Celebrating the New Year with a Reflection on my OWLS Experience! | Blogmas 2017 Day 12

Hey everyone, welcome to the FINAL day of Blogmas! Due to the holidays, I got a little behind this year. But we can still work with that—for this post, I’ll be combining my last big moment of 2017 with my New Year’s wishes to you all! Together, we’ll briefly look at how OWLS has changed me for the better as a blogger, a writer, a listener, a learner, and ultimately, a human being.

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A Review of my First Year with OWLS

(No spoiler-warning necessary~!)

Why Did I Join?

If I were not a member of OWLS today and noticed their tour going on, the thought of joining a group that stood for “Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect” would never have occurred to me. Looking deeper at what they represent (acceptance of all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability), I definitely would’ve said “No way” to joining. I’ve already tackled in September’s “Treasure” post that I struggle with the Four D’s (Death, Divorce, Drugs, Depression), and that I’m no good with sensitive subjectsw. It’s not that I’m incapable, it’s just that I’m rather “average” on topics like gender roles/equality/terminology/titles. To be frank, I felt very unknowledgable on the matter(s), as I just never gave them much thought in my daily life. Simply, if someone had a preference on being called “he, she, or they,” didn’t matter to me; I would acknowledge their preference, and oblige by whatever they’d like. It’s just a pronoun, after all. The least I could do was accept their choice.

Then it hit me: wasn’t that exactly the kind of person OWLS was looking for?

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That wasn’t the tipping point for making me join, though. I’d never really been a part of a blogging “team” before, and I didn’t want to jump the gun when I knew I blogged infrequently as-is. With my limited knowledge, I knew that blogging groups or circles had deadlines, requirements, rules, regulations, and that was just stuff I wasn’t up for. I knew my strengths, and I definitely knew my weaknesses.

So I turned back to the recruitment messages that were sent to me (OWLS wasn’t around at the time, so I would eventually become a founding member, heh heh). Reading on past the gender stuff, I noticed more things that OWLS emphasized: importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being. Yeah, more emotional mumbo-jumbo. Not my style. I remember telling myself to sleep on the thought, so I did.

My days at high school went on. I was taking an AP English course that combined English composition with world literature and the human experience. The class was a lot of work, as I struggled with finding the deeper meaning in works both long and short. This kind of meaningful, poetic writing wasn’t my forte, and the essay units were DEATH. But for some reason, I still liked the class. More and more, I found myself inspired by learning about works like Oedipus Rex, and I was doing off-the-clock research on my own.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I had fallen madly in love with the workings of tragedy, dark romanticism, and dramatic irony. Slowly, I started making connections to my favorite tragic characters in anime like Fate/Zero and Madoka Magica, and I felt I suddenly understood a long-lost philosophy, a secret order to the world known only by the truly enlightened. And before I knew it, I was thinking:

Maybe . . . maybe this English stuff was for me.

And maybe . . . this OWLS thing would allow me to vent this hidden passion.

So I joined. Unqualified as I felt at first, I signed myself on for what would—unbeknownst to me—eventually become a journey of understanding both entertainment and myself on a very deep, personal level.

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At first, things felt pretty good. With each monthly topic, however, I felt the distance between what I wanted to personally say to my readers VS what OWLS wanted me to promote grow. On several occasions, I was graciously using the flexibility of the monthly topics to better fit my own messages and themes. I would feature very fictional characters and premises that were, well, unreal. From robots and artificial intelligence of Time of EVE and Blade Runner, to elves and half-elves in Tales of Symphonia, to the FREAKING cast of Evangelion, which is already infamously loathed enough. My opinions were unpopular. On top of it all, few even knew the shows that I picked, regardless of them being favorites of mine, and thus it was harder for people to relate to what I was trying to say.

As a result, I changed my game to work harder on making my posts “stand out.” I’d try a variety of different writing styles and visual formats, from writing “letters” to poem-ish outlines, and even including my own personal experiences. Going even further, I’d spend extra time on editing images that I put in my posts, using a variety of apps to give form, shape, and emphasis to the entire look. Though this extra work caused me to be a little late some days with releasing posts, the changes made me feel better about both my writing and my self-esteem.

STILL, I couldn’t give a lecture about gender identity. I couldn’t vouch for those fighting a terminal illness, nor living with a mental disorder. It felt as if there was a group of intellects working their butts off to make an impact, however small, and then there was me, the janitor working off of everyone else’s great posts. I felt a bit isolated because I just didn’t know enough about what exactly it was we were fighting for. I thought there was just no “click” between me and the others. At one point, I felt taking a couple months off OWLS just to read a manga featuring LGBTQ+ hardships or watch anime regarding depression and suicide with the hopes of “fitting in” with the discussions on our Twitter and Discord chats.

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But I knew, deep down, that those works weren’t the ones that truly interested me. They may have been great stories—masterpieces even—but everyone has their own tastes. From my own experiences, you can’t write sincerely if you don’t feel passionately about what you’re writing. So I turned to examine myself once again: I have lived a decent life, one with few “big obstacles” and unbearable hardships. Sure, I get a bit lonely at times, but doesn’t everybody? Towards the middle of 2017, I changed the focus of my writing. My mission became this:

Write about coping with everyday life, the troubles we face, and above all, the things we can learn from history. Explore the dark underbelly of the average mind and procure remedies to changing our outlook on humanity. Through the negatives, we can understand the positives, and hopefully go from there. Combine my reviewing strengths with thematic analysis to “knock out two birds with one stone.”


Despite ALL my inner turmoil and struggle to fit in with the other OWLS posts, however, you all kept supporting me. The other OWLS members were cheering me on the whole way. In typical “me” fashion, the reality was that I had made a big deal about nothing. The OWLS members who ran the monthly live streams described my posts as “detailed, heartfelt, and poetic.” And through the busy, busy months of inactivity (spring and summer), OWLS gave me a purpose to write, and it kept my blog alive and well. I’m thankful to OWLS for not only allowing me to be a member of a fun and friendly team, but also for giving me the chance to do some long, hard thinking about why I write, and what I want to learn in the future. Honestly, they’re the best kind of people that I feel unworthy of being around and writing for, but like their mantra states:

We are a group of otaku bloggers who promotes acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. We emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being.

Should you join OWLS? Gosh, well, as you can see it took me a hot minute to think about that myself. But if you are willing to work hard for a good cause, and are passionate enough to write about anime and the pop culture medium, this might be the otaku group for you!

At least, I now know it’s the family for me.

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My Top Five Favorite OWLS Posts that I Wrote in 2017

It’s hard to pick favorites. I don’t like doing it, but in the spirit of the 12 Days of Anime, 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! 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 2017’s posts there! Alrighty, here we go—let’s wrap up 2017!

RUNNER UP: 

 Tour #1 January – Kiznaiver, Where Change is Worth the Pain | OWLS “Disruptors”

We All remember “that first time” we did something. Stepping out the gate with my first OWLS post was pretty scary, but even reading this now, I can recall the slight feeling of motivation I felt while writing the ending. It served as my review of the show, and it also had some sociology nonsense stuff in it. But YES, oh the memories!

Life Lessons Learned: 

  • It is not always the positives that make people seek change.
  • We must not shame, but accept the bizarre, the wacky, and the weird that reside within each of us.
  • Don’t be afraid to stick up for the things you believe in—odds are, someone else believes in them, too.

NUMBER FIVE:

Tour #5 May – Grimgar: Stronger Together, Now & Forever | OWLS “Strength”

This was the first time I tried a different writing style. It was also where I was coined as a “poetic writer” because my post was formatted to, simply put, look like a poem. Straight from the heart, I went in with no outline whatsoever, and very few times did I hit the backspace key; if it was typed in first, it was typed for a reason. I like to think it turned out okay. Plus, I thought this show totally hit the monthly theme on the head!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • For a team, true strength lies not solely on one’s shoulders, but in faith in one another—in overcoming adversity and misfortune together.
  • Tragedies and bad experiences in life can be used strengthen your being; what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger.
  • You are only alone if you choose to be. Similarly, one may be strong, but a team is stronger.

NUMBER FOUR:

Tour #2 February – Yuri!!! On ICE Goes the Distance for Life & Love | OWLS “Flight”

Yo, I looove Yuri!!! On ICE. Y’all already know that (and no, my bias towards the show isn’t what put it on this list). The reason I picked February’s post for #4 is because it inspired me to live a cleaner life. Now wait, I know you think I sound pretty egotistical for saying that “my own post inspired me,” but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t mention that putting this post out there did in fact encourage me to live life on the free-er side. I felt inspired to live more vicariously, without regard to what I could and could not control, and that made my stress decrease immensely. Also, I was recently sent a Twitter message saying that this post (specifically, the last bit) inspired another fellow blogger to write a review over a film that they loved in a similar fashion. Isn’t it the goal of all bloggers to get messages like these?? Anyway, I hope it helps you if you ever feel that you’re just letting life pass you by!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Leaving the comfort zone can allow you to unlock potentials you thought you never had, or better yet, complete a part of you that had been missing.
  • True sportsmanship is doing the best you can, respecting your competition, and making memories doing it with others.
  • You only get one life: live truthfully. 

NUMBER THREE:

Tour #9 September – “Orange” is Sweet & Sour, Yet All The More Beautiful | OWLS “Treasure”

I’ve mentioned numerous times in this post my discomfort with discussing depression, suicide, and the like. Well, September was my first shot at the whole mess, and because of all the heartwarming comments I’ve received, I got to learn so much about not only the issues at hand, but also many of your own lives. It wasn’t an easy post to write, but of all of these, it’s one that I was most glad I had. Also, isn’t the header image so pretty? Orange‘s art is so aesthetically pleasing!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • When helping others with sensitive issues, it’s hard to know what to say at exactly the right time. Don’t hate on yourself for messing up—you tried, and that’s admirable enough.
  • Every life is precious—treasure each and every day, the present, the moment, and yourself.
  • Do your best to live without regrets.

NUMBER TWO:

Tour #12 December – In This Corner of the World: A History Lesson on Hope & Healing | OWLS “Warmth”

After writing for 12 consecutive months, I was surprised to see that I still had the stamina to push on with December’s final post. Though I felt a bit wordy with this one (it’s one of the longest posts I’ve written!), I like to think that every single word is there for a reason. At first, I thought the film I featured for this month was okay, nothing too fancy, but definitely decent. The more I thought about it, however, I came to realize that it was not only one of the best, but also one of the most important watches of 2017! It touched my heart enough to force me to spit out many BIG lessons on the human experience! I would’ve put this down as my #1 OWLS post for 2017, but it was missing one vital, personal touch.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Life always goes on. Those who learn to adjust the quickest and accept the circumstances around them will have a greater chance at happiness.
  • Learn from fiction: no matter how significant or insignificant, it is all created with something valuable to be learned.
  • We all have the choice to be happy or sad, rude or nice—live the way you want to.

AND FINALLY, NUMBER ONE:

Tour #6 June – For the Team – Free! & My Swim Story | OWLS “Team”

I think it’s obvious how much this one meant to me. Almost 100% personal and taken from my own experience with a team, June’s post was not only a long-time coming, but also a story that I’m glad I finally got around to telling. It was important for me, and it should be of importance to you, should you care to know more about who I am! It was also a hard one to write, as I recall staying up until past 3 am the next day (late) just to finish it, and word it exactly how I wanted to. It’s an autobiography, a blog tour post, and a review of a beloved series that is dear to my heart.

You all reached out to me in the comments on this one, and for that alone, I am forever thankful.

Life Lessons Learned

  • If you find yourself losing your passion for something, or are stuck with a team that frankly isn’t filled with the most wonderful of people, then be that wonderful person for the team.
  • Determination, perseverance, and ambition speak volumes about people.
  • Life is fleeting. Savor the bests of each moment, and never forget your actions can cause ripples, unknowingly inspiring others in the process.

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Happy New Year From Me to You

That’s the end, folks! Between all my OWLS posts and the experiences I’ve shared with all of you, this is the list of things I learned in 2017! Now you, too, have the opportunity to carry these timeless lessons into 2018! Did you have a favorite OWLS post of mine? If so, please let me know! Even though I get behind on comments, I always value your thoughts and opinions, and I am ALWAYS grateful to those who simply read my posts!!

Oh yeah, this also FINALLY includes Blogmas 2017 and the 12 Days of Anime! I got sooo behind, but I’m so glad I did it because I got to reconnect with all of you. Writing for each day of Blogmas was surprisingly fun, and I never got tired (just busy). Next year, I’ll definitely have to stay on top of it better!

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for all your support over this past year! There were several gaps of inactivity in 2017, and one goal for 2018 would be to fill in those gaps with more reviews of titles that I cannot wait to watch. Thank you for being patient with my responses, and for letting me know when I do a decent job at something (it’s the little things that go a long way, right?). The blog’s almost at 300 followers, so it’d be really awesome if I could say about 100 people joined the cafe each year!

So here’s to you, to me, to all the wonderful things we’ve done, and to the many, many more exciting things we’ll do together! Already, I have made my peace on Twitter, but again, I’m wishing you all a year full of good health, healing, and a ton of luck~!! I’ve got many projects in mind—one in particular to kick off 2018—so please look forward to that! As always, my favorite bunch of people in the vast sea of the internet, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! And until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Anime at the Theaters: My “Your Name” Experience! | Blogmas 2017 Day 10

Hey everyone, welcome to (a very belated) day 10 of Blogmas (whoops)! I know today’s topic isn’t necessarily “new” for 2017 (nor is it for years prior), but this was the first year I was able to attend a theater to watch anime on the big screen!

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Anime at the Theaters!

From Funimation’s screenings of films for Project Itoh, Dragon Ball, Fairy Tail, One Piece, Black Butler, Attack on Titan, Psycho-Pass, The Boy and the Beast, and In This Corner of the World, to live action films like Tokyo Ghoul, Rurouni Kenshin, and Shin Godzilla, anime has been on the rise, as most of these titles were indeed screened this year. And they’re not stopping at 2017; they’ve already lined up the beginning of 2018 with theatrical releases for the widely anticipated first Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution film!

Heck, even Viz Media had joined in on the fun with its grand premiere of Sailor Moon R: The Movie this past winter (which was, by the way, promoted with the red carpet treatment, complete with a voice actor/pro-cosplayer meet-up, AND a spotlight on Snapchat—FREAKIN’ SNAPCHAT). The same goes for Aniplex of America and their latest (successful) efforts with Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale and Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel. Oh, and we can’t forget Sentai Filmworks with the big debut of the No Game No Life: Zero! Though Aniplex has been in the game much longer, it’s only now that their publicity has reached far enough to include theater screenings not just limited to the California area. And this trend will likely increase for all of these companies as the years go on, which is awesome because when more anime goes around, we get more of it!

I unfortunately wasn’t able to see this film (or any of the ones listed above, for that matter), but I did try, I did! ;_: Now I own the DVD. :3

It’s not often that anime “strikes rich” with U.S. audiences, though. The fan base and popularity expand, sure, but the monetary gain from screening anime films in the U.S. is nothing compared to what Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, or even some indie films earn. But every bit helps, and seeing as how screenings of our favorite niche titles keep popping up, we can only imagine that it’s all helping the anime industry in Japan. Anime News Network wrote an article during the film screening boom awhile back, so you might want to check that out if you’re curious to know the “science” behind it all.

As I was saying, very rarely do anime films earn household names thanks to theater screenings: Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and most Studio Ghibli films are pretty well recognized thanks to their unique artistic styles and of course, classic nature. Just this past spring, Funimation streamed a little title called Your Name.—ever heard of it? Yeah, I’m sure you have, and you’ll probably already know that it’s now the world’s highest-grossing anime film, finally beating out Ghibli staples like Spirited Away (2nd), Howl’s Moving Castle (3rd), and everyone’s favorite fish-girl with the round tummy, Ponyo (4th). No, it’s not a competition, but credit should be given where it’s due, and Your Name. IS one incredible, breathtaking film. While Japan is still loyal to Spirited AwayYour Name. did manage to climb all the way up to become the fourth highest-grossing film in the nation. If that doesn’t speak volumes about the film, I’m not sure what will.

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My “Your Name.” Experience

(This is not a review. That will come out in early 2018, fingers crossed >.<)

Have you ever been to a Warren Theatre? They’re apparently prominent in the big midwestern cities, but essentially, they are luxurious movie theaters heavily decorated and inspired by Hollywood during the Roarin’ Twenties. Very Gatsby-esque and decked out to the extreme, one wearing athletic shorts and a t-shirt (me) would feel very out of place. EVERYTHING is gold in that place—no, literally, there are tall pillars embossed with shiny gold-colored plating. Exquisite paintings hang on the gorgeously patterned walls, and the staff are finely dressed in slick black suits. Even the bathrooms are paved with solid ebony marble flooring with rows upon rows of ridiculously clean stalls. There are several open little outlets that line the curtained walls, each containing waiting rooms with comfortable maroon leather couches and, wait, yes, a fireplace.

 

[Pictures from Google]

All-in-all, my mom, dad, and sister and I were very shocked. Very shocked. The place was simply stunning, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. The Warren is an experience, not just another place to watch movies.

 

[They even had this cool giant promotional poster for the Ghost in the Shell live action, which I was absolutely enamored by! You can bet I took pictures posing by this, haha!]

So the Warren was hella lit, but what made the three-hour journey to see Your Name. all the more worth it was the meet-up. (Woah, Taku has friends that like anime IRL?! Yup, you bet.) If you didn’t already know, music was my thing from basically birth up through high school (and even now, too). I play the cello, and on my second year with the All-State Orchestra, my sister made friends with her fellow stand partner. He was also Asian, so there’s kinda that instantaneous bond right there, and we all kept in contact after that fateful encounter.

Flash forward, and he starts talking about this film he saw on his way back from Japan, a title that, though unfamiliar with my sister, was screaming at me because of all the recent hype: Your Name., Makoto Shinkai’s latest creation. He recommended the film because he’d seen it, I knew how to get us to see it, and my sister was the glue that held us all together. The only problem—he lives across the state, over three hours away, and while it might not seem like much for the average traveler, you can’t forget that we’re youngins, and that distance was enough to keep us apart.

So we agreed to meet halfway. He chose a conveniently located place where we’d meet up to eat (which was a really awesome and tasty Japanese restaurant similar to how Qdoba or Chipotle are fashioned—how fitting, I know), I found the Funimation-approved theater, and my sister kept us all excited (well, more than we were, at least)! Several laughs later, it was time to make our way across the parking lot, and before we knew it, we were ushered into the theater balcony where we were seated before a giant red curtain. That’s right, this movie theater opens and closes its screenings with the grand red curtain. God, did I mention that I love this place??

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So the great curtain raised and the great curtain lowered. The film was over, and it was admittedly hard not to cry. So many things had led up to this one moment:

  • Hearing about the rapid success of Your Name.
  • Attending All-State Orchestra and meeting a new friend
  • Funimation announcing a theatrical release
  • Reconnecting via technology and setting up a reunion
  • Traveling the distance, meeting the other halfway
  • Walking into the Warren
  • Reuniting for a delicious lunch
  • Seeing one of the greatest films ever created
  • Feeling the emotions of the characters, together

I mean, all this considered, it was so very difficult to believe that this dream of mine would quickly come to an end. It was not only a bittersweet ending for Mitsuha and Taki, but for the three of us, too. Honestly, bidding farewell to a friend had never been harder. But we agreed to meet again, and sure enough, just this past weekend, we met halfway once again to have fun at the city’s mall. We were going to ice-skate all together, but he had a piano competition coming up and his mom didn’t want him risking his wrist—perfectly understandable, and we had fun nonetheless. (Our family did go ice-skating, though :P)


Thoughts on Life, Transience, and Memories

It’s not often that an anime film gets screened here in the states. And it’s also not often that said movie becomes the highest-grossing anime film in the world.

Similarly . . . 

It’s not often that we get to have perfect long-distance friendships. And it’s also not often that we get to cross that seemingly great distance to have our own Your Name. experience. Little did we know it, we, too, traversed the state in search of the other and promised to meet up again someday. And when someday finally came, we were all just so, so happy.

We have to take advantage of the fleeting opportunities that life presents us with. Not every moment will be magical, but when you make the most of what you have—pouring all your heart into what you want most—sometimes chance grants you that picture-perfect moment . . .

Only for it to quickly fade into a memory. 

Cherish the friendships you currently have, relish in the art that entertains you, and I cannot express this last one enough: Take as many photos as you can. I say it all the time, but the reality is that life goes by quicker and quicker with each passing day. Don’t let thinking about the “could have beens” before they even happen stop the “can be” that you can make possible. There was a point where I considered not reaching out to my sister about the film because I thought it wasn’t going to work for some reason. I was wrong. We can make beautiful memories to last a lifetime, and we can take risks to pursue happiness.

It’s all a matter of taking the first step and hoping that it leads you to enjoying the step after that.

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Wherever you are in the world, I’ll search for you. – Taki Tachibana


Maybe now you understand why getting to see Your Name was one of my highlights of 2017. Did anyone else have the opportunity to visit anime in theaters this year? If so, what did you see, and how was your experience? I’d love to know! I’ll be logging this as a “Cafe Talk,” so feel free to let your thoughts loose on this post or anything else related to it!

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

– Takuto, your host

The Ravishing, Elegant Imperfections of “Welcome to the Ballroom” | Blogmas 2017 Day 9

Hey everyone, welcome to (a very belated) day 9 of Blogmas (whoops)! This past summer, two sports anime aired simultaneously, and I decided to follow them to see which would wind out on top! Today I present a review of the show that finished airing about a week or so ago, the anime about a young boy’s experience as a ballroom dancer, and how the sport challenged and changed him for the better!

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The Summer of Sports: A Review of Welcome to the Ballroom


A spoiler-free review of the summer 2017 anime “Welcome to the Ballroom,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Yoshimi Itazu, based on the manga by Tomo Takeuchi. 

Entering the World of Dance

Tatara Fujita’s another one of those introverted third-year middle schoolers with no aim in life who very soon has to make the big high school decision. On one of his particularly average days, he is harassed by delinquents, only to suddenly be rescued by an imposing gentleman on a motor cycle. His name is Sengoku, an energetic professional dancer on the international level, and it is through some miscommunication on Sengoku’s part that Tatara ends up at his dance studio. There, he meets a girl from his school: Shizuku Hanaoka—the woman of his dreams—and it is partially because of both her charm and Tatara’s own desire to change himself that he enters the world of dance. The free-spirited Sengoku sees potential in young Tatara, and thus decides to show him the steps.

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Through his experience with dance, Tatara meets many people, friends and rivals alike, who will each challenge Tatara not only as an athlete, but as a young man coming of age. And it is through this same interaction with Tatara that other dancers feel encouraged to take steps to overcome their own issues and flaws. His feet will get plenty sore, and he’ll fall on the dance floor many, many times in practice, but Tatara keeps on going because of the enjoyment and wonder dancing brings into his otherwise goalless life.

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From Slouch Stance to Swing Dance

One of the most exciting times to be alive was Welcome to the Ballroom‘s beginning. Its first six or so episodes set up a pretty strong premise, not to mention a promising standard of animation quality. From Tatara understanding how to stand up straight and correct his terrible slouch to learning the waltz’s basic box pattern, I truly felt inspired to try waltzing around my room like I used to so many years ago. You just want to see more and more of the characters and the sport they all love—it’s first several episodes are addictive! But it’s hard to maintain that same adrenaline over the course of one dance competition alone. Let me elaborate.

Over the course of 24 episodes, we only bear witness to what, three, maybe four competitions. And it is from each of these arcs that we are expected to understand that Tatara’s skills accelerate at a terrifyingly quick rate. One does not instantly become a pro by attending merely a couple competitions, though; the reality is that it takes tens, if not hundreds of events like competitions that challenge one’s entire range of skills. I know Tatara wasn’t defined as a “pro” by the end of the series, as he clearly still has much to learn, but the fact that he was able to equally rival some of the series’s known-to-be-greatest dancers felt somewhat unbelievable.

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And while we’re on the subject of shounen arcs, a single dance could last two or three episodes, while a competition could span as great as nine or so episodes. What’s with that pacing? Had the competitions made shorter, we could’ve made room for more of them, which might’ve balanced the characterization better. In its defense, I imagine that my issues with the slow pacing would be way less apparent watching it now in marathon format as opposed to over the course of SIX MONTHS.

Where the series fails to be a completely smooth run here and there, it definitely makes up for it by proving to be VERY entertaining. Each episode does leave you craving to know what might happen in the next round, or perhaps to see which couples end up clashing on the dance floor. My pacing dissatisfaction wasn’t from “bad episodes” or “poor directing choices,” but rather a lack of action worthy enough to fill a whole episode (especially by the end). It’s not filler, it’s just slow-moving, and I suppose I’d rather a show take its time than push forward and leave out development.

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Finding Something to be Good At: Tatara & Dance

To give him credit, Tatara Fujita does practice A LOT. He’s a hard worker, and in fact, many shots in the series focus on characters walking into the studio, only to discover a tired Tatara training through the early hours of the morn. Where he struggles with verbal teachings, Tatara is incredibly gifted at duplicating dance moves he has seen. Odds are that this is the reason why he is able to fair well against many dancers, including the experienced ones.

Either way, he struggles with communicating what he wants, and as such fails to grasp the masculine hold that a couple’s lead should possess. This translates across to his external conflict: great shyness, nervousness, and a lack of self-confidence around others. He dances in secret, embarrassed by being a male dancer, and is unable to make friends as a result, nor tell his dad about his newfound hobby. Mentally, he is fighting to “man up,” accept dance as a part of himself, and discover what dancing really means to him—this is all while chasing after Sengoku’s shadow, of course. Overall, I like Tatara, as his conflicts are not only relatable, but his efforts to respect and embrace what he truly loves are praiseworthy, too! Through an unlikely sport like dance, Tatara finds that one thing he wished he could be good at, as well as a way to express his true, repressed, artistic spirit.

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Finding Kinship in Competition: Hyoudou & Gaju

As mentioned, several challengers oppose Tatara over the course of the series. Though they are mainly boys a tad older than he is, there are a couple of older men who provide valuable lessons and wisdom on the sport. Sengoku is the obvious culprit, but his lack of attention to Tatara kind of makes him a dick of a coach. He does have his own professional career to worry about, I suppose. And I do see why Tatara (and heck, everybody else) idolizes the guy: for all his goofiness and trouble with verbal instructions, Sengoku knows his stuff, and he sure is one eye-catching, dynamic dancer.

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Then there’s the other leads, namely dancing prodigy Kiyoharu Hyoudou and the brash, loudmouth Gaju Akagi. On their own, Hyoudou’s seemingly perfect career is suffering from a hidden injury, and the way the show handled his behavior and mannerisms was quite realistic and well-handled. It’s always a surprising dilemma to see “the star” in trouble, but it can happen to anyone, and the road to recovery can really deter one’s once-blazing determination. Every time he appeared from the shadows and opened his smart mouth to make some stupidly detailed analysis of Tatara’s mistakes, however, I did low-key want to punch him in the face.

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If Hyoudou is Tatara’s foil, then Gaju would be more like your standard, overly zealous competitor, the epiphany of dominance over one’s partner. He is the glue that holds the group together, though, and in times of relaxation and relief, it’s Gaju’s presence that brings out the casts’s nice chemistry.

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Finding a Partner: Chinatsu & The Struggle to Connect

At first, the other female dancers seem like standards for Tatara’s partner(s) to reach and eventually pass, but thankfully, that’s not how Ballroom works. While I’m told the manga (which I can’t wait to read) fleshes out the female characters better, as you get read their thoughts, I found myself nonetheless enjoying Hanaoka’s untouchable nature and the cute Mako Akagi’s hidden glam (seriously, the Tenpei Cup final was EPIC, and I love Mako’s yellow dress). Even the adult females like Sengoku’s partner Chizuru or Hyoudou’s mom Coach Marisa serve more purpose than just being there for Tatara—they all feel like real people with their own attitudes, weaknesses, and ambitions.

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As much as I loved Mako’s adorable yet strong-willed spirit, my favorite female character was one introduced in the show’s second half: Chinatsu, Tatara’s fiery future partner. Characterized as the polar opposite of Tatara—fierce, strong, bold, and most of all, a true leader—Chinatsu poses a lot of problems for Tatara (and frustration for the viewers, too). She’s essentially everything that he’s not, and her unwillingness to accept her own issues and work through them calmly (and fairly) with Tatara sets up a rocky, explosive relationship just waiting to burst. How Chinatsu’s existence changes EVERYTHING reminds me so much of Shinji and Asuka’s relationship from Evangelion, and it’s probably the reason why I like their dynamic so much.

Simply put, she’s everything that makes him uncomfortable, and he’s everything that challenges her very being. 

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The anime’s ending tries to cap off their relationship with a sudden “everything’s gonna be ok,” but we all know that more fights and fits are bound for this couple in the future. Their animosity was just handled so well, so powerfully, and it arguably made the long second half bearable for me. The struggle to connect and find a partner is a very intimate, vital thing, and I’m glad it wasn’t underplayed.

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(To avoid spoilers, obligatory shoutout to Kugimiya and his partner Idogawa, as it was their character development that made the final competition so impactful!)

A Dancing Anime Without the “Dance”

Ballroom blossoms beautifully when it’s moving. Seriously, it’s freakin’ wonderful. But fluid scenes on the dance floor are sadly few and far between, which is odd considering that a powerhouse like Production I.G is behind the helm. This was most viewers’ biggest beef with the anime adaptation, as the manga’s pages are rife with striking, expressive motion (which seems odd for paper, but just open up a volume whenever you get the chance). Way too often than what should be allowed for a sports anime, we are treated to still frame, after still frame, after still frame, which are guided by someone annoying (like Hyoudou) verbally leading us through what should have been a thrilling, visual feast! Don’t get me wrong—Every. Single. Frame. Of this anime is drop-dead gorgeous. Like, those dresses, holy shit, wow! But man, I was sighing throughout so many of the dance scenes because I just wanted to see SOMETHING move. It could literally be a ribbon or a dress sequin—JUST MOVE IT. I really hope some animation is added to the Blu-ray releases.

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(As for the giraffe necks, I didn’t mind too much. They’re glaring at first, but after a few episodes you don’t even notice how wrong it is.)

Music, the Soul of Dance

Thankfully, Ballroom manages to stay somewhat engaging during these motionless shots because of its delightful soundtrack. Perhaps this is because of musician Yuuki Hayashi’s own experience as a rhythmic gymnast; the man already knows how to match tempo and tune with fancy footwork. Hayashi is a rising favorite of mine, as he knows how to perfectly time moments that should be epic with music that is absolutely epic. From moving ensembles like “Ballroom, Shakou Dance” to THE MOST UPLIFTING BEAT OF THE CENTURY, “Ganbaritai Kimochi,” how you can’t NOT feel the emotional weight? And don’t even get me started on the dance music—waltz, salsa, jazz, swing, samba, cha-cha, Charleston, Merengue—so many styles, and so much respect for each time period’s jams!!

Hayashi’s able to take a simple melody and turn it into a gorgeous, heartwarming waltz, or even a snappy, saucy tango. I was just so happy to see my favorite time signature, the waltz’s 3/4, be revived in modern anime akin to Ouran High School Host Club‘s brilliance. It’s a shame that his dance-themed tracks would be frequently swapped out for the main OST mid-dance, unlike the continuous play like in Yuri!!! On ICE, but I suppose that makes anticipating each lovely track all the more exciting. There’s a raw love for classical strings, piano, and a bit of drums for movement in Hayashi’s internationally-infused music, and that’s why I’ll always look forward to his perfect, inspiring scores.

“Tatara’s Waltz,” “Hyoudou Tango,” “Blooming On Our Way,” “Tango City,” “Viennese Waltz,” “It’s like a symphony,” “Quick Step B,” “La Cumparsita, “Las Patineurs,” “Sing, Sing, Sing . . .” HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE THIS VARIETY???

I’ve already talked way to much about the music in this anime, but on top of featuring a well-rounded soundtrack, Ballroom has TWO amazingly energetic openings that create so much HYPE! Both by UNISON SQUARE GARDEN (which I will now keep an eye out for), “10% roll, 10% romance” and “Invisible Sensation,” my favorite of the two, have made my “Current Faves” playlist. And I couldn’t forget about the first ED theme, “Maybe the next waltz” by Mikako Komatsu, which was sung, yes, AS A SWEET WALTZ. I JUST LOVE THIS ANIME’S STYLE SO MUCH!!

Dismantling the Stereotypes: The Beauty of Evolution

As a final note, Ballroom makes quick work of eliminating any frivolous or “girly” things you previously thought about ballroom dance. Its appropriate depiction as an equally sweaty, vigorous sport is eye-opening, and you can feel that all the people behind the project had a great respect for the sport. The anime is aware of this, and repeatedly nails in the idea that ballroom dance IS, indeed, very difficult. From the pain-staking accuracy of the sound that certain shoes make, to the flow and friction of suits and dresses, incredible attention was put into the sound effects to fully immerse you in the bustling dance floor atmosphere. Lastly, both the anime’s culturally diverse soundtrack and fashion sense pay ode to dance’s professional realities, culminating into an accurate depiction of dance’s heaviest hardships and most joyous pleasures alike.

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When it wants to be, the show is also very funny, using quick-witted humor and hilarious facial reactions to lighten an unnecessarily tense mood—something that we routinely find ourselves in.

Welcome to the Ballroom clearly has many strengths, but also several weaknesses. It boasts the allure of dancing, yet frequently fails put the concept into motion. It showcases how thrilling the sport can be, yet often drags out the effect nearly to the point of boredom. But above its faults, Ballroom promotes the beauty of evolution, the purity of youth, and the countless many possibilities that come with change and transformation. It’s a dramatic story of motivation, inspiration, and progress, both for its characters and the future of the sport itself. And by its end, I couldn’t help but applaud the valiant effort made to enlighten me on the world of dance and all its ravishing, graceful, and truly elegant imperfections. It’s that rare kind of show that doesn’t come around often—and one that should not be missed.

Dance’s physical and emotional expressions seem close, but they aren’t easily tied together. It can’t be considered a real expression unless you can reflect the outside knowledge and experiences you’ve gained. That’s why with an emotional dance, you can see through the dancer’s entire life. Joy and sorrow. Love and hate. A dance with a variety of emotions adds depth. Don’t you think that becomes meaningful enough to dedicate the time in your life to dance? – Coach Marisa Hyoudou

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Production and pacing problems aside, Welcome to the Ballroom‘s biggest issue right now is the lack of a licensing, as Anime Strike doesn’t count for CRAP! Seriously, someone please get a hold of the polished Japanese Blu-rays, dub it if you want, and I’ll buy three. This was such a long review, my goodness, but I wanted to make sure that I covered EVERYTHING about it! If you managed to make it from beginning to end, give yourself a pat on the back, and let me know in the comments what you thought of Welcome to the Ballroom in the comments! It’s a sweet, delicious “Cake” here at the cafe!

This concludes Blogmas Day Nine of the 12 Days of Anime, as well as part 2 of “The Summer of Sports!” If you couldn’t already tell, Ballroom definitely won the match, but I do love them both! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you shortly with another belated post!

– Takuto, your host

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“DIVE!!” Flops as a Summer Sports Anime | Blogmas 2017 Day 8

Hey everyone, welcome to day 8 of Blogmas! This past summer, two sports anime aired simultaneously, and I decided to follow them to see which would wind out on top! Today I present a review of the show that finished airing first, the anime about a boys diving club and their ambition to enter the Olympics!

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The Summer of Sports: A Review of DIVE!!


A brief spoiler-free review of the summer 2017 anime “DIVE!!,” produced by Zer-G, directed by Kaoru Suzuki, based on the novel series by Eto Mori. 

Gazing up at the Concrete Dragon

A young Tomoki Sakai was inspired to join the Mizuki Diving Club (MDC) after witnessing its pride and joy member Yoichi Fujitani dive from high up off a giant captivating “Concrete Dragon.” Though the imposing diving platforms don’t literally stretch into the sky like a dragon would, the 10-meter height is enough to turn off most children and adults alike. But to Tomoki, Yoichi’s single dive proved that people can reach even greater heights through the daring sport, and thus he joins.

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Years of practice and good memories pass. Eventually suffering from significant financial troubles and on the verge of closure, the MDC hires a new coach as a last-ditch effort to promote its divers. This new coach manages to persuade the club’s sponsors to stay open, but only on one condition: the club must send one of its members to the Olympics in just a year’s time.

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If DIVE!! had one big gray area where it needed work, it’s right here in the plot. True sports anime have this natural tendency to hype you up as you’re watching. You may not know the rules of the sport, nor the backgrounds of all the characters, but there’s still a level of heart-pounding adrenaline to every failed goal, missed shot, or faulty start. DIVE!!, simply put, isn’t all that exciting. Even at its climax, I couldn’t help but compare it to how another water sports anime, Free!, handled its enthusiasm through its incredible character growth and thrilling animation sequences. It just wasn’t there for DIVE!! (which is ironic, because its title boasts two exclamation points), and I think there are other reasons for why it flopped as a sports anime.

Where most sports anime dedicate a decent portion at the beginning to understanding why the sport is so beloved by its cast, we only really have two characters to go off of: Yoichi and Tomo. Even then, Tomo just wants to feel special and catch up to Yoichi, while Yoichi seems like he could hardly care less about it all—he happened to be born with diving talents, that’s all. The goal is the Olympics, but I can’t even seem to muster the heart to cheer for these boys during practice when they keep skippin’ all the time! Sure, characters like Okitsu’s grandfather and Coach Asaki fill in that void later on, but by then, most of my interest had already been lost.

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Also, and this is a nitpick, as many good sports anime can still be notorious for this, but the lack of explanation of how scoring works, or why certain techniques are more difficult than others not only increases my disinterest, but it hurts the series’s ending: Were Yoichi and Tomo’s scores really that good? What does a standard Olympic score even look like, and where do those numbers come from anyway? What makes a triple flip that much more special than a quadruple, and what kinds of people can achieve this level of technique? Tomo is seriously just a middle schooler—can middle schoolers even enter the freakin’ Olympics?? So many questions, and no answers to be found anywhere. It almost begs me to ask whether this show is worth watching anymore. Well, if it weren’t for the characters, I’d give it a hard pass for sure.

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How Realism Shakes Up the Status Quo

As I mentioned earlier, we reach a point in the story where club members start dropping practice one-by-one, each rotating back in only for another overly sensitive boy to leave. Not everyone likes the new competition brought by suddenly raising the bar. Coaches Asaki and Fujitani (Yoichi’s dad) quickly pick their favorites, and it is that favoritism which causes jealousy and rage to seed themselves within the minds of Ryou and Reiji, Tomo’s “friends.” Ryou’s straightforwardness constantly clashes with Coach Asaki’s partiality to Tomo, and Reiji faces his own internal conflict of competition anxiety. It’s a lose-lose situation for both parties, yet it all somehow feels so . . . real. While anime like Free! glorify friendship and rivalry during swim meets, DIVE!! says that sometimes athletes don’t recover from lost pride, and that team members DO in real life leave the teams that isolate them. Aside from the MDC boys feeling way too young for the Olympics, it’s DIVE!!‘s realism that almost saves it in the end.

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Take Yoichi, for instance. He’s basically perfect: talented, hardworking, a natural born leader, has a great body, etc. But the guy can’t get a girlfriend, and he eventually faces burnout due to, well, a couple reasons. One is that he feels pushed by everyone, especially his father, to make it into the Olympics—and he totally wants to go, but he becomes sick of the pressure and expectations set by all those around him. The second is his realization that the Olympics almost seems to market its athletes more than support them. In what is definitely DIVE!!‘s saving plot point, understanding how the Olympics’s way of promoting and advertising its fine athletes affects people like Yoichi opens up a whole new level of devastation. It was, to be frank, Yoichi’s unexpected fall from grace. Ka-chan, an aniblogger friend of mine detailed Yoichi’s character conflict with the Olympics’s abuse of athletes for money in a very interesting post, which I’ll link here!

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MDC’s latest member, the towering island boy Okitsu, also has a short yet fairly impressive arc dedicated to his own passion for diving. Born and raised along the coast, Okitsu’s only ever been familiar with ocean diving. For him, the pool is like a cage, but he joins MDC nonetheless after Coach Asaki enlightens him on his late grandfather’s stunning pro-diving career. It was honestly a well-done plot point, and I likely won’t ever forget it. Watching a coach bond with her pupils like this was how it should’ve been done for everyone; she’s an integral character for this story. But there’s one character that caught Coach Asaki’s eye more than anyone.

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“Why is Tomoki so special?” Very good question. Nicknamed “Diamond Eyes” for his dynamic vision, Tomo’s as natural a diver as they come. And like all diamonds, they need a fair amount of polishing in order to truly shine. Between Coach Asaki’s intense regimen to shape Tomo into one of Japan’s greatest divers to experiencing a sense of betrayal by his closest friends, including his girlfriend, Tomo comes to realize that many sacrifices must be made to excel at something: sleep, food, free time, energy for other passions, a chance at friendship and love. Admittedly, Tomo being that distraught about losing hid girlfriend and moping about it the whole time was dumb. He’s slow to others’ feelings, and that too is quite frustrating. But nonetheless, he learns that sometimes being good at something requires you to distance yourself from others. Having him voiced by Yuki Kaji was a HUGE win for me, but ultimately, Tomo is one of the weaker characters in the story.

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Diving So Stiff that it Hurts to Watch

As I mentioned earlier, the best sports anime usually have decent to top-tier animation. It sounds very privileged of me to say that a certain anime needs to look this way or that, but man, a huge problem with DIVE!! is that it’s just not pretty to look at. Artwork? Absolutely gorgeous color palette with chiseled abs (for those in need). The water? Looks smooth enough. The divers themselves? Let’s just say they are animated so stiffly that it hurts your back to watch.

The soundtrack though, oh my gosh, it’s surprisingly great! Kohta Yamamoto hasn’t done much work for anime, but he knows how to rouse up a dramatic track when it’s needed. It helps that the music was credited to two individuals, however, the second being the great Yuuki Hayashi (Robotics;Notes, My Hero Academia!, Death Parade)! And while the OP  “Taiyou mo Hitoribocchi” by Qyoto pumped you up (for what you thought would be some good sports fun), the ED “NEW WORLD” by Yuuta Hashimoto was THE REAL BOP OF THE SUMMER. SERIOUSLY GUYS, “NEW WORLD” IS PROBABLY MY FAVORITE SONG OF ALL THE SIMULCASTS I STREAMED THIS YEAR. It’s just so melancholic, so bittersweet, so befitting of everything that DIVE!! tried to be.

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Surpass the Limits You Set for Yourself

Arguably, DIVE!! is not a sports anime, but rather a character-driven coming-of-age story for the main characters. It highlights the experiences—both good and bad, done with a team and alone—that sports can bring, as well as the realities plaguing growing teenage athletes. Unlike the happy-go-lucky Free!DIVE!! teaches us that sometimes being good at something requires you to distance yourself from others. You must decide for yourself what’s best for you, and sometimes that choice doesn’t follow what others want—that’s ok. Through diving:

  • Reiji found excitement and adventure in his otherwise risk-less yet worrisome life
  • Okitsu left the ocean and fell in love with his grandfather’s calling
  • Yoichi experienced burnout after dealing with the reality the adults preordained for him, but thanks to his team found his passions once again
  • And lastly, Tomo gained a pastime that provided him many friends and opportunities, but he had to give up many things to have even the slightest chance at victory

Unlike any sports anime that I’ve ever seen, DIVE!! focuses on the things given up or lost, rather than what is gained. Diving is solely an individual, all-or-nothing sport, after all. But even as a “diving anime,” I couldn’t distinguish between a good dive and a bad one due to the uneven animation, not that it mattered because the plot was so unfocused (the finale looked great, though). Much like its characters, DIVE!! tried to pave its own destiny, but ultimately flopped as truly engaging sports anime—or even as a piece of entertainment for that matter.

Diving is a competition that requires many long years of practice. Their future is a long one. Our duty isn’t to show them the shortcuts, but rather to teach them about the length. – Coach Fujitani

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Don’t get me wrong—despite all the crap I gave its animation and plot issues, I still actually like DIVE!!. At the very least, I clearly tried to see the good in its character development . . . maybe it’s because water sports resonate so much with me, or that I just like sports anime too much. It’s not unbearable, but you’re better off watching something else if you’re craving the thrill that comes from the genre. It’s been a while since I awarded anything with this, but DIVE!! deserves the “Coffee” recognition, as there is some decent content hidden deep below the water’s depths—if only the plot development didn’t merely skim the surface.

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Let me know what you thought of DIVE!! if you happened to watch it! Not many people did, but I’d still love to know your experience with it. This wrap up Blogmas Day Eight of the 12 Days of Anime, as well as part 1 of “The Summer of Sports!” Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow for part 2!

– Takuto, your host

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Completing My First “Tales” Game! | Blogmas 2017 Day 7

Hey everyone, welcome to day 7 of Blogmas!

Another quickie today, but a celebration nonetheless! This past early spring, I completed my first Tales game. For those unfamiliar with the massive franchise, the title Tales refers to a sprawling series of games, most unrelated, created by the game company Bandai Namco in Japan. They’re known for their iconic and elaborate character designs, fantasy-inspired landscapes, Celtic-inspired soundtracks, and most of all, their deep, thought-provoking adventure stories that can take just as long as a Final Fantasy game to complete. We’re talking about clocking no less than 30 hours per game!

Anyway, the Tales franchise means a lot to me. Not because I am overly familiar with the gameplay (as you can see by the title of this post, I’ve actually played very little Tales in my life T__T), but because I get my roots as a fan of entertainment in general from the fantasy genre, the Tales franchise being rich in the source. I’m a kid born and raised on attending Renaissance Festivals and Madrigal Feasts, often loosing myself in the adventurous worlds of tabletop gaming like (our adapted version of) HeroQuest (anyone remember that), TCGs like Pokemon and Magic the Gathering, books like John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, or even iconic films of the genre, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to name a couple. I love fantasy—essentially, its themes of valor, honor, and justice compose my heart for entertainment.

Most importantly, Tales of Symphonia: The Animation is one of only a handful of shows to get me started on anime. If  didn’t come across the Japanese opening of the game, “Starry Heavens,” which I’ll link below, I would never have discovered the wondrous world of Japanese animation.

So here we go: to the best of my ablility, I will briefly discuss my experiences playing both Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Zestiria on the PS3 from the weak non-gamer perspective that I have!

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Loose Discussions on My Experiences Playing a “Tales” Game

(These will DEFINITELY NOT be formal reviews.)

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Tales of Symphonia

Looking back on it, Symphonia‘s anime does a really, really good job at sticking to its source material. It’s got all the major locations, major backstory elements pertaining to the main characters, and even some of the minor characters. Heck, even most of the theme songs for specific characters and towns were brought back for the anime! But this isn’t about the anime, I suppose. Back to the game.

One of the biggest problems I had with the game was the use of annoying side mazes that involved using a “magic ring” to properly traverse. It’s gimmicks like these that tend to ward me off of games—I JUST WANT TO SEE THE STORY. Some of those were really hard, too; as a beginner, I found myself referring to YouTube walkthroughs more and more as the game’s climax neared just to get passed these stupid little travel puzzles.

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OH MY GOD WELGAIA’S FREAKIN FLOORS SCREW THIS

Another beef I had with it was the English audio. As a who’s fan loyal to what I hear first, that being the anime in fansubs, I couldn’t stand the English voices for Lloyd or Zelos. This was easily fixed by changing the game’s audio back to the original Japanese, however, so it’s not so much of a problem as it was just a preference. Raine’s VA for both  was good though, so way to go Kari Wahlgren!

Where it has its minor issues, I found myself immensely enjoying all of the sidequests or story elements that were dropped in the anime adaptation; piecing together the events and locations, however major or minor, that were missing from the anime was tons of fun, as I learned many new things about Symphonia‘s two worlds and their peoples. And while I did think that the final confrontation with Mithos, the ultimate antagonist, was a bit lousy in game format (or at least it had way less of an emotional appeal to it, though movies do tend to resonate with me more), I much rather preferred the game’s handling of tying up all the loose ends—specifically, resolving the pact with Origin and the birth of the new World Tree. It had more time to fully explain itself, and now after all these years I FINALLY understand who Origin is! Woohoo!

All-in-all, finally getting around to playing (and actually finishing, holy shit) Tales of Symphonia (PS3) after six LONG years of putting it off, I can’t help but feeling so complete—the story has finally come full-circle, the adaption introducing me to anime as a media and the PS3 game engrossing me in JRPGs. Do I now despise the anime for excluding so many “crucial” plot points? Absolutely not. I still hold Tales of Symphonia: The Animation in the highest regard, as it’s still a beautiful, moving tale of the harsh realities of racism and revenge, and the hope that comes with uniting two fundamentally broken worlds—I love both iterations of the story, and I probably always will. I DO recommend both the anime and the game, so pick your poison and head out on your own adventure ASAP! (Or be like me and experience both! More Symphonia is a very good thing.)

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Ultimately, I was just so happy I could say I completed my first Tales game, but I immediately knew that It wouldn’t be the last. In fact, my second Tales adventure was awaiting me just around the corner—the end of a good school year, and the start of a brilliant summer!

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Tales of Zestiria

I remember seeing a promotional poster for the anime Tales of Zestiria the X circulating years back, and I do recall being excited for it despite not knowing anything other than that it was another Tales adaptation by the GOD STUDIO, Ufotable. After getting to see the English voice actor for Zestiria‘s MC, Robbie Daymond, in person at this year’s Naka-Kon, I knew the first thing to do as soon as I got home: purchase the PS3 game (I actually ended up doing it in the hotel room, tho >.<).

My recent success with Symphonia set my passions ablaze for tackling the next big JRPG. Once you’ve played one JRPG, you’ve played them all, right? Or perhaps, you want to play them all. From the reviews alone, I already knew that this one was going to be the easiest-to-understand in the entire franchise so far, and that it was arguably the “not-very-smart one” in the series. The character designs charmed me too much, however, and the sparkling armitization sequences just blew me away! The real draw-in for this series, voice actor meeting aside, was the anime’s OP theme, “Kaze no Uta” by FLOW. It was just the smooth, crisp 60 fps display plus the ridiculously catchy tune that made this show a MUST for me. Anyone see a trend here?

That’s right, both Tales games that I have played drew me in through their gorgeous, catchy openings. I suppose that should speak volumes about their music choice and soundtracks, no? Easily some of the best stuff I’ve ever listened to. And I still jam to this song every time I’m working out (which is rare) or whenever I need something to lift my spirits (which is often).

Unlike Symphonia, however, Zestiria had yet another thing winning for it: the fandom. Oh the ships, all the ships, I tells ya!! I’m such a sucker for anything Sorey and Mikleo, Alisha and Lailah. They’re all just so pretty, AHH!!

EHERM. Tales of Zestiria, despite all my senseless fanboying, is a beloved game that, honestly, treads many of the same lines that Symphonia did: two races trying to coexist, one “chosen” person designated to heal the land, a loudmouth (yet adorable) MC and his reserved, intelligent best friend. “Best friend ;)” All of the parallels and similarities just make me glad that Zestiria, though argued as the “dumb one,” was my second Tales game.

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As a PS3 game itself, the reviews ARE true in that the game is likely one of the easier ones in the franchise. I had very few problems in it . . . as in literally none at all. Sure, the story isn’t as deep or intricate (or emotional) as I would have wanted it to be (AKA more like Symphonia’s darkness), but that in itself makes Zestiria‘s almost overwhelming optimism contagious, and fun to play regardless of whatever mood you’re in. The visuals are, holy god almighty, some of the finest I’ve ever seen in gaming (THOSE SKIES THO F*CK ME), and the orchestral soundtrack should be on EVERY tabletop gamer’s background music playlist. Like, shit, need something that sounds absolutely LEGENDARY for a whole freakin’ hour, here you go:

To recap the Zestiria (PS3) experience, it was easy, simple, fantasy fun at its finest. You don’t need to collect many bonus items (if any at all, I skipped most of them), and the fights themselves are, WOAH, WHAT’S THIS, the most FUN part of the gameplay! I’m no gamer, and I found swingin’ around Sorey’s massive armitized swords, bow, giant fists—what have you—to be greatly pleasurable. If you’re not looking for the deepest Tales game, but one that’s great for a first-timer, Zestiria is the one for you. I recommend it.

FUN FACT: After meeting Robbie Daymond, I played through all of the game in English and loved it—proof that once again, whatever you hear first is likely your favorite. I was also incredibly hyped for the anime adaption, as it looks like the best thing to come from Ufotable besides Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, and that’s one of the most top-tier anime you could ask for! I’m currently watching the anime, and while the inclusion of the Berseria *promotional episodes* were pointless and time-draining, it’s a pretty good show. I won’t make any judgement calls now, but I’d love to review it whenever I finish! Also, for all I know, Berseria could very well end up being my next Tales game to experience, as it, too . . . well, I bet you can already guess.

It had a rockin’ OP. 🙂

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What did you think of Symphonia or Zestiria? Any opinions on their anime adaptations, either? For the record, I have seen the Tales of the Abyss anime, but that was also very long ago, so want to rewatch that some day. Lastly, are there any particular favorites or recommendations from the Tales franchise out there? Let me know! I’ve heard that Symphonia is actually one of the bests, and though I haven’t played the others, I’m gonna probably call it as my favorite. Sorry, it’s just first-timer’s bias. This wrap up Blogmas Day Seven of the 12 Days of Anime! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host

The Year of Anime on the GO! | Blogmas 2017 Day 5

Hey everyone, welcome to day 5 of Blogmas!

Today’s post will be pretty short, as I have skipped out the past few days of reading through the monthly OWLS tours due to being busy. But of course, we still have something from 2017 to celebrate today, and that is the rise of mobile apps relating to anime. While most if not all of these have been out since before this year, 2017 was when I found myself using them to their fullest potential.

So yeah, in no particular order of favorites, here we go!

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Favorite Anime-Related Mobile Apps of 2017

Crunchyroll 

Startin’ off easy. EVERY anime fan in the U.S. should have Crunchyroll. It’s FREE to download, and you get access to basically everything in their catalog—which is a lot, a lot, of subbed anime. From seasonal simulcasts to binging old classics, Crunchyroll is about the best you can get. I do pay for a premium membership ($60/year), and that gets me instantaneous access to the latest episode of simulcast shows in near-real time. Pretty sweet.

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Funimation Now

What would be one best girl without the other, right? Funimation made major improvements over their old streaming app, the biggest being that you do have to pay up front to use it (if you use their website, most not new, age-appropriate titles can be viewed for free). I believe it’s also around $60/year, BTW. So between Crunchyroll and my Funimation Now account, $120 gets me access to just about 4/5 of all the anime I’ve ever wanted to watch, subbed AND dubbed. I admittedly haven’t used the Funimation account to watch their simuldubs yet, but I’m sure in 2018 that I’ll cave in.

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Vudu

This year, I did start utilizing those “digital download codes” that come primarily come in anime films, and you know what, this app was surprisingly nifty! With the exciting announcement of newly released full SERIES by Funimation including digital downloads, I can only see myself using this app more and more in the future.

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VRV

Acting as a partnership app between Crunchyroll and Roosterteeth (with a little Funimation in the mix), VRV mixes parts of both catalogs as well as some J-dramas and cartoons into its own interface. I haven’t used this app much at all, but I did download it, and for the most part, its basic features ARE free!

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Pokemon GO

With its worldwide popularity seemingly plummeting after its summer 2016 release, there are surprisingly still many who play Pokemon on the go, which is cool! I’ll admit, I didn’t go Pokemon hunting much this year myself (I wish it didn’t take so long to load >.<), but seasonal events like the Halloween special did bring me back into the digital world. I just LOVE its simple use of virtual reality, and I really do hope it doesn’t die out completely in the coming year.

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Fate/Grand Order

I’m pretty sure Fate GO was the app I used most this year, and it absolutely deserves the shoutout! Highly anticipated by myself and much of the the Fate fandom, Aniplex of America’s version of the hit Japanese mobile game was widely received when it came out this summer, scoring quite well into the top 100 apps at the time. Though I have lost a little steam thanks to the large time gap in story content being updated, I still loyally check my phone DAILY to rack in all of the streak benefits. Like Pokemon GO, I’m definitely not “the best” or a “pro” at the game, but I do have fun playing, and hey, that’s all that matters, right? I’ve lost so many hours playing this amazing game, and it’s so awesome being able to plug in the fragments of what I knew and what I now know with the greater universe of Fate!!

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I told you it’d be a pretty short read! What anime subscriptions do you use? Which ones do you pay for? Does ANYONE use Amazon’s infamous Anime Strike? Also, what anime-related apps did you use this year? Any saucy otome games for iOS LOL?? Askin’ for a friend, heh heh, so let me know!! If I want to stay on schedule, I’ve got three months of OWLS tour posts to go read now, so this’ll wrap up Blogmas Day Five of the 12 Days of Anime! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host

Celebrating Yuri!!! On ICE’s First Anniversary! | Blogmas 2017 Day 4

Hey everyone, welcome to day 4 of Blogmas!

Fall 2016 will long be remembered as the season where only one show that aired truly mattered: Yuri!!! On ICE. It was here, there, and everywhere, and like a boomerang IT CAME BACK to bless (or haunt) the fall/winter season of 2017. For about 2-3 months just this past fall, hashtags like #RememberYOIWednesdays circulated like crazy, flooding a typical “empty talk” Twitter feed like mine with hundreds of favorite scene reflections, thousands of beautiful fan theories, and seemingly infinite amounts of dangerously slutty Viktor x Yuuri artwork. (No, like, seriously, there is no end in sight, and I still can’t get enough.)

To kick off the celebration, here is a list of some of my favorite YOI fan artists on Twitter—these people are amazing, and have made every moment that much more special!! (Check them out if you’re needing that extra YOI in your feed like I do, heh heh.) Support these incredible people if you can!!

@kazu_k_yv  |  @bon0501  |  @kobayashi_niki  |  @shiro___mi  |  @sawa_nya

@yomosugara_yoi  |  @nori20170709  |  @pyhu_pd  |  @ASTRO_HO

@_nii21  |  @meyoco_  |  @mouri1977  |  @tanawwww  |  @rueamasawa

@butleronduty  |  @monoyoi  |  @CL_e_y  |  @Yuma_ice  |  @nikipedia_z

@183333ays  |  @GEAROUS

Let me know if there is someone I should be following! Do YOU recognize anyone on this list? 😉

All of their artwork reminds me of how thankful we are that such a show groundbreaking show  even aired, let alone was popularly received. I like to call it groundbreaking because, at least for me, in a time where sincerely honest romance was ruled by the shoujo genre alone, YOI paved the path to a different kind of love—the rare kind that blooms realistically, yet still possesses that magical charm. It was one precious display of affection after another, and it all came together as if it were real, albeit a touch on the fast side.

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So here we are, a year after we were wowed one episode at a time, and we still can’t stop celebrating these boys and the sport they all love: ice-skating. Cheers to all of the fans, whose optimism, appreciation, and raw excitement all contributed to one of the most emotionally thrilling times in anime that I’ve ever been a part of. For all of the far-fetched yet deeply held theories and ships, and to all of the glorious art work that has graciously passed my eyes (and eventually saved onto my phone’s growing +13k photo collection), I’d like to present—in the order they appear in the show—TEN of my own favorite moments from the anime that changed lives one exhilarating winter ago!

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Ten Yuri!!! On ICE Moments That Made Me Love It Even More

SPOILERS PRESENT—YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

1. Yuuri working out

No, I’m not that desperate for my smut. It’s just that, in general, seeing a character in anime exercise is very motivating for me. Whenever I see Yuuri working hard to get back on the ice as Viktor’s pupil, be it cold morning jogs or intense sets of sit-ups, I feel the urge to get up myself and do “something” about my own physical health. Simply put, Yuuri need to work out is both motivating, inspiring, and painfully realistic.

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2. The duel of sexual entities: On Love, Eros vs. Agape

Y’all already know how much I loved episode 3 of this show. From a thematic perspective, it sets up the two big problems that our conflicting leads each have—Yuuri’s insecurities and Yurio’s aggressiveness—and a way to solve them both. By skating the other’s expected routine, both of which choreographed with Viktor’s seal of approval, the two come to understand what it is they’ve been missing in their personalities, and how to express these unknown feelings on and off the ice. It’s smooth, genius character development, and when timed with the two gorgeous songs of the SAME melody, it’s all just so great. (Plus, Eros Yuuri is THE BESTEST BOY. EVER.)

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3. Ambiguity of “The Kiss”

One of those “typical” fave moments, but the reason I like this scene so much isn’t actually because of the kiss itself—it was the community’s reactions to the scene’s ambiguity. “Did they actually kiss?” “Yeah, duh! The lip and body outlines TOTALLY match up!” “Umm, NO, actually, it was just a surprise embrace!” For the longest time, there was no real answer, and though I am definitely glad that the creators confirmed it to be a 100% genuine lip-lock, it was so much fun watching everyone’s scientific reasoning as to why it was or wasn’t a true kiss.

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4. Yurio’s free skate program reveal

Episode 9 had a lot of great things going for it—Yuuri Katsuki’s struggle to skate without his one true love, Yakov’s brief moment of tutelage in the spotlight, as well as the next two things on this list. Arguably, my favorite moment was the reveal of Yuri Plisetsky’s free skate program. We were teased with hints of Yurio’s bold costume in the previous award ceremonies leading up to Russia’s Rostelecom Cup competition, but other than the fact that Yurio was doing ballet, we didn’t know anything else about it. In complete contrast to his beautifully developed Agape short program skate, his wicked, dangerously paced free skate was perfectly described: “A monster that continues to evolve with each performance, reaching new, impossible heights every time.” Eros Yuuri may be my favorite “persona” on ice, but Yurio’s intense skating to the powerful drumming strings of “Allegro Appassionato in B Minor” always excited me the most.

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5. The first act of friendship: Yurio’s gift of pork cutlet pirozhki 

Right after Yurio is declared the Rostelecom Cup winner, the two share a brief yet very peaceful meeting out on the cold snowy streets of Russia. Yurio’s grandfather’s creation of the pork cutlet pirozhki pleases the two boys, as it is not only incredibly tasty (I imagine), but it symbolizes blending the best of both cultures to create something amazing, much as how the entire show and the sports competition itself represents the acceptance of all different peoples to pull off something that challenges and excites the world. It also mends the somewhat hostile bond the two shared, serving as Yurio’s first act of kindness and friendship to his Japanese buddy. Ah, what joys sharing delicious food with nice company can bring~!

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6. The dog doesn’t die (also, that airport reunion tho)

Makkachin, Viktor’s adorable dog, is hinted at several times to be struggling with health issues: the somber expression when he appears lonely during the ED; the passing away of Yuuri’s own dog Vicchan prior to the events of the story; Makkachin’s strong companionship with Viktor (and already accumulated 15-ish years together); and just the cliche that the damn dog always has to die. Though it is highly unlikely that Makkachin is actually sick with anything, his emergency hospital visit did have us all panicking for a hot minute. Silly dog, Japanese buns are for kids. (And Viktor, if ya know what I mean.) Also, watching the two run side-by-side at the airport, gazing into the others’ eyes through the glass wall that divided them, was super romantic. “I wish you’d never retire.” Viktor, SLAY ME.

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7. Barcelona sight-seeing (plus the cathedral scene)

The Grand Prix Final in Barcelona was incredible, but I think what made this “calm before the storm” episode so special was getting to see the characters out of the rink and touring the gorgeous city rich with culture and art. Otabek and Yurio went on a spontaneous motorcycle ride together. Yuuri went shopping and practically PROPOSED to Viktor in front of a gorgeous chapel (ughh those round, golden rings, F*CK ME UP). Everyone walked the cool, frosty, festive streets and met up to enjoy one final meal together in very “The Last Supper” fashion. Chris took a dip in a hot tub, JJ interrupted the fun, and Phichit took lots of selfies. THIS EPISODE IS JUST EVERYTHING, IT’S YURI!!! ON ICE: SLICE-OF-LIFE VERSION. This whole series uses social media and fleeting moments of victory and loss alike to convey how short and transient life is—and this episode is the epitome of those dear-to-heart themes.

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8. Beginning relevancy and the Banquet Scene

AKA How Yuri!!! On ICE invented plot twists. SERIOUSLY THO. This revelation took the series to a whole other level, and arguably a level that was necessary to help tie up so many loose ends: Why did Viktor present himself in bold, full-frontal nude in the first episode? Why did Yuuri not understand Viktor’s emotional attachment from the get-go? Why was Viktor so quick to move to Japan in the first place? By saving this hilarious turn of events for this late in the game, the show is allowed to be seen as an absurd, light-hearted comedy at the beginning; it helps to speed up the developing relationship between the two, which makes full use of the series’s short 12-episode run. Plus, it keeps us in suspense, and allows us to be totally surprised in a show that would otherwise probably be pretty predictable. Very creative presentation (iPhone photo gallery) and use of ending credits to continue telling a story, too!!

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Ironically, getting drunk allows for everything to suddenly make sense. The entire absurdity of the first couple episodes magically becomes relevant, and that’s just awesome.

9. Yurio winning the GPF

Again, I LOVE Yuuri to death—he’s such a good boy, and he’s one of the big reasons I kept watching this show! But man, there are two big prizes to be won here at the final, and it just wouldn’t be fair if Yuuri won both of them. That said, I don’t believe Yurio won the GPF simply because it would’ve been “too much victory” for Yuuri. No. Yurio practiced hard, like, damn hard. He was already a child prodigy from the start, and unlike Yuuri, Yurio was willing to give up everything—pushing himself to the breaking point with the inclusion of his ballet lessons—in order to win the gold. Thinking back, Viktor even promised he would give Yurio the greatest senior debut one could ask for. (There’s that beginning relevancy again.) Well, Viktor wasn’t lyin’, and I couldn’t have been happier with the results. Yuuri may be the heart, but Yurio is perfection.

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10. “History Makers”

Yes, this is reference to not only the pair skate scene, but also the accredited title change in the ending credits. Did anyone else notice that the ED theme was renamed to “History Makers” with that extra “s”? You could say it stands for Yuuri and Viktor considering Yuuri’s new record in the free skate program and the depiction of “love wins” in media. It could also be for Yurio, who was not only the youngest to participate and WIN the GPF, but he, too, surpassed a record of 5-time world champion Viktor Nikiforov. But I like to think that “History Makers” refers to the entirety of the cast—all of the figure skaters who worked hard, together and for themselves, and put it all out there on the rink. After all . . .

There’s a place you just can’t reach unless you have a dream too large to bear alone. We call everything on the ice “love.” – Yuuri Katsuki


It was SOOO hard to just pick 10 moments from this wonderful show!! Also, you’ll notice that I kept it down scenes about the main three: Yuuri, Viktor, and Yurio. If I were to include the entirety of the cast, well, I’d have to have 10 moments for each of them because I love them all so much! Such great characters, despite many of them only appearing for an episode or two. Again, the fandom really made this show what it is for me now. What moments from Yuri!!! On ICE did you absolutely die for?! Let me know! I’m a little late today, but this wraps up Blogmas Day Four of the 12 Days of Anime! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host