The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Yakunara Mug Cup Mo: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“Having a little fun at my work does not make me any less of an artist and people who appreciate truly beautiful and original creations in pottery are not frightened by innocent tomfoolery!” –Clarice Cliff

Himeno struggles to come up with a design for the local pottery competition. While working on the concept on a hot summer’s day, she falls asleep and has a vivid dream, eventually realising that it’d be nice to make something that works as a cool cushion for the Tajimi summers. However, the prototypes that she assembles lack comfort, and so, Himeno becomes struck once more. Out of the blue, she gains inspiration from braiding Mika’s hair and decides to incorporate a fabric cord into her design. As Himeno had also been curious to make a ceramic glaze similar to the one her mother had created, she enlists Toko’s help to create the perfect colour. With her submission finished, Himeno grows worried as the date of the competition arrives – she had intended to participate purely for the experience, but soon finds herself wishing that she might be able to win something and in her eyes, show her father that she’s making progress with pottery. Prior to the day of the competition, Himeno, Mika and Toko check out the other entries, all of which are creative and unique. Himeno’s cushion ultimately does not win any awards, but the judges are moved by the colours Himeno had used. The judges later swing by her father’s café and try his latest curry out, also commenting on how there was something special about Himeno’s piece. When she returns home with her entry, her father feels compelled to use Himeno’s cushion as an actual seat. Having never told her father what she was making, Himeno is moved to tears that her emotions could be conveyed through this work, and she decides that there is joy about making clay-ware with the pottery club – perhaps, Himeno thinks, she might try making a mug one of these days, as well. Thus ends Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s first season, a curious and unconventional portrayal of picking up a new skill and the accompanying journey quite unlike other anime of its genre; while not possessing a clear and cohesive path for Himeno, who meanders and occasionally wonders if she’ll be able to make anything of note, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is also sincere in its portrayal of the creative process, how inspiration can come from the most unusual sources and how folks have different way of sorting out their hurdles, whether it be Toko’s down-to-earth, pragmatic methods or Mika’s spirited, fun-filled approach.

Despite technically being a series of shorts and lacking the same character growth as a full-length anime, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo proved quite surprising as the day of the pottery competition neared. Himeno’s hesitation and doubt transforms into determination and enjoyment as her idea materialises, and once she settles on a design to build, it is easy to see how Himeno can become immersed in the moment, her mind on nothing other than doing her best. This is most apparent after she finishes the base design for her entry and decides to apply a glaze: in pursuit of a colour she’ll be happy with, Himeno is absolutely focused on the process. She learns the techniques from Toko and experiments with a variety of options, finding joy along the way. While her final result might not have won any awards at the competition, the choice of colours does move the judges, and its design fills the judges with sudden urge to use the piece as an actual cushion. While perhaps not a technically impressive submission, this demonstrates that Himeno has reached a critical milestone in her journey, indicating that she is able to create works that convey intent clearly. Himeno evidently has a ways to go before her pottery skills are noteworthy, but at the end of Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, Himeno has gained a better understanding of what makes pottery so enjoyable; it is a process of discovery and understanding of how to convey a given article’s intended function to others. This is no small achievement, and news of a second season suggests that Himeno will begin learning the basics and in time, create serviceable earthenware that will help her to feel closer to her place of residence.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Last I wrote about Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, Himeno had found her mother’s old sculpture and felt at ease, although she also knows that she has some large shoes to fill: her mother, Himena, had been a talented potter with Toko’s technical skill and Mika’s creativity. The disconnect between the happy-go-lucky aesthetic in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo and Himeno’s uncertainty created a sort of contrast that suggested the series could go down a more Tamayura-like route. Before delving further into this post, I will remark that today marks the five year anniversary to my (successful) graduate thesis defense. I still remember the day well: I was quite nervous, but the exam itself went smoothly, and in the aftermath, I celebrated the outcome with my supervisor before returning home to write about Locodol‘s latest OVA.

  • It’s insane as to how quickly time flies, and while I recall that my graduate work was generally quite smooth, I do not mind admitting that I had a few Himeno moments, too. Motivation to make something isn’t enough on its own, and Himeno initially struggles to come up with something that she’d like to submit for the local competition. Whereas Toko’s been making usable pottery all her life, and Mika’s creative talents allow her to build whatever’s in her mind, the fact that Himeno is a novice means that she has a hard time picking out something within her realm of interests. To help her along, Toko suggests that Himeno sketch out her ideas.

  • When even this fails, Toko calls in a break: while it appears logical to keep pushing forwards on a problem while stuck, it can be more effective to step away and regroup before reattempting. One aspect of Yakunara Mug Cup Mo that I particularly liked was how, while maintaining a modern aesthetic, elements from nineties anime also make a brief appearance. These moments are meant to highlight the idea that Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is intended to be taken as a laid-back, easygoing series: chibi Himeno and Mika are adorable.

  • Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is not above taking viewers on a wild ride to show off Tajimi by means of a dream sequence. This threw some folks off entirely, and as the episode progressed, things became increasingly wild: it begins with Mika falling asleep at the Toyokawa Café, only to be roused by Himeno’s return. They end up swinging by the river, where they find Toko enjoying a gargantuan parfait. Because Toko is no-nonsense when it comes to pottery, it was surprising that Toko would be found out here. This is the earliest sign the episode was set in a dream.

  • During Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s run, I became very fond of Naoko: while she’s not technically a member of the Pottery Club, she is friends with Himeno and always encourages her to push on forwards even when things get tough. Naoko’s lack of pottery experience is actually an asset for Himeno; while Himeno’s learnt some of the basics and has two excellent mentors in Mika and Toko, having someone unfamiliar to a discipline can mean introducing a completely novel solution.

  • Mika’s dream subsequently charges into the realm of the surreal when it turns out there’s a massive palace inside of the Toki river. Here, Mika is challenged to an epic game show, but loses. When she re-awakens, it turns out her dreams had been shaped by a conversation from outside. Once Naoko arrives at the café, she shares a conversation with Himeno’s grandmother and they talk about Japanese game shows. Some of this seeps into Mika’s imagination, altering her dreams completely.

  • Dreams often entice us with things that are completely out of reach in reality: Mika completely laments the loss of her century-supply of bread and throws an adorable tantrum here. The eighth episode is named after Mika, and in Yakunara Mug Cup MoHimeno refers to Mika as Kukuri-chan, suggesting that while she’s friends, she’s not quite familiar enough with Mika to address her by her given name. For me, since I address all characters by their given names, it makes sense to maintain this consistency, and therefore, I have no trouble with referring to Mika as such.

  • In a home economics class, Mika tries to get creative by adding cheese into her Hamburg Steak (the Japanese counterpart of the Salisbury Steak, which is a ground beef patty smothered in a mushroom gravy), but the cheese ends up melting into the patty itself, leaving it hollow. There is a burger known as the Juicy Lucy that follows a very similar construction: a large amount of cheese is placed between two burger patties, and when cooked, the cheese itself melts. Unlike Mika’s creation, the Juicy Lucy is made in such a way so it stays cheesy inside, and it was to my surprise to learn that this burger, originally hailing from Minneapolis, can be found in my hometown.

  • While Himeno’s coasters initially fail, one particularly hot summer’s day, she realises it’d be nice to have a ceramic cushion, which is sure to retain its coolth. With this being said, materials with a low specific heat means that it also quicker to pick up heat, so I’m not sure how practical such a piece would be. On the topic of heat, Environment Canada has issued a severe heat warning for Western Canada: an unprecedented heat dome will bring temperatures exceeding 30°C for over a week across this entire side of the country, and the high in my region is expected to be 37°C.

  • At these temperatures, the only countermeasure would be to stay in the shade and keep hydrated. Himeno’s ceramic cushion will probably not be too helpful in beating this heat, but as an entry in the competition, a ceramic cushion doesn’t sound bad at all. Himeno thus sets out creating different clay cushions and firing them in the kiln before trying them out to see how sound different designs are from a structural standpoint. Unfortunately, testing finds that the more durable cushions are uncomfortable, and the comfortable ones are fragile.

  • For Himeno, inspiration comes when she’s braiding Mika’s hair: recalling the disappearing cheese from earlier and the fact that braids increase tensile strength gives her the inspiration to put her piece together in a way as to give the cushion some comfort without rendering it so fragile that it collapses from the mass of its own dead load. The end result is a very unique-looking cushion that Himeno is happy with. The idea she has is that she’ll use three lines: two are clay, and one is rope. Once the composition has been heated, she’ll then remove the rope and swap it out for one more consistent with the piece’s aesthetics.

  • Moments such as these are Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s highlights: they show Himeno living fully in the moment as she works in something with the intent of making it come out well, and in the anime, it does seem that it is during these moments she is at her happiest. The act of creating is where Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is at the top of its game, and having both motion and audio means really being able to bring the process of sculpting something to life: while manga are fantastic, anime adaptations can make use of movement and sound to really capture something.

  • With her composition in good shape, Himeno decides it’s time to step things up and give it some colour. Here, Himeno and Naoko hang out at Café Wani, which is located a stone’s throw away from Tajimi library. This cozy-looking spot ends up inspiring Himeno to create a more challenging glaze for her composition after asking Mika and Toko (unsuccessfully) for help, and here, both Himeno and Naoko picked up a little something to eat, too. Café Wani only has an Instagram account, but a glance at their food tells me all I need to know about the place; it’s a spot worth visiting.

  • Tajimi bridge is a commonly featured thoroughfare throughout Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, and unsurprisingly, the locations seen in the anime are all based off real-world locations. Coupled with the live-action segments, which tread the same locations the anime depicts, there hardly is a reason for me to duplicate their efforts and do an Oculus-powered hunt for the locations. On the flipside, Super Cub had also offered the possibility of a location hunt, but most of the spots in Yamanashi were mundane and, while not particularly hard to find, offers very little to discuss.

  • As such, I’ve decided to skip doing a talk on Super Cub‘s locations. While doing a search for Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, I further ended up learning that the first seven volumes are freely available as a PDF and for Apple Books on their official website. This was such a pleasant surprise from the manga’s author, Osamu Kashiwara, and the town of Tajimi: it’s a very gentle introduction to the series, which is ongoing and spans thirty-three volumes at the time of writing. The characters in the anime look a ways more distinct than their manga counterparts, who appear much more ordinary by comparison.

  • After taking Naoko up to her mother’s sculpture, Himeno decides that it would be fun to try and create a glaze that is as fluid and sparkly as the one her mother had made. While this is more tricky than anything she’d done before, with support from her friends, Himeno manages to create a colour that she’s pleased with. She applies this to her creation and allows it to bake, and the next morning, is pleased to see the results exceed expectations: it’s not exactly the same hue as the glaze Himena had used for the sculpture, but creates a very similar feeling.

  • This was meant to show that Himeno simultaneously respects the tradition her mother had left behind and applies her own character to things. Throughout the process, Naoko had been writing about how happy she is to see Himeno so wrapped up and excited about her project. The focused Himeno is a far cry from the defeated Himeno we’d see earlier in the season; most slice-of-life series have characters gradually work their way up to a challenge, and typically, when a character faces an obstacle of this sort, it is usually present for a reason.

  • Yakunara Mug Cup Mo initially is a series about pottery, but underneath, it’s also a series about accepting loss, respecting tradition and finding one’s way. The former, we’ve not seen much of yet; because Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is a hybrid series, featuring half-length episodes followed by a live-action segment, the story advances at half the speed of a conventional series. The reason why there’s a second season, then is because Himeno’s experiences up until now technically would’ve been the halfway point. Here, the Pottery Club and Mami, their advisor, arrive at the Gifu Museum of Modern Ceramic Art.

  • It is no surprise that this landmark is modelled faithfully to its real world counterpart. Opened in 2002, this museum features ceramic art from across Japan (and even some international pieces), with an emphasis on modern creations. The museum is open from 1000 to 1800 and costs 340 Yen per adult (although group discounts are available, too). There is no better setting for a pottery competition, and unsurprisingly, Mika is overjoyed to be here. Yakunara Mug Cup Mo shows that the only thing that really gets her down is if she spars with people important to her, but beyond this, even the stresses of a competition don’t faze her.

  • Conversely, Himeno is a little nervous, despite having told herself that she’s participating purely for the experience and in the hopes of making something her father would like. Here, Himeno, Mika and Toko check out the main exhibition hall. A host of submissions were made, but as inclination dictates, Mika is most interested to first find their own works. Once they are located, Himeno spots a red sticker on the name plates for Toko and Mika’s entries; they’re supposed to be for submissions that particularly stood out. Mika and Toko reassure Himeno that occasionally, ordinary entries can also win an award, as well. However, since Toko’s grandfather is also one of the judges, Toko chooses to make tracks: she’s longed to make pottery at her own pace and earn recognition on her own merits.

  • Himeno’s creation does seem to pale compared to Mika and Toko’s, but one judge takes an immediate curiosity in the work, studying it intently. The penultimate episode actually proved quite stressful: even though it would’ve been illogical for her to win owing to her limited experience, viewers cannot help but hope alongside Himeno, whose desire to win is better expressed as a desire to show her father that she’s not only taken up pottery, but is respecting her mother’s hobby and learning things for herself. That this judge here is drawn in by Himeno’s work suggests some familiarity with Himena’s work.

  • By checking out the other submissions, Himeno learns that pottery isn’t necessarily an all-serious pursuit, and moreover, it’s okay to have fun in the process making something. This is what motivates the page quote: while potters oftentimes make items of practical value (cups, plates, bowls and coasters), they’re also free to mess around. Mika definitely understands this, and here, she, Himeno and Toko check out a project that certainly looked like it was fun to make.

  • The animation and artistic style in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo does seem to borrow elements from Western comics: Charles M. Schulz was fond of having characters tilt their head backwards such that only their mouth is visible, usually when something uncommonly unfavourable or joyous was happening. Here, Mika expresses pure joy at the fact that it’s lunch time. Even the pressure of the pottery competition results don’t bother her, and she simply looks forwards to a good meal.

  • The group is eating on Gifu Museum of Modern Ceramic Art’s deck: Google Street View does cover this spot, and the amount of effort paid to detail in the anime is impressive: going off Google Street View, the Tajimi skyline is also faithfully reproduced. One would imagine that eating lunch up here would feel pretty nice, although Himeno is so stressed that she’s unable to enjoy the food and resorts to hoping that the presence of rolled omelettes would be a sign that she’d win something.

  • Back inside, the judges are in the middle of looking at the entries shortlisted for an award. Mika and Toko’s submissions are a shoo-in; Mika’s is fun and exemplifies what is possible with pottery, whereas Toko’s represents technical excellence and a superior understanding of the craft. When the judges reach Himeno’s work, they are impressed with the uniqueness of the approach, but find that it is nothing standout. However, the same judge who had been drawn in by Himeno’s work earlier has a few additional thoughts owing to the glaze’s unique colours.

  • In the end, Himeno doesn’t win anything from the competition, but watching the awards ceremony proved to be a bit more gripping than I would’ve thought. While Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is about pottery, the series always hints at the idea that Himeno has taken up pottery for a larger purpose beyond what most slice-of-life shows usually set up. With this in mind, while all slice-of-life anime necessarily deal with life lessons and speak to different challenges people face in their lives, it is also the case that appreciating what a given series is going for requires more empathy and patience than purely literature and philosophy.

  • I find that slice-of-life series are typically harder to write for precisely for this reason: rather than reciting definitions from textbooks, slice-of-life series require one to understand how the characters are feeling, and oftentimes, this entails either having gone through what the characters go through, or else possessing the empathy to put together why characters act and feel the way they do. In Himeno’s case, for instance, while she’s all smiles about having participated, when she’s alone, melancholy takes over. Something like existentialism won’t answer why this is the case, but making a genuine effort to understand Himeno will help considerably.

  • This does require a bit of patience from the viewers: in Himeno’s case, she takes up pottery because of her mother’s passing. Longing to get to know her mother better where their time had been cut short, Himeno initially finds disappointment that she’s not able to become as proficient as she’d like, but over the course of Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, discovering the creative process with her friends and learning the same steps her mother would’ve started out with helps her to connect to the happiness Himena had found while making earthenware. By the first season’s ending, having created a work of her own, Himeno feels a little closer to her mother.

  • Himeno’s father had spent the whole of the series working on a new curry; at the finale, it’s finally complete. He dubs it “Tajimisio Baked Curry”, and it turns out this curry is able to bring joy to those who eat it. While Himeno had been working on her project, her father had similarly strove to make something that could evoke a specific emotion in those who tried it. This is the mark of a particularly well-crafted work; regardless of cultural or linguistic barriers, a work succeeds if it is able to create a response in the recipient as the creator had intended. Given both Himeno and her father are pursing this, it stands to reason that Himena was particularly good at doing this with her pottery.

  • Having no idea of what Himeno had made for the competition, her father comes upon the cushion and is taken with a sudden urge to sit down. The cushion shatters, but Himeno, spotting that her feelings had been conveyed, is overwhelmed with joy. Her mother’s pieces had similarly been able to convey a specific idea or thought to people, and because Himeno’s father expresses that her cushion had accomplished just this, her intentions were successfully put into her work. This moment is the highlight in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo and shows viewers that her ability to get an idea across is now present. Encouraged, Himeno takes up pottery whole-heartedly, and along the way, hopes to make a mug, too.

One unexpected outcome of Yakunara Mug Cup Mo arose with the awards presentation: Himeno had entered the competition purely for the experience’s sake, and initially did not believe that she’d stand any sort of chance at winning something. However, as energy and excitement surrounding the competition increases, Himeno finds herself wishing that it’d be nice to win something and show her father that pottery is something she’s competent with. This sense of yearning is visibly felt, and despite being a slice-of-life, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s last two episodes actually did end up being quite tense. Despite understanding Himeno was not going to win anything, one could not help but hope that she might actually be a finalist for one of the awards. This is the mark of a strong slice-of-life anime series; Himeno’s story began on an uneven footing as she struggled to determine if pottery was for her, but once Yakunara Mug Cup Mo hit its stride, it became quite captivating to watch. Himeno’s persistence to make something her father would like also speaks volumes to how close as a family that they must’ve been; while Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is a cheerful series, and Himena’s legacy was one of joy, I imagine that her passing was difficult for everyone. Himeno’s father opens a new café to focus on creating new things, the same as Himena had once enjoyed, and Himeno wants to continue creating pottery of the same calibre as her mother’s such that her father can remember the memories they’d shared. This aspect was not explored in any detail in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, but in the knowledge that there will be a second season, there’s no reason Yakunara Mug Cup Mo couldn’t portray a story of finding one’s strengths anew and seizing the future, similarly to how Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka? and Tamayura had done so previously. With this in mind, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s second season has become something I am looking forwards to. Fortunately, the wait won’t be long; the second season airs this October.

2 responses to “Yakunara Mug Cup Mo: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

  1. Michael E Kerpan June 28, 2021 at 18:05

    I thought that Himeno shedding tears of joy because her father _sat_ on her “cushion” (and was totally unconcerned that he promptly smashed it) was adorable. I found this a lovely show — even if it has a long way to go if it wants to equal Tamayura in the next season. I don’t know if it was good or bad that this flew so far under the radar that it did not get the goofy hostility some fans aimed at Super Cub. In any event, I think this was more effective as both a show and a tourist promotion than the once-a-month Maiko-san Chi no Makanai-san (Kiyo in Kyoto: From the Maiko House).

    BTW — I found the documentary segments in Tajimi featuring the voice actresses extremely enjoyable too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • infinitezenith July 4, 2021 at 18:20

      Time will tell if Yakunara Mug Cup Mo wishes to do a healing story through pottery; the elements are there, but it’s also a topic that requires a little finesse to adequately handle. At any rate, the anime is definitely an enjoyable presentation of Tajimi, and Yakunara Mug Cup Mo did a fine job of bringing the city’s locations to life through the anime. I ended up going on a location hunt to check things out for myself, although I was not successful in finding the real-world equivalent to the sculpture Himena made. On the live-action segment, those appear solid: I saw the first one and figured I’d save the rest for a rainy day. The summer season looks quite, so I might make a start on them then!


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