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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the Kansei Track Team Aotake!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there’s no reason to run.

Ride a bullet train. 

Ride a plane. 

They’re faster.

WAKE UP, Kakeru.

It’s not enough to just chase speed. 

It’s . . . futile . . . 

— Haiji Kiyose to Kakeru Kurahara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Beyond Masculinity: Not as Tough as We Seem

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

That’s right, men can be:

Sensitive to others’ feelings,

Responsive to the needs of a friend,

Doubtful of their own strengths, 

Dreamers who are still looking for reason, and 

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

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

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


Afterword

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

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She Flies Again! The Stellar Women of Space Battleship Yamato 2199 | OWLS “Feminine”

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 third monthly topic of 2019, “Feminine,” I’ll be veering far off the path of my usual writing format to hone in on one particularly stellar aspect of this classic sci-fi remake: the incredible women aboard the Yamato and the challenges they persist ad astra per aspera, or to the stars through difficulties.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the OWLS bloggers will explore the concepts of femininity and feminism. We each have our own definition of these two terms and we will explore our definitions using “feminine” characters from various pop culture fandoms. We will discuss how these characters are “feminine” or show signs of a feminist agenda. We will also share our personal stories about the amazing women that supported us in our lives as well as sharing experiences involving women’s rights, oppression within the patriarchy, and/or issues of growing up as a woman or having a feminine persona.

Although seemingly simple, March’s theme has proven itself to be one of the trickiest ones yet. I hope you enjoy what I have to offer, and thanks again Lyn for the challenge!

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the female characters of the 26-episode 2012-2013 OVA series “Space Battleship Yamato 2199,” also localized as “Star Blazers 2199,” animated by Xebec and AIC, directed by Akihiro Enomoto with story by Yutaka Izubuchi, and based on the original 1970s television series created by Yoshinobu Nishizaki and Leiji Matsumoto. 

Hope Lies 148,000 Light Years Away

The year is 2199. Our once magnificent blue and green mother Earth has been reduced to a radioactive desert wasteland by unyielding attacks from the hostile aliens of planet Gamilas, her remaining population forced into underground cities. But a glimmer hope arrives in a message from a distant peace-seeking planet of Iscandar, whose queen sends along with her sympathies the blueprints to build an admirable spaceship capable of making the long trek to Iscandar and the technological device to power it. What lies on Iscandar will supposedly help clean and restore Earth to her former health.

With haste, the United Nations Cosmo Navy resurrects the long-sunken battleship Yamato by installing the mysterious Iscandarian technology to its core, transforming it into the titular vessel: the Space Battleship Yamato. Collectively placing what little faith and courage persists in the crew and its leader, the distinguished Captain Juuzou Okita, the Yamato departs Earth in the quest to receive Iscandar’s aid.

As she sails throughout space experiencing numerous technological issues and dealing with the onslaught of Gamilas fleets, the inexperienced crew of the Yamato must summon every inch of their resolve if they are to survive the storm of hardships and complete their mission: to save humanity before its estimated remaining time of 365 days expires.

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Feminist Strength Aboard the Yamato

Strength manifests in many different forms for many different people. For some, it’s physical might; others possess unwavering character and moral sets. With this post specifically, one of Yamato‘s greatest appeals is its approach to gender equality in crafting a well-rounded crew. Men and women alike share all kinds of important duties, be it navigation, operations, the fighter squadron, or the medical force.

But not all of these leading ladies got their roles handed to them—let’s take a quick look at how four of the main female characters define strength by their own values.

Lieutenant Yuki Mori

Leading with the Heart

Responding to Iscandarian expressions as if she were one of their own (or is she . . . ?), the Yamato‘s operations division head is always willing to meet discourse with a cup of tea. Literally. She feels deeply into the Iscandarian’s ultimate pursuit of life—that is, the salvation of all intelligent life in the universe—but is equally willing to stick up for her fellow comrades in arms, even when under scrutiny by said comrades for suspicious origins. Personally, I find that part to especially require guts.

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Lieutenant Mori’s approachable nature suits her well, her charm pulling in the admiration of both men and other women alike. Despite a rocky start with main character Lieutenant Susumu Kodai, we find that Yuki guides the Yamato’s course with compassion, sensitivity, and care for all life, and her ability to empathize and immediately form genuine connects with others serves Yuki as her greatest strength.

Kaoru Niimi

Willingness to Pursue Curiosity

Lieutenant Niimi is a bit of a tough nut to crack. Possessing a multi-faceted intelligence in technology and the sciences, Niimi’s many responsibilities as information chief and ship counselor kind of lie all over the ship. Although knowledge is her game, Niimi’s a dreamer. Having run the calculations herself, she sees very little chance of Earth ever rehabilitating, even with foreign aid. As a result, she finds herself drawn to stopping off at every Earth-like planet capable of sustaining life throughout their arduous journey (which, by the way, stirs a lot of good drama later down the line).

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In a way, Niimi uses her skills and impressive brain to benefit all of mankind by thinking in the long run: I mean, let’s face it, we can’t live on Earth forever, not if we keep acting the way we do. But unfortunately for her, Captain Okita and most of the crew is dead-set on reviving Earth. Her duty as the guardian for mankind’s future is a noble one, but also a very lonely one, and as frustrating as her decisions can be at times, Niimi goes beyond all of the ship’s crew in one crucial area—weaponizing her failures to fight on the side of good.

Melda Dietz

Valuing Honor in One’s Craft

Without spoiling too much about this next admirable female, Lower Storm Leader Melda Dietz does indeed fight on the side of Gamilas, but not in the way the other Gamilan soldiers do. A fighter pilot for the enemy, Dietz originally enters the Yamato as bargaining chip, but quickly becomes a wartime buddy on the front. A warrior for justice, Dietz realizes the corrupt ways of her homeland and commits herself to the side of righteousness. It’s a valiant thing to go against one’s mother country when you know it has deteriorated from what she originally stood for, and that’s what makes Melda Dietz a figure worth remembering.

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Did I also mention that of all the pilots, she’s also one of the most admirable to fly in the black abyss of space? Dietz values pride on the battlefield, as well as capability, independence, and the willingness to deter from the norm. Being bold just comes second nature to this wild red baron.

Akira Yamamoto

Embracing Diversity

Last but certainly not least is Ensign Akira Yamamoto, an often unsung heroine with arguably the biggest feminist energy going for her. Even though her elder brother fought bravely as a pilot for Earth, Yamamoto was assigned to accounting because of her status as a woman. She also suffers from occasional discrimination for being the only Martian aboard the ship. But what does she do with these differences of hers? How does she quell the warrior’s spirit residing within her?

She cuts her long silver hair, steals a fighter jet, and proves her self-worth on the battlefield. Now she’s the best fighter pilot the Yamato’s got, and nobody’s complaining. What a badass.

Yamamoto uses her rare talents to the best of her ability, not letting anyone stop her from applying her unique origin and skill set to the betterment of the entire crew. She knows she’s an exception to the rule, but she nonetheless embraces these differences as her core strengths, driving her to become a fully realized character.

Embracing her diverse nature as her greatest strength, Yamamoto transforms societal disadvantage into an inspirational force for militaristic equality. And if that’s not the feminist spirit, I’m not sure what is.

The Future Looks Bright

With all of these old sci-fi series, it’s becomes somewhat disappointing to look back and see a male-dominate crew with perhaps a few token women (usually used more for fanservice) or female nurses. But not Space Battleship Yamato 2199. The cast and crew is as expansive as the widening universe, and as we go along creating more wonderful works of fiction, our scope only becomes more diverse—our focus becomes more about real people as opposed to idealized standards. Sure, there are a few carbon copies here and there, but that only goes to show that the struggles that women face are universal issues felt by all.

The Space Battleship Yamato franchise revolves around themes of brave sacrifice, noble enemies, grandiose ideological feuds, resilience, and the respect for heroes lost on the battlefield. But it also ventures to the far edges of space to prove that no matter where you are in the universe, there will always be struggles concerning gender—and that there will always be courageous heroines out there willing to fight for our equality and our integrity.

Men read science fiction to build the future. Women don’t need to read it. They are the future. — Ray Bradbury


Afterword

There’s so much more to be said on 2199—so much so that I may make it the focus of my next OWLS post given that the theme for April just might fall under the same lines . . . ‘Till then, let’s celebrate the wonderful women of the Yamato along with the remainder of this tour!

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This concludes my March 13th entry in the OWLS “Feminine” blog tour. Kind of a shorter OWLS post from me, but I know the lovely folks running the monthly live-stream will appreciate it, haha! Aria (Animanga Spellbook) went right before me with a post on the leading ladies of Zombieland Saga, a series that from what I understand is equal parts bizarre and sheer fun—so check it out! Now, look out for my good friend Crimson (My Fujoshi Life) with a post on finding a voice in a special category of music this Saturday, March 16th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

A Story That Loves Love: Go For It, Nakamura! | OWLS “Adore”

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 second monthly topic of 2019, “Adore,” I wanted to stray away from the darker content I typically go for with these posts and focus on something lighthearted. Fortunately for me, none come more fluffy and adorable than the one-shot shounen-ai manga that’s got the BL community completely under its love spell: Go For It, Nakamura!

In February, we will be exploring love and romance. The word selected is “adore” because it has two main connotations: to be loved and respected or to feel worshipped. We will analyze characters that give us a feeling of admiration and explain why we love those characters. We will also be exploring different forms of love (familial, friendship, and even self-love) and how those types of love influence our lives.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

I myself happened to have recently finished the book, so this prompt came in good timing. Thanks Lyn!

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the one-shot (11-chapter) manga “Go For It, Nakamura!,” story and art by Syundei, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.  

Ganbare! Nakamura-kun!!

Nakamura Okuto may be a shy gay high school boy, but he sure knows what he wants—the love of his life, his adorable high school classmate, Hirose Aiki. He constantly daydreams of just about every cliche romance scenario ever written, but when it comes to executing his charm, Nakamura is a total klutz! To make matters worse, the two haven’t even formally met yet, and Nakamura’s clumsy streak is sure enough to botch things before they even begin. Oh boy, good luck Nakamura!

Serialized in Opera magazine over the course of a couple years, the 11 chapters that make up this volume comprise the existing story as it currently stands. It is a collection of vignettes from the titular character’s high school life sectioned off in a way not unlike that of a 4-koma manga.

It’s also a comedy manga—and one that’s fun as heck to boot. The comedic timing will leave you giggling in your chair, and the few moments of genuine connection between Nakamura and Hirose will make your heart all warm and mushy. There’s never a dull moment in Nakamura’s pitiful yet utterly relatable life.

As mentioned earlier, the romantic scenarios are cliche: staying after class, school festival drama, chance meeting in an alley, school plays, CLUBS, you get the picture. Even though you know how the story might play out that particular chapter, Nakamura’s inner dialogue and anxious turmoil transform repetition into a breath of fresh air. And yes, the retro art style contributes immensely to Nakamura‘s uniqueness.

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A Lost Art: The 1980s Japan Aesthetic 

I’m not a historian by any means, but if I had to pin a time period, I’d say that Syundei’s story takes place in 1980s Japan. Regardless, it’s old school, but cute. Really cute. Think Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2) printed in modern day. Wacky expressions, explosive bangs, random chibi appearances, traditional hair and clothing styles, that kind of 80s Japan. Between the bright colors on the cover, the fuzzy glow effect of Nakamura’s daydreams, and the flowery patterned backgrounds, Syundei has created a retro aesthetic that is quite the rare find these days.

I really loved the revival of the cartoonishly big hair bangs (a nice choice!). Not only does this design detail take us back to the past, but it makes the characters seem even fluffier than they already are. Hirose in particular is just such a kind, SOFT boi, and I totally understand why Nakamura’s enamored with this sparkling chestnut head! Hirose’s large round eyes also make him seem more gullible, innocent, and inviting, a stark contrast to Nakamura’s gloomy aura. For a guy who is used to hugging against the shadows, Hirose’s radiant light is blinding. So pure!

The duality of Nakamura’s expressiveness—from the estranged slim-eyed “bully” look to this blushing, red-faced, obsessive weirdo—establishes an even stronger bond between Nakamura and the reader. He may have a scary exterior, but he’s just a big softie (and one who’s madly in love!), and I found myself rooting for Nakamura throughout his antics because I relate to his struggles of silent obsession and unrequited love. Slowly but surely, Nakamura is crawling out of his shell and opening up to people, and I really look forward to further developments should Syundei return to this wonderful title.

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A Refreshing Spin on BL

Although he may be a closet gay to his peers, Nakamura isn’t afraid to let the reader know, and I really enjoy how being gay isn’t a big deal in Nakamura. Even his classmates don’t mock him for desparately wanting to hang out with Hirose, and it’s just so, so refreshing. If you’re new to BL, this story would make an excellent entry point. (Being a single-volume story helps make this a recommendation even more convincing!)

Additionally, this isn’t a BL story about lust and skipping the foreplay just to do the deed. Go For It, Nakamura! is as innocent and pure as they come, and for all the right reasons. Sure, Nakamura is a bit obsessive for Hirose, but not much more than any other girl or boy tailing after their romantic idol. The story sticks to themes of adoration and manages to run as far as a lovely, blossoming friendship. And interestingly, its lack of explicit content is what marks it as one of the bests.

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A Story That Loves Love

Watching the push and pull between Nakamura and Hirose grow with each chapter sure doesn’t leave the heart with much time to rest. At times stupidly funny, other times highly resonate and heartwarming, I couldn’t think of a high school couple more deserving of mutual love and affection. More than they realize, they need a person just like the other, and the ending will leave you with so much hope and happiness.

Syundei’s Go For It, Nakamura! is a story that loves love, and about loving yourself, too. Its characters are cute and fluffy, and despite my wanting to smash the two together and shout “NOW KISS!”, I wouldn’t have wanted the story (as it stands now) to end any other way. I was left squealing and stirring in my chair for hours after reading the last page, and if there’s any BL title out there to boast the word “adore,” this is easily the one.

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Y-you’re the one who said it was important to be true to yourself. — Nakamura Okura


Afterword

Well, when you don’t have to cover animation, music, voice acting, and directing, this makes for a pretty short post! Reading Go For It, Nakamura! easily became the highlight of my week, and its short single-volume release makes it easy to consume yet hard to let go of. It’s fun, simple, and it’ll make your heart go doki-doki for sure! As if I needed to reinforce its notability, Syundei’s Go For It, Nakamura! establishes itself as a “Cafe Mocha” title, an absolute hit for anyone wanting to spend an afternoon enjoying the softest BL manga ever written. Seriously, you’ll love it.

This concludes my February 3rd entry in the OWLS “Adore” blog tour. Man, when was the last time I went this early!? In fact, it looks like I’m the one kicking off the February tour, so I hope I set the groundwork well enough for all the great posts to come. Now, look out for my good friend Hazel (Archi-Anime) with a post about After the Rain on Wednesday, February 6th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

The Conviction to Change in Bunny Girl Senpai | OWLS “Metamorphosis”

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 first monthly topic of 2019, “Metamorphosis,” I wanted to take a look at one of 2018’s best shows (in my opinion), the most unusual tale of a high school boy who encounters many different teenage girls, each of which are struggling with a bizarre phenomenon tied to personal turmoil: the (in)famous Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai.

A brand new year means new beginnings and opportunities. We have a tendency to embrace the new year because it’s a time when we can start fresh. For this month’s topic, we will be exploring our favorite dynamic characters who undergo changes for better or for worse. We will analyze these characters’ transformations and how these transformations benefited or minimized these characters’ potential in becoming “great people/beings.” We will also use these characters as a way for us to reflect on our own lives and who we want to become. Lastly, we would like to say “Happy New Year, everyone!”

Much like last year’s “Revival” tour, January ushers in new beginnings and a fresh start for us all. Here’s to the first in a long line of wonderful months to come, and thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 13-episode fall 2018 series “Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai,” animated by CloverWorks, directed by Souichi Masui, and based on the light novel series by Hajime Kamoshida. 

Troubles in Youth, the Adolescence Syndrome

Also called “puberty syndrome,” this sickness of sorts rumored on the internet to be caused by sensitivity and instability during adolescence plagues young hearts and entangles several girls in weird experiences beyond the explanation of physics.

Sakuta Azusagawa, a second-year high school student, meets these girls that are experiencing this “puberty syndrome” over the course of one eventful year. The one to stand out the most, of course, is famous child/teen actress Mai Sakurajima, which he encounters in a public library wearing a bunny costume. Although he knows her to be a senior at his school, for some reason, no one else can see Miss Sakurajima in her scantily clad attire.

When did she become invisible? How did she become invisible? As Sakuta earnestly spends more and more time with Mai-san and tries to unravel her mysterious circumstances, Mai’s hidden emotions slowly reveal themselves and a relationship of love begins to blossom.

Mai Sakurajima isn’t the only one changed by Sakuta, though—energetic underclassman Koga Tomoe is stuck in an endless time loop until she confronts her inner feelings; Sakuta’s science club friend Rio Futaba has to deal with a doppelganger of herself running around; hardworking idol Nodoka Toyohama undergoes a sudden body swap with Mai-san, who turns out to be her sister; even Sakuta’s own sister Kaede is still recovering from her terrible past with adolescence syndrome. All the while, a figure from Sakuta’s past—his first love, Shouko Makinohara—makes an incomprehensible reappearance into his life.

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Love, Romance, & Schrödinger’s Cat

Sakurajima was a child star, adored by all and a household icon to boot. But following a couple-year hiatus caused by her transitionary high school phase and a conflict with her manager (her own mother), the teen actress fell out of the public eye. She suddenly became invisible, and the Adolescence Syndrome amplified that literal meaning.

Despite his convincingly bored and constantly horny exterior, Sakuta is a genuinely good guy. He’s honest, straightforward (a bit too much sometimes), persistent, caring, and is able to read into people surprisingly well. These qualities make him a perfect agent for change, which he acts upon to improve the lives of those he deems worthy of his friendship.

When going about “fixing” Sakurajima’s invisibility problem, Sakuta appeals to his super smart science club friend Futaba for advice. If anyone can believe him and break down the Adolescence Syndrome’s causes and cures, it’s Futaba. She postulates that the students’ collective forgetting of Mai-san was caused by the school’s atmosphere, and she makes the analogy of Schrödinger’s cat to explain how Mai’s existence cannot be confirmed by those who refuse to acknowledge her. Finally, Futaba proposes that if the atmosphere were to be shaken enough to awaken everyone’s memories, Mai-san’s life would return to normal.

With the school as the box and Mai-san as the cat, the Schrödinger’s cat tie-in helps to create a powerful metaphor for the change process. Unless we open the box and confront its contents, we’ll never know if the cat is dead or alive, thus it is half of both. Similarly, until we open up to others with our problems and allow each other to see why we are hurt, confused, or scared, we’ll never be able to understand one another, and thus our problems will prevail.

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In this case, Sakuta persistently sought after people who knew Mai-san’s personal life, including her mother (and sister as well later on), to unravel the reason for Mai’s actions and the consequences pressed by the Adolescence Syndrome. So, what did he find? Sakuta urged Mai-san to return to her acting career. After all, she loves show business. But what made things different this time is that she wouldn’t let her mother micromanage her life. Instead, she’d plant her feet and make the choices she wanted to make.

Just like Futaba the science whiz found, unless the name Mai Sakurajima was put back into the student body’s mind in a way that broke the static atmosphere, nothing would change. Determined not to give up on Mai even though he, too, had almost forgotten her forever, Sakuta came up with a daring last-minute plan to make everyone remember. And while confessing the love of your life to every single person at school by shouting from the baseball field was a bit over-the-top, you can definitely call Sakuta’s efforts in making Mai Sakurajima visible once again commendable. Quite praiseworthy indeed!

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Change to Last a Lifetime

On the subject of metamorphosis itself, one characteristic that makes Sakuta Azusagawa stand out as a “hero” type protagonist is his conviction to not only solving each problem plaguing our cast, but his focus on making lifelong changes rather than little remedies to temporary issues. Like, he could have just told Sakurajima to get back into acting or “broke the atmosphere” from the start. Instead, he devoted immense time and energy to reconstructing Mai-san’s mindset geared towards a fresh, new perspective on self-confidence. Considering how that involves rebuilding a mother-daughter relationship, I’d say it’s no small effort whatsoever.

The same could be said about the other girls, though. For Koga Tomoe, he didn’t merely get her to confront her feelings—he willingly went along with her repeated time looping until she felt comfortable being honest about the nature of a one-sided romance. Sakuta helped Koga get her friends back, her reputation back, and all because she was a true friend to him. Even with Futaba, the problem wasn’t just with eliminating the doppel—it was about filling the hole in her heart with friendship, youthful memories, and some good, honest fun.

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If there’s one big takeaway from Bunny Girl Senpai, it’s that deep down, we’re all just trying to keep the past out of the future, even if that means giving up on some of the things we love. It’s a romantic notion, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not how we should be living our lives—and Sakuta Azusagawa knows it.

Try as we might, we’ll never be able to completely let the past go. Whether its remnants haunt us in the present, like Mai’s longing to act again and Kaede’s desire to see the outside world, or our feelings keep us from moving forward, as with Koga and Futaba, there will always be something we hate about ourselves, something to regret.

What we can do, however, is do our best to live without said regrets—to think, act, and dream as if we are absolutely owning our lives. And if we don’t like how things are going, we CHANGE what we can such that we create the world we want to live in. The conviction to change is something that ultimately comes from within, and having close friends, even just a couple, can make this exciting way of living all the more within our grasp—we just have to be willing to reach out, change the atmosphere, and when we’re ready, open the box. 

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“No matter who you were before, how you look right now is who you are.”— Sakuta Azusagawa


Afterword

Whew! This one was a bit of a cram watch, but I’m glad I finished it for a post like this one. Despite seeming like a surface-level rom-com with pervy jokes and toilet humor, Bunny Girl Senpai is surprisingly full of complex metaphysical concepts. Through its amazing and mature lead characters, Sakuta and Mai, it’s able to weave in these interesting principles with thought-provoking conversations and an air of scientific wonder. If you’re wanting a harem-ish anime that offers more emotional and intellectual challenge (or Bakemonogatari without the abstract directing style), give Bunny Girl Senpai a shot. You might enjoy the chemistry (and petty banter) between the leads more than you initially think! Plus, the voice acting is great, the animation is pretty, and OP and ED themes are absolute BOPS.

As for the cafe, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is certified “Caffe Mocha,” a show from 2018 that’s simply too awesome to miss out on! Seeing as how I focused this post solely a few story/character points, I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on the rest of the series down in the comments.

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This concludes my January 13th entry in the OWLS “Metamorphosis” blog tour. I tried going for a shorter, more condensed and focused form of writing for this OWLS post, so if you have any feedback on that I’d greatly appreciate it. Jack (The Aniwriter) went right before me and wrote about change and the liberation it can offer in Wandering Son, a series I really ought to watch! Now, look out for Megan (Nerd Rambles) with a post about everyone’s favorite tabletop pastime Dungeons & Dragons on Sunday, January 13th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

My Top Five Favorite OWLS Posts That I Wrote in 2018

Hello! Happy New Year!

I realize 2019 has already begun, but there are still a few 2018 round-up posts I plan to write, one of those being this one right here. My top five OWLS posts of 2017 listing was fairly well-received by you all, so I decided to bring it back! As I mentioned last year, it’s hard to pick favorites. But, in the spirit of the New Year and bidding the old farewell, I’ve managed to select five OWLS posts that accurately represent the sum of who I am, why I write, and what I want you, the reader, to learn!

As previously mentioned, all of my OWLS posts are my babies—in fact, they’re probably some of the best posts I’ve ever written, if not THE best of what I’ve got so far, and I thoroughly LOVED writing ALL of them—so enjoy my reminiscing, and feel free to scope them out if you missed them, or are feeling the urge to relive each month’s thought-provoking topic.

On the header/taskbar thingy of my site, you’ll see that OWLS has its own tab (and rightly so), so you can find the rest of 2018’s posts there! Alrighty then, let’s take one last look at some of the posts I wrote in 2018!


RUNNER UP:

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Tour #19 July – The Royal Tutor: A Heartfelt Lesson on Judgement | OWLS “Mentor”

Like several of the titles I featured for each month, my watch of The Royal Tutor came at just the right time. I recall desparately searching my watch catalog just nights before the post was due, and then Heine Wittgenstein waltzed into my life and all was well. Not a single episode goes by where Heine fails to offer a valuable lesson on what it means to be human, and its that strict attention to theme that gives this OWLS post an easy runner-up position on the list. Heck, Heine practically wrote the post for me!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Before quitting something you want to do, you should always explore alternative solutions.
  • This world is very big. Do not deprive yourself of people who will understand and care for you.
  • We should all believe in second chances.

NUMBER FIVE:

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Tour #24 December – Finding a Place to Belong: Tokyo Godfathers & the Gift of Kindness | OWLS “Miracles”

Here’s another one of those last-minute struggle watches that I managed to cram in right before the deadline, and boy am I glad I finally watched this anime cult Christmas classic. In the post, I dabbled a bit on how “God’s miracles” are what guide these three crazy homeless friends through an eventful Christmas Eve in Tokyo. The unfathomable number of plot conveniences can be explained by the presence of this guiding light, and this wild series of events—which can only be described as miraculous—are what make it the perfect fit for not only the monthly theme, but the holiday season.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Life has a funny way of dealing with some situations—embrace chaos with faith.
  • A simple conviction to kindness will surround you with good company and food aplenty.
  • We will always have the opportunity to be kind to others.

NUMBER FOUR:

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Tour #13 January – All That Glitters IS Gold in “Land of the Lustrous” | OWLS “Revival”

Similar to our first tour of 2019, “Metamorphosis,” January and the New Year revolve around change. It involves a spirit of revival, an air of renewal, and the determination to change oneself for the better. Similarly, I found Phos’ journey to find purpose and self-worth to be an excellent fit for 2018’s first monthly topic. (I also happened to be watching it at the time, but I digress.) Just as how humans are fragile beings at heart, the Gems of Land of the Lustrous can shatter into hundreds of tiny pieces—some Gems more than others, namely Phos. Although the post is a tad bit on the longer side to accommodate every aspect that I wanted to hit on, I still look back on it fondly as how 2018 started—a shimmering, hopeful time to try new things. 

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Change is scary. It can be painful, it can be sudden, and it can be dangerous. Change involves suffering, but that grief is a necessity for growth.
  • Self-worth isn’t determined by the people around you, but rather what YOU make of yourself.
  • So long as we can hope to become better individuals—actively seeking to help others in return—change and improvement just might someday find us, too.

NUMBER THREE:

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Tour #20 August – From the New World: Through Horror, Calamity, & the Truth | OWLS “Journey”

This show, oh man, how far we go back together. I find it quite rare for a series to impact my views on critical concepts like justice and dignity so easily. And then comes along Shinsekai Yori to flip everything that I knew on its head. Absolutely loaded from head to toe with painful themes of reality and the duality of man, From the New World represents so much more than sci-fi series about good and evil. Rather, it’s a journey through horror, calamity, and the truth, and how the truth can sometimes be the cruelest thing of all. Given how complex it is, I was quite satisfied with how I was able to sum up each of the story’s arcs and how they impact Saki Watanabe, the lead character. (Also, I really, really like the header image I designed for this one.) It’s riveting, it’s meaningful, it’s powerful, and of all the shows I’ve EVER scene, few deserve the title of masterpiece quite like From the New World does.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • To feign ignorance is the greatest crime of all. Corruption breeds from within when we close off our minds and our hearts to new peoples and ideas.
  • People are twisted, easily corrupted, and worst of all, easily scared. But while we are weak when we are desperate, we are strong when it counts.
  • “We have to change our way of thinking if we really want to change the future.”

NUMBER TWO:

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Tour #16 April – Yūki Hayashi: Music to Motivate the Soul | OWLS “Melody”

I try to dedicate a solid paragraph in each of my anime reviews to the series’ soundtrack composer. What can I say, I’m a music man, and Yuuki Hayashi just so happens to be my favorite anime soundtrack composer! He’s done the background music for so many of my favorite shows, and it was about time that I dedicated an entire post—a very special OWLS post at that—to Hayashi’s genius. At long, long last, I got to practically fanboy about all my favorite anime soundtracks, but there’s another reason I picked a composer rather than a single song or series to focus on. You see, Hayashi’s music isn’t just epic—it’s also inspirational, a set of notes and sounds designed to motivate the very soul. And although this one low-key has my favorite header graphic, it’s missing one final relatability factor to push it into number one.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Music encapsulates and can provide inspiration to lift us off our feet, motivation to push us forward, heartache to make us grow, the strength to go beyond, and the ambition to fulfill our dreams.
  • Know that the view from the summit is one that exists ONLY for you—so chase after it relentlessly.
  • Try new things, make mistakes, meet new people, but never, never give up on your reasons for wanting to improve. Because maybe, in the process of overcoming your own impossible odds, you’ll inspire someone else to be a better human.

AND FINALLY, NUMBER ONE:

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Tour #18 June – Princess Jellyfish: Confidence, Community, & the Beauty Below the Surface | OWLS “Pride”

Here’s your number one for 2018! Did it surprise you? Princess Jellyfish burst onto the scene of my life and totally changed my views on confidence, community, and the inner beauty we each possess below the surface. It features a dynamic, hilarious, and heartwarming cast of otaku NEETS who are all just struggling to get by in society, as well as the one queen who will unite them all in their effort to freely express themselves. Princess Jellyfish is the epitome of pride, a story that is attest to how vast our personalities truly are, and although I was a bit long-winded with other technical aspects of the series, this post really is just one big expression of love. Princess Jellyfish is a series about loving what you want to love, and bonding with those who share that same incredible sentiment. At its very end, the story of Princess Jellyfish embodies something so pure, hopeful, and passionate that it becomes impossible to not enjoy—and it’s for all these wonderful reasons and more that I select June’s “Pride” post as my favorite OWLS post of 2018.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Sometimes you need to see yourself in a different way in order to appreciate who you’ve been this whole time.
  • Beauty is not something you simply put on: it’s an emotion you feel when you’re at your best. 
  • Above all else, so long as you take pride in yourself and the things you love, all people—including us adults—still have plenty of room for growth and change.

A HUGE Round of Applause to the OWLS Crew!

WHEW! After binge-reading ALL of the 2018 OWLS posts from January 1st to December 31st, I can officially say that each and every one of us deserve a pat on the back. Seriously though, all of lovely individuals in OWLS are not only fantastic people, but awesome writers as well, and while I didn’t share every single post over on Twitter (for fear of clogging up everyone’s feed), each one of them most certainly deserves the read.

This post compiles my favorite OWLS posts that personally wrote. As bloggers, I’m sure we can all identify our stronger posts compared to the rest of our catalog. So, if you are an OWLS member, I’d love to read what you found to be your own favorites! Think of it as celebrating your accomplishments for being a member of such a cool group. 🙂

Speaking of accomplishments . . . to my knowledge, I am one of the few who has posted for every single tour. That’s 24 posts since our debut in 2017! While I plan to write more posts aside from OWLS ones (as that is what became of me this year, whoops), I am happy with myself for not giving up and sticking with the group through each thought-provoking monthly topic. It’s just a small sidenote, but I’m proud for having come this far, and I look forward to hopefully adding 12 more posts come December 2019!

Anyway, that’s it for me. What did you think of the line-up? Did you have a particular favorite month to read/write for, either of my posts or everyone else’s? Or are you, like I was less than a month ago, still in the process of catching up? Haha! Either way, thank you so much for supporting me throughout my 2018 OWLS journey, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Finding a Place to Belong: Tokyo Godfathers & the Gift of Kindness | OWLS “Miracles”

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 twelfth monthly topic for 2018, “Miracles,” I wanted to feature the epitome of anime Christmas films, the one and only KING of uplifting vibes and positivity, Tokyo Godfathers!

‘Tis the season where miracles happen. For December’s theme, we will be exploring faith in anime and pop culture. We will discuss some of the miracles that enter a character’s life during their darkest moments. Some of the questions we will explore: How does a “miracle” change a person’s life? How do we define miracles? Can miracles only happen due to a legend or a mystical being? Or do miracles happen every day, but we just don’t see them? We hope that you enjoy this holiday season!

– the OWLS Team

We’re down to the end here, my friends! One last OWLS post for 2018, and I’m thrilled to finish on a film so full of heart that there truly isn’t a Christmas experience like it. Thanks again Lyn for the prompt—enjoy!~

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 2003 film “Tokyo Godfathers,” animated by Madhouse, and both directed by and based on the original story by the late Satoshi Kon.

A Babe in a Manger

Christmas Eve. A glistening white snow has fallen upon Tokyo, and as three homeless friends are rummaging in a dump for a Christmas present, they discover a newborn baby. Despite having nothing to their name, the three take in this pure little girl which they name “Kiyoko.” Knowing they can’t support the child on their own for long, however, they take to the streets in search of Kiyoko’s mother, based on the small amount of info they gathered from her meager belongings.

But just as how the night before Christmas is the longest for any young child, these three poor vagabonds become entangled in a wild series of events involving a kidnapping, crime, death, a fight between rival gangs, and a crazy chase throughout the vast city.

A transvestite, an alcoholic, and a runaway teenager may make for an unlikely team, but what binds them together in their search for where this baby belongs is their inherent goodwill and incredible heart. By finally raising their heads toward the future, they are also able to confront their pasts, coming just a little bit closer to finding their own place in this wild world—a Christmas miracle in itself.

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I love Satoshi Kon works, but in some ways I also hate them. His vivid artistry, unique directing style, and powerful storytelling are masterful (and totally iconic). But while he knows how to blow my mind and make me see the world in a whole new way, he also knows exactly how to make me feel weak, shameful, and powerless as a human being.

Tokyo Godfathers is very much a human story. It features three troubled individuals living in an unequal, unfinished world, and although they finally address the error of their ways, their individual revelations occur only after being ridiculed, accused, and exposed for the true sins of their past. (Also, they get physically and emotionally beat up throughout the film’s entirety, which is met with frequent crying and wailing in the Tokyo slums.)

Just as how the film is praised for its soulful story, inventive directing, lively character animation, and holiday cheer, it also, fittingly for Kon, makes the viewer feel pity for the cast and anger towards the socioeconomic imbalance in the world, yet helpless to do anything about it! But maybe there is something we can do—after all, this wouldn’t be a post about the joy of miracles if it ended in in heartache and tragedy.

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Coincidence, Miracles, & Faith

Equally touching as it is prophetic, there are a stunning number of what can only be called “coincidences” that stack up in Tokyo Godfathers. I mean, I can understand running into “the one” person you need to see in the sprawling Tokyo cityscape as a means of plot convenience, but man, talk about being in the right place at the right time!

Over the course of the film, our three homeless friends stumble into ordeal after ordeal, yet persist out of the goodness in their hearts—and fate, or more appropriately here, God, assists in their noble endeavor. How does Hana always know the right path to take? How does Miyuki seem to constantly entangle herself in trouble, yet flee at just the right time? And how does Gin manage to stay alive? Simply, it is God who is watching over our homeless friends, and his subtle roles and appearances can be found in the backgrounds. Perhaps he could be keeping tabs on them from on high through a billboard depicting a crying woman; other times, God manifests in more illusionist ways: walls and windows that create faces, figurines with pulsating stares, and angel statues representing guidance.

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In these mystical, foreshadowing ways that Satoshi Kon has mastered through cinematography, Kon transforms one of the film’s biggest critiques—its over-dependence on an unnaturally high number of plot conveniences—into a powerful, compelling theme: faith and goodwill towards others are rewarded with protection against the unknown.

Faith plays a strong role in Tokyo Godfathers. Whether in the opening Christmas Eve church sermon or the biblical motifs scattered throughout the film, Kon makes it clear that those who believe in the good in others are granted love and respect in turn—which is interesting given that Satoshi Kon supposedly wasn’t a religious man. More importantly, kindness isn’t a virtue limited to religion. Kon teaches us that anyone can be kind, and that empathy and altruism can be found in the rarest of places . . .

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Three Wise *Homeless* Men

Ok, so they’re technically not all “men,” seeing as how Hana identifies as a transwoman, but the motif still holds. As the holy scriptures dictate, Gin, Hana, and Miyuki stumble upon a babe in a dumpster, but instead of bringing Kiyoko gifts, our three wise men find her a home. What we eventually find out, however, is that the baby isn’t the only one suffering from displacement. Each in their own way, Gin, Hana, and Miyuki can’t go back to their previous way of life, and that dissolution has led them to be homeless both in the physical and mental sense.

But life has a funny way of dealing with such situations. In a tale that is equal parts dramatic as it is comedic, our homeless trio is predestined to find a sense of belonging so long as they confront the shadows of their past and persist through the present, to which they certainly do. As a new fan of the film, I just love these three silly goons!! Miyuki’s rebellious teenage side shines in her fiery dialogues with Gin. And as if they needed more reason for conflict, Gin and Hana never cease bickering with one another, much like a married old couple. A drunk, a homo, and a teen girl—who would’ve thought such a cast could be so enjoyable to watch!

In all seriousness, I especially adored Hana’s kind, motherly nature. Hana is also highly intuitive, as she’s always able to pick the right direction to take, as well as describe exactly what Kiyoko’s mother would be doing upon finding her. As the situation calls for her to sacrifice more and more, we see how willing, courageous, and caring she truly is despite suffering from (and hiding) her own personal sickness. She draws a tragic relation to the story about the Blue Demon, and knowing full-well that she, too, must eventually go away, Hana’s challenge to care for the baby she’s always wanted likely is her final test to determine her fate in the afterlife. And given that final leap of faith at the end where she literally jumps off a building to save the child—an event which can only be called miraculous—it becomes clear that she definitely passed the test. Bold and brazen, loud and proud, funny as heck and never afraid to stick out her neck for the ones she loves most, Hana is a gift to us all.

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A Christmas Miracle

As the old aphorism goes, “In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take,” and if there’s anything to be learned from Tokyo Godfathers, it’s that the good and bad in life comes and goes, but we always have the opportunity to be kind to others.

As Gin comes to terms with his gambling and alcohol addictions, he takes ownership of the actions in his life and becomes determined to not mess up the second chance he’s been given with his daughter.

For Miyuki, she accepts the terrible things she did to her father tries to seek him out to apologize and mend their bond.

Hana is finally granted the opportunity to be a mother—to care for a child, to love it, and to provide warmth for it in the harsh winter cold.

And lastly, a mother learns what it’s like to lose her child—to lose everything that mattered to her—as well as what it feels like to miraculously get it back.

With justice and dignity intertwined with love and hope on this eventful Christmas Eve, Satoshi Kon performs Christmas miracles and delivers a story to stand the test of time—an invaluable lesson on what it truly means to be human in this wild, wild world.

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“Being able to speak freely is the lifeblood of love.” — Hana


Afterword

To be honest with you all, I’d never actually watched Tokyo Godfathers until just the other day. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely been wanting to watch it for a long time now, but if it weren’t for this post, I likely wouldn’t have seen it as early as I did—and I’m sure glad I spent that cold wintry day on my bed eating a bowl of hot soup and watching such a heartwarming movie. Guys, Tokyo Godfathers is fantastic, a “Caffe Mocha” classic for sure and the perfect family friendly anime film if you’re willing to share the holy word. This isn’t an overly complex film by any means—it’s about simple emotions, a simple act of kindness, and how even the smallest of efforts can snowball and impact the lives of others.

Spend this holiday season with someone you love. Do something nice for someone else, even if you get something out of it, too. I encourage you all to dig deep within yourself—as this film has done for me—and go out there and make a difference in someone else’s life. As I always like to forward on, we only get one of these things, one life, so be sure to take all the chances you can get. And be kind to others—a simple conviction to kindness will surround you with good company and food aplenty, that I can assure you!

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This concludes my December 19th entry in the OWLS “Miracles” blog tour. Dale (That Baka Blog) went right before me and wrote a heartfelt post on one of, if not, my favorite anime film: Kiki’s Delivery Service!  Now, look out for Jack (The Aniwriter) this upcoming Friday, December 21st! Thank you so much for following my OWLS journey this year—I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing for every single month, and I’m looking forward to all the incredible topics to be written for in 2019! ‘Till next time, Happy Holidays!~

– Takuto, your host

When Science & Magic Collide: Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Index/Railgun | OWLS “Thankful”

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  eleventh monthly topic for 2018, “Thankful,” I wanted to shed some light on a certain franchise that doesn’t ever get too much public love from me. Believe it or not, back in the day when I only had about 20 or so anime under my belt, A Certain Scientific Railgun was one of, if not my favorite anime ever. And because of its decline in publicity following the climactic Index II finale, I never really got to express how much this incredible franchise meant to me (and still does mean to me).

Here at OWLS, we are pretty thankful that we are able to come together as a community and share a love and appreciation for anime and manga. This month we will be showcasing our appreciation by giving a shout out post to our favorite manga artists, creators, production companies, and writers who produced some of our favorite works. We will be discussing our favorite works by these creators and our reasons as to why we appreciate them.

A very simple yet fitting topic for this month, I’m excited to put on the nostalgia lens and celebrate just a few of the many reasons why I’m overjoyed to have this electrifying world where science and magic collide in my life. Cause trust me–there’s never a dull moment in this city!

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A brief, spoiler-free glimpse into the massive “A Certain Magical Index/A Certain Scientific Railgun” or “Raildex” franchise, all animated by J.C. Staff, and originally written by Kazuma Kamachi.

Been a while? Let’s briefly review!

The world of Index is one where having supernatural powers is commonplace—that is, for the 2.3 million residents of Academy City. A sprawling metropolis boasting the technological prowess of a city existing 30 years in the future, everything in Academy City is regulated and organized to perfection. Because its inhabitants or Espers must develop their psychokinetic powers, an elaborate education system dominates much of the city. Sprinkle in several hundred research institutions and it’s no wonder these supercharged Espers have become associated with the scientific community.

A poor Level 0 possessing no powers but a strange knack for canceling out others’ with his right hand, Touma Kamijou finds himself ironically disenchanted by reality when he discovers that Espers aren’t the only power users roaming the planet. One day, he finds a nun literally draped over his balcony who claims to be on the run from a group of magicians. Magicians are those who practice magical arts, usually subscribing to a certain religion, church, sect, or philosophy to guide their training.

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But Touma doesn’t care about any of that—he’s already got a bunch of classes to make up, a Level 5 “bug zapper” out for guts, and a case of rotten luck that seems to follow him wherever he goes!

A Certain Magical Index chronicles Touma Kamijou’s mishaps as he stumbles through the magical side of things and entangles himself in situations that eventually threaten the balance of the two communities vying for supremacy in Academy City. Meanwhile, the spin-off A Certain Scientific Railgun functions as a sister series to Index in that it follows the Level 5 Electromaster Mikoto Misaka and the trials and tribulations she faces while encountering the dark side of Academy City.

Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Index/Railgun


#5 – The Incredible Cast of Characters

Whether you prefer the diversity of Index or the raw friendship in Railgun, you can’t deny that as a whole, both series offer a fascinating cast of characters. While some are much better developed than others (such as the “heroes” vs. the “villains”), you get the sense that each character is fighting for reasons beyond their role. As the story goes along, we see the complexities of each character shine in their individual little arcs, and although you could argue that Railgun put more love into its cast (good guys and bad guys alike), all of them are fascinating in their own right, be it with their powers, their relationships to others, or their system of beliefs. So many different personalities! The cast becomes even more fun to watch when the two stories collide, but I’ll get to that here in a minute.

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#4 – The Insane Architecture & Animation

I wanted to keep this reason separate from another on this list because it truly does deserve its own category. Simply put, this is the best set of works from J.C. Staff that I’ve ever seen, especially Railgun S. Admittedly, Index season one has aged quite a bit in all aspects; that’s not to say it’s bad, but rather quite average for a mid-2000s shounen anime. Railgun, on the other hand, looks timeless in practically all areas, be it the riveting action sequences or the more down-to-earth comedic moments. With each new season comes a more vivid, dynamic vision of what these supernatural power users are truly capable of, and naturally, newer entries will look far superior to older ones. From the explosive energy of Misaka’s signature “railgun” to the mystical spells and arts cast by magicians, the animation remains a high point for this beloved franchise. As an Esper, you are only limited by what you can’t mentally compute quick enough!

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And can we give those background artists a freakin’ round of applause?? They are the ones responsible for bringing Academy City to life: towering skyscrapers, glowing lights, roving highway streets, radiant research institutions, dirty alleyways—heck, even the seemingly infinite number of CG wind turbines littered throughout the city! The clean sci-fi aesthetic matched with homely elements like the occasional brick-paved sidewalk or flower box really does make it feel like Academy City exists in the near future—a future well within our grasp. So I’m glad we’re getting more Index and Railgun, not only for the story and characters, but because I can rely on J.C. Staff for turning these sequels into top-notch productions.

 

#3 – The Intricate, Intertwined Storytelling

We all like a good cameo here and there, right?  Well, Index is FULL of them, so much so to the point that certain characters from the science side of Railgun will hop onto the magic side and have a little fun. Sometimes these visits are brief, such as seeing the dangerous Level 5 Meltdowner chilling in a coffee shop with her friends; others are extended, like when Accelerator had that whole encounter with Index and even bought her food at everyone’s favorite family restaurant Joseph’s. We love seeing our favorite characters thriving in their element, but it can be even more fun to see them out of it and even chatting with characters we know from what feels like entirely different worlds.

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The sheer level of articulation needed to not only tell each story but intertwine them on the same time line is monstrous. To keep each little side story straight yet consistent with the main plot and other happenings in the universe boggles my mind, as I’m sure it does the writers’. I mean, how do you remember that X character went into Y store at this time and saw Z AND keep this seemingly pointless interaction in-line with everything else that is slowly unfolding around us?? Having two series that bounce off of each other so well is one of the franchise’s great hallmarks without a doubt!

The franchise’s most famous story, the “Sisters Arc”, is known throughout all seasons and reiterations of the story for its complexity, and has been heralded as a brilliant story all on its own between its gripping characters and powerful, conflicting emotions. Having been told in both Index season one and elaborated on in Railgun S, the multi-lens perspective of both Touma and Misaka only proves that the writers of the Raildex franchise know exactly what they are doing, and I just can’t wait for more.

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#2 – The Battle of Concepts: Science VS Magic

Kind of an obvious one, as I like my action scenes just as much as the next guy. But beyond just visuals, Index makes it especially clear that actions are rooted in beliefs, faiths even, and this battle of concepts—of ideologies—is the real fight I’m talking about here. One of the first things that drew me to this universe was Esper power hierarchy, which rates a student’s ability from 0 to 5. This power system also influences the socioeconomic balance, where your Level 4s and 5s are practically viewed as pop stars living lavish lifestyles. (We quickly find this doesn’t apply to everyone, though.)

But just like real science, researchers are all working to push the boundaries of what humans are capable of—the ultimate goal, of course, being to produce the first Level 6. Some scientists lie in the depths of Academy City’s darkness to deceive, trap, and capture innocent children and Espers alike for the sake of their research. Although twisted, the dedication to making the process as truly scientific as possible was what won me over as a fan. Misaka’s railgun is grounded in real scientific principles, and there’s always a satisfying explanation to how an Esper uses their supernatural powers.

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Unlike science’s dedication to mapping the brain and dissecting DNA, magic is a difficult concept to unravel, which makes sense given that magic in this world and in ours is tied to myths, legends, and stories of old. Religious doctrines and artifacts are referenced left and right in Index, and although not as clearly defined as the science side, it’s always fascinating to see how these mythical ideas and religious figures translate to a medium as exploratory as anime.

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#1 – The Sprawling Metropolis of Academy City

Annnnd my favorite reason I love this franchise is for the setting itself, Academy City. In fact, if I could live in any one fictional anime setting it would be Academy City. I mean, beautiful buildings sparkle in the sunlight, shopping districts are everywhere, the weather is predicted down to the second, cafes can be found at every street corner—it MUST be the place for me! Not to mention a chance at having psychokinetic abilities and a curriculum to develop those powers?? HECK YEAH COUNT ME IN. It is essentially a utopia, a perfect place for near-perfect people. But what we find is that this drive for perfection also makes it the perfect place for underground organizations to manipulate social happenings.

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Arguably more of a character than a location, Academy City becomes the converging point for nearly every element of the story. Watching it become warped over the course of series as the climate for war increases is astounding, and it’s awesome that we’re finally getting to find out what will happen in this climactic third world war. For every conflict between religious institutions there has been an illegal experiment in some seemingly defunct laboratory. Between the Mages and Espers, scientists and magicians, and terrorists within and outside the walls all trying to maintain their hold on this sprawling metropolis, Academy City has mastered the duality of darkness. Possibilities are quite literally endless in a place that favors advancement and new ideas, and that’s why I love it so much.

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A Thank-You to Everyone Involved

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this entire franchise, specifically the Railgun side, has meant a lot to me over my years an anime fan. Yet, I never really have expressed my love for it before on my blog (maybe after I rewatch it all I’ll have something to say). And so, I just wanted to offer my sincerest thanks to everyone who has been involved with this massive project:

To all the writers, especially Kazuma Kamachi for the original story of Index; to artist Kiyotaka Haimura for his art in the Index light novel as well as for all the memorable character designs; to Motoi Fuyukawa for creating the Railgun spin-off manga; to Hiroshi Nishikiori and Tatsuyuki Nagai for directing Index and Railgun, respectively; to the endearing Kawada Mami on Index and electrifying fripSide on Railgun for providing their incredible opening theme songs; to all the producers, voice actors (both sub and dub), TV broadcasters, licensing companies like Funimation, Crunchyroll, Seven Seas, and Yen On for bringing over the anime and books to the states, and to everyone else that I missed—

Words cannot express how thankful I am to have had such an incredibly fascinating and intricate universe of thought brought to me over the years. Your collaborative efforts on this tremendous project have inspired a generation of young fans, myself included, to think outside the box and create our own personal realities. Thank you all!

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Afterword

Guys, I used to be OBSESSED with this franchise you have no idea. With the suddenly recent airing of the long-awaited Index III (as well as an announcement of a third season of Railgun and EVEN an adaptation of the Accelerator spin-off), there’s never been a better time to be a fan. And if you’ve held off for this long for one reason or another, now’s an excellent time to jump right on in. You’ve got novels, manga, several TV series, and even a film to enjoy at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. My personal recommendation? If you’re an anime-only person, start with A Certain Scientific Railgun season one. It introduces the world and Academy City better than Index does in my opinion. Then hit up Index’s first season, Railgun SIndex II, and the Endymion film. If you’re already a fan, then where have ya been?? Let me know in the comments, and also what your favorite entry or story in the franchise is!

This concludes my November 20th entry in the OWLS “Thankful” blog tour. YumDeku (MyAnime2go) talked about two anime they were thankful for, which you can find out what those were right here! Now, look out for our good friend and prompt-writer Lyn (LynLyn Says) with a post coming Wednesday, November 21st! Thanks for listening to me fanboy about Index for over 2,000 words (you rock!), and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host