Chasing You, Chasing Me: The Heart of Run with the Wind | OWLS “Masculinity”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s fourth monthly topic of 2019, “Masculinity,” I’ll actually be following up to my review of Run with the Wind, dedicating this entire post to highlight the key player on the Kansei Track Team, Haiji Kiyose (because, you know, he’s that great.) If you’d like a proper introduction to the series, you can check out my spoiler-free review right here!

Last month, we explored the meanings behind the terms “feminine” and “feminism.” This month, the OWLS bloggers will explore the concept of masculinity. We each have our own definition of what it means to be masculine and we will explore our definitions using “masculine” characters from various pop culture fandoms. We will discuss how these characters are “masculine” or show signs of a masculine persona. We will also share our personal stories about the amazing men that supported us in our lives, as well as share some of our experiences growing up as a man or knowing men who struggled with the masculine identity.

If you were hoping for a follow-up to my March “Feminine” post on the brave women of Space Battleship Yamato (this time examining the male leads), fear not! I’ve got a couple more Yamato-related posts loaded in the dock just itchin’ to be written. Thanks Lyn for another tricky and engaging prompt to write for!

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A brief spoiler-free discussion on the male characters of the 23-episode fall 2018 anime “Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru (Kazetsuyo)” or “Run with the Wind,” animated by Production I.G, directed by Kazuya Nomura, and based on the novel of the same name by Shion Miura.

Welcome to the Kansei Track Team Aotake!

In case you need a refresher, Run with the Wind is about ten college guys who are roped into joining their university’s track team by Haiji Kiyose, their dorm’s lead resident assistant of sorts, and the antics that ensue with Haiji’s rigorous training regiment. What are they training for? Why, only one of the most prestigious university races in all of Japan: the Hakone Ekiden marathon.

We follow the majority of the story through Kakeru Kurahara, a college freshman who, after hitting a low point in his life and stealing food from a convenience store, is taken in by Haiji and the Aotake family. But while Kakeru’s hotheadedness and ex-track star status work well enough for him, aside from Haiji, the rest of the guys are complete novices.

Through hard work, butting heads, and lots and lots of running, each of the Kansei Track Team members eventually confront what running means to them as they aim for the top—the steepest mountains in the world. 

haiji headshot

What Does it Take to Break the Silence? – A look at Haiji Kiyose

Before I get ahead of myself, I want to share with you one of the most powerful quotes in the entire show and what prompted me to write a post solely about Haiji:

No one here is running half-assed. Why won’t you try to acknowledge that everyone’s trying their best? 

Is it because they’re slower than you? Is speed all that matters to you?

Then there’s no reason to run.

Ride a bullet train. 

Ride a plane. 

They’re faster.

WAKE UP, Kakeru.

It’s not enough to just chase speed. 

It’s . . . futile . . . 

— Haiji Kiyose to Kakeru Kurahara

I remember having to hit the pause button for just a second after hearing Toshiyuki Toyonaga (Haiji’s VA) plow through this painful line. To see someone so generally happy-go-lucky become so worked-up and defensive. What Haiji speaks, however, is the undeniable truth: there is no practical reason to run. Whether a car, a bike, or the city bus, all of these options are much quicker than running if speed is your only goal.

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But it’s through this tunnel vision that Kakeru initially perceives the world. And this is also why Kakeru fails to get along with the other guys, especially Haiji. In this pinnacle moment though, the words finally cut through to him.

Haiji’s a tricky guy to pin down. He’s both kind and wicked, unreasonable and unreadable almost 100% of the time, much like a Magic 8-ball that never spits out what you want to hear and asks you to do the impossible when it feels like it. (Huh, do they still make those things?)

As such, he’s frustrating to get along with, and I think it’s largely because he doesn’t follow the “stereotype” for a masculine leader. Haiji’s strong, but more in an introverted, persevering way as opposed to your typical energetic and extroverted team captain. Behind the scenes, Haiji’s always calmly and collectively analyzing the shape of his men, both physically and emotionally. If something’s wrong with their bodies, he makes adjustments to their training and diet, simple as that. But when he notices that someone is anxious, depressed, or occupied with other thoughts, he doesn’t try to be overbearing and shoulder the heavy burden of “curing” their mental health. Instead . . .

Haiji sits down with them. He talks and offers what support he can, but most importantly, he’s just there for them when they need someone, and that speaks volumes about his character. I think it’s about time we start seeing male characters in sports anime break the silence on what it truly means to support others—because psychological support is just as important as physical ailment, and Haiji breaks away from the mold by finding the validity in simply “being there” for people when they are feeling down.

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To Haiji, dreams aren’t something to look down upon, even if they require the pursuers to look up towards something, in this case the pursuers being the Kansei Track Team and the dream being the Hakone Ekiden. Haiji also firmly believes in the collaborative benefits of teamwork—it’s either we’re all in, or we make changes such that everyone feels comfortable—and that’s a HUGE ideal not only for a “man” to stand up for, but for a man amongst other men.

Thankfully, the Aotake guys take Haiji’s wisdom to heart, culminating in many emotionally-driven, eye-opening experiences like the heart-to-heart with Kakeru quoted above. Haiji’s charisma fuels their motivational drive to improve themselves, and his dream of running in the Hakone Ekiden quickly becomes a goal within reach because of their combined efforts.

Of course, personal sacrifices of any kind must be made to achieve one’s goals. With the deterioration of his knee, Haiji walks (or runs, rather) on thin ice, risking permanently crippling his leg just so that he can discover his own reasons for running. And at last, he finds that in Kakeru, whom he decides to chase after as if every day were his last. Little does he know, Kakeru was chasing after him the entire time.

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But when the day finally comes, all Haiji can do is break down in tears of bittersweet joy, sorrow, and satisfaction knowing that he gave it his absolute all to achieve his biggest dream in life—and with irreplaceable friends that mean far more than any mere medal or trophy. What effort Haiji gives is unbelievable, but what he gets back is even more amazing.

Looking back on this extraordinary journey, we see that Haiji Kiyose was the heart of Run with the Wind all along: a character so charismatic, wholesome, and inspiring that he was able to join the lives of ten men together just to create one precious, finite moment, then guide them back onto their own paths more motivated than ever before.

haiji seeing kakeru

Beyond Masculinity: Not as Tough as We Seem

There’s a preconceived notion that in adverse situations, men should just “tough it out” by themselves and wipe off the dirt. But that’s not what Run with the Wind tells us. Instead, it shows that as strong as men—as strong as people—try to be, we’re not all as tough as we seem. Together, however, we can inspire and push each other to accomplish everything that we couldn’t do alone, and that seemingly small sentiment echoes loudly and proudly in the hearts of Kazetsuyo‘s characters, one Haiji Kiyose leading this inspirational movement.

That’s right, men can be:

Sensitive to others’ feelings,

Responsive to the needs of a friend,

Doubtful of their own strengths, 

Dreamers who are still looking for reason, and 

Individuals that chase after others when they’re lost or confused. 

And when we finally decide to confront this reality—that we’re not only different, but also perhaps not all that “tough” as society makes us out to be—maybe then we can stop moving against our feelings and at last experience the joy and freedom of running with them. That’s just what Haiji did, and look at the lives he transformed—as well as the incredible breadth of emotions he made us feel. 

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Tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that . . . What you need to do won’t ever change. Reality will always be there in front of you. So instead of running from it, why not try running with reality? — Haiji Kiyose


Afterword

I’ve gone on at length about this series now in TWO posts, and would you believe me if I said a THIRD was on the way!? I’d like to use what extra notes I took over the series to make one more post about Run with the Wind‘s other characters (cause you know, they all ROCK). If you’re interested in hearing more about the Aotake guys, then I’d be happy to deliver! As for this post, I’ve never done something this “preachy” before, haha, so I’d love to hear what you thought about it or the show in the comments.

Funny story, this was initially to be about ALL of the boys, but it ended up being way too long. So I cut it down to Haiji, Kakeru, and Prince, only to find myself writing well over 1,000 words on Haiji alone. That’s when I thought, “Hey, what’s wrong with a Haiji-exclusive post?” And you know what, there’s nothing wrong with a post all about this wonderful boy. So here it is, I hope you enjoyed it (as spoiler-free as I could make it)!

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This concludes my April 13th entry in the OWLS “Masculinity” blog tour. The lovely and eloquent Irina (I Drink and Watch Anime) went right before me with a post on Natsume’s Book of Friends (imagine that!) that you can check out right here! Now, once again, look out for my good friend Crimson (Read at Night) this coming Monday, April 15th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Run with the Wind: Wholesome, Heartfelt, & Inspiring Every Step of the Race | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 23-episode fall 2018 anime “Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru (Kazetsuyo)” or “Run with the Wind,” animated by Production I.G, directed by Kazuya Nomura, and based on the novel of the same name by Shion Miura. 

kazetsuyo line up


“Hey, Do You Like Running?”

Kakeru Kurahara has hit a low point in his life. Once a former elite runner at high school, the young college freshman finds himself alone, lost, and starving. While being chased for stealing food one night, he runs by Kansei University student Haiji Kiyose. Haiji  saves Kakeru and persuades him to live in the old dilapidated “Chikuseisou,” or more fondly “Aotake,” apartment building.

Unbeknownst to the other Aotake residents, Haiji’s spent the last four years of his college career carefully crafting and assembling the “perfect” team so that they can all enter the Hakone Ekiden Marathon, one of the most prominent and prestigious university races in the nation. Kakeru just so happens to be his number ten. Now realizing that they were all deceived, the guys are understandably left speechless with confusion and rage. But even more shocking is when Kakeru quickly finds out that aside from Haiji and himself, all of his new roommates are complete novices.

An air of reluctance hangs over Aotake for a while, but eventually everybody comes around (some definitely more optimistic than others). Slowly but surely, this oddball mash-up of personalities matures into a humble and inspirational group worthy of the name “Kansei University Track Team.” They train hard and work tirelessly to reconfigure their individual lifestyles, and as the fated day of the Hakone Ekiden draws nearer, the boys hope to answer the question lying at the bottom of each of their hearts: What does running mean to me?

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As one can imagine, getting the entire crew on board with Haiji’s wish isn’t as simple as just “learning how to run.” These guys have their own troubles to worry about, be it job hunting, maintaining a social life, or figuring out what to do after college. But oh man, the dude doesn’t back down! (Haiji’s a terrible person, yet it’s actually hilarious and kinda charming??) I had so much fun looking forward to each week’s episode and seeing what new evil thing Haiji would cook up to torture the guys.

But through their communal living experience and Haiji’s agenda—which includes torturous practices, rigorous diet reconstructing, bath house relaxation, and endless hours of running—the lives of ten young men slowly intertwine as they bond together.

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Realism, Recourse, and Reinvention

As a sports anime, Run with the Wind breaks away from the pack by building a story around a group of guys who, for the most part, have no interest in the titular sport. Some even detest running, and the tensions formed through these clashing viewpoints and personalities result in quite the compelling drama. Add in individual character motives grounded in realism and you’ve got the perfect formula for a story with even more motivational pathos than your average Joe sports anime (and one that’s five times better, might I add).

At first, each of Kazetsuyo boys takes running at their own pace, the fast ones (namely Kakeru) leaving the slackers (like Prince) in the dust. While the more resilient guys use the sport as a means to confront personal troubles, others take running as a chance for reinvention—an opportunity to better one’s physical and psychological health. One guy, Nico-chan, takes a complete 360 and decides to both quit smoking and lose weight! Another guy, Prince, surrenders to running not because he likes it, but because he’d detest himself even more if he didn’t get out and try it. That’s some powerful writing, and I’m barely scraping the top of the iceberg here.

Anime has gotten a mixed rep for how it handles issues like weight loss and self-worth. In most sports anime, our cast is already pretty fit and motivated; perhaps the leads are just searching for how to take down their foes and rivals and rise to the top. But for every single one of the Kazetsuyo boys, they themselves are their own enemy. We have characters screaming how much they HATE running, not love it. How much they HATE themselves for the way they are, not celebrating the things they are good at.

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And that’s why these ten men need each other—to acknowledge and accept one another’s flaws and say “Hey, let’s work on improving that together.” Kazetsuyo is FULL of these kinds of raw emotional moments, and you can bet these were the ones that made me tear up most while watching. I don’t think the anime community has realized how truly important it is to have a show like Run with the Wind representing the sports genre.


I’m not sure if these people are my friends or not, but at the very least, they recognize me, my ideas, and my worth. Among them, there is no high or low level. The only thing that matters is who we are! — Kashiwazaki Akane AKA Prince


Celebrate the victories, but never forget the losses. As I’m sure anyone else who watched the series figured out, Run with the Wind was never about winning. Rather, it was about finding purpose in the things you do, and moving forward only when you’re 100% ready. It’s a story about us, the norm, not the exception.

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My NEW Favorite Production I.G Sports Anime

Production I.G has this thing with their sports anime where they like to reuse some of the same exact scenes ad nauseam for emotional impact and thematic consistency (love ’em both, but see Haikyuu!! and Welcome to the Ballroom). For Run with the Wind, it was the first episode’s “Do you like running?” bike scene, and thankfully they stopped shoving it in our faces around the second half to replace it with symbolic animation of Haiji chasing a glowing Kakeru.

Not only was I glad they made this switch, but it established a powerful positioning of characters and a nice check for how they evolve over the series. In their minds, Kakeru and Haiji were constantly chasing after one another, and the spatial light show really shines as an iconic duality unique only to this series.

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Speaking of beautiful directing, Run with the Wind features stunning landscape shots, whether a chill rainy morning in the park, the blazing sunset against the Hakone mountains, or a quiet night in the city under a blanket of stars. Particularly, the emphasis on changing seasons creates such a mood fit for the show. The scenic framing leaves you stunned speechless, and as our all-star team stands side-by-side gazing out at the countryside view, you’re left not with words, but with feelings. Inspiration. Passion. A breath of fresh air. Nature. Life. Taking it all in, and letting it all out.

kazetsuyo sillhouette

The track races are also animated with intense energy and vigorous movement. Production I.G pours a lot of time crafting its breathtaking still-frames, but you can tell the animation budget was reserved for the Ekiden race itself, which encompasses the entire finale, a mammoth five episodes of constant motion.

Subtle shifts in character postures and habits (like Prince’s god-awful running form, Nico-chan’s thinner body, and the way Kakeru slowly moves closer to his teammates during practice and starts to crack a confident smile here and there) also lend themselves as a great source of characterization, to which I.G delivers without fail. Best of all, the animation syncs astonishingly well with the real force driving this show: the beat of Yuki Hayashi’s soundtrack.

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Chill Vibes, Heart-Pounding Winds

I’m honestly not sure what more I can say about Yuki Hayashi at this point. You’d all probably know that he’s my favorite composer for anime. The entire soundtrack Hayashi has put together for Kazetsuyo is by far one of his most emotionally resonant ones. His slow piano tracks transcend into harmonious ballads once you add in the glorious vocals and his signature soaring string melodies. It’s lengthy and intense build-up, but oh-so satisfying pay-off each and every time, much like the story itself.

For more subtle moments, Hayashi sticks to playful jazz-like guitar plucking and simple percussion for accompaniment. I have a playlist on my iPhone labeled “Vibes” (no joke), and literally half the OST is on it to inspire me when I need it.

Above all, the main theme of the series is by far the most positively-charged anthem I’ve ever heard in an anime—and it kicks in RIGHT when it needs to every single time. Even now, just listening to that piece brings happy tears to my eyes as I remember the spirited efforts of this underdog team, the trials and tribulations they had to overcome to get as far as they did. Through his ascending melodic lines, Hayashi is able to paint the picture of a runner on a dewy, drizzly spring morning, the sun just barely peaking through the city skyscrapers . . . Clearly, he was meant to write the music for this series, and I know only he could’ve made each uplifting moment so raw and powerful.

kazetsuyo cheering

And if you didn’t think it could get any better, Run with the Wind was BLESSED with four equally exciting and motivational OP and ED themes! Fan-favorite UNISON SQUARE GARDEN starts us off on a high note, while Q-MHz feat. Mitsuhiro Hidaka (aka SKY-HI) follows it with a pumped-up OP worthy of the show’s second half.

The real gems here, however, are Taichi Mukai’s ED themes. “Reset,” the first (and my fave of them all) focuses on Haiji and really suits the tranquility of a misty morning run. And whereas the first is all about the individual spirit, “Michi,” the second, ties the entire series together with feelings of celebration, family, and at last, freedom.

(Special shoutout to Toshiyuki Toyonaga who makes Haiji’s lines flow out so naturally. It was dialogue unlike anything I’ve ever heard from observing a Japanese dub, and Toyonaga is just, AGH, so perfect!)

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Against the Flow

Run with the Wind could have been a very simple anime. It could have just been a fun comedy shounen series with sports as the subject and winning as the goal. But it didn’t do that—it became something so, so much more. Drama anime usually revolve around unique circumstances, over-the-top twists, and a focus on “How shocking” as opposed to “How painfully relatable.” And yet here we are with a sports drama series that excels at everything it sets out to do and then some with delicacy and honesty. Every single leg of this well-written, 23-episode-long circuit remains simultaneously down-to-earth and extraordinarily heartfelt.

This anime is so much more than a simple sports comedy series. It’s the greatest feel-good story I have become this fond of in quite some time, and rooting for these goofy guys for over half a year was easily one of the greatest pastimes I could ask for. I fell completely in love with the cast and the music, plus it’s incredibly well-written and well-paced. For comparison, while I fell head-over-heels for the Haikyuu!! cast, I felt for the Kazetsuyo characters.

Every step of this journey felt sincere and wholesome, and I absolutely enjoyed laughing with the Aotake guys just as much as I did crying with them. Whether you’re a fan of sports anime or not, a genuinely passionate and realistic series like Run with the Wind isn’t the kind that comes often—so don’t miss it. Otherwise, you’ll be sleeping on what is perhaps one of the best anime to come out in years.

In Kazetsuyo, complex feelings and conflicting agendas clash both on the track and off it. We learn that not everyone will want to support your endeavors in life—some individuals would dare to directly oppose you, in fact. But sometimes, in the long-winded process of finding ourselves, we have to go against the flow to truly run freely with the wind. Just like the Kansei Track Team, we have to be willing to shout “We are here. We are running. And we are aiming for the top no matter what you do or say about it!”

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The mountains of Hakone are . . . the steepest in the world! — Haiji Kiyose (The Kansei Track Team Motto)


Afterword

For one of the most painfully realistic yet wholesome anime I’ve ever seen, Run with the Wind is without a doubt worthy of the house “Caffe Mocha” title. Winning a solid 10/10 from me (as well as my heart), I’m happy and proud to honor Run with the Wind as one of my favorite anime of all time. Every chord it struck resonated with me so hard, and the ending is just made me melt with happiness.

That said, I don’t believe the series is perfect; I mean, anything could use some sort of improvement. But the point I wanted to make with this post was that none of the faults bothered me enough to seriously stick out. Heck, I would’ve loved to learn more about the other guys besides Haiji and Kakeru (like Yuki, or Musa), but I simply can’t complain with what we got. Watching Kakeru grow from an angsty, easily set-off teenage firecracker into a helpful and considerate team player was really something special.

Man, I enjoyed this emotionally-charged journey so much! I’m really going to miss these idiots. I’ll miss Aotake. So much character, so much heart.

kazetsuyo running away

Whew, this review has turned into me gushing over Kazetsuyo for 2,000+ words, but I guess it can’t be helped, hahaha! What did you think of Run with the Wind? Did it grab at your heartstrings as much as it did me, or did you find other areas of the series to be critical of? I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts, so please, share to your hearts content! That’ll be it for me, but before I leave, tell me . . .

“The mountains of Hakone are?”

– Takuto

It’s Been 3 Months – How Am I Doing? | Quarterly Update (Spring)

Hello all!

Longtime cafe-goers might remember when I used to post monthly updates. I stopped doing this late 2017 I believe because it had reached a point where I was posting more updates than actual quality blog posts. That’s why for 2018 I did a “reflection on my watch log,” which essentially was just a quick read-off of everything I watched that year. Not the best for sharing my thoughts, but for efficiency, it gets the job done well enough.

That’s when I thought, hey, until I start posting more, I should just do quarterly updates, and WAH, here we are!

Back in January, I posted five blog goals for 2019 that wanted to achieve. It’s been three months—how am I doing in keeping up with those goals so far? This is the quarterly update!

Goal Reflection


#1 – Read More Posts

Alright, so I have been using the WP reader more frequently. But it’s still not at the level that I want to be keeping up with you all. Part of this conflicts with my need to accomplish goal #3, but yeah, I’ll try harder.  >.<

#2 – Write More Succinct Reviews

Ok, so the first couple posts were, in fact, shorter (which I consider less than 1,500 words). While I’m starting to slowly creep back up to that hefty 1,700 count, a part of me is just like, who cares though? I’m definitely one to not leave any stone unturned in my reviews, so why should I try to limit myself? Well, oddly enough, I generally feel more proud of my shorter posts for some reason. Additionally, let’s face it: more people read shorter posts. I’ll do what I can to keep my writing more succinct, but if I start sliding up there again, I hope you’ll understand it’s because there must be something in the post that I’m passionate about!

#3 – Post More Often

YES, I actually have written more posts, wahoooo! At my lowest point in 2018, it was 1-2 posts per month. Thus far, I am proud to say that I wrote FIVE posts in January, FIVE posts in February, and FOUR posts in March (spring got busy, y’all). That’s a HELL of an improvement for me, and I don’t feel like slowing down anytime soon!

#4 – Bring Back Cafe Talk

I’ve tried lol. Joking aside, I’ve only done one cafe talk (which was well-received, thank you very much for participating in the conversation). I think the reason I keep hesitating on writing them because of #2 here—I’m a very wordy person, but I also like to be detailed and thorough. Naturally, this means more words, and a simple 300-word thought becomes a 1,200 word formal APA paper, Times New Roman, double-spaced (I kid, I kid, but really though, perfectionism is such a huge block for me). I’ll try harder!

#5 – Write More Haul/Collection Posts

Alright, ending on a good note! I’ve posted my Naka-Kon 2019 haul, talked with you all about my recent book store experience, and shared the biggest limited edition anime box set I own. But believe it or not, I have two other collection-related posts on the way! Given that I can’t seem to stop spending money on anime and manga (despite my lack of funds and good decision-making lol), would you be interested in monthly or seasonal hauls? Let me know, cause I can totally make that happen. 😀

What I’ve Watched


As for anime, I am currently doing my best to finish all of the seasonal stuff I started this winter, including some shows from late last year. In that effort, I just finished Cells at Work (FINALLY), Run with the Wind, and The Promised Neverland—all fantastic series, Kaze and Neverland in particular ranking as solid 10/10s in my book. Currently working on the reviews.

I haven’t taken a solid look at the spring simulcasts yet, but once I do, I’ll let you guys know what I’m watching this upcoming season as well!

In the meantime, I’ve been occupied with some throwbacks: Space Battleship Yamato (about to start 2202, so excited!), Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody (finished, but ugh, this one lmao), Fairy Tail (yeah, didn’t think I’d ever cave, yet here I am . . . maybe I’ll do a cafe talk over this experience too), and, in preparation for the spring’s most anticipated title, the early 2000s Fruits Basket. It’s one of my sister’s favorite series (go figure), but as I’m watching it for the first time, she’s re-realizing just how truly fun and heartfelt it is.

Misty Mornings & Cosplay Ventures


In addition to upgrading my shelving, I’ve also invested heavily in cosplay. Specifically, the art of cosplay armor. The dream is to be able to don Eugeo’s entire Integrity Knight armor set come next Naka, but we’ll see. From EVA foam to buying a heat gun and contact cement, I think I’m finally ready to start applying the countless hours of YouTube cosplay armor tutorials to my own craft. Although I may hold off on going all-out till summer rolls around, don’t be surprised if I cheat and start a little early. 😉

(Also, should I start an Insta for all my cosplay and collection-related musings? Let me know your thoughts if you use that platform.)

And that’s just about everything I’ve been up to! Spring weather is slowly crawling in, bringing in occasional rain showers at night and a chilly mist in the morning. In other words, the best kind of weather. If only the rain lasted a bit longer.

Anyway, thanks so much for reading what I’ve been up to for the past couple months. I’ve got a lot more coming—if only I could sit down and plow through writing the reviews that have stacked up since late February! Feel free to share any thoughts you have on this post in the comments, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

The Biggest Anime DVD Box Set I Own: RahXephon Limited Edition | Unboxing

Hello!

I’ve got a bit of a different post today. Believe it or not, unboxing and haul posts are some of my favorite to write because once the pictures have been taken, all I have to do is write a couple sentences and upload, easy-peasy.

Specifically though, I’m writing this post because, like any well-researched collector, I wanted to know whether this was the edition of RahXephon that I wanted to buy. But when I began scouring the web for pictures of this box, I found nothing. Now, maybe someone will be able to find security and satisfaction in this A-grade product.

Because oh man, what a fantastic set this is.

I’m gonna boast for a minute here and hail the RahXephon limited edition as the biggest anime DVD box set I own. I know these kinds of box sets have been around in anime for quite some time, but this is my first foray into the classic anime collecting scene (where you’d supposedly spend $30 on a DVD containing four episodes and do this seven times until you eventually roped in all 26-odd-some episodes), so let me have this one.

I was lucky enough to buy from a seller who not only sold it for just $45, but kept it in mint condition. Seriously, this beast is IMMACULATE—and it’s over 15 years old!! Proof that there are good collectors out there who take care of their stuff. And they packaged it so nicely too, bonus points! Really happy with this find.

But you just want to see this beautiful box, don’tcha? Alright, me too, so let’s go!


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Here’s the box’s exterior: the front, back, top, and sides. I love the holographic foil printing on the logo (which is consistent on EACH of the DVDs as we’ll see here in a bit. The artwork is also particularly exquisite, capturing the mysticism of the story with these divine pieces worthy of framature in any museum. It’s really cool to see all 8 of the DVD spines together as well. Each is consistently laid out and color-coded, almost as if they were meant to go together or something!

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Onto the DVD cases themselves, each one contains key art from the series on a pristine white background overlaid with that holo-foil logo. Each set matches the color dot on the spine, which is a nice touch. Also included in this set is a hefty artbook for the film, Pluralitus Concentio, which makes the 8th DVD in this complete 8-disc set.

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The backsides of each DVD maintain the same white and color-coded schema. The designers also utilized the series’ theme of music to tie in clever phrases to each progression of the plot, beginning with the prelude and ending, of course, with an encore. I LOVE IT.

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Cracking into the DVDs—if you thought this set couldn’t get any better—you will find a miniature artbook for each set. The cover and back pages have the art printed on a specialty paper with a parchment/wax-like texture, which adds to the classiness of this set. Each pamphlet includes approximately 10 pages of character information, as well as art of the various robots and Dolems that appear throughout the series.

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Want a closer look? So do I! Here’s each DVD set complete with its disc and art pamphlet, as well as the film artbook. I really like the landscape art included on the inside pages of each little book. When you think about it, I guess this is what each DVD contained when it was individually purchased back in the day.

Again, this seller kept the box and its contents in such spotless condition that it truly feels like I’m owning a product that just came hot of the press, let alone an artifact from well over a decade ago.

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So to any fellow anime collector out there looking for a proper review of this set, I hope this post helps. If anyone is wanting an even closer look than I provide here, feel free to ask me in the comments. When I was still laying out my purchase options, it came down to either the thinpack (and then I’d buy the film for a separate $10) or this mammoth set, and I’m glad I stuck with the latter.

Will I buy more boxes like this in the future? Hahaha, good question, if my shelves can support it I guess. RahXephon was a special case given that its main accessibility from a physical standpoint was this, the thinpack, or a couple other thinpack-like options. Only time will tell, I suppose.

That’s all I’ve got for this one. In case you missed it, I watched RahXephon as part of my annual V-Day marathon and enjoyed it so much I also reviewed it on my blog (which you can read right here)! I’d be delighted if you checked it out. Friends and fellow collectors, ’till next time!

– Takuto, your post

 

 

Cacophony in Paradise: RahXephon & Accepting the World | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode winter 2002 anime “RahXephon,” animated by Bones, and both created and directed by Yutaka Izubuchi. 

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Prophecy & Lore: Angel Mu Attack 

His life was ordinary. Or at least, it was supposed to be. 

Three years ago, Japan was invaded by the Mu, beings from another dimension that look exactly like humans except for the fact they possess blue blood. Now, in 2015, Tokyo comes under attack by terrorist aircraft that are quickly driven back by a flying humanoid weapon called a Dolem. Amidst the disaster, 17-year-old Ayato Kamina spots Reika Mishima, a beloved classmate of his.

While trying to escape from the terrorist attack above, Ayato escapes to an underground subway but is cornered by government officials in black. Out of the blue, a short-haired woman named Haruka comes to his rescue, informing Ayato that she was sent to retrieve him by the organization TERRA. Still skeptical of the stranger, however, he flees from Haruka onto a train where he oddly encounters Reika once more. But unbeknownst to him, this train isn’t headed to safety. Ayato arrives in a bizarre, holy domain where a tremendous egg sits in the middle. Reika’s mysterious singing in Ayato’s presence causes the egg to tremble and a giant robot—the RahXephon—is hatched.

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Suddenly, Ayato’s mother appears atop the Dolem that had stopped the TERRA Invasion. When a cut to her skin reveals a shocking drop of blue blood, Ayato flees “Tokyo Jupiter” aboard the RahXephon with Haruka, bewildered and betrayed.

What unfolds next is a story of grand proportions. Prophetic lore and Aztec legend weave together in a larger-than-life tale about what it means to understand others. As the future of mankind rests on the shoulders of one unsteady pilot burdened with a heavy fate, a young boy must decide whether the love for himself and others outshines the dark realities of the world.

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Classic in its Own Way

Obvious point out to get behind: There are many, MANY comparisons that can be drawn between RahXephon and its “spiritual prequel,” the grossly influential 1990s Neon Genesis Evangelion. I mean, clearly, one was inspired by the other. As such, I’ll try my best to appreciate RahXephon for its own merits. It may be more obscure, but there are reasons why the fans that have seen it regard it as a classic.

Starting with my criticisms, RahXephon‘s plot definitely rushes to the finish line come the last couple episodes. There’s also a seemingly misplaced (yet ridiculously crucial) backstory episode early on when the viewer still has yet to distinguish the adult characters, and much of the underlying prophetic forces require immense focus—and even then, reading in between the lines, so to speak.

But my biggest issues don’t accurately reflect the plot’s numerous strengths: RahXephon centers itself around the concepts of time, music, intrigue, mystery, and romance. Its powerful character dynamics, deep introspective forces, rich philosophical views, character and mecha designs, and influences by Mesoamerican culture and Japanese folklore carefully intermix to create a profound, satisfying story with little to no plot holes by the end. All pieces of the puzzle connect towards a final answer which works out so well. Eventually, everything connects. 

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The Struggle to be Human 

Very few anime dare to feature such a dense network of complex human relationships between characters, let alone do it this well. Each week, the TERRA crew encounter a new Dolem that must be met with a different fighting strategy, meaning that everyone on deck is constantly interacting with another.

As a result, not all talk is about work. Unnecessary rumors spread. Drama starts. Realistically, co-workers get frustrated, confused, angry, and jealous at one another, and these attitudes manifest in cut-off communication, the “silent treatment,” lackluster performance, or total inability to come to work one day. To make matters even more devastatingly real, each of the characters struggles to be human in their own ways, which is often reflected through thoughtful monologues or, worse, actions that harm another.

Self-care is such an important element of RahXephon. The series especially convinces us how difficult it can be to maintain connections with others through its most important plot line: the unusual relationship between Ayato Kamina and Haruka Shitow. And oh boy is it a messy one. Although Haruka appears to be some badass adult stranger to Ayato at first, we come to realize that their bond runs much deeper than even he was led to believe.

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Ayato constantly struggles with expressing what he wants. His inner conflict to understand his own desires often clashes with the many “professional” relationships he must maintain as the RahXephon’s pilot—female relationships to be specific. As such, his complexity becomes the leading force in this very much character-driven story about being useful to others. It sounds simple enough, but it’s much harder to live up to others’ expectations than we give the act credit for.

There are forces out there much bigger than ourselves—than our own petty problems—that we must respect. As Ayato comes to grip with the situation fate has bestowed upon him, it takes every ounce of ownership and bravery the human spirit can muster to accept such a weighty destiny. Though he pisses a lot of people off (sometimes even the viewer), I was always on his side. He’s an admirable lad, albeit a bit blind to his own heart at times, and I quite enjoyed his depth and perseverance.

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Transcending Technique: A Mecha to Last Decades

While the anime was created in 2002, studio Bones at this point had yet to experiment with the early 2000s 3D CG that popularized this period of anime. That said, it is probably one of the last mecha shows to utilize computer animation without creating fully 3D CG mechas. And it shows, because for the most part, RahXephon‘s animation holds up incredibly well.

Specifically, the characters are animated with such solid consistency that every character close-up is worthy of being key art in itself. Because the RahXephon is just as strangely mystical as the Mu are divine, the fight scenes and combat abilities are always captivating to watch. If RahXephon’s animation was designed as a callback to the earlier mecha anime of the 70s, I’d believe it.

However stunning the animation may be, the show’s color palette is on the duller side. The island backgrounds feel washed out, and it sometimes causes nothing in particular to stand out. This leads to many of the conversational moments (which are quite abundant) to occasionally feel stagnant and uninteresting. Aside from the RahXephon’s brilliant cobalt and gold, pale grays and blues dominate much of the landscape. On the RahXephon, though—man, what a beast, so unique and cool-looking. The spectral wing motif hails as one of the series’ greatest icons, and now I get why!

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Add a Little Jazz: Ambiance & Expression

Ichiko Hashimoto’s soundtrack is simultaneously exactly and nothing like anything you’ve ever heard. Specializing in jazz, vocals, and the piano, Hashimoto provides RahXephon with introspective trance music fit for the story’s ambiance. She uses a large amount of harmonic dissonance to create cacophonous tracks fitting for those more disturbing moments in the series, which also ties in to the theme of music. Lots of electric guitar, too.

Almost intrinsically, her orchestral works (like the final episode’s “Before You Know”) stir the heart and the mind, while her more abstract brass and percussive pieces add layers to the complexity on screen. She even dabbles into epic Richard Wagner operas for classical inspiration, which is awesome.

The series has its own intensely iconic battle preparation themes, one of my favorites being “The Chariot.” And when TERRA members are just taking a lunch break at work, that’s where the jazz music (like “Their Daily Lives) lifts the atmosphere. Of course, for all those emotional and moody moments, Hashimoto’s got a “rainy day” solo piano track for that, too (“Solitudes” and “A Few Memories”). Altogether, it’s an expressive OST that feels so very 90s that it’s impossible not to call unique. In case you’re curious, my favorite track is “Adolescent” from OST 2 for its calming strings air of catharsis.

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I’d also like to extend my biggest hugs to English dub director Matt Greenfield and his fantastic crew from ADV for their incredible work on this series. Ever since Eva, I’ve never been disappointed by his style—the guy certainly knows how to direct a good dub.

Bonus shoutout to Chris Patton for his take on the lead, Ayato Kamino. Patton’s been praised for how natural his teenage boy voice is—plus, I mean, he’s just really freakin’ good at acting—but man, Ayato is easily my favorite role of his! It’s a shame that more older English dubs don’t sound this stellar.

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To Weather the Storm 

From beginning to end, RahXephon is a storm of emotions. Some of the characters get their happy ending; others do not. Some characters are also significantly more frustrating than others. But it’s the complexity of their relationships and inner turmoil that make this great cast so realistically flawed. It may provide more psychological headache than heart-pounding action, but considering its themes of connection and isolation, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

RahXephon boasts a daunting cast size, and although the focus becomes strained as we bounce from one perspective to the other, the series never gives up in its pursuit to weave these stunningly complex lives together to form a multifaceted, absolutely compelling narrative—just how a series of these proportions should be.

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In a world where everything is about to change, what point is there in trying to continue? I don’t know, and yet that is what each and every one of us survivors must do—that much is clear. In spite of everything, the human animal must fight to live on. — Jin Kunigi


Afterword

There are so many things going on in RahXephon it’s NUTS, but I’m so glad to have finally watched this series—and for the 2019 V-Day special no less! I may review the movie if I find something in it especially worth talking about, but otherwise, that’ll conclude everything I’ve got for now. Man, what a fantastic find, an artifact absolutely worthy of any psychological anime fan’s catalog, or perhaps any mecha fan’s collection. Speaking of collection, as per the tradition, I allow myself to splurge on the series’ physical release as a token of completion. Not only was this one fun to hunt for, but I settled on what will likely be the BIGGEST collector’s edition box set I’ll own. Plus it was CHEAP. Stay tuned for details.

If it didn’t already need to be said, RahXephon is officially on the “Caffe Mocha” menu, a rating reserved for only THE best of shows. That said, it’s certainly not for everyone. If you don’t like psychological or mecha anime, look elsewhere (it is weird, but easier to digest than Evangelion, hahaha). Also, it’s a slower burn, so don’t be expecting climactic end-of-the-world fights every episode. Otherwise, I encourage you to check it out for sure!

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If you have seen RahXephon, now’s your chance to boast your knowledge and passion (or criticisms) for this classic series down in the comments. I’d love to here your thoughts on either the show or this review, so if you could impart your feedback, I’d greatly appreciate it. I had an all-around wonderful experience unearthing RahXephon, and I’m excited to see what next year’s marathon will offer. ‘Till next time my friends, thanks for reading!

– Takuto, your host

The V-Day Sci-Fi Special Returns for 2019!

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

It’s officially February 14th, the day of love and romance, and I’m looking forward to spending another V-day alone this year. Oh, no, wait, don’t get me wrong—I actually prefer it this way!

Every year since 2013 I’ve tried to give myself some “me” time around the middle of February. I like to think of it as self care. After all, what’s wrong with celebrating the love for oneself?

Anyway, although it’s traditionally been a sci-fi title (odd genre choice, I know), I have mixed it up a few times, 2018’s V-Day special being a sports anime. The point is that the holiday is dedicated to cracking open a decently sized franchise and all its pieces. As a refresher, here’s been the past selections:

2013 ~ Steins;Gate

2014 ~ Kokoro Connect (I think . . . )

2015 ~ Neon Genesis Evangelion

2016 ~ The Rose of Versailles

2017 ~ Ghost in the Shell

2018 ~ Haikyuu!!

Now, having actually just recently finished Haikyuu!!‘s third season (whoops!), I can proudly erase my board (which has had the episode listing on it since last February, yikes) and move on to announce the V-Day Special anime of 2019. And guess what? We’re returning to sci-fi classics. Aww yeah, give it up for . . .

2019 ~ RahXephon

Wooohooo!!! I’ve been wanting to watch this show ever since I figured out what Evangelion was and noticed everyone always kept comparing the two shows. Well, now it’s time to unearth another long-lost sci-fi classic uncover what secrets it holds. It looks so bizarre TBH and that excites me immensely. As you can see, I’m clearly well-prepared, heh:

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This year’s V-Day special will actually begin this upcoming weekend, and the marathon will last three days: Friday the 15th through Sunday the 17th. RahXephon will be streamed in English via Amazon’s Prime Video services. In the event something goes wrong, one of the alternatives I have picked out will be selected instead. Since I am a student, hopefully I’ll be able to make time for both homework and the binge-watching.

As always with this thing, I’m looking forward to stockpiling the sweets and locking myself in my room for three days straight, haha! Please enjoy this time of the year with someone (or something) that you love, and be sure to make time for yourself, too! Following the marathon, a review will eventually be published, so I look forward to reporting my findings in that.

Until then, much love and chocolates from me!

– Takuto

WorldEnd — The Lack of Connection Between You and Me | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode spring 2017 anime “WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?”, also known as “SukaSuka,” animated by Satelight and C2C, directed by Junichi Wada, and based on Akira Kareno’s light novel series of the same name.

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At the End of the World

Awakening from a cryogenic slumber 500 years after his ferocious fight with a mysterious monster, Willem Kmetsch finds himself to be the last human alive. During his icy slumber, creatures of terrifying proportions known as “Beasts” emerged on Earth’s surface and destroyed the human race—all except for one, that is. Together with the other surviving races of this fantasy world, Willem takes refuge in the floating islands, living in fear of what terror still lies below. His new life feels lonely and meaningless, for all he has tied to him now is a number of odd jobs to merely get by.

One day, a surprise offer to become a weapons storehouse caretaker graces Willem’s presence, to which he takes thinking nothing of it. When arriving at this “warehouse,” however, he finds it not to be filled with guns and other arms, but instead a handful of young girls. And boy are they a handful. Connecting the dots, Willem realizes that these Leprechauns, though resembling humans, have no regard for their own lives, as they identify themselves as mere weapons of war. These are the weapons he was tasked to look after.

Becoming something of a father figure for the young Leprechauns, Willem spends his days watching over them fondly and supporting them in any way he can. Among them is blue-haired Chtholly Nota Seniorious, the dutiful yet stubborn eldest who is more than willing to sacrifice herself if it means defeating the Beasts and safeguarding peace. The two strike up an endearing relationship, and as Leprechauns are sent off to battle at the end of the world, Willem—who knows the tragedies of war all too well—can only cling to the hope that those who fight bravely will someday return home safe and sound.

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I remember this plot stirring up a lot of hearts back when it aired in 2017, but I found myself emotionally detached from not only most of the characters but also the story itself. It’s kind of like Seraph of the End‘s opening in that you are shown a deeply impressionable first episode (made notable largely for its music, which I’ll get to), and then directed to an entirely different story. For me at least, the show has a hard time of maintaining a particular mood, be it happiness, sadness, or somewhere in between.

It also quite honestly feels like WorldEnd is trying to balance so many different genres that it fails to excel at any of them. While it’s certainly not an action series, it wouldn’t be proper to label it as slice of life. But it does have enough excitement to be this weird sci-fi/fantasy blend, something that definitely makes it feel like a light novel adaptation. Romance might be a better genre category, but even then the dramatic intensity is ALL over the place, hardly a fit for a “true” story of love and romance.

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All the Lolis in the World Can’t Make You Relatable

Ready for me to break some hearts? Alright, well I’ll start with Willem, the story’s “hero” who falls for the girl doomed to a terrible fate. While I enjoy the message of defying said fate and cautiously yet optimistically gazing toward the future, I just couldn’t get into Willem’s character. Let me explain.

His unusual circumstances as “weapons keeper” places him with the undivided attention of all the lolicauns (heh, get it?). Each of their little problems are designed to unfold around him with the intent of unlocking a new facet of his character. Oh, so we find out everyone is afraid of him? Makes sense, he’s a human and a dude at that. But he’s a good cook? And he’s able to make them all love him through food? How convenient. But wait, he can also tune their weapons, a quality that is unique only to him. And we can’t forget that he’s a lover of little kids, a pro nurse, and a massage therapist, too. Plus, even though he can whoop all of these magical fairies in combat, he’s totally willing to die for them at any given time, OF COURSE.

Willem is just . . . too perfect, and I just couldn’t connect with him because of his overwhelming home-ec expertise. And speaking of disconnection, I never really cared for Chtholly, the lead female, as much as I was *supposed* to either. The two are cute together, don’t get me wrong, but I only recall like one or two instances where I thought their chemistry felt honest and true—and not being manipulated by the choppy plot lines.

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“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?”

Studios Satelite and C2C team up to animate this breathtaking fantasy world and it’s . . . alright? Aside from a few gorgeous landscape shots, the animation merely gets the job done. WorldEnd’s characters are drawn delicately, and the copious amounts of crimson blood that spill out during the fight scenes create quite the stark contrast (which I believe was the point). Given the lack of brazen fanservice we’ve come to see with these LN adaptations, the modesty here sure is appreciated. All in all, it may not be worth solely watching for the animation, but there is one production component that makes WorldEnd stand above the crowd: Tatsuya Katou’s soundtrack.

I’m a sucker for insert songs. They can hype up a scene to unbelievable levels and allow emotions transcend logic, a quality which can be tricky to master. But oh man does Tatsuya Katou have it down. Specifically here, he arranges traditional English ballads and folk songs as insert songs. Between the rich and powerful “Scarborough Fair” opening up this story’s curtains in episode one to the deeply resonate “Always in my Heart” closing out the final fight, it’s easy to be moved to tears. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Both sung in English by the graceful Tamaru Yamada, these insert songs become perfect representations of WorldEnd‘s tragic duality.

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The rest of the OST maintains this same orchestral beauty: soaring strings, somber violin solos, cheerful guitar, blissful piano—a winning combination. Absolutely fantastic, and perfect for the fantasy atmosphere. Also worthy of mention is the series’ OP “DEAREST DROP” by Azusa Tadokoro, a song that easily made it into my personal music playlist.

For English dub fans, Funimation’s got you covered. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t exactly enjoy Willem’s character, but this isn’t my favorite Micah Solusod performance. Amber Lee Connors’ Chtholly definitely grows on you if you allow her a few episodes, though. Overall, I’m still curious about how the Japanese handled the emotional scenes, but the dub works just fine.

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Hinging on Feelings

Between a story that is neither this nor that and a bland protagonist that I just couldn’t seem to connect with, we’ve got a few touching scenes weakly strung together by a heavy reliance on the viewer loving the cast. The romance genre hinges on your attachment to (at least one of) the leads, making it almost entirely based on personal preference (to which I didn’t quite fancy here). At least it has some encouraging messages on embracing oneself through the process of change.

I wanted to love this anime with all my heart—after all, it was the talk of 2017 for quite some time. But in the end, a lack of connection—between plot points, characters, and myself as the viewer—prevents me from recommending the series unconditionally. There’s something special going on here, there really is, but I don’t think this anime adaptation showcases WorldEnd at its true best.

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I can’t find happiness, meaning there’s really no reason to pursue it. How can one pursue what they already have? Don’t you understand—I’m already the happiest girl in the world. — Chtholly


Afterword

I admittedly feel terrible for spitting on this beloved title. But if it makes fans feel better, I would like to check out the original light novel series some day, as I’ve heard wonderful things from people who are reading it. By the way, THAT TITLE THO. This is LN culture at its peak. For all those curious, WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us? is rated a “Coffee” here at the cafe, a show that’s rich in all the right areas, and quite possibly satisfying if its characters can win over your heart.

Do you have any thoughts on this sweet little title? Let me know if you share some of the same disappointments or praises of WorldEnd that I do in the comments. I’d totally be willing to give this title a second try if given the reason to, so come and voice your thoughts on WorldEnd or this review! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host