Yūki Hayashi: Music to Motivate the Soul | OWLS “Melody”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s fourth monthly topic for 2018, “Melody,” I wanted to showcase a single composer rather than a specific series or genre. He writes with the strength of a series’s characters in mind, empowering them to go beyond and rise to meet any occasion. His name is Yūki Hayashi, and he’s probably my favorite composer in the realm of modern anime.

Music is a form of healing and self-expression. For this month’s topic, we will be exploring some of our favorite musical pieces (anime/drama OSTs, movie soundtracks, music genres, etc.) and how that music has provided us enjoyment and, perhaps, how it has impacted our lives.

I love music! Even in these OWLS posts, I make it a must to at least cover any particular tracks of a given show that stood out to me most. As such, it is my greatest pleasure to finally dedicate an entire post to a man who has unknowingly helped transform my life into something I am proud of living. Thanks Lyn (and Shokamoka) for the very simple yet exciting prompt! In this post I’ll be covering the many soundtracks composed by Hayashi, but none of these highlights will contain spoilers, so enjoy! Click each song title to listen!

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A Bit of Background

Perhaps [the series remains constantly engaging] because of musician Yūki 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 toImage result for yuki hayashi perfectly time moments that should be epic with music that is absolutely epic . . . 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.

— Musings from my review of Welcome to the Ballroom

Inspiration to Lift Us Off Our Feet

Welcome to the Ballroom

We were all that awkward kid once, aimlessly going about our days with no aspirations or anything to make us stand out. Tatara Fujita was the same way, until the world of dance appeared right at his doorstep. Through dance, the young boy learned what it was like to stand up straight for the first time. Slowly, he accumulated a few rivals, but everyone knows a rival is just a competitor waiting to become a friend. With slicked back hair, perfect posture, and a beautiful partner at his side, Tatara earned confidence in himself by means of hard work, dedication, and the willingness to try something new. But dance would be nothing without song, which is what we’re talking about today.

Since I’ve already gone on length with my favorite tracks from this series in my review, I’ll just re-reminisce on a few of the bests. “Lesson Fuukei – Hajimete no Step 2” shows us how much sheer willpower it takes to start dancing. “Ballroom Shakou Dance” reflects on the progress made, and the long but exciting road ahead. “Ganbaritai Kimochi” lifts our spirits into the air screaming “YEAH, this is MY moment to shine!” As Tatara starts to see his own style of dance bloom, he’s gifted with the “Tatara Waltz,” a sweet melody just for him. Lastly, “Rise & Fall” reflects on inspiring triumph and crushing defeat, a fitting end to the series. These tracks carry so much heart—as does the rest of the OST—and I still listen to them now when I need a boost back into that positive mindset!

Motivation to Push Us Forward

DIVE!!, Haikyuu!!

Now that we’re standing tall, Hayashi’s ready to keep us going strong with these back-to-back sports!! series. One of DIVE!!‘s saving graces was its soundtrack, specifically this song which, in typical Hayashi fashion, takes a minute to get going, but soon can’t be contained because of its sheer motivational outburst! Music like this encourages Tomoki Sakai and fellow MDC divers to reach a place that only they can see.

And while at this view from the summit, Haikyuu!! bounces onto the scene full of youth and energy in tracks like “Chemical Change,” “Senior Proficiency,” and practically the rest of the OST. Taking a quieter but just as inspirational approach, “Goal” and “Evolution” appeal to emotions under the surface level. Then there’s “Powerhouse Schools,” “Kageyama vs Tsukishima,” “Into the Fray,” and “Let the Games Begin!!” to pump you up for the intimidating challenges that lie ahead. But we can’t forget that life has its setbacks, which is why “Frustration” resonates so well with me. While there is one more epic violin track I can’t find, the saddest yet most beautiful song, “Adults,” reminds me that kids (like myself) grow up fast, and that life is too short to not have fun or experience friendship. This track makes me want to cry because I can’t go back to simpler times, but it also makes me smile at how far I’ve come.

Heartache to Make Us Grow

Kiznaiver, Death Parade

Kiznaiver may be a show about understanding what friendship means, but along the way the characters sure do feel a great deal of pain. Loneliness and the difficulties of connecting with others plague its main cast (just as how they can affect us, too), and yet, there is beauty in sorrow. “Toumei Na Omoi,” my favorite track from the series begins with a cold harp soliloquy, but gradually opens up for a tender, heartwarming chorus.

This next heartbreaker needs no introduction. Death Parade welcomes the macabre by relishing in the woes of humanity. Visually, the Quindecim is quite appealing. But beyond the fancy visage lies a broken cast and a graveyard of puppets. Heralded as one of the “Most Emotional OSTs,” please feel free to lose yourself in the beautiful darkness of “Moonlit Night” and its breathtaking piano intro.

Strength to Go Beyond

My Hero Academia

Can I just place the entire soundtrack here? Honestly, every tune in this hit-shounen series is an absolute BOP. From the splendid, upbeat cheerfulness of “Symbol of Peace” and “I am here!!,” both All Might themes, to the workout motivation provided by “HERO A (Training to be the best!),” Izuku’s story never stops inspiring both the other characters and the us, the viewers! None of that playful rap or pep-band nonsense compares to “PLUS ULTRA,” however, as this single track contains enough power to move mountains—no wait, planets—the very heavens! All Might’s charisma ascends through this incredible music, much as how his strength is passed down to Izuku.

Did you think I’d forget “My Hero Academia” or the *in*famous “You Say Run“? HAH! Glory to all the UA heroes for pushing us to go beyond—and PLUUUS UUULTRA!!!

Ambition to Fulfill Our Dreams

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But none are more inspiring than that which I’ve saved for last. BEHOLD, the “Main Theme” of this most-underrated anime. The tale of a girl who musters the strength to turn a borrowed dream into her own reality, Akiho Sinomiya spends countless years chasing after her sister’s shadow. It’s a series about individuality and the passion to challenge impossible odds—even if friends, family, and society don’t agree with your ideals. Overflowing with ambition, motivation, bravery, and hope, Yūki Hayashi doesn’t dial back the heroism one bit. If anything, this is ingenuity in its rawest state. The roaring bass and cellos, the soaring violins, and the percussion section that just keeps giving—THIS is the spirit which motivates the soul!

Yūki Hayashi & The Resolve to Change

I love music. I listen to anime soundtracks often, and I pay attention to what exactly it is in the composition that moves me. As previously stated, Hayashi certainly has a way with notes. He weaves together strings, winds, brass, percussion, electric bass, and sometimes a dash of choir topped with remixing for truly epic scores. Even more interesting is that he’s almost always attached to works that feature characters struggling to grow—protagonists that grapple with finding their resolve to change themselves for the better. The road to such change is of course rife with hardship, competition, wins, losses, redemption, self-evaluation, and eventually a brief moment of pure intensity that shouts “LOOK AT ME!!!”

As people, we all desire attention, and to be our very best selves. Hayashi knows this path can also be messy, both physically and emotionally, and he clearly conveys these feelings through melodies and chords. He says, “This is what failure sounds like,” only to follow up with “And this song feels like victory, doesn’t it?”

Whether it’s a tall, tall wall looming in front of you,

the want yet inability to connect with others, 

the need to prove that your dreams are obtainable,

or perhaps the desire to change . . .

Know that the view from the summit is one that exists ONLY for you—so chase after it relentlessly. Try new things, make mistakes, meet new people, but never, never give up on your reasons for wanting to improve. Because maybe, in the process of overcoming your own impossible odds, you’ll inspire someone else to be a better human, much as how Yūki Hayashi inspired me through something as simple as a melody.

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Do you have a favorite anime composer that just blows you away? What about specific fave OSTs that lift your spirits after a dull day? Do you listen to as many “motivational” YouTube playlists as I do? Haha, let me know about your music tastes or this post down in the comments! This concludes my April 14th entry in the OWLS “Melody” blog tour. Mel (Mel in Anime Land) went right before me and wrote about Shinhwa, one of her favorite K-pop groups, which you can read right here! Now, prepare for Marina (Anime B & B) with the music she enjoys listening to while writing this Monday, April 16th! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Fate/Extra: Last Encore – A Horrifically Beautiful Nightmare | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 10-episode winter 2018 anime “Fate/Extra: Last Encore,” animated by Shaft, directed by Akiyuki Shinbou and Yukihiro Miyamoto, and based on Type-Moon game “Fate/Extra.”

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The Dungeon Horror Genre Meets Fate

Hakuno Kishinami is a high school student—no, was a high school student? Doesn’t matter, because in a flash and flurry of visions pertaining to both the past and the future, Hakuno awakens in a strange virtual world styled much like a video game. He remembers neither his former life, nor how he got here, but before he even has time to comprehend his wacky situation, Hakuno is forced into a fight unlike one the world has ever seen: the Holy Grail War. Only this time around, supposedly over a hundred masters are competing for the coveted wish-granting chalice! Thankfully, a servant adorned in a maelstrom of crimson rose petals and shimmering gold manifests and comes to Hakuno’s aid. Her name is Saber, and together the two set out to conquer the seven enigmatic “floors” of this Grail War’s stage, as well as answer the burning question in Hakuno’s mind: “Who am I?”

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I borrowed that last quote from the official synopsis because, within both the characters and the story itself, there’s a vague sense of emptiness surrounding the situation. As an alternate route for Fate/stay night set in an entirely different universe, countless questions about the world and its origins arise. Unfortunately, very few are answered, and as each episode progresses, it becomes harder and harder to care about Hakuno, the entities he encounters, or this chapter of Fate in general. This new Grail War also presents itself weakly, rarely calling back to the fact that Hakuno should be fighting other servants and masters along the way when, oddly enough, each floor seems abandoned, which brings me to my next point.

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I like to call Last Encore a weird Dungeons & Dragons take on the Fate universe for its similar adventure style setup. On each floor that Hakuno, Saber, and eventually Rin climb to (or rather soar up to via magical elevator), the trio confronts 1) the floor’s master, 2) the floor master’s servant, and 3) a helpful ally (or tricky foe) who resides/is trapped on that floor. Each floor’s denizens offer a new lesson in character, survival, or how to live, and deciding who the party should ally themselves with or stay away from serves as decent entertainment.

Not-So-Familiar Faces

Last Encore‘s master and servant pairs reveal very little about themselves, which is a crying shame considering that you can typically count on Fate characters as ALWAYS being some of the most interesting crew you’ll ever run into. Heck, much of this historical fantasy cast—Robin Hood, Francis Drake, and a certain red Saber—receive better backstory and development in Fate/Grand Order, and that’s a FREAKIN’ MOBILE GAME.

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With so many characters encountered in such a short 10-episode time, it can be hard to remember who is who and what they do when you know that at the end of the episode, Hakuno and Saber will prevail and ascend to the next floor. As such, the other masters and servants NEED to be interesting, and sadly, the opposite happens since there’s not enough time for me to invest care. Philosophical as they may be, the interactions between characters in Last Encore are hollow, save for maybe one charismatic lass . . .

No Guts, No Glory!

Never does our red-clad hero proclaim this famous idiom, but boy does it typify her personality. To keep this review spoiler-free, we’ll just ride by the servant moniker. That said, prepare the “Umu!” counter, cause here’s our Maestro’s beloved servant! Unlike the others in this series, Saber is characterized quite well. Even reoccurring favorites like Rin and the not-so-much-favorite Shinji fail to truly grasp the viewer’s attention like Saber does. Charming, wise, experienced, and loves to show off her vast wealth and skill accumulated from former days of glory, Saber practically steals the show any time she gets the chance. She’s unapologetically boastful and confident, and her ridiculous remarks make her fun to watch. Shaft may promote her allure through annoying underskirt shots (or straight-up nudity), but we know the real reason she captures our hearts is because of her valor and chivalry in battle, as well as her playful charisma on the side.

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I will admit, Saber really doesn’t change much over the course of their journey, but that’s not why she’s there. She’s Hakuno’s guide, his partner, and through her ideological dialogue, she mentally keeps Hakuno thinking in the right mindset—and from succumbing to his darkest thoughts.

Fate in the Hands of Another Studio

Though the [very few and short] fight scenes look splendid, Shaft captures the individual essence of each floor’s quirks and qualities even better through unique landscapes, backgrounds, and art styles (including a floor designed to recreate Madoka Magica‘s eerie cuteness). Though the environment helps craft Extra‘s story, proving on multiple occasions to be more interesting than its characters, the alarming number of rough transitions between fantasy and reality, past and future causes immense confusion and boredom. The plot is already such a jumbled up mess, and to place Shaft at the head of this project is both genius and a horrifically beautiful nightmare. Arguably, with all the random floating objects and unnatural physics, it’s “too much Shaft” at times. At least that lighting is gorgeous.

 

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SIDE NOTE: I appreciate the endeavor to animate more of this massive franchise, but between an OK Apocrypha and now an even worse Extra, I can’t help but think Fate should be left not only to quality animators like the masters over at Ufotable, but also to its core writers. Shinbou excels at bringing the strange to life, but this sci-fi/fantasy adventure RPG style isn’t his strongest suit. 

Lastly, Satoru Kosaki’s score left a brilliant ambiance where the dialogue often tangled itself up (probably helps that he’s no stranger to studio Shaft’s style, having done much of the Monogatari OST). Also, the OP “Bright Burning Shout” by Takanori Nishikawa has an uplifting shounen fight song vibe to it, while the ED “Tsuki to Hanataba” by Sayuri allowed the bittersweet moments in the series to shine.

For the Fans Who Wanted One Last Encore

Trailing the viewer along through the bizarre sounds like something Fate/Extra: Last Encore would be excellent at, but Hakuno’s narrative is simply boring. And while a degree of mystery helps keep the mind engaged and asking questions, come episode ten you’ll be disappointed by this series’s lack of a proper ending. As one would imagine, Hakuno and Saber eventually reach the top floor, but to what end? The story abruptly stops upon the elevator reaching floor seven, and though a 20-minute finale OVA awaits us this summer (oh my god), no one will care by then.

Ultimately, it’s all a real shame, as I was finally hoping to branch out of the same old Fate and see what all the hubbub of Extra was about without having to sit through the PSP game. Several elements like changing the character design, recruiting a different studio, and twisting the story to fit as an anime series, seemed right, but just fell apart by the end. Watch the beginning of this shoddy cyclical Fate adaptation and I’m afraid you’ve already seen the end. Perhaps this is my “roundabout” way of saying that you shouldn’t advertise yourself as the encore when those unfamiliar with the original haven’t even properly enjoyed the main show.

I should do what I am capable of. That is all anyone can do. — Saber

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Afterword

It’s hard to write a review about a show that I really wanted to enjoy, especially something from Fate. Nevertheless, I must be honest with myself here. There were moments of true beauty, in which the shot composition, character animation, dialogue, music, and emotion all synced together spectacularly. But those moments only made up a small part of this already very short adventure. Such is why I award Fate/Extra: Last Encore the “Breads” rating, and recommendation to pass on it unless you have played the game and are wanting to enjoy a “similar” story in anime format—to which I say, enjoy, Praetor!

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I’d love it if you could sway my mind on this title, so let me know what you thought about it or this review down in the comments! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

The Sweetest Kind of Rom-Com: “My Love Story!!” | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode spring 2015 anime “Ore Monogatari!!,” also known in English as “My Love Story!!,” animated by Madhouse, directed by Morio Asaka, and based on Kazune Kawahara’s manga of the same name. 

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A Bumbling, Tumbling, Pure-Hearted Gentleman

Takeo Gouda is a big guy. Though more akin to a bear (or perhaps a gorilla) than a human, I suppose simply calling him “big” wouldn’t do this mammoth of a man any justice. Takeo is an overwhelming, brutish force of masculinity, but underneath all that beefy muscle and thick skin lies a kind, respectful, and unwavering heart of gold. While he may unintentionally scare off all the girls he meets (often coming to their rescue only to go unaccredited for his good service, of course), he’s amassed quite the male following among his high school’s freshman class for his honorable sense of duty and righteousness. Did I mention Takeo was just a freshman? Oh, and did I mention that he is a pretty big guy?

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Well, even if his nonexistent love life never takes off, at least Takeo’s got Sunakawa, his cool and handsome best friend. The two are as inseparable as brick and concrete (I’ll let you guess who is who), but maybe therein lies Takeo’s problem: Sunakawa’s irresistible yet subtle charm and dashing looks has unintentionally captured the heart of every young girl Takeo has ever loved! Suna politely turns them all down, however, and as much as that would aggravate any other guy’s best friend, things somehow always work out for the two.

One day, Takeo nobly saves one Miss Rinko Yamato from a groper on a train, ultimately throwing him head-over-heels for this sweet, kind-hearted baker! Though the two awkwardly meet several times afterwards, Takeo holds himself back, suspecting that “Miss Yamato” only has eyes for Suna. In a surprising turn of events, Rinko admits she feels love, but it’s not for Takeo’s best friend—as his good karma would have it, Rinko loves Takeo, and here begins their love story!!

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Love Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

By episode three, I honestly thought the show could’ve ended. SPOILERS but not really, the two fall in love very quickly, and Takeo’s fear of never hooking up with a cute girl disappears come this early confession. Why is it called My Love Story!! then if we already know how the story goes? WELL, unlike most shoujo series out there that tantalize viewers with a painfully slow romance that ends with the main couple holding hands (if you’re even that lucky), My Love Story!! follows Takeo and Rinko throughout their relationship: celebrating holidays together, meeting the others’ family (Takeo’s parents, oh my god, when you see them it all makes sense), and most importantly, hooking up their fellow dudes and gal pals that are looking for a high school sweetheart. It’s not a test to see how long they stay together. Rather, it’s about how they can unite the hearts of others through their love.

Because Rinko isn’t the kind of girl to wait on her man, the story moves at a pleasant pace—don’t get me wrong, it’s still very, very slow compared to most couples out there, but it’s a slow-burning tenderness that feels so honest and true. The series is, for the most part, quite episodic, as new characters are brought on the screen only to be swiftly swept off their feet by these two match-makers and eventually (and gently) “tossed aside.” Any relationships that do return to the screen build nicely over the course of the series. Takeo and Rinko are #couplegoals, and there are probably very few shows out there that are sweeter than this rom-com.

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Also, can we appreciate the unusual MC’s character design here and Rinko’s unwavering love for him? There is no joke—she legit values his looks. Bless these two.

“MISS YAMATOOOO!!!”

Takeo Gouda is truly A GOD AMONGST MEN. (This man’s lips, just wow.) He’s a big ol’ softie despite his ridiculously boarish stature, and he’s got the restraint of a freakin’ nun, no joke. Sometimes Often times that over-politeness causes Takeo to seem like an awkward lug, but it’s honestly so lovable and refreshing that I just can’t. In fact, the whole show feels like a huge refreshment from the annoying tropes of the shoujo genre, granted that I haven’t seen nearly enough to consider myself knowledgeable on the subject. Though Takeo’s personality is goofy, dutiful, and well mannered, the guy would be nothing without a voice. I DID watch My Love Story!! with Sentai’s English dub, and while they normally aren’t at the same quality as Funimation or Aniplex’s, this dub ROCKS. So much character in every comedic line, so much heart when things need to be cute, Andrew Love FINALLY plays a teenager where his macho voice is appropriate—you could say that I “Love” his burly performance!

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The very same goes to Miss Yamato, voiced by the ever-lovely Tia Ballard (I just can’t get enough of her voice)!! If Takeo is sweet, Rinko is even sweeter—and no, I’m not just talking about her mouth-watering dessert creations. She’s the rich chocolate chips to Takeo’s squishy dough, the perfectly layered icing on an impressively sized cake. This woman has no flaws, I tell ya! Just kidding: she has a less-than-delicate side that really wants to get together with her boyfriend (who’s totally not prepared) on a more intimate level. But honestly, isn’t that everyone? Friendship, the desire to connect with another, and letting go of repressed feelings are all major themes in this series, and where lovemaking is concerned, My Love Story!! is still one of the purest examples out there!

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And I couldn’t forget about our normally-the-lead-but-now-just-a-bishie Sunakawa AKA Austin Tindle. How Sentai got a magnificent beast like Tindle, the world may never know, but all that matters is he’s here, and that he plays the unamused hot guy. If it weren’t for Takeo’s overwhelming presence, Suna would absolutely take the spot as best boy. He may look like he’s bored out of his mind and dosing off half the time, but Suna is kind, attentive, and always watching out for Takeo’s large sweaty back. Every single Suna moment left me like, “Bro . . .”, as he’s a really upstanding and intelligent guy despite characters like his  typically being cast as the “high-and-mighty jealous types” in this situation. Like the rest of this all-star cast, Suna is thankfully so much more than a stereotype, and I valued his brotherhood and cool-headedness. He’s easy to miss at times, but he’s always there for his friends.

It’s. So. Funny. 

LITERALLY ME in every episode. Madhouse brought to life one of the most adorable romance titles out there, yet there’s an added level of humor to Takeo’s build and [hilariously grotesque] facial expressions that made me bust a gut at least ten times per episode. Surprisingly, the slapstick comedy here won me over as one of the biggest reasons why everyone should watch this show. Between the bestial way in which Takeo reacts to everything and his demonstrations of, umm, affection to Suna, I was left with tears in my eyes it was all so funny. Again, this is where the English dub really shines!

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A “Cake” Title in its Purest Form

My Love Story!! stole the simulcast spotlight back when it aired in 2015. Although its popularity has died down significantly (the manga picking up the anime’s slack, as it offers a continuation to what is ultimately but an adaptation), it’s still a pleasantly refreshing rom-com that cuts out all the shoujo drama BS. It’s light-hearted, cleansing, and even touching when it wants to be. Plus it’s really funny! I’ll admit that romance anime aren’t really my thing, so this series was PERFECT for a viewer who tries to avoid the unnecessarily serious stuff.

All this and more is why I recommend My Love Story!! to ALL anime fans. Should you enjoy watching it, you’ll come away feeling happy and bubbly inside, and perhaps even recall your first innocent love (or wistful bromance). We all have stories to share, and Takeo Gouda’s is one that’ll leave you laughing out loud one moment and clutching your warmed heart the next.

I helped a girl who turned out to be a nice girl. That gives me the strength to go on. — Takeo Gouda

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Afterword

Kind of short review, as the show really is sweet and simple. If you watched My Love Story!! and enjoyed it, what part in particular made you like it? Was it the atypical character setup, the laughs, Rinko’s treats, Takeo’s boundless excitement, or just Suna being Suna? You ought to let me know! I WILL try to respond to your comments quicker, haha!

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If you couldn’t already tell, this series currently sits lovingly on my shelf as the ideal “Cake” title here at the cafe, and I do hope you give it a shot if you haven’t yet. Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Naka-Kon 2018 Experience/Haul!

Hi everyone!

Since 2015, I’ve gone to this midwestern U.S. anime convention called Naka-Kon. That makes this my fourth year, which is kinda hard to believe! It’s a small convention, estimating around 8,000 attendees in 2015, but the population has grown exponentially in the past few years. Soon, I fear that the convention hall itself won’t be large enough to contain all our anime madness!

Anyway, this year was much less stressful compared to years past. Why? Well, I’m one of those eager youngsters that insists on meeting with English voice actor guests. I keep it brief, but try to walk away with a signature on one (or more if I’m lucky) of my Blu-rays, a picture, and delightful, positive memories to cherish. Typically, I’ll know (or at least recognize), say, 6/7 of the VAs—and you can bet that I’d try to meet with all of them if I could! At this year’s Naka, however, I only really knew (and loved) one or two roles per each voice AKA not enough to validate standing in line for a couple hours, sadly.

So I told myself to limit my VA line-standings to just one, and amp up my cosplay game so that I could spend time taking more pics and having fun. After 2017 when I cosplayed Mika from Seraph of the End, I didn’t realize what great fun cosplaying could be—SO MANY PEOPLE WANTED A PICTURE EITHER OF OR WITH ME (which makes me so happy and thankful), yet it was a tad overwhelming given how I had my own agenda of rushing from one VA line or panel to another. The guest line-up happened to work well with my intentions this year, and it all worked out swimmingly!

The unintentional VA-grab theme for this year must’ve been Cowboy Bebop (last year was Final Fantasy XV), as both Steve Blum (Spike Spiegal) and Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Julia, also ADR Director) were both guests this year. While I love Bebop just as much as the next guy, I knew that his lines and panels would be crazy full, so I skipped out to avoid the hassle. Also, I only knew him as Spike and Todo from Code Geass. WE DID, however, manage to squeeze in to a huge panel hosted by Steve and Mary, as well as Ian Sinclair and Wendy Powell. I count my lucky stars that my sister persisted on us sitting down, as it was really cool to hear all these famous voices casually talking in one room!

As for Mary Elizabeth . . . SHE’S THE FREAKIN’ MAJOR FROM Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex!!!! If you’ve been following me for even the past year, you’ll know that GitS has quickly worked its way up my favorites list following my marathon of the franchise just one year ago from now (happy reunion!). She’s also my QUEEN, Cornelia li Britannia from Code Geass!! Long story short, she was my must-meet for 2018, and though I was only allotted one signing (as I wanted a picture for my second), she kindly signed my DVD copy of Stand Alone Complex, of which, fun fact, I had picked up JUST for this con! Our transient meeting—where we chatted about technology’s advancements and  possibilities, the internet, and finding our own path in this digital age—was brief, but one that will stick with me for a long time!

While at the con, I popped in on several of Xanthe Huynh’s panels. I only really knew her as Love Live!‘s Hanayo, Yuki Yuna‘s titular Yuki Yuna, PMMM Rebellion’s Nagisa, and A Lull in the Sea‘s Miuna (as pictured above). Her charming commentary on the industry and business as a voice actor for “all the cute characters” was very insightful, plus it was nice to balance out the wild loudness of, well, a con with a much smaller, calmer Q&A panel. After visiting like three of her panels, I made it my mission to nab an autograph, of which was quick, painless, and fun to meet her one-on-one!

Oh yeah, I also snagged a ticket for Ian Sinclair since I just could. It was a Sunday, lines were significantly shorter and moved much faster, so I thought “Eh, why not.” He’s not a personal favorite of mine, but I do think he does great work!

**Insert my frustrations when Wendy Powell, who had no people in line for like 20 minutes, left just as I had snagged a ticket to meet her after noticing the vacancy. Ughhh, oh well, at least I got to hear her voice IRL in that panel earlier. Also, the staff were very supportive in my endeavors to try and meet her. Shucks, thanks anyway! :3

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Moving on from my meetings with guests, 2018 was also a year to try out some other activities that the con offered given my greater schedule leniency. Each year, I fear that Naka will offer fewer and fewer surprises for me. Especially this year, I figured I’d be bored half the time—BOY WAS I WRONG, and joyfully so! My siblings and I went to our first cosplay shoot (for My Hero Academia), posed for countless many pictures, and even tried waltz lessons of all things together! It was great fun, and EVERYWHERE we went were nice, happy, positive anime fans! So yeah, new experiences all around—I shouldn’t have underestimated such a great con like I did!

But you probably just wanted my haul. Ok, so do I. 🙂

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Pins, pins galore! Each year I make it a mission to scout out new pins (especially from one artist in particular who designed the trio on the right), and this year my bag had nearly 20 some-odd pins from various favorite anime. With most ranging from one to just a couple dollars, it’s an easy, affordable way to support artists, as well as keep track of your favorite characters. Highly advised! In case you were wondering, those three on the left were gifts from my sister that she bestowed upon me as soon as we got home—how thoughtful of her! And of course, I had to get my Sailor duo, plus the almighty, all-powerful LELOUCH VI BRITANNIA!

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I also got some playing cards, this becoming my third set with anime artwork on them. I was a bit let down with this set, thinking that because the main image had the entire cast on it, it should have pics of the other YOI characters. WRONG, all main three, and all random close-ups, ahahaha! Should’ve gone with the other set they had, but oh well, more YOI to go around.

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Traditionally, I like to snag some new wall art (either as a scroll or artists’ prints) each year. Seeing as how I cosplayed a male version of Danganronpa‘s Junko Enoshima (which a crap ton of people recognized somehow and asked me for a pic), I thought it was only fitting to cap off the experience with something from the franchise. I’d never seen this artwork before, so I thought hey, let’s do it!

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I DIDN’T REALIZE CONS HAD CLEAR FILES until I stumbled upon a couple of vendors on the last day that had stacks full of ’em! These epic Fate/stay night: [Unlimited Blade Works] clear files had the absolutely stunning poster artwork on them that my DVDs had, and though I wish they had the last one from the second season, they make an awesome set to either hang up together (considering a Fate wall in my room) or to use them as actual files. (Does anyone use clear files like they’re supposed to? Let me know . . .)

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AND THEY HAD GHOST IN THE SHELL TOO, LIKE, WHAAAT?!? At either just $4 or $2.50 per file depending on the vendor, these are wonderful deals compared to the $10+ that buying off the net will charge. Like my Danganronpa wall scroll, these SAC files will forever be remembered as the ones that I bought when I met Major Motoko Kusanagi, the great Mary Elizabeth McGlynn herself! #unreal

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This right here was the biggest win for me. I knew that as soon as I passed it on day one, it would be mine come the end of the weekend. Because I was unexpectedly busy with all the cosplay shenanigans, however, I ended up waiting until later in the con ’till I finally snatched it up. Thankfully, the artist still had a few, and she was super happy that I was this excited over her Kiki’s Delivery Service artwork. I mean, WHO COULDN’T?! It’s like Ghibli meets Shinkai all perfectly contained within one aesthetically pleasing masterpiece! The artist is Alexis Moore, and you can reach her at both her website alexis-moore.com and social media (presumably Insta or Twitter?) @alexisparade. Love this so much~!

That wraps up the stuff that I personally bought. Much less money was spent than in years past, but that can be a good thing sometimes. Here are some gifts my siblings bought me (and don’t worry, I surprised them with some neat stuff, too)!

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This blind-pick horizontal poster of Yuuri and Victor that my sister got me, ahhh, so precious. You know how anime fans sometimes like to decorate their own spaces with that bit of anime-inspired flair during the holidays? Yup, I think this might be the winter holiday piece that’ll go over my door. 😛

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Here’s a Code Geass soundtrack (again with the con-specific merch to match the times, damn!) that my brother bought for me! It’s got quite a few quality jams from the series, and for only $8, ummm, duh one of us is gonna get it LOL! After I passed it up for a minute, he swooped in, bought it, then surprised me by giving it to me as soon as we got home (omg how kind). Part of it was as a thank-you for me creating the *coolest* part of his cosplay that everyone admired last-minute, so it was pretty nice to get this after he got all that recognition for my work.  >.<

But that’s not all—he also bought me a new wallet, and it’s Evangelion, holy shit! I’ve already swapped it out with my previous decaying Zelda one, and though this one is a bit bigger, I loving having fashionable anime that low-key celebrate my status as a fan. I was the one who introduced Eva to my brother (and sister), and although I know it was thanks for the cosplay accessories, I also see it as part of a return to introducing them to one of their favorites, too.

And that about wraps things up. Lots of cool voice actors, lots of neat stuff, and lots of pics (which are hopefully coming in a separate post). Even Mary exclaimed how cool my Todoroki ice effects were, and Ian knew exactly who I was as male Junko: “That’s awesome!” he said! All the praise felt good, and for someone with a mediocre body image thing going on, it felt nice to be admired for looks, even if just superficially.

This fourth year held all kinds of surprises, despite my thinking that I had Naka all mapped out. As my fifth year comes next spring, I want to do bigger cosplays, buy even more merch and art, and meet more cool people, be it big names in the industry or simply fellow fans wanting a picture together! Thank you to all who made this year’s Naka-Kon possible, as it’s become my favorite way to spend the spring break! Also, thank you for reading this post! Let me know if any of the art or merch I got was particularly neat to you, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Haikyuu!! — Growing Together Through Challenge & Failure | OWLS “Squad”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s third monthly topic for 2018, “Squad,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard review of Haikyuu!! season one into this look at friendship and how, exactly, teamwork makes the dream work.

Although some people may like to be alone at times, we all have that one special friend or a squad of friends who we kick it and have some good laughs and fun with. However, there are friendships that don’t last a lifetime, and usually, they end due to a falling out or a misunderstanding. For this month’s topic, we will be exploring some of the best friendships in anime and pop culture, as well as the friendships that ended suddenly. We will talk about what a true friendship means to us, what we learned about ourselves and others through broken friendships, and our definitions of a “good friend.”

To uphold this OWLS favorite, I will be carrying the Haikyuu!! torch for this month’s tour! Though I’m not as passionate about this franchise as some of us are, I do hope I can contribute something of my own to the countless amazing posts out there. Thanks Lyn (and Lita) for the prompt!

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A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 25-episode spring 2014 anime “Haikyuu!!,” localized as “Haikyu!!,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Susumu Mitsunaka, and based on Haruichi Furudate’s popular shounen manga of the same name.

Rivals off the Court, Teammates on It

Shouyou Hinata began volleyball small and to this day remains one of the shortest players anyone has ever come across. Inspiration hit the loud lil’ guy when watching a volleyball ace nicknamed the “Little Giant” take the court by storm, and soon after, Hinata formed his own volleyball club in middle school. Brutal defeat in his team’s very first tournament by Tobio “King of the Court” Kageyama crushed motivations to continue the fight, though. In that moment, Hinata vowed to surpass Kageyama, but upon joining Karasuno High School’s volleyball team, Hinata found himself facing his “sworn rival” as a new fellow teammate.

Despite his unusually high stamina and powerful jumps, Hinata’s short stature gives him a bit of a hard time when it comes to finding the right role to play. Surprisingly, Kageyama, the “genius setter” himself, also struggles with teamwork issues, and only by learning to work together will Karasuno stand a chance against the fierce competition. Excellently balancing the emotional weight of sports drama with lighthearted comedy, Haikyuu!! supports two determined athletes and their endeavor to settle a heated rivalry in order to reignite their team’s once-legendary status.

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Karasuno: The Crow Flies Again

Haikyuu!!‘s first season leads us through a handful of major games set up like little arcs just like any shounen series would. On the surface, it feels like one of those “This is how I became the strongest in the world” series, and in part, that’s not the wrong impression. Beyond Hinata’s constant screaming and boundless excitement lie more interesting subplots, however, such as finding the motivation to play, understanding that loss is prevalent in the path to success, and the ever-constant conflict between upper and lowerclassmen. The series, much like the volleyball players, never sits on one of these themes for too long. Once a character’s lesson has been taught, the momentum bounces across the court to quickly become another teammate’s chance ball!

As previously mentioned, this underdog story appreciates a variety of themes crucial to the personal growth of not only oneself, but an entire team. With every demoralizing insult and crushing defeat, the need for vengeance—to prove that Karasuno will fly again—snowballs into unstoppable enthusiasm for the 12 boys (and their rugged coach, squirrelly faculty advisor, and goddess of a manager). I mean, just imagine it: Back in the day, you were THE top dogs, the ones that everyone aspired to be! And now that you’re finally able to give back to that team that gave you so much to begin with, you find yourself continuing to face loss after devastating loss. 

“To overcome difficulties, you need effort, endurance, and sacrifices.” — Ittetsu Takeda, faculty advisor

As such, it is redemption that pulls the clumsy Karasuno along, but they will fail to earn the respect (and awe) of other teams unless they dig deep within themselves and learn exactly what makes each other tick. Achieving perfected, harmonious unity comes only through knowing your friends better than you know yourself. Unless some of its more reserved members start opening up to each other, I’m afraid Karasuno will only make it so far in the seasons to come.

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Haikyuu!!‘s Unique, Competitive, Spirited Characters

I’ll start with the elephant in the room since I basically had no problems with the rest of this top-tier cast. Hinata and Kageyama are arguably the most irritating, annoying characters in the entire show—which is incredibly unfortunate given their status as male leads. These are supposed to be the two that we root for, that we want to succeed, but on more occasions than not, I was sympathizing with the other side. In their defense, even the rival teams offer compelling stories all on their own—in fact, this well-rounded attention to all of the characters is the bread and butter of Haikyuu!!—but it can be hard to cheer on the main two when Hinata is plain obnoxious and Kageyama is downright rude. By this first season’s end, I started to feel somewhat proud for how far they had come (recalling their earlier bickering and resistance to work together), and I do see myself warming up to them more in the next season.

If you’re asking me who the title of “best boy” belongs to, can I just say all of them? I mean, really:

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Daichi’s strong and steady demeanor makes him a model team captain; Sugawara’s calm, compassionate nature was LITERALLY ME back when I did sports in high school; Asahi’s aged appearance doesn’t stop him from being the biggest sweetheart (and Nervous Nellie) in the entire show. The third years will always be my favorite characters, no matter the series, but I can’t just stop here with Haikyuu!! . . .

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Nishinoya’s overwhelming charisma not only makes him a player to be feared, but also one to be loved; Tanaka’s combo of goofy + grit never fails to lighten the mood; Ennoshita has this ability to silently relate to his friends given practically any situation; Kinoshita and Narita are always there to tame Noya and Tanaka. WHEW, looking forward to find out more about these funny second years. Of course, we can’t forget about the first years . . .

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Kageyama, despite his oppressive exterior, strives to better himself by bringing out the best in his fellow teammates; Hinata’s inner strength to bounce back from defeat will always light a fire in my heart; Tsukishima AKA “best boy” candidate offers remarks that are so freakin’ snarky I just can’t, then proceeds to back up his smugness with the most wicked of feints during a match; lastly, Yamaguchi just wants to play the game everyone loves, and works long after dark hoping to one day be of use to his team.

But #squadgoals doesn’t stop there! Looking at the other teams, Nekoma’s Kenma (voiced by Yuki Kaji, my guy) seems like your average silent character, but his catlike reflexes and calculating eyes make him the heart his high school team; and yes, even the handsome and charismatic Oikawa, a master of playing to his Aoba Josai teammates’ strengths, must be hilariously restrained by his friends from egotistically going all-out”Great King” on them!

The Forces that Unite Us

Similar to the OWLS “Team” theme from last year, we all long for connection, to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves. Not often are we granted the opportunity to bond with others so closely and celebrate the things we love. So, we have to take chances, risks even, if we wish to grow together. Haikyuu!! hits on four essential elements that build strong, long-lasting friendships (all coincidentally beginning with the letter “C”), and for every time a team member attempts one of these building blocks, beautiful, timeless moments are created.

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Consideration—to experience thought and care for another

The weight of the game all rested on second-year Tanaka’s shoulders, yet again, and again, and again, Tanaka dropped the ball. There was a small moment like this during the tournament in which Hinata, a first-year, considered saying something nice or uplifting to baldy as he has always done for him. It’s not pity, it’s empathy. Hinata knows that feeling of repeated failure. When the underclassmen start supporting the upperclassmen (or at least thinking in that mindset), you can tell that the underclassman is starting to grow not only as a team player, but as a person, too.

The older we grow, there’s a tendency for superiors to think that they exclusively must be the ones to guide the young. But in a team, that is not the case. Though there is a chain of command spearheaded by the captain, teammates are EQUALS. In school, work, or any other setting concerning a group that functions together with one goal in mind, people, higher or lower, need to support each other—to consider feelings of failure and success alike and support those who need it in the heat of the moment.

Compliments—to express praise or admiration for one’s actions

Taking it the next step forward, teammates should give credit where credit is due. One’s age, ethnicity, gender, or status does not matter—nobody is above a nice compliment. This responsibility should not be limited to the captain or upperclassmen alone, either. Sugawara gives them out all the time based on how teammates are feeling that day, and that motivation pushes everyone, especially Hinata, to do their best.

Communication—to connect with others and exchange information

A true king asks for the help of his subjects—that is what sets Oikawa, “The Great King” (and even Sugawara) apart from Kageyama, the “Dictator.” Communication is key in both sports and life in general. Kageyama cannot and should not rely on Hinata’s god-like quick ability all the time; as setter, he needs to learn how to pass to teammates like Tsukishima more, and maintain an open communication line that doesn’t look so grumpy. Gradually he improves, and I’m looking forward to see just how much better he’ll get.

Challenge—to engage in competition for the betterment of oneself

Above all, nothing pushes teammates like a little friendly fire. Ultimately, friends want to surpass the challenges that other friends set for them, and this different form of support manifests in rivalries that continue to improve, shape, and make teammates stronger. Hinata swears to be the one to take Kageyama down, giving him some purpose to his play. Nishinoya wants Asahi to give his all and never feel sorry, even if fighting a losing battle. Sugawara understands his limited role thanks to Kageyama’s genius, but he always tries to observe from afar and apply reliable tricks to shake up Kageyama’s stiff repetition. Even Tsukishima and Oikawa verbally confront Kageyama to draw out the fire within themselves!

The Birth of a Real Squad

Haikyuu!! delivers exhilarating volleyball action and inspirational sportsmanship through positive vibes, overcoming failure, and teamwork. I purposefully stuck to this first season alone to highlight the beginnings of a real squad, not the end result. Why? Because it makes each of these team-building exercises all the more powerful. Take that feast scene from the end of episode 24 for instance: it is sometimes the moments of shared silence between team members that impact viewers more than dialogue ever could. The absence of dialogue here ironically speaks volumes about Karasuno’s relationships, emotions, and mutual feelings toward their latest match. Definitely my favorite hard-hitting scene from the entire season.

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At the same time, sometimes fiercely shouting our feelings out loud can be enough to convey those shared emotions with others, as show in the way Noya motivates the guys, or Kageyama and Hinata’s release of anger by blindly yelling in episode 25. These simple, even silly, moments are what bond squad members, their goals, aspirations, and frustrations alike. Karasuno still has a long way to go, but every step these crazy guys take together allows their friendships to evolve with them.

“Someone who can’t see the opponent standing right in front of him, can’t defeat the opponent that lies beyond!” — Hajime Iwaizumi, Aoba Josai vice captain

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Afterword

I’m surprised I didn’t enjoy this series more, as it’s literally everything that I should love about a good sports series all in one package. Looking at it honestly, it probably was Hinata and Kageyama’s characters that deterred my enjoyment a bit. I’ll still definitely recommend, though! To all those interested in an emotional sports comedy with a well-rounded albeit sometimes “too loud” cast, this one should be a must. Oh! And as with these OWLS posts, I didn’t even get to talk about the music and animation! I have completed the Yuuki Hayashi sports trilogy, in which this GOD composed the music for DIVE!!, Welcome to the Ballroom, and Haikyuu!!. He’s also done My Hero Academia, Death Parade, and Robotics;Notes, so yeah, total fave. I was sad when the first ED “Tenchi Gaeshi” by NICO Touches the Walls was replaced, as it was the best song IMO. Lastly, THIS is Production I.G’s powerhouse sports series, as the animation should not be missed! (Where was this quality when Ballroom was airing??)

I’m gleefully awarding Haikyuu!! season one with the “Cake” rating, a show that’s too sweet for its own good! NOW, fans of this beloved series, HIT ME UP WITH YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS FIRST SEASON OR THIS REVIEW IN THE COMMENTS (no spoilers, please)!! I’m very happy to have finally started this show, and though my “marathon” is running a bit slow, I am STOKED to watch more seasons!

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This concludes my March 22nd entry in the OWLS “Squad” blog tour. Shokamoka (Shokamoka’s Blog of Wonders) went right before me and stole my pick wrote about the currently airing A Place Further Than the Universe, which you can read right here (SO EXCITED FOR THIS)! Now, look out tomorrow for the one who got me hooked on this Haikyuu!! madness, Naja B. (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero), with No. 6one of my FAVORITE ANIME from when I first started (ahh, the memories) this Friday, March 23rd! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

300 Followers, the Winter Olympics, and Haikyu!! | End of February Update 3/1/18

Hey hey, it’s been a while!

Two months of 2018 have passed and I have very little to show for it. Excluding the last couple days of Blogmas (because it should have concluded at the end of 2017), I have published but four posts. They’re decently long posts, some actually being my biggest posts yet, but that’s exactly it—ONLY FOUR POSTS. And there’s not really any shocking reason for my lack of content. Like any other blogger here, I get busy, life happens, and then I just don’t feel motivated enough to write about anything, let alone make the time to sit down and watch something.

I’ve considered on several occasions writing about other happenings in my life, my passions, yearnings, and what I’ve been up to besides anime. Such is why my latest OWLS post covers the 2018 Winter Olympics and not my typical post/analysis 2-in-1 method I’ve traditionally stuck to. I’m honestly considering redoing that OWLS post—if such a thing is even possible—or at least writing a follow-up to it. While I kinda feel done with the Olympics now that they’re over (which is incredibly sad, as it has been my whole life these past couple weeks), this OWLS post got very, very few notices.

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Post-Olympics Blues

I DO NOT like to brag about stats, as I believe in the spirit of conversation more than a system of likes and hits to dictate one’s success, but this last OWLS post received only eight likes. I am fortunate to have an audience that seems to get excited whenever I post something (more on that in a bit), and perhaps it’s because backdated it (something which I had NEVER done before) or that maybe the topic wasn’t for everyone, but even I know that eight likes is a strangely (and scarily) low turnout. Admittedly, it was a rushed post, no doubt, as I wanted to cover the first half of the ladies skate when I know I shouldn’t have because I was already cutting it so close to the deadline. 

Ultimately, people will read what they want to read, I know, but it was somewhat disheartening to wake up the next day only to not see the bombardment of email and WordPress notifications that I have become accustomed to.

Although, saying that I now want to redo that post probably says something about a lack of confidence in my own writing. I also don’t want to sound like I’m desperate for likes, cause that’s totally not it either! UGH, I’m just so frustrated and confused. Tell you what: if you see a follow-up post, please consider reading it, as it shall contain my true, truncated thoughts on this past incredible Olympic season—everything that I really wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it.

How about some happier news?

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I’ve Hit 300 Followers, “Officially!”

Increasing as of late, I’ve had my doubts about WordPress and the way it holds onto the blogs I follow and those that follow me. The worst horror stories I’ve heard are from those who end up getting dropped from another’s reader feed, neither side knowing of it. Plus, the “followers” number on some bloggers’ page don’t seem to add up when the WP app is saying they have a different number.

So I had my reason to be skeptical, and now I can finally—and officially—announce with confidence that Takuto’s Anime Cafe has hit 300 followers!! It took me until several weeks after supposedly hitting the mark, waiting for the count to climb to 317 to finally believe it was true, haha! For whatever reason you are here and decided to become a cafe-goer, I am sincerely thankful, and grateful to be able to communicate on a platform that offers intelligent feedback and thought-provoking comments. And to you, the reader, if it were not for your interests in me, I would not have a reason to keep on going, so thank you, really, thank you so much!

*I want to celebrate 300 followers, so if my veteran bloggers and friends have any suggestions for posts, let me know!*

 The Delayed V-Day Special Returns

Every Valentine’s day I have this tradition of closing myself off from the world, setting aside the optimal time needed to thoroughly binge a well-known franchise, if not an anime classic. Though, for some odd reason, these titles are almost always sci-fi, this year I wanted to shake things up a bit with some sports anime to fit the times. HOWEVER, my coverage on the Olympics ended up taking waaaay more time than it should have, but I try not to beat myself up about it given the four-year wait.

Thus, I ended up missing out on the V-Day special . . . UNTIL NOW, because I know I’d hate myself if I were to look back on this season and find that I skipped out.

So now, in March, I’m watching Haikyu!!. Rejoice, fam!

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For those wondering, YES, I prepare a traditional checklist for the number of episodes I have to watch on my dry-erase board. Too nerdy? Nah, I call it art. I’m thrilled to FINALLY be watching this much-loved series, and I have absolute confidence that I, too, will become a huge fan! HOORAY FOR SPORTS ANIME LOVE.

What Am I Watching This 2018 Winter Simulcast Season

Not. Much. LOL. Because I want to keep this short, I will not be chronicling all the anime I’ve watched in the past two months like I usually do. Instead, we’ll look at the ones that really matter: what everyone else is currently watching.

Devilman Crybaby – It technically counts, okay? The cancerous, trashy-ass Devilman fandom reared its ugly head when its lead bishies were transformed into . . . ummm prettier bishies in this latest “reboot” of the classic series. While I absolutely loved this show’s range of highest highs and lowest lows, I won’t spoil all my thoughts seeing as how I already reviewed it, BAM (click here to read). Wait, you’re tellin’ me my preparedness doesn’t count since it aired at the beginning of the year? Well drat, better late than never!

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A Place Further Than The Universe – Is it weird to say that between the other two epic action series here, I’m enjoying this lighthearted, clumsy trip to Antarctica the most? Abbreviated to Yorimoi, four girls set out on an adventure to the bitter-cold continent for what, a change of pace? To find one of the girl’s lost mother? To simply call themselves BADASSES? A fair mix of all of the above, actually. Each episode always has that one dramatic moment that makes you want to throw yourself overboard it’s so intense, but in a way, it contrasts the stark nothingness that would otherwise mark it as a plain slice-of-life anime. Yorimoi has substance, and as long as it continues to relish in the silly moments, embrace the hardships of reality, and provide brilliant music cues HOLY CRAP, I think I’ll be quite pleased with this one. By episode 8, we’ve just pinpointed frozen islands in the distance. However far these crazy gals go, I’m sure they’ll be alright.

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DARLING in the FRANXX – I really, really, really want to call this series a favorite of mine, but it’s just not grabbing my attention in the way I wish it would. Interesting premise, check! Likeable characters, yeah I suppose, check! Five star Trigger animation (or should I say 3-star, heh heh), check! Bottom line—Darling in the Franxx has everything it needs to really stand out against the crowd, but so far I’m a little lost at its aim. Is it gonna become the next big mecha hit like Gurren Lagann, or perhaps spiral down into the dark, emotionally messy (and favorable) pit that is Evangelion? Only time will tell, I suppose, but seeing as how I’ve watched like seven episodes now (and the next is apparently a beach episode like WAT), this series is gonna have to do a lot to build on its world and the reason why its characters behave the way they do. Again, I’m rooting for this series, which is exactly why I have to be critical of it!

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Fate/EXTRA Last Encore – I’m . . . yeah I really don’t know what this is. HUGE Fate fan over hear, yessir, but even I am confused about what’s going on. Aside from Madoka Magica and Negima!? (yes you heard me right, NEGI), I’m not a big Shaft fan. For me, it’s too abstract to the point of boredom, and the dialogue reads like I’m trying to translate poetry of a language I don’t know into another language that I, too, do not understand (like the Monogatari series, but at least that is well-written from the start). But its more Fate, and seeing as how I’m a fan of ALL of it, even the latest Apocrypha, I’ll give it the starting benefit of the doubt. To be fair, completing merely two episodes should not be the time for judgement. If it plays out like all other Fate adaptations I’ve watched so far, a thrilling adventure should be in store for us, assuming we can get past the overly bland protagonist!

Changing Weather, Changing Moods

With spring just on the horizon, I’m bundling up for winter cold in the morning and stripping down for the afternoon heat, which is incredibly taxing on my limited wardrobe, ahahaha! But seriously, as I slide out of this winter slump, hopefully I’ll feel more inspired to blog, and to return to writing reviews like I used to do so passionately in the past.

As Kausus (Otaku Gamer Zone) has tweeted multiple times, Naka-Kon is coming up in just a couple weeks! I plan to cosplay as Todoroki from My Hero Academia and a male version of Danganronpa‘s Junko Enoshima—both of which I need to complete! I’m making these cool Styrofoam pieces for Todoroki’s ice, so that should be neat once it all comes together. It’ll be my first time doing something besides clothing for a cosplay, which is why I’m particularly excited! I want to be able to share my progress and experience with you all, but I’m not sure how to document my adventure in this way. Considering Instagram . . .

Lastly, in case you missed it, I published my “thesis” on the Works of Makoto Shinkai, which you can read right here! Ideally, I’d like for this to become my most-liked post, as I poured everything that I had into research, methodology, and execution, and though it’s a long one, it’s on I feel very proud of—one of my blogging career’s crowning achievements, so to speak. So hit that post up and share it around for me, would ya? It’d mean the world!!

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I think that about covers things. Look out for an Olympics follow-up (and please give it some love) if it actually happens! Otherwise, I’ve got a fat stack of fun blogging award nominations to sort through, plus all of the lovely comments on the four posts I’ve written to catch up on. And then when I’m done with that, there’s lots of stuff from you guys I have to catch up on, and, of course, there’s always more reviews to write, AGH! Let me know your thoughts, including anything about the Olympics, a 300 followers special, Haikyuu!!, the winter simulcasts, or on even life in general, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

PyeongChang on ICE!!! Celebrating Team Spirit in the 2018 Winter Olympics | OWLS “Competition”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s second monthly topic for 2018, “Competition,” I decided to try something new. Instead of analyzing a certain anime, breaking it down to what makes it relative for the month’s theme, I wanted to chronicle a certain experience instead.

As I’m sure you all know, the 2018 Winter Olympics is happening right now in PyeongChang, South Korea. And if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I am very enthusiastic about all of the competitions that have unfolded, and the awe-inspiring feats we’ve been lucky to witness. For this post specifically, I’d like to look at Olympic figure skating, as well as some of #TeamUSA’s most incredible moments out in the wintry tundra of PyeongChang.

In honor of the 2018 Winter Olympics, this month’s topic will focus on the theme “Competition,” as the Olympics is where athletes from all countries join together to compete in sporting events. Through these games, we see how “competition” brings out the grit, the teamwork, and the competitive spirit within athletes. We will be exploring anime and pop culture media that discusses the good and the bad when it comes to competition, and what it can teach us about ourselves and the world around us.

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After consulting the OWLS team, it was brought to my attention that the Olympics does, indeed, fall under popular culture. So, in taking a slight break from anime and manga, please enjoy this figure skating recap and also a truly rare side—the winter sports fanatic side—of me, Takuto! Thanks Lyn for the exciting prompt!


A brief look into the world of figure skating—a visit to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang (Feb 9, 2018 – Feb 25, 2018) and the thrilling successes we’ve seen thus far. Again, these are all my personal favorite highlights, so for full Olympic coverage, visit their official site. None of these pictures belong to me. 

A Little Background

Contrary to what you may believe, my love for the figure skating did not begin with Yuri!!! On ICE. The popular anime which took the world by storm did make me more invested in the sport to the point where I am now, but the truth is that I’ve always enjoyed the non-typical U.S. favorites like swimming, diving, dancing, gymnastics, and of course, figure skating. I’ve never been big on sports. Like, at all. But there’s an allure to the ones I listed above—an artistic beauty—that transcends “Who can run the fastest?” and “Who can be the strongest?”

These athletes still want to be the best, but to me, their hard work and struggles translate more as a story than a game of football ever could. In a sense, figure skaters are performers putting on a show, artists who match unique music to physical movement, rhythm, technicality, emotion, and expression. Given my own background in the performing arts, I can relate to them.

So naturally, I find myself hooked to the only sport which unifies the entire world through music in one glorious cup for sportsmanship: the Olympics. Unlike figure skating’s ISU Championships, including World, European, Four Continents, World Junior Championships, and the Grand Prix (as made popular by YOI), the Winter Olympics is the only figure-skating comp which receives worldwide coverage on just about every news outlet. As such, the joys of the beautiful sport became a quadrennial treat; every four years brought a reunion for my love of the ice; likewise, every other four years, I got to enjoy some swimming.

After Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014, the Winter Olympics are back for 2018 in PyeongChang! As a half-Korean myself (my mom was adopted from South Korea many years ago), the political intensity between the North, the South, and the whole world, really, made skeptical and a bit cautious. What if something horrendous happened? How would that forever shake up world history? Here we are, almost finished with the Winter Games’ and honestly, it couldn’t have gone better! From North Korea’s permitted entry to the ENTIRETY OF NORTH AND SOUTH BEING ANNOUNCED UNDER ONE SATISFYING “KOREA,” all felt oh-so right with the world.

With what I understand, one of the loudest cheers heard in PyeongChang was actually Korea’s joint entry, and reports say that the Koreans have been overly kind and supportive of ALL teams and nations. Simply incredible spirit, and it makes my heart so happy!

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Major victories were made before the Olympics even started, and now that the brilliant cauldron has been lit, it’s time to begin the games! Here are some of my favorite skaters!

The Members of Team USA

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Bronze Medalists in the Team Event!

Nathan CHEN

Building up over months of media pressure and hype, Nathan Chen’s Olympic debut was met with love by his supporters despite a short and free program full of falls in the team event. I felt so sorry for the poor dude, as he’s ONLY 18, but hey, we all have our bad days, and Nathan’s true fans know what even a normal day looks like for him (which is, well, quad after quad after quad). After moving on to the men’s single, he turned out another disappointing performance. By this point, I just wanted him to be out of the media’s way. But then it happened: Nathan Chen had a good day. A very good day.

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For his last skate, Nathan went out and showed us what he’s truly capable of, reminding us that yes, THIS is the 2015-16 Junior Grand Prix Final Gold Medalist he was celebrated for being, one of only a handful of “Quad Kings” out there (and likely the best). In this wicked free program, he became the first skater to ever cleanly land FIVE quads at the Olympics, and, arguably more impressive, the first to try a SIXTH. If that’s not an EPIC comeback, I’m not sure what is. Nathan scored the highest free program technical score in history, pulling him up from 17th place to 5th. PLUS, he was the first to ever land a quad flip at the Olympic Games. In an interview afterward, he stated that he just wanted to “try it, as he’d been practicing it,” and that he had “nothing to lose by this point.” And BOY did it go for it! He’s young, he’s a hard worker, and he’s an absolute beast on the ice—and I can’t wait to see the heights he climbs to next.

Adam RIPPON

I’m sure the whole nation if not the world is already acquainted with this flamboyant skater, but beyond his little political skirmishes, Adam inspired many around the world as the first openly gay athlete to compete at the Winter Olympics. He’s absolutely full of himself at times, but it’s that combination of sass, charm, and pride that made him stand out in the first place. On top of it all, he’s one of the most beautiful skaters to compete in 2018; after not qualifying for Sochi in 2014, Adam went up to his roof with best friend and fellow skater Mirai Nagasu, ate junk food, then kicked it into high gear to make it to PyeongChang as a 28-year-old. His performances may not have had the highest technical base scores, but in each of the four times Adam Rippon went onto the ice, the whole world stopped for a moment and stared in awe at Adam’s swooping elegance and magnificent pride.

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Alexa and Chris KNIERIM

Showing us ultimate #couplegoals as the power of love (and hard work) pushed them to 4th place, Alex and Chris are the sweetest pair skaters out there. They didn’t score as high as they’d like to, but each performance (team and pair) was absolutely gorgeous and made me want to follow their Olympic journey via social media. The way Alexa and Chris interact is so wholesome (his giant V-day teddy bear at the kiss and cry, UGH), and they shared such a precious moment each time they skated together.

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Mirai NAGASU

Though we can’t underestimate her 2nd place victory in the team event’s ladies single free skate, Mirai’s claim-to-fame occurred when, right at the start of her program, performed the triple axel, becoming the first American female figure skater to land the stunning jump at the Olympics, and the third woman from any country to do so. She’s a fantastic skater whose programs’ base level points are always leagues ahead of the competition. Daring, kind-hearted, and supportive of her team, Mirai knows exactly what she wants and how to get it—even if it means smashing records, baby! In the ladies single short program, she missed the triple axel, causing her to fall to 9th place. But even so, she’s still a strong, accomplished Asian-American female! Girl, you rock!

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Alex and Maia SHIBUTANI

Efforts by Asian-American siblings Alex and Maia SHIBUTANI (AKA best pair!!) pulled the US forward in the team ice dance short program, scoring 2nd place with their exciting Latin dance. I just love these two so much, and their performance also made me start following the #ShibSibs on social media! BUT WAIT, they get better. In the individual ice dance short program, they repeated that exact same number and grabbed even more of the world’s attention. Finally, in what has already been a back-to-back series of best performances ever, the Shib Sibs gave everything they had left into the free dance, pushing them to win YET ANOTHER Olympic bronze to add to their incredible Olympic debut!

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Alex and Maia stand as favorites YES because of their amazing sibling bond, but also because they bring to pair ice dancing a kind of love and passion unique from the typical “sex appeal” of couples. They redefine this side of figure skating with every inspiring performance (heck, they made Coldplay’s “Paradise” actually enjoyable for the song’s haters), and I’m just so proud of their ability to monopolize on their strengths and fight on equal terms by unashamedly using their own style of pair dancing! WOOHOO! Love you Shibs!!

The Members of Team Japan

Miu SUZUKI and Ryuichi KIHARA

We were treated to a real surprise when in the pair skating short program when this pair brought Yuri!!! On ICE to the real world. Skating to Yuri Katsuki’s own free program song, the two captured the hearts of fans (myself included) and proved that YOI was more than just a show, but a phenomenon. Though they ended in 8th here, no amount of statistics or ratings could tell me that the weren’t magical in every sense of the word. LOVED THEM!

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Shoma UNO

My personal FAVORITE solo skater, this sleepy boy stole an overwhelming lead in the team event’s men’s short program by almost 15 points with Vivaldi’s Winter’s 1st Movement! Following lackluster performances from Patrick Chan (Canada) and Nathan Chen (USA),  Shoma showed up at the very end and pulled the ice out from under everyone, granting Japan those gratuitous 10 team points. Whether he knows it or not, scoring above 100 in the short (103.25) is a tremendous feat (an Olympic record, in fact), and it’s unbelievable that he’d go on to do even better in the single!

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The men’s single short program rolled around and Shoma, somehow nonchalantly, shrugged off his Olympic record-breaking skate WHICH HE JUST PERFORMED: 104.17, not the best in the world but a personal victory for the guy (leaving him in third place). Skating last in the men’s free, he was challenged by needing to overcome both Javier and Yuzuru’s perfect performances. And again, Shoma delivered!! After falling during an attempt at his first quad, Shoma began laughing to himself, letting the positive vibes of officially being done pump his adrenaline. Culminating in his final efforts to surpass his best friends and rivals, Shoma exploded in the VERY LAST MINUTE, pulling off all kinds of insane jumps back-to-back and landing them flawlessly—I honestly couldn’t believe how driven he was to reach the top! Shoma finished with Olympic Silver, placing himself right in front of Javi but before his “eternal goal, his eternal idol” Yuzuru Hanyu.

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To quote a fan I follow on Twitter:

The boy who quietly carried Japanese figure skating through two Grand Prix assignments, the Grand Prix Final, Japan Open, 4CC, the Olympic Team Event, and the individual who placed 1st or 2nd every single time. Thank you for all you’ve done. I am so proud of you.

Shoma Uno had yet to completely step out of Hanyu’s shadow, but in the 2018 Olympics, Shoma proved to the world that he was more than worthy of standing among figure skating’s greatests. Now, go get some sleep, my guy—you’ve got a lot of video gaming to catch up on!

Yuzuru HANYU

At this point, I’m not even sure what I can add about Yuzu. Coming out of a terrible ankle injury in 2017, Hanyu just began jumping again a few weeks before the Olympics. He had a lot to live up to as the best skater in the world, but he was more than determined to fight for his championship title. Winning gold at the Sochi Games in 2014, was Hanyu honestly able to hold his own against the world?

Clearly, we had nothing to worry about.

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Claiming first in both the men’s short and free programs, Pooh-kun rained down from the heavens, shocking viewers who were unfamiliar with the tradition of his fans. Yuzuru’s performances were absolute healing wonders, his short program’s technical score breaking the previous Olympic record (which I believe he had set). Nathan Chen might’ve broken the record for the free, but Yuzuru’s consistency in executing his masterpieces made him the real gold winner here.

At the end of a long and stressful season, Yuzuru Hanyu—the living legend, the King of the Ice—defended his Olympic Championship title, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Among all his other successes, he will be remembered as the skater who rose from injury to infinity through sheer strength (and unity) of body and mind, a reminder not to underestimate the great athlete of Japan.

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Competition Around the Globe

Javier FERNANDEZ (Spain)

One of the few skaters I knew before the Olympics, Javi is such a charmer both on and off the ice. Though he’s rinkmates with defending champion (among many, many other titles) Yuzuru Hanyu, even sharing the same coach (Brian Orser), there’s never any animosity detected between the two. The two are real dorks around one another, actually, and when Shoma’s there, it’s the GPF triplet that goes waaaay back. I have Javi on this list not only because he skated excellently (earning a season’s best in both of his skates, ultimately placing him in third), but also because he became the first skater from Spain to ever medal in the Olympics. Following Shoma’s skate, Javi told Yuzuru that this was likely the end of his career, to which Yuzu broke down into tears repeating “I can’t do this without you.” As if my heart hadn’t shattered enough, in a closing interview, Javi confirmed that he was pulling out of the the World Championships in Milan. The accomplished Spanish skater unexpectedly swooped in and snatched my heart, proving that long-lasting friendship IS possible (and beautiful) in competition.

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That concluded the men’s single: Javier, Shoma, and Yuzuru—dream results for any longtime fan of this GPF trio of friendship!

Gabriella PAPADAKIS and Guillaume CIZERON (France)

Papadakis is an incredible skater who shouldn’t have had to deal with a wardrobe malfunction—of all things—at something as big as the Olympics. What hurts even more was that BOTH their short and free programs were flawless, meaning that they WOULD have taken first (which they held for a while), as their score in the free was a point higher than reigning champions Tessa and Scott of Canada’s free score (which also means they would’ve set a world record). Heck, the poor woman should’ve been given extra points for coping with such a trivial matter! But unfortunately, that’s not how the game is scored, and the show must go on.

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Evgenia MEDVEDEVA (OAR)

Ahhhh, oh Evgenia. Beloved as an 18-year-old Russian superstar and a open young fan of anime and Japanese media, Evgenia didn’t let a foot injury sustained back in 2017 stop her from continuing to achieve new heights. She opened up the ladies short program in the team event by breaking her own record set in the short—of which she broke again in the single short program! Perfect jumps, strong lands, and masterful conveying of emotion EVERY TIME. Also, her arrangement of Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp Minor (No. 20) was so, sooo beautiful. I’ve really come to love Evgenia’s journey both as an anime fan and the world’s greatest female skater. She always seems to have fun with the sport and its peoples, but also never underestimates their abilities and individual hard work. If you enjoy watching young champions fight for their title, be sure to follow Medvedeva in the last event of the Olympics, and perhaps beyond this great competition!

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Alina ZAGITOVA (OAR)

A rising star in figure skating, 15-year-old Alina Zagitova poses more of a threat to Evgenia’s supremacy than any other female skater in the world. She’s already bested her in one major competition, and Alina’s only direction is up. Alina’s style is very Russian, sticking to classical music, the finesse of ballet, and using her slender figure to pull off some explosive jumps. Zagitova is chaos perfected, and as she maintains the lead on the ladies single short program, surpassing Evegenia’s newly set world record RIGHT AFTER SHE MADE IT, you can guarantee that the thrilling free program finale will continue the Olympic Battle of the Russian Princesses.

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Aliona SAVCHENKO and Bruno MASSOT (Germany)

Of all the stories here, Aliona’s surprisingly is my favorite. When the Aliona first stepped onto the scene, I found her looks to be way too “prickish” for my tastes. But once the downbeat of “That Man” by Caro Emerald played, Savchenko burst into life, becoming the fiercest, sassiest woman in the entire stadium. Love may be a drug, but the charisma Savchenko was addictive. Their performance was more engaging and playful than any of the pairs’ out there, and though she was able to hold up 3rd in the team’s short program (right in front of the Knierims), they fell apart in the team’s free.

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This was Savchenko’s FIFTH FREAKIN’ OLYMPICS and all she wanted was the gold. FIVE OLYMPICS. The woman is old, 34, and her time in the spotlight was quickly fading—if it wasn’t going to be here, it was never meant to be. In terms of Olympic records . . . five visits, over twenty years of waiting, many partners, and only two bronze medals to show for it? Yeah, she wasn’t going to have a single mistake.

So she skated her heart out in the pair skate short and free programs—with Massot, of course. For someone her age, physically, this was the end. To her, age was just a number. And though one may call it luck, or chance, or even karmic destiny, it was really Savchenko’s unwavering passion for victory—and Massot’s want to not fail her—that finally, FINALLY won Aliona Savchenko the gold medal. Earning the highest score ever recorded in pairs free skate, it was one of the most masterful, intense dances I’ve ever seen in my life, and it ended in her crumbling to the ice smiling, crying, winning.

In her fifth trip to the Winter Olympics, Aliona Savchenko finally won gold. 

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Through her competitive edge and triumph, I saw firsthand that hard work, grit, and perseverance will never let a person down. When faced with failure: try, try, try, and try again. One day, you’ll get there, and the achievement will be everything that you dreamed of and more.

“All competitors who are competing here are really strong, not only in body, but strong inside because we are sportsmen.” —Evgenia Medvedeva

Bringing it All Together

I think I’ve fanboyed enough about the Winter Games. Unlike any other competition in the WORLD, the Olympics has the power to unite practically all people on the planet in harmonious sportsmanship. It’s a fun, vibrant time to be alive, always full of excitement, team spirit, friendship, and the hope that we can reach our true potential through bridging the language barrier and competing against the best and the brightest. The world is much larger than we often think, and by watching the Olympics, we are reminded that talented, hardworking individuals reside all over the place—the Olympics just grants them the spotlight, and helps draw out that spirit for all to see.

If you missed the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, never fear—you can always catch highlights on the news, as I’m sure the athletic high will linger for a while longer. I can’t encourage you enough to join everyone in Tokyo 2020 for the Summer Olympics, and then back in Beijing for 2022—the completion of this Asian circuit!

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Did you have a favorite sport to watch this winter? What teams, individuals, or pairs did you find yourself cheering for? Favorite moments? Believe it or not, there’s SO much I left out (like Canada’s victories, China’s tranquility, and Italy’s cool numbers), so I want to know all about YOUR Olympic viewing journey! Don’t forget that as far as figure skating is concerned, the ladies free is still left on Thursday—a thrilling battle between the Russians, no doubt! Let me know what you thought of this coverage post down in the comments!

This concludes my February 20th (whoops!) entry in the OWLS “Competition” blog tour. Anituber Gigi of Animepalooza has a video for you on one of her favorites, the rivalries in Yowamushi Pedal which you can watch right here! Catch the amazing Irina (Drunken Anime Blog) today, February 21st, on the beloved Hikaru no Go, as I’m positive it’ll be an impressive write-up (as always)! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host