To the Top of the Tower: How Alicization Encodes its Lore || OWLS “Fantasy”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s tenth monthly topic of 2019, “Fantasy,” I decided to head down a less conventional route for portraying this genre with none other than the (in)famous Sword Art Online. But fear not, for in my most humblest opinion, the Alicization story is not only the franchise’s most competent arc, but most fantasy-heavy one as well.

In the month of October, we will be exploring the world of fantasy in pop culture. The genre of fantasy focuses on telling stories about our external and internal environments. There are many ways we can interpret the word fantasy. For example, we can talk about how a fantastical place could glorify what reality should be, or the dangers of ideal expectations. Fantasy could also be seen as taking a “wild journey” or a “hallucination,” and how that can affect our psyche and well-being. Additionally, fantasy can focus on our personal dreams and expectations, and how those expectations do not align with our reality. Overall, our posts will reflect on how we view the fantasy genre and what we can learn about these pop culture mediums.

Since I’ve got a review of the series coming in a couple days, it’ll be nice to focus exclusively on the cool story elements at play here. SPOILERS will be present. Thanks Lyn and Aria for the prompt!

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A brief discussion of the 24-episode fall 2018 anime “Sword Art Online: Alicization” as well as the original novel series, animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Manabu Ono, and based on the light novel by Reki Kawahara. MAJOR SPOILERS WILL BE PRESENT. 

How SAO Blends Magic & Science Fiction

Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online has amassed into a franchise that sets its stories in a variety of fantasy worlds, but with a caveat: They are gaming worlds, virtual lands created by programming, and code is the law of the land. My favorite aspect of each season is watching how they seamlessly blends the two genres I love most—fantasy and sci-fi—with one another to create some of the coolest adventure stories out there. SAO is cool, yeah, I said it.

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Every magical attack, legendary item, or floor boss is portrayed through a fantasy lens, but can be broken down scientifically by sword skills and hit-points, system stats, and in-game features. SAO, GGO, ALO, and the latest VR world “Underworld” all operate on systems that actively try to rationalize even their most fantastical of elements. Often, yet most especially with this third season, the series isn’t afraid to dive into weapon lore and in-game backstory whenever permissible to explain certain mechanics and unique properties. As such, SAO is a universe structured around duality: the relationship between code (the outside world) and lore (the inside world)

In this community, however, it is rare for people to call parts—let alone entire story arcs—of SAO “good” or even “great” like I do, which kinda sucks as a fan. But the coming of Alicization changed the game, truly, and imparted with us a story of epic proportions unlike anything the series has tackled before. And with the grand War of Underworld on the horizon, there’s no better time than now to sit down and take a look at the inner mechanisms of this latest world our hero finds himself trapped in.

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System Call: Underworld’s Unique Features

As with previous seasons, Kirito is forced into another virtual world due to circumstances far out of his control. What immediately draws his eyes to this virtual reality, unlike others have done before, however, is that “Underworld” looks and feels very real. And it should—it’s based on a network of real human memories, after all. By highlighting the neural pathways of the brain—the “Fluctlight”—and flooding them with visual imagery that stimulates one’s haptic, echoic, and visual senses, a person hooked up to the “Soul Translator” can essentially experience life in an entirely different world, detailed down to the tiniest speck of dirt.

While the mind is in some far off world full of swords and dragons, the physical body remains intact on the outside. You could almost view Kirito’s wild journey through the fantastical unknown as one big hallucination, as every memory made in the game world is erased upon awakening (due to a contractual agreement made between the Rath Scientists and the subject). This allows Kirito’s mind to continue operating and maintain the neural connections that would otherwise be lost due to his fatal encounter at the third season’s beginning.

And so here we are, in this world that looks just like ours on the surface, but operates under an entirely different set of encoded gimmicks and laws. Instead of chemical properties and physics, everything in Underworld has life and experience points. Rocks, trees, food, weapons, and of course people are all bound to a numerical HP. Can’t seem to lift a heavy blade or open a particular door? Perhaps it’s not your own strength at fault, but the fact that such “objects” may be assigned a higher priority number than your own level can currently interact with. And you don’t “make” fires—you “Generate Thermal Elements.” Such cool coding lingo.

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The system gets even more interesting when it comes to the Integrity Knights’ Divine Object-class weapons, one-of-a-kind arms they wield to protect the human realm. Each with their own unique origin, such legendary swords or bows can unleash unimaginable powers beyond their prescribed damage set, especially if the weapon’s memory is triggered via the “Enhance Armament” system command, followed by “Release Recollection.”

For instance, Kirito’s Night Sky Sword, made from the highest branch of the once-infellable Gigas Cedar, can summon all of the darkness amassed through years of gazing at the stars in one incredible blast when its memory is released. Eugeo’s Blue Rose Sword, born from a lonely rose which blossomed in the snow and ice of the End Mountains, freezes all in its user’s path, encasing foes in icy vines and frost.

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For the Integrity Knights, the lore embedded within their Divine Objects runs even deeper due to their creator’s self-assigned calling as Ruler of Underworld. The titular Alice Synthesis Thirty’s golden-petaled Osmanthus Blade was originally the first tree programmed in Underworld, and thus the oldest creation in the land. Fanatio Synthesis Two’s Heaven Piercing Sword was a physics experiment of Administrator’s in which the concentrated the light of a thousand mirrors was forged into a single blade in an attempt to mimmick the great Solus itself.

And get this: the great Bercouli Synthesis One’s Time Piercing Sword was crafted from the needle on the first village’s clock tower—Underworld’s own system clock. I just love the way Kawahara marries gaming mechanics and programming with story lore to form not just creative weapon origin stories, but an entire world full of intrigue and wonder to be fascinated with.

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Cracking open the Central Cathedral

When a story presents you with a tower, you climb it. Whether you’re adventurous or not, that’s just what you do. Kirito seeks out the towering Central Cathedral at the center of the human realm in hopes that somewhere waiting for him on the very top lies a console in which he can log himself out through. While he’s not technically wrong, the costs of getting to the 100th floor far outweigh the prize he seeks.

The very act of ascending Central Cathedral floor by floor feeds us with hope that whatever lies at the top will scratch that itch we’ve had since Kirito first woke up in Underworld. Little did any of us realize how truly unprepared we were for the rich irony awaiting our poor characters, as well as the truth behind the horrific secrets holding the fabric of their world together. 

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As the Pontifex of the church, Administrator, imparts her devious and wicked plots to Kirito and his friend Eugeo, we finally come to understand that some truths are in fact better not knowing. The holy order that’s been maintaining peace in the realm, the legend of the three goddesses who blessed the land, the very truth behind the coming cataclysmic invasion by the forces of the Dark Territory—

Of course, it’s all fake. Yup. Fantasy often leaves us spellbound, instilling within us a feeling that something holds deeper meaning than it really does. Perhaps that’s because we want fantasies to entertain us, to dress up the real world, even if the characters may be desperately trying to tear it all down. Like Administrator’s Integrity Knights, which have been brutally brainwashed into fighting on the behalf of some made-up higher power than themselves, we want to believe there is deeper meaning to what we do, and that we’re not just vehicles for someone else’s success or failure.

To trust in that illusion is to fall for deception, and that’s exactly what Administrator did. She deceived people. She built up several lifetimes worth of fraud, lies, and corruption, which are manifested by the imposing, all-seeing tower of Central Cathedral itself. As Kirito remarks toward Administrator, toward Quinella: she’s no god or ruler, but a thief. Quinella preached unconditional love to her followers, but all she really desired was absolute control. So she stole what she wanted from the humans of Underworld, and fabricated layers of mythos to protect her frail ego from the mere thought of losing her power, her authority, and her control over others.

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Imagination Holds the Power to Change Everything

Central Cathedral and the Integrity Knights—“born” to fight for the good of the human realm yet unknowingly bow to Administrator’s whim—represent just how a land of honor, bravery, and magic can glorify these noble concepts: People should be born with the freedom to love and protect as they wish to, not as someone else pleases. Kirito and Eugeo’s quest to right the wrongs of this land’s all-powerful Ruler present the dangers of ideal expectations in the form Quinella’s knights that were led astray by her lust. But most of all, we experience firsthand how human morals can be easily twisted when the right bait is dangled in front of our faces.

The power of using imagination to change the world—or in this case create one—is the philosophy that lies at the core of the fantasy genre. If we can dream it, it shall be, and SAO is no exception to this principle. Fantasies can conjure forth one’s greatest mystical musings about how the world can be, and Quinella took this power in her own hands to create a reality where the world bows to her wishes, not the other way around. When Kirito forces his way to her chambers on the 100th floor, her expectations of the fantasy world she created are called into question.

As a VRMMORPG fanatic, I guess you could say Kirito’s ideas of a truly enjoyable fantasy world overpowered even the Ruler’s imagination of such a world, and thus he manages to slay Administrator in combat, single-handed. By then, it was not a battle of strength, but a clash of two individual wills—and an exchange for the truth that resulted in the shattering of over 300 years worth of painstakingly crafted illusions, and the destruction of a young greedy girl’s entire fantasy.

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The only proof of my existence is the control I exert. That desire is the one thing that motives me and gives me life! These legs of mine are meant only to trample over others. They are not for bending at the knees! — Administrator


Afterword

Lots of foreshadowing there at the end, I know! It’s not THE Quinella post I wanted to write, but it’ll do for now. This post probably made no sense whatsoever to non-SAO fans, and perhaps even to people who watched and even enjoyed Alicization‘s first half. I often ramble in these posts, but man, someone really should’ve cut me off with this one! A full series review of Alicization is in the works, so I’ll save any kind of rating for then. In the meantime, if you, too, liked the first half of this epic third season, I encourage you to share your favorite aspects about the series in the comments!

This concludes my October 29th entry in the OWLS “Fantasy” blog tour. Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) went right before me with a much more pleasant post over the light-hearted Flying Witch that you can read right here! Now, look out for Naja (Blerdy Otome) with an excellent post about the portrayal of romance in her favorite otome games tomorrow, October 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Lord El-Melloi II’s Greatest Trick is its Production Value || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode summer 2019 anime series “Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files: {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note,” animated by TROYCA, directed by Makoto Katou, and based on the light novel by Makoto Sanda.

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A Clock Tower Mage

These past ten years have been fairly good to Waver Velvet, considering his major defeat in the Fourth Holy Grail War and the loss of his dear friend and servant, Rider. Faced with the immense guilt of having lived while his former mentor, Kayneth El Melloi, died in the war, Waver takes it upon himself to teach in El Melloi’s place at the esteemed Clock Tower, the center of education for mages. However, to teach as a “Lord” comes with a caveat: obey the orders of Reines, the younger sister of the deceased Kayneth, until she is old enough to rule the House of El Melloi.

Now a pawn to Reines’ whims, Waver, along with his mysterious apprentice Gray, must take on a series of cases assigned by the young blond she-devil and the Mages Association. While Reines certainly has her fair share of secrets, what perplexes our Lord El Melloi II even more is the bizarre magic behind each twisted case he encounters, and how the Clock Tower is always somehow tied to all of it.

The first half of this short series is comprised of anime-original cases, usually concluding by the end of each episode to begin something new the next. They serve as introduction to our characters and give us a glimpse into the world they live in, and while some find them ultimately pointless and poorly written, I thought they were entertaining enough. Sure, the characters could’ve been given more backstory to help define their actions in the present, but at the same time, you’re encouraged to piece together what you have seen of these characters in previous entries to surmise their full character. It’s kind of a crummy tactic though, especially if you haven’t seen Fate/Zero or Fate/Apocrypha (which the series oddly borrows a lot from character-wise).

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Following these episodic cases is the main case, the Rail Zeppelin story adapted straight from the novels. On this elusive train, rare magical items are auctioned off to prominent buyers. During the one trip Lord El Melloi II happens to be invited on, a passenger is murdered, and it’s up to Waver and the other mages, some friendlier than others, to find the killer.

Why This Isn’t A Good Mystery Series

Although a direct spin-off sequel to the classic Fate/Zero, The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II is a supernatural fantasy series that differs from other entries in Type Moon’s Fate franchise in that its main focus revolves around the element of mystery. While the show’s got enough magical fights intertwined with its mysteries to keep it visually entertaining, it admittedly doesn’t try very hard at being a “good” mystery series.

Truly good mystery series leave the art of deduction ultimately up to the viewer; the viewer should be given enough clues to solve the given case, any last-minute twists or secondary shock aside. By inviting the viewer to participate, all clues should be on the table, as well as any prior knowledge necessary to crack the case. Seeing as how mystery is derived from facts and fantasy shows are grounded in magic, it’s no wonder the two genres aren’t often seen together.

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So, El Melloi II violates one of mystery’s greatest hallmarks: stealing the power of deduction from the viewer. No matter how much you ruminate over each case, you can’t solve it. But if we can’t, who can? Well, his name just so happens to be in the title. Leave it to good ol’ Waver—a character who lives and breathes in this universe—to swoop in and teach us the trick behind the magic, all whilst leave us feeling dumb and frustrated about something we couldn’t solve from the start because the series didn’t give us enough information to do so ourselves. At least the Fate cameos are fun. Kind of.

For Fate Fans, By Fate Fans

Y’all are probably only watching this anime for one reason: Waver Velvet. And by watching, you’ll get lots of him, and it’s great. Waver channels his inner “old man” and hardly ever lets up. He yells at kids, likes doing his work in a specific cafe, and naps on his couch when he needs a break from life. But trust me, this is the same old Waver we knew and loved from the Holy Grail War. Even now, he’s chasing Rider’s shadow, and the series does a nice job at following his character arc.

Often we are shown flashbacks of young Waver in his academy days taking on risky stunts with his rich mate Melvin Weins, a frivolous dude who’s got one baaad case of hematemesis (blood vomiting). These flashbacks bridge the past and present, and if more Waver was all you were wanting from this show, you’ll more than get your fill of Fate‘s best boy.

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Reines El Melloi Archisorte steals the show whenever she’s on screen. Reminiscent of Negima‘s Evangeline A.K. McDowell or Gosick‘s Victorique de Blois, this blond-haired, green-eyed, shit-stirring loli puppets poor Waver around with her sharp tongue and crafty wit. She’s lots of fun to watch, and helps fill in more lore to this expansive franchise. Reines also uses magic often in her daily life, whether to set up a bounded field for private communications or use her mystic eyes to see something other mages cannot. The series does a nice job at portraying Reines’ abilities through such casual displays of her family’s power.

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Along with Waver and his watchful mistress are familiar faces from all across Fate. The hyperactive Flatt and honorable Svin, two of my favorite fine British lads briefly recognized from Apocrypha, loyally accompany their teacher and wield their knowledge to help solve the various cases. Or maybe they’re just trying to get closer to Gray, who is kind of this enigma the whole time that . . . well, I still don’t really know who she is (which is terrible writing on their part).

Also joining the class is the studious Caules Yggdmillennia, whom you might recall from Apocrypha as well. Same goes for Kairi, the shades-wearing bounty hunter who fought alongside Saber of Red in The Great Holy Grail War. And my favorite cameo of all, Miss Luviagelita Edelfelt, gets not just one but several episodes to prove her worth (and her wealth) without Rin there to provoke her. I swear, each time I see this woman, I fall for her overwhelming personality and haughtiness more and more. So yeah, for me, the character interactions are EASILY what make the terrible mysteries palatable. That said, it really is a show exclusively for existing Fate fans.

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TROYCA Delivers Style & Kajiura Returns to Fate

Let’s say you’re not having the characters OR the mystery elements, what else can salvage the experience for you? Well for one, the art and detailing for this series is incredible. El Melloi II really does try to take us back to Fate/Zero days with the same dark aesthetic. Drizzly weather covers London in clouds and fog, giving the setting a delicate sense of antiquity and age. Stained, wood-carved furniture, translucent glass tea cups, and intricate gold, emerald, and rose-patterned wallpaper. Decorative mansion rugs, tall arched doorways, shimmering chandeliers, and shiny stainless steel silverware. We’re in London alright.

We’re talking Ufotable levels of beauty here, and the fight scenes are just as cool to watch. Only the character designs feel less like Zero and more of Apocrypha‘s, but even this looser, more expressive style I appreciate. TROYCA really outdid themselves with this one. And would you believe me that we haven’t even gotten to the best part of the production?

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Yuki. Kajiura. Two words, one name, and without her music score, I probably wouldn’t have stuck around. Kajiura brings to El Melloi II the signature charm that all great detectives and spies in fiction have. As iconic as Mission Impossible and Agent 007, now our very own Lord El Melloi II has his own snappy and jazzy theme song, composed by the one and only. The rest of the OST is full of Kajiura’s sweeping strings, powerful chimes, glorious choir vocals, and enchanting melodies that’ll both lull the heart and signal the call to battle.

She even composed an instrumental OP, “starting the case: Rail Zeppelin,” that just screams EPIC when paired with stylish visuals. And while I thought we were done for without Kalafina (RIP), ASCA comes along to sing the ED theme “Hibari” written by Kajiura herself. Guys, you have NO idea how much I’ve been listening to this beautiful song and reflecting on its gentle, wistful lyrics.

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What Did You Expect?

If you’re no stranger to Fate like I am, you’d know that the franchise is notoriously bad at defining rules for the interworkings of its magic system. That’s probably cause there’s A LOT of different kinds of magic performed throughout all of Fate, which is likely a result of so many different minds getting a hold of the story, and thus different viewpoints in how magic should be spun.

In that respect, El Melloi II is no different than all that came before it—and with a poorly explained magic system comes practically no way to solve each of the cases presented in the series UNLESS you are somehow incredibly well-versed in the Nasuverse spellcraft or have read the novels, neither of which being likely.

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The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II is neither as clever nor as pleasant as it could’ve been, but what rare cross-universe character dialogues offers is gold for a Fate fan such as myself. You could also argue against this point, saying that the characters were poorly mixed into a story that doesn’t even need them, but at the end of the day it all comes down to expectation: How much were you expecting from El Melloi II?

Even knowing full well that it was a spin-off (and despite its direct ties to the great Fate/Zero), I still didn’t expect much from this one. I like to think that because I had such low hopes, I was honestly surprised with the quality of this series. It’s not the best mentality to go in with, but it worked for me. And hey, the series looks great sounds fantastic. Considering how awful some other Fate spin-offs have turned out, I’d call Lord El Melloi II a worthy watch for fans that have been craving even the most quaint of returns to Zero.

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Even if the Holy Grail War is over, life continues . . . to the point of absurdity. — Waver Velvet


Afterword

I ended up liking Lord El Melloi II a lot more than most, and hey, maybe it’s cause I was expecting something lame. Or maybe TROYCA and Kajiura saved it for me. Regardless, I award the series (with the benefit of the doubt) as a “Cake,” but will only recommend it to those Fate fans who have seen everything and want everything there is to see. For casual viewers, there’s otherwise not much here for you, especially if you don’t know what parts of the franchise all these different characters hail from. Any thoughts on The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II? I’d love to hear them in the comments. ‘Till the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Perfect Blue: Life is Anything But Glamorous || Review

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

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Fantasy & Reality

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

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

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

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

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Living in Duality

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

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

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

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

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Sensation, Perception, & Direction

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

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

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

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It’s A Maddening, Cruel World

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

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

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

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

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

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


Afterword

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

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

– Takuto, your host

Amagi Brilliant Park: The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had With KyoAni || OWLS “Believe”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s eighth monthly topic of 2019, “Believe,” I wanted to spend some time revisiting one of Kyoto Animation’s most fun yet often overlooked titles: the incredible, the amazing Amagi Brilliant Park!

Kyoto Animation. We all have that one anime we enjoyed from Kyoto Animation. Whether it is pain or joy, Kyoto Animation has brought to life stories that can touch our emotions. For the month of August, we will be honoring Kyoto Animation and all it has done for art, storytelling, and popular culture by discussing some of our favorite Kyoto Animation series. We will discuss what we love about these series and what they taught us.

The fire that happened at the studio is indeed a tragedy. We pray for the lives that were lost in this tragedy and the families that are suffering at this time. Fires may be dangerous, but there are flames that burn within us that spark passion, hope, and belief in ourselves.

I think it’s so wonderful that bloggers, YouTubers, and fans in this community have been reacting to this tragedy by sharing what they love most about the studio and its people. Although my words will not likely reach them, I hope our collective sentiment does, even it’s just to say a heartfelt “Thank You.” Lyn, thanks for this prompt!

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A brief discussion of the 13-episode fall 2014 anime “Amagi Brilliant Park,” animated by Kyoto Animation, directed by the late Yasuhiro Takemoto, and based on the light novel series of the same name by Shoji Gatoh.

A Land of Magic and Fun

Seiya Kanie is one good-lookin’ high school dude, and boy does he know it. Of course, this smart yet extremely narcissistic guy would believe that the quiet and beautiful Isuzu Sento has invited him on a date at an amusement park (even if she threatened him at gunpoint to get him there). His expectations are shattered when the bus pulls up to a run-down facility, where Seiya discovers that the titular Amagi Brilliant Park is running itself into the ground.

An employee herself, Sento takes Seiya through various disappointing attractions. Eventually, she brings him to see the owner of the theme park, Princess Latifa Fleuranza, who reveals to Seiya that Amagi is no ordinary amusement park. That very sentiment wins him over when Latifa bestows upon Seiya magical powers of his own. To further prove her point, she tells him that many of the park’s employees hail from her kingdom of Maple Land, and that they are mysterious magical beings who are nourished by animis, or the energy created by people having fun.

Because of his impressive intellect and natural charisma, Sento recruited her classmate not for a date, but to become the park’s new manager. Why so desperate? As per the park’s land-use contract, Amagi has less than three months to meet a quota of 500,000 guests. If they fail, the park will be closed for good, and all of its employees will have to scrounge up jobs—and a living—elsewhere. Entrusted with the hopes and dreams of this far-off enchanted land, Seiya declares he’ll use his many skills to bring Amagi back on its feet within this three-month span, or else watch it crumble to the ground.

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Amagi Brilliant Park is a fun fantasy romp that balances comedy and drama surprisingly well. You come for the stupid gags and lewd humor, but stay for the heartfelt character moments and the blood, sweat, and tears that come with hard work. Although the end wraps up a bit quicker than I’d have liked, this is ultimately just an adaptation of a much larger story.

Meet the Cast of AmaBri!

Seiya Kanie’s time at AmaBri challenges his character in a sort of redemptive way. As he comes to know the quirks of the park and its staff, he realizes that his boundless narcissism won’t help him through all situations. Sometimes he needs to lend a hand; other times, an ear will do just fine. That doesn’t stop him from gazing at his own reflection to remind himself of his dashing good looks.

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Our broad-shouldered, dead-panned Isuzu Sento is our female lead and Seiya’s partner in crime. She means so, so well by her actions, but her history as one of the Princess’ soldiers from their Maple Land days has whipped her into a prim and proper manager’s secretary that just can’t take a joke. Many of the park staff have a love/hate relationship with Sento, as her soldier instincts lead her hand to her magic rifle to solve any problems with rascally customers or staff. As she watches Seiya and learns from his diplomatic skills, however, Sento’s feared reputation slowly dissipates, as does that expressionless face of hers.

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The majority of AmaBri’s other staff are magical misfits from Maple Land, from cute talking sharks, digger moles, and dragons, to an anthropomorphic wrench and . . . a globe? Yeah, they’re a buncha of weirdos for sure. But the true stars of the park are the biggest freaks—and in the most unconventional way. Who knew a perverted cat, a foul-mouthed sheep, and an overly aggressive, umm, Moffle (?) would be Seiya’s biggest headache.

Seriously, Tiramie the flower fairy, Macaron the music fairy, and AmaBri’s sweets fairy mascot Moffle are an absolute HANDFUL, but man are they THE trio of goons. Most of the series’ hilarious moments come from Macaron’s laziness (a true artist must “take time off” if they’re not feeling inspired), or Tiramie’s perverted gawking and awful facial expressions. Overall, such a fun, endearing cast, even if their main purpose is just to put a smile on your face (kinda like . . . a theme park’s staff). 😉

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KyoAni IS the Magic of AmaBri

Animation lies at the core of anime, and like any comedy series, delivery is everything. Timing hilarious visuals with outrageous sounds is the goal with these kinds of shows, and in regards to humor, Amagi Brilliant Park is one of the bests out there. For me, much of Tiramie and Macaron’s slapstick comedy landed so hard I was left laughing hours after the episode ended. Not only do their faces twist in wacky, grotesque expressions, but the dialogue itself is absolutely hysterical.

Seriously, the dub script is GOLD, and the delivery by the actors has gut-busting potential. Can Adam Gibbs just voice every KyoAni male protagonist from now on, because he just has that perfect blend of charisma, charm, and awkwardness down pat. He can be goofy, but also attractive, which fits very well with Seiya’s personality. Molly Searcy’s Sento is much stiffer than what even the writing makes her out to be, but it grew on me throughout the series. Other fave performances included the dynamic duo of Tiffany Grant and Allison Keith as Moffle and Macaron, respectively. Hearing two of Eva‘s most iconic characters as giant stuffed cussing mascots was just awesome beyond words.

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Despite how perfect I thought the anime’s comedy skits were executed, I actually found the drama moments to land even better. Moments of bitter pain or sudden realization are captured perfectly by not only the characters’ facial expressions, but the space they inhabit. When Sento and Seiya were deeply pondering how much one meant to the other, deep blue shadows are cast over a blinding orange sunset, filling the screen with contrasting colors and conflicting emotions.

And of course, the all scenery is just beautiful to take in. The bright-colored landscapes work well with the cheery, cartoonish character designs. Plus, Seiya and Sento, as well as the other “human” characters, look very pretty—the KyoAni standard. In fact, had any other studio adapted AmaBri‘s story, I can bet you money that it wouldn’t have turned out as nearly as magical and fun as it did here with KyoAni.

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On the audio side of things, Shinkichi Mitsumune’s soundtrack supports all the laughs and the feels with incredible emotion. And if there’s a song more positive and upbeat than AKINO and bless4’s OP “Extra Magic Hour,” I haven’t heard it yet!

The humor hits home, and the drama is very much respected by the late Yasuhiro Takemoto’s sensitive directing style. Sure the story and characters were written long before the show was created, but Kyoto Animation, YOU were the ones who put the real magic into this series, and it shows with every laugh I gave and every tear I shed while watching. You are the magic that saved AmaBri, and I honestly can’t celebrate my enjoyment with this series enough!

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Dreams Only Come True if You Believe

Amagi Brilliant Park is a story about a boy who prides himself above others, thinking that he is good at everything, and that same boy’s struggle to help those that don’t believe in themselves become proud of their own abilities. It’s a story about give and take, hard work, and at the end of the day, finding the fun in what you do for a living. Seiya may manipulate and play on the staff’s whims and emotions throughout the series, but a strong sense of trust always lies at the core of his plans.

Seiya’s magic doesn’t stem from his newfound power—it comes directly from his belief in the resilience and strength of all the people of Maple Land. Seiya makes an investment in these people, pouring all his time and energy into transforming the workers of AmaBri into employees worthy of their gifts.

Seiya draws out the inner passion for their work, and with a little faith, is rewarded with the park’s continual success. It is a belief driven by transformation and grounded by trust. Trust in Seiya’s process, and you, too, will enjoy one of—if not—Kyoto Animation’s most fun creation they’ve ever given us.

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If you wanna make people dream, you’ve gotta start by believing in that dream yourself! — Seiya Kanie


Afterword

At LAST, I’ve written the post about AmaBri that I’ve been wanting to ever since I saw it a couple years back. Again, I’d like to extend my thanks to the lovely Kyoto Animation for giving us the gift of fun all wrapped in a pretty little bow—I hope I was able to do the series justice! Amagi Brilliant Park is one of the studio’s most underrated series, and I hope some of you will decide to watch this hilarious and heartwarming “Cake” title! To those few who have actually seen this gem, you ought to let me know your thoughts!

This concludes my August 10th entry in the OWLS “Believe” blog tour. Mel (Mel in Anime Land) wrote about Free! and Tsurune, two of my favorite series by the studio, that you can enjoy right here! Now, look out for Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) also with a post on Tsurune (ahh, all the love!) tomorrow, August 11th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Sarazanmai & the Price of Connection | OWLS “Vulnerable”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s sixth monthly topic of 2019, “Vulnerable,” I wanted to give some character spotlight to this spring season’s craziest title: Ikuhara’s Sarazanmai. 

In the month of June, we will be discussing what it means to be vulnerable. To some individuals, being vulnerable could be seen as a sign of weakness, but in fact, vulnerability is actually a sign of strength. We will explore what it means to be vulnerable and how certain characters in pop culture glamorize vulnerability. When do we show our vulnerability? How do we express vulnerability? Why should we show vulnerability? These are questions that we will be discussing in our posts featuring characters that show vulnerability and/or sensitivity and what we can learn from them or even our own personal stories.

I was pretty stoked when this month’s theme was announced. “How unusual, yet cool,” I remember thinking. Sarazanmai definitely fits the bill well, and what do you know—it’s even got some queer representation in it, perfect for pride month! Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion of the original, 11-episode spring 2019 anime “Sarazanmai,” animated by MAPPA and Lapin Track, directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara and Nobuyuki Takeuchi, and written by Ikuhara and Teruko Utsumi. SPOILERS for episodes 1-3 will be present. 

We’re All Connected

What does it mean to connect? Middle school boy and Asakusa local Kazuki Yasaka is trying to figure that out for himself. After accidentally breaking a statue of a kappa, Kazuki and his friends Enta Jinnai and Toi Kuji find themselves transforming into the very creature of Japanese folklore at the behest of Keppi, prince of the Kappa Kingdom. To become human again, they must fight against the kappa-zombies, even stranger beings birthed from human desires and created by Keppi’s enemies: the Otter Empire.

If that weren’t already enough, to kill the kappa-zombies, the trio must perform the “Sarazanmai,” a sound produced only when the three are united. But making such connections are much easier said than done. What’s even worse is that each time they emit the sound, one of their secrets are revealed to the others! (Vulnerable in every sense of the word, am I right??)

For their efforts, Keppi cuts them a deal: Collect the rampant desires of the kappa-zombies and he’ll bestow upon them the “Dishes of Hope,” plates Keppi can create from humanity’s darkness that can make their wishes come true. When Kazuki, Enta, and Toi find that it takes five plates to make even just one wish come true, however, the friendship of these three boys is challenged. With every new fight springs forth another one of their innermost secrets, whether they like it or not! It’s only a matter of time before one of the boys breaks—but will the connections to their loved ones shatter with the fall?

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Sarazanmai is equal parts sarcastic and dramatic in its storytelling. During half of it, you are allowed to laugh at the silliness of it all. Probably for more than half, actually. To obtain the desires of the kappa-zombies, Kazuki and friends must enter the, ehem, *anus* of the demons and steal their shirikodama, a mythical orb said to contain the desires of one’s soul. Sound kinda dumb? Well, don’t blame the writers (or do for going through with it), because that’s actually how the legend of the Kappa goes, believe it or not!

And that’s just the beginning of the absurdity. Wait till we introduce the fortune-telling idol girl, the boy who cross-dresses as said idol, the other boy who shot a yakuza when he was just a wee tot, and the gay cops!! Oh Ikuhara, you’ve really created art with this one!

Joking aside, Sarazanmai is a neat little coming-of-age fantasy story for three poor youths who can’t seem to understand their place in the world. They don’t feel connected to anyone, lost adrift the tumultuous sea of love, and that’s what makes the moments when they realize the true meaning of their bonds so tender. Unconventional in execution, perhaps, but still immensely entertaining to follow.

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So, What is the Sarazanmai?

Is it a song? A dance? Something you can eat? Keppi says that: “Sarazanmai” refers to a connection of mind and soul. You share all your deepest secrets as well.”

So it’s abstract, but still simple to grasp. Humans are connected through their shirikodamas. When they lose them—as when Kappa Kazuki steals it to perform the Sarazanmai with Enta and Toi—they become incapable of connecting with anyone else, and they get kicked out of the circle that makes up the world (also quoted by Keppi). Yeesh, talk about a soul-siphoning ceremony!

By uniting in the Sarazanmai, Keppi can obtain these captured desires. Much like a double-edged sword, however, some of the users’ own desires inadvertently “leak” in the process. We’re talking about these boys’ private diary-grade secrets, which is what I want to talk about next. Trust them on this one: it ain’t easy being green.

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I Want to Connect, But . . . 

Reaching out to others is hard. It can be especially scary if you already think little of yourself. For whatever reason, trust me, we’ve all been there, and so have Kazuki, Enta, and Toi. Because Kazuki’s backstory carries more significance with the latter half, Toi’s with the show’s ending, I’ll be focusing on the Enta, our glasses wearing member of the “Golden Duo” meant to last all time!

Kazuki and Enta have been best friends ever since they met. After watching the other boys kick the soccer ball during practice for several weeks, a young Kazuki finally extends a hand to Enta to join the team. He was invited inside the circle, and granted permission to interact with an all-star like Kazuki. It sounds like a cold way of viewing their initial exchange, but this is how Enta, with all his self-doubts and insecurities, felt towards soccer and this new life.

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But feelings of more than just friendship blossomed for Enta. A closeted gay kid, Enta fell in love with his straight best friend. He felt blessed for having such a friend in his life, but cursed for feeling things that otherwise conflict with both the object of his affection and the status quo.

So like any shy gay boy, Enta hid these unacceptable feelings. He hid it all, months, years—

Until he performed the Sarazanmai. 

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Despite how hard he sheltered his secrets, all finally came bursting at the seams. Enta was left 100% unguarded, vulnerable. The boys saw how Enta inhaled Kazuki’s scent on his jersey in the locker room—how Enta’s expression glowed with lust when he placed his lips on Kazuki’s recorder—how Enta even KISSED Kazuki’s lips while he lie asleep. It was too much, way too embarrassing!! Kazuki was shocked, but blew it off under the assumption that his teammates dared Enta to kiss him. For Enta, however, his feelings were rejected, and not just trivialized, but entirely unacknowledged.

To be looked away by his love crushed him. Enta wanted to connect, but it wasn’t meant to be. Enta wanted to connect, to lie about what he did, but the Sarazanmai only reveals the truth. Enta wanted to connect, but to take more than what he could have. He wanted to connect, but Kazuki was so far away. And at the very end, when Enta stole the dishes for the chance to satisfy his own selfish wish, he couldn’t be forgiven. Lover became stranger, and Enta lost sight of himself.

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Love Yourself, & Cherish the Bonds You Form

I think if Sarazanmai has a bigger message under its themes of connection and expression, it’s this. When his whole life came crashing down on him, Enta first had to learn to be happy with himself if he was to not give up on his wish. Sure, he betrayed his friends, but he never gave up on Kazuki, even if Kazuki hated him for his actions.

We have to learn to be happy with ourselves if we are to form genuine connections with others. That said, we can still dislike parts of ourselves. I don’t think Enta ever wanted to have the feelings that he did for Kazuki, nor did he like feeling like a bystander all the time. But he eventually embraced those parts of himself, and found that all of these aspects—the good and the bad, the black and the white, the lustful and the loving—made up who he was as a person.

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Underneath its wacky, circus-like presentation, Sarazanmai is story about victimization, victimizing, and inadvertently hurting the people you love most to protect yourself. It shows us the price of maintaining connections with others, the deadly costs and the sinful pleasures alike. Each of the boys got to the point where they couldn’t even tell their closest friends about what was going on in their life, and that’s deeply eye-opening. Some connections cause you pain, yet you have to hold on to them.

Full of hidden meanings and rife with cultural symbolism, Sarazanmai delves into messy territory with philosophy on what it means to form genuine connections with others. How much should I give in a relationship? What should I be receiving in return? Is a connection supposed to be completely reciprocal, or . . . is it ok for one party to wind up with more? 

What does it mean to love someone, as opposed to desire something? How can my dreams help others, or why do my desires always hurt someone else? Merely living might be the hardest part, but true human connection and love make it all worthwhile. So long as we try to reach out to others and form connections, we’ll always be vulnerable to attack, physical or emotional.

But more importantly, just by trying, we’ll always have the chance to be happy—and not even a desire-snatching kappa can steal that opportunity away from you.

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Never forget that only those who connect their desires through the pain of loss can take the future in their hands. — Azuma Sara


Afterword

There’s A LOT going on in Sarazanmai, and a lot of good, might I add. This was easily one of the most fun watches I’ve had in a long time, and I hope the series stays on the radar for longer than this spring season. I would’ve loved more time with the characters, but I don’t feel like anything essential was left out. Maybe I’ll revisit it in a future post, but until then, Sarazanmai is honored here at the cafe as a “Cake” title, a show too sweet to miss out on. (Although if you’re not careful, this one might give you a cavity!)

So many people dropped this series, and that saddens me immensely considering that the ending is so rewarding. What did you think of Sarazanmai? Was it too weird for you, or right up your alley? Who was your best boy? I’d love to know in the comments! My love goes out to these precious kappa kids!

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This concludes my June 29th entry in the OWLS “Vulnerable” blog tour. Carla over at Pop Culture Literary gave us a very interesting post about Jen Wang’s comic The Prince and the Dressmaker that you can read right here! Now, look out for Fred (Au Natural) as he rounds out this exciting pride-filled month with his own take on vulnerability on Sunday, June 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Izetta: The Fairy Tale That 2016 Slept On | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode fall 2016 anime “Izetta: The Last Witch,” animated by Ajia-do Animation Works, directed by Masaya Fujimori, and based on the original story by Hiroyuki Yoshino. 

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Die Letzte Hexe: The Last Witch

Back during the ages of old, a witch with pristine white hair wielded her powerful magic to protect her country of Elystadt, defending its people until her last dying breath. Years later in 1939, militaristic giant Germania invades a neighboring country, plunging Europe into a devastating war. Boasting far superior technological prowess in this industrial era, Germania sets her sights on Elystadt, a significantly weaker alpine country in the way of Germania’s great conquest.

To make matters worse for the tiny country, Germanian soldiers capture their princess, Ortfiné “Finé” Fredericka von Eylstadt, as she is heading to a decisive meeting with Britannia. When trouble aboard the transport plane breaks loose, another piece of precious cargo, Izetta, the last witch alive, escapes. Recognizing Princess Finé from a childhood memory, Izetta transforms a soldier’s rifle into a flying “broomstick” and rescues Finé.

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Now reunited with her princess, Izetta pledges to protect Elystadt from the clutches of Germania—just as the White Witch of legend once did—and with the last surviving witch on their arsenal, Elystadt hopes to turn the tides against the imperialist war titan.

Original projects excite me. There’s nothing more freeing than hearing a studio trying to bring together a story from the their own combined passions, and then seeing the results. Izetta was no exception. While underwhelming in its finale, Izetta provides a magical spin on a historical setting where a world war is fought . . . by a witch.

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What if a World War had a Witch?

Izetta is a bumbling little mess of emotions and crimson hair. She’s kind and overly humble, but often disregards her own well-being for the object of her affection: Princess Finé. Speaking of, our Princess of Elystadt herself is quite the noble woman. Just as Izetta, she’s loyal to her countrymen and responsible to a T. Respect is another quality that runs deep in the Elystadt family’s lineage (or at least the legend has us believe), but trust me when I say that Finé is the genuine article.

The two are a power duo, and many of my favorite scenes don’t revolve around the engaging combat, but rather the quiet nighttime conversations that are exclusive to the pair. Although they act selfishly so as to preserve the others’ safety, Izetta and Finé are undeniably a cool couple bound together by lore and destiny.

Aside from Izetta, Finé, and a young Germanian spy boy named Ricelt, none of the characters’ motives felt resolved, however. If this were an adaptation of a larger work, then I could understand why some details might’ve gotten left out. But Izetta is an original story with an entirely original cast, and to have interesting characters that serve little more purpose than to act as mere decorative pawns is a crime. If one character’s role can be performed by a separate entity and the story pans out the same way, then that’s a sign you should probably rethink your character count.

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Banking on Design: The Art of Izetta

Ajia-do isn’t a studio known for producing the most outstanding works (the most noteworthy to me being Emma: A Victorian Romance‘s second season), but they definitely did Izetta justice. The magical dogfights featuring Izetta flexing her powers are super fun to watch, as she enchants a variety of guns, swords, and missiles to fly by her side and “aid” her. All of the CG armaments gliding around the battlefield are well animated, and the background villages, landscapes, ballrooms, and regal offices are splendidly colored.

Speaking of colors, the character designs are surprisingly detailed and ornate, especially Ortfiné’s. BUNBUN’s light novel-esque character designs mirror the quality of Abec’s works of Sword Art Online fame. The hauntingly gorgeous ED theme “Hikari Aru Basho e” by May’n features the beautiful original artwork in an elegant slideshow fashion. As for the rest of the music, Michiru delivers wonderful militaristic anthems for on and off the battlefield. Overall, the soundtrack supports both the dramatic and the more lax moments of the series fairly well.

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For dub fans, Funimation’s got you covered with another high quality English script. Mallorie Rodak brings a nobility to Princess Finé that is very reminiscent of her lovely work as Space Battleship Yamato‘s Yuki Mori. Derick Snow’s young boy voice for the soldier-spy Ricelt was, wow, perfect, and Jad Saxton’s Sophie makes for a wicked antagonist, even if I dislike the character. I found Skylar McIntosh’s Izetta to be the weakest performance here, but even then I grew to enjoy her natural naivete that fits so well with the role.

The End of Magic and Fantasy

Amidst the hype of the incredible fall 2016 anime season (which included Drifters, Bungou Stray Dogs‘ 2nd Season, Haikyuu!!’s 3rd Season, and the phenomenon that was Yuri!!! On ICE to name a few), Izetta slipped by the radar fairly undetected. Its flashy moniker and simple yet exciting world-wars-meets-magic premise was pretty well received by fans that somehow didn’t have enough that season to chew on, although few stuck around for very long. (Don’t worry Izetta, I made time for you back then.)

After the first stunning and smart six episodes, the promises and high stakes let on by this thrilling first half see a weak follow-up (and even weaker conclusion) come the end of the story. The introduction of a villain, aside from the uninteresting Germanian emperor, in the latter half serves more thematic purpose than anything else. That is to say, the addition of an actual antagonist to directly oppose our titular witch doesn’t make this story of war any more exciting.

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Prior to this reveal, the series was building up to one big narrative conclusion: that war is bad. It’s not novel, but it certainly fits. Seeing as how there are radicals, spies, and heavy losses on both sides of the border, I would’ve been quite satisfied if Izetta had held a more neutral position.

But then they go ahead and say, “Aha, this new villain is TRULY evil,” and any hopes of an appeal to the enemy side are lost in the muddy trenches. Maybe that kind of story works for you, but I just wasn’t a fan of the big baddie because it didn’t feel like the finale Izetta was building up towards. As an original tale, you could’ve gone anywhere . . . and this is what you decided on? At least Izetta looked great soaring high in the sky on that rifle of hers—I’ll certainly miss our little witch and her magic, even if just for that.

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I, for one, am glad we saw the magic. It may not seem like much, but I think the fairy tale of the White Witch who appeared in modern times left something good inside the hearts of people all over the world. — Izetta, the last witch


Afterword

It’s been three years in the making, and it took receiving a physical copy of the Izetta Blu-ray as a gift from my brother to finally make the time for a rewatch and give this series a proper review. Even if I was disappointed with parts of the ending, the final sentiment of leaving magic behind and looking towards the future will always bring a tear to my eyes. More than not, I’m so happy this project became realized by the production team behind it—it’s a noble little piece, and an achievement in my eyes. Izetta: The Last Witch receives the “Coffee” rating, a title that you, eh, might enjoy, but I wouldn’t recommend like crazy.

Were you one of the few who stuck around to see the end of the magic, or did you bail out of the plane halfway like Finé did in episode one? Let me know, because literally no one talks about this series! Really, the show is kinda dumb, but it’s fun popcorn material if you just want to turn your brain off. On another note, I’m in the reviewing mood, so I’m hoping to churn out a few more before the inspiration passes! So, until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

WorldEnd — The Lack of Connection Between You and Me | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode spring 2017 anime “WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?”, also known as “SukaSuka,” animated by Satelight and C2C, directed by Junichi Wada, and based on Akira Kareno’s light novel series of the same name.

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At the End of the World

Awakening from a cryogenic slumber 500 years after his ferocious fight with a mysterious monster, Willem Kmetsch finds himself to be the last human alive. During his icy slumber, creatures of terrifying proportions known as “Beasts” emerged on Earth’s surface and destroyed the human race—all except for one, that is. Together with the other surviving races of this fantasy world, Willem takes refuge in the floating islands, living in fear of what terror still lies below. His new life feels lonely and meaningless, for all he has tied to him now is a number of odd jobs to merely get by.

One day, a surprise offer to become a weapons storehouse caretaker graces Willem’s presence, to which he takes thinking nothing of it. When arriving at this “warehouse,” however, he finds it not to be filled with guns and other arms, but instead a handful of young girls. And boy are they a handful. Connecting the dots, Willem realizes that these Leprechauns, though resembling humans, have no regard for their own lives, as they identify themselves as mere weapons of war. These are the weapons he was tasked to look after.

Becoming something of a father figure for the young Leprechauns, Willem spends his days watching over them fondly and supporting them in any way he can. Among them is blue-haired Chtholly Nota Seniorious, the dutiful yet stubborn eldest who is more than willing to sacrifice herself if it means defeating the Beasts and safeguarding peace. The two strike up an endearing relationship, and as Leprechauns are sent off to battle at the end of the world, Willem—who knows the tragedies of war all too well—can only cling to the hope that those who fight bravely will someday return home safe and sound.

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I remember this plot stirring up a lot of hearts back when it aired in 2017, but I found myself emotionally detached from not only most of the characters but also the story itself. It’s kind of like Seraph of the End‘s opening in that you are shown a deeply impressionable first episode (made notable largely for its music, which I’ll get to), and then directed to an entirely different story. For me at least, the show has a hard time of maintaining a particular mood, be it happiness, sadness, or somewhere in between.

It also quite honestly feels like WorldEnd is trying to balance so many different genres that it fails to excel at any of them. While it’s certainly not an action series, it wouldn’t be proper to label it as slice of life. But it does have enough excitement to be this weird sci-fi/fantasy blend, something that definitely makes it feel like a light novel adaptation. Romance might be a better genre category, but even then the dramatic intensity is ALL over the place, hardly a fit for a “true” story of love and romance.

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All the Lolis in the World Can’t Make You Relatable

Ready for me to break some hearts? Alright, well I’ll start with Willem, the story’s “hero” who falls for the girl doomed to a terrible fate. While I enjoy the message of defying said fate and cautiously yet optimistically gazing toward the future, I just couldn’t get into Willem’s character. Let me explain.

His unusual circumstances as “weapons keeper” places him with the undivided attention of all the lolicauns (heh, get it?). Each of their little problems are designed to unfold around him with the intent of unlocking a new facet of his character. Oh, so we find out everyone is afraid of him? Makes sense, he’s a human and a dude at that. But he’s a good cook? And he’s able to make them all love him through food? How convenient. But wait, he can also tune their weapons, a quality that is unique only to him. And we can’t forget that he’s a lover of little kids, a pro nurse, and a massage therapist, too. Plus, even though he can whoop all of these magical fairies in combat, he’s totally willing to die for them at any given time, OF COURSE.

Willem is just . . . too perfect, and I just couldn’t connect with him because of his overwhelming home-ec expertise. And speaking of disconnection, I never really cared for Chtholly, the lead female, as much as I was *supposed* to either. The two are cute together, don’t get me wrong, but I only recall like one or two instances where I thought their chemistry felt honest and true—and not being manipulated by the choppy plot lines.

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“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?”

Studios Satelite and C2C team up to animate this breathtaking fantasy world and it’s . . . alright? Aside from a few gorgeous landscape shots, the animation merely gets the job done. WorldEnd’s characters are drawn delicately, and the copious amounts of crimson blood that spill out during the fight scenes create quite the stark contrast (which I believe was the point). Given the lack of brazen fanservice we’ve come to see with these LN adaptations, the modesty here sure is appreciated. All in all, it may not be worth solely watching for the animation, but there is one production component that makes WorldEnd stand above the crowd: Tatsuya Katou’s soundtrack.

I’m a sucker for insert songs. They can hype up a scene to unbelievable levels and allow emotions transcend logic, a quality which can be tricky to master. But oh man does Tatsuya Katou have it down. Specifically here, he arranges traditional English ballads and folk songs as insert songs. Between the rich and powerful “Scarborough Fair” opening up this story’s curtains in episode one to the deeply resonate “Always in my Heart” closing out the final fight, it’s easy to be moved to tears. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Both sung in English by the graceful Tamaru Yamada, these insert songs become perfect representations of WorldEnd‘s tragic duality.

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The rest of the OST maintains this same orchestral beauty: soaring strings, somber violin solos, cheerful guitar, blissful piano—a winning combination. Absolutely fantastic, and perfect for the fantasy atmosphere. Also worthy of mention is the series’ OP “DEAREST DROP” by Azusa Tadokoro, a song that easily made it into my personal music playlist.

For English dub fans, Funimation’s got you covered. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t exactly enjoy Willem’s character, but this isn’t my favorite Micah Solusod performance. Amber Lee Connors’ Chtholly definitely grows on you if you allow her a few episodes, though. Overall, I’m still curious about how the Japanese handled the emotional scenes, but the dub works just fine.

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Hinging on Feelings

Between a story that is neither this nor that and a bland protagonist that I just couldn’t seem to connect with, we’ve got a few touching scenes weakly strung together by a heavy reliance on the viewer loving the cast. The romance genre hinges on your attachment to (at least one of) the leads, making it almost entirely based on personal preference (to which I didn’t quite fancy here). At least it has some encouraging messages on embracing oneself through the process of change.

I wanted to love this anime with all my heart—after all, it was the talk of 2017 for quite some time. But in the end, a lack of connection—between plot points, characters, and myself as the viewer—prevents me from recommending the series unconditionally. There’s something special going on here, there really is, but I don’t think this anime adaptation showcases WorldEnd at its true best.

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I can’t find happiness, meaning there’s really no reason to pursue it. How can one pursue what they already have? Don’t you understand—I’m already the happiest girl in the world. — Chtholly


Afterword

I admittedly feel terrible for spitting on this beloved title. But if it makes fans feel better, I would like to check out the original light novel series some day, as I’ve heard wonderful things from people who are reading it. By the way, THAT TITLE THO. This is LN culture at its peak. For all those curious, WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us? is rated a “Coffee” here at the cafe, a show that’s rich in all the right areas, and quite possibly satisfying if its characters can win over your heart.

Do you have any thoughts on this sweet little title? Let me know if you share some of the same disappointments or praises of WorldEnd that I do in the comments. I’d totally be willing to give this title a second try if given the reason to, so come and voice your thoughts on WorldEnd or this review! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host