Our Dreams at Dusk: Ending Pride Month on a High Note || First Impressions

First impressions for volume 1 of the manga series “Shimanami Tasogare” or “Our Dreams at Dusk,” story and art by Yuhki Kamatani, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment. Minor spoilers will be present.


“My Life Probably Ended That Day”

As the new kid, high schooler Tasuku Kanama was able to slip by his first semester thanks to having friends in the table tennis club. But, his world quickly starts spiraling out of control when the other kids find out that he may be gay. Teased and outed for being found with gay porn on his phone, Tasuku prepares to commit suicide when he sees another woman off in the distance jump off a cliff. Panicked and startled beyond belief, what he find upon rushing to the sight of her fall was not what he expected . . .

At the peek of this steep countryside hill, Tasuku finds a “drop-in center” with a lounge open to all who enter. The people there are unusually friendly, but what catches Tasuku’s eye first is seeing woman who jumped off the cliff there, completely unharmed from her fall. The others introduce her as “Someone-san,” and remark how although she’s mysterious and keeps to herself, she is in fact the owner of this fine communal establishment.

Drawn to her presence, Someone-san offers him an ear only if he is willing to talk about his problems. Through speaking to her and reflecting on his own actions, Tasuku realizes that what hurts the most is his own inability to accept his sexuality. An emotional introduction to a much larger story, Our Dreams at Dusk follows Tasuku and all the other gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people he encounters as he tries to come to terms with his sexuality.

our dreams at dusk chapter 1

“Why am I Like This . . . ?”

This first volume does a beautiful job at illustrating Tasuku’s pain and anguish as a closeted gay kid. Anyone who’s ever been in his shoes know the frustrations of having to hid their sexuality from others. Whether to parents, friends, or even simple acquaintances, it doesn’t matter—in a society that shuns the notion of being gay, coming out can be the most relieving OR excruciatingly painful thing, and Tasuku knows this. He’s constantly weighing the relationships he’ll have to give up in order to gain what he wants, and it’s that toxic mindset that haunts Tasuku day-in and day-out.

Tasuku is gay, no doubt about it. He’s in love with a classmate on the volleyball team, or so we are led to believe in this first volume. I’m sure we’ll get more on this in the next volume. Until then, we just have Tasuku and his new friends at the drop-in center. We don’t know much about them either, except for Daichi Haruko, a young outgoing woman who greets Tasuku everyday with a smile. She invites him on her non-profit work, which involves tearing down dilapidated buildings and renovating them for the city.

He likes working out in the summer sun, and he likes Haruko, too. But what throws him into a bit of shock is finding out that she’s a lesbian. Not only that, but Haruko also has plans to marry her girlfriend, a kind gal named Saki, whom he meets one day during their outdoor work. I loved hearing Haruko’s story, especially how she left her old job and moved out to the countryside where she met Someone-san (and eventually created the drop-in center we know today). The place really is special, even down to its foundation.

our dreams at dusk haruko

“There’s a Guy I Like”

Yuhki Kamatani’s Our Dreams at Dusk is a highly expressive and emotional read. This first volume demonstrate’s Kamatani’s strong art style, including her stark use of black in blocking out spaces, using a warped lens view and dramatic lighting for effect, and emphasizing the power of eye contact. Eyes can tell a lot about people, and Kamatani uses strong gazes like such to convey mood and inner turmoil.

Kamatani’s panel construction is also genius; sounds, textures, and feelings carry from panel to panel seamlessly, as if this were a movie printed onto the page. The story moves, even in pages where there is no dialogue. Sometimes the most fantastic or simplest of gestures can be enhanced by the absence of dialogue, like when Tasuku daydreams about touching another man’s face. Even in silence, Kamatani’s magical realism invites supernatural imagery to convey intriguing feelings and ideas (like the sparks that fly whenever Someone-san leaps into the air). These really are some of the most impactful and striking images I’ve ever seen in a queer drama manga!

This is going to be a thought-provoking, psychological read—I can already tell. Looking at Tasuku, I am reminded of the same kind of self-torment that plagues Shinji Ikari of Evangelion fame (the two also look similar). Volume one alone is full of serious meditation and self-reflection, highlighting the importance of inclusivity with Tasuku finding the drop-in center and Haruko extending her job invitation to him. Where the story goes from here, I have no idea. But, I already know for a fact that Tasuku’s coming out will bring with it a powerful coming-of-age tale.

our dreams at dusk imagery


I’m a kid. I’m not brave. I’m always confused. But I felt pretty glad that I didn’t kill myself. I felt that at Someone-san’s drop-in center . . . as the heat of August scorched me. — Tasuku Kaname


Afterword

It’s a shame I didn’t get my rear in gear during the first week of June. Otherwise, I would have been able to provide for you a full series review of Shimanami Tasogare today instead of just a first impressions post. If and when I get around to writing that full review, I hope you will come back to see how my thoughts on this fantastic series have changed. Should my hunch prove correct, I definitely think Yuhki Kamatani’s Our Dreams at Dusk is a masterpiece in the making. Again, I’ll be able to confirm that later, but I DO have the other three volumes and plan on reading them ASAP! I’d love to hear your thoughts on these gorgeous publications, too—just no spoilers, please!

Well there you have it, friends. My Pride Month celebration has officially concluded with the publishing of this post. It’s been an absolutely incredible month full of amazing reads, and I’ve learned so much through reading all these different stories. I WILL be writing a follow-up post (and filming a video!) wrapping up all of June’s Pride reads and watches, so stay tuned for my proper reflections with that. Thanks for reading—it was a sprint to the finish, but we did it! Haha! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Goodbye, My Rose Garden – A Poignant Victorian Romance Between Women || First Impressions

First impressions for volume 1 of the yuri manga series “Goodbye, My Rose Garden,” story and art by Dr. Pepperco, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment. Minor spoilers will be present. 


A Victorian Romance

England, the early 1900s. Hanako traverses the great seas to England to follow her dream of becoming a novelist. Things don’t work out quite as planned, however, and she finds herself saved by Lady Alice Douglas. The noblewoman offers Hanako a position as a personal maid, and their relationship is fairly normal . . . until the day Alice asks Hanako to kill her. Confused and distraught by her fair lady’s most unusual request, Hanako tries to figure out why her mistress would make such a shocking plea. As she reads deeper into the situation, Hanako and Alice grow closer until something miraculous begins to blossom between them.

Goodbye, My Rose Garden is a historical shoujo-ai drama that is certainly more than your average Victorian romance. Contained within this first volume are the initial attempts made by Hanako to understand her mistress, the reasons for Alice’s wish, and the struggles the two face living in 20th century England. Even with her bountiful library of books, vast intelligence, and enviable presence, Lady Alice still feels a pain that few other upper-class woman could even begin to understand. It is a pain of the heart, feelings of forbidden love: Alice likes women, but she cannot let anyone know or else risk tarnishing her entire family’s distinguished name.

Dr. Pepperco (interesting pen name) handles Alice’s situation with wonderful delicacy and respect. We see not only how Alice’s hidden desires stretch her to the breaking point, but also how her stress starts to take a toll on those who care about her, namely Hanako. One can tell just by the first few pages alone that creation of this manga was also incredibly well-researched. Dr. Pepperco nails the social nuances and public affairs of the time, down to the very stitch styling of the maid outfit’s shoulder fabric. I love the Victorian era for its aesthetics, but I would agree that it wasn’t the best time in history to desire a same-sex relationship.

Alice hug

A Passion For Literature, And Also . . .

The maids of Rosebarrow House are each fun and quirky on their own, but Japanese-born Hanako is by far the most interesting asset to Alice’s fine staff—it’s no wonder Alice takes a liking to her. What drew Alice to Hanako in the first place were her golden eyes. If Hanako’s eyes shine like the sun, Alice’s eyes reflect the deep sapphire blue of the endless sky. I love their character designs so much. (I’m a particular sucker for long blonde hair, so . . . ) Alice and Hanako really do make a cute, complete couple.

Throughout this first volume, we come to see some of Hanako’s hobbies and character traits. For one, she’s an avid reader of English literature, and aspires to be a novelist despite the limitations of the language barrier. Hanako is also innocent, hardworking, and very grateful to Alice for giving her a home in this foreign land. She may be a little naive (as in when she proclaims that “love is free” to a local bookshop owner after Alice tells her that first), but she means well, and only wishes for Alice to be free from her own pain.

To me, though, Alice carries the true heart of this series. To the public eye, she is everything a gentleman would want out of a mistress—what they don’t see is how lonely and sad her expressions become whenever her heart pains her. She calls herself a sinner, but her soul is beautiful and kind. Alice is well-read, well-respected, and highly valued within her elite circle of noblemen and women. But, she’s nothing like those greedy, wealthy pricks who think of nothing but their own reputation. Alice extends her grace to those in need, as she did Hanako, and always holds the value of others before her own well-being. I mean, she would rather choose death than risk ruining her family name. Always holding her head high, Alice is the rarest breed of royal, exhibiting authority and integrity just as much as she does compassion and empathy.

Alice library

Love Among the Thorns

Surprising things can blossom in the garden. Dr. Pepperco paints a vivid, highly detailed painting of Victorian England where, naturally, not all flowers are allowed to bloom under the sun. Historically, things like same-sex love must be kept in the dark. It’s unfortunate, and it’s sad. But it’s true to life, and whatever ending Dr. Pepperco has in store for Lady Alice and her handmaid Hanako, I’ll be in this one until the very end.

This is perhaps one of the most compelling and sincere historical dramas I’ve ever been invested in, and I can’t wait to see what feelings may unfold as the story goes on. Will it end as tragically as its dire, foreboding title tells, or will we perhaps be blessed with a saccharine sweet conclusion? Only time will tell for this poignant tale about two women falling in love in historical Britain.

alice umbrella


You have nothing to thank me for. I merely wish to believe that love is free. — Alice Douglas


Afterword

The first volume of Goodbye, My Rose Garden was even more lovely than I thought it’d be. And yet, it would seem to me that no one is talking about this yuri manga! Why is that?? It’s a wonderful title, even from this volume alone, and I can’t wait for the second to be released in July. If you’re one of the few who have decided to pick up this book, please do let me know what you thought about it in the comments. Surely I’m not the only one reading this marvelous series!

My next Pride Month post will be over Mita Ori’s highly anticipated Our Dining Table, which has been recommended to me like no other these past couple months! I look forward to reading it, and I hope you will stick around to read my thoughts. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Hitorijime My Hero: Unrequited Feelings & Forbidden Love || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode Summer 2017 anime “Hitorijime My Hero,” animated by Encourage Films, directed by Yukina Hiiro, and based on the manga by Memeco Arii.


Forbidden Love

Few teenagers are more hopeless than Masahiro Setagawa. The poor kid got roped in with the wrong crowd from a young age and now serves neighborhood thugs as their errand boy. He may have believed in heroes as a kid, but not anymore. His life takes a drastic turn one day when Kousuke Ooshiba, a local menace dubbed the “Bear Killer,” swoops in to take down the other gang members, saving Masahiro from their grueling low-life ways.

Time passes for Masahiro, and as he and his former friend Kensuke Ooshiba start attending high school, Masahiro is once again reunited with Kousuke—only this time, Masahiro is a student and his childhood hero has become his math teacher! First a hero, then a best friend’s older brother, and now “Mr. Ooshiba!?” To make matters even more complicated, Kensuke’s childhood friend, Asaya Hasekura, returns to his life with the request to be more than just friends this time around.

It’s starting to look busy in the Ooshiba household, and while Kousuke’s own feelings urge him to protect Masahiro like he once did, this sudden entanglement of the boys’ lives creates quite a complex web of relationships. As Kousuke’s lover, Masahiro will eventually have to decide for himself: to resign himself to his unrequited feelings, or to pursue a forbidden love.

This is one of those anime where the 3-episode rule most definitely doesn’t apply. The opening episodes of this shounen-ai school drama hone in on the relationship between Kensuke and Asaya, which is actually the parent story of Memeco Arii’s manga. After that quickly gets resolved, we shift the focus back to Kousuke and Masahiro’s “Teacher X Student” romance for the remainder of the series, which is significantly messier. Obviously, it’s an age-gap romance, which isn’t my thing personally, but at least the characters carry the weight of the show well . . . I mean, they do, right?

masahiro and kensuke

Poor, Poor Masahiro

I really need a shirt that says “Masahiro did nothing wrong, y’all are just bullies,” cause MAN, this guy has it rough. Living alone (save for his prostitute mother), Masahiro is one of those kids who was forced to grow up fast. While he cooks fantastic meals for Kensuke and his school friends and diligently cleans the Ooshiba household better than momma Ooshiba even could, these are conditioned responses. With his mother out every night, Masahiro has to cook for himself, and when she comes home a drunken mess, it’s Masahiro cleaning it all up the next morning. He doesn’t belong out on the streets with those thugs, but he doesn’t belong in his own home, either.

AND THEN you have a dude like Kousuke who comes in all grown-up and “mature” just to toy with Masahiro’s heart and throw him into gay panic mode. I don’t really know how to feel about Kousuke. Like, he knows Masahiro is immature in life and in love, and yet Kousuke continues to mislead Masahiro with his words episode, after episode, after episode. He’s supposed to be the “hot teacher seme,” I get it, but I couldn’t help but find some of his actions to be somewhat disrespectful.

The other couple of Hitorijime My Hero doesn’t make things much better for Masahiro. Kensuke is your typical fluffy uke who enjoys snacks and fun, innocently going about his friendships with the youthful naivete of a shounen protagonist. I suppose he is the first to accept Masahiro and his older brother’s forbidden love, which is heartwarming cause #family. And Asaya may be the best-looking boy in this series, but DAMN, the dude is HEARTLESS. I think it was supposed to be funny how Asaya would adamantly give Masahiro the cold shoulder and instead demand he cook for him, but I never laughed. (The other male classmates also used him like this, umm, the heck??) All the guys in Hitorijime My Hero besides Masahiro just felt so selfish. Fear not, there’s a happy ending waiting for everyone, but the road to getting a smiling Masahiro has its fair share of irritating bumps.

hitorijime school

Big-Chill BL Energy

Let’s talk art. Encourage Films is a new studio for me, but Hitorijime My Hero appears to be their leading title—and that’d make sense, because the series is one good-looking BL anime. Seeing Memeco Arii’s original character designs fully animated and chasing after their lovers is really something special. Had I watched this series years ago, I probably would’ve fell even harder for the characters. If you’re wanting a more down-to-earth shounen-ai romance, I would pass Hitorijime My Hero based solely on animation alone.

The entire soundtrack is also fits the mellow vibe of the series. Takeshi Senoo (most notably known for his work on the equally chill Aria the Animation) provides amazing orchestral magic to accompany the drama of the series. He balances the slice-of-life energy of quiet lo-fi beats with the more intense romantic pull of gentle string harmonies, almost as if the OST were for a feature film and not a series. It’s simply wonderful, just like the aesthetically pleasing OP “Heart Signal” by Wataru Hatano and the soft ED theme “TRUE LOVE,” which is sung by the various seiyuus from the series.

Now, it IS Pride Month, and it’d be a crime if I didn’t give special praise to the incredible dub directed by none other than David Wald! (He also directed the Love Stage!! dub and voices the bartender in this show!) Austin Tindle’s Masahiro is just a friggin’ gem, I love how nervous and klutzy he sounds all the time! David Matranga’s Kousuke is BIG SEXY energy (the way he said the F word, woah), which feels surprisingly natural for his character. Hearing Daman Mills as pretty boy Asaya was the biggest surprise for me, and I love how he kept the guy so snide and cruel towards others but would call Kensuke nicknames like “babe” and “Kenny” like it was nothing. Speaking of, Alejandro Saab can do NO WRONG as Kensuke, the purest boi!! Even if the characters were hit-or-miss for me at times, I cannot deny that they had superb VAs behind the mic with excellent scripts to follow, too.

masahiro crying

Not the Best, But a Huge Step Up

While I seem to be pulling these LGBT titles out left and right, I actually haven’t watched that many BL anime. Maybe that’s because I know that BL anime kinda have a rep for not being nearly as good (or respectful) as their manga counterparts. That said, I’m not trashing BL anime (if anything, we can only use more!), but Hitorijime My Hero feels like a huge step in the right direction.

Despite the rudeness of the characters towards poor Masahiro, Hitorijime My Hero feels like a very real, human story (unlike the absurd comedy that is Love Stage!!). I know friends who have gone through exactly what Masahiro did, and maybe that’s why I felt so strongly for this kid. He’s a real boy. Fictional, but also just like that one confused, caring, love-struck individual we may know in our own lives—and even through smiles, that person doesn’t actually have the happiest life. It happens, but if we can be there for people like Masahiro—much as how Kousuke, Kensuke, and everyone else was there for him—hopefully we can become our own kind of hero for these people.

masahiro and kousuke night


Don’t worry about what the world wants from you–worry about the world you want. Sometimes, when your heart is telling you what it wants, you just have to listen. — Kousuke Ooshiba


Afterword

I feel like I did this one dirty, but sometimes you just gotta call ’em out when you see it. (I mean, I get that Kousuke was a “bad boy,” but he literally BROKE A GLASS DOOR to enter Masahiro’s apartment JUST because he didn’t answer his phone, I can’t with this guy.) But what did you think of Hitorijime My Hero? Do you also stan Masahiro or did you think he had it coming for him? Let me know down in the comments. I welcome Hitorijime My Hero as a “Coffee” title, and recommend it if you’re looking for a BL anime that’s probably better than most, but still not as good as Love Stage!! IMO. Maybe I’m wrong—you tell me!

My next Pride Month post will be over another yuri manga, the first volume of Dr. Pepperco’s Goodbye, My Rose Garden, so please look forward to that! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Escape Journey: Chasing After Love in a Heteronormative World || Review

A brief review of the 3-volume BL manga series “Escape Journey,” story and art by Ogeretsu Tanaka, and licensed in English by SuBLime Manga. MINOR SPOILERS for Volume 1 will be present.


A Rough Ride

Naoto’s first day of college was turning up roses—until he unexpectedly comes across his high school ex, Taichi, whom he’d dumped after a huge argument. Even though time has healed some wounds, not all scars fade, and Naoto slowly finds himself irresistibly drawn to Taichi once again after seeing just how much he has matured. When another girl, Fumi, starts to take an interest in Taichi, however, the secret bond between two men is tested.

Most of this yaoi drama’s main story is resolved by the first volume. Volume one takes us through Naoto and Taichi’s reunion into each other’s life, the push and pull of their churning relationship, and, of course, several rounds of make-up sex. In fact, Taichi always seems so ready to get dick-down that it leads Naoto to believe that all he wants from their relationship now is sexual satisfaction. We know that’s not true, but it takes several chapters (and meeting Fumi) to get Taichi to open up about his family situation.

By the end of the first volume, Naoto and Taichi have made up, and all’s well that ends well. You could even stop here if you feel satisfied enough with Escape Journey. What are volumes two and three about, then? The second volume introduces Nishina, an in-the-closet art student, whose unfortunate experiences with a past love causes envy of Naoto and Taichi’s relationship (and lots of trouble, no doubt).

Lastly, the third volume completes the story with the last couple chapters, ending their school festival and providing an aftermath for our characters. Despite all the heartache leading up to this volume, the ending is lovely and highly satisfying. If you’re in this one for all three volumes, just make sure to buckle up—this one’s a bit of a rough ride!

escape journey bike

Friends for Life

For most readers, Naoto (the one wearing glasses) will be a mixed bag of a protagonist. On one hand, he’s sweet, extroverted, and cares deeply about his friendships (which are essential to the story). On the other, he’s a cheeky, obnoxious brat and totally a little shit towards his peers. I will admit that I didn’t appreciate Naoto at first, but he did grow on me as the series went on. Perhaps that’s because other characters (notably Taichi and Nishina) start to notice what they like about Naoto, which becomes apparent to the reader. Or, maybe it’s due to the immense character growth that Naoto undergoes. The kid really comes far, and it’s nice to see him learn when it’s appropriate to joke around and when a guy should take a person’s feelings seriously.

About Taichi, he’ll also be a toss-up for most readers. To fully appreciate him, it took A LOT of getting to know Taichi’s home life situation, which can be frustrating to wait for. It sure doesn’t help that his introduction is a flashback where he calls Naoto just a “fuck buddy” he used to blow off steam with, and that he mistakenly forces himself onto Naoto in the middle of the first book (which he regrets, but still). Whereas Naoto is a well-known ladies’ man, Taichi is the popular, handsome, stoic dude that all the girls look up to. Even though all his friends would choose Taichi, I still find Naoto to be the cutest character in the series.

One last annoying character quirk that I found with these two was how, like most BL written by women, none of the men actually claim to be gay. That is, they’re in denial of liking other men, but make exceptions for their one true love. It’s whatever at this point, but especially with this manga, Naoto can seem unconvincingly “straight” at times.

On the good side, however, I really, reeaaallly like Naoto’s friends, specifically the female characters. Fumi turns out to be such a sweetheart who ends up supporting Naoto and Taichi’s relationship, and Mika-rin is ABSOLUTELY every gay’s best friend. I loved every scene with Mika-rin and Naoto getting loud and drunk together, and her finding out about Naoto and Taichi’s relationship in the final volume made my heart completely melt. Even Nishina, though a disruption, isn’t wholly a bad guy. So yeah, Escape Journey has friends for life!

escape journey aquarium

What Comes After Love . . . ?

Despite having only three volumes, Escape Journey is densely packed with text bubbles and hyper-detailed backgrounds. Ogeretsu Tanaka also draws her tall, beautiful bishounens (and their sex) with an amazing range of expressions. If smut is all you want, you won’t be disappointed, trust me. But, there’s so much more to Escape Journey than pretty boys and steamy sex scenes. Naoto and Taichi come a long way, both as a couple and as human beings trying to understand people better.

What I found even more enjoyable about this read, however, was how Ogeretsu Tanaka confronts the issue of gay lovers wanting to run away from their heteronormative society (hence the name, Escape Journey). She explores options for gay couples in Japan, including buying an apartment together, getting married, and adopting a child, but also the rejection (or acceptance) an individual can face by coming out to their family. Some musings are more bleak than others, but the ending is a powerful and satisfying one. More than obsessing over creating a positive outlook for Naoto and Taichi’s future together, Tanaka’s story feels very real, and I respect it for that.

For most gay lovers in this heteronormative world, the road to happiness is lined with bumps, divots, and many rough patches. Not all people will expect or accept this kind of relationship, and that’s just something you’ll have to move past. Even if the journey is a hard one, the destination can be incredibly satisfying when the right people come along for the ride.

Naoto and Taichi’s love will continue to spur on their little fights, but like most old married couples, I’m sure the two will be able to work things out so long as they remember why they set out on this emotional journey together in the first place. As to what comes after love, who really cares—Naoto and Taichi have an entire lifetime ahead of them to figure that out.

escape journey riding


I know that our relationship isn’t something that will be universally accepted. We should expected people to wish us well . . . But deep down inside, I can’t help but wish people would just see us and accept us for who we are. — Taichi Hase


Afterword

And there’s another phenomenal BL read about self-acceptance and coming out that I ended up enjoying much more than I thought I would. This recommendation came from Simply Gee over on YouTube, so I really have her to thank for this little series. In case you’re wondering if you should read it too, Escape Journey is a “Cake” title here at the cafe. I found the main characters to be annoying at times, especially when they’d get into little spats (which is part of their flaw, I realize). Still, you should read it if you’re searching for a solid [EXPLICIT] yaoi series that looks at relationships beyond the dating phase. It’s great, especially for a college romance.

For my next Pride Month post, I’ll be diving into some yuri with I Married My Best Friend to Shut My Parents Up, so please look forward to that. Be sure to share your thoughts on Escape Journey with me down in the comments, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

That Blue Sky Feeling: Preciously Queer & Wholeheartedly Delightful || Review

A brief review of the 3-volume manga series “That Blue Sky Feeling,” story by Okura, art by Coma Hashii,, and licensed in English by Viz Media. MINOR SPOILERS for Volume 1 will be present.


Have You Heard the Rumors?

High school transfer student Noshiro may seem like a cool and outgoing guy to his new classmates, but Noshiro’s big, bumbling heart is his best feature. Although he’s inexperienced in love, he finds himself drawn to Sanada, the school outcast, who is rumored to be gay. While most would get squeamish at the thought, the rumor only further fuels Noshiro’s interest and determination to get close to Sanada. Set in motion is a bittersweet tale of self-discovery, friendship, and first love.

Marketed under the shounen demographic, this school romance drew a lot of its appeal from the relatable character drama presented and Coma Hashii’s soft and cute character designs. With only three volumes, the story reads quickly, but methodically guides us through Noshiro and Sanada’s entire first year together as classmates. Showcased are the attempts made by Noshiro to become friends with Sanada, all of the ups and downs of this rocky relationship, the misunderstandings, and the persistent efforts to grow closer.

From the start, this seemingly simple story of exploring a rumor opens up to much larger contexts, including social pressures and the meaning of “being gay” itself. Using Noshiro’s naivete as a lens for self-questioning, Okura has carefully crafted a cast of characters that investigate the notions of sexuality, attraction, and “liking”—and largely without even being aware of it! This is the kind of title that doesn’t break boundaries so much as explore how these boundaries form, why they do, and how people are affected by them.

noshiro and sanada

Straight, Gay, and Curious

Dai Noshiro is the open-book kind of character. He’s silly, easily approachable, and loud, which (often to Sanada’s dismay) attracts a huge crowd wherever he goes. It’s refreshing to have a lead character in this type of story who isn’t some tall and skinny bishounen. If anything, being built and a little on the round side (or as Sanada calls him, a “country potato”) is celebrated in That Blue Sky Feeling as a body type that characters like Sanada and energetic underclassman Morinaga actually hold as a preference. This definitely met my approval!

Having a guy like Noshiro who knows virtually nothing about the LGBT community (or relationships for that matter) makes him the perfect voice for Okura’s discussion on what it means to be a closeted gay kid—or being gay in general. Noshiro is new to this kind of thing. He straight . . . or, at least, he thinks so—he hasn’t ever given relationships much thought. But we know he’s uneasy, curious even, and I can’t blame him. This really is a smart move on Okura’s part, as now Noshiro functions both as a likable MC and a subtle proxy for self-exploration. Nothing in That Blue Sky Feeling is forced. Like clouds, these musings come and go, occasionally bringing a little rain or blocking out the sun.

Then there’s Kou Sanada. As the quiet closeted kid, Sanada strays away from anything that would draw attention: sports, clubs, even leisurely activities like swimming. He’s standoffish, dismissive, and get’s irritated easily. Sounds like no one would like him, right? Well, that’s where I was wrong, too. Sanada is just misunderstood. He doesn’t fit in with the other boys because he often can’t relate to any of them without fearing they’d leave him for thinking he’s weird. I mean, how regularly do you see gay people hanging out alone with their straight friends of the same gender? I suppose it’s different for everybody, but I get why Sanada distances himself. (I JUST WANT MY SLEEPY BOY TO BE HAPPY.)

If any part of Sanada will be a mixed bag, it’s his past relationship . . . with a 26-year-old man named Hide. I don’t think Okura is trying to condone pedophilia, but Sanada and Hide really did go out, and Hide’s not afraid to poke fun at their past together. Now, hear me when I say that Hide is genuinely a good guy. He serves as a mentor of sorts to Noshiro when it comes to gay stuff, and he only aims to help, not harm. I was uneasy about Hide at first, but—thankfully—I ended up being wrong about him.

dai pushing chair

Subtlety is Blue Sky‘s Greatest Strength

Okura’s story is wonderful, truly, but the biggest draw to That Blue Sky Feeling would easily be Coma Hashii’s art. The series has this wondrously soft aura to it, which is in no surprise thanks to Hashii’s character designs. Fun fact: The Blue Sky I am able to enjoy now is actually a remake of Okura’s original web comic series. When a book publication was announced, Okura brought on Hashii to redraw the entire series with greater quality art and the gentle touch Blue Sky is now beloved for.

Sanada and his dear childhood friend and classmate, a girl named Ayumi Yamamoto, are drawn with a slimmer build and bigger eyes. (Sanada’s cat-like design really accentuates his sleepy aura.) Other characters like Noshiro and Hide are noticably more rotund but still very cute. Like the story itself, the character expressions are never overdone, and that subtlety works to Okura’s writing immensely. I mean, a character turning away from someone—only to reveal bright blush marks on their cheeks—can speak where words wouldn’t quite do those feelings justice.

kou blushing

Unexpectedly Falling in Love

What does it mean to be normal? What does it mean to be weird? Navigating through the complexities of making friends as a young homosexual in a heteronormative world, That Blue Sky Feeling handles first love and the notion of “inexperience” with surprising delicacy and innocence. Even when things get heated, the characters try to better themselves by digging deep within and honestly asking what it is they want, and how they can present their truest self to others.

Everyone in That Blue Sky Feeling has an unbelievably pure heart. Just as prominent as the exploration into friendship, liking, and being gay is the theme of unrequited feelings. For a series to have such a tangled web of complex feelings, Blue Sky‘s characters hold their heads high and continue to remain friends despite all odds. This kind of content is the exact opposite of “toxic,” and is the reason I fell in love with Noshiro, Sanada, Ayumi, and everyone else.

As the gap between Noshiro and Sanada slowly shrinks, we come to see how two very different high school boys can find themselves unexpectedly falling for one another. Noshiro quickly finds that, perhaps, labels aren’t suited for everything, especially people and relationships. Wishing only for the happiness of these kids, That Blue Sky Feeling is preciously queer and wholeheartedly delightful.

sanada whisper


What does it mean to like someone? Going out. Boyfriends. Girlfriends. I never thought about it, never worried about it. Until I met Kou Sanada — Dai Noshiro


Afterword

Guys, I love this manga with all my heart. ALL MY HEART. If you couldn’t already tell, that means That Blue Sky Feeling is another certified “Cafe Mocha” for me! I can see why people may find Hide and the age gap to be a turn-off, but that kind of stuff happens in real life, too, and we eventually have to move past it. I love Noshiro’s loudness, Ayumi’s sweetness, and grew quite fond of Sanada’s character. (He really is charming when you get to know him!) Viz’s releases of this series are also pretty in pastel colors, I’m so thankful to them for such pleasant publications!

But I’ve talked enough, what did you think of That Blue Sky Feeling? Let me know in the comments. To shake things up, my next Pride Month post will be over the anime Love Stage!!, so please look forward to it! Thanks for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

Claudine: Sexuality, Tragedy, & Growing Up Transgender || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the standalone manga title “Claudine,” story and art by Riyoko Ikeda, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.


19th Century French Romance

Since he was eight, Claudine was convinced he was born into the wrong gender. He grows up beautifully, more so than any of the men and women in Vernon, yet struggles through life with a series of depressing relationships. Only a handful of people reach out to Claudine and see him for who he is, but no one truly understands his heart. Claudine simply wishes to find true love, yet his efforts continue to end in tragedy as he is unable to be accepted as a man by society and his peers.

As a piece of historical fiction, Claudine offers a timeless story full of heartbreak. Riyoko Ikeda of The Rose of Versailles fame paints a picture of France that is rich in culture, but also a bit too melodramatic at times. Characters overreact to the smallest things with vivid expressions that can dominate several panels, which can make the read feel overwrought with agitation.

Without spoiling anything, some characters even dare dedicate their entire lives to destroying the hearts of others—an unfortunate trend which feels straight out of a wild telenovela or K-drama. Or, you know, The Rose of Versailles. This kind of thing might work well with a long-running series. But as a single volume work, the repetition of shocking reveals can feel overwhelming and excessive.

All that said, however, very few manga can make a drama feel as compelling as Riyoko Ikeda does, and to that I applaud Claudine. As a standalone piece, this is the kind of artistic mastery that most short story mangaka may struggle with. Here, the romance feels real, but so does the grief and misery that comes with rejection. Claudine explores sex and gender identity in a way that is poignant, respectful, and anything but forgettable.

young claudine

“But Claudine, You’re a Girl”

Not sure of what to do with her own child, Claudine’s mother takes him to a psychiatrist who reappears at a few major junctions in Claudine’s life. This was customary for the time, as being gay or trans was considered an illness, and thus treated as something that would eventually “go away” just as it came. We know now that this is far from fact. However, this is the best Claudine’s mother could do, and I believe she meant well by it.

Claudine’s father Auguste, on the other hand, was a mostly good man. A “large-hearted, manly dilettante with a variety of interests,” Claudine’s father was the only one willing to raise the child as he saw himself. Claudine expressed interested in equestrianism, hunting, sports, literature, and world history, to which his father only helped to provide the best resources to raise Claudine just as well as his other three accomplished sons. Loving Claudine wholly, Auguste says it himself: “That she doe not have a man’s body is honestly a mistake on God’s part.”

We follow Claudine through childhood flings, teenage romance, and relationships in adulthood. The women he encounters transform his life, although whether these interactions are for the better or not is definitely up for question. There’s one particular childhood lover, Rosemarie, who annoyingly clings to Claudine and causes him nothing but trouble. As he navigates through life, Claudine finds that it isn’t wrong of him to be a transgender person so much as that being trans is just highly ill-advised when no one can accept you for it. His emotions are understandable, and his actions are largely respectable.

Friends, strangers, and even his own family turn Claudine away from them on account of their own ignorance. A deeply seeded disgust for gay and transgender people plagues the populace of 19th century France, and—as it has continues to do today—only serves to ruin Claudine’s life. Despite his graceful air, his love of knowledge, and his deep compassion for helping others in need, Claudine is dejected again, and again, and again by women who have mixed love and kindness with lust and sin.

we are both girls

Why We Have To Do Better

This is a breathtaking manga. Although it was published way back in 1978, so much of this shoujo-ai drama can speak for the view of transgender individuals held by most conservative-minded people today. The story is highly relevant, and I’m so thankful Seven Seas was able to publish it when they did. Their restoration of this vintage shoujo manga is gorgeous, and the large trim format is greatly appreciated.

More than feeling upset, frustrated, or annoyed at the terrible ways Claudine was betrayed, I can only really sum up my thoughts on the ending with this: Claudine’s story is a sad one. It’s tragic, it hurts, and yet it’s an unfortunate end many transgender people find themselves meeting. Guys, it’s tragedies like this that remind me we still have a long way to go. For people like Claudine, for people who are confused or still in the closet, for people who are out and proud of it—We have to do better. So. Much. Better. And that begins with accepting these identities—NOT just acknowledging them.

From cover to cover, Riyoko Ikeda explores gender and sexuality, identity, culture, and self-acceptance in a coming-of-age tale so sorrowful and heartfelt that I can only want to express how important Claudine’s story is. It is works like this that can easily impact people, and even leave behind impressions that can hopefully change lives for the better. Certainly, I won’t be forgetting Claudine anytime soon.

claudine art page


They lived together, deceiving the world, behind the backs of their friends. But like a flower waiting for rain, their caged love finally surged out, shining. I believe this was a true love, surpassing all preconceived notions, entirely moving.Claudine’s doctor


Afterword

What a great read this was. Riyoko Ikeda’s art style is not only iconic, but truly emblematic of early 70s and 80s shoujo manga. Sure, it’s a bit over-the-top at times, but what would a Riyoko Ikeda manga be without her signature dramatic twists and sparkling style? For telling an admirable albeit tragic tale about a respectable transgender man and his struggles with finding love and self-acceptance, I welcome Claudine as a “Cafe Mocha” title, a rating reserved only for the bests out there. Did I mention that the dad is actually a GOOD guy in this one? Normally it’s the other way around, so this was quite a pleasant surprise!

Anyone else read Claudine? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this old but classic shoujo read. I’m so glad I got to include a manga with a transgender focus this month with something like Claudine. My next Pride Month post will be over something much more modern, Bukuro Yamada’s Melting Lover, so please look forward to that! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Candy Color Paradox: Sweet Yet Sour || First Impressions

First impressions for volume 1 of Isaku Natsume’s yaoi manga series “Candy Color Paradox,” initially published in 2019 by SuBLime Manga.


Pictures and Pride

Satoshi Onoe is an honest-to-goodness reporter at a weekly magazine company. He takes great pride in his writing and is valued for his ethical approach to reporting. In an industry that is all about chewing people up and spitting them out, it’s no wonder a total softy like Onoe would struggle with exploiting celebs and exposing back alley dealings.

Although he does well at his job, the one co-worker he can’t stand is Motoharu Kaburagi, an ill-mannered photographer who’s done nothing but steal Onoe’s time in the spotlight since day one. When the company chief decides to shuffle around the stakeout teams, Onoe is forced to partner with Kaburagi or let the man ruin his career. Kaburagi’s unethical reporting methods and his streak as a ladies’ man bother Onoe to no end. But, perhaps a little time and experience in the field will show Onoe a side to Kaburagi that’s a bit sweeter than anyone’s ever seen.

I love occupational romances. The office setting is one of the quickest ways to make your story relatable, and the drama is enhanced when our characters are trying to “make it work” while on the job. There may not be much explicit content until the last couple pages of this first volume, but I guarantee subsequent volumes will only get spicier.

What I don’t particularly love about Candy Color Paradox, however, is the nature of our main characters’ work. To me, news tabloids and articles that are only out to “expose” people are full of bullshit. I don’t like reading them, and I certainly don’t like reading about them. This kinda made both Onoe and Kaburagi difficult for me to like, as I find the work they’re doing—despite the tireless effort—to ultimately be full of crap. While the story isn’t about “what is right” or “what is wrong” per se, finding the “next big scoop” for their weekly magazine is a core element of the story, and often the segue for deepening Onoe and Kaburagi’s precarious relationship.

CCP intro

Writer x Photographer

Along with not loving this field of work, I immediately disliked how Natsume framed Onoe’s stance on attraction. The dude literally had a girlfriend and even proclaimed “I’m not gay!” in a bar, and I find that incredibly off-putting given that he’s supposed to be our MC. I get that this is a story from 2009, so Natsume is probably playing this off more as a joke, but c’mon, this is such a stereotypical thing to say. Unless it’s with the intent to explore one’s sexuality, I’m over characters that deny their sexual interests.

In typical uke style, Onoe gives us constant poutiness and confused gay crying. He’s full of pride in his work, and isn’t afraid to take a jab at Kaburagi whenever he can. Some will find his loud personality and flustered antics annoying—I know I did. But, despite his notoriously unscrupulous occupation, Onoe remains dedicated to his honest writing, and I can at least appreciate him for that.

On the flip side, Kaburagi can be a frustrating guy to get behind, both for Onoe and the reader. His scruffy appearance and initial attitude toward Onoe immediately leapt out at me as toxic masculine behavior. Unlike Onoe, Kaburagi uses his looks and charmed words to draw out the scoop he needs to land him the cover page story. As we quickly realize, he’s also an avid liar, which is a turn-off for me. The end of this first volume had me believing that there may be much more to Kaburagi than this initial assumption, but as it stands, I only really like Kaburagi because he seems just as lost in this newfound love as poor Onoe does.

CCP mid

Maybe it Gets Sweeter

As a license rescue release from 2009, Candy Color Paradox embodies the essence of yaoi rom-com workplace dramas popular during its time. Natsume’s art style also reflects this era of BL where tall skinny men and cartoonish expressions dominated the series. For me, it’s kinda bland to look at, but if you like the look of The World’s Greatest First Love or Junjou Romantica, you’ll probably enjoy this too. Also, I’m not the biggest fan of the rivals-to-lovers trope in my BL manga specifically, but Onoe and Kaburagi are quicker to admit their feelings to one another than most BL couples are, so I can bear it.

By the end of this first volume, our characters have made their way to the bedroom. The beginning may not be explicit, but I can see the next volumes being full of smut. So, if explicit BL is your thing, just know that you’ll want to pick up at least the first two volumes.

As to whether I will be getting more Candy Color Paradox or not, I’ll probably hold off for now. Between not caring for Onoe and Kaburagi’s field of work (which is essential to the plot) and finding Onoe a bit too over-reactive, I found myself rushing through this first volume just to finish it and read something else. Whenever next I’m feeling up for a steamy, less-than-serious workplace drama, I’ll consider picking this back up again. until that time, however, Candy Color Paradox just isn’t my taste.

CCP end


I wish that I really had been fooled by that charismatic mask he wears. Then I would be able to tell myself that I was just infatuated with a lie. — Satoshi Onoe


Afterword

I find that Candy Color Paradox is supposed to be a sophisticated read. It pokes fun at “being gay” whenever it can (e.g., Onoe getting overly flustered every time they have to do a stakeout from a love hotel room), but otherwise is just a fun and simple little BL title. I’ll pass on reading more for now, but don’t be surprised if I decide to pick this one back up again. If you’ve read Candy Color Paradox, what do you like about it? Let me know in the comments! My next Pride Month read, Claudine, will dip into the story of a transgender man and his struggle with identity and sexuality. You won’t want to miss it! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Ten Count: My First Yaoi Manga Series || Review

A brief review of the 6-volume manga series “Ten Count,” story and art by Rihito Takarai, and licensed in English by SuBLime Manga. MINOR SPOILERS WILL BE PRESENT.


Counseled into Love

Tadaomi Shirotani suffers from extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder wherever germs are concerned. While he manages to get his corporate secretary work done efficiently enough, his social life is practically nonexistent as a result of his condition. Upon saving Shirotani’s boss from a fatal car accident, behavior therapist Riku Kurose takes an interest in helping Shirotani overcome his germophobia. As Shirotani navigates through Kurose’s proposed ten-step program designed to cure his compulsion, the patient’s attraction to his therapist grows.

As far as romance dramas go, Ten Count starts off relatively tame, especially for a BL series. In fact, there’s nothing really explicit until the end of the second volume, of which there are only six. This relatively slower-burn intro allows us to really understand the position Shirotani is in, his feelings and his frustrations with his condition. Although Shirotani’s list of ten self-chosen tasks seems like an excuse to up the sexual tension step-by-step, I assure you that the series has more twists in store than finding out what Shirotani’s final tenth step is (even if they’re a bit more controversial).

One of my favorite aspects of the series is how, foundationally, Kurose’s psychological techniques (namely the titular “ten count”) are rooted in actual behavior therapy practices. (Trust me—I took a class for this!) Exposure and response prevention therapy (ERP) is a real therapy designed to treat anxiety disorders. By gradually introducing stimuli to the patient and slowly increasing the strength of the stimulus, an individual undergoing ERP therapy can hope to see at least some relief from their OCD symptoms. It doesn’t suddenly cure all—which Rihito Takarai respectfully acknowledges—but it can help relieve some of the stresses that come with anxiety or PTSD.

ten count list

The Patient-Therapist Relationship

From the start, Shirotani is a man bogged down by the pressures of society. His signature gloves may seem like a fashion choice, but they actually serve to shield his hands from potential germs. If he just wore the gloves, he’d see himself as looking foolish, though. Thus, he also dons a suit for both his job and personal life to seem less odd. I thought this was a sad detail, if not a pertinent one to telling us what kind of person Shirotani is: an extremely cautious and self-conscious individual. His condition interferes with his daily life, clearly, and he’s in dire need of help even if he refuses to admit it.

Kurose comes off as a little standoffish and weirdly intimate, and that’s also a result of a troubled past, no doubt. While he’s able to comfort Shirotani and make him feel good about himself, Kurose also has this aura of being impossible to read. For a corporate office guy with crippling OCD, this can pose major problems. Understandably, Shirotani fears the unpredictable, and even more so when it concerns human contact. What Kurose wants out of Shirotani might not be what he expects. At the same time, perhaps Kurose’s guidance and friendship are the exact things Shirotani wants out of this unconventional patient-therapist relationship.

shirotani kiss

To Fetishize Another’s Pain

Let me start this part by saying that Rihito Takari’s art is divine. Her characters are beautifully drawn, the panel construction serves to capture Shirotani’s feelings of isolation and anxiety, and the sex is hot, straight up. (I mean, Kurose’s jawline, C’MON.) Takarai also has an eye for aesthetic, her characters living clean, realistic lives, although on the lighter side. I cannot deny that reading this manga was enjoyable, if only for the art alone. It’s great. If explicit BL is your thing, Ten Count will serve you wonderfully.

Ok, now I can nitpick. SPOILERS for one of the later narrative twists, but WTF Kurose?? The dude likes—no, prefers—“people like” Shirotani because they have a germophobic condition . . . and he likes making them dirty . . . and corrupt like him?? I’m sorry, I just couldn’t with this reveal. It’s a shame, too, cause the series really started strong when it was just Shirotani meeting up with Kurose at their usual coffee shop to celebrate Shirotani’s progress.

The fetishization of mysophobia in Ten Count made the last couple volumes a struggle to get past. I really disliked finding out that, rather than love out of personality or charm, Kurose’s biggest draw to Shirotani was because of his suffering. It only confirmed my suspicions about Kurose from the beginning that the guy was a little messed up. While I appreciate the backstories for both of these characters (and can understand the effects that childhood neglect or trauma can have on someone), I couldn’t really find myself appreciating Kurose after discovering his kink.

kurose

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

As a BL manga, Ten Count starts strong but falls into some of the unfortunate schemes of the genre that I’ve become aware of thanks to fellow bloggers and booktubers. It comes across as realistic and understanding of people with anxiety disorders, yet eventually succumbs to a somewhat insulting case of deception. I wanted Shirotani and Kurose to end up together out of a deep fondness and caring for one another, and it only feels halfway satisfying.

With any type of behavior therapy, it can often feel like you’re making leaps and strides one day, only to wake up the next feeling like you haven’t progressed past start—and that’s absolutely normal. For Shirotani, his lowest lows caused him to skip work, neglect his social life, and even turn down potential relationships. But on his best days, he stepped outside his comfort zone and took risks he normally wouldn’t have. Simply, he tried to live a better, more fulfilling life, and I can commend him for that.

Looking back, I find my liking for Ten Count to be the same way. The chapters where Kurose was genuinely trying to encourage Shirotani to go to the book store, buy a new suit, or actually drink the coffee at a coffee shop—those were great! When it just seemed like Kurose was trying to get his hands down Shirotani’s pants, however, I wasn’t quite rooting for either of them (which is kinda opposite of the intent the fanservice is supposed to do in this series).

As my first yaoi manga series, I don’t hate Ten Count, though. Rihitio Takarai’s plot has its problems, sure, but her art and character designs really are appealing. There’s a lot of self-torment going on throughout the series, but I do believe that in itself is a huge part of life. If the romantic story of a therapist and his patient sounds enticing, go ahead and give the first volume a shot. Just don’t be surprised when certain characters start revealing their true nature in the bedroom—unwonted fetishes and all.

ten count color


It’s because I finally realized that I love you and you reciprocated that love that I’m learning to love myself. — Tadaomi Shirotani


Afterword

I feel I could talk at length about Ten Count, but I’m honestly not sure whether I’d be saying primarily bad things or good things. Probably a mix of both, because despite its problematic concerns with trauma and sexual arousal, I did enjoy reading about Shirotani and Kurose’s relationship (and the many, many back-and-forth turns it takes). I know this series stirred a lot of buzz when it was first brought over in 2018, but what are your thoughts on Ten Count? For my first yaoi manga series, I feel like I picked a decent one, but you be the judge of that.

I’ll pass Ten Count as a “Cake” title here at the cafe if only for the fact that Shirotani’s story is fleshed out in a lovely six volumes and not just two or three. If you’ve got any BL recommendations, I’d also love to hear those. I’ve got more Pride Month content coming soon, so if BL is your thing, you’re in luck! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

ID:INVADED & Searching for the Answers || OWLS “Adapt”

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 fifth monthly topic of 2020, “Adapt,” I wanted to showcase one of the cool psychological sci-fi series that aired this past winter season, ID:INVADED. Although this would’ve been THE perfect month for Shirobako (which I talked about in last month’s OWLS post), I find the premise of a detective constantly dealing with memory erasure to be equally fitting for this topic.

Right now, we all have lost something or gained something in return during this dark time. Our lives have been completely altered due to coronavirus. For this month, we will be talking about anime series and other pop culture media where we have characters having to adjust to changes in their environment. Whether it’s adjusting to a new school or heading towards an isekai fantasy world, we will be discussing characters that had to make changes within themselves in order to adapt to the circumstances they are in. This will also give us an opportunity to express our own personal lives as we try to adjust to a “new normal.”

This all sounds very relevant to our current lives, doesn’t it? Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

sakaido


A brief discussion of the 13-episode Winter 2020 anime “ID:INVADED,” animated by NAZ, directed by Ei Aoki, and based on the original story written by Ōtarō Maijō.

A New World Every Time

Specialized police squad Kura solves crime a little differently than your average public safety agency would. Just sitting in the Mizuhanome, a highly advanced system that allows users to enter the minds of others, can help find the culprit at an astonishing pace. It’s an efficient system, and by detecting “cognition particles” left behind at the crime scene by the perpetrator, Kura’s detectives can manifest a criminal’s unconscious mind and dive into this virtual world—the “id well”—and thus reveal the identity of the culprit.

There’s a catch to entering the mind of a killer, though: only killers themselves can comprehend the bizarre stream of thoughts belonging to one of their own. Enter former investigator Akihito Narihisago, once a respected member of the police, and now the “brilliant detective Sakaido” on the other side of the law. Although his gifted detective skills assist him and Kura immensely in the id well, the latest set of crimes bear an uncanny relationship to one another that the agency just can’t seem to shake.

A psychological sci-fi mystery series with a hard law-and-order edge to it, ID:INVADED intricately crafts its entire world from the ground up—in some cases, this is literally meant. We are immediately drawn to the quasi-virtual world of the id well, and how the strange physics of each killer’s mind create a unique set of obstacles for the great Sakaido to overcome. Whether soaring through broken architecture in a zero gravity space or attempting to uncover the logic behind a puzzling stream of numbers, the laws of physics that we know are hardly applicable to the unconventional landscapes of the id well.

id well

The Brilliant Detective

Each time he enters the id well, Narihisago immediately forgets everything he once knew about himself. It is only when he stumbles upon the body of Kaeru, a mysterious girl who is the only constant between id well dives, that Narihisago remembers: he is the “brilliant detective” Sakaido, and it is his mission to solve the workings of this world to find the culprit. Who is Kaeru, and why is she always deceased upon discovery? Sakaido and the Kura team have yet to figure that out. But what they do know is that she’s on their side, as the state of her corpse always possesses a clue to the how and whodunit.

As much as ID:INVADED banks on the whole crime thriller shtick, it really is a story about redemption. For Narihisago, it’s about accepting the loss of his wife and daughter and his own transgressions as their murderer’s killer. The budding young detective Hondoumachi also uses her field experiences to find where she truly belongs in this wild agency. For Tamotsu Fukuda, it’s the chance to help the good guys solve a crime, even if he’s a criminal himself. The mind of a murderer is dangerous, absolutely, but it sure is insightful for tracking down fellow killers.

Kura’s detectives have to be sharp thinkers, but even more so the brilliant detectives risking their own psyche for sitting in the Mizuhonome. Between logging into unfamiliar worlds and dealing with wacky circumstances, it quickly becomes apparent that adaptation plays a critical role in this is a sci-fi mystery series.

kaeru

Deconstruction and Reconstruction

More than any other component, the visual element of ID:INVADED has to be solid in order for this kind of story to work—and thankfully, studio NAZ knew exactly what they were doing. While there are more than a handful of character design inconsistencies (particularly misalignment in the face and eyes), the whole of this project truly does handle director Ei Aoki’s vision astonishingly well.

Especially as an original project, viewers have little to go off of other than the posters and episodes themselves, but the series really works as a wholly unique and compelling visual piece. Sakaido’s mission to unravel the inner mechanisms of each id well relies on confident and daring animation, to which NAZ delivers. The animation supports this theme of reconstructing a deconstructed world.

Abstract puzzles and challenges await the brilliant detective, and as he is quick to think on his feet, Sakaido has to possess an unmatched flexibility to be able to adapt to anything the id well—or his fellow detectives—throw at him. The story largely retains its ability to entertain by following Sakaido has he adapts, reconstructs, and discovers the truth hidden amidst the chaos.

id invaded first id well

Flexibility Paves the Way

We try to show only the best sides of ourselves, but in the process we relinquish the parts that really make us humans, well, human. Some individuals like Tamotsu carry a deep sadness with them, despite the foolish smiles on their face. Others can seem rough around the edges yet are actually quite pleasant to get to know, much like Hondoumachi’s senior and mentor Matsuoka. We truly do not know the extent to someone’s character unless we actively try to understand them—all while keeping an open mind. 

As Narihisago realizes before any of his co-workers, a detective cannot be successful without thinking outside the box and being aware of the seemingly unimaginable. Not every crime is as it seems; similarly, not every person shares with you everything there is to them. Facades and farce run abound in ID:INVADED. Some people can be forgiven, and some people simply can’t. But one thing’s for certain, and you can trust Narihisago on this one: No person is without their flaws. 

mizuhanome


Who would’ve thought that one needs to lose something in order to feel complete. — Tamotsu Fukuda


Afterword

While I only followed a few shows this past winter season, I thought that ID:INVADED was definitely among one of the better watches. For filling the urge for psychological mystery in my heart and giving my mind a bit to chew on, I happy welcome ID:INVADED as a “Cake” title here at the cafe. Should you, too, be looking for something a bit more experimental while adhering to the staples of the crime genre, I strongly recommend this one. If you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the series or this post down in the comments.

This concludes my May 23rd entry in the OWLS “Adapt” blog tour. My good friend Aria (The Animanga Spellbook) went right before me with a post covering the societal struggles faced by the characters of Wandering Son that you shouldn’t miss! Now, look out for my buddy Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) as he shoots for the moon and beyond in his post on Banner of the Stars this Sunday, May 22nd! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

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.

chiyoko elder

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.

chiyoko runs

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