Spring 2015, part I

There’s no time for calculated choices, it’s premiere season! I’m hitting that “simulcast” tab and picking whatever’s just getting started. No previous knowledge, no expectations—just a summary and an episode.


souma

Food Wars: Shokugeki no Sōma

Shokugeki no Soma centers on Yukihira Soma, a middle school student who is determined to surpass his father’s culinary skills. One day, his father decides to close down their family restaurant and hone his skills in Europe. Before leaving he enrolls Soma in an elite culinary school that is extremely difficult to enter with a graduation rate of only 10 percent. Will Souma [sic] be able to improve his skills, or will the kitchen prove to be too hot?

It’s a sports anime, and the sport is cooking. Sōma and his dad run a restaurant and have food battles, continually competing with each other to make both the best dish and the worst. (I’m told culinary students really are this way. “Ooh, here, isn’t this gross?” Yes, people are starving and you’ve rendered something inedible. Bravo.) But why is this girl coming in her chair? And then she gets violated by a squid covered in peanut butter. There is tentacle sex. Metaphorically. But it’s happening to your eyes literally.

rape

Which, I know that’s been a thing at least since Hokusai, but jesus christ. Wasn’t this supposed to be about cooking? It’s not just a single gag either. It’s suggestive (and explicit) throughout the entire episode, even when food isn’t involved.

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Just admit that it’s primarily ecchi, and fine, it might be tolerable. But masquerading as an anime about a culinary high school when it’s really an excuse to animate orgasms . . . no. No. The food looks great, the production values are pretty high, the voice acting is good, and I actively like Sōma and his dad as characters.

souma and dad

And it’s genuinely interesting when Sōma describes how he made one of his dishes. Which is a real shame. I’d like to follow his story but I absolutely do not want to suffer through more ridiculous fanservice for it. No, no no. Also DAD PUT ON A FUCKING HAIR NET THIS IS A BUSINESS. I HATE THIS. FUCK. [2]


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Sound! Euphonium

Spring in the first year of high school. Kumiko, a member of the brass band in junior high school, visits the high school brass band club with classmates Hazuki and Sapphire. There, she comes across Reina, her former classmate from junior high. Hazuki and Sapphire decide to join the club, but Kumiko can’t make up her mind. She recollects her experience with Reina at a competition in junior high school.

It’s going to be really hard to limit myself on the screenshots here. The scenery is gorgeous, the soundtrack is subdued, characters are natural and adorable—and it is all allowed to sprawl and breathe in a plot set at andante. It’s full of little things; Kumiko spends a moment worrying over her hair in the mirror, talks to the tiny cactus in her room, scoops at a handful of sakura petals.

fuu

As with another series I found enchantingly pretty, there are lots of head-on shots and profiles, many of them lingering in close-ups. Depth staging, blurring, and occasional vignetting gives it a dreamy quality, taking on a surreal tilt-shift feeling at times. There are frequent metonymic shots of shoes and ankles, which is both intimate and demure.

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Characterization is subtle; Kumiko notes that she chose her high school because of its sailor uniforms, and Hazuki takes it upon herself to refer to new acquaintances by their first names (a stage of closeness that, in Japanese culture, generally takes a great deal of time to achieve). And there is a lot of emotional tension, but it is quiet, shown and not told.

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It is all in service of the magnetism of music. Kumiko is entranced at just the prospect of music without even hearing it; she is both anxious and captivated as the school band stands on the steps outside, taking their prepatory breaths, conductor’s hands at the ready. And her memories perfectly capture that fleeting feeling of oneness that comes with performing on stage, dissolving into the group and the heat of the lights, the power of sound, the rush when it’s over and you stand up again.

performance

While the story is certainly familiar—first year of high school, reconciling old relationships, growing up, etc etc—this one is a beauty and more than worth a try. [5]


noodle

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?

Based off of a light novel of the same name written by Fujino Omori and illustrated by Suzuhito Yasuda, Is It Wrong to Try and Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? is set in the world of Orario, where adventurers band together and look for treasures in an underground labyrinth known as Dungeon. However, for Bell Cranel, fame and riches are secondary to what he wants to find the most: girls. He soon finds out though, that anything can happen in Dungeon, and winds up being the damsel in distress instead!

This is all new to me. I rarely watch shoujo/romance and have never seen a harem comedy (at least, not the kind with only one dude). That said . . . I don’t hate it. In fact I was chuckling through most of it. The fanservice isn’t 100% disgusting, maybe because it owns up to it straightaway, as theorized above with Food Wars. But it’s also a lot less jiggly and there have been no orgasms, implied or otherwise, so. . . .

Actually, honestly, zero complaints about this image.

Actually, honestly, zero complaints about this image.

Given the description, I expected it to be gross. But in reality it brings to mind Rat Queens, with confident and upright women who can fight just as well (or better) than the men around them. Even in revealing clothes. (They even manage to wear a little armor.)

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And the main character is a totally dopey dude with almost no fighting experience, which is refreshing in a game anime. (They just keep getting weaker and weaker, don’t they?) Bell is very cute and charming and is really only after one girl, who saved his bacon when he took on monsters at too high a level for him—such that he completely does not register ignores does not register the advances of the most scantily-clad girl. Who he lives with. Hestia runs a “familia” (like a faction I guess?) which at the moment consists of only Bell, and he addresses her as kami-sama (translated as “goddess”). She also manages his upgrades/skills by making him shirtless and sitting on his back as he lies in bed.

I know, but, whatever.

I know, but, whatever.

It also reminds me of Log Horizon in tone (which lol ikr how long do you think I can go without finishing that one?) for having a more aware sense of humor/not having a stick up its own ass. And the art is clean—they clearly take their time with it, showing off impressive character detail even in wider shots.

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To top it off, Matsuoka Yoshitsugu (who is getting all the roles, I see) is delightful as the wary and occasionally panicky Bell. This one turned out to be more than advertised, so it surprised me immensely. [4]


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Etotama

Since ancient times, Japan has upheld the tradition of the 12 Zodiac signs. Eto-musumes (Zodiac girls), who have the appearance and behavior of the animals of the Zodiac, are pure hearted messengers who act as a bridge between humans and the gods. Every 60 years, the “ETM 12” tournament takes place in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, where aspiring girls from all over Japan gather for the chance to become the next zodiac sign.

The thing this blurb is missing is any mention of the deuteragonists: Nyaa-tan, the spurned cat spirit who was edged out of the Zodiac, and Takeru, who moves into the house containing a portal to the realm of kami and thereby catalyzing the whole damn series.

Did we not think that the rental plastered with shintō seals would lead to some kind of mischief?

Did we not think that the disgustingly affordable rental plastered with shintō seals would induce some kind of mischief?

Takeru is pretty accepting of the fact that his new place comes with a raunchy middle-schooler-sized cat-eared sprite . . . thing. She is not a middle-schooler (she demands beer, but he’s underage so there is none to be had) but a “divine messenger”, who runs on Sol/Lull (mana?) which is obtained from humans exhibiting “proper emotions” (?). Takeru’s “proper emotions” form gold bubbles with a cat inside.

So really she just needs his body for the "stuff" he "sparkles out".

So really she just needs his body for the “stuff” he “sparkles out”.

Okay, okay, I’m not being fair, it’s not as sexual as I make it sound. (It’s just—this day, man.) But really . . . Nyaa-tan purposely flubs the details of her situation to earn some pity from Takeru, making it easier to get the sparkly stuff when she needs to engage in battle, so she super does flat-out use him. Anyway this triggers a psychedelic magical girl-style transformation, turning her into a chibified (and CG-animated?) “even purer maiden [form]” which does battle inside a floating TV.

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AND changes her hair color? I can only suspend so much disbelief.

Besides the easygoing Takeru, the other high point is that they waste little time in knocking out the fourth wall. Nyaa-tan makes hints about trying on different character archetypes, but the lack of fourth wall doesn’t really become noticeable until Takeru himself participates.

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Nyaa-tan is only moderately annoying, and Takeru’s constant looks of mild disinterest and bland confusion even things out. But altogether neither the well-worn story nor the characters are anything to write home about. [2]


So, hey, this was really fun, and I’m pleased that they came out all over the board as far as scores. And it only took me about a day of work! I knew they were tiring, but the full-on episode reviews feel really work-intensive in comparison to these mini-reviews. I’ll try to do as many as possible before I get sick of harems.

I wonder if I would have felt differently about Food Wars and Dungeon if I had seen them in the reverse order. Like, maybe Dungeon would have been more shocking if it came first, while simultaneously serving as a primer for Food Wars and inviting a closer look at that series’ other merits. Unlikely (Food Wars is, like, really gross), but an interesting thought experiment.

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