Maria the Virgin Witch: A Clash of Magic & Maidenhood || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode Winter 2015 anime series “Maria the Virgin Witch,” animated by Production I.G, directed by Gorou Taniguchi, and based on the manga of the same name by Masayuki Ishikawa.


The Peacemaking Witch

A powerful young witch living in medieval France during the Hundred Years’ War, Maria detests nothing more than human violence. With war comes pain, suffering, and destruction, and when the innocent are caught in the crossfire, Maria can take it no longer. Wielding her magic, Maria endeavors to halt the bloodshed by intervening on the battlefield as often as she can. When the heavens finally catch wind of Maria’s plots for peace, however, the archangel Michael is sent to keep her from meddling in the affairs of humanity.

Through direct confrontation, the divine Michael forbids the witch Maria from using her powers, decreeing that her magic will be taken the moment she loses her virginity. Maria, bold as ever, refuses to heed the warnings of heaven and marches on with her plans to disrupt the war. Despite her claims of peace, neither France nor England plan to give up the fight, leading the steadfast Maria to wonder if her noble efforts only serve to prolong the violence. Worse yet, as the Church schemes to take away the witch’s power, Maria’s peacemaking days may soon come to a close.

With the likes of other sex comedies like Yamada’s First Time and Shimoneta, I enjoyed the laughs and toilet humor of Maria the Virgin Witch‘s script. Unlike these others, where Maria finds itself on tricky ground is in the way it attempts to balance bawdy sex talk with sincere human drama befitting the time period. From costuming to ethics and even dialect (at least in the English dub), the story remains weirdly faithful to history as it tries to sell itself as a fantasy romcom with a horny edge to it.

You would try to take an emotional moment between Maria and her human love interest—Joseph—with some seriousness, only for Maria’s familiars to fill the silence with senseless discussion on anything pertaining to the body’s private parts. (Or one character’s lack thereof . . . it’s a long story.) Tonally, the series is kind of all over the place. But thankfully, the characters remain endearing enough to want to love and support—or at least prove interesting enough to want to follow along.

The Virgin Mary

Maria is the main lens through which we view this quasi-medieval France, a country which is undergoing major societal, political, theological, and moral changes as a result of the war. War itself is one theme which the series continues to return to, as it propels Maria to charge into battle with her obnoxiously large monsters and send warriors from both sides home for the day. Yet, without the inevitability of such conflict, the witch Maria, the human Joseph, the mercenary Garfa, and so many other key figureheads wouldn’t have crossed paths on this fateful stage. Although Maria’s efforts do prolong the length of the war, I admire the way she sticks to her values and persists in pursuing peace in spite of most soldiers despising her heretical nature. (And the fact that, yeah, Maria is full-blooded witch living in the Middle Ages.)

Unsurprisingly, our namesake virgin witch also frequently finds herself wrapped up in the politics of gender. In the eyes of men, women of this time period should hold very little power, let alone intervene in the affairs of war–and yet, Maria manages to do both, consistently. She’s not only a threat as a powerful dragon-summoning sorceress, but also as a woman standing up to the petty conflicts of men. The devout of the peacemaking patron witch worship her; the fiends who crave blood and the battlefield curse her. It must be tough being so strong AND beautiful AND virtuous!

Life in Medieval France

I enjoy much of the humor and drama that is to be found in Maria, but what I perhaps love more than both is the production itself. Despite being produced at Production I.G, many of the same talented staff who worked on Code Geass also came out for Maria. This includes Yuriko Chiba, who designed the attractive characters of Maria (along with being chief animation director for Geass), and, of course, the genius Gorou Taniguchi, who directed both. The series boasts bright colors and lots of movement, along with a keen eye for historical accuracy in the various villages and castle towns. Top-notch stuff for a sex comedy!

You all know I love talkin’ music when it comes to anime, and I’m proud to have one of my favorites back for the theme song arrangement: Tatsuya Katou! Not only that, we’ve also got Masato Kouda of KonoSuba and Monster Hunter fame (among several other hits) composing the main series OST. Add ZAQ for a pop of excitement with the OP and the production package is complete. Did I mention that Funimation’s dub work here is also fantastic? Massive props to Caitlin Glass and her team for the vocal direction on this sometimes silly, sometimes serious fantasy series.

A Play of Magic & Morals

What bothers me most about Maria the Virgin Witch is how it transitions roughly between intimate character relationships and a bunch o’ bad dick jokes. Sure, I chuckled a lot when watching, but I couldn’t help but feel that the dramatic elements of the plot far outshine the toilet humor, especially considering the elaborate character work woven together throughout these short 12 episodes. And that’s another point for demerit—the series tries to navigate through all these heavy themes in just a single cour. (Not that I could guarantee I’d actually watch more Maria than this first season alone.)

Despite the tone problems, I was still quite surprised with the overall quality of the series. The show watches like a wacky Shakespearean plot unfolding on an anime stage—a play of human morals, magic, and the divine—and it deserves a first viewing at the very least. I bought the Blu-ray over a year ago, and it’s comforting to know that it will stay on my shelf for at least a little while longer. I’d probably have phased off Maria were I someone who dabbled in this sex-com genre more frequently. But, seeing as I’m not that kind of anime fan, I’d say Maria the Virgin Witch was a fun “first time,” so to speak.


“They’re lucky I’m such a pacifist, or there would be hell to pay!” 

– Maria


Afterword

I haven’t got much else to report on this one. Come for the laughs, stay for the heartwarming bits. Speaking of bits, there’s not a lot of ecchi presentation in Maria, and maybe that’s why I like it so much. Sure, our titular maiden is scantily clad in a few strips of leather. But Maria is a modest woman, and I think most will like her. Maria the Virgin Witch is a “Cake” title here at the cafe, a series well worth your time, if not for a one-time watch. (Or a one night stand . . . ok, I’m done with the awful puns.) You can watch all of the series on Funimation both dubbed and subbed! If you have seen Maria, definitely let me know your thoughts on the series or this review down in the comments. Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Akudama Drive: The Bloody Sci-fi Action Survival Game You’ve Been Waiting For || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode Fall 2020 anime series “Akudama Drive,” animated by Studio Pierrot, directed by Tomohisa Taguchi, and based on the original story by Kazutaka Kodaka.


Caught in a Cutthroat Game

The future of Kansai looks bright. Or at least, it would, were it not for the murderous “Akudama” roaming the back-alley streets of the dystopian metropolis. Bred in the darkness, these fugitives seek the path of crime, and only the elite Kansai police force can stand a chance at stopping them. Although strong in their own right, anyone could tell you that bringing an Akudama to justice is certainly easier said than done.

On one particular day in this techno town, the Kansai police begin the countdown for the public execution of “Cutthroat,” the infamous Akudama guilty of killing 999 people. When several other skilled Akudama receive a mysterious message to free Cutthroat for an unimaginable sum of money, however, the tides of justice begin to sway. To top it all off, caught in the middle of the madness is an innocent young girl who winds up forced to fight for her own life. Someone out there in the neon landscape wishes to gather these dangerous personas in one place, but to what end does this mastermind desire—and will a mere sum of cash prove enough to bind these talented killers under a singular noble pursuit?

From the mind of Danganronpa comes the equally zany and intense Akudama Drive. It wouldn’t be a lie to call the series one of the most exciting sci-fi action anime in recent memory, especially given the fact that its originality lends itself to an entirely unpredictable plot. I didn’t watch Akudama Drive as a simulcast with everyone else, but I sure as hell wish I had. Every episode is packed with explosive fun, and with a colorful cast of brilliant (if a bit insane) serial killers as the main characters, you couldn’t ask for a more wild ride.

Killers, Criminals, and the Law

Akudama Drive is one of those rare shows that gives its characters role titles instead of traditional names. For instance, Courier, Hacker, and Brawler are nicknamed correspondingly after their talents: Courier delivers, Hacker decodes, and Brawler fights. This definitely gave me Danganronpa vibes, as the characters there are also often referred to by their high school talent. The other Akudama include the unreliable Hoodlam, the devious Doctor (who was voiced by the legendary Megumi Ogata, another Danganronpa similarity), and the aforementioned killer Cutthroat (whose blind obsession with the color red was cute and crazy at the same time). The main two police officers simply go by Master and Apprentice, and even the lead character—the young girl who accidentally gets roped into all this trouble—is just called Ordinary Person.

Still, it’s odd how these plain role names manage to become more memorable and iconic than any given Japanese name would have been. It’s an easy system, and the creative character designs also lend themselves in part to Kazutaka Kodaka’s hand, no doubt. While binging the series, it was fun to talk to others about how incredible and scheming the Doctor is, or how wild and fun Cutthroat is to watch. Likewise, how dimwitted and unbelievable Hoodlam and Courier are, respectively. (There’s no way he’s slingin’ that bike everywhere like ODM gear, but I guess I’m here for it.)

At the end, however, I find myself coming back to the heroine more than any of the other Akudama. Obviously, she goes through the most character growth as she is forced to descend from innocent victim to Kansai’s most wanted. But, whereas the other Akudama remain mostly static, show-stealing characters, Ordinary Person learns to make big choices for herself, transforming into a symbol of the resistance towards police brutality itself. One could even say she swindles a thing or two from the other Akudama to aid in their collective cause . . . Regardless, she’s amazing, and one of my favorite anime heroines in recent times.

Kansai, the Cyberpunk City

The visual element of Akudama Drive is perhaps its greatest calling card. Art style really is everything here. Colorful holograms, floating screen panels, and bright neon lights litter the scene of this neo-futuristic Kansai. Almost as if straight out of the bleak cyberpunk worlds of Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell, Akudama Drive presents a setting that is anything but forgettable. The characters interact remarkably well within the space, providing more details about the terrifying state of Kansai as the series progresses. As the Akudama follow the beacon of light that is the Shinkansen towards freedom, the party of vagrant criminals encounters an unexpected darkness lurking within the underbelly of the land.

I’ve talked about how much I love the world, but I’ve yet to discuss the animation itself. The best surprise here, perhaps, is that Studio Pierrot doesn’t let Akudama Drive dip for a second. Each fight is stunningly choreographed and bizarrely stylish thanks to the unique character designs. I especially loved the fight between Apprentice and Brawler—the deep blue club lights and the giant neon fish swimming between panels on the wall and the floor made for quite the exciting combat set piece. The whole Cutthroat insanity scene was also spectacular. And the last episode especially, WOW. Absolutely jaw-dropping. Some of the series’ most iconic moments are isolated within the escalating tension, rich symbolism, and desperate irony of the epic climax.

As a whole, the production all comes together beautifully and tightly. Rui Komatsuzaki drew up the original character designs (which he previously did for Kodaka’s Danganronpa anime franchise). Kaoru Aoki provides intricate background art the likes of Maoyu, Fafner, or Kabaneri fans might recognize. Lastly, Maiko Iuchi (of Railgun and Index fame) instills a electric blend of cultural sounds and technopop to give the series a weird yet fitting musical twang. I could’ve gone for a less screamo rock OP theme, but if that’s my only beef with the production, I’ll gladly take it.

At the End of the Road

Although I’m a huge fan of anything Kodaka gets his paws on, I did have a couple problems with the overall plot. Aside from the ridiculous theatrics of Courier’s bike riding, it’s almost impossible to ignore the number of situations in which the heroine shouldn’t have made it out of. Plus, and this point is technically a minor spoiler for the first few episodes, so skip to the end now, but the children involved in the case are, like, immortal—do the Akudama forget that or?? Often, I felt like the Akudama could’ve just shot the officer holding the kids captive without fear of holding back BECAUSE even if they shot a kid, the kid wouldn’t have died. Maybe it was just me, but when you’re messing with immortality, you can and should be able to get away with this kind of recklessness.

Besides my small complaints, Akudama Drive was one of my favorite watches of 2020. To be fair, I hardly watched anything else. But to its credit, I think most people who like the more gruesome battle royale thriller anime will start recommending Akudama Drive as their first go-to. For one, it has an original story, allowing the series to end its run with a satisfying (if short) 12 episodes. Two, the story is written by Danganronpa‘s Kodaka, a genius who’s no stranger to these kinds of survival dramas. (Gotta love the way he transitions scenes as if all the set pieces were giant cardboard panels!) And three, the story is BOMB as frick. Done and done. Go watch Akudama Drive, it’s brilliant, it’s explosive, it’s mad—and it’s probably the bloody sci-fi action survival game you’ve been waiting for.


“I stole goods from the Shinkansen’s vault. I’m the Super S-Rank Akudama who plunged Kansai into chaos. I . . . am Swindler!” – Swindler


Afterword

I have to give it to Kodaka—the guy’s still got it. Obviously, I enjoyed Akudama Drive quite a great deal, and I hope you did as well. Because of its cool style, crazy presentation, and powerful sense of justice, I’m welcoming Akudama Drive with the certified “Cafe Mocha” title, a rating marking it as one of my favorites, and one I cannot recommend enough so long as the anime blood and gore won’t bother you. Cause there’s lots of it, that’s for sure! But what did you think of the series: Did you find it a fun watch or a painfully irritating one? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Akudama Drive down in the comments! Hopefully I’ll be able to churn out another series review for you guys soon. Thanks for reading, and ’til next time!

– Takuto

The Four Dragons Assemble: Yona of the Dawn 7-9 || 25 Days of Manga

After years of sitting on my shelf collecting dust, I finally finish reading Yona’s first nine volumes.

Loose thoughts on volumes 7-9 of Mizuho Kusanagi’s manga series “Yona of the Dawn,” initially published in 2016 by VIZ Media. Spoilers will be present.

CLICK HERE TO READ MY THOUGHTS ON VOLUMES 4-6


History is Made at Night

Unlike the past few volumes of Yona, volume 7 opens with action. Yona and Yun begin their escape to the upper deck of Kum-Ji’s human trafficking ship along with all the other women aboard. I love this opening chapter because it gives us a glimpse into Yun’s calculated thought processes. He really is a strategist, always assessing the situation for both himself, his enemies, and now, his friends. Before, all he had was Ik-su the shepherd. Now, Yun doesn’t just look out for himself; instead, he worries about Yona, Hak, and everyone else in the party. Point is, he’s already grown a lot from when we first met him. Even though he can’t save the princess on his own, we all know that Team Yona would’ve been doomed from the start without Yun’s genius. Praise for the pretty boy!

Anime watchers will immediately recognize the downfall of Kum-Ji as the moment where Yona takes on the mantle of power and courage, officially making a name for herself among the Awa port town residents. This scene is drawn so impressively. The backgrounds may be plain, but this allows Yona to literally leap out of the page with with her sharp gaze and even sharper arrow tip. Such a legendary scene. And I’m witnessing Kum-Ji die for the second time is just the icing on the cake.

A startling reunion with Su-Won tosses the main conflict at hand–reclaiming the thrown–back into the picture. The new king sure does have a handsome face, but Yona has changed a great deal herself. Though she crumbles after their encounter, she did muster the courage to attempt reaching out for Su-Won’s sword. I don’t think she could’ve killed him. Well, maybe . . . The remainder of the volume is full of joyous celebration and, likewise, bittersweet goodbyes. The scene of Yona running back to Gi-Gan to embrace the maternal figure one last time will never fail to break my heart.

War Games

Volume 8 is by far the most different volume in the story, both in terms of narrative focus and storytelling style. The first few chapters introduce a normal campfire evening with the party. Suddenly, Yona is joined by an innocent traveler radiating the light of the sun. Little does she know that her new companion is actually the Yellow Dragon! His name is Zeno, and he’s a bit of an oddball (which is really saying something, given that this is the same team with Gija and Sinha in it). But he’s kind, caring, and observant, and these qualities mark him as a dragon even if his abilities are yet to be realized. The anime ended with Zeno’s introduction, so I’m excited to see what he does from here on out.

Shifting focus, the next few chapters are told from Su-Won’s perspective. His ventures traveling the Kohka Kingdom have shown him small ways to make major changes in a village’s prosperity, as seen in the work he does in the Earth Tribe capital. The general there, Lord Yi Geun-Tae, has enjoyed a lazy lifestyle since King Il took the throne. Lately, however, the general craves combat, as battle is the only way Geun-Tae believes he can prove his worth to the kingdom. Su-Won provides him this long desired action, but in the form of a festival celebrating the Earth Tribe and its general. We get a laydown of the festival war game rules, the entire “battle,” and even the aftermath. It turns out the festival was a way to stimulate trade in the capital once again. Whether for tea, minerals, or even soldiers, Su-Won sure knows how to encourage the masses.

Off in the forest, Team Yona reunites with Ik-Su to seek instructions on the prophesy originally bestowed upon Yona. I’m not sure if the “Shield” and “Sword” they will eventually meet refer to Hak and Su-Won(?), but regardless, Yona wants to train. Desiring to take up the sword, she is met by humorous resistance from the party. However, we all know that our dear princess always gets what she wants–even if it’s skill of swordsmanship!

The Dark Dragon and the Happy Hungry Bunch

Despite taking a dark turn in the middle, this is by far the funniest volume in the series yet. Each chapter had something that made me laugh out loud, or at least crack a pretty big smile. We get to know more about Yun, how he grew up trading with local villages in the Fire Tribe lands while also supporting them with food and health needs. Watching Yona, Hak, and the Dragons bumbling through the village insisting on helping was just the sort of mood-lightener we needed.

Quickly, Yona resolves to put together a team of “bandits” to push out greedy Fire Tribe officials. In the name of happiness and hunger, the crew strive to protect inhabitants in this roundabout way so that they can prevent the villagers themselves from rebelling (which is punishable by the selling of one’s children, yikes!). I find it interesting how Yona’s team endeavored to bring safety by wounding (but not killing) the officials’ guards. This is in direct–and definitely deliberate–contrast to the previous volume, where Su-won essentially brought the same results without the use of any violence or manipulation. Is this what the power of the true king can do . . . ?

As previously stated, volume 9 does take a brief dark detour in the midst of the action. Forced to use his forbidden ability for the first time in 14 years, Sinha awakens to a newfound desire for power spurred on by his dragon eyes. The imagery here of the giant shadow dragon devouring the guards was the stuff of legend, I absolutely loved it. It’s nice to see best boy get the glow up he deserved, though the cost is surely great. Lastly, Fire Tribe prince Kang Tae-jun is up to no good once again–especially considering that he’ll soon find out that the princess he “killed” months ago actually survived the fatal fall!


IK-SU, THESE PEOPLE YOU PREDICTED WOULD SHAKE KOHKA UP ARE ALL IDIOTS. BUT, THEY’RE IDIOTS WHO CAN LAUGH EVEN WHEN THEY’RE HUNGRY. WHEN THEY HAVE TO DEAL WITH BIGGER PROBLEMS DOWN THE ROAD, I BET THEY’LL FACE THOSE WITH A SMILE TOO.” — YUN


Afterword

After YEARS of these books sitting on my shelf collecting dust, I’ve at last finished reading the first nine volumes of Yona of the Dawn. Although I’m done for now, you can bet my next RightStuf purchase will include the next dozen or so, as I simply love this series and its characters with all my heart! We’re finally getting past what the original anime covered (I believe . . . it’s been years since I saw it), and I’m excited to see where the story goes. If it’s as my fellow blogger and mangatuber friends are telling me, I’m in for the ride of my life! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

WE’RE BACK on the Trail: Yona of the Dawn Volumes 4-6

After several months, we return to the story of the girl whose blazing hair boldly paints the dawn crimson red.

Loose thoughts on volumes 4-6 of Mizuho Kusanagi’s manga series “Yona of the Dawn,” initially published in 2016 by VIZ Media. Spoilers will be present.

CLICK HERE TO READ MY THOUGHTS ON VOLUMES 1-3


Finding the Blue Dragon

It’s been FOREVER since I last talked about Yona and the crew (or blogged in general, yikes)! But fear not, we’re back on track with the manga volume “reviews.” I wanted to count volumes 7-9 of Yona as part of my 25 Days of Manga reads, only to realize that I never covered 4-6 here on the blog! It’s been a minute, but I hope you’ll enjoy reading these loose thoughts.

Alright, so volume 4 basically serves as our transition volume from the Gija story to the introduction of the Blue Dragon. Gija proves his worth to the team with his ability to sense the presence of other dragons. This will be useful, especially in the start, as Yona and Hak (and Yun) have essentially NO clue where the other dragons are residing. Unlike Gija, the others seem to have deserted the typical ways of the tradition, which make them particularly tricky to find in the vast countryside.

But obviously, Gija manages to find a way. We enter the Blue Dragon’s village, which is interestingly imbedded in a series of mountain caverns. (Seems like a difficult way of life to me, but hey, I know many cultures have done it in the past.) Shunned for his cursed eyes that supposedly turn people to stone, the Blue Dragon lives with the other villagers, although away from them at the same time. His story is a sad one, filled with drama, loss, and curses from his previous master. The villagers don’t like him much (which is their loss, seeing as how the Blue Dragon is my fave), but they want to protect him all the same. Weird. But it will all work out in the end, right?

A Name is Given

I love volume 5 of this series so much. Yona moves at a decent pace, quickly assimilating the Blue Dragon into the party and moving on to find the Green Dragon. Of course, this comes after escaping collapsing tunnels, gaining the trust of an entire village, and earning respects from the Blue Dragon himself. Speaking of, we finally have a name for him–Sinha! It was Yona’s idea, that lovely girl. With his silent charm and fluffy quirks, Sinha is right at home with Yona’s crew. It’s almost as if they were destined to be together . . .

After overcoming a bizarre little sick moment, Gija sniffs out the location of the Green Dragon. The good news? He’s relatively close. The bad news: His position changes frequently, almost as if he’s flying around like a madman. Though not far from that truth, the hunt for the Green Dragon comes to a hault when Hak causes trouble in the port town of the Green Dragon. His wanted poster goes up, and now it’s incognito mode for Yona’s bodyguard. It’s a good thing that Gija can still detect the Green Dragon’s position–their encounter is one of the funniest moments in the series yet!

The fault doesn’t like completely with Hak, however; unbeknownst to the party, the Green Dragon himself also joined Hak in taking down a few local hothead officials belonging to Lord Yang Kum-Ji. They are in many ways the same, both driven recklessly by their sense of justice. Heavy taxes imposed by Kum-Ji alone make him a pretty terrible guy, but the moment we find out that Kum-Ji is the leader of a human-trafficking ring, I immediately want him taken out. Thankfully, Jaeha, the Green Dragon, and his Captain, a local pirate woman, see eye-to-eye on this, and they form a crew–and a plan–to take Kum-Ji down.

A Test of Courage

Jaeha’s captain, Gi-Gan only agrees to accepting Yona’s help if the girl can prove herself in a challenge. Yona’s test involves scaling an imposing cliffside to retrieve a healing root which only grows in the cliff. Determined (as our girl always is), Yona takes on the challenge. Though Jaeha has to come to her rescue, Yona obtains the root and returns safely, thus passing the Captain’s test. The Captain sees a rare strength in Yona–the same fire in herself–and it’s these guts which convince the Captain that Yona would never betray her friends.

During Yona’s sidequest, Jaeha starts to feel the pull of the Red Dragon residing within Yona’s blood. He resists completely joining her quest of uniting the kingdom, but now he’s at least interested (both in these sudden feelings of loyalty and the young maiden herself). Romantic tensions between Hak and Yona also increase. We find that Hak has the HOTS for our beloved red-head princess, and that he’s been holding himself back for as long as he can remember. WOW Hak, way to reign it in. At the same time, I don’t think licking Yona’s wounds is convincing to anyone that you don’t love the princess. >.<

At last, a plan to take down Kum-Ji is drafted. It will involve all of the Captain’s noble pirate crew and everyone in Team Yona. (Lady Yun returns!) Before we move on, I just wanted to say that I actually really like the Captain’s crew. Gi-Gan herself, aged and stubborn, is a rare kind of admirable elder in shoujo manga. She’s the mother Yona never had, a role model that will no doubt influence how Yona views comradeship and hardship in this difficult world. Hopefully, the Captain has taught Yona enough in this short of time to be able to pull off the hardest role in this entire operation–being taken hostage by Kum-Ji himself!


SHE GREW UP SHIELDED FROM THE WORLD’S HORRORS, BUT SOMETIMES, SHE HAS THE LOOK OF THE SOLDIER ON THE BATTLEFIELD. SHE’S LEAVING ME SPEECHLESS. — CAPTAIN GI-GAN


Afterword

Forgive me if my blogging is a bit rusty, it’s been too long. I should have taken a formal break, but instead I let the nagging pressure of eventually needing to return agonize me for weeks. I’ll try to notify you guys next time I decide to take a break. Yona’s adventures are only beginning. I’ll start reading the next three volumes tonight, and will hopefully have the next post up soon. I’m glad to be back, and I’m thankful for your continued readership. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

BLACKPINK: Light Up The Sky – An Intimate Look at the World’s #1 K-Pop Girl Group || Review

A brief, spoiler-free review of the 2020 documentary film, “BLACKPINK: Light Up The Sky,” produced by Netflix, and directed by Caroline Suh.


The story of the #1 charting K-pop girl group finally gets told, and the whole world is watching.

Hey guys!

BLACKPINK IS IN OUR AREA for today’s video!! We’re gonna talk about YG Entertainment and Netflix’s latest K-pop documentary film, “BLACKPINK: Light Up The Sky,” which was just released on Wednesday, October 14th! No spoilers, so feel free to watch before or after viewing! (Also, there’s lots of fan rambling in this one, just thought I’d let you know 😉)

I LOVE THESE GIRLS WITH ALL MY HEART, and I hope these sentiments reach you as well! As much as I wanted to write out a review for this one, it just felt more natural to film a video instead. So, here it is, and I sincerely appreciate all those supporting my YT channel.


When you’re working in a group, everyone has their place and a role. And when everyone settles into their roles, that’s how synergy is born. That realization changed my outlook. When everyone is where they need to be, big things can happen.”

Jisoo


I’ve actually known BLACKPINK longer than I have BTS, so this film was extra special for me to watch. While it needn’t be said, this is a certified “Cafe Mocha” film here at the cafe, and one that you should totally check out if you’re a fellow BLINK, OR if you’re wanting to get into BLACKPINK and the K-pop scene and maybe don’t know where to start. Trust me, you’ve found a great place. To those who have seen it, you’ll definitely have to let me know what your favorite part of the film was in the comments!! 🖤💖

I’ll try to come back soon with a formal update explaining what’s going on with the blog, and where we should go from here. But for now, enjoy the video, and I’ll see you soon. ‘Till next time~!

– Takuto

Celebrating the End of an Era: Millennium Actress Revisited

Amidst birthdays, passings, and celebrations of life, join me in honoring one of the most brilliant auteurs to ever grace cinema, Satoshi Kon.

It’s been too long since I last revisited one of my favorite anime. I apologize. I meant to do one of these reflections with Code Geass following my rewatch, and perhaps I still will someday *hopefully* soon.

In the meantime, I had recently celebrated my birthday with my family last weekend. (My real birthday is actually today, so happy birthday to me I guess!) We chowed down on way too much Chinese food, played way too much BTS UNO, and double-downed on way too much cake for our own good. It was an incredible 22nd birthday, certainly much better than my lonely 21st.

But what I hadn’t realized was that, amidst a celebration of my life, anime Twitter was also celebrating another: the life of famed director Satoshi Kon.

Kon died too soon. Pancreatic cancer. He was 46, and would be 56 if he were alive today. That’s right, August 24th was the 10th anniversary of Kon’s passing.

And I—not knowing any of this—really did unintentionally rewatch Kon’s Millennium Actress on the day before this anniversary as a way to end my own birthday celebration.

In a single weekend, I celebrated the life of two people that mean quite a lot to me: myself, and director Satoshi Kon.

I put that “director” in there to establish distance between us; Satoshi Kon director Satoshi Kon led an accomplished career in the anime industry, leaving behind several legendary films that would go on to be studied in film classes around the world for years to come. He was a visionary auteur, one that would shape my own life with works like Paprika (which I’ve actually written academic papers over), Perfect Blue (which still scares the shit out of me), Tokyo Godfathers (which I still need to watch the dub of), and Millennium Actress (which I still need to rewatch).

Oh wait, I guess I can cross that last one off the list.

It’s still kind of weird to me, though. I mean, I’d never watched a single Kon film until just a year or two ago, and now I can’t imagine my MAL watch list without him. My buddy Scott really put it best when he tweeted:


A decade ago, I didn’t even know who he was. Now I know we are missing one of the greatest minds who ever lived.

Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews)

Damn, dude. I think I really almost cried when I first read that. Thank you for sharing these sentiments.

Now that I’ve talked for over 400 words about director Satoshi Kon and how splendid my birthday weekend was, I can finally get into the meat of this post: my latest thoughts on Millennium Actress, which come exactly five months after I initially reviewed it back in March.

And I hate to have kept you in suspense this whole time, but honestly— EVERYTHING I said in that post still holds true with how I feel about it now, on the night of writing this, a day before my actual birthday.

No single shot of that film feels lazy, out of place, or lacking in value; Millennium Actress is a masterpiece of a movie, which, ironically, is about the art of film itself.

Seamlessly weaving through a thousand years of Japanese history in cinematic form, the film—unlike any of his others—honors the passage of time in a way that is truly extraordinary and awe-inspiring. In an effort that’s full of character and heart, Genya Tachibana wishes to recognize the long and accomplished life of his idol, Chiyoko Fujiwara, by placing the sweetheart of Shouwa Era cinema back in the spotlight one last time.

This act can only come thanks to the countless scores of hours that Chiyoko put into mastering her craft, but equally so the admirable number of hours that Genya spent rewatching her films over the years. A simple yet dedicated man like Genya manages to honor their time by catching Chiyoko Fujiwara on camera before the curtain on her life falls for the final time, and the result is an engaging, unforgettable ride through the life of a historic Japanese artist—and the history of Japan itself.

As we navigate through our own daily troubles and trivialities, films like Millennium Actress continue to age like a fine bottle of wine. (No, I don’t drink, but I really like the expression and thought it fit well here.) In other words, for every day that passes, Kon’s legacy only expands, drawing in new viewers, fans, and inspired artists like moths to a flame. (That’s another expression I really like using.)

Truly, the passage of time—something so inherent, basic, and unconsciously experienced—is a remarkable advent. I would try and persuade you to note it down on your calendar somewhere, but I suppose the existence of the calendar itself is proof of my point: time is strangely unforgiving, yet also tends to honor artists. You could almost call the Clock any artist’s biggest fan, but that would only make Genya jealous, wouldn’t it?

Yesterday, I was 21. Today, I’m 22. I’ll probably get a couple of congratulations from my few closest family and friends (which includes you, of course), but likely no more than that. The truth of the matter is, at this point in time, I’m only worth celebrating if only for the fact that I go to school, teach kids how to play the cello, make some people laugh, and write on the internet. (And I’m perfectly content with that!!)

But I absolutely encourage YOU to celebrate the life and death of your favorite artists as often as you can. Go rewatch your favorite films of theirs, reflect on their best works, and share them with as many others as you possibly can. Promote art, and always promote the artist with it—the only way they live on is if we continue to celebrate their works.

Maybe my passion for Kon’s films is why I decided that instead of spending another birthday evening further inflating my ego, I went ahead and showed my family Millennium Actress for the first time.

And I sincerely hope that they—and everyone else who decides to give it a (re)watch—will fall in love with a film that truly celebrates the shining end of an era—and the brilliant beginning of the next, whatever it may bring.


With feelings of gratitude for all that is good in this world, I put down my pen. Well, I’ll be leaving now.

Satoshi Kon

These kinds of posts really are my favorite to write, I ought to do it more often. Anyone else feeling kinda emotional? Just me? Well, that’s ok too. I’ll never be done with talking about this film, but I think for now this will do. In Kon’s own words, allow me to put my pen down here and offer one last tidbit before parting with Chiyoko Fujiwara’s story . . .

In her final hours, Chiyoko Fujiwara left behind a treasure trove of insight to her incredible life as an actress. In his passing, Satoshi Kon left behind a contagious love for cinema that still burns brightly in the hearts of film lovers. In my lifetime, what can I leave behind and impart with all those who come across my name?

Maybe I’ll use 22 to figure out the answer to that question.

Thank you so much for reading. ‘Till text time!

– Takuto

Demon Slayer: Crying Under the Light of the Moon || OWLS “Folklore”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s eighth monthly topic of 2020, “Folklore,” I decided to ditch reviewing Kimetsu no Yaiba in favor of discussing the fascinating world of Demon Slayer where dark creatures of the night stalk humanity in plain sight.

This month’s OWLS topic was inspired by the name of Taylor Swift’s new album, Folklore. Yet, rather than using her conceptual definition of what “folklore” means, we are going to use its original meaning: we are going to explore the traditions and cultures of a specific group and community within pop cultural texts.

I figured it was a no-brainer that Demon Slayer would be a “Cafe Mocha” title here at the cafe, so I’m glad to be able to do something a bit more interesting than my usual review. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!


A brief discussion of the 26-episode Spring 2019 anime series “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba,” animated by ufotable, directed by Haruo Sotozaki, and based on the manga of the same name by Koyoharu Gotouge. Images may include spoilers!

A demon killed his family. But, when faced against the darkness, Tanjiro hesitates to pull his sword.

Enter the Taisho Period

High up in the mountains, young Tanjiro Kamado works hard to sell charcoal for his less-than-fortunate family. Although his father passed away when he was young, Tanjiro has shouldered the burden of supporting his entire family with admirable optimism. On his way back up the mountain one wintry night, Tanjiro takes shelter in the house of a strange old man who also tells Tanjiro to be wary of flesh-eating demons that roam in the shadows.

To his disbelief, Tanjiro returns home the following morning to the horrifying sight of his whole family, slaughtered and soaked in crimson blood. Worse yet, his sister Nezuko somehow managed to survive—only now she has been turned into one of those bloodthirsty demons of lore. Overwrought with rage, Tanjiro swears to avenge his family and save his dear sister’s remaining humanity. Guided by his unusually keen sense of smell, Tanjiro seeks a way of getting stronger, which leads him to joining a secret society devoted to slaying demons and protecting mankind: the Demon Slayer Corps.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the series is its setting’s historical roots—Demon Slayer is actually set during the Taisho Period of Japanese history (think early 1900s). It was the beginning of modernity for Japan, but all kinds of traditional charms are still adorned by the setting in characters. Tanjiro’s signature green-checkered haori, for instance, is an artifact that embeds us in this era. The same could be said of the traditional blue tile-laden roofs of the various tatami-lain village houses that decorate the landscape. Demon Slayer unashamedly embraces history, and I find that to be one of its greatest strengths.

To Devour and Destroy

On the surface, Demon Slayer is your typical shounen action anime with all kinds of exciting supernatural twists and powers. The demon slayers bravely traverse the land to vanquish human-hunting demons, despite the risks to their own lives out in the dangerous wilderness. Their main objective: tracking down and eliminating Muzan Kibutsuji, a heartless progenitor demon whose rare ability to turn normal people into powerful, murderous demons leaves carnage and bloodshed wherever he goes. It’s a simple premise, yet one carried out with remarkable pacing and world-building.

And it’s actually on that note that I want to talk about the demons from the human POV. No matter how you spin it, guys, the world would be far better off without these creatures. They indiscriminately destroy lives, taking whatever life they can for themselves just so they can continue devouring the next day. It’d be near impossible to convince someone that they are a benefit to human society. Thus, the demon slayers are wholly good and just in their mission, right?

Right?

It doesn’t take Tanjiro long to figure out that, yes, even demons have souls. After all, these creatures were once human, and they still retain some remnants of their humanity in their mannerisms, desires, and deepest wishes. Seeing their entire lives flashing before his eyes upon death, Tanjiro comes to realize that no demon truly wanted to become such a creature. Whenever he swings his sword to kill, he really is taking a human life.

Tanjiro’s continuous encounters with the demons compels him to deliver not curses, but salvation to the demons he slays. To that end, Tanjiro arms himself against these creatures not with blind hatred, but a newfound sympathy for their individual struggles and heartache. I guess trying to understand the demons only makes the job of extinguishing them that much harder, though . . .

Something More than Survival

Although we are only teased with a brief inside look at Muzan Kibutsuji’s deadly league of demons, the Twelve Kizuki (or Moon Demons), we can see that the demons aren’t simply a chaotic mess of evil like folklore might dictate. Over and over again we are told that the demons blindly consume, thinking only of themselves and answering to no one. This is not true. Yes, some demons are doomed to roaming the countryside, aimlessly fending for themselves, by themselves. Others decide to move in groups, however, and this single fact changes everything for the Demon Slayer Corps.

Over time, Muzan Kibutsuji has silently amassed a force of demons that swear absolute fealty to only him (else they be shredded to pieces by Kibutsuji himself). He manipulates the hearts of people with little chance or will for themselves, transforming them into these horrid creatures and commanding their lives henceforth. Some of the Twelve Kizuki follow him out of a sick devotion to his cause; others out of blackmail. But all obey him out of fear, and there is no undoing his curse.

Under the light of the moon, the Twelve Kizuki commit cruel organized crimes and claim their territories by staining them with blood. Using the terrifying powers gifted to him by Kibutsuji, one particular Twelve Kizuki tries to establish a family of demons for himself, something which has never been heard of before (save for the case of Nezuko Kamado). While his means are grim and appalling, he’s a breathing example of defying the common lore surrounding the demons. Yes, they kill a lot of people—but is there something more beyond merely wanting to survive as a demon? In this society where demons stalk the shadows of the mortal world, one can never truly trust the legends.

What the Stories Don’t Tell You

Like the silk of a spider’s thread, Demon Slayer navigates through an intricate web of conflicts where the main goal is to survive through the night. When two cultures collide, one supersedes the other, proving that the two cannot thrive simultaneously. Similarly, as Tanjiro and the other demon slayers uncover more about the suffering of their common enemy, the line dividing murdering out of hatred and murdering to protect becomes increasingly blurred.

Despite how purely wicked some of these demons seem—despite how earnestly I wish Tanjiro would just cut them down and move on with things—I can’t help but feel pity for the demons. Really, it’d almost be easier if Tanjiro didn’t get that glimpse of their life right before their inevitable death—if he didn’t see their tears bubbling forth as their decapitated head rolls to the floor. It’s just . . . sad. (But it’s a greater shame that some demons, like some humans, choose to do evil for evil’s sake, and thus are hard to earn sympathies from.)

At the end of the day, I’m honestly not sure I could do the work that Tanjiro and the demon slayers do. The Demon Slayer Corps hypes up this idea that killing demons is a just and noble thing. Meanwhile, the demons are drowning in their suffering, agonized and deeply tormented day and night by their conflicting urges to kill for survival and earnest wishes to remain human. So, raise your blade, but keep your ears and heart open: What the stories don’t tell you is that there’s a lot of loss, grief, and pain in the life–and death—of a demon. 


Those who regretted their own actions. I would never trample over them. Because demons were once human too! Just like me, they were human too!” — Tanjiro Kamado


Afterword

I find it most difficult to talk about the series that are most popular, but there you have a few of my thoughts over Demon Slayer. It’s an incredibly compelling piece by studio ufotable, and one that I’m so glad I finally got around to! If it weren’t obvious enough, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is a certified “Cafe Mocha” title, and a series you should absolutely check out if supernatural action anime are your thing. Even if you’re not a fan, there’s enough historical depth and cultural exploration that makes Demon Slayer‘s world so intriguing on its own. But hey, you can let me know: if you were in Tanjiro’s shoes, could you be a demon slayer?

This concludes my August 20th entry in the OWLS “Folklore” blog tour. My good friend Irina (I Drink and Watch Anime) went right before me with a fantastic post discussing the mundane yet charming yokai that are tsukumogami, which you can read right here! Now, look out for Dale (That Baka Blog) with a post coming Tuesday, August 25th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

Sakurada Reset: Supernatural Mysteries and Missed Opportunities || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode Spring 2017 anime “Sakurada Reset” (also translated as “Sagrada Reset”), animated by David Production, directed by Shinya Kawatsura, and based on the light novel by Yutaka Kouno.

Haruki can reset time but forget she ever did. Meanwhile, Kei remembers everything.


A Town of Supernatural Gifts

Sakurada isn’t your average seaside town. Unknown to anyone else, its inhabitants are born with strange psychic powers. Upon being summoned to the school rooftop one day, Kei Asai meets Misora Haruki, a quiet apathetic girl with the power to reset time. Her gift comes with certain limits, however: she can only go back up to three days, and she can’t use it within 24 hours of the last reset. To make matters more complicated, she doesn’t ever remember using her power when she resets time!

This is where Kei comes in. His ability to remember everything and anything allows him to recall changed timelines and Haruki’s resets. Together, they wield their unique powers with their Service Club friends to aid the problems of others. As the club starts taking on increasingly difficult and crucial missions for the mysterious Administration Bureau—an organization which manages all the abilities in Sakurada for the sake of justice—Kei finds that the machinations of eerie organization go far beyond simple acts of service.

I love time travel stories. I know many people dislike the trope, but it never ceases to entertain me. When paired with a plot like Sakurada Reset‘s—saving others, government conspiracies, romance drama, etc.—you basically get a knock-off Steins;Gate (which is one of my faves). The only problem is that, aside from the last couple episodes, the series is really, really boring. Given that I find everything else about the series to be incredibly interesting, I’m chalking up Sakurada‘s slow and lackluster nature to the direction. At least our time traveling heroes are somewhat inspiring, right? Right???!

sakurada characters

Apathy is Contagious

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Kei is one bland dude. Despite possessing one of the coolest abilities in the series, photographic memory, the gift does very little to make him likable. Like, he’s not rude or disrespectful, but he’s not exactly exciting to be around, either. I suppose he’s a SAFE option as a lead, but I’d rather my time travelers have a screw or two loose (like they tend to do) or have one overwhelmingly eccentric trait than be completely nonchalant about everything.

And sadly, Kei’s partner in crime isn’t much more interesting than him. In fact, Haruki’s hallmark is her absolute BLANDNESS, which allows Kei to tell her whatever he wants and she’ll do it. While I appreciate the sense of mutual trust that slowly starts to develop between them, I did notice that this kind of just left Haruki to be another tool for Kei to use (and not in the fascinating way that Code Geass‘ C.C. is to Lelouch). I’ll say that she’s reliable as a heroine, but not much else.

The rest of the cast ranges from similarly bland (man, apathy sure is contagious!) to unnecessarily complex. One example of bland is Kei’s best friend, Tomoki, whose abilities as a telepath makes him little more than the series’ top CHAD. Another is Seika, a girl who can communicate with cats, but is a weirdo and hard to converse with. On the flip side, Eri Oka, a punkish girl introduced later on who can implant memories, did nothing but make me want to pULL MY HAIR OUT, she’s so annoying. Same with Murase, a girl with an amazing power that basically makes her invincible, but boy is she a grade-A B*TCH to deal with sometimes. I could go on with describing my frustrations. Point is, they’re all good kids (kinda), just needlessly stubborn.

sakurada ocean

Calm and Quiet Seaside Energy

As Kei and friends continue to explore the city, I did slowly start to fall in love with Sakurada. Many sights became familiar, almost nostalgic, and I do think that the seaside setting does wonderful things for the story. Having the plot unfold in a smaller community than, say, Tokyo, allows characters to conveniently run into each other on the streets (which happens quite often) without seeming far-fetched. Plus, they have the ocean, and the sea is always a magical place for me.

If I had to describe the art and animation, I’d say what I have been about basically everything else—it’s safe. Not below average by any means, but decently pleasant, if not stiff and stale. (It sure doesn’t help that the MC’s script is boring as hell.) David Production took zero risk in making the powers in Sakurada look cool or exciting, which is SUCH a missed opportunity given how intriguing espers can be. Bummer. At least the music was good.

I couldn’t find credits for any other well-known work, but Rayons’ orchestral soundtrack compliments the pace of Sakurada Reset very well. The way some of the sad piano pieces transition to some of the series’ more casual, slice-of-life moments almost feels more like it’s music for a visual novel than an animated series. (There’s one particular piano/vocal track that really tugged at my heart.) This becomes more apparent when you start to realize that, for some reason, the music plays at a consistent volume THE ENTIRE TIME. No one “heartbreaking” moment felt more dramatic than the next, and I strongly believe that’s because the sound direction here—like the rest of the series—is so friggin’ lame. Again, good OST, just missed opportunities. WEAVER’s work on the second OP was BANGERS though!!

sakurada op

A Series of Missed Opportunities

For a supernatural school drama anime with mystery and time travel at every turn in the road, Sakurada Reset comes together as a strikingly unremarkable package. Its direction is steady (and sometimes quite artistic), but otherwise too slow to convince me to get excited about anything. Despite possessing unique super powers, the characters’ personalities are either disappointingly ordinary or straight-up noisome. And that’s too bad, really, because nothing about the series is terribly bad. It’s just average, and probably forgettable give or take a month or two.

If you came from a show like In Search of the Lost Future (wow, now THAT takes me back) and were hoping for something a bit more, Sakurada Reset will serve you well. It explores living with regrets, human longevity, and trust much better than other time travel romances do. However, if you came expecting a masterpiece like Steins;Gate, prepare to be disappointed—you won’t gain much from these long 24 episodes.

sakurada tree


We’re connected by our abilities. Since we have abilities, the two of us were able to stay together all the time, automatically, as a matter of course. Kei Asai


Afterword

In continuing to tackle my never-ending backlog, I was happy to be able to cross this one off the list. It sure was mediocre, but not something I regret watching. For all those curious, I consider Sakurada Reset a “Coffee” rating, and only recommend it if you’re longing for a particular kind of feeling, something transient and fleeting but, also, not wholly unenjoyable. If you have taken the one-way train to Sakurada by chance, be sure to let me know your thoughts about the series in the comments! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Den-noh Coil: The 2000s Sci-Fi Anime You Never Watched (But Should) || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the original 26-episode Spring 2007 anime “Den-noh Coil” (also translated as “Dennou Coil”), animated by Madhouse, created and directed by Mitsuo Iso.


Nostalgia, Child’s Play, & the Internet

In the near future, people have integrated augmented reality their daily lives through the use of specialized cyber glasses. A virtual world of “E-spaces” overlays Daikoku city’s electronic infrastructure. Viruses hide in plain sight, yet only glasses wearers can see these virtual hazards. Children in particular find immense joy in tracking down old abandoned E-spaces and using them for their own game. Hacking spaces, switching servers, discovering damaged domains—it’s like the coolest game of geocaching you could ever play! Some have even taken interest in hunting for metabugs, small gems which can be converted into currency or special items in the digital world.

This brings us to Yuuko “Yasako” Okonogi and her family, who have just moved to Daikoku City despite rumors of some people mysteriously disappearing. While searching for her cyberdog Densuke, Yasako encounters Fumie Hashimoto, a playful classmate and member of “Coil.” Comprised of other community youngsters, the small unofficial detective agency helps glasses wearers solve various cyber troubles. The girls’ meeting also brings Yasako’s snappy grandmother back into her life, who just so happens to run a shop that sells illegal tools which interact with the virtual world AND is the bright mind behind Coil.

Like any program, however, there are many bugs in the system, dubbed “illegals.” Some are lost, aimlessly wandering the digital landscape to eternity. Other illegals exist to cause mayhem, and some are harmless yet like to follow humans around, much like a household pet would. Another girl, Yuuko “Isako” Amasawa, is also investigating these corrupt spaces, but her abrasive hacking style (and attitude) deters her from making friends. The kids in Coil are determined to discover the truth behind the mysterious viruses and disappearances, but little do they know what corruption lurks on the dark side of the web.

yasako and fumie

Virus Attacks & Friendly-Fire Hacks

For the entirety of the series, Yasako serves as our blank canvas as Fumie guides us through the ins and outs of the virtual world. The two girls become best friends, and Fumie’s intelligent yet loud personality meshes well with Yasako’s soft naivete. Navigating through scary virus attacks and friendly-fire hacks from their fellow classmates, the go quite well together as a pair.

But, if there’s one giant brick wall stopping them from having fun in this digital space, it’s going to be Yuuko Amasawa. To avoid confusing the two Yuuko transfer students, the kids call her Isako. And boy is Isako one tough nut to crack. She’s standoffish, rude, and totally not interested in making friends; rather, her eyes are set solely on collecting metabugs for her own personal mission.

To complicate matters, the incredibly obnoxious and bratty Daichi Sawaguchi (along with his self-named “Hackers Club” goons) are also trying to snatch up metabugs, drawing out much of the conflict in the series’ first half. As things get weirder and weirder on the digital side, these hidden secrets tell of disastrous things happening in Daikoku City. Maybe, just maybe, the forces undermining the kids’ efforts will allow them to start seeing eye-to-eye.

isako hackers club

Given that practically the entire cast of this one is made of children, I’m SO glad that the English dub from Maiden Japan cast all the young boys with female dub actresses. (It just helps avoid the cringe of hearing a 30-year-old man voicing a ten-year-old.) I’ve never heard a dub where the children—to this extent—act and sound so much like children should. These kids are FUNny and are a hoot to watch! (And I LOVE Specs Granny!!)

Whether chasing down urban legends, stalking haunted hotspots, or connecting dreams and memories across time and digital spaces, these kids go on quite the coming-of-age journey. Together, they prove that the Internet can be a fantastic place for self-discovery—but also a potentially hazardous landscape without practicing proper safety.

dennou coil kids

Integrating CG with the Digital World

Although the show has a quiet, lukewarm start to it, the talents at Madhouse breathe astonishing life into Den-noh Coil. Mitsuo Iso not only directed AND created the entire story—he also drew many of the key frames himself! His style is jerky yet detailed, full of motion and expression. There’s some really well-animated character work done here, and it’s all in the details. Whether fidgeting children, readjusting glasses, or making silly faces, the animation fully encapsulates the behaviors and mannerisms of goofy 6th graders.

Despite coming from an era of anime where the use of CGI was almost purely experimental, the 3D CG works remarkably well here since Den-noh Coil‘s world is deeply intertwined with the digital space of the Internet. Muted, drab, washed-out Tokyo landscapes provide a unique, small-town community atmosphere to the series. Much of the AR special effects work is done with CG, giving us a nice distinction between the bleak watercolor skies of the real world and the quirky (yet dangerous) E-spaces that the kids are so fond of exploring.

I also found the entire soundtrack of the show to add a unique quality to Den-noh Coil. The series is accompanied by soft acoustic guitar and the quiet cascade of digital sound effects whenever the kids are dueling in back alleyways. Tsuneyoshi Saito’s OST, as with most of his other works (most notably Fafner), showcases the strengths of orchestral music. If we’re not getting weaving wind ensembles, we may hear the solemn beat of tribal drumming, or even the tender, evocative enchantment of the piano. It’s classic, and this kind of music will always win me over.

searchie

Connection, Disconnection, & Loss

Den-noh Coil takes a bit to get going, but enjoy its comedy/slice-of-life beginning. Trust me. These early-middle standalone episodes explore youth, life, and living side-by-side with this digital world, and are by far some of the strongest in the series. (The beard episode was especially great.) I’d argue that the episodic direction in the middle is far stronger than the main overarching story. Then again, I just find that the episodic style suits the series’ world and setting better.

About two-thirds of the way in, this sci-fi adventure kicks up the mystery with a starkly different plot set in motion. The character drama in the middle is also strong and even stronger at the end, which ties in well with the creepier subjects of the series’ finale. It’s a striking tone switch, but it really makes for an exciting finale.

yasako laser

These days, no one talks about Den-noh Coil (which is partially why I was drawn to it in the first places). I think that’s sad, because it’s more relevant now than it ever was in 2007 when it first came out, and I can’t help but think how highly people would praise the series if it was put out today. Certainly, it’s one creative piece of sci-fi.

Den-noh Coil tackles themes of connection, disconnection, loss, extinction, living within boundaries, and learning to push beyond certain limits. It explores what can go wrong in a world that lives side-by-side with technology, a world that can be hacked AND hack you just the same. Some stories are silly and eccentric; others are thought-provoking and startlingly philosophical. If you’re wanting an anime that explores transience in the digital age and you’re tired of being directed to Ghost in the Shell or Serial Experiments Lain, go give Den-noh Coil some love. It’s TOO overlooked and under-appreciated, and I guarantee it’s the early 2000s sci-fi anime you never watched—but absolutely should.

yasako and isako


What is real? Does being able to touch things make them real? If something can’t be touched, does that mean it isn’t real? What things are really, truly here? What things are actually here for sure?  — Yuuko “Yasako” Okonogi


Afterword

I had to sit on my rating for Den-noh Coil for a while. On one hand, it’s slow, a bit drab, and unnecessarily confusing with all its technobabble nonsense. On the other, however, it’s surprisingly dynamic and full of interesting ideas. And you know what, it’s for these reasons that I welcome Den-noh Coil as a certified “Cafe Mocha” title. THIS right here is what we call an anime gem, and you should seriously consider adding it to your watch list if you love sci-fi or augmented reality in the slightest! Had I watched it as a child, I couldn’t even begin to imagine the boundless fun I would’ve had with it! Are you one of the rare few who have seen Den-noh Coil? Please let me know, as I’m looking for fellow Coil kids to love this show with! Thanks for reading, ’till next time!

– Takuto

The Start of a Long Journey: Yona of the Dawn Manga Volumes 1-3 || First Impressions

First impressions and loose thoughts on volumes 1-3 of Mizuho Kusanagi’s manga series “Yona of the Dawn,” initially published in 2016 by VIZ Media. Spoilers will be present.


A Terrible, Terrible Birthday

I’m no stranger to the beautiful and cruel world of Yona of the Dawn. I followed the anime when it first aired many years ago. Loved it. Since then, I decided to pick up the first NINE volumes of the manga to hopefully quench my thirst for a sequel we’ll probably never get. Wellll, you know how I do these things—the manga sat on my shelf for a good couple years, untouched, and the dust started to collect.

Until now! My rekindled love for manga has motivated me to tackle my shelves before buying new titles, which naturally placed volume one of this long-awaited read in my hands. And guys, what can I say that hasn’t been said already? Yona is a wonderful shoujo fantasy series with a compelling cast of characters living in an interesting Asian-inspired world. BANG. What more could you want?

But in case you know nothing about Yona, the shoujo manga follows the titular Princess Yona, whose bright red hair makes her the crown jewel of the Kohka Kingdom. After her doting father, the king, is murdered in cold blood by her childhood friend and lover, Su-won, Yona flees for her life with her faithful guard Hak. Now, Yona sets out on a journey to reclaim her country with hak, which includes tracking down the four dragon warriors of ancient lore.

Out on the Run

Right off the bat, I think the most striking thing about Yona’s world is the choice to use Korean-inspired names instead of the typical Japanese names. In fact, the series draws more inspiration from Korean culture than it does Japanese, making it an intriguing blend of both cultures. The series carries with it a heavy traditional feel, but also contains a surprising amount of fun and comedic moments despite the tragic start.

Following their flee, Hak seeks out his home village of Fuuga to avoid further pursuit from Su-won’s soldiers. The village’s chief (and Hak’s foster grandfather), Mundeok, is an admirable figure who I’m sure could’ve taken in Yona and raised her very well—but that wouldn’t be much of a story then, would it?

No, instead, Yona puts her foot down and decides to leave the village herself, demanding Hak continue to stay at her side. (The audacity, I know!!) Shortly after, Yona and Hak confront their pursers, and we get the powerful scene where Yona slashes her own hair—which she is adored for—to free herself from Kang Tae-Jun’s captivity. If that’s not symbolic of a woman choosing strength and independence over frailty and vanity, I’m not sure what is. The passing of Yona’s cut lock to Su-won leads him to believing that Yona has truly perished, which deeply hits him, interestingly enough. Like, Su-won isn’t a good guy, but, is he truly bad . . . ?

She with the Crimson Hair

Volume 3 is where we finally start to get a glimpse of the overall plot Yona is about to take up. Now that we’ve become acquainted with Yona’s rare fiery side as well as Hak’s reliability and loyalty on and off the battlefield, we are introduced to Ik-su, a lackadaisical priest who fled the capital when the regime changed years ago, and Yun, a haughty young pretty boy whose talents in cooking, fashion, and herbal remedies will prove incredibly useful on their journey going forward.

Ik-su tells Yona (and the reader) a great deal about the world, the legend of the dragon warriors, and Yona’s role in all of it. He prophesizes the assembly of the four dragon warriors, and how their coming together will awaken the monarch and resurrect the red dragon of dawn. The spirit of the dragons is passed down through four individual bloodlines, each of which still bear fealty to their beloved crimson dragon even to this day.

After a sad parting, we leave behind Ik-su, and Yun joins us in traveling to the White Dragon Village. There, in the land of the wind, we meet the first dragon warrior, a beautiful young man named Gija who possesses the “arm of a dragon,” scales and all. Although Gija bumps heads with Hak, the pain in Gija’s arm makes him realize that joining Yona is his life’s calling—and the destiny that has been passed down his family for generations. Another bittersweet parting between Gija and his grandmother sets us on the long quest to finding the other dragon warriors.

A Fantastic Historical Fiction Drama

Mizuho Kusanagi’s art style is the stuff of legends. Almost flawlessly, she recreates an era in time that dates back to the Three Kingdoms period of Korea. Mind you, it’s all historical fiction, so none of the setting is real, but Kusanagi reimagines this period from architecture and fashion style to customs traditional of this period. It’s such, SUCH, a gorgeous manga.

All of Kusanagi’s characters are beautiful (as one might expect in a shoujo manga), but also brazen and fierce. There’s a fire in Yona’s eyes that is unmatched; in Hak’s, a gaze of strength and familiarity; and in Su-won, a dark, melancholic sadness. Each cover piece alone is a work of art, as the coloring is so pretty and vibrant, much like Yona’s captivating red hair.

So, will I be reading more Yona of the Dawn in the future? Well, duh—I already bought the first nine volumes, or did you already forget? Haha! Seriously though, if I didn’t already have them, I would’ve placed an order immediately following the second volume. Yona has a lot of promise, which comes as little surprise given how highly talked about this series is. I’m excited to embark on this long journey with Yona, and I do hope you’ll be tagging along for the ride.


If it were a person . . . if this were a battlefield . . . I’d need my arrow to fly true. Drawing your bow means taking a life—or letting someone take yours.Yona


Afterword

I could talk on end for how much I love Hak, how much I love Yun, and how endearing of a protagonist I find Yona to be growing into. But, I’ll save that for future manga write-ups. After all, this is only the first three volumes, and there are well over 20 volumes available in English! I do hope you’ll continue with my reading of Yona of the Dawn. What are your thoughts on this highly beloved series? Let me know down in the comments! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

CLICK HERE TO READ MY THOUGHTS ON VOLUMES 4-6