Tag Archives: anime

Otakusphere Weekly: The Lost Episodes

Back in the summer, when we put the podcast on hiatus, we had two episodes recorded that never got edited and posted. Now, stopping the podcast with no warning and leaving finished episodes in limbo is obviously not a good way to do things and not how I like to operate, but to paraphrase the wise Kero-chan:kerochan

“A lot of stuff happens in life!”

Yeah, so that happened, but here’s episode #16: Tales of Lemon Zest:

Download this episode (right click and save)

Obviously this is from a while ago so we’re still discussing summer shows like Sweetness and Lightning and Amanchu! and stuff, but probably worth a listen if you’ve enjoyed the show thus far. Episode 17 is still being edited, but I’ll update this post with it as soon as it’s done.

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.”

What is First Love Monster?

screenshot-2016-09-30-14-20-54Normally, when I want to write about a show, I have something in mind that I’d like to say about it. This is the exception: I am writing about First Love Monster in the hopes that by writing about it, I will figure out what I just watched. Considering the fact that I’m admitting up front that I have no plan, and this is more a form of attempted therapy than analysis of said show, I will not blame anyone for bailing out at the end of this paragraph.

Preamble covered, just what the hell is First Love Monster?  When I watched the first episode three months ago, I was confused about who the show was targeted at. Now, after catching up on the 11 remaining episodes, I’m still asking the same question. This is somewhat unique in my anime-viewing history.

It’s ostensibly shoujo, right? It’s a rom-com, and the guys are pretty much all tall and all handsome (with a few token moe boys who’re more cute than hot), and one of the really tall handsome guys has a thing for pushing the heroine up against the wall, and there’s even an episode where the dudes get shirtless. But most of the guys are also elementary schoolers who happen to be in fully adult male bodies for no reason that is ever explained, meaning they constantly talk about poop and wieners– especially poop. And even though Kanade and his friends are said to be in fifth-grade, to me they act more like second-graders, making the whole thing even more ridiculous.

So the premise of the show is that a high school girl, Kaho, ends up dating a fifth-grader, Kanade, because he looks so mature that she assumes he must be her age, if not older. However, since the constant potty-mouth antics make Kanade seem even younger than a fifth-grader, it feels like a high school girl is dating a developmentally delayed fifth-grader.

If you want to just write the whole thing off as ridiculously offensive and not spare it a moment’s more thought, I’m certainly not going to blame you. The whole show should really be five minutes long: Kanade saves Kaho, Kaho develops a crush on him and asks him out, he says “actually, I’m still in fifth grade,” and Kaho responds “Oh wow, I had no idea, why don’t you go back to the playground with your friends.” Of course, since Kaho’s social cluelessness is almost as overpowering as Kanade’s immaturity, she agrees to date him, and we have a situation.

The thing I can’t get past is just who the audience is supposed to be. Usually, when a show is pretty dumb in concept and just exists on pandering to its audience, at the very least, you know who’s being pandered to. But how does that work with this show? Sure, the guys are hunky-looking, but the constant potty humor is bound to be a turn-off for a lot of girls. It’s hard to think of a guy as hot when he’s talking about how he hurt his pee-pee when he sat down on a swing. I mean, I reckon there’s some girls somewhere who have that fetish, but there can’t be that many of them, right?

And since the boys are wearing elementary-school clothes that are way too small for them, I guess you could argue that the guys are showing lots of skin, hence pandering-to-the-ladies. However, tall anime guys squashed into tiny short sets and knee socks don’t look sexy; I’m hardly the arbiter of female sexuality, but I have to assume this is closer to fan disservice for many girls than fanservice. It just looks ridiculous, which is the point of course, since the show’s a comedy. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comedy where the style of the humor has the side effect of rendering the fanservice unpalatable.

Maybe I’m looking at this the wrong way, and it’s actually very simple: First Love Monster is a comedy, and the fact that it’s also shoujo is more or less incidental. Maybe the entire appeal of the show is supposed to be the contrast between these guys who look like typical anime dreamboats acting like little children, and the target audience is “anyone who finds that funny.” Of course, it’s basically the same joke over and over again, but whatever.

screenshot-2016-09-30-14-25-52

Taga thinks he’s a character on Diabolik Lovers and treating his love interest like garbage will result in her falling in love with him. However, because this is not Diabolik Lovers, he’s going to lose to a guy who still believes in Santa Claus. So that’s something.

Still, it’s clear that Kanade is actually supposed to be taken seriously as a romantic lead. He sometimes sounds wise beyond his years (which is why Kaho has a thing for him in the first place) when he parrots things his mother once said to him– something that, if you ignore what it’s surrounded by, is kind of touching. And the last episode has a pretty amazing sequence where the premise is basically “What if this were a normal shoujo, and Kanade was a proper romantic hero because he wasn’t 10 fucking years old?” Said episode also contains Kaho having an epic meltdown about how her show makes no sense, which is probably worth watching in and of itself (I could say “it makes the show worth watching,” but let’s not get carried away.)

So it’s just a silly comedy that’s not meant to be taken seriously as a romance…except for those times when it’s explicitly presented as a romance. Throughout the show, I kept expecting a twist that would give the show some further identity beyond “hot guys say the word poo.” For a while, since they say that Kanade is in fifth-grade but never give his actual age, I was sure that Kanade and his buds were actually in a coma for a few years after a bus accident or something, making the boys older chronologically than they are behaviorally. Whether that would make Kanade’s relationship with Kaho much less inappropriate is debatable, but at least there would be something for the writers to explore there. Alternately, I thought that maybe Kanade had regressed to a childlike state after the death of his mother, but was actually the same age as Kaho.

If there had been some twist like the ones I was speculating about, then the show could explore the idea of a high school student dating someone with childlike tendencies without literally being a child. Then maybe something would happen to help Kanade start acting more like his chronological age, and Kaho and Kanade would become viable as a proper couple. But no: that is not this show. This show really is about a high-schooler dating a fifth-grader, with no mitigating circumstances.

The show isn’t entirely without, err, charm; it’s at it’s best when it becomes a total screwball comedy and ignores the romance angle entirely, like when Kanade befriends a crab that the crew is supposed to eat for lunch, names it “Crabita,” and starts using it like a Pokemon. And the aforementioned sequence in the last episode works pretty well as a parody of standard shoujo cliches.

One other thing that’s kind of interesting is the character of Taga, who tells Kaho that she is “lower than dogshit” and treats her in the same fashion, despite the fact that he clearly likes her. He acts like the romantic leads in shows like Diabolik Lovers, only instead of being seen as desirable, he’s pretty much cast aside as irrelevant. If you want to be generous– and I do mean incredibly, almost unreasonably generous– you can interpret the show as a critique of a certain kind of masochistic shoujo. The tall, hot guy who treats the heroine like dirt ends up alone and lonely, because he’s a massive asshole and the fact that he’s really hot doesn’t mitigate the fact that he’s a massive asshole, while the heroine falls for the genuinely nice guy. Of course, in this case, the nice guy happens to be 10, but let’s not quibble on details here.

So, yeah…First Love Monster is a show that doesn’t work as a romance, features leads that are largely unappealing to women, and only occasionally works as a comedy. Who bought enough copies of the manga for this to get made into an anime? What was Studio DEEN thinking when they adapted this? DEEN makes Super Lovers, so they’re clearly not afraid of salacious material, but what’s the point of a show being salacious if it’s so thoroughly un-sexy?

I just…I just don’t get it, guys. I’m not even saying the show is bad, because I don’t think of it a TV show so much as some strange science experiment, imposed by some mysterious alien intellect with motives I cannot begin to comprehend. I just wrote (checks) 1400 words and no, I still don’t know what I just watched. You win this round, Japan.

screenshot-2016-09-30-14-23-11

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.

Otakusphere Weekly #15: Guts Sings I’m Lady!!

Download this episode (right click and save)

Listen on iTunes

This week, the podcast is rocked by the events of Re:Zero 15, which were so traumatizing we needed to watch Sweetness and Lightning over and over again to remind ourselves that there is still good in the world. Other topics, besides the End of Evangelion-esque gorefest that Subaru & co. just pulled on us, include an Amanchu! girl’s amazing Creepy Yotsuba Face, relieving oneself of gas in the face of a loli ghost,  the correct pronunciation of “ufotable,” and the theory that Bananya is not a charming story of cats who live in banana skins, but a psychological profile of a shattered mind.

Oh, and we predict the end of Berserk, just in case you were curious. Everyone can stop reading the manga now.

Show Notes:

00:00:46 General Otaku Chat: Pokémon Go takes over the world

SEMPAI LEAGUE:
00:09:41 Re:Zero 15
00:19:29 Sweetness and Lightning 2
00:23:24 ReWrite 2
00:26:33 Orange 2
00:30:47 The Morose Mononokean 2
00:31:33 New Game! 2
00:36:01 Cheer Boys! 2
00:38:02 D. Gray Man HALLOW 2
00:44:13 Berserk 2

KOHAI/ NEW STUFF LEAGUE: 
00:51:13 Alderamin On The Sky 1
00:54:35 Tales of Zesteria 0 & 1
00:58:36 Mob Psycho 100 1 
01:03:23 Amanchu 1

chibi league
01:08:22 Bananya 2
01:11:05 The High School Life of a Fudanshi 2
01:12:18 The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. 2

Notes of Note:

  1. Check out the Florida International University Pokémon Go safety video, featuring an adorable Charmander. 
  2. The creator of One Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100 is ONE.
  3.  Lifesong and Sal are both still watching Macross Delta, but haven’t had time for it amidst all the summer craziness; it will return to the Senpai League soon. I sure hope what’s-her-name is alive….

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.

Otakusphere Weekly #14: Orange You Glad We Didn’t Say Bananya?

Download this episode (right click and save)

Listen to the show on iTunes

This time around, we’re dealing with a weird kind of reverse-disappointment; we sort of wanted all the summer anime to be bad so we’d have plenty of free time to catch up on our anime backlogs, but nooooo, too much damn anime had to go out of it’s way to be funny and interesting and charming and stuff. Now we’re really into Sweetness and Lightning and Cheer Boys and Mononokean and stuff, and when are our My Anime LIst pages finally going to be up to snuff? Not this season, that’s for sure.

Meanwhile, Sal is understandably concerned about Bananya’s desire to be eaten, Lifesong has had it with anime characters shouting at each other for no real reason, and we’re all pretty flummoxed by just who First Love Monster is supposed to be targeted at. Maybe the show is like the anime equivalent of the Duck-Billed Platypus; though we can’t imagine why it exists, we must humbly accept that it does. There are many things in this world that are simply beyond our ken.

SHOW NOTES:

00:00:34 General Otaku Chat: Is Crunchyroll going to eat Funimation’s lunch now that they’re in the home-release game? Can we handle a Big Order dub?

Old Stuff League

00:10:31 Shonen Maid 12 (END)
00:12:38 Flying Witch 11 and 12 (END)
00:15:18 Re:Zero 14

New Hotness League
00:22:11 Food Wars! The Second Plate
00:24:21 Berserk
00:29:42 Sweetness and Lightning
00:34:14 ReWrite
00:39:32 ReLife
00:43:27 Taboo Tattoo
00:46:16 B-Project
00:48:00 Love Live! Sunshine
00:49:11 The Morose Monomonokean
00:53:05 Orange
00:58:14 New Game!
01:02:38 Momokuri
01:04:02 Hybrid X Heart Magias Academy Ataraxia
01:07:14 First Love Monster
01:11:33 Cheer Boys
01:13:06 Servamp
01:14:46 Puzzles and Dragons X
01:15:27 Bananya
01:17:52 The High School Life of a Fudanshi
01:20:26 The Disastrous Life of Saiki K.

  1. I didn’t mention it on the show because it wasn’t confirmed at the time we recorded, but Otakusphere Weekly is now available on iTunes. It will be probably become available on other popular podcast-listening services as soon as I figure out what all the kids are using these days. Let us know in the comments if there’s somewhere you’d like the show to be listed, and we’ll get on it.

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.