Run with the Wind: Wholesome, Heartfelt, & Inspiring Every Step of the Race | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 23-episode fall 2018 anime “Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru (Kazetsuyo)” or “Run with the Wind,” animated by Production I.G, directed by Kazuya Nomura, and based on the novel of the same name by Shion Miura. 

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“Hey, Do You Like Running?”

Kakeru Kurahara has hit a low point in his life. Once a former elite runner at high school, the young college freshman finds himself alone, lost, and starving. While being chased for stealing food one night, he runs by Kansei University student Haiji Kiyose. Haiji  saves Kakeru and persuades him to live in the old dilapidated “Chikuseisou,” or more fondly “Aotake,” apartment building.

Unbeknownst to the other Aotake residents, Haiji’s spent the last four years of his college career carefully crafting and assembling the “perfect” team so that they can all enter the Hakone Ekiden Marathon, one of the most prominent and prestigious university races in the nation. Kakeru just so happens to be his number ten. Now realizing that they were all deceived, the guys are understandably left speechless with confusion and rage. But even more shocking is when Kakeru quickly finds out that aside from Haiji and himself, all of his new roommates are complete novices.

An air of reluctance hangs over Aotake for a while, but eventually everybody comes around (some definitely more optimistic than others). Slowly but surely, this oddball mash-up of personalities matures into a humble and inspirational group worthy of the name “Kansei University Track Team.” They train hard and work tirelessly to reconfigure their individual lifestyles, and as the fated day of the Hakone Ekiden draws nearer, the boys hope to answer the question lying at the bottom of each of their hearts: What does running mean to me?

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As one can imagine, getting the entire crew on board with Haiji’s wish isn’t as simple as just “learning how to run.” These guys have their own troubles to worry about, be it job hunting, maintaining a social life, or figuring out what to do after college. But oh man, the dude doesn’t back down! (Haiji’s a terrible person, yet it’s actually hilarious and kinda charming??) I had so much fun looking forward to each week’s episode and seeing what new evil thing Haiji would cook up to torture the guys.

But through their communal living experience and Haiji’s agenda—which includes torturous practices, rigorous diet reconstructing, bath house relaxation, and endless hours of running—the lives of ten young men slowly intertwine as they bond together.

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Realism, Recourse, and Reinvention

As a sports anime, Run with the Wind breaks away from the pack by building a story around a group of guys who, for the most part, have no interest in the titular sport. Some even detest running, and the tensions formed through these clashing viewpoints and personalities result in quite the compelling drama. Add in individual character motives grounded in realism and you’ve got the perfect formula for a story with even more motivational pathos than your average Joe sports anime (and one that’s five times better, might I add).

At first, each of Kazetsuyo boys takes running at their own pace, the fast ones (namely Kakeru) leaving the slackers (like Prince) in the dust. While the more resilient guys use the sport as a means to confront personal troubles, others take running as a chance for reinvention—an opportunity to better one’s physical and psychological health. One guy, Nico-chan, takes a complete 360 and decides to both quit smoking and lose weight! Another guy, Prince, surrenders to running not because he likes it, but because he’d detest himself even more if he didn’t get out and try it. That’s some powerful writing, and I’m barely scraping the top of the iceberg here.

Anime has gotten a mixed rep for how it handles issues like weight loss and self-worth. In most sports anime, our cast is already pretty fit and motivated; perhaps the leads are just searching for how to take down their foes and rivals and rise to the top. But for every single one of the Kazetsuyo boys, they themselves are their own enemy. We have characters screaming how much they HATE running, not love it. How much they HATE themselves for the way they are, not celebrating the things they are good at.

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And that’s why these ten men need each other—to acknowledge and accept one another’s flaws and say “Hey, let’s work on improving that together.” Kazetsuyo is FULL of these kinds of raw emotional moments, and you can bet these were the ones that made me tear up most while watching. I don’t think the anime community has realized how truly important it is to have a show like Run with the Wind representing the sports genre.


I’m not sure if these people are my friends or not, but at the very least, they recognize me, my ideas, and my worth. Among them, there is no high or low level. The only thing that matters is who we are! — Kashiwazaki Akane AKA Prince


Celebrate the victories, but never forget the losses. As I’m sure anyone else who watched the series figured out, Run with the Wind was never about winning. Rather, it was about finding purpose in the things you do, and moving forward only when you’re 100% ready. It’s a story about us, the norm, not the exception.

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My NEW Favorite Production I.G Sports Anime

Production I.G has this thing with their sports anime where they like to reuse some of the same exact scenes ad nauseam for emotional impact and thematic consistency (love ’em both, but see Haikyuu!! and Welcome to the Ballroom). For Run with the Wind, it was the first episode’s “Do you like running?” bike scene, and thankfully they stopped shoving it in our faces around the second half to replace it with symbolic animation of Haiji chasing a glowing Kakeru.

Not only was I glad they made this switch, but it established a powerful positioning of characters and a nice check for how they evolve over the series. In their minds, Kakeru and Haiji were constantly chasing after one another, and the spatial light show really shines as an iconic duality unique only to this series.

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Speaking of beautiful directing, Run with the Wind features stunning landscape shots, whether a chill rainy morning in the park, the blazing sunset against the Hakone mountains, or a quiet night in the city under a blanket of stars. Particularly, the emphasis on changing seasons creates such a mood fit for the show. The scenic framing leaves you stunned speechless, and as our all-star team stands side-by-side gazing out at the countryside view, you’re left not with words, but with feelings. Inspiration. Passion. A breath of fresh air. Nature. Life. Taking it all in, and letting it all out.

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The track races are also animated with intense energy and vigorous movement. Production I.G pours a lot of time crafting its breathtaking still-frames, but you can tell the animation budget was reserved for the Ekiden race itself, which encompasses the entire finale, a mammoth five episodes of constant motion.

Subtle shifts in character postures and habits (like Prince’s god-awful running form, Nico-chan’s thinner body, and the way Kakeru slowly moves closer to his teammates during practice and starts to crack a confident smile here and there) also lend themselves as a great source of characterization, to which I.G delivers without fail. Best of all, the animation syncs astonishingly well with the real force driving this show: the beat of Yuki Hayashi’s soundtrack.

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Chill Vibes, Heart-Pounding Winds

I’m honestly not sure what more I can say about Yuki Hayashi at this point. You’d all probably know that he’s my favorite composer for anime. The entire soundtrack Hayashi has put together for Kazetsuyo is by far one of his most emotionally resonant ones. His slow piano tracks transcend into harmonious ballads once you add in the glorious vocals and his signature soaring string melodies. It’s lengthy and intense build-up, but oh-so satisfying pay-off each and every time, much like the story itself.

For more subtle moments, Hayashi sticks to playful jazz-like guitar plucking and simple percussion for accompaniment. I have a playlist on my iPhone labeled “Vibes” (no joke), and literally half the OST is on it to inspire me when I need it.

Above all, the main theme of the series is by far the most positively-charged anthem I’ve ever heard in an anime—and it kicks in RIGHT when it needs to every single time. Even now, just listening to that piece brings happy tears to my eyes as I remember the spirited efforts of this underdog team, the trials and tribulations they had to overcome to get as far as they did. Through his ascending melodic lines, Hayashi is able to paint the picture of a runner on a dewy, drizzly spring morning, the sun just barely peaking through the city skyscrapers . . . Clearly, he was meant to write the music for this series, and I know only he could’ve made each uplifting moment so raw and powerful.

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And if you didn’t think it could get any better, Run with the Wind was BLESSED with four equally exciting and motivational OP and ED themes! Fan-favorite UNISON SQUARE GARDEN starts us off on a high note, while Q-MHz feat. Mitsuhiro Hidaka (aka SKY-HI) follows it with a pumped-up OP worthy of the show’s second half.

The real gems here, however, are Taichi Mukai’s ED themes. “Reset,” the first (and my fave of them all) focuses on Haiji and really suits the tranquility of a misty morning run. And whereas the first is all about the individual spirit, “Michi,” the second, ties the entire series together with feelings of celebration, family, and at last, freedom.

(Special shoutout to Toshiyuki Toyonaga who makes Haiji’s lines flow out so naturally. It was dialogue unlike anything I’ve ever heard from observing a Japanese dub, and Toyonaga is just, AGH, so perfect!)

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Against the Flow

Run with the Wind could have been a very simple anime. It could have just been a fun comedy shounen series with sports as the subject and winning as the goal. But it didn’t do that—it became something so, so much more. Drama anime usually revolve around unique circumstances, over-the-top twists, and a focus on “How shocking” as opposed to “How painfully relatable.” And yet here we are with a sports drama series that excels at everything it sets out to do and then some with delicacy and honesty. Every single leg of this well-written, 23-episode-long circuit remains simultaneously down-to-earth and extraordinarily heartfelt.

This anime is so much more than a simple sports comedy series. It’s the greatest feel-good story I have become this fond of in quite some time, and rooting for these goofy guys for over half a year was easily one of the greatest pastimes I could ask for. I fell completely in love with the cast and the music, plus it’s incredibly well-written and well-paced. For comparison, while I fell head-over-heels for the Haikyuu!! cast, I felt for the Kazetsuyo characters.

Every step of this journey felt sincere and wholesome, and I absolutely enjoyed laughing with the Aotake guys just as much as I did crying with them. Whether you’re a fan of sports anime or not, a genuinely passionate and realistic series like Run with the Wind isn’t the kind that comes often—so don’t miss it. Otherwise, you’ll be sleeping on what is perhaps one of the best anime to come out in years.

In Kazetsuyo, complex feelings and conflicting agendas clash both on the track and off it. We learn that not everyone will want to support your endeavors in life—some individuals would dare to directly oppose you, in fact. But sometimes, in the long-winded process of finding ourselves, we have to go against the flow to truly run freely with the wind. Just like the Kansei Track Team, we have to be willing to shout “We are here. We are running. And we are aiming for the top no matter what you do or say about it!”

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The mountains of Hakone are . . . the steepest in the world! — Haiji Kiyose (The Kansei Track Team Motto)


Afterword

For one of the most painfully realistic yet wholesome anime I’ve ever seen, Run with the Wind is without a doubt worthy of the house “Caffe Mocha” title. Winning a solid 10/10 from me (as well as my heart), I’m happy and proud to honor Run with the Wind as one of my favorite anime of all time. Every chord it struck resonated with me so hard, and the ending is just made me melt with happiness.

That said, I don’t believe the series is perfect; I mean, anything could use some sort of improvement. But the point I wanted to make with this post was that none of the faults bothered me enough to seriously stick out. Heck, I would’ve loved to learn more about the other guys besides Haiji and Kakeru (like Yuki, or Musa), but I simply can’t complain with what we got. Watching Kakeru grow from an angsty, easily set-off teenage firecracker into a helpful and considerate team player was really something special.

Man, I enjoyed this emotionally-charged journey so much! I’m really going to miss these idiots. I’ll miss Aotake. So much character, so much heart.

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Whew, this review has turned into me gushing over Kazetsuyo for 2,000+ words, but I guess it can’t be helped, hahaha! What did you think of Run with the Wind? Did it grab at your heartstrings as much as it did me, or did you find other areas of the series to be critical of? I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts, so please, share to your hearts content! That’ll be it for me, but before I leave, tell me . . .

“The mountains of Hakone are?”

– Takuto

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Gargantia: A Mecha Which Lulls Like the Waves | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode spring 2013 anime “Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet,” animated by Production I.G, directed by Kazuya Murata, and based on the original story by Gen Urobuchi. This will also include special OVA episodes 14 and 15, as well as the two “Far Beyond the Voyage” OVAs. 

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Awakening on Gargantia, the Island of Ships

Far into the future, most of mankind has fled Earth to expand into space, and the Galactic Alliance of Humanity is founded to guide exploration and ensure the prosperity of the human race. Humans soon discover a threat lurking in the dark seas of space, however; strange squid-like creatures called the Hideauze begin terrorizing human existence, resulting in a longstanding interstellar war to prevent humanity’s extinction.

Ensign Ledo of the Galactic Alliance, age 16, leaps into battle against the enemy as per his calling. Armed with Chamber, an autonomous robot intelligence system which resides inside his mech, the Hideauze shouldn’t have stood a chance against Ledo. Unfortunately, Ledo is separated from the Alliance and, in a horrific twist of fate, is flung into the far-off reaches of space, eventually to crash land on a planet submerged in water.

On these endless blue-green waters, Gargantia—a large fleet of scavenger ships comprising a sprawling metropolis in itself—salvages Chamber from the depths of the ocean thinking that the mech must hold something of value. Unknown to the crew, Ledo sneaks aboard the ship and captures a young messenger girl named Amy as hostage, but Ledo quickly comes to find that the people of Gargantia aren’t as dangerous as he initially surmised.

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Faced with uncertainty and separated from his comrades in the Alliance, Ledo struggles to seek newfound purpose on the blue planet. As some the loftier citizens of Gargantia eventually warm up to the space man, Ledo slowly realizes that there is more to a soldier’s life than missions and assignments. But just as he becomes acclimated to this foreign lifestyle, what lurks deep within these cerulean seas starts to bring to question the foundation of this oceanic world.

The coolest thing Gargantia has going for it is easily the titular ship fleet itself. In shows or games that are set near the water, I’ve always found village life to be quite appealing. Gargantia is no exception. If anything, had I watched this anime back in 2013 when it aired, I probably would have loved it a lot more than I currently do. Unfortunately, I am older now, and a collection of ships bound together by giant metal cranes and locks doesn’t excite me as much as it would have the old me. Still, a part of me feels like I was always meant for the seafaring life, to which Gargantia invites me to explore.

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Chilling at its Own Pace

The first six episodes are spent crafting this culture-heavy fleet and its peoples through a slice-of-life narrative. We are given a tour of the fleet through a few side stories. Although they help to explain what they do, how they operate, and how each person—no matter the age or occupation—plays a critical role in Gargantia’s survival, some of these stories are admittedly boring and predictable. For a sci-fi action adventure series, Gargantia chills at its own pace, merely riding the waves until the exciting finale. But I kind of like that about it.

Meanwhile, the second half delivers the climax of the story, along with several intriguing plot twists which help facilitate interest after a relaxing but lukewarm first half. None of the big reveals feel cheap; in fact, it’s just the kind of thing I’d expect from Urobuchi’s phenomenal writing, even if the thriller vibes are occasionally lulled by the slow-moving nature of the story. Urobuchi always delivers incredible stories about the darker sides of humanity, and while Gargantia is lighter than most, that’s not to say it won’t leave you gasping “No freakin’ way” a few times.

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The People of Gargantia 

I’m quite divided when it comes to the cast. As a protagonist, Ledo is great. His gradual development from cold galactic soldier to helping friend is nicely done, and Alan Lee captured the vocalic change from curt, rigid pronunciations to fluent, passionate statements believably well in the English dub. Our resident “hot guy’s” struggle would have been futile without Chamber, however; unlike what you’d expect from a pilot assist AI, Chamber isn’t afraid to sass Ledo around when he needs the encouragement, and Matthew Mercer was a perfect fit for this rather intelligent and resourceful “tin can.”

But I can’t give the same praise to the rest of the people of Gargantia. While Amy the messenger girl (voiced by the ever-cheery Cassandra Lee Morris) is the supposed main heroine, she merely functions as a tool to unlocking Ledo’s inner humane side. The well-endowed pilot Bellows lives and breathes the salvaging life, but her character just as well acts as a guide for the main cast.

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In the same regard, pirate queen Lukkage is a fun Team Rocket Jessie-like character to have around, but her little screentime isn’t enough to fully appreciate her extreme levels of bad-ass. (You’ll definitely want to watch the OVAs to see the Queen in action!) For other antagonistic presences, having the devilishly suave Karen Strassman as Striker is an absolute joy. But oh man, let’s not talk about Pinion, the human epitome of DICKHEAD. Seriously, the guy has no respect for anything!

It’d be a shame not to mention the fleet commander’s daughter, Ridget, as one of Gargantia‘s best and brightest. She works SO hard to live up to the immense role thrust upon her, and I just really enjoyed watching her backstory unfold throughout the series’ run. Strong-willed, passionate, and always looking out for the greater good of Gargantia, Ridget—above everyone else in the cast, arguably including Ledo—shines as the fleet’s most-developed character.

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On Endless Green Waters

From an art and animation standpoint, Production I.G beautifully encapsulates “island life” on Gargantia through its towering structure of rusty, paint-chipped housing and overwhelming marketplace vibes. It’s just such a charming set piece, really. And although it may be marketed as a mecha anime, Gargantia is pretty laid-back, allowing Chamber to strut his usefulness in performing ship tasks in the first half and finally showing off his explosive capabilities in the last couple episodes. Also, at the very least, we should acknowledge the Yunboro as the most practical-looking mech out there, even if not the prettiest. (Chamber looks fantastic though, love his rounded shape.) As a whole, the art is rich, vibrant, and colorful, and the animation is consistently top-notch, particularly so with those endless green seas.

Taro Iwashiro provides a great soundtrack befitting of the “adventure” label, as he’s able to effectively balance island life with Ledo’s soldier strife. Also noteworthy in the sound department is how ADR director Tony Oliver and the crew at Bang Zoom! established the differing language portrayals. Ledo and Amy are separated by hundreds of light years, after all, so it only makes sense that their languages would different. I’m not sure how it was done in the original Japanese, but made-up languages are always fun to listen to in English, and Gargantia is written such that this constant dialogue swapping isn’t distracting in the least.

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Seas of Possibility, Skies of Freedom

Contrary to the high intensity repertoire the mecha genre is known to cater, Gargantia takes the back seat and explores the isolation and ostracism of a mech pilot on foreign soil—or a fish out of water, if you will. It’s a story about finding purpose after a big change in one’s life, and how to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances. Most of all, however, Gargantia is about family and belonging, and what it means to be human in a world where the very definition of the word has been obscured by a dark past.

Between the gorgeous animation, creative concept, and interesting plot, Gargantia may be exactly what you’re looking for if you seek a short sci-fi journey. Oh, and don’t be turned off by the mechs—they look great, and the finale in particular stands out for its incorporation of the ideological feud. Although some of its characters may rub you the wrong way, Gargantia is blessed with strong direction and themes. So, answer the call for adventure—raise the sails and set out for those shimmering jade seas.

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One who abandons thought and decision-making deviates from the very definition of “human.” — Chamber


Afterword

It’s a shame that the possibility of more Gargantia got shelved thanks to the idea of a novel adaptation, especially considering that as an original piece, Gargantia is one of Production I.G’s best. While the last couple OVAs are a bit of a pain to track down, they’re a must if you want the complete Gargantia story as it stands. For the cafe, I struggled between whether to place it under the “Coffee” or “Cakes” menu, but after recalling all the effort that went into crafting the island atmosphere and its customs, I gave the series the benefit of the doubt. Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet offers a pleasantly sweet ride for any mild fan of the mecha genre, thus a “Cake” here at the cafe! And yes, Viz’s awesome LTD ED release of the show rests calmly on my shelf awaiting my next revisit to the blue planet. 🙂

What did you think of Gargantia? Did you enjoy it enough, or did you find it lacking in a few departments? It may not the best mecha anime out there, but it’s certainly not the worst. Let me know your thoughts about the quiet little title or this review down in the comments, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Haikyuu!! — Growing Together Through Challenge & Failure | OWLS “Squad”

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 third monthly topic for 2018, “Squad,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard review of Haikyuu!! season one into this look at friendship and how, exactly, teamwork makes the dream work.

Although some people may like to be alone at times, we all have that one special friend or a squad of friends who we kick it and have some good laughs and fun with. However, there are friendships that don’t last a lifetime, and usually, they end due to a falling out or a misunderstanding. For this month’s topic, we will be exploring some of the best friendships in anime and pop culture, as well as the friendships that ended suddenly. We will talk about what a true friendship means to us, what we learned about ourselves and others through broken friendships, and our definitions of a “good friend.”

To uphold this OWLS favorite, I will be carrying the Haikyuu!! torch for this month’s tour! Though I’m not as passionate about this franchise as some of us are, I do hope I can contribute something of my own to the countless amazing posts out there. Thanks Lyn (and Lita) for the prompt!

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A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 25-episode spring 2014 anime “Haikyuu!!,” localized as “Haikyu!!,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Susumu Mitsunaka, and based on Haruichi Furudate’s popular shounen manga of the same name.

Rivals off the Court, Teammates on It

Shouyou Hinata began volleyball small and to this day remains one of the shortest players anyone has ever come across. Inspiration hit the loud lil’ guy when watching a volleyball ace nicknamed the “Little Giant” take the court by storm, and soon after, Hinata formed his own volleyball club in middle school. Brutal defeat in his team’s very first tournament by Tobio “King of the Court” Kageyama crushed motivations to continue the fight, though. In that moment, Hinata vowed to surpass Kageyama, but upon joining Karasuno High School’s volleyball team, Hinata found himself facing his “sworn rival” as a new fellow teammate.

Despite his unusually high stamina and powerful jumps, Hinata’s short stature gives him a bit of a hard time when it comes to finding the right role to play. Surprisingly, Kageyama, the “genius setter” himself, also struggles with teamwork issues, and only by learning to work together will Karasuno stand a chance against the fierce competition. Excellently balancing the emotional weight of sports drama with lighthearted comedy, Haikyuu!! supports two determined athletes and their endeavor to settle a heated rivalry in order to reignite their team’s once-legendary status.

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Karasuno: The Crow Flies Again

Haikyuu!!‘s first season leads us through a handful of major games set up like little arcs just like any shounen series would. On the surface, it feels like one of those “This is how I became the strongest in the world” series, and in part, that’s not the wrong impression. Beyond Hinata’s constant screaming and boundless excitement lie more interesting subplots, however, such as finding the motivation to play, understanding that loss is prevalent in the path to success, and the ever-constant conflict between upper and lowerclassmen. The series, much like the volleyball players, never sits on one of these themes for too long. Once a character’s lesson has been taught, the momentum bounces across the court to quickly become another teammate’s chance ball!

As previously mentioned, this underdog story appreciates a variety of themes crucial to the personal growth of not only oneself, but an entire team. With every demoralizing insult and crushing defeat, the need for vengeance—to prove that Karasuno will fly again—snowballs into unstoppable enthusiasm for the 12 boys (and their rugged coach, squirrelly faculty advisor, and goddess of a manager). I mean, just imagine it: Back in the day, you were THE top dogs, the ones that everyone aspired to be! And now that you’re finally able to give back to that team that gave you so much to begin with, you find yourself continuing to face loss after devastating loss. 

“To overcome difficulties, you need effort, endurance, and sacrifices.” — Ittetsu Takeda, faculty advisor

As such, it is redemption that pulls the clumsy Karasuno along, but they will fail to earn the respect (and awe) of other teams unless they dig deep within themselves and learn exactly what makes each other tick. Achieving perfected, harmonious unity comes only through knowing your friends better than you know yourself. Unless some of its more reserved members start opening up to each other, I’m afraid Karasuno will only make it so far in the seasons to come.

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Haikyuu!!‘s Unique, Competitive, Spirited Characters

I’ll start with the elephant in the room since I basically had no problems with the rest of this top-tier cast. Hinata and Kageyama are arguably the most irritating, annoying characters in the entire show—which is incredibly unfortunate given their status as male leads. These are supposed to be the two that we root for, that we want to succeed, but on more occasions than not, I was sympathizing with the other side. In their defense, even the rival teams offer compelling stories all on their own—in fact, this well-rounded attention to all of the characters is the bread and butter of Haikyuu!!—but it can be hard to cheer on the main two when Hinata is plain obnoxious and Kageyama is downright rude. By this first season’s end, I started to feel somewhat proud for how far they had come (recalling their earlier bickering and resistance to work together), and I do see myself warming up to them more in the next season.

If you’re asking me who the title of “best boy” belongs to, can I just say all of them? I mean, really:

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Daichi’s strong and steady demeanor makes him a model team captain; Sugawara’s calm, compassionate nature was LITERALLY ME back when I did sports in high school; Asahi’s aged appearance doesn’t stop him from being the biggest sweetheart (and Nervous Nellie) in the entire show. The third years will always be my favorite characters, no matter the series, but I can’t just stop here with Haikyuu!! . . .

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Nishinoya’s overwhelming charisma not only makes him a player to be feared, but also one to be loved; Tanaka’s combo of goofy + grit never fails to lighten the mood; Ennoshita has this ability to silently relate to his friends given practically any situation; Kinoshita and Narita are always there to tame Noya and Tanaka. WHEW, looking forward to find out more about these funny second years. Of course, we can’t forget about the first years . . .

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Kageyama, despite his oppressive exterior, strives to better himself by bringing out the best in his fellow teammates; Hinata’s inner strength to bounce back from defeat will always light a fire in my heart; Tsukishima AKA “best boy” candidate offers remarks that are so freakin’ snarky I just can’t, then proceeds to back up his smugness with the most wicked of feints during a match; lastly, Yamaguchi just wants to play the game everyone loves, and works long after dark hoping to one day be of use to his team.

But #squadgoals doesn’t stop there! Looking at the other teams, Nekoma’s Kenma (voiced by Yuki Kaji, my guy) seems like your average silent character, but his catlike reflexes and calculating eyes make him the heart his high school team; and yes, even the handsome and charismatic Oikawa, a master of playing to his Aoba Josai teammates’ strengths, must be hilariously restrained by his friends from egotistically going all-out”Great King” on them!

The Forces that Unite Us

Similar to the OWLS “Team” theme from last year, we all long for connection, to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves. Not often are we granted the opportunity to bond with others so closely and celebrate the things we love. So, we have to take chances, risks even, if we wish to grow together. Haikyuu!! hits on four essential elements that build strong, long-lasting friendships (all coincidentally beginning with the letter “C”), and for every time a team member attempts one of these building blocks, beautiful, timeless moments are created.

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Consideration—to experience thought and care for another

The weight of the game all rested on second-year Tanaka’s shoulders, yet again, and again, and again, Tanaka dropped the ball. There was a small moment like this during the tournament in which Hinata, a first-year, considered saying something nice or uplifting to baldy as he has always done for him. It’s not pity, it’s empathy. Hinata knows that feeling of repeated failure. When the underclassmen start supporting the upperclassmen (or at least thinking in that mindset), you can tell that the underclassman is starting to grow not only as a team player, but as a person, too.

The older we grow, there’s a tendency for superiors to think that they exclusively must be the ones to guide the young. But in a team, that is not the case. Though there is a chain of command spearheaded by the captain, teammates are EQUALS. In school, work, or any other setting concerning a group that functions together with one goal in mind, people, higher or lower, need to support each other—to consider feelings of failure and success alike and support those who need it in the heat of the moment.

Compliments—to express praise or admiration for one’s actions

Taking it the next step forward, teammates should give credit where credit is due. One’s age, ethnicity, gender, or status does not matter—nobody is above a nice compliment. This responsibility should not be limited to the captain or upperclassmen alone, either. Sugawara gives them out all the time based on how teammates are feeling that day, and that motivation pushes everyone, especially Hinata, to do their best.

Communication—to connect with others and exchange information

A true king asks for the help of his subjects—that is what sets Oikawa, “The Great King” (and even Sugawara) apart from Kageyama, the “Dictator.” Communication is key in both sports and life in general. Kageyama cannot and should not rely on Hinata’s god-like quick ability all the time; as setter, he needs to learn how to pass to teammates like Tsukishima more, and maintain an open communication line that doesn’t look so grumpy. Gradually he improves, and I’m looking forward to see just how much better he’ll get.

Challenge—to engage in competition for the betterment of oneself

Above all, nothing pushes teammates like a little friendly fire. Ultimately, friends want to surpass the challenges that other friends set for them, and this different form of support manifests in rivalries that continue to improve, shape, and make teammates stronger. Hinata swears to be the one to take Kageyama down, giving him some purpose to his play. Nishinoya wants Asahi to give his all and never feel sorry, even if fighting a losing battle. Sugawara understands his limited role thanks to Kageyama’s genius, but he always tries to observe from afar and apply reliable tricks to shake up Kageyama’s stiff repetition. Even Tsukishima and Oikawa verbally confront Kageyama to draw out the fire within themselves!

The Birth of a Real Squad

Haikyuu!! delivers exhilarating volleyball action and inspirational sportsmanship through positive vibes, overcoming failure, and teamwork. I purposefully stuck to this first season alone to highlight the beginnings of a real squad, not the end result. Why? Because it makes each of these team-building exercises all the more powerful. Take that feast scene from the end of episode 24 for instance: it is sometimes the moments of shared silence between team members that impact viewers more than dialogue ever could. The absence of dialogue here ironically speaks volumes about Karasuno’s relationships, emotions, and mutual feelings toward their latest match. Definitely my favorite hard-hitting scene from the entire season.

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At the same time, sometimes fiercely shouting our feelings out loud can be enough to convey those shared emotions with others, as show in the way Noya motivates the guys, or Kageyama and Hinata’s release of anger by blindly yelling in episode 25. These simple, even silly, moments are what bond squad members, their goals, aspirations, and frustrations alike. Karasuno still has a long way to go, but every step these crazy guys take together allows their friendships to evolve with them.

“Someone who can’t see the opponent standing right in front of him, can’t defeat the opponent that lies beyond!” — Hajime Iwaizumi, Aoba Josai vice captain

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Afterword

I’m surprised I didn’t enjoy this series more, as it’s literally everything that I should love about a good sports series all in one package. Looking at it honestly, it probably was Hinata and Kageyama’s characters that deterred my enjoyment a bit. I’ll still definitely recommend, though! To all those interested in an emotional sports comedy with a well-rounded albeit sometimes “too loud” cast, this one should be a must. Oh! And as with these OWLS posts, I didn’t even get to talk about the music and animation! I have completed the Yuuki Hayashi sports trilogy, in which this GOD composed the music for DIVE!!, Welcome to the Ballroom, and Haikyuu!!. He’s also done My Hero Academia, Death Parade, and Robotics;Notes, so yeah, total fave. I was sad when the first ED “Tenchi Gaeshi” by NICO Touches the Walls was replaced, as it was the best song IMO. Lastly, THIS is Production I.G’s powerhouse sports series, as the animation should not be missed! (Where was this quality when Ballroom was airing??)

I’m gleefully awarding Haikyuu!! season one with the “Cake” rating, a show that’s too sweet for its own good! NOW, fans of this beloved series, HIT ME UP WITH YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS FIRST SEASON OR THIS REVIEW IN THE COMMENTS (no spoilers, please)!! I’m very happy to have finally started this show, and though my “marathon” is running a bit slow, I am STOKED to watch more seasons!

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This concludes my March 22nd entry in the OWLS “Squad” blog tour. Shokamoka (Shokamoka’s Blog of Wonders) went right before me and stole my pick wrote about the currently airing A Place Further Than the Universe, which you can read right here (SO EXCITED FOR THIS)! Now, look out tomorrow for the one who got me hooked on this Haikyuu!! madness, Naja B. (Nice Job Breaking It, Hero), with No. 6one of my FAVORITE ANIME from when I first started (ahh, the memories) this Friday, March 23rd! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

United We Stand in Ghost S.A.C. 2nd GIG| Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode winter 2004 anime “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG” and its recap 2006 film “Individual Eleven,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Kenji Kamiyama, based on the original manga by Masamune Shirow.

Cafe note: I reviewed the first season right here, so check that out prior to reading this. Many thanks, happy reading~!


Back to the Cybernetic City

With the Laughing Man’s agenda terminated by Motoko Kusanagi and the gang, Section 9 is no longer forced to operate in the shadows. Taking an interest in the way the brutal hunting force operates, Japan’s newly elected Prime Minister Kayabuki re-establishes Section 9 as her final attempt to fend off the latest rounds of cyber-terrorism, and find a party whom she could trust her life with. This new deadly collective, “The Individual Eleven,” has led a string of seemingly unrelated terrorist plots and assassinations across the nation.

Just as the Major and Chief Aramaki begin investigating into these gruesome cases, however, the Japanese government faces a forced confrontation by the alarming build-up of foreign refugees who were ousted from their homes during the Third World War, and are now seeking asylum in Japan. Section 9 attempts to juggle both crises, but their constant bumping heads with Kazundo Gouda of Cabinet Intelligence Service leads the Major to suspect he may be even more tangled up in the mess than the “enemy” is, and that perhaps both The Individual Eleven and the refugee crisis are just two parts of one titanic movement.

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The Stand Alone Complex branch of the hit Ghost in the Shell franchise returns to the scene to reaffirm that everything, be it physically or digitally, is interconnected by the pushes and pulls of a techno-dystopian society.

Picking Up Where We Left Off

S.A.C. 2nd GIG wastes no time in welcoming us back to its inner universe. Unlike its predecessor, 2nd GIG features a clearer, more concisely written story. It achieves this by appropriately placing its “stand-alone” episodes within the timeline in less-congested areas of heavy plot action. Sticking to a story written in sequential order, 2nd GIG feels a lot easier to grasp, even if the characters themselves are more “complex” this second time around. I can see why fans acknowledge this series as the superior one not simply because the visuals are upgraded, but the linear way in which the story is told—even if the concept may not rival that of a wizard-class super hacker—seems more straightforward. Either that, or it just took me 26 episodes prior to get used to Kamiyama’s directing.

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Critical characters to not only the series but the franchise as a whole are introduced quickly and efficiently, these namely being Kayabuki, Gouda, and Kuze, the eventual leader of the refugee camp and a mastermind in guerrilla warfare, both on the battlefield and in the net. Watching Kayabuki crumble before but endure the weight of those dirty politicians and back-alley deals emphasizes one trait that defined the Major as such a relatable character for so many: the strength of women, and the power, beauty, and grace that comes with enduring unfavorable outcomes and situations. Ghost in the Shell, like much of entertainment, explores the notion that life is one big power struggle; it’s as unavoidable as the rising moon or the flowing tides.

New, Twisted Faces

Speaking of power, Gouda is clearly not meant to be a likable dude. His *literally* twisted face should be an indicator of his reliability. He’s a competent and sophisticated man, using people and manipulating scenarios like he does with data. Though he’s got several tricks up his sleeves to be used against all of the pawns in the game, including the Major, his sheer level of skill and sneering wit make me MELT with a swelling love for his character. And John Snyder, his English VA absolutely knocked the role outta the park! We honestly need more intelligent rivals like him in anime; he’s a dick, but that’s what makes him so fascinating. Gouda is always one step ahead of the game, and stacking the deck is the only way to secure a trump card in this dirty world.

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The Major’s foil finally manifests in the form of Hideo Kuze, an calm yet equally interesting antihero who holds a similar background. While I cannot mention too much without spoiling, I will say that he’s just as calculating as Motoko and Gouda, and perhaps more skillful and inspirational than both of them on a personal level. He’s quite interesting, so let his words sink in . . . everything he does is for the people . . .

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Aside from the Major’s few moments, those members of Section 9 that did not previously have an episode for their own backstory (Pazu, Saito) receive one now EXCEPT for poor, poor Borma, the fat guy. While the Tachikoma’s return with more amusing exclamations and ideas, Togusa takes takes the back seat for this ride. One of these days we’ll get the backstory details and spotlight that they ALL deserve, but that time is sadly not now.

Improved Presentation Transcend S.A.C.

The two-ish year gap between each series really does reiterate the fact that Production I.G is the king of science fiction anime. Most of the characters receive new outfits and gear, all of which show off their differing personalities. The Major’s transformation from light gray and white to a dark gray and black skintight suit add contrast to the series’ new tone, a perfect match for some of the unsettling truths regarding the Major’s past. Her leather trench coat and obsidian visors complete the look. Besides the returning overly impressive architecture, it’s all the tiny details in character design that make 2nd GIG a fashion show for our models, both the sleek and the grungy alike.

Kanno returns to add that techno-blues/cop show soundtrack from the first season. Many of the tracks were even reused, so it’s not an entirely “new” OST. The epic action music in particular was done better this time. Where she doesn’t stand out in background music Kanno definitely makes up for with the new opening “Rise,” once again sung by the lovely Origa. “Rise” is the epitome of cyber punk trance dubstep, a song that hypes itself up with its intense beat, ascending chord progressions, and deep lyrics. Exhilarating stuff!

Since the characters remain largely underdeveloped in terms of background info, many just watch the show for its intriguing story, to which I point you toward the 3-hour (eek) recap film titled Individual Eleven that hones its focus solely on the core case from beginning to end. It is a recap, however, so all of your favorite one-off episodes are not present, and a lot of cool detours were cut, such as a fatal mission flaw by the Major that made my heart skip a beat. I give the same caution that I dished out last time, though—Individual Eleven features an entirely different English voice cast. While the wonderful Mary Elizabeth McGlynn, Crispin Freeman, and now John Snyder should never have been replaced as Motoko, Togusa, and Gouda, respectively, the new cast largely remains serviceable.

United We Stand – The Individual VS Society

Ghost in the Shell S.A.C. 2nd GIG continues as a more light-hearted cop-chase approach to the original 1995 film, and by this I mean that it is less about self-reflection and more geared towards the interactions people share with others. It’s also no laughing matter, either, presenting the sadness of war, and that in the near future warfare is still terrifying and tragic. 2nd GIG resumes its heavy, confusing political drama, but its new emphasis on securing a cyber body through the black market is neatly explored with greater depth, ironically “fleshing” out the world.

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The sequel to the beloved Stand Alone Complex is a successful piece of science fiction and sociological analysis. It’s a series rooted in the effects of technology on people, be it the goods, bads, or really bads. Sharpening its linear storytelling and enhancing its setting and character designs, one really shouldn’t stop at the first season—continue to uncover the fate of Section 9 as the original story intended!

“The refugees have given me countless names. I joined forces with them with the intent to save them. But maybe the real reason I united with them was to keep the loneliness at bay.” – Kuze

Final Assessment:

+ Story told sequentially with with focused, linear direction

+ New character designs are more appealing; Major’s new look

+ Production I.G upped their game again!

+ Both Gouda and Kuze are excellent characters

+ Explores the pillars of social order through a cool story; the war on terror continues

– Section 9 members STILL don’t get the backstory treatment they deserve

– Recap film English dub remains pestering

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GitS S.A.C. 2nd GIG also deserves its “Cake” title (4/5), a must-watch if you’ve already started the first! It does require a great amount of focus and minor understanding of corporate politics, though. Thankfully the action weighs well against the political banter. What did you think of the Individual Eleven story, and did the recap film aid in your understanding as it did mine? Let me know, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Still lookin’ fresh, Batou and Major

No Man Laughs Alone in Ghost S.A.C. | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode fall 2002 anime “Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex” and its recap 2005 film “The Laughing Man,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Kenji Kamiyama, based on the original manga by Masamune Shirow.


City of Steel, Bodies of Iron

It’s 2032, the cyberization age. Because most brains are now encased in a metal mold, people can access the net just by thinking and slide into mechanical bodies through a connecting cable alone. Walk along the streets and one would find fleshlings, cyborgs, and robots alike coexisting as if it were commonplace. The power of the net has virtually blurred the lines between the physical and the digital, which can breed both terrific convenience and terrifying crime. Completely ineffective in halting cyber crime, as it typically is, the government has hired Security Division Section 9, a group of ruffians specialized in taking down hackers and terrorists alike.

Led by their Chief Daisuke Aramaki and Major Motoko Kusanagi, this small squad rules the shadows and grungy back alleys in an effort to clean up the city. When a great super hacker dubbed the “Laughing Man” rears his head once again after 5 quiet years, however, the Major and her troop face what could be their greatest social threat yet. Unlike their most recent cases, this one proves to be not as simple as SHOOT + LOAD + REPEAT, but rather an intense chasing game of CTRL + ALT + DELETE.

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The iconic franchise and its much-loved figurehead return to the streets after a silent 7 years since the groundbreaking film’s worldwide release in 1995. While it’s neat to see the title reinvented into a series, I found all of the GitS films, recap or not, to be far superior to the series. Before I go further into the franchise, let’s evaluate Stand Alone Complex and weigh its own merits.

It’s Not like the Movie, and that’s Perfectly Fine

This pun has already been pitched a million times, but to aptly put things, many of the episodes of Stand Alone Complex are, well, stand-alone. These episodes all tackle the lives of individuals of all all social classes, and how they interact with society and the Section 9 crew. The true underlying story is only tossed here and there as hints before the grand finale. Unlike the 1995 classic, which honed in on the psychological balance between human and cyborg, both of the GitS series challenge society instead, providing much sociological questioning such as “how much can people be “cyberized” before it’s no longer a human society,” or “whether the net truly brings people together or tears us apart.” Because it was less egocentrically based, I found myself less prone to self-discovery, but more open to social understanding. It’s a bit of a letdown at first, especially since the Major’s self-reflection is what sold me to begin with.

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Where the plot may stumble and confuse, the characters provide entertaining banter and motivation. Being a more light-hearted approach to the franchise much like the original manga was, it’s appropriate to chuckle here and there at the strong man Batou’s unfortunate misdemeanors around the still-intelligent Major, or admire the human normie Togusa’s total dad bod. The presence of the cute Tachikomas, blue insect-shaped and car-sized robot AI, helped to not only alleviate unnecessary government actions that frustrated me, but also provide that quintessential self-pondering of being a robot vs a lifeform similar to what the Major dealt with in 1995. They’re annoying at times, but they remind us as to the joys of feeling alive.

A Stunning Sci-Fi Story and World

People watch this show for the genuine Section 9 crew and for high-paced, explosive combat layered with a complicated cop show setup. For its 2002 release, SAC has aged remarkably, providing some of the most engaging sci-fi action that rivals today’s anime fights. What ultimately brought it all together was the world itself, though. The towering skyscrapers and low, wrap-around market places give off a bustling effect to Newport City. The occasional gray sky and drizzly weather is almost enough to take one back to 1995, and the traffic—my goodness, all the road traffic! What a headache! Watching the characters drive from location to location allows Production I.G prove that they are the masters of anime architecture. The complex interwoven highways and cars almost act as a mirror of society itself, in that we’re ultimately all just a small part of the great flow.

Story-wise, it’s quite complicated, honestly. I held off on any Ghost in the Shell until I was older simply because I felt I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it fully without encompassing a greater intellect. (I’m still no genius, though.) To assume one has to be smart to enjoy this series isn’t true at all, but when it came to all of the political nonsense between government officials and sketchy deals, it is a lot to consume, I’ll admit.

Much of this can be negated, however, if a person checks out the 3-hour (yikes) recap film that reorganizes the Laughing Man snippets that are littered throughout all 26 episodes and places them into a more logical, sequential order. The [sadly] very few valuable backstory spotlights of Section 9 members are lost, but if one’s just in it for the core story, then this recap film satisfies immensely. The only caution I can give is to those who prefer English dubs; The Laughing Man features an entirely different vocal cast from the series, and while it is utterly DISAPPOINTING to hear brilliant actors Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and Crispin Freeman replaced as Motoko and Togusa, this other cast doesn’t do a bad job. Nope, not at all, and these are very large shoes to fill.

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While everyone praises Yoko Kanno for her sheer masterpieces of music, Stand Alone Complex is not her most memorable work for me. She keeps with the flow of light dialogue and adrenaline-filled action, balancing the two just fine, but I can’t recall any specific tracks besides the opening, “Inner Universe,” sung by the late Origa, a piece of music that perfectly captures the ENTIRE franchise. Its haunting yet entrancing beginning put me in full-dive mode every time. It’ll live on with the likes of “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis” as anime’s bests, and rightfully so.

Let Me Walk Away Laughing

It’s no surprise that SAC is different than 1995: different directors, production date, arcs adapted, character introductions and routes taken, etc. What hasn’t changed is the same powerful studio behind the project and the unwavering calculations of the Major. Ghost in the Shell is a franchise that explores possibility through the unification of humans and technology. It also shows us the worst case scenario—its abuse, and how that turns people off from all things cyber entirely. SAC‘s first season is a little hard to understand thanks to its divided attentions, but so long as you trust in the Major’s new face and follow your ghost, you may walk away having thought of something new, and that’s what sci-fi is all about.

Batou: Nowadays . . . people entrust their memories to external devices because they want to set down solid physical proof that can distinguish them as unique individuals . . .

Motoko: A watch and weight training gear, both of us have clung to useless scraps of memory, haven’t we?

Final Assessment:

+ This incarnation of the Major can be just as meaningful so long as you have an open mind

+ Emphasizes that Production I.G is king of city architecture and sci-fi worlds

+ Works in sociological approach that defines the franchise today

+ That opening combined with all the fluid combat gets the blood pumping

– Such a lovable cast deserves greater backstories

– Overarching story is hard to follow, but recap movie helps

– Missing out on series dub in recap film


Stand Alone Complex is welcomed at the cafe as a “Cake” title (4/5), one too sweet to miss out on if you have the time! It does require a great amount of focus and minor understanding of corporate politics, though. Sometimes the intermixed action sequences were the only bits that helped me stay awake! SAC has been around for YEARS now, so what do you make of the series? Did you enjoy the Laughing Man story, and did the recap film aid in your understanding as it did mine? Let me know, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Batou, his Tachikoma, and Major. Stay fresh, Section 9.