PyeongChang on ICE!!! Celebrating Team Spirit in the 2018 Winter Olympics | OWLS “Competition”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s second monthly topic for 2018, “Competition,” I decided to try something new. Instead of analyzing a certain anime, breaking it down to what makes it relative for the month’s theme, I wanted to chronicle a certain experience instead.

As I’m sure you all know, the 2018 Winter Olympics is happening right now in PyeongChang, South Korea. And if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I am very enthusiastic about all of the competitions that have unfolded, and the awe-inspiring feats we’ve been lucky to witness. For this post specifically, I’d like to look at Olympic figure skating, as well as some of #TeamUSA’s most incredible moments out in the wintry tundra of PyeongChang.

In honor of the 2018 Winter Olympics, this month’s topic will focus on the theme “Competition,” as the Olympics is where athletes from all countries join together to compete in sporting events. Through these games, we see how “competition” brings out the grit, the teamwork, and the competitive spirit within athletes. We will be exploring anime and pop culture media that discusses the good and the bad when it comes to competition, and what it can teach us about ourselves and the world around us.

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After consulting the OWLS team, it was brought to my attention that the Olympics does, indeed, fall under popular culture. So, in taking a slight break from anime and manga, please enjoy this figure skating recap and also a truly rare side—the winter sports fanatic side—of me, Takuto! Thanks Lyn for the exciting prompt!


A brief look into the world of figure skating—a visit to the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang (Feb 9, 2018 – Feb 25, 2018) and the thrilling successes we’ve seen thus far. Again, these are all my personal favorite highlights, so for full Olympic coverage, visit their official site. None of these pictures belong to me. 

A Little Background

Contrary to what you may believe, my love for the figure skating did not begin with Yuri!!! On ICE. The popular anime which took the world by storm did make me more invested in the sport to the point where I am now, but the truth is that I’ve always enjoyed the non-typical U.S. favorites like swimming, diving, dancing, gymnastics, and of course, figure skating. I’ve never been big on sports. Like, at all. But there’s an allure to the ones I listed above—an artistic beauty—that transcends “Who can run the fastest?” and “Who can be the strongest?”

These athletes still want to be the best, but to me, their hard work and struggles translate more as a story than a game of football ever could. In a sense, figure skaters are performers putting on a show, artists who match unique music to physical movement, rhythm, technicality, emotion, and expression. Given my own background in the performing arts, I can relate to them.

So naturally, I find myself hooked to the only sport which unifies the entire world through music in one glorious cup for sportsmanship: the Olympics. Unlike figure skating’s ISU Championships, including World, European, Four Continents, World Junior Championships, and the Grand Prix (as made popular by YOI), the Winter Olympics is the only figure-skating comp which receives worldwide coverage on just about every news outlet. As such, the joys of the beautiful sport became a quadrennial treat; every four years brought a reunion for my love of the ice; likewise, every other four years, I got to enjoy some swimming.

After Vancouver in 2010 and Sochi in 2014, the Winter Olympics are back for 2018 in PyeongChang! As a half-Korean myself (my mom was adopted from South Korea many years ago), the political intensity between the North, the South, and the whole world, really, made skeptical and a bit cautious. What if something horrendous happened? How would that forever shake up world history? Here we are, almost finished with the Winter Games’ and honestly, it couldn’t have gone better! From North Korea’s permitted entry to the ENTIRETY OF NORTH AND SOUTH BEING ANNOUNCED UNDER ONE SATISFYING “KOREA,” all felt oh-so right with the world.

With what I understand, one of the loudest cheers heard in PyeongChang was actually Korea’s joint entry, and reports say that the Koreans have been overly kind and supportive of ALL teams and nations. Simply incredible spirit, and it makes my heart so happy!

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Major victories were made before the Olympics even started, and now that the brilliant cauldron has been lit, it’s time to begin the games! Here are some of my favorite skaters!

The Members of Team USA

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Bronze Medalists in the Team Event!

Nathan CHEN

Building up over months of media pressure and hype, Nathan Chen’s Olympic debut was met with love by his supporters despite a short and free program full of falls in the team event. I felt so sorry for the poor dude, as he’s ONLY 18, but hey, we all have our bad days, and Nathan’s true fans know what even a normal day looks like for him (which is, well, quad after quad after quad). After moving on to the men’s single, he turned out another disappointing performance. By this point, I just wanted him to be out of the media’s way. But then it happened: Nathan Chen had a good day. A very good day.

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For his last skate, Nathan went out and showed us what he’s truly capable of, reminding us that yes, THIS is the 2015-16 Junior Grand Prix Final Gold Medalist he was celebrated for being, one of only a handful of “Quad Kings” out there (and likely the best). In this wicked free program, he became the first skater to ever cleanly land FIVE quads at the Olympics, and, arguably more impressive, the first to try a SIXTH. If that’s not an EPIC comeback, I’m not sure what is. Nathan scored the highest free program technical score in history, pulling him up from 17th place to 5th. PLUS, he was the first to ever land a quad flip at the Olympic Games. In an interview afterward, he stated that he just wanted to “try it, as he’d been practicing it,” and that he had “nothing to lose by this point.” And BOY did it go for it! He’s young, he’s a hard worker, and he’s an absolute beast on the ice—and I can’t wait to see the heights he climbs to next.

Adam RIPPON

I’m sure the whole nation if not the world is already acquainted with this flamboyant skater, but beyond his little political skirmishes, Adam inspired many around the world as the first openly gay athlete to compete at the Winter Olympics. He’s absolutely full of himself at times, but it’s that combination of sass, charm, and pride that made him stand out in the first place. On top of it all, he’s one of the most beautiful skaters to compete in 2018; after not qualifying for Sochi in 2014, Adam went up to his roof with best friend and fellow skater Mirai Nagasu, ate junk food, then kicked it into high gear to make it to PyeongChang as a 28-year-old. His performances may not have had the highest technical base scores, but in each of the four times Adam Rippon went onto the ice, the whole world stopped for a moment and stared in awe at Adam’s swooping elegance and magnificent pride.

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Alexa and Chris KNIERIM

Showing us ultimate #couplegoals as the power of love (and hard work) pushed them to 4th place, Alex and Chris are the sweetest pair skaters out there. They didn’t score as high as they’d like to, but each performance (team and pair) was absolutely gorgeous and made me want to follow their Olympic journey via social media. The way Alexa and Chris interact is so wholesome (his giant V-day teddy bear at the kiss and cry, UGH), and they shared such a precious moment each time they skated together.

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Mirai NAGASU

Though we can’t underestimate her 2nd place victory in the team event’s ladies single free skate, Mirai’s claim-to-fame occurred when, right at the start of her program, performed the triple axel, becoming the first American female figure skater to land the stunning jump at the Olympics, and the third woman from any country to do so. She’s a fantastic skater whose programs’ base level points are always leagues ahead of the competition. Daring, kind-hearted, and supportive of her team, Mirai knows exactly what she wants and how to get it—even if it means smashing records, baby! In the ladies single short program, she missed the triple axel, causing her to fall to 9th place. But even so, she’s still a strong, accomplished Asian-American female! Girl, you rock!

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Alex and Maia SHIBUTANI

Efforts by Asian-American siblings Alex and Maia SHIBUTANI (AKA best pair!!) pulled the US forward in the team ice dance short program, scoring 2nd place with their exciting Latin dance. I just love these two so much, and their performance also made me start following the #ShibSibs on social media! BUT WAIT, they get better. In the individual ice dance short program, they repeated that exact same number and grabbed even more of the world’s attention. Finally, in what has already been a back-to-back series of best performances ever, the Shib Sibs gave everything they had left into the free dance, pushing them to win YET ANOTHER Olympic bronze to add to their incredible Olympic debut!

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Alex and Maia stand as favorites YES because of their amazing sibling bond, but also because they bring to pair ice dancing a kind of love and passion unique from the typical “sex appeal” of couples. They redefine this side of figure skating with every inspiring performance (heck, they made Coldplay’s “Paradise” actually enjoyable for the song’s haters), and I’m just so proud of their ability to monopolize on their strengths and fight on equal terms by unashamedly using their own style of pair dancing! WOOHOO! Love you Shibs!!

The Members of Team Japan

Miu SUZUKI and Ryuichi KIHARA

We were treated to a real surprise when in the pair skating short program when this pair brought Yuri!!! On ICE to the real world. Skating to Yuri Katsuki’s own free program song, the two captured the hearts of fans (myself included) and proved that YOI was more than just a show, but a phenomenon. Though they ended in 8th here, no amount of statistics or ratings could tell me that the weren’t magical in every sense of the word. LOVED THEM!

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Shoma UNO

My personal FAVORITE solo skater, this sleepy boy stole an overwhelming lead in the team event’s men’s short program by almost 15 points with Vivaldi’s Winter’s 1st Movement! Following lackluster performances from Patrick Chan (Canada) and Nathan Chen (USA),  Shoma showed up at the very end and pulled the ice out from under everyone, granting Japan those gratuitous 10 team points. Whether he knows it or not, scoring above 100 in the short (103.25) is a tremendous feat (an Olympic record, in fact), and it’s unbelievable that he’d go on to do even better in the single!

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The men’s single short program rolled around and Shoma, somehow nonchalantly, shrugged off his Olympic record-breaking skate WHICH HE JUST PERFORMED: 104.17, not the best in the world but a personal victory for the guy (leaving him in third place). Skating last in the men’s free, he was challenged by needing to overcome both Javier and Yuzuru’s perfect performances. And again, Shoma delivered!! After falling during an attempt at his first quad, Shoma began laughing to himself, letting the positive vibes of officially being done pump his adrenaline. Culminating in his final efforts to surpass his best friends and rivals, Shoma exploded in the VERY LAST MINUTE, pulling off all kinds of insane jumps back-to-back and landing them flawlessly—I honestly couldn’t believe how driven he was to reach the top! Shoma finished with Olympic Silver, placing himself right in front of Javi but before his “eternal goal, his eternal idol” Yuzuru Hanyu.

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To quote a fan I follow on Twitter:

The boy who quietly carried Japanese figure skating through two Grand Prix assignments, the Grand Prix Final, Japan Open, 4CC, the Olympic Team Event, and the individual who placed 1st or 2nd every single time. Thank you for all you’ve done. I am so proud of you.

Shoma Uno had yet to completely step out of Hanyu’s shadow, but in the 2018 Olympics, Shoma proved to the world that he was more than worthy of standing among figure skating’s greatests. Now, go get some sleep, my guy—you’ve got a lot of video gaming to catch up on!

Yuzuru HANYU

At this point, I’m not even sure what I can add about Yuzu. Coming out of a terrible ankle injury in 2017, Hanyu just began jumping again a few weeks before the Olympics. He had a lot to live up to as the best skater in the world, but he was more than determined to fight for his championship title. Winning gold at the Sochi Games in 2014, was Hanyu honestly able to hold his own against the world?

Clearly, we had nothing to worry about.

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Claiming first in both the men’s short and free programs, Pooh-kun rained down from the heavens, shocking viewers who were unfamiliar with the tradition of his fans. Yuzuru’s performances were absolute healing wonders, his short program’s technical score breaking the previous Olympic record (which I believe he had set). Nathan Chen might’ve broken the record for the free, but Yuzuru’s consistency in executing his masterpieces made him the real gold winner here.

At the end of a long and stressful season, Yuzuru Hanyu—the living legend, the King of the Ice—defended his Olympic Championship title, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Among all his other successes, he will be remembered as the skater who rose from injury to infinity through sheer strength (and unity) of body and mind, a reminder not to underestimate the great athlete of Japan.

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Competition Around the Globe

Javier FERNANDEZ (Spain)

One of the few skaters I knew before the Olympics, Javi is such a charmer both on and off the ice. Though he’s rinkmates with defending champion (among many, many other titles) Yuzuru Hanyu, even sharing the same coach (Brian Orser), there’s never any animosity detected between the two. The two are real dorks around one another, actually, and when Shoma’s there, it’s the GPF triplet that goes waaaay back. I have Javi on this list not only because he skated excellently (earning a season’s best in both of his skates, ultimately placing him in third), but also because he became the first skater from Spain to ever medal in the Olympics. Following Shoma’s skate, Javi told Yuzuru that this was likely the end of his career, to which Yuzu broke down into tears repeating “I can’t do this without you.” As if my heart hadn’t shattered enough, in a closing interview, Javi confirmed that he was pulling out of the the World Championships in Milan. The accomplished Spanish skater unexpectedly swooped in and snatched my heart, proving that long-lasting friendship IS possible (and beautiful) in competition.

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That concluded the men’s single: Javier, Shoma, and Yuzuru—dream results for any longtime fan of this GPF trio of friendship!

Gabriella PAPADAKIS and Guillaume CIZERON (France)

Papadakis is an incredible skater who shouldn’t have had to deal with a wardrobe malfunction—of all things—at something as big as the Olympics. What hurts even more was that BOTH their short and free programs were flawless, meaning that they WOULD have taken first (which they held for a while), as their score in the free was a point higher than reigning champions Tessa and Scott of Canada’s free score (which also means they would’ve set a world record). Heck, the poor woman should’ve been given extra points for coping with such a trivial matter! But unfortunately, that’s not how the game is scored, and the show must go on.

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Evgenia MEDVEDEVA (OAR)

Ahhhh, oh Evgenia. Beloved as an 18-year-old Russian superstar and a open young fan of anime and Japanese media, Evgenia didn’t let a foot injury sustained back in 2017 stop her from continuing to achieve new heights. She opened up the ladies short program in the team event by breaking her own record set in the short—of which she broke again in the single short program! Perfect jumps, strong lands, and masterful conveying of emotion EVERY TIME. Also, her arrangement of Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp Minor (No. 20) was so, sooo beautiful. I’ve really come to love Evgenia’s journey both as an anime fan and the world’s greatest female skater. She always seems to have fun with the sport and its peoples, but also never underestimates their abilities and individual hard work. If you enjoy watching young champions fight for their title, be sure to follow Medvedeva in the last event of the Olympics, and perhaps beyond this great competition!

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Alina ZAGITOVA (OAR)

A rising star in figure skating, 15-year-old Alina Zagitova poses more of a threat to Evgenia’s supremacy than any other female skater in the world. She’s already bested her in one major competition, and Alina’s only direction is up. Alina’s style is very Russian, sticking to classical music, the finesse of ballet, and using her slender figure to pull off some explosive jumps. Zagitova is chaos perfected, and as she maintains the lead on the ladies single short program, surpassing Evegenia’s newly set world record RIGHT AFTER SHE MADE IT, you can guarantee that the thrilling free program finale will continue the Olympic Battle of the Russian Princesses.

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Aliona SAVCHENKO and Bruno MASSOT (Germany)

Of all the stories here, Aliona’s surprisingly is my favorite. When the Aliona first stepped onto the scene, I found her looks to be way too “prickish” for my tastes. But once the downbeat of “That Man” by Caro Emerald played, Savchenko burst into life, becoming the fiercest, sassiest woman in the entire stadium. Love may be a drug, but the charisma Savchenko was addictive. Their performance was more engaging and playful than any of the pairs’ out there, and though she was able to hold up 3rd in the team’s short program (right in front of the Knierims), they fell apart in the team’s free.

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This was Savchenko’s FIFTH FREAKIN’ OLYMPICS and all she wanted was the gold. FIVE OLYMPICS. The woman is old, 34, and her time in the spotlight was quickly fading—if it wasn’t going to be here, it was never meant to be. In terms of Olympic records . . . five visits, over twenty years of waiting, many partners, and only two bronze medals to show for it? Yeah, she wasn’t going to have a single mistake.

So she skated her heart out in the pair skate short and free programs—with Massot, of course. For someone her age, physically, this was the end. To her, age was just a number. And though one may call it luck, or chance, or even karmic destiny, it was really Savchenko’s unwavering passion for victory—and Massot’s want to not fail her—that finally, FINALLY won Aliona Savchenko the gold medal. Earning the highest score ever recorded in pairs free skate, it was one of the most masterful, intense dances I’ve ever seen in my life, and it ended in her crumbling to the ice smiling, crying, winning.

In her fifth trip to the Winter Olympics, Aliona Savchenko finally won gold. 

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Through her competitive edge and triumph, I saw firsthand that hard work, grit, and perseverance will never let a person down. When faced with failure: try, try, try, and try again. One day, you’ll get there, and the achievement will be everything that you dreamed of and more.

“All competitors who are competing here are really strong, not only in body, but strong inside because we are sportsmen.” —Evgenia Medvedeva

Bringing it All Together

I think I’ve fanboyed enough about the Winter Games. Unlike any other competition in the WORLD, the Olympics has the power to unite practically all people on the planet in harmonious sportsmanship. It’s a fun, vibrant time to be alive, always full of excitement, team spirit, friendship, and the hope that we can reach our true potential through bridging the language barrier and competing against the best and the brightest. The world is much larger than we often think, and by watching the Olympics, we are reminded that talented, hardworking individuals reside all over the place—the Olympics just grants them the spotlight, and helps draw out that spirit for all to see.

If you missed the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, never fear—you can always catch highlights on the news, as I’m sure the athletic high will linger for a while longer. I can’t encourage you enough to join everyone in Tokyo 2020 for the Summer Olympics, and then back in Beijing for 2022—the completion of this Asian circuit!

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Did you have a favorite sport to watch this winter? What teams, individuals, or pairs did you find yourself cheering for? Favorite moments? Believe it or not, there’s SO much I left out (like Canada’s victories, China’s tranquility, and Italy’s cool numbers), so I want to know all about YOUR Olympic viewing journey! Don’t forget that as far as figure skating is concerned, the ladies free is still left on Thursday—a thrilling battle between the Russians, no doubt! Let me know what you thought of this coverage post down in the comments!

This concludes my February 20th (whoops!) entry in the OWLS “Competition” blog tour. Anituber Gigi of Animepalooza has a video for you on one of her favorites, the rivalries in Yowamushi Pedal which you can watch right here! Catch the amazing Irina (Drunken Anime Blog) today, February 21st, on the beloved Hikaru no Go, as I’m positive it’ll be an impressive write-up (as always)! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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The Ravishing, Elegant Imperfections of “Welcome to the Ballroom” | Blogmas 2017 Day 9

Hey everyone, welcome to (a very belated) day 9 of Blogmas (whoops)! This past summer, two sports anime aired simultaneously, and I decided to follow them to see which would wind out on top! Today I present a review of the show that finished airing about a week or so ago, the anime about a young boy’s experience as a ballroom dancer, and how the sport challenged and changed him for the better!

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The Summer of Sports: A Review of Welcome to the Ballroom


A spoiler-free review of the summer 2017 anime “Welcome to the Ballroom,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Yoshimi Itazu, based on the manga by Tomo Takeuchi. 

Entering the World of Dance

Tatara Fujita’s another one of those introverted third-year middle schoolers with no aim in life who very soon has to make the big high school decision. On one of his particularly average days, he is harassed by delinquents, only to suddenly be rescued by an imposing gentleman on a motor cycle. His name is Sengoku, an energetic professional dancer on the international level, and it is through some miscommunication on Sengoku’s part that Tatara ends up at his dance studio. There, he meets a girl from his school: Shizuku Hanaoka—the woman of his dreams—and it is partially because of both her charm and Tatara’s own desire to change himself that he enters the world of dance. The free-spirited Sengoku sees potential in young Tatara, and thus decides to show him the steps.

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Through his experience with dance, Tatara meets many people, friends and rivals alike, who will each challenge Tatara not only as an athlete, but as a young man coming of age. And it is through this same interaction with Tatara that other dancers feel encouraged to take steps to overcome their own issues and flaws. His feet will get plenty sore, and he’ll fall on the dance floor many, many times in practice, but Tatara keeps on going because of the enjoyment and wonder dancing brings into his otherwise goalless life.

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From Slouch Stance to Swing Dance

One of the most exciting times to be alive was Welcome to the Ballroom‘s beginning. Its first six or so episodes set up a pretty strong premise, not to mention a promising standard of animation quality. From Tatara understanding how to stand up straight and correct his terrible slouch to learning the waltz’s basic box pattern, I truly felt inspired to try waltzing around my room like I used to so many years ago. You just want to see more and more of the characters and the sport they all love—it’s first several episodes are addictive! But it’s hard to maintain that same adrenaline over the course of one dance competition alone. Let me elaborate.

Over the course of 24 episodes, we only bear witness to what, three, maybe four competitions. And it is from each of these arcs that we are expected to understand that Tatara’s skills accelerate at a terrifyingly quick rate. One does not instantly become a pro by attending merely a couple competitions, though; the reality is that it takes tens, if not hundreds of events like competitions that challenge one’s entire range of skills. I know Tatara wasn’t defined as a “pro” by the end of the series, as he clearly still has much to learn, but the fact that he was able to equally rival some of the series’s known-to-be-greatest dancers felt somewhat unbelievable.

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And while we’re on the subject of shounen arcs, a single dance could last two or three episodes, while a competition could span as great as nine or so episodes. What’s with that pacing? Had the competitions made shorter, we could’ve made room for more of them, which might’ve balanced the characterization better. In its defense, I imagine that my issues with the slow pacing would be way less apparent watching it now in marathon format as opposed to over the course of SIX MONTHS.

Where the series fails to be a completely smooth run here and there, it definitely makes up for it by proving to be VERY entertaining. Each episode does leave you craving to know what might happen in the next round, or perhaps to see which couples end up clashing on the dance floor. My pacing dissatisfaction wasn’t from “bad episodes” or “poor directing choices,” but rather a lack of action worthy enough to fill a whole episode (especially by the end). It’s not filler, it’s just slow-moving, and I suppose I’d rather a show take its time than push forward and leave out development.

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Finding Something to be Good At: Tatara & Dance

To give him credit, Tatara Fujita does practice A LOT. He’s a hard worker, and in fact, many shots in the series focus on characters walking into the studio, only to discover a tired Tatara training through the early hours of the morn. Where he struggles with verbal teachings, Tatara is incredibly gifted at duplicating dance moves he has seen. Odds are that this is the reason why he is able to fair well against many dancers, including the experienced ones.

Either way, he struggles with communicating what he wants, and as such fails to grasp the masculine hold that a couple’s lead should possess. This translates across to his external conflict: great shyness, nervousness, and a lack of self-confidence around others. He dances in secret, embarrassed by being a male dancer, and is unable to make friends as a result, nor tell his dad about his newfound hobby. Mentally, he is fighting to “man up,” accept dance as a part of himself, and discover what dancing really means to him—this is all while chasing after Sengoku’s shadow, of course. Overall, I like Tatara, as his conflicts are not only relatable, but his efforts to respect and embrace what he truly loves are praiseworthy, too! Through an unlikely sport like dance, Tatara finds that one thing he wished he could be good at, as well as a way to express his true, repressed, artistic spirit.

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Finding Kinship in Competition: Hyoudou & Gaju

As mentioned, several challengers oppose Tatara over the course of the series. Though they are mainly boys a tad older than he is, there are a couple of older men who provide valuable lessons and wisdom on the sport. Sengoku is the obvious culprit, but his lack of attention to Tatara kind of makes him a dick of a coach. He does have his own professional career to worry about, I suppose. And I do see why Tatara (and heck, everybody else) idolizes the guy: for all his goofiness and trouble with verbal instructions, Sengoku knows his stuff, and he sure is one eye-catching, dynamic dancer.

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Then there’s the other leads, namely dancing prodigy Kiyoharu Hyoudou and the brash, loudmouth Gaju Akagi. On their own, Hyoudou’s seemingly perfect career is suffering from a hidden injury, and the way the show handled his behavior and mannerisms was quite realistic and well-handled. It’s always a surprising dilemma to see “the star” in trouble, but it can happen to anyone, and the road to recovery can really deter one’s once-blazing determination. Every time he appeared from the shadows and opened his smart mouth to make some stupidly detailed analysis of Tatara’s mistakes, however, I did low-key want to punch him in the face.

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If Hyoudou is Tatara’s foil, then Gaju would be more like your standard, overly zealous competitor, the epiphany of dominance over one’s partner. He is the glue that holds the group together, though, and in times of relaxation and relief, it’s Gaju’s presence that brings out the casts’s nice chemistry.

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Finding a Partner: Chinatsu & The Struggle to Connect

At first, the other female dancers seem like standards for Tatara’s partner(s) to reach and eventually pass, but thankfully, that’s not how Ballroom works. While I’m told the manga (which I can’t wait to read) fleshes out the female characters better, as you get read their thoughts, I found myself nonetheless enjoying Hanaoka’s untouchable nature and the cute Mako Akagi’s hidden glam (seriously, the Tenpei Cup final was EPIC, and I love Mako’s yellow dress). Even the adult females like Sengoku’s partner Chizuru or Hyoudou’s mom Coach Marisa serve more purpose than just being there for Tatara—they all feel like real people with their own attitudes, weaknesses, and ambitions.

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As much as I loved Mako’s adorable yet strong-willed spirit, my favorite female character was one introduced in the show’s second half: Chinatsu, Tatara’s fiery future partner. Characterized as the polar opposite of Tatara—fierce, strong, bold, and most of all, a true leader—Chinatsu poses a lot of problems for Tatara (and frustration for the viewers, too). She’s essentially everything that he’s not, and her unwillingness to accept her own issues and work through them calmly (and fairly) with Tatara sets up a rocky, explosive relationship just waiting to burst. How Chinatsu’s existence changes EVERYTHING reminds me so much of Shinji and Asuka’s relationship from Evangelion, and it’s probably the reason why I like their dynamic so much.

Simply put, she’s everything that makes him uncomfortable, and he’s everything that challenges her very being. 

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The anime’s ending tries to cap off their relationship with a sudden “everything’s gonna be ok,” but we all know that more fights and fits are bound for this couple in the future. Their animosity was just handled so well, so powerfully, and it arguably made the long second half bearable for me. The struggle to connect and find a partner is a very intimate, vital thing, and I’m glad it wasn’t underplayed.

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(To avoid spoilers, obligatory shoutout to Kugimiya and his partner Idogawa, as it was their character development that made the final competition so impactful!)

A Dancing Anime Without the “Dance”

Ballroom blossoms beautifully when it’s moving. Seriously, it’s freakin’ wonderful. But fluid scenes on the dance floor are sadly few and far between, which is odd considering that a powerhouse like Production I.G is behind the helm. This was most viewers’ biggest beef with the anime adaptation, as the manga’s pages are rife with striking, expressive motion (which seems odd for paper, but just open up a volume whenever you get the chance). Way too often than what should be allowed for a sports anime, we are treated to still frame, after still frame, after still frame, which are guided by someone annoying (like Hyoudou) verbally leading us through what should have been a thrilling, visual feast! Don’t get me wrong—Every. Single. Frame. Of this anime is drop-dead gorgeous. Like, those dresses, holy shit, wow! But man, I was sighing throughout so many of the dance scenes because I just wanted to see SOMETHING move. It could literally be a ribbon or a dress sequin—JUST MOVE IT. I really hope some animation is added to the Blu-ray releases.

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(As for the giraffe necks, I didn’t mind too much. They’re glaring at first, but after a few episodes you don’t even notice how wrong it is.)

Music, the Soul of Dance

Thankfully, Ballroom manages to stay somewhat engaging during these motionless shots because of its delightful soundtrack. Perhaps this is because of musician Yuuki Hayashi’s own experience as a rhythmic gymnast; the man already knows how to match tempo and tune with fancy footwork. Hayashi is a rising favorite of mine, as he knows how to perfectly time moments that should be epic with music that is absolutely epic. From moving ensembles like “Ballroom, Shakou Dance” to THE MOST UPLIFTING BEAT OF THE CENTURY, “Ganbaritai Kimochi,” how you can’t NOT feel the emotional weight? And don’t even get me started on the dance music—waltz, salsa, jazz, swing, samba, cha-cha, Charleston, Merengue—so many styles, and so much respect for each time period’s jams!!

Hayashi’s able to take a simple melody and turn it into a gorgeous, heartwarming waltz, or even a snappy, saucy tango. I was just so happy to see my favorite time signature, the waltz’s 3/4, be revived in modern anime akin to Ouran High School Host Club‘s brilliance. It’s a shame that his dance-themed tracks would be frequently swapped out for the main OST mid-dance, unlike the continuous play like in Yuri!!! On ICE, but I suppose that makes anticipating each lovely track all the more exciting. There’s a raw love for classical strings, piano, and a bit of drums for movement in Hayashi’s internationally-infused music, and that’s why I’ll always look forward to his perfect, inspiring scores.

“Tatara’s Waltz,” “Hyoudou Tango,” “Blooming On Our Way,” “Tango City,” “Viennese Waltz,” “It’s like a symphony,” “Quick Step B,” “La Cumparsita, “Las Patineurs,” “Sing, Sing, Sing . . .” HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE THIS VARIETY???

I’ve already talked way to much about the music in this anime, but on top of featuring a well-rounded soundtrack, Ballroom has TWO amazingly energetic openings that create so much HYPE! Both by UNISON SQUARE GARDEN (which I will now keep an eye out for), “10% roll, 10% romance” and “Invisible Sensation,” my favorite of the two, have made my “Current Faves” playlist. And I couldn’t forget about the first ED theme, “Maybe the next waltz” by Mikako Komatsu, which was sung, yes, AS A SWEET WALTZ. I JUST LOVE THIS ANIME’S STYLE SO MUCH!!

Dismantling the Stereotypes: The Beauty of Evolution

As a final note, Ballroom makes quick work of eliminating any frivolous or “girly” things you previously thought about ballroom dance. Its appropriate depiction as an equally sweaty, vigorous sport is eye-opening, and you can feel that all the people behind the project had a great respect for the sport. The anime is aware of this, and repeatedly nails in the idea that ballroom dance IS, indeed, very difficult. From the pain-staking accuracy of the sound that certain shoes make, to the flow and friction of suits and dresses, incredible attention was put into the sound effects to fully immerse you in the bustling dance floor atmosphere. Lastly, both the anime’s culturally diverse soundtrack and fashion sense pay ode to dance’s professional realities, culminating into an accurate depiction of dance’s heaviest hardships and most joyous pleasures alike.

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When it wants to be, the show is also very funny, using quick-witted humor and hilarious facial reactions to lighten an unnecessarily tense mood—something that we routinely find ourselves in.

Welcome to the Ballroom clearly has many strengths, but also several weaknesses. It boasts the allure of dancing, yet frequently fails put the concept into motion. It showcases how thrilling the sport can be, yet often drags out the effect nearly to the point of boredom. But above its faults, Ballroom promotes the beauty of evolution, the purity of youth, and the countless many possibilities that come with change and transformation. It’s a dramatic story of motivation, inspiration, and progress, both for its characters and the future of the sport itself. And by its end, I couldn’t help but applaud the valiant effort made to enlighten me on the world of dance and all its ravishing, graceful, and truly elegant imperfections. It’s that rare kind of show that doesn’t come around often—and one that should not be missed.

Dance’s physical and emotional expressions seem close, but they aren’t easily tied together. It can’t be considered a real expression unless you can reflect the outside knowledge and experiences you’ve gained. That’s why with an emotional dance, you can see through the dancer’s entire life. Joy and sorrow. Love and hate. A dance with a variety of emotions adds depth. Don’t you think that becomes meaningful enough to dedicate the time in your life to dance? – Coach Marisa Hyoudou

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Production and pacing problems aside, Welcome to the Ballroom‘s biggest issue right now is the lack of a licensing, as Anime Strike doesn’t count for CRAP! Seriously, someone please get a hold of the polished Japanese Blu-rays, dub it if you want, and I’ll buy three. This was such a long review, my goodness, but I wanted to make sure that I covered EVERYTHING about it! If you managed to make it from beginning to end, give yourself a pat on the back, and let me know in the comments what you thought of Welcome to the Ballroom in the comments! It’s a sweet, delicious “Cake” here at the cafe!

This concludes Blogmas Day Nine of the 12 Days of Anime, as well as part 2 of “The Summer of Sports!” If you couldn’t already tell, Ballroom definitely won the match, but I do love them both! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you shortly with another belated post!

– Takuto, your host

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End of October Update 11/7/16

*chiseled*

As everyone’s spook day festivities come to an end, so does the summer weather over here. Fall has finally set in, and times are busy, but that doesn’t stop me from making my rounds in the aniblogger community. Now for this past month’s recap–It’s update time!

Recently Finished:

The Ambition of Oda Nobuna – There was only one main reason I began watching this show. That is, the word “ambition.” It’s one of my favorite words. After being thoroughly intrigued by all of the Satsuki Kiryuin/Oda Nobunaga fan-interpretations, I decided to strike up a show with the legend’s name. And lo and behold, I hit a title with two of my needs! Despite it being another fan-service history mash-up with girls serving as ancient Japanese mascots, the show, surprisingly, had a lot to offer. More to come on that if I review it.

Sailor Moon R – My Sailor Moon marathon session continues in Viz’s re-release DVD sets. On October’s plate was R, the season of the rose–of romance. The web of deceit and falsehood continues to weave itself into complex net of twisted relationships. Invaders from distant planets and galaxies try to tear apart our star-crossed lovers, and the tragic legacy left by the evil Queen Beryl doesn’t help our heroes. It’s a bit harder to love, with all the new characters and revelations, but it’s still the same passionate Sailor Moon. Perhaps I’ll review each series if the soon-to-be-released S really gets my motivation going!

Shelter – Everyone saw (heard?) this little diddy floating around Twitter and YouTube. Because my opinion of it wasn’t very different from that of the masses (IT’S AWESOME), I won’t be doing a separate post over it. If you somehow missed this creative music video, I’ll leave it right here for yaShelter’s got a production history unlike any out there, and I hope we see projects like these more frequently in our future! Really neat stuff!

Shiki – This year, my Halloween break revolved around the spooky vampire fling that is Shiki. It failed to really “scare” me, but instead brought a whole slew of psychological realism surrounding skepticism in remote areas. Very peculiar and rife with internal conflicts regarding ethics and rational. I won’t speak more because I DO have a review forthcoming, but it was a spook day well spent.

The Empire of Corpses – The first Project Itou film stole the last day of my mini Halloween break–and boy was it nothing like I expected! From what I had picked up on, it was going to be a gorgeous film with a halfway decent plot. What I got, however, was an intriguing concept lost to cluster-fudge of jaw-dropping visuals. In other words, my eyes certainly got their exercise, but my brain still can’t seem to shake off the events of the film, particularly the climax. Up until the end, it was bloody fantastic. After that, hmm, more to come on the ending with a review [dedicated to blogger-buddy Crimson once again].

Currently Watching:

Izetta: The Last Witch – Oh boy, oh boy, it’s simulcast time–and is it just me or does this season seem like one of the better ones to come in recent years? Let me know what you think. But hey, my first hit-up for this fall was Izetta. I really, really like where it’s going. The most recent episodes, 4 and 5, showed us how the media can glorify anything–including a little girl who flies on a rifle.

Awakened from a cryo-like sleep, Izetta, the last little witch of her kind, is reunited with the princess of a distressed kingdom. Finé , our unfortunate heir, finds her trump card hidden with Izetta’s incredible powers. Set in an alternative pre-WWII world where magic runs deep within the Earth’s roots, Princess Finé must ally herself with whoever she can in order to save her poor country! Check it out on Crunchyroll streaming now!

Sound! Euphonium 2 – More Euphonium = a very happy Takuto. Having been more than satisfied with the first, Eupho has returned triumphantly in order to finish telling the tale of Kyoto’s Kitauji High School Band! I can’t spoil much since it is a sequel, but I did review the first a while back if you want to check that out here. If you loved the first, then the second will only bring you more of KyoAni’s topnotch animation and tightly-knit cast of characters. Five episodes in and still groovin’, Eupho 2 can also be found on Crunchyroll.

Yuri!!! On ICE – I have not felt this inspired to get active since back in 2013 when Free! Iwatobi Swim Club aired. WOW. THIS is easily my favorite title of the fall anime that I am following!!! Heck, I felt so emotionally charged that I had to write about the dramatic episode 3 in a post comparing our two lead characters which you can read RIGHT HERE! I thought I did a decent job on that post, too, so please feel free to share it with the YOI fandom ^.^

But if you didn’t know, the show follows Yuri Katsuki, a 23-year-old figure skater who was feeling a bit dried up with his season until his idol and world champion skater Viktor Nikiforov of Russia paid a visit to the family spa. But why would a star visit a rural Japanese hot springs? Why, to train Yuri himself, of course! Yuri!!! On ICE is about seeing your own reflection in others and finding the inspiration to help them out. In turn, you end up finding fresh motivation from their youth. Full of light-hearted moments that’ll just warm you to the core, Yuri!!! On ICE has proven that even with half of its season still not out yet, it’s definitely earned those three exclamation points–It’s Gonna MAKE HISTORY!!! NOW, seek out Crunchyroll my cafegoers!

Ranma 1/2 (Viz Set 3) – Viz describes this oddity better than anyone else has: “Things just can’t stay quiet at the Tendo Dojo.” I’m not going to describe Ranma  because I really shouldn’t have to. Boy gets hit with cold water: turns into girl. Doused again with hot water: she’s back to a he. Classic anime for ya. But it’s been one of my family’s favorites for years now, so set three here I come! I can tell you that its late 1989 quality has come a long way with its third season–that’s for sure!

Lostorage Incited WIXOSS – I’m a huge WIXOSS fanboy. Hopefully that wasn’t news to you. Naturally, I was so hyped to hear that one of my favorite “magical girl” series was getting a continuation in the same universe. Then it hit me–I haven’t seen the movie, selector destructed WIXOSS yet. Soooo, either I hunt for it online [and then, of course, support the official release later, geez] in order for me to continue, or I skip out this season. Not sure what I’ll do yet.

Outside of anime, fall has finally hit, WUAH! How I love the cool weather! Today it rained off and on from morning to evening, so I’m probably pushing my luck on future cloudy days *sighs*. Anyway, how was your spook day? Also, I’m dying to know what’s piled on your plate for this season of anime? Are you planning with Izetta and the crew, or perhaps are you practicing hard for Nationals with Kitauji? Either way, you’ll never be chill until you settle down with the Yuris. Yes. Both of them. They are sides of the same coin. I’ve even changed my Twitter name just for the spirit of things. I’m also suddenly interested in ice-skating. EHERM. ‘Till next we meet ~

– Takuto, your host

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Follow my Twitter @TakutoAnimeCafe AKA Taku!!! On ICE for all my latest shenanigans~!

Eros and Agape: Behind the Lovely Ice-skating Veils | Cafe Talk

A light analysis and comparison of, in regards to love, Eros and Agape, and how they are represented in the fall 2016 anime Yuri!!! On ICE (eps. 1-4).

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The struggle to find love, either in others, oneself, or both, remains one of life’s greatest conquests. When world-junior-class figure skaters Yuri Katsuki and Yuri Plisetsky faced-off against each other in a competition for the gorgeous and professional Viktor Nikiforov’s coaching attention, the two took on opposite personas assigned by Viktor himself: Eros and Agape. But what lies beyond the romantic nicknames, and how do these titles represent each skater on more than simply a physical level? Welcome to “Cafe Talk!”

“Love,”a How-To by the Greeks and Christians 

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There exist arguably six different interpretations of what exactly “love” translates into from original Greek texts (geez, leave it to those Greco-Romans to complicate matters). The four listed above are the famous ones, and all but Eros (the smexy one) can be found somewhere in the Christian Bible. We will only be looking at the two that matter under Yuri‘s light: the red and the blue, opposites in every way. We’ll also sort this out in performance order.

“On Love: Agape” – Yuri Plisetsky, a Lover Deflowered by Cold Submission 

Our Russian punk Yurio wasn’t too pleased when he was denounced “the unconditional lover.” The show translates agape love as follows: “God’s infinite love is self-sacrificing and uncalculating.” That’s actually a pretty good first impression.

Agape love mirrors the sacrificial giving of God to humanity. Graceful, unselfish, unbiased, and possibly unknowing to or of love. Agape lovers give freely and seek nothing. It still functions as active love, but it remains “spontaneous and unmotivated.” In other words, agape lovers seek love by giving in return. They’re typically submissive as well, and value the worth of love above all else. Nygren (see works cited) depicts their value as such: “Those who are loved become worthy because they are loved.”

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Since Yurio hardly embodies any of the agape traits, perhaps they represent aspects he is deprived up. He knows neither of innocent love nor of self-sacrifice, demonstrating only that he is passionate and fierce, hence his epithet the “Russian Punk.” While it’s amusing for us fans to watch his battle against the unselfish, Yurio truly is an unappreciated boy by his Russian coach(es). They respond to success, technique, and poise, not to sympathy and affection. By assigning the Agape costume to Yurio, Viktor has given him everything he could have wished for — to be loved unconditionally and embraced with care. Yurio, if only for a brief moment in the rink, became a lover deflowered by submission.

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But you have to be devoted to the agape all the way . . . That is why Viktor picks Yuri.

And this piece, oooh, this heavenly chamber voice overflows with an innocent, perfect love! Can you feel “someone who doesn’t know what love is yet?”

“On Love: Eros” – Yuri Katsuki, a Lover Instilled with Fiery Passion

Our home-team Pork Cutlet was left stuttering “It’s enough to make even me, a man, pregnant! Such eros!” when the fabulous Viktor crowned him “the sexual lover.” The anime depicts eros love as follows: “Pleasure followed by pleasure. One just drowns in it.” This, too, hits the mark of a passionate lover.

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In stark contrast to the tender and giving apage love, eros love is not found in the Bible’s purity, tracing origins more closely to Greco-Roman antiquity. Nygren notices a sharp reflection of love “to Plato and to Plato’s heirs and followers.” Plato treated love as two different forms of the same “eros,” one being vulgar and the other “heavenly.” Yuri interprets this more on the raunchy side as a vigorous, demanding, and sexual love. It is seeking pleasure for oneself, not necessarily for others (though that is a plus, *wink wink*).

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The differences between Yuri and this controlling love honestly mirrors his relationship with others. Unlike Yurio, Yuri follows the orders of his friends and coaches, causing him to have weaker self-esteem and a poor sense of leadership in the art of skating. He doesn’t want to disappoint others, which is why Yuri lets his coach pick out an earlier song to skate to when he notices the coach’s lack of care for the tune a friend of his created.

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Yuri also tends to hide behind his appearance: longer bangs and glasses, both which shield the face. Just as how Yurio performs at the skate-off with a surprising sense of calm and devotion, our Pork Cutlet slicks back his hair, tosses aside the glasses, and makes passionate love with his footwork on the ice. Viktor has given him bold confidence and sexiness with the eros title, and to that, Yuri expends this energy in his fiery tango.

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And this one, ooh la la, the snappy guitar and sassy violin shine with passion!  To see him take the persona a step forward and declare himself the most beautiful woman seducing the playboy goes to show how much Viktor’s teaching has truly given him.

“On Love: Eros and Agape” – A Tale of Two Lovers

Neither of the boys have given love much thought, which is why the episode carries so much emotional weight in the grand scheme. Episode three (if it wasn’t apparent from the start) firmly presents us with the case of two lovers in search of filling the holes that occupy their minds and hearts. One desired confidence, the other pursued innocence. If I had my wish, Viktor would be teaching them both. But alas, the competition must go on and tear our lovers apart! If Twitter’s given us its two cents on the subject, it’s “Get a man who can do both.”

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“You have to do the opposite of what people expect. How else will you surprise them?” – Viktor Nikiforov, the perfect blend of power and grace

Yuri!!! On ICE claims a hot spot (oh the irony) as one of fall 2016’s bests, and I wholeheartedly agree! Catch it streaming over on Crunchyroll.com for FREE, or check out FUNimation Entertainment’s rockin’ English dub (complete with Russian accents), though you must be a subscriber to access the dub. And where would we be without the incredible music to accompany the performances? Fantastic, I say!

For our “Cafe Talk” conversation down in the comments, I ask, “What do you align with more – are you an Eros or an Agape Lover?” Also, “Who do you feel won the skate-off?” I wish I was more of a “go get ’em guy,” but I digress with my agape language. For the match, my eyes yearned for Yurio, but my heart and body told me Yuri. Let me know, and hey, glide over to that “like” button for more content like this, or the”follow” to keep up with me (OR BOTH)! Don’t forget to share with the other Yuri!!! On ICE fans! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Intrigued by the topic? Here are the works I used compile this post:

Crunchyroll – Yuri!!! On ICE

The Ancient Greeks’ 6 Words for Love (And Why Knowing Them Can Change Your Life)

Agape and Eros Summary – Anders Nygren

The Four Kinds of Love – Greek Agape, Phileo, Storge, Eros, 3 are in the Bible

The More Excellent Way, Four Greek Words for Love: Agape, Phileo, Storge, Eros

EDM Difference between Eros and Agape

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.

The Heroic Spirit Manifesto (Anime Ver) | Cafe Talk

Hi guys, so it would appear that I’ve missed this deadline by quite awhile. This post is about two weeks late, in fact. I’ll be posting some sort of mid-May update here soon to caption what’s been going on and why I haven’t been posting (though you could probably guess). This way, I can avoid cluttering up the hero week celebration. Welcome to café talk . . . ?

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What was this post supposed to be about again?

That’s a good question, haha. Hero Week was ideally supposed to encompass my thoughts and reviews for four anime with heroes in them followed by a café talk to wrap everything up and conclude with a few of your guys’ thoughts.

Unfortunately, there were very few comments. On two posts, exactly zero. so I won’t be doing that part.

In huge part, this was all my bad. While I did get the first few reviews out on perfect schedule, I lacked the promotional qualities that would technically keep bringing people back. Little preparation went into setting up the “festivities.” In fact, I mainly set this all up as an excuse to review the recent flow of anime I had finished with heroes in them.

Another reason Hero Week fell pretty flat was – again, on my fault – the shows that I picked. ERASED was a good one, and it got the matching hits and comments it deserved. Since everyone has already talked about One Punch Man, I figured that it would attract little public eye. The hardest one to write, Yuki Yuna is a Hero, is the most obscure show on the list, and despite how much effort went into writing it, only a tiny handful of you checked it out — and that is FINE! As readers (and writers), we deem what we think is worth our time, and if it was worthwhile, we might even drop a like or a comment. As a content creator, I was a bit discouraged.

Then my dinky iPhone-published-on-the-spot My Hero Academia impressions post came out, and several of you rejoined the congregation. This was unexpected! While I didn’t feel it made up for the lack of activity on the previous ones, I was definitely happy to talk with all of you 🙂

So where does this leave us? I mean, why even bother? Because heroes should be celebrated, and also because I am NOT a quitter! I realize this was kinda a failed project (and I won’t rush into one like this again), but there were very important lessons learned during the process. Part of me is glad that it turned out like this just so that I can emerge even stronger and more knowledgeable about the whole ordeal. But enough about my pitfalls, let’s talk about what the heroic spirit means to some other popular anime (no spoilers)!

The Heroic Spirit Manifests in other Anime

Fate/Zero – Quite literally, the seven “heroic spirits” which are conjured up by the Holy Grail itself each contain their own ideology on heroism, some being more extreme than others. The majority believe, however, that heroes are leaders among the crowd, and they must continue to inspire their brethren in the pursuit of peace and triumph. They must be feared, awed, and worthy.

Attack on Titan – Heroes are hard to come by in this world overrun by gigantic zombies, but even those few reluctant heroes must spur comrades – and even humanity – to find the will to survive, and to be bold and brave during dark times.

Eden of the East – Twelve influential people are given the possibility change humanity for the better by transforming not only politics and economics, but also society itself. Though they all possess their own opinions on how the world should be saved, these heroes must give the average man or woman a sense of belonging and purpose in such an overwhelmingly crowded world.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica – All magical girls seem to do is fight bad guys with sparkles and pink dust, but this dark fantasy’s twist adds extreme weight to the biz. Whether it’s fighting to purge your mind of troublesome thoughts, clashing with others who oppose your methods, or moving forward (or going back) to save the lives of the ones you love, heroes must make devastating sacrifices and bear terrible burdens in order to protect those who are precious.

 

A Certain Scientific Railgun – In this massive network of a city for academics, darkness lurks behind forgotten alleyways and inaccessible files. To eliminate surface crime and the unspeakable evils of power and curiosity, heroes must possess good judgment and an open personality to keep their dearest friends out of the chaos. Consequently, they also must be able to accept a helping hand when faced against extreme odds.

Guilty Crown – Being ordinary is just dandy, but when accidents so tremendous shake the very foundation of science and human health, heroes must arise to the occasion and step up to bat when potential is thrust upon them. And in their pinnacle depression, they must be able to accept the guilt of others by transforming shame into valuable experience.

The Rose of Versailles – A life of luxury comes at the expense of others’ suffering. When that suffering becomes inhumanly great and revolution ignites on the horizon, a hero of passion, charisma, and valor must understand both sides of the spectrum before taking a stance.

I could go on until we’ve covered nearly every anime I’ve watched, but I think you get the picture.

Hopefully now you can see that in ERASED, heroes must be able to overcome trial and error by empathizing with the past. Or that in One Punch Man, heroes can be any guy off the street so long as they have fun fighting for the good of the cause. Or how about in Yuki Yuna is a Hero, where heroes must be able to bear the pain of others, however intense, and handle loss in order to keep them truly safe.

I’d like to conclude with one of the heartiest anime I’ve come across thus far: My Hero Academia. Loaded with stereotypes and gimmicks so cheesy and redundant that we know the outcome of every scene — But we still love it, why? Because heroes must be able to inspire others to do good deeds for the cause itself. They’re not out to eliminate all evil in the world, but to spread enough positive vibes that outdo negative potential.

Watching Izuku Midoriya stumble during every training session and getting back up again is what fuels us to believe that he is a hero. We can relate to him and the other students and heroes alike. All Might himself has decided to pass on his quirk, the culmination of strength of previous holders, to Izuku, which is proof from the get-go that Izuku has the capacity to serve the world well.

All of the celebrity-like heroes in My Hero Academia have this cool edge to them (beyond the neat costumes and variety of superpowers), and watching them soar in and save the day fills us with this familiar sense of well-being — like there truly is someone out there fighting behind the scenes for all of us and boosting our drive to right our wrongs, find hope, and smile through the pain. All of this isn’t set out to rid the world of evil, but more in the hopes that one day, we can inspire those around us and the world to do wonderful things.

To bring all of this in full circle conclusion, I TASK EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU to comment below with an anime title and how the HEROIC SPIRIT manifests itself within the story or characters. It’s hard to go wrong, especially after the examples I listed, and I know that you have some interesting things to say on the matter. Upon submitting your comment, you will have completed Takuto’s hero training courseCongratulations, and thank you for celebrating Hero Week with me!

What do we have in Common? WE ARE HEROES!

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

One Punch Man is Absurd, Out-of-this-World Fun! | Hero Week Review

Loss Has Little Meaning in Yuki Yuna | Hero Week Review

My Hero Academia (Eps. 1-5) Thoughts | Hero Week

Above are the Hero Week reviews just in case you missed them the first time around and wish to check them out and/or add something to them. Sorry again for the late finale (consider this a lesson learned for myself) and I can’t wait to see you in the comment party! We can still make this awesome 😀

– Takuto, your host

One Punch Man is Absurd, Out-of-this-World Fun! | Hero Week Review

A brief review of the 12-episode fall 2015 anime “One Punch Man,” produced by Madhouse, based on the web manga by ONE (story) and Yusuke Murata (manga art).

Travel back one season from ERASED and you have the anime that etched 2015 in history: One Punch Man. Its grossly over-popular yet dorky concept captivated web manga fans, and when an anime adaptation by THE Madhouse was announced people went hysterical; cosplay, fan art, and “OK.” memes circulated like no other. But what gives OPM a fiery kick like no other, and why do fans gloriously rave about this bald athlete?

In a world under siege by gigantically wacky monsters and bizarre extraterrestrials, Saitama wanted to be a hero. So, he trained ruthlessly for three years, got abs, but lost his hair. Now he has arguably become the world’s strongest hero. Unequivocal strength comes with a price, however, as now all it takes is a single punch—ONE PUNCH—to knock is opponent into next Tuesday. What was thought to be a thrilling and rewarding hobby became tedious and unsatisfactory. Because he defeats his foes in an unbelievably swift manner, people and the media are also unable to credit him properly.

To keep the story fresh, life must change for Saitama. And it does. A cold, brutal, 19-year-old cyborg by the name of Genos stumbles upon the one-hit-wonder’s performance, and urges Saitama to take him as his disciple, admitting he has much to learn from him. Genos then leads his master to the Hero Association, where the two can become certified heroes and *fingers crossed* be officially recognized (and rewarded) for their work saving City Z. As anticipation reignites in odd Saitama’s eyes, he clings to the hope that tougher enemies will head his way, and that one day soon, the people might actually turn to him for help in this chaotic world.

One Punch Man is simple; a tough guy follows his all-powerful master in hopes that the two find excitement in experience, challenge, and fame. While most of the intent is on the explosive battles, much of what people took away from this experience was the comedy, in that it doesn’t try too hard to make us laugh because it’s inherently goofy. The whole scenario of a bald, self-proclaimed hero in a mustard-colored onesie running through the streets yet managing to obliterate any target in one punch is satire in itself. Saitama is an unapproachable fool who defies the typical superhero because he’s an egg-head who exercised a sh*t ton—not receiving any supernatural/monetary help as we know it—to become strong. Since battles are nothing for him, where we see Saitama struggle is against the public eye and the Hero Association’s ranking system itself.

But with the crudely drawn monsters and frankly disgusting defeats, I was turned off by the extreme ends of the repetitive earlier fights. I admit, I thought the anime would run out of steam quite early on, making it just another shounen series out there (but epic-er). Then episode 5 came around—the bout between Genos and Saitama—and I fully realized that this was going to be a good show.

I should applaud Makoto Furukawa’s performance as Saitama because holy crud, how can anyone sound so bland and ordinary yet make me sh*t bricks whenever he opens his dumb mouth?? He really did capture our Egg-head’s nonchalant dialogue, yet appropriately ramped it up for intense battles. I ended up enjoying Saitama as a character much more than I thought I did, for even though he’s clearly the world’s strongest man, he grows as a human in seeking attention and ‘raise’ Genos at the same time. Like the seemingly basic plot, much more development boiled within each emotional scene.

Genos is your typical knight in shining armor (literally, hah!), needing little introduction to sway the crowd in his favor. He’s a straight-up badass cyborg, after all, though he too knows his flaws and overly criticizes himself for the few things he couldn’t do rather than celebrating his accomplishments—there’s always room for improvement. I sympathize with Tin-can on this one. Good thing Genos has a buddy to support him.

We also get to see the variety of heroes, low and high rankings, which are part of the Hero Association. Most A Class top dogs tend to do it for the fame and luxury life, while the C Class underdogs usually put the good of the cause before themselves. Such is the instance of MUMEN RIDER, a “catch-my-flying-balloon” hero who cycles all across the atomically-wrecked City Z to fight evil (even though he’s typically too little, too late). More than that, he represents the “man at the bottom of the totem pole,” and though his arms are weak, his heart burns passionately like a fool trying to stop the rain by yelling at it.

Madhouse. Ah, Madhouse. I’ve seen very little by them, and honestly, the first couple episodes made me cringe more than anything . . . until that episode 5, man, I’m telling you that’s the crazy action I was anticipating from the beginning. Each match just tries to absurdly 1-Up the one that came before it. After that, I was pretty much glued to the screen, appreciating the contrast between Genos and Saitama’s menial routine (hilarious faces and gestures, oh god) and the ridiculously high-octane fight sequences.

A musical score rides side-by-side with the energetic animation. Makoto Miyazaki combines fierce electric guitar rifts with overpowering strings and techno beats to form the definition of “action film music.” Personal favorites include the eerie “Kowa,” the epic “Crisis,” and of course, the “Theme of ONE PUNCH MAN” and its many acoustic and piano renditions. It’s enough to make you want to jump out of your bed each morning, shout a bloodcurdling cry, then proceed with air punches and a billion push-ups.

Where would I be without mentioning the show’s anthem OP “THE HERO!!” by JAM Project? While it alone contains enough awesomeness to serve as a substitute for your morning coffee, I also speak for the ending, “Hoshi yori Saki ni Mitsukete Ageru” by Hiroko Moriguchi. It was just such a nice balance between “GOOD FREAKIN’ MORNING, NOW GO GET ‘EM” and “Welcome back ~ it’s been a long day. Rest.”

HERO WEEK SEGMENT: Archetypical Hero qualities represented by Saitama

(Why not Genos? Because that cyborg fits the formula all too well. With One Punch Man also being an adaption of a longer-running series, we do not know how the overarching story ends. I have taken those bullets out to accommodate this cut-short adaptation.)

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
    • We assume that Saitama is as average as middle-aged upstanding Japanese citizen as you can get.
  • Comes from humble origins
    • Saitama is about as humble as you can get. You’d frequently encounter him at the local convenient store.
  • Leaves family or land and lives with others
    • Again, we don’t know about his family background, but we can guess he lives alone and has bent his life’s goal on becoming a hero for the fun of it.
  • An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure
    • No trauma here. Just a monster-invaded world that needs a hero to combat evil. I guess he trained daily with “100 PUSH-UPS, 100 SIT-UPS, 100 . . .” yeah, enough of that.
  • Hero has a special weapon only he can wield/always has supernatural help
    • Actually, no. This is just a normal dude who exercised like a maniac to be fit.
  • The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
    • It’s quite hard for Saitama to prove himself if every challenge just isn’t challenging. Instead, he must be deemed heroic by the public, and as frustrating as that often is, he somehow manages to push through if even just by a tiny margin. He must also prove a worthy master to Genos and a notable hero for the Association, which though humorous at times, it’s all ultimately not enough to bring about complete development (that is mostly due to it being a mere adaptation).

Notice the lack of similarities between typical heroes? Unlike ERASED’s Satoru Fujinuma, who received supernatural help, fought on to improve himself and save others, and even challenged fate, Saitama is a laughing stock, and his anime, the “proclaimed satire of hero genre” is more just for action and comedy than anything. HOWEVER, Saitama still manages to mangle himself into the hero mold—especially by the end—and I only wish we got more. I’m sure much deeper and emotional struggles await ALL of the cast, but based on these 12 episodes, you’ll walk away giggling rather than contemplating heroism and life as we know it, that blah-blah stuff. We like Saitama because he’s different—because he’s a dork.

Watch One Punch Man for the grotesque, energetic, explosive, out-of-this-world action scenes and the natural hilarity and fun that is Saitama. Should neither of those things intrigue you, then it wouldn’t be a crime to skip it (Genos might say otherwise). I had an epic time with the show, and I’ll leave you with an inspiring quote to contrast the nonsense the anime is more infamously known for. One Punch Man is A-“OK.”

“The true power of us human beings is that we can change ourselves on our own.” – Saitama

ZOOM-BANG-POW! These are my thoughts on 9/10 “Caffé Mocha” One Punch Man. As you can tell, I was pretty darn satisfied with what I signed up for. Most people were. Did OPM satisfy your craving for brutal bashing, or did the quirky facial expressions fuel your smiles? You really ought to let me know! Also, do you have any Saitama or Genos-like figures in your life? I’ve known this guy who’s always trying to do the right thing, but his clunky demeanor and unsuspected heroic deeds hardly ever get credited. Haha, the whole situation just makes me laugh, but should I? ‘Till next time everyone,

– Takuto, your host

This is why people are awesome. See? I’m not crazy. He does look like an egg.