Dosei Mansion / Saturn Apartments by Iwaoka Hisae

I came across the complete run of Dosei Mansion / Saturn Apartments at my library, so I checked all seven volumes out at once.  You can read up to the end of volume 3 on-line, so far (last update was six months ago, so scanlators may still be working on this one.)

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I liked this one a lot.

I’ve been struggling with how to describe this manga to friends of mine in order to make it sound cool enough for them to want to read it, and I think I fail partly because: “You guys, you guys!  It’s about window washers in SPAAAAAAAAACE!” sounds much cooler in my head than it does out loud.

But, but… window washers in SPAAAAAACE!

Am I convincing you yet?  No?  Okay, okay, so the story follows a young orphan named Mitsu, who is following in his father’s footsteps. Dad was an affable window washer who, one day, had an accident and likely plummeted to the surface of Earth. See, despite ‘Saturn’ being in the cover, this story actually takes place in a human-built ring in the stratosphere of Earth (35 kilometers/ 21.8 miles above earth.) We built this spinning apartment complex in order to escape the environmental collapse. Life in the apartment ring has become stratified.

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The people in the upper levels are all super rich, and those down below are poor working class.

Several people from below (and a few above) dream of a returning to Earth and starting afresh… including our little hero, Mitsu.

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For a slice-of-life manga, Dosei Mansion/Saturn Apartments, actually has a lot of plot.

Remember when I had the revelation while reading Yotsuba&!/Yotsuba to! that maybe slice-of-life manga are some kind of weird propaganda?  When I got to the final line of the manga, I really, really felt that I might be on to something. There’s a revolution fomenting up above that never comes to pass, our hero gets to Earth and discovers that the people on the bottom were once on the top, and his only thought is, “Wow, the ring is so pretty because the windows are so clean!”

I mean, he even goes to jail for a few years?  It’s… I mean, the end seems to imply that maybe you should just be happy where you are, enjoy hard work, and don’t rock the boat because, ultimately, you can’t change the world all that much (there does seem to be a bit more freedom of movement by the end, to be fair.)

It kind of reminded me of the dreaded ending of Bleach, in that there’s this major push against the status quo, but by the end, everything just falls back into its place and we’re all supposed to be okay with that.

People will no doubt tell me that I’m looking at this with too Western an eye.  That’s likely true. I can’t entirely help that.  However, I do think it’s worth noting, regardless.

Especially since, in the case of Dosei Apartments/Saturn Apartments, I really enjoyed the story…. all the way through. Even though the ending was a quiet sort of change, I really loved the constant pride that Mitsu had in his window washing work and how his love for his job actually made other people like him and accept him.  He both followed his dad AND surpassed him in all sorts of quiet, yet meaningful ways.

Quiet yet meaningful.

That’s a fine revolution, IMHO.

So, with the caveat of the ending doesn’t seem like much, I say this manga is well worth the read. I can see why this series won the 15th Japan Media Arts Festival Grand Prize for Manga (according to Baka-Updates.)

 

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Isekai Izakaya ‘Nobu’ / Otherwordly Izakaya “Nobu” by Semikawa Natsuya / Virginia Nitohei

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After all that yaoi, how about something ridiculously wholesome?  I stumbled across Isekai Izakaya ‘Nobu’ / Otherworldly Izakaya ‘Nobu’  thinking it was Isekai Shokudou / Restaurant to Another World, the anime for which I’ve been seeing advertised on Crunchyroll.

Given that they’re both seinen, both based on a light novel, and BOTH out about the same time (‘Nobu‘ came out in 2015, ‘Shokudou‘ in 2016,) I’d say it’s a pretty easy mistake to have made.  I haven’t read Isekai Shoukudo yet, but I found Isekai Izakaya ‘Nobu’ really quite charming.

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I want someone to look at me the way people in foodie manga look at their meal.

The look of pure wonder combined with unspeakable lust

I want someone to be so surprised and amazed by my beauty that they simultaneously blush and start to sweat.

Also, dude. It’s fried chicken.

To be fair to the people frequenting this izakaya, they’re clearly living in some fictitious part of  Medieval Germany and are probably eating things like wurst and blood sausage and knoephla on the regular. More to the point, like the MCU Captain America so famously said in “Winter Solider” about food prep from the past: “We used to boil everything.”

The real magic here is that the izakaya owners actually live in modern Japan, and the izakaya has an unexplained doorway to this alternate Germanic world.

Which is possibly why something this simple: salted cucumber gets an “OMG WHAT IS THIS GLORIOUS, LIFE-CHANGING WONDER???!!” reaction from the guests.

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I will not argue that fresh food is amazing.

But, I have my theories as to why ‘Nobu’ couldn’t make it over on the “other side.”

I had cucumbers with salt yesterday. It’s good, but I’m not sure I’d pay to eat it at a restaurant, you know? Maybe it’s the plating?  I mean, that’s a really nice plater and the cucumber is artfully laid out. Perhaps this is enough to “elevate” the “taste profile” of regular, plain cucumber?

It’s still just salted cucumber.

It’s not actually explicitly stated that ‘Nobu’ failed as a business back in modern Japan, but there’s a panel that strongly implies it. In one of the later chapters (Vol. 3, chapter 16), we see our heroine returning from an antique dealer on ‘our’ side and she pauses in front of their storefront an it’s clearly shuttered.

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But over in the other world, Nobu is well loved.

The entire schtick of this manga is that good food is magical and can change your outlook, lift your spirits, and melt cold, dead hearts.

Honestly, I’m not sure I disagree. Yet, I started to find something about the miraculous and curative power of SALTED CUCUMBERS quite unintentionally hilarious.

None of that, however, diminished the charm of this story. I totally signed on for each and every ‘very special episode,’ more than happy to see which type of food changed what person’s attitude/position/etc.  The characters aren’t deep, but they innocuous and sweet in the way of a lot of these foodie manga. I’m also super curious about what, if anything, will be the fallout from our world (it’s hinted that maybe they shouldn’t be bringing over so much gold and silver and copper from the alternate universe.) After all, they’ve had a couple of scares/threats to their business from the alternate universe.

There are apparently 6 volumes of Isekai Izakaya ‘Nobu’ out in Japan. Scanlators have, as of the time of this review, posted three of those. I only mention this because if you rush off to read this RIGHT NOW (or anytime before the next update), it might seem as though the manga has reached a natural conclusion at Vol. 3, chapter 18.

In fact, when I went to do my usual cursory research of this manga, I was surprised to discover there was three volumes more of story.

Not that I’m complaining!

This is exactly the kind of stuff I love in a foodie slice-of-life:  Little to zero drama, light character moments, and lots and lots of people sitting around talking about how amazing food is while cooking and eating it.

If you want to read the light novel that Isekai Izakaya ‘Nobu” is based on, there are people translating that, as well. (If you go, be sure to click on the chapter number.) There is an anime that has only just begun its run available on Crunchyroll as well (as of this review they have two episodes available.)


 

Quick additional commentary:  Having watched the two episodes of the anime for this, it continues to be adorable.

My favorite part, however, is that the Japanese tourism board has clearly realized that people getting excited over salted cucumbers and other simple bar food is a GREAT selling tool, so there are mini live-action adverts/cooking prep/bar crawls post the show.  Complete with directions to the pubs serving this food and telephone numbers so you can BOOK YOUR RESERVATIONS NOW.

I mean, it’s kind of amazing.

ブルー!ブルー!ブルー!/ Blue! Blue! Blue! by Amamiya

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ブルー!ブルー!ブルー!/ Blue! Blue! Blue! kind of makes me regret my policy of reviewing any manga I read.

There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, it’s just sort of ‘meh.’

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The summary reads:

When Takiya Kippei, the brother of two older sisters, realises that he desperately needs money to buy a birthday present for his lover, he decides to live and work onsite at a ryokan (a traditional Japanese inn). There, he meets the well-educated Honjou Masumi, a man who is neither too strict nor too lenient, and who has a charm which embodies the word ‘mature’. “This is the first time I’ve met someone like Honjou-san” – as Takiya continues working at the ryokan, he starts to become interested in Honjou…

It’s hard to judge a manga by its first four chapters, but I guess I’m going to anyway…?

Right now, I either wanted a faster romance or more life in the slice-of-life.  This one is still being scanlated regularly and, thus, ends rather abruptly, and so maybe the exciting bits are just around the corner?

As it stands I’m not feeling the chemistry.

Takiya (or, more likely, Amamiya-sensei) has a different sense of what constitutes ‘charmingly mature’ than I do. That’s not to say that Honjou doesn’t have his charming moments (more on that in a bit), but currently the only thing that sets him up as more mature than Takiya is his age and the fact that he manages the ryokan… oh, and that he smokes.  Otherwise, he kind of seems to be clinging to bits of his wilder youth, like motorcycle riding and an unrequited thing for an old (straight, or at least married,) high school chum.

I did find the fact that Honjou keeps putting off Takiya’s advances really VERY charming.

This series of panels made me happy:

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So, I mean, it’s possible that, once complete, I’ll have fewer complaints.

There was a series of shorts that I read long ago, before I kept track of such things (which is partly why I started the policy of reviewing EVERYTHING), that this reminded me of.

The collected stories I’m remembering were these very… I’m trying to think of the right word. My brain keeps reaching for ‘realistic’ or ‘mature,’ but neither of those is quite right. They were quiet, reflective romances, where the hook-ups were very… grounded?  Like, there was one in this series where a guy returns to his hometown for a festival and ends up having sex with one of the drummers in the stands after hours. There’s both not a lot of reflection about the characters’ emotional state, while also being oddly atmospheric.  There was a lot of wordless staring at the object of affection/lust.

So maybe it’s the tone of this manga that reads as ‘mature’?

Like I said, I ended up feeling ‘meh’ about it in the end, but it might be worth returning to once its complete.

我成为了BL漫画家的助理 / I Love BL Comics by Li Zhiheng and Mei Dajiong

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How could I resist a title like this?  I Love BL Comics.  It seems sort of made for me, doesn’t it?

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Our somewhat hapless hero, Ly Chee, is an unemployed artist, who is desperately seeking work as an assistant in the manhua business.

In the opening chapters, he tries a number of places and gets results that are very familiar to any freelancer in the creative arts.  Well, I mean, I’ve never been asked to wear a maid’s outfit as part of the job, but I have been asked to work for free:

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Still funny, even though the translation is VERY rough.

Finally, Ly Chee ends up finding what seems to be the perfect job.  He finds it a little odd at first that all of his potential bosses are women, until they reveal that they write BL/Boys’ Love.

Then the tabes are turned, they wonder if he can handle the subject matter.

He stares at the sketches of naked men for a long time, looking stricken, and they become more and more convinced he’s far too disgusted to work there.  Until this moment:

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He makes a huge, impassioned speech about the purity of the relationships in BL (he must be reading different things than I am,) which causes the ladies to make an obvious assumption about our passionate Ly Chee.

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Perhaps…. the boy doth protest too much.

Ly Chee insists that he’s straight as an arrow, which is an assertion that is put to the test in the following chapters. I suspect, in fact, it will be the main drama going forward.

There are, to-date, only 6 chapters available.  Buka Manga, which for some reason shares authorial credit on most sites, is the only translator of this manhua… which, is a bummer.  Their grasp of English grammatical construction is tenuous at best.  The words are all there, but, obviously, “I am for job here,” is not how a native English-speaker would that they are here for a job.

Yet, I’m not entirely convinced that this detracts from the story. It might make it unintentionally funnier in some cases, and this is meant to be comedy.  More importantly, it’s not IMPOSSIBLE to parse what’s being said.  It just takes me a second or two to mentally correct it, which, should they ever take a dramatic turn, might lose me as a reader.

The art styles are, as you see, also vary wildly.  Normally, where there are two mangaka listed, I tend to assume that one is the writer and the other is the artist.  My guess is, in this case, we actually have two writer/artists.

On the other hand, I think that helps them pull off scene like this one, where Ly Chee is showing off his artistic talent to his bosses:

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My artistic talent in a nutshell.

It’s interesting how often this sort of handicap is shown in comedic manga/manhua about manga/manhua writing.  At least, there are similar gags in Gekkan Shōjo Nozaki-kun/Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun.  Apparently, there is hilarity to be found in the idea that artists might not be capable of drawing All The Things (which, as someone who dabbles in art, seems really LEGIT.)

If you read this, be warned that there were moments of “???” that might be lost in translation or ‘humor works differently in different cultures’ kinds of things for me.  As you know, gentle reader, the broader the humor, the less likely *I* am to appreciate it.  So, as always, grain of salt any problems I have with the funny bits.

Would I recommend it?  I’m kind of intrigued by the fact that Baka-Updates gave it a ‘smut’ designation (however, they seem to also assume it’s shoujo ai/Girls’ Love? So, maybe that’s just a mis-tag.)  The cover also seems to imply that there might actually be smut/romance between the two others in the picture, though I will tell you (even though it’s a GIANT spoiler) one of them is decidedly NOT human… which might be a kink for you?

No judging.

So, a hesitant yes.  I do wish the translations were a little smoother, but the chapters are short.

和女儿的日常/Grow Up With My Daughter by Chen Yuanfeng

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In my never ending quest to find things to read that are about absolutely nothing, I have found this charming manhua, Grow Up With My Daughter. This is not just a slice-of-life about a man and his daughter, it’s autobiographical.  Each chapter ends with a picture of the daughter in question.

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Can you spoil something this wonderfully simple?  I’m not sure.  A man hangs out with his daughter, doing family things, often with humorous results.  My biggest caveat would be that it’s possible the humor could bounce off anyone who has not spent sufficient time around toddlers (or who flat-out doesn’t like them.)

You do kind of have to find toddlers innately charming.

Or parenting sort of ridiculous.

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I still indoor too much, thanks.

There are only four chapters of this so far, but it’s well worth checking out. I mean… it’s little vignettes about stupid things parents do to amuse their kids, etc.  But, you are talking to the person who read all of Yotsuba to! /Yotsuba&! and kind of wished there had been more than 13 VOLUMES.

So, yeah. With a grain of salt.

Sapuri / Suppli (Vol. 1) by Okazaki Mari

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I normally don’t judge a book by its cover, but I thought the cover of the first volume of Sapuri / Suppli was unusual and gorgeous af.  It did its job; the artwork got me to pick up the tankōbon and read it while bored at work last night.

As unusual and standout as the cover is, I found the storyline to be the opposite–very… well-tred and stereotypical.

“Minami Fujii is an employee at a high-powered advertising firm. She’s good at her job but finds herself torn between the pressure and expectations of her career and her attraction to two of her coworkers: the younger, arty Ishida, and the classy, put-together Ogiwara!”

Except Sapuri / Suppli is a little bit more than a torn between two lovers story, but I’ll get to that after the spoiler break.

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In manga, Japanese women seem to worry a lot about not getting married.

I mean, I guess we see something similar among the older gay men in Fumi Yoshinaga’s work–this preoccupation with having to reach a certain pinnacle of traditionally-defined success by age fill in the blank, but usually 30.

There is a thing that happens to a lot of people around the age 28-30.  In astrology it would be defined as a “Saturn Return,” but a lot of people do some kind of “what am I doing with my life?” soul searching at that age.  It’s a fairly common/universal conundrum.

My problem with how it often seems to end up being portrayed for women, in these particular manga, is that there’s a lot of unexamined, internalized misogyny.

Our heroine in Sapuri / Suppli, Fujii talks about not wanting to ‘dry up’ and basically turn into ‘an old hag.’ Fujii worries about not being cute any more, and tries to glam it up at one point (and gets mocked for trying to dress young by her officemates).

There’s a successful businesswoman in the office, who, on the surface (at least in the first volume), seems happy enough, who is the fear of every office lady. Don’t end up like her! Alone at 40!  Like that’s some kind of death sentence.  Worse, the older lady herself participates in this myth, by telling Fujii to go out to karaoke one night because, “you don’t want to end up like me!”

This might be more poignant, if she was was actually portrayed as sad. The only time we see her out of the office, she seems to be happily shopping for houseplants by herself.  (Is that a cultural metaphor? If so, I didn’t get it.)

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My version had her Fujii’s boyfriend saying, “Isn’t that the woman you always say you don’t want to end up like?”

To be fair, a lot of this particular drama bounces off me as a queer woman.  We get perceived this way a lot: washed-up, frumpy, alone (even when we’re not. In fact, given this scene and Fujii’s loving description, I briefly wondered if this was going to end up a yuri romance!)

But this whole drama also bounces off me as a nerd, a geek.  We never like the things we’re supposed to, we’re also often seen as weird and lonely (again, even when we’re not.  Lonely, I mean. Of COURSE we’re weird af.)

I think the last time I worried about ‘fitting in’ or participating in culturally-defined success was 1983, when I was in high school. (No, strike that, by 1983, I’d already found Gay Comix at the local head shop.)

This is not to say that I can’t sympathize. There is a secondary tension in Sapuri / Suppli about the pressures of work versus keeping any kind of social life.  For Fujii, that means trying to continue to date, but it’s generally relatable in terms of how in your mid-20s (and, really, almost at any point in one’s life) the struggle of “does this job define who I am?” is real.

I am also endlessly fascinated by the work culture in Japan.

There’s actually a diagram in the manga, at one point, about how to form a stable napping platform out of three wheel-y office chairs. Fujii also demonstrates how to wrap your blazer around your skirt so you don’t accidentally give your officemates a free show, while you nap in the boardroom.

Fujii is regularly shown staying overnight at the office.

I can’t even.

There is no job on the planet I like this much. Even when I was writing full-time, I always took the weekends off (unless my deadline fell on a Monday.)

I’ll be honest, too. Despite her traditional obsessions, Fujii is a sympathetic character. The manga is well written.  Enough so, that I ended up spending some time last night after I finished the first volume trying to find out how easy it might be to get the rest. Scanlation sites don’t seem to have much of it–the first few chapters of the first volume, at most.  Amazon has English-language versions up to volume 5 (out of the 11 published in Japan.)

So, I mean, I might be able to pressure my library into at least finishing up the run of what they started (at least up to what’s currently available in English), but… I just don’t know that I’m that interested, especially if it ends with some kind of underscoring of traditional societal norms, you know?

It’d be boring to me if Fujii ends up leaving her career for marriage.  Or, worse, if she settles with some dude just because she doesn’t want to grow old alone.  That’s what people do in real life.  Yawn.

What I’d rather read is the story of the career woman who is happily single, despite all the pressures to be otherwise.  That’s a bit more edgy to me, a bit more exciting.  I mean, smash the patriarchy, sister. Even if it’s just to defy everyone’s expectations and be a happy, well-adjusted singleton.

However, Sapuri / Suppli was apparently made into a J-drama, so perhaps you might like to consume it that way? I couldn’t find it on Crunchyroll, but it looks like a fan site might have it for you.

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So, am I recommending this or not?  I don’t know.  It kind of looks like from the description of the J-drama this ends up a straight-forward romance.  I guess we can all be relieved that Fujii won’t end up a lonely, old woman, eh?

Owari Nochi, Asanagi Kurashi / Giant Spider & Me: A Post-Apocalyptic Tale (Vol. 1) by Morino Kikori

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Okay, so you thought the last thing I read was a little weird.

Let me tell you, folks, Giant Spider & Me: A Post-Apocalyptic Tale might actually take the blue ribbon for weird.

Like, I don’t know, I was good with the idea of a quiet friendship with picnics and a whole lot of just living life in an ‘after the fall’ world, even when one of the friends was a giant hairy spider with a half-dozen eyes, creepy tentacles, and too many teeth—until I hit the first recipe.

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Suddenly, I’m like, wait, wait, WAIT….  this is also a FOODIE manga?????

Then, I looked up from the book, clutched it to my chest, and whispered to myself: “This just got super-AWESOME.”

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Here’s the bad news first: from what I can tell, no one is currently scanlating this amazing bit of weirdness.

I’m super, duper sad about this, because volume one ends on a serious cliffhanger.  I’m going to ask my library to get this in the hopes that they will continue to buy the volumes as they come out (so I don’t have to. Admittedly, I just up an bought this one for actual money… it was kind of an accident? It was just that when I read the description of this, I was so enchanted, I HAD to have it.)

Okay, so what can I tell you about this manga?

Our hero is a twelve year-old girl named Nagi.  Nagi lives on her own in a big house in the woods.  Her father used to live with her, but according to Nagi, Dad has a bit of wanderlust and just leaves her on her own for months at a time.  He apparently used to send seed back from his travels (they have a massive garden), but he… stopped.

Savvy readers are already thinking: Oh, Nagi. Your papa is DEAD.

But, who knows? I mean, after all, what happens next is that Nagi stumbles across a giant spider… and befriends it.  At first, she sees this thing and thinks “Eek!” and tries to run and hide.

LIKE YOU DO WHEN YOU MEET A SPIDER THE SIZE OF A CAR.

But, you know, spider is kind of cute in its own way, and is clearly scared of her, too, and… a little lonely.

Spider follows Nagi home and she tries to feed it.  At no point does she look around for a giant fly or anything like that, but instead tries all sorts of human food on it.  The spider doesn’t much care for anything she has in her pantry, but when she makes pumpkin-stuffed dumplings for herself, the spider LOVES this… and her cooking.

 

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Real spiders are scary enough. Did you have to add the extra row of internal teeth, sensei?

Such begins their lives together.

Nagi names the spider ‘Asa,’ because she met it (them, the manga uses they/them) in the morning.  She spends some time reading up on spiders, trying to figure out how to communicate better with Asa.  It’s all to no avail, but they clearly have a bond, anyway.

It’s the food.

We know from all of these manga about cooking and eating that if you take the time to make someone good food and then share it with them, that’s about the purest expression of love there is.  Cooking and eating good food makes a family.

(I despair for any Japanese people out there who are terrible cooks. I mean, if I grew up reading these kind of manga and my parent or my partner was shitty at making food or too harried to anything but throw in pre-made, pre-packaged food into the oven, I might seriously think: YOU DON’T LOVE ME.)

Luckily, this is not Nagi’s problem. She’s an excellent cook, and she’ll happily talk you through any recipe you–or your mutant spider companion!–might possibly want.

Things go along like this until a stranger arrives at the door.  The first person to show up is actually not scary, but then….

That’s where the volume ends.

The things I kind of love about this manga beyond the cooking and the recipes are: the mystery of what the spider is.  When the kindly stranger shows up, he’s very, “Uh, are we sure your friend is a spider? I mean… extra teeth?????” and, okay, so even if this is a mutated regular spider there’s a kind of intelligence there you wouldn’t necessarily expect from an arachnid.  And, then there’s how… lonely the spider is. Is it just another victim of the apocalypse that destroyed the cities–if so, why does the  spider seemed shocked to see the submerged city? Why does it like homemade human food? Was it once human? Or… given the prehensile tentacle are we sure the “spider” is… shall we say, native? Perhaps the sudden destruction of humanity had some extraterrestrial help….

Which might explain the guy in the gas-mask at the end who calls Nagi and her spider-friend “monsters.”

We’ll see, because I’m definitely tuning in for more of this one.

I mean, if nothing else, for the recipes.