2019 Holiday Haul #3 – Tokyo Otaku Mode Pickups

Hello all!

We’re back today with yet another holiday haul. Seems kinda weird to be sharing about more stuff I bought when I just underwent a huge “unhaul” on my collection, but worry not: all of the items in this haul will be kept nicely in my home.

Ready to see what I preordered from TOM many moons ago? Let’s do it!

It seems classic for me to begin a haul with a soundtrack now, so here we’ve got the OST for Free! – Dive to the Future. I love Tatsuya Katou’s work, you all should know since I’ve only picked up every single Free! OST ever. And I kid you not when I say this, but this third season OST just might be the best one so far! It helps that TOM had this discounted half the price, too. 🙂

Makoto Shinkai art books are a bit of a rarity here in the states, so I had to snag this import from TOM while it was on sale. This is probably the most gorgeous single art book I own, and not just for the content. The thick cardstock sleeve on the left slips over the actual book like an o-card would on a Blu-ray, and the book itself has bold blue foil printing on its cover and spine. All of the pages are printed on heavy quality paper, with the cover and back having a soft lined texture to them. It’s a beautiful little set!

Alright, time for some Fate stuff. Also another rare find in the states, this imported art book and little set of postcards are from Fate/Zero and The Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II, respectively. I’m a sucker for anything Fate, so it was a lucky find when I found this hundred dollar book discounted for just $30! While I believe the bread and butter of the franchise’s beauty lies in the character designs, it’s cool to have background art from two of my favorite Nasuverse titles!

Attack of the Nendos!! Here we’ve got a beloved character from the hit anime, Miss Zoe Hange of Attack on Titan fame in all her badass glory. I love her expressions, they’re so cheeky. The cloak is also a fantastic touch. What’s left to say? She’s fun, gorgeous, and ready to fight!

Now, of course I wouldn’t send a scout into battle alone, so here’s a reprint that I was fortunate enough to pick up: the feisty, angry boi himself, Eren Yeager! Guys, these two look so cool next to each other. The strong peg stand allows for lots of mobility and possibly for poses, including these dynamic midair shots I have them posed in. Really happy to have my favorite characters from the series in Nendo form!

Oh no, now for my other trash favorites haha. I’m a huge SAO fan, ok? Especially for Alicization. In fact, the Alicization story is what made me like Kirito as a character, so when they put up the preorder for this guy way back when, there was no hesitation in ordering the bro clad in black. I think the SAO character style in general transfers really nice into Nendo form. No regrets here, especially when you see the next guy I picked up . . .

AHHHHHH MY HEART IT’S MY FAVORITE BOY EVERRRRR!!! Would you believe me if I told you that I only picked up Kiri cause he’d match his partner here? HAHA! He’s one of my favorite figures I own, I just love how they did all of his poses—and the icy rose vines, ughhhh, so beautiful! My favorite SAO character sits valiantly on my shelf next to the others, officially completing the Rulid Trio if you add in Alice from the previous figure haul. Love these three with all my heart! ❤

I love Eugeo lots, but we save the King of Heroes for last, of course. Guys, GUYS, here he is, Gilgamesh in all his Babylonia glory, just as the original legend depicts him. Well, sort of. Just like the Fate/Zero Gil (another fave figure of mine), this one featured the shimmering Gate of Babylon behind him as an extra piece. I find it so cool how this one contains a different set of weapons from his Storehouse of the Gods—they’re all staffs of varying styles, fit for this new Caster form he’s taken in the Grand Order story. He’s such an amazing Nendo, the pictures just don’t do our King justice!


Well, that’s all I’ve got for now! I’ll have more Holiday Haul posts coming likely after Christmas cause, you know, gifts and such. But also who knows, cause another TOM packaged just arrived the other day that I’m just dying to show off bahahaha. Let me know if you’d like a closer look at any of the LTD ED sets, art books, or figures I featured in these past three hauls and I can totally do a separate review post on them just for you! I’d love to hear any thoughts on these pickups in the comments, too. Remember, ONLY but what will bring you happiness, 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

On Love, Loneliness, & the Growing Distance Between Us | The Works of Makoto Shinkai

Have you ever had that “feeling”? You know the one—when you notice yourself suddenly skipping about here and there, flattering others in an uncharacteristically cheery way that makes them remark, “I want what they’re having!” Some call that expression—that intense feeling of deep affection, interest, or yearning—love. It’s but a simple four-letter word, and yet it can give some people enough purpose and motivation to perform wild, breathtaking feats, going to the greatest of lengths just for that shared pleasure of joy. “Love makes the world go round,” it truly does.

Such a complex and powerful emotion often finds its way into animation. Specifically, the romance genre of anime holds steady as one of the field’s experts. Its incredible variety masterfully demonstrates that love is not only sweet and tender, but can also be realistically crushing and emotionally devastating.

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The latter is the kind of stories director Makoto Shinkai likes to tell. Rather than measuring up as a statistically sound series or film—that is, a rated “10/10” on various elements such as plot, pacing, characters, animation (his forte), sound etc.—Shinkai films excel at eliciting a feeling, usually on the heartache end of the emotional spectrum. To quote his latest award-winning hit, Your Name., Shinkai’s films provide, simply put, “Nothing more or less than a breathtaking view.” Each possess their own fair share of flaws, some more than others, but beyond the little plot holes lies a relatable character struggle that just might tread a path you yourself have walked.

And it’s exactly that strong resonance between one’s own experiences and Shinkai’s ill-fated cast which makes him one of the bests in the industry. Everyone wants to feel connected to others, and Shinkai depicts through his picture-perfect worlds what that connection is really like, and why it isn’t always everything that we wanted after all.

In the iconic, beautifully cruel style which solidified his films as masterworks of modern animation, Makoto Shinkai appeals to humanity’s most innate fears of rejection and loss by directing his characters through the timeless themes of love, loneliness, and the growing distance which separates people as time goes on. These lessons teach us that though life has its fair share of heartbreak, each relationship we stumble into and every opportunity we miss out on still carries the potential to live out a better tomorrow—you just have to look beyond the distance.

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A comparative study and light analysis on the works of Makoto Shinkai. For each title, I will delve into the big issues or “separators” at hand, factoring in whether the story’s realism and emotions which the endings provoke somehow determine the possibilities for happiness and sadness alike. As such, SPOILERS for nearly all of his films WILL BE PRESENT. Also, these will NOT be individual reviews for each title. For those prepared to relive all of these amazing films, enjoy!

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(NONE OF THIS GORGEOUS ARTWORK BELONGS TO ME. All praise and ownership goes to Makoto Shinkai and CoMix Wave Films.)

She and Her Cat (1999)

I will always be by your side. After all, I am your cat.

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Aside from the music (by Tenmon), this 4-minute short was completely created by Shinkai alone, marking the early beginnings of his budding career as not only an animator and writer, but also a director. It’s the short tale of an average Japanese girl living in an apartment told from the viewpoint of Chobi, her beloved cat. Chobi speaks formally and passionately about his owner, yet he still has this pure, unclouded perspective of a cat. Arguably his softest work yet, She and Her Cat: Their Standing Points stood out due to its innovative (and awfully cute) exploration of love.

What ultimately separates the two from “eloping” is, well, obvious—“She” is a human girl, a woman, while Chobi is a cat. It’s an unusual relationship, but that doesn’t stop the film from being so unrealistic as to the plot being “impossible.” The woman, nicknamed Kanojo by the community, faces her own hardships in the real world (including a possible love interest), and though Chobi would like to know what she does and where she goes once she closes their apartment door, he understands that her life likely isn’t all sunshine and roses—it doesn’t really concern him. All that matters to him is that she returns home at the end of a long day.

Like with all of Shinkai’s films to follow, what separates them (different species, the “language barrier”) also unites them, for through each others warm embrace—that of a cat and his owner—they find comfort and care. Simple, peaceful, heartwarming.

Voices of a Distant Star (2002)

We may be the first generation of lovers separated by time and space.

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Stepping up his game, yet still working alone (aside for Tenmon’s gorgeous piano and string score), Shinkai quotes this rather aged 2002 short film as the piece which put him out in the world. Set in the near future, mankind’s ambition to explore space separates Nagamine and Noboru, a young girl and boy in junior high. As Noboru enters high school, Nagamine is sent off on an expedition into space’s infinite depths. The farther she strays away from Earth and her Noboru-kun, the longer it takes for their texts to reach one another. Minutes turn into hours, days, weeks, months, and soon—

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Though inventive at its time, the 3D graphics haven’t aged all too well. But thematically, Voices of a Distant Star packs more of an emotional punch than most 12-episode series could today—and this film only clocks in at 25 minutes, including the credits! It seems as if the big separator in Voices is the physical distance, but waiting for their messages of goodwill to traverse the vast blank void that is space ushers in another factor: time. As Nagamine’s unchanging body fights on (in what I can only imagine to be early-2000 Shinkai’s mecha dream-of-a-giant robot), Noboru ages at what feels like an alarming pace. In reality, his growth rate is no different from any of ours is, but the way Shinkai conveys the rapid passage of time only accentuates our lovers’ tragedy. Is it realistic? Even as a sci-fi flick, not really. But does its bittersweet run end on an ambiguously hopeful note? Absolutely.

Voices is arguably the first film in Shinkai’s line-up to convey this notion that perhaps the lack of realism can lead to a happy ending. Very interesting . . .

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)

On those now-distant days, we made a promise we couldn’t keep.

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To tackle the 1 hr. 30 min. length of this next film, Shinkai needed a team. Between his early beginnings and now in 2004, he partnered with the animation studio CoMix Wave Films. The results—The Place Promised in Our Early Days visually blew audiences away, nearly more so than with 2002’s Voices. Set near the turn of the century in an alternate reality Japan, which is split by America and the Soviet Union, young boys Hiroki and Takuya aim to fly to the top of the fantastical, unbelievably high Hokkaido Tower using an old drone. While at first a secret for just the two of them, Sayuri, a girl Hiroki and Takuya both like but would never admit to one another, discovers their secret, leading to the boys putting their project on indefinite hiatus. When Sayuri suddenly disappears from their life, however, the two come to realize that reaching the mysterious tower—the promised dream of their childhood—might be the only way to save her.

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Hiroki and Takuya experience a loss of youth, of innocence, as they learn to develop their own dreams and ideologies different from their childish musings. What once united them in friendship tears them apart, and the disappearance of Sayuri and discovery of her untimely illness are what kicked off the depressing events that plague the film’s middle. To watch two friends come at each other’s throat can be painfully real to some, as we’ve all have our fair share of little spats with friends. Additionally, I’m sure we’ve all seen sickness and temptation take the life of a loved one and push them into a place beyond our reach. Thankfully, a happy reunion awaits the cast at the end, leading to the belief of how sacrifice can yield rebirth.

Once again, Shinkai writes with a science fiction mind, and although people still relate to Hiroki and Takuya, the entire premise is unrealistic, nothing more than a child’s fantasy. Can you still learn from it? Of course, but come Shinkai’s next film, reality takes a turn for the worst—the start of a tragic trend.

5 Centimeters Per Second (2007)

At what speed must I live to be able to see you again?

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Here it is, Shinkai’s greatest creation (thematically, that is). I’m sure it needs no introduction, unlike his more obscure early works, but in case you forgot, it’s the story of two very close friends and classmates: Takaki Toono and Akari Shinohara. Elementary school should be a time of play and triviality, but for these two, such isn’t the case. Rather than run around on the playground, Takaki and Akari would rather read in the library, or simply chat about life’s musings. Just as they become close, however, Akari’s family plans to move. Takaki and Akari send letters to one another, but Akari only continues to move further and further away. In a final attempt to see Akari before she’s beyond his limits, Takaki sets out to reunite with her. His unlucky trek attracts a cold winter’s blizzard, delaying the series of trains to Akari’s town. But that doesn’t stop the two from finally, FINALLY meeting once again. And boy, does your heart just melt the frost away.

Equal parts faith and love, Takaki made the effort to travel out in the cold, sure, but Akari was the one who waited—the one who sat there miserable and alone with nothing to do but pray that her young love was on his way. It was proof that their love should be everlasting, but alas, that’s not the story Shinkai is trying to tell. In this first episode, it is a physical distance which separates our main couple.

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A chain of short stories about their distance.

After this touching first episode, the film enters its next “story.” Time passes on. Takaki, too, moves away from his hometown to the warm regions of Tanegashima (a stark contrast to the first episode’s frigid finale). Now a high schooler, Takaki meets a new girl, and though she tries to admit her feelings to him, Takaki knows all along that his heart only belongs to one person: the woman of his past. Time and other relationships have left him traveling aimlessly. In the final episode, Takaki is old. Maybe not in the physical sense, as late 20s—early 30s is still quite young, but his spirit definitely seems lost—his heart broken from years without seeing or hearing from her.

The painful reality is that, as life would have it, she has moved on, already engaged to another man. And that’s just it—the final separator which drives these now-unrelated adults is life itself. Life is always changing, and as we continue down our own paths, we sometimes have to leave others behind.

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At its core, 5 Centimeters Per Second strives to present one’s “first love,” and how difficult it is to hold onto it—so much so that it almost feels not worth experiencing at all. Takaki, by his end, is lonely, depressed, and empty. It’s a sad film, yet a brutally honest one. Shinkai’s first feature-length film in a world without giant robots or fantasy towers is painfully real, and that aspect remains what distinguishes Shinkai from today’s anime directors. By this point, Makoto Shinkai had earned the appreciation and respect of his more mature adult viewers.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)

This is the journey to know the meaning of “goodbye.”

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Shinkai returns to the realm of fiction with this next film. Clearly inspired by the magical presentation of Studio Ghibli movies, the story follows young Asuna, an excellent student who maintains her family’s house in a rural town during her mother’s absence. Aside from spending time with nature, Asuna is alone. She finds escapism in her secret hideout up in the mountains, and frequently tunes into her old crystal radio for relaxation. One day, she unexpectedly picks up on a curious frequency: a rather melancholic melody, different from any song she had ever heard before. As if fated to meet, a mysterious boy named Shun rescues Asuna from a wild, bizarre creature, unintentionally dragging Asuna and her teacher, Mr. Morisaki, on a perilous journey to Agartha, a land long-lost to time and human presence.

Though not his smartest film by any means, Shinkai has been longing to visit this colorful, enchanting world—Agartha—for some time now. The luscious planet upon which Nagamine lands in Voices of a Distant Star; the domain where the comatose Sayuri resides in The Place Promised in Our Early Days; Takaki Toono’s realm of dreams in 5 Centimeters Per Second—each time this wondrous world reappears, it offers comfort to the characters. Not coincidentally, the design remains the same, too. From the gorgeously iconic “Shinkai clouds” to the seas of green grass and remains of old ruins, Agartha FINALLY gets the thorough fleshing-out that it has since deserved, and I’m just glad we got to go there at long last.

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But Children Who Chase isn’t all sunshine and roses. Awaiting Asuna and Morisaki is an adventure rife with death, and a thorough demonstration as to what happens when man attempts to bring those passed back to life. Foolish, blind greed and a gaping sense of loss are what separate Morisaki from someone pure-hearted like Asuna. But in the same way, the journey of letting go and understanding what “goodbye” truly means allows for the film to end with an odd, lukewarm sensation of happiness. Adventure yields danger, but to those who learn their lessons, the hope to live a fulfilling life burns on. God may be a cruel teacher, but so is history.

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Children Who Chase Lost Voices is far from a realistic story, and thus, the pattern of Shinkai’s fantasies ending contentedly continues. Is he trying to say that reality is just full of heartache and nothing else? Perhaps so with his next couple of films.

The Garden of Words (2013)

Before there was love, there was loneliness.

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A personal favorite of mine, Shinkai’s The Garden of Words provides a 46-minute feels trip through an unusual couple’s short-lived romantic spat.

Tenmon takes a break from the music to allow talent like Daisuke Kashiwa’s immersive piano soliloquies to establish an atmosphere unlike ANY other. And the visuals—THIS is the incredible level of quality which defines Makoto Shinkai’s digital landscaping, lighting, and realism today. Visually, The Garden of Words remains the most beautiful short film I have ever seen, and it will probably hold that title for a long time to come!

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On a rainy morning in Tokyo, aspiring shoemaker Takao Akizuki does what every student on a rainy day wishes they could do—he skips class to sketch designs in the city’s beautiful garden. Thinking he’d be all alone in this calm misty weather, he accidentally meets a beautiful yet reserved young woman. Her name is Yukari Yukino, and though she continues to skip out work to drink and eat chocolates in the garden, Takao takes a liking to her poetic words. To [figuratively] get her back on her feet, Takao offers to make Yukino new shoes. And thus they vow to themselves: for each day it rains, I will spend time with her/him.

More rainy days arrive, and as the two secretly convene in their garden of words—of shared acceptance and belonging—the two unknowingly start to lighten their own personal burdens just by being together. Tokyo’s rainy season may be long, but like all good things, it doesn’t last forever. As warmer days creep ahead and the chance for precipitation diminishes, Takao and Yukino’s relationship risks drying up like the rain which brought them together.

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The Garden of Words paints the true vision of life’s loneliness before love intervenes. It’s the gentle story about finding solace in another, and learning to alleviate one’s personal worries through something as simple as conversation. At first, a lack of courage casts Takao and Yukino as an awkward couple. Only after Yukino is revealed to be a teacher at his school do we see the true separator at hand: the age gap, and the societal notions that place stigmas on teacher–student relationships. YUKINO KNEW THE WHOLE TIME, yet held of on saying anything for fear of judgement. And in the end, Takao yells at her, forcing her on her feet through their compelling emotional conflict.

Realistic in every sense of the word, its finale feels bittersweet, yet resolved. Separated from each other, the two resume pursuing their own personal aspirations. Though somewhat sad, in truth the ending is optimistic about the different directions Takao and Yukino take, as it was through comfort in one another’s presence which allowed them to find their way back on the path—and with a stronger, more confident “footing” this time around.

The Garden of Words rings true as the new Shinkai standard, but thematically, it revolutionized Shinkai’s game: for the first time, a realistic story does, in fact, yield a happy ending.

Someone’s Gaze (2013)

There are a lot of things you two have forgotten.

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Returning to form, Makoto Shinkai cranks out another charming yet touching short (6 minutes in length) with the release of The Garden of Words. It hearkens waaay back to his beginnings, with the simple yet relatable tale of a girl and her cat. Aa-chan lives in a near-future Japan, and has recently made the big transition of living on her own following graduation and the start of a new job. With her mother working overseas as a doctor, her loving father is left behind at the apartment with the family cat, Mii-san, who happens to be very old by this point. Seeking a way to reach out to her, her father tries several times to reconnect with his distancing child, but the gap is too awkward for him to bridge. Eventually Mii-san passes away, but this sudden grief holds the power to reunite a tired daughter, a busy mother, and a lonely father.

All that emotional energy conveyed in such a short time serves to remind us as to Shinkai’s greatest strength, that is, being able to make his viewers experience heartbreak followed by hope (or hopelessness) in a matter of mere minutes. Someone’s Gaze is especially relatable, as the burnout experienced by today’s youth and the parental fear of their children growing up in today’s world both hit us hard at some point in our lives. With maturity comes opportunity, but that often involves temporarily leaving an old way of life—and the people in it—behind. In truth, familial bonds change over time, and as we grow up, it can be hard to maintain that “want” to communicate.

Like The Garden of Words, Shinkai permits for a realistic story to end optimistically hopeful, perhaps marking that the guy really is turning a new leaf from his long history of depressing, failed love stories.

Cross Road (2014)

I sought to find something great, and while it may not have been what I expected, I found something . . . or rather, someone. 

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Although this latest short is actually just a 2-minute commercial for the Z-Kai cram schools, it was still directed by Shinkai, and holds that same breathtaking, picture-perfect style to boot. As college entrance examinations draw near, two students living completely different lives focus their time and energy into a correspondence education service. Juggling their studies with their already-involved daily lives, the two diligently work towards that high goal of college admission, unaware of how much they share in common. It’s a brief yet inspiring “work hard, play hard” preview into a film that I can only imagine would’ve been absolutely stunning had it received the length it deserved. Not as absurd as those 30-second Cup Noodle ads, but even just a couple minutes more would have doubled the story’s length. I suppose we don’t always get what we want; such is life.

Despite the let-down of a run time, Cross Road still manages to follow a truncated version of the Shinkai formula: two individuals in similar situations are separated by different lives, but their unexpected meeting reveals that, through hard work, the hope to overcome their challenges increases. Call this a lighthearted take on the next and final film—the realistic outcome of what possibly could have been.

Your Name. (2016)

Wherever you are in the world, I swear I will find you again—no matter what. 

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Your Name. exploded onto the anime scene, continuing to break record after record until it became the highest-grossing anime film in the world (among other nominations). Funimation and Madman Entertainment’s combined efforts to license, dub, and promote the film through staggered theatrical releases maintained its hype not just for the remainder of 2016, but for most of 2017, too. Even now, anime fans who are finally getting around to watching it share their praise with the community, reviving the excitement of this rom-com drama to no end. By this point, Your Name. wasn’t just another Shinkai film—it was a moving, breathing phenomenon.

Like any high school girl born and raised in the Japanese countryside, Mitsuha Miyamizu craves the wonder and excitement of city life. Unfortunately for her, the family’s shrine needs its maiden, restricting Mitsuha to her life in the boonies. Meanwhile in the lively Tokyo, high school student Taki Tachibana labors away at his part-time job with the hopes of eventually pursuing a career in architecture.

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One day, Mitsuha awakens to an unfamiliar ceiling, but the chic apartment and bright view of the city skyscrapers instantly identify as Tokyo. “This is my dream life! But wait . . . wha—I’m in a boy’s body!” Out in the countryside, Taki finds himself waking up in a similar frightening situation. A strange phenomenon swapped the two’s places, and in order to figure out the reasons for their predicament, Taki and Mitsuha live out random days in the other’s shoes, learning about the differing lifestyles, and that above all, fate works in mysterious ways. As Taki and Mitsuha desparately begin searching for the other, their actions begin to dramatically impact the course of destiny, forever altering the threads of fate which tie them together.

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Your Name. almost feels like the culmination of all of Shinkai’s themes, plot points, and even character personalities that make a work, well, Makoto Shinkai’s. Enormous skies, photo-realistic cities, intense lighting, a calm atmospheric music score, themes based on things taken for granted in daily life, and lots of trains. THIS is what Shinkai represents to us now, and on that cinematographic level, Your Name. is perfection. (Also, like, Radwimps wrote the greatest insert songs to an anime EVER.)

A girl and a boy torn apart by an impossible distance, but brought together through circumstance and, of course, fate. At first, that distance is literal: Taki lives in Tokyo, while Mitsuha resides miles away living her humble country life. And part of that is the trick, the gimmick behind the landscape facade, for as soon as the big reveal of the comet Tiamat’s destruction is made, BOOM—time turns out to be the true separator here. Though Taki felt confident and sure of this feeling tugging at his heart, his confession was sadly three years too late.

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And because of this he suffers. Mitsuha suffers. These star-crossed lovers save their beloved Itamori and all its kind, caring folk, BUT—as if their story weren’t painful enough—one last divider severs their last chance of reuniting: their memories of each other are lost to time. Is it a realistic element? Hardly, but it does lead to one of the most happily fulfilling endings I’ve ever experienced. Here’s why.

Makoto Shinkai’s latest film borders on tragedy. Up until this point, it was about to become the biggest heart-breaker in anime film history. But thankfully, Your Name. appreciates a sort of cosmic balance to all the good we do—Shinkai calls that seemingly magical, underlying, connecting force musubi, and we can thank it for honoring Mitsuha and Taki’s feelings for one another. By the film’s end, the two are left with just that—a subtle feeling of the all their shared struggles, surprises, happiness, sadness, inspiration, appreciation, love. . . now memories lost to a different time.

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But when distance tried to physically separate them, Taki and Mitsuha took the trains;

When time placed a rift between them, dreams gave them clues to find each other;

When katewaredoki briefly cut their first meeting short, Mitsuha fought on to finish Taki’s mission;

When memories of one another’s name left their minds, love held on tightly to that lingering feeling—that’s why Taki wrote “I love you” on Mitsuha’s hand, for bridging the timeline gap at twilight involves giving up memories of the other. Names will fade, but emotions have the power to transcend time;

And when tragedy attempted to end their tale of romance and miracles, fate reconnected the strands of love to the cord of hope. Thus, Taki and Mitsuha became destined to meet again.

Separated by distance, connected by fate.

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What Shinkai’s Works Have Taught Me

Have you ever felt that “feeling,” that despair of something that can’t be changed or is beyond your reach, but you still long for it anyway? I’d like to call it “love,” but Makoto Shinkai interprets such a complex emotion as “longing in solitude.” It is only through loneliness that we understand what compassion really feels like, after all.

Shinkai’s works tend to feature unusual yet somewhat realistic relationships, which more so play out as bittersweet than truly tear-jerking (save for maybe Your Name.) He covers a broad range of relationship stages, too, from the cutting of ties and moving on (5 Centimeters Per Second) to the early beginnings of expression (Garden of Words). Unlike most film writers and directors, he delves into themes like pain, longing, yearning, loneliness, and emptiness to give the audience stronger, almost more common emotions to connect with. His creative use of time laps emphasizes this distance or emotional disconnect that the characters and audience experience, and his hyper-realistic visuals never fail to immerse you in the setting he wants, be it on faraway roving fields of green, a quiet Tokyo apartment, or a rainy day in the park.

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Most of all, through distance, Shinkai is able to explore the gap between two people’s feelings: why it exists, and how it is a natural part of the human experience. Life isn’t that glamorous fairy tale that Disney or Hollywood make it out to be. Instead, Shinkai tells us it can be messy, and often times painful to shoulder alone. It’s okay to fall both in love and out of it, as people are always changing. He also teaches that you can, in fact, grow as an adult; emotional maturity has nothing to do with one’s age, for even as adults we can get lost on our path. 

None of us are invulnerable to emotional struggle, grief, and even depression. But none of us are forever doomed to loneliness, either—such is why even his most realistic works end in both sadness and happiness. After studying all of his films, I can confirm that NO CORRELATION between the level of realism and whether the ending is positive or negative exists, as Shinkai doesn’t sugarcoat the reality we live in. He presents it for what it is, which has its fair share of good and bad times.

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Ultimately, no amount of magic or sci-fi gimmicks can determine whether YOU chase after the ending you want, for you, too, are constantly growing and learning new things. The hope that we can always change for the better resides within us all—you simply have to decide who you want to be for yourself, and make that leap of faith over the scary distance to connect with another. While you’re at it, don’t forget to enjoy life’s little things we often take for granted.

In Makoto Shinkai’s picturesque, emotionally charged films, I found a rekindled passion for life’s hidden beauties, and so long as he continues to explore the growing distance between us and how finding solace in another can heal our emotional wounds, I’ll always look forward to his next creation.

I still don’t know what it really means to grow up. However, if I happen to meet you, one day in the future, by then, I want to become someone you can be proud to know. –Makoto Shinkai, 5 Centimeters Per Second

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Afterwords

At a touch over 5,000 words, this is officially the longest post I’ve ever written, and if you read all of it, you’re my favorite person ever—I hope you learned something new! As you can tell, Makoto Shinkai’s works mean a good deal to me. Most find them repetitive, as in “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” But really, that’s not the case, as each offers a different commentary on relationships and life, even if the execution or premises feel very much the same. So instead of fighting against the argument, I wanted to write this—to leave behind my innermost thoughts and emotions on Shinkai’s films in hopes that whoever stumbles upon this in the future might feel the same way, and that I can comfort them with my musings.

Have you ever resonated with one of Makoto Shinkai’s films, be it his oldest shorts or his latest hits? If so, do you happen to have a favorite or two? I want to know! If you’re fairly new to this director, was Your Name. your introduction to Shinkai’s scenic style? You have to let me know that, too! I’ve met several new faces (including a dear friend) through Your Name.‘s theater experience (which you can read about here), and I hope that you, too, get the chance to share one of his films with a friend or even a lover.

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This officially concludes my comparative study over the creative works of Makoto Shinkai. It’s been a long time coming, what with the writing process and reserving time to rewatch ALL of Shinkai’s films in order, and I’m finally glad I got to share it with you. Despite being terrifyingly long, it’s one of those posts I feel proud to have written. Please let me know any thoughts of the films or this post down in the comments, as I’d love to hear your feedback! Also, feel free to share this to any Shinkai fans you know out there!

As it happens to be on love and romance, I saved writing this post for February, so Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear readers! Whether you spend this season of love with others or save it for yourself, know that I’ll always be wishing you good health and happiness! Thank you so, so much for reading this lengthy analysis—’till next time!

With much love,

– Takuto, your host

Gurren Lagann: The Larger-Than-Life Story of Us | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 27-episode spring 2007 anime “Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann” or simply “Gurren Lagann,” produced by Gainax, based on original story by Hiroyuki Imaishi and Kazuki Nakashima.


Imagine your whole world being contained within a shabby cardboard box. There are no cracks, so light doesn’t penetrate through the sides, and inside the box is nothing but a floor of dirt. This is life, and it the only time-waster is digging deeper in hope of discovery.

Then one day, *chink!* “What is this?” You find a key buried fantastically deep under your feet. Perhaps you confused your increased heart rate with the rumbling of the box, but suddenly, the cardboard flaps burst open and a giant face gazes down on you. So what now?? With possibility erupting with every new experience, you rise to your feet and step outside the box. Is this a room? You run out the door. So this is a building? You flee to the street where an unimaginable light floods your vision. Shocked yet determined, the sun, the stars, and the ever-expanding universe await your exploring spirit.

Breaking the Surface

Such is the story that Gurren Lagann tells, and it does so marvelously. In a world where people are forced to eke out a living underground for fear of what roams above, we hone in on a little boy named Simon who, among his grungy village neighbors and peers, is pitied as a quiet loner with no real dreams. He is just another digger, though quite skilled, who spends his youth drilling deep beneath the crust for artifacts long-lost. Any excitement in Simon’s life stems directly from his boisterous “bro” Kamina, a defiant ruffian with cool shades who remains hell-bent on leaving behind the village and scouting the wondrous surface.

And excitement is just what Simon gets when he uncovers a drill-shaped key and a giant robot head. Putting two and two together, Simon and Kamina activate the newly dubbed machine “Lagann” to fight against an even larger robot that falls from the surface. Amidst the chaos, the guys meet the red-headed rifle-wielding Yoko Littner, a girl who roams the upper lands.

Tossed into the sky by an enormous EXPLOSION, the vastness world above becomes clear to Simon and Kamina. Teaming up with Yoko and her gang, the grand struggle between the Gunman-wielding “Beastmen” and the renegade humans only intensifies until their rancor reaches the edge of the galaxy — and beyond.

Inspiration, Purpose, and Fate

Carving their names in history, the squad is always breathing on the edge of tomorrow. Their determination to live free lives under the sun, fueled primarily by Kamina’s leadership, allows them to stand such a miraculous chance against an enemy who has conquered basically the known universe. It’s an inspiring tale, that’s for certain, and watching Kamina take a shit on the “ignorance is bliss” message is half the fun. If you don’t know what it is, KICK ITS ASS. If it’s hot on your trail and stealing your women, KICK ITS ASS. Let nothing stand in your way of learning and growing as a human.  

There’s not much else I can say about the story other than what I covered in the intro. I mean, it starts as a small quarrel in the bar, then gets moved out into the streets. Soon blocks are all fighting each other before it becomes dueling towns, kingdoms, continents, planets, galaxies — I think you get the picture. Each enemy is tenfold stronger than the one that came before it. The world’s energy, known as Spiral Power, can be seen as a metaphysical embodiment of inspiration, drive, purpose, intention — Whatever you want to call it, it’s about overcoming any obstacle, no matter the size. And I like that a lot. Gurren Lagann wants fate to be left in our hands, not in those of a third party observer.

The Gurren Crew

The characters all range from as gentle and quirky as Simon to the bombastic Kamina to Yoko’s tech junkie (and rather gay friend) Leeron (who is, yes, my favorite character). Like its ever-expanding story, we’ll watch Simon go from boy on the sideline to a man in the front. He’ll borrow traits from the foes he faces and the allies he makes, but more prominently, Simon will not only step outside of Kamina’s brazen shadow, but cast his own in due course.

I want to say a lot about Kamina, but the only words I can use are “WHO THE HELL DO YOU TH–” okay fine, he’s simply a badass. Same is arguably to be said about Yoko, though I found the series’ latter half portrayal of her much stronger and less of a girl-with-a-big-gun fan-service token. I also forget Rossiu, a young religious boy, and Viral, a renegade with a Gunman, two chumps who’ll eventually cause a lot of trouble despite them having their own motives and ideologies. I didn’t care much for these two, but they were interesting to watch develop.

Rossiu in particular is an interesting case, in where he, like Simon, was forced underground not because their village leader was a power-hungry dick, however, but because it was the will of God. His actions in the second half will unfortunately reveal the toll his origins have taken on him, even though it’s far too late to call it justice. Considering its trigger happy mood, it was a dark part of the series that I basically wish didn’t even exist.

Meanwhile, Leeron is always being Leeron: a big, gay-ass time.

The money-maker:

The Bold Presentation

Both the animation and the music are very hit or miss this time around. As a fan, this was spectacularly animated (episode 4 tho?), and it was just as explosive as I wanted it to be considering KILL la KILL is its “spiritual successor.” Even though I think the Gunmen are pretty goofy looking, the colors are rich and bold to match its cast. I still believe that Lagann’s first episode is one of the most fluid and best-looking ones I’ve ever seen!

I do have to speak as a reviewer, however, and that voice of concern is in the character designs and movement. It’s very cartoony, so for people who only leech off of studios P.A. Works, Ufotable, and KyoAni (just to name a few), you’ll probably be quite turned off by the somewhat grotesque and angular designs. A side note: high quality is kept pretty constant throughout.

Favorites from Taku Iwasaki’s OST include the emotionally-charged anthem “With Your Drill, Pierce The Heavens!!,” the military-ready “BafBaf! Do You Like… Burning With Such Passion,” the operatic yet ruined-by-rap “Libera Me From Hell,” and my number one (which I believe best represents Gurren Lagann), “Fleeing the Hot desert, Team Dai-Gurren Can Continue.” The rest of the soundtrack is pretty skippable on its own.

Final Thoughts

Gurren Lagann can be viewed in two ways:

  1. It’s a crazy adventure about a boy who grows up into a man by following his brother’s footsteps in liberating the world of evil beings and conquering its trials.
  2. It’s the story of raw motivation — the idea of controlling possibility — and expanding your view of the universe through conquest.

While it can be seen in two entirely different lights, both objects cast shadows that intersect at the crossroads of EXPANSION. It encourages us heartily to find the drill within ourselves — To reach deep down and just turn it on! If you want something, dammit, “Kick logic to the curb, do the impossible,” and just GO DO IT!! After all, “A frog in a well knows not of the great ocean (Negima!?).”

Lastly, I found Kamina’s signature advice to provide a nice peace of mind.  He constantly shouts, “Believe in the me that believes in you,” and even though he’ll later preach to just believe in yourself, I think it’s still a good temporary fail-safe for last-minute faith. In unsure times, relying on a friend who knows you’ll be okay is quite calming. All this and more is why I’ll recommend Gurren Lagann to anyone who doesn’t mind outlandish art styles and the mecha genre. While they won’t ruin the experience, per se, they are heavy plot devices. Have fun with that huge plot twist midway! Gurren Lagann is badass and tons of fun. And best of all, it puts possibility in YOUR hands. Go out and explore what this beautiful world has to offer.

“We evolve beyond the person we were a minute before. Little by little, we advance a little further with each turn. That’s how a drill works!” – Simon, just another digger

Final Assessment

+ Ideas of crushing fate and owning your own future are explored thoroughly; ultimate antagonist should also prove thought-provoking

+ Absurd and bombastic journey with an incredible cast of colorful characters; Simon, Kamina, Yoko, and Leeron are just awesome

+ Explosive animation with fluidity despite the rough designs

– Art style is not for everyone

– Wish there were more standalone tracks, even though what we got was great

– Some actions in the second half add unnecessary negative tone


While Gurren Lagann is obviously a “Caffe Mocha” for me, what did you guys think of it? Also, man, it is hard to write a review about a show that has already +1,000 reviews in circulation! I tried, though, haha! What you thought about Lagann and/or the universe? Were you turned off by its quirkiness, or did you embrace it? And hey, if you enjoyed my thoughts, drop me a ‘like’ to let me know! I’ll totally be buying Aniplex’s DVD box of it . . . whenever my wallet pierces heavens. Until next time everyone, this has been

– Takuto, your host

When does a man die? When he is hit by a bullet? No. When he suffers a disease? No. When he eats a soup made out of a poisonous mushroom? No! A man dies when he is forgotten.

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!

 

Dramatic Irony Causes Suguha’s Terrible Fate | INTRO & PART I: In Defense of Fairy Dance

This is part one of the five-part series “In Defense of Fairy Dance,” a collection and comprehensive analysis defending the positive aspects of Reki Kawahara’s “Fairy Dance” arc in Sword Art Online. Research was gathered from the anime (sub and dub versions) and volumes three and four of the light novel series. This is in NO WAY written to justify all of the second half of the series, nor is it to say that it is particularly well-written. Instead, it is a half-full glass of the neat things the series did, and why I enjoyed myself with most of the content despite the glaring flaws. HEAVY SPOILERS EXIST.

Welcome to ALfheim Online, a virtual realm where you and your friends can soar the skies of a fantasy world, fight enemy fairy clans, and, one day, reach the top of the World Tr—

Why fool ourselves? Nobody likes the “Fairy Dance” arc. Well, I shouldn’t say everyone, as those who merely dismiss the entirely new plot, characters, and atmosphere just to watch it for fun most likely don’t realize all of the sudden, arguably hypocritical, dishes the second half of the infamous Sword Art Online brings to the table.

But is it as “downright lazy, sexist, and stupid” as opponents claim? Do the underlying themes of dramatic irony, devotion towards love, true freedom, and misunderstanding of the bounds of humanity’s evil even matter if our favorite character gets her sword taken away? Can we merely cast these intense messages aside? Never, and this compilation will hopefully show you why.

Accompanying me on this journey will be the third and fourth volumes of the series because hey, “The books are always better than the movies, right?”

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FIRST, learn the difference:

IRONY . . . the expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.

DRAMATIC IRONY . . . a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.


“You’ve been met with a terrible fate.”

Kawahara hints Suguha Kirigaya’s love for her brother Kazuto from as early as page 20. While we’ll eventually find out that they are not blood related, incest is its own beast to be tackled at a later date. All we know is that she is love-struck, and that love will be her driving focus to improve herself. She doesn’t discover this truth for herself until seeing the pain in Kazuto’s eyes when she visits the hospital with him for the first time. Just as they were spending sunrises together, training, happy as can be, Suguha immediately withdraws her heart, for she “realized what her heart truly desired, and that it was in a place she could never reach, (74, vol.4).” It is at this time where, for Suguha, the gaming world is all she can rely on. The real world will bring pain – a pain which sharing with anyone can destroy you from the inside out – and she knows this well.

Tragedy likes following Sugu around, though, as now it is Leafa’s turn to shoulder her agony. After her hospital visit, Sugu hits up ALO to vent. “If she cried here, she knew she’d never be able to give up on this. Instead, she’d cry a bit in the fairy world. Leafa was always peppy and energetic; she’d be back to laughing in no time, (74, vol.4).” Crying here means giving up, and girl’s got more backbone than that. So she thinks, “Ah, Leafa’s a good chap, she’ll fix me up right away!”

Wrong. Leafa was fighting her own battles regarding Kirito love, and now she’s got a war. From here on, Sugu will scarcely leave the virtual world. One reason is the quest at hand, to reach the World Tree, but the other is to avoid the tragic reality waiting for her back home. How do you confess your love to a sibling? I honestly don’t think you can without it corrupting the relationship. Holding it back as tightly as you can is the only safeguard (forgetting about a loved one is hard to do when you LIVE with them), so what better place to store the key than in an intangible world.

As the “stabbing pain deep in her heart” continues to ring, Leafa awakens in Alne following their overnight venture to “wait for the pain to turn into liquid so it could drip from her eyes.” When further confronted by Kirito, she replies, attempting to put a smile on her face, “’Well, Kirito . . . I . . . I’ve got a broken heart,’ (76, vol.4).” To which he charismatically responds:

’You’re allowed to cry when it’s hard – there or here. There’s no rule that says you can’t express your emotions in a game.’

I’m not the biggest Kirito fan, but that line was just the “bit of awkwardness” Leafa – no, Sugu – needed to hear most. “’I love my brother,’ she told herself . . . ‘But I can’t speak this feeling aloud. I have to keep it trapped deep in the deepest part of my heart. That way I might actually forget about it one day.’” This will have to be the tying point for her, and she’ll try her damnedest to bury her lust. If SAO and life itself has taught us one thing, however, it’s that everything comes to an end.

Suguha finds out

It’s a catastrophic moment we saw coming since episode one of the second half, yet here it is, and it’s even more devastating than we could’ve imagined. 

On page 102 of volume four, Suguha breaks down. Her efforts to conceal her “wicked thoughts” have been all for not when her knight in black armor Kirito reveals that cursed name of the princess he is searching for: Asuna.

’I . . . I . . .’ Her feelings turned into tears and tears into words before she could stop them. ‘I-I betrayed my own heart. I betrayed my love for you . . . ‘I was going to forget, to give up, to fall in love with Kirito. In fact, I already had. And yet . . . and yet . . . I’ . . . ‘I was so happy when you came back from SAO. I was so happy when you started treating me the way you used to. I thought you finally saw me for who I was’ . . . ‘But . . . after this, I’d rather you kept being cold to me. Then I wouldn’t have realized that I love you . . . I wouldn’t have been sad to learn about Asuna . . . and I wouldn’t have fallen in love with Kirito to replace you!!’

‘. . . Sorry . . . ‘

The ball just dropped. Readers and audience members only look to the floor in guilt and self-loath just like Suguha. Her slamming the door is the final sound to finish off her tirade, and it’s scary effective. Her thoughts of holding it in and shoving it down her throat are worthless now. For once, I have to give Aniplex’s English dub the props for providing the best reenactment of the performance. Cassandra Lee Morris absolutely crushes the role, vocalizing herself like she would in Sugu’s feet and topping it off with a tear-filled shattering cry.

Video posted by NintendoxWolf on YouTube. I do NOT own Sword Art Online.

The secret’s out, and this could arguably be where the curtain closes for SAO. The dramatic irony for Sugu, if you haven’t already guessed, is the multilayered thought she loves her brother, but that is, quote, “wrong.” So instead, she abandons her love to fall for Kirito, a bishounen badass whom she feels so alive with on quests. She’ll escape the harsh reality for a fantasy world of electrons only to discover the black avatar is none other than the boy she tried so hard to hide her heart from in the first place.

The legacy of this tragic yet classic scene

This scene is not only the most emotional and gut-wrenching part Sugu will ever shine in, but also a decent hit on Kazuto. All this time, he has known the Net to be a place where everyone has a “secret inner side.” It’s now that he questions his own familial and relationship status with his cousin: “Who is this person, exactly? Do I really know them? (105, vol.4).” This guilt is almost as heavy a burden as being responsible for killing off his first group of friends back in Aincrad. You should realize by now that it’s nearly impossible to knock Kirito off his feet – And Sugu did it verbally in less than two minutes.

As much as tragedy has woven these two fates together, SAO will once again prove that gaming and friendship can mend the bonds once broken by the game. Knowing that her knight would wipe his tears aside and grab his sword, Suguha reaches out to her “shining crown ahead of her” and “set it on her head.” Though its resolution was shamefully brief (a mere shrug to the side cause Asuna comes first), SAO fans of the dramatic irony device will revel in this classic scenario for years to come, and its outstanding effects it set on Suguha will not be forgotten so long as we remember the sacrifices she made to truly grow wings and take off.

Kawahara is guilty of adding more females to the story not only because he claims it’s easier to add a new face to give the MC a new relationship, but also because he likes the idea (Afterword vol.3). However, the light novel series is a monumental step up in terms of more cohesive understanding and better execution of elements like dramatic irony. In comparison to the anime, the “boobs and butts” are also much less distracting and in your face, being a bouncy visual production and all. I’m sure it’s meant to be pleasing to the eyes, yet I believe it deflowers Kawahara’s vision given the much more intricate and meaningful (and appropriate) actions, pauses, romantic elements, and thought processing found in text.

I realize that that her situation could be very difficult to imagine yourself in, but gosh dang, you’ve got to give a teen girl props for trying her hardest yet still falling into heartbreak – Not once, but twice. You may not like Suguha or Leafa – You may even detest SAO – but understanding both sides to every argument is half of life. The other half is of course being able to place your judgment on an issue. All I can recommend is that if you feel “lost” or ashamed of SAO, do try reading the original light novel series to possibly formulate a new outlook on the series that means something to you. I managed to uncover many of the less-apparent literary devices, dramatic irony being one, and that opened up a whole new window of exploration. Also, I just want to give Sugu a big ol’ hug after everything she’s been through, that poor, poor girl.


Thank you for reading! Stay tuned for PART II!

(I own neither the anime nor the light novel series of Sword Art Online. All images and videos belong to A-1 Pictures and Reki Kawahara.)

Versailles is Not for All, But Indeed All for One

A spoiler-free review of the 40-episode fall 1979 (wow!) anime “The Rose of Versailles,” produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsha, based on the manga by Riyoko Ikeda.

History is Timeless

It should come across as no surprise to you when I say that “History is timeless.” It also shouldn’t be very startling to hear that we as humans have made more mistakes than triumphs, and that the stories we craft are centered on correcting these mistakes, righting wrong, to reach a triumphant end.

But what happens when history IS the story being told, in that no matter the effort that goes into the rising action, the resolution is that repetitive, burning, regrettable end we try to avoid in stories? Tragedy is born, my dear reader, and “tragic” is indeed the word which encompasses the French Revolution. This single period in history will eventually spawn thousands of tales of its own, one particular rendition brilliantly capturing the many ugly and beautiful faces of this rebellion – The Rose of Versailles.

A Rose of Red & White

So I partially lied above when I claimed that history itself was acted out directly for this work. From the incredible mind of its creator Riyoko Ikeda, Oscar François de Jarjayes is the main character brought to life by the story. Historically, “he” is a man who will, for this story, be a blend of many other significant figures in the revolution. Born to a noble house in need of a male heir, Oscar, a woman, is raised to be a man of valor, vigilance, and vitality, a new kind of “character trope” which will eventually be coined as the “strong woman.” A loyal knight and dear friend of Marie Antoinette’s, Oscar serves her beloved France like a hearth for a mansion, neither wavering in spirit nor charisma in front of the rich and poor alike. Like the scrolls call for, however, Antoinette, a redeemably innocent girl at first, will eventually lead the throne into further corruption, to which Oscar must take a stand for the glory of France – the people – or for her beloved crown in the palace Versailles.

Want to know how to spoil the anime for yourself? You cannot. Versailles is unique because knowing how it ends works in its favor, similar to adaptations of “Romeo and Juliet” or “Animal Farm.” It’ll start with Antoinette’s arrival to the pristine palace and end with her untimely beheading, just how we know it. Even if you knew each of the dirty bits surrounding the revolt, such as the “Affair of the Diamond Necklace” and the terrible folks that manipulated and crushed others to secure a cushy seat in the palace, this anime, though still about the revolution and its events, has another objective: Oscar. She alone is worth watching this series for.

A rose of many thorns, Oscar is cast with a terrible fate from the get-go. Jarjayes needs a male to succeed his place, so BAM, Oscar, you are now his son. Also, buddy, you’ll have to struggle against being a man for the public yet a woman for yourself. Your heart will be torn to pieces by your own prickly thorns as you choose between a fellow knight of honor from a foreign land, or your childhood mate who has always had your back, but never both. Your highness, whom you cherish like a baby sister, will learn from evil influences, and it’ll become impossible to manage both her and your own image. Finally, your homeland will succumb to the invincible flames of the revolution – Flames which burned you for many years beforehand because Versailles – the place you call home – is ultimately a royal hell on this cruel Earth. Yet, you knew all of this, and you still must choose: Be red, or fade to white.

“Ching.” That’s what a sword sounds like.

This is the technical part of this review, introducing features like animation, sound, and voice acting. On the animation front, 1979 sure does hurt! The over-effective glitter during these original shoujo moments is quite much, and the ridiculous, lackluster sword fights do not do much to help the cause. Some awfully cringey facial expressions and spoon-fed symbolism also are a drag. As I said, 1979 hurts, but maybe that is where part of the magic stems from. The aging quality Versailles carries brings in strange emotions like disgust and lust alike, and while I still push for a four-part film series remastering the entire series by Ufotable, I could just as well endure this and admire one of anime’s earliest masterpieces. It is one of those, “Laugh now? Hah, you’ll be on your knees begging for mercy later.”

In the sound department, I sigh internally. You can practically make out a man exclaiming “Ching!” with every sword clash. The over-dramatic echoing effects of shattering glass and collapsing bodies also gave me annoyed shivers. It helps, however, when Versailles walks home with one of the musical soundtracks ever. The OP “Bara wa Utsukushiku Chiru” drawing the comparison between Oscar and a rose, the ED “Ai no Hikari to Kage” depicting her struggles with romance and feminine life, and all of the fantastic tracks in between set a strong stage and leave a solid impression on what true shoujo drama should sound like.

Capture

The show was also never given an English dub – Good thing it will never need one. I am not one to nitpick with Japanese acting, as I sadly do not speak the language, but by God, when Oscar asks for a leave of absence you damn well give her one! Where the visuals could not lift the show, the acting brings all of Versailles’s drama to life.

Why bother reliving the past?

It is arguable the French Revolution started because human beings are inherently evil people, and that all people are born equal. Those who oppose drink their half-full glasses knowing that humans are beings which can reflect on their mistakes to better themselves and the world. The Rose of Versailles masterfully captions both of these viewpoints and reiterates them in a powerful soap opera for anime fans. Portrayal of the female spirit in the ladies of Versailles and of the slums adds additional gold foil to a solid foundation. Melodrama is an enhanced asset that the show flaunts gloriously, and its execution is impactful on a very deep emotional level, given the short time it takes to adjust to the production quality. Just, DO NOT LET THE ANIMATION FOOL YOU, PLEASE.

Lastly, the cast of this historical “story” is just us living in another time, a barbaric fantasy which seems eons ago. The only difference is that this current humanity does not need fancy balls and lavish candelabras to vent its frustration. The Rose of Versailles is not for all, but all for one. In other words, with its age, shoujo background, cheesy moments, and 40-episode run, it is clearly not for everyone; however, it is more than willing to fight for the good of the cause, and for justice everywhere. Its realistic quality and well-researched plot should also give most history buffs a run for their money. Heartwarming and heartbreaking, this is a classic for a reason, and as such should be adorned at your nearest convenience.

“Love can lead to two things: the complete happiness, or a slow and sad agony.”

“No, no, Oscar. For all I know, love only leads to a slow and sad agony.”

                                                       – Oscar to Fersen

Nozomi Entertainment’s two LTD ED boxsets sit with poise and elegance on my shelves, awaiting my return to a dark period in human history just so I can re-emerge enlightened and exhausted. I thank you for spending the time to read through my thoughts, and I do hope you feel the urge to suddenly dip into this classic! I’m not sure if you will pick up on this, but this review was once again done in a different fashion. One change is trying to put a piece of fan art that took out of the experience. Do you prefer this new format over the old one? How about your own thoughts on The Rose of Versailles? Was the masterpiece story enough to sideline the iffy visuals for you, or not? As always, let me know in the comments, waltz on over to that like button if you enjoyed the review, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Tags: Anime, Berusaiyu no Bara, Oscar François de Jarjayes, Reverse Trap

Like and share and maybe, just maybe, Ufotable will hear Lady Oscar’s pleas~!