Naka-Kon 2019 Experience + Haul!

Hello all!

Apologies for dropping off the face of WP suddenly for two weeks. School’s been kicking my butt (and I had been doing so well blog-wise, uff). But before school got out of hand, I went to Naka-Kon 2019 over spring break, making it my 5th year at the con!

I love Naka. I love the guests they bring in, I love the size (it’s a smaller con, but just big enough to not be able to attend everything if you catch my drift), I love perusing the vendor hall and the artist alley, I love all the wonderful cosplay spirit, and I love staying at the convention center’s hotel. It’s awesome, and it’s perfect for me and my family.

Getting out of town and escaping into the city for three days for Naka-Kon is like a spiritual revival of sorts. I come back to my room with new things to hang up that’ll inspire me to watch more anime and become more productive with my blogging. Honestly, I can’t think of a better way to spend my spring break.


Meeting the Voice Behind the Mic!

This year was particularly great because it was super chill. Much more casual than the usual panic of making sure I attend panels and lines at the right time and such. The big reason for the relaxed tempo this time around was because there weren’t as many voice actors that I felt I absolutely had to meet.

Don’t get me wrong—I definitely went to all of the VA panels that I could, and I will continue to do so until I get sick of them (probably never tbh), but there’s a difference between being compelled to stand in an hour long line (alone away as my family are off doing literally anything that’s more exciting than standing ’till my legs go numb) versus just sitting down and listening to them for a bit.

But I did stand in a couple lines this year! In addition to sitting in on his YT panel, I got to meet the incredibly hilarious Alejandro Saab in the flesh! He was such a kind dude, and unlike the people in front of me who were in and out in 10 seconds, he spend what felt like an entire minute just chatting with me about creativity, motivation, business, anime licencing (regarding The Royal Tutor film) and life in general. (Plus he said he recognized my Danganronpa Komaeda cosplay after we took a picture together!)

Alejandro was well-informed about the characters he voiced (Haruto from A Sister’s All You Need, Prince Leonhard from The Royal Tutor) and was excited to impart his thoughts, which surprised me given that some VAs that I’ve met keep things pretty succinct (and understandably so). Such a generous guy. A positive experience all-around! ^ . ^

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The other actor I met was Jad Saxton, a big name on the dubbing scene and an incredibly sweet person in real life! My meeting with Jad went by a lot quicker, but like Saab she was overjoyed to tell me about the roles I approached her for, particularly Faris in Steins;Gate (which we talked about returning for the much darker Steins;Gate 0 and the simultaneous joy and sorrow it brought) and my gateway role to her, Hatchin in Michiko & Hatchin. Other favorite roles include Sena in Haganai, Ruruka in Danganronpa 3, and Akatsuki in Log Horizion.

As a last-second comment, I wanted to express to Jad my appreciation for the Magical Girl Raising Project dub, as the casting and accents made it my favorite dub of 2018. We each shared a hearty *in a deep-south accent* “Calamity Mary!”, laughed, thanked each other, and I was off!

(My siblings also wanted to meet Miss Saxton, so I lent them something to sign in addition to their own materials. Thanks again fam!)

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Game Rooms, Quiz Shows, and the Big Schedule Conundrum 

My only big issue with this year’s Naka was the substantial number of scheduling errors and lack of communication for changed events. Some VA panels that were supposed to be on Saturday were bumped up to Friday, and we unfortunately missed them without knowing.

And it wasn’t just the times, either; panels of all varieties swapped rooms with each other unannounced, confusing and frustrating a lot of people. Unfortunately, Kara Edwards was getting over a cold, so her stuff was moved accordingly and understandably to accommodate both her health and fans wanting to meet her. But even her situation doesn’t explain why literally sooo many panels were moved around.

But surprisingly, that didn’t bother me too much. In the end, since seemingly all VA-related panels but Kristen McGuire and Jad Saxton’s ADR panel (which was quite lovely and informative!) were shuffled around, we pretty much just went to a bunch of anime quiz show sessions and played in the game room. Still, both ended up being pretty fun, and it allowed me to freely strut my cosplay and take pictures with people that asked without having to worry about time constraints.

RightStuf ran a pleasant anime quiz show through Kahoot, which allowed everyone in the room to be a player (a novel idea!). Although I’ve never participated in these game shows, perhaps I should haha! Out of three rounds with well over 60 participants each, I ended up scoring third, seventh, and fourth place, respectively. 😀 Maybe next time I’ll muster up the courage and volunteer in a less-anonymous game show.

Stuff I Bought!

So a couple VA panels, lots of gaming, and even more picture taking both with and for fellow fans and cosplayers. But what about shopping? Here’s everything I got from the vendor room and artist alley this year!

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These gorgeous Sailor Moon prints by FalseDelusion were an absolute MUST as soon as I saw them, especially the Silver Millennium piece on the left. Not only is the artistry delicate, but the combination of mediums here (hand-drawn characters and kingdom with overlaying of lighting and watercolor effects) creates a really fantastic vision of each planet. The ethereal dreaminess of the Moon Kingdom and the stormy colors used on Jupiter, planet of thunder, add so much character and dynamism.

The artist made one for each of the inner guardians, so I picked my favorites. Also, at my request, I had them signed and dated!

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The artist also had a set of small militaristic My Hero Academia prints featuring bold, bright colors with equally fierce character portraits. Since it was buy 2 get 1 free, I had to snag #bestboy as my freebie. 😉

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The other print I picked up was this adorable yet deep Princess Jellyfish illustration. I actually saw this print last year, but hesitated because I had spent too much—Not this time, though! I bought it in a heartbeat!! And I hope you can understand why. I love how the two are faced away from us, but while Tsukimi is lost in the sea of jellies, Kuranosuke’s attention is elsewhere . . .

My favorite part—the sharp white boarder framing—creates a powerful emphasis on the characters and the dreamy blue waters. In case you’re curious, the artist is Alexis Moore (alexis-moore.com or @alexisparade), and although I didn’t get to interact with her directly, I’m really happy that I was finally able to reunite with this beauty!

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Buttons, bears, and setters, oh my! Of course, it wouldn’t be Naka if I didn’t pick up a few pins for my board at home, so I grabbed up my favorite two Haikyuu!! characters as well as a Monokuma pin: a rare find IMO!

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OMG this artist. She had SO MANY OBSCURE CHARACTERS, MY HEART. It was a no-brainer to grab the Gosick and No.6 pairings (honestly, nobody does art for these characters). I was also really surprised to see the Devilman: Crybaby boys, so they came home with me too. And while I was only planning to pick up Seraph of the End‘s Mika, she jokingly convinced me that Mika and Yuu must not be separated, and I totally agree (<3). It was a 10-pins-for-$20 deal, so I picked up Yuri Katsuki and Suzaku to top my unintentionally bishounen cart.

Seriously though, I could’ve bought EVERYTHING from this lady! And she was so kind and humble :’) We joyfully exchanged our passions for some of these obscure titles and ships—easily one of my favorite interactions from the entire con!

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Onto the merch, my sister wanted a shirt, and since deals come in pairs, I grabbed more Eva goodness. I’d never seen the design for this one, and it’ll be nice to have a white anime tee to contrast my black wardrobe lol.

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Although my hunt for Danganronpa figures and clear files turned up ZILCH, I did manage to find the D3 Despair Arc wall scroll I hesitated buying last year and decided to submit. It’s a fantastic key visual featuring all my favorite Danganronpa 2 kiddos—no regrets!

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I WAS able to add another rubber strap to my arsenal, however—and it’s male Ranma, a classic favorite no less! On Sunday, my sister and I cosplayed female and male Ranma, respectively, so he was bought to commemorate this moment. :’)

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Last but not least is this gift from my brother, a chibi keychain strap of the Yamato (my latest obsession in case you missed it). What’s ultra hilarious about this gift however is the texture. She looks like hard plastic, doesn’t she? Well don’t let the packaging fool you—this keychain actually has a gel-like exterior that, when squeezed, activates a light on the wave motion cannon! #SquishyYamato has become simultaneously the worst and the best meme of our house ever since the surprising reveal. >.<

(PSA: Please check the texture of packaged keychains before buying. Otherwise you get awkward moments like this one :P)


And that about does it for Naka-Kon 2019! I’m hesitant to post cosplay pics just because, ya know, once it’s on the internet, it stays on the internet. But I’m about to the point where I’m like, screw it, it’s something I love doing, and I’m getting much better at it. So I might end up doing an entire post (or even series, who knows!) on my cosplay ventures. Only time will tell!

Overall, I had a wonderful experience—easily my most chill Naka yet—and if you see something cool above or are curious about other con-related details, leave a comment and I’ll definitely respond! Thank you to all who made Naka ’19 a great one, and we’ll see you in 2020!

– Takuto

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My Experience Buying Manga at a USED Bookstore | Cafe Talk

Hello, and welcome!

On the second to last day of winter break, I took a spontaneous trip to the city with my family for a brief vacation. (Or for one last desperate breath of fresh air before diving back into school work, take your pick.) Anyhow, as we were gliding through downtown, which was still lit by glistening Christmas lights, my brother reminded us of a bookstore he stumbled upon the last time he was here. Being people of culture (and idiots for picking the coldest night of the year to explore outside), we headed for the bookstore as quickly as the slick sidewalks would allow.

The outside of the shop was quaint; a rustic little cart sat just outside the door, which held the discounted-discount books. Lying dead center on the stack was Vol. 2 of A Distant Neighborhood by Jiro Taniguchi, an author whom I’ve heard about as a renowned mangaka, but nothing more.

Now, this was an ancient USED book store, so I was expecting a lot of dusty old books from the previous century stacked onto decaying shelves. To find manga—and without even opening the door—this had to be a good sign. I took the manga and walked in. Immediately, I was consumed by the scent of antiquity and a touch of lemon from presumably some dust cleaner sprayed just a few hours prior.

I had been looking forward to this visit, even if just to look and not buy, so my memory of walking in is a bit hazy. But I was right about one thing: there were a LOT of books, though not necessarily old. Some of the titles that my eyes hurriedly skimmed were, to my recollection, hot off the press from a month or two ago. That surprised me.

Brown wooden shelves lined the walls of the small shop, many of these towering shelves jutting out in to the walkway so as to divide the room into a dozen mini sections, pocket universes of thought for each genre: adventure, mystery, romance, drama, classical, science fiction, young adult, self-help, non-fiction, fiction, and the like.

Numerous unique chairs of all shapes and sizes from wooden to wicker sat pleasantly within reach, as if you were invited in to pull any book to your liking off the shelf, grab a seat, and lose yourself within the pages. It was a colorful place thanks to the thousand upon thousand of beautiful book spines (which were neatly arranged on the shelves, by the way), and despite the dark brown interior of the store, hanging industrial lights from both the ceiling and the shelves themselves lit the chamber with a warm ember glow.


Simply, I was in love. If you’ve ever imagined a fantastical library with a layout not unlike a labyrinth, in that it felt quite easy to get lost in, this was the place.


They had simultaneously less and more manga than I expected; it was just two or three rows of books on these narrow two-foot-wide shelves. The shallowness of the shelf itself was a perfect look for the tiny collection, so I took mental notes about how to remodel my own room once I made or bought new shelves.

There wasn’t much there, yet I was still thrilled anyhow to skim through the used manga. When was the last time I came to a used book store? I thought to myself as I borrowed the nearby step-stool to reach the top shelf where the manga was humbly lined.

I just had to buy something, I remember convincing myself at the time, so I walked away with two others besides Taniguchi: Devil Survivor by Satoru Matsuba (story by Atlus) and Merman in My Tub by Itokichi, two volume ones that I was acquainted with by name. With both in good condition and certainly cheaper than using Amazon’s used services, I consider this small haul a steal. The young woman at the counter rang up the items, wrapped them in a brown paper sack, and we were on our way back through the cold.

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Not a particularly novel (ha!) haul, but one I thought I’d share anyway.

This experience was special to me because it allowed me to reconnect with the charm of the bookstore environment itself. It was a magnificent little shop, and had I taken pictures, I definitely would have shared them with you all—I know you would’ve loved it.

In this digital age of online shopping and even browsing for digital books, I had temporarily lost that joyous feeling of walking out of a physical store, haul in hand. It’s not revolutionary thought; I just went into a bookstore and bought books, but even still, it makes me happy.

If ever you are offered the chance to peruse the shelves of a new or used bookstore—even if your goals in mind are larger than what the store offers—consider closing out of that internet tab for a reconnection with the physical and inviting yourself to the rustic charm of a dusty bookshelf. Trust me, you won’t regret your stay.


It’s always pleasing to use something for its specific purpose. — Mrs. Crocombe, a Victorian Chef at Audley End House


Now, I ask you: when was the last time you went to a used bookstore? What were you looking for at the time, and did they have it or not? For me, it had clearly been way too long, and I’m so glad I was able to spend the final days of my break absorbing pages and panels of so, so many books. I’d love to hear your personal stories if you’re willing to share! I suppose I’ll be off to reorganize my own manga collection, so until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Celebrating the New Year with a Reflection on my OWLS Experience! | Blogmas 2017 Day 12

Hey everyone, welcome to the FINAL day of Blogmas! Due to the holidays, I got a little behind this year. But we can still work with that—for this post, I’ll be combining my last big moment of 2017 with my New Year’s wishes to you all! Together, we’ll briefly look at how OWLS has changed me for the better as a blogger, a writer, a listener, a learner, and ultimately, a human being.

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A Review of my First Year with OWLS

(No spoiler-warning necessary~!)

Why Did I Join?

If I were not a member of OWLS today and noticed their tour going on, the thought of joining a group that stood for “Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect” would never have occurred to me. Looking deeper at what they represent (acceptance of all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability), I definitely would’ve said “No way” to joining. I’ve already tackled in September’s “Treasure” post that I struggle with the Four D’s (Death, Divorce, Drugs, Depression), and that I’m no good with sensitive subjectsw. It’s not that I’m incapable, it’s just that I’m rather “average” on topics like gender roles/equality/terminology/titles. To be frank, I felt very unknowledgable on the matter(s), as I just never gave them much thought in my daily life. Simply, if someone had a preference on being called “he, she, or they,” didn’t matter to me; I would acknowledge their preference, and oblige by whatever they’d like. It’s just a pronoun, after all. The least I could do was accept their choice.

Then it hit me: wasn’t that exactly the kind of person OWLS was looking for?

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That wasn’t the tipping point for making me join, though. I’d never really been a part of a blogging “team” before, and I didn’t want to jump the gun when I knew I blogged infrequently as-is. With my limited knowledge, I knew that blogging groups or circles had deadlines, requirements, rules, regulations, and that was just stuff I wasn’t up for. I knew my strengths, and I definitely knew my weaknesses.

So I turned back to the recruitment messages that were sent to me (OWLS wasn’t around at the time, so I would eventually become a founding member, heh heh). Reading on past the gender stuff, I noticed more things that OWLS emphasized: importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being. Yeah, more emotional mumbo-jumbo. Not my style. I remember telling myself to sleep on the thought, so I did.

My days at high school went on. I was taking an AP English course that combined English composition with world literature and the human experience. The class was a lot of work, as I struggled with finding the deeper meaning in works both long and short. This kind of meaningful, poetic writing wasn’t my forte, and the essay units were DEATH. But for some reason, I still liked the class. More and more, I found myself inspired by learning about works like Oedipus Rex, and I was doing off-the-clock research on my own.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I had fallen madly in love with the workings of tragedy, dark romanticism, and dramatic irony. Slowly, I started making connections to my favorite tragic characters in anime like Fate/Zero and Madoka Magica, and I felt I suddenly understood a long-lost philosophy, a secret order to the world known only by the truly enlightened. And before I knew it, I was thinking:

Maybe . . . maybe this English stuff was for me.

And maybe . . . this OWLS thing would allow me to vent this hidden passion.

So I joined. Unqualified as I felt at first, I signed myself on for what would—unbeknownst to me—eventually become a journey of understanding both entertainment and myself on a very deep, personal level.

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At first, things felt pretty good. With each monthly topic, however, I felt the distance between what I wanted to personally say to my readers VS what OWLS wanted me to promote grow. On several occasions, I was graciously using the flexibility of the monthly topics to better fit my own messages and themes. I would feature very fictional characters and premises that were, well, unreal. From robots and artificial intelligence of Time of EVE and Blade Runner, to elves and half-elves in Tales of Symphonia, to the FREAKING cast of Evangelion, which is already infamously loathed enough. My opinions were unpopular. On top of it all, few even knew the shows that I picked, regardless of them being favorites of mine, and thus it was harder for people to relate to what I was trying to say.

As a result, I changed my game to work harder on making my posts “stand out.” I’d try a variety of different writing styles and visual formats, from writing “letters” to poem-ish outlines, and even including my own personal experiences. Going even further, I’d spend extra time on editing images that I put in my posts, using a variety of apps to give form, shape, and emphasis to the entire look. Though this extra work caused me to be a little late some days with releasing posts, the changes made me feel better about both my writing and my self-esteem.

STILL, I couldn’t give a lecture about gender identity. I couldn’t vouch for those fighting a terminal illness, nor living with a mental disorder. It felt as if there was a group of intellects working their butts off to make an impact, however small, and then there was me, the janitor working off of everyone else’s great posts. I felt a bit isolated because I just didn’t know enough about what exactly it was we were fighting for. I thought there was just no “click” between me and the others. At one point, I felt taking a couple months off OWLS just to read a manga featuring LGBTQ+ hardships or watch anime regarding depression and suicide with the hopes of “fitting in” with the discussions on our Twitter and Discord chats.

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But I knew, deep down, that those works weren’t the ones that truly interested me. They may have been great stories—masterpieces even—but everyone has their own tastes. From my own experiences, you can’t write sincerely if you don’t feel passionately about what you’re writing. So I turned to examine myself once again: I have lived a decent life, one with few “big obstacles” and unbearable hardships. Sure, I get a bit lonely at times, but doesn’t everybody? Towards the middle of 2017, I changed the focus of my writing. My mission became this:

Write about coping with everyday life, the troubles we face, and above all, the things we can learn from history. Explore the dark underbelly of the average mind and procure remedies to changing our outlook on humanity. Through the negatives, we can understand the positives, and hopefully go from there. Combine my reviewing strengths with thematic analysis to “knock out two birds with one stone.”


Despite ALL my inner turmoil and struggle to fit in with the other OWLS posts, however, you all kept supporting me. The other OWLS members were cheering me on the whole way. In typical “me” fashion, the reality was that I had made a big deal about nothing. The OWLS members who ran the monthly live streams described my posts as “detailed, heartfelt, and poetic.” And through the busy, busy months of inactivity (spring and summer), OWLS gave me a purpose to write, and it kept my blog alive and well. I’m thankful to OWLS for not only allowing me to be a member of a fun and friendly team, but also for giving me the chance to do some long, hard thinking about why I write, and what I want to learn in the future. Honestly, they’re the best kind of people that I feel unworthy of being around and writing for, but like their mantra states:

We are a group of otaku bloggers who promotes acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. We emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being.

Should you join OWLS? Gosh, well, as you can see it took me a hot minute to think about that myself. But if you are willing to work hard for a good cause, and are passionate enough to write about anime and the pop culture medium, this might be the otaku group for you!

At least, I now know it’s the family for me.

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My Top Five Favorite OWLS Posts that I Wrote in 2017

It’s hard to pick favorites. I don’t like doing it, but in the spirit of the 12 Days of Anime, I’ve managed to select five OWLS posts that accurately represent the sum of who I am, why I write, and what I want you, the reader, to learn! All of my OWLS posts are my babies—in fact, they’re probably some of the best posts I’ve ever written, if not THE best of what I’ve got so far, and I thoroughly LOVED writing ALL of them—so enjoy my reminiscing, and feel free to scope them out if you missed them, or are feeling the urge to relive each month’s thought-provoking topic.

On the header/taskbar thingy of my site, you’ll see that OWLS has its own tab (and rightly so), so you can find the rest of 2017’s posts there! Alrighty, here we go—let’s wrap up 2017!

RUNNER UP: 

 Tour #1 January – Kiznaiver, Where Change is Worth the Pain | OWLS “Disruptors”

We All remember “that first time” we did something. Stepping out the gate with my first OWLS post was pretty scary, but even reading this now, I can recall the slight feeling of motivation I felt while writing the ending. It served as my review of the show, and it also had some sociology nonsense stuff in it. But YES, oh the memories!

Life Lessons Learned: 

  • It is not always the positives that make people seek change.
  • We must not shame, but accept the bizarre, the wacky, and the weird that reside within each of us.
  • Don’t be afraid to stick up for the things you believe in—odds are, someone else believes in them, too.

NUMBER FIVE:

Tour #5 May – Grimgar: Stronger Together, Now & Forever | OWLS “Strength”

This was the first time I tried a different writing style. It was also where I was coined as a “poetic writer” because my post was formatted to, simply put, look like a poem. Straight from the heart, I went in with no outline whatsoever, and very few times did I hit the backspace key; if it was typed in first, it was typed for a reason. I like to think it turned out okay. Plus, I thought this show totally hit the monthly theme on the head!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • For a team, true strength lies not solely on one’s shoulders, but in faith in one another—in overcoming adversity and misfortune together.
  • Tragedies and bad experiences in life can be used strengthen your being; what doesn’t kill you does make you stronger.
  • You are only alone if you choose to be. Similarly, one may be strong, but a team is stronger.

NUMBER FOUR:

Tour #2 February – Yuri!!! On ICE Goes the Distance for Life & Love | OWLS “Flight”

Yo, I looove Yuri!!! On ICE. Y’all already know that (and no, my bias towards the show isn’t what put it on this list). The reason I picked February’s post for #4 is because it inspired me to live a cleaner life. Now wait, I know you think I sound pretty egotistical for saying that “my own post inspired me,” but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t mention that putting this post out there did in fact encourage me to live life on the free-er side. I felt inspired to live more vicariously, without regard to what I could and could not control, and that made my stress decrease immensely. Also, I was recently sent a Twitter message saying that this post (specifically, the last bit) inspired another fellow blogger to write a review over a film that they loved in a similar fashion. Isn’t it the goal of all bloggers to get messages like these?? Anyway, I hope it helps you if you ever feel that you’re just letting life pass you by!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Leaving the comfort zone can allow you to unlock potentials you thought you never had, or better yet, complete a part of you that had been missing.
  • True sportsmanship is doing the best you can, respecting your competition, and making memories doing it with others.
  • You only get one life: live truthfully. 

NUMBER THREE:

Tour #9 September – “Orange” is Sweet & Sour, Yet All The More Beautiful | OWLS “Treasure”

I’ve mentioned numerous times in this post my discomfort with discussing depression, suicide, and the like. Well, September was my first shot at the whole mess, and because of all the heartwarming comments I’ve received, I got to learn so much about not only the issues at hand, but also many of your own lives. It wasn’t an easy post to write, but of all of these, it’s one that I was most glad I had. Also, isn’t the header image so pretty? Orange‘s art is so aesthetically pleasing!

Life Lessons Learned:

  • When helping others with sensitive issues, it’s hard to know what to say at exactly the right time. Don’t hate on yourself for messing up—you tried, and that’s admirable enough.
  • Every life is precious—treasure each and every day, the present, the moment, and yourself.
  • Do your best to live without regrets.

NUMBER TWO:

Tour #12 December – In This Corner of the World: A History Lesson on Hope & Healing | OWLS “Warmth”

After writing for 12 consecutive months, I was surprised to see that I still had the stamina to push on with December’s final post. Though I felt a bit wordy with this one (it’s one of the longest posts I’ve written!), I like to think that every single word is there for a reason. At first, I thought the film I featured for this month was okay, nothing too fancy, but definitely decent. The more I thought about it, however, I came to realize that it was not only one of the best, but also one of the most important watches of 2017! It touched my heart enough to force me to spit out many BIG lessons on the human experience! I would’ve put this down as my #1 OWLS post for 2017, but it was missing one vital, personal touch.

Life Lessons Learned:

  • Life always goes on. Those who learn to adjust the quickest and accept the circumstances around them will have a greater chance at happiness.
  • Learn from fiction: no matter how significant or insignificant, it is all created with something valuable to be learned.
  • We all have the choice to be happy or sad, rude or nice—live the way you want to.

AND FINALLY, NUMBER ONE:

Tour #6 June – For the Team – Free! & My Swim Story | OWLS “Team”

I think it’s obvious how much this one meant to me. Almost 100% personal and taken from my own experience with a team, June’s post was not only a long-time coming, but also a story that I’m glad I finally got around to telling. It was important for me, and it should be of importance to you, should you care to know more about who I am! It was also a hard one to write, as I recall staying up until past 3 am the next day (late) just to finish it, and word it exactly how I wanted to. It’s an autobiography, a blog tour post, and a review of a beloved series that is dear to my heart.

You all reached out to me in the comments on this one, and for that alone, I am forever thankful.

Life Lessons Learned

  • If you find yourself losing your passion for something, or are stuck with a team that frankly isn’t filled with the most wonderful of people, then be that wonderful person for the team.
  • Determination, perseverance, and ambition speak volumes about people.
  • Life is fleeting. Savor the bests of each moment, and never forget your actions can cause ripples, unknowingly inspiring others in the process.

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Happy New Year From Me to You

That’s the end, folks! Between all my OWLS posts and the experiences I’ve shared with all of you, this is the list of things I learned in 2017! Now you, too, have the opportunity to carry these timeless lessons into 2018! Did you have a favorite OWLS post of mine? If so, please let me know! Even though I get behind on comments, I always value your thoughts and opinions, and I am ALWAYS grateful to those who simply read my posts!!

Oh yeah, this also FINALLY includes Blogmas 2017 and the 12 Days of Anime! I got sooo behind, but I’m so glad I did it because I got to reconnect with all of you. Writing for each day of Blogmas was surprisingly fun, and I never got tired (just busy). Next year, I’ll definitely have to stay on top of it better!

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for all your support over this past year! There were several gaps of inactivity in 2017, and one goal for 2018 would be to fill in those gaps with more reviews of titles that I cannot wait to watch. Thank you for being patient with my responses, and for letting me know when I do a decent job at something (it’s the little things that go a long way, right?). The blog’s almost at 300 followers, so it’d be really awesome if I could say about 100 people joined the cafe each year!

So here’s to you, to me, to all the wonderful things we’ve done, and to the many, many more exciting things we’ll do together! Already, I have made my peace on Twitter, but again, I’m wishing you all a year full of good health, healing, and a ton of luck~!! I’ve got many projects in mind—one in particular to kick off 2018—so please look forward to that! As always, my favorite bunch of people in the vast sea of the internet, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! And until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Anime at the Theaters: My “Your Name” Experience! | Blogmas 2017 Day 10

Hey everyone, welcome to (a very belated) day 10 of Blogmas (whoops)! I know today’s topic isn’t necessarily “new” for 2017 (nor is it for years prior), but this was the first year I was able to attend a theater to watch anime on the big screen!

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Anime at the Theaters!

From Funimation’s screenings of films for Project Itoh, Dragon Ball, Fairy Tail, One Piece, Black Butler, Attack on Titan, Psycho-Pass, The Boy and the Beast, and In This Corner of the World, to live action films like Tokyo Ghoul, Rurouni Kenshin, and Shin Godzilla, anime has been on the rise, as most of these titles were indeed screened this year. And they’re not stopping at 2017; they’ve already lined up the beginning of 2018 with theatrical releases for the widely anticipated first Eureka Seven Hi-Evolution film!

Heck, even Viz Media had joined in on the fun with its grand premiere of Sailor Moon R: The Movie this past winter (which was, by the way, promoted with the red carpet treatment, complete with a voice actor/pro-cosplayer meet-up, AND a spotlight on Snapchat—FREAKIN’ SNAPCHAT). The same goes for Aniplex of America and their latest (successful) efforts with Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale and Fate/stay night: Heaven’s Feel. Oh, and we can’t forget Sentai Filmworks with the big debut of the No Game No Life: Zero! Though Aniplex has been in the game much longer, it’s only now that their publicity has reached far enough to include theater screenings not just limited to the California area. And this trend will likely increase for all of these companies as the years go on, which is awesome because when more anime goes around, we get more of it!

I unfortunately wasn’t able to see this film (or any of the ones listed above, for that matter), but I did try, I did! ;_: Now I own the DVD. :3

It’s not often that anime “strikes rich” with U.S. audiences, though. The fan base and popularity expand, sure, but the monetary gain from screening anime films in the U.S. is nothing compared to what Warner Bros., Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, or even some indie films earn. But every bit helps, and seeing as how screenings of our favorite niche titles keep popping up, we can only imagine that it’s all helping the anime industry in Japan. Anime News Network wrote an article during the film screening boom awhile back, so you might want to check that out if you’re curious to know the “science” behind it all.

As I was saying, very rarely do anime films earn household names thanks to theater screenings: Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and most Studio Ghibli films are pretty well recognized thanks to their unique artistic styles and of course, classic nature. Just this past spring, Funimation streamed a little title called Your Name.—ever heard of it? Yeah, I’m sure you have, and you’ll probably already know that it’s now the world’s highest-grossing anime film, finally beating out Ghibli staples like Spirited Away (2nd), Howl’s Moving Castle (3rd), and everyone’s favorite fish-girl with the round tummy, Ponyo (4th). No, it’s not a competition, but credit should be given where it’s due, and Your Name. IS one incredible, breathtaking film. While Japan is still loyal to Spirited AwayYour Name. did manage to climb all the way up to become the fourth highest-grossing film in the nation. If that doesn’t speak volumes about the film, I’m not sure what will.

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My “Your Name.” Experience

(This is not a review. That will come out in early 2018, fingers crossed >.<)

Have you ever been to a Warren Theatre? They’re apparently prominent in the big midwestern cities, but essentially, they are luxurious movie theaters heavily decorated and inspired by Hollywood during the Roarin’ Twenties. Very Gatsby-esque and decked out to the extreme, one wearing athletic shorts and a t-shirt (me) would feel very out of place. EVERYTHING is gold in that place—no, literally, there are tall pillars embossed with shiny gold-colored plating. Exquisite paintings hang on the gorgeously patterned walls, and the staff are finely dressed in slick black suits. Even the bathrooms are paved with solid ebony marble flooring with rows upon rows of ridiculously clean stalls. There are several open little outlets that line the curtained walls, each containing waiting rooms with comfortable maroon leather couches and, wait, yes, a fireplace.

 

[Pictures from Google]

All-in-all, my mom, dad, and sister and I were very shocked. Very shocked. The place was simply stunning, and I couldn’t recommend it enough. The Warren is an experience, not just another place to watch movies.

 

[They even had this cool giant promotional poster for the Ghost in the Shell live action, which I was absolutely enamored by! You can bet I took pictures posing by this, haha!]

So the Warren was hella lit, but what made the three-hour journey to see Your Name. all the more worth it was the meet-up. (Woah, Taku has friends that like anime IRL?! Yup, you bet.) If you didn’t already know, music was my thing from basically birth up through high school (and even now, too). I play the cello, and on my second year with the All-State Orchestra, my sister made friends with her fellow stand partner. He was also Asian, so there’s kinda that instantaneous bond right there, and we all kept in contact after that fateful encounter.

Flash forward, and he starts talking about this film he saw on his way back from Japan, a title that, though unfamiliar with my sister, was screaming at me because of all the recent hype: Your Name., Makoto Shinkai’s latest creation. He recommended the film because he’d seen it, I knew how to get us to see it, and my sister was the glue that held us all together. The only problem—he lives across the state, over three hours away, and while it might not seem like much for the average traveler, you can’t forget that we’re youngins, and that distance was enough to keep us apart.

So we agreed to meet halfway. He chose a conveniently located place where we’d meet up to eat (which was a really awesome and tasty Japanese restaurant similar to how Qdoba or Chipotle are fashioned—how fitting, I know), I found the Funimation-approved theater, and my sister kept us all excited (well, more than we were, at least)! Several laughs later, it was time to make our way across the parking lot, and before we knew it, we were ushered into the theater balcony where we were seated before a giant red curtain. That’s right, this movie theater opens and closes its screenings with the grand red curtain. God, did I mention that I love this place??

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So the great curtain raised and the great curtain lowered. The film was over, and it was admittedly hard not to cry. So many things had led up to this one moment:

  • Hearing about the rapid success of Your Name.
  • Attending All-State Orchestra and meeting a new friend
  • Funimation announcing a theatrical release
  • Reconnecting via technology and setting up a reunion
  • Traveling the distance, meeting the other halfway
  • Walking into the Warren
  • Reuniting for a delicious lunch
  • Seeing one of the greatest films ever created
  • Feeling the emotions of the characters, together

I mean, all this considered, it was so very difficult to believe that this dream of mine would quickly come to an end. It was not only a bittersweet ending for Mitsuha and Taki, but for the three of us, too. Honestly, bidding farewell to a friend had never been harder. But we agreed to meet again, and sure enough, just this past weekend, we met halfway once again to have fun at the city’s mall. We were going to ice-skate all together, but he had a piano competition coming up and his mom didn’t want him risking his wrist—perfectly understandable, and we had fun nonetheless. (Our family did go ice-skating, though :P)


Thoughts on Life, Transience, and Memories

It’s not often that an anime film gets screened here in the states. And it’s also not often that said movie becomes the highest-grossing anime film in the world.

Similarly . . . 

It’s not often that we get to have perfect long-distance friendships. And it’s also not often that we get to cross that seemingly great distance to have our own Your Name. experience. Little did we know it, we, too, traversed the state in search of the other and promised to meet up again someday. And when someday finally came, we were all just so, so happy.

We have to take advantage of the fleeting opportunities that life presents us with. Not every moment will be magical, but when you make the most of what you have—pouring all your heart into what you want most—sometimes chance grants you that picture-perfect moment . . .

Only for it to quickly fade into a memory. 

Cherish the friendships you currently have, relish in the art that entertains you, and I cannot express this last one enough: Take as many photos as you can. I say it all the time, but the reality is that life goes by quicker and quicker with each passing day. Don’t let thinking about the “could have beens” before they even happen stop the “can be” that you can make possible. There was a point where I considered not reaching out to my sister about the film because I thought it wasn’t going to work for some reason. I was wrong. We can make beautiful memories to last a lifetime, and we can take risks to pursue happiness.

It’s all a matter of taking the first step and hoping that it leads you to enjoying the step after that.

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Wherever you are in the world, I’ll search for you. – Taki Tachibana


Maybe now you understand why getting to see Your Name was one of my highlights of 2017. Did anyone else have the opportunity to visit anime in theaters this year? If so, what did you see, and how was your experience? I’d love to know! I’ll be logging this as a “Cafe Talk,” so feel free to let your thoughts loose on this post or anything else related to it!

I’m on a bit of an odd schedule now thanks to the holidays, but this concludes Blogmas Day Ten of the 12 Days of Anime. Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you shortly with another belated post!

– Takuto, your host

Completing My First “Tales” Game! | Blogmas 2017 Day 7

Hey everyone, welcome to day 7 of Blogmas!

Another quickie today, but a celebration nonetheless! This past early spring, I completed my first Tales game. For those unfamiliar with the massive franchise, the title Tales refers to a sprawling series of games, most unrelated, created by the game company Bandai Namco in Japan. They’re known for their iconic and elaborate character designs, fantasy-inspired landscapes, Celtic-inspired soundtracks, and most of all, their deep, thought-provoking adventure stories that can take just as long as a Final Fantasy game to complete. We’re talking about clocking no less than 30 hours per game!

Anyway, the Tales franchise means a lot to me. Not because I am overly familiar with the gameplay (as you can see by the title of this post, I’ve actually played very little Tales in my life T__T), but because I get my roots as a fan of entertainment in general from the fantasy genre, the Tales franchise being rich in the source. I’m a kid born and raised on attending Renaissance Festivals and Madrigal Feasts, often loosing myself in the adventurous worlds of tabletop gaming like (our adapted version of) HeroQuest (anyone remember that), TCGs like Pokemon and Magic the Gathering, books like John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, or even iconic films of the genre, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to name a couple. I love fantasy—essentially, its themes of valor, honor, and justice compose my heart for entertainment.

Most importantly, Tales of Symphonia: The Animation is one of only a handful of shows to get me started on anime. If  didn’t come across the Japanese opening of the game, “Starry Heavens,” which I’ll link below, I would never have discovered the wondrous world of Japanese animation.

So here we go: to the best of my ablility, I will briefly discuss my experiences playing both Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Zestiria on the PS3 from the weak non-gamer perspective that I have!

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Loose Discussions on My Experiences Playing a “Tales” Game

(These will DEFINITELY NOT be formal reviews.)

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Tales of Symphonia

Looking back on it, Symphonia‘s anime does a really, really good job at sticking to its source material. It’s got all the major locations, major backstory elements pertaining to the main characters, and even some of the minor characters. Heck, even most of the theme songs for specific characters and towns were brought back for the anime! But this isn’t about the anime, I suppose. Back to the game.

One of the biggest problems I had with the game was the use of annoying side mazes that involved using a “magic ring” to properly traverse. It’s gimmicks like these that tend to ward me off of games—I JUST WANT TO SEE THE STORY. Some of those were really hard, too; as a beginner, I found myself referring to YouTube walkthroughs more and more as the game’s climax neared just to get passed these stupid little travel puzzles.

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OH MY GOD WELGAIA’S FREAKIN FLOORS SCREW THIS

Another beef I had with it was the English audio. As a who’s fan loyal to what I hear first, that being the anime in fansubs, I couldn’t stand the English voices for Lloyd or Zelos. This was easily fixed by changing the game’s audio back to the original Japanese, however, so it’s not so much of a problem as it was just a preference. Raine’s VA for both  was good though, so way to go Kari Wahlgren!

Where it has its minor issues, I found myself immensely enjoying all of the sidequests or story elements that were dropped in the anime adaptation; piecing together the events and locations, however major or minor, that were missing from the anime was tons of fun, as I learned many new things about Symphonia‘s two worlds and their peoples. And while I did think that the final confrontation with Mithos, the ultimate antagonist, was a bit lousy in game format (or at least it had way less of an emotional appeal to it, though movies do tend to resonate with me more), I much rather preferred the game’s handling of tying up all the loose ends—specifically, resolving the pact with Origin and the birth of the new World Tree. It had more time to fully explain itself, and now after all these years I FINALLY understand who Origin is! Woohoo!

All-in-all, finally getting around to playing (and actually finishing, holy shit) Tales of Symphonia (PS3) after six LONG years of putting it off, I can’t help but feeling so complete—the story has finally come full-circle, the adaption introducing me to anime as a media and the PS3 game engrossing me in JRPGs. Do I now despise the anime for excluding so many “crucial” plot points? Absolutely not. I still hold Tales of Symphonia: The Animation in the highest regard, as it’s still a beautiful, moving tale of the harsh realities of racism and revenge, and the hope that comes with uniting two fundamentally broken worlds—I love both iterations of the story, and I probably always will. I DO recommend both the anime and the game, so pick your poison and head out on your own adventure ASAP! (Or be like me and experience both! More Symphonia is a very good thing.)

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Ultimately, I was just so happy I could say I completed my first Tales game, but I immediately knew that It wouldn’t be the last. In fact, my second Tales adventure was awaiting me just around the corner—the end of a good school year, and the start of a brilliant summer!

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Tales of Zestiria

I remember seeing a promotional poster for the anime Tales of Zestiria the X circulating years back, and I do recall being excited for it despite not knowing anything other than that it was another Tales adaptation by the GOD STUDIO, Ufotable. After getting to see the English voice actor for Zestiria‘s MC, Robbie Daymond, in person at this year’s Naka-Kon, I knew the first thing to do as soon as I got home: purchase the PS3 game (I actually ended up doing it in the hotel room, tho >.<).

My recent success with Symphonia set my passions ablaze for tackling the next big JRPG. Once you’ve played one JRPG, you’ve played them all, right? Or perhaps, you want to play them all. From the reviews alone, I already knew that this one was going to be the easiest-to-understand in the entire franchise so far, and that it was arguably the “not-very-smart one” in the series. The character designs charmed me too much, however, and the sparkling armitization sequences just blew me away! The real draw-in for this series, voice actor meeting aside, was the anime’s OP theme, “Kaze no Uta” by FLOW. It was just the smooth, crisp 60 fps display plus the ridiculously catchy tune that made this show a MUST for me. Anyone see a trend here?

That’s right, both Tales games that I have played drew me in through their gorgeous, catchy openings. I suppose that should speak volumes about their music choice and soundtracks, no? Easily some of the best stuff I’ve ever listened to. And I still jam to this song every time I’m working out (which is rare) or whenever I need something to lift my spirits (which is often).

Unlike Symphonia, however, Zestiria had yet another thing winning for it: the fandom. Oh the ships, all the ships, I tells ya!! I’m such a sucker for anything Sorey and Mikleo, Alisha and Lailah. They’re all just so pretty, AHH!!

EHERM. Tales of Zestiria, despite all my senseless fanboying, is a beloved game that, honestly, treads many of the same lines that Symphonia did: two races trying to coexist, one “chosen” person designated to heal the land, a loudmouth (yet adorable) MC and his reserved, intelligent best friend. “Best friend ;)” All of the parallels and similarities just make me glad that Zestiria, though argued as the “dumb one,” was my second Tales game.

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As a PS3 game itself, the reviews ARE true in that the game is likely one of the easier ones in the franchise. I had very few problems in it . . . as in literally none at all. Sure, the story isn’t as deep or intricate (or emotional) as I would have wanted it to be (AKA more like Symphonia’s darkness), but that in itself makes Zestiria‘s almost overwhelming optimism contagious, and fun to play regardless of whatever mood you’re in. The visuals are, holy god almighty, some of the finest I’ve ever seen in gaming (THOSE SKIES THO F*CK ME), and the orchestral soundtrack should be on EVERY tabletop gamer’s background music playlist. Like, shit, need something that sounds absolutely LEGENDARY for a whole freakin’ hour, here you go:

To recap the Zestiria (PS3) experience, it was easy, simple, fantasy fun at its finest. You don’t need to collect many bonus items (if any at all, I skipped most of them), and the fights themselves are, WOAH, WHAT’S THIS, the most FUN part of the gameplay! I’m no gamer, and I found swingin’ around Sorey’s massive armitized swords, bow, giant fists—what have you—to be greatly pleasurable. If you’re not looking for the deepest Tales game, but one that’s great for a first-timer, Zestiria is the one for you. I recommend it.

FUN FACT: After meeting Robbie Daymond, I played through all of the game in English and loved it—proof that once again, whatever you hear first is likely your favorite. I was also incredibly hyped for the anime adaption, as it looks like the best thing to come from Ufotable besides Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, and that’s one of the most top-tier anime you could ask for! I’m currently watching the anime, and while the inclusion of the Berseria *promotional episodes* were pointless and time-draining, it’s a pretty good show. I won’t make any judgement calls now, but I’d love to review it whenever I finish! Also, for all I know, Berseria could very well end up being my next Tales game to experience, as it, too . . . well, I bet you can already guess.

It had a rockin’ OP. 🙂

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What did you think of Symphonia or Zestiria? Any opinions on their anime adaptations, either? For the record, I have seen the Tales of the Abyss anime, but that was also very long ago, so want to rewatch that some day. Lastly, are there any particular favorites or recommendations from the Tales franchise out there? Let me know! I’ve heard that Symphonia is actually one of the bests, and though I haven’t played the others, I’m gonna probably call it as my favorite. Sorry, it’s just first-timer’s bias. This wrap up Blogmas Day Seven of the 12 Days of Anime! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host