Anime short review: Pupa

Today it’s the final anime short review for the month. But I wanted to do something different this time: instead of finding a series I thought I might like, I started from the bottom ratings on fan rating and review anime catalogs Anilist and MAL. I’ve always had a fascination with horrible media (blame MST3K for that, maybe) and I’ve never really looked into the world of truly awful anime before now.

After filtering out the obviously tossed-off garbage and one short made almost entirely of still images, I found Pupa, a 2014 short horror series of 12 three-minute episodes. I’ve enjoyed and praised some anime scored just decently or even near middling on these sites, so I’m not the type to disregard a show because it isn’t a 10/10. Pupa is a far harder sell, however, with a score of 27% on Anilist and 3.30 on MAL — truly abysmal ratings and among the lowest on either site.

Pupa was produced by Studio DEEN, an actually sort of reputable anime studio. At least they’re reputable with someone, not with me, because I’ll never forgive them for what they did to Umineko. And now I have another reason to hate DEEN, because this anime really does live up to its terrible reviews. Pupa is absolute trash, though my reasons for hating it might be a little different from some other viewers’. (Also massive warning here because Pupa really is fucked. If you just ate or have a general aversion to reading about cannibalism and similar horrors, you may want to skip this post. And spoilers, but I doubt anyone cares this time.)

How cute, I’m sure nothing horrible will happen to these people

High school students and siblings Utsutsu and Yume Hasegawa have a hard life together, children of a broken family, but they love and care for each other. One day, Yume wanders alone onto a dark park on the way back from school and encounters a strange woman dressed all in black who tells her to beware of the red butterflies. Red butterflies immediately show up, and Yume is attacked by an exploding dog (I think? Hard to tell.) When Utsutsu shows up shortly after looking for Yume, he meets the same woman in black, Maria, who tells him his sister has changed and that she might not recognize him.

Let’s go home Yume, I’m sure you’ll still fit through the front door like this

Looking into the woods nearby, Utsutsu finds his sister transformed into a giant man-eating monster. He can tell it’s still Yume somehow, and he comforts her, but even though her consciousness is still inside the monster she can’t stop herself from eating her brother.

Fortunately (?) both Utsutsu and Yume have some kind of virus that allows them to endlessly regenerate wounds, so Utsutsu isn’t actually dead. He and Yume are both taken away by the lady in black who works at/for a shady organization that performs horrific genetic experiments. Yume has mysteriously changed back into her human form at this point (no, this is never explained) and while Maria tells Utsutsu she’ll let them go, she warns him that he’ll have to act as “live bait” for his sister since she still craves human flesh even in her normal-looking human form. Utsutsu loves Yume so much that he happily volunteers to be her dinner every day from now on, a lucky thing since he can also regenerate any flesh she eats.

Teddy bears are used in some scenes to simulate these terrible acts, but we’re also subjected to realistic depictions of them so I’m not sure I see the point

The story goes on from there with Utsutsu and Yume being hunted down by a rival shady organization that performs tests on Utsutsu for vague scientific reasons, and then Yume has to rescue him so they can continue living their happy, quiet life of consensual cannibalism. Maria has also harvested his semen and her eggs without their knowledge and has used them to birth a horrific incest monster, but we never learn why she does this, and it doesn’t matter anyway because said monster never even makes an appearance.

That’s Pupa, and I agree with the general consensus: it was shit. Not necessarily because it was about cannibalism, though. Part of why I was willing to give this any kind of chance is that Saya no Uta is one of my favorite visual novels, and that has plenty of instances of murder and human-eating (though not quite cannibalism in that story — it’s complicated) along with other horrific acts. The difference with Saya is that all its horror was included for a purpose and was perpetrated by characters I cared about against characters I mostly also cared about. The story also made sense and had an actual thought-out structure to it.

None of that is true of Pupa. By the end, I didn’t give a damn about any of these characters. Utsutsu and Yume’s backstory is so tragic as to be ridiculous, and every other character save their mother is a massive piece of shit, and even the mother just disappears without much of an explanation so she doesn’t matter either.

Sorry Mom, you deserved better than this

Yume is at the center of Pupa, but her virus and the powers she gains from it aren’t clearly defined either. First she transforms into a giant monster, but then never mind, now she’s a human who has to eat other humans to survive. But now she has to save her brother, so she has the power to grow tentacle-wings out of her back and attack people with them. And she went through these transformations in the first episode after being infected by a virus or looking at red butterflies or something, but no, she was actually born a monster who feeds on flesh, which her mother realized before she even gave birth.

Pupa makes no fucking sense and doesn’t seem to care. This complete mess of a story means that every horrific act in the show (i.e. about 90% of the show’s running time) is completely pointless and gratuitous, the worst offender being episode six, which is simply an extended scene of Yume eating Utsutsu’s flesh. Add on top of that the generally incestuous feel of the story, which is made absolutely clear in the second-to-last episode. And then just as an added fuck you, the show has the nerve to give us this screen:

Translation: “Which is a dream? Which is reality?” Fuck you, Pupa. You don’t get to give me a load of bullshit and then wave it away like this (and yeah I know dream is yume and maybe it’s a reference to her name, but that doesn’t make this any better.) And while I’m at it fuck Studio DEEN again for the Umineko adaptation.

I could mention the low production quality too, but that’s the least of this show’s concerns. It might even be for the best that it looks pretty cheap. Somehow Pupa aired on television, which might explain some of the extremely strange instances of censoring with rays of light and patches of darkness. Not much point covering up Yume’s teeth tearing at her brother when we can hear her chewing and swallowing him. I thought I had a strong stomach, but it was really tested by Pupa, and for absolutely no payoff.

So would I recommend Pupa? Holy God no I wouldn’t. It’s garbage, and I don’t even recommend watching it out of morbid curiosity, because in the end it’s pointless and kind of boring given that the plot goes nowhere. To be totally fair to its original author, Pupa is an adaptation of a manga that I’ve heard might actually have some merit to it — I’m guessing this three-minute episode format mangled what may have originally been a coherent narrative. I can see how the elements of Pupa might make for an interesting story if told properly, and assuming you do have the nerves for it.

I don’t think I have any nerves remaining, so I won’t be reading the manga myself, but if you’re a fan of horrific cannibal stories with creepy sexual/incestuous undertones then you might want to check it out. Might be less stomach-turning than The 120 Days of Sodom at least. And if you’re somehow required by contract or a dare to watch one of these episodes, pick the last one, because it’s actually nice and cute and has nothing to do with the rest of the story. I might have even liked it a bit if not for everything that came before it.

Anime short review: Plastic Nee-san

Plastic Nee-san posterSome anime you can’t find on streaming services, and today’s subject is one of those series. Plastic Nee-san (also listed as Plastic Elder SisterPlustic Nee-san, and +tic Nee-san/Elder Sister — the title I’m using seems like the most commonly used anyway) is a very short series of 12 two-minute episodes that aired in 2011, an adaptation of a gag manga taking off on sports, action, and romance series.

Not that you’d tell from the synopsis. Plastic Nee-san on the surface is about the antics of three friends in a high school model-building club, the three on the poster there: Nee-san, Okappa, and Maki-Maki. Not their real names, which they do have, but they’re hardly ever used so I’ll stick to their nicknames. These three love building scale models of tanks and warships at least going by the first and second episodes and by the models constantly stuck to the tops of their heads for some reason. Aside from the first few minutes of the series, however, model-building never comes up, because that’s not what Plastic Nee-san is really about.

But then what is Plastic Nee-san about? Nothing.

Nee-san threatens her friends with... something. From Plastic Nee-san

I’m not even going to make my tired stupid old “no context provided” comments because there is really no context this time.

Things do happen in Plastic Nee-san, mostly involving the blonde title character Nee-san acting like a perverted idiot and annoying her friends who sometimes respond by getting into fights with her. In addition to the main three girls there’s a wider cast of mostly even more bizarre characters just doing their own thing. When Nee-san, Okappa, and Maki-Maki interact with these classmates, they usually run into some sort of parody like a takeoff on dramatic sports manga (tennis in this case) or possibly just something so absurd it can’t be defined.

Sano and Uno beat up a giant, Plastic Nee-san

I think this bit with these twins pounding mochi to feed a belligerent giant schoolgirl is also a takeoff on something, but I couldn’t tell you what.

I’ve complained about the frantic pace of some of these extremely short series (see Miss Bernard says.Piacevole, and to a lesser extent maybe Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san, though it did better.) Plastic Nee-san is fast-paced too, but the pace actually works this time, I think for the reason that this material is just so absurd. Nee-san takes that question of “how do you tell any kind of a story in a single cour of two to three-minute episodes” and answers it with “you don’t.” Aside from just one exception I’ve found so far (Ganbare Douki-chan, which I still say worked and you should watch, at least if you’re into office ladies in tights) these series have frustrated me to different degrees by trying to jam a plot or at least some kind of character-building into this short short format, usually by playing it at 3x speed. Or maybe that really is the problem — some of the above series feel like they’ve just been literally sped up on a video player while Nee-san doesn’t.

Either way, what you end up with in a lot of cases is an extremely rushed-feeling sort of half-length short series that can’t hope to be as good as such a series if it were played normally. Maybe the makers just have to cope with only having a five-minute TV slot, but it still affects the outcome no matter who’s to blame.

This guy is in the series for maybe a minute and definitely has his own story that goes untold here.

Plastic Nee-san has no such hopes. It’s a completely stupid show that I completely approve of. The closest anime I can think of to this one is the full-length series Asobi Asobase, another surreal comedy about three misfit girls who make up a school club just so they can screw around, and I felt more or less the same about that show. I’d still rate Asobi Asobase quite a bit higher than Plastic Nee-san, but that’s not to put Nee-san down — just to say that all other things being equal, I prefer a comedy that’s able to consistently entertain me for longer than just a little over the equivalent of a regular anime episode. There’s also a lot more room for establishing characters and their relationships in that format.

All that said, it’s impressive just how much Nee-san manages to pull off with its just under 30-minute full runtime. By the end I was wondering what the fuck I’d just watched, but I had that feeling in a positive way and not a negative one — it’s more like fascination with who could possibly come up with this stuff and what they were thinking or doing at the time to cause that mindset.

This looks like a daily occurrence for Nee-san

Then is that a recommendation? I guess, but if you’re not a fan of this sort of crass absurd humor, the further loss of your brain cells from watching Plastic Nee-san won’t be worth it. As for where to watch it if you’re curious: the whole thing is available on YouTube. It apparently hasn’t been licensed for streaming anywhere, so this seems to be your best option unless you really want to sail the high seas. Don’t blame you if you take that path though.

Anime short review: Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san

Another anime short, and what a short this time. It’s not the best one I’ve seen, not by a long shot, but it’s unique at least.

Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san is a yuri/comedy anime short adaptation of a four-panel comic that aired in 2014. I don’t even know how I dug it up, but I did and I watched the whole thing — just 12 three-minute episodes, so a very quick watch. And when I say yuri I really mean it. If you don’t like girl-on-girl love/romance don’t even think about watching Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san because that’s all it’s about. It’s a comedy, but all the comedy is yuri-flavored. The source manga is published in a magazine called Comic Yuri Hime, so you know what to expect if you know that.

You can always expect some innuendo

It’s one thing to write a comic about a set of girls drooling over each other, but Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san adds a twist. You might have known from the title if you know a little Japanese — inu and neko are dog and cat, and the two title characters have dog and cat-like personalities to match, with Inugami being excitable and usually happy but also requiring some active attention and Nekoyama being more downbeat, calmer, and more passively looking for that attention. Of course, Inugami is a cat-lover and Nekoyama is a dog-lover, so they are very much into each other, resulting in a few comedic spats when they start to meet other characters with other animal-referencing names and personalities and are attracted to them too.

That’s the idea, sure

There’s not much more to say about this short series. If you’re looking for a dumb show about girls teasing each other and getting jealous over each others’ attractions to each other (what a sentence this is, sorry) but all in a comedic context then check it out. The animation isn’t bad and the girls are cute enough, so it’s got that going for it. Though my favorite character is their mutual friend, the straight woman Aki (possibly in two senses of the term, since she’s the single character who’s not obviously into any of her female classmates.) Poor Aki has this “I’m tired of all of your dramatic shit” attitude towards Inugami and Nekoyama and has clearly been putting up with their lovers’ quarrels for a while now.

This series is very one-note and pretty forgettable, but that seems to be the deal with most of these three-minute shorts from what I’ve seen so far. After finishing Inugami-san to Nekoyama-san I really just felt like I’d killed a few more brain cells, but that’s no big loss after what else I’ve put my brain through. It’s all right — you can do a lot worse with one of these short short series. And credit to the makers for not filling over half the runtime of each episode with nearly full-length opening and ending themes. There’s just a 30-second ending sequence and it’s packed as full of sugar as possible, so watch with caution.

Anime short review: Azur Lane: Slow Ahead!

After several months, I’m back with the anime shorts. I haven’t had a great track record with the series on the shorter side, but I always try to keep an open mind about anything new. Luckily I didn’t have to open it too much this time — I was already all too familiar with the source material this series is based on.

I might have stopped playing Azur Lane a while ago, but I still like its bizarre shipgirl concept and have some favorite characters from the game that I was happy to see in this short series. Slow Ahead is formatted into 12 roughly 8-minute episodes, so about a third of the usual episode length — not an episode length I’ve ever seen before. I’m not even too sure about how an eight-minute time slot would fit into scheduling on Japanese TV, since I’ve never had a chance to watch it anyway — all my watching has always been done online.

The four starter destroyers and a few of their destroyer friends in an entirely unproductive class

Slow Ahead! follows four characters based on the real-world WWII-era destroyers KMS Z34 (aka Niimi as she’s usually called by everyone else), HMS Javelin, USS Laffey, and IJN Ayanami. In the game and this anime, they’re not actual ships but rather girls who strap on rigging with guns, torpedoes, and other weapons and defenses when they go out to battle. But there’s no battle in Slow Ahead! — it’s just a cute slice-of-life show about these girls attending a military academy with their colleagues.

Some of their colleagues are maids, but the maids are also ships like the British cruiser Belfast and her clone here. Man I don’t know, you just have to accept this stuff if you’re going to watch it

That’s the whole story in Slow Ahead! There’s no real plot, just those slice-of-life antics with a few comedy bits and some fanservice. The fanservice makes sense this time too, since the game itself is shoved full of it — a few of those costumes you can buy with real money (God help you if you fall into that hole) make an appearance in the show.

Like this one, thanks to the USS North Carolina’s strange obsession with bunnygirl outfits. But she’s not wrong — putting a hot lady in a bunnygirl outfit outside your stall is a great way to attract customers. Or a guy too, why not (but there are no guys in Azur Lane aside from probably the Commander/player character, which is extremely purposeful.)

Speaking of the Commander, he (or she if you like) is designed purely to be the self-inserted player character. That’s the whole point of the Commander — in the game itself, these ladies will all talk to you directly, addressing you as Shikikan or Shikikan-sama, or maybe something casual or actually insulting or disrespectful depending on their personalities. It’s a gacha game driven by in-game purchases, so naturally the makers are going to pile on these immersive aspects (as much as a mobile game about anime waifus can be immersive at least.)

I like how the Commander is handled in Slow Ahead! — mentioned a lot, since some of these girls are seriously going after his heart/crushing on him as you’d expect — but never showing up. It’s the perfect solution, since it gets about as close to that self-insertion the game provides as the anime can probably get. You might think that’s weird or a bit sad, but hey, if that’s what you’re going for may as well do it right. There’s another short series I’ve watched that attempts a POV sort of self-insert silent main character and it’s amazingly awkward. Maybe I’ll write about that one sometime soon.

We heard you like boats so we put a boat in your boat

Azur Lane: Slow Ahead! is a nice series to check out if you need a break, especially if you’ve played the game. You will probably get a lot more out of it if you’re already familiar with these characters (personal opinion: Laffey is best girl aside from Yamashiro of course — okay, best destroyer) but they’re all fun to watch, so I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to play the game to enjoy Slow Ahead! I can’t in good conscience recommend that anyone play a gacha game anyway.

And if you’re going to watch one Azur Lane-related anime, it seems like it should be this one, since this short series is rated far more highly across every platform than the main full-length anime adaptation, which I’ve heard was a mess. I can’t speak to that myself, though. Maybe I’ll watch the first episode if I have it available just to see for myself.

Anime short triple feature: Piacevole / Miss Bernard said. / Ganbare Douki-chan

The anime short review feature returns, and as a triple feature this time instead of just a double! However, I’m not actually doing more work here, because this time the featured shorts aren’t just half-length but are rather extra-short shorts, with each series consisting of only twelve 3 to 4-minute episodes.

I’ve been curious about these for a while, wondering how their makers manage to get their points across in only a few minutes at a time. Turns out this format is pretty limiting. A lot of these extra-shorts (not sure if there’s a better term for these 5-minutes-or-less-episode series to differentiate them from the longer shorts) also have middling-to-poor scores on the big anime database/grading sites, suggesting that a lot of viewers aren’t satisfied with them.

But fuck those scores, I say — I’ll judge these series for myself. Before I start, I should note that these are all adapted from print works, only one of which I’ve read, so for the most part I’ll be taking these series on their own merits. Starting with:

Piacevole

No, I don’t know what this new annoying black border on the screenshots is about. I’ll try to work that out.

I picked most of these series to watch based on whether I thought I’d enjoy their themes. And Piacevole is about Italian food, and I like Italian food.

But did I like Piacevole? That’s a more complicated question. This series opens with a high school student, Morina, looking for a part-time job. In the course of her search, she discovers Trattoria Festa, a rustic-looking Italian place, and is immediately hired as a waitress there. However, Morina’s time with the absentee owner’s young son Maro, an aspiring chef, and with the rest of the restaurant’s strange/quirky staff inspires her to try cooking herself.

A slow start, but she’s determined

The crew at the trattoria along with a few new characters who show up halfway through are pretty fun, and it was a good time seeing Maro desperately trying to impress Morina, because he’s obviously smitten with her, but while also proudly pretending he doesn’t really care or anything. And aside from the above kind of scuffed-looking Caprese salad, the show makes all this food look nice enough — the usual high standards for food featured in anime.

It’s been so long since I’ve had mussels…

The trouble with Piacevole, and I’m guessing with some of these other types of shorts, is that I’m left wanting more. I’m pretty sure there’s enough here to at least fill half-length episodes — first, because I’ve already seen a series with a similar premise of “new girl starts working at restaurant/café full of weird characters” that pulled off a full-length one-cour season (Blend S, though that one was much less about food and much more about otaku-related stuff like idols, doujinshi, and mobile game addictions.)

And second, because everything in Piacevole runs at triple speed. Every character is talking and speeding around a mile a minute, seemingly to cram as much as possible into each three or four-minute stretch. I didn’t enjoy that aspect of the series, though you could argue it fits the frantic pace of working in a restaurant.

Italian food is serious business

But I thought Piacevole was all right in the end. Italian cooking is an interesting niche for a manga, anyway — I guess it’s considered more of a novelty in Japan than here in the US, where Italian cuisine is pretty common and has been absorbed somewhat into the broader American culture.

I don’t know enough about food or cooking to say, though. I just know that Piacevole made me want some fucking fried eggplant that I don’t know how to prepare myself and can’t easily get, and now I’m annoyed because of it. But that’s not really the show’s fault, is it? In fact, that seems to be the whole point of the show, so if its purpose was to get viewers hungry for Italian food, it probably pulled that off well enough.

Miss Bernard said.

I also like reading, so I also picked up Miss Bernard said., another extra-short series, this one about students talking about literature. But don’t let the above screenshot fool you: the school library remains peaceful for about 15 seconds, until title character Sawako Machida shows up.

I wonder what anime she’s talking about

Sawako, who for some reason insists on calling herself “Miss Bernard” (though nobody else calls her this, and I’m sure there’s a reference here I’m not getting) tries to make like she loves reading, but she’s too lazy to actually read a book. She brags a lot about her literary pursuits, but the other three characters in the series see right through her act and end up pretty much tolerating her presence in the library while still thinking she’s an idiot. But they also all become friends in the end.

Miss Bernard is maybe even faster-paced than Piacevole, and it’s certainly crammed even more fully with text. It’s Literary References: The Anime. I thought I liked reading, but not as much as the people who made this or the source material behind it, because some of these references were over my head. Though a lot of them connect to classic science fiction, which I haven’t read too much of (I haven’t even read Dune. I know, I know.)

Pretty much

There are a few spot-on jokes here about readers who go on about “the book being better” when a movie adaptation comes out, or pretending that they’ve read more than they actually have, or that they’ve even tried to understand the writing of Thomas Pynchon and other purposely difficult authors (I’ll just admit here as well that I’ve never tried to read Pynchon, nor James Joyce outside of a few of his short stories that read pretty normally from what I remember — far more normally than his novels at least from the bits I’ve seen.)

But in general, I didn’t get much out of watching Miss Bernard. Except that I learned Haruki Murakami translated The Great Gatsby into Japanese, which I guess is interesting, but I can’t do much with that knowledge either. At least the ending was nice.

Ganbare Douki-chan

Good luck with that

And finally for the series I was looking forward to, since I’m reading/viewing the source material. Ganbare Douki-chan is a recently completed adaptation of Yom’s still-running hybrid manga/artbook series of the same name, featuring a lot of nice art of attractive lady office workers pining after the one guy they work with. The main character Douki-chan (again, douki here meaning “co-worker”; none of these characters get actual names) wants to express her feelings to Douki-kun, but she’s too nervous to do so clearly. And Douki-kun is just as dense as your typical anime romantic comedy male lead, which is certainly no help.

Douki-chan’s situation is complicated by her rivals, a flirty and much more forward junior office worker (above) and a business client with a more subtle and seductive approach. Every time Douki-chan works up the nerve to move her relationship with her co-hire forward, one or both of these rivals edge their way in and involve themselves, trying to get Douki-kun’s attention instead much to our protagonist’s frustration.

I know the feeling

Unlike the first two series I covered in this post, Douki-chan thankfully doesn’t move at 200 miles per hour to cram a ton of dialogue into its three to four minutes each — each episode is more like a vignette than a full story, so it can move at a relaxed pace without any trouble. It probably makes a difference that it’s not adapting a manga but rather a series of artworks that just have bits of dialogue and text attached, leaving a lot up to the reader’s imagination.

In that sense, I think this series of shorts is a pretty good adaptation of the original material. I still prefer the books — watching the anime just can’t beat fully taking in Yom’s art, which I felt was a big part of the appeal of the work — but it’s still fun to see it all animated and voiced. (Also, does this count as saying “the book was better”? Guess I really am one of those readers.)

Douki-kun still has that “no face male lead” thing going on here that a lot of VNs also do, which I’m not a big fan of. I know why it’s a thing — makes it easier to self-insert supposedly. But it still creeps me out a bit. Still, it’s a better solution than animating everything from his POV.

So it’s this series alone that gets my full approval. Though just as with the artbooks it’s based on, that’s a qualified recommendation. If you care very much about whether the anime you watch passes the Bechdel test, for example, you obviously shouldn’t come anywhere near this stuff. Ganbare Douki-chan didn’t even take the Bechdel test; it failed to study and then slept through the alarm because it was hung over that morning.

But that’s kind of the point, anyway. You’ll already know whether this series is for you, so if it’s clearly not, best avoid it.

I’m sure Douki-chan will realize her ambitions eventually, but I’m also sure Yom will keep stringing us along for a while.

That’s it for the shorts for now. I’m not sure whether I’ll return to these extra-short series — they’re naturally very quick and easy to watch, but I didn’t get much out of them aside from Douki-chan, which I already figured I’d probably like anyway. The only other one I even have on my watchlist, Yatogame-chan Kansatsu Nikki, looks like it’s all about regional Japanese cultures and dialects focusing on Nagoya, and I’m not even going to pretend I’d understand any of that. Especially not if it’s all presented in this lightning-speed 3/4-minute format.

But there’s plenty more anime to come with the end of the fall season. I actually watched a few series that I plan to write about, so you can look forward to that later this month and/or next month depending on my schedule. Until then!

Anime short double feature: Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san / Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family

I’m back sooner than expected, and with more anime shorts! This time, I’m taking up another set of half-length-episode one-cour series — 12 to 13 minutes times 12 to 13 episodes, again not a massive time commitment for the busy viewer. This post isn’t boob-themed like the previous one, so apologies to the near-ecchi fanservice fans who read this site, but I’ll cover something else soon enough that should make you happy.

As for the series I’m covering today, one is as chaotic as the other is relaxing (and that one is also chaotic in parts) but they’re both worth a look.

Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san

Definitely a strange series, but one that feels like it’s steeped in real-life experiences. Honda-san is an employee in a Japanese bookstore who for some reason is a skeleton, but one who can talk, eat noodles, and drink beer, and his colleagues all wear various sorts of masks. This bunch of overworked employees, along with their section chiefs and managers, have to deal with all the ins and outs of selling manga, western comics, artbooks, novels, and other hard copy media.

I used to frequent bookstores a whole lot (not so much these days, obviously, but it might be nice to go back at some point if any are still left alive after Amazon and COVID.) I always had a sort of idyllic and very probably inaccurate concept of what working at a bookstore would be like — I even tried applying for a couple of jobs at bookstores back in the Great Recession days, though without any luck. Maybe American bookstores aren’t quite so hectic, but I suspect they face at least some of the same challenges we see in Honda-san — customers asking for recommendations or making requests for obscure books that aren’t in stock, or that show up in stock but turn out to be in a box of shipments that haven’t been unpacked yet. Or suppliers sending in stocks of books too late or too early. Or shelves being piled up with books until there’s no room left, forcing hard decisions about which volumes to keep on display and which to send back to the publisher.

Or being asked about BL. I know a bit about GL, but I’m lost regarding BL, and so is skeleton man here

Honda-san himself does his best to take all this in stride, but there are situations he dreads, like being approached by foreign customers who he has to try out his somewhat poor English with, or people looking for hentai manga or doujinshi (the latter of which he makes a point of saying that normal bookstores don’t sell — you have to go to special shops for that stuff apparently. Makes sense.)

But Honda’s not carrying the burden on his skeletal frame alone. His colleagues are all in the same boat, and a lot of the comedy in the series comes from their interactions, juggling urgent problems and complaining about demands from customers and the higher-ups in the company and time pressure caused by supply chain issues.

Shooting the shit in the stock/break room with colleagues

That might not sound like the most exciting stuff, but I really liked the inside look at this bookselling world Honda-san gave me. It’s a kind of surreal comedy, but the real-world grounding it has makes it more interesting. I’ve always heard retail is a rough job no matter what industry you’re in — I had my own sort of semi-retail experience once, so I can relate at least a bit to the pressures we see here. None of that feels sugarcoated here.

But Honda-san isn’t really cynical either; it puts all this hectic energy into a positive context. Honda and his colleagues and superiors work hard, but they seem to mostly enjoy their work, taking the stressful parts as they come.

It’s nice to see happy customers, just don’t tell them Naruto is sold back home too

So that’s still another recommendation, and this time to more or less anyone reading. I’ve liked every work-based anime I’ve watched so far, in fact, including Shirobako and Blend S. Maybe I should pick up more of these.

Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family

It’s hard to imagine a series in the world of games and anime both that has spread as far as Fate has. Starting with the original Fate/stay night visual novel* (which is good, but also 50+ hours with three routes and a ton of branching decision paths, so you’d better have some time if you want to try it) the series has extended out to animated prequels, sequels, and spinoffs, one of which is Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family.

This show is exactly what it looks like from the poster and the title: a cooking-based series. That might seem like a strange choice considering that F/SN and most of the successive works in the series are about massive wars between mages and the heroic spirits they summon to fight over the Holy Grail. But this really is a natural choice considering how much the original VN obsesses over food. Much of the time we spend with protagonist Shirou Emiya in F/SN is in the kitchen and the living room where he and his friends and relations eat.

I can’t say how much exactly, but it could actually be five percent or even more. Original Fate writer Nasu doesn’t edit himself very well, but you could say that’s part of the charm of the original visual novel. I’ll still back it up as worth playing, but just as long as you get the Realta Nua patch first.

And here we learn how a relatively dense guy like Shirou can manage to surround himself with women constantly: by being an amazing cook. Despite still just being in high school, this guy astounds everyone with his cooking skills, from regular human friends to the magical spirits of dead heroes. Everyone, whether friend or foe, is moved by the power of Shirou’s recipes.

Yes, even his enemies: Today’s Menu takes place in a nice alternate-universe Fate setting where the Holy Grail War isn’t happening and all the Servants are just hanging out with their Masters. If this were Unlimited Blade Works, a lot of these characters would be killing the shit out of each other, but this spinoff is all about relaxing, cooking, and eating good food.

I was always more of a Rin guy, but this show makes Saber so god damn cute that I’m examining my feelings now.

Each episode of Today’s Menu involves a particular dish, usually prepared by Shirou. These dishes are varied in style and taste — they’re variously Japanese, Chinese, and western in origin, and some suited for cold or warm weather. The recipe is also detailed in each episode for those who want to try it, with ingredient lists and instructions. The best I can do is making grilled cheese without burning it, so I’m not really in that demographic, but if you like cooking, this show might be specially made for you.

But speaking as a non-cook, I’d say Today’s Menu is also made for me. Or for anyone who likes food, which is just about everyone. This show manages to present food in a way that makes me wish I were eating it. Which is good because it says a lot for the quality of the animation and the care put into the show, but also bad because I don’t need to get a craving for baked salmon when I clearly don’t have the motivation to make it myself. Then again, maybe this anime can work as a tool to get people to learn to cook?

Yeah, no way can I make this myself. But now I want to visit the ramen bar nearby and see if this is on their menu (though again, when it’s safe. Nuts.)

The only possible issue with watching Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family is that you’ll have no idea who any of these characters are if you haven’t at least seen one of the Fate series or played the VN. Ufotable’s Unlimited Blade Works is probably your best bet, at least from what I hear — I haven’t seen it, but I understand it’s a much more thorough and adequate adaptation of the original UBW route than Studio Deen’s.

So it might be worth checking out first and saving Today’s Menu for dessert. Part of the appeal of this show to me is seeing all these characters I enjoyed when they were brutally killing each other in magical combat just take it easy and eat and drink together. That’s obviously not a benefit you’ll get if you haven’t seen or played any of the core F/SN works. Finally, you’ll also miss out on the basics of character relationships and some references that don’t come through unless you already know this story and setting.

This year I might try to start that Illya magical girl spinoff too. May as well since I’ve already done my homework.

But then it’s not like you’ll get arrested for starting your Fate journey with this show if you really feel like it. There isn’t an anime police, not last I’ve heard, anyway. And if there is, I’m probably going to be in trouble for some dumb thing I’ve written about anime here. I’ve never seen or read One Piece — there, that should be enough to get me banned from ever mentioning anime again.

Unless or until that ban goes into effect, I’ll be back with more anime soon, both shorts and full-length. Until then!

 

* I know Tsukihime came before F/SN and that it’s connected to Fate in some kind of weird meta-universe way — at least both sets of characters are present in Carnival Phantasm, though that’s a completely wacky comedy spinoff series to be fair. In any case, none of those older characters show up here, so no need to go back that far.

It seems like Type-Moon has forgotten about Tsukihime anyway. Where’s that fucking remake that keeps getting promised? At least make a proper anime adaptation. Life is hard for us Akiha fans, I tell you.