The Royal Tutor: A Heartfelt Lesson on Judgement | OWLS “Mentor”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s seventh monthly topic for 2018, “Mentor,” I wanted to broaden my horizons into the shoujo genre like I did last month . . . only to find out while writing this that The Royal Tutor is somehow labeled under the shounen catageory. Still, I enjoyed the efforts of Grannzreich’s latest royal tutor as he set out to shape up the country’s four princes into well-rounded individuals fit for the crown. How exactly he accomplished such a daunting task is what makes him a perfect fit for this month’s topic!

Throughout our lives, we might have encountered someone that we admired as a role model or has guided us in some life dilemma. This mentor could be a teacher at school, a coach, a boss or team leader at work, or a family friend. Whoever it is, that person impacted your life in a positive manner. For this month’s OWLS topic, we will be writing about mentors or mentorships in anime and other pop culture media. Some topics we will be exploring include how a mentorship impacted a main character’s life, the types of mentor relationships a person could have, and/or personal stories about mentors or mentorships.

I had only recently crossed paths with The Royal Tutor, so it’s exciting to freshen up my palette with something I would normally not have watched. Thanks Z and Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 12-episode spring 2017 anime “The Royal Tutor,” animated by Bridge, directed by Katsuya Kikuchi, and based on Higasa Akai’s manga of the same name. 

The Royal Court Requests Your Presence

The King of Grannzreich currently fathers five sons, four of which in desperate need of tutelage should they need to assume the throne. There’s Licht, the flirtatious, most free-spirited, and youngest prince; his dimwitted, hotheaded older brother Leonhard; Bruno the studious yet close-minded third prince; and Kai, the most reserved and oldest of the four with a RBF so intense that he scares even his hand-servants away. All of them want the throne, badly, but their collective inability to overcome their individual shortcomings prevents them from receiving their father’s approval.

After having many tutors come and gone—all deemed failures either because they ran out or were run out of the palace by the princes themselves—the king turned to an old acquaintance, the equally charming and austere Heine Wittgenstein, for the massive and intimidating undertaking of properly educating his sons. But as it happens in the royal family, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, and Heine finds dark memories of his past resurfacing in the present. Nothing shalt shake the brilliant Heine Wittgenstein, however, for despite his incredibly short, childlike stature, the new royal tutor’s ability to command respect and diligence from all of his pupils is the exact reason King Victor von Grannzreich hired him in the first place.

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Educating royalty might not sound like a very interesting concept for some, but with comedy as the main genre The Royal Tutor is tossed into, one can only imagine the hilarity that ensues when a tiny teacher cracks a whip on a spoiled, blond-haired twat for not knowing what 2 + 2 is. After the four princes are forced to understand that Heine is NOT going to give up on them, episode by episode, the royal tutor works one-on-one with their majesties. While some princes are easier to coerce than others, Heine remains determined to give them each the same amount of time together. This establishes a mutual respect boundary between teacher and student, as well as fellow students (or in this case, brothers).

In their private lessons, Heine systematically pulls the princes to their lowest lows, never failing to offer fascinating and invaluable advice on the human spirit. Heine, simply put, is an inspiration to the boys. Slowly but surely, the Grannzreich princes warm up to Heine, and as the royal family’s name continues to face false accusations and scandalizations via some shady wealthy individuals in the kingdom, the princes must come to Heine’s aid in turn to protect not only his name but their own. From beginning to end, the plot offers a pleasant ride which nicely works in serious moments of character growth (the show’s most noteworthy feature) and the slapstick, slice-of-life comedy in all its chibified glory.

Such wonderful balance could only be obtained in a show like Ouran High School Host Club—And in fact, between the on-par voice acting and similar art style, I’d go so far as to call this anime Ouran‘s spiritual successor! Trust me, there’s a high chance that if you liked that ritzy ditzy cast, you’ll definitely *KISS KISS* fall in love with this one too!!

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Teacher and Student

While I’d like to say the series’s “best boy” is Heine himself, until the very end, he mostly acts as a device to push other characters toward development. Even after everything’s said and done, we only know a bit about his childhood, and that he’s been the leader type since. He’s also strict, but true to his word; credit is given only where credit is due. Though pint-sized, Heine is still a moving, breathing source of inspiration, and if his grand speech in the finale episode, “The Last Lesson,” didn’t move you to tears, I’m honestly not sure what will. Having watched Funimation’s English dub, I can confirm that this is both one of Micah Solusod’s funniest characters (what with the hilariously low register for such a lil’ fella) and, despite Heine’s apathetic yet articulate tone, most poignant, eloquent roles.

The same glowing things could be said about the rest of the cast. I love the spoiled Licht’s endeavor to try living a humble life, as well as his charisma and resistance on not letting being the youngest hold him back. Not gonna lie, VA Stephen Sanders has a weird voice, but it fits Licht’s flashier side well enough. Fourth prince Leonhard struggles wanting to study hard to be like his brothers, to which I’m sure we can all relate. Leo’s whiny, bratty personality but inner goodwill can be felt thanks to Alejandro Saab’s great (and very high-pitched, wow) voice acting.

Third prince Bruno was the real surprise, as I normally don’t care for the megane characters. But here we are, with the studious and esteemed Bruno as best boy, and VA Christopher Wehkamp as the one who brought this Heine fanboy to life. Lastly, second prince Kai is, well, Kai. Rumored to be violent, but actually has hands gentler and more caring than all in the land. For all those low, billowing grunts and one-liners, Daman Mills gets the job done.

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Genius vs. the fruits of hard work; personal enjoyment and satisfaction vs. maintaining one’s line to the thrown. As a prince in the line of succession, such sacrifices are bound to be made. But with knowing that they likely won’t become king because their eldest brother, the elusive first prince, is already the perfect candidate, does sacred duty really come before broadening horizons outside the palace? That’s what Heine is here to mentor us and the four princes through, and it is for that reason that I thoroughly enjoyed this series of personal conflicts and inferiority complexes galore.

Adding Charm with a Splash of Color

Briefly, I wanted to mention the beautiful animation by Bridge, a studio that hasn’t done too much beyond helping with Fairy Tail (2014) and a couple game-to-anime adaptations. First, Heine’s dud mode, and how The Royal Tutor switches between chibified comedy and serious bishounens with incredible ease! Next, the unique lighting, something which I guarantee not many mention. While most anime define shadows as darker hues of the same color or just with a flat gray color, studio Bridge highlights skin and clothes with blues, reds, pinks, oranges, whatever the color depending on how light would logically reflect on brightly colored interior palace walls and long, draping curtains. The boys already had glittery eyes and pretty ombre blends in their hair, and this added color gave the anime additional charm, not that it needed it. The highlights match wonderfully with the innate palace couches, gold leaf embellishments, and stunning wall and carpet patterns. Bridge has absolutely convinced me that these men do, in fact, live the royal life.

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Also lovely is the light piano music that can be felt during the tender moments. Keiji Inai’s (DanMachi) whole soundtrack, in fact, feels inspired by classical music, another nod to this literally being Host Club‘s spiritual successor. Fanciful, flowing, and grand—a perfect fit for our princes!

Heine’s Lessons & Learning How to be Human

At the end of each day, Heine Wittgenstein offers a brilliant and breathtaking lesson on the human spirit. So what better for an OWLS “Mentor” post than to showcase the words of the wise straight from the royal tutor’s mouth!

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Licht’s devilish charm and desire to entertain his lady-friends constantly pushes him to lead two separate lives. Thus, Heine teaches him about the duality of man, and how he can be both a prince and a gentleman so long as he learns to prioritize his own safety.

Always remember, before quitting something you want to do, you should always explore alternative solutions.

 

A king must lead with compassion without discrimination. He must be one who always hears his people, no matter the circumstance, as well as want everyone to follow their ambitions and enjoy their freedom.

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Leonhard always stumbles where intellect is concerned, but makes up for this shortcoming with mad athletic skills. He holds himself to a higher standard because of his inability to learn new subjects, and flees when things get rough. As a result, Heine puts Leo through test after test, threatening him with the separation of teacher and student, friend and friend, as the ultimate motivator to learn.

Those who recognize their own vulnerability can grow to be stouthearted souls who are kind and sensitive to the pain of other people. Running away may seem like a solution, but has it ever made your heart feel lighter? Hiding from your problems will not make them go away.

 

A king must lead with powerful imagination. He should act with compassion, and reach out to people in need. To want to live in a country where we all help each other is an honorable thing indeed.

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Meanwhile, Bruno is just about as princely as one can get, but he lacks that extra lick of creativity that his brothers possess, forcing him to work harder all the time to overcome this imperfection. Even then, he’s still so smart—any university would be lucky to have a guy like Bruno! Unlike Licht or Leonhard, his options are infinite. Like a master should, Heine remind Bruno that we only get one life, and that we must choose what is best for us.

You only have one life and it’s yours alone, so live it as you please because it’s the only one you’re going to get. 

 

A king must lead with acumen and expertise. He must possess a wealth of information. There will be a time when people will go down the wrong path, but no mistakes happen–he should believe in second chances, not punishing them for the sins of their past.

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Lastly, for the reclusive Prince Kai, Heine tells him of humanity’s kindness, and that, should he express generosity and affection to his subjects, his people will return such warmth in full.

Everyone has a different personality. Some won’t like you no matter how polite you are to them. It’s not all bad. That also means that there are plenty of people who will like you quite a bit. This world is very big. Do not deprive yourself of people who will understand and care for you. 

 

A king must never surrender his overwhelming heart. The misunderstood should not lose hope, for he shall be a king that all the people will adore. This chronicles the lessons taught by Heine, amongst many more untold.

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A Tutor for All Ages, a Lesson for All Time

Make no mistake, The Royal Tutor is a very fun show. Its comedic timing is great, and its charismatic characters are full of personality. That said, this series also dabbles into several valuable lessons we all take for granted. From beginning to end, The Royal Tutor offers well-rounded, wholesome episodes that are filled to the brim with simple life advice. The boys are pretty, and the fujoshi crowd will love it, but . . . beyond looks, it’s a show about not judging people based on first impressions alone, as well as helping those with needs unlike most others by building a personal relationship with them and helping them grow as potential leaders. If ever you need a pick-me-up, Heine Wittgenstein, the royal tutor, has always got the time for a private lesson with you—just make sure you are prepared to learn.

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Instead of judging others based on rumors and gossip, I must seek the answers for myself and arrive at my own conclusions. One must never think they know someone after little to no time with them, and so I must begin again. With every fresh start comes a new beginning.—Heine Wittgenstein


Afterword

I came into this show just in time, for a second season of The Royal Tutor was just announced not too long ago! Like Prince Leonhard’s rich and savory sachertorte, I, too, shall award this first season with the “Cake” rating, a show too sweet to miss out on! Have you seen The Royal Tutor? Who’s your favorite prince?? You’ll have to let me know what you thought about the series or this OWLS post in the comments!

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This concludes my July 24th entry in the OWLS “Mentor” blog tour. Gloria (The Nerdy Girl News) went right before me with a post about learning to live again in The Ancient Magus’ Bride, a series that I really ought to watch! Now, look out for blogger buddy Hazel (Archi-Anime) with a post on Ace of Diamond, a sports anime that I’ve also been longing to watch, tomorrow, July 25th (it’s also her birthday, so give her a shoutout)! Thanks for reading such a long post, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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A Sister’s All You Need: The Perverted Life of a Light Novelist | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode fall 2017 anime “A Sister’s All You Need.,” animated by Silver Link., directed by Shin Oonuma, and based on Yomi Hirasaka’s light novel series of the same name.

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A Hilarious Glimpse into Light Novel Culture

Arrogant, foolish, and always fighting his editor for procrastinating on deadlines, Itsuki Hashima is a light novelist in modern day Japan whose obsession with little sisters constantly finds its way into his stories. Despite his problematic personality and siscon fixation, the single 20-year-old author has garnered a tight circle of friends: Nayuta Kani, a young genius novelist yet grossly perverted girl who’s head-over-heels for Itsuki; Haruto Fuwa, a fellow male light novelist who frequently sees success with his series; Miyako Shirakawa, a friendly girl Itsuki met during his brief time in college; and Chihiro, his LITERALLY PERFECT younger step-brother who comes over on occasion and takes care of the housework and cooking.

Together, this oddball batch of young adults play strange (and fun) games, flee on spontaneous journeys across Japan, crack horny jokes, and celebrate each other’s successes with alcohol abound. Just as how work is full of ups and downs, however, each of these hesitant individuals must eventually deal with their own set of headaches, whether that’s battling the next deadline or deciding what one truly wants to do with their life.

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The overarching story of A Sister’s All You Need is simple: watching Itsuki and his friends find success with their work. Almost episodic in a sense, we follow these struggling authors through severe cases of writer’s block, the rare advent of dealing with another’s prosperity, and of course, deadlines. How each of them tackle these various problems speak volumes about their characters; Itsuki escapes to cultural hot spots around the country as sources of inspiration for his siscon trope story, while Nayuta gets her writer’s high from, well, “feeling up” another girl’s naked body, usually Miyako’s. (Yep, the wildly perverse girl, definitely a light novel staple.) Either way, they seek out their creative boosts by reminding themselves of their, errm, other passions, and that’s where the comedy (or enlightenment) ensues.

Full of meta humor for being a light novel adaptation about writing light novels, the series offers an fascinating social commentary on light novel culture, what it has become, and a parody of what its audacious authors must be like. (Cause all light novelists must’ve walked in on a girl who’s stepped out of the shower, baring it all, and got kicked in the nut sack for it, right?) It’s a series full of light novel tropes ironically about writing light novel tropes, and while it sounds dumb, the characters—when they want to be endearing—somehow make it work.

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A Group of Friends is All You Need

I’m going to start by writing that I love these characters. They’ve got such rare, humorous chemistry together, and only when Itsuki’s apartment was full was I thoroughly entertained. That said, Itsuki is an incredible narcissist and resident little shit while Nayu is practically a whore. Any chance he gets, he shamelessly plugs his pitiful writing in conversation (usually while in a drunken storm), and Nayu? Well, she strips down. With her, it’s always boobs, butts, and dicks [insert me still giggling like a middle school boy]. It’s repetitive, almost obnoxious, and STILL, I thought they were fun characters. I adored having the shy and typically out-of-the-loop Miyako play the straight man (woman?), and I got a kick out of Haruto’s “online gay facade to attract more female fans” charade. It was all so funny to me—THEY are all so funny to me—and although the comedic gags are dumb, I still enjoyed our time spent laughing in Itsuki’s little apartment immensely.

Beyond the pervy foreplay and dick jokes, this series’s characters are some of the best of its kind: Haruto is a hard worker battling on the same front as his talented friends; Nayu is a gifted writer seeking a more personal connection beyond words on a page; Miyako is starting to find herself by venturing out of her comfort zone; and Itsuki still yearns for . . . a little sister? No, hardly. All he needs is a good group of friends, and fortunately for him, he’s already got that.

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There’s NO WAY These Guys Are “Adults”

Is it just me, or do all of the characters in a Silver Link. work look like they’re ten years old?  Apologies, random point there, but the cute, underaged character designs continue in A Sister’s All You Need. Despite being a series about adults surviving on their own (except for Nayu, age 18, and Chihiro, age 16), all of the characters look like they could still be in high school. Itsuki, who is supposed to be 20, looks like a friggin’ middle school boy, and Haruto doesn’t look a day over 16 himself despite being Itsuki’s 22 year-old friend/rival. TWENTY-TWO YEARS OLD GUYS. And it’s even more conflicting when these full-blown “young adults” start going off on wildly inappropriate and lewd discussions about, well, whatever it is that gets light novelists going.

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Although the visuals might disappoint adult viewers anticipating a cast of accurate-looking adults, the art style is still nice and easy on the eyes, even if the balance between seriousness and comedy looks very inconsistent at times. (I swear, there is never “one” Itsuki, as he looks different in every frame.) On the subject of comedy, each of the tabletop games the cast play are visualized in unique styles to bring them to life. Also, all of the games they play ARE, in fact, REAL board and card games, which is awesome! I love how a group of authors play such creatively-stimulating games—it makes the life of a light novelist feel all the more real! As you can expect, I ended up buying and introducing the storytelling card game “Once Upon A Time” to my own friends, and while it requires a good amount of mental stamina, it is tons of fun.

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For the English voice cast, VA Stephen Fu overwhelmingly excels at bringing Itsuki’s narcissistic charm and asinine snarkiness to life. (Seriously, why don’t we hear from this guy more often??) While sounding a bit too old for Nayu’s character, I can’t think of anyone better than Jamie Marchi to make those insatiable lines just roll of the tongue. While I think Sara Ragsdale’s voice is not as full and confident as I’d like, I did find her extreme timidness here appropriate. And of course, it’s always nice to hear Eric Vale lay down some smack as Itsuki’s nagging editor, Kenjirou Toki.

Finding the Inspiration to Write Through Friendship

Underneath all its abundant layers of lewd nakedness, somehow, there’s something in A Sister’s All You Need. that makes me want to sit at the keyboard and write myself. I was able to find inspiration for writing in the most unlikely of places, and that to me elevates this seemingly ordinary, dime-a-dozen siscon anime based on a light novel to merit it worth the watch. For not particularly liking the little sister trope, I surprisingly enjoyed myself a great deal. You’ll also find yourself wanting to support fellow novelists after watching, or even become interested in light novel culture as a result!

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There’s also an interesting philosophical struggle tugging at our authors: whether to appeal to what’s popular—what people are currently into—and build yourself as a person to sell your books (Haruto), or to write exclusively about what you enjoy, even if that in itself might not appeal to a large audience (Itsuki). As a blogger, this is something I must always consider when publishing a post (though I’m usually the latter, as I can’t keep up with today’s standards haha).

At its worst, this stupid comedy series is downright weird and too far out-there to make any logical sense. But at its best, like when Itsuki [stops being a self-indulgent ass and] legitimately wants to try his hardest as to not fall behind Haruto or Nayuta’s immediate successes, it’s surprisingly a very compelling, almost inspiring, story. Victory and defeat come hand-in-hand, after all, and the publishing world is not exempt from that law. The biggest problem with the series right now is that, like most light novel adaptations, the story of Itsuki and his friends is far from over. This first season is but a hilarious, heartwarming glimpse into the perverted life of a light novelist, and I do hope author Yomi Hirasaka gets the green-light for a second season of his own work in the near future—and that he, too, will celebrate his success with good company, games, and a round of drinks!

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What you want, someone always has. And usually, it means nothing to the person who actually has it. It’s pretty much a miracle when you have what you want, and most comedies and tragedies happen due to the absence of that miracle. It may not be fair, but that’s just how the world works.Itsuki Hashima


Afterword

With all its light novelist insight, comedic overtones, homoerotic undertones, and dick jokes abundant, I confidently recommend this silly light novel adaptation as a “Cake” here at the cafe, as its characters lay down fascinating intentions and promising developments straight from the start, plus it’s hella funny. Just like Itsuki’s outrageous little sister stories, there’s a “mysterious appeal” to A Sister’s All You Need., and I consider it a miracle that I admittedly enjoyed it, let alone to the degree that I did. It’s simply a fun series, and if the premise of authors drinking and playing tabletop RPGs together intrigues you, all the more reason to watch it!

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Surprisingly, the anime baited me into buying the first volume of the light novel series recently published by Yen On, so that’ll be an exciting read which I’ll definitely write about if the new developments are fulfilling enough! But what did you think about this lascivious little series? Did you find it too dumb ‘n dirty or hilarious and oddly pleasant? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Thanks for reading, and until the next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Game of Laplace: Rampo Edogawa’s Macabre Eye-Candy Playground | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode summer 2015 anime “Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace,” animated by Lerche, directed by Seiji Kishi, and inspired by the works of author Edogawa Rampo.

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A Startling Wake-Up Call

Famous for his influence on Japanese fiction, mystery author and critic Ranpo Edogawa (romanized as Rampo) passed away a little over 50 years ago, and what a better way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death in 1965 than with a surreal mystery/horror anime loosely based on his stories? (Ya nailed it Japan.) That’s exactly what Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace is, and although this series of brutal and bizarre crimes stems from an author known to write masterpieces, this clunky anime “adaptation” comes up short in just about every gruesome case. And somehow, I still enjoyed it.

Middle school student Kobayashi is framed for murder. He awakens in his classroom to find his teacher brutally mutilated, and the murder weapon dripping with blood in his hand. Any normal kid would be freaking out by now, but Kobayashi finds himself more so curious (and secretly thrilled) about this strange attempt to frame him. Watching out for Kobayashi’s well-being, a close friend named Hashiba joins the case as a willing accomplice to help prove Kobayashi’s innocence. Also roped into solving this twisted crime is Akechi, a lazy genius high school detective who immediately sees an interesting potential in the young accused boy. Desiring nothing more than to mix up his mundane life, Kobayashi pleads to be recruited as Akechi’s assistant, to which Akechi agrees to take him on—but only if he can handle the chaos that comes with disobeying the law.

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Game of Laplace‘s characters are simply too fun for the plot’s serious overtones. As much as the series tries to be a philosophical thriller, Kobayashi’s enthusiasm and Akechi’s frank lack of care always kill the mood. When viewed as a comedy, however, this problem is less apparent (which is probably not the intent but it just fits better no matter how you look at it). Hashiba’s one-sided (and unresolved) bromance with Kobayshi only makes his reason for always being with the detectives sillier, and once little-girl-lover and phantom thief “Shadow Man” becomes a member of the main cast, any sense of seriousness goes out the window. Heck, this crook wears a freakin’ PAPER BAG over his head to protect his identity! A true master of disguise, right? How can I not laugh at his constantly-dumbfounded expression??

Although the characters give this series a few too many laughs than it probably should have, there’s still a nice balance of chemistry between them. Kobayashi fawns over Akechi’s work; Hashiba blushes and stammers whenever Kobayashi acts too girly; police officers Kagami and Nakamura respect and deeply care for each others’ well-being; and everyone, especially Akechi, hates Shadow Man. (Look no further than episode six for proof of this. Even if you don’t watch the series, this episode is worth it if you wanna kill time for some damn hilarious dialogue.) So if it’s not the characters, what makes Game of Laplace not as great as it should be?

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The Problem with Telling a Good Mystery

From what I understand, in theory, every good mystery can be solved by oneself using the clues laid out before them. All of the necessary evidence should be placed fairly before the detective (in this case the viewer), and a decent amount of time should be given before the answer is revealed. Additionally, should a certain character need to solve the case, one piece of critical evidence will be withheld until the end explanation is made. Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Well, this is where Game of Laplace struggles hard, as there’s never enough evidence (or time) to find out whodunit.

Not only that, but the criminal or mastermind at hand rarely has any time to establish themselves as a character within the work. At most, you’ll get a ” Office Secretary” or “Construction Worker B,” and then the episode will move on to have Kobayashi quickly solve the case right after Hashiba gives a sensible hypothesis. It’s just a poorly written mystery series if that is truly the main goal, which is odd given that Rampo Edogawa is so highly regarded. (I’m guessing it’s a fault with the anime, not the original author’s stories.) As a viewer, I ended up just sitting through the series with my brain turned off, and while none of the reveals were particularly shocking, at least there was a coherent, albeit weak, story that weaves together the crimes.

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Making the Most Out of a Bad Situation

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a certain standalone episode six that I recommend even if you don’t watch the series. The reason for that is simple: Funimation’s hysterical English dubbing. Quick-witted and well-voiced, the quality of acting given to such a mediocre title truly makes the most out of this not-so-hot series. While a bad dub can ruin a show, a good dub can save one, and that by far is Game of Laplace‘s most redeeming quality. Newcomer Jill Harris has proven herself on multiple occasions that she can voice a cute feminine boy (like Kobayashi) without sounding “too girlish,” and Justin Briner as this doting “boyfriend” character with Hashiba is a great match. Throw in veterans like Eric Vale for Akechi’s aggressively low voice, J. Michael Tatum’s smooth-sounding Kagami, and Sonny Strait as everyone’s least favorite bag-wearing Shadow Man and you’ve got a wonderfully solid cast!

Stuido Lerche animates the world of Game of Laplace with just as much creative pizzazz, wacky checkerboard patterns, and bright colors as they do with all their titles. Like they did with the Danganronpa 3 anime (one of my favorites), the background characters are nulled out with a single color to truly seem like “background characters.” Not my favorite visual choice, as sometimes the culprits are actually these blobs of color, causing you to be reliant on voices alone (another reason for the dub), but it does result in an interesting style. The show gets its real visual appeal and absurdity from its investigation scenes where, in a fashion similar to superior mystery title Hyouka, each breakdown of the case is done so uniquely and creatively. This helps the show stay visually entertaining, even if the plot is a little out there. Also, butterflies.

Stick to the Classics

Nearly every mystery anime I’d seen before this one was better than Game of Laplace—but not all of those shows had a cast as fun as this one was. For a 50th anniversary project, I wish they had made an adaptation for a single one of his works, not a messy conglomeration of several. The series easily could’ve been better this way, and I bet more people would’ve watched a show advertised as “Rampo Edogawa tale brought to anime” than a series loosely based on a collection of works like “The Human Chair” and “Twenty Faces.”

This is going to be one of those shows that I enjoyed, but I can guarantee that most will not. The character humor tickled me just right with Funi’s dub, and Lerche happens to be one of my favorite animation studios. In other words, this series is only recommended to those thirsting for more murder mystery anime who have already exhausted the genre’s reserves in their desperate hunt. Watch Danganronpa, Hyouka, Higurashi, Rokka—any of those anime first; as the saying goes, “Stick to the classics” (ironic, I know). Then, only once you’ve thoroughly enjoyed what the genre has to offer, come stop by the Akechi detective agency for a laugh with old Rampo Edogawa.

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The harder the game is to solve, the more fun you can have, right?—Akechi Kogorou


Afterword

Not much to say here, especially since several character backstories and relationships remain largely unresolved by the end (hang in there, Hashiba). Like, Akechi is seen crushing up and washing down these white pills with the same brand of canned coffee all the time, but we never know why he does it . . . huh. Weird.

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Still, I downed this series like a hot “Coffee” myself here at the cafe, and so you’ll have to let me know what you thought about this series or my review down in the comments! It’s nice to be back for a quick review and not just an OWLS post, am I right? Not that I dislike writing them, but it seems like that’s all I write anymore, and I’ve got to change that! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Princess Jellyfish: Confidence, Community, & the Beauty Below the Surface | OWLS “Pride”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s sixth monthly topic for 2018, “Pride,” I wanted to dive deep into the ocean where the jellyfish roam (and the otaku swim)! I suppose most jellies don’t actually swim that deep, as they prefer to ride the ocean’s current . . . Nevertheless, Princess Jellyfish is here to proudly de-Clara that, ultimately, we are all the same below the surface.

In honor of “Pride Month,” we will be discussing the word “Pride” and its meaning. We will be exploring pop culture characters’ most satisfying and joyful achievements or skills that they possessed, and whether or not these qualities could be seen as a positive or negative aspect in their personal lives and/or society.

Just like Haikyuu!!, this is one of those OWLS staples that every member must eventually talk about (haha, not really, but really). While I admit others in our group have explored the series more thoroughly than I will now, I do hope you enjoy what I have to say about this wonderful little title. Thanks Lyn for the month-befitting prompt!

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A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 11-episode fall 2010 anime “Princess Jellyfish,” animated by Brain’s Base, directed by Takahiro Omori, and based on Akiko Higashimura’s manga of the same name. 

All Dried-Up and Taking On Tokyo!

It took all but a single trip to the aquarium to get young Tsukimi Kurashita hooked on jellyfish. Well, Tsukimi’s fateful encounter was made more special by her late mother taking her there, but it’s impossible to ignore the adorable comparison Tsukimi makes between the glowing, flowing tentacles and the fluffy ruffles of a princess’s dress. Alone with only the memories of her mother in her heart, Tsukimi set out for Tokyo for a change. But oh, how life hits ya hard! Currently residing in the dilapidated Amamizukan apartment with five other unemployed otaku women, 19-year-old Tsukimi spends this new phase of her life as a social outcast still dreaming of becoming an illustrator.

However, her quiet life is met with sudden intrigue when a glamorous woman, one of the so-called “stylish” by Amamizukan’s “Sisterhood,” unexpectedly helps Tsukimi save a jellyfish from the careless treatment of a local pet store. After helping bring Clara (the jellyfish) back to the apartment, “the stranger—confident, fashionable, and the complete opposite of Tsukimi and her roommates—begins to regularly visit the girls’ building. This trendy hipster, though appearing shallow at first, harbors some secrets of her own, starting with the fact that “she” isn’t really a girl at all, but a wealthy male college student—and son of a major politician—named Kuranosuke Koibuchi!”

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I leaned on MAL for help with this summary a little more than I would have liked to, but I didn’t want to leave out a single detail of Tsukimi’s crazy situation. Seriously, there is NO end to the number of comedic outcomes to be found in this series! Visually and audibly, intentionally and unintentionally, the humor is excellent and always on point. Beyond the laughs, however, is also a story full of important life lessons. From coming out of one’s shell to coping with new life changes and finding strength and confidence in oneself, Princess Jellyfish never downplays the importance of pride.

Pulled from the depths of the sea that is her shut-in lifestyle, Tsukimi learns to build up her own self-esteem thanks to Kuranosuke’s stylish ways. Conversely, although he forces the Amamizukan ladies to reintegrate themselves back into society by trying new things, Kuranosuke unknowingly finds refuge for his frowned-upon love of cross-dressing in the Sisterhood’s combined passion for their own obscure hobbies.

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Doomed From the Start: The Sisterhood

Tsukimi is just one of five eccentric NEETs barely making it by on petty allowances from the apartment manager’s mother and the income of a mysterious sixth member’s popular BL manga. (Yikes.) Dubbed “the Sisterhood” for their extreme sense of purity (and complete lack of fashion sense), the ladies of Amamizukan neither excel at socializing with normal people nor supporting themselves.

Even so, I love all of them. Tsukimi’s infatuation with jellies of all kind, Banba’s enthusiasm for trains and subways, Mayaya’s fanaticism with anything “Three Kingdoms” and late Han period, Jiji’s silent lust for . . . older men(?) . . . Chieko’s obsession with traditional Japan (kimonos and dolls included)—the whole lot of them! They’ve all got such quirky yet memorable character designs, mannerisms, and speech patterns. Tsukimi’s rapid-fire jellyfish knowledge is fearsome; Chieko’s sewing skills are not-of-this-world; and Mayaya’s constantly-flailing arms and loud, seemingly illiterate shouting always proclaim a duel of sorts. Amamizukan’s ladies are heartwarming, almost overwhelmingly joyful at times, and watching them all casually grow to accept “Kurako’s” shimmering presence—from literally stoned to smiling—has got to be one of the biggest batches of character development I’ve ever seen.

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Sorry Mom, I Couldn’t Become a Princess . . .  

While Tsukimi has physically moved on to a new city where she’s made new friends, mentally, she’s still the same child yearning for mommy. This heartache results in frequent bouts of depression, which Tsukimi describes as “wanting nothing than to dive underwater and sway with the jellies.” At one of her lowest lows, she even wishes she’d be reincarnated as a jellyfish instead of a human just so that she wouldn’t have to deal with such cruel, troublesome emotions. Talk about drastic!

I’m really glad the series doesn’t suddenly drop this heavy mental weight when Kuranosuke gives her (or any of the Sisterhood) a makeover. The lesson isn’t that you’re prettier when you take off the glasses and thrown on some make-up—it’s that sometimes, you need to see yourself in a different way in order to appreciate who you’ve been this whole time. Tsukimi is still a social mess; Kuranosuke is helping in the only way he knows how: he loves fashion, and by spreading his passion with the others, he hopes that the the gals can feel happier with themselves just as how he does. Beauty is not something you simply put on: it’s an emotion you feel when you’re at your best. 

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. . . But I Made Friends With a Queen!?

This wouldn’t be a Princess Jellyfish post if I didn’t rave about our dazzling lead Kura-poo~! Ok, so I’m not Kuranosuke’s hip uncle (and friggin’ PRIME MINISTER) with an approval rating less than 10% and steadily declining, but hear me out: Kuranosuke IS a freakin’ QUEEN, an absolute diva whose own obsession with fashion ironically leaves him lonely. He’s got a mother who left his father, a father that doesn’t necessarily adore him, and a brother, Shuu, that he seems to get along with fine enough. Other than the girls who are just chasing after his looks and dad’s checkbook, however, that’s all Kuranosuke’s got for a support system. To compensate, he seeks pretty things as a memento for his missing mother who dominated the stage fabulously so many years ago, just like Tsukimi does with jellyfish. It’s a sad parallel, really.

That’s when his encounter with Tsukimi and the Sisterhood changes his life in return. Through pushing them to grow together, Kuranosuke finally finds a place to call home (and a squad to call family). Full of pride and not much else, he instills the ladies with the courage to stand on their own two feet against a city plan to demolish their beloved Amamizukan. Without any sense of pride, the Sisterhood wouldn’t stand a chance.

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Declaring their beauteous garb “battle armor,” Kuranosuke is able to shake things and bring change to a group that lives for the status quo. Every stick of lip gloss, bright-colored wig, and chic miniskirt is but a tool to help him reconnect with the past, as well as fill him (and his newfound friends) with undefinable confidence in the present. He treats the Sisterhood and their wacky hobbies with just as much appreciation and respect, as he knows that fashion means the same things to him. Kuranosuke is a rare character, a pillar of positivity—no, an absolute icon to a series that would lose all its main morals without. There’s never a dull moment with Kuranosuke around, and you’re always left wondering if he can get any better.

To which, of course, he always does.

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Precious Pastels, Lovable English Cast

Brain’s Base has crafted the perfect atmosphere that is fluffy and cute, yet realistic at the same time. The wild and hilarious character expressions shine wonderfully against the softer watercolor landscapes and cluttered Amamizukan space. And wow, the fashion transformations for Kuranosuke and the ladies are gorgeous spectacles to behold! The show’s also got a wonderful soundtrack complete with a nice OP and ED which are both, to describe in a single word, charming.

I have to—I must absolutely, without doubt, mention Funimation’s English dub before this post is over. I’ve finally found my favorite Josh Grelle performance with Kuranosuke here, and the same goes for Maxey Whitehead’s Tsukimi! His higher register for Kuranosuke’s aristocratic cross-dress mode didn’t feel fake at all, but rather powerful, graceful, ritzy, lush and, well, stylish. Monica Rial captures Mayaya’s ridiculousness and energy, and while Cynthia Cranz had never really stuck out to me before, her role here as Amamizukan’s manager, Chieko, was so full of care and motherly vibes.

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Passion & Inspiration, Acceptance & Pride

Princess Jellyfish covers a wide emotional range where several human values converge. Learning to accept yourself and love yourself is half the battle; the other half involves knowing that you are still able to change and be accepted by others. After all, you only become that confident, beautiful person once you accept yourself and feel comfortable with those around you. To quote Simply Gee, a YouTuber friend and fan of the series, “If you have a passion, if you love something, you’re a step ahead of everyone else—and you should embrace that, and not have to worry about everyone else’s perception of you.” Beautifully said, Gee!

At its very end, the story of Princess Jellyfish embodies something so pure, hopeful, and passionate that it becomes impossible to not enjoy. You grow to love the characters for who they truly are, even if we don’t get the rest of the tale. It’s an anime about community that means a lot to a good many people, as it provides comfort (and entertainment) for those leading lives similar to its cast. For its realistic premise and general themes of life and love, passion and inspiration, and acceptance and pride, Princess Jellyfish is one of the greatest Josei comedies out there.

Bold, brilliant, and tons of fun, Princess Jellyfish tells us that above all else, so long as you take pride in yourself and the things you love, all people—including us adults—still have plenty of room for growth and change. Just as how many parts of the ocean remain untouched, we all have vast seas of our own with exciting depths yet to be explored. These mystical waters, of course, are called our personality.

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Every girl is born a princess. Some just forget is all. — Kuranosuke Koibuchi


Afterword

I think I’ve said all that I’ve wanted to on this one . . . that is, until I start reading the manga! That’s right, seeing as how the anime just kinda “ends” (it’s still a pleasant stopping point, though), I want to know what happens to Tsukimi and the others. The future of Amamizukan? What of Kuranosuke’s unrequited feelings? And brother Shuu’s side plot relationship with that business woman Inari?? I just have to know, and the manga will give me those answers! I now totally understand why it’s a crying shame this anime hasn’t gotten a second season!

Despite no continuation, I recommend this “Caffe Mocha” series with every fiber of my being to all those struggling with sharing their passion for a hobby. For a coming-of-age tale, the development and growth of its cast is depicted with great realism, and I think that’s what makes it so relatable. The comedy is genuinely funny too, and the characters are utterly inspirational!

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This concludes my June 26th entry in the OWLS “Pride” blog tour. OWLS fam, you’ll have to let me know how I did with this one! Gigi (Animepalooza) went right before me with a video that you should totally check out! Now, look out for Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) with an epic post on the grand space opera Legend of the Galactic Heroes tomorrow, June 27th! Thanks for reading such a long post, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

The Sweetest Kind of Rom-Com: “My Love Story!!” | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode spring 2015 anime “Ore Monogatari!!,” also known in English as “My Love Story!!,” animated by Madhouse, directed by Morio Asaka, and based on Kazune Kawahara’s manga of the same name. 

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A Bumbling, Tumbling, Pure-Hearted Gentleman

Takeo Gouda is a big guy. Though more akin to a bear (or perhaps a gorilla) than a human, I suppose simply calling him “big” wouldn’t do this mammoth of a man any justice. Takeo is an overwhelming, brutish force of masculinity, but underneath all that beefy muscle and thick skin lies a kind, respectful, and unwavering heart of gold. While he may unintentionally scare off all the girls he meets (often coming to their rescue only to go unaccredited for his good service, of course), he’s amassed quite the male following among his high school’s freshman class for his honorable sense of duty and righteousness. Did I mention Takeo was just a freshman? Oh, and did I mention that he is a pretty big guy?

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Well, even if his nonexistent love life never takes off, at least Takeo’s got Sunakawa, his cool and handsome best friend. The two are as inseparable as brick and concrete (I’ll let you guess who is who), but maybe therein lies Takeo’s problem: Sunakawa’s irresistible yet subtle charm and dashing looks has unintentionally captured the heart of every young girl Takeo has ever loved! Suna politely turns them all down, however, and as much as that would aggravate any other guy’s best friend, things somehow always work out for the two.

One day, Takeo nobly saves one Miss Rinko Yamato from a groper on a train, ultimately throwing him head-over-heels for this sweet, kind-hearted baker! Though the two awkwardly meet several times afterwards, Takeo holds himself back, suspecting that “Miss Yamato” only has eyes for Suna. In a surprising turn of events, Rinko admits she feels love, but it’s not for Takeo’s best friend—as his good karma would have it, Rinko loves Takeo, and here begins their love story!!

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Love Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

By episode three, I honestly thought the show could’ve ended. SPOILERS but not really, the two fall in love very quickly, and Takeo’s fear of never hooking up with a cute girl disappears come this early confession. Why is it called My Love Story!! then if we already know how the story goes? WELL, unlike most shoujo series out there that tantalize viewers with a painfully slow romance that ends with the main couple holding hands (if you’re even that lucky), My Love Story!! follows Takeo and Rinko throughout their relationship: celebrating holidays together, meeting the others’ family (Takeo’s parents, oh my god, when you see them it all makes sense), and most importantly, hooking up their fellow dudes and gal pals that are looking for a high school sweetheart. It’s not a test to see how long they stay together. Rather, it’s about how they can unite the hearts of others through their love.

Because Rinko isn’t the kind of girl to wait on her man, the story moves at a pleasant pace—don’t get me wrong, it’s still very, very slow compared to most couples out there, but it’s a slow-burning tenderness that feels so honest and true. The series is, for the most part, quite episodic, as new characters are brought on the screen only to be swiftly swept off their feet by these two match-makers and eventually (and gently) “tossed aside.” Any relationships that do return to the screen build nicely over the course of the series. Takeo and Rinko are #couplegoals, and there are probably very few shows out there that are sweeter than this rom-com.

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Also, can we appreciate the unusual MC’s character design here and Rinko’s unwavering love for him? There is no joke—she legit values his looks. Bless these two.

“MISS YAMATOOOO!!!”

Takeo Gouda is truly A GOD AMONGST MEN. (This man’s lips, just wow.) He’s a big ol’ softie despite his ridiculously boarish stature, and he’s got the restraint of a freakin’ nun, no joke. Sometimes Often times that over-politeness causes Takeo to seem like an awkward lug, but it’s honestly so lovable and refreshing that I just can’t. In fact, the whole show feels like a huge refreshment from the annoying tropes of the shoujo genre, granted that I haven’t seen nearly enough to consider myself knowledgeable on the subject. Though Takeo’s personality is goofy, dutiful, and well mannered, the guy would be nothing without a voice. I DID watch My Love Story!! with Sentai’s English dub, and while they normally aren’t at the same quality as Funimation or Aniplex’s, this dub ROCKS. So much character in every comedic line, so much heart when things need to be cute, Andrew Love FINALLY plays a teenager where his macho voice is appropriate—you could say that I “Love” his burly performance!

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The very same goes to Miss Yamato, voiced by the ever-lovely Tia Ballard (I just can’t get enough of her voice)!! If Takeo is sweet, Rinko is even sweeter—and no, I’m not just talking about her mouth-watering dessert creations. She’s the rich chocolate chips to Takeo’s squishy dough, the perfectly layered icing on an impressively sized cake. This woman has no flaws, I tell ya! Just kidding: she has a less-than-delicate side that really wants to get together with her boyfriend (who’s totally not prepared) on a more intimate level. But honestly, isn’t that everyone? Friendship, the desire to connect with another, and letting go of repressed feelings are all major themes in this series, and where lovemaking is concerned, My Love Story!! is still one of the purest examples out there!

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And I couldn’t forget about our normally-the-lead-but-now-just-a-bishie Sunakawa AKA Austin Tindle. How Sentai got a magnificent beast like Tindle, the world may never know, but all that matters is he’s here, and that he plays the unamused hot guy. If it weren’t for Takeo’s overwhelming presence, Suna would absolutely take the spot as best boy. He may look like he’s bored out of his mind and dosing off half the time, but Suna is kind, attentive, and always watching out for Takeo’s large sweaty back. Every single Suna moment left me like, “Bro . . .”, as he’s a really upstanding and intelligent guy despite characters like his  typically being cast as the “high-and-mighty jealous types” in this situation. Like the rest of this all-star cast, Suna is thankfully so much more than a stereotype, and I valued his brotherhood and cool-headedness. He’s easy to miss at times, but he’s always there for his friends.

It’s. So. Funny. 

LITERALLY ME in every episode. Madhouse brought to life one of the most adorable romance titles out there, yet there’s an added level of humor to Takeo’s build and [hilariously grotesque] facial expressions that made me bust a gut at least ten times per episode. Surprisingly, the slapstick comedy here won me over as one of the biggest reasons why everyone should watch this show. Between the bestial way in which Takeo reacts to everything and his demonstrations of, umm, affection to Suna, I was left with tears in my eyes it was all so funny. Again, this is where the English dub really shines!

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A “Cake” Title in its Purest Form

My Love Story!! stole the simulcast spotlight back when it aired in 2015. Although its popularity has died down significantly (the manga picking up the anime’s slack, as it offers a continuation to what is ultimately but an adaptation), it’s still a pleasantly refreshing rom-com that cuts out all the shoujo drama BS. It’s light-hearted, cleansing, and even touching when it wants to be. Plus it’s really funny! I’ll admit that romance anime aren’t really my thing, so this series was PERFECT for a viewer who tries to avoid the unnecessarily serious stuff.

All this and more is why I recommend My Love Story!! to ALL anime fans. Should you enjoy watching it, you’ll come away feeling happy and bubbly inside, and perhaps even recall your first innocent love (or wistful bromance). We all have stories to share, and Takeo Gouda’s is one that’ll leave you laughing out loud one moment and clutching your warmed heart the next.

I helped a girl who turned out to be a nice girl. That gives me the strength to go on. — Takeo Gouda

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Afterword

Kind of short review, as the show really is sweet and simple. If you watched My Love Story!! and enjoyed it, what part in particular made you like it? Was it the atypical character setup, the laughs, Rinko’s treats, Takeo’s boundless excitement, or just Suna being Suna? You ought to let me know! I WILL try to respond to your comments quicker, haha!

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If you couldn’t already tell, this series currently sits lovingly on my shelf as the ideal “Cake” title here at the cafe, and I do hope you give it a shot if you haven’t yet. Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Haikyuu!! — Growing Together Through Challenge & Failure | OWLS “Squad”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s third monthly topic for 2018, “Squad,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard review of Haikyuu!! season one into this look at friendship and how, exactly, teamwork makes the dream work.

Although some people may like to be alone at times, we all have that one special friend or a squad of friends who we kick it and have some good laughs and fun with. However, there are friendships that don’t last a lifetime, and usually, they end due to a falling out or a misunderstanding. For this month’s topic, we will be exploring some of the best friendships in anime and pop culture, as well as the friendships that ended suddenly. We will talk about what a true friendship means to us, what we learned about ourselves and others through broken friendships, and our definitions of a “good friend.”

To uphold this OWLS favorite, I will be carrying the Haikyuu!! torch for this month’s tour! Though I’m not as passionate about this franchise as some of us are, I do hope I can contribute something of my own to the countless amazing posts out there. Thanks Lyn (and Lita) for the prompt!

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A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 25-episode spring 2014 anime “Haikyuu!!,” localized as “Haikyu!!,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Susumu Mitsunaka, and based on Haruichi Furudate’s popular shounen manga of the same name.

Rivals off the Court, Teammates on It

Shouyou Hinata began volleyball small and to this day remains one of the shortest players anyone has ever come across. Inspiration hit the loud lil’ guy when watching a volleyball ace nicknamed the “Little Giant” take the court by storm, and soon after, Hinata formed his own volleyball club in middle school. Brutal defeat in his team’s very first tournament by Tobio “King of the Court” Kageyama crushed motivations to continue the fight, though. In that moment, Hinata vowed to surpass Kageyama, but upon joining Karasuno High School’s volleyball team, Hinata found himself facing his “sworn rival” as a new fellow teammate.

Despite his unusually high stamina and powerful jumps, Hinata’s short stature gives him a bit of a hard time when it comes to finding the right role to play. Surprisingly, Kageyama, the “genius setter” himself, also struggles with teamwork issues, and only by learning to work together will Karasuno stand a chance against the fierce competition. Excellently balancing the emotional weight of sports drama with lighthearted comedy, Haikyuu!! supports two determined athletes and their endeavor to settle a heated rivalry in order to reignite their team’s once-legendary status.

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Karasuno: The Crow Flies Again

Haikyuu!!‘s first season leads us through a handful of major games set up like little arcs just like any shounen series would. On the surface, it feels like one of those “This is how I became the strongest in the world” series, and in part, that’s not the wrong impression. Beyond Hinata’s constant screaming and boundless excitement lie more interesting subplots, however, such as finding the motivation to play, understanding that loss is prevalent in the path to success, and the ever-constant conflict between upper and lowerclassmen. The series, much like the volleyball players, never sits on one of these themes for too long. Once a character’s lesson has been taught, the momentum bounces across the court to quickly become another teammate’s chance ball!

As previously mentioned, this underdog story appreciates a variety of themes crucial to the personal growth of not only oneself, but an entire team. With every demoralizing insult and crushing defeat, the need for vengeance—to prove that Karasuno will fly again—snowballs into unstoppable enthusiasm for the 12 boys (and their rugged coach, squirrelly faculty advisor, and goddess of a manager). I mean, just imagine it: Back in the day, you were THE top dogs, the ones that everyone aspired to be! And now that you’re finally able to give back to that team that gave you so much to begin with, you find yourself continuing to face loss after devastating loss. 

“To overcome difficulties, you need effort, endurance, and sacrifices.” — Ittetsu Takeda, faculty advisor

As such, it is redemption that pulls the clumsy Karasuno along, but they will fail to earn the respect (and awe) of other teams unless they dig deep within themselves and learn exactly what makes each other tick. Achieving perfected, harmonious unity comes only through knowing your friends better than you know yourself. Unless some of its more reserved members start opening up to each other, I’m afraid Karasuno will only make it so far in the seasons to come.

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Haikyuu!!‘s Unique, Competitive, Spirited Characters

I’ll start with the elephant in the room since I basically had no problems with the rest of this top-tier cast. Hinata and Kageyama are arguably the most irritating, annoying characters in the entire show—which is incredibly unfortunate given their status as male leads. These are supposed to be the two that we root for, that we want to succeed, but on more occasions than not, I was sympathizing with the other side. In their defense, even the rival teams offer compelling stories all on their own—in fact, this well-rounded attention to all of the characters is the bread and butter of Haikyuu!!—but it can be hard to cheer on the main two when Hinata is plain obnoxious and Kageyama is downright rude. By this first season’s end, I started to feel somewhat proud for how far they had come (recalling their earlier bickering and resistance to work together), and I do see myself warming up to them more in the next season.

If you’re asking me who the title of “best boy” belongs to, can I just say all of them? I mean, really:

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Daichi’s strong and steady demeanor makes him a model team captain; Sugawara’s calm, compassionate nature was LITERALLY ME back when I did sports in high school; Asahi’s aged appearance doesn’t stop him from being the biggest sweetheart (and Nervous Nellie) in the entire show. The third years will always be my favorite characters, no matter the series, but I can’t just stop here with Haikyuu!! . . .

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Nishinoya’s overwhelming charisma not only makes him a player to be feared, but also one to be loved; Tanaka’s combo of goofy + grit never fails to lighten the mood; Ennoshita has this ability to silently relate to his friends given practically any situation; Kinoshita and Narita are always there to tame Noya and Tanaka. WHEW, looking forward to find out more about these funny second years. Of course, we can’t forget about the first years . . .

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Kageyama, despite his oppressive exterior, strives to better himself by bringing out the best in his fellow teammates; Hinata’s inner strength to bounce back from defeat will always light a fire in my heart; Tsukishima AKA “best boy” candidate offers remarks that are so freakin’ snarky I just can’t, then proceeds to back up his smugness with the most wicked of feints during a match; lastly, Yamaguchi just wants to play the game everyone loves, and works long after dark hoping to one day be of use to his team.

But #squadgoals doesn’t stop there! Looking at the other teams, Nekoma’s Kenma (voiced by Yuki Kaji, my guy) seems like your average silent character, but his catlike reflexes and calculating eyes make him the heart his high school team; and yes, even the handsome and charismatic Oikawa, a master of playing to his Aoba Josai teammates’ strengths, must be hilariously restrained by his friends from egotistically going all-out”Great King” on them!

The Forces that Unite Us

Similar to the OWLS “Team” theme from last year, we all long for connection, to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves. Not often are we granted the opportunity to bond with others so closely and celebrate the things we love. So, we have to take chances, risks even, if we wish to grow together. Haikyuu!! hits on four essential elements that build strong, long-lasting friendships (all coincidentally beginning with the letter “C”), and for every time a team member attempts one of these building blocks, beautiful, timeless moments are created.

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Consideration—to experience thought and care for another

The weight of the game all rested on second-year Tanaka’s shoulders, yet again, and again, and again, Tanaka dropped the ball. There was a small moment like this during the tournament in which Hinata, a first-year, considered saying something nice or uplifting to baldy as he has always done for him. It’s not pity, it’s empathy. Hinata knows that feeling of repeated failure. When the underclassmen start supporting the upperclassmen (or at least thinking in that mindset), you can tell that the underclassman is starting to grow not only as a team player, but as a person, too.

The older we grow, there’s a tendency for superiors to think that they exclusively must be the ones to guide the young. But in a team, that is not the case. Though there is a chain of command spearheaded by the captain, teammates are EQUALS. In school, work, or any other setting concerning a group that functions together with one goal in mind, people, higher or lower, need to support each other—to consider feelings of failure and success alike and support those who need it in the heat of the moment.

Compliments—to express praise or admiration for one’s actions

Taking it the next step forward, teammates should give credit where credit is due. One’s age, ethnicity, gender, or status does not matter—nobody is above a nice compliment. This responsibility should not be limited to the captain or upperclassmen alone, either. Sugawara gives them out all the time based on how teammates are feeling that day, and that motivation pushes everyone, especially Hinata, to do their best.

Communication—to connect with others and exchange information

A true king asks for the help of his subjects—that is what sets Oikawa, “The Great King” (and even Sugawara) apart from Kageyama, the “Dictator.” Communication is key in both sports and life in general. Kageyama cannot and should not rely on Hinata’s god-like quick ability all the time; as setter, he needs to learn how to pass to teammates like Tsukishima more, and maintain an open communication line that doesn’t look so grumpy. Gradually he improves, and I’m looking forward to see just how much better he’ll get.

Challenge—to engage in competition for the betterment of oneself

Above all, nothing pushes teammates like a little friendly fire. Ultimately, friends want to surpass the challenges that other friends set for them, and this different form of support manifests in rivalries that continue to improve, shape, and make teammates stronger. Hinata swears to be the one to take Kageyama down, giving him some purpose to his play. Nishinoya wants Asahi to give his all and never feel sorry, even if fighting a losing battle. Sugawara understands his limited role thanks to Kageyama’s genius, but he always tries to observe from afar and apply reliable tricks to shake up Kageyama’s stiff repetition. Even Tsukishima and Oikawa verbally confront Kageyama to draw out the fire within themselves!

The Birth of a Real Squad

Haikyuu!! delivers exhilarating volleyball action and inspirational sportsmanship through positive vibes, overcoming failure, and teamwork. I purposefully stuck to this first season alone to highlight the beginnings of a real squad, not the end result. Why? Because it makes each of these team-building exercises all the more powerful. Take that feast scene from the end of episode 24 for instance: it is sometimes the moments of shared silence between team members that impact viewers more than dialogue ever could. The absence of dialogue here ironically speaks volumes about Karasuno’s relationships, emotions, and mutual feelings toward their latest match. Definitely my favorite hard-hitting scene from the entire season.

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At the same time, sometimes fiercely shouting our feelings out loud can be enough to convey those shared emotions with others, as show in the way Noya motivates the guys, or Kageyama and Hinata’s release of anger by blindly yelling in episode 25. These simple, even silly, moments are what bond squad members, their goals, aspirations, and frustrations alike. Karasuno still has a long way to go, but every step these crazy guys take together allows their friendships to evolve with them.

“Someone who can’t see the opponent standing right in front of him, can’t defeat the opponent that lies beyond!” — Hajime Iwaizumi, Aoba Josai vice captain

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Afterword

I’m surprised I didn’t enjoy this series more, as it’s literally everything that I should love about a good sports series all in one package. Looking at it honestly, it probably was Hinata and Kageyama’s characters that deterred my enjoyment a bit. I’ll still definitely recommend, though! To all those interested in an emotional sports comedy with a well-rounded albeit sometimes “too loud” cast, this one should be a must. Oh! And as with these OWLS posts, I didn’t even get to talk about the music and animation! I have completed the Yuuki Hayashi sports trilogy, in which this GOD composed the music for DIVE!!, Welcome to the Ballroom, and Haikyuu!!. He’s also done My Hero Academia, Death Parade, and Robotics;Notes, so yeah, total fave. I was sad when the first ED “Tenchi Gaeshi” by NICO Touches the Walls was replaced, as it was the best song IMO. Lastly, THIS is Production I.G’s powerhouse sports series, as the animation should not be missed! (Where was this quality when Ballroom was airing??)

I’m gleefully awarding Haikyuu!! season one with the “Cake” rating, a show that’s too sweet for its own good! NOW, fans of this beloved series, HIT ME UP WITH YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS FIRST SEASON OR THIS REVIEW IN THE COMMENTS (no spoilers, please)!! I’m very happy to have finally started this show, and though my “marathon” is running a bit slow, I am STOKED to watch more seasons!

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This concludes my March 22nd entry in the OWLS “Squad” blog tour. Shokamoka (Shokamoka’s Blog of Wonders) went right before me and stole my pick wrote about the currently airing A Place Further Than the Universe, which you can read right here (SO EXCITED FOR THIS)! Now, look out tomorrow for the one who got me hooked on this Haikyuu!! madness, Naja B. (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero), with No. 6one of my FAVORITE ANIME from when I first started (ahh, the memories) this Friday, March 23rd! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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

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

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


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

Entering the World of Dance

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

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

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From Slouch Stance to Swing Dance

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

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

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

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

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Finding Something to be Good At: Tatara & Dance

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

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

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Finding Kinship in Competition: Hyoudou & Gaju

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

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

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

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Finding a Partner: Chinatsu & The Struggle to Connect

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

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

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

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

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

A Dancing Anime Without the “Dance”

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

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

Music, the Soul of Dance

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

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

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

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

Dismantling the Stereotypes: The Beauty of Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

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