Hey guys! Welcome to the third Summer Film Spotlight! Today we are celebrating GKIDS’s beautiful dubbed Blu-ray release of Keiichi Hara’s Miss Hokusai. This movie is full of important artistic values, from finding creativity in everyday life to balancing family life. O-Ei’s tale continues to inspire me as an artist, and I want to share it with you guys.
I hope you’ll continue to join us on this summer journey through film. See you next Saturday with another Summer Anime Film Spotlight!
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A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode Winter 2021 series “Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation,” animated by Studio Bind, directed by Manabu Okamoto, and based on the light novel series of the same name by Rifujin na Magonote.
Reborn in a World of Magic
A thirty-four-year-old shut-in has just about had all of life that he can handle. Even when he tries to do something heroic for once in his life, it ends in a tragic accident. Fate, however, has other plans for him, and the man awakens in another world as Rudeus Greyrat, the newborn baby of two loving parents.
With the memories from his previous life still intact, Rudeus quickly adapts to this new fantasy environment. The knowledge from his adult past allows him to latch onto the world’s magic system faster than the other kids, and before long, his parents hire a mage tutor named Roxy Migurdia to help hone his skills. Rudeus learns swordplay from his father, Paul, and makes his first friend in the beautiful Sylphiette. Although Rudeus is no knight right now, his time with the blade will come in handy when he eventually takes on his own young pupil—the fiesty Eris Greyrat—and her buff, beast-human guardian Ghislaine.
Granted a second chance at life, Rudeus endeavors to live in a way that his old self would be proud of. As Rudeus attempts to conquer the traumas of his past, he starts to believe that maybe, just maybe, there is love for him in this world after all.
Gonna have to spit this out there now, but I absolutely despise the isekai story-starter trope of reincarnation. Rarely is it explored to full effect in these shows, and often is the tragic death overlooked by episode 3. That said, Mushoku Tensei is different. Throughout the series, we receive direct narration of events not from the voice of young Rudeus, but rather that of his past self. At first, the cynical and snarky dialogue comes across as largely pessimistic and cruel. But, as Rudeus starts to make connections and brave his way outside the comfort zone, the narration slowly adopts a note of hope. And of course, Rudeus is a pervert both then and now, but you’d be surprised how well he fits the bill as “The Son of Paul Greyrat.”
THE GREYRATS ARE SCUM
I know he’s really a 34-year-old man on the inside, but boy is Rudeus a cutie. I mean, just look at that name ~Rudeus~ I love it. Although we know who he really is, no one else does, and so Rudeus plays the innocent young prodigy part remarkably well. A lot of viewers may not take to him because of this fact (plus that he’s a whole-ass pervert), but I like Rudeus, and I hope he does find that self-love and acceptance he was missing out on in his sad past.
The same well wishes cannot be said for Rudeus’ father, Paul. I won’t spoil what he does (or who he does, yikes!), but don’t let that knightly title lead you to believing that honoring and respecting women is a virtue he exemplifies. THIS MANS IS SCUM. Hell, ALL OF THE GREYRATS ARE SCUM. And yet, I still love ’em all, the horny bastards. Paul is lucky to have a charismatic babe like Zenith!
Although the kind and soft-spoken Sylphiette is who propels Rudeus to become a stronger mage, a character I believe most audiences would resonate more with is Roxy. A wonderful teacher and talented water mage, Roxy serves as a huge motivation for Rudeus. Rudeus’ graduation ceremony from Roxy’s teachings had tears welling in my eyes, and as a teacher of young students myself, I just really hit it off with her reserved yet inspiring teaching style. Roxy rarely yells, but rather guides, and her realizing Rudeus’ potential (which far exceeds her own) hit me in the feels. The prospect of eventually reuniting with Roxy incentivizes Rudeus to work hard at not only magecraft, but also other avenues of life.
Then we have Eris Greyrat, who comes in and stomps on all of Rudeus’ hopes and dreams. I kid, but she’s definitely a stubborn pain in the ass. As Rudeus’ charms slowly start to rub off on Eris, however, she becomes noticeably more tame, even likable to an extent. Were it not for Ghislaine’s overwhelming strength and presence to hold Eris back, I’m not sure how far Rudeus would have gotten in his mentorship!
Quality Character Animation
While searching for more information about the studio behind making Mushoku Tensei, it appeared to me as if this is Studio Bind’s first work—and to this, WOW, I’m quite shocked. The animation of the series keeps up with the spellcasting elements of the show just as well as the dumb ecchi-comedy moments. Specifically, it was the quality of the character animation that grabbed my interest. In fact, I had no plans to watch Mushoku Tensei until one of the sakuga-crazed Twitter accounts I follow retweeted a short animation of Roxy splitting a tree and then healing it. From that moment on, I looked forward to seeing Rudeus’ water magic develop just as much I wanted to see that perverted little face of his warp into a devilish smile.
If I’m being honest here, the whole production of Mushoku Tensei won me over far before the story’s premise. The series is accompanied by a wonderful fantasy soundtrack from the genius Yoshiaki Fujisawa. Likewise, all of the grassy plains, vast deserts, and medieval cities provide a pleasant background to the show’s relatively soft visual aesthetic. Lastly, since I watched this one subbed, I did want to toot the seiyuu voicing the project, especially Yumi Uchiyama’s cute lil’ Rudeus, Ai Kakuma’s fiery and passionate Eris, and Megumi Toyoguchi’s tough and throaty Ghislaine.
A Debauched, Self-Indulgent Comedy
Mushoku Tensei probably wasn’t meant to be this enjoyable, at least for me. The series blends ecchi and isekai elements (which I typically cannot stand) into a fantasy drama with ludicrous amounts of world-building lore and pleasure-seeking fun. In addition to the nice magic animation and memorable character design, the series also pursues themes of self-love, reclamation of youth, and goodwill to others with Rudeus’ narrative. You can tell by the end how much taller he stands, and how he’s already so much prouder of the chances he’s taken in this life than the scarring, regret-filled life of his past. With this first season, a man is finally starting to overcome his fears from being bullied and enjoy life under the sun for once. I hope he’s able to go even further in subsequent seasons.
However the story tries to move you, this dramatic character development doesn’t stop Rudeus—and all of the Greyrats for that matter—from being horny on main 24/7. The series is never afraid to have fun with itself, and it remains wholly dedicated to its cause of debauched, self-indulgent comedy. If you’re wanting an isekai fantasy series with perverse, no-holds-barred commentary (and a slice or two of redemption), step right up to the house of Paul and Zenith Greyrat—I’m sure they’d love to have you.
“The worse I am at something, the better I feel when I work at it and learn how to do it.”
I’ve spent the past weekend trying to finish all the Winter 2021 simulcasts I started months ago. It’s actually been fun seeing how some of these shows ended, and it was equally exciting to see the season two announcement for Mushoku Tensei already greenlit! While I’m guessing the story from here on will lean more on the serious side, you can bet I’ll be back for more Greyrat degeneracy when the sequel airs this summer. For those wondering, I’m welcoming Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation as a “Cake” title here at the cafe, a show that’s not for everyone, but one that certainly scratches that itch you might’ve not have even known you had. I like the show when it’s both dumb and endearing, and that’s rare for even me to admit.
What are your thoughts on Mushoku Tensei? Do you think Paul Greyrat is scum or do you think he’s scum? Also, are you looking forward to more of this series or was this first season enough for you? Let me know your thoughts about the show or this review down in the comments! Thanks for reading, and ’til next time!
A brief spoiler-free review of the six-episode OVA series “Diebuster,” localized in English as “Gunbuster 2,” animated by Gainax, directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki, and based on the original story by Youji Enokido. The series aired between 2004 and 2006 as a project to commemerate the studio’s 20th anniversary.
The Enemy Returns
Generations have passed since the war with the Space Monsters began. Though some can recount the heroics of one brave young girl and her role in saving the galaxy, the Space Monsters have since started up their attack once again, and humanity continues its fight against them. Only this time, humanity relies on the “Topless”—a group of elite space pilots whose special powers allow them to pilot the Buster Machines—for their safety against the enemy.
Nono, an energetic yet helpless girl from a small town on Mars, has heard the tales of the legendary space pilot “Nono-Riri,” and she wishes with all her heart to follow in the footsteps of her idol. Although she understands little about the dangers that lie on this path, Nono’s ambition will propel her to making her dream a reality. Right before Nono embarks on this journey that’ll shake the galaxy to its core, she happens upon the lonely yet powerful Topless pilot Lal’C. It is from their fateful meeting that Nono decides to gamble everything on following Lal’C to the very top of the world—and whatever lies beyond the darkness of space.
Diebuster joined the mecha genre in 2006 as the sequel to the classic Gunbuster OVA series (and thus it is also is called Gunbuster 2). With enhanced visual quality, heightened action scenes, and even increased nudity (just the tiddies, mind you), it’s no surprise that Diebuster was warmly welcomed by fans. I will add that the six-episode OVA series also hedges on the more abstract side of its genre compared to the typical mecha grounded in militaristic philosophy. Like its predecessor, Diebuster features a lovable and memorable cast of colorful characters, and the drama that washes between them is even more eruptive than before.
From Mars to the Stars
Nono is a mecha fanboy’s dream “anime girl” protagonist. She’s a tall, beautiful, gullible, and fun-loving girl who optimistically views the world with two blue eyes wide open. Her signature pink hair and striking red outfit (whether a maid costume, pilot attire, or some other evolution of space suit) instantly draws attention to her energetic spirit. Against the bleak and mysterious abyss of space, Nono stands out as a fiery, shining star. She’s clumsy and a bit of a dork, but her perseverance and ambition are second to none. As a callback to Gunbuster‘s Noriko, Nono is an endearing lead who would make a wonderful friend to anyone willing to lend a hand.
On the other hand, the series’ second female protagonist, Lal’C Melk Mark (pronounced “Lalk”) is as stubborn as a brick wall. For a majority of the series, Lal’C is reserved, self-confident, and self-absorbed, often lost in her own thoughts. Her topnotch piloting skills—while outwardly cool to Nono—further serve to isolate Lal’C from her pilot peers as the idol of the “Fraternity” in which they all belong. In her solitude, Lal’C turns to Dix-Neuf, the oldest of the Buster Machines and her partner on the battlefield. Speaking of, let’s talk about the neat giant robots of Diebuster.
Whereas Gunbuster had the titular robot as its only standout mecha, Diebuster features an elaborate mecha system with its own hierarchy and history. For instance, the French numbering of each Buster Machine refers to the wave in which it was released (e.g., the 30s are upgrades of the 20s, while the 40s have new features entirely). This does not mean a higher number is a stronger unit, however, as a pilot’s skill also determines the overall success of the team. Also unique to these mechs is that each Buster Machine is equipped with an A.I. interface that allows it to exclusively connect to a single Topless.
Though they cannot speak, the Buster Machine typically shares physical characteristics with its pilot. Dix-Neuf supports a horn through its head which limits its fighting potential, much like Lal’C’s own untapped potential. Similarly, the bratty, impulsive, and cold rival to Lal’C, Tycho Science, eventually comes to pilot Quatre-Vingt-Dix, which is known for its deep freeze blast abilities. And of course, in the midst of all this cool mecha business we have Nono, who’s willing to fly to Pluto and back for her own Buster Machine. (I’m not joking, she literally travels to the edge of the Milky Way just to earn her own seat in the cockpit. Such determination!!)
The “Rebuild” of Gunbuster
Really, this statement is a bit backwards, as Gunbuster 2 came over a year before the first Evangelion Rebuild film, Evangelion 1.0, was released. But the logic is similar: Much of the same creative force who made the old ’80s classic reunited to bring Gunbuster back to the big screen. Thus, Diebuster was born from the fires of this commemoration project. Likewise, the sequel series boasts many of the same animation upgrades and praise that the Rebuild series did for Neon Genesis Evangelion (including new CG designs, bold character designs, and vivid action sequences).
As a result, Diebuster is a ton of fun to watch. The wild animation style captures the same energy of Gurren Lagann with the added mechanical and technical cleanliness of the Eva Rebuild films. As someone who’s been searching for a spiritual successor (or in this case, predecessor) to the Rebuild series, Diebuster delivered phenomenally in the visual department.
Kohei Tanaka’s music also supports the tone of Diebuster just as well as his work did for Gunbuster. If anything, Tanaka’s soundtrack work here exceeds his previous, as the balance between blasting military anthems and chill tropical downtime is further emphasized. There’s a stronger sense of “main theme” in Tanaka’s soundtrack this time around as well, which makes listening to this theme evolve over the course of the series beautifully heart-wrenching. I wish more directors and studios would hire Tanaka on, as his dramatic scores truly compliment any setting they are placed in!
While I’m here, let me shamelessly plug the series’ OP “Groovin’ Magic” by ROUND TABLE (feat. Nino) that had me dancing before every episode like a fool. This is one of those many instances where Diebuster plays with conflicting tones, and this OP, if anything, is symbolic of the series’ very spirit. I heard this song so many years ago, and I was surprised to discover that it belonged to Gunbuster of all franchises!
A Risky Sequel
A true sequel from title to plot and even certain character motivations, Diebuster is a thrill ride to the very end. Where Diebuster far exceeds its predecessor, however, is in the bombastic nature of its story. If Gunbuster is a story about aiming for the top, then Diebuster is a sequel that is “over the top” in every comparable way. The pilots are stronger, the mechas are mightier, the animation is crazier, the music is louder—really, if Gunbuster did one thing big, Diebuster succeeds in doing it bigger. And yet, I’m still quite fond of the comparably smaller (if still considerably large) original story of Gunbuster. I can totally understand why one might be turned off by the series’ even zanier plot and execution. Diebuster takes risks—huge risks, some of which don’t pay off as well as others. Plus, the series is . . . weird, and it’s sometimes needlessly hard to follow. It will be hit or miss.
That all said, if you loved the first installment, you’ll more than likely find something to enjoy about the second. I like old anime sci-fi films, so Gunbuster became a quick fave of mine. However, I also love ridiculously explosive action set pieces featuring cool mecha designs and kickass fighting spirit. Given that, it’s no surprise I enjoyed Diebuster, too.
Diebuster throws caution to the wind and attempts to retell a legendary tale which as already been told once before, and I love how unapologetically fun and unique the series tries to be—-all while paralleling the iconic moments which made me fall in love with this world of giant robots, space aliens, and girls with guts in the first place.
“True strength resides in those who believe in their power to the very end!”
Finishing this review, I already want to write another post about Diebuster. Unlike Gunbuster, there are so many moving parts to this short series that make it an engaging watch. Were it not for the pamphlet guides that came with my DVD releases, a good deal of the world-building elements would’ve flown right over my head. I’m so thankful that this series got a physical release. (And at $2 apiece for each of the three DVD sets, what luck!)
Maybe I’ll revisit Diebuster again after watching the recap film. But, should this be the end for now, I should let you know that although I appreciate the Gunbuster film more as an artistic piece, the Gunbuster 2 OVA series still deserves the “Cafe Mocha” rating! It’s my own seal of approval which basically tells all of you that I hold it in the highest esteem, and would certainly recommend it to mecha and sci-fi action fans. What do you like most about Diebuster, and do you prefer the sequel to the classic prequel? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading part two of my V-Day Special reviews, and ’til next time!
A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode Winter 2015 anime series “Maria the Virgin Witch,” animated by Production I.G, directed by Gorou Taniguchi, and based on the manga of the same name by Masayuki Ishikawa.
The Peacemaking Witch
A powerful young witch living in medieval France during the Hundred Years’ War, Maria detests nothing more than human violence. With war comes pain, suffering, and destruction, and when the innocent are caught in the crossfire, Maria can take it no longer. Wielding her magic, Maria endeavors to halt the bloodshed by intervening on the battlefield as often as she can. When the heavens finally catch wind of Maria’s plots for peace, however, the archangel Michael is sent to keep her from meddling in the affairs of humanity.
Through direct confrontation, the divine Michael forbids the witch Maria from using her powers, decreeing that her magic will be taken the moment she loses her virginity. Maria, bold as ever, refuses to heed the warnings of heaven and marches on with her plans to disrupt the war. Despite her claims of peace, neither France nor England plan to give up the fight, leading the steadfast Maria to wonder if her noble efforts only serve to prolong the violence. Worse yet, as the Church schemes to take away the witch’s power, Maria’s peacemaking days may soon come to a close.
With the likes of other sex comedies like Yamada’s First Time and Shimoneta, I enjoyed the laughs and toilet humor of Maria the Virgin Witch‘s script. Unlike these others, where Maria finds itself on tricky ground is in the way it attempts to balance bawdy sex talk with sincere human drama befitting the time period. From costuming to ethics and even dialect (at least in the English dub), the story remains weirdly faithful to history as it tries to sell itself as a fantasy romcom with a horny edge to it.
You would try to take an emotional moment between Maria and her human love interest—Joseph—with some seriousness, only for Maria’s familiars to fill the silence with senseless discussion on anything pertaining to the body’s private parts. (Or one character’s lack thereof . . . it’s a long story.) Tonally, the series is kind of all over the place. But thankfully, the characters remain endearing enough to want to love and support—or at least prove interesting enough to want to follow along.
The Virgin Mary
Maria is the main lens through which we view this quasi-medieval France, a country which is undergoing major societal, political, theological, and moral changes as a result of the war. War itself is one theme which the series continues to return to, as it propels Maria to charge into battle with her obnoxiously large monsters and send warriors from both sides home for the day. Yet, without the inevitability of such conflict, the witch Maria, the human Joseph, the mercenary Garfa, and so many other key figureheads wouldn’t have crossed paths on this fateful stage. Although Maria’s efforts do prolong the length of the war, I admire the way she sticks to her values and persists in pursuing peace in spite of most soldiers despising her heretical nature. (And the fact that, yeah, Maria is full-blooded witch living in the Middle Ages.)
Unsurprisingly, our namesake virgin witch also frequently finds herself wrapped up in the politics of gender. In the eyes of men, women of this time period should hold very little power, let alone intervene in the affairs of war–and yet, Maria manages to do both, consistently. She’s not only a threat as a powerful dragon-summoning sorceress, but also as a woman standing up to the petty conflicts of men. The devout of the peacemaking patron witch worship her; the fiends who crave blood and the battlefield curse her. It must be tough being so strong AND beautiful AND virtuous!
Life in Medieval France
I enjoy much of the humor and drama that is to be found in Maria, but what I perhaps love more than both is the production itself. Despite being produced at Production I.G, many of the same talented staff who worked on Code Geass also came out for Maria. This includes Yuriko Chiba, who designed the attractive characters of Maria (along with being chief animation director for Geass), and, of course, the genius Gorou Taniguchi, who directed both. The series boasts bright colors and lots of movement, along with a keen eye for historical accuracy in the various villages and castle towns. Top-notch stuff for a sex comedy!
You all know I love talkin’ music when it comes to anime, and I’m proud to have one of my favorites back for the theme song arrangement: Tatsuya Katou! Not only that, we’ve also got Masato Kouda of KonoSuba and Monster Hunter fame (among several other hits) composing the main series OST. Add ZAQ for a pop of excitement with the OP and the production package is complete. Did I mention that Funimation’s dub work here is also fantastic? Massive props to Caitlin Glass and her team for the vocal direction on this sometimes silly, sometimes serious fantasy series.
A Play of Magic & Morals
What bothers me most about Maria the Virgin Witch is how it transitions roughly between intimate character relationships and a bunch o’ bad dick jokes. Sure, I chuckled a lot when watching, but I couldn’t help but feel that the dramatic elements of the plot far outshine the toilet humor, especially considering the elaborate character work woven together throughout these short 12 episodes. And that’s another point for demerit—the series tries to navigate through all these heavy themes in just a single cour. (Not that I could guarantee I’d actually watch more Maria than this first season alone.)
Despite the tone problems, I was still quite surprised with the overall quality of the series. The show watches like a wacky Shakespearean plot unfolding on an anime stage—a play of human morals, magic, and the divine—and it deserves a first viewing at the very least. I bought the Blu-ray over a year ago, and it’s comforting to know that it will stay on my shelf for at least a little while longer. I’d probably have phased off Maria were I someone who dabbled in this sex-com genre more frequently. But, seeing as I’m not that kind of anime fan, I’d say Maria the Virgin Witch was a fun “first time,” so to speak.
“They’re lucky I’m such a pacifist, or there would be hell to pay!”
I haven’t got much else to report on this one. Come for the laughs, stay for the heartwarming bits. Speaking of bits, there’s not a lot of ecchi presentation in Maria, and maybe that’s why I like it so much. Sure, our titular maiden is scantily clad in a few strips of leather. But Maria is a modest woman, and I think most will like her. Maria the Virgin Witch is a “Cake” title here at the cafe, a series well worth your time, if not for a one-time watch. (Or a one night stand . . . ok, I’m done with the awful puns.) You can watch all of the series on Funimation both dubbed and subbed! If you have seen Maria, definitely let me know your thoughts on the series or this review down in the comments. Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!
A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode Fall 2020 anime series “Akudama Drive,” animated by Studio Pierrot, directed by Tomohisa Taguchi, and based on the original story by Kazutaka Kodaka.
Caught in a Cutthroat Game
The future of Kansai looks bright. Or at least, it would, were it not for the murderous “Akudama” roaming the back-alley streets of the dystopian metropolis. Bred in the darkness, these fugitives seek the path of crime, and only the elite Kansai police force can stand a chance at stopping them. Although strong in their own right, anyone could tell you that bringing an Akudama to justice is certainly easier said than done.
On one particular day in this techno town, the Kansai police begin the countdown for the public execution of “Cutthroat,” the infamous Akudama guilty of killing 999 people. When several other skilled Akudama receive a mysterious message to free Cutthroat for an unimaginable sum of money, however, the tides of justice begin to sway. To top it all off, caught in the middle of the madness is an innocent young girl who winds up forced to fight for her own life. Someone out there in the neon landscape wishes to gather these dangerous personas in one place, but to what end does this mastermind desire—and will a mere sum of cash prove enough to bind these talented killers under a singular noble pursuit?
From the mind of Danganronpa comes the equally zany and intense Akudama Drive. It wouldn’t be a lie to call the series one of the most exciting sci-fi action anime in recent memory, especially given the fact that its originality lends itself to an entirely unpredictable plot. I didn’t watch Akudama Drive as a simulcast with everyone else, but I sure as hell wish I had. Every episode is packed with explosive fun, and with a colorful cast of brilliant (if a bit insane) serial killers as the main characters, you couldn’t ask for a more wild ride.
Killers, Criminals, and the Law
Akudama Drive is one of those rare shows that gives its characters role titles instead of traditional names. For instance, Courier, Hacker, and Brawler are nicknamed correspondingly after their talents: Courier delivers, Hacker decodes, and Brawler fights. This definitely gave me Danganronpa vibes, as the characters there are also often referred to by their high school talent. The other Akudama include the unreliable Hoodlam, the devious Doctor (who was voiced by the legendary Megumi Ogata, another Danganronpa similarity), and the aforementioned killer Cutthroat (whose blind obsession with the color red was cute and crazy at the same time). The main two police officers simply go by Master and Apprentice, and even the lead character—the young girl who accidentally gets roped into all this trouble—is just called Ordinary Person.
Still, it’s odd how these plain role names manage to become more memorable and iconic than any given Japanese name would have been. It’s an easy system, and the creative character designs also lend themselves in part to Kazutaka Kodaka’s hand, no doubt. While binging the series, it was fun to talk to others about how incredible and scheming the Doctor is, or how wild and fun Cutthroat is to watch. Likewise, how dimwitted and unbelievable Hoodlam and Courier are, respectively. (There’s no way he’s slingin’ that bike everywhere like ODM gear, but I guess I’m here for it.)
At the end, however, I find myself coming back to the heroine more than any of the other Akudama. Obviously, she goes through the most character growth as she is forced to descend from innocent victim to Kansai’s most wanted. But, whereas the other Akudama remain mostly static, show-stealing characters, Ordinary Person learns to make big choices for herself, transforming into a symbol of the resistance towards police brutality itself. One could even say she swindles a thing or two from the other Akudama to aid in their collective cause . . . Regardless, she’s amazing, and one of my favorite anime heroines in recent times.
Kansai, the Cyberpunk City
The visual element of Akudama Drive is perhaps its greatest calling card. Art style really is everything here. Colorful holograms, floating screen panels, and bright neon lights litter the scene of this neo-futuristic Kansai. Almost as if straight out of the bleak cyberpunk worlds of Blade Runner or Ghost in the Shell, Akudama Drive presents a setting that is anything but forgettable. The characters interact remarkably well within the space, providing more details about the terrifying state of Kansai as the series progresses. As the Akudama follow the beacon of light that is the Shinkansen towards freedom, the party of vagrant criminals encounters an unexpected darkness lurking within the underbelly of the land.
I’ve talked about how much I love the world, but I’ve yet to discuss the animation itself. The best surprise here, perhaps, is that Studio Pierrot doesn’t let Akudama Drive dip for a second. Each fight is stunningly choreographed and bizarrely stylish thanks to the unique character designs. I especially loved the fight between Apprentice and Brawler—the deep blue club lights and the giant neon fish swimming between panels on the wall and the floor made for quite the exciting combat set piece. The whole Cutthroat insanity scene was also spectacular. And the last episode especially, WOW. Absolutely jaw-dropping. Some of the series’ most iconic moments are isolated within the escalating tension, rich symbolism, and desperate irony of the epic climax.
As a whole, the production all comes together beautifully and tightly. Rui Komatsuzaki drew up the original character designs (which he previously did for Kodaka’s Danganronpa anime franchise). Kaoru Aoki provides intricate background art the likes of Maoyu, Fafner, or Kabaneri fans might recognize. Lastly, Maiko Iuchi (of Railgun and Index fame) instills a electric blend of cultural sounds and technopop to give the series a weird yet fitting musical twang. I could’ve gone for a less screamo rock OP theme, but if that’s my only beef with the production, I’ll gladly take it.
At the End of the Road
Although I’m a huge fan of anything Kodaka gets his paws on, I did have a couple problems with the overall plot. Aside from the ridiculous theatrics of Courier’s bike riding, it’s almost impossible to ignore the number of situations in which the heroine shouldn’t have made it out of. Plus, and this point is technically a minor spoiler for the first few episodes, so skip to the end now, but the children involved in the case are, like, immortal—do the Akudama forget that or?? Often, I felt like the Akudama could’ve just shot the officer holding the kids captive without fear of holding back BECAUSE even if they shot a kid, the kid wouldn’t have died. Maybe it was just me, but when you’re messing with immortality, you can and should be able to get away with this kind of recklessness.
Besides my small complaints, Akudama Drive was one of my favorite watches of 2020. To be fair, I hardly watched anything else. But to its credit, I think most people who like the more gruesome battle royale thriller anime will start recommending Akudama Drive as their first go-to. For one, it has an original story, allowing the series to end its run with a satisfying (if short) 12 episodes. Two, the story is written by Danganronpa‘s Kodaka, a genius who’s no stranger to these kinds of survival dramas. (Gotta love the way he transitions scenes as if all the set pieces were giant cardboard panels!) And three, the story is BOMB as frick. Done and done. Go watch Akudama Drive, it’s brilliant, it’s explosive, it’s mad—and it’s probably the bloody sci-fi action survival game you’ve been waiting for.
“I stole goods from the Shinkansen’s vault. I’m the Super S-Rank Akudama who plunged Kansai into chaos. I . . . am Swindler!” – Swindler
I have to give it to Kodaka—the guy’s still got it. Obviously, I enjoyed Akudama Drive quite a great deal, and I hope you did as well. Because of its cool style, crazy presentation, and powerful sense of justice, I’m welcoming Akudama Drive with the certified “Cafe Mocha” title, a rating marking it as one of my favorites, and one I cannot recommend enough so long as the anime blood and gore won’t bother you. Cause there’s lots of it, that’s for sure! But what did you think of the series: Did you find it a fun watch or a painfully irritating one? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Akudama Drive down in the comments! Hopefully I’ll be able to churn out another series review for you guys soon. Thanks for reading, and ’til next time!
A brief review of the 12-episode winter 2016 anime “Boku dake ga Inai Machi” (trans. “The Town Where Only I am Missing”) or simply “ERASED,”produced by A-1 Pictures, based on the manga by Kei Sanbe.
Hearing about anime with time travel immediately make me feel two things: Exhilaration and skepticism. The rush of adrenaline is an obvious one. I mean, doesn’t finding out that trial and error will play a key part make you excited? The concept usually entails a character going through repetitive hardships to eventually overcome a goal that will better either themselves or the future or both. Often, however, shows will fail to use the gimmick to its maximum potential, either not developing a character enough to show improvement (or drastic change) or making an inconsistent story just for thrill’s sake.
ERASED executes a surprising mix of these turnouts, and depending on how you interpret the lead, Satoru, by the end, you’ll either walk away awestruck or feeling quite underwhelmed about the whole package.
Dismal 29-year-old Satoru Fujinuma is a pizza delivery man/part-time manga artist/time traveler in modern-day Japan. Well, sort of. He just has these occasional bursts where, right as a disaster occurs, he is sent back a few moments to before the incident. He calls the unexplained phenomenon “Revival,” and he seems to be tasked with saving those facing inevitable peril.
Returning to his apartment from a seemingly normal outing, Satoru finds his mother brutally skewered on the floor and is unfairly accused of murder. Just as the adrenaline is enough to cause his heart to burst, Satoru is tossed back once again through “Revival.” But this time, a few breather minutes beforehand becomes 18 years—1988—and is enough to send him back to elementary school!
A man trapped in a boy’s body, Satoru comes to realize that his mother’s untimely death could be tied to the abduction and killing of a lone classmate of his during childhood, Kayo Hinazuki. Given a second chance at righting wrong and changing his own presently-dull fate, Satoru is challenged to save those lost in the past, protect beloved ones in the present, and ultimately expose the mastermind behind the killings.
Let’s get one thing straight: ERASED is not a good mystery anime. It has mystery elements, yes, but the identity of the killer at large is far too predictable. This mainly stems from the otherwise lack of possible suspects. A good mystery anime wouldn’t toss in a character at the end and label him the murderer—thankfully ERASED doesn’t do that. Where it fails is in the tiny toss up of possible killers. I wanted to say I was truly shocked by the end, but the abrupt change in slower pace and lack of characters to choose from left little room to ponder. Some of the animation cues are also at fault, but we’ll cover that department’s actual brilliance in a bit.
While we’re discussing the cons, I’ll add that the unexplained notion of how or why Satoru undergoes these “Revivals” really bothered me when I reached the end of the series. It’s as if they show us a preview of the power in a few beginning instances, then toss the idea once we hit the halfway point. Being a time travel fanatic, I was disappointed with how it was handled, unless . . . The gimmick doesn’t revolve around needing to save Kayo. Some otherworldly force did it so he could save himself, a man not interested in society and partially life. And where else do you meet friends and solidify family? Childhood. I see each “Revival” as a wake-up call for Satoru, like, “Get a hold of your life, man!”
At least the show’s wild predictability and faulty concept were led by memorable characters, specifically speaking, Satoru, Sachiko Fujinuma (his big-lipped, sharp-eyed momma and arguably best character of the season), and Kayo Hinazuki. The wide screen narrative for his revisited childhood days was fantastic contrast, and it fits the movie theater theme as represented by the opening and the “Revival’s” running film. While the background characters served their purpose, nothing was more entertaining than 28-year-old Satoru’s thoughts being accidently leaked from his little kid mouth. The fixed goal set by his favorite manga hero that is always referenced helps guide his character. I could go on about how smart and well-intertwined these main characters are, but my friend Rocco B laid it all out in his comprehensive review, which I urge you to check out for more depth on every layer.
As for production quality, it’s once again A-1 Pictures and Yuki Kajiura—could a guy ask for more? Honestly, the intense color palette and flowing imagery accompanied by Kajiura’s deeply-felt and haunting main melody brought the story to life. She conveys Satoru’s soliloquy with excellent intensity.
The real question is for ERASED, are you an OP or ED guy/gal. For me, the tune of the ending “Sore wa Chiisana Hikari no Youna” by Sayuri was much addicting and romantic, albeit Sayuri’s voice being a bit on the high and nasally end. Fight me.
With a future thrown into mayhem (Satoru running from the cops and getting into house fires 24/7), ERASED only seemed fun and truly thrilling in childhood; the future seems lost in purpose. Speaking of excitement, where its mystery failed to convince me, its thriller levels were off the charts! It seems every time red flashed across the white 1988 snow, my heart skipped a beat. That is, until you reach the last episode or two.
HERO WEEK SEGMENT: Archetypical Hero qualities represented by Satoru
I’ve taken a quick trip to Google to provide qualities of the typical hero. Let’s briefly exercise each prompt:
Unusual circumstances of birth; sometimes in danger or born into royalty
Other than the fact that his father is out of the picture, not much can be said for this one.
Leaves family or land and lives with others
Satoru, as we see it, is on a long journey from age 10 to 28. In the present, he lives by himself with a part-time job and a hobby he wishes to pursue. I assume he moved out not only because he was old enough, but because he wanted to get a job as a manga artist for his hero story, and his career path led him to the city where these kinds of options are more prevalent.
An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure
The death of Sachiko is the big one, obviously. Satoru lost his one and only crutch supporting him in these seemingly purposeless days.
Hero has a special weapon only he can wield/always has supernatural help
“Revival” anyone? This is the weakest point, as his power is truly the unexplained supernatural, but all that matters is that he is given a second chance—only he can change fate.
The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
Protect Kayo Hinazuki. Keep Airi out of harm’s way. Prove Jun Shiratori’s innocence. Save Sugita and Nakanishi. Find the murderer. These and many more challenges await Satoru on his rugged journey.
***SPOILERS START HERE***
The journey and the unhealable wound
Coming in episode 9, Satoru is drowned by the killer, thus becoming ‘erased.’ Though the story proceeds to save his rear with the ‘sudden coma treatment,’ this imprisons Satoru for several years. When he reawakens, he is a changed man—he suffers brief amnesia, but then quickly marks the line between good and evil by pointing out the killer on the cold hospital rooftop. He won’t be able to regain these lost years, but they have changed him for the better, as he is able to see the wonderful lives that have sprouted from those he saved.
Hero experiences atonement with the father
Upon her sudden death, Satoru melts at being with his mom once again in the past. He uses her passing as a motivator (avengement) for seeking Kayo’s safety, watching over her and struggling against the inevitable.
When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually
THIS is the key one, and tends to affect people’s enjoyment. Clearly Satoru didn’t die at the end, but the part of him that revisited the past and was able to undergo “Revivals” is no longer with him. The traumatic event in episode 9 caused the split in spirit. For his work, Satoru is rewarded with a new start at middle-aged life rife with opportunity and good fortune, contrasting the beginning. But unlike most heroes, Satoru loses his special power, leaving us to assume that his journey wasn’t about a kid saving the lives of many, one about a man seeking redemption through experiencing loss. Because he mentions in the epilogue that he never experienced another “Revival,” we are led to believe that his mission is complete, which somewhat defies the typical hero. He ACTUALLY gets to relive his life, while most retire to death following their journey.
***SPOILERS END HERE***
Good things have been said about ERASED for a reason: Its intense thriller fantasy atmosphere is awesome, the music and animation are top-notch, and Satoru is an exciting main character (voiced by an incredible actor, mind you). Fair enough. The end also gets a lot of slack for being anticlimactic. That I really also agree with. It all comes down to how you interpret the hero’s journey—Was the enemy too easily identifiable, or was Satoru’s reward too gracious? All that can be surely said is that we tend to notice how much we have only once we’ve lost it. In a town where only you went missing, I’m sure I would realize the impact you’ve made.
“Kayo, my fate is my own. There’s no need for you to feel responsible. I’m sure that what’s become of me was a result of something I wanted.” – Satoru Fujinuma
Being entertaining is not the same as being well-written. A solid “Cake (4/5),” ERASED was definitely my favorite from the winter 2016 season, then again I only watched two anime. What did you think of the show? How did you interpret the same issues everyone had with it? FEEL FREE TO TALK ABOUT SOMEONE IMPORTANT IN YOUR LIFE, or how you thought Satoru was a good/bad hero! I want to celebrate the cause with all of you! Until next time, this has been
– Takuto, your host
Just look at how happy momma Fujinuma is. Best mom 2016!