The summer anime season is almost over, and I’ve slowly started wrapping up my very long list of shows. I’m experimenting here with with final impressions in installments–instead of my usual massive post of all the shows, I’ll be breaking them down into a few hopefully more manageable reads. Please let me know what you think of this format. I’m also dropping the “Special Ingredient” separation of each review, which can easily be incorporated into one of the main paragraphs. In its place is a 0-3 dango rating system; think of it in the spirit of Michelin star ratings. Just because I give a show 0 dango doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. On the contrary, my having completed the show proves I found it worthwhile to a certain extent.
Part 2 coming soon!
- Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri
- Shimoneta to Iu Gainen ga Sonzai Shinai Taikutsu na Sekai
- Akagami no Shirayuki-hime
- Shokugeki no Souma
- Baby Steps 2nd Season
After twelve all-too-short episodes, Wakako-zake drew to a close with nary a whimper, or even the slightest hint of a closing atmosphere. The final episodes played out exactly like the beginning ones, and it took a double look at the schedule for me to realize that I had just watched the final week without even realizing it. But I honestly can’t fault the series for this decision. Wakako’s extremely laid back reaction to life followed through in her eating and drinking habits, as well as the overall tone of the show. Very little seemed to throw her off her game once food and alcohol were in view and mouth.
I discussed this series in my previous post, but I’ll reiterate again the formatting of the anime. Each episode featured a new dish, almost always a side menu item, paired with a beverage, usually alcoholic in nature. Wakako’s reactions to her meals were similar–usually a mixture of delight, surprise, and even haughtiness. She prides herself on her choices. Sometimes she chooses her item after glancing at diner’s around her; other times, she goes in with a craving in mind. There are rare moments where the food or another customer remind her of just how much she still has to learn about her tastes.
My favorite episode was incidentally the same one that inspired my discussion about after work stops: episode 3, “Monkfish Live in Ponzu.” After a stressful day in the office, nothing sounds better to her than some sake and bar food. This hits home especially for me lately given my own feelings about my current lack of motivation at work. I highly recommend this series to those of you who enjoy the culinary world and just need something a little short and relaxed to pass a few minutes of your evening. Rating: 1 dango*
Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri
With the promise of a sequel to come in 2016, Gate marched on to its last episode with no hesitation. The anime even dared to throw in new characters and directions in the very last episode. A good part of me wonders if this is a good decision given the long break between the first and second season–should I just consider this a very long held breath that will justifiably continue as if no time has passed? I still can’t help but feel baited into a first season lacking any kind of end structure. I’m also reminded horribly of Kekkai Sensen–a fantastic show from the previous season whose last episode never aired and just left its audience hanging with a distinct feeling of discomfort. While I know that we will eventually get that final episode, my disappointment and feeling of loss won’t be forgotten. Was it really necessary to open a new door so close to the end of Gate?
Ending aside, I did greatly enjoy the vast majority of Gate–the worlds, the characters, and the dialogue. So much of the world beyond the gate is a stroking of fantastical imaginations, but that doesn’t change how much I wish I could be there and see it for myself. Rory Mercury, for example, is hands down my favorite cast member of the group. Her age-defying youth, strength, and vigor pair brilliantly with her sharp wit. She does not take no as an answer without a solid reason, and is able to glorify in death while also respecting the sanctity of life.
Then there’s Itami, our main character and the contested leader of the “men in green.” While he isn’t much to look at for others, I actually found him quite likable from the beginning. He reminds me of many friends who go batty over their hobbies, and “suffer” in their excellence at work–it’s just another way to rack up money for said hobbies. In a way, he reminds me a bit of myself. I honestly cannot stand my office work, and would without a doubt prefer to spend my days traveling, eating and cooking, watching shows, reading books, and attempting to write. But when in my desk, I am focused and efficient. Itami is incredibly good at what he does and is able to see the bigger picture of every campaign. I loved how his otaku passions misguided people from his own world into underestimating him, while new acquaintances in the Empire often quickly looked up to him. Rating: 1 dango
Shimoneta to Iu Gainen ga Sonzai Shinai Taikutsu na Sekai
Shimoneta brought with its first episode an exhilarating rush of something new and strange. The idea of a futuristic world severely censored for its public isn’t groundbreaking, but the extremes presented here regarding sexual content doesn’t feel like anything else I’ve ever seen or read. The rebellion against the authority is just as comically extreme as the censorship itself, with villains running around covered only in panties, our heroes scantily clad in fetish lingerie spewing lewd jokes, and a student council president dripping vaginal juices over the mere thought of our main character.
But the series ran on a very thin wire on the verge of snapping over its own weight. There was this constant feeling of a massive, overdone prank way past its laughing point. Much like Okuma, I started to become tired of the inevitable innuendos and attempts at shocking the viewer. Perhaps these jokes are more effective in the long run on someone who hasn’t had sex. I quickly found myself hardly blinking at at Kajou’s stream of dialogue. I became uncomfortable at how one-note Shimoneta made Anna after her introduction to her carnal desires. She turned into a slave to her own satisfaction, and never made it past that point by the end of the series.
Talking about the end, much like Wakako, Shimoneta marched straight to the end without much heed for the episode count. The last arc really ended at episode 11, with the final week feeling more like a special that should’ve been somewhere in the middle of the season instead of tacked on at the end. I actually found it more entertaining than the past couple of stories, and was 100% with the black lingerie. Rating: 0 dango
Akagami no Shirayuki-hime
Snow White with the Red Hair proved itself to be one of the most surprising titles of the season, and was nothing at all like the German fairy tales of similar names (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and Snow White and Rose Red). Yes, there was a poison apple, but that was where the connection ended. Shirayuki is an herbalist, a trade both intriguing and mysterious to me, who hungers for knowledge and yearns to help those in need. Her boldness and curiosity bring her face-to-face with the prince of a neighboring kingdom, Zen, and leads her onto a new, challenging path by his side.
The tone of the series was not at all what I had expected–it took its time with self-contained episodes covering the encounters between Zen and Shirayuki and others. Very often, the events presented obstacles to their blossoming relationship, while at other times, we received back story on the various characters that explained the strength of their present bonds with one another. Many of my favorite moments centered more on the side cast members than on the main duo. The retinue with which Zen chose to surround himself contained talented and driven individuals of exceptional character. I learn a lot about someone based on the friends they hold close.
As much as I enjoyed the characterization of this series, as well as the little arcs contained within 1-2 episodes, I felt a strange sense of pleasure. Usually to hold to such a high regard a series as much as I did this one, I need a marriage of deep characters, absorbing settings, clever dialogue, and well formulated plot. Akagami nails almost everything, but doesn’t particularly stand out much in terms of text or story. The feelings are pure and easy to understand–we’re not working with poets or novelists here. And the conflicts are mostly small and easily overcome. There is the larger concern of the future of Zen and Shirayuki’s relationship, but that’s mostly shifted to the side as something to worry about when the time comes. No answer is truly given at the end, just a hint of a promise and a possibility. For some reason, I’m okay with that. I felt a calmness after the last episode that resonated with warmth at having met these people. Rating: 2 dango
Shokugeki no Souma
There’s absolutely no way that Shokugeki no Souma is finished here, as there’s plenty of manga material to move on with a second, or even third season in the near future. I don’t think anything has been decided as of yet, but with the way this first installment ended we likely will see more of Souma and his friends soon. The 24 episodes sped by in a whirl with much of the same energy and excitement of many a successful battle shounen. Dynamic and colorful characters introduced themselves almost every episode; innumerable face-offs were had and guaranteed for the future. Through it all, our main character and the students surrounding him improved drastically per scene. As invincible as Souma seemed, his encounters and defeats continually added to his knowledge and helped him become an even stronger cook with startling growth. An awesome side effect was that those who went up against him with one-dimensional villainy also learned more about themselves and about food, walking away better in skill and disposition than they were before.
I’m actually reading the manga and am far, far ahead of where the anime chose to halt. As much as I enjoy the source material, seeing it all come to life on the screen proved just how much better food suits not just a visual sense, but also auditory sensations. The one mercy was our inability to smell the actual food, which would have made the lack of tasting it torturous.
One of my favorite methodologies of the work is the adaptability of foods of varying qualities to any given situation. The idea works itself in a number of ways, one of which covers the shelf quality of produce like cauliflower. Traditional Japanese cuisine has long put on a pedestal quality of food as the clear indicator of taste and ability, and looks down upon ingredients like the least desired portions of animals or misshapen fruit and vegetables. Quite a few characters challenge that belief by taking these seemingly undesirable items and working them together with techniques meant to draw out unique flavors and textures. Another adaptability comes in the form of formality–some dishes like donburi (rice bowls) are considered “diner” or “bar” food regardless of their their possible complexity and deliciousness. Souma repeatedly takes his diner dishes to the next level by incorporating newly learned techniques, elevating them to tables serving both regular and higher social classes. Rating: 1 dango
Baby Steps 2nd Season
A large part of what made this second series such a success was the ramped up involvement between Maruo and Natsu. She has always been an integral part of his passion for tennis, though in the first season they stayed merely friends with an obvious attraction. This sequel brought them even closer together both romantically and competitively. While their bond shared a similarity to the healthy rivalries of many memorable battle anime, they also proved the power that love can provide. Once they became a couple, they were able to funnel their support for one another into their game play. Yes, relationships within the same field can be dangerous in feeding distractions to those involved; when like becomes dislike, the warring emotions often drive apart even the tightest of groups. But there are exceptions, and I really think Maruo and Natsu are strong enough to weather any trial thrown their way.
Aside from his girlfriend, Maruo is constantly surrounded by extremely gifted and driven athletes–a testament to his improvement over the two seasons. Each of his matches provides him with precious intel on both his opponents and himself. One of my absolute favorite arcs covered his match against Takagi Sakuya where Maruo struggled to control his emotions and harness the stress of playing such an underhanded tennis player.
Things certainly didn’t end where I had hoped, but I can honestly say that the ending scenes perfectly fit the theme and mood of Baby Steps. This is truly a story of growth, incredible growth fraught with obstacles, self-reflection, hard work, and a fair amount of luck and good fortune. Even the greatest people in their respective fields had to start at the beginning with the basics–and Maruo seems to have just what it takes to make it to the pros. I’m really, really hoping for one more season of Baby Steps in the next year to complete his journey and put him up in serious matches against Takuma and Ike. Rating: 2 dango
Gakkougurashi! danced the border between school life anime and horror with its post-apocalyptic tale of a world overrun with zombies. The high school setting with four girls of varying moe qualities and their sidekick dog successfully guided me into enjoying their strange life within the compound. When dire reality reared its head, it always did so accompanied by the comforting protection of teacher Megu-nee and the cheeriness of student Yuki. Together, they dragged our characters away from despair and helped them look towards each new day with hope.
This back and forth between joy and terror actually worked pretty well. I admit that a portion of my good spirit stemmed from looking forward to the upcoming Halloween festivities. Gakkougurashi! was almost the appetizer to what I hope will be a frolicking good scare-fest this fall. I’m also always down for zombie stories–when attending this year’s Halloween Horror Nights at Universal, the first house I hit up was the one themed for The Walking Dead. I wanted to know more about the zombies of this anime; were they the stereotypical slow walkers, or were they more like the fast-moving undead popularized not too long ago? This show opted for the prior, with the fastest being infected animals who retained their natural agility.
Another fascinating aspects to the zombies here is their retention of daily routines–going to school or work places during the day only to return home in the evening, or retreating for cover from the rain. These aspects made them both more relatable and more terrifying. There’s a constant nagging thought that maybe, just maybe, someone who has turned might be able to become human again if their memories are still intact enough to keep them following schedules from before death. Even Megu-nee is shown to scribble out barely legible names of her precious students. If there is to be another season, I’m hoping we’ll find the answers behind the school’s odd preparation and experimental medical supplies. They seemed to have known something would come, just not the when. And if the test drug that saved Kurumi worked, perhaps a final version exists that can reverse even the furthest of zombie cases. Rating: 1 dango
- 0 dango – average and forgettable.
- 1 dango – very good in its category.
- 2 dango – excellent show that is worth a try.
- 3 dango – exceptional show one must watch.