Den-noh Coil: The 2000s Sci-Fi Anime You Never Watched (But Should) || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the original 26-episode Spring 2007 anime “Den-noh Coil” (also translated as “Dennou Coil”), animated by Madhouse, created and directed by Mitsuo Iso.


Nostalgia, Child’s Play, & the Internet

In the near future, people have integrated augmented reality their daily lives through the use of specialized cyber glasses. A virtual world of “E-spaces” overlays Daikoku city’s electronic infrastructure. Viruses hide in plain sight, yet only glasses wearers can see these virtual hazards. Children in particular find immense joy in tracking down old abandoned E-spaces and using them for their own game. Hacking spaces, switching servers, discovering damaged domains—it’s like the coolest game of geocaching you could ever play! Some have even taken interest in hunting for metabugs, small gems which can be converted into currency or special items in the digital world.

This brings us to Yuuko “Yasako” Okonogi and her family, who have just moved to Daikoku City despite rumors of some people mysteriously disappearing. While searching for her cyberdog Densuke, Yasako encounters Fumie Hashimoto, a playful classmate and member of “Coil.” Comprised of other community youngsters, the small unofficial detective agency helps glasses wearers solve various cyber troubles. The girls’ meeting also brings Yasako’s snappy grandmother back into her life, who just so happens to run a shop that sells illegal tools which interact with the virtual world AND is the bright mind behind Coil.

Like any program, however, there are many bugs in the system, dubbed “illegals.” Some are lost, aimlessly wandering the digital landscape to eternity. Other illegals exist to cause mayhem, and some are harmless yet like to follow humans around, much like a household pet would. Another girl, Yuuko “Isako” Amasawa, is also investigating these corrupt spaces, but her abrasive hacking style (and attitude) deters her from making friends. The kids in Coil are determined to discover the truth behind the mysterious viruses and disappearances, but little do they know what corruption lurks on the dark side of the web.

yasako and fumie

Virus Attacks & Friendly-Fire Hacks

For the entirety of the series, Yasako serves as our blank canvas as Fumie guides us through the ins and outs of the virtual world. The two girls become best friends, and Fumie’s intelligent yet loud personality meshes well with Yasako’s soft naivete. Navigating through scary virus attacks and friendly-fire hacks from their fellow classmates, the go quite well together as a pair.

But, if there’s one giant brick wall stopping them from having fun in this digital space, it’s going to be Yuuko Amasawa. To avoid confusing the two Yuuko transfer students, the kids call her Isako. And boy is Isako one tough nut to crack. She’s standoffish, rude, and totally not interested in making friends; rather, her eyes are set solely on collecting metabugs for her own personal mission.

To complicate matters, the incredibly obnoxious and bratty Daichi Sawaguchi (along with his self-named “Hackers Club” goons) are also trying to snatch up metabugs, drawing out much of the conflict in the series’ first half. As things get weirder and weirder on the digital side, these hidden secrets tell of disastrous things happening in Daikoku City. Maybe, just maybe, the forces undermining the kids’ efforts will allow them to start seeing eye-to-eye.

isako hackers club

Given that practically the entire cast of this one is made of children, I’m SO glad that the English dub from Maiden Japan cast all the young boys with female dub actresses. (It just helps avoid the cringe of hearing a 30-year-old man voicing a ten-year-old.) I’ve never heard a dub where the children—to this extent—act and sound so much like children should. These kids are FUNny and are a hoot to watch! (And I LOVE Specs Granny!!)

Whether chasing down urban legends, stalking haunted hotspots, or connecting dreams and memories across time and digital spaces, these kids go on quite the coming-of-age journey. Together, they prove that the Internet can be a fantastic place for self-discovery—but also a potentially hazardous landscape without practicing proper safety.

dennou coil kids

Integrating CG with the Digital World

Although the show has a quiet, lukewarm start to it, the talents at Madhouse breathe astonishing life into Den-noh Coil. Mitsuo Iso not only directed AND created the entire story—he also drew many of the key frames himself! His style is jerky yet detailed, full of motion and expression. There’s some really well-animated character work done here, and it’s all in the details. Whether fidgeting children, readjusting glasses, or making silly faces, the animation fully encapsulates the behaviors and mannerisms of goofy 6th graders.

Despite coming from an era of anime where the use of CGI was almost purely experimental, the 3D CG works remarkably well here since Den-noh Coil‘s world is deeply intertwined with the digital space of the Internet. Muted, drab, washed-out Tokyo landscapes provide a unique, small-town community atmosphere to the series. Much of the AR special effects work is done with CG, giving us a nice distinction between the bleak watercolor skies of the real world and the quirky (yet dangerous) E-spaces that the kids are so fond of exploring.

I also found the entire soundtrack of the show to add a unique quality to Den-noh Coil. The series is accompanied by soft acoustic guitar and the quiet cascade of digital sound effects whenever the kids are dueling in back alleyways. Tsuneyoshi Saito’s OST, as with most of his other works (most notably Fafner), showcases the strengths of orchestral music. If we’re not getting weaving wind ensembles, we may hear the solemn beat of tribal drumming, or even the tender, evocative enchantment of the piano. It’s classic, and this kind of music will always win me over.

searchie

Connection, Disconnection, & Loss

Den-noh Coil takes a bit to get going, but enjoy its comedy/slice-of-life beginning. Trust me. These early-middle standalone episodes explore youth, life, and living side-by-side with this digital world, and are by far some of the strongest in the series. (The beard episode was especially great.) I’d argue that the episodic direction in the middle is far stronger than the main overarching story. Then again, I just find that the episodic style suits the series’ world and setting better.

About two-thirds of the way in, this sci-fi adventure kicks up the mystery with a starkly different plot set in motion. The character drama in the middle is also strong and even stronger at the end, which ties in well with the creepier subjects of the series’ finale. It’s a striking tone switch, but it really makes for an exciting finale.

yasako laser

These days, no one talks about Den-noh Coil (which is partially why I was drawn to it in the first places). I think that’s sad, because it’s more relevant now than it ever was in 2007 when it first came out, and I can’t help but think how highly people would praise the series if it was put out today. Certainly, it’s one creative piece of sci-fi.

Den-noh Coil tackles themes of connection, disconnection, loss, extinction, living within boundaries, and learning to push beyond certain limits. It explores what can go wrong in a world that lives side-by-side with technology, a world that can be hacked AND hack you just the same. Some stories are silly and eccentric; others are thought-provoking and startlingly philosophical. If you’re wanting an anime that explores transience in the digital age and you’re tired of being directed to Ghost in the Shell or Serial Experiments Lain, go give Den-noh Coil some love. It’s TOO overlooked and under-appreciated, and I guarantee it’s the early 2000s sci-fi anime you never watched—but absolutely should.

yasako and isako


What is real? Does being able to touch things make them real? If something can’t be touched, does that mean it isn’t real? What things are really, truly here? What things are actually here for sure?  — Yuuko “Yasako” Okonogi


Afterword

I had to sit on my rating for Den-noh Coil for a while. On one hand, it’s slow, a bit drab, and unnecessarily confusing with all its technobabble nonsense. On the other, however, it’s surprisingly dynamic and full of interesting ideas. And you know what, it’s for these reasons that I welcome Den-noh Coil as a certified “Cafe Mocha” title. THIS right here is what we call an anime gem, and you should seriously consider adding it to your watch list if you love sci-fi or augmented reality in the slightest! Had I watched it as a child, I couldn’t even begin to imagine the boundless fun I would’ve had with it! Are you one of the rare few who have seen Den-noh Coil? Please let me know, as I’m looking for fellow Coil kids to love this show with! Thanks for reading, ’till next time!

– Takuto

The Start of a Long Journey: Yona of the Dawn Manga Volumes 1-3 || First Impressions

First impressions and loose thoughts on volumes 1-3 of Mizuho Kusanagi’s manga series “Yona of the Dawn,” initially published in 2016 by VIZ Media. Spoilers will be present.


A Terrible, Terrible Birthday

I’m no stranger to the beautiful and cruel world of Yona of the Dawn. I followed the anime when it first aired many years ago. Loved it. Since then, I decided to pick up the first NINE volumes of the manga to hopefully quench my thirst for a sequel we’ll probably never get. Wellll, you know how I do these things—the manga sat on my shelf for a good couple years, untouched, and the dust started to collect.

Until now! My rekindled love for manga has motivated me to tackle my shelves before buying new titles, which naturally placed volume one of this long-awaited read in my hands. And guys, what can I say that hasn’t been said already? Yona is a wonderful shoujo fantasy series with a compelling cast of characters living in an interesting Asian-inspired world. BANG. What more could you want?

But in case you know nothing about Yona, the shoujo manga follows the titular Princess Yona, whose bright red hair makes her the crown jewel of the Kohka Kingdom. After her doting father, the king, is murdered in cold blood by her childhood friend and lover, Su-won, Yona flees for her life with her faithful guard Hak. Now, Yona sets out on a journey to reclaim her country with hak, which includes tracking down the four dragon warriors of ancient lore.

Out on the Run

Right off the bat, I think the most striking thing about Yona’s world is the choice to use Korean-inspired names instead of the typical Japanese names. In fact, the series draws more inspiration from Korean culture than it does Japanese, making it an intriguing blend of both cultures. The series carries with it a heavy traditional feel, but also contains a surprising amount of fun and comedic moments despite the tragic start.

Following their flee, Hak seeks out his home village of Fuuga to avoid further pursuit from Su-won’s soldiers. The village’s chief (and Hak’s foster grandfather), Mundeok, is an admirable figure who I’m sure could’ve taken in Yona and raised her very well—but that wouldn’t be much of a story then, would it?

No, instead, Yona puts her foot down and decides to leave the village herself, demanding Hak continue to stay at her side. (The audacity, I know!!) Shortly after, Yona and Hak confront their pursers, and we get the powerful scene where Yona slashes her own hair—which she is adored for—to free herself from Kang Tae-Jun’s captivity. If that’s not symbolic of a woman choosing strength and independence over frailty and vanity, I’m not sure what is. The passing of Yona’s cut lock to Su-won leads him to believing that Yona has truly perished, which deeply hits him, interestingly enough. Like, Su-won isn’t a good guy, but, is he truly bad . . . ?

She with the Crimson Hair

Volume 3 is where we finally start to get a glimpse of the overall plot Yona is about to take up. Now that we’ve become acquainted with Yona’s rare fiery side as well as Hak’s reliability and loyalty on and off the battlefield, we are introduced to Ik-su, a lackadaisical priest who fled the capital when the regime changed years ago, and Yun, a haughty young pretty boy whose talents in cooking, fashion, and herbal remedies will prove incredibly useful on their journey going forward.

Ik-su tells Yona (and the reader) a great deal about the world, the legend of the dragon warriors, and Yona’s role in all of it. He prophesizes the assembly of the four dragon warriors, and how their coming together will awaken the monarch and resurrect the red dragon of dawn. The spirit of the dragons is passed down through four individual bloodlines, each of which still bear fealty to their beloved crimson dragon even to this day.

After a sad parting, we leave behind Ik-su, and Yun joins us in traveling to the White Dragon Village. There, in the land of the wind, we meet the first dragon warrior, a beautiful young man named Gija who possesses the “arm of a dragon,” scales and all. Although Gija bumps heads with Hak, the pain in Gija’s arm makes him realize that joining Yona is his life’s calling—and the destiny that has been passed down his family for generations. Another bittersweet parting between Gija and his grandmother sets us on the long quest to finding the other dragon warriors.

A Fantastic Historical Fiction Drama

Mizuho Kusanagi’s art style is the stuff of legends. Almost flawlessly, she recreates an era in time that dates back to the Three Kingdoms period of Korea. Mind you, it’s all historical fiction, so none of the setting is real, but Kusanagi reimagines this period from architecture and fashion style to customs traditional of this period. It’s such, SUCH, a gorgeous manga.

All of Kusanagi’s characters are beautiful (as one might expect in a shoujo manga), but also brazen and fierce. There’s a fire in Yona’s eyes that is unmatched; in Hak’s, a gaze of strength and familiarity; and in Su-won, a dark, melancholic sadness. Each cover piece alone is a work of art, as the coloring is so pretty and vibrant, much like Yona’s captivating red hair.

So, will I be reading more Yona of the Dawn in the future? Well, duh—I already bought the first nine volumes, or did you already forget? Haha! Seriously though, if I didn’t already have them, I would’ve placed an order immediately following the second volume. Yona has a lot of promise, which comes as little surprise given how highly talked about this series is. I’m excited to embark on this long journey with Yona, and I do hope you’ll be tagging along for the ride.


If it were a person . . . if this were a battlefield . . . I’d need my arrow to fly true. Drawing your bow means taking a life—or letting someone take yours.Yona


Afterword

I could talk on end for how much I love Hak, how much I love Yun, and how endearing of a protagonist I find Yona to be growing into. But, I’ll save that for future manga write-ups. After all, this is only the first three volumes, and there are well over 20 volumes available in English! I do hope you’ll continue with my reading of Yona of the Dawn. What are your thoughts on this highly beloved series? Let me know down in the comments! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Sword Art Online: Alicization is Fantastic (But you should still read the books) || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode fall 2018 anime “Sword Art Online: Alicization,” animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Manabu Ono, and based on volumes 9-14 of the light novel series by Reki Kawahara.

Kirito in the forest


A New World of Legends & Lore

We know the soul to be a fairly abstract, complex concept—and yet, genius scientists at the private institute Rath have mapped out its innumerous intricacies down to the tiniest electrical signal. The Soul Translator is unlike any full-dive interface that came before it, as it connects users by interacting directly with their Fluctlight, the technological equivalent of the human soul. To perfect their system, they enlist the aid of SAO survivor Kazuto Kirigaya, whose experience in VR worlds is, well, unique to say the least. At Rath, Kazuto works part-time to test the system’s capabilities in the Underworld: the fantastical realm generated by the Soul Translator.

While his confidentiality contract forces any memories created by the machine in the virtual world to be wiped upon returning to the real world, Kazuto vaguely recalls a name—Alice—and looming feelings of frustration.

All looks well for Kazuto’s part-time gig, until one evening while escorting Asuna Yuuki home. A familiar shadow from old Aincrad days mortally wounds Kazuto in a fight, but when Kazuto awakens, he doesn’t find himself in a hospital bed, but beneath the tall trees of a forest. Somehow, he’s been forcefully plunged into the Underworld—and with seemingly no way to escape. With no where else to go, he sets off on a long quest for Central Cathedral, a tower that soars high into the clouds, which might contain the answers he seeks—including the dark secrets holding the fabric of this entire world together.

gigas cedar

Once again, SAO is forcing light novel technological babble down our throats and naming it science. Call Kawahara’s musings with the concept of a physical soul the first major sci-fi plot hole in this newest story, but the series rolls with it anyway. Once you add in the fact that time experienced in the Soul Translator can be sped up by several hundreds or slowed way down, we might as well abandon all sense of realism and embrace fiction—as it should be.

All-in-all, SAO continues to be an engaging action fantasy series with a splash of sci-fi at its core. Unique to this newest story arc (the longest one in the series, might I add), is the central focus on the theme of adventure. You could say that SAO‘s always been an “adventure” series, and I wouldn’t disagree. But Alicization takes a more traditional approach to the genre. In Underworld, there are villagers, craftsmen, and other occupations customary of an old-fashioned fantasy adventure world. There are also magical rituals that the residents of Underworld engage in, spells, if you would, or “System Commands” as a gamer might know them. There’s more world-building in this single half of Alicization than in all of SAO‘s other VRMMO worlds combined—and to think that there’s ten times more to explore in the novels!

stacia window

The Problem with Pacing

To be fair, even the source has this trouble, with one chapter encompassing the span of several years and THREE volumes chronicling a mere 24 hours. As far as I’m concerned, this marks Alicization‘s second half as having one of the longest days in anime history, and one of the greatest battles of attrition ever written. In true fantasy adventure style, resources become scarce the closer our hero(es) get to the tower. Just when you think you have it all figured out, expectations quickly get flipped on their head. Never have I had so much fun with the unpredictability of a narrative than I did while reading/watching Alicization. 

Regardless of how you are consuming Alicization, it goes without saying that the story is full of deep lore, despite the rapid pace to fully appreciate it all. One of my favorite gimmicks from the series was how each Divine Object (AKA weapon) had a story to it, a history that plays a massive role in how to wield it correctly and unlock the blade’s full potential. Discovering how each foe’s blade was constructed (typically through the glorious art of combat) shows the depth of world-building and creativity that Kawahara has invested into this series.

In fact, the warriors we meet along the way (and their loyal weapon of choice) were SO cool that I was expecting lots of thrilling fights . . . which we only kind of got. While SAO continues with the theme of survival and the struggle to live, the fight scenes end so quickly that you’re left with very little fear for our characters’ well-being. After the visual marvel that was Ordinal Scale, I was expecting longer fights, more world-building, and more explanation, and while everything here is a good start, it’s not something I’d turn in for a final project. This story made me want so much from the fight scenes in particular, yet the rapid pace unfortunately leaves little to grapple with.

alice synthesis thirty

In general, there’s a lot of “dangling the carrot” with crucial story elements that the books thoroughly explored but the anime had to cut. Switching gears to something entirely new happens without warning, and this knowledge whiplash can leave viewers unsatisfied. This adaptation, despite totaling 50 episodes by the end, will be missing A Lot. For instance, there’s much more to the origin and purpose of the Gigas Cedar that anime-onlys will never get to understand, and that world-building element is crucial to helping define the personalities of many of these characters (like Eugeo).

Boy with the Flaxen Hair

The characters, OH the characters. I love the Alicization cast. Seeing Kawahara’s stylish knightly character designs come to life with splendidly textured armor and brilliant color palettes is especially a treat. For me, the titular Alice Synthesis Thirty was one that benefited the most from this adaptation. Maybe it was actually hearing her low, authoritative voice (thank you Ai Kayano), but every righteous word she speaks hold incredible weight to her character, and we are blessed that she has some of the best lines in the entire series. She is sure to play a critical role in the show’s second cour, no doubt about it.

Speaking of best lines in the series, I have to give it up to Alicization for giving us one of the coolest villain stories in anime. Administrator’s presence is legitimately chilling and terrifying. She’s a diva of chaos, yet so divine in her destructive ways. The allure of her calculating, piercing, silver eyes draws you in, marking her as manipulative, cruel, and obsessed with vanity and control. In this world, she is absolute authority, perfect stasis, and serves as a thrilling antagonist when pitted against the little mage in the library, Cardinal.

quinella awakening

What makes Alicization so special to many fans (myself included) is the addition of Eugeo, Kirito’s faithful friend that he meets upon waking up in Underworld. He’s the boy with the flaxen hair, and few are as hardworking, kind, dedicated, and endearing as this country kiddo. Eugeo is the softest boy, the bestest boy, and he’ll make you tear up more than once for sure (BLESS his VA Nobunaga Shimazaki).

Watching Kirito’s quirks and mannerisms both clash and rub off on Eugeo during their Swordsman Academy years fills me with so much life. As he grows from humble woodsman to a noble knight protecting the human realm (and beyond), it becomes no contest that although Alice may carry the name of the series, Eugeo holds the heart. I think giving Kirito a companion—a friend—like Eugeo makes him seem more human than anyone else could.

Eugeo and kirito

Kitito’s headspace has always been crucial for understanding why this narrative is compelling, and the anime is notorious for cutting a lot of that out. While Aincrad, Fairy Dance, or Gun Gale weep, Alicization suffers. This entry in the franchise was the one able to prove to me that KIRITO IS A LIKABLE CHARACTER. But once again, the anime doesn’t give enough of his inner dialogue to completely convince you, which is deeply saddening cause, yeah, I like Kirito now.

Kirito’s inner turmoil about whether to save Alice Synthesis Thirty or the Alice Zuberg from Eugeo’s childhood—that which is the hero’s ultimatum—is almost entirely omitted, making the final fight seem significantly less weighty and stressful than it should. Eugeo’s sad struggle to connect with his family is vaguely mentioned, despite it being the anchor holding him back in the beginning arc (and being key manipulation for his actions near the finale). And I haven’t even started on the knights! I’m telling ya, read the books!

village kirito and eugeo

An Ambitious Project

I thought Fate UBW was wild, but wow, the digital effects work for Alicization is just nuts. Absolutely stellar coloring, layering, lighting, textures, special effects—you name it. The fights are exciting and fluidly animated, yet some of the camera angles and visual distortions don’t pay off as well as they may have been intended to. Some combat moments feel stiff or unrealistically warped, detracting from the thrill of battle. Other fights have awkward choreography, but otherwise decent direction from Manabu Ono. A quick shout-out to the background artists, as Alicization is full of beautiful scenery—the scaling of the landscapes is truly awe-inspiring! 

Given its rapid pace, huge ensemble of colorful characters, and reliance on high-energy fight sequences, animating the entirety of the Alicization was an ambitious project on A-1’s part. With a grand 50 episodes spanning across several seasons, it’s almost expected that animation quality will eventually dip in parts. Although most of the shots themselves are beautiful, there is no shortage of impossible midair jumps and lofty sword swings to be found. That said, the opening confrontation with the goblins and the light-show spectacle of Kirito and Eugeo vs. Fanatio boast thrilling, gorgeous animation.

So, it’s a bit of give-and-take, but overall a very solid production minus some awkward fight choreo here and there. (The Blu-ray edits bring drastic improvement the broadcast version, including vibrant lighting and layers of cool new special effects previously unseen!)

kirito vs fanatio

Wherever might the visuals stumble, the music soars. Kajiura makes SAO always worth it. Easily her best work with the series yet, Kajiura continues to create strong themes for these characters. The iconic “Swordland” theme (reprised here as “Sacred Swords”) will never not make my heart fill with overwhelming feelings. Listening to “Gigas Cedar,” “Sometimes she feels lonely,” “Tenderness and Strength,” “Climbing up the wall,” “Quinella,” and “She won’t stand for it” remind me of the chivalry, nobility, and courage of Eugeo, Alice, and all the other knights.

Manabu times these epic theme drops with all the crazy special effects of swords clashing and rippling energy beams to create utterly perfect sound direction. It’s an enchanting soundtrack rich with melancholic piano solos, delicate harp ballads, dramatic orchestral and choral tracks, and inspiring percussive anthems—heck, it wouldn’t be far off to call this one of my favorite OSTs in all of anime. ALSO, LiSA’s “Adamas” is best OP!!

Eugeo vs flame knight

Pulling Everything Together

The larger themes that SAO has been playing with since old Aincrad days finally come to the forefront in Alicization‘s legendary first half: What it means to live in a virtual world. What value virtual life has. The irony of fate. Desire and temptation. The cruelty of love. Obsession and deception. What it means to control. The roles of power and influence. What it means to be the hero. Defying our program to do what we think is right. And whether painful memories that only cause grief are worth keeping. Yes, SAO has always been this deep, and it only gets better.

With mystic foreshadowing, emotional highs and lows, excellent dialogue that is both powerful and poetic—these are the things that I want from not just SAO, but a true fantasy epic; the deeply integrated sci-fi background makes it all the more unique and fascinating. Each development builds on the one that came before, yet in a way that makes everything you previously knew to hold so many different, often construed and conflicting meanings. Again, the use of dramatic irony is highlighted, especially in some of the mid-late developments.

Wrought with dynamic character motives, a tightly written story, music that is equal parts enchanting as it is epic, and loaded with many twists and turns, SAO has never been this intriguing. BUT, it runs at an uncomfortably fast pace, almost too fast to revel in the intrigue of each world-shattering reveal. In the moments where I wanted Alicization to slow down and tell me more, it’d only rush along further.

That doesn’t stop the adaptation from being a highly entertaining watch, however—and one that I’ll continue to recommend for years to come. A tale woven with misfortune and heroism at every bend in the road, few stories have left me as shocked and caught off guard as the one Alicization has told so far. I eagerly await to see how War of Underworld picks up the pieces from this thrilling first act in what is sure to be a brilliant conclusion to this grand fantasy epic in the making.

eugeo and kirito finale


Love isn’t about control. Nor is it something you can gain as a reward or in a transaction. The same way you water flowers, you give it continuously. I’m sure that that’s what love is! — Eugeo


Afterword

Now, even I know that skipping the books of any series to watch the movie will involve leaving much of the original story left behind. But, at the same time, I can’t force it upon a person to read TEN freakin’ books just for this. That said—you won’t regret it, that I 100% guarantee you. You’re probably already so sick of hearing this, but Alicization really is a different beast from its predecessors. So please, consider checking it out if you thought you already might’ve given up on the franchise.

Thanks to Alicization, I came to love these characters and their world, felt new things about characters I thought I already knew everything about, and fell in love with a story. Since I have read the novels, my review is a bit biased, I realize. However, I’m still going to give Sword Art Online: Alicization the “Cafe Mocha” rating, sealing it as one of the most entertaining anime I’ve ever watched (and one of my favorite stories ever told)!

I know opinions are pretty well divided by this point, and that’s understandable. But, to those who enjoyed this first half of the Alicization story, what did you like most about it and why? Who’s sticking around for the second half of War of Underworld? I’m such a big SAO geek, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the series, positive or negative, in the comments! Who knew I could ramble on about this series for so long? Thanks so much for reading, and until next time everyone!

– Takuto, your host

Michiko & Hatchin, Two Against the World || OWLS “Lover”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s ninth monthly topic of 2019, “Lover,” I decided to travel back to one of my earliest anime watches with Michiko & Hatchin. Specifically, we’re looking at the titular Michiko’s fiery relationship from her past, and how love sometimes isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When it comes to romantic relationships, what do we look for in a partner? What core values do we seek when it comes to building a healthy and loving relationship? For this topic, we will be discussing some of our favorite couples in pop culture and what they have taught us about love and relationships, the good and the bad. 

Sweet and simple, I like it. Thanks Lyn and Flow for the prompt this month!

michiko close up.PNG


A brief discussion of the 22-episode fall 2008 anime “Michiko & Hatchin,” animated by Manglobe, original story and direction by Sayo Yamamoto and Shukou Murase. MINOR SPOILERS WILL BE PRESENT. 

On the Hunt for Their Man

She’s escaped from prison three times, and each time she gets farther. The name of this hardened criminal is Michiko Malandro, and she’s searching for a man from her past. Somewhere else under the harsh heat of the South American sun is Hana Morenos, nine years old, who lives a terrible life trapped under the oppressive whims of her abusive foster family. In her loneliness and despair, Hana dreams of the day when her Prince Charming will charge in and whisk her away from her captors. What Hana doesn’t know is that her “prince” would turn out to be the husky and vivacious escaped convict who’ll drive a stolen motorbike straight into the dining room window, claiming to her mother.

Free from their captors but now on the run from the law, the unlikely duo traverse the sun-soaked (and bone-dry) land of Diamandra, careening through this tumultuous adventure of betrayal, crime, child exploitation, rival gang warfare, and murder at every bend in the road. It’s a man-eat-man world out there, and Michiko and “Hatchin” are what’s for dinner.

A wild tale of vibrant lives and fateful reunions, two poor souls throw caution to the wind as all the unlikely human connections strung together by one elusive man start to converge on the dusty crossroads of destiny.

michiko glass

Equal parts action and drama, Michiko & Hatchin tells the timeless tale of a young girl searching for her father in a lawless land. The fictional setting of Diamandra itself is rife with drugs, alcohol, and poverty. People lie, cheat, and steal from one another—after all, everyone’s gotta make a living somehow in these ghettos. But buried within the tussles of the bad lie the good, and although they are few and far between, Michiko and Hatchin somehow make it by thanks to the handful of kind ones out there. Above all else, what Hana finds is that people are willing to do anything to survive another day—including murder and theft, of course—but also find someone to love, be it an artist, a musician, or a criminal.

Like Mother, Like Daughter . . .

. . . Is what I wish I could say about these two, but let’s face it, no one is quite like Michiko. Busty, brawny, and not afraid to kick the shit out of any man, Michiko is as gutsy as they come. A “sexy diva” who rocks her body to get whatever she wants, whenever she needs it (even if that means taking it by force), Michiko is loud, proud, and incredibly impatient, often yelling Hatchin around like someone would an animal. Plus, she’s an avid drinker and smoker, and quite often enjoys picking fights “negotiating” with her fists.

When she’s not being a royal pain in the ass, well, let’s face it, Michiko is always a pain. This Brazilian bombshell just wants her ex-lover, Hiroshi Morenos, back in her life. She’ll whine, scream, kick—basically whatever it takes to find Hiroshi. But the one thing she won’t do is give up, and if Hana got any good trait from her mama, it’s her unbridled determination.

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Again, Hatchin couldn’t be more different from her Latina madre. Polite, introverted, respectful, outwardly compassionate, “Hatchin” (nicknamed by Michiko after Hana told her she didn’t want to be called her real name anymore) does what she can to find Hiroshi within the boundaries of the law. If Michiko stole shoes for her, Hatchin would find a job and work to earn the money for them. Same goes for food, medical visits, travel fares, you get the gist.

Hatchin’s a good girl, clearly much more mature and level-headed than her loudmouth, obnoxious mother. But she looks out for Michiko nonetheless, even if that means hauling her drunk, angry ass to a nearby motel for the night. Really, the entire series is about the different forms affection takes in this south-of-the-border adventure. Although they bicker and fight frequently with one another, Michiko’s always got Hatchin’s back, and Hatchin’s got Michiko’s. It may mean saying “Wait for me” a hundred times and dropping off the face of the planet for a bit, but one way or another, the two will always find a way to see each other again, no matter the cost.

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The Search for Hiroshi

Now, about the mans Michiko’s so desperate about seeing again. Once upon a time they were lovers, until the day when young Hiroshi just up and left Michiko on her own. He was the kind of guy you could tell “the embarrassing shit, and he’d always lend a sympathetic ear”—that’s what everyone remembers about Hiroshi. Ever since, Michiko’s made it her job to find him because she truly loved him. The irony of this Cinderella story is that instead of Hiroshi being in one place and also lookin’ for her, this dude’s runin’ away from her, city by city! The great escapade is twofold, a gritty push and pull between what the heart wants—and what it certainly shouldn’t get.

By the beginning, Michiko’s story has already played out. She was a bad girl who fell in love with a bad man, and had their child only long after he was gone. Her man, Hiroshi Morenos, was the only guy who was able to tame this wild vixen, and the only human who could leave such a scar on her heart when he left her for dead. But Michiko can’t see that side of him. Or rather, she refuses to, and that ends her up in a world of hurt where the bad people take what little you have left, and the good people shut their blinds cause it ain’t their problem.

Michiko’s inflated visions of Hiroshi from her memories of the past royally screw her over in the present. Would she have been happier just forgetting Hiroshi? Yeah, probably—no, absolutely. But no one forgets about Hiroshi once they’ve met him, and so Michiko hunts him down. Contrary to what most romantic tales tell us, having a lover in this story means having to share the other’s pain and anguish. Yet, love is redemption for Michiko. In her mind, if she can find Hiroshi, she and Hatchin can be happy.

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As Michiko desperately pines for information of Hiroshi’s whereabouts, she is met with the unfortunate realities of the situation—that the man has long since died. But with Hatchin, they persist anyway. And what do they find? The shadow of a man, a husk with a pretty face, but the same old shitty personality. And honestly, deep down, I don’t think Michiko was expecting anything more from this fleeting encounter.

Having a lover in the world of Michiko & Hatchin is the equivalent of having an unbearably heavy weight tied to your foot. While providing an anchor for the soul in this otherwise turbulent landscape, it does little to actually make one happy. It’ll slow you down in the long run. Why? Because people and the relationships they share with one another are portrayed through the ugly side, the sad but realistic one we often tend to forget about. Michiko doesn’t want to find the real Hiroshi, but the Hiroshi of her dreams she remembers from one chance encounter long ago. And that’s why the ending is perfect. It delivers just what it should, even if it’s not the one we’d want; it’s how things would’ve realistically played out.

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The Reality Love Brings

Michiko is Hiroshi’s lover, not the other way around. He ain’t lookin’ for her, nor is he worried about her safety and well-being. And she knows all she’s gonna find at the end of the rainbow is a crock a shit, not “no damn pot o’ gold.” That’s what is waiting for Michiko and Hatchin and the end of this story, and the sad truth is that they know it deep down, too.

Lovers turn good people bad in this tale, and bad people to a life of crime. Everyone wants a piece of Hiroshi, but ain’t no one gonna get it without a dollop of heartache with their slice. Because dammit, sometimes that’s just the way it is. Love isn’t the contract—it’s the bait. And boy did Michiko fall hook, line, and sinker for this piece of trash.

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But Michiko can’t help it. She loves stupid guys, and the hotter and dumber they are, the better. But Hiroshi was a smart man, cunning, and she couldn’t help herself from feeling like a moth drawn to a flame every time he opened his lips. 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 the relationship is protected. It’s not about staying afloat, so much as trying not to sink. I guess it’s as the saying goes, play shitty games, win shitty prizes. 

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At the End of the Road

So, what’s the moral of the story? True love is something you give, not something you take. Bad people only get what they want because they take it from those who already have it. But also, ironically, there is nothing that love cannot mend. Michiko and Hatchin’s relationship, even if balancing on rickety stilts, is proof that in this terrible world, love is still something you can give, not just take. Hiroshi left without a trace except the empty hole in his lover’s heart; Hatchin came into her life and was able to make the whole situation easier to bear.

They are each others’ hero, a bond stronger than man and woman, but of mother and daughter. A familial love. And an irreplaceable love at that. 

What Michiko’s story also tells us about love is that a relationship fueled solely by the “good old days” of the past cannot survive in the future. At one point, Hiroshi was something special to her. But now, at the end of the road, he may not be so special anymore. After enduring 22 episodes heartache and emotional turmoil, Michiko AT LAST realizes that Hiroshi isn’t what she or her daughter need anymore. And thus, bathed and reborn in the fresh light of the rising sun, Michiko is finally able to leave her dreamy past behind, and face the future head on with Hatchin at her side.

And for a tale of two against the world, I find that ending profoundly touching. 

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It’s not gonna help to run, you know. I’ll come after you, no matter what. You belong to me, forever. — Michiko Malandro


Afterword

When I watched this so many years ago, it didn’t really resonate much with me. But now, having rewatched the series as an adult, lemme tell you: Michiko & Hatchin slaps differently. With unforgettable character designs, vivid animation, and a charming Latin-inspired OST, it’s unbelievable how well this 2008 series holds up today!

Delusions of grandeur, memories of the past, the painful realities of unrequited love—I’ve exhausted myself with analyzing this relationship, and now, the rest is up to you! For me, Michiko & Hatchin is a certified “Caffe Mocha” title, one for the history books that should be loved and enjoyed for years to come. But I’ve talked enough. What are your thoughts on the series? Please, let me know in the comments!

This concludes my September 24th entry in the OWLS “Lover” blog tour. Yumdeku (myanime2go) went before me with a post about Yuki and Yuno from The Future Diary, a favorite of mine that I can’t wait to read! Now, look out for Flow (DenOfNyanPasu) as they talk about the Visual Novel game Kara no Shoujo tomorrow, September 25th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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

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

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

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

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

From Country to Country

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

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

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

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The World is Eccentric

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

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

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

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


Friendship Comes in Many Forms

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

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

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

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

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How Technology Connects Us

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

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

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

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

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


A Traveler’s Tale

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

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

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

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

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

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


Afterword

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

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

Gargantia: A Mecha Which Lulls Like the Waves | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode spring 2013 anime “Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet,” animated by Production I.G, directed by Kazuya Murata, and based on the original story by Gen Urobuchi. This will also include special OVA episodes 14 and 15, as well as the two “Far Beyond the Voyage” OVAs. 

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Awakening on Gargantia, the Island of Ships

Far into the future, most of mankind has fled Earth to expand into space, and the Galactic Alliance of Humanity is founded to guide exploration and ensure the prosperity of the human race. Humans soon discover a threat lurking in the dark seas of space, however; strange squid-like creatures called the Hideauze begin terrorizing human existence, resulting in a longstanding interstellar war to prevent humanity’s extinction.

Ensign Ledo of the Galactic Alliance, age 16, leaps into battle against the enemy as per his calling. Armed with Chamber, an autonomous robot intelligence system which resides inside his mech, the Hideauze shouldn’t have stood a chance against Ledo. Unfortunately, Ledo is separated from the Alliance and, in a horrific twist of fate, is flung into the far-off reaches of space, eventually to crash land on a planet submerged in water.

On these endless blue-green waters, Gargantia—a large fleet of scavenger ships comprising a sprawling metropolis in itself—salvages Chamber from the depths of the ocean thinking that the mech must hold something of value. Unknown to the crew, Ledo sneaks aboard the ship and captures a young messenger girl named Amy as hostage, but Ledo quickly comes to find that the people of Gargantia aren’t as dangerous as he initially surmised.

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Faced with uncertainty and separated from his comrades in the Alliance, Ledo struggles to seek newfound purpose on the blue planet. As some the loftier citizens of Gargantia eventually warm up to the space man, Ledo slowly realizes that there is more to a soldier’s life than missions and assignments. But just as he becomes acclimated to this foreign lifestyle, what lurks deep within these cerulean seas starts to bring to question the foundation of this oceanic world.

The coolest thing Gargantia has going for it is easily the titular ship fleet itself. In shows or games that are set near the water, I’ve always found village life to be quite appealing. Gargantia is no exception. If anything, had I watched this anime back in 2013 when it aired, I probably would have loved it a lot more than I currently do. Unfortunately, I am older now, and a collection of ships bound together by giant metal cranes and locks doesn’t excite me as much as it would have the old me. Still, a part of me feels like I was always meant for the seafaring life, to which Gargantia invites me to explore.

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Chilling at its Own Pace

The first six episodes are spent crafting this culture-heavy fleet and its peoples through a slice-of-life narrative. We are given a tour of the fleet through a few side stories. Although they help to explain what they do, how they operate, and how each person—no matter the age or occupation—plays a critical role in Gargantia’s survival, some of these stories are admittedly boring and predictable. For a sci-fi action adventure series, Gargantia chills at its own pace, merely riding the waves until the exciting finale. But I kind of like that about it.

Meanwhile, the second half delivers the climax of the story, along with several intriguing plot twists which help facilitate interest after a relaxing but lukewarm first half. None of the big reveals feel cheap; in fact, it’s just the kind of thing I’d expect from Urobuchi’s phenomenal writing, even if the thriller vibes are occasionally lulled by the slow-moving nature of the story. Urobuchi always delivers incredible stories about the darker sides of humanity, and while Gargantia is lighter than most, that’s not to say it won’t leave you gasping “No freakin’ way” a few times.

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The People of Gargantia 

I’m quite divided when it comes to the cast. As a protagonist, Ledo is great. His gradual development from cold galactic soldier to helping friend is nicely done, and Alan Lee captured the vocalic change from curt, rigid pronunciations to fluent, passionate statements believably well in the English dub. Our resident “hot guy’s” struggle would have been futile without Chamber, however; unlike what you’d expect from a pilot assist AI, Chamber isn’t afraid to sass Ledo around when he needs the encouragement, and Matthew Mercer was a perfect fit for this rather intelligent and resourceful “tin can.”

But I can’t give the same praise to the rest of the people of Gargantia. While Amy the messenger girl (voiced by the ever-cheery Cassandra Lee Morris) is the supposed main heroine, she merely functions as a tool to unlocking Ledo’s inner humane side. The well-endowed pilot Bellows lives and breathes the salvaging life, but her character just as well acts as a guide for the main cast.

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In the same regard, pirate queen Lukkage is a fun Team Rocket Jessie-like character to have around, but her little screentime isn’t enough to fully appreciate her extreme levels of bad-ass. (You’ll definitely want to watch the OVAs to see the Queen in action!) For other antagonistic presences, having the devilishly suave Karen Strassman as Striker is an absolute joy. But oh man, let’s not talk about Pinion, the human epitome of DICKHEAD. Seriously, the guy has no respect for anything!

It’d be a shame not to mention the fleet commander’s daughter, Ridget, as one of Gargantia‘s best and brightest. She works SO hard to live up to the immense role thrust upon her, and I just really enjoyed watching her backstory unfold throughout the series’ run. Strong-willed, passionate, and always looking out for the greater good of Gargantia, Ridget—above everyone else in the cast, arguably including Ledo—shines as the fleet’s most-developed character.

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On Endless Green Waters

From an art and animation standpoint, Production I.G beautifully encapsulates “island life” on Gargantia through its towering structure of rusty, paint-chipped housing and overwhelming marketplace vibes. It’s just such a charming set piece, really. And although it may be marketed as a mecha anime, Gargantia is pretty laid-back, allowing Chamber to strut his usefulness in performing ship tasks in the first half and finally showing off his explosive capabilities in the last couple episodes. Also, at the very least, we should acknowledge the Yunboro as the most practical-looking mech out there, even if not the prettiest. (Chamber looks fantastic though, love his rounded shape.) As a whole, the art is rich, vibrant, and colorful, and the animation is consistently top-notch, particularly so with those endless green seas.

Taro Iwashiro provides a great soundtrack befitting of the “adventure” label, as he’s able to effectively balance island life with Ledo’s soldier strife. Also noteworthy in the sound department is how ADR director Tony Oliver and the crew at Bang Zoom! established the differing language portrayals. Ledo and Amy are separated by hundreds of light years, after all, so it only makes sense that their languages would different. I’m not sure how it was done in the original Japanese, but made-up languages are always fun to listen to in English, and Gargantia is written such that this constant dialogue swapping isn’t distracting in the least.

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Seas of Possibility, Skies of Freedom

Contrary to the high intensity repertoire the mecha genre is known to cater, Gargantia takes the back seat and explores the isolation and ostracism of a mech pilot on foreign soil—or a fish out of water, if you will. It’s a story about finding purpose after a big change in one’s life, and how to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances. Most of all, however, Gargantia is about family and belonging, and what it means to be human in a world where the very definition of the word has been obscured by a dark past.

Between the gorgeous animation, creative concept, and interesting plot, Gargantia may be exactly what you’re looking for if you seek a short sci-fi journey. Oh, and don’t be turned off by the mechs—they look great, and the finale in particular stands out for its incorporation of the ideological feud. Although some of its characters may rub you the wrong way, Gargantia is blessed with strong direction and themes. So, answer the call for adventure—raise the sails and set out for those shimmering jade seas.

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One who abandons thought and decision-making deviates from the very definition of “human.” — Chamber


Afterword

It’s a shame that the possibility of more Gargantia got shelved thanks to the idea of a novel adaptation, especially considering that as an original piece, Gargantia is one of Production I.G’s best. While the last couple OVAs are a bit of a pain to track down, they’re a must if you want the complete Gargantia story as it stands. For the cafe, I struggled between whether to place it under the “Coffee” or “Cakes” menu, but after recalling all the effort that went into crafting the island atmosphere and its customs, I gave the series the benefit of the doubt. Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet offers a pleasantly sweet ride for any mild fan of the mecha genre, thus a “Cake” here at the cafe! And yes, Viz’s awesome LTD ED release of the show rests calmly on my shelf awaiting my next revisit to the blue planet. 🙂

What did you think of Gargantia? Did you enjoy it enough, or did you find it lacking in a few departments? It may not the best mecha anime out there, but it’s certainly not the worst. Let me know your thoughts about the quiet little title or this review down in the comments, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Granblue Fantasy: Endless Blue Skies, But Not Enough Time to Explore Them All | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode spring 2017 anime “Granblue Fantasy The Animation,” animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Yuuki Itou, and based on the video game series of the same name by Cygames. 

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A World of Skies and Islands

Awash with a stunning canvas of roving blues and fluffy whites is the world Granblue Fantasy is painted on, a famous franchise which has amassed a great following thanks to its many JRPG titles. While I am unfamiliar with this particular adaptation’s origins, the story still follows its titular character, a young boy named Gran, and his adventures throughout the wondrous skies that surround him. Accompanied by a talking winged lizard named Vyrn, the two embark on quests that tend to question the governing bodies of their world, such as the menacing Erste Empire and her sprawling military factions.

Alone in the forest one day, Gran stumbles upon a young girl with cerulean hair. Her name is Lyria, and she just recently happened to escape from the Empire after being subjected to sinister underground experiments on magic and the mythical. Alongside Katalina, a once-high-ranking knight of the Empire assigned to guard Lyria, Gran and the crew set out into the vast skies to escape the Empire’s treacherous plots. With ship set to starboard, Gran’s party aims to protect Lyria, as well as head for the famed land of legend mentioned in the last letter Gran received from his father: “Estalucia, Island of Stars.”

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I’ll be frank, the story of Granblue Fantasy The Animation is not a new one; girl is used by evil organization, boy protects her, boy meets a bunch of new allies while traveling around, yada yada. Even still, the heart of a fantasy adventure series lies in the lands we are taken to, and the variety of peoples we meet along the way—this pattern may not be a new one, but it doesn’t need to be new to be a fun watch. In that regard, this anime exceeds, but the overarching story—the hero’s main goal—is still a bit fuzzy. One moment Gran merely wants to watch over Lyria, but the next he insists on defeating (or rather purifying) these godlike mythical beasts to obtain magic crystals for . . . what was it again? I honestly can’t remember, but it’s still formulaic enough to follow along.

The Crew Aboard the Grandcypher

As a main character, Gran is without much personality. He’s kind and strong, yet remarkably bland, and although the show tries to convince you that he’s a real stellar guy with “special powers,” Gran’s actions and words fare just as interesting as a silent protagonist’s.

Oh wait, he originally was one? *sigh* This is another reason why adapting games into anime is hard . . . and somewhat a mistake.

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Obviously, the show pins most of its character love on Lyria, and thankfully, she does seem like someone you’d want to care for. Her curiosity and blind love for the world may not be executed as well as Tale of Symphonia‘s Colette, but the idea still transfers alright. Even our dutiful knight Katalina and reliable ship’s helmsman Rackam felt like characters I would enjoy partying up with. Same goes for new recruits, like the fiery (yet ironically ice magic specialist) mage Io and Team Rocket-esque dungeon thief duo Karva and Mary. Anyone else, well, the show just doesn’t give much screen time to learn about, but I’m sure they can be just as likable if given a fairer shot.

All the while, the Empire is looming in the dark and new faces, friend and foe alike, keep poppin’ out like the skies are just one big circus tent for JRPG tropes—there were like +10 new characters in the second to last episode alone, it’s ridiculous! If Granblue Fantasy The Animation had one big problem, it was that it tried to compensate “character development” for “5 seconds of fame,” and, in the end, not one of the side characters stood out as a result (which is a real shame given how cool some of these outfits were).

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Painting the Skies–The Magical Watercolor Touch

While I couldn’t give a damn about some of the characters thrown in at the last minute, I did have an incredible appreciation for what A-1 has done with their latest fantasy anime. Say what you will about their method of adaptation, but from their work on shows like Fractale, From the New World, Fate/Apocrypha, Sound of the Sky, so many others and most infamously, Sword Art Online, I’ve found A-1 to be one of the best animation studios where the fantasy genre is concerned. From the luscious color palettes and beautiful blends to the “old ruin aesthetic” of their utterly enchanting scenery, A-1’s always been on top of the game, and Granblue Fantasy is no exception. If anything, it’s the model, the paragon of what a high-quality fantasy production should look like.

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But especially with Granblue, the studio preserved the original art style from the games by giving it a softer, almost watercolor appeal to the backgrounds, much like the magic they did with Grimgar. And the characters and fight scenes, agh, WOW! I believe I recall an ANN article explaining that the adaptation’s delay was due to preserving all of the characters’ outfits, armor, leathers, buckles, trinkets, etc. in the anime style, and boy did A-1 bring out all the bells and whistles for this one. Highlights, shadows, bevels, rivets, textures, blends—what can only be imagined as an animation nightmare turned out to be well-worth the extra effort!

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Just watching the Grandcypher and its beautiful, colorful cast soar through the airy clouds across majestic seas of water and light took me to an entirely different land altogether. Put its spiraling architecture together with Square Enix and Cymusic native Tsutomu Narita’s epic orchestral soundtrack and you’ve really got a solid, powerful combination.

Lastly, can I mention how much of a bop the OP “GO” by BUMP OF CHICKEN and ED “Sora no Parade” by HARUHI are? Like, these songs about living the best lives we can are the total chill vibes that I LIVE for!

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Will We Ever Reach Estalucia?

Afraid not . . . maybe . . . ? At the end of the day, Granblue Fantasy The Animation is an absolutely gorgeous fantasy adventure anime that is hurt by its weak direction, weak antagonists, and lack of character development (and proper introduction for that matter). After its pinnacle fight scene in episode 12, one would imagine that the last episode would take us to the isle of lore where the reunion (and final showdown) would commence—WRONG. Instead, we are “treated” to a random bikini-filled beach episode with the cast of ladies that were introduced a mere episode prior. What a letdown.

But there is hope, as supposedly a second season was announced not to far back (no sure date as of yet). The anime just came out last year, after all, so I would assume that this is just the first half of the big adventure to come. Will I watch it? Of course, I’m in it for the long haul! But should you? Granblue Fantasy The Animation definitely feels like it’s more of a treat for fans of the game, but if you love magic, fantasy, and adventures as much as I do, perhaps Granblue is worth the “grand,” if not slightly frustrating, investment. It was bland, sure, but never did I really get “angry” with the show—in fact, it kinda made me want to start playing the games! Your eyes will love what they see, and your heart will yearn for the fun in-town shopping and traveling to last forever, but you may be able to guess the end long before A-1 decides to give it to us.

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Our destinations could be totally different, but I think this is our fate. As we continue our journey, we keep meeting new people. I treasure the connections that we make—just like the one we feel with you now. — Gran


Afterword

A softer, much more light-hearted take on the fantasy genre than typical game-to-anime adaptations, I have trouble recommending Granblue Fantasy on the grounds that at this time, it is currently incomplete (the worst kind of ending IMO). Should we truly stop here, I’ll award Granblue Fantasy The Animation with the “Breads” rating and a recommendation to SKIP it unless you’re a fan of the franchise and want to see your favorite characters brought to life by A-1’s genius. If we get more, however, that value is instantly reappraised to a “Coffee,” or even higher depending on how the second half turns out. Here’s to more Gran-seeming-important, more Katalina-obsessing-over-Vyrn’s-cutness, and more pretty-artwork-for-days!

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As a last minute addition, should you take up Gran and Lyria’s quest, I CAN safely recommend the English dub by Aniplex (although I still condemn their $80 releases). Both the sub and dub of Granblue Fantasy can be found on Crunchyroll for FREE, so hit it up whenever you’re next in the fantasy neighborhood! Be sure to let me know what you thought of this series, its characters, or this review down in the comments, as I’d love to know! Thanks so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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

Hey everyone, welcome to day 7 of Blogmas!

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

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

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

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

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Loose Discussions on My Experiences Playing a “Tales” Game

(These will DEFINITELY NOT be formal reviews.)

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Tales of Symphonia

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

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

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OH MY GOD WELGAIA’S FREAKIN FLOORS SCREW THIS

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

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

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

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

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Tales of Zestiria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It had a rockin’ OP. 🙂

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

– Takuto, your host

The Great Sea: Phantom Hourglass | Zelda Project

Welcome! This is just a fraction of the reviews and reminiscent posts covering the expansive “Legend of Zelda” franchise in a project titled “The Legend of Zelda: A Blogger’s Journey,” which covers the many adventures of Link, from its creation in 1986 to its arguable magnum opus in 2017. This massive undertaking was started by fellow blogger NekoJonez (NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog), and though we had some rough-footing (what with aligning individual schedules to a project on this scale), I’m proud to be a part of the brave thirteen bloggers who were captivated by this memorable franchise, and wish to tell their own tales about the games they love. 

Here I have chronicled my experience playing “The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass” in Part 1 of 2. Part 2 over the game’s sequel, “The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks,” can be found here. 

This is only the third blogger project I’ve ever been part of, so an extended thank you to NekoJonez for recruiting me back in June of 2017—we’ve come such a long way, my friend!

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Awesome logo by zoef


Bridging the Gap

When Nintendo’s Wii stormed onto the scene in late 2006, bringing with it a long-since-promised expansive world in epic HD realism now known as Twilight Princess, fans were not only shocked but a bit confused as to how the games all “linked” together. It had been four years since the Overworld was flooded in Wind Waker, and five years since Zelda was played on the small Game Boy Advanced console (unless you returned to beat Vaati again in 2005’s Minish Cap).

Luckily enough, Nintendo responded to our calls in 2007 by continuing the adventure that had still left enough open waters out there worth exploring. Once again mounting the ship deck, we shove off the shores and set sail for what will be the next “brief 10 minutes” of Phantom Hourglass and glimpse into the future 100 years later in Spirit Tracks. Come 2009, with no other Zelda entries in between, the Toon Link Trilogy (or reign) will finally get its resolution from the day, long ago, when a valiant king sacrificed everything he had—including his own life—wishing for the creation of a new future.

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Back Out at Sea

Phantom Hourglass picks right back up where Wind Waker ended, even giving us a unique recap of the game via pirate Niko’s storyboard slates. Because of this, it marks itself as a clear successor to WW, a treatment that no other game in the franchise has received. Link, Tetra, and the gang are on a voyage to explore the endless oceans, one day hoping to finally settle down on a larger continent.

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But just as they begin their journey, the Ghost Ship, an eerie and haunting vessel whispered to cause other ships to disappear, catches the attention of our heroes. Tetra’s curiosity gets the better of her, and when she attempts to board the ship, the ghostly liner departs, causing Link to chase after her screams and, ultimately, fall into the dark water’s depths.

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He awakens washed up on a shore, and when a mysterious fairy named Celia and a kind old man named Oshus rehabilitate the boy, Link’s journey of once again returning the princess to the land of the living begins. He first visits the cursed Temple of the Ocean King, where destiny bequeaths him with the Phantom Hourglass, an artifact with sand that protects the holder from the temple’s toxicity. In the temple, he encounters the infamous treasure-hunter Captain Linebeck, and while the Capt.’s penchant for riches and fame frequently falls to his arrogant, scaredy-cat nature, he secretly admires Link’s silent charisma, and swears on his treasure-seeking hide to find the treacherous Ghost Ship.

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Introducing the Nintendo DS

Phantom Hourglass pioneered the Zelda franchise onto the Nintendo DS, returning the green-clad Hero to small consoles where he got his roots. As we all know, the DS’s bragging feature was its stylus/touch screen action, to which PH is worthy of the boast. Straying away from the D-pad (which now functions as the options menu), all the mechanisms are completely stylus driven: draw paths for weapons and movement, tap to attack, swipe and squiggle to perform a rolling dodge—you name it!

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While the drawing function for weapons like the iconic boomerang can cause some combat inaccuracies, you’re more likely to be using the DS’s key features for puzzles, riddles, and story events. Zelda was known for problem-solving in elaborate dungeons anyway, so this isn’t too big of a drawback. If anything, the idea of tracing on screen adds a whole new level of fun that just doesn’t exist anywhere else in the franchise.

An example of this would be that, for the first time, you can freely draw on the maps with your stylus, forever leaving behind tips, secrets, and memories for whenever you next visit the Isle of Ember or Mercay Island. Same can be said about sailing—draw a path on the map and the ship will follow. Some of my most fond memories, in fact, were merely cruising on the open waters for days on end, admiring the view of the colorful and creative islands both near and far.

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Another fond memory of my gameplay experience is again attributed to the unique involvement of one’s senses. Save for taste (please do not eat the game cartridges, looking at you BOTW freaks), PH used the DS’s capabilities to its fullest. In one scenario, you are required to “extinguish the flames to open the door.” I recall spending HOURS just trying figure out what the heck that meant. After finally succumbing to a game guide (my first one ever!), I learned that you were supposed to blow on the mic sensor located between the top and bottom screens. How inventive! In another situation, you had to “stamp the Seal of Courage onto the sea map.” That is, you would SLAM the DS lid shut, then gently fold it back open again. Now THAT is not only creative as hell, but very rewarding if you figure it out on your own. (I got that one, yay!)

It’s the Ocean Temple, But Worse

Where Phantom Hourglass is praised for its gameplay ingenuity, gorgeous cell-shaded graphics (which was practically begged for after Wind Waker), and fun, memorable characters, its most unfortunate drawback is the Ocean King’s Temple itself, which especially sucks since the name of the game—“Phantom Hourglass”—revolves around a crappy timed dungeon. That’s right, the main antagonist, a squid-like demon named Bellum, didn’t want just any old explorer making it to the 13th floor.

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Thirteen fricken’ floors, and that’s not even the worst part—when you first visit, only three floors are available. Between visiting each island’s temple, you RETURN to the Temple of the Ocean King—tediously starting at FLOOR ONE, mind you—and unlock the next set of floors. Oh yeah, and a reminder: it’s all timed. Once you run out of time, the temple starts sucking away your health. As an added bonus, phantom knights roam the floors, and unless you’re sitting on a safe zone, they’ll chase you down, slash you, restart you at the BEGINNING of the floor, AND cut time off your hourglass. It’s ridiculous, it’s challenging, and there are very few shortcuts as you go along. It’s even been dubbed “Doing your Ocean King homework before getting to the fun stuff.” I’ve gained so many gray hairs from this temple it’s not even funny.

Message in a Bottle

But as us Zelda fans should know, we shouldn’t let one bad dungeon ruin our experience. Beyond the Ocean King Temple is a simple story of heroism and doing what is right even if that scares you. Although Phantom Hourglass felt like a bottle episode, every bottle has a message in it:

It left us knowing that the goddesses who created the Triforce perhaps watch over many worlds, and that even in those worlds, the Hero can inspire courage in the most unlikely of cowards.

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I can proudly say that Phantom Hourglass was my first Zelda game (shoutout to the OG Gold Triforce DS Lite), and that despite my biases toward it, I’ll still recommend it to all the fans of the franchise, especially Wind Waker, and to those wanting to know if there’s hope in the future of the flooded Overworld.

To put it simply, yes, and it’s a world brimming with childish excitement and everlasting adventures.

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End of Part 1. Go to Part 2 now!

(none of this lovely artwork belongs to me)


Let me know your thoughts, memories, or nostalgia while playing Phantom Hourglass! It’s a game that took me places, and arguably brought me to where I am now. Many thanks again to NekoJonez for his hard work in putting this all together! PLEASE visit our hub article for “The Legend of Zelda: A Blogger’s Journey” HERE and reminisce on all the games that brought us joy, wonder, and excitement! We hope you enjoy it all! Now it’s time to board the train for Spirit Tracks, so go and meet me over there! Thanks for reading!

– Takuto, your host

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Grimgar: Stronger Together, Now & Forever | OWLS “Strength”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  fifth monthly topic, “Strength,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Grimgar review into this pep talk about keeping your chin up. I’m also celebrating its recent release, which includes a strong English dub by a set of newbie-ish VAs!

“Your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength.” In anime, characters struggle with inner demons or physical weaknesses that make them feel insecure and prevent them from achieving goals, which makes viewers feel empathetic toward their battle. Yet when these characters overcome their adversity, they can finally be able to express who they are, or in other words, “Free to be Me.” 

I’m also gonna try a new, shorter, more poetic form of writing, since I seem to have been named such a writer by blogger buddy LitaKino and the OWLS YT squad. Let me know if you prefer this, oh, and thanks Lyn for the prompt!


A brief discussion on the 12-episode winter 2016 anime “Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions,” produced by A-1 Pictures, directed by Ryousuke Nakamura, based on the light novel by Ao Jyumonji.

The Past is Irrelevant

Waking up in an alternate world not too far off from a fantasy, a group of strangers with no recollection of their past lives are welcomed to Grimgar, a vast magical landscape that spans as far as the eye can see. Much like an RPG system, parties, guilds, and other factions exist in packs to ensure survival and decent living conditions.

With no home to call their own, six teenagers bound by the simple wish to live in this bizarre landscape form their own party. Unbeknownst to them, what awaits their poor squad in this harsh new world is nothing but grief, loss, misfortune, and tragedy at every bend in the beaten dirt path.

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Grimgar‘s greatest appeal is its attention to the realities of living in a fantasy world. From finding a place to sleep to having enough copper pieces to afford simple luxuries like a fresh pair of underwear after using the same one for days on end, the anime never fails to appeal to logic and frugality. This comes with a downside—dreadfully slow pacing—but a show like this shouldn’t be rushed. Otherwise we’d miss out on another uneventful tidbit of coping with life’s pain, a quality that, where other trapped-in-an-RPG anime stumble, Grimgar excels.

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Being primarily main character Haruhiro’s story, I only wish we got to see through the eyes of the other party members. They’re all unique, classes and stats aside, and it could’ve been the cherry on top to understand what the Ranta the dark knight or Moguzo the tank thought before they went to bed each night.

A World Painted Unlike Any Other

Surprisingly, A-1 Pictures paints a glorious watercolor backdrop to accompany our volunteer soldier trainees as they run across the ruins of old attempting to slay a single goblin. If this anime has a winning feature, it’s the artwork. Reminiscent of the quiet world of Maoyu, it’s rare to find such wallpaper-worthy scenery at every shot, every frame. Exquisite and personalized, yet very simplistic, and it all works magically in Grimgar. 

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Also fantastic is the soundtrack, more specifically the joyous and exciting violin hoedown of the opening, “Knew day” by (K)NoW_NAME, along with the bittersweet ending, “Harvest,” a song by the same band, which frequently cues in early to accent a feeling of mourning and memorial. Both are equally enjoyable and very appropriate.

Strength is More Than Good Stats

When you think RPG stats, STRENGTH or TOUGHNESS are what jump at you first, naturally.

Now, when I say STRONGEST, having the best weapons, armor, or other gear is essential, right?

In Grimgar, that’s what Haruhiro and the gang thought, too. But they couldn’t have been more wrong.

You see, outfitting oneself with top-notch equipment sure does help, but there’s one part of your body you forget to protect most of all.

You heart.

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When sleeping, eating, or socializing are the only forms of relaxation and entertainment, you can bet much of your time is spent on the battlefield, a land where your life is always on the line. At any moment, you could get slashed on your side with a dagger, or

Struck in the back with an arrow.

Tragedy follows the pathetic party everywhere they go, and when they first experienced loss, none of them could handle themselves. It was almost as if one member meant the lives of all six.

With no one to comfort them, they all experienced petty conflict with one another—they all tore themselves up for not being cautious enough. Day by day, they milled around in the doldrums, incapable of moving forward from the horrors of their last fight.

It wasn’t until they openly cried and poured their hearts out in front of one another that they realized how each member felt. You could almost say that the wound in their hearts finally bled out.

But like scars, sadness heals itself with time, comfort, and care. But also like scars, they will never fully heal. And that’s okay.

For the Grimgar crew, strength blossomed from the heartache they experienced. Loss, tragedy, and depression, poisons that normally corrupt the body, became ironclad armor to protect them from whatever came next—as best as armor could, that is.

They came to understand just what “ashes” meant, and used their tears, innate weaknesses, and unfamiliarity to bond closer with one another. Slowly but surely, they worked harder on the field and with one another to grow as people, and to move on from that day.

For they had endured a torn heart, and what doesn’t kill you DOES make you stronger.

They learned that true strength lies not in good stats, but in their faith in one another—in overcoming adversity and misfortune TOGETHER.

You are only alone if you choose to be. Similarly, one may be strong, but a team is stronger.

All you have to do is grit your teeth and keep on rolling with the punches.

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“Living has its own challenges. I’ll give you just one piece of advice. Don’t quit. Yes, when you die, you die. But if you give up, you’re definitely going to die. That, I am sure of.” – Brittany


Fortune favors the bold, right?! Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions is full of unfortunate pitfalls for a cast of endearing teens, but so long as they stick together, they can overcome any challenge. A special shoutout goes to Rocco B (In the Cubbyhole) and Jamie (Jamie Talks Anime), two very special people who shouldn’t have had to wait so long for my thoughts on this series! I give it the certified “Cake” rating! Everyone, let me know what you thought about this series in the comments!!

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This concludes my May 26th entry in the OWLS “Strength” blog tour. Please check out Lita (LitaKinoAnimeCorner), who went right before me and wrote about the astounding latest-hit film A Silent Voice. And now, I’ll give you the weekend before we return with Naja (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero) on equally powerful film, Colorful, this Monday, May 29th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host