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

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

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

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

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


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

A Little Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Members of Team USA

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Bronze Medalists in the Team Event!

Nathan CHEN

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

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

Adam RIPPON

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

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Alexa and Chris KNIERIM

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

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Mirai NAGASU

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

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Alex and Maia SHIBUTANI

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

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

The Members of Team Japan

Miu SUZUKI and Ryuichi KIHARA

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

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Shoma UNO

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

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

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To quote a fan I follow on Twitter:

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

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

Yuzuru HANYU

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

Clearly, we had nothing to worry about.

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

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

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Competition Around the Globe

Javier FERNANDEZ (Spain)

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

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

Gabriella PAPADAKIS and Guillaume CIZERON (France)

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

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Evgenia MEDVEDEVA (OAR)

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

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Alina ZAGITOVA (OAR)

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

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Aliona SAVCHENKO and Bruno MASSOT (Germany)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing it All Together

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

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

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On Love, Loneliness, & the Growing Distance Between Us | The Works of Makoto Shinkai

Have you ever had that “feeling”? You know the one—when you notice yourself suddenly skipping about here and there, flattering others in an uncharacteristically cheery way that makes them remark, “I want what they’re having!” Some call that expression—that intense feeling of deep affection, interest, or yearning—love. It’s but a simple four-letter word, and yet it can give some people enough purpose and motivation to perform wild, breathtaking feats, going to the greatest of lengths just for that shared pleasure of joy. “Love makes the world go round,” it truly does.

Such a complex and powerful emotion often finds its way into animation. Specifically, the romance genre of anime holds steady as one of the field’s experts. Its incredible variety masterfully demonstrates that love is not only sweet and tender, but can also be realistically crushing and emotionally devastating.

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The latter is the kind of stories director Makoto Shinkai likes to tell. Rather than measuring up as a statistically sound series or film—that is, a rated “10/10” on various elements such as plot, pacing, characters, animation (his forte), sound etc.—Shinkai films excel at eliciting a feeling, usually on the heartache end of the emotional spectrum. To quote his latest award-winning hit, Your Name., Shinkai’s films provide, simply put, “Nothing more or less than a breathtaking view.” Each possess their own fair share of flaws, some more than others, but beyond the little plot holes lies a relatable character struggle that just might tread a path you yourself have walked.

And it’s exactly that strong resonance between one’s own experiences and Shinkai’s ill-fated cast which makes him one of the bests in the industry. Everyone wants to feel connected to others, and Shinkai depicts through his picture-perfect worlds what that connection is really like, and why it isn’t always everything that we wanted after all.

In the iconic, beautifully cruel style which solidified his films as masterworks of modern animation, Makoto Shinkai appeals to humanity’s most innate fears of rejection and loss by directing his characters through the timeless themes of love, loneliness, and the growing distance which separates people as time goes on. These lessons teach us that though life has its fair share of heartbreak, each relationship we stumble into and every opportunity we miss out on still carries the potential to live out a better tomorrow—you just have to look beyond the distance.

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A comparative study and light analysis on the works of Makoto Shinkai. For each title, I will delve into the big issues or “separators” at hand, factoring in whether the story’s realism and emotions which the endings provoke somehow determine the possibilities for happiness and sadness alike. As such, SPOILERS for nearly all of his films WILL BE PRESENT. Also, these will NOT be individual reviews for each title. For those prepared to relive all of these amazing films, enjoy!

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(NONE OF THIS GORGEOUS ARTWORK BELONGS TO ME. All praise and ownership goes to Makoto Shinkai and CoMix Wave Films.)

She and Her Cat (1999)

I will always be by your side. After all, I am your cat.

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Aside from the music (by Tenmon), this 4-minute short was completely created by Shinkai alone, marking the early beginnings of his budding career as not only an animator and writer, but also a director. It’s the short tale of an average Japanese girl living in an apartment told from the viewpoint of Chobi, her beloved cat. Chobi speaks formally and passionately about his owner, yet he still has this pure, unclouded perspective of a cat. Arguably his softest work yet, She and Her Cat: Their Standing Points stood out due to its innovative (and awfully cute) exploration of love.

What ultimately separates the two from “eloping” is, well, obvious—“She” is a human girl, a woman, while Chobi is a cat. It’s an unusual relationship, but that doesn’t stop the film from being so unrealistic as to the plot being “impossible.” The woman, nicknamed Kanojo by the community, faces her own hardships in the real world (including a possible love interest), and though Chobi would like to know what she does and where she goes once she closes their apartment door, he understands that her life likely isn’t all sunshine and roses—it doesn’t really concern him. All that matters to him is that she returns home at the end of a long day.

Like with all of Shinkai’s films to follow, what separates them (different species, the “language barrier”) also unites them, for through each others warm embrace—that of a cat and his owner—they find comfort and care. Simple, peaceful, heartwarming.

Voices of a Distant Star (2002)

We may be the first generation of lovers separated by time and space.

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Stepping up his game, yet still working alone (aside for Tenmon’s gorgeous piano and string score), Shinkai quotes this rather aged 2002 short film as the piece which put him out in the world. Set in the near future, mankind’s ambition to explore space separates Nagamine and Noboru, a young girl and boy in junior high. As Noboru enters high school, Nagamine is sent off on an expedition into space’s infinite depths. The farther she strays away from Earth and her Noboru-kun, the longer it takes for their texts to reach one another. Minutes turn into hours, days, weeks, months, and soon—

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Though inventive at its time, the 3D graphics haven’t aged all too well. But thematically, Voices of a Distant Star packs more of an emotional punch than most 12-episode series could today—and this film only clocks in at 25 minutes, including the credits! It seems as if the big separator in Voices is the physical distance, but waiting for their messages of goodwill to traverse the vast blank void that is space ushers in another factor: time. As Nagamine’s unchanging body fights on (in what I can only imagine to be early-2000 Shinkai’s mecha dream-of-a-giant robot), Noboru ages at what feels like an alarming pace. In reality, his growth rate is no different from any of ours is, but the way Shinkai conveys the rapid passage of time only accentuates our lovers’ tragedy. Is it realistic? Even as a sci-fi flick, not really. But does its bittersweet run end on an ambiguously hopeful note? Absolutely.

Voices is arguably the first film in Shinkai’s line-up to convey this notion that perhaps the lack of realism can lead to a happy ending. Very interesting . . .

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)

On those now-distant days, we made a promise we couldn’t keep.

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To tackle the 1 hr. 30 min. length of this next film, Shinkai needed a team. Between his early beginnings and now in 2004, he partnered with the animation studio CoMix Wave Films. The results—The Place Promised in Our Early Days visually blew audiences away, nearly more so than with 2002’s Voices. Set near the turn of the century in an alternate reality Japan, which is split by America and the Soviet Union, young boys Hiroki and Takuya aim to fly to the top of the fantastical, unbelievably high Hokkaido Tower using an old drone. While at first a secret for just the two of them, Sayuri, a girl Hiroki and Takuya both like but would never admit to one another, discovers their secret, leading to the boys putting their project on indefinite hiatus. When Sayuri suddenly disappears from their life, however, the two come to realize that reaching the mysterious tower—the promised dream of their childhood—might be the only way to save her.

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Hiroki and Takuya experience a loss of youth, of innocence, as they learn to develop their own dreams and ideologies different from their childish musings. What once united them in friendship tears them apart, and the disappearance of Sayuri and discovery of her untimely illness are what kicked off the depressing events that plague the film’s middle. To watch two friends come at each other’s throat can be painfully real to some, as we’ve all have our fair share of little spats with friends. Additionally, I’m sure we’ve all seen sickness and temptation take the life of a loved one and push them into a place beyond our reach. Thankfully, a happy reunion awaits the cast at the end, leading to the belief of how sacrifice can yield rebirth.

Once again, Shinkai writes with a science fiction mind, and although people still relate to Hiroki and Takuya, the entire premise is unrealistic, nothing more than a child’s fantasy. Can you still learn from it? Of course, but come Shinkai’s next film, reality takes a turn for the worst—the start of a tragic trend.

5 Centimeters Per Second (2007)

At what speed must I live to be able to see you again?

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Here it is, Shinkai’s greatest creation (thematically, that is). I’m sure it needs no introduction, unlike his more obscure early works, but in case you forgot, it’s the story of two very close friends and classmates: Takaki Toono and Akari Shinohara. Elementary school should be a time of play and triviality, but for these two, such isn’t the case. Rather than run around on the playground, Takaki and Akari would rather read in the library, or simply chat about life’s musings. Just as they become close, however, Akari’s family plans to move. Takaki and Akari send letters to one another, but Akari only continues to move further and further away. In a final attempt to see Akari before she’s beyond his limits, Takaki sets out to reunite with her. His unlucky trek attracts a cold winter’s blizzard, delaying the series of trains to Akari’s town. But that doesn’t stop the two from finally, FINALLY meeting once again. And boy, does your heart just melt the frost away.

Equal parts faith and love, Takaki made the effort to travel out in the cold, sure, but Akari was the one who waited—the one who sat there miserable and alone with nothing to do but pray that her young love was on his way. It was proof that their love should be everlasting, but alas, that’s not the story Shinkai is trying to tell. In this first episode, it is a physical distance which separates our main couple.

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A chain of short stories about their distance.

After this touching first episode, the film enters its next “story.” Time passes on. Takaki, too, moves away from his hometown to the warm regions of Tanegashima (a stark contrast to the first episode’s frigid finale). Now a high schooler, Takaki meets a new girl, and though she tries to admit her feelings to him, Takaki knows all along that his heart only belongs to one person: the woman of his past. Time and other relationships have left him traveling aimlessly. In the final episode, Takaki is old. Maybe not in the physical sense, as late 20s—early 30s is still quite young, but his spirit definitely seems lost—his heart broken from years without seeing or hearing from her.

The painful reality is that, as life would have it, she has moved on, already engaged to another man. And that’s just it—the final separator which drives these now-unrelated adults is life itself. Life is always changing, and as we continue down our own paths, we sometimes have to leave others behind.

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At its core, 5 Centimeters Per Second strives to present one’s “first love,” and how difficult it is to hold onto it—so much so that it almost feels not worth experiencing at all. Takaki, by his end, is lonely, depressed, and empty. It’s a sad film, yet a brutally honest one. Shinkai’s first feature-length film in a world without giant robots or fantasy towers is painfully real, and that aspect remains what distinguishes Shinkai from today’s anime directors. By this point, Makoto Shinkai had earned the appreciation and respect of his more mature adult viewers.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)

This is the journey to know the meaning of “goodbye.”

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Shinkai returns to the realm of fiction with this next film. Clearly inspired by the magical presentation of Studio Ghibli movies, the story follows young Asuna, an excellent student who maintains her family’s house in a rural town during her mother’s absence. Aside from spending time with nature, Asuna is alone. She finds escapism in her secret hideout up in the mountains, and frequently tunes into her old crystal radio for relaxation. One day, she unexpectedly picks up on a curious frequency: a rather melancholic melody, different from any song she had ever heard before. As if fated to meet, a mysterious boy named Shun rescues Asuna from a wild, bizarre creature, unintentionally dragging Asuna and her teacher, Mr. Morisaki, on a perilous journey to Agartha, a land long-lost to time and human presence.

Though not his smartest film by any means, Shinkai has been longing to visit this colorful, enchanting world—Agartha—for some time now. The luscious planet upon which Nagamine lands in Voices of a Distant Star; the domain where the comatose Sayuri resides in The Place Promised in Our Early Days; Takaki Toono’s realm of dreams in 5 Centimeters Per Second—each time this wondrous world reappears, it offers comfort to the characters. Not coincidentally, the design remains the same, too. From the gorgeously iconic “Shinkai clouds” to the seas of green grass and remains of old ruins, Agartha FINALLY gets the thorough fleshing-out that it has since deserved, and I’m just glad we got to go there at long last.

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But Children Who Chase isn’t all sunshine and roses. Awaiting Asuna and Morisaki is an adventure rife with death, and a thorough demonstration as to what happens when man attempts to bring those passed back to life. Foolish, blind greed and a gaping sense of loss are what separate Morisaki from someone pure-hearted like Asuna. But in the same way, the journey of letting go and understanding what “goodbye” truly means allows for the film to end with an odd, lukewarm sensation of happiness. Adventure yields danger, but to those who learn their lessons, the hope to live a fulfilling life burns on. God may be a cruel teacher, but so is history.

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Children Who Chase Lost Voices is far from a realistic story, and thus, the pattern of Shinkai’s fantasies ending contentedly continues. Is he trying to say that reality is just full of heartache and nothing else? Perhaps so with his next couple of films.

The Garden of Words (2013)

Before there was love, there was loneliness.

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A personal favorite of mine, Shinkai’s The Garden of Words provides a 46-minute feels trip through an unusual couple’s short-lived romantic spat.

Tenmon takes a break from the music to allow talent like Daisuke Kashiwa’s immersive piano soliloquies to establish an atmosphere unlike ANY other. And the visuals—THIS is the incredible level of quality which defines Makoto Shinkai’s digital landscaping, lighting, and realism today. Visually, The Garden of Words remains the most beautiful short film I have ever seen, and it will probably hold that title for a long time to come!

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On a rainy morning in Tokyo, aspiring shoemaker Takao Akizuki does what every student on a rainy day wishes they could do—he skips class to sketch designs in the city’s beautiful garden. Thinking he’d be all alone in this calm misty weather, he accidentally meets a beautiful yet reserved young woman. Her name is Yukari Yukino, and though she continues to skip out work to drink and eat chocolates in the garden, Takao takes a liking to her poetic words. To [figuratively] get her back on her feet, Takao offers to make Yukino new shoes. And thus they vow to themselves: for each day it rains, I will spend time with her/him.

More rainy days arrive, and as the two secretly convene in their garden of words—of shared acceptance and belonging—the two unknowingly start to lighten their own personal burdens just by being together. Tokyo’s rainy season may be long, but like all good things, it doesn’t last forever. As warmer days creep ahead and the chance for precipitation diminishes, Takao and Yukino’s relationship risks drying up like the rain which brought them together.

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The Garden of Words paints the true vision of life’s loneliness before love intervenes. It’s the gentle story about finding solace in another, and learning to alleviate one’s personal worries through something as simple as conversation. At first, a lack of courage casts Takao and Yukino as an awkward couple. Only after Yukino is revealed to be a teacher at his school do we see the true separator at hand: the age gap, and the societal notions that place stigmas on teacher–student relationships. YUKINO KNEW THE WHOLE TIME, yet held of on saying anything for fear of judgement. And in the end, Takao yells at her, forcing her on her feet through their compelling emotional conflict.

Realistic in every sense of the word, its finale feels bittersweet, yet resolved. Separated from each other, the two resume pursuing their own personal aspirations. Though somewhat sad, in truth the ending is optimistic about the different directions Takao and Yukino take, as it was through comfort in one another’s presence which allowed them to find their way back on the path—and with a stronger, more confident “footing” this time around.

The Garden of Words rings true as the new Shinkai standard, but thematically, it revolutionized Shinkai’s game: for the first time, a realistic story does, in fact, yield a happy ending.

Someone’s Gaze (2013)

There are a lot of things you two have forgotten.

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Returning to form, Makoto Shinkai cranks out another charming yet touching short (6 minutes in length) with the release of The Garden of Words. It hearkens waaay back to his beginnings, with the simple yet relatable tale of a girl and her cat. Aa-chan lives in a near-future Japan, and has recently made the big transition of living on her own following graduation and the start of a new job. With her mother working overseas as a doctor, her loving father is left behind at the apartment with the family cat, Mii-san, who happens to be very old by this point. Seeking a way to reach out to her, her father tries several times to reconnect with his distancing child, but the gap is too awkward for him to bridge. Eventually Mii-san passes away, but this sudden grief holds the power to reunite a tired daughter, a busy mother, and a lonely father.

All that emotional energy conveyed in such a short time serves to remind us as to Shinkai’s greatest strength, that is, being able to make his viewers experience heartbreak followed by hope (or hopelessness) in a matter of mere minutes. Someone’s Gaze is especially relatable, as the burnout experienced by today’s youth and the parental fear of their children growing up in today’s world both hit us hard at some point in our lives. With maturity comes opportunity, but that often involves temporarily leaving an old way of life—and the people in it—behind. In truth, familial bonds change over time, and as we grow up, it can be hard to maintain that “want” to communicate.

Like The Garden of Words, Shinkai permits for a realistic story to end optimistically hopeful, perhaps marking that the guy really is turning a new leaf from his long history of depressing, failed love stories.

Cross Road (2014)

I sought to find something great, and while it may not have been what I expected, I found something . . . or rather, someone. 

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Although this latest short is actually just a 2-minute commercial for the Z-Kai cram schools, it was still directed by Shinkai, and holds that same breathtaking, picture-perfect style to boot. As college entrance examinations draw near, two students living completely different lives focus their time and energy into a correspondence education service. Juggling their studies with their already-involved daily lives, the two diligently work towards that high goal of college admission, unaware of how much they share in common. It’s a brief yet inspiring “work hard, play hard” preview into a film that I can only imagine would’ve been absolutely stunning had it received the length it deserved. Not as absurd as those 30-second Cup Noodle ads, but even just a couple minutes more would have doubled the story’s length. I suppose we don’t always get what we want; such is life.

Despite the let-down of a run time, Cross Road still manages to follow a truncated version of the Shinkai formula: two individuals in similar situations are separated by different lives, but their unexpected meeting reveals that, through hard work, the hope to overcome their challenges increases. Call this a lighthearted take on the next and final film—the realistic outcome of what possibly could have been.

Your Name. (2016)

Wherever you are in the world, I swear I will find you again—no matter what. 

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Your Name. exploded onto the anime scene, continuing to break record after record until it became the highest-grossing anime film in the world (among other nominations). Funimation and Madman Entertainment’s combined efforts to license, dub, and promote the film through staggered theatrical releases maintained its hype not just for the remainder of 2016, but for most of 2017, too. Even now, anime fans who are finally getting around to watching it share their praise with the community, reviving the excitement of this rom-com drama to no end. By this point, Your Name. wasn’t just another Shinkai film—it was a moving, breathing phenomenon.

Like any high school girl born and raised in the Japanese countryside, Mitsuha Miyamizu craves the wonder and excitement of city life. Unfortunately for her, the family’s shrine needs its maiden, restricting Mitsuha to her life in the boonies. Meanwhile in the lively Tokyo, high school student Taki Tachibana labors away at his part-time job with the hopes of eventually pursuing a career in architecture.

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One day, Mitsuha awakens to an unfamiliar ceiling, but the chic apartment and bright view of the city skyscrapers instantly identify as Tokyo. “This is my dream life! But wait . . . wha—I’m in a boy’s body!” Out in the countryside, Taki finds himself waking up in a similar frightening situation. A strange phenomenon swapped the two’s places, and in order to figure out the reasons for their predicament, Taki and Mitsuha live out random days in the other’s shoes, learning about the differing lifestyles, and that above all, fate works in mysterious ways. As Taki and Mitsuha desparately begin searching for the other, their actions begin to dramatically impact the course of destiny, forever altering the threads of fate which tie them together.

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Your Name. almost feels like the culmination of all of Shinkai’s themes, plot points, and even character personalities that make a work, well, Makoto Shinkai’s. Enormous skies, photo-realistic cities, intense lighting, a calm atmospheric music score, themes based on things taken for granted in daily life, and lots of trains. THIS is what Shinkai represents to us now, and on that cinematographic level, Your Name. is perfection. (Also, like, Radwimps wrote the greatest insert songs to an anime EVER.)

A girl and a boy torn apart by an impossible distance, but brought together through circumstance and, of course, fate. At first, that distance is literal: Taki lives in Tokyo, while Mitsuha resides miles away living her humble country life. And part of that is the trick, the gimmick behind the landscape facade, for as soon as the big reveal of the comet Tiamat’s destruction is made, BOOM—time turns out to be the true separator here. Though Taki felt confident and sure of this feeling tugging at his heart, his confession was sadly three years too late.

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And because of this he suffers. Mitsuha suffers. These star-crossed lovers save their beloved Itamori and all its kind, caring folk, BUT—as if their story weren’t painful enough—one last divider severs their last chance of reuniting: their memories of each other are lost to time. Is it a realistic element? Hardly, but it does lead to one of the most happily fulfilling endings I’ve ever experienced. Here’s why.

Makoto Shinkai’s latest film borders on tragedy. Up until this point, it was about to become the biggest heart-breaker in anime film history. But thankfully, Your Name. appreciates a sort of cosmic balance to all the good we do—Shinkai calls that seemingly magical, underlying, connecting force musubi, and we can thank it for honoring Mitsuha and Taki’s feelings for one another. By the film’s end, the two are left with just that—a subtle feeling of the all their shared struggles, surprises, happiness, sadness, inspiration, appreciation, love. . . now memories lost to a different time.

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But when distance tried to physically separate them, Taki and Mitsuha took the trains;

When time placed a rift between them, dreams gave them clues to find each other;

When katewaredoki briefly cut their first meeting short, Mitsuha fought on to finish Taki’s mission;

When memories of one another’s name left their minds, love held on tightly to that lingering feeling—that’s why Taki wrote “I love you” on Mitsuha’s hand, for bridging the timeline gap at twilight involves giving up memories of the other. Names will fade, but emotions have the power to transcend time;

And when tragedy attempted to end their tale of romance and miracles, fate reconnected the strands of love to the cord of hope. Thus, Taki and Mitsuha became destined to meet again.

Separated by distance, connected by fate.

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What Shinkai’s Works Have Taught Me

Have you ever felt that “feeling,” that despair of something that can’t be changed or is beyond your reach, but you still long for it anyway? I’d like to call it “love,” but Makoto Shinkai interprets such a complex emotion as “longing in solitude.” It is only through loneliness that we understand what compassion really feels like, after all.

Shinkai’s works tend to feature unusual yet somewhat realistic relationships, which more so play out as bittersweet than truly tear-jerking (save for maybe Your Name.) He covers a broad range of relationship stages, too, from the cutting of ties and moving on (5 Centimeters Per Second) to the early beginnings of expression (Garden of Words). Unlike most film writers and directors, he delves into themes like pain, longing, yearning, loneliness, and emptiness to give the audience stronger, almost more common emotions to connect with. His creative use of time laps emphasizes this distance or emotional disconnect that the characters and audience experience, and his hyper-realistic visuals never fail to immerse you in the setting he wants, be it on faraway roving fields of green, a quiet Tokyo apartment, or a rainy day in the park.

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Most of all, through distance, Shinkai is able to explore the gap between two people’s feelings: why it exists, and how it is a natural part of the human experience. Life isn’t that glamorous fairy tale that Disney or Hollywood make it out to be. Instead, Shinkai tells us it can be messy, and often times painful to shoulder alone. It’s okay to fall both in love and out of it, as people are always changing. He also teaches that you can, in fact, grow as an adult; emotional maturity has nothing to do with one’s age, for even as adults we can get lost on our path. 

None of us are invulnerable to emotional struggle, grief, and even depression. But none of us are forever doomed to loneliness, either—such is why even his most realistic works end in both sadness and happiness. After studying all of his films, I can confirm that NO CORRELATION between the level of realism and whether the ending is positive or negative exists, as Shinkai doesn’t sugarcoat the reality we live in. He presents it for what it is, which has its fair share of good and bad times.

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Ultimately, no amount of magic or sci-fi gimmicks can determine whether YOU chase after the ending you want, for you, too, are constantly growing and learning new things. The hope that we can always change for the better resides within us all—you simply have to decide who you want to be for yourself, and make that leap of faith over the scary distance to connect with another. While you’re at it, don’t forget to enjoy life’s little things we often take for granted.

In Makoto Shinkai’s picturesque, emotionally charged films, I found a rekindled passion for life’s hidden beauties, and so long as he continues to explore the growing distance between us and how finding solace in another can heal our emotional wounds, I’ll always look forward to his next creation.

I still don’t know what it really means to grow up. However, if I happen to meet you, one day in the future, by then, I want to become someone you can be proud to know. –Makoto Shinkai, 5 Centimeters Per Second

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Afterwords

At a touch over 5,000 words, this is officially the longest post I’ve ever written, and if you read all of it, you’re my favorite person ever—I hope you learned something new! As you can tell, Makoto Shinkai’s works mean a good deal to me. Most find them repetitive, as in “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” But really, that’s not the case, as each offers a different commentary on relationships and life, even if the execution or premises feel very much the same. So instead of fighting against the argument, I wanted to write this—to leave behind my innermost thoughts and emotions on Shinkai’s films in hopes that whoever stumbles upon this in the future might feel the same way, and that I can comfort them with my musings.

Have you ever resonated with one of Makoto Shinkai’s films, be it his oldest shorts or his latest hits? If so, do you happen to have a favorite or two? I want to know! If you’re fairly new to this director, was Your Name. your introduction to Shinkai’s scenic style? You have to let me know that, too! I’ve met several new faces (including a dear friend) through Your Name.‘s theater experience (which you can read about here), and I hope that you, too, get the chance to share one of his films with a friend or even a lover.

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This officially concludes my comparative study over the creative works of Makoto Shinkai. It’s been a long time coming, what with the writing process and reserving time to rewatch ALL of Shinkai’s films in order, and I’m finally glad I got to share it with you. Despite being terrifyingly long, it’s one of those posts I feel proud to have written. Please let me know any thoughts of the films or this post down in the comments, as I’d love to hear your feedback! Also, feel free to share this to any Shinkai fans you know out there!

As it happens to be on love and romance, I saved writing this post for February, so Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear readers! Whether you spend this season of love with others or save it for yourself, know that I’ll always be wishing you good health and happiness! Thank you so, so much for reading this lengthy analysis—’till next time!

With much love,

– Takuto, your host

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

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

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


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

Entering the World of Dance

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

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

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From Slouch Stance to Swing Dance

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

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

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

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

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Finding Something to be Good At: Tatara & Dance

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

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

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Finding Kinship in Competition: Hyoudou & Gaju

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

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

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

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Finding a Partner: Chinatsu & The Struggle to Connect

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

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

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

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

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

A Dancing Anime Without the “Dance”

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

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

Music, the Soul of Dance

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

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

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

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

Dismantling the Stereotypes: The Beauty of Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

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Completing My First “Tales” Game! | Blogmas 2017 Day 7

Hey everyone, welcome to day 7 of Blogmas!

Another quickie today, but a celebration nonetheless! This past early spring, I completed my first Tales game. For those unfamiliar with the massive franchise, the title Tales refers to a sprawling series of games, most unrelated, created by the game company Bandai Namco in Japan. They’re known for their iconic and elaborate character designs, fantasy-inspired landscapes, Celtic-inspired soundtracks, and most of all, their deep, thought-provoking adventure stories that can take just as long as a Final Fantasy game to complete. We’re talking about clocking no less than 30 hours per game!

Anyway, the Tales franchise means a lot to me. Not because I am overly familiar with the gameplay (as you can see by the title of this post, I’ve actually played very little Tales in my life T__T), but because I get my roots as a fan of entertainment in general from the fantasy genre, the Tales franchise being rich in the source. I’m a kid born and raised on attending Renaissance Festivals and Madrigal Feasts, often loosing myself in the adventurous worlds of tabletop gaming like (our adapted version of) HeroQuest (anyone remember that), TCGs like Pokemon and Magic the Gathering, books like John Flanagan’s Ranger’s Apprentice series, or even iconic films of the genre, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit to name a couple. I love fantasy—essentially, its themes of valor, honor, and justice compose my heart for entertainment.

Most importantly, Tales of Symphonia: The Animation is one of only a handful of shows to get me started on anime. If  didn’t come across the Japanese opening of the game, “Starry Heavens,” which I’ll link below, I would never have discovered the wondrous world of Japanese animation.

So here we go: to the best of my ablility, I will briefly discuss my experiences playing both Tales of Symphonia and Tales of Zestiria on the PS3 from the weak non-gamer perspective that I have!

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Loose Discussions on My Experiences Playing a “Tales” Game

(These will DEFINITELY NOT be formal reviews.)

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Tales of Symphonia

Looking back on it, Symphonia‘s anime does a really, really good job at sticking to its source material. It’s got all the major locations, major backstory elements pertaining to the main characters, and even some of the minor characters. Heck, even most of the theme songs for specific characters and towns were brought back for the anime! But this isn’t about the anime, I suppose. Back to the game.

One of the biggest problems I had with the game was the use of annoying side mazes that involved using a “magic ring” to properly traverse. It’s gimmicks like these that tend to ward me off of games—I JUST WANT TO SEE THE STORY. Some of those were really hard, too; as a beginner, I found myself referring to YouTube walkthroughs more and more as the game’s climax neared just to get passed these stupid little travel puzzles.

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OH MY GOD WELGAIA’S FREAKIN FLOORS SCREW THIS

Another beef I had with it was the English audio. As a who’s fan loyal to what I hear first, that being the anime in fansubs, I couldn’t stand the English voices for Lloyd or Zelos. This was easily fixed by changing the game’s audio back to the original Japanese, however, so it’s not so much of a problem as it was just a preference. Raine’s VA for both  was good though, so way to go Kari Wahlgren!

Where it has its minor issues, I found myself immensely enjoying all of the sidequests or story elements that were dropped in the anime adaptation; piecing together the events and locations, however major or minor, that were missing from the anime was tons of fun, as I learned many new things about Symphonia‘s two worlds and their peoples. And while I did think that the final confrontation with Mithos, the ultimate antagonist, was a bit lousy in game format (or at least it had way less of an emotional appeal to it, though movies do tend to resonate with me more), I much rather preferred the game’s handling of tying up all the loose ends—specifically, resolving the pact with Origin and the birth of the new World Tree. It had more time to fully explain itself, and now after all these years I FINALLY understand who Origin is! Woohoo!

All-in-all, finally getting around to playing (and actually finishing, holy shit) Tales of Symphonia (PS3) after six LONG years of putting it off, I can’t help but feeling so complete—the story has finally come full-circle, the adaption introducing me to anime as a media and the PS3 game engrossing me in JRPGs. Do I now despise the anime for excluding so many “crucial” plot points? Absolutely not. I still hold Tales of Symphonia: The Animation in the highest regard, as it’s still a beautiful, moving tale of the harsh realities of racism and revenge, and the hope that comes with uniting two fundamentally broken worlds—I love both iterations of the story, and I probably always will. I DO recommend both the anime and the game, so pick your poison and head out on your own adventure ASAP! (Or be like me and experience both! More Symphonia is a very good thing.)

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Ultimately, I was just so happy I could say I completed my first Tales game, but I immediately knew that It wouldn’t be the last. In fact, my second Tales adventure was awaiting me just around the corner—the end of a good school year, and the start of a brilliant summer!

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Tales of Zestiria

I remember seeing a promotional poster for the anime Tales of Zestiria the X circulating years back, and I do recall being excited for it despite not knowing anything other than that it was another Tales adaptation by the GOD STUDIO, Ufotable. After getting to see the English voice actor for Zestiria‘s MC, Robbie Daymond, in person at this year’s Naka-Kon, I knew the first thing to do as soon as I got home: purchase the PS3 game (I actually ended up doing it in the hotel room, tho >.<).

My recent success with Symphonia set my passions ablaze for tackling the next big JRPG. Once you’ve played one JRPG, you’ve played them all, right? Or perhaps, you want to play them all. From the reviews alone, I already knew that this one was going to be the easiest-to-understand in the entire franchise so far, and that it was arguably the “not-very-smart one” in the series. The character designs charmed me too much, however, and the sparkling armitization sequences just blew me away! The real draw-in for this series, voice actor meeting aside, was the anime’s OP theme, “Kaze no Uta” by FLOW. It was just the smooth, crisp 60 fps display plus the ridiculously catchy tune that made this show a MUST for me. Anyone see a trend here?

That’s right, both Tales games that I have played drew me in through their gorgeous, catchy openings. I suppose that should speak volumes about their music choice and soundtracks, no? Easily some of the best stuff I’ve ever listened to. And I still jam to this song every time I’m working out (which is rare) or whenever I need something to lift my spirits (which is often).

Unlike Symphonia, however, Zestiria had yet another thing winning for it: the fandom. Oh the ships, all the ships, I tells ya!! I’m such a sucker for anything Sorey and Mikleo, Alisha and Lailah. They’re all just so pretty, AHH!!

EHERM. Tales of Zestiria, despite all my senseless fanboying, is a beloved game that, honestly, treads many of the same lines that Symphonia did: two races trying to coexist, one “chosen” person designated to heal the land, a loudmouth (yet adorable) MC and his reserved, intelligent best friend. “Best friend ;)” All of the parallels and similarities just make me glad that Zestiria, though argued as the “dumb one,” was my second Tales game.

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As a PS3 game itself, the reviews ARE true in that the game is likely one of the easier ones in the franchise. I had very few problems in it . . . as in literally none at all. Sure, the story isn’t as deep or intricate (or emotional) as I would have wanted it to be (AKA more like Symphonia’s darkness), but that in itself makes Zestiria‘s almost overwhelming optimism contagious, and fun to play regardless of whatever mood you’re in. The visuals are, holy god almighty, some of the finest I’ve ever seen in gaming (THOSE SKIES THO F*CK ME), and the orchestral soundtrack should be on EVERY tabletop gamer’s background music playlist. Like, shit, need something that sounds absolutely LEGENDARY for a whole freakin’ hour, here you go:

To recap the Zestiria (PS3) experience, it was easy, simple, fantasy fun at its finest. You don’t need to collect many bonus items (if any at all, I skipped most of them), and the fights themselves are, WOAH, WHAT’S THIS, the most FUN part of the gameplay! I’m no gamer, and I found swingin’ around Sorey’s massive armitized swords, bow, giant fists—what have you—to be greatly pleasurable. If you’re not looking for the deepest Tales game, but one that’s great for a first-timer, Zestiria is the one for you. I recommend it.

FUN FACT: After meeting Robbie Daymond, I played through all of the game in English and loved it—proof that once again, whatever you hear first is likely your favorite. I was also incredibly hyped for the anime adaption, as it looks like the best thing to come from Ufotable besides Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works, and that’s one of the most top-tier anime you could ask for! I’m currently watching the anime, and while the inclusion of the Berseria *promotional episodes* were pointless and time-draining, it’s a pretty good show. I won’t make any judgement calls now, but I’d love to review it whenever I finish! Also, for all I know, Berseria could very well end up being my next Tales game to experience, as it, too . . . well, I bet you can already guess.

It had a rockin’ OP. 🙂

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What did you think of Symphonia or Zestiria? Any opinions on their anime adaptations, either? For the record, I have seen the Tales of the Abyss anime, but that was also very long ago, so want to rewatch that some day. Lastly, are there any particular favorites or recommendations from the Tales franchise out there? Let me know! I’ve heard that Symphonia is actually one of the bests, and though I haven’t played the others, I’m gonna probably call it as my favorite. Sorry, it’s just first-timer’s bias. This wrap up Blogmas Day Seven of the 12 Days of Anime! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host

Double the Uniqueness! Keiko & Crimson’s Nominations | Blogmas 2017 Day 6

Hey everyone, welcome to day 6 of Blogmas!

So some good news and bad news for today:

The Good—In the past 24 hours, I have read over 45 OWLS posts from May, June, and July, and now I only have August, September, October, November, and December left. Wow, ok, so it sounds like I still have a long ways to go, haha, but it’s still progress! I’ve also, for the most part, kept up with the “12 Days of Anime,” and that’s been a blast!

The Bad—Due to prioritizing my OWLS binge (plus I have my December post coming out TOMORROW, woohoo!), today’s post will be pretty short. I’ll be falling back on the “personal” post option that I established in the intro’s guidelines, so it should still be a fun read. Plus, it’s an award—these are things to celebrate!

Without further ado, here are two very belated Unique Blogger nominations, but ones that I promised to fulfill! I’m always very thankful to be able to leave an impression of myself upon others, and that I get to be a part of such a loving community of anibloggers. It’s through these seemingly trivial awards and nominations that meet so many new faces, and I learn so much about my online friends. So thank you both, Keiko and Crimson!

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Keiko and Crimson’s Unique Blogger Award Nominations

The Rules:

#1 – Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you.

#2 – Answer the questions.

#3 – In the spirit of sharing love and solidarity with our blogging family, nominate 8-13 people for the same award.

#4 – Ask them 3 questions.

About Keiko (nominated 10/26/17)

Seeing as how we only met recently, I admittedly don’t know too much about Keiko. I DO, however, know that she writes many, many detailed episodic reviews for the given simulcast season, and that though her blog is self-named “A bubble of crappy anime reviews and the likes,” her reviews are neither crappy nor average. She’s cynical at times, yet seems fun to talk to, so go give her blog some love! (Keiko’s Anime Blog)

Keiko’s 3 Questions

1. If you were stuck in an anime universe, which would it be and why?

Assuming I would have been allowed the choice, hmm, that is hard. You see, I always find myself swaying between two genres: science fiction and fantasy, my mind and my heart. Since I’ve been in the sci-fi mood lately, however, I’ll pick the world of A Certain Scientific Railgun. Functioning as a sister series to A Certain Magical Index, the main story, Railgun seems light-hearted when it in fact is rife with some of the darkest secrets within the entire franchise. Why Railgun then? In Academy City, which is home to 2.3 million, most of the populace are espers, beings capable of utilizing their brain to achieve their own realities via special powers. Plus, the city has such a chic, hopful, futuristic aesthetic that is to DIE for.

Should I be allowed to pick a second universe, I’d go with Ghost in the Shell, a franchise that fully embraces cyber enhancements and the free, vastly infinite nature of the internet. You can become anyone and do anything in the future.

2. What anime left the biggest impression on you?

Easy one. Steins;Gate. It started me on the path to exploring science fiction in anime , leading me to discover more dystopian sci-fis like Ghost in the ShellPsycho-Pass, and of course, Neon Genesis Evangelion , my favorite anime of all time. Steins;Gate is just bloody brilliant, and I consider all of these works masterpieces.

3. If you were an animal, what would you be?

Kind of an odd question, haha, but one that still leaves me torn. Cats seem to live such peaceful lives, but that of a dolphin is much more exciting, where it is free to explore the entire depths of the great sea. Then there are birds, which can fly freely and soar above the clouds. I’ve always wanted to fly. If I had to pick, birds are the way to go.

Thanks again Keiko! Now onto Crimson!


 

About Crimson (nominated 10/15/17)

If y’all didn’t already know, Crimson and I go waaay back. Heck, we’ve even met in person! While I’ve remained here the whole time, Crimson has gone through much more blogging experience, including owning multiple blogs at once. Currently, she writes at “Crimson Blogs” the most. Anyway, she’s very funny, down to earth, and she loves to both write AND read, which are essential for being a great blogger. She also loves her fandoms, frequently getting me sucked into them through her wicked ways (My hero Academia). I always love reading her posts, as she frequently throws a personal twist in them that makes me understand her a bit more each time. If you’re not already, GO FOLLOW HER. DO IT! Tell her Takuto sent you, too. 😛

Crimson’s 3 Questions

1. If you could turn into any mythical creature, which would you be and why? And what would you do as this mythical creature?

Oh no, back with the creature-transformation questions, haha. As for what I’d like to be . . . can I make up my own? Similar to Paprika (from, well, the film Paprika) or even Reina Izumi from Myriad Colors Phantom World, I’d like to be a dream-eater. No, NOT the stealer of good dreams, but of bad dreams—nightmares, visions that put one on edge, causing constant anxiety throughout the night. Does something like this already exist? Anyway, I’m no therapist in real life, but I do think that people should get good sleep. By hovering around troubled individuals in spirit form, I could enter their dreams and help them fight off the force of evil eating away at their precious rest time. Then I could ease them into the deep, healthy REM sleep that they deserve. Call me your Dream Healer, or your Prince of the Night. What do you think of that?

2. Oh no! It’s the zombie apocalypse! What are your weapons of choice (up to 3 that you can realistically carry around) and what 3 bloggers would be on your survival team? Yes I’m thinking something similar to L4D.

OH CRAP, NOT ZOMBIES. I know virtually NOTHING about them, other than what is common knowledge, or what could be grasped from anime like Attack on Titan or Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress. Three weapons, hmm, can they be from games or anime LOL? If so, I’d pick the Portal gun, the Dominator from Psycho-Pass, and the thermoptic suit from Ghost in the Shell. Smart pick that last one is, no? Portal open—Dominator destroy—thermoptic effects on—Repeat. If you can’t beat ’em, RUN LIKE HELL.

Now for three bloggers? Hmm, Matt (Matt-in-the-Hatt) is too good of a Christian (bless your heart). Kausus (Otaku Gamer Zone) would just be inspecting my gadgets all the time, so he’s out too (sorry boo). Rocco B (In the Cubbyhole) is . . . actually, where have you been, buddy? We need to chat more!

You know, I’m just gonna play it safe and call on the Owlets, a trio of female anibloggers who run the Otaku Warriors for Liberty and Self-Respect, or OWLS (see, they’re already warriors, it’s only the best pick)! Composed of President Kat Sade (Grimm Girl) and the two lovely PR ladies, Naja (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero) and LitaKino (Lita Kino Anime Corner), these strong women already know how to fight the good fight, as they are constantly helping others overcome their insecurities while highlighting the good in the world. You three are my pick for the zombie apocalypse. And oh, if you’re not too busy Crimson, you can come too. ^.^

Seriously though, check out all of these wonderful people. 🙂

3. Related to Q2, what is your zombie apocalypse team survival playlist? Add as many or few songs as you’d like!

Since three seems to be the magic number here, I’ve got three hot tracks for ya:

AND OF COURSE . . .

Thanks again, Crimson! I won’t be nominating anyone due to these already being long-overdue, but they were tons of fun! Next time, hopefully I’ll be the one nominating you guys!


I’ve STILL got tons of catching up to do, what with OWLS posts and all the comments stacking up from the start of this holiday season, so this’ll wrap up Blogmas Day Six of the 12 Days of Anime! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you all tomorrow!

– Takuto, your host

I’ve Finally Been Recognized as Lovely! (One Lovely Blog Award)

Hey guys,

THE NOMMIES RETURN upupuPUPUPU! It’s been so long since I’ve been awarded one of these—it’s my first “Lovely Blog Award,” in fact! I also just happened to find a 20-min pocket of time, so why the heck not. This’ll be short, and you might learn a thing or two about me here in the next minute, so that’s cool. Special thanks to Mel (Mel In Anime Land) who happened to grace me with this nomination a couple weeks back. (I told you I’d get to it!) Check her out!

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Ok, ok, here are the rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog
  • Add the One Lovely Blog Award to your post
  • Share 7 things about yourself
  • Pass this on to as many people as you like (max 15)
  • Include this set of rules
  • Inform your nominees

And sorry, I won’t be nominating anyone because let’s face it: I can hardly keep up with everything as-is, plus this thing has likely made its rounds by now, haha. If you follow me or are just stopping by, go ahead and take this one on—I’m awarding anyone who feels willing to share more about themselves, for if you are reading this, you likely have good taste (and a lovely blog for sure, hehe :P).

Alright, let’s go!!

1. I was high school Homecoming Royalty

The king, in fact, hehehe! Why bring up high school now though (I mean, wasn’t it “the worst time of everyone’s life)? Well, my high school years weren’t half bad, my senior year being the saving grace. I also mention it now because, just a week ago, I got to hand off the crown to my sister, who is now the ruling queen—isn’t that kinda neat?! [insert “My Little Sister Can’t Be Royalty Just Like Me?!” light novel series here] Makes me wonder where she got it from, certainly not me, right? Ahaha, I kid, but seriously, it was tons of fun. To my class, who I know will never read this but regardless, thank you for all the laughs and the memories—it was an honor serving as your king over the past year~!

Would you have ever guessed it? Now you can can say you are friends with royalty 😀

2. I’m a night owl

Like Mel, I get most of my work done once the moon comes out. This can be a real inconvenience considering how, well, most people play by the sun, but somehow I make it through . . . by staying up late, waking up early, and feeling exhausted 24/7.

3. I LOVE granola bars

No, it’s like, really, really bad. Breakfast, lunch, snack, repeat. I am OBSESSED. I also like all kinds, simple chocolate chip or some kind of yogurt ones being my favorites. In fact, I hate nuts, but eating granola bars with nuts has given me a slight appreciation for them. Guess there are pros and cons to every addiction.

4. I LIVE for mystery stories and survival games

This is probably why anime like Gosick, Hyouka, Future Diary, Another, Higurashi, Fate/Zero, and, holy god, Danganronpa, my most recent obsession (besides the granola bars). I’ve traversed the entire franchise, watching the first anime many years ago, a Let’s Play of the second game last summer, and more Let’s Plays/video summaries of the other entries just these past couple weeks. I’m still searching for SOMETHING to fill the Danganronpa 3 void, so if you’ve got any recommendations, now’s the time to share . . .

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5. I’ve done music all my life and honestly, it’s meh

Sad but true. I’ve dedicated at least 4/5 of my life to something that . . . well, I’m not sure why I’m still involved with anymore. I play the cello (in a symphony, a quartet, and a small trio), and I can’t help but wish, everyday, that I was doing something else: painting, drawing, reading, writing—anything! The only reason I’ve stuck with it is because of the pushy music staff here. If they weren’t so clingy and even rude sometimes, I would have wanted to stick around. But crappy people are everywhere, so for once, I don’t even know what the moral of this story is supposed to be. Call it wasted potential or a future regret like all the others, but I don’t think that’ll stop me from retiring. When I’M ready, I’ll start up again on my own time. Like, “Can I please just move on with my life?”

6. I’m trying to get into light novels more

From the little research I’ve done, Japanese light novels are designed to be affordable, dispensable, and easily digestible written works, either as standalone novels or for a much larger series. They are relatively easy to publish, and that’s awesome for budding authors. What I don’t like is that many, especially now (like all media), rely heavily on the infamous “light novel tropes” to sell copies and hook readers, and while on paper it’s like “whatever,” many animation studios as of late have decided to spend all of their time and manpower on adapting these often times cliche, poorly written books. That said, I want to get into light novels more (which is why on Twitter I asked for suggestions). I want to understand them better, and maybe see if I can, sometime down the line, craft my own.

7. I am a collector, not a renter

That’s right, I don’t go to the library, nor do I occasionally stream shows. Instead, if I can score big sales and [blind] buy a ton of crap I know I won’t get to for 7 years, I’m gonna do it!! It’s actually gotten really bad, haha, so much so that I went on a no-buy (that didn’t last) and realized that “OMG, if I actually watch and read the stuff I actually have, it wouldn’t just have to sit there!” A novel idea, I know. If it’s any consolation, I do buy my stuff at THE BEST price one could ever find it at, so I do know a good deal when I see one. Unfortunately, if I avoided shopping during sales, then that would save money, too.

But enough of that smart thinking stuff. Time to go blow $80 on Sentai DVDs of shows that I wouldn’t buy otherwise unless they were $10 a piece. 😛


That wraps up this award. Did you learn anything interesting about me? Did you sympathize with my problems or just find me to be a big whiner? Either way, I’m curious! Again, if you want an excuse to talk about yourself, I nominate YOU to do so! Just let me know if you did so I can read it and share it. Again, big shout-out and thank-you to Mel for the nomination—it was fun! ‘Till next time guys!

– Takuto, your host

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The New World: Spirit Tracks | Zelda Project

Welcome! This is just a fraction of the reviews and reminiscent posts covering the expansive “Legend of Zelda” franchise in a project titled “The Legend of Zelda: A Blogger’s Journey,” which covers the many adventures of Link, from its creation in 1986 to its arguable magnum opus in 2017. This massive undertaking was started by fellow blogger NekoJonez (NekoJonez’s Gaming Blog), and though we had some rough-footing (what with aligning individual schedules to a project on this scale), I’m proud to be a part of the brave thirteen bloggers who were captivated by this memorable franchise, and wish to tell their own tales about the games they love. 

Here I have chronicled my experience playing “The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks” in Part 2 of 2. Part 1 over the game’s prequel, “The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass,” can be found here. 

This is only the third blogger project I’ve ever been part of, so an extended thank you to NekoJonez for recruiting me back in June of 2017—we’ve come such a long way, my friend!

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Awesome logo by zoef


New Hyrule, New Problems

A century has passed since the Hero quelled the Realm of the Ocean King (2 years in our world, now 2009). A mainland was found, and the kingdom of New Hyrule was established by a reincarnation of Princess Zelda. Standing tall in the center of the Overworld is the Tower of Spirits, a “lock” of sorts that binds a great demonic force within the land, and sprawling from that tower is a vast network of railroad tracks that act as “shackles.” Link, also reincarnated as a young engineer, lives a peaceful life within New Hyrule. But when the sly and greedy Chancellor Cole reveals his plans of reviving the great evil Demon King Malladus, Link, like clockwork, is called upon by his Princess once more.

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Before the two can take Cole down, however, the Tower of Spirits is broken up into giant chunks which float above the tower’s remains. Zelda is captured, and though Link cannot save her body, her spirit is extracted and placed into the armor of a phantom knight. Now a princess in spirit only, the two become entrusted by Anjean, a “Lokomo” or sage of the tower, with the great vehicle that once rode the rails to keep evil at bay: The Spirit Train. To save her kingdom, Link and Zelda embark on a quest to restore the spirit tracks to the land, in hopes of once again binding the Demon King to his eternal prison.

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Rebuilding Zelda One Force Gem at a Time

Rather than stand as another “save the princess” game, Spirit Tracks rebuilds the legend of Zelda herself from scratch by placing her on the battlefield next to the Hero. For the first time, Zelda can not only lead the attack but also be used as a character via the DS’s stylus; just draw her a path and she’ll act accordingly! Like with its predecessor, this cool function can also be a bit of a pain, what with the drawing and timing inaccuracies. But it’s still a great use of the device—I mean, who doesn’t want to control a giant armored phantom Zelda!?

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Exclusively for the DS, Spirit Tracks involves you in a way that no pocket console has before. While it has the same format as Phantom Hourglass (returning to one dungeon—Tower of Spirits—repeatedly throughout the game, though now you don’t have to re-explore floors), it has a couple different gimmicks. One is the Spirit Train itself. Like the ship in PH, you set your course by drawing on the map. What’s new this time is that you can’t trace your trail freely because, well, uh, a train has to sit on tracks. So once again, the titular concept ends up being a huge restriction on the player. At least you get to conduct a train, right?

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The Power of Music

One function that sees increased usage in the game is the microphone, to which we get THE MOST FUN ZELDA INSTRUMENT TO PLAY, PERIOD. Zelda bestows the Spirit Flute (gosh, these names) upon Link, which allows him to channel the power of the Spirits of Good. Like a real flute, you blow into the device’s mic, sliding the stylus to blow into the different pipes. It’s much more entertaining to listen to and play than the Ocarina, though less iconic. (Which is tragic considering how the tunes are so MUCH better.)

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Speaking of, Spirit Tracks holds some of the franchise’s best music to date, including the “Realm Overworld” theme, “Link and Zelda’s Duet,” and many more. Through the Spirt Flute, Spirt Tracks reinstates the power of song and the gift of music, providing some of the most compelling and underrated main themes written for Zelda.

Lastly, the Link x Zelda interactions are much more interesting than in PH or, heck, most of the franchise. This is because, unlike most games where Zelda is more of a “deity” watching over the game, she plays a critical role in all the action, all the time. I think we’re all rather fond of our Princess, and to have her accompany us all the way makes me love her presence more than I ever have before.

A Childishly Charming End to the Trilogy

And that’s about it. Like with Phantom Hourglass, you traverse the world, collect the right gems, forge the game’s titular sword, and slay the force of evil causing everyone a headache. This is the third game in the Toon Link Trilogy, however, and that makes its ending kind of special. Like how Ganondorf was bested in Wind Waker, the legendary Bow of Light is summoned forth in the finale, which, in a sense, feels like it completes the trilogy. No longer are we scavenging pirates at sea: Hyrule is safe, her Princess reigning proudly, and the spirit of the Hero’s courage lives on within us all—the board is reset, if you will, as we’re now back on “track” for future installments. If this isn’t the perfect way to end a trilogy, I’m not sure what is.

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Both The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass & Spirit Tracks are more childishly charming or casual takes on the franchise, but equally critical in forwarding the legend itself to newcomers of this fantastic universe. Take me for instance—I boarded the S.S. Linebeck in 2006 as a child, and now I’m saving up to dive into the immersive world of 2017’s Breath of the Wild. From then, to now, I’ve been a fan, and it’s all thanks to two of the most underrated games in the franchise.

I played Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks from beginning to end—from the Great Sea to the New World. And you know what? I enjoyed collecting every rupee along the way.

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End of Part 2. Go to Part 1 now if you missed it!

(none of this lovely artwork belongs to me)


Let me know your thoughts, memories, or nostalgia while playing Spirit Tracks! Many thanks again to NekoJonez for his hard work in putting this all together! PLEASE visit our hub article for “The Legend of Zelda: A Blogger’s Journey” HERE and reminisce on all the games that brought us joy, wonder, and excitement! We hope you enjoy it all! If you haven’t already boarded the ship in Part 1, go meet me over there, too! It’s been a lot of fun guys, it really has. Thank you so much for going on this journey with me!

– Takuto, your host

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