Gourmet Girl Graffiti
by Paul Jensen,
Ah, New Year's Eve: a worldwide holiday that prompts people to look back on the past twelve months and think about how their lives have changed. That introspective mood is useful in a fictional environment, since it gives writers an excuse to show how their characters have developed over time. Perhaps that's why character-focused slice of life shows sometimes use New Year's Eve as a setup for their final episodes. Or, if you're the writers of Gourmet Girl Graffiti, you can jump the gun and do it in episode nine. Whatever floats your boat.
Early or not, Gourmet Girl Graffiti breaks out all the usual anime New Year's traditions this week. Shrine visit with drunken relatives? Check. Flashback to episode one? Check. Heated table and soba noodles? Check and check. Ryou cleans her apartment and cooks things, Kirin is amusingly lazy, and Shiina wanders into the episode just long enough to remind us that she is indeed a character. There's nothing terribly exciting to see here, just a laid-back and reflective holiday-themed episode.
The good news is that despite its relaxed atmosphere, this isn't nearly as boring as what the series delivered last week. Between all the different New Year's activities, there's enough content to fill this episode's runtime without stretching anything too thin. The character humor is more or less back in the groove, with both Kirin and Ryou offering up a handful of genuinely funny lines. Kirin's suggestions that she's more excited about the food than she is about seeing Ryou are a highlight, as are her awkward attempts at talking to strangers at the shrine.
While the dishes that this episode serves up are pretty standard fare, some of the flashbacks it throws in help set a contemplative mood. Looking back at the beginning of the series provides a “before and after” comparison for the friendship between Kirin and Ryou. Their personalities haven't changed much, but we see how they've come to value one another's company and the chance to eat together. For a series that champions the social aspect of food, that's an important observation to make.
This is all well and good, but it feels more suited to a series finale than an ordinary episode. It feels odd to be looking back on Kirin and Ryou's first meeting when there are still several weeks in the season. There's such a distinct sense of closure here that it's hard to imagine going back to business as usual in seven days' time. If it hadn't been for the preview after the end credits, I would've come away thinking Gourmet Girl Graffiti had wrapped up early. It's not a bad episode, it just feels like it's airing too early in the season.
This episode's other problem is much simpler: the animation isn't very good. This series has always prioritized its food and backgrounds over its characters, but the quality control seems to be slipping here. Character movement seems intentionally limited and faces are starting to wander off-model in medium and wide shots. The flashbacks in this episode might be there for the sake of the plot, but I can't help but wonder if they were tossed in to help the studio get back on schedule.
Even with its production issues, this is still an improvement over last week. There's a very fine line between low-key and dull, and Gourmet Girl Graffiti has managed to drag itself back to the right side of the border. It hasn't quite reclaimed the charm of earlier episodes, but it's getting there.
Gourmet Girl Graffiti is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Paul Jensen is a freelance writer and editor. You can follow more of his anime-related ramblings on Twitter.
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