Uma Musume: Why Special Week Needs to Die

As anthropomorphized, cute-girl versions of non-human creatures, weapons, or appliances go, I like Special Week. She’s a nice horse girl, and it’s exciting to see her rack up wins on the racetrack, her horshoe-shod cleats making that exciting clomp clomp clomp sound as she does so. But I firmly believe she should die before the end of this season of Uma Musume.

Why? Because like all the horse girls in Uma Musume, Special Week was inspired by a real racehorse, a stallion born in 1995. Just like in the anime, SW’s mother died shortly after foaling him, and he had to be raised by someone else. While he had a brilliant racing career in the ’90s, and went on to become a successful breeding horse, sadly Special Week just recently died on April 27, 2018. Rest In Peace, Special Week.

Just like her namesake, I believe the anime version of Special Week should die. Yes it would be very sad, but think about it: Uma Musume is an anime based on a cell-phone game about equine idols with bushy tails. Absolutely no one expects anything from this anime at all. It is, at best, a commercial for a video game; at worst, a complete waste of everyone’s time and PA Works’ resources.

Now, can you imagine if the show did a poignant, soulful arc where Special Week died, out of respect to her inspiration horse? It would be a completely unexpected, brutal twist in a series expected to have zero twists. It would mean that we can’t necessarily tell the difference between good anime and trash anime at the beginning of the season, because anything can happen. Perhaps chaos would ensue: the seas would boil, cats would lie down with dogs, and Crunchyroll’s social media presence would stop being ungodly obnoxious. Or, it could usher in a new era of open-mindedness in anime: after all, if Uma Musume could shockingly kill off the main character, who’s to say what shows that are not about demi-human horsie girls could accomplish?

I don’t think of myself as a cold, unfeeling person. However, for the sake of anime– for the future of the world– I think it’s time to take Spe-chan back behind the barn. If she must go to the glue factory, let her become the healing glue that binds all of the different subcultures of anime fans together: as one proud, dorky nation.

Food Wars! The Third Plate, Episode 15

See that picture up there of Erina dressed as Jean D’arc? Right now, all over the world, Fate/Stay Night fans are waking up in a cold sweat; they sense a disturbance in the mana. Feverishly, they bring up Ami Ami and Jlist, trying to preorder a rockin’ PVC figure that does not yet exist….

Erina merch sales aside, we’re back to The World’s Most Impractical Choo Choo Train Final Exam, Round Deux. Since giving the rebels poor-quality ingredients didn’t work out so hot for the Totsuki instructors last time, this time they’ve decided to give the kids virtually NO ingredients and see them reduced to making ramen out of sawdust. By the time our chefs get to the exam rooms, all of the good ingredients have been taken, and thanks to white-out blizzard conditions, they can’t go out shopping for more. Ruh-roh!

Hey, Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles was last season, guys. Get with the program.

Fortunately Erina taught all the kids about the incredible versatility of potatoes, so everyone makes noodles, toppings and broth out of the savory spud. An easy way out perhaps, but one I appreciate, because potatoes really don’t get enough credit nowadays. What other food is so affordable, and can be made delicious with so little effort? Often I’ll throw a russet potato in the oven for an hour or so, cut it open and add a little sea salt, and I have a nutritious, filling dish for trivial cost and effort. I hesitate to use this term, but really, potatoes are a Life Hack if ever there was one.

That’s two dishes in a row that I would actually eat! Watch, next week the dish of the episode will be Roasted Venison with a side of lamb brains or something.

It’s best not to get too carried away with potatoes, because then you get the Irish Potato Famine and that’s not good, but still, I think you see my point.

The exam is actually somewhat de-emphasized this time around so we have time to see the kids palling around in Sapporo, which is all good fun. Erina’s realization that she’s never really enjoyed travelling before now is predictable (since this whole arc is about her realizing how crappy her “exalted” life has been up to now), but handled deftly enough. I feel kind of cheated that we didn’t get to see any of the restaurant dinner with Soma, Erina, Megumi, and Aldini though; that could have been an episode unto itself.

Chef’s whites are apparently optional at Totsuki, otherwise Soma, Ryo and Nikumi would have already been expelled. I worry about Nikumi, actually; it’s all fun and games wearing a bikini top in the kitchen until you get a hot clam down your cleavage.

Finally, the kids get split up on different trains (which, as Rindou points out, anyone who’s been paying attention should have expected), and they prepare for their battles against the Elite 10. Soma is going to be taking on Hayama, newly-appointed to the Elite 10 which is…okay, I guess? We’ve already seen Soma vs. Hayama, so unless Spice King Hayama has discovered a host of new spices from an undiscovered continent or something, I’m not sure what kind of monkey wrench they’re going to throw in here to make this rematch interesting.

What I am excited about is seeing a match against Rindou, No. 2 on the Elite 10. She’s been an important character for all of The Third Plate, yet we still have no idea what cuisine she specializes in; I don’t think they’ve even dropped a hint about it. I’m really curious, because they’ve already assigned so many different cooking specialties to different characters, I don’t know what sphere of cooking is even left for Rindou– yet, as No. 2 on the elite 10, whatever she does has to be a doozy. They could pull something lame like “actually Rindou is a master of ALL CUISINES!”, but I’m hoping it’s something more interesting than that.

WHAT DOES RINDOU COOK? I’ve been asking myself this question for six goddamned months now, I can’t stand it much longer.

I have to wonder though; if the next battles are all against the Elite 10, and Erina is already a member of the Elite 10, who’s Erina going to take on– herself? Will Erina have to battle an evil doppelganger of herself, Shadow Erina, who will later see release as yet another awesome PVC figure? I hope so, but if we can’t get that, then I would accept Erina vs. Rindou as a close second.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode 3

LLENN’s face in the picture above kind of mirrors my feelings on this episode. I appreciate what the show has done– starting us out in media res for the first episode, then carefully explaining who these people are and what they’re doing– but it’s taking a little too long. I think half of this episode could have been spent on the material covered here, and then we could have gotten back to the Squad Jam, where the action is happening. Too much time in this episode is spent going over the mechanics of the game, most of which we already knew from seeing it in action during episode 1.

On the subject of Squad Jam, I have mixed feelings about the origin of the tournament that we’re given here. Apparently SJ came about because someone was so inspired by Kirito and Sinon’s cooperation during the Ballet of Bullets* that he wanted to see a whole tournament based around team play. I appreciate the reference to the mainline SAO story, but uh…someone really needed to see Kirito and Sinon work together to get the inspiration for team-based play in a shooter? How anti-social is the playerbase of GGO that “Hey, maybe we could have a tournament featuring teams that work together,” is treated as some kind of innovative suggestion? You would think they would just do that as a matter of course.

I appreciate getting more insight into Karen’s life (and not just because we have the same name), but I’m not sure what to make about her fangirling over her favorite singer in this episode. Writing the fan letter seems like an immature thing to do, but then again, she is a fairly young girl; I think I’m making the mistake of assuming that because she’s tall and looks mature, she must therefore be mature. If that was the intention, wow, way to mess with me on a meta-level, show.

Anyway, I’m impatient for them to get back to the Squad Jam, not so much because I want to see it, but more to get it over with so the show can move on to other things. I’m pretty sure there’s a compelling plot in here somewhere, and I’d like to be introduced to it one of these days.

*I know CR calls it the Bullet of Bullets, but I refuse to accept that. It’s the Ballet of Bullets until Reki Kawahara personally tells me otherwise.*


Amanchu!~Advance~, Episode 3

Let’s get things started off properly with your Weekly Pikari Troll Face:

Now that I’ve raised everyone’s happiness stat by +5, let’s get into this episode. Naturally, I’m pleased as punch that this was a very diving-centric story, but there’s more to love about this episode than just that. In fact, Amanchu! is addressing some topics that are incredibly important to me personally, and I think if I was paying better attention to the show overall, it wouldn’t have caught me by surprise that it’s doing so.

Teko has always been an anxious person, and it’s a major accomplishment for her to be able to pass an underwater navigation test on her own, without the rest of the diving club holding her hand. To her credit, even though she has a moment of panic when things start to go wrong, she manages to calm herself and then uses logic to salvage the situation, when she could’ve easily given up. I had to smile at Teko’s nervous glance up to the surface before she resumed the test, verifying her escape route– that’s my coping mechanism, too. So often, when faced with a challenging situation, I think “how can I get out of here, if worst comes to worst?” then once I have an answer to that question, I feel safe enough to proceed.

When the subject of night diving comes up, Teko is immediately frightened of it and refuses to give it a try, then feels weak for giving into her fear so easily. What makes this episode really special is not the fact that Teko is struggling with her fear (which isn’t an uncommon theme), but the way Katori-sensei puts things into perspective. When Teko laments that her desire to be a competent diver feels like a fleeting dream, Katori points out that Teko has actively taken steps to become a competent diver, and it makes no sense to dismiss things she’s done in reality as “dreams.”

I don’t know how resonant this conversation is to people who haven’t struggled with chronic anxiety, but Katori-sensei’s comment hit me like a ton of bricks. Because I’ve played the same trick on myself that Teko’s pulling, time and time again, and I can’t seem to stop doing it, even when people point it out.

When I’m really anxious and depressed, curled up into a little ball, I feel worthless; I feel like the idea of functioning as an independent, healthy adult is just a dream, and I was an idiot to believe it was ever anything more than that. Those around me will try to remind me, “Hey, remember that time you worked a full-time job? For years?” or “Remember that time you wrote several books?” or “remember that time you took care of your baby full-time, for over a year, even though you were sure you couldn’t handle it?” And stupid me would lie there, curled in a ball, muttering “No, that wasn’t real, that wasn’t real.” Like I had just hallucinated myself into some form of temporary competence.

Right now, as I write this, I’m still not over this problem; I think Teko may have surpassed me. I still feel like the “real” me is the useless one, and the one with all the accomplishments is the result of some weird fever dream; I can’t deny that her accomplishments exist, but I feel like they were done by somebody else, like I was temporarily possessed by a more competent person, but I don’t know where she is these days. I’m afraid she may never come back.

I’ve gotten rather far afield of Amanchu! at this point, but I think it’s a credit to the show that they’re using the subject of diving not only to draw pretty underwater scenery (which I appreciate on it’s own merits), but to really explore how we often let fear control us, and how to possibly break out of it. The show doesn’t offer any great answers; it is, after all, just a 20-minute episode of anime. But it’s got me thinking about possible solutions, which is more than I can say for 99% of the shows I watch.

The weird thing is, I don’t know if I want Amanchu! to continue to have substance like this; part of me wants it to just be Pikari troll face, beautiful scenery, the twins do something stupid, upside-down Pikari troll face, rinse and repeat. Because if Teko continues to grow at the rate she’s growing, I’m afraid I’m going to be left behind.

Comic Girls, Episode 3

I’m beginning to develop a sneaking suspicion that Kaos is actually a terrible manga artist. Her ideas are shallow, her art is rough, and she seems to like drawing the same strip over and over again, without even noticing she’s doing it. Yet Kaos’ editor seems to think that she has some sort of “unique talent” (her words), and I’m beginning to wonder where she’s getting that from.

I’m a little jealous, honestly: if Kaos’ level of talent is enough to get her into the special Comic Artists Dorm, why didn’t I get to live in an awesome comic artists dorm as a teen artist? I may have sucked, but I doubt I was any worse than Kaos is.

Is this really all it takes to get into Special Manga Dorm? I want to go to Special Manga Dorm, and I can draw better than this! I’m short, no one needs to know I’m in my 30s….

There’s plenty of blame to go around though, since the other characters’ attempts to help Kaos improve her work are all a little bit…off. Koyume notices that the fashions that Kaos draws her characters in are kind of lame, so the girls decide to dress Kaos up in a whole bunch of different outfits to improve her fashion sense. Err…that’s really what you think her manga needs? That’s the one element that was sticking out to you? Are there, mayhaps, other elements of her manga that might be more worthy of spending time on, like literally every other part of it?

Look, I know the whole thing was just an excuse to dress Kaos up in cute outfits, but they could’ve easily done that without such a dumb excuse.

I have nothing to say about the Kaos-Kitty wearing a beret, I just felt like it would have been criminally negligent not to take a screenshot of it at some point.

The second suggestion for improving Kaos’ work is for her to spend some time sketching, which is actually a damn good suggestion. And having the girls available to pose for each other for life drawing is one of the clear advantages of living together. However, for some reason, they call it a “sketching contest,” which is weird. Why would you make it competitive, when Kaos already knows her art is less developed than everyone else’s and she’s really self-conscious about it? Isn’t that just setting her up for failure? However, despite calling it a contest, there doesn’t seem to be any competitive element at all and the girls just draw together. So it wasn’t a contest? I’m so confused.

The stuff in this episode about how each of the girls has a different idea of what female beauty is supposed to be is pretty on-target. It seems like the thin, beautiful girl is always upset because she wishes she was curvy, and the curvy, beautiful girl is upset because she wishes she was thinner. The fact that their chosen manga genres seem to magnify their insecurities is interesting to me.

They are doing something interesting with Kaos though, since she’s a teenaged girl who has trouble thinking of herself as a teenaged girl. The best part of the episode is when the other girls notice that when Kaos talks about teen girls, she talks as though she’s not one herself. You could spitball a lot of reasons for this, like maybe Kaos is actually trans, but I think it most likely has to do with her complex about her size; she’s always thought of herself as a kid due to her tiny size, and she can’t get out of that mindset. Even though she’s technically a teenager now, she still feels like a little kid standing on a box, looking in on the glamorous (or so she thinks) world of teen girls from outside the window.

I can relate to that; I think there are so many romantic ideas about being a teen girl, that sometimes actual teen girls can feel like they’re not “really” teenagers because their lives aren’t cool enough yet. I definitely felt like that during my teen years, at times.

That’s the weird thing about this show though. I want to say it’s missing the mark, but then Kaos will do or say something that really takes me back to how I felt when I was that age. Also, her admission that she never knows when to get rid of clothes because she never  never grows out of them kind of hit me where I live. My favorite gray dress is from 1996, seriously not even kidding, I wore it last month.

One more thing: I’m not sure what to make of how this show handles Kaos’ obvious attraction to women. When ever Kaos says or does anything that makes it clear she’s into girls, the other girls just dismiss it as her “acting weird,” missing the point entirely. I could see getting pissed off by this since the show seems to be equating homosexuality with weirdness, but I don’t think that’s the intention; I think the girls are all supposed to be pretty innocent about sex, and having them be able to nail down what’s going on with Kaos requires more sophistication than they’re supposed to have. They just don’t have the experience to be able to say “Clearly, Kaos is a lesbian, or possibly bi-sexual,” they just know her reactions are different from what they would expect, so they just call her weird and stop thinking about it.

I find myself wondering if real teen girls would be this ignorant about sexual attraction, even younger teens, but then that’s falling into the trap of worrying about whether an obvious fantasy is “realistic”; of course it’s not. The issue isn’t whether or not it’s realistic, but whether or not it’s believable given everything else we know about the setting. This is a world where a manga editor tells a 14-year-old girl, “you draw hot women, you should draw sexy comics!”, despite the fact that said 14 year-old-girl doesn’t know anything about sex, so I guess it kind of fits. Comic Girls seems to be based around the girls being surrounded with sex, for reasons both voluntary and not, and having no idea what they’re actually looking at. If they had a clue what was going on, it would be a very different show.

So I found more to say about this episode than I usually do, which is good I guess? I don’t know. I don’t regret my decision to blog this show exactly, but it’s not turning out like I thought it would either. I do find it interesting that this show is sort of the one last bastion of hope for moe fans this season; where are all the other shows about four cute girls doing a thing? Is this really the only one? What happened? I’m still not quite done wrapping my brain around the fact that this seems to be the season where moe seemingly died AND Full Metal Panic came back; I mean, what kind of timeline is this anymore? I feel like someone made a wish on a monkey’s paw and we’re all going to be hit with the dark side any second now.

Food Wars! The Third Plate, Episode 14

This show is always so nice to me. Right when I realized that Golden Kamuy was too dark, so I’d be missing a Hokkaido-based show this season, Food Wars! decides to move this whole cour to Hokkaido for no apparent reason. Really, it’s inexplicable, unless they’re catering exclusively to me.

”Ok, time for advancement exams. We could hold them on school grounds, but where’s the fun in that? Let’s conduct a ludicrously expensive, high-class rail tour of northern Japan, and fit in the exams all over the prefecture. I hear Hokkaido is nice this time of year…the dead of winter.

What are they even going to be cooking by the time they get to those islands that are practically in Siberia? “Esteemed judges, I have prepared for you Grilled Black Bear Flank, with a reduction of tree bark and hardy forest lichens, and a side of Caramelized Reindeer Hoof.”

Really I just love the ridiculous opulence of Food Wars!, the fact that they’re setting their exam arc on a billion-dollar luxury train for no good reason. It’s hard not to read it as little bit of commentary on conspicuous wealth when you’ve still got characters like Megumi, who grew up in a poor fishing village, gawking at the whole thing. Maybe I was being dense last week when I questioned the writer’s choice to make this arc political, because it’s not like that’s really a new thing for this series; I could say it used to be more subtle about politics, but has this franchise ever been subtle?

Today’s Food Porn is Fillet of Salmon. My diet is mostly vegan nowadays, but I do cheat sometimes and eat fish, especially salmon. Nice little bonus that the dish they made this episode was something I would actually eat. It’s definitely not one of the more inventive preparations this show has featured though; oh wow, fish with citrus, really busting out of your comfort zone there, guys.

Anyway, PLOT! Erina decides to save her buddies the boring way, by tutoring them in cooking knowledge to help them pass the exams. I was really hoping she would just go up to the instructors, be like “I’m the God Tongue and you’re some no-name cooking teacher: pass my friends, or I’ll tell everyone that your food is always underseasoned,” and they would all fall before her in terror. Alas, Erina is developing into a nice young lady and her character growth does not allow her to do anything so underhanded and despicable; it would work though, wouldn’t it? I’m pretty sure it would work. Everyone fears the wrath of the God Tongue.

I don’t know who it is, but someone out there is very, very excited for the appearance of Sexy Teacher Erina, and I’m glad they’re having a good day. If they make a figure of her, she should definitely be surrounded by sacks of delicious (and varied) potatoes.

Speaking of the teachers, let us consider for a moment the curious moral fiber of these instructors who are conducting exams in Hokkaido. Apparently they are morally fine with hiding information from the students they intend to fail for political reasons, morally fine with giving sub-par ingredients to the students they intend to fail for political reasons, and will even gloat openly about their corruption in front of the students they intend to fail; none of that is going to keep them up at night with a guilty conscience. Yet they cannot, CANNOT bear to fail anyone who brings them a tasty dish. Once they taste anything with more depth of flavor than a Chicken McNugget, suddenly they’re all “Oh no, I can’t go along with my diabolical plan to unfairly fail you out of school, the sublime cook on this fish has turned me into a decent human being again!” I guess it does fit with the overall theme of this show about how the sensation of food can be overwhelmingly powerful, but man, talk about your arbitrary morality.

For some reason I find it amusing when Alice explains the chemistry of cooking; possibly because she explains everything like she believes that everyone should know all this already, and if you don’t know the precise temperature that the cell walls of a fish lose their integrity, you are less than dirt to her.

Anyway, more PLOT! Everyone passes the rigged test partly due to Erina’s tutoring, and partly because they somehow know where to find underground seafood vendors that Totsuki Academy doesn’t know about, since Totsuki supposedly bought up all the good salmon in the area before the test. I can imagine Alice Naikiri having an encyclopedic knowledge of where to find every single ingredient in Japan, if not the entire world, so I guess that makes sense. I was hoping Megumi was going to use her fishing skills to hook the salmon they needed, but alas, it’s the wrong season for salmon fishing. I really hope Megumi uses her fishing skills to save the day some other time though.

I have the X-Men theme song in my head. Okay, to be fair, I usually have the X-Men theme song in my head, but it feels really badass in synch with this killer screenshot.

Even more PLOT, really more like character development though! Erina wonders why everyone is stopping to talk to her after the first exam has passed, mostly because she’s never had friends and it’s a new experience for her. It’s yet another reminder of how being born with ultra-sensitive taste buds has completely fucked up her life, and it’s honestly really sad if you stop and think about it for a moment. Fortunately, she and Soma have A Romantic Moment Under the Stars and that’s enough to distract us from thinking anymore about Erina’s dismal social life up to this point.

That’s just the stars reflected in Erina’s eyes, not the glow of her unending ocean of love for Soma. Unless you buy into symbolism and all that, phhht.

I’m not sure what to think about Soma X Erina as a couple. Obviously they like each other and they’re becoming more compatible, but…Megumi and Soma are just so sweet together. Ironically Erina needs him more right now, but more as a friend than as a lover. I think Soma X Erina is supposed to be our endgame couple, but it’d be really cool if the two of them developed an intimate friendship and Soma ended up marrying Megumi instead. Right now Soma seems to value all his friends pretty much equally and doesn’t have romantic interest in anyone, but that may change if he ever beats his Dad in a cooking battle; then, he could allow himself the luxury of wanting something else in this life.

So, this season continues to be fun, and I look forward to seeing what’s coming up on the World’s Most Impractical Choo Choo Train Final Exam. Although, if they don’t use the train setting to do a Murder on the Orient Express kind of episode at some point, I’m going to consider that a missed opportunity.


Amanchu!~Advance~, Episode 2

I’m pleased to report that this episode featured an underwater storyline, which is all I really want from this show– well, other than this face:

This screenshot serves no purpose other than to provide another example of my beloved Pikari Troll Face; I don’t think I can blog about this series without including at least one.

Technically, it wasn’t a scuba dive because Pikari wasn’t wearing her scuba gear and was in fact free-diving, but that’s the kind of thing that only an obsessive rules lawyer would get stuck on, and I’m not an obsessive rules lawyer– at least, I don’t feel like being one today. Anyway, the story about the Mommy Octopus and her octopus babies was beautiful and a little sad, and took me by surprise, just a tad. It’s weird to hear Pikari, of all people, explain the inherent cruelty of Mother Nature and how mommy octopuses go off to die before their children are born.[EDIT: I just remembered that the plural of “octopus” is “octopi,” and now I’m annoyed, because I hate it when English gets insecure and tries to be Latin. Octopuses FOREVER.]

Interestingly I think Pikari has an intuitive understanding of this kind of stuff where it relates to the ocean–sad things happen, and that’s just part of the life– but not so much with her friends. Teko doesn’t know anything about octopuses, but she’s the one who can sense the looming darkness in their relationship; that it’s too good to last for long. I don’t think Pikari can see that coming.

These underwater scenes are beautiful, but I’m a little disturbed by the fact that Pikari and Kokoro seem to be able to stay underwater indefinitely. Maybe Pikari doesn’t even need scuba equipment because she’s a mutant with the power to breathe underwater, and tensions will rise when Teko discovers her secret? I’m up for an Amanchu!-X-Men crossover.

In addition to the Saga of Mommy Octopus, this episode also features a fireworks show, where Teko and Pikari get properly dolled up in yukata for the event. I noted last week that Pikari was the closest we’re going to get to seeing an adult Yotsuba in anime (or any Yotsuba in anime, for that matter), but I wasn’t being entirely serious; now I’m not so sure. Pikari’s sunflower-accented yukata really seemed to be playing up her resemblance to Yotsuba, since sunflowers are an important motif in that manga. I’m going to be on the lookout for more “Pikari is Secretly Yotsuba’s Older Sister” hints as the show goes on.

It’s hard to get a good screenshot of Pikari’s yukata since this whole part of the episode is really dark. Stupid firework festivals, why do they always hold them at night?

Teko has very little to do in this episode, other than stew a bit over the fact that Pikari has made a new friend and she’s trying very hard not to be jealous. I like the fact that they’re splitting up the girls a bit and giving them their own storylines; instead of suddenly having to separate, which is what Teko fears, it looks like the girls are gradually going to stop being so attached at the hip and pursue their own lives. So far, I’m impressed by the way this season has been addressing Pikari and Teko’s friendship; it would be easy to just have them palling around every day, eating yakisoba and making adorable faces at each other, but watching them test the confines of their friendship is a hell of a lot more interesting.

Okay, I see tentacles because Mommy Octopus is fighting the Evil Electric Eel, so is this scene all hot and sexy now? Because tentacles=hot, right?  Maybe I need remedial hentai education.

Mato, the diving club advisor, also gets an interesting flashback in this episode that seems kind of separate from everything else going on around it. I feel like Mato has her own storyline that we’re going to eventually see, but for now we’re just getting tiny bits and pieces. I hope they get on with it, because she’s actually more interesting than the high school kids, at least to me.

My only real complaint about this episode is the part where Ai punches Makoto because…huh, I don’t even remember why she punched him, it wasn’t important. But that’s the problem, this trope of girls hitting guys for no good reason. It works in something like Love Hina, where the over-the-top nature of Keitarou’s abuse from the girls just adds to the overall zany humor, but I dislike the girl-casually-abusing-guy-who-just-has-to-sit-back-and-take-it pattern that shows up in so many anime. I get why that might have felt edgy and innovative decades ago, but now it just makes the female character look like a horrible person.

Overall, pleased with the Amanchu experience, transparent octopus babies/10, would scuba again. Let’s wish on a sunflower that the show can keep up this level of quality for the whole season.

Sword Art Online Alternative, Episode Two

There’s some good news: this episode provides a clear answer to the main question I’ve had about this show all along, which is “Why doesn’t Karen just play ALO?” The bad news is it’s a stupid answer.

Apparently, in 2025, avatar customization options do not exist in MMORPGs, and you are stuck with random character rolls. So Karen (player of the LLENN avatar) starts playing Gun Gale Online because it’s the first game where she rolls a short, cute avatar. That is literally the only reason why she starts playing; she rolled a short character.

Okay, I don’t have a problem with the fact that Karen wanted to play someone short and cute (more on that later), but how, in 2025, do they not have any avatar customization options in any of these games? Why can’t she just choose to play a short character in ALO, or whatever game she wants? This seems like a really obvious feature to be missing from games in the SAO world.

This shot bugs me because I’ve had the maxim “never point your gun at anything you don’t intend to destroy” drilled into my head, and it looks especially wrong to break this rule at a shooting range, where gun safety etiquette is paramount. I know that this is a virtual shooting range in a video game and no one is actually at risk, but something about it still kind of bugs me. Don’t use GGO to teach bad gun etiquette, world of 2025!

If you want to overthink it (who? me?), it could have something to do with how Sword Art Online started, in-universe. That game did have avatar customization, which was then undone by the villain once the Death Game plan was revealed, leaving people effectively naked without their chosen avatars. So it could be that in MMO culture in this world, avatar customization options are associated with  SAO because that’s the last time they were used, and no one wants to be reminded of that. Maybe it’s a superstitious thing, like the way some buildings don’t include a 13th floor. Alternately, it could just be that for some reason, the people developing these games all decided at some point that rolling random avatars was the best way to keep everybody honest, rather than letting people stack the deck in various ways.

Really, I would accept many explanations for why there’s no customization in GGO or any of these other “advanced” MMORPGs; I’m just a little ticked that we don’t get one at all. This is probably one of those things where I have to go read the novel for it to make sense, right?

Anyway, back to Karen’s desire to play as a short character, that I don’t have any problem with. As a six-foot-tall woman in Japan, she’s used to standing out, and she wants to use VR to experience the other side of the coin for once. Also, her comments early in the episode to the effect of “if only I were small and cute…” can actually be interpreted as a tiny bit of commentary on moe as a phenomenon. Just as seeing women with thin bodies held up as the standard in art and advertising can upset women with stockier builds (whether it should or not, or whether it should to the extent that it often does is another story), seeing women with small bodies as the standard can be upsetting if you happen to be really tall.

Tao Okamoto, the actress who played Mariko Yashida in The Wolverine, said that she always felt out of place as a tall Japanese girl, so she related to the story of the mutants in the X-Men movies. Now remember that Karen is supposed to be several inches taller than Okamoto is, and imagine how she must feel.

Also, it’s not just a cosmetic difference. Karen is used to bumping her head on signs and always being seen, wherever she goes; as the tiny LLENN, not only is she extraordinarily agile, but she can hide from other players with ease. It’s not just about being small and cute, it’s about choosing when and if people see her, after feeling like she’s been on display for her whole life. I can see why that experience would be liberating for her, and would make the game more addictive.

So I’m definitely on board with Karen’s motivations for playing the game and playing the way that she does, but I’m still not sure if I have that much interest beyond that. In addition to introducing Karen and LLENN properly, this episode also introduces Pito, another female GGO player with a penchant for PVP combat. I think I’m supposed to be anticipating the inevitable LLENN vs. Pito fight, but so far, I really don’t care about Pito. Funny note: I just dropped into Wikipedia to double-check what Pito’s name was, Wikipedia spoiled me as to Pito’s true identity (which is exactly what I thought it was), and I still don’t care about her.

Trying to work up the energy to care about Pito…trying again…caring engines at maximum thrust…Imma givin’ ’em all I can, Captain…nope just don’t care nope nope nope

Plus, GGO just looks so boring to play. At least the PVE campaign looks action-packed, but once LLENN “graduates” to PVP, she seems to spend most of her time sitting around in the desert, waiting for targets to show up. If you’re watching an anime about a video game, I think it helps if it looks like a game you’d actually like to play; then again, maybe it’s just me? Maybe a lot of viewers would love to play a game like GGO, and I’m the only one with this problem?

Anyway, I’m interested enough to keep tuning in and see what Karen/LLENN are up to next week, but for me to really get into this show, either it has to introduce more than one character that I care about, or the action has to get more interesting; or hey, even both. I wouldn’t say no to both.

Comic Girls, Episode 2

I really want to like this show, but the writers are making it hard for me. The first part of the episode, where the girls go shopping at a huge art supply store, is great (and exactly what I want from a show like this), but then there’s the second part…where the girls go to school. I really don’t need Comic Girls! to show the girls going to high school, I can see girls attending high school in virtually every other anime that has ever been made. I want to see these girls draw comics, and do other comics-related things: Don’t waste everyone’s time by showing them sitting in math class.

I don’t know if they changed her design, or I just noticed it this episode, but Kaos has noticeable fangs. I think I’m just going to start assuming all of these tiny fang-girls are actually vampires until proven otherwise; you can never be too careful. Maybe she can’t draw characters in proportion because she can’t see herself in the mirror?

They do tie in the school segment to the overall premise by showing how the comic girls try to keep their manga careers secret from their classmates, but it’s all just a little flat. I feel like this show has the potential to be really fun, but it’s afraid to stray too far from “cute girls doing cute things” genre conventions, so it wastes time on irrelevant stuff.

You might think I’d be complaining about the girls going to eat sweets, since that’s a pretty generic anime-girl activity too, but hey, I’m not made of stone; ladies gotta eat.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t even mind the “cute girls doing cute things (CGDCT)” tropes, but they work better in some cases than in others. For instance, in last season’s Slow Start, there was no pretense that the show was about anything other than CGDCT, so seeing the girls just hanging out in school was par for the course. Comic Girls! is supposed to be about something more specific than that; I’ve seen people compare it to Slow Start, but is that really a compliment?

[For the record, I found Slow Start oddly compelling and watched all of it, so it’s not as though I hate the show. It wore it’s complete lack of interest in plot as a badge of honor, and I respect that kind of chutzpah. Still, it’s a good example of a genre show that stays firmly in it’s niche and has no further aspirations.]

Can I take a moment here to talk about how completely outdated screentone seems to me? I certainly get the appeal of doing your artwork in pen and ink instead of digitally, but screentone just seems so…anachronistic? It’s like, you notice your toast is dry, and instead of going to the refrigerator, you walk outside to the barn and spend an hour churning your own butter.

I like the way the show often breaks into moving, manga-styled panels to convey jokes; it’s appropriate, and keeps things lively. But I’m annoyed that this show seems to leave me with so little to say about it yet again; it’s just missing something that shows like Hidamari Sketch have in spades, and I’m not sure what it is. You could say that the characters are bland, but I don’t know if that’s really fair; I relate to Kaos and her boiling cauldron of insecurities, and the others are coming along. Still, something just isn’t quite gelling here.

Hopefully next episode we’ll see the continuation of the girls’ combo manga, I Can’t Believe My Neighborhood Axe Murderer is This Adorable; Protect Me Shirtless-kun!

Isekai Izakaya, Episodes One and Two

This show has me very confused. I’m 99% sure I already saw this show in the summer of 2017, when it was called Isekai Shokudo, or Restaurant to Another World. Now it’s called (roughly) Snack Bar to Another World, and features the exact same premise, only, it’s not a new season of the original show. I thought maybe it was a related spin off, kind of like Sword Art Online Alternative is to regular SAO, but no, that does not appear to be the case. Someone choose to release a completely unrelated show called Snack Bar to Another World not even a year after Restaurant to Another World started airing, and they don’t seem the least bit ashamed of it.

I was prepared to throw up my arms and sneer “what a ripoff!” but  the plot thickens! See, minimal Wikipedia research reveals that the light novel for Isekai Izakaya was actually published before the light novel for Isekai Shokudo, so if anything, the latter is more likely to be the ripoff. But, but…regardless of what went down in Light Novel Land, this is the exact same show that was on last summer. And I don’t mean “it’s the same genre,” I mean it’s the same exact concept. People in a medieval-type fantasy world discover a modern Japanese restaurant that mysteriously has an entrance to their world and ooh and ahh over how good food has become in the age of refrigeration, advanced farming and other modern technology.

So far the primary difference is a downgraded waitress. Shinobu, who waits on the dumbstruck customers of the Izakaya, seems to be a normal girl who likes eating chicken; in Restaurant from Another World, one of the waitresses was an immortal dragon who lived on a dead planet at the edge of spacetime and communicated telepathically. I mean, it’s all subjective, but I think Restaurant probably wins in the “intriguing waitress” category.

Considering the fact that episode 2 spent a lot of time repeating material from episode 1, asserting that this is an inferior version of Restaurant to Another World seems valid, even if Shinobu does turn out to be a transformed chimera or something. Even though calling it a ripoff is grossly unfair, considering when the source material was published, the fact remains that I liked this show a lot better the first time.

The live-action bits are the best part of the show so far, but stuff like this is what I have Netflix for.

The one exception is the fact that the end of the episodes feature brief, live-action forays into Japanese food culture, and they are rather interesting. I’m not sure if I should give the anime credit for including decent documentary footage that isn’t actually part of the anime though. Besides, these live action bits remind me of Wakakozake, and that reminds me of the fact that Crunchyroll hasn’t uploaded Wakakozake Season 3 yet, even though it’s been filmed. What’s the deal with that, Crunchyroll? I need to see Waka-chan get hammered and eat her weight in yakitori, what is the hold-up?????

Anyway, because  I’ve seen this show already, I will now stop watching it…ah hell, what am I saying? It’s an anime food porn show, I’m an addict and I’m going to watch every single episode (possibly twice), but that doesn’t mean that you should! If you’re going to watch one faux-medieval-styled food porn show, for God’s sake, watch the one with the telepathic dragon. It’s not rocket science.