Dining at the Restaurant to Another World

Welcome, all, again.  Today I return to a series which I mentioned briefly several weeks ago, Restaurant to Another World.  Any readers here who are also familiar with my reviews on 918thefan.com or in crunchyroll.com‘s previous incarnation of the Takeout newsletter will recognize that I am a huge fan of food-based anime.  I just can’t seem to help it!  I spent years in the food service industry, and was a cook (Mess Specialist, back then) in the Navy.  Cooking is for me as enjoyable and rewarding a creative process as is writing.  And while I no longer cook professionally, I do still prepare meals at the request of friends or family.  Sharing food is to share something of ourselves–little wonder that so many holidays the world over are celebrated with ritual feasts!

Restaurant to Another World in its turn celebrates this tendency we share to bond over food.  And while diners might share the experience of both food and companionship during a meal, there exists a most special connection between diner and cook.  After all, cooking is not done in a void, but rather with the intention of providing someone with sustenance (often both physical and emotional).  A meal is both gift and contract, the ultimate expression of the cook’s response to the trust s/he is shown by those awaiting food.  Cooking is caring, and the master of Western Restaurant Nekoya cares deeply!

Located in an undisclosed Tokyo shopping district, Western Restaurant Nekoya offers dishes both foreign and familiar to Japanese diners.  But on Saturdays, while closed in the mundane world, this restaurant is accessible to beings from another realm by means of multiple free-standing appearances of its entry door.  And over the years many different types of beings have entered those doors, from Elves to lizardmen, mermaids to dragons.  In fact, while operating in this magical realm, the restaurant is under the auspices and personal protection of the “Red Queen,” one of that world’s six ancient dragons.  She personally recommends a second of their number, Kuro, for a job as waitress–just what every customer wants, Death incarnate waiting the table!

And this show focuses upon the establishment’s customers, each episode offering vignettes usually involving one or more of them.  Even Aletta, the proprietor’s first hire in the magical realm, began as a diner, if an unorthodox one.  Homeless and hungry, she stumbled through a particularly early doorway appearance, gobbling down some leftover food before falling asleep on the floor.  When the proprietor came into the kitchen, he found a rather ragged-looking Demon girl sleeping amidst the evidence of her petty theft.  Upon waking her and learning of her dismal circumstances, he offers Aletta weekly work as a waitress for both pay and meals, giving her life some much-needed stability.  He would eventually likewise hire Kuro so that she could earn the restaurant food she craves.

And so it goes.  Customers are introduced, given a backstory, and thereafter linked to favorite menu items.  We listen to their discussions, watch their interactions, and in so doing gradually learn more about them and their world.  Food creates companionship, which then sometimes creates more concrete relationships.  Imagine Sweetness and Lightning‘s deft approach being distilled through Soma’s Restaurant Yukihira (Food Wars!)–all while serving denizens of GATE‘s Special Region!  Yeah, something like that.  Just remember that this series is character-oriented rather than character-driven; story-driven is completely out of the question.  So enjoy it for what it is, a quiet and meandering contemplation of the restorative and embracive qualities of food prepared and served as meals.  Order up!

 

Introducing: Indigo Ignited

Welcome, all, again.  Today’s discussion will focus upon the pilot episode of Indigo Ignited, a brand-new (released 08 August, 2017!) anime based upon an original manga by David Pinter and Samuel Dalton.  But wait–those don’t sound like Japanese names!  What’s going on here?  Well, just slow yourselves down for a minute.  Let me review the show first, after which I’ll address the elephant in the room.  (Seriously, did that “Most Interesting Man in the World” really bring an elephant?  Well, you better believe he ain’t leaving it here!)*

Indigo Ignited is Kieran’s story, following his existence as the last of his race in a post-apocalyptic world.  Kieran is an Indigo, beings who are able to manipulate gravitational fields and are thus also able to manipulate physical objects.  (Drawing a blank?  Think of Yoda lifting the X-wing fighter from the swamp of Dagobah.  Really lost, now?  Then think of Terra tossing–and wearing–rocks on Teen Titans Go!)  As might be imagined, this power over gravity is something that others wish to control.  And the pilot episode introduces us to our first contender for Kieran’s powers, called simply The Alderman.

But The Alderman is no ordinary foe, bragging that he has long been a hunter of Kieran’s race.  Moreover, The Alderman rules his town of Annalise through magical means, controlling the townsfolks’ minds through masks he requires them to wear.  But isn’t it the way of the world that those with some little power almost always seem to desire more?  Sad then that the lessons of even an apocalypse seem incapable of changing basic human nature.  Greed, prejudice, discrimination, and downright villainy remain in full flower.  And so Kieran and any who stand with him are in for a rough time.

Now, to be fair, this pilot is barely over 8 minutes long.  That said, don’t expect a lot of character exposition or development, backstory, or even plot progression.  What we get is a snapshot of evil being unleashed upon innocents and the promise of broodingly dark fantasy.  This pilot is meant to grab our attention, and it does.  The fun will come in seeing what they do with it as the story progresses.  So for now, go watch: [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3p-5gTtXnA&t=10s]

*OK, so back to that elephant.  The original manga authors hail from the Albuquerque area, but the anime is being produced by D’ART Shtajio, a new animation studio in Tokyo that was created by Henry Thurlow and Arthell and Darnell Isom.  So, wait–is the anime a Japanese production or not?  It is a Tokyo company, so yes.  But those names don’t sound Japanese.  They’re not.  But other names associated with the project are, such as Asuka Tsubuki (Detective Conan) in Animation Direction and Yoshiharu Ashino (Cross Ange, First Squad, D.Gray-man) with Storyboards.  OK, but how can the original work be called manga if it was made in New Mexico?  Because that’s what its authors call it.  Look, I’ve heard the arguments that a Japanese origin is essential to the correct application of the terms manga and anime.  And I both understand and respect the purists’ position.  But as a writer, I think that type of thinking is just too limiting and constrictive in today’s globalized society.  These artists recognized a particular form (in this case foreign) which they wished to emulate, and they did so, to the exclusion of more local ideals.  Does not their application of such form to their work mean that the form consequently applies to that work, at least somewhat?  But then at what point does cultural exchange become cultural appropriation?  I don’t know, but I personally don’t think that comic vs. manga or cartoon vs. anime is the venue in which to decide the question.  Instead, why don’t we just call it cross-pollination and settle back to see what beauty it might offer us.

 

Watching Gamers!

Welcome, all, again.  Today’s subject will be Gamers!, which follows the romantic and gaming misadventures of a set of high school students.  Sound underwhelming, perhaps?  As if it might be nothing more than a series of awkward misunderstandings, unbelievable coincidences, and cliched plot devices?  More curiously, how can you be so right and yet so wrong?  It’s simple, really: this show’s story far surpasses its premise.

Keita Amano is a shy introvert whose greatest passion is gaming.  Because of this passion (certainly not because of his talent!), he is approached by Karen Tendou, the school’s idolized beauty.  It so happens that Karen is herself a passionate gamer and the president of the school’s Gaming Club, which is populated by a few hardcore gamers.  Amano visits the club after class and enjoys the experience for its novelty, but nonetheless rejects Karen’s invitation to join.  It seems that Amano has no interest in competitive gaming, which is the primary means through which the Gaming Club supports itself and its activities.  So, one and done, right?

Well, no.  You see, Karen–being the school’s reigning idol–is unaccustomed to rejection.  So much so that she invited Amano in front of his classmates.  And we can hear whole worlds shatter when Amano declines that invitation.  In fact, Amano is just about the only one blissfully clueless to the social catastrophe he has wrought.  Karen flees in tears from the sudden public humiliation, while Amano’s classmates grow restless in his presence–just who does this nerdy nobody think he is, making their idol cry?  Amano has kicked a bear, and is about to face its claws.  And he still has no idea.

Nor will he have much time to develop one.  Amano’s rejection of Karen sets off a chain of events that drag in other students and start to fray their established social order.  Karen falls for the boy with the moxie to reject her, while Amano finds it difficult to have a normal conversation with anyone, particularly someone as popular as she.  And so he keeps shutting her out–and unwittingly inflating her opinion of him in the process!  Amano’s handsome and popular classmate Tasuku Uehara tries to help him understand the developing situation, but just ends up muddying the waters.  And although Uehara initially involves himself for his own entertainment, he instead becomes friends with Amano.  He even tries to help Amano build his confidence around girls by introducing him to a rather unkempt female gamer, hoping that their shared interest might spark conversation.  Unfortunately, it sparks several, even dragging Uehara’s devoted but ditzy girlfriend into the deepening morass.

This show rolls along riding incidents of misinterpreted situations,  misunderstood intentions, and mistaken efforts.  The comedy is quirky and often exaggerated; honestly, I feel that there are even some moments of intentionally awkward animation just to heighten comedic effect.  Gamers! seems meant for immediate consumption and enjoyment–instant gratification–and to that end both the characters and the situations are kept relatively shallow.  And it works, right down to Uehara’s underappreciated girlfriend Aguri proving to be the most sympathetic character of the lot.  This is the cotton candy of this season’s shows, sticky and sweet and insubstantial.  But who doesn’t love the occasional sugar rush?

 

 

Observing A Centaur’s Life

Welcome, all, again.  I’ve just got to say how happy I am with this viewing season so far!  It seems that an unusually high number of shows that began strong continue so, and I’m continually finding more to watch as I explore new titles.  A case in point is A Centaur’s Life, which I finally decided to peek at earlier this week. . .and then sat transfixed for all 4 currently available episodes.  More than anything, I had just wanted to see how the different beings were drawn.  What I found was clever writing, keenly attentive drawing, and a biting awareness of societal shift.  This show is smart, funny, and a visual joy!

 

A Centaur’s Life is a slice-of-life comedy following high school student Himeno Kimihara and her family and friends.  The story is set in a world in which four-limbed animals became extinct in favor of animals with six appendages, that extra set being anything from additional legs to horns.  (The designs of the majority of humanoid beings seem to be derived from various mythologies and folklore.)  Otherwise, Himeno’s world looks a lot like our own, complete with all of our everyday conveniences and the problems they give us, not to mention the demands of family and school.  And it is in these small expositions of everyday life that the show’s nuanced comedy slant shines most brilliantly!  (Seek, and ye shall find.)

But this show is more than just comedy, confronting us with the idea that we become prisoners to the social constructs we ourselves create.  And that point is not made with any subtlety.  Indeed, our overly litigated political correctness of today is ominously linked with the militarized social equalization efforts of China’s Cultural Revolution as characters nervously whisper conversations and repeatedly warn each other about being carted off to reeducation facilities.  It seems that in a world in which its peoples developed such different physiques (and accompanying abilities and limitations), equality becomes both primary goal and measure of society’s advancement.  Watch for one moment of dark insight in which it is explained that a given minority’s minoritizing aspects are specifically what justify the investment of a preponderance of research and funding into advancing that minority–over the competing needs of the majority who pay for it.  (Does this sound vaguely familiar?)  And yet, is not such uneven investment a form of preference and favoritism, the very antitheses of equality?  Of course, it is explained, but equality demands unequal treatment.

 

Our characters are well-aware of the contradictions inherent in the application of their society’s concept of social justice, but perhaps even more aware of the very immediate dangers of questioning that application.  Such discussions–such ideas–are criminal.  Witness one teacher’s nervous glances while discussing the pattern of evolution; government agents are literally right outside the classroom door, keeping tabs on the lecture.  (But what a lecture!  It is offered for the students’ consideration that had four-limbed creatures become the dominant life forms, then coloring rather than body type would likely have been the primary differentiation between peoples, thus virtually eliminating prejudice and discrimination.  After all, how could rational beings possibly find fault with something as minor as color?)

This series is a must-watch!  Smart and funny but also thought-provoking, it engages its audience on a number of different levels.  Two such examples of this are attentive character design and an inventive exploration of interaction between different peoples.  (But don’t worry–the social commentary isn’t all political.  There’s plenty of ammo saved for life’s quieter, more personal situations.)  This show offers simple storylines, easy laughs, and even the opportunity to ask ourselves what we really want from our society and our individual participation in it.  Passive/aggressive, sure, but what’s not to love?