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

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

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“Hey, Do You Like Running?”

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

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

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

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

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

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Realism, Recourse, and Reinvention

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

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

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

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


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


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

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My NEW Favorite Production I.G Sports Anime

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

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

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

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

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

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Chill Vibes, Heart-Pounding Winds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Against the Flow

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

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

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

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

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


Afterword

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

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

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

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

“The mountains of Hakone are?”

– Takuto

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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.

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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

Cacophony in Paradise: RahXephon & Accepting the World | Review

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

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Prophecy & Lore: Angel Mu Attack 

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

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

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

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

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

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Classic in its Own Way

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

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

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

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The Struggle to be Human 

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

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

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

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

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

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Transcending Technique: A Mecha to Last Decades

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

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

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

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Add a Little Jazz: Ambiance & Expression

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

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

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

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

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

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To Weather the Storm 

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

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

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


Afterword

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

WorldEnd — The Lack of Connection Between You and Me | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode spring 2017 anime “WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?”, also known as “SukaSuka,” animated by Satelight and C2C, directed by Junichi Wada, and based on Akira Kareno’s light novel series of the same name.

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At the End of the World

Awakening from a cryogenic slumber 500 years after his ferocious fight with a mysterious monster, Willem Kmetsch finds himself to be the last human alive. During his icy slumber, creatures of terrifying proportions known as “Beasts” emerged on Earth’s surface and destroyed the human race—all except for one, that is. Together with the other surviving races of this fantasy world, Willem takes refuge in the floating islands, living in fear of what terror still lies below. His new life feels lonely and meaningless, for all he has tied to him now is a number of odd jobs to merely get by.

One day, a surprise offer to become a weapons storehouse caretaker graces Willem’s presence, to which he takes thinking nothing of it. When arriving at this “warehouse,” however, he finds it not to be filled with guns and other arms, but instead a handful of young girls. And boy are they a handful. Connecting the dots, Willem realizes that these Leprechauns, though resembling humans, have no regard for their own lives, as they identify themselves as mere weapons of war. These are the weapons he was tasked to look after.

Becoming something of a father figure for the young Leprechauns, Willem spends his days watching over them fondly and supporting them in any way he can. Among them is blue-haired Chtholly Nota Seniorious, the dutiful yet stubborn eldest who is more than willing to sacrifice herself if it means defeating the Beasts and safeguarding peace. The two strike up an endearing relationship, and as Leprechauns are sent off to battle at the end of the world, Willem—who knows the tragedies of war all too well—can only cling to the hope that those who fight bravely will someday return home safe and sound.

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I remember this plot stirring up a lot of hearts back when it aired in 2017, but I found myself emotionally detached from not only most of the characters but also the story itself. It’s kind of like Seraph of the End‘s opening in that you are shown a deeply impressionable first episode (made notable largely for its music, which I’ll get to), and then directed to an entirely different story. For me at least, the show has a hard time of maintaining a particular mood, be it happiness, sadness, or somewhere in between.

It also quite honestly feels like WorldEnd is trying to balance so many different genres that it fails to excel at any of them. While it’s certainly not an action series, it wouldn’t be proper to label it as slice of life. But it does have enough excitement to be this weird sci-fi/fantasy blend, something that definitely makes it feel like a light novel adaptation. Romance might be a better genre category, but even then the dramatic intensity is ALL over the place, hardly a fit for a “true” story of love and romance.

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All the Lolis in the World Can’t Make You Relatable

Ready for me to break some hearts? Alright, well I’ll start with Willem, the story’s “hero” who falls for the girl doomed to a terrible fate. While I enjoy the message of defying said fate and cautiously yet optimistically gazing toward the future, I just couldn’t get into Willem’s character. Let me explain.

His unusual circumstances as “weapons keeper” places him with the undivided attention of all the lolicauns (heh, get it?). Each of their little problems are designed to unfold around him with the intent of unlocking a new facet of his character. Oh, so we find out everyone is afraid of him? Makes sense, he’s a human and a dude at that. But he’s a good cook? And he’s able to make them all love him through food? How convenient. But wait, he can also tune their weapons, a quality that is unique only to him. And we can’t forget that he’s a lover of little kids, a pro nurse, and a massage therapist, too. Plus, even though he can whoop all of these magical fairies in combat, he’s totally willing to die for them at any given time, OF COURSE.

Willem is just . . . too perfect, and I just couldn’t connect with him because of his overwhelming home-ec expertise. And speaking of disconnection, I never really cared for Chtholly, the lead female, as much as I was *supposed* to either. The two are cute together, don’t get me wrong, but I only recall like one or two instances where I thought their chemistry felt honest and true—and not being manipulated by the choppy plot lines.

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“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?”

Studios Satelite and C2C team up to animate this breathtaking fantasy world and it’s . . . alright? Aside from a few gorgeous landscape shots, the animation merely gets the job done. WorldEnd’s characters are drawn delicately, and the copious amounts of crimson blood that spill out during the fight scenes create quite the stark contrast (which I believe was the point). Given the lack of brazen fanservice we’ve come to see with these LN adaptations, the modesty here sure is appreciated. All in all, it may not be worth solely watching for the animation, but there is one production component that makes WorldEnd stand above the crowd: Tatsuya Katou’s soundtrack.

I’m a sucker for insert songs. They can hype up a scene to unbelievable levels and allow emotions transcend logic, a quality which can be tricky to master. But oh man does Tatsuya Katou have it down. Specifically here, he arranges traditional English ballads and folk songs as insert songs. Between the rich and powerful “Scarborough Fair” opening up this story’s curtains in episode one to the deeply resonate “Always in my Heart” closing out the final fight, it’s easy to be moved to tears. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. Both sung in English by the graceful Tamaru Yamada, these insert songs become perfect representations of WorldEnd‘s tragic duality.

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The rest of the OST maintains this same orchestral beauty: soaring strings, somber violin solos, cheerful guitar, blissful piano—a winning combination. Absolutely fantastic, and perfect for the fantasy atmosphere. Also worthy of mention is the series’ OP “DEAREST DROP” by Azusa Tadokoro, a song that easily made it into my personal music playlist.

For English dub fans, Funimation’s got you covered. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t exactly enjoy Willem’s character, but this isn’t my favorite Micah Solusod performance. Amber Lee Connors’ Chtholly definitely grows on you if you allow her a few episodes, though. Overall, I’m still curious about how the Japanese handled the emotional scenes, but the dub works just fine.

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Hinging on Feelings

Between a story that is neither this nor that and a bland protagonist that I just couldn’t seem to connect with, we’ve got a few touching scenes weakly strung together by a heavy reliance on the viewer loving the cast. The romance genre hinges on your attachment to (at least one of) the leads, making it almost entirely based on personal preference (to which I didn’t quite fancy here). At least it has some encouraging messages on embracing oneself through the process of change.

I wanted to love this anime with all my heart—after all, it was the talk of 2017 for quite some time. But in the end, a lack of connection—between plot points, characters, and myself as the viewer—prevents me from recommending the series unconditionally. There’s something special going on here, there really is, but I don’t think this anime adaptation showcases WorldEnd at its true best.

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I can’t find happiness, meaning there’s really no reason to pursue it. How can one pursue what they already have? Don’t you understand—I’m already the happiest girl in the world. — Chtholly


Afterword

I admittedly feel terrible for spitting on this beloved title. But if it makes fans feel better, I would like to check out the original light novel series some day, as I’ve heard wonderful things from people who are reading it. By the way, THAT TITLE THO. This is LN culture at its peak. For all those curious, WorldEnd: What are you doing at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us? is rated a “Coffee” here at the cafe, a show that’s rich in all the right areas, and quite possibly satisfying if its characters can win over your heart.

Do you have any thoughts on this sweet little title? Let me know if you share some of the same disappointments or praises of WorldEnd that I do in the comments. I’d totally be willing to give this title a second try if given the reason to, so come and voice your thoughts on WorldEnd or this review! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Gargantia: A Mecha Which Lulls Like the Waves | Review

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

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Awakening on Gargantia, the Island of Ships

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

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

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

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

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

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Chilling at its Own Pace

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

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

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The People of Gargantia 

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

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

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

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

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On Endless Green Waters

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

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

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Seas of Possibility, Skies of Freedom

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

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

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


Afterword

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

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

– Takuto, your host

Bokurano: The Darkness Within Our Hearts | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode spring 2007 anime “Bokurano: Ours,” animated by Gonzo, directed by Hiroyuki Morita, and based on Mohiro Kitoh’s manga of the same name.

***MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST COUPLE EPISODES ARE PRESENT***

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How Would You Spend Your Last Day on Earth?

I’m sure you haven’t given it much thought; to which, neither have I. None of us do, and yet here’s an anime where kids are told when they will die, how they will die, and that whatever they do with their final day is up to them. There is no running away from fate, it’s do-or-die time. However, I suppose my words would have more weight if I told you why. Allow me to backtrack . . .

Fifteen children are enjoying their youth together at a summer camp. It’s sun, sea, and, what’s this? A mysterious grotto by the shore? The kids explore the creepy cave only to find a strange setup of computers and monitors, along with an even creepier old man calling himself Kokopelli. Supposedly, Kokopelli’s been developing a game, one where the players pilots a giant robot to defend Earth against 15 different alien invasions, and all he needs now is willing players to test it out. Sounds fun, I mean, what could be the harm? By individually placing their hand on a scanner, the kids complete their contract and suddenly blackout.

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They awaken back on the beach. Other than the fact that night has fallen, everything appears normal. Normal, EXCEPT for the impossibly high 500-meter-tall giant robot now towering over them! In a horrific twist of fate, the children must now take to their seats to pilot Zearth one at a time in hopes that they have the physical strength and mental fortitude it takes to defeat the bizarre enemies. But Kokopelli’s abrupt disappearance leaves the afraid and confused kids with harsh truths they must discover on their own: What exactly is Zearth, and what is the giant robot’s energy source?

Before I rip into the fantastic story of Bokurano, I wanted to address my biggest issue with the show right off the bat: the “antagonist.” Surely, even just by reading the synopsis something seems fishy. Where did Kokopelli go? Will he reappear later as the antagonist? It’s tricky for me to explain much of anything without ruining the surprise, but I can imagine that you, too, understand that there’s something else at play here. And here’s the thing: that “something” doesn’t really make much of an appearance. When director Hiroyuki Morita brought over the story from Mohiro Kitoh’s manga, even he felt that some of Bokurano was just way too damn sad (sources are all over the web confirm this).

So he changed it, and I think that the force that moves the anime along was “left behind” in the process, either because it didn’t mesh well with Morita’s new story, or that there wasn’t enough time to explain it all (as is what often happens in anime). Don’t worry, this anime adaptation is still one of the most depressing things you’ll ever watch, but if the ending feels somewhat incomplete, it’s because *frustratingly* this is not the same ending intended from the start.

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The Saddest Soldiers for the Saddest Anime Ever

Systematically, we bear witness to pilot after pilot fight their battle and depart from the scene. Where do they go, what happens to them? Ready for a dose of reality? ***SPOILERS for the first couple episodes, but they die. That’s all there is to it. There’s no glory, and no reward. Once you’ve served your purpose in prolonging the planet’s safety, no longer are you of any use to Zearth and Koemushi, a cruel and sadistic ABOMINATION whose job is to circulate this cycle of death and inevitably select the next pilot.

Each episode or two, we center our narrative focus on the next pilot chosen. From family and friends to one’s most carefully guarded secrets, we quite literally see all of it. The darkness in our hearts can seem infinitely deep, regardless of one’s age, and the fronts we put up can’t always mask it all. We see kids break, physically and emotionally, and although we know that they’ll die at the end of the episode, it can still be dramatic and utterly heartbreaking. Honestly, I wish they had more time . . . I won’t go into further details for real spoilers, but watching others suffer is . . . well, “Pain is addictive.”

Bokurano is thrilling up until the very end, even if it is hard to watch these poor kids undergo psychological torment to no end. Either it was super interesting to watch or, subconsciously, I wanted to quickly put them out of their misery, but I just could not put Bokurano down for a second.

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Oh, and be prepared to have your guesses as to who’s next get smashed, as even the seemingly “main” characters are not spared from Koemushi’s wrath.

Lost Iconography: The Circle of Chairs

A lot of early 2000s anime don’t hold up very well in today’s day. Bokurano is no exception from this. The show’s characters can look pretty rough on the eyes, and other than the robot fights, Gonzo’s animation is kept to a minimum, resulting in too many dialogue scenes and conversations that don’t seem to end. On those robot fights though, man—Bokurano’s got some of the most engaging, exciting, strange, and truly colossal mech fights that the genre has to offer! Unlike a tedious game of “My gun is bigger than your gun,” a real amount of strategy is required to pilot a robot that essentially has no controls—just your mind. Sync with Zearth, tell it what you want to do, and it will likely perform the feat even if its mechanical structure has to be reconfigured entirely. Just as how we know more about the cast as we go along, we come to see Zearth’s true range of abilities, and understand why it is able to put up such a good fight.

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I wanted to briefly mention the chairs, though. You know, that eerie circle of unique chairs inside Zearth’s pilot chamber. The chairs are how the pilots enter and exit Zearth, and without their genius iconography, works like Madoka Magica may not have that extra special “Shaft” touch. A single object or location can tell an entire story—and these chairs encompass both of those categories. Whenever I see Daiichi, Komoda, or Chizuru’s chairs, I immediately recall their struggles, their emotions, their story, which is absolutely wild given that they’re ultimately just furniture. Where do you spend most of your time sitting? How does that area represent who you are as a person?

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While the main OST doesn’t offer much in the way of me thinking, “Oh yeah, that’s Bokurano!” Chiaki Ishikawa has absolutely dominated the sound department with her amazingly addictive OP and two excellent ED themes. “Little Bird” and especially “Vermilion” are rich with a somber quality to them, but “Uninstall” ranks up there as one of my favorite OPs of all time for its epic melancholy, sorrowful lyrics, and ability to call to mind all of the beauty and tragedy in Bokurano. 

The Pain of Letting Go

Could you put enough pain on a single person to change the human heart? Short answer, yes, but the road to such change can be messy, frustrating, and completely exhausting. Bokurano‘s main interest comes from the constant curiosity of where the story is headed next. What will ultimately stick with you, however, are the hearts left behind along the way, and the stories that succumbed to tragedy—or the few that ended with a glimmer of hope.

As characters exit the stage one by one, their vacant seats are left to inspire the next chosen hero. At one point, these chairs had a warm body that sat in them, that thought about their place in the world, and that struggled to come to terms with their fate. Although its visuals are dated and some of its background plot points could’ve been fleshed out better for the finale, Bokurano still holds fast as a gem of its genre, reminding us that everyone suffers—but we that can still be saved.

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An awesome reality came to meet us from beyond. It came to laugh at how simple our existence was. Even when I covered my ears, the truth slipped through both hands and confounded me . . . I have no choice but to act as a warrior who knows no fear.—from “Uninstall,” the opening theme


Bokurano‘s been sitting on my backlog ever since I watched Evangelion, and now that I’ve FINALLY seen it, I can confidently recommend it to fans of that other popular abstract mecha anime. Their distorted premises may be different, but the stakes of the game are the same, in that a group of kids must pilot giant robots against the wrath of the heavens—or face the destruction of their world. Similarly, both stories feature a very human cast dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses to sexual frustration and an inferiority complex. Both series handle these themes with extreme care and realism, which can be appreciated immensely. If it isn’t a surprise by this point, then please, let’s honor Bokurano: Ours as a “Caffe Mocha” title, a rating reserved for only the best!”

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Because of its clockwork death count and endearing participants, I found this smartly written survival game to literally be The Saddest Anime I’ve Ever Seen. Despite being full of nothing but misery and grief, the suspense of hope that releases at the very end feels immensely satisfactory. If you’re up for a bit of a psychological challenge and don’t mind a throwback, you ought to give Bokurano a try (Crunchyroll’s got it for FREE)! Already seen it? Let me know what you thought about Bokurano or this review down in the comments and we can reminisce together! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host