The Infinite Zenith

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

Yakunara Mug Cup Mo: Review and Reflections at the Halfway Point

“The present changes the past. Looking back you do not find what you left behind.” ―Kiran Desai

Himeno Toyokawa moves to Tajimi in Gifu with her father after he decides to quit his job and opens a café. Tajimi is where Himeno’s late mother, a legendary potter, is from, and Himeno is now attending her mother’s old high school. While Himeno is reluctant to take up pottery, she is spurred on by classmates Naoko Naruse and Mika Kukuri to join the Pottery Club, where she is convinced to see the joys of being able to craft something with her own hands that others will find useful. As Himeno picks up the basics, she also learns that different potters have different styles – when the energetic Mika and club president Toko Aoki spar over the former’s inability to focus, Toko recalls that Mika is at her best when given the space to be creative after she’s had a chance to cool down, and later reconciles with Mika. After Himeno accidentally breaks her father’s favourite Ochazuke cup, she sets about creating a new one upon learning that her mother had created that cup. However, in spite of her efforts, Himeno is heartbroken when her father doesn’t react to it as warmly, and begins to lose her interest in pottery. Naoko and Mika decide to take her on a day trip to help her regroup, but they end up tailing their instructor, Mami Koizumi, when they believe she’s going on a date. After they’re caught, and Himeno explains how she’s been feeling, Mami suggests that taking detours every now and then isn’t so bad. She shares in a spectacular summer sight with Himeno, Mika and Naoko – fireflies illuminating the gentle night sky. As the summer settles in, Himeno decides to participate in a pottery contest, but struggles to decide on what to make. When Mami asks Himeno to help out with the pottery museum’s setup over her day off, Himeno comes across a sculpture her mother made, and discovers her mother’s old notes in the museum’s archive. Realising the extent her mother could influence others with her work, Himeno decides to pursue her own brand of pottery and make something that she can be proud of.

Besides Super Cub, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo (literally “If planning to fire (pottery), mug cup too”, English title Let’s Make a Mug Too) is this season’s other slice-of-life series about Mino-ware pottery, an industry that has over a millenia of history and originates from the Toki and Minokamo regions of Gifu prefecture. Archeologists have found evidence of kilns dating back to the seventh century, and during the seventeenth century, Katō Yosabei and his sons opened potteries in the area, cementing the region’s reputation for fine pottery. Part tourism promotion and part cute-girls-doing-cute-things, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is a curious series that is split cleanly down the middle – the first half of each episode is an animated segment that follows Himeno as she picks up the basics surrounding pottery and in doing so, comes to appreciate the craft her mother had excelled at, while the second half is a live-action that presents specialities and features from the area. With the series hybridising animation and live-action, the story piece to Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is about the same length as the average Joint Fighter Wing Take Off! episode. However, the condensed runtime allows Yakunara Mug Cup Mo to be very focused in its presentation, and it becomes clear that Himeno’s journey into the world of pottery will consist of both honing her craft, pursuing her own approach towards pottery and presumably, coming to terms with her mother’s passing as she makes worthwhile discoveries and learnings with her new friends. To this end, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is simultaneously energetic and contemplative, portraying life at both ends of the spectrum to indicate to viewers that sorrow and joy necessarily co-exist, for without sadness, happiness cannot be understood.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Pottery and the creating of earthenwares is a discipline that is well outside the area of my expertise: unlike camping and recreational fishing, which I could pick up and enjoy at a hobby level with a bit of time commitment and the right instruction, or amateur astronomy, where having a solid pair of binoculars and a good guidebook will send one on their way to enjoyment, pottery is a skill that demands skill and attention to detail. Consequently, for Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, I won’t be commenting on the quality of Himeno’s works.

  • Right out of the gates, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo has Himeno headed to school with her friend, Naoko. Having moved to Tajimi in Gifu, Himeno’s father opens his own café after being laid off from his office job. Despite the cheerful atmosphere seen in the typical slice-of-life series, however, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo does seem to suggest at the melancholy and sadness that surrounds the Toyokawa family after Himeno’s mother passed away. This balance creates the lingering sense that pottery is going to act as the catalyst for something bigger,

  • On the first day of classes, Himeno and Naoko run into Mika, a spirited and energetic girl whose mannerisms can seem a little off-putting to some. Naoko and Himeno are certainly taken aback by how forward Mika is, and the pair secretly hope that their paths won’t cross again. Of course, anime create these chance encounters precisely because different personalities serve to help the protagonist grow in some way. Much as how Nadeshiko and Rin end up meeting despite Rin wishing otherwise early in Yuru Camp△, Himeno and Naoko do end up befriending into Mika owing to their interests in pottery.

  • As a part of her introductions, Himeno tries to advertise the fact that her father runs a café, but what really draws her classmates’ (and instructor’s) attention are the mugs that she brings in. Mika immediately falls in love and attempts to recruit Himeno to the pottery club, and while Himeno does not possess her mother’s innate talent for pottery, she does decide to give things a whirl after learning that her mother had been an alumni of this very school (and pottery club). In the end, Himeno feels that pottery might be something she could take up, although her father wonders if Himeno’s choice of activity might bring back memories of Himeno’s mother.

  • It does feel like there’s a subtle conflict here in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, but such moments seem to be dispersed by the fact that episodes generally possess a very upbeat feeling: it’s hard to be weighed down by past doubts when there’s so much to learn about pottery. Yakunara Mug Cup Mo spends a bit of time explaining to viewers the bit of background behind the different types of pottery, which helps viewers to appreciate the intricacies and nuances in pottery. It turns out that Tajimi’s pottery is known as Mino ware (美濃焼, Hepburn Mino-yaki), which is futher subdivided into four categories based on its colour.

  • Pottery is a big deal in Tajimi, a city with a population of 110000 in Gifu Prefecture. Weather here is generally pleasant, although it gets very hot and humid in the summers. The area has historically been critical in ceramic production, although more recently, with manufacturers located elsewhere, Tamiji’s ceramics industry is more focused on trade and wholesale. A few manufacturers do remain within city limits to continue on with the area’s traditions.

  • To bolster Himeno’s interest in pottery, MIka and Toko decide to bring her around town and show her some examples of local Mino ceramics: well beyond tableware and tiles, ceramics are also used in things as varied as insulators and public works of art. The reason why ceramics are chosen as electrical insulators is because of their mechanical strength, and other insulators, like glass, are comparatively brittle and difficult to cast. Their distinct disk shape, known as sheds, ensures that the leakage area stays dry. Ceramics in statues, on the other hand, are a bit easier to understand: treatment of nonmetallic minerals with heat causes them to assume a tough, corrosion resistant form, but before heat treatment, they’re malleable and can be readily shaped into whatever the user intends.

  • Mami is Himeno’s homeroom instructor and also happens to be the pottery club instructor. She’s fond of swinging by the Toyokawa café and here, checks up on Himeno, who notes that she’s got some large shoes to fill. The idea of the new generation working in the shadows of their forerunners is not new, and for the most part, those who start their journey quickly discover that while their predecessors might’ve accomplished some impressive achievements, their own work is nothing to sneeze at, either.

  • While conflicts are not terribly common in slice-of-life anime, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo does have Mika clashing with Toko after the former displays a very blasé, unconcerned attitude about pottery and creates a commotion with Naoko when goofing off. It turns out that Mika’s talent in pottery comes from the fact that she’s so carefree and spirited, and while it might take her a while to come up with the inspiration, once she’s got it, she’s more than capable of making unique, colourful works. Toko realises this after Himeno picks up a cup that Mika had made, and shortly after, Mika and Toko reconcile.

  • It turns out that Himeno’s father had been hard at work trying to bring new visitors to his café, and determining that offering curry might help bring in new customers, he decides to try out a range of recipes. The pottery club end up enjoying all of them, and even if they aren’t necessarily new recipes, still bring something to the café’s table. This subtle lesson is likely a bit of foreshadowing for Himeno: as she’s still a novice to pottery, she wants to make something worthy of those around her, and as a result, is often bogged down by details.

  • This comes to light when Himeno attempts to craft a replacement ochazuke bowl for her father after accidentally ruining the original, and she sets off to create a new one. I’ve not done any sort of pottery since my time as an elementary student: back in the day, instructors would give us clay to work with, and after we were finished, they would send them off to be baked. The pieces I’d made back then are still around, and compared to even Himeno’s first works, are crude.

  • Ochazuke is a dish of steeped tea and rice in a single bowl topped with salmon, seaweed and other savoury ingredients. It is most commonly enjoyed as an after-meal accompaniment or as a slightly heartier alternative to a snack. Himeno’s father has his ochazuke down to a science, attesting to his love for the dish (and likely, the associated memories with Himeno’s mother).

  • Himeno ends up running into the pottery club while out working on a design: they share with her some pickled plums, which Toko supposes could be an excellent accompaniment for ochazuke. Mika also ends up giving one of Toko’s bowls to Himeno to act as a stand-in for the one that her father hda lost: when her father tries the bowl out, he immediately takes a liking to it. Seeing the sort of bowl her father likes gives Himeno the inspiration to finally get started.

  • Himeno supposes that the ideal bowl would be able to hold onto the proper quantity of ochazuke and thus decides on a deeper, heavier bowl. With the design settled on, it’s time to start crafting them. Himeno ends up making no fewer than fifteen, and seeing the work-in-progress indicates to me that such bowls would be better suited for ramen.

  • While excited at the prospect of finalising the bowls and painting them, learning that her father’s original Ochazuke bowl has had some three decades immediately drives the pressure up: Toko had made the replacement bowl at around Himeno’s age, and Himeno’s grandmother notes that the original bowl had also been made when Himeno’s mother was of that age. The original bowl was skillfully made, and this suggests that Himeno’s mother had a talent for creating the right shape for a given function, as well as the fact that Toko probably has a similar style to Himeno’s mother.

  • For the first time, Himeno finds herself absolutely absorbed in her project and looks forwards to finishing it so that she can see her father’s reaction. However, a part of her also worries about the outcome, and she describes the feeling as being comparable to entering high school. This speaks volumes to Himeno’s personality: she doesn’t like to do things halfway and she cares very much about her father. This is reminiscent of Houkago Teibou Nisshi‘s Hina Tsurugi, who similarly becomes hooked on fishing because of her disposition for trying until she succeeds. As such, it stands to reason that setbacks won’t hold Himeno back for long.

  • While Himeno’s father says nothing negative per se about the ochazuki bowl Himeno had made for him, she immediately notices that he’s not enjoying things quite to the same extent that he had with Toko’s bowl, and immediately becomes disheartened. This moment was meant to indicate that Himeno, being a novice in pottery, has not yet learnt to eyeball a work’s intended purpose and instead, has gone for style over functionality. With this in mind, it is understandable that at this point in time, Himeno’s feeling nothing but disappointment and promises to improve her craft.

  • The episode’s contribution to Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is to give Himeno a tangible objective, and as such, was a necessary one given the series’ composition. In any other series, this decidedly more serious approach might be seen as overkill. In the words of lesser writers, I believe this is known as “forced drama”, a phrase whose usage is indicative of inadequate understanding, but Yakunara Mug Cup Mo had established that it’s not going purely for the light-and-fluffy route. One other thing that had irked me about Yakunara Mug Cup Mo discussions was that at least one viewer felt compelled to claim that Himeno was a novice for not following a more conventional design, and moreover, that her decoration was “pretty bad, not to mention unnecessary”. Viewers such as these, who try to stand above the characters have never made for good discussion, and I see little reason to place much stock in whatever they say.

  • I’ve never understood why people feel compelled to criticise and correct what the characters are doing in a given slice-of-life anime – the intent of having Himeno making these mistakes was precisely to show she’s still new to pottery. Had Himeno made the logical decision, it would show that she’s experienced, and there’d be no point in having the anime. In Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, Himeno’s disappointment and disillusionment with pottery leads her friends to take her on an outing that quickly turns into a classic tailing exercise. When the girls pass by a station with Hime in its name, Naoko and Mika are quick to tease Himeno about it. I found this adorable – I have similar tendencies, and make puns with people’s names often if I know said people well.

  • It turns out that Naoko and Mika become intrigued in what Mami is doing after they overhear her on the phone, speaking with a friend. The single teacher archetype in anime is one that people consider clichéd, but I’ve long asserted that this is a deliberate choice to maximise the adventures the characters can have with an adult’s assistance. Teachers who are married and home with the family in their personal time won’t be able to drive the students around or help them with various events. The prospect of Mami breaking up with her partner intrigues Naoko and Mika, who decide to tail her through the Gifu countryside.

  • The end result is a delightful day hike that sees Himeno live a little in the moment with her friends, and under the calm of a beautiful summer’s day, the girls eventually tail Mami to a shrine of sorts. They lose her here, and while taking a break, Himeno finally admits that after her father’s less-than-enthusiastic response to her bowl, she began losing her interest in pottery, feeling guilty that she was actually looking forwards to a break in club activities. However, what had weighed heavily on Himeno’s mind don’t bother Naoko and Mika at all.

  • While their heart-to-heart talk helps Himeno to gain some perspective, it also leaves the girls open to discovery – shortly after, Mami shows up, bringing the girls’ attempt to tail her to an end. The classic foot follow is a bit of tradecraft that involves tailing someone, and following someone undetected varies in difficulty. Against most people, keeping a moderate distance will do the trick, although folks familiar with countermeasures will make changes to their route or make unexpected stops and changes to their pacing, looking to see if their followers react in any way. In slice-of-life anime, foot follows always end up in failure for comedy’s sake.

  • Par the course, it is clear that they would’ve gotten a straight answer had they just asked. It turns out that Mami wasn’t talking about her partner, but instead, was talking to a friend about taking some downtime to check out something with her. She had planned going for herself even though her friend had been busy, but with her students now around, Mami figures she’d share with them what she had intended to see.

  • The surprise turns out to be two different species of fireflies chilling in a rural pond – one species emits a green light, while the other emits a yellow light. Here, Mami mentions that today’s adventure is why one should always keep moving forwards even if the way ahead isn’t clear, as something wonderful can await. For Himeno, even though she had been unsure about pottery, until she gives it her best effort, there’s no telling what new discoveries could await her. Under a gentle rural evening, the girls watch the fireflies, and Himeno is encouraged to enjoy pottery in her own way.

  • With the pottery competition coming up, I imagine that this competition will be the motivating factor behind Himeno really honing her craft, as she strives to put out a work that represents who she is. While a competition can still be stressful, the reduced emotional pressure means that Himeno has the space to create something of her own choosing, and so, preparations for the competition will help Himeno to discover her own approach towards pottery.

  • Since the Toyokawa café opened, Mami’s become a regular patron and is enjoying some fried chicken and a salad here. Earlier today, I sat down to a delicious grilled chicken burger and shoestring fries. Chicken, being leaner than beef, has a much lighter flavour, and it strikes me as to just how good a homemade chicken burger is: I typically go for fried chicken burgers when out and about because they tend to be juicier (grilled chicken is a little drier than I’d like). It turns out that Mami isn’t here just for the food – there’s something she needs a little help with over the weekend, and Himeno accepts, curious to check out the pottery museum behind their school.

  • It turns out that the way to the museum takes one along a hillside path that offers a spectacular view of Tajimi that Himeno had previously not known about. As she follows the kappa sculptures deeper into the woods, Himeno also discovers a sculpture of great beauty, one that conveys a sense of windiness. Having Himeno come up here on her own acts as a metaphor for how she’ll come to determine her style in pottery: it’s a combination of exploring and drawing inspiration from her predecessors.

  • The incidental music used in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo had been quite unremarkable, but upon hearing the song that plays when Himeno comes across this sculpture, I’ve suddenly become quite keen to check out the soundtrack for this series. The only thing I know about the soundtrack is that it  is composed by Tomoki Hasegawa and will release on July 28 as a part of the BD set. The opening song, Tobira o Aketara, is a spirited and sincere-sounding song performed by the voice actresses, Minami Tanaka, Yu Serizawa, Yūki Wakai, and Rina Honnizumi. The ending song is performed by Aya Uchida and will release on June 2.

  • The lady curating the pottery museum is surprised to learn that Himeno is the daughter of the artist who’d  created the sculpture on the way up to the museum, and reveals that Himena had been a very free spirit whose determination was actually what convinced the city to leave the museum running. In the museum’s archives, Himeno finds her mother’s notes on why she created things the way she did, and reading these notes proves inspirational to Himeno, who is ready to take her first step towards discovering her own style in pottery.

  • I’m sure that a lingering question on some viewers’ minds will be why the title is “Mug Cup”, when “mug” or “cup” on its own would’ve gotten the message across. As it turns out, マグカップ (magu kappu) is a wasei-eigo term, borrowed from English. The literal translation of the title refers to the act of firing up a kiln and making a mug, as well. The English title is a simplification of this and translates the intent clearly, but for visibility’s sake, I’ve chosen to go with the Japanese title. It goes without saying that I am finding Yakunara Mug Cup Mo to be quite enjoyable; while I don’t have any background in pottery, I am looking forwards to seeing what awaits Himeno in the series’ second half.

Slice-of-life series have always found ways to make unique topics memorable: from fishing, hiking and camping, to pop music and astronomy, series in this genre strike a balance between advancing the characters’ growth through their chosen field and presenting mundane moments to depict how this change occurs over time. While such series are charming, the progression ends up treading along familiar paths each and every time. Consequently, when Yakunara Mug Cup Mo chose to mix things up by having a more concise animated segment and then incorporating a live-action piece to make the series part story, part travel show, the series has now found a novel way of showcasing the extent of Mino ware pottery in Tajimi in full. Being able to see the real-world inspiration for what is seen in the anime reminds viewers of the level of attention paid to details within the manga, and this in turn accentuates the idea that Himeno’s journey is going to be a meaningful one. At the same time, the live-action component solidifies the idea that Tajimi is a place worth visiting, both for its extensive pottery industry, and for attractions that only the locals know about. While my posts have chosen to focus on the narrative and thematic aspects of Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, I will note that the live action piece has also proven to be immensely enjoyable for highlighting things about Tajimi that might otherwise go unnoticed by foreign visitors. For the time being, in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s animated segment, it appears that Himeno has, in discovering an important piece of her past, come to accept what she can do for herself in the episodes upcoming: it would appear that the pottery competition is what will lead Himeno to better her craft and perhaps close the distance between her and what happened with her mother. As it stands, I look forwards to seeing what Himeno ends up making for the competition as she comes to terms with her past and uses this strength to embrace her future.

5 responses to “Yakunara Mug Cup Mo: Review and Reflections at the Halfway Point

  1. Michael E Kerpan May 12, 2021 at 06:50

    I found the latest episode of this show particularly lovely. Honestly, I decided to watch this series primarily because it was set in Gifu — which my wife and I visited several years ago and enjoyed very much. While we spent our time to Takayama to the north, this evokes plenty of nostalgia all the same.

    While not quite as well animated or written, Mug Cup reminds me more than a little of one of my favorite under-appreciated (in the West) shows — Tamayura. The same sense of underlying sadness — in a show where a girl loses a parent and then returns with the surviving parent to the hometown of both parents and then makes new friends and a new (happier) life.


    • infinitezenith May 16, 2021 at 14:34

      You’re quite right: I didn’t even think about Tamayura until you mentioned it. I suppose the difference in aesthetics is why, but as you’ve noted, the slow and gradual path to recovery through a shared hobby is something to keep an eye for in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo. Thanks for sharing!

      I only stopped briefly in Gifu during my trip here, in Gifu proper: most of my travels were concentrated in the Yamanashi and Kansai areas. It definitely would be nice to visit the more out-of-the-way places.


      • Michael E Kerpan May 16, 2021 at 14:53

        My wife and I have spent 14 weeks in Japan (spread over 3 trips). I don’t think there was a single day we did not enjoy. Out-of-the-ways spots (with either no tourists or only Japanese ones) were always wonderful, in one way or another. Of course, so were most more-touristed locales.


        • infinitezenith May 21, 2021 at 23:44

          I’m a little envious – that sounds amazing! A trip to Japan for me is still a ways into the future, but I do hope to be able to try the seafoods of Hokkaido, check out the floating torii in Hamamatsu, overnight at a ryōkan and walk the streets of Takehara. A trip to Yamanashi is also in order, as Sashiki and Kawagoe. I’d also love to venture into the countryside during the summer, too. Definitely lots to check out 🙂


          • Michael E Kerpan May 22, 2021 at 10:06

            If only I could stand mushiatsui weather, I would love to visit Japan in summer. So many things to see and do then — especially matsuris — and fireflies. Even late September in northern Kyushu was a bit daunting, however.

            I hope you get an opportunity to return to Japan (many times).

            Liked by 1 person

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