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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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


Celebrating the New Year with a Reflection on my OWLS Experience! | Blogmas 2017 Day 12

Hey everyone, welcome to the FINAL day of Blogmas! Due to the holidays, I got a little behind this year. But we can still work with that—for this post, I’ll be combining my last big moment of 2017 with my New Year’s wishes to you all! Together, we’ll briefly look at how OWLS has changed me for the better as a blogger, a writer, a listener, a learner, and ultimately, a human being.


A Review of my First Year with OWLS

(No spoiler-warning necessary~!)

Why Did I Join?

If I were not a member of OWLS today and noticed their tour going on, the thought of joining a group that stood for “Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect” would never have occurred to me. Looking deeper at what they represent (acceptance of all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability), I definitely would’ve said “No way” to joining. I’ve already tackled in September’s “Treasure” post that I struggle with the Four D’s (Death, Divorce, Drugs, Depression), and that I’m no good with sensitive subjectsw. It’s not that I’m incapable, it’s just that I’m rather “average” on topics like gender roles/equality/terminology/titles. To be frank, I felt very unknowledgable on the matter(s), as I just never gave them much thought in my daily life. Simply, if someone had a preference on being called “he, she, or they,” didn’t matter to me; I would acknowledge their preference, and oblige by whatever they’d like. It’s just a pronoun, after all. The least I could do was accept their choice.

Then it hit me: wasn’t that exactly the kind of person OWLS was looking for?

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That wasn’t the tipping point for making me join, though. I’d never really been a part of a blogging “team” before, and I didn’t want to jump the gun when I knew I blogged infrequently as-is. With my limited knowledge, I knew that blogging groups or circles had deadlines, requirements, rules, regulations, and that was just stuff I wasn’t up for. I knew my strengths, and I definitely knew my weaknesses.

So I turned back to the recruitment messages that were sent to me (OWLS wasn’t around at the time, so I would eventually become a founding member, heh heh). Reading on past the gender stuff, I noticed more things that OWLS emphasized: importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being. Yeah, more emotional mumbo-jumbo. Not my style. I remember telling myself to sleep on the thought, so I did.

My days at high school went on. I was taking an AP English course that combined English composition with world literature and the human experience. The class was a lot of work, as I struggled with finding the deeper meaning in works both long and short. This kind of meaningful, poetic writing wasn’t my forte, and the essay units were DEATH. But for some reason, I still liked the class. More and more, I found myself inspired by learning about works like Oedipus Rex, and I was doing off-the-clock research on my own.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I had fallen madly in love with the workings of tragedy, dark romanticism, and dramatic irony. Slowly, I started making connections to my favorite tragic characters in anime like Fate/Zero and Madoka Magica, and I felt I suddenly understood a long-lost philosophy, a secret order to the world known only by the truly enlightened. And before I knew it, I was thinking:

Maybe . . . maybe this English stuff was for me.

And maybe . . . this OWLS thing would allow me to vent this hidden passion.

So I joined. Unqualified as I felt at first, I signed myself on for what would—unbeknownst to me—eventually become a journey of understanding both entertainment and myself on a very deep, personal level.

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At first, things felt pretty good. With each monthly topic, however, I felt the distance between what I wanted to personally say to my readers VS what OWLS wanted me to promote grow. On several occasions, I was graciously using the flexibility of the monthly topics to better fit my own messages and themes. I would feature very fictional characters and premises that were, well, unreal. From robots and artificial intelligence of Time of EVE and Blade Runner, to elves and half-elves in Tales of Symphonia, to the FREAKING cast of Evangelion, which is already infamously loathed enough. My opinions were unpopular. On top of it all, few even knew the shows that I picked, regardless of them being favorites of mine, and thus it was harder for people to relate to what I was trying to say.

As a result, I changed my game to work harder on making my posts “stand out.” I’d try a variety of different writing styles and visual formats, from writing “letters” to poem-ish outlines, and even including my own personal experiences. Going even further, I’d spend extra time on editing images that I put in my posts, using a variety of apps to give form, shape, and emphasis to the entire look. Though this extra work caused me to be a little late some days with releasing posts, the changes made me feel better about both my writing and my self-esteem.

STILL, I couldn’t give a lecture about gender identity. I couldn’t vouch for those fighting a terminal illness, nor living with a mental disorder. It felt as if there was a group of intellects working their butts off to make an impact, however small, and then there was me, the janitor working off of everyone else’s great posts. I felt a bit isolated because I just didn’t know enough about what exactly it was we were fighting for. I thought there was just no “click” between me and the others. At one point, I felt taking a couple months off OWLS just to read a manga featuring LGBTQ+ hardships or watch anime regarding depression and suicide with the hopes of “fitting in” with the discussions on our Twitter and Discord chats.

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But I knew, deep down, that those works weren’t the ones that truly interested me. They may have been great stories—masterpieces even—but everyone has their own tastes. From my own experiences, you can’t write sincerely if you don’t feel passionately about what you’re writing. So I turned to examine myself once again: I have lived a decent life, one with few “big obstacles” and unbearable hardships. Sure, I get a bit lonely at times, but doesn’t everybody? Towards the middle of 2017, I changed the focus of my writing. My mission became this:

Write about coping with everyday life, the troubles we face, and above all, the things we can learn from history. Explore the dark underbelly of the average mind and procure remedies to changing our outlook on humanity. Through the negatives, we can understand the positives, and hopefully go from there. Combine my reviewing strengths with thematic analysis to “knock out two birds with one stone.”

Despite ALL my inner turmoil and struggle to fit in with the other OWLS posts, however, you all kept supporting me. The other OWLS members were cheering me on the whole way. In typical “me” fashion, the reality was that I had made a big deal about nothing. The OWLS members who ran the monthly live streams described my posts as “detailed, heartfelt, and poetic.” And through the busy, busy months of inactivity (spring and summer), OWLS gave me a purpose to write, and it kept my blog alive and well. I’m thankful to OWLS for not only allowing me to be a member of a fun and friendly team, but also for giving me the chance to do some long, hard thinking about why I write, and what I want to learn in the future. Honestly, they’re the best kind of people that I feel unworthy of being around and writing for, but like their mantra states:

We are a group of otaku bloggers who promotes acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. We emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being.

Should you join OWLS? Gosh, well, as you can see it took me a hot minute to think about that myself. But if you are willing to work hard for a good cause, and are passionate enough to write about anime and the pop culture medium, this might be the otaku group for you!

At least, I now know it’s the family for me.

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My Top Five Favorite OWLS Posts that I Wrote in 2017

It’s hard to pick favorites. I don’t like doing it, but in the spirit of the 12 Days of Anime, I’ve managed to select five OWLS posts that accurately represent the sum of who I am, why I write, and what I want you, the reader, to learn! All of my OWLS posts are my babies—in fact, they’re probably some of the best posts I’ve ever written, if not THE best of what I’ve got so far, and I thoroughly LOVED writing ALL of them—so enjoy my reminiscing, and feel free to scope them out if you missed them, or are feeling the urge to relive each month’s thought-provoking topic.

On the header/taskbar thingy of my site, you’ll see that OWLS has its own tab (and rightly so), so you can find the rest of 2017’s posts there! Alrighty, here we go—let’s wrap up 2017!


 Tour #1 January – Kiznaiver, Where Change is Worth the Pain | OWLS “Disruptors”

We All remember “that first time” we did something. Stepping out the gate with my first OWLS post was pretty scary, but even reading this now, I can recall the slight feeling of motivation I felt while writing the ending. It served as my review of the show, and it also had some sociology nonsense stuff in it. But YES, oh the memories!

Life Lessons Learned: 

  • It is not always the positives that make people seek change.
  • We must not shame, but accept the bizarre, the wacky, and the weird that reside within each of us.
  • Don’t be afraid to stick up for the things you believe in—odds are, someone else believes in them, too.


Tour #5 May – Grimgar: Stronger Together, Now & Forever | OWLS “Strength”

This was the first time I tried a different writing style. It was also where I was coined as a “poetic writer” because my post was formatted to, simply put, look like a poem. Straight from the heart, I went in with no outline whatsoever, and very few times did I hit the backspace key; if it was typed in first, it was typed for a reason. I like to think it turned out okay. Plus, I thought this show totally hit the monthly theme on the head!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • For a team, true strength lies not solely on one’s shoulders, but in faith in one another—in overcoming adversity and misfortune together.
  • Tragedies and bad experiences in life can be used strengthen your being; what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger.
  • You are only alone if you choose to be. Similarly, one may be strong, but a team is stronger.


Tour #2 February – Yuri!!! On ICE Goes the Distance for Life & Love | OWLS “Flight”

Yo, I looove Yuri!!! On ICE. Y’all already know that (and no, my bias towards the show isn’t what put it on this list). The reason I picked February’s post for #4 is because it inspired me to live a cleaner life. Now wait, I know you think I sound pretty egotistical for saying that “my own post inspired me,” but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t mention that putting this post out there did in fact encourage me to live life on the free-er side. I felt inspired to live more vicariously, without regard to what I could and could not control, and that made my stress decrease immensely. Also, I was recently sent a Twitter message saying that this post (specifically, the last bit) inspired another fellow blogger to write a review over a film that they loved in a similar fashion. Isn’t it the goal of all bloggers to get messages like these?? Anyway, I hope it helps you if you ever feel that you’re just letting life pass you by!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Leaving the comfort zone can allow you to unlock potentials you thought you never had, or better yet, complete a part of you that had been missing.
  • True sportsmanship is doing the best you can, respecting your competition, and making memories doing it with others.
  • You only get one life: live truthfully. 


Tour #9 September – “Orange” is Sweet & Sour, Yet All The More Beautiful | OWLS “Treasure”

I’ve mentioned numerous times in this post my discomfort with discussing depression, suicide, and the like. Well, September was my first shot at the whole mess, and because of all the heartwarming comments I’ve received, I got to learn so much about not only the issues at hand, but also many of your own lives. It wasn’t an easy post to write, but of all of these, it’s one that I was most glad I had. Also, isn’t the header image so pretty? Orange‘s art is so aesthetically pleasing!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • When helping others with sensitive issues, it’s hard to know what to say at exactly the right time. Don’t hate on yourself for messing up—you tried, and that’s admirable enough.
  • Every life is precious—treasure each and every day, the present, the moment, and yourself.
  • Do your best to live without regrets.


Tour #12 December – In This Corner of the World: A History Lesson on Hope & Healing | OWLS “Warmth”

After writing for 12 consecutive months, I was surprised to see that I still had the stamina to push on with December’s final post. Though I felt a bit wordy with this one (it’s one of the longest posts I’ve written!), I like to think that every single word is there for a reason. At first, I thought the film I featured for this month was okay, nothing too fancy, but definitely decent. The more I thought about it, however, I came to realize that it was not only one of the best, but also one of the most important watches of 2017! It touched my heart enough to force me to spit out many BIG lessons on the human experience! I would’ve put this down as my #1 OWLS post for 2017, but it was missing one vital, personal touch.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Life always goes on. Those who learn to adjust the quickest and accept the circumstances around them will have a greater chance at happiness.
  • Learn from fiction: no matter how significant or insignificant, it is all created with something valuable to be learned.
  • We all have the choice to be happy or sad, rude or nice—live the way you want to.


Tour #6 June – For the Team – Free! & My Swim Story | OWLS “Team”

I think it’s obvious how much this one meant to me. Almost 100% personal and taken from my own experience with a team, June’s post was not only a long-time coming, but also a story that I’m glad I finally got around to telling. It was important for me, and it should be of importance to you, should you care to know more about who I am! It was also a hard one to write, as I recall staying up until past 3 am the next day (late) just to finish it, and word it exactly how I wanted to. It’s an autobiography, a blog tour post, and a review of a beloved series that is dear to my heart.

You all reached out to me in the comments on this one, and for that alone, I am forever thankful.

Life Lessons Learned

  • If you find yourself losing your passion for something, or are stuck with a team that frankly isn’t filled with the most wonderful of people, then be that wonderful person for the team.
  • Determination, perseverance, and ambition speak volumes about people.
  • Life is fleeting. Savor the bests of each moment, and never forget your actions can cause ripples, unknowingly inspiring others in the process.

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Happy New Year From Me to You

That’s the end, folks! Between all my OWLS posts and the experiences I’ve shared with all of you, this is the list of things I learned in 2017! Now you, too, have the opportunity to carry these timeless lessons into 2018! Did you have a favorite OWLS post of mine? If so, please let me know! Even though I get behind on comments, I always value your thoughts and opinions, and I am ALWAYS grateful to those who simply read my posts!!

Oh yeah, this also FINALLY includes Blogmas 2017 and the 12 Days of Anime! I got sooo behind, but I’m so glad I did it because I got to reconnect with all of you. Writing for each day of Blogmas was surprisingly fun, and I never got tired (just busy). Next year, I’ll definitely have to stay on top of it better!

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for all your support over this past year! There were several gaps of inactivity in 2017, and one goal for 2018 would be to fill in those gaps with more reviews of titles that I cannot wait to watch. Thank you for being patient with my responses, and for letting me know when I do a decent job at something (it’s the little things that go a long way, right?). The blog’s almost at 300 followers, so it’d be really awesome if I could say about 100 people joined the cafe each year!

So here’s to you, to me, to all the wonderful things we’ve done, and to the many, many more exciting things we’ll do together! Already, I have made my peace on Twitter, but again, I’m wishing you all a year full of good health, healing, and a ton of luck~!! I’ve got many projects in mind—one in particular to kick off 2018—so please look forward to that! As always, my favorite bunch of people in the vast sea of the internet, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! And until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Expanding My Anime Film Collection in 2017! | Blogmas 2017 Day 11

Hey everyone, welcome to (a very belated) day 11 of Blogmas (whoops)!

We’re nearing the final days, but there are still a couple of BIG things that made my 2017 a landmark year for exploration; one is on the anime side, the other on the blogging side. Today, we’ll briefly talk about anime movies, and how I went from disliking their short length and randomness to simply being enamored by their ability to tell a “complete,” charming story full of virtues. And yes, my film collection did exponentially EXPLODE this year as a result!


Expanding My Anime Film Collection

(This is in regards to films that don’t belong to existing franchises. Ex. No titles labeled “The Movie”)

Like I was saying, I used to not be big on anime movies. Sure, there’s those fave Studio Ghibli films that everyone grows up with (special shoutout to Kiki and Laputa), but otherwise, you wouldn’t find me browsing for some little indie film or original short. Looking back on 2017 now, I think it was the tail end of 2016 where I caught the film fever.

I took a painting class during my last semester in high school. With little imagination (or teaching for that matter) to go off of, I turned to anime as inspiration, like we all do. I had seen Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words sometime in 2016, and I was simply blown away with what I call the “Shinkai Aesthetic.” It’s clean, chic, picturesque, semi-realistic, and most of all, has wicked good lighting. I could go on, but there’ll be a HUGE post about this guy’s art coming soon! Many of my paintings were inspired by Shinkai’s style as a result (well, that and Studio Khara’s Eva Rebuild Series). Specifically speaking, Shinkai’s iconic skies. I’ll share some of them with you guys later if you’re interested!

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Anyway, I started to grow as an artist after creating these paintings, noticing the subtle (or drastic) differences in other anime directors’ styles: Hayao Miyazaki (and Studio Ghibli), Mamoru Hosoda, Satoshi Kon, the Project Itoh films, Mamoru Oshii, Yasuhiro Yoshiyura, and of course, Makoto Shinkai. Thematically, they all tackle different issues in different ways, and learning about not just how but why a director wants to send out a certain message through a particular scene became something that I could apply to my own writing, namely, my OWLS posts. As cheesy as they previously seemed, I learned to love life lessons and the things we can learn from entertainment.

During my Shinkai painting phase, I was also watching Ghost in the Shell for the first time, exploring the ENTIRE franchise from its first 1995 film to the Arise series and even Paramount’s 2017 live action. My mind kept expanding with every episode, every iconic shot, and the urge to recreate them in my drawing class just couldn’t be ignored. I was absolutely OBSESSED with cyberpunk by this point, and I thank all the directors and their unique styles for inspiring me so much!

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This brings us to my collection, and my [terrible] need to buy everything that I watch. Thanks to Amazon Prime’s wicked ability, which allows me to buy a single item WITHOUT reaching a certain paywall for free shipping (cause I ain’t ever gonna pay for that, mhmm), I would literally buy every single anime film that fell below $15-ish. One. At. A. Time. Spoiler alert: that’s a lot of them. Here was my anime film collection in 2016:


Pretty basic, got classics like Paprika and Ghost in the Shell, and cool lesser-known titles like Time of EVE and The Empire of Corpses. Neat.

Here’s my collection now, at the end of 2017:


Oh dear god.

I went out and bought every Ghost in the Shell Blu-ray that I could (excluding Stand Alone Complex, as the reviews for the Blu-rays were horrendous). I loaded up on Shinkai, I snagged some Hosoda (well, received them as gifts, rather), I picked up modern classics like In This Corner of the World and classic-classics like Akira that arguably shaped anime as we know it! Honestly, I’m not sure why it took this long for me to get around to Akira. As for that whole gorgeous-looking set of black on the far left . . .

Thanks to GKIDS and their re-licensing and re-releasing of ALL the Studio Ghibli films, I bought all the ones that were on “sale,” and you can already bet that I’m going back for more as soon as the others lower in price. These are some high-ass quality releases, definitely much better than Disney’s [ugly] shiny gold releases. Then again, ANYTHING is better than the oooold DVDs that were first released, so I bought all the new Blu-rays to replace the ancient DVD copies we’ve had (which were re-gifted as priceless memories to my siblings for their own collections, haha)!

But yeah, there it is, the physical representation of my growing appreciation for the art of film, all in the beloved media that inspires me to create and explore—anime. Throughout the years, I’ve neglected so many astounding masterpieces and modern classics, and all because I wouldn’t have wanted their short stories to end. What can you get out of a measly 2 hours, anyway? However, through some incredible directors and artists in the anime industry, I’ve learned that the journey can still be magnificent and awe-inspiring, regardless of how long or short the story is. Now I can’t wait to see which films I watch next, and the adventures that they take me on!

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How big is your personal anime film collection? Did you see any title up there that is a personal favorite of yours? What other anime movies should be in my collection? Let me know so I can go and buy it after writing this! This post will ALSO be logged as a “Cafe Talk,” so share your thoughts to your heart’s content!

I’m on a bit of an odd schedule now thanks to the holidays, but this concludes Blogmas Day Eleven of the 12 Days of Anime. Only one left! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you shortly with the last post!

– Takuto, your host

Anime at the Theaters: My “Your Name” Experience! | Blogmas 2017 Day 10

Hey everyone, welcome to (a very belated) day 10 of Blogmas (whoops)! I know today’s topic isn’t necessarily “new” for 2017 (nor is it for years prior), but this was the first year I was able to attend a theater to watch anime on the big screen!


Anime at the Theaters!

From Funimation’s screenings of films for Project Itoh, Dragon Ball, Fairy Tail, One Piece, Black Butler, Attack on Titan, Psycho-Pass, The Boy and the Beast, and In This Corner of the World, to live action films like Tokyo Ghoul, Rurouni Kenshin, and Shin Godzilla, anime has been on the rise, as most of these titles were indeed screened this year. And they’re not stopping at 2017; they’ve already lined up the beginning of 2018 with theatrical releases for the widely anticipated first Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution film!

Heck, even Viz Media had joined in on the fun with its grand premiere of Sailor Moon R: The Movie this past winter (which was, by the way, promoted with the red carpet treatment, complete with a voice actor/pro-cosplayer meet-up, AND a spotlight on Snapchat—FREAKIN’ SNAPCHAT). The same goes for Aniplex of America and their latest (successful) efforts with Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale and Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel. Oh, and we can’t forget Sentai Filmworks with the big debut of the No Game No Life: Zero! Though Aniplex has been in the game much longer, it’s only now that their publicity has reached far enough to include theater screenings not just limited to the California area. And this trend will likely increase for all of these companies as the years go on, which is awesome because when more anime goes around, we get more of it!

I unfortunately wasn’t able to see this film (or any of the ones listed above, for that matter), but I did try, I did! ;_: Now I own the DVD. :3

It’s not often that anime “strikes rich” with U.S. audiences, though. The fan base and popularity expand, sure, but the monetary gain from screening anime films in the U.S. is nothing compared to what Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, or even some indie films earn. But every bit helps, and seeing as how screenings of our favorite niche titles keep popping up, we can only imagine that it’s all helping the anime industry in Japan. Anime News Network wrote an article during the film screening boom awhile back, so you might want to check that out if you’re curious to know the “science” behind it all.

As I was saying, very rarely do anime films earn household names thanks to theater screenings: Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and most Studio Ghibli films are pretty well recognized thanks to their unique artistic styles and of course, classic nature. Just this past spring, Funimation streamed a little title called Your Name.—ever heard of it? Yeah, I’m sure you have, and you’ll probably already know that it’s now the world’s highest-grossing anime film, finally beating out Ghibli staples like Spirited Away (2nd), Howl’s Moving Castle (3rd), and everyone’s favorite fish-girl with the round tummy, Ponyo (4th). No, it’s not a competition, but credit should be given where it’s due, and Your Name. IS one incredible, breathtaking film. While Japan is still loyal to Spirited AwayYour Name. did manage to climb all the way up to become the fourth highest-grossing film in the nation. If that doesn’t speak volumes about the film, I’m not sure what will.

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My “Your Name.” Experience

(This is not a review. That will come out in early 2018, fingers crossed >.<)

Have you ever been to a Warren Theatre? They’re apparently prominent in the big midwestern cities, but essentially, they are luxurious movie theaters heavily decorated and inspired by Hollywood during the Roarin’ Twenties. Very Gatsby-esque and decked out to the extreme, one wearing athletic shorts and a t-shirt (me) would feel very out of place. EVERYTHING is gold in that place—no, literally, there are tall pillars embossed with shiny gold-colored plating. Exquisite paintings hang on the gorgeously patterned walls, and the staff are finely dressed in slick black suits. Even the bathrooms are paved with solid ebony marble flooring with rows upon rows of ridiculously clean stalls. There are several open little outlets that line the curtained walls, each containing waiting rooms with comfortable maroon leather couches and, wait, yes, a fireplace.


[Pictures from Google]

All-in-all, my mom, dad, and sister and I were very shocked. Very shocked. The place was simply stunning, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. The Warren is an experience, not just another place to watch movies.


[They even had this cool giant promotional poster for the Ghost in the Shell live action, which I was absolutely enamored by! You can bet I took pictures posing by this, haha!]

So the Warren was hella lit, but what made the three-hour journey to see Your Name. all the more worth it was the meet-up. (Woah, Taku has friends that like anime IRL?! Yup, you bet.) If you didn’t already know, music was my thing from basically birth up through high school (and even now, too). I play the cello, and on my second year with the All-State Orchestra, my sister made friends with her fellow stand partner. He was also Asian, so there’s kinda that instantaneous bond right there, and we all kept in contact after that fateful encounter.

Flash forward, and he starts talking about this film he saw on his way back from Japan, a title that, though unfamiliar with my sister, was screaming at me because of all the recent hype: Your Name., Makoto Shinkai’s latest creation. He recommended the film because he’d seen it, I knew how to get us to see it, and my sister was the glue that held us all together. The only problem—he lives across the state, over three hours away, and while it might not seem like much for the average traveler, you can’t forget that we’re youngins, and that distance was enough to keep us apart.

So we agreed to meet halfway. He chose a conveniently located place where we’d meet up to eat (which was a really awesome and tasty Japanese restaurant similar to how Qdoba or Chipotle are fashioned—how fitting, I know), I found the Funimation-approved theater, and my sister kept us all excited (well, more than we were, at least)! Several laughs later, it was time to make our way across the parking lot, and before we knew it, we were ushered into the theater balcony where we were seated before a giant red curtain. That’s right, this movie theater opens and closes its screenings with the grand red curtain. God, did I mention that I love this place??


So the great curtain raised and the great curtain lowered. The film was over, and it was admittedly hard not to cry. So many things had led up to this one moment:

  • Hearing about the rapid success of Your Name.
  • Attending All-State Orchestra and meeting a new friend
  • Funimation announcing a theatrical release
  • Reconnecting via technology and setting up a reunion
  • Traveling the distance, meeting the other halfway
  • Walking into the Warren
  • Reuniting for a delicious lunch
  • Seeing one of the greatest films ever created
  • Feeling the emotions of the characters, together

I mean, all this considered, it was so very difficult to believe that this dream of mine would quickly come to an end. It was not only a bittersweet ending for Mitsuha and Taki, but for the three of us, too. Honestly, bidding farewell to a friend had never been harder. But we agreed to meet again, and sure enough, just this past weekend, we met halfway once again to have fun at the city’s mall. We were going to ice-skate all together, but he had a piano competition coming up and his mom didn’t want him risking his wrist—perfectly understandable, and we had fun nonetheless. (Our family did go ice-skating, though :P)

Thoughts on Life, Transience, and Memories

It’s not often that an anime film gets screened here in the states. And it’s also not often that said movie becomes the highest-grossing anime film in the world.

Similarly . . . 

It’s not often that we get to have perfect long-distance friendships. And it’s also not often that we get to cross that seemingly great distance to have our own Your Name. experience. Little did we know it, we, too, traversed the state in search of the other and promised to meet up again someday. And when someday finally came, we were all just so, so happy.

We have to take advantage of the fleeting opportunities that life presents us with. Not every moment will be magical, but when you make the most of what you have—pouring all your heart into what you want most—sometimes chance grants you that picture-perfect moment . . .

Only for it to quickly fade into a memory. 

Cherish the friendships you currently have, relish in the art that entertains you, and I cannot express this last one enough: Take as many photos as you can. I say it all the time, but the reality is that life goes by quicker and quicker with each passing day. Don’t let thinking about the “could have beens” before they even happen stop the “can be” that you can make possible. There was a point where I considered not reaching out to my sister about the film because I thought it wasn’t going to work for some reason. I was wrong. We can make beautiful memories to last a lifetime, and we can take risks to pursue happiness.

It’s all a matter of taking the first step and hoping that it leads you to enjoying the step after that.

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Wherever you are in the world, I’ll search for you. – Taki Tachibana

Maybe now you understand why getting to see Your Name was one of my highlights of 2017. Did anyone else have the opportunity to visit anime in theaters this year? If so, what did you see, and how was your experience? I’d love to know! I’ll be logging this as a “Cafe Talk,” so feel free to let your thoughts loose on this post or anything else related to it!

I’m on a bit of an odd schedule now thanks to the holidays, but this concludes Blogmas Day Ten of the 12 Days of Anime. Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you shortly with another belated post!

– 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!


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.


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!


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!


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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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.


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. 🙂


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