“It’s very meditative. It turns off a higher level of thinking. You have to let go and give in to the unpredictability of it. You can go in with an idea of what you want to make, and the clay doesn’t want to do that.” –John Sheppard
Autumn approaches, and after the summer pottery competition, Rio Matsuse, Toko’s old classmate, shows up with the intent on challenging her to participate in the next competition. Himeno struggles with finding inspiration for her next work, and while speaking with the folks who’d known her mother, discovers that Himena actually had a very free-spirited approach to pottery. Later, Naoko spends an evening with Himeno after having a fight back home, and as the frigid air of autumn sets in, Himeno encounters Ximena, a Mexican potter who’s visiting Tamiji to see a sculpture Himena had made. Inspired, Ximena decides to move to Tajimi. However, Toko slowly becomes disheartened as the competition draws nearer: noticing this, Himeno organises an outing to lift Toko’s spirits, bringing Naoko and Mika along. They learn that Toko’s found it increasingly difficult to speak with her grandfather, and that her pottery feels like its suffering as a result. When Ximena reappears with a question about pottery tools, Himeno sets Toko the task of answering them, which in turn helps her to reflect on why she’d enjoyed pottery to begin with. This is Yakunara Mug Cup Mo Niban Kama (Let’s Make a Mug Too Second Kiln), the second season to the spring season’s Yakunara Mug Cup Mo (and Niban Kama from here on out for brevity). The first season had Himeno slowly learn the basics of pottery and begin the path her mother had once taken; while she was not able to win anything in competition, the process helped her to discover much about Himena. Here in Niban Kama, the journey continues as Himeno begins learning even more about her mother, including when Himena had trying every coffee joint in town to shape the optimal coffee cup, as well as how Himena’s sculptures have touched people around the world.
While Niban Kama uses pottery as its premise, it is more appropriate to say that Niban Kama is more of a love song to pottery: beginning its life as materials sourced from the earth, and through a potter’s effort and desire to build something wonderful, eventually takes shape. Whether it be the creative pieces that Mika puts together, or the professional, precise pieces that Toko crafts, Yakunara Mug Cup Mo presents pottery as the outpouring of emotion into something tangible, one that can give physical form to the feelings that elude description. In this way, Niban Kama does appear to be building up the idea that for Himeno, while her mother is gone, the feelings of excitement, joy and creativity Himena experienced while making her work continue to endure for Himeno to appreciate. Pottery has brought Himeno closer to each of Naoko, Mika and Toko, as well as giving her the chance to meet Ximena; by taking up pottery, Himeno has chosen to tread the same path her mother had, and in doing so, becomes closer to Himena even though she is no longer present. This is quite touching, reminiscent of how Tamayura had Fū Sawatari take up photography again so she could find the happiness her father had conveyed through his own photography. In this way, both Yakunara Mug Cup Mo and Tamayura both share the idea that while people may come and go, their legacies can endure, offering strength and support alike in one’s most difficult moments. By embracing their achievements in life, one can honour and remember those who are no longer among us, turning something quite painful into something that can be cherished. Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s first season had sent Himeno on an adventure in and around Tajimi as she picks up pottery, before shifting focus to the creative process in its second half, so I anticipate that Niban Kama will follow a similar pattern; this first half has seen Himeno continue exploring as she works to determine what her next piece will be, and together with her friends, has found that Himena’s legacy and style endures.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The last time I wrote about Yakunara Mug Cup Mo would’ve been back in June – 86 EIGHTY-SIX was running concurrently at the time, and so, with Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s second season resuming 86 EIGHTY-SIX, it means that the former would return as well. This second season, Niban Kama, opens with some of Toko’s old classmates returning to declare a competition with her. Aside from this abrupt appearance, they don’t show up again for the remainder of the second half, leaving one to wonder if they’ll come back at a later point in Niban Kama.
- One detail in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is the fact that the characters have a late 90s to early 00s design in their facial features. Having now read the complimentary manga volumes, it is clear that Nippon Animation has deliberately chosen to give the characters more distinct appearances relative to their manga counterparts – Nippon Animation was founded in 1962 and produced numerous anime right up until 2008’s Hyakko. After this, the studio primarily worked on films until 2020, when they produced The Genie Family. With their history, it isn’t too surprising that stylistic choices from an older time make an appearance here in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo.
- With this being said, Nippon Animation’s work on Yakunara Mug Cup Mo and Niban Kama are consistently solid: character animation is still quite fluid, bringing Tajimi and its surroundings to life. While Himeno struggles to come up with an idea for her next project, learning about Himena’s old exploits leads Himeno to gain a better insight into how her mother had approached creating things; the first season had hinted at Himena’s genius with pottery, and she certainly did have an impact on those around her.
- Niban Kama indicates that for Himena, pottery was a way of life, and even back in high school, she proved to be continually unexpected – filling the Pottery Club’s room with coffee mugs while pursuing the perfect shape is said to be one of her many misadventures, although it stood out sufficiently as to be remembered. When one of the judges from the first season shows up at the Toyokawa Café, this is the first memory he recounts with Himeno.
- All of the characters in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo are likeable, but I’m particularly fond of Naoko – despite not being a member of the Pottery Club, she accompanies them frequently because she’s close to Himeno. It turns out that during their childhood, after Naoko had created a yarn-holder for her mother, the other children had teased her for it. On the other hand, Himeno found Naoko’s creation captivating, and since then, the two have been friends. After getting into a disagreement with her mother, Naoko decides to spend the night at Himeno’s to regroup, and sharing old stories helps Naoko to put things in perspective.
- While Yakunara Mug Cup Mo might be focused on Mino-ware pottery, the series isn’t exclusively about pottery and its intricacies – subtleties in life are also presented, allowing the interplay between interpersonal dynamics and pottery-making to feed off one another to drive the story. Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is not quite as driven or focused as a full-fledged series owing to its length, but it still has heart. Moments like Himeno watching the sunset with Naoko are rendered in loving detail, equivalent to when the girls are in the Potter Club’s room and focused on their creations.
- While visiting a local pottery museum, Himeno, Naoko and Mika run into Toko, who’s helping out with a pottery exhibition and is kitted out in a traditional kimono. The area’s lengthy history with pottery and ceramics means that such museums are found in abundance – there’s no shortage of inspiration for Himeno and her friends as far as pottery is concerned. In surprise at Toko’s appearance, Mika responds with a bit of shock; the funny faces in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo have always been funny, and Mika is often the one providing them.
- In Yakunara Mug Cup Mo, Himeno and the others refer to Mika by her surname, Kukuri, and this is phonetically similar to Kukuru of The Aquatope in White Sand. Further to this, Mika’s surname and Kukuru’s given name have a Hamming Distance of 1 (i.e. the number of substitutions needed to change one string into another): when I first began writing about The Aquatope on White Sand, I was constantly making spelling mistakes. I typically refer to characters by their given names, but having spent a season hearing everyone address Mika by her family name, some muscle memory lingered early on. For readers, I aim to edit my posts and ensure things are as readable as possible, although on occasions, errors are inevitable.
- Niban Kama introduces Ximena Valdez, a Mexican traveller who is familiar with Himena’s works and has visited Tajimi with the purpose of seeing things for herself. Ximena’s name is pronounced similarly to Himena’s, and she occasionally reverts to her native tongue whenever excited. When Ximena runs into Himeno and the others, she’s overjoyed to learn that Himeno is Himena’s daughter, and Ximena explains that there was a particular sculpture she’d been interested in checking out in Tajimi.
- It’s evening by the time Himeno takes everyone over to Himena’s sculpture, and while the sculpture is not quite as radiant as it might be by day, it retains all of its beauty. Moreover, the wind still creates a very distinct sound as it blows through the sculpture’s contours. An old track, 風の塔 (Herpburn Kaze no Tō, literally “Wind Tower”) makes a return; the incidental music in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is of an excellent standard, conveying everything from the excitement of making something to the joys of experiencing the ordinary in Tajimi. The first season’s soundtrack released about a month after the series finished airing, and Niban Kama‘s soundtrack is set to release on January 26, 2022, as a part of the BD.
- In the end, after locating Himena’s sculpture, Ximena is overjoyed to have met Himeno. Ximena and her friend had been planning to camp near the sculpture overnight, while Himena and her friends return back to town. Ximena is voiced by Sally Amaki – Amaki was born in the United States and pursued a career in acting in 2016. Although her Japanese was a little weaker, which led to companies rejecting her applications, she did find an offer with the group 22/7. In Niban Kama, one can hear Amaki speaking Spanish quite naturally while playing Ximena: besides English and Japanese, Amaki has competence in both Spanish and French.
- The fourth episode of Niban Kama is set from the perspective of the clay that became a sculpture sitting in front of the Pottery Club’s building. Mika created this particular sculpture from a special kind of clay unique to Tajimi, and initially, the clay gives voice to its hope that it will become something exquisite. As a result of how Mika handles things, the clay is dismayed at its fate – here, Mika and Himeno trod on the clay to loosen it.
- Despite coming on a bit strong and putting off Himeno, Mika presently gets along with Himeno just fine, and here, Mika shows Himeno what the clay has become. Throughout the clay’s monologues, it is suggested that despite her carefree nature and unorthodox way of approaching pottery, Mika’s skill is present, and she knows how to handle the clay, as well.
- However, what makes Mika a respectable potter is ultimately her ability to adapt. Throughout the process, Mika’s project faces continued setbacks: an accident results in paint being splattered on the sculpture, and Mika decides to change things to roll with punches. Similarly, when firing the sculpture in the kiln causes the top to crack open, the others become worried that Mika would feel down from seeing her efforts undone.
- Instead, Mika immediately spots another use for her creation. She cleans up the cracked portion and transforms the sculpture into a flowerpot. The end result isn’t bad at all – even the haughty-sounding clay ends up pleased with the final product. Of everyone at the Pottery Club, Mika does seem to have the most fun with her creations, and in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s first season, this did put her at odds with Toko, who is much more serious about the pursuit of pottery. Indeed, this ends up being a topic spanning several episodes of Niban Kama: to take her mind off things, Himeno suggests they go out for a while.
- Toko and Himeno end up going to a local gohei mochi joint, where their signature mochi sells out in the blink of an eye. Toko offers the last one to Himeno, since she’d been there before, and after the pair settle down with some takoyaki, they begin discuss what’s been on Toko’s mind. On the topic of eating out with friends, I invited my best friend out to a local tavern because he’d been itching to have a go at their poutine challenge: 5 pounds of fries, cheese curds and gravy. I decided to go for their more manageable but still tasty Rancher’s Special: poutine topped with fried chicken, succulent cuts of Canadian bacon, beer-battered avocado and a generous helping of ranch sauce. The poutine was tasty, and I was especially impressed with how the fried avocado tasted like tempura.
- My friend didn’t end up beating the challenge: at our age, food challenges aren’t something I can readily pull off anymore. Back in Niban Kama, it turns out that for Toko, she’d been under a bit of pressure to produce something that would impress her grandfather. Of late, it seems that praise from him has become quite rare, and Toko is worried that her craftsmanship might be slipping: her grandfather hasn’t expressed a particular interest in coming to the latest competition to check out her entry, either. This accounts for why pottery appears to be losing its sparkle for Toko.
- Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is a series that has flown under the radar for most, and I’ve only seen a handful of blogs writing about this one. Admittedly, I am glad that Niban Kama isn’t getting more coverage – larger blogs occasionally butcher slice-of-life reviews by focusing on the characters’ shortcomings rather than what setbacks are meant to emphasise, and this sort of discussion ends up becoming much more heated than it should. Slice-of-life series are meant to be relaxing, first and foremost; their pacing is deliberately so that over the series’ run, characters will learn from the failures they experience. As such, it is a meaningless exercise to talk down to the characters.
- This is why I strive to understand the characters and story instead; appreciating why things happen, and the journey taken to reach a resolution, is what makes slice-of-life worthwhile for me. Back in Niban Kama, Himeno comes up with a creative suggestion: she asks Mika to invite Toko out for a shopping trip. Toko is quite sharp and immediately spots that Himeno is going out of her way in an effort to brighten her day up, and so, accepts the invitation. The skies are clear on the day of their excursion, and the four are able to really just live in the moment and take some time away from their club activities to regroup.
- Browsing and trying out various outfits bring smiles to the girls’ faces, especially when they see Toko rocking an all-new wardrobe. While perhaps not as adorable as the smiles from something like Yuru Camp△, the distinct art style in Yakunara Mug Cup Mo does capture emotions quite well. Going from the others’ reactions, I would hazard a guess that Toko dresses in a very consistent and practical manner, so when she does wear more elegant clothing, she stands out quite a bit more than she otherwise would.
- Moments like Mika nearly falling into the fountain typifies her enthusiasm, and during the first season, Mika did end up getting soaked after an accident of sorts. Here in Niban Kama, Himeno, Naoko and Toko are on hand to prevent this from happening, speaking to how everyone’s now familiar enough with one another over the course of their shared experiences from the previous season. The opening song from the first season is inset over the trip, and it hits me as to how fond of the first season’s opening song I was. While the second season’s opening song is great, there’s something about the first opening song that makes it an absolute joy to listen to.
- The day ends at a pottery shop, where the girls look upon some of the bowls and mugs available for sale. When the others find Toko gazing wistfully at a bowl that costs 144000 Yen, she remarks that there’s something about the bowl that wouldn’t suit her, price notwithstanding, mirroring her doubts about her pottery at this point in time. Such a bowl would be equivalent to 1590 CAD at the time of writing, and something of this price would probably be better suited as a showpiece, rather than something that can be used daily.
- To the group’s surprise, they run into Ximena: she’s now a resident of Tajimi, having decided to immigrate over to continue studying pottery. However, she does have a few questions on her mind about some of the tools used in pottery-making, and while the others are reluctant to help out, Himeno ends up roping Toko into things, to Ximena’s great joy. While Himeno might not be a skillful potter of the same calibre as Toko or Himena, she still has a good grasp of what the people around her are feeling and so, can act accordingly.
- In this case, deciding to bring Ximena back to the Pottery Club’s building and having Toko explain the functionalities of the tools would serve to take Toko’s mind off the present and share her knowledge, which is a clever, but gentle way of re-lighting Toko’s enjoyment of pottery. The character growth piece of Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is built out alongside the pottery, and while I first noted that Himeno’s entry into pottery gave this series a Tamayura-like feeling, this series has come to stand of its own merits by covering different topics related to pottery.
- In the end, Toko does end up getting her groove back and explains what a series of tools are intended for, from ensuring that one can quickly ascertain the shape of a work to ensure it is consistent with others, to grabbing things and turning them. There are some tools that even Toko aren’t familiar with, but fortunately, Mika is on hand to explain them. While framing it as an exercise to inform Ximena of what they’re for, this also doubles as a crash course on pottery tools for us viewers, who may not be familiar with the more technical aspects.
- The Pottery Club’s building has an impressive setup, and here, the girls show Ximena different glazes that can be applied to ceramics. To the best of my recollection, the library was not shown during Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s first season. There’s always a joy about having a decently-sized collection of books: I am reminded of The Series of Unfortunate Events, where libraries and book collections were regarded as being a beacon of hope in a sea of ignorance.
- The learnings leave Ximena overjoyed: she embraces Toko, who feels a little bit of her old spirits returning to her. I’m not sure if readers have noticed, but Ximena’s sweater and jeans are very similar in colour to Arthur‘s usual outfit. It suddenly strikes me that Arthur typically showed Arthur and his friends running around town as though they were middle school students, whereas in anime, high school students behave more like primary students. The contrast between shows like Arthur and anime is their intended audience: shows for children are written to encourage them to mature and explore their world, while anime is more about nostalgia and reminiscence.
- In the end, Toko is in a much better spot and feels considerably improved thanks to the combined efforts everyone had in trying to lift her spirits. One thing I’ve not written about for Niban Kama is the fact that, like the first season, there is a live-action component, as well. I’ve heard these are quite enjoyable, although given my current schedule, I’ve not had the chance to watch the live-action segments yet (even for the first season).
- The next day, Naoko shows up with an anchor for holding eel in place while they’re being prepared. Such a tool was shown in Yuru Camp△, when Nadeshiko invites Rin to an unagi restaurant. The tool does surprise the others, but after Naoko reveals its purpose, everyone shares a good laugh together. It typifies Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s ability to incorporate pottery so seamlessly with messages of problem solving and regrouping, and Niban Kama continues on in the same manner as its predecessor, making this a highly enjoyable series.
The main question about Niban Kama now that we have passed the halfway point is how Toko will handle her own doubts and face off against old friends in a pottery competition, as well as what Himeno ends up making: slice-of-life series such as these have traditionally been simple to follow, and the series’ themes are conveyed in a clear, direct fashion that results in a story whose outcomes is easily to spot. However, the merit of anime like Tamayura and Yakunara Mug Cup Mo is seeing how the end result is achieved. For instance, while it had been known that Himeno was going to enter the pottery competition in the first season, watching her find the inspiration to make a ceramic cushion, and then attempt to make a glaze reminiscent of her mother’s sculpture, couldn’t have been seen ahead of time. Watching this unfold and march towards the end is the payoff, since it shows that while Himeno might be following in Himena’s footsteps, Himeno still has her own agency, set of friends and path to guide her along, producing an experience that is uniquely her own. Niban Kama will doubtlessly follow in its predecessor’s footsteps and strike a balance between showcasing Mino-ware pottery, the best sights and sounds of Tajimi, and the path that each of Himeno, Toko and Mika will take towards creating pottery for their latest competition. Along the way, the Pottery Club will continue to discover ways of respecting their predecessors’ traditions while simultaneously capturing the new flair of youth and innovation, and with the promise of fierce competition from a rival high school’s pottery club, I imagine that sportsmanship might also figure in Niban Kama.