Devilman Crybaby – Ugly Tears, Bleeding Hearts, & The Pain of Modern Tragedy | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 10-episode winter 2018 anime “Devilman: Crybaby,” produced by studio Science SARU (and Netflix), directed by Masaaki Yuasa, written by Ichiro Okouchi, and based on the manga by Go Nagai. 

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A Wild Night Out

Akira Fudo is a crybaby. He’s always been, and he always will be. Akira’s high school career takes a trip to the wild side when his best friend from many years ago, Ryou Asuka, suddenly reenters Akira’s life. This surprise reunion excites Akira, but unfortunately, Ryou isn’t back so the two can play on the playground again. Instead, he informs Akira that hiding amongst the shadows of their picture-perfect reality are monstrous demons, and that soon the demons will revive to reclaim the world from the humans. To combat their brute, supernatural strength, Ryou has a plan: to fuse a human with a demon.

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Those who conquer their “literal” innermost demons can master the power over them. And thus, after violently loosing his innocence at an infamous nightclub rave suspiciously titled the “Sabbath,” Akira becomes Devilman, a being with the power of a demon and the heart of a human. Finally seeing the darkness that humans have hid for so long, Akira feels blessed to now be able to save others, but more so cursed because he will likely never be understood ever again. But he has Ryou, and for Akira, that’s enough to make the pain worth suffering. Or so he hopes.

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A Tragedy Fit for Our Time

By mere story alone, Crybaby is a masterpiece. Having heard the crazy amounts of praise that have been circulating already for a couple weeks now, this should be no surprise. It starts at zero, at everyday life for a young boy and his relay mates, and quickly escalates into a bloody, traumatic, world-ending experience for both the characters and the viewers. As a standalone piece of fiction, it’s a modern tragedy made fit for the decade—complete with its OWN FREAKIN’ CHORUS in the form of some swaggy J-rappers—a series that is and should be celebrated for the, might I say, “daredevil” tale it sets out to tell. So many countless symbolic, societal, and sexual metaphors make the story incredibly compelling, and the religious undertones work wonders in creating this gritty, larger-than-life epic.

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And the best part of all is that the series isn’t just “depressing” to be called tragic—rather, it lives up to the classical standards of Greek tragedy by existing to A) prove the faults in our own lives, B) present a heroic attempt at handling them, and C) leave us with a cathartic end to cleanse the insanity that just befell the cast. It’s a masterful formula from the humble beginning through to its apocalyptic end, and as the media outlet Polygon states, the finale is “beautiful, devastating perfection.”

The only [minor] problem with a story of this magnitude is that Crybaby has very little time to tell it: only ten episodes, to be exact. While the pacing for the first several episodes feels spot-on, there is a significant push, particularly in the last two episodes, that does seem rather hectic. To be fair, however, the gruesome content and big reveals in episodes nine and ten ARE time sensitive; dragging these plot twists and dramatic developments out beyond an episode’s time would ruin their effects. Besides, perhaps that rushed sense of mayhem is what contributes to the explosive, catastrophic nature of the Devilman franchise.

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Akira and Ryou: Cuter When They’re Young

As far as characters are concerned, I won’t go into much detail simply because half of the thrill stems from witnessing just who some of these characters really are, and exactly what they will eventually become as the plot edges further and further on borderline insanity. Akira Fudo’s deal with the devil surprises all those around him, sure, but his grotesque change conjures up more mental conflict than physical ailment. He’s honestly a gift to mankind who doesn’t belong in this cruel, cruel world, and as he teeters on the edge of his own humanity—of a dying hope vs. an unflagging despair—he realizes that, at the darkest roots of their heart, people can be even more vile, disgusting, and sinful than any demon to roam the planet. Compared to his cute, scrawny self at the series’s beginning, the superior antihero Devilman that Akira becomes is stronger in nearly every way—all except for that tender, still-broken human heart of his.

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Ryou’s fluffy, blonde-bowled, bishounen design may seem inviting, but don’t let that charismatic baby face fool you: underneath that puffy white coat is a deadly machine gun and cunning wit, both which are fully loaded at all times. From that first smooth car ride Ryou and Akira share together, you already get the feeling that Ryou is scheming something (as if the glaring camcorder he films on 24/7 wasn’t evidence enough). Still, he is doomed to a fate just as tragic as Akira’s—if not more so. Ryou is one baaaaaad boi, but I loved his development way too much to hate him.

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I Don’t Know How to Rate The Animation . . . 

I’m not kidding. Devilman: Crybaby has some of the downright UGLIEST animated sequences I’ve ever seen. From the hilarious attempt at depicting just how “speedy” devilmen can run to the blobby, disproportionate, and completely uncensored sex scenes, by visual standards, Crybaby is not a pretty-looking show.

But does an anime need to be “pretty” to have it’s own beauty? Absolutely not. Or, well, at least Crybaby says so.

You see, the series has this certain edge to it, a certain grit that is hard to explain. The animation outlines, for instance, are cleanly drawn and look quite fresh (faces in particular). But then you have the action scenes, which are just SO freakin’ bizarre to watch. Like, I couldn’t even tell you if some scenes were, in fact, “poorly animated” because the ENTIRE SERIES has that same exact look. The lack of detail in light-hearted moments (like Akira’s high school, or his quiet past) compared to the almost sickening actions of other demons and humans alike gave form to a style that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s as if the animation is “untamed,” or “knows no bounds”—yet it all flows well as its own style within the context of the story. Not to mention that the compact 10-episode run and smart directing allow for each and every shot to carry some sort of secondary meaning, however unnecessarily violent or sexual or BOTH the risqué presentation seems to people.

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I, for one, felt that all of the overly grotesque scenes brutally tread some sacred ground of entertainment that hasn’t been touched in decades with a bloody tank. It’s a unique visual style that I frankly haven’t seen anywhere else, and it was depicted brilliantly.

But I Know I Loved the OST!

As I am currently writing this, the Devilman: Crybaby soundtrack is humming in the background for inspiration. What about it is so special? Well, it has great balance; it’s epic (“D.V.M.N.” – Main theme), startling (“Miki The Witch”), playful (“Wishy Washy”), intense (“Anxiety”), entrancing (“Beautiful Silene”), heart-pounding (“Smells Blood”), uplifting (“Prayer”), cathartic (“Pathetique”), and so much more. Composer Kensuke Ushio (Ping Pong The Animation, Space Dandy, A Silent Voice) knows how to write excellent orchestral/synth pieces, I tell ya!

There’s a little tune that is repeated throughout the entire soundtrack that can be any of the emotions listed above, so long is the right instrumentals is paired with the mood. My personal favorite IS a reprise of this gorgeous melody line, and it just so happens to be the very last song played in the series, the End of Devilman: Crybaby, so-to-speak. It’s appropriately titled “Crybaby,” and if it doesn’t move your heart to the point of tears, forcing you to recall Akira, Ryou, Miki, and Miko’s shared heartache and tragedy, then I’m not sure what will.

Oh yeah, there’s also a remake of the original Devilman opening included with the soundtrack, which, if you SOMEHOW haven’t heard yet, is SUCH A BOP HOLY SHIT. I STILL listen to it religiously.

The Destructive Darkness Within Us All

By Devilman:Crybaby‘s end, there is arguably no sadness left for the characters, no more tears to cry. It should feel complicated, as the amount of despair is simply undefinable. But instead, all you can wonder is how things got to this point, and how what you witnessed was, in fact, the end brought upon by humanity. The ending is completely unfair, yet it balances the scales with terrifying perfection. You could feel sad, or depressed, or enraged at how BLIND people can be, but instead, all of it feels pointless, as if nihilism just inducted you to suddenly became one of its patron saints.

The ending of Devilman: Crybaby is indeed a very empty one. And that very catharsis, that feeling of emptiness and pointlessness, is what lies at the heart of a well-written tragedy. 

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As happy and sad memories alike resurface for these two boys, Akira and Ryou come to realize that, without one another, life before friendship was boring and often cruel. It was lonely, and it was meaningless. But through the ugly tears they cry, the bleeding hearts they endure, and the tragic fates that they cease fighting against, the two learn to finally accept love, for it is really love, not hate, which makes the world go round. And so to tear up the ENTIRE world just to tell this seemingly small message—Yes, such is what completes the horrifically tragic Devilman: Crybaby as a modern masterpiece.

You’re crying too, Ryou-chan. You’re crying too . . .  – Akira Fudo

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Afterwords

Devilman: Crybaby is raw, brutal, yet oddly honest about its understanding of cause and effect and the power of compassion. It doesn’t forget to throw in a few laughs, though. As the community has already remarked, this show is ABSOLUTELY NOT for the faint of heart. This series showcases the worst aspects of humanity—of vengeance, overindulgence, paranoia, and immorality—and for many, that can be hard to watch (plus, it’s like, mega gory and sexual). You’ll be asking yourself “WTF is this even real?” many times, and you’ll feel absolutely disgusted with humanity. But have faith that there is a reason for the madness. I walked into this action series not knowing a lick about the Devilman franchise (aside from the old dub clips, heh heh) and obviously enjoyed the HELL out of it.

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If such disturbing material doesn’t bother you, then I’m sure you’ll also enjoy this wild ride through the bloody and the occult, as there are a fair amount of life lessons to be learned. I’m giving Devilman: Crybaby the honorary “Caffe Mocha” title because of its unexpectedly high emotional impact (you gotta love the indirect End of Eva references, too)! There’s a particular scene in I think episode 8 or 9 that absolutely wrecked me, and the powerful ending . . . wow . . . I’m sure I won’t be forgetting about that for a long time. If you are thinking about watching this anime, or have already seen it, you HAVE to let me know what you thought about it! I’m dying to dig the series back up, even though much of the hype has died down, haha! Let me know if I did a decent job by hitting the like button (I appreciate it!), and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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

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

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Anime at the Theaters!

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

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

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

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

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

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My “Your Name.” Experience

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

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

 

[Pictures from Google]

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thoughts on Life, Transience, and Memories

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

Similarly . . . 

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

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

Only for it to quickly fade into a memory. 

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

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

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


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

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

– Takuto, your host

Hanasaku Iroha: Finding Beauty & Grace in Hard Work, Dignity, and Servitude | OWLS “Bloodlines”

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  eighth monthly topic, “Bloodlines,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Hanasaku Iroha review into this discourse about “it runs in the family.”

Family means everything (or does it?). This month, we will be discussing the importance of family relationships in anime and pop culture. Familial relationships include a child and his/her parents, sibling rivalries, adoptions, etc. Some questions about family that we will be contemplating on include how does one’s family shapes his or her identity? How do we define family? How does a broken household influence a person’s view on family?

This show probably deserves a review all on its own, but hey, I’m just gonna go for it here! Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the 26-episode spring 2011 anime “Hanasaku Iroha: Blossoms for Tomorrow” and the 2013 film “Home Sweet Home,” produced by P.A. Works, directed by Masahiro Ando (Blast of Tempest), based on the original story by Mari Okada (A Lull in the Sea).

Out On Her Own

Ohana Matsumae: bursting with rebellious energy and only 16 years old, her picture-perfect Tokyo life could’ve been every girl’s dream—if only her mom wasn’t such a mess! Carefree, irresponsible, and always on the go, mother Satsuki Matsumae and her boyfriend hurriedly pack their bags to flee from debt collectors, forcing Ohana to seek refuge out in the countryside at her grandmother’s Kissui inn. It is there at the Kissuiso that Ohana forms the resolve to work hard under her grandmo—I mean, Madame Manager’s—cold and strict guidance as a maid to prove that she is just as strong and independent as her mother, reevaluate her unrequited love life, and “fest up” her otherwise mundane city life.

As Ohana grows deeper connections with the quiet countryside land and the changing seasons, she is faced with the trials of working as a maid, as well as countless interactions with the many customers that come and go at the Kissuiso. Bonds of friendship are born, and inexpressible relationships blossom beautifully.

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The Kissuiso Staff

Much of the love and respect I have for this show lies right here with the inn’s staff. That said, it can also be the most frustrating part. The busybody maids remain my favorite: Ohana’s fresh, persevering face even if she’s not exactly helping in the best way just makes you want to shout “SHE DID NOTHING WRONG” (at least she’s always trying, unlike some of the others); Nako, the”quite literally” big sister character never fails to support Ohana in that soft and gentle way that she does; and Tomoe, the playful and typically jealous woman tends to catch gossip and spread rumors throughout the inn, adding in the comedic elements.

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It’s the cooking staff that annoys me the most. No, not Renji, the stoic and buff head chef who minds to himself—my issues lie with an outspoken young man named Tohru and a girl Ohana’s age named Minko who “secretly” has the hots for him. They’re just both so rude to everyone, scolding one another whenever they can and not leaving much room for fun. I guess part of that adds to the staff’s dynamic (and conflict for Ohana), but Minko’s attitude really got on my nerves; far too distracting for what her character honestly represents. I also couldn’t stand her voice.

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Lastly, I couldn’t forget the two loudmouths that pop in throughout the series: Yuina, the daughter of a rival inn’s family and Ohana’s new classmate who honestly only wishes to enjoy her youth while discovering her true passion; and Takako, the glamorous business consultant adviser for Kissuiso who always wants to revitalize the rather old-fashioned inn to suit the times. She often bumps heads with Sui, as her ideas are indeed ludicrous at times, but when it comes down to it, they both only desire what’s best for the inn and its customers.

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I could go on about how genuine the personalities and relationships of each character feel, but half the appeal of Hanasaku Iroha is witnessing how they go about their days, both the ordinary ones for those slice-of-life vibes and the hectic ones to see how this seemingly disjointed team tackles wild problems head on!

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One of P.A. Works’ Finest Pieces

I’m all about scenery. Whether it’s a schoolyard from heaven (or hell) or an enchanting undersea village, P.A. Works never fails to embody this ideal vision of a “gorgeous world.” The anime’s characters are all beautifully designed and fluidly animated in their own right, Ohana especially, but the colorful Kissuiso takes the cake as a visionary set piece. Perfectly blending antiquity with its polished, hand-carved wooden exterior with the luscious greens from nature, the rustic countryside inn almost feels tangible, one that you can breath fresh air easily in and instantly feel comforted by the relaxing atmosphere. I could probably lose myself in the pages of an art book if I ever got my hands on one (which I will surely try to).

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The same glowing things are to be said about the charming piano and string tracks by Shiro Hamaguchi, my favorite being a little sad piece called “Remember that day with a smile like that.” For OPs and EDs, I’m not a huge fan of nano.RIPE’s lead singer’s nasally voice, but its random fifth ending “Saibou Kioku” happened to play at just the right time.

It Runs in the Family

Hanasaku Iroha enters the realm of slice-of-life with a little drama thrown in the mix. While it’s easy to label it as just that—a simply relaxing show—the series poses much more than that. From the beginning, it presents a moving story about family and adulthood, parenting and role-modeling. Like most titles with drama elements, the events of the larger present story are results of a little, once-close-knit group from the past.

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This group now makes up the adults in Ohana’s life: her stern grandma, Sui, her defiant mom, Satsuki, and her scatterbrain uncle (Satsuki’s brother), Enishi. When these parental figures were supposed to guide Ohana as a child, Satsuki often left Ohana to do all of the chores and “take care of herself”—a mantra that she still employs—choosing to put her efforts into her work as a pro writer instead of parenthood. Satsuki gave up her entitlement as the inn’s next manager, and as a result Sui stayed behind at the inn, Enishi working for her, and that was that.

Ohana spent her whole life cleaning up after her own mother.

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As depressing as that sounds, the story’s realism is probably the best thing that it has going for it. It’s a show that doesn’t want to boast, but simply leave itself out there by remarking, “This actually happens in real life.” By intertwining the lives and efforts of the inn’s staff, using the Kissuiso itself as the anchor, everyone comes to understand the tension between Satsuki and her mother, why Ohana’s personality is so brazen and spirited, why Enishi is so desperate to win his mother’s approval over his big sister, and why their boss Sui acts like such a secluded hag. It all comes down to family in the end, or rather the lack of a strong one to bind them together.

I think we can all relate to this.

Genes have the power to shape a family, but only you can decide what path it takes. As people, we make mistakes—for some of us, a lot of them—and maybe you got that from someone (or you’ll pass it on). But regardless, if we spent as much time thinking about the ones we are supposed to love as we did ourselves, I think we’d all be better off.

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Ohana put herself in her mother’s shoes when she reconnected with the source that threw her mom off to begin with, and her entire world changed for the better as a result. She realized that as different as she liked to think they were, they both made the same mistakes as young girls. Knowing this, she vowed to be like her grandma one day, hopefully ending the cycle of familial neglect.

And this made momma very proud of her little girl.

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Hard Work Really Does Pay Off

Hanasaku Iroha walks us through the struggles of the worker class for a girl living in a somewhat broken home. As Ohana comes to find beauty and grace in hard work, dignity, and servitude, we can’t help but feel inspired by her bold newfound identity. Most important of all, we’re told an endearing story about being the best that only you can be, and that even in this self-centered world that is so consumed by “give and take,” there exists wonderful places like the Kissuiso, safe havens that offer both a relaxing time to heal old wounds and a staff that only wishes to work hard to serve YOU. And that, well, that’s really special.

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“You may come to a standstill or get irritated because things don’t work out the way you want them to, but what you gain from hard work will never betray you.” – Tohru Miyagishi


So there you have it, the very gentle and sweet Hanasaku Iroha. By the end of it, you just want to smile and cry at the same time. For those wondering, the film takes place before the finale, and acts more like three episodes linked together rather than a standalone film. Still wonderful stuff—so wonderful that I present it with the certified “Caffe Mocha” rating, one for the menu and it’s all on me (actually it’s on Crunchyroll for FREE)! You HAVE to let me know what you thought about my review over this quaint little gem if you’ve seen it, as it’s a quiet show that doesn’t get much buzz anymore. I found this to be the perfect show for this month’s OWLS theme since “Ohana” does mean “family” in Hawaiian, after all!

This concludes my August 4th entry in the OWLS “Bloodlines” blog tour. Since I was first again this month, I’ll give you the weekend before handing it off to my buddy Matt (Matt-in-the-Hat) with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (I REMEMBER THIS FILM!) on Monday, August 7th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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For the Team – Free! & My Swim Story | OWLS “Team”

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  sixth monthly topic, “Team,” I decided to incorporate what would have been a “Cafe Talk” about my high school swimming experience, along with my thoughts on the anime Free! into one big post over sticking with a team to the end.

While the prompt was more intended as dedication to “Pride Month” and all of those who support the LGBT & Queer communities both in real life and in anime, the generosity and flexibility, as well as the promoted creativity that OWLS is known for, allows me to bend this topic back to its home nature: companionship found in teamwork. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the 12-episode summer 2013 anime “Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club,” and its 13-episode summer 2014 sequel “Free! – Eternal Summer,” both produced by Kyoto Animation, directed by Hiroko Utsumi, based on the original story by Kouji Ooji.

“After High School, You’re Ordinary”

This was what Haruka Nanase was told long ago and, nearing the end of his own high school experience, Haru is still unsure of what to make of his future. Swimming as early as elementary school and winning races and a tournament with his childhood relay mates—all boys with very much girlish names—Makoto, Nagisa, and Rin, Haru has always loved the water. When they all went their separate ways for middle school, Haru dropped swimming entirely. Now he’s about to enter the real world, all dried up for a life of normalcy.

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That is—until the boys reunite in high school. Only desiring to race Haru after all these years, however, Rin could care less about the old team being together—he only wants to find out that HE is indeed the better, faster, stronger swimmer.

Without Rin, the three boys form a new Iwatobi High School Swim Team, and it turns out that their first challenge is not training and practicing hard, but actually recruiting a fourth member so that their relay can face off against Rin’s team later in the season! Eventually, these boys, bound by friendship, the spirit of competition, and the love of the sport, will discover what swimming in a relay means to each of them!

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And Just Like That, We’re Off the Blocks! 

Free!, like a well-trained athlete, balances episodes of training and technique with bits of fun, slice-of-life ventures and some emotional turmoil inbound. By using races and competitions as peaks of interest (and a way to execute the boys’ hard work), everything flows smoothly and as such makes time fly by. By the end of the two seasons, all relationships and story developments feel comfortably resolved—and that’s all I can ask of most adapted works these days!

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If it’s not apparent to you yet, the boys of Free! are very beloved by its fans in the community, and for good reasons, too. They all have such great . . . chemistry, and truly, they’re more than just friends—they’re family, the kind that look out for each other before themselves, as well as value each others’ strengths and weaknesses alike. Each so unique and diverse, they all have their own personal demons, but rather than facing them alone, they fight each battle as a team, causing their bonds to develop even further. I’d dare say that Free!’s characters form one of the most heartwarming squads out there; if not the best, they’re at least favorites of mine!

Name a Better-Looking Sports Anime. I Dare You.

Looking back, Free! was the first Kyoto Animation show to leave its signature mark on my viewing experience, and boy is it delicious. Not the muscles, well, maybe the muscles. I’m talking about the water—to quote Haru, it’s as if it’s ~alive~. Their attention to how water actually flows in real life is incredible. You could almost call it “liquid smooth.” KyoAni has a splendid color palette, which is bright, airy, and cheerful, not to mention that their eye for the cool, modern aesthetic is top-notch. Color and tone values help to distinguish between scenes of comedy and rivalry. I almost feel as if I’m cleansed when I watch this show, if that makes any sense at all.

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But the boys, oh yes, they are youthful, breathtaking creatures with beautiful physiques. I said it. No regrets.

The seaside OST also provides a flowing atmosphere from scene to scene, specifically those “go out and do something wonderful” tracks like “Rhythm of Port Town” and “Revelry of Student.” What the show’s probably known for music-wise is its energetic openings “Rage On” and “Dried Up Youthful Fame” by the wild OLDCODEX. And then there’s that ending “SPLASH FREE” by STYLE FIVE, a group composed of the five lead seiyuus (loudly sings 50% OFF ver).

For the Team: My High School Swim Club Story

My 8th grade summer ushered in a whole new set of problems: high school was right around the corner, and I was a) waaaay out of shape and b) wanted to fit in. So I was just like anyone else, right?

That’s when I told myself to do a sport—my first one ever—that no matter what happened or how bad I looked, I’d do it just for the sake of doing it. I was considering track for pole-vaulting since a close guy friend of mine did it. Then I looked at tennis.

Tennis couldn’t be that bad, right?

Then summer got real hot. Like, sure, it was 90+ degrees each day, but, early on during my anime experience when I was unfamiliar with simulcasts, I ran into a 30 sec trailer for something hot.

Really hot.

It was other peoples’ phrasing, not mine!

But there was NO WAY I’d “wear a speedo.” Heck, I didn’t even know if my high school had a boys swim team. So I rummaged the yearbooks and did a little online looking and sure enough, there it was.

As the summer drummed on, Free! kept calling me back to YouTube each week where someone would upload the episodes. Not the best streaming service, but I didn’t mind. Anyway, the way their club started off so small and so closely knit, and then the fact that they were STUNNING to look at—I had to do swimming, I just had to.

Season one ended leaving me in high spirits and hopeful that whatever came that coming winter (cause that’s when swim season was here), I’d be more than ready.

Flash forward, the school announcements read off an early interest meeting for the sport. I was overly nervous, of course, but I showed up, and just like a lost freshman EVERYONE knew each other already. Like 20 guys that all were buds with each other. I was already lost, and ready to give up.

Then the first practice came, oh god, the first practice. I received swimming lessons from a countryside town growing up, and so I thought I was a champ at it. But in fact I sucked. Really bad, hahaha!

The next practice came and five or so of the team didn’t show up.

They quit. Each with their own excuses.

What.

There were so few members on the team that we were all considered “varsity” swimmers, so at least that was neat. Little ol’ me was varsity as a freshman!

I somehow finished that year improving times meet after meet with the other first years. But my eyes never stopped wandering off to our lane four relay. Coincidentally, or perhaps by fate, there were four of them: one for each of the strokes, one for each of the boys in Free!

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I wanted to be like them. So I worked my ass off at morning practices and afternoon practices day after day after day.

I was even awarded the “Most-Improved” on the team! Still got the medal displayed in my room.

Then they all graduated. Except for one, since he was a junior, but yeah, they all had left me. They left the team, leaderless.

My sophomore and junior years ushered in new issues. New coaches, new members joining then quickly dropping for all the same things, but the core members of the team never left, and now they’re some of my greatest “upperclassmen” friends. Facing the facts, the others just couldn’t take the heat of practice.

But I could, and I did.

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Senior year came. Three other seniors joined me, but then those same three quit the very next day. By the end we were eight strong, but became eight of the closest guys you could ever imagine. We were all swimming Free!.

But there was this one freshman in particular. He was good. Very good. Like crazy good enough to make State qualification times in our first meet.

*gulp*

Then there was me, who had actually peaked his junior year and suffered all season with a young hot-headed coach who didn’t even know what “mercy” meant.

I suddenly felt unqualified. Alone, if you will. Days grew longer, my body grew more tired, and yet my times never improved.

I even remember crying myself to sleep one night, swearing to myself that I’d quit at practice the next day. “Who even needed to say they swam for four years during high school?? It’s not like I’d remember any of it a decade later!!”

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But then I thought about me—myself, that scared little guy who, during his freshman year, witnessed several of his upperclassmen leave the lanes for good. If it weren’t for those four boys, our A-Team relay, I probably would have—

I WOULD HAVE QUIT A LONG TIME AGO.

That’s when it hit me: I wasn’t staying there for me anymore. Heck, I didn’t need swimming, or an in-shape body anymore—it’s senior year.

But what kind of message would that have sent to them, their families, this community, that a team of only freshmen and sophomores were left senior-less after they all quit??

Nope. I was there for them. For the team that never left me when I was a first year.

For the team. 

So I whipped myself back into shape, my psyche ready for any challenges that came my way, because I wasn’t swimming for my own times anymore—it was for the relay, for the team!

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This past spring, we finished seven strong with one of our guys leaving us due to his parents moving away. But we never forgot him, and we never forgot about us.

And it was that fleeting member who got us to compete at State. Relay times are generally left permanently for the team, which is why, when he left, we met consideration time. It was just a few aching days after that we found out that our qualifying time got us in.

We stayed overnight in a fancy hotel, exploring the town together with our coaches, shopping, laughing, making those kinds of memories.

The kinds you’ll never forget.

And then we swam at state. That one really good freshman OF COURSE placed in the top ten. Our relay . . .

We didn’t make it to the second day, hahaha! But we were lucky enough to even be there in the first place, right?

When our splits (individual times) were captured by our coaches and the timing mats, my own time came in:

I swam a 24-some-second 50-yard freestyle in our relay. That is, to date, the fastest I had ever swam, and I nearly cried. We were all yelling and screaming and cheering so loud that we nearly lost our voices, but we didn’t care at that point, cause we all for the most part had swam our best when it mattered most, and ya know,

That means the world to a Team Captain.

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Like Free! tries to tell us, you can be the best swimmer or the worst swimmer, but if you don’t work together as a team, you’ll never win what truly matters: friendship, companionship, brotherhood—they’re all synonymous at this point.

We go about our lives thinking and acting like we have to carry our own weight, and to an extent, that’s true. But like a relay, everything we do is ultimately for the team, for some group, tangible or not, that is bonded together through incredible triumphs, pitfalls, or just good memories.

And if you find yourself losing passion with something, or are stuck with a team that frankly isn’t filled with the most wonderful of people, then BE that wonderful person for the team. Do what I did and work your butt off, sweat your tears away, and devote everything you’ve got just to say that YOU never left them when it mattered most.

Cause ultimately, you, too, are part of a team, their team, and you should do things just like that:

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 This was a very long post (laughs) and I apologize, but there’s a lot to be said about Takuto here. A lot indeed. And if you read it all, from beginning until now, I can’t honestly thank you enough! Free! may be male fanservice to everyone’s eye, but to me, it’s a beautiful and inspirational coming-of-age story filled with compassion and teamwork that inspired me to take on a seemingly impossible journey—impossible alone, that is. It’s about growing up and finding out who you really want to be, about dedication, self-motivation, and life after graduation. Through Free! I made friends and fell in love with a sport. But more than that I made memories to last a lifetime, and those are irreplaceable.

As such, both seasons of Free! are awarded solid “Caffe Mochas” ratings, and should be watched on Crunchyroll or Funimation’s sites for FREE (hah) at one’s earliest convenience. That is, only if you’re craving something really hot.

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This concludes my June 5th (now 6th, apologies) entry in the OWLS “Team” blog tour. Being the first one to kick off a tour of this magnitude is quite a heavy weight, but hopefully I did a decent job, and now we can carry that together, right? Please tune in to Remy Fool (The Lily Garden) as he discusses the poor perception of male crossdressers in Japanese media this Monday, June 12th.

To all the guys I swam with throughout my four years, from the team that inspired me to the one that I, myself, hopefully inspired, thank you for all of the laughs and the memories—this one’s for you. Stay silly my guys. 

And to you, my favorite readers, an even greater thanks! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, once a team captain, now just another blogger

Rei

 

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 Raine (who happens to be their village’s teacher) 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 exist elves. They live reclusive lives hidden in villages among the trees, like Heimdall, and choose to isolate themselves from society because half-elf breeding (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 possess neither—and disgust for one’s blood to be tainted by the others’ race, both humans and elves decided to hate the “perfect” 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, near-omnipotent magic users with longevity in beautiful 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 because 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. Viewing Mithos as a painful mirror of his very being, Genis seeks solace in this poor boy. 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 the execution of his plans via brutal nature was 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 could 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 someday 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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Overfly, To Be So Close Yet So Far Away | PART V & FINALE: In Defense of Fairy Dance

This is part five and finale 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.

Well readers, we’ve reached the final stretch! Instead of boring you with another wave of novel quotes and anime screenshots, I decided to go out on a limb [insert World Tree joke here] and bring in sound to this comprehensive analysis. Specifically, Sword Art Online’s second ending (my favorite song) “Overfly” by Luna Haruna. For this post, I’d like to seek the great YouTuber and vocalist Amanda Lee and her cover of “Overfly” to wrap everything up, as its lyrical brilliance encompasses the heart and soul of the “Fairy Dance.” Even though the multi-meaningful lyrics can be applied to practically all characters in the franchise (dramatic irony and all), I want to tag-team with AmaLee and let one Sylph in particular shine above the crowd.

I DO NOT OWN “OVERFLY” OR THIS COVER. THE SONG BELONGS TO LUNA HARUNA AND THE COVER BELONGS TO AMANDA LEE.

First, a note from AmaLee herself. If you read the description box, she quotes:

“I wanted to chime in about this song (rare, I know!) If you’ve watched the anime you can probably see that this song is written from Sugu’s perspective. (spoiler warning) Throughout the song she’s realizing that her love is one-sided and is trying to deal with that heartbreak. I know many people don’t like Sugu but I just want to give her a big hug after singing this song~ ;;;A;;; I the lyrics are extremely touching because everyone knows the feeling of wanting something so badly but ultimately knowing that no matter what you do, you can’t make it happen. Betcha didn’t think this song was that bittersweet when you heard it in Japanese!”

Oh yeah, then why the Asuna picture instead of Suguha? How does this play into the sad irony we’ve thoroughly established?

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Ah yes, the truth is polarizing. Onto the song!

ENGLISH “Overfly” Sword Art Online (AmaLee)

 

Hands up high Raise them high

And cast your worries to the sky

There’s no doubt Not one doubt

As I make my wish and let it cry out

Two hands in the air not only represent a surrender, but also an “AGH, I give up!” action. And that’s exactly what Suguha’s doing here – She’s throwing her burdens and troubles towards the heavens in hopes that – without doubt – she will be able to dream without worry and just let it all out.

If I gathered all the love in my heart

That grows with every passing day

I would find a confusing puzzle

That changes and rearranges

Every day, Sugu’s love for Kazuto grows more and more. Love isn’t an emotion to stop by for an hour, sip on a drink, then depart. No. Each passing moment she shares with him adds to the complexity of the scenario – Should I love him, should I not . . . ? Sugu knows the chaos that would spread should she declare her love to her brother, and that not only hurts but confuses her. Shouldn’t she be entitled to pursue love passionately and freely? In this case, society (and some health studies) indicate otherwise.

Will I ever find my place? I’m not sure

Or will I forever feel insecure?

And the moment all the questions fade

I notice my tears

But I can’t hold them back

Will Sugu eventually find a place where she is comfortable with this forbidden lust? She doesn’t know. Perhaps she’ll be clutching that intangible and silly reality forever, like a kid at a carnival still waiting by the Ferris wheel with a ticket despite it having closed hours ago. However, the moment she thinks she’s come up with a solution and/or breaks the ice, Sugu is reminded about how wrong that love is, and cries indefinitely.

Maybe it’s too late

I’ve lost my chance

All of my questions shall go unanswered

Will I keep fighting to find the light or

Will I descend to a bitter end?

It might even be too late! I mean, Kazuto loves Asuna with a desire unlike any other; Perhaps Sugu should just throw in the towel now. I mean, the two are a good match. What would you do – Pursue love passionately and vigorously, or end the struggle only to wallow in more regret, guilt, and heartbreak?

Hands up high Raise them high

And cast your worries to the sky

If you can’t stand

Then take my hand

And I will rise to fight by your side

My beating heart is burning on

And as it races I realize

There’s no doubt Not one doubt

As I make my wish and let it cry out

Chorus time. Toss up those hands in prayer, as all will eventually be fine. Here, I imagine Leafa’s personality peeking through the clouds. The fierce Sylph warrior is reaching out to Kirito’s hand in an effort to help him rise and rescue his seemingly long-lost ‘wife.’ This encouragement, in turn, causes reinvention to take root within Leafa. “Now I have purpose,” and this excites her heart into motion. If he can pursue that wildly at impossible odds, so can she. The wish is back into focus.

I have always danced to my own beat

But you always throw me out of sync

‘Cause around you I am holding back

And I’m mastering a fake brave smile

Sugu is tough on the outside and on the inside. She’s in kendo, and damn good at it, too! Ever since, she’s had her own rhythm – her own ebb and flow. Even in ALO, flying through missions is the only thing on her mind. But romance keeps disrupting the waters; a heartbeat that keeps accelerating. Leafa has to act tough around Kirito so that he is not discouraged, even if her heart is overflowing with anticipation and mixed signals.

Maybe it’s too late

I’ve lost to my dreams

All of my wishes come true only here

If I wake up now, I’ll lose this moment

I fear my dreams will fade around me

Kazuto returned to the real world nicer than ever before, and that also offsets Sugu. “Why is he so kind to me?” As reality keeps tormenting her, indecision crawls back into the forefront. All of Sugu’s greatest dreams come true in the enchanting land of the fairies, ALfheim Online. She can fly, rest, make friends, and most of all, be truly free. If Sugu decides to “wake up” and choose Kazuto over ALO, she knows she’ll lose many things in the process, including her one true dream of flying higher than the clouds.

I’m so close yet so far

I can’t reach out to where you are

I’d give my heart I’d give my soul

But somethings are not in our control

“I’m so close, yet so far.” This is the ideal caption for Sword Art Online’s second half. It ties to Asuna and Kirito being in the same gaming world, yet not being able to meet up. It applies to Kirito standing over her real body in the hospital, yet not being able to say a word. It enforces the thought that Suguha has tragically fallen in love with her own brother, and despite them being closer than ever before (they live in the same house for chrissake), she feels so far apart. How about Leafa wanting to break the flight barrier? She’s so damn close all the time, yet the game has set it so that it’s impossible to breech. It’s all of that damn Dramatic Irony crap we’ve been delving into for the past two weeks!! Everyone on this cruel stage is willing to risk their heart and soul, but whether it be game admins, societal roles, or virtual connections, it’s not for them to decide the rules.

Your hand’s not meant for me to hold

And I’ll be lonely when you’re gone

I’m aware So aware

Only through my memory you’ll be there

A sister knows she cannot be with her own brother in matrimony. Thus, when Asuna and Kazuto go off and wed in the real world, Sugu will feel very lonely. Same with Kirito – Once he finds the princess he’s searching for, Leafa will lose her daring knight and precious friend. Only in reminiscence will she savor these wonderful joys.

It’s not the destiny that I’ve dreamed of

And as I cry I know this is goodbye

How can I ever reach you

When I can’t even see the sky?

She didn’t want to fall in love with Kazuto – That’s why she moved on to Kirito! But when Kirito proclaims his lover’s name, “Asuna,” she realizes that she was just another player in this punishing game of tag. Why she “can’t see the sky” could represent her tears filling and blurring out the view. Or perhaps another hint at the flight barrier which she cannot breech. Even more so could be that at the beginning of the song (and at the end here), Sugu cast her dreams to the sky, and that vision has now become muddied.

Hands up high Raise them high

And cast your worries to the sky

If you can’t stand

Then take my hand

And I will rise to fight by your side

My beating heart is burning on

And as it races I realize

There’s no doubt Not one doubt

As I make my wish and let it cry out

Regardless, the sky will always hold her heavy heart and greatest wishes. If Kirito needs help, then she will help him like he did for her. Simple as that, and this foreshadows the route she takes following the revelation (Sugu finds out) and the conclusion. Fighting with him excites her, and as her heart beats firmly, the Sylph now knows where she stands: In the sky, high above spiraling towers where her desires can cry out, yet out of reach for anyone else to hear. What else could “Overfly” mean?


Thank you for reading! Please, share any thoughts below and stay tuned for a brief REFLECTION!

(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. “Overfly” belongs to Luna Haruna, and this English cover belongs to AmaLee.)

The Deadly Power of the Game | PART IV: In Defense of Fairy Dance

This is part four 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.

Much like with PART III, this section will focus on the dramatic irony behind ALfheim Online itself, along with VR gaming altogether. Again, we’ll be analyzing many of the quotes from the light novels to bring the truth to light. The anime does a fair job at captioning the satire of the entire ordeal, so bringing in further clips would only clutter the analysis. There are pictures, though. Many pretty pictures.

“Land of the Fairies,” Eh?

Don’t worry, Kazuto thought the exact same thing. I mean, what’s a bunch of fairies doing in games anyway? After nearly dying in a world of knights and castles, nobody wants to be a dumb fairy – They’re just bloated pixies. But when Kazuto questioned Agil, apparently ALO isn’t just another laid-back, casual MMO. No, in fact it’s “actually pretty hard-core,” as the system is set up to be entirely skill-based so that player skill is rewarded. PK-ing is encouraged as a result. Where each VRMMORPG tests its players, Leafa believes that pride is what was being challenged in ALO. “How hard could you struggle? If you lost, how would you regroup and hold your head high? That was the test, (24, vol.4).” Also, imagine losing to a bunch of fairies. That’s dumb.

Right off the bat irony is up and ready for a home run. That should be every viewer’s first thought – What’s so tough about ALfheim? The second arc’s game is totally based on athletic abilities rather than keyboarding techniques, essentially meaning that if you lose in-game, it means that you literally weren’t strong enough. It’s also funny how they mention it’s basically SAO with magic. Magic. Doesn’t ALO feel magical? Everyone has glittery wings that allow them to fly higher than in any other MMO, and who doesn’t want that? ALO must be a DREAM COME TRUE, no flaws whatsoever. HAH! What a joke.

The Sad, Scientific Truth behind ALfheim

I don’t want to turn this already-way-too-long series into a summary, so let’s just jog our noggins. Sugou inverted SAO into ALO, kidnapping +300 entrapped minds as tools to further his research. That being, to study and prove that if the brain could be significantly controlled, then so could emotions.

“’Ha-ha! You won’t be singing that tune for long. Very soon, I will control your emotions in the palm of my hand. Look, Titania. Can you see them? Thousands and thousands of players, diving into this expansive world, enjoying the game. The thing is . . . none of them has any idea that the full-dive system isn’t just a tool for mere entertainment!’ (102, vol.3).”

Games are meant to be innocent fun, nothing more or less. But here, the grand Fairy King has rewritten the rules and taken control of all pawns on the board. He cheats, abusing the gift of the virtual world to benefit his own research – And at the extent of risking human lives, to which he casts aside! Sugou is a villain in both pixels and cold blood, and I’d say he’s a good one at that. He is, after all, a scientist, and furthering one’s knowledge of the world whenever and WHEREVER possible is sincerely worth pursuing. While you can only go so far to justify his motives, Sugou is still a creepy bastard who treats his soon-to-be wife without any regard, and he also kidnaps kiddos and pokes around their brain while they sleep. His jealousy over Kayaba’s success drove him to be even more passionate, yet he was outraged when the creator sacrificed himself.

“’Mr. Kayaba was a genius. But he was also a fool. How could he utilize that incredible potential just to create a stupid game?’ (103, vol.3).”

But his methods are where I see the crowd diverge. His henchmen find it more humane than exposing test animals’ brains to open air and jamming electrodes into them. “I mean, all they’re doing here is dreaming.” Very true, it’s all one big farce, and the series mentions that research on the human brain is incredibly slow due to the, well, human subjects needed. It’s not like you can get folks to consent on the matter, though. Otherwise we’d be leaps and bounds ahead of what we know! His research is admirable, but Sugou’s methods cross the line of sanity. He’s also an ass, which adds to what makes pure villainy – hatred. He’s supposed to be unlikable, and I think we can all agree that he is without falter.

This is One Tree You Can’t Climb

After giving Kirito the info-dump as to the features in ALO, Kirito assesses that the World Tree – The Master Quest – is essentially unbeatable because the only indication to standing a chance involves guild cooperation. However, the prize is only awarded to a single race that completes the mission, and no one would compete if it just means forfeiting the prize to the other team.

A while later, Kirito truly understands the game’s irony. “’ALO’s a nasty game, testing its players’ greed like this. I’m guessing its designer is a real piece of work,’ (191, vol.3).”

Oh trust me, he is. He is the self-proclaimed “Fairy King.” He’s also a narcissistic fiend.

Even Leafa, while tackling the Tree at the end of the series, feels the unfairness in the omnipresent guardian knights. She’s starting to sense that this world isn’t built around the hopes and dreams that flying fulfills. Something’s amiss. I just love this quote:

“But now, for the first time, Leafa began to sense a kind of malice within the system. Some unseen force, which was supposedly keeping everything in a fair balance, was wickedly, cruelly swinging a bloody scythe at the players’ necks within this arena. There was no way to overcome this trap, (124, vol.4).”

And when Kirito finally resurfaces (because he’s too OP) he becomes speechless. He has some excellent mental grammar, though:

“The grand quest at the center of the game – to reach the city atop the World Tree and be reborn as true fairies – was nothing more than a giant carrot, endlessly dangled out of reach of the game’s player base? So not only was this battle’s difficulty set to the extreme, the door was locked by nothing more than the will of the game manager . . . ? (133, vol.4).”

THIS RIGHT HERE is the MOST SIGNIFICANT piece of DRAMATICAL IRONY found in the work. We’ve covered Suguha and Asuna, but this realization is the ultimate plot underlying Sword Art Online. Even the revelation to Kirito that Sugou – the nasty man trying to steal his girl IRL – is the mastermind doesn’t compare in shock value to this. The game is rigged. It was from the start to its game manager’s end. Those who fought for life in this world – to fly high among the stars and one day, a palace in the sky – is all for not. Hell, the option doesn’t exist. Just like you couldn’t log out of SAO, a freakin’ game, ALO’s master storyline isn’t designed to finish – EVER. What keeps players like Asuna and Kirito coming back to VRs if they only bring painful revelations and ironically cruel clickbait?

Treasures ALO Gave its Players

The irreplaceable positive memories and true friendships formed, that’s what. People form ideals off of scenarios like these. For Kirito, everything was just a game. “Kill what you want, take what you want.” After surviving SAO and enduring ALO, he’s seen enough to realize that “there are things you have to protect and uphold because it’s a virtual world, even if that makes you look stupid, (168, vol.3).” Paraphrasing from the novel: Though it sounds paradoxical, you can’t completely separate the player and the role-playing. Letting your inner greed run wild in the virtual world and that will come back to haunt your real-life personality. The player and the character are one in the same. That’s powerful; it’s an influential statement I’m sure actors, cosplayers, gamers, and the like can relate to.

For Leafa – No, for Suguha – she found true friendship along with hope and purpose through her wings of freedom. When rescuing Tonky from the three-faced giant, Sugu wasn’t going stand and watch the murder of something she’d labeled as a friend and given a name. There’d be no point to playing a VRMMO if it’s all fake! Even when they get out of Jotunheim, she reflects on the happy accident that arose from falling in the first place, and all of the rare experience and friendship they gained being side-by-side.

To think that Sugou can manipulate these emotions is catastrophic, and Asuna of all people knows this by heart. “The research being done here was one of the great taboos, like human cloning. It wasn’t just a simple crime. This was the destruction and desecration of the last vestige of human dignity: the soul, (59, vol.4).” Robbing humans of emotions doesn’t make them human anymore, yet the person reaping the souls of others is the most inhumane of all. It’s almost unfathomable, really, and I only wish the series took this issue more seriously.

Lastly, along with memories, friendships, and ideals comes initiative – the drive to take charge and change fate. In his final bouts, Kirito reflects that ultimately, a virtual world is just a game, and he thought it was all real. He ponders his desire to return to the deadly SAO just because he was that world’s strongest hero. This notion of might clouded his judgement upon landing in ALO to foolishly save the princess without professional help, and it sadly resulted in borrowed mental toughness, nothing more. “I must have been very happy regaining my imaginary power, crushing other players and satisfying my ugly pride and self-esteem, (151, vol.4).” And even though the hideous God of this world is in absolute dominance, Kirito still prays. To a God in the real world? To a system glitch? To fate itself?

The most logical choice is the one whom blessed him with strength in the first place. The God of that old world. And just like that, Kayaba shows up in disappointment at what has become of the ideals which blossomed from their duel – That the HUMAN WILL could surpass a COMPUTER. Kirito wins not because his stats were higher, or that his blade was sharper. He wins because his will overpowered Sugou’s corrupted vision. The God of Old indirectly causes the downfall of the New God by channeling his spirit into the knight that beat him in a past life. That’s golden irony.

Thank you for reading! Please, share any thoughts below and stay tuned for PART V & FINALE!

(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.)