On Love, Loneliness, & the Growing Distance Between Us | The Works of Makoto Shinkai

Have you ever had that “feeling”? You know the one—when you notice yourself suddenly skipping about here and there, flattering others in an uncharacteristically cheery way that makes them remark, “I want what they’re having!” Some call that expression—that intense feeling of deep affection, interest, or yearning—love. It’s but a simple four-letter word, and yet it can give some people enough purpose and motivation to perform wild, breathtaking feats, going to the greatest of lengths just for that shared pleasure of joy. “Love makes the world go round,” it truly does.

Such a complex and powerful emotion often finds its way into animation. Specifically, the romance genre of anime holds steady as one of the field’s experts. Its incredible variety masterfully demonstrates that love is not only sweet and tender, but can also be realistically crushing and emotionally devastating.

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The latter is the kind of stories director Makoto Shinkai likes to tell. Rather than measuring up as a statistically sound series or film—that is, a rated “10/10” on various elements such as plot, pacing, characters, animation (his forte), sound etc.—Shinkai films excel at eliciting a feeling, usually on the heartache end of the emotional spectrum. To quote his latest award-winning hit, Your Name., Shinkai’s films provide, simply put, “Nothing more or less than a breathtaking view.” Each possess their own fair share of flaws, some more than others, but beyond the little plot holes lies a relatable character struggle that just might tread a path you yourself have walked.

And it’s exactly that strong resonance between one’s own experiences and Shinkai’s ill-fated cast which makes him one of the bests in the industry. Everyone wants to feel connected to others, and Shinkai depicts through his picture-perfect worlds what that connection is really like, and why it isn’t always everything that we wanted after all.

In the iconic, beautifully cruel style which solidified his films as masterworks of modern animation, Makoto Shinkai appeals to humanity’s most innate fears of rejection and loss by directing his characters through the timeless themes of love, loneliness, and the growing distance which separates people as time goes on. These lessons teach us that though life has its fair share of heartbreak, each relationship we stumble into and every opportunity we miss out on still carries the potential to live out a better tomorrow—you just have to look beyond the distance.

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A comparative study and light analysis on the works of Makoto Shinkai. For each title, I will delve into the big issues or “separators” at hand, factoring in whether the story’s realism and emotions which the endings provoke somehow determine the possibilities for happiness and sadness alike. As such, SPOILERS for nearly all of his films WILL BE PRESENT. Also, these will NOT be individual reviews for each title. For those prepared to relive all of these amazing films, enjoy!

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(NONE OF THIS GORGEOUS ARTWORK BELONGS TO ME. All praise and ownership goes to Makoto Shinkai and CoMix Wave Films.)

She and Her Cat (1999)

I will always be by your side. After all, I am your cat.

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Aside from the music (by Tenmon), this 4-minute short was completely created by Shinkai alone, marking the early beginnings of his budding career as not only an animator and writer, but also a director. It’s the short tale of an average Japanese girl living in an apartment told from the viewpoint of Chobi, her beloved cat. Chobi speaks formally and passionately about his owner, yet he still has this pure, unclouded perspective of a cat. Arguably his softest work yet, She and Her Cat: Their Standing Points stood out due to its innovative (and awfully cute) exploration of love.

What ultimately separates the two from “eloping” is, well, obvious—“She” is a human girl, a woman, while Chobi is a cat. It’s an unusual relationship, but that doesn’t stop the film from being so unrealistic as to the plot being “impossible.” The woman, nicknamed Kanojo by the community, faces her own hardships in the real world (including a possible love interest), and though Chobi would like to know what she does and where she goes once she closes their apartment door, he understands that her life likely isn’t all sunshine and roses—it doesn’t really concern him. All that matters to him is that she returns home at the end of a long day.

Like with all of Shinkai’s films to follow, what separates them (different species, the “language barrier”) also unites them, for through each others warm embrace—that of a cat and his owner—they find comfort and care. Simple, peaceful, heartwarming.

Voices of a Distant Star (2002)

We may be the first generation of lovers separated by time and space.

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Stepping up his game, yet still working alone (aside for Tenmon’s gorgeous piano and string score), Shinkai quotes this rather aged 2002 short film as the piece which put him out in the world. Set in the near future, mankind’s ambition to explore space separates Nagamine and Noboru, a young girl and boy in junior high. As Noboru enters high school, Nagamine is sent off on an expedition into space’s infinite depths. The farther she strays away from Earth and her Noboru-kun, the longer it takes for their texts to reach one another. Minutes turn into hours, days, weeks, months, and soon—

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Though inventive at its time, the 3D graphics haven’t aged all too well. But thematically, Voices of a Distant Star packs more of an emotional punch than most 12-episode series could today—and this film only clocks in at 25 minutes, including the credits! It seems as if the big separator in Voices is the physical distance, but waiting for their messages of goodwill to traverse the vast blank void that is space ushers in another factor: time. As Nagamine’s unchanging body fights on (in what I can only imagine to be early-2000 Shinkai’s mecha dream-of-a-giant robot), Noboru ages at what feels like an alarming pace. In reality, his growth rate is no different from any of ours is, but the way Shinkai conveys the rapid passage of time only accentuates our lovers’ tragedy. Is it realistic? Even as a sci-fi flick, not really. But does its bittersweet run end on an ambiguously hopeful note? Absolutely.

Voices is arguably the first film in Shinkai’s line-up to convey this notion that perhaps the lack of realism can lead to a happy ending. Very interesting . . .

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)

On those now-distant days, we made a promise we couldn’t keep.

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To tackle the 1 hr. 30 min. length of this next film, Shinkai needed a team. Between his early beginnings and now in 2004, he partnered with the animation studio CoMix Wave Films. The results—The Place Promised in Our Early Days visually blew audiences away, nearly more so than with 2002’s Voices. Set near the turn of the century in an alternate reality Japan, which is split by America and the Soviet Union, young boys Hiroki and Takuya aim to fly to the top of the fantastical, unbelievably high Hokkaido Tower using an old drone. While at first a secret for just the two of them, Sayuri, a girl Hiroki and Takuya both like but would never admit to one another, discovers their secret, leading to the boys putting their project on indefinite hiatus. When Sayuri suddenly disappears from their life, however, the two come to realize that reaching the mysterious tower—the promised dream of their childhood—might be the only way to save her.

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Hiroki and Takuya experience a loss of youth, of innocence, as they learn to develop their own dreams and ideologies different from their childish musings. What once united them in friendship tears them apart, and the disappearance of Sayuri and discovery of her untimely illness are what kicked off the depressing events that plague the film’s middle. To watch two friends come at each other’s throat can be painfully real to some, as we’ve all have our fair share of little spats with friends. Additionally, I’m sure we’ve all seen sickness and temptation take the life of a loved one and push them into a place beyond our reach. Thankfully, a happy reunion awaits the cast at the end, leading to the belief of how sacrifice can yield rebirth.

Once again, Shinkai writes with a science fiction mind, and although people still relate to Hiroki and Takuya, the entire premise is unrealistic, nothing more than a child’s fantasy. Can you still learn from it? Of course, but come Shinkai’s next film, reality takes a turn for the worst—the start of a tragic trend.

5 Centimeters Per Second (2007)

At what speed must I live to be able to see you again?

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Here it is, Shinkai’s greatest creation (thematically, that is). I’m sure it needs no introduction, unlike his more obscure early works, but in case you forgot, it’s the story of two very close friends and classmates: Takaki Toono and Akari Shinohara. Elementary school should be a time of play and triviality, but for these two, such isn’t the case. Rather than run around on the playground, Takaki and Akari would rather read in the library, or simply chat about life’s musings. Just as they become close, however, Akari’s family plans to move. Takaki and Akari send letters to one another, but Akari only continues to move further and further away. In a final attempt to see Akari before she’s beyond his limits, Takaki sets out to reunite with her. His unlucky trek attracts a cold winter’s blizzard, delaying the series of trains to Akari’s town. But that doesn’t stop the two from finally, FINALLY meeting once again. And boy, does your heart just melt the frost away.

Equal parts faith and love, Takaki made the effort to travel out in the cold, sure, but Akari was the one who waited—the one who sat there miserable and alone with nothing to do but pray that her young love was on his way. It was proof that their love should be everlasting, but alas, that’s not the story Shinkai is trying to tell. In this first episode, it is a physical distance which separates our main couple.

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A chain of short stories about their distance.

After this touching first episode, the film enters its next “story.” Time passes on. Takaki, too, moves away from his hometown to the warm regions of Tanegashima (a stark contrast to the first episode’s frigid finale). Now a high schooler, Takaki meets a new girl, and though she tries to admit her feelings to him, Takaki knows all along that his heart only belongs to one person: the woman of his past. Time and other relationships have left him traveling aimlessly. In the final episode, Takaki is old. Maybe not in the physical sense, as late 20s—early 30s is still quite young, but his spirit definitely seems lost—his heart broken from years without seeing or hearing from her.

The painful reality is that, as life would have it, she has moved on, already engaged to another man. And that’s just it—the final separator which drives these now-unrelated adults is life itself. Life is always changing, and as we continue down our own paths, we sometimes have to leave others behind.

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At its core, 5 Centimeters Per Second strives to present one’s “first love,” and how difficult it is to hold onto it—so much so that it almost feels not worth experiencing at all. Takaki, by his end, is lonely, depressed, and empty. It’s a sad film, yet a brutally honest one. Shinkai’s first feature-length film in a world without giant robots or fantasy towers is painfully real, and that aspect remains what distinguishes Shinkai from today’s anime directors. By this point, Makoto Shinkai had earned the appreciation and respect of his more mature adult viewers.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)

This is the journey to know the meaning of “goodbye.”

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Shinkai returns to the realm of fiction with this next film. Clearly inspired by the magical presentation of Studio Ghibli movies, the story follows young Asuna, an excellent student who maintains her family’s house in a rural town during her mother’s absence. Aside from spending time with nature, Asuna is alone. She finds escapism in her secret hideout up in the mountains, and frequently tunes into her old crystal radio for relaxation. One day, she unexpectedly picks up on a curious frequency: a rather melancholic melody, different from any song she had ever heard before. As if fated to meet, a mysterious boy named Shun rescues Asuna from a wild, bizarre creature, unintentionally dragging Asuna and her teacher, Mr. Morisaki, on a perilous journey to Agartha, a land long-lost to time and human presence.

Though not his smartest film by any means, Shinkai has been longing to visit this colorful, enchanting world—Agartha—for some time now. The luscious planet upon which Nagamine lands in Voices of a Distant Star; the domain where the comatose Sayuri resides in The Place Promised in Our Early Days; Takaki Toono’s realm of dreams in 5 Centimeters Per Second—each time this wondrous world reappears, it offers comfort to the characters. Not coincidentally, the design remains the same, too. From the gorgeously iconic “Shinkai clouds” to the seas of green grass and remains of old ruins, Agartha FINALLY gets the thorough fleshing-out that it has since deserved, and I’m just glad we got to go there at long last.

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But Children Who Chase isn’t all sunshine and roses. Awaiting Asuna and Morisaki is an adventure rife with death, and a thorough demonstration as to what happens when man attempts to bring those passed back to life. Foolish, blind greed and a gaping sense of loss are what separate Morisaki from someone pure-hearted like Asuna. But in the same way, the journey of letting go and understanding what “goodbye” truly means allows for the film to end with an odd, lukewarm sensation of happiness. Adventure yields danger, but to those who learn their lessons, the hope to live a fulfilling life burns on. God may be a cruel teacher, but so is history.

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Children Who Chase Lost Voices is far from a realistic story, and thus, the pattern of Shinkai’s fantasies ending contentedly continues. Is he trying to say that reality is just full of heartache and nothing else? Perhaps so with his next couple of films.

The Garden of Words (2013)

Before there was love, there was loneliness.

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A personal favorite of mine, Shinkai’s The Garden of Words provides a 46-minute feels trip through an unusual couple’s short-lived romantic spat.

Tenmon takes a break from the music to allow talent like Daisuke Kashiwa’s immersive piano soliloquies to establish an atmosphere unlike ANY other. And the visuals—THIS is the incredible level of quality which defines Makoto Shinkai’s digital landscaping, lighting, and realism today. Visually, The Garden of Words remains the most beautiful short film I have ever seen, and it will probably hold that title for a long time to come!

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On a rainy morning in Tokyo, aspiring shoemaker Takao Akizuki does what every student on a rainy day wishes they could do—he skips class to sketch designs in the city’s beautiful garden. Thinking he’d be all alone in this calm misty weather, he accidentally meets a beautiful yet reserved young woman. Her name is Yukari Yukino, and though she continues to skip out work to drink and eat chocolates in the garden, Takao takes a liking to her poetic words. To [figuratively] get her back on her feet, Takao offers to make Yukino new shoes. And thus they vow to themselves: for each day it rains, I will spend time with her/him.

More rainy days arrive, and as the two secretly convene in their garden of words—of shared acceptance and belonging—the two unknowingly start to lighten their own personal burdens just by being together. Tokyo’s rainy season may be long, but like all good things, it doesn’t last forever. As warmer days creep ahead and the chance for precipitation diminishes, Takao and Yukino’s relationship risks drying up like the rain which brought them together.

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The Garden of Words paints the true vision of life’s loneliness before love intervenes. It’s the gentle story about finding solace in another, and learning to alleviate one’s personal worries through something as simple as conversation. At first, a lack of courage casts Takao and Yukino as an awkward couple. Only after Yukino is revealed to be a teacher at his school do we see the true separator at hand: the age gap, and the societal notions that place stigmas on teacher–student relationships. YUKINO KNEW THE WHOLE TIME, yet held of on saying anything for fear of judgement. And in the end, Takao yells at her, forcing her on her feet through their compelling emotional conflict.

Realistic in every sense of the word, its finale feels bittersweet, yet resolved. Separated from each other, the two resume pursuing their own personal aspirations. Though somewhat sad, in truth the ending is optimistic about the different directions Takao and Yukino take, as it was through comfort in one another’s presence which allowed them to find their way back on the path—and with a stronger, more confident “footing” this time around.

The Garden of Words rings true as the new Shinkai standard, but thematically, it revolutionized Shinkai’s game: for the first time, a realistic story does, in fact, yield a happy ending.

Someone’s Gaze (2013)

There are a lot of things you two have forgotten.

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Returning to form, Makoto Shinkai cranks out another charming yet touching short (6 minutes in length) with the release of The Garden of Words. It hearkens waaay back to his beginnings, with the simple yet relatable tale of a girl and her cat. Aa-chan lives in a near-future Japan, and has recently made the big transition of living on her own following graduation and the start of a new job. With her mother working overseas as a doctor, her loving father is left behind at the apartment with the family cat, Mii-san, who happens to be very old by this point. Seeking a way to reach out to her, her father tries several times to reconnect with his distancing child, but the gap is too awkward for him to bridge. Eventually Mii-san passes away, but this sudden grief holds the power to reunite a tired daughter, a busy mother, and a lonely father.

All that emotional energy conveyed in such a short time serves to remind us as to Shinkai’s greatest strength, that is, being able to make his viewers experience heartbreak followed by hope (or hopelessness) in a matter of mere minutes. Someone’s Gaze is especially relatable, as the burnout experienced by today’s youth and the parental fear of their children growing up in today’s world both hit us hard at some point in our lives. With maturity comes opportunity, but that often involves temporarily leaving an old way of life—and the people in it—behind. In truth, familial bonds change over time, and as we grow up, it can be hard to maintain that “want” to communicate.

Like The Garden of Words, Shinkai permits for a realistic story to end optimistically hopeful, perhaps marking that the guy really is turning a new leaf from his long history of depressing, failed love stories.

Cross Road (2014)

I sought to find something great, and while it may not have been what I expected, I found something . . . or rather, someone. 

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Although this latest short is actually just a 2-minute commercial for the Z-Kai cram schools, it was still directed by Shinkai, and holds that same breathtaking, picture-perfect style to boot. As college entrance examinations draw near, two students living completely different lives focus their time and energy into a correspondence education service. Juggling their studies with their already-involved daily lives, the two diligently work towards that high goal of college admission, unaware of how much they share in common. It’s a brief yet inspiring “work hard, play hard” preview into a film that I can only imagine would’ve been absolutely stunning had it received the length it deserved. Not as absurd as those 30-second Cup Noodle ads, but even just a couple minutes more would have doubled the story’s length. I suppose we don’t always get what we want; such is life.

Despite the let-down of a run time, Cross Road still manages to follow a truncated version of the Shinkai formula: two individuals in similar situations are separated by different lives, but their unexpected meeting reveals that, through hard work, the hope to overcome their challenges increases. Call this a lighthearted take on the next and final film—the realistic outcome of what possibly could have been.

Your Name. (2016)

Wherever you are in the world, I swear I will find you again—no matter what. 

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Your Name. exploded onto the anime scene, continuing to break record after record until it became the highest-grossing anime film in the world (among other nominations). Funimation and Madman Entertainment’s combined efforts to license, dub, and promote the film through staggered theatrical releases maintained its hype not just for the remainder of 2016, but for most of 2017, too. Even now, anime fans who are finally getting around to watching it share their praise with the community, reviving the excitement of this rom-com drama to no end. By this point, Your Name. wasn’t just another Shinkai film—it was a moving, breathing phenomenon.

Like any high school girl born and raised in the Japanese countryside, Mitsuha Miyamizu craves the wonder and excitement of city life. Unfortunately for her, the family’s shrine needs its maiden, restricting Mitsuha to her life in the boonies. Meanwhile in the lively Tokyo, high school student Taki Tachibana labors away at his part-time job with the hopes of eventually pursuing a career in architecture.

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One day, Mitsuha awakens to an unfamiliar ceiling, but the chic apartment and bright view of the city skyscrapers instantly identify as Tokyo. “This is my dream life! But wait . . . wha—I’m in a boy’s body!” Out in the countryside, Taki finds himself waking up in a similar frightening situation. A strange phenomenon swapped the two’s places, and in order to figure out the reasons for their predicament, Taki and Mitsuha live out random days in the other’s shoes, learning about the differing lifestyles, and that above all, fate works in mysterious ways. As Taki and Mitsuha desparately begin searching for the other, their actions begin to dramatically impact the course of destiny, forever altering the threads of fate which tie them together.

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Your Name. almost feels like the culmination of all of Shinkai’s themes, plot points, and even character personalities that make a work, well, Makoto Shinkai’s. Enormous skies, photo-realistic cities, intense lighting, a calm atmospheric music score, themes based on things taken for granted in daily life, and lots of trains. THIS is what Shinkai represents to us now, and on that cinematographic level, Your Name. is perfection. (Also, like, Radwimps wrote the greatest insert songs to an anime EVER.)

A girl and a boy torn apart by an impossible distance, but brought together through circumstance and, of course, fate. At first, that distance is literal: Taki lives in Tokyo, while Mitsuha resides miles away living her humble country life. And part of that is the trick, the gimmick behind the landscape facade, for as soon as the big reveal of the comet Tiamat’s destruction is made, BOOM—time turns out to be the true separator here. Though Taki felt confident and sure of this feeling tugging at his heart, his confession was sadly three years too late.

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And because of this he suffers. Mitsuha suffers. These star-crossed lovers save their beloved Itamori and all its kind, caring folk, BUT—as if their story weren’t painful enough—one last divider severs their last chance of reuniting: their memories of each other are lost to time. Is it a realistic element? Hardly, but it does lead to one of the most happily fulfilling endings I’ve ever experienced. Here’s why.

Makoto Shinkai’s latest film borders on tragedy. Up until this point, it was about to become the biggest heart-breaker in anime film history. But thankfully, Your Name. appreciates a sort of cosmic balance to all the good we do—Shinkai calls that seemingly magical, underlying, connecting force musubi, and we can thank it for honoring Mitsuha and Taki’s feelings for one another. By the film’s end, the two are left with just that—a subtle feeling of the all their shared struggles, surprises, happiness, sadness, inspiration, appreciation, love. . . now memories lost to a different time.

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But when distance tried to physically separate them, Taki and Mitsuha took the trains;

When time placed a rift between them, dreams gave them clues to find each other;

When katewaredoki briefly cut their first meeting short, Mitsuha fought on to finish Taki’s mission;

When memories of one another’s name left their minds, love held on tightly to that lingering feeling—that’s why Taki wrote “I love you” on Mitsuha’s hand, for bridging the timeline gap at twilight involves giving up memories of the other. Names will fade, but emotions have the power to transcend time;

And when tragedy attempted to end their tale of romance and miracles, fate reconnected the strands of love to the cord of hope. Thus, Taki and Mitsuha became destined to meet again.

Separated by distance, connected by fate.

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What Shinkai’s Works Have Taught Me

Have you ever felt that “feeling,” that despair of something that can’t be changed or is beyond your reach, but you still long for it anyway? I’d like to call it “love,” but Makoto Shinkai interprets such a complex emotion as “longing in solitude.” It is only through loneliness that we understand what compassion really feels like, after all.

Shinkai’s works tend to feature unusual yet somewhat realistic relationships, which more so play out as bittersweet than truly tear-jerking (save for maybe Your Name.) He covers a broad range of relationship stages, too, from the cutting of ties and moving on (5 Centimeters Per Second) to the early beginnings of expression (Garden of Words). Unlike most film writers and directors, he delves into themes like pain, longing, yearning, loneliness, and emptiness to give the audience stronger, almost more common emotions to connect with. His creative use of time laps emphasizes this distance or emotional disconnect that the characters and audience experience, and his hyper-realistic visuals never fail to immerse you in the setting he wants, be it on faraway roving fields of green, a quiet Tokyo apartment, or a rainy day in the park.

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Most of all, through distance, Shinkai is able to explore the gap between two people’s feelings: why it exists, and how it is a natural part of the human experience. Life isn’t that glamorous fairy tale that Disney or Hollywood make it out to be. Instead, Shinkai tells us it can be messy, and often times painful to shoulder alone. It’s okay to fall both in love and out of it, as people are always changing. He also teaches that you can, in fact, grow as an adult; emotional maturity has nothing to do with one’s age, for even as adults we can get lost on our path. 

None of us are invulnerable to emotional struggle, grief, and even depression. But none of us are forever doomed to loneliness, either—such is why even his most realistic works end in both sadness and happiness. After studying all of his films, I can confirm that NO CORRELATION between the level of realism and whether the ending is positive or negative exists, as Shinkai doesn’t sugarcoat the reality we live in. He presents it for what it is, which has its fair share of good and bad times.

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Ultimately, no amount of magic or sci-fi gimmicks can determine whether YOU chase after the ending you want, for you, too, are constantly growing and learning new things. The hope that we can always change for the better resides within us all—you simply have to decide who you want to be for yourself, and make that leap of faith over the scary distance to connect with another. While you’re at it, don’t forget to enjoy life’s little things we often take for granted.

In Makoto Shinkai’s picturesque, emotionally charged films, I found a rekindled passion for life’s hidden beauties, and so long as he continues to explore the growing distance between us and how finding solace in another can heal our emotional wounds, I’ll always look forward to his next creation.

I still don’t know what it really means to grow up. However, if I happen to meet you, one day in the future, by then, I want to become someone you can be proud to know. –Makoto Shinkai, 5 Centimeters Per Second

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Afterwords

At a touch over 5,000 words, this is officially the longest post I’ve ever written, and if you read all of it, you’re my favorite person ever—I hope you learned something new! As you can tell, Makoto Shinkai’s works mean a good deal to me. Most find them repetitive, as in “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” But really, that’s not the case, as each offers a different commentary on relationships and life, even if the execution or premises feel very much the same. So instead of fighting against the argument, I wanted to write this—to leave behind my innermost thoughts and emotions on Shinkai’s films in hopes that whoever stumbles upon this in the future might feel the same way, and that I can comfort them with my musings.

Have you ever resonated with one of Makoto Shinkai’s films, be it his oldest shorts or his latest hits? If so, do you happen to have a favorite or two? I want to know! If you’re fairly new to this director, was Your Name. your introduction to Shinkai’s scenic style? You have to let me know that, too! I’ve met several new faces (including a dear friend) through Your Name.‘s theater experience (which you can read about here), and I hope that you, too, get the chance to share one of his films with a friend or even a lover.

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This officially concludes my comparative study over the creative works of Makoto Shinkai. It’s been a long time coming, what with the writing process and reserving time to rewatch ALL of Shinkai’s films in order, and I’m finally glad I got to share it with you. Despite being terrifyingly long, it’s one of those posts I feel proud to have written. Please let me know any thoughts of the films or this post down in the comments, as I’d love to hear your feedback! Also, feel free to share this to any Shinkai fans you know out there!

As it happens to be on love and romance, I saved writing this post for February, so Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear readers! Whether you spend this season of love with others or save it for yourself, know that I’ll always be wishing you good health and happiness! Thank you so, so much for reading this lengthy analysis—’till next time!

With much love,

– Takuto, your host

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Devilman Crybaby – Ugly Tears, Bleeding Hearts, & The Pain of Modern Tragedy | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 10-episode winter 2018 anime “Devilman: Crybaby,” produced by studio Science SARU (and Netflix), directed by Masaaki Yuasa, written by Ichiro Okouchi, and based on the manga by Go Nagai. 

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A Wild Night Out

Akira Fudo is a crybaby. He’s always been, and he always will be. Akira’s high school career takes a trip to the wild side when his best friend from many years ago, Ryou Asuka, suddenly reenters Akira’s life. This surprise reunion excites Akira, but unfortunately, Ryou isn’t back so the two can play on the playground again. Instead, he informs Akira that hiding amongst the shadows of their picture-perfect reality are monstrous demons, and that soon the demons will revive to reclaim the world from the humans. To combat their brute, supernatural strength, Ryou has a plan: to fuse a human with a demon.

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Those who conquer their “literal” innermost demons can master the power over them. And thus, after violently loosing his innocence at an infamous nightclub rave suspiciously titled the “Sabbath,” Akira becomes Devilman, a being with the power of a demon and the heart of a human. Finally seeing the darkness that humans have hid for so long, Akira feels blessed to now be able to save others, but more so cursed because he will likely never be understood ever again. But he has Ryou, and for Akira, that’s enough to make the pain worth suffering. Or so he hopes.

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A Tragedy Fit for Our Time

By mere story alone, Crybaby is a masterpiece. Having heard the crazy amounts of praise that have been circulating already for a couple weeks now, this should be no surprise. It starts at zero, at everyday life for a young boy and his relay mates, and quickly escalates into a bloody, traumatic, world-ending experience for both the characters and the viewers. As a standalone piece of fiction, it’s a modern tragedy made fit for the decade—complete with its OWN FREAKIN’ CHORUS in the form of some swaggy J-rappers—a series that is and should be celebrated for the, might I say, “daredevil” tale it sets out to tell. So many countless symbolic, societal, and sexual metaphors make the story incredibly compelling, and the religious undertones work wonders in creating this gritty, larger-than-life epic.

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And the best part of all is that the series isn’t just “depressing” to be called tragic—rather, it lives up to the classical standards of Greek tragedy by existing to A) prove the faults in our own lives, B) present a heroic attempt at handling them, and C) leave us with a cathartic end to cleanse the insanity that just befell the cast. It’s a masterful formula from the humble beginning through to its apocalyptic end, and as the media outlet Polygon states, the finale is “beautiful, devastating perfection.”

The only [minor] problem with a story of this magnitude is that Crybaby has very little time to tell it: only ten episodes, to be exact. While the pacing for the first several episodes feels spot-on, there is a significant push, particularly in the last two episodes, that does seem rather hectic. To be fair, however, the gruesome content and big reveals in episodes nine and ten ARE time sensitive; dragging these plot twists and dramatic developments out beyond an episode’s time would ruin their effects. Besides, perhaps that rushed sense of mayhem is what contributes to the explosive, catastrophic nature of the Devilman franchise.

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Akira and Ryou: Cuter When They’re Young

As far as characters are concerned, I won’t go into much detail simply because half of the thrill stems from witnessing just who some of these characters really are, and exactly what they will eventually become as the plot edges further and further on borderline insanity. Akira Fudo’s deal with the devil surprises all those around him, sure, but his grotesque change conjures up more mental conflict than physical ailment. He’s honestly a gift to mankind who doesn’t belong in this cruel, cruel world, and as he teeters on the edge of his own humanity—of a dying hope vs. an unflagging despair—he realizes that, at the darkest roots of their heart, people can be even more vile, disgusting, and sinful than any demon to roam the planet. Compared to his cute, scrawny self at the series’s beginning, the superior antihero Devilman that Akira becomes is stronger in nearly every way—all except for that tender, still-broken human heart of his.

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Ryou’s fluffy, blonde-bowled, bishounen design may seem inviting, but don’t let that charismatic baby face fool you: underneath that puffy white coat is a deadly machine gun and cunning wit, both which are fully loaded at all times. From that first smooth car ride Ryou and Akira share together, you already get the feeling that Ryou is scheming something (as if the glaring camcorder he films on 24/7 wasn’t evidence enough). Still, he is doomed to a fate just as tragic as Akira’s—if not more so. Ryou is one baaaaaad boi, but I loved his development way too much to hate him.

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I Don’t Know How to Rate The Animation . . . 

I’m not kidding. Devilman: Crybaby has some of the downright UGLIEST animated sequences I’ve ever seen. From the hilarious attempt at depicting just how “speedy” devilmen can run to the blobby, disproportionate, and completely uncensored sex scenes, by visual standards, Crybaby is not a pretty-looking show.

But does an anime need to be “pretty” to have it’s own beauty? Absolutely not. Or, well, at least Crybaby says so.

You see, the series has this certain edge to it, a certain grit that is hard to explain. The animation outlines, for instance, are cleanly drawn and look quite fresh (faces in particular). But then you have the action scenes, which are just SO freakin’ bizarre to watch. Like, I couldn’t even tell you if some scenes were, in fact, “poorly animated” because the ENTIRE SERIES has that same exact look. The lack of detail in light-hearted moments (like Akira’s high school, or his quiet past) compared to the almost sickening actions of other demons and humans alike gave form to a style that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s as if the animation is “untamed,” or “knows no bounds”—yet it all flows well as its own style within the context of the story. Not to mention that the compact 10-episode run and smart directing allow for each and every shot to carry some sort of secondary meaning, however unnecessarily violent or sexual or BOTH the risqué presentation seems to people.

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I, for one, felt that all of the overly grotesque scenes brutally tread some sacred ground of entertainment that hasn’t been touched in decades with a bloody tank. It’s a unique visual style that I frankly haven’t seen anywhere else, and it was depicted brilliantly.

But I Know I Loved the OST!

As I am currently writing this, the Devilman: Crybaby soundtrack is humming in the background for inspiration. What about it is so special? Well, it has great balance; it’s epic (“D.V.M.N.” – Main theme), startling (“Miki The Witch”), playful (“Wishy Washy”), intense (“Anxiety”), entrancing (“Beautiful Silene”), heart-pounding (“Smells Blood”), uplifting (“Prayer”), cathartic (“Pathetique”), and so much more. Composer Kensuke Ushio (Ping Pong The Animation, Space Dandy, A Silent Voice) knows how to write excellent orchestral/synth pieces, I tell ya!

There’s a little tune that is repeated throughout the entire soundtrack that can be any of the emotions listed above, so long is the right instrumentals is paired with the mood. My personal favorite IS a reprise of this gorgeous melody line, and it just so happens to be the very last song played in the series, the End of Devilman: Crybaby, so-to-speak. It’s appropriately titled “Crybaby,” and if it doesn’t move your heart to the point of tears, forcing you to recall Akira, Ryou, Miki, and Miko’s shared heartache and tragedy, then I’m not sure what will.

Oh yeah, there’s also a remake of the original Devilman opening included with the soundtrack, which, if you SOMEHOW haven’t heard yet, is SUCH A BOP HOLY SHIT. I STILL listen to it religiously.

The Destructive Darkness Within Us All

By Devilman:Crybaby‘s end, there is arguably no sadness left for the characters, no more tears to cry. It should feel complicated, as the amount of despair is simply undefinable. But instead, all you can wonder is how things got to this point, and how what you witnessed was, in fact, the end brought upon by humanity. The ending is completely unfair, yet it balances the scales with terrifying perfection. You could feel sad, or depressed, or enraged at how BLIND people can be, but instead, all of it feels pointless, as if nihilism just inducted you to suddenly became one of its patron saints.

The ending of Devilman: Crybaby is indeed a very empty one. And that very catharsis, that feeling of emptiness and pointlessness, is what lies at the heart of a well-written tragedy. 

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As happy and sad memories alike resurface for these two boys, Akira and Ryou come to realize that, without one another, life before friendship was boring and often cruel. It was lonely, and it was meaningless. But through the ugly tears they cry, the bleeding hearts they endure, and the tragic fates that they cease fighting against, the two learn to finally accept love, for it is really love, not hate, which makes the world go round. And so to tear up the ENTIRE world just to tell this seemingly small message—Yes, such is what completes the horrifically tragic Devilman: Crybaby as a modern masterpiece.

You’re crying too, Ryou-chan. You’re crying too . . .  – Akira Fudo

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Afterwords

Devilman: Crybaby is raw, brutal, yet oddly honest about its understanding of cause and effect and the power of compassion. It doesn’t forget to throw in a few laughs, though. As the community has already remarked, this show is ABSOLUTELY NOT for the faint of heart. This series showcases the worst aspects of humanity—of vengeance, overindulgence, paranoia, and immorality—and for many, that can be hard to watch (plus, it’s like, mega gory and sexual). You’ll be asking yourself “WTF is this even real?” many times, and you’ll feel absolutely disgusted with humanity. But have faith that there is a reason for the madness. I walked into this action series not knowing a lick about the Devilman franchise (aside from the old dub clips, heh heh) and obviously enjoyed the HELL out of it.

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If such disturbing material doesn’t bother you, then I’m sure you’ll also enjoy this wild ride through the bloody and the occult, as there are a fair amount of life lessons to be learned. I’m giving Devilman: Crybaby the honorary “Caffe Mocha” title because of its unexpectedly high emotional impact (you gotta love the indirect End of Eva references, too)! There’s a particular scene in I think episode 8 or 9 that absolutely wrecked me, and the powerful ending . . . wow . . . I’m sure I won’t be forgetting about that for a long time. If you are thinking about watching this anime, or have already seen it, you HAVE to let me know what you thought about it! I’m dying to dig the series back up, even though much of the hype has died down, haha! Let me know if I did a decent job by hitting the like button (I appreciate it!), and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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All That Glitters IS Gold in “Land of the Lustrous” | OWLS “Revival”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s first monthly topic for 2018, “Revival,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard review of Land of the Lustrous into a short, shimmering reflection on the main character’s journey of self-discovery, and how even though our emotional selves may fracture, we can still be pieced back together—and return stronger than ever before.

A new year implies “new beginnings.” Yet, rather than discussing the “new,” we will be discussing the “revival.” “Revival” has multiple definitions, but the meaning we will be focusing on is the improvement, development, or refinement of something. Our posts will be about characters that undergo a positive or negative transformation and what we can learn from them.

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Thanks Lyn for the prompt—what fitting way to kick of the New Year!


A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 12-episode fall 2017 anime “Houseki no Kuni” or “Land of the Lustrous,” produced by studio Orange, directed by Takahiko Kyogoku, and based on Haruko Ichikawa’s manga of the same name.

NOTE: The characters in this anime are genderless, and I will do my best to watch my pronoun usage.

Enter the Radiant Land of the Lustrous

Not all clothes are cut from the same cloth. In Land of the Lustrous‘s case, not all gemstones are cut from the same rock. Or are they? In a distant fantasy future, a new immortal and genderless life form called Gems (the “Lustrous”) roam what inhabitable remains of Earth are left. We’re not really told what happened, other than that the mainland in which the story takes place is under attack by the Lunarians (or “Moon Dwellers”), mystical cloud-like Buddha-looking beings who regularly abduct the Gems to turn them into jewelry—to turn a proud race into frivolous decor.

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Phosphophyllite, or simply Phos, is the youngest of the Gems, and though their 300 years on Earth has given them much time to play and mess around, having a hardness of only 3.5 makes them more fragile than glass on the battlefield. Set in a tribe-like school of sorts where one’s hardness determines whether they are deemed fighters or medics, Phos is neither suited for battle nor the books. As such, Phos is treated trivially, and is often met with belittlement or noisome glares by their peers.

Phos’s feelings of being an outcast diminish when Kongou (Adamantine), the master of Gems, assigns Phos the unique task of creating a natural history encyclopedia, an archive of the nature of their world. Though everyone—including Phos—knows that the pointless job is just to keep them out of trouble, no one could’ve imagined the incredible journey Phos was about to take, and the impact their transformation would have on their entire civilization.

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From the synopsis alone, Land of the Lustrous (what a cool title, BTW) already sounds plenty weird. The anime is categorized under the genres of action, fantasy, and seinen, but it proves itself even more interesting by also harboring an underlying mystery element. Who are the Lunarians, and why do they really want the Gems? What is Master Kongou’s relation with the moon people? What truly happened to humanity? Constantly, I found myself hitting the next episode button in eager anticipation of learning the secrets to this fascinating world. And the sudden loss of Amazon’s Anime Strike program (you will NOT be missed) allowed me to stream seamlessly without fear of paying double the price. I generally like to take my time watching a series; rarely do I gulp an entire series down in a single weekend, but I finished all 12 episodes in just two days. Yes, it was that entertaining. Not all my questions got answered, but it definitely ends ready for more, and it did encourage me to want to start reading the manga.

While its premise, setting, and characters are all quite creative, humanity’s nature is unchanging. Much like any child would, Phos experiences loneliness and a sense of uselessness, but through their peers, Phos also comes to understand important values like perseverance, respect, kinship, and the payoff of hard work. They also face the realities of their once thought-to-be fairy-tale world, revealing that life does have its cruelties. The anime’s messages are endearing, even if we’ve already seen them a hundred times, and that’s probably thanks to Land of the Lustrous‘s fantastic set of characters: the 28 Gems that make up this sparkling society.

Shine Bright Like a Diamond

Variety is the greatest spice of life, and Land of the Lustrous‘s gleaming cast of Gems is definitely the series’s leading feature. Ordered appropriately according to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, the jewel people are all given characteristics that match the features of their own gemstone. Cinnabar is a soft toxic mercury ore (the same bold red used as a pigment); correspondingly, Cinnabar’s character only has a hardness of 2, and their ability to produce a lethal poison prevents them from interacting with the other Gems. And just as how diamonds are used for precious moments, and are regarded as the world’s prettiest jewel, “Dia” is literally a sparkling, pure, kind-hearted individual with hardness 10, and is almost always seen “engaged” (see what I did there) with a certain Gem.

The attention to detail here goes far beneath the surface, feeling much richer than some cheap gimmick. Here, an imaginative use of characterization births some of the most unique and heartwarming characters I’ve ever seen, and though each gem’s screen time is limited to showcase one another’s distinctive traits, you still get a wholesome feel for who most of these polished beauties are. I imagine that this show would be any mineralogist or gemologist’s wet dream!

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Shout out to all the fans and artists over on Twitter for convincing me to watch this show, and for making me love the characters beyond what the series presents! So much pretty artwork, and I can’t get enough of it! Oh yeah, and Antarcticite is best . . . Girl? . . . Boy? . . . Androgynous gem person!

This IS the Best CG Anime EVER

I was incredibly surprised with how 2017’s Kado: The Right Answer was able to shake up the CGI reputation in anime. It crafted a setting in which CG-animated elements not only worked, but actually enhanced the out-of-this-world story being told, as well as the wondrous anisotropic devices presented. Complaints were still to be made, however, most regarding that the normal people were also animated in CG when they totally didn’t need to be. In typical CG fashion, it made the character actions look a tad awkward.

But from characters to concept, Land of the Lustrous both fits as a CG anime AND looks absolutely stunning doing so. First, the CG mapping allows the character designs to appear consistently gorgeous. The beautifully colored jewel people’s hair radiates with a twinkling, glistening shine—something that could only be achieved using this 3D technique—and their fights against the Lunarians prove to be engaging, expectation-shattering spectacles! Not to mention, the 2D painted backgrounds are works of art all on their own! This 2D-3D blend was clearly well-thought out and executed marvelously, for all that glitters IS gold on the animation front.

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Before I leave the production side of things, I do want to mention that Yoshiaki Fujisawa’s soundtrack provides such an atmospheric, entrancing allure that I can only express in these words: it is a soundtrack suited perfectly for this anime.

Bonds Stronger Than Any Glue: Phos’s Transformation

As stated previously, Land of the Lustrous is a coming-of-age tale where a clumsy, useless, and worthless individual tries to find not only a reason to live, but a place to belong. It’s a story about being useful to those you value, even if those people don’t value your own effort to establish teamwork.

Like people, Gems can be brittle beings with fragile hearts. Phos both mentally and physically “breaks” several times throughout the course of the series. In the search to finally be useful to others, Phos seeks change. Phos just . . . wants to be special. Well, change of any kind comes at a price—to gain something new, something must be lost—and unfortunately, that price is the precious time of others. Or, at its worst, the life of a friend. With an almost foolish bravery and air of bad luck, Phos pursues many partners in an effort to improve—to refine those blemishes of their personality, and to forever eliminate the imperfections that cause them mockery and shame.

But change is scary. It can be painful, it can be sudden, and it can be dangerous.

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Every try, every fail—no matter what, Phos desperately continues to pursue a reason for being. And through each failure, Phos learns a priceless lesson about what it means to feel valued and helpful. Smash your frail legs? Find stronger ones to replace them. Fracture your tiny arms? Hunt for a material that can better weather the crushing pain of defeat. Lose a beloved friend:

Make them proud by living for them. Do what they couldn’t by becoming someone you would both be proud of. Being immortal means each rupture can and DOES lead to a chance to return stronger and shinier than before—to feel reborn anew, to feel revived. And Phos doesn’t let that precious opportunity go to waste.

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Putting the Pieces Back Together

Change involves suffering, but that grief is a necessity for growth. Phos will shatter again, and again, and again, picking up the sad, broken pieces of their shiny shell. Yet with the help of some friends, these shards can be pieced back together to continue fighting on. The bonds that Phos forms, unlike their lustrous figure, are unbreakable. It’s a powerful positive transformation, absolutely, but it comes at very critical costs.

Phos can do it, though. Slowly but surely, Phos comes to realize that self-worth isn’t determined by the people around you, but rather what YOU make of yourself. With great determination, Phos knows the road to truly reviving their spirit is paved with hardship and loss. The world is cruel, after all. But so long as we can hope to become better individuals—actively seeking to help others in return—change and improvement just might someday find us, too. And it’s that seemingly small sentiment that makes Land of the Lustrous shine brighter than all the diamonds in the night sky.

You’ll grow stronger. You’ll be fine . . . Somebody will figure out a way. You won’t get any worse. You must change. You must find courage. You’ll make it. But you don’t have time. – Voice from the ice floes, the reflections of our innermost thoughts

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As emotional as I make it sound, Land of the Lustrous is just such a cool, unique show unlike ANYTHING I’ve ever seen. It’s a neat twist on science matched with a budding mystery that I cannot wait to uncover in the manga! I’m awarding Land of the Lustrous with the “Cake” title, as it’s certainly an elegant show, but its lack of a “true ending” leaves many titillating questions unanswered. You ought to let me know what you thought of this anime or this post down in the comments, as this “hidden gem” (haha ok I’ll go home) was a big hit for some and a sleeper for many others!

Oh, and if you enjoyed this series, consider checking out Yuki Yuna is a Hero for scarily similar-looking antagonists (and overall concept of fighting), A Lull in the Sea for its similar take on village life and growing up, or lastly From the New World because, well, just trust me on this one. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for a classy LTD ED release of this show by Sentai Filmworks, hopefully complete with Yoichi Nishikawa’s end card art cause HOLY BAUBLES, them beauties!

This concludes my January 10th entry in the OWLS “Revival” blog tour. Moonid (Random Garage) went right before me and wrote a bit of a character analysis over Nightingale from the Chinese fantasy web novel Release that Witch. Now, look out for Zoe (Let’s Talk Anime) with ReLIFE, a title that I really need to watch, and Arata’s second chance at youth on Friday, January 12th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

The Ravishing, Elegant Imperfections of “Welcome to the Ballroom” | Blogmas 2017 Day 9

Hey everyone, welcome to (a very belated) day 9 of Blogmas (whoops)! This past summer, two sports anime aired simultaneously, and I decided to follow them to see which would wind out on top! Today I present a review of the show that finished airing about a week or so ago, the anime about a young boy’s experience as a ballroom dancer, and how the sport challenged and changed him for the better!

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The Summer of Sports: A Review of Welcome to the Ballroom


A spoiler-free review of the summer 2017 anime “Welcome to the Ballroom,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Yoshimi Itazu, based on the manga by Tomo Takeuchi. 

Entering the World of Dance

Tatara Fujita’s another one of those introverted third-year middle schoolers with no aim in life who very soon has to make the big high school decision. On one of his particularly average days, he is harassed by delinquents, only to suddenly be rescued by an imposing gentleman on a motor cycle. His name is Sengoku, an energetic professional dancer on the international level, and it is through some miscommunication on Sengoku’s part that Tatara ends up at his dance studio. There, he meets a girl from his school: Shizuku Hanaoka—the woman of his dreams—and it is partially because of both her charm and Tatara’s own desire to change himself that he enters the world of dance. The free-spirited Sengoku sees potential in young Tatara, and thus decides to show him the steps.

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Through his experience with dance, Tatara meets many people, friends and rivals alike, who will each challenge Tatara not only as an athlete, but as a young man coming of age. And it is through this same interaction with Tatara that other dancers feel encouraged to take steps to overcome their own issues and flaws. His feet will get plenty sore, and he’ll fall on the dance floor many, many times in practice, but Tatara keeps on going because of the enjoyment and wonder dancing brings into his otherwise goalless life.

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From Slouch Stance to Swing Dance

One of the most exciting times to be alive was Welcome to the Ballroom‘s beginning. Its first six or so episodes set up a pretty strong premise, not to mention a promising standard of animation quality. From Tatara understanding how to stand up straight and correct his terrible slouch to learning the waltz’s basic box pattern, I truly felt inspired to try waltzing around my room like I used to so many years ago. You just want to see more and more of the characters and the sport they all love—it’s first several episodes are addictive! But it’s hard to maintain that same adrenaline over the course of one dance competition alone. Let me elaborate.

Over the course of 24 episodes, we only bear witness to what, three, maybe four competitions. And it is from each of these arcs that we are expected to understand that Tatara’s skills accelerate at a terrifyingly quick rate. One does not instantly become a pro by attending merely a couple competitions, though; the reality is that it takes tens, if not hundreds of events like competitions that challenge one’s entire range of skills. I know Tatara wasn’t defined as a “pro” by the end of the series, as he clearly still has much to learn, but the fact that he was able to equally rival some of the series’s known-to-be-greatest dancers felt somewhat unbelievable.

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And while we’re on the subject of shounen arcs, a single dance could last two or three episodes, while a competition could span as great as nine or so episodes. What’s with that pacing? Had the competitions made shorter, we could’ve made room for more of them, which might’ve balanced the characterization better. In its defense, I imagine that my issues with the slow pacing would be way less apparent watching it now in marathon format as opposed to over the course of SIX MONTHS.

Where the series fails to be a completely smooth run here and there, it definitely makes up for it by proving to be VERY entertaining. Each episode does leave you craving to know what might happen in the next round, or perhaps to see which couples end up clashing on the dance floor. My pacing dissatisfaction wasn’t from “bad episodes” or “poor directing choices,” but rather a lack of action worthy enough to fill a whole episode (especially by the end). It’s not filler, it’s just slow-moving, and I suppose I’d rather a show take its time than push forward and leave out development.

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Finding Something to be Good At: Tatara & Dance

To give him credit, Tatara Fujita does practice A LOT. He’s a hard worker, and in fact, many shots in the series focus on characters walking into the studio, only to discover a tired Tatara training through the early hours of the morn. Where he struggles with verbal teachings, Tatara is incredibly gifted at duplicating dance moves he has seen. Odds are that this is the reason why he is able to fair well against many dancers, including the experienced ones.

Either way, he struggles with communicating what he wants, and as such fails to grasp the masculine hold that a couple’s lead should possess. This translates across to his external conflict: great shyness, nervousness, and a lack of self-confidence around others. He dances in secret, embarrassed by being a male dancer, and is unable to make friends as a result, nor tell his dad about his newfound hobby. Mentally, he is fighting to “man up,” accept dance as a part of himself, and discover what dancing really means to him—this is all while chasing after Sengoku’s shadow, of course. Overall, I like Tatara, as his conflicts are not only relatable, but his efforts to respect and embrace what he truly loves are praiseworthy, too! Through an unlikely sport like dance, Tatara finds that one thing he wished he could be good at, as well as a way to express his true, repressed, artistic spirit.

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Finding Kinship in Competition: Hyoudou & Gaju

As mentioned, several challengers oppose Tatara over the course of the series. Though they are mainly boys a tad older than he is, there are a couple of older men who provide valuable lessons and wisdom on the sport. Sengoku is the obvious culprit, but his lack of attention to Tatara kind of makes him a dick of a coach. He does have his own professional career to worry about, I suppose. And I do see why Tatara (and heck, everybody else) idolizes the guy: for all his goofiness and trouble with verbal instructions, Sengoku knows his stuff, and he sure is one eye-catching, dynamic dancer.

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Then there’s the other leads, namely dancing prodigy Kiyoharu Hyoudou and the brash, loudmouth Gaju Akagi. On their own, Hyoudou’s seemingly perfect career is suffering from a hidden injury, and the way the show handled his behavior and mannerisms was quite realistic and well-handled. It’s always a surprising dilemma to see “the star” in trouble, but it can happen to anyone, and the road to recovery can really deter one’s once-blazing determination. Every time he appeared from the shadows and opened his smart mouth to make some stupidly detailed analysis of Tatara’s mistakes, however, I did low-key want to punch him in the face.

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If Hyoudou is Tatara’s foil, then Gaju would be more like your standard, overly zealous competitor, the epiphany of dominance over one’s partner. He is the glue that holds the group together, though, and in times of relaxation and relief, it’s Gaju’s presence that brings out the casts’s nice chemistry.

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Finding a Partner: Chinatsu & The Struggle to Connect

At first, the other female dancers seem like standards for Tatara’s partner(s) to reach and eventually pass, but thankfully, that’s not how Ballroom works. While I’m told the manga (which I can’t wait to read) fleshes out the female characters better, as you get read their thoughts, I found myself nonetheless enjoying Hanaoka’s untouchable nature and the cute Mako Akagi’s hidden glam (seriously, the Tenpei Cup final was EPIC, and I love Mako’s yellow dress). Even the adult females like Sengoku’s partner Chizuru or Hyoudou’s mom Coach Marisa serve more purpose than just being there for Tatara—they all feel like real people with their own attitudes, weaknesses, and ambitions.

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As much as I loved Mako’s adorable yet strong-willed spirit, my favorite female character was one introduced in the show’s second half: Chinatsu, Tatara’s fiery future partner. Characterized as the polar opposite of Tatara—fierce, strong, bold, and most of all, a true leader—Chinatsu poses a lot of problems for Tatara (and frustration for the viewers, too). She’s essentially everything that he’s not, and her unwillingness to accept her own issues and work through them calmly (and fairly) with Tatara sets up a rocky, explosive relationship just waiting to burst. How Chinatsu’s existence changes EVERYTHING reminds me so much of Shinji and Asuka’s relationship from Evangelion, and it’s probably the reason why I like their dynamic so much.

Simply put, she’s everything that makes him uncomfortable, and he’s everything that challenges her very being. 

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The anime’s ending tries to cap off their relationship with a sudden “everything’s gonna be ok,” but we all know that more fights and fits are bound for this couple in the future. Their animosity was just handled so well, so powerfully, and it arguably made the long second half bearable for me. The struggle to connect and find a partner is a very intimate, vital thing, and I’m glad it wasn’t underplayed.

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(To avoid spoilers, obligatory shoutout to Kugimiya and his partner Idogawa, as it was their character development that made the final competition so impactful!)

A Dancing Anime Without the “Dance”

Ballroom blossoms beautifully when it’s moving. Seriously, it’s freakin’ wonderful. But fluid scenes on the dance floor are sadly few and far between, which is odd considering that a powerhouse like Production I.G is behind the helm. This was most viewers’ biggest beef with the anime adaptation, as the manga’s pages are rife with striking, expressive motion (which seems odd for paper, but just open up a volume whenever you get the chance). Way too often than what should be allowed for a sports anime, we are treated to still frame, after still frame, after still frame, which are guided by someone annoying (like Hyoudou) verbally leading us through what should have been a thrilling, visual feast! Don’t get me wrong—Every. Single. Frame. Of this anime is drop-dead gorgeous. Like, those dresses, holy shit, wow! But man, I was sighing throughout so many of the dance scenes because I just wanted to see SOMETHING move. It could literally be a ribbon or a dress sequin—JUST MOVE IT. I really hope some animation is added to the Blu-ray releases.

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(As for the giraffe necks, I didn’t mind too much. They’re glaring at first, but after a few episodes you don’t even notice how wrong it is.)

Music, the Soul of Dance

Thankfully, Ballroom manages to stay somewhat engaging during these motionless shots because of its delightful soundtrack. Perhaps this is because of musician Yuuki Hayashi’s own experience as a rhythmic gymnast; the man already knows how to match tempo and tune with fancy footwork. Hayashi is a rising favorite of mine, as he knows how to perfectly time moments that should be epic with music that is absolutely epic. From moving ensembles like “Ballroom, Shakou Dance” to THE MOST UPLIFTING BEAT OF THE CENTURY, “Ganbaritai Kimochi,” how you can’t NOT feel the emotional weight? And don’t even get me started on the dance music—waltz, salsa, jazz, swing, samba, cha-cha, Charleston, Merengue—so many styles, and so much respect for each time period’s jams!!

Hayashi’s able to take a simple melody and turn it into a gorgeous, heartwarming waltz, or even a snappy, saucy tango. I was just so happy to see my favorite time signature, the waltz’s 3/4, be revived in modern anime akin to Ouran High School Host Club‘s brilliance. It’s a shame that his dance-themed tracks would be frequently swapped out for the main OST mid-dance, unlike the continuous play like in Yuri!!! On ICE, but I suppose that makes anticipating each lovely track all the more exciting. There’s a raw love for classical strings, piano, and a bit of drums for movement in Hayashi’s internationally-infused music, and that’s why I’ll always look forward to his perfect, inspiring scores.

“Tatara’s Waltz,” “Hyoudou Tango,” “Blooming On Our Way,” “Tango City,” “Viennese Waltz,” “It’s like a symphony,” “Quick Step B,” “La Cumparsita, “Las Patineurs,” “Sing, Sing, Sing . . .” HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE THIS VARIETY???

I’ve already talked way to much about the music in this anime, but on top of featuring a well-rounded soundtrack, Ballroom has TWO amazingly energetic openings that create so much HYPE! Both by UNISON SQUARE GARDEN (which I will now keep an eye out for), “10% roll, 10% romance” and “Invisible Sensation,” my favorite of the two, have made my “Current Faves” playlist. And I couldn’t forget about the first ED theme, “Maybe the next waltz” by Mikako Komatsu, which was sung, yes, AS A SWEET WALTZ. I JUST LOVE THIS ANIME’S STYLE SO MUCH!!

Dismantling the Stereotypes: The Beauty of Evolution

As a final note, Ballroom makes quick work of eliminating any frivolous or “girly” things you previously thought about ballroom dance. Its appropriate depiction as an equally sweaty, vigorous sport is eye-opening, and you can feel that all the people behind the project had a great respect for the sport. The anime is aware of this, and repeatedly nails in the idea that ballroom dance IS, indeed, very difficult. From the pain-staking accuracy of the sound that certain shoes make, to the flow and friction of suits and dresses, incredible attention was put into the sound effects to fully immerse you in the bustling dance floor atmosphere. Lastly, both the anime’s culturally diverse soundtrack and fashion sense pay ode to dance’s professional realities, culminating into an accurate depiction of dance’s heaviest hardships and most joyous pleasures alike.

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When it wants to be, the show is also very funny, using quick-witted humor and hilarious facial reactions to lighten an unnecessarily tense mood—something that we routinely find ourselves in.

Welcome to the Ballroom clearly has many strengths, but also several weaknesses. It boasts the allure of dancing, yet frequently fails put the concept into motion. It showcases how thrilling the sport can be, yet often drags out the effect nearly to the point of boredom. But above its faults, Ballroom promotes the beauty of evolution, the purity of youth, and the countless many possibilities that come with change and transformation. It’s a dramatic story of motivation, inspiration, and progress, both for its characters and the future of the sport itself. And by its end, I couldn’t help but applaud the valiant effort made to enlighten me on the world of dance and all its ravishing, graceful, and truly elegant imperfections. It’s that rare kind of show that doesn’t come around often—and one that should not be missed.

Dance’s physical and emotional expressions seem close, but they aren’t easily tied together. It can’t be considered a real expression unless you can reflect the outside knowledge and experiences you’ve gained. That’s why with an emotional dance, you can see through the dancer’s entire life. Joy and sorrow. Love and hate. A dance with a variety of emotions adds depth. Don’t you think that becomes meaningful enough to dedicate the time in your life to dance? – Coach Marisa Hyoudou

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Production and pacing problems aside, Welcome to the Ballroom‘s biggest issue right now is the lack of a licensing, as Anime Strike doesn’t count for CRAP! Seriously, someone please get a hold of the polished Japanese Blu-rays, dub it if you want, and I’ll buy three. This was such a long review, my goodness, but I wanted to make sure that I covered EVERYTHING about it! If you managed to make it from beginning to end, give yourself a pat on the back, and let me know in the comments what you thought of Welcome to the Ballroom in the comments! It’s a sweet, delicious “Cake” here at the cafe!

This concludes Blogmas Day Nine of the 12 Days of Anime, as well as part 2 of “The Summer of Sports!” If you couldn’t already tell, Ballroom definitely won the match, but I do love them both! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you shortly with another belated post!

– Takuto, your host

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“DIVE!!” Flops as a Summer Sports Anime | Blogmas 2017 Day 8

Hey everyone, welcome to day 8 of Blogmas! This past summer, two sports anime aired simultaneously, and I decided to follow them to see which would wind out on top! Today I present a review of the show that finished airing first, the anime about a boys diving club and their ambition to enter the Olympics!

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The Summer of Sports: A Review of DIVE!!


A brief spoiler-free review of the summer 2017 anime “DIVE!!,” produced by Zer-G, directed by Kaoru Suzuki, based on the novel series by Eto Mori. 

Gazing up at the Concrete Dragon

A young Tomoki Sakai was inspired to join the Mizuki Diving Club (MDC) after witnessing its pride and joy member Yoichi Fujitani dive from high up off a giant captivating “Concrete Dragon.” Though the imposing diving platforms don’t literally stretch into the sky like a dragon would, the 10-meter height is enough to turn off most children and adults alike. But to Tomoki, Yoichi’s single dive proved that people can reach even greater heights through the daring sport, and thus he joins.

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Years of practice and good memories pass. Eventually suffering from significant financial troubles and on the verge of closure, the MDC hires a new coach as a last-ditch effort to promote its divers. This new coach manages to persuade the club’s sponsors to stay open, but only on one condition: the club must send one of its members to the Olympics in just a year’s time.

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If DIVE!! had one big gray area where it needed work, it’s right here in the plot. True sports anime have this natural tendency to hype you up as you’re watching. You may not know the rules of the sport, nor the backgrounds of all the characters, but there’s still a level of heart-pounding adrenaline to every failed goal, missed shot, or faulty start. DIVE!!, simply put, isn’t all that exciting. Even at its climax, I couldn’t help but compare it to how another water sports anime, Free!, handled its enthusiasm through its incredible character growth and thrilling animation sequences. It just wasn’t there for DIVE!! (which is ironic, because its title boasts two exclamation points), and I think there are other reasons for why it flopped as a sports anime.

Where most sports anime dedicate a decent portion at the beginning to understanding why the sport is so beloved by its cast, we only really have two characters to go off of: Yoichi and Tomo. Even then, Tomo just wants to feel special and catch up to Yoichi, while Yoichi seems like he could hardly care less about it all—he happened to be born with diving talents, that’s all. The goal is the Olympics, but I can’t even seem to muster the heart to cheer for these boys during practice when they keep skippin’ all the time! Sure, characters like Okitsu’s grandfather and Coach Asaki fill in that void later on, but by then, most of my interest had already been lost.

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Also, and this is a nitpick, as many good sports anime can still be notorious for this, but the lack of explanation of how scoring works, or why certain techniques are more difficult than others not only increases my disinterest, but it hurts the series’s ending: Were Yoichi and Tomo’s scores really that good? What does a standard Olympic score even look like, and where do those numbers come from anyway? What makes a triple flip that much more special than a quadruple, and what kinds of people can achieve this level of technique? Tomo is seriously just a middle schooler—can middle schoolers even enter the freakin’ Olympics?? So many questions, and no answers to be found anywhere. It almost begs me to ask whether this show is worth watching anymore. Well, if it weren’t for the characters, I’d give it a hard pass for sure.

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How Realism Shakes Up the Status Quo

As I mentioned earlier, we reach a point in the story where club members start dropping practice one-by-one, each rotating back in only for another overly sensitive boy to leave. Not everyone likes the new competition brought by suddenly raising the bar. Coaches Asaki and Fujitani (Yoichi’s dad) quickly pick their favorites, and it is that favoritism which causes jealousy and rage to seed themselves within the minds of Ryou and Reiji, Tomo’s “friends.” Ryou’s straightforwardness constantly clashes with Coach Asaki’s partiality to Tomo, and Reiji faces his own internal conflict of competition anxiety. It’s a lose-lose situation for both parties, yet it all somehow feels so . . . real. While anime like Free! glorify friendship and rivalry during swim meets, DIVE!! says that sometimes athletes don’t recover from lost pride, and that team members DO in real life leave the teams that isolate them. Aside from the MDC boys feeling way too young for the Olympics, it’s DIVE!!‘s realism that almost saves it in the end.

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Take Yoichi, for instance. He’s basically perfect: talented, hardworking, a natural born leader, has a great body, etc. But the guy can’t get a girlfriend, and he eventually faces burnout due to, well, a couple reasons. One is that he feels pushed by everyone, especially his father, to make it into the Olympics—and he totally wants to go, but he becomes sick of the pressure and expectations set by all those around him. The second is his realization that the Olympics almost seems to market its athletes more than support them. In what is definitely DIVE!!‘s saving plot point, understanding how the Olympics’s way of promoting and advertising its fine athletes affects people like Yoichi opens up a whole new level of devastation. It was, to be frank, Yoichi’s unexpected fall from grace. Ka-chan, an aniblogger friend of mine detailed Yoichi’s character conflict with the Olympics’s abuse of athletes for money in a very interesting post, which I’ll link here!

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MDC’s latest member, the towering island boy Okitsu, also has a short yet fairly impressive arc dedicated to his own passion for diving. Born and raised along the coast, Okitsu’s only ever been familiar with ocean diving. For him, the pool is like a cage, but he joins MDC nonetheless after Coach Asaki enlightens him on his late grandfather’s stunning pro-diving career. It was honestly a well-done plot point, and I likely won’t ever forget it. Watching a coach bond with her pupils like this was how it should’ve been done for everyone; she’s an integral character for this story. But there’s one character that caught Coach Asaki’s eye more than anyone.

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“Why is Tomoki so special?” Very good question. Nicknamed “Diamond Eyes” for his dynamic vision, Tomo’s as natural a diver as they come. And like all diamonds, they need a fair amount of polishing in order to truly shine. Between Coach Asaki’s intense regimen to shape Tomo into one of Japan’s greatest divers to experiencing a sense of betrayal by his closest friends, including his girlfriend, Tomo comes to realize that many sacrifices must be made to excel at something: sleep, food, free time, energy for other passions, a chance at friendship and love. Admittedly, Tomo being that distraught about losing hid girlfriend and moping about it the whole time was dumb. He’s slow to others’ feelings, and that too is quite frustrating. But nonetheless, he learns that sometimes being good at something requires you to distance yourself from others. Having him voiced by Yuki Kaji was a HUGE win for me, but ultimately, Tomo is one of the weaker characters in the story.

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Diving So Stiff that it Hurts to Watch

As I mentioned earlier, the best sports anime usually have decent to top-tier animation. It sounds very privileged of me to say that a certain anime needs to look this way or that, but man, a huge problem with DIVE!! is that it’s just not pretty to look at. Artwork? Absolutely gorgeous color palette with chiseled abs (for those in need). The water? Looks smooth enough. The divers themselves? Let’s just say they are animated so stiffly that it hurts your back to watch.

The soundtrack though, oh my gosh, it’s surprisingly great! Kohta Yamamoto hasn’t done much work for anime, but he knows how to rouse up a dramatic track when it’s needed. It helps that the music was credited to two individuals, however, the second being the great Yuuki Hayashi (Robotics;Notes, My Hero Academia!, Death Parade)! And while the OP  “Taiyou mo Hitoribocchi” by Qyoto pumped you up (for what you thought would be some good sports fun), the ED “NEW WORLD” by Yuuta Hashimoto was THE REAL BOP OF THE SUMMER. SERIOUSLY GUYS, “NEW WORLD” IS PROBABLY MY FAVORITE SONG OF ALL THE SIMULCASTS I STREAMED THIS YEAR. It’s just so melancholic, so bittersweet, so befitting of everything that DIVE!! tried to be.

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Surpass the Limits You Set for Yourself

Arguably, DIVE!! is not a sports anime, but rather a character-driven coming-of-age story for the main characters. It highlights the experiences—both good and bad, done with a team and alone—that sports can bring, as well as the realities plaguing growing teenage athletes. Unlike the happy-go-lucky Free!DIVE!! teaches us that sometimes being good at something requires you to distance yourself from others. You must decide for yourself what’s best for you, and sometimes that choice doesn’t follow what others want—that’s ok. Through diving:

  • Reiji found excitement and adventure in his otherwise risk-less yet worrisome life
  • Okitsu left the ocean and fell in love with his grandfather’s calling
  • Yoichi experienced burnout after dealing with the reality the adults preordained for him, but thanks to his team found his passions once again
  • And lastly, Tomo gained a pastime that provided him many friends and opportunities, but he had to give up many things to have even the slightest chance at victory

Unlike any sports anime that I’ve ever seen, DIVE!! focuses on the things given up or lost, rather than what is gained. Diving is solely an individual, all-or-nothing sport, after all. But even as a “diving anime,” I couldn’t distinguish between a good dive and a bad one due to the uneven animation, not that it mattered because the plot was so unfocused (the finale looked great, though). Much like its characters, DIVE!! tried to pave its own destiny, but ultimately flopped as truly engaging sports anime—or even as a piece of entertainment for that matter.

Diving is a competition that requires many long years of practice. Their future is a long one. Our duty isn’t to show them the shortcuts, but rather to teach them about the length. – Coach Fujitani

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Don’t get me wrong—despite all the crap I gave its animation and plot issues, I still actually like DIVE!!. At the very least, I clearly tried to see the good in its character development . . . maybe it’s because water sports resonate so much with me, or that I just like sports anime too much. It’s not unbearable, but you’re better off watching something else if you’re craving the thrill that comes from the genre. It’s been a while since I awarded anything with this, but DIVE!! deserves the “Coffee” recognition, as there is some decent content hidden deep below the water’s depths—if only the plot development didn’t merely skim the surface.

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Let me know what you thought of DIVE!! if you happened to watch it! Not many people did, but I’d still love to know your experience with it. This wrap up Blogmas Day Eight of the 12 Days of Anime, as well as part 1 of “The Summer of Sports!” Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow for part 2!

– Takuto, your host

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Completing My First “Tales” Game! | Blogmas 2017 Day 7

Hey everyone, welcome to day 7 of Blogmas!

Another quickie today, but a celebration nonetheless! This past early spring, I completed my first Tales game. For those unfamiliar with the massive franchise, the title Tales refers to a sprawling series of games, most unrelated, created by the game company Bandai Namco in Japan. They’re known for their iconic and elaborate character designs, fantasy-inspired landscapes, Celtic-inspired soundtracks, and most of all, their deep, thought-provoking adventure stories that can take just as long as a Final Fantasy game to complete. We’re talking about clocking no less than 30 hours per game!

Anyway, the Tales franchise means a lot to me. Not because I am overly familiar with the gameplay (as you can see by the title of this post, I’ve actually played very little Tales in my life T__T), but because I get my roots as a fan of entertainment in general from the fantasy genre, the Tales franchise being rich in the source. I’m a kid born and raised on attending Renaissance Festivals and Madrigal Feasts, often loosing myself in the adventurous worlds of tabletop gaming like (our adapted version of) HeroQuest (anyone remember that), TCGs like Pokemon and Magic the Gathering, books like John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, or even iconic films of the genre, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to name a couple. I love fantasy—essentially, its themes of valor, honor, and justice compose my heart for entertainment.

Most importantly, Tales of Symphonia: The Animation is one of only a handful of shows to get me started on anime. If  didn’t come across the Japanese opening of the game, “Starry Heavens,” which I’ll link below, I would never have discovered the wondrous world of Japanese animation.

So here we go: to the best of my ablility, I will briefly discuss my experiences playing both Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Zestiria on the PS3 from the weak non-gamer perspective that I have!

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Loose Discussions on My Experiences Playing a “Tales” Game

(These will DEFINITELY NOT be formal reviews.)

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Tales of Symphonia

Looking back on it, Symphonia‘s anime does a really, really good job at sticking to its source material. It’s got all the major locations, major backstory elements pertaining to the main characters, and even some of the minor characters. Heck, even most of the theme songs for specific characters and towns were brought back for the anime! But this isn’t about the anime, I suppose. Back to the game.

One of the biggest problems I had with the game was the use of annoying side mazes that involved using a “magic ring” to properly traverse. It’s gimmicks like these that tend to ward me off of games—I JUST WANT TO SEE THE STORY. Some of those were really hard, too; as a beginner, I found myself referring to YouTube walkthroughs more and more as the game’s climax neared just to get passed these stupid little travel puzzles.

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OH MY GOD WELGAIA’S FREAKIN FLOORS SCREW THIS

Another beef I had with it was the English audio. As a who’s fan loyal to what I hear first, that being the anime in fansubs, I couldn’t stand the English voices for Lloyd or Zelos. This was easily fixed by changing the game’s audio back to the original Japanese, however, so it’s not so much of a problem as it was just a preference. Raine’s VA for both  was good though, so way to go Kari Wahlgren!

Where it has its minor issues, I found myself immensely enjoying all of the sidequests or story elements that were dropped in the anime adaptation; piecing together the events and locations, however major or minor, that were missing from the anime was tons of fun, as I learned many new things about Symphonia‘s two worlds and their peoples. And while I did think that the final confrontation with Mithos, the ultimate antagonist, was a bit lousy in game format (or at least it had way less of an emotional appeal to it, though movies do tend to resonate with me more), I much rather preferred the game’s handling of tying up all the loose ends—specifically, resolving the pact with Origin and the birth of the new World Tree. It had more time to fully explain itself, and now after all these years I FINALLY understand who Origin is! Woohoo!

All-in-all, finally getting around to playing (and actually finishing, holy shit) Tales of Symphonia (PS3) after six LONG years of putting it off, I can’t help but feeling so complete—the story has finally come full-circle, the adaption introducing me to anime as a media and the PS3 game engrossing me in JRPGs. Do I now despise the anime for excluding so many “crucial” plot points? Absolutely not. I still hold Tales of Symphonia: The Animation in the highest regard, as it’s still a beautiful, moving tale of the harsh realities of racism and revenge, and the hope that comes with uniting two fundamentally broken worlds—I love both iterations of the story, and I probably always will. I DO recommend both the anime and the game, so pick your poison and head out on your own adventure ASAP! (Or be like me and experience both! More Symphonia is a very good thing.)

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Ultimately, I was just so happy I could say I completed my first Tales game, but I immediately knew that It wouldn’t be the last. In fact, my second Tales adventure was awaiting me just around the corner—the end of a good school year, and the start of a brilliant summer!

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Tales of Zestiria

I remember seeing a promotional poster for the anime Tales of Zestiria the X circulating years back, and I do recall being excited for it despite not knowing anything other than that it was another Tales adaptation by the GOD STUDIO, Ufotable. After getting to see the English voice actor for Zestiria‘s MC, Robbie Daymond, in person at this year’s Naka-Kon, I knew the first thing to do as soon as I got home: purchase the PS3 game (I actually ended up doing it in the hotel room, tho >.<).

My recent success with Symphonia set my passions ablaze for tackling the next big JRPG. Once you’ve played one JRPG, you’ve played them all, right? Or perhaps, you want to play them all. From the reviews alone, I already knew that this one was going to be the easiest-to-understand in the entire franchise so far, and that it was arguably the “not-very-smart one” in the series. The character designs charmed me too much, however, and the sparkling armitization sequences just blew me away! The real draw-in for this series, voice actor meeting aside, was the anime’s OP theme, “Kaze no Uta” by FLOW. It was just the smooth, crisp 60 fps display plus the ridiculously catchy tune that made this show a MUST for me. Anyone see a trend here?

That’s right, both Tales games that I have played drew me in through their gorgeous, catchy openings. I suppose that should speak volumes about their music choice and soundtracks, no? Easily some of the best stuff I’ve ever listened to. And I still jam to this song every time I’m working out (which is rare) or whenever I need something to lift my spirits (which is often).

Unlike Symphonia, however, Zestiria had yet another thing winning for it: the fandom. Oh the ships, all the ships, I tells ya!! I’m such a sucker for anything Sorey and Mikleo, Alisha and Lailah. They’re all just so pretty, AHH!!

EHERM. Tales of Zestiria, despite all my senseless fanboying, is a beloved game that, honestly, treads many of the same lines that Symphonia did: two races trying to coexist, one “chosen” person designated to heal the land, a loudmouth (yet adorable) MC and his reserved, intelligent best friend. “Best friend ;)” All of the parallels and similarities just make me glad that Zestiria, though argued as the “dumb one,” was my second Tales game.

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As a PS3 game itself, the reviews ARE true in that the game is likely one of the easier ones in the franchise. I had very few problems in it . . . as in literally none at all. Sure, the story isn’t as deep or intricate (or emotional) as I would have wanted it to be (AKA more like Symphonia’s darkness), but that in itself makes Zestiria‘s almost overwhelming optimism contagious, and fun to play regardless of whatever mood you’re in. The visuals are, holy god almighty, some of the finest I’ve ever seen in gaming (THOSE SKIES THO F*CK ME), and the orchestral soundtrack should be on EVERY tabletop gamer’s background music playlist. Like, shit, need something that sounds absolutely LEGENDARY for a whole freakin’ hour, here you go:

To recap the Zestiria (PS3) experience, it was easy, simple, fantasy fun at its finest. You don’t need to collect many bonus items (if any at all, I skipped most of them), and the fights themselves are, WOAH, WHAT’S THIS, the most FUN part of the gameplay! I’m no gamer, and I found swingin’ around Sorey’s massive armitized swords, bow, giant fists—what have you—to be greatly pleasurable. If you’re not looking for the deepest Tales game, but one that’s great for a first-timer, Zestiria is the one for you. I recommend it.

FUN FACT: After meeting Robbie Daymond, I played through all of the game in English and loved it—proof that once again, whatever you hear first is likely your favorite. I was also incredibly hyped for the anime adaption, as it looks like the best thing to come from Ufotable besides Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, and that’s one of the most top-tier anime you could ask for! I’m currently watching the anime, and while the inclusion of the Berseria *promotional episodes* were pointless and time-draining, it’s a pretty good show. I won’t make any judgement calls now, but I’d love to review it whenever I finish! Also, for all I know, Berseria could very well end up being my next Tales game to experience, as it, too . . . well, I bet you can already guess.

It had a rockin’ OP. 🙂

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What did you think of Symphonia or Zestiria? Any opinions on their anime adaptations, either? For the record, I have seen the Tales of the Abyss anime, but that was also very long ago, so want to rewatch that some day. Lastly, are there any particular favorites or recommendations from the Tales franchise out there? Let me know! I’ve heard that Symphonia is actually one of the bests, and though I haven’t played the others, I’m gonna probably call it as my favorite. Sorry, it’s just first-timer’s bias. This wrap up Blogmas Day Seven of the 12 Days of Anime! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host

In This Corner of the World: A History Lesson on Hope & Healing | OWLS “Warmth”

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 twelfth monthly topic, “Warmth,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard review of In This Corner of the World into a sympathetic discussion on the hardships of war and loss, and how love gives us the strength to continue being compassionate through even the worst of times.

It’s the season of joy, thankfulness, and love. This month’s topic is “Warmth.” Whether it is spending time with family members during the holiday season or with that special someone during New Year’s Eve, we will be discussing moments in anime and pop culture media that convey a feeling of happiness in our hearts. During times of struggles, we look towards the things that matter to us as a source of strength, hope, and happiness. We hope you enjoy this round of posts and that you, too, will have a wonderful holiday season!

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I’ve nothing else to say for the intro! Thank you Lyn for twelve consecutively thoughtful topics to ponder each month—I’ve enjoyed writing for all of them!


A brief spoiler-free discussion on the fall 2016 anime film “In This Corner of the World,” produced by studio MAPPA, directed by Sunao Katabuchi (“Black Lagoon”), based on Fumiyo Kouno’s award-winning manga of the same name.

New Life, New Opportunities

In 1944, life for Suzu Urano starts slipping through her tiny calloused fingers. For one, she is married to Shuusaku Houjou, a reserved young clerk, and is sent off to the small town of Kure in Hiroshima where her husband works at the local naval base. Now living with the Houjou family, Suzu must adjust to her new life, which is made especially difficult since she quickly becomes an essential meal-making, chore-doing crutch for the family. She does all of the daily housework during the tough wartime conditions, and the familial disconnect Suzu experiences between her sister-in-law—timed with the regular air raids—makes both the political and household climates feel like battlefields.

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When intense bombings by the U.S. military finally reach Kure in 1945, devastation to Hiroshima and its townsfolk, as well as its culture, forever shake the nation, and Suzu’s life is permanently impacted by the tragedies. “Much is gained by living in Kure, but with war, many things cherished are also lost.” It is only through the greatest perseverance and courage that Suzu manages to continue caring for those around her, and to truly live life to the fullest.

“Torn apart by war. Brought together by love.”

By its end, In This Corner of the World is a somber ode to history, wherein the tragedies of WWII’s Hiroshima bombing are experienced firsthand by the main characters. But before the bomb is dropped, the entire first half of the film winds us back to the 1920s, Suzu’s peaceful childhood. It starts this way to not only show Suzu’s developing story from beginning to end, but also to create the picturesque vision of pre-war times in Japan, specifically Hiroshima and its surrounding towns. As every 5 or 10-minute interval—marked by on-screen dates—brings us closer to that horrific day, August 6, 1945, your stomach starts churning in dreadful anticipation; you know what’s about to happen, and you’re almost left disbelieving how Suzu’s whole life could just fall apart in an instant.

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Akin to African author Achebe’s world-renowned novel, Things Fall Apart, which was written to show that life, law, and liberty already existed before the white man saw the need to organize, colonize, and, get this, “save” Africa, Fumiyo Kouno’s story serves to inform the viewer about the other side of the Pacific. You are put through the trials and tribulations of Suzu’s daily life, from learning to properly make a meal using rations to understanding the familial benefits of marriage, in order to hopefully understand that despite their differing customs, both the attackers and the attacked have things they want to protect.

I set up a pretty overwhelming historical background here, but the film really isn’t that political at all. Rather, its a drama centered around one little girl’s average life during WWII, and how no matter the global circumstances plaguing a household cause ruin and chaos, life goes on. That’s right, life will always go on. There are always things to be fixed, clothes to be washed, and food to be cooked. Suzu understand this, and that’s why she faces each painstaking day blessed that there’s still a roof above her family’s head. In This Corner of the World, though rife with tragedy, is ultimately a heartwarming tale of Suzu’s prevailing love and healing hands.

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A Hero at Home: Suzu Urano

Characterized as tiny, optimistic, and a bit aloof at times, Suzu Urano goes through great lengths to help in anyway she can, even if her assistance comically ends up backfiring in the end. She’s also incredibly creative, shown in both her beautiful landscape sketches and paintings, as well as when she wields her knowledge of samurai food rationing to construct some, at the very least, “interesting” dishes. Her artistic talents act as a sort of sanctuary for her, and it is through her simple yet gorgeous works that she meets many new friends and even potential lovers. But like all artistic endeavors, chores come first, and slowly you start to see the hobbies that she once did for herself fade away to make room for aiding the family.

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On top of working her hardest around the house (her efforts eventually exceeding those of everyone around her), Suzu is a girl, a soon-to-be-woman who undergoes all of the same treatments that Japanese women received during the 1900s. From stricter expectations in the kitchen and household to family-controlled courtship, rarely is Suzu the master of her own fate. Yet somehow, Suzu makes the best of what is given to her, for merely being allowed to experience the tranquility and joys of everyday life in Kure is enough to give her hope and purpose. Honestly, what a woman!

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Suzu only speaks out once or twice in the entire film—remember, this is a film that chronicles Suzu’s ENTIRE life! She many not be honest to herself all the time, frequently disregarding her own happiness and well-being for the sake of her family and her nation’s pride, but Suzu knows how to fight the good fight, as well as when to keep pushing on through the toughest of hardships. Between watching her frugal attempts at fitting in with her husband’s family, her struggle to adjust to life in Kure, and the tragedies of war she later encounters, it feels as if you physically and emotionally cannot go through as much heartache that is thrust upon her and make it out ok. Yet Suzu manages to bandage up her scars and continue making herself useful to everyone. The warmth she brings to the war-torn world embodies the purest light of hope in a time of darkness.

Visually, the Softest Movie I’ve Ever Seen

“It was like Studio Ghibli meets the Peanuts and together they talk about some pretty serious stuff.” This was my immediate reaction to the film which I posted on Twitter, and I still stand by these words now. The backgrounds are painted so smoothly, giving off an immense sense of ease, and the magical watercolor touch just feels so right. Even the characters, for a lack of a better word, look so . . . “soft.” There’s a lack of detail in their physical features, but it’s their sometimes cute, sometimes sorrowful mannerisms and words that convey their true characters. Seeing characters this adorable almost feels wrong for the tone of the film’s second half where the air raids become prominent, but it somehow works altogether as one moving, breathing, snapshot of history.

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(If you watch the special feature clip “Hiroshima & Kure: Then & Now,” you’ll understand how and why it all looks so historically accurate; the attention to detail in re-creating several destroyed sites where famous architecture once stood was very commendable.)

The luscious animation is accompanied by equally gentle music, as kotringo’s (Rieko Miyoshi) soundtrack matches perfectly with the tone. At times uplifting, other times more tender or melancholic, tracks like “Kanashikute Yari Kirenai” or my personal favorite, the ED theme “Migite no Uta (みぎてのうた)” provide lovely messages to live by: “Even in this painful and broken world, there IS hope.”

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Learn From Fiction: Heartwarming Tenderness Comes From How We Live

It is stories like Suzu Urano’s that give us all the fuzziest feelings of contentment and comfort. But like all stories, they eventually end, and once they’re over, the books get placed back on the shelves, and the DVDs and Blu-rays are ejected from their players. And that’s it. It’s all just entertainment, anyway.

*If you’ve ever thought this, then you completely missed the point as to why certain works even exist in the first place.

All fiction is written with messages, no matter how significant or insignificant. With the case of In This Corner of the World, it’s to showcase the tragedies of war firsthand, and the devastation that comes with violence. That should’ve been apparent from the synopsis alone. Looking deeper, we can understand more big takeaways from the film:

  • Hardships exist everywhere—someone is always struggling
  • Protect family, for without it we are fundamentally alone
  • Gender roles can limit individuals from reaching their full potential
  • The youth of today ARE our future
  • With destruction comes the joy of rebirth
  • By rebuilding from the ground up, we build a stronger foundation than the one before it
  • Make the most of your life—you only get one, and it goes by incredibly fast
  • WE ALL have the choice to be happy or sad, rude or nice—live the way you want to
  • Be thankful for what the earth provides, and what you can do for it in return
  • And lastly, to quote The End of Evangelion, “Anywhere can be paradise, so long as you have the will to live”

Just LOOK AT ALL OF THOSE THINGS I CAME UP WITH. And that only took me a couple minutes of reflection.

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History will always be our greatest teacher

Authors, directors, artists, musicians—Creators improve on what skills they already have in order to teach us invaluable lessons about the human experience. They have the power to take all the world’s evil and tell us that life can be incredible, so long as we don’t repeat history’s mistakes. Don’t just watch a film: enjoy what it is trying to show you. Don’t just read a book: revel in the messages left in-between the lines. Take what you learn and monopolize on it! Essentially, BE the good in the world!

In This Corner of the World presents the catastrophic effects of humanity’s cruelty, savagery, and barbarity—yes, absolutely. But it also exists to tell us that through the ashes, we can rebuild; that we can be kind to others, even if they treat us harshly; that most of all, we have the choice to see the good in this wild, wicked, unfair world.

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As a race, we have this terrible tendency to appear on the wrong side of history (if you know what I mean). The title In This Corner of the World refers to both Suzu’s tiny Kure house on the hill AND a state of harmony achieved by acknowledging and balancing the positives and negatives that life throws at us. A heartbreaking historical ballad for those we have wronged, and the terrible things we have done, In This Corner of the World is here to say that life goes on, and that as long as we try to understand one another, hope and a warm heart will always allow us to move forward.

We can love. We can rebuild. We can move on. But we’ll never truly forget.

There is only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self. – Aldous Huxley


This can be a hard film to watch, but it all depends on how seriously you decide to take it. It has several comedic points of value in it, as well as a very cute presentation style, but don’t let those two aspects close you off from In This Corner of the World‘s subtle brilliance and emotional depth. As a powerful, touching work of art, this film is awarded the “Caffe Mocha” seal of approval, a rating for those special titles that I consider to be a must-watch!

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This concludes my December 20th entry in the OWLS “Warmth” blog tour. Arria Cross of Fujinsei went right before me and expressed her sincere gratitude to all of her fellow readers, bloggers, and OWLS members in one emotional, heartwarming post. Now, look out for fellow aniblogger LitaKino (Lita Kino Anime Corner) with a surprise celebratory birthday video this Friday, December 22nd! Thank you so much for reading, from my first OWLS post in January to here at the end—I do hope you have enjoyed them, as I do really, really like writing them! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host