2019 Holiday Haul #1 – Black Friday Sales || RightStuf & Sentai

Hello all!

Apologies for dropping off suddenly for another two weeks, I was ridiculously busy with finals (and pretty much everything else since Thanksgiving). But finals are OFFICIALLY behind me as of last Wednesday. I took a couple more days off to relax with family, and now I’m back. Glad to be here in this space once again!

As the title of this post implies, this is the first part of MANY a holiday haul posts, some being orders made during the sales, others being orders that were placed months ago and are now slowly trickling in. I hope you stick around with me as this month of holiday sale shenanigans goes on.

With part one, I’m taking us back nearly three weeks now to the Black Friday sales of our favorite online retailers for anime goodness: RightStuf and Sentai Filmworks!

First up from the epic Sentai sale this year is the Princess Principal LTD ED set. This thing is absolutely stunning, with gorgeous gold foil printing layered over a soft matte box. The spine alone speaks volumes about the quality of this set.

Peeking inside, we’ve got the Blu-ray, the signature Sentai box-of-stuff, and not one, not two, but THREE art books. WOW. The first is a storyboard collection for the first episode, while volume two contains character art, scenery, the goods etc. The third is loaded with staff and cast interviews, which is perfect for fans of the sub. Personally, I have no idea what this show is even about, aside from the fact that it’s got steampunk vibes and it was dubbed in English with ACCENTS. I’m shook.

Gosh, there’s so much to love about this set. I originally told myself that I’m holding off on Sentai LTD EDs due to space, but I couldn’t resist this one for just $40 (although it did go even cheaper the next sale :/).

Also, ALSO, the box isn’t full of nicknack stuff that I wouldn’t care about. Instead, it’s got a lovely cloth poster (with unique art!) and a metal steampunk coaster set, which I am legit currently using. Nice one, Sentai!

I picked up some other Blu-rays from the sale for other’s gifts, but they won’t go in my collection so I won’t bother showing them off. Instead, you can indulge in Love Stage!! with me—and yes, it’s got the new dub! I haven’t actually seen this series, so this’ll be a fun one for me to dive headfirst into, heh heh.

Onto the books, we’ve got the two newest volumes of my favorite LN series, SAO volume 17, “Alicization Awakening,” and A Sister’s All You Need. volume 5. Really hyped to continue reading the War of Underworld story!

Next is the third volume of Our Dreams at Dusk, another series that I’m waiting to have the volumes of before starting, as well as some VOFAN stuff. Here’s the novelization of Makoto Shinkai’s 5 Centimeters per Second: one more side and VOFAN’s art/storybook Colorful Dreams. I bought it thinking it’d be your typical art book, but instead it ended up being an anthology of 1-4 paged short stories with full art spreads. Hopefully it’s a good one.

Last for this haul is the long-awaited Millennium Actress Blu-ray release by Shout Factory! Continuing with the rescue of Satoshi Kon’s masterpiece films, I’m stoked to see what the buzz has been about this one. Since this one is technically a pre-order from the Shout Factory store itself, it came with an exclusive lithograph/poster of the release’s cover. Not sure what I’ll do with it yet, but it’s nice to have!


And there you go, the first haul of many for this holiday season! I didn’t realize it until I had all of the items together, but there’s a beautiful blue-green theme going on here. It’s certainly nice when odd stuff works out like that, isn’t it? Anyway, let me know your thoughts on any of these pick-ups down in the comments. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host

July 2019 Anime, Manga, & Light Novel Pickups | RightStuf 32-Bit Birthday Haul

Hello all!

Since my recent summer Sentai Filmworks haul post was so well received (thank you very much), I figured I’d share some of my other pickups from this past July. There’s a lot to get through, so let’s take a look!

But first, Happy 32nd Birthday to RightStuf! Most of the anime and manga were bought during their sale, so in many ways, this is also one big haul post. Thanks for all the sweet deals!

We’ll start with a couple films. While I’ve never seen Sword of the Stranger, I was convinced to pick this movie up because it’s always featured in those “best fights in anime” videos (plus it was $4). As for Modest Heroes, I can comfortably say I am a Studio Ponoc fan all the way, and will continue support their work however I can!

After finally getting around to this well-known franchise’s first season, I decided to get Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond to see how it continues. Supposedly it gets better, which is comforting given that I thought the first was slightly above average at best. Love the shiny holo slipcover!

I’ve been such a huge Yona of the Dawn fan ever since the anime aired several years ago—so much so that I even bought the first NINE volumes of the manga in hopes of eventually reading the story past the anime’s untimely conclusion. I decided to opt for the split part one/part two releases (despite a complete collection already in print) to savor all that art on the BDs, only to be disappointed that my part two set didn’t come with a slipcover. Oh well, ya snooze, ya lose. :/

I can bet you already know why I snagged this lovely gem! It’s the Fruits Basket Sweet Sixteen Collector’s Edition, and might I add that this is one nice set.

If you already own any prior LTD ED set, I don’t believe this is necessary. But if you’re wanting it for the upscaled quality, the stylish white chipboard box, or the plethora of decent-quality art cards, then I’d say go for it.

Look at all them cards! So many classic scenes, the umbrella and living room ones being my favorites. As a fan without my own personal set of the series, for $26, how could I refuse?

Onto the manga! And ooh, some LGBTQ+ stuff at that. Honestly, I can’t say much about Our Dreams at Dusk or That Blue Sky Feeling because I told myself I’d read them all the way through once their entire series has been released (Shimanami is 4 volumes, Blue Sky is 3). Happy to have them for when the rest gets released!

On the less innocent side of the LGBT manga in print, we have Total Eclipse of the Eternal Heart (that name, lol) and Escape Journey volume 3. With Syundei’s work being another standalone volume and this being the end for Tanaka’s short BL series, I’m ready to start these whenever the need for smut hits me.

Ooh, big books. Picking up the gorgeous Sailor Moon Eternal Edition releases by Kodansha was never a matter of if, but when. And well, I guess when is now, even though I have so many other things to read. Really, it’s a high quality, lovely publication targeted at both collectors and huge fans of the series that deserves its own post. Maybe in the future.

Oh yeah, and there’s also volume one of Akiko Higashimura’s autobiographical work, Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey, that I have heard nothing but fantastic things about.

More housekeeping with this third and final volume for the Danganronpa 2 spinoff from Nagito’s perspective. I actually reviewed the series and talked about Dark Horse’s very publication that you can read right here!

I also picked up Komi Can’t Communicate‘s first volume as a recommendation from a book-tuber. Excited to read that.

Lastly for manga are the two Viz series that I will not only collect as they are released, but actually read them too. One shoujo and one shounen, respectively, they are Snow White with the Red Hair volume 2 and Seraph of the End volume 17. I’m enjoying these two immensely, and even have a first impressions post for Snow White in the works, so please look forward to that.

And now for light novels. After finally finishing finishing (more like slugging through) the recent A Certain Magical Index III, I was inspired to resume picking up and reading the LNs. Or, at least, slowly filling in the book perspectives the parts that I thought the anime could’ve done more with (which is, to be honest, all of it). I’ll be hopping around, which is why volume 15 is here.

Continuing my read of Sword Art Online, we have the latest release in the Alicization story, volume 16. I’ll read this when the fall gets closer in anticipation of the anime’s second cour.

More light novels! Eighty-Six by Asato might be a blind buy for me, but with only raving things said about it from even non-LN readers, I wanted to stay in the loop. Plus it looks pretty.

Then there’s my guilty pleasure LN read, volume 2 of A Sister’s All You Need. If you read my review of the anime, you’d know that I positively loved this silly series. I’m currently reading the first book, and am amazed at the word-for-word adaptation that the anime apparently is. Can’t wait to read!

Here we are at the very end, and what a better way to end a haul than with some epic Evangelion stuff. Now, little story here, I’ve actually been excited for this book ever since it was announced in Japan a few years back. I love the Rebuild art and character designs, and at the time, I was so tempted to order a copy even if I couldn’t read it. Welp, I held out, and sure enough, a couple years later Viz announced their licensing of this monstrous art book, and I’m forever thankful.

I’ll probably do a post just for this book, as this thing is MASSIVE. Thought it’d be hardcover, but who cares—I’m just happy we even got a release!


That’s it, that’s the haul. Didja make it to the end? If so, pat yourself on the back, cause I sure did buy a lot of books and movies in July (probably the most in a single month ever, as a matter of fact). Well, maybe. Anyway, did any of these releases stick out to you? Are you currently reading or anticipating one of these titles? If so, which ones? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Also, let me know if you want more of these haul posts, cause I can definitely make this a regular thing if you’d like. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto, your host

Deus lo Vult: The Saga of Tanya the Evil | Light Novel First Impressions

A brief, spoiler-free review of the first volume of the light novel series “The Saga of Tanya the Evil,” or “Youjo Senki,” art by Shinobu Shinotsuki, written by Carlo Zen.


Anything BUT Your Typical Isekai 

Out on the front line, a little girl with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes dominates the battlefield. Soaring higher than all her fatherland’s foes, Tanya Degurechaff rules the skies, rifle in hand, and victory on her mind. But Tanya didn’t always have this life in the trenches. Once an elite salaryman in modern day Japan, life caught up with his arrogance and before he knew it, he was shoved in front of a moving subway train. After angering a mysterious being X in what can only be described as the afterlife, this “God” grants the man a second chance at life to learn a lesson on humility and faith.

And so, in a horrific twist of fate, “Tanya” was reborn in a World-War-I-esque alternate reality where magic exists. Still retaining her consciousness as a cold, calculating, and resourceful salaryman, however, Tanya secretly wields the intelligence and experience from her former life to not only survive in this new harsh landscape, but to climb to the top of the military’s hierarchy.

Rife with cruel irony, political banter, and struggles for life during a time of untold death, Deus lo Vult chronicles Tanya Degurechaff’s rise to power and lays the groundwork for the explosive world war that is blazing on the horizon.


War is only fun when you’re winning. — Tanya Degurechaff


What sets Tanya apart from other “transported to another world” titles is the narrator’s relationship to young Degurechaff. Plus, I mean, the gender transition, which oddly enough doesn’t seem to perturb the narrator as much as one would think. Carlo Zen writes the novel as if a distance exists between the shell of the young girl, Tanya, and the twisted personality behind her actions, the salaryman or “narrator.” Unlike other isekai titles where the protagonist is placed in another world (or another body) and actively takes in their surroundings and exists in it, the narrator constantly addresses the two separate entities of Tanya and himself.

In other words, the narrator makes Tanya do something, then observes the repercussions of that action from Tanya’s head space. Of course, this calls into question the “Tanya’s” reliability as a narrator, which is the next point I’d like to discuss.

Image result for saga of tanya the evil light novel

Kafka and the Unreliable Narrator

The perspective of the story is always written in first person, but Tanya is consistently referred to by the narrator in third. When Tanya kills an enemy soldier or salutes to her superiors, the narrator makes comments about what kind of face Tanya should make, what her posture should be like, what her tone of voice should be, etc. The narrator doesn’t see himself as “becoming” Tanya, but rather as an existence that puppeteers this young blonde child named Tanya.

This unusual narrative style sets up an intriguing relationship between the two, and also tells us that the narrator might not be as level-headed as we are led to believe, perhaps indicating an unreliable narrator reminiscent of Franz Kafka’s writing. Fused together are elements that feel simultaneously realistic and fantastic, and like Kafka’s other works, an isolated protagonist faces bizarre predicaments and incomprehensible social-bureaucratic powers. Explored are themes of alienation, existential anxiety, the impacts of imperialism, the costs of war, guilt, and absurdity.

You can’t always trust the narrator’s sanity, which reflects in Tanya’s feared character. And yet, despite her brutal, unforgiving nature, you don’t want to see Tanya lose. Carlo Zen has created a fascinating dilemma—if only more of the book itself was about our rather dangerous titular soldier. 

Image result for saga of tanya the evil light novel

A Dense Read

Although it is the saga of Tanya, many events of the book are not observed directly from her eyes. Throughout the novel, we take on the viewpoints of the various members of the military’s general staff, a few of Tanya’s brothers-in-arms, and even a reporter from 40 years into the future. Not only are these mostly just reactions of the same events seen from different perspectives, but they’re hard to follow as well.

I remember reading a passage talking about the war, only to realize a few pages later that this wasn’t the army’s commander or even an Allied Forces captain speaking, but rather Tanya herself commentating on the philosophy of war. The POV often shifts unannounced, too, so you’ll never know exactly who’s shoes you’re in unless you really have a grasp for the characters!


Bravery, glory, honor—all those ideals get covered in mud as they fight to the death, and a handful of exceptions make a name for themselves. — Laeken


I’ll give it to you straight: Tanya‘s first novel is a difficult book to read. Perhaps this speaks to Carlo Zen’s mature writing style, but this is not a novel you’d casually pop open, read for a bit, then put it back down. It’s going to require a bit more commitment than your average light novel series, and while I know some readers crave that kind of challenge, others would be totally put off by it (which is kinda where I fall on the matter).

With constant walls of tiny text, monstrous chapter lengths, and illustrations that are few and far between, you start to understand why it took me a whole month just to read volume one. It doesn’t help that the book is over 300 pages long! So, in addition to being unlike most isekai stories, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is also unlike most light novels.

If God Wills It . . .

Much like the way Lieutenant Degurechaff leads with an iron fist, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a series that can be very punishing to readers unless they know exactly what they’ve signed up for. It’s a densely packed story with so much going on in it, from the philosophies of war and life, to the increasing global climate of a world preparing for war. Zen uses the dreary historical non-fiction backdrop of a world war to toss Tanya into circumstances of danger, and it is in those moments of insecurity that we see the divine cruelty of one all-powerful, pissed off God.

To say the least, the novel series involves much more than a mad little girl flying around using magic to smite her enemies. If you were coming from the anime expecting action at every bend in the rocky road, look elsewhere. Tanya doesn’t take any prisoners, but to those up for the daunting task: “Spend your days in combat and unfathomable danger. If you return alive, you’ll receive honor and glory.” To those poor soldiers, however, my sympathies—you have no idea that the most dangerous thing on the battlefield is the Devil of the Rhine herself.

Image result for youjo senki ed art


O saints, believe in the blessings of our Lord. Let us be fearless. At the distant end of our journey, let us reach the promised land. — Tanya Degurechaff


Afterword

Looking back on it, I definitely enjoyed this first volume of Tanya. It was a tough read for sure, especially since I was expecting more of something like the anime, but I did like the incredible depth placed in the characters and the world. Should you read it? If you’re wanting a military title with a bit of magic and a more challenging read to entertain you, there’s a lot you’re bound to like in Tanya. Will I be picking up volume two? Yes . . . but not anytime soon. I think I need a bit of a break after just reading this first one! For now, The Saga of Tanya the Evil is a “Coffee” title here at the cafe, but I’m sure the story only gets better from here.

Have you read The Saga of Tanya the Evil? If you have, what did you think of it, and if you have not, has the anime ever tempted you into starting? Let me know! ‘Till the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

WorldEnd — The Lack of Connection Between You and Me | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode spring 2017 anime “WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?”, also known as “SukaSuka,” animated by Satelight and C2C, directed by Junichi Wada, and based on Akira Kareno’s light novel series of the same name.

IMG_0927 (1)


At the End of the World

Awakening from a cryogenic slumber 500 years after his ferocious fight with a mysterious monster, Willem Kmetsch finds himself to be the last human alive. During his icy slumber, creatures of terrifying proportions known as “Beasts” emerged on Earth’s surface and destroyed the human race—all except for one, that is. Together with the other surviving races of this fantasy world, Willem takes refuge in the floating islands, living in fear of what terror still lies below. His new life feels lonely and meaningless, for all he has tied to him now is a number of odd jobs to merely get by.

One day, a surprise offer to become a weapons storehouse caretaker graces Willem’s presence, to which he takes thinking nothing of it. When arriving at this “warehouse,” however, he finds it not to be filled with guns and other arms, but instead a handful of young girls. And boy are they a handful. Connecting the dots, Willem realizes that these Leprechauns, though resembling humans, have no regard for their own lives, as they identify themselves as mere weapons of war. These are the weapons he was tasked to look after.

Becoming something of a father figure for the young Leprechauns, Willem spends his days watching over them fondly and supporting them in any way he can. Among them is blue-haired Chtholly Nota Seniorious, the dutiful yet stubborn eldest who is more than willing to sacrifice herself if it means defeating the Beasts and safeguarding peace. The two strike up an endearing relationship, and as Leprechauns are sent off to battle at the end of the world, Willem—who knows the tragedies of war all too well—can only cling to the hope that those who fight bravely will someday return home safe and sound.

willem chtholly ep 1.PNG

I remember this plot stirring up a lot of hearts back when it aired in 2017, but I found myself emotionally detached from not only most of the characters but also the story itself. It’s kind of like Seraph of the End‘s opening in that you are shown a deeply impressionable first episode (made notable largely for its music, which I’ll get to), and then directed to an entirely different story. For me at least, the show has a hard time of maintaining a particular mood, be it happiness, sadness, or somewhere in between.

It also quite honestly feels like WorldEnd is trying to balance so many different genres that it fails to excel at any of them. While it’s certainly not an action series, it wouldn’t be proper to label it as slice of life. But it does have enough excitement to be this weird sci-fi/fantasy blend, something that definitely makes it feel like a light novel adaptation. Romance might be a better genre category, but even then the dramatic intensity is ALL over the place, hardly a fit for a “true” story of love and romance.

Image result for sukasuka anime chtholly screenshot

All the Lolis in the World Can’t Make You Relatable

Ready for me to break some hearts? Alright, well I’ll start with Willem, the story’s “hero” who falls for the girl doomed to a terrible fate. While I enjoy the message of defying said fate and cautiously yet optimistically gazing toward the future, I just couldn’t get into Willem’s character. Let me explain.

His unusual circumstances as “weapons keeper” places him with the undivided attention of all the lolicauns (heh, get it?). Each of their little problems are designed to unfold around him with the intent of unlocking a new facet of his character. Oh, so we find out everyone is afraid of him? Makes sense, he’s a human and a dude at that. But he’s a good cook? And he’s able to make them all love him through food? How convenient. But wait, he can also tune their weapons, a quality that is unique only to him. And we can’t forget that he’s a lover of little kids, a pro nurse, and a massage therapist, too. Plus, even though he can whoop all of these magical fairies in combat, he’s totally willing to die for them at any given time, OF COURSE.

Willem is just . . . too perfect, and I just couldn’t connect with him because of his overwhelming home-ec expertise. And speaking of disconnection, I never really cared for Chtholly, the lead female, as much as I was *supposed* to either. The two are cute together, don’t get me wrong, but I only recall like one or two instances where I thought their chemistry felt honest and true—and not being manipulated by the choppy plot lines.

Image result for sukasuka anime willem massage

“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?”

Studios Satelite and C2C team up to animate this breathtaking fantasy world and it’s . . . alright? Aside from a few gorgeous landscape shots, the animation merely gets the job done. WorldEnd’s characters are drawn delicately, and the copious amounts of crimson blood that spill out during the fight scenes create quite the stark contrast (which I believe was the point). Given the lack of brazen fanservice we’ve come to see with these LN adaptations, the modesty here sure is appreciated. All in all, it may not be worth solely watching for the animation, but there is one production component that makes WorldEnd stand above the crowd: Tatsuya Katou’s soundtrack.

I’m a sucker for insert songs. They can hype up a scene to unbelievable levels and allow emotions transcend logic, a quality which can be tricky to master. But oh man does Tatsuya Katou have it down. Specifically here, he arranges traditional English ballads and folk songs as insert songs. Between the rich and powerful “Scarborough Fair” opening up this story’s curtains in episode one to the deeply resonate “Always in my Heart” closing out the final fight, it’s easy to be moved to tears. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Both sung in English by the graceful Tamaru Yamada, these insert songs become perfect representations of WorldEnd‘s tragic duality.

chtholly episode 12.PNG

The rest of the OST maintains this same orchestral beauty: soaring strings, somber violin solos, cheerful guitar, blissful piano—a winning combination. Absolutely fantastic, and perfect for the fantasy atmosphere. Also worthy of mention is the series’ OP “DEAREST DROP” by Azusa Tadokoro, a song that easily made it into my personal music playlist.

For English dub fans, Funimation’s got you covered. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t exactly enjoy Willem’s character, but this isn’t my favorite Micah Solusod performance. Amber Lee Connors’ Chtholly definitely grows on you if you allow her a few episodes, though. Overall, I’m still curious about how the Japanese handled the emotional scenes, but the dub works just fine.

willem and chtholly.PNG

Hinging on Feelings

Between a story that is neither this nor that and a bland protagonist that I just couldn’t seem to connect with, we’ve got a few touching scenes weakly strung together by a heavy reliance on the viewer loving the cast. The romance genre hinges on your attachment to (at least one of) the leads, making it almost entirely based on personal preference (to which I didn’t quite fancy here). At least it has some encouraging messages on embracing oneself through the process of change.

I wanted to love this anime with all my heart—after all, it was the talk of 2017 for quite some time. But in the end, a lack of connection—between plot points, characters, and myself as the viewer—prevents me from recommending the series unconditionally. There’s something special going on here, there really is, but I don’t think this anime adaptation showcases WorldEnd at its true best.

chtholly ep 1.PNG

I can’t find happiness, meaning there’s really no reason to pursue it. How can one pursue what they already have? Don’t you understand—I’m already the happiest girl in the world. — Chtholly


Afterword

I admittedly feel terrible for spitting on this beloved title. But if it makes fans feel better, I would like to check out the original light novel series some day, as I’ve heard wonderful things from people who are reading it. By the way, THAT TITLE THO. This is LN culture at its peak. For all those curious, WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us? is rated a “Coffee” here at the cafe, a show that’s rich in all the right areas, and quite possibly satisfying if its characters can win over your heart.

Do you have any thoughts on this sweet little title? Let me know if you share some of the same disappointments or praises of WorldEnd that I do in the comments. I’d totally be willing to give this title a second try if given the reason to, so come and voice your thoughts on WorldEnd or this review! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

When Science & Magic Collide: Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Index/Railgun | OWLS “Thankful”

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  eleventh monthly topic for 2018, “Thankful,” I wanted to shed some light on a certain franchise that doesn’t ever get too much public love from me. Believe it or not, back in the day when I only had about 20 or so anime under my belt, A Certain Scientific Railgun was one of, if not my favorite anime ever. And because of its decline in publicity following the climactic Index II finale, I never really got to express how much this incredible franchise meant to me (and still does mean to me).

Here at OWLS, we are pretty thankful that we are able to come together as a community and share a love and appreciation for anime and manga. This month we will be showcasing our appreciation by giving a shout out post to our favorite manga artists, creators, production companies, and writers who produced some of our favorite works. We will be discussing our favorite works by these creators and our reasons as to why we appreciate them.

A very simple yet fitting topic for this month, I’m excited to put on the nostalgia lens and celebrate just a few of the many reasons why I’m overjoyed to have this electrifying world where science and magic collide in my life. Cause trust me–there’s never a dull moment in this city!

Image result for certain scientific railgun anime


A brief, spoiler-free glimpse into the massive “A Certain Magical Index/A Certain Scientific Railgun” or “Raildex” franchise, all animated by J.C. Staff, and originally written by Kazuma Kamachi.

Been a while? Let’s briefly review!

The world of Index is one where having supernatural powers is commonplace—that is, for the 2.3 million residents of Academy City. A sprawling metropolis boasting the technological prowess of a city existing 30 years in the future, everything in Academy City is regulated and organized to perfection. Because its inhabitants or Espers must develop their psychokinetic powers, an elaborate education system dominates much of the city. Sprinkle in several hundred research institutions and it’s no wonder these supercharged Espers have become associated with the scientific community.

A poor Level 0 possessing no powers but a strange knack for canceling out others’ with his right hand, Touma Kamijou finds himself ironically disenchanted by reality when he discovers that Espers aren’t the only power users roaming the planet. One day, he finds a nun literally draped over his balcony who claims to be on the run from a group of magicians. Magicians are those who practice magical arts, usually subscribing to a certain religion, church, sect, or philosophy to guide their training.

Image result for ある 魔術 の 禁書 目録 1 話

But Touma doesn’t care about any of that—he’s already got a bunch of classes to make up, a Level 5 “bug zapper” out for guts, and a case of rotten luck that seems to follow him wherever he goes!

A Certain Magical Index chronicles Touma Kamijou’s mishaps as he stumbles through the magical side of things and entangles himself in situations that eventually threaten the balance of the two communities vying for supremacy in Academy City. Meanwhile, the spin-off A Certain Scientific Railgun functions as a sister series to Index in that it follows the Level 5 Electromaster Mikoto Misaka and the trials and tribulations she faces while encountering the dark side of Academy City.

Top 5 Reasons Why I Love Index/Railgun


#5 – The Incredible Cast of Characters

Whether you prefer the diversity of Index or the raw friendship in Railgun, you can’t deny that as a whole, both series offer a fascinating cast of characters. While some are much better developed than others (such as the “heroes” vs. the “villains”), you get the sense that each character is fighting for reasons beyond their role. As the story goes along, we see the complexities of each character shine in their individual little arcs, and although you could argue that Railgun put more love into its cast (good guys and bad guys alike), all of them are fascinating in their own right, be it with their powers, their relationships to others, or their system of beliefs. So many different personalities! The cast becomes even more fun to watch when the two stories collide, but I’ll get to that here in a minute.

Image result for toaru majutsu no index

#4 – The Insane Architecture & Animation

I wanted to keep this reason separate from another on this list because it truly does deserve its own category. Simply put, this is the best set of works from J.C. Staff that I’ve ever seen, especially Railgun S. Admittedly, Index season one has aged quite a bit in all aspects; that’s not to say it’s bad, but rather quite average for a mid-2000s shounen anime. Railgun, on the other hand, looks timeless in practically all areas, be it the riveting action sequences or the more down-to-earth comedic moments. With each new season comes a more vivid, dynamic vision of what these supernatural power users are truly capable of, and naturally, newer entries will look far superior to older ones. From the explosive energy of Misaka’s signature “railgun” to the mystical spells and arts cast by magicians, the animation remains a high point for this beloved franchise. As an Esper, you are only limited by what you can’t mentally compute quick enough!

Image result for mikasa a certain scientific railgun

And can we give those background artists a freakin’ round of applause?? They are the ones responsible for bringing Academy City to life: towering skyscrapers, glowing lights, roving highway streets, radiant research institutions, dirty alleyways—heck, even the seemingly infinite number of CG wind turbines littered throughout the city! The clean sci-fi aesthetic matched with homely elements like the occasional brick-paved sidewalk or flower box really does make it feel like Academy City exists in the near future—a future well within our grasp. So I’m glad we’re getting more Index and Railgun, not only for the story and characters, but because I can rely on J.C. Staff for turning these sequels into top-notch productions.

 

#3 – The Intricate, Intertwined Storytelling

We all like a good cameo here and there, right?  Well, Index is FULL of them, so much so to the point that certain characters from the science side of Railgun will hop onto the magic side and have a little fun. Sometimes these visits are brief, such as seeing the dangerous Level 5 Meltdowner chilling in a coffee shop with her friends; others are extended, like when Accelerator had that whole encounter with Index and even bought her food at everyone’s favorite family restaurant Joseph’s. We love seeing our favorite characters thriving in their element, but it can be even more fun to see them out of it and even chatting with characters we know from what feels like entirely different worlds.

Image result for accelerator and index eating

The sheer level of articulation needed to not only tell each story but intertwine them on the same time line is monstrous. To keep each little side story straight yet consistent with the main plot and other happenings in the universe boggles my mind, as I’m sure it does the writers’. I mean, how do you remember that X character went into Y store at this time and saw Z AND keep this seemingly pointless interaction in-line with everything else that is slowly unfolding around us?? Having two series that bounce off of each other so well is one of the franchise’s great hallmarks without a doubt!

The franchise’s most famous story, the “Sisters Arc”, is known throughout all seasons and reiterations of the story for its complexity, and has been heralded as a brilliant story all on its own between its gripping characters and powerful, conflicting emotions. Having been told in both Index season one and elaborated on in Railgun S, the multi-lens perspective of both Touma and Misaka only proves that the writers of the Raildex franchise know exactly what they are doing, and I just can’t wait for more.

Image result for railgun vs index sisters arc

#2 – The Battle of Concepts: Science VS Magic

Kind of an obvious one, as I like my action scenes just as much as the next guy. But beyond just visuals, Index makes it especially clear that actions are rooted in beliefs, faiths even, and this battle of concepts—of ideologies—is the real fight I’m talking about here. One of the first things that drew me to this universe was Esper power hierarchy, which rates a student’s ability from 0 to 5. This power system also influences the socioeconomic balance, where your Level 4s and 5s are practically viewed as pop stars living lavish lifestyles. (We quickly find this doesn’t apply to everyone, though.)

But just like real science, researchers are all working to push the boundaries of what humans are capable of—the ultimate goal, of course, being to produce the first Level 6. Some scientists lie in the depths of Academy City’s darkness to deceive, trap, and capture innocent children and Espers alike for the sake of their research. Although twisted, the dedication to making the process as truly scientific as possible was what won me over as a fan. Misaka’s railgun is grounded in real scientific principles, and there’s always a satisfying explanation to how an Esper uses their supernatural powers.

Related image

Unlike science’s dedication to mapping the brain and dissecting DNA, magic is a difficult concept to unravel, which makes sense given that magic in this world and in ours is tied to myths, legends, and stories of old. Religious doctrines and artifacts are referenced left and right in Index, and although not as clearly defined as the science side, it’s always fascinating to see how these mythical ideas and religious figures translate to a medium as exploratory as anime.

Related image

#1 – The Sprawling Metropolis of Academy City

Annnnd my favorite reason I love this franchise is for the setting itself, Academy City. In fact, if I could live in any one fictional anime setting it would be Academy City. I mean, beautiful buildings sparkle in the sunlight, shopping districts are everywhere, the weather is predicted down to the second, cafes can be found at every street corner—it MUST be the place for me! Not to mention a chance at having psychokinetic abilities and a curriculum to develop those powers?? HECK YEAH COUNT ME IN. It is essentially a utopia, a perfect place for near-perfect people. But what we find is that this drive for perfection also makes it the perfect place for underground organizations to manipulate social happenings.

7

Arguably more of a character than a location, Academy City becomes the converging point for nearly every element of the story. Watching it become warped over the course of series as the climate for war increases is astounding, and it’s awesome that we’re finally getting to find out what will happen in this climactic third world war. For every conflict between religious institutions there has been an illegal experiment in some seemingly defunct laboratory. Between the Mages and Espers, scientists and magicians, and terrorists within and outside the walls all trying to maintain their hold on this sprawling metropolis, Academy City has mastered the duality of darkness. Possibilities are quite literally endless in a place that favors advancement and new ideas, and that’s why I love it so much.

1


A Thank-You to Everyone Involved

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this entire franchise, specifically the Railgun side, has meant a lot to me over my years an anime fan. Yet, I never really have expressed my love for it before on my blog (maybe after I rewatch it all I’ll have something to say). And so, I just wanted to offer my sincerest thanks to everyone who has been involved with this massive project:

To all the writers, especially Kazuma Kamachi for the original story of Index; to artist Kiyotaka Haimura for his art in the Index light novel as well as for all the memorable character designs; to Motoi Fuyukawa for creating the Railgun spin-off manga; to Hiroshi Nishikiori and Tatsuyuki Nagai for directing Index and Railgun, respectively; to the endearing Kawada Mami on Index and electrifying fripSide on Railgun for providing their incredible opening theme songs; to all the producers, voice actors (both sub and dub), TV broadcasters, licensing companies like Funimation, Crunchyroll, Seven Seas, and Yen On for bringing over the anime and books to the states, and to everyone else that I missed—

Words cannot express how thankful I am to have had such an incredibly fascinating and intricate universe of thought brought to me over the years. Your collaborative efforts on this tremendous project have inspired a generation of young fans, myself included, to think outside the box and create our own personal realities. Thank you all!

Image result for misaka mikoto railgun s


Afterword

Guys, I used to be OBSESSED with this franchise you have no idea. With the suddenly recent airing of the long-awaited Index III (as well as an announcement of a third season of Railgun and EVEN an adaptation of the Accelerator spin-off), there’s never been a better time to be a fan. And if you’ve held off for this long for one reason or another, now’s an excellent time to jump right on in. You’ve got novels, manga, several TV series, and even a film to enjoy at whatever pace you’re comfortable with. My personal recommendation? If you’re an anime-only person, start with A Certain Scientific Railgun season one. It introduces the world and Academy City better than Index does in my opinion. Then hit up Index’s first season, Railgun SIndex II, and the Endymion film. If you’re already a fan, then where have ya been?? Let me know in the comments, and also what your favorite entry or story in the franchise is!

This concludes my November 20th entry in the OWLS “Thankful” blog tour. YumDeku (MyAnime2go) talked about two anime they were thankful for, which you can find out what those were right here! Now, look out for our good friend and prompt-writer Lyn (LynLyn Says) with a post coming Wednesday, November 21st! Thanks for listening to me fanboy about Index for over 2,000 words (you rock!), and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

CAFÉ NOTICE | Aftermath of Being Logged in ALO

Hello café-goers, how should I start this? Well, it’s evening here, so perhaps “Good evening, all!” or something to that effect. What I’m about to talk about is more on the serious side, but don’t worry, it’s that good kind of serious – that satisfactory seriousness that comes from adult praise, for instance. The topic? You read the title. I was logged into ALO for admittedly far too long, and you’ve probably realized that. Also, I lost a lot of you guys from my first anticipation post of the project, haha! What happened?!

I started to analyze Reki Kawahara’s Fairy Dance not by choice; I was sick and tired of nearly every goddamn anime fan beating up on SAO’s second half, and I had to change that by defending it as my sole right as a reviewer and a fan. We stick up for things we appreciate, see, and we also criticize the aspects that could’ve been better. But this was a defense series for the positive aspects, not the negative ones. I’m not saying Fairy Dance is pure gold – Oh gosh, no – but aren’t there other series out there begging to be picked apart like the literary vultures we are?

Now you probably think, “What about all those fans out there that praise SAO as the chief of all anime, huh? We must stop their ignorance!” Well, I agree, you can tear Sword Art Online limb from limb, whether that be the anime, the novels, or both, but the series’ problem is rooted in the the lead character himself, and sadly I can’t do much about that. However, I can point out a few of the cool tricks the series performed correctly. Hence, my motives for writing this.

This journey of 10,000 words starts with a single letter. Cheesy as it sounds, it is what it is. Clocking in at around 10,000 words altogether (parts I through this reflection), this is one of my greatest achievements as a blogger. A Word document this large is at risk of EXPLODING! Am I proud that I threw a sh*t ton of words on a page and called it an analysis? Not necessarily. I proclaim this to be one of my greatest achievements in blogging because this is my grandest collection of argumentative text on this blog. I dare say it means more to me than my reviews . . . This is a project I can look back on and actually feel really, really proud of the hours of work that went into this. I went into it thinking it would just be another review series. Hah, how little did I predict the longstanding effects it would come to have.

I realize this topic is taboo by bloggers, but here I go. “In Defense of Fairy Dance” had quite possibly one of the worst ‘statistical’ receptions on this blog – and THAT’S FINE. I believe it to be one of my highest of highs even though the number of likes and comments dictate it was one of my lowest of lows. It just means that you as a reader didn’t want to, well, read it, and that’s totally okay. Read what won’t waste your time, after all. That’s how I’ve always seen it. Just know that despite my efforts (and I don’t blame you AT ALL for not knowing the struggle), they ultimately mean so little, statistically. Thus, I’d like to extend my warmest thanks to those who stuck around, read, liked, commented – You know who you are. Thank you, it is an absolute joy reading your comments overflowing with your own responses and opinions!!!

If you’ve learned anything by now, it’s that Sword Art Online is a franchise rich with irony. Dramatic Irony ringin’ any bells? Gosh, we’ve beaten this horse quite dead. I won’t rattle on more, but I hope you’ve been able to take out this popular theme and apply it to other media. SAO doesn’t do anything particularly special with it; it just does a fantastic job working it into the story and characters. I also hope that, through reading this, you’ve been reinforced with the thought that “appearances aren’t everything.” Oh, it’s a juvenile theme, but one that applies itself here in many more ways than one.

Lastly, before I bow out of this enchanting land of fairies and bid the franchise farewell, I have one last lesson to reign it all in. You question, “What could possibly be more important than dramatic irony, Takuto???”

La vie est drôle

“Life is Funny,” eh?

You might recall this phrase rolling off the tongue of Ragyo Kiryuin from Kill la Kill, but its meaning is can be equally applied to the entirety of Sword Art Online.

A story of kids who finally get their hands on virtual reality, only to get trapped in it with death as the only escape.

How about when they finally do manage to return to the real world, and the main character’s lover has been relocated into another cage?

Or even when she gets out, and a mysterious marauder threatens to kill players in-game with one pull of his trigger?

Heck, even a girl struggling through terminal illness seeks refuge in the game world.

What about a blogger who expended his time, energy, and soul into a project that got less hits than his dinky little haul post? I think you get the picture.

When you look at it, life sure is funny, eh?

I’m using the wings I gained from ALfheim Online to soar to new heights. This experience has been troublesome, yet surprisingly a wake-up call much-delayed as well. I am still trying to work out a review format I am comfortable with, and this comprehensive review stuff has helped reduce my options (because at this point, I just can’t decide). Maybe now you’ll get to endorse yourself with tastier content. Or, perhaps, things could take a sour turn. Anything could happen, and so whatever does come our way, I’d like to reaffirm my thanks to all who have flown by my side during this journey. Don’t feel bad if you didn’t – I’m sure there’s a reason for your absence. Just know that we had a grand ol’ time here with dramatic irony, right fellows? Yeah, don’t answer that.

With more positive announcements on the horizon, I sincerely hope you have emerged as enlightened as I have! Keep on rolling with the punches, and until the next post, thank you very much for reading!

– Takuto, your host

Oh, before I leave, I’ll be dropping the headers for each section of the series below. You are encouraged to click on the image (if my computer’s not being fickle) to direct you to the page. Everything under “In Defense of Fairy Dance” will be compiled under the “Cafe Talk” section of the blog for future reference! 🙂

dayii_HHS017710B1_1

dayii

dayiii

dayiv

dayv

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

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

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

“Land of the Fairies,” Eh?

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

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

The Sad, Scientific Truth behind ALfheim

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

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

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

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

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

This is One Tree You Can’t Climb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treasures ALO Gave its Players

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

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

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

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

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

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

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