Thank You & Happy Birthday! | Nagisa Hazuki Appreciation Post

Hello!

It’s officially August 1st. I never really do these character appreciation post things, but I make exceptions for those anime characters that hold a soft spot in my heart. And so, I just wanted to say:

Happy Birthday, Nagisa!!

You’re the one that dragged me into the Iwatobi swim club nearly six years ago, back during that fateful summer of 2013, and I still haven’t forgotten ya! Heck, how could I? You’re a sparkling ray of pure sunshine and a little ball of literal sugar cancer for the Iwatobi team, too sweet for everyone’s own good.

In fact, you’re the one that brought the whole team back together and restarted the club, so you’ve got that going for you, too!

You may be the smallest and youngest one of the original team, but you’re never afraid to voice your opinions to your senpai teammates, and that willingness to be straightforward and honest has helped out your friends on more occasions than you can count, trust me!

You’re easy to relax with, but also fun to get fired up with. You can take a joke easily, and also know exactly when and how to lighten the mood when one of your teammates is stuck in a rut. Really, you’re the epitome of playfulness, and that natural enthusiasm will continue to help you and your friends out for the rest of your life!

Sure, you use that baby face of yours to pout when things don’t go your way. And yeah, you could dedicate yourself a bit more to your studies, but you’ve never stopped trying to improve yourself despite just chilling with that awesome breaststroke of yours. As far as I’m concerned, you’re the underrated MVP here! Free! just wouldn’t be the same without ya.

Plus, we know you love studying history, so don’t even try to hide your academic passions!

Haru, Makoto, Rin, and Sousuke may feel like the leads here, but don’t ever give up on your teammates and yourself! Even if you feel forgotten at times, the fact that you always try to help those who are also struggling in the spotlight is proof of your character. I’m sure Rei-chan, Ai-chan, and now Romi-chan and Shizu-chan will be there to support you in all you do, especially considering how much you’ve given back to them!

So on this special day, go and enjoy a big cake with all your wonderful friends! You can even have as much Iwatobi Surprise Bread as you’d like, so eat up—just make sure you’re ready for practice again the next day!


To celebrate this day, I just finished watching Free! Timeless Medley – The Bond for the first time, and for a recap movie, I really liked it! The film reminded me of the great journey the Iwatobi team set out on, and all the precious moments the second season brought us. Excited to watch The Promise now to see the story from Samezuka’s perspective.

Thanks again for inviting me onto the team, Nagisa! And to Kyoto Animation, thank you for breathing life into such a beautiful, inspiring cast of characters, and for creating a very special anime for us swimmers. My gratitude is infinite, and I’ll continue to support this franchise for a long time to come!

– Takuto

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Expanding My Anime Film Collection in 2017! | Blogmas 2017 Day 11

Hey everyone, welcome to (a very belated) day 11 of Blogmas (whoops)!

We’re nearing the final days, but there are still a couple of BIG things that made my 2017 a landmark year for exploration; one is on the anime side, the other on the blogging side. Today, we’ll briefly talk about anime movies, and how I went from disliking their short length and randomness to simply being enamored by their ability to tell a “complete,” charming story full of virtues. And yes, my film collection did exponentially EXPLODE this year as a result!

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Expanding My Anime Film Collection

(This is in regards to films that don’t belong to existing franchises. Ex. No titles labeled “The Movie”)

Like I was saying, I used to not be big on anime movies. Sure, there’s those fave Studio Ghibli films that everyone grows up with (special shoutout to Kiki and Laputa), but otherwise, you wouldn’t find me browsing for some little indie film or original short. Looking back on 2017 now, I think it was the tail end of 2016 where I caught the film fever.

I took a painting class during my last semester in high school. With little imagination (or teaching for that matter) to go off of, I turned to anime as inspiration, like we all do. I had seen Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words sometime in 2016, and I was simply blown away with what I call the “Shinkai Aesthetic.” It’s clean, chic, picturesque, semi-realistic, and most of all, has wicked good lighting. I could go on, but there’ll be a HUGE post about this guy’s art coming soon! Many of my paintings were inspired by Shinkai’s style as a result (well, that and Studio Khara’s Eva Rebuild Series). Specifically speaking, Shinkai’s iconic skies. I’ll share some of them with you guys later if you’re interested!

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Anyway, I started to grow as an artist after creating these paintings, noticing the subtle (or drastic) differences in other anime directors’ styles: Hayao Miyazaki (and Studio Ghibli), Mamoru Hosoda, Satoshi Kon, the Project Itoh films, Mamoru Oshii, Yasuhiro Yoshiyura, and of course, Makoto Shinkai. Thematically, they all tackle different issues in different ways, and learning about not just how but why a director wants to send out a certain message through a particular scene became something that I could apply to my own writing, namely, my OWLS posts. As cheesy as they previously seemed, I learned to love life lessons and the things we can learn from entertainment.

During my Shinkai painting phase, I was also watching Ghost in the Shell for the first time, exploring the ENTIRE franchise from its first 1995 film to the Arise series and even Paramount’s 2017 live action. My mind kept expanding with every episode, every iconic shot, and the urge to recreate them in my drawing class just couldn’t be ignored. I was absolutely OBSESSED with cyberpunk by this point, and I thank all the directors and their unique styles for inspiring me so much!

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This brings us to my collection, and my [terrible] need to buy everything that I watch. Thanks to Amazon Prime’s wicked ability, which allows me to buy a single item WITHOUT reaching a certain paywall for free shipping (cause I ain’t ever gonna pay for that, mhmm), I would literally buy every single anime film that fell below $15-ish. One. At. A. Time. Spoiler alert: that’s a lot of them. Here was my anime film collection in 2016:

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Pretty basic, got classics like Paprika and Ghost in the Shell, and cool lesser-known titles like Time of EVE and The Empire of Corpses. Neat.

Here’s my collection now, at the end of 2017:

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Oh dear god.

I went out and bought every Ghost in the Shell Blu-ray that I could (excluding Stand Alone Complex, as the reviews for the Blu-rays were horrendous). I loaded up on Shinkai, I snagged some Hosoda (well, received them as gifts, rather), I picked up modern classics like In This Corner of the World and classic-classics like Akira that arguably shaped anime as we know it! Honestly, I’m not sure why it took this long for me to get around to Akira. As for that whole gorgeous-looking set of black on the far left . . .

Thanks to GKIDS and their re-licensing and re-releasing of ALL the Studio Ghibli films, I bought all the ones that were on “sale,” and you can already bet that I’m going back for more as soon as the others lower in price. These are some high-ass quality releases, definitely much better than Disney’s [ugly] shiny gold releases. Then again, ANYTHING is better than the oooold DVDs that were first released, so I bought all the new Blu-rays to replace the ancient DVD copies we’ve had (which were re-gifted as priceless memories to my siblings for their own collections, haha)!

But yeah, there it is, the physical representation of my growing appreciation for the art of film, all in the beloved media that inspires me to create and explore—anime. Throughout the years, I’ve neglected so many astounding masterpieces and modern classics, and all because I wouldn’t have wanted their short stories to end. What can you get out of a measly 2 hours, anyway? However, through some incredible directors and artists in the anime industry, I’ve learned that the journey can still be magnificent and awe-inspiring, regardless of how long or short the story is. Now I can’t wait to see which films I watch next, and the adventures that they take me on!

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How big is your personal anime film collection? Did you see any title up there that is a personal favorite of yours? What other anime movies should be in my collection? Let me know so I can go and buy it after writing this! This post will ALSO be logged as a “Cafe Talk,” so share your thoughts to your heart’s content!

I’m on a bit of an odd schedule now thanks to the holidays, but this concludes Blogmas Day Eleven of the 12 Days of Anime. Only one left! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you shortly with the last post!

– Takuto, your host

Loss Has Little Meaning in Yuki Yuna | Hero Week Review

A brief review of the 12-episode fall 2014 anime “Yuki Yuna is a Hero,” produced by Studio Gokumi, based on original story by Takahiro and Makoto Uezu.

For the third segment of Hero Week, I’ll warn you now that this anime is extremely hit or miss, especially if you’re familiar with Madoka Magica. Despite any polarizing comments I make, I’d like to let you know that this happens to be my favorite of the three Hero Week anime I’ve reviewed, regardless that it is indeed the “worst-written one,” should I even have to pick. I found that it had the most to offer, and I have to be critical of it because something that means so much should be sought in full light.

Five middle school girls—Yuuna, Togo, Fu, Itsuki, and Karin—are on a quest to save the world. That is, community service, volunteer work, and puppet shows for local children. It all seems trivial on the outside, but their Hero Club is determined to do good deeds for love, justice, and happiness, goals which are outlined and pursued religiously in the club’s Five Tenets. Such is the sweet and simple life of Yuuki Yuuna.

The club’s charismatic president Fu is living two lives, however, and upon phone call is forced to drag her friends into a mystical realm. There, they are to protect the God of the natural world and human blessing, the Shinju, from strange geometric entities called Vertexes. By the single tap on a phone app, the girls are transformed into the extraordinary heroes they so desired to be. But transcending the realm of God and obtaining unimaginable power comes with a price almost not worth paying.

As the girls fight for their lives and the people they love, their perception of the world dramatically warps into a cruel land of delusional grandeur. In the depressing struggle for power, the girls might have to point their guns at beings besides the Vertexes in order to preserve their very belief of what it means to be a true hero.

One of the biggest problems I had with Yuki Yuna was the lame world building. Had I not read the summary provided by Crunchyroll, I wouldn’t not have noticed that the story is set in the far future—YEAR 300, the Era of the Gods. WHAT, but it looks like modern-day Japan?! I enjoy it when stories have good reasons to break the rules set by the setting, but you can’t rebel against an outline that otherwise doesn’t exist!

My second beef with the anime was the lack of each girl’s unique drive to be a magical girl. They just sort of accepted the role because of the club’s influence. Individual motive is largely what make hero stories interesting and standout, so to have such weak trope characters (besides Fu and Togo) was a huge shame. For instance, what if the wheel-chair-bound Togo wanted to keep fighting because she could walk once again? That’s much more compelling than “I’ll do it because Yuna needs my help.” The way Yuna clings to the club tenets is also a bit cheesy and a weak excuse for ‘development.’

This is obviously less apparent if you are unfamiliar with it, but the last somewhat spoiler-free issue I had were the painfully obvious similarities to Madoka Magica. The magical girl system, character destinies, and dark, depressing themes in the second half all have strong correlation with its critically-acclaimed predecessor. Heck, even the music (which is still really, really good) and the animation sometimes feel like snippets borrowed from Madoka. While it is occasionally disappointing, Yuki Yuna managed to have fun longer than Madoka did, heavily maximizing its slice-of-life side for the earlier parts. And while I wanted darker, more twisted, nastier Madoka narrative, watching those girls have fun was what I needed more.

On a positive note, the animation was surprisingly incredible. The Vertexes themselves are CG, but because they are basically Evangelion angels crossed-over with the zodiac, it all works to create a fantastic off-putting vibe. I also appreciated the vivid color patterns for the Shinju realm and the cool magical girl outfits (Yuuna’s elegant armor was actually what got me into this show). The style was more rooted in Asian culture (petals, shrines, zodiac), while something like Madoka featured more European-like classical culture (columns, gates, witches).

HERO WEEK SEGMENT: Archetypical Hero qualities represented by Yuuna

I’ve taken a quick trip to Google to provide qualities of the typical hero. Let’s briefly exercise each prompt:

  • Hero is of humble origins
    • Yuuna is a very friendly and open girl, often willing to accept help and help others at no cost.
  • An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure
    • The Taisha, the organization dedicated to the Shinju, calls upon Fu to advance on the incoming Vertex. Yuuna, even though given a choice, steps up to bat and becomes a magical girl
  • Hero has a special weapon only he can wield/always has supernatural help
    • Yuuna is a hero just like her friends. What makes her stand out is her unwavering devotion to the hero cause and her gifted fighting abilities. In episode one, she doesn’t just suddenly transform like the other girls, but is able to gradually make her armor appear upon demand. Her unusually rare strength and “true maiden’s heart” make her unstoppable on the battlefield.
  • The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
    • Besides fighting off the Vertexes, Yuuna must be able to lift the spirits of her comrades as the show’s ideal hero. The others will lose their way, and it’s up to Yuuna to lead them back on the path of righteousness. She doesn’t seem like a main character, nor does she change much as a character, and that’s mostly because I believe she’s not supposed to; she’s the guiding light of hope and justice, and as such doesn’t stop fighting even at the end.
  • ***SPOILERS START HERE***
  • PLEASE CONSIDER THIS THEORY TAG BEFORE PROCEEDING
  • The journey and the unhealable wound
    • In the end, the effects of going through Mankai so many times and taking on all of her friends’ pain leaves Yuuna in a catatonic state. When she does reawaken, her physical body is only a crutch for her soul, which is always off fighting. Upon the rebellion, Shinju-sama must have changed the rules so that girls don’t have to suffer long-lasting disabilities in the real world. This makes ALL LOSS ESSENTIALLY MEANINGLESS—All of the heartache the girls go through, then you turn around and say, “Oh, yeah, they don’t have to suffer anymore.” Now, I didn’t want a sad ending for the girls, especially Yuuna, but doesn’t that take away most of the emotional weight? Yuuna’s dedication to the heroic spirit causes her to be Shinju-sama’s ultimate protector, and is forced to keep on fighting even though her friends are retired.
  • Hero experiences atonement with the father
    • I like to consider the “father” not as Shinju-sama or the Taisha, but as the intelligent Togo instead. At first, Yuuna finds most of her purpose for fighting in protecting her friend and vice versa. When Togo is able to walk again at the end, she somewhat pities herself for letting Yuuna burden everyone’s pain even though she shouldn’t. Yuuna is praised like a goddess but somewhat frowned upon as a fool for sticking so close to the hero path.
  • When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually
    • Because I find the theory to be so interesting and quite possible, we can conclude that though her real-world body is somewhat “dead,” Yuuna is still alive and fighting behind the scenes. Her reward? She transcends the mortal world and becomes a goddess who will never stop fighting. Not exactly the prize I would want, but because Yuuna fell hook, line, and sinker for the whole hero bait, I’m sure that’s exactly how she would have wanted it from the beginning.
    • In the end, everyone’s illnesses go away, which contradicts the heavy theme of sacrifice Yuki Yuna spent its entire run on building up.
  • ***SPOILERS END HERE***

Much of Yuki Yuna is unexplained or at least not evident in the anime adaptation. Should the prequel light novels and the sequel manga ever make it here in the U.S., then I would be thrilled to revisit the franchise. Its fascinating world and the somber warriors fighting to protect it have so much more depth to them, and that lack of depth in the anime hinders a truly wonderful experience. The entire story and production of Yuki Yuna also has too many underdeveloped and forced ties to Madoka Magica, which sadly tampers with the mind-blowing aspect of it.

As a fantasy, drama, slice of life magical girl anime that attempts to see Madoka in a different light, I can appreciate all that it tried to pull off. It tackles the painfully realistic hero themes in the most interesting (and very dark) way that just excites me, yet also has rare moments of joy for our characters and a real built sense of unease instead of just scary/dark imagery like Madoka. Even though it stumbles in appreciating loss, we do wind up with one solid ideal: Ultimately, fight for what you want to save, not for what you are burdened by.

“You know that the fairest flowers fade first. But I made it.” – Fu Inubouzaki (best girl)

I award Yuki Yuna is a Hero with a benefit of the doubt 8/10, narrowly allowing it to breach the “Caffé Mocha” classification. It combats the fantastic with heavy ideals and characters that are honestly cared about (can’t say that for most series). Yuki Yuna won’t impress all—most are quite hard on it, actually—but I still encourage people to try it out especially if you like the wildly mentioned Madoka Magica. I’ve been forgetting, but both ERASED and Yuki Yuna is a Hero can be viewed for FREE on Crunchyroll! While I’d LOVE to own it on DVD, Ponycan is releasing these ‘premium’ sets with an okay English dub for a ridiculous $70 each—AND THERE ARE THREE OF THEM. How do you think Yuki Yuna did? Also, do you think Yuuna is a good hero? How about the other girls? Comment below!! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host