“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” –Oscar Wilde
With the culture festival in full swing, Himeno and the others immerse themselves into their class activities, while Toko presents a bowl of her own style for the Pottery Club and impresses her rival. During the culture festival, Toko’s grandfather also shows up, but asks that his visit be a secret from Toko. Later, Himeno’s father visits, as well, and he finds a failed piece from Himena: she’d kept it to reminder herself of the importance of being humble. Later, Himeno becomes preoccupied when her father sets aside a spot for one of her creations, and she looks after Arai Kentarō, a well-known actor who’s also friends with Toko’s grandfather. Himeno takes Arai over to Toko’s place so he can visit Toko’s grandfather, and later, Toko learns that her grandfather had actually been worried about Toko not finding her own way in pottery. When he’d seen her brilliant red bowl, he was deeply moved. Toko later recounts this to Himeno after overhearing that Himeno’s become preoccupied with putting a masterpiece that she feels would be worthy of her parents. Toko’s story encourages Himeno to be herself, and after visiting Ximena, who’s created sunshine-filled dinner bowls, Himeno is inspired to try something exciting. At Naoko’s suggestion, Himeno decides to create mugs for those around her, and experiments with a wide range of shapes and sizes. Himeno’s single-minded focus on her project causes her father to worry, but in the end, the mugs come out remarkably well. During a Christmas Eve party, Himeno decides that Ximena’s bowls will occupy the spot her father had set out, because she intends for her mugs to be used; each mug was shaped based on its user’s traits, and Himeno herself created a mug with a kohiki finish. After the party ends, Himeno puts her mug to the test and enjoys a hot beverage with her family, bringing Niban Kama to a finish. This second season of Yakunara Mug Cup Mo continues on in its predecessor’s footsteps, and despite being a thinly-veiled promotion for Tajimi, Niban Kama continues to capture the importance of being able to impart one’s own style on their pursuits.
The notion of being able to find one’s own approach towards something is a common theme in fiction; pressure to meet expectations and the resulting stifling of creativity and enjoyment isn’t a particularly novel concept, but differing contexts and characters mean that every variation of this theme is worth watching. In Niban Kama, while Himeno has become better versed with pottery-making, hearing the stories about her mother’s legendary craft is enough to dissuade her. She wonders if she’ll ever reach a point where she might be able to differentiate herself from her mother, and these doubts cause Himeno to struggle with pottery. However, Niban Kama emphasises that what Himeno is going through is not something she needs to deal with on her own. Toko has a similar challenge, and despite possessing a refined skillset where pottery is concerned, she’s long been concerned with making works that her grandfather would approve of. However, it turns out Toko’s grandfather had simply been critical of her work so she would get the basics down, allowing her to create anything of her choosing: to Toko’s grandfather, the red bowl was symbolic of the fact that Toko could follow her own style and be successful. Having found her own path, Toko shares this with Himeno, knowing that the latter is similarly struggling, and in conjunction with seeing Ximena’s own spirited creations, Himeno finally finds her groove. Unconstrained by what to make, Himeno decides to follow her heart, and in the process, she is able to discover what pottery means, both to her mother and herself; it is about the pursuit of creating something wonderful, of being immersed in the process and seeing the smiles of those who view the final product. In this way, Himeno is able to overcome this particular barrier by the end of Niban Kama: the mugs she creates have her own distinct touch to them, and rather than worry about expectations, Himeno is able to appreciate that what her mother had seen in pottery was the ability to let loose and make things to one’s content.
Screenshots and Commentary
- It’s been about a month and a half since I last wrote about Niban Kama: unlike conventional series, where I write about my impressions after three and explain my rationale behind continuing, Niban Kama and Yakunara Mug Cup Mo are both half-length series, so there was more content to write about after the halfway point. Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is a bit more of an obscure series, and there’s been next to no discussion of the series anywhere else concerning the series’ themes, motifs and elements that make it standout. I don’t count “reactions” as legitimate discussion because it doesn’t leave readers with any insight into what an individual actually made of something.
- While Toko is distracted by her grandfather’s apparent distance, she nonetheless does her best to ensure that the culture festival events are successful. Toko’s grandfather had actually stopped by earlier to check things out but hadn’t been too keen on letting Toko know, and as a result, Toko continues to believe that her work is becoming unsatisfactory. The reason why Niban Kama spent a considerable amount of time on Toko is because despite the clear parallels between her situation and Himeno’s, Toko is a significantly more experienced potter.
- As such, Niban Kama spends a bit more time on Toko because it allows the series to show how even people who are quite skilled can run into roadblocks. This idea is further reinforced by the fact that during the culture festival, Himeno’s father shows up and shows one of Himena’s old creations – a failed bowl. It turns out that one day, she’d gotten careless and as a reminder to herself, decided to apply a heat treat anyways so that the lesson would become permanent.
- While Himeno spent much of Niban Kama learning about her mother’s works and doing her best to help Toko out, her own journey begins after her father deliberately sets aside an opening on the shelf, for the day when Himeno makes something she feels is worthy of being placed there alongside Himena’s creations.. This initially does place a great deal of pressure on Himeno, who experiences considerable difficulty in trying to come up with a piece worthy of the position, but rather than allow Himeno to dwell on things for too long, Niban Kama almost immediately has Himeno experience things that help her to regroup.
- The first is meeting Arai Kentarō, an actor who had once trained under Toko’s grandfather for a film where he was starring as a potter. Arai’s quite well known in the entertainment world, and Himeno’s grandmother is a big fan. As it turns out he’d come by to visit Toko’s grandfather, and the two go back quite a ways, so when they reunite, they speak of the older days quite fondly. Thanks to Himeno’s efforts, Arai is able to locate the Aoki residence, and he later gives Himeno the autograph her grandmother was looking for.
- While observing Toko in her craft, Arai comments that Toko’s grandfather must be a little too strict in his approach, but Toko swiftly mentions that this is correct. The moment speaks to both the fact that Toko’s grandfather is highly experienced, as well as the fact that while Toko deeply respects him, she’s also become a little nervous about how he receives her work. However, this turns out to be a miscommunication on both their parts; Toko’s grandfather had wanted Toko to begin developing her own style, while Toko herself believed her craft was slipping.
- After Arai heads off, immensely grateful to have had the chance to talk to Toko’s grandfather again, Toko and her grandfather share a quiet moment together under the autumn leaves. It is here that Toko learns her grandfather had been overjoyed to see her orange bowl at the culture festival – the bold colours represent a dramatic departure from Toko’s usual choice of blues, and as it turns out, Toko had been a little worried about her grandfather’s expectations since the first season, when she’d mentioned that she was a little uncomfortable in meeting up with him prior to the competition, since he was a judge.
- Toko’s grandfather brings her to Eihō-ji, a temple just north of central Tajimi, within walking distance of the places Himeno and her friends hang out in. This temple was founded in 1313 and is renowned for its gardens: by autumn, it is especially beautiful. Niban Kama‘s timeframe allows Yakunara Mug Cup Mo to showcase a side of Tajimi that was not seen during the spring and summer, and the colours here are symbolic of Toko’s transition to finding her own style.
- When Toko learns from Naoko that Himeno is having a bit of a tough go at things, she decides to take her out for some air and brings her to a few places, including a local café called hinatabocco, which has fabulous-looking crepes as a part of a promotion. Here, amidst the ambience, Toko shows Himeno her latest purchase and recounts her conversation with her grandfather. They enjoy the food before setting off for the café Himeno’s father runs, and here, I will remark that because of Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s tie-in to Tajimi’s promotional board, real-world locations are rendered precisely as they are. In shows like Yuru Camp△, facsimiles of the places are used instead to avoid copyright issues.
- As Niban Kama continues, the progression of the seasons become more apparent: the brilliant leaves give way to more muted colours as the weather continues to cool. Some of the anime I’d previously seen had utilised the seasons as a character in its own right, creating a setting that changes dramatically enough as to feel like a completely different place, but in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, the seasons act as a subtle metaphor for the passage of time, and noticing how the weather’s transitioning over from autumn to winter gives a sense of how long it can take for one to regroup and find their pacing anew.
- Upon hearing Toko’s story in full, Himeno is deeply moved, enough to start crying. After Niban Kama is in the books, it is clear while Yakunara Mug Cup Mo isn’t a Tamayura equivalent quite to the same extent as I had initially thought, there are plenty of similarities between the two works. Both series do deal with loss of a loved one and picking up a skill their loved one had once excelled in, to the point of being able to learn more about their loved ones through making the same discoveries, encountering the same failures and basking in the same triumphs as their loved ones did. Similarly, it is through support from friends and family that Himeno and Fū are able to find their footing anew, and both series has plenty of humour to accompany the more introspective, emotional moments.
- Overall, both series have their own unique merits, as well, and this is what make both worth watching. One of the strong points I quite like about Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is Naoko’s role in things – while she’s not a member of the Pottery Club, she shows up to accompany Himeno during club activities, and observant viewers will find that Naoko is seen doing activities of her own in the process. Naoko’s known Himeno for a long time and deeply cares for her, so when Toko phones her later during the evening to provide her an update on how Himeno’s spirits seem to be lifting, Naoko is overjoyed.
- Himeno ends up deciding to make some mugs as her next big project, and while the prospect of making something of a high enough quality to stand alongside the mugs her mother made make this a bit of a daunting task, Himeno does end up doing things in her own way – during club activities, she splits her time between honing her technique and spending time with the others. It is not lost on me that in Niban Kama, Mika’s had a more reduced presence despite being the most boisterous and outgoing of the characters. I imagine that this is because Niban Kama is a little more introspective, and Mika’s personality means that she’s less likely to be discouraged by things like expectations; she’s shown to be superbly creative and has no qualms building whatever comes to mind.
- The Himeno of Niban Kama is a ways more experienced with clay and pottery than she’d been during her first attempt, enough to give viewers the assurance that technical skill isn’t going to be as much of a concern now as it had been during Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s first season. A longstanding complaint that is often levelled at slice-of-life series is how characters can seemingly improve out of left field without having demonstrated any time commitment on-screen, but I’ve found these to be invalid on the virtue that anime don’t typically show all moments all the time. In the case of slice-of-life name, moments pivotal to character growth are shown over things like practise; this is why K-On! chose to focus more on the misadventures Yui and the others have, over them actually practising their instruments.
- Similarly, while Himeno’s definitely put in the effort to improve her pottery craft, moments like her stopping by with Toko, Mika and Naoko to check out Ximena’s work are more important to her growth. In Tajimi, Ximena’s begun working on some dinner bowls with a very warm, colourful flair about them – they’re very colourful, and Ximena merges Mexican artistic styles together with Japanese customs to create a miniature version of the set after learning about the Japanese custom of leaving offerings for the deceased. The sort of creativity seen in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo celebrates being innovative and bold to accentuate the fact that in pottery, there aren’t limits on what one can create.
- Himeno’s father worries that Himeno is more concerned about those around her than herself and worries that he hadn’t done enough to encourage her, but the reality is that ever since taking her first steps into pottery, Himeno has begun to find her own path. Having supportive friends in her corner helps, and it is Naoko’s suggestion, for Himeno to make a cup, that sets in motion Niban Kama‘s final storyline. Naoko’s reasoning is that Himeno’s now tried her hand at all manner of pottery save cups, and Himeno had been avoiding them becuse she’s worried about having to make something that could meet the expectations of those around her.
- In this post for Niban Kama, I suddenly realise I’ve not featured many “funny face” moments. They are considerably rarer because the second half of Niban Kama is more focused on how Himeno begins to find herself after spending time thinking about things on her own, and spending time with those around her. However, after Himeno heads home for the evening, she finds everyone’s gathered, sharing old memories of their time as students, and instructor Mami becomes embarrassed when one of her old poems are mentioned. Seeing the spirits here is the catalyst that gives Himeno the inspiration she needs to get started.
- Thus, Himeno begins to really immerse herself into her project: we’ve not seen her this excited about pottery since the competition, and this change is quite noticeable. One small detail I’ve always enjoyed about Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is the fact that Naoko can always be seen doing something that isn’t pottery while visiting the Pottery Club: earlier, she’s reading a book, and here, she appears to be working on a model of some sort. The others are impressed with how far Himeno has come, and while figuring out the shape for one of her cups, Himeno suddenly squashes it.
- Toko remarks that being able to know when to restart is a mark of maturity in pottery, and Himeno is surprised that everyone’s watching her so intently. That Himeno is so concentrated on her task even makes Mika a little jealous, and as Himeno stays to continue on with her project, Mika conveys this as much to Toko. While it’s only touched on for the briefest of moments, Mika’s remarks to Toko make it quite concrete that making these cups for act as a bit of a turning point for Himeno: previously, she only had a mild interest in pottery, even though she’d felt it had connected her to her mother.
- However, now that she’s doing pottery for the sake of doing pottery on top of pursuing it as a means of understanding Himena better, Himeno’s enthusiasm soars. Mami shows up to have a chat with Himeno, but it takes Himeno a full five minutes to realise anyone’s there. She asks Mami for a bit of permission to stick around a little longer, and there’s a spirited piece of incidental music that accompanies the scene to emthasise how engaged Himeno is. It looks like Niban Kama‘s soundtrack will release with the BD on January 26, 2022, the same day that The Aquatope on White Sand‘s soundtrack is releasing.
- I look forwards to both, and here, I will remark that I’m glad that Niban Kama remained one of the hidden gems this season: it is always pleasant when the folks with a propensity for criticising every pixel of every anime each season overlook something, leaving others to enjoy things in peace. Niban Kama is definitely one of those series which, despite being otherwise unremarkable, remains a satisfying series to watch. For me, seeing Himeno find her own rhythm was the series’ highlight, and the payoff, in seeing her marvel at how well her cups turned out, was well worth the journey.
- The Himeno at the end of Niban Kama has evidently come a very long way since she began her journey at Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s start: in the first season, her creation had been an effort to see if she could create something that could resonate with those who gazed upon it, and while she was successful, Himeno also continued to feel like she was in her mother’s shadows. By this point in time, this doubt is gone: Himeno’s cups show that she is able to be herself when making anything, and after the heat treat has been applied, the entire Pottery Club is happy things turned out as well as they did.
- Because this is a momentous occasion, and because enough time has now passed for December to have arrived, Himeno decides to host a Christmas Eve party at the family café, during which she will unveil what is to go into that particular spot on the shelf. Everyone’s present, and prior to the unveiling, everyone is able to settle down and enjoy some of the cupcakes that Himeno’s father had made. Niban Kama‘s timing couldn’t be better; the fact that Himeno’s doing this so close to Christmas coincides with Christmas in reality, and I’ve always found that Christmas episodes releasing close to Christmas really accentuate the season’s spirits.
- I cannot help but wonder if Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s release schedule was deliberately structured so that the two seasons were more seasonal, time appropriate: the first season definitely conveyed a sense of spring and summer when it had aired during the spring of 2021, and Niban Kama similarly follows the seasons. This approach would be quite clever in allowing the series to promote Tajimi throughout the seasons, and back in Niban Kama proper, the moment of truth is finally nigh: everyone’s anticipation is tangible in the moments leading up to the reveal.
- Himeno’s big reveal ends up being surprising in many ways: she chooses Ximena’s sun-themed dining set for the spot, since the vivid colours convey a sense of warmth that make them standout. By going against expectations, Himeno shows that she’s got a creative mind, as well, and where allowed to flourish, Himeno can be very creative. I imagine that the small set Ximena had designed really captured Himeno’s heart and led her to believe that having something so different than her mother’s style could also be a source of inspiration.
- However, before Himeno’s father can be too disappointed, Himeno also unveils the cups she’s made for everyone. It turns out she’d glazed them in accordance to their personalities, and having been inspired by Ximena, even created a small cup for her mother. The making of these cups sees Himeno at her absolute happiest all season, and the enjoyment she had in the process shows in the final products, which impresses even Toko. While Niban Kama might not have had a competition to round things out, Himeno’s own journey proved to be a very rewarding and heartwarming one to follow.
- As it turns out, Himeno’s own cup uses a kohiki style: Toko remarks it’s an advanced technique where an iron-rich clay is covered with a white slip and then a translucent glaze. The style was inspired by Korean techniques, and besides signifying that Himeno’s craft has improved, the fact that Himeno chose a white colour symbolises how she’s a blank sheet of paper right now: over time, the kohiki finish will imbibe the colours of whatever Himeno’s favourite drinks are, and so, this choice mirrors how Himeno’s starting fresh, with the potential to go anywhere she desires.
- Himeno and the others enjoy their Christmas Eve party, before Himeno and her family share some coffee together. Here, I’ll stop briefly to remark that I’m now almost a third of the way into this vacation time. Since I’ve been working from home, the main difference now is that I get to sleep in a little more, and I have an opportunity to spend time with my books, as well as lounge around a little more on the days I’m home. While I normally don’t idle, being able to loaf around from time to time isn’t so bad because it represents a nice change of pace. I did spend the whole of yesterday out and about: waiting for furniture company to deliver the other bed and setting up a new Asus Zen Aio for my parents took the balance of the day, but today was a ways quieter, making it perfect for wrapping up another post, and browsing the Steam Store now that the Winter Sale is here.
- I also wound up picking up a new Logitech G203 to complement the EVGA mechanical keyboard I have: the mouse was on sale for half off), and although my local branch was out of stock, I’ve since placed an order for it. Two games have caught my eye: ШХД: ЗИМА/It’s Winter and theHunter: Call of the Wild. Both are atmospheric games that appear in line with what I’m expecting out of a good solo experience, and their price histories suggest I should be able to get a good deal on the latter. The former doesn’t look like it’s going to get a discount based on price histories, but considering the developer’s other title, Routine Feat, is free, I have no qualms paying full price for It’s Winter to support the developer. I’ll likely pick up both tomorrow, ahead of Christmas Eve: most of the day is booked, since we’re getting our beds assembled, but I will have some time in the evening to myself.
- As warmth returns to Tajimi, Himeno, Toko and Mika prepare to return to the Pottery Club’s building and make new stuff, while Naoko accompanies them. With this, Niban Kama draws to a close, and overall, I’m very happy with how this series turned out: altogether, this series earns its A- (3.7 of 4, or 8.5 of 10) for its sincere portrayal of discovery, inclusion of technical elements to introduce complete novices like myself to pottery, and highlight some of the features of Tajimi. Here, I remark that I’ve yet to actually watch any of the live action segments, and since I did mention earlier that I’ve got a bit of extra time in the present, it would be nice to go through those for the most complete Yakunara Mug Cup Mo experience.
Altogether, Niban Kama proves an excellent follow-up to Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s first season by consolidates the series’ messages and providing Himeno an opportunity to grow. In the first season, Himeno just began the hobby and only recently discovered the joys of being able to see something from start to finish, but her centrepiece then had been influenced by Himena’s style. Niban Kama is all about Himeno finding her own way through the creation of new mugs; these mugs give the series its namesake, and now that Himeno has made something from the bottom of her heart, viewers are assured that she’s in a place to continue pursuing pottery without being weighted down by expectations and pressure. This in turn would really open the floor up for Himeno to create works that make those around her happy, but at the same time, the outcome of Niban Kama also means that from a growth perspective, Himeno’s also hit a milestone of sorts: she’s found her own way to pottery, and while there is plenty of opportunity for her to grow and improve, through making things for those around her and for competitions, as well as through learning more about the pottery her mother had created (and the stories between them), I would feel that Yakunara Mug Cup Mo has done its part as an anime. Himeno’s come quite a ways in her enjoyment for pottery and what it means, both for herself and those around her, and similarly, the series’ accompanying live-action segment was done to both promote the voice actresses, as well as acting as an incentive for viewers to visit Tajimi. As enjoyable as Niban Kama (and Yakunara Mug Cup Mo) have been, I do not feel that it is likely that will be a continuation to this series, but folks curious to see where the stories go would probably find their answers within the manga, which began running in 2012 and continues to this day: there’s a total of thirty-three volumes at the time of writing. When Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s first season finished airing, the city of Tajimi made the first seven volumes of the manga freely available on their website, and moreover, these are the English-translated versions. Owing to my schedule, which has been quite busy, I regret to say that I’m only about halfway through the first volume. On the flip-side, today is Christmas Eve, and that means I’m only about halfway through my winter vacation, leaving me a reasonable amount of time to make some headway in the manga.