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

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

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“Hey, Do You Like Running?”

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

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

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

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

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

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Realism, Recourse, and Reinvention

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

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

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

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


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


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

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My NEW Favorite Production I.G Sports Anime

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

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

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

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

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

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Chill Vibes, Heart-Pounding Winds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Against the Flow

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

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

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

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

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


Afterword

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

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

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

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

“The mountains of Hakone are?”

– Takuto

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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

Bokurano: The Darkness Within Our Hearts | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode spring 2007 anime “Bokurano: Ours,” animated by Gonzo, directed by Hiroyuki Morita, and based on Mohiro Kitoh’s manga of the same name.

***MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST COUPLE EPISODES ARE PRESENT***

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How Would You Spend Your Last Day on Earth?

I’m sure you haven’t given it much thought; to which, neither have I. None of us do, and yet here’s an anime where kids are told when they will die, how they will die, and that whatever they do with their final day is up to them. There is no running away from fate, it’s do-or-die time. However, I suppose my words would have more weight if I told you why. Allow me to backtrack . . .

Fifteen children are enjoying their youth together at a summer camp. It’s sun, sea, and, what’s this? A mysterious grotto by the shore? The kids explore the creepy cave only to find a strange setup of computers and monitors, along with an even creepier old man calling himself Kokopelli. Supposedly, Kokopelli’s been developing a game, one where the players pilots a giant robot to defend Earth against 15 different alien invasions, and all he needs now is willing players to test it out. Sounds fun, I mean, what could be the harm? By individually placing their hand on a scanner, the kids complete their contract and suddenly blackout.

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They awaken back on the beach. Other than the fact that night has fallen, everything appears normal. Normal, EXCEPT for the impossibly high 500-meter-tall giant robot now towering over them! In a horrific twist of fate, the children must now take to their seats to pilot Zearth one at a time in hopes that they have the physical strength and mental fortitude it takes to defeat the bizarre enemies. But Kokopelli’s abrupt disappearance leaves the afraid and confused kids with harsh truths they must discover on their own: What exactly is Zearth, and what is the giant robot’s energy source?

Before I rip into the fantastic story of Bokurano, I wanted to address my biggest issue with the show right off the bat: the “antagonist.” Surely, even just by reading the synopsis something seems fishy. Where did Kokopelli go? Will he reappear later as the antagonist? It’s tricky for me to explain much of anything without ruining the surprise, but I can imagine that you, too, understand that there’s something else at play here. And here’s the thing: that “something” doesn’t really make much of an appearance. When director Hiroyuki Morita brought over the story from Mohiro Kitoh’s manga, even he felt that some of Bokurano was just way too damn sad (sources are all over the web confirm this).

So he changed it, and I think that the force that moves the anime along was “left behind” in the process, either because it didn’t mesh well with Morita’s new story, or that there wasn’t enough time to explain it all (as is what often happens in anime). Don’t worry, this anime adaptation is still one of the most depressing things you’ll ever watch, but if the ending feels somewhat incomplete, it’s because *frustratingly* this is not the same ending intended from the start.

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The Saddest Soldiers for the Saddest Anime Ever

Systematically, we bear witness to pilot after pilot fight their battle and depart from the scene. Where do they go, what happens to them? Ready for a dose of reality? ***SPOILERS for the first couple episodes, but they die. That’s all there is to it. There’s no glory, and no reward. Once you’ve served your purpose in prolonging the planet’s safety, no longer are you of any use to Zearth and Koemushi, a cruel and sadistic ABOMINATION whose job is to circulate this cycle of death and inevitably select the next pilot.

Each episode or two, we center our narrative focus on the next pilot chosen. From family and friends to one’s most carefully guarded secrets, we quite literally see all of it. The darkness in our hearts can seem infinitely deep, regardless of one’s age, and the fronts we put up can’t always mask it all. We see kids break, physically and emotionally, and although we know that they’ll die at the end of the episode, it can still be dramatic and utterly heartbreaking. Honestly, I wish they had more time . . . I won’t go into further details for real spoilers, but watching others suffer is . . . well, “Pain is addictive.”

Bokurano is thrilling up until the very end, even if it is hard to watch these poor kids undergo psychological torment to no end. Either it was super interesting to watch or, subconsciously, I wanted to quickly put them out of their misery, but I just could not put Bokurano down for a second.

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Oh, and be prepared to have your guesses as to who’s next get smashed, as even the seemingly “main” characters are not spared from Koemushi’s wrath.

Lost Iconography: The Circle of Chairs

A lot of early 2000s anime don’t hold up very well in today’s day. Bokurano is no exception from this. The show’s characters can look pretty rough on the eyes, and other than the robot fights, Gonzo’s animation is kept to a minimum, resulting in too many dialogue scenes and conversations that don’t seem to end. On those robot fights though, man—Bokurano’s got some of the most engaging, exciting, strange, and truly colossal mech fights that the genre has to offer! Unlike a tedious game of “My gun is bigger than your gun,” a real amount of strategy is required to pilot a robot that essentially has no controls—just your mind. Sync with Zearth, tell it what you want to do, and it will likely perform the feat even if its mechanical structure has to be reconfigured entirely. Just as how we know more about the cast as we go along, we come to see Zearth’s true range of abilities, and understand why it is able to put up such a good fight.

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I wanted to briefly mention the chairs, though. You know, that eerie circle of unique chairs inside Zearth’s pilot chamber. The chairs are how the pilots enter and exit Zearth, and without their genius iconography, works like Madoka Magica may not have that extra special “Shaft” touch. A single object or location can tell an entire story—and these chairs encompass both of those categories. Whenever I see Daiichi, Komoda, or Chizuru’s chairs, I immediately recall their struggles, their emotions, their story, which is absolutely wild given that they’re ultimately just furniture. Where do you spend most of your time sitting? How does that area represent who you are as a person?

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While the main OST doesn’t offer much in the way of me thinking, “Oh yeah, that’s Bokurano!” Chiaki Ishikawa has absolutely dominated the sound department with her amazingly addictive OP and two excellent ED themes. “Little Bird” and especially “Vermilion” are rich with a somber quality to them, but “Uninstall” ranks up there as one of my favorite OPs of all time for its epic melancholy, sorrowful lyrics, and ability to call to mind all of the beauty and tragedy in Bokurano. 

The Pain of Letting Go

Could you put enough pain on a single person to change the human heart? Short answer, yes, but the road to such change can be messy, frustrating, and completely exhausting. Bokurano‘s main interest comes from the constant curiosity of where the story is headed next. What will ultimately stick with you, however, are the hearts left behind along the way, and the stories that succumbed to tragedy—or the few that ended with a glimmer of hope.

As characters exit the stage one by one, their vacant seats are left to inspire the next chosen hero. At one point, these chairs had a warm body that sat in them, that thought about their place in the world, and that struggled to come to terms with their fate. Although its visuals are dated and some of its background plot points could’ve been fleshed out better for the finale, Bokurano still holds fast as a gem of its genre, reminding us that everyone suffers—but we that can still be saved.

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An awesome reality came to meet us from beyond. It came to laugh at how simple our existence was. Even when I covered my ears, the truth slipped through both hands and confounded me . . . I have no choice but to act as a warrior who knows no fear.—from “Uninstall,” the opening theme


Bokurano‘s been sitting on my backlog ever since I watched Evangelion, and now that I’ve FINALLY seen it, I can confidently recommend it to fans of that other popular abstract mecha anime. Their distorted premises may be different, but the stakes of the game are the same, in that a group of kids must pilot giant robots against the wrath of the heavens—or face the destruction of their world. Similarly, both stories feature a very human cast dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses to sexual frustration and an inferiority complex. Both series handle these themes with extreme care and realism, which can be appreciated immensely. If it isn’t a surprise by this point, then please, let’s honor Bokurano: Ours as a “Caffe Mocha” title, a rating reserved for only the best!”

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Because of its clockwork death count and endearing participants, I found this smartly written survival game to literally be The Saddest Anime I’ve Ever Seen. Despite being full of nothing but misery and grief, the suspense of hope that releases at the very end feels immensely satisfactory. If you’re up for a bit of a psychological challenge and don’t mind a throwback, you ought to give Bokurano a try (Crunchyroll’s got it for FREE)! Already seen it? Let me know what you thought about Bokurano or this review down in the comments and we can reminisce together! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Devilman Crybaby – Ugly Tears, Bleeding Hearts, & The Pain of Modern Tragedy | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 10-episode winter 2018 anime “Devilman: Crybaby,” produced by studio Science SARU (and Netflix), directed by Masaaki Yuasa, written by Ichiro Okouchi, and based on the manga by Go Nagai. 

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A Wild Night Out

Akira Fudo is a crybaby. He’s always been, and he always will be. Akira’s high school career takes a trip to the wild side when his best friend from many years ago, Ryou Asuka, suddenly reenters Akira’s life. This surprise reunion excites Akira, but unfortunately, Ryou isn’t back so the two can play on the playground again. Instead, he informs Akira that hiding amongst the shadows of their picture-perfect reality are monstrous demons, and that soon the demons will revive to reclaim the world from the humans. To combat their brute, supernatural strength, Ryou has a plan: to fuse a human with a demon.

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Those who conquer their “literal” innermost demons can master the power over them. And thus, after violently loosing his innocence at an infamous nightclub rave suspiciously titled the “Sabbath,” Akira becomes Devilman, a being with the power of a demon and the heart of a human. Finally seeing the darkness that humans have hid for so long, Akira feels blessed to now be able to save others, but more so cursed because he will likely never be understood ever again. But he has Ryou, and for Akira, that’s enough to make the pain worth suffering. Or so he hopes.

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A Tragedy Fit for Our Time

By mere story alone, Crybaby is a masterpiece. Having heard the crazy amounts of praise that have been circulating already for a couple weeks now, this should be no surprise. It starts at zero, at everyday life for a young boy and his relay mates, and quickly escalates into a bloody, traumatic, world-ending experience for both the characters and the viewers. As a standalone piece of fiction, it’s a modern tragedy made fit for the decade—complete with its OWN FREAKIN’ CHORUS in the form of some swaggy J-rappers—a series that is and should be celebrated for the, might I say, “daredevil” tale it sets out to tell. So many countless symbolic, societal, and sexual metaphors make the story incredibly compelling, and the religious undertones work wonders in creating this gritty, larger-than-life epic.

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And the best part of all is that the series isn’t just “depressing” to be called tragic—rather, it lives up to the classical standards of Greek tragedy by existing to A) prove the faults in our own lives, B) present a heroic attempt at handling them, and C) leave us with a cathartic end to cleanse the insanity that just befell the cast. It’s a masterful formula from the humble beginning through to its apocalyptic end, and as the media outlet Polygon states, the finale is “beautiful, devastating perfection.”

The only [minor] problem with a story of this magnitude is that Crybaby has very little time to tell it: only ten episodes, to be exact. While the pacing for the first several episodes feels spot-on, there is a significant push, particularly in the last two episodes, that does seem rather hectic. To be fair, however, the gruesome content and big reveals in episodes nine and ten ARE time sensitive; dragging these plot twists and dramatic developments out beyond an episode’s time would ruin their effects. Besides, perhaps that rushed sense of mayhem is what contributes to the explosive, catastrophic nature of the Devilman franchise.

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Akira and Ryou: Cuter When They’re Young

As far as characters are concerned, I won’t go into much detail simply because half of the thrill stems from witnessing just who some of these characters really are, and exactly what they will eventually become as the plot edges further and further on borderline insanity. Akira Fudo’s deal with the devil surprises all those around him, sure, but his grotesque change conjures up more mental conflict than physical ailment. He’s honestly a gift to mankind who doesn’t belong in this cruel, cruel world, and as he teeters on the edge of his own humanity—of a dying hope vs. an unflagging despair—he realizes that, at the darkest roots of their heart, people can be even more vile, disgusting, and sinful than any demon to roam the planet. Compared to his cute, scrawny self at the series’s beginning, the superior antihero Devilman that Akira becomes is stronger in nearly every way—all except for that tender, still-broken human heart of his.

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Ryou’s fluffy, blonde-bowled, bishounen design may seem inviting, but don’t let that charismatic baby face fool you: underneath that puffy white coat is a deadly machine gun and cunning wit, both which are fully loaded at all times. From that first smooth car ride Ryou and Akira share together, you already get the feeling that Ryou is scheming something (as if the glaring camcorder he films on 24/7 wasn’t evidence enough). Still, he is doomed to a fate just as tragic as Akira’s—if not more so. Ryou is one baaaaaad boi, but I loved his development way too much to hate him.

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I Don’t Know How to Rate The Animation . . . 

I’m not kidding. Devilman: Crybaby has some of the downright UGLIEST animated sequences I’ve ever seen. From the hilarious attempt at depicting just how “speedy” devilmen can run to the blobby, disproportionate, and completely uncensored sex scenes, by visual standards, Crybaby is not a pretty-looking show.

But does an anime need to be “pretty” to have it’s own beauty? Absolutely not. Or, well, at least Crybaby says so.

You see, the series has this certain edge to it, a certain grit that is hard to explain. The animation outlines, for instance, are cleanly drawn and look quite fresh (faces in particular). But then you have the action scenes, which are just SO freakin’ bizarre to watch. Like, I couldn’t even tell you if some scenes were, in fact, “poorly animated” because the ENTIRE SERIES has that same exact look. The lack of detail in light-hearted moments (like Akira’s high school, or his quiet past) compared to the almost sickening actions of other demons and humans alike gave form to a style that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s as if the animation is “untamed,” or “knows no bounds”—yet it all flows well as its own style within the context of the story. Not to mention that the compact 10-episode run and smart directing allow for each and every shot to carry some sort of secondary meaning, however unnecessarily violent or sexual or BOTH the risqué presentation seems to people.

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I, for one, felt that all of the overly grotesque scenes brutally tread some sacred ground of entertainment that hasn’t been touched in decades with a bloody tank. It’s a unique visual style that I frankly haven’t seen anywhere else, and it was depicted brilliantly.

But I Know I Loved the OST!

As I am currently writing this, the Devilman: Crybaby soundtrack is humming in the background for inspiration. What about it is so special? Well, it has great balance; it’s epic (“D.V.M.N.” – Main theme), startling (“Miki The Witch”), playful (“Wishy Washy”), intense (“Anxiety”), entrancing (“Beautiful Silene”), heart-pounding (“Smells Blood”), uplifting (“Prayer”), cathartic (“Pathetique”), and so much more. Composer Kensuke Ushio (Ping Pong The Animation, Space Dandy, A Silent Voice) knows how to write excellent orchestral/synth pieces, I tell ya!

There’s a little tune that is repeated throughout the entire soundtrack that can be any of the emotions listed above, so long is the right instrumentals is paired with the mood. My personal favorite IS a reprise of this gorgeous melody line, and it just so happens to be the very last song played in the series, the End of Devilman: Crybaby, so-to-speak. It’s appropriately titled “Crybaby,” and if it doesn’t move your heart to the point of tears, forcing you to recall Akira, Ryou, Miki, and Miko’s shared heartache and tragedy, then I’m not sure what will.

Oh yeah, there’s also a remake of the original Devilman opening included with the soundtrack, which, if you SOMEHOW haven’t heard yet, is SUCH A BOP HOLY SHIT. I STILL listen to it religiously.

The Destructive Darkness Within Us All

By Devilman:Crybaby‘s end, there is arguably no sadness left for the characters, no more tears to cry. It should feel complicated, as the amount of despair is simply undefinable. But instead, all you can wonder is how things got to this point, and how what you witnessed was, in fact, the end brought upon by humanity. The ending is completely unfair, yet it balances the scales with terrifying perfection. You could feel sad, or depressed, or enraged at how BLIND people can be, but instead, all of it feels pointless, as if nihilism just inducted you to suddenly became one of its patron saints.

The ending of Devilman: Crybaby is indeed a very empty one. And that very catharsis, that feeling of emptiness and pointlessness, is what lies at the heart of a well-written tragedy. 

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As happy and sad memories alike resurface for these two boys, Akira and Ryou come to realize that, without one another, life before friendship was boring and often cruel. It was lonely, and it was meaningless. But through the ugly tears they cry, the bleeding hearts they endure, and the tragic fates that they cease fighting against, the two learn to finally accept love, for it is really love, not hate, which makes the world go round. And so to tear up the ENTIRE world just to tell this seemingly small message—Yes, such is what completes the horrifically tragic Devilman: Crybaby as a modern masterpiece.

You’re crying too, Ryou-chan. You’re crying too . . .  – Akira Fudo

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Afterwords

Devilman: Crybaby is raw, brutal, yet oddly honest about its understanding of cause and effect and the power of compassion. It doesn’t forget to throw in a few laughs, though. As the community has already remarked, this show is ABSOLUTELY NOT for the faint of heart. This series showcases the worst aspects of humanity—of vengeance, overindulgence, paranoia, and immorality—and for many, that can be hard to watch (plus, it’s like, mega gory and sexual). You’ll be asking yourself “WTF is this even real?” many times, and you’ll feel absolutely disgusted with humanity. But have faith that there is a reason for the madness. I walked into this action series not knowing a lick about the Devilman franchise (aside from the old dub clips, heh heh) and obviously enjoyed the HELL out of it.

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If such disturbing material doesn’t bother you, then I’m sure you’ll also enjoy this wild ride through the bloody and the occult, as there are a fair amount of life lessons to be learned. I’m giving Devilman: Crybaby the honorary “Caffe Mocha” title because of its unexpectedly high emotional impact (you gotta love the indirect End of Eva references, too)! There’s a particular scene in I think episode 8 or 9 that absolutely wrecked me, and the powerful ending . . . wow . . . I’m sure I won’t be forgetting about that for a long time. If you are thinking about watching this anime, or have already seen it, you HAVE to let me know what you thought about it! I’m dying to dig the series back up, even though much of the hype has died down, haha! Let me know if I did a decent job by hitting the like button (I appreciate it!), and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Hanasaku Iroha: Finding Beauty & Grace in Hard Work, Dignity, and Servitude | OWLS “Bloodlines”

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!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  eighth monthly topic, “Bloodlines,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Hanasaku Iroha review into this discourse about “it runs in the family.”

Family means everything (or does it?). This month, we will be discussing the importance of family relationships in anime and pop culture. Familial relationships include a child and his/her parents, sibling rivalries, adoptions, etc. Some questions about family that we will be contemplating on include how does one’s family shapes his or her identity? How do we define family? How does a broken household influence a person’s view on family?

This show probably deserves a review all on its own, but hey, I’m just gonna go for it here! Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the 26-episode spring 2011 anime “Hanasaku Iroha: Blossoms for Tomorrow” and the 2013 film “Home Sweet Home,” produced by P.A. Works, directed by Masahiro Ando (Blast of Tempest), based on the original story by Mari Okada (A Lull in the Sea).

Out On Her Own

Ohana Matsumae: bursting with rebellious energy and only 16 years old, her picture-perfect Tokyo life could’ve been every girl’s dream—if only her mom wasn’t such a mess! Carefree, irresponsible, and always on the go, mother Satsuki Matsumae and her boyfriend hurriedly pack their bags to flee from debt collectors, forcing Ohana to seek refuge out in the countryside at her grandmother’s Kissui inn. It is there at the Kissuiso that Ohana forms the resolve to work hard under her grandmo—I mean, Madame Manager’s—cold and strict guidance as a maid to prove that she is just as strong and independent as her mother, reevaluate her unrequited love life, and “fest up” her otherwise mundane city life.

As Ohana grows deeper connections with the quiet countryside land and the changing seasons, she is faced with the trials of working as a maid, as well as countless interactions with the many customers that come and go at the Kissuiso. Bonds of friendship are born, and inexpressible relationships blossom beautifully.

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The Kissuiso Staff

Much of the love and respect I have for this show lies right here with the inn’s staff. That said, it can also be the most frustrating part. The busybody maids remain my favorite: Ohana’s fresh, persevering face even if she’s not exactly helping in the best way just makes you want to shout “SHE DID NOTHING WRONG” (at least she’s always trying, unlike some of the others); Nako, the”quite literally” big sister character never fails to support Ohana in that soft and gentle way that she does; and Tomoe, the playful and typically jealous woman tends to catch gossip and spread rumors throughout the inn, adding in the comedic elements.

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It’s the cooking staff that annoys me the most. No, not Renji, the stoic and buff head chef who minds to himself—my issues lie with an outspoken young man named Tohru and a girl Ohana’s age named Minko who “secretly” has the hots for him. They’re just both so rude to everyone, scolding one another whenever they can and not leaving much room for fun. I guess part of that adds to the staff’s dynamic (and conflict for Ohana), but Minko’s attitude really got on my nerves; far too distracting for what her character honestly represents. I also couldn’t stand her voice.

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Lastly, I couldn’t forget the two loudmouths that pop in throughout the series: Yuina, the daughter of a rival inn’s family and Ohana’s new classmate who honestly only wishes to enjoy her youth while discovering her true passion; and Takako, the glamorous business consultant adviser for Kissuiso who always wants to revitalize the rather old-fashioned inn to suit the times. She often bumps heads with Sui, as her ideas are indeed ludicrous at times, but when it comes down to it, they both only desire what’s best for the inn and its customers.

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I could go on about how genuine the personalities and relationships of each character feel, but half the appeal of Hanasaku Iroha is witnessing how they go about their days, both the ordinary ones for those slice-of-life vibes and the hectic ones to see how this seemingly disjointed team tackles wild problems head on!

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One of P.A. Works’ Finest Pieces

I’m all about scenery. Whether it’s a schoolyard from heaven (or hell) or an enchanting undersea village, P.A. Works never fails to embody this ideal vision of a “gorgeous world.” The anime’s characters are all beautifully designed and fluidly animated in their own right, Ohana especially, but the colorful Kissuiso takes the cake as a visionary set piece. Perfectly blending antiquity with its polished, hand-carved wooden exterior with the luscious greens from nature, the rustic countryside inn almost feels tangible, one that you can breath fresh air easily in and instantly feel comforted by the relaxing atmosphere. I could probably lose myself in the pages of an art book if I ever got my hands on one (which I will surely try to).

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The same glowing things are to be said about the charming piano and string tracks by Shiro Hamaguchi, my favorite being a little sad piece called “Remember that day with a smile like that.” For OPs and EDs, I’m not a huge fan of nano.RIPE’s lead singer’s nasally voice, but its random fifth ending “Saibou Kioku” happened to play at just the right time.

It Runs in the Family

Hanasaku Iroha enters the realm of slice-of-life with a little drama thrown in the mix. While it’s easy to label it as just that—a simply relaxing show—the series poses much more than that. From the beginning, it presents a moving story about family and adulthood, parenting and role-modeling. Like most titles with drama elements, the events of the larger present story are results of a little, once-close-knit group from the past.

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This group now makes up the adults in Ohana’s life: her stern grandma, Sui, her defiant mom, Satsuki, and her scatterbrain uncle (Satsuki’s brother), Enishi. When these parental figures were supposed to guide Ohana as a child, Satsuki often left Ohana to do all of the chores and “take care of herself”—a mantra that she still employs—choosing to put her efforts into her work as a pro writer instead of parenthood. Satsuki gave up her entitlement as the inn’s next manager, and as a result Sui stayed behind at the inn, Enishi working for her, and that was that.

Ohana spent her whole life cleaning up after her own mother.

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As depressing as that sounds, the story’s realism is probably the best thing that it has going for it. It’s a show that doesn’t want to boast, but simply leave itself out there by remarking, “This actually happens in real life.” By intertwining the lives and efforts of the inn’s staff, using the Kissuiso itself as the anchor, everyone comes to understand the tension between Satsuki and her mother, why Ohana’s personality is so brazen and spirited, why Enishi is so desperate to win his mother’s approval over his big sister, and why their boss Sui acts like such a secluded hag. It all comes down to family in the end, or rather the lack of a strong one to bind them together.

I think we can all relate to this.

Genes have the power to shape a family, but only you can decide what path it takes. As people, we make mistakes—for some of us, a lot of them—and maybe you got that from someone (or you’ll pass it on). But regardless, if we spent as much time thinking about the ones we are supposed to love as we did ourselves, I think we’d all be better off.

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Ohana put herself in her mother’s shoes when she reconnected with the source that threw her mom off to begin with, and her entire world changed for the better as a result. She realized that as different as she liked to think they were, they both made the same mistakes as young girls. Knowing this, she vowed to be like her grandma one day, hopefully ending the cycle of familial neglect.

And this made momma very proud of her little girl.

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Hard Work Really Does Pay Off

Hanasaku Iroha walks us through the struggles of the worker class for a girl living in a somewhat broken home. As Ohana comes to find beauty and grace in hard work, dignity, and servitude, we can’t help but feel inspired by her bold newfound identity. Most important of all, we’re told an endearing story about being the best that only you can be, and that even in this self-centered world that is so consumed by “give and take,” there exists wonderful places like the Kissuiso, safe havens that offer both a relaxing time to heal old wounds and a staff that only wishes to work hard to serve YOU. And that, well, that’s really special.

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“You may come to a standstill or get irritated because things don’t work out the way you want them to, but what you gain from hard work will never betray you.” – Tohru Miyagishi


So there you have it, the very gentle and sweet Hanasaku Iroha. By the end of it, you just want to smile and cry at the same time. For those wondering, the film takes place before the finale, and acts more like three episodes linked together rather than a standalone film. Still wonderful stuff—so wonderful that I present it with the certified “Caffe Mocha” rating, one for the menu and it’s all on me (actually it’s on Crunchyroll for FREE)! You HAVE to let me know what you thought about my review over this quaint little gem if you’ve seen it, as it’s a quiet show that doesn’t get much buzz anymore. I found this to be the perfect show for this month’s OWLS theme since “Ohana” does mean “family” in Hawaiian, after all!

This concludes my August 4th entry in the OWLS “Bloodlines” blog tour. Since I was first again this month, I’ll give you the weekend before handing it off to my buddy Matt (Matt-in-the-Hat) with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (I REMEMBER THIS FILM!) on Monday, August 7th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Time of EVE Welcomes Impartiality Through Reflection | OWLS “Mirrors”

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!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  seventh monthly topic, “Mirrors,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Time of EVE review into this reflection on artificial intelligence and robotic spirit.

“Magic mirror, on the wall—who is the fairest one of all?” When we look in the mirror, what do we see? Do we see ourselves or someone we don’t want to be? For this month’s theme, we will be exploring some of our favorite anime and other pop culture media that redefine individual beauty—inside and out. Some topics we may explore are physical appearances, social expectations on gender, and the importance of self-confidence.

I’ve always loved that wicked mantra, so thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the spring 2010 anime film “Time of EVE: The Movie,” produced by Studio Rikka, directed and created by Yasuhiro Yoshiura.

She Left the House, and He Got Curious

Rikuo is just another Japanese student owning an android in the near future. While checking his android’s behavioral log one day, he notices odd check-in and check-out times. When Sammy, his android, finally takes another detour, Rikuo and his friend Masaki head out and stalk her. It turns out Sammy frequents a hidden cafe called “Time of EVE,” and the cafe’s barista Nagi only has one request: that there is no discrimination between humans and androids.

Being the compilation of a 6-episode series by the same name, Time of EVE follows a pretty basic formula: Rikuo and Masaki frequent the cafe in order to uncover more about each of its interesting patrons and, of course, find out just what kind of character Sammy really is. A tale of unrequited feelings, childhood dreams, and understanding comes to fruition.

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Director Yasuhiro Yoshiura solidified his wacky and weird yet oddly comedic and intelligent presentation style with this one. It’s subtle in execution, but anyone could still identify it as science fiction—and good sci-fi at that. I know people who don’t care for sci-fi that walked away loving Time of EVE, and I think that’s largely because the film aims at much more than pondering ideas like sci-fi does; instead, it goes deeper, showing you that the genre also has a lot of heart once you pull the wires away. The story is touching, sometimes even hilarious with all the sudden zoom-ins, and its visual artistry still holds quite well as a visionary piece even today!

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THIS 10/10 AESTHETIC IS WHAT INSPIRED MY CAFE 

Yup, that’s right. Time of EVE so inspirational to me that it inspired the clean and modern look of my cafe here (or at least I hope it comes across this way . . . do I need to remodel!?). If I could spend all of my days writing and reading in one place, it’d be here, at the Time of EVE! Everything just feels so sleek and simple, yet intricate and “underground” at the same time. Like, the coffee (EVLEND) cups, the bar, the tall tables, the ceiling fans, the smooth jazz music—ALL OF IT! It’s just a chill, quiet, aesthetically pleasing place = The perfect kind of place for me.

 

And I couldn’t forget Tooru Okada’s VERY 2008 soundtrack, which just happens to be included on the Blu-ray release, yay! The music adds wonderful immersion into the wonder and fun of the cafe, not to mention all of the very peculiar interactions that take place. The energetic child, the grandpa and his crazy kid, the sexy couple, and even the stoic man in the back: it’s as if they all have their own track, as well as a story to be told within the music and the dialogue. I’m very pleased that the show was crowdfunded via Kickstarter with a dub, too. (I only wish I could have participated to get the coffee set >.<)

 

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Sammy, You are an Android

a letter from Rikuo to Sammy, written by Takuto

Sammy, what is it that you see in the mirror each morning when you wake up? I’ve noticed that you tie your hair up with a headband, scrunchy, or a flower when you go out sometimes. It’s unusual. You are an android, but don’t let that stop you from looking the way you want to look.

Now, Sammy, who is it that you see in the mirror each morning when you wake up? I’ve picked up on your subtle cues as to my tastes, preferences, and mannerisms. Perhaps that’s just the activity log recalling my “most recent selections.” But I like to believe that you’re growing, just like all of us are each and every day. You are an android, but if you find yourself wanting to be happy or sad, angry or surprised, I’ll understand. 

After frequenting that place you visit, that Time of EVE, I realized that it’s no ordinary cafe, but a safe haven from prejudice and routine. I’m kind of a nerd, one who gets picked on sometimes for saying please and thanks to you, my android, and if I had a place where I could go to escape all of the name-calling and expectations, well, I’d probably be at that cafe all the time, too. 

We live in a pretty convoluted world. It’s not necessarily bad, but people make it much harder than it needs to be. Why does it matter if you’re an android or a human? If we both value our own lives and only wish to help each other out, then I’d just rather avoid “things or beings” altogether. Sammy, you’re an android, and in this world so bent on exclusion and division, I only wish you the best. 

The fact that we gaze into the mirror to begin with reveals that we’re only insecure about something, really. But last I checked, androids don’t “feel insecurity,” only assurance in their code. This proves you can be anything and anyone you desire, so do it with pride for not only yourself, but anyone you inspire in the process, like Nagi, Masaki, and myself. 

For me, however, just please stop looking into the mirror—you look great with that headband on.

– Rikuo

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“Are you enjoying the time of EVE?” I sure am, so much so that I wish I never had to leave, haha! For Sammy, reflection about who she wanted to be came from her experiences with the world around her, a bold fashion decision, and, of course, a secret trip to the cafe. Through the interactions with Rikuo, Nagi, and the other “people” at the cafe, she, an android, found individuality and character for herself, defying the laws of her creators and the social norm—strict servitude to the master. Considering its impact on myself, this blog, and sci-fi entertainment in anime, Time of EVE: The Movie is undoubtedly awarded the “Caffe Mocha,” a film for all those even remotely interested in AI, as well as what it means to be human. It’ll fill you with warm fuzzy feelings for sure. Let me know your thoughts on this post and show if you’ve seen it!

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This concludes my July 17th entry in the OWLS “Mirrors” blog tour. Please check out Rai (Rai’s Anime Blog) who went right before me and wrote about accepting every fiber of one’s being in the gorgeously grim Elfen Lied. And now, I’ll turn it over to Carla (Pop Culture Literary) on Wondering Son and its visual portrayal of gender norms this Wednesday, July 19th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

For the Team – Free! & My Swim Story | OWLS “Team”

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!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  sixth monthly topic, “Team,” I decided to incorporate what would have been a “Cafe Talk” about my high school swimming experience, along with my thoughts on the anime Free! into one big post over sticking with a team to the end.

While the prompt was more intended as dedication to “Pride Month” and all of those who support the LGBT & Queer communities both in real life and in anime, the generosity and flexibility, as well as the promoted creativity that OWLS is known for, allows me to bend this topic back to its home nature: companionship found in teamwork. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the 12-episode summer 2013 anime “Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club,” and its 13-episode summer 2014 sequel “Free! – Eternal Summer,” both produced by Kyoto Animation, directed by Hiroko Utsumi, based on the original story by Kouji Ooji.

“After High School, You’re Ordinary”

This was what Haruka Nanase was told long ago and, nearing the end of his own high school experience, Haru is still unsure of what to make of his future. Swimming as early as elementary school and winning races and a tournament with his childhood relay mates—all boys with very much girlish names—Makoto, Nagisa, and Rin, Haru has always loved the water. When they all went their separate ways for middle school, Haru dropped swimming entirely. Now he’s about to enter the real world, all dried up for a life of normalcy.

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That is—until the boys reunite in high school. Only desiring to race Haru after all these years, however, Rin could care less about the old team being together—he only wants to find out that HE is indeed the better, faster, stronger swimmer.

Without Rin, the three boys form a new Iwatobi High School Swim Team, and it turns out that their first challenge is not training and practicing hard, but actually recruiting a fourth member so that their relay can face off against Rin’s team later in the season! Eventually, these boys, bound by friendship, the spirit of competition, and the love of the sport, will discover what swimming in a relay means to each of them!

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And Just Like That, We’re Off the Blocks! 

Free!, like a well-trained athlete, balances episodes of training and technique with bits of fun, slice-of-life ventures and some emotional turmoil inbound. By using races and competitions as peaks of interest (and a way to execute the boys’ hard work), everything flows smoothly and as such makes time fly by. By the end of the two seasons, all relationships and story developments feel comfortably resolved—and that’s all I can ask of most adapted works these days!

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If it’s not apparent to you yet, the boys of Free! are very beloved by its fans in the community, and for good reasons, too. They all have such great . . . chemistry, and truly, they’re more than just friends—they’re family, the kind that look out for each other before themselves, as well as value each others’ strengths and weaknesses alike. Each so unique and diverse, they all have their own personal demons, but rather than facing them alone, they fight each battle as a team, causing their bonds to develop even further. I’d dare say that Free!’s characters form one of the most heartwarming squads out there; if not the best, they’re at least favorites of mine!

Name a Better-Looking Sports Anime. I Dare You.

Looking back, Free! was the first Kyoto Animation show to leave its signature mark on my viewing experience, and boy is it delicious. Not the muscles, well, maybe the muscles. I’m talking about the water—to quote Haru, it’s as if it’s ~alive~. Their attention to how water actually flows in real life is incredible. You could almost call it “liquid smooth.” KyoAni has a splendid color palette, which is bright, airy, and cheerful, not to mention that their eye for the cool, modern aesthetic is top-notch. Color and tone values help to distinguish between scenes of comedy and rivalry. I almost feel as if I’m cleansed when I watch this show, if that makes any sense at all.

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But the boys, oh yes, they are youthful, breathtaking creatures with beautiful physiques. I said it. No regrets.

The seaside OST also provides a flowing atmosphere from scene to scene, specifically those “go out and do something wonderful” tracks like “Rhythm of Port Town” and “Revelry of Student.” What the show’s probably known for music-wise is its energetic openings “Rage On” and “Dried Up Youthful Fame” by the wild OLDCODEX. And then there’s that ending “SPLASH FREE” by STYLE FIVE, a group composed of the five lead seiyuus (loudly sings 50% OFF ver).

For the Team: My High School Swim Club Story

My 8th grade summer ushered in a whole new set of problems: high school was right around the corner, and I was a) waaaay out of shape and b) wanted to fit in. So I was just like anyone else, right?

That’s when I told myself to do a sport—my first one ever—that no matter what happened or how bad I looked, I’d do it just for the sake of doing it. I was considering track for pole-vaulting since a close guy friend of mine did it. Then I looked at tennis.

Tennis couldn’t be that bad, right?

Then summer got real hot. Like, sure, it was 90+ degrees each day, but, early on during my anime experience when I was unfamiliar with simulcasts, I ran into a 30 sec trailer for something hot.

Really hot.

It was other peoples’ phrasing, not mine!

But there was NO WAY I’d “wear a speedo.” Heck, I didn’t even know if my high school had a boys swim team. So I rummaged the yearbooks and did a little online looking and sure enough, there it was.

As the summer drummed on, Free! kept calling me back to YouTube each week where someone would upload the episodes. Not the best streaming service, but I didn’t mind. Anyway, the way their club started off so small and so closely knit, and then the fact that they were STUNNING to look at—I had to do swimming, I just had to.

Season one ended leaving me in high spirits and hopeful that whatever came that coming winter (cause that’s when swim season was here), I’d be more than ready.

Flash forward, the school announcements read off an early interest meeting for the sport. I was overly nervous, of course, but I showed up, and just like a lost freshman EVERYONE knew each other already. Like 20 guys that all were buds with each other. I was already lost, and ready to give up.

Then the first practice came, oh god, the first practice. I received swimming lessons from a countryside town growing up, and so I thought I was a champ at it. But in fact I sucked. Really bad, hahaha!

The next practice came and five or so of the team didn’t show up.

They quit. Each with their own excuses.

What.

There were so few members on the team that we were all considered “varsity” swimmers, so at least that was neat. Little ol’ me was varsity as a freshman!

I somehow finished that year improving times meet after meet with the other first years. But my eyes never stopped wandering off to our lane four relay. Coincidentally, or perhaps by fate, there were four of them: one for each of the strokes, one for each of the boys in Free!

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I wanted to be like them. So I worked my ass off at morning practices and afternoon practices day after day after day.

I was even awarded the “Most-Improved” on the team! Still got the medal displayed in my room.

Then they all graduated. Except for one, since he was a junior, but yeah, they all had left me. They left the team, leaderless.

My sophomore and junior years ushered in new issues. New coaches, new members joining then quickly dropping for all the same things, but the core members of the team never left, and now they’re some of my greatest “upperclassmen” friends. Facing the facts, the others just couldn’t take the heat of practice.

But I could, and I did.

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Senior year came. Three other seniors joined me, but then those same three quit the very next day. By the end we were eight strong, but became eight of the closest guys you could ever imagine. We were all swimming Free!.

But there was this one freshman in particular. He was good. Very good. Like crazy good enough to make State qualification times in our first meet.

*gulp*

Then there was me, who had actually peaked his junior year and suffered all season with a young hot-headed coach who didn’t even know what “mercy” meant.

I suddenly felt unqualified. Alone, if you will. Days grew longer, my body grew more tired, and yet my times never improved.

I even remember crying myself to sleep one night, swearing to myself that I’d quit at practice the next day. “Who even needed to say they swam for four years during high school?? It’s not like I’d remember any of it a decade later!!”

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But then I thought about me—myself, that scared little guy who, during his freshman year, witnessed several of his upperclassmen leave the lanes for good. If it weren’t for those four boys, our A-Team relay, I probably would have—

I WOULD HAVE QUIT A LONG TIME AGO.

That’s when it hit me: I wasn’t staying there for me anymore. Heck, I didn’t need swimming, or an in-shape body anymore—it’s senior year.

But what kind of message would that have sent to them, their families, this community, that a team of only freshmen and sophomores were left senior-less after they all quit??

Nope. I was there for them. For the team that never left me when I was a first year.

For the team. 

So I whipped myself back into shape, my psyche ready for any challenges that came my way, because I wasn’t swimming for my own times anymore—it was for the relay, for the team!

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This past spring, we finished seven strong with one of our guys leaving us due to his parents moving away. But we never forgot him, and we never forgot about us.

And it was that fleeting member who got us to compete at State. Relay times are generally left permanently for the team, which is why, when he left, we met consideration time. It was just a few aching days after that we found out that our qualifying time got us in.

We stayed overnight in a fancy hotel, exploring the town together with our coaches, shopping, laughing, making those kinds of memories.

The kinds you’ll never forget.

And then we swam at state. That one really good freshman OF COURSE placed in the top ten. Our relay . . .

We didn’t make it to the second day, hahaha! But we were lucky enough to even be there in the first place, right?

When our splits (individual times) were captured by our coaches and the timing mats, my own time came in:

I swam a 24-some-second 50-yard freestyle in our relay. That is, to date, the fastest I had ever swam, and I nearly cried. We were all yelling and screaming and cheering so loud that we nearly lost our voices, but we didn’t care at that point, cause we all for the most part had swam our best when it mattered most, and ya know,

That means the world to a Team Captain.

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Like Free! tries to tell us, you can be the best swimmer or the worst swimmer, but if you don’t work together as a team, you’ll never win what truly matters: friendship, companionship, brotherhood—they’re all synonymous at this point.

We go about our lives thinking and acting like we have to carry our own weight, and to an extent, that’s true. But like a relay, everything we do is ultimately for the team, for some group, tangible or not, that is bonded together through incredible triumphs, pitfalls, or just good memories.

And if you find yourself losing passion with 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. Do what I did and work your butt off, sweat your tears away, and devote everything you’ve got just to say that YOU never left them when it mattered most.

Cause ultimately, you, too, are part of a team, their team, and you should do things just like that:

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 This was a very long post (laughs) and I apologize, but there’s a lot to be said about Takuto here. A lot indeed. And if you read it all, from beginning until now, I can’t honestly thank you enough! Free! may be male fanservice to everyone’s eye, but to me, it’s a beautiful and inspirational coming-of-age story filled with compassion and teamwork that inspired me to take on a seemingly impossible journey—impossible alone, that is. It’s about growing up and finding out who you really want to be, about dedication, self-motivation, and life after graduation. Through Free! I made friends and fell in love with a sport. But more than that I made memories to last a lifetime, and those are irreplaceable.

As such, both seasons of Free! are awarded solid “Caffe Mochas” ratings, and should be watched on Crunchyroll or Funimation’s sites for FREE (hah) at one’s earliest convenience. That is, only if you’re craving something really hot.

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This concludes my June 5th (now 6th, apologies) entry in the OWLS “Team” blog tour. Being the first one to kick off a tour of this magnitude is quite a heavy weight, but hopefully I did a decent job, and now we can carry that together, right? Please tune in to Remy Fool (The Lily Garden) as he discusses the poor perception of male crossdressers in Japanese media this Monday, June 12th.

To all the guys I swam with throughout my four years, from the team that inspired me to the one that I, myself, hopefully inspired, thank you for all of the laughs and the memories—this one’s for you. Stay silly my guys. 

And to you, my favorite readers, an even greater thanks! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, once a team captain, now just another blogger

Rei