Grimgar: Stronger Together, Now & Forever | OWLS “Strength”

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!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  fifth monthly topic, “Strength,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Grimgar review into this pep talk about keeping your chin up. I’m also celebrating its recent release, which includes a strong English dub by a set of newbie-ish VAs!

“Your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength.” In anime, characters struggle with inner demons or physical weaknesses that make them feel insecure and prevent them from achieving goals, which makes viewers feel empathetic toward their battle. Yet when these characters overcome their adversity, they can finally be able to express who they are, or in other words, “Free to be Me.” 

I’m also gonna try a new, shorter, more poetic form of writing, since I seem to have been named such a writer by blogger buddy LitaKino and the OWLS YT squad. Let me know if you prefer this, oh, and thanks Lyn for the prompt!


A brief discussion on the 12-episode winter 2016 anime “Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions,” produced by A-1 Pictures, directed by Ryousuke Nakamura, based on the light novel by Ao Jyumonji.

The Past is Irrelevant

Waking up in an alternate world not too far off from a fantasy, a group of strangers with no recollection of their past lives are welcomed to Grimgar, a vast magical landscape that spans as far as the eye can see. Much like an RPG system, parties, guilds, and other factions exist in packs to ensure survival and decent living conditions.

With no home to call their own, six teenagers bound by the simple wish to live in this bizarre landscape form their own party. Unbeknownst to them, what awaits their poor squad in this harsh new world is nothing but grief, loss, misfortune, and tragedy at every bend in the beaten dirt path.

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Grimgar‘s greatest appeal is its attention to the realities of living in a fantasy world. From finding a place to sleep to having enough copper pieces to afford simple luxuries like a fresh pair of underwear after using the same one for days on end, the anime never fails to appeal to logic and frugality. This comes with a downside—dreadfully slow pacing—but a show like this shouldn’t be rushed. Otherwise we’d miss out on another uneventful tidbit of coping with life’s pain, a quality that, where other trapped-in-an-RPG anime stumble, Grimgar excels.

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Being primarily main character Haruhiro’s story, I only wish we got to see through the eyes of the other party members. They’re all unique, classes and stats aside, and it could’ve been the cherry on top to understand what the Ranta the dark knight or Moguzo the tank thought before they went to bed each night.

A World Painted Unlike Any Other

Surprisingly, A-1 Pictures paints a glorious watercolor backdrop to accompany our volunteer soldier trainees as they run across the ruins of old attempting to slay a single goblin. If this anime has a winning feature, it’s the artwork. Reminiscent of the quiet world of Maoyu, it’s rare to find such wallpaper-worthy scenery at every shot, every frame. Exquisite and personalized, yet very simplistic, and it all works magically in Grimgar. 

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Also fantastic is the soundtrack, more specifically the joyous and exciting violin hoedown of the opening, “Knew day” by (K)NoW_NAME, along with the bittersweet ending, “Harvest,” a song by the same band, which frequently cues in early to accent a feeling of mourning and memorial. Both are equally enjoyable and very appropriate.

Strength is More Than Good Stats

When you think RPG stats, STRENGTH or TOUGHNESS are what jump at you first, naturally.

Now, when I say STRONGEST, having the best weapons, armor, or other gear is essential, right?

In Grimgar, that’s what Haruhiro and the gang thought, too. But they couldn’t have been more wrong.

You see, outfitting oneself with top-notch equipment sure does help, but there’s one part of your body you forget to protect most of all.

You heart.

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When sleeping, eating, or socializing are the only forms of relaxation and entertainment, you can bet much of your time is spent on the battlefield, a land where your life is always on the line. At any moment, you could get slashed on your side with a dagger, or

Struck in the back with an arrow.

Tragedy follows the pathetic party everywhere they go, and when they first experienced loss, none of them could handle themselves. It was almost as if one member meant the lives of all six.

With no one to comfort them, they all experienced petty conflict with one another—they all tore themselves up for not being cautious enough. Day by day, they milled around in the doldrums, incapable of moving forward from the horrors of their last fight.

It wasn’t until they openly cried and poured their hearts out in front of one another that they realized how each member felt. You could almost say that the wound in their hearts finally bled out.

But like scars, sadness heals itself with time, comfort, and care. But also like scars, they will never fully heal. And that’s okay.

For the Grimgar crew, strength blossomed from the heartache they experienced. Loss, tragedy, and depression, poisons that normally corrupt the body, became ironclad armor to protect them from whatever came next—as best as armor could, that is.

They came to understand just what “ashes” meant, and used their tears, innate weaknesses, and unfamiliarity to bond closer with one another. Slowly but surely, they worked harder on the field and with one another to grow as people, and to move on from that day.

For they had endured a torn heart, and what doesn’t kill you DOES make you stronger.

They learned that true strength lies not in good stats, but in their faith in one another—in overcoming adversity and misfortune TOGETHER.

You are only alone if you choose to be. Similarly, one may be strong, but a team is stronger.

All you have to do is grit your teeth and keep on rolling with the punches.

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“Living has its own challenges. I’ll give you just one piece of advice. Don’t quit. Yes, when you die, you die. But if you give up, you’re definitely going to die. That, I am sure of.” – Brittany


Fortune favors the bold, right?! Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions is full of unfortunate pitfalls for a cast of endearing teens, but so long as they stick together, they can overcome any challenge. A special shoutout goes to Rocco B (In the Cubbyhole) and Jamie (Jamie Talks Anime), two very special people who shouldn’t have had to wait so long for my thoughts on this series! I give it the certified “Cake” rating! Everyone, let me know what you thought about this series in the comments!!

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This concludes my May 26th entry in the OWLS “Strength” blog tour. Please check out Lita (LitaKinoAnimeCorner), who went right before me and wrote about the astounding latest-hit film A Silent Voice. And now, I’ll give you the weekend before we return with Naja (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero) on equally powerful film, Colorful, this Monday, May 29th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Tales of Symphonia Orchestrates Racial Harmony By Overcoming Great Tragedy| OWLS “Colors”

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!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  fourth monthly topic, “Colors,” I decided hit up a show that originates from a GameCube JRPG–the one and only Tales of Symphonia which was, fun fact, the SECOND anime I had ever watched!! You know what that means—aww yeah, old-school Takuto wrote a dope review about it (here) years ago that is littered with grammatical errors but full of heart. It currently has zero comments and likes, so go mess that up for me, will ya? Be gentle 🙂

We are all part of one race, the human race. “Colors” refers to people of color in anime. For this month’s topic, we will be discussing how people of color or
characters of different “races” (could be a literal alien race) are represented in anime. Some topics we are considering is the dangers of stereotyping, bi-racial
characters, and the importance of racial inclusion.

I had the recent pleasure of finally finishing the Tales of Symphonia PS3 game recently, so I’m excited let the experience come full circle by revisiting one of the titles that got me into anime. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the various races and factions that appear in the 2007-2012 11-episode OVA series “Tales of Symphonia: The Animation,” based off the GameCube game by the same name, created by Bandai-Namco, produced by Ufotable, directed by Haruo Sotozaki (“Tales of Zestiria”). SPOILER WARNING

When One World Flourishes, the Other Withers

Enter Sylvarant, a fantasy world of monsters yet very little magic. Why? The mana that flows through the realm has been draining out for a long time now, and it seems that the land will only grow drier (literally) with each passing day. Little to the peoples’ knowledge, a second world exists out there, one that mirrors their own home, and the reason it prospers and thrives is because the mana flow resembles that of an hourglass, Tethe’alla, this second world, residing on the bottom.

This is where the Chosen one comes to save the day! “Chosen” by the heavens, Colette Brunel of Sylvarant sets out on her quest of World Regeneration to flip the hourglass back in their favor. But her clumsiness and well-being worry her friends Lloyd Irving and Genis Sage, so the two, along with Genis’s older sister (and their village’s teacher) Raine and a mysterious mercenary named Kratos, embark on a journey, encountering new friends and more foes with their own philosophies, that will forever shake the foundations of their precious world that they’ve studied for so long.

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Just when our gang finally learns to love the world for what it is,  things take one tragic turn after another, forcing our heroes to question the reason they fight, and whether their quest is one of nobility or selfishness. Remember, when one world flourishes, the other withers—people are bound to make great sacrifices.

Symphonia remains one of the top, if not THE #1 game in the incredible Tales franchise. Rife with gorgeous visuals, dramatic Celtic-inspired music, and heartbreaking characters, the animation holds on its own by establishing a fantasy adventure world (or two) where there’s always something to be lost for one of its characters. As the series progresses, we viewers, too, begin to question if a happy ending even exists for this broken cast of many ages and races. Symphonia tackles the harsh realities of acceptance and racism through its memorable characters.

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Oppressed, Punished, and Exiled

In this vast fantasy world, several races and factions exist, most of which frequently bump heads with one another. Aside from the dwarves, who lead quieter pastimes as master craftsman, there are exist elves. They live reclusive lives hidden in villages like Heimdall among the trees, and choose to isolate themselves from society because breeding half-elves (the result of human x elf mating) is frowned upon. Largely stemming from human jealousy, for elves have much longer lifespans and can use magic but humans have neither, and disgust for human blood in an elf body, both humans and elves decided to hate half-elves all around, which leads us to Symphonia‘s most tragic bunch.

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Half-elves cower at the tip of every whip cracked and at the shackles of every chain latched. Disdain from both humans and elves has caused these poor people to be punished for their mixed blood, and, if they are lucky, exiled from the land. Some literally fled to a floating isle called Exire to avoid their tragic fate. Those who could not escape detainment were hunted down, beaten, and even tortured. The main reason for their abuse, aside from their physical make-up, derives from the legend of the the great Kharlan War. In it, humans and elves fought over the two countries, Sylvarant and Tethe’alla, which left half-elves, magic users with longevity in human bodies, to be caught in the crossfire.

If We Could Just Include Instead of Exclude . . . 

Lloyd Irving, the main character, was raised by a dwarven father, meaning that he has seen the abuse from a more objective standpoint than that of a human, elf, or half-elf. Out of rage for their treatment, the Desians, a treacherous organization of half-elves, had swept through Sylvarant, enslaving humans and sacrificing them to create enhancing magic crystals called Exspheres. What they are doing is wrong, and Lloyd knows it, clutching his own mother’s Exsphere from when she was still among the living.

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With a burning desire to end all enslavement and restore the two worlds to one so that all can live in harmony together, Lloyd uses his own experience with the people he holds dear to guide his quest. When it is revealed early on that his best friend Genis and sister Raine are, in fact, half-elves, Lloyd doesn’t grief or retaliate harshly. There’s even a scene where Genis mourns because he knows that when Lloyd and all of his friends eventually pass away, he will be left behind alive but lonely. Instead, Lloyd sympathizes and smiles that he is still able to enjoy their company in the present, looking beyond racial treatment and into the value of their personality.

Genis himself undergoes his own journey when he meets the great Mithos, suppposed Hero of the Kharlan War. In actuality, he manifests as a young half-elf boy just like Genis who only wished for a world where he and his sister Martel could live in peace. Unlike Lloyd’s determination to seek symphonic harmony with all races, however, Mithos sought to convert everyone into one homogeneous kind, believing that if race didn’t exist, then neither would racism. The boy is right and his ideals are true, but his brutal nature and execution of his plans are naive and cruel. The heart was in the right place, but the mind wasn’t, and that’s why Mithos continues to suffer until his own sister rejects him.

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We need more people like Lloyd and Genis—people who have had experiences with trauma on both sides, yet still manage to see the good in others regardless of their race or status. But there’s only one way to handle this matter carefully. Rather than force people to accept the beautiful array of colored people on this planet, shoving our own ideals down their ignorant throats, we need to integrate warm, positive spirits into communities that suffer from racial exclusion—we must value the characters, not appearances, of all different peoples in order to end this childish thinking.

Dividing the world into two so that people can exist on separate planes was not the answer. Same goes for establishing one master race. The weight of Lloyd’s unwavering acceptance and determination to create a world for everyone is the greatest joy that can come from the series. It’s the hope that some day we can all overcome our own tragedies to play in one harmonic symphony together that makes “Tales of Symphonia” ring true to so many hearts. Life in this kind of new world begins not by looking at what which makes us different, but celebrating what we share in common, and that is beautiful. 

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“Dwarven Vow #1: Let’s all work together for the sake of a peaceful world.” – Lloyd Irving


Tales of Symphonia is a really neat show full of heartwarming themes and deep characters, so do check it out if this kind of fantasy is your thing! For those who have seen it, what do you think of the game or its anime adaptation? What about how it’s emotional bits are portrayed? I preferred the anime’s flow in this department, but hey, let me know your thoughts!

This concludes my April 22nd entry in the OWLS “Colors” blog tour. Please check out Stephanie Clarke’s (Anime Girls NYC) post over the darker colored villains from the currently popular Twin Star Exorcists! And now the magic will trickle down to Eren (sakuradaisuki) as she walks us through “Colors” in the dear-to-heart Sailor Moon on Monday, April 24th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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If I Went Missing . . . ERASED | Hero Week Review

A brief review of the 12-episode winter 2016 anime “Boku dake ga Inai Machi” (trans. The Town Where Only I am Missing”) or simply “ERASED,” produced by A-1 Pictures, based on the manga by Kei Sanbe.

Hearing about anime with time travel immediately make me feel two things: Exhilaration and skepticism. The rush of adrenaline is an obvious one. I mean, doesn’t finding out that trial and error will play a key part make you excited? The concept usually entails a character going through repetitive hardships to eventually overcome a goal that will better either themselves or the future or both. Often, however, shows will fail to use the gimmick to its maximum potential, either not developing a character enough to show improvement (or drastic change) or making an inconsistent story just for thrill’s sake.

ERASED executes a surprising mix of these turnouts, and depending on how you interpret the lead, Satoru, by the end, you’ll either walk away awestruck or feeling quite underwhelmed about the whole package.

Dismal 29-year-old Satoru Fujinuma is a pizza delivery man/part-time manga artist/time traveler in modern-day Japan. Well, sort of. He just has these occasional bursts where, right as a disaster occurs, he is sent back a few moments to before the incident. He calls the unexplained phenomenon “Revival,” and he seems to be tasked with saving those facing inevitable peril.

Returning to his apartment from a seemingly normal outing, Satoru finds his mother brutally skewered on the floor and is unfairly accused of murder. Just as the adrenaline is enough to cause his heart to burst, Satoru is tossed back once again through “Revival.” But this time, a few breather minutes beforehand becomes 18 years—1988—and is enough to send him back to elementary school!

A man trapped in a boy’s body, Satoru comes to realize that his mother’s untimely death could be tied to the abduction and killing of a lone classmate of his during childhood, Kayo Hinazuki. Given a second chance at righting wrong and changing his own presently-dull fate, Satoru is challenged to save those lost in the past, protect beloved ones in the present, and ultimately expose the mastermind behind the killings.

Let’s get one thing straight: ERASED is not a good mystery anime. It has mystery elements, yes, but the identity of the killer at large is far too predictable. This mainly stems from the otherwise lack of possible suspects. A good mystery anime wouldn’t toss in a character at the end and label him the murderer—thankfully ERASED doesn’t do that. Where it fails is in the tiny toss up of possible killers. I wanted to say I was truly shocked by the end, but the abrupt change in slower pace and lack of characters to choose from left little room to ponder. Some of the animation cues are also at fault, but we’ll cover that department’s actual brilliance in a bit.

While we’re discussing the cons, I’ll add that the unexplained notion of how or why Satoru undergoes these “Revivals” really bothered me when I reached the end of the series. It’s as if they show us a preview of the power in a few beginning instances, then toss the idea once we hit the halfway point. Being a time travel fanatic, I was disappointed with how it was handled, unless . . . The gimmick doesn’t revolve around needing to save Kayo. Some otherworldly force did it so he could save himself, a man not interested in society and partially life. And where else do you meet friends and solidify family? Childhood. I see each “Revival” as a wake-up call for Satoru, like, “Get a hold of your life, man!”

At least the show’s wild predictability and faulty concept were led by memorable characters, specifically speaking, Satoru, Sachiko Fujinuma (his big-lipped, sharp-eyed momma and arguably best character of the season), and Kayo Hinazuki. The wide screen narrative for his revisited childhood days was fantastic contrast, and it fits the movie theater theme as represented by the opening and the “Revival’s” running film. While the background characters served their purpose, nothing was more entertaining than 28-year-old Satoru’s thoughts being accidently leaked from his little kid mouth. The fixed goal set by his favorite manga hero that is always referenced helps guide his character. I could go on about how smart and well-intertwined these main characters are, but my friend Rocco B laid it all out in his comprehensive review, which I urge you to check out for more depth on every layer.

As for production quality, it’s once again A-1 Pictures and Yuki Kajiura—could a guy ask for more? Honestly, the intense color palette and flowing imagery accompanied by Kajiura’s deeply-felt and haunting main melody brought the story to life. She conveys Satoru’s soliloquy with excellent intensity.

The real question is for ERASED, are you an OP or ED guy/gal. For me, the tune of the ending “Sore wa Chiisana Hikari no Youna” by Sayuri was much addicting and romantic, albeit Sayuri’s voice being a bit on the high and nasally end. Fight me.

With a future thrown into mayhem (Satoru running from the cops and getting into house fires 24/7), ERASED only seemed fun and truly thrilling in childhood; the future seems lost in purpose. Speaking of excitement, where its mystery failed to convince me, its thriller levels were off the charts! It seems every time red flashed across the white 1988 snow, my heart skipped a beat. That is, until you reach the last episode or two.

HERO WEEK SEGMENT: Archetypical Hero qualities represented by Satoru

I’ve taken a quick trip to Google to provide qualities of the typical hero. Let’s briefly exercise each prompt:

  • Unusual circumstances of birth; sometimes in danger or born into royalty
    • Other than the fact that his father is out of the picture, not much can be said for this one.
  • Leaves family or land and lives with others
    • Satoru, as we see it, is on a long journey from age 10 to 28. In the present, he lives by himself with a part-time job and a hobby he wishes to pursue. I assume he moved out not only because he was old enough, but because he wanted to get a job as a manga artist for his hero story, and his career path led him to the city where these kinds of options are more prevalent.
  • An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure
    • The death of Sachiko is the big one, obviously. Satoru lost his one and only crutch supporting him in these seemingly purposeless days.
  • Hero has a special weapon only he can wield/always has supernatural help
    • “Revival” anyone? This is the weakest point, as his power is truly the unexplained supernatural, but all that matters is that he is given a second chance—only he can change fate.
  • The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
    • Protect Kayo Hinazuki. Keep Airi out of harm’s way. Prove Jun Shiratori’s innocence. Save Sugita and Nakanishi. Find the murderer. These and many more challenges await Satoru on his rugged journey.
  • ***SPOILERS START HERE***
  • The journey and the unhealable wound
    • Coming in episode 9, Satoru is drowned by the killer, thus becoming ‘erased.’ Though the story proceeds to save his rear with the ‘sudden coma treatment,’ this imprisons Satoru for several years. When he reawakens, he is a changed man—he suffers brief amnesia, but then quickly marks the line between good and evil by pointing out the killer on the cold hospital rooftop. He won’t be able to regain these lost years, but they have changed him for the better, as he is able to see the wonderful lives that have sprouted from those he saved.
  • Hero experiences atonement with the father
    • Upon her sudden death, Satoru melts at being with his mom once again in the past. He uses her passing as a motivator (avengement) for seeking Kayo’s safety, watching over her and struggling against the inevitable.
  • When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually
    • THIS is the key one, and tends to affect people’s enjoyment. Clearly Satoru didn’t die at the end, but the part of him that revisited the past and was able to undergo “Revivals” is no longer with him. The traumatic event in episode 9 caused the split in spirit. For his work, Satoru is rewarded with a new start at middle-aged life rife with opportunity and good fortune, contrasting the beginning. But unlike most heroes, Satoru loses his special power, leaving us to assume that his journey wasn’t about a kid saving the lives of many, one about a man seeking redemption through experiencing loss. Because he mentions in the epilogue that he never experienced another “Revival,” we are led to believe that his mission is complete, which somewhat defies the typical hero. He ACTUALLY gets to relive his life, while most retire to death following their journey.
  • ***SPOILERS END HERE***

Good things have been said about ERASED for a reason: Its intense thriller fantasy atmosphere is awesome, the music and animation are top-notch, and Satoru is an exciting main character (voiced by an incredible actor, mind you). Fair enough. The end also gets a lot of slack for being anticlimactic. That I really also agree with. It all comes down to how you interpret the hero’s journey—Was the enemy too easily identifiable, or was Satoru’s reward too gracious? All that can be surely said is that we tend to notice how much we have only once we’ve lost it. In a town where only you went missing, I’m sure I would realize the impact you’ve made.

“Kayo, my fate is my own. There’s no need for you to feel responsible. I’m sure that what’s become of me was a result of something I wanted.” – Satoru Fujinuma

Being entertaining is not the same as being well-written. A solid “Cake (4/5),” ERASED was definitely my favorite from the winter 2016 season, then again I only watched two anime. What did you think of the show? How did you interpret the same issues everyone had with it? FEEL FREE TO TALK ABOUT SOMEONE IMPORTANT IN YOUR LIFE, or how you thought Satoru was a good/bad hero! I want to celebrate the cause with all of you! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Just look at how happy momma Fujinuma is. Best mom 2016!

 

Rokka Ushers in a Fresh and Bloody-Fantastic Fray | Review

A spoiler-free review of the 12-episode summer 2015 anime “Rokka no Yuusha” or “Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers,” produced by Passione, based on the light novel by Yamagata Ishio.

 – View in browser, not app, for best experience –

Whenever you’re out driving, do U-turns scare you? Oh man, they do me in. Usually swift and unannounced, what was the car ahead of me casually cruising along suddenly burns rubber and whirls around to oppose me.

So maybe I’m dramatizing U-turns a bit (also, they’re probably illegal in most areas), but doesn’t that abrupt 180-degree flip potentially ruin a nice drive? Well, if the other driver knows exactly how to pace it, direct it, and drive it on home, then no, not at all.

That’s what Rokka here did, and boy was it a spectacular turn.

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This setting is gorgeous.

Long ago when the Demon God plagued the world with darkness, the Goddess of Fate came down and sent the demon back into the shadows – Not before splitting her powers amongst six heroes, though. Now in a present-day yet still fantasy-Aztec land, the Demon God has awoken numerous times, only to be quelled time and again by new rotations of these “Heroes of the Six Flowers.”

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See? Not lying at all.

The self-proclaimed “strongest man in the world” Adlet has been selected to be one of these six braves. To prevent the Demon God’s next return, the six heroes band together and venture into the dark lands in hopes that they will save the wor–

Woah woah, slow down there. It sounds like a feasible action/adventure anime thus far, but right after episode four, it’s time to slam the breaks – Rokka wants a complete change of pace. What happens to our heroes?

Nothing. All seven meet up at the rendezvous point before plotting their attack. Wait . . . I thought there were just six braves . . .

There are. A magic barrier goes up around the temple, thick fog fills the air, and everyone is trapped in. Someone is an imposter

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If that’s not a 180-degree flip, then I’m not sure what is (I get chills just reading it). Rokka spends the first third showing off its heroes and their skills as such. It acts like your normal fantasy anime but then decides to try something new. The introduction of mystery to the fantasy/adventure genre is something I’ve never seen before. And through its fresh direction and pre-establishment of the cast, it moves forward without hesitation.

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Squad goals.

The sheer amount of suspense that Rokka builds up is absolutely incredible. Its clever hashing-out of your typical fantasy party members makes it a hot game of Dungeons & Dragons runnin’ around on the Clue game board. You wanted adventure? Not anymore. Take this murder mystery instead because it’s cooler. The gimmick works so well because we know these characters – All we have to do is roll the dice and start throwing accusations. You’ll have so much fun watching your options drop out as the game soars to its climax.

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Spooky spooky ~ Who is the Seventh???

As a side note, I was a bit spoiled by the identity of the fake, but even that didn’t faze me. Seeing how all of the clues slid into place and watching the insanity unfold gave me more than my fill of entertainment. The anime still kept me guessing to the very end, regardless of those damn trolls. That goes to show how exciting Rokka is.

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I have to mention the studio behind this anime because their name was completely new to me: Passione. I was 100% impressed by the superb animation quality and fantastical artwork. Due to the unusual yet intricate designs of each hero and their unique repertoire of arms, action scenes were bloody intense and wicked smooth.

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“I am the bone of my –“ Not now? Oh, okay.

For music, we had the reoccurring yet beloved fantasy artist Oshima Michiru (FMA, Sora no Woto) who filled the still, foggy air with an engaging score. Of its many OPs and EDs, my favorite was “Secret Sky” by MICHI for being everything I listen for in this wonderful genre.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf13gKeZOW4

With puzzling motives, characters we’ll all recognize, and shocking plot twists at each episodes’ end, Rokka no Yuusha was without a doubt 2015’s hidden gem. The only reason you don’t remember this title was because you stopped after episode three.  Rokka‘s not without its flaws, however: Some less-major characters could have used more backbone, the opening is admittedly a bit slow, but biggest of all – This is ultimately only a preview into Rokka‘s grand scheme, and as such leaves us with jaws dropped begging for a sequel. I hate this. Don’t worry, we still get an ending that ties all of this up, but for those wanting to know how the legend ends better start supporting the franchise.

You should watch Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers because it’s something new. It takes a wild idea and runs hella far with it, leaving you clinging on for your dear life! Fans of the adventure genre especially won’t be disappointed with Rokka‘s new entry to the fray.

“That’s the first thing my master taught me. To laugh.” – Adlet

+ Despite being abrupt, fantastic new direction taken with strong, clever writing

+ suspense, Suspense, SUSPENSE

+ Studio Passione did an incredible job putting everything together

– ‘Supporting’ heroes could have been given more background, little more depth for all

– Unfavorable localization (Ponycan’s ridiculous prices without an English dub)

– Cliff-hanger ending = WE NEED MORE ROKKA, DAMMIT

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Now, I’m still cautions with those U-turners, but Rokka really impressed me guys. It’s a solid “Caffe Mocha” in this little establishment, but again, you should spread the word so we can eventually devour more! You can watch the entire anime on Crunchyroll for FREE if that site is available to you, to which I recommend “full speed ahead.” I only cry because Ponycan USA is releasing this epic without a dub. If you took a liking to my tentatively new and less-wordy format, let me know by hitting that “like” button and commenting below. It helps me immensely! Thank you all for reading and as always, until next time this has been

– Takuto, the Seventh Brave

Arslan Senki, When the OP/ED is Better Than the Actual Show

A spoiler-free review of the 25-episode spring 2015 anime “The Heroic Legend of Arslan,” produced by LIDEN FILMS and SANZIGEN, based on the manga (story) by Yoshiki Tanaka.

Undefeated King Andragoras rules over the flourishing kingdom of Pars with a firm grip through his mighty Royal Capital, Ecbatana, a city structured around a slave system that fuels the royal palace. However, the baby-faced prince Arslan, a wide-eyed and curious boy, knows deep down that he does not possess the same iron fist that his father, the King, leads with.

Pars Era, Year 320. At the tender age of 14, Arslan sets out on his maiden battle at Atropatene only for everything to go up in flames. Ecbatana falls to the Holy Lusitanian Empire, an enemy not only smart on the battlefield, but one that follows their all-empowering god “Yaldabaoth.” The youthful Arslan witnesses bloodshed of his people and the capture of his glorious Ecbatana. Arslan quickly flees the war mounted on the steed of his faithful knight, Daryun. It is at this moment that Arslan’s destiny is written in the stars, and through the help of his new followers and friends, he will rise to reclaim his golden capital no matter the cost.

 

At its core, this anime is about growing up and finding the courage to lead, and it pulls this decently enough. Arslan is faced with countless tasks that he must overcome before he begins his reclamation: Inviting members to join his party, establishing his force, rebuilding his army, seizing a base of operation – those are his main goals. But there are many bumps in the road for the poor blue-eyed prince. He must first find his drive to fight, his charisma to keep others around him, and lastly, his ethical approach to war. All of this ties into leadership, and through the guiding pen of Narsus, the master tactician, Arslan’s ideals become clearer.

Arslan Senki is set in a world based on past historical cultures, and I can proudly say has it done its research quite well. Although I’ve never been out of the country [yet], its portrayal of distant desert lands are captured in such a rich manner that I feel as if I’m actually sitting on a silk cushion in bright banquet room watching minstrels and men get heavily drunk!

You must not forget that Arslan is a fantasy. The magic may only be sneaking in the shadows (receiving no explanation whatsoever), but it’s still there. And since there is a hint of magic, it seems that the anime takes the typical fantasy copout: “It’s magic. I ain’t gotta explain sh*t.” Know that it works in mysterious ways, charming characters in the background, but it’s not the main focus. That’s on our characters.

Wait, what? No. Go home.

We’ve already talked about Arslan; decent kid, fair development, a bit bland, but not a poor character. Following Arslan right by his side – both his sword (javelin-thing) and shield – is Daryun. Daryun’s loyalty to his “prince” is admirable by many and his strength is unmatched – even by those in foreign lands. When he is not speaking to his prince, Daryun chats with Narsus, an old pal of his from back in the day. The two share conversations of strategy and wit, a combo both deadly and humorous. Just don’t bring up Narsus’ side-hobby of painting. Really, don’t.

Hey buddy, that’s what I thought

The other two I enjoyed were also fine warriors in their own rights. Gieve, a whimsical “traveling musician” who can skillfully wield many weapons and the chill Farangis, a muscular yet enchanting cleric and master of the bow which whom Gieve proclaims his love to. Although they are somewhat a gag duo, Gieve neither siding with Narsus nor the enemy half of the time, they receive very little backstory (specifically Farangis) – which is the biggest disappointment. I would have sacrificed ten Arslan balcony-contemplation scenes for one Farangis side story if I could.

That’s right. Slip and slide outta that room Gieve, you perv.

These adventurers along with a couple others compose Arslan’s force against lord “Silver Mask” (oh the cheese, it hurts), an incredibly skillful brute who is after Arslan’s head for some reason . . . Among the challenges that Arslan faces, this is his toughest one yet! This man is what triggers Arslan’s moral conflict. I won’t say much, but it was an intense endeavor for the crew to keep away from this madman.

Too bad NO ONE knows who you are even without the mask

Now, if you’ve thought that up until now Arslan Senki was an A+ for me, you’re incredibly mistaken. The entire show is one sloppy quest, and here’s why:

They say adventures are all about “the getting there,” and that the resolution just happens to tie loose ends. But Arslan Senki doesn’t give us either of these things! Instead it drags on for 25 boring episodes of pointless side plots doing FLIP that take far too long to resolve – Speaking of, IT DOESN’T END. Spoiler alert, but it doesn’t. Instead, we have Arslan and the gang mounted majestically, waiting to take back the kingdom until blah blah blah “here’s a season two B.S. announcement because we couldn’t get our crap together in the first.” Seriously, WHAT!?

Yuck

More yuck

Don’t even get me started with this anime’s production value. It’s TERRIBLE. I’ve had enough of CG-gummy army men, retarded-angry horses, and derpy Arslan faces to last me enough time to figure out the secrets of “Silver Mask” and overthrow Pars THREE times over. The animation is extremely inconsistent, relying on its few high-budget fight scenes and opening animation alone, and it really drags the show in the mud. You know it’s bad when you can tell where the money went in each episode. Art may look pretty, but for the love of Yaldabaoth DO NOT get this show in motion!! It’s so IRRITATING.

Heavens, I find that very hard to believe

Why do those horses look so . . . evil?

why do they go to the dark side

No seriously, what the hell IS that??

23WCsqc

“Yes, he’s supposed to be killing that horse.”

And now for the music. Does it fail epically like its visuals? Well, slap UVERworld, Eir Aoi, and Kalafina in the same anime and you tell me. The first opening “Boku no Kotoba de wa Nai, Kore wa Bokutachi no Kotoba” by UVERworld is pretty darn solid, and the second, “Uzu to Uzu” by NICO Touches the Walls has that quality “second half” feel to it. Once you hit Eir Aoi’s ending “Lapis Lazuli,” however, you’ve entered my top 5 endings. If Arslan is remembered for one thing, it’s gonna be this song (that moment when the OP/ED is better than the show). Lastly, Kalafina brings all under their graceful wings with “One Light,” the second ending, giving us some air of conclusion to grasp onto.

I’ll give Taro Iwashiro’s soundtrack props to filling out the fantasy-adventure tone enough to immerse me in the setting. No tracks in specific to highlight, but being supportive is all I could ask for with this shambling show.

So whoopty-freakin’-doo, there are my thoughts on The Heroic Legend of Arslan, or more accurately titled, The Heroic Legend of Asslan, pardon my French. Unless you are an absolute diehard fan of the fantasy-adventure/war drama genre, then throw this one out with yesterday’s garbage. We don’t need it, and certainly not a flippin’ sequel. That’s bullticky. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find Farangis’ cult and burn crosses in Lusitanian yards.

“The throne itself does not have a will of its own. Depending on who sits in it, it can be the seat of justice or it can be the seat of inhuman cruelty. As long as it is a man, and not a god, doing the governing, he can never be perfect. But should he neglect to make efforts to reach for perfection, a king will surely tumble down the slippery slope towards evil with no one around to stop him.” – Farangis, and amen at that

+ Arslan’s main troupe, though a bit lacking in development, comes across as a pleasant party

+ All openings and endings were the only features keeping me attached to this show

– IN-CONS.ISTENT. ANIMATI-ON.

– Sloppy execution of story, not enough character spotlight, specifically for Farangis and Arslan

– So much wasted potential in all categories, ending was unsatisfactory

For the café rating, it’s average even during its best moments. Did anyone else feel disappointed with this anime? If you had other thoughts, I’d be very interested to read them, but otherwise charge into the like button if you found my “spittin’ fire” on Arslan at all amusing. “Yashasuiin!” I won’t lie, if felt darn good to hate on something since all I do is spread cheer about shows. And right as I return, I must bid you all farewell again, so until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works 1st Season English Dub Thoughts

As you all know, I once again sold my left arm and my magic circuits over to Aniplex of America so that I could purchase their DVD set of the first season (episodes 1-12) for Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (TV). The fantasy action anime all about the 5th fight for that elusive chalice includes an all-new English dub. This is particularly exciting considering that I’m a veteran who watched the original Fate/stay night (2006) and the Unlimited Blade Works Movie (2010) in SUBTITLES. Curiosity did get the best of me, and I ended up watching segments from these Studio Deen adaptations, but their dubs sucked (just cuttin’ to the chase). Luckily, I pretty much only have positive reviews for the Ufotable version, so read on for more depth!

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This is just epic. To watch it go from simulcast, to Japanese set, to English DVD is a beautiful journey.

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While the image above is the cool slipcover art, the DVD case itself contains this absolutely stunning artwork. The only difference is that where the text is, the English logo for F/sn: UBW is stamped.

Let’s kick things off with Shirou Emiya, portrayed by the infamous Bryce Papenbrook. Now, Papenbrook has quite the streak in misplaced voice acting, his role of Kirito being my biggest turnoff. But for a character like Shirou, his age and position, I thought Papenbrook pulled things off without a hitch! He does a damn good job at imitating Noriaki Sugiyama’s rather high and somewhat obnoxious voice, so my hat’s off to you, Papenbrook!

On to everyone’s favorite tsundere mage, Rin Tohsaka is voiced by Mela Lee. Apparently Lee’s been with Tohsaka since the first dub of the adaptations, but every one of her performances lacked the natural stuck-up attitude I’ve been searching for – Until now. Once you get past the first hour-long pilot, Lee’s voice stops ringing in my ears and becomes one of the more fun – and pretentious – performances to hear from. It sure isn’t as great as Kana Ueda, but it’ll do.

B*tchy-Mc-B*tch-Face Archer is brought to life by the smart-assy Kaiji Tang (as you can see, I don’t fancy Archer). Brilliant in every way possible, Tang milks all that he can out of Archer and puts up a stunning fight on the vocal front. He, too, fits the range of voice necessary to Archer’s arrogant dialect. Love it!

And last (but certainly not least) for the main cast, Kari Wahlgren once again dons armor and all to surmise Queen-friggin’-Arthur herself – Saber! *Slight spoilers* Because she is no longer partnered with the cold and distant Kiritsugu from Fate/Zero, Saber speaks with much more curt and “oogly” expressions as she develops her relationship with her idiot partner. And since I don’t speak Japanese, Ayako Kawasumi’s five-star performance doesn’t come for me as naturally as it does with my native speak. I’m obviously biased to this [literally] English role, so I stop before the sparkles start gleaming ^.^

Since those are the main characters, I’ll just list the minors with a brief reaction:

Todd Haberkorn as Assassin – F*ck yeah, even though I kinda forgot whom he was in the original, I’ll now never forget! Just YES, YES TO ALL!

Megan Hollingshead as Caster – THIS RIGHT HERE was surprisingly fantastic! Caster’s sly, mature voice reflects so well in Hollingshead’s performance. It was also so darn sexy 😉

Matthew Mercer as Kiritsugu Emiya – He’s only around for a couple of flashbacks, but those are just enough to bring tears to your eyes as you recall Fate/Zero‘s tragedy.

Julie Ann Taylor as Fujinee, or Taiga Fujimura – Always. Excited. Is the Taiga. Fujinee~ has a very nice English voice actress, simple as that!

David Vincent as Gilgamesh – More F/Z carry-over drama, and in fact, Vincent has such a pompous and snarky that its perfect for the King of Heroes. We’ll hear more of him in the second season, though.

Dorothy Elias-Fahn as Kane Himuro – One of Tohsaka’s classmates, can’t say she was very memorable, but not bad either

Crispin Freeman as Kirei Kotomine – This is one “fake priest” that you don’t want to run into on a dark night. Freeman will never be as solid as Jouji Nakata, but so, so damn close! It was a pleasure to listen to Kirei’s rich, melt-in-your-mouth voice again.

Lex Lang as Souichirou Kuzuki – “Mr. Kuzuki” as he is in the dub also shares the same voice as Count Cruhteo from A.Z, who just happened to be one of my favorites! Ironically, he was Issei in the old dub, the student who shares residence with Kuzuki.

Tony Oliver as Lancer – Oh boy, oh boy, Lancer’s English voice will not disappoint whatsoever! I’ll admit, Nobutoshi Canna was excellent, but Oliver wins it for me!

Erica Lindbeck as Kaede Makidera – Another one of Tohsaka’s gals, nothing fancy

Kyle McCarley as Shinji Matou – Now, this might be the only exception to an otherwise wonderful English dub. McCarley’s not by any means bad; Hiroshi Kamiya just has a skimpier edge and superiority to the damned Shinji we all know and hate :>

Cristina Vee as Sakura Matou – Agh, it’s Cristina Vee – and aww, it’s Sakura! This combo goes hand in hand, but I’m interested to see if they’ll keep the same actress when “Heaven’s Feel” makes it over here in the States, fingers crossed.

Brina Palencia as Ayako Mitsuzuri – Mitsuzuri is given a shocking amount of lines despite her role, and it was on the tip of my tongue as to who voiced her – and it was this chick all along! Hooray for Brina Palencia, I just love hearing her voice 🙂

Melissa Fahn as Rider – And the most enchanting voice goes to Rider without a doubt!! *Slight spoiler* It’s a shame she doesn’t last very long, as I could listen to Rider talk on and on. Yet another reason why they should’ve adapted F/sn instead of UBW, but I digress. Fantastic job, Fahn!

Robbie Daymond as Issei Ryuudou – Just another guy in glasses, what can I say?

Jessica DiCicco as Yukika Saegusa – A friend of Tohsaka’s? Gosh, I don’t even remember who this is.

Stephanie Sheh as Illyasviel von Einzbern – We’re gonna finish this dub reaction strong with another veteran from the original series and Fate/Zero. Sheh’s “Time to kill you” cute/deadly Illya voice is one I really enjoy. While she did sound too mature in F/Z, her older reappearance tosses that issue away easily. I love Illya, and Sheh does her justice, she really does, and I can’t wait for the epic fight in the second half. The only thing I’ll miss is her charming “Bah-sah-kah” *cue superhuman barbarian with a huge-ass club charging at you*

Below is the English Dub Trailer Aniplex posted a while back. See it for yourself!

I don’t care who says they hate this dub. I don’t care who thinks Papenbrook is a terrible Shirou. I don’t care how much people think Rin’s voice is a letdown. I LOVE THIS DUB, and I will be buying the second season, mind you! It’s gonna be a tragic long wait for the second half, and yes, it will break my wallet, but what can I say – I support things that I like! For those curious, the sub is still superior, and I recommend watching the entire series on Crunchyroll before blindly buying this uber-expensive dub (cause it was an atrocious $80 USD for only the first half on DVD only). However, like with A.Z, I had so much fun each night plugging in each of the voices and watching the first half of the Fifth Holy Grail War play out all over again . . .

But you mages and Masters, what did you think of this new English dub? How do you think it stands up to all of the previous versions and the Japanese itself? I’ll await your answers in the comments below, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your Servant, in this war or the next

Nagi-Asu: Proving that Life is Simply Better Down Where It’s Wetter

A spoiler-free review of the 2013-2014 anime “Nagi no Asukara” or “Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea,” produced by P.A. Works.

I will sacrifice all of my worldly possessions if I could live in Shioshishio for a year. In fact, Umigami, just take my soul. I’ll even be the Ojoshi-sama if it means visiting this dreamlike underwater village. Please, give me Ena ~

Shioshishio, the enchanting undersea village

Since the dawn of humanity, civilization had lived on the ocean floor. As curiosity tugged at their legs (or fins), however, several humans migrated to the land, which caused a huge splintering in lifestyles. Upon their undersea school closing, Hikari, Manaka, Chisaki, and Kaname – four 14-year-old middle school kiddos – are forced to eke out education on land and adapt to the unfamiliar environment. They aren’t alone in terms of emotional struggle, though. Three surface kids – Tsumugu, Miyuna, and Sayu – must also confront their feelings before the whole lot grows older, and the rift between the sea and the land, old and young, tears the two parties apart.

It should become clear right off the bat that we’re dealing with seven individuals, which means in terms of coupling someone will be left out. As dramatic as that sounds, Nagi-Asu manages to keep a level head, never allowing said drama to grow out of hand nor become overbearing. That’s not to say that the show is lighthearted, though! Uh, no, it’s got just the right amount of spice, but in that way, has its own way of plucking your heart strings, and thankfully it doesn’t ever snap them. The anime incorporates themes of love by using slice-of-life tactics, and it overwhelmingly succeeds on this front.

See, love – it’s easy as Hikari loves Manaka, but Manaka falls in love with Tsumugu, though Chisaki might have a crush on Hikari, but Kaname is already in love with Chisaki, and . . .

Oh the water physics – don’t try to wrap your head around it. Just admire its subtle beauty and convenience . . . writing on paper, running around, boiling food on the ocean floor . . . What is this, SpongeBob!?

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But moreover, once the drama wave sinks back into the ocean, we are left with a story about innocent crab children crawling out of their shells to deliver their unrequited love to one another. Because the characters are so unexperienced with the notion, and have even grown up together in the local village, it’s vital to pay attention to each of their reactions to the sudden emotional turns taken in the series. Thankfully, the animation directors have a very keen eye for these delicate matters, and display facial expressions with such passion! Props to the VAs, too, for putting up equally impressive vocal performances, especially Hanae Natsuki’s youthful role as Hikari and Kana Hanazawa’s adorable Manaka!

Let’s talk about those characters now. I’ll admit, they’re a great, well-developed bunch, but the only one whom particularly snatched my attention was the main character himself, Hikari Sakishima. Born ‘n raised in the deep blue, he harbors a distinct hate towards the land people. Specifically speaking, he loathes the silent but strong Tsumugu for him loving his little Manaka – or rather, Manaka sneaking a peak at this dark-tanned land dweller. Underneath his layers of stubbornness, Hikari prematurely believed that he and Manaka were an assumed pairing. Manaka has other plans. Throughout the series, Hikari struggles with his passive relationship with his other friend, Chisaki, and we witness him grow from a boy to a man (kinda sorta, not physically at least :3)!

I have much to say about the art and animation, but it’d do you justice to simply marvel at the “environmental porn” surrounding the sea village itself and its sister harbor above. The animators always use the color blue. In fact, it’s in every frame of the series. Sharply contrasting the magnificent hue is orange, blue’s complementary color. Whether it be the rust on the boats moored at the dock or the land school’s uniforms, orange manages to cancel out blue’s magic. Not only is it smart cinematography, but the most effective. Nagi-Asu is truly is the prettiest anime series I have ever seen!

There’s only one word to describe this OST: Heart. It has a lot of heart. While lively guitar strums out the cheerful opening tone, fitting for the youthful boasts of Hikari, a bittersweet piano slides in to caress the emotional moments featured in the series. “Cry for the Moon,” “Tears of the Sea,” “Prayer,” “Solitude,” and “The Ofunehiki Song” are the best examples of this mood. I could listen to this soundtrack for hours on end, but then only feel depressed that I spent so much time out of the water’s embrace 🙂

To add to the praise, I must admit that both of Ray’s openings, “lull ~Soshite Bokura wa~” and “ebb and flow” are so incredibly fitting for the undersea atmosphere! They make me want to swim around in cool, clear waters with all of my friends. But we can’t forget “Aqua Terrarium” by Nagi Yanagi, the first ending, which depicts the cold, deep blue ocean floor with a frozen Manaka.

It would be a crime to not watch Nagi-Asu. The art is divine and animation of this quality is rare to come by! Always, the story kept me intrigued, and the romance between the characters tied the package all together! But I can’t help but regret the switch to the above ground in the second half, especially when they had so much going for them down where it was wetter. So much life; carefree days of youth. The surface is a bitter cold. Adults struggle to make a living, and kids don’t have as near wide of smiles as the Shioshishio squad. Growing up and realizing your feelings, whether they are for others or nature, was a deeply felt theme in the anime. However much I disliked the change, the two halves of the series were the twin tides that brought the message in the bottle to the salty shore; truthfully, both were needed.

“Having feelings for someone just brings sorrow to someone else. Someone always gets sacrificed and suffers. If this is what it means to fall in love . . . then falling in love is terrible.” – Hikari Sakishima

+ Story felt fresh; romance and drama were never too overbearing, but enough to convey true feelings of love

+ Characters were very well-developed and entertaining, notably Hikari and maybe Chisaki

+ Themes of old vs. young, love of people vs. nature were demonstrated with a content satisfaction

+ UNDER THE FREAKIN’ SEA, absolutely stellar art and consistent superior animation quality

+ A rich OST full of heart, appropriate instruments to enhance the mood

– Switch from underwater to above land was somewhat disappointing

– A few interfering elements to the story were ‘too’ supernatural

I have returned to anime reviews! Do you prefer this new format over the previous one? It’s a work in progress, but I’m trying to find a style I’m completely satisfied with. Did you have similar thoughts about this under-the-sea fantasy drama/rom-com? Different? For the café menu, Nagi-Asu receives a solid 9/10, and I strongly recommend you watch this show on Crunchyroll – and it’s free of all things, so no excuses! If you enjoyed the review, feel free to caress that like button like a red-bellied sea slug, as that’ll let me know if you like my content! Ah, how grand it feels to be back to these reviews ~ Until next time everyone, this has been

– Takuto, your host