Goodbye, My Rose Garden – A Poignant Victorian Romance Between Women || First Impressions

First impressions for volume 1 of the yuri manga series “Goodbye, My Rose Garden,” story and art by Dr. Pepperco, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment. Minor spoilers will be present. 


A Victorian Romance

England, the early 1900s. Hanako traverses the great seas to England to follow her dream of becoming a novelist. Things don’t work out quite as planned, however, and she finds herself saved by Lady Alice Douglas. The noblewoman offers Hanako a position as a personal maid, and their relationship is fairly normal . . . until the day Alice asks Hanako to kill her. Confused and distraught by her fair lady’s most unusual request, Hanako tries to figure out why her mistress would make such a shocking plea. As she reads deeper into the situation, Hanako and Alice grow closer until something miraculous begins to blossom between them.

Goodbye, My Rose Garden is a historical shoujo-ai drama that is certainly more than your average Victorian romance. Contained within this first volume are the initial attempts made by Hanako to understand her mistress, the reasons for Alice’s wish, and the struggles the two face living in 20th century England. Even with her bountiful library of books, vast intelligence, and enviable presence, Lady Alice still feels a pain that few other upper-class woman could even begin to understand. It is a pain of the heart, feelings of forbidden love: Alice likes women, but she cannot let anyone know or else risk tarnishing her entire family’s distinguished name.

Dr. Pepperco (interesting pen name) handles Alice’s situation with wonderful delicacy and respect. We see not only how Alice’s hidden desires stretch her to the breaking point, but also how her stress starts to take a toll on those who care about her, namely Hanako. One can tell just by the first few pages alone that creation of this manga was also incredibly well-researched. Dr. Pepperco nails the social nuances and public affairs of the time, down to the very stitch styling of the maid outfit’s shoulder fabric. I love the Victorian era for its aesthetics, but I would agree that it wasn’t the best time in history to desire a same-sex relationship.

Alice hug

A Passion For Literature, And Also . . .

The maids of Rosebarrow House are each fun and quirky on their own, but Japanese-born Hanako is by far the most interesting asset to Alice’s fine staff—it’s no wonder Alice takes a liking to her. What drew Alice to Hanako in the first place were her golden eyes. If Hanako’s eyes shine like the sun, Alice’s eyes reflect the deep sapphire blue of the endless sky. I love their character designs so much. (I’m a particular sucker for long blonde hair, so . . . ) Alice and Hanako really do make a cute, complete couple.

Throughout this first volume, we come to see some of Hanako’s hobbies and character traits. For one, she’s an avid reader of English literature, and aspires to be a novelist despite the limitations of the language barrier. Hanako is also innocent, hardworking, and very grateful to Alice for giving her a home in this foreign land. She may be a little naive (as in when she proclaims that “love is free” to a local bookshop owner after Alice tells her that first), but she means well, and only wishes for Alice to be free from her own pain.

To me, though, Alice carries the true heart of this series. To the public eye, she is everything a gentleman would want out of a mistress—what they don’t see is how lonely and sad her expressions become whenever her heart pains her. She calls herself a sinner, but her soul is beautiful and kind. Alice is well-read, well-respected, and highly valued within her elite circle of noblemen and women. But, she’s nothing like those greedy, wealthy pricks who think of nothing but their own reputation. Alice extends her grace to those in need, as she did Hanako, and always holds the value of others before her own well-being. I mean, she would rather choose death than risk ruining her family name. Always holding her head high, Alice is the rarest breed of royal, exhibiting authority and integrity just as much as she does compassion and empathy.

Alice library

Love Among the Thorns

Surprising things can blossom in the garden. Dr. Pepperco paints a vivid, highly detailed painting of Victorian England where, naturally, not all flowers are allowed to bloom under the sun. Historically, things like same-sex love must be kept in the dark. It’s unfortunate, and it’s sad. But it’s true to life, and whatever ending Dr. Pepperco has in store for Lady Alice and her handmaid Hanako, I’ll be in this one until the very end.

This is perhaps one of the most compelling and sincere historical dramas I’ve ever been invested in, and I can’t wait to see what feelings may unfold as the story goes on. Will it end as tragically as its dire, foreboding title tells, or will we perhaps be blessed with a saccharine sweet conclusion? Only time will tell for this poignant tale about two women falling in love in historical Britain.

alice umbrella


You have nothing to thank me for. I merely wish to believe that love is free. — Alice Douglas


Afterword

The first volume of Goodbye, My Rose Garden was even more lovely than I thought it’d be. And yet, it would seem to me that no one is talking about this yuri manga! Why is that?? It’s a wonderful title, even from this volume alone, and I can’t wait for the second to be released in July. If you’re one of the few who have decided to pick up this book, please do let me know what you thought about it in the comments. Surely I’m not the only one reading this marvelous series!

My next Pride Month post will be over Mita Ori’s highly anticipated Our Dining Table, which has been recommended to me like no other these past couple months! I look forward to reading it, and I hope you will stick around to read my thoughts. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Hitorijime My Hero: Unrequited Feelings & Forbidden Love || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode Summer 2017 anime “Hitorijime My Hero,” animated by Encourage Films, directed by Yukina Hiiro, and based on the manga by Memeco Arii.


Forbidden Love

Few teenagers are more hopeless than Masahiro Setagawa. The poor kid got roped in with the wrong crowd from a young age and now serves neighborhood thugs as their errand boy. He may have believed in heroes as a kid, but not anymore. His life takes a drastic turn one day when Kousuke Ooshiba, a local menace dubbed the “Bear Killer,” swoops in to take down the other gang members, saving Masahiro from their grueling low-life ways.

Time passes for Masahiro, and as he and his former friend Kensuke Ooshiba start attending high school, Masahiro is once again reunited with Kousuke—only this time, Masahiro is a student and his childhood hero has become his math teacher! First a hero, then a best friend’s older brother, and now “Mr. Ooshiba!?” To make matters even more complicated, Kensuke’s childhood friend, Asaya Hasekura, returns to his life with the request to be more than just friends this time around.

It’s starting to look busy in the Ooshiba household, and while Kousuke’s own feelings urge him to protect Masahiro like he once did, this sudden entanglement of the boys’ lives creates quite a complex web of relationships. As Kousuke’s lover, Masahiro will eventually have to decide for himself: to resign himself to his unrequited feelings, or to pursue a forbidden love.

This is one of those anime where the 3-episode rule most definitely doesn’t apply. The opening episodes of this shounen-ai school drama hone in on the relationship between Kensuke and Asaya, which is actually the parent story of Memeco Arii’s manga. After that quickly gets resolved, we shift the focus back to Kousuke and Masahiro’s “Teacher X Student” romance for the remainder of the series, which is significantly messier. Obviously, it’s an age-gap romance, which isn’t my thing personally, but at least the characters carry the weight of the show well . . . I mean, they do, right?

masahiro and kensuke

Poor, Poor Masahiro

I really need a shirt that says “Masahiro did nothing wrong, y’all are just bullies,” cause MAN, this guy has it rough. Living alone (save for his prostitute mother), Masahiro is one of those kids who was forced to grow up fast. While he cooks fantastic meals for Kensuke and his school friends and diligently cleans the Ooshiba household better than momma Ooshiba even could, these are conditioned responses. With his mother out every night, Masahiro has to cook for himself, and when she comes home a drunken mess, it’s Masahiro cleaning it all up the next morning. He doesn’t belong out on the streets with those thugs, but he doesn’t belong in his own home, either.

AND THEN you have a dude like Kousuke who comes in all grown-up and “mature” just to toy with Masahiro’s heart and throw him into gay panic mode. I don’t really know how to feel about Kousuke. Like, he knows Masahiro is immature in life and in love, and yet Kousuke continues to mislead Masahiro with his words episode, after episode, after episode. He’s supposed to be the “hot teacher seme,” I get it, but I couldn’t help but find some of his actions to be somewhat disrespectful.

The other couple of Hitorijime My Hero doesn’t make things much better for Masahiro. Kensuke is your typical fluffy uke who enjoys snacks and fun, innocently going about his friendships with the youthful naivete of a shounen protagonist. I suppose he is the first to accept Masahiro and his older brother’s forbidden love, which is heartwarming cause #family. And Asaya may be the best-looking boy in this series, but DAMN, the dude is HEARTLESS. I think it was supposed to be funny how Asaya would adamantly give Masahiro the cold shoulder and instead demand he cook for him, but I never laughed. (The other male classmates also used him like this, umm, the heck??) All the guys in Hitorijime My Hero besides Masahiro just felt so selfish. Fear not, there’s a happy ending waiting for everyone, but the road to getting a smiling Masahiro has its fair share of irritating bumps.

hitorijime school

Big-Chill BL Energy

Let’s talk art. Encourage Films is a new studio for me, but Hitorijime My Hero appears to be their leading title—and that’d make sense, because the series is one good-looking BL anime. Seeing Memeco Arii’s original character designs fully animated and chasing after their lovers is really something special. Had I watched this series years ago, I probably would’ve fell even harder for the characters. If you’re wanting a more down-to-earth shounen-ai romance, I would pass Hitorijime My Hero based solely on animation alone.

The entire soundtrack is also fits the mellow vibe of the series. Takeshi Senoo (most notably known for his work on the equally chill Aria the Animation) provides amazing orchestral magic to accompany the drama of the series. He balances the slice-of-life energy of quiet lo-fi beats with the more intense romantic pull of gentle string harmonies, almost as if the OST were for a feature film and not a series. It’s simply wonderful, just like the aesthetically pleasing OP “Heart Signal” by Wataru Hatano and the soft ED theme “TRUE LOVE,” which is sung by the various seiyuus from the series.

Now, it IS Pride Month, and it’d be a crime if I didn’t give special praise to the incredible dub directed by none other than David Wald! (He also directed the Love Stage!! dub and voices the bartender in this show!) Austin Tindle’s Masahiro is just a friggin’ gem, I love how nervous and klutzy he sounds all the time! David Matranga’s Kousuke is BIG SEXY energy (the way he said the F word, woah), which feels surprisingly natural for his character. Hearing Daman Mills as pretty boy Asaya was the biggest surprise for me, and I love how he kept the guy so snide and cruel towards others but would call Kensuke nicknames like “babe” and “Kenny” like it was nothing. Speaking of, Alejandro Saab can do NO WRONG as Kensuke, the purest boi!! Even if the characters were hit-or-miss for me at times, I cannot deny that they had superb VAs behind the mic with excellent scripts to follow, too.

masahiro crying

Not the Best, But a Huge Step Up

While I seem to be pulling these LGBT titles out left and right, I actually haven’t watched that many BL anime. Maybe that’s because I know that BL anime kinda have a rep for not being nearly as good (or respectful) as their manga counterparts. That said, I’m not trashing BL anime (if anything, we can only use more!), but Hitorijime My Hero feels like a huge step in the right direction.

Despite the rudeness of the characters towards poor Masahiro, Hitorijime My Hero feels like a very real, human story (unlike the absurd comedy that is Love Stage!!). I know friends who have gone through exactly what Masahiro did, and maybe that’s why I felt so strongly for this kid. He’s a real boy. Fictional, but also just like that one confused, caring, love-struck individual we may know in our own lives—and even through smiles, that person doesn’t actually have the happiest life. It happens, but if we can be there for people like Masahiro—much as how Kousuke, Kensuke, and everyone else was there for him—hopefully we can become our own kind of hero for these people.

masahiro and kousuke night


Don’t worry about what the world wants from you–worry about the world you want. Sometimes, when your heart is telling you what it wants, you just have to listen. — Kousuke Ooshiba


Afterword

I feel like I did this one dirty, but sometimes you just gotta call ’em out when you see it. (I mean, I get that Kousuke was a “bad boy,” but he literally BROKE A GLASS DOOR to enter Masahiro’s apartment JUST because he didn’t answer his phone, I can’t with this guy.) But what did you think of Hitorijime My Hero? Do you also stan Masahiro or did you think he had it coming for him? Let me know down in the comments. I welcome Hitorijime My Hero as a “Coffee” title, and recommend it if you’re looking for a BL anime that’s probably better than most, but still not as good as Love Stage!! IMO. Maybe I’m wrong—you tell me!

My next Pride Month post will be over another yuri manga, the first volume of Dr. Pepperco’s Goodbye, My Rose Garden, so please look forward to that! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Love Stage!! – A Coming-Out Worth Celebrating || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 10-episode Summer 2014 anime “Love Stage!!,” animated by J.C.Staff, directed by Kenichi Kasai, and based on the manga by Eiki Eiki.


A Shocking Reunion

Izumi Sena comes from noble blood. Not the stuff of knights and kings, but family fame. His mom’s a famous actress, his father’s a successful producer, and his loud, obnoxious older brother is currently Tokyo’s biggest rockstar. It would surprise anyone to hear that the youngest Sena wasn’t in showbiz. But Izumi didn’t ask for any of this. Instead, Izumi aims to become a manga artist, despite possessing no talent for the craft! In fact, the only way he’s been able to completely avoid the limelight is thanks to his reclusive otaku hobbies.

I suppose “completely” isn’t the right word, though. Technically, Izumi cross-dressed as a girl for a wedding commercial skit ten years ago, which still haunts him to this day. But, a decade after the shoot, the same wedding company wishes to put together a 10th anniversary ad—and staring the original child actors for the project, no less!

This reunites Izumi with Ryouma Ichijou, who’s gone on to become a popular actor. Little does Izumi know that Ryouma’s been looking forward to this day ever since he fell in love the first time they met! As he did then, however, Izumi’s feminine appearance and unisex name still have Ryouma believing that little boy was actually a girl. BUT, even after discovering the truth, Ryouma can’t seem to shake off his feelings. Thus kicks off a series of troubles for Izumi’s big coming out—and in more ways than one.

Love Stage!! is a short romance comedy series based off the original BL manga. Most of the fun in watching comes from the hilarious drama that ensues between Izumi and Ryouma. Whether you’re a fan of BL or not, these two idiots will make you squirm and squeal—and I mean that in a good way. They’re genuinely funny and good-natured, as well as have an amazing chemistry together (even if their initial meeting would technically be viewed as an assault).

Even then, Ryouma spends the entire series redeeming himself and righting this wrong by actively trying to support Izumi and his personal endeavors. Ryouma loves Izumi, no two ways about it. It now becomes a matter of whether Izumi is willing to return that affection or deny the country’s favorite rising star actor.

izumi and ryouma romance

Lovable Leads, Hilarious Heart

As I mentioned above, the leads of Love Stage!! are easily what make this series so enjoyable and accessible, too. Izumi is a lovable character. His earnest dreams of being a mangaka (when clearly he has no skill whatsoever) probably ring true to many fellow otaku. Izumi just wants to give back to the medium that has given him so much, and his pursuit is a noble one, if not a tad far-fetched. Still, he works tirelessly and dedicates his entire being to making the manga of his dreams, and I admire his unwavering perseverance.

In contrast to Izumi’s cute appearance and large round eyes, Ryouma’s leading features are his charm and captivating presence. The guy is straight SEXY, no doubt about it. But, as we get to know him beyond his actor persona, we see that he’s also just as hardworking and determined to achieve his dreams as Izumi. This includes, of course, getting together with the crush of his childhood.

There’s this ongoing gag in the series that Ryouma is bad at everything he does for the first time, but quickly improves with dedication and experience. Whether allowing people to meet his true self, making friends, or moving things to the bedroom (heh heh), you can only imagine the hilarious outcomes from Ryouma’s “first time” with anything!

The two also have their own family, friends, and industry rivals that spark plenty of entertaining dialogue. For instance, the Sena family manager, Rei Sagara, has a no-nonsense tolerance for anyone’s shit (except when he’s willing to let cute little Izumi slide past him). As a caretaker of sorts, Rei acts more as a doting mother than his own mom, which I suppose doesn’t say much since she’s so full of herself (in the most fabulous way possible). As he realizes his own feelings, Izumi slowly starts coming to Rei with all his questions about life, love, and sex with another man. Their relationship is adorable and handled with surprisingly good guidance.

Rei also helps manage the relationships between Izumi and his brash brother, Shougo, Ryouma’s own manager Shino, and even Ryouma himself sometimes! He’s seriously great, and as the series progresses, we find that many of the cast actually share relationships with one another behind closed doors. Such developments really up the character drama and intrigue!

izumi rei shougo

The Best-Looking (and Sounding) BL Anime

I admittedly haven’t seen much BL anime, but from what I understand, this has got to be one of the best currently out on the market. J.C.Staff really went ham on this one. Bright colors constantly dominate the screen, enhancing the light romantic feel for the series. The characters themselves look very attractive, what with their bold expressions, blushy cheeks, and rainbow-colored hair and eyes. It’s nice to see a simple BL anime adaptation look just as amazing as most other high quality rom-com titles.

A lot of people don’t talk about it, but the music is also shockingly good. Yes, the ED “CLICK YOUR HEART!!” by Kazutomi Yamamoto is an absolute bop, but I’m talking about the OST. Composer Ryousuke Nakanishi is probably most famous for his work on The Devil is a Part-Timer!, so you already know he’s got the balance between comedy and drama down pat. I often found the music to carry the emotions almost better than the dazzling visuals did—but then again, I would be remissed if I didn’t talk about the fantastic English dub performances.

This is probably THE best Sentai Filmworks Dub I’ve ever listened to, PERIOD. (Ok, maybe one of them. They’ve really knocked it outta the park recently!) Even with his squeaky voice, Greg Ayres does a fantastic Izumi, providing just the right tinge of embarrassment and self-pride for each of Izumi’s little stunts. Adam Gibbs’ Ryouma is the real winner here, though, cause MY GOD, this man made even me all hot and bothered. Gibbs sounds just as brash and big-headed when he should, but also shows off a softer, more innocent side to Ryouma that is just as captivating as his ambitious, energetic side. Izumi and Ryouma were perfectly cast!

But it doesn’t stop there. David Wald—who graciously lent his own experience as a gay man to bring this dub to life—not only directed Love Stage!!, but also voices Rei Sagara with a snappy, matter-of-fact voice that only he could bring. It’s also always a pleasure to hear John Swasey doing the dad thing as the illustrious Seiya Sena, and the very same to Monica Rial’s lovely (if not hilariously self-absorbed) Nagisa Sena. Lastly, Tia Ballard is sprinkled around as various voices, and she’s always a pleasure to hear in any capacity!

izumi ryouma young

A Coming Out to Celebrate

I honestly came into Love Stage!! thinking it’d be a lot more problematic than it was. Thankfully, I found the series to be one of the most fun watches I’ve enjoyed in quite some time. While it has a somewhat rough start, Love Stage!! only gets better as the plot progresses. Almost everyone in the cast means well to one another, and it’s heartwarming to see so many icons watching each others’ backs. My only wish was that we got a second season to complete the story, as these 10 episodes (plus the hysterical OVA) adapt half the completed manga story.

Whether you’re gay, straight, or somewhere in between, you’ll probably love this series if anime rom-coms in general are your thing. The visuals are extremely pretty, the music’s wonderful, and the English dub is cooked to gay perfection (should you choose to eat your anime this way). I know it was a fight to get this thing dubbed, but BOY did they it to ’em, and for that reason alone I find that Love Stage!! is a coming out worth celebrating.

izumi and ryouma close up


Somewhere in this world, there is a door that leads me to my dreams. I don’t know where that door is. I may not find it in my entire life. And even if I do find it, it may be locked to me . . . — Izumi Sena


Afterword

As a blossoming adult, a budding actor, and definitely a gay man, Izumi’s big coming out story is full of ups and downs. I really cannot recommend this series enough, especially now that I’ve finally seen it! So cute, and sooo good!! Because the story has yet to truly finish, I’ll welcome Love Stage!! as a “Cake” here at the cafe, a title too sweet to miss out on—and especially that dub though, wow, we’re really making history! I’m late to the party, but you should let me know your thoughts on the series down in the comments for sure! I think this would make a great intro title to anyone new to BL. My next Pride Month post will be over Ogeretsu Tanaka’s Escape Journey, so please look forward to that. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

That Blue Sky Feeling: Preciously Queer & Wholeheartedly Delightful || Review

A brief review of the 3-volume manga series “That Blue Sky Feeling,” story by Okura, art by Coma Hashii,, and licensed in English by Viz Media. MINOR SPOILERS for Volume 1 will be present.


Have You Heard the Rumors?

High school transfer student Noshiro may seem like a cool and outgoing guy to his new classmates, but Noshiro’s big, bumbling heart is his best feature. Although he’s inexperienced in love, he finds himself drawn to Sanada, the school outcast, who is rumored to be gay. While most would get squeamish at the thought, the rumor only further fuels Noshiro’s interest and determination to get close to Sanada. Set in motion is a bittersweet tale of self-discovery, friendship, and first love.

Marketed under the shounen demographic, this school romance drew a lot of its appeal from the relatable character drama presented and Coma Hashii’s soft and cute character designs. With only three volumes, the story reads quickly, but methodically guides us through Noshiro and Sanada’s entire first year together as classmates. Showcased are the attempts made by Noshiro to become friends with Sanada, all of the ups and downs of this rocky relationship, the misunderstandings, and the persistent efforts to grow closer.

From the start, this seemingly simple story of exploring a rumor opens up to much larger contexts, including social pressures and the meaning of “being gay” itself. Using Noshiro’s naivete as a lens for self-questioning, Okura has carefully crafted a cast of characters that investigate the notions of sexuality, attraction, and “liking”—and largely without even being aware of it! This is the kind of title that doesn’t break boundaries so much as explore how these boundaries form, why they do, and how people are affected by them.

noshiro and sanada

Straight, Gay, and Curious

Dai Noshiro is the open-book kind of character. He’s silly, easily approachable, and loud, which (often to Sanada’s dismay) attracts a huge crowd wherever he goes. It’s refreshing to have a lead character in this type of story who isn’t some tall and skinny bishounen. If anything, being built and a little on the round side (or as Sanada calls him, a “country potato”) is celebrated in That Blue Sky Feeling as a body type that characters like Sanada and energetic underclassman Morinaga actually hold as a preference. This definitely met my approval!

Having a guy like Noshiro who knows virtually nothing about the LGBT community (or relationships for that matter) makes him the perfect voice for Okura’s discussion on what it means to be a closeted gay kid—or being gay in general. Noshiro is new to this kind of thing. He straight . . . or, at least, he thinks so—he hasn’t ever given relationships much thought. But we know he’s uneasy, curious even, and I can’t blame him. This really is a smart move on Okura’s part, as now Noshiro functions both as a likable MC and a subtle proxy for self-exploration. Nothing in That Blue Sky Feeling is forced. Like clouds, these musings come and go, occasionally bringing a little rain or blocking out the sun.

Then there’s Kou Sanada. As the quiet closeted kid, Sanada strays away from anything that would draw attention: sports, clubs, even leisurely activities like swimming. He’s standoffish, dismissive, and get’s irritated easily. Sounds like no one would like him, right? Well, that’s where I was wrong, too. Sanada is just misunderstood. He doesn’t fit in with the other boys because he often can’t relate to any of them without fearing they’d leave him for thinking he’s weird. I mean, how regularly do you see gay people hanging out alone with their straight friends of the same gender? I suppose it’s different for everybody, but I get why Sanada distances himself. (I JUST WANT MY SLEEPY BOY TO BE HAPPY.)

If any part of Sanada will be a mixed bag, it’s his past relationship . . . with a 26-year-old man named Hide. I don’t think Okura is trying to condone pedophilia, but Sanada and Hide really did go out, and Hide’s not afraid to poke fun at their past together. Now, hear me when I say that Hide is genuinely a good guy. He serves as a mentor of sorts to Noshiro when it comes to gay stuff, and he only aims to help, not harm. I was uneasy about Hide at first, but—thankfully—I ended up being wrong about him.

dai pushing chair

Subtlety is Blue Sky‘s Greatest Strength

Okura’s story is wonderful, truly, but the biggest draw to That Blue Sky Feeling would easily be Coma Hashii’s art. The series has this wondrously soft aura to it, which is in no surprise thanks to Hashii’s character designs. Fun fact: The Blue Sky I am able to enjoy now is actually a remake of Okura’s original web comic series. When a book publication was announced, Okura brought on Hashii to redraw the entire series with greater quality art and the gentle touch Blue Sky is now beloved for.

Sanada and his dear childhood friend and classmate, a girl named Ayumi Yamamoto, are drawn with a slimmer build and bigger eyes. (Sanada’s cat-like design really accentuates his sleepy aura.) Other characters like Noshiro and Hide are noticably more rotund but still very cute. Like the story itself, the character expressions are never overdone, and that subtlety works to Okura’s writing immensely. I mean, a character turning away from someone—only to reveal bright blush marks on their cheeks—can speak where words wouldn’t quite do those feelings justice.

kou blushing

Unexpectedly Falling in Love

What does it mean to be normal? What does it mean to be weird? Navigating through the complexities of making friends as a young homosexual in a heteronormative world, That Blue Sky Feeling handles first love and the notion of “inexperience” with surprising delicacy and innocence. Even when things get heated, the characters try to better themselves by digging deep within and honestly asking what it is they want, and how they can present their truest self to others.

Everyone in That Blue Sky Feeling has an unbelievably pure heart. Just as prominent as the exploration into friendship, liking, and being gay is the theme of unrequited feelings. For a series to have such a tangled web of complex feelings, Blue Sky‘s characters hold their heads high and continue to remain friends despite all odds. This kind of content is the exact opposite of “toxic,” and is the reason I fell in love with Noshiro, Sanada, Ayumi, and everyone else.

As the gap between Noshiro and Sanada slowly shrinks, we come to see how two very different high school boys can find themselves unexpectedly falling for one another. Noshiro quickly finds that, perhaps, labels aren’t suited for everything, especially people and relationships. Wishing only for the happiness of these kids, That Blue Sky Feeling is preciously queer and wholeheartedly delightful.

sanada whisper


What does it mean to like someone? Going out. Boyfriends. Girlfriends. I never thought about it, never worried about it. Until I met Kou Sanada — Dai Noshiro


Afterword

Guys, I love this manga with all my heart. ALL MY HEART. If you couldn’t already tell, that means That Blue Sky Feeling is another certified “Cafe Mocha” for me! I can see why people may find Hide and the age gap to be a turn-off, but that kind of stuff happens in real life, too, and we eventually have to move past it. I love Noshiro’s loudness, Ayumi’s sweetness, and grew quite fond of Sanada’s character. (He really is charming when you get to know him!) Viz’s releases of this series are also pretty in pastel colors, I’m so thankful to them for such pleasant publications!

But I’ve talked enough, what did you think of That Blue Sky Feeling? Let me know in the comments. To shake things up, my next Pride Month post will be over the anime Love Stage!!, so please look forward to it! Thanks for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

Claudine: Sexuality, Tragedy, & Growing Up Transgender || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the standalone manga title “Claudine,” story and art by Riyoko Ikeda, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.


19th Century French Romance

Since he was eight, Claudine was convinced he was born into the wrong gender. He grows up beautifully, more so than any of the men and women in Vernon, yet struggles through life with a series of depressing relationships. Only a handful of people reach out to Claudine and see him for who he is, but no one truly understands his heart. Claudine simply wishes to find true love, yet his efforts continue to end in tragedy as he is unable to be accepted as a man by society and his peers.

As a piece of historical fiction, Claudine offers a timeless story full of heartbreak. Riyoko Ikeda of The Rose of Versailles fame paints a picture of France that is rich in culture, but also a bit too melodramatic at times. Characters overreact to the smallest things with vivid expressions that can dominate several panels, which can make the read feel overwrought with agitation.

Without spoiling anything, some characters even dare dedicate their entire lives to destroying the hearts of others—an unfortunate trend which feels straight out of a wild telenovela or K-drama. Or, you know, The Rose of Versailles. This kind of thing might work well with a long-running series. But as a single volume work, the repetition of shocking reveals can feel overwhelming and excessive.

All that said, however, very few manga can make a drama feel as compelling as Riyoko Ikeda does, and to that I applaud Claudine. As a standalone piece, this is the kind of artistic mastery that most short story mangaka may struggle with. Here, the romance feels real, but so does the grief and misery that comes with rejection. Claudine explores sex and gender identity in a way that is poignant, respectful, and anything but forgettable.

young claudine

“But Claudine, You’re a Girl”

Not sure of what to do with her own child, Claudine’s mother takes him to a psychiatrist who reappears at a few major junctions in Claudine’s life. This was customary for the time, as being gay or trans was considered an illness, and thus treated as something that would eventually “go away” just as it came. We know now that this is far from fact. However, this is the best Claudine’s mother could do, and I believe she meant well by it.

Claudine’s father Auguste, on the other hand, was a mostly good man. A “large-hearted, manly dilettante with a variety of interests,” Claudine’s father was the only one willing to raise the child as he saw himself. Claudine expressed interested in equestrianism, hunting, sports, literature, and world history, to which his father only helped to provide the best resources to raise Claudine just as well as his other three accomplished sons. Loving Claudine wholly, Auguste says it himself: “That she doe not have a man’s body is honestly a mistake on God’s part.”

We follow Claudine through childhood flings, teenage romance, and relationships in adulthood. The women he encounters transform his life, although whether these interactions are for the better or not is definitely up for question. There’s one particular childhood lover, Rosemarie, who annoyingly clings to Claudine and causes him nothing but trouble. As he navigates through life, Claudine finds that it isn’t wrong of him to be a transgender person so much as that being trans is just highly ill-advised when no one can accept you for it. His emotions are understandable, and his actions are largely respectable.

Friends, strangers, and even his own family turn Claudine away from them on account of their own ignorance. A deeply seeded disgust for gay and transgender people plagues the populace of 19th century France, and—as it has continues to do today—only serves to ruin Claudine’s life. Despite his graceful air, his love of knowledge, and his deep compassion for helping others in need, Claudine is dejected again, and again, and again by women who have mixed love and kindness with lust and sin.

we are both girls

Why We Have To Do Better

This is a breathtaking manga. Although it was published way back in 1978, so much of this shoujo-ai drama can speak for the view of transgender individuals held by most conservative-minded people today. The story is highly relevant, and I’m so thankful Seven Seas was able to publish it when they did. Their restoration of this vintage shoujo manga is gorgeous, and the large trim format is greatly appreciated.

More than feeling upset, frustrated, or annoyed at the terrible ways Claudine was betrayed, I can only really sum up my thoughts on the ending with this: Claudine’s story is a sad one. It’s tragic, it hurts, and yet it’s an unfortunate end many transgender people find themselves meeting. Guys, it’s tragedies like this that remind me we still have a long way to go. For people like Claudine, for people who are confused or still in the closet, for people who are out and proud of it—We have to do better. So. Much. Better. And that begins with accepting these identities—NOT just acknowledging them.

From cover to cover, Riyoko Ikeda explores gender and sexuality, identity, culture, and self-acceptance in a coming-of-age tale so sorrowful and heartfelt that I can only want to express how important Claudine’s story is. It is works like this that can easily impact people, and even leave behind impressions that can hopefully change lives for the better. Certainly, I won’t be forgetting Claudine anytime soon.

claudine art page


They lived together, deceiving the world, behind the backs of their friends. But like a flower waiting for rain, their caged love finally surged out, shining. I believe this was a true love, surpassing all preconceived notions, entirely moving.Claudine’s doctor


Afterword

What a great read this was. Riyoko Ikeda’s art style is not only iconic, but truly emblematic of early 70s and 80s shoujo manga. Sure, it’s a bit over-the-top at times, but what would a Riyoko Ikeda manga be without her signature dramatic twists and sparkling style? For telling an admirable albeit tragic tale about a respectable transgender man and his struggles with finding love and self-acceptance, I welcome Claudine as a “Cafe Mocha” title, a rating reserved only for the bests out there. Did I mention that the dad is actually a GOOD guy in this one? Normally it’s the other way around, so this was quite a pleasant surprise!

Anyone else read Claudine? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this old but classic shoujo read. I’m so glad I got to include a manga with a transgender focus this month with something like Claudine. My next Pride Month post will be over something much more modern, Bukuro Yamada’s Melting Lover, so please look forward to that! ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Candy Color Paradox: Sweet Yet Sour || First Impressions

First impressions for volume 1 of Isaku Natsume’s yaoi manga series “Candy Color Paradox,” initially published in 2019 by SuBLime Manga.


Pictures and Pride

Satoshi Onoe is an honest-to-goodness reporter at a weekly magazine company. He takes great pride in his writing and is valued for his ethical approach to reporting. In an industry that is all about chewing people up and spitting them out, it’s no wonder a total softy like Onoe would struggle with exploiting celebs and exposing back alley dealings.

Although he does well at his job, the one co-worker he can’t stand is Motoharu Kaburagi, an ill-mannered photographer who’s done nothing but steal Onoe’s time in the spotlight since day one. When the company chief decides to shuffle around the stakeout teams, Onoe is forced to partner with Kaburagi or let the man ruin his career. Kaburagi’s unethical reporting methods and his streak as a ladies’ man bother Onoe to no end. But, perhaps a little time and experience in the field will show Onoe a side to Kaburagi that’s a bit sweeter than anyone’s ever seen.

I love occupational romances. The office setting is one of the quickest ways to make your story relatable, and the drama is enhanced when our characters are trying to “make it work” while on the job. There may not be much explicit content until the last couple pages of this first volume, but I guarantee subsequent volumes will only get spicier.

What I don’t particularly love about Candy Color Paradox, however, is the nature of our main characters’ work. To me, news tabloids and articles that are only out to “expose” people are full of bullshit. I don’t like reading them, and I certainly don’t like reading about them. This kinda made both Onoe and Kaburagi difficult for me to like, as I find the work they’re doing—despite the tireless effort—to ultimately be full of crap. While the story isn’t about “what is right” or “what is wrong” per se, finding the “next big scoop” for their weekly magazine is a core element of the story, and often the segue for deepening Onoe and Kaburagi’s precarious relationship.

CCP intro

Writer x Photographer

Along with not loving this field of work, I immediately disliked how Natsume framed Onoe’s stance on attraction. The dude literally had a girlfriend and even proclaimed “I’m not gay!” in a bar, and I find that incredibly off-putting given that he’s supposed to be our MC. I get that this is a story from 2009, so Natsume is probably playing this off more as a joke, but c’mon, this is such a stereotypical thing to say. Unless it’s with the intent to explore one’s sexuality, I’m over characters that deny their sexual interests.

In typical uke style, Onoe gives us constant poutiness and confused gay crying. He’s full of pride in his work, and isn’t afraid to take a jab at Kaburagi whenever he can. Some will find his loud personality and flustered antics annoying—I know I did. But, despite his notoriously unscrupulous occupation, Onoe remains dedicated to his honest writing, and I can at least appreciate him for that.

On the flip side, Kaburagi can be a frustrating guy to get behind, both for Onoe and the reader. His scruffy appearance and initial attitude toward Onoe immediately leapt out at me as toxic masculine behavior. Unlike Onoe, Kaburagi uses his looks and charmed words to draw out the scoop he needs to land him the cover page story. As we quickly realize, he’s also an avid liar, which is a turn-off for me. The end of this first volume had me believing that there may be much more to Kaburagi than this initial assumption, but as it stands, I only really like Kaburagi because he seems just as lost in this newfound love as poor Onoe does.

CCP mid

Maybe it Gets Sweeter

As a license rescue release from 2009, Candy Color Paradox embodies the essence of yaoi rom-com workplace dramas popular during its time. Natsume’s art style also reflects this era of BL where tall skinny men and cartoonish expressions dominated the series. For me, it’s kinda bland to look at, but if you like the look of The World’s Greatest First Love or Junjou Romantica, you’ll probably enjoy this too. Also, I’m not the biggest fan of the rivals-to-lovers trope in my BL manga specifically, but Onoe and Kaburagi are quicker to admit their feelings to one another than most BL couples are, so I can bear it.

By the end of this first volume, our characters have made their way to the bedroom. The beginning may not be explicit, but I can see the next volumes being full of smut. So, if explicit BL is your thing, just know that you’ll want to pick up at least the first two volumes.

As to whether I will be getting more Candy Color Paradox or not, I’ll probably hold off for now. Between not caring for Onoe and Kaburagi’s field of work (which is essential to the plot) and finding Onoe a bit too over-reactive, I found myself rushing through this first volume just to finish it and read something else. Whenever next I’m feeling up for a steamy, less-than-serious workplace drama, I’ll consider picking this back up again. until that time, however, Candy Color Paradox just isn’t my taste.

CCP end


I wish that I really had been fooled by that charismatic mask he wears. Then I would be able to tell myself that I was just infatuated with a lie. — Satoshi Onoe


Afterword

I find that Candy Color Paradox is supposed to be a sophisticated read. It pokes fun at “being gay” whenever it can (e.g., Onoe getting overly flustered every time they have to do a stakeout from a love hotel room), but otherwise is just a fun and simple little BL title. I’ll pass on reading more for now, but don’t be surprised if I decide to pick this one back up again. If you’ve read Candy Color Paradox, what do you like about it? Let me know in the comments! My next Pride Month read, Claudine, will dip into the story of a transgender man and his struggle with identity and sexuality. You won’t want to miss it! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Seven Days: Will You Still Love Me When Monday Comes? || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 2-volume manga series “Seven Days – Monday to Sunday,” story by Venio Tachibana, art by Rihito Takarai, and re-licensed in English by SuBLime Manga.


What Started as a Joke . . .

One week. That is all the time any lucky girl who dates Seryou Touji will spend with him. You can’t hate the guy, though. After all, he supposedly makes you feel like the most special person in the world during that time. Rumor has it that at the start of the following week, he’ll date the first person to ask him out that Monday morning, no tricks—and no strings attached either.

Curious about the mysterious first-year playboy himself, equally attractive third-year Shino Yuzuru decides to jokingly ask Seryou out one morning. True to the rumors, however, Seryou takes Shino’s offer seriously, and thus begins Shino’s fleeting seven days with him.

Although license rescued and released by SuBLime Manga, a company typically known for grabbing some of the harder yaoi works on the BL market, Seven Days much more belongs in the shounen ai or even school romance genre. Nothing about the story is explicit, making it the perfect gateway BL for newcomers ready to wet their feet.

Within just 13 chapters (or one omnibus volume), the entire story wraps up well enough to not warrant a continuation. Shino and Seryou’s week of dating and hanging out is also well-paced. Each day is divided into chapters, which means we literally are getting the full play-by-play for this awkward dating situation that started out as a joke but turned into much more.

morning surrounded

Not Gay, But Gay Enough

What made the story somewhat difficult to get into was the fact that, technically, neither of our boys here are gay. That is, Shino and Seryou don’t actively seek males as a dating preference to females; if anything, they’re both well-known ladies’ men, and they know it, too.

So, how can two “straight” dudes fall for each other? For one, they’re both undeniably the hottest men in their school. Second, they share a pastime together—archery—which often leads to the start of many conversations (and playful teasing). Third, and this might just be me reading into it, but Seryou might actually have been gay from the start. The first-year can’t seem to fall in love with any of the many girls he dates. Yet, when approached by Shino that Monday morning, he doesn’t refute him. It could be that he was curious all along, and took the offer when it came to him.

It’s a little frustrating to cheer two guys on when neither is really into the same sex (unless . . . ), but at the same time, it’s amazing what dating one another allows the boys to see about themselves. Despite his graceful nature and pretty face, Shino is a pretty laid-back, impolite guy, not to mention being seriously blunt about everything he notices. Dating Seryou makes Shino realize that his worst traits really can hurt people—but also that they are what make Shino himself.

Then there’s Seryou, also a pretty boy but drastically bad at reading people. Unlike Shino, Seryou wears his expressions on his face, and even though he thinks he’s being transparent, Seryou isn’t as good at knowing others as he might believe. In fact, he’s kind of shallow in his romantic encounters, which Shino quickly picks up on. Even though he can let girl after girl live their high school fantasy, at the end of the day, Seryou doesn’t even save their contact information on his phone. He sure was quick to memorize Shino’s number and email by heart, though . . .

seryou charming

The Look of Early 2000s BL

Although Ten Count was the first yaoi series I’ve ever read, I’m definitely no stranger to the BL genre. I’ve seen plenty of screenshots of early 2000s BL manga on the internet and have flipped through my own fair share of yaoi manga at used bookstores. It’s nice to finally have purchased my own copy of one of these works, and I feel even more pride in having it displayed on my shelves. Seven Days is a nice little title to have for sure.

Aside from the license rescue stirring news in the manga community, however, what initially pushed me to buy and read Seven Days was because it shared the artist of Ten Count, Rihito Takarai. Having recently been acquainted with her series work, I wanted to see how her older art held up. Boy, has she improved. But also, WOW, she’s been this good from the start!?

Takarai knows how to draw pretty boys. Both donning that signature uke and seme look with their tall, lanky, yet athletically built figure, Shino and Seryou walk like gods among men. Their chiseled features, large eyes, and pointy noses hold all the indications of desirable beauty, especially of BL characters in pre-2010 works. Perhaps you could call Seven Days an early 2000s time capsule that most would still love and enjoy today.

It was probably the hair styling, however, that first caught my eye and stays in my mind now. Shino’s medium-long chestnut hair creates an elegant, almost foreign bowl-cut look. Similarly, Seryou’s longer black hair would make anyone who had it look like a thug, but on him serves to make him look dashing and poised. The use of scenery (LOTS of fences), while modest, also sets the scene for this cute slice-of-life romance. Also, likable female characters are present in this manga—and they’re NOT evil, hooray!

seven days seryou and shino

The Perfect Gateway BL

I swear, this really is one of those stories where a whole week of “not knowing how the other feels” could’ve been resolved by Tuesday night had Shino and Seryou sat down for five freakin’ minutes and just talked it out like any normal couple would. It’s annoying how characters can feel like they’re just being strung along, only to find out by the end that their partner was “madly in love with them the whole time.” Especially in this story where the reader can be unconvinced of author Venio Tachibana’s intentions, it can come across as a strange case of queerbaiting. Trust me when I say it that Shino and Seryou are falling for each other, though—they just might not know it yet.

And that’s the huge draw of Seven Days: Shino and Seryou aren’t your typical BL pairing. Neither knows what they want, both in themselves and in relationships, and that makes finding love all the more difficult. While I bite back and wish Tachibana was more transparent about their love, I also find myself realizing that, yeah, I’m not sure I could so easily admit my own feelings if I were in their situation either.

Surprisingly full of more introspection than it’d have you believing, every single chapter of Seven Days was a gift. Force yourself through this playful senpai-kohai shtick and it’ll be the longest week of your life. However, with a little patience, you might unexpectedly find yourself relating to this drama that spans just seven short-lived, transient days.

shino seryou sleep


I wonder how many girls stood right here and closed their eyes just like this? And when they did, how did Seryou respond? — Shino Yuzuru


Afterword

I had to flip back at some of the chapters to write this review and, ahhhh, it’s such a cute story! I wish I could read more stories with Takarai’s art in it, but that’s all I’ve got for now. Seven Days was definitely stronger than Ten Count, but I think I still like it about the same, if not slightly more. With very little to complain about, Seven Days is a wonderful “Cafe Mocha” title here at the cafe! If you only get to read one shounen ai story, this is my go-to rec for the time being. Have you read Seven Days? I’d love to hear your thoughts down in the comments! My next Pride Month post will likely be a first impressions on Candy Color Paradox, so please look forward to that. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Millennium Actress & Our Obsession with the Chase || OWLS “Devotion”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s third monthly topic of 2020, “Devotion,” I wanted to give special spotlight to a recently rescued and released anime film that I’m sure many fans of the early 2000s era might recognize: Satoshi Kon’s magnificent Millennium Actress!

When we talked about fandoms, we show our appreciation and support by buying merchandise, cosplaying, writing fanfiction and etc. In fact, our appreciation can end up looking like a sign of religious worship. For this month, we will be talking about how certain characters express devotion to others, objects, and values. We will also be discussing how devotion can turn into an unhealthy form of passion and obsession and the implications of that.

I’ve got an interesting angle for this one that I hope you guys will enjoy. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

chiyoko rides


A brief discussion of the 2002 anime film “Millennium Actress,” animated by Madhouse, directed and based on the original story by Satoshi Kon and Sadayuki Murai. 

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Opportunity

Have you ever been starstruck? You know, met or have worked with someone so cool, famous, or at least well-renowned in your area that you find yourself absolutely mesmerized by this person’s presence, their every word? Well, that was budding filmmaker Genya Tachibana to Ginei Studio’s star actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara, many decades ago.

Now, at the turn of the millennium, the legendary studio is set to be demolished. As an ex-employee, Genya decides to honor this occasion with a special commemorative documentary about Ms. Fujiwara herself. Having retired at the height of her career, the sweetheart of Shouwa Era cinema has lived a reclusive life up in the mountains. With the hour now at his chance, an eager Genya cannot be more excited to place his lifelong idol back in the spotlight one last time.

As a young lover of film and the industry, Millennium Actress quickly won my heart. Navigating through over a thousand years of Japanese history, the film seamlessly bobs and weaves through entire eras by showcasing all of the major roles Chiyoko has played throughout her prominent career. Nearly an hour and a half of carefully crafted cuts and quick visual tricks culminate in an experience that is as unique as it is autobiographical and personal to this now very tired, very humble elderly woman.

Chiyoko’s narrative gracefully guides us through the three major periods of her life: adolescent fame, her blossoming teenage years, and her still-yet accomplished adulthood. Specifically, we see how a young girl’s early encounter with love shaped the rest of her life. Driven by romance and adventure yet saturated with the pains of drama and missed opportunities, Kon’s film—with Chiyoko’s character—lives on today to inspire an entirely new generation.

chiyoko elder

A Fateful Encounter Under a Full Moon

From samurai to spacesuits, Chiyoko Fujiwara has played them all throughout her fabled career. To call her a person of passion would be an understatement; very few actresses can embody the wide range of personalities appropriate for acting as a woman living in so many different historic eras, as well as so many countless roles. And yet, our “millennium actress” is capable of being the perfect heroine for all time! So what drove the idol of Genya’s dreams to become a master of her craft? Well, like it might happen for any of us: she fell in love. 

Before she became a household name, Chiyoko was caught in an incident which involved her helping an injured man. Although he supposedly may have been an “art thief” on the run, that didn’t stop childhood Chiyoko from being swept off her feet that fateful night. In their short time, they bond over simple life pleasures together, one of those being the moon.


Chiyoko looks up at the night sky, remarking how beautiful the full moon will be tomorrow. But the “man with the key” says that it is most beautiful now, for once the full moon is here, it only begins to wane. Whereas, it is under this this sky that you can spend the whole night looking forward to what the moon will become.


I think that this single, beautiful metaphor is representative of the entire film. I’m sure the mysterious man with the key who lives day-to-day may value this philosophy due to his risky occupation. But after her date with destiny, Chiyoko won’t ever be able to shake the man’s charm from her memory. In a long-winded and tiring search spanning a lifetime, Chiyoko scours all of Asia for any chance to reunite with the man. Even when she loses the one symbolic representation of their relationship—the key which unlocks “the most important thing”—she never stops longing for his love. She chases after him, and relentlessly so. After all, the chase kept her excited—-kept her living on the edge of love, forever—-and allowed her to feel eternally young at heart even as her hair grayed and memories began to fade.

chiyoko runs

It Was Never About the Destination

Hidden high up in this quiet mountain home is a thousand years of Japanese cinematic history just waiting to be narrated. Chiyoko’s deep reflections of the past take Genya and the viewer on an illusory journey through the saga of an actress’s career and her incredible filmography. As the actors in her life blend with the characters on screen, the tatami beneath their feet shifts from stage to stage, and the present completely blends with the past.

This is the extraordinary tale of a phenomenal actress who was so devoted to pursuing the love of her life that she stumbled through a legendary film career in the blink of an eye. Similarly, we also see how a fan’s positive and passionate devotion to his idol can lead to wondrous outcomes with the right intent behind them. Though the remarkable actress may have retired at the height of her career decades ago, Satoshi Kon’s directorial magic absolutely has you convinced that the curtain on her life’s stage has yet to fall.

chiyoko key

Does Chiyoko ever see the man with the key again? Well, does it really matter? If nothing else from this story, what we come to understand is that when we have our eyes set on only one thing in life, the meaning for everything else can start to fall from our view. Perhaps, just perhaps, we had what we really wanted all along. Like the night before a full moon, maybe the longing for some things—the journey itself—is more satisfying than the destination will ever be . . .

And so, as Genya presents an elderly Chiyoko with the very key she lost so many years ago, she at last finds what “the most important thing” to her was. After a long pursuit spanning a thousand years, it finally dawns on her that perhaps she was never in love with the man to begin with—she was just lost in the tremendous thrill of the great chase. 

chiyoko sakura


After all, it’s the chasing after him I really love. — Chiyoko


Afterword

Some beauty really is timeless. There’s so much cinematic and storytelling gold here that I could write a hundred—no, a thousand—posts on this film. I’m definitely glad I held off on this one for as long as I did, but even more so thankful to Eleven Arts and Shout! Factory for licensing this gorgeous film (the Blu-ray restoration is terrific)! Need I say more for now? Millennium Actress may just be the best film Satoshi Kon ever made, a certified “Caffe Mocha” for all those who know how I do things around here. But what are your thoughts on this timeless classic? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

This concludes my March 27th entry in the OWLS “Devotion” blog tour. My dear friend Mel (Mel in Anime Land) went right before me with a post on K-pop and idol culture that you can read right here! Now, look out for Megan (A Geeky Gal) with a post on one of my favorite romance anime, My Love Story!!, this coming Monday, March 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe: A Thrilling Ride Through Space || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the young adult fiction novel “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe,” written by Lauren James, originally published in 2017 by HarperTeen.


Adrift in Space

Carrying with it the hope of humankind, The Infinity continues its noble trek through the blackness of space, despite all but one of its crew having died on board in a horrific accident years ago . . .

Although she bears the title of first child born in space, Romy Silvers only has connection to her therapist on Earth and her wits to occupy her as she drifts alone in deep space aboard The Infinity. But to her surprise, Romy’s mundane life in space suddenly picks up when she finds out that a new NASA ship, The Eternity, has set course to meet her on her long, lonesome journey to a new planet—and sooner than she ever could have anticipated.

While initially eager to unite with another of her kind, cryptic emails from both Earth and J, the friendly pilot of The Eternity, start to trigger anxiety-filled memories of the past and terrifying visions of the future. Perhaps, as she quickly realizes, there are worse things than being alone . . .


The Infinity is the biggest, most expensive scientific mission in history. I get to be the very first person to see the results. I’m so lucky. — Romy


A slow-build yet gripping sci-fi thriller with a sprinkling of romance throughout the journey, the plot of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe begins leisurely by showing us several chapters of Romy’s character and daily routine, but rapidly escalates in the last third of the novel (AKA the big plot twist part). To build this energy up, author Lauren James features a countdown system instead of traditional chapter titles or numbers, most beginning with “365 Days Until The Eternity Arrives,” then “364 Days . . .” and so on. 

The book’s printing is quite large and generously spaced out, making these 300 or so pages seem like they just fly by. It helps that James writes short chapters, most being no more than a couple pages. Like a series of diary entries strung together in one large narrative, we quickly get a feel for who Romy is, and why things like people—not the black abyss of space—scare her most of all. 

Finding Strength in the Darkness

Lemme begin by getting it out there: If you’re wanting a story with strong feminist energy and mental illness rep, this one’s all for you. Romy may only be sixteen years old, but given her scary close relationship with loneliness and anxiety, she’s one hell of a ship commander. I really appreciate the mental illness rep going on here. Romy’s severe anxiety doubles as both something she must learn to accept (or fight) AND a first-person story-telling trick: the unreliable narrator.

Sometimes we have to question whether the sights and sounds Romy experiences in the night are real terrors or nightmares stirred by her anxiety, and Lauren James handles the balance between the real and surreal with incredible deft and care. James has created a feminist character who’s stronger than she knows, and following her journey has me inspired to face some of my own fears with isolation and nihilism.


It’s hard to focus on the future when the past is so distracting. — Romy


One of Romy’s qualities that I absolutely commend is how—despite having the ability to spoil herself—she always puts the needs of The Infinity first. Always. It’s her ship, clearly, and she feels strongly for it just as how any of us would for our own children. When ship efficiency emails start to suggest that Romy observes using less electricity by turning out the lights early or conserve water by taking shorter showers to maintain ship’s water supply, she obliges, even if the message’s sender seems sketchy.

She knows that being the sole commander of The Infinity comes with it the responsibility to maintain the vessel; making necessary sacrifices is just one part of the job. This respect and care for her ship—her home—is no doubt a trait she inherited from her dutiful parents, especially her good-natured father whom Romy was especially close to. As the story unravels, we gradually find out how they met their end, as well as the understand the tragic events that occurred during Romy’s early childhood that led to her being alone.


My life is a gambling chip thrown carelessly across the universe in the hope it’ll land somewhere my descendants can survive. I represent the culmination of centuries of human achievement and exploration. But who cares if my name goes down in history, if no one remembers who I really am? — Romy


Thrilling to the Very End

If you couldn’t already tell, I had a blast getting to know Romy and speculating with James as to what interstellar travel may be like in the near-distant future. I also loved the messages of longing and learning to love yourself, even if that process can be slow, confusing, and often painful. While I had my suspicions about certain plot twists, I was completely thrown off by the exciting change of pace near the finale—what a fantastic ending! It makes me appreciate even more the 150-200 pages of careful build-up that Lauren James so meticulously crafted—and I was already enjoying the adventure since the first page!

For those looking for THE perfect solitude-vibes title during this quarantine we’re all under, I cannot recommend The Loneliest Girl in the Universe enough. Lauren James has laid out a carefully plotted journey beginning as early as the title itself. There’s also a lot of references to pop culture—including YouTube, Netflix, and even fanfiction communities—that help bring Romy and her situation to life.

Just know, though, that this isn’t your typical fluffy long-distance romance plot. Sometimes the story is uplifting and kind, but other times it’s really gonna try and scare ya—don’t underestimate that part. Intelligent, suspenseful, and deliberately cautious, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is thrilling to the very end—even in its quietest moments.

loneliest girl insta


This voyage was never meant to be easy. It was meant to be important. — Romy


Afterword

Man, what a wonderful, terrifying, and weird little book this was. Special shoutout to Natalie (Book of Bee) over on YouTube for recommending it to her viewers—it was delightful! While not technically an anime or film, I’ll gladly welcome The Loneliest Girl in the Universe here as a certified “Caffe Mocha,” a rating reserved only for the best works! If you read this novel, PLEASE, tell me what you liked or disliked about it in the comments! Also, if you’ve got any recommendations that are similar to this one, be sure to leave those too. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Weathering With You – Taking a Chance on Love || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 2019 anime original film “Weathering With You” or “Tenki no Ko,” animated by CoMix Wave Films, and directed by Makoto Shinkai.

hodaka in the rain


Fate Brews a Storm

The rain hasn’t let up on Tokyo for weeks, and it doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime soon. It’s an unusually long rainy season, and the endless showers have started to dampen the lives of those residing in the city, including runaway high school student Hodaka Morishima. He has no money or place to stay in Tokyo right now, but fate delivers him to a writing gig at a small-time journaling outlet helmed by the unkempt and scruffy Keisuke Suga. While he may not be living the Tokyo dream, Suga’s beautiful assistant Natsuki makes the crammed office feel like home.

Also struggling under the dreary Tokyo skies is the orphaned Hina Amano, who is doing all she can to find work to financially support herself and her younger brother Nagi. When Hodaka recognizes Hina as the girl who offered him free food during his first days in the city, he attempts to rescue her from shady men in suits. In their fleeting escape, Hodaka discovers Hina’s bizarre power to call out the sun whenever she prays for it. Seeing potential in Hina’s supernatural gift, Hodaka helps Hina become a “sunshine girl”—someone who can part the clouds for people when they need it the most.

Under thunderous skies and pounding rain, fate intertwines two young lives as they are forced to dig deep within themselves to try to find their own purpose in life. But while the miraculous sunshine girl is able to bring smiles to those she helps, all gifts come with a price—and what is graciously given by the elements can just as easily be taken back.

the morning sun

Visionary director Makoto Shinkai is back with another beautiful fantasy romance film that perfectly balances the daily trivialities of a slice-of-life drama with the more sincere and heartfelt emotions that we all know human relationships bring to the table. While the plot is simple in the grand scheme of things, parts of the middle (and especially the road to the end) feel somewhat disjointed. Whereas Shinkai’s other films typically feature a shocking twist that unexpectedly plays on one’s expectations (yet still directly ties to the punchline), I felt like I was just watching a sitcom of these characters’ lives with no real end goal in mind.

That’s not such a bad thing, however, as it allowed me to connect with these characters more than I have with any other Shinkai film cast, especially some of the secondary characters. And yes, while somewhat divisive, the film’s plot twists will shake up your viewing experience. Although the film lacks some of the logical build-up necessary to pull off a truly astonishing finale, emotions still run high in this story about throwing caution to the wind and taking a chance on love.

sunshine prayer

Shinkai’s Most Personable Cast

I said this about Your Name., but it would seem that with every film he makes, Shinkai gets better and better about attaching more than just spontaneous feelings and circumstantial likeness to his characters. Whether watching these Hodaka, Hina, and Nagi channeling the sun’s energy for money or following Hodaka and Natsuki as they chase down urban legend sightings, I only think, “Wow, what an incredible waste of time.” Yet, on the other hand . . .

It looks like they’re having so much fun.

When I mention above that I felt like I was watching a comedic sitcom for the earlier half of the film, I mean that I could watch these kids running around Tokyo with the wind against their backs for an entire series. Through hard work and happenstance, Hodaka quickly realizes that living the “best Tokyo life” doesn’t come from how you spend it—it’s who you decide to spend it with that makes it fulfilling. And I think we lucked out with just the kind of cast you’d want to spend part of your life with.

nagi hina hodaka

Hodaka and Hina stand for so much more than young love and determination—they represent the adversity faced by youth poverty, the ones the world left behind as it continued to spin round and round. As the rain only continues to pound on poor Hodaka’s shoulders, I can’t stress enough how central this theme is to the film. The resilience he develops thanks to his newfound Tokyo friends allows him to transform into an admirable character who can make one of the toughest decisions imaginable. Even if the whole world was against him, Hodaka draws from his own experiences and judgments to challenge the very heavens above him, and I think that’s a fantastic message for today’s youth who are growing up in a world where the deck seems stacked no matter where we go.

Having Hina, Nagi, and Natsuki by his side are just about the best companions Hodaka can ask for. Hina’s hardworking spirit and natural optimism show Hodaka that people his own age also going through dark times can not only survive but blossom on their own. Nagi’s charm and whimsy reveal a hidden wisdom as he is able to support his sister in a way that few others could. Natsuki may seem like your token “hot biker chick,” but really, she’s trying just as hard as anyone else to pull her life together and find her own path in this giant metropolis. And Mr. Suga may be the sketchiest side protagonist I’ve ever seen, but even he’s got ones he wants to protect from life’s downpour of troubles. As always with Shinkai, friends and family are just as essential to life as love itself, and that sentiment echoes in this fun, endearing cast.

family

“I Can’t Believe it Got Prettier”

Those were my immediate thoughts when watching the opening sequence alone. Sprawling cityscapes, dazzling lighting, majestic skies of clouds, and painstakingly delicate attention to detail make this CoMix Wave Films’ prettiest production to date. If you can’t vibe with the story or characters for whatever reason, you can always rely on the visuals in a Shinkai movie to be nothing short of stellar. I know he preaches about expanding past the achievements of Miyazaki and Ghibli, but honestly, I’ve always preferred Shinkai’s aesthetic when it comes to portraying reality in fiction. And he’s only. Gotten. Better.

I haven’t even praised the RIDICULOUS level of beauty the rain is animated in, cause WOW, that’s where the money’s at. I can’t even begin to imagine the sheer amount of effort and work the staff poured into making every single drop sparkle and shine as it would in real life—no, calling what I saw would only disgrace such beauty. This looks BETTER than real rain, as does everything else in Shinkai’s astonishing vision of Tokyo on a rainy day. For any architecture junkies out there (like myself), you’ll also be pleased to find a copious amount of cinematic cityscape shots and wide panoramic skies.

tenki no ko tokyo

A New Soundtrack to Love

Japanese rock group Radwimps is back to produce the soundtrack for Weathering With You, and man, these guys never miss a beat. The OST ranges from mystical harp expressions to touching piano themes, mixed in with some silly or suspenseful tracks to balance out the film. It’s crazy how well the music fits with the emotional roller coaster of the story! Truly, from the thunderous beat of the rain to the climactic drop of Radwimps’ own vocal tracks, this is outstanding sound direction.

Speaking of those vocal tracks, we are blessed with five new Radwimps songs to enjoy on endless repeat. “Voice of Wind” opens with loud, uplifting, and freeing country vibes. “Celebration” (feat. Toko Miura) serves as a wonderful transition to showcase Hodaka’s exciting adventures in Tokyo. Toko Miura comes back for “Grand Escape,” the trailer piece that guarantees to break hearts during the exciting free-falling finale with its chorus of chanting. “We’ll Be Alright” rounds out the film on a high note, if not a bittersweet ballad. And lastly, “Is There Still Anything That Love Can Do?” doubles as the catchy, emotionally stirring main theme and the film’s feature credit song. Seeing as how the music may have inspired much of the story itself, it’s no wonder that Radwimps leads the film with fervor and a hearty sense of lyrical direction.

soundtrack

No More Regrets

Known for portraying the messiness and longing often felt between two people, Weathering With You continues to deliver messages of young love, purpose, and connection that are iconic to Shinkai’s style while also appealing to larger issues than simply romance and recklessness in youth. These include impoverishment, climate change, the impact of weather in our daily lives, and the challenges thrust upon youth on by previous generations. But unlike Your Name.‘s focus on regret for missed opportunities, Weathering With You emphasizes the power of taking action for yourself, even if it’s not what others may want. In a world rocked by rapidly changing climate, it’s up to the young to decide where we go from here.

As he has always done, Shinkai portrays his lessons on regret in relationships through his breathtaking works, and Weathering With You is no exception. If anything, Weathering With You offers more than most of his other films can compete with—including the masterpiece Your Name.—by opening the conversation to how our personal relationships can make waves, affecting other’s relationships and the cascade of lives that follow. Our attitudes, our feelings, and our actions are irrevocably connected, much like the ripples of a raindrop splashing on a puddle—or the radiant warmth of the sun that shines when the clouds finally part after a long day’s rain. 

Even in disaster, Makoto Shinkai’s direction, visual aesthetic, and willingness to jump off the deep end make this film a breathtaking experience from its humble beginning to its unpredictable ending. Weathering With You was nothing like I expected it’d be, but I am so, so glad that it exists.

the sunshine girl


I want you more than any blue sky. — Hodaka Morishima


Afterword

This is a film every anime fan should see—it’s already established that much for itself. Regardless of whether you prefer Your Name. to this or vice versa, the fact remains that Shinkai is a visionary director who helms a team of artists and animators that deserve to be seen on the big screen. WATCH THIS MOVIE if you can, and if it’s not showing near you, I implore you to consider booking a day off for a road-trip. As someone who looks up to Makoto Shinkai and his work for creative inspiration in my own life, it’s no surprise that 2019’s Weathering With You is certified a “Cafe Mocha” film, a rating only for the best and brightest!

Did you make your way down to the theater to check out Weathering With You? If you did, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the film! What did you like most about it? What did you dislike? I’m all ears, always. ‘Till next time, everyone!

– Takuto, your host