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Final Impressions: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma

Oct 07 // Nick Valdez
Leading into the finale, the Autumn Election preliminaries were nearly over. Group B finished their turn and Alice Nakiri, Arato Hisako, Takumi Aldini, and Megumi Tadakoro are the first four to advance to the actual competition. When we last left Group A, Ryo Kurokiba made his mark by taking first place with 93 points and the rest of the Polar Star dorm, while good, struggled to reach that height. At episode's end Akira Hayama stepped up to serve his dish,  weird curry souffle looking thing that spewed all sorts of tantalizing scents when punctured (that he called a "fragrance bomb"). And with the finale, we learn why it's so effective. Thanks to a mix of holy basil and yogurt (to balance out its pungent nature) his curry throws the judges for a loop. After some reaction shenanigans, they give his dish 94 points, with two of the judges giving a max score of 20 (it's important to note the spread was 18/20/18/20/18). But right as Akira was celebrating his win, Soma revealed that he too worked on a "fragrance bomb" type of meal.  Learning from his past losses and mistakes (such as losing to his Dad a few episodes back and nearly failing the buffet task with his omelets during the boot camp), Soma slyly combines the two efforts as a way to get back at his past self. Serving curry rice inside of an omelette pocket, he's managed to learn all about spice from the few days he learned about curry from Akira. Like how Akira balanced his spice with yogurt, Soma made a mango chutney in order to give it a bit of sweetness. Unfortunately, the dish wasn't enough to earn the top spot and Soma nets 93 points. But three of the judges rated his dish higher than Akira's, however (so it's 19/18/19/18/19) thus deepening their rivalry. That brings Group A to a close, and seven students are confirmed for the finals. Then the kids all celebrate, though Soma vows to work harder in order to claim victory. There's an eighth student to be revealed later (though the episode doesn't say this), and he's such a huge part of the semifinals, I'm sure they're saving his reveal for the next season. If there is one.  Although I had a lot of fun with the series overall, I'm pretty worried about the future of the show. Community members MSJ and RoboYuji pointed out that my complaint of cutting everything short was unfounded, and I'll admit that I didn't consider that the show would need filler in order to give the manga time to get further ahead. I'd hate to see what a filler arc would like since the official filler here (whatever the heck the "Karaage Wars" was) was pretty garbage. But since the manga has gone far past the Autumn Elections already (and has a more natural endpoint) it feels like we've been shafted since we're cut off before the actual fun of the show starts. But then again, that's just me being greedy. I just like the premise so much, I wanted more of it. I mean, what's the point of having two completely different title sequences if you're going to cut it off now?  There are bigger elements at play here since the show most likely didn't have the biggest audience (and a sequel season rests entirely with secondary sales), it's been rife with budget problems from the get go (as lots of shortcuts were taken with the animation and sound design was particularly spotty early on), but the property's so much fun. It just feels like Food Wars is ending right when it hit its groove.  But given my biggest problem with Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma was there wasn't enough of it, I guess it wasn't so bad after all. 
Final Food Wars  photo
"Happy to serve!"
I first found Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma through manga. Although I fell out of touch with the anime for several years, I've been periodically reading manga through that time. One of my favorites turned out to be Food W...

First Impressions: Heavy Object

Oct 07 // Josh Tolentino
The first five minutes of Heavy Object's opening episode are enough to hang out the "military otaku only" sign, with a barrage of exposition about how, even though it's the future, people just can't stop fighting. This is backgrounded by fancy sci-fi imagery of laser-propelled space shuttles getting blown out of the sky by missiles, and warships and planes launching explosive strikes.  All of that gets eclipsed by the arrival of the first "Object", a giant ball-shaped war machine that gets nuked on its very first day in combat, and still comes out swinging, annihilating the attacking army. From then on, war changes into an Object-oriented arms race, with the world's power blocs competing to get their own Objects, and using the invincible weapons as the centerpiece of all future battlefield action. Virtually all other materiel becomes obsolete, with entire battles decided by a duel between two Objects, with few casualties on either side. Wars become "clean" thanks to the dominance of a single category of weapon. This new battlefield dynamic affects every up and down the chain, which is where the lead characters - the hilariously named Qwenthur and Havia - come in. They're just two grunts, relegated to shoveling snow in Alaska, maintaining an airbase no one will use while Objects are in play. Qwenthur wants to become an Object engineer, and seems to have struck up a friendship of sorts with their local Object's pilot, a blonde loli referred to only as "The Princess". Havia's serving thanks to pressure from his noble family. Both are at the bottom of the totem pole, as ground troops are obsolete in the face of Object-based warfare. It's an interesting premise to start from, not least because the Objects themselves are about as far as possible as one can get from the stereotypical image of Japanese mecha. They're literally giant balls of armor covered in guns, like some demented fan of Gundam's RB-79 Ball took control of the boardroom at J.C. Staff when the time came to decide which shows to animate. It's also got a somewhat interesting angle going for it. After all, it's a rare war story that focuses on the characters who get "left behind" at the rear line. Then again, any military otaku worth his MREs would know that the very notion of war being "clean" and things as fundamental as infantry being outmoded by what is essentially a gigantic tank is preposterous, even for anime. Knowing that, the most likely scenario is our seeing Heavy Object's plot aim to poke holes in its own presumptions, that war can be just as hellish from the cockpit of a 50-meter death ball as it is in the trenches. Well, that's the hope at least. If nothing else, the episode ends on something of a down note, with Qwenthur staring at the shattered remains of The Princess' Object, dreading the prospect of having to fight the enemy Object without backup. That's no picnic, and seeing how he and his deal with the challenge should set the tone for the rest of the show. [Check out Heavy Object's simulcast on FUNimation!]    
A Weighty Topic
Stop me if you've heard this before, but this show is about a piece of military hardware, invented at some undetermined time in the future, that changes the very nature of warfare forever. Practically invincible on the battle...

Final Impressions: MY Love STORY!!

Oct 06 // Nick Valdez
Leading into the finale, Yamato got herself a part time job at a bakery over spring break, hoping that she'd be able to pick up some tricks of the trade. But much to Takeo's chagrin, the head patisserie Ichinose (who, as the show likes to point out, has all the qualities of a traditional shoujo protagonist) has a crush on her and vows to Takeo that he'll tell her after taking first place at his big baking competition. So Takeo spends the first half of the final episode dejected, and this is entirely a new feeling for Takeo. As he questions whether or not he should actually be with Yamato, he gets steady reassurance from all of their friends that Yamato chose to date him because he's so great. And it's not like the audience needed reassurance as we've seen his greatness throughout the entire series. It completely makes sense for the kind hearted (but not completely pure hearted, as I'll discuss later) Yamato to fall in love with Takeo, a guy who'd happily sacrifice his own well being to help someone else find happiness. And that's put to the test here in the finale, as well.  When Ichinose realizes he's forgotten his baking tools, Yamato asks Takeo for help. Being the big goof that he is, he runs all the way to the bakery and to the contest without a second thought (only reflecting on helping Ichinose win after all the craziness settles), catching Ichinose by surprise. After Ichinose wins, he confesses to Yamato (right in front of Takeo like a damn goob) but Yamato rightfully turns him down. She explains that she's never really felt the same way (thus clearing up the only major problem with this beat as we never really know what she's thinking during all of this) and genuinely loves Takeo. After some loving awkwardness, Takeo calls Yamato by her first name, Rinko, and the two clumsily shuffle off into the future.  I didn't enjoy this final arc since it was the first time it was about Takeo alone, rather than the two working out relationship stuff, but I won't really let it hinder my enjoyment of the overall package. As community member John Seiler helped point out, this show is one of the few available that reveals different types of love. My Love Story!! is technically everyone's love story as I'm sure there's any type of relationship you can cling to. There's the fast developing Kurihara and Nanako, the already established of Takeo's parents, the teacher student dynamic between Saijou and Takeo, the crippling shyness leading to idolization between Yukika and Sunakawa, the unrequited love of Suna's sister and her admirer, and the nearly asexual Sunakawa who just wants to avoid all of that together. While the focus is given to Takeo and Yamato's central relationship, we're always given little peeks into these outside loves so no one feels left out. And it's all just so it hammers the main message home, that there's never one right way to love.  My Love Story!! felt more personal than not, because for the first time, I legitimately felt that a show was trying to tell my story. As a towering man of 6'3 and 300 pounds, any girl I've ever been interested in has been smaller than me so I know all too well what Takeo went through. His awkwardness that made him stand out from his friends, his inability to believe that someone would actually have feelings for him, and being so hilariously inept at relationships that he couldn't figure out how much Yamato wanted to take their relationship further. That's also a great part of this series too. Although Yamato's meek demeanor would perceive otherwise, she's always been the more active one. You'd expect her to be fall into the shoujo traps of the "pure hearted maiden," but that hilariously went to Takeo. Neither character ever acted the way they were expected to, and that's what makes a great watch.  Couple that with the show's use of color, outrageous reactions to things (as Takeo's many faces and forms led to quite a few laughs), and its ability to hit that sweet spot of romance and comedy on more than on occasion, My Love Story!! was the best anime of the Spring and Summer seasons. It's a love story everyone'll love. 
Final Love STORY photo
"Suki da"
Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, as I'm sure I've said this in the past, but I'm a sucker for good romantic comedies. While there isn't exactly a big list of films I could point to, there are definitely a boatloa...

Final Impressions: School-Live!

Oct 05 // Nick Valdez
When we last left the School Living Club, they were caught in quite a predicament. As zombies flooded the school, the four were separated and feeling pretty hopeless. Yuri was dealing with an infected Kurumi and whether or not she had to kill her, Miki was trapped in the basement after tracking down a possible vaccine, and Yuki was trying to fight her way through the school after finally breaking out of her delusion and coming to grips with losing her teacher, Megu-nee. When Yuki reaches the school's broadcasting room, she's nearly attacking by zombies herself before zombie Taroumaru comes to her rescue. When she realizes the zombies still retain some of their memories (and as evident from the last episode when zombie Megu-nee is seen writing the girls' names), she broadcasts that school is out of session and all the students are to return home. And this surprisingly works! As the zombies clear out, Miki is able to vaccinate both Kurumi and Taroumaru. Unfortunately, Taroumaru's been sick for too long so he loses his life in his weakened state (but after giving Miki some closure). I've never been good with dog death in media, so this hit me pretty hard. I know it's a cartoon and all, but he was such a cute puppy!  When the girls realize the school's no longer habitable after the attack (as the generators have been fried and most of the building has been damaged by fire), they decide to leave the school toward either a university or corporate building. Either way, the girls know that the people they deal with may not be friendly. But before all of that, to bring closure to this chapter in their lives, the girls hold a makeshift graduation ceremony and it's the most heartfelt scene of the series. I guess it's because I fell so hard for the premise (and it admittedly won't appeal to everyone in the same way since I'm so fond of cutesy things), but it as great seeing the girls finally grow up. Just like a real graduation into the real world, these girls have finally accepted that their lives have changed. There's no longer a lingering grief over the past, and each of the girls have accepted their own flaws. That's a major part of growing up, and the show absolutely nailed it. The greatest thing is the show didn't have to directly say all of this. Through silent moments and great art effects that truly show how much these girls' optimism clashes with the world's darkness, the finale brings a sense of closure to the viewer as well.  But looking at the episode's ending tag, there's more planned for these girls. I'm just not sure if I want more of this. This graduation episode brought everything full circle and tied up most of the loose ends (including the fate of Miki's lost friend, Kei), but I'm not sure I care about the rest of the stuff still open. For example, one of the bigger things is probably going to be investigating how much their high school knew about the pandemic beforehand and potentially finding a cure, but that's like so much generic stuff out there already. At this point, I'm content with what we've gotten. From the opening episode, this show's been building up to a end with its tight, twelve episode arc. The girls got a happy-ish ending with one of those "driving into the future" closers, the opening theme was reused for the final scene (as is expected from an anime finale), and lots of the tricks it employed here (like the surprising clash between its bright colors and dark monsters or its slowly changing opening credits sequence) won't hit as well the second time.  School-Live! was compelling, interesting, and most importantly unique. If it ever does get that second season, it'll be ruining what makes it so special. There's nothing else out there like it right now, and it should stay that way. 
Final School-Live! photo
I hope you had the time of your life
School-Live! (or Gakkou Gurashi!) nearly slipped under the radar. If you had no idea of the more sinister plot afoot, you'd probably skip the series thinking it's yet another show about four young girls doing young girl thing...

Review: Attack on Titan Part II: End of the World

Sep 29 // Josh Tolentino
[Spoiler Warning: This review will discuss some plot points from Attack on Titan: Part I, including the ending. Some of these points will be well-known to anyone familiar with the manga or anime, though.] Attack on Titan: End of the WorldDirected By: Shinji HiguchiProduced By: TOHO PicturesPremiere Date: September 19, 2015 (Japan), September 23, 2015 (Philippines), September 30, 2015 (US), October 20, 2015 (Canada)Licensed By FUNimation (NA) Attack on Titan: Part I ended on a cliffhanger of sorts, with the cast now dumbfounded at having discovered that Eren (Haruma Miura) can turn into a Titan himself. End of the World picks up at this point, choosing the opening quarter of the movie to deliver all the exposition and world-building missing from Part I in big, heaping helpings. The truth of the world's history, as well as the nature of the Titans, is revealed in a series of lengthy monologues worthy of a Metal Gear Solid 2 cutscene. Building out a setting as complex as Attack on Titan's isn't an easy task even under ideal circumstances, but the lengthy interlude serves to both ground the movie and act as an albatross around its neck.  For what it's worth, those stretches do include stylistic flourishes that produce some of the film's most interesting visuals, including effective use of Skeeter Davis' "The End of the World", and some great bits of real-world footage edited to have Titans in them. Director Shinji Higuchi's decision to ground the film in the real world's future, in an actual place, starts to make sense at this point. All the more unfortunate, then, that the plot these interludes serve devolves into a traditional, anime-like "teens versus ideologues" setup. It does take stabs at cautioning against both the static control of fascists and the chaos of revolution, but all in all, it's a downer compared to the more primal, gory thrills of the first half. Not to mention that End of the World frequently flashes back footage of Part I, making it all the more evident that there wasn't enough material to fill even a 90-minute movie. I wonder if the whole thing wouldn't be better off edited into single two-hour production, rather than being staggered out in this manner*. If nothing else I wouldn't have had to buy a ticket for it twice. End of the World even fails to adequately capitalize on its own strengths in visuals. Whereas the scenes of creepy-faced Titans eating people and making it rain blood and limbs in Part I gave off a visceral, classic-horror thrill, End of the World is more of a straight action movie, with even the Titans behaving more like pro wrestlers or MMA fighters than the mindless monsters of the last release. This is justified by the plot (and the source), but the shift is definitely less exciting and novel, not to mention that the original Titans barely make an appearance here. Hopes for the cast getting further character growth are also dashed. While the cast manages to shine more thanks to being separated from Eren early on, not much happens to give either the new characters more than one dimension or the older ones like Armin (Kanata Hongo) time to grow into the ones fans know and love. It seems as if Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara)'s victimization at the hands of the film's writers is permanent. Hans (Satomi Ishihara) once again steals every scene she's in by sheer force of personality, but unfortunately there are fewer of those, so even that bright light is diminished. Early in this review I noted that elementally speaking Attack on Titan: End of the World is more of the film the fans demanded, initially. In light of seeing the end product, though, that notion is shown to be as hollow as it is. Given the revelations in End of the World about the true nature of all the things, it feels fitting to end this piece with a quote from The Matrix, as delivered by an Attack on Titan fan who actually enjoyed Part I: "Not like this." [This review is based on a general screening of the film viewed by the reviewer.] *It's worth noting that FUNimation's release of the films in North America will allow viewers to see both Part I and End of the World in quick succession. Whether or not being able to view both movies as a single release (of sorts) will improve the experience remains to be seen.
Attack on Titan 2 Review photo
Why do the birds go on singing?
Broken down, point by point, Attack on Titan: End of the World is far closer to what Attack on Titan fans claimed to want from a live-action adaptation of their beloved manga. It delves deeper into the mysteries beh...

Annotated Anime: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma episodes 21-23

Sep 29 // Nick Valdez
Episode 21 After waking up from his brief nap teased at the end of last episode, Souma reveals he's been cooking some kind of rice and spice dish, but that's all we really see before the episode cuts to Group B and Tadakoro. As the crowd begins to turn on her due to her nervous demeanor, she pulls out her cout de grace, a difficult monkfish she showfully butchers. She learned how to cut it back home in order to help her family, and seeing them here in support has given her the confidence to nail it. But the brunt of this episode was devoted to the fierce rivalry between Erina Nakiri's aide, Arato, and her creepy stalker introduced two episodes ago, Nao. The judges in Group B have been especially tough as no chef has gotten over 20 points, but Nao and her super smelly laksa and kusaya curry manages to get 84 points (resulting in the header image). But Arato, with her focus in medicinal herbs and spices, manages a healthy curry which cleanses the judges of all previous flavors and basically got the taste of Nao's curry out of their mouths. She scores 92 points as the episode's close draws attention to the Aldini brothers.  It's a shame the show's going to end soon because I'm loving the anime's adaptation of the reactions. They're the best thing from the manga, but seeing them play out on screen adds an entirely new level.  Episode 22 As we join Group A's proceedings, Miyoko Hojo (the character who hates Tadakoro for relying on men and feels she needs to be stronger than all the men in order to succeed in the field) has started things off with a strong Chinese and pineapple infused curry and nets 87 points, Polar Star Dorm resident Yuki nets 86 points for her wild game curry, but then the Aldini brothers take the stage. Both present Italian inspired dishes with the younger Aldini, Isami serving a curry calzone scoring 87 and the older Aldini, Takumi serves a pasta curry and gets 90 points thanks to his putting cheese inside the pasta noodles. then Alica Nakiri blows the judges away (and shows her chops) with her science cooking as her deconstructed curry gets a hefty 95 points. Then, finally, we have the best girl Tadakoro. After everyone hilariously forgot about her, she serves the result of her hard work and love of her town, monkfish dobu-jiru curry.  Tadakoro manages to score 88 points (earning her new rival Hojo's respect) and earns her place in the top eight along with Alice Nakiri, Hisako Arato, and Takumi Aldini. Yay Tadakoro! Episode 23 We're back in Group A as the judges continue giving low scores (with some giving no score at all). But Ryo Kurokiba, Alice's aide with his shifting personality, manages to break that rhythm with a lobster and cognac curry (which he tells the main judge to slurp like a savage, hilariously) and 96 points. But none of the other chefs let that get to them as Polar Star residents Ryoko, Marui, and Ibusaki all net 86 and 88 points respectively with their dishes as Nikumi gets 86 with her meat don (which she's crafted thanks to her early shokugeki with Souma). But as the episode draws to a close, the arguably strongest student (since we really haven't seen his skills yet) Akira heads up to serve his dish and directly challenges Souma with his taste. As Souma begins to eat, he realizes there's a delicious scent pouring out.  Well, that's it. The final episode is up next and this is what I mean about terrible sequel series. Now we're stuck here until Food Wars 2 or something like that comes out. Hopefully it's gotten enough support overseas to warrant a second season. But until then, I totally recommend the manga. It's pretty good. But this show's been pretty entertaining in its own right (and I'll get into that with the final impressions after I see the last episode), and I can't help but love the exaggerated world. I hope there's more. 
Annotated Food Wars! photo
Sexy curry
I hate how some shonen series are handled. If a shonen manga doesn't have the audience or allotted budget of a big Shonen Jump property like One Piece or Gintama, then its anime adaptation is doomed to "seasons." Instead of c...

Annotated Anime: School-Live! episodes 7-11

Sep 25 // Nick Valdez
Episode 7 After a few episodes of flashback, we're back in the series proper. When Yuki brings up their mall outing, Miki briefly forgets she's supposed to lie about Megu-nee and Yuki nearly cracks her delusion as brief images of a grisly scene flashback. Miki thinks it's time to stop lying to Yuki since it's not really healthy, but Yuri simply states that she'll tell her soon. After Yuki stumbles on some stationary, the girls decide to take their mind off things for a bit and write some letters to folks on the outside. During all of this, Miki stumbles on a key leading to some place in the staff room but hides it from the other girls. After some shenanigans involving carrier pigeons, the girls send their letters through the sky and we find that Miki's written one for her lost best friend, Kei (the one who abandoned Miki at the mall in search of a better kind of survival).  Kei's probably a zombie, folks. It's usually how these things turn out.  Episode 8 Miki gives the key she found to Yuri as the two start searching the staff room for clues as to what it leads to. But before all of that, the girls start talking about the future. Naturally since Yuki is still stuck in her weird state of mind, all she can think about is graduation and potentially getting a job in the adult world. It's a sad conversation as the girls try and look positively toward their futures (Kurumi wants to be wife, Yuri wants to do something I forgot about already, sorry), but this all feels like it's leading up to something big. In fact, that's one of the most impressive parts of this show. Every episode feels like we're inching closer and closer to some kind of terrible end. Starting with the opening credits (which have been slowly getting more and more violent as the show progresses), helped along by the heavy amount of foreshadowing (each episode someone notes how more and more zombies are gathering outside of the school), and with happier moments like this, I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And it does. The girls discover that Megu-nee's key led to a lockbox containing an emergency manual for the school when a biological weapon is released.  Episode 9 As the girls fret over the manual, which details why the school has multi-tired facilities and stuff like solar panels and gardens, Yuki takes their minds off of it with a suggestion: to turn the ugly water tank into a pool area for a pool day. Then it's a super happy, fan service heavy episode. I wouldn't think we'd get an episode like this in the series, but it sort of makes sense. It's something Shakespeare made famous. You see, back when Shakespeare was a big hit, people used to sit and watch plays for several hours. Naturally people would get bored if you kept the entirety of the play the same tone, so he'd add bits of levity every few acts in order to accomplish two things. First, it's to keep interest. If a program remained a flat, dreary tone throughout its duration, people wouldn't pay attention. Secondly, it's to make the coming bits of drama hit that much harder. And I think that's what's going on here. This episode is our last breath of fresh air before everything starts coming down. And if the episode's tag is anything to go by (as Taroumaru escapes downstairs to the basement and sees something tragic), it's going to be a doozy.  Episode 10 So here's a little trick as to how I write these annotations: I write these blurbs as I watch each episode rather than try to summarize them all at once. I only open with this because I want you to know that I was not ready for all of this chaos. At the end of last episode, we saw Taroumaru escape from his leash and run through the school so the girls wake up and go looking for him. As Kurumi follows his tracks downstairs into the basement, she finds an infected Taroumaru trying to bite her face off. After managing to lock him up in a room, she stumbles on the truly messed up thing: Megu-nee's zombie. Failing to stop Monster-nee's advance, Kurumi's bitten. As the girls try and figure out what to do now, Kurumi's condition worsens (and leads to an awful amount of screaming as the infection spreads) and the girls are split up as zombies break their way into the school. Yuki is locked in a room after zombies attack, Yuri's sitting with Kurumi and slowly breaking, and Miki is in search of the medicine (and possible antidote) the manual claims the school has but breaks down at the thought of losing Taroumaru. As the episode closes, and everything is traumatic for everyone, Yuki starts remembering the tragedy that sparked her mental breakdown.  Episode 11 Ugh, I need a breather. Deep - breath -, okay. As Yuki runs to Miki and gives her strength to go and search for the antidote, lightning strikes the school's generators and cuts off the power while starting a fire. So there's yet another thing to worry about as Yuri comes to grips with possibly losing Kurumi to the infection. We've seen Yuri as the slightly older girl who's acted as a rock, so this is the first time she's truly shown emotion. It's quite interesting watching her slowly break as she decides whether or not to kill her friend before she turns into a zombie. Then we shift back to Miki, who's fought her way down to the school's basement. As she comes face to face with Megu-nee's zombie (who still retained her memories of the other girls and evidenced by her zombie writings), she assures her they're doing fine before giving her peace. But Miki is soon cornered by zombies when she finds the medicine. Then we cut back to Yuki, who's slowly breaking free of her delusion. After some emotional resolution (and Megu-nee guiding her to the broadcasting room), she finally accepts Megu-nee's death and says goodbye. It's too much.  What started out as a cute series became far more emotional than I would've guessed. Looking at the premise of the show should've given it away, but I never thought it'd hit that hard. Maybe it's because it's so sudden. It's not a revolutionary story or anything like that, but there's so much care put into the buildup, the payoff is fantastic. The final episode's sure going to be something. 
Annotated School-Live! photo
I've got a complicated relationship with zombambos. I've gotten tired with the genre, but I can't help but stay invested in how different characters are effected in different medias. Each media provides unusual takes, and ani...

Annotated Anime: MY Love STORY!! episodes 19-23

Sep 18 // Nick Valdez
Episode 19 Takeo's mom has been pregnant on the sidelines, and it finally comes to a literal head in this episode. Takeo's been concerned with his mom's health ever since she told him about it (even if he's the one who's always reckless with his body), but she's maintaining a high level of activity despite his wishes. She's tough, and Takeo knows it, but he can't help but worry. After saving another pregnant woman from a fall, his mother feels a pain in her side and ultimately goes to the hospital. Takeo understandably freaks out and after running frantically and carrying his mother to her hospital room, Takeo's left to worry on the sidelines. After some consoling for Suna, he calms down and after retrieving a charm from Yamato wishing a safe delivery, Takeo's mom gives birth to the adorable giant baby you see above. In case you were wondering the show wouldn't crack a joke about that, Suna notes that she's the biggest baby in the room. It's actually the cutest and funniest thing.  Episode 20 This is my favorite episode to date. When Takeo laments that he never gets chocolate from a girl on Valentine's Day (and notes that Suna always receives tons of chocolate along with one from a secret admirer each year), he remembers Yamato and suddenly freaks out. Beaming with happiness, his friends corner him and ask if there's a way they could hang out in a huge group with Yamato's friends like they did at Christmas. During the group date, Yamato gives everyone chocolate cookies and Takeo's constantly wondering when he's going to get his special Valanetine's chocolate from Yamato. He's depressed when he thinks he won't get one, suddenly realizes he should've appreciated the cookies, and he acts like a giant, adorable idiot the entire episode. Of course, Yamato shows up with some kind of giant chocolate mountain and Takeo blows a super kiss from a couple of floors up. It's a good year for them both.  Ugh, this show is so cute I can't stand it.  Episode 21 During my last recap, I noted how Sunakawa is not only disinterested in women, but romance in general. He's clearly in tune with emotions as the show's proven that he cares about Takeo (going so far as to not date any of the girls who secretly joked about Takeo behind his back), but he's never pursued anyone for himself. It's a forward thinking asexual person that I hope wasn't the writer's happy accident. Anyway, the first person to challenge this and show a definite romantic interest in Suna is Yukika, a girl who's had a crush on him for ten years now. Her major flaw, however, is her crippling shyness that keeps her from actually approaching Suna in any way. the only way she's expressed her love is through Valentine's chocolate throughout the years with a note reading "I don't need anything, I just want you to love me back" or something to that effect. When Takeo and Yamato finally convince Yukika to approach, she suddenly blurts out a confession and Suna oddly agrees to go out on a group date.  While this episode tests my theory, it also posits that none of the girls were unique enough to have a relationship with a main character. Yukika's got all of the design of a new main character (silver hair, personality traits, uh, love?) but I never quite dug her. I actually found her quite annoying and way too stalkery to actually lead to a healthy relationship. Regardless, this episode's hilarious because Takeo's radar like senses always spotted Yukika.  Episode 22 While the last episode challenges Suna's bachelor lifestyle, this episode highlight's Suna's greatest quality and, potentially, his biggest flaw. You see, he's such a nice guy that he's willing to put everyone else's happiness ahead of his own. While that may be an anime staple, Suna's is actually kind of tragic. You see, as the group all go out to the zoo, Suna's just humoring Yukika the entire time. He doesn't really react to anything (except to Takeo, which Yukika points out later as a sign that he's truly interested in someone), and rather than it resembling traditional shoujo love interests, it actually adds to Suna's mysterious nature. We're never really sure what he's thinking and in fact we don't really find out till episodes end when he ultimately (and understandably given that she watched him from the shadows for ten years) declines Yukika's love. He gives her a notebook, and she loves that she even got to spend some time with the object of her affection. Of course, there was some weirdness in the middle when she freaked out on Suna since he had no interest in her. That only cemented how annoying she was. I'm glad it didn't really work out.  Episode 23 As a sort of palette cleanser, this episode is a light affair that returns to Takeo and Yamato's relationship. When Yamato gets a job at a bakery in order to better learn how to craft desserts, Takeo gets jealous for the first time in the series. When a handsome looking patisseire, Ichinose (always a hilarious ring of a traditional shoujo protagonist), mistakes Yamato's interest in cakes for an interest in him, he eventually challenges Takeo's relationship. He runs to Takeo and asks if Takeo really belongs with Yamato and states that she deserves someone more alike to her. Takeo, for the first time in the series, doubts himself and thinks Ichinose might've had a point. The episode ends as Takeo stands on shaken ground for the first time. Will Takeo actually give up on his relationship with Yamato? Nah, probably not. But this is an intelligent way to bring Takeo's untraditional nature and design in the genre to light. And it'll most likely bring about a good end to the season, and more likely, the series.  I'm not ready for this show to end, but as no sequel season was announced, I'm pretty sure the next episode is the last. I'm not sure what I'm going to do when it's over.
Annotated Love Story!! photo
I love this show so much
Have I told you that My Love Story!! is my favorite anime of the season? Although I jumped into these annotations majorly late, I've been glued to the screen each week just waiting on the latest release. It's the most fun I'v...

Annotated School-Live! photo
Annotated School-Live!

Annotated Anime: School-Live! episodes 4-6

Zombeh -eh -eh -eh -oh -oh -eh -yaaaa
Sep 14
// Nick Valdez
Last time I talked about School-Live! (which was a bit ago, sorry), I noted how much I loved how its cutesy art clashed with its dark world. Despite how seemingly annoyingly cute it is, it grabbed my attention and never let g...

Annotated Anime: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma episodes 17-20

Sep 09 // Nick Valdez
Episode 17 When Souma goes back home to the Yukihira Diner for Summer break, he finds out his hometown has been struggling a bit thanks to a super shopping center, Mozuya, opening close by.  After re-reuniting with his childhood friend Mayumi (who has a crush on him, of course), Souma learns a little bit more about the Mozuya shopping center. Thanks to its specialty karaage (a type of meat chunk covered in different spices and sauces) recipe and ability to cater to tons of different people by the train station, Mozuya has been stealing his hometown's business. Mozuya's manager, Kinu, realized they were scoping the competition and completely revealed the recipe to Souma since she was so confident that they'd never be able to beat out her karaage. Seeing her so cocky, Souma directly challenges Kinu and states that not only will Yukihira make better karaage, but his hometown's shopping district will take back all the business.  Souma enlists the help of Ikumi Mito since she's the meat master, and must figure out a recipe that not only grabs traveler's attention but represents his shopping district as a whole.  Episode 18 After going through several types of karaage types and delivery systems, the trio devise a way to wrap the karaage into some kind of mobile burrito. The shopping district beats Mozuya and gets all the business. That's really all there is to the episode. The "Karaage Wars" arc is short, lame, and only serves to introduce a new key player, Eizan Etsuya, the ninth seat of Totsuki's Elite Ten and his mastery of the business world. It also serves to completely introduce the Autumn Elections as Souma's told he was one of the sixty chefs selected.  As you can probably tell by how brief this is, I really don't like this arc. It felt unnecessary then, and it's unnecessary now. Makes even less sense in an anime adaptation since there's very little progress involved. Characters don't move forward, the ninth seat isn't at all interesting, and Souma's just being Souma so he succeeds with little challenge. Let's just move on.  Episode 19 The Autumn Elections finally begin! Totsuki's Elite Ten sat down and handpicked sixty students, separated into two groups of thirty, to compete in front of the culinary world's elite. All of the main characters are obviously selected along with a few new rivals: Miyoko Hojo (who forms a rivalry with Tadakoro based on the news of her Shokugeki and disappointment that she was helped by Souma), Nao Sadasutka (a creepy girl who stalks Erina), Kurokiba Ryo (Alice Nakirki's right hand), and Akira Hayama (a chef with a specialty nose who can cook just be scent alone). Only the best eight dishes will make it to the next round, and with the task of making a curry dish, Souma and Tadakoro seek out the help of someone his dad recommended, Professor Shiomi, since she's good with spices. After some hilarious introductions and posturing, Hayama pretty much becomes Souma's biggest rival to date.  I love how Food Wars! pokes fun at the genre. It constantly interrupts big posturing (and has made ridiculing Takumi Aldini's rivalry a running gag) and undercuts a lot of the show's serious tone. You never forget how ridiculous all of this is, and I'm glad the anime has embraced all of this. Sure the constant chibi reactions reek of a smaller budget, but it's still good.  Episode 20 After taking a month studying different spices and curry techniques, the Autumn Elections finally, finally start up. Students are separated into two groups of thirty and only four from each group will advance. Group A includes hopefuls like Souma, Hayama, and Kurokiba, while Group B has the Aldini brothers, Alice Nakiri, and best girl Tadakoro. Nothing much else happens since this is also pretty much filler, but we at least get introduced to the judges, the Sendawara sisters, who're huge in the curry business, and there are some spots of notable prep work that'll come into play later on (like Nao's super toxic brew and Kurokiba's personality shift). It also pushes Hayama into the spotlight again since he's labeled as the strongest contender. It's a bit of a lark considering we haven't met him until now, and all this pushing rings false but whatever. It's such a shonen trope I just can't stand it sometimes.  Finally, finally, the good stuff is picking up. Next chunk of episodes we'll find out why Souma was asleep, see some crazy dishes (and their reactions), and the tone of the entire series is about to shift to something a bit quicker in pace. Can't wait. 
Annotated Food Wars! photo
Spice of life
In the last annotated recap, I couldn't stop talking about how great the next arc, the Autumn Elections, was going to be. It's the manga's best to date, and if the anime plays its cards correctly, it's going to be the show's ...

The Ultraman photo
The Ultraman

Animator Expo's Ultraman short is chock-full of toku goodness

The courage you gave me was 110 Million!
Sep 04
// Salvador GRodiles
As Ultraman X continues to rock the airwaves with its hero that fights bad guys with his sweet-looking monster armors, the Japan Animator Expo project has united with the Giant of Light to bring us a short that'll make any Ul...

Annotated Anime: MY Love STORY!! episodes 15-18

Aug 27 // Nick Valdez
Episode 15 Although I've conceded the fact that MY won't have the kind of big emotional breaks I'd see in a more nuanced romantic story, that doesn't mean there's a lack of tension. It's kind of nice to watch something that's so low stakes, every molehill seems like a mountain. The latest stake is the introduction of a new love rival, Saijou, a classmate of Takeo's who's really bad at athletics. When she gets swept up in a relay, she asks Takeo to help train her. In classic Takeo fashion, he's super cool and supportive (and eventually wins the relay with no problems) and Saijou falls for him. All the while Yamato (thanks to input from her friends) catches on to Saijou and is constantly worrying over Takeo. But good ole' simpleminded Takeo sees Saijou as nothing more than another classmate. As Saijou calls him out after school in order to confess, she chickens out and asks Takeo to be her teacher instead.  Episode 16 Since this is as close to a conflict as I'd expect between the two of them, it has to be mined for as much as it can. Thankfully, the whole thing only lasts two episodes as a lesser anime would've stretched it out to at least three. That's sort of the show's best quality and biggest flaw. There's just nothing getting in the way of Takeo and Yamato's burgeoning relationship, so there really isn't any room for outside development. While that leads to some great decisions like having them form a relationship in the first episode, it's a greater effect of the Shoujo genre's flaw. In this episode Saijou is still trying to make advances on Takeo after she tells him she likes him just as a "person," and as pure hearted as Takeo is, he takes it literally and completely ignores her advances. Yamato is worried, but Takeo tells her not to worry because he's not popular with girls (instead of saying he really loves Yamato). When Saijou confesses again (during a particularly well crafted shot), Takeo turns her down and realizes why Yamato was so worried. After a pleasant scene, the two reconcile.  Best part of this episode? Sunakawa comforting Saijou. He always seems so cool and collected (and a great flip on a traditional Shoujo protagonist), but he's in touch with people's emotions. He seems asexual himself, but that doesn't mean he's checked out. It's pretty neat.  Episode 17 Even though I just went into this whole thing about the story not allowing for outside character developments, here comes "My Christmas." As Takeo and Yamato's friends Kurihara and Nanako confess their feelings to their respective friends, the two decide to cheer their friends on and take a back seat in this episode (even if it's their first Christmas as a couple). Since Kurihara is not used to talking with women, he ends up pushing Nanako away with constant jokes. Basically, he's trying the kindergarten tactic of picking on the girl you like in order to get attention (this doesn't work, gentlemen) and it's failing hard. After Nanako is finally fed up and Takeo gives a rousing speech, Kurihara climbs a giant Christmas tree in order to grab its top star (that's said to instantly make two people a couple, or something like that). Then the two reconcile and it's all back to normal.   I didn't quite like this episode. I may complain that the show doesn't explore others well enough, but if the other character's lives aren't engaging, I don't really care.  Episode 18 I'm a little sad it took so many episodes to get to this point, but it's finally happened. Takeo and Yamato kiss! It's also my favorite episode up to this point. It's Takeo's birthday (and also New Year's Day), so Yamato makes it her goal to make it Takeo's best yet. After hearing from Sunakawa that Takeo doesn't want to kiss until Spring (and calling back to one of the best gags of the series, Takeo stealing a kiss from Sunakawa), Yamato decides to push forward and kiss Takeo sometime on his birthday. This episode's full of romantic and well crafted scenes, and has a particularly deft hand with the lighting. It's all so well done, Madhouse just knocks it out of the park here. Story wise, not much happens other than Yamato and Takeo furthering their relationship a bit, but it's just so damn cute. It reminds me of why I fell in love with this in the first place. It's a return to the awkwardness, and I can't help but revel in it.  Truth be told, it just brings up a lot of memories for me. I'm 6'4, so I've always towered over girls I've dated and I've had to take the position above a few times. Just seeing it here warms me up inside.  I hope MY Love Story!! runs for more than 24 episodes, or announces a second season soon, because I don't want this to end yet. 
Annotated Love Story!! photo
Takeo x Yamato forever
I'm a sucker for romantic comedies. But it's been such a long time since I've been drawn to a romantic anime since they've all pretty much become the same thing. It's either an inappropriate relationship, an appropriate but b...

We need more anime based on table games, Japan!

Aug 26 // Moe Janai
Series concentrating on table games have gained enormous popularity in the past few years. There’s the aforementioned Akagi, which is about high-stakes, borderline-weird mahjong games (think cooking shows like Yakitate! Japan where characters experience exaggerated reactions after eating delicious food). There’s also the spiritual twin of Akagi, Kaiji, which is just as crazy as the former but with more insane wagers included in each episode. Besides anime, there’s also manga that centers on traditional table games and gambling like Liar Game, Gamble Fish, Life is Money, and Tobaku Haouden Rei. One thing that’s definitely missing, however, is a series that concentrates on poker, which has become the most popular mind sport in the world and is now gaining quite the reputation in Japan.Apart from the fact that many Japanese travel abroad just to be able to participate in world poker tournaments, Japan is now currently in the middle of talks about legalizing the construction of casinos in the country. An anime about poker would be timely, and would help educate locals on different kinds of table games aside from the table versions that anime has tapped into in the past. There are a lot of interesting game play elements in poker: the bluffing, the psychological warfare, the many different poker hands, playing styles, etc. This sort of storyline would be relevant today, and appeal to pop culture trends with poker still one of the most participated sports in the world. Currently there are over 60 million active players engaging in gameplay per week across the world, which shows how popular this could potentially become.Despite Japan not having an anime about poker yet, that’s not to say that a representation of casino-based games in Japan has not been done before. There used to be a manga called Poker King, but it only lasted 6 volumes, probably because it was released during a time when the card game wasn’t that popular among the Japanese.  More anime about gambling will possibly help move forward the talks on Japan's casino legislation. Just like how some of Japan’s social issues are discussed through prose, poems, and live-action drama, anime creators can take a jab at the casino legislation issue and help officials decide by discussing important aspects of the industry. It could be a feature on the life of employees working in a casino, how a gaming establishment helps drive tourism, or how big poker tournaments bring partnerships to multinational companies. The possibilities of featuring the different angles of the casino business through anime are endless. In addition, gambling-related anime can also help people understand that casinos aren’t just about wagering money. Just like any other business, it also answers its social call by conducting charitable acts and fundraisers. There are plenty of news articles now that show casinos under a positive light, and anime programs that highlight such articles will help inform the public on what casinos can do to the community and the country as a whole. The table is set for more card games to be turned into anime. Three years ago, Naoya Kihara became the first Japanese player to win a World Series of Poker bracelet at the sport’s most prestigious event, instantly garnering him celebrity status in his own right. His success also piqued the curiosity of the locals. Add the fact that Japan is now seriously thinking about legalizing casinos in the country, there’s no better time to release new anime titles based on actual card games.   [Images courtesy of Twilightpirate94, hecate93, and Hika-ritsu)  
Table Game Anime photo
Because anime must have no limits!
Japan's anime artists have a knack for turning ordinary, everyday things into a hit. You see, cartoons in the U.S. are all about superheroes trying to save the world. But in Japan? There are so many creative genres that en...

First Impressions: School-Live!

Aug 11 // Nick Valdez
School-Live! follows the School Life Club, four girls who are living within school grounds named Yuki, Yuri, Kurumi, and Miki. The show opens with Yuki, a bright and optimistic young girl who's the typical anime protagonist. She's a bit airheaded, lazy, but genuinely enjoys school. But there's also something very special about Yuki, and that's what sets the show in motion. You see, the girls are victims of a zombie apocalypse. After an outbreak, the girls were forced to live in the school in order to survive. Within the first couple of episodes, we don't know the extent of the outbreak other than its damaged the entire school and the four girls (and their teacher, which Yuki refers to as "Megu-nee") are the only survivors. The awesome thing is that you wouldn't know all of this from the outset.  As the first episode follows Yuki, everything seems fine. There are other students, the school is pristine, and like as mentioned before, everything about Yuki screams "typical." But that image shatters fast when you realize Yuki's just living in a huge daydream. When the apocalypse is revealed halfway through the first episode (so I'm not spoiling it for you), it's actually shocking. This show's pretty good about hiding things. Although some of the hints are heavy handed (like how Miki refuses to acknowledge anyone other than Yuki during the classroom scenes), there's an attempt to save most of it for an emotionally charged finale. Seeing the delusional Yuki talking to herself in a bloodstained classroom makes for a terrifyingly gripping image. The series also adds a bit of darkness into its opening CV from episode two on. You'll have to see it just to absorb how truly jarring it is.  Like the better zombie media out there, Live! is more about the survivors dealing with a changing world rather than the zombies. It's just in place of adults, it's little anime girls. I thought the art would push me away at first (since I'm still not used to the sexualization of young girls in these shows), but the use of bright color awesomely clashes with the gritty material. It's entirely unique to the series, and I don't think I can find that aesthetic anywhere else. That's most likely why Yuki's world looked so inviting at first. There's a sense of displacement seeing these girls interact with the zombies. For the first time in a while, the zombies feel more disturbing than not because they clash so much with the character design. Seeing the cutesy frames of these characters twisted in a dark fashion is an accost to the viewer. Live! is just full of great little design choices like that.  As for the story itself, the setting is at least groundbreaking if nothing else. I'll give a lot of credit for skewing the age of these survivors (it's been a long time since I've seen zombie media focus on a child's perspective), but it runs the risk of growing stale. Yuki's delusional state is definitely the anchor of series, and the first three episodes explore this, but I want to learn more about why she ended up that way. I'm waiting for the inevitable fallout where Yuki's forced to accept that zombies are real, and that'll either be thanks to an attack or someone close to her finally breaking the news to her. I'm also curious as to how far her delusions extend. Is Megu-nee real? Does no one listen to her as a joke or is she made up in Yuki's mind as well?  I guess the overall darkness of the show took me by surprise. Although I knew it was going to be a heavier type of show going in, seeing it in action is something else all together. I got to hand it the production team, Sentai Filmworks, on this. Since this is adapted from a manga I'm sure the story's pretty much the same, but I've been taken aback by the visual choices here. It's changing opening CV, the girl's designs, the zombies highlighted by shading rather than blood, it's all so wonderful to take in.  School-Live! looks so good, it's got me interested in the story. That's never happened to me before. This is all new territory for me. 
School-Live Impressions photo
Life with the afterlife
Zombies are played out at this point. Numerous movies, television shows, comics, manga, and anime have been churned out each tackling the genre but failing to do anything interesting for a long time. Each piece of zombie medi...

Annotated Anime: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma episodes 13-16

Aug 03 // Nick Valdez
Episode 13 For the final day of Totsuki's survival camp, students are challenged to serve some kind of egg dish to 200 people within 2 hours at an all you can eat buffet. The major push of this episode goes toward introducing two new rivals, Alice Nakiri and her henchman Ryo Kurokiba. Since Alice is related to Erina, they have quite a fierce family rivalry (which leads to some funny introductions between the two and Souma), but Souma pays them no mind and ends up developing an egg souffle. But Erina quickly looks down the idea and notes Souma is making a huge mistake, When Souma gets placed next to Erina in the serving area, he's quickly dominated by Erina's eggs benedict dish covered in dry fish egg powder. The other students seem to be faring well, but Alice's egg dishes are completely ignored since they look like plain eggs served different ways. But Souma's dish is also struggling. No one seems to be choosing his souffle and they're collapsing fast.  Episode 14 Finally realizing what Erina was talking about the episode prior, Souma stumbles when he sees his egg souffles crumbling and ignored (since buffet goers usually don't eat every food when they're prepared, a souffle was a bad idea since they don't hold form for long). After taking a brief pause, Souma decides to draw in 190 customers within the final 30 minutes of the task. Jumping into this impossible task, Souma decides to live cook each of the dishes in order to draw attention. This episode had the slickest cooking animation I'd seen yet. To reflect his massive task, and how fast he was going, Souma was accent with speed lines, quick edits, and it was the right kind of flashy. This show has trouble at times since it wants everything to look slick (since cooking isn't exactly full of action), but thanks to this sequence we get all the action we need. Souma was able to complete his servings barely before the buzzer sounds. As we check in with the rest of the students, we learn Erina served something like 400 dishes, Alice (whose egg dish actually was meticulously calculated through science cooking) served 300, and everyone else managed to make it through the task. After some celebration of the final task of camp, about 2/3 of the students who first attended camp made it through the week. Souma then realizes he's glad he came to Totsuki Academy in the first place.  Episode 15 With the Totsuki survival camp over, it's time to head into the next arc, The Autumn Elections. After Souma and Erina miss the bus home, they have a chat about the Autumn Elections which will serve to get their name known to restaurant owners and chefs. That's also why the survival camp exists as sort of a preliminary exam for the Elections. But as the gang returns to the Polar Star dorm, an unexpected guest shows up, Souma's dad Joichiro. Souma then learns some interesting things about his dad: he travels worldwide and cooks, he was a former Elite Ten member at Totsuki (the ten best cooks in the school), and he and Dojima were once members of the Polar Star dorm and their Shokugekis helped expand the dorm to what it is today. At the end of the episode, Joichiro challenges Souma to a Shokugeki in order to see how much Souma has/hasn't grown.  And with a new direction for the series, we also get a new opening sequence. Highlighting some folks we haven't met yet, and playing around with how wacky its visuals get, this opening is fun and intense at the same time. But I think I prefer the first opening's song. Also, maybe because the show's spent a huge chunk of its budget, there were plenty of shortcuts here. The animation surely taken a hit, but that's okay given that it's not necessary until we get to bigger scenes.  Episode 16 As Souma and his dad enter a new super early morning Shokugeki, they get the household caretaker Fumio, the nudist Isshiki, and a poor sleepy Tadakoro to be the judges. To reflect how early it was, Fumio decides the challenge will be a breakfast dish that invigorates the three for the day ahead. Souma creates an apple risotto, an interesting choice given that apples would be hard to cook within a risotto. But thanks to some apple juice, the risotto is filled with the right kind of flavor and ultimately leads to the image above. But Joichiro unleashes his worldly strength and produces an all vegetable ramen (one he perfected working with a vegan monk), and resoundingly wins the challenge. Which makes that 0/490 for Souma, and it also explains why Souma's never nervous for anything since he's been trying to overcome his dad's strength all these years.  Remember when I mentioned how action lines can be used weirdly two episodes above, that happens a ton here. Have fast moving backgrounds clash with the static characters in an attempt to make them feel like they're being adequately animated is a cheap ploy. And it's certainly a lack of budget seeping through. I hope it's being saved for the Elections themselves. If it's anything like it is in the manga, it's gonna be sooooooooooo good.  I'll try to keep these closer together once the Elections start, so hope you'll keep reading! 
Annotated Food Wars! photo
Shokugeki no Soma is quickly turning into the highlight of my week. The only problem with covering a Shonen-type series like this is that each episode isn't very substantial on its own, but the overall package is compelling e...

Annotated Anime: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma episodes 9-12

Jul 06 // Nick Valdez
Episode 9 Since the Aldini Bros did so well in the test (and used duck as their main ingredient rather than fish like the rest of the students), this motivated Souma to try something completely off the wall. Exploiting the rule that they could use any ingredient in the area, Souma decides to use Chef Inui's bag of chips. After some ingredient rummaging, Souma and Tadakoro (the best) make up some fish using the chips as breading. But as Chef Inui proves to be slightly absent minded, the two never find out whose dish was better. After some levity, we find out everyone from the Polar Star Dorm made it through the first day but then a harsher challenge appeared. Each student was tasked with serving fifty bodybuilders within an hour or they'd be instantly expelled. Souma naturally finishes the task quickly (thanks to all the experience of serving in his family restaurant), and ends up colliding with Nakiri as they both were humming along with the anime's ending theme. I love when shows break the fourth wall like that. It was a good sequence all around.  Episode 10 The first half of the episode dealt with fallout from the first day's challenges. The entire Polar Star dorm survived the evening test, and everyone is trying to rest a bit. Tadakoro's (the best) not confident in herself, so she's always afraid she'll mess up the dishes. We also learned a bit more about God Tongue Nakiri from Chef Doujima (who Souma meets in the bath), as we learn her skill is setting her out to be the top of the school. The second half kicks off Day 2 with Chef Shinomiya, the harshest of the Totsuki alumni judges for the camp. He's already expelled 30 students, and even expelled a student for using a scented shampoo on the first day. He's assigned them a recipe they have to duplicate, a highly technical French dish called the Terrine of Nine Vegetables (with nine veggies stacked on top of each other in a little cube with the same kind of texture).  He also forces them to work alone (and think of each other as "enemies") which hurts Tadakoro even further since she's relied a bit of Souma to this point. So she's left with some cauliflower that's begun to oxidize and fixes it with wine vinegar. But because she's changed the recipe (even if it tasted great), Chef Shinomiya fails her. When Souma calls him out on the poor ingredients, Shinomiya admits that he purposefully added spoiled ones to limits the students that'd pass. Then Souma challenges Shinomiya to Shokugeki and it gets mad intense! Ugh, Tadakoro is so cute though.  Episode 11 Although Tadakoro will always be my number one, Chef Inui is strongly vying for that top spot. Essentially a more evolved Tadakoro, she adorably argues Shinomiya's decision. As Chef Doujima hears of the Shokugeki, he forces Shinomiya to accept and now Souma and Tadakoro have to cook for their lives in an unofficial cook off to keep Tadakoro in school. As per Doujima, the Shougeki is set at two hours using leftover ingredients from Day 2's challenges with the Totsuki alumni deciding the victor. And more importantly, Tadakoro is made head chef who will decide the recipe. After some panic, Souma was able to calm her down and Tadakoro decided on a recipe. Thanks to some much needed levity (as the other alumni pick on Shinomiya) we learn a bit more about him too. After graduation he went to France and opened several restaurants and earned the moniker "The Magician of Legumes" because of his good use of vegetables.  Shinomiya serves his dish first, and it's a basic cabbage roll with high end ingredients. It's so good it leads to this week's header image. The last few episodes have been tense, and this one follows suit, but there's a good balance of comedy here. I laughed much more thn I have in the past. It's this kind of episode that brings me back week to week (and keeps me writing these chunks of summaries, haha).  Episode 12 Tadakoro serves her dish, a rainbow terrine (in order to show off her terrine recipe) with seven different combinations of vegetables and flavors. The alumni all like her dish so much, they alike her to a household yokai that delivers vegetables (since Shinomiya is the "Magician of Legumes") but unfortunately vote in Shinomiya's favor. But Doujima convinced Shinomiya to try Tadakoro's dish in order to understand why they favor her so much. Because her cooking comes with heart, which is something Shinomiya lacked and caused him to stagnate in his growth. So basically, the Shokugeki was all crafted by Doujima in order to give Tadakoro some confidence and to show Shinomiya that he can't continue coldly ignoring others if he wants his cooking to improve. It was a nice, light hearted ending to the arc.  Although Souma really didn't appreciate the loss. He hasn't lost anything to this point and it got to him. But seeing as how Tadakoro was happy, he'll let it slide.  That's it for this chunk! Next heap of episodes continues the camp and the start of Day 3. You know how we always have a few screencaps of each episode for you? Funny thing was that since I like Tadakoro so much, and that these episodes had a heavy focus on her, these were almost all Tadakoro faces. She's so adorable and the team always gives her good reactions. As for the little things, I don't notice them as much anymore. Now that the show has settled into a nice arc, everything seems more focused. The background noise isn't as wily, the characters are more developed, and there's far less intrusive fan service bits. Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma has definitely come into its own. 
Food Wars 9-13 photo
Tadakoro now, Tadakoro forever
Last time we left off, Souma and the other chefs were taking part in an annual Totsuki Academy camp where they have to pass a few tests. We're currently in the middle of the first test as Chef Inui wants pairs of chefs to coo...

Yakuza play photo
Yakuza play

Yakuza stage play heads to video

Hard looks included
Jun 24
// Hiroko Yamamura
Stage plays and live musicals aren't really my thing. However, seeing the footage of the Yakuza theatre run makes me think I might have been missing out on some serious fun. The show isn't running at this time, but they've c...
Attack on Titan photo
Convinced yet?
I'm still not ready to say wether I'm excited for the live action adaptation of Hajime Isayama's ridiculously popular Attack on Titan series yet. The film has a lot going for it, a decent budget and good actors should help m...

Annotated Anime: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma episodes 6-8

Jun 02 // Nick Valdez
Episode 6 In this episode, we learn a little more about Totsuki Academy's numerous cooking clubs and how the "God Tongue" Erina uses her status as one of the ten best students in the school to get what she wants. Because it needs to set up the next bunch of episodes, this one is mostly exposition and ultimately feels lacking. Souma stumbles on the Don Research Society, which focuses on a rice dish with various meats on top, and discovers that it's the next club Erina wants to take down. Erina sends Mito Ikumi, who's nicknamed "Nikumi" and whose specialty is meat dishes (and layered with all sorts of jokes). I'm not a particular fan of her design although you could argue that it also goes with the overall parodical nature of the show as her design hearkens back to a late 80s bikini under a shirt vibe. Souma challenges Mito to a Shokugeki duel where he'll get expelled if he loses, and Mito will join the Don RS if he wins. The rest of the episode is a nice change of pace at the Polar Star dorm's garden, and lets Tadaroko shine a bit.  All of the technical problems I noted in my initial First Impressions post are still here, but they're not as abrasive as they were before. I'm sure it's because of a lack of major activity.  Episode 7 Okay, so this is the show I've been waiting for. Gone is most of the fluff, and it's all boiled down to hardcore cooking action. As Souma and Mito finally start the Shokugeki, Mito reveals her prize possession, a chunk of Grade A5 meat (very expensive). Souma counters with some cheaper grocery store meat. Through the episode the commentary from the crowd helps to elevate the admitted lack of action. But it's basically told in the same format you'd find in reality shows like Iron Chef where the chefs aren't really moving all that much but the commentary from the judges helps to elevate the visuals. Since this is a Don battle, Mito presents a Don using her super wagyu beef and her entire focus was on making the meat great. But Souma presents an all around better Don (with his focus pointed more toward the rice and making sure the dish has a sense of unity), and ultimately wins the duel thanks to his secret plum additive.  After their Shokugeki, Mito seems to have developed a crush on Souma. And Souma is offered the Don RS's head position, but hilariously turns it down. When summarized, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of plot to the episode but that's what is so great about it overall. The theatrics of the series finally make sense and the Shokugekis are far more palatable than they are in the manga. I hope this continues to be the trend going forward.  Episode 8 With his first official Shokugeki under his belt, Souma and his reinforced confidence are subjected to Totsuki's outdoor training camp. Each year that Totsuki does the camp, the first year class is cut in half thanks to a hefty amount of grueling challenges that can get you expelled. After introducing some Totsuki alumni who'll judge the challenges (including Chef Shinomiya, who sent a student home based on his smelly hair product). The first challenge puts Tadaroko and Souma in a pair as Chef Inui (who amazingly stated she wanted to eat the oh so cute Tadaroko) tasks them with cooking a Japanese cuisine dish made from ingredients the cooks can sparse from the area around them. Basically, it's a task based on the mentality that no challenge should stump a chef as long as he keeps a level head. The challenge also introduces a new rival with the Aldini brothers, a pair of twins who look nothing alike and can cook some fine Italian cuisine.  The rest of the episode is dedicated to seeing the brothers craft their duck dish. A dish that incorporates traditional Japanese ingredients into Italian recipes like salsa verde. That's where this anime's shonen qualities kick in with exaggerated knife work and accented backgrounds that really make the cooking pop. I kind of wish these were seen more during the last episode, but since we're supposed to believe that the brothers put their dish together with a quick pace it's understandable.  It'll be interesting to see how Souma's flair for the dramatic is sparked by this display, and if the show continues to follow the manga as closely as it has, the next episode is going to be hilarious. I'm not sure if I'm a fan of the show's pace (as a lot of the show's plot is hindered by a bit of filler each episode) since it feels like we could've had the entire first challenge within a single episode. But maybe that would've been too much. What do you think? 
Annotated Food Wars! photo
Is Souma don for?
With the first five episodes, Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma had to establish its wacky as all get out world. Goofy sexualization, heightened environment, and basically had to make sure you could accept this culinary world seri...

Memoirs of Amorous Gents  photo
Memoirs of Amorous Gents

Animator Expo's 23rd short adapts another Moyoco Anno manga

Gentlemen can be perverts too
May 23
// Salvador GRodiles
We're getting close to the Japan Animator Expo project's final stretch, and the latest piece ends up being another adaptation (slightly NSFW) of a manga by Moyoco Anno. Just like the previous piece that adapted her work, "Mem...

First Impressions: Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma

May 18 // Nick Valdez
Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma is a simple premise heightened by its presentation (like how Duck a l'Orange sounds better than it actually is thanks to its name). Yukihira Souma runs a diner with his father, and his dream is to one day surpass his father’s cooking prowess. When his father takes a job in America and closes the diner, Souma is shipped to Totsuki Culinary Academy, an elite cooking school where only 10% of students who enroll graduate. But those who do graduate become top figures in the cooking world. There he comes across a bevy of characters like the “God Tongue” Erina, the “Meat Master” Ikumi, and the oh so cute Tadaroko. There’s quite a bit of hefty production thrown behind what’s essentially a cooking show. I don’t really know what to think of it. At times it feels satirical since the fan service is so explicitly comedic (but ultimately superfluous), and a lot of the animation budget goes into making the cooking scenes flow with more vigor (thus resembling Shonen Jump’s more “action” filled anime), but it's meant to be taken at face value. The presentation almost hampers the subject material. It’s like the anime isn’t taking itself seriously. And while that does make for a good watch week to week, it’s hard to discern whether or not the studio is a good chef when they keep adding differing flavors each time. For example, a lot of the background music doesn't fit. When Souma cooks for Erina to get into Totsuki in the second episode, the music seems to be pushing the action faster than it actually is. Then you have moments of denouement after the action as the recipes are explained that are ruined by that music as well. It’s a weird quirk that I hope gets fixed in the episodes to come. But everything else is great! Character designs flow well, the fan service is just too ridiculous to be off putting (though you'll want to turn your volume down when girls eat and that gets super annoying), and there's a decent of amount of humor that lands. When Food Wars! isn't going for a cheap gag, it's spot on. At the very least, there are a number of actual cooking tips. Some of the recipes featured on the show are quite attainable and are developed enough to recreate. That's a nice touch since this definitely could've been a food anime that didn't care whether or not it served up actual food.  For as much there is to like about Food Wars, there are as many compelling reasons to avoid it. It’s a show that deals in extremes, and the constant overreaching will most likely hurt it in the long run. It’s possible that I gel with the cheesy premise now, but, as with any overly comedic show, the premise will tire out if it’s at a constant state of heightened reality. It’s one of those “style over substance” things. It’s like sitting in an all-you-can-eat buffet and being sickened by the taste of food after a few hours. Regardless of how much you think you can handle, you bust when you’re overfed. If Food Wars constantly keeps up this stylized world rather than have confidence that its show could exist without all the hubbub going on the background, it won’t keep my attention for long. But I’ve been hooked for time being. When it hits, it hits hard. And of course, Tadaroko is the best. 
Food Wars Impressions photo
Marry me, Tadakoro
I’ve had a lot of trouble catching on to anime over the years, but every so often there’s a show that sounds so incredibly insane that I can’t help but watch it. That’s how I got reeled into a shows li...

God Eater photo
God Eater

Your first look at Ufotable's God Eater anime

Chow Down
May 06
// Josh Tolentino
I've mentioned this before, but of the many games that tried to steal Monster Hunter's fire, I liked God Eater the most. While mechanically it was often just "diet" Monster Hunter, its approach to storytelling and anime...
One Punch Man photo
One Punch Man

Studio MADHOUSE winds up for One Punch Man anime

Fingers crossed!
Mar 21
// Josh Tolentino
[Update: Check out a hot cam promo for the show below, straight from the AnimeJapan 2015 show floor!] I must say that as hyped-up as I am about the prospect of a hot new anime adaptation of One Punch Man, the skeptic in ...
One Punch Man photo
One Punch Man

It's happening: One Punch Man anime officially announced

Took 'em long enough
Mar 19
// Josh Tolentino
Given the climate of anime production these days, one could see it as inevitable, but as a fan of the One Punch Man manga, it's pretty exciting to hear that the show will finally be getting a TV anime adaptation.  U...
Ghost in the Shell photo
Ghost in the Shell

Fans don't want to see Scarlett Johansson as Kusanagi

Speak your mind
Feb 18
// Hiroko Yamamura
The internet erupted as you might expect when DreamWorks Pictures announced that the role of Major Motoko Kusanagi had gone to Caucasian actress, Scarlett Johansson in the upcoming Ghost in the Shell adaptation. It looks like...
Ghost in the Shell photo
Ghost in the Shell

Hello, Major: Scarlett Johansson is the star of Ghost in the Shell

Black Widow gets a Cyberbrain
Jan 06
// Josh Tolentino
At times it seems like Dreamworks' planned live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell has been in development hell for so long that we were contemplating writing a script that automatically tagged any story about it wi...
Prophecy photo

Prophecy unveils a creepy new live-action trailer

Dec 22
// Hiroko Yamamura
The uber popular manga Prophecy, written by Testuya Tsutsui is getting an adaptation on the big screen in Japan. The tale of unfulfilled justice and judgment makes its debut in theaters on June 6th, adding to the already solid summer movie line-up. I hope the film can give the slow burning crime thriller a bit of justice, as the shots look pretty good so far!
DBZ fan video photo
DBZ fan video

Dragon Ball Z fan video blows Hollywood release out of the water in 2 minutes

What a little love can do
Oct 29
// Hiroko Yamamura
When you have some love for a project, it really shows. Throw in some decent acting, a knack for special effects, and some martial arts skills --you are onto something special. Dragon Ball Z fan group, Robot Underground is m...
Guardians of the Galaxy photo
Guardians of the Galaxy

The Guardians of the Galaxy are set to make their anime appearance

We are Groot!
Sep 10
// Hiroko Yamamura
I'm quite sure there's no way that you haven't seen this year's best movie, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy yet. However, if for some reason you've been on a 2D diet, drop what you're doing and take in one of the most enjoy...
Lupin III photo
Lupin III

The new Lupin live-action trailer is here!

I'm not sure how I feel about this yet
Jun 26
// Hiroko Yamamura
The live adaption of the classic anime thief Lupin III, is set to hit theaters in Japan on August 30th, but you don't have to wait that long to get a glimpse. There's a new trailer making its rounds, and this time the video ...

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