The End of Hope: Despair Conquers All in Danganronpa 3 | OWLS “Movement”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s fifth monthly topic for 2018, “Movement,” I wanted to dive deep into despair with the Danganronpa franchise, specifically its “third” anime adaptation, Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School – Despair Arc. In today’s world where chaos is on the rise, spreading fear and horror through resurging domestic violence, manipulation of mass media, and most notably, school shootings, I couldn’t find a more relevant title befitting the catastrophic future we could potentially end up living ourselves—unless we stop this war on terror.

We join movements, organizations, and systems that align with our own personal values and beliefs. Sometimes we join these groups because they believe in doing good and making positive changes in society. However, these movements can turn sour when a dictator arises behind such good intentions, revealing perhaps a hidden agenda of oppression. It is in these groups that individuals start to shape their identities by either questioning their values and beliefs or conforming to the system. This month, we will be examining “real and/or fictitious” movements, organizations, or systems in anime and other pop culture mediums, and the positive and negative effects they have on individuals and society.

I’ve literally been dying to use Danganronpa in one of these OWLS posts, and seeing as how nobody ever talks about this epic third season, I think it’s about time that happened! (For the sake of a spoiler-free post, I will be omitting the series’s second half, the Future Arc. Call it saving a fantastic series for another day.) Thanks Lyn and Auri for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the 11-episode summer 2016 anime “Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School – Despair Arc,” followed by its 1-episode “Hope” finale, animated by Lerche, directed by Motoo Fukuoka and Seiji Kishi, and based on the original story by Kazutaka Kodaka. 

AND YES, I HAVE DONE THE IMPOSSIBLE BY MAKING A SPOILER-FREE DANGANRONPA POST, SO ENJOY~! 

Beginning of the End – Despair Arc

Tragedy, Madness, Terror, Unpredictability

The Mastermind of despair had already destroyed the world come the end of the Killing School Life endured by the disassembled (but not completely hopeless) 78th class of Hope’s Peak High. Encompassed by the franchise’s first game/anime adaptation, this zany and bitter series of mutual killings was (believe it or not) the horrific climax to an even darker, more messed up series of unfortunate events. And that’s where the Despair Arc comes in: it aims to chronicle the reign of terror staged by the one and only Mastermind, how their plans easily came to fruition, and the thrill they received because of it.

Simply put, what begins as a tale of hope ends in utter despair. And that’s what makes it one of the coolest anime to ever exist. 

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Unlike practically all of the other Danganronpa entries, Despair Arc is one of the very few to not feature a survival game of sorts. Yet, it’s still that kind of series in which its perilous situations—to your own disbelief—only grow worse, and worse, and worse . . . At this point in the story, the series’s iconically dooming mascot Monokuma doesn’t exist, so how does Despair Arc get its own fix of insanity? For the Mastermind, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!

  1. School shootings committed by beloved students
  2. Growing disparity between two “classes” of humans
  3. Inability of higher-ranking officials to properly dispute social problems

That’s all it takes to watch the world crumble. I know what you’re thinking—those three issues hit scarily close to home, don’t they? No, it’s definitely true. All around us, the world of this despair-infested fictional setting is slowly creeping into reality. Carnage is spreading. People are being unfairly treated and lambasted for factors beyond their own control. Nuclear war looms on the ember horizon. Great tensions that have lasted decades are about to bust loose with a fireworks show of death and depravity.

And the worst part is that we’re all just standing around watching it happen.

Despair is on the rise, and we’re only letting the movement grow.

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While Despair Arc does rely on a couple cheap gimmicks to speed the Mastermind’s course of evil along (surely to accommodate the dreadfully short 11-episode length), the series takes the most wild, absurd, almost painfully realistic ideas and runs far with them. Very, very far. Somehow, Kodaka has written such a brilliant story that starts off all shining and bright and ends in utter ruin, perfectly encapsulating the range of human spirit at the onset fear and anarchy. After watching, you almost want to call the shot:

This is the future our own kids will be living unless we take action NOW. 

It’s a terrifying thought, unbelievable at times, and that is exactly why—despite being a mere prequel to an incredibly exciting, well-written sagaDespair Arc serves more as a warning to the path this global society is currently treading. Although a stretch, nearly all of the horrific crimes committed in this series can be, or have already been, reproduced in our own lives, right at this very minute.

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It may not be spear-headed by a single bored high school student, but all around us, people are rapidly growing more cynical, distrustful, and hateful than they have ever been. Despair is at an all-time high, and what’s even worse is that some sick individuals out there actually get off on this madness. The seeds of hopelessness have long-since been sown by humanity, and in just a few short years, months, or even days, the despair will blossom magnificently.

And only then will you be wishing you did something.

Hope is a state of harmony. Righteous and bright, and all that other BS. Despair is more fun. And it grows so quickly. Like mushrooms, over a single night. Despair is messy and confusing. And it ain’t much of a picky eater. It devours love, hate, the whole shebang. Despair takes the plans you’ve put all your faith into and rips ’em to shreds. You may think you’re above petty human desires, but you need Despair. When it’s calling the shots, all bets are off. You don’t wanna be bored outta your skull for the rest of forever, do ya? — Junko Enoshima

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Birth of a New Light – Hope Arc

Aspiration, Optimism, Dreams, Stability

Long after The Tragedy of Hope’s Peak High, The Twilight Syndrome Murder Case, The Worst, Most Despair Inducing Incident in the History of Mankind, the Killing School Life, the Killing School Trip, and the Final Killing Game, AT LAST, the skies begin to clear up. Was it the proper ending to a masterful franchise that fans had been anticipating for several years? Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly everything that we wanted (or deserved), but thematically, all points reconnect and converge at this final crossroad splendidly. At the end of a dreadfully prolonged saga of despair suffocating what little justice remains, hope ultimately comes out on top—and brighter than ever.

There’s something infectious about being cynical for fun. We do it all the time on the internet, making sad jokes that mock the hilariousness of our pitiful lives. “We are not strong,” or at least as strong as we think we are, and we enjoy a mutual sense of humor in this fallacy. This emotion that plagues our very lives with pessimism—this negative philosophy that we can neither change the tides of destiny, nor amount to anything in the end—such is true despair.

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Naegi’s struggle to remain hopeful in one desolate situation after another brought him to his knees. But unlike Future Foundation’s Munakata (or most of today’s political leaders for that matter), he still looked up to those around him, believing that although despair teaches us hardship, hope preaches harmony. Despair may have relished the past and the present, but Naegi’s unwavering hope paved way for the future—his movement of hope snowballed into what can only be described as a truly contagious effort.

Hope is just way too stubborn to die. Despair can win the battle, but never the war. — Monaca Towa

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All this and more is why I want you to think about how you approach communication with others. Do you start with a self-deprecating joke, or perhaps approach a conversation with praise or positivity for the given topic? The next time you log on to the internet—be it Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, forums, chat rooms, or other social media—do try your best to believe that there is still good in this wild world. We have the power to pick our battles, thus we should better learn when to restrain, and when to take matters into our own hands. Hope is but a simple four-letter word, and yet it has the power to shape generations, the life we live now, and the future that awaits us.

What that future looks like ultimately lies in our strength to fight the darkness, together. 

Hard as we try, none of us can see the future. The horizon we walk toward is always obscured. The future’s always hazy. Hope and Despair mingle. We can’t always tell which is which. It’s strange. Sometimes terrifying. Still though, if all you do is sit and wait, nothing happens. The trick is to take it one step at a time. See, you don’t have to know the future to move forward. Just walk with your memories. Look up at the sky, and say to yourself, “There’s always Hope for tomorrow.” — Makoto Naegi

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Afterword

The entire Danganronpa franchise is incredibly dark, creative, intense, vulgar, and tons of fun to both play and watch. As such, it’s no surprise that I award Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School with the certified “Caffe Mocha” rating. Especially with the Despair Arc, the series’s ability to not only account for all the nitpicky details, but string them together in a logical, story-telling format is admirable (even if some of the methods are a tad sub-par compared to, say, the second game’s beautifully corrupt and twisted ways). Aside from maybe Fate/ZeroDespair Arc is the greatest “beginning of the end” prequel anime to ever be written. Unlike all other told-from-zero stories, there is no happy ending to be found here, unless of course, you’re rooting for the Mastermind.

A bloody masterpiece of the whodunnit murder mystery genre, Danganronpa 3 tackles the near impossible and pulls it off with flying colors (and a lot of pink blood). I could go on and on about how much I love Lerche’s clean game-to-anime stylistic transfer, as well as Kodaka’s story, Masafumi Takada’s soundtrack, and ALL the damn characters, but alas! Perhaps for another post!

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This concludes my May 23rd entry in the OWLS “Movement” blog tour. Gloria (The Nerdy Girl News) went right before me and wrote about the living differences between humans and robots, and what truly makes us human in the anime Beatless, a series that I’ve been meaning to check out since it started airing. Gloria is new to OWLS, so go give her some love! Now, look out for another new member, Dylan (DynamicDylan) over on YouTube, with a vid about the great Gundam Seed set to air tomorrow, May 24th! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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

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

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The Dungeon Horror Genre Meets Fate

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

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

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

Not-So-Familiar Faces

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

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

No Guts, No Glory!

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

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

Fate in the Hands of Another Studio

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

 

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

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

For the Fans Who Wanted One Last Encore

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

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

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

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Afterword

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

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

– Takuto, your host

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

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

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A Bumbling, Tumbling, Pure-Hearted Gentleman

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

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

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

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Love Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

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

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

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

“MISS YAMATOOOO!!!”

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

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

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

It’s. So. Funny. 

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

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A “Cake” Title in its Purest Form

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

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

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

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Afterword

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

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

– Takuto, your host

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

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

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

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

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

Rivals off the Court, Teammates on It

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

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

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Karasuno: The Crow Flies Again

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

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

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

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

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Haikyuu!!‘s Unique, Competitive, Spirited Characters

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Forces that Unite Us

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

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Consideration—to experience thought and care for another

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

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

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

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

Communication—to connect with others and exchange information

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

Challenge—to engage in competition for the betterment of oneself

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

The Birth of a Real Squad

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

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

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

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Afterword

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

On Love, Loneliness, & the Growing Distance Between Us | The Works of Makoto Shinkai

Have you ever had that “feeling”? You know the one—when you notice yourself suddenly skipping about here and there, flattering others in an uncharacteristically cheery way that makes them remark, “I want what they’re having!” Some call that expression—that intense feeling of deep affection, interest, or yearning—love. It’s but a simple four-letter word, and yet it can give some people enough purpose and motivation to perform wild, breathtaking feats, going to the greatest of lengths just for that shared pleasure of joy. “Love makes the world go round,” it truly does.

Such a complex and powerful emotion often finds its way into animation. Specifically, the romance genre of anime holds steady as one of the field’s experts. Its incredible variety masterfully demonstrates that love is not only sweet and tender, but can also be realistically crushing and emotionally devastating.

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The latter is the kind of stories director Makoto Shinkai likes to tell. Rather than measuring up as a statistically sound series or film—that is, a rated “10/10” on various elements such as plot, pacing, characters, animation (his forte), sound etc.—Shinkai films excel at eliciting a feeling, usually on the heartache end of the emotional spectrum. To quote his latest award-winning hit, Your Name., Shinkai’s films provide, simply put, “Nothing more or less than a breathtaking view.” Each possess their own fair share of flaws, some more than others, but beyond the little plot holes lies a relatable character struggle that just might tread a path you yourself have walked.

And it’s exactly that strong resonance between one’s own experiences and Shinkai’s ill-fated cast which makes him one of the bests in the industry. Everyone wants to feel connected to others, and Shinkai depicts through his picture-perfect worlds what that connection is really like, and why it isn’t always everything that we wanted after all.

In the iconic, beautifully cruel style which solidified his films as masterworks of modern animation, Makoto Shinkai appeals to humanity’s most innate fears of rejection and loss by directing his characters through the timeless themes of love, loneliness, and the growing distance which separates people as time goes on. These lessons teach us that though life has its fair share of heartbreak, each relationship we stumble into and every opportunity we miss out on still carries the potential to live out a better tomorrow—you just have to look beyond the distance.

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A comparative study and light analysis on the works of Makoto Shinkai. For each title, I will delve into the big issues or “separators” at hand, factoring in whether the story’s realism and emotions which the endings provoke somehow determine the possibilities for happiness and sadness alike. As such, SPOILERS for nearly all of his films WILL BE PRESENT. Also, these will NOT be individual reviews for each title. For those prepared to relive all of these amazing films, enjoy!

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(NONE OF THIS GORGEOUS ARTWORK BELONGS TO ME. All praise and ownership goes to Makoto Shinkai and CoMix Wave Films.)

She and Her Cat (1999)

I will always be by your side. After all, I am your cat.

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Aside from the music (by Tenmon), this 4-minute short was completely created by Shinkai alone, marking the early beginnings of his budding career as not only an animator and writer, but also a director. It’s the short tale of an average Japanese girl living in an apartment told from the viewpoint of Chobi, her beloved cat. Chobi speaks formally and passionately about his owner, yet he still has this pure, unclouded perspective of a cat. Arguably his softest work yet, She and Her Cat: Their Standing Points stood out due to its innovative (and awfully cute) exploration of love.

What ultimately separates the two from “eloping” is, well, obvious—“She” is a human girl, a woman, while Chobi is a cat. It’s an unusual relationship, but that doesn’t stop the film from being so unrealistic as to the plot being “impossible.” The woman, nicknamed Kanojo by the community, faces her own hardships in the real world (including a possible love interest), and though Chobi would like to know what she does and where she goes once she closes their apartment door, he understands that her life likely isn’t all sunshine and roses—it doesn’t really concern him. All that matters to him is that she returns home at the end of a long day.

Like with all of Shinkai’s films to follow, what separates them (different species, the “language barrier”) also unites them, for through each others warm embrace—that of a cat and his owner—they find comfort and care. Simple, peaceful, heartwarming.

Voices of a Distant Star (2002)

We may be the first generation of lovers separated by time and space.

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Stepping up his game, yet still working alone (aside for Tenmon’s gorgeous piano and string score), Shinkai quotes this rather aged 2002 short film as the piece which put him out in the world. Set in the near future, mankind’s ambition to explore space separates Nagamine and Noboru, a young girl and boy in junior high. As Noboru enters high school, Nagamine is sent off on an expedition into space’s infinite depths. The farther she strays away from Earth and her Noboru-kun, the longer it takes for their texts to reach one another. Minutes turn into hours, days, weeks, months, and soon—

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Though inventive at its time, the 3D graphics haven’t aged all too well. But thematically, Voices of a Distant Star packs more of an emotional punch than most 12-episode series could today—and this film only clocks in at 25 minutes, including the credits! It seems as if the big separator in Voices is the physical distance, but waiting for their messages of goodwill to traverse the vast blank void that is space ushers in another factor: time. As Nagamine’s unchanging body fights on (in what I can only imagine to be early-2000 Shinkai’s mecha dream-of-a-giant robot), Noboru ages at what feels like an alarming pace. In reality, his growth rate is no different from any of ours is, but the way Shinkai conveys the rapid passage of time only accentuates our lovers’ tragedy. Is it realistic? Even as a sci-fi flick, not really. But does its bittersweet run end on an ambiguously hopeful note? Absolutely.

Voices is arguably the first film in Shinkai’s line-up to convey this notion that perhaps the lack of realism can lead to a happy ending. Very interesting . . .

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)

On those now-distant days, we made a promise we couldn’t keep.

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To tackle the 1 hr. 30 min. length of this next film, Shinkai needed a team. Between his early beginnings and now in 2004, he partnered with the animation studio CoMix Wave Films. The results—The Place Promised in Our Early Days visually blew audiences away, nearly more so than with 2002’s Voices. Set near the turn of the century in an alternate reality Japan, which is split by America and the Soviet Union, young boys Hiroki and Takuya aim to fly to the top of the fantastical, unbelievably high Hokkaido Tower using an old drone. While at first a secret for just the two of them, Sayuri, a girl Hiroki and Takuya both like but would never admit to one another, discovers their secret, leading to the boys putting their project on indefinite hiatus. When Sayuri suddenly disappears from their life, however, the two come to realize that reaching the mysterious tower—the promised dream of their childhood—might be the only way to save her.

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Hiroki and Takuya experience a loss of youth, of innocence, as they learn to develop their own dreams and ideologies different from their childish musings. What once united them in friendship tears them apart, and the disappearance of Sayuri and discovery of her untimely illness are what kicked off the depressing events that plague the film’s middle. To watch two friends come at each other’s throat can be painfully real to some, as we’ve all have our fair share of little spats with friends. Additionally, I’m sure we’ve all seen sickness and temptation take the life of a loved one and push them into a place beyond our reach. Thankfully, a happy reunion awaits the cast at the end, leading to the belief of how sacrifice can yield rebirth.

Once again, Shinkai writes with a science fiction mind, and although people still relate to Hiroki and Takuya, the entire premise is unrealistic, nothing more than a child’s fantasy. Can you still learn from it? Of course, but come Shinkai’s next film, reality takes a turn for the worst—the start of a tragic trend.

5 Centimeters Per Second (2007)

At what speed must I live to be able to see you again?

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Here it is, Shinkai’s greatest creation (thematically, that is). I’m sure it needs no introduction, unlike his more obscure early works, but in case you forgot, it’s the story of two very close friends and classmates: Takaki Toono and Akari Shinohara. Elementary school should be a time of play and triviality, but for these two, such isn’t the case. Rather than run around on the playground, Takaki and Akari would rather read in the library, or simply chat about life’s musings. Just as they become close, however, Akari’s family plans to move. Takaki and Akari send letters to one another, but Akari only continues to move further and further away. In a final attempt to see Akari before she’s beyond his limits, Takaki sets out to reunite with her. His unlucky trek attracts a cold winter’s blizzard, delaying the series of trains to Akari’s town. But that doesn’t stop the two from finally, FINALLY meeting once again. And boy, does your heart just melt the frost away.

Equal parts faith and love, Takaki made the effort to travel out in the cold, sure, but Akari was the one who waited—the one who sat there miserable and alone with nothing to do but pray that her young love was on his way. It was proof that their love should be everlasting, but alas, that’s not the story Shinkai is trying to tell. In this first episode, it is a physical distance which separates our main couple.

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A chain of short stories about their distance.

After this touching first episode, the film enters its next “story.” Time passes on. Takaki, too, moves away from his hometown to the warm regions of Tanegashima (a stark contrast to the first episode’s frigid finale). Now a high schooler, Takaki meets a new girl, and though she tries to admit her feelings to him, Takaki knows all along that his heart only belongs to one person: the woman of his past. Time and other relationships have left him traveling aimlessly. In the final episode, Takaki is old. Maybe not in the physical sense, as late 20s—early 30s is still quite young, but his spirit definitely seems lost—his heart broken from years without seeing or hearing from her.

The painful reality is that, as life would have it, she has moved on, already engaged to another man. And that’s just it—the final separator which drives these now-unrelated adults is life itself. Life is always changing, and as we continue down our own paths, we sometimes have to leave others behind.

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At its core, 5 Centimeters Per Second strives to present one’s “first love,” and how difficult it is to hold onto it—so much so that it almost feels not worth experiencing at all. Takaki, by his end, is lonely, depressed, and empty. It’s a sad film, yet a brutally honest one. Shinkai’s first feature-length film in a world without giant robots or fantasy towers is painfully real, and that aspect remains what distinguishes Shinkai from today’s anime directors. By this point, Makoto Shinkai had earned the appreciation and respect of his more mature adult viewers.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)

This is the journey to know the meaning of “goodbye.”

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Shinkai returns to the realm of fiction with this next film. Clearly inspired by the magical presentation of Studio Ghibli movies, the story follows young Asuna, an excellent student who maintains her family’s house in a rural town during her mother’s absence. Aside from spending time with nature, Asuna is alone. She finds escapism in her secret hideout up in the mountains, and frequently tunes into her old crystal radio for relaxation. One day, she unexpectedly picks up on a curious frequency: a rather melancholic melody, different from any song she had ever heard before. As if fated to meet, a mysterious boy named Shun rescues Asuna from a wild, bizarre creature, unintentionally dragging Asuna and her teacher, Mr. Morisaki, on a perilous journey to Agartha, a land long-lost to time and human presence.

Though not his smartest film by any means, Shinkai has been longing to visit this colorful, enchanting world—Agartha—for some time now. The luscious planet upon which Nagamine lands in Voices of a Distant Star; the domain where the comatose Sayuri resides in The Place Promised in Our Early Days; Takaki Toono’s realm of dreams in 5 Centimeters Per Second—each time this wondrous world reappears, it offers comfort to the characters. Not coincidentally, the design remains the same, too. From the gorgeously iconic “Shinkai clouds” to the seas of green grass and remains of old ruins, Agartha FINALLY gets the thorough fleshing-out that it has since deserved, and I’m just glad we got to go there at long last.

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But Children Who Chase isn’t all sunshine and roses. Awaiting Asuna and Morisaki is an adventure rife with death, and a thorough demonstration as to what happens when man attempts to bring those passed back to life. Foolish, blind greed and a gaping sense of loss are what separate Morisaki from someone pure-hearted like Asuna. But in the same way, the journey of letting go and understanding what “goodbye” truly means allows for the film to end with an odd, lukewarm sensation of happiness. Adventure yields danger, but to those who learn their lessons, the hope to live a fulfilling life burns on. God may be a cruel teacher, but so is history.

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Children Who Chase Lost Voices is far from a realistic story, and thus, the pattern of Shinkai’s fantasies ending contentedly continues. Is he trying to say that reality is just full of heartache and nothing else? Perhaps so with his next couple of films.

The Garden of Words (2013)

Before there was love, there was loneliness.

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A personal favorite of mine, Shinkai’s The Garden of Words provides a 46-minute feels trip through an unusual couple’s short-lived romantic spat.

Tenmon takes a break from the music to allow talent like Daisuke Kashiwa’s immersive piano soliloquies to establish an atmosphere unlike ANY other. And the visuals—THIS is the incredible level of quality which defines Makoto Shinkai’s digital landscaping, lighting, and realism today. Visually, The Garden of Words remains the most beautiful short film I have ever seen, and it will probably hold that title for a long time to come!

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On a rainy morning in Tokyo, aspiring shoemaker Takao Akizuki does what every student on a rainy day wishes they could do—he skips class to sketch designs in the city’s beautiful garden. Thinking he’d be all alone in this calm misty weather, he accidentally meets a beautiful yet reserved young woman. Her name is Yukari Yukino, and though she continues to skip out work to drink and eat chocolates in the garden, Takao takes a liking to her poetic words. To [figuratively] get her back on her feet, Takao offers to make Yukino new shoes. And thus they vow to themselves: for each day it rains, I will spend time with her/him.

More rainy days arrive, and as the two secretly convene in their garden of words—of shared acceptance and belonging—the two unknowingly start to lighten their own personal burdens just by being together. Tokyo’s rainy season may be long, but like all good things, it doesn’t last forever. As warmer days creep ahead and the chance for precipitation diminishes, Takao and Yukino’s relationship risks drying up like the rain which brought them together.

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The Garden of Words paints the true vision of life’s loneliness before love intervenes. It’s the gentle story about finding solace in another, and learning to alleviate one’s personal worries through something as simple as conversation. At first, a lack of courage casts Takao and Yukino as an awkward couple. Only after Yukino is revealed to be a teacher at his school do we see the true separator at hand: the age gap, and the societal notions that place stigmas on teacher–student relationships. YUKINO KNEW THE WHOLE TIME, yet held of on saying anything for fear of judgement. And in the end, Takao yells at her, forcing her on her feet through their compelling emotional conflict.

Realistic in every sense of the word, its finale feels bittersweet, yet resolved. Separated from each other, the two resume pursuing their own personal aspirations. Though somewhat sad, in truth the ending is optimistic about the different directions Takao and Yukino take, as it was through comfort in one another’s presence which allowed them to find their way back on the path—and with a stronger, more confident “footing” this time around.

The Garden of Words rings true as the new Shinkai standard, but thematically, it revolutionized Shinkai’s game: for the first time, a realistic story does, in fact, yield a happy ending.

Someone’s Gaze (2013)

There are a lot of things you two have forgotten.

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Returning to form, Makoto Shinkai cranks out another charming yet touching short (6 minutes in length) with the release of The Garden of Words. It hearkens waaay back to his beginnings, with the simple yet relatable tale of a girl and her cat. Aa-chan lives in a near-future Japan, and has recently made the big transition of living on her own following graduation and the start of a new job. With her mother working overseas as a doctor, her loving father is left behind at the apartment with the family cat, Mii-san, who happens to be very old by this point. Seeking a way to reach out to her, her father tries several times to reconnect with his distancing child, but the gap is too awkward for him to bridge. Eventually Mii-san passes away, but this sudden grief holds the power to reunite a tired daughter, a busy mother, and a lonely father.

All that emotional energy conveyed in such a short time serves to remind us as to Shinkai’s greatest strength, that is, being able to make his viewers experience heartbreak followed by hope (or hopelessness) in a matter of mere minutes. Someone’s Gaze is especially relatable, as the burnout experienced by today’s youth and the parental fear of their children growing up in today’s world both hit us hard at some point in our lives. With maturity comes opportunity, but that often involves temporarily leaving an old way of life—and the people in it—behind. In truth, familial bonds change over time, and as we grow up, it can be hard to maintain that “want” to communicate.

Like The Garden of Words, Shinkai permits for a realistic story to end optimistically hopeful, perhaps marking that the guy really is turning a new leaf from his long history of depressing, failed love stories.

Cross Road (2014)

I sought to find something great, and while it may not have been what I expected, I found something . . . or rather, someone. 

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Although this latest short is actually just a 2-minute commercial for the Z-Kai cram schools, it was still directed by Shinkai, and holds that same breathtaking, picture-perfect style to boot. As college entrance examinations draw near, two students living completely different lives focus their time and energy into a correspondence education service. Juggling their studies with their already-involved daily lives, the two diligently work towards that high goal of college admission, unaware of how much they share in common. It’s a brief yet inspiring “work hard, play hard” preview into a film that I can only imagine would’ve been absolutely stunning had it received the length it deserved. Not as absurd as those 30-second Cup Noodle ads, but even just a couple minutes more would have doubled the story’s length. I suppose we don’t always get what we want; such is life.

Despite the let-down of a run time, Cross Road still manages to follow a truncated version of the Shinkai formula: two individuals in similar situations are separated by different lives, but their unexpected meeting reveals that, through hard work, the hope to overcome their challenges increases. Call this a lighthearted take on the next and final film—the realistic outcome of what possibly could have been.

Your Name. (2016)

Wherever you are in the world, I swear I will find you again—no matter what. 

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Your Name. exploded onto the anime scene, continuing to break record after record until it became the highest-grossing anime film in the world (among other nominations). Funimation and Madman Entertainment’s combined efforts to license, dub, and promote the film through staggered theatrical releases maintained its hype not just for the remainder of 2016, but for most of 2017, too. Even now, anime fans who are finally getting around to watching it share their praise with the community, reviving the excitement of this rom-com drama to no end. By this point, Your Name. wasn’t just another Shinkai film—it was a moving, breathing phenomenon.

Like any high school girl born and raised in the Japanese countryside, Mitsuha Miyamizu craves the wonder and excitement of city life. Unfortunately for her, the family’s shrine needs its maiden, restricting Mitsuha to her life in the boonies. Meanwhile in the lively Tokyo, high school student Taki Tachibana labors away at his part-time job with the hopes of eventually pursuing a career in architecture.

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One day, Mitsuha awakens to an unfamiliar ceiling, but the chic apartment and bright view of the city skyscrapers instantly identify as Tokyo. “This is my dream life! But wait . . . wha—I’m in a boy’s body!” Out in the countryside, Taki finds himself waking up in a similar frightening situation. A strange phenomenon swapped the two’s places, and in order to figure out the reasons for their predicament, Taki and Mitsuha live out random days in the other’s shoes, learning about the differing lifestyles, and that above all, fate works in mysterious ways. As Taki and Mitsuha desparately begin searching for the other, their actions begin to dramatically impact the course of destiny, forever altering the threads of fate which tie them together.

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Your Name. almost feels like the culmination of all of Shinkai’s themes, plot points, and even character personalities that make a work, well, Makoto Shinkai’s. Enormous skies, photo-realistic cities, intense lighting, a calm atmospheric music score, themes based on things taken for granted in daily life, and lots of trains. THIS is what Shinkai represents to us now, and on that cinematographic level, Your Name. is perfection. (Also, like, Radwimps wrote the greatest insert songs to an anime EVER.)

A girl and a boy torn apart by an impossible distance, but brought together through circumstance and, of course, fate. At first, that distance is literal: Taki lives in Tokyo, while Mitsuha resides miles away living her humble country life. And part of that is the trick, the gimmick behind the landscape facade, for as soon as the big reveal of the comet Tiamat’s destruction is made, BOOM—time turns out to be the true separator here. Though Taki felt confident and sure of this feeling tugging at his heart, his confession was sadly three years too late.

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And because of this he suffers. Mitsuha suffers. These star-crossed lovers save their beloved Itamori and all its kind, caring folk, BUT—as if their story weren’t painful enough—one last divider severs their last chance of reuniting: their memories of each other are lost to time. Is it a realistic element? Hardly, but it does lead to one of the most happily fulfilling endings I’ve ever experienced. Here’s why.

Makoto Shinkai’s latest film borders on tragedy. Up until this point, it was about to become the biggest heart-breaker in anime film history. But thankfully, Your Name. appreciates a sort of cosmic balance to all the good we do—Shinkai calls that seemingly magical, underlying, connecting force musubi, and we can thank it for honoring Mitsuha and Taki’s feelings for one another. By the film’s end, the two are left with just that—a subtle feeling of the all their shared struggles, surprises, happiness, sadness, inspiration, appreciation, love. . . now memories lost to a different time.

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But when distance tried to physically separate them, Taki and Mitsuha took the trains;

When time placed a rift between them, dreams gave them clues to find each other;

When katewaredoki briefly cut their first meeting short, Mitsuha fought on to finish Taki’s mission;

When memories of one another’s name left their minds, love held on tightly to that lingering feeling—that’s why Taki wrote “I love you” on Mitsuha’s hand, for bridging the timeline gap at twilight involves giving up memories of the other. Names will fade, but emotions have the power to transcend time;

And when tragedy attempted to end their tale of romance and miracles, fate reconnected the strands of love to the cord of hope. Thus, Taki and Mitsuha became destined to meet again.

Separated by distance, connected by fate.

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What Shinkai’s Works Have Taught Me

Have you ever felt that “feeling,” that despair of something that can’t be changed or is beyond your reach, but you still long for it anyway? I’d like to call it “love,” but Makoto Shinkai interprets such a complex emotion as “longing in solitude.” It is only through loneliness that we understand what compassion really feels like, after all.

Shinkai’s works tend to feature unusual yet somewhat realistic relationships, which more so play out as bittersweet than truly tear-jerking (save for maybe Your Name.) He covers a broad range of relationship stages, too, from the cutting of ties and moving on (5 Centimeters Per Second) to the early beginnings of expression (Garden of Words). Unlike most film writers and directors, he delves into themes like pain, longing, yearning, loneliness, and emptiness to give the audience stronger, almost more common emotions to connect with. His creative use of time laps emphasizes this distance or emotional disconnect that the characters and audience experience, and his hyper-realistic visuals never fail to immerse you in the setting he wants, be it on faraway roving fields of green, a quiet Tokyo apartment, or a rainy day in the park.

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Most of all, through distance, Shinkai is able to explore the gap between two people’s feelings: why it exists, and how it is a natural part of the human experience. Life isn’t that glamorous fairy tale that Disney or Hollywood make it out to be. Instead, Shinkai tells us it can be messy, and often times painful to shoulder alone. It’s okay to fall both in love and out of it, as people are always changing. He also teaches that you can, in fact, grow as an adult; emotional maturity has nothing to do with one’s age, for even as adults we can get lost on our path. 

None of us are invulnerable to emotional struggle, grief, and even depression. But none of us are forever doomed to loneliness, either—such is why even his most realistic works end in both sadness and happiness. After studying all of his films, I can confirm that NO CORRELATION between the level of realism and whether the ending is positive or negative exists, as Shinkai doesn’t sugarcoat the reality we live in. He presents it for what it is, which has its fair share of good and bad times.

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Ultimately, no amount of magic or sci-fi gimmicks can determine whether YOU chase after the ending you want, for you, too, are constantly growing and learning new things. The hope that we can always change for the better resides within us all—you simply have to decide who you want to be for yourself, and make that leap of faith over the scary distance to connect with another. While you’re at it, don’t forget to enjoy life’s little things we often take for granted.

In Makoto Shinkai’s picturesque, emotionally charged films, I found a rekindled passion for life’s hidden beauties, and so long as he continues to explore the growing distance between us and how finding solace in another can heal our emotional wounds, I’ll always look forward to his next creation.

I still don’t know what it really means to grow up. However, if I happen to meet you, one day in the future, by then, I want to become someone you can be proud to know. –Makoto Shinkai, 5 Centimeters Per Second

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Afterwords

At a touch over 5,000 words, this is officially the longest post I’ve ever written, and if you read all of it, you’re my favorite person ever—I hope you learned something new! As you can tell, Makoto Shinkai’s works mean a good deal to me. Most find them repetitive, as in “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” But really, that’s not the case, as each offers a different commentary on relationships and life, even if the execution or premises feel very much the same. So instead of fighting against the argument, I wanted to write this—to leave behind my innermost thoughts and emotions on Shinkai’s films in hopes that whoever stumbles upon this in the future might feel the same way, and that I can comfort them with my musings.

Have you ever resonated with one of Makoto Shinkai’s films, be it his oldest shorts or his latest hits? If so, do you happen to have a favorite or two? I want to know! If you’re fairly new to this director, was Your Name. your introduction to Shinkai’s scenic style? You have to let me know that, too! I’ve met several new faces (including a dear friend) through Your Name.‘s theater experience (which you can read about here), and I hope that you, too, get the chance to share one of his films with a friend or even a lover.

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This officially concludes my comparative study over the creative works of Makoto Shinkai. It’s been a long time coming, what with the writing process and reserving time to rewatch ALL of Shinkai’s films in order, and I’m finally glad I got to share it with you. Despite being terrifyingly long, it’s one of those posts I feel proud to have written. Please let me know any thoughts of the films or this post down in the comments, as I’d love to hear your feedback! Also, feel free to share this to any Shinkai fans you know out there!

As it happens to be on love and romance, I saved writing this post for February, so Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear readers! Whether you spend this season of love with others or save it for yourself, know that I’ll always be wishing you good health and happiness! Thank you so, so much for reading this lengthy analysis—’till next time!

With much love,

– Takuto, your host

Devilman Crybaby – Ugly Tears, Bleeding Hearts, & The Pain of Modern Tragedy | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 10-episode winter 2018 anime “Devilman: Crybaby,” produced by studio Science SARU (and Netflix), directed by Masaaki Yuasa, written by Ichiro Okouchi, and based on the manga by Go Nagai. 

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A Wild Night Out

Akira Fudo is a crybaby. He’s always been, and he always will be. Akira’s high school career takes a trip to the wild side when his best friend from many years ago, Ryou Asuka, suddenly reenters Akira’s life. This surprise reunion excites Akira, but unfortunately, Ryou isn’t back so the two can play on the playground again. Instead, he informs Akira that hiding amongst the shadows of their picture-perfect reality are monstrous demons, and that soon the demons will revive to reclaim the world from the humans. To combat their brute, supernatural strength, Ryou has a plan: to fuse a human with a demon.

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Those who conquer their “literal” innermost demons can master the power over them. And thus, after violently loosing his innocence at an infamous nightclub rave suspiciously titled the “Sabbath,” Akira becomes Devilman, a being with the power of a demon and the heart of a human. Finally seeing the darkness that humans have hid for so long, Akira feels blessed to now be able to save others, but more so cursed because he will likely never be understood ever again. But he has Ryou, and for Akira, that’s enough to make the pain worth suffering. Or so he hopes.

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A Tragedy Fit for Our Time

By mere story alone, Crybaby is a masterpiece. Having heard the crazy amounts of praise that have been circulating already for a couple weeks now, this should be no surprise. It starts at zero, at everyday life for a young boy and his relay mates, and quickly escalates into a bloody, traumatic, world-ending experience for both the characters and the viewers. As a standalone piece of fiction, it’s a modern tragedy made fit for the decade—complete with its OWN FREAKIN’ CHORUS in the form of some swaggy J-rappers—a series that is and should be celebrated for the, might I say, “daredevil” tale it sets out to tell. So many countless symbolic, societal, and sexual metaphors make the story incredibly compelling, and the religious undertones work wonders in creating this gritty, larger-than-life epic.

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And the best part of all is that the series isn’t just “depressing” to be called tragic—rather, it lives up to the classical standards of Greek tragedy by existing to A) prove the faults in our own lives, B) present a heroic attempt at handling them, and C) leave us with a cathartic end to cleanse the insanity that just befell the cast. It’s a masterful formula from the humble beginning through to its apocalyptic end, and as the media outlet Polygon states, the finale is “beautiful, devastating perfection.”

The only [minor] problem with a story of this magnitude is that Crybaby has very little time to tell it: only ten episodes, to be exact. While the pacing for the first several episodes feels spot-on, there is a significant push, particularly in the last two episodes, that does seem rather hectic. To be fair, however, the gruesome content and big reveals in episodes nine and ten ARE time sensitive; dragging these plot twists and dramatic developments out beyond an episode’s time would ruin their effects. Besides, perhaps that rushed sense of mayhem is what contributes to the explosive, catastrophic nature of the Devilman franchise.

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Akira and Ryou: Cuter When They’re Young

As far as characters are concerned, I won’t go into much detail simply because half of the thrill stems from witnessing just who some of these characters really are, and exactly what they will eventually become as the plot edges further and further on borderline insanity. Akira Fudo’s deal with the devil surprises all those around him, sure, but his grotesque change conjures up more mental conflict than physical ailment. He’s honestly a gift to mankind who doesn’t belong in this cruel, cruel world, and as he teeters on the edge of his own humanity—of a dying hope vs. an unflagging despair—he realizes that, at the darkest roots of their heart, people can be even more vile, disgusting, and sinful than any demon to roam the planet. Compared to his cute, scrawny self at the series’s beginning, the superior antihero Devilman that Akira becomes is stronger in nearly every way—all except for that tender, still-broken human heart of his.

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Ryou’s fluffy, blonde-bowled, bishounen design may seem inviting, but don’t let that charismatic baby face fool you: underneath that puffy white coat is a deadly machine gun and cunning wit, both which are fully loaded at all times. From that first smooth car ride Ryou and Akira share together, you already get the feeling that Ryou is scheming something (as if the glaring camcorder he films on 24/7 wasn’t evidence enough). Still, he is doomed to a fate just as tragic as Akira’s—if not more so. Ryou is one baaaaaad boi, but I loved his development way too much to hate him.

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I Don’t Know How to Rate The Animation . . . 

I’m not kidding. Devilman: Crybaby has some of the downright UGLIEST animated sequences I’ve ever seen. From the hilarious attempt at depicting just how “speedy” devilmen can run to the blobby, disproportionate, and completely uncensored sex scenes, by visual standards, Crybaby is not a pretty-looking show.

But does an anime need to be “pretty” to have it’s own beauty? Absolutely not. Or, well, at least Crybaby says so.

You see, the series has this certain edge to it, a certain grit that is hard to explain. The animation outlines, for instance, are cleanly drawn and look quite fresh (faces in particular). But then you have the action scenes, which are just SO freakin’ bizarre to watch. Like, I couldn’t even tell you if some scenes were, in fact, “poorly animated” because the ENTIRE SERIES has that same exact look. The lack of detail in light-hearted moments (like Akira’s high school, or his quiet past) compared to the almost sickening actions of other demons and humans alike gave form to a style that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s as if the animation is “untamed,” or “knows no bounds”—yet it all flows well as its own style within the context of the story. Not to mention that the compact 10-episode run and smart directing allow for each and every shot to carry some sort of secondary meaning, however unnecessarily violent or sexual or BOTH the risqué presentation seems to people.

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I, for one, felt that all of the overly grotesque scenes brutally tread some sacred ground of entertainment that hasn’t been touched in decades with a bloody tank. It’s a unique visual style that I frankly haven’t seen anywhere else, and it was depicted brilliantly.

But I Know I Loved the OST!

As I am currently writing this, the Devilman: Crybaby soundtrack is humming in the background for inspiration. What about it is so special? Well, it has great balance; it’s epic (“D.V.M.N.” – Main theme), startling (“Miki The Witch”), playful (“Wishy Washy”), intense (“Anxiety”), entrancing (“Beautiful Silene”), heart-pounding (“Smells Blood”), uplifting (“Prayer”), cathartic (“Pathetique”), and so much more. Composer Kensuke Ushio (Ping Pong The Animation, Space Dandy, A Silent Voice) knows how to write excellent orchestral/synth pieces, I tell ya!

There’s a little tune that is repeated throughout the entire soundtrack that can be any of the emotions listed above, so long is the right instrumentals is paired with the mood. My personal favorite IS a reprise of this gorgeous melody line, and it just so happens to be the very last song played in the series, the End of Devilman: Crybaby, so-to-speak. It’s appropriately titled “Crybaby,” and if it doesn’t move your heart to the point of tears, forcing you to recall Akira, Ryou, Miki, and Miko’s shared heartache and tragedy, then I’m not sure what will.

Oh yeah, there’s also a remake of the original Devilman opening included with the soundtrack, which, if you SOMEHOW haven’t heard yet, is SUCH A BOP HOLY SHIT. I STILL listen to it religiously.

The Destructive Darkness Within Us All

By Devilman:Crybaby‘s end, there is arguably no sadness left for the characters, no more tears to cry. It should feel complicated, as the amount of despair is simply undefinable. But instead, all you can wonder is how things got to this point, and how what you witnessed was, in fact, the end brought upon by humanity. The ending is completely unfair, yet it balances the scales with terrifying perfection. You could feel sad, or depressed, or enraged at how BLIND people can be, but instead, all of it feels pointless, as if nihilism just inducted you to suddenly became one of its patron saints.

The ending of Devilman: Crybaby is indeed a very empty one. And that very catharsis, that feeling of emptiness and pointlessness, is what lies at the heart of a well-written tragedy. 

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As happy and sad memories alike resurface for these two boys, Akira and Ryou come to realize that, without one another, life before friendship was boring and often cruel. It was lonely, and it was meaningless. But through the ugly tears they cry, the bleeding hearts they endure, and the tragic fates that they cease fighting against, the two learn to finally accept love, for it is really love, not hate, which makes the world go round. And so to tear up the ENTIRE world just to tell this seemingly small message—Yes, such is what completes the horrifically tragic Devilman: Crybaby as a modern masterpiece.

You’re crying too, Ryou-chan. You’re crying too . . .  – Akira Fudo

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Afterwords

Devilman: Crybaby is raw, brutal, yet oddly honest about its understanding of cause and effect and the power of compassion. It doesn’t forget to throw in a few laughs, though. As the community has already remarked, this show is ABSOLUTELY NOT for the faint of heart. This series showcases the worst aspects of humanity—of vengeance, overindulgence, paranoia, and immorality—and for many, that can be hard to watch (plus, it’s like, mega gory and sexual). You’ll be asking yourself “WTF is this even real?” many times, and you’ll feel absolutely disgusted with humanity. But have faith that there is a reason for the madness. I walked into this action series not knowing a lick about the Devilman franchise (aside from the old dub clips, heh heh) and obviously enjoyed the HELL out of it.

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If such disturbing material doesn’t bother you, then I’m sure you’ll also enjoy this wild ride through the bloody and the occult, as there are a fair amount of life lessons to be learned. I’m giving Devilman: Crybaby the honorary “Caffe Mocha” title because of its unexpectedly high emotional impact (you gotta love the indirect End of Eva references, too)! There’s a particular scene in I think episode 8 or 9 that absolutely wrecked me, and the powerful ending . . . wow . . . I’m sure I won’t be forgetting about that for a long time. If you are thinking about watching this anime, or have already seen it, you HAVE to let me know what you thought about it! I’m dying to dig the series back up, even though much of the hype has died down, haha! Let me know if I did a decent job by hitting the like button (I appreciate it!), and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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All That Glitters IS Gold in “Land of the Lustrous” | OWLS “Revival”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s first monthly topic for 2018, “Revival,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard review of Land of the Lustrous into a short, shimmering reflection on the main character’s journey of self-discovery, and how even though our emotional selves may fracture, we can still be pieced back together—and return stronger than ever before.

A new year implies “new beginnings.” Yet, rather than discussing the “new,” we will be discussing the “revival.” “Revival” has multiple definitions, but the meaning we will be focusing on is the improvement, development, or refinement of something. Our posts will be about characters that undergo a positive or negative transformation and what we can learn from them.

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Thanks Lyn for the prompt—what fitting way to kick of the New Year!


A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 12-episode fall 2017 anime “Houseki no Kuni” or “Land of the Lustrous,” produced by studio Orange, directed by Takahiko Kyogoku, and based on Haruko Ichikawa’s manga of the same name.

NOTE: The characters in this anime are genderless, and I will do my best to watch my pronoun usage.

Enter the Radiant Land of the Lustrous

Not all clothes are cut from the same cloth. In Land of the Lustrous‘s case, not all gemstones are cut from the same rock. Or are they? In a distant fantasy future, a new immortal and genderless life form called Gems (the “Lustrous”) roam what inhabitable remains of Earth are left. We’re not really told what happened, other than that the mainland in which the story takes place is under attack by the Lunarians (or “Moon Dwellers”), mystical cloud-like Buddha-looking beings who regularly abduct the Gems to turn them into jewelry—to turn a proud race into frivolous decor.

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Phosphophyllite, or simply Phos, is the youngest of the Gems, and though their 300 years on Earth has given them much time to play and mess around, having a hardness of only 3.5 makes them more fragile than glass on the battlefield. Set in a tribe-like school of sorts where one’s hardness determines whether they are deemed fighters or medics, Phos is neither suited for battle nor the books. As such, Phos is treated trivially, and is often met with belittlement or noisome glares by their peers.

Phos’s feelings of being an outcast diminish when Kongou (Adamantine), the master of Gems, assigns Phos the unique task of creating a natural history encyclopedia, an archive of the nature of their world. Though everyone—including Phos—knows that the pointless job is just to keep them out of trouble, no one could’ve imagined the incredible journey Phos was about to take, and the impact their transformation would have on their entire civilization.

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From the synopsis alone, Land of the Lustrous (what a cool title, BTW) already sounds plenty weird. The anime is categorized under the genres of action, fantasy, and seinen, but it proves itself even more interesting by also harboring an underlying mystery element. Who are the Lunarians, and why do they really want the Gems? What is Master Kongou’s relation with the moon people? What truly happened to humanity? Constantly, I found myself hitting the next episode button in eager anticipation of learning the secrets to this fascinating world. And the sudden loss of Amazon’s Anime Strike program (you will NOT be missed) allowed me to stream seamlessly without fear of paying double the price. I generally like to take my time watching a series; rarely do I gulp an entire series down in a single weekend, but I finished all 12 episodes in just two days. Yes, it was that entertaining. Not all my questions got answered, but it definitely ends ready for more, and it did encourage me to want to start reading the manga.

While its premise, setting, and characters are all quite creative, humanity’s nature is unchanging. Much like any child would, Phos experiences loneliness and a sense of uselessness, but through their peers, Phos also comes to understand important values like perseverance, respect, kinship, and the payoff of hard work. They also face the realities of their once thought-to-be fairy-tale world, revealing that life does have its cruelties. The anime’s messages are endearing, even if we’ve already seen them a hundred times, and that’s probably thanks to Land of the Lustrous‘s fantastic set of characters: the 28 Gems that make up this sparkling society.

Shine Bright Like a Diamond

Variety is the greatest spice of life, and Land of the Lustrous‘s gleaming cast of Gems is definitely the series’s leading feature. Ordered appropriately according to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, the jewel people are all given characteristics that match the features of their own gemstone. Cinnabar is a soft toxic mercury ore (the same bold red used as a pigment); correspondingly, Cinnabar’s character only has a hardness of 2, and their ability to produce a lethal poison prevents them from interacting with the other Gems. And just as how diamonds are used for precious moments, and are regarded as the world’s prettiest jewel, “Dia” is literally a sparkling, pure, kind-hearted individual with hardness 10, and is almost always seen “engaged” (see what I did there) with a certain Gem.

The attention to detail here goes far beneath the surface, feeling much richer than some cheap gimmick. Here, an imaginative use of characterization births some of the most unique and heartwarming characters I’ve ever seen, and though each gem’s screen time is limited to showcase one another’s distinctive traits, you still get a wholesome feel for who most of these polished beauties are. I imagine that this show would be any mineralogist or gemologist’s wet dream!

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Shout out to all the fans and artists over on Twitter for convincing me to watch this show, and for making me love the characters beyond what the series presents! So much pretty artwork, and I can’t get enough of it! Oh yeah, and Antarcticite is best . . . Girl? . . . Boy? . . . Androgynous gem person!

This IS the Best CG Anime EVER

I was incredibly surprised with how 2017’s Kado: The Right Answer was able to shake up the CGI reputation in anime. It crafted a setting in which CG-animated elements not only worked, but actually enhanced the out-of-this-world story being told, as well as the wondrous anisotropic devices presented. Complaints were still to be made, however, most regarding that the normal people were also animated in CG when they totally didn’t need to be. In typical CG fashion, it made the character actions look a tad awkward.

But from characters to concept, Land of the Lustrous both fits as a CG anime AND looks absolutely stunning doing so. First, the CG mapping allows the character designs to appear consistently gorgeous. The beautifully colored jewel people’s hair radiates with a twinkling, glistening shine—something that could only be achieved using this 3D technique—and their fights against the Lunarians prove to be engaging, expectation-shattering spectacles! Not to mention, the 2D painted backgrounds are works of art all on their own! This 2D-3D blend was clearly well-thought out and executed marvelously, for all that glitters IS gold on the animation front.

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Before I leave the production side of things, I do want to mention that Yoshiaki Fujisawa’s soundtrack provides such an atmospheric, entrancing allure that I can only express in these words: it is a soundtrack suited perfectly for this anime.

Bonds Stronger Than Any Glue: Phos’s Transformation

As stated previously, Land of the Lustrous is a coming-of-age tale where a clumsy, useless, and worthless individual tries to find not only a reason to live, but a place to belong. It’s a story about being useful to those you value, even if those people don’t value your own effort to establish teamwork.

Like people, Gems can be brittle beings with fragile hearts. Phos both mentally and physically “breaks” several times throughout the course of the series. In the search to finally be useful to others, Phos seeks change. Phos just . . . wants to be special. Well, change of any kind comes at a price—to gain something new, something must be lost—and unfortunately, that price is the precious time of others. Or, at its worst, the life of a friend. With an almost foolish bravery and air of bad luck, Phos pursues many partners in an effort to improve—to refine those blemishes of their personality, and to forever eliminate the imperfections that cause them mockery and shame.

But change is scary. It can be painful, it can be sudden, and it can be dangerous.

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Every try, every fail—no matter what, Phos desperately continues to pursue a reason for being. And through each failure, Phos learns a priceless lesson about what it means to feel valued and helpful. Smash your frail legs? Find stronger ones to replace them. Fracture your tiny arms? Hunt for a material that can better weather the crushing pain of defeat. Lose a beloved friend:

Make them proud by living for them. Do what they couldn’t by becoming someone you would both be proud of. Being immortal means each rupture can and DOES lead to a chance to return stronger and shinier than before—to feel reborn anew, to feel revived. And Phos doesn’t let that precious opportunity go to waste.

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Putting the Pieces Back Together

Change involves suffering, but that grief is a necessity for growth. Phos will shatter again, and again, and again, picking up the sad, broken pieces of their shiny shell. Yet with the help of some friends, these shards can be pieced back together to continue fighting on. The bonds that Phos forms, unlike their lustrous figure, are unbreakable. It’s a powerful positive transformation, absolutely, but it comes at very critical costs.

Phos can do it, though. Slowly but surely, Phos comes to realize that self-worth isn’t determined by the people around you, but rather what YOU make of yourself. With great determination, Phos knows the road to truly reviving their spirit is paved with hardship and loss. The world is cruel, after all. But so long as we can hope to become better individuals—actively seeking to help others in return—change and improvement just might someday find us, too. And it’s that seemingly small sentiment that makes Land of the Lustrous shine brighter than all the diamonds in the night sky.

You’ll grow stronger. You’ll be fine . . . Somebody will figure out a way. You won’t get any worse. You must change. You must find courage. You’ll make it. But you don’t have time. – Voice from the ice floes, the reflections of our innermost thoughts

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As emotional as I make it sound, Land of the Lustrous is just such a cool, unique show unlike ANYTHING I’ve ever seen. It’s a neat twist on science matched with a budding mystery that I cannot wait to uncover in the manga! I’m awarding Land of the Lustrous with the “Cake” title, as it’s certainly an elegant show, but its lack of a “true ending” leaves many titillating questions unanswered. You ought to let me know what you thought of this anime or this post down in the comments, as this “hidden gem” (haha ok I’ll go home) was a big hit for some and a sleeper for many others!

Oh, and if you enjoyed this series, consider checking out Yuki Yuna is a Hero for scarily similar-looking antagonists (and overall concept of fighting), A Lull in the Sea for its similar take on village life and growing up, or lastly From the New World because, well, just trust me on this one. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for a classy LTD ED release of this show by Sentai Filmworks, hopefully complete with Yoichi Nishikawa’s end card art cause HOLY BAUBLES, them beauties!

This concludes my January 10th entry in the OWLS “Revival” blog tour. Moonid (Random Garage) went right before me and wrote a bit of a character analysis over Nightingale from the Chinese fantasy web novel Release that Witch. Now, look out for Zoe (Let’s Talk Anime) with ReLIFE, a title that I really need to watch, and Arata’s second chance at youth on Friday, January 12th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host