Tag Archives: Spring 2018

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episodes 11-15

Now that we’re getting into some story reveals, my enthusiasm for this show has dampened somewhat. I’m still enjoying it a lot, but it’s not going quite where I hoped it would go.

The childhood flashback episode was almost very poignant, but was spoiled by being just a little too perfect. I can just about buy that Hiro and 02 met as children and then were forced to forget, since they were both different from the other “specimens” and thus would have been drawn to each other, but the framing device of the storybook was just a little bit much. I guess 02’s nameless caretaker cared about her enough to try to teach her something about her place in the world, but the whole story is just a little too on the nose for my liking.

I think I would have preferred it if Hiro wasn’t her original “Darling”; if Darling was a random parasite hopeful who wasn’t promising enough and was culled from the herd. Then it would be really bittersweet that 02 keeps trying to recreate Darling, because she’s latched onto him as an idea rather than a person. That said, if they’d gone that route, they wouldn’t have had a good explanation for why Hiro is so well-matched to 02 as a pilot; having ingested her blood at a young age, it seems like it acted as a vaccine, so the later trauma of bonding with her was less damaging to him than it was to the other pilots, allowing him to survive it. Still, the whole thing is just wrapped in a neat little bow, which takes away from it. I don’t want this story to be neat: I want it to be messy and visceral.

The most interesting thing to me about the childhood flashback (other than Chibi-02 being painfully adorable of course), was the fact that Hiro’s outgoing personality and inquisitive nature were seen as curious and worrisome to his handlers. Being in that kind of love-free environment wouldn’t be good for any child’s natural development, so it makes sense that the other kids weren’t exactly cheerful and curious. However, the fact that Hiro seems to be the only curious child ANYONE had encountered makes me wonder if they’ve actually been breeding these kids to be compliant. Maybe the whole reason Hiro was a “special” specimen wasn’t anything related to his parasite ability, but the fact that he’s a throwback to a time before children were emotionally stunted.

Speaking of human development, we get something that looks like a fetus inside one of the defeated Klaxosaur cores, so it looks like the Klaxosaurs are a product of human meddling with nature. I kind of hope the story is more complicated than “Man tried to make himself more powerful, only the child of his creation turned on him!” but it looks like that’s where this is going. To be fair, the idea of Klaxosaurs as the nightmare children of humans would fit in well with this whole series theme of sex/conception.

After episode 15, I’m a little confused about what’s going on with Hiro and 02, physically. Let me try to lay this out: Hiro met 02 as a child and ingested her blood, effectively vaccinating himself against her influence, then was brainwashed into forgetting her. 02 was also brainwashed, but less completely, so she still remembered the existence of her “Darling,” but probably not precisely what he looked like. So she keeps hoping every new partner will turn out to be the real Darling, only to be disappointed again and again.

So she acts like Hiro is her real Darling, but deep down, she doubts it, which comes to light when she says that he’s just fodder for her. Then after Strelizia enables the shared flashback, she realizes he is THE Darling and she’s been using him like any other partner. The thing is, even if she knew he was the real Darling, wouldn’t she use him the exact same way?

Then again, when Strelizia fully activates after the two remember their shared past, she looks different; she’s all red, like 02 is no longer fighting her monster nature. So maybe knowing who the pilot is, 02 functions differently, and as a result, is no longer draining the life out of Hiro? Part of me wishes that this had been explained and part of me is just as happy that it’s left vague, since any explanation probably would have been tedious. I think the bottom line is supposed to be, “They love each other, therefore the robot magic works SUPER GOOD now!” and trying to think about it any harder than that is probably a mistake.

The big fight against the gargantuan Klaxosaur was very effective, with the OP song doing a lot of heavy lifting. I know that playing the first OP during a climactic fight scene is an old trick, but it works particularly well here, because Kiss of Death is so well-suited to this show. I think it communicates the feeling of frenzied desperation you would feel if you were fighting for your life; Kiss me now, because we’ll probably be dead tomorrow.

And then there’s the giant baby hand and uh…I’m not sure. Maybe there’s a giant baby Klaxosaur incubating in the ground, and all the little Klaxosaurs are just there to protect it. Maybe the Klaxosaurs started having babies because humans stopped, and if the humans want to beat the Klaxosaurs for good, the answer is not fighting them, but Kokoro’s “Your First Childbirth” book. I think that’s ultimately where this is going, I’m just not sure exactly how.

Amanchu!~Advance~, Episodes 8 and 9

Yeah So, that didn’t turn out well at all. I would say Amanchu! jumped the shark, except if sharks had been involved in any capacity, the girls would’ve been in or near the ocean, which would have made for much better episodes than what we got. This is, perhaps, the one instance where having the characters jump over a shark would have been thoroughly appropriate, which is pretty special.

I was willing to give this storyline the benefit of the doubt after episode 7, but episode 8 was a drag, and then I groaned out loud when I realized there was still another episode of this yet to come. There are some good ideas here, but everything is just ridiculously slow and drawn out, and Ai doesn’t make for a very interesting lead character compared to Teko and Pikari. So far, the Ninomiya twins have mainly been there to fill out the ranks of the diving club and get in a few jokes here and there, and now we’re suddenly supposed to really, really care about Ai? It doesn’t work.

Pikari and Teko look about as engaged as I feel. I also don’t like how Teko is now a hypnotist who can send you back into a dream you woke up from; they’re taking this lucid dreaming thing too far.

I wonder if I’m being unfair to the show; like I’ve put it in a tiny little box, thinking “This show can only tell THIS type of story,” and then I get mad when the creators try to do something different. However, in this case, I don’t think it’s the fact that the show attempted this storyline that was the problem, it was how it was done. I think this could have worked very well as one clever, tightly-scripted episode, but at 3 episodes everything is just stupidly drawn-out and over-explained. For all the impact they had on the story, Pikari and Teko’s roles could have been excised entirely.

What’s interesting about this arc to me is that it reminds me very much of a Doctor Who episode, translated to the Amanchu setting. If you know anything about DW, then you know that a lot of the most highly-regarded episodes* are the ones that jump right into the story and never really slow down (Blink and Girl in the Fireplace immediately come to mind.) If this story had started right in the thick of things, with Ai and Peter in Neverland, without all the filler nonsense about juice boxes and what have you, it would’ve been much more compelling.

Apparently Cait Sith here ties these episodes together to ARIA, another show by the same author. I suppose this kind of thing is nice if you happen to be a big ARIA fan, but it doesn’t make the arc any better, otherwise.

Still, if this arc had to be 3 episodes long for some reason, there’s a lot of wasted potential here. It’s a major plot point that Neverland is filling with water, yet the water never gets above ankle-deep; why not fill Neverland with water, and have the girls dive in it? Showing the girls diving through a fantasy landscape could have led to some inspired art, and would have done a lot to make this arc feel connected with the rest of the show. No, instead we get more of the girls flying on brooms, because JC Staff is just on a Flying Witch kick this month.

I wanted Mato-chan-sensei to get a backstory; now she has one, but it has nothing to do with anything else on the show and doesn’t really do anything for her character. That’s just sad. Also sad is the fact that Ai sacrificing her happiness for Mato-chan by giving up her love has no weight to it whatsoever, since it never really felt like Ai was in love with Peter in the first place. It should have been a strong character moment for her, but instead it just felt empty.

Now Mato-chan is going to get some lovin’ and I’m not even excited about it, what the hell?

Worst of all, you can sum up this whole arc with “Ai’s panties save the world,” and that’s just…that’s just not right. I don’t think I’m a prude– well okay, maybe I am, but I’m self-aware about it– but I think having this whole drama hinge on a guy getting a look at Ai’s panties is just in poor taste. That’s the kind of thing that works in raunchy anime romcoms, where the absurdity is part of the fun, but here it’s just stupid.

I said that this show had won my eternal allegiance after Episode 3, and I think that’s still true; one bad arc did not make the good episodes cease to exist, after all. But darnit, show, stop pushing your luck, because I don’t think I can take another group of episodes like this.

*I’m referring to 2005-era Doctor Who; I’ve seen some episodes from earlier eras, but I’ve only ever really been a fan of the modern incarnation.

Food Wars! The Third Plate, Episode 20

After last week’s barnstormer of an episode, this one was a much more quiet affair, focusing on the kids developing the teamwork they need to win a Team Shokugeki. After a whole show full of arrogant young cooks insisting that their food is the best, it was kind of nice to see the kids pointing at each other and saying “You made the best dish,” “No, YOU did!” and really meaning it. That’s probably too much growth for them to demonstrate just based on one mock battle, but what can I say; Erina’s Grandpa is just that good.

They look so good together…but wait, I want Soma and Megumi together, right? I need to close my eyes and think of Megumi.

Something’s been bugging me about the dish of the week though. Apparently, the three main components of Hachis Parmentier are spiced ground meat, creamy mashed potatoes, and baked cheese. Um…how do you go wrong with that exactly? You’d almost have to be trying to screw that up. Soma even throws sardines in it, for some reason, and still doesn’t manage to ruin it.

This Week’s Food Porn: A giant ball of meat, mashed potatoes, and cheese. Because it takes several great chefs to make that taste good, right?

This Week’s Food Porn Part II: Team Saiba’s version of the same dish, which was so far afield of the original, they should have probably been disqualified. Lucky for Soma, I don’t make the rules.

There’s also a good bit here about Erina learning to improvise for the first time, which is pretty amazing if you think about it. She’s devoted her entire life to cooking, yet because of her rigid upbringing, she’s never just experimented in the kitchen; everything she has ever made has been either from a recipe, or so premeditated that it may as well have been. It’s like there are no limits to the sadness that is Erina’s life.

After the Mock Battle which was really more of a Mock Cookout of Respect and Friendship, the rebels and Azami’s faction meet for a Shokugei Rules Powow. Everybody can use as many team members as they want, but it seems like they can only choose from enrolled Totsuki members, so the rebels don’t have the option of getting help from their expelled friends. I think Gin and Soma’s Dad are also competing in this battle, which seems odd, but I’ll wait to see how that plays out.

Azami tries to claim that Erina has to compete on his side since, as one of the Elite 10, she is technically part of Central. To be fair to Azami, I don’t think he actually expected her to give into that, because he doesn’t seem remotely surprised when she tells him to go shove it. Erina gives up her rank so she has no ties to the Elite 10 or Central, which would be a powerful gesture…if she weren’t already internationally known as the God Tongue. They actually need her more than she needs them, but it is a strong moment for her asserting her independence against her domineering Dad, and I don’t want to nitpick too much.

The Food Goddess That Shouted “I” At The Top of Hokkaido

Then Erina agrees to do whatever her Dad tells her for the rest of her life if her team loses, and uh, what? I feel like someone should have stepped in there and said “Waitaminute Erina, think about this, you don’t have to promise him that!” then again Saiba has already agreed to basically become Azami’s love slave if he loses, so I guess we’re just at the level of ridiculous stakes now. I’m wondering if Saiba’s gambit is to lose, but in the process of the match, warm Azami’s frozen heart so much that he becomes a good person and doesn’t enact these ridiculous punishments. I mean, that would be lame as hell, but maybe more sensible than Saiba being just that sure that he’ll win.

I know I’m back on the Rindou-obsession train, but most of the interesting stuff in this episode had to do with her. Not only does she do a great job of dressing down Eizan while pretending to defend him, but she specifically says goodbye to Soma at the Rules Powow, and no one else. I wasn’t really serious that time I said she could be Soma’s sister, but now I’m beginning to wonder…that red hair/yellow eyes combination isn’t common, even in AnimeLand. Do we know anything about Soma’s Mom? I honestly don’t remember if we ever learned about her during the previous seasons.

Okay, so this episode may have killed the momentum a little bit, but I’m still looking forward to the Team Shokugeki. I have a sneaking suspicion that next episode is going to be filler, but hopefully I’ll be wrong, and they’ll be starting the competition before the opening credits. And maybe Rindou will cook something, and then I can have a pony.

DARLING in the FRANXX, Episodes 6-10

Five more episodes of FRANXX, and I’m becoming increasingly confident in my initial appraisal of the show; These themes are the real deal, and Trigger isn’t just throwing around all this sexual symbolism just to be salacious. It’s also opening up to be less about sex specifically (although that’s still very important to the show), but more about any kind of sensual, animalistic behaviors that mark humans as part of nature, and what it means when we start getting away from that.

The one thing I’m not sure I like is all the emphasis on Ichigo’s unrequited love for Hiro. There’s nothing wrong with it in general, but I feel like we’re kind of being knocked over the head with it, when it’s been pretty obvious what the dynamic is between these two from the very beginning. That said, there’s probably a reason why heartsick Ichigo is getting so much attention, so I’m going to suspend judgment until I know what that is.

Episode 6: This was actually the most typical episode, in the sense that it felt like watching Evangelion, or Gurren Lagann, or insert-popular-mecha-show here. Hiro’s miraculous recovery, spurred on by his desire to protect 02,  was predictable, but I don’t think I would’ve wanted them to do it any other way; sometimes, we use tropes because they work. This probably would have been a more powerful episode if I hadn’t already seen these things done in other mecha shows, but it was still effective.

Now I’m wondering what Hiro’s status is; having survived the three-times curse with 02, is he part-Klaxosaur now like she is? Or is there something else going on entirely? Meanwhile, the characters response to Hiro’s survival– “Oh, looks like that thing about stamens dying when they ride with 02 was just a rumor–” is a little strange. Has it occurred to any of the kids that 02 actually has killed multiple partners, and Hiro was just the first one who survived? Maybe it’s just denial; now that she’s on their team, they don’t want to believe that she is a partner-killer, even if all evidence points to it being true.

I am not gay for 02; I am a straight woman. I just want to collect screenshots of her and draw fanart and think about her all day long, okay? Please respect this distinction. Seriously, major credit to Haruka Tomatsu for doing such a great job with her lines; I didn’t even realize that she also played Asuna from SAO until I looked it up. That’s some impressive separation.

Episode 7— You know it’s a good show when even the beach episode is about 50% devoted to world-building. I was expecting to turn my brain off for this episode and wait for normal plot-services to resume next episode, but there was a lot going on here; not only in terms of what the kids discovered, but why they discovered it. I’ve been wondering what kind of an authority figure Papa is, and the first couple of episodes painted an ominous picture. However, the fact that it was Papa who sent the kids to the beach, knowing they would fall over the ruins of a town and learn something about their world, is intriguing.

It seems like he does want the kids to learn and grow beyond their role as human weapons, but is he alone in that? Maybe he had to sneak in the beach vacation because the people in charge won’t let him educate the children directly; or, maybe he has some sinister purpose in mind, and he’s picking a really round-a-bout way to go about it.

One moment that kind of kicked me in the teeth was when Kokoro finds the FRANXX version of What to Expect When You’re Expecting in the ruined town. The kids in FRANXX have no concept of sex and childbirth; what would it feel like to find out about that all at once? It’s hard enough to process even when you have years to absorb that information.

Which reminds me; of the critics who have had strongly negative things to say about this show, how many of them are parents? I’m guessing not many. Lord knows, I don’t want to make this some kind of perverse gatekeeping thing (“you can only understand this show if you TOO have borne a child!”), but I think it probably makes a difference in how certain writing choices affect you. If you saw Kokoro pick up that book and you didn’t feel anything, then it’s almost like we’re watching two different shows.

OH NO SHIT JUST GOT REAL, FUUUUUUUU~~~~~~

Episode 8— This is the kind of episode that typically annoys me, but FRANXX threaded the needle here somehow and kept it from being too obnoxious. I tend to get annoyed when kids in these life-or-death situations start acting like spoiled suburban children, but the fact that the kids actually realized how immature they were being by the end of the story made it work. Plus, it’s been made pretty clear at this point that these kinds of childish antics are what set Squad 13 apart from all the other squads, and possibly, everyone else in the known world. They’re being allowed to be childish and emotional, and I wonder how this ties back to Papa’s master plan.

We know that Squad 13 is a test case for something. Is Papa using Squad 13 to model the way humans used to interact, in the hopes that the rest of society could go back to the way it used to be in pre-Klaxosaur times? More on this later.

I remember some outrage online around the time this episode aired because of Hiro’s comments that the boys control the robots, but it’s the girls with their “frail bodies,” who take the brunt of the punishment. I can obviously see why this seems sexist, but if you’re like me and see the piloting of FRANXX not just as a metaphor for sex, but for conception (and possibly the entire heterosexual cycle), it makes a lot of sense. Stating that women’s bodies bear the brunt of the punishment during pregnancy is hardly controversial, and I think Hiro’s comment was meant to parallel how men and women function in reproduction, not just sexual intercourse.

I wonder about the conclusion the kids draw that the previous Squad 13 died in battle; that may not be correct. This show has been hinting pretty strongly that parasites don’t live to become adults, so maybe the previous squad kids aged out of peak piloting age and were unceremoniously murdered.  If that’s the kind of world these kids are living in, the threat from the Klaxosaurs seems rather unimportant in comparison.

I’m writing too much about this episode, but I also have to acknowledge the scene where 02 taunts Hiro with the kids’ underwear and runs away; her joy is infectious, and it’s scenes like that which elevate this show from episode premises like “Monster goop makes the girls’ clothes evaporate.” Even though she’s not really human, so far only 02 seems to understand what the people of this world have lost by putting aside their humanity.

Episode 9— I was distracted during this episode by the fact that I couldn’t get the part of Eva where Shinji is trapped inside Unit 01 out of my mind, and I was wondering how much of that is my fault. FRANXX obviously takes inspiration from Eva, and from Gurren Lagann (especially considering that some of the same people worked on those shows), but that’s normal; earlier shows inspire later shows, and certain things become codified as tropes of the genre. Yet, even though I know that the tropes that FRANXX is using have become general mecha tropes, not tied to any one series, I can’t stop comparing it to Evangelion specifically. I wonder if the creators of this show would be annoyed by that, or if that’s what they’re going for?

I like Goro as a character, and I appreciate his (doomed) love for Ichigo, but I’m not quite sure what to make of this episode. If the big takeaway was that the kids learned that their leadership was willing to sacrifice one of them very easily, then err…they really should have known that already. Otherwise, they haven’t been paying attention at all.

Episode 10— Oh boy. We see the society that the kids have been protecting, and you have to wonder: Why bother? Let the Klaxosaurs have it, everybody can just lay down and die.

This episode made me more confident in the idea that Papa is trying to use Squad 13 not just to protect humanity, but to change it, however I’m a little confused about Zorome’s role in this episode. There are hints that the older woman he meets is actually his birth mother, but how contrived would that be, even by anime standards? Besides, I kind of figured that with the technology they have in FRANXX, they’ve been growing the parasites in artificial wombs anyway. Maybe they do need women to give birth to children, and then in return the mothers get a free pleasure-center-stimulating machine?

This episode made it clear that the children are believed to be infected with something; whether this is some bacteria that allows them to interact with the FRANXX, or it’s a mislead for something more basic (like the fact that they haven’t been sterilized) remains to be seen. I think I’d prefer it better if the “infected” children were seen as dirty simply because their biological functions haven’t been replaced by technology yet.

So now we’re in Brave New World territory, which comes as something of a surprise to me even though it really shouldn’t. I’m torn between wanting to find out more about how dystopian adult society works in this world, and never wanting to see it again because it’s too goddamn depressing. I think 02 has the right idea; stay as far away from the adults as possible.

Hopefully I’ll be able to watch 11-15 and get my thoughts on them down pretty soon, and then I’ll almost be caught up to the outrage du jour! Exciting!

DARLING in the FRANXX Episodes 1-5

SPOILER WARNING: Not only are there spoilers for FRANXX, but also Neon Genesis Evangelion. You can talk about FRANXX without talking about Eva, but I didn’t want to.

There’s been so much talk about this show lately that I felt like it would be criminally irresponsible for me to keep ignoring it, so I’m catching up. I just finished episode 5 and so far, I’m loving it; I regret that I didn’t pick it up when it started earlier this year. It uses sexual metaphors in a very broad, obvious way, but I like that in this case. Too much anime (or fiction in general) tends to try to be coy about sexual themes, and it can become obnoxious. I appreciate FRANXX being all up-front, like “Yup, piloting the robot is all just a big metaphor for sex and relationships, let’s move on from there ‘kay?”

I wonder though: is the piloting of the FRANXX primarily a metaphor for sex, or is it more meant to be a metaphor for conception? The most notorious example of a mecha show with sexual themes is Neon Genesis Evangelion, and in that show, the primary sexual metaphor was that of pregnancy; the pilot was like a gestating baby inside of the mother, who would protect it at all costs. In FRANXX, we’ve gone backwards to the moment of conception itself. The mechs, with their unusually childlike faces, do seem to be the offspring of both parents in the cockpit, figuratively if not literally.

Compared to a lot of other mecha shows I’ve seen, there also seems to be a surprising lack of urgency in FRANXX. I don’t mean that as a criticism, but it’s just that the way the world is set up makes things more routine than we’re used to seeing. For all I know, this situation with humanity fighting the Klaxosaurs could have been going on for thousands of years already, and the squad of pilots we’re following may only be one among dozens, if not hundreds. There isn’t that “the world is going to end RIGHT NOW if we lose this battle” theme; the lives of the individual characters, except for arguably 02, are not important. They’re important to us as viewers, but you get the impression that if the whole squad died during episode 2, the only thing Papa and his subordinates would feel would be minor irritation at having to replace them.

Speaking of Papa, at first I thought his nickname was just a show of affection for the head scientist from his staff, but it definitely seems like there’s a Big Brother theme going on. The fact that the children’s prayer at the beginning of episode 5 isn’t for safety, or even for victory against the Klaxosaurs, but for Papa’s well-being, is a little bit chilling. Is Papa even fighting against the eradication of humanity by the Klaxosaurs, or is this perhaps the world he wants?

Since the humans are relying on magma for their energy, on a dried-out looking world, the implication is that the environment has been ruined. Are the Klaxosaurs a product of that (perhaps, a failed experiment in creating an alternate energy source?), or are the Klaxosaurs invaders from somewhere else altogether? What does it mean for 02 to have “Klaxosaur blood”? Obviously, she’s stronger and more agile than other humans her size, but what unholy process did they go through to create something like her?

Or maybe, when Papa and a Mama Klaxosaur love each other very much….

Congratulations, humanity, your super-risky experiment in genetic engineering has gone horribly right! Good luck with that.

At the end of episode 5, 02 seems to be in the process of turning Hiro into some kind of human/Klaxo hybrid, like herself. For some reason, he’s compatible with this process; the most obvious possible reason for this is because he was created with Klaxosaur blood too, but I think the show is going to go a different route. Something is special about Hiro, and I think how much I ultimately end up liking this show is going to depend on what his special quality is. It needs to be something more than “he was bred to be compatible with Klaxosaurs” in order to work for me. Anyway, it seems like Hiro and 02 may be the only future for humanity, but it may be a humanity that no one else recognizes as such.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this show is that it’s most central metaphor really isn’t a metaphor at all. It’s about young people using sex to stave off extinction and well, how is that a metaphor? If young people don’t have sex, humanity will become extinct. Granted, it’s hard to imagine that now, given our world’s current problems with overpopulation, but the fact remains true. Sex is what humans do to stave off oblivion, whether shiny-cool dinosaur-like thingies are involved or not.

A lot of series deal with sexual attraction as a theme, but I feel like FRANXX is dealing with (or is at least being set up to deal with) heterosexual sex on a more primal level than we usually see; the fact that sex creates the future, but we often shred ourselves to pieces in the process, in more ways than one. There’re a lot of potential pitfalls here, but I’m cautiously optimistic that Studio Trigger will accomplish here what they couldn’t quite do with Kiznaiver; a show about human relationships, particularly sexual ones, with real teeth and bite to it.

Or horns, if you will.

Amanchu!~Advance~, Episode 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comic Girls, Episode 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food Wars! The Third Plate, Episode 19

Another Open Letter to J.C. Staff:

YOU  MONSTERS.

YOU KNOW WHAT YOU DID.

Love,

Karen


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

THANK GOD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food Wars! The Third Plate, Episode 18

An Open Letter to JC Staff

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

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

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

Love, Karen


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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