LitaKino commemorated this piece on writer’s block to me, as well as any of us struggling in the fight to write. Learn her tips from her own experience and pass on whatever you can to those also needing a helping hand. Thank you so much, Lita~!
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!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s eighth monthly topic, “Bloodlines,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Hanasaku Iroha review into this discourse about “it runs in the family.”
Family means everything (or does it?). This month, we will be discussing the importance of family relationships in anime and pop culture. Familial relationships include a child and his/her parents, sibling rivalries, adoptions, etc. Some questions about family that we will be contemplating on include how does one’s family shapes his or her identity? How do we define family? How does a broken household influence a person’s view on family?
This show probably deserves a review all on its own, but hey, I’m just gonna go for it here! Thanks Lyn for the prompt!
A brief discussion on the 26-episode spring 2011 anime “Hanasaku Iroha: Blossoms for Tomorrow” and the 2013 film “Home Sweet Home,” produced by P.A. Works, directed by Masahiro Ando (Blast of Tempest), based on the original story by Mari Okada (A Lull in the Sea).
Out On Her Own
Ohana Matsumae: bursting with rebellious energy and only 16 years old, her picture-perfect Tokyo life could’ve been every girl’s dream—if only her mom wasn’t such a mess! Carefree, irresponsible, and always on the go, mother Satsuki Matsumae and her boyfriend hurriedly pack their bags to flee from debt collectors, forcing Ohana to seek refuge out in the countryside at her grandmother’s Kissui inn. It is there at the Kissuiso that Ohana forms the resolve to work hard under her grandmo—I mean, Madame Manager’s—cold and strict guidance as a maid to prove that she is just as strong and independent as her mother, reevaluate her unrequited love life, and “fest up” her otherwise mundane city life.
As Ohana grows deeper connections with the quiet countryside land and the changing seasons, she is faced with the trials of working as a maid, as well as countless interactions with the many customers that come and go at the Kissuiso. Bonds of friendship are born, and inexpressible relationships blossom beautifully.
The Kissuiso Staff
Much of the love and respect I have for this show lies right here with the inn’s staff. That said, it can also be the most frustrating part. The busybody maids remain my favorite: Ohana’s fresh, persevering face even if she’s not exactly helping in the best way just makes you want to shout “SHE DID NOTHING WRONG” (at least she’s always trying, unlike some of the others); Nako, the”quite literally” big sister character never fails to support Ohana in that soft and gentle way that she does; and Tomoe, the playful and typically jealous woman tends to catch gossip and spread rumors throughout the inn, adding in the comedic elements.
It’s the cooking staff that annoys me the most. No, not Renji, the stoic and buff head chef who minds to himself—my issues lie with an outspoken young man named Tohru and a girl Ohana’s age named Minko who “secretly” has the hots for him. They’re just both so rude to everyone, scolding one another whenever they can and not leaving much room for fun. I guess part of that adds to the staff’s dynamic (and conflict for Ohana), but Minko’s attitude really got on my nerves; far too distracting for what her character honestly represents. I also couldn’t stand her voice.
Lastly, I couldn’t forget the two loudmouths that pop in throughout the series: Yuina, the daughter of a rival inn’s family and Ohana’s new classmate who honestly only wishes to enjoy her youth while discovering her true passion; and Takako, the glamorous business consultant adviser for Kissuiso who always wants to revitalize the rather old-fashioned inn to suit the times. She often bumps heads with Sui, as her ideas are indeed ludicrous at times, but when it comes down to it, they both only desire what’s best for the inn and its customers.
I could go on about how genuine the personalities and relationships of each character feel, but half the appeal of Hanasaku Iroha is witnessing how they go about their days, both the ordinary ones for those slice-of-life vibes and the hectic ones to see how this seemingly disjointed team tackles wild problems head on!
One of P.A. Works’ Finest Pieces
I’m all about scenery. Whether it’s a schoolyard from heaven (or hell) or an enchanting undersea village, P.A. Works never fails to embody this ideal vision of a “gorgeous world.” The anime’s characters are all beautifully designed and fluidly animated in their own right, Ohana especially, but the colorful Kissuiso takes the cake as a visionary set piece. Perfectly blending antiquity with its polished, hand-carved wooden exterior with the luscious greens from nature, the rustic countryside inn almost feels tangible, one that you can breath fresh air easily in and instantly feel comforted by the relaxing atmosphere. I could probably lose myself in the pages of an art book if I ever got my hands on one (which I will surely try to).
The same glowing things are to be said about the charming piano and string tracks by Shiro Hamaguchi, my favorite being a little sad piece called “Remember that day with a smile like that.” For OPs and EDs, I’m not a huge fan of nano.RIPE’s lead singer’s nasally voice, but its random fifth ending “Saibou Kioku” happened to play at just the right time.
It Runs in the Family
Hanasaku Iroha enters the realm of slice-of-life with a little drama thrown in the mix. While it’s easy to label it as just that—a simply relaxing show—the series poses much more than that. From the beginning, it presents a moving story about family and adulthood, parenting and role-modeling. Like most titles with drama elements, the events of the larger present story are results of a little, once-close-knit group from the past.
This group now makes up the adults in Ohana’s life: her stern grandma, Sui, her defiant mom, Satsuki, and her scatterbrain uncle (Satsuki’s brother), Enishi. When these parental figures were supposed to guide Ohana as a child, Satsuki often left Ohana to do all of the chores and “take care of herself”—a mantra that she still employs—choosing to put her efforts into her work as a pro writer instead of parenthood. Satsuki gave up her entitlement as the inn’s next manager, and as a result Sui stayed behind at the inn, Enishi working for her, and that was that.
Ohana spent her whole life cleaning up after her own mother.
As depressing as that sounds, the story’s realism is probably the best thing that it has going for it. It’s a show that doesn’t want to boast, but simply leave itself out there by remarking, “This actually happens in real life.” By intertwining the lives and efforts of the inn’s staff, using the Kissuiso itself as the anchor, everyone comes to understand the tension between Satsuki and her mother, why Ohana’s personality is so brazen and spirited, why Enishi is so desperate to win his mother’s approval over his big sister, and why their boss Sui acts like such a secluded hag. It all comes down to family in the end, or rather the lack of a strong one to bind them together.
I think we can all relate to this.
Genes have the power to shape a family, but only you can decide what path it takes. As people, we make mistakes—for some of us, a lot of them—and maybe you got that from someone (or you’ll pass it on). But regardless, if we spent as much time thinking about the ones we are supposed to love as we did ourselves, I think we’d all be better off.
Ohana put herself in her mother’s shoes when she reconnected with the source that threw her mom off to begin with, and her entire world changed for the better as a result. She realized that as different as she liked to think they were, they both made the same mistakes as young girls. Knowing this, she vowed to be like her grandma one day, hopefully ending the cycle of familial neglect.
And this made momma very proud of her little girl.
Hard Work Really Does Pay Off
Hanasaku Iroha walks us through the struggles of the worker class for a girl living in a somewhat broken home. As Ohana comes to find beauty and grace in hard work, dignity, and servitude, we can’t help but feel inspired by her bold newfound identity. Most important of all, we’re told an endearing story about being the best that only you can be, and that even in this self-centered world that is so consumed by “give and take,” there exists wonderful places like the Kissuiso, safe havens that offer both a relaxing time to heal old wounds and a staff that only wishes to work hard to serve YOU. And that, well, that’s really special.
“You may come to a standstill or get irritated because things don’t work out the way you want them to, but what you gain from hard work will never betray you.” – Tohru Miyagishi
So there you have it, the very gentle and sweet Hanasaku Iroha. By the end of it, you just want to smile and cry at the same time. For those wondering, the film takes place before the finale, and acts more like three episodes linked together rather than a standalone film. Still wonderful stuff—so wonderful that I present it with the certified “Caffe Mocha” rating, one for the menu and it’s all on me (actually it’s on Crunchyroll for FREE)! You HAVE to let me know what you thought about my review over this quaint little gem if you’ve seen it, as it’s a quiet show that doesn’t get much buzz anymore. I found this to be the perfect show for this month’s OWLS theme since “Ohana” does mean “family” in Hawaiian, after all!
This concludes my August 4th entry in the OWLS “Bloodlines” blog tour. Since I was first again this month, I’ll give you the weekend before handing it off to my buddy Matt (Matt-in-the-Hat) with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (I REMEMBER THIS FILM!) on Monday, August 7th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been
– Takuto, your host
A brief spoiler-free review of the 2017 live action film “Ghost in the Shell,” produced by Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks, directed by Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”), based on the original manga by Masamune Shirow, as well as loose ideas from the entire franchise, especially the original 1995 film of the same name.
The First of Her Kind
In a future not too far from our own, people have grown to love technology. You can bet that anyone you run into on these cold streets will sport some sort of cybernetic enhancement modded to their body: prosthetic limbs, wired inner organs, or the trending metal-encased cyberbrain. These advanced augmentations were coded to grant humans more convenient lives: quicker, safer, and less cumbersome living.
After a horrifying terrorist attack, Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) transcends into the first of her kind: the stunning results of the first-ever brain transplant into a fully synthetic body. Now a cyborg soldier programmed to eliminate cyber crime, super hackers, and back-alley schemes, the Major is automatically drafted to hunt down the ultimate next-gen terrorist—one who is able to hack into people’s minds and puppet them.
Suffering from a faintly growing illness of glitching memory fragments, however, the deeper the Major dives into this case, the more intense her glitches become. As the possibility emerges that her new greatest enemy might in fact belong to her blurry past, the Major arms herself for a treacherous night journey. Nothing will stand in the way of satisfying her human curiosity, as well as the inevitable reawakening of her soul to a life that was stolen from her.
A New Story
While I’ll admit that we’re looking at the film’s weakest part—the plot—first, it’s impossible to deny that this live action reigns as one of sci-fi’s more interesting films in recent times, and holds the gold for the best live action iteration of an anime produced thus far, granted that I’ve only seen segments from most of them. What we’re looking at here with GitS (2017) is a fairly well-structured story of self-discovery followed by revenge, a typical Hollywood formula that feels relatively topical compared to the franchise’s classic 1995 film, which explored the deep values of being human, artificial sentience, and of course, the vastness of the Net.
This apparent shallowness works out because of what the film is aiming at, though; in 1995 we dove into present identity and the other weighted themes previously listed—the Major as she is existing, if you will—but in 2017, we’re instead considering how the Major would feel about her past (2nd GIG did this), and what her creation ultimately means for the future of humanity, about feeling disconnected because she lacks the background that everyone else has laid out for them. Dig too deep into the original content and you risk deviating from the main intent: a new story.
How This Live Action Holds on its Own
We take a undoubtedly cliche ride with the Major as she discovers how she came to be, and it all clicks together wonderfully and feels unique because of how huge the title is, what it means to others, and the sheer number of comparisons that can be drawn between this seemingly shallow film and its deep, thought-provoking origination. Everybody’s experience with it will be different, and that notion makes it not only thrilling to watch, but exciting to talk about.
So the film DOES in fact deliver a fresh outlook on an already well-refined series, standing out from its manga, anime, and even video game counterparts by re-imagining the Major’s previous identity, something that purposefully remained ambiguous throughout the franchise. It was a bold, completely unnecessary “prequel” adventure, but now that it’s over, I can’t help but welcome it openly with an applause. GitS is all about varying interpretations, proven true by Motoko’s complexity in 1995 and the franchise itself, which has had several makeovers. The idea of re-envisioning shouldn’t feel new, but everything from its tone, emotional pull, presentation, and core writing should. Speaking of new faces, how does ScarJo hold up as the Major?
Casting the Characters
Several races and colors collide in the astonishing multicultural world that the franchise is known for. I had no qualms with the casting before I entered the theater, and that hasn’t changed. Johansson is a white female actress playing a traditionally Asian character, but that’s in fact where most of the misunderstandings arise—Motoko Kusanagi embodies no one race, no one color, no one gender, and she probably never will. This was stated by 1995‘s director Mamoru Oshii, and for people to be throwing up their pitchforks in revolt of the supposed “whitewashing” is actually kind of pitiful. The context of the show allows for virtually ANYONE to play the Major, and given Johansson’s overly qualified resume for sci-fi action films, I’d hope people would rescind their bombastic comments.
TL;DR I thought Johansson was not only appropriate for the role, but her performance was great considering that Rupert was aiming for the more hot-headed, brash, young Major of the Arise series. I prefer this Major to the 1995 one because she arguably feels more relatable.
But just like she is in her many iterations, the Major is nothing without her Section 9 team, consisting of Chin Han as the very-human Togusa [insert comment about race being appropriate here], Takeshi Kitano as rough and intelligent Chief Aramaki (who actually speaks Japanese since English is hard for him LOL), Pilou Asbæk as the big ol’ softie Batou, and a “surprise” favorite actress of mine: Juliette Binoche as the compassionate Dr. Ouelet. To quote Guy Lodge (Variety), “A warm, wistful Binoche, brings more pathos to the role than the script strictly demands.” She makes my heart weak.
There’s a real chemistry to be felt between Dr. Ouelet and the Major, as well as between Major and Batou, and that’s something that they nailed to a tee.
The World of the Future
Where its story stumbles a bit, GitS (2017) leaves your jaw dropped with its incredibly “exciting and elaborately designed future settings,” plunging you into a visually entrancing world where cyberpunk is clearly the hottest thing. My GOD, this show is everything when it comes to its unique visual style! They use a clever lighting system that projects the color palette of the original 1995 onto the vast metropolis, giving off a vibe that’s so cold and distant, yet very interconnected with the world at the same time. CG solograms (solid holograms) layered over a typical Hong Kong-like setting give the atmosphere a very futuristic edge to it that I simply crave. You can tell that a lot of love and respect was put into the film.
My favorite part of this film were the iconic shots of 1995 and Innocence that were recreated and woven into the story: the shelling sequence, building jump, deep dive, water fight, geisha attack, tank battle, and more. It’s all there, and yes, the scenes do not feel “thrown in” just for the allusions, but well-placed for the story’s flow. It’s a visual style to be praised, and its action sequences and use of practical effects (not just CG, but actual, physical props like the geisha masks, thermoptic suit, prosthetic and cybernetic enhancements, and other costumes) give us artsy people something really freakin’ cool to grasp onto. The hard work that went into replicating the world of Ghost in the Shell, largely from that of the film-loving folks of New Zealand’s Weta Workshop for prop creation and setting design, was very much appreciated.
The Greatest Injustice
Here it is, my biggest beef with the show and it’s NOT EVEN about the film itself. It’s about how it’s being dished out, or rather, that some of it is not. Paramount and Dreamworks refuse to offer Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe’s mind-blowing sci-fi soundtrack for sale. I understand that the movie’s box office reception was somewhat poor, but for crying out loud AT LEAST FINISH what you started. It’s a shame that a work of art, even if it’s controversial, cannot be appreciated in full just because it might not sell. These are million, probably billion, dollar corporations—it’s NOT too much to ask for by any means. There’s currently a petition going around for the soundtrack’s release (which I have signed), so hopefully we’ll see some change this way. If you value this show and artistic justice, please consider signing here!
If you stuck around for the credits, you’d have heard a remixed version of Kenji Kawai’s memorable main theme of the original film, a remix which I honestly prefer, as the drums in the second half give it a really epic feel! Again, love the throwback! All of the music adds to the gritty sci-fi tone.
Not the Last of Its Kind
It’s not very often that a sci-fi film will shift from a typical revenge mission to a cross-examination of cultures, intertwined human connections, and the irrefutable weight of family warmth. That in itself makes Ghost in the Shell (2017), despite its somewhat cliche story line, an incredibly unique experience. I’ve got nitpicks, but I’m more so thankful that I enjoyed the film beyond those glaring issues. It’s plenty entertaining, and if you look deep enough (or watch it three times like I did), you’ll surprisingly find deep, thought-provoking layers in the subtle actions of the actors.
However much you enjoyed the show, there are bound to be more live action adaptions like it in the future—for me, that’s a hopeful thing, something nice to look forward to. This may not be relevant (not to spoil the ending here), but as a half-white, half-Asian lover of science fiction and the entire Ghost in the Shell franchise, I hustled into the theater prepared with an engaged mind, and left with an unexpectedly touched heart. It’s a show about doing what you feel is right—following your ghost—even if that challenges the world you live in and the people that once trusted you.
Because sometimes, like here, you make the right decision.
“I mean, the character is living a really unique experience. She is a human brain inside an entirely machinate body. She is very brave to take a risk and give up everything she knows, everything that’s ever made her comfortable to discover the truth, to follow this calling. And at the end of the film really makes a huge sacrifice for the greater good of humanity. That, to me, was what was the major draw.” – Scarlett Johansson on the Major’s character
+ It’s A LOT better than I thought it would be for an anime live action; it only gets better the more I sit and think about it
+ Homages to the original material and the rest of the franchise are worked in fantastically
+ Visuals easily rival those of high-dollar action films; cool and damp futuristic atmosphere is established with excellent lighting; stylish designs and neat aesthetic all around; a very immersive world
+ Props, costumes, etc. layered beautifully with limited special effects for maximum potential; practical, physical props engineered perfectly
+ Ghost in the Shell is all about varying interpretations and new ideas, to which this is no exception; multicultural and multiracial world embraced
+ A fine movie if you ignore all the pointlessly controversial backlash nonsense, and this is coming from a hardcore fan of the original
– Story remains weakest part; revolves around somewhat predictable plot twists; boring antagonist; fails to explore Kuze’s Net and the world that could potentially await
– Major’s “strandy” hair can be a bit bothersome at times
– No official soundtrack release as of yet
Ghost in the Shell (2017) may not be an anime, but I’ll still welcome it here at the cafe as a “Cake,” a film that’s shy of master status but certainly worth watching for GitS or plain-old sci-fi fans in general! Despite it being an unfairly received film, I had the time of my life witnessing my Ghost in the Shell journey come to an end. It’d been a long time since I was that happy to see a film in theaters, and I’ll be coming out with a second post chronicling my loose thoughts on its reception, controversy, and the theater experience, so stay tuned for that!
I’m happy and proud to call this one of my favorite sci-fi live action movies of all time! PLEASE, let me know your thoughts on the film! Also, had you been familiar with parts of the franchise prior to, or did you dive in blind? I may be a bit of an optimist, but I enjoy hearing all sides. If you enjoyed the review, let me know with a “like” or a comment! Until next time, this has been
– Takuto, your host
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!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s seventh monthly topic, “Mirrors,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Time of EVE review into this reflection on artificial intelligence and robotic spirit.
“Magic mirror, on the wall—who is the fairest one of all?” When we look in the mirror, what do we see? Do we see ourselves or someone we don’t want to be? For this month’s theme, we will be exploring some of our favorite anime and other pop culture media that redefine individual beauty—inside and out. Some topics we may explore are physical appearances, social expectations on gender, and the importance of self-confidence.
I’ve always loved that wicked mantra, so thanks Lyn for the prompt!
A brief discussion on the spring 2010 anime film “Time of EVE: The Movie,” produced by Studio Rikka, directed and created by Yasuhiro Yoshiura.
She Left the House, and He Got Curious
Rikuo is just another Japanese student owning an android in the near future. While checking his android’s behavioral log one day, he notices odd check-in and check-out times. When Sammy, his android, finally takes another detour, Rikuo and his friend Masaki head out and stalk her. It turns out Sammy frequents a hidden cafe called “Time of EVE,” and the cafe’s barista Nagi only has one request: that there is no discrimination between humans and androids.
Being the compilation of a 6-episode series by the same name, Time of EVE follows a pretty basic formula: Rikuo and Masaki frequent the cafe in order to uncover more about each of its interesting patrons and, of course, find out just what kind of character Sammy really is. A tale of unrequited feelings, childhood dreams, and understanding comes to fruition.
Director Yasuhiro Yoshiura solidified his wacky and weird yet oddly comedic and intelligent presentation style with this one. It’s subtle in execution, but anyone could still identify it as science fiction—and good sci-fi at that. I know people who don’t care sci-fi that walked out loving Time of EVE, and I think that’s largely because the film aims at much more than pondering ideas like sci-fi does; instead, it goes deeper, showing you that the genre also has a lot of heart once you pull the wires away. The story is touching, sometimes even hilarious with all the sudden zoom-ins, and its visual artistry still holds quite well as a visionary piece even today!
THIS 10/10 AESTHETIC IS WHAT INSPIRED MY CAFE
Yup, that’s right. Time of EVE so inspirational to me that it inspired the clean and modern look of my cafe here (or at least I hope it comes across this way . . . do I need to remodel!?). If I could spend all of my days writing and reading in one place, it’d be here, at the Time of EVE! Everything just feels so sleek and simple, yet intricate and “underground” at the same time. Like, the coffee (EVLEND) cups, and bar, the tall tables, the ceiling fans—ALL OF IT! It’s just a chill, quiet, aesthetically pleasing place = the perfect kind of place for me.
And I couldn’t forget Tooru Okada’s VERY 2008 soundtrack, which just happens to be included on the Blu-ray release, yay! The music adds wonderful immersion into the wonder and fun of the cafe, not to mention all of the very peculiar interactions that take place. The energetic child, the grandpa and his crazy kid, the sexy couple, and even the stoic man in the back: it’s as if they all have their own track, as well as a story to be told within the music and the dialogue. I’m very pleased that the show was crowdfunded via Kickstarter with a dub, too. (I only wish I could have participated to get the coffee set >.<)
Sammy, You are an Android
a letter from Rikuo to Sammy, fan-written by Takuto
Sammy, what is it that you see in the mirror each morning when you wake up? I’ve noticed that you tie your hair up with a headband, scrunchy, or a flower when you go out sometimes. It’s unusual. You are an android, but don’t let that stop you from looking the way you want to look.
Now, Sammy, who is it that you see in the mirror each morning when you wake up? I’ve picked up on your subtle cues as to my tastes, preferences, and mannerisms. Perhaps that’s just the activity log recalling my “most recent selections.” But I like to believe that you’re growing, just like all of us are each and every day. You are an android, but if you find yourself wanting to be happy or sad, angry or surprised, I’ll understand.
After frequenting that place you visit, that Time of EVE, I realized that it’s no ordinary cafe, but a safe haven from prejudice and routine. I’m kind of a nerd, one who gets picked on sometimes for saying please and thanks to you, my android, and if I had a place where I could go to escape all of the name-calling and expectations, well, I’d probably be at that cafe all the time, too.
We live in a pretty convoluted world. It’s not necessarily bad, but people make it much harder than it needs to be. Why does it matter if you’re an android or a human? If we both value our own lives and only wish to help each other out, then I’d just rather avoid “things or beings” altogether. Sammy, you’re an android, and in this world so bent on exclusion and division, I only wish you the best.
The fact that we gaze into the mirror to begin with reveals that we’re only insecure about something, really. But last I checked, androids don’t “feel insecurity,” only assurance in their code. This proves you can be anything and anyone you desire, so do it with pride for not only yourself, but anyone you inspire in the process, like Nagi, Masaki, and myself.
For me, however, just please stop looking into the mirror—you look great with that headband on.
“Are you enjoying the time of EVE?” I sure am, so much so that I wish I never had to leave, haha! For Sammy, reflection about who she wanted to be came from experiences with the world around her, a fashion decision, and, of course, a trip to the cafe. Through the interactions with Rikuo, Nagi, and the other “people” at the cafe, she, an android, found individuality and character for herself, defying the laws of her creators and the social norm—strict servitude to the master. Considering its impact on myself, this blog, and sci-fi entertainment in anime, Time of EVE: The Movie is no undoubtedly awarded the “Caffe Mocha,” a film for all those even remotely interested in AI, as well as what it means to be human. It’ll fill you with warm fuzzy feelings for sure. Let me know your thoughts on this post and show if you’ve seen it!
This concludes my July 17th entry in the OWLS “Mirrors” blog tour. Please check out Rai (Rai’s Anime Blog) who went right before me and wrote about accepting every fiber of one’s being in the gorgeously grim Elfen Lied. And now, I’ll turn it over to Carla (Pop Culture Literary) for this Wednesday, July 19th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been
– Takuto, your host
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!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s sixth monthly topic, “Team,” I decided to incorporate what would have been a “Cafe Talk” about my high school swimming experience, along with my thoughts on the anime Free! into one big post over sticking with a team to the end.
While the prompt was more intended as dedication to “Pride Month” and all of those who support the LGBT & Queer communities both in real life and in anime, the generosity and flexibility, as well as the promoted creativity that OWLS is known for, allows me to bend this topic back to its home nature: companionship found in teamwork. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!
A brief discussion on the 12-episode summer 2013 anime “Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club,” and its 13-episode summer 2014 sequel “Free! – Eternal Summer,” both produced by Kyoto Animation, directed by Hiroko Utsumi, based on the original story by Kouji Ooji.
“After High School, You’re Ordinary”
This was what Haruka Nanase was told long ago and, nearing the end of his own high school experience, Haru is still unsure of what to make of his future. Swimming as early as elementary school and winning races and a tournament with his childhood relay mates—all boys with very much girlish names—Makoto, Nagisa, and Rin, Haru has always loved the water. When they all went their separate ways for middle school, Haru dropped swimming entirely. Now he’s about to enter the real world, all dried up for a life of normalcy.
That is—until the boys reunite in high school. Only desiring to race Haru after all these years, however, Rin could care less about the old team being together—he only wants to find out that HE is indeed the better, faster, stronger swimmer.
Without Rin, the three boys form a new Iwatobi High School Swim Team, and it turns out that their first challenge is not training and practicing hard, but actually recruiting a fourth member so that their relay can face off against Rin’s team later in the season! Eventually, these boys, bound by friendship, the spirit of competition, and the love of the sport, will discover what swimming in a relay means to each of them!
And Just Like That, We’re Off the Blocks!
Free!, like a well-trained athlete, balances episodes of training and technique with bits of fun, slice-of-life ventures and some emotional turmoil inbound. By using races and competitions as peaks of interest (and a way to execute the boys’ hard work), everything flows smoothly and as such makes time fly by. By the end of the two seasons, all relationships and story developments feel comfortably resolved—and that’s all I can ask of most adapted works these days!
If it’s not apparent to you yet, the boys of Free! are very beloved by its fans in the community, and for good reasons, too. They all have such great . . . chemistry, and truly, they’re more than just friends—they’re family, the kind that look out for each other before themselves, as well as value each others’ strengths and weaknesses alike. Each so unique and diverse, they all have their own personal demons, but rather than facing them alone, they fight each battle as a team, causing their bonds to develop even further. I’d dare say that Free!’s characters form one of the most heartwarming squads out there; if not the best, they’re at least favorites of mine!
Name a Better-Looking Sports Anime. I Dare You.
Looking back, Free! was the first Kyoto Animation show to leave its signature mark on my viewing experience, and boy is it delicious. Not the muscles, well, maybe the muscles. I’m talking about the water—to quote Haru, it’s as if it’s ~alive~. Their attention to how water actually flows in real life is incredible. You could almost call it “liquid smooth.” KyoAni has a splendid color palette, which is bright, airy, and cheerful, not to mention that their eye for the cool, modern aesthetic is top-notch. Color and tone values help to distinguish between scenes of comedy and rivalry. I almost feel as if I’m cleansed when I watch this show, if that makes any sense at all.
But the boys, oh yes, they are youthful, breathtaking creatures with beautiful physiques. I said it. No regrets.
The seaside OST also provides a flowing atmosphere from scene to scene, specifically those “go out and do something wonderful” tracks like “Rhythm of Port Town” and “Revelry of Student.” What the show’s probably known for music-wise is its energetic openings “Rage On” and “Dried Up Youthful Fame” by the wild OLDCODEX. And then there’s that ending “SPLASH FREE” by STYLE FIVE, a group composed of the five lead seiyuus (loudly sings 50% OFF ver).
For the Team: My High School Swim Club Story
My 8th grade summer ushered in a whole new set of problems: high school was right around the corner, and I was a) waaaay out of shape and b) wanted to fit in. So I was just like anyone else, right?
That’s when I told myself to do a sport—my first one ever—that no matter what happened or how bad I looked, I’d do it just for the sake of doing it. I was considering track for pole-vaulting since a close guy friend of mine did it. Then I looked at tennis.
Tennis couldn’t be that bad, right?
Then summer got real hot. Like, sure, it was 90+ degrees each day, but, early on during my anime experience when I was unfamiliar with simulcasts, I ran into a 30 sec trailer for something hot.
It was other peoples’ phrasing, not mine!
But there was NO WAY I’d “wear a speedo.” Heck, I didn’t even know if my high school had a boys swim team. So I rummaged the yearbooks and did a little online looking and sure enough, there it was.
As the summer drummed on, Free! kept calling be back to YouTube each week where someone would upload the episodes. Not the best streaming service, but I didn’t mind. Anyway, the way their club started off so small and so closely knit, and then the fact that they were STUNNING to look at—I had to do swimming, I just had to.
Season one ended leaving me in high spirits and hopeful that whatever came that coming winter (cause that’s when swim season was here), I’d be more than ready.
Flash forward, the school announcements read off an early interest meeting for the sport. I was overly nervous, of course, but I showed up, and just like a lost freshman EVERYONE knew each other already. Like 20 guys that all were buds with each other. I was already lost, and ready to give up.
Then the first practice came, oh god, the first practice. I received swimming lessons from a countryside town growing up, and so I thought I was a champ at it. But in fact I sucked. Really bad, hahaha!
The next practice came and five or so of the team didn’t show up.
They quit. Each with their own excuses.
There were so few members on the team that we were all considered “varsity” swimmers, so at least that was neat. Little ol’ me was varsity as a freshman!
I somehow finished that year improving times meet after meet with the other first years. But my eyes never stopped wandering off to our lane four relay. Coincidentally, or perhaps by fate, there were four of them: one for each of the strokes, one for each of the boys in Free!
I wanted to be like them. So I worked my ass off at morning practices and afternoon practices day after day after day.
I was even awarded the “Most-Improved” on the team! Still got the medal displayed in my room.
Then they all graduated. Except for one, since he was a junior, but yeah, they all had left me. They left the team, leaderless.
My sophomore and junior years ushered in new issues. New coaches, new members joining then quickly dropping for all the same things, but the core members of the team never left, and now they’re some of my greatest “upperclassmen” friends. Facing the facts, the others just couldn’t take the heat of practice.
But I could, and I did.
Senior year came. Three other seniors joined me, but then those same three quit the very next day. By the end we were eight strong, but became eight of the closest guys you could ever imagine. We were all swimming Free!.
But there was this one freshman in particular. He was good. Very good. Like crazy good enough to make State qualification times in our first meet.
Then there was me, who had actually peaked his junior year and suffered all season with a young hot-headed coach who didn’t even know what “mercy” meant.
I suddenly felt unqualified. Alone, if you will. Days grew longer, my body grew more tired, and yet my times never improved.
I even remember crying myself to sleep one night, swearing to myself that I’d quit at practice the next day. “Who even needed to say they swam for four years during high school?? It’s not like I’d remember any of it a decade later!!”
But then I thought about me—myself, that scared little guy who, during his freshman year, witnessed several of his upperclassmen leave the lanes for good. If it weren’t for those four boys, our A-Team relay, I probably would have—
I WOULD HAVE QUIT A LONG TIME AGO.
That’s when it hit me: I wasn’t staying there for me anymore. Heck, I didn’t need swimming, or an in-shape body anymore—it’s senior year.
But what kind of message would that have sent to them, their families, this community, that a team of only freshmen and sophomores were left senior-less after they all quit??
Nope. I was there for them. For the team that never left me when I was a first year.
For the team.
So I whipped myself back into shape, my psyche ready for any challenges that came my way, because I wasn’t swimming for my own times anymore—it was for the relay, for the team!
This past spring, we finished seven strong with one of our guys leaving us due to his parents moving away. But we never forgot him, and we never forgot about us.
And it was that fleeting member who got us to compete at State. Relay times are generally left permanently for the team, which is why, when he left, we met consideration time. It was just a few aching days after that we found out that our qualifying time got us in.
We stayed overnight in a fancy hotel, exploring the town together with our coaches, shopping, laughing, making those kinds of memories.
The kinds you’ll never forget.
And then we swam at state. That one really good freshman OF COURSE placed in the top ten. Our relay . . .
We didn’t make it to the second day, hahaha! But we were lucky enough to even be there in the first place, right?
When our splits (individual times) were captured by our coaches and the timing mats, my own time came in:
I swam a 24-some-second 50-yard freestyle in our relay. That is, to date, the fastest I had ever swam, and I nearly cried. We were all yelling and screaming and cheering so loud that we nearly lost our voices, but we didn’t care at that point, cause we all for the most part had swam our best when it mattered most, and ya know,
That means the world to a Team Captain.
Like Free! tries to tell us, you can be the best swimmer or the worst swimmer, but if you don’t work together as a team, you’ll never win what truly matters: friendship, companionship, brotherhood—they’re all synonymous at this point.
We go about our lives thinking and acting like we have to carry our own weight, and to an extent, that’s true. But like a relay, everything we do is ultimately for the team, for some group, tangible or not, that is bonded together through incredible triumphs, pitfalls, or just good memories.
And if you find yourself losing passion with something, or are stuck with a team that frankly isn’t filled with the most wonderful of people, then BE that wonderful person for the team. Do what I did and work your butt off, sweat your tears away, and devote everything you’ve got just to say that YOU never left them when it mattered most.
Cause ultimately, you, too, are part of a team, their team, and you should do things just like that:
This was a very long post (laughs) and I apologize, but there’s a lot to be said about Takuto here. A lot indeed. And if you read it all, from beginning until now, I can’t honestly thank you enough! Free! may be male fanservice to everyone’s eye, but to me, it’s a beautiful and inspirational coming-of-age story filled with compassion and teamwork that inspired me to take on a seemingly impossible journey—impossible alone, that is. It’s about growing up and finding out who you really want to be; about dedication, self-motivation, and life after graduation. Through Free! I made friends and fell in love with a sport, but more that I made memories to last a lifetime, and that’s irreplaceable.
As such, both seasons of Free! are awarded solid “Caffe Mochas” ratings, and should be watched on Crunchyroll or Funimation’s sites for FREE (hah) at one’s earliest convenience. That is, only if you’re craving something really hot.
This concludes my June 5th (now 6th, apologies) entry in the OWLS “Team” blog tour. Being the first one to kick off a tour of this magnitude is quite a heavy weight, but hopefully I did a decent job, and now we can carry that together, right? Please tune in to Remy Fool (The Lily Garden) as he discusses the poor perception of male crossdressers in Japanese media this Monday, June 12th.
To all the guys I swam with throughout my four years, from the team that inspired me to the one that I, myself, hopefully inspired, thank you for all of the laughs and the memories—this one’s for you. Stay silly my guys.
And to you, my favorite readers, an even greater thanks! Until next time, this has been
– Takuto, once a team captain, now just another blogger
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!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s fifth monthly topic, “Strength,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Grimgar review into this pep talk about keeping your chin up. I’m also celebrating its recent release, which includes a strong English dub by a set of newbie-ish VAs!
“Your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength.” In anime, characters struggle with inner demons or physical weaknesses that make them feel insecure and prevent them from achieving goals, which makes viewers feel empathetic toward their battle. Yet when these characters overcome their adversity, they can finally be able to express who they are, or in other words, “Free to be Me.”
I’m also gonna try a new, shorter, more poetic form of writing, since I seem to have been named such a writer by blogger buddy LitaKino and the OWLS YT squad. Let me know if you prefer this, oh, and thanks Lyn for the prompt!
A brief discussion on the 12-episode winter 2016 anime “Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions,” produced by A-1 Pictures, directed by Ryousuke Nakamura, based on the light novel by Ao Jyumonji.
The Past is Irrelevant
Waking up in an alternate world not too far off from a fantasy, a group of strangers with no recollection of their past lives are welcomed to Grimgar, a vast magical landscape that spans as far as the eye can see. Much like an RPG system, parties, guilds, and other factions exist in packs to ensure survival and decent living conditions.
With no home to call their own, six teenagers bound by the simple wish to live in this bizarre landscape form their own party. Unbeknownst to them, what awaits their poor squad in this harsh new world is nothing but grief, loss, misfortune, and tragedy at every bend in the beaten dirt path.
Grimgar‘s greatest appeal is its attention to the realities of living in a fantasy world. From finding a place to sleep to having enough copper pieces to afford simple luxuries like a fresh pair of underwear after using the same one for days on end, the anime never fails to appeal to logic and frugality. This comes with a downside—dreadfully slow pacing—but a show like this shouldn’t be rushed. Otherwise we’d miss out on another uneventful tidbit of coping with life’s pain, a quality that, where other trapped-in-an-RPG anime stumble, Grimgar excels.
Being primarily main character Haruhiro’s story, I only wish we got to see through the eyes of the other party members. They’re all unique, classes and stats aside, and it could’ve been the cherry on top to understand what the Ranta the dark knight or Moguzo the tank thought before they went to bed each night.
A World Painted Unlike Any Other
Surprisingly, A-1 Pictures paints a glorious watercolor backdrop to accompany our volunteer soldier trainees as they run across the ruins of old attempting to slay a single goblin. If this anime has a winning feature, it’s the artwork. Reminiscent of the quiet world of Maoyu, it’s rare to find such wallpaper-worthy scenery at every shot, every frame. Exquisite and personalized, yet very simplistic, and it all works magically in Grimgar.
Also fantastic is the soundtrack, more specifically the joyous and exciting violin hoedown of the opening, “Knew day” by (K)NoW_NAME, along with the bittersweet ending, “Harvest,” a song by the same band, which frequently cues in early to accent a feeling of mourning and memorial. Both are equally enjoyable and very appropriate.
Strength is More Than Good Stats
When you think RPG stats, STRENGTH or TOUGHNESS are what jump at you first, naturally.
Now, when I say STRONGEST, having the best weapons, armor, or other gear is essential, right?
In Grimgar, that’s what Haruhiro and the gang thought, too. But they couldn’t have been more wrong.
You see, outfitting oneself with top-notch equipment sure does help, but there’s one part of your body you forget to protect most of all.
When sleeping, eating, or socializing are the only forms of relaxation and entertainment, you can bet much of your time is spent on the battlefield, a land where your life is always on the line. At any moment, you could get slashed on your side with a dagger, or
Struck in the back with an arrow.
Tragedy follows the pathetic party everywhere they go, and when they first experienced loss, none of them could handle themselves. It was almost as if one member meant the lives of all six.
With no one to comfort them, they all experienced petty conflict with one another—they all tore themselves up for not being cautious enough. Day by day, they milled around in the doldrums, incapable of moving forward from the horrors of their last fight.
It wasn’t until they openly cried and poured their hearts out in front of one another that they realized how each member felt. You could almost say that the wound in their hearts finally bled out.
But like scars, sadness heals itself with time, comfort, and care. But also like scars, they will never fully heal. And that’s okay.
For the Grimgar crew, strength blossomed from the heartache they experienced. Loss, tragedy, and depression, poisons that normally corrupt the body, became ironclad armor to protect them from whatever came next—as best as armor could, that is.
They came to understand just what “ashes” meant, and used their tears, innate weaknesses, and unfamiliarity to bond closer with one another. Slowly but surely, they worked harder on the field and with one another to grow as people, and to move on from that day.
For they had endured a torn heart, and what doesn’t kill you DOES make you stronger.
They learned that true strength lies not in good stats, but in their faith in one another—in overcoming adversity and misfortune TOGETHER.
You are only alone if you choose to be. Similarly, one may be strong, but a team is stronger.
All you have to do is grit your teeth and keep on rolling with the punches.
“Living has its own challenges. I’ll give you just one piece of advice. Don’t quit. Yes, when you die, you die. But if you give up, you’re definitely going to die. That, I am sure of.” – Brittany
Fortune favors the bold, right?! Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions is full of unfortunate pitfalls for a cast of endearing teens, but so long as they stick together, they can overcome any challenge. A special shoutout goes to Rocco B (In the Cubbyhole) and Jamie (Jamie Talks Anime), two very special people who shouldn’t have had to wait so long for my thoughts on this series! I give it the certified “Cake” rating! Everyone, let me know what you thought about this series in the comments!!
This concludes my May 26th entry in the OWLS “Strength” blog tour. Please check out Lita (LitaKinoAnimeCorner), who went right before me and wrote about the astounding latest-hit film A Silent Voice. And now, I’ll give you the weekend before we return with Naja (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero) on equally powerful film, Colorful, this Monday, May 29th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been
– Takuto, your host
A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode winter 2004 anime “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG” and its recap 2006 film “Individual Eleven,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Kenji Kamiyama, based on the original manga by Masamune Shirow.
Cafe note: I reviewed the first season right here, so check that out prior to reading this. Many thanks, happy reading~!
Back to the Cybernetic City
With the Laughing Man’s agenda terminated by Motoko Kusanagi and the gang, Section 9 is no longer forced to operate in the shadows. Taking an interest in the way the brutal hunting force operates, Japan’s newly elected Prime Minister Kayabuki re-establishes Section 9 as her final attempt to fend off the latest rounds of cyber-terrorism, and find a party whom she could trust her life with. This new deadly collective, “The Individual Eleven,” has led a string of seemingly unrelated terrorist plots and assassinations across the nation.
Just as the Major and Chief Aramaki begin investigating into these gruesome cases, however, the Japanese government faces a forced confrontation by the alarming build-up of foreign refugees who were ousted from their homes during the Third World War, and are now seeking asylum in Japan. Section 9 attempts to juggle both crises, but their constant bumping heads with Kazundo Gouda of Cabinet Intelligence Service leads the Major to suspect he may be even more tangled up in the mess than the “enemy” is, and that perhaps both The Individual Eleven and the refugee crisis are just two parts of one titanic movement.
The Stand Alone Complex branch of the hit Ghost in the Shell franchise returns to the scene to reaffirm that everything, be it physically or digitally, is interconnected by the pushes and pulls of a techno-dystopian society.
Picking Up Where We Left Off
S.A.C. 2nd GIG wastes no time in welcoming us back to its inner universe. Unlike its predecessor, 2nd GIG features a clearer, more concisely written story. It achieves this by appropriately placing its “stand-alone” episodes within the timeline in less-congested areas of heavy plot action. Sticking to a story written in sequential order, 2nd GIG feels a lot easier to grasp, even if the characters themselves are more “complex” this second time around. I can see why fans acknowledge this series as the superior one not simply because the visuals are upgraded, but the linear way in which the story is told—even if the concept may not rival that of a wizard-class super hacker—seems more straightforward. Either that, or it just took me 26 episodes prior to get used to Kamiyama’s directing.
Critical characters to not only the series but the franchise as a whole are introduced quickly and efficiently, these namely being Kayabuki, Gouda, and Kuze, the eventual leader of the refugee camp and a mastermind in guerrilla warfare, both on the battlefield and in the net. Watching Kayabuki crumble before but endure the weight of those dirty politicians and back-alley deals emphasizes one trait that defined the Major as such a relatable character for so many: the strength of women, and the power, beauty, and grace that comes with enduring unfavorable outcomes and situations. Ghost in the Shell, like much of entertainment, explores the notion that life is one big power struggle; it’s as unavoidable as the rising moon or the flowing tides.
New, Twisted Faces
Speaking of power, Gouda is clearly not meant to be a likable dude. His *literally* twisted face should be an indicator of his reliability. He’s a competent and sophisticated man, using people and manipulating scenarios like he does with data. Though he’s got several tricks up his sleeves to be used against all of the pawns in the game, including the Major, his sheer level of skill and sneering wit make me MELT with a swelling love for his character. And John Snyder, his English VA absolutely knocked the role outta the park! We honestly need more intelligent rivals like him in anime; he’s a dick, but that’s what makes him so fascinating. Gouda is always one step ahead of the game, and stacking the deck is the only way to secure a trump card in this dirty world.
The Major’s foil finally manifests in the form of Hideo Kuze, an calm yet equally interesting antihero who holds a similar background. While I cannot mention too much without spoiling, I will say that he’s just as calculating as Motoko and Gouda, and perhaps more skillful and inspirational than both of them on a personal level. He’s quite interesting, so let his words sink in . . . everything he does is for the people . . .
Aside from the Major’s few moments, those members of Section 9 that did not previously have an episode for their own backstory (Pazu, Saito) receive one now EXCEPT for poor, poor Borma, the fat guy. While the Tachikoma’s return with more amusing exclamations and ideas, Togusa takes takes the back seat for this ride. One of these days we’ll get the backstory details and spotlight that they ALL deserve, but that time is sadly not now.
Improved Presentation Transcend S.A.C.
The two-ish year gap between each series really does reiterate the fact that Production I.G is the king of science fiction anime. Most of the characters receive new outfits and gear, all of which show off their differing personalities. The Major’s transformation from light gray and white to a dark gray and black skintight suit add contrast to the series’ new tone, a perfect match for some of the unsettling truths regarding the Major’s past. Her leather trench coat and obsidian visors complete the look. Besides the returning overly impressive architecture, it’s all the tiny details in character design that make 2nd GIG a fashion show for our models, both the sleek and the grungy alike.
Kanno returns to add that techno-blues/cop show soundtrack from the first season. Many of the tracks were even reused, so it’s not an entirely “new” OST. The epic action music in particular was done better this time. Where she doesn’t stand out in background music Kanno definitely makes up for with the new opening “Rise,” once again sung by the lovely Origa. “Rise” is the epitome of cyber punk trance dubstep, a song that hypes itself up with its intense beat, ascending chord progressions, and deep lyrics. Exhilarating stuff!
Since the characters remain largely underdeveloped in terms of background info, many just watch the show for its intriguing story, to which I point you toward the 3-hour (eek) recap film titled Individual Eleven that hones its focus solely on the core case from beginning to end. It is a recap, however, so all of your favorite one-off episodes are not present, and a lot of cool detours were cut, such as a fatal mission flaw by the Major that made my heart skip a beat. I give the same caution that I dished out last time, though—Individual Eleven features an entirely different English voice cast. While the wonderful Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Crispin Freeman, and now John Snyder should never have been replaced as Motoko, Togusa, and Gouda, respectively, the new cast largely remains serviceable.
United We Stand – The Individual VS Society
Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. 2nd GIG continues as a more light-hearted cop-chase approach to the original 1995 film, and by this I mean that it is less about self-reflection and more geared towards the interactions people share with others. It’s also no laughing matter, either, presenting the sadness of war, and that in the near future warfare is still terrifying and tragic. 2nd GIG resumes its heavy, confusing political drama, but its new emphasis on securing a cyber body through the black market is neatly explored with greater depth, ironically “fleshing” out the world.
The sequel to the beloved Stand Alone Complex is a successful piece of science fiction and sociological analysis. It’s a series rooted in the effects of technology on people, be it the goods, bads, or really bads. Sharpening its linear storytelling and enhancing its setting and character designs, one really shouldn’t stop at the first season—continue to uncover the fate of Section 9 as the original story intended!
“The refugees have given me countless names. I joined forces with them with the intent to save them. But maybe the real reason I united with them was to keep the loneliness at bay.” – Kuze
+ Story told sequentially with with focused, linear direction
+ New character designs are more appealing; Major’s new look
+ Production I.G upped their game again!
+ Both Gouda and Kuze are excellent characters
+ Explores the pillars of social order through a cool story; the war on terror continues
– Section 9 members STILL don’t get the backstory treatment they deserve
– Recap film English dub remains pestering
GitS S.A.C. 2nd GIG also deserves its “Cake” title (4/5), a must-watch if you’ve already started the first! It does require a great amount of focus and minor understanding of corporate politics, though. Thankfully the action weighs well against the political banter. What did you think of the Individual Eleven story, and did the recap film aid in your understanding as it did mine? Let me know, and until next time, this has been
– Takuto, your host