These Silly Guys: What Makes Kazetsuyo A Very Special Anime | Cafe Talk

Hello, and welcome!

How often is it that you come across a group of anime characters and think, “Man, how cool would it be to hang out with them, even if just once?” For me, it’s not often. Aside from the fact that reality is reality and fiction is fiction, there’s almost always at least one reason for my hesitance, be it that they’re super eccentric (as anime characters tend to be) or I’d be way to awkward around them (which is likely more probable).

But in the case of Kazetsuyo‘s blend of accepting, humorous souls, I strongly believe I’d fit right in at Aotake—and you probably would too!

In fact, the more I thought about Run with the Wind or (also known by its shorthand, Kazetsuyo), I began to realize that beyond the uplifting story, well-paced plot, fantastic music, or wonderful animation, it was the characters that make Kazetsuyo so special.

Which brings us to now. This post collects my loose thoughts and musings over the characters of 2018’s Run with the Wind. These are bits and pieces that didn’t quite make it into either my review of the series or my April OWLS post, where I focused solely on Haiji Kiyose. Enjoy my ramblings and feel free to join the discussion in the comments!

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Takashi “Shindo” Sugiyama & Musa Kamara

Empathy and Dedication

Shindo and Musa, an honor student and a foreigner, respectively, gain esteem through their open-mindedness and positivity. Even when times are rough, they stick it out and give 110—no, 120%—just to make sure the job gets done. To let others down is not, and will never be, an option for these two! In many ways, Musa is a guru for relationships and personal advice, often meeting behind the scenes with his teammates in the bath . . . with the lights off . . . (it’s a Musa thing, ok?)

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Shindo, meanwhile, uses his overt social and business connections to help promote the team, be it creating a website or gathering sponsors. Though he may not completely know what Haiji is up to, he’s always open to new ideas. Special props to Shindo for his countless sacrifices and unwavering dedication. (If you’ve seen the final race, you’ll know what I mean!)

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Joutarou “Jota” Kizuki & Joujiro “Joji” Kizuki

Searching for Passion

The twins, Jota and Joji, may seem like a couple of troublemakers, and while that assumption wouldn’t be entirely incorrect, it should be noted that they, too, are trying to find their calling in life. They follow Kakeru side by side (literally) in hopes that whatever makes him special will eventually rub off on them. With Jota specifically, we find that it’s ok to try something new and realize that it’s not for you—I totally get that feeling! Beyond the laughter and the trickery, Jota and Joji are goal-setters, and they’ll support the team all the way if it means surpassing the summit together.

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Akihiro “Nico” Hirata & Youhei “King” Sakaguchi

Transformation and Improvement

Our two “parent” team members, aside from Haiji, would without a doubt be King and Nico-chan senpai. More mature beyond their years, these two veterans act as gatekeepers for experience. In a way, they are advisers for the team, aiding not necessarily through action, but by sharing words from the wise. Unlike the rest of the cast, Nico and King’s strength come from their failures in life; likewise, these pitfalls become their motivational springboards to improve and move on from the heavy weight of the past. They initially pose the biggest oppositional threat to Haiji’s plans, but they also arguably grow the most because of Haiji, too.

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These two are also the ones tackling the most severe “real-world” issues: King has no luck job-hunting as a senior ready for life after graduation, and Nico’s health is in noticeable decline due to years of smoking. In an effort to turn their lives around, however, both take up running to get out of the rut they’ve been stuck in. Prospective jobs slowly start to take interest in King, and Nico is happy beyond words to finally remember what it feels like to be healthy again—to taste the rich tinge of iron in his mouth.


When I’m running . . . For just a moment, I feel perfectly clean.Nico


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Yukihiko “Yuki” Iwakura

Something to Chase After

Like Haiji, Yuki’s a bit of an enigma. He has clear likes, such as tastes in music or food, but unclear motivations for running (until the very end, that is). He’s reclusive, sharp-tongued, and values his own time above all else. Naturally, he causes a stir of conflict with Haiji’s seemingly pointless mission. But like the others, Yuki eventually concedes to running, which leads us through a night journey of sorts as he finds something to chase after. And also like everyone else, he finds that something in Kakeru.

Kakeru’s ability to instill passion in his teammates makes him an easy icon to latch on to, but Yuki likes to view him from afar. Goal-setting, hardworking, successful—in many ways, Kakeru represents everything that Yuki is unable to achieve. Rather than put him down however, this gives Yuki a person to strive to be like. Whether with friends or family, they both struggle with building personal connections. After uncovering this weakness of Kakeru’s by chance, Yuki realizes how alike they really are, and sets himself on running even if it just means buying more time to run after the person who inspires him most—the only one who makes him feel good about his own potential in life.

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Kakeru Kurahara

Talent and Understanding

Kakeru is quite the hot-headed youngster when we first meet him. He’s distant, unapproachable, and would much rather do his practice stretches by himself while Haiji talks to the team. He’s understandably realistic when admitting the slim odds of their success getting into the Ekiden, but flat-out pessimistic when laying down his true feelings about the Aotake residents’ athletic skills. We observe this most notably with how he’s willing to ask Prince, Aotake’s manga-reading laggard, to leave the team just so they have even the slightest chance of competing. (Yikes.) Not exactly a team player.

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As much as you’d want to detest Kakeru in the beginning, I think we’ve all been in a similar situation where someone in the team imposes an impossibly large goal upon you all, and you just can’t help but want to admit that perhaps it’d be possible if we made some “cuts.” Despite being the most stratified from one another, however, Kakeru slowly realizes that being fast isn’t the only goal of running. For some, it can be a way to step out of one’s shell, and it is by getting on Prince’s level that the two go on to form one of the strongest connections in the entire series.

We watched Kakeru grow from a haughty teenager into a man who exudes genuine compassion and encouragement towards others, and his growth is equal parts satisfying and wholehearted. He finds that talent can get a person far in life, but it’s all pointless if you don’t have friends to share your gifts with. Finally, he learns how to smile around others and not let shadows from the past prevent happiness in the future.

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Akane “Prince” Kashiwazaki

Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone

Straight up, the writing for Prince is incredible. It’s rare for an anime to express outward hatred for something as a theme, the “I hate running, but I would hate myself more if I didn’t do it” moment. Really, it’s a simple thought, but no one wants to address it, almost as if it’s taboo. Disliking something yet sticking with it for reasons other than enjoyment  is a truth we don’t think much about. Were it not for Kakeru’s one-on-one aid, I don’t think either of them would’ve turned out as wholesome as they did. And it wasn’t a therapy session either; the two were just getting to know each other, even if it was in the mutual silence of reading manga together.

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Accustomed to his quiet dorm room stacked floor-to-ceiling with manga, Prince is invited into an entirely different (albeit scary) world, and that changes him forever. He has no special talent, and that causes him to have no big aspirations in his life either. But Kakeru and Haiji—people perceived to be more special than himself—make an investment in Prince, and that changes Prince’s entire view on what it means to try new things. Similarly, by coming to understand what it feels like to sit at the bottom of the totem pole, Kakeru realizes that you don’t have to be the best or the brightest to excel in life—you just have to know you tried your hardest. 

They practically live in entirely separate worlds, one full of accomplishment and recognition, the other lackadaisical and seemingly without purpose. But through their initial discourse, the two grow to respect one another’s differences, and that growth proves not only impactful but long-lasting and transformative, too.

Of all the amazing characters here, Prince’s path starts at the lowest of lows, yet soars as the highest of highs come the end of the journey. And it’s because he never gave up on trying to be not just a stronger runner, but a better human being. After living a secret life of immense self-loathing and anguish, Prince just wants to be happy with who he is, and I find that to be a perfectly admirable goal all on its own.

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Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. — Dr. Seuss


I could easily spend WEEKS writing over this cast, but I hope a short little write-up like this will suffice for now. Which of the boys is your personal favorite? Mine’s probably . . . Haiji . . . BUT, I also really love Nico-chan senpai and Shindo. And Yuki. AGH, I just can’t decide, they’re all so unique! So silly, yet so incredibly heartwarming. Also, they all use each other’s nicknames, which is not only funny but realistic given that most sports teams use abbreviations. I didn’t even realize it until writing this post, but I quite like that touch.

And this makes THREE back-to-back posts on Run with the Wind. Can ya tell it means a lot to me? Coincidences aside, it was fun getting to revisit the guys one last time. I think I’m finally ready to move on from Kazetsuyo, but I definitely won’t be forgetting it anytime soon. PLEASE feel free to share any thoughts you have on the series or the characters in the comments, as I really love reading what you guys have to say! Until next time, my friends!

– Takuto, your host

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Cacophony in Paradise: RahXephon & Accepting the World | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode winter 2002 anime “RahXephon,” animated by Bones, and both created and directed by Yutaka Izubuchi. 

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Prophecy & Lore: Angel Mu Attack 

His life was ordinary. Or at least, it was supposed to be. 

Three years ago, Japan was invaded by the Mu, beings from another dimension that look exactly like humans except for the fact they possess blue blood. Now, in 2015, Tokyo comes under attack by terrorist aircraft that are quickly driven back by a flying humanoid weapon called a Dolem. Amidst the disaster, 17-year-old Ayato Kamina spots Reika Mishima, a beloved classmate of his.

While trying to escape from the terrorist attack above, Ayato escapes to an underground subway but is cornered by government officials in black. Out of the blue, a short-haired woman named Haruka comes to his rescue, informing Ayato that she was sent to retrieve him by the organization TERRA. Still skeptical of the stranger, however, he flees from Haruka onto a train where he oddly encounters Reika once more. But unbeknownst to him, this train isn’t headed to safety. Ayato arrives in a bizarre, holy domain where a tremendous egg sits in the middle. Reika’s mysterious singing in Ayato’s presence causes the egg to tremble and a giant robot—the RahXephon—is hatched.

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Suddenly, Ayato’s mother appears atop the Dolem that had stopped the TERRA Invasion. When a cut to her skin reveals a shocking drop of blue blood, Ayato flees “Tokyo Jupiter” aboard the RahXephon with Haruka, bewildered and betrayed.

What unfolds next is a story of grand proportions. Prophetic lore and Aztec legend weave together in a larger-than-life tale about what it means to understand others. As the future of mankind rests on the shoulders of one unsteady pilot burdened with a heavy fate, a young boy must decide whether the love for himself and others outshines the dark realities of the world.

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Classic in its Own Way

Obvious point out to get behind: There are many, MANY comparisons that can be drawn between RahXephon and its “spiritual prequel,” the grossly influential 1990s Neon Genesis Evangelion. I mean, clearly, one was inspired by the other. As such, I’ll try my best to appreciate RahXephon for its own merits. It may be more obscure, but there are reasons why the fans that have seen it regard it as a classic.

Starting with my criticisms, RahXephon‘s plot definitely rushes to the finish line come the last couple episodes. There’s also a seemingly misplaced (yet ridiculously crucial) backstory episode early on when the viewer still has yet to distinguish the adult characters, and much of the underlying prophetic forces require immense focus—and even then, reading in between the lines, so to speak.

But my biggest issues don’t accurately reflect the plot’s numerous strengths: RahXephon centers itself around the concepts of time, music, intrigue, mystery, and romance. Its powerful character dynamics, deep introspective forces, rich philosophical views, character and mecha designs, and influences by Mesoamerican culture and Japanese folklore carefully intermix to create a profound, satisfying story with little to no plot holes by the end. All pieces of the puzzle connect towards a final answer which works out so well. Eventually, everything connects. 

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The Struggle to be Human 

Very few anime dare to feature such a dense network of complex human relationships between characters, let alone do it this well. Each week, the TERRA crew encounter a new Dolem that must be met with a different fighting strategy, meaning that everyone on deck is constantly interacting with another.

As a result, not all talk is about work. Unnecessary rumors spread. Drama starts. Realistically, co-workers get frustrated, confused, angry, and jealous at one another, and these attitudes manifest in cut-off communication, the “silent treatment,” lackluster performance, or total inability to come to work one day. To make matters even more devastatingly real, each of the characters struggles to be human in their own ways, which is often reflected through thoughtful monologues or, worse, actions that harm another.

Self-care is such an important element of RahXephon. The series especially convinces us how difficult it can be to maintain connections with others through its most important plot line: the unusual relationship between Ayato Kamina and Haruka Shitow. And oh boy is it a messy one. Although Haruka appears to be some badass adult stranger to Ayato at first, we come to realize that their bond runs much deeper than even he was led to believe.

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Ayato constantly struggles with expressing what he wants. His inner conflict to understand his own desires often clashes with the many “professional” relationships he must maintain as the RahXephon’s pilot—female relationships to be specific. As such, his complexity becomes the leading force in this very much character-driven story about being useful to others. It sounds simple enough, but it’s much harder to live up to others’ expectations than we give the act credit for.

There are forces out there much bigger than ourselves—than our own petty problems—that we must respect. As Ayato comes to grip with the situation fate has bestowed upon him, it takes every ounce of ownership and bravery the human spirit can muster to accept such a weighty destiny. Though he pisses a lot of people off (sometimes even the viewer), I was always on his side. He’s an admirable lad, albeit a bit blind to his own heart at times, and I quite enjoyed his depth and perseverance.

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Transcending Technique: A Mecha to Last Decades

While the anime was created in 2002, studio Bones at this point had yet to experiment with the early 2000s 3D CG that popularized this period of anime. That said, it is probably one of the last mecha shows to utilize computer animation without creating fully 3D CG mechas. And it shows, because for the most part, RahXephon‘s animation holds up incredibly well.

Specifically, the characters are animated with such solid consistency that every character close-up is worthy of being key art in itself. Because the RahXephon is just as strangely mystical as the Mu are divine, the fight scenes and combat abilities are always captivating to watch. If RahXephon’s animation was designed as a callback to the earlier mecha anime of the 70s, I’d believe it.

However stunning the animation may be, the show’s color palette is on the duller side. The island backgrounds feel washed out, and it sometimes causes nothing in particular to stand out. This leads to many of the conversational moments (which are quite abundant) to occasionally feel stagnant and uninteresting. Aside from the RahXephon’s brilliant cobalt and gold, pale grays and blues dominate much of the landscape. On the RahXephon, though—man, what a beast, so unique and cool-looking. The spectral wing motif hails as one of the series’ greatest icons, and now I get why!

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Add a Little Jazz: Ambiance & Expression

Ichiko Hashimoto’s soundtrack is simultaneously exactly and nothing like anything you’ve ever heard. Specializing in jazz, vocals, and the piano, Hashimoto provides RahXephon with introspective trance music fit for the story’s ambiance. She uses a large amount of harmonic dissonance to create cacophonous tracks fitting for those more disturbing moments in the series, which also ties in to the theme of music. Lots of electric guitar, too.

Almost intrinsically, her orchestral works (like the final episode’s “Before You Know”) stir the heart and the mind, while her more abstract brass and percussive pieces add layers to the complexity on screen. She even dabbles into epic Richard Wagner operas for classical inspiration, which is awesome.

The series has its own intensely iconic battle preparation themes, one of my favorites being “The Chariot.” And when TERRA members are just taking a lunch break at work, that’s where the jazz music (like “Their Daily Lives) lifts the atmosphere. Of course, for all those emotional and moody moments, Hashimoto’s got a “rainy day” solo piano track for that, too (“Solitudes” and “A Few Memories”). Altogether, it’s an expressive OST that feels so very 90s that it’s impossible not to call unique. In case you’re curious, my favorite track is “Adolescent” from OST 2 for its calming strings air of catharsis.

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I’d also like to extend my biggest hugs to English dub director Matt Greenfield and his fantastic crew from ADV for their incredible work on this series. Ever since Eva, I’ve never been disappointed by his style—the guy certainly knows how to direct a good dub.

Bonus shoutout to Chris Patton for his take on the lead, Ayato Kamino. Patton’s been praised for how natural his teenage boy voice is—plus, I mean, he’s just really freakin’ good at acting—but man, Ayato is easily my favorite role of his! It’s a shame that more older English dubs don’t sound this stellar.

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To Weather the Storm 

From beginning to end, RahXephon is a storm of emotions. Some of the characters get their happy ending; others do not. Some characters are also significantly more frustrating than others. But it’s the complexity of their relationships and inner turmoil that make this great cast so realistically flawed. It may provide more psychological headache than heart-pounding action, but considering its themes of connection and isolation, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

RahXephon boasts a daunting cast size, and although the focus becomes strained as we bounce from one perspective to the other, the series never gives up in its pursuit to weave these stunningly complex lives together to form a multifaceted, absolutely compelling narrative—just how a series of these proportions should be.

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In a world where everything is about to change, what point is there in trying to continue? I don’t know, and yet that is what each and every one of us survivors must do—that much is clear. In spite of everything, the human animal must fight to live on. — Jin Kunigi


Afterword

There are so many things going on in RahXephon it’s NUTS, but I’m so glad to have finally watched this series—and for the 2019 V-Day special no less! I may review the movie if I find something in it especially worth talking about, but otherwise, that’ll conclude everything I’ve got for now. Man, what a fantastic find, an artifact absolutely worthy of any psychological anime fan’s catalog, or perhaps any mecha fan’s collection. Speaking of collection, as per the tradition, I allow myself to splurge on the series’ physical release as a token of completion. Not only was this one fun to hunt for, but I settled on what will likely be the BIGGEST collector’s edition box set I’ll own. Plus it was CHEAP. Stay tuned for details.

If it didn’t already need to be said, RahXephon is officially on the “Caffe Mocha” menu, a rating reserved for only THE best of shows. That said, it’s certainly not for everyone. If you don’t like psychological or mecha anime, look elsewhere (it is weird, but easier to digest than Evangelion, hahaha). Also, it’s a slower burn, so don’t be expecting climactic end-of-the-world fights every episode. Otherwise, I encourage you to check it out for sure!

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If you have seen RahXephon, now’s your chance to boast your knowledge and passion (or criticisms) for this classic series down in the comments. I’d love to here your thoughts on either the show or this review, so if you could impart your feedback, I’d greatly appreciate it. I had an all-around wonderful experience unearthing RahXephon, and I’m excited to see what next year’s marathon will offer. ‘Till next time my friends, thanks for reading!

– Takuto, your host