Kumamiko - Girl meets Bear
by Rose Bridges,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Kumamiko - Girl meets Bear ?
How often does anime teach you how to cook? This episode of Kumamiko does, bringing a fun, pleasant start to the episode. Machi and Natsu are trying to figure out what to eat on a hot day, and Machi insists on "cold-water rice," even as Natsu suggests more filling things to do with that rice. Luckily, they both find a way to make this dish creative, and the show even gives the recipe for viewers to try out. It's a nice way to establish cooking as a theme for the episode, as it unites both its first and second halves. I had more complicated feelings about the rest of it, though.
Yoshio suggests that Machi get a part-time job cooking samples at a grocery store. He hypes up the opportunity, suggesting that it could take her to Sendai and Tokyo, exciting the wannabe big-city-girl in her. Of course, that's not at all what happens: Machi is just working at a local grocery store, cooking up nameko with scrambled eggs and chives. The difference in expectations causes Machi to shut down, seeing everyone around her as much more terrifying than they actually are.
The first half of the episode gives Machi one moment of panic over the idea that city-dwellers are expected to have such a "detailed knowledge" of Italian cuisine. Of course, it's silly to think that simply knowing what basil and arugula are constitutes "detailed knowledge." (For once, it's a joke that probably plays even better with American viewers, given that Italian food is a much more common part of our diet.) Still, it's a quick jab at Machi's lack of cultural knowledge, before she mostly gets to excel in this half, as the characters praise her surprisingly advanced cooking. I'm happy that Machi is the star for once instead of being kicked around and set up to fail by the other characters. This just makes the rest of the episode that much more uncomfortable.
It's not as bad as it could have been, focusing primarily on Machi's reactions and making excellent use of her overactive imagination. Her terror definitely produces some interesting visuals (like the one in this week's screencap). Still, it's a little weird how much the characters seem to be okay with humiliating Machi week after week. It's not like they aren't aware of the stress they're putting her under; after the whole ordeal, Natsu and Yoshio reassure her that she doesn't have to stick with it (she was filling in for someone who was out that day), and that they understand it's an uncomfortable experience for someone who gets so nervous when speaking in public. Still, everyone concludes it's ultimately a good experience. As someone with social anxiety who used to work retail, I somewhat agree. While it made me really nervous, I do think I grew from the experience. But no one was filling my head beforehand with false promises about what I would get out of that job.
Of course, I don't expect Kumamiko to be realistic. It's a gag anime. Comedies are often built on people not communicating well with each other. Still, these particular gags are getting repetitive, and it's reaching a level where it's just uncomfortable how much this show loves making fun of its protagonist for very understandable reactions, all to make some weird point about how "kids these days" should appreciate the country life instead of yearning for something bigger they don't understand. It's not an idea without merit, especially for someone as naïve as Machi, but the show hammers it home with her in a way that can feel cruel and judgmental.
Kumamiko still has plenty of sharp gags, and its general "quirky people in a quirky small town" concept still works for me. Its bold colors, character designs (both human and bear), and lush country backgrounds make it a joy to watch. Apart from the mockery of its heroine, it can be a surprisingly affectionate show too. I'm just getting a little frustrated at its mean-spirited moments, particularly for how much they're focused on just one character (as opposed to the more spread-out focus of other darker gag anime). Machi's a pretty typical teenage girl. She doesn't need to be constantly picked on for her idiosyncrasies.
Still, points for the cooking show at the beginning. Who doesn't love a good cooking show?
Kumamiko - Girl meets Bear is currently streaming on Funimation.
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