Millennium Actress & Our Obsession with the Chase || OWLS “Devotion”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s third monthly topic of 2020, “Devotion,” I wanted to give special spotlight to a recently rescued and released anime film that I’m sure many fans of the early 2000s era might recognize: Satoshi Kon’s magnificent Millennium Actress!

When we talked about fandoms, we show our appreciation and support by buying merchandise, cosplaying, writing fanfiction and etc. In fact, our appreciation can end up looking like a sign of religious worship. For this month, we will be talking about how certain characters express devotion to others, objects, and values. We will also be discussing how devotion can turn into an unhealthy form of passion and obsession and the implications of that.

I’ve got an interesting angle for this one that I hope you guys will enjoy. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

chiyoko rides


A brief discussion of the 2002 anime film “Millennium Actress,” animated by Madhouse, directed and based on the original story by Satoshi Kon and Sadayuki Murai. 

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

Have you ever been starstruck? You know, met or have worked with someone so cool, famous, or at least well-renowned in your area that you find yourself absolutely mesmerized by this person’s presence, their every word? Well, that was budding filmmaker Genya Tachibana to Ginei Studio’s star actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara, many decades ago.

Now, at the turn of the millennium, the legendary studio is set to be demolished. As an ex-employee, Genya decides to honor this occasion with a special commemorative documentary about Ms. Fujiwara herself. Having retired at the height of her career, the sweetheart of Shouwa Era cinema has lived a reclusive life up in the mountains. With the hour now at his chance, an eager Genya cannot be more excited to place his lifelong idol back in the spotlight one last time.

As a young lover of film and the industry, Millennium Actress quickly won my heart. Navigating through over a thousand years of Japanese history, the film seamlessly bobs and weaves through entire eras by showcasing all of the major roles Chiyoko has played throughout her prominent career. Nearly an hour and a half of carefully crafted cuts and quick visual tricks culminate in an experience that is as unique as it is autobiographical and personal to this now very tired, very humble elderly woman.

Chiyoko’s narrative gracefully guides us through the three major periods of her life: adolescent fame, her blossoming teenage years, and her still-yet accomplished adulthood. Specifically, we see how a young girl’s early encounter with love shaped the rest of her life. Driven by romance and adventure yet saturated with the pains of drama and missed opportunities, Kon’s film—with Chiyoko’s character—lives on today to inspire an entirely new generation.

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A Fateful Encounter Under a Full Moon

From samurai to spacesuits, Chiyoko Fujiwara has played them all throughout her fabled career. To call her a person of passion would be an understatement; very few actresses can embody the wide range of personalities appropriate for acting as a woman living in so many different historic eras, as well as so many countless roles. And yet, our “millennium actress” is capable of being the perfect heroine for all time! So what drove the idol of Genya’s dreams to become a master of her craft? Well, like it might happen for any of us: she fell in love. 

Before she became a household name, Chiyoko was caught in an incident which involved her helping an injured man. Although he supposedly may have been an “art thief” on the run, that didn’t stop childhood Chiyoko from being swept off her feet that fateful night. In their short time, they bond over simple life pleasures together, one of those being the moon.


Chiyoko looks up at the night sky, remarking how beautiful the full moon will be tomorrow. But the “man with the key” says that it is most beautiful now, for once the full moon is here, it only begins to wane. Whereas, it is under this this sky that you can spend the whole night looking forward to what the moon will become.


I think that this single, beautiful metaphor is representative of the entire film. I’m sure the mysterious man with the key who lives day-to-day may value this philosophy due to his risky occupation. But after her date with destiny, Chiyoko won’t ever be able to shake the man’s charm from her memory. In a long-winded and tiring search spanning a lifetime, Chiyoko scours all of Asia for any chance to reunite with the man. Even when she loses the one symbolic representation of their relationship—the key which unlocks “the most important thing”—she never stops longing for his love. She chases after him, and relentlessly so. After all, the chase kept her excited—-kept her living on the edge of love, forever—-and allowed her to feel eternally young at heart even as her hair grayed and memories began to fade.

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It Was Never About the Destination

Hidden high up in this quiet mountain home is a thousand years of Japanese cinematic history just waiting to be narrated. Chiyoko’s deep reflections of the past take Genya and the viewer on an illusory journey through the saga of an actress’s career and her incredible filmography. As the actors in her life blend with the characters on screen, the tatami beneath their feet shifts from stage to stage, and the present completely blends with the past.

This is the extraordinary tale of a phenomenal actress who was so devoted to pursuing the love of her life that she stumbled through a legendary film career in the blink of an eye. Similarly, we also see how a fan’s positive and passionate devotion to his idol can lead to wondrous outcomes with the right intent behind them. Though the remarkable actress may have retired at the height of her career decades ago, Satoshi Kon’s directorial magic absolutely has you convinced that the curtain on her life’s stage has yet to fall.

chiyoko key

Does Chiyoko ever see the man with the key again? Well, does it really matter? If nothing else from this story, what we come to understand is that when we have our eyes set on only one thing in life, the meaning for everything else can start to fall from our view. Perhaps, just perhaps, we had what we really wanted all along. Like the night before a full moon, maybe the longing for some things—the journey itself—is more satisfying than the destination will ever be . . .

And so, as Genya presents an elderly Chiyoko with the very key she lost so many years ago, she at last finds what “the most important thing” to her was. After a long pursuit spanning a thousand years, it finally dawns on her that perhaps she was never in love with the man to begin with—she was just lost in the tremendous thrill of the great chase. 

chiyoko sakura


After all, it’s the chasing after him I really love. — Chiyoko


Afterword

Some beauty really is timeless. There’s so much cinematic and storytelling gold here that I could write a hundred—no, a thousand—posts on this film. I’m definitely glad I held off on this one for as long as I did, but even more so thankful to Eleven Arts and Shout! Factory for licensing this gorgeous film (the Blu-ray restoration is terrific)! Need I say more for now? Millennium Actress may just be the best film Satoshi Kon ever made, a certified “Caffe Mocha” for all those who know how I do things around here. But what are your thoughts on this timeless classic? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

This concludes my March 27th entry in the OWLS “Devotion” blog tour. My dear friend Mel (Mel in Anime Land) went right before me with a post on K-pop and idol culture that you can read right here! Now, look out for Megan (A Geeky Gal) with a post on one of my favorite romance anime, My Love Story!!, this coming Monday, March 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

Perfect Blue: Life is Anything But Glamorous || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 80-minute 1997 anime film “Perfect Blue,” animated by Madhouse, directed by Satoshi Kon, script by Sadayuki Murai, and loosely based on the novel “Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis” by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. 

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Fantasy & Reality

Rising star Mima Kirigoe has just announced her retirement from her Japanese idol group to pursue an acting career. While she tries to convince herself that this is what she wants to be doing with her life, others couldn’t be in greater opposition. Namely, her fans, and one deranged creep in particular who begins to stalking her. As the people responsible for her career change are gruesomely murdered one by one, Mima herself starts to teeter on the edge of sanity.

From the genius mind of Satoshi Kon comes the bizarre story of a singer-turned-actor desperately trying to escape from the delusional head space that is causing the lines between fantasy and reality to blur. The film is swamped in Kon’s signature quick-cut directing style, with creative transitions, wacky visual perspectives, and bright colors guiding the eye through this terrifying narrative.

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Kon’s attentiveness to defining the boundaries of fantasy and reality is exemplified in Perfect Blue. Sometimes we are shown Mima acting in a scene, while other times the stage is very much mirroring reality. Figures from Mima’s imagination haunt both her visions of reality and the viewer’s perception of it. You often find yourself asking, is this a dream? Or, perhaps, the nightmare that Mima’s reality has become?

Set at the dawn of the Internet Age, this psychedelic trip puts the viewer on a wild roller-coaster ride through the darker tunnels of human emotion. Paranoia, loneliness, and fear are thoroughly explored in this masterful film that demonstrates what the psychological thriller genre of entertainment can do when a gripping story is met with heart-pumping suspense and a clever directing style that shows you exactly what it wants, when it wants.

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Living in Duality

Perfect Blue begins at the end. That is to say, the end of Mima’s career as a pop idol, and the beginning of her acting career. Despite being a beloved icon on stage, her back stage life is actually a realistic mess. Her apartment is cluttered, and she’s so in-and-out all the time that the cheese she buys at the beginning of the film expires a few scenes later. Mima is, to be frank, just another teenage girl trying to make a living in modern day Japan.

As such, it’s no surprise that Mima’s idol career was suffocating her. Much like a high school memory, sure, she had fun. But maybe it’s time to move on now. She is characterized by a sense of modesty and passion for her work, although she’s perfectly fine with moving on to a new phase of her life. That is, until the industry starts to exploit her talents.

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Without going into spoilers, I merely can offer this small sentiment: We really don’t have any idea of how the industry works, unless we are actively a part of it. In the world of money and fame, it’s not about you want to do, but rather about what other people want you to do. Sure, a girl can give her verbal consent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she would be comfortable with being used for someone else’s gain. As an actor, you serve the director, and sometimes that can conflict with your own moral values as a person.

As the story goes along, Mima becomes a victim of forced maturation. This includes being thrust into horrific rape scene that, despite knowing it is fake, scars her poor young mind. She is also met with increased anxiety, depression, PTSD, and even a separation of self by means of superstition. This delusional mindset causes negative thoughts to rise, as in so long as someone is Mima, who really cares if Mima is Mima. How the mind repairs itself and subconsciously shields you for self-protection is absolutely incredible, and that underlying theme is what ties every red thread in Perfect Blue together in one complex, disorienting knot.

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Sensation, Perception, & Direction

Madhouse boosts Perfect Blue‘s production value with an unbelievable amount sensory detail work that I can’t even begin to comprehend. Flashing stage lights, rattling AC units, the motor noises of a 90s desktop computer, the gentle hum of a fish tank—it’s almost sensation in excess, which is just what this film needs. Transporting us to modern day Japan, the attention to detail enhances the setting, and makes the story feel all the more real.

Another gift of watching this film is getting to understand the iconography that makes it so famous beyond being just a really good movie. The bath scene where Mima curls up and screams, bubbles rising from the air of her trapped emotions is particularly beautiful. Seeing Mima hold a knife in midair against a flashing digital backdrop of own image embodies the epitome of suspense. And although creepy in context when paired with the scary music, the scene where Mima chases her dancing, skipping pop idol self through a hospital building conjures up true feelings of horror and hysteria.

mima in bath

Speaking of music, Masahiro Ikumi’s music score for the film adds an eeriness that today’s horror anime just can’t compete with. When we’re not jamming out to light idol music from the 90’s (or listening to it in the elevator . . .), pounding sound board effects, uneasy remixing, and metallic screeching accompany a wailing chorus of uncanny cries. It sounds unpleasant, and it is. But, without Ikumi’s OST, I doubt Mima’s experiences would’ve felt as intense and life-threatening as they were.

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It’s A Maddening, Cruel World

Perfect Blue takes an introspective look at how fantasy can shape reality, and vice versa. In subtle ways, it asks the question that, as creators of some kind of content, what do we owe our consumers? Are we ever miscommunicating with our readers and viewers, and how would we know? Also, if our successes define us to some extend, how long will they cast shadows into our future?

The world is cruel, scary, and unfair. If it can take something from you, it will. And it won’t give anything back. But Perfect Blue also tells us that if any of these thoughts we are having bother us, then it’s all reality because these thoughts still shape how we feel in real life. Even the most seemingly sane people in our lives . . . We have no idea what they may be going through. Life is a performance, a stage, and if we don’t tell people about what’s going on, they might not ever know. 

In that way, Mima’s story is one about winning yourself back. What does it take to feel confident in my words and thoughts, and how can I get to that place—that’s what I got from Perfect Blue.

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A harrowing journey through a young woman’s psyche as she tries to escape from the fever dream that her reality is becoming, Perfect Blue effectively uses deception in anime to play with his viewer’s mind. The perception of reality cannot be trusted, especially as the psychodrama heightens towards the climax. But WOW is it a compelling mystery. You actively want Mima to figure out what’s wrong with her life—you want her to solve the case. And with a sucker punch ending that’ll hit ya right in gut, the whole experience comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Believe it or not, for a story that began with existential worry and cleverly crafted chaos, the ending of Perfect Blue provides an outlook that favors hope, confidence, and independence. And seeing the light of those perfect blue skies completes this wild yet captivating journey through the complexities of the human psyche.

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The truth is that today more than ever, I wanted to have a good time with you. — Mima Kirigoe


Afterword

While I would recommend this film to every fan of anime out there, it IS full of gratuitous sex and violence. So, if either of those are triggering to you, definitely steer clear for a bit. More than just thrilling, suspenseful, and entertaining, Perfect Blue ponders so many ideas, from how the internet will forever change privacy, to the savagery in the entertainment world. A compelling mystery by master storyteller Kon himself, “Cafe Mocha” certified Perfect Blue can truly make you feel genuinely scared for your life (especially if you watch this at midnight by yourself like I did, eep).

I’d love to hear what you think of this classic film down in the comments! Special thanks go to GKIDS for rescuing this long out-of-print title and giving it a lovely Blu-ray remaster—they really are the best! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go binge Love Live! . . . you know, to maintain my own sanity. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto, your host

I Finally Watched the Old Fruits Basket | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode summer 2001 anime “Fruits Basket,” animated by Studio Deen, directed by Akitarou Daichi, and based on the manga of the same name by Natsuki Takaya.

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The Girl with a Big Heart

Despite losing her mother in a car accident and being kicked out of her grandfather’s house due to renovation, 16-year-old Tohru Honda manages to love life like no one else you’ve ever known. Lying to her friends and family that she’s already found a new place to stay (so as to not burden them) Tohru sets up camp *literally* in the woods.

One fateful night after a long shift at work, Tohru returns to her tent only to find it crushed and flattened by a landslide. Desperately digging through the rubble for the last precious picture of her mother, Tohru faints in the mud. Luckily, the prince of her high school, Yuki Sohma, and his author cousin, Shigure Sohma, come to her aid and even invite Tohru to stay with them until her grandfather’s home renovations are finished.

But as life (and the shoujo genre) would have it, a roof over one’s head doesn’t come free, and so Tohru works as a housekeeper at the Sohma house in return for room and board. The Sohma’s aren’t an ordinary family, however: if a Sohma is hugged by someone of the opposite gender, POOF, they temporarily transform into one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac! (Plus, they return to being human without their clothes on.) Toss in Kyo Sohma, the fiery zodiac cat, and you’ve got quite the crazy household.

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While the Sohmas’ secret causes more sticky (and silly) situations than not, this strange phenomenon isn’t all giggles for Tohru and especially the members of her new family. Rather, the curse of the zodiac has caused all of the Sohmas to bear the tremendous weight of their dark family history. Some are more complacent about the situation than others, but none of them are happy with what the curse has brought them.

As Tohru meets more of the family’s members, she continues to see the light casting such great shadows across each of their hearts. But even with her unusually big heart and kind yet resilient nature, is there a limit to the heartache that Tohru can take?

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Welcome to the Sohma Household!

Oh Tohru, where to begin with you! She’s just about the sweetest young lady you’ll ever meet, so determined and steadfast, yet also gentle and supportive. Full of gratitude for her life and warmth to spare, I couldn’t think of a better protagonist for such a story as this. I love Tohru’s character, I really do, and I totally get why you all do, too! But as a dub fan myself, I couldn’t fully appreciate Tohru without giving praise to Laura Bailey for bringing this clumsy yet polite high school girl to life. UGH, I just love listening to old dubs and hearing Laura Bailey as anything, but this, without a doubt, is a hallmark role for a reason.

kyo and tohru

Now for mah boys, where are my Prince Yuki fans? Kyo Sohma stans?? Prior to watching, all I knew about Fruba was that all of the male Shomas were supposedly boyfriend material. I get it now. Kyo and Yuki are ICONIC, like fire and ice, cat and mouse (rat), respectively; the Asuka and the Rei of the shoujo world. The smart one perfectly imperfect, the stupid one imperfectly perfect. Although both are unable to open their hearts to “normal” people, these two rivals in arms compete for the affection of Miss Honda without holding back, unbeknownst to their own feelings in the beginning.

And yeah, in case you were wondering, #TeamKyo ALL THE WAY. After voicing Kaworu in Eva 3.33, I never thought I could fanboy over Jerry Jewell this badly. Turns out, I can.

I couldn’t wrap up the Sohmas without mentioning some of my other favorites, however; if Kyo is #bestboy, then Shigure is best man cause DADDY AM I RIGHT. Jokes aside, I really do love the zodiac dog and all his whimsical teasing. John Burgmeier’s Shirgure is just as slippery as his personality should be. Same could be said about Chris Sabat’s overly frilly pompousness for Ayame Sohma, our resident snake, cause wow, just such dream casting.

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Sweetly, Softly, Serenade Me

Ah, here we are, Fruba‘s biggest deal-breaker: the animation. Studio Deen isn’t known for producing the most beautiful works by any means, and it pains me to report that as much as I love the characters, the show kinda looks like ass. To be honest, not many early 2000s anime fair as well as those that came before (and most certainly those we have now), but the inconsistently drawn faces and blocky body structures make Fruba 2001 a pretty bland watch, especially when compared to the 2019 remake (I mean, I would hope so, at least). The chibi art style for the many comedic moments in the series is iconically well-done, however, so I’ll at least give it points for being extra cute and even hilarious at times.

There’s also a problem with the anime-only ending, but I can’t and won’t add more on that simply because I do not know how faithful that ending is to the manga. While it may seem totally out of touch given the fluffier content of the earlier half, perhaps the original story does go that dark, that suddenly, to which I can only really say . . . yikes. Emotional, absolutely, but it still hits hard from waaaay outta left field.

Much of the actual OST for me is a blur, but I loved the reprises and acoustic versions of the OP and ED featured throughout the series’ run. The actual theme songs happened to exist during the days of dubbing the music, so the OP and ED are in English. And I love that too. Hearing Laura Bailey softly signing along to “Chiisana Inori” at the end of each episode was the gift you earned for having to watch the drab animation. But to hear the bittersweet “For Fruits Basket” immediately following as the OP was, well, emotionally draining to say the least. (It really just HITS ya.) Ahh, my heart, what a lovely pair the two make!

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Acceptance Begins with Understanding

From the synopsis alone, I can see why the series has become so iconic to the genre. The scenarios in Fruits Basket are as classic as they get—I can only imagine, if there’s an anime romance trope out there, Fruba‘s got it. Whether the quirkiest or steamiest of situations, however, the series handles the delivery more gently than most. It’s almost as if the series, despite how depressing it can be, is too kind for its own good. And you can bet Tohru is a huge part of why Fruba manages to be simultaneously innocent and full of depth and heart.

The story is richly woven with character dramas and inspiring little tales reminiscent of a child’s bedtime storybook, Tohru serving as both the narrator and the characters’ guiding light. Each of the Sohmas possess an individually distorted view of their dark pasts, and after years of rejection, isolation, oppression, and feeling like an outcast, who could blame them? These are wounds that even time cannot heal—scars that will never fade—and yet, Tohru tries to bandage them up anyway. Through her accepting essence, Tohru allows Kyo, Yuki, and so many others in the family to vent their frustrations, their past errors, and their regrets.

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After what feels like a long, exhausting therapy session, our zodiac friends slowly come to peace with themselves and, at last, feel proud for being who—not what—they are. As someone willing to understand them, Tohru offers to do what no outsider has ever done before and help shoulder their burden, however tremendous the weight, and I couldn’t even begin to fathom how relieving that must feel. “Finally, I can tell someone. FINALLY, I can be me!”

From me to you, don’t sleep on this story as long as I did. With the new season airing, tons of fans around the world are reconnecting with their favorite zodiac friends and passionate OTPs and ships. To miss out on such fun would be tragic. So, whether the old, stale, yet genuine 2001 version or this latest vibrant retelling, watch Fruits Basket. Then you, too, will see what all the ruckus is about in the Sohma household—and why it’s such a heartwarming, endearing little place to stay.

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You never know what will happen tomorrow! If it’s not tomorrow, then maybe the next day. Maybe after a year, or even ten years . . . But even so, as long as you’re alive, things keep happening. As long as you’re alive, wishes keep getting made. — Tohru Honda


Afterword

What more can I say, Fruits Basket is a classic after all. So classic, in fact, that I’m awarding this long-awaited series with the “Cake” title, a series so sweet it’d be a crime to skip out on. That said, I’d only make it a true must for shoujo fans. If romance and cutesy fun stuff ain’t your thing, skip it, or better yet try the 2019 version. At least that one looks pretty (not to say I won’t crush over 2001 Kyo for the next year). There’s so much heart in this series, guys—I GET WHY Y’ALL LOVE IT SO MUCH. And the dub, oh my god, they really milked this one for all its worth. So honestly, truly wonderful.

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Do you have any memories with Fruits Basket 2001? Ooh, what about a favorite zodiac member?? You’re gonna have to let me know in the comments for sure! I’ll forever treasure this past spring, spending my weekends watching this beloved show with my sister. In fact, the remake may be why I decided to watch it now, but my sister’s the one who shared this series with me in the first place! Thanks so much for reading another rambling gush-fest of mine, and until the next post, this has been

– Takuto, your host

The Scope of the Universe: Gurren Lagann Revisited

A few days ago, I took to Twitter following my rewatch of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and tweeted this:

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If you didn’t notice it sitting there in my collection post, I recently (and FINALLY) got a hold of the Gurren Lagann limited edition DVD set released by Aniplex of America several years back. It’s a set that I’ve wanted ever since I laid eyes on it—and that was before I even watched the series! You can only imagine my elation when I managed to get this OOP set for just $60 after haggling with the eBay seller for a couple days.

Now, as the title of this post indicates, I’m not going to review the series. Nah, I’ve already done that, and I still stand by everything I say in my review of Gurren LagannRather, this is just to express my feelings about it now, three years after my first viewing. I like to think I’m a different person compared to when I first watched this series, and correspondingly, the show means different things to me now than when I first saw Lagann take flight in that iconic opening episode.

This isn’t anything new. Y’all are probably familiar with this show’s hype given how well it has been passed on from fan to fan. Heck, perhaps the only reason you watched it was because of someone else’s recommendation. And there’s a good reason for its constant spreading throughout the past decade.

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From Gainax’s off-the-walls animation to the high-octane soundtrack of ROW ROW FIGHT THE POWAHHH, Gurren Lagann delivers consistent quality, still holding up TWELVE years later as one of anime’s best-looking and best-sounding. I literally started CRYING once I heard “Libera Me From Hell” again in the finale, you guys. It’s the stuff of legends, I’m telling you. And with all this recent circulation of what it means for an anime to be “classic,” well, can I just say that whatever your standards may be, Gurren Lagann most certainly fits the bill.

And the ENDING. I can’t even begin to fathom the scope of Team Dai-Gurren’s galactic quest. From a tiny hole in the ground, to the Earth’s surface, the moon, and beyond the Milky Way. That’s just nuts! Since my rewatch, I’ve found myself sitting here just staring at the wall more and more, just trying to comprehend it all. What even is at the end of the universe? What other kinds of life are out there among the stars? Will we ever earn the chance to interact with such forces? I mean, this is a Gainax series, so I’m theoretically not supposed to risk a massive headache over trying to rationalize the impossible, but that’s half the fun, really.

According to Wikipedia, the universe measures 93 billion light years across. The freakin’ Universe. Proportionally, that’s how big Gurren Lagann‘s story is. Ok, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but when you have a climax that ends in two cosmically sized robots (or energy beings at this point) hurling galaxies at each other, you know your story is kinda big. My point is, to discount any of the events of Gurren Lagann and label it as anything less would be, well, a lie.

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In my review, I called Gurren Lagann The Larger-Than-Life Story of Us.” Pretty title, right? That’s not simply me trying to be poetic, though. The series is all about evolution. Each and every day, we try to evolve—to push ourselves to the max—just to be better, EVEN IF only the slightest bit, than we were the day before.

The death of Kamina is one of many pathos the series evokes to inspire that drive to change, to improve. Within Simon, Yoko, and everyone else is this incredible swell of kinetic energy, a rawness that can only expressed through a studio like Gainax. Sometimes this spiral force spills over as a storm of chaotic emotions; other times it is love, a powerhouse which carries the potential to change this simultaneously rational and insane universe we live in.

Gurren Lagann is zany through to the very end. So much happens in such little time, it’s absolutely unbelievable. Lagann’s bombastic protagonists and equally bizarre antagonists thrust upon you a story that demands your attention as it dares to break through the heavens. It’s a weight that doesn’t have to be shouldered alone, however; the series has solidified itself as a timeless ode to the vigor of the human spirit, and a demonstration of the sheer audacity of the human race.

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I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this post anymore, but I do know one thing for certain: the day we decide to forget this classic story is the day the anime community will lose a monumental part of its core—but not without gaining something new to fill its place. What that new show or shows will be, only the future us will know. I do hope we never give up on Gurren Lagann, but the inevitability of fate that the series itself wields might prove my wish otherwise.

So, going back to my desperate-sounding tweet, please, PLEASE never stop sharing Gurren Lagann with all your friends and the wonderful people of this community. Such a vibrant star should never lose its light, but as we too continue to change and evolve, sometimes we have to leave even the best and most precious of our memories behind.

I only hope that the great Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann doesn’t fade from our hearts anytime soon.

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When does a man die? When he is hit by a bullet? No. When he suffers a disease? No. When he eats a soup made out of a poisonous mushroom? No! A man dies when he is forgotten. — Kamina


I really haven’t done a post like this before, but I had some thoughts I needed to vent and didn’t know how else to do it. If you share the same sentiments about this beloved title, I’d love to hear them! Tell me your stories, I’ll listen. In fact, merely sharing mine with you again led me to the creation of a new category on my blog: the Revisited titles. Since I tend to rewatch stuff a bunch, it only felt right to finally honor the series that are worthy of such revisits!

The weirdest thing about all of this was that, even just a couple months ago, I didn’t even feel that passionately about the series. But as soon as summer hit—the exact same time of the year in which I initially watched Lagann—man, it just kicked on like crazy. I HAVE to watch Gurren Lagann again, I kept telling myself. So I did, and I bought it, too. If you’re strapped for cash, however, the entire series is available on Crunchyroll for FREE!

Anyway, thanks for reading my loose ramblings. It was quite enjoyable being able to get these thoughts out here. Now, I can finally move on. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto, your host

The Biggest Anime DVD Box Set I Own: RahXephon Limited Edition | Unboxing

Hello!

I’ve got a bit of a different post today. Believe it or not, unboxing and haul posts are some of my favorite to write because once the pictures have been taken, all I have to do is write a couple sentences and upload, easy-peasy.

Specifically though, I’m writing this post because, like any well-researched collector, I wanted to know whether this was the edition of RahXephon that I wanted to buy. But when I began scouring the web for pictures of this box, I found nothing. Now, maybe someone will be able to find security and satisfaction in this A-grade product.

Because oh man, what a fantastic set this is.

I’m gonna boast for a minute here and hail the RahXephon limited edition as the biggest anime DVD box set I own. I know these kinds of box sets have been around in anime for quite some time, but this is my first foray into the classic anime collecting scene (where you’d supposedly spend $30 on a DVD containing four episodes and do this seven times until you eventually roped in all 26-odd-some episodes), so let me have this one.

I was lucky enough to buy from a seller who not only sold it for just $45, but kept it in mint condition. Seriously, this beast is IMMACULATE—and it’s over 15 years old!! Proof that there are good collectors out there who take care of their stuff. And they packaged it so nicely too, bonus points! Really happy with this find.

But you just want to see this beautiful box, don’tcha? Alright, me too, so let’s go!


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Here’s the box’s exterior: the front, back, top, and sides. I love the holographic foil printing on the logo (which is consistent on EACH of the DVDs as we’ll see here in a bit. The artwork is also particularly exquisite, capturing the mysticism of the story with these divine pieces worthy of framature in any museum. It’s really cool to see all 8 of the DVD spines together as well. Each is consistently laid out and color-coded, almost as if they were meant to go together or something!

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Onto the DVD cases themselves, each one contains key art from the series on a pristine white background overlaid with that holo-foil logo. Each set matches the color dot on the spine, which is a nice touch. Also included in this set is a hefty artbook for the film, Pluralitus Concentio, which makes the 8th DVD in this complete 8-disc set.

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The backsides of each DVD maintain the same white and color-coded schema. The designers also utilized the series’ theme of music to tie in clever phrases to each progression of the plot, beginning with the prelude and ending, of course, with an encore. I LOVE IT.

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Cracking into the DVDs—if you thought this set couldn’t get any better—you will find a miniature artbook for each set. The cover and back pages have the art printed on a specialty paper with a parchment/wax-like texture, which adds to the classiness of this set. Each pamphlet includes approximately 10 pages of character information, as well as art of the various robots and Dolems that appear throughout the series.

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Want a closer look? So do I! Here’s each DVD set complete with its disc and art pamphlet, as well as the film artbook. I really like the landscape art included on the inside pages of each little book. When you think about it, I guess this is what each DVD contained when it was individually purchased back in the day.

Again, this seller kept the box and its contents in such spotless condition that it truly feels like I’m owning a product that just came hot of the press, let alone an artifact from well over a decade ago.

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So to any fellow anime collector out there looking for a proper review of this set, I hope this post helps. If anyone is wanting an even closer look than I provide here, feel free to ask me in the comments. When I was still laying out my purchase options, it came down to either the thinpack (and then I’d buy the film for a separate $10) or this mammoth set, and I’m glad I stuck with the latter.

Will I buy more boxes like this in the future? Hahaha, good question, if my shelves can support it I guess. RahXephon was a special case given that its main accessibility from a physical standpoint was this, the thinpack, or a couple other thinpack-like options. Only time will tell, I suppose.

That’s all I’ve got for this one. In case you missed it, I watched RahXephon as part of my annual V-Day marathon and enjoyed it so much I also reviewed it on my blog (which you can read right here)! I’d be delighted if you checked it out. Friends and fellow collectors, ’till next time!

– Takuto, your post

 

 

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, and 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.

An ex-drag queen, 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

While certainly touching and 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 his 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 of 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 and Miyuki is a girl, 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 as 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.

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’a 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. To Hana, taking care of the baby is her final test to determine her fate in the afterlife. Given that final leap of faith at the end where she literally jumps off a building to save a 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.” If there’s anything to be learned from Tokyo Godfathers, it’s that the good and bad in life comes and goes, but we will 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.

Justice and dignity intertwine with love and hope on this eventful Christmas Eve. Likewise, 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

Empire of Corpses Reanimates a Classic Tale | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the fall 2015 anime film “Empire of Corpses,” produced by Wit Studio, directed by Ryoutarou Makihara, based on the novel by Keikaku Itou. 



Oh my, is it already passed Thanksgiving?! Woah, since I’ve been slacking I’ll make this one brief. Shall we visit the first of three films based on the late novelist Itou’s melancholic work and see if Wit Studio was able to breath life into his ambitious project?

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Zombies and Steampunk

Welcome to an 1800s London where zombies roam the streets! Not really, sort of. Scientists have played god with dead bodies long enough that they’ve patented it down to a system called reanimation. In other words, the Brits are reviving the dead. It’s not a foolproof process, however, for the key to understanding life itself–the soul–does not return upon reignition. Because these walking corpses are incapable of experiencing the joys and sorrows that life presents, they’re mainly revitalized to serve in the labor force.

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But every lab experiment comes with its breakthroughs, and that is exactly what befell Dr. Victor Frankenstein. Rumored to have been the first to successfully reanimate a corpse with a soul, the great mad scientist suddenly disappeared–his work supposedly vanishing with him. Inspired by his love for research and science, John Watson pursues hunting Dr. Frankenstein’s notes regarding the blueprints of the soul in order to revive his best pal, Friday. Throughout his journey, Watson unearths the terrifying truths of corpse technology, and how costly the science is for not only the living, but also for those who have long since passed on.

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What exactly makes up the “Weight of the Soul?”

I’d like to first point out that I understand why the film, despite its glorious visuals, was poorly received by critics. The first Project Itou film tries to dish out a lot of hard, unknown science, but above all make you feel emotional connection to the lead character Watson and his situation. Grasping the conceptual stuff is particularly tricky, and the ties between real life historical figures and their fantasy counterparts don’t seem to make understanding the basics much easier. It’s even arguable that the rules of the world presented are poorly laid out from the start. This build up of failed comprehension and attempt at emotional appeal led to a cataclysmic finale on both the story and visual levels.

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Beyond the messy climax, I did quite enjoy the relationship between Watson and Friday. Their exchanges (well, Watson’s actions and Friday’s silent responses) felt genuine, and above all, I think that matters more than a shaky concept deliverance does. When Watson felt curious or distressed, the actions were reciprocated on myself. Also, to go against the crowd, I really liked the female role. Though she mainly served as a reminder of the scientist’s goal–Friday serving as his ambition–I found myself wanting her to also receive a happy ending. The Russian scientist Nikolai could’ve used more screentime, but I digress since the show mainly revolves around Watson’s side.

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The Incredible World of Sherlock Holmes

Empire of Corpse’s strongest point easily lies with Wit Studio’s fantastic job in creating an atmosphere similar to a Sherlock Holmes film straight out of Hollywood! Such entrancing lighting, rich symbolism, and articulate detail in the machines and other devices absolutely blew me away. Each of the characters stand out beautifully in their own way, from the deadpan expressions of Friday to the stylish English outfits of a steampunk society. Action scenes would engage any viewer (I’m a sucker for vehicle chase scenes, so the opening really drew me in), and it all culminates into a finale so stellar it became a visual feast. I had to pick between absorbing or comprehending, and, well, I think you knew which won. I did notice Redjuice and Egoist accredited, which would also explain the Guilty Crown vibes.

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While I cannot recall any specific tracks, the music did do the show justice in contemplating the Sherlock Holmes tone. On the auditory side, huge props to the English voice cast and THE ACCENTS that tied so well with the concept and setting. Wonderful performances from Jason Liebrecht (Watson) and Micah Solusod (Nikolai).

Final Thoughts

Even if the concepts presented are a bit tricky to grasp near the end, this movie achieves in the feels department for me. Perhaps I was missing the context of the original Frankenstein novel for a few of those bits, but I did find it okay for the most part. It’s another demonstration on how far man will go to pursue knowledge above all else, an ultimate nudge to the idea that for us humans, some things are best not knowing.

“Beauty and sublimity are not what shape the future. It’s the willpower to try to actualize one’s words and feelings for someone else–DON’T YOU SEE!?” – John Watson

Final Assessment

+ Breathtaking visuals, fantastic steampunk design

+ Emotional attachment to Watson’s struggle with Friday

+ Fascinating project history, happy to see Itou’s work animated

– Started off simple enough, but lost its footing by the end

– “Weight of the soul” not explained thoroughly

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I’m signing off on the first Project Itou film with a hot “Coffee” rating here at the cafe! Understandably flawed, but still quite enjoyable. This was the finale to my Halloween break following Shiki, a title which I reviewed a week or two back if you’re interested. Shoutout to Crimson for recommending this movie to me!! What did you think of Empire of Corpses? Were you disappointed with the results or did you find it particularly noteworthy for anything? Let me know because parts of me (the living ones, at least) are still a bit conflicted! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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I know it’s fan art, but LOOK at that mechanical detail!

Cowboy Bebop, A Journey of the Blues

A brief, spoiler-free review of the 26-episode spring 1998 anime “Cowboy Bebop,” produced by Sunrise, based on the original story by Shinichiro Watanabe.

Come 2071, planet Earth is not the only home for humans. Most of the solar system has been colonized leaving a densely polluted Earth left behind. With a series of space gates that facilitate quick n’ easy cosmic travel, criminals cower to the deepest corners of space while mafias run rampant in the back alleys of distant planets. The Inter Solar System Police can only extend its justice so far, and as a result outlaw bounty hunters AKA “Cowboys” are deployed to muddy their hands with a huge cash reward dangling in front of their noses.

For cowboys Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, a single woolong (a dumb penny) is enough elicit risking their lives in chasing bounties and hauling dinner. Born as men for the good of the cause, life aboard the Bebop goes south when the ship recruits three new members that will eventually detour its steady course: Ein, the last purebred Welsh Corgi; Faye Valentine, a formidable and seductive cowgirl in her own right, yet currently searching for her elusive past; and Ed, a bizarre lil’ fella’ who knows how to use a computer quite well . . . scary well, actually.

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As the eccentric crew aboard the Bebop get themselves into all sorts of mayhem, we gradually uncover the shady events that brought them all together.

There are two reasons Cowboy Bebop has withstood the test of time. One is that the animation by Sunrise is stunning and artistic, encompassing more meaningful symbolism and well-choreographed action scenes in the first episode alone than what I’ve seen in entire shows as of late! Two is the fact that its episodic rhythm followed up with its smooth flow of fragmented “memories” detailing the characters’ bygone lives is more than well-written. It’s brilliant, mostly because it doesn’t feel artificial; by the halfway point, we feel the passionate weight these characters are dragging with them, and how their past influences their present choices. Though the story doesn’t get kickin’ until episode five, the action-packed opening episodes are an amusing gateway to the show’s darker themes.

Bebop is not, however, a mind-blowing series of bleak revelations, but a journey cram packed with themes that jive with the soul. It is much more light-hearted, with enough emotional weight to rub the heart in a melancholic way—much like warm chicken soup or a deep blues tune would do—yet not enough turn off the viewer. You can feel this impact with the leads themselves, the subtle placing of the classic jazz-inspired episode titles, or the bluesy soundtrack masterfully composed by Yoko Kanno. All three work together to provoke sorrow, joy, regret, reminiscence, and wonder, in a futuristic world driven by detached hearts and jazz music.

Bebop‘s ending, which perfectly captures the nature of the show.

Most of the light-hearted nature of Bebop comes from the goofy or sassy interactions shared among the crew. Spike (dubbed “Cabbage Head” by my sister) is a way-too-lax and easily irritable man with a particularly complex history that frequently bumps heads with the present. His roots to the mafia come back to haunt him (like the mafia typically does), and his development is found in the monumental decisions he’ll be forced to make regarding the safety of the crew—and that of his own life.

Jet is an ex-cop now bounty hunter. ‘Nuff said. If Spike is the ill-tempered dad who always leaves the house for personal biz, then Jet is that mom who A) won’t tolerate your shit, and B) will cook dinner each night if YOU buy the ingredients. Rough around the edges, yet the one with the biggest heart, Jet serves the plot by being restrictor of reckless actions, even though he occasionally loses his temper. He holds Spike and Faye back from doing stupid stuff that could get them all killed, and as such plays a necessary role for this ragtag crew.

Lastly are the two sisters, one a troublesome teenager, the other a weird child. They are the tough-on-the-outside/terrible gambler Faye and the noodly Edward, and are mainly aboard to service the fans (Faye brings the sexy, Ed brings the laughs). While Faye will go on to have a much darker, richer past, Ed is pretty much there for the ride. The two share one thing in common, however, that being this common question burning the at back of their brains: “Why am I here, and where am I going?” It’s a romantic notion of growing up and dealing with acceptance. And that’s why they both work so well in Bebop—it’s the story of finding your place in this huge, cruel world.

Watching Cowboy Bebop is equivalent to revisiting an old website that you used to frequent back in the day, yet haven’t seen in ages. Does it feel nostalgic? Euphoric? A bit melancholic? Perhaps a bit of all three, but one theme Bebop enjoys feeding us is that internet is more than a tool—it can be a place for some, putting literal meaning to ‘home’ page. For me, this online café has given me a place to chat with and meet new friends. For the characters in the anime, the web is a place for an old man to play one last game of chess before giving his last breath, or for a disabled kid to vent his faith by becoming a God himself. It sounds a bit odd, but seriously, how much does the internet mean to you?

You should watch Cowboy Bebop because, in one way or another, it’s the story of our lives. Everything that challenges the Bebop crew and everyone they meet along the way represent a fragment of our deepest worries and regrets. Should you merely enjoy this anime for the comedy, then hey, that’s awesome, it’s got a lot of funny moments! But Bebop sure does have this genuine way of letting you know you’ve reached the end when it comes. With all of the interlaced light-hearted moments, it’s as if the show is reminding us that “Nope, sorry, this wasn’t the show you signed up for—and you know that.” Instead, you’re probably like myself and most Bebop fans, in that once it’s over, you’ll find yourself detached from the solar system, solemnly jiving to The Real Folk Blues.

“Life will challenge you to do things . . . sometimes, you just have to let go!” – Spike Spiegel

However you watch this anime, here’s advice straight from the Host: DO NOT string your viewings out for THREE months! It’s terrible! I endured this journey with my family, and being like all families, it’s hard to squeeze in quality movie time. But we did it, and now who knows what we’ll watch together, if anything. Rated a “Caffe Mocha” here, did you enjoy my review of this classically-acclaimed space western? Also, what’s your favorite aspect of Cowboy Bebop? Should it have lasted longer? I barely scraped the surface to avoid spoilers, but let’s talk about it in the comments! Thanks for reading and until next time, SEE YOU SPACE COWBOY . . .

– Takuto, your host

Versailles is Not for All, But Indeed All for One

A spoiler-free review of the 40-episode fall 1979 (wow!) anime “The Rose of Versailles,” produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsha, based on the manga by Riyoko Ikeda.

History is Timeless

It should come across as no surprise to you when I say that “History is timeless.” It also shouldn’t be very startling to hear that we as humans have made more mistakes than triumphs, and that the stories we craft are centered on correcting these mistakes, righting wrong, to reach a triumphant end.

But what happens when history IS the story being told, in that no matter the effort that goes into the rising action, the resolution is that repetitive, burning, regrettable end we try to avoid in stories? Tragedy is born, my dear reader, and “tragic” is indeed the word which encompasses the French Revolution. This single period in history will eventually spawn thousands of tales of its own, one particular rendition brilliantly capturing the many ugly and beautiful faces of this rebellion – The Rose of Versailles.

A Rose of Red & White

So I partially lied above when I claimed that history itself was acted out directly for this work. From the incredible mind of its creator Riyoko Ikeda, Oscar François de Jarjayes is the main character brought to life by the story. Historically, “he” is a man who will, for this story, be a blend of many other significant figures in the revolution. Born to a noble house in need of a male heir, Oscar, a woman, is raised to be a man of valor, vigilance, and vitality, a new kind of “character trope” which will eventually be coined as the “strong woman.” A loyal knight and dear friend of Marie Antoinette’s, Oscar serves her beloved France like a hearth for a mansion, neither wavering in spirit nor charisma in front of the rich and poor alike. Like the scrolls call for, however, Antoinette, a redeemably innocent girl at first, will eventually lead the throne into further corruption, to which Oscar must take a stand for the glory of France – the people – or for her beloved crown in the palace Versailles.

Want to know how to spoil the anime for yourself? You cannot. Versailles is unique because knowing how it ends works in its favor, similar to adaptations of “Romeo and Juliet” or “Animal Farm.” It’ll start with Antoinette’s arrival to the pristine palace and end with her untimely beheading, just how we know it. Even if you knew each of the dirty bits surrounding the revolt, such as the “Affair of the Diamond Necklace” and the terrible folks that manipulated and crushed others to secure a cushy seat in the palace, this anime, though still about the revolution and its events, has another objective: Oscar. She alone is worth watching this series for.

A rose of many thorns, Oscar is cast with a terrible fate from the get-go. Jarjayes needs a male to succeed his place, so BAM, Oscar, you are now his son. Also, buddy, you’ll have to struggle against being a man for the public yet a woman for yourself. Your heart will be torn to pieces by your own prickly thorns as you choose between a fellow knight of honor from a foreign land, or your childhood mate who has always had your back, but never both. Your highness, whom you cherish like a baby sister, will learn from evil influences, and it’ll become impossible to manage both her and your own image. Finally, your homeland will succumb to the invincible flames of the revolution – Flames which burned you for many years beforehand because Versailles – the place you call home – is ultimately a royal hell on this cruel Earth. Yet, you knew all of this, and you still must choose: Be red, or fade to white.

“Ching.” That’s what a sword sounds like.

This is the technical part of this review, introducing features like animation, sound, and voice acting. On the animation front, 1979 sure does hurt! The over-effective glitter during these original shoujo moments is quite much, and the ridiculous, lackluster sword fights do not do much to help the cause. Some awfully cringey facial expressions and spoon-fed symbolism also are a drag. As I said, 1979 hurts, but maybe that is where part of the magic stems from. The aging quality Versailles carries brings in strange emotions like disgust and lust alike, and while I still push for a four-part film series remastering the entire series by Ufotable, I could just as well endure this and admire one of anime’s earliest masterpieces. It is one of those, “Laugh now? Hah, you’ll be on your knees begging for mercy later.”

In the sound department, I sigh internally. You can practically make out a man exclaiming “Ching!” with every sword clash. The over-dramatic echoing effects of shattering glass and collapsing bodies also gave me annoyed shivers. It helps, however, when Versailles walks home with one of the musical soundtracks ever. The OP “Bara wa Utsukushiku Chiru” drawing the comparison between Oscar and a rose, the ED “Ai no Hikari to Kage” depicting her struggles with romance and feminine life, and all of the fantastic tracks in between set a strong stage and leave a solid impression on what true shoujo drama should sound like.

Capture

The show was also never given an English dub – Good thing it will never need one. I am not one to nitpick with Japanese acting, as I sadly do not speak the language, but by God, when Oscar asks for a leave of absence you damn well give her one! Where the visuals could not lift the show, the acting brings all of Versailles’s drama to life.

Why bother reliving the past?

It is arguable the French Revolution started because human beings are inherently evil people, and that all people are born equal. Those who oppose drink their half-full glasses knowing that humans are beings which can reflect on their mistakes to better themselves and the world. The Rose of Versailles masterfully captions both of these viewpoints and reiterates them in a powerful soap opera for anime fans. Portrayal of the female spirit in the ladies of Versailles and of the slums adds additional gold foil to a solid foundation. Melodrama is an enhanced asset that the show flaunts gloriously, and its execution is impactful on a very deep emotional level, given the short time it takes to adjust to the production quality. Just, DO NOT LET THE ANIMATION FOOL YOU, PLEASE.

Lastly, the cast of this historical “story” is just us living in another time, a barbaric fantasy which seems eons ago. The only difference is that this current humanity does not need fancy balls and lavish candelabras to vent its frustration. The Rose of Versailles is not for all, but all for one. In other words, with its age, shoujo background, cheesy moments, and 40-episode run, it is clearly not for everyone; however, it is more than willing to fight for the good of the cause, and for justice everywhere. Its realistic quality and well-researched plot should also give most history buffs a run for their money. Heartwarming and heartbreaking, this is a classic for a reason, and as such should be adorned at your nearest convenience.

“Love can lead to two things: the complete happiness, or a slow and sad agony.”

“No, no, Oscar. For all I know, love only leads to a slow and sad agony.”

                                                       – Oscar to Fersen

Nozomi Entertainment’s two LTD ED boxsets sit with poise and elegance on my shelves, awaiting my return to a dark period in human history just so I can re-emerge enlightened and exhausted. I thank you for spending the time to read through my thoughts, and I do hope you feel the urge to suddenly dip into this classic! I’m not sure if you will pick up on this, but this review was once again done in a different fashion. One change is trying to put a piece of fan art that took out of the experience. Do you prefer this new format over the old one? How about your own thoughts on The Rose of Versailles? Was the masterpiece story enough to sideline the iffy visuals for you, or not? As always, let me know in the comments, waltz on over to that like button if you enjoyed the review, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Tags: Anime, Berusaiyu no Bara, Oscar François de Jarjayes, Reverse Trap

Like and share and maybe, just maybe, Ufotable will hear Lady Oscar’s pleas~!

 

Code Geass: A Masterful Rebellion To Be Remembered

A review of the 2006-2007 anime “Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion” and its 2008 sequel, “R2”

***Beware of slight spoilers, though everyone should have seen this show by now***

Before I start writing, we must travel back in time to December of last year – my amateur Guilty Crown review *shudders*. In it, I accused GC of “stealing something precious from every solid robot/action anime prior to its own existence,” and that it was “just a messy conglomeration of past sci-fi anime.” I actually confess to being the one guilty here, as prior to that review I was honestly just venting others’ thoughts rather than speaking my own. I knew nothing about the mecha genre of anime! So now, I apologize and atone for my sins by witnessing the very chaos where Guilty Crown got its roots – And it all rises with a single rebellious command.

Secondly, my god, how I love smart characters. Enjoy ~

By 2010, the totalitarian Holy Britannian Empire, which already claims a third of the world, captures and strips the honorable Japan down to petty people. Now renamed to Area 11, the “Elevens” no longer enjoy a life of freedom and pride, but slave away while the Britannian aristocracy stands over them with overwhelming wealth and authority, wine glasses in hand.

Lelouch vi Britannia, a banished royal youth has been taking refuge in the prestigious Ashford Academy with his blind and wheelchair-bound little sister Nunnally. Going by the last name Lamperouge to escape execution, the two became members of the spirited student council. All goes fairly well for the two, but Lelouch can hardly even call hiding in secret day by day living! So when a Japanese terrorist operation results in a horrific highway wreck, the witness Lelouch runs to check on their safety, but instead uncovers a classified Britannian “weapon” of sorts. Her name is C.C. (pronounced C2), and she bestows the near-omnipotent power of Geass upon him – the power of absolute control over another, which merely requires direct eye contact and a command to activate.

It’s at this exact moment that the scheming Lelouch ZERO begins his awe-inspiring rebellion to destroy Britannia and recreate the world anew, all for the safety of his crippled sister and to uncover the mysteries surrounding his mother’s death. Zero rallies his Black Knights, the Japanese terrorists, and sets his sights on liberation, but by donning the mask of a criminal mastermind and wielding his King’s Power mercilessly, he shall pave his own path of solitude and shoulder all of the world’s evil.

Code Geass is a complex anime to watch. Half of the show is following Lelouch as he scrambles identities from school boy to the anarchist Zero, while the other half is political mumbo jumbo. Between constant Geass brainwashing, royal court betrayals, and countless bickering, national figureheads, each complete with an ideology of their own, it’s quite easy to get lost. The plot also relies on very meticulously placed characters to show you what you need to see, when you should see it. I don’t think this overly convenient placement is considered plot armor for Lelouch, for he is quite the intelligent badass, it’s just that there is an inhuman amount of info to keep track of, considering that each character’s current knowledge, prior history and point of view is equally important toward the end result. One easy slip-up early on and his whole uprising would have fallen flat -_-

As a viewer, I was very stressed to find no answers to any of my several hundred questions after the first season, but in due time, everything became clear. Often, explanations arrive too late in the series, however, which only adds to the long-standing confusion. My episode one qualms no longer seemed relevant to what was going on.

About the mechs. While the first season valued tactics, ahem errr, strategy on the battlefield, the second season’s combat was structured on “my gun is bigger than your gun,” of which the sexy Rakshata or ridiculously quirky “Earl of Pudding” would steal the other’s ideas to invent a better one. These scientific discoveries were pointless compared to the supernatural Geass, though they were at least entertaining. The second season’s use of flight capabilities also took out the thrill that came from ground combat. All in all, I really enjoyed the solidly strategized Knightmare Frame battles, but I could have gone without the boring aerial stuff.

As for characters, we have the aforementioned Lelouch Lamperouge, the brilliant chess master who is justly one of the BEST anime characters EVER, like do I even need to explain? Always several steps ahead of the game, using whomever he needs like pawns to create a new world. One character who constantly bumps heads with him is childhood friend Suzaku Kururugi, a knight of justice who in contrast to Lelouch believes that the means are more important than the end result. Due to “Spinzaku” being Japanese, his righteousness brings punishment from leaders on the both sides, however, and his stubborn will causes never-ending interference with the Britannian nobles and Lelouch. A fine character nevertheless.

And of course, the rest of the cast is extraordinary! Nobles like Prince Schneizel and Cornelia li Britannia (BEST GIRL) continually throw in spicy curveballs. A rebel like Kallen challenges her very existence because of her being half Britannian and half Japanese. Lovers like Lulu’s sister Nunnally, Rolo, Jeremiah, Shirley, Villetta, and eventually C.C. heighten the levels of drama. There are also the Black Knights, Ashford’s student council, and other royals that play their part exceptionally well! Granted some of the characters are incredibly dumb, and in the second season there are a lot of bipolar decisions, I was pretty damn impressed with what we got. Lastly, Code Geass never forgets about a single character; each one is gradually touched on throughout the entirety of the franchise, and that is not an easy feat to pull off!

Animation was done by Sunrise, and since I have not watched many mecha anime, it was a huge change for me to see robots that were all drawn. Unlike most CG, I was never taken out of the world thanks to the drawn appearance, so that’s a plus! Another nice factor was the character designs done up by Clamp. There’s just something so incredibly sexy about those elongated chests and limbs tagged along with bold, charming, unique faces that made me go mmmm. I especially love the eye and hair designs (Leads, Euphemia, Cornelia), so rich and fierce 😉

Ahh, the OST by Kotaro Nakagawa and Hitomi Kuroishi, much like the animation, a strong point. It’s an epic, classical, string based soundtrack, which are my favorite kinds, but occasionally there are soft, Celtic-esque tracks that play during the most depressing moments, milking all that they can out of a scene. Some of the best songs include “Black Knights,” “Beautiful Emperor,” “Lullaby of M,” “All-out Attack,” and the famous “Madder Sky.” But the one that tops them all, possibly my favorite track from an OST, is the bittersweet “Continued Story” by Hitomi Kuroishi, which played in the final episode. From YouTube, this is the song that got me into the show, and literally tears run down every time . . .

The very first and last ending themes, both Ali Project songs, also added fuel to the fire of the rebellion! Check out “Yuukyou Seishunka” and “Waga Routashi Aku no Hana,” as they are both eerie and insane!

I can now easily understand why Code Geass receives so much conversation and the title of classic. I was always trying to guess what Zero would do next, but little did I know that he had everything in the bag from the start, or so I believe. The show excels in all categories and provides the genre with ONE OF THE BEST (TRAGIC) ENDINGS IN ANIME HISTORY. Code Geass is a battle of wit, a competition for science, a war of mechs, a struggle for royal power, a strife for family, and above all, a rebellion to be remembered. By accepting Geass and becoming the world’s greatest antihero, Lelouch vi Britannia dug his own grave, and once he reaches the pits of hell itself, he shall take all of the world’s hatred with him.

“Suppose there is an evil that justice cannot bring down. What would you do? Would you taint your hands with evil to destroy evil? Or would you carry out your own justice and succumb to that evil?” – Lelouch Lamperouge

+ One of the best main characters to hit anime, supporting cast also brilliant

+ Masterful varying portrayals of justice and other ideological themes

+ Excellent English dub (especially Lelouch, Suzaku, Kallen, Cornelia), strong soundtrack

+ Gripping, curious, and intense story to the finale, one of anime’s greatest endings

– Plotline involving Geass history/Emperor’s grand plan could have used more combing through

– Several moments were a bit too conventional for Lelouch, some bipolar actions made to keep story moving

– 2 seasons; 50 episodes can be very extensive for some

This was definitely a difficult review to write, as I was pretty much just fanboying the entire time 😀 I did have a few complaints, though. But after considering the clever ride from start to finish, it deserves the Caffé Mocha award without a doubt! 9/10 for both seasons to those following my MyAnimeList. Action, romance, drama, great characters and story – EVERY anime fan must watch this show! The varying genres of school, mecha, war, comedy, sci-fi and more also make this show interesting. I feel I have the room to judge anime a little better now that I’ve seen this classic (and that cart scene, I see what you did there). My god, I’ve never been so entertained by one character in such a long time ahaha AHAHAH MUAHAHA – ALL HAIL LELOUCH!! Now, I command you to like, comment and follow my blog, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your emperor