Given: Broken Heartstrings & Unforgettable Sounds || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode summer 2019 anime series “Given,” animated by Lerche, directed by Hikaru Yamaguchi, and based on Natsuki Kizu’s manga of the same name.

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Rocky Starts, Aching Hearts

Between playing basketball at high school and dabbling on the guitar in his small band, Ritsuka Uenoyama has found himself stuck wandering the lonely desert of academic boredom. He dozes off in class, sleeps during break, and only looks forward to jamming out with a couple of upperclassmen college friends in the evening.

One day, he sees a classmate of his, Mafuyu Sato, cradling a broken guitar on a secluded staircase. Although Uenoyama makes nothing of restringing Mafuyu’s red guitar for him, Mafuyu becomes completely attached to the dark-haired musician and insists Uenoyama teach him how to play it. Uenoyama initially shrugs him off, but when he hears Mafuyu singing for the first time, his voice leaves a deep impression on him. He can’t get it out of his head, and eventually finds himself drawn to Mafuyu’s aloof yet mysterious allure.

Given is a single story split among four separate narratives, each with their own unique perceptions of the conflicts presented throughout the series. Equal parts slice of life and drama, the series follows four students in an amateur rock band and the dual romantic relationships that form among them: between shy vocalist Mafuyu and passionate guitarist Uenoyama, and between the caring bassist Haruki and stoic yet silly drummer Akihiko.

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Given is also a BL adaptation, and it doesn’t ever stray from that intent (which I respect). But hear me out. At most, the series presents its shounen ai relationships with genuine care and realism. It’s far less sugarcoated than most BL anime out there, and frankly just a really good romantic drama about curious feelings and the closet. This particular set of 11 episodes tells the story of the band coming together, their complex feelings toward one another, and specifically the growing relationship between Uenoyama and Mafuyu leading up to their first performance. The series never felt rushed, nor does it end too optimistically to be true, which is probably what I appreciated most out of the series—aside for the characters themselves, of course.

Complicated Feelings, Complex Characters

The main focal point of this series is around Uenoyama and Mafuyu’s relationship, which admittedly has a rocky start and is only littered with more misunderstandings as they go along. But somehow, like with most love stories, the two make it work.

From the get-go, Uenoyama is about as relatable as they come. Uncomfortable with relationships (in general), unsure of how to express his feelings, questioning what these sudden emotions of his are and where they come from—the whole confused teen-sexuality shebang. We see jealousy build up in Uenoyama as he unravels Mafuyu’s past relationship with another boy, and how this jealousy and regret slow down his performance both on the court and in the practice room. His declining musicianship is called into question by Haruki and Akihiko, and from there the upperclassmen work to help out his love life (and in their own unique ways). I just love Uenoyama’s character arc, and I’m really satisfied with how he grows from a dense lump of laziness to a person who actively seeks to understand both himself and his partner.

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Mafuyu. Oh lost little Mafuyu. Cute little Mafuyu. This kid really does resemble a puppy, no lie! Introverted, quiet, and reserved, Mafuyu is on a quest to reconnect with a person from his past, unbeknownst to any of his new band mates. He’s never picked up an instrument before, yet seems to have a talent for singing. This secret agenda AND hidden talent of his are what guide him to Uenoyama and the band. Little does he know that through their mutual love for music, Mafuyu’s past is dragged out into the open and exposed—but also cared for and carried together with his newfound friends. While I personally found the plot spinning him in some moments that were a bit too melodramatic, I still like Mafuyu a lot, even if he isn’t the one I identify with most.

Haruki and Akihiko, bassist and drummer, are the other pairing in this story. While doomed with an obsessive, unrequited love, Haruki secretly fawns over Akihiko, even if the guy’s a big musclehead. It’s unfortunate that Akihiko just might already have a partner, but manbun can’t help himself anyway. The way Akihiko sleeps, the way Akihiko compliments him in practice—Haruki just can’t get enough. But as the band’s “leader,” he is torn between resisting his urges and pursuing his own happiness in love, despite this directly violating his philosophy that relationships between band members just doesn’t work out in the long run.

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More of Haruki and Akihiko’s relationship will be explored in the 2020 Given film, but I really like these two dorks a lot (especially manbun) and how they make the effort to support one another and their band mates. Such bros.

Iridescence in Motion

Lerche really is my favorite animation studio, without a doubt. Given boasts a visually bright style to highlight the beauty of youth and the joys of love in this series about those two very concepts. While the screen is light and colorful nearly all the time, we see color drain as winter sets in towards the end of the series—the pivotal climax where potential heartbreak lies. I use the term iridescence because, like emotions, these luminous yellow, tangerine, and turquoise filters shift when we see the same set from a different angle. It’s clean. And it’s aesthetically pleasing.

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Giving new meaning to the phrase “lighting design,” Hikaru Yamaguchi’s strong direction really shines in both the intense moments and those of tranquility or thoughtfulness. And the attention to detail in the instruments is NUTS, not to mention the studio painting a timeless picture of modern day Tokyo. The guitars, amps, and drums look AND sound incredibly authentic, and the detailed city backgrounds are delicately crafted with architecture that mirrors real life Shibuya and Machida, down to the last little street sign and business advertisement. Lerche makes anime reality look even better than REAL life in this beautifully made series.

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Character designs also glow with this attractive and cute aura while maintaining respective ages. (It’s nice to see college dudes that LOOK like college dudes and not 40-year-old men!) Speaking of characters, I don’t really give shoutouts to seiyuus unless they particularly stand out to me, but wow, here we’ve got four fantastic leads! Shougo Yano brings to Mafuyu a high-pitched innocence that has made characters (and fans) fall for his charm left and right. Yuuma Uchida gives Uenoyama a grumpiness and stubbornness that suits his character so very well. Masatomo Nakazawa makes hearts swoon as Haruki, and I just adore his sass whenever Akihiko requests something of him. And none other than Takuya Eguchi brings this lovable lug to life, perfectly capturing Akihiko’s serious and goofy sides.

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A music anime has to have good music in it, obviously, and Given does not disappoint. Michiru provides a musical score full of chill blues guitar, casual jam session rifts, and delicate melodies to make any grown man cry. My favorite piece of music from the show is the energetic yet wistful OP “Kizuato” by Centimilimental. Mafuyu’s VA sings for us the tender ED, “Marutsuke,” which appropriately features animation of a puppy rolling around during the theme. Mafuyu also gets his own little song that I won’t spoil for you, so all-in-all, you’re in for a real treat with the music this time around!

A Given from the Start

Is it okay to be happy when you know someone you loved had to suffer for it? The answer, of course, is yes. So long as we are alive, we will always have the chance to be happy. What matters most is whether you are able to accept what has passed and move on for yourself. That’s what Mafuyu has to find out for himself; Uenoyama just nudges in the right direction, and even gives him happiness in the present.

Having watched the series, there’s still lots I want to know about. What happens to the characters from here? Does the band go on to perform more concerts? Does Uenoyama still write music for Mafuyu to sing? For now, however, this is a strong step forward for BL anime, and incredible representation for the genre as a whole.

I like music anime, great romance stories, and studio Lerche. Perhaps it was a given from the start that I’d love this show, but the series has proven that if you surround yourself with positive influences, good things will surely come your way. At times painfully resonant, other times light-hearted and fun, Given will continue to pluck at your heartstrings both throughout each emotional episode and long after the series is over.

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Hearts are like guitar strings. They won’t play sound if they’re too loose. You have to wind them up until they’re about to break, and that’s when they become a wave the hit your eardrums. — Ritsuka Uenoyama


Afterword

Yeah, I liked this one a lot. No surprise here, but Given is certified “Caffe Mocha” stuff, and easily one of my favorite titles from 2019. I wonder who will pick up the license for this gem and give it the physical release (and dub!) it deserves. Until then, I’ll keep recommending this title through Crunchyroll—as all of you should be doing! I’m happy the reception for this series was so overwhelmingly positive, but I’d still love to hear your thoughts on Given or this review down in the comments. (Plz, I’m lonely and need someone to love this show with!) Until the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Anime & Manga I’d Introduce to a First-Timer || The Animanga Festival

Hello all and welcome to my first official entry in The Animanga Festival, hosted by Auri and Nairne over at Manga Toritsukareru Koto!

As the title of this post says, today’s prompt is “Anime/Manga I’d Introduce to a First-Timer.” All the best things in life come in threes, don’t you agree? Correspondingly, I’ve prepared a trio of both anime and manga (in no particular order) for all my imaginary first-time fans out there. Without coming across as generic as possible, fingers crossed, let’s get right into things!


Manga For Newcomers

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Orange by Ichigo Takano is everything you’d want from a nice little shoujo drama series: a pleasant balance of comedy and seriousness, pure oodles of friendship, attractive characters, a respectful nod toward mental health, and ooh what’s this, only two omnibus volumes long? SOLD. I described Orange in my OWLS post for the series as being “sweet and sour, yet all the more beautiful,” and I still stand by those words today. It’ll break your heart—but in the sweetest way possible.

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Go For It, Nakamura! by Syundei is a standalone volume (WOOT!) perfect for people who are not only new to the manga scene, but maybe even still in the closet (or happily out of it). That doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed by anyone else, but I imagine it’s ultra relatable to all those closeted introverts out there. If you’ve ever had a big fat crush for someone but didn’t know how to confess your feelings cause you’re a dork who’ll probably screw everything up, you’ll just burst with love for Nakamura. And lookie there, that 80’s anime/manga aesthetic—WE STAN.

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Snow White with the Red Hair by Sorata Akiduki is more of a commitment, as it’s still on-going, but anyone’ll fall head over heels for these adorable characters after the first volume (heck, you might as well start picking it up now). Shirayuki is an herbalist living in a Tanbarun, a small medieval country. But when she bumps into the handsome prince of a neighboring kingdom, she sets her sights for one day working at Prince Zen’s castle. Comedy, action, and young love blossom in this shoujo series sure to win hearts.

Not much of a variety there, I realize. But hey, I guess now you all know what kind of manga I prefer. Soft stuff. Warm, tingly, fuzzy-feeling stuff. Onto the anime!

Anime for Newcomers

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Attack on Titan was everyone’s go-to recommendation back when it started airing in 2013, and hell, it’s still mine. Humanity’s been pushed behind giant walls just to continue living in this apocalyptic medieval society, and one day, a 50-meter-tall titan busts a hole in the outermost wall—and the titans invade. A thrilling story of survival, gripping action, and wild conspiracies unfolds, and with a final season in sight, Attack on Titan will go on to become one of the greats—if it hasn’t already. Come for the hot action, stay for the legendary lore and world-building.

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Steins;Gate is a much more thinking-intensive watch, but one that you’ll never forget. There’s an allure to the series that always pulls me back to it. Maybe it’s the fact that Okabe Rintarou invented a time machine with the help of his friends and started using it to change some of the small issues in their lives. Maybe it’s because all of those D-mails they sent to the past lead to a future with WWIII in their reality. Maybe it’s because the government starts to trace their actions and hunt them down, and their only way to fight back is by undoing all those sent messages—undoing the past. Thrilling and captivating, humorous at times yet incredibly intelligent, people might tell you it’s boring, or that you should wait so you understand all the references. Ignore ’em. It was one of my first watches, and look at me: I turned out fine. Better than fine because of it, in fact.

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Yuri!!! On ICE stole hearts when it aired in 2016, and I don’t think a single soul has forgotten about it. Yuri Katsuki suffered an embarrassing loss at the figure-skating Grand Prix Final last year, and who else to train him for the next one than his idol, the living legend Viktor Nikiforov himself!? Beloved for its sports appeal and the budding relationship between its lead characters (plus, I mean, literally everything else about it), this underdog story delivers heartfelt moments one right after the other until your heart explodes and you die you find yourself rooting for everyone, even JJ. Freakin’ JJ. Everything they do on the ice they call love—do yourself a favor and hop in the rink.

Of course, there’s always Your Name., Ghost in the Shell, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, My Hero Academia, and anything directed by Hosoda or Miyazaki, but eh, they’ll get around to them after these shows have sunk them in deep, right?


Between one, two, or all three of the titles listed under each category, hopefully my imaginary first-timers will find something that hooks them on anime or manga (or both)! What do you think of my recommendations? Let me know down in the comments, and until the next prompt, I sincerely hope you’re enjoying the opening festivities thus far!

– Takuto, your host

Michiko & Hatchin, Two Against the World || OWLS “Lover”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s ninth monthly topic of 2019, “Lover,” I decided to travel back to one of my earliest anime watches with Michiko & Hatchin. Specifically, we’re looking at the titular Michiko’s fiery relationship from her past, and how love sometimes isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When it comes to romantic relationships, what do we look for in a partner? What core values do we seek when it comes to building a healthy and loving relationship? For this topic, we will be discussing some of our favorite couples in pop culture and what they have taught us about love and relationships, the good and the bad. 

Sweet and simple, I like it. Thanks Lyn and Flow for the prompt this month!

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A brief discussion of the 22-episode fall 2008 anime “Michiko & Hatchin,” animated by Manglobe, original story and direction by Sayo Yamamoto and Shukou Murase. MINOR SPOILERS WILL BE PRESENT. 

On the Hunt for Their Man

She’s escaped from prison three times, and each time she gets farther. The name of this hardened criminal is Michiko Malandro, and she’s searching for a man from her past. Somewhere else under the harsh heat of the South American sun is Hana Morenos, nine years old, who lives a terrible life trapped under the oppressive whims of her abusive foster family. In her loneliness and despair, Hana dreams of the day when her Prince Charming will charge in and whisk her away from her captors. What Hana doesn’t know is that her “prince” would turn out to be the husky and vivacious escaped convict who’ll drive a stolen motorbike straight into the dining room window, claiming to her mother.

Free from their captors but now on the run from the law, the unlikely duo traverse the sun-soaked (and bone-dry) land of Diamandra, careening through this tumultuous adventure of betrayal, crime, child exploitation, rival gang warfare, and murder at every bend in the road. It’s a man-eat-man world out there, and Michiko and “Hatchin” are what’s for dinner.

A wild tale of vibrant lives and fateful reunions, two poor souls throw caution to the wind as all the unlikely human connections strung together by one elusive man start to converge on the dusty crossroads of destiny.

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Equal parts action and drama, Michiko & Hatchin tells the timeless tale of a young girl searching for her father in a lawless land. The fictional setting of Diamandra itself is rife with drugs, alcohol, and poverty. People lie, cheat, and steal from one another—after all, everyone’s gotta make a living somehow in these ghettos. But buried within the tussles of the bad lie the good, and although they are few and far between, Michiko and Hatchin somehow make it by thanks to the handful of kind ones out there. Above all else, what Hana finds is that people are willing to do anything to survive another day—including murder and theft, of course—but also find someone to love, be it an artist, a musician, or a criminal.

Like Mother, Like Daughter . . .

. . . Is what I wish I could say about these two, but let’s face it, no one is quite like Michiko. Busty, brawny, and not afraid to kick the shit out of any man, Michiko is as gutsy as they come. A “sexy diva” who rocks her body to get whatever she wants, whenever she needs it (even if that means taking it by force), Michiko is loud, proud, and incredibly impatient, often yelling Hatchin around like someone would an animal. Plus, she’s an avid drinker and smoker, and quite often enjoys picking fights “negotiating” with her fists.

When she’s not being a royal pain in the ass, well, let’s face it, Michiko is always a pain. This Brazilian bombshell just wants her ex-lover, Hiroshi Morenos, back in her life. She’ll whine, scream, kick—basically whatever it takes to find Hiroshi. But the one thing she won’t do is give up, and if Hana got any good trait from her mama, it’s her unbridled determination.

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Again, Hatchin couldn’t be more different from her Latina madre. Polite, introverted, respectful, outwardly compassionate, “Hatchin” (nicknamed by Michiko after Hana told her she didn’t want to be called her real name anymore) does what she can to find Hiroshi within the boundaries of the law. If Michiko stole shoes for her, Hatchin would find a job and work to earn the money for them. Same goes for food, medical visits, travel fares, you get the gist.

Hatchin’s a good girl, clearly much more mature and level-headed than her loudmouth, obnoxious mother. But she looks out for Michiko nonetheless, even if that means hauling her drunk, angry ass to a nearby motel for the night. Really, the entire series is about the different forms affection takes in this south-of-the-border adventure. Although they bicker and fight frequently with one another, Michiko’s always got Hatchin’s back, and Hatchin’s got Michiko’s. It may mean saying “Wait for me” a hundred times and dropping off the face of the planet for a bit, but one way or another, the two will always find a way to see each other again, no matter the cost.

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The Search for Hiroshi

Now, about the mans Michiko’s so desperate about seeing again. Once upon a time they were lovers, until the day when young Hiroshi just up and left Michiko on her own. He was the kind of guy you could tell “the embarrassing shit, and he’d always lend a sympathetic ear”—that’s what everyone remembers about Hiroshi. Ever since, Michiko’s made it her job to find him because she truly loved him. The irony of this Cinderella story is that instead of Hiroshi being in one place and also lookin’ for her, this dude’s runin’ away from her, city by city! The great escapade is twofold, a gritty push and pull between what the heart wants—and what it certainly shouldn’t get.

By the beginning, Michiko’s story has already played out. She was a bad girl who fell in love with a bad man, and had their child only long after he was gone. Her man, Hiroshi Morenos, was the only guy who was able to tame this wild vixen, and the only human who could leave such a scar on her heart when he left her for dead. But Michiko can’t see that side of him. Or rather, she refuses to, and that ends her up in a world of hurt where the bad people take what little you have left, and the good people shut their blinds cause it ain’t their problem.

Michiko’s inflated visions of Hiroshi from her memories of the past royally screw her over in the present. Would she have been happier just forgetting Hiroshi? Yeah, probably—no, absolutely. But no one forgets about Hiroshi once they’ve met him, and so Michiko hunts him down. Contrary to what most romantic tales tell us, having a lover in this story means having to share the other’s pain and anguish. Yet, love is redemption for Michiko. In her mind, if she can find Hiroshi, she and Hatchin can be happy.

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As Michiko desperately pines for information of Hiroshi’s whereabouts, she is met with the unfortunate realities of the situation—that the man has long since died. But with Hatchin, they persist anyway. And what do they find? The shadow of a man, a husk with a pretty face, but the same old shitty personality. And honestly, deep down, I don’t think Michiko was expecting anything more from this fleeting encounter.

Having a lover in the world of Michiko & Hatchin is the equivalent of having an unbearably heavy weight tied to your foot. While providing an anchor for the soul in this otherwise turbulent landscape, it does little to actually make one happy. It’ll slow you down in the long run. Why? Because people and the relationships they share with one another are portrayed through the ugly side, the sad but realistic one we often tend to forget about. Michiko doesn’t want to find the real Hiroshi, but the Hiroshi of her dreams she remembers from one chance encounter long ago. And that’s why the ending is perfect. It delivers just what it should, even if it’s not the one we’d want; it’s how things would’ve realistically played out.

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The Reality Love Brings

Michiko is Hiroshi’s lover, not the other way around. He ain’t lookin’ for her, nor is he worried about her safety and well-being. And she knows all she’s gonna find at the end of the rainbow is a crock a shit, not “no damn pot o’ gold.” That’s what is waiting for Michiko and Hatchin and the end of this story, and the sad truth is that they know it deep down, too.

Lovers turn good people bad in this tale, and bad people to a life of crime. Everyone wants a piece of Hiroshi, but ain’t no one gonna get it without a dollop of heartache with their slice. Because dammit, sometimes that’s just the way it is. Love isn’t the contract—it’s the bait. And boy did Michiko fall hook, line, and sinker for this piece of trash.

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But Michiko can’t help it. She loves stupid guys, and the hotter and dumber they are, the better. But Hiroshi was a smart man, cunning, and she couldn’t help herself from feeling like a moth drawn to a flame every time he opened his lips. Love can be a curse that ties people down in the past, entrapping their emotions in the present to those memories long-gone.

Having a lover can also make us do rotten things to other people to make sure the relationship is protected. It’s not about staying afloat, so much as trying not to sink. I guess it’s as the saying goes, play shitty games, win shitty prizes. 

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At the End of the Road

So, what’s the moral of the story? True love is something you give, not something you take. Bad people only get what they want because they take it from those who already have it. But also, ironically, there is nothing that love cannot mend. Michiko and Hatchin’s relationship, even if balancing on rickety stilts, is proof that in this terrible world, love is still something you can give, not just take. Hiroshi left without a trace except the empty hole in his lover’s heart; Hatchin came into her life and was able to make the whole situation easier to bear.

They are each others’ hero, a bond stronger than man and woman, but of mother and daughter. A familial love. And an irreplaceable love at that. 

What Michiko’s story also tells us about love is that a relationship fueled solely by the “good old days” of the past cannot survive in the future. At one point, Hiroshi was something special to her. But now, at the end of the road, he may not be so special anymore. After enduring 22 episodes heartache and emotional turmoil, Michiko AT LAST realizes that Hiroshi isn’t what she or her daughter need anymore. And thus, bathed and reborn in the fresh light of the rising sun, Michiko is finally able to leave her dreamy past behind, and face the future head on with Hatchin at her side.

And for a tale of two against the world, I find that ending profoundly touching. 

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It’s not gonna help to run, you know. I’ll come after you, no matter what. You belong to me, forever. — Michiko Malandro


Afterword

When I watched this so many years ago, it didn’t really resonate much with me. But now, having rewatched the series as an adult, lemme tell you: Michiko & Hatchin slaps differently. With unforgettable character designs, vivid animation, and a charming Latin-inspired OST, it’s unbelievable how well this 2008 series holds up today!

Delusions of grandeur, memories of the past, the painful realities of unrequited love—I’ve exhausted myself with analyzing this relationship, and now, the rest is up to you! For me, Michiko & Hatchin is a certified “Caffe Mocha” title, one for the history books that should be loved and enjoyed for years to come. But I’ve talked enough. What are your thoughts on the series? Please, let me know in the comments!

This concludes my September 24th entry in the OWLS “Lover” blog tour. Yumdeku (myanime2go) went before me with a post about Yuki and Yuno from The Future Diary, a favorite of mine that I can’t wait to read! Now, look out for Flow (DenOfNyanPasu) as they talk about the Visual Novel game Kara no Shoujo tomorrow, September 25th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Typhoon Noruda: A Storm of Emotions || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 30-minute 2015 anime original film “Typhoon Noruda,” animated by Studio Colorido, and directed by Youjirou Arai.

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Thunder in the Distance

On the eve of his middle school culture festival, Azuma has a fight with his best friend Saijou after suddenly deciding to quit their baseball team. Azuma’s reasons are his own, but Saijou just can’t understand why his friend would depart from the sport they’ve been playing together since childhood. Any time for reconciliation is cut short by the shattering of a glass window in their classroom, and the fierce winds of a typhoon rocking their little island.

Right before the rain hits, Azuma notices a girl who, despite wearing their school uniform, doesn’t actually attend their school. Or at least, she shouldn’t. Shrouded in mystery, the girl quickly flees, and the storm rages on. What connects this enigmatic girl to the typhoon that is shaking up their island, and can Azuma and Saijou’s friendship be saved by this tempestuous storm of emotions?

As far as characters go, Azuma and Saijou aren’t the most memorable boys out there, but they tell their story well enough to convey their frustrations with miscommunication and self-esteem. They are charming in their own way, Saijou embodying the “prince” of the class, confident and always willing to lend a hand, and Azuma being a total introvert just wanting to mind his own business and figure out what kind of person he truly wants to be. Dynamic as they are different, they really do mirror the interplay between thunder and lightning, rain and wind—one following the other in this clash of ambitions.

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To save a young girl, two boys must first save themselves. Azuma uses the girl’s dire situation to prove to himself that he can help other people, and Saijou takes Azuma’s abrupt disappearance to reflect on their relationship. I can’t really say anything about the mystery girl without spoiling the entire plot, but I find her mere presence and willingness to lend an ear to a complete stranger to be proof that people are—as they have always been—worthy of redemption.

Soaked in Aesthetic

What immediately draws the viewer to Typhoon Noruda is the animation, no two ways about it.  From the sparkling rain to the leafy trees, busted wooden floorboards, and colorful school festival debris blowing in the wind, the attention to detail in crafting this turbulent environment truly paints the picture of a severe tropical thunderstorm.

The film looks incredible, with fluidly animated and expressive character designs, and the titular storm intensifying in the background. And the ash-colored clouds, how they move with such majesty, as if to shout, “Behold the storm!” Talk about a stunning sight. Down to the last drop, Studio Colorido produces a visual spectacle, and an ode to all us thunderstorm lovers. It’s as if a Makoto Shinkai setting and Mamoru Hosoda characters were married off and bang, Typhoon Noruda. Well, Comix Wave Films was listed in the credits, so it’s no wonder the Shinkai aesthetic feels so present here. 

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For sound, Typhoon Noruda is supported by your standard string orchestral soundtrack, 15 minutes worth of music that follows the characters through to the climax. The real gem here is the credits song, “Arashi no Ato de” or “After the Rain” by Galileo Galilei, which is so good it gets its own official VEVO video, how about that. Seriously though, reminiscent of youthful days and fleeting childhood, this ED theme was how I was introduced to the film—and it’s arguably better than the film itself!

Lastly, John Swasey directs a solid dub, Greg Cote conveying the honesty and extroverted nature Saijou’s rash character, and Adam Gibbs nailing the discomfort and insignificance of Azuma’s naivete. I found myself really relating to Azuma through Gibbs’ performance, as I certainly know what it feels like to be the social outlier in class.

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Rain or Shine, We’ll Make it Through

Just as it sounds, Typhoon Noruda is a school fantasy short film anchored around youth and friendship. Despite only 26 minutes to tell its story, the film does follow a decent progression of exposition, rising action, and climax, never sticking on one plot point for too long. By the end, the conflict between the two boys feels decently resolved, and you’re only left briefly pondering a bit of the fantasy aspect (which I won’t spoil for you). It’s not perfectly convincing by any means, but for a mere half hour, the experience of the storm itself makes the film worth watching.

Simply, Typhoon Noruda is an entertaining, endearing story about insecurities and self-expression. As a small indie project from Studio Colorido, the visual and audio quality of the piece far outshines any looming clouds one may have about the plot and characters. Save this one for a rainy day, and you just might find yourself whisked away by the storm, left only to the freeing pleasure of having watched two relatable teenagers face life head-on—and leave their misgivings with youth behind with no regrets.

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Remember, cherish what you have. — Noruda


Afterword

I remember chatting with Neha over at Biblionyan, saying how I’ve been wanting to watch this film for sooo long, and how I even owned the Blu-ray yet just left it sitting on my shelf! Well, part of me was saving it for a rainy day (literally) to soak in the entire ambiance of stormy afternoons, which I finally got. I talked more about that feeling in my most recent “Cafe Talk,” so be sure to check that out. Anyway, I’m really glad that I enjoyed the “Cake” worthy Typhoon Noruda. It’s not a novel piece by any means, but for 30 minutes of unfiltered thunder and rain, what’s to lose?

I’d love to hear whether or not you enjoyed this recently licensed title by Sentai Filmworks! If you’ve yet to see it, but have been wanting to as I was, I pray for a cloudy day on the forecast just for you! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Perfect Blue: Life is Anything But Glamorous || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 80-minute 1997 anime film “Perfect Blue,” animated by Madhouse, directed by Satoshi Kon, script by Sadayuki Murai, and loosely based on the novel “Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis” by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. 

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Fantasy & Reality

Rising star Mima Kirigoe has just announced her retirement from her Japanese idol group to pursue an acting career. While she tries to convince herself that this is what she wants to be doing with her life, others couldn’t be in greater opposition. Namely, her fans, and one deranged creep in particular who begins to stalking her. As the people responsible for her career change are gruesomely murdered one by one, Mima herself starts to teeter on the edge of sanity.

From the genius mind of Satoshi Kon comes the bizarre story of a singer-turned-actor desperately trying to escape from the delusional head space that is causing the lines between fantasy and reality to blur. The film is swamped in Kon’s signature quick-cut directing style, with creative transitions, wacky visual perspectives, and bright colors guiding the eye through this terrifying narrative.

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Kon’s attentiveness to defining the boundaries of fantasy and reality is exemplified in Perfect Blue. Sometimes we are shown Mima acting in a scene, while other times the stage is very much mirroring reality. Figures from Mima’s imagination haunt both her visions of reality and the viewer’s perception of it. You often find yourself asking, is this a dream? Or, perhaps, the nightmare that Mima’s reality has become?

Set at the dawn of the Internet Age, this psychedelic trip puts the viewer on a wild roller-coaster ride through the darker tunnels of human emotion. Paranoia, loneliness, and fear are thoroughly explored in this masterful film that demonstrates what the psychological thriller genre of entertainment can do when a gripping story is met with heart-pumping suspense and a clever directing style that shows you exactly what it wants, when it wants.

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Living in Duality

Perfect Blue begins at the end. That is to say, the end of Mima’s career as a pop idol, and the beginning of her acting career. Despite being a beloved icon on stage, her back stage life is actually a realistic mess. Her apartment is cluttered, and she’s so in-and-out all the time that the cheese she buys at the beginning of the film expires a few scenes later. Mima is, to be frank, just another teenage girl trying to make a living in modern day Japan.

As such, it’s no surprise that Mima’s idol career was suffocating her. Much like a high school memory, sure, she had fun. But maybe it’s time to move on now. She is characterized by a sense of modesty and passion for her work, although she’s perfectly fine with moving on to a new phase of her life. That is, until the industry starts to exploit her talents.

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Without going into spoilers, I merely can offer this small sentiment: We really don’t have any idea of how the industry works, unless we are actively a part of it. In the world of money and fame, it’s not about you want to do, but rather about what other people want you to do. Sure, a girl can give her verbal consent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she would be comfortable with being used for someone else’s gain. As an actor, you serve the director, and sometimes that can conflict with your own moral values as a person.

As the story goes along, Mima becomes a victim of forced maturation. This includes being thrust into horrific rape scene that, despite knowing it is fake, scars her poor young mind. She is also met with increased anxiety, depression, PTSD, and even a separation of self by means of superstition. This delusional mindset causes negative thoughts to rise, as in so long as someone is Mima, who really cares if Mima is Mima. How the mind repairs itself and subconsciously shields you for self-protection is absolutely incredible, and that underlying theme is what ties every red thread in Perfect Blue together in one complex, disorienting knot.

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Sensation, Perception, & Direction

Madhouse boosts Perfect Blue‘s production value with an unbelievable amount sensory detail work that I can’t even begin to comprehend. Flashing stage lights, rattling AC units, the motor noises of a 90s desktop computer, the gentle hum of a fish tank—it’s almost sensation in excess, which is just what this film needs. Transporting us to modern day Japan, the attention to detail enhances the setting, and makes the story feel all the more real.

Another gift of watching this film is getting to understand the iconography that makes it so famous beyond being just a really good movie. The bath scene where Mima curls up and screams, bubbles rising from the air of her trapped emotions is particularly beautiful. Seeing Mima hold a knife in midair against a flashing digital backdrop of own image embodies the epitome of suspense. And although creepy in context when paired with the scary music, the scene where Mima chases her dancing, skipping pop idol self through a hospital building conjures up true feelings of horror and hysteria.

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Speaking of music, Masahiro Ikumi’s music score for the film adds an eeriness that today’s horror anime just can’t compete with. When we’re not jamming out to light idol music from the 90’s (or listening to it in the elevator . . .), pounding sound board effects, uneasy remixing, and metallic screeching accompany a wailing chorus of uncanny cries. It sounds unpleasant, and it is. But, without Ikumi’s OST, I doubt Mima’s experiences would’ve felt as intense and life-threatening as they were.

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It’s A Maddening, Cruel World

Perfect Blue takes an introspective look at how fantasy can shape reality, and vice versa. In subtle ways, it asks the question that, as creators of some kind of content, what do we owe our consumers? Are we ever miscommunicating with our readers and viewers, and how would we know? Also, if our successes define us to some extend, how long will they cast shadows into our future?

The world is cruel, scary, and unfair. If it can take something from you, it will. And it won’t give anything back. But Perfect Blue also tells us that if any of these thoughts we are having bother us, then it’s all reality because these thoughts still shape how we feel in real life. Even the most seemingly sane people in our lives . . . We have no idea what they may be going through. Life is a performance, a stage, and if we don’t tell people about what’s going on, they might not ever know. 

In that way, Mima’s story is one about winning yourself back. What does it take to feel confident in my words and thoughts, and how can I get to that place—that’s what I got from Perfect Blue.

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A harrowing journey through a young woman’s psyche as she tries to escape from the fever dream that her reality is becoming, Perfect Blue effectively uses deception in anime to play with his viewer’s mind. The perception of reality cannot be trusted, especially as the psychodrama heightens towards the climax. But WOW is it a compelling mystery. You actively want Mima to figure out what’s wrong with her life—you want her to solve the case. And with a sucker punch ending that’ll hit ya right in gut, the whole experience comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Believe it or not, for a story that began with existential worry and cleverly crafted chaos, the ending of Perfect Blue provides an outlook that favors hope, confidence, and independence. And seeing the light of those perfect blue skies completes this wild yet captivating journey through the complexities of the human psyche.

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The truth is that today more than ever, I wanted to have a good time with you. — Mima Kirigoe


Afterword

While I would recommend this film to every fan of anime out there, it IS full of gratuitous sex and violence. So, if either of those are triggering to you, definitely steer clear for a bit. More than just thrilling, suspenseful, and entertaining, Perfect Blue ponders so many ideas, from how the internet will forever change privacy, to the savagery in the entertainment world. A compelling mystery by master storyteller Kon himself, “Cafe Mocha” certified Perfect Blue can truly make you feel genuinely scared for your life (especially if you watch this at midnight by yourself like I did, eep).

I’d love to hear what you think of this classic film down in the comments! Special thanks go to GKIDS for rescuing this long out-of-print title and giving it a lovely Blu-ray remaster—they really are the best! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go binge Love Live! . . . you know, to maintain my own sanity. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto, your host

Amagi Brilliant Park: The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had With KyoAni || OWLS “Believe”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s eighth monthly topic of 2019, “Believe,” I wanted to spend some time revisiting one of Kyoto Animation’s most fun yet often overlooked titles: the incredible, the amazing Amagi Brilliant Park!

Kyoto Animation. We all have that one anime we enjoyed from Kyoto Animation. Whether it is pain or joy, Kyoto Animation has brought to life stories that can touch our emotions. For the month of August, we will be honoring Kyoto Animation and all it has done for art, storytelling, and popular culture by discussing some of our favorite Kyoto Animation series. We will discuss what we love about these series and what they taught us.

The fire that happened at the studio is indeed a tragedy. We pray for the lives that were lost in this tragedy and the families that are suffering at this time. Fires may be dangerous, but there are flames that burn within us that spark passion, hope, and belief in ourselves.

I think it’s so wonderful that bloggers, YouTubers, and fans in this community have been reacting to this tragedy by sharing what they love most about the studio and its people. Although my words will not likely reach them, I hope our collective sentiment does, even it’s just to say a heartfelt “Thank You.” Lyn, thanks for this prompt!

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A brief discussion of the 13-episode fall 2014 anime “Amagi Brilliant Park,” animated by Kyoto Animation, directed by the late Yasuhiro Takemoto, and based on the light novel series of the same name by Shoji Gatoh.

A Land of Magic and Fun

Seiya Kanie is one good-lookin’ high school dude, and boy does he know it. Of course, this smart yet extremely narcissistic guy would believe that the quiet and beautiful Isuzu Sento has invited him on a date at an amusement park (even if she threatened him at gunpoint to get him there). His expectations are shattered when the bus pulls up to a run-down facility, where Seiya discovers that the titular Amagi Brilliant Park is running itself into the ground.

An employee herself, Sento takes Seiya through various disappointing attractions. Eventually, she brings him to see the owner of the theme park, Princess Latifa Fleuranza, who reveals to Seiya that Amagi is no ordinary amusement park. That very sentiment wins him over when Latifa bestows upon Seiya magical powers of his own. To further prove her point, she tells him that many of the park’s employees hail from her kingdom of Maple Land, and that they are mysterious magical beings who are nourished by animis, or the energy created by people having fun.

Because of his impressive intellect and natural charisma, Sento recruited her classmate not for a date, but to become the park’s new manager. Why so desperate? As per the park’s land-use contract, Amagi has less than three months to meet a quota of 500,000 guests. If they fail, the park will be closed for good, and all of its employees will have to scrounge up jobs—and a living—elsewhere. Entrusted with the hopes and dreams of this far-off enchanted land, Seiya declares he’ll use his many skills to bring Amagi back on its feet within this three-month span, or else watch it crumble to the ground.

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Amagi Brilliant Park is a fun fantasy romp that balances comedy and drama surprisingly well. You come for the stupid gags and lewd humor, but stay for the heartfelt character moments and the blood, sweat, and tears that come with hard work. Although the end wraps up a bit quicker than I’d have liked, this is ultimately just an adaptation of a much larger story.

Meet the Cast of AmaBri!

Seiya Kanie’s time at AmaBri challenges his character in a sort of redemptive way. As he comes to know the quirks of the park and its staff, he realizes that his boundless narcissism won’t help him through all situations. Sometimes he needs to lend a hand; other times, an ear will do just fine. That doesn’t stop him from gazing at his own reflection to remind himself of his dashing good looks.

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Our broad-shouldered, dead-panned Isuzu Sento is our female lead and Seiya’s partner in crime. She means so, so well by her actions, but her history as one of the Princess’ soldiers from their Maple Land days has whipped her into a prim and proper manager’s secretary that just can’t take a joke. Many of the park staff have a love/hate relationship with Sento, as her soldier instincts lead her hand to her magic rifle to solve any problems with rascally customers or staff. As she watches Seiya and learns from his diplomatic skills, however, Sento’s feared reputation slowly dissipates, as does that expressionless face of hers.

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The majority of AmaBri’s other staff are magical misfits from Maple Land, from cute talking sharks, digger moles, and dragons, to an anthropomorphic wrench and . . . a globe? Yeah, they’re a buncha of weirdos for sure. But the true stars of the park are the biggest freaks—and in the most unconventional way. Who knew a perverted cat, a foul-mouthed sheep, and an overly aggressive, umm, Moffle (?) would be Seiya’s biggest headache.

Seriously, Tiramie the flower fairy, Macaron the music fairy, and AmaBri’s sweets fairy mascot Moffle are an absolute HANDFUL, but man are they THE trio of goons. Most of the series’ hilarious moments come from Macaron’s laziness (a true artist must “take time off” if they’re not feeling inspired), or Tiramie’s perverted gawking and awful facial expressions. Overall, such a fun, endearing cast, even if their main purpose is just to put a smile on your face (kinda like . . . a theme park’s staff). 😉

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KyoAni IS the Magic of AmaBri

Animation lies at the core of anime, and like any comedy series, delivery is everything. Timing hilarious visuals with outrageous sounds is the goal with these kinds of shows, and in regards to humor, Amagi Brilliant Park is one of the bests out there. For me, much of Tiramie and Macaron’s slapstick comedy landed so hard I was left laughing hours after the episode ended. Not only do their faces twist in wacky, grotesque expressions, but the dialogue itself is absolutely hysterical.

Seriously, the dub script is GOLD, and the delivery by the actors has gut-busting potential. Can Adam Gibbs just voice every KyoAni male protagonist from now on, because he just has that perfect blend of charisma, charm, and awkwardness down pat. He can be goofy, but also attractive, which fits very well with Seiya’s personality. Molly Searcy’s Sento is much stiffer than what even the writing makes her out to be, but it grew on me throughout the series. Other fave performances included the dynamic duo of Tiffany Grant and Allison Keith as Moffle and Macaron, respectively. Hearing two of Eva‘s most iconic characters as giant stuffed cussing mascots was just awesome beyond words.

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Despite how perfect I thought the anime’s comedy skits were executed, I actually found the drama moments to land even better. Moments of bitter pain or sudden realization are captured perfectly by not only the characters’ facial expressions, but the space they inhabit. When Sento and Seiya were deeply pondering how much one meant to the other, deep blue shadows are cast over a blinding orange sunset, filling the screen with contrasting colors and conflicting emotions.

And of course, the all scenery is just beautiful to take in. The bright-colored landscapes work well with the cheery, cartoonish character designs. Plus, Seiya and Sento, as well as the other “human” characters, look very pretty—the KyoAni standard. In fact, had any other studio adapted AmaBri‘s story, I can bet you money that it wouldn’t have turned out as nearly as magical and fun as it did here with KyoAni.

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On the audio side of things, Shinkichi Mitsumune’s soundtrack supports all the laughs and the feels with incredible emotion. And if there’s a song more positive and upbeat than AKINO and bless4’s OP “Extra Magic Hour,” I haven’t heard it yet!

The humor hits home, and the drama is very much respected by the late Yasuhiro Takemoto’s sensitive directing style. Sure the story and characters were written long before the show was created, but Kyoto Animation, YOU were the ones who put the real magic into this series, and it shows with every laugh I gave and every tear I shed while watching. You are the magic that saved AmaBri, and I honestly can’t celebrate my enjoyment with this series enough!

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Dreams Only Come True if You Believe

Amagi Brilliant Park is a story about a boy who prides himself above others, thinking that he is good at everything, and that same boy’s struggle to help those that don’t believe in themselves become proud of their own abilities. It’s a story about give and take, hard work, and at the end of the day, finding the fun in what you do for a living. Seiya may manipulate and play on the staff’s whims and emotions throughout the series, but a strong sense of trust always lies at the core of his plans.

Seiya’s magic doesn’t stem from his newfound power—it comes directly from his belief in the resilience and strength of all the people of Maple Land. Seiya makes an investment in these people, pouring all his time and energy into transforming the workers of AmaBri into employees worthy of their gifts.

Seiya draws out the inner passion for their work, and with a little faith, is rewarded with the park’s continual success. It is a belief driven by transformation and grounded by trust. Trust in Seiya’s process, and you, too, will enjoy one of—if not—Kyoto Animation’s most fun creation they’ve ever given us.

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If you wanna make people dream, you’ve gotta start by believing in that dream yourself! — Seiya Kanie


Afterword

At LAST, I’ve written the post about AmaBri that I’ve been wanting to ever since I saw it a couple years back. Again, I’d like to extend my thanks to the lovely Kyoto Animation for giving us the gift of fun all wrapped in a pretty little bow—I hope I was able to do the series justice! Amagi Brilliant Park is one of the studio’s most underrated series, and I hope some of you will decide to watch this hilarious and heartwarming “Cake” title! To those few who have actually seen this gem, you ought to let me know your thoughts!

This concludes my August 10th entry in the OWLS “Believe” blog tour. Mel (Mel in Anime Land) wrote about Free! and Tsurune, two of my favorite series by the studio, that you can enjoy right here! Now, look out for Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) also with a post on Tsurune (ahh, all the love!) tomorrow, August 11th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Kono Oto Tomare! – Spring 2019’s Competent, Underrated, Musical Beauty| Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode spring 2019 anime “Kono Oto Tomare!” or “Sounds of Life,” animated by Platinum Vision, directed by Mizuno Ryouma, and based on Amyuu Sakura’s manga of the same name.

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An Unexpected New Member

Underclassman Takezou Kurata had a blast last year playing the koto, a traditional Japanese string instrument, with the rest of his club mates. But now that his seniors have since graduated, Takezou will have to seek out new members to join the koto club, or else risk disbandment. Prepared for the worst, Takezou gives in to his club’s fate, when out of the blue a new member barges through the club room door. This would be a great turn of events for Takezou, if only this new member, Chika Kudou, weren’t one of his school’s most notorious bullies!

Things get even more wild for this music nerd introvert when Satowa Houzuki, a well-renowned koto player in her own right, decides to join Takezou’s shabby club. What might a pro like Satowa be doing lurking around his little club? And what could a thug like Chika want with something as culturally feminine and delicate as the koto?

As Takezou simultaneously struggles to keep his club alive and maintain the balance between these two wild souls, he slowly starts to realize that the first step to gaining his own sense of self-confidence is by making friends with people from all walks of life.

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Trying to Fit Together

Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life is a school music drama series with the spirit of a shounen anime and a dash of budding romance. In many ways, it is also an underdog tale, as we root for Takezou’s dysfunctional club members’ various attempts to perform together. This especially becomes apparent when Chika’s three friends also join the club, determined to play with Chika despite not even knowing what a koto is.

In one corner we’ve got an easily frustrated Satowa trying her hardest to dumb down her wealth of knowledge and teach, and in the other we’ve got these three idiots. To top it all off, Chika’s fiery attitude makes him a pain in the rear to work with, and President Kurata doesn’t know what to do about him. It’s no wonder the club’s barely getting by!

At first, the series is about trying to mash these these conflicting personalities together to even play a single piece from beginning to end, while the last few episodes give us a preview into the world of formal competition and school rivalries. The narrative of Kono Oto Tomare! is tightly written, yet it is able to juggle all these character perspectives quite splendidly. From the talented to the talentless, we see that playing the koto isn’t even a matter of being gifted, but rather of hard work and dedication to the art. The same goes for performing as a group. You can’t just play together—you have to understand one another if you are to properly read the other’s cues, direction, and cadence.

And that’s something I thought the series did really well. We are given well-timed character backgrounds to explain these seemingly irrational behaviors, as well as motives for why they joined the club in the first place. Chika and his friends play because they owe someone else their sound; Satowa plays because she wants to make a name for herself. Even if some of these backstories come off as a bit too melodramatic (like, it feels as if y’all tear up about everything), the story is never lacking in heart.

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The Club’s Key Players

As a character, Takezou still has a long way to go, but certainly progresses quite a ways from his shy inward self to someone who is willing to give orders (as a good club president should). He often undermines his own musical abilities, despite having played for so long and with so many other great players. Humble, perhaps, but insecure? Definitely. The more he plays with Chika and Satowa, however, the more he is forced out of his comfort zone. And for him, that could be a good thing . . .

For Chika, this is a tale of redemption. To atone for the actions of his past, he takes up the koto with not much else than his determination and the koto his dad left behind for him. Arguably, Chika is the lead in this story, as so many of the interactions between characters are often between him and someone else. Despite his charming looks, his nasty reputation comes from his delinquent attitude and history as a rascal. This earned him few to call a true friend, but the ones he has now really are all he need.

Though she may not seem like it, Satowa is also a character wrapped in layers of insecurity and burdened by childhood scars. The prestige and honor that comes with being a member of the Houzuki school—in addition to being the family’s only daughter—led to a life of social pressures and unreasonably high expectations. Wanting nothing more than to leave that life behind and pursue music through her own virtue, Satowa takes this new life as a second chance carve a name for herself. Naturally, the chemistry between someone as talented as Satowa and a “thug” as lowly as Chika is entertaining. But perhaps their meeting is also the beginning of a loving, supportive relationship. Only time will tell.

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In addition to balancing these three leads, the series also features a great cast of supporting characters that are so well-defined on their own that they might as well be leads of this story, too. I’m talking about the scheming and manipulative Hiro Kurusu who practically does a 180 to become one of the series’ most heartwarming characters (and another lady to keep Satowa company). On the con side, there’s Takanami, the club’s really irritating, piece a shit advisor. He may be a necessary evil to draw out Takezou’s confidence, but I’m sure the plot could’ve done that by other means.

And we can’t forget about Chika’s three bumbling friends! They may be idiots, but they’re not just there for comic relief. Kouta, Saneyasu, and Michitaka are honest voices for those unfamiliar with the music world, actively admitting that their fingers hurt when they play too much, that an instrument can be hella expensive, and that standing behind the curtain to go on stage might as well be like walking to one’s own doom.

A show committed to togetherness, friendship, and unity, I really like how the story never forgets about these three goons. While the pros mask their insecurities with their talent, they can tell us exactly what the koto experience feels like. As a character driven piece, it wouldn’t be the same with even just one of these key players missing.

Funimation produces an all-around exceptional dub for this high quality series. English voice actor Alejandro Saab’s Takezou is played with a higher, shakier register, and doubles nicely against Chika’s barreling, rough-and-tough voice. Damon Mills steals the spotlight as Chika, as he not only has the thug voice down pat, but also makes your cheeks blush with his tender tsundere character. Amber Lee Connors follows with an amazingly strong performance as Satowa, and it’s always fun having Josh Grelle (Kouta) and Austin Tindle (Saneyasu) around to make us laugh.

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Visuals to Match the Sounds

A good series about music needs good music to back it up, and Kei Haneoka’s soundtrack blends the traditional beauty of the koto with piano rifts and modern pop sounds. The OST especially works well with some of the series’ more intense moments, but is also pleasantly there to lift everyone to their feet when the comedic scenes hit. All of the koto playing itself sounds professional, almost too good for mere high school students (and beginners at that), but it’s never enough to stick out as “impossible.”

I’m just glad that we got to hear so many solos and uncut playthroughs of, what I’d imagine to be, classical pieces for this ancient instrument. Piercing melodies, spiraling duets, precise rhythms, raw tones—it’s all there, and as a string player myself, I found it all to be incredible.

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As if this series couldn’t get any better, I’m thrilled to report that Kono Oto Tomare! is lovingly supported by bright, watercolor art and gorgeously fluid animation to match the timeless sounds of the koto. Character designs are reminiscent of this soft, glowing shoujo style: sparkling eyes, blushing cheeks, sunburst filters, the works. The koto itself is laden with pretty wood patterns and textures, complete with shiny metal pegs and gleaming strings. Really, I was floored by it all. What a gem of a show!

Special shoutout to Shouta Aoi’s cheery and uplifting OP theme, “Tone,” which features artistic imagery, vibrant pink and blue hues, and of course, well-timed visuals to Aoi’s wholesome voice.

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Practice Like You Perform

In case you couldn’t tell, I really resonated with this series. At long last, we have a music anime with animation that can actually keep up with the technicality required to play string instruments. While I could have gone for even more full, uncensored music scenes, I’m totally happy with the few all-out performances we got. Every time they strike the final chord, you just want to wave your fist triumphantly in the air like, “YEAH, they did it!!”

If I were to describe this series with one word, it’d be competent. Truly, we are blessed to get a string music anime that not only looks this great, but sounds good, too, and has a story that can more than carry itself. With a second season set to air this fall, Kono Oto Tomare! has proven itself worthy of the koto and its timeless beauty. This only goes to show that, when you practice like you perform, you’ll get the results you expect. In the case of this great music anime that perfectly balances comedy and drama, season two is the encore that Takezou, Chika, Satowa, and the others in this persevering koto club deserve!

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The stage is a reward for all the hard work you’ve put in. That’s why you have to enjoy it as much as you can.  — Takezou Kurata


Afterword

As it stands, Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life is a “Cake” title set for the “Cafe Mocha” gold so long as the sequel is able to pick up everything this amazing first season has done so far and run with it. Given the fact that Platinum Vision has only produced a couple anime in the past and that this is Mizuno Ryouma’s directorial debut, I’m not only impressed but surprised at the quality of this work. To music fans, drama fans, or even lovers of comedy, I honestly can’t recommend this show enough!

Who else followed Kono Oto Tomare! this past spring 2019 season? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the series or this review down in the comments, as well as whether you are interested in starting it if you haven’t yet done so. Until the next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host