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Tag Archives: Ximena Valdez

Yakunara Mug Cup Mo Niban Kama: Whole-Series Review and Reflection

“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.

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

“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.