Demon Slayer: Crying Under the Light of the Moon || OWLS “Folklore”

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 eighth monthly topic of 2020, “Folklore,” I decided to ditch reviewing Kimetsu no Yaiba in favor of discussing the fascinating world of Demon Slayer where dark creatures of the night stalk humanity in plain sight.

This month’s OWLS topic was inspired by the name of Taylor Swift’s new album, Folklore. Yet, rather than using her conceptual definition of what “folklore” means, we are going to use its original meaning: we are going to explore the traditions and cultures of a specific group and community within pop cultural texts.

I figured it was a no-brainer that Demon Slayer would be a “Cafe Mocha” title here at the cafe, so I’m glad to be able to do something a bit more interesting than my usual review. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!


A brief discussion of the 26-episode Spring 2019 anime series “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba,” animated by ufotable, directed by Haruo Sotozaki, and based on the manga of the same name by Koyoharu Gotouge. Images may include spoilers!

A demon killed his family. But, when faced against the darkness, Tanjiro hesitates to pull his sword.

Enter the Taisho Period

High up in the mountains, young Tanjiro Kamado works hard to sell charcoal for his less-than-fortunate family. Although his father passed away when he was young, Tanjiro has shouldered the burden of supporting his entire family with admirable optimism. On his way back up the mountain one wintry night, Tanjiro takes shelter in the house of a strange old man who also tells Tanjiro to be wary of flesh-eating demons that roam in the shadows.

To his disbelief, Tanjiro returns home the following morning to the horrifying sight of his whole family, slaughtered and soaked in crimson blood. Worse yet, his sister Nezuko somehow managed to survive—only now she has been turned into one of those bloodthirsty demons of lore. Overwrought with rage, Tanjiro swears to avenge his family and save his dear sister’s remaining humanity. Guided by his unusually keen sense of smell, Tanjiro seeks a way of getting stronger, which leads him to joining a secret society devoted to slaying demons and protecting mankind: the Demon Slayer Corps.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the series is its setting’s historical roots—Demon Slayer is actually set during the Taisho Period of Japanese history (think early 1900s). It was the beginning of modernity for Japan, but all kinds of traditional charms are still adorned by the setting in characters. Tanjiro’s signature green-checkered haori, for instance, is an artifact that embeds us in this era. The same could be said of the traditional blue tile-laden roofs of the various tatami-lain village houses that decorate the landscape. Demon Slayer unashamedly embraces history, and I find that to be one of its greatest strengths.

To Devour and Destroy

On the surface, Demon Slayer is your typical shounen action anime with all kinds of exciting supernatural twists and powers. The demon slayers bravely traverse the land to vanquish human-hunting demons, despite the risks to their own lives out in the dangerous wilderness. Their main objective: tracking down and eliminating Muzan Kibutsuji, a heartless progenitor demon whose rare ability to turn normal people into powerful, murderous demons leaves carnage and bloodshed wherever he goes. It’s a simple premise, yet one carried out with remarkable pacing and world-building.

And it’s actually on that note that I want to talk about the demons from the human POV. No matter how you spin it, guys, the world would be far better off without these creatures. They indiscriminately destroy lives, taking whatever life they can for themselves just so they can continue devouring the next day. It’d be near impossible to convince someone that they are a benefit to human society. Thus, the demon slayers are wholly good and just in their mission, right?

Right?

It doesn’t take Tanjiro long to figure out that, yes, even demons have souls. After all, these creatures were once human, and they still retain some remnants of their humanity in their mannerisms, desires, and deepest wishes. Seeing their entire lives flashing before his eyes upon death, Tanjiro comes to realize that no demon truly wanted to become such a creature. Whenever he swings his sword to kill, he really is taking a human life.

Tanjiro’s continuous encounters with the demons compels him to deliver not curses, but salvation to the demons he slays. To that end, Tanjiro arms himself against these creatures not with blind hatred, but a newfound sympathy for their individual struggles and heartache. I guess trying to understand the demons only makes the job of extinguishing them that much harder, though . . .

Something More than Survival

Although we are only teased with a brief inside look at Muzan Kibutsuji’s deadly league of demons, the Twelve Kizuki (or Moon Demons), we can see that the demons aren’t simply a chaotic mess of evil like folklore might dictate. Over and over again we are told that the demons blindly consume, thinking only of themselves and answering to no one. This is not true. Yes, some demons are doomed to roaming the countryside, aimlessly fending for themselves, by themselves. Others decide to move in groups, however, and this single fact changes everything for the Demon Slayer Corps.

Over time, Muzan Kibutsuji has silently amassed a force of demons that swear absolute fealty to only him (else they be shredded to pieces by Kibutsuji himself). He manipulates the hearts of people with little chance or will for themselves, transforming them into these horrid creatures and commanding their lives henceforth. Some of the Twelve Kizuki follow him out of a sick devotion to his cause; others out of blackmail. But all obey him out of fear, and there is no undoing his curse.

Under the light of the moon, the Twelve Kizuki commit cruel organized crimes and claim their territories by staining them with blood. Using the terrifying powers gifted to him by Kibutsuji, one particular Twelve Kizuki tries to establish a family of demons for himself, something which has never been heard of before (save for the case of Nezuko Kamado). While his means are grim and appalling, he’s a breathing example of defying the common lore surrounding the demons. Yes, they kill a lot of people—but is there something more beyond merely wanting to survive as a demon? In this society where demons stalk the shadows of the mortal world, one can never truly trust the legends.

What the Stories Don’t Tell You

Like the silk of a spider’s thread, Demon Slayer navigates through an intricate web of conflicts where the main goal is to survive through the night. When two cultures collide, one supersedes the other, proving that the two cannot thrive simultaneously. Similarly, as Tanjiro and the other demon slayers uncover more about the suffering of their common enemy, the line dividing murdering out of hatred and murdering to protect becomes increasingly blurred.

Despite how purely wicked some of these demons seem—despite how earnestly I wish Tanjiro would just cut them down and move on with things—I can’t help but feel pity for the demons. Really, it’d almost be easier if Tanjiro didn’t get that glimpse of their life right before their inevitable death—if he didn’t see their tears bubbling forth as their decapitated head rolls to the floor. It’s just . . . sad. (But it’s a greater shame that some demons, like some humans, choose to do evil for evil’s sake, and thus are hard to earn sympathies from.)

At the end of the day, I’m honestly not sure I could do the work that Tanjiro and the demon slayers do. The Demon Slayer Corps hypes up this idea that killing demons is a just and noble thing. Meanwhile, the demons are drowning in their suffering, agonized and deeply tormented day and night by their conflicting urges to kill for survival and earnest wishes to remain human. So, raise your blade, but keep your ears and heart open: What the stories don’t tell you is that there’s a lot of loss, grief, and pain in the life–and death—of a demon. 


Those who regretted their own actions. I would never trample over them. Because demons were once human too! Just like me, they were human too!” — Tanjiro Kamado


Afterword

I find it most difficult to talk about the series that are most popular, but there you have a few of my thoughts over Demon Slayer. It’s an incredibly compelling piece by studio ufotable, and one that I’m so glad I finally got around to! If it weren’t obvious enough, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is a certified “Cafe Mocha” title, and a series you should absolutely check out if supernatural action anime are your thing. Even if you’re not a fan, there’s enough historical depth and cultural exploration that makes Demon Slayer‘s world so intriguing on its own. But hey, you can let me know: if you were in Tanjiro’s shoes, could you be a demon slayer?

This concludes my August 20th entry in the OWLS “Folklore” blog tour. My good friend Irina (I Drink and Watch Anime) went right before me with a fantastic post discussing the mundane yet charming yokai that are tsukumogami, which you can read right here! Now, look out for Dale (That Baka Blog) with a post coming Tuesday, August 25th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

Sakurada Reset: Supernatural Mysteries and Missed Opportunities || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode Spring 2017 anime “Sakurada Reset” (also translated as “Sagrada Reset”), animated by David Production, directed by Shinya Kawatsura, and based on the light novel by Yutaka Kouno.

Haruki can reset time but forget she ever did. Meanwhile, Kei remembers everything.


A Town of Supernatural Gifts

Sakurada isn’t your average seaside town. Unknown to anyone else, its inhabitants are born with strange psychic powers. Upon being summoned to the school rooftop one day, Kei Asai meets Misora Haruki, a quiet apathetic girl with the power to reset time. Her gift comes with certain limits, however: she can only go back up to three days, and she can’t use it within 24 hours of the last reset. To make matters more complicated, she doesn’t ever remember using her power when she resets time!

This is where Kei comes in. His ability to remember everything and anything allows him to recall changed timelines and Haruki’s resets. Together, they wield their unique powers with their Service Club friends to aid the problems of others. As the club starts taking on increasingly difficult and crucial missions for the mysterious Administration Bureau—an organization which manages all the abilities in Sakurada for the sake of justice—Kei finds that the machinations of eerie organization go far beyond simple acts of service.

I love time travel stories. I know many people dislike the trope, but it never ceases to entertain me. When paired with a plot like Sakurada Reset‘s—saving others, government conspiracies, romance drama, etc.—you basically get a knock-off Steins;Gate (which is one of my faves). The only problem is that, aside from the last couple episodes, the series is really, really boring. Given that I find everything else about the series to be incredibly interesting, I’m chalking up Sakurada‘s slow and lackluster nature to the direction. At least our time traveling heroes are somewhat inspiring, right? Right???!

sakurada characters

Apathy is Contagious

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Kei is one bland dude. Despite possessing one of the coolest abilities in the series, photographic memory, the gift does very little to make him likable. Like, he’s not rude or disrespectful, but he’s not exactly exciting to be around, either. I suppose he’s a SAFE option as a lead, but I’d rather my time travelers have a screw or two loose (like they tend to do) or have one overwhelmingly eccentric trait than be completely nonchalant about everything.

And sadly, Kei’s partner in crime isn’t much more interesting than him. In fact, Haruki’s hallmark is her absolute BLANDNESS, which allows Kei to tell her whatever he wants and she’ll do it. While I appreciate the sense of mutual trust that slowly starts to develop between them, I did notice that this kind of just left Haruki to be another tool for Kei to use (and not in the fascinating way that Code Geass‘ C.C. is to Lelouch). I’ll say that she’s reliable as a heroine, but not much else.

The rest of the cast ranges from similarly bland (man, apathy sure is contagious!) to unnecessarily complex. One example of bland is Kei’s best friend, Tomoki, whose abilities as a telepath makes him little more than the series’ top CHAD. Another is Seika, a girl who can communicate with cats, but is a weirdo and hard to converse with. On the flip side, Eri Oka, a punkish girl introduced later on who can implant memories, did nothing but make me want to pULL MY HAIR OUT, she’s so annoying. Same with Murase, a girl with an amazing power that basically makes her invincible, but boy is she a grade-A B*TCH to deal with sometimes. I could go on with describing my frustrations. Point is, they’re all good kids (kinda), just needlessly stubborn.

sakurada ocean

Calm and Quiet Seaside Energy

As Kei and friends continue to explore the city, I did slowly start to fall in love with Sakurada. Many sights became familiar, almost nostalgic, and I do think that the seaside setting does wonderful things for the story. Having the plot unfold in a smaller community than, say, Tokyo, allows characters to conveniently run into each other on the streets (which happens quite often) without seeming far-fetched. Plus, they have the ocean, and the sea is always a magical place for me.

If I had to describe the art and animation, I’d say what I have been about basically everything else—it’s safe. Not below average by any means, but decently pleasant, if not stiff and stale. (It sure doesn’t help that the MC’s script is boring as hell.) David Production took zero risk in making the powers in Sakurada look cool or exciting, which is SUCH a missed opportunity given how intriguing espers can be. Bummer. At least the music was good.

I couldn’t find credits for any other well-known work, but Rayons’ orchestral soundtrack compliments the pace of Sakurada Reset very well. The way some of the sad piano pieces transition to some of the series’ more casual, slice-of-life moments almost feels more like it’s music for a visual novel than an animated series. (There’s one particular piano/vocal track that really tugged at my heart.) This becomes more apparent when you start to realize that, for some reason, the music plays at a consistent volume THE ENTIRE TIME. No one “heartbreaking” moment felt more dramatic than the next, and I strongly believe that’s because the sound direction here—like the rest of the series—is so friggin’ lame. Again, good OST, just missed opportunities. WEAVER’s work on the second OP was BANGERS though!!

sakurada op

A Series of Missed Opportunities

For a supernatural school drama anime with mystery and time travel at every turn in the road, Sakurada Reset comes together as a strikingly unremarkable package. Its direction is steady (and sometimes quite artistic), but otherwise too slow to convince me to get excited about anything. Despite possessing unique super powers, the characters’ personalities are either disappointingly ordinary or straight-up noisome. And that’s too bad, really, because nothing about the series is terribly bad. It’s just average, and probably forgettable give or take a month or two.

If you came from a show like In Search of the Lost Future (wow, now THAT takes me back) and were hoping for something a bit more, Sakurada Reset will serve you well. It explores living with regrets, human longevity, and trust much better than other time travel romances do. However, if you came expecting a masterpiece like Steins;Gate, prepare to be disappointed—you won’t gain much from these long 24 episodes.

sakurada tree


We’re connected by our abilities. Since we have abilities, the two of us were able to stay together all the time, automatically, as a matter of course. Kei Asai


Afterword

In continuing to tackle my never-ending backlog, I was happy to be able to cross this one off the list. It sure was mediocre, but not something I regret watching. For all those curious, I consider Sakurada Reset a “Coffee” rating, and only recommend it if you’re longing for a particular kind of feeling, something transient and fleeting but, also, not wholly unenjoyable. If you have taken the one-way train to Sakurada by chance, be sure to let me know your thoughts about the series in the comments! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

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

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


Nostalgia, Child’s Play, & the Internet

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

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

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

yasako and fumie

Virus Attacks & Friendly-Fire Hacks

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

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

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

isako hackers club

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

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

dennou coil kids

Integrating CG with the Digital World

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

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

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

searchie

Connection, Disconnection, & Loss

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

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

yasako laser

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

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

yasako and isako


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


Afterword

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

– Takuto

Projects, Projects, Projects || Quarterly Update (Summer 2020)

Hey guys,

I’d been blogging non-stop all of June that I nearly forgot to do another quarterly reflection on my 2020 blogging goals, as well as update you on what I’ve been up to in my personal life. I teach a few weekly cello lessons as a side hustle, but I’m still technically unemployed for the the next month. It’s not all bad, however, as this time has allowed me to read more, watch more, and of course, write more. (I’m just trying to look on the bright side.) I also did a huge unhauling of parts of my collection that I knew I wasn’t going to re-read or re-watch, so that gave me a little extra cash. But let’s check in on those goals again, shall we?

Goal Reflection


#1 – Read More Posts

This one comes and goes for me. Naja recently gave me a shoutout in the OWLS livestream for loving the way I come in and read all her posts at once (LOL). It’s not exactly my preferred method of keeping up with everyone’s posts, but it’s easy for the days to get ahead of me. I’ll try harder still!

#2 – Write More Succinct Posts

I CAN say that most of my recent posts have been shorter. However, that could come as a matter of subject, as it’s generally easier to write manga reviews (or first impressions) than it is to write anime reviews. From creation to production, a lot more goes into anime. Naturally, it takes longer to capture the entire essence of a show than it does a single book. So yeah, I win this time, but we’ll see how things turn out in the coming months.

#3 – Read & Review More Books

Ummm, have you been around my blog the past month? Hahaha! Well, in case you genuinely haven’t, I spent ALL of June writing about manga—and even then I’ve started doing manga recap posts for some of my fave ongoing series (like Fire Force) that I hope becomes a regular thing. I’ll have links for everything in the section below!

#4 – Write More About Me

I WAS responding to blog reward and nomination posts to fulfill this goal, but have since fallen off the track (except for that fun light novel challenge post). I’ll get back to those. In the meantime, I did address some of the new anime I picked up for my collection, as well as share the joys of having new shelves. Then I talked about my first experiences with EVA foam in the making of a cosplay sword. Lastly, I celebrated 600 blog followers with a month of giveaway codes (thank you to all who joined me). Still, I’ll try to post more about my personal life with some short loose-thoughts posts. Thoughts?

#5 – Build Up My “Personal Brand”

I’ve tried to shift this goal to my YouTube channel, Takuto. I’ve posted eight videos and already have 40 subs (largely thanks to my blog community following me there), but you should totally subscribe if you want to see me face-to-face! I do much of the same stuff there that I do here, but there’s more focus on hauls, collecting, and K-pop, whereas the blog is more for reviews and random musings. I hope you’ll continue to support me on both platforms. ^ . ^

What I’ve Read


Let’s talk manga! As previously stated, I’m trying to chronicle my rekindled manga-reading experience here on the blog, starting with a second “first impressions” of Haruko Ichikawa’s Land of the Lustrous. I was actually planning on selling off the first five volumes, but thanks to an analysis vid I saw on YT, I decided to not only keep the series, but also buy the next FIVE volumes, haha! I’ll get back to the series here soon.

Then we’ve got Atsushi Ohkubo’s Fire Force, which hardly needs an introduction thanks to the anime’s explosive popularity. I did post recapping my thoughts on volumes 1-3, volumes 4-6, volumes 7-9, and I’ve got volumes 10-12 coming very soon. Fire Force started off as a generic shounen action series with a little bit of flare, but quickly grew into a wild story full of conspiracies and hidden intentions not unlike that of Fulllmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. Fire Force is seriously kickass, so be sure to check those out if you’re also reading the series!

All the other manga I’ve covered thus far fell under my Pride Month celebration. Also included in the month were a couple LGBTQ anime. June was incredible for me, as I’m sure you all read about from this post. Here again are those links just in case you missed something:

Ten Count: My First Yaoi Manga Series || Review

Seven Days: Will You Still Love Me When Monday Comes? || Review

Candy Color Paradox: Sweet Yet Sour || First Impressions

Claudine: Sexuality, Tragedy, & Growing Up Transgender || Review

Melting Lover: The Shadowy Side of Affection || Review

That Blue Sky Feeling: Preciously Queer & Wholeheartedly Delightful || Review

Love Stage!! – A Coming-Out Worth Celebrating || Review

Escape Journey: Chasing After Love in a Heteronormative World || Review

I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up: Gentle Romance & Silly Humor || Review

Hitorijime My Hero: Unrequited Feelings & Forbidden Love || Review

Goodbye, My Rose Garden – A Poignant Victorian Romance Between Women || First Impressions

Our Dining Table: Growing Closer One Meal at a Time || Review

Our Dreams at Dusk: Ending Pride Month on a High Note || First Impressions

What I’ve Watched


Aside from the couple Pride Month anime, Love Stage!! and Hitorijime My Hero, we do have a couple throwback watches to this past spring. I was feeling in the mood to tackle my backlog (and watch something mediocre, apparently), which led me to watching Karneval. I thought it was meh, but I can easily see why some may like it. I probably won’t review this one, though. One that I am sitting on a review for still is Princess Principal, however, the epic steampunk spy series starring a cast of young English girl. This series was GOOD.

I also turned my energy to review Shirobako into April’s OWLS post, and while I may not end up reviewing it now, just know that it gets the full recommendation from me! Speaking of OWLS, I decided to rewatch ID:INVADED immediately after finishing it because it’s a super neat sci-fi series. It ended up becoming the subject of May’s OWLS post, so check that out if you haven’t. In a similar vain, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid was my OWLS spotlight for the June tour, which I still need to finish!!

The only other anime I have watched AND reviewed this summer was Netflix’s Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, which was alright at best. I passed it with the “Coffee” rating, but only if the second half (whenever we get it) will be better than the first half.

As for anime I watched but have yet to talk about, I did tackle a huge backlog title with Mawaru Penguindrum! I feel weird for saying this, but did anyone else think it was . . . just ok? (PLEASE don’t hit me!) Maybe I’ll need to watch it again sometime, but I thought the second half was waaay too melodramatic. IDK, y’all let me know.

On the subject of beloved anime, I DID watch the first half of My Hero Academia Season 4 and EVERYONE LIED TO ME. THIS SHIT WAS SO GOOD, WHY WERE YOU ALL COMPLAINING??? Aside for the first halves of seasons 2 and 3, I thought this was EASILY the strongest arc yet. Sir Nighteye is a legend, and Mirio continues to be KING. Looking forward to the second half. Oh, and I watched the first half of Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld as a refresher before reading the last volume of the light novel, which I also completed! It didn’t end exactly how I thought it would . . . but I am totally hyped to see how the anime decides to handle this epic finale!

That just leaves me with what I’m currently watching. When I have free time, I’ve been slowly going through the final season of Sailor Moon, Sailor Stars, now that I have all of the DVDs. Such a beautiful, timeless story, even if the production can be so-so sometimes. I’ll always love Sailor Moon, and FYI I’ll probably be an emotional wreck once I’ve finished Stars because that’ll mean I’ve finally seen ALL of it!!

If you’re interested in my summer simulcast line-up, I’ll be posting that here shortly!

Summer Projects Never End


I dedicated all of June to Pride Month content and posted just about every day for the cause. After taking a week off to refresh myself, I’m back for some odds and ins (like this update) before I back off again to work on my OWLS Mini Con project. (Did you peep the teaser?) I’m absolutely looking forward to it, but it’ll take time, so expect another potential silence before I return on the 22nd.

Following my OWLS project’s completion, I’ll be moving into the final phase of this summer. I can’t say much now, but let’s just say it’ll be BIG. Like, two weeks long, bridging July and August. I’m SO excited for this as well! But again, it’s gonna take a lot of work and time to put together. If I go quiet, just know that it’s because I’m giving my all to this amazing summer project! 🙂

When I’m not working on projects or filming new videos for my channel, I’m either reading manga, tackling backlog anime, or playing Persona 5 again. Yeah, I took a year or two off the game (whoops), but I’m back, and I’ve already burned through a couple chapters since starting a week ago. Loving it now that I’m back into the swing of things.

It sounds like things are well and good on my end—and they are for the most part. But, being stuck at home with family due to the pandemic and suffering from unemployment haven’t gone without their mental toll. Some days I’m exhausted even after waking up, and I just want to take this moment to remind you that your mental health matters just as much as your physical health does during this global pandemic. Don’t neglect yourself. Take time for yourself. Play games, read books, watch movies—whatever makes you happy. Please make sure you’re getting adequate sleep, too, and don’t forget to stay hydrated—your body needs it!!

Peak summer weather is here. It’s hot, some days scorching my skin in the triple digits. As I continue to work hard on my blog and YouTube, I also hope you are enjoying the summer season and some of the good things a warm breeze can bring. Let’s keep in touch, ok? Until the next post, friends, stay well. Much love for all your support. ❤

– Takuto

Hitorijime My Hero: Unrequited Feelings & Forbidden Love || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode Summer 2017 anime “Hitorijime My Hero,” animated by Encourage Films, directed by Yukina Hiiro, and based on the manga by Memeco Arii.


Forbidden Love

Few teenagers are more hopeless than Masahiro Setagawa. The poor kid got roped in with the wrong crowd from a young age and now serves neighborhood thugs as their errand boy. He may have believed in heroes as a kid, but not anymore. His life takes a drastic turn one day when Kousuke Ooshiba, a local menace dubbed the “Bear Killer,” swoops in to take down the other gang members, saving Masahiro from their grueling low-life ways.

Time passes for Masahiro, and as he and his former friend Kensuke Ooshiba start attending high school, Masahiro is once again reunited with Kousuke—only this time, Masahiro is a student and his childhood hero has become his math teacher! First a hero, then a best friend’s older brother, and now “Mr. Ooshiba!?” To make matters even more complicated, Kensuke’s childhood friend, Asaya Hasekura, returns to his life with the request to be more than just friends this time around.

It’s starting to look busy in the Ooshiba household, and while Kousuke’s own feelings urge him to protect Masahiro like he once did, this sudden entanglement of the boys’ lives creates quite a complex web of relationships. As Kousuke’s lover, Masahiro will eventually have to decide for himself: to resign himself to his unrequited feelings, or to pursue a forbidden love.

This is one of those anime where the 3-episode rule most definitely doesn’t apply. The opening episodes of this shounen-ai school drama hone in on the relationship between Kensuke and Asaya, which is actually the parent story of Memeco Arii’s manga. After that quickly gets resolved, we shift the focus back to Kousuke and Masahiro’s “Teacher X Student” romance for the remainder of the series, which is significantly messier. Obviously, it’s an age-gap romance, which isn’t my thing personally, but at least the characters carry the weight of the show well . . . I mean, they do, right?

masahiro and kensuke

Poor, Poor Masahiro

I really need a shirt that says “Masahiro did nothing wrong, y’all are just bullies,” cause MAN, this guy has it rough. Living alone (save for his prostitute mother), Masahiro is one of those kids who was forced to grow up fast. While he cooks fantastic meals for Kensuke and his school friends and diligently cleans the Ooshiba household better than momma Ooshiba even could, these are conditioned responses. With his mother out every night, Masahiro has to cook for himself, and when she comes home a drunken mess, it’s Masahiro cleaning it all up the next morning. He doesn’t belong out on the streets with those thugs, but he doesn’t belong in his own home, either.

AND THEN you have a dude like Kousuke who comes in all grown-up and “mature” just to toy with Masahiro’s heart and throw him into gay panic mode. I don’t really know how to feel about Kousuke. Like, he knows Masahiro is immature in life and in love, and yet Kousuke continues to mislead Masahiro with his words episode, after episode, after episode. He’s supposed to be the “hot teacher seme,” I get it, but I couldn’t help but find some of his actions to be somewhat disrespectful.

The other couple of Hitorijime My Hero doesn’t make things much better for Masahiro. Kensuke is your typical fluffy uke who enjoys snacks and fun, innocently going about his friendships with the youthful naivete of a shounen protagonist. I suppose he is the first to accept Masahiro and his older brother’s forbidden love, which is heartwarming cause #family. And Asaya may be the best-looking boy in this series, but DAMN, the dude is HEARTLESS. I think it was supposed to be funny how Asaya would adamantly give Masahiro the cold shoulder and instead demand he cook for him, but I never laughed. (The other male classmates also used him like this, umm, the heck??) All the guys in Hitorijime My Hero besides Masahiro just felt so selfish. Fear not, there’s a happy ending waiting for everyone, but the road to getting a smiling Masahiro has its fair share of irritating bumps.

hitorijime school

Big-Chill BL Energy

Let’s talk art. Encourage Films is a new studio for me, but Hitorijime My Hero appears to be their leading title—and that’d make sense, because the series is one good-looking BL anime. Seeing Memeco Arii’s original character designs fully animated and chasing after their lovers is really something special. Had I watched this series years ago, I probably would’ve fell even harder for the characters. If you’re wanting a more down-to-earth shounen-ai romance, I would pass Hitorijime My Hero based solely on animation alone.

The entire soundtrack is also fits the mellow vibe of the series. Takeshi Senoo (most notably known for his work on the equally chill Aria the Animation) provides amazing orchestral magic to accompany the drama of the series. He balances the slice-of-life energy of quiet lo-fi beats with the more intense romantic pull of gentle string harmonies, almost as if the OST were for a feature film and not a series. It’s simply wonderful, just like the aesthetically pleasing OP “Heart Signal” by Wataru Hatano and the soft ED theme “TRUE LOVE,” which is sung by the various seiyuus from the series.

Now, it IS Pride Month, and it’d be a crime if I didn’t give special praise to the incredible dub directed by none other than David Wald! (He also directed the Love Stage!! dub and voices the bartender in this show!) Austin Tindle’s Masahiro is just a friggin’ gem, I love how nervous and klutzy he sounds all the time! David Matranga’s Kousuke is BIG SEXY energy (the way he said the F word, woah), which feels surprisingly natural for his character. Hearing Daman Mills as pretty boy Asaya was the biggest surprise for me, and I love how he kept the guy so snide and cruel towards others but would call Kensuke nicknames like “babe” and “Kenny” like it was nothing. Speaking of, Alejandro Saab can do NO WRONG as Kensuke, the purest boi!! Even if the characters were hit-or-miss for me at times, I cannot deny that they had superb VAs behind the mic with excellent scripts to follow, too.

masahiro crying

Not the Best, But a Huge Step Up

While I seem to be pulling these LGBT titles out left and right, I actually haven’t watched that many BL anime. Maybe that’s because I know that BL anime kinda have a rep for not being nearly as good (or respectful) as their manga counterparts. That said, I’m not trashing BL anime (if anything, we can only use more!), but Hitorijime My Hero feels like a huge step in the right direction.

Despite the rudeness of the characters towards poor Masahiro, Hitorijime My Hero feels like a very real, human story (unlike the absurd comedy that is Love Stage!!). I know friends who have gone through exactly what Masahiro did, and maybe that’s why I felt so strongly for this kid. He’s a real boy. Fictional, but also just like that one confused, caring, love-struck individual we may know in our own lives—and even through smiles, that person doesn’t actually have the happiest life. It happens, but if we can be there for people like Masahiro—much as how Kousuke, Kensuke, and everyone else was there for him—hopefully we can become our own kind of hero for these people.

masahiro and kousuke night


Don’t worry about what the world wants from you–worry about the world you want. Sometimes, when your heart is telling you what it wants, you just have to listen. — Kousuke Ooshiba


Afterword

I feel like I did this one dirty, but sometimes you just gotta call ’em out when you see it. (I mean, I get that Kousuke was a “bad boy,” but he literally BROKE A GLASS DOOR to enter Masahiro’s apartment JUST because he didn’t answer his phone, I can’t with this guy.) But what did you think of Hitorijime My Hero? Do you also stan Masahiro or did you think he had it coming for him? Let me know down in the comments. I welcome Hitorijime My Hero as a “Coffee” title, and recommend it if you’re looking for a BL anime that’s probably better than most, but still not as good as Love Stage!! IMO. Maybe I’m wrong—you tell me!

My next Pride Month post will be over another yuri manga, the first volume of Dr. Pepperco’s Goodbye, My Rose Garden, so please look forward to that! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Love Stage!! – A Coming-Out Worth Celebrating || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 10-episode Summer 2014 anime “Love Stage!!,” animated by J.C.Staff, directed by Kenichi Kasai, and based on the manga by Eiki Eiki.


A Shocking Reunion

Izumi Sena comes from noble blood. Not the stuff of knights and kings, but family fame. His mom’s a famous actress, his father’s a successful producer, and his loud, obnoxious older brother is currently Tokyo’s biggest rockstar. It would surprise anyone to hear that the youngest Sena wasn’t in showbiz. But Izumi didn’t ask for any of this. Instead, Izumi aims to become a manga artist, despite possessing no talent for the craft! In fact, the only way he’s been able to completely avoid the limelight is thanks to his reclusive otaku hobbies.

I suppose “completely” isn’t the right word, though. Technically, Izumi cross-dressed as a girl for a wedding commercial skit ten years ago, which still haunts him to this day. But, a decade after the shoot, the same wedding company wishes to put together a 10th anniversary ad—and staring the original child actors for the project, no less!

This reunites Izumi with Ryouma Ichijou, who’s gone on to become a popular actor. Little does Izumi know that Ryouma’s been looking forward to this day ever since he fell in love the first time they met! As he did then, however, Izumi’s feminine appearance and unisex name still have Ryouma believing that little boy was actually a girl. BUT, even after discovering the truth, Ryouma can’t seem to shake off his feelings. Thus kicks off a series of troubles for Izumi’s big coming out—and in more ways than one.

Love Stage!! is a short romance comedy series based off the original BL manga. Most of the fun in watching comes from the hilarious drama that ensues between Izumi and Ryouma. Whether you’re a fan of BL or not, these two idiots will make you squirm and squeal—and I mean that in a good way. They’re genuinely funny and good-natured, as well as have an amazing chemistry together (even if their initial meeting would technically be viewed as an assault).

Even then, Ryouma spends the entire series redeeming himself and righting this wrong by actively trying to support Izumi and his personal endeavors. Ryouma loves Izumi, no two ways about it. It now becomes a matter of whether Izumi is willing to return that affection or deny the country’s favorite rising star actor.

izumi and ryouma romance

Lovable Leads, Hilarious Heart

As I mentioned above, the leads of Love Stage!! are easily what make this series so enjoyable and accessible, too. Izumi is a lovable character. His earnest dreams of being a mangaka (when clearly he has no skill whatsoever) probably ring true to many fellow otaku. Izumi just wants to give back to the medium that has given him so much, and his pursuit is a noble one, if not a tad far-fetched. Still, he works tirelessly and dedicates his entire being to making the manga of his dreams, and I admire his unwavering perseverance.

In contrast to Izumi’s cute appearance and large round eyes, Ryouma’s leading features are his charm and captivating presence. The guy is straight SEXY, no doubt about it. But, as we get to know him beyond his actor persona, we see that he’s also just as hardworking and determined to achieve his dreams as Izumi. This includes, of course, getting together with the crush of his childhood.

There’s this ongoing gag in the series that Ryouma is bad at everything he does for the first time, but quickly improves with dedication and experience. Whether allowing people to meet his true self, making friends, or moving things to the bedroom (heh heh), you can only imagine the hilarious outcomes from Ryouma’s “first time” with anything!

The two also have their own family, friends, and industry rivals that spark plenty of entertaining dialogue. For instance, the Sena family manager, Rei Sagara, has a no-nonsense tolerance for anyone’s shit (except when he’s willing to let cute little Izumi slide past him). As a caretaker of sorts, Rei acts more as a doting mother than his own mom, which I suppose doesn’t say much since she’s so full of herself (in the most fabulous way possible). As he realizes his own feelings, Izumi slowly starts coming to Rei with all his questions about life, love, and sex with another man. Their relationship is adorable and handled with surprisingly good guidance.

Rei also helps manage the relationships between Izumi and his brash brother, Shougo, Ryouma’s own manager Shino, and even Ryouma himself sometimes! He’s seriously great, and as the series progresses, we find that many of the cast actually share relationships with one another behind closed doors. Such developments really up the character drama and intrigue!

izumi rei shougo

The Best-Looking (and Sounding) BL Anime

I admittedly haven’t seen much BL anime, but from what I understand, this has got to be one of the best currently out on the market. J.C.Staff really went ham on this one. Bright colors constantly dominate the screen, enhancing the light romantic feel for the series. The characters themselves look very attractive, what with their bold expressions, blushy cheeks, and rainbow-colored hair and eyes. It’s nice to see a simple BL anime adaptation look just as amazing as most other high quality rom-com titles.

A lot of people don’t talk about it, but the music is also shockingly good. Yes, the ED “CLICK YOUR HEART!!” by Kazutomi Yamamoto is an absolute bop, but I’m talking about the OST. Composer Ryousuke Nakanishi is probably most famous for his work on The Devil is a Part-Timer!, so you already know he’s got the balance between comedy and drama down pat. I often found the music to carry the emotions almost better than the dazzling visuals did—but then again, I would be remissed if I didn’t talk about the fantastic English dub performances.

This is probably THE best Sentai Filmworks Dub I’ve ever listened to, PERIOD. (Ok, maybe one of them. They’ve really knocked it outta the park recently!) Even with his squeaky voice, Greg Ayres does a fantastic Izumi, providing just the right tinge of embarrassment and self-pride for each of Izumi’s little stunts. Adam Gibbs’ Ryouma is the real winner here, though, cause MY GOD, this man made even me all hot and bothered. Gibbs sounds just as brash and big-headed when he should, but also shows off a softer, more innocent side to Ryouma that is just as captivating as his ambitious, energetic side. Izumi and Ryouma were perfectly cast!

But it doesn’t stop there. David Wald—who graciously lent his own experience as a gay man to bring this dub to life—not only directed Love Stage!!, but also voices Rei Sagara with a snappy, matter-of-fact voice that only he could bring. It’s also always a pleasure to hear John Swasey doing the dad thing as the illustrious Seiya Sena, and the very same to Monica Rial’s lovely (if not hilariously self-absorbed) Nagisa Sena. Lastly, Tia Ballard is sprinkled around as various voices, and she’s always a pleasure to hear in any capacity!

izumi ryouma young

A Coming Out to Celebrate

I honestly came into Love Stage!! thinking it’d be a lot more problematic than it was. Thankfully, I found the series to be one of the most fun watches I’ve enjoyed in quite some time. While it has a somewhat rough start, Love Stage!! only gets better as the plot progresses. Almost everyone in the cast means well to one another, and it’s heartwarming to see so many icons watching each others’ backs. My only wish was that we got a second season to complete the story, as these 10 episodes (plus the hysterical OVA) adapt half the completed manga story.

Whether you’re gay, straight, or somewhere in between, you’ll probably love this series if anime rom-coms in general are your thing. The visuals are extremely pretty, the music’s wonderful, and the English dub is cooked to gay perfection (should you choose to eat your anime this way). I know it was a fight to get this thing dubbed, but BOY did they it to ’em, and for that reason alone I find that Love Stage!! is a coming out worth celebrating.

izumi and ryouma close up


Somewhere in this world, there is a door that leads me to my dreams. I don’t know where that door is. I may not find it in my entire life. And even if I do find it, it may be locked to me . . . — Izumi Sena


Afterword

As a blossoming adult, a budding actor, and definitely a gay man, Izumi’s big coming out story is full of ups and downs. I really cannot recommend this series enough, especially now that I’ve finally seen it! So cute, and sooo good!! Because the story has yet to truly finish, I’ll welcome Love Stage!! as a “Cake” here at the cafe, a title too sweet to miss out on—and especially that dub though, wow, we’re really making history! I’m late to the party, but you should let me know your thoughts on the series down in the comments for sure! I think this would make a great intro title to anyone new to BL. My next Pride Month post will be over Ogeretsu Tanaka’s Escape Journey, so please look forward to that. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Pride Month 2020 Celebration Announcement: Anime & Manga Edition!

Hello all!

I realize that these are some of the most important times we are currently living in. Crazy times, but crucial nonetheless. However, it would be a crime to forget the importance of June to the LGBT+ community. After all, they make up a huge part of our own anime and manga community, as well as include some of my dearest friends.

In honor and celebration of gay pride and equality, I’ve decided to dedicate the entire month of June to posts about BL manga and anime! These posts will range from soft shounen-ai to some of the, well, harder subjects in yaoi and BL. Such posts may be full series/book reviews, first impressions, or anything in between. Really, I haven’t figured out how I want to talk about all these works. But, I do know some of the titles I want to recognize on my blog.

I’ve never celebrated pride month in such full capacity. Truly, though, I owe it to the LGBT community for being a pillar for acceptance and visibility of all people on the sex and gender spectrums. I want to highlight some of the prominent works being discussed, not only because I have a lot of BL manga sitting on my shelf just waiting to be talked about, but also because I love and support this community and what it stands for 100%.

I also want to recognize all the people and companies working their butts off to bring these works to us. Really, I’m thankful to be able to buy these kinds of books and be part of a discussion that is much larger than myself.

So, in addition to my usual reviews and shenanigans, please look forward to this exciting month of content ahead of us! If you’re also doing some pride month posts, feel free to link those below or tag me on social media so I can share them.

Stay wonderful, and stay safe, my friends.

– Taku

Give it a Light Novel Title Challenge (Keni’s Nomination)

Hello all!

I thought I’d mix this up a bit for today and do a tag post. This one comes from Keni (The Anime Basement) and it’s the Give It A Light Novel Title Challenge. Reading through other bloggers’ posts, this challenge seems like a lot of fun, so thanks Keni for tagging me! Be sure to follow The Anime Basement if you haven’t already!

Rules:

  • Choose up to five anime, manga, or visual novel series with short titles
    • Light novels are allowed
  • Give these series a new title based on those incredibly long and ridiculous new anime/ manga/ light novel titles!
  • If someone already picked the anime, don’t worry! You can still challenge them to a fun showdown.
  • Link back to the original post.
  • Include Give it a Light Novel title in your tag so everyone can find them easily.
  • Nominate around 1-6 bloggers

To make this even more challenging, I’ll try to stick with titles I’ve recently been watching. Alright, let’s see what I can come up with!


shirobako ln

Shirobako

So Long As I Have My Friends, Working In Anime Can’t Be That Hard!


shinra smile ln

Fire Force

I Want To Be Called Hero, But My Fiery Feet Make Me The Devil!


princess principal ln

Princess Principal 

We Wanted To Save The Country, So Our Princess Became A Spy!?


karneval ln

Karneval

I Joined The Circus To Find My Long-Lost Friend


penguindrum ln

Penguindrum

To Save Our Sister, We Have To S-Serve The . . . P-PENGUIN QUEEN??


Nominations:

(If you’ve already done this, feel free to pass or reply with your post!)

Mel (Mel in Animeland)

Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews)

Miandro (Miandro’s Side)

Matt (Matt in the Hat)

Megan (Geeky Gal)

Lynn Sheridan (The Otaku Author)


This was such a fun little post to make, so thanks again Keni for tagging me! Which one of these titles would you be most interested in watching? Be sure to let me know in the comments. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

 

Netflix’s Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 is Enjoyable, But Not in the Way You’d Think || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode 2020 anime “Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045,” produced by Netflix, animated by Production I.G and Sola Digital Arts, directed by Shinji Aramaki and Kenji Kamiyama, and loosely based on the manga by Shirow Masamune.


A New Threat Emerges

The Synchronized Global Default changed everything about societies all over the globe. Now, in 2045, the economic disaster continues to impact the human race as the world enters a state of “Sustainable War” via AI technology just to keep money in the pockets of policy makers. But, as the Stand Alone Complex world continues to prove, people really do not possess any idea of the capabilities of these AI—as well as the potential threats to their own privacy and safety—while living in this rapidly accelerating cyberization age.

As a result of the economic fallout, Public Security Section 9 was kicked off government payroll and reduced to hired mercenary jobs out in the hot American southwest. Given the opportunities to engage their enhanced cyberbrains and combat skills, it’s not the worst outcome for full-body cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi and her partner-in-crime Batou. However, the emergence of extremely potent AIs with remarkable intelligence and physical might, dubbed “post humans,” just might be the global threat Section 9 Chief Aramaki needs to pull the old team back together again.

Off-the-grid sci-fi action and cyber crime dominate the scene as the classic Ghost in the Shell: SAC story returns with this latest installment. Don’t count your Tachikomas before they hatch, though, as this is far from the sequel longtime fans have been waiting for. Overrun with loud action stunts and a hardly tactical approach to most combat, 2045 may be the weakest entry thus far—and the switch to all 3D CG doesn’t give much to boast about. But, this is still a Ghost in the Shell story, mind you, and any GitS is worth watching if you love this universe like I do.

major in the tachikoma

The Old Gang Reunited

With a new Ghost in the Shell comes a new look for the Major. Although she doesn’t carry the same maternal air as the original SAC‘s Major, I do really like the pretty and iridescent quality that this Motoko bears. It’s as if the short bob and rebellious spirit of Arise‘s Major met the violet, cool-toned and commanding authority of SAC‘s. While Batou largely retains the same figure, including his signature prosthetic eyes, Togusa’s new look suits him quite well. I wasn’t particularly happy about hearing that his marriage fell apart in the time since SAC 2nd Gig (honestly the biggest crime here), but at least the shortened mullet makes him feel like a fresh man.

Perhaps my favorite single part of Netflix’s crack at GitS doesn’t even pertain to character designs, plot points, or the music—it’s the dub cast. Somehow, Bang Zoom was able to track down the all-star cast of the original SAC dub, including the incredible Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as BOTH the dub’s director and the Major herself. Add in Richard Epcar’s rough-around-the-edges Batou, Crispin Freeman’s rich yet naive Togusa, William Knight’s authoritative yet flighty old man Aramaki, and Melissa Fahn’s iconically squirrelish Tachikoma voice and, ahh, it’s a wonderful nostalgia trip. Mary Elizabeth’s Major really does embody the soul of this franchise. It was only after hearing the old Section 9 again that I was reminded just how much I’ve missed this world.

So, as you can tell, I wasn’t one to hate on the new character designs. The characters themselves aren’t necessarily here to be dynamic so much as to be badass cyber soldiers and carry out the plot (except maybe Togusa), and to each their own on that. But, if there’s one major gripe I have about the characters, it’s the facial expressions, which is a perfect segue to the show’s biggest controversy: the animation.

section 9

A Bold Switch of Style

As you may have heard fans gripe, directors Aramaki and Kamiyama decided to have all of 2045 animated in 3D CG. In addition to story focus and heightened emphasis on explosive action, this changed visual style makes 2045 feel even more removed from SAC‘s old roots. At what point do we stop calling it a sequel? I don’t even know where to begin on this one except for with the negatives.

For one, the lip flaps hardly match the voice acting—this is consistent across the English and Japanese dubs. Lots of dialogue may be spoken, but the mouth hardly moves. Now, 2045 can sometimes get away with this since A) half the characters are cyborgs, and B) much of the dialogue is communicated via connection to the Net, thus no need for spoken words. But even the most human characters suffer from a general lack of expressive facial emotions.

My second big gripe is that everything is CG. From vehicles and landscapes to special effects and the hair on a person’s head, it’s all been animated using digital technology. This means that, when something is textured, it’s generally done well and with consistency. On the other hand, when there’s no texture work, it’s entirely flat to the eyes. The production feels cheap as a result, sometimes gross, even if I know that it’s actually decent quality CG work being done here.

That said, I do, in fact, like the way this series looks (shocker, I know). Sure, I would’ve liked a more traditional approach with 3D CG modeling being used for a minority of the production rather than the only technique, but this isn’t all bad. Japan’s towering skyscrapers and clean, futuristic architecture have never looked better in SAC than they do here. The Tachikomas shine brilliantly, and the action sequences are also entertaining and very well choreographed (even if they’re ultimately no more than added popcorn material). Chances are most people will dislike the CG, though, especially if they came in with expectations of the franchise.

major and tachikoma 2045

At Least it Sounds Great

Between writers and actors, it would seem that everyone came back to work on this universe again—everyone except for SAC series music composer Yoko Kanno. Thankfully, Nobuko Toda and Kazuma Jinnouchi carry the mantle of SAC with strong compositions in 2045. Between the jazzy interludes, lo-fi downtime, and high-octane cyber beats, I almost could’ve sworn it was still Kanno behind the keyboard. Toda and Jinnouchi also worked together on composing the score for Netflix’s recent Ultraman series, which may explain why 2045 also feels a little retro-punk at times.

As with the dynamic visual special effects work, the audio effects also fill in the sounds of this technologically advanced world. Whether the soft hum of a self-driving car on the highway, the relentless fire of Gatling guns, the blinking and honking of city sounds, or the digitization of bodies floating around in the Net, the sound design maintains a high standard across the series.

togusa 2045

Waiting for the End

From the occasionally nauseous CG animation alone, it’s easy to think that this is a poorly directed series. 2045 is also not as philosophically explorative as its predecessors; rather, it seems to look smart by skimming the surface without postulating the further impacts and implications of people living by and through the Net. As opposed to genuine curiosities or worries about our future with technology, 2045 favors absurd thriller tones to engage its audience. I wish it were deeper and more full of wisdom like the previous seasons were, but 2045 is not that story. Maybe it’s not that great . . .

BUT, I don’t want to lose hope because I did enjoy my watch. Heck, binging 2045 on Netflix in a SINGLE SITTING was loads of fun—questionable CG and all—and I only wish I could’ve listened to more of the Major and her team exchanging witty banter back and forth. For me, clearly, the dub alone made 2045 worth watching.

As it stands, this is only half the story, so I can’t completely say whether or not 2045 is worth passing on. With the second cour green-lit but yet to be announced, I await the end of this new story with cautious optimism. When that day comes, I definitely plan on joining the Major once again. If Ghost in the Shell is your thing, you may want to consider putting 2045 on hold until the entire series is out. Otherwise, strap in—this ride is already proving to be a bumpy one.

major batou and togusa 2045


You think I like this? There are too many unknown variables. It doesn’t smell right. But, then again, we always enjoy coming along with you for the ride—it’s the only reason we’re all here. — Batou


Afterword

If that last quote from Batou doesn’t encapsulate my feelings on Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, I’m not sure what does. Until the second half can solidify my opinions on this series, I’ll pass 2045 as a “Coffee” rating for now. It’s mediocre at most points, but when it’s good, you may just remember why you fell in love with this series to begin with. Have you watched Netflix’s Ghost in the Shell yet? If so, what are your thoughts? Given how optimistically I tend to view this franchise, I’m eager to hear about them. Otherwise, ’till next time!

– Takuto

Shirobako: A Creative’s Guide to Happiness || OWLS “Hope”

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 2020, “Hope,” I wanted to put aside my more elaborate thoughts on the entertaining and endearing Shirobako and just kinda ramble about creativity and the future. (Worry not, I’ll have more to say in a series review forthcoming!)

We are in the midst of a pandemic which has led people to live in fear and anxiety over the coronavirus. For this month, rather than seeing the dark side of the situation we are living in, we will be exploring anime and other pop culture mediums that bring hope for humanity and why they have such a positive impact on us.

This is such a wonderful topic, and yet I feel so unprepared for it. I hope you guys will enjoy what I’ve got to share. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

miyamori shocked


A brief discussion of the 24-episode fall 2014 anime “Shirobako,” animated by P.A. Works, directed by Tsutomu Mizushima, and based on the original story by Michiko Yokote. 

Being Creative is Tough

Five high school girls had dreams of creating an anime together after showing off the labors of their club’s hard work in a school festival. Skip forward a couple years and we see that while Aoi and Ema made it into a reputable studio in the industry, all five of them are struggling to find a greater purpose behind the work. It would seem that the path to one’s dream job is littered with all kinds of trials and unexpected turns. 

At Musashino Animation, Aoi Miyamori has it pretty decent as a production assistant compared to her animator friend Ema. Miyamori’s job entails coordinating emails between departments and outside sources, scheduling meetings, running errands, maintaining public relations, and generally keeping everyone on task—including a notoriously nervous director and a whole crew of constantly tired animators, key artists, and the like. Half the battle, as one can imagine, is not with the work itself, but the people behind it.

But where Ema’s sights are clearly set on becoming one of the best animators the industry’s ever known, Miyamori often finds herself asking why she even joined the animation world in the first place. Despite the job suiting her better than she realizes, Miyamori feels adrift in an industry that’s been chewing people up and spitting them out for years. While the road to success is rough now, it’s only bound to get rockier—not to mention veer off the path more than once. Still, this is the world that Miyamori dreams of working in, and dreams—as she realizes—can still be achieved through unyielding perseverance and a splash of creativity. 

miyamori sleepy

A Future Unknown

Office stress, annoying coworkers, late nights, instant meals—oh Miyamori, how I feel for you. As a young twenty-something myself, it can seem near impossible to try exploring other potential avenues of interest when all our time and energy is drained just by living day to day. In struggles like this where future seems unclear, we want simple work, mechanical work. Even if it’s repetitive and dull, it is stable, and reliably puts food on the table each night. Because she does not yet know what she truly wants to do in life, Miyamori continues to slave away, giving her current job everything she’s got despite its tedium. 

On the other hand, when we have something to look forward to—a goal or a higher purpose in mind—we find ourselves more willing to take risks, and risk is always a scary thing. This isn’t just as a feeling of general optimism, but a yearning for something more in life. It’s a feeling of being destined for greatness, even if the path to that future lies completely unpaved. Miyamori knows deep down that she’s just as creative and visionary as her friends are—now she’s just got to figure out what niche she belongs in. As we see for her, others will help pave this path, and brick by brick, slowly, everything will come together in the end.

It sounds easier to just coast the less pleasurable route out, but that’s the trap. Before you know it, more time has passed by, and seldom do second, let alone third, fourth, or fifth, chances come along. Through her interactions with some of the big wigs who have been in the industry for decades, Miyamori finds that they all had specific goals to strive for. With this realization comes aspiration, and soon it dawns on her what she must do: Once one’s goal in life has been found, you should take time to figure out how you can achieve it. If you’ve done everything right, you’ll probably end up having to make a critical decision: Will you play things safe, or risk it for the chance to dream big?

crossroads

At the Crossroads of Happiness & Hope

Life is full of choices we have to make, crossroads we have to pass. But it’s because crossroads exist that people can get a true start on their lives and do the things they’ve always wanted to, whether that is explicitly known to them in the moment or not. Crossroads are a curse, but they also provide hope—the hope that people can choose their own path in life and make something fantastic out of their time on earth. They’re a necessary evil, the riskiest kind of choice, but once you know deep down that you made the right choice, there truly is no better feeling.

As Miyamori’s friends start to see the crossroads lay out before them, they decide to chase down the path of their dreams. In the end, Ema, Shizuka, Misa, and Midori each chose the riskier path—the hopeful path—over the one guaranteeing security. All at once, everything starts to look a lot brighter for them. Sure, there will be rough days and hard nights ahead, but at least they can sleep knowing that this is indeed the path for them.

Suddenly—as if all the clouds parted at once—tomorrow seems a heck of a lot brighter than the day before for these ladies. The air is lighter, the sky looks clearer, and all because they realized what they really wanted to do in life. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful feeling? That is what gives people hope—pursuing passion and happiness even if the future seems uncertain. I wonder what path Miyamori will choose . . .

happy miyamori


There is no occupation that doesn’t have its difficulties. That’s why the rest is how much you’re able to endure after all of the humiliation you face. — Rinko Ogasawara


Afterword

Shirobako spoke to me with all kinds of wisdom, I love it so much. Again, I’ll have a full series review out for Shirobako here in a bit, hopefully, so please look forward to that! I’ve really enjoyed watching Shirobako, and I’m so glad I held off on it until now. The series is full of pathos that I’m sure any creative can relate to. Sorrows and frustrations blend perfectly yet realistically with the joys and satisfaction of being involved with the arts, and the whole experience has been absolutely healing for a soul like mine. Thus, I hope you enjoyed some of my takeaways from the series here today!

This concludes my April 11th entry in the OWLS “Hope” blog tour. My dear friend Lita (LitaKino Anime Corner) went right before me with a sweet post on Cells At Work that you really shouldn’t miss! Now, look out for my buddy Matt (Matt in the Hat) with a post on one of his favorite superhero icons, Spiderman, this coming Monday, April 13th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto