Weathering With You – Taking a Chance on Love || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 2019 anime original film “Weathering With You” or “Tenki no Ko,” animated by CoMix Wave Films, and directed by Makoto Shinkai.

hodaka in the rain


Fate Brews a Storm

The rain hasn’t let up on Tokyo for weeks, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon. It’s an unusually long rainy season, and the endless showers have started to dampen the lives of those residing in the city, including runaway high school student Hodaka Morishima. He has no money or place to stay in Tokyo right now, but fate delivers him to a writing gig at a small-time journaling outlet helmed by the unkempt and scruffy Keisuke Suga. While he may not be living the Tokyo dream, Suga’s beautiful assistant Natsuki makes the crammed office feel like home.

Also struggling under the dreary Tokyo skies is the orphaned Hina Amano, who is doing all she can to find work to financially support herself and her younger brother Nagi. When Hodaka recognizes Hina as the girl who offered him free food during his first days in the city, he attempts to rescue her from shady men in suits. In their fleeting escape, Hodaka discovers Hina’s bizarre power to call out the sun whenever she prays for it. Seeing potential in Hina’s supernatural gift, Hodaka helps Hina become a “sunshine girl”—someone who can part the clouds for people when they need it the most.

Under thunderous skies and pounding rain, fate intertwines two young lives as they are forced to dig deep within themselves to try to find their own purpose in life. But while the miraculous sunshine girl is able to bring smiles to those she helps, all gifts come with a price—and what is graciously given by the elements can just as easily be taken back.

the morning sun

Visionary director Makoto Shinkai is back with another beautiful fantasy romance film that perfectly balances the daily trivialities of a slice-of-life drama with the more sincere and heartfelt emotions that we all know human relationships bring to the table. While the plot is simple in the grand scheme of things, parts of the middle (and especially the road to the end) feel somewhat disjointed. Whereas Shinkai’s other films typically feature a shocking twist that unexpectedly plays on one’s expectations (yet still directly ties to the punchline), I felt like I was just watching a sitcom of these characters’ lives with no real end goal in mind.

That’s not such a bad thing, however, as it allowed me to connect with these characters more than I have with any other Shinkai film cast, especially some of the secondary characters. And yes, while somewhat divisive, the film’s plot twists will shake up your viewing experience. Although the film lacks some of the logical build-up necessary to pull off a truly astonishing finale, emotions still run high in this story about throwing caution to the wind and taking a chance on love.

sunshine prayer

Shinkai’s Most Personable Cast

I said this about Your Name., but it would seem that with every film he makes, Shinkai gets better and better about attaching more than just spontaneous feelings and circumstantial likeness to his characters. Whether watching these Hodaka, Hina, and Nagi channeling the sun’s energy for money or following Hodaka and Natsuki as they chase down urban legend sightings, I only think, “Wow, what an incredible waste of time.” Yet, on the other hand . . .

It looks like they’re having so much fun.

When I mention above that I felt like I was watching a comedic sitcom for the earlier half of the film, I mean that I could watch these kids running around Tokyo with the wind against their backs for an entire series. Through hard work and happenstance, Hodaka quickly realizes that living the “best Tokyo life” doesn’t come from how you spend it—it’s who you decide to spend it with that makes it fulfilling. And I think we lucked out with just the kind of cast you’d want to spend part of your life with.

nagi hina hodaka

Hodaka and Hina stand for so much more than young love and determination—they represent the adversity faced by youth poverty, the ones the world left behind as it continued to spin round and round. As the rain only continues to pound on poor Hodaka’s shoulders, I can’t stress enough how central this theme is to the film. The resilience he develops thanks to his newfound Tokyo friends allows him to transform into an admirable character who can make one of the toughest decisions imaginable. Even if the whole world was against him, Hodaka draws from his own experiences and judgments to challenge the very heavens above him, and I think that’s a fantastic message for today’s youth who are growing up in a world where the deck seems stacked no matter where we go.

Having Hina, Nagi, and Natsuki by his side are just about the best companions Hodaka can ask for. Hina’s hardworking spirit and natural optimism show Hodaka that people his own age also going through dark times can not only survive but blossom on their own. Nagi’s charm and whimsy reveal a hidden wisdom as he is able to support his sister in a way that few others could. Natsuki may seem like your token “hot biker chick,” but really, she’s trying just as hard as anyone else to pull her life together and find her own path in this giant metropolis. And Mr. Suga may be the sketchiest side protagonist I’ve ever seen, but even he’s got ones he wants to protect from life’s downpour of troubles. As always with Shinkai, friends and family are just as essential to life as love itself, and that sentiment echoes in this fun, endearing cast.

family

“I Can’t Believe it Got Prettier”

Those were my immediate thoughts when watching the opening sequence alone. Sprawling cityscapes, dazzling lighting, majestic skies of clouds, and painstakingly delicate attention to detail make this CoMix Wave Films’ prettiest production to date. If you can’t vibe with the story or characters for whatever reason, you can always rely on the visuals in a Shinkai movie to be nothing short of stellar. I know he preaches about expanding past the achievements of Miyazaki and Ghibli, but honestly, I’ve always preferred Shinkai’s aesthetic when it comes to portraying reality in fiction. And he’s only. Gotten. Better.

I haven’t even praised the RIDICULOUS level of beauty the rain is animated in, cause WOW, that’s where the money’s at. I can’t even begin to imagine the sheer amount of effort and work the staff poured into making every single drop sparkle and shine as it would in real life—no, calling what I saw would only disgrace such beauty. This looks BETTER than real rain, as does everything else in Shinkai’s astonishing vision of Tokyo on a rainy day. For any architecture junkies out there (like myself), you’ll also be pleased to find a copious amount of cinematic cityscape shots and wide panoramic skies.

tenki no ko tokyo

A New Soundtrack to Love

Japanese rock group Radwimps is back to produce the soundtrack for Weathering With You, and man, these guys never miss a beat. The OST ranges from mystical harp expressions to touching piano themes, mixed in with some silly or suspenseful tracks to balance out the film. It’s crazy how well the music fits with the emotional roller coaster of the story! Truly, from the thunderous beat of the rain to the climactic drop of Radwimps’ own vocal tracks, this is outstanding sound direction.

Speaking of those vocal tracks, we are blessed with five new Radwimps songs to enjoy on endless repeat. “Voice of Wind” opens with loud, uplifting, and freeing country vibes. “Celebration” (feat. Toko Miura) serves as a wonderful transition to showcase Hodaka’s exciting adventures in Tokyo. Toko Miura comes back for “Grand Escape,” the trailer piece that guarantees to break hearts during the exciting free-falling finale with its chorus of chanting. “We’ll Be Alright” rounds out the film on a high note, if not a bittersweet ballad. And lastly, “Is There Still Anything That Love Can Do?” doubles as the catchy, emotionally stirring main theme and the film’s feature credit song. Seeing as how the music may have inspired much of the story itself, it’s no wonder that Radwimps leads the film with fervor and a hearty sense of lyrical direction.

soundtrack

No More Regrets

Known for portraying the messiness and longing often felt between two people, Weathering With You continues to deliver messages of young love, purpose, and connection that are iconic to Shinkai’s style while also appealing to larger issues than simply romance and recklessness in youth. These include impoverishment, climate change, the impact of weather in our daily lives, and the challenges thrust upon youth on by previous generations. But unlike Your Name.‘s focus on regret for missed opportunities, Weathering With You emphasizes the power of taking action for yourself, even if it’s not what others may want. In a world rocked by rapidly changing climate, it’s up to the young to decide where we go from here.

As he has always done, Shinkai portrays his lessons on regret in relationships through his breathtaking works, and Weathering With You is no exception. If anything, Weathering With You offers more than most of his other films can compete with—including the masterpiece Your Name.—by opening the conversation to how our personal relationships can make waves, affecting other’s relationships and the cascade of lives that follow. Our attitudes, our feelings, and our actions are irrevocably connected, much like the ripples of a raindrop splashing on a puddle—or the radiant warmth of the sun that shines when the clouds finally part after a long day’s rain. 

Even in disaster, Makoto Shinkai’s direction, visual aesthetic, and willingness to jump off the deep end make this film a breathtaking experience from its humble beginning to its unpredictable ending. Weathering With You was nothing like I expected it’d be, but I am so, so glad that it exists.

the sunshine girl


I want you more than any blue sky. — Hodaka Morishima


Afterword

This is a film every anime fan should see—it’s already established that much for itself. Regardless of whether you prefer Your Name. to this or vice versa, the fact remains that Shinkai is a visionary director who helms a team of artists and animators that deserve to be seen on the big screen. WATCH THIS MOVIE if you can, and if it’s not showing near you, I implore you to consider booking a day off for a road-trip. As someone who looks up to Makoto Shinkai and his work for creative inspiration in my own life, it’s no surprise that 2019’s Weathering With You is certified a “Cafe Mocha” film, a rating only for the best and brightest!

Did you make your way down to the theater to check out Weathering With You? If you did, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the film! What did you like most about it? What did you dislike? I’m all ears, always. ‘Till next time, everyone!

– Takuto, your host

Idolmaster SideM: How Personal Branding Shapes Our Image || OWLS “Visions”

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 first monthly topic of 2020, “Visions,” I wanted to engage in a side of me that I’ve been neglecting for some time: My interest in idol culture, and how idols can actually inspire their fans to strive to become their best selves.

Happy New Year! Since it is a new year, it’s a new you! This month we will be talking about various pop culture mediums that focus on envisioning “the future.” What type of future do we want for ourselves, our communities, and the world? Also, we will be sharing our goals and plans for the new year.

The New Year’s celebration is my favorite time of the year. I buy hard into that whole “New Year, New Me” business, so really, it’s all one big self-care holiday for me. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion of the 13-episode fall 2017 anime “Idolmaster SideM,” stylized as “The iDOLM@STER: SideM,” animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Miyuki Kuroki, and based on the franchise rhythm game of the same name.

A Fresh Change of Pace

Talent recruitment and entertainment agency 315 Productions may be in its infant stage, but the calm and caring producer of 315 promises his idols a place on the world stage so long as they work hard toward their dreams. Specializing in scouting prospective idols who previously held other jobs, all have a place at the agency, whether a former lawyer, pilot, or even a surgeon. As these men—some in their mid thirties, others still living their high school days—grow to understand their new positions, they’ll have to make sacrifices and trust in each other if they are to achieve their dream of becoming top idols!

Is this really a story about grown men who are sick of their lives and willing to gamble away their careers to sing and dance on a stage? Wow, it’s no wonder I liked this anime so much. Idolmaster SideM is a tale of reinvention for its stunning ensemble of idols, each with an origin story more different from the last. In just 13 episodes, we hear from a whopping 19 different men and how their individual lives have aligned at the crossroads of music and fame.

Some accounts are far more detrimental than others, say, the pilot who left his job because his anxiety overcame him in a near-fatal crash vs. the quiet boy who just wanted to come out of his shell. Or the twins who abandoned their professional athletic career due to one being burdened by a substantial injury compared to the guy who went along with it cause his buddy did. Again, each story is different, but not one of their ambitions are to be deemed “lesser” than the other’s. In fact, it’s thanks to this variety of perspectives on seeking change and self-improvement that Idolmaster SideM allows itself to be light-hearted yet feel grounded and real—inspirational, yet with one foot in reality’s door.

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Creating the Idol “Brand”

What does it take to be an idol? Geez, one could go down all different routes to answer that one. To keep things relevant to this post, I want to focus on the concept of brands, AKA one’s identification or signature style. For example, my blogging brand (or so I hope) is marked by its connections to good vibes and clean aesthetic under the theme of an urban city cafe. How does an idol group go about designing their brand? The six young idol units of SideM quickly discover that there’s a lot more to it than color-coordinated costumes and snazzy photography. 

For idols, especially the bigger name groups like 315’s Jupitereverything down to the very way you live your own life determines how the group is perceived. If a famous idol were to be seen drinking a specific soda type or repping a certain fashion brand on a given day, their fans might perceive this beverage and that jacket as elements common to the idol’s life (even if purely coincidental), thus branding the idol’s group with these particular companies. Fans may eventually try to match their favorite groups by supporting these companies and buying their products, which feeds back into the industry itself. So yeah, brands matter.

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When it comes to envisioning their own brand, the ex-lawyer, pilot, and surgeon of DRAMATIC STARS struggle with what to wear during their first photo shoot. Jupiter’s black leather is too cool for them; High×Joker and Beit’s wild colors and textures seem too childish. So, they settle on wearing the uniforms of their respective careers in hopes of representing the most true versions of themselves. While it’s not the most pleasing collection of outfits, it’s certainly an original look that they feel most comfortable with being known for.


Tsubasa and I, and everyone from 315 Productions, have led different lives, and different circumstances brought us all here together. We all have our reasons, but the goal has always been the same. We’re chasing the same dream together!Teru Tendo


Connecting Brands to Reality

All this talk about idols and branding and representation got me to thinking about how I want to market my own personal brand. Between falling back into K-pop hell and observing how real idols create the personas they desire, to expanding my own platform with an Instagram, it’s definitely been on my mind. 

What do we, as bloggers, want our personal brands to look like? How can we achieve this vision of ours? Takuto is obviously not my real name, and unfortunately, I do not own my own cafe, let alone work at one. These were decisions I made to “create” the Takuto you know today. Everything from my blog’s theme colors to the way I interact in the comments (like how I use the ~ all the time) were choices. 

So, how do we do it, creating our “online selves”? Just like with the DRAMATIC STARS trio, it’s a tricky balance of being true to yourself while also pursuing the change you desire in life. The anime and manga I review inform you about my tastes in entertainment. Thus, it should be my goal to highlight the types of shows and series I personally love and collect through my posts (with exceptions to sharing an honest opinion), be it with words or pictures. And if I find my tastes changing, perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to address any waning interests, or invite you to witness any exciting new finds either in my watch list, on my shelves, or even in my personal life.

dramatic stars party.PNG

As bloggers, as writers, we have one goal: to connect with our readers. In that way, we aren’t that different from pop idols that strive to connect with their fans. If we hide behind fake interests or write a lackluster review over a series, they will be able to tell. They always do. If you don’t have anything to say about a given series (yet feel “forced” to review it anyway), perhaps you should dedicate that time and energy into a post you could absolutely gush over, be it for something you intensely love or extremely dislike.

However, we should also acknowledge that interests can also change—if a blogger wants to add a new segment to their site, try out a new platform outlet, or simply take a break from their normal content to just write about themselves, we should embrace their efforts and support them in all their new endeavors. I mean, unlike idols, you can become truly close friends with an internet content creator. Why would you not pay it forward while you can? In all that you do, be cautious, but be yourself—the best things will come from doing just that.

side m jupiter.PNG

We’re All Just Trying to Create

As creators of some kind of content, it can be easy to let the issue of personal branding slide under the rug. Little do we or they (the ones that get paid millions to stand on the world stage) realize the impact that even the most seemingly insignificant aspects of our lives have on the perceptions of others. Especially as bloggers, these are points that we don’t really ever lend coverage to, and I think that’s part of the reason why it might seem difficult to become a socially “successful” internet blogger. We’re a quiet people often hidden behind walls of text. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean we are impersonal people—in fact, I find writers to be some of the most relatable humans out there, but that’s a post for another day. 

In a roundabout way, Idolmaster SideM tackles very similar issues about perception and personal branding that internet content creators must deal with. Additionally, the series confronts the realities of what it means to be “associated” with a particular vibe or energy, as well as the physical and mental training idols must undergo to achieve that vision. It’s an awful lot, and at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to create something people can love. So, whether a complete novice or one of the billboard’s top hits, one thing’s for sure: There’s no such thing as a lazy idol.

idolmaster stage episode 13.PNG


They are the ones that worked hard. All I did was talk to those brilliant people.Producer


Afterword

Frankly speaking, there’s a lot of “good” going on in Idolmaster SideM. Watching each of 315 Productions’ idol groups grow is a daunting task thanks to the short series run, but an incredibly fulfilling one despite the odds. Following these guys side-by-side as they stumble in practice and struggle with clashing personality differences is an endearing process. I can walk away from this anime saying, “YES, they’re all good boys!!” as I finally grasp the appeal behind male idol anime. Simply for its inspirational premise of throwing caution to the wind and saying “Screw it, I wanna be famous,” Idolmaster SideM is a certified “Cake” here at the cafe! Got any thoughts on the series or idol culture in general? I’d love to hear them down in the comments. 

This concludes my January 14th entry in the OWLS “Visions” blog tour. My good buddy Matt (Matt-in-the-Hat) went right before me with a personal post over the hit film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse that you can read right here! Now, look out for Aria (The AniManga Spellbook) this Thursday, January 16th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Yumeiro Patisserie: The Strong, the Savory, & the Sweet || OWLS “Failure”

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 eleventh monthly topic of 2019, “Failure,” I wanted to dabble just a bit into the sweetest little show that’s been on my plate as of late. We’re talking about Yumeiro Patissiere and a young girl’s road to becoming a pastry chef—and don’t worry, I’m not gonna sugarcoat any part of her great struggles!

One of the best ways we can learn is through failure. This month we will be talking about the failures of our favorite characters in pop culture media and what we can learn from them. We will also reflect on our own mistakes and failures and how those experiences have allowed us to grow as human beings.

I’m gonna keep this sweet and simple, just as the show would serve it to you, so thanks Lyn for the prompt!

strawberry crepe cake.PNG


A brief discussion of the 50-episode fall 2009 anime “Yumeiro Patissiere,” stylized as “Yumeiro Pâtissière,” animated by Studio Pierrot and Studio Hibari, directed by Suzuki Iku, and based on the manga by Natsumi Matsumoto. Minor spoilers for the first 12 episodes will be present. 

Thrown Into the Culinary World

Ichigo Amano may just be a middle schooler, but she’s nothing when compared to her piano prodigy of a kid sister. In fact, Ichigo hasn’t ever been successful at anything, but she does have a passion for eating cakes. This unique tongue of hers leads Ichigo to Henri Lucas, a famous patissier who not only recognizes Ichigo’s tasting talents, but points her towards St. Marie Academy. This prestigious culinary school specializes in the art of desserts, and just so happens to be her late grandma’s alma mater, who was an accomplished confectioner in her own right.

Despite being a beginner lacking all of the essential skills for the craft (and thanks to being recommended by THE Henri sensei), Ichigo is placed in the elite A Group with the “Sweets Princes.” Famous throughout the school for their enchanting treats (and charming good looks), the trio is composed of Andou, an analytical, traditional Japanese sweets specialist; Hanabusa, a delicate boy who crafts elegant candied flowers; and Kashino, a gifted chocolatier with an attitude that’s not afraid to bite back.

While they’d likely fair well on their own (save for poor Ichigo), each of the kids in A Group are accompanied by their “Sweets Spirits,” fairies from a distant land who make patissiers’ dreams come true by aiding them in the kitchen with tips and tricks. Together, they all work towards their unique goals in the competitive world of sweets, and pray each day that their combined efforts will pay off in the future.

ichigo sweets

The Strong Must Protect the Sweet

The culinary world will always be a scary one to me, so it’s no wonder that Ichigo is freaking out when she’s placed among the school’s elite from the get-go. Easily the kind of girl to mistake the salt for sugar, Ichigo is a total klutz—and this doesn’t take too long for her new classmates to figure out. Every minute Ichigo spends with the esteemed Sweets Princes soils their perfect reputation.

However, as she works her saccharine magic on their hearts and they bond together through late night practice sessions in the kitchen, the Sweets Princes slowly start to care less about what their peers think and more about what their savory sweets mean to those that fall for their confectionery. By bouncing their knowledge and creativity off one another, the members of A Group learn most of all that love is just as essential an ingredient as flour, eggs, or sugar are.

sweets princes.PNG

Criticism & Self-Destruction in Academia

Japan has this thing about letting us know how exploited and overworked students can sometimes feel in elite academic settings. The tiniest compliments can give such students the greatest confidence boost, but the slightest criticism can be absolutely devastating. It’s a fine line us students pressured by high standards find ourselves tight-roping across, and that’s exactly where Ichigo finds herself at St. Marie.

At its earliest low in the series’ first twelve episodes, Ichigo almost quits school entirely. The moment before she left her dorm for home, she got ahead of herself and thought she’d do well in the upcoming cake-baking tournament without having had more experience behind her. Of course, she was just joking around with the Sweets Princes, boasting because they had recently served up something incredible as a team, but Andou and Hanabusa, who are normally very kind and supportive, snapped back and told her how wrong she was—that the competitive world of a pastry chef is much more arduous and complicated than baking a cake for some kids.

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This revelation—and it coming from the nicest people in her class—throws Ichigo from the top of the summit to the bottom of the ravine. One minute she felt like she could joke around and laugh at her successes and failures alike with her esteemed peers, the next she couldn’t feel more distant from them. Here, we have a middle school girl voicing the concerns of every struggling honor student in academia:


I got into the school fine, but it was just screw up after screw up, day after day. And once in a while, when someone complimented me, I got way too carried away. I think I’m just not cut out for that place. — Ichigo Amano


Inspiration Lies In Our Humble Beginnings

It takes going back to her creative roots—to her grandma’s old sweets shop, and the source of her inspiration—to jump-start that confidence and motivate Ichigo to get back on her feet. Ichigo even gets the chance to flex in front of her incredibly talented younger sister, showing off all the skills she learned at her fancy academy. It turns out, when she has to fend for herself, Ichigo knows a lot more than she gives herself credit for

When she asks her uncle to make the house special strawberry tart, only she—not even her talented sister—notices that her grandma’s recipe was changed. It is at that very moment that Ichigo realizes she is qualified for this career, and she becomes even more deeply connected with her grandma’s unique style as a patissier.

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Having turned a new leaf, Ichigo feels ready to get back to baking. Of course, kind hearts attract good company, as Ichigo’s mom had her packed bags ready to go in the trunk the whole time. Imparting precious wisdom, Kyouko Amano drops her clumsy yet dedicated daughter back off at the academy. Honestly, that’s #familygoals, but she also wouldn’t be coming back were it not for her friends in A Group who covered for her abrupt absence.

When the going gets tough, sometimes we have to take life one chocolate cake roll at a time. We should take chances, and even if we suck, we should never give up. We should polish our dreams like jewels, and even when we want to cry, if we try smiling while doing something we love, we just might be able to change our whole day around all on our own. Sometimes, all it takes is going back to our humble beginnings to realize just how far we’ve traveled. There are more takeaways one could make, but hey, sometimes the shortest explanations are the sweetest ones. 

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It’s ok to get depressed sometimes. But what’s important is to get back on our feet when we’re ready. — Kyouko Amano


Afterword

Just like the opening says, Yumeiro Patissiere is “Light and soft and fluffy! Melt-in-your-mouth sweet! It’ll bring you so much unbridled happiness.” So on and so forth. Yumeiro Patisserie is a gem, a certified “Cake” like you’ve never had it, and one that has a fun flavor you’ll never forget! I doubt anyone’s ever heard of this anime (I hadn’t, until the Blu-ray was recommended to me in a sale so I snatched it up), but don’t sleep on this shit—it’s GOOD. The young hardworking patissieres, the beautiful string music, the decadent, delectable desserts—this show is so friggin’ charming, and I’m so excited to see where it goes. After all, there are 50 episodes in the first season alone!

This concludes my November 28th entry in the OWLS “Failure” blog tour. My friend Crimson (Read At Night) went right before me with a post over the heartbreaking geisha drama novel Snow Country that you can read right here! Now, look out for my blogger buddy Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) as he rounds out the month with his crack at Haikyu!! and what failure means to the Karasuno Team (so excited to read!) this Saturday, November 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Lord El-Melloi II’s Greatest Trick is its Production Value || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode summer 2019 anime series “Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files: {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note,” animated by TROYCA, directed by Makoto Katou, and based on the light novel by Makoto Sanda.

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A Clock Tower Mage

These past ten years have been fairly good to Waver Velvet, considering his major defeat in the Fourth Holy Grail War and the loss of his dear friend and servant, Rider. Faced with the immense guilt of having lived while his former mentor, Kayneth El Melloi, died in the war, Waver takes it upon himself to teach in El Melloi’s place at the esteemed Clock Tower, the center of education for mages. However, to teach as a “Lord” comes with a caveat: obey the orders of Reines, the younger sister of the deceased Kayneth, until she is old enough to rule the House of El Melloi.

Now a pawn to Reines’ whims, Waver, along with his mysterious apprentice Gray, must take on a series of cases assigned by the young blond she-devil and the Mages Association. While Reines certainly has her fair share of secrets, what perplexes our Lord El Melloi II even more is the bizarre magic behind each twisted case he encounters, and how the Clock Tower is always somehow tied to all of it.

The first half of this short series is comprised of anime-original cases, usually concluding by the end of each episode to begin something new the next. They serve as introduction to our characters and give us a glimpse into the world they live in, and while some find them ultimately pointless and poorly written, I thought they were entertaining enough. Sure, the characters could’ve been given more backstory to help define their actions in the present, but at the same time, you’re encouraged to piece together what you have seen of these characters in previous entries to surmise their full character. It’s kind of a crummy tactic though, especially if you haven’t seen Fate/Zero or Fate/Apocrypha (which the series oddly borrows a lot from character-wise).

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Following these episodic cases is the main case, the Rail Zeppelin story adapted straight from the novels. On this elusive train, rare magical items are auctioned off to prominent buyers. During the one trip Lord El Melloi II happens to be invited on, a passenger is murdered, and it’s up to Waver and the other mages, some friendlier than others, to find the killer.

Why This Isn’t A Good Mystery Series

Although a direct spin-off sequel to the classic Fate/Zero, The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II is a supernatural fantasy series that differs from other entries in Type Moon’s Fate franchise in that its main focus revolves around the element of mystery. While the show’s got enough magical fights intertwined with its mysteries to keep it visually entertaining, it admittedly doesn’t try very hard at being a “good” mystery series.

Truly good mystery series leave the art of deduction ultimately up to the viewer; the viewer should be given enough clues to solve the given case, any last-minute twists or secondary shock aside. By inviting the viewer to participate, all clues should be on the table, as well as any prior knowledge necessary to crack the case. Seeing as how mystery is derived from facts and fantasy shows are grounded in magic, it’s no wonder the two genres aren’t often seen together.

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So, El Melloi II violates one of mystery’s greatest hallmarks: stealing the power of deduction from the viewer. No matter how much you ruminate over each case, you can’t solve it. But if we can’t, who can? Well, his name just so happens to be in the title. Leave it to good ol’ Waver—a character who lives and breathes in this universe—to swoop in and teach us the trick behind the magic, all whilst leave us feeling dumb and frustrated about something we couldn’t solve from the start because the series didn’t give us enough information to do so ourselves. At least the Fate cameos are fun. Kind of.

For Fate Fans, By Fate Fans

Y’all are probably only watching this anime for one reason: Waver Velvet. And by watching, you’ll get lots of him, and it’s great. Waver channels his inner “old man” and hardly ever lets up. He yells at kids, likes doing his work in a specific cafe, and naps on his couch when he needs a break from life. But trust me, this is the same old Waver we knew and loved from the Holy Grail War. Even now, he’s chasing Rider’s shadow, and the series does a nice job at following his character arc.

Often we are shown flashbacks of young Waver in his academy days taking on risky stunts with his rich mate Melvin Weins, a frivolous dude who’s got one baaad case of hematemesis (blood vomiting). These flashbacks bridge the past and present, and if more Waver was all you were wanting from this show, you’ll more than get your fill of Fate‘s best boy.

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Reines El Melloi Archisorte steals the show whenever she’s on screen. Reminiscent of Negima‘s Evangeline A.K. McDowell or Gosick‘s Victorique de Blois, this blond-haired, green-eyed, shit-stirring loli puppets poor Waver around with her sharp tongue and crafty wit. She’s lots of fun to watch, and helps fill in more lore to this expansive franchise. Reines also uses magic often in her daily life, whether to set up a bounded field for private communications or use her mystic eyes to see something other mages cannot. The series does a nice job at portraying Reines’ abilities through such casual displays of her family’s power.

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Along with Waver and his watchful mistress are familiar faces from all across Fate. The hyperactive Flatt and honorable Svin, two of my favorite fine British lads briefly recognized from Apocrypha, loyally accompany their teacher and wield their knowledge to help solve the various cases. Or maybe they’re just trying to get closer to Gray, who is kind of this enigma the whole time that . . . well, I still don’t really know who she is (which is terrible writing on their part).

Also joining the class is the studious Caules Yggdmillennia, whom you might recall from Apocrypha as well. Same goes for Kairi, the shades-wearing bounty hunter who fought alongside Saber of Red in The Great Holy Grail War. And my favorite cameo of all, Miss Luviagelita Edelfelt, gets not just one but several episodes to prove her worth (and her wealth) without Rin there to provoke her. I swear, each time I see this woman, I fall for her overwhelming personality and haughtiness more and more. So yeah, for me, the character interactions are EASILY what make the terrible mysteries palatable. That said, it really is a show exclusively for existing Fate fans.

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TROYCA Delivers Style & Kajiura Returns to Fate

Let’s say you’re not having the characters OR the mystery elements, what else can salvage the experience for you? Well for one, the art and detailing for this series is incredible. El Melloi II really does try to take us back to Fate/Zero days with the same dark aesthetic. Drizzly weather covers London in clouds and fog, giving the setting a delicate sense of antiquity and age. Stained, wood-carved furniture, translucent glass tea cups, and intricate gold, emerald, and rose-patterned wallpaper. Decorative mansion rugs, tall arched doorways, shimmering chandeliers, and shiny stainless steel silverware. We’re in London alright.

We’re talking Ufotable levels of beauty here, and the fight scenes are just as cool to watch. Only the character designs feel less like Zero and more of Apocrypha‘s, but even this looser, more expressive style I appreciate. TROYCA really outdid themselves with this one. And would you believe me that we haven’t even gotten to the best part of the production?

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Yuki. Kajiura. Two words, one name, and without her music score, I probably wouldn’t have stuck around. Kajiura brings to El Melloi II the signature charm that all great detectives and spies in fiction have. As iconic as Mission Impossible and Agent 007, now our very own Lord El Melloi II has his own snappy and jazzy theme song, composed by the one and only. The rest of the OST is full of Kajiura’s sweeping strings, powerful chimes, glorious choir vocals, and enchanting melodies that’ll both lull the heart and signal the call to battle.

She even composed an instrumental OP, “starting the case: Rail Zeppelin,” that just screams EPIC when paired with stylish visuals. And while I thought we were done for without Kalafina (RIP), ASCA comes along to sing the ED theme “Hibari” written by Kajiura herself. Guys, you have NO idea how much I’ve been listening to this beautiful song and reflecting on its gentle, wistful lyrics.

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What Did You Expect?

If you’re no stranger to Fate like I am, you’d know that the franchise is notoriously bad at defining rules for the interworkings of its magic system. That’s probably cause there’s A LOT of different kinds of magic performed throughout all of Fate, which is likely a result of so many different minds getting a hold of the story, and thus different viewpoints in how magic should be spun.

In that respect, El Melloi II is no different than all that came before it—and with a poorly explained magic system comes practically no way to solve each of the cases presented in the series UNLESS you are somehow incredibly well-versed in the Nasuverse spellcraft or have read the novels, neither of which being likely.

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The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II is neither as clever nor as pleasant as it could’ve been, but what rare cross-universe character dialogues offers is gold for a Fate fan such as myself. You could also argue against this point, saying that the characters were poorly mixed into a story that doesn’t even need them, but at the end of the day it all comes down to expectation: How much were you expecting from El Melloi II?

Even knowing full well that it was a spin-off (and despite its direct ties to the great Fate/Zero), I still didn’t expect much from this one. I like to think that because I had such low hopes, I was honestly surprised with the quality of this series. It’s not the best mentality to go in with, but it worked for me. And hey, the series looks great sounds fantastic. Considering how awful some other Fate spin-offs have turned out, I’d call Lord El Melloi II a worthy watch for fans that have been craving even the most quaint of returns to Zero.

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Even if the Holy Grail War is over, life continues . . . to the point of absurdity. — Waver Velvet


Afterword

I ended up liking Lord El Melloi II a lot more than most, and hey, maybe it’s cause I was expecting something lame. Or maybe TROYCA and Kajiura saved it for me. Regardless, I award the series (with the benefit of the doubt) as a “Cake,” but will only recommend it to those Fate fans who have seen everything and want everything there is to see. For casual viewers, there’s otherwise not much here for you, especially if you don’t know what parts of the franchise all these different characters hail from. Any thoughts on The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II? I’d love to hear them in the comments. ‘Till the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Given: Broken Heartstrings & Unforgettable Sounds || Review

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

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Rocky Starts, Aching Hearts

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

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

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

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

Complicated Feelings, Complex Characters

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

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

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

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

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

Iridescence in Motion

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

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

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

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

A Given from the Start

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

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

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

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


Afterword

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

– Takuto, your host

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

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

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


Manga For Newcomers

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

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

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

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

Anime for Newcomers

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

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

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

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


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

– Takuto, your host

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

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

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

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

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

On the Hunt for Their Man

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

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

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

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

Like Mother, Like Daughter . . .

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

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

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

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

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The Search for Hiroshi

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

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

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

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

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

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The Reality Love Brings

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

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

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

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

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At the End of the Road

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

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

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

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

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


Afterword

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host