Granblue Fantasy: Endless Blue Skies, But Not Enough Time to Explore Them All | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode spring 2017 anime “Granblue Fantasy The Animation,” animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Yuuki Itou, and based on the video game series of the same name by Cygames. 

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A World of Skies and Islands

Awash with a stunning canvas of roving blues and fluffy whites is the world Granblue Fantasy is painted on, a famous franchise which has amassed a great following thanks to its many JRPG titles. While I am unfamiliar with this particular adaptation’s origins, the story still follows its titular character, a young boy named Gran, and his adventures throughout the wondrous skies that surround him. Accompanied by a talking winged lizard named Vyrn, the two embark on quests that tend to question the governing bodies of their world, such as the menacing Erste Empire and her sprawling military factions.

Alone in the forest one day, Gran stumbles upon a young girl with cerulean hair. Her name is Lyria, and she just recently happened to escape from the Empire after being subjected to sinister underground experiments on magic and the mythical. Alongside Katalina, a once-high-ranking knight of the Empire assigned to guard Lyria, Gran and the crew set out into the vast skies to escape the Empire’s treacherous plots. With ship set to starboard, Gran’s party aims to protect Lyria, as well as head for the famed land of legend mentioned in the last letter Gran received from his father: “Estalucia, Island of Stars.”

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I’ll be frank, the story of Granblue Fantasy The Animation is not a new one; girl is used by evil organization, boy protects her, boy meets a bunch of new allies while traveling around, yada yada. Even still, the heart of a fantasy adventure series lies in the lands we are taken to, and the variety of peoples we meet along the way—this pattern may not be a new one, but it doesn’t need to be new to be a fun watch. In that regard, this anime exceeds, but the overarching story—the hero’s main goal—is still a bit fuzzy. One moment Gran merely wants to watch over Lyria, but the next he insists on defeating (or rather purifying) these godlike mythical beasts to obtain magic crystals for . . . what was it again? I honestly can’t remember, but it’s still formulaic enough to follow along.

The Crew Aboard the Grandcypher

As a main character, Gran is without much personality. He’s kind and strong, yet remarkably bland, and although the show tries to convince you that he’s a real stellar guy with “special powers,” Gran’s actions and words fare just as interesting as a silent protagonist’s.

Oh wait, he originally was one? *sigh* This is another reason why adapting games into anime is hard . . . and somewhat a mistake.

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Obviously, the show pins most of its character love on Lyria, and thankfully, she does seem like someone you’d want to care for. Her curiosity and blind love for the world may not be executed as well as Tale of Symphonia‘s Colette, but the idea still transfers alright. Even our dutiful knight Katalina and reliable ship’s helmsman Rackam felt like characters I would enjoy partying up with. Same goes for new recruits, like the fiery (yet ironically ice magic specialist) mage Io and Team Rocket-esque dungeon thief duo Karva and Mary. Anyone else, well, the show just doesn’t give much screen time to learn about, but I’m sure they can be just as likable if given a fairer shot.

All the while, the Empire is looming in the dark and new faces, friend and foe alike, keep poppin’ out like the skies are just one big circus tent for JRPG tropes—there were like +10 new characters in the second to last episode alone, it’s ridiculous! If Granblue Fantasy The Animation had one big problem, it was that it tried to compensate “character development” for “5 seconds of fame,” and, in the end, not one of the side characters stood out as a result (which is a real shame given how cool some of these outfits were).

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Painting the Skies–The Magical Watercolor Touch

While I couldn’t give a damn about some of the characters thrown in at the last minute, I did have an incredible appreciation for what A-1 has done with their latest fantasy anime. Say what you will about their method of adaptation, but from their work on shows like Fractale, From the New World, Fate/Apocrypha, Sound of the Sky, so many others and most infamously, Sword Art Online, I’ve found A-1 to be one of the best animation studios where the fantasy genre is concerned. From the luscious color palettes and beautiful blends to the “old ruin aesthetic” of their utterly enchanting scenery, A-1’s always been on top of the game, and Granblue Fantasy is no exception. If anything, it’s the model, the paragon of what a high-quality fantasy production should look like.

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But especially with Granblue, the studio preserved the original art style from the games by giving it a softer, almost watercolor appeal to the backgrounds, much like the magic they did with Grimgar. And the characters and fight scenes, agh, WOW! I believe I recall an ANN article explaining that the adaptation’s delay was due to preserving all of the characters’ outfits, armor, leathers, buckles, trinkets, etc. in the anime style, and boy did A-1 bring out all the bells and whistles for this one. Highlights, shadows, bevels, rivets, textures, blends—what can only be imagined as an animation nightmare turned out to be well-worth the extra effort!

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Just watching the Grandcypher and its beautiful, colorful cast soar through the airy clouds across majestic seas of water and light took me to an entirely different land altogether. Put its spiraling architecture together with Square Enix and Cymusic native Tsutomu Narita’s epic orchestral soundtrack and you’ve really got a solid, powerful combination.

Lastly, can I mention how much of a bop the OP “GO” by BUMP OF CHICKEN and ED “Sora no Parade” by HARUHI are? Like, these songs about living the best lives we can are the total chill vibes that I LIVE for!

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Will We Ever Reach Estalucia?

Afraid not . . . maybe . . . ? At the end of the day, Granblue Fantasy The Animation is an absolutely gorgeous fantasy adventure anime that is hurt by its weak direction, weak antagonists, and lack of character development (and proper introduction for that matter). After its pinnacle fight scene in episode 12, one would imagine that the last episode would take us to the isle of lore where the reunion (and final showdown) would commence—WRONG. Instead, we are “treated” to a random bikini-filled beach episode with the cast of ladies that were introduced a mere episode prior. What a letdown.

But there is hope, as supposedly a second season was announced not to far back (no sure date as of yet). The anime just came out last year, after all, so I would assume that this is just the first half of the big adventure to come. Will I watch it? Of course, I’m in it for the long haul! But should you? Granblue Fantasy The Animation definitely feels like it’s more of a treat for fans of the game, but if you love magic, fantasy, and adventures as much as I do, perhaps Granblue is worth the “grand,” if not slightly frustrating, investment. It was bland, sure, but never did I really get “angry” with the show—in fact, it kinda made me want to start playing the games! Your eyes will love what they see, and your heart will yearn for the fun in-town shopping and traveling to last forever, but you may be able to guess the end long before A-1 decides to give it to us.

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Our destinations could be totally different, but I think this is our fate. As we continue our journey, we keep meeting new people. I treasure the connections that we make—just like the one we feel with you now. — Gran


Afterword

A softer, much more light-hearted take on the fantasy genre than typical game-to-anime adaptations, I have trouble recommending Granblue Fantasy on the grounds that at this time, it is currently incomplete (the worst kind of ending IMO). Should we truly stop here, I’ll award Granblue Fantasy The Animation with the “Breads” rating and a recommendation to SKIP it unless you’re a fan of the franchise and want to see your favorite characters brought to life by A-1’s genius. If we get more, however, that value is instantly reappraised to a “Coffee,” or even higher depending on how the second half turns out. Here’s to more Gran-seeming-important, more Katalina-obsessing-over-Vyrn’s-cutness, and more pretty-artwork-for-days!

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As a last minute addition, should you take up Gran and Lyria’s quest, I CAN safely recommend the English dub by Aniplex (although I still condemn their $80 releases). Both the sub and dub of Granblue Fantasy can be found on Crunchyroll for FREE, so hit it up whenever you’re next in the fantasy neighborhood! Be sure to let me know what you thought of this series, its characters, or this review down in the comments, as I’d love to know! Thanks so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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The Sweetest Kind of Rom-Com: “My Love Story!!” | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode spring 2015 anime “Ore Monogatari!!,” also known in English as “My Love Story!!,” animated by Madhouse, directed by Morio Asaka, and based on Kazune Kawahara’s manga of the same name. 

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A Bumbling, Tumbling, Pure-Hearted Gentleman

Takeo Gouda is a big guy. Though more akin to a bear (or perhaps a gorilla) than a human, I suppose simply calling him “big” wouldn’t do this mammoth of a man any justice. Takeo is an overwhelming, brutish force of masculinity, but underneath all that beefy muscle and thick skin lies a kind, respectful, and unwavering heart of gold. While he may unintentionally scare off all the girls he meets (often coming to their rescue only to go unaccredited for his good service, of course), he’s amassed quite the male following among his high school’s freshman class for his honorable sense of duty and righteousness. Did I mention Takeo was just a freshman? Oh, and did I mention that he is a pretty big guy?

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Well, even if his nonexistent love life never takes off, at least Takeo’s got Sunakawa, his cool and handsome best friend. The two are as inseparable as brick and concrete (I’ll let you guess who is who), but maybe therein lies Takeo’s problem: Sunakawa’s irresistible yet subtle charm and dashing looks has unintentionally captured the heart of every young girl Takeo has ever loved! Suna politely turns them all down, however, and as much as that would aggravate any other guy’s best friend, things somehow always work out for the two.

One day, Takeo nobly saves one Miss Rinko Yamato from a groper on a train, ultimately throwing him head-over-heels for this sweet, kind-hearted baker! Though the two awkwardly meet several times afterwards, Takeo holds himself back, suspecting that “Miss Yamato” only has eyes for Suna. In a surprising turn of events, Rinko admits she feels love, but it’s not for Takeo’s best friend—as his good karma would have it, Rinko loves Takeo, and here begins their love story!!

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Love Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

By episode three, I honestly thought the show could’ve ended. SPOILERS but not really, the two fall in love very quickly, and Takeo’s fear of never hooking up with a cute girl disappears come this early confession. Why is it called My Love Story!! then if we already know how the story goes? WELL, unlike most shoujo series out there that tantalize viewers with a painfully slow romance that ends with the main couple holding hands (if you’re even that lucky), My Love Story!! follows Takeo and Rinko throughout their relationship: celebrating holidays together, meeting the others’ family (Takeo’s parents, oh my god, when you see them it all makes sense), and most importantly, hooking up their fellow dudes and gal pals that are looking for a high school sweetheart. It’s not a test to see how long they stay together. Rather, it’s about how they can unite the hearts of others through their love.

Because Rinko isn’t the kind of girl to wait on her man, the story moves at a pleasant pace—don’t get me wrong, it’s still very, very slow compared to most couples out there, but it’s a slow-burning tenderness that feels so honest and true. The series is, for the most part, quite episodic, as new characters are brought on the screen only to be swiftly swept off their feet by these two match-makers and eventually (and gently) “tossed aside.” Any relationships that do return to the screen build nicely over the course of the series. Takeo and Rinko are #couplegoals, and there are probably very few shows out there that are sweeter than this rom-com.

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Also, can we appreciate the unusual MC’s character design here and Rinko’s unwavering love for him? There is no joke—she legit values his looks. Bless these two.

“MISS YAMATOOOO!!!”

Takeo Gouda is truly A GOD AMONGST MEN. (This man’s lips, just wow.) He’s a big ol’ softie despite his ridiculously boarish stature, and he’s got the restraint of a freakin’ nun, no joke. Sometimes Often times that over-politeness causes Takeo to seem like an awkward lug, but it’s honestly so lovable and refreshing that I just can’t. In fact, the whole show feels like a huge refreshment from the annoying tropes of the shoujo genre, granted that I haven’t seen nearly enough to consider myself knowledgeable on the subject. Though Takeo’s personality is goofy, dutiful, and well mannered, the guy would be nothing without a voice. I DID watch My Love Story!! with Sentai’s English dub, and while they normally aren’t at the same quality as Funimation or Aniplex’s, this dub ROCKS. So much character in every comedic line, so much heart when things need to be cute, Andrew Love FINALLY plays a teenager where his macho voice is appropriate—you could say that I “Love” his burly performance!

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The very same goes to Miss Yamato, voiced by the ever-lovely Tia Ballard (I just can’t get enough of her voice)!! If Takeo is sweet, Rinko is even sweeter—and no, I’m not just talking about her mouth-watering dessert creations. She’s the rich chocolate chips to Takeo’s squishy dough, the perfectly layered icing on an impressively sized cake. This woman has no flaws, I tell ya! Just kidding: she has a less-than-delicate side that really wants to get together with her boyfriend (who’s totally not prepared) on a more intimate level. But honestly, isn’t that everyone? Friendship, the desire to connect with another, and letting go of repressed feelings are all major themes in this series, and where lovemaking is concerned, My Love Story!! is still one of the purest examples out there!

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And I couldn’t forget about our normally-the-lead-but-now-just-a-bishie Sunakawa AKA Austin Tindle. How Sentai got a magnificent beast like Tindle, the world may never know, but all that matters is he’s here, and that he plays the unamused hot guy. If it weren’t for Takeo’s overwhelming presence, Suna would absolutely take the spot as best boy. He may look like he’s bored out of his mind and dosing off half the time, but Suna is kind, attentive, and always watching out for Takeo’s large sweaty back. Every single Suna moment left me like, “Bro . . .”, as he’s a really upstanding and intelligent guy despite characters like his  typically being cast as the “high-and-mighty jealous types” in this situation. Like the rest of this all-star cast, Suna is thankfully so much more than a stereotype, and I valued his brotherhood and cool-headedness. He’s easy to miss at times, but he’s always there for his friends.

It’s. So. Funny. 

LITERALLY ME in every episode. Madhouse brought to life one of the most adorable romance titles out there, yet there’s an added level of humor to Takeo’s build and [hilariously grotesque] facial expressions that made me bust a gut at least ten times per episode. Surprisingly, the slapstick comedy here won me over as one of the biggest reasons why everyone should watch this show. Between the bestial way in which Takeo reacts to everything and his demonstrations of, umm, affection to Suna, I was left with tears in my eyes it was all so funny. Again, this is where the English dub really shines!

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A “Cake” Title in its Purest Form

My Love Story!! stole the simulcast spotlight back when it aired in 2015. Although its popularity has died down significantly (the manga picking up the anime’s slack, as it offers a continuation to what is ultimately but an adaptation), it’s still a pleasantly refreshing rom-com that cuts out all the shoujo drama BS. It’s light-hearted, cleansing, and even touching when it wants to be. Plus it’s really funny! I’ll admit that romance anime aren’t really my thing, so this series was PERFECT for a viewer who tries to avoid the unnecessarily serious stuff.

All this and more is why I recommend My Love Story!! to ALL anime fans. Should you enjoy watching it, you’ll come away feeling happy and bubbly inside, and perhaps even recall your first innocent love (or wistful bromance). We all have stories to share, and Takeo Gouda’s is one that’ll leave you laughing out loud one moment and clutching your warmed heart the next.

I helped a girl who turned out to be a nice girl. That gives me the strength to go on. — Takeo Gouda

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Afterword

Kind of short review, as the show really is sweet and simple. If you watched My Love Story!! and enjoyed it, what part in particular made you like it? Was it the atypical character setup, the laughs, Rinko’s treats, Takeo’s boundless excitement, or just Suna being Suna? You ought to let me know! I WILL try to respond to your comments quicker, haha!

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If you couldn’t already tell, this series currently sits lovingly on my shelf as the ideal “Cake” title here at the cafe, and I do hope you give it a shot if you haven’t yet. Thank you so much for reading, 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

300 Followers, the Winter Olympics, and Haikyu!! | End of February Update 3/1/18

Hey hey, it’s been a while!

Two months of 2018 have passed and I have very little to show for it. Excluding the last couple days of Blogmas (because it should have concluded at the end of 2017), I have published but four posts. They’re decently long posts, some actually being my biggest posts yet, but that’s exactly it—ONLY FOUR POSTS. And there’s not really any shocking reason for my lack of content. Like any other blogger here, I get busy, life happens, and then I just don’t feel motivated enough to write about anything, let alone make the time to sit down and watch something.

I’ve considered on several occasions writing about other happenings in my life, my passions, yearnings, and what I’ve been up to besides anime. Such is why my latest OWLS post covers the 2018 Winter Olympics and not my typical post/analysis 2-in-1 method I’ve traditionally stuck to. I’m honestly considering redoing that OWLS post—if such a thing is even possible—or at least writing a follow-up to it. While I kinda feel done with the Olympics now that they’re over (which is incredibly sad, as it has been my whole life these past couple weeks), this OWLS post got very, very few notices.

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Post-Olympics Blues

I DO NOT like to brag about stats, as I believe in the spirit of conversation more than a system of likes and hits to dictate one’s success, but this last OWLS post received only eight likes. I am fortunate to have an audience that seems to get excited whenever I post something (more on that in a bit), and perhaps it’s because backdated it (something which I had NEVER done before) or that maybe the topic wasn’t for everyone, but even I know that eight likes is a strangely (and scarily) low turnout. Admittedly, it was a rushed post, no doubt, as I wanted to cover the first half of the ladies skate when I know I shouldn’t have because I was already cutting it so close to the deadline. 

Ultimately, people will read what they want to read, I know, but it was somewhat disheartening to wake up the next day only to not see the bombardment of email and WordPress notifications that I have become accustomed to.

Although, saying that I now want to redo that post probably says something about a lack of confidence in my own writing. I also don’t want to sound like I’m desperate for likes, cause that’s totally not it either! UGH, I’m just so frustrated and confused. Tell you what: if you see a follow-up post, please consider reading it, as it shall contain my true, truncated thoughts on this past incredible Olympic season—everything that I really wanted to say, and how I wanted to say it.

How about some happier news?

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I’ve Hit 300 Followers, “Officially!”

Increasing as of late, I’ve had my doubts about WordPress and the way it holds onto the blogs I follow and those that follow me. The worst horror stories I’ve heard are from those who end up getting dropped from another’s reader feed, neither side knowing of it. Plus, the “followers” number on some bloggers’ page don’t seem to add up when the WP app is saying they have a different number.

So I had my reason to be skeptical, and now I can finally—and officially—announce with confidence that Takuto’s Anime Cafe has hit 300 followers!! It took me until several weeks after supposedly hitting the mark, waiting for the count to climb to 317 to finally believe it was true, haha! For whatever reason you are here and decided to become a cafe-goer, I am sincerely thankful, and grateful to be able to communicate on a platform that offers intelligent feedback and thought-provoking comments. And to you, the reader, if it were not for your interests in me, I would not have a reason to keep on going, so thank you, really, thank you so much!

*I want to celebrate 300 followers, so if my veteran bloggers and friends have any suggestions for posts, let me know!*

 The Delayed V-Day Special Returns

Every Valentine’s day I have this tradition of closing myself off from the world, setting aside the optimal time needed to thoroughly binge a well-known franchise, if not an anime classic. Though, for some odd reason, these titles are almost always sci-fi, this year I wanted to shake things up a bit with some sports anime to fit the times. HOWEVER, my coverage on the Olympics ended up taking waaaay more time than it should have, but I try not to beat myself up about it given the four-year wait.

Thus, I ended up missing out on the V-Day special . . . UNTIL NOW, because I know I’d hate myself if I were to look back on this season and find that I skipped out.

So now, in March, I’m watching Haikyu!!. Rejoice, fam!

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For those wondering, YES, I prepare a traditional checklist for the number of episodes I have to watch on my dry-erase board. Too nerdy? Nah, I call it art. I’m thrilled to FINALLY be watching this much-loved series, and I have absolute confidence that I, too, will become a huge fan! HOORAY FOR SPORTS ANIME LOVE.

What Am I Watching This 2018 Winter Simulcast Season

Not. Much. LOL. Because I want to keep this short, I will not be chronicling all the anime I’ve watched in the past two months like I usually do. Instead, we’ll look at the ones that really matter: what everyone else is currently watching.

Devilman Crybaby – It technically counts, okay? The cancerous, trashy-ass Devilman fandom reared its ugly head when its lead bishies were transformed into . . . ummm prettier bishies in this latest “reboot” of the classic series. While I absolutely loved this show’s range of highest highs and lowest lows, I won’t spoil all my thoughts seeing as how I already reviewed it, BAM (click here to read). Wait, you’re tellin’ me my preparedness doesn’t count since it aired at the beginning of the year? Well drat, better late than never!

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A Place Further Than The Universe – Is it weird to say that between the other two epic action series here, I’m enjoying this lighthearted, clumsy trip to Antarctica the most? Abbreviated to Yorimoi, four girls set out on an adventure to the bitter-cold continent for what, a change of pace? To find one of the girl’s lost mother? To simply call themselves BADASSES? A fair mix of all of the above, actually. Each episode always has that one dramatic moment that makes you want to throw yourself overboard it’s so intense, but in a way, it contrasts the stark nothingness that would otherwise mark it as a plain slice-of-life anime. Yorimoi has substance, and as long as it continues to relish in the silly moments, embrace the hardships of reality, and provide brilliant music cues HOLY CRAP, I think I’ll be quite pleased with this one. By episode 8, we’ve just pinpointed frozen islands in the distance. However far these crazy gals go, I’m sure they’ll be alright.

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DARLING in the FRANXX – I really, really, really want to call this series a favorite of mine, but it’s just not grabbing my attention in the way I wish it would. Interesting premise, check! Likeable characters, yeah I suppose, check! Five star Trigger animation (or should I say 3-star, heh heh), check! Bottom line—Darling in the Franxx has everything it needs to really stand out against the crowd, but so far I’m a little lost at its aim. Is it gonna become the next big mecha hit like Gurren Lagann, or perhaps spiral down into the dark, emotionally messy (and favorable) pit that is Evangelion? Only time will tell, I suppose, but seeing as how I’ve watched like seven episodes now (and the next is apparently a beach episode like WAT), this series is gonna have to do a lot to build on its world and the reason why its characters behave the way they do. Again, I’m rooting for this series, which is exactly why I have to be critical of it!

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Fate/EXTRA Last Encore – I’m . . . yeah I really don’t know what this is. HUGE Fate fan over hear, yessir, but even I am confused about what’s going on. Aside from Madoka Magica and Negima!? (yes you heard me right, NEGI), I’m not a big Shaft fan. For me, it’s too abstract to the point of boredom, and the dialogue reads like I’m trying to translate poetry of a language I don’t know into another language that I, too, do not understand (like the Monogatari series, but at least that is well-written from the start). But its more Fate, and seeing as how I’m a fan of ALL of it, even the latest Apocrypha, I’ll give it the starting benefit of the doubt. To be fair, completing merely two episodes should not be the time for judgement. If it plays out like all other Fate adaptations I’ve watched so far, a thrilling adventure should be in store for us, assuming we can get past the overly bland protagonist!

Changing Weather, Changing Moods

With spring just on the horizon, I’m bundling up for winter cold in the morning and stripping down for the afternoon heat, which is incredibly taxing on my limited wardrobe, ahahaha! But seriously, as I slide out of this winter slump, hopefully I’ll feel more inspired to blog, and to return to writing reviews like I used to do so passionately in the past.

As Kausus (Otaku Gamer Zone) has tweeted multiple times, Naka-Kon is coming up in just a couple weeks! I plan to cosplay as Todoroki from My Hero Academia and a male version of Danganronpa‘s Junko Enoshima—both of which I need to complete! I’m making these cool Styrofoam pieces for Todoroki’s ice, so that should be neat once it all comes together. It’ll be my first time doing something besides clothing for a cosplay, which is why I’m particularly excited! I want to be able to share my progress and experience with you all, but I’m not sure how to document my adventure in this way. Considering Instagram . . .

Lastly, in case you missed it, I published my “thesis” on the Works of Makoto Shinkai, which you can read right here! Ideally, I’d like for this to become my most-liked post, as I poured everything that I had into research, methodology, and execution, and though it’s a long one, it’s on I feel very proud of—one of my blogging career’s crowning achievements, so to speak. So hit that post up and share it around for me, would ya? It’d mean the world!!

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I think that about covers things. Look out for an Olympics follow-up (and please give it some love) if it actually happens! Otherwise, I’ve got a fat stack of fun blogging award nominations to sort through, plus all of the lovely comments on the four posts I’ve written to catch up on. And then when I’m done with that, there’s lots of stuff from you guys I have to catch up on, and, of course, there’s always more reviews to write, AGH! Let me know your thoughts, including anything about the Olympics, a 300 followers special, Haikyuu!!, the winter simulcasts, or on even life in general, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Devilman Crybaby – Ugly Tears, Bleeding Hearts, & The Pain of Modern Tragedy | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 10-episode winter 2018 anime “Devilman: Crybaby,” produced by studio Science SARU (and Netflix), directed by Masaaki Yuasa, written by Ichiro Okouchi, and based on the manga by Go Nagai. 

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A Wild Night Out

Akira Fudo is a crybaby. He’s always been, and he always will be. Akira’s high school career takes a trip to the wild side when his best friend from many years ago, Ryou Asuka, suddenly reenters Akira’s life. This surprise reunion excites Akira, but unfortunately, Ryou isn’t back so the two can play on the playground again. Instead, he informs Akira that hiding amongst the shadows of their picture-perfect reality are monstrous demons, and that soon the demons will revive to reclaim the world from the humans. To combat their brute, supernatural strength, Ryou has a plan: to fuse a human with a demon.

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Those who conquer their “literal” innermost demons can master the power over them. And thus, after violently loosing his innocence at an infamous nightclub rave suspiciously titled the “Sabbath,” Akira becomes Devilman, a being with the power of a demon and the heart of a human. Finally seeing the darkness that humans have hid for so long, Akira feels blessed to now be able to save others, but more so cursed because he will likely never be understood ever again. But he has Ryou, and for Akira, that’s enough to make the pain worth suffering. Or so he hopes.

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A Tragedy Fit for Our Time

By mere story alone, Crybaby is a masterpiece. Having heard the crazy amounts of praise that have been circulating already for a couple weeks now, this should be no surprise. It starts at zero, at everyday life for a young boy and his relay mates, and quickly escalates into a bloody, traumatic, world-ending experience for both the characters and the viewers. As a standalone piece of fiction, it’s a modern tragedy made fit for the decade—complete with its OWN FREAKIN’ CHORUS in the form of some swaggy J-rappers—a series that is and should be celebrated for the, might I say, “daredevil” tale it sets out to tell. So many countless symbolic, societal, and sexual metaphors make the story incredibly compelling, and the religious undertones work wonders in creating this gritty, larger-than-life epic.

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And the best part of all is that the series isn’t just “depressing” to be called tragic—rather, it lives up to the classical standards of Greek tragedy by existing to A) prove the faults in our own lives, B) present a heroic attempt at handling them, and C) leave us with a cathartic end to cleanse the insanity that just befell the cast. It’s a masterful formula from the humble beginning through to its apocalyptic end, and as the media outlet Polygon states, the finale is “beautiful, devastating perfection.”

The only [minor] problem with a story of this magnitude is that Crybaby has very little time to tell it: only ten episodes, to be exact. While the pacing for the first several episodes feels spot-on, there is a significant push, particularly in the last two episodes, that does seem rather hectic. To be fair, however, the gruesome content and big reveals in episodes nine and ten ARE time sensitive; dragging these plot twists and dramatic developments out beyond an episode’s time would ruin their effects. Besides, perhaps that rushed sense of mayhem is what contributes to the explosive, catastrophic nature of the Devilman franchise.

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Akira and Ryou: Cuter When They’re Young

As far as characters are concerned, I won’t go into much detail simply because half of the thrill stems from witnessing just who some of these characters really are, and exactly what they will eventually become as the plot edges further and further on borderline insanity. Akira Fudo’s deal with the devil surprises all those around him, sure, but his grotesque change conjures up more mental conflict than physical ailment. He’s honestly a gift to mankind who doesn’t belong in this cruel, cruel world, and as he teeters on the edge of his own humanity—of a dying hope vs. an unflagging despair—he realizes that, at the darkest roots of their heart, people can be even more vile, disgusting, and sinful than any demon to roam the planet. Compared to his cute, scrawny self at the series’s beginning, the superior antihero Devilman that Akira becomes is stronger in nearly every way—all except for that tender, still-broken human heart of his.

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Ryou’s fluffy, blonde-bowled, bishounen design may seem inviting, but don’t let that charismatic baby face fool you: underneath that puffy white coat is a deadly machine gun and cunning wit, both which are fully loaded at all times. From that first smooth car ride Ryou and Akira share together, you already get the feeling that Ryou is scheming something (as if the glaring camcorder he films on 24/7 wasn’t evidence enough). Still, he is doomed to a fate just as tragic as Akira’s—if not more so. Ryou is one baaaaaad boi, but I loved his development way too much to hate him.

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I Don’t Know How to Rate The Animation . . . 

I’m not kidding. Devilman: Crybaby has some of the downright UGLIEST animated sequences I’ve ever seen. From the hilarious attempt at depicting just how “speedy” devilmen can run to the blobby, disproportionate, and completely uncensored sex scenes, by visual standards, Crybaby is not a pretty-looking show.

But does an anime need to be “pretty” to have it’s own beauty? Absolutely not. Or, well, at least Crybaby says so.

You see, the series has this certain edge to it, a certain grit that is hard to explain. The animation outlines, for instance, are cleanly drawn and look quite fresh (faces in particular). But then you have the action scenes, which are just SO freakin’ bizarre to watch. Like, I couldn’t even tell you if some scenes were, in fact, “poorly animated” because the ENTIRE SERIES has that same exact look. The lack of detail in light-hearted moments (like Akira’s high school, or his quiet past) compared to the almost sickening actions of other demons and humans alike gave form to a style that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s as if the animation is “untamed,” or “knows no bounds”—yet it all flows well as its own style within the context of the story. Not to mention that the compact 10-episode run and smart directing allow for each and every shot to carry some sort of secondary meaning, however unnecessarily violent or sexual or BOTH the risqué presentation seems to people.

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I, for one, felt that all of the overly grotesque scenes brutally tread some sacred ground of entertainment that hasn’t been touched in decades with a bloody tank. It’s a unique visual style that I frankly haven’t seen anywhere else, and it was depicted brilliantly.

But I Know I Loved the OST!

As I am currently writing this, the Devilman: Crybaby soundtrack is humming in the background for inspiration. What about it is so special? Well, it has great balance; it’s epic (“D.V.M.N.” – Main theme), startling (“Miki The Witch”), playful (“Wishy Washy”), intense (“Anxiety”), entrancing (“Beautiful Silene”), heart-pounding (“Smells Blood”), uplifting (“Prayer”), cathartic (“Pathetique”), and so much more. Composer Kensuke Ushio (Ping Pong The Animation, Space Dandy, A Silent Voice) knows how to write excellent orchestral/synth pieces, I tell ya!

There’s a little tune that is repeated throughout the entire soundtrack that can be any of the emotions listed above, so long is the right instrumentals is paired with the mood. My personal favorite IS a reprise of this gorgeous melody line, and it just so happens to be the very last song played in the series, the End of Devilman: Crybaby, so-to-speak. It’s appropriately titled “Crybaby,” and if it doesn’t move your heart to the point of tears, forcing you to recall Akira, Ryou, Miki, and Miko’s shared heartache and tragedy, then I’m not sure what will.

Oh yeah, there’s also a remake of the original Devilman opening included with the soundtrack, which, if you SOMEHOW haven’t heard yet, is SUCH A BOP HOLY SHIT. I STILL listen to it religiously.

The Destructive Darkness Within Us All

By Devilman:Crybaby‘s end, there is arguably no sadness left for the characters, no more tears to cry. It should feel complicated, as the amount of despair is simply undefinable. But instead, all you can wonder is how things got to this point, and how what you witnessed was, in fact, the end brought upon by humanity. The ending is completely unfair, yet it balances the scales with terrifying perfection. You could feel sad, or depressed, or enraged at how BLIND people can be, but instead, all of it feels pointless, as if nihilism just inducted you to suddenly became one of its patron saints.

The ending of Devilman: Crybaby is indeed a very empty one. And that very catharsis, that feeling of emptiness and pointlessness, is what lies at the heart of a well-written tragedy. 

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As happy and sad memories alike resurface for these two boys, Akira and Ryou come to realize that, without one another, life before friendship was boring and often cruel. It was lonely, and it was meaningless. But through the ugly tears they cry, the bleeding hearts they endure, and the tragic fates that they cease fighting against, the two learn to finally accept love, for it is really love, not hate, which makes the world go round. And so to tear up the ENTIRE world just to tell this seemingly small message—Yes, such is what completes the horrifically tragic Devilman: Crybaby as a modern masterpiece.

You’re crying too, Ryou-chan. You’re crying too . . .  – Akira Fudo

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Afterwords

Devilman: Crybaby is raw, brutal, yet oddly honest about its understanding of cause and effect and the power of compassion. It doesn’t forget to throw in a few laughs, though. As the community has already remarked, this show is ABSOLUTELY NOT for the faint of heart. This series showcases the worst aspects of humanity—of vengeance, overindulgence, paranoia, and immorality—and for many, that can be hard to watch (plus, it’s like, mega gory and sexual). You’ll be asking yourself “WTF is this even real?” many times, and you’ll feel absolutely disgusted with humanity. But have faith that there is a reason for the madness. I walked into this action series not knowing a lick about the Devilman franchise (aside from the old dub clips, heh heh) and obviously enjoyed the HELL out of it.

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If such disturbing material doesn’t bother you, then I’m sure you’ll also enjoy this wild ride through the bloody and the occult, as there are a fair amount of life lessons to be learned. I’m giving Devilman: Crybaby the honorary “Caffe Mocha” title because of its unexpectedly high emotional impact (you gotta love the indirect End of Eva references, too)! There’s a particular scene in I think episode 8 or 9 that absolutely wrecked me, and the powerful ending . . . wow . . . I’m sure I won’t be forgetting about that for a long time. If you are thinking about watching this anime, or have already seen it, you HAVE to let me know what you thought about it! I’m dying to dig the series back up, even though much of the hype has died down, haha! Let me know if I did a decent job by hitting the like button (I appreciate it!), and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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All That Glitters IS Gold in “Land of the Lustrous” | OWLS “Revival”

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 first monthly topic for 2018, “Revival,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard review of Land of the Lustrous into a short, shimmering reflection on the main character’s journey of self-discovery, and how even though our emotional selves may fracture, we can still be pieced back together—and return stronger than ever before.

A new year implies “new beginnings.” Yet, rather than discussing the “new,” we will be discussing the “revival.” “Revival” has multiple definitions, but the meaning we will be focusing on is the improvement, development, or refinement of something. Our posts will be about characters that undergo a positive or negative transformation and what we can learn from them.

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Thanks Lyn for the prompt—what fitting way to kick of the New Year!


A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 12-episode fall 2017 anime “Houseki no Kuni” or “Land of the Lustrous,” produced by studio Orange, directed by Takahiko Kyogoku, and based on Haruko Ichikawa’s manga of the same name.

NOTE: The characters in this anime are genderless, and I will do my best to watch my pronoun usage.

Enter the Radiant Land of the Lustrous

Not all clothes are cut from the same cloth. In Land of the Lustrous‘s case, not all gemstones are cut from the same rock. Or are they? In a distant fantasy future, a new immortal and genderless life form called Gems (the “Lustrous”) roam what inhabitable remains of Earth are left. We’re not really told what happened, other than that the mainland in which the story takes place is under attack by the Lunarians (or “Moon Dwellers”), mystical cloud-like Buddha-looking beings who regularly abduct the Gems to turn them into jewelry—to turn a proud race into frivolous decor.

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Phosphophyllite, or simply Phos, is the youngest of the Gems, and though their 300 years on Earth has given them much time to play and mess around, having a hardness of only 3.5 makes them more fragile than glass on the battlefield. Set in a tribe-like school of sorts where one’s hardness determines whether they are deemed fighters or medics, Phos is neither suited for battle nor the books. As such, Phos is treated trivially, and is often met with belittlement or noisome glares by their peers.

Phos’s feelings of being an outcast diminish when Kongou (Adamantine), the master of Gems, assigns Phos the unique task of creating a natural history encyclopedia, an archive of the nature of their world. Though everyone—including Phos—knows that the pointless job is just to keep them out of trouble, no one could’ve imagined the incredible journey Phos was about to take, and the impact their transformation would have on their entire civilization.

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From the synopsis alone, Land of the Lustrous (what a cool title, BTW) already sounds plenty weird. The anime is categorized under the genres of action, fantasy, and seinen, but it proves itself even more interesting by also harboring an underlying mystery element. Who are the Lunarians, and why do they really want the Gems? What is Master Kongou’s relation with the moon people? What truly happened to humanity? Constantly, I found myself hitting the next episode button in eager anticipation of learning the secrets to this fascinating world. And the sudden loss of Amazon’s Anime Strike program (you will NOT be missed) allowed me to stream seamlessly without fear of paying double the price. I generally like to take my time watching a series; rarely do I gulp an entire series down in a single weekend, but I finished all 12 episodes in just two days. Yes, it was that entertaining. Not all my questions got answered, but it definitely ends ready for more, and it did encourage me to want to start reading the manga.

While its premise, setting, and characters are all quite creative, humanity’s nature is unchanging. Much like any child would, Phos experiences loneliness and a sense of uselessness, but through their peers, Phos also comes to understand important values like perseverance, respect, kinship, and the payoff of hard work. They also face the realities of their once thought-to-be fairy-tale world, revealing that life does have its cruelties. The anime’s messages are endearing, even if we’ve already seen them a hundred times, and that’s probably thanks to Land of the Lustrous‘s fantastic set of characters: the 28 Gems that make up this sparkling society.

Shine Bright Like a Diamond

Variety is the greatest spice of life, and Land of the Lustrous‘s gleaming cast of Gems is definitely the series’s leading feature. Ordered appropriately according to the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, the jewel people are all given characteristics that match the features of their own gemstone. Cinnabar is a soft toxic mercury ore (the same bold red used as a pigment); correspondingly, Cinnabar’s character only has a hardness of 2, and their ability to produce a lethal poison prevents them from interacting with the other Gems. And just as how diamonds are used for precious moments, and are regarded as the world’s prettiest jewel, “Dia” is literally a sparkling, pure, kind-hearted individual with hardness 10, and is almost always seen “engaged” (see what I did there) with a certain Gem.

The attention to detail here goes far beneath the surface, feeling much richer than some cheap gimmick. Here, an imaginative use of characterization births some of the most unique and heartwarming characters I’ve ever seen, and though each gem’s screen time is limited to showcase one another’s distinctive traits, you still get a wholesome feel for who most of these polished beauties are. I imagine that this show would be any mineralogist or gemologist’s wet dream!

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Shout out to all the fans and artists over on Twitter for convincing me to watch this show, and for making me love the characters beyond what the series presents! So much pretty artwork, and I can’t get enough of it! Oh yeah, and Antarcticite is best . . . Girl? . . . Boy? . . . Androgynous gem person!

This IS the Best CG Anime EVER

I was incredibly surprised with how 2017’s Kado: The Right Answer was able to shake up the CGI reputation in anime. It crafted a setting in which CG-animated elements not only worked, but actually enhanced the out-of-this-world story being told, as well as the wondrous anisotropic devices presented. Complaints were still to be made, however, most regarding that the normal people were also animated in CG when they totally didn’t need to be. In typical CG fashion, it made the character actions look a tad awkward.

But from characters to concept, Land of the Lustrous both fits as a CG anime AND looks absolutely stunning doing so. First, the CG mapping allows the character designs to appear consistently gorgeous. The beautifully colored jewel people’s hair radiates with a twinkling, glistening shine—something that could only be achieved using this 3D technique—and their fights against the Lunarians prove to be engaging, expectation-shattering spectacles! Not to mention, the 2D painted backgrounds are works of art all on their own! This 2D-3D blend was clearly well-thought out and executed marvelously, for all that glitters IS gold on the animation front.

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Before I leave the production side of things, I do want to mention that Yoshiaki Fujisawa’s soundtrack provides such an atmospheric, entrancing allure that I can only express in these words: it is a soundtrack suited perfectly for this anime.

Bonds Stronger Than Any Glue: Phos’s Transformation

As stated previously, Land of the Lustrous is a coming-of-age tale where a clumsy, useless, and worthless individual tries to find not only a reason to live, but a place to belong. It’s a story about being useful to those you value, even if those people don’t value your own effort to establish teamwork.

Like people, Gems can be brittle beings with fragile hearts. Phos both mentally and physically “breaks” several times throughout the course of the series. In the search to finally be useful to others, Phos seeks change. Phos just . . . wants to be special. Well, change of any kind comes at a price—to gain something new, something must be lost—and unfortunately, that price is the precious time of others. Or, at its worst, the life of a friend. With an almost foolish bravery and air of bad luck, Phos pursues many partners in an effort to improve—to refine those blemishes of their personality, and to forever eliminate the imperfections that cause them mockery and shame.

But change is scary. It can be painful, it can be sudden, and it can be dangerous.

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Every try, every fail—no matter what, Phos desperately continues to pursue a reason for being. And through each failure, Phos learns a priceless lesson about what it means to feel valued and helpful. Smash your frail legs? Find stronger ones to replace them. Fracture your tiny arms? Hunt for a material that can better weather the crushing pain of defeat. Lose a beloved friend:

Make them proud by living for them. Do what they couldn’t by becoming someone you would both be proud of. Being immortal means each rupture can and DOES lead to a chance to return stronger and shinier than before—to feel reborn anew, to feel revived. And Phos doesn’t let that precious opportunity go to waste.

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Putting the Pieces Back Together

Change involves suffering, but that grief is a necessity for growth. Phos will shatter again, and again, and again, picking up the sad, broken pieces of their shiny shell. Yet with the help of some friends, these shards can be pieced back together to continue fighting on. The bonds that Phos forms, unlike their lustrous figure, are unbreakable. It’s a powerful positive transformation, absolutely, but it comes at very critical costs.

Phos can do it, though. Slowly but surely, Phos comes to realize that self-worth isn’t determined by the people around you, but rather what YOU make of yourself. With great determination, Phos knows the road to truly reviving their spirit is paved with hardship and loss. The world is cruel, after all. But so long as we can hope to become better individuals—actively seeking to help others in return—change and improvement just might someday find us, too. And it’s that seemingly small sentiment that makes Land of the Lustrous shine brighter than all the diamonds in the night sky.

You’ll grow stronger. You’ll be fine . . . Somebody will figure out a way. You won’t get any worse. You must change. You must find courage. You’ll make it. But you don’t have time. – Voice from the ice floes, the reflections of our innermost thoughts

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As emotional as I make it sound, Land of the Lustrous is just such a cool, unique show unlike ANYTHING I’ve ever seen. It’s a neat twist on science matched with a budding mystery that I cannot wait to uncover in the manga! I’m awarding Land of the Lustrous with the “Cake” title, as it’s certainly an elegant show, but its lack of a “true ending” leaves many titillating questions unanswered. You ought to let me know what you thought of this anime or this post down in the comments, as this “hidden gem” (haha ok I’ll go home) was a big hit for some and a sleeper for many others!

Oh, and if you enjoyed this series, consider checking out Yuki Yuna is a Hero for scarily similar-looking antagonists (and overall concept of fighting), A Lull in the Sea for its similar take on village life and growing up, or lastly From the New World because, well, just trust me on this one. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for a classy LTD ED release of this show by Sentai Filmworks, hopefully complete with Yoichi Nishikawa’s end card art cause HOLY BAUBLES, them beauties!

This concludes my January 10th entry in the OWLS “Revival” blog tour. Moonid (Random Garage) went right before me and wrote a bit of a character analysis over Nightingale from the Chinese fantasy web novel Release that Witch. Now, look out for Zoe (Let’s Talk Anime) with ReLIFE, a title that I really need to watch, and Arata’s second chance at youth on Friday, January 12th! Thank you so much for reading, 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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