ChaoS;Child–Thrills, Chills, & the Return of Madness | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode winter 2017 anime “Chaos;Child,” stylized as “ChäoS;Child,” as well as the prequel recap “Episode 0” and the OVA “Silent Sky” (episodes 13 and 14), animated by Silver Link., directed by Masato Jinbo, and based on visual novel of the same name by MAGES and 5pb. The anime is a sequel to “ChaoS;HEAd.”

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Return of the New Generation Madness

Six years ago, a massive earthquake rocked Shibuya to its core, leveling the ward to utter ruin under the cloak of a strange white sky. Such was the climax to ChaoS;HEAd and the mass hysteria that lead to Shibuya’s destruction caused by a series of gruesome murders dubbed the “New Gen Madness.”

Now, in a present day and newly rebuilt Shibuya, the mysterious chain of grisly murders that once shocked the world have started up again. It’d only be a matter of time before occult-interested third-year student and newspaper club president Takuru Miyashiro discovers a startling connection: the dates of the recent murders match those of the previous New Gen incidents. Risking the warning signs dished out by his foster sister, Nono Kurusu, Takuru and his friends of the club decide to entrench themselves deeper into the mystery, only to find that merely knowing about the crime scene is enough to put them all in danger against the bizarre and the unknown. Bleeding eyes? Sumo face stickers? What’s the connection?! The further Takuru persists, the worse his own case of delusions tries to consume him.

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With this sequel, several shocking twists are littered throughout the story to maintain an immense level of thrill—an almost nauseating number at that. I couldn’t count one episode that didn’t include a world-changing discovery, and the need for the series to constantly one-up itself makes for a bumpy ride. Are half of these sickening twists just written for shock value? Maybe a few of them were. That’s not to say it’s unexciting, however; if anything, it’s the perfect watch for fans of the thriller genre! Just know that the gore train doesn’t stop once it gets going, and that it’s also not for the faint of heart.

Takuru and the Unusual Family Dynamic

“Family” is a theme that, beyond ChaoS;HEAd, the Science Adventure Series rarely tackles. And yet, I think it fits quite well. Growing up in a foster home, Takuru constantly isolates himself from friends and family that clearly love him for fear of what unintentionally losing them will do to himself in return. In a show all about murder, deceit, and delusion, I would say that Takuru’s playing it smart—which is undoubtedly confirmed by Mio Kunosato, a certain young scientist affiliated with the government who purposefully acts like a dick to him. But the reality is that, without family, it can be harder to realize who you are, and what you might want to do with your life. His blind refutation of others’ compassion, particularly Nono’s (bless her heart), feels frustrating—and his actions will have grave consequences—but in the end, all the emotional justices and injustices balance out well enough.

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For spoiler’s sake, I can’t detail much more other than that Serika Onoe, Takuru’s newspaper club friend, doubles as the game’s other possible romantic interest. Like all Science Adventure heroines, however, there’s always something hidden under that lab coat, silly pose, or precious smile. Although Alex Moore’s Nono doesn’t quite fit the imagined vocal register, English dub fans will be pleased with Ricco Fajardo’s Takuru and especially Felecia Angelle’s Serika.

Revisiting Shibuya: Lights and Sounds

Animation studio Silver Link. brings an oddly soft and pastel glow to a world that is otherwise nothing but blood and guts strung all over Shibuya. Much like their work on other slice-of-life series, ChaoS;Child takes on many shades of cool blues and violets, but the pulsating red shimmers of cute character blushing, street lights, or, at its worst, blood, give an off-putting vibe befitting the supernatural undertones. Much like with ChaoS;HEAd, a grainy or fuzzy layer of film is added to Takuru’s delusion scenes, of which can spike the heartbeat with wicked intensity. Although the character movements are fairly stationary, they’re still pretty to look at against the sparkling, sprawling cityscapes and dark, grungy alleyways of a Shibuya we’ve explored all too thoroughly.

(I know these images are from the game, but the art style is nearly identical.)

Thankfully, Kanako Itou returns to the Science Adventure Series as a leading part of the music with a new OP, “Uncontrollable,” and though it’s much less memorable than “Hacking to the Gate” or even “F.D.D.,” she’s become an iconic part of this massive franchise that deserves shoutout. Takeshi Abo provides amazing suspense and fright with the soundtrack, but his work shines best with his gorgeous piano soliloquies to match the series’s bittersweet moments, or even his nice orchestral work for Takuru’s more heroic scenes. Overall, the tone is a great improvement from ChaoS;HEAd‘s unstable insanity.

The Adaptation Conquest Continues . . . 

“Not all is as it seems” with these Science Adventure Series games. While I enjoyed ChaoS;HEAd enough to merit it worth the buy, I was never truly satisfied with how its ending was executed (or how many of its grim stunts were pulled off). For the most part, ChaoS;Child is better in charge of its numerous plot twists, but that sense that some questions weren’t quite answered still lingers. This is largely due to the game’s many meticulous routes being cut and pasted to create the most coherent story (which explains why one of the newspaper club members doesn’t even speak a peep). Of course, the rushed urgency that comes with such a time crunch doesn’t help much either. To obtain the most complete experience, do watch the 50-min “Silent Sky” OVA (that is included AND dubbed on Funimation’s release!), as it adapts the game’s true ending and brings the story to more fulfilling, albeit beautifully tragic, ending.

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ChaoS;Child offers a decently strong follow-up to a series that frankly needed one desparately. Still, the plot lacks proper explanations to make its story truly solid writing. Essentially, while it’s not a must-watch (as I can’t force anyone in their right mind to sit through the headache that ChaoS;HEAd can be), the more you know about the case at large, the more enjoyable the entire experience is. The revelations made in ChaoS;Child build upon your previous knowledge of the New Gen crimes and a few of their deadly constituents, and making such fatal connections is half the fun—if not half the madness.

Although it moves too fast for its own characters’ backgrounds to shine and feels like a bit of a mixed bag for the sci-fi genre, murder mystery and thriller fans will surely get their fill of the grotesque and the paranormal that unmistakably belong to the weirder side of the this beloved franchise.

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There was so much that they didn’t give me. I was trying to find those things in her, I think. — Takuru Miyashiro


Afterword

Call it my unashamed love for the entire Science Adventure Series, but despite its rushed pacing and shaky character motives, I’ll still award ChaoS;Child worth the watch with a “Coffee” rating. At the very least, its high tension and dramatic twists made for a very interesting narrative, and it is visually appealing. Not that I’d place it on the top of my thriller anime favorites list (of which no such thing exists), but it would be on there for sure.

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But what did you think of ChaoS;Child? It was pretty cool to see Takumi and the old ChaoS;HEAd gang reanimated in the 2017 art style in that “Episode 0” prequel recap! I know the Chaos side of the franchise gets a lot of flack for things I’ve said over and over again now: rushed pacing, poor explanations, and weak character backgrounds. Even then, did you enjoy it as much as I did? Do let me know, for I fear that my own passion for this series could be a delusion in itself! Haha, thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Granblue Fantasy: Endless Blue Skies, But Not Enough Time to Explore Them All | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode spring 2017 anime “Granblue Fantasy The Animation,” animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Yuuki Itou, and based on the video game series of the same name by Cygames. 

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A World of Skies and Islands

Awash with a stunning canvas of roving blues and fluffy whites is the world Granblue Fantasy is painted on, a famous franchise which has amassed a great following thanks to its many JRPG titles. While I am unfamiliar with this particular adaptation’s origins, the story still follows its titular character, a young boy named Gran, and his adventures throughout the wondrous skies that surround him. Accompanied by a talking winged lizard named Vyrn, the two embark on quests that tend to question the governing bodies of their world, such as the menacing Erste Empire and her sprawling military factions.

Alone in the forest one day, Gran stumbles upon a young girl with cerulean hair. Her name is Lyria, and she just recently happened to escape from the Empire after being subjected to sinister underground experiments on magic and the mythical. Alongside Katalina, a once-high-ranking knight of the Empire assigned to guard Lyria, Gran and the crew set out into the vast skies to escape the Empire’s treacherous plots. With ship set to starboard, Gran’s party aims to protect Lyria, as well as head for the famed land of legend mentioned in the last letter Gran received from his father: “Estalucia, Island of Stars.”

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I’ll be frank, the story of Granblue Fantasy The Animation is not a new one; girl is used by evil organization, boy protects her, boy meets a bunch of new allies while traveling around, yada yada. Even still, the heart of a fantasy adventure series lies in the lands we are taken to, and the variety of peoples we meet along the way—this pattern may not be a new one, but it doesn’t need to be new to be a fun watch. In that regard, this anime exceeds, but the overarching story—the hero’s main goal—is still a bit fuzzy. One moment Gran merely wants to watch over Lyria, but the next he insists on defeating (or rather purifying) these godlike mythical beasts to obtain magic crystals for . . . what was it again? I honestly can’t remember, but it’s still formulaic enough to follow along.

The Crew Aboard the Grandcypher

As a main character, Gran is without much personality. He’s kind and strong, yet remarkably bland, and although the show tries to convince you that he’s a real stellar guy with “special powers,” Gran’s actions and words fare just as interesting as a silent protagonist’s.

Oh wait, he originally was one? *sigh* This is another reason why adapting games into anime is hard . . . and somewhat a mistake.

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Obviously, the show pins most of its character love on Lyria, and thankfully, she does seem like someone you’d want to care for. Her curiosity and blind love for the world may not be executed as well as Tale of Symphonia‘s Colette, but the idea still transfers alright. Even our dutiful knight Katalina and reliable ship’s helmsman Rackam felt like characters I would enjoy partying up with. Same goes for new recruits, like the fiery (yet ironically ice magic specialist) mage Io and Team Rocket-esque dungeon thief duo Karva and Mary. Anyone else, well, the show just doesn’t give much screen time to learn about, but I’m sure they can be just as likable if given a fairer shot.

All the while, the Empire is looming in the dark and new faces, friend and foe alike, keep poppin’ out like the skies are just one big circus tent for JRPG tropes—there were like +10 new characters in the second to last episode alone, it’s ridiculous! If Granblue Fantasy The Animation had one big problem, it was that it tried to compensate “character development” for “5 seconds of fame,” and, in the end, not one of the side characters stood out as a result (which is a real shame given how cool some of these outfits were).

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Painting the Skies–The Magical Watercolor Touch

While I couldn’t give a damn about some of the characters thrown in at the last minute, I did have an incredible appreciation for what A-1 has done with their latest fantasy anime. Say what you will about their method of adaptation, but from their work on shows like Fractale, From the New World, Fate/Apocrypha, Sound of the Sky, so many others and most infamously, Sword Art Online, I’ve found A-1 to be one of the best animation studios where the fantasy genre is concerned. From the luscious color palettes and beautiful blends to the “old ruin aesthetic” of their utterly enchanting scenery, A-1’s always been on top of the game, and Granblue Fantasy is no exception. If anything, it’s the model, the paragon of what a high-quality fantasy production should look like.

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But especially with Granblue, the studio preserved the original art style from the games by giving it a softer, almost watercolor appeal to the backgrounds, much like the magic they did with Grimgar. And the characters and fight scenes, agh, WOW! I believe I recall an ANN article explaining that the adaptation’s delay was due to preserving all of the characters’ outfits, armor, leathers, buckles, trinkets, etc. in the anime style, and boy did A-1 bring out all the bells and whistles for this one. Highlights, shadows, bevels, rivets, textures, blends—what can only be imagined as an animation nightmare turned out to be well-worth the extra effort!

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Just watching the Grandcypher and its beautiful, colorful cast soar through the airy clouds across majestic seas of water and light took me to an entirely different land altogether. Put its spiraling architecture together with Square Enix and Cymusic native Tsutomu Narita’s epic orchestral soundtrack and you’ve really got a solid, powerful combination.

Lastly, can I mention how much of a bop the OP “GO” by BUMP OF CHICKEN and ED “Sora no Parade” by HARUHI are? Like, these songs about living the best lives we can are the total chill vibes that I LIVE for!

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Will We Ever Reach Estalucia?

Afraid not . . . maybe . . . ? At the end of the day, Granblue Fantasy The Animation is an absolutely gorgeous fantasy adventure anime that is hurt by its weak direction, weak antagonists, and lack of character development (and proper introduction for that matter). After its pinnacle fight scene in episode 12, one would imagine that the last episode would take us to the isle of lore where the reunion (and final showdown) would commence—WRONG. Instead, we are “treated” to a random bikini-filled beach episode with the cast of ladies that were introduced a mere episode prior. What a letdown.

But there is hope, as supposedly a second season was announced not to far back (no sure date as of yet). The anime just came out last year, after all, so I would assume that this is just the first half of the big adventure to come. Will I watch it? Of course, I’m in it for the long haul! But should you? Granblue Fantasy The Animation definitely feels like it’s more of a treat for fans of the game, but if you love magic, fantasy, and adventures as much as I do, perhaps Granblue is worth the “grand,” if not slightly frustrating, investment. It was bland, sure, but never did I really get “angry” with the show—in fact, it kinda made me want to start playing the games! Your eyes will love what they see, and your heart will yearn for the fun in-town shopping and traveling to last forever, but you may be able to guess the end long before A-1 decides to give it to us.

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Our destinations could be totally different, but I think this is our fate. As we continue our journey, we keep meeting new people. I treasure the connections that we make—just like the one we feel with you now. — Gran


Afterword

A softer, much more light-hearted take on the fantasy genre than typical game-to-anime adaptations, I have trouble recommending Granblue Fantasy on the grounds that at this time, it is currently incomplete (the worst kind of ending IMO). Should we truly stop here, I’ll award Granblue Fantasy The Animation with the “Breads” rating and a recommendation to SKIP it unless you’re a fan of the franchise and want to see your favorite characters brought to life by A-1’s genius. If we get more, however, that value is instantly reappraised to a “Coffee,” or even higher depending on how the second half turns out. Here’s to more Gran-seeming-important, more Katalina-obsessing-over-Vyrn’s-cutness, and more pretty-artwork-for-days!

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As a last minute addition, should you take up Gran and Lyria’s quest, I CAN safely recommend the English dub by Aniplex (although I still condemn their $80 releases). Both the sub and dub of Granblue Fantasy can be found on Crunchyroll for FREE, so hit it up whenever you’re next in the fantasy neighborhood! Be sure to let me know what you thought of this series, its characters, or this review down in the comments, as I’d love to know! Thanks so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

The End of Hope: Despair Conquers All in Danganronpa 3 | OWLS “Movement”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s fifth monthly topic for 2018, “Movement,” I wanted to dive deep into despair with the Danganronpa franchise, specifically its “third” anime adaptation, Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School – Despair Arc. In today’s world where chaos is on the rise, spreading fear and horror through resurging domestic violence, manipulation of mass media, and most notably, school shootings, I couldn’t find a more relevant title befitting the catastrophic future we could potentially end up living ourselves—unless we stop this war on terror.

We join movements, organizations, and systems that align with our own personal values and beliefs. Sometimes we join these groups because they believe in doing good and making positive changes in society. However, these movements can turn sour when a dictator arises behind such good intentions, revealing perhaps a hidden agenda of oppression. It is in these groups that individuals start to shape their identities by either questioning their values and beliefs or conforming to the system. This month, we will be examining “real and/or fictitious” movements, organizations, or systems in anime and other pop culture mediums, and the positive and negative effects they have on individuals and society.

I’ve literally been dying to use Danganronpa in one of these OWLS posts, and seeing as how nobody ever talks about this epic third season, I think it’s about time that happened! (For the sake of a spoiler-free post, I will be omitting the series’s second half, the Future Arc. Call it saving a fantastic series for another day.) Thanks Lyn and Auri for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the 11-episode summer 2016 anime “Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School – Despair Arc,” followed by its 1-episode “Hope” finale, animated by Lerche, directed by Motoo Fukuoka and Seiji Kishi, and based on the original story by Kazutaka Kodaka. 

AND YES, I HAVE DONE THE IMPOSSIBLE BY MAKING A SPOILER-FREE DANGANRONPA POST, SO ENJOY~! 

Beginning of the End – Despair Arc

Tragedy, Madness, Terror, Unpredictability

The Mastermind of despair had already destroyed the world come the end of the Killing School Life endured by the disassembled (but not completely hopeless) 78th class of Hope’s Peak High. Encompassed by the franchise’s first game/anime adaptation, this zany and bitter series of mutual killings was (believe it or not) the horrific climax to an even darker, more messed up series of unfortunate events. And that’s where the Despair Arc comes in: it aims to chronicle the reign of terror staged by the one and only Mastermind, how their plans easily came to fruition, and the thrill they received because of it.

Simply put, what begins as a tale of hope ends in utter despair. And that’s what makes it one of the coolest anime to ever exist. 

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Unlike practically all of the other Danganronpa entries, Despair Arc is one of the very few to not feature a survival game of sorts. Yet, it’s still that kind of series in which its perilous situations—to your own disbelief—only grow worse, and worse, and worse . . . At this point in the story, the series’s iconically dooming mascot Monokuma doesn’t exist, so how does Despair Arc get its own fix of insanity? For the Mastermind, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!

  1. School violence committed by beloved students
  2. Growing disparity between the talented and the talentless
  3. Inability of higher-ranking officials to properly dispute social problems

That’s all it takes to watch the world crumble—and to think the Mastermind became Despair itself by manipulating their followers’ hatred, jealousy, fears, guilt, anything, really, through humor and charm. I know what you’re thinking—those three issues hit scarily close to home, don’t they? No, it’s definitely true. All around us, the world of this despair-infested fictional setting is slowly creeping into reality. Carnage is spreading. People are being unfairly treated and lambasted for factors beyond their own control. Nuclear war looms on the ember horizon. Great tensions that have lasted decades are about to bust loose with a fireworks show of death and depravity.

And the worst part is that we’re all just standing around watching it happen.

Despair is on the rise, and we’re only letting the movement grow.

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While Despair Arc does rely on a couple cheap gimmicks to speed the Mastermind’s course of evil along (surely to accommodate the dreadfully short 11-episode length), the series takes the most wild, absurd, almost painfully realistic ideas and runs far with them. Very, very far. Somehow, Kodaka has written such a brilliant story that starts off all shining and bright and ends in utter ruin, perfectly encapsulating the range of human spirit at the onset fear and anarchy. After watching, you almost want to call the shot:

This is the future our own kids will be living unless we take action NOW. 

It’s a terrifying thought, unbelievable at times, and that is exactly why—despite being a mere prequel to an incredibly exciting, well-written sagaDespair Arc serves more as a warning to the path this global society is currently treading. Although a stretch, nearly all of the horrific crimes committed in this series can be, or have already been, reproduced in our own lives, right at this very minute.

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It may not be spear-headed by a single bored high school student, but all around us, people are rapidly growing more cynical, distrustful, and hateful than they have ever been. Despair is at an all-time high, and what’s even worse is that some sick individuals out there actually get off on this madness. The seeds of hopelessness have long-since been sown by humanity, and in just a few short years, months, or even days, the despair will blossom magnificently.

And only then will you be wishing you did something.

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Hope is a state of harmony. Righteous and bright, and all that other BS. Despair is more fun. And it grows so quickly. Like mushrooms, over a single night. Despair is messy and confusing. And it ain’t much of a picky eater. It devours love, hate, the whole shebang. Despair takes the plans you’ve put all your faith into and rips ’em to shreds. You may think you’re above petty human desires, but you need Despair. When it’s calling the shots, all bets are off. You don’t wanna be bored outta your skull for the rest of forever, do ya? — Junko Enoshima


Birth of a New Light – Hope Arc

Aspiration, Optimism, Dreams, Stability

Long after The Tragedy of Hope’s Peak High, The Twilight Syndrome Murder Case, The Worst, Most Despair Inducing Incident in the History of Mankind, the Killing School Life, the Killing School Trip, and the Final Killing Game, AT LAST, the skies begin to clear up. Was it the proper ending to a masterful franchise that fans had been anticipating for several years? Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly everything that we wanted (or deserved), but thematically, all points reconnect and converge at this final crossroad splendidly. At the end of a dreadfully prolonged saga of despair suffocating what little justice remains, hope ultimately comes out on top—and brighter than ever.

There’s something infectious about being cynical for fun. We do it all the time on the internet, making sad jokes that mock the hilariousness of our pitiful lives. “We are not strong,” or at least as strong as we think we are, and we enjoy a mutual sense of humor in this fallacy. This emotion that plagues our very lives with pessimism—this negative philosophy that we can neither change the tides of destiny, nor amount to anything in the end—such is true despair.

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Naegi’s struggle to remain hopeful in one desolate situation after another brought him to his knees. But unlike Future Foundation’s Munakata (or most of today’s political leaders for that matter), he still looked up to those around him, believing that although despair teaches us hardship, hope preaches harmony. Despair may have relished the past and the present, but Naegi’s unwavering hope paved way for the future—his movement of hope snowballed into what can only be described as a truly contagious effort.

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Hope is just way too stubborn to die. Despair can win the battle, but never the war. — Monaca Towa

All this and more is why I want you to think about how you approach communication with others. Do you start with a self-deprecating joke, or perhaps approach a conversation with praise or positivity for the given topic? The next time you log on to the internet—be it Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, forums, chat rooms, or other social media—do try your best to believe that there is still good in this wild world. We have the power to pick our battles, thus we should better learn when to restrain, and when to take matters into our own hands. Hope is but a simple four-letter word, and yet it has the power to shape generations, the life we live now, and the future that awaits us.

What that future looks like ultimately lies in our strength to fight the darkness, together. 

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Hard as we try, none of us can see the future. The horizon we walk toward is always obscured. The future’s always hazy. Hope and Despair mingle. We can’t always tell which is which. It’s strange. Sometimes terrifying. Still though, if all you do is sit and wait, nothing happens. The trick is to take it one step at a time. See, you don’t have to know the future to move forward. Just walk with your memories. Look up at the sky, and say to yourself, “There’s always Hope for tomorrow.” — Makoto Naegi


Afterword

The entire Danganronpa franchise is incredibly dark, creative, intense, vulgar, and tons of fun to both play and watch. As such, it’s no surprise that I award Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School with the certified “Caffe Mocha” rating. Especially with the Despair Arc, the series’s ability to not only account for all the nitpicky details, but string them together in a logical, story-telling format is admirable (even if some of the methods are a tad sub-par compared to, say, the second game’s beautifully corrupt and twisted ways). Aside from maybe Fate/ZeroDespair Arc is the greatest “beginning of the end” prequel anime to ever be written. Unlike all other told-from-zero stories, there is no happy ending to be found here, unless of course, you’re rooting for the Mastermind.

A bloody masterpiece of the whodunnit murder mystery genre, Danganronpa 3 tackles the near impossible and pulls it off with flying colors (and a lot of pink blood). I could go on and on about how much I love Lerche’s clean game-to-anime stylistic transfer, as well as Kodaka’s story, Masafumi Takada’s soundtrack, and ALL the damn characters, but alas! Perhaps for another post!

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This concludes my May 23rd entry in the OWLS “Movement” blog tour. Gloria (The Nerdy Girl News) went right before me and wrote about the living differences between humans and robots, and what truly makes us human in the anime Beatless, a series that I’ve been meaning to check out since it started airing. Gloria is new to OWLS, so go give her some love! Now, look out for another new member, Dylan (DynamicDylan) over on YouTube, with a vid about the great Gundam Seed set to air tomorrow, May 24th! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Yūki Hayashi: Music to Motivate the Soul | OWLS “Melody”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s fourth monthly topic for 2018, “Melody,” I wanted to showcase a single composer rather than a specific series or genre. He writes with the strength of a series’s characters in mind, empowering them to go beyond and rise to meet any occasion. His name is Yūki Hayashi, and he’s probably my favorite composer in the realm of modern anime.

Music is a form of healing and self-expression. For this month’s topic, we will be exploring some of our favorite musical pieces (anime/drama OSTs, movie soundtracks, music genres, etc.) and how that music has provided us enjoyment and, perhaps, how it has impacted our lives.

I love music! Even in these OWLS posts, I make it a must to at least cover any particular tracks of a given show that stood out to me most. As such, it is my greatest pleasure to finally dedicate an entire post to a man who has unknowingly helped transform my life into something I am proud of living. Thanks Lyn (and Shokamoka) for the very simple yet exciting prompt! In this post I’ll be covering the many soundtracks composed by Hayashi, but none of these highlights will contain spoilers, so enjoy! Click each song title to listen!

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A Bit of Background

Perhaps [the series remains constantly engaging] because of musician Yūki Hayashi’s own experience as a rhythmic gymnast; the man already knows how to match tempo and tune with fancy footwork. Hayashi is a rising favorite of mine, as he knows how toImage result for yuki hayashi perfectly time moments that should be epic with music that is absolutely epic . . . There’s a raw love for classical strings, piano, and a bit of drums for movement in Hayashi’s internationally-infused music, and that’s why I’ll always look forward to his perfect, inspiring scores.

— Musings from my review of Welcome to the Ballroom

Inspiration to Lift Us Off Our Feet

Welcome to the Ballroom

We were all that awkward kid once, aimlessly going about our days with no aspirations or anything to make us stand out. Tatara Fujita was the same way, until the world of dance appeared right at his doorstep. Through dance, the young boy learned what it was like to stand up straight for the first time. Slowly, he accumulated a few rivals, but everyone knows a rival is just a competitor waiting to become a friend. With slicked back hair, perfect posture, and a beautiful partner at his side, Tatara earned confidence in himself by means of hard work, dedication, and the willingness to try something new. But dance would be nothing without song, which is what we’re talking about today.

Since I’ve already gone on length with my favorite tracks from this series in my review, I’ll just re-reminisce on a few of the bests. “Lesson Fuukei – Hajimete no Step 2” shows us how much sheer willpower it takes to start dancing. “Ballroom Shakou Dance” reflects on the progress made, and the long but exciting road ahead. “Ganbaritai Kimochi” lifts our spirits into the air screaming “YEAH, this is MY moment to shine!” As Tatara starts to see his own style of dance bloom, he’s gifted with the “Tatara Waltz,” a sweet melody just for him. Lastly, “Rise & Fall” reflects on inspiring triumph and crushing defeat, a fitting end to the series. These tracks carry so much heart—as does the rest of the OST—and I still listen to them now when I need a boost back into that positive mindset!

Motivation to Push Us Forward

DIVE!!, Haikyuu!!

Now that we’re standing tall, Hayashi’s ready to keep us going strong with these back-to-back sports!! series. One of DIVE!!‘s saving graces was its soundtrack, specifically this song which, in typical Hayashi fashion, takes a minute to get going, but soon can’t be contained because of its sheer motivational outburst! Music like this encourages Tomoki Sakai and fellow MDC divers to reach a place that only they can see.

And while at this view from the summit, Haikyuu!! bounces onto the scene full of youth and energy in tracks like “Chemical Change,” “Senior Proficiency,” and practically the rest of the OST. Taking a quieter but just as inspirational approach, “Goal” and “Evolution” appeal to emotions under the surface level. Then there’s “Powerhouse Schools,” “Kageyama vs Tsukishima,” “Into the Fray,” and “Let the Games Begin!!” to pump you up for the intimidating challenges that lie ahead. But we can’t forget that life has its setbacks, which is why “Frustration” resonates so well with me. While there is one more epic violin track I can’t find, the saddest yet most beautiful song, “Adults,” reminds me that kids (like myself) grow up fast, and that life is too short to not have fun or experience friendship. This track makes me want to cry because I can’t go back to simpler times, but it also makes me smile at how far I’ve come.

Heartache to Make Us Grow

Kiznaiver, Death Parade

Kiznaiver may be a show about understanding what friendship means, but along the way the characters sure do feel a great deal of pain. Loneliness and the difficulties of connecting with others plague its main cast (just as how they can affect us, too), and yet, there is beauty in sorrow. “Toumei Na Omoi,” my favorite track from the series begins with a cold harp soliloquy, but gradually opens up for a tender, heartwarming chorus.

This next heartbreaker needs no introduction. Death Parade welcomes the macabre by relishing in the woes of humanity. Visually, the Quindecim is quite appealing. But beyond the fancy visage lies a broken cast and a graveyard of puppets. Heralded as one of the “Most Emotional OSTs,” please feel free to lose yourself in the beautiful darkness of “Moonlit Night” and its breathtaking piano intro.

Strength to Go Beyond

My Hero Academia

Can I just place the entire soundtrack here? Honestly, every tune in this hit-shounen series is an absolute BOP. From the splendid, upbeat cheerfulness of “Symbol of Peace” and “I am here!!,” both All Might themes, to the workout motivation provided by “HERO A (Training to be the best!),” Izuku’s story never stops inspiring both the other characters and the us, the viewers! None of that playful rap or pep-band nonsense compares to “PLUS ULTRA,” however, as this single track contains enough power to move mountains—no wait, planets—the very heavens! All Might’s charisma ascends through this incredible music, much as how his strength is passed down to Izuku.

Did you think I’d forget “My Hero Academia” or the *in*famous “You Say Run“? HAH! Glory to all the UA heroes for pushing us to go beyond—and PLUUUS UUULTRA!!!

Ambition to Fulfill Our Dreams

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But none are more inspiring than that which I’ve saved for last. BEHOLD, the “Main Theme” of this most-underrated anime. The tale of a girl who musters the strength to turn a borrowed dream into her own reality, Akiho Sinomiya spends countless years chasing after her sister’s shadow. It’s a series about individuality and the passion to challenge impossible odds—even if friends, family, and society don’t agree with your ideals. Overflowing with ambition, motivation, bravery, and hope, Yūki Hayashi doesn’t dial back the heroism one bit. If anything, this is ingenuity in its rawest state. The roaring bass and cellos, the soaring violins, and the percussion section that just keeps giving—THIS is the spirit which motivates the soul!

Yūki Hayashi & The Resolve to Change

I love music. I listen to anime soundtracks often, and I pay attention to what exactly it is in the composition that moves me. As previously stated, Hayashi certainly has a way with notes. He weaves together strings, winds, brass, percussion, electric bass, and sometimes a dash of choir topped with remixing for truly epic scores. Even more interesting is that he’s almost always attached to works that feature characters struggling to grow—protagonists that grapple with finding their resolve to change themselves for the better. The road to such change is of course rife with hardship, competition, wins, losses, redemption, self-evaluation, and eventually a brief moment of pure intensity that shouts “LOOK AT ME!!!”

As people, we all desire attention, and to be our very best selves. Hayashi knows this path can also be messy, both physically and emotionally, and he clearly conveys these feelings through melodies and chords. He says, “This is what failure sounds like,” only to follow up with “And this song feels like victory, doesn’t it?”

Whether it’s a tall, tall wall looming in front of you,

the want yet inability to connect with others, 

the need to prove that your dreams are obtainable,

or perhaps the desire to change . . .

Know that the view from the summit is one that exists ONLY for you—so chase after it relentlessly. Try new things, make mistakes, meet new people, but never, never give up on your reasons for wanting to improve. Because maybe, in the process of overcoming your own impossible odds, you’ll inspire someone else to be a better human, much as how Yūki Hayashi inspired me through something as simple as a melody.

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Do you have a favorite anime composer that just blows you away? What about specific fave OSTs that lift your spirits after a dull day? Do you listen to as many “motivational” YouTube playlists as I do? Haha, let me know about your music tastes or this post down in the comments! This concludes my April 14th entry in the OWLS “Melody” blog tour. Mel (Mel in Anime Land) went right before me and wrote about Shinhwa, one of her favorite K-pop groups, which you can read right here! Now, prepare for Marina (Anime B & B) with the music she enjoys listening to while writing this Monday, April 16th! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Fate/Extra: Last Encore – A Horrifically Beautiful Nightmare | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 10-episode winter 2018 anime “Fate/Extra: Last Encore,” animated by Shaft, directed by Akiyuki Shinbou and Yukihiro Miyamoto, and based on Type-Moon game “Fate/Extra.”

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The Dungeon Horror Genre Meets Fate

Hakuno Kishinami is a high school student—no, was a high school student? Doesn’t matter, because in a flash and flurry of visions pertaining to both the past and the future, Hakuno awakens in a strange virtual world styled much like a video game. He remembers neither his former life, nor how he got here, but before he even has time to comprehend his wacky situation, Hakuno is forced into a fight unlike one the world has ever seen: the Holy Grail War. Only this time around, supposedly over a hundred masters are competing for the coveted wish-granting chalice! Thankfully, a servant adorned in a maelstrom of crimson rose petals and shimmering gold manifests and comes to Hakuno’s aid. Her name is Saber, and together the two set out to conquer the seven enigmatic “floors” of this Grail War’s stage, as well as answer the burning question in Hakuno’s mind: “Who am I?”

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I borrowed that last quote from the official synopsis because, within both the characters and the story itself, there’s a vague sense of emptiness surrounding the situation. As an alternate route for Fate/stay night set in an entirely different universe, countless questions about the world and its origins arise. Unfortunately, very few are answered, and as each episode progresses, it becomes harder and harder to care about Hakuno, the entities he encounters, or this chapter of Fate in general. This new Grail War also presents itself weakly, rarely calling back to the fact that Hakuno should be fighting other servants and masters along the way when, oddly enough, each floor seems abandoned, which brings me to my next point.

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I like to call Last Encore a weird Dungeons & Dragons take on the Fate universe for its similar adventure style setup. On each floor that Hakuno, Saber, and eventually Rin climb to (or rather soar up to via magical elevator), the trio confronts 1) the floor’s master, 2) the floor master’s servant, and 3) a helpful ally (or tricky foe) who resides/is trapped on that floor. Each floor’s denizens offer a new lesson in character, survival, or how to live, and deciding who the party should ally themselves with or stay away from serves as decent entertainment.

Not-So-Familiar Faces

Last Encore‘s master and servant pairs reveal very little about themselves, which is a crying shame considering that you can typically count on Fate characters as ALWAYS being some of the most interesting crew you’ll ever run into. Heck, much of this historical fantasy cast—Robin Hood, Francis Drake, and a certain red Saber—receive better backstory and development in Fate/Grand Order, and that’s a FREAKIN’ MOBILE GAME.

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With so many characters encountered in such a short 10-episode time, it can be hard to remember who is who and what they do when you know that at the end of the episode, Hakuno and Saber will prevail and ascend to the next floor. As such, the other masters and servants NEED to be interesting, and sadly, the opposite happens since there’s not enough time for me to invest care. Philosophical as they may be, the interactions between characters in Last Encore are hollow, save for maybe one charismatic lass . . .

No Guts, No Glory!

Never does our red-clad hero proclaim this famous idiom, but boy does it typify her personality. To keep this review spoiler-free, we’ll just ride by the servant moniker. That said, prepare the “Umu!” counter, cause here’s our Maestro’s beloved servant! Unlike the others in this series, Saber is characterized quite well. Even reoccurring favorites like Rin and the not-so-much-favorite Shinji fail to truly grasp the viewer’s attention like Saber does. Charming, wise, experienced, and loves to show off her vast wealth and skill accumulated from former days of glory, Saber practically steals the show any time she gets the chance. She’s unapologetically boastful and confident, and her ridiculous remarks make her fun to watch. Shaft may promote her allure through annoying underskirt shots (or straight-up nudity), but we know the real reason she captures our hearts is because of her valor and chivalry in battle, as well as her playful charisma on the side.

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I will admit, Saber really doesn’t change much over the course of their journey, but that’s not why she’s there. She’s Hakuno’s guide, his partner, and through her ideological dialogue, she mentally keeps Hakuno thinking in the right mindset—and from succumbing to his darkest thoughts.

Fate in the Hands of Another Studio

Though the [very few and short] fight scenes look splendid, Shaft captures the individual essence of each floor’s quirks and qualities even better through unique landscapes, backgrounds, and art styles (including a floor designed to recreate Madoka Magica‘s eerie cuteness). Though the environment helps craft Extra‘s story, proving on multiple occasions to be more interesting than its characters, the alarming number of rough transitions between fantasy and reality, past and future causes immense confusion and boredom. The plot is already such a jumbled up mess, and to place Shaft at the head of this project is both genius and a horrifically beautiful nightmare. Arguably, with all the random floating objects and unnatural physics, it’s “too much Shaft” at times. At least that lighting is gorgeous.

 

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SIDE NOTE: I appreciate the endeavor to animate more of this massive franchise, but between an OK Apocrypha and now an even worse Extra, I can’t help but think Fate should be left not only to quality animators like the masters over at Ufotable, but also to its core writers. Shinbou excels at bringing the strange to life, but this sci-fi/fantasy adventure RPG style isn’t his strongest suit. 

Lastly, Satoru Kosaki’s score left a brilliant ambiance where the dialogue often tangled itself up (probably helps that he’s no stranger to studio Shaft’s style, having done much of the Monogatari OST). Also, the OP “Bright Burning Shout” by Takanori Nishikawa has an uplifting shounen fight song vibe to it, while the ED “Tsuki to Hanataba” by Sayuri allowed the bittersweet moments in the series to shine.

For the Fans Who Wanted One Last Encore

Trailing the viewer along through the bizarre sounds like something Fate/Extra: Last Encore would be excellent at, but Hakuno’s narrative is simply boring. And while a degree of mystery helps keep the mind engaged and asking questions, come episode ten you’ll be disappointed by this series’s lack of a proper ending. As one would imagine, Hakuno and Saber eventually reach the top floor, but to what end? The story abruptly stops upon the elevator reaching floor seven, and though a 20-minute finale OVA awaits us this summer (oh my god), no one will care by then.

Ultimately, it’s all a real shame, as I was finally hoping to branch out of the same old Fate and see what all the hubbub of Extra was about without having to sit through the PSP game. Several elements like changing the character design, recruiting a different studio, and twisting the story to fit as an anime series, seemed right, but just fell apart by the end. Watch the beginning of this shoddy cyclical Fate adaptation and I’m afraid you’ve already seen the end. Perhaps this is my “roundabout” way of saying that you shouldn’t advertise yourself as the encore when those unfamiliar with the original haven’t even properly enjoyed the main show.

I should do what I am capable of. That is all anyone can do. — Saber

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Afterword

It’s hard to write a review about a show that I really wanted to enjoy, especially something from Fate. Nevertheless, I must be honest with myself here. There were moments of true beauty, in which the shot composition, character animation, dialogue, music, and emotion all synced together spectacularly. But those moments only made up a small part of this already very short adventure. Such is why I award Fate/Extra: Last Encore the “Breads” rating, and recommendation to pass on it unless you have played the game and are wanting to enjoy a “similar” story in anime format—to which I say, enjoy, Praetor!

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I’d love it if you could sway my mind on this title, so let me know what you thought about it or this review down in the comments! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

The Sweetest Kind of Rom-Com: “My Love Story!!” | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode spring 2015 anime “Ore Monogatari!!,” also known in English as “My Love Story!!,” animated by Madhouse, directed by Morio Asaka, and based on Kazune Kawahara’s manga of the same name. 

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A Bumbling, Tumbling, Pure-Hearted Gentleman

Takeo Gouda is a big guy. Though more akin to a bear (or perhaps a gorilla) than a human, I suppose simply calling him “big” wouldn’t do this mammoth of a man any justice. Takeo is an overwhelming, brutish force of masculinity, but underneath all that beefy muscle and thick skin lies a kind, respectful, and unwavering heart of gold. While he may unintentionally scare off all the girls he meets (often coming to their rescue only to go unaccredited for his good service, of course), he’s amassed quite the male following among his high school’s freshman class for his honorable sense of duty and righteousness. Did I mention Takeo was just a freshman? Oh, and did I mention that he is a pretty big guy?

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Well, even if his nonexistent love life never takes off, at least Takeo’s got Sunakawa, his cool and handsome best friend. The two are as inseparable as brick and concrete (I’ll let you guess who is who), but maybe therein lies Takeo’s problem: Sunakawa’s irresistible yet subtle charm and dashing looks has unintentionally captured the heart of every young girl Takeo has ever loved! Suna politely turns them all down, however, and as much as that would aggravate any other guy’s best friend, things somehow always work out for the two.

One day, Takeo nobly saves one Miss Rinko Yamato from a groper on a train, ultimately throwing him head-over-heels for this sweet, kind-hearted baker! Though the two awkwardly meet several times afterwards, Takeo holds himself back, suspecting that “Miss Yamato” only has eyes for Suna. In a surprising turn of events, Rinko admits she feels love, but it’s not for Takeo’s best friend—as his good karma would have it, Rinko loves Takeo, and here begins their love story!!

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Love Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

By episode three, I honestly thought the show could’ve ended. SPOILERS but not really, the two fall in love very quickly, and Takeo’s fear of never hooking up with a cute girl disappears come this early confession. Why is it called My Love Story!! then if we already know how the story goes? WELL, unlike most shoujo series out there that tantalize viewers with a painfully slow romance that ends with the main couple holding hands (if you’re even that lucky), My Love Story!! follows Takeo and Rinko throughout their relationship: celebrating holidays together, meeting the others’ family (Takeo’s parents, oh my god, when you see them it all makes sense), and most importantly, hooking up their fellow dudes and gal pals that are looking for a high school sweetheart. It’s not a test to see how long they stay together. Rather, it’s about how they can unite the hearts of others through their love.

Because Rinko isn’t the kind of girl to wait on her man, the story moves at a pleasant pace—don’t get me wrong, it’s still very, very slow compared to most couples out there, but it’s a slow-burning tenderness that feels so honest and true. The series is, for the most part, quite episodic, as new characters are brought on the screen only to be swiftly swept off their feet by these two match-makers and eventually (and gently) “tossed aside.” Any relationships that do return to the screen build nicely over the course of the series. Takeo and Rinko are #couplegoals, and there are probably very few shows out there that are sweeter than this rom-com.

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Also, can we appreciate the unusual MC’s character design here and Rinko’s unwavering love for him? There is no joke—she legit values his looks. Bless these two.

“MISS YAMATOOOO!!!”

Takeo Gouda is truly A GOD AMONGST MEN. (This man’s lips, just wow.) He’s a big ol’ softie despite his ridiculously boarish stature, and he’s got the restraint of a freakin’ nun, no joke. Sometimes Often times that over-politeness causes Takeo to seem like an awkward lug, but it’s honestly so lovable and refreshing that I just can’t. In fact, the whole show feels like a huge refreshment from the annoying tropes of the shoujo genre, granted that I haven’t seen nearly enough to consider myself knowledgeable on the subject. Though Takeo’s personality is goofy, dutiful, and well mannered, the guy would be nothing without a voice. I DID watch My Love Story!! with Sentai’s English dub, and while they normally aren’t at the same quality as Funimation or Aniplex’s, this dub ROCKS. So much character in every comedic line, so much heart when things need to be cute, Andrew Love FINALLY plays a teenager where his macho voice is appropriate—you could say that I “Love” his burly performance!

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The very same goes to Miss Yamato, voiced by the ever-lovely Tia Ballard (I just can’t get enough of her voice)!! If Takeo is sweet, Rinko is even sweeter—and no, I’m not just talking about her mouth-watering dessert creations. She’s the rich chocolate chips to Takeo’s squishy dough, the perfectly layered icing on an impressively sized cake. This woman has no flaws, I tell ya! Just kidding: she has a less-than-delicate side that really wants to get together with her boyfriend (who’s totally not prepared) on a more intimate level. But honestly, isn’t that everyone? Friendship, the desire to connect with another, and letting go of repressed feelings are all major themes in this series, and where lovemaking is concerned, My Love Story!! is still one of the purest examples out there!

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And I couldn’t forget about our normally-the-lead-but-now-just-a-bishie Sunakawa AKA Austin Tindle. How Sentai got a magnificent beast like Tindle, the world may never know, but all that matters is he’s here, and that he plays the unamused hot guy. If it weren’t for Takeo’s overwhelming presence, Suna would absolutely take the spot as best boy. He may look like he’s bored out of his mind and dosing off half the time, but Suna is kind, attentive, and always watching out for Takeo’s large sweaty back. Every single Suna moment left me like, “Bro . . .”, as he’s a really upstanding and intelligent guy despite characters like his  typically being cast as the “high-and-mighty jealous types” in this situation. Like the rest of this all-star cast, Suna is thankfully so much more than a stereotype, and I valued his brotherhood and cool-headedness. He’s easy to miss at times, but he’s always there for his friends.

It’s. So. Funny. 

LITERALLY ME in every episode. Madhouse brought to life one of the most adorable romance titles out there, yet there’s an added level of humor to Takeo’s build and [hilariously grotesque] facial expressions that made me bust a gut at least ten times per episode. Surprisingly, the slapstick comedy here won me over as one of the biggest reasons why everyone should watch this show. Between the bestial way in which Takeo reacts to everything and his demonstrations of, umm, affection to Suna, I was left with tears in my eyes it was all so funny. Again, this is where the English dub really shines!

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A “Cake” Title in its Purest Form

My Love Story!! stole the simulcast spotlight back when it aired in 2015. Although its popularity has died down significantly (the manga picking up the anime’s slack, as it offers a continuation to what is ultimately but an adaptation), it’s still a pleasantly refreshing rom-com that cuts out all the shoujo drama BS. It’s light-hearted, cleansing, and even touching when it wants to be. Plus it’s really funny! I’ll admit that romance anime aren’t really my thing, so this series was PERFECT for a viewer who tries to avoid the unnecessarily serious stuff.

All this and more is why I recommend My Love Story!! to ALL anime fans. Should you enjoy watching it, you’ll come away feeling happy and bubbly inside, and perhaps even recall your first innocent love (or wistful bromance). We all have stories to share, and Takeo Gouda’s is one that’ll leave you laughing out loud one moment and clutching your warmed heart the next.

I helped a girl who turned out to be a nice girl. That gives me the strength to go on. — Takeo Gouda

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Afterword

Kind of short review, as the show really is sweet and simple. If you watched My Love Story!! and enjoyed it, what part in particular made you like it? Was it the atypical character setup, the laughs, Rinko’s treats, Takeo’s boundless excitement, or just Suna being Suna? You ought to let me know! I WILL try to respond to your comments quicker, haha!

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If you couldn’t already tell, this series currently sits lovingly on my shelf as the ideal “Cake” title here at the cafe, and I do hope you give it a shot if you haven’t yet. Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Haikyuu!! — Growing Together Through Challenge & Failure | OWLS “Squad”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s third monthly topic for 2018, “Squad,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard review of Haikyuu!! season one into this look at friendship and how, exactly, teamwork makes the dream work.

Although some people may like to be alone at times, we all have that one special friend or a squad of friends who we kick it and have some good laughs and fun with. However, there are friendships that don’t last a lifetime, and usually, they end due to a falling out or a misunderstanding. For this month’s topic, we will be exploring some of the best friendships in anime and pop culture, as well as the friendships that ended suddenly. We will talk about what a true friendship means to us, what we learned about ourselves and others through broken friendships, and our definitions of a “good friend.”

To uphold this OWLS favorite, I will be carrying the Haikyuu!! torch for this month’s tour! Though I’m not as passionate about this franchise as some of us are, I do hope I can contribute something of my own to the countless amazing posts out there. Thanks Lyn (and Lita) for the prompt!

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A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 25-episode spring 2014 anime “Haikyuu!!,” localized as “Haikyu!!,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Susumu Mitsunaka, and based on Haruichi Furudate’s popular shounen manga of the same name.

Rivals off the Court, Teammates on It

Shouyou Hinata began volleyball small and to this day remains one of the shortest players anyone has ever come across. Inspiration hit the loud lil’ guy when watching a volleyball ace nicknamed the “Little Giant” take the court by storm, and soon after, Hinata formed his own volleyball club in middle school. Brutal defeat in his team’s very first tournament by Tobio “King of the Court” Kageyama crushed motivations to continue the fight, though. In that moment, Hinata vowed to surpass Kageyama, but upon joining Karasuno High School’s volleyball team, Hinata found himself facing his “sworn rival” as a new fellow teammate.

Despite his unusually high stamina and powerful jumps, Hinata’s short stature gives him a bit of a hard time when it comes to finding the right role to play. Surprisingly, Kageyama, the “genius setter” himself, also struggles with teamwork issues, and only by learning to work together will Karasuno stand a chance against the fierce competition. Excellently balancing the emotional weight of sports drama with lighthearted comedy, Haikyuu!! supports two determined athletes and their endeavor to settle a heated rivalry in order to reignite their team’s once-legendary status.

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Karasuno: The Crow Flies Again

Haikyuu!!‘s first season leads us through a handful of major games set up like little arcs just like any shounen series would. On the surface, it feels like one of those “This is how I became the strongest in the world” series, and in part, that’s not the wrong impression. Beyond Hinata’s constant screaming and boundless excitement lie more interesting subplots, however, such as finding the motivation to play, understanding that loss is prevalent in the path to success, and the ever-constant conflict between upper and lowerclassmen. The series, much like the volleyball players, never sits on one of these themes for too long. Once a character’s lesson has been taught, the momentum bounces across the court to quickly become another teammate’s chance ball!

As previously mentioned, this underdog story appreciates a variety of themes crucial to the personal growth of not only oneself, but an entire team. With every demoralizing insult and crushing defeat, the need for vengeance—to prove that Karasuno will fly again—snowballs into unstoppable enthusiasm for the 12 boys (and their rugged coach, squirrelly faculty advisor, and goddess of a manager). I mean, just imagine it: Back in the day, you were THE top dogs, the ones that everyone aspired to be! And now that you’re finally able to give back to that team that gave you so much to begin with, you find yourself continuing to face loss after devastating loss. 

“To overcome difficulties, you need effort, endurance, and sacrifices.” — Ittetsu Takeda, faculty advisor

As such, it is redemption that pulls the clumsy Karasuno along, but they will fail to earn the respect (and awe) of other teams unless they dig deep within themselves and learn exactly what makes each other tick. Achieving perfected, harmonious unity comes only through knowing your friends better than you know yourself. Unless some of its more reserved members start opening up to each other, I’m afraid Karasuno will only make it so far in the seasons to come.

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Haikyuu!!‘s Unique, Competitive, Spirited Characters

I’ll start with the elephant in the room since I basically had no problems with the rest of this top-tier cast. Hinata and Kageyama are arguably the most irritating, annoying characters in the entire show—which is incredibly unfortunate given their status as male leads. These are supposed to be the two that we root for, that we want to succeed, but on more occasions than not, I was sympathizing with the other side. In their defense, even the rival teams offer compelling stories all on their own—in fact, this well-rounded attention to all of the characters is the bread and butter of Haikyuu!!—but it can be hard to cheer on the main two when Hinata is plain obnoxious and Kageyama is downright rude. By this first season’s end, I started to feel somewhat proud for how far they had come (recalling their earlier bickering and resistance to work together), and I do see myself warming up to them more in the next season.

If you’re asking me who the title of “best boy” belongs to, can I just say all of them? I mean, really:

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Daichi’s strong and steady demeanor makes him a model team captain; Sugawara’s calm, compassionate nature was LITERALLY ME back when I did sports in high school; Asahi’s aged appearance doesn’t stop him from being the biggest sweetheart (and Nervous Nellie) in the entire show. The third years will always be my favorite characters, no matter the series, but I can’t just stop here with Haikyuu!! . . .

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Nishinoya’s overwhelming charisma not only makes him a player to be feared, but also one to be loved; Tanaka’s combo of goofy + grit never fails to lighten the mood; Ennoshita has this ability to silently relate to his friends given practically any situation; Kinoshita and Narita are always there to tame Noya and Tanaka. WHEW, looking forward to find out more about these funny second years. Of course, we can’t forget about the first years . . .

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Kageyama, despite his oppressive exterior, strives to better himself by bringing out the best in his fellow teammates; Hinata’s inner strength to bounce back from defeat will always light a fire in my heart; Tsukishima AKA “best boy” candidate offers remarks that are so freakin’ snarky I just can’t, then proceeds to back up his smugness with the most wicked of feints during a match; lastly, Yamaguchi just wants to play the game everyone loves, and works long after dark hoping to one day be of use to his team.

But #squadgoals doesn’t stop there! Looking at the other teams, Nekoma’s Kenma (voiced by Yuki Kaji, my guy) seems like your average silent character, but his catlike reflexes and calculating eyes make him the heart his high school team; and yes, even the handsome and charismatic Oikawa, a master of playing to his Aoba Josai teammates’ strengths, must be hilariously restrained by his friends from egotistically going all-out”Great King” on them!

The Forces that Unite Us

Similar to the OWLS “Team” theme from last year, we all long for connection, to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves. Not often are we granted the opportunity to bond with others so closely and celebrate the things we love. So, we have to take chances, risks even, if we wish to grow together. Haikyuu!! hits on four essential elements that build strong, long-lasting friendships (all coincidentally beginning with the letter “C”), and for every time a team member attempts one of these building blocks, beautiful, timeless moments are created.

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Consideration—to experience thought and care for another

The weight of the game all rested on second-year Tanaka’s shoulders, yet again, and again, and again, Tanaka dropped the ball. There was a small moment like this during the tournament in which Hinata, a first-year, considered saying something nice or uplifting to baldy as he has always done for him. It’s not pity, it’s empathy. Hinata knows that feeling of repeated failure. When the underclassmen start supporting the upperclassmen (or at least thinking in that mindset), you can tell that the underclassman is starting to grow not only as a team player, but as a person, too.

The older we grow, there’s a tendency for superiors to think that they exclusively must be the ones to guide the young. But in a team, that is not the case. Though there is a chain of command spearheaded by the captain, teammates are EQUALS. In school, work, or any other setting concerning a group that functions together with one goal in mind, people, higher or lower, need to support each other—to consider feelings of failure and success alike and support those who need it in the heat of the moment.

Compliments—to express praise or admiration for one’s actions

Taking it the next step forward, teammates should give credit where credit is due. One’s age, ethnicity, gender, or status does not matter—nobody is above a nice compliment. This responsibility should not be limited to the captain or upperclassmen alone, either. Sugawara gives them out all the time based on how teammates are feeling that day, and that motivation pushes everyone, especially Hinata, to do their best.

Communication—to connect with others and exchange information

A true king asks for the help of his subjects—that is what sets Oikawa, “The Great King” (and even Sugawara) apart from Kageyama, the “Dictator.” Communication is key in both sports and life in general. Kageyama cannot and should not rely on Hinata’s god-like quick ability all the time; as setter, he needs to learn how to pass to teammates like Tsukishima more, and maintain an open communication line that doesn’t look so grumpy. Gradually he improves, and I’m looking forward to see just how much better he’ll get.

Challenge—to engage in competition for the betterment of oneself

Above all, nothing pushes teammates like a little friendly fire. Ultimately, friends want to surpass the challenges that other friends set for them, and this different form of support manifests in rivalries that continue to improve, shape, and make teammates stronger. Hinata swears to be the one to take Kageyama down, giving him some purpose to his play. Nishinoya wants Asahi to give his all and never feel sorry, even if fighting a losing battle. Sugawara understands his limited role thanks to Kageyama’s genius, but he always tries to observe from afar and apply reliable tricks to shake up Kageyama’s stiff repetition. Even Tsukishima and Oikawa verbally confront Kageyama to draw out the fire within themselves!

The Birth of a Real Squad

Haikyuu!! delivers exhilarating volleyball action and inspirational sportsmanship through positive vibes, overcoming failure, and teamwork. I purposefully stuck to this first season alone to highlight the beginnings of a real squad, not the end result. Why? Because it makes each of these team-building exercises all the more powerful. Take that feast scene from the end of episode 24 for instance: it is sometimes the moments of shared silence between team members that impact viewers more than dialogue ever could. The absence of dialogue here ironically speaks volumes about Karasuno’s relationships, emotions, and mutual feelings toward their latest match. Definitely my favorite hard-hitting scene from the entire season.

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At the same time, sometimes fiercely shouting our feelings out loud can be enough to convey those shared emotions with others, as show in the way Noya motivates the guys, or Kageyama and Hinata’s release of anger by blindly yelling in episode 25. These simple, even silly, moments are what bond squad members, their goals, aspirations, and frustrations alike. Karasuno still has a long way to go, but every step these crazy guys take together allows their friendships to evolve with them.

“Someone who can’t see the opponent standing right in front of him, can’t defeat the opponent that lies beyond!” — Hajime Iwaizumi, Aoba Josai vice captain

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Afterword

I’m surprised I didn’t enjoy this series more, as it’s literally everything that I should love about a good sports series all in one package. Looking at it honestly, it probably was Hinata and Kageyama’s characters that deterred my enjoyment a bit. I’ll still definitely recommend, though! To all those interested in an emotional sports comedy with a well-rounded albeit sometimes “too loud” cast, this one should be a must. Oh! And as with these OWLS posts, I didn’t even get to talk about the music and animation! I have completed the Yuuki Hayashi sports trilogy, in which this GOD composed the music for DIVE!!, Welcome to the Ballroom, and Haikyuu!!. He’s also done My Hero Academia, Death Parade, and Robotics;Notes, so yeah, total fave. I was sad when the first ED “Tenchi Gaeshi” by NICO Touches the Walls was replaced, as it was the best song IMO. Lastly, THIS is Production I.G’s powerhouse sports series, as the animation should not be missed! (Where was this quality when Ballroom was airing??)

I’m gleefully awarding Haikyuu!! season one with the “Cake” rating, a show that’s too sweet for its own good! NOW, fans of this beloved series, HIT ME UP WITH YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS FIRST SEASON OR THIS REVIEW IN THE COMMENTS (no spoilers, please)!! I’m very happy to have finally started this show, and though my “marathon” is running a bit slow, I am STOKED to watch more seasons!

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This concludes my March 22nd entry in the OWLS “Squad” blog tour. Shokamoka (Shokamoka’s Blog of Wonders) went right before me and stole my pick wrote about the currently airing A Place Further Than the Universe, which you can read right here (SO EXCITED FOR THIS)! Now, look out tomorrow for the one who got me hooked on this Haikyuu!! madness, Naja B. (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero), with No. 6one of my FAVORITE ANIME from when I first started (ahh, the memories) this Friday, March 23rd! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host