s habitat turns him onto something called schisandra berries, which end up being a good ingredient to use to temper the bear’s gamey flavor, so it was worth making an expedition out into the snow.

I was kind of hoping Soma would go out and butcher his own bear to show his commitment, but then we’d be getting into Golden Kamuy territory and I’d be grossed out again. It’s better this way….

Speaking of “gamey,” I realized during this episode that I have no idea what that means. I’ve never eaten wild game, and now that I’m on a plant-based diet, I probably never will. I can sort of imagine what I think gaminess might be like in flavor, but I have no way of knowing. When they cook on Food Wars!, I automatically imagine what the dishes might taste like in my head (doesn’t everybody?), but this time I can’t, and it’s kind of weird. Very weird, actually. I wonder what it would be like to watch this show if you were a vegetarian from birth and had never eaten any meat?

Anyway, we get a glimpse of Megumi and Takumi Aldini, and they’re going to be facing off against Rindou. Yaaaay! Finally! Except this episode is a big tease, and the scene cuts out before Rindou tells the pair what they’ll be cooking. *Shakes fist* Darnit, they better tell me what Rindou likes to cook in the next episode (Spoiler: THEY DON’T, IT’S AWFUL.) We do get a nice little scene of Rindou in the bath though, so I guess that was enough to stop her rabid fanbase from rioting.

Episode 17: Bare Your Chest For Chicken-Fried Bear

There is some quality manservice in this episode; don’t let anyone tell you that Food Wars! neglects the lady viewers. Okay, so the guys are rarely stripped completely naked by their foodgasms, but isn’t that splitting hairs a little?

Whenever this show tells us anything about Hayama, you may as well cancel your plans for the rest of the week, because it’s going to be awhile. Seriously, this episode delves deeply into why Hayama became a bad guy by joining the Azumi administration, which is totally unnecessary. I knew from the moment Hayama showed up that the reason he was teaming up with Central was to protect Jun, so watching that flashback play out was an exercise in tedium. For some reason, I just don’t care about Hayama that much, even though his total devotion to Jun should (in theory) make him a sympathetic character. I just don’t have much patience for arrogant, humorless types.

There isn’t much reason to post this, I just wanted to make sure you knew I wasn’t kidding about the Manservice stuff.

This episode introduces Alice’s father, so we’re getting more of the Nakiri family tree filled out. We’re also introduced to some sisters who are great food tasters because they’re super-smart, or something like that, but the real reason why they exist is so this can happen after they taste some bear-flavored cuisine:

Everybody understands that the whole “impressing people with flavor is akin to sexual conquest” thing is a silly joke that nevertheless plays into this show’s theme of the true potential of cooking? I hope so, because it would be a bitch to explain it.

Both Hayama and Soma ultimately decide to fry the bear, which makes sense; deep frying is what people do on Chopped when they get a disgusting protein they have no idea what to do with, like lamb hearts or something. Soma makes a kind of meat croquette, which is interesting to me since that sort of thing is usually referred to as “Western” food in Japan, yet we don’t seem to have it in the US; I guess it comes from Europe, somewhere. His strategy was to make the bear taste as gamey as possible, so he could pass some sort of gaminess event-horizon and it would become delicious again, or something? I’m tired of this whole bear situation. Then the episode ends before Hayama can serve his dish, so we have to deal with this whole gaminess business for yet another episode.

To make up for the vegetarian delights of the last few episodes, today’s Food Porn is a giant hunk of fried bear meat. Seems a bit simplistic for the level of cooking they’re supposed to be doing by now, but maybe bear just doesn’t lend itself to dainty preparations?

What I would like is for Hayama to screw up and overspice the bear to the point where it loses its distinctive flavor, and lose the match, but I doubt that’s going to happen. They’re making it seem like Hayama is pretty much unbeatable right now, yet Soma has to survive somehow, so there’s going to be some trickery. Maybe they’ll tie, or maybe Hayama will win but Alice’s Dad will lobby for Soma to pass on to the next round due to the fact that Soma’s dish made him bare his chest, and that’s serious business.

Heh, despite everything else, I love the fact that chest-bearing after eating a good meal is apparently a genetic trait in the Nakiri family; it’s a good thing Erina didn’t inherit that, otherwise things could get very awkward very fast.

THE NAKIRI DYNASTY INCENDIARY STAMP OF APPROVAL; accept no substitues.

Next episode better focus on the Rindou match, and/or some of the other Polar Star kids battles, otherwise I’m going to be one pissed off little otaku. If they delay the reveal of what Rindou’s specialty is for even one more episode, I’m going to write J.C. Staff a very strongly-worded letter. They’ll probably be too busy working on 47 different anime series simultaneously to read it, but whatever; I gotta blow off steam somehow.

Amanchu!~Advance~, Episodes 4 and 5

This show did one no-diving-at-all episode, and one episode jam packed full of diving, so it kind of evens out. You’d think I’d be complaining about the ocean-free episode, but this show has pretty much earned my eternal allegiance after Episode 3, so eh, I think I’m going to stop caring so much about how much time they spend underwater.

Oh, and here is your regularly scheduled Pikari Troll Face: You get +10 happiness points added to your happiness total for today! Go out and enjoy the sunshine, or whatever floats your boat!

I try to take screenshots of her filling the screen in all her chibi glory, but sometimes she makes better faces when other characters are in the shot. What do you think; should I open up the Weekly Pikari Troll Face to other characters, or leave it as a solo act? I’m going to have to give this some serious thought.

Episode 4: And Now, For Something Completely Different

This time around, the staff of Amanchu decided they didn’t feel like making Amanchu that week and gave us an episode of Flying Witch instead, out of nowhere. Fortunately, I liked Flying Witch a lot, so I’m on board with this kind of rampant irresponsibility.

What’s interesting to me about this episode is that we’re used to seeing Pikari as the one who lives in the moment, something this episode focuses on a lot, and Teko as the one who gets distracted worrying about the future. This episode sees both girls living in the moment, with Teko indulging in a daydream that seems her flying all over town on a broom. Granted, Teko apparently needs to be unconscious to truly live in the moment, but well, that just shows that there’s still room for her to grow, right?

I’m not sure what to think about the whole lucid dreaming concept; I’ve read about it before, but it always seemed too good to be true to me. Usually at the point in my dream where I realize “this is a dream,” I wake up, so I can’t take advantage of the fact that I know I’m dreaming. In theory, you can train your mind to be able to consciously control your dreams, but I’m not sure that’s something you can learn; I think some people may have a different dreaming process to begin with. Giving Teko this ability seems a little random, but this episode is mostly an excuse to draw pretty girls flying on broomsticks and I’m thinking about it too hard.

Once again, notice that the girls are separated, with the boyish Kokoro taking Teko’s place as Pikari’s sidekick once again. I like the way they’re consistently showing how Teko’s life has changed as a result of Pikari, even when the two of them are physically separated.

Episode 5: I Was Sad I Almost Got Decompression Sickness, Then I Saw A Mermaid So it’s All Good

This was a great episode of anime, the kind of thing this show is uniquely equipped to deliver. Not only was the underwater scenery gorgeous, but the show didn’t let the pretty ocean visuals get in the way of giving the characters interesting things to do. It was also a little scary, since the problem Teko experiences here is exactly the reason why I’d be too afraid to go diving myself.

Still, even though the fact that she almost got decompression sickness is disturbing, the way Teko handles it is interesting. She does get upset with herself (as she should; it was a careless mistake that could have led to horrible consequences), but she doesn’t get so bogged down in self-doubt that it stops her from going in the water again. It seems like she’s really taking Katori’s message from episode 3 to heart; the fact that she panicked once and did something stupid, doesn’t cancel out all the times she could have panicked underwater and didn’t. Her mistake gives her pause, but it doesn’t devastate her the way it would have in the past.

I had trouble finding screenshots from this episode that really captured how beautiful it all is; I think you really need to see it in motion, which is proof that the show is providing good animation, not just good art.

I have mixed feelings on the urban legend of the Jet Black Mermaid. At the beginning, I was really hoping that Katori-sensei was the mermaid herself, and was kind of slyly telling the girls about her own secret identity (maybe because I desperately want the show to give Katori more to do?), but obviously, that’s not how it turned out. The idea of the “mermaid” being Pikari’s portly grandfather is kind of charming, but also a little…err, I don’t know, strange? How is such a morbidly obese man such a good swimmer? How did the people who spread the legend of the ‘mermaid’ fail to realize that the mermaid in question was a 300 lb. man?

Maybe I shouldn’t be questioning the plausibility, since that’s kind of getting bogged down in minutia, but well…this is one show where the laws of physics and biology matter. Like, they really matter, to the point where they almost killed freakin’ Teko in this episode. It’s a little jarring that they’re presenting diving procedure and safety extremely seriously, and then introduce a character like Grandpa who doesn’t look like he should be able to get out from under his kotatsu, let alone be a fantastic diver. This show has always had really cartoony elements (Troll face, the pets, etc.), but this is the first time I felt like the cartoony bits kind of clashed with the impact of the underwater scenes.

I was trying to find an Underwater Pikari Troll Face, and this was the best I could do. Finding a screen of Pikari making her special face while in full diving gear is now my mission in life.

Still, that’s a minor complaint about what was otherwise a pretty excellent 20 minutes of animation. I can’t wait to see Teko get her advanced license so the crew can explore even more interesting underwater locales.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episodes 4 & 5

It’s just as well that I’m doubling up on these episodes, because I don’t have a whole lot to say about these two. The action was quite entertaining, but there’s a limit to the amount of times I can say “LLENN is really fast and agile and it looks cool.” Come to think of it, LLENN is so fast that if this GGO thing ever starts to get old, she could consider racing the horse girls on the track in Uma Musume. I even hear that a spot may be opening up….

Episode 5: Real Guns Are Not A Joke

This episode touched on something that doesn’t get mentioned often, and I’m really glad that it did. I’m not really into shooting, but I did spend some time at the rifle range as a teenager and have some idea how real shooting works. I’ve also played video games where you shoot a gun, and it’s very different from the real thing. I assume, as games have gotten more realistic, some have added targeting mechanics that are more akin to real shooting, but in general, real life shooting and in-game shooting don’t have a whole lot in common.

Since GGO is fully virtual reality, the game could emulate real shooting accurately, but this episode goes into why the game designers deliberately chose not to do that. Still, because the option for manual targeting exists, someone like M– who obviously has quite a bit of real life experience– can smoke the competition, because he can bypass all of the bells and whistles that were put in to make the game more competitive.

I just appreciate this acknowledgement, both that real-life shooting and game shooting are different (and probably will continue to be different in the future), and that developing good marksmanship in real life is time-consuming and difficult. Too many people labor under the illusion that a few hours playing a first-person shooter can turn someone into the equivalent of a deadly mercenary, and that’s just not how it works.

All that is overshadowed by a twist ending though, when M turns on LLENN and nearly kills her in-game. At the time, I thought M had just been told (or perhaps lied to) that the SAO-style “if you die in the game, you die in real life” rules were back in effect, and he had panicked. This led me to wonder if M is an SAO survivor, which– considering his military experience– seems like pretty bad luck. I mean, how cursed do you have to be that you have people shooting at you for a living, then when you go to play video games on your day off, you’re stuck in some deranged programmer’s murder fantasy?

Episode 6: P-chan, A Requiem

You can shoot at LLENN, kick her, try to blow her up with a plasma grenade; but when you hurt her gun, that’s when she has just HAD IT with you and your crap.

Fortunately, the show went a less predictable route. Instead of the Death Game rules being reinstated, M is just afraid that Pito will kill him, because apparently that there bitch be crazy. The way he talks about it though, it sounds like either Pito is an SAO survivor, or simply obsessed with the SAO event. I think it’s important to remember that even though we’re not dealing with the SAO game anymore, the whole SAO Death Game tragedy is a major historical event in this world, and the repercussions from that are still being felt. I know people who have limited tolerance for this franchise want SAO Alternative to distance itself as much from its predecessor as possible, but I think that’s misguided; that history is important.

This episode then features a bizarre sequence where either a stressed-out LLENN hallucinates her gun, P-chan, talking to her, OR P-chan achieves sentience. I’m 99% sure it’s supposed to be the first scenario and meant as comic relief, but part of me is hoping the guns in GGO are becoming sentient AI because that would be batshit insane and I kind of dig it. It would also be a lot like the Tachikomas in Ghost in the Shell, further proving my theory that SAO and it’s spinoffs are all really GITS: Junior.

I get a weird Pink Elephants on Parade vibe from LLENN talking to her pink gun while the gun bats it’s eyelashes at her. That’s cool though, I love Dumbo. Underrated masterpiece, that film.

In the climax of Squad Jam, LLENN takes on a squad full of Amazon-like soldier women, using Kirito-like skills to edge out a victory while outnumbered. I wonder if the people who claim to like this show because LLENN is not Kirito are now saying “Dammit, LLENN is just like Kirito, screw this show!”, or if LLENN’s badassery makes Kirito less egregious, because he’s less special if other people have the same skills? Whatever.

At the end of Squad Jam, Karen seems to have come to terms with her height, which is…a little forced, but I’ll accept it. I can see how being in that kind of adrenalin-pumping situation would force someone to reevaluate their priorities a little bit. What’s awesome is that the team she was playing against turns out to be the same group of cute girls she’s been walking past every episode, which means that the girls are using GGO to deal with their height the same way Karen is. Apparently, no one smokes the competition in the FPS games of the future like girls with serious body image issues.

Seriously though, it’s pretty cool that the final battle of this big tournament came down to LLENN, who isn’t meant to be sexy at all, versus a bunch of bulky warrior women who also weren’t portrayed as sexy. In terms of representation, this is a pretty rare thing for anime (and in general), but because this is SAO, the franchise that must be slammed for misogyny at every turn, expect the series to get absolutely zero credit for doing this.

Well, that was all fun, but I can’t say I’m super-excited to see next week’s episode. If the big question left looming is “Is Pito actually super-duper insane?”, then that’s a problem, since I still don’t care about Pito. However, this show has been competent enough that I pretty much trust them to keep my interest moving forward, however they end up doing it.