Miss Hokusai || Summer Film Spotlight #3

THE UNTOLD STORY 🌊✍️

Hey guys! Welcome to the third Summer Film Spotlight! Today we are celebrating GKIDS’s beautiful dubbed Blu-ray release of Keiichi Hara’s Miss Hokusai. This movie is full of important artistic values, from finding creativity in everyday life to balancing family life. O-Ei’s tale continues to inspire me as an artist, and I want to share it with you guys.

I hope you’ll continue to join us on this summer journey through film. See you next Saturday with another Summer Anime Film Spotlight!

Interested in more anime, manga, or K-pop content? Subscribe to stick around 🙏

Thanks for watching~!

– Takuto

Mushoku Tensei: A Jobless, Shameless Reincarnation || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode Winter 2021 series “Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation,” animated by Studio Bind, directed by Manabu Okamoto, and based on the light novel series of the same name by Rifujin na Magonote.


Reborn in a World of Magic

A thirty-four-year-old shut-in has just about had all of life that he can handle. Even when he tries to do something heroic for once in his life, it ends in a tragic accident. Fate, however, has other plans for him, and the man awakens in another world as Rudeus Greyrat, the newborn baby of two loving parents.

With the memories from his previous life still intact, Rudeus quickly adapts to this new fantasy environment. The knowledge from his adult past allows him to latch onto the world’s magic system faster than the other kids, and before long, his parents hire a mage tutor named Roxy Migurdia to help hone his skills. Rudeus learns swordplay from his father, Paul, and makes his first friend in the beautiful Sylphiette. Although Rudeus is no knight right now, his time with the blade will come in handy when he eventually takes on his own young pupil—the fiesty Eris Greyrat—and her buff, beast-human guardian Ghislaine.

Granted a second chance at life, Rudeus endeavors to live in a way that his old self would be proud of. As Rudeus attempts to conquer the traumas of his past, he starts to believe that maybe, just maybe, there is love for him in this world after all.

Gonna have to spit this out there now, but I absolutely despise the isekai story-starter trope of reincarnation. Rarely is it explored to full effect in these shows, and often is the tragic death overlooked by episode 3. That said, Mushoku Tensei is different. Throughout the series, we receive direct narration of events not from the voice of young Rudeus, but rather that of his past self. At first, the cynical and snarky dialogue comes across as largely pessimistic and cruel. But, as Rudeus starts to make connections and brave his way outside the comfort zone, the narration slowly adopts a note of hope. And of course, Rudeus is a pervert both then and now, but you’d be surprised how well he fits the bill as “The Son of Paul Greyrat.”

THE GREYRATS ARE SCUM

I know he’s really a 34-year-old man on the inside, but boy is Rudeus a cutie. I mean, just look at that name ~Rudeus~ I love it. Although we know who he really is, no one else does, and so Rudeus plays the innocent young prodigy part remarkably well. A lot of viewers may not take to him because of this fact (plus that he’s a whole-ass pervert), but I like Rudeus, and I hope he does find that self-love and acceptance he was missing out on in his sad past.

The same well wishes cannot be said for Rudeus’ father, Paul. I won’t spoil what he does (or who he does, yikes!), but don’t let that knightly title lead you to believing that honoring and respecting women is a virtue he exemplifies. THIS MANS IS SCUM. Hell, ALL OF THE GREYRATS ARE SCUM. And yet, I still love ’em all, the horny bastards. Paul is lucky to have a charismatic babe like Zenith!

Although the kind and soft-spoken Sylphiette is who propels Rudeus to become a stronger mage, a character I believe most audiences would resonate more with is Roxy. A wonderful teacher and talented water mage, Roxy serves as a huge motivation for Rudeus. Rudeus’ graduation ceremony from Roxy’s teachings had tears welling in my eyes, and as a teacher of young students myself, I just really hit it off with her reserved yet inspiring teaching style. Roxy rarely yells, but rather guides, and her realizing Rudeus’ potential (which far exceeds her own) hit me in the feels. The prospect of eventually reuniting with Roxy incentivizes Rudeus to work hard at not only magecraft, but also other avenues of life.

Then we have Eris Greyrat, who comes in and stomps on all of Rudeus’ hopes and dreams. I kid, but she’s definitely a stubborn pain in the ass. As Rudeus’ charms slowly start to rub off on Eris, however, she becomes noticeably more tame, even likable to an extent. Were it not for Ghislaine’s overwhelming strength and presence to hold Eris back, I’m not sure how far Rudeus would have gotten in his mentorship!

Quality Character Animation

While searching for more information about the studio behind making Mushoku Tensei, it appeared to me as if this is Studio Bind’s first work—and to this, WOW, I’m quite shocked. The animation of the series keeps up with the spellcasting elements of the show just as well as the dumb ecchi-comedy moments. Specifically, it was the quality of the character animation that grabbed my interest. In fact, I had no plans to watch Mushoku Tensei until one of the sakuga-crazed Twitter accounts I follow retweeted a short animation of Roxy splitting a tree and then healing it. From that moment on, I looked forward to seeing Rudeus’ water magic develop just as much I wanted to see that perverted little face of his warp into a devilish smile.

If I’m being honest here, the whole production of Mushoku Tensei won me over far before the story’s premise. The series is accompanied by a wonderful fantasy soundtrack from the genius Yoshiaki Fujisawa. Likewise, all of the grassy plains, vast deserts, and medieval cities provide a pleasant background to the show’s relatively soft visual aesthetic. Lastly, since I watched this one subbed, I did want to toot the seiyuu voicing the project, especially Yumi Uchiyama’s cute lil’ Rudeus, Ai Kakuma’s fiery and passionate Eris, and Megumi Toyoguchi’s tough and throaty Ghislaine.

A Debauched, Self-Indulgent Comedy

Mushoku Tensei probably wasn’t meant to be this enjoyable, at least for me. The series blends ecchi and isekai elements (which I typically cannot stand) into a fantasy drama with ludicrous amounts of world-building lore and pleasure-seeking fun. In addition to the nice magic animation and memorable character design, the series also pursues themes of self-love, reclamation of youth, and goodwill to others with Rudeus’ narrative. You can tell by the end how much taller he stands, and how he’s already so much prouder of the chances he’s taken in this life than the scarring, regret-filled life of his past. With this first season, a man is finally starting to overcome his fears from being bullied and enjoy life under the sun for once. I hope he’s able to go even further in subsequent seasons.

However the story tries to move you, this dramatic character development doesn’t stop Rudeus—and all of the Greyrats for that matter—from being horny on main 24/7. The series is never afraid to have fun with itself, and it remains wholly dedicated to its cause of debauched, self-indulgent comedy. If you’re wanting an isekai fantasy series with perverse, no-holds-barred commentary (and a slice or two of redemption), step right up to the house of Paul and Zenith Greyrat—I’m sure they’d love to have you.


“The worse I am at something, the better I feel when I work at it and learn how to do it.”

Rudeus Greyrat


Afterword

I’ve spent the past weekend trying to finish all the Winter 2021 simulcasts I started months ago. It’s actually been fun seeing how some of these shows ended, and it was equally exciting to see the season two announcement for Mushoku Tensei already greenlit! While I’m guessing the story from here on will lean more on the serious side, you can bet I’ll be back for more Greyrat degeneracy when the sequel airs this summer. For those wondering, I’m welcoming Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation as a “Cake” title here at the cafe, a show that’s not for everyone, but one that certainly scratches that itch you might’ve not have even known you had. I like the show when it’s both dumb and endearing, and that’s rare for even me to admit.

What are your thoughts on Mushoku Tensei? Do you think Paul Greyrat is scum or do you think he’s scum? Also, are you looking forward to more of this series or was this first season enough for you? Let me know your thoughts about the show or this review down in the comments! Thanks for reading, and ’til next time!

– Takuto

Gunbuster 2: Over the Top!!! || V-Day Special Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the six-episode OVA series “Diebuster,” localized in English as “Gunbuster 2,” animated by Gainax, directed by Kazuya Tsurumaki, and based on the original story by Youji Enokido. The series aired between 2004 and 2006 as a project to commemerate the studio’s 20th anniversary.


The Enemy Returns

Generations have passed since the war with the Space Monsters began. Though some can recount the heroics of one brave young girl and her role in saving the galaxy, the Space Monsters have since started up their attack once again, and humanity continues its fight against them. Only this time, humanity relies on the “Topless”—a group of elite space pilots whose special powers allow them to pilot the Buster Machines—for their safety against the enemy.

Nono, an energetic yet helpless girl from a small town on Mars, has heard the tales of the legendary space pilot “Nono-Riri,” and she wishes with all her heart to follow in the footsteps of her idol. Although she understands little about the dangers that lie on this path, Nono’s ambition will propel her to making her dream a reality. Right before Nono embarks on this journey that’ll shake the galaxy to its core, she happens upon the lonely yet powerful Topless pilot Lal’C. It is from their fateful meeting that Nono decides to gamble everything on following Lal’C to the very top of the world—and whatever lies beyond the darkness of space.

Diebuster joined the mecha genre in 2006 as the sequel to the classic Gunbuster OVA series (and thus it is also is called Gunbuster 2). With enhanced visual quality, heightened action scenes, and even increased nudity (just the tiddies, mind you), it’s no surprise that Diebuster was warmly welcomed by fans. I will add that the six-episode OVA series also hedges on the more abstract side of its genre compared to the typical mecha grounded in militaristic philosophy. Like its predecessor, Diebuster features a lovable and memorable cast of colorful characters, and the drama that washes between them is even more eruptive than before.

From Mars to the Stars

Nono is a mecha fanboy’s dream “anime girl” protagonist. She’s a tall, beautiful, gullible, and fun-loving girl who optimistically views the world with two blue eyes wide open. Her signature pink hair and striking red outfit (whether a maid costume, pilot attire, or some other evolution of space suit) instantly draws attention to her energetic spirit. Against the bleak and mysterious abyss of space, Nono stands out as a fiery, shining star. She’s clumsy and a bit of a dork, but her perseverance and ambition are second to none. As a callback to Gunbuster‘s Noriko, Nono is an endearing lead who would make a wonderful friend to anyone willing to lend a hand.

On the other hand, the series’ second female protagonist, Lal’C Melk Mark (pronounced “Lalk”) is as stubborn as a brick wall. For a majority of the series, Lal’C is reserved, self-confident, and self-absorbed, often lost in her own thoughts. Her topnotch piloting skills—while outwardly cool to Nono—further serve to isolate Lal’C from her pilot peers as the idol of the “Fraternity” in which they all belong. In her solitude, Lal’C turns to Dix-Neuf, the oldest of the Buster Machines and her partner on the battlefield. Speaking of, let’s talk about the neat giant robots of Diebuster.

Whereas Gunbuster had the titular robot as its only standout mecha, Diebuster features an elaborate mecha system with its own hierarchy and history. For instance, the French numbering of each Buster Machine refers to the wave in which it was released (e.g., the 30s are upgrades of the 20s, while the 40s have new features entirely). This does not mean a higher number is a stronger unit, however, as a pilot’s skill also determines the overall success of the team. Also unique to these mechs is that each Buster Machine is equipped with an A.I. interface that allows it to exclusively connect to a single Topless.

Though they cannot speak, the Buster Machine typically shares physical characteristics with its pilot. Dix-Neuf supports a horn through its head which limits its fighting potential, much like Lal’C’s own untapped potential. Similarly, the bratty, impulsive, and cold rival to Lal’C, Tycho Science, eventually comes to pilot Quatre-Vingt-Dix, which is known for its deep freeze blast abilities. And of course, in the midst of all this cool mecha business we have Nono, who’s willing to fly to Pluto and back for her own Buster Machine. (I’m not joking, she literally travels to the edge of the Milky Way just to earn her own seat in the cockpit. Such determination!!)

The “Rebuild” of Gunbuster

Really, this statement is a bit backwards, as Gunbuster 2 came over a year before the first Evangelion Rebuild film, Evangelion 1.0, was released. But the logic is similar: Much of the same creative force who made the old ’80s classic reunited to bring Gunbuster back to the big screen. Thus, Diebuster was born from the fires of this commemoration project. Likewise, the sequel series boasts many of the same animation upgrades and praise that the Rebuild series did for Neon Genesis Evangelion (including new CG designs, bold character designs, and vivid action sequences).

As a result, Diebuster is a ton of fun to watch. The wild animation style captures the same energy of Gurren Lagann with the added mechanical and technical cleanliness of the Eva Rebuild films. As someone who’s been searching for a spiritual successor (or in this case, predecessor) to the Rebuild series, Diebuster delivered phenomenally in the visual department.

Kohei Tanaka’s music also supports the tone of Diebuster just as well as his work did for Gunbuster. If anything, Tanaka’s soundtrack work here exceeds his previous, as the balance between blasting military anthems and chill tropical downtime is further emphasized. There’s a stronger sense of “main theme” in Tanaka’s soundtrack this time around as well, which makes listening to this theme evolve over the course of the series beautifully heart-wrenching. I wish more directors and studios would hire Tanaka on, as his dramatic scores truly compliment any setting they are placed in!

While I’m here, let me shamelessly plug the series’ OP “Groovin’ Magic” by ROUND TABLE (feat. Nino) that had me dancing before every episode like a fool. This is one of those many instances where Diebuster plays with conflicting tones, and this OP, if anything, is symbolic of the series’ very spirit. I heard this song so many years ago, and I was surprised to discover that it belonged to Gunbuster of all franchises!

A Risky Sequel

A true sequel from title to plot and even certain character motivations, Diebuster is a thrill ride to the very end. Where Diebuster far exceeds its predecessor, however, is in the bombastic nature of its story. If Gunbuster is a story about aiming for the top, then Diebuster is a sequel that is “over the top” in every comparable way. The pilots are stronger, the mechas are mightier, the animation is crazier, the music is louder—really, if Gunbuster did one thing big, Diebuster succeeds in doing it bigger. And yet, I’m still quite fond of the comparably smaller (if still considerably large) original story of Gunbuster. I can totally understand why one might be turned off by the series’ even zanier plot and execution. Diebuster takes risks—huge risks, some of which don’t pay off as well as others. Plus, the series is . . . weird, and it’s sometimes needlessly hard to follow. It will be hit or miss.

That all said, if you loved the first installment, you’ll more than likely find something to enjoy about the second. I like old anime sci-fi films, so Gunbuster became a quick fave of mine. However, I also love ridiculously explosive action set pieces featuring cool mecha designs and kickass fighting spirit. Given that, it’s no surprise I enjoyed Diebuster, too.

Diebuster throws caution to the wind and attempts to retell a legendary tale which as already been told once before, and I love how unapologetically fun and unique the series tries to be—-all while paralleling the iconic moments which made me fall in love with this world of giant robots, space aliens, and girls with guts in the first place.


“True strength resides in those who believe in their power to the very end!”

Nono


Afterword

Finishing this review, I already want to write another post about Diebuster. Unlike Gunbuster, there are so many moving parts to this short series that make it an engaging watch. Were it not for the pamphlet guides that came with my DVD releases, a good deal of the world-building elements would’ve flown right over my head. I’m so thankful that this series got a physical release. (And at $2 apiece for each of the three DVD sets, what luck!)

Maybe I’ll revisit Diebuster again after watching the recap film. But, should this be the end for now, I should let you know that although I appreciate the Gunbuster film more as an artistic piece, the Gunbuster 2 OVA series still deserves the “Cafe Mocha” rating! It’s my own seal of approval which basically tells all of you that I hold it in the highest esteem, and would certainly recommend it to mecha and sci-fi action fans. What do you like most about Diebuster, and do you prefer the sequel to the classic prequel? Let me know in the comments! Thanks for reading part two of my V-Day Special reviews, and ’til next time!

– Takuto

Gunbuster: Aim for the Top!!! || V-Day Special Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the Fall 2006 anime film “Gunbuster,” animated by Gainax, directed by Hideaki Anno, and based on the original story by Toshio Okada. More specifically, this is a review of the series recap film, which is adapted from the 1988 OVA series of the same name.


To the Stars

In the near future, humanity has shot for the stars, and space travel for the elite defending the Earth is commonplace. Just as an expedition to the furthest reaches of the galaxy gets underway, however, giant space monsters lurking in the darkest depths of the universe devastate the ship and her crew. Unresponsive to human communication of any kind, the space monsters attack indiscriminately. Soon, they will arrive upon the defenseless planet Earth.

Shortly after the discover of these horrifying aliens, Noriko Takaya, the daughter of a famous deceased space captain, enters a training school for the space fleet. Although her talents as a pilot are questionable, Noriko remains determined to aim for the top. At school, Noriko comes into contact with her polar opposite: the cool, beautiful, and intelligent Kazumi Amano. Noriko reveres Kazumi in the highest for now, but the unlikely pair make an unexpectedly good team as they attempt to save mankind from the space monsters. Together, two girls bravely dare to cross the blank abysses of space and time—piloting their giant robots of justice—and all for the sake of love.

Gunbuster revolutionized the giant robot anime game when it burst onto the scene in the ’80s. Many fans adore the film’s straightforward story and quality production, and I can’t blame them. Gunbuster seamlessly weaves together action and comedy with a high octane, high stakes sci-fi mecha plot set in space. Plus, the main characters are enrolled in a military school, which just fuels the tensions that could take place between girls, teachers, and the higher echelons of power. No doubt, human drama is a central theme in Gunbuster. Despite the conflicts, the characters manage to set aside their feelings (or resolve them outright) to focus on the vital mission at hand, and I really respect that about the entire cast.

As the light years between Noriko and Earth continue to expand, we see a different face to Gunbuster. The tone shift from cutesy high school life in the film’s beginning to the epic and gritty final battle of the film’s climax occurs exponentially with each big mission, almost like a play in three acts. Anticipation and anxiety snowball until the film’s last couple seconds which resolve the burning question at hand: Just how much has Earth changed by the time we return home? Thankfully, the answer was worth the wait. I could think of few better ways to end a film such as this one.

A Human Drama

Much of the narrative focus of Gunbuster centers on the development of our two leads. Noriko is a bag of surprises. She’s sweet and headstrong, yet also incredibly insecure. This leads Noriko to frequent episodes of self doubt, which usually requires either her idol Kazumi, her coach Ota, or her own strong-willed spirit to pull her out and steer her back on the path. Noriko is not the best mecha pilot in her class, and she and everybody else knows it. But, a space captain’s daughter does not give up so easily. Piloting the Gunbuster, Noriko is a force to be reckoned with, a real fury with fire in her eyes.

I love characters like Noriko that dare to explore the sleeping potential within themselves, but I love onee-san figures like Kazumi Amano even more. When I tell you that Kazumi is a WOMAN, I’ll have you believe it. Tall, graceful, and adorned by her signature long, deep blue hair, Kazumi is the archetypical pretty lady, a bishoujo worth looking up to. All the men and women swoon when their beloved “Onee-san” comes strolling down the halls (they literally call her this, I’m not joking), and wow does she live up to the reputation as a skilled pilot and respectable upperclassman.

Related to drama, another theme Gunbuster explores is time. More specifically, how does the rapid passage of time in space affect the relationships between the girls and their friends and lovers back on Earth? Is that feeling of constantly living “in the past” heavy enough to crush the human spirit? Couple that with the expansive distance from Earth that only seems to lengthen as the story progresses and you have a pretty mean premise—no one wants to watch their loved ones grow old. Similarly, it hurts to feel “stuck” in a relatively young body while your friends and classmates age significantly before your eyes.

To our valiant pilots, a 10-minute mission at the edge of the galaxy is tantamount to six months back on Earth. It’s not fair. And the only endearing sentiment from it all comes from those few souls who are able to cling to their memories and send their prayers to the pilots fighting for all their lives. That act, in itself, takes serious guts.

The Classic GAINAX Look

Visually, the aesthetic for Gunbuster is about as classic as one can get for an ’80s sci-fi anime. These kinds of vintage watches harbor a unique quality to them that can’t be reproduced today, and I’m actually glad the grainy feel is still somewhat intact in the Blu-ray of the film. Don’t get me wrong—the explosive action and fluid character motions are top notch and look quite nice after all these years. The same goes for the big-haired, fun, and memorable character designs. It’s just that Gunbuster carries itself differently than even mecha anime of its time, and I appreciate all the hard work that went into making the title one for the history books. Naturally, we can lend much of the film’s timeless look to Anno’s solid, artistic, and iconic directing style.

Likewise, the sound department remains strong, some of the gun and laser effects feeling especially retro sci-fi. It’s worth mentioning Rei Sakuma’s vocal performance as Kazumi Amano, as she quite honestly cemented the “big sister” vocal tone and personality for me. A legendary and beloved seiyuu for sure. Also deserving of my respect is Kouhei Tanaka’s work on the soundtrack, as I couldn’t imagine the Gunbuster gearing up for its final takeoff without Tanaka’s signature score. His music in Gunbuster suits the militaristic anthem energy needed to command your ears, but also the heroic techno pop to hype you up. I’m going to have to go listen to the soundtrack after writing this review!

A Saga Through the Stars

Where has Gunbuster been my entire life? This was the main thought running through my head as I sat through every glorious minute of this classic mecha film. As a huge Eva fanboy, it’s no surprise that I enjoyed Gunbuster in its fullest. I loved the delicate character drama worked up between these two fantastic female characters. The film moves at a quick pace to make up for the full six-episode length that the OVA series had, but that doesn’t stop Gunbuster from elaborating on nearly every point it raises, as well as providing a satisfying conclusion to this saga through the stars.

GAINAX will always have a special place in my heart. The studio brought us not only Evangelion, but also other faves like Gurren Lagann, FLCL, Nadia, Dantalian, Gunbuster‘s sequel series, Diebuster, and so many more. Some works are a hit, others are a miss. But Gunbuster is a hit, and a surefire one at that. In fact, Gunbuster is one of the studio’s first major works that is still being discussed today. To have longevity over three decades is a feat in itself. Going into its fourth decade, I hope the franchise will continue to invite fans back, old and new, to the magnificent tale about overcoming all odds and always, always, aiming for the very top.


“History will come to judge us. All we can do is survive at any cost.”

Kazumi Amano


Afterword

I really, really, enjoyed my time with this throwback watch. My only regret is that I didn’t watch the original OVA series first, as it has yet to be licensed in the states. I suppose this could be a blessing, though. Now I’ll get to watch Diebuster, the Diebuster film, and then tag back to the OG series if I feel like wanting to revisit the story (and put up with finding a site to stream it off, yeesh). Until then, however, Gunbuster is a certified “Cafe Mocha” title here at the cafe, a rating reserved only for the best of the best—and dare I say those titles which sit at the very top. Certainly, I owe the series this much, as I can already foresee this film being an annual watch of mine for a long time to come. 🙂

Have you ever watched Gunbuster or any of the Gunbuster films? Let me know your thoughts and stories in the comments! My next review will be over the series’ sequel, Diebuster, so please look forward to it. Thanks for reading my V-Day Special review (albeit it came a little late), and ’til next time!

– Takuto

Sakurada Reset: Supernatural Mysteries and Missed Opportunities || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode Spring 2017 anime “Sakurada Reset” (also translated as “Sagrada Reset”), animated by David Production, directed by Shinya Kawatsura, and based on the light novel by Yutaka Kouno.

Haruki can reset time but forget she ever did. Meanwhile, Kei remembers everything.


A Town of Supernatural Gifts

Sakurada isn’t your average seaside town. Unknown to anyone else, its inhabitants are born with strange psychic powers. Upon being summoned to the school rooftop one day, Kei Asai meets Misora Haruki, a quiet apathetic girl with the power to reset time. Her gift comes with certain limits, however: she can only go back up to three days, and she can’t use it within 24 hours of the last reset. To make matters more complicated, she doesn’t ever remember using her power when she resets time!

This is where Kei comes in. His ability to remember everything and anything allows him to recall changed timelines and Haruki’s resets. Together, they wield their unique powers with their Service Club friends to aid the problems of others. As the club starts taking on increasingly difficult and crucial missions for the mysterious Administration Bureau—an organization which manages all the abilities in Sakurada for the sake of justice—Kei finds that the machinations of eerie organization go far beyond simple acts of service.

I love time travel stories. I know many people dislike the trope, but it never ceases to entertain me. When paired with a plot like Sakurada Reset‘s—saving others, government conspiracies, romance drama, etc.—you basically get a knock-off Steins;Gate (which is one of my faves). The only problem is that, aside from the last couple episodes, the series is really, really boring. Given that I find everything else about the series to be incredibly interesting, I’m chalking up Sakurada‘s slow and lackluster nature to the direction. At least our time traveling heroes are somewhat inspiring, right? Right???!

sakurada characters

Apathy is Contagious

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Kei is one bland dude. Despite possessing one of the coolest abilities in the series, photographic memory, the gift does very little to make him likable. Like, he’s not rude or disrespectful, but he’s not exactly exciting to be around, either. I suppose he’s a SAFE option as a lead, but I’d rather my time travelers have a screw or two loose (like they tend to do) or have one overwhelmingly eccentric trait than be completely nonchalant about everything.

And sadly, Kei’s partner in crime isn’t much more interesting than him. In fact, Haruki’s hallmark is her absolute BLANDNESS, which allows Kei to tell her whatever he wants and she’ll do it. While I appreciate the sense of mutual trust that slowly starts to develop between them, I did notice that this kind of just left Haruki to be another tool for Kei to use (and not in the fascinating way that Code Geass‘ C.C. is to Lelouch). I’ll say that she’s reliable as a heroine, but not much else.

The rest of the cast ranges from similarly bland (man, apathy sure is contagious!) to unnecessarily complex. One example of bland is Kei’s best friend, Tomoki, whose abilities as a telepath makes him little more than the series’ top CHAD. Another is Seika, a girl who can communicate with cats, but is a weirdo and hard to converse with. On the flip side, Eri Oka, a punkish girl introduced later on who can implant memories, did nothing but make me want to pULL MY HAIR OUT, she’s so annoying. Same with Murase, a girl with an amazing power that basically makes her invincible, but boy is she a grade-A B*TCH to deal with sometimes. I could go on with describing my frustrations. Point is, they’re all good kids (kinda), just needlessly stubborn.

sakurada ocean

Calm and Quiet Seaside Energy

As Kei and friends continue to explore the city, I did slowly start to fall in love with Sakurada. Many sights became familiar, almost nostalgic, and I do think that the seaside setting does wonderful things for the story. Having the plot unfold in a smaller community than, say, Tokyo, allows characters to conveniently run into each other on the streets (which happens quite often) without seeming far-fetched. Plus, they have the ocean, and the sea is always a magical place for me.

If I had to describe the art and animation, I’d say what I have been about basically everything else—it’s safe. Not below average by any means, but decently pleasant, if not stiff and stale. (It sure doesn’t help that the MC’s script is boring as hell.) David Production took zero risk in making the powers in Sakurada look cool or exciting, which is SUCH a missed opportunity given how intriguing espers can be. Bummer. At least the music was good.

I couldn’t find credits for any other well-known work, but Rayons’ orchestral soundtrack compliments the pace of Sakurada Reset very well. The way some of the sad piano pieces transition to some of the series’ more casual, slice-of-life moments almost feels more like it’s music for a visual novel than an animated series. (There’s one particular piano/vocal track that really tugged at my heart.) This becomes more apparent when you start to realize that, for some reason, the music plays at a consistent volume THE ENTIRE TIME. No one “heartbreaking” moment felt more dramatic than the next, and I strongly believe that’s because the sound direction here—like the rest of the series—is so friggin’ lame. Again, good OST, just missed opportunities. WEAVER’s work on the second OP was BANGERS though!!

sakurada op

A Series of Missed Opportunities

For a supernatural school drama anime with mystery and time travel at every turn in the road, Sakurada Reset comes together as a strikingly unremarkable package. Its direction is steady (and sometimes quite artistic), but otherwise too slow to convince me to get excited about anything. Despite possessing unique super powers, the characters’ personalities are either disappointingly ordinary or straight-up noisome. And that’s too bad, really, because nothing about the series is terribly bad. It’s just average, and probably forgettable give or take a month or two.

If you came from a show like In Search of the Lost Future (wow, now THAT takes me back) and were hoping for something a bit more, Sakurada Reset will serve you well. It explores living with regrets, human longevity, and trust much better than other time travel romances do. However, if you came expecting a masterpiece like Steins;Gate, prepare to be disappointed—you won’t gain much from these long 24 episodes.

sakurada tree


We’re connected by our abilities. Since we have abilities, the two of us were able to stay together all the time, automatically, as a matter of course. Kei Asai


Afterword

In continuing to tackle my never-ending backlog, I was happy to be able to cross this one off the list. It sure was mediocre, but not something I regret watching. For all those curious, I consider Sakurada Reset a “Coffee” rating, and only recommend it if you’re longing for a particular kind of feeling, something transient and fleeting but, also, not wholly unenjoyable. If you have taken the one-way train to Sakurada by chance, be sure to let me know your thoughts about the series in the comments! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Den-noh Coil: The 2000s Sci-Fi Anime You Never Watched (But Should) || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the original 26-episode Spring 2007 anime “Den-noh Coil” (also translated as “Dennou Coil”), animated by Madhouse, created and directed by Mitsuo Iso.


Nostalgia, Child’s Play, & the Internet

In the near future, people have integrated augmented reality their daily lives through the use of specialized cyber glasses. A virtual world of “E-spaces” overlays Daikoku city’s electronic infrastructure. Viruses hide in plain sight, yet only glasses wearers can see these virtual hazards. Children in particular find immense joy in tracking down old abandoned E-spaces and using them for their own game. Hacking spaces, switching servers, discovering damaged domains—it’s like the coolest game of geocaching you could ever play! Some have even taken interest in hunting for metabugs, small gems which can be converted into currency or special items in the digital world.

This brings us to Yuuko “Yasako” Okonogi and her family, who have just moved to Daikoku City despite rumors of some people mysteriously disappearing. While searching for her cyberdog Densuke, Yasako encounters Fumie Hashimoto, a playful classmate and member of “Coil.” Comprised of other community youngsters, the small unofficial detective agency helps glasses wearers solve various cyber troubles. The girls’ meeting also brings Yasako’s snappy grandmother back into her life, who just so happens to run a shop that sells illegal tools which interact with the virtual world AND is the bright mind behind Coil.

Like any program, however, there are many bugs in the system, dubbed “illegals.” Some are lost, aimlessly wandering the digital landscape to eternity. Other illegals exist to cause mayhem, and some are harmless yet like to follow humans around, much like a household pet would. Another girl, Yuuko “Isako” Amasawa, is also investigating these corrupt spaces, but her abrasive hacking style (and attitude) deters her from making friends. The kids in Coil are determined to discover the truth behind the mysterious viruses and disappearances, but little do they know what corruption lurks on the dark side of the web.

yasako and fumie

Virus Attacks & Friendly-Fire Hacks

For the entirety of the series, Yasako serves as our blank canvas as Fumie guides us through the ins and outs of the virtual world. The two girls become best friends, and Fumie’s intelligent yet loud personality meshes well with Yasako’s soft naivete. Navigating through scary virus attacks and friendly-fire hacks from their fellow classmates, the go quite well together as a pair.

But, if there’s one giant brick wall stopping them from having fun in this digital space, it’s going to be Yuuko Amasawa. To avoid confusing the two Yuuko transfer students, the kids call her Isako. And boy is Isako one tough nut to crack. She’s standoffish, rude, and totally not interested in making friends; rather, her eyes are set solely on collecting metabugs for her own personal mission.

To complicate matters, the incredibly obnoxious and bratty Daichi Sawaguchi (along with his self-named “Hackers Club” goons) are also trying to snatch up metabugs, drawing out much of the conflict in the series’ first half. As things get weirder and weirder on the digital side, these hidden secrets tell of disastrous things happening in Daikoku City. Maybe, just maybe, the forces undermining the kids’ efforts will allow them to start seeing eye-to-eye.

isako hackers club

Given that practically the entire cast of this one is made of children, I’m SO glad that the English dub from Maiden Japan cast all the young boys with female dub actresses. (It just helps avoid the cringe of hearing a 30-year-old man voicing a ten-year-old.) I’ve never heard a dub where the children—to this extent—act and sound so much like children should. These kids are FUNny and are a hoot to watch! (And I LOVE Specs Granny!!)

Whether chasing down urban legends, stalking haunted hotspots, or connecting dreams and memories across time and digital spaces, these kids go on quite the coming-of-age journey. Together, they prove that the Internet can be a fantastic place for self-discovery—but also a potentially hazardous landscape without practicing proper safety.

dennou coil kids

Integrating CG with the Digital World

Although the show has a quiet, lukewarm start to it, the talents at Madhouse breathe astonishing life into Den-noh Coil. Mitsuo Iso not only directed AND created the entire story—he also drew many of the key frames himself! His style is jerky yet detailed, full of motion and expression. There’s some really well-animated character work done here, and it’s all in the details. Whether fidgeting children, readjusting glasses, or making silly faces, the animation fully encapsulates the behaviors and mannerisms of goofy 6th graders.

Despite coming from an era of anime where the use of CGI was almost purely experimental, the 3D CG works remarkably well here since Den-noh Coil‘s world is deeply intertwined with the digital space of the Internet. Muted, drab, washed-out Tokyo landscapes provide a unique, small-town community atmosphere to the series. Much of the AR special effects work is done with CG, giving us a nice distinction between the bleak watercolor skies of the real world and the quirky (yet dangerous) E-spaces that the kids are so fond of exploring.

I also found the entire soundtrack of the show to add a unique quality to Den-noh Coil. The series is accompanied by soft acoustic guitar and the quiet cascade of digital sound effects whenever the kids are dueling in back alleyways. Tsuneyoshi Saito’s OST, as with most of his other works (most notably Fafner), showcases the strengths of orchestral music. If we’re not getting weaving wind ensembles, we may hear the solemn beat of tribal drumming, or even the tender, evocative enchantment of the piano. It’s classic, and this kind of music will always win me over.

searchie

Connection, Disconnection, & Loss

Den-noh Coil takes a bit to get going, but enjoy its comedy/slice-of-life beginning. Trust me. These early-middle standalone episodes explore youth, life, and living side-by-side with this digital world, and are by far some of the strongest in the series. (The beard episode was especially great.) I’d argue that the episodic direction in the middle is far stronger than the main overarching story. Then again, I just find that the episodic style suits the series’ world and setting better.

About two-thirds of the way in, this sci-fi adventure kicks up the mystery with a starkly different plot set in motion. The character drama in the middle is also strong and even stronger at the end, which ties in well with the creepier subjects of the series’ finale. It’s a striking tone switch, but it really makes for an exciting finale.

yasako laser

These days, no one talks about Den-noh Coil (which is partially why I was drawn to it in the first places). I think that’s sad, because it’s more relevant now than it ever was in 2007 when it first came out, and I can’t help but think how highly people would praise the series if it was put out today. Certainly, it’s one creative piece of sci-fi.

Den-noh Coil tackles themes of connection, disconnection, loss, extinction, living within boundaries, and learning to push beyond certain limits. It explores what can go wrong in a world that lives side-by-side with technology, a world that can be hacked AND hack you just the same. Some stories are silly and eccentric; others are thought-provoking and startlingly philosophical. If you’re wanting an anime that explores transience in the digital age and you’re tired of being directed to Ghost in the Shell or Serial Experiments Lain, go give Den-noh Coil some love. It’s TOO overlooked and under-appreciated, and I guarantee it’s the early 2000s sci-fi anime you never watched—but absolutely should.

yasako and isako


What is real? Does being able to touch things make them real? If something can’t be touched, does that mean it isn’t real? What things are really, truly here? What things are actually here for sure?  — Yuuko “Yasako” Okonogi


Afterword

I had to sit on my rating for Den-noh Coil for a while. On one hand, it’s slow, a bit drab, and unnecessarily confusing with all its technobabble nonsense. On the other, however, it’s surprisingly dynamic and full of interesting ideas. And you know what, it’s for these reasons that I welcome Den-noh Coil as a certified “Cafe Mocha” title. THIS right here is what we call an anime gem, and you should seriously consider adding it to your watch list if you love sci-fi or augmented reality in the slightest! Had I watched it as a child, I couldn’t even begin to imagine the boundless fun I would’ve had with it! Are you one of the rare few who have seen Den-noh Coil? Please let me know, as I’m looking for fellow Coil kids to love this show with! Thanks for reading, ’till next time!

– Takuto

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