To be honest little series like this are a crying example of something I have been bellyaching about for many years now, and that is that the most important aspect of an anime itself focuses around the story and the characters. That is the horse that has to go before the cart, and in this case the cart are video, audio, big name VAs, and all the rest. As long as you have a solid story and engaging characters there is a lot that can be overlooked or “winked at” to use the old English phrase. But without these all important elements all the incredible animation skill, overwhelming background music, or most anything will almost always been unable to “save” an anime series. And this little gem is for me an excellent proof of that theory. The animation was simplistic and obviously cutting corners. But the story and characters were extraordinarily thought provoking!

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For those who may have (unsurprisingly) may have no idea this anime shorts series is even airing, the announcement and a few teeny summaries were  made of it over on ANN mid December:

“The official website of the Ultra Super Anime Time programming block revealed on Thursday that it will air the Tabi Machi Late Show anime on the block, along with Kono Danshi, Mahō ga Oshigoto Desu., and another as-yet unannounced anime. Comix Wave Films is producing all three series under the overall title Comix Wave Films Omnibus. Tabi Machi Late Show will have a theme of “goodbyes and journeys,” and will air four episodes, titled “Recipe,” “Transistor Smartphone,” “Natsu Matsuri” (Summer Festival), and “Clover.” The anime will premiere on Tokyo MX on January 8, and on BS 11 on January 10.”

What caught me were those few words of the series having “a theme of goodbyes and journeys”. The Japanese can do these sorts of things very well, and in my opinion they did so very well indeed in this first episode.

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One of the interesting things about this series is how much narrative they positively PACKED into 7 1/2 minutes. There were so many things going on, and so many things that were not directly said – it was as if the writers were striving to make maximum use out of the time they were allotted.

The story seems fairly simple at first – there is a young man named Nagi who is just entering adulthood (perhaps he may either be in college or just out of high school) who has been studying to be a cook/chef alongside a woman named Azuma who is maybe 6 or 8 years older than him. When he was younger he saw her cooking and there was a “something” about both how she cooked and what her food tasted like that caught his inner gaze and inspired him – he wanted to be able to do the same thing with the same inner “something”, and set out on a path to learn how to do so. He is making a meal for her (I think the same meal she cooked for him when he was inspired by her cooking), and we find out that it is sort of a farewell meal for her (the camera swinging to the suitcase hints this) and an expression of gratitude.

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From here Nagi says that the secret for him was when he realized that he had to stop looking at her as a person, but to try and look at the same thing she was looking at. He then says that he is going to go and study in a culinary school in Milan with the intent to return with the ability to see much further into the distance than Azuma does. There is actually quite a bit in this exchange, but lets move on.

After this we have a very thought-provoking inner monologue of Azuma, who herself experienced a similar process when she was inspired to become a chef. She reflects on how the very same process lead up to her falling in love with that same  young man who inspired her and who flew abroad to follow his dream of studying in foreign culinary schools, and while smiling inside, says:

“I guess this is how it feels to be given too much credit….I only now understand how selfish it is to make someone your role model, and how cowardly I was to not try to stand at your level….The strange guilt you feel when someone looks up to you – the awkwardness, the responsibility … and the separation.”

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After the two bid one another farewell the final moments of the episode put quite the twist on things – someone who looks very much like the chef who inspired her walks out of the restaurant she cooks at (owns?) in a salaryman’s look and briefcase, and after the two speak a bit we learn that the young chef returned from studying abroad early, that he married Azuma, and is employed in something other than the very thing that moved Azuma to take up cooking, even though she admits she did not have the courage to follow up on her dream of carrying on the torch. Instead, she seems content for the moment to have preserved the flame and passed it on to Nagi, who is heading off to cultivate his dream.

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There are so, so, so many things in this short little episode that I have not even touched on in this review, but partly so because while giving the barest outline of its content I want to encourage those who read this to see the episode for themselves and mull over what they have seen. There is a lot of potential there, a lot. We definitely need more writing like this in the anime medium in my opinion.

This series of shorts only will last for four episodes, but I am going to blogging all four eps. This, together with Ao no Kanata, will be my two series I will cover this season. Last Spring when I tried to cover two full 1 cour series it was a bit too difficult for me, but this may be a little more manageable. Looking forward to reading people’s comments on this! ^^

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Currently the “oji-san” of the staff members age wise (in his mid 40’s) yet the most recent addition, he is also a Japanophile from his teen years while not quite an “otaku” who lives in the United States. Came to actively following anime late in life (in 2008), but in general loves the traditional arts, history and culture of Japan as a whole, both ancient and modern.

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