Welcome to a special Anime Pocket Reviews!
Only two reviews this time, but while Ep.50 featured two lighter shows this time we have two serious heavyweights to look back on!
Later on we have a look at one of anime’s most adored titles, but first of all we look at one of the biggest anime series of recent years, one that has been struggling to keep up with its own pace recently…
Food Wars: The Third Plate (2017-18, S3, 24x24mins)
Following on from season two’s Autumn Elections and Stagiaire training, Yukihira Soma (front) sets his sights firmly on the Elite Ten in his quest to become the First Seat. At first, nobody will accept his challenge, until the fiery Eighth Seat Kuga challenges him during the Moon Festival, an open-to-public event where students try to sell as much of their food as they can. However, during the festival Azami Nakiri (back), father of the school’s darling Erina (left), announces himself as Totsuki’s new headmaster. With the backing of six of the Elite Ten, including First Seat Tsukasa Eishi (centre), Azami begins am oppressive reign over the school, crushing individuality and forcing all students to conform to his organisation Central’s precise way of cooking. Erina manages to escape her father’s grasp and, desperate for salvation, joins Yukihira’s Polar Star Dormitory, the students inside forming the last group of rebels standing up to Central’s oppression.
Basically Plot: Set in Totsuki Culinary Academy, ambitious Yukihira looks set to finally get his shot at the school’s Elite Ten students when a dark figure, supported by the Elite Ten, turns the academy upside down.
This was a long season, with the first episode airing way back in October of last year. Thankfully, we reviewed the first half of this season when it concluded, and you can read that here. This review will primarily focus on the second half of this season, the Totsuki Train Arc.
I haven’t hidden my disappointment at Food Wars recently. The first half of this season was badly put together, and it felt like there were some creativity problems that were going to be very tricky to fix. Thankfully though, this season of Food Wars really picked itself up, and by the end it is surprisingly close to the levels achieved during the second season!
The real hook for this series is its incredible collection of characters. There are not many other shows I’ve seen that have so many vibrant, colourful people with such striking individuality. The Elite Ten, shows in their full for the first time in this season, are a perfect example of this show’s incredible character creation. The problem early on in this season was that all these interesting people were stuck somewhere in the shadows, distant figures behind Azami, who is a rare misstep for the series in the sense that he is not in the slightest bit interesting. First Seat Tsukasa, while a charismatic person up close, is another character who struggles to entertain, meaning the first half of S3 dragged. However, as the story went on more characters were thrust forward, and the arrival of the older generation was a real turning point for the series.
The story had been gradually getting better during season three, but it was the set up of two clear teams as everyone headed towards the final stage that really brought this series back to its best. Suddenly, it felt like there was something tangible in the future to lock on to, while the inclusion of a backstory episode for Yukihira’s father’s generation, something that I usually hate, worked perfectly, giving the series a depth that, in all the bright colours and paraphernalia, we almost forgot the series needed. It was all set up for a barnstorming final battle, where we could actually see the Elite Ten in action against characters that had got their mojo back.
And then Food Wars: The Third Plate delivered one of the worst season endings I’ve ever seen.
Remember after the first twelve episodes how I wrote about Food Wars’ bad habit of cliffhangers? Well I had almost forgotten about it during the quality conclusion to this season, until out of nowhere I was greeted with a ‘see you next season’ message. Season Three, which had been building up not just during the last few episodes but in a way the whole season towards this face-off between Yukihira and Erina against The Elite Ten and her father, concludes not before it happens, but during it! The series could have arrived at the final venue and then said the showdown will take place in season four, and we would have lived with it (just, but that’s par for the course with Food Wars) but for some perplexing reason the show sets up the whole event, and then lets you watch the first match between Yukihira and Sixth Seat Nene, before telling you to come back for the rest of the action. This ending is the anime equivalent of seeing the first touchdown of the Super Bowl before being told to wait a few months before watching the rest of the game, and is honestly one of the worst things I’ve seen not just from Food Wars but from any major anime series I’ve watched.
All in all, Food Wars is definitely back on track, though. The characters are back fighting against each other, while the Elite Ten, now finally in the action, are a fascinating mix of power and mystery. Food Wars has also regained some of its depth, which makes this season much more watchable at the end. However, it is still a series with some serious problems, and most of them now stem around the story’s execution. The shocking ending has damaged my opinion of this series once again, but that’s only because I was enjoying the revitalised series so much that it’s a crime to conclude it DURING the conclusion!
ANIME RANKING: #23 – A decent return to form late on in S3 means the Food Wars series stays in its place, just behind Bakuman and ahead of Sound Euphonium.
If you liked this you’ll love: The Devil is a Part-Timer! (#35) – Something of a left-field recommendation, this one, but with a similar colour palette along with an excellent sense for irreverent comedy, The Devil is a Part-Timer is a fantastic comedy! While the fantasy aspect is different (although you could argue Food Wars is fantasy, also) this series, featuring young people from wildly varying backgrounds living poor lives in Tokyo, delivers the arrogant characters and slight romantic underscore of Food Wars, while the clear end-goal makes this a much easier series to get into!
Gurren Lagann (2007, S1, 27x23mins)
Sci-fi, Action, Comedy
Set in a future world in which mankind is forced to live underground, the story follows young digger Simon (centre) and his best friend Kamina (left), a troublemaker who dreams of making a name for himself by making it to the surface. One day while digging through the earth Simon stumbles upon a small drill that glows at his touch, before discovering a robotic face, an ancient weapon known as a gunman. Kamina convinces Simon to help him reach the surface, despite the warnings from their village chief. However, their village is suddenly broken into from above by a giant robot, tailed by a gun-wielding girl named Yoko (right). Using the power of the small drill inside the ancient gunmen, Simon and Kamina help Yoko take down the robot and escape to the surface where Yoko lives. The story follows their journey through the surface of earth as they discover the forces keeping humanity underground and the inter-galactic reasons behind it.
Basically Plot: In a world where humans are forced underground, Simon and his growing group of friends use ancient robot gunmen to take on the forces keeping humankind imprisoned, and soon discover the reason behind their concealment.
One of the genuine anime classics, Gurren Lagann was one of the original blockbuster mecha anime, whose effects can still be felt today in shows like Darling in the FranXX. The series that almost single-handedly spawned one of the most successful modern anime studios in Trigger, there are few, if any shows, that are as important to one of Japan’s biggest exports as this series. Over ten years on, though, can this extraordinary series still stand at the top when compared to more modern classics?
The word classic is thrown about a lot, but I’m probably going to end up using it in this review way too much, because Gurren Lagann is the anime classic, alongside shows like Dragonball and Naruto, and that starts from its basic story, one that despite being rooted in something noble like the power of humanity and its ability to overcome any obstacle is lavished in childish entertainment. Gurren Lagann’s story is like ordering desert at a five-star restaurant and drowning it in sweet caramel. In a way this is more of a true action-comedy than modern shows such as Food Wars, because unlike in modern titles where the two are noticeably separated Gurren Lagann keeps the two wildly different genres constantly intertwined. Writing the plot actually reminded me of how serious, and in fact how good Gurren Lagann’s story actually is.
Gurren Lagann is a series with some serious scale, both in terms of space and time. One of, if not the most impressive thing about this series is the incredible amount of time it covers. At the beginning you see Simon as a young sprout heading into the world, then you watch as he becomes a man in charge of the world. It’s an incredible turnaround, watching him go from the determined child to the conscious governor, along with the rest of the cast around him. Not only is the age change done quickly, but it’s also done with respect to their personal stories and depth, and by the time you see Simon as an old man living outside the city you really feel as if you’ve seen his whole life story unfold through 27 episodes.
The other side of this scale is this series’ size, which will be the sticking point for many. As mentioned before, the story’s focus on human determination is noble, but in the childish style of much of this series, it is exploited to the point of being pure storytelling cheat-code. Many of Simon’s battle are solved by him shouting an impulsively made up superpower name before unleashing an impossible large drill-based attack on him enemy. These moves increase in size, and decrease in feasibility, as the series goes on. Simon’s Lagann gunmen, once the size of one of those Zorb things you fall down hills in, goes through five changes during the course of the series, becoming a giant robot and a flying ship before being seemingly carved out of the moon itself before finally becoming bigger than most galaxies! The Gurren Lagann wiki page even states that Simon ‘breaks the laws of reality’ to win the final battle, although in reality he had been doing that all series.
However, people don’t watch a classic anime like this one for the realism. Yes, the story is somewhat ridiculous at times but that shouldn’t take away from something that is truly special, even more so ten years on. To simply see a robot-based action anime completely hand-drawn is a delight, and something that has almost been lost to the annals of time at this point. Gurren Lagann is a beautifully animated series bursting with colour, and with a set of characters who are just as vibrant as the robots themselves. Yes, the story’s habit of digging itself out of impossible situations can be irritating at times, but that shouldn’t overshadow the excellent story behind it, a tale about human perseverance set over the course of one timid boy’s lifetime. Ultimately this is a mature theme stuck deep inside a show for children, but for many this childish trait is exactly what anime is about, and I wouldn’t hold it against anyone who said this is still the best anime of all time.
ANIME RANKING: #11 – Simply one of the best anime series we’ve seen, Gurren Lagann becomes the highest rated first season we’ve seen since Nana over a year ago, and ahead of major titles like My Hero Academia!
If you liked this you’ll love: Darling in the FranXX (#N/A) – As mentioned before, it’s hard to find a series that combines story, action and beautiful animation like Gurren Lagann. However, Franxx can genuinely be seen as Gurren Lagann’s distant anime ancestor. From the aforementioned Studio Trigger formed by Lagann’s chief creator, and featuring many of the staff from the classic anime, Darling in the FranXX is a rare modern mecha series with full hand-drawn animation. While the style of the story is slightly more serious, it is very easy to see the similarities in characters and particularly animation, and there’s no doubt that fans of Lagann will be very pleased with this fresh offering.
Subscribe to The Culture Cove for regular anime reviews and recommendations! Look out for Ep.52 of APRs, featuring the galactic cult favourite Space Dandy!