The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Terrible Anime Challenge: Koufuku Graffiti and How Diagnosing Fictional Characters Diminishes a Series’ Meaning

“There is no right way to go on an edible journey. You can never tell what is going to be great, so you have to try everything.” –Adam Richman

After her grandmother’s death, Ryou Machiko struggled to cook dishes that tasted well until meeting her cousin, Kirin Morino. Learning that the joy of cooking comes from being able to make things for others, Ryou redevelops her affinity in creating various dishes for Karin. The two also befriend Shiina, one of Ryou’s friends, and together, share various meals with one another, their families and peers. In its run, Koufuku Graffiti‘s main theme is a simple and familiar one: activities have more meaning to them when done with peers. However, unlike Yuru Camp△, whose story depicted individual and group activities as both having their merits, Koufuku Graffiti singularly suggests that cooking with others and cooking for others is where the magic comes from. This message is driven home very early in the game, and after this became established, Koufuku Graffiti maintains this status quo: there’s very little in the way of narrative beyond Ryou rediscovering her love of cooking once episode one has elapsed, and Koufuku Graffiti offers very little in the way of substance beyond uncommonly high detail depictions of the preparation and consumption of said foodstuffs. While I concur with the near-universal perspective that food superbly represented in Koufuku Graffiti, I find myself at odds with the sentiments that Koufuku Graffiti has a more substantial message beyond this – beyond its presentation of food and the positive impacts it has, the series is unremarkable from a thematic and execution perspective. There are some long-standing perspectives on Koufuku Graffiti that do not hold up on further inspection, and in this Terrible Anime Challenge, I will take a look at the egregious misconceptions that have developed around Ryou’s mental health prior to cooking for Kirin.

The most severe and misleading misinterpretation about Koufuku Graffiti is that Ryou is suffering from major depressive disorder following her grandmother’s death. The folks making this claim do so on the basis that Ryou has lost touch with her cooking at the very beginning of Koufuku Graffiti, finding her results tasteless and uninspired. Further to this, Ryou’s parents are largely absent, and because strong social connections are a key aspect in mental well-being, it would initially appear that Ryou’s situation could lead to problems in mental health. Similarly, studies have found that different moods can indeed affect one’s sense of taste, and a diminished sense of taste is a possible indicator of depression. However, even in the first episode, Ryou does not exhibit the symptoms indicative of major depressive disorder, which is characterised by a loss of interest in activities, fatigue, impaired decision making and weight change. Ryou continues to cook, and continues to look after herself: her life, while quite colourless, is not consistent with symptoms of major depressive disorder. No inner monologues make this obvious, and while major depression can be asymptomatic, Koufuku Graffiti does not explicitly illustrate that Ryou is affected. She warmly welcomes Kirin upon meeting her, and cooks in her usual manner for Kirin. Koufuku Graffiti depicts Ryou as immediately regaining her sense of taste, which metaphorically corresponds with her near-immediate change in perspective. Recovery from major depression is not something that occurs in an instant: this is a process that takes time, and one does not simply regain their sense of taste at that speed. These are some indicators that Ryou’s condition is more consistent with situational depression, as she’s largely functional and encounter sadness on some occasions. Further reading finds that situational depression and major depression require different treatments: the former can be dealt with by being with friends and family, routine exercise and eating well, while major depressive disorders may involve clinical interventions. The absence of obvious signs, in conjunction with the fact that Ryou recovers very quickly once Kirin and Shiina comes into her life might be indicative that she’s experiencing situational depression following from her grandmother’s death, although I note that as I’ve not the qualifications to decisively say so, this is only a very broad interpetation. However, what is clear is that, once Ryou begins cooking for others, she sees a marked improvement in her well-being in very short order. So, as the MythBusters might say, that Ryou has major depressive disorder is busted.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Like Anne Happy before, this Terrible Anime Challenge post will have the standard of twenty screenshots, and the figure captions will only be tangentially relevant to the screenshots at hand: the goal of this discussion is to soundly disprove any of the misconceptions and misleading perspectives that have appeared about Koufuku Graffiti. I note that for the most part, audiences have been very good about keeping focused on the aspects of the series that the authors wanted audiences to focus on. This is, of course, the food; SHAFT series or not, psychological elements are the cause, not effect, of Koufuku Graffiti. However, for this post, food is not going to be at the forefront of discussion.

  • When I first watched Koufuku Graffiti, it was a month after it had finished airing, and I was in the middle of converting my thesis project from Unity to Unreal. At the time, my focus was on playing through Wolfenstein: The New Order, and getting started with The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki. Having spent most of the winter semester keeping up with being a graduate student, I was barely managing to keep the blog updated and so, did not have time to spare towards watching Koufuku Graffiti, much less dispelling some of the various untruths about the series that had arisen.

  • Ryou Machiko is Koufuku Graffiti‘s central protagonist. Voiced by Rina Satō (Gundula Rall of Brave Witches), Ryou is a second-year middle school student, aspires to enroll in a high school with a strong art programme and is highly skilful at cooking. When Kirin, her cousin, arrives, Ryou begins to cook for her and in the process, rediscovers what cooking is about. Kirin is voiced by Asuka Ōgame, whose only role I know is that of Vividred Operation‘s Momo Isshiki. Overall, I found this a touching message, but from here on out, Koufuku Graffiti has Ryou and her friends explore different dishes to cook.

  • To help jog the reader’s memories, Terrible Anime Challenge posts have three possible outcomes. They either exceeded expectations, did not meet the expectations set by existing reception for it or else was as poor as existing reception described. Koufuku Graffiti falls squarely into the second category: while I’m not fond of throwing the word around, Koufuku Graffiti is a rare instance of a show that I consider overrated. It’s a good show in that it has some entertainment value, but I fail to see what makes this title a cut above the host of other slice-of-life anime I’ve seen.

  • Shiina is one of Ryou’s longtime friends and is portrayed as being elegant but also enigmatic. She’s voiced by Mikako Komatsu (Ayame Kagurazaka of Eromanga Sensei, Sanae Kōzuki from Sakura QuestAldnoah.Zero’s Amifumi Inko, Saki Maruyama of Girls und Panzer, Tari Tari‘s Jan and Nagi no Asakura‘s Miune Miuna Shiodome). As fragile as Kirin is fit, Shiina seems to fall ill from random various causes. I never did understand why anime required their characters to have these sorts of attributes, as they detract from the immersion that more ordinary characters confer.

  • Shiina, Ryou and Kirin’s cooking results in dishes that Adam Richman would have no trouble describing as heavenly in the multitude of colourful praises that he articulates whenever he tries a particularly creative and tasty new dish. In Koufuku Graffiti, various dishes, including omuricesomen, broiled eel, oden and pizza are among the dishes featured. Its preparation and consumption are rendered in vivid detail, although I am in the minority in that I find the highly detailed lips a little off-putting.

  • Ryou is presented as being very mature for her age; she is able to live alone and manages her day-to-day life without supervision. In spite of this, she’s still a second year of middle school, which puts her as being either thirteen or fourteen. A quick glance at this here screenshot and its subject will find the latter is probably the case. Unlike Yūki Yūna is a Hero‘s Mimori, who shares a similar figure with Ryou, Koufuku Graffiti is remarkably disciplined in its presentation of Ryou: she’s presented with rigid-body physics in a foot race. I suppose it’s only natural, given the theme in Koufuku Graffiti.

  • The artwork of Koufuku Graffiti is solid, with generally high quality in animation and artwork, but the high-fidelity eating moments, which some viewers will find to be true fanservice moments of the series.

  • I argue that the undue focus on mental health in some discussions is highly detrimental to the overall enjoyment of Koufuku Graffiti, and the main reason for this is because of the way the series is structured. Had Koufuku Graffiti been about Ryou’s mental health, her backstory would have been presented in a much more structured fashion, and her recovery would have been presented over a longer period of time. This is evidently not the case: once Ryou discovers her raison d’être for cooking, her spirits improve considerably, and she spends her time explaining to Shina and Kirin how her recipes work. This is typical of a series that is intended to be about food.

  • The individual in question making the diagnosis (or more accurately, a misdiagnosis) is the same individual who has plagued previous discussions of the Manga Time Kirara adaptations I have watched. From assessing Rin Shima’s personality with Jungian archetypes, to deconstructing Eagle Jump’s industry practises, I’ve encountered this individual’s load of bollocks time and time again since I got into Manga Time Kirara adaptations. If they are to be believed, this individual is a polymath, an expert in fields as diverse as psychology, software engineering, statistics, economics and literary analysis.

  • Despite Ryou being well-developed for her age from what we’ve seen of her, Koufuku Graffiti has no episodes set in the hot springs or the beach as most anime of its genre are wont to doing to give the series a wanton and unnecessary justification of showing off her figure. As such, her enjoying a milk popsicle with Kirin here is about as close as it gets. The practise of drinking milk after taking a dip in the onsen is a well-known one, being both refreshing and important for rehydration. When I exited the onsen last I was in Japan, I only had water on hand, but it was refreshing all the same.

  • I’m not the only person out there who finds mild irritation with these approaches towards anime: apparently, this individual had run afoul of folks in other anime communities, and these folks stopped by here a ways back to share their grievances. In doing so, I learned that the individual in question is a graduate of the University of Iowa with a doctorate in genetics and has a bit of a checkered past. I don’t condone the practise of publishing personal information, so this is as much as I am willing to share, but I do note that this information is consistent with the behaviours I’ve seen from this individual within the anime community. I also remark that I’ve read through his thesis paper and found the research uninspired for the PhD level: my colleagues have worked on projects of similar complexity during our time as undergraduates in the Bachelor of Health Sciences programme.

  • As icing on the cake, when it came to Ryou, this individual has asserted that he “[doesn’t] make disgnoses [sic] lightly, but [he] clearly [has] a hunch for it”. Having missed a diagnosis completely in their hubris, I think that this individual takes themselves too seriously, and it’s clear that they aren’t qualified to make such a call: after all, their background is in genetics, not mental health. The reason why I take exception to attempts to psychoanalyse fictional characters is that diagnosing characters with various conditions implies the intent to disregard the author’s intended reasons for writing a character in the manner that they do. “Death of the author” is a very self-centred and conceited approach towards looking at a work, since a work is written in a particular manner precisely because the author had something to say about the world they know. Thus, to disregard this is to ignore elements that resulted in a work being the way that it is and impose one’s own world-view on a work

  • The end result of this attitude is akin to playing with fire, as Karin finds out here when the girls are roasting saury over an open fire. Trying to play armchair physician does not meaningfully contribute to discussions about a story, and even if one had gotten the diagnosis for Ryou correct, this is ultimately irrelevant to the journey that they go on through the story and their subsequent development. In Koufuku Graffiti, the death of Ryou’s grandmother is the disruption that leads her to take up cooking for Kirin with the goal of rediscovering her love for cooking, but the specifics are not important in affecting how her journey unfolds.

  • Consequently, while I am of the mindset that there is no wrong way of enjoying media, seeing the misleading and outright fallacious claims have led me to make a single exception: the wrong way to enjoy fiction is to analyse it and hold the persistent belief that “unless otherwise stated, everything is realistic”. Back in Koufuku Graffiti, from a certain point of view, Ryou is reminiscent of GochiUsa‘s Mocha: both characters have a warm and mature personality, enjoy looking after those around them.

  • Koufuku Graffiti‘s manga is written by Makoto Kawai, not to be confused with the neurophysiologist from Stanford of the same name. The manga concluded in November 2016, and and given the focus on cooking, I find it very difficult to believe that the manga was intended to be about mental health. It is quite convenient, then, that it is equally difficult to find any information on the author’s background, allowing folks to assert that “saying Makoto Kawai hasn’t experienced loneliness and grief is like saying Sakurasou’s Hajime Kamoshida hasn’t studied a word about autism” without additional sources to back these claims up.

  • My grievances about folks who parade their so-called intelligence in places like Tango-Victor-Tango are long-standing, and I’ve always held that in fiction, it is acceptable to break from reality when realism stands in the way of a coherent theme. This is why it is a fallacy to immediately assume that everything in fiction ought to be realistic and then use real-world observations to make a conclusion about a series.

  • I finished Koufuku Graffiti in late May three years ago, and upon finishing, I did not feel that I could write a standard post for the series without sleeping on it for a few days. Days turned to weeks, months and years; Koufuku Graffiti was modestly fun to watch, but I never got out of it the same experience that most of the viewers did. I make it a point to not write about series that I do not decisively enjoy, and I remained on the fence about this one. However, after watching Matimi0’s Terrible Weapon Challenge series, I felt that I could write about Koufuku Graffiti in a manner of speaking: I honestly feel the anime to be overrated, and the Terrible Anime Challenge would be suited for this approach.

  • This is probably my most controversial Terrible Anime Challenge to date, and I do not expect my readers to agree with me on my final verdict for Koufuku Graffiti, but that’s fine. Everyone experiences anime differently, and maybe I have a few screws loose or something, but I was not moved by this series half as much as most viewers were. I did mention that most of my figure captions would not be related to Koufuku Graffiti or food, but here, I will share with readers my favourite food item: char-broiled lobster tail with a healthy side of butter. Coming in a close second is Montréal Smoked Meat poutine and har gow. Having said this, I enjoy most everything; like Nadeshiko of Yuru Camp△, I’m a big fan of food in general.

  • Overall, I would give Koufuku Graffiti a C+ grade (2.4 on the four point scale, corresponding with a 6.5 of ten). The series is not poor by any stretch, and its presentations of food are top-tier, but there is not a substantial component on mental health, and assertions otherwise are downright wrong. With this being said, I feel that the series would’ve done better to make Shiina and Kirin more ordinary – their eccentricities make them a bit unrelatable compared to the down-to-earth Ryou and ended up being quite distracting. Having slightly older characters would have also been more logical, as well. While I do not expect my assessment to be an opinion that everyone shares, I am curious to know what about Koufuku Graffiti did work for those that did enjoy it, and similarly, if I have tread on a few toes with my arguments, I’d be quite happy to hear why I should think more clinically about anime.

Consequently, I am immensely grateful that the individual in question is not my mental health specialist – their argument amounts to a misdiagnosis, and being given antidepressants when one does not need them both would lead to some unpleasant side effects. In the realm of mental health, insistently treating all cases as though they require a clinical intervention has long proven to be ineffective. It typified some in the community to fancy themselves as professionals in a discipline that is evidently beyond their qualifications, and for my part, as a member of the audience, I feel that it is not our duty to diagnose fictional characters even if one did have the proper qualifications. The series only lightly touches on mental health – the presence of comedy means that this aspect was not meant to be a central part of the anime. Most praises around Koufuku Graffiti rightly lie with its rendition of various dishes that Ryou and her friends make. As such, if we step back from attempts to shoehorn a serious discussion of mental health into Koufuku Graffiti and return to a plane of discussion that is relevant, then Koufuku Graffiti is an average anime. The characters are bog-standard, quiet likeable and otherwise befitting of a relaxed setting. They mature and develop naturally, but in a very predicable fashion. The artwork varies from average to beautiful depending on what is being presented to audiences; in its intended purpose of showing off food, Koufuku Graffiti is successful. The only other television show I have watched where food is presented as being more than sustenance for us is Adam Richman’s Man v. Food: on his quest across the United States to find delicious pig-out spots, the preparation of various dishes are shown in loving detail and can elicit feelings of hunger among those watching, similar to how Koufuku Graffiti has managed to do the same for some viewers. As such, Koufuku Graffiti ends up being an anime that, while having a serviceable message, was also a show that was unremarkable: not the serious discourse on mental health some make it out to be, Koufuku Graffiti offers a run-of-the-mill slice-of-life with satisfactory character growth and food scenes very nearly worthy of Adam Richman.

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