Amagi Brilliant Park: The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had With KyoAni || OWLS “Believe”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s eighth monthly topic of 2019, “Believe,” I wanted to spend some time revisiting one of Kyoto Animation’s most fun yet often overlooked titles: the incredible, the amazing Amagi Brilliant Park!

Kyoto Animation. We all have that one anime we enjoyed from Kyoto Animation. Whether it is pain or joy, Kyoto Animation has brought to life stories that can touch our emotions. For the month of August, we will be honoring Kyoto Animation and all it has done for art, storytelling, and popular culture by discussing some of our favorite Kyoto Animation series. We will discuss what we love about these series and what they taught us.

The fire that happened at the studio is indeed a tragedy. We pray for the lives that were lost in this tragedy and the families that are suffering at this time. Fires may be dangerous, but there are flames that burn within us that spark passion, hope, and belief in ourselves.

I think it’s so wonderful that bloggers, YouTubers, and fans in this community have been reacting to this tragedy by sharing what they love most about the studio and its people. Although my words will not likely reach them, I hope our collective sentiment does, even it’s just to say a heartfelt “Thank You.” Lyn, thanks for this prompt!

amabri sento gun


A brief discussion of the 13-episode fall 2014 anime “Amagi Brilliant Park,” animated by Kyoto Animation, directed by the late Yasuhiro Takemoto, and based on the light novel series of the same name by Shoji Gatoh.

A Land of Magic and Fun

Seiya Kanie is one good-lookin’ high school dude, and boy does he know it. Of course, this smart yet extremely narcissistic guy would believe that the quiet and beautiful Isuzu Sento has invited him on a date at an amusement park (even if she threatened him at gunpoint to get him there). His expectations are shattered when the bus pulls up to a run-down facility, where Seiya discovers that the titular Amagi Brilliant Park is running itself into the ground.

An employee herself, Sento takes Seiya through various disappointing attractions. Eventually, she brings him to see the owner of the theme park, Princess Latifa Fleuranza, who reveals to Seiya that Amagi is no ordinary amusement park. That very sentiment wins him over when Latifa bestows upon Seiya magical powers of his own. To further prove her point, she tells him that many of the park’s employees hail from her kingdom of Maple Land, and that they are mysterious magical beings who are nourished by animis, or the energy created by people having fun.

Because of his impressive intellect and natural charisma, Sento recruited her classmate not for a date, but to become the park’s new manager. Why so desperate? As per the park’s land-use contract, Amagi has less than three months to meet a quota of 500,000 guests. If they fail, the park will be closed for good, and all of its employees will have to scrounge up jobs—and a living—elsewhere. Entrusted with the hopes and dreams of this far-off enchanted land, Seiya declares he’ll use his many skills to bring Amagi back on its feet within this three-month span, or else watch it crumble to the ground.

amabri latifa.jpg

Amagi Brilliant Park is a fun fantasy romp that balances comedy and drama surprisingly well. You come for the stupid gags and lewd humor, but stay for the heartfelt character moments and the blood, sweat, and tears that come with hard work. Although the end wraps up a bit quicker than I’d have liked, this is ultimately just an adaptation of a much larger story.

Meet the Cast of AmaBri!

Seiya Kanie’s time at AmaBri challenges his character in a sort of redemptive way. As he comes to know the quirks of the park and its staff, he realizes that his boundless narcissism won’t help him through all situations. Sometimes he needs to lend a hand; other times, an ear will do just fine. That doesn’t stop him from gazing at his own reflection to remind himself of his dashing good looks.

amabri kanie mirror.jpg

Our broad-shouldered, dead-panned Isuzu Sento is our female lead and Seiya’s partner in crime. She means so, so well by her actions, but her history as one of the Princess’ soldiers from their Maple Land days has whipped her into a prim and proper manager’s secretary that just can’t take a joke. Many of the park staff have a love/hate relationship with Sento, as her soldier instincts lead her hand to her magic rifle to solve any problems with rascally customers or staff. As she watches Seiya and learns from his diplomatic skills, however, Sento’s feared reputation slowly dissipates, as does that expressionless face of hers.

amabri sento shooting moffle.jpg

The majority of AmaBri’s other staff are magical misfits from Maple Land, from cute talking sharks, digger moles, and dragons, to an anthropomorphic wrench and . . . a globe? Yeah, they’re a buncha of weirdos for sure. But the true stars of the park are the biggest freaks—and in the most unconventional way. Who knew a perverted cat, a foul-mouthed sheep, and an overly aggressive, umm, Moffle (?) would be Seiya’s biggest headache.

Seriously, Tiramie the flower fairy, Macaron the music fairy, and AmaBri’s sweets fairy mascot Moffle are an absolute HANDFUL, but man are they THE trio of goons. Most of the series’ hilarious moments come from Macaron’s laziness (a true artist must “take time off” if they’re not feeling inspired), or Tiramie’s perverted gawking and awful facial expressions. Overall, such a fun, endearing cast, even if their main purpose is just to put a smile on your face (kinda like . . . a theme park’s staff). 😉

amabri fairies.jpg

KyoAni IS the Magic of AmaBri

Animation lies at the core of anime, and like any comedy series, delivery is everything. Timing hilarious visuals with outrageous sounds is the goal with these kinds of shows, and in regards to humor, Amagi Brilliant Park is one of the bests out there. For me, much of Tiramie and Macaron’s slapstick comedy landed so hard I was left laughing hours after the episode ended. Not only do their faces twist in wacky, grotesque expressions, but the dialogue itself is absolutely hysterical.

Seriously, the dub script is GOLD, and the delivery by the actors has gut-busting potential. Can Adam Gibbs just voice every KyoAni male protagonist from now on, because he just has that perfect blend of charisma, charm, and awkwardness down pat. He can be goofy, but also attractive, which fits very well with Seiya’s personality. Molly Searcy’s Sento is much stiffer than what even the writing makes her out to be, but it grew on me throughout the series. Other fave performances included the dynamic duo of Tiffany Grant and Allison Keith as Moffle and Macaron, respectively. Hearing two of Eva‘s most iconic characters as giant stuffed cussing mascots was just awesome beyond words.

amabri macaron.jpg

Despite how perfect I thought the anime’s comedy skits were executed, I actually found the drama moments to land even better. Moments of bitter pain or sudden realization are captured perfectly by not only the characters’ facial expressions, but the space they inhabit. When Sento and Seiya were deeply pondering how much one meant to the other, deep blue shadows are cast over a blinding orange sunset, filling the screen with contrasting colors and conflicting emotions.

And of course, the all scenery is just beautiful to take in. The bright-colored landscapes work well with the cheery, cartoonish character designs. Plus, Seiya and Sento, as well as the other “human” characters, look very pretty—the KyoAni standard. In fact, had any other studio adapted AmaBri‘s story, I can bet you money that it wouldn’t have turned out as nearly as magical and fun as it did here with KyoAni.

Image result for amagi brilliant park

On the audio side of things, Shinkichi Mitsumune’s soundtrack supports all the laughs and the feels with incredible emotion. And if there’s a song more positive and upbeat than AKINO and bless4’s OP “Extra Magic Hour,” I haven’t heard it yet!

The humor hits home, and the drama is very much respected by the late Yasuhiro Takemoto’s sensitive directing style. Sure the story and characters were written long before the show was created, but Kyoto Animation, YOU were the ones who put the real magic into this series, and it shows with every laugh I gave and every tear I shed while watching. You are the magic that saved AmaBri, and I honestly can’t celebrate my enjoyment with this series enough!

amabri ferris wheel.png

Dreams Only Come True if You Believe

Amagi Brilliant Park is a story about a boy who prides himself above others, thinking that he is good at everything, and that same boy’s struggle to help those that don’t believe in themselves become proud of their own abilities. It’s a story about give and take, hard work, and at the end of the day, finding the fun in what you do for a living. Seiya may manipulate and play on the staff’s whims and emotions throughout the series, but a strong sense of trust always lies at the core of his plans.

Seiya’s magic doesn’t stem from his newfound power—it comes directly from his belief in the resilience and strength of all the people of Maple Land. Seiya makes an investment in these people, pouring all his time and energy into transforming the workers of AmaBri into employees worthy of their gifts.

Seiya draws out the inner passion for their work, and with a little faith, is rewarded with the park’s continual success. It is a belief driven by transformation and grounded by trust. Trust in Seiya’s process, and you, too, will enjoy one of—if not—Kyoto Animation’s most fun creation they’ve ever given us.

amabri cast hd


If you wanna make people dream, you’ve gotta start by believing in that dream yourself! — Seiya Kanie


Afterword

At LAST, I’ve written the post about AmaBri that I’ve been wanting to ever since I saw it a couple years back. Again, I’d like to extend my thanks to the lovely Kyoto Animation for giving us the gift of fun all wrapped in a pretty little bow—I hope I was able to do the series justice! Amagi Brilliant Park is one of the studio’s most underrated series, and I hope some of you will decide to watch this hilarious and heartwarming “Cake” title! To those few who have actually seen this gem, you ought to let me know your thoughts!

This concludes my August 10th entry in the OWLS “Believe” blog tour. Mel (Mel in Anime Land) wrote about Free! and Tsurune, two of my favorite series by the studio, that you can enjoy right here! Now, look out for Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) also with a post on Tsurune (ahh, all the love!) tomorrow, August 11th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Advertisements

Kono Oto Tomare! – Spring 2019’s Competent, Underrated, Musical Beauty| Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode spring 2019 anime “Kono Oto Tomare!” or “Sounds of Life,” animated by Platinum Vision, directed by Mizuno Ryouma, and based on Amyuu Sakura’s manga of the same name.

chika mad.png


An Unexpected New Member

Underclassman Takezou Kurata had a blast last year playing the koto, a traditional Japanese string instrument, with the rest of his club mates. But now that his seniors have since graduated, Takezou will have to seek out new members to join the koto club, or else risk disbandment. Prepared for the worst, Takezou gives in to his club’s fate, when out of the blue a new member barges through the club room door. This would be a great turn of events for Takezou, if only this new member, Chika Kudou, weren’t one of his school’s most notorious bullies!

Things get even more wild for this music nerd introvert when Satowa Houzuki, a well-renowned koto player in her own right, decides to join Takezou’s shabby club. What might a pro like Satowa be doing lurking around his little club? And what could a thug like Chika want with something as culturally feminine and delicate as the koto?

As Takezou simultaneously struggles to keep his club alive and maintain the balance between these two wild souls, he slowly starts to realize that the first step to gaining his own sense of self-confidence is by making friends with people from all walks of life.

tomare chika angry.jpg

Trying to Fit Together

Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life is a school music drama series with the spirit of a shounen anime and a dash of budding romance. In many ways, it is also an underdog tale, as we root for Takezou’s dysfunctional club members’ various attempts to perform together. This especially becomes apparent when Chika’s three friends also join the club, determined to play with Chika despite not even knowing what a koto is.

In one corner we’ve got an easily frustrated Satowa trying her hardest to dumb down her wealth of knowledge and teach, and in the other we’ve got these three idiots. To top it all off, Chika’s fiery attitude makes him a pain in the rear to work with, and President Kurata doesn’t know what to do about him. It’s no wonder the club’s barely getting by!

At first, the series is about trying to mash these these conflicting personalities together to even play a single piece from beginning to end, while the last few episodes give us a preview into the world of formal competition and school rivalries. The narrative of Kono Oto Tomare! is tightly written, yet it is able to juggle all these character perspectives quite splendidly. From the talented to the talentless, we see that playing the koto isn’t even a matter of being gifted, but rather of hard work and dedication to the art. The same goes for performing as a group. You can’t just play together—you have to understand one another if you are to properly read the other’s cues, direction, and cadence.

And that’s something I thought the series did really well. We are given well-timed character backgrounds to explain these seemingly irrational behaviors, as well as motives for why they joined the club in the first place. Chika and his friends play because they owe someone else their sound; Satowa plays because she wants to make a name for herself. Even if some of these backstories come off as a bit too melodramatic (like, it feels as if y’all tear up about everything), the story is never lacking in heart.

tomare satowa heart 2.PNG

The Club’s Key Players

As a character, Takezou still has a long way to go, but certainly progresses quite a ways from his shy inward self to someone who is willing to give orders (as a good club president should). He often undermines his own musical abilities, despite having played for so long and with so many other great players. Humble, perhaps, but insecure? Definitely. The more he plays with Chika and Satowa, however, the more he is forced out of his comfort zone. And for him, that could be a good thing . . .

For Chika, this is a tale of redemption. To atone for the actions of his past, he takes up the koto with not much else than his determination and the koto his dad left behind for him. Arguably, Chika is the lead in this story, as so many of the interactions between characters are often between him and someone else. Despite his charming looks, his nasty reputation comes from his delinquent attitude and history as a rascal. This earned him few to call a true friend, but the ones he has now really are all he need.

Though she may not seem like it, Satowa is also a character wrapped in layers of insecurity and burdened by childhood scars. The prestige and honor that comes with being a member of the Houzuki school—in addition to being the family’s only daughter—led to a life of social pressures and unreasonably high expectations. Wanting nothing more than to leave that life behind and pursue music through her own virtue, Satowa takes this new life as a second chance carve a name for herself. Naturally, the chemistry between someone as talented as Satowa and a “thug” as lowly as Chika is entertaining. But perhaps their meeting is also the beginning of a loving, supportive relationship. Only time will tell.

tomare characters 2.PNG

In addition to balancing these three leads, the series also features a great cast of supporting characters that are so well-defined on their own that they might as well be leads of this story, too. I’m talking about the scheming and manipulative Hiro Kurusu who practically does a 180 to become one of the series’ most heartwarming characters (and another lady to keep Satowa company). On the con side, there’s Takanami, the club’s really irritating, piece a shit advisor. He may be a necessary evil to draw out Takezou’s confidence, but I’m sure the plot could’ve done that by other means.

And we can’t forget about Chika’s three bumbling friends! They may be idiots, but they’re not just there for comic relief. Kouta, Saneyasu, and Michitaka are honest voices for those unfamiliar with the music world, actively admitting that their fingers hurt when they play too much, that an instrument can be hella expensive, and that standing behind the curtain to go on stage might as well be like walking to one’s own doom.

A show committed to togetherness, friendship, and unity, I really like how the story never forgets about these three goons. While the pros mask their insecurities with their talent, they can tell us exactly what the koto experience feels like. As a character driven piece, it wouldn’t be the same with even just one of these key players missing.

Funimation produces an all-around exceptional dub for this high quality series. English voice actor Alejandro Saab’s Takezou is played with a higher, shakier register, and doubles nicely against Chika’s barreling, rough-and-tough voice. Damon Mills steals the spotlight as Chika, as he not only has the thug voice down pat, but also makes your cheeks blush with his tender tsundere character. Amber Lee Connors follows with an amazingly strong performance as Satowa, and it’s always fun having Josh Grelle (Kouta) and Austin Tindle (Saneyasu) around to make us laugh.

tomare competition 2.PNG

Visuals to Match the Sounds

A good series about music needs good music to back it up, and Kei Haneoka’s soundtrack blends the traditional beauty of the koto with piano rifts and modern pop sounds. The OST especially works well with some of the series’ more intense moments, but is also pleasantly there to lift everyone to their feet when the comedic scenes hit. All of the koto playing itself sounds professional, almost too good for mere high school students (and beginners at that), but it’s never enough to stick out as “impossible.”

I’m just glad that we got to hear so many solos and uncut playthroughs of, what I’d imagine to be, classical pieces for this ancient instrument. Piercing melodies, spiraling duets, precise rhythms, raw tones—it’s all there, and as a string player myself, I found it all to be incredible.

tomare satowa playing

As if this series couldn’t get any better, I’m thrilled to report that Kono Oto Tomare! is lovingly supported by bright, watercolor art and gorgeously fluid animation to match the timeless sounds of the koto. Character designs are reminiscent of this soft, glowing shoujo style: sparkling eyes, blushing cheeks, sunburst filters, the works. The koto itself is laden with pretty wood patterns and textures, complete with shiny metal pegs and gleaming strings. Really, I was floored by it all. What a gem of a show!

Special shoutout to Shouta Aoi’s cheery and uplifting OP theme, “Tone,” which features artistic imagery, vibrant pink and blue hues, and of course, well-timed visuals to Aoi’s wholesome voice.

tomare op tone 2.PNG

Practice Like You Perform

In case you couldn’t tell, I really resonated with this series. At long last, we have a music anime with animation that can actually keep up with the technicality required to play string instruments. While I could have gone for even more full, uncensored music scenes, I’m totally happy with the few all-out performances we got. Every time they strike the final chord, you just want to wave your fist triumphantly in the air like, “YEAH, they did it!!”

If I were to describe this series with one word, it’d be competent. Truly, we are blessed to get a string music anime that not only looks this great, but sounds good, too, and has a story that can more than carry itself. With a second season set to air this fall, Kono Oto Tomare! has proven itself worthy of the koto and its timeless beauty. This only goes to show that, when you practice like you perform, you’ll get the results you expect. In the case of this great music anime that perfectly balances comedy and drama, season two is the encore that Takezou, Chika, Satowa, and the others in this persevering koto club deserve!

tomare episode 12 2.PNG


The stage is a reward for all the hard work you’ve put in. That’s why you have to enjoy it as much as you can.  — Takezou Kurata


Afterword

As it stands, Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life is a “Cake” title set for the “Cafe Mocha” gold so long as the sequel is able to pick up everything this amazing first season has done so far and run with it. Given the fact that Platinum Vision has only produced a couple anime in the past and that this is Mizuno Ryouma’s directorial debut, I’m not only impressed but surprised at the quality of this work. To music fans, drama fans, or even lovers of comedy, I honestly can’t recommend this show enough!

Who else followed Kono Oto Tomare! this past spring 2019 season? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the series or this review down in the comments, as well as whether you are interested in starting it if you haven’t yet done so. Until the next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

 

Deus lo Vult: The Saga of Tanya the Evil | Light Novel First Impressions

A brief, spoiler-free review of the first volume of the light novel series “The Saga of Tanya the Evil,” or “Youjo Senki,” art by Shinobu Shinotsuki, written by Carlo Zen.


Anything BUT Your Typical Isekai 

Out on the front line, a little girl with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes dominates the battlefield. Soaring higher than all her fatherland’s foes, Tanya Degurechaff rules the skies, rifle in hand, and victory on her mind. But Tanya didn’t always have this life in the trenches. Once an elite salaryman in modern day Japan, life caught up with his arrogance and before he knew it, he was shoved in front of a moving subway train. After angering a mysterious being X in what can only be described as the afterlife, this “God” grants the man a second chance at life to learn a lesson on humility and faith.

And so, in a horrific twist of fate, “Tanya” was reborn in a World-War-I-esque alternate reality where magic exists. Still retaining her consciousness as a cold, calculating, and resourceful salaryman, however, Tanya secretly wields the intelligence and experience from her former life to not only survive in this new harsh landscape, but to climb to the top of the military’s hierarchy.

Rife with cruel irony, political banter, and struggles for life during a time of untold death, Deus lo Vult chronicles Tanya Degurechaff’s rise to power and lays the groundwork for the explosive world war that is blazing on the horizon.


War is only fun when you’re winning. — Tanya Degurechaff


What sets Tanya apart from other “transported to another world” titles is the narrator’s relationship to young Degurechaff. Plus, I mean, the gender transition, which oddly enough doesn’t seem to perturb the narrator as much as one would think. Carlo Zen writes the novel as if a distance exists between the shell of the young girl, Tanya, and the twisted personality behind her actions, the salaryman or “narrator.” Unlike other isekai titles where the protagonist is placed in another world (or another body) and actively takes in their surroundings and exists in it, the narrator constantly addresses the two separate entities of Tanya and himself.

In other words, the narrator makes Tanya do something, then observes the repercussions of that action from Tanya’s head space. Of course, this calls into question the “Tanya’s” reliability as a narrator, which is the next point I’d like to discuss.

Image result for saga of tanya the evil light novel

Kafka and the Unreliable Narrator

The perspective of the story is always written in first person, but Tanya is consistently referred to by the narrator in third. When Tanya kills an enemy soldier or salutes to her superiors, the narrator makes comments about what kind of face Tanya should make, what her posture should be like, what her tone of voice should be, etc. The narrator doesn’t see himself as “becoming” Tanya, but rather as an existence that puppeteers this young blonde child named Tanya.

This unusual narrative style sets up an intriguing relationship between the two, and also tells us that the narrator might not be as level-headed as we are led to believe, perhaps indicating an unreliable narrator reminiscent of Franz Kafka’s writing. Fused together are elements that feel simultaneously realistic and fantastic, and like Kafka’s other works, an isolated protagonist faces bizarre predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers. Explored are themes of alienation, existential anxiety, the impacts of imperialism, the costs of war, guilt, and absurdity.

You can’t always trust the narrator’s sanity, which reflects in Tanya’s feared character. And yet, despite her brutal, unforgiving nature, you don’t want to see Tanya lose. Carlo Zen has created a fascinating dilemma—if only more of the book itself was about our rather dangerous titular soldier. 

Image result for saga of tanya the evil light novel

A Dense Read

Although it is the saga of Tanya, many events of the book are not observed directly from her eyes. Throughout the novel, we take on the viewpoints of the various members of the military’s general staff, a few of Tanya’s brothers-in-arms, and even a reporter from 40 years into the future. Not only are these mostly just reactions of the same events seen from different perspectives, but they’re hard to follow as well.

I remember reading a passage talking about the war, only to realize a few pages later that this wasn’t the army’s commander or even an Allied Forces captain speaking, but rather Tanya herself commentating on the philosophy of war. The POV often shifts unannounced, too, so you’ll never know exactly who’s shoes you’re in unless you really have a grasp for the characters!


Bravery, glory, honor—all those ideals get covered in mud as they fight to the death, and a handful of exceptions make a name for themselves. — Laeken


I’ll give it to you straight: Tanya‘s first novel is a difficult book to read. Perhaps this speaks to Carlo Zen’s mature writing style, but this is not a novel you’d casually pop open, read for a bit, then put it back down. It’s going to require a bit more commitment than your average light novel series, and while I know some readers crave that kind of challenge, others would be totally put off by it (which is kinda where I fall on the matter).

With constant walls of tiny text, monstrous chapter lengths, and illustrations that are few and far between, you start to understand why it took me a whole month just to read volume one. It doesn’t help that the book is over 300 pages long! So, in addition to being unlike most isekai stories, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is also unlike most light novels.

If God Wills It . . .

Much like the way Lieutenant Degurechaff leads with an iron fist, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a series that can be very punishing to readers unless they know exactly what they’ve signed up for. It’s a densely packed story with so much going on in it, from the philosophies of war and life, to the increasing global climate of a world preparing for war. Zen uses the dreary historical non-fiction backdrop of a world war to toss Tanya into circumstances of danger, and it is in those moments of insecurity that we see the divine cruelty of one all-powerful, pissed off God.

To say the least, the novel series involves much more than a mad little girl flying around using magic to smite her enemies. If you were coming from the anime expecting action at every bend in the rocky road, look elsewhere. Tanya doesn’t take any prisoners, but to those up for the daunting task: “Spend your days in combat and unfathomable danger. If you return alive, you’ll receive honor and glory.” To those poor soldiers, however, my sympathies—you have no idea that the most dangerous thing on the battlefield is the Devil of the Rhine herself.

Image result for youjo senki ed art


O saints, believe in the blessings of our Lord. Let us be fearless. At the distant end of our journey, let us reach the promised land. — Tanya Degurechaff


Afterword

Looking back on it, I definitely enjoyed this first volume of Tanya. It was a tough read for sure, especially since I was expecting more of something like the anime, but I did like the incredible depth placed in the characters and the world. Should you read it? If you’re wanting a military title with a bit of magic and a more challenging read to entertain you, there’s a lot you’re bound to like in Tanya. Will I be picking up volume two? Yes . . . but not anytime soon. I think I need a bit of a break after just reading this first one! For now, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a “Coffee” title here at the cafe, but I’m sure the story only gets better from here.

Have you read The Saga of Tanya the Evil? If you have, what did you think of it, and if you have not, has the anime ever tempted you into starting? Let me know! ‘Till the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Ultimate Luck and Hope & Despair: Danganronpa 2 as a Manga . . . From Nagito’s Perspective | Review

A brief, spoiler-free review of the 3-volume 2012-2016 manga “Danganronpa 2: Ultimate Luck and Hope and Despair,” based on Spike Chunsoft’s game “Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair,” art by Kyousuke Suga.


A Spin-Off Full of Despair

Sixteen students from the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy suddenly awaken on a deserted beach. Their teacher, a white and pink “magical girl” rabbit named Usami, proclaims that their first assignment is to become friends with one another by means of touring the island and collecting hope fragments together. Storm clouds quickly gather over this isle of palm trees and blissful breeze when Monokuma, a sadistic bear of monochrome hue, takes Usami down and gives the students a new assignment: to kill one of their peers and get away with murder in the class trial.

To the victor goes the only spoil these teens want—escape from the island. The students swear to one another that they’d never commit such a crime, but as Monokuma slowly and meticulously introduces calculated motives that play on the whims and desires of these kids, temptation is given into, and blood is spilt.

Forced into this deadly killing school trip, what once was an island paradise has become a hell on earth. But when these poor kids find that they’ve been deceived far more than what is even imaginable, the very fabric of their world hangs on the thin threads of hope.

nagito hope

Greatly truncated for the sake of this review, this is the plot of Spike Chunsoft’s groundbreaking game “Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair,” and the sequel to the equally influential “Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.” But as you can tell, this review isn’t about the game; rather, we’re looking at the manga spin-off today. Instead of playing this survival game through the eyes of main character Hajime Hinata, we experience life from the view of Nagito Komaeda, the Ultimate Lucky Student, and the bane of the class’ existence.

The Ultimate Lucky Student

Infamous for his willingness to take his “friends” down yet beloved by the community for his twisted nature and bromance with Hajime, Nagito is a complicated human bound by irrational thinking and a moral compass that always points south. Above all, he believes in the talents of the Ultimates of Hope’s Peak, and the insurmountable hope that can arise from their collective efforts. Weird, I know, but it gets worse.

Placing complete faith in his ultimate luck and the hopes and dreams of his friends sounds like a good thing, right? Well, not when you add in that twisted personality part I mentioned earlier. He derives pleasure from inflicting pain, suffering, and humiliation on his peers, without a doubt, but only because he deeply believes that his friends are Ultimates—students handpicked by hope itself. That means that no matter the size of the despair, hope always comes out on top. This flawed logic of his causes him to create scenarios that put everyone at risk just to watch the Ultimates overcome the despair. After all, according to Nagito, their talent can overcome any despair.

So, not only is this scrawny emo a huge Hope’s Peak fanboy, but he’s also a nut job with more than a couple loose screws. The PERFECT player to have in a killing game, right?

nagito belief.PNG

To give him credit, there’s never a dull moment around Nagito. In fact, many of the game’s most exciting moments revolve around Nagito’s lies and schemes. By packing the best reveals and most fascinating plot points into this short 3-volume series, you’ve got a spin-off that is anything but boring. Nagito’s trademark luck carries him through numerous plots and conspiracies—many of which he is directly involved with—at the behest of everyone else’s security.

Madness and Maliciousness in Manga Form

Danganronpa is one of the most stylish games out there, arguably more so than even the hit Persona 5. Its iconic gun-and-target imagery offers fun gameplay effects, sure, but the flashy courtroom gimmicks and screen-shattering special effects aren’t just for looks. The series prides itself with the class trials, the bread and butter of the franchise, and this motif of breaking through lies—shining through despair—to uncover the truth. And thankfully, Kyousuke Suga’s adaptation faithfully adapts this matter of style into the fast-paced panels of his manga.

That’s right. Most if not all of the crucial lines and moments are replicated nearly word-for-word in the class trials. Although we only get the first three (for reasons I can’t explain without entering spoiler territory), I was quite surprised with how full and thorough the trials felt, given the immensely short length.

Like anyone should be, I was skeptical about a measly 3-volumes doing Danganronpa 2 any justice. By limiting the story’s POV to that of Nagito only, however, you realize that the Ultimate Lucky Student’s time spent with the Ultimates of Hope’s Peak is short, perhaps, but immensely impactful.

nagito scales.PNG

The only turn-off to this little series is the character designs. All the guys look anorexic, while the ladies have totally unrealistic “curves,” almost as if everything was somewhat over-sexualized. Even if the seemingly sloppy, disproportionate bodies and facial expressions feel uncharacteristic of the game’s original designs (which were boldly outlined and always on point), there’s beauty in the quirkiness of Suga’s style, though.

This lax, less faithful style allows for us to see character expressions and reactions that the game just couldn’t keep up with. A sprite system might feel more stable, but this adaptive style manages to keep up with the subtle dark humor and self-deprecation (given that now we’re Nagito) that I felt the game just didn’t. Suga’s work is much more organic and less “cardboard cutout,” literally, and it makes for a nice afterword piece to the franchise.

nagito and hajime.PNG

Why Should You Read This Spin-Off?

For one, it’s short. At three volumes, I finished it in a day and a half. Plus, it fills in some gaps of the game. During chapters two and three, Nagito is tied up (don’t ask) and unconscious (also don’t ask), meaning that while the others (namely Hajime) are experiencing the events of the story live, Nagito is playing catch-up. And boy does he do a damn good job at assessing the evidence of each crime scene.

Instead of running around and talking to our classmates, we enter Nagito’s nightmares and delusions of self-reflection. We see his fears, understand his motives, and get a better picture of why Nagito antagonizes his peers like he does. Much better than in the game (save for chapter 4), we get inside Nagito’s headspace and see what makes him tick, allowing the viewer to connect with him a bit more—even if he’s still a freak at the end of the day. You can practically regard this spin-off as cannon, as it never strays from the original plot, nor does it add conflicting details. That’s always a plus.

Additionally, we get different angles from the game. The “camera” shows us live conversations with multiple characters in a shot at different angles talking to one another, as opposed to the game where 2D characters are layered on top of a 2D backdrop. Plus, Kyousuke Suga just seems to understand that Nagito is not a character to be disgusted or hated all the time; Nagito is an oddball to the class, an anomaly that can’t always be understood, and I appreciate Suga’s more comedic take on Nags’ obsession with hope.

nagito and hajime talking.PNG

Like Loki to Marvel’s Thor franchise, Nagito is a trickster that is fun to watch and frustrating to befriend, but undeniably inseparable from the equally quirky work in which he comes from. As such, it’s a real treat to have an entire narrative devoted to his character, even if it’s both a rehash of the game’s events (with a few dream sequences of backstory and inner monologues added) and, frankly, a series tragically short for its own good.

This manga series shows you some of the parts you wish you saw in the game, and it does so craftily without tampering with the existing plot. Is it for newcomers to the franchise? Absolutely not. But as supplemental material for those pining after anything extra to do with Hope’s Peak Academy’s 77th Class, Ultimate Luck and Hope and Despair is your stepping stone toward hope.

nagito waking hajime.PNG

Komaeda, you aren’t trash. If you died, or helped someone commit murder, it won’t give rise to hope. Just the opposite . . . it’ll wind up extinguising a ray of hope. ‘Cause . . . ’cause hope . . . is already shining inside you, Komaeda. — Monomi


Afterword

I had a blast reading this short little spin-off, especially given that I finished playing the second game right before starting this series. All the parts of this franchise connect together so intricately, so purposefully and creatively, and this manga spin-off is no exception. It’s extra material for sure, but if you love Nagito Komaeda’s guile as much as I do, you’re bound to love Suga’s work.

And can we talk about those volume covers?? The first two are so brightly colored and stylish with all the characters wrapping around from front to back, while the third is a haunting minimalist piece of Nagito looking like he’s preparing for the final show (if you know what I mean). I think Suga could’ve split volume three into two separate volumes, adding in more content from the ENTIRELY SKIPPED fourth trial, as the third book is nearly twice the size of the other two. Oh well, at least we got the series (in all its matte-cover glory) thanks to Dark Horse.

 

I doubt many of you will end up checking out this series, but if you do, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! Although a manga series, I’ll give Ultimate Luck and Hope and Despair the “Coffee” rating for being a fun read but not an essential one. I believe the regular manga adaptation of the second game along with Ultra Despair Girls are coming out this fall, so I look forward to picking those up. Till the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Sentai Filmworks 2019 Summer Sale HAUL!

Hello all!

Just as the title says, I caved and spent $107 at Sentai Filmworks’ summer sale. They always go all out, and you know I can’t resist $10 anime Blu-rays.

Seeing as how one of my 2019 blog goals was to post more of my hauls (as I tend to buy a lot but not tell anyone, shhhh), here we are. Let’s get this box sliced open and see what’s inside!

First up is The Ambition of Oda Nobuna and BTOOOM!, two series that I’ve wanted for quite some time, but for entirely different reasons. BTOOOM! I’ve heard is an awesome survival game show, one of my favorite sub genres of the overarching thriller genre, so there’s that. But Oda Nobuna has been a long-awaited buy. I watched it in the summer of 2016, and enjoyed it immensely for some reason. Glad to finally have her in the collection—or should I say, on the throne where she belongs!

Here’s a couple more pickups I’ve been meaning to make for a while: Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 and Love, Chunibyo, and Other Delusions!: Take On Me, the movie. I’ve heard nothing but stellar things about the former, but it was always out of stock whenever I tried to buy. Happy to have these after all this time!

I wasn’t actually planning on ever watching Knights of Sidonia, let alone buying it. Yet, it would seem even titles produced by Netflix expire on Netflix, meaning it was $20 now or a missed opportunity forever, and I thought hey, CG space fights sound pretty aight.

I used to TORTURE myself over whether to settle for DVD or pay practically double for Blu-ray back in the day. Thankfully, with Blu-ray prices steadily declining and DVDs going extinct, I’ve been limited to the obvious choice. It would seem that everyone’s trying to get ahold of this beloved title, however, so it was DVD for both sets or eBay Blu-ray hunting for one of the OOP collections. I chose laziness. Settled for less, perhaps, but was it really worth the effort to begin with? Only time will tell.

Last, but certainly not least, is Sentai’s massive Patlabor Blu-ray collection, which contains ALL of the classic series. That’s like, 47 episodes, 3 movies, and a boatload of OVAs. And it was just $40! A no-duh purchase for a sci-fi fan like myself, right?

Here’s what the inside cases look like. Love the coordinating art and the blue, white, orange color palette. The silver shine on the “box” also adds a nice industrial feel to the release. Did I mention the window on the box sleeve is really neat, cause it is.

And here’s the back, since I’m feeling generous and all (and I’m totally not exploding with happiness for the quality of this release). They even included a little timeline for all this animated stuff—how thoughtful! Speaking of time, I heard the first film just had its 30th Anniversary this past Monday, July 15th! What a perfect way to celebrate the franchise and its success! (Plus, a wonderful way to end this post!)


I love hauls. No matter the contents, no matter the amount, they bring me so much joy. Did you buy anything from the summer Sentai sale? Show me your haul over on Twitter or let me know down in the comments! Have you seen Patlabor, and did you like what you saw? Let me know that, too!

I typed all of this spontaneous post on my phone, so yay for mobile blogging. I’ll get around to posting a manga review here within the next couple days, so that’ll be cool. Same goes for a summer simulcast line-up . . . it’s, eherm, on the way, yeah. Otherwise, that’s all I’ve got, so till next time!

– Takuto, your host

Kino’s Journey: Navigating This Beautiful World | OWLS “Technology”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s seventh monthly topic of 2019, “Technology,” I decided to go with a slightly less-than-obvious choice, the incredibly profound yet humble Kino’s Journey (2017). Odd pick, right? Just wait, I think I can make it work!

For this month’s topic, we will be discussing how technology impacts our relationships with others and how it improves our lives (such as in communication, education, etc.) by exploring the technology used in various anime and pop culture worlds.

A simple prompt, but an exciting one nonetheless. Thank you Lyn and Aria!

kino riding.jpg


A brief discussion of the 12-episode fall 2017 anime “Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World- the Animated Series,” animated by Lerche, directed by Tomohisa Taguchi, and based on the light novel series of the same name by Keiichi Sigsawa.

From Country to Country

Three days, two nights. No more, no less. That is the only rule Kino made for herself before she set out on her talking motorcycle, Hermes. Whenever the 15-year-old feels bogged down by heavy thoughts or unpleasant memories, she travels. For Kino, few things in life can compare to the joy that comes with exploring the wild yet wonderful world around her, as well as understanding the diverse ways in which people live.

But don’t let Kino’s cute, slightly androgynous appearance and courteous demeanor fool you: Kino isn’t afraid to kill if it means protecting herself or Hermes. A diplomat, sure, but a pushover—hardly. If she needs to kill, she won’t hesitate. Otherwise, Kino ekes out a peaceful life of traversing foreign lands with her best friend and loyal partner.

Sprawling cityscapes and vast countrysides, mountain villages and tiny valley towns, grassy prairies and open seas—Kino and Hermes are here for all of it. As these partners in crime encounter new people and learn the rules of their *often quirky* civilizations, they grow to find out more about their own values and virtues. But as Kino immerses herself more deeply in discovering the world around her, she also finds herself facing dangers that linger within the beauty of the great unknown.

kino gun.jpg

The World is Eccentric

Countries that roam atop the plains using caterpillar tracks, others that float in great ships on the open seas. Countries that reside within enormous walls, and others that are located deep within the earth. Countries of unimaginable size, others so small they might as well be cults. No two countries look nor feel alike, making each stop one full of intrigue and curiosity.

From cryptic laws to hysterical citizens, the written or mutually understood way of life for a country is almost always shrouded in mystery. Either for its dark history or doomed future, these eccentric countries operate with irrational decisions, or a mindset that is far too rational to make any practical sense. Some countries are understandable (if not a bit extreme), while many are frustrating and deeply flawed. Kino’s Journey is a fun watch, don’t get me wrong. But to say it isn’t hella weird at times would be far from the truth.

If things sound too good to be true, it’s because they are. And if the country feels too dystopian, there’s ought to be a silver lining in it somewhere that Kino can find. She wields only her her guns and her wits as she travels, yet on her shoulders is a level head and an open mind that is truly one of a kind. If we were following anyone besides Kino, the journey—and all of its crazy tales—would be drastically different. I suppose that’s why it’s Kino’s Journey, not anyone else’s.

kino birds.jpg


Every country, just like every man, causes some degree of bother to others merely by existing, yet we all must carry on. — Public Servant from the Bothersome Country


Friendship Comes in Many Forms

Through her splendid little motorrad, Kino explores the beautiful world around here, all its happiness and wickedness alike. Hermes and Kino keep each other company like no one else could for the other. They are not the standard traveler, but exceptions to the rule. Rather than seek fame and fortune, Kino and Hermes yearn for psychological satisfaction. They talk not of grandeur, but of philosophy around the campfire. Seeking what cannot be seen, Kino takes delight in everything the journey has to offer, sorrows and hardships included, and Hermes is a huge part of her willingness to keep exploring. Exactly half of it, in fact.

A loyal, sentient motorcycle, Hermes, allows Kino to deeply connect with the many lands and peoples along her journey without a destination. And this very motorrad is the technology which I’m spotlighting in this post.

kino sunset.png

One thing I love about the world of Kino’s Journey is the acceptance of technology used by travelers. Even though it’d be the first point to bring up by you or myself, no one seems to have questions or qualms about the talking motorcycle. Weird, right? Regardless of whether they hail from proud medieval villages or urban metropolises, the people of any given land posses neither curiosity nor despise for Hermes. He just exists along with his traveler, and thus saves Kino from having to continuously explain Hermes’ unusual sentience, which would get quite old within just a couple episodes.

The more I got to thinking, I started to realize that the internet is my Hermes that connects me to all of you. I have seen so many sights, heard so many sounds, and felt so many stories just through the power of the internet. And in the process, I found friends, too, much as Kino did in Hermes. To a traveler, the motorrad is literally a vehicle for communication and connection, and also an unlikely friend.

kino and hermes.jpg

How Technology Connects Us

Technology only works if you try to work with it, as we see in Hermes’ relationship with Kino and all the unique, technologically developed civilizations they encounter. Much like people, some countries are outwardly hostile, while others welcome travelers with outstretched arms instead. Regardless of their attitude towards outsiders, each country uses almost radically different forms of technology. From medieval pitchforks and knives, to guns and ammo of the Wild West, and even robots from the far future, technology has found itself embedded in humanity’s existence.

Some people are protected by technology. Others are haunted by it. Some use it to connect with people and society, while others use it to live peaceful, solitary lives. Kino comes across many stories of horror and hope alike, but technology is almost always somehow involved. Above all, what Kino learns from these tales is that people leave technology behind—or worse, are left behind by it.

kino driving away

The metaphor I’m trying to make is a simple one: Hermes connects Kino to the world just as the internet connects me to all of you colorful people. Even if I come across sadness or heartache through my internet explorations, there’s always positivity and kindness to be found as well. I’ve been able to learn about so many real-world countries, real-world customs and cultures that would’ve been impossible otherwise (or at least not as easily accessible).

Blogging, social networking, and even just browsing the internet in general has transformed me into a person who knows of what the world outside is like, and as a direct result, I’ve learned how to broaden my horizons and accept and appreciate diversity of all things in life. Hermes takes Kino to unimaginable lands and their people, and the internet brings me to all of you.

kino smiling.jpg


A pact is an agreement to help each other out a bit. As long as I handle the balance, keep him fueled, and plot our destination, he’ll give me all the speed I could ask for. And with that, travel gets a lot easier, also more fun. — Kino


A Traveler’s Tale

Kino’s Journey (2017), like its 2003 “predecessor,” employs the time-honored motif of the road trip as a vehicle for self-discovery and universal truth. Deeply meditative, thought-provoking, imaginative, and sometimes disturbing, Kino’s journey is told in an episodic style with an emphasis on atmosphere rather than action or plot, though still present.

Each country has its own customs, some of them strange, some interesting. And just as how every place has a story, every story most certainly has a place. All who travel leave their mark behind, and I’m talking about more than just the tire treads of Hermes’ wheels in the mud.

kino at the gate.jpg

Unlike the loud excitement of a road-trip adventure, Kino’s Journey delights in the philosophical banter between two very old, quiet souls. In this wacky and weird world, technology allows Kino and her best friend to expand their knowledge of the world, but also learn a thing or two about one another and themselves along their journey. Their meandering through various lands bring with them their own challenges of how to connect with a place’s people.

A series of vignettes, a collection of stories. Some “tales from the wise” are nice, others less so. But all of them are fascinating in their own way. Human decency, empathy, respect—these are all qualities people from different lands define in different ways. And that is fine.

Often, the problems Kino encounters with Hermes are not with law or culture, but with people. Where there are people, there will always be problems—that much is inevitable. But when we can accept one another’s differences and see the order in the world, the world itself becomes much easier to live in. A bothersome world, sure, but a beautiful one nevertheless.

kino sleeping.jpg


I’m not sure if this world is beautiful, but it sure is big. — Hermes


Afterword

I could’ve easily have picked Evangelion given both how central technology is at the story’s core and that I’m almost finished with my rewatch of the series on Netflix. But I didn’t, as that would’ve been too easy, not to mention obvious. I like picking more unique titles for these OWLS tour posts, and I hope I was able to do Kino’s Journey justice. By the way, the series is a “Cake” title here at the cafe!

There’s so much depth to this title, both the old one and the new one, and I hope that, if you’re ever needing a quiet escape journey, you’ll take Hermes for a spin with either the 2003 or 2017 adaptation. The latest remake is beautiful on the outside and adapts previously untouched chapters from the novel, while the early 2000s version uses storytelling methods and imagery that transcend the outdated visuals. My opinion? Watch them both! More Kino is a good thing, after all!

Speaking of beautiful, I didn’t even mention how just draw-droppingly gorgeous Lerche’s visuals are. Along with A Lull in the Sea and the works of Makoto Shinkai, I truly believe that Kino’s Journey (2017) features some of the most colorful, alluring, and enchanting landscapes anime has ever seen! Plus, Kino’s new character design is just fantastic, a charming look fit perfectly for our titular traveler!

kino flower bed.jpg

This concludes my July 7th entry in the OWLS “Technology” blog tour. Jack (Animated Observations) went right before me with a post on Psycho-Pass, a textbook pick for this tour and one of my favorite anime that you can read right here. Now, look out for Lyn (Just Something About LynLyn) with a post on one of my favorite films ever, the world famous your name.tomorrow, July 14th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Sarazanmai & the Price of Connection | OWLS “Vulnerable”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s sixth monthly topic of 2019, “Vulnerable,” I wanted to give some character spotlight to this spring season’s craziest title: Ikuhara’s Sarazanmai. 

In the month of June, we will be discussing what it means to be vulnerable. To some individuals, being vulnerable could be seen as a sign of weakness, but in fact, vulnerability is actually a sign of strength. We will explore what it means to be vulnerable and how certain characters in pop culture glamorize vulnerability. When do we show our vulnerability? How do we express vulnerability? Why should we show vulnerability? These are questions that we will be discussing in our posts featuring characters that show vulnerability and/or sensitivity and what we can learn from them or even our own personal stories.

I was pretty stoked when this month’s theme was announced. “How unusual, yet cool,” I remember thinking. Sarazanmai definitely fits the bill well, and what do you know—it’s even got some queer representation in it, perfect for pride month! Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

kazuki kappa wet.jpg


A brief discussion of the original, 11-episode spring 2019 anime “Sarazanmai,” animated by MAPPA and Lapin Track, directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara and Nobuyuki Takeuchi, and written by Ikuhara and Teruko Utsumi. SPOILERS for episodes 1-3 will be present. 

We’re All Connected

What does it mean to connect? Middle school boy and Asakusa local Kazuki Yasaka is trying to figure that out for himself. After accidentally breaking a statue of a kappa, Kazuki and his friends Enta Jinnai and Toi Kuji find themselves transforming into the very creature of Japanese folklore at the behest of Keppi, prince of the Kappa Kingdom. To become human again, they must fight against the kappa-zombies, even stranger beings birthed from human desires and created by Keppi’s enemies: the Otter Empire.

If that weren’t already enough, to kill the kappa-zombies, the trio must perform the “Sarazanmai,” a sound produced only when the three are united. But making such connections are much easier said than done. What’s even worse is that each time they emit the sound, one of their secrets are revealed to the others! (Vulnerable in every sense of the word, am I right??)

For their efforts, Keppi cuts them a deal: Collect the rampant desires of the kappa-zombies and he’ll bestow upon them the “Dishes of Hope,” plates Keppi can create from humanity’s darkness that can make their wishes come true. When Kazuki, Enta, and Toi find that it takes five plates to make even just one wish come true, however, the friendship of these three boys is challenged. With every new fight springs forth another one of their innermost secrets, whether they like it or not! It’s only a matter of time before one of the boys breaks—but will the connections to their loved ones shatter with the fall?

kazuki embarassed.png

Sarazanmai is equal parts sarcastic and dramatic in its storytelling. During half of it, you are allowed to laugh at the silliness of it all. Probably for more than half, actually. To obtain the desires of the kappa-zombies, Kazuki and friends must enter the, ehem, *anus* of the demons and steal their shirikodama, a mythical orb said to contain the desires of one’s soul. Sound kinda dumb? Well, don’t blame the writers (or do for going through with it), because that’s actually how the legend of the Kappa goes, believe it or not!

And that’s just the beginning of the absurdity. Wait till we introduce the fortune-telling idol girl, the boy who cross-dresses as said idol, the other boy who shot a yakuza when he was just a wee tot, and the gay cops!! Oh Ikuhara, you’ve really created art with this one!

Joking aside, Sarazanmai is a neat little coming-of-age fantasy story for three poor youths who can’t seem to understand their place in the world. They don’t feel connected to anyone, lost adrift the tumultuous sea of love, and that’s what makes the moments when they realize the true meaning of their bonds so tender. Unconventional in execution, perhaps, but still immensely entertaining to follow.

sarazanmai singing.jpg

So, What is the Sarazanmai?

Is it a song? A dance? Something you can eat? Keppi says that: “Sarazanmai” refers to a connection of mind and soul. You share all your deepest secrets as well.”

So it’s abstract, but still simple to grasp. Humans are connected through their shirikodamas. When they lose them—as when Kappa Kazuki steals it to perform the Sarazanmai with Enta and Toi—they become incapable of connecting with anyone else, and they get kicked out of the circle that makes up the world (also quoted by Keppi). Yeesh, talk about a soul-siphoning ceremony!

By uniting in the Sarazanmai, Keppi can obtain these captured desires. Much like a double-edged sword, however, some of the users’ own desires inadvertently “leak” in the process. We’re talking about these boys’ private diary-grade secrets, which is what I want to talk about next. Trust them on this one: it ain’t easy being green.

sarazanmai dance.jpg

I Want to Connect, But . . . 

Reaching out to others is hard. It can be especially scary if you already think little of yourself. For whatever reason, trust me, we’ve all been there, and so have Kazuki, Enta, and Toi. Because Kazuki’s backstory carries more significance with the latter half, Toi’s with the show’s ending, I’ll be focusing on the Enta, our glasses wearing member of the “Golden Duo” meant to last all time!

Kazuki and Enta have been best friends ever since they met. After watching the other boys kick the soccer ball during practice for several weeks, a young Kazuki finally extends a hand to Enta to join the team. He was invited inside the circle, and granted permission to interact with an all-star like Kazuki. It sounds like a cold way of viewing their initial exchange, but this is how Enta, with all his self-doubts and insecurities, felt towards soccer and this new life.

golden duo.png

But feelings of more than just friendship blossomed for Enta. A closeted gay kid, Enta fell in love with his straight best friend. He felt blessed for having such a friend in his life, but cursed for feeling things that otherwise conflict with both the object of his affection and the status quo.

So like any shy gay boy, Enta hid these unacceptable feelings. He hid it all, months, years—

Until he performed the Sarazanmai. 

sarazanmai kiss.jpg

Despite how hard he sheltered his secrets, all finally came bursting at the seams. Enta was left 100% unguarded, vulnerable. The boys saw how Enta inhaled Kazuki’s scent on his jersey in the locker room—how Enta’s expression glowed with lust when he placed his lips on Kazuki’s recorder—how Enta even KISSED Kazuki’s lips while he lie asleep. It was too much, way too embarrassing!! Kazuki was shocked, but blew it off under the assumption that his teammates dared Enta to kiss him. For Enta, however, his feelings were rejected, and not just trivialized, but entirely unacknowledged.

To be looked away by his love crushed him. Enta wanted to connect, but it wasn’t meant to be. Enta wanted to connect, to lie about what he did, but the Sarazanmai only reveals the truth. Enta wanted to connect, but to take more than what he could have. He wanted to connect, but Kazuki was so far away. And at the very end, when Enta stole the dishes for the chance to satisfy his own selfish wish, he couldn’t be forgiven. Lover became stranger, and Enta lost sight of himself.

sarazanmai enta jersey.png

Love Yourself, & Cherish the Bonds You Form

I think if Sarazanmai has a bigger message under its themes of connection and expression, it’s this. When his whole life came crashing down on him, Enta first had to learn to be happy with himself if he was to not give up on his wish. Sure, he betrayed his friends, but he never gave up on Kazuki, even if Kazuki hated him for his actions.

We have to learn to be happy with ourselves if we are to form genuine connections with others. That said, we can still dislike parts of ourselves. I don’t think Enta ever wanted to have the feelings that he did for Kazuki, nor did he like feeling like a bystander all the time. But he eventually embraced those parts of himself, and found that all of these aspects—the good and the bad, the black and the white, the lustful and the loving—made up who he was as a person.

enta angry blur.jpg

Underneath its wacky, circus-like presentation, Sarazanmai is story about victimization, victimizing, and inadvertently hurting the people you love most to protect yourself. It shows us the price of maintaining connections with others, the deadly costs and the sinful pleasures alike. Each of the boys got to the point where they couldn’t even tell their closest friends about what was going on in their life, and that’s deeply eye-opening. Some connections cause you pain, yet you have to hold on to them.

Full of hidden meanings and rife with cultural symbolism, Sarazanmai delves into messy territory with philosophy on what it means to form genuine connections with others. How much should I give in a relationship? What should I be receiving in return? Is a connection supposed to be completely reciprocal, or . . . is it ok for one party to wind up with more? 

What does it mean to love someone, as opposed to desire something? How can my dreams help others, or why do my desires always hurt someone else? Merely living might be the hardest part, but true human connection and love make it all worthwhile. So long as we try to reach out to others and form connections, we’ll always be vulnerable to attack, physical or emotional.

But more importantly, just by trying, we’ll always have the chance to be happy—and not even a desire-snatching kappa can steal that opportunity away from you.

sarazanmai enta happy


Never forget that only those who connect their desires through the pain of loss can take the future in their hands. — Azuma Sara


Afterword

There’s A LOT going on in Sarazanmai, and a lot of good, might I add. This was easily one of the most fun watches I’ve had in a long time, and I hope the series stays on the radar for longer than this spring season. I would’ve loved more time with the characters, but I don’t feel like anything essential was left out. Maybe I’ll revisit it in a future post, but until then, Sarazanmai is honored here at the cafe as a “Cake” title, a show too sweet to miss out on. (Although if you’re not careful, this one might give you a cavity!)

So many people dropped this series, and that saddens me immensely considering that the ending is so rewarding. What did you think of Sarazanmai? Was it too weird for you, or right up your alley? Who was your best boy? I’d love to know in the comments! My love goes out to these precious kappa kids!

sarazanmai header.jpg

This concludes my June 29th entry in the OWLS “Vulnerable” blog tour. Carla over at Pop Culture Literary gave us a very interesting post about Jen Wang’s comic The Prince and the Dressmaker that you can read right here! Now, look out for Fred (Au Natural) as he rounds out this exciting pride-filled month with his own take on vulnerability on Sunday, June 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host