Tag Archives: Spring 2018

Catching up on Steins;Gate 0

I haven’t been too enamored of any of the Summer anime I’ve seen so far, so this seems like a good time to dip into some things I’ve been meaning to watch for a while. Steins;Gate 0 started airing in the spring, and even though I’m a huge fan of the original series, I didn’t watch it. I didn’t watch it for a kind of stupid reason, now that I think about it.

See this show is an alternate timeline from the original, and I didn’t feel as tempted to watch the show as I would have if it were “canon,” so to speak. But now that I’m watching Steins;Gate again, I realize that making these kind of distinctions between alternate timelines and canon timelines is kind of against the entire spirit of the show. On this show, alternate timelines happen; even when the world line switches, you know the alternate reality is playing out in it’s entirety. In the primary timeline, Makise Kurisu is dead, but Okarin gets to visit a timeline where she’s still alive; the Kurisu in that timeline is very, very important, even if she doesn’t exist in the main reality.

At the end of Steins;Gate, Okabe Rintarou goes back and time and manages to just barely save Kurisu from being murdered. Steins;Gate 0 is the story of what would have happened if he’d failed. I didn’t think I wanted to see a world where Okarin was mourning the woman he loved, but it’s really interesting how well this works as a point of divergence.

The brilliance of the original series is that Okarin goes from being a fake mad scientist (pretend name Houoin Kyouma) who says things like “the organization is out to get me!” and pretends to have vast science-based power over reality, to being the real thing, without ever really meaning to. By the end of the show, Okabe Rintarou is actually more powerful, due to his ability to influence time, than Houoin Kyouma, the character he invented, ever was. He successfully becomes what he always pretended to be, almost by accident. However, in this timeline, once he fails to save Kurisu, he throws Houoin Kyouma and any pretensions of being a powerful figure away; how can he possibly be powerful, if he can’t even save Kurisu from dying at the age of 17?

What we get with Steins;Gate 0 is a version of Okarin who’s not only discarded his alter-ego, but is embarrassed by the very idea of Houoin Kyouma. Having real experience with tinkering with time and causality, he knows too much to boast about what it might be like to have that kind of power. He’s also suffering from PTSD due to everything he went through in the original series, on top of losing Kurisu, so he’s in a very rough place overall.

I can’t see Okabe and Moeka together without thinking of that one brutal scene in the original where he nearly beat her senseless; fortunately, Okabe seems to have the same problem, so it’s not like that aspect of the series has been forgotten. Okabe knows he’s gone to some very dark places, even if none of it technically happened from anyone else’s perspective.

What’s great about it is that I think the viewer really wants Okarin to don his trademark lab coat, make a cool pose and do his patented mad scientist laugh; maybe even say his catchphrase “El. Psy. Congroo.” very seriously, despite the fact that it’s gibberish. And I think he will again, someday. But for now, he can’t do it; the part of him that was fanciful and goofy died with Kurisu. I think the series is ultimately going to be about getting that part of himself back, even though that’s not his goal.

Kurisu does have a presence in the show, both in alternate timelines, and in the form of an AI named Amadeus, based on her memories. Amadeus is important, because I think a version of Steins;Gate with no Kurisu at all would just be too depressing, but therein lies the rub; she’s a crutch for the audience, just as she is for Okabe himself. As much as Maho, a likable new character introduced this season, warns Okabe otherwise, we want to believe that Amadeus is somehow the real thing; that she has real feelings, and she’ll fall in love with Okabe all over again. Introducing a Kurisu AI is experimenting with time travel in a different way: if you really could save someone’s memories in a computer, wouldn’t talking to them be like going back in time to when they were alive?

I didn’t realize until I started watching again how much I’d missed the intelligence of Steins;Gate. There are other anime with intelligent scripts, but there’s something special about the way the show toys with our fears and hopes for the future. In fact, Steins;Gate may be a little too intelligent for me, because I have a helluva time figuring out what’s going on. I didn’t really thoroughly understand what happened in the first season until I rewatched, and the same thing will probably happen here. After catching up on the first cour, I said to my husband. “I’m so happy. I’m so confused, but I’m so happy.”

My face whenever I’m trying to figure out what just happened in Steins;Gate, only with more drooling.

Now that DARLING in the FRANXX is over, I’d like to pick up S:G 0 as the new show to write too-long blog posts about. This is a dangerous proposition, since I never know what the hell is going on in S;G, and writing about it at length is going to reveal the extent of my ignorance. After all, I was the person who, during the first series, predicted that Mayuri was an evil mastermind. Granted, I was half-kidding, but still; I was a little off the mark there.

Speaking of Mayuri, she’s busy rolling with the punches, throwing parties and making costumes for everybody like none of the World War III stuff going on is a big deal. It’s implied that Mayuri knows basically what happened in the previous series, but not the details, and this would not work with many characters. With Mayuri though, Okabe could have said “Once I made a time machine that involved sending text messages to the past, except I changed time so that you died, so I had to undo all the messages I ever sent and go back in time to before I invented the time machine,” and Mayuri would just nod and say “Okay!”and not require further explanation. I’m still not convinced if Mayuri is kind of stupid or really, really, really smart, and I think that’s the point.

Suzuha and Kagari, wondering how it is that there’s enough demand for CRT TVs (even in 2010) that they can both have jobs in a CRT TV shop. I’m not sure how I feel about Kagari yet, but I don’t think you can watch this show without loving Suzuha.

So yeah, I feel a little dumb for not picking up this show in the spring like I should have, but what can I say: mistakes were made. I watched Uma Musume for some reason, so my judgment regarding what shows to start at the beginning of any given season is a little suspect. (Not to suggest that Uma Musume was horrible, because it wasn’t, but it’s still no Steins;Gate.) Now I just need to catch up on Full Metal Panic and I can count myself among the people who actually watch good anime again…at least, until next season.

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episode 24

A few missteps aside, I feel like this stayed exactly the show I thought it was all along: all about the beauty of life, specifically the continuation of life through sex, conception and childbirth, with a thin veneer of shiny mecha antics. I know a lot of viewers wanted something else from it, and I can respect that; but for me, this was in my wheelhouse from moment one.

Hiro and Zero Two go on their “honeymoon,” traveling through deep space toward the VIRM homeworld. This is not as unusual a honeymoon as you might think; my honeymoon was spent exploring different aquariums. Space has a lot in common with the bottom of the ocean floor.

They don’t have very much to say to one another, which I have mixed feelings about. On one hand, since they’ve merged (their metaphorical marriage), they’re supposed to be communicating on a deeper level than speech. If neither Hiro or Zero Two says much of interest in this episode, beyond “I love you,” it’s because the real communication going on is supposed to be stuff they couldn’t put into words anyway. I get that, but I think this could have been communicated to the audience better. If this show had been 26 episodes instead of 24, we could have spent a whole episode exploring what it’s like to be inside their heads, but as it stands, we just have to assume the two of them have a rich inner life that we’re not seeing.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, we see the lead-up to Kokoro having her baby, in which Useless Nana manages to actually be helpful for once. See, the future is so bright that even the crappy Nana is being nice! Then the baby’s born and I kind of lose it for a moment.

Of course, thanks to anime genetics, the baby looks exactly like Kokoro, even fresh out of the womb. I wonder what’s that like; when my girl was born, she didn’t look anything like me, and still doesn’t; she takes after my husband, full stop. Sometimes I think that the main reason I want to have another baby someday is because I might have one that looks like me. Selfish? Yes, but everything about having kids is this weird mix of extreme selfishness and selflessness.

I’m trying to imagine what it must be like to see a baby for the first time, as Mitsuru does, when you’ve never seen pictures of babies, or even knew about the concept of a baby until recently. Then again, even in real life, I think parents don’t really understand what a baby truly is until it’s born. It’s one thing to have an idea of this cute little thing, but when you first see it, those impossibly tiny hands and fingers, you realize that you never had a clue what you were in for. So I guess Mitsuru’s experience is pretty universal, really.

Hiro and Zero Two are all set two destroy the VIRM home planet, but VIRM has a trick; using Hiro’s humanity (since he’s still at least partially human), they manage to lull him into unconsciousness and screw up the bond between him and Zero Two. The solution to this problem comes very close to being a Care Bears Solution: everyone links hands and thinks about how much they love Hiro and Zero Two, aided by the statue of Zero Two’s body that now serves as a conduit between worlds. What stops it from being a Care Bears Solution, to me anyway, is that it’s Ai, Kokoro and Mitsuru’s daughter, that jars Hiro back to reality. Ai, and the entire process that transpired to create her, is basically the antithesis to VIRM’s entire program; it makes sense to me that she– perhaps the very idea of her– would be the trigger that would kick VIRM out of Hiro’s head.

So Hiro and Zero Two transform one last time, their final offspring, and destroy the VIRM home planet. Of course VIRM isn’t destroyed forever, because bad ideas can’t be destroyed forever, but they’re set back for long enough that our crew on Earth has time to get a foothold, which is all we need.

Back on Earth, everyone’s going crazy having babies, and I think it’s important to stop and look at this for a moment. It would be really easy to misinterpret the message of this show as “have lots of babies, that fixes everything!” but that’s clearly not exactly what’s going on. It’s critically important that Ikuno plays a crucial role in helping humanity get back on it’s feet. She doesn’t have a child, probably couldn’t if she wanted to at this point, and it doesn’t matter; there would be no future without her. Similarly, Zorome and Miku haven’t had kids a decade after the main conflict ends, and for all we know, they never will; it doesn’t matter one way or the other, because they’re contributing to the future too, teaching the children.

I can understand, given all the positive imagery of children and babies in this episode, how it might seem like a kind of pro-childbirth propaganda (especially in light of Japan’s declining birthrate.) But I really don’t think the point is that everyone should have children; not everyone in Squad 13 does. What everyone does do, is pitches in to help make the world a better place for their friends. Kokoro does it through motherhood, Ikuno does it through science, Miku does it through teaching, and Futoshi does it through cooking. Goro does it through exploring, letting the human thirst for knowledge overpower his fear.

I just don’t think the creators are saying “Hey, all you people out there who aren’t making babies? You should get on that! Babies rock!” What they are doing (and here I go putting words in other peoples mouths), at least from my vantage point, is asking a question: what are you doing to touch the future? Are you contributing to making a better world for everyone, like the Squad 13 kids are? Or are you just kind of doing whatever makes you happy at the moment? Are you like one of the “Adults” from episode 10, plugged into the pleasure machine, happy to stay there until the battery runs out?

And that again is an oversimplification, because it’s not everyone’s responsibility to save the world. For some people, just taking care of themselves, getting through the day in one piece, is enough of a challenge, and that should be respected. But if we want the world to get better, at least some people have to be committed to making the world a better place; it’s not going to happen on it’s own.

I think you could also interpret this show as being a counterpoint to the kind of transhumanism depicted in cyberpunk works like Ghost in the Shell; illustrating that it’s our primal biological functions, like eating and making babies, that define us as human. But that’s not quite right either; at the end, Zero Two and Hiro have both gone through tremendous physical changes (and ZT was never really human in the first place), but Ichigo believes that they were “more human than anybody else.” In Darling in the Franxx, the definition of human doesn’t revolve around whether or not you can reproduce, or if you have pale skin instead of red or blue.

As an aside, I said last time that maybe Ikuno would hook up with Naomi, and that does seem to be what happens. There’s no evidence that they’re lovers, but they’re clearly close. Ikuno gets perhaps the saddest ending of all the kids, but at least she’s not alone.

It’s also worth noting that the kids (well, they’re not kids anymore, but whatever) give up using Magma energy, and seem to commit to renewable energy. I think that’s a pretty transparent message about how humanity should abandon fossil fuels and find other ways of generating power. A lot of the stuff in this episode isn’t exactly the way it appears, but hey, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes showing fictional characters giving up on using the remains of dinosaurs to light their houses is a way of saying “You know, you should really considering giving up using the remains of dinosaurs as a way to light your house.”

Anyway, I don’t know if I’m ever going to have another baby. It cost us 6K to have the first one, and that’s with insurance: I think, for some reason, one night in the newborn ICU wasn’t covered, so we were stuck paying that off for a while. It’s become prohibitively expensive to have children, and from what I understand, it’s worse in Japan than it is here in the U.S. (though that isn’t the only reason for the declining birthrate). So even if the creators of Darling really do want everybody to go out and have a bunch of babies, it’s not going to work unless they start writing some checks. (Maybe that’s what the new Trigger Patreon is for?)

Whether or not I have another child is dependent on a lot of factors, only some of which are financial, and I guess that’s not really the point. What’s important is, am I living a life worthy of Zero Two– or, more importantly, of Ikuno? That’s what this show is leaving me with, and for that, I’m thankful. It was hardly a perfect show, and it would have likely benefited greatly from having a few more episodes to play around with. But I think it’s heart was in the right place; maybe a tiny fetal heartbeat, not quite strong yet, but clearly there.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 12

In the final episode, we learn that LLENN is an evil genius who’s just been hiding it well this whole time. The fact that she knew that mocking Sword Art Online was perhaps the one way to really push Pito’s buttons and get her to lose her cool shows just how good she is at manipulating people when she wants to. We can only hope that she continues to use her powers for good instead of evil, and the devastating loss of the second P-chan doesn’t drive her to a life of crime.

Just like the Elder Wand will not kill it’s owner, P-Chan II will self-destruct before shooting LLENN. Oh God, I just made a Harry Potter reference, please let this be a one-time thing.

I like the fact that the final battle was relatively short, giving the story lots of time to wrap up outside the game. There was one thing I didn’t understand: why did M bother to take Fuka hostage instead of killing her? I know he wanted Pito to lose, so he could have kept Fuka alive to support LLENN (which is ultimately what happened, of course), but that gives away the game to Pito. Yet when Pito shoots him as a traitor, she does so for other reasons, not because he left one of their enemies alive for no apparent reason. It’s just a little off.

Pito thought she had prepared well, but LLENN knew her one weakness; she had no defense against vampire munchkins.

I’m just going to choose to think that M’s reasoning was “Fuka is too awesome to kill,” in which case I must wholeheartedly agree with him. In this episode, we get to see more of Miyu, the player behind Fuka, and naturally, she’s great in meatspace as well. I know M has this all-consuming, twisted love for Pito, and nothing can change that, but there’s a sick little part of me that wanted him to drop Pito like a hot potato once Miyu started hitting on him.

Goushi: “Thank you for your sexual interest in me, but I only like crazy bitches.”

Miyu: “Have you SEEN me play GGO?”

Goushi: “Holy FUCK you’re right, you are everything I’ve ever dreamed of, you barely-restrained psychopath.”

In any case, I love how brutal the final battle is; it needed to be, or else Pito wouldn’t have believed that she had met her match in LLENN. As I predicted last time (not like it was hard to see), the other team comes in from offscreen and grabs the win at the last second, but do you really think they enjoyed it? You just know that no one discussing the second Squad Jam is going to talk about the winners at all; they’ll be talking about Pito, LLENN, Fuka, and those intense Amazon women.


“We won, but…it feels so hollow…*sniffles*”

I’ll admit, they had me for a fraction of a second; when they introduced the club owner as “Pito,” I actually thought, very briefly, that she really was Pito and all of the hints that Pito was really Elsa Kanzaki were false leads. Of course, the Karen on the show is smarter than this Karen sitting right here, and knew immediately who the real Pito was. I’m telling you: evil genius. Do we know what field Karen is studying in college? If it’s political science, the world is doomed to fall under the thumb of her adorable hegemony.

Hello, cute little girl. I bet Elsa’s rage comes from the fact that she’s saddled with an acoustic guitar; if she was allowed to shred with an electric guitar in a proper band, getting all that aggression out, this whole nasty business could have been avoided. Death Metal saves lives.

At first I thought it was a little convenient that Elsa’s obsession with death was “cured” by one battle with LLENN, but I think I get it now; the fact that there’s a player out there who can match her, and there may be others that she’s not even aware of yet, keeps life interesting enough that killing herself has lost its appeal. I think Elsa is just naturally talented at most things she tries, and she was getting really bored of a life with no challenge. The fact that LLENN can kick her ass was a revelation to her. I fear for what would happen if Elsa met Kirito; she’d probably become crazy-obsessed with him, and then everyone would bitch that the show was all about Kirito again.

Despite her evil genius, LLENN lacks the self-awareness to realize that she’s as feared in-game now as Pito is, and that’s comforting; we should all fear the day when LLENN becomes truly aware of what she is and what she can do. For now, she’s satisfied to run around shooting people with a deranged pop singer in the virtual world of GGO, and that’s a good time for everyone.

Onward, to another gratuitously violent adventure!

This show surpassed my expectations by just being really solid and fun all the way through. There was some food for thought, which I wrote about earlier in the season, but overall, this was a good rippin’ yarn with characters you liked rooting for and action that kept you on your toes. When mainline Sword Art Online returns this fall, it’s going to have some mighty big shoes to fill; well, technically, tiny little pink munchkin-shoes, but you get the idea.

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episode 23

This is the first time I’m sitting down to write about this show without feeling good about it. I didn’t hate this episode, but it didn’t quite come together for me, and that leaves me with a weird feeling, because this show has been pretty thoroughly in my wheelhouse so far.

I agree with where the show is going on general terms: Zero Two and Hiro heading into another dimension to put the hurt on VIRM where they live, Kokoro and Mitsuru coming together over the upcoming birth of their child, Nana and Hatchi developing stronger parental feelings toward their charges, etc. But everything in this episode just seemed a little bit too quick, neat and convenient for me. It seemed like getting into space was entirely too easy, the fight against VIRM was too easy, and everything happened just a bit too fast to resonate. I don’t want any of the Squad 13 kids to die, but it seemed convenient that one of the Nines was the only one to die in that conflict.

NOOOOO, DON’T DIE!!!!…Oh wait, it was the blond kid? That’s cool, no one liked him.

Some people have been complaining about the pacing of this show for a while now, but I haven’t been one of them. I liked the deliberate slow pacing of the slice-of-life pacing portion of the show (episodes 16-18), and how that contrasted with all hell breaking loose in episode 20. A ton of things happened at a breakneck pace in 20 and 21, but I still felt it worked somehow. This episode was the first time I felt like stuff was happening so fast that nothing had time to properly land.

I also really disliked Nana and Hachi being in space with Squad 13, as much as I like them as characters otherwise. They really should have stayed on Earth, supervising the other parasites, rather than going off planet on a dangerous mission that could have easily gotten them both killed. Werner Franxx said that Nana and Hachi had to be the “new adults,” and considering what a warped view of adulthood those two have seen, I guess I can’t blame them for not really knowing what that means. Still, it seemed like the only reason Nana and Hachi were there was to deliver exposition, and the transparency of that took me out of the story.

I’m not sure how to feel about Zero Two and Hiro reuniting once again. I understand why Zero Two pulled away from him after merging with Strelizia, because she realized that he wouldn’t have anything resembling a human life if he stayed with her. And showing that selfishness is important; the fact that Zero Two is putting what she wants for Hiro ahead of Hiro’s own wishes mirrors Hiro’s selfishness in putting his reunion with Zero Two ahead of everything else in the previous episodes. This show is doing a good job of showing that love isn’t all sunshine and roses. But the reunion happens so quickly after the parting, from the viewer’s perspective that it deprives their reunion of the gravity it really should have.

This episode is markedly better if you turn off the sound and play Billy Idol’s White Wedding for the last few minutes. Go on, try it.

I do like Giant Zero Two Strelizia and her wedding-dress mech, with her bridal bouquet of explosives. That’s the sort of thing that this show does well, taking really broad metaphors and creating powerful imagery with them. But everything around it undermines the power of that moment.

That said, I’m still looking forward to the final episode; I think there’s a possibility episode 24 could redeem everything I didn’t like about this one. I also wonder if these problems could have been easily solved if the show was slated for 26 episodes instead of 24; maybe just one or two more episodes of build up could have made a huge difference to the pacing. Still, we’re here now, and I’m curious what Hiro and Zero Two are going to discover Beyond the Infinite, or wherever they’re headed.

 

Finishing up the Spring 2018 Anime Season

Here are some closing thoughts on shows I didn’t blog, but still watched this season.

Comic Girls— I lost interest in blogging this episodically about halfway through the season, but still kept up with it. It was a perfectly nice slice-of-life show about girls who draw manga, except I wanted something a little more serious– like Bakuman, only with girls– and that was not this show. I think it’s okay to acknowledge that a show turned out to be different from what you wanted, as long as you realize that the creative team had no responsibility to deliver specifically what you wanted. There was never any indication that the show was going to be anything other than what it was, so really, the fault is with me for looking for something that was never meant to be there.

Still, even if the show wasn’t quite what I was looking for, it did have its moments. Kaos’ struggle with finding her voice through manga was a very relatable depiction of artistic insecurity, and as a result, her eventual success feels more hard-won than it usually does in these learning-your-craft tales. Her self-deprecation and frequent crises of confidence may have seemed over-the-top, but that’s what made it work; she basically acted out every insecure thought that many artists have, but usually force themselves to hide. People who say “I suck” over and over again in real life tend to be annoying, but it works when you’re an adorable anime character with pink braids running down your back, I guess.

This is another one of those shows with yuri moments all over the place, but nobody ever actually uses the word “lesbian,” or any other terminology that would make it explicit. I wonder; do people not count shows like this as increasing LGBT representation because they don’t label it that way? Are they right to feel that way? Nevertheless, I can’t imagine anyone even trying to deny that Kaos is a lesbian; the evidence is overwhelming. Maybe there’s one person out there somewhere who thinks that Kaos isn’t gay, but that person probably also thinks that Attack on Titan is really about bowling.

Uma Musume— This show is unusual in that it ended up being good in a completely different way than I anticipated. At the beginning of the season, I thought that if Uma Musume was going to be watchable to anyone but people with a highly specific horsie-girl fetish, it would need to embrace it’s own audacity: Go big or go home, make it as nuts as possible. Like Keijo!!!!!!!!, I guess.

Instead, they went the other route and made a show that was entirely about female athletes, with the gimmicky elements substantially toned down. Not only was the idol singer aspect minimized after the first episode or two, even the “girls based on famous horses” shtick wasn’t that important; you could take the racehorse connections out of this show, make it entirely about female track runners, and it would remain pretty similar. The horse aesthetics add charm and flair and whatnot, but end up being pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Above all, they managed to make the race sequences exciting, which I wasn’t expecting. Main girl Special Week lost often enough that victory never felt pre-ordained, and the show managed to drag out the races a little bit for drama without slowing them down too much, not an easy balance to achieve.

All in all, a really pleasant surprise this season. I seem to be in good company with this opinion, because despite the jeers before it started airing, I don’t think I’ve heard a bad word about it since it started.

Kakuriyo, Bed and Breakfast for Spirits— This is continuing for another cour, but I wanted to mention it here since I don’t think I’ve talked about it since the Spring Season Preview. Anime seems to have a monopoly on this kind of show: a story that focuses on sometimes-creepy occult creatures, yet with tons of class, warmth and playfulness. If any non-Japanese creators have ever done a show with the feel of this (or Kamisama Kiss, or The Morose Monokenean), I’ve never come across it.

Ai is a great heroine, because she’s a strong character who displays that strength in ways other than kicking ass. I hate this idea that for a character to be “strong,” they have to be a badass ninja who can beat up all of their enemies or something. Ai mainly influences her world through cooking, but she does it in a very assertive, decisive way.

She also doesn’t fall into the typical anime trap of compromising her own safety just to make a stupid point. She refuses to marry the Ogre Inn Master, instead opting to work off her family’s unpaid debt as a cook. However, characters frequently call her “the Ogre Bride” or “The Ogre Master’s Intended,” and she never corrects them, because for a fragile human in the spirit world, having that perceived status is helpful. Either that, or she doesn’t bother correcting them because she really doesn’t give a toss what anyone else thinks.

I don’t know if this really needed to be two cours; my gut feeling is that I’m going to find it dragged out by the time it stops airing in the fall. But maybe the second cour will introduce some twists that keep things lively.

Isekai IzakayaWhen it started, I thought this show was just an inferior version of Restaurant to Another World, and it never did anything to disabuse me of that notion. It’s a serviceable food anime, if you like watching anime characters cook and eat things that look delicious, but that’s really all it has going for it. While Restaurant had this delightful air of magic and mystery, we never get to learn much about the world of Isekai Isekaya; it seems to be a vaguely medieval setting with little character.

That said, this show is pretty much critic-proof. If you like food anime, like I do, then you tend to watch everything, because there isn’t all that much of it; if you don’t like food anime, this would never be on your radar in the first place. The live action bits at the end were intriguing, but sometimes it felt like I was sitting through a boring episode to get to the interesting 3 minutes at the end, which is a shame.

Yotsuiro Biyori— This show gave me exactly what I asked for, nothing more and nothing less: a relaxing, slice-of-life show taking place in a cafe, focusing on four handsome dudes, with a healthy side of food porn. There is a larger plot involving main guy Sui and his cold-as-ice, businessman brother, but honestly, very little happens with that and it doesn’t even matter. This show isn’t quite Yuru Camp levels of comforting, but it’s kind of along that same continuum. As the season progressed, I found myself looking forward to this one more and more every week.

I’m afraid this show will likely be forgotten in the future, but I think it should be added to the list of shows that are great to watch when you really need to chill out: Yuru Camp, Non Non Biyori, Three Leaves, Three Colors, etc.  I don’t feel like there’s any real need for a second season, but if they make one, I will watch it.

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episode 22

This is pretty unusual. “A bunch of intrepid kids save the world” stories are a dime a dozen, but this is the part of it that we don’t normally see; after the world is saved, then what? What exactly has been “saved,” and is any of it the stuff you wanted to save in the first place? This isn’t quite where I was expecting Darling to go, but now that it has, it feels inevitable; for me, I take that as a sign that the writers are doing something right.

I said last time that if Zero Two wasn’t dead, I was going to feel cheated, but actually, that’s not the case. What I really didn’t want was for her sacrifice to be minimized by having her just be sleepy for a couple of days after the battle or something; having her soul merged with Strelizia and going off into space, to fight a perpetual war, is arguably worse than death. I say “arguably” because Zero Two loves to fight, so it’s probably less of a living hell for her than it would be for anyone else, but still…hardly a happy ending for her.

We will now call to order the first meeting of the Special Committee For The Continuation of All Life on Earth. First order of business: does anyone want to live on this Earth? It’s not great.

As far as I can tell, all the adults were absorbed by VIRM last episode, leaving the parasites the only humans left alive, along with former parasites like Hachi and the Nanas. It’s unclear how many parasites are even alive outside of Squad 13, which would be useful to know in reference to how the episode ends, but we’ll get there. Our kiddos are focusing on farming so they’ll be able to survive after their food runs out, except the parched soil they’re surrounded with isn’t proving fertile. Speaking of fertility, Kokoro is getting nauseated about every five minutes, and everyone finally finds out that she’s actually pregnant.

I think it makes sense that Kokoro is horrified when she finds out. Yes, she liked the idea of having a baby, but it was like a fairy story to her; a myth from a long time ago. It’s one thing to imagine having a cute little doll-like thing in your arms, and quite another to be told “Yes, there is another person living inside you now and they will get bigger and bigger until they burst out.” Nana (the useless one) mentions that it’s considered impossible to pilot a FRANXX while pregnant, so in the past pistils had abortions. This is interesting, because when Kokoro was first revealed to be pregnant I thought she was going to have trouble piloting, but she and Mitsuru did pilot together during the last operation, albeit with difficulty. I think we’re supposed to assume she got away with it because she was still early in the pregnancy, but normally pregnant women can’t; their conception energy is being used elsewhere.

All Kokoro does this whole episode is vomit and lie in bed, which is pretty much all I did for the whole first trimester of my pregnancy, so I can relate. They better start allotting her more of the limited food supply, otherwise they’re going to have a VERY dangerous lady on their hands once she hits the 4-month mark. Do not get between a pregnant lady and her snacks.

Dr. Franxx has set up Hachi and Nana(the original, decent one) to be the next generation of caretakers for the kids, which makes me like him more posthumously. I know a lot of what happened on this show was ultimately Franxx’s fault, but at least he knew that and tried to make amends at the end of his life, which is more than you can say for a lot of fictional mad scientists. Anyway, Hachi and Nana discover that the kids who were kicked out of Garden (like Hiro’s original partner, Naomi) are being kept in what appears to be cryostasis; frankly, I thought Papa had killed them all outright the moment they failed as parasites, so this is a pleasant surprise. I assume they can be revived and rejoin the human population, otherwise I don’t see the point of introducing them this late in the game.

Hiro figures out that the catatonic Zero Two he’s left with is just her body, and her mind is in Strelizia, and embarks on a desperate plan to reunite with her. Goro rightfully chews him out for how selfish this is, but it does nothing to change Hiro’s resolve. I think it’s important to show this, the dark side of love. Last episode, Zero Two saved the world because of love, but she didn’t do it for that reason; she did it to get to Hiro, and saving the world was just the icing on the cake, if that. Now Hiro is just as determined to get to her, and the fact that he might doom the world by doing so is just a minor detail to him at this point. Both of them are acting the exact same way, yet Zero Two seems like a martyr while Hiro seems like a selfish jerk.

When the whole squad (save Mitsuru and Kokoro) agrees to go into space with Hiro to reunite with 02, I’m left with mixed feelings. If it’s selfish for Hiro to go, isn’t it even worse for the rest of them to do so, since they’re effectively the leaders of the planet right now? This is why I wish we knew how many other parasite kids were still around; if there’s hundreds of healthy parasites around to do work on the farm and such, under Hachi and Good Nana’s competent direction, what Squad 13 is doing makes a lot more sense. I guess we kind of have to assume that’s the case, otherwise our kiddos have just doomed the human race to extinction.

“We will now call to order the second meeting of the Special Committee for the Continuation of All Life on Earth. Raise your hand if you want to ditch Earth for Mars. Secretary, please note in the minutes that the Special Committee for the Continuation of All Life on Earth is has now changed its name to the Special Committee For Going The Fuck To Space. Meeting adjourned.”

It looks like our final two episodes are going to be in space, and uh…I’m apprehensive about this. Because once Mitsuru and Kokoro were left at home, the rest of the cast effectively became disposable. Thematically, the future of the human race is tied up with Kokoro and her baby (and has been for the entire run of the show), so as long as she survives and gives birth, the good guys effectively “win.” Anything could happen to the crew in space, and I’m not even sure what I want to happen. They could all die defeating VIRM, keeping the Earth safe for Kokoro’s children; or we could get some 2001: A Space Odyssey type stuff with people passing onto a higher plane of existence or something. Or both. Or neither.

I don’t know; my desire for this show to go where no mecha show has gone before is warring with my desire for the kids to come home safe and sound and frolic in their new Garden of Eden (Eva?), and maybe even Ikuno will get to hook up with Naomi or something and everyone will be happy. It could happen.

Food Wars! The Third Plate, Episode 24

I was wondering how they could possibly wrap up this arc with one episode remaining, and it turns out that the show had no intention of doing that. We’re ending the season practically at the North Pole, in the middle of the Team Shokugeki, with everyone’s enrollment status in flux. I expected to be pissed off by this, but actually, I think it works for Food Wars! in a way it doesn’t for other shows. Even when the characters are left stranded on the edge of a cliff, we know the bottom of the cliff is filled with bouncy pastries and panna cotta, so no one’s ever really in that much danger.

If they were cooking outside like this, Soma would definitely win, since Nene looks like she weighs about 80 lbs. She’d freeze to death in two minutes, and Soma would be the Last Chef Standing. Metaphorically, that is kind of what happens though…..

In the months (years?) that this show is going to be off the air, it’s not like I’m going to be haunted by thoughts of “but who’s going to win that Team Shokugeki?”, so let’s not pretend it’s a bigger deal than it is. I would have liked a more conclusive ending, but I’m not losing any sleep over it.

Today’s Food Porn #1: Nene’s traditional Edo-style soba, with accompanying Kakiage Tempura. I didn’t know what Kakiage Tempura was until now, but now that I know, I can’t stop thinking about it; it’s chopped up veggies and seafood deep-fried together. Nom.

Anyway, Battle Soba concludes, and I have to call shenanigans here. Apparently Nene, the soba thoroughbred who has been instructed in the ways of Japanese soba practically since she was in the womb, did not foresee that the cold and drafty arena was going to affect the aroma of her dish. I get the basic point– that Nene, for all her excellence, is too rigid and set in her ways to change what she’s doing in response to her environment– but it still seems a little false to me. I don’t see how you could possibly be an expert in soba on the level she’s supposed to be and not be aware of how temperature affects smell, and accordingly, taste.

Perhaps now is a good time to admit that I’ve never seen The Girl Who Leapt Through Time? I’m aware that this is a character flaw that I must address, the sooner the better.

I also question whether the WGO judges would be so accepting of Soma’s dish when he comes right out and tells them that he was inspired by instant noodles; aren’t they too snobby for that? Then again, taking “lowbrow” food and repurposing it as fine cuisine has been a trend for a while now, so I guess it makes sense in today’s culinary climate. Ironically, Soma’s “aww shucks man, I’m just a humble diner chef!” style is now working in his favor at the highest echelons of the food world, when it had worked against him at lower levels. I guess sometimes the snobbiest thing of all is proving that you don’t have to be snobby, and that’s where the WGO is.

Today’s Food Porn #2: Soma’s Yukihira-style Yakisoba, with added duck. I think duck fat is kind of a win button in gourmet cuisine, it seems like no one with a trained palette can resist anything cooked in duck fat. Try watching one of those cooking documentaries on Netflix and see if they can go ten minutes without mentioning duck fat, you’ll be surprised.

Meanwhile, the third cooking battle commences…entirely offscreen. Without seeing any of the cooking, or the tasting. Or even any mention of the topic. This is downright ridiculous: I get that the third battle was de-emphasized compared to Isshiki and Soma’s matches, but couldn’t we at least have found out what dishes they prepared? It could have been chicken pot pie, for all we know, and I would have liked to see a gourmet take on chicken pot pie!

This is wrong. Not because it’s potentially disturbing imagery that brings to mind violence against women (which it is), but MOSTLY because we don’t even know what kind of cooking was going on. WTF????

After a 3-0 shut out in favor of the rebels, even the Elite 10 members are getting a bit concerned about their chances of winning the overall competition. Tsukasa, no. 1 on the Elite 10, is naturally perfectly confident that they’re still going to win, and I don’t even care about him enough to be annoyed by his smug sense of superiority. The show is heavily hinting at a final battle between Tsukasa and Soma, but honestly, I think I’d enjoy it a lot more if Erina was the one to take him down. You can’t make your whole brand centered around pushing incredibly subtle and refined cooking, then expect to win against the God Tongue. I’d much rather see Soma square off against Rindou, which will rapidly become a mirror match.

Well, probably; it’s the end of the season and I still have no idea what Rindou cooks. I’m pretty sure it involves knives.

I can’t resist a screen of Rindou being adorable, even though she had virtually nothing to do in this episode. Oh no, end-of-the-season means no Rindou for a while…that does kind of bother me.

Director Azami puts on a good front, but secretly he’s sweating now that he knows his team’s victory is in danger. Good, but I still think this whole thing could be resolved if Saiba just walked over to him and gave him a hug or something.

Alice explains chemistry to us unworthy pigs one more time. This is one of those little aspects of the show that I’m going to miss. I want other anime to add little segments where Alice Explains it All; hell, if Attack on Titan adds that, I’d even pick that show up again.

The ending montage features the imagery of the little tiny Soma-chickens attacking Erina, which I love; it’s probably a coincidence, but I’m going to choose to believe that people at JC Staff read my blog and put that in there, just as a little gift for me. I love you too, JC Staff; you know my harshly-worded letters are sent from a place of love, right?

Despite the somewhat abrupt ending, I had an awful lot of fun with this season of Food Wars! and I hope it doesn’t take too long to come back on the air. I don’t know if the manga has enough material left for another double-cour adaptation, but I’d be happy to get a short season sooner rather than later. In fact, the sooner the better, because I’d like to realize my life goal of blogging Food Wars! while pregnant, and I’m not getting any younger over here. C’mon, JC Staff! Take a season off to do Back Street Girls or whatever other nonsense you need to get out of your system, and announce the next season ASAP. My biological clock compels you.

Amanchu!~Advance~, Episode 12

In theory, this was a really good episode. There was lots of scuba diving, the characters picked up on things that they were talking about earlier in the season, and it was all lovely to look at, as usual. Still, this episode left me a little cold; I think I just ran out of patience with Amanchu! during the second half of the season, and it kind of dulled the enjoyment of the season finale for me.

Nevertheless, here is our final Pikari Troll Face of the season; conspiratorial Pikari trying to set up a devious plan. Okay, so the devious plan turns out to be “Bring Teko’s friends to the site so they can cheer her on when she goes night-diving,” but still, I consider that devious by Pikari standards.

“Heh heh, Teko’s never going to figure out my surprise. I’m going to bring over all the annoying filler characters that have been on her like white on rice this whole season, she’ll be shocked.”

Oh yeah, and here’s a BONUS UNDERWATER TROLL FACE!!!!!

I didn’t forget that I wanted this!

There were things about this episode I really liked. The thing that really struck me as true and important was Teko’s admission that she never stopped being scared of going night-diving, but her curiosity outgrew her fear. I think that’s a really good way to think about dealing with any sort of anxiety; you never really “fight your fears” successfully, because it’s not a fair fight; you always have to fight on the enemy’s turf. What you can do instead of fighting is become so interested in what you’re doing that you might just forget that you’re afraid…for a little while. But for long enough. Long enough to see the plankton sparkle underwater like fireflies.

Pikari, to her credit, has realized that her strategy earlier in the season of having “infinite fun” with Teko is kind of flawed, because the time is still passing no matter what she does. Even someone as fun-loving and care free as Pikari has to face the fact that eventually, everyone’s going to graduate and the fun times in the diving club are going to be over. I think there was a missed opportunity here, because Pikari’s desire to stay in place with Teko and never grow up parallels the whole Peter Pan arc, only it didn’t really play out that way on screen; it was a subtle connection at best. If that whole arc had been about Pikari instead of Ai, it could’ve been a lot more connected to the rest of the season.

Speaking of that arc, look at this bullshit. Look at this absolute and total bullshit.

So we sat through three episodes of that Peter Pan arc to get Mato-chan-sensei and the other homeroom teacher together romantically, and they still act like they’re basically strangers around each other? Really? I mean, it’s implied that Mato-chan-sensei might pursue him from what she says here, but COME ON. After that storyline, I for one think I deserve to see the two homeroom teachers get it on– preferably underwater.

So ends another season of Amanchu! I actually liked this episode more the second time I watched it, while I was taking screenshots; the first time through, I was just too annoyed by the whole second half of the season to really give it a fair shake. And that’s a shame, because this show is something special when it’s firing on all cylinders. As of now, I don’t know if I would recommend it to most anime fans, and that’s a little sad.

I don’t regret watching two seasons of this show. But on average, it was just okay when it could have been stellar, and I’m a little bit mad at it for that.

Food Wars! The Third Plate, Episode 23

To be frank, I was a bit disappointed in this one. After the reveal that Issiki has God-tier chef skills, I wanted to see him cook with magical powers: slice an onion instantaneously, juggle shrimp while devaning them, boil water with telekinesis, that sort of thing. The fact that he just sort of cooks efficiently and blends flavors well is a bit of a let-down, but I guess there’s always dojinshi.

Nevertheless, the kids find it hard to believe that the goofy dude who was always running around naked save for an apron is such a skilled chef, which intrigues Alice. As a non-Polar Star resident, the fact that the former Seventh Seat hates wearing clothes is new to her. I like this little reminder that the rebels aren’t just Polar Star people; it’s a mixed alliance.

“At your place, the male seniors run around naked? Is it too late in the semester to move into your dorm after I get myself un-expelled?”

In an example of art improving upon life, this episode introduces the World Gourmet Association, this word’s equivalent to the Michelin Guide. I wish the WGO existed in real life, because even though I understand why it evolved that way, it’s still weird that the preeminent ranking system for fine restaurants is managed by a subsidiary of a tire company. It’s not often that I look at real life and say “Hmm, the Food Wars! version of this makes much more sense,” but there’s a first time for everything.

The judges are named Anne, Charme, and Histoire; I don’t know what to make of that. Histoire happens to be a black guy, so you can reset the “It has been X days since we’ve seen a black person in anime” clock.

Tires? What tires?

The match between Isshiki and Jurio is centered on eel, and I, uh…I have a really bad association with eel. Have you ever heard of The Tin Drum, by Günter Grass? Never read that book with an upset stomach; don’t read German literature in general with an upset stomach, come to think of it, but that one in particular. In any case, this is one time I’m not tempted by the dishes on display at all.

Jurio makes a fairly boring looking eel dish, which is only made interesting by the over-the-top reaction shots it provokes; I thought they had been pretty tame with the lewd foodgasms lately, but apparently they were just saving all the lewdness for this one episode.

I like these better when they’re naughty in a surreal way (like with tiny chick-Somas attacking Erina), rather than outright porny looking. That could just be me though.

Isshiki counters by making a dish that includes ingredients created by his juniors at Polar Star and I’m…somewhat underwhelmed. I get that it shows great cooking genius that he took these relatively unrefined ingredients and was able to blend them into one cohesive dish, but why was he out to prove Polar Star’s reputation in the first place? Did he anticipate that someone was going to insult the honor of his dorm, thus he prepared for that far in advance? Until further notice, I’m going to have to assume that in  addition to his near-supernatural cooking skills, Isshiki can also see the future because he is a witch. He must run around naked all the time because he communes with his forest gods through his skin or something.

Today’s Food Porn: Hitsumabushi, Polar Star Style. Eel and cheese? That sounds really unappetizing; this dish is only getting the “food porn” designation on a technicality.

Oh, and after Jurio gets eliminated, Rindou promises to take over for him. Oh, Food Wars! Do you really think I’m going to believe that we have a snowball’s chance in hell of seeing Rindou cook before the end of the season? Don’t make me laugh, no one’s buying it.

Picture of Rindou, for no reason at all. RINDOU~~~~~~~~~

So Isshiki wins, which upsets Nene, since she has a beef with Ishiki going back to childhood. I feel for her here; it’s not easy to be a normally-talented person who’s always in close proximity to a total genius. However, she’s a total snob, so my sympathy only extends so far.

Enjoy little Nene’s look of wonder before she decided to adopt a permanent Resting Bitch Face for the rest of her life.

Soma then reveals the next step of his evil soba plan, which is to stir fry the noodles in a giant wok. Apparently this is a horrible idea, since frying burns the shit out of the noodles and destroys the subtle nuances of flavor that the judges will be looking for. I think Soma has decided that there’s no way he’s going to compete with Nene on the noodles themselves (which is logical), so he’s basically throwing that aspect while he makes the rest of the dish as delicious as humanly possible. I can’t see WGO-type judges going for this though; even if his dish does taste better overall, you can’t de-emphasize the soba noodles in a soba challenge and expect to win. I’m hoping that whatever workaround they come up with to have Soma pull this out isn’t too unbelievable.

Oh my, is the next episode the season finale already? It seems like they have an awful lot to wrap up in one episode, but maybe something unexpected will happen that will call the competition to a sudden halt. Like, maybe Azami will realize in the middle of the Shokugeki that his ideals make no sense, and all he ever wanted was for Saiba-sempai to tell him that his dumplings were tasty or something.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 10

I love how Fuka throws a giant monkey wrench into the drama of this show. LLENN thinks that the situation with Pito and M is something she must silently bear alone, her personal burden, yet Fuka will just blab to anyone they bump into “Yeah Pito is going to kill herself after the game, lol who does that?” So against LLENN’s wishes, the world’s most rockin’ Rhythmic Gymnastics team has been pulled into Operation Don’t Let Pito Die Until We Kill Her.

Post opening, there’s a scene where a team tries to ally with Pito’s team, she refuses, an then they agree to have a cease-fire until both teams are properly separated. Pito naturally breaks the ceasefire immediately and shoots the other team in the back, leaving just one survivor. If this is supposed to be another example of how crazy Pito is, it doesn’t really work, since I kind of agree with her here. If the other team knew enough about Pito’s reputation to want to team up with her, yet didn’t see this coming, they kind of did this to themselves.

I appreciate Pito and M’s silent communication. “Honey, will you please lend me your handgun? I gotta shoot these stupid doofuses in the back.” “Yes, of course dear.”

This is another time when actually playing MMOs would probably give me a different perspective on this, since I have no idea how popular and commonplace this kind of “gentleman’s agreement” is in competitive shooters. However, it’s been pretty clear from the start that GGO is a “kill or be killed” sort of culture, and once the game starts, all bets are off. Maybe that sort of “let’s all be honorable combatants” thing would work in ALO, but it seems like it’s just foolish here.

Pito does let the last survivor get away, since the girl supposedly doesn’t shoot, and she’s not going to bother killing a non-combatant. It’s clear Pito does have her own brand of personal honor, for whatever it’s worth; it’s just inexplicable to everyone else.

“What are we gonna do?” “Destroy Team PM4 with an anti-tank rifle!” “What are we NOT going to do?” “Gymnastics, LOL!”

The rest of the episode primarily focuses on Team Rhythmic Gymnastics executing their plan to break M’s shield, taking away PM4’s defensive advantage, which they do. It’s a pretty neat plan too, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the rules in GGO change to stop bodies from being considered “immortal objects” for 10 minutes, because man, players are getting a LOT of mileage out of that rule.

In the next patch, dead bodies will not function as immortal objects, and will instead disappear immediately, like fairy dust. Thanks a lot, LLENN and SHINC.

As an aside, I like the fact that the Machine Gun Lovers got taken out offscreen with no fanfare. Being a gun fetishist is kind of a bad thing in GGO, because using a weapon because it’s cool probably means you don’t have a strategy beyond that. Look at Pito; I think she uses about 12 different weapons, depending on range and the terrain.

After M’s shield is broken, LLENN moves in to take out Pito, except Pito gets sniped in the head by the one girl she let escape earlier, yet survives. I’m on the fence about whether or not this annoys me; on one hand, Pito was shot in the head (through the eye no less), and she really should be dead. Then again, they are inside a video game, where missing limbs grow back after ten minutes and dead bodies become impenetrable titanium shields; real-life rules only apply intermittently.

We learn that Pito must be using a Nerve Gear, which is probably better proof of how insane Pito is than anything we’ve been shown so far. “You know all those critical safety protocols that VR games added after Sword Art Online? Yeah, I don’t want those.” While she recovers, the rest of PM4 fends off another team, but it’s all for naught; the team has infiltrated the log cabin where Pito is recovering! Oh noes, how will Pito and M ever get out of this conundrum???

Pito picked up a version of the Photon Sword that Kirito made famous, so it’s all good. I know some people groan at the references to Kirito and Sinon on this show (especially Sinon, who’s been mentioned at least three times), but personally I like it; I like the fact that SAO S2 is acknowledged and in continuity here. The fact that players actually learned things from the last Ballet of Bullets and adopted new weapons/tactics makes the whole situation more credible.

So with the rest of the opposition further whittled down, it looks like our Pito/LLENN face off is finally about to happen. If LLENN ends up perching on the top of Pito’s photon sword and then backflips off at some point, I will do a dance in my chair. I’m not proud of that, I’m just saying that it’s going to happen.

Last thing I’ll mention is how I love how LLENN and the gymnasts have decided that they’ll team up in exchange for lots of yummy sweets next time they meet. Who says that girls using submachine guns and anti-tank rifles can’t be feminine when they feel like it?

“Look, lives are on the line here, but I think we can all agree that what’s really important is CAKE. Are you prepared to give us more cake?”