Given: Broken Heartstrings & Unforgettable Sounds || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode summer 2019 anime series “Given,” animated by Lerche, directed by Hikaru Yamaguchi, and based on Natsuki Kizu’s manga of the same name.

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Rocky Starts, Aching Hearts

Between playing basketball at high school and dabbling on the guitar in his small band, Ritsuka Uenoyama has found himself stuck wandering the lonely desert of academic boredom. He dozes off in class, sleeps during break, and only looks forward to jamming out with a couple of upperclassmen college friends in the evening.

One day, he sees a classmate of his, Mafuyu Sato, cradling a broken guitar on a secluded staircase. Although Uenoyama makes nothing of restringing Mafuyu’s red guitar for him, Mafuyu becomes completely attached to the dark-haired musician and insists Uenoyama teach him how to play it. Uenoyama initially shrugs him off, but when he hears Mafuyu singing for the first time, his voice leaves a deep impression on him. He can’t get it out of his head, and eventually finds himself drawn to Mafuyu’s aloof yet mysterious allure.

Given is a single story split among four separate narratives, each with their own unique perceptions of the conflicts presented throughout the series. Equal parts slice of life and drama, the series follows four students in an amateur rock band and the dual romantic relationships that form among them: between shy vocalist Mafuyu and passionate guitarist Uenoyama, and between the caring bassist Haruki and stoic yet silly drummer Akihiko.

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Given is also a BL adaptation, and it doesn’t ever stray from that intent (which I respect). But hear me out. At most, the series presents its shounen ai relationships with genuine care and realism. It’s far less sugarcoated than most BL anime out there, and frankly just a really good romantic drama about curious feelings and the closet. This particular set of 11 episodes tells the story of the band coming together, their complex feelings toward one another, and specifically the growing relationship between Uenoyama and Mafuyu leading up to their first performance. The series never felt rushed, nor does it end too optimistically to be true, which is probably what I appreciated most out of the series—aside for the characters themselves, of course.

Complicated Feelings, Complex Characters

The main focal point of this series is around Uenoyama and Mafuyu’s relationship, which admittedly has a rocky start and is only littered with more misunderstandings as they go along. But somehow, like with most love stories, the two make it work.

From the get-go, Uenoyama is about as relatable as they come. Uncomfortable with relationships (in general), unsure of how to express his feelings, questioning what these sudden emotions of his are and where they come from—the whole confused teen-sexuality shebang. We see jealousy build up in Uenoyama as he unravels Mafuyu’s past relationship with another boy, and how this jealousy and regret slow down his performance both on the court and in the practice room. His declining musicianship is called into question by Haruki and Akihiko, and from there the upperclassmen work to help out his love life (and in their own unique ways). I just love Uenoyama’s character arc, and I’m really satisfied with how he grows from a dense lump of laziness to a person who actively seeks to understand both himself and his partner.

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Mafuyu. Oh lost little Mafuyu. Cute little Mafuyu. This kid really does resemble a puppy, no lie! Introverted, quiet, and reserved, Mafuyu is on a quest to reconnect with a person from his past, unbeknownst to any of his new band mates. He’s never picked up an instrument before, yet seems to have a talent for singing. This secret agenda AND hidden talent of his are what guide him to Uenoyama and the band. Little does he know that through their mutual love for music, Mafuyu’s past is dragged out into the open and exposed—but also cared for and carried together with his newfound friends. While I personally found the plot spinning him in some moments that were a bit too melodramatic, I still like Mafuyu a lot, even if he isn’t the one I identify with most.

Haruki and Akihiko, bassist and drummer, are the other pairing in this story. While doomed with an obsessive, unrequited love, Haruki secretly fawns over Akihiko, even if the guy’s a big musclehead. It’s unfortunate that Akihiko just might already have a partner, but manbun can’t help himself anyway. The way Akihiko sleeps, the way Akihiko compliments him in practice—Haruki just can’t get enough. But as the band’s “leader,” he is torn between resisting his urges and pursuing his own happiness in love, despite this directly violating his philosophy that relationships between band members just doesn’t work out in the long run.

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More of Haruki and Akihiko’s relationship will be explored in the 2020 Given film, but I really like these two dorks a lot (especially manbun) and how they make the effort to support one another and their band mates. Such bros.

Iridescence in Motion

Lerche really is my favorite animation studio, without a doubt. Given boasts a visually bright style to highlight the beauty of youth and the joys of love in this series about those two very concepts. While the screen is light and colorful nearly all the time, we see color drain as winter sets in towards the end of the series—the pivotal climax where potential heartbreak lies. I use the term iridescence because, like emotions, these luminous yellow, tangerine, and turquoise filters shift when we see the same set from a different angle. It’s clean. And it’s aesthetically pleasing.

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Giving new meaning to the phrase “lighting design,” Hikaru Yamaguchi’s strong direction really shines in both the intense moments and those of tranquility or thoughtfulness. And the attention to detail in the instruments is NUTS, not to mention the studio painting a timeless picture of modern day Tokyo. The guitars, amps, and drums look AND sound incredibly authentic, and the detailed city backgrounds are delicately crafted with architecture that mirrors real life Shibuya and Machida, down to the last little street sign and business advertisement. Lerche makes anime reality look even better than REAL life in this beautifully made series.

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Character designs also glow with this attractive and cute aura while maintaining respective ages. (It’s nice to see college dudes that LOOK like college dudes and not 40-year-old men!) Speaking of characters, I don’t really give shoutouts to seiyuus unless they particularly stand out to me, but wow, here we’ve got four fantastic leads! Shougo Yano brings to Mafuyu a high-pitched innocence that has made characters (and fans) fall for his charm left and right. Yuuma Uchida gives Uenoyama a grumpiness and stubbornness that suits his character so very well. Masatomo Nakazawa makes hearts swoon as Haruki, and I just adore his sass whenever Akihiko requests something of him. And none other than Takuya Eguchi brings this lovable lug to life, perfectly capturing Akihiko’s serious and goofy sides.

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A music anime has to have good music in it, obviously, and Given does not disappoint. Michiru provides a musical score full of chill blues guitar, casual jam session rifts, and delicate melodies to make any grown man cry. My favorite piece of music from the show is the energetic yet wistful OP “Kizuato” by Centimilimental. Mafuyu’s VA sings for us the tender ED, “Marutsuke,” which appropriately features animation of a puppy rolling around during the theme. Mafuyu also gets his own little song that I won’t spoil for you, so all-in-all, you’re in for a real treat with the music this time around!

A Given from the Start

Is it okay to be happy when you know someone you loved had to suffer for it? The answer, of course, is yes. So long as we are alive, we will always have the chance to be happy. What matters most is whether you are able to accept what has passed and move on for yourself. That’s what Mafuyu has to find out for himself; Uenoyama just nudges in the right direction, and even gives him happiness in the present.

Having watched the series, there’s still lots I want to know about. What happens to the characters from here? Does the band go on to perform more concerts? Does Uenoyama still write music for Mafuyu to sing? For now, however, this is a strong step forward for BL anime, and incredible representation for the genre as a whole.

I like music anime, great romance stories, and studio Lerche. Perhaps it was a given from the start that I’d love this show, but the series has proven that if you surround yourself with positive influences, good things will surely come your way. At times painfully resonant, other times light-hearted and fun, Given will continue to pluck at your heartstrings both throughout each emotional episode and long after the series is over.

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Hearts are like guitar strings. They won’t play sound if they’re too loose. You have to wind them up until they’re about to break, and that’s when they become a wave the hit your eardrums. — Ritsuka Uenoyama


Afterword

Yeah, I liked this one a lot. No surprise here, but Given is certified “Caffe Mocha” stuff, and easily one of my favorite titles from 2019. I wonder who will pick up the license for this gem and give it the physical release (and dub!) it deserves. Until then, I’ll keep recommending this title through Crunchyroll—as all of you should be doing! I’m happy the reception for this series was so overwhelmingly positive, but I’d still love to hear your thoughts on Given or this review down in the comments. (Plz, I’m lonely and need someone to love this show with!) Until the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Kino’s Journey: Navigating This Beautiful World | OWLS “Technology”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s seventh monthly topic of 2019, “Technology,” I decided to go with a slightly less-than-obvious choice, the incredibly profound yet humble Kino’s Journey (2017). Odd pick, right? Just wait, I think I can make it work!

For this month’s topic, we will be discussing how technology impacts our relationships with others and how it improves our lives (such as in communication, education, etc.) by exploring the technology used in various anime and pop culture worlds.

A simple prompt, but an exciting one nonetheless. Thank you Lyn and Aria!

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A brief discussion of the 12-episode fall 2017 anime “Kino’s Journey -the Beautiful World- the Animated Series,” animated by Lerche, directed by Tomohisa Taguchi, and based on the light novel series of the same name by Keiichi Sigsawa.

From Country to Country

Three days, two nights. No more, no less. That is the only rule Kino made for herself before she set out on her talking motorcycle, Hermes. Whenever the 15-year-old feels bogged down by heavy thoughts or unpleasant memories, she travels. For Kino, few things in life can compare to the joy that comes with exploring the wild yet wonderful world around her, as well as understanding the diverse ways in which people live.

But don’t let Kino’s cute, slightly androgynous appearance and courteous demeanor fool you: Kino isn’t afraid to kill if it means protecting herself or Hermes. A diplomat, sure, but a pushover—hardly. If she needs to kill, she won’t hesitate. Otherwise, Kino ekes out a peaceful life of traversing foreign lands with her best friend and loyal partner.

Sprawling cityscapes and vast countrysides, mountain villages and tiny valley towns, grassy prairies and open seas—Kino and Hermes are here for all of it. As these partners in crime encounter new people and learn the rules of their *often quirky* civilizations, they grow to find out more about their own values and virtues. But as Kino immerses herself more deeply in discovering the world around her, she also finds herself facing dangers that linger within the beauty of the great unknown.

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The World is Eccentric

Countries that roam atop the plains using caterpillar tracks, others that float in great ships on the open seas. Countries that reside within enormous walls, and others that are located deep within the earth. Countries of unimaginable size, others so small they might as well be cults. No two countries look nor feel alike, making each stop one full of intrigue and curiosity.

From cryptic laws to hysterical citizens, the written or mutually understood way of life for a country is almost always shrouded in mystery. Either for its dark history or doomed future, these eccentric countries operate with irrational decisions, or a mindset that is far too rational to make any practical sense. Some countries are understandable (if not a bit extreme), while many are frustrating and deeply flawed. Kino’s Journey is a fun watch, don’t get me wrong. But to say it isn’t hella weird at times would be far from the truth.

If things sound too good to be true, it’s because they are. And if the country feels too dystopian, there’s ought to be a silver lining in it somewhere that Kino can find. She wields only her her guns and her wits as she travels, yet on her shoulders is a level head and an open mind that is truly one of a kind. If we were following anyone besides Kino, the journey—and all of its crazy tales—would be drastically different. I suppose that’s why it’s Kino’s Journey, not anyone else’s.

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Every country, just like every man, causes some degree of bother to others merely by existing, yet we all must carry on. — Public Servant from the Bothersome Country


Friendship Comes in Many Forms

Through her splendid little motorrad, Kino explores the beautiful world around here, all its happiness and wickedness alike. Hermes and Kino keep each other company like no one else could for the other. They are not the standard traveler, but exceptions to the rule. Rather than seek fame and fortune, Kino and Hermes yearn for psychological satisfaction. They talk not of grandeur, but of philosophy around the campfire. Seeking what cannot be seen, Kino takes delight in everything the journey has to offer, sorrows and hardships included, and Hermes is a huge part of her willingness to keep exploring. Exactly half of it, in fact.

A loyal, sentient motorcycle, Hermes, allows Kino to deeply connect with the many lands and peoples along her journey without a destination. And this very motorrad is the technology which I’m spotlighting in this post.

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One thing I love about the world of Kino’s Journey is the acceptance of technology used by travelers. Even though it’d be the first point to bring up by you or myself, no one seems to have questions or qualms about the talking motorcycle. Weird, right? Regardless of whether they hail from proud medieval villages or urban metropolises, the people of any given land posses neither curiosity nor despise for Hermes. He just exists along with his traveler, and thus saves Kino from having to continuously explain Hermes’ unusual sentience, which would get quite old within just a couple episodes.

The more I got to thinking, I started to realize that the internet is my Hermes that connects me to all of you. I have seen so many sights, heard so many sounds, and felt so many stories just through the power of the internet. And in the process, I found friends, too, much as Kino did in Hermes. To a traveler, the motorrad is literally a vehicle for communication and connection, and also an unlikely friend.

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How Technology Connects Us

Technology only works if you try to work with it, as we see in Hermes’ relationship with Kino and all the unique, technologically developed civilizations they encounter. Much like people, some countries are outwardly hostile, while others welcome travelers with outstretched arms instead. Regardless of their attitude towards outsiders, each country uses almost radically different forms of technology. From medieval pitchforks and knives, to guns and ammo of the Wild West, and even robots from the far future, technology has found itself embedded in humanity’s existence.

Some people are protected by technology. Others are haunted by it. Some use it to connect with people and society, while others use it to live peaceful, solitary lives. Kino comes across many stories of horror and hope alike, but technology is almost always somehow involved. Above all, what Kino learns from these tales is that people leave technology behind—or worse, are left behind by it.

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The metaphor I’m trying to make is a simple one: Hermes connects Kino to the world just as the internet connects me to all of you colorful people. Even if I come across sadness or heartache through my internet explorations, there’s always positivity and kindness to be found as well. I’ve been able to learn about so many real-world countries, real-world customs and cultures that would’ve been impossible otherwise (or at least not as easily accessible).

Blogging, social networking, and even just browsing the internet in general has transformed me into a person who knows of what the world outside is like, and as a direct result, I’ve learned how to broaden my horizons and accept and appreciate diversity of all things in life. Hermes takes Kino to unimaginable lands and their people, and the internet brings me to all of you.

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A pact is an agreement to help each other out a bit. As long as I handle the balance, keep him fueled, and plot our destination, he’ll give me all the speed I could ask for. And with that, travel gets a lot easier, also more fun. — Kino


A Traveler’s Tale

Kino’s Journey (2017), like its 2003 “predecessor,” employs the time-honored motif of the road trip as a vehicle for self-discovery and universal truth. Deeply meditative, thought-provoking, imaginative, and sometimes disturbing, Kino’s journey is told in an episodic style with an emphasis on atmosphere rather than action or plot, though still present.

Each country has its own customs, some of them strange, some interesting. And just as how every place has a story, every story most certainly has a place. All who travel leave their mark behind, and I’m talking about more than just the tire treads of Hermes’ wheels in the mud.

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Unlike the loud excitement of a road-trip adventure, Kino’s Journey delights in the philosophical banter between two very old, quiet souls. In this wacky and weird world, technology allows Kino and her best friend to expand their knowledge of the world, but also learn a thing or two about one another and themselves along their journey. Their meandering through various lands bring with them their own challenges of how to connect with a place’s people.

A series of vignettes, a collection of stories. Some “tales from the wise” are nice, others less so. But all of them are fascinating in their own way. Human decency, empathy, respect—these are all qualities people from different lands define in different ways. And that is fine.

Often, the problems Kino encounters with Hermes are not with law or culture, but with people. Where there are people, there will always be problems—that much is inevitable. But when we can accept one another’s differences and see the order in the world, the world itself becomes much easier to live in. A bothersome world, sure, but a beautiful one nevertheless.

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I’m not sure if this world is beautiful, but it sure is big. — Hermes


Afterword

I could’ve easily have picked Evangelion given both how central technology is at the story’s core and that I’m almost finished with my rewatch of the series on Netflix. But I didn’t, as that would’ve been too easy, not to mention obvious. I like picking more unique titles for these OWLS tour posts, and I hope I was able to do Kino’s Journey justice. By the way, the series is a “Cake” title here at the cafe!

There’s so much depth to this title, both the old one and the new one, and I hope that, if you’re ever needing a quiet escape journey, you’ll take Hermes for a spin with either the 2003 or 2017 adaptation. The latest remake is beautiful on the outside and adapts previously untouched chapters from the novel, while the early 2000s version uses storytelling methods and imagery that transcend the outdated visuals. My opinion? Watch them both! More Kino is a good thing, after all!

Speaking of beautiful, I didn’t even mention how just draw-droppingly gorgeous Lerche’s visuals are. Along with A Lull in the Sea and the works of Makoto Shinkai, I truly believe that Kino’s Journey (2017) features some of the most colorful, alluring, and enchanting landscapes anime has ever seen! Plus, Kino’s new character design is just fantastic, a charming look fit perfectly for our titular traveler!

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This concludes my July 7th entry in the OWLS “Technology” blog tour. Jack (Animated Observations) went right before me with a post on Psycho-Pass, a textbook pick for this tour and one of my favorite anime that you can read right here. Now, look out for Lyn (Just Something About LynLyn) with a post on one of my favorite films ever, the world famous your name.tomorrow, July 14th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Magical Girl Raising Project: Being Irresistibly Drawn to Death | OWLS “Grotesque”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s  tenth monthly topic for 2018, “Grotesque,” I wanted to revel in the spooky fall festivities by cross-examining an unconventional magical girl throwback from 2016 with humanity’s intriguing obsession for death and the macabre. As someone interested in human behavior, it’s a fascinating area to study, and hopefully I’ll be able to make some science out of the magical!

In honor of Halloween, we will explore what we find vile and ugly in pop culture. For this month’s topic, OWLS bloggers will be exploring characters or aspects of the grotesque in a piece of media and how it is a metaphor or allegory for society, human nature, or some other philosophical or humane idea.

Heads-up! This post will dabble more into studying the human condition than evaluating the series itself. My personal thoughts? It’s a twisted little title with an engaging battle royale setup that turns out somewhat lackluster in the end but is still stupidly entertaining. Watch it. I liked it, and seeing as how we seem to be irresistibly drawn to that which is gruesome (even if for no apparent reason), you should like it to, right? riGhT??

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 12-episode fall 2016 anime “Magical Girl Raising Project,” animated by Lerche, directed by Hiroyuki Hashimoto, and based on Asari Endou’s light novel series of the same name. This will also include a light historical context analysis on how pop culture and the media make a spectacle of death and gore.

Again, this will be SPOILER-FREE, so enjoy!

“You’ve been selected to become a magical girl, pon!”

Magical Girl Raising Project. It’s the latest fad to dominate the mobile game sphere, and it seems that every young girl and adult woman alike in N-City can’t seem to stop playing the app game. Jumping into combat with your sparkly avatar, beating up shadow beasts, collecting candies—it’s the closest thing they have to being a real life magical girl! For Koyuki Himekawa, however, the app offers more than a mere simulation. One day, she receives a peculiar notification from Fav, the game’s mascot, saying that she has been selected to become a real magical girl. Unknowing the full implications of their contract, she eagerly accepts the offer to become her adorable in-game avatar Snow White.

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Gifted with the ability to transform at any time, Koyuki viewed her new life with a newfound optimism and excitement. That is, until the game admins sent out a startling notification claiming that “the number of magical girls in this region must be halved,” as the system couldn’t support the whopping 16 players who decided to take on the magical mission. The one to collect the least amount of Magical Candies—which are awarded for their magical girl activities—at the end of each week will lose their powers. But when a real-world tragedy befalls the first player to drop out, they find that their powers aren’t the only thing stripped from them.

As the magical girls perilously try to avoid their fate by cheating on their fellow players and throwing one another under the bus, the enigmatic Fav continues to add more twisted rules, forcing these young hearts to realize that what started off as a shining opportunity to help others has become a desperate struggle for their own lives.

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I’ll be frank with y’all: the story suffers largely from its systematic approach to execution and trying to develop its immense cast within 12 short episodes. While not Juni Taisen levels of predictability (God, that show disappointed me so much), you can pretty much tell who’s gonna go next based on the placement of their backstory. Ahh yes, the it’s the typical “Here I am and now I’m gone!” approach to character writing. In the instances where the show is able to catch you by surprise, however, those are the thrilling moments when the entertainment value shines through. Call it underdeveloped, or rushed, or even lackluster at times (I mean, the ending could’ve at least been more intense), but to call it “boring” would be a great underestimation of its twisted imagination and off-the-walls fun characters.

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From Wild-West to the Wicked and the Blessed

I can guess what stood out to you most—16 characters, right? Yeah, even for a battle royale that’s quite the large ensemble. Like they did with Danganronpa: The Animation and Assassination Classroom, Lerche was able to communicate the variety of personalities through unique dialogue patterns and intricate character designs. One of my fiendish favorites, the brazen and dangerous Calamity Mary, for instance, dons wild-west gunslinger apparel (boots, spurs, hats, tassels, leather, cow print, you get the picture). In the English dub, Mikaela Krantz even voices her with a low syrupy tone and a heavy southern accent. While I may not remember the specifics of her life before becoming a magical girl (as these important backstories are often rushed through in a couple minutes before their untimely demise), I will remember who she was and how she acted based on the distinctive character designs.

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A good pal of mine and genius essayist Irina wrote about my other favorite magical girl, the almighty, all-knowing QUEEN Ruler in a neat character analysis that I absolutely loved. She vouches for the same opinion that I do, in that “Raising Project isn’t perfect by any means but it certainly isn’t shallow. The writing is on point in many aspects.”

Although some characters look more put together with a theme than others (looking at you Swim Swim), I really enjoyed the diverse cast of tropes interacting on the battlefield: the sparkly one, the innocent one, the queen, the twins, the cowgirl rebel, the ninja, the witch, the badass protector, the nun, and even the freakin’ ROBOT. Some last longer than others, and some go out with a bigger bang while others exit the stage silently. A huge criticism many people have about the series is that the deaths feel too structured—I mean, we all know that someone’s gotta go by the end of each week, and the anime is true to its word. What this creates is a lack of empathy towards most of the girls and ultimately a mere “meh” or “aww that sucks, I liked her” when they die. More than anything, the show plays off these deaths as thrilling over depressing, and that got me wondering:

When did we become so fascinated with torturing little girls in anime to the point where it has dominated nearly every magical girl title in recent times? 

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How Horror Works in the Mind

I took to Psychology Today for a bit of research on the topic, which led me to the article “Why Do We Like Watching Scary Films?” Briefly, it examines psychological horror at the cinema and how the genre works in the mind. When answering the question, author Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. quotes Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Utrecht, in a 2013 interview for IGN:

“People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice. You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you. That’s certainly true of people who go to entertainment products like horror films that have big effects. They want those effects . . . Even though they choose to watch these things, the images are still disturbing for many people. But people have the ability to pay attention as much or as little as they care to in order to control what effect it has on them, emotionally and otherwise.”

That last bit especially got me interested. He claims that we are the ones who choose our entertainment, and that we also have the ability to let the content affect us (in this case potentially scare us) based on how much we care to pay attention to the film. And I can see this as true—if I were to attend a scary movie and cover my eyes half the time (which I wouldn’t go to in the first place cause I’m a wimp), my desire would be that the film frightens me as little as possible.

Now, would the same apply to the film maker(s)? I mean, the director is essentially the one deciding how much gruesome content to put in front of our eyes, so if a series were nothing but moments of shock value (interspersed with some touching backstories, of course), wouldn’t that be what the director also cares about most in the series? Maybe seeing Madoka Magica receive immense fame gave him the idea to go all-out with the suffering. Besides, what’s more shocking to us anime fans than watching cutesy moe girls get massacred? Once one series showed us it could be done, everyone else wanted to do it too.

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A 2004 article in the Journal of Media Psychology by Dr. Glenn Walters proposes that “the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unrealism.” In a 1994 study on disgust, college student participants found videos of real life horrors (like a cow slaughterhouse and a surgery involving removal of facial skin) to be incredibly disturbing. Yet many of these same individuals would think nothing of paying money to attend the premiere of a new horror film that had literally ten times more blood than what was present in the real-life documentaries! Why is that? It was posed by McCauley (1998) that:

The fictional nature of horror films affords viewers a sense of control by placing psychological distance between them and the violent acts they have witnessed. Most people who view horror movies understand that the filmed events are unreal, which furnishes them with psychological distance from the horror portrayed in the film.

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Oh, so if we know it’s fake, it doesn’t inherently terrify us as much, despite blood and guts leaking all over the floor. I suppose that makes sense. Even I don’t see clowns as scary when I remember that they’re likely just unshaven middle-aged men dancing around in colorful costumes. But even if it’s fake, some people enjoy the thrill of being confronted by gruesome death because it’s an experience that, for the most part, it’s something available only in fiction, and fiction intrigues us. One last look at Dr. Dolf Zillman’s Excitation Transfer theory (ETT) offers this:

“Negative feelings created by horror movies actually intensify the positive feelings when the hero triumphs in the end. But what about movies where the hero doesn’t triumph?  . . . Some small studies have show that people’s enjoyment was actually higher during the scary parts of a horror film than it was after.”

Alright, so you’re saying that perhaps the scary parts of a horror film are more enjoyable than the rest of the film itself? That perhaps explains why pop culture hits like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and heck even Attack on Titan delight in killing off major characters in fantastical ways—During these “scary” parts, we find ourselves at peak enjoyment, and if the writers can capitalize on this enjoyment through constant narrative twists and turns, then the viewers will stay glued to their screens. But hold on a second . . .

Magical Girl Raising Project isn’t horror, not even close. It’s barely a thriller series at best. Fair point, but think about the content itself: Purposefully designed cute children under the innocent guise of “magical girls” get brutally slashed or decapitated NOT by the forces of evil, but by fellow magical girls. Tension caused by suspense; relevance caused by a magical girl’s fear for her own life; unrealism given that magical girls shouldn’t exist within our world or theirs . . . Doesn’t that mark MagiPro as gruesome as horror—as grotesque as horror? And how about this: The most grotesque part about it all is that as fans, most of us enjoyed watching this series. Sure it ranks in the 3000s on MAL, but a  7.11/10 could be implied that 7 out of 10 people liked this series—cute girls, competition, and all the bloodshed in between. 

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At Least I Had Fun

Regardless of whether we should count MagiPro as a horror anime or an anime with horror elements, I did find myself enjoying it. A lot. Probably more than I should have. With each passing episode and character elegy, I truly found myself helplessly and irresistibly drawn to death. As more characters bit the bullet, I eagerly clicked on to see not necessarily who would survive, but rather who would fall out of the competition next. As unnecessarily dark and edgy, unnecessarily gruesome, and unnecessarily sophisticated as it tried to be, Magical Girl Raising Project won me over because it shamelessly played with death. And isn’t that the true spirit of the macabre?

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“As a means of contrast with the sublime, the grotesque is, in our view, the richest source that nature can offer.”—Victor Hugo, French Poet


Afterword

Yikes, went on a bit of a ramble there with the research, but maybe you learned something new! Magical Girl Raising Project is an interesting title that has gotten me thinking more than it probably should, but hey, a series that has me reflecting this much over it has to be doing something right. MagiPro isn’t the darkest of its kin, but definitely one of the sweetest. Thus, I award the series with the “Cake” rating, and a recommendation to check it out if you enjoy the thrill of a decent survival game. Not sure if Crunchyroll has it, but Funimation’s got it all with an incredibly well-done English dub that just finished airing for your viewing pleasure! If you have seen this series, you definitely have to let me know what you thought about it (I need more MagiPro friends)!!

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This concludes my October 19th entry in the OWLS “Grotesque” blog tour. Aria (Animanga Spellbook) went right before me with a nice and short post over the recently-aired Phantom in the Twilight that you should check out right here! Now, look out for Flow (Captain Nyanpasu)  this upcoming Monday, October 22nd! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Game of Laplace: Rampo Edogawa’s Macabre Eye-Candy Playground | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode summer 2015 anime “Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace,” animated by Lerche, directed by Seiji Kishi, and inspired by the works of author Edogawa Rampo.

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A Startling Wake-Up Call

Famous for his influence on Japanese fiction, mystery author and critic Ranpo Edogawa (romanized as Rampo) passed away a little over 50 years ago, and what a better way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death in 1965 than with a surreal mystery/horror anime loosely based on his stories? (Ya nailed it Japan.) That’s exactly what Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace is, and although this series of brutal and bizarre crimes stems from an author known to write masterpieces, this clunky anime “adaptation” comes up short in just about every gruesome case. And somehow, I still enjoyed it.

Middle school student Kobayashi is framed for murder. He awakens in his classroom to find his teacher brutally mutilated, and the murder weapon dripping with blood in his hand. Any normal kid would be freaking out by now, but Kobayashi finds himself more so curious (and secretly thrilled) about this strange attempt to frame him. Watching out for Kobayashi’s well-being, a close friend named Hashiba joins the case as a willing accomplice to help prove Kobayashi’s innocence. Also roped into solving this twisted crime is Akechi, a lazy genius high school detective who immediately sees an interesting potential in the young accused boy. Desiring nothing more than to mix up his mundane life, Kobayashi pleads to be recruited as Akechi’s assistant, to which Akechi agrees to take him on—but only if he can handle the chaos that comes with disobeying the law.

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Game of Laplace‘s characters are simply too fun for the plot’s serious overtones. As much as the series tries to be a philosophical thriller, Kobayashi’s enthusiasm and Akechi’s frank lack of care always kill the mood. When viewed as a comedy, however, this problem is less apparent (which is probably not the intent but it just fits better no matter how you look at it). Hashiba’s one-sided (and unresolved) bromance with Kobayshi only makes his reason for always being with the detectives sillier, and once little-girl-lover and phantom thief “Shadow Man” becomes a member of the main cast, any sense of seriousness goes out the window. Heck, this crook wears a freakin’ PAPER BAG over his head to protect his identity! A true master of disguise, right? How can I not laugh at his constantly-dumbfounded expression??

Although the characters give this series a few too many laughs than it probably should have, there’s still a nice balance of chemistry between them. Kobayashi fawns over Akechi’s work; Hashiba blushes and stammers whenever Kobayashi acts too girly; police officers Kagami and Nakamura respect and deeply care for each others’ well-being; and everyone, especially Akechi, hates Shadow Man. (Look no further than episode six for proof of this. Even if you don’t watch the series, this episode is worth it if you wanna kill time for some damn hilarious dialogue.) So if it’s not the characters, what makes Game of Laplace not as great as it should be?

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The Problem with Telling a Good Mystery

From what I understand, in theory, every good mystery can be solved by oneself using the clues laid out before them. All of the necessary evidence should be placed fairly before the detective (in this case the viewer), and a decent amount of time should be given before the answer is revealed. Additionally, should a certain character need to solve the case, one piece of critical evidence will be withheld until the end explanation is made. Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Well, this is where Game of Laplace struggles hard, as there’s never enough evidence (or time) to find out whodunit.

Not only that, but the criminal or mastermind at hand rarely has any time to establish themselves as a character within the work. At most, you’ll get a ” Office Secretary” or “Construction Worker B,” and then the episode will move on to have Kobayashi quickly solve the case right after Hashiba gives a sensible hypothesis. It’s just a poorly written mystery series if that is truly the main goal, which is odd given that Rampo Edogawa is so highly regarded. (I’m guessing it’s a fault with the anime, not the original author’s stories.) As a viewer, I ended up just sitting through the series with my brain turned off, and while none of the reveals were particularly shocking, at least there was a coherent, albeit weak, story that weaves together the crimes.

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Making the Most Out of a Bad Situation

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a certain standalone episode six that I recommend even if you don’t watch the series. The reason for that is simple: Funimation’s hysterical English dubbing. Quick-witted and well-voiced, the quality of acting given to such a mediocre title truly makes the most out of this not-so-hot series. While a bad dub can ruin a show, a good dub can save one, and that by far is Game of Laplace‘s most redeeming quality. Newcomer Jill Harris has proven herself on multiple occasions that she can voice a cute feminine boy (like Kobayashi) without sounding “too girlish,” and Justin Briner as this doting “boyfriend” character with Hashiba is a great match. Throw in veterans like Eric Vale for Akechi’s aggressively low voice, J. Michael Tatum’s smooth-sounding Kagami, and Sonny Strait as everyone’s least favorite bag-wearing Shadow Man and you’ve got a wonderfully solid cast!

Stuido Lerche animates the world of Game of Laplace with just as much creative pizzazz, wacky checkerboard patterns, and bright colors as they do with all their titles. Like they did with the Danganronpa 3 anime (one of my favorites), the background characters are nulled out with a single color to truly seem like “background characters.” Not my favorite visual choice, as sometimes the culprits are actually these blobs of color, causing you to be reliant on voices alone (another reason for the dub), but it does result in an interesting style. The show gets its real visual appeal and absurdity from its investigation scenes where, in a fashion similar to superior mystery title Hyouka, each breakdown of the case is done so uniquely and creatively. This helps the show stay visually entertaining, even if the plot is a little out there. Also, butterflies.

Stick to the Classics

Nearly every mystery anime I’d seen before this one was better than Game of Laplace—but not all of those shows had a cast as fun as this one was. For a 50th anniversary project, I wish they had made an adaptation for a single one of his works, not a messy conglomeration of several. The series easily could’ve been better this way, and I bet more people would’ve watched a show advertised as “Rampo Edogawa tale brought to anime” than a series loosely based on a collection of works like “The Human Chair” and “Twenty Faces.”

This is going to be one of those shows that I enjoyed, but I can guarantee that most will not. The character humor tickled me just right with Funi’s dub, and Lerche happens to be one of my favorite animation studios. In other words, this series is only recommended to those thirsting for more murder mystery anime who have already exhausted the genre’s reserves in their desperate hunt. Watch Danganronpa, Hyouka, Higurashi, Rokka—any of those anime first; as the saying goes, “Stick to the classics” (ironic, I know). Then, only once you’ve thoroughly enjoyed what the genre has to offer, come stop by the Akechi detective agency for a laugh with old Rampo Edogawa.

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The harder the game is to solve, the more fun you can have, right?—Akechi Kogorou


Afterword

Not much to say here, especially since several character backstories and relationships remain largely unresolved by the end (hang in there, Hashiba). Like, Akechi is seen crushing up and washing down these white pills with the same brand of canned coffee all the time, but we never know why he does it . . . huh. Weird.

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Still, I downed this series like a hot “Coffee” myself here at the cafe, and so you’ll have to let me know what you thought about this series or my review down in the comments! It’s nice to be back for a quick review and not just an OWLS post, am I right? Not that I dislike writing them, but it seems like that’s all I write anymore, and I’ve got to change that! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

The End of Hope: Despair Conquers All in Danganronpa 3 | OWLS “Movement”

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 fifth monthly topic for 2018, “Movement,” I wanted to dive deep into despair with the Danganronpa franchise, specifically its “third” anime adaptation, Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School – Despair Arc. In today’s world where chaos is on the rise, spreading fear and horror through resurging domestic violence, manipulation of mass media, and most notably, school shootings, I couldn’t find a more relevant title befitting the catastrophic future we could potentially end up living ourselves—unless we stop this war on terror.

We join movements, organizations, and systems that align with our own personal values and beliefs. Sometimes we join these groups because they believe in doing good and making positive changes in society. However, these movements can turn sour when a dictator arises behind such good intentions, revealing perhaps a hidden agenda of oppression. It is in these groups that individuals start to shape their identities by either questioning their values and beliefs or conforming to the system. This month, we will be examining “real and/or fictitious” movements, organizations, or systems in anime and other pop culture mediums, and the positive and negative effects they have on individuals and society.

I’ve literally been dying to use Danganronpa in one of these OWLS posts, and seeing as how nobody ever talks about this epic third season, I think it’s about time that happened! (For the sake of a spoiler-free post, I will be omitting the series’s second half, the Future Arc. Call it saving a fantastic series for another day.) Thanks Lyn and Auri for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the 11-episode summer 2016 anime “Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School – Despair Arc,” followed by its 1-episode “Hope” finale, animated by Lerche, directed by Motoo Fukuoka and Seiji Kishi, and based on the original story by Kazutaka Kodaka. 

AND YES, I HAVE DONE THE IMPOSSIBLE BY MAKING A SPOILER-FREE DANGANRONPA POST, SO ENJOY~! 

Beginning of the End – Despair Arc

Tragedy, Madness, Terror, Unpredictability

The Mastermind of despair had already destroyed the world come the end of the Killing School Life endured by the disassembled (but not completely hopeless) 78th class of Hope’s Peak High. Encompassed by the franchise’s first game/anime adaptation, this zany and bitter series of mutual killings was (believe it or not) the horrific climax to an even darker, more messed up series of unfortunate events. And that’s where the Despair Arc comes in: it aims to chronicle the reign of terror staged by the one and only Mastermind, how their plans easily came to fruition, and the thrill they received because of it.

Simply put, what begins as a tale of hope ends in utter despair. And that’s what makes it one of the coolest anime to ever exist. 

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Unlike practically all of the other Danganronpa entries, Despair Arc is one of the very few to not feature a survival game of sorts. Yet, it’s still that kind of series in which its perilous situations—to your own disbelief—only grow worse, and worse, and worse . . . At this point in the story, the series’s iconically dooming mascot Monokuma doesn’t exist, so how does Despair Arc get its own fix of insanity? For the Mastermind, it’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!

  1. School violence committed by beloved students
  2. Growing disparity between the talented and the talentless
  3. Inability of higher-ranking officials to properly dispute social problems

That’s all it takes to watch the world crumble—and to think the Mastermind became Despair itself by manipulating their followers’ hatred, jealousy, fears, guilt, anything, really, through humor and charm. I know what you’re thinking—those three issues hit scarily close to home, don’t they? No, it’s definitely true. All around us, the world of this despair-infested fictional setting is slowly creeping into reality. Carnage is spreading. People are being unfairly treated and lambasted for factors beyond their own control. Nuclear war looms on the ember horizon. Great tensions that have lasted decades are about to bust loose with a fireworks show of death and depravity.

And the worst part is that we’re all just standing around watching it happen.

Despair is on the rise, and we’re only letting the movement grow.

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While Despair Arc does rely on a couple cheap gimmicks to speed the Mastermind’s course of evil along (surely to accommodate the dreadfully short 11-episode length), the series takes the most wild, absurd, almost painfully realistic ideas and runs far with them. Very, very far. Somehow, Kodaka has written such a brilliant story that starts off all shining and bright and ends in utter ruin, perfectly encapsulating the range of human spirit at the onset fear and anarchy. After watching, you almost want to call the shot:

This is the future our own kids will be living unless we take action NOW. 

It’s a terrifying thought, unbelievable at times, and that is exactly why—despite being a mere prequel to an incredibly exciting, well-written sagaDespair Arc serves more as a warning to the path this global society is currently treading. Although a stretch, nearly all of the horrific crimes committed in this series can be, or have already been, reproduced in our own lives, right at this very minute.

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It may not be spear-headed by a single bored high school student, but all around us, people are rapidly growing more cynical, distrustful, and hateful than they have ever been. Despair is at an all-time high, and what’s even worse is that some sick individuals out there actually get off on this madness. The seeds of hopelessness have long-since been sown by humanity, and in just a few short years, months, or even days, the despair will blossom magnificently.

And only then will you be wishing you did something.

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Hope is a state of harmony. Righteous and bright, and all that other BS. Despair is more fun. And it grows so quickly. Like mushrooms, over a single night. Despair is messy and confusing. And it ain’t much of a picky eater. It devours love, hate, the whole shebang. Despair takes the plans you’ve put all your faith into and rips ’em to shreds. You may think you’re above petty human desires, but you need Despair. When it’s calling the shots, all bets are off. You don’t wanna be bored outta your skull for the rest of forever, do ya? — Junko Enoshima


Birth of a New Light – Hope Arc

Aspiration, Optimism, Dreams, Stability

Long after The Tragedy of Hope’s Peak High, The Twilight Syndrome Murder Case, The Worst, Most Despair Inducing Incident in the History of Mankind, the Killing School Life, the Killing School Trip, and the Final Killing Game, AT LAST, the skies begin to clear up. Was it the proper ending to a masterful franchise that fans had been anticipating for several years? Well, maybe it wasn’t exactly everything that we wanted (or deserved), but thematically, all points reconnect and converge at this final crossroad splendidly. At the end of a dreadfully prolonged saga of despair suffocating what little justice remains, hope ultimately comes out on top—and brighter than ever.

There’s something infectious about being cynical for fun. We do it all the time on the internet, making sad jokes that mock the hilariousness of our pitiful lives. “We are not strong,” or at least as strong as we think we are, and we enjoy a mutual sense of humor in this fallacy. This emotion that plagues our very lives with pessimism—this negative philosophy that we can neither change the tides of destiny, nor amount to anything in the end—such is true despair.

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Naegi’s struggle to remain hopeful in one desolate situation after another brought him to his knees. But unlike Future Foundation’s Munakata (or most of today’s political leaders for that matter), he still looked up to those around him, believing that although despair teaches us hardship, hope preaches harmony. Despair may have relished the past and the present, but Naegi’s unwavering hope paved way for the future—his movement of hope snowballed into what can only be described as a truly contagious effort.

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Hope is just way too stubborn to die. Despair can win the battle, but never the war. — Monaca Towa

All this and more is why I want you to think about how you approach communication with others. Do you start with a self-deprecating joke, or perhaps approach a conversation with praise or positivity for the given topic? The next time you log on to the internet—be it Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, forums, chat rooms, or other social media—do try your best to believe that there is still good in this wild world. We have the power to pick our battles, thus we should better learn when to restrain, and when to take matters into our own hands. Hope is but a simple four-letter word, and yet it has the power to shape generations, the life we live now, and the future that awaits us.

What that future looks like ultimately lies in our strength to fight the darkness, together. 

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Hard as we try, none of us can see the future. The horizon we walk toward is always obscured. The future’s always hazy. Hope and Despair mingle. We can’t always tell which is which. It’s strange. Sometimes terrifying. Still though, if all you do is sit and wait, nothing happens. The trick is to take it one step at a time. See, you don’t have to know the future to move forward. Just walk with your memories. Look up at the sky, and say to yourself, “There’s always Hope for tomorrow.” — Makoto Naegi


Afterword

The entire Danganronpa franchise is incredibly dark, creative, intense, vulgar, and tons of fun to both play and watch. As such, it’s no surprise that I award Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School with the certified “Caffe Mocha” rating. Especially with the Despair Arc, the series’s ability to not only account for all the nitpicky details, but string them together in a logical, story-telling format is admirable (even if some of the methods are a tad sub-par compared to, say, the second game’s beautifully corrupt and twisted ways). Aside from maybe Fate/ZeroDespair Arc is the greatest “beginning of the end” prequel anime to ever be written. Unlike all other told-from-zero stories, there is no happy ending to be found here, unless of course, you’re rooting for the Mastermind.

A bloody masterpiece of the whodunnit murder mystery genre, Danganronpa 3 tackles the near impossible and pulls it off with flying colors (and a lot of pink blood). I could go on and on about how much I love Lerche’s clean game-to-anime stylistic transfer, as well as Kodaka’s story, Masafumi Takada’s soundtrack, and ALL the damn characters, but alas! Perhaps for another post!

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This concludes my May 23rd entry in the OWLS “Movement” blog tour. Gloria (The Nerdy Girl News) went right before me and wrote about the living differences between humans and robots, and what truly makes us human in the anime Beatless, a series that I’ve been meaning to check out since it started airing. Gloria is new to OWLS, so go give her some love! Now, look out for another new member, Dylan (DynamicDylan) over on YouTube, with a vid about the great Gundam Seed set to air tomorrow, May 24th! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host