Ultimate Luck and Hope & Despair: Danganronpa 2 as a Manga . . . From Nagito’s Perspective | Review

A brief, spoiler-free review of the 3-volume 2012-2016 manga “Danganronpa 2: Ultimate Luck and Hope and Despair,” based on Spike Chunsoft’s game “Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair,” art by Kyousuke Suga.


A Spin-Off Full of Despair

Sixteen students from the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy suddenly awaken on a deserted beach. Their teacher, a white and pink “magical girl” rabbit named Usami, proclaims that their first assignment is to become friends with one another by means of touring the island and collecting hope fragments together. Storm clouds quickly gather over this isle of palm trees and blissful breeze when Monokuma, a sadistic bear of monochrome hue, takes Usami down and gives the students a new assignment: to kill one of their peers and get away with murder in the class trial.

To the victor goes the only spoil these teens want—escape from the island. The students swear to one another that they’d never commit such a crime, but as Monokuma slowly and meticulously introduces calculated motives that play on the whims and desires of these kids, temptation is given into, and blood is spilt.

Forced into this deadly killing school trip, what once was an island paradise has become a hell on earth. But when these poor kids find that they’ve been deceived far more than what is even imaginable, the very fabric of their world hangs on the thin threads of hope.

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Greatly truncated for the sake of this review, this is the plot of Spike Chunsoft’s groundbreaking game “Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair,” and the sequel to the equally influential “Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.” But as you can tell, this review isn’t about the game; rather, we’re looking at the manga spin-off today. Instead of playing this survival game through the eyes of main character Hajime Hinata, we experience life from the view of Nagito Komaeda, the Ultimate Lucky Student, and the bane of the class’ existence.

The Ultimate Lucky Student

Infamous for his willingness to take his “friends” down yet beloved by the community for his twisted nature and bromance with Hajime, Nagito is a complicated human bound by irrational thinking and a moral compass that always points south. Above all, he believes in the talents of the Ultimates of Hope’s Peak, and the insurmountable hope that can arise from their collective efforts. Weird, I know, but it gets worse.

Placing complete faith in his ultimate luck and the hopes and dreams of his friends sounds like a good thing, right? Well, not when you add in that twisted personality part I mentioned earlier. He derives pleasure from inflicting pain, suffering, and humiliation on his peers, without a doubt, but only because he deeply believes that his friends are Ultimates—students handpicked by hope itself. That means that no matter the size of the despair, hope always comes out on top. This flawed logic of his causes him to create scenarios that put everyone at risk just to watch the Ultimates overcome the despair. After all, according to Nagito, their talent can overcome any despair.

So, not only is this scrawny emo a huge Hope’s Peak fanboy, but he’s also a nut job with more than a couple loose screws. The PERFECT player to have in a killing game, right?

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To give him credit, there’s never a dull moment around Nagito. In fact, many of the game’s most exciting moments revolve around Nagito’s lies and schemes. By packing the best reveals and most fascinating plot points into this short 3-volume series, you’ve got a spin-off that is anything but boring. Nagito’s trademark luck carries him through numerous plots and conspiracies—many of which he is directly involved with—at the behest of everyone else’s security.

Madness and Maliciousness in Manga Form

Danganronpa is one of the most stylish games out there, arguably more so than even the hit Persona 5. Its iconic gun-and-target imagery offers fun gameplay effects, sure, but the flashy courtroom gimmicks and screen-shattering special effects aren’t just for looks. The series prides itself with the class trials, the bread and butter of the franchise, and this motif of breaking through lies—shining through despair—to uncover the truth. And thankfully, Kyousuke Suga’s adaptation faithfully adapts this matter of style into the fast-paced panels of his manga.

That’s right. Most if not all of the crucial lines and moments are replicated nearly word-for-word in the class trials. Although we only get the first three (for reasons I can’t explain without entering spoiler territory), I was quite surprised with how full and thorough the trials felt, given the immensely short length.

Like anyone should be, I was skeptical about a measly 3-volumes doing Danganronpa 2 any justice. By limiting the story’s POV to that of Nagito only, however, you realize that the Ultimate Lucky Student’s time spent with the Ultimates of Hope’s Peak is short, perhaps, but immensely impactful.

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The only turn-off to this little series is the character designs. All the guys look anorexic, while the ladies have totally unrealistic “curves,” almost as if everything was somewhat over-sexualized. Even if the seemingly sloppy, disproportionate bodies and facial expressions feel uncharacteristic of the game’s original designs (which were boldly outlined and always on point), there’s beauty in the quirkiness of Suga’s style, though.

This lax, less faithful style allows for us to see character expressions and reactions that the game just couldn’t keep up with. A sprite system might feel more stable, but this adaptive style manages to keep up with the subtle dark humor and self-deprecation (given that now we’re Nagito) that I felt the game just didn’t. Suga’s work is much more organic and less “cardboard cutout,” literally, and it makes for a nice afterword piece to the franchise.

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Why Should You Read This Spin-Off?

For one, it’s short. At three volumes, I finished it in a day and a half. Plus, it fills in some gaps of the game. During chapters two and three, Nagito is tied up (don’t ask) and unconscious (also don’t ask), meaning that while the others (namely Hajime) are experiencing the events of the story live, Nagito is playing catch-up. And boy does he do a damn good job at assessing the evidence of each crime scene.

Instead of running around and talking to our classmates, we enter Nagito’s nightmares and delusions of self-reflection. We see his fears, understand his motives, and get a better picture of why Nagito antagonizes his peers like he does. Much better than in the game (save for chapter 4), we get inside Nagito’s headspace and see what makes him tick, allowing the viewer to connect with him a bit more—even if he’s still a freak at the end of the day. You can practically regard this spin-off as cannon, as it never strays from the original plot, nor does it add conflicting details. That’s always a plus.

Additionally, we get different angles from the game. The “camera” shows us live conversations with multiple characters in a shot at different angles talking to one another, as opposed to the game where 2D characters are layered on top of a 2D backdrop. Plus, Kyousuke Suga just seems to understand that Nagito is not a character to be disgusted or hated all the time; Nagito is an oddball to the class, an anomaly that can’t always be understood, and I appreciate Suga’s more comedic take on Nags’ obsession with hope.

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Like Loki to Marvel’s Thor franchise, Nagito is a trickster that is fun to watch and frustrating to befriend, but undeniably inseparable from the equally quirky work in which he comes from. As such, it’s a real treat to have an entire narrative devoted to his character, even if it’s both a rehash of the game’s events (with a few dream sequences of backstory and inner monologues added) and, frankly, a series tragically short for its own good.

This manga series shows you some of the parts you wish you saw in the game, and it does so craftily without tampering with the existing plot. Is it for newcomers to the franchise? Absolutely not. But as supplemental material for those pining after anything extra to do with Hope’s Peak Academy’s 77th Class, Ultimate Luck and Hope and Despair is your stepping stone toward hope.

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Komaeda, you aren’t trash. If you died, or helped someone commit murder, it won’t give rise to hope. Just the opposite . . . it’ll wind up extinguising a ray of hope. ‘Cause . . . ’cause hope . . . is already shining inside you, Komaeda. — Monomi


Afterword

I had a blast reading this short little spin-off, especially given that I finished playing the second game right before starting this series. All the parts of this franchise connect together so intricately, so purposefully and creatively, and this manga spin-off is no exception. It’s extra material for sure, but if you love Nagito Komaeda’s guile as much as I do, you’re bound to love Suga’s work.

And can we talk about those volume covers?? The first two are so brightly colored and stylish with all the characters wrapping around from front to back, while the third is a haunting minimalist piece of Nagito looking like he’s preparing for the final show (if you know what I mean). I think Suga could’ve split volume three into two separate volumes, adding in more content from the ENTIRELY SKIPPED fourth trial, as the third book is nearly twice the size of the other two. Oh well, at least we got the series (in all its matte-cover glory) thanks to Dark Horse.

 

I doubt many of you will end up checking out this series, but if you do, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it! Although a manga series, I’ll give Ultimate Luck and Hope and Despair the “Coffee” rating for being a fun read but not an essential one. I believe the regular manga adaptation of the second game along with Ultra Despair Girls are coming out this fall, so I look forward to picking those up. Till the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Majestic Prince: The Dumb, the Horny, & the Brave | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode spring 2013 anime “Majestic Prince,” animated by Doga Kobo and Orange, directed by Keitarou Motonaga, and based on Rando Ayamine’s manga of the same name.

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Born to Fight

In the near future, humans have begun to live in space through large satellites connected via space elevator. It’d be natural progression for the human race to eventually leave Earth and migrate elsewhere, but hostile aliens launching attacks from the outskirts of Jupiter are making this progress a little trickier than humanity would’ve hoped.

To adapt in their new zero-gravity environment and combat the foreign belligerent threat, genetically engineered children known as “Princes” by the public eye are artificially raised and trained to pilot giant armed robots. These units, the AHSMB, are humanity’s last line of defense, and as the egocentric, lust-driven Wulgaru forces close in on Earth’s orbit, five young pilots from the academic city Grandzehle are forced to fight on the front lines—or die trying to defend their home.

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Majestic Prince tells a simple story. Aliens = bad are after human DNA so as to satisfy their hunt for life in the universe. Meanwhile, humans = good are trying to protect themselves from the invaders. I was really hoping for the anime to be at least somewhat more complicated than that, but I’m afraid that’s as gritty as it gets.

Following a lucky victory in the show’s opening episode, Izuru Hitachi and his classmates get a taste of what the battlefield is really like, as well as how society reacts to humanity’s “super soldiers.” After these first six episodes of training, the kids come to realize that their lives are much more complicated and meaningful than fighting aliens. They have become symbols for justice, the “Majestic Princes,” and although Izuru and his friends were not expecting this kind of life post-graduation, such is what fate *cruelly* delivered. 

In a series of 2 to 3-episode mini arcs, our heroic group of teens is given missions involving disabling enemy technology, fighting, or scouting out enemy territory. The goal: push the Wulgarian forces to the edge of the solar system. Despite inching closer towards liberation, each of these little victories feels hollow. Majestic Prince is most certainly a plot-driven series, but despite the progress, the story and all of the pieces that make it up just aren’t that interesting. Plot twists, when unveiled, are few and unsurprising, and the biggest reason for this lackluster delivery lies in the dreadfully written characters, both good and evil.

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The Fail Five (that’s literally their name)

Ok, it’s actually Team Rabbits, but regardless, I don’t really like these kids. Not that I have anything against them, but there’s quite honestly nothing about this cast that stands out. Izuru is the hero (or at least he desparately proclaims himself to be so), Asagi is the friendly-fire rival, Tamaki is the cute one (boooo), and Suruga is the annoyingly smart and techy one (UGHHH, I hate this guy).

The only one of Grandzehle Academy’s infamous “Fail Five” that strays from the mark is Kei, the constantly-tired big-sister-type that ironically sucks at anything home-ec. In any other show with this kind of cast, the hero would be paired with the cute one, but not in Majestic Prince. Instead, the series gives Kei unrequited feelings for Izuru, who’s denser than a brick to notice. I . . . kinda liked this scenario, but the execution is half-assed. The series abruptly ends with no emotional or romantic conclusion for our poor, purple-hued tactician. Talk about a wasted investment.

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At least the alien Wulgaru are nasty and cool, right? Hah, WRONG. This is probably the most boring cast of humanoid villains I’ve ever seen in a mech show. Characterized as manifestations of the darker side of human emotions, these pleasure-driven, war-hungry tyrants are only in it for themselves, which would’ve been fine had they served as more than just slaves to this destructive ideology. The Wulgarian elites possess half-hearted motives, and their emperor is a total snooze. He doesn’t do ANYTHING!

I would’ve loved to have seen the drama of betrayal commonly found in any series with a collapsing evil monarchy built up much more than it was, but I suppose even Majestic Prince‘s antagonists aren’t on the bright side.

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Visual Forte: “With Our Powers, Combined!”

Perhaps the animation is the most impressive thing Majestic Prince has going for it. The series is listed with having two production studios; I would imagine that Doga Kobo took over the 2D stuff, while Orange (Land of the Lustrous, Black Bullet, Dimension W) handled all the 3D CG mechas and space fights.

While the quality of the CG is actually pretty good (the mechas themselves looking faaaar more impressive than the Wulgarian blob creatures), the fight choreography can be hard to follow at times. Dramatic zoom ins and outs, constant spinning around the battlefield, no focal point to really anchor at—to be frank, it’s too much at times. You almost get space sick, if such a thing exists.

But, seeing as it’s a giant robot series, let’s talk about those for a sec. It should be the goal of any mecha designer to create a look that is both appealing to look at and memorable in some way, shape, or form. Each of the Fail Five pilot a mecha unique to their strong suits, stylized by mechanical designer Kouji Watanabe. Suruga likes guns, so he’s the sniper. Tamaki and Kei are protectors, so they make up the shield and strategist, respectively. Meanwhile, Asagi is that ninja/senpai figure, so naturally he wields a sword, and our hero Izuru is the fighter, hence fists, guns, and a mild combination of everyone’s skill set, really.

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This works really well for the audience. It allows the viewer to associate not only a color to these frankly unmemorable characters, but also their own unique AHSMB unit. Add in the crisp CG imaging and a little transformation sequence at the start of each battle and you’ve got a good routine going—a factor of many great mecha anime that few seem to acknowledge. Even if the characters all kinda have the same moe face, the distinctions on the battlefield marked by the varying colors, positions, roles, weapons, and unit designs make up Majestic Prince‘s visual forte: the collaboration between these two great studios!

As for sound, Toshiyuki Watanabe’s orchestral tracks add a classic vibe to this series—even if the visual effects are anything but. While I can’t recall any specific music moments (aside from the combat start-up sequence) that caught my ear, Watanabe’s OST adds another wonderful layer to this otherwise high quality production.

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Another One Bites the Dust

Half of Majestic Prince was boring; the other was unmemorable. Easily, its most interesting plot point was how such a society would view child mecha pilots—and that only lasted throughout the first half. My favorite episode didn’t even have any fighting in it; rather, it gave us insight into what the daily lives of these teens are like, and all the business they must tend to off the battlefield. Whether it’s repping a brand to gain financial support, volunteering community service at a daycare to ensure public trust, or even modeling for the media, these are realistic issues that most mechas wouldn’t dare to waste time on. And yet, that’s where Majestic Prince thrived.

But when you put all the pieces together, something still doesn’t fit quite right, and it’s honestly the characters that ruin Majestic Prince for me. First, the series insults its cast with unintelligently written dialogue. Second, these kids are dumb (a result of their terrible scrips!) and when they try to get you to laugh—cause you know, there’s always some sort of innuendo to be made with a bunch of horny teens around—you find yourself more so rolling your eyes. And third, the series insists on being funny, and yet when it tries to be, it gets worse. Some of the characters even drag porn into the mix just to squeeze a laugh out of the viewer. Straight up PORN. No, I’m not joking, and no, it didn’t work.

Had I been five or even ten years younger, maybe the series would’ve worked on me. But it’s very hard to pass Majestic Prince on anything when its story and characters are so obviously flat and dry. This is especially sad considering that its production values are pretty damn decent for its time, a combined effort between visuals and sound that clearly tries to salvage this wreck. At the end of the day, however, I’d still just prefer to leave this mess out in space—floating with the dust, and far out of my reach.

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I’m not fighting because I want to fight. I’m doing it to protect those who are dear to me. And because . . . I want to become a hero! — Izuru Hitachi


Afterword

Despite my misgivings with the show, I’m glad I finally gave Majestic Prince a watch. It’d been in my backlog (and on my shelf!) for what had felt like forever, and when at last I decided that the wait was over and plugged in the first disc, well, this is what happened. For all its dorky characters and dull plot points, I’m barely letting Majestic Prince squeak by with the “Coffee” rating. Barely. What saves it is its animated space fights, which allows the piece to at least be entertaining at times. Apparently there’s an OVA episode 25 and a film to follow that make the ending feel less abrupt, but I’m in no hurry to get to them, especially since they aren’t currently licensed.

Leave it to me to once again review a throwback that NO ONE asked for, yet I delivered, haha. What did you think of the Majestic Princes (or Fail Five if you fancy) and their valiant efforts to protect Earth? Be sure to let me know, especially if you thought better of the show! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Izetta: The Fairy Tale That 2016 Slept On | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode fall 2016 anime “Izetta: The Last Witch,” animated by Ajia-do Animation Works, directed by Masaya Fujimori, and based on the original story by Hiroyuki Yoshino. 

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Die Letzte Hexe: The Last Witch

Back during the ages of old, a witch with pristine white hair wielded her powerful magic to protect her country of Elystadt, defending its people until her last dying breath. Years later in 1939, militaristic giant Germania invades a neighboring country, plunging Europe into a devastating war. Boasting far superior technological prowess in this industrial era, Germania sets her sights on Elystadt, a significantly weaker alpine country in the way of Germania’s great conquest.

To make matters worse for the tiny country, Germanian soldiers capture their princess, Ortfiné “Finé” Fredericka von Eylstadt, as she is heading to a decisive meeting with Britannia. When trouble aboard the transport plane breaks loose, another piece of precious cargo, Izetta, the last witch alive, escapes. Recognizing Princess Finé from a childhood memory, Izetta transforms a soldier’s rifle into a flying “broomstick” and rescues Finé.

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Now reunited with her princess, Izetta pledges to protect Elystadt from the clutches of Germania—just as the White Witch of legend once did—and with the last surviving witch on their arsenal, Elystadt hopes to turn the tides against the imperialist war titan.

Original projects excite me. There’s nothing more freeing than hearing a studio trying to bring together a story from the their own combined passions, and then seeing the results. Izetta was no exception. While underwhelming in its finale, Izetta provides a magical spin on a historical setting where a world war is fought . . . by a witch.

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What if a World War had a Witch?

Izetta is a bumbling little mess of emotions and crimson hair. She’s kind and overly humble, but often disregards her own well-being for the object of her affection: Princess Finé. Speaking of, our Princess of Elystadt herself is quite the noble woman. Just as Izetta, she’s loyal to her countrymen and responsible to a T. Respect is another quality that runs deep in the Elystadt family’s lineage (or at least the legend has us believe), but trust me when I say that Finé is the genuine article.

The two are a power duo, and many of my favorite scenes don’t revolve around the engaging combat, but rather the quiet nighttime conversations that are exclusive to the pair. Although they act selfishly so as to preserve the others’ safety, Izetta and Finé are undeniably a cool couple bound together by lore and destiny.

Aside from Izetta, Finé, and a young Germanian spy boy named Ricelt, none of the characters’ motives felt resolved, however. If this were an adaptation of a larger work, then I could understand why some details might’ve gotten left out. But Izetta is an original story with an entirely original cast, and to have interesting characters that serve little more purpose than to act as mere decorative pawns is a crime. If one character’s role can be performed by a separate entity and the story pans out the same way, then that’s a sign you should probably rethink your character count.

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Banking on Design: The Art of Izetta

Ajia-do isn’t a studio known for producing the most outstanding works (the most noteworthy to me being Emma: A Victorian Romance‘s second season), but they definitely did Izetta justice. The magical dogfights featuring Izetta flexing her powers are super fun to watch, as she enchants a variety of guns, swords, and missiles to fly by her side and “aid” her. All of the CG armaments gliding around the battlefield are well animated, and the background villages, landscapes, ballrooms, and regal offices are splendidly colored.

Speaking of colors, the character designs are surprisingly detailed and ornate, especially Ortfiné’s. BUNBUN’s light novel-esque character designs mirror the quality of Abec’s works of Sword Art Online fame. The hauntingly gorgeous ED theme “Hikari Aru Basho e” by May’n features the beautiful original artwork in an elegant slideshow fashion. As for the rest of the music, Michiru delivers wonderful militaristic anthems for on and off the battlefield. Overall, the soundtrack supports both the dramatic and the more lax moments of the series fairly well.

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For dub fans, Funimation’s got you covered with another high quality English script. Mallorie Rodak brings a nobility to Princess Finé that is very reminiscent of her lovely work as Space Battleship Yamato‘s Yuki Mori. Derick Snow’s young boy voice for the soldier-spy Ricelt was, wow, perfect, and Jad Saxton’s Sophie makes for a wicked antagonist, even if I dislike the character. I found Skylar McIntosh’s Izetta to be the weakest performance here, but even then I grew to enjoy her natural naivete that fits so well with the role.

The End of Magic and Fantasy

Amidst the hype of the incredible fall 2016 anime season (which included Drifters, Bungou Stray Dogs‘ 2nd Season, Haikyuu!!’s 3rd Season, and the phenomenon that was Yuri!!! On ICE to name a few), Izetta slipped by the radar fairly undetected. Its flashy moniker and simple yet exciting world-wars-meets-magic premise was pretty well received by fans that somehow didn’t have enough that season to chew on, although few stuck around for very long. (Don’t worry Izetta, I made time for you back then.)

After the first stunning and smart six episodes, the promises and high stakes let on by this thrilling first half see a weak follow-up (and even weaker conclusion) come the end of the story. The introduction of a villain, aside from the uninteresting Germanian emperor, in the latter half serves more thematic purpose than anything else. That is to say, the addition of an actual antagonist to directly oppose our titular witch doesn’t make this story of war any more exciting.

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Prior to this reveal, the series was building up to one big narrative conclusion: that war is bad. It’s not novel, but it certainly fits. Seeing as how there are radicals, spies, and heavy losses on both sides of the border, I would’ve been quite satisfied if Izetta had held a more neutral position.

But then they go ahead and say, “Aha, this new villain is TRULY evil,” and any hopes of an appeal to the enemy side are lost in the muddy trenches. Maybe that kind of story works for you, but I just wasn’t a fan of the big baddie because it didn’t feel like the finale Izetta was building up towards. As an original tale, you could’ve gone anywhere . . . and this is what you decided on? At least Izetta looked great soaring high in the sky on that rifle of hers—I’ll certainly miss our little witch and her magic, even if just for that.

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I, for one, am glad we saw the magic. It may not seem like much, but I think the fairy tale of the White Witch who appeared in modern times left something good inside the hearts of people all over the world. — Izetta, the last witch


Afterword

It’s been three years in the making, and it took receiving a physical copy of the Izetta Blu-ray as a gift from my brother to finally make the time for a rewatch and give this series a proper review. Even if I was disappointed with parts of the ending, the final sentiment of leaving magic behind and looking towards the future will always bring a tear to my eyes. More than not, I’m so happy this project became realized by the production team behind it—it’s a noble little piece, and an achievement in my eyes. Izetta: The Last Witch receives the “Coffee” rating, a title that you, eh, might enjoy, but I wouldn’t recommend like crazy.

Were you one of the few who stuck around to see the end of the magic, or did you bail out of the plane halfway like Finé did in episode one? Let me know, because literally no one talks about this series! Really, the show is kinda dumb, but it’s fun popcorn material if you just want to turn your brain off. On another note, I’m in the reviewing mood, so I’m hoping to churn out a few more before the inspiration passes! So, until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

I Finally Watched the Old Fruits Basket | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 26-episode summer 2001 anime “Fruits Basket,” animated by Studio Deen, directed by Akitarou Daichi, and based on the manga of the same name by Natsuki Takaya.

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The Girl with a Big Heart

Despite losing her mother in a car accident and being kicked out of her grandfather’s house due to renovation, 16-year-old Tohru Honda manages to love life like no one else you’ve ever known. Lying to her friends and family that she’s already found a new place to stay (so as to not burden them) Tohru sets up camp *literally* in the woods.

One fateful night after a long shift at work, Tohru returns to her tent only to find it crushed and flattened by a landslide. Desperately digging through the rubble for the last precious picture of her mother, Tohru faints in the mud. Luckily, the prince of her high school, Yuki Sohma, and his author cousin, Shigure Sohma, come to her aid and even invite Tohru to stay with them until her grandfather’s home renovations are finished.

But as life (and the shoujo genre) would have it, a roof over one’s head doesn’t come free, and so Tohru works as a housekeeper at the Sohma house in return for room and board. The Sohma’s aren’t an ordinary family, however: if a Sohma is hugged by someone of the opposite gender, POOF, they temporarily transform into one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac! (Plus, they return to being human without their clothes on.) Toss in Kyo Sohma, the fiery zodiac cat, and you’ve got quite the crazy household.

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While the Sohmas’ secret causes more sticky (and silly) situations than not, this strange phenomenon isn’t all giggles for Tohru and especially the members of her new family. Rather, the curse of the zodiac has caused all of the Sohmas to bear the tremendous weight of their dark family history. Some are more complacent about the situation than others, but none of them are happy with what the curse has brought them.

As Tohru meets more of the family’s members, she continues to see the light casting such great shadows across each of their hearts. But even with her unusually big heart and kind yet resilient nature, is there a limit to the heartache that Tohru can take?

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Welcome to the Sohma Household!

Oh Tohru, where to begin with you! She’s just about the sweetest young lady you’ll ever meet, so determined and steadfast, yet also gentle and supportive. Full of gratitude for her life and warmth to spare, I couldn’t think of a better protagonist for such a story as this. I love Tohru’s character, I really do, and I totally get why you all do, too! But as a dub fan myself, I couldn’t fully appreciate Tohru without giving praise to Laura Bailey for bringing this clumsy yet polite high school girl to life. UGH, I just love listening to old dubs and hearing Laura Bailey as anything, but this, without a doubt, is a hallmark role for a reason.

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Now for mah boys, where are my Prince Yuki fans? Kyo Sohma stans?? Prior to watching, all I knew about Fruba was that all of the male Shomas were supposedly boyfriend material. I get it now. Kyo and Yuki are ICONIC, like fire and ice, cat and mouse (rat), respectively; the Asuka and the Rei of the shoujo world. The smart one perfectly imperfect, the stupid one imperfectly perfect. Although both are unable to open their hearts to “normal” people, these two rivals in arms compete for the affection of Miss Honda without holding back, unbeknownst to their own feelings in the beginning.

And yeah, in case you were wondering, #TeamKyo ALL THE WAY. After voicing Kaworu in Eva 3.33, I never thought I could fanboy over Jerry Jewell this badly. Turns out, I can.

I couldn’t wrap up the Sohmas without mentioning some of my other favorites, however; if Kyo is #bestboy, then Shigure is best man cause DADDY AM I RIGHT. Jokes aside, I really do love the zodiac dog and all his whimsical teasing. John Burgmeier’s Shirgure is just as slippery as his personality should be. Same could be said about Chris Sabat’s overly frilly pompousness for Ayame Sohma, our resident snake, cause wow, just such dream casting.

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Sweetly, Softly, Serenade Me

Ah, here we are, Fruba‘s biggest deal-breaker: the animation. Studio Deen isn’t known for producing the most beautiful works by any means, and it pains me to report that as much as I love the characters, the show kinda looks like ass. To be honest, not many early 2000s anime fair as well as those that came before (and most certainly those we have now), but the inconsistently drawn faces and blocky body structures make Fruba 2001 a pretty bland watch, especially when compared to the 2019 remake (I mean, I would hope so, at least). The chibi art style for the many comedic moments in the series is iconically well-done, however, so I’ll at least give it points for being extra cute and even hilarious at times.

There’s also a problem with the anime-only ending, but I can’t and won’t add more on that simply because I do not know how faithful that ending is to the manga. While it may seem totally out of touch given the fluffier content of the earlier half, perhaps the original story does go that dark, that suddenly, to which I can only really say . . . yikes. Emotional, absolutely, but it still hits hard from waaaay outta left field.

Much of the actual OST for me is a blur, but I loved the reprises and acoustic versions of the OP and ED featured throughout the series’ run. The actual theme songs happened to exist during the days of dubbing the music, so the OP and ED are in English. And I love that too. Hearing Laura Bailey softly signing along to “Chiisana Inori” at the end of each episode was the gift you earned for having to watch the drab animation. But to hear the bittersweet “For Fruits Basket” immediately following as the OP was, well, emotionally draining to say the least. (It really just HITS ya.) Ahh, my heart, what a lovely pair the two make!

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Acceptance Begins with Understanding

From the synopsis alone, I can see why the series has become so iconic to the genre. The scenarios in Fruits Basket are as classic as they get—I can only imagine, if there’s an anime romance trope out there, Fruba‘s got it. Whether the quirkiest or steamiest of situations, however, the series handles the delivery more gently than most. It’s almost as if the series, despite how depressing it can be, is too kind for its own good. And you can bet Tohru is a huge part of why Fruba manages to be simultaneously innocent and full of depth and heart.

The story is richly woven with character dramas and inspiring little tales reminiscent of a child’s bedtime storybook, Tohru serving as both the narrator and the characters’ guiding light. Each of the Sohmas possess an individually distorted view of their dark pasts, and after years of rejection, isolation, oppression, and feeling like an outcast, who could blame them? These are wounds that even time cannot heal—scars that will never fade—and yet, Tohru tries to bandage them up anyway. Through her accepting essence, Tohru allows Kyo, Yuki, and so many others in the family to vent their frustrations, their past errors, and their regrets.

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After what feels like a long, exhausting therapy session, our zodiac friends slowly come to peace with themselves and, at last, feel proud for being who—not what—they are. As someone willing to understand them, Tohru offers to do what no outsider has ever done before and help shoulder their burden, however tremendous the weight, and I couldn’t even begin to fathom how relieving that must feel. “Finally, I can tell someone. FINALLY, I can be me!”

From me to you, don’t sleep on this story as long as I did. With the new season airing, tons of fans around the world are reconnecting with their favorite zodiac friends and passionate OTPs and ships. To miss out on such fun would be tragic. So, whether the old, stale, yet genuine 2001 version or this latest vibrant retelling, watch Fruits Basket. Then you, too, will see what all the ruckus is about in the Sohma household—and why it’s such a heartwarming, endearing little place to stay.

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You never know what will happen tomorrow! If it’s not tomorrow, then maybe the next day. Maybe after a year, or even ten years . . . But even so, as long as you’re alive, things keep happening. As long as you’re alive, wishes keep getting made. — Tohru Honda


Afterword

What more can I say, Fruits Basket is a classic after all. So classic, in fact, that I’m awarding this long-awaited series with the “Cake” title, a series so sweet it’d be a crime to skip out on. That said, I’d only make it a true must for shoujo fans. If romance and cutesy fun stuff ain’t your thing, skip it, or better yet try the 2019 version. At least that one looks pretty (not to say I won’t crush over 2001 Kyo for the next year). There’s so much heart in this series, guys—I GET WHY Y’ALL LOVE IT SO MUCH. And the dub, oh my god, they really milked this one for all its worth. So honestly, truly wonderful.

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Do you have any memories with Fruits Basket 2001? Ooh, what about a favorite zodiac member?? You’re gonna have to let me know in the comments for sure! I’ll forever treasure this past spring, spending my weekends watching this beloved show with my sister. In fact, the remake may be why I decided to watch it now, but my sister’s the one who shared this series with me in the first place! Thanks so much for reading another rambling gush-fest of mine, and until the next post, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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

The Biggest Anime DVD Box Set I Own: RahXephon Limited Edition | Unboxing

Hello!

I’ve got a bit of a different post today. Believe it or not, unboxing and haul posts are some of my favorite to write because once the pictures have been taken, all I have to do is write a couple sentences and upload, easy-peasy.

Specifically though, I’m writing this post because, like any well-researched collector, I wanted to know whether this was the edition of RahXephon that I wanted to buy. But when I began scouring the web for pictures of this box, I found nothing. Now, maybe someone will be able to find security and satisfaction in this A-grade product.

Because oh man, what a fantastic set this is.

I’m gonna boast for a minute here and hail the RahXephon limited edition as the biggest anime DVD box set I own. I know these kinds of box sets have been around in anime for quite some time, but this is my first foray into the classic anime collecting scene (where you’d supposedly spend $30 on a DVD containing four episodes and do this seven times until you eventually roped in all 26-odd-some episodes), so let me have this one.

I was lucky enough to buy from a seller who not only sold it for just $45, but kept it in mint condition. Seriously, this beast is IMMACULATE—and it’s over 15 years old!! Proof that there are good collectors out there who take care of their stuff. And they packaged it so nicely too, bonus points! Really happy with this find.

But you just want to see this beautiful box, don’tcha? Alright, me too, so let’s go!


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Here’s the box’s exterior: the front, back, top, and sides. I love the holographic foil printing on the logo (which is consistent on EACH of the DVDs as we’ll see here in a bit. The artwork is also particularly exquisite, capturing the mysticism of the story with these divine pieces worthy of framature in any museum. It’s really cool to see all 8 of the DVD spines together as well. Each is consistently laid out and color-coded, almost as if they were meant to go together or something!

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Onto the DVD cases themselves, each one contains key art from the series on a pristine white background overlaid with that holo-foil logo. Each set matches the color dot on the spine, which is a nice touch. Also included in this set is a hefty artbook for the film, Pluralitus Concentio, which makes the 8th DVD in this complete 8-disc set.

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The backsides of each DVD maintain the same white and color-coded schema. The designers also utilized the series’ theme of music to tie in clever phrases to each progression of the plot, beginning with the prelude and ending, of course, with an encore. I LOVE IT.

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Cracking into the DVDs—if you thought this set couldn’t get any better—you will find a miniature artbook for each set. The cover and back pages have the art printed on a specialty paper with a parchment/wax-like texture, which adds to the classiness of this set. Each pamphlet includes approximately 10 pages of character information, as well as art of the various robots and Dolems that appear throughout the series.

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Want a closer look? So do I! Here’s each DVD set complete with its disc and art pamphlet, as well as the film artbook. I really like the landscape art included on the inside pages of each little book. When you think about it, I guess this is what each DVD contained when it was individually purchased back in the day.

Again, this seller kept the box and its contents in such spotless condition that it truly feels like I’m owning a product that just came hot of the press, let alone an artifact from well over a decade ago.

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So to any fellow anime collector out there looking for a proper review of this set, I hope this post helps. If anyone is wanting an even closer look than I provide here, feel free to ask me in the comments. When I was still laying out my purchase options, it came down to either the thinpack (and then I’d buy the film for a separate $10) or this mammoth set, and I’m glad I stuck with the latter.

Will I buy more boxes like this in the future? Hahaha, good question, if my shelves can support it I guess. RahXephon was a special case given that its main accessibility from a physical standpoint was this, the thinpack, or a couple other thinpack-like options. Only time will tell, I suppose.

That’s all I’ve got for this one. In case you missed it, I watched RahXephon as part of my annual V-Day marathon and enjoyed it so much I also reviewed it on my blog (which you can read right here)! I’d be delighted if you checked it out. Friends and fellow collectors, ’till next time!

– Takuto, your post

 

 

Alita: Battle Angel — A Warrior’s Tale | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 2019 American cyberpunk action film “Alita: Battle Angel,” produced by 20th Century Fox, written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, directed by Robert Rodriguez, and based on the 1990s manga “Battle Angel Alita” (or “Gunmn” in Japan) by Yukito Kishiro. 

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After the Fall: An Origin Story

Still recovering from a catastrophic war referred to as “The Fall,” humanity remains determined to eke out a living on a devastated Earth in the year 2563. While scavenging the junkyard metropolis of Iron City, Dr. Dyson Ido, a renowned cyborg scientist, stumbles across a disembodied female cyborg—human brain still fully intact. Taking the remains back to his lab, Ido rebuilds the cyborg and gives her a name: “Alita.”

Although she has no recollections of her past, she is able to create new memories thanks to the doc’s healing hands. She eventually meets Hugo, a teenage boy who dreams of one day moving up to the wealthy city in the sky, Zalem. He introduces her to the competitive, cutthroat sport of Motorball, an every-man-for-himself race where cyborgs fight to the death for a chance at ascending to Zalem if victorious.

But sinister connections tie even the friendliest faces to the shadows, and as Alita quickly comes to realize that there’s no force more powerful than the game, the titular cyborg sets out to learn about her past to save the ones she loves most in the present.

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Alita: Battle Angel may be my first introduction to this much beloved franchise, but man, what solid footing director Robert Rodriguez and writer James Cameron provide for this classic origin story. Going in blind, I can already tell you that the franchise is worth the investment. This live action film, albeit a bit fast-paced, serves as a fantastic place to start if picking up four volumes of the manga just isn’t an option for whatever reason.

Admittedly, there’s some cheesy villain dialogue that sours the seriousness at times, and while I wish these lines weren’t delivered with such blatant “evilness,” the script actually feels more anime because of it. Critics may have blasted the script and the plot for their lack of ingenuity, but I—and most audiences, apparently—seemed to enjoy it regardless. Alita‘s wild betrayals and reveals may come as a shock to some; others may have seen the twists from a mile away. But if you still enjoy the story, that’s all that matters. To quote Dr. Ido:


“But that’s just a shell. It’s neither bad nor good. That part’s up to you.”


Surprisingly, the film contains includes a decent amount humor to remind you that Alita is—as much cyberization and machine-slaughter as the plot contains—a very human story. Although the environment is both visually and aesthetically astounding to take in, it’s the characters of Alita that make this powerful story of purpose and destiny resonate with newcomers and longtime fans alike.

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Alita, An All-or-Nothing Gal

From design to personality, I fell in love with Alita the moment I first saw her in the promotional trailers months back. I knew she’d be your typical brave girl fighting against the system character, but I wasn’t expecting her to be the feisty rascal kind—a delightful surprise. Brazen and bold, the girl is drawn to danger like a moth to a lamp. It’s always all or nothing with her, and Alita’s rebellious free-spirited nature makes her a refreshing heroine to cheer for—even if her recklessness tosses her down the rabbit hole more than a few times.

Did I mention that Rosa Salazar is freakin’ OUTSTANDING as the titular role? Cause she’s absolutely phenomenal, able to communicate to the audience that she struggles with fighting this world’s injustice, but is always eager to learn something new. Salazar’s gradual transformation from fluffy, chocolate-loving teenager to hardcore warrior is impressive to behold. Every second Salazar is on screen feels genuine. Through this loss of innocence, she doesn’t let the emotions hold back (even during the tender moments). If she induces a tear in your eye as you watch, I’m not sorry. She’s that awesome.

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The rest of the cast deserves a round of applause too, especially Christoph Waltz’s portrayal of Dr. Ido for making him this benevolent yet fascinating foster figure. What a dad. (And bless his aide, Gerhad, whose mere presence provides enough support for Alita.) The same glowing things could be said about Keean Johnson’s semi-dreamy Hugo, the junk dealer.

As for the villains, Mahershala Ali’s acting is perfect for the intimidating “king” of Iron City, Vector, but his character’s status(es) needed stronger clarification, as I didn’t even realize what his roles were until halfway into the film. Same for Jennifer Connelly’s Dr. Chiren, a somewhat frustrating character given her circumstantial duality.

And NO, the large CG-altered eyes don’t detract from the narrative one bit. After five minutes, they just became part of her charm, and I didn’t even realize it afterwards.

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Motorball & The World Below

Between the numerous sci-fi action sequences and the stunningly brutal sport of Motorball, Alita is a visual feast. Whether fighting in back-alley slums, the dark sewers below, or on the exhilarating race track surrounded by stadium lights and roaring cheers, there’s never a dull moment in this film. And Motorball though, WOW, one of the franchise’s biggest spectacles is brought to life through stellar visual effects and cyborg goodness to make any sci-fi junkie drool just watching.

Alita also does something really neat with visual lighting. The film begins in the rustic, sunlit scrapyard, which transitions to an even brighter, cheerier atmosphere when Alita meets Hugo. But when rain begins to fall, the dark and dreary cityscape—lit only by holographic street signs and neon lights—emphasizes the literal night journey Alita embarks on. Once she uncovers the truth, light returns as she confronts Vector and his pawn Grewishka to finally deliver justice.

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From the intricate and gorgeous detailing of Alita’s cybernetic body to the remarkably thrilling fights, the attention to detail in crafting this postwar cyberpunk world is on a level of its own. If this isn’t a faithful adaptation of the manga, I cannot even begin to imagine what greatness Yukito Kishiro’s original story contains.

No great sci-fi movie is complete without an equally epic score, to which Tom Holkenborg overwhelmingly pulls through. Between the strong symphonic opening in “Discovery” and “Motorball” busting through the gates with its powerful rhythmic tribal drumming, the harmonic balance between strings and dubstep is just right. For the credits, Dua Lipa’s “Swan Song” also ties in well as a piece addressing social injustice and change. Thank god for Apple Music, because I’ll be listening to this soundtrack for weeks to come.

But Will it be Enough?

With so many moments where you just want to pump your fists in the air and cheer, Alita does everything it needs to do to be a great movie. Gripping, emotional, heartfelt even, but will it be enough? Will this be the last we hear of Alita and company on U.S. theater screens, or will Rodriguez and Cameron’s efforts be enough to finally end the trend of live-action anime adaptations being one-off movies?

Either way, I support everything this film tried to accomplish and then some—heck, I went to the theaters twice, and totally would’ve gone a third if my schedule wasn’t so busy as is. Beyond the issues of faithful source reconstruction or the present lack of a thorough conclusion, all I wanted from Alita: Battle Angel was an entertaining film that holds on its own—and boy does Alita stand proud and tall.

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I do not stand by in the presence of evil. — Alita


Afterword

Oh man, such a GOOD MOVIE my friends!! Job well done to the cast and crew for sure, as this is already a good contender for my favorite non-anime film of the year. Whether in theaters or on your home screen in the near future, I hope you got (or eventually get) a chance to watch it, cause Alita‘s not one to miss. They did this one right, holy shit.

I don’t really ever review live action films, but for Alita’s charm, I’ll make an exception. 2019’s Alita: Battle Angel is certified “Cake” here at the cafe, and should we ever see a sequel, there’s a solid chance I’d bump this one up to a “Caffe Mocha,” without a doubt! Guys, let me know your thoughts about this kickass LA-anime-done-right down in the comments, be it your praises or your criticisms, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host