What My Anime Collection Means To Me | OWLS “Happiness”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s fifth monthly topic of 2019, “Happiness,” I wanted to share with you all something that I rarely talk about, yet is one of the biggest things that defines me as both a fan and a person: my anime collection!

Happiness is subjective. We all have different definitions of what happiness means to us and we also feel happiness in varying degrees. This month we will be exploring several questions describing our happiness in our fandoms, communities, and hobbies. Why do we find enjoyment watching anime or reading manga? Why did we decide to join the anime or pop culture communities? Why do we blog about our hobbies or cosplay as our favorite characters? This topic is all about the passions we have for our interests and why they are important to us.

Oh man, there was so much I wanted to talk about with this prompt! But, I love getting to share any part of my collection with you guys, so I settled on that. Thanks Lyn for going easy on us this month and giving me an excuse to share my stuff!


 

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The Main Shelf

Ah, here we are. Welcome to my room, my little safe haven in this wild world we live in. The main shelf here houses most of my anime and even a few volumes of manga. Littered throughout the display are Nendoroids, Funko Pop figures, and even some fake succulents (cause #aesthetic). Across the top is my Evangelion collection, which became an instant favorite of mine immediately after my first watching and has accumulated over the years.

My room is pretty large, but even then I have a lot of stuff, so for Eva to maintain an entire row to itself goes to show how much it means to me. You’ll find that a show or franchise’s meaning is almost a direct determinant of its shelf space prioritization in my collection. That means Evangelion gets its own shelf, and the same goes for Fate, Danganronpa, Ghost in the Shell, Sailor Moon, so on and so forth. Ain’t that nice?


I’ve squeezed as many bookcases in this tiny space as possible. Being surrounded by books and magazines makes me feel calm. It makes the room seem wrapped in a layer of protection. As if nothing or no one can get to me.

— Angelo Surmelis, The Dangerous Art of Blending In


Each mini shelf is compartmentalized to a certain genre, my favorite shelves being the sci-fi section, the mecha shelf, the anime classics, and my magical girl shelf with Ms. Mami Tomoe there. Between categorization by genre, height, and color, there’s a mutual method to my madness (that probably only I understand, let’s be honest). Each little box contains so many stories, and yet each tell a larger a story all on their own thanks to how I’ve arranged them—according to my thoughts and feelings about each title.

And that’s one of the many wonderful qualities of my collection that makes it just that: a collection all by me, for me. It won’t carry the same weight for someone passing by, and that’s just fine. But to me, these shelves encompass my entire world, as well as chronicle my entire life.

New Shelves, New Room

This is one of those “right time, right place” kinda posts, as I just completed remodeling my entire room this past spring and BOI am I happy with it. Previously, all of my manga and light novels were housed on this old, handmade, plywood box shelf that had three compartments to store my books. Not only was it kinda ugly, but it was rough textured and offered limited storage.

So, four days of work and $150 later, I opted to finally remove the tacky padding from my wall, repaint it all, and build five new shelves of (with my dad’s help). And they’re cut from entirely REAL birch wood this time. Here are the results:

 

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I wanted to share that little story with you all because it is just once instance of me trying to upgrade my collection. My room is in constant flux; I’m always rearranging books, movies, games, art, you name it, just to find the right feng shui. I like to think that every change I’ve made to the shelves and how things are arranged are a step in the right direction—one step closer to the ideal image in my mind. That said, this was quite the leap forward, but I’m really thrilled with the results.

In fact, I loved it so much that I ripped padding off my other wall to do the exact same thing, although on a much smaller scale:

 

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This set of five three-foot boards supports my innermost interests. From Free!‘s impact on my own personal swim career and these other seaside delights to my fandom favorites like Todoroki ANYTHING and the Danganronpa series, this small shelf carries so much weight beyond a few Blu-ray cases and acrylic stands. It’s an expression of love, of dedication, and a way to give back to the series that gave so much to me. 

With these new shelves, I can showcase all my favorite anime, manga, novels, figures, and other merchandise—pieces which, individually, contain stories, but combined together tell one giant story. If you were to walk into my room, I could point to . . .

the DVD that started my journey,

the title that impacted me the most,

the anime that made me want to try new things,

the book that made me fall in love with reading,

the figure that reminds me all about a character’s hardships,

the art that inspires me to improve my own work,

and so many more emotions and memories that words alone can’t properly explain.


Inspiration can come from anywhere. 


Why Do I Collect Anime?

Anime is an expensive hobby. It doesn’t help that I’m also interested in manga, light novels, figures, soundtracks, games, art books, art prints, rubber straps, and more recently, acrylic stands, chirashi posters, and shikishi boards. I’ve sacrificed a great deal of money and physical space toward my collecting hobbies, which has led me to spend even more money in compensating for the collection’s gradually increasing size.

So why do I do it all? Well, of course it makes me happy. I wouldn’t pour this much time and cash into something that made me feel worse than I did before. I’ve always been a collector, whether for Pokemon and Yugioh cards or Bakugan and Beyblades. On that note, perhaps collecting physical anime and related media was inevitable.

But on the other hand, while I love collecting for my own sake, I also like being able to share my library with my family and friends. I can’t even tell you the number of hours my siblings and I have spent chatting with one another as we admired the collection and all the adventures it has brought us.

Also, if you couldn’t tell by the way I’ve stylized my blog, I’m an archivist. I take immense pleasure in experiencing something and then filing that experience away in some sort of physical form. All my school work from years past is neatly organized and archived, and my books and movies are no different.

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While outsiders may see my collection as a costly stack of movies and merch (to which they’re not wrong), I see a wall of memories. It’s a wall that has built up slowly over seven years, starting with my S.A.V.E. DVD of Funimation’s Negima!? and accumulating until now where my $75 Hajime Hinata figure from Danganronpa dominates my shelf. But even then, it’s all still there: most if not all of the series I have enjoyed have been archived in this wall, and the memories have only continued to amass.

No matter how I try to look away, my eyes always wander to the collection—to this gigantic three-dimensional photo album which comprises sights and sounds, textures and thoughts, musings and memories. Wherever I gaze, I am transported into another time, another place where another me was living and experiencing yet another story. This mental time travel serves as a constant reminder as to where I’ve gone, how far I’ve come, and even where I’m headed next. It is simultaneously the past, the present, and the future.

Reorganizing my collection’s display is a passionate, artistic, therapeutic, and fulfilling endeavor. The many parts and pieces of my anime collection are symbolic of who I am as a person. But beyond owning these items or possessing all this stuff, merely knowing that this collection of thingsthis wall of memories—has shaped who I am today and where I may go tomorrow is a thought that brings me true and unfettered happiness.


A bookshelf is a reflection of its owner’s personality.


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Afterword

A seemingly simple prompt at first, this post somehow managed to pull everything out of me! Reflecting at what collecting means to me and physically writing it down has made me really appreciate the availability of these kinds of goods to us fans. I mean, we can get a hold of nearly everything and everything, and all because there are people who are willing to create, and more people who strive to bring those creations to us. Even if you can’t get a hold of that $200 dream figure or $300 Blu-ray import, we really are fortunate to live in the times that we do.

Do you collect anime, manga or content from other related mediums? If so, why do you collect what you do, and what started you on your collecting journey? I love talking about hobbies (if you couldn’t tell), so feel free to ramble down in the comments—I won’t judge! Also, if I made an Insta, would you be interested in seeing more close-ups of my collection through that?

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This concludes my May 21st entry in the OWLS “Happiness” blog tour. Flow (Den of Nyanpasu) went right before me with a post about the joys of anime sequel announcements and how much gaming means to them, which you can read right here! Now, look out for the lovely Irina (I Drink and Watch Anime) with, get this, a post about NATSUME (plz never stop writing about this show) this Wednesday, May 22nd! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Princess Jellyfish: Confidence, Community, & the Beauty Below the Surface | OWLS “Pride”

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 sixth monthly topic for 2018, “Pride,” I wanted to dive deep into the ocean where the jellyfish roam (and the otaku swim)! I suppose most jellies don’t actually swim that deep, as they prefer to ride the ocean’s current . . . Nevertheless, Princess Jellyfish is here to proudly de-Clara that, ultimately, we are all the same below the surface.

In honor of “Pride Month,” we will be discussing the word “Pride” and its meaning. We will be exploring pop culture characters’ most satisfying and joyful achievements or skills that they possessed, and whether or not these qualities could be seen as a positive or negative aspect in their personal lives and/or society.

Just like Haikyuu!!, this is one of those OWLS staples that every member must eventually talk about (haha, not really, but really). While I admit others in our group have explored the series more thoroughly than I will now, I do hope you enjoy what I have to say about this wonderful little title. Thanks Lyn for the month-befitting prompt!

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A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 11-episode fall 2010 anime “Princess Jellyfish,” animated by Brain’s Base, directed by Takahiro Omori, and based on Akiko Higashimura’s manga of the same name. 

All Dried-Up and Taking On Tokyo!

It took all but a single trip to the aquarium to get young Tsukimi Kurashita hooked on jellyfish. Well, Tsukimi’s fateful encounter was made more special by her late mother taking her there, but it’s impossible to ignore the adorable comparison Tsukimi makes between the glowing, flowing tentacles and the fluffy ruffles of a princess’s dress. Alone with only the memories of her mother in her heart, Tsukimi set out for Tokyo for a change. But oh, how life hits ya hard! Currently residing in the dilapidated Amamizukan apartment with five other unemployed otaku women, 19-year-old Tsukimi spends this new phase of her life as a social outcast still dreaming of becoming an illustrator.

However, her quiet life is met with sudden intrigue when a glamorous woman, one of the so-called “stylish” by Amamizukan’s “Sisterhood,” unexpectedly helps Tsukimi save a jellyfish from the careless treatment of a local pet store. After helping bring Clara (the jellyfish) back to the apartment, “the stranger—confident, fashionable, and the complete opposite of Tsukimi and her roommates—begins to regularly visit the girls’ building. This trendy hipster, though appearing shallow at first, harbors some secrets of her own, starting with the fact that “she” isn’t really a girl at all, but a wealthy male college student—and son of a major politician—named Kuranosuke Koibuchi!”

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I leaned on MAL for help with this summary a little more than I would have liked to, but I didn’t want to leave out a single detail of Tsukimi’s crazy situation. Seriously, there is NO end to the number of comedic outcomes to be found in this series! Visually and audibly, intentionally and unintentionally, the humor is excellent and always on point. Beyond the laughs, however, is also a story full of important life lessons. From coming out of one’s shell to coping with new life changes and finding strength and confidence in oneself, Princess Jellyfish never downplays the importance of pride.

Pulled from the depths of the sea that is her shut-in lifestyle, Tsukimi learns to build up her own self-esteem thanks to Kuranosuke’s stylish ways. Conversely, although he forces the Amamizukan ladies to reintegrate themselves back into society by trying new things, Kuranosuke unknowingly finds refuge for his frowned-upon love of cross-dressing in the Sisterhood’s combined passion for their own obscure hobbies.

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Doomed From the Start: The Sisterhood

Tsukimi is just one of five eccentric NEETs barely making it by on petty allowances from the apartment manager’s mother and the income of a mysterious sixth member’s popular BL manga. (Yikes.) Dubbed “the Sisterhood” for their extreme sense of purity (and complete lack of fashion sense), the ladies of Amamizukan neither excel at socializing with normal people nor supporting themselves.

Even so, I love all of them. Tsukimi’s infatuation with jellies of all kind, Banba’s enthusiasm for trains and subways, Mayaya’s fanaticism with anything “Three Kingdoms” and late Han period, Jiji’s silent lust for . . . older men(?) . . . Chieko’s obsession with traditional Japan (kimonos and dolls included)—the whole lot of them! They’ve all got such quirky yet memorable character designs, mannerisms, and speech patterns. Tsukimi’s rapid-fire jellyfish knowledge is fearsome; Chieko’s sewing skills are not-of-this-world; and Mayaya’s constantly-flailing arms and loud, seemingly illiterate shouting always proclaim a duel of sorts. Amamizukan’s ladies are heartwarming, almost overwhelmingly joyful at times, and watching them all casually grow to accept “Kurako’s” shimmering presence—from literally stoned to smiling—has got to be one of the biggest batches of character development I’ve ever seen.

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Sorry Mom, I Couldn’t Become a Princess . . .  

While Tsukimi has physically moved on to a new city where she’s made new friends, mentally, she’s still the same child yearning for mommy. This heartache results in frequent bouts of depression, which Tsukimi describes as “wanting nothing than to dive underwater and sway with the jellies.” At one of her lowest lows, she even wishes she’d be reincarnated as a jellyfish instead of a human just so that she wouldn’t have to deal with such cruel, troublesome emotions. Talk about drastic!

I’m really glad the series doesn’t suddenly drop this heavy mental weight when Kuranosuke gives her (or any of the Sisterhood) a makeover. The lesson isn’t that you’re prettier when you take off the glasses and thrown on some make-up—it’s that sometimes, you need to see yourself in a different way in order to appreciate who you’ve been this whole time. Tsukimi is still a social mess; Kuranosuke is helping in the only way he knows how: he loves fashion, and by spreading his passion with the others, he hopes that the the gals can feel happier with themselves just as how he does. Beauty is not something you simply put on: it’s an emotion you feel when you’re at your best. 

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. . . But I Made Friends With a Queen!?

This wouldn’t be a Princess Jellyfish post if I didn’t rave about our dazzling lead Kura-poo~! Ok, so I’m not Kuranosuke’s hip uncle (and friggin’ PRIME MINISTER) with an approval rating less than 10% and steadily declining, but hear me out: Kuranosuke IS a freakin’ QUEEN, an absolute diva whose own obsession with fashion ironically leaves him lonely. He’s got a mother who left his father, a father that doesn’t necessarily adore him, and a brother, Shuu, that he seems to get along with fine enough. Other than the girls who are just chasing after his looks and dad’s checkbook, however, that’s all Kuranosuke’s got for a support system. To compensate, he seeks pretty things as a memento for his missing mother who dominated the stage fabulously so many years ago, just like Tsukimi does with jellyfish. It’s a sad parallel, really.

That’s when his encounter with Tsukimi and the Sisterhood changes his life in return. Through pushing them to grow together, Kuranosuke finally finds a place to call home (and a squad to call family). Full of pride and not much else, he instills the ladies with the courage to stand on their own two feet against a city plan to demolish their beloved Amamizukan. Without any sense of pride, the Sisterhood wouldn’t stand a chance.

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Declaring their beauteous garb “battle armor,” Kuranosuke is able to shake things and bring change to a group that lives for the status quo. Every stick of lip gloss, bright-colored wig, and chic miniskirt is but a tool to help him reconnect with the past, as well as fill him (and his newfound friends) with undefinable confidence in the present. He treats the Sisterhood and their wacky hobbies with just as much appreciation and respect, as he knows that fashion means the same things to him. Kuranosuke is a rare character, a pillar of positivity—no, an absolute icon to a series that would lose all its main morals without. There’s never a dull moment with Kuranosuke around, and you’re always left wondering if he can get any better.

To which, of course, he always does.

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Precious Pastels, Lovable English Cast

Brain’s Base has crafted the perfect atmosphere that is fluffy and cute, yet realistic at the same time. The wild and hilarious character expressions shine wonderfully against the softer watercolor landscapes and cluttered Amamizukan space. And wow, the fashion transformations for Kuranosuke and the ladies are gorgeous spectacles to behold! The show’s also got a wonderful soundtrack complete with a nice OP and ED which are both, to describe in a single word, charming.

I have to—I must absolutely, without doubt, mention Funimation’s English dub before this post is over. I’ve finally found my favorite Josh Grelle performance with Kuranosuke here, and the same goes for Maxey Whitehead’s Tsukimi! His higher register for Kuranosuke’s aristocratic cross-dress mode didn’t feel fake at all, but rather powerful, graceful, ritzy, lush and, well, stylish. Monica Rial captures Mayaya’s ridiculousness and energy, and while Cynthia Cranz had never really stuck out to me before, her role here as Amamizukan’s manager, Chieko, was so full of care and motherly vibes.

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Passion & Inspiration, Acceptance & Pride

Princess Jellyfish covers a wide emotional range where several human values converge. Learning to accept yourself and love yourself is half the battle; the other half involves knowing that you are still able to change and be accepted by others. After all, you only become that confident, beautiful person once you accept yourself and feel comfortable with those around you. To quote Simply Gee, a YouTuber friend and fan of the series, “If you have a passion, if you love something, you’re a step ahead of everyone else—and you should embrace that, and not have to worry about everyone else’s perception of you.” Beautifully said, Gee!

At its very end, the story of Princess Jellyfish embodies something so pure, hopeful, and passionate that it becomes impossible to not enjoy. You grow to love the characters for who they truly are, even if we don’t get the rest of the tale. It’s an anime about community that means a lot to a good many people, as it provides comfort (and entertainment) for those leading lives similar to its cast. For its realistic premise and general themes of life and love, passion and inspiration, and acceptance and pride, Princess Jellyfish is one of the greatest Josei comedies out there.

Bold, brilliant, and tons of fun, Princess Jellyfish tells us that above all else, so long as you take pride in yourself and the things you love, all people—including us adults—still have plenty of room for growth and change. Just as how many parts of the ocean remain untouched, we all have vast seas of our own with exciting depths yet to be explored. These mystical waters, of course, are called our personality.

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Every girl is born a princess. Some just forget is all. — Kuranosuke Koibuchi


Afterword

I think I’ve said all that I’ve wanted to on this one . . . that is, until I start reading the manga! That’s right, seeing as how the anime just kinda “ends” (it’s still a pleasant stopping point, though), I want to know what happens to Tsukimi and the others. The future of Amamizukan? What of Kuranosuke’s unrequited feelings? And brother Shuu’s side plot relationship with that business woman Inari?? I just have to know, and the manga will give me those answers! I now totally understand why it’s a crying shame this anime hasn’t gotten a second season!

Despite no continuation, I recommend this “Caffe Mocha” series with every fiber of my being to all those struggling with sharing their passion for a hobby. For a coming-of-age tale, the development and growth of its cast is depicted with great realism, and I think that’s what makes it so relatable. The comedy is genuinely funny too, and the characters are utterly inspirational!

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This concludes my June 26th entry in the OWLS “Pride” blog tour. OWLS fam, you’ll have to let me know how I did with this one! Gigi (Animepalooza) went right before me with a video that you should totally check out! Now, look out for Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) with an epic post on the grand space opera Legend of the Galactic Heroes tomorrow, June 27th! Thanks for reading such a long post, and until next time, this has been

– 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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Yuri!!! On ICE Goes the Distance for Life & Love | OWLS “Flight”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s second monthly topic, “Flight,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Yuri!!! On ICE review into this pep talk about ambition. Something different to mix things up, right?

An individual takes flight when there is a goal, a dream, or an ambition that he or she wants to achieve. For this blog post, however, we are going to look at “flight” through different lenses: the underdog’s dream, the possibilities that Yuri!!! On ICE allows viewers to think about, and also the dangers of greed and ignorance that can influence one’s dream.

Since last month’s interpretation of mine was a bit gloomy, I’ll be honing in on the wondrous joys of living in each moment–leaving it all out on the rink–and the ephemeral effects of social media.

I LOVE YURI!!! ON ICE so this’ll be fun! Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion of the 12-episode fall 2016 anime “Yuri!!! On ICE,” produced by MAPPA, directed by Sayo Yamamoto, based on the original story by Mitsurou Kubo. 

Unexpected Loss, Unexpected Arrival

At age 23, country legend Yuuri Katsuki nearly lost it all when he returned to his family-owned Japanese hot springs without the gold. In fact, he didn’t even medal, taking last in the men’s ice-skating Grand Prix Final. Even though his face still beams youthfully, Yuuri’s not as agile as he used to be–and he knows it. Just as Yuuri contemplates moving on from skating, however, a video of him performing five-time world champion Viktor Nikiforov’s previous routine during practice instantly goes viral.

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Scrambling to keep his life from further collapse, Yuuri finds himself in utter shock when Viktor, bearing himself in glistening full-frontal nude, unexpectedly shows up at his hometown’s Hasetsu hot springs. He jovially offers to mentor Yuuri and, being the BIGGEST Viktor Nikiforov fan ever to exist, Yuuri immediately accepts. His rekindled encouragement may blaze hotter than ever before, but Katsuki isn’t simply fighting against his past self! Everyone wants a piece of Viktor, including the competitive and fierce rising star of Russia, Yuri Plisetsky, and it quickly comes to both of their minds–and hearts–that there can only be one Yuri (!!!) on the ice.

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So how do our guys “take flight” in the show? We’ll look at 3 ways that all relate to the anime’s ending theme, “You Only Live Once”!

1. Leaving the Comfort Zone

From their first day of practice together, Viktor splits Yuuri and Yurio apart, assesses their basic personalities, and assigns them opposing labels and routines completely and clearly different from themselves. This was all in the hopes of giving the two what they lack or fail to understand. Born from this exercise were the two spiritual entities on love, Eros and Agape, which I covered previously post that, ironically, received lots of love from you guys–thank you very much! Anyway, life and love come as a pair of L’s that Viktor himself has neglected. By understanding love, you can live a fuller life, and vice versa. To achieve their goals of competing in the GPF, Viktor rips the boys out of their comfort zone so that they, too, could fully comprehend the bizarre nature of love and its many beautiful forms.

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2. Going the Distance

(In a post coming up soon I’ll be elaborating on my life-changing experience with sports, so for now you’ll get the truncated version.) Simply put, competitions like the GPF allow hardworking spirits from around the globe to come and put on a show for the world. They connect us. These boys all have their own origins: towns or cities that vary in atmosphere depending on the season; varying experience with languages and culture; the definition of a home-cooked meal.They are athletes, they are performers. And when they board that plane for the long flight ahead with determination to be the best in the world, they are ready  to put it all out there on the rink, no holds barred, no regrets. These boys want to do the best not only for themselves, their coaches, families, or nation, but for each competitor, too. THAT is the spirit of sportsmanship in competition: to do the best you can and make memories–make history–doing it with others!

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And then that’s it. They’ll part ways, maybe take a couple pics together, and then decorations come down. But the memories never fade.

3. You Only Live Once

Tuning in to w.hatano’s “You Only Live Once” at the end of each episode treated us to an upbeat, happy-go-lucky firework show, not to mention a series of behind-the-lives-of-the-cast photos styled like an Instagram feed. The strong use of social media in this anime emphasizes a transient feeling, the romantic notion of fleeting emotions–of living in each moment–and living full and true to oneself. All of these characters are separated by their languages, styles, cultures, races, expressions, and location, but what binds them is love, love for one’s nation and the glorious joys that ice-skating brings.

The art they create doesn’t let them merely glide on the ice, but soar on the wings of life and love. Yuuri and the guys are just a bunch of kids from different countries coming together to make an ephemeral moment together. That’s why those last few episodes of touring Barcelona mean so much to the show as a whole and to us as viewers. They show us the boys out of their environment, or what they’d be like if we met them on the streets, and passing them by would be just that–evanescent.

So go out there and work hard, perform brilliantly, act courteously, be silly, laugh loudly, sing merrily, dance gracefully, pose triumphantly, speak clearly, learn intensely, ponder cleverly, play gently, dream wildly, write creatively, think positively, love passionately . . . and while you’re out there taking lots and lots and LOTS of pictures, never forget this: You only get one life. Live truthfully. 

It’s the only way those wings on your back will let you fly majestically. 

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There’s a place you just can’t reach unless you have a dream too large to bear alone. We call everything on the ice “love.” – Yuuri Katsuki


It’s no surprise that Yuri!!! On ICE has had a profound effect on my life recently, so regardless of its few shortcomings, flaws, or inconsistencies, the cafe will warmly welcome this anime as a “Caffè Mocha,” a proud rating for those shows that have touched my heart and are regarded as a must-watch from me. Watching YOI air throughout the cold, bitter wintry weather gave us all hope and anticipation for whatever excitement the next Wednesday would bring, and I’m seriously glad I joined Twitter when I did, otherwise I’d be missing out on the bountiful quantities of fan art, haha!

I strongly recommend watching Yuri!!! On ICE via Crunchyroll since you can boot up all 12 episodes for FREE! And OH MY GOODNESS, I didn’t even get to talk about the incredible soundtrack that accompanied each of our star performers! Not to mention studio MAPPA’s captivating and elegant animation–it’s on it’s own level in terms of representing sports physics in anime!! And then Dean Fujioka’s instant hit opening “History Maker,” oh how INSPIRING this entire ensemble is!!! I consider myself lucky each day that we honestly got a show like this one. It truly went out of its way to bring us something wonderfully unique and powerful. Emotionally touching, entertaining, comedic, inciteful, inspirational, full of good vibes all around . . . wow, it just means so much to me, and I could probably go on and on forever~!

This concludes my February 27th entry in the OWLS “Flight” blog tour. Please check out Hazelyn’s (Archi-Anime) post discussing how Viktor may have risked it all with his leap of faith! Next after me is . . . wait, did I just end our second blog tour? I DID, and what a pleasure it has been! Thank you so much for reading, and stay tuned for Arria of Fujinsei to wrap up this lovely month. Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Smiling Yuuri with long hair is everything. Go the distance to make yourself and others as happy as this kid!