Magical Girl Raising Project: Being Irresistibly Drawn to Death | OWLS “Grotesque”

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  tenth monthly topic for 2018, “Grotesque,” I wanted to revel in the spooky fall festivities by cross-examining an unconventional magical girl throwback from 2016 with humanity’s intriguing obsession for death and the macabre. As someone interested in human behavior, it’s a fascinating area to study, and hopefully I’ll be able to make some science out of the magical!

In honor of Halloween, we will explore what we find vile and ugly in pop culture. For this month’s topic, OWLS bloggers will be exploring characters or aspects of the grotesque in a piece of media and how it is a metaphor or allegory for society, human nature, or some other philosophical or humane idea.

Heads-up! This post will dabble more into studying the human condition than evaluating the series itself. My personal thoughts? It’s a twisted little title with an engaging battle royale setup that turns out somewhat lackluster in the end but is still stupidly entertaining. Watch it. I liked it, and seeing as how we seem to be irresistibly drawn to that which is gruesome (even if for no apparent reason), you should like it to, right? riGhT??

Image result for magical girl raising project anime


A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 12-episode fall 2016 anime “Magical Girl Raising Project,” animated by Lerche, directed by Hiroyuki Hashimoto, and based on Asari Endou’s light novel series of the same name. This will also include a light historical context analysis on how pop culture and the media make a spectacle of death and gore.

Again, this will be SPOILER-FREE, so enjoy!

“You’ve been selected to become a magical girl, pon!”

Magical Girl Raising Project. It’s the latest fad to dominate the mobile game sphere, and it seems that every young girl and adult woman alike in N-City can’t seem to stop playing the app game. Jumping into combat with your sparkly avatar, beating up shadow beasts, collecting candies—it’s the closest thing they have to being a real life magical girl! For Koyuki Himekawa, however, the app offers more than a mere simulation. One day, she receives a peculiar notification from Fav, the game’s mascot, saying that she has been selected to become a real magical girl. Unknowing the full implications of their contract, she eagerly accepts the offer to become her adorable in-game avatar Snow White.

Image result for magical girl raising project anime screenshots fav

Gifted with the ability to transform at any time, Koyuki viewed her new life with a newfound optimism and excitement. That is, until the game admins sent out a startling notification claiming that “the number of magical girls in this region must be halved,” as the system couldn’t support the whopping 16 players who decided to take on the magical mission. The one to collect the least amount of Magical Candies—which are awarded for their magical girl activities—at the end of each week will lose their powers. But when a real-world tragedy befalls the first player to drop out, they find that their powers aren’t the only thing stripped from them.

As the magical girls perilously try to avoid their fate by cheating on their fellow players and throwing one another under the bus, the enigmatic Fav continues to add more twisted rules, forcing these young hearts to realize that what started off as a shining opportunity to help others has become a desperate struggle for their own lives.

Related image

I’ll be frank with y’all: the story suffers largely from its systematic approach to execution and trying to develop its immense cast within 12 short episodes. While not Juni Taisen levels of predictability (God, that show disappointed me so much), you can pretty much tell who’s gonna go next based on the placement of their backstory. Ahh yes, the it’s the typical “Here I am and now I’m gone!” approach to character writing. In the instances where the show is able to catch you by surprise, however, those are the thrilling moments when the entertainment value shines through. Call it underdeveloped, or rushed, or even lackluster at times (I mean, the ending could’ve at least been more intense), but to call it “boring” would be a great underestimation of its twisted imagination and off-the-walls fun characters.

Related image

From Wild-West to the Wicked and the Blessed

I can guess what stood out to you most—16 characters, right? Yeah, even for a battle royale that’s quite the large ensemble. Like they did with Danganronpa: The Animation and Assassination Classroom, Lerche was able to communicate the variety of personalities through unique dialogue patterns and intricate character designs. One of my fiendish favorites, the brazen and dangerous Calamity Mary, for instance, dons wild-west gunslinger apparel (boots, spurs, hats, tassels, leather, cow print, you get the picture). In the English dub, Mikaela Krantz even voices her with a low syrupy tone and a heavy southern accent. While I may not remember the specifics of her life before becoming a magical girl (as these important backstories are often rushed through in a couple minutes before their untimely demise), I will remember who she was and how she acted based on the distinctive character designs.

Image result for magicaloid44

A good pal of mine and genius essayist Irina wrote about my other favorite magical girl, the almighty, all-knowing QUEEN Ruler in a neat character analysis that I absolutely loved. She vouches for the same opinion that I do, in that “Raising Project isn’t perfect by any means but it certainly isn’t shallow. The writing is on point in many aspects.”

Although some characters look more put together with a theme than others (looking at you Swim Swim), I really enjoyed the diverse cast of tropes interacting on the battlefield: the sparkly one, the innocent one, the queen, the twins, the cowgirl rebel, the ninja, the witch, the badass protector, the nun, and even the freakin’ ROBOT. Some last longer than others, and some go out with a bigger bang while others exit the stage silently. A huge criticism many people have about the series is that the deaths feel too structured—I mean, we all know that someone’s gotta go by the end of each week, and the anime is true to its word. What this creates is a lack of empathy towards most of the girls and ultimately a mere “meh” or “aww that sucks, I liked her” when they die. More than anything, the show plays off these deaths as thrilling over depressing, and that got me wondering:

When did we become so fascinated with torturing little girls in anime to the point where it has dominated nearly every magical girl title in recent times? 

Image result for magical girl raising project gore

How Horror Works in the Mind

I took to Psychology Today for a bit of research on the topic, which led me to the article “Why Do We Like Watching Scary Films?” Briefly, it examines psychological horror at the cinema and how the genre works in the mind. When answering the question, author Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. quotes Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Utrecht, in a 2013 interview for IGN:

“People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice. You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you. That’s certainly true of people who go to entertainment products like horror films that have big effects. They want those effects . . . Even though they choose to watch these things, the images are still disturbing for many people. But people have the ability to pay attention as much or as little as they care to in order to control what effect it has on them, emotionally and otherwise.”

That last bit especially got me interested. He claims that we are the ones who choose our entertainment, and that we also have the ability to let the content affect us (in this case potentially scare us) based on how much we care to pay attention to the film. And I can see this as true—if I were to attend a scary movie and cover my eyes half the time (which I wouldn’t go to in the first place cause I’m a wimp), my desire would be that the film frightens me as little as possible.

Now, would the same apply to the film maker(s)? I mean, the director is essentially the one deciding how much gruesome content to put in front of our eyes, so if a series were nothing but moments of shock value (interspersed with some touching backstories, of course), wouldn’t that be what the director also cares about most in the series? Maybe seeing Madoka Magica receive immense fame gave him the idea to go all-out with the suffering. Besides, what’s more shocking to us anime fans than watching cutesy moe girls get massacred? Once one series showed us it could be done, everyone else wanted to do it too.

Related image

A 2004 article in the Journal of Media Psychology by Dr. Glenn Walters proposes that “the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unrealism.” In a 1994 study on disgust, college student participants found videos of real life horrors (like a cow slaughterhouse and a surgery involving removal of facial skin) to be incredibly disturbing. Yet many of these same individuals would think nothing of paying money to attend the premiere of a new horror film that had literally ten times more blood than what was present in the real-life documentaries! Why is that? It was posed by McCauley (1998) that:

The fictional nature of horror films affords viewers a sense of control by placing psychological distance between them and the violent acts they have witnessed. Most people who view horror movies understand that the filmed events are unreal, which furnishes them with psychological distance from the horror portrayed in the film.

Image result for mahou shoujo ikusei keikaku crying

Oh, so if we know it’s fake, it doesn’t inherently terrify us as much, despite blood and guts leaking all over the floor. I suppose that makes sense. Even I don’t see clowns as scary when I remember that they’re likely just unshaven middle-aged men dancing around in colorful costumes. But even if it’s fake, some people enjoy the thrill of being confronted by gruesome death because it’s an experience that, for the most part, it’s something available only in fiction, and fiction intrigues us. One last look at Dr. Dolf Zillman’s Excitation Transfer theory (ETT) offers this:

“Negative feelings created by horror movies actually intensify the positive feelings when the hero triumphs in the end. But what about movies where the hero doesn’t triumph?  . . . Some small studies have show that people’s enjoyment was actually higher during the scary parts of a horror film than it was after.”

Alright, so you’re saying that perhaps the scary parts of a horror film are more enjoyable than the rest of the film itself? That perhaps explains why pop culture hits like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and heck even Attack on Titan delight in killing off major characters in fantastical ways—During these “scary” parts, we find ourselves at peak enjoyment, and if the writers can capitalize on this enjoyment through constant narrative twists and turns, then the viewers will stay glued to their screens. But hold on a second . . .

Magical Girl Raising Project isn’t horror, not even close. It’s barely a thriller series at best. Fair point, but think about the content itself: Purposefully designed cute children under the innocent guise of “magical girls” get brutally slashed or decapitated NOT by the forces of evil, but by fellow magical girls. Tension caused by suspense; relevance caused by a magical girl’s fear for her own life; unrealism given that magical girls shouldn’t exist within our world or theirs . . . Doesn’t that mark MagiPro as gruesome as horror—as grotesque as horror? And how about this: The most grotesque part about it all is that as fans, most of us enjoyed watching this series. Sure it ranks in the 3000s on MAL, but a  7.11/10 could be implied that 7 out of 10 people liked this series—cute girls, competition, and all the bloodshed in between. 

Image result for magical girl raising project episode 12

At Least I Had Fun

Regardless of whether we should count MagiPro as a horror anime or an anime with horror elements, I did find myself enjoying it. A lot. Probably more than I should have. With each passing episode and character elegy, I truly found myself helplessly and irresistibly drawn to death. As more characters bit the bullet, I eagerly clicked on to see not necessarily who would survive, but rather who would fall out of the competition next. As unnecessarily dark and edgy, unnecessarily gruesome, and unnecessarily sophisticated as it tried to be, Magical Girl Raising Project won me over because it shamelessly played with death. And isn’t that the true spirit of the macabre?

Image result for mahou shoujo ikusei keikaku twins

“As a means of contrast with the sublime, the grotesque is, in our view, the richest source that nature can offer.”—Victor Hugo, French Poet


Afterword

Yikes, went on a bit of a ramble there with the research, but maybe you learned something new! Magical Girl Raising Project is an interesting title that has gotten me thinking more than it probably should, but hey, a series that has me reflecting this much over it has to be doing something right. MagiPro isn’t the darkest of its kin, but definitely one of the sweetest. Thus, I award the series with the “Cake” rating, and a recommendation to check it out if you enjoy the thrill of a decent survival game. Not sure if Crunchyroll has it, but Funimation’s got it all with an incredibly well-done English dub that just finished airing for your viewing pleasure! If you have seen this series, you definitely have to let me know what you thought about it (I need more MagiPro friends)!!

Image result for mahou shoujo ikusei keikaku

This concludes my October 19th entry in the OWLS “Grotesque” blog tour. Aria (Animanga Spellbook) went right before me with a nice and short post over the recently-aired Phantom in the Twilight that you should check out right here! Now, look out for Flow (Captain Nyanpasu)  this upcoming Monday, October 22nd! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Advertisements

Ebb & Flow: Taking Life Slowly With ARIA | OWLS “Self-Care”

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 for 2018, “Self-Care,” I kinda wanted to break away from my typically structured review + reflection post and do a bit of free-writing about my own mental health. (Although I do not have any mental health illnesses, I do know what it’s like to be incredibly busy under pressure.) And what better a way to pull back the reins on my recently-rushed and unmotivated life than with one of the most soothing, slow-moving anime about enjoying every second of the present—Aria The Animation.

In favor of positivity and good mental health, we will be exploring the importance of self-care. Sometimes, we are lost in our thoughts and emotions that it can cause a negative impact on our lifestyle and our relationships. We will be exploring the mental health of pop culture characters and how their mental health affects their environments. We will explore the dangers of mental health illnesses and how it might lead to self-destruction and/or how one has the power to overcome their demons. In addition, we will share our personal stories and struggles about mental health and discuss positive ways in handling mental health issues.

Rather than gazing straight into the mindset of mental health, I’d like to flip the topic inside-out a bit and show how the environment affects mental health instead—specifically, how we can shape our mindsets to ease tension and better our lives. Thanks Lyn for the topic!

Related image


A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 13-episode fall 2005 anime “Aria The Animation,” Hal Film Maker, directed by Junichi Satou, and based on Kozue Amano’s manga of the same name. This will also include a glimpse into my life, and how “Aria”  provides healing to those who need it. 

Tired, Stressed, & Tired of Being Stressed

If you came to my blog two years ago, you would’ve found it abundant with reviews and updates, and rich with a comments section that was always in full-swing. My my! That’s a bit hard to believe considering that within the past couple months, I would go weeks at a time without posting so much as a peep into what’s going on, save for the monthly OWLS post (like this one, which would go out, and then I would hibernate again). “What brought you to this level of stagnation,” you might ask? My need to write about every single series that I finished, rather than just the ones I really wanted to talk about, became a ritual that crushed my motivation. Even just thinking about all the shows I’ve missed coverage on from these past couple seasons makes my stomach hurt a bit.

Not only did I consider dismissing writing reviews, but I also wanted a break from blogging. Just a short one. It didn’t even have to be announced, and so I didn’t announce it. But once you have a small taste of “freedom” (even though I love blogging), all you want is more of it. And so one week became two, two became three, and so on.

Image result for aria the animation  president aria sad

It didn’t help that my life always seemed to be swatting my blog away This past summer, I worked two jobs simultaneously and was busy with music-related things on the side. Now, I am a full-time student at university (a sophomore, to be exact) clocking in 18 hours, including a position as a student success coach (I work with freshmen during their first year experience), ALL of my never-ending music nonsense (which keeps me as busy as a year-round sport would), and a part-time job. I tease myself (and am teased by others) for being generally lazy and procrastinating, but to call myself “inactive” would be far from the truth.

By 8 in the morning I’m at school, and I don’t get home until about 3 . . . only to go into work most days at 4 or 6 in the evening and return home at around 9:30 pm. After homework, I watch an episode or two of whatever I’m following this season, then go to bed at around midnight. Call it me complaining about how stupid my schedule is, but I thought telling you all about my life would help you understand why I’m constantly tired, stressed, and tired of being stressed. To top it all off, my OWLS deadline was approaching rapidly, and I had NO IDEA what to focus on. That’s where the self-care part comes in—when a package arrived on my doorstep one monotonous, unsuspecting day.

Image result for aria the animation

And Along Came Aria

I actually watched Aria’s first season back in the summer of 2017 in a mad dash to justify whether or not I should participate in RightStuf and Nozomi’s Kickstarter campaign for a dub and Blu-ray release of the property. Safe to say that, even though I didn’t enjoy it to its fullest potential during my initial rushed watch, the first season alone was enough to tell me that I’d enjoy everything the franchise had to offer. So I pledged heftily at the Prima Tier and a year later . . .

My Kickstarter awards arrived on my doorstep just last week. As I sifted through the box of goodies—which I will share in an upcoming post—I instantly recalled the calming allure of Aria. Eagerly and impulsively, I plugged the first disc in, feeling a rush of utter wonder and joy at hearing this year-long project payoff in the form of its fantastic English dub cast. From Choro Club’s vibrant yet chill acoustic soundtrack to the flowing canals and charming watercolor artistry of Neo Venezia, I was reminded of not only how much I loved Aria, but intriguingly, how much I truly needed it in that moment.

For just 20 minutes, I had blocked out the world and my obligations to truly enjoy time to myself, and it was wonderful. Then it hit me: “Aria. I could talk about Aria, and how slowing down is the first step to understanding self-care,” which brings me to now, and the last part of my short little story.

Image result for Aria

Finding Inspiration Starts with Slowing Down

During these past six or so months, I have struggled with finding the inspiration to write. I think it’s no use hiding it anymore, for if I truly loved blogging I would make the time to do it. I constantly got behind on comments and reviews, and it seemed like the only game I was playing was the “Catch-Up Game” (of which I am STILL a major loser, haha). Everyone around me would be celebrating the now, while I was reflecting on then, and I felt kinda lonely.

But I think my biggest fault lies with my understanding of inspiration. Previously, I would try to forcibly (and desparately) “jump start” my inspiration by traveling down nostalgia lane with older titles I love ( like rewatching Negima!?, Danganronpa, and yes, ALL of FMAB) or reading/watching from people who used to inspire me in the past. Is this something only I do?? I treated inspiration as a source, tapping into all of my resources that had already gone dry long ago, and in the end I just grew sad at how things used to be and what they’ve become. (Call me a romantic, or just depressed.)

After taking all this time off, however, I learned that inspiration is not a source, but a wave—an ebb and a flow that comes, and eventually goes. As frustrated as I became with my lack of passion, I first had to accept the fact I was experiencing a lull. With my last post, everything came to a halt, and I left the keyboard until the wave washed upon my aching feet once again.

And then along came Aria, a show that is as healing as the so-called “Iyashikei” genre gets. Heck, you could call it one of the firsts. Quiet, episodic, and slow enough to thoroughly enjoy the scenic gondola ride, Aria is warm soup for the soul. In rewatching Aria, my heart beat physically slowed down, and I found myself incredibly contented and, finally, relaxed.

Image result for aria the animation 1 話

You need time to relax in order to recharge.Alicia

As Inexplicably Wondrous as it is Wonderful

Aria is unique because it takes sci-fi from a very mellow perspective. Messing with gravity, terraforming Mars, and unexpectedly waltzing through time holes into the long-lost past would leave viewers watching any other show confused and questioning all the plot holes. But with Aria, it works because the science fiction elements are just devices that lead us to understanding the bigger picture: What it means to enjoy life and all that it has to offer. The same applies to the element of drama in Aria—situations never get too intense or bitterly poignant because, as Aika would always remark, “NO SAPPY LINES ALLOWED!”

In many ways, Aria is a prime example of how magical realism can construct characters with very much real emotions and tell stories about them living in a world that is as inexplicably wondrous as it is wonderful. Every single minute of the series is filled with simple expressions of love, and as the seasons roll by, we see that how we live our lives must change, too. By being able to slow down and assess how the world outside is changing us from within, we can better understand how to take care of ourselves.

Slowing down between all the busy, anxiety-filled moments in my life allowed me to rediscover my inspiration. Slowing down allowed me to admire the little things I missed out on. And most of all, slowing down allowed me to remember that the things I can do here, on this blog, truly are enjoyable—I just need to take the gondola ride at my own pace, and remember that everything will be alright in the end.

Image result for Animated film

Take whatever comes and change it inside yourself. Make everything something you enjoy . . . It’s truly such a simple thing, to enjoy what you do. But everyone always seems to forget it. — “Grandma”


Afterword

Rewatching this “Caffe Mocha” title and writing this reflection post was one of the best things to happen to me all year. It won’t go down as one of my most professional posts, but I’ll be able to look back on it as a snapshot of my emotions—how and why I felt the way I did, exactly at this time. And that is one of the greatest joys of blogging, to be able to archive moments like these and share them with others, good times and not-so-hot times alike. After writing this, I’m actually really looking forward to the next post, and the one after that, too! As Aria would say, “Thank you for spending this wonderful moment, together!”

Image result for aria the animation dvd

This concludes my September 14th entry in the OWLS “Self-Care” blog tour. Matt Doyle (Matt Doyle Media) went right before me with his own insightful, cautionary tale on hitting rock bottom which you can read right here. (That makes two of us for this tour, buddy!) Now, look out for blogger buddy (and one of my own inspirations) Lita (Lita Anime Corner) on Saturday, September 15th! Thanks for reading, and until next time, take it easy on yourself!

– Takuto, your host

From the New World: Through Horror, Calamity, & the Truth | OWLS “Journey”

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 eighth monthly topic for 2018, “Journey,” I definitely wanted to hone my focus on one of anime’s true bests. Originally intended to be a post on Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (since I had just finished rewatching it and it’s not everyday you can say “I managed to fit in a rewatch of a 64-episode show!”), another fellow OWLS member snatched it up for the taking. I know she’ll do a nice job over it though, and that makes me very excited!

Anyway, that’s why I ended up going with another series I just happened to be rewatching with my siblings: Shinsekai Yori or From the New World, a bizarre dystopian sci-fi/fantasy series that I actually covered way back in, what, 2015? You can read my fresh, immature thoughts over the series here if you enjoy the prospect of knowing what young Takuto was like! *shudders as a single tear falls down face*

We have all heard this saying in some shape or form: “Life is a journey.” We travel down a path hoping that we reach a goal or destination, but the travel in getting there isn’t always easy. Along the way, we encounter some personal struggles. It is in those moments where we must overcome an adversity to complete our journey or take a different route or path instead. In this month’s OWLS post, we will be discussing the personal journeys of pop culture creators, icons, and characters. We will explore the journeys that these characters went through, discuss the process and experiences they had on their journeys, acknowledge what they discover about themselves, or share our own personal journeys.

Seeing as how I’ve already covered the series before, this won’t be my typical review and life reflection 2-in-1 post. Instead, I’ll dive straight into the heart of the matter and dedicate this entire analytical post toward the story’s main character, a girl whom we follow from the youth of adolescence to the ripe ages of adulthood—and all the messiness in between. Thanks Mel for the adventurous prompt this month, and Lyn for turning such a simple word into a universe of thought worth exploring!

kids.jpeg


A brief discussion on the 25-episode fall 2012 anime “From the New World,” animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Masashi Ishihama, and based on Yusuke Kishi’s novel of the same name. Specifically, this will be a light character essay on the main female lead, Saki Watanabe. What she learns over the course of her journey—and more importantly, what she does with this new, scary knowledge—stands as attest to both humanity’s innate barbarity and its determination to pursue justice through truth—even if the truth can be the cruelest thing of all. 

Spoilers will be marked, although you should just do yourself a favor and watch this series!

A Preface to the Madness

Shinsekai Yori tells the unique coming-of-age story of Saki and her friends as they journey to grow into their roles in the supposed utopia. Accepting these roles, however, might not come easy when faced with the dark and shocking truths of society, and the impending havoc born from the new world.

(Source: MyAnimeList)

violet skies.png

Adolescence

Rules, Roles, Law and Order, Crime and Punishment


We open this story of a young girl and her five precious friends growing up in the 31st century with the induction of Saki Watanabe into society. Her psychic powers are sealed away only to be released back to her a moment later, perhaps to prove that the Ethics and Education Committees had absolute control of the average citizen’s entire life from the start. Made up by select adult village members of Kamisu 66 and the surrounding areas, these councils govern not only the flow of power, but of knowledge, too. A small population living in an idyllic area holding power above all, culling the weakest in education, and secretly disposing any child that failed to fit the mold—that was the true reality. While times were peaceful then, fear still snuck its way into Saki’s heart when one of her friends suddenly disappeared one day. “She was always a bit frail. Maybe the trickster cat got her?” Thus began Saki’s series of revelations, heartache, and confusion in the dark.

Rather than a sci-fi action show about revolution or a drama full of romance, From the New World is more a commentary on the fallacies of conservatism and how a society can actually be harmed by perpetuation and stagnation. This first arc happily entertains us with games of clay rollers and paper dolls, but also frightens us with things we do not know, cannot explain, and cannot comprehend, much like what we experience during childhood. “If only I had known ‘this,’ or if only I had prevented ‘that’ none of this would’ve happened.” A story told in flashback as a first person narrative, Saki reflects on how painful her youth really was now that she knows the truths surrounding her innocent circumstance.

meeting squealer.PNG

The foreshadowing builds when Saki and the rest of Group One (comprised of her closest friends, the other main characters) venture off the main path into forbidden territory during a school camping trip. Together, they enjoy their friendship and freedom, rowing past the safe areas in search of monsters, but what they find is much worse than what they imagined: a False Minoshiro, a walking digital library of information disguised as a creature of nature. At the children’s’ threatening request, the False Minoshiro leaks startling info regarding the world around them, such as how their society came to be and the violence and bloodshed humanity had encountered in the past millennium. Scarred and left in utter disbelief, the oriented narrative of history proves itself a guiding theme through this shocking discovery.

Then, the hero descends into the underworld; a clan of monster rats, a lower race of rat people that look up to humans as gods for their incredible powers, captures Saki and Satoru. And as fate would have it, it was there in that forest where they met Squealer, a pathetic little monster rat who spoke their language and helped them escape. Setting the groundwork for everything to come, adult Saki closes out the adolescence arc reminiscing on their ill-fated meeting not with anger and hatred, but a bitter regret for her own ignorance.

saki confronts squealer.PNG

The Teenage Years

Independence, Self-Advancement, Personality, Free Will


Beginning with scenes of teenagers of the same gender holding hands and openly making out on the grass, this next arc ushers in new emotions besides fear: deceit, desire, malice, envy, lust, and love. Just as the False Minoshiro predicted, humans, like their genetic chimpanzee counterparts the bonobos, seek passionate love as a coping mechanism for immense stress relief, hence the sudden changes in behavior. This sexual awakening causes Saki’s inner love and admiration for her friend Maria to develop into a serious relationship; the same goes for Satoru and Shun, and poor Mamoru is left out with unrequited feelings for Maria, ultimately leading to the group’s self-destruction.

– SPOILERS AHEAD – 

Hiding his inability to accurately control his psychic powers, Shun transforms into a karmic demon, or runaway esper, and meets his fate like how the adults taught them to in school: solitary confinement and suicide. His sacrifice saves civilization, but Saki and Satoru are left broken with voids echoing in their hearts. Sometimes we get left behind—but what’s worse is when we have to leave behind others.

maria and mamoru run away.jpg

Despite practicing using his psychic powers every day in hopes of both not falling behind the others and getting Maria’s attention, Mamoru’s efforts are not enough. He flees the village, knowing full well that two visits by the trickster cat means certain death. Terrifying thoughts of his well-being race through Group One’s minds, and although they find him salvaged from the snow by a wild monster rat, they know that the matter of simply returning him to the village is out of the question. Bidding farewell, Maria promises to watch over Mamoru in the unknown icy landscape, and the pain of being away from Maria devastates Saki. Did Mamoru let society down, or did society let him down? Saki’s ironclad resolve to change her world begins to take shape—something must be done.

– END OF SPOILERS – 

To top it all off, prior to Mamoru’s departure Saki is met by the mentor, the head of the Ethics Committee (and Satoru’s grandmother) Tomiko Asahina, who shielded Saki and her friends from disposal by the Education Committee for knowing about their true history. Eyeing Saki for her strong mental stability as well as qualities of a leader, Tomiko seeks Saki as her successor. But Tomiko’s knowledge of humanity’s history timed with the revelation as to her sudden memory loss leaves Saki beyond disturbed. Torn between doing what was best for her people, herself, and her long-lost friends, Saki’s youthful days came to an end with the return of an old acquaintance . . .

saki and tomiko.jpg

Adulthood

Interdependence, Empathy, Intimacy, Self-Awareness, Wise Counsel


– SPOILERS AHEAD – 

Squealer, now the self-proclaimed Yakomaru, has elevated in status from lowly Robber Fly Colony slave to its commander. With their clan’s queen shackled and practically imprisoned, Yakomaru was able to set up a two-house diet similar to humanity’s government. He deceived other clans and conquered them, subverting his intentions when questioned by the board of monster rat management, of which Saki now belongs. His armies were massive, his weapons were civilized, and his speech was greatly improved. In other words, he was ready for his next target.

– END OF SPOILERS – 

By this point, we, along with Saki, had borne witness to humanity’s miracles and carnage alike. At last, we’d understood that rebellious and reformative elements are the biggest interior threats, and that exploitation of those perceived as inferior beings is a grave and serious crime. We’d been tricked time and time again by Squealer, but were we doomed to repeat what our elders did before us? What had we learned? What made this time different?

Joy and sorrow. Loss and loneliness.

Palpitation and stagnation. History and evolution.

Past and future. Death and rebirth. Fear and freedom.

But above all, we’ve understood that to feign ignorance is the greatest crime of all. We can’t keep blaming people for their shortcomings, but instead should help guide them in becoming better. Corruption breeds from within when we close off our minds and our hearts to new peoples and ideas, and while we are weak when we are desperate, we are strong when it counts. People are twisted, easily corrupted, and worst of all, easily scared. To tear the world apart is easy; to put it all back together, not so much—that is what I’ve learned from Saki’s journey.

adult saki.PNG

A Journey Through Horror and Calamity

“It is always darkest underneath the lamp.” — Old Proverb


Together, we’ve embarked on one of the greatest journeys ever conceived, and I believe it is such because, at its core, From the New World is the story of humanity. Of us, and the terrible, absolutely horrifying things we have done and will continue to do should we look away from the truth. Often, it is closer than we think. Maria once told Saki that “Sometimes, the truth is the cruelest thing of all,” and that “Not everyone could bear it” as easily as she did. Oh, how right she was.

retrospective saki.jpg

And now here we are, at the end of the madness and frustration with little chance of success, yet still a sliver of hope. To kill, or to be killed—that and so much more is the subject of the final episode, and I’ll save the rest of it for you to discover on your own. Culminating into a genius story of fearing the unknown and the darkness within us all, From the New World comes right out and says “The one we should be most afraid of is ourselves.” I hope both its sheer violent nature and resounding messages of hope will stick with you, too, for a long time to come. Because this one’s not just an anime—it is a lesson on the human spirit: a cautionary tale for all those in life we change, and all those who change us.

“We have to change our way of thinking if we really want to change the future.” And to those ends, we must safeguard our hearts with an imagination great enough to change everything.

shun.png

Imagination has the power to change everything.Final line of From the New World


Afterword

I had to leave out SO MUCH STUFF in order to make it suitable for all readers, and even then, I couldn’t explain some of Saki’s developments without mentioning a couple major spoilers! Sheesh! I’ll never win. Anyway, that’s From the New World in a nutshell . . . NOT. There’s so much more to this incredible masterpiece, and I do hope you get around to this 25-episode thrill ride some day. I’d love to read any of your thoughts about this post in the comments, and if you have seen From the New World, you ought to let me know what you thought of the series! This post is absolute PROOF that I could go on forever about how great it truly is, and how phenomenal Saki is as a protagonist! Seriously, it was such a pleasure getting to revisit this hauntingly beautiful title.

shinsekai yori.PNG

This concludes my August 7th entry in the OWLS “Journey” blog tour. Shay (Anime Reviewer Girl) went right before me with a video about the adventurous spirit of the Pokemon franchise which you can watch right here! Now, look out for blogger buddy  Matthew Castillo (Matt-in-the-Hat) with a post on Naruto‘s Jiraiya this Thursday, August 9th! Thanks for reading such a long post, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

The Royal Tutor: A Heartfelt Lesson on Judgement | OWLS “Mentor”

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 seventh monthly topic for 2018, “Mentor,” I wanted to broaden my horizons into the shoujo genre like I did last month . . . only to find out while writing this that The Royal Tutor is somehow labeled under the shounen catageory. Still, I enjoyed the efforts of Grannzreich’s latest royal tutor as he set out to shape up the country’s four princes into well-rounded individuals fit for the crown. How exactly he accomplished such a daunting task is what makes him a perfect fit for this month’s topic!

Throughout our lives, we might have encountered someone that we admired as a role model or has guided us in some life dilemma. This mentor could be a teacher at school, a coach, a boss or team leader at work, or a family friend. Whoever it is, that person impacted your life in a positive manner. For this month’s OWLS topic, we will be writing about mentors or mentorships in anime and other pop culture media. Some topics we will be exploring include how a mentorship impacted a main character’s life, the types of mentor relationships a person could have, and/or personal stories about mentors or mentorships.

I had only recently crossed paths with The Royal Tutor, so it’s exciting to freshen up my palette with something I would normally not have watched. Thanks Z and Lyn for the prompt!

chibi.png


A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 12-episode spring 2017 anime “The Royal Tutor,” animated by Bridge, directed by Katsuya Kikuchi, and based on Higasa Akai’s manga of the same name. 

The Royal Court Requests Your Presence

The King of Grannzreich currently fathers five sons, four of which in desperate need of tutelage should they need to assume the throne. There’s Licht, the flirtatious, most free-spirited, and youngest prince; his dimwitted, hotheaded older brother Leonhard; Bruno the studious yet close-minded third prince; and Kai, the most reserved and oldest of the four with a RBF so intense that he scares even his hand-servants away. All of them want the throne, badly, but their collective inability to overcome their individual shortcomings prevents them from receiving their father’s approval.

After having many tutors come and gone—all deemed failures either because they ran out or were run out of the palace by the princes themselves—the king turned to an old acquaintance, the equally charming and austere Heine Wittgenstein, for the massive and intimidating undertaking of properly educating his sons. But as it happens in the royal family, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, and Heine finds dark memories of his past resurfacing in the present. Nothing shalt shake the brilliant Heine Wittgenstein, however, for despite his incredibly short, childlike stature, the new royal tutor’s ability to command respect and diligence from all of his pupils is the exact reason King Victor von Grannzreich hired him in the first place.

heine.jpg

Educating royalty might not sound like a very interesting concept for some, but with comedy as the main genre The Royal Tutor is tossed into, one can only imagine the hilarity that ensues when a tiny teacher cracks a whip on a spoiled, blond-haired twat for not knowing what 2 + 2 is. After the four princes are forced to understand that Heine is NOT going to give up on them, episode by episode, the royal tutor works one-on-one with their majesties. While some princes are easier to coerce than others, Heine remains determined to give them each the same amount of time together. This establishes a mutual respect boundary between teacher and student, as well as fellow students (or in this case, brothers).

In their private lessons, Heine systematically pulls the princes to their lowest lows, never failing to offer fascinating and invaluable advice on the human spirit. Heine, simply put, is an inspiration to the boys. Slowly but surely, the Grannzreich princes warm up to Heine, and as the royal family’s name continues to face false accusations and scandalizations via some shady wealthy individuals in the kingdom, the princes must come to Heine’s aid in turn to protect not only his name but their own. From beginning to end, the plot offers a pleasant ride which nicely works in serious moments of character growth (the show’s most noteworthy feature) and the slapstick, slice-of-life comedy in all its chibified glory.

Such wonderful balance could only be obtained in a show like Ouran High School Host Club—And in fact, between the on-par voice acting and similar art style, I’d go so far as to call this anime Ouran‘s spiritual successor! Trust me, there’s a high chance that if you liked that ritzy ditzy cast, you’ll definitely *KISS KISS* fall in love with this one too!!

twinkle twinkle.jpeg

Teacher and Student

While I’d like to say the series’s “best boy” is Heine himself, until the very end, he mostly acts as a device to push other characters toward development. Even after everything’s said and done, we only know a bit about his childhood, and that he’s been the leader type since. He’s also strict, but true to his word; credit is given only where credit is due. Though pint-sized, Heine is still a moving, breathing source of inspiration, and if his grand speech in the finale episode, “The Last Lesson,” didn’t move you to tears, I’m honestly not sure what will. Having watched Funimation’s English dub, I can confirm that this is both one of Micah Solusod’s funniest characters (what with the hilariously low register for such a lil’ fella) and, despite Heine’s apathetic yet articulate tone, most poignant, eloquent roles.

The same glowing things could be said about the rest of the cast. I love the spoiled Licht’s endeavor to try living a humble life, as well as his charisma and resistance on not letting being the youngest hold him back. Not gonna lie, VA Stephen Sanders has a weird voice, but it fits Licht’s flashier side well enough. Fourth prince Leonhard struggles wanting to study hard to be like his brothers, to which I’m sure we can all relate. Leo’s whiny, bratty personality but inner goodwill can be felt thanks to Alejandro Saab’s great (and very high-pitched, wow) voice acting.

Third prince Bruno was the real surprise, as I normally don’t care for the megane characters. But here we are, with the studious and esteemed Bruno as best boy, and VA Christopher Wehkamp as the one who brought this Heine fanboy to life. Lastly, second prince Kai is, well, Kai. Rumored to be violent, but actually has hands gentler and more caring than all in the land. For all those low, billowing grunts and one-liners, Daman Mills gets the job done.

time to clean.png

Genius vs. the fruits of hard work; personal enjoyment and satisfaction vs. maintaining one’s line to the thrown. As a prince in the line of succession, such sacrifices are bound to be made. But with knowing that they likely won’t become king because their eldest brother, the elusive first prince, is already the perfect candidate, does sacred duty really come before broadening horizons outside the palace? That’s what Heine is here to mentor us and the four princes through, and it is for that reason that I thoroughly enjoyed this series of personal conflicts and inferiority complexes galore.

Adding Charm with a Splash of Color

Briefly, I wanted to mention the beautiful animation by Bridge, a studio that hasn’t done too much beyond helping with Fairy Tail (2014) and a couple game-to-anime adaptations. First, Heine’s dud mode, and how The Royal Tutor switches between chibified comedy and serious bishounens with incredible ease! Next, the unique lighting, something which I guarantee not many mention. While most anime define shadows as darker hues of the same color or just with a flat gray color, studio Bridge highlights skin and clothes with blues, reds, pinks, oranges, whatever the color depending on how light would logically reflect on brightly colored interior palace walls and long, draping curtains. The boys already had glittery eyes and pretty ombre blends in their hair, and this added color gave the anime additional charm, not that it needed it. The highlights match wonderfully with the innate palace couches, gold leaf embellishments, and stunning wall and carpet patterns. Bridge has absolutely convinced me that these men do, in fact, live the royal life.

four princes f

Also lovely is the light piano music that can be felt during the tender moments. Keiji Inai’s (DanMachi) whole soundtrack, in fact, feels inspired by classical music, another nod to this literally being Host Club‘s spiritual successor. Fanciful, flowing, and grand—a perfect fit for our princes!

Heine’s Lessons & Learning How to be Human

At the end of each day, Heine Wittgenstein offers a brilliant and breathtaking lesson on the human spirit. So what better for an OWLS “Mentor” post than to showcase the words of the wise straight from the royal tutor’s mouth!

time for a lesson.jpeg


Licht’s devilish charm and desire to entertain his lady-friends constantly pushes him to lead two separate lives. Thus, Heine teaches him about the duality of man, and how he can be both a prince and a gentleman so long as he learns to prioritize his own safety.

Always remember, before quitting something you want to do, you should always explore alternative solutions.

 

A king must lead with compassion without discrimination. He must be one who always hears his people, no matter the circumstance, as well as want everyone to follow their ambitions and enjoy their freedom.

Image result for The Royal Tutor

Leonhard always stumbles where intellect is concerned, but makes up for this shortcoming with mad athletic skills. He holds himself to a higher standard because of his inability to learn new subjects, and flees when things get rough. As a result, Heine puts Leo through test after test, threatening him with the separation of teacher and student, friend and friend, as the ultimate motivator to learn.

Those who recognize their own vulnerability can grow to be stouthearted souls who are kind and sensitive to the pain of other people. Running away may seem like a solution, but has it ever made your heart feel lighter? Hiding from your problems will not make them go away.

 

A king must lead with powerful imagination. He should act with compassion, and reach out to people in need. To want to live in a country where we all help each other is an honorable thing indeed.

leonhard.PNG

Meanwhile, Bruno is just about as princely as one can get, but he lacks that extra lick of creativity that his brothers possess, forcing him to work harder all the time to overcome this imperfection. Even then, he’s still so smart—any university would be lucky to have a guy like Bruno! Unlike Licht or Leonhard, his options are infinite. Like a master should, Heine remind Bruno that we only get one life, and that we must choose what is best for us.

You only have one life and it’s yours alone, so live it as you please because it’s the only one you’re going to get. 

 

A king must lead with acumen and expertise. He must possess a wealth of information. There will be a time when people will go down the wrong path, but no mistakes happen–he should believe in second chances, not punishing them for the sins of their past.

Image result for bruno the royal tutor

Lastly, for the reclusive Prince Kai, Heine tells him of humanity’s kindness, and that, should he express generosity and affection to his subjects, his people will return such warmth in full.

Everyone has a different personality. Some won’t like you no matter how polite you are to them. It’s not all bad. That also means that there are plenty of people who will like you quite a bit. This world is very big. Do not deprive yourself of people who will understand and care for you. 

 

A king must never surrender his overwhelming heart. The misunderstood should not lose hope, for he shall be a king that all the people will adore. This chronicles the lessons taught by Heine, amongst many more untold.

Image result for kai from the royal tutor

A Tutor for All Ages, a Lesson for All Time

Make no mistake, The Royal Tutor is a very fun show. Its comedic timing is great, and its charismatic characters are full of personality. That said, this series also dabbles into several valuable lessons we all take for granted. From beginning to end, The Royal Tutor offers well-rounded, wholesome episodes that are filled to the brim with simple life advice. The boys are pretty, and the fujoshi crowd will love it, but . . . beyond looks, it’s a show about not judging people based on first impressions alone, as well as helping those with needs unlike most others by building a personal relationship with them and helping them grow as potential leaders. If ever you need a pick-me-up, Heine Wittgenstein, the royal tutor, has always got the time for a private lesson with you—just make sure you are prepared to learn.

IMG_6013.jpeg

Instead of judging others based on rumors and gossip, I must seek the answers for myself and arrive at my own conclusions. One must never think they know someone after little to no time with them, and so I must begin again. With every fresh start comes a new beginning.—Heine Wittgenstein


Afterword

I came into this show just in time, for a second season of The Royal Tutor was just announced not too long ago! Like Prince Leonhard’s rich and savory sachertorte, I, too, shall award this first season with the “Cake” rating, a show too sweet to miss out on! Have you seen The Royal Tutor? Who’s your favorite prince?? You’ll have to let me know what you thought about the series or this OWLS post in the comments!

poster.jpg

This concludes my July 24th entry in the OWLS “Mentor” blog tour. Gloria (The Nerdy Girl News) went right before me with a post about learning to live again in The Ancient Magus’ Bride, a series that I really ought to watch! Now, look out for blogger buddy Hazel (Archi-Anime) with a post on Ace of Diamond, a sports anime that I’ve also been longing to watch, tomorrow, July 25th (it’s also her birthday, so give her a shoutout)! Thanks for reading such a long post, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

A Sister’s All You Need: The Perverted Life of a Light Novelist | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode fall 2017 anime “A Sister’s All You Need.,” animated by Silver Link., directed by Shin Oonuma, and based on Yomi Hirasaka’s light novel series of the same name.

nayu and itsuki.png


A Hilarious Glimpse into Light Novel Culture

Arrogant, foolish, and always fighting his editor for procrastinating on deadlines, Itsuki Hashima is a light novelist in modern day Japan whose obsession with little sisters constantly finds its way into his stories. Despite his problematic personality and siscon fixation, the single 20-year-old author has garnered a tight circle of friends: Nayuta Kani, a young genius novelist yet grossly perverted girl who’s head-over-heels for Itsuki; Haruto Fuwa, a fellow male light novelist who frequently sees success with his series; Miyako Shirakawa, a friendly girl Itsuki met during his brief time in college; and Chihiro, his LITERALLY PERFECT younger step-brother who comes over on occasion and takes care of the housework and cooking.

Together, this oddball batch of young adults play strange (and fun) games, flee on spontaneous journeys across Japan, crack horny jokes, and celebrate each other’s successes with alcohol abound. Just as how work is full of ups and downs, however, each of these hesitant individuals must eventually deal with their own set of headaches, whether that’s battling the next deadline or deciding what one truly wants to do with their life.

itsuki

The overarching story of A Sister’s All You Need is simple: watching Itsuki and his friends find success with their work. Almost episodic in a sense, we follow these struggling authors through severe cases of writer’s block, the rare advent of dealing with another’s prosperity, and of course, deadlines. How each of them tackle these various problems speak volumes about their characters; Itsuki escapes to cultural hot spots around the country as sources of inspiration for his siscon trope story, while Nayuta gets her writer’s high from, well, “feeling up” another girl’s naked body, usually Miyako’s. (Yep, the wildly perverse girl, definitely a light novel staple.) Either way, they seek out their creative boosts by reminding themselves of their, errm, other passions, and that’s where the comedy (or enlightenment) ensues.

Full of meta humor for being a light novel adaptation about writing light novels, the series offers an fascinating social commentary on light novel culture, what it has become, and a parody of what its audacious authors must be like. (Cause all light novelists must’ve walked in on a girl who’s stepped out of the shower, baring it all, and got kicked in the nut sack for it, right?) It’s a series full of light novel tropes ironically about writing light novel tropes, and while it sounds dumb, the characters—when they want to be endearing—somehow make it work.

haruto.PNG

A Group of Friends is All You Need

I’m going to start by writing that I love these characters. They’ve got such rare, humorous chemistry together, and only when Itsuki’s apartment was full was I thoroughly entertained. That said, Itsuki is an incredible narcissist and resident little shit while Nayu is practically a whore. Any chance he gets, he shamelessly plugs his pitiful writing in conversation (usually while in a drunken storm), and Nayu? Well, she strips down. With her, it’s always boobs, butts, and dicks [insert me still giggling like a middle school boy]. It’s repetitive, almost obnoxious, and STILL, I thought they were fun characters. I adored having the shy and typically out-of-the-loop Miyako play the straight man (woman?), and I got a kick out of Haruto’s “online gay facade to attract more female fans” charade. It was all so funny to me—THEY are all so funny to me—and although the comedic gags are dumb, I still enjoyed our time spent laughing in Itsuki’s little apartment immensely.

Beyond the pervy foreplay and dick jokes, this series’s characters are some of the best of its kind: Haruto is a hard worker battling on the same front as his talented friends; Nayu is a gifted writer seeking a more personal connection beyond words on a page; Miyako is starting to find herself by venturing out of her comfort zone; and Itsuki still yearns for . . . a little sister? No, hardly. All he needs is a good group of friends, and fortunately for him, he’s already got that.

IMG_5930

There’s NO WAY These Guys Are “Adults”

Is it just me, or do all of the characters in a Silver Link. work look like they’re ten years old?  Apologies, random point there, but the cute, underaged character designs continue in A Sister’s All You Need. Despite being a series about adults surviving on their own (except for Nayu, age 18, and Chihiro, age 16), all of the characters look like they could still be in high school. Itsuki, who is supposed to be 20, looks like a friggin’ middle school boy, and Haruto doesn’t look a day over 16 himself despite being Itsuki’s 22 year-old friend/rival. TWENTY-TWO YEARS OLD GUYS. And it’s even more conflicting when these full-blown “young adults” start going off on wildly inappropriate and lewd discussions about, well, whatever it is that gets light novelists going.

IMG_5130.jpeg

Although the visuals might disappoint adult viewers anticipating a cast of accurate-looking adults, the art style is still nice and easy on the eyes, even if the balance between seriousness and comedy looks very inconsistent at times. (I swear, there is never “one” Itsuki, as he looks different in every frame.) On the subject of comedy, each of the tabletop games the cast play are visualized in unique styles to bring them to life. Also, all of the games they play ARE, in fact, REAL board and card games, which is awesome! I love how a group of authors play such creatively-stimulating games—it makes the life of a light novelist feel all the more real! As you can expect, I ended up buying and introducing the storytelling card game “Once Upon A Time” to my own friends, and while it requires a good amount of mental stamina, it is tons of fun.

rpg.png

For the English voice cast, VA Stephen Fu overwhelmingly excels at bringing Itsuki’s narcissistic charm and asinine snarkiness to life. (Seriously, why don’t we hear from this guy more often??) While sounding a bit too old for Nayu’s character, I can’t think of anyone better than Jamie Marchi to make those insatiable lines just roll of the tongue. While I think Sara Ragsdale’s voice is not as full and confident as I’d like, I did find her extreme timidness here appropriate. And of course, it’s always nice to hear Eric Vale lay down some smack as Itsuki’s nagging editor, Kenjirou Toki.

Finding the Inspiration to Write Through Friendship

Underneath all its abundant layers of lewd nakedness, somehow, there’s something in A Sister’s All You Need. that makes me want to sit at the keyboard and write myself. I was able to find inspiration for writing in the most unlikely of places, and that to me elevates this seemingly ordinary, dime-a-dozen siscon anime based on a light novel to merit it worth the watch. For not particularly liking the little sister trope, I surprisingly enjoyed myself a great deal. You’ll also find yourself wanting to support fellow novelists after watching, or even become interested in light novel culture as a result!

IMG_5127.jpeg

There’s also an interesting philosophical struggle tugging at our authors: whether to appeal to what’s popular—what people are currently into—and build yourself as a person to sell your books (Haruto), or to write exclusively about what you enjoy, even if that in itself might not appeal to a large audience (Itsuki). As a blogger, this is something I must always consider when publishing a post (though I’m usually the latter, as I can’t keep up with today’s standards haha).

At its worst, this stupid comedy series is downright weird and too far out-there to make any logical sense. But at its best, like when Itsuki [stops being a self-indulgent ass and] legitimately wants to try his hardest as to not fall behind Haruto or Nayuta’s immediate successes, it’s surprisingly a very compelling, almost inspiring, story. Victory and defeat come hand-in-hand, after all, and the publishing world is not exempt from that law. The biggest problem with the series right now is that, like most light novel adaptations, the story of Itsuki and his friends is far from over. This first season is but a hilarious, heartwarming glimpse into the perverted life of a light novelist, and I do hope author Yomi Hirasaka gets the green-light for a second season of his own work in the near future—and that he, too, will celebrate his success with good company, games, and a round of drinks!

table of friends.jpg

 

What you want, someone always has. And usually, it means nothing to the person who actually has it. It’s pretty much a miracle when you have what you want, and most comedies and tragedies happen due to the absence of that miracle. It may not be fair, but that’s just how the world works.Itsuki Hashima


Afterword

With all its light novelist insight, comedic overtones, homoerotic undertones, and dick jokes abundant, I confidently recommend this silly light novel adaptation as a “Cake” here at the cafe, as its characters lay down fascinating intentions and promising developments straight from the start, plus it’s hella funny. Just like Itsuki’s outrageous little sister stories, there’s a “mysterious appeal” to A Sister’s All You Need., and I consider it a miracle that I admittedly enjoyed it, let alone to the degree that I did. It’s simply a fun series, and if the premise of authors drinking and playing tabletop RPGs together intrigues you, all the more reason to watch it!

book cover.jpg

Surprisingly, the anime baited me into buying the first volume of the light novel series recently published by Yen On, so that’ll be an exciting read which I’ll definitely write about if the new developments are fulfilling enough! But what did you think about this lascivious little series? Did you find it too dumb ‘n dirty or hilarious and oddly pleasant? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Thanks for reading, and until the next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Bokurano: The Darkness Within Our Hearts | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode spring 2007 anime “Bokurano: Ours,” animated by Gonzo, directed by Hiroyuki Morita, and based on Mohiro Kitoh’s manga of the same name.

***MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST COUPLE EPISODES ARE PRESENT***

in the grotto.jpg


How Would You Spend Your Last Day on Earth?

I’m sure you haven’t given it much thought; to which, neither have I. None of us do, and yet here’s an anime where kids are told when they will die, how they will die, and that whatever they do with their final day is up to them. There is no running away from fate, it’s do-or-die time. However, I suppose my words would have more weight if I told you why. Allow me to backtrack . . .

Fifteen children are enjoying their youth together at a summer camp. It’s sun, sea, and, what’s this? A mysterious grotto by the shore? The kids explore the creepy cave only to find a strange setup of computers and monitors, along with an even creepier old man calling himself Kokopelli. Supposedly, Kokopelli’s been developing a game, one where the players pilots a giant robot to defend Earth against 15 different alien invasions, and all he needs now is willing players to test it out. Sounds fun, I mean, what could be the harm? By individually placing their hand on a scanner, the kids complete their contract and suddenly blackout.

kokopelli.png

They awaken back on the beach. Other than the fact that night has fallen, everything appears normal. Normal, EXCEPT for the impossibly high 500-meter-tall giant robot now towering over them! In a horrific twist of fate, the children must now take to their seats to pilot Zearth one at a time in hopes that they have the physical strength and mental fortitude it takes to defeat the bizarre enemies. But Kokopelli’s abrupt disappearance leaves the afraid and confused kids with harsh truths they must discover on their own: What exactly is Zearth, and what is the giant robot’s energy source?

Before I rip into the fantastic story of Bokurano, I wanted to address my biggest issue with the show right off the bat: the “antagonist.” Surely, even just by reading the synopsis something seems fishy. Where did Kokopelli go? Will he reappear later as the antagonist? It’s tricky for me to explain much of anything without ruining the surprise, but I can imagine that you, too, understand that there’s something else at play here. And here’s the thing: that “something” doesn’t really make much of an appearance. When director Hiroyuki Morita brought over the story from Mohiro Kitoh’s manga, even he felt that some of Bokurano was just way too damn sad (sources are all over the web confirm this).

So he changed it, and I think that the force that moves the anime along was “left behind” in the process, either because it didn’t mesh well with Morita’s new story, or that there wasn’t enough time to explain it all (as is what often happens in anime). Don’t worry, this anime adaptation is still one of the most depressing things you’ll ever watch, but if the ending feels somewhat incomplete, it’s because *frustratingly* this is not the same ending intended from the start.

cast

The Saddest Soldiers for the Saddest Anime Ever

Systematically, we bear witness to pilot after pilot fight their battle and depart from the scene. Where do they go, what happens to them? Ready for a dose of reality? ***SPOILERS for the first couple episodes, but they die. That’s all there is to it. There’s no glory, and no reward. Once you’ve served your purpose in prolonging the planet’s safety, no longer are you of any use to Zearth and Koemushi, a cruel and sadistic ABOMINATION whose job is to circulate this cycle of death and inevitably select the next pilot.

Each episode or two, we center our narrative focus on the next pilot chosen. From family and friends to one’s most carefully guarded secrets, we quite literally see all of it. The darkness in our hearts can seem infinitely deep, regardless of one’s age, and the fronts we put up can’t always mask it all. We see kids break, physically and emotionally, and although we know that they’ll die at the end of the episode, it can still be dramatic and utterly heartbreaking. Honestly, I wish they had more time . . . I won’t go into further details for real spoilers, but watching others suffer is . . . well, “Pain is addictive.”

Bokurano is thrilling up until the very end, even if it is hard to watch these poor kids undergo psychological torment to no end. Either it was super interesting to watch or, subconsciously, I wanted to quickly put them out of their misery, but I just could not put Bokurano down for a second.

fight.jpg

Oh, and be prepared to have your guesses as to who’s next get smashed, as even the seemingly “main” characters are not spared from Koemushi’s wrath.

Lost Iconography: The Circle of Chairs

A lot of early 2000s anime don’t hold up very well in today’s day. Bokurano is no exception from this. The show’s characters can look pretty rough on the eyes, and other than the robot fights, Gonzo’s animation is kept to a minimum, resulting in too many dialogue scenes and conversations that don’t seem to end. On those robot fights though, man—Bokurano’s got some of the most engaging, exciting, strange, and truly colossal mech fights that the genre has to offer! Unlike a tedious game of “My gun is bigger than your gun,” a real amount of strategy is required to pilot a robot that essentially has no controls—just your mind. Sync with Zearth, tell it what you want to do, and it will likely perform the feat even if its mechanical structure has to be reconfigured entirely. Just as how we know more about the cast as we go along, we come to see Zearth’s true range of abilities, and understand why it is able to put up such a good fight.

bokurano fight.PNG

I wanted to briefly mention the chairs, though. You know, that eerie circle of unique chairs inside Zearth’s pilot chamber. The chairs are how the pilots enter and exit Zearth, and without their genius iconography, works like Madoka Magica may not have that extra special “Shaft” touch. A single object or location can tell an entire story—and these chairs encompass both of those categories. Whenever I see Daiichi, Komoda, or Chizuru’s chairs, I immediately recall their struggles, their emotions, their story, which is absolutely wild given that they’re ultimately just furniture. Where do you spend most of your time sitting? How does that area represent who you are as a person?

bokurano characters.jpg

While the main OST doesn’t offer much in the way of me thinking, “Oh yeah, that’s Bokurano!” Chiaki Ishikawa has absolutely dominated the sound department with her amazingly addictive OP and two excellent ED themes. “Little Bird” and especially “Vermilion” are rich with a somber quality to them, but “Uninstall” ranks up there as one of my favorite OPs of all time for its epic melancholy, sorrowful lyrics, and ability to call to mind all of the beauty and tragedy in Bokurano. 

The Pain of Letting Go

Could you put enough pain on a single person to change the human heart? Short answer, yes, but the road to such change can be messy, frustrating, and completely exhausting. Bokurano‘s main interest comes from the constant curiosity of where the story is headed next. What will ultimately stick with you, however, are the hearts left behind along the way, and the stories that succumbed to tragedy—or the few that ended with a glimmer of hope.

As characters exit the stage one by one, their vacant seats are left to inspire the next chosen hero. At one point, these chairs had a warm body that sat in them, that thought about their place in the world, and that struggled to come to terms with their fate. Although its visuals are dated and some of its background plot points could’ve been fleshed out better for the finale, Bokurano still holds fast as a gem of its genre, reminding us that everyone suffers—but we that can still be saved.

waku.jpg

An awesome reality came to meet us from beyond. It came to laugh at how simple our existence was. Even when I covered my ears, the truth slipped through both hands and confounded me . . . I have no choice but to act as a warrior who knows no fear.—from “Uninstall,” the opening theme


Bokurano‘s been sitting on my backlog ever since I watched Evangelion, and now that I’ve FINALLY seen it, I can confidently recommend it to fans of that other popular abstract mecha anime. Their distorted premises may be different, but the stakes of the game are the same, in that a group of kids must pilot giant robots against the wrath of the heavens—or face the destruction of their world. Similarly, both stories feature a very human cast dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses to sexual frustration and an inferiority complex. Both series handle these themes with extreme care and realism, which can be appreciated immensely. If it isn’t a surprise by this point, then please, let’s honor Bokurano: Ours as a “Caffe Mocha” title, a rating reserved for only the best!”

bokurano poster full.jpg

Because of its clockwork death count and endearing participants, I found this smartly written survival game to literally be The Saddest Anime I’ve Ever Seen. Despite being full of nothing but misery and grief, the suspense of hope that releases at the very end feels immensely satisfactory. If you’re up for a bit of a psychological challenge and don’t mind a throwback, you ought to give Bokurano a try (Crunchyroll’s got it for FREE)! Already seen it? Let me know what you thought about Bokurano or this review down in the comments and we can reminisce together! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Game of Laplace: Rampo Edogawa’s Macabre Eye-Candy Playground | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode summer 2015 anime “Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace,” animated by Lerche, directed by Seiji Kishi, and inspired by the works of author Edogawa Rampo.

akechi


A Startling Wake-Up Call

Famous for his influence on Japanese fiction, mystery author and critic Ranpo Edogawa (romanized as Rampo) passed away a little over 50 years ago, and what a better way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death in 1965 than with a surreal mystery/horror anime loosely based on his stories? (Ya nailed it Japan.) That’s exactly what Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace is, and although this series of brutal and bizarre crimes stems from an author known to write masterpieces, this clunky anime “adaptation” comes up short in just about every gruesome case. And somehow, I still enjoyed it.

Middle school student Kobayashi is framed for murder. He awakens in his classroom to find his teacher brutally mutilated, and the murder weapon dripping with blood in his hand. Any normal kid would be freaking out by now, but Kobayashi finds himself more so curious (and secretly thrilled) about this strange attempt to frame him. Watching out for Kobayashi’s well-being, a close friend named Hashiba joins the case as a willing accomplice to help prove Kobayashi’s innocence. Also roped into solving this twisted crime is Akechi, a lazy genius high school detective who immediately sees an interesting potential in the young accused boy. Desiring nothing more than to mix up his mundane life, Kobayashi pleads to be recruited as Akechi’s assistant, to which Akechi agrees to take him on—but only if he can handle the chaos that comes with disobeying the law.

rampo kitan opening.jpg

Game of Laplace‘s characters are simply too fun for the plot’s serious overtones. As much as the series tries to be a philosophical thriller, Kobayashi’s enthusiasm and Akechi’s frank lack of care always kill the mood. When viewed as a comedy, however, this problem is less apparent (which is probably not the intent but it just fits better no matter how you look at it). Hashiba’s one-sided (and unresolved) bromance with Kobayshi only makes his reason for always being with the detectives sillier, and once little-girl-lover and phantom thief “Shadow Man” becomes a member of the main cast, any sense of seriousness goes out the window. Heck, this crook wears a freakin’ PAPER BAG over his head to protect his identity! A true master of disguise, right? How can I not laugh at his constantly-dumbfounded expression??

Although the characters give this series a few too many laughs than it probably should have, there’s still a nice balance of chemistry between them. Kobayashi fawns over Akechi’s work; Hashiba blushes and stammers whenever Kobayashi acts too girly; police officers Kagami and Nakamura respect and deeply care for each others’ well-being; and everyone, especially Akechi, hates Shadow Man. (Look no further than episode six for proof of this. Even if you don’t watch the series, this episode is worth it if you wanna kill time for some damn hilarious dialogue.) So if it’s not the characters, what makes Game of Laplace not as great as it should be?

IMG_4903.jpeg

The Problem with Telling a Good Mystery

From what I understand, in theory, every good mystery can be solved by oneself using the clues laid out before them. All of the necessary evidence should be placed fairly before the detective (in this case the viewer), and a decent amount of time should be given before the answer is revealed. Additionally, should a certain character need to solve the case, one piece of critical evidence will be withheld until the end explanation is made. Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Well, this is where Game of Laplace struggles hard, as there’s never enough evidence (or time) to find out whodunit.

Not only that, but the criminal or mastermind at hand rarely has any time to establish themselves as a character within the work. At most, you’ll get a ” Office Secretary” or “Construction Worker B,” and then the episode will move on to have Kobayashi quickly solve the case right after Hashiba gives a sensible hypothesis. It’s just a poorly written mystery series if that is truly the main goal, which is odd given that Rampo Edogawa is so highly regarded. (I’m guessing it’s a fault with the anime, not the original author’s stories.) As a viewer, I ended up just sitting through the series with my brain turned off, and while none of the reveals were particularly shocking, at least there was a coherent, albeit weak, story that weaves together the crimes.

twenty faces.png

Making the Most Out of a Bad Situation

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a certain standalone episode six that I recommend even if you don’t watch the series. The reason for that is simple: Funimation’s hysterical English dubbing. Quick-witted and well-voiced, the quality of acting given to such a mediocre title truly makes the most out of this not-so-hot series. While a bad dub can ruin a show, a good dub can save one, and that by far is Game of Laplace‘s most redeeming quality. Newcomer Jill Harris has proven herself on multiple occasions that she can voice a cute feminine boy (like Kobayashi) without sounding “too girlish,” and Justin Briner as this doting “boyfriend” character with Hashiba is a great match. Throw in veterans like Eric Vale for Akechi’s aggressively low voice, J. Michael Tatum’s smooth-sounding Kagami, and Sonny Strait as everyone’s least favorite bag-wearing Shadow Man and you’ve got a wonderfully solid cast!

Stuido Lerche animates the world of Game of Laplace with just as much creative pizzazz, wacky checkerboard patterns, and bright colors as they do with all their titles. Like they did with the Danganronpa 3 anime (one of my favorites), the background characters are nulled out with a single color to truly seem like “background characters.” Not my favorite visual choice, as sometimes the culprits are actually these blobs of color, causing you to be reliant on voices alone (another reason for the dub), but it does result in an interesting style. The show gets its real visual appeal and absurdity from its investigation scenes where, in a fashion similar to superior mystery title Hyouka, each breakdown of the case is done so uniquely and creatively. This helps the show stay visually entertaining, even if the plot is a little out there. Also, butterflies.

Stick to the Classics

Nearly every mystery anime I’d seen before this one was better than Game of Laplace—but not all of those shows had a cast as fun as this one was. For a 50th anniversary project, I wish they had made an adaptation for a single one of his works, not a messy conglomeration of several. The series easily could’ve been better this way, and I bet more people would’ve watched a show advertised as “Rampo Edogawa tale brought to anime” than a series loosely based on a collection of works like “The Human Chair” and “Twenty Faces.”

This is going to be one of those shows that I enjoyed, but I can guarantee that most will not. The character humor tickled me just right with Funi’s dub, and Lerche happens to be one of my favorite animation studios. In other words, this series is only recommended to those thirsting for more murder mystery anime who have already exhausted the genre’s reserves in their desperate hunt. Watch Danganronpa, Hyouka, Higurashi, Rokka—any of those anime first; as the saying goes, “Stick to the classics” (ironic, I know). Then, only once you’ve thoroughly enjoyed what the genre has to offer, come stop by the Akechi detective agency for a laugh with old Rampo Edogawa.

kobayashi.png

The harder the game is to solve, the more fun you can have, right?—Akechi Kogorou


Afterword

Not much to say here, especially since several character backstories and relationships remain largely unresolved by the end (hang in there, Hashiba). Like, Akechi is seen crushing up and washing down these white pills with the same brand of canned coffee all the time, but we never know why he does it . . . huh. Weird.

game of laplace poster.jpg

Still, I downed this series like a hot “Coffee” myself here at the cafe, and so you’ll have to let me know what you thought about this series or my review down in the comments! It’s nice to be back for a quick review and not just an OWLS post, am I right? Not that I dislike writing them, but it seems like that’s all I write anymore, and I’ve got to change that! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host