Mushoku Tensei: A Jobless, Shameless Reincarnation || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode Winter 2021 series “Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation,” animated by Studio Bind, directed by Manabu Okamoto, and based on the light novel series of the same name by Rifujin na Magonote.


Reborn in a World of Magic

A thirty-four-year-old shut-in has just about had all of life that he can handle. Even when he tries to do something heroic for once in his life, it ends in a tragic accident. Fate, however, has other plans for him, and the man awakens in another world as Rudeus Greyrat, the newborn baby of two loving parents.

With the memories from his previous life still intact, Rudeus quickly adapts to this new fantasy environment. The knowledge from his adult past allows him to latch onto the world’s magic system faster than the other kids, and before long, his parents hire a mage tutor named Roxy Migurdia to help hone his skills. Rudeus learns swordplay from his father, Paul, and makes his first friend in the beautiful Sylphiette. Although Rudeus is no knight right now, his time with the blade will come in handy when he eventually takes on his own young pupil—the fiesty Eris Greyrat—and her buff, beast-human guardian Ghislaine.

Granted a second chance at life, Rudeus endeavors to live in a way that his old self would be proud of. As Rudeus attempts to conquer the traumas of his past, he starts to believe that maybe, just maybe, there is love for him in this world after all.

Gonna have to spit this out there now, but I absolutely despise the isekai story-starter trope of reincarnation. Rarely is it explored to full effect in these shows, and often is the tragic death overlooked by episode 3. That said, Mushoku Tensei is different. Throughout the series, we receive direct narration of events not from the voice of young Rudeus, but rather that of his past self. At first, the cynical and snarky dialogue comes across as largely pessimistic and cruel. But, as Rudeus starts to make connections and brave his way outside the comfort zone, the narration slowly adopts a note of hope. And of course, Rudeus is a pervert both then and now, but you’d be surprised how well he fits the bill as “The Son of Paul Greyrat.”

THE GREYRATS ARE SCUM

I know he’s really a 34-year-old man on the inside, but boy is Rudeus a cutie. I mean, just look at that name ~Rudeus~ I love it. Although we know who he really is, no one else does, and so Rudeus plays the innocent young prodigy part remarkably well. A lot of viewers may not take to him because of this fact (plus that he’s a whole-ass pervert), but I like Rudeus, and I hope he does find that self-love and acceptance he was missing out on in his sad past.

The same well wishes cannot be said for Rudeus’ father, Paul. I won’t spoil what he does (or who he does, yikes!), but don’t let that knightly title lead you to believing that honoring and respecting women is a virtue he exemplifies. THIS MANS IS SCUM. Hell, ALL OF THE GREYRATS ARE SCUM. And yet, I still love ’em all, the horny bastards. Paul is lucky to have a charismatic babe like Zenith!

Although the kind and soft-spoken Sylphiette is who propels Rudeus to become a stronger mage, a character I believe most audiences would resonate more with is Roxy. A wonderful teacher and talented water mage, Roxy serves as a huge motivation for Rudeus. Rudeus’ graduation ceremony from Roxy’s teachings had tears welling in my eyes, and as a teacher of young students myself, I just really hit it off with her reserved yet inspiring teaching style. Roxy rarely yells, but rather guides, and her realizing Rudeus’ potential (which far exceeds her own) hit me in the feels. The prospect of eventually reuniting with Roxy incentivizes Rudeus to work hard at not only magecraft, but also other avenues of life.

Then we have Eris Greyrat, who comes in and stomps on all of Rudeus’ hopes and dreams. I kid, but she’s definitely a stubborn pain in the ass. As Rudeus’ charms slowly start to rub off on Eris, however, she becomes noticeably more tame, even likable to an extent. Were it not for Ghislaine’s overwhelming strength and presence to hold Eris back, I’m not sure how far Rudeus would have gotten in his mentorship!

Quality Character Animation

While searching for more information about the studio behind making Mushoku Tensei, it appeared to me as if this is Studio Bind’s first work—and to this, WOW, I’m quite shocked. The animation of the series keeps up with the spellcasting elements of the show just as well as the dumb ecchi-comedy moments. Specifically, it was the quality of the character animation that grabbed my interest. In fact, I had no plans to watch Mushoku Tensei until one of the sakuga-crazed Twitter accounts I follow retweeted a short animation of Roxy splitting a tree and then healing it. From that moment on, I looked forward to seeing Rudeus’ water magic develop just as much I wanted to see that perverted little face of his warp into a devilish smile.

If I’m being honest here, the whole production of Mushoku Tensei won me over far before the story’s premise. The series is accompanied by a wonderful fantasy soundtrack from the genius Yoshiaki Fujisawa. Likewise, all of the grassy plains, vast deserts, and medieval cities provide a pleasant background to the show’s relatively soft visual aesthetic. Lastly, since I watched this one subbed, I did want to toot the seiyuu voicing the project, especially Yumi Uchiyama’s cute lil’ Rudeus, Ai Kakuma’s fiery and passionate Eris, and Megumi Toyoguchi’s tough and throaty Ghislaine.

A Debauched, Self-Indulgent Comedy

Mushoku Tensei probably wasn’t meant to be this enjoyable, at least for me. The series blends ecchi and isekai elements (which I typically cannot stand) into a fantasy drama with ludicrous amounts of world-building lore and pleasure-seeking fun. In addition to the nice magic animation and memorable character design, the series also pursues themes of self-love, reclamation of youth, and goodwill to others with Rudeus’ narrative. You can tell by the end how much taller he stands, and how he’s already so much prouder of the chances he’s taken in this life than the scarring, regret-filled life of his past. With this first season, a man is finally starting to overcome his fears from being bullied and enjoy life under the sun for once. I hope he’s able to go even further in subsequent seasons.

However the story tries to move you, this dramatic character development doesn’t stop Rudeus—and all of the Greyrats for that matter—from being horny on main 24/7. The series is never afraid to have fun with itself, and it remains wholly dedicated to its cause of debauched, self-indulgent comedy. If you’re wanting an isekai fantasy series with perverse, no-holds-barred commentary (and a slice or two of redemption), step right up to the house of Paul and Zenith Greyrat—I’m sure they’d love to have you.


“The worse I am at something, the better I feel when I work at it and learn how to do it.”

Rudeus Greyrat


Afterword

I’ve spent the past weekend trying to finish all the Winter 2021 simulcasts I started months ago. It’s actually been fun seeing how some of these shows ended, and it was equally exciting to see the season two announcement for Mushoku Tensei already greenlit! While I’m guessing the story from here on will lean more on the serious side, you can bet I’ll be back for more Greyrat degeneracy when the sequel airs this summer. For those wondering, I’m welcoming Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation as a “Cake” title here at the cafe, a show that’s not for everyone, but one that certainly scratches that itch you might’ve not have even known you had. I like the show when it’s both dumb and endearing, and that’s rare for even me to admit.

What are your thoughts on Mushoku Tensei? Do you think Paul Greyrat is scum or do you think he’s scum? Also, are you looking forward to more of this series or was this first season enough for you? Let me know your thoughts about the show or this review down in the comments! Thanks for reading, and ’til next time!

– Takuto

RePlay: A Sweet Single-Volume Baseball BL || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the single-volume BL manga “RePlay,” story and art by Saki Tsukahara, published in 2020 by TOKYOPOP.


Out of the Game

Although Yuta and Ritsu have been playing baseball together since they were children, a devastating defeat in a local tournament the summer before their senior year results in the “married couple’s” retirement from the high school team so that they can focus on university entrance exams. Yuta still yearns to play baseball again, but even when he’s given the chance, the game just doesn’t have the same appeal without Ritsu. Whenever Yuta brings up the sport, however, Ritsu seems to distance himself further.

What does baseball mean to Yuta, and why should it matter whether Ritsu is there or not? As the boys begin ask themselves these questions, feelings that have always been present are realized, and the bond between teammates develops into something far more affectionate and intimate.

This has got to be one of the most satisfying BL manga I’ve ever read. To Saki Tsukahara—where can I read your other works??? I had so much fun getting to know the history of this couple, as well as watching Yuta and Ritsu realize their feelings for each other. A surprising amount of character depth is crammed into this book, and the ending beautifully rounds out this story of compassionate love and fresh starts. The final pages (following our one sex scene, of course) left me happily content and hopeful about their future. Older audiences may also appreciate the high-school-to-college shift—along with the “separation angst” of changing friendships—that Tsukahara tries to capture.

Teammates to Something More . . .

Since we mainly take in the story from Yuta’s perspective, let’s talk about him first. Yuta Mizuhara is your typical loudmouth, food-snatching, panic gay who can’t seem to understand that others may actually like him. A lot. Defs the jumpy uke type. Still, he’s got a really cute face and them ATHLETE ABS THO, and most readers will enjoy him if even just for that. Compared to Ritsu, Yuta has to try a lot harder in his studies, especially if he’s wanting to attend the same university as Ritsu. I’m glad that his studying habits (or lack thereof) play a prominent role in the plot.

As for Ritsu Mashino, the dude’s RIPPED and ready for college life. The smart, quiet, handsome-type seme. Because he can get into practically any university, he spends a lot of his time going behind Yuta’s back to prep “surprises” for him. (If I say anything more it’s spoiler territory, so my lips are zipped.) Anyway, he’s also got a cute hairstyle and face to match, and I simply can’t express enough how PERFECT Saki Tsukahara’s characters look! The whole manga is just plain pretty. (And for my friends wanting something steamier, RePlay is fairly tame, save for the occasional shirtless scene and the last couple pages . . . )

The only part of the manga I found a bit cringe was how Yuta and Ritsu’s fellow teammates and classmates would keep calling them the “married couple.” They’d even refer to themselves in this way, and it’s such a weird term, even for manga. Like, when you’re this adamant on calling each other the school’s married couple, you’re not even queer-bating at this point—they both might as well just come out to each other already. At first, it’s a cute label, but it becomes harder to take even as a joke with each repetition.

A Satisfying Single-Volume BL

RePlay explores the attraction between two high-school seniors who are trying to sort out their long-withheld (or unrealized) feelings for one another while also preparing for university life. Since both boys have graduated from club activities, the sports element mainly serves as a backdrop to the soft and sweet story about the fear of growing apart. The volume reads like a sports anime fanfic, yet also has a sense of completeness that is rare for this kind of manga.

Saki Tsukahara’s lovely art remains consistently light and gorgeous, and their character designs match my tastes to a T. If you’re a fan of childhood-friends-to-lovers romance and are looking for a BL that looks fondly back on high school life as its characters make plans for college, I highly recommend RePlay as one of my new favorite single-volume BL manga!


“On the field, we understood every facet about each other, but now . . . “

Yuta Mizuhara


Afterword

This was such a great read, my goodness. Thank you to all who recommended this manga to me! If my enjoyment wasn’t obvious enough in this post, RePlay is a certified “Caffe Mocha” manga here at the cafe, a rating reserved for my favorite reads and watches! I’ve got a growing list of TOKYOPOP single-volume BL manga that I plan to pick up soon, so hey, if you liked this post, I’ve got more on the way! Drop your thoughts on this manga review (or your BL single-volume recommendations) down in the comments! Thanks for reading, and ‘til next time!

– Takuto

Battle Angel Alita: The Original Cyberpunk Classic || Manga First Impressions

First impressions for volumes 1-2 (Deluxe Edition Volume 1) of Yukito Kishiro’s manga series “Gunnm” or “Battle Angel Alita,” published in 2017 by Kodansha Comics.


Saved from the Scraps

Only the few and the fortunate are permitted to live in the shining space city of Zalem, a utopian metropolis which floats high above a desert wasteland. What trash and unnecessary dealings the people of Zalem find expendable are tossed into The Scrapyard, an enormous stockpile of waste below the city which is surrounded by a clustering of ghettos and shacks. This is where the rest of humanity–flesh and cyborg alike–eke out a living, surviving by grit and brute strength alone.

While scavenging a pile of discarded android parts, Daisuke Ido, a cyborg repairs doctor, finds the head of a young female cyborg amid the scraps. Dr. Ido builds a new body for the head and names her Alita. Although Alita’s memory upon activation is foggy and lost to her, she still wishes to stay by the good doctor’s side.

The caring relationship between the two is challenged when Alita discovers Ido’s night job as a hunter-warrior, a bounty hunter working for The Scrapyard’s government, and she decides to become one herself against Ido’s warning. While pinning down wanted criminals in the shadows of the slums, Alita awakens to her forgotten knowledge of fighting techniques. As it turns out, Alita is a warrior, though her origins are still unknown. With her newfound strength, Alita determinately fights for justice, recovering bits of her fragmented past to rediscover her original identity.

Lawlessness and Chaos

I love cyberpunk. Whether the clean-cut, glowing neon feel or the technologically clustered vision (as with Alita here), I enjoying seeing how different artists approach their worldbuilding. Whereas Ghost in the Shell is more cerebral-focused–showing how cyber enhancements in the brain transform humanity’s relationship with the Internet–Alita sticks to altering the physical body. The toughest of cyborgs that enjoy fighting in the arena are equipped with metal arms capable of lifting megatons. Might makes right in The Scrapyard.

When not admiring the glorious physiques of the various strongarm hunter warriors, we can look to the background art for cyberpunk influence. Often, pages of the comic will pass with little to no dialogue, leaving the reader to simply awe at the setting artwork and detailed landscape imagery. Yukito Kishiro structures the worldbuilding aspects of the series with elements of action or moments of self-discovery, imbedding the story of The Scrapyard within key character backstories or set pieces.

I’m especially referencing the ghastly yet vast and mazelike conditions of The Scrapyard’s sewer system–a seemingly bottomless world of gross infestation and hellish living for any creature. The bubbling bog’s curious plumes of stench contrast fantastically against the arid and metallic cityscape of the surface world. What binds them, however, is a prevailing sense of lawlessness and chaos.

If You Liked the 2019 Film, You’ll Love This

Despite having come to the manga from watching the 2019 live action film, I found Alita to read incredibly easy on its own. Each story element flows to the next well enough to warrant having the series on your shelf along with the film’s Blu-ray. Both the film and the manga have their own subtle differences (mainly concerning changes to the appearances of certain characters, or their omission entirely), but again, they both hold well on their own.

Perhaps the only major crime (as a film watcher) is the sad discovery that motorball isn’t in the manga at all! Or, at least not in the first couple volumes (*cries anyway*). Kodansha’s first Deluxe Edition volume ends on the film’s climax, so I’ll have to see how that cliffhanger is resolved in the manga. I wonder if it’s anything like the cool ending of the film . . .

Alita is, by and large, one of the most important titles in the cyberpunk genre. Its influence extends far beyond the main genre it belongs to, including the realms of action, adventure, science fiction, and even dystopia. What I discovered from my read of the first 10 or so chapters of the manga, however, was that all of the praise for Alita is well-deserved. Whether you liked the film as much as I did or not, you’re bound to love the empowering female narrative of the Battle Angel Alita manga even more.


“I believe that every human can choose her own way of life! We can choose to be ugly or beautiful!”

Alita


Afterword

I’m sure you’ll hear more about my Alita journey as I pick up more volumes, but we’re off to a fantastic start so far! Now the question is whether I should continue the series in the Kodansha Deluxe hardcovers or move to digital since, you know, it’s cost-effective (and saves a ton of shelf space)! I’ve got lots to think about.

One last thing! With all the cyborg skull-crushing and limb-smashing violence, Alita does lean more on the graphic side. Just wanted to let you know in case you are entirely new to the franchise. 🙂

Have you ever tried out this classic cyberpunk manga? Let me know in the comments! So far, I love the world and the characters in it, and that’s enough to keep me throwing money at this franchise. Thanks for reading these first impressions, and ’til next time!

– Takuto

Gunbuster 2: Over the Top!!! || V-Day Special Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the six-episode OVA series “Diebuster,” localized in English as “Gunbuster 2,” animated by Gainax, directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki, and based on the original story by Youji Enokido. The series aired between 2004 and 2006 as a project to commemerate the studio’s 20th anniversary.


The Enemy Returns

Generations have passed since the war with the Space Monsters began. Though some can recount the heroics of one brave young girl and her role in saving the galaxy, the Space Monsters have since started up their attack once again, and humanity continues its fight against them. Only this time, humanity relies on the “Topless”—a group of elite space pilots whose special powers allow them to pilot the Buster Machines—for their safety against the enemy.

Nono, an energetic yet helpless girl from a small town on Mars, has heard the tales of the legendary space pilot “Nono-Riri,” and she wishes with all her heart to follow in the footsteps of her idol. Although she understands little about the dangers that lie on this path, Nono’s ambition will propel her to making her dream a reality. Right before Nono embarks on this journey that’ll shake the galaxy to its core, she happens upon the lonely yet powerful Topless pilot Lal’C. It is from their fateful meeting that Nono decides to gamble everything on following Lal’C to the very top of the world—and whatever lies beyond the darkness of space.

Diebuster joined the mecha genre in 2006 as the sequel to the classic Gunbuster OVA series (and thus it is also is called Gunbuster 2). With enhanced visual quality, heightened action scenes, and even increased nudity (just the tiddies, mind you), it’s no surprise that Diebuster was warmly welcomed by fans. I will add that the six-episode OVA series also hedges on the more abstract side of its genre compared to the typical mecha grounded in militaristic philosophy. Like its predecessor, Diebuster features a lovable and memorable cast of colorful characters, and the drama that washes between them is even more eruptive than before.

From Mars to the Stars

Nono is a mecha fanboy’s dream “anime girl” protagonist. She’s a tall, beautiful, gullible, and fun-loving girl who optimistically views the world with two blue eyes wide open. Her signature pink hair and striking red outfit (whether a maid costume, pilot attire, or some other evolution of space suit) instantly draws attention to her energetic spirit. Against the bleak and mysterious abyss of space, Nono stands out as a fiery, shining star. She’s clumsy and a bit of a dork, but her perseverance and ambition are second to none. As a callback to Gunbuster‘s Noriko, Nono is an endearing lead who would make a wonderful friend to anyone willing to lend a hand.

On the other hand, the series’ second female protagonist, Lal’C Melk Mark (pronounced “Lalk”) is as stubborn as a brick wall. For a majority of the series, Lal’C is reserved, self-confident, and self-absorbed, often lost in her own thoughts. Her topnotch piloting skills—while outwardly cool to Nono—further serve to isolate Lal’C from her pilot peers as the idol of the “Fraternity” in which they all belong. In her solitude, Lal’C turns to Dix-Neuf, the oldest of the Buster Machines and her partner on the battlefield. Speaking of, let’s talk about the neat giant robots of Diebuster.

Whereas Gunbuster had the titular robot as its only standout mecha, Diebuster features an elaborate mecha system with its own hierarchy and history. For instance, the French numbering of each Buster Machine refers to the wave in which it was released (e.g., the 30s are upgrades of the 20s, while the 40s have new features entirely). This does not mean a higher number is a stronger unit, however, as a pilot’s skill also determines the overall success of the team. Also unique to these mechs is that each Buster Machine is equipped with an A.I. interface that allows it to exclusively connect to a single Topless.

Though they cannot speak, the Buster Machine typically shares physical characteristics with its pilot. Dix-Neuf supports a horn through its head which limits its fighting potential, much like Lal’C’s own untapped potential. Similarly, the bratty, impulsive, and cold rival to Lal’C, Tycho Science, eventually comes to pilot Quatre-Vingt-Dix, which is known for its deep freeze blast abilities. And of course, in the midst of all this cool mecha business we have Nono, who’s willing to fly to Pluto and back for her own Buster Machine. (I’m not joking, she literally travels to the edge of the Milky Way just to earn her own seat in the cockpit. Such determination!!)

The “Rebuild” of Gunbuster

Really, this statement is a bit backwards, as Gunbuster 2 came over a year before the first Evangelion Rebuild film, Evangelion 1.0, was released. But the logic is similar: Much of the same creative force who made the old ’80s classic reunited to bring Gunbuster back to the big screen. Thus, Diebuster was born from the fires of this commemoration project. Likewise, the sequel series boasts many of the same animation upgrades and praise that the Rebuild series did for Neon Genesis Evangelion (including new CG designs, bold character designs, and vivid action sequences).

As a result, Diebuster is a ton of fun to watch. The wild animation style captures the same energy of Gurren Lagann with the added mechanical and technical cleanliness of the Eva Rebuild films. As someone who’s been searching for a spiritual successor (or in this case, predecessor) to the Rebuild series, Diebuster delivered phenomenally in the visual department.

Kohei Tanaka’s music also supports the tone of Diebuster just as well as his work did for Gunbuster. If anything, Tanaka’s soundtrack work here exceeds his previous, as the balance between blasting military anthems and chill tropical downtime is further emphasized. There’s a stronger sense of “main theme” in Tanaka’s soundtrack this time around as well, which makes listening to this theme evolve over the course of the series beautifully heart-wrenching. I wish more directors and studios would hire Tanaka on, as his dramatic scores truly compliment any setting they are placed in!

While I’m here, let me shamelessly plug the series’ OP “Groovin’ Magic” by ROUND TABLE (feat. Nino) that had me dancing before every episode like a fool. This is one of those many instances where Diebuster plays with conflicting tones, and this OP, if anything, is symbolic of the series’ very spirit. I heard this song so many years ago, and I was surprised to discover that it belonged to Gunbuster of all franchises!

A Risky Sequel

A true sequel from title to plot and even certain character motivations, Diebuster is a thrill ride to the very end. Where Diebuster far exceeds its predecessor, however, is in the bombastic nature of its story. If Gunbuster is a story about aiming for the top, then Diebuster is a sequel that is “over the top” in every comparable way. The pilots are stronger, the mechas are mightier, the animation is crazier, the music is louder—really, if Gunbuster did one thing big, Diebuster succeeds in doing it bigger. And yet, I’m still quite fond of the comparably smaller (if still considerably large) original story of Gunbuster. I can totally understand why one might be turned off by the series’ even zanier plot and execution. Diebuster takes risks—huge risks, some of which don’t pay off as well as others. Plus, the series is . . . weird, and it’s sometimes needlessly hard to follow. It will be hit or miss.

That all said, if you loved the first installment, you’ll more than likely find something to enjoy about the second. I like old anime sci-fi films, so Gunbuster became a quick fave of mine. However, I also love ridiculously explosive action set pieces featuring cool mecha designs and kickass fighting spirit. Given that, it’s no surprise I enjoyed Diebuster, too.

Diebuster throws caution to the wind and attempts to retell a legendary tale which as already been told once before, and I love how unapologetically fun and unique the series tries to be—-all while paralleling the iconic moments which made me fall in love with this world of giant robots, space aliens, and girls with guts in the first place.


“True strength resides in those who believe in their power to the very end!”

Nono


Afterword

Finishing this review, I already want to write another post about Diebuster. Unlike Gunbuster, there are so many moving parts to this short series that make it an engaging watch. Were it not for the pamphlet guides that came with my DVD releases, a good deal of the world-building elements would’ve flown right over my head. I’m so thankful that this series got a physical release. (And at $2 apiece for each of the three DVD sets, what luck!)

Maybe I’ll revisit Diebuster again after watching the recap film. But, should this be the end for now, I should let you know that although I appreciate the Gunbuster film more as an artistic piece, the Gunbuster 2 OVA series still deserves the “Cafe Mocha” rating! It’s my own seal of approval which basically tells all of you that I hold it in the highest esteem, and would certainly recommend it to mecha and sci-fi action fans. What do you like most about Diebuster, and do you prefer the sequel to the classic prequel? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading part two of my V-Day Special reviews, and ’til next time!

– Takuto

Gunbuster: Aim for the Top!!! || V-Day Special Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the Fall 2006 anime film “Gunbuster,” animated by Gainax, directed by Hideaki Anno, and based on the original story by Toshio Okada. More specifically, this is a review of the series recap film, which is adapted from the 1988 OVA series of the same name.


To the Stars

In the near future, humanity has shot for the stars, and space travel for the elite defending the Earth is commonplace. Just as an expedition to the furthest reaches of the galaxy gets underway, however, giant space monsters lurking in the darkest depths of the universe devastate the ship and her crew. Unresponsive to human communication of any kind, the space monsters attack indiscriminately. Soon, they will arrive upon the defenseless planet Earth.

Shortly after the discover of these horrifying aliens, Noriko Takaya, the daughter of a famous deceased space captain, enters a training school for the space fleet. Although her talents as a pilot are questionable, Noriko remains determined to aim for the top. At school, Noriko comes into contact with her polar opposite: the cool, beautiful, and intelligent Kazumi Amano. Noriko reveres Kazumi in the highest for now, but the unlikely pair make an unexpectedly good team as they attempt to save mankind from the space monsters. Together, two girls bravely dare to cross the blank abysses of space and time—piloting their giant robots of justice—and all for the sake of love.

Gunbuster revolutionized the giant robot anime game when it burst onto the scene in the ’80s. Many fans adore the film’s straightforward story and quality production, and I can’t blame them. Gunbuster seamlessly weaves together action and comedy with a high octane, high stakes sci-fi mecha plot set in space. Plus, the main characters are enrolled in a military school, which just fuels the tensions that could take place between girls, teachers, and the higher echelons of power. No doubt, human drama is a central theme in Gunbuster. Despite the conflicts, the characters manage to set aside their feelings (or resolve them outright) to focus on the vital mission at hand, and I really respect that about the entire cast.

As the light years between Noriko and Earth continue to expand, we see a different face to Gunbuster. The tone shift from cutesy high school life in the film’s beginning to the epic and gritty final battle of the film’s climax occurs exponentially with each big mission, almost like a play in three acts. Anticipation and anxiety snowball until the film’s last couple seconds which resolve the burning question at hand: Just how much has Earth changed by the time we return home? Thankfully, the answer was worth the wait. I could think of few better ways to end a film such as this one.

A Human Drama

Much of the narrative focus of Gunbuster centers on the development of our two leads. Noriko is a bag of surprises. She’s sweet and headstrong, yet also incredibly insecure. This leads Noriko to frequent episodes of self doubt, which usually requires either her idol Kazumi, her coach Ota, or her own strong-willed spirit to pull her out and steer her back on the path. Noriko is not the best mecha pilot in her class, and she and everybody else knows it. But, a space captain’s daughter does not give up so easily. Piloting the Gunbuster, Noriko is a force to be reckoned with, a real fury with fire in her eyes.

I love characters like Noriko that dare to explore the sleeping potential within themselves, but I love onee-san figures like Kazumi Amano even more. When I tell you that Kazumi is a WOMAN, I’ll have you believe it. Tall, graceful, and adorned by her signature long, deep blue hair, Kazumi is the archetypical pretty lady, a bishoujo worth looking up to. All the men and women swoon when their beloved “Onee-san” comes strolling down the halls (they literally call her this, I’m not joking), and wow does she live up to the reputation as a skilled pilot and respectable upperclassman.

Related to drama, another theme Gunbuster explores is time. More specifically, how does the rapid passage of time in space affect the relationships between the girls and their friends and lovers back on Earth? Is that feeling of constantly living “in the past” heavy enough to crush the human spirit? Couple that with the expansive distance from Earth that only seems to lengthen as the story progresses and you have a pretty mean premise—no one wants to watch their loved ones grow old. Similarly, it hurts to feel “stuck” in a relatively young body while your friends and classmates age significantly before your eyes.

To our valiant pilots, a 10-minute mission at the edge of the galaxy is tantamount to six months back on Earth. It’s not fair. And the only endearing sentiment from it all comes from those few souls who are able to cling to their memories and send their prayers to the pilots fighting for all their lives. That act, in itself, takes serious guts.

The Classic GAINAX Look

Visually, the aesthetic for Gunbuster is about as classic as one can get for an ’80s sci-fi anime. These kinds of vintage watches harbor a unique quality to them that can’t be reproduced today, and I’m actually glad the grainy feel is still somewhat intact in the Blu-ray of the film. Don’t get me wrong—the explosive action and fluid character motions are top notch and look quite nice after all these years. The same goes for the big-haired, fun, and memorable character designs. It’s just that Gunbuster carries itself differently than even mecha anime of its time, and I appreciate all the hard work that went into making the title one for the history books. Naturally, we can lend much of the film’s timeless look to Anno’s solid, artistic, and iconic directing style.

Likewise, the sound department remains strong, some of the gun and laser effects feeling especially retro sci-fi. It’s worth mentioning Rei Sakuma’s vocal performance as Kazumi Amano, as she quite honestly cemented the “big sister” vocal tone and personality for me. A legendary and beloved seiyuu for sure. Also deserving of my respect is Kouhei Tanaka’s work on the soundtrack, as I couldn’t imagine the Gunbuster gearing up for its final takeoff without Tanaka’s signature score. His music in Gunbuster suits the militaristic anthem energy needed to command your ears, but also the heroic techno pop to hype you up. I’m going to have to go listen to the soundtrack after writing this review!

A Saga Through the Stars

Where has Gunbuster been my entire life? This was the main thought running through my head as I sat through every glorious minute of this classic mecha film. As a huge Eva fanboy, it’s no surprise that I enjoyed Gunbuster in its fullest. I loved the delicate character drama worked up between these two fantastic female characters. The film moves at a quick pace to make up for the full six-episode length that the OVA series had, but that doesn’t stop Gunbuster from elaborating on nearly every point it raises, as well as providing a satisfying conclusion to this saga through the stars.

GAINAX will always have a special place in my heart. The studio brought us not only Evangelion, but also other faves like Gurren Lagann, FLCL, Nadia, Dantalian, Gunbuster‘s sequel series, Diebuster, and so many more. Some works are a hit, others are a miss. But Gunbuster is a hit, and a surefire one at that. In fact, Gunbuster is one of the studio’s first major works that is still being discussed today. To have longevity over three decades is a feat in itself. Going into its fourth decade, I hope the franchise will continue to invite fans back, old and new, to the magnificent tale about overcoming all odds and always, always, aiming for the very top.


“History will come to judge us. All we can do is survive at any cost.”

Kazumi Amano


Afterword

I really, really, enjoyed my time with this throwback watch. My only regret is that I didn’t watch the original OVA series first, as it has yet to be licensed in the states. I suppose this could be a blessing, though. Now I’ll get to watch Diebuster, the Diebuster film, and then tag back to the OG series if I feel like wanting to revisit the story (and put up with finding a site to stream it off, yeesh). Until then, however, Gunbuster is a certified “Cafe Mocha” title here at the cafe, a rating reserved only for the best of the best—and dare I say those titles which sit at the very top. Certainly, I owe the series this much, as I can already foresee this film being an annual watch of mine for a long time to come. 🙂

Have you ever watched Gunbuster or any of the Gunbuster films? Let me know your thoughts and stories in the comments! My next review will be over the series’ sequel, Diebuster, so please look forward to it. Thanks for reading my V-Day Special review (albeit it came a little late), and ’til next time!

– Takuto

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