Category Archives: Reaction

Posts in response to anime. We would call them “recaps,” except we’re not that diligent.

Fall 2017 Anime Impressions

Since I’ve been watching more anime than usual lately, I figured I may as well take advantage of it and talk about the new shows like a proper Aniblogger. Here are my takes on some of this season’s offerings; keep in mind I only watch shows that are available on legal streaming services. This is less of an anti-piracy stance, and more of a “I am too goddamned old to be dealing with malware on my computer from dling torrents,” stance, but let’s all pretend it’s because of my unimpeachable moral compass.

Urahara– This show puts me in a bind; I really like what I think it’s trying to do, but it’s just not working. The washed-out color palette, the intentionally wonky hand-drawn backgrounds, the surrealist feel, the enemies that turn into candy when defeated? I love all of that. But somehow the designs and the art style just don’t seem to work together, and the story has all the urgency of watching paint dry. It’s just so nonsensical that it’s impossible to care about anything that’s happening; it also doesn’t help that the magical girl designs are the absolute worst part of the show.

Right now it feels like a half-baked version of Flip Flappers, a show that often felt surreal but managed to maintain a sense that what the characters were doing actually mattered on some level. I’m probably going to stick with it, just because I like some of the things the show is experimenting with, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for bailing out; it’s pretty much an incomprehensible, silly mess right now.

Anime-Gataris– There was something off about the art in the first episode that made me wonder if this was the studio’s first anime, but it turns out Wao World, the studio responsible for Gataris’ animation production, is prolific. The production company, DMM Pictures, is new, but I’m not sure how much that actually matters. The director, Kenshirou Mori, has relatively few credits, but one of them is the first episode of Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood. So, not exactly a newbie.

Normally I stay away from this kind of inside-baseball approach to anime, because I don’t know much about what goes on in production, but something about this show really made me want to try to figure out what the hell was going on. It looked like the show was made by people who had watched anime and taken a lot of notes, but had never actually made it before; there was something just slightly off-kilter about the colors, the shading, the backgrounds, etc. Even the piece of stock animation that Arisu uses to summon her butler looks like it was made in 1998. By the second episode, things had smoothed out a bit, but I’m still wondering if the weird look the show started with was a real phenomenon, or if I’m just hallucinating.

In terms of the story, there isn’t much to discuss. It’s a show about people talking about anime, so it runs on in-jokes and nods to otaku culture. The main thing it has going for it is that it’s making nods to very recent shows, so it’s more topical than these in-jokey shows tend to be. I’m going to keep watching it, but it doesn’t have a lot to offer unless you’ve been actively following anime for the last year or so.

The Ancient Magus Bride– I have to admit, I was distracted during this show because I couldn’t help wondering what Anime Feminist was going to think of it. A young girl sells herself into slavery, to a huge monster dude who calls her pet names and treats her like a dog? Including forcibly bathing her? How could the show itself possibly compete with the entertainment value of feminists having a complete meltdown over it?

Turns out, the person who reviewed it for AniFem has read the manga, so was able to reassure feminists that the sundry “red flags” in this episode are not truly indicative of the story’s overall quality. You would think this experience would lead AniFem to question their policy of “Screen all first episodes for problematic content and judge them accordingly,” but apparently not. Remember, I may defend AniFem’s right to exist, but that doesn’t mean I have to think that anything they publish is any good.

Oh right, I just wasted time talking about another anime blog and not the show itself. So far, it’s high quality overall, but it’s a bit of a cypher to me…I need to see more before forming an opinion, which is rare for me because having opinions tends to be one of my strengths, really. I think I was just too distracted by wondering about how this show was going to be perceived to pay enough attention to the substance of it, and that’s on me, not The Ancient Magus Bride.

Blend S– One of the Immutable Laws of Karen is that I will watch any anime that takes place in a coffee shop; keep in mind that I have watched not just one, but both seasons of Is the Order a Rabbit?, making me quite possibly the only straight woman on Earth who has done so. Maybe it’s my love for coffee in general, maybe it’s pure nostalgia for Polar Bear Cafe, but this is The Law; I must watch all of Blend S, because it takes place in a coffee shop. It doesn’t matter if it’s terrible.

Fortunately, it’s not terrible. The premise sounds like it’s going to be toying with some S&M vibes (since the main character is roleplaying a sadist as part of her gig at the cafe), but right now it’s very reminiscent of the lighthearted workplace comedy of Working! and its sequels. The whole S&M hook is really just a tease so far, since the humor is about as adult, as err….well, Working! The only slimy thing about it is how Maika’s boss continually hits on her, which is only really objectionable if you’re on the “anime must never depict anything that would not be acceptable IN REAL LIFE” train. I don’t know why anyone gets on that train, it’s a boring-ass train.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie– Another anime about people who spend much of their lives inside an MMO, although this one has an unusually adult take on it. Instead of teenagers and college students, the characters on this show are definitely old enough to drink, so they can drink screwdrivers in front of the computer while they wonder why they’re wasting their lives grinding for levels. (No one has actually done this one the show yet BTW, but it seems like something they would do.)

It’s gender-swapped, with the female character playing a male avatar in the MMO and vice versa, and it looks like it’s mainly going to focus on the romance between the lead characters. Normally, I would expect betrayal when they find out about each others’ true identities, followed by inevitable reconciliation, but this show is sophisticated enough about MMO culture that I trust it to go somewhere more interesting with the relationship. It would be really cool if after the reveal, both players just went “Oh, well that’s not surprising,” and just continued playing as normal.

A Sister’s All You Need– This show turned people off with an introductory scene that tried to portray little sister fetishism as disgustingly as possible, and succeeded, with stomach-turning results. Some concluded that the show was simply gross, but I think I get what they were doing by taking the little-sister trend to it’s logical (if unsettling) conclusion. And the show features interesting relationships between insecure writers, who are all insecure for different reasons, and that’s right in my wheelhouse.

This show actually reminds me of The Pet Girl of Sakurasou, which also received some early backlash for having a “gross” premise, which turned out to be entirely overblown. Now, it may turn out to be just another forgettable show trying to earn some points with shock value, but it could also be the little sister show that actually examines why people develop this obsession, which would be interesting. I would call it “a deconstruction of Oreimo and it’s ilk,” except A)I don’t actually know what ‘deconstruction’ means and B)that sounds so pretentious I would have to slap myself. Let’s just say that this show has the potential to do something different with its premise, and hope that it does.

Konohana Kitan– This feels incredibly bland to me. I think it’s trying to be that kind of episodic occult show where the supernatural-creature-of-the-week is the focus, and the main characters are more there for consistency than anything else. (See: Mushi-Shi, The Morose Mononokean.) However, too much attention is given to the little fox girls in the foreground for the show to have that kind of oblique feeling, which would be okay if the fox girls weren’t such boring characters.

It’s cute as hell, and if you like anime girls with fox ears and/or tails, this could be your Show of the Decade, but I’m not sure if it has much to offer besides moe/fetish appeal; it doesn’t have the sophisticated appeal of an occult anthology show, nor does it have strong enough characters to work as a slice of life show.

Love Is Like A Cocktail– As a big fan of I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying, I was anticipating this one; anime about stable, married couples are rare and intriguing. However, it’s hard to get excited about something that’s three minutes long. I get that these kinds of shows are designed as shorts, and they’re not meant to sustain full 22-minute episodes, but I still think three minutes is a little lean; I would prefer half-length episodes, like Muromi-san and Encouragement of Climb.

It’s cute, and having each episode themed around a drink works nicely, but it makes me wish there was more to it.

March Comes in Like A Lion, Season 2– So, hahahahah funny story, I thought I had completed the first season of this show, only to realize that I somehow stopped watching it towards the end and had no memory of doing so. That may sound like it bodes ill for Lion, because if it were a good show, surely I would remember whether I had finished the season or not? However, I think of this show as being kind of like the Marcel Proust of anime: it’s very artfully done and nuanced and everything, but sometimes you just can’t take it anymore and need to put it down for about five months.

Anyway, now that I’ve had a nice break, I look forward to catching up on Lion and finding out what’s new with Rei and his deranged sociopath of a stepsister.

Food Wars! The Third Plate– By now, you probably know whether you enjoy the Food Wars! brand of attractive and talented people having elaborately illustrated foodgasms over curry, or not. I found the formula was getting a little stale for me by the end of The Second Plate, but it’s still amusing enough to keep up with, for now. I find myself beginning to genuinely dislike Soma though: like, why you gotta challenge EVERY chef on the show to a duel? Can’t you just be secure in the knowledge that you cook good food,? Did you watch too much Top Chef as a toddler and it totally distorted your view of eating meals?

That’s all for now; I may pick up a few more fall shows, in which case I’ll write an Impressions: Part Deux post. However, it’s entirely possible that that will never happen, in which case I would like you to forget that we ever had this conversation.

Finishing Up Food Wars!: The Second Plate

screenshot-2016-10-01-12-58-13I was a bad girl and didn’t keep up with blogging Food Wars! episodically for most of the season. Part of this was because I discovered Chef’s Table on Netflix, and I was so enraptured by the most pretentious cooking documentary I had ever seen that my quota of food television was temporarily filled. I mean, how can poor Soma hope to compete with chefs who say things like “I won’t let my plating canvas be limited by the profit motive of plate manufacturers?” How can he compete with people who think that they are CHANGING THE WORLD with their approach to root vegetables? It’s just not fair.

However, since I did finish watching the cour, I felt I may as well do a bit of wrapping up here. On the whole, I enjoyed The Second Plate, but it had a few problems:

  1. The Stagiaire arc was much more interesting than the Autumn Elections, so it was a shame that it took up only a third of the screen time. It featured the show starting to veer away from the shonen battle format, and as someone who hasn’t read the manga, that was a pleasant surprise to me.
  2. I’m not sure I’m satisfied with how Soma finally experiencing a decisive loss played out. Sure, just about every protagonist in a shonen story loses eventually (so they can reassess their strategy and come back even stronger, then win a million more times), but something about it just felt…off. They made such a big deal about Soma promising his Dad that he would never lose to anyone else before he could beat him, I felt like he should have apologized to his Dad or something after he lost to Hayama. Not because any sane person should feel the need to do that, but because it would have felt thematically appropriate for the show. I don’t know, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something was missing there.

Of course, there were good things too. Erina has gone from a stone-cold bitch to a stone-cold bitch who likes shoujo manga; Megumi is gaining more and more confidence, even without Soma there to back her up; Soma has learned some humility, and even more importantly, realized that his family’s diner was never just a diner; The judges occasionally refrained from using the word “umami” 47 times when critiquing any one dish.

I don’t have much else to comment on though. I think Food Wars! is going to take its place next to UtaPri as one of those shows I always watch and enjoy, but don’t expect anything new and different from. That’s probably a weird thing to say, since I just pointed out that the Stagiaire arc was an example of the show branching out, but my gut tells me that was an anomaly; manga readers, feel free to butt in and tell me I’m wrong. I just feel like, for whatever reason, at one point I was really invested in the whole idea of shonen battles being fought with cooking instead of violence (not that that in and of itself is an new concept, but it is still somewhat unusual), and now I’m just kind of over it. I still like the show, but if they never made a new season ever again, I’d be okay with it.

Now I feel like I’m ending my coverage of the show with a downer, which is a shame because it really was an enjoyable season that I don’t regret watching in the slightest. I think I’m realizing I can be surprisingly fickle in terms of what concepts I’m into, though.

July: “OMG they’re fighting with burgers instead of their fists, that is so fun and neat and novel and I get to use lots of food porn vocabulary if I write about it!”

October: “Meh.”

Alderamin on the Sky: Episodes 3 &4

8

No two ways about it: Ikta just spanked a foolish child. The older Torway brother got beat something bad.

These latest two episodes covered ground fast: Ikta and friends get to school, participate in a mock battle, then show everyone up save the princess from some diabolical revenge scheme. I’ll try not to act like I’m too impressed that this whole story played back into the events that lead to our five heroes joining the military in the first place, but I totally was.

I’m always a bit worried when anime characters go to school; all too often, no matter what they might have been doing beforehand, they get stuck in trope-riddled, silly comedy hell. Not that I have a problem with school comedies, but that isn’t what I want from Alderamin. Ikta quickly laid those fears to rest in these past two episodes. Even if we are stuck in school– sort of– this isn’t the usual oh-so-plucky anime school of my nightmares.

Yatori's smug says more about Ikta's investment in tactical knowledge than he is likely to ever say for himself.
Yatori’s smug look says more about Ikta’s investment in tactical knowledge than he is likely to ever say for himself.

Overall, it’s impressive just how fast these two episodes managed to progress without feeling rushed. One dynamic I’m loving about Alderamin is how the world building is painted by Ikta’s relationship with Yatori; Ikta does something and Yatori follows up. Ikta makes a joke about the Alderamin scriptures banning hot guys from his presence, and Yatori calmly reminds Ikta that he could get hauled off for blasphemy.

“Show, Don’t Tell” is a storytelling concept that early light novel -based episodes tend to fail at. For that reason, it was encouraging to see Ikta put his strategic knowledge to use so viscerally. Sure, we heard about it first in a classroom, but it was promptly demonstrated. There’s no need to question Ikta’s knowledge of tactics after this demonstration of wits. Of course, Yatori showed up exactly when she needed to and was totally okay with being used to teach some brats a lesson. [I think Yatori is totally okay with most things as long as she gets to kick lots of ass.- Karen]

Ikta might enjoy showing off a bit too much for his own good.
Ikta might enjoy showing off a bit too much for his own good.

Ikta and Yatori are both interesting in that they seem to think of themselves as above their political situation…not necessarily in an obnoxious, arrogant way, but more of a looking-into-the-future -with-a-plan kind of way. It’s something that conflicts with Ikta’s lazy persona. Taken at face value, laziness isn’t exactly the most admirable quality, but no matter what Ikta says, I can’t see him as entirely unmotivated. He’s clearly willing to put in the effort when it’s needed and when it will accomplish his goals.

Put another way, he is willing to earn his laziness.

In case you missed what this episode was doing, this is an example of what happens when you are not lazy.
In case you missed what this episode was doing, this is an example of what happens when you are not lazy.

Really, the most interesting thing about the show (besides the Ikta/Yatori dynamic in general) is Ikta’s spin on laziness as a thing to be valued. I’m reminded of the T-shirt I commonly see at anime conventions: “I’m not lazy, I’m energy efficient.” It’s hilariously out of place as a military slogan, but then I guess that’s the point.

I feel like I should hate Ikta, but I don’t. A big part of what’s selling me on Ikta’s character is how sarcastic he is. When he gives his ridiculous speech on laziness he is serious to a point, but he’s also putting on a show for his own amusement. He never wastes an opportunity to get a hit in on the popular ideology of his nation. In fact, most of what we know about the setting has been painted by his sarcasm.

Yatori and Ikta are strong, but they aren't the only ones who are.
Yatori and Ikta are strong, but they aren’t the only ones who are.

So far we’ve seen Itka put up a strong argument for science and logical thinking.  It feels a bit cheesy when Ikta talks about science all the time, but in a world where science has little value, his strong feelings make sense. After all, there’s nothing cheesy about losing loved ones to a war fought with outdated ways of thinking.

Or that lead to a bloodbath like this.
Or that lead to a bloodbath like this.

If there’s one moral point Ikta deserves credit for it’s that he always speaks his mind. I feel like he’s usually putting on an act, but that act is a genuine reflection of what he wants to say. I came away feeling like he may have seriously considered joining the rebels if they had tried to include him in their plot.

The fight at the end of episode four deserves some special attention. Yatori’s adrenaline high was scary. In general I find the combat in Alderamin inspires a level of terror unfamiliar to most anime. Part of that terror is inspired by how coldly enemies are treated when push comes to shove; part of it from how neutral Ikta is about the morality of it all.

I wonder if Yatori would point her blade at Ikta so easily if had joined these rebels.
I wonder if Yatori would point her blade at Ikta so easily if had joined these rebels.

As for the fight itself I was impressed by how it played out; it felt real. Sure, it was an incredibly one-sided massacre once Yatori freed herself, but looking at the encounter as a whole? It had me on the edge of my seat. I wonder if this is the first time Yatori has come so close to getting herself killed?

I want to see the story of how Ikta and Yatori grew close in the first place. I have a hard time imagining either of them had a kind childhood; Yatori kills without hesitation and Ikta doesn’t seem bothered by that in the least. They have the type of relationship that you only really see in people who have overcome huge obstacles together.

More backstory please!
More backstory please!

Yatori’s post-bloodbath scene did a number on me: The heavy breathing, the sound of Yatori’s own voice amplified by her adrenaline high, the way she couldn’t release her grip on the swords…it had a mesmerizing weight to it. I had to watch it a few times to fully process it.

I’m not sure where the story will go from here, but as long as it continues to focus on Ikta and Yatori’s relationship I’ve little doubt it will keep my attention. [That’s all well and good, but I want more of the mini Care Bears.-Karen] For now, I think Yatori needs some proper chill time in a hammock– and maybe I do too! That closing scene was downright exhausting.

I find myself just a bit overwhelmed by how tragic this is.
I find myself just a bit overwhelmed by how tragic this is.

Fun fact: Alderamin is the name of a star. According to Wikipedia the Arabic meaning is “the right arm”. That seems fitting after Ikta tells Yatori that he is her left hand.

Food Wars! S2: Episode 3

Screenshot 2016-07-21 14.02.28

Well, I was wrong: I called the previous quarterfinal match for Megumi, only it was Ryo’s name that got written down with the Giant Brush of Gastronomic Victory. I really felt like the show was telegraphing that Ryo’s strong flavors were too palette-fatiguing and Megumi’s dish was more inviting to actually eat, but I guess his seafood ramen was just that good, overbearing or not. Besides, it was a big deal for Megumi to make it to the quarterfinals in the first place, so even though she got knocked out of the contest, the fact that she earned the respect of her peers makes it a net victory for her.

The kids watching in the peanut gallery note that Heihachi did not go shirtless for Megumi’s dish the way he did for Ryo’s, meaning they should have predicted who was going to win. However, in a scene I’m not sure I fully understand, Heihachi excuses himself to the bathroom and thinks about what an amazing cook Megumi is becoming; he took his shirt off for her deep down in his heart, or something like that.

The main event for this episode is the match between Hisako, Erina’s uptight secretary who specializes in medicinal food, and Hayama, the dude who is all about spices. They’re facing off in Battle Hamburger, which is interesting because it doesn’t seem to play to either of their particular strengths. Come to think of it though, very little would really play to Hisako’s strengths in this competition; the person who cooks with health as their primary goal is always at a disadvantage when the contest is being judged solely on taste and texture. It’s not that healthy food can’t be tasty, but when your goal is to make something as tasty as humanly possible, that doesn’t lend itself to using ingredients that also aid digestion and such.

Screenshot 2016-07-21 13.47.39

Hey good luck Secretary-chan, hope you have a good recip OMG SHE CUT ITS HEAD OFF

In any case, Hisako’s first association when someone says “hamburger” must be “callously butcher a live turtle on the spot,” because that’s what she does. I thought I was totally on Hisako’s side in this bout, but I think I started rooting for her to lose once she cut the turtle’s head off. I mean…ok, I’m not a vegetarian, so I’m probably a hypocrite for expressing distaste at an animal being killed for food, but dammit, turtles are just so darned cute.

Is it so wrong that I’m okay with cows and lambs being killed for meat, but turtles are where I draw the line? Besides, not only does she kill it, she DRAINS ITS BLOOD, like some kind of sick Rachel Ray-inspired vampire, and uses the fresh blood to pump up the flavor of her hamburger patties. She also adds a bunch of medicinal herbs, so this Turtle Murder Burger probably cleans up congestion, gout and erectile dysfunction (not that I’m implying anything about Heihachi).

Screenshot 2016-07-21 13.52.01

Unusually for this show, Hisako’s burger doesn’t really look all that appetizing. It’s karma for Hisako’s shameless, turtle-slaughtering ways.

She also uses Asian-style soft steamed buns, which seems really weird, if not quite offensive to my western palette. I don’t have anything against steamed buns, it just seems like the doughiness would be a really strange combination with a meat patty. The judges appreciate the fact that her turtle-and-pork concoction gives them all a healthy glow (and brings out a lot of umami, seriously enough with the umami quotient already), and it seems like Hisako has met the challenge head-on.

We learn via flashback that Hisako is obsessed with Erina…well, we knew that already, but we learn just HOW obsessed Hisako is with Erina. Her goal in her cooking is to always stay just a few steps behind Erina, always in reach of her Glorious God Tongue…it’s like they were going for some lesbian subtext, then said “you know what? Fuck it,” and went with full-on lesbian text instead. Good for them, I think.

Screenshot 2016-07-21 14.00.28

Thank you, Food Wars! for giving us a helpful diagram illustrating what a hamburger is. It would be terribly inconvenient if anyone was confused.

But hark, Hayama the Cold-Hearted Spice Boy has yet to present his burger! Not only does he fill the whole auditorium with yellow fumes from his abundant spices (Team Instinct shout out?) he makes a gyro-inspired burger, using seasoned Turkish lamb meat and yogurt sauce and pita and…waitaminute. That’s not even a “gyro-inspired burger,” that’s a gyro, straight up. I guess the fact that the meat is in the form of a patty instead of strips kind of pushes it slightly over to burger territory, but seriously, the flavor profile is 100% gyro.

This would put me in an ethical quandry as a judge, because while gyros are absolutely delicious and one of my favorite things to eat, they are not hamburgers; we know this because when you go to a Greek or Turkish restaurant, “gyro” and “hamburger” are always listed as separate menu items. I mean, maybe you’ve gone to some weird hellhole that has a “Gyroburger” on the menu, but it’s not my problem if your local restaurants are terrible.

Speaking of which, I would like to go out to Greek restaurants way more often than I do, but all the ones in my neighborhood have a severe parking shortage. How am I supposed to stuff myself full of delicious donor meat, grape leaves and spanakopita if I have nowhere to park? Do you expect me to pay for a taxi, like some kind of fancy lady? But just think of a delicious gyro, that delectable, mouth-wateringly salty seasoned lamb meat, balanced by the refreshing tang of fresh yogurt sauce, accompanied by crisp, fresh greens and delicately sweet tomatoes, all offset by the contrasting textures of crunchy bread, the oven-baked pita imparting a subtle, earthy aroma along with a gentle heartiness…..

Screenshot 2016-07-21 16.13.56

What is this? DELICIOUS!

But it’s not a hamburger! NOT A HAMBURGER AT ALL!!!!!

ahem. Anyway, I really like gyros, but I think Hayama should have been disqualified for making the wrong food. Unfortunately, the judges are still on their insane umami-worshipping kick, and the pickling agent that Hayama used as a topping does more to enhance the (god-forsaken) umami of his burger than the ginger Hisako used, so he wins. Hayama tells Hisako that she can’t beat him while she keeps aiming for second place, and he’s probably right, but I still think he cheated and is pretty much a bad guy.

Speaking of bad guys, this episode also introduces Subaru, whose shtick is that he looks like a big punk, but he’s actually extremely detail-oriented. Clearly he’s the villain of this arc, because he insults Aldini’s little brother Isami and, err, spits out his gum on Aldini’s special knife. Err, who does that? Even in Food Wars!, who does that?

Screenshot 2016-07-21 13.43.35

This was the only screenshot featuring Subaru I could bring myself to take. Normally he has some dark stuff on his face that I think is supposed to mean he’s always in shadow, but it mostly looks like he just came out of a coal mine.

The last thing we learn is that the quarterfinal match between Aldini and Subaru has been declared a Shokugeki, or official food duel; I think we’re supposed to infer that Aldini was so pissed about the insult to his brother’s cooking skills that he upped the stakes, but personally, I think he’s more upset about Subaru messing with his prized knife.

Does the loser of a Shokugeki get expelled from the school? It’s been a while since I watched the first season and I don’t remember exactly how the rules for a Shokugeki differ from any other match, but if the loser gets kicked out of Totsuki, I have a feeling Aldini is about to be toast; they did not introduce Subaru with all this fanfare for him to lose in the quarterfinals.

Next episode: One character I really don’t like squares off against a character I don’t really care much for one way or the other. I’ll probably spend the whole recap talking about how much I like fried shrimp with tartar sauce or something.

Screenshot 2016-07-21 13.54.53

I probably should have put this screenshot up higher, but let’s be honest: it’s better without context.

Alderamin on the Sky: Episodes 1 &2

1

“Every hero dies from overwork.”

Alderamin on the Sky starts off by making it clear that its protagonist has little desire to get himself involved with the military. Yet somehow, Ikta finds himself front and center in a dangerous situation– protecting an imperial princess, no less– and that’s only the beginning of his troubles.

I find myself drawn in by how straightforward and honest these first two episodes were. We’re told by the end of the first episode that Ikta will become a famous general; this may sound like a boring way to introduce the story (and on paper, maybe it is), but the magic was in the details. I came away from episode two feeling like I knew exactly what kind of story this anime wants to tell.

Ikta knows why you lost your chest match without viewing the board and looks down on you for thinking chess is a valuable skill.
Ikta knows why you lost your chess match without viewing the board and looks down on you for thinking chess is a valuable skill.

Look Elsewhere For Simple Wish Fulfillment

Competence is a double-edged sword with any fictional character. I was a bit worried that Ikta would play too far into the typical wish-fulfillment nonsense that many light novel protagonists fall into, but so far, I like the way he’s presented here. Ikta is competent, but politically powerless. Yattori, the series heroine, keeps him grounded while coming across as a strong character in her own right.

Ikta has a long bucket list of reasons to want to light the world on fire and watch it burn, and yet, that isn’t what he’s all about. Even this early on, there’s a lot I could say about his personality and attitude, both positive and the negative. For now I’ll stick with the most important thing: I can buy it. Ikta makes sense to me and seems believable inside his universe.

Shouldn't be taken seriously, or doesn't want to be taken seriously by design? Yattori knows better.
Shouldn’t be taken seriously, or doesn’t want to be taken seriously by design? Yattori knows better.

Alderamin introduced itself, it’s world and characters in a masterful way. Ikta is a lazy womanizer and cynical defeatist, while Yattori is an honorable noble from a prestigious family with a military background. What makes them interesting is that neither of them have much talent at acting their assigned roles.

I already find myself loving the relationship dynamic between Ikta and Yattori; their mutual respect for each other says a lot about both of them. In Ikta’s case, it demonstrates that his defeatist attitude is fueled both by a hatred for his kingdom’s political system and knowledge of how it works. Ikta helps demonstrates Yattori’s position on nobility when she asks his opinion on political issues. It’s also worth mentioning that her original purpose for dragging Ikta into the this whole dilemma was to cheat her ranking on a test for elite officer school…naive, she is not.

Someone has to keep this fool in order and save him from himself.
Someone has to keep this fool in order and save him from himself.

The Quotable Ikta

Now, cynical attitudes are something I feel are a dime a dozen in light novel stories. Maybe I should be worried about how this could play out down the line, but so far I can’t find much fault with the way Alderamin presents itself. In fact, I find myself agreeing with much of the attitude we’ve seen so far, even jotting down favorite Ikta quotes for future reference.

That feeling when your princess is almost as dumb as a war college graduate.
That feeling when your princess is almost as dumb as a war college graduate.

“Every hero dies from overwork.” manages to express the core of Ikta’s personality, and the use of that line in ep. 2 felt downright tragic. I wonder what the princess hoped to gain by dragging out his past the way she did; it almost seemed like she wanted him to snap. The way she mentioned his parents and mentor was miserable to say the least.

When the princess spoke of her own rotten blood, it left a strong impression: she clearly isn’t much of a fan of the current political system either. I wonder how much she’ll manage to change the status quo before the anime ends– how much power does she really have?

I love the visual storytelling in this scene. Yattori's reflexes are amazing.
I love the visual storytelling in this scene. Yattori’s reflexes are amazing.

Gender Equality…perhaps?

Speaking of the princess, something that stood out is the position of women in this fantasy world, largely due to Yattori: she’s clearly highly trained and competent at fighting. The fact that no one raises an eyebrow at how strong or scary she is while fighting give us a bit of world building, in classic show-don’t-tell fashion. Her character could only exist in a universe where women are accepted in the role of warriors.

At first glance there seems to be an unusual amount of equality within this fantasy kingdom. The military is okay with both knighting women and with training them to be officers. That creates an interesting contrast with Ikta’s mom’s story, where she was given as a gift to his father from some harem, as you would expect in a society where women are considered property. I’m not sure what the story will do with these disparate elements, if anything, but that only adds to my curiosity.

I get the feeling anyone who can relax in a hammock isn't all bad in this universe.
I get the feeling anyone who can relax in a hammock isn’t all bad in this universe.

Another instant favorite of mine is “What a soldier needs is imagination which allows him to use fragmented information to envision the whole.” I liked the way it took the whole “military strategists are good at chess” trope and changed the nuance. The statement was simple, but valuable: Real strategy is about using your imagination to improvise based off the information you have. I think that is wise life advice in a general sense, military or otherwise.

So far my favorite aspect of this anime is easily Ikta’s relationship with Yattori (Who is rapidly becoming a favorite heroine of mine). Their closeness, despite seemingly different life goals, is charming. I loved the final scene of episode two where they both have a nice moment of understanding.

That feeling when you realize you are going to become a war college graduate yourself.
That feeling when you realize you are going to become a war college graduate yourself.

I’m a bit worried to see this show getting caught up in school antics, but hopefully episode three will ease my fears. I expect Ikta’s hatred of the military to be a central part of the story, but I also expect to see him go above and beyond to back up Yattori when push comes to shove– and it’s interesting just how strongly I feel like I know these characters, after only two episodes.

On another note, I have to compliment the show for its ability to change tone effectively. One moment our characters are relaxing and sharing a nice meal, the next they’re slaughtering some enemy soldiers in appropriately serious fashion. Earlier, in episode one, we smoothly transitioned from silly character introductions to survival mode.

I can't bring myself to share the image with guy's poor Care Bear trying to wake him up...
I can’t bring myself to share the image with guy’s poor Care Bear trying to wake him up…

I’ve come to expect anime to be bad at this kind of transition and often enough, I find they don’t even try to make it work. The fact that this anime pulls it off helps make the soldiers in this story feel like proper soldiers; often, even in fairly serious anime, soldiers seem to act more like comedians than warriors, and it can take you out of the story pretty easily.

My New Summer Getaway?

One last thing I want to point out before wrapping up is just how pretty Alderamin is; both the people and the world itself are gorgeous. Ikta’s obsession with relaxing in hammocks fits right into this universe. In fact, instead of pontificating about Alderamin, I find myself wanting to go chill somewhere with a nice breeze. [Okay, but make sure you’re all caught up on anime first–Karen.] Ikta’s obsession with the women in this world, while not exactly commendable, is easy to understand….

Or maybe he just likes getting pushed around...
Or maybe he just likes getting pushed around?

I have a test I like to give fantasy worlds: Would I want to live there? If not, would I at least want to visit? Most fantasy worlds fail both parts of the test and they do so by design. Ultimately the test is entirely for fun and has no real critical value, but when do we ever let that stop us here at Otakusphere?

Let’s see…I’d rather not live under a monarch, so part one of my test is probably a no. If the sense of equality in the military is found in the every day lives of civilians in this society, that is a strong selling point. I’d need to compare what these magical bear creature things are capable of versus real world science. We know they can’t heal a giant hole in someone’s chest… but well, that guy was probably a goner either way.

Apparently, grabbing faces is simply what people do when they are unsettled by stupid.
Apparently, grabbing faces is simply what people do when they are unsettled by stupid.

The verdict is still out on whether or not this universe is a desirable place to live or not, but I have to admit that it looks like a nice place to visit…you know, provided I could avoid locations that are likely to become war zones, or getting myself drafted into the military. I’ll just have to keep watching until I have enough knowledge of Alderamin‘s intriguing world to safely plan my vacation. [No vacations allowed, we need you on the podcast–Karen]

Berserk 2016: Episode 2

Several things stood out in this second episode, but fortunately, the much-maligned art style was not one of them. I guess I must be getting used to it.

BerserkEp21At least they smell a little better than the last army he took on.

During the encounter between Guts and the Holy Iron Chain Knights, Guts doesn’t recall having done anything to make a priest arrest him. What I wonder is, had the knights happened to witness Guts fighting animated skeletons (and a large, hungry demonic tree), would they have wanted to arrest him less, or more? Religion didn’t seem so front and center in the 1997 series when compared to this episode, but it makes sense considering the setting of Berserk. It’s too bad Guts didn’t have a reply to the commander’s question about where all the blood came from!

I was a little surprised when she mentioned the countless bodies they found, providing no recognition of the fact that most of them were skeletons. Exactly what was she accusing Guts of?

The knights are lucky (or perhaps, unlucky) that Guts is injured and wiped out after his recent fights. If there’s anyone who could fight his way out of a situation like this one, it’s him, and that would be true even without a bonus elf to provide support.

I really love the way gruesome demonstrations of Guts’ skill are animated. The slow motion and music accompanying Guts’ first display of prowess with his sword really works for me:
BerserkEp22Guts is in trouble now! Hmm, those four soldiers are lined up pretty nicely….
BerserkEp23Oh, I guess he CAN use that giant sword after all…

The best part is how Serpico can see the attack coming from a mile away. He’s the only knight not shocked by the outcome of Guts’ exchange with the four soldiers. Throughout the episode, there are several instances where Serpico is portrayed as the most capable member of his unit from behind the scenes. Still, you have to respect Azan for offering to take Guts on right after seeing four of his men simultaneously cut in half. His backstory is pretty unique, but I’m surprised Guts knew the story or cared enough to tell it. Sadly, I am forced to assume that such a chivalrous man will not last long in the world of Berserk; not now that he has encountered Guts and his baggage.

Later, Guts is brought to Farnese’s command tent for questioning. Farnese’s inexperience at command and, in my opinion, lack of competence really shows in this scene. I’d point to the moment when she screams and starts wildly flailing at Guts as a prime example of this, but to be fair, in ye olden times, that was probably considered normal conduct.

BerserkGIF
Puck’s response to Guts getting flailed, Passion of The Christ style.
BerserkEp34

Guts doesn’t seem to notice or care that Farnese has been wildly slashing him.

Just when I was starting to hate Farnese for abusing a chained-up Guts, we get a scene where she realizes the error of her ways and decides to whip herself as well in a show of solidarity…or at least, that’s how my mind wants to interpret the scene. Around this time, Puck starts offering commentary on what he witnesses in a way that I find really funny, and I really have to hand it to his voice actor, Kaoru Mizukara, for her delivery here. This part of the episode also marks the beginning of a sequence of several very funny retorts from Guts.

I found Farnese’s inability to see Puck rather interesting considering that, up until now, we had no evidence that anyone was unable to see elves. I guess in the world of Berserk, being a pious religious zealot is far worse than being a thug or a bandit. (Just like in our world! -Karen)

The last scene is perhaps my favorite: Serpico is the only one whose eyes and mind can keep up with Guts; Serpico alone is able to pursue Guts; Just when it seems like Farnese may be rescued….

Berserk Ep25
Serpico learns what is truly terrifying about Guts.

Tune in next week for more fun, multiple-torsos-separated-from-the-body-action! (Or watch Re:Zero, which is kind of doing the same thing lately.  -Karen)

Food Wars S2: Episode 2

Screenshot 2016-07-12 13.06.20

This episode features Battle Ramen, meaning the judges get to say “Umami!” about a million more times, just in case you didn’t get your fill of that during Battle Bento. Now I know umami is a cool flavor and all (and a point of national pride, since it was discovered by a Japanese scientist), but I almost wish the student chefs would start baking cupcakes or something just so everyone would stop going on about the damn umami quotient already.

Just my luck though, if they did hold Battle Cupcakes, someone would make Red Snapper Cupcakes and everyone would be losing their minds about the amount of ‘delicate umami flavor’ in the smoked eel frosting or something. Oh well.

Screenshot 2016-07-12 13.22.11

With the bandana-flourish, the flashbacks set Ryo up as a kind of Evil Soma…or at least Slightly Dickish Soma. I don’t care how good his stuffed chicken is, I would not eat at his trashy portside restaurant.

Continuing through the Autumn Elections contest, shy Megumi faces off against Ryo, a scary-looking dude who hails from some non-specified foreign country. Megumi’s storyline is fun, because unlike Soma, she could pretty much lose at any time, making her battles unpredictable. Plus, her very presence in the story is what keeps Soma from being an obnoxious-as-hell lead character; the fact that he recognizes and tries to nurture talent in people who would otherwise blend into the background makes you feel good rooting for him, instead of just shrugging through his constant victories.

In any case, we get some of Ryo’s backstory in this episode; apparently Alice Nakiri befriended him in unspecified-foreign-country during her “I will travel the world to learn the skills to defeat Erina!” phase. She thinks of Ryo as something of an underling, but now that Ryo is coming into his own– or perhaps, because Alice finally lost– he thinks he’s the better cook between the two of them. Interestingly, even after Ryo insults Alice’s cooking, she’s still talking up Ryo to the other cooks in the stands. I reckon that if she plans to get him back for his attitude at all, it will be done in private, and it will be vicious.

Ryo’s whole attitude is that Food is A Battlefield, and one must brandish strong flavors to destroy their opponents, and you know…I want to say that his philosophy is stupid, for obvious reasons, but look at the state of food television: Top Chef, Iron Chef America, Chopped, Cutthroat Kitchen, etc. A lot of food programming is based on using cooking as a stand-in for violence in competition, and of course Food Wars! itself is in that category. Also, as food television gets more ubiquitous, the amount that most people cook is actually going down, meaning that an increasing percentage of food culture is tied up in these competitions as opposed to traditional, cooperative cooking and baking. I really doubt that Ryo’s presence is supposed to make us question the ethics of food competition television, but it’s interesting that his philosophy would’ve made no sense 20 years ago, but you can’t dismiss it so easily today. Screenshot 2016-07-12 13.25.17Ryo reminds me of one of those contestants on Top Chef who says “I like to use big, bold flavors,” like they deserves some kind of award for it. May as well say “I have no subtlety whatsoever, so I’m going to try to spin that like it’s style thing.”

Ryo’s big trick is to grind up a bunch of shrimp and lobster parts, including the shells, and use the resulting powder to load every component in his dish with seafood flavor. I suppose that’s clever, but aren’t the shells of crustaceans somewhat, err, indigestible? I think Heihachi and pals will be spending a lot of time in the bathroom after Battle Ramen. Otherwise, Ryo makes a French-inspired seafood dish that earns praise for avoiding any hint of “fishiness.” Now, I could be wrong, but isn’t that fishy smell/taste something that happens to fish when it starts to age, meaning the very freshest fish will never have a fishy aura? You just know that Totsuki only allows students to use fish that were caught within the last 20 minutes or something, so I don’t know if Ryo can really take much credit for keeping fishiness at bay. Anyway, the judges are impressed with Ryo’s rich seafood ramen, even though everyone who eats it reacts as though they were just punched in the face.

Screenshot 2016-07-12 13.18.44

If the broth from your ramen doesn’t look like a shiny pool of angel’s tears, throw it out; you’re doing it wrong.

Megumi, who has grown a helluva lot of backbone, fights back with a light-broth ramen that leverages the umami punch (sigh) of dried vegetables and lesser seafood instead of shrimp and lobster. It sounds like Megumi’s ramen wouldn’t be able to compete with Ryo’s rich, luxurious broth, but the more subtle flavor of her dish has it’s own appeal. Soma says that Megumi’s trademark is bringing out the “subtle sweetness of vegetables,” but I think he’s wrong here; her special talent as a chef is her ability to take humble ingredients and make them delicious enough to compete with pricier fare.

Right before the ending credits, the show decides to pay homage to JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and the two ramens become Stands, or Personas, or whatever the hell those monster thingies from JoJo’s are called. It would be one thing if it were a really quick lesson, but they really go all in with it and it’s pretty adorable– especially Badass Jojo-Style Megumi.

Screenshot 2016-07-12 13.34.59

This would probably be funnier if I’d seen more than one episode of JJBA, but it’s still pretty funny. I like the fact that their “Stands” are actually their dishes personified.

Naturally we end on a cliffhanger, but I feel pretty sure Megumi’s got this; the problem with going for “strong flavors” all the time is that they can fatigue the palette, and it looks like the judges ate more of Megumi’s ramen than Ryo’s. I think Ryo is going to learn a Very Important Lesson about how trying to blow out everyone’s palette with dynamite is a kind of cheap way out, and then Alice will give him a really, really smug look, and then they’ll probably have sex, because I can’t imagine what else they see in each other. Or, Ryo could win just to throw us a curve ball and trigger more development for Megumi, but I’m pretty sure Ryo and Alice will still have angry sex either way.

Coming up, it looks like the next one in the Thunderdome is Erina’s mild-mannered secretary; I think her specialty is food with medicinal effects, something I find very interesting, so I’m definitely looking forward to that one.

 

Berserk 2016: Episode 1

Karen recently informed me that the new season of shows was coming out and I should let her know if I was interested in covering any of them. I told her (in all honesty) that I hadn’t been following the schedule and was open to suggestions. She asked me what I was looking for, so I requested something light and breezy….

Berserk Ep1 Pic1

Ah yes, the opening scene of any cheerful and uplifting anime. Just the thing I needed to get myself into the proper, fun-in-the-sun mood for summer.

In all seriousness, I’m a fan of the 1997 series and ecstatic that Berserk is being animated again (albeit in a weird style that makes me feel nearly as uncomfortable as episode 25 of the previous series did). Episode 1 does not disappoint, but it does show that, once again, the anime will not always follow the manga. One of the things I’m most interested is how the writing will (or won’t) be interwoven with what was shown the 1997 series.

The first scene is clearly aimed as much at manga readers as first-time viewers: many important characters are revealed briefly. However, if I didn’t know better, I’d think the fine swordsman-in-black walking towards the camera was the Hawk of Darkness; odd segue. In a throwback to the 1997 series, the opening credits summarize the history between Guts, Griffith, and Casca. If I had to complain about something in this episode, it would be the decision to deform Puck’s appearance so soon after introducing him (not that I really think it should ever happen).

Berserk Ep1 Pic2

While left-Puck could use some pants, right-Puck seems to need a slightly larger slice of the budget (which should be available considering the money they saved on pants).

[Where…where are his BOY PARTS????-Karen]

At first glance, Puck seems out of place in what is otherwise a serious and violent setting where nothing is sacred. However, you quickly realize that Puck’s character is needed to balance against the endless waves of darkness and evil. Puck’s ability to revert to his happy-go-lucky self shortly after horrible experiences contrasts Guts’ method of dealing with adversity: be too much of a badass to ever get shaken.

One scene does show, however briefly, that there is still a shred of humanity within Guts. While it’s fun to imagine him as an unstoppable machine, he’s just a man who’s been to hell and back again (I dare say literally), and will most likely need the support of others both to help manage the road ahead and to help him with his own internal struggle. And he has a really big sword (the late in the episode reveal was a nice anime-only touch).

Berserk Ep1 Pic3

[Adam didn’t send in a caption for this one, so I’ll take over…except I don’t watch Berserk and I have no idea what’s going on. This looks scary; I’ll be over here watching New Game! and leave the rampaging, putrifying skeletons to you brave people. -Karen]

Puck: You should run!
Guts: You’re free to go, if you want.
Puck: Why? What’s the point? There are so many… you’ll get yourself killed!
Guts: That’s nothing new.

And that’s Berserk. Looking forward to episode 2.

Food Wars S2: Episode 1

Screenshot 2016-07-05 13.44.41Food porn is very important in my life, mostly because regular porn does nothing for me and I still need something to be deeply ashamed of. And when it comes to food porn, you can hardly do better than Food Wars!, everyone’s favorite anime where people are figuratively (and sometimes literally) assaulted by flavor. The only thing this anime is missing is an animated Anthony Bourdain to make snarky comments about overcooked veal…hmm, am I the only one who wants Anthony Bourdain: The Anime? I can’t be the only one.

Anyway, between this and the adorably delectable Sweetness and Lightning, I’m probably going to gain about 50 lbs. this season just from looking at all the animated food; I guess my perfect beach body is going to have to wait for next summer, once again.

In case you’re new to Food Wars, here’s the situation: Yukihira Soma is an upstart diner cook who lacks the fine-dining training of his fellow students at the prestigious Totsuki Academy. However, he does have the ability to make anyone who eats his food have extremely vivid hallucinations, and this capacity for mind rape, as well as an appreciation for the many charms of down-home cookin’, has gotten him pretty far in life. He’s probably going to end up marrying Nakiri Erina, known as The God Tongue for her ability to taste precisely which cave rock salt was mined in, and their kids are going to be able to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like you wouldn’t believe. Soma is now in the finals of his school’s Autumn Elections (what it has to do with elections, I couldn’t tell you), and his first opponent is molecular gastronomy whiz kid Nakiri Alice, Erina’s half-sister.

Screenshot 2016-07-05 10.59.02This is what happens to people who eat Soma’s food; they are transported into The Sound of Music.

Now, I have nothing against molecular gastronomy on general principle; finding new ways to prepare and serve food is fun, and it can add a lot of creativity to cooking. However, if I’ve learned one thing from Top Chef, it’s that everyone who practices molecular gastronomy extensively becomes, for some strange reason, a complete unmitigated asshat. Everyone who uses these techniques acts like they’re the second coming of Paul Bocuse, and it’s like dude, you took lentil soup and made it into a cold gel instead of a warm liquid; that’s nice but you’re hardly curing cancer here. True to form, Alice is an insufferable snob, and based on her creepy red eyes, possibly some kind of succubus as well.

Screenshot 2016-07-05 10.21.01They kept this shot up for about three seconds too long and it was hella creepy. Molecular Gastronomy is for vampires.

I was surprised to see that Alice was going to be Soma’s opponent in the first round, since the first season built her up to be a pretty serious adversary; I figured he wouldn’t get to take her out until much later on. Nevertheless, the two are assigned bento as a theme, and the potential to load the box with gimmicks seems to play right into Alice’s pale hands. I think it’s cute that Soma was like “Oh cool, bento, something homey!” only to get smacked down by Erina for not realizing that bento is a Unique Food Culture and thus Serious Business. Everything is low-class chow until food snobs decide they like it, then it’s all “culture.” I’m just waiting for dunking chocolate chip cookies in apple juice to be declared cultural, because I need more encouragement.

Moving on, Alice makes a sushi bento box that looks pretty damned delicious, and makes me want some good sushi. My personal favorite kind of sushi is a shrimp tempura roll, something Alice would probably turn up her nose at, but hey, that’s why she’s the enemy. She uses more hi-tech equipment than NASA has these days, and reactions to her insanely over-thought dish are favorable. The show wants us to believe that all of these technical bells and whistles Alice uses actually enhance the flavor of food rather than just looking cool, but I have my doubts that this works in reality.

Screenshot 2016-07-05 10.33.35I may not like Alice, but I would be lying if I said I wouldn’t gobble this up. It’s been too long since I’ve had really good sushi. Why does it have to be so expensive?

Soma of course makes a down-home bento that has just enough sophistication to surprise the judges, but really succeeds on depth of flavor rather than flash. Interestingly, Alice pretty much says point blank “Is this the part where you’re going to tell me that food needs to have Heart?”, hanging a lampshade on where this story typically goes. However, Alice’s grandpa (who is also Heihachi Mishima of Tekken fame; there is no logic to this, he just is) points out that the issue isn’t heart, it’s understanding the essence of the dish. Soma’s bento was something that worked as a bento first and foremost, whereas Alice’s dish was just a box that happened to contain a bunch of tasty stuff. Which…kind of sounds like heart, actually. I do understand the distinction, where “heart” is a mushy feel-good concept that doesn’t really mean anything, but understanding the particular merits of a format is essential in cooking competitions. Still, Soma ends up winning because he celebrated the Soul of Bento, and Alice was too arrogant to fully embrace the format.

So…it’s all about heart, guys. Don’t listen to Heihachi when he says it isn’t. I just hope Soma finds more novel ways to defeat his opponents, because a whole bunch of episodes of “but only Soma truly CELEBRATED the form of the Turkey Pot Pie!” is going to get old. I honestly don’t remember how they dealt with this during the first season.

Next up, shy Tadakoro Megumi us up against…Goth Kid? Okay, I really don’t remember the first season all that well. I do remember Megumi butchering a giant fish that was bigger than she was, so I hope she does more of that; imagine they bring in a giant whale on a hook, and then people are like “you can’t cook a whale, they’re endangered!”, then Heihachi is like “LOL this is Japan you fools, if it’s in the ocean it goes in my face,” then Erina is like “Grandpa, put your pants back on,” and Soma is like “We used to serve whale sandwiches at my diner on Tuesdays,” and Soma’s dad is like “I’m going to let you in on a little secret, son: it was never really a diner. It was a haute cuisine restaurant in trashy diner clothing,” and Soma is like “Oh My God my whole life has been a lie.”

Ah…Food Wars! is back. It’s a good day.

Screenshot 2016-07-05 10.35.25

Here it is, the patented Food Wars! “assaulted by the FLAVA!” reaction shot! I missed this. Alice gets one too, and hers is topless…maybe I should have screencapped that one instead.