[OWLS] Food Wars! When the Mentor becomes the Student

It’s been a long journey with Soma Yukihira through the gauntlet that is Totsuki Academy: three seasons and countless meals served up to our pleasure. Through it all, Soma’s experience growing up in Yukihira’s kitchen gives him the inspiration to improve. His father, Joichiro Saiba, is a constant figure in those memories, a man looked up to by many, while simultaneously viewed as a hurdle on Soma’s path to becoming the best chef. We also see Saiba in Erina’s childhood as one of her rare moments of happiness. When adults in the culinary world, academic as well as professional, speak of Saiba, it’s with a tone of awe and, often, fear. What happens when such a man falters, when the person you look up to most in the world vanishes?

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Rokuhoudou Yotsuiro Biyori’s Touch of Quality

One of the least-discussed shows of this season is Yotsuiro Biyori, a show centering on a Japanese tea shop called Rokuhoudou and the people who pass through its doors. The owner and employees who tend the shop and the people they encounter share their stories from episode to episode in ways that will bring a smile to your face and quell the ailing heart. This, like so many others, is a story about stories. A big part of how Rokuhoudou is able to succeed is thanks to the hard work put in by its staff and the pride they take in their work. No effort is wasted, be it finding just the right ingredient and technique for a new dessert, or recommending the correct item for a customer who at times needs more than to fill their stomach.

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Amanchu! Advance and Autumn-colored Dreams

“Take a look around, and you’ll spot a bunch of autumn wonders!” -Pikari, “The Story of Autumn and a Tender Happiness”

Mangaka Kozue Amano has this wonderful ability to capture the concentrated essence of each season in her works. We see this in works like Aria, and in the currently airing Amanchu! Advance. In episode four of Advance, “The Story of Autumn and a Tender Happiness,” we step away from the usual group dynamic and follow Futaba “Teko” Ooki and Hikari “Pikari” Kohinata separately on a cool autumn day. They show us their different approaches to appreciating the fall season, as well as pull us into their dreams—Teko with a lucid dream and Pikari in her consistently upward view.

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Following Laid-Back Camp into Nature

It’d be a crime for me to allow the winter season to close without dedicating space to one of my favorites of the season, Laid-Back Camp. Along with A Place Further than the Universe, this show makes approaching the outdoors seem as natural as breathing. While the sites shown in the anime are real places in Japan, the characters’ attitudes towards camping will hopefully push viewers to explore similar activities close to home. I know it has certainly inspired me to re-evaluate my hesitation towards tents and off-season camping. My complaints suddenly seem small compared to the wide views seen by these girls.

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A Place Further than the Universe – Find the Ones Who Push You Forward

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It’s long past time to talk about the show that’s exciting me most this winter season: A Place Further Than The Universe. From the title, you might expect the anime to take us somewhere far away, either in our own universe, or perhaps to another world. Neither would be particularly surprising. Instead, the goal is Antarctica, a continent both familiar and strange to us viewers and the characters in the show. We’ve learned about it in school growing up, and you’ve probably seen some documentary about it, perhaps about the penguins, or about the famous sled dog team from which only two members survived the long months before rescue. But very few of us have likely considered actually going there. Some like to relax on the beach, while others prefer to suit up and hike into the mountains. Antarctica is a whole different beast, one uninhabited and untamed—the true last frontier. It’s a place where teamwork is necessary for survival, a fact tantamount to the success of the expedition in A Place Further than the Universe.

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The Big, Little Lives of Hakumei and Mikochi

This winter has been one of coziness in the unlikeliest of settings. Usually, I spend this season wrapped in layers of sweaters and blankets with no intention of leaving until late March. A few shows this season are challenging that self-defense mechanism by featuring lovable characters living life to the fullest in Nature’s embrace regardless of the temperature or elements. One such series is Hakumei to Mikochi, which admittedly flew under my radar until a dear reader pointed me in its direction.

At a glance, the show falls squarely into the healing category of slice of life; all our characters do, after all, is go about their lives in harmony with one another and their environment. This is a story perfectly acceptable for family viewing, and might even be misrepresented as aimed solely at children due to its art style. Hakumei to Mikochi is so much more than a feel-good, family-friendly anime. There’s ample support for sustainable country living, community involvement, and racial and gender equality. The show’s gentle atmosphere does well to promote these stances without preaching or judgement.

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Becoming Cinderella in Märchen Mädchen

“I want to forget all this right now and immerse myself in a story!” Hazuki, “Farewell, My Magic,” Märchen Mädchen

Reading has always been a treasured hobby of mine. Like Hazuki, I often used it during my childhood as a means to travel far away to another place as another person. I lived on a farm in the Ozarks, joined a new family on Prince Edward Island, and traveled with companions to defeat a dragon army. Books always represented freedom. It wasn’t until I was older when books started to represent an escape from the more unpleasant times in  life.

Anything Hazuki finds unbearable, or even slightly uncomfortable, is pushed aside the moment she delves into a work of writing. So when she discovers a magical world attached to her own where books empower their users, called Mädchen, it seems like a dream come true. She can literally become Cinderella thanks to one of the oldest and most powerful books finding its way into her hands. The problem? She can’t actually use it. Try as hard as she might, she not only struggles with beginner spells, she also has yet to transform into Cinderella. The girl who so easily slips into works of fiction fails to equip it when the need arises.

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Mitsuboshi Colors, Keepers of the Peace or Out-of-control Brats?

If there’s one show making me laugh more than I would have thought possible this season, it’s Mitsuboshi Colors, a series about three kids romping around their neighborhood in a style reminiscent of The Little Rascals. There are plenty of other anime this winter full of silly moments, but Mitsuboshi Colors thrives off of our laughter and promises to do so for the coming weeks. Watching Yui, Sat-chan, and Kotoha interact with each other and other members of their community is a little bit like witnessing a tornado—everyone and everything they pass gets swept up in their energy. It’s easy to overlook the fact that these are grade school kids who are almost completely unsupervised in their play and show no hesitation in wandering the city. We see a mom, a shopkeeper, and a police officer, but none of them impose any particular restrictions on the girls’ freedom to explore. These self-proclaimed “keepers of the peace” will make you worry and cringe, but there’s also a high chance you’ll find yourself laughing uncontrollably every episode and looking forward to more.

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I Love and Hate Devilman Crybaby

If you were paying attention at all to social media over the past couple of weeks, you’ll have noticed the hype surrounding Devilman Crybaby, a Netflix original release at the start of the winter 2018 season. Instead of forcing viewers to wait months to watch the Yuasa/Nagai love child, they did the opposite and provided all ten episodes at once. Doing so fits right in with the Netflix binge mentality, as well as suits the addictive flavors of this show. Devilman Crybaby bombards the viewers’ senses with sex and violence, and while this may repel some people, the barrage also acts like a super drug with an immediate high that carries you straight to the end.

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Flaring Bright in Juni Taisen: Zodiac War

“Don’t worry. All I’m taking is your life. In exchange, I hope you’ll be my friend, too. I’ve wanted that so badly since the first moment I saw you…”
(Rabbit, “Even a Champion”)

There was a time when I veered away from any kind of atmosphere that would get my heart pumping, or suffocate me in fear. Horror films always stuck in my mind and came to life in the darkness of sleep. Action and thrillers threatened to cut me in seemingly everyday activities in the car or walking on the sidewalk. As I dabbled my ankles in these genres over the years, I slowly waded deeper and deeper into the blackness of the unknown. What seemed too frightful as a child promised to excite me as an adult.

Juni Taisen: Zodiac War is this season’s offering from Nisio Isin, also known for his Monogatari series, Katangatari, and Medaka Box. A little bit of fear, the dash of a promise just out of reach, and plenty of violence fill each episode. There’s no comfort to be found in the arms of a protagonist; our writer is just as happy to tell their histories as he is to cut them right out of it. Our twelve characters, each representing a member of the Chinese Zodiac, are no heroes, either. Every one of them, no matter how righteous, reeks of questionable motives.

With an irredeemable cast and a predictable story, it might seem like Juni Taisen offers nothing of substance for enjoyment. In almost every other instance I cite my necessity for unique characters and an interesting plot.

Forget about those. Juni Taisen is a hell of a lot of fun.

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