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

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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

A Story That Loves Love: Go For It, Nakamura! | OWLS “Adore”

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 second monthly topic of 2019, “Adore,” I wanted to stray away from the darker content I typically go for with these posts and focus on something lighthearted. Fortunately for me, none come more fluffy and adorable than the one-shot shounen-ai manga that’s got the BL community completely under its love spell: Go For It, Nakamura!

In February, we will be exploring love and romance. The word selected is “adore” because it has two main connotations: to be loved and respected or to feel worshipped. We will analyze characters that give us a feeling of admiration and explain why we love those characters. We will also be exploring different forms of love (familial, friendship, and even self-love) and how those types of love influence our lives.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

I myself happened to have recently finished the book, so this prompt came in good timing. Thanks Lyn!

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the one-shot (11-chapter) manga “Go For It, Nakamura!,” story and art by Syundei, and licensed in English by Seven Seas Entertainment.  

Ganbare! Nakamura-kun!!

Nakamura Okuto may be a shy gay high school boy, but he sure knows what he wants—the love of his life, his adorable high school classmate, Hirose Aiki. He constantly daydreams of just about every cliche romance scenario ever written, but when it comes to executing his charm, Nakamura is a total klutz! To make matters worse, the two haven’t even formally met yet, and Nakamura’s clumsy streak is sure enough to botch things before they even begin. Oh boy, good luck Nakamura!

Serialized in Opera magazine over the course of a couple years, the 11 chapters that make up this volume comprise the existing story as it currently stands. It is a collection of vignettes from the titular character’s high school life sectioned off in a way not unlike that of a 4-koma manga.

It’s also a comedy manga—and one that’s fun as heck to boot. The comedic timing will leave you giggling in your chair, and the few moments of genuine connection between Nakamura and Hirose will make your heart all warm and mushy. There’s never a dull moment in Nakamura’s pitiful yet utterly relatable life.

As mentioned earlier, the romantic scenarios are cliche: staying after class, school festival drama, chance meeting in an alley, school plays, CLUBS, you get the picture. Even though you know how the story might play out that particular chapter, Nakamura’s inner dialogue and anxious turmoil transform repetition into a breath of fresh air. And yes, the retro art style contributes immensely to Nakamura‘s uniqueness.

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A Lost Art: The 1980s Japan Aesthetic 

I’m not a historian by any means, but if I had to pin a time period, I’d say that Syundei’s story takes place in 1980s Japan. Regardless, it’s old school, but cute. Really cute. Think Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2) printed in modern day. Wacky expressions, explosive bangs, random chibi appearances, traditional hair and clothing styles, that kind of 80s Japan. Between the bright colors on the cover, the fuzzy glow effect of Nakamura’s daydreams, and the flowery patterned backgrounds, Syundei has created a retro aesthetic that is quite the rare find these days.

I really loved the revival of the cartoonishly big hair bangs (a nice choice!). Not only does this design detail take us back to the past, but it makes the characters seem even fluffier than they already are. Hirose in particular is just such a kind, SOFT boi, and I totally understand why Nakamura’s enamored with this sparkling chestnut head! Hirose’s large round eyes also make him seem more gullible, innocent, and inviting, a stark contrast to Nakamura’s gloomy aura. For a guy who is used to hugging against the shadows, Hirose’s radiant light is blinding. So pure!

The duality of Nakamura’s expressiveness—from the estranged slim-eyed “bully” look to this blushing, red-faced, obsessive weirdo—establishes an even stronger bond between Nakamura and the reader. He may have a scary exterior, but he’s just a big softie (and one who’s madly in love!), and I found myself rooting for Nakamura throughout his antics because I relate to his struggles of silent obsession and unrequited love. Slowly but surely, Nakamura is crawling out of his shell and opening up to people, and I really look forward to further developments should Syundei return to this wonderful title.

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A Refreshing Spin on BL

Although he may be a closet gay to his peers, Nakamura isn’t afraid to let the reader know, and I really enjoy how being gay isn’t a big deal in Nakamura. Even his classmates don’t mock him for desparately wanting to hang out with Hirose, and it’s just so, so refreshing. If you’re new to BL, this story would make an excellent entry point. (Being a single-volume story helps make this a recommendation even more convincing!)

Additionally, this isn’t a BL story about lust and skipping the foreplay just to do the deed. Go For It, Nakamura! is as innocent and pure as they come, and for all the right reasons. Sure, Nakamura is a bit obsessive for Hirose, but not much more than any other girl or boy tailing after their romantic idol. The story sticks to themes of adoration and manages to run as far as a lovely, blossoming friendship. And interestingly, its lack of explicit content is what marks it as one of the bests.

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A Story That Loves Love

Watching the push and pull between Nakamura and Hirose grow with each chapter sure doesn’t leave the heart with much time to rest. At times stupidly funny, other times highly resonate and heartwarming, I couldn’t think of a high school couple more deserving of mutual love and affection. More than they realize, they need a person just like the other, and the ending will leave you with so much hope and happiness.

Syundei’s Go For It, Nakamura! is a story that loves love, and about loving yourself, too. Its characters are cute and fluffy, and despite my wanting to smash the two together and shout “NOW KISS!”, I wouldn’t have wanted the story (as it stands now) to end any other way. I was left squealing and stirring in my chair for hours after reading the last page, and if there’s any BL title out there to boast the word “adore,” this is easily the one.

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Y-you’re the one who said it was important to be true to yourself. — Nakamura Okura


Afterword

Well, when you don’t have to cover animation, music, voice acting, and directing, this makes for a pretty short post! Reading Go For It, Nakamura! easily became the highlight of my week, and its short single-volume release makes it easy to consume yet hard to let go of. It’s fun, simple, and it’ll make your heart go doki-doki for sure! As if I needed to reinforce its notability, Syundei’s Go For It, Nakamura! establishes itself as a “Cafe Mocha” title, an absolute hit for anyone wanting to spend an afternoon enjoying the softest BL manga ever written. Seriously, you’ll love it.

This concludes my February 3rd entry in the OWLS “Adore” blog tour. Man, when was the last time I went this early!? In fact, it looks like I’m the one kicking off the February tour, so I hope I set the groundwork well enough for all the great posts to come. Now, look out for my good friend Hazel (Archi-Anime) with a post about After the Rain on Wednesday, February 6th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

The Conviction to Change in Bunny Girl Senpai | OWLS “Metamorphosis”

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 first monthly topic of 2019, “Metamorphosis,” I wanted to take a look at one of 2018’s best shows (in my opinion), the most unusual tale of a high school boy who encounters many different teenage girls, each of which are struggling with a bizarre phenomenon tied to personal turmoil: the (in)famous Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai.

A brand new year means new beginnings and opportunities. We have a tendency to embrace the new year because it’s a time when we can start fresh. For this month’s topic, we will be exploring our favorite dynamic characters who undergo changes for better or for worse. We will analyze these characters’ transformations and how these transformations benefited or minimized these characters’ potential in becoming “great people/beings.” We will also use these characters as a way for us to reflect on our own lives and who we want to become. Lastly, we would like to say “Happy New Year, everyone!”

Much like last year’s “Revival” tour, January ushers in new beginnings and a fresh start for us all. Here’s to the first in a long line of wonderful months to come, and thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 13-episode fall 2018 series “Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai,” animated by CloverWorks, directed by Souichi Masui, and based on the light novel series by Hajime Kamoshida. 

Troubles in Youth, the Adolescence Syndrome

Also called “puberty syndrome,” this sickness of sorts rumored on the internet to be caused by sensitivity and instability during adolescence plagues young hearts and entangles several girls in weird experiences beyond the explanation of physics.

Sakuta Azusagawa, a second-year high school student, meets these girls that are experiencing this “puberty syndrome” over the course of one eventful year. The one to stand out the most, of course, is famous child/teen actress Mai Sakurajima, which he encounters in a public library wearing a bunny costume. Although he knows her to be a senior at his school, for some reason, no one else can see Miss Sakurajima in her scantily clad attire.

When did she become invisible? How did she become invisible? As Sakuta earnestly spends more and more time with Mai-san and tries to unravel her mysterious circumstances, Mai’s hidden emotions slowly reveal themselves and a relationship of love begins to blossom.

Mai Sakurajima isn’t the only one changed by Sakuta, though—energetic underclassman Koga Tomoe is stuck in an endless time loop until she confronts her inner feelings; Sakuta’s science club friend Rio Futaba has to deal with a doppelganger of herself running around; hardworking idol Nodoka Toyohama undergoes a sudden body swap with Mai-san, who turns out to be her sister; even Sakuta’s own sister Kaede is still recovering from her terrible past with adolescence syndrome. All the while, a figure from Sakuta’s past—his first love, Shouko Makinohara—makes an incomprehensible reappearance into his life.

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Love, Romance, & Schrödinger’s Cat

Sakurajima was a child star, adored by all and a household icon to boot. But following a couple-year hiatus caused by her transitionary high school phase and a conflict with her manager (her own mother), the teen actress fell out of the public eye. She suddenly became invisible, and the Adolescence Syndrome amplified that literal meaning.

Despite his convincingly bored and constantly horny exterior, Sakuta is a genuinely good guy. He’s honest, straightforward (a bit too much sometimes), persistent, caring, and is able to read into people surprisingly well. These qualities make him a perfect agent for change, which he acts upon to improve the lives of those he deems worthy of his friendship.

When going about “fixing” Sakurajima’s invisibility problem, Sakuta appeals to his super smart science club friend Futaba for advice. If anyone can believe him and break down the Adolescence Syndrome’s causes and cures, it’s Futaba. She postulates that the students’ collective forgetting of Mai-san was caused by the school’s atmosphere, and she makes the analogy of Schrödinger’s cat to explain how Mai’s existence cannot be confirmed by those who refuse to acknowledge her. Finally, Futaba proposes that if the atmosphere were to be shaken enough to awaken everyone’s memories, Mai-san’s life would return to normal.

With the school as the box and Mai-san as the cat, the Schrödinger’s cat tie-in helps to create a powerful metaphor for the change process. Unless we open the box and confront its contents, we’ll never know if the cat is dead or alive, thus it is half of both. Similarly, until we open up to others with our problems and allow each other to see why we are hurt, confused, or scared, we’ll never be able to understand one another, and thus our problems will prevail.

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In this case, Sakuta persistently sought after people who knew Mai-san’s personal life, including her mother (and sister as well later on), to unravel the reason for Mai’s actions and the consequences pressed by the Adolescence Syndrome. So, what did he find? Sakuta urged Mai-san to return to her acting career. After all, she loves show business. But what made things different this time is that she wouldn’t let her mother micromanage her life. Instead, she’d plant her feet and make the choices she wanted to make.

Just like Futaba the science whiz found, unless the name Mai Sakurajima was put back into the student body’s mind in a way that broke the static atmosphere, nothing would change. Determined not to give up on Mai even though he, too, had almost forgotten her forever, Sakuta came up with a daring last-minute plan to make everyone remember. And while confessing the love of your life to every single person at school by shouting from the baseball field was a bit over-the-top, you can definitely call Sakuta’s efforts in making Mai Sakurajima visible once again commendable. Quite praiseworthy indeed!

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Change to Last a Lifetime

On the subject of metamorphosis itself, one characteristic that makes Sakuta Azusagawa stand out as a “hero” type protagonist is his conviction to not only solving each problem plaguing our cast, but his focus on making lifelong changes rather than little remedies to temporary issues. Like, he could have just told Sakurajima to get back into acting or “broke the atmosphere” from the start. Instead, he devoted immense time and energy to reconstructing Mai-san’s mindset geared towards a fresh, new perspective on self-confidence. Considering how that involves rebuilding a mother-daughter relationship, I’d say it’s no small effort whatsoever.

The same could be said about the other girls, though. For Koga Tomoe, he didn’t merely get her to confront her feelings—he willingly went along with her repeated time looping until she felt comfortable being honest about the nature of a one-sided romance. Sakuta helped Koga get her friends back, her reputation back, and all because she was a true friend to him. Even with Futaba, the problem wasn’t just with eliminating the doppel—it was about filling the hole in her heart with friendship, youthful memories, and some good, honest fun.

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If there’s one big takeaway from Bunny Girl Senpai, it’s that deep down, we’re all just trying to keep the past out of the future, even if that means giving up on some of the things we love. It’s a romantic notion, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not how we should be living our lives—and Sakuta Azusagawa knows it.

Try as we might, we’ll never be able to completely let the past go. Whether its remnants haunt us in the present, like Mai’s longing to act again and Kaede’s desire to see the outside world, or our feelings keep us from moving forward, as with Koga and Futaba, there will always be something we hate about ourselves, something to regret.

What we can do, however, is do our best to live without said regrets—to think, act, and dream as if we are absolutely owning our lives. And if we don’t like how things are going, we CHANGE what we can such that we create the world we want to live in. The conviction to change is something that ultimately comes from within, and having close friends, even just a couple, can make this exciting way of living all the more within our grasp—we just have to be willing to reach out, change the atmosphere, and when we’re ready, open the box. 

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“No matter who you were before, how you look right now is who you are.”— Sakuta Azusagawa


Afterword

Whew! This one was a bit of a cram watch, but I’m glad I finished it for a post like this one. Despite seeming like a surface-level rom-com with pervy jokes and toilet humor, Bunny Girl Senpai is surprisingly full of complex metaphysical concepts. Through its amazing and mature lead characters, Sakuta and Mai, it’s able to weave in these interesting principles with thought-provoking conversations and an air of scientific wonder. If you’re wanting a harem-ish anime that offers more emotional and intellectual challenge (or Bakemonogatari without the abstract directing style), give Bunny Girl Senpai a shot. You might enjoy the chemistry (and petty banter) between the leads more than you initially think! Plus, the voice acting is great, the animation is pretty, and OP and ED themes are absolute BOPS.

As for the cafe, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is certified “Caffe Mocha,” a show from 2018 that’s simply too awesome to miss out on! Seeing as how I focused this post solely a few story/character points, I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on the rest of the series down in the comments.

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This concludes my January 13th entry in the OWLS “Metamorphosis” blog tour. I tried going for a shorter, more condensed and focused form of writing for this OWLS post, so if you have any feedback on that I’d greatly appreciate it. Jack (The Aniwriter) went right before me and wrote about change and the liberation it can offer in Wandering Son, a series I really ought to watch! Now, look out for Megan (Nerd Rambles) with a post about everyone’s favorite tabletop pastime Dungeons & Dragons on Sunday, January 13th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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

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

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A Bumbling, Tumbling, Pure-Hearted Gentleman

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

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

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

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Love Comes in All Shapes and Sizes

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

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

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

“MISS YAMATOOOO!!!”

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

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

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

It’s. So. Funny. 

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

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A “Cake” Title in its Purest Form

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

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

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

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Afterword

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

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

– Takuto, your host

The Ravishing, Elegant Imperfections of “Welcome to the Ballroom” | Blogmas 2017 Day 9

Hey everyone, welcome to (a very belated) day 9 of Blogmas (whoops)! This past summer, two sports anime aired simultaneously, and I decided to follow them to see which would wind out on top! Today I present a review of the show that finished airing about a week or so ago, the anime about a young boy’s experience as a ballroom dancer, and how the sport challenged and changed him for the better!

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The Summer of Sports: A Review of Welcome to the Ballroom


A spoiler-free review of the summer 2017 anime “Welcome to the Ballroom,” produced by Production I.G, directed by Yoshimi Itazu, based on the manga by Tomo Takeuchi. 

Entering the World of Dance

Tatara Fujita’s another one of those introverted third-year middle schoolers with no aim in life who very soon has to make the big high school decision. On one of his particularly average days, he is harassed by delinquents, only to suddenly be rescued by an imposing gentleman on a motor cycle. His name is Sengoku, an energetic professional dancer on the international level, and it is through some miscommunication on Sengoku’s part that Tatara ends up at his dance studio. There, he meets a girl from his school: Shizuku Hanaoka—the woman of his dreams—and it is partially because of both her charm and Tatara’s own desire to change himself that he enters the world of dance. The free-spirited Sengoku sees potential in young Tatara, and thus decides to show him the steps.

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Through his experience with dance, Tatara meets many people, friends and rivals alike, who will each challenge Tatara not only as an athlete, but as a young man coming of age. And it is through this same interaction with Tatara that other dancers feel encouraged to take steps to overcome their own issues and flaws. His feet will get plenty sore, and he’ll fall on the dance floor many, many times in practice, but Tatara keeps on going because of the enjoyment and wonder dancing brings into his otherwise goalless life.

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From Slouch Stance to Swing Dance

One of the most exciting times to be alive was Welcome to the Ballroom‘s beginning. Its first six or so episodes set up a pretty strong premise, not to mention a promising standard of animation quality. From Tatara understanding how to stand up straight and correct his terrible slouch to learning the waltz’s basic box pattern, I truly felt inspired to try waltzing around my room like I used to so many years ago. You just want to see more and more of the characters and the sport they all love—it’s first several episodes are addictive! But it’s hard to maintain that same adrenaline over the course of one dance competition alone. Let me elaborate.

Over the course of 24 episodes, we only bear witness to what, three, maybe four competitions. And it is from each of these arcs that we are expected to understand that Tatara’s skills accelerate at a terrifyingly quick rate. One does not instantly become a pro by attending merely a couple competitions, though; the reality is that it takes tens, if not hundreds of events like competitions that challenge one’s entire range of skills. I know Tatara wasn’t defined as a “pro” by the end of the series, as he clearly still has much to learn, but the fact that he was able to equally rival some of the series’s known-to-be-greatest dancers felt somewhat unbelievable.

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And while we’re on the subject of shounen arcs, a single dance could last two or three episodes, while a competition could span as great as nine or so episodes. What’s with that pacing? Had the competitions made shorter, we could’ve made room for more of them, which might’ve balanced the characterization better. In its defense, I imagine that my issues with the slow pacing would be way less apparent watching it now in marathon format as opposed to over the course of SIX MONTHS.

Where the series fails to be a completely smooth run here and there, it definitely makes up for it by proving to be VERY entertaining. Each episode does leave you craving to know what might happen in the next round, or perhaps to see which couples end up clashing on the dance floor. My pacing dissatisfaction wasn’t from “bad episodes” or “poor directing choices,” but rather a lack of action worthy enough to fill a whole episode (especially by the end). It’s not filler, it’s just slow-moving, and I suppose I’d rather a show take its time than push forward and leave out development.

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Finding Something to be Good At: Tatara & Dance

To give him credit, Tatara Fujita does practice A LOT. He’s a hard worker, and in fact, many shots in the series focus on characters walking into the studio, only to discover a tired Tatara training through the early hours of the morn. Where he struggles with verbal teachings, Tatara is incredibly gifted at duplicating dance moves he has seen. Odds are that this is the reason why he is able to fair well against many dancers, including the experienced ones.

Either way, he struggles with communicating what he wants, and as such fails to grasp the masculine hold that a couple’s lead should possess. This translates across to his external conflict: great shyness, nervousness, and a lack of self-confidence around others. He dances in secret, embarrassed by being a male dancer, and is unable to make friends as a result, nor tell his dad about his newfound hobby. Mentally, he is fighting to “man up,” accept dance as a part of himself, and discover what dancing really means to him—this is all while chasing after Sengoku’s shadow, of course. Overall, I like Tatara, as his conflicts are not only relatable, but his efforts to respect and embrace what he truly loves are praiseworthy, too! Through an unlikely sport like dance, Tatara finds that one thing he wished he could be good at, as well as a way to express his true, repressed, artistic spirit.

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Finding Kinship in Competition: Hyoudou & Gaju

As mentioned, several challengers oppose Tatara over the course of the series. Though they are mainly boys a tad older than he is, there are a couple of older men who provide valuable lessons and wisdom on the sport. Sengoku is the obvious culprit, but his lack of attention to Tatara kind of makes him a dick of a coach. He does have his own professional career to worry about, I suppose. And I do see why Tatara (and heck, everybody else) idolizes the guy: for all his goofiness and trouble with verbal instructions, Sengoku knows his stuff, and he sure is one eye-catching, dynamic dancer.

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Then there’s the other leads, namely dancing prodigy Kiyoharu Hyoudou and the brash, loudmouth Gaju Akagi. On their own, Hyoudou’s seemingly perfect career is suffering from a hidden injury, and the way the show handled his behavior and mannerisms was quite realistic and well-handled. It’s always a surprising dilemma to see “the star” in trouble, but it can happen to anyone, and the road to recovery can really deter one’s once-blazing determination. Every time he appeared from the shadows and opened his smart mouth to make some stupidly detailed analysis of Tatara’s mistakes, however, I did low-key want to punch him in the face.

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If Hyoudou is Tatara’s foil, then Gaju would be more like your standard, overly zealous competitor, the epiphany of dominance over one’s partner. He is the glue that holds the group together, though, and in times of relaxation and relief, it’s Gaju’s presence that brings out the casts’s nice chemistry.

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Finding a Partner: Chinatsu & The Struggle to Connect

At first, the other female dancers seem like standards for Tatara’s partner(s) to reach and eventually pass, but thankfully, that’s not how Ballroom works. While I’m told the manga (which I can’t wait to read) fleshes out the female characters better, as you get read their thoughts, I found myself nonetheless enjoying Hanaoka’s untouchable nature and the cute Mako Akagi’s hidden glam (seriously, the Tenpei Cup final was EPIC, and I love Mako’s yellow dress). Even the adult females like Sengoku’s partner Chizuru or Hyoudou’s mom Coach Marisa serve more purpose than just being there for Tatara—they all feel like real people with their own attitudes, weaknesses, and ambitions.

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As much as I loved Mako’s adorable yet strong-willed spirit, my favorite female character was one introduced in the show’s second half: Chinatsu, Tatara’s fiery future partner. Characterized as the polar opposite of Tatara—fierce, strong, bold, and most of all, a true leader—Chinatsu poses a lot of problems for Tatara (and frustration for the viewers, too). She’s essentially everything that he’s not, and her unwillingness to accept her own issues and work through them calmly (and fairly) with Tatara sets up a rocky, explosive relationship just waiting to burst. How Chinatsu’s existence changes EVERYTHING reminds me so much of Shinji and Asuka’s relationship from Evangelion, and it’s probably the reason why I like their dynamic so much.

Simply put, she’s everything that makes him uncomfortable, and he’s everything that challenges her very being. 

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The anime’s ending tries to cap off their relationship with a sudden “everything’s gonna be ok,” but we all know that more fights and fits are bound for this couple in the future. Their animosity was just handled so well, so powerfully, and it arguably made the long second half bearable for me. The struggle to connect and find a partner is a very intimate, vital thing, and I’m glad it wasn’t underplayed.

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(To avoid spoilers, obligatory shoutout to Kugimiya and his partner Idogawa, as it was their character development that made the final competition so impactful!)

A Dancing Anime Without the “Dance”

Ballroom blossoms beautifully when it’s moving. Seriously, it’s freakin’ wonderful. But fluid scenes on the dance floor are sadly few and far between, which is odd considering that a powerhouse like Production I.G is behind the helm. This was most viewers’ biggest beef with the anime adaptation, as the manga’s pages are rife with striking, expressive motion (which seems odd for paper, but just open up a volume whenever you get the chance). Way too often than what should be allowed for a sports anime, we are treated to still frame, after still frame, after still frame, which are guided by someone annoying (like Hyoudou) verbally leading us through what should have been a thrilling, visual feast! Don’t get me wrong—Every. Single. Frame. Of this anime is drop-dead gorgeous. Like, those dresses, holy shit, wow! But man, I was sighing throughout so many of the dance scenes because I just wanted to see SOMETHING move. It could literally be a ribbon or a dress sequin—JUST MOVE IT. I really hope some animation is added to the Blu-ray releases.

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(As for the giraffe necks, I didn’t mind too much. They’re glaring at first, but after a few episodes you don’t even notice how wrong it is.)

Music, the Soul of Dance

Thankfully, Ballroom manages to stay somewhat engaging during these motionless shots because of its delightful soundtrack. Perhaps this is because of musician Yuuki Hayashi’s own experience as a rhythmic gymnast; the man already knows how to match tempo and tune with fancy footwork. Hayashi is a rising favorite of mine, as he knows how to perfectly time moments that should be epic with music that is absolutely epic. From moving ensembles like “Ballroom, Shakou Dance” to THE MOST UPLIFTING BEAT OF THE CENTURY, “Ganbaritai Kimochi,” how you can’t NOT feel the emotional weight? And don’t even get me started on the dance music—waltz, salsa, jazz, swing, samba, cha-cha, Charleston, Merengue—so many styles, and so much respect for each time period’s jams!!

Hayashi’s able to take a simple melody and turn it into a gorgeous, heartwarming waltz, or even a snappy, saucy tango. I was just so happy to see my favorite time signature, the waltz’s 3/4, be revived in modern anime akin to Ouran High School Host Club‘s brilliance. It’s a shame that his dance-themed tracks would be frequently swapped out for the main OST mid-dance, unlike the continuous play like in Yuri!!! On ICE, but I suppose that makes anticipating each lovely track all the more exciting. There’s a raw love for classical strings, piano, and a bit of drums for movement in Hayashi’s internationally-infused music, and that’s why I’ll always look forward to his perfect, inspiring scores.

“Tatara’s Waltz,” “Hyoudou Tango,” “Blooming On Our Way,” “Tango City,” “Viennese Waltz,” “It’s like a symphony,” “Quick Step B,” “La Cumparsita, “Las Patineurs,” “Sing, Sing, Sing . . .” HOW CAN YOU NOT LIKE THIS VARIETY???

I’ve already talked way to much about the music in this anime, but on top of featuring a well-rounded soundtrack, Ballroom has TWO amazingly energetic openings that create so much HYPE! Both by UNISON SQUARE GARDEN (which I will now keep an eye out for), “10% roll, 10% romance” and “Invisible Sensation,” my favorite of the two, have made my “Current Faves” playlist. And I couldn’t forget about the first ED theme, “Maybe the next waltz” by Mikako Komatsu, which was sung, yes, AS A SWEET WALTZ. I JUST LOVE THIS ANIME’S STYLE SO MUCH!!

Dismantling the Stereotypes: The Beauty of Evolution

As a final note, Ballroom makes quick work of eliminating any frivolous or “girly” things you previously thought about ballroom dance. Its appropriate depiction as an equally sweaty, vigorous sport is eye-opening, and you can feel that all the people behind the project had a great respect for the sport. The anime is aware of this, and repeatedly nails in the idea that ballroom dance IS, indeed, very difficult. From the pain-staking accuracy of the sound that certain shoes make, to the flow and friction of suits and dresses, incredible attention was put into the sound effects to fully immerse you in the bustling dance floor atmosphere. Lastly, both the anime’s culturally diverse soundtrack and fashion sense pay ode to dance’s professional realities, culminating into an accurate depiction of dance’s heaviest hardships and most joyous pleasures alike.

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When it wants to be, the show is also very funny, using quick-witted humor and hilarious facial reactions to lighten an unnecessarily tense mood—something that we routinely find ourselves in.

Welcome to the Ballroom clearly has many strengths, but also several weaknesses. It boasts the allure of dancing, yet frequently fails put the concept into motion. It showcases how thrilling the sport can be, yet often drags out the effect nearly to the point of boredom. But above its faults, Ballroom promotes the beauty of evolution, the purity of youth, and the countless many possibilities that come with change and transformation. It’s a dramatic story of motivation, inspiration, and progress, both for its characters and the future of the sport itself. And by its end, I couldn’t help but applaud the valiant effort made to enlighten me on the world of dance and all its ravishing, graceful, and truly elegant imperfections. It’s that rare kind of show that doesn’t come around often—and one that should not be missed.

Dance’s physical and emotional expressions seem close, but they aren’t easily tied together. It can’t be considered a real expression unless you can reflect the outside knowledge and experiences you’ve gained. That’s why with an emotional dance, you can see through the dancer’s entire life. Joy and sorrow. Love and hate. A dance with a variety of emotions adds depth. Don’t you think that becomes meaningful enough to dedicate the time in your life to dance? – Coach Marisa Hyoudou

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Production and pacing problems aside, Welcome to the Ballroom‘s biggest issue right now is the lack of a licensing, as Anime Strike doesn’t count for CRAP! Seriously, someone please get a hold of the polished Japanese Blu-rays, dub it if you want, and I’ll buy three. This was such a long review, my goodness, but I wanted to make sure that I covered EVERYTHING about it! If you managed to make it from beginning to end, give yourself a pat on the back, and let me know in the comments what you thought of Welcome to the Ballroom in the comments! It’s a sweet, delicious “Cake” here at the cafe!

This concludes Blogmas Day Nine of the 12 Days of Anime, as well as part 2 of “The Summer of Sports!” If you couldn’t already tell, Ballroom definitely won the match, but I do love them both! Thanks for reading, and I’ll catch you shortly with another belated post!

– Takuto, your host

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“Orange” is Sweet & Sour, Yet All The More Beautiful | OWLS “Treasure”

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!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  ninth monthly topic, “Treasure,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard review of the Orange manga into a cautionary yet hopeful look at the realm of teen suicide, and how, as an outsider, it is okay feel unsure when warning signs are observed.

There are moments in our lives where we lose our sense of self-worth and value and as a result, we find ourselves deep in darkness or drowning in the ocean. However, every person in this world is a treasure—we treasure ourselves or we are treasured by others—and at times, we may need to be reminded of that. We will be exploring characters who have suffered from mental illnesses, depression, and/or suicide, and then discussing how these individuals cope with these issues, the reasons for their emotions, and how they handled the situations they were in.

For as long as I’ve been avoiding it, alas, there’s no going around the major theme of suicide in Orange, so thanks for the prompt, Lyn! This is also my first manga review, so wish me luck!

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A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 5-volume 2012-2017 manga “Orange,” localized in the U.S. by Seven Seas Entertainment with story and art by Ichigo Takano. 

Death, Divorce, Drugs, Depression

Today, teachers will advise students to omit these four things when it comes to important college, scholarship, or job essays/interviews. This is likely because your employers and admissions offices do not want your pity; they want to hear about your strengths, a time you overcame tough odds, or maybe a moment of positive character development in your lifetime—NOT about the pitiable setbacks along the way.

But if these four items have become such crucial parts in the great cycle of life, why mightn’t you want to write about how you didn’t let the divorce of your parents or attempt at suicide ultimately stop you, or convey how even though drugs might’ve ruled your past that they would not own your future?

Ok, real talk. Depression is, well, depressing. Drugs are weird. And let’s face it, having to console someone about their “recently late” Aunt Susie can be extremely awkward, both for the you and the other party, rest-assured. It’s hard to talk about suicide and say “just the right thing” at “just the right time.” When is that time? Is it my fault for not knowing? It’s all just so . . . pressuring, so time consuming, and your boss probably doesn’t have the time to seat you on the sofa and listen to you express all your life’s troubles.

As much as I hate to say it, business and education are professional. Save your need of counseling for the counselor.

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I’ve Been Running for So Long

All this and more is why I avoid the Four D’s, both on my papers and here on the most informal of blogs. I try not to talk about specific real problems—negative aspects, terrible people, worrisome events—we face daily, but instead offer to celebrate the good that can come from something, even if that bit of positivity is ultimately (and knowingly) insignificant or greatly overpowered. Death and depression are hard to talk about for many, and the last thing I want to do is try consoling someone when I’d probably end up making things worse.

We don’t always get to make that decision, however, as entertainment has integrated these kinds of issues into their stories and characters. I might hear that a certain manga or anime is a “masterpiece of emotional conflict,” yet as soon as I hear “mental illness,” I won’t lie, I get turned off.

This brings me back to Orange, a brief tale about THE WORLD’S GREATEST GROUP OF FRIENDS and their willingness to alter time—risking the wonderful future in store for themselves—in order to prevent the inevitable suicide of a troubled young boy, their newfound beloved, treasured friend. It’s a story so short, powerful, and highly regarded of that it just couldn’t be ignored anymore, and descending into darkness proved well-worth the risks.

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To You, in the Past

The start of Naho Takamiya ‘s junior year in high school was unlike any other: for the first time, Naho overslept, which was also her first mistake. That morning a letter made its way to her, but she was too busy trying to make it to school on time. When she finally arrives, her teacher announces a new transfer student by the name of Kakeru Naruse. According to the letter (which she now has some time to scope out), he’ll sit next to her. And just like clockwork, the teacher seats him in the back right next to her.

To her disbelief, Naho realizes she stumbled upon a letter from herself ten years in the future, which chronicles her everyday emotions and actions for the next six or so months. It’s not until shortly after Naho and her four other friends invite Kakeru to walk home together after class that she, again, violated the letter’s requests: her second big mistake.

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Naho is tasked by her future self to get to know Kakeru Naruse better—to make him feel welcomed, loved, cherished, and understood—for ten years from now, Kakeru no longer walks among the living, and his loss was her greatest regret. Now unfolds a fatalistic love story that spans across time, a tale full of many emotional ups and downs.

Everyone Needs Friends Like These Guys

I find myself in the same boat as Naho; depression is hard to talk about, so she often skirts around the issue by using the excuse of “making him smile.” I suppose both technically work, but clearly, Naho has no idea how to make Kakeru happy. While I can relate to her frequent indecision and lack of self-confidence, C’MON GIRL, JUST SPIT IT OUT ALREADY. I love Naho’s cute and considerate character to death, but man, telling a guy that you have lunch for him shouldn’t be that hard. I guess it adds to Orange‘s drama, and that some social anxiety can be just as stressful as depression.

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Orange is only complicated on an emotional level, concerning itself almost exclusively with Kakeru’s depression and Naho’s inability to act the way she truly wants to. The relationship between the two of them is such a focal point that I couldn’t help but wish more of Naho’s friends played a bigger role. There’s the ever-teased soccer “giant” Suwa, a real team player, and he’s just about the best friend you could ever ask for. I’ll avoid spoilers by merely saying that he’s a funny guy full of heart, and that if anyone’s willing to take one for the team, it would absolutely be him. (Props to creating one of the most challenging love triangles ever.)

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But there are others: the girls, including the loud and cheerful Azusa and the cool, strong Takako. These two are almost always up to no good, snooping around whenever and wherever they can, but their presence makes me feel most at ease. They’re both overly caring, and despite how bratty Azu can get, or scary Takako may seem, they only mean to stick up for their friends.

Lastly there’s poor, poor glasses-kun Hagita, who likely would’ve been my favorite character had he been more than just the team’s punching bag. He’s picked on and ridiculed for nearly everything he does, but his logic and reasoning, no matter how pessimistic, often lead to the solutions everyone’s been looking for. Several times throughout the series he’s hinted on having a huge involvement with the finale (which could’ve led to something really cool), when in actuality, he’s just as equal in importance as the other girls.

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*gulp* Here We Go

It doesn’t take a second glance to see that Kakeru is dealing with his own demons. His smile may be pretty and sparkly, but underneath that shine is a whole lot of self-doubt, trauma, and shitty memories from his previous school. On top of it all, his parents are divorced, and he blames himself for his mother’s sudden suicide early on, which is what triggers the events of Orange! Well geez, it’s no wonder he’s thinkin’ about offin’ himself all the time!

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Suicide is big. It can be hard to stomach and awkward to talk about, I covered this. But because it can be so off-putting for some people, odds are that they will have a difficult time with Orange. It doesn’t help that Kakeru comes across as particularly frustrating and ungrateful. But we gotta help the guy out, that’s what we do, right? With these kinds of people and situations, we need to get as close as we can to hear them out. From there, we can only go with our gut and advise them, appreciate their efforts and tell them that  it’s almost always never their own fault, and that they are never alone.

In my opinion, Naho did what was right by involving all of her friends in on the dilemma. She took her sweet time, but thanks to plot convenience (and a neat twist), everyone becomes gung-ho about saving Kakeru. Take things slowly, sincerely, and whole-heatedly, for if you can save the life of a friend, then it’s always worth the time. You may not get it right the first time, but at least you tried.

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Regret and Happiness

I boast that one of Orange’s winning features is its short 5-volume run, but maybe that’s because I can’t take +10 volumes on suicide. Suicide plays a big role in the story, I’ll admit, but it’s not the real enemy here—regret is. As if all of the characters play supporting roles, Regret is the main antagonist (Guilt his henchman), whilst Satisfaction and Happiness work together to calm not only Kakeru’s mindset, but everyone else’s regret-filled future, too.

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It just sucks when you have to give up what could have been your dream life all because you felt a little guilty for having that blessed life in the first place.

To You, in the Future

Like the titular fruit flavor, oranges taste so sweet and delightful. That is, until you notice that subtle sour tinge. Once it stands out to you, that’s all you can taste, and the fruit no longer becomes desired for its sweetness.

Naho lives one of the coolest lives ever imaginable, surrounded by her dearest friends and caring family. But as soon as Naho experiences Kakeru’s false smile, the sourness just punches her in the gut and pushes her to the brink of tears and exhaustion. That’s when she remembers Kakeru’s value to not only herself now, but herself in the future: “Ten years from now, I’m still regretting Kakeru’s death and the fact that I didn’t even notice how he truly felt.”

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At this point, she makes a desperate call to fate, the ruler of this timeline, wishing to keep the treasure that she found—that they all found—in Kakeru’s heart. And if fate didn’t grant her this treasure, then she’d take it by force. I’m no love expert, but that’s pretty cool of Naho, and I’m glad that this sour story found its sweetness once again by the end—it just makes it all the more beautiful.

“Kakeru . . . is my greatest treasure. Please let us change Kakeru’s future . . . I will not let this be his last day.” – Naho Takamiya


What’s the moral of the story? Well, you could say “Never give up,” but I rather like the sound of “Live without regrets.” The author Ichigo Takano herself, in the epilogue, hopes that our future is a happy one, and that years from now we are still living without regrets. “If you have someone like Kakeru in your life, please find a way to save them. Every life is precious. Please treasure each and every day, the present, the moment, and yourself. Thank you very much.” 

If we notice someone displaying potential signs of any mental illness, don’t feel afraid to step out and let them know you’re with them. Never expect to know EXACTLY what they’re going through, but be prepared to get them the right help just in case. I’m excited to watch the Orange anime now, and with a LTD ED release coming this fall thanks to Funimation, I know what’ll bring my wonderful experience full circle! For now, the manga receives the “Caffe Mocha” approval rating!

A very special to Gigi (Animepalooza) over on YouTube for gifting me with the first volume as per her giveaway—without you, I would not have been allowed to experience this endearing story of romance and very attractive artwork, so many thanks again~!

This concludes my September 19th entry in the OWLS “Treasure” blog tour. Prior to me, Hazelyn (ARCHI-ANIME) wrote about reasons for living in the otome PS Vita game Collar X Malice, and just tomorrow the 20th, Crimson (Crimson is Blogging) will walk us through the Katie Green novel Lighter Than My Shadow! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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