My Top Five Favorite OWLS Posts That I Wrote in 2019

Hello all!

I figured I try to get this post out there before the new year began, so here we are once again to celebrate some of my writings throughout 2019. Can you believe I’ve been with the group since the beginning? That means I’ve written exactly 36 OWLS posts since our founding! As I did in 2017 and 2018, I’ve compiled a short list of favorites from this third round of posts. In the spirit of the New Year and bidding the old farewell, these are posts that represent my journey through anime, and some of the major life lessons I’d like to share with you, the reader!

As I mention every year, *clears throat*, “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’re feeling the urge to relive each month’s thought-provoking topic.

On my site’s menu, you’ll see that OWLS has its own tab (and rightly so), so you can find all the other pleasant posts I wrote in 2019 that didn’t make this list. Alright, here we go, a look at Takuto’s OWLS participation in 2019!


RUNNER UP:

Tour #26 February – A Story That Loves Love: Go For It, Nakamura! | OWLS “Adore”

We open with a sweet one that is near and dear to my heart. It’s Syundei’s Go For It, Nakamura, and is the second manga to be featured as an OWLS post on this blog. Why didn’t this bumbling klutz make the cut? As wholesome as the story was, a single volume doesn’t allow for as much depth as a 24-episode anime might, so it just barely makes the runner-up spot on the grounds of being too short and sweet for its own good. But don’t worry, I feel the others are worthy contenders in their own right!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Love yourself to the fullest capacity that you can.
  • Crawling out of your shell is a scary experience—do it anyway.
  • Sometimes, we need friendship more than romance.

NUMBER FIVE:

Tour #28 April – Chasing You, Chasing Me: The Heart of Run with the Wind | OWLS “Masculinity”

The first half of the year was arguably full of my better works, but we slide into number five with this little character analysis over my favorite title of 2018, Run With the Wind.  Y’all know I’m a hoe for one Haiji Kiyose, so it shouldn’t come across as a surprise that I’m happy to be able to write about him and this series whenever I get the chance! Plus, I thought he was a less-than-stereotypical choice for a post about “masculinity” (if you catch my drift). Ahh, the whole Kazetsuyo series I did just takes me back to watching this wonderful series!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • We are not as tough as we seem—be sensitive to other’s emotions.
  • Run with your feelings, not against them.
  • Run life at your own pace, but run with others when you can.

NUMBER FOUR:

Tour #27 March – She Flies Again! The Stellar Women of Space Battleship Yamato 2199 | OWLS “Feminine”

Run With the Wind gave us a cast full of incredible men, but March also showed up with  the equally remarkable women aboard the space battleship Yamato. A masterpiece of storytelling and character drama in itself, the “Feminine” OWLS tour allowed me to give special spotlight to some of anime’s most underrated galactic heroines. So much raw talent and spirit flies with the Yamato‘s crew, but were it not for these particular ladies, it is doubtful that the ship would have made it across the stars at all.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Lead with the heart, always.
  • One should always value honor in their craft.
  • Embrace diversity—it can often be one’s greatest strength.

NUMBER THREE:

Tour #25 January – The Conviction to Change in Bunny Girl Senpai | OWLS “Metamorphosis”

We’re heading back to the very first tour of 2019 with the infamous yet beloved Bunny Girl Senpai. I distinctly remember the first three episodes of this series taking the anime community by storm as it walked us through Sakuta Azusagawa and Mai Sakurajima’s fateful encounter with one another. The sheer emotional drive from this single hour of content was what pushed me to dedicate an entire post to this first mini story arc, and boy has it still stuck with me to this day. Eclipsing intense drama with a quick-witted romance, Bunny Girl Senpai offered more fun, multi-layered character growth than most modern anime could dream of.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Until we open up to others with our problems and allow each other to see why we are hurt, confused, or scared, we’ll never be able to understand one another
  • There will always be something we hate about ourselves, something to regret.
  • However, we can always try to change ourselves to make our lives better.

NUMBER TWO:

Tour #30 June – Sarazanmai & The Price of Connection | OWLS “Vulnerable”

Back when the heat of the summer first hit us in June, I distinctively recall being nervous to post this one. And yet, here it is as one of my favorites from the year. Despite its wacky narrative and silly premise, I will probably always hold Sarazanmai near and dear to my heart. I resonate so much with each of the series’ characters, Enta’s story particularly being the highlight of this post. Burdened with unrequited love yet the desire to connect with others anyway, Sarazanmai shows us how good things can come to good people, so long as they can stomach the pain of potential loss. It was an odd one for sure, but oh-so full of heart—that I can guarantee you.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • So long as we try to reach out to others and form connections, we’ll always be vulnerable to attack, physical or emotional.
  • But more importantly, just by trying, we’ll always have the chance to be happy.
  • Love yourself, and cherish the bonds you form.

AND FINALLY, NUMBER ONE:

Tour #33 September – Michiko & Hatchin, Two Against the World || OWLS “Lover”

Did my pick for #1 surprise you as much as it did me? Before writing this post, I reread through all of the OWLS posts I wrote in 2019 (as I do every year), and was really caught off guard by how emotionally charged I sounded in this post, haha! I truly meant it when I said “Michiko & Hatchin slaps differently now,” as wow, it really is a wild ride through the messy side of intimate relationships.

So much of this series is full of broken relationships and shattered hearts. In other words, as much as I pride myself on the optimistic values of connection and happiness in Sarazanmai, Bunny Girl Senpai, or even Run With the Wind, at the end of the day, we’re all people. And people, as I’m sure we all know them, make mistakes. We screw up, badly, and often leave certain ties to rot and eventually fade away. Michiko & Hatchin is a story about our failures to develop healthy relationships with people—but also a bold tale of resilience, determination, self-growth, and rebirth for two young women just trying to find love in a world that gave up on them seemingly from the moment they came into it. Perhaps it’s that futile yet noble pursuit of love that made September’s “Lover” tour my favorite OWLS post of 2019.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Love can be a curse that ties people down in the past, entrapping their emotions in the present to those memories long-gone.
  • Having a lover can also make us do rotten things to other people to make sure our relationships are protected.
  • People will come and go all throughout our lives. Surround yourself with the good ones: those who give love, not take it.

I WILL Be Catching Up On All Your Posts, Too!

Within the next couple weeks, I’ll slowly be reading through each and every last OWLS post from 2019 in an attempt to catch-up before the new year gets too underway. It’ll be an intense endeavor (as it always is), but I kinda look forward to it as a sort of OWLS tradition I hold to myself. So, be on the lookout for my Twitter spam of your guys’ posts as my way of giving back to you. You’re all fantastic writers, and I wouldn’t be in OWLS were it not for this ever-growing family!

But anyway, that’s my line-up for this year. What did you think? Was there a post you were shocked to see up there, or perhaps one you remember liking that didn’t make the list? I assure you that it was actually pretty difficult narrowing it down to just five, but I’d love to hear YOUR thoughts on my OWLS 2019 tour entries! Thank you all so much for a wonderful year with this group—I eagerly anticipate another set of 12 OWLS posts I can add to my blogging “resume” in 2020! More year-in wrap-ups and updates will be coming before New Year’s, so until then, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

See you back soon!

– Takuto

2019 Holiday Haul #2 – Cyber Monday Deals || RightStuf Pickups

Hello all!

I’m back for day two of showing off all the stuff I bought for the holidays this year. Honestly, I spent waaay too much on myself, haha. But it’s so hard to pass up great deals on anime and manga you know you’ll want to have in your collection eventually, right?

So I splurged, as I often do, and here’s what I picked up through RightStuf’s 2019 Cyber Monday sale—enjoy!

Oof, we’re starting off with a strong one, and one of my favorite releases of the year no less. Space Battleship Yamato 2202 is one of those sequels that I normally wouldn’t recommend, if only the studio didn’t do such a fan-FREAKING-tastic job at reanimating the story for the modern day. This is my personal favorite remake of a classic series, and although it’s not everything I wanted Yamato’s sequel to be, it is told EXACTLY as the original story was, if not better on every front.

More pictures of the box and the art book. Funimation did such an incredible job making this as similar to their 2199 release as possible—as a collector, I am thankful to own such beautiful cohesive sets. The back of the Blu-ray shows off stunning art of the series’s villains, and while the art book is a little more bland than the previous one, it’s still a great bonus!

Ughhh the reverse side of the Blu-ray features gorgeous art of the side protagonists of 2202 preparing to engage the enemy. I love the violet sky and ship looming in the background. The discs are also uniquely designed with artwork from the series.

And if you were wondering what was inside that silver box up top, YES, we got some high quality art boards featuring artwork from the original Japanese releases. Really wish I could frame ALL of them, but alas, I’ve got very little space to spare. Kinda weird how there’s a duplicate of one of the cards . . . maybe I’ll give it to my brother or something, as he’s also a fan.

Up next is some more classic mecha stuff, this time with Gainax’s hallmark Gunbuster and it’s sequel recap/rebuild film Diebuster. Other than the fact that this franchise is absolutely iconic to the genre, I know very little about it. Spoiler alert, there’s a high chance that this will be my pick for my Valentine’s Day special, but we’ll see!

While the first season from the 70s or 80s (can’t remember) is long out of print here in the states, the second season is fairly easy to pick up. Here are all three volumes I picked up for like $2 each, and just like the films each release comes with its own little art book—such a pleasant little addition! Happy to finally be able to explore this lost gap in my Gainax history!

Lots of Aniplex stuff was/is on sale this year, and while I had no original intent on picking up the second half of Aldnoah.Zero (those who’ve seen it know why), I decided to snag them up before they went OOP like all of Aniplex’s older releases seem to be doing.

For half price off, just $15 each, I really didn’t want to miss out on owning this series complete if I ever turned the other cheek in the future. It’s not a great sequel, but I love this series nevertheless. Here are the reverse arts of the DVD, which I personally leave on display this way cause the warm color palette for these two DVDs congrats nicely with the cool-toned blue and turquoise of the first season sets.

Lastly for anime is this little one, Maria the Virgin Witch (clearly keeping up with the space/mecha theme, I know). In all seriousness, I picked this series up because it was recommended to me years ago at Naka-Kon and I never ended up watching it for some reason. Well, that changes now, and for $11 how could I resist!

Last but not least, I bought more manga! Continuing with volumes 4-9 in my collection, here we have the majority of what the second cour is currently adapting if I’m not mistaken. Guys, I unashamedly LOVE Fire Force. I find the series to be tons of fun, the bits of unnecessarily flashy fan-service aside, and the character outfits/designs are just the coolest in my eyes. I’ll actually be cosplaying little Shinra Kusakabe in March, so I’m really excited to beef up my manga knowledge of the flame hero!


There it is, the second of more holiday hauls to come. Like the first haul’s unintentional blue-green blend of items, this haul is also by chance themed out for a color. Can you tell what that is? (HINT: It’s the color of FIRE.) Feel free to share your thoughts on any of these pick-ups down in the comments, and I’ll see you all tomorrow with yet another batch of anime-related goodies!

– Takuto, your host

2019 Holiday Haul #1 – Black Friday Sales || RightStuf & Sentai

Hello all!

Apologies for dropping off suddenly for another two weeks, I was ridiculously busy with finals (and pretty much everything else since Thanksgiving). But finals are OFFICIALLY behind me as of last Wednesday. I took a couple more days off to relax with family, and now I’m back. Glad to be here in this space once again!

As the title of this post implies, this is the first part of MANY a holiday haul posts, some being orders made during the sales, others being orders that were placed months ago and are now slowly trickling in. I hope you stick around with me as this month of holiday sale shenanigans goes on.

With part one, I’m taking us back nearly three weeks now to the Black Friday sales of our favorite online retailers for anime goodness: RightStuf and Sentai Filmworks!

First up from the epic Sentai sale this year is the Princess Principal LTD ED set. This thing is absolutely stunning, with gorgeous gold foil printing layered over a soft matte box. The spine alone speaks volumes about the quality of this set.

Peeking inside, we’ve got the Blu-ray, the signature Sentai box-of-stuff, and not one, not two, but THREE art books. WOW. The first is a storyboard collection for the first episode, while volume two contains character art, scenery, the goods etc. The third is loaded with staff and cast interviews, which is perfect for fans of the sub. Personally, I have no idea what this show is even about, aside from the fact that it’s got steampunk vibes and it was dubbed in English with ACCENTS. I’m shook.

Gosh, there’s so much to love about this set. I originally told myself that I’m holding off on Sentai LTD EDs due to space, but I couldn’t resist this one for just $40 (although it did go even cheaper the next sale :/).

Also, ALSO, the box isn’t full of nicknack stuff that I wouldn’t care about. Instead, it’s got a lovely cloth poster (with unique art!) and a metal steampunk coaster set, which I am legit currently using. Nice one, Sentai!

I picked up some other Blu-rays from the sale for other’s gifts, but they won’t go in my collection so I won’t bother showing them off. Instead, you can indulge in Love Stage!! with me—and yes, it’s got the new dub! I haven’t actually seen this series, so this’ll be a fun one for me to dive headfirst into, heh heh.

Onto the books, we’ve got the two newest volumes of my favorite LN series, SAO volume 17, “Alicization Awakening,” and A Sister’s All You Need. volume 5. Really hyped to continue reading the War of Underworld story!

Next is the third volume of Our Dreams at Dusk, another series that I’m waiting to have the volumes of before starting, as well as some VOFAN stuff. Here’s the novelization of Makoto Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters per Second: one more side and VOFAN’s art/storybook Colorful Dreams. I bought it thinking it’d be your typical art book, but instead it ended up being an anthology of 1-4 paged short stories with full art spreads. Hopefully it’s a good one.

Last for this haul is the long-awaited Millennium Actress Blu-ray release by Shout Factory! Continuing with the rescue of Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece films, I’m stoked to see what the buzz has been about this one. Since this one is technically a pre-order from the Shout Factory store itself, it came with an exclusive lithograph/poster of the release’s cover. Not sure what I’ll do with it yet, but it’s nice to have!


And there you go, the first haul of many for this holiday season! I didn’t realize it until I had all of the items together, but there’s a beautiful blue-green theme going on here. It’s certainly nice when odd stuff works out like that, isn’t it? Anyway, let me know your thoughts on any of these pick-ups down in the comments. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host

A Fall Haul (Part 2) – Figures, Soundtracks, & Shirts || Amazon, Tokyo Otaku Mode, and More

Hello all!

Let’s not waste a minute of each other’s time and jump straight into things! This is the second half of my fall anime-related pick-ups. Be sure to check out part one here if you haven’t already, and without further ado, let’s dive in! And speaking of making a splash . . .

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We’ll start at the top with some soundtracks. Adding to my Tatsuya Kato Free! OSTs, here are the soundtracks for The Bond and The Promise, as well as High Speed – Starting Days. LitaKino and I gab all the time about how great Kato’s work is, especially for Free!, and now I’m just waiting on the season three soundtrack to arrive in the mail! Oh, and here’s a random soundtrack (“Volume 3” to be specific) for The Vision of Escaflowne, which has some of the series’ most iconic works by Yoko Kanno on it.

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The other soundtrack I picked up is technically a 4-in-1 for all of Sword Art Online seasons one and two by Yuki Kajiura. Y’all already know how much of a Kajiura fan I am, so picking this up was inevitable. What made me finally cave was seeing it for like $30 on Amazon or eBay, and when you consider that it’s basically four cours worth of excellent music, buying it was a no-brainer. It’s been my jam for the past month, and the set comes with a nice little full-spread illustration of all four arcs!

I’m someone who prefers subtlety when it comes to showing off my love for anime. Logos or silhouettes usually are enough for me, but I prefer an added creativity my anime shirts. One of my favorite purchases this month was this order of four shirts from TeePublic, an online graphic tee retailer that partners with artists and prints their designs on shirts. The site occasionally does these storewide discounts where all t-shirts are basically just $10, so it’s the perfect time to shop for otaku apparel. In the top left is a super retro-looking Evangelion-themed shirt with the show’s famous ED lyrics flying across space. Love the small details like the lance and the 5th Angel. To the right is a simple Ghost in the Shell tee inspired by the 1995 window scene. Clean and classic.

Bottom left is a fun Danganronpa x Starbucks blend which speaks for itself. (We proudly wear the queen across our chests, yes we do.) And the last one (and my personal fave) is this vintage-looking Ranma 1/2 shirt with female Ranma and P-chan in the center with Chinese design work around them. Something about the bright infrared and teal combo here makes this iconic duo so eye-catching, and because it is purposefully designed to look EXTRA anime and vintage-y, I totally love wearing it in public with a pair of black jeans.

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Onto the Nendos! Up first is Phichit Chulanont from the popular Yuri!!! On ICE. I had no initial intentions of picking this figure up, but after seeing him sittin’ there all cute in the background of Simply Gee’s videos, I eventually caved in. What really helped, however, was that Amazon was having some of Good Smile’s Orange Rouge figures on sale, so this lil’ guy was only $27 once you add in tax. He looks so pleasant just chilling there with his selfie stick on my shelf, I just love him!

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Here’s the other Orange Rouge I picked up from the Amazon sale. It’s the Uniform Version of little Kenma Kozume from Haikyu!!, and he looks absolutely adorable standing with the rest of my cat-related items on my shelf. Again, I wasn’t ever planning on picking this guy up, but for just $15 I couldn’t say no! The coloring in his hair has always drawn me in, and I’m glad he’s such a low-maintenance Nendo to keep up with.

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Up next is Kino and Hermes from Kino’s Journey! Ahhh, this was such a long-awaited pick-up, and I’m so glad to finally have ’em in my collection. (You have no idea how quickly I added this to cart when TOM put up the re-runs.) This Kino is particularly modeled after how she appears in recent reboot, The Beautiful World, so the model looks really pretty with all its deep green shades. The dark teal ombre in Kino’s hair is really gorgeous, and with so many accessories to play with, there’s lots of posing options with this one!

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Last but certainly not least for Nendos is Alice Synthesis Thirty from SAO Alicization, and WOW is she a beaut! Like with Kino, there’s lots of variability in posing. With her golden petals dancing around her, this figure can take up quite a bit of space depending on how she is posed. While I think they could’ve done a better job with the special effect petals, I’m really happy with how the armor and coloring turned out. (She looks so fierce!) And once she’s be together with Kirito and Eugeo, the Rulid Trio will be complete! ;_;

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And the final figure I have for this haul is the “Age of Heroes” Shouto Todoroki figure. There’s nothing super special about this $20 prize figure, aside from the fact that I really like the face sculpt for this one. You might say he looks a little bland, and you’re not wrong, but I personally think he looks better than even some of the pricier Todoroki figures on the market. Anyway, here’s another one to add to the Todoroki shrine I’ve got building up, heh heh heh, and I don’t plan on stopping here!


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This second half is much shorter than the first, but I figured it was appropriate to divide it up anyway since the subject manner was so different. If you want me to get up and personal with any of these figures, let me know and I can make an entire post for them—same goes for any of the LTD ED Blu-ray sets I showed off in the last haul post! There’s lots to catch up on before winter gets underway over here, so I better end this before I get too carried away. Now just to clean all this up . . . oh the joys of having a collection, haha. ‘Til next time everyone!

– Takuto, your host

A Fall Haul (Part 1) – Anime & Manga Pick-Ups || RightStuf, Sentai, and More

Hello all!

I am officially back from Canada and on fall break! The conference went swimmingly, Montreal was beautiful, and I spent lots of money on some of the most delicious food I’ve ever eaten. It is easily one of the best trips I’ve ever gone on, such a gorgeous city, and being with just my two professors made us feel like the closest group of friends ever. I’ll never forget it, and hopefully my return to the wonderful land in the North won’t be before too long now.

But you’re here for a haul, that’s right. I really need to space these things out better, cause we’ve got THREE months of stuff to catch up on! The last time I did this thing was in August, so here before you now is all the anime-related goodness I’ve picked up in September, October, and November. I’ll probably split this into two halves just so I can go into greater depth about each item. Now, let’s get to it!

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Our first anime LTD ED is Funi’s release of Steins;Gate 0, and might I add that a) this is probably one of the nicest sets the company has ever released, and b) that it is so freakin’ nice to finally own this series after pining after it for YEARS. The chipboard box is slightly holographic on both sides, showcasing some of the JP Blu-ray art. Included is a neat little reference/art book, an Amadeus acrylic phone stand (which I actually use daily!), a vibrant green Upa strap, and the first half of the series on Blu-ray/DVD.

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Inside the extras box are nice art boards featuring ALL of the JP Blu-ray covers, which is always awesome to have. Each art card is layered with a green holofoil effect that kind of reminds me of The Matrix. It’s a neat collection of prints to have, and overall this set just feels very premium. Clearly, lots of thought went into making this release shine, and to think I was able to snag it up brand new on eBay for just $40!

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Next is another highly anticipated Funi LTD ED release I’ve been dying to add to my collection: it’s Free! – Dive to the Future, and boy is this another fine release. I really like how Funi has been doing more to go out and replicate the JP Blu-rays, as this set features much of the JP cover arts pieces scattered throughout. I really like how this set matches the other Free! sets I have, and the art book, oh man the art book! It’s got lots of fun stuff in it, from exclusive promotional artwork to character bios stylized as if each character had actually “written” them.

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Contained in a separate envelope (grrrr) are a small collection of screencaps from the ending theme printed on holographic paper. They’re a nice bonus, even if I don’t really have any place to hang them. Perhaps I should put all these LTD ED prints in a photo book or scrapbook of some kind . . . Anyway, glad to have all of Free! (so far) on Blu-ray! And another $40 eBay find, hooray!

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Two reasons why I bought this next set: 1) We’re a KyoAni stan, and 2) it was $20. This is one of the Funi sets featured in the most recent pre-holiday sale at RS, and while I’m honestly not a huge fan of this set (and the show) in general, for just $20, c’mon, I couldn’t say no.

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I’ve actually seen the show, but subbed, so it’ll be fun to rewatch it in the dub. I remember liking the characters, but seeing as how I’m not a big fanservice guy, there wasn’t much else for me in this one.

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Oh yeah, and there’s a separate envelope (grrrrr) full of cool lenticular cards. Unfortunately (for me), it’s just art of the girls with their school uniforms and, when tipped in just the right direction, art of them in their swimsuits. Again, not for me, but the colors are fun enough.

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Also in the sale (and for just $20) was the LTD ED for 91 Days. Although it was a blind buy for me, I have a feeling I’ll enjoy it. The leatherbound textured box is a nice touch, and an art book is ALWAYS a plus for me.

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Continuing with the theme, in a separate envelope (GRRRRR) is a small collection of art cards with art from the JP Blu-rays on them. From what I can tell, it’s a really nice, stylish set for an anime original series!

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This next one has a special story. Ever since this collector’s edition set was announced, I’ve been pining after for it, scouring eBay day and night for a decently priced offer. I’ve seen it go in and out of stores and sales like no other, so years after its release, I was really starting to think I wouldn’t ever pick it up. So, I settled for less and scored a deal for the LTD ED set . . . only for this to go on sale for $50 just a couple months later. Here I am now, having double-dipped in this series, but with no regrets!

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Look at it. LOOK AT THIS SET. The box has a gorgeous green beveled foil leaf pattern on it, which feels very premium when paired with the deep black matte texture of the box. The box alone is worth the price of admission, but we’re just getting started. The discs are held onto this massive digipak, which isn’t my preferred method of storage, but works well with the set. On the back is full art of each of the four main visuals for the series’ two halves, which is something I definitely wanted with whatever version of the show I decided to own. My sticker set was a bit mangled, but I don’t plan on really using it.

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The real catch here is the art book, which features over 200 pages of character and background art. Wit’s painted scenery and landscapes provide such a unique atmosphere to this show, and having this book full of pretty location art is just a joy. Also, more character art cards, and each showcases a cover from the JP Blu-ray releases! I’m honestly just so happy to have this exquisite, high quality set on my shelves!

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We’re on the last of the limited editions Blu-rays, and holy crud did Sentai knock this one out of the park. For starters, gone are the oversized DVD box sets, as they’ve started slimming down for space-conscious collectors like myself. Next, the matte full-wrap landscape art on the box—love it. There’s also the signature Sentai box of stuff (which fits IN the box), as well as not one but TWO art booklets, one being storyboards for the first episode.

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Inside the box are sticker sets and a dog tag, neither of which I’ll likely end up using, but the filler box art itself is pleasant and iconic to the series. I honestly think this is one of Sentai’s best sets to date, and if they were to keep up with this size and quality of release, I just might end up buying ALL of their sets!

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Onto the standard BDs, we’ve got some housekeeping to do with My Hero Academia Season 3 Part 1 and The Ancient Magus’ Bride Season 1 Part 2. Not much to say about them other than that I’m glad to be able to keep filling out parts of the collection with more content from some of the best stories out there.

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More housekeeping with the second and FINAL set of Sailor Moon Stars. I’ll forever have gripes with how Viz could’ve made these sets look much, much better. But at this point, all I feel is an overwhelming gratitude toward Viz for bringing us the end to this classic series for the FIRST TIME EVER in the States. It has been a long time coming, almost six years in the making, but the journey has been wonderful. I can’t wait to see how this series comes to a close! And oh yeah, picked up Metropolis cause it was cheap on Amazon (and more cyber punk, yay), as well as Hitorijime My Hero cause we a BL dub stan up in this club.

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Last for the BDs are an assortment of $7-$12 Maiden Japan titles from the RS pre-holiday sale. Lots of colors! Going around, we’ve got Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, Hataraki Man, Den-noh Coil, Glask Mask, This Art Club Has a Problem!, and my personal fave that I am currently watching, Yumeiro Patissiere. Lots of colors here, and lots of anime gems!

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Onto the manga! I didn’t buy much this fall in theway of books, but one of my favorite simulcasts from the summer inspired this pick-up: it’s Fire Force volumes 1-3, and wow, how amazing the anime is at replicating Okubo’s style! It’s nearly 1:1, and I hope to continue picking up more as my reading goes along.

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I picked up some BL manga one-shots, the left being Bukuro Yamada’s Melting Lover, which also happens to be the first book published by KUMA. It’s a really nice quality publication with a softcover dust jacket, and I can’t wait to read it! The other is an older yaoi manga that I picked up on recommendation from Dynamic Dylan and Crimson, Same Cell Organism by Sumomo Yumeka. Equally excited to read this one!

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OMG, yeah, I bought a game this fall too! You should know that I’m not a gamer, but I make exceptions for some titles. Inspired by my revisit to Alicization, I snagged a used copy of Sword Art Online: Lost Song for less than $15 on Amazon. I played it once, and, heh, it’s a bit boring (as everyone warned me), but I won’t give up!

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This last item for part one of my “Fall Haul” has an interesting story. So, I’m lowkey obsessed with Abec’s work for SAO. I’ve always wanted to own the LTD ED releases, but never got the chance because, well, Aniplex. While browsing eBay one late night for used BDs, I came across the JP LTD ED box set for season two . . .

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While I had no intention of actually collecting the rest of the JP BDs, I did want this box—and the seller was giving it away for just $20. This thing goes on the market for AT LEAST a hundred, so it was in my cart before I could even comprehend it. The box now sits next to my SAO LNs as a bookend of sorts, adding a splash of color to that side of the shelf. I just love the way Sinon is posed with Kirito in this piece!

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Would you believe it that the night it arrived I actually ended up watching the first three episodes in Japanese without subs?? Haha it was surprisingly more entertaining than I thought it’d be, plus I’ve seen this beginning so many times that it makes sense without the narration. Anyway, the BD itself is a bonus—the box is the real catch here, and I’m so glad to have it on my shelf!


That’s everything for part one of the haul! Part two will mainly have figures and soundtracks in it, so stay tuned for that. Lots of money here, but don’t worry, ya boi only shops the sales, so rest assured I snagged all of these up for a decent price. What did you think of some of the shows I picked up? Are any of these LTD ED titles on your wish list, or are they already on your shelves? Let me know down in the comments! ‘Till part two~!

– Takuto, your host

Lord El-Melloi II’s Greatest Trick is its Production Value || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode summer 2019 anime series “Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files: {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note,” animated by TROYCA, directed by Makoto Katou, and based on the light novel by Makoto Sanda.

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A Clock Tower Mage

These past ten years have been fairly good to Waver Velvet, considering his major defeat in the Fourth Holy Grail War and the loss of his dear friend and servant, Rider. Faced with the immense guilt of having lived while his former mentor, Kayneth El Melloi, died in the war, Waver takes it upon himself to teach in El Melloi’s place at the esteemed Clock Tower, the center of education for mages. However, to teach as a “Lord” comes with a caveat: obey the orders of Reines, the younger sister of the deceased Kayneth, until she is old enough to rule the House of El Melloi.

Now a pawn to Reines’ whims, Waver, along with his mysterious apprentice Gray, must take on a series of cases assigned by the young blond she-devil and the Mages Association. While Reines certainly has her fair share of secrets, what perplexes our Lord El Melloi II even more is the bizarre magic behind each twisted case he encounters, and how the Clock Tower is always somehow tied to all of it.

The first half of this short series is comprised of anime-original cases, usually concluding by the end of each episode to begin something new the next. They serve as introduction to our characters and give us a glimpse into the world they live in, and while some find them ultimately pointless and poorly written, I thought they were entertaining enough. Sure, the characters could’ve been given more backstory to help define their actions in the present, but at the same time, you’re encouraged to piece together what you have seen of these characters in previous entries to surmise their full character. It’s kind of a crummy tactic though, especially if you haven’t seen Fate/Zero or Fate/Apocrypha (which the series oddly borrows a lot from character-wise).

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Following these episodic cases is the main case, the Rail Zeppelin story adapted straight from the novels. On this elusive train, rare magical items are auctioned off to prominent buyers. During the one trip Lord El Melloi II happens to be invited on, a passenger is murdered, and it’s up to Waver and the other mages, some friendlier than others, to find the killer.

Why This Isn’t A Good Mystery Series

Although a direct spin-off sequel to the classic Fate/Zero, The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II is a supernatural fantasy series that differs from other entries in Type Moon’s Fate franchise in that its main focus revolves around the element of mystery. While the show’s got enough magical fights intertwined with its mysteries to keep it visually entertaining, it admittedly doesn’t try very hard at being a “good” mystery series.

Truly good mystery series leave the art of deduction ultimately up to the viewer; the viewer should be given enough clues to solve the given case, any last-minute twists or secondary shock aside. By inviting the viewer to participate, all clues should be on the table, as well as any prior knowledge necessary to crack the case. Seeing as how mystery is derived from facts and fantasy shows are grounded in magic, it’s no wonder the two genres aren’t often seen together.

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So, El Melloi II violates one of mystery’s greatest hallmarks: stealing the power of deduction from the viewer. No matter how much you ruminate over each case, you can’t solve it. But if we can’t, who can? Well, his name just so happens to be in the title. Leave it to good ol’ Waver—a character who lives and breathes in this universe—to swoop in and teach us the trick behind the magic, all whilst leave us feeling dumb and frustrated about something we couldn’t solve from the start because the series didn’t give us enough information to do so ourselves. At least the Fate cameos are fun. Kind of.

For Fate Fans, By Fate Fans

Y’all are probably only watching this anime for one reason: Waver Velvet. And by watching, you’ll get lots of him, and it’s great. Waver channels his inner “old man” and hardly ever lets up. He yells at kids, likes doing his work in a specific cafe, and naps on his couch when he needs a break from life. But trust me, this is the same old Waver we knew and loved from the Holy Grail War. Even now, he’s chasing Rider’s shadow, and the series does a nice job at following his character arc.

Often we are shown flashbacks of young Waver in his academy days taking on risky stunts with his rich mate Melvin Weins, a frivolous dude who’s got one baaad case of hematemesis (blood vomiting). These flashbacks bridge the past and present, and if more Waver was all you were wanting from this show, you’ll more than get your fill of Fate‘s best boy.

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Reines El Melloi Archisorte steals the show whenever she’s on screen. Reminiscent of Negima‘s Evangeline A.K. McDowell or Gosick‘s Victorique de Blois, this blond-haired, green-eyed, shit-stirring loli puppets poor Waver around with her sharp tongue and crafty wit. She’s lots of fun to watch, and helps fill in more lore to this expansive franchise. Reines also uses magic often in her daily life, whether to set up a bounded field for private communications or use her mystic eyes to see something other mages cannot. The series does a nice job at portraying Reines’ abilities through such casual displays of her family’s power.

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Along with Waver and his watchful mistress are familiar faces from all across Fate. The hyperactive Flatt and honorable Svin, two of my favorite fine British lads briefly recognized from Apocrypha, loyally accompany their teacher and wield their knowledge to help solve the various cases. Or maybe they’re just trying to get closer to Gray, who is kind of this enigma the whole time that . . . well, I still don’t really know who she is (which is terrible writing on their part).

Also joining the class is the studious Caules Yggdmillennia, whom you might recall from Apocrypha as well. Same goes for Kairi, the shades-wearing bounty hunter who fought alongside Saber of Red in The Great Holy Grail War. And my favorite cameo of all, Miss Luviagelita Edelfelt, gets not just one but several episodes to prove her worth (and her wealth) without Rin there to provoke her. I swear, each time I see this woman, I fall for her overwhelming personality and haughtiness more and more. So yeah, for me, the character interactions are EASILY what make the terrible mysteries palatable. That said, it really is a show exclusively for existing Fate fans.

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TROYCA Delivers Style & Kajiura Returns to Fate

Let’s say you’re not having the characters OR the mystery elements, what else can salvage the experience for you? Well for one, the art and detailing for this series is incredible. El Melloi II really does try to take us back to Fate/Zero days with the same dark aesthetic. Drizzly weather covers London in clouds and fog, giving the setting a delicate sense of antiquity and age. Stained, wood-carved furniture, translucent glass tea cups, and intricate gold, emerald, and rose-patterned wallpaper. Decorative mansion rugs, tall arched doorways, shimmering chandeliers, and shiny stainless steel silverware. We’re in London alright.

We’re talking Ufotable levels of beauty here, and the fight scenes are just as cool to watch. Only the character designs feel less like Zero and more of Apocrypha‘s, but even this looser, more expressive style I appreciate. TROYCA really outdid themselves with this one. And would you believe me that we haven’t even gotten to the best part of the production?

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Yuki. Kajiura. Two words, one name, and without her music score, I probably wouldn’t have stuck around. Kajiura brings to El Melloi II the signature charm that all great detectives and spies in fiction have. As iconic as Mission Impossible and Agent 007, now our very own Lord El Melloi II has his own snappy and jazzy theme song, composed by the one and only. The rest of the OST is full of Kajiura’s sweeping strings, powerful chimes, glorious choir vocals, and enchanting melodies that’ll both lull the heart and signal the call to battle.

She even composed an instrumental OP, “starting the case: Rail Zeppelin,” that just screams EPIC when paired with stylish visuals. And while I thought we were done for without Kalafina (RIP), ASCA comes along to sing the ED theme “Hibari” written by Kajiura herself. Guys, you have NO idea how much I’ve been listening to this beautiful song and reflecting on its gentle, wistful lyrics.

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What Did You Expect?

If you’re no stranger to Fate like I am, you’d know that the franchise is notoriously bad at defining rules for the interworkings of its magic system. That’s probably cause there’s A LOT of different kinds of magic performed throughout all of Fate, which is likely a result of so many different minds getting a hold of the story, and thus different viewpoints in how magic should be spun.

In that respect, El Melloi II is no different than all that came before it—and with a poorly explained magic system comes practically no way to solve each of the cases presented in the series UNLESS you are somehow incredibly well-versed in the Nasuverse spellcraft or have read the novels, neither of which being likely.

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The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II is neither as clever nor as pleasant as it could’ve been, but what rare cross-universe character dialogues offers is gold for a Fate fan such as myself. You could also argue against this point, saying that the characters were poorly mixed into a story that doesn’t even need them, but at the end of the day it all comes down to expectation: How much were you expecting from El Melloi II?

Even knowing full well that it was a spin-off (and despite its direct ties to the great Fate/Zero), I still didn’t expect much from this one. I like to think that because I had such low hopes, I was honestly surprised with the quality of this series. It’s not the best mentality to go in with, but it worked for me. And hey, the series looks great sounds fantastic. Considering how awful some other Fate spin-offs have turned out, I’d call Lord El Melloi II a worthy watch for fans that have been craving even the most quaint of returns to Zero.

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Even if the Holy Grail War is over, life continues . . . to the point of absurdity. — Waver Velvet


Afterword

I ended up liking Lord El Melloi II a lot more than most, and hey, maybe it’s cause I was expecting something lame. Or maybe TROYCA and Kajiura saved it for me. Regardless, I award the series (with the benefit of the doubt) as a “Cake,” but will only recommend it to those Fate fans who have seen everything and want everything there is to see. For casual viewers, there’s otherwise not much here for you, especially if you don’t know what parts of the franchise all these different characters hail from. Any thoughts on The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II? I’d love to hear them in the comments. ‘Till the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Given: Broken Heartstrings & Unforgettable Sounds || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode summer 2019 anime series “Given,” animated by Lerche, directed by Hikaru Yamaguchi, and based on Natsuki Kizu’s manga of the same name.

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Rocky Starts, Aching Hearts

Between playing basketball at high school and dabbling on the guitar in his small band, Ritsuka Uenoyama has found himself stuck wandering the lonely desert of academic boredom. He dozes off in class, sleeps during break, and only looks forward to jamming out with a couple of upperclassmen college friends in the evening.

One day, he sees a classmate of his, Mafuyu Sato, cradling a broken guitar on a secluded staircase. Although Uenoyama makes nothing of restringing Mafuyu’s red guitar for him, Mafuyu becomes completely attached to the dark-haired musician and insists Uenoyama teach him how to play it. Uenoyama initially shrugs him off, but when he hears Mafuyu singing for the first time, his voice leaves a deep impression on him. He can’t get it out of his head, and eventually finds himself drawn to Mafuyu’s aloof yet mysterious allure.

Given is a single story split among four separate narratives, each with their own unique perceptions of the conflicts presented throughout the series. Equal parts slice of life and drama, the series follows four students in an amateur rock band and the dual romantic relationships that form among them: between shy vocalist Mafuyu and passionate guitarist Uenoyama, and between the caring bassist Haruki and stoic yet silly drummer Akihiko.

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Given is also a BL adaptation, and it doesn’t ever stray from that intent (which I respect). But hear me out. At most, the series presents its shounen ai relationships with genuine care and realism. It’s far less sugarcoated than most BL anime out there, and frankly just a really good romantic drama about curious feelings and the closet. This particular set of 11 episodes tells the story of the band coming together, their complex feelings toward one another, and specifically the growing relationship between Uenoyama and Mafuyu leading up to their first performance. The series never felt rushed, nor does it end too optimistically to be true, which is probably what I appreciated most out of the series—aside for the characters themselves, of course.

Complicated Feelings, Complex Characters

The main focal point of this series is around Uenoyama and Mafuyu’s relationship, which admittedly has a rocky start and is only littered with more misunderstandings as they go along. But somehow, like with most love stories, the two make it work.

From the get-go, Uenoyama is about as relatable as they come. Uncomfortable with relationships (in general), unsure of how to express his feelings, questioning what these sudden emotions of his are and where they come from—the whole confused teen-sexuality shebang. We see jealousy build up in Uenoyama as he unravels Mafuyu’s past relationship with another boy, and how this jealousy and regret slow down his performance both on the court and in the practice room. His declining musicianship is called into question by Haruki and Akihiko, and from there the upperclassmen work to help out his love life (and in their own unique ways). I just love Uenoyama’s character arc, and I’m really satisfied with how he grows from a dense lump of laziness to a person who actively seeks to understand both himself and his partner.

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Mafuyu. Oh lost little Mafuyu. Cute little Mafuyu. This kid really does resemble a puppy, no lie! Introverted, quiet, and reserved, Mafuyu is on a quest to reconnect with a person from his past, unbeknownst to any of his new band mates. He’s never picked up an instrument before, yet seems to have a talent for singing. This secret agenda AND hidden talent of his are what guide him to Uenoyama and the band. Little does he know that through their mutual love for music, Mafuyu’s past is dragged out into the open and exposed—but also cared for and carried together with his newfound friends. While I personally found the plot spinning him in some moments that were a bit too melodramatic, I still like Mafuyu a lot, even if he isn’t the one I identify with most.

Haruki and Akihiko, bassist and drummer, are the other pairing in this story. While doomed with an obsessive, unrequited love, Haruki secretly fawns over Akihiko, even if the guy’s a big musclehead. It’s unfortunate that Akihiko just might already have a partner, but manbun can’t help himself anyway. The way Akihiko sleeps, the way Akihiko compliments him in practice—Haruki just can’t get enough. But as the band’s “leader,” he is torn between resisting his urges and pursuing his own happiness in love, despite this directly violating his philosophy that relationships between band members just doesn’t work out in the long run.

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More of Haruki and Akihiko’s relationship will be explored in the 2020 Given film, but I really like these two dorks a lot (especially manbun) and how they make the effort to support one another and their band mates. Such bros.

Iridescence in Motion

Lerche really is my favorite animation studio, without a doubt. Given boasts a visually bright style to highlight the beauty of youth and the joys of love in this series about those two very concepts. While the screen is light and colorful nearly all the time, we see color drain as winter sets in towards the end of the series—the pivotal climax where potential heartbreak lies. I use the term iridescence because, like emotions, these luminous yellow, tangerine, and turquoise filters shift when we see the same set from a different angle. It’s clean. And it’s aesthetically pleasing.

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Giving new meaning to the phrase “lighting design,” Hikaru Yamaguchi’s strong direction really shines in both the intense moments and those of tranquility or thoughtfulness. And the attention to detail in the instruments is NUTS, not to mention the studio painting a timeless picture of modern day Tokyo. The guitars, amps, and drums look AND sound incredibly authentic, and the detailed city backgrounds are delicately crafted with architecture that mirrors real life Shibuya and Machida, down to the last little street sign and business advertisement. Lerche makes anime reality look even better than REAL life in this beautifully made series.

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Character designs also glow with this attractive and cute aura while maintaining respective ages. (It’s nice to see college dudes that LOOK like college dudes and not 40-year-old men!) Speaking of characters, I don’t really give shoutouts to seiyuus unless they particularly stand out to me, but wow, here we’ve got four fantastic leads! Shougo Yano brings to Mafuyu a high-pitched innocence that has made characters (and fans) fall for his charm left and right. Yuuma Uchida gives Uenoyama a grumpiness and stubbornness that suits his character so very well. Masatomo Nakazawa makes hearts swoon as Haruki, and I just adore his sass whenever Akihiko requests something of him. And none other than Takuya Eguchi brings this lovable lug to life, perfectly capturing Akihiko’s serious and goofy sides.

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A music anime has to have good music in it, obviously, and Given does not disappoint. Michiru provides a musical score full of chill blues guitar, casual jam session rifts, and delicate melodies to make any grown man cry. My favorite piece of music from the show is the energetic yet wistful OP “Kizuato” by Centimilimental. Mafuyu’s VA sings for us the tender ED, “Marutsuke,” which appropriately features animation of a puppy rolling around during the theme. Mafuyu also gets his own little song that I won’t spoil for you, so all-in-all, you’re in for a real treat with the music this time around!

A Given from the Start

Is it okay to be happy when you know someone you loved had to suffer for it? The answer, of course, is yes. So long as we are alive, we will always have the chance to be happy. What matters most is whether you are able to accept what has passed and move on for yourself. That’s what Mafuyu has to find out for himself; Uenoyama just nudges in the right direction, and even gives him happiness in the present.

Having watched the series, there’s still lots I want to know about. What happens to the characters from here? Does the band go on to perform more concerts? Does Uenoyama still write music for Mafuyu to sing? For now, however, this is a strong step forward for BL anime, and incredible representation for the genre as a whole.

I like music anime, great romance stories, and studio Lerche. Perhaps it was a given from the start that I’d love this show, but the series has proven that if you surround yourself with positive influences, good things will surely come your way. At times painfully resonant, other times light-hearted and fun, Given will continue to pluck at your heartstrings both throughout each emotional episode and long after the series is over.

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Hearts are like guitar strings. They won’t play sound if they’re too loose. You have to wind them up until they’re about to break, and that’s when they become a wave the hit your eardrums. — Ritsuka Uenoyama


Afterword

Yeah, I liked this one a lot. No surprise here, but Given is certified “Caffe Mocha” stuff, and easily one of my favorite titles from 2019. I wonder who will pick up the license for this gem and give it the physical release (and dub!) it deserves. Until then, I’ll keep recommending this title through Crunchyroll—as all of you should be doing! I’m happy the reception for this series was so overwhelmingly positive, but I’d still love to hear your thoughts on Given or this review down in the comments. (Plz, I’m lonely and need someone to love this show with!) Until the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host