New York, New York, the city so nice they named it twice. Ichigo and the gang head there in order to see the shop run by Mari Tennouji and the wonderful sweets she makes. But all is not well with our icing princess, as no one else seems to be interested in trying out her creations. Can Ichigo figure out what is wrong?
What They Say
Ichigo and the gang head to New York to check up on Tennouji, who has been put in charge of Henri-sensei's New York branch shop. The sweets are impeccable, as always, but all doesn't seem well at Tennouji's shop. For example: Where are all the customers? Meanwhile, Heiress has alternate plans for Kashino, and Ichigo is too busy being distracted by tasty desserts in Times Square to notice anything amiss! It's a lot of happy, and maybe not so happy, reunions in the first chapter of "Dance and Rhapsody."
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
We open with Mari Tennouji in New York. For some reason, even though it's been two years since the original series, she seems to have changed the least, at least in one important aspect: she still seems down, as if she is still reeling from her experience in the Cake Grand Prix when Henri Lucas toyed with her emotions in order to test her mental toughness. She may be older now, but she still seems to carry an emotional fragility that can barely be hidden by her frozen public mask.
But that just provides an excuse to have Ichigo and the gang come to New York to bug her, or is it to help her? Henri Lucas actually sent them to the Big Apple in order to check up on Tennouji's shop. Pâtisserie La Liberté? How ironic a name, considering that Tennouji does not seem to have been freed from her love for Henri Lucas. And one thing we the audience have not been freed from is the annoying characters. We get a double dose this episode, which Johnny back in his full-fledged "I am annoying" mode, and to double our displeasure, Rick, the irksome playboy who was once Lemon's teammate back during the Grand Prix also reappears. Thus, we have two idiotic playboys, who understandably take an immediate dislike to the other's interest in Ichigo.
Tiresome. Even Vanilla notes "This setup again?" It would appear that there are two writers for this show. The hack who comes up with this tired old crap again, and the sarcastic one who throws in these asides for the audience, and who is just as wearied by it as I am.
So, they go into Tennouji's shop and are treated to one of her signature cakes...but one made by Rick, who can recreate her recipes flawlessly. Ichigo is completely clueless as usual (really, is there anything in that head of hers other than sugar receptors?), but Kashino, the sharpest one of the bunch, notices something is definitely off about this place. The girl at the cashier's station has a snarling look to her and the place is empty. Really empty. Ichigo would like to help out at Tennouji's shop, but she seems a little reluctant, and suggests they go sightseeing first. Kashino notes that their visit was rather sudden and they should probably give her time to adjust her schedule.
The next day, Lemon goes off to visit her friend studying abroad (the writers just want an excuse to remove her from the scene, poor Lemon), and Johnny is mysteriously taken away by a phone call, leaving Kashino and Ichigo alone. So, it must be time for the "This is New York!" montage, including the Empire State Building, a look at a subway platform (for the C train; the station looks okay, vaguely reminiscent of a real subway station and likely modeled on a real location), and a walk through Central Park. And sweets, lots of sweets for Ichigo to eat (I swear, she must have the highest metabolic rate of all human beings, with the amount of refined sugar she consumes). You can tell the animation reference team was in New York when Toy Story 3 was out, from the billboard parody in their version of Times Square.
And then, in that famous square, things get worse. Ichigo suddenly disappears, being taken aside and gagged by Johnny. Why? Of course to help his cousin, the one-joke Miya Koshiro, who suddenly appears on screens everywhere in Times Square with her trademark oujo-sama's laugh. Then she appears in the flesh to kidnap Kashino in her helicopter. Johnny then buys off Ichigo by offering to take her to a place that has great sweets, which is all you need to get her attention. Kashino on the other hand, seems less than thrilled with his date with density, the density of Koshiro's feelings for him.
Finally, we return to Mari's story, with her having to deal with a pushy American customer who can't handle coffee, instead demanding the brown water that most Americans once considered coffee (a stereotype, by the way Japan, that can largely be put aside as even your average Starbucks today sells coffee that is more in line with international tastes than the brown water of yesteryear. The writers seem stuck in the 1980s). Mari herself seems stuck in the past as well. For as Rick notes to her, she needs to adjust her offerings to match what her customers want. Instead, Mari is intent on maintaining a mindless purity, beholden to the French style that Henri taught her. Such one-dimensional thinking will not lead to success even for a two-dimensional character.
That night, Ichigo and the reassembled gang (minus Kashino for the moment) receive a call from Henri Lucas, telling them that Mari's shop is not doing well. Surprise, surprise. And thus we find out the reason why Henri sent the gang to New York, to see what is wrong with Mari. We already know, but it will take the gang a moment to figure it out. The entire gang, joined by Koshiro as well, come to the shop just in time to see Sarah, the only wait staff it seems, quit after Mari criticizes her for lacking dedication. Dedication to what? she replies. And there is the problem. Mari has not opened a shop. It is a museum. It is a temple. And perhaps, it shall be a tomb for her career.
So, what we get is a lot of angst, broken up by a sightseeing tour of New York, and the antics of Miya Koshiro, which have not changed at all from the first time we saw them. The sad part is, she was given a little bit of growth at the end of the first series, but now it appears that Koshiro's sole reason for appearing on screen is to do her annoying overboard love schtick and nothing more. Tennouji has been reduced to being a woobie, a whipping girl subject to angst and heartbreak. Of course, it is unlikely to stay like this, as somehow the magic of sweets will save the day. Maybe.
We come to New York to find that adult life is not all it's cracked up to be, as Mari Tennouji, once the bright shining star of St. Marie Academy Japan is now floundering in the real world, with her shop not doing well. It's her own fault, as she shows an inflexibility and slavish devotion to purity that inhibits her ability to recognize her own flaws. What her shop needs is a shot of dynamic energy, a fresh perspective that can brush away the cobwebs. That is why Henri Lucas has sent Team Ichigo there. But first, we have to have Ichigo go cake eating and Kashino needs to be attacked by Miya Koshiro, because the only way to keep a tired joke tired is to repeat it regularly. There are no easy solutions in this episode, but the outlines of the problem are clear. If only Ichigo can stop eating long enough to provide a little lift to Mari, we may see sunshine in her life again.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Apple Mac Mini with 1GB RAM, Mac OS 10.5 Leopard