Cacophony in Paradise: RahXephon & Accepting the World | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode winter 2002 anime “RahXephon,” animated by Bones, and both created and directed by Yutaka Izubuchi. 

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Prophecy & Lore: Angel Mu Attack 

His life was ordinary. Or at least, it was supposed to be. 

Three years ago, Japan was invaded by the Mu, beings from another dimension that look exactly like humans except for the fact they possess blue blood. Now, in 2015, Tokyo comes under attack by terrorist aircraft that are quickly driven back by a flying humanoid weapon called a Dolem. Amidst the disaster, 17-year-old Ayato Kamina spots Reika Mishima, a beloved classmate of his.

While trying to escape from the terrorist attack above, Ayato escapes to an underground subway but is cornered by government officials in black. Out of the blue, a short-haired woman named Haruka comes to his rescue, informing Ayato that she was sent to retrieve him by the organization TERRA. Still skeptical of the stranger, however, he flees from Haruka onto a train where he oddly encounters Reika once more. But unbeknownst to him, this train isn’t headed to safety. Ayato arrives in a bizarre, holy domain where a tremendous egg sits in the middle. Reika’s mysterious singing in Ayato’s presence causes the egg to tremble and a giant robot—the RahXephon—is hatched.

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Suddenly, Ayato’s mother appears atop the Dolem that had stopped the TERRA Invasion. When a cut to her skin reveals a shocking drop of blue blood, Ayato flees “Tokyo Jupiter” aboard the RahXephon with Haruka, bewildered and betrayed.

What unfolds next is a story of grand proportions. Prophetic lore and Aztec legend weave together in a larger-than-life tale about what it means to understand others. As the future of mankind rests on the shoulders of one unsteady pilot burdened with a heavy fate, a young boy must decide whether the love for himself and others outshines the dark realities of the world.

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Classic in its Own Way

Obvious point out to get behind: There are many, MANY comparisons that can be drawn between RahXephon and its “spiritual prequel,” the grossly influential 1990s Neon Genesis Evangelion. I mean, clearly, one was inspired by the other. As such, I’ll try my best to appreciate RahXephon for its own merits. It may be more obscure, but there are reasons why the fans that have seen it regard it as a classic.

Starting with my criticisms, RahXephon‘s plot definitely rushes to the finish line come the last couple episodes. There’s also a seemingly misplaced (yet ridiculously crucial) backstory episode early on when the viewer still has yet to distinguish the adult characters, and much of the underlying prophetic forces require immense focus—and even then, reading in between the lines, so to speak.

But my biggest issues don’t accurately reflect the plot’s numerous strengths: RahXephon centers itself around the concepts of time, music, intrigue, mystery, and romance. Its powerful character dynamics, deep introspective forces, rich philosophical views, character and mecha designs, and influences by Mesoamerican culture and Japanese folklore carefully intermix to create a profound, satisfying story with little to no plot holes by the end. All pieces of the puzzle connect towards a final answer which works out so well. Eventually, everything connects. 

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The Struggle to be Human 

Very few anime dare to feature such a dense network of complex human relationships between characters, let alone do it this well. Each week, the TERRA crew encounter a new Dolem that must be met with a different fighting strategy, meaning that everyone on deck is constantly interacting with another.

As a result, not all talk is about work. Unnecessary rumors spread. Drama starts. Realistically, co-workers get frustrated, confused, angry, and jealous at one another, and these attitudes manifest in cut-off communication, the “silent treatment,” lackluster performance, or total inability to come to work one day. To make matters even more devastatingly real, each of the characters struggles to be human in their own ways, which is often reflected through thoughtful monologues or, worse, actions that harm another.

Self-care is such an important element of RahXephon. The series especially convinces us how difficult it can be to maintain connections with others through its most important plot line: the unusual relationship between Ayato Kamina and Haruka Shitow. And oh boy is it a messy one. Although Haruka appears to be some badass adult stranger to Ayato at first, we come to realize that their bond runs much deeper than even he was led to believe.

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Ayato constantly struggles with expressing what he wants. His inner conflict to understand his own desires often clashes with the many “professional” relationships he must maintain as the RahXephon’s pilot—female relationships to be specific. As such, his complexity becomes the leading force in this very much character-driven story about being useful to others. It sounds simple enough, but it’s much harder to live up to others’ expectations than we give the act credit for.

There are forces out there much bigger than ourselves—than our own petty problems—that we must respect. As Ayato comes to grip with the situation fate has bestowed upon him, it takes every ounce of ownership and bravery the human spirit can muster to accept such a weighty destiny. Though he pisses a lot of people off (sometimes even the viewer), I was always on his side. He’s an admirable lad, albeit a bit blind to his own heart at times, and I quite enjoyed his depth and perseverance.

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Transcending Technique: A Mecha to Last Decades

While the anime was created in 2002, studio Bones at this point had yet to experiment with the early 2000s 3D CG that popularized this period of anime. That said, it is probably one of the last mecha shows to utilize computer animation without creating fully 3D CG mechas. And it shows, because for the most part, RahXephon‘s animation holds up incredibly well.

Specifically, the characters are animated with such solid consistency that every character close-up is worthy of being key art in itself. Because the RahXephon is just as strangely mystical as the Mu are divine, the fight scenes and combat abilities are always captivating to watch. If RahXephon’s animation was designed as a callback to the earlier mecha anime of the 70s, I’d believe it.

However stunning the animation may be, the show’s color palette is on the duller side. The island backgrounds feel washed out, and it sometimes causes nothing in particular to stand out. This leads to many of the conversational moments (which are quite abundant) to occasionally feel stagnant and uninteresting. Aside from the RahXephon’s brilliant cobalt and gold, pale grays and blues dominate much of the landscape. On the RahXephon, though—man, what a beast, so unique and cool-looking. The spectral wing motif hails as one of the series’ greatest icons, and now I get why!

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Add a Little Jazz: Ambiance & Expression

Ichiko Hashimoto’s soundtrack is simultaneously exactly and nothing like anything you’ve ever heard. Specializing in jazz, vocals, and the piano, Hashimoto provides RahXephon with introspective trance music fit for the story’s ambiance. She uses a large amount of harmonic dissonance to create cacophonous tracks fitting for those more disturbing moments in the series, which also ties in to the theme of music. Lots of electric guitar, too.

Almost intrinsically, her orchestral works (like the final episode’s “Before You Know”) stir the heart and the mind, while her more abstract brass and percussive pieces add layers to the complexity on screen. She even dabbles into epic Richard Wagner operas for classical inspiration, which is awesome.

The series has its own intensely iconic battle preparation themes, one of my favorites being “The Chariot.” And when TERRA members are just taking a lunch break at work, that’s where the jazz music (like “Their Daily Lives) lifts the atmosphere. Of course, for all those emotional and moody moments, Hashimoto’s got a “rainy day” solo piano track for that, too (“Solitudes” and “A Few Memories”). Altogether, it’s an expressive OST that feels so very 90s that it’s impossible not to call unique. In case you’re curious, my favorite track is “Adolescent” from OST 2 for its calming strings air of catharsis.

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I’d also like to extend my biggest hugs to English dub director Matt Greenfield and his fantastic crew from ADV for their incredible work on this series. Ever since Eva, I’ve never been disappointed by his style—the guy certainly knows how to direct a good dub.

Bonus shoutout to Chris Patton for his take on the lead, Ayato Kamino. Patton’s been praised for how natural his teenage boy voice is—plus, I mean, he’s just really freakin’ good at acting—but man, Ayato is easily my favorite role of his! It’s a shame that more older English dubs don’t sound this stellar.

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To Weather the Storm 

From beginning to end, RahXephon is a storm of emotions. Some of the characters get their happy ending; others do not. Some characters are also significantly more frustrating than others. But it’s the complexity of their relationships and inner turmoil that make this great cast so realistically flawed. It may provide more psychological headache than heart-pounding action, but considering its themes of connection and isolation, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

RahXephon boasts a daunting cast size, and although the focus becomes strained as we bounce from one perspective to the other, the series never gives up in its pursuit to weave these stunningly complex lives together to form a multifaceted, absolutely compelling narrative—just how a series of these proportions should be.

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In a world where everything is about to change, what point is there in trying to continue? I don’t know, and yet that is what each and every one of us survivors must do—that much is clear. In spite of everything, the human animal must fight to live on. — Jin Kunigi


Afterword

There are so many things going on in RahXephon it’s NUTS, but I’m so glad to have finally watched this series—and for the 2019 V-Day special no less! I may review the movie if I find something in it especially worth talking about, but otherwise, that’ll conclude everything I’ve got for now. Man, what a fantastic find, an artifact absolutely worthy of any psychological anime fan’s catalog, or perhaps any mecha fan’s collection. Speaking of collection, as per the tradition, I allow myself to splurge on the series’ physical release as a token of completion. Not only was this one fun to hunt for, but I settled on what will likely be the BIGGEST collector’s edition box set I’ll own. Plus it was CHEAP. Stay tuned for details.

If it didn’t already need to be said, RahXephon is officially on the “Caffe Mocha” menu, a rating reserved for only THE best of shows. That said, it’s certainly not for everyone. If you don’t like psychological or mecha anime, look elsewhere (it is weird, but easier to digest than Evangelion, hahaha). Also, it’s a slower burn, so don’t be expecting climactic end-of-the-world fights every episode. Otherwise, I encourage you to check it out for sure!

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If you have seen RahXephon, now’s your chance to boast your knowledge and passion (or criticisms) for this classic series down in the comments. I’d love to here your thoughts on either the show or this review, so if you could impart your feedback, I’d greatly appreciate it. I had an all-around wonderful experience unearthing RahXephon, and I’m excited to see what next year’s marathon will offer. ‘Till next time my friends, thanks for reading!

– Takuto, your host

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

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s fifth monthly topic for 2018, “Movement,” I wanted to dive deep into despair with the Danganronpa franchise, specifically its “third” anime adaptation, Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School – Despair Arc. In today’s world where chaos is on the rise, spreading fear and horror through resurging domestic violence, manipulation of mass media, and most notably, school shootings, I couldn’t find a more relevant title befitting the catastrophic future we could potentially end up living ourselves—unless we stop this war on terror.

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

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

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

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

Beginning of the End – Despair Arc

Tragedy, Madness, Terror, Unpredictability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And only then will you be wishing you did something.

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


Birth of a New Light – Hope Arc

Aspiration, Optimism, Dreams, Stability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Afterword

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

Shiki: The Frightening Science of Vampires | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 22-episode summer 2010 anime “Shiki,” produced by Daume, based on the novel by Fuyumi Ono.

How would you feel about being given a second chance at life? Was there work you left behind unfinished that just needed a few more final touches? What about reuniting with a loved one from your past life? An opportunity like this rivals that of winning the lottery–a dream fulfilled, is it not?

Now, what if you were forced to return to this wretched earth, strained out of the dead to continue maintaining your fragile body at the expense of friends and family? You’d be a burdensome leech, a selfish and disgusting virus which feeds off of the innocent and the ignorant alike just to preserve your own rotting corpse. If you could kill people without consequence, would it be easier to do? Would you feel more inclined to repeat your actions?

Shiki presents us with both scenarios of life for the undead, but its grim tone and somber character stories have us believing that life after death is truly and rightfully morbid.

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Welcome to Sotoba – Population: Fear, Hysteria, and Death

This tale of madness descending is set in a remote rural village isolated from “modern” society. (We’re talking a town with traditional wooden Japanese houses and only one clinic to visit in case of emergency.) From the get-go, we already know that what will happen in the village will stay in the village. At first the atmosphere is cheery, starting us off through the eyes of hot n’ dangerous teen Megumi, a girl who feels like an outcast among the villagers because of her fashionable and trendy fantasies of city life (quite relatable, might I add). She lusts after a transfer student by the name of Natsuno who would be, as anyone could guess, charming yet mysterious “boyfriend material.”

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But much of her young life changes when an enormous castle-sized mansion is built almost overnight–the extravagant yet seemingly-elusive Kirishiki family has moved into that vacant lot high in the mountains. They are reserved and elegant divas of the night, but what terror, if any, lies beyond their walled stronghold on the hill?

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And exactly like clockwork, strange disease and paranoia begin seeping through the cracks of these closed-off country minds. Villagers grow pale and unresponsive, only to pass away within days of their diagnosis! All of this perplexes our [arguably the] main character, the good doctor Toshio, and his battle against these unseen and mystical forces quickly causes his ironclad rationale to teeter on the edge of self-destruction.

Themes! Themes for all!

The story is loaded with conflicts of the individual vs. culture and society that would make any philosopher or English teacher quiver in delight. If you continue to dissect its characters apart, you’ll notice a healthy amount of psychoanalysis to be done. There’s also the very nature of these vampiric beasts that’ll surely give you goosebumps if you’re just in it for the action. All things considered, Shiki’s premise is well-crafted and cleverly presented through its many different viewpoints. The anime tries to handle the scenario through every set of eyes possible, and actually does a fair job at it.

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Watching Occupation Shaping Perception

If this show is trying to preach one lesson to its viewers, it’s that OCCUPATION SHAPES PERCEPTION. First we have Toshio the Rational who wields science and logic as his guiding torch. His hands-on experience and repeated failure with his patients shape his view on how the village should act. Given this firsthand account of horror, the trauma is enough to eventually shake his mental stability. “Empty your hearts. In order to kill these demons we have to become demons.”

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Then there’s Muroi the Romantic writer and priest who believes through feelings that these demons are just like us. Even now, they only have special requirements to live. His benevolent approach leaves him without any clue as to how to fight a back, however, for his inexperience and urge to document the case rather than seek justice cause him to remain sane but forever alone.

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And finally we have Natsuno and Megumi, both Angsty Lovers who embody mixes of the doc and the junior monk. They remain rational and understanding of all that takes place, but their struggle against striving for the lives they desire to live under supernatural circumstances leads them to consequence. All of the villagers, save for these four, are static characters designed to move the plot forward and advance growth in our leads.

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A Damn Good English Dub

A fair point is that I fell in love with the English dub voices before I did the characters, so props to FUNimation for that win–especially to Tia Ballard as Megumi, holy crap! Also, while there are a dozen characters that I loved (and a dozen that I hated), my heart goes out to nurse Yasuyo (yay for more Wendy Powell!), the busty, compassionate sweetheart clad in fishnet-leggings. What a frickin’ saint she is!

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Relying on Story Horror Rather than Visual Horror

Onto the animation side, studio Daume actually did a very decent job. Several excellent cinematic shots and moldy/bold color choices were used to convey the eerie atmosphere. But I did have a few problems. As much as I took great pleasure in the Shiki black ombre eyes, too many different kinds of eye styles made me really dislike the ugly, small-pupil look that was overused on “insane” characters. Also, what’s up with that hair shaping? Natsuno’s nasty cut reminded me of the salad leaves I was munching on! (Yes, I did tweet about this).

I’m sure you’ve heard Shiki’s main theme “Shi-Ki” in one of your “emotional anime music 2 hours” compilation videos. But don’t just stop there! Check out the melodramatic tracks I left below which utilize a haunting choir, chimes, bass drums, a soothing macabre orchestra to create the illusion of nightmares stalking the shadows. They are a bit overused, but hey, you get so consumed by the atmosphere that repetition doesn’t matter. Composer Yasuharu Takanashi (Log Horizon, Oda Nobuna, Fairy Tale, Sailor Moon Crystal) remains one of my favorites, for he always does such phenomenal job in mashing together atmosphere and action.

“Day and Night”

“Eau de Vie”

“Pendulum”

Also, the second opening, “Calendula Requiem” by kanon x kanon totally rocked the house. Just look at those visuals–and the song, ooh the song!

Why is it Popular? Fresh Spin on a Legendary Concept

Shiki is praised for its ability to tell the same story through every character viewpoint possible; you get attached to individuals from both sides, which is quite a wonderful thing given the premise. It’s a nice rational approach to an ancient, typically fantasy or magical subject–The Science of Vampires, if you will. It presents us with a very well-thought-out tale of morality vs. rationality, never taking the easy way out to show its claims.

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In a world where monsters and humans alike are pitted against each other, fear, especially of abandonment, consumes all who let it. Common people who are unwilling to let go of pre-existing notions are the ones that get left behind. It sounds harsh, but in this brutal and vicious cycle everyone except the sane ultimately lose. What draws the line between superstition and simply being afraid is how disturbingly far people will go to preserve their own “sanity.” It’s only after the smoke clears, however, that humans realize the error in their ways, and that any God has long since abandoned them . . . or at least some believe.

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Final Thoughts

Anyone can die at any time; no one is safe/excluded from the elements listed above, which is also why I really enjoyed Shiki. Fear of uncertainty through the supernatural catches us off guard, in that fear CAN and WILL strike at any time. The use of gory sound effects and beautifully ghastly music help to establish that fearful tone. Shiki may not have visually scared me, but its raw content sure was creepy, gruesome, and more interesting than any Hollywood horror film.

“This is what a world ruled by order looks like. Those who accept order can live together peacefully, protected from the unknown safe in their belief that all is as it should be. But when something happens to threaten this orderly existence, they will fight to the very death. By eliminating the threat, they hope to preserve the fabric of their lives–the order that holds their entire world together. And so they realize what a fragile world it is.” – Seishin Muroi

Final Assessment

+ Frequent tonal shifts, led by the many viewpoints, leave strong and vastly different impressions from beginning to end

+ Death can strike anyone, anytime

+ True fear and creepiness created by the supernatural STORY ITSELF, not necessarily the visuals (never takes the easy way out)

+ Wonderfully presented themes of morality between individuals, culture, and society, and how people are only as safe as their surroundings make them feel

+ Nailed the village horror atmosphere with frightful perfection; intricately woven web of characters and interactions between them and setting

– Eye and hair designs on some characters just looked dumb

– Fantastic and complementing soundtrack, but some tracks are a bit overused

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What a Halloween break well-spent, no? Well, if anything could be said, it’s that those Japanese need real doors, not the paper-thin stuff you can hear through the walls, yikes! What did you think of this anime? It’s another “Caffe Mocha” over here! Were you completely freaked out or more invested in its thought-provoking messages? Let me know in the comments so we can talk about this beloved title! I’m so happy I got to finally watch this very peculiar classic. Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Extravagant Divas of the Night, the Kirishikis

Mayoiga: A Village Lost, But How Far Off the Trail? | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode spring 2016 anime “Mayoiga” or its English title “The Lost Village,” produced by Diomedea, directed by Tsutomu Mizushima and written by Mari Okada.


While I didn’t watch every airing show this past spring season, I do know that many stirred lengthy discussions and debates. In the case of The Lost Village, you’re going to see my thoughts regarding a show which received so much negative feedback that some people even began to reinterpret its intention entirely just to decipher if it was actually clever or plain crap.

A New Life Awaits

Simply put, I’m sure more people than you’d expect would easily raise their hands at the chance of getting to restart life in a Utopian village. And that’s exactly how Mayoiga begins: 30-some-odd children and adults chosen by an internet survey are gathered on a bus ride to paradise. This village lost in the mountains is so hard to find that even the police can’t seem to mark it on a map. Only a handful in our eccentric troop dwell on the sketchy project until they reach their destination — Nanaki Village. After all, the party is more concerned about how they’ll want to live once they exit the bus.

Mysteries start piling up one by one. The village seems to be abandoned, yet everything is orderly and the houses seem fairly clean. They also discover a recently-gardened patch on one end and bloody claw marks scratched into trees on the other. The forest in particular seems like it’s shrouding something. As if more tension was needed, some members of the party vanish without a trace, and like clockwork, it becomes only a matter of time before superstition and doubt plague the group like wildfire. Now begins their true test of survival, for monsters eagerly lurk within the minds of the doubtful run rampant whenever escape is attempted. Is it a curse? An illusion? Or are these seemingly otherworldly phantoms just messin’ with our heads?

Something is Missing . . .

Does Mayoiga provide thought-provoking ideas? I’m still not entirely sure myself. On one hand there’s a certain level of personal acceptance that doesn’t go quite as far as I was hoping it would. Instead of confronting their past, they flee desperately, clinging to ignorance as bait. While its execution is unique, it isn’t all quite there. Perhaps you can lend it to the enormously underdeveloped cast, or maybe it’s the poor balance between character skepticism, village mystery, and heavy-handed theme. I suppose that’s why you end up feeling slight satisfaction for only half of the cast. The lack of character motivations (why they wanted to restart) for the remaining ensemble also didn’t give me enough reason to give two shits if someone went missing or died.

On the other hand, it’s also tackling superstition in that ugly Salem Witch Trial style. What prevents this ‘climax’ from being truly powerful is the fact that these guys are dumb. Plain stupid. Why can’t we talk each other — question each other, even — instead of raising a weapon? Unlike Salem, religion isn’t the issue here. Neither are societal bounds (cause they’re in the middle of nowhere). They’re all just FRIGGIN’ INSANE, dumping their doubt on one little shady girl in hopes that, like their pasts, the terror be offed.

A Bus Full o’Freaks

I also can’t talk much about the characters due to spoilers. When I say that, I just mean the main trio: Mitsumune, Hayato, and Masaki. Mitsumune is an awkward soul, having only been friends with Hayato and not getting much contact with the female species. He really doesn’t know anything, but we can’t blame the unknowing, now can we? Hayato is a smart guy you’ll only find hanging around Mitsumune for his own reasons. Masaki, the group’s verbal punching bag, is a young girl rooted in a suspicious past. She also claims to not know anything, yet she is somehow tied to the village . . . I really don’t mind these three, but most of the others — especially that batshit insane execution girl — are simple-minded and annoying.

Going into it, my favorite was Koharun, the shady tour guide, as she really felt suspicious and I love feeling that way. By the end, though, that position was taken by the flirtatious [I swear she was a prostitute] woman with the high heels because EVERY SINGLE THING she said was sexually implied, and that’s just awesome. Her and the pudgy detective girl. She was pretty cool, too.

Facing Our Fears. Literally.

Now, the sheer illusionary work behind the animation team really makes up for the supernatural ‘talk’ the characters boast about. Raw CG was used like crazy in most of the nightmares that stalked the cast, and while that alone looks terrible, the fake appearance enhances the oddity and spookiness of it all. For once, asking the 3DCG “What the hell are you even supposed to be?” is a complement. Let it all rattle your brain. Outside that, characters look pretty nice — almost something out of P.A. Works — but the dialogue scenes are really boring.

Masaru Yokoyama’s soundtrack is by far the winning aspect of this series! Apparently he also composed the OSTs for Your Lie in April, Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace, and Lord Marksman and Vanadis among others, so make of that what you will. His chosen style here is obviously mystery and suspense, as the main theme and its many renditions is especially haunting, the kind of “LET’S GET OUT OF HERE” music you need with a show like this. Sadly couldn’t’ find any tracks on the web but the damned Hippopotamus song (my heart goes out to thee as best song). Just know that the OST effective in establishing mood if the creepy village didn’t do that for you.

The opening “Gensou Drive” by Ami Wajima was also fairly good, though I much preferred the ending theme “Ketsuro” by Rina Katahira. It’s much slower, more wound down, and unfitting for the show’s overall tone, but I couldn’t help but look it up afterwards to add it to my playlist. Its position is similar to Parasyte -the maxim-’s ending: slow yet oddly yearning for hope. Visuals were boring as heck, but a nice song nonetheless.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, I’m just so tired of reading about The Lost Village. The community has exhausted me on this one — To quote Lovepon, “Grabbed each of my legs and tore in opposite directions.” I went in with a lot of excitement for a hot mystery show and ended up with a slightly twisted yet comedic take on rebirth. I’ll admit that it had me going for the first five or so episodes, but once the ghouls revealed themselves, it didn’t take off like I thought it would. Was I supposed to be scared? Maybe . . . ? But I still laugh that I tried watching this at night and got too scared to leave my room to pee, hehe.

The Lost Village is to say the least an oddball, and regardless of whether it was trying to be a satire of horror mysteries or something like that, I can confirm that it fell flat on its mission. I think it all just strayed waaay too far from the trail it seemed to promise, much like a wanderer looking for paradise who got lost in the process. As a simulcast, however, I cannot deny the fact that I kept coming back each week just to see how it would end . . . Like, the bus went up in flames, but how far would it roll down the hill?

Pretty far, actually. I can’t see it being brought up ever again after a week or two.

“I’m interested in the results.” – Lion

Final Assessment

+ Given its composition, village mystery vibe kept up a good ¾ of the way in

+ Main theme song in OST fit the eerie tone perfectly

– Poor balance between characters’ skepticism, actual village mystery, and themes it might’ve been trying to press

Enormous cast with lack of believable drive and development from those move forward; stupidity is contagious


I’m slightly annoyed with Mayoiga as is, so you’ll find it here under the lowly “Breads” archive. It’s not bad, but there are so many other anime out there that explore the same concept, yet do it better. Like Angel Beats! for the personal acceptance stuff or Another for the superstition bit. The show also could have been interesting and made me have wanted to think had there not been so many troll characters. Did you follow The Lost Village this season? If so, how did you feel about its overall presentation? Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

 

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

A brief review of the 12-episode winter 2016 anime “Boku dake ga Inai Machi” (trans. The Town Where Only I am Missing”) or simply “ERASED,” produced by A-1 Pictures, based on the manga by Kei Sanbe.

Hearing about anime with time travel immediately make me feel two things: Exhilaration and skepticism. The rush of adrenaline is an obvious one. I mean, doesn’t finding out that trial and error will play a key part make you excited? The concept usually entails a character going through repetitive hardships to eventually overcome a goal that will better either themselves or the future or both. Often, however, shows will fail to use the gimmick to its maximum potential, either not developing a character enough to show improvement (or drastic change) or making an inconsistent story just for thrill’s sake.

ERASED executes a surprising mix of these turnouts, and depending on how you interpret the lead, Satoru, by the end, you’ll either walk away awestruck or feeling quite underwhelmed about the whole package.

Dismal 29-year-old Satoru Fujinuma is a pizza delivery man/part-time manga artist/time traveler in modern-day Japan. Well, sort of. He just has these occasional bursts where, right as a disaster occurs, he is sent back a few moments to before the incident. He calls the unexplained phenomenon “Revival,” and he seems to be tasked with saving those facing inevitable peril.

Returning to his apartment from a seemingly normal outing, Satoru finds his mother brutally skewered on the floor and is unfairly accused of murder. Just as the adrenaline is enough to cause his heart to burst, Satoru is tossed back once again through “Revival.” But this time, a few breather minutes beforehand becomes 18 years—1988—and is enough to send him back to elementary school!

A man trapped in a boy’s body, Satoru comes to realize that his mother’s untimely death could be tied to the abduction and killing of a lone classmate of his during childhood, Kayo Hinazuki. Given a second chance at righting wrong and changing his own presently-dull fate, Satoru is challenged to save those lost in the past, protect beloved ones in the present, and ultimately expose the mastermind behind the killings.

Let’s get one thing straight: ERASED is not a good mystery anime. It has mystery elements, yes, but the identity of the killer at large is far too predictable. This mainly stems from the otherwise lack of possible suspects. A good mystery anime wouldn’t toss in a character at the end and label him the murderer—thankfully ERASED doesn’t do that. Where it fails is in the tiny toss up of possible killers. I wanted to say I was truly shocked by the end, but the abrupt change in slower pace and lack of characters to choose from left little room to ponder. Some of the animation cues are also at fault, but we’ll cover that department’s actual brilliance in a bit.

While we’re discussing the cons, I’ll add that the unexplained notion of how or why Satoru undergoes these “Revivals” really bothered me when I reached the end of the series. It’s as if they show us a preview of the power in a few beginning instances, then toss the idea once we hit the halfway point. Being a time travel fanatic, I was disappointed with how it was handled, unless . . . The gimmick doesn’t revolve around needing to save Kayo. Some otherworldly force did it so he could save himself, a man not interested in society and partially life. And where else do you meet friends and solidify family? Childhood. I see each “Revival” as a wake-up call for Satoru, like, “Get a hold of your life, man!”

At least the show’s wild predictability and faulty concept were led by memorable characters, specifically speaking, Satoru, Sachiko Fujinuma (his big-lipped, sharp-eyed momma and arguably best character of the season), and Kayo Hinazuki. The wide screen narrative for his revisited childhood days was fantastic contrast, and it fits the movie theater theme as represented by the opening and the “Revival’s” running film. While the background characters served their purpose, nothing was more entertaining than 28-year-old Satoru’s thoughts being accidently leaked from his little kid mouth. The fixed goal set by his favorite manga hero that is always referenced helps guide his character. I could go on about how smart and well-intertwined these main characters are, but my friend Rocco B laid it all out in his comprehensive review, which I urge you to check out for more depth on every layer.

As for production quality, it’s once again A-1 Pictures and Yuki Kajiura—could a guy ask for more? Honestly, the intense color palette and flowing imagery accompanied by Kajiura’s deeply-felt and haunting main melody brought the story to life. She conveys Satoru’s soliloquy with excellent intensity.

The real question is for ERASED, are you an OP or ED guy/gal. For me, the tune of the ending “Sore wa Chiisana Hikari no Youna” by Sayuri was much addicting and romantic, albeit Sayuri’s voice being a bit on the high and nasally end. Fight me.

With a future thrown into mayhem (Satoru running from the cops and getting into house fires 24/7), ERASED only seemed fun and truly thrilling in childhood; the future seems lost in purpose. Speaking of excitement, where its mystery failed to convince me, its thriller levels were off the charts! It seems every time red flashed across the white 1988 snow, my heart skipped a beat. That is, until you reach the last episode or two.

HERO WEEK SEGMENT: Archetypical Hero qualities represented by Satoru

I’ve taken a quick trip to Google to provide qualities of the typical hero. Let’s briefly exercise each prompt:

  • Unusual circumstances of birth; sometimes in danger or born into royalty
    • Other than the fact that his father is out of the picture, not much can be said for this one.
  • Leaves family or land and lives with others
    • Satoru, as we see it, is on a long journey from age 10 to 28. In the present, he lives by himself with a part-time job and a hobby he wishes to pursue. I assume he moved out not only because he was old enough, but because he wanted to get a job as a manga artist for his hero story, and his career path led him to the city where these kinds of options are more prevalent.
  • An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure
    • The death of Sachiko is the big one, obviously. Satoru lost his one and only crutch supporting him in these seemingly purposeless days.
  • Hero has a special weapon only he can wield/always has supernatural help
    • “Revival” anyone? This is the weakest point, as his power is truly the unexplained supernatural, but all that matters is that he is given a second chance—only he can change fate.
  • The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
    • Protect Kayo Hinazuki. Keep Airi out of harm’s way. Prove Jun Shiratori’s innocence. Save Sugita and Nakanishi. Find the murderer. These and many more challenges await Satoru on his rugged journey.
  • ***SPOILERS START HERE***
  • The journey and the unhealable wound
    • Coming in episode 9, Satoru is drowned by the killer, thus becoming ‘erased.’ Though the story proceeds to save his rear with the ‘sudden coma treatment,’ this imprisons Satoru for several years. When he reawakens, he is a changed man—he suffers brief amnesia, but then quickly marks the line between good and evil by pointing out the killer on the cold hospital rooftop. He won’t be able to regain these lost years, but they have changed him for the better, as he is able to see the wonderful lives that have sprouted from those he saved.
  • Hero experiences atonement with the father
    • Upon her sudden death, Satoru melts at being with his mom once again in the past. He uses her passing as a motivator (avengement) for seeking Kayo’s safety, watching over her and struggling against the inevitable.
  • When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually
    • THIS is the key one, and tends to affect people’s enjoyment. Clearly Satoru didn’t die at the end, but the part of him that revisited the past and was able to undergo “Revivals” is no longer with him. The traumatic event in episode 9 caused the split in spirit. For his work, Satoru is rewarded with a new start at middle-aged life rife with opportunity and good fortune, contrasting the beginning. But unlike most heroes, Satoru loses his special power, leaving us to assume that his journey wasn’t about a kid saving the lives of many, one about a man seeking redemption through experiencing loss. Because he mentions in the epilogue that he never experienced another “Revival,” we are led to believe that his mission is complete, which somewhat defies the typical hero. He ACTUALLY gets to relive his life, while most retire to death following their journey.
  • ***SPOILERS END HERE***

Good things have been said about ERASED for a reason: Its intense thriller fantasy atmosphere is awesome, the music and animation are top-notch, and Satoru is an exciting main character (voiced by an incredible actor, mind you). Fair enough. The end also gets a lot of slack for being anticlimactic. That I really also agree with. It all comes down to how you interpret the hero’s journey—Was the enemy too easily identifiable, or was Satoru’s reward too gracious? All that can be surely said is that we tend to notice how much we have only once we’ve lost it. In a town where only you went missing, I’m sure I would realize the impact you’ve made.

“Kayo, my fate is my own. There’s no need for you to feel responsible. I’m sure that what’s become of me was a result of something I wanted.” – Satoru Fujinuma

Being entertaining is not the same as being well-written. A solid “Cake (4/5),” ERASED was definitely my favorite from the winter 2016 season, then again I only watched two anime. What did you think of the show? How did you interpret the same issues everyone had with it? FEEL FREE TO TALK ABOUT SOMEONE IMPORTANT IN YOUR LIFE, or how you thought Satoru was a good/bad hero! I want to celebrate the cause with all of you! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Just look at how happy momma Fujinuma is. Best mom 2016!

 

Beautiful Bones: An Elegy To Those Indeed Trapped by the Past | Review

A spoiler-free review of the 12-episode fall 2015 anime “Beautiful Bones -Sakurako’s Investigation-,” produced by TROYCA, based on the light novel by Shiori Ota.

 – View in browser, not app, for best experience –

Deep in a grove in Asahikawa City, Hokkaido, is the estate of one incredible woman. Due to the greenery blocking the mansion’s front, however, it’s quite easy to pass this place without noticing. That is, unless you are a bored high-schooler looking for something . . . different . . . something out of the ordinary to buy his time. Well folks, average boy Shoutarou Tatewaki meets this incredible ojou-san, but is her mysterious and haunting aura just a facade? I mean, she loves sweets just like any other person and it’s not like she can talk to the dead or anything – She does collect bones for a living, though, and her ability to analyze specimen, alive or dead, is quite impressive . . . But as you know, curiosity is never kind to the cat, for this “Shounen” must now tag along with Sakurako-san, uncovering corpses at every bend in the road! Don’t worry, though:

He doesn’t mind . . . In fact, he might be in with love her.

Beautiful Bones is a mystery anime without a doubt. But there’s an air to each of these episodic moments that doesn’t allow us to get “too deep” into things. Rather, each episode or two is a light mystery always involving a body because these kinds of grim things attract Sakurako-san. The story builds its cases off of familial relationships, be it a husband escaping death, a mother protecting her kids, a grandmother who just needed more time . . . They truly are feel-good mysteries, and once Sakurako and her boy solve them, you can’t help but feel remorse for those unfortunate souls that lost their lives. Because this familial attachment exists, and the victims aren’t random people off the streets, the anime doesn’t necessarily need high-strung thriller drives to pull off a good mystery. Thankfully they are interspersed throughout its run, but honestly, some of them made for rocky pacing at times.

Looking at characters we have our “Shounen” from which the story is told through the eyes of. He’s your average, dutiful citizen, commonly calling the cops before Sakurako-san can steal a treat for her efforts (talk about giving a dog a bone). The anime appears to hold some sort of romantic development based on the poster alone, but not much happens. I view Sakurako and Shoutarou’s relationship as a metaphorical sibling one, anyway. Sakurako, as the over-arching story progresses, seems to have been through tragedy with a kid similar to this boy, and as he slowly accepts her hobby of bone-collecting and knack for finding bodies littered throughout town, she opens up to him bit by bit. All this boy wants to do is figure out what makes his Sakurako-san click, and he’ll continue to be enraptured by her long obsidian hair and haunting gaze so long as she lets him.

Viewers obviously fell in love with the ojou-san. Sakurako-san is definitely unique – Not only as an individual in the story, but interesting compared to all characters I saw in 2015. Firstly, she’s an osteologist, one who studies bones. Clearly she loves what she does, assembling and displaying magnificent structures of deceased creatures she has collected over the years. Adding to her oddities, she also likes blaring screamo rock music when she drives, has a mad passion for sweets (which BTW will make her squeal like a 4th-grader), and she won’t hesitate to whistle at a person’s toes which she consumes as fantastically unusual . . . yeah. A bit rough around the edges, old-fashioned, snarky, deviant, and obsessive, Sakurako is the ojou-san of the decade! She is the Victorique to my curious Kujo ^.^

There is also a clumsy but kind cop, a school friend who holds regret in her heart, a plant fanatic teacher, a grandma who humbly bakes tasty treats, and a cursed family dog. A nice batch of supporting characters, they are. If Sakurako is the skull and Shoutarou is the sphenoid, then this group makes up the hearty backbone.

dessert

Other than “mystery” being listed as its genre, the other factor that made me dive into Beautiful Bones was the entrancing animation done by TROYCA. They did some work on the characters in ALDNOAH.ZERO, which I am personally a fan of. So to see them tackling a project all on their own made me really excited! I specifically loved the critical designs that went into the house: the emerald wallpaper, the old wood texture, the embroidered carpeting, and of course, those beautiful bones. Sakurako’s initiation sequence into a case (cue glove snapping) was also quite enchanting. Just in general, Sakurako anything was to die for.

There were many elements in the sound department that won me over. One was the voice acting done by Shizuka Itou AKA Sakurako-san. She did a phenomenal job at capturing her snarky yet occasionally sadistic tone I mentioned earlier. I also liked the sound effects that accompanied the little moments: rattling bones in a box, flipping through pages, and that signature glove snap of hers – YES to all! Third was the soundtrack, which unfortunately has so little info about it that all I could find was the song below. I left in the animation sequence version just to get you going! The opening, “Dear Answer” by TRUE also got me in certain ways.

Just watch her go . . . and be amazed by the music! LET IT CAPTURE YOU

One last theme that Beautiful Bones hits up on is regret – “the feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.” Nearly every episode introduces a character holding regret next to guilt. Sakurako, for instance, keeps secrets from the boy regarding a certain tragedy that occurred in the past, which she regrets. Another more obvious case is the teacher, who seeks repentance by _______ ______, in hopes that they would make up for the lives he couldn’t protect. If there’s one thing that this anime taught me, it’s that “Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and if we act in the moment, we can prevent regretting things,” or something to that extent.

Bones are not only the symbol showing that we died, but also that we lived. They solidify and prove our existence. That said, the mysteries that unravel in this series focus more with coping for those that were lost. “How they died” is always the grand question, but Beautiful Bones clings to “Why they died, and what were they thinking before their life was taken?” It is, after all, as its opening statement remarks at the start of each episode:

“A Story Dedicated to Those Trapped by the Past”

Thus, it wasn’t designed to be a hardcore Sherlock mystery series to begin with. All stories have a beginning and an end, life and death, and though this anime might ring or remain flat with you, Beautiful Bones -Sakurako’s Investigation- provides interesting counselling to those indeed trapped by the past, and is more than worth the look if you are still wondering why your grandma wanted you to pick up some ice cream before you came to visit her.

“There are things that have value because they’re pointless, you know.” – Shoutarou Tatewaki

+ Sakurako-san is ojou-san of the YEAR, very peculiar, unique character

+ Capitalized on themes of familial loss, regret, and living life in the moment

+ Very entertaining mystery series

+ CHIC animation, clean look, nice textures, charming character designs

– Yet another light novel adaptation, meaning WE NEED MORE SAKURAKO

– Varied pacing and contrasting slice-of-life with thriller was a bit rough, though still enjoyable

So who else thought that Sakurako-san was BAE AF?? Also, have you given this anime a look yet? If not, check it out on Crunchyroll for FREE if it’s available to you! I am eager to know your thoughts on this mixed-bag mystery anime as well as any thoughts about my review :3 If you’re out and about and stumble across a corpse – Don’t panic! Who you gonna call? Sakurako-san!! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

 

Rokka Ushers in a Fresh and Bloody-Fantastic Fray | Review

A spoiler-free review of the 12-episode summer 2015 anime “Rokka no Yuusha” or “Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers,” produced by Passione, based on the light novel by Yamagata Ishio.

 – View in browser, not app, for best experience –

Whenever you’re out driving, do U-turns scare you? Oh man, they do me in. Usually swift and unannounced, what was the car ahead of me casually cruising along suddenly burns rubber and whirls around to oppose me.

So maybe I’m dramatizing U-turns a bit (also, they’re probably illegal in most areas), but doesn’t that abrupt 180-degree flip potentially ruin a nice drive? Well, if the other driver knows exactly how to pace it, direct it, and drive it on home, then no, not at all.

That’s what Rokka here did, and boy was it a spectacular turn.

setting

This setting is gorgeous.

Long ago when the Demon God plagued the world with darkness, the Goddess of Fate came down and sent the demon back into the shadows – Not before splitting her powers amongst six heroes, though. Now in a present-day yet still fantasy-Aztec land, the Demon God has awoken numerous times, only to be quelled time and again by new rotations of these “Heroes of the Six Flowers.”

legend

adlet.PNG

See? Not lying at all.

The self-proclaimed “strongest man in the world” Adlet has been selected to be one of these six braves. To prevent the Demon God’s next return, the six heroes band together and venture into the dark lands in hopes that they will save the wor–

Woah woah, slow down there. It sounds like a feasible action/adventure anime thus far, but right after episode four, it’s time to slam the breaks – Rokka wants a complete change of pace. What happens to our heroes?

Nothing. All seven meet up at the rendezvous point before plotting their attack. Wait . . . I thought there were just six braves . . .

There are. A magic barrier goes up around the temple, thick fog fills the air, and everyone is trapped in. Someone is an imposter

seven not six

If that’s not a 180-degree flip, then I’m not sure what is (I get chills just reading it). Rokka spends the first third showing off its heroes and their skills as such. It acts like your normal fantasy anime but then decides to try something new. The introduction of mystery to the fantasy/adventure genre is something I’ve never seen before. And through its fresh direction and pre-establishment of the cast, it moves forward without hesitation.

squad goals.PNG

Squad goals.

The sheer amount of suspense that Rokka builds up is absolutely incredible. Its clever hashing-out of your typical fantasy party members makes it a hot game of Dungeons & Dragons runnin’ around on the Clue game board. You wanted adventure? Not anymore. Take this murder mystery instead because it’s cooler. The gimmick works so well because we know these characters – All we have to do is roll the dice and start throwing accusations. You’ll have so much fun watching your options drop out as the game soars to its climax.

temple.PNG

Spooky spooky ~ Who is the Seventh???

As a side note, I was a bit spoiled by the identity of the fake, but even that didn’t faze me. Seeing how all of the clues slid into place and watching the insanity unfold gave me more than my fill of entertainment. The anime still kept me guessing to the very end, regardless of those damn trolls. That goes to show how exciting Rokka is.

hans.PNG

I have to mention the studio behind this anime because their name was completely new to me: Passione. I was 100% impressed by the superb animation quality and fantastical artwork. Due to the unusual yet intricate designs of each hero and their unique repertoire of arms, action scenes were bloody intense and wicked smooth.

fremy

nachetanya

“I am the bone of my –“ Not now? Oh, okay.

For music, we had the reoccurring yet beloved fantasy artist Oshima Michiru (FMA, Sora no Woto) who filled the still, foggy air with an engaging score. Of its many OPs and EDs, my favorite was “Secret Sky” by MICHI for being everything I listen for in this wonderful genre.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf13gKeZOW4

With puzzling motives, characters we’ll all recognize, and shocking plot twists at each episodes’ end, Rokka no Yuusha was without a doubt 2015’s hidden gem. The only reason you don’t remember this title was because you stopped after episode three.  Rokka‘s not without its flaws, however: Some less-major characters could have used more backbone, the opening is admittedly a bit slow, but biggest of all – This is ultimately only a preview into Rokka‘s grand scheme, and as such leaves us with jaws dropped begging for a sequel. I hate this. Don’t worry, we still get an ending that ties all of this up, but for those wanting to know how the legend ends better start supporting the franchise.

You should watch Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers because it’s something new. It takes a wild idea and runs hella far with it, leaving you clinging on for your dear life! Fans of the adventure genre especially won’t be disappointed with Rokka‘s new entry to the fray.

“That’s the first thing my master taught me. To laugh.” – Adlet

+ Despite being abrupt, fantastic new direction taken with strong, clever writing

+ suspense, Suspense, SUSPENSE

+ Studio Passione did an incredible job putting everything together

– ‘Supporting’ heroes could have been given more background, little more depth for all

– Unfavorable localization (Ponycan’s ridiculous prices without an English dub)

– Cliff-hanger ending = WE NEED MORE ROKKA, DAMMIT

poster

Now, I’m still cautions with those U-turners, but Rokka really impressed me guys. It’s a solid “Caffe Mocha” in this little establishment, but again, you should spread the word so we can eventually devour more! You can watch the entire anime on Crunchyroll for FREE if that site is available to you, to which I recommend “full speed ahead.” I only cry because Ponycan USA is releasing this epic without a dub. If you took a liking to my tentatively new and less-wordy format, let me know by hitting that “like” button and commenting below. It helps me immensely! Thank you all for reading and as always, until next time this has been

– Takuto, the Seventh Brave