To the Top of the Tower: How Alicization Encodes its Lore || OWLS “Fantasy”

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 of 2019, “Fantasy,” I decided to head down a less conventional route for portraying this genre with none other than the (in)famous Sword Art Online. But fear not, for in my most humblest opinion, the Alicization story is not only the franchise’s most competent arc, but most fantasy-heavy one as well.

In the month of October, we will be exploring the world of fantasy in pop culture. The genre of fantasy focuses on telling stories about our external and internal environments. There are many ways we can interpret the word fantasy. For example, we can talk about how a fantastical place could glorify what reality should be, or the dangers of ideal expectations. Fantasy could also be seen as taking a “wild journey” or a “hallucination,” and how that can affect our psyche and well-being. Additionally, fantasy can focus on our personal dreams and expectations, and how those expectations do not align with our reality. Overall, our posts will reflect on how we view the fantasy genre and what we can learn about these pop culture mediums.

Since I’ve got a review of the series coming in a couple days, it’ll be nice to focus exclusively on the cool story elements at play here. SPOILERS will be present. Thanks Lyn and Aria for the prompt!

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A brief discussion of the 24-episode fall 2018 anime “Sword Art Online: Alicization” as well as the original novel series, animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Manabu Ono, and based on the light novel by Reki Kawahara. MAJOR SPOILERS WILL BE PRESENT. 

How SAO Blends Magic & Science Fiction

Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online has amassed into a franchise that sets its stories in a variety of fantasy worlds, but with a caveat: They are gaming worlds, virtual lands created by programming, and code is the law of the land. My favorite aspect of each season is watching how they seamlessly blends the two genres I love most—fantasy and sci-fi—with one another to create some of the coolest adventure stories out there. SAO is cool, yeah, I said it.

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Every magical attack, legendary item, or floor boss is portrayed through a fantasy lens, but can be broken down scientifically by sword skills and hit-points, system stats, and in-game features. SAO, GGO, ALO, and the latest VR world “Underworld” all operate on systems that actively try to rationalize even their most fantastical of elements. Often, yet most especially with this third season, the series isn’t afraid to dive into weapon lore and in-game backstory whenever permissible to explain certain mechanics and unique properties. As such, SAO is a universe structured around duality: the relationship between code (the outside world) and lore (the inside world)

In this community, however, it is rare for people to call parts—let alone entire story arcs—of SAO “good” or even “great” like I do, which kinda sucks as a fan. But the coming of Alicization changed the game, truly, and imparted with us a story of epic proportions unlike anything the series has tackled before. And with the grand War of Underworld on the horizon, there’s no better time than now to sit down and take a look at the inner mechanisms of this latest world our hero finds himself trapped in.

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System Call: Underworld’s Unique Features

As with previous seasons, Kirito is forced into another virtual world due to circumstances far out of his control. What immediately draws his eyes to this virtual reality, unlike others have done before, however, is that “Underworld” looks and feels very real. And it should—it’s based on a network of real human memories, after all. By highlighting the neural pathways of the brain—the “Fluctlight”—and flooding them with visual imagery that stimulates one’s haptic, echoic, and visual senses, a person hooked up to the “Soul Translator” can essentially experience life in an entirely different world, detailed down to the tiniest speck of dirt.

While the mind is in some far off world full of swords and dragons, the physical body remains intact on the outside. You could almost view Kirito’s wild journey through the fantastical unknown as one big hallucination, as every memory made in the game world is erased upon awakening (due to a contractual agreement made between the Rath Scientists and the subject). This allows Kirito’s mind to continue operating and maintain the neural connections that would otherwise be lost due to his fatal encounter at the third season’s beginning.

And so here we are, in this world that looks just like ours on the surface, but operates under an entirely different set of encoded gimmicks and laws. Instead of chemical properties and physics, everything in Underworld has life and experience points. Rocks, trees, food, weapons, and of course people are all bound to a numerical HP. Can’t seem to lift a heavy blade or open a particular door? Perhaps it’s not your own strength at fault, but the fact that such “objects” may be assigned a higher priority number than your own level can currently interact with. And you don’t “make” fires—you “Generate Thermal Elements.” Such cool coding lingo.

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The system gets even more interesting when it comes to the Integrity Knights’ Divine Object-class weapons, one-of-a-kind arms they wield to protect the human realm. Each with their own unique origin, such legendary swords or bows can unleash unimaginable powers beyond their prescribed damage set, especially if the weapon’s memory is triggered via the “Enhance Armament” system command, followed by “Release Recollection.”

For instance, Kirito’s Night Sky Sword, made from the highest branch of the once-infellable Gigas Cedar, can summon all of the darkness amassed through years of gazing at the stars in one incredible blast when its memory is released. Eugeo’s Blue Rose Sword, born from a lonely rose which blossomed in the snow and ice of the End Mountains, freezes all in its user’s path, encasing foes in icy vines and frost.

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For the Integrity Knights, the lore embedded within their Divine Objects runs even deeper due to their creator’s self-assigned calling as Ruler of Underworld. The titular Alice Synthesis Thirty’s golden-petaled Osmanthus Blade was originally the first tree programmed in Underworld, and thus the oldest creation in the land. Fanatio Synthesis Two’s Heaven Piercing Sword was a physics experiment of Administrator’s in which the concentrated the light of a thousand mirrors was forged into a single blade in an attempt to mimmick the great Solus itself.

And get this: the great Bercouli Synthesis One’s Time Piercing Sword was crafted from the needle on the first village’s clock tower—Underworld’s own system clock. I just love the way Kawahara marries gaming mechanics and programming with story lore to form not just creative weapon origin stories, but an entire world full of intrigue and wonder to be fascinated with.

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Cracking open the Central Cathedral

When a story presents you with a tower, you climb it. Whether you’re adventurous or not, that’s just what you do. Kirito seeks out the towering Central Cathedral at the center of the human realm in hopes that somewhere waiting for him on the very top lies a console in which he can log himself out through. While he’s not technically wrong, the costs of getting to the 100th floor far outweigh the prize he seeks.

The very act of ascending Central Cathedral floor by floor feeds us with hope that whatever lies at the top will scratch that itch we’ve had since Kirito first woke up in Underworld. Little did any of us realize how truly unprepared we were for the rich irony awaiting our poor characters, as well as the truth behind the horrific secrets holding the fabric of their world together. 

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As the Pontifex of the church, Administrator, imparts her devious and wicked plots to Kirito and his friend Eugeo, we finally come to understand that some truths are in fact better not knowing. The holy order that’s been maintaining peace in the realm, the legend of the three goddesses who blessed the land, the very truth behind the coming cataclysmic invasion by the forces of the Dark Territory—

Of course, it’s all fake. Yup. Fantasy often leaves us spellbound, instilling within us a feeling that something holds deeper meaning than it really does. Perhaps that’s because we want fantasies to entertain us, to dress up the real world, even if the characters may be desperately trying to tear it all down. Like Administrator’s Integrity Knights, which have been brutally brainwashed into fighting on the behalf of some made-up higher power than themselves, we want to believe there is deeper meaning to what we do, and that we’re not just vehicles for someone else’s success or failure.

To trust in that illusion is to fall for deception, and that’s exactly what Administrator did. She deceived people. She built up several lifetimes worth of fraud, lies, and corruption, which are manifested by the imposing, all-seeing tower of Central Cathedral itself. As Kirito remarks toward Administrator, toward Quinella: she’s no god or ruler, but a thief. Quinella preached unconditional love to her followers, but all she really desired was absolute control. So she stole what she wanted from the humans of Underworld, and fabricated layers of mythos to protect her frail ego from the mere thought of losing her power, her authority, and her control over others.

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Imagination Holds the Power to Change Everything

Central Cathedral and the Integrity Knights—“born” to fight for the good of the human realm yet unknowingly bow to Administrator’s whim—represent just how a land of honor, bravery, and magic can glorify these noble concepts: People should be born with the freedom to love and protect as they wish to, not as someone else pleases. Kirito and Eugeo’s quest to right the wrongs of this land’s all-powerful Ruler present the dangers of ideal expectations in the form Quinella’s knights that were led astray by her lust. But most of all, we experience firsthand how human morals can be easily twisted when the right bait is dangled in front of our faces.

The power of using imagination to change the world—or in this case create one—is the philosophy that lies at the core of the fantasy genre. If we can dream it, it shall be, and SAO is no exception to this principle. Fantasies can conjure forth one’s greatest mystical musings about how the world can be, and Quinella took this power in her own hands to create a reality where the world bows to her wishes, not the other way around. When Kirito forces his way to her chambers on the 100th floor, her expectations of the fantasy world she created are called into question.

As a VRMMORPG fanatic, I guess you could say Kirito’s ideas of a truly enjoyable fantasy world overpowered even the Ruler’s imagination of such a world, and thus he manages to slay Administrator in combat, single-handed. By then, it was not a battle of strength, but a clash of two individual wills—and an exchange for the truth that resulted in the shattering of over 300 years worth of painstakingly crafted illusions, and the destruction of a young greedy girl’s entire fantasy.

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The only proof of my existence is the control I exert. That desire is the one thing that motives me and gives me life! These legs of mine are meant only to trample over others. They are not for bending at the knees! — Administrator


Afterword

Lots of foreshadowing there at the end, I know! It’s not THE Quinella post I wanted to write, but it’ll do for now. This post probably made no sense whatsoever to non-SAO fans, and perhaps even to people who watched and even enjoyed Alicization‘s first half. I often ramble in these posts, but man, someone really should’ve cut me off with this one! A full series review of Alicization is in the works, so I’ll save any kind of rating for then. In the meantime, if you, too, liked the first half of this epic third season, I encourage you to share your favorite aspects about the series in the comments!

This concludes my October 29th entry in the OWLS “Fantasy” blog tour. Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) went right before me with a much more pleasant post over the light-hearted Flying Witch that you can read right here! Now, look out for Naja (Blerdy Otome) with an excellent post about the portrayal of romance in her favorite otome games tomorrow, October 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Lord El-Melloi II’s Greatest Trick is its Production Value || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode summer 2019 anime series “Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files: {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note,” animated by TROYCA, directed by Makoto Katou, and based on the light novel by Makoto Sanda.

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A Clock Tower Mage

These past ten years have been fairly good to Waver Velvet, considering his major defeat in the Fourth Holy Grail War and the loss of his dear friend and servant, Rider. Faced with the immense guilt of having lived while his former mentor, Kayneth El Melloi, died in the war, Waver takes it upon himself to teach in El Melloi’s place at the esteemed Clock Tower, the center of education for mages. However, to teach as a “Lord” comes with a caveat: obey the orders of Reines, the younger sister of the deceased Kayneth, until she is old enough to rule the House of El Melloi.

Now a pawn to Reines’ whims, Waver, along with his mysterious apprentice Gray, must take on a series of cases assigned by the young blond she-devil and the Mages Association. While Reines certainly has her fair share of secrets, what perplexes our Lord El Melloi II even more is the bizarre magic behind each twisted case he encounters, and how the Clock Tower is always somehow tied to all of it.

The first half of this short series is comprised of anime-original cases, usually concluding by the end of each episode to begin something new the next. They serve as introduction to our characters and give us a glimpse into the world they live in, and while some find them ultimately pointless and poorly written, I thought they were entertaining enough. Sure, the characters could’ve been given more backstory to help define their actions in the present, but at the same time, you’re encouraged to piece together what you have seen of these characters in previous entries to surmise their full character. It’s kind of a crummy tactic though, especially if you haven’t seen Fate/Zero or Fate/Apocrypha (which the series oddly borrows a lot from character-wise).

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Following these episodic cases is the main case, the Rail Zeppelin story adapted straight from the novels. On this elusive train, rare magical items are auctioned off to prominent buyers. During the one trip Lord El Melloi II happens to be invited on, a passenger is murdered, and it’s up to Waver and the other mages, some friendlier than others, to find the killer.

Why This Isn’t A Good Mystery Series

Although a direct spin-off sequel to the classic Fate/Zero, The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II is a supernatural fantasy series that differs from other entries in Type Moon’s Fate franchise in that its main focus revolves around the element of mystery. While the show’s got enough magical fights intertwined with its mysteries to keep it visually entertaining, it admittedly doesn’t try very hard at being a “good” mystery series.

Truly good mystery series leave the art of deduction ultimately up to the viewer; the viewer should be given enough clues to solve the given case, any last-minute twists or secondary shock aside. By inviting the viewer to participate, all clues should be on the table, as well as any prior knowledge necessary to crack the case. Seeing as how mystery is derived from facts and fantasy shows are grounded in magic, it’s no wonder the two genres aren’t often seen together.

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So, El Melloi II violates one of mystery’s greatest hallmarks: stealing the power of deduction from the viewer. No matter how much you ruminate over each case, you can’t solve it. But if we can’t, who can? Well, his name just so happens to be in the title. Leave it to good ol’ Waver—a character who lives and breathes in this universe—to swoop in and teach us the trick behind the magic, all whilst leave us feeling dumb and frustrated about something we couldn’t solve from the start because the series didn’t give us enough information to do so ourselves. At least the Fate cameos are fun. Kind of.

For Fate Fans, By Fate Fans

Y’all are probably only watching this anime for one reason: Waver Velvet. And by watching, you’ll get lots of him, and it’s great. Waver channels his inner “old man” and hardly ever lets up. He yells at kids, likes doing his work in a specific cafe, and naps on his couch when he needs a break from life. But trust me, this is the same old Waver we knew and loved from the Holy Grail War. Even now, he’s chasing Rider’s shadow, and the series does a nice job at following his character arc.

Often we are shown flashbacks of young Waver in his academy days taking on risky stunts with his rich mate Melvin Weins, a frivolous dude who’s got one baaad case of hematemesis (blood vomiting). These flashbacks bridge the past and present, and if more Waver was all you were wanting from this show, you’ll more than get your fill of Fate‘s best boy.

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Reines El Melloi Archisorte steals the show whenever she’s on screen. Reminiscent of Negima‘s Evangeline A.K. McDowell or Gosick‘s Victorique de Blois, this blond-haired, green-eyed, shit-stirring loli puppets poor Waver around with her sharp tongue and crafty wit. She’s lots of fun to watch, and helps fill in more lore to this expansive franchise. Reines also uses magic often in her daily life, whether to set up a bounded field for private communications or use her mystic eyes to see something other mages cannot. The series does a nice job at portraying Reines’ abilities through such casual displays of her family’s power.

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Along with Waver and his watchful mistress are familiar faces from all across Fate. The hyperactive Flatt and honorable Svin, two of my favorite fine British lads briefly recognized from Apocrypha, loyally accompany their teacher and wield their knowledge to help solve the various cases. Or maybe they’re just trying to get closer to Gray, who is kind of this enigma the whole time that . . . well, I still don’t really know who she is (which is terrible writing on their part).

Also joining the class is the studious Caules Yggdmillennia, whom you might recall from Apocrypha as well. Same goes for Kairi, the shades-wearing bounty hunter who fought alongside Saber of Red in The Great Holy Grail War. And my favorite cameo of all, Miss Luviagelita Edelfelt, gets not just one but several episodes to prove her worth (and her wealth) without Rin there to provoke her. I swear, each time I see this woman, I fall for her overwhelming personality and haughtiness more and more. So yeah, for me, the character interactions are EASILY what make the terrible mysteries palatable. That said, it really is a show exclusively for existing Fate fans.

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TROYCA Delivers Style & Kajiura Returns to Fate

Let’s say you’re not having the characters OR the mystery elements, what else can salvage the experience for you? Well for one, the art and detailing for this series is incredible. El Melloi II really does try to take us back to Fate/Zero days with the same dark aesthetic. Drizzly weather covers London in clouds and fog, giving the setting a delicate sense of antiquity and age. Stained, wood-carved furniture, translucent glass tea cups, and intricate gold, emerald, and rose-patterned wallpaper. Decorative mansion rugs, tall arched doorways, shimmering chandeliers, and shiny stainless steel silverware. We’re in London alright.

We’re talking Ufotable levels of beauty here, and the fight scenes are just as cool to watch. Only the character designs feel less like Zero and more of Apocrypha‘s, but even this looser, more expressive style I appreciate. TROYCA really outdid themselves with this one. And would you believe me that we haven’t even gotten to the best part of the production?

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Yuki. Kajiura. Two words, one name, and without her music score, I probably wouldn’t have stuck around. Kajiura brings to El Melloi II the signature charm that all great detectives and spies in fiction have. As iconic as Mission Impossible and Agent 007, now our very own Lord El Melloi II has his own snappy and jazzy theme song, composed by the one and only. The rest of the OST is full of Kajiura’s sweeping strings, powerful chimes, glorious choir vocals, and enchanting melodies that’ll both lull the heart and signal the call to battle.

She even composed an instrumental OP, “starting the case: Rail Zeppelin,” that just screams EPIC when paired with stylish visuals. And while I thought we were done for without Kalafina (RIP), ASCA comes along to sing the ED theme “Hibari” written by Kajiura herself. Guys, you have NO idea how much I’ve been listening to this beautiful song and reflecting on its gentle, wistful lyrics.

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What Did You Expect?

If you’re no stranger to Fate like I am, you’d know that the franchise is notoriously bad at defining rules for the interworkings of its magic system. That’s probably cause there’s A LOT of different kinds of magic performed throughout all of Fate, which is likely a result of so many different minds getting a hold of the story, and thus different viewpoints in how magic should be spun.

In that respect, El Melloi II is no different than all that came before it—and with a poorly explained magic system comes practically no way to solve each of the cases presented in the series UNLESS you are somehow incredibly well-versed in the Nasuverse spellcraft or have read the novels, neither of which being likely.

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The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II is neither as clever nor as pleasant as it could’ve been, but what rare cross-universe character dialogues offers is gold for a Fate fan such as myself. You could also argue against this point, saying that the characters were poorly mixed into a story that doesn’t even need them, but at the end of the day it all comes down to expectation: How much were you expecting from El Melloi II?

Even knowing full well that it was a spin-off (and despite its direct ties to the great Fate/Zero), I still didn’t expect much from this one. I like to think that because I had such low hopes, I was honestly surprised with the quality of this series. It’s not the best mentality to go in with, but it worked for me. And hey, the series looks great sounds fantastic. Considering how awful some other Fate spin-offs have turned out, I’d call Lord El Melloi II a worthy watch for fans that have been craving even the most quaint of returns to Zero.

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Even if the Holy Grail War is over, life continues . . . to the point of absurdity. — Waver Velvet


Afterword

I ended up liking Lord El Melloi II a lot more than most, and hey, maybe it’s cause I was expecting something lame. Or maybe TROYCA and Kajiura saved it for me. Regardless, I award the series (with the benefit of the doubt) as a “Cake,” but will only recommend it to those Fate fans who have seen everything and want everything there is to see. For casual viewers, there’s otherwise not much here for you, especially if you don’t know what parts of the franchise all these different characters hail from. Any thoughts on The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II? I’d love to hear them in the comments. ‘Till the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Amagi Brilliant Park: The Most Fun I’ve Ever Had With KyoAni || OWLS “Believe”

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 eighth monthly topic of 2019, “Believe,” I wanted to spend some time revisiting one of Kyoto Animation’s most fun yet often overlooked titles: the incredible, the amazing Amagi Brilliant Park!

Kyoto Animation. We all have that one anime we enjoyed from Kyoto Animation. Whether it is pain or joy, Kyoto Animation has brought to life stories that can touch our emotions. For the month of August, we will be honoring Kyoto Animation and all it has done for art, storytelling, and popular culture by discussing some of our favorite Kyoto Animation series. We will discuss what we love about these series and what they taught us.

The fire that happened at the studio is indeed a tragedy. We pray for the lives that were lost in this tragedy and the families that are suffering at this time. Fires may be dangerous, but there are flames that burn within us that spark passion, hope, and belief in ourselves.

I think it’s so wonderful that bloggers, YouTubers, and fans in this community have been reacting to this tragedy by sharing what they love most about the studio and its people. Although my words will not likely reach them, I hope our collective sentiment does, even it’s just to say a heartfelt “Thank You.” Lyn, thanks for this prompt!

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A brief discussion of the 13-episode fall 2014 anime “Amagi Brilliant Park,” animated by Kyoto Animation, directed by the late Yasuhiro Takemoto, and based on the light novel series of the same name by Shoji Gatoh.

A Land of Magic and Fun

Seiya Kanie is one good-lookin’ high school dude, and boy does he know it. Of course, this smart yet extremely narcissistic guy would believe that the quiet and beautiful Isuzu Sento has invited him on a date at an amusement park (even if she threatened him at gunpoint to get him there). His expectations are shattered when the bus pulls up to a run-down facility, where Seiya discovers that the titular Amagi Brilliant Park is running itself into the ground.

An employee herself, Sento takes Seiya through various disappointing attractions. Eventually, she brings him to see the owner of the theme park, Princess Latifa Fleuranza, who reveals to Seiya that Amagi is no ordinary amusement park. That very sentiment wins him over when Latifa bestows upon Seiya magical powers of his own. To further prove her point, she tells him that many of the park’s employees hail from her kingdom of Maple Land, and that they are mysterious magical beings who are nourished by animis, or the energy created by people having fun.

Because of his impressive intellect and natural charisma, Sento recruited her classmate not for a date, but to become the park’s new manager. Why so desperate? As per the park’s land-use contract, Amagi has less than three months to meet a quota of 500,000 guests. If they fail, the park will be closed for good, and all of its employees will have to scrounge up jobs—and a living—elsewhere. Entrusted with the hopes and dreams of this far-off enchanted land, Seiya declares he’ll use his many skills to bring Amagi back on its feet within this three-month span, or else watch it crumble to the ground.

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Amagi Brilliant Park is a fun fantasy romp that balances comedy and drama surprisingly well. You come for the stupid gags and lewd humor, but stay for the heartfelt character moments and the blood, sweat, and tears that come with hard work. Although the end wraps up a bit quicker than I’d have liked, this is ultimately just an adaptation of a much larger story.

Meet the Cast of AmaBri!

Seiya Kanie’s time at AmaBri challenges his character in a sort of redemptive way. As he comes to know the quirks of the park and its staff, he realizes that his boundless narcissism won’t help him through all situations. Sometimes he needs to lend a hand; other times, an ear will do just fine. That doesn’t stop him from gazing at his own reflection to remind himself of his dashing good looks.

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Our broad-shouldered, dead-panned Isuzu Sento is our female lead and Seiya’s partner in crime. She means so, so well by her actions, but her history as one of the Princess’ soldiers from their Maple Land days has whipped her into a prim and proper manager’s secretary that just can’t take a joke. Many of the park staff have a love/hate relationship with Sento, as her soldier instincts lead her hand to her magic rifle to solve any problems with rascally customers or staff. As she watches Seiya and learns from his diplomatic skills, however, Sento’s feared reputation slowly dissipates, as does that expressionless face of hers.

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The majority of AmaBri’s other staff are magical misfits from Maple Land, from cute talking sharks, digger moles, and dragons, to an anthropomorphic wrench and . . . a globe? Yeah, they’re a buncha of weirdos for sure. But the true stars of the park are the biggest freaks—and in the most unconventional way. Who knew a perverted cat, a foul-mouthed sheep, and an overly aggressive, umm, Moffle (?) would be Seiya’s biggest headache.

Seriously, Tiramie the flower fairy, Macaron the music fairy, and AmaBri’s sweets fairy mascot Moffle are an absolute HANDFUL, but man are they THE trio of goons. Most of the series’ hilarious moments come from Macaron’s laziness (a true artist must “take time off” if they’re not feeling inspired), or Tiramie’s perverted gawking and awful facial expressions. Overall, such a fun, endearing cast, even if their main purpose is just to put a smile on your face (kinda like . . . a theme park’s staff). 😉

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KyoAni IS the Magic of AmaBri

Animation lies at the core of anime, and like any comedy series, delivery is everything. Timing hilarious visuals with outrageous sounds is the goal with these kinds of shows, and in regards to humor, Amagi Brilliant Park is one of the bests out there. For me, much of Tiramie and Macaron’s slapstick comedy landed so hard I was left laughing hours after the episode ended. Not only do their faces twist in wacky, grotesque expressions, but the dialogue itself is absolutely hysterical.

Seriously, the dub script is GOLD, and the delivery by the actors has gut-busting potential. Can Adam Gibbs just voice every KyoAni male protagonist from now on, because he just has that perfect blend of charisma, charm, and awkwardness down pat. He can be goofy, but also attractive, which fits very well with Seiya’s personality. Molly Searcy’s Sento is much stiffer than what even the writing makes her out to be, but it grew on me throughout the series. Other fave performances included the dynamic duo of Tiffany Grant and Allison Keith as Moffle and Macaron, respectively. Hearing two of Eva‘s most iconic characters as giant stuffed cussing mascots was just awesome beyond words.

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Despite how perfect I thought the anime’s comedy skits were executed, I actually found the drama moments to land even better. Moments of bitter pain or sudden realization are captured perfectly by not only the characters’ facial expressions, but the space they inhabit. When Sento and Seiya were deeply pondering how much one meant to the other, deep blue shadows are cast over a blinding orange sunset, filling the screen with contrasting colors and conflicting emotions.

And of course, the all scenery is just beautiful to take in. The bright-colored landscapes work well with the cheery, cartoonish character designs. Plus, Seiya and Sento, as well as the other “human” characters, look very pretty—the KyoAni standard. In fact, had any other studio adapted AmaBri‘s story, I can bet you money that it wouldn’t have turned out as nearly as magical and fun as it did here with KyoAni.

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On the audio side of things, Shinkichi Mitsumune’s soundtrack supports all the laughs and the feels with incredible emotion. And if there’s a song more positive and upbeat than AKINO and bless4’s OP “Extra Magic Hour,” I haven’t heard it yet!

The humor hits home, and the drama is very much respected by the late Yasuhiro Takemoto’s sensitive directing style. Sure the story and characters were written long before the show was created, but Kyoto Animation, YOU were the ones who put the real magic into this series, and it shows with every laugh I gave and every tear I shed while watching. You are the magic that saved AmaBri, and I honestly can’t celebrate my enjoyment with this series enough!

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Dreams Only Come True if You Believe

Amagi Brilliant Park is a story about a boy who prides himself above others, thinking that he is good at everything, and that same boy’s struggle to help those that don’t believe in themselves become proud of their own abilities. It’s a story about give and take, hard work, and at the end of the day, finding the fun in what you do for a living. Seiya may manipulate and play on the staff’s whims and emotions throughout the series, but a strong sense of trust always lies at the core of his plans.

Seiya’s magic doesn’t stem from his newfound power—it comes directly from his belief in the resilience and strength of all the people of Maple Land. Seiya makes an investment in these people, pouring all his time and energy into transforming the workers of AmaBri into employees worthy of their gifts.

Seiya draws out the inner passion for their work, and with a little faith, is rewarded with the park’s continual success. It is a belief driven by transformation and grounded by trust. Trust in Seiya’s process, and you, too, will enjoy one of—if not—Kyoto Animation’s most fun creation they’ve ever given us.

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If you wanna make people dream, you’ve gotta start by believing in that dream yourself! — Seiya Kanie


Afterword

At LAST, I’ve written the post about AmaBri that I’ve been wanting to ever since I saw it a couple years back. Again, I’d like to extend my thanks to the lovely Kyoto Animation for giving us the gift of fun all wrapped in a pretty little bow—I hope I was able to do the series justice! Amagi Brilliant Park is one of the studio’s most underrated series, and I hope some of you will decide to watch this hilarious and heartwarming “Cake” title! To those few who have actually seen this gem, you ought to let me know your thoughts!

This concludes my August 10th entry in the OWLS “Believe” blog tour. Mel (Mel in Anime Land) wrote about Free! and Tsurune, two of my favorite series by the studio, that you can enjoy right here! Now, look out for Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) also with a post on Tsurune (ahh, all the love!) tomorrow, August 11th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Izetta: The Fairy Tale That 2016 Slept On | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode fall 2016 anime “Izetta: The Last Witch,” animated by Ajia-do Animation Works, directed by Masaya Fujimori, and based on the original story by Hiroyuki Yoshino. 

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Die Letzte Hexe: The Last Witch

Back during the ages of old, a witch with pristine white hair wielded her powerful magic to protect her country of Elystadt, defending its people until her last dying breath. Years later in 1939, militaristic giant Germania invades a neighboring country, plunging Europe into a devastating war. Boasting far superior technological prowess in this industrial era, Germania sets her sights on Elystadt, a significantly weaker alpine country in the way of Germania’s great conquest.

To make matters worse for the tiny country, Germanian soldiers capture their princess, Ortfiné “Finé” Fredericka von Eylstadt, as she is heading to a decisive meeting with Britannia. When trouble aboard the transport plane breaks loose, another piece of precious cargo, Izetta, the last witch alive, escapes. Recognizing Princess Finé from a childhood memory, Izetta transforms a soldier’s rifle into a flying “broomstick” and rescues Finé.

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Now reunited with her princess, Izetta pledges to protect Elystadt from the clutches of Germania—just as the White Witch of legend once did—and with the last surviving witch on their arsenal, Elystadt hopes to turn the tides against the imperialist war titan.

Original projects excite me. There’s nothing more freeing than hearing a studio trying to bring together a story from the their own combined passions, and then seeing the results. Izetta was no exception. While underwhelming in its finale, Izetta provides a magical spin on a historical setting where a world war is fought . . . by a witch.

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What if a World War had a Witch?

Izetta is a bumbling little mess of emotions and crimson hair. She’s kind and overly humble, but often disregards her own well-being for the object of her affection: Princess Finé. Speaking of, our Princess of Elystadt herself is quite the noble woman. Just as Izetta, she’s loyal to her countrymen and responsible to a T. Respect is another quality that runs deep in the Elystadt family’s lineage (or at least the legend has us believe), but trust me when I say that Finé is the genuine article.

The two are a power duo, and many of my favorite scenes don’t revolve around the engaging combat, but rather the quiet nighttime conversations that are exclusive to the pair. Although they act selfishly so as to preserve the others’ safety, Izetta and Finé are undeniably a cool couple bound together by lore and destiny.

Aside from Izetta, Finé, and a young Germanian spy boy named Ricelt, none of the characters’ motives felt resolved, however. If this were an adaptation of a larger work, then I could understand why some details might’ve gotten left out. But Izetta is an original story with an entirely original cast, and to have interesting characters that serve little more purpose than to act as mere decorative pawns is a crime. If one character’s role can be performed by a separate entity and the story pans out the same way, then that’s a sign you should probably rethink your character count.

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Banking on Design: The Art of Izetta

Ajia-do isn’t a studio known for producing the most outstanding works (the most noteworthy to me being Emma: A Victorian Romance‘s second season), but they definitely did Izetta justice. The magical dogfights featuring Izetta flexing her powers are super fun to watch, as she enchants a variety of guns, swords, and missiles to fly by her side and “aid” her. All of the CG armaments gliding around the battlefield are well animated, and the background villages, landscapes, ballrooms, and regal offices are splendidly colored.

Speaking of colors, the character designs are surprisingly detailed and ornate, especially Ortfiné’s. BUNBUN’s light novel-esque character designs mirror the quality of Abec’s works of Sword Art Online fame. The hauntingly gorgeous ED theme “Hikari Aru Basho e” by May’n features the beautiful original artwork in an elegant slideshow fashion. As for the rest of the music, Michiru delivers wonderful militaristic anthems for on and off the battlefield. Overall, the soundtrack supports both the dramatic and the more lax moments of the series fairly well.

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For dub fans, Funimation’s got you covered with another high quality English script. Mallorie Rodak brings a nobility to Princess Finé that is very reminiscent of her lovely work as Space Battleship Yamato‘s Yuki Mori. Derick Snow’s young boy voice for the soldier-spy Ricelt was, wow, perfect, and Jad Saxton’s Sophie makes for a wicked antagonist, even if I dislike the character. I found Skylar McIntosh’s Izetta to be the weakest performance here, but even then I grew to enjoy her natural naivete that fits so well with the role.

The End of Magic and Fantasy

Amidst the hype of the incredible fall 2016 anime season (which included Drifters, Bungou Stray Dogs‘ 2nd Season, Haikyuu!!’s 3rd Season, and the phenomenon that was Yuri!!! On ICE to name a few), Izetta slipped by the radar fairly undetected. Its flashy moniker and simple yet exciting world-wars-meets-magic premise was pretty well received by fans that somehow didn’t have enough that season to chew on, although few stuck around for very long. (Don’t worry Izetta, I made time for you back then.)

After the first stunning and smart six episodes, the promises and high stakes let on by this thrilling first half see a weak follow-up (and even weaker conclusion) come the end of the story. The introduction of a villain, aside from the uninteresting Germanian emperor, in the latter half serves more thematic purpose than anything else. That is to say, the addition of an actual antagonist to directly oppose our titular witch doesn’t make this story of war any more exciting.

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Prior to this reveal, the series was building up to one big narrative conclusion: that war is bad. It’s not novel, but it certainly fits. Seeing as how there are radicals, spies, and heavy losses on both sides of the border, I would’ve been quite satisfied if Izetta had held a more neutral position.

But then they go ahead and say, “Aha, this new villain is TRULY evil,” and any hopes of an appeal to the enemy side are lost in the muddy trenches. Maybe that kind of story works for you, but I just wasn’t a fan of the big baddie because it didn’t feel like the finale Izetta was building up towards. As an original tale, you could’ve gone anywhere . . . and this is what you decided on? At least Izetta looked great soaring high in the sky on that rifle of hers—I’ll certainly miss our little witch and her magic, even if just for that.

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I, for one, am glad we saw the magic. It may not seem like much, but I think the fairy tale of the White Witch who appeared in modern times left something good inside the hearts of people all over the world. — Izetta, the last witch


Afterword

It’s been three years in the making, and it took receiving a physical copy of the Izetta Blu-ray as a gift from my brother to finally make the time for a rewatch and give this series a proper review. Even if I was disappointed with parts of the ending, the final sentiment of leaving magic behind and looking towards the future will always bring a tear to my eyes. More than not, I’m so happy this project became realized by the production team behind it—it’s a noble little piece, and an achievement in my eyes. Izetta: The Last Witch receives the “Coffee” rating, a title that you, eh, might enjoy, but I wouldn’t recommend like crazy.

Were you one of the few who stuck around to see the end of the magic, or did you bail out of the plane halfway like Finé did in episode one? Let me know, because literally no one talks about this series! Really, the show is kinda dumb, but it’s fun popcorn material if you just want to turn your brain off. On another note, I’m in the reviewing mood, so I’m hoping to churn out a few more before the inspiration passes! So, 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!

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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.

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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.

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#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!

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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.

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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.

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#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.

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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.

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#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.

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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.

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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!

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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

Grimgar: Stronger Together, Now & Forever | OWLS “Strength”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  fifth monthly topic, “Strength,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Grimgar review into this pep talk about keeping your chin up. I’m also celebrating its recent release, which includes a strong English dub by a set of newbie-ish VAs!

“Your greatest weakness can become your greatest strength.” In anime, characters struggle with inner demons or physical weaknesses that make them feel insecure and prevent them from achieving goals, which makes viewers feel empathetic toward their battle. Yet when these characters overcome their adversity, they can finally be able to express who they are, or in other words, “Free to be Me.” 

I’m also gonna try a new, shorter, more poetic form of writing, since I seem to have been named such a writer by blogger buddy LitaKino and the OWLS YT squad. Let me know if you prefer this, oh, and thanks Lyn for the prompt!


A brief discussion on the 12-episode winter 2016 anime “Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions,” produced by A-1 Pictures, directed by Ryousuke Nakamura, based on the light novel by Ao Jyumonji.

The Past is Irrelevant

Waking up in an alternate world not too far off from a fantasy, a group of strangers with no recollection of their past lives are welcomed to Grimgar, a vast magical landscape that spans as far as the eye can see. Much like an RPG system, parties, guilds, and other factions exist in packs to ensure survival and decent living conditions.

With no home to call their own, six teenagers bound by the simple wish to live in this bizarre landscape form their own party. Unbeknownst to them, what awaits their poor squad in this harsh new world is nothing but grief, loss, misfortune, and tragedy at every bend in the beaten dirt path.

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Grimgar‘s greatest appeal is its attention to the realities of living in a fantasy world. From finding a place to sleep to having enough copper pieces to afford simple luxuries like a fresh pair of underwear after using the same one for days on end, the anime never fails to appeal to logic and frugality. This comes with a downside—dreadfully slow pacing—but a show like this shouldn’t be rushed. Otherwise we’d miss out on another uneventful tidbit of coping with life’s pain, a quality that, where other trapped-in-an-RPG anime stumble, Grimgar excels.

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Being primarily main character Haruhiro’s story, I only wish we got to see through the eyes of the other party members. They’re all unique, classes and stats aside, and it could’ve been the cherry on top to understand what the Ranta the dark knight or Moguzo the tank thought before they went to bed each night.

A World Painted Unlike Any Other

Surprisingly, A-1 Pictures paints a glorious watercolor backdrop to accompany our volunteer soldier trainees as they run across the ruins of old attempting to slay a single goblin. If this anime has a winning feature, it’s the artwork. Reminiscent of the quiet world of Maoyu, it’s rare to find such wallpaper-worthy scenery at every shot, every frame. Exquisite and personalized, yet very simplistic, and it all works magically in Grimgar. 

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Also fantastic is the soundtrack, more specifically the joyous and exciting violin hoedown of the opening, “Knew day” by (K)NoW_NAME, along with the bittersweet ending, “Harvest,” a song by the same band, which frequently cues in early to accent a feeling of mourning and memorial. Both are equally enjoyable and very appropriate.

Strength is More Than Good Stats

When you think RPG stats, STRENGTH or TOUGHNESS are what jump at you first, naturally.

Now, when I say STRONGEST, having the best weapons, armor, or other gear is essential, right?

In Grimgar, that’s what Haruhiro and the gang thought, too. But they couldn’t have been more wrong.

You see, outfitting oneself with top-notch equipment sure does help, but there’s one part of your body you forget to protect most of all.

You heart.

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When sleeping, eating, or socializing are the only forms of relaxation and entertainment, you can bet much of your time is spent on the battlefield, a land where your life is always on the line. At any moment, you could get slashed on your side with a dagger, or

Struck in the back with an arrow.

Tragedy follows the pathetic party everywhere they go, and when they first experienced loss, none of them could handle themselves. It was almost as if one member meant the lives of all six.

With no one to comfort them, they all experienced petty conflict with one another—they all tore themselves up for not being cautious enough. Day by day, they milled around in the doldrums, incapable of moving forward from the horrors of their last fight.

It wasn’t until they openly cried and poured their hearts out in front of one another that they realized how each member felt. You could almost say that the wound in their hearts finally bled out.

But like scars, sadness heals itself with time, comfort, and care. But also like scars, they will never fully heal. And that’s okay.

For the Grimgar crew, strength blossomed from the heartache they experienced. Loss, tragedy, and depression, poisons that normally corrupt the body, became ironclad armor to protect them from whatever came next—as best as armor could, that is.

They came to understand just what “ashes” meant, and used their tears, innate weaknesses, and unfamiliarity to bond closer with one another. Slowly but surely, they worked harder on the field and with one another to grow as people, and to move on from that day.

For they had endured a torn heart, and what doesn’t kill you DOES make you stronger.

They learned that true strength lies not in good stats, but in their faith in one another—in overcoming adversity and misfortune TOGETHER.

You are only alone if you choose to be. Similarly, one may be strong, but a team is stronger.

All you have to do is grit your teeth and keep on rolling with the punches.

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“Living has its own challenges. I’ll give you just one piece of advice. Don’t quit. Yes, when you die, you die. But if you give up, you’re definitely going to die. That, I am sure of.” – Brittany


Fortune favors the bold, right?! Grimgar: Ashes and Illusions is full of unfortunate pitfalls for a cast of endearing teens, but so long as they stick together, they can overcome any challenge. A special shoutout goes to Rocco B (In the Cubbyhole) and Jamie (Jamie Talks Anime), two very special people who shouldn’t have had to wait so long for my thoughts on this series! I give it the certified “Cake” rating! Everyone, let me know what you thought about this series in the comments!!

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This concludes my May 26th entry in the OWLS “Strength” blog tour. Please check out Lita (LitaKinoAnimeCorner), who went right before me and wrote about the astounding latest-hit film A Silent Voice. And now, I’ll give you the weekend before we return with Naja (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero) on equally powerful film, Colorful, this Monday, May 29th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Tales of Symphonia Orchestrates Racial Harmony By Overcoming Great Tragedy| OWLS “Colors”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  fourth monthly topic, “Colors,” I decided hit up a show that originates from a GameCube JRPG—the one and only Tales of Symphonia which was, fun fact, the SECOND anime I had ever watched!! You know what that means—aww yeah, old-school Takuto wrote a dope review about it (here) years ago that is littered with grammatical errors but full of heart. It currently has zero comments and likes, so go mess that up for me, will ya? Be gentle 🙂

We are all part of one race, the human race. “Colors” refers to people of color in anime. For this month’s topic, we will be discussing how people of color or
characters of different “races” (could be a literal alien race) are represented in anime. Some topics we are considering is the dangers of stereotyping, bi-racial
characters, and the importance of racial inclusion.

I had the recent pleasure of finally finishing the Tales of Symphonia PS3 game recently, so I’m excited let the experience come full circle by revisiting one of the titles that got me into anime. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the various races and factions that appear in the 2007-2012 11-episode OVA series “Tales of Symphonia: The Animation,” based off the GameCube game by the same name, created by Bandai-Namco, produced by Ufotable, directed by Haruo Sotozaki (“Tales of Zestiria”). SPOILER WARNING

When One World Flourishes, the Other Withers

Enter Sylvarant, a fantasy world of monsters yet very little magic. Why? The mana that flows through the realm has been draining out for a long time now, and it seems that the land will only grow drier (literally) with each passing day. Little to the peoples’ knowledge, a second world exists out there, one that mirrors their own home, and the reason it prospers and thrives is because the mana flow resembles that of an hourglass, Tethe’alla, this second world, residing on the bottom.

This is where the Chosen one comes to save the day! “Chosen” by the heavens, Colette Brunel of Sylvarant sets out on her quest of World Regeneration to flip the hourglass back in their favor. But her clumsiness and well-being worry her friends Lloyd Irving and Genis Sage. So the two, along with Genis’s older sister Raine (who happens to be their village’s teacher) and a mysterious mercenary named Kratos, embark on a journey, encountering new friends and more foes with their own philosophies that will forever shake the foundations of their precious world that they’ve studied for so long.

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Just when our gang finally learns to love the world for what it is, things take one tragic turn after another, forcing our heroes to question the reason they fight, and whether their quest is one of nobility or selfishness. Remember, when one world flourishes, the other withers—people are bound to make great sacrifices.

Symphonia remains one of the top, if not THE #1 game in the incredible Tales franchise. Rife with gorgeous visuals, dramatic Celtic-inspired music, and heartbreaking characters, the animation holds on its own by establishing a fantasy adventure world (or two) where there’s always something to be lost for one of its characters. As the series progresses, we viewers, too, begin to question if a happy ending even exists for this broken cast of many ages and races. Symphonia tackles the harsh realities of acceptance and racism through its memorable characters.

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Oppressed, Punished, and Exiled

In this vast fantasy world, several races and factions exist, most of which frequently bump heads with one another. Aside from the dwarves, who lead quieter pastimes as master craftsman, there exist elves. They live reclusive lives hidden in villages among the trees, like Heimdall, and choose to isolate themselves from society because half-elf breeding (the result of human x elf mating) is frowned upon. Largely stemming from human jealousy—for elves have much longer lifespans and can use magic, but humans possess neither—and disgust for one’s blood to be tainted by the others’ race, both humans and elves decided to hate the “perfect” half-elves all around, which leads us to Symphonia‘s most tragic bunch.

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Half-elves cower at the tip of every whip cracked and at the shackles of every chain latched. Disdain from both humans and elves has caused these poor people to be punished for their mixed blood, and, if they are lucky, exiled from the land. Some literally fled to a floating isle called Exire to avoid their tragic fate. Those who could not escape detainment were hunted down, beaten, and even tortured. The main reason for their abuse, aside from their physical make-up, derives from the legend of the the great Kharlan War. In it, humans and elves fought over the two countries, Sylvarant and Tethe’alla, which left half-elves, near-omnipotent magic users with longevity in beautiful human bodies, to be caught in the crossfire.

If We Could Just Include Instead of Exclude . . . 

Lloyd Irving, the main character, was raised by a dwarven father, meaning that he has seen the abuse from a more objective standpoint than that of a human, elf, or half-elf. Out of rage for their treatment, the Desians, a treacherous organization of half-elves, had swept through Sylvarant, enslaving humans and sacrificing them to create enhancing magic crystals called Exspheres. What they are doing is wrong, and Lloyd knows it, clutching his own mother’s Exsphere from when she was still among the living.

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With a burning desire to end all enslavement and restore the two worlds to one so that all can live in harmony together, Lloyd uses his own experience with the people he holds dear to guide his quest. When it is revealed early on that his best friend Genis and sister Raine are, in fact, half-elves, Lloyd doesn’t grief or retaliate harshly. There’s even a scene where Genis mourns because he knows that when Lloyd and all of his friends eventually pass away, he will be left behind alive but lonely. Instead, Lloyd sympathizes, and smiles because he is still able to enjoy their company in the present, looking beyond racial treatment and into the value of their personality.

Genis himself undergoes his own journey when he meets the great Mithos, suppposed Hero of the Kharlan War. In actuality, he manifests as a young half-elf boy just like Genis who only wished for a world where he and his sister Martel could live in peace. Viewing Mithos as a painful mirror of his very being, Genis seeks solace in this poor boy. Unlike Lloyd’s determination to seek symphonic harmony with all races, however, Mithos sought to convert everyone into one homogeneous kind, believing that if race didn’t exist, then neither would racism. The boy is right and his ideals are true, but the execution of his plans via brutal nature was naive and cruel. The heart was in the right place, but the mind wasn’t, and that’s why Mithos continues to suffer until his own sister rejects him.

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We need more people like Lloyd and Genis—people who have had experiences with trauma on both sides, yet still manage to see the good in others regardless of their race or status. But there’s only one way to handle this matter carefully. Rather than force people to accept the beautiful array of colored people on this planet, shoving our own ideals down their ignorant throats, we need to integrate warm, positive spirits into communities that suffer from racial exclusion.  We must value the characters, not appearances, of all different peoples in order to end this childish thinking.

Dividing the world into two so that people could exist on separate planes was not the answer. Same goes for establishing one master race. The weight of Lloyd’s unwavering acceptance and determination to create a world for everyone is the greatest joy that can come from the series. It’s the hope that someday we can all overcome our own tragedies to play in one harmonic symphony together that makes “Tales of Symphonia” ring true to so many hearts. Life in this kind of new world begins not by looking at what which makes us different, but celebrating what we share in common, and that is beautiful. 

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“Dwarven Vow #1: Let’s all work together for the sake of a peaceful world.” – Lloyd Irving


Tales of Symphonia is a really neat show full of heartwarming themes and deep characters, so do check it out if this kind of fantasy is your thing! For those who have seen it, what do you think of the game or its anime adaptation? What about how it’s emotional bits are portrayed? I preferred the anime’s flow in this department, but hey, let me know your thoughts!

This concludes my April 22nd entry in the OWLS “Colors” blog tour. Please check out Stephanie Clarke’s (Anime Girls NYC) post over the darker colored villains from the currently popular Twin Star Exorcists! And now the magic will trickle down to Eren (sakuradaisuki) as she walks us through “Colors” in the dear-to-heart Sailor Moon on Monday, April 24th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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