“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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Versailles is Not for All, But Indeed All for One

A spoiler-free review of the 40-episode fall 1979 (wow!) anime “The Rose of Versailles,” produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsha, based on the manga by Riyoko Ikeda.

History is Timeless

It should come across as no surprise to you when I say that “History is timeless.” It also shouldn’t be very startling to hear that we as humans have made more mistakes than triumphs, and that the stories we craft are centered on correcting these mistakes, righting wrong, to reach a triumphant end.

But what happens when history IS the story being told, in that no matter the effort that goes into the rising action, the resolution is that repetitive, burning, regrettable end we try to avoid in stories? Tragedy is born, my dear reader, and “tragic” is indeed the word which encompasses the French Revolution. This single period in history will eventually spawn thousands of tales of its own, one particular rendition brilliantly capturing the many ugly and beautiful faces of this rebellion – The Rose of Versailles.

A Rose of Red & White

So I partially lied above when I claimed that history itself was acted out directly for this work. From the incredible mind of its creator Riyoko Ikeda, Oscar François de Jarjayes is the main character brought to life by the story. Historically, “he” is a man who will, for this story, be a blend of many other significant figures in the revolution. Born to a noble house in need of a male heir, Oscar, a woman, is raised to be a man of valor, vigilance, and vitality, a new kind of “character trope” which will eventually be coined as the “strong woman.” A loyal knight and dear friend of Marie Antoinette’s, Oscar serves her beloved France like a hearth for a mansion, neither wavering in spirit nor charisma in front of the rich and poor alike. Like the scrolls call for, however, Antoinette, a redeemably innocent girl at first, will eventually lead the throne into further corruption, to which Oscar must take a stand for the glory of France – the people – or for her beloved crown in the palace Versailles.

Want to know how to spoil the anime for yourself? You cannot. Versailles is unique because knowing how it ends works in its favor, similar to adaptations of “Romeo and Juliet” or “Animal Farm.” It’ll start with Antoinette’s arrival to the pristine palace and end with her untimely beheading, just how we know it. Even if you knew each of the dirty bits surrounding the revolt, such as the “Affair of the Diamond Necklace” and the terrible folks that manipulated and crushed others to secure a cushy seat in the palace, this anime, though still about the revolution and its events, has another objective: Oscar. She alone is worth watching this series for.

A rose of many thorns, Oscar is cast with a terrible fate from the get-go. Jarjayes needs a male to succeed his place, so BAM, Oscar, you are now his son. Also, buddy, you’ll have to struggle against being a man for the public yet a woman for yourself. Your heart will be torn to pieces by your own prickly thorns as you choose between a fellow knight of honor from a foreign land, or your childhood mate who has always had your back, but never both. Your highness, whom you cherish like a baby sister, will learn from evil influences, and it’ll become impossible to manage both her and your own image. Finally, your homeland will succumb to the invincible flames of the revolution – Flames which burned you for many years beforehand because Versailles – the place you call home – is ultimately a royal hell on this cruel Earth. Yet, you knew all of this, and you still must choose: Be red, or fade to white.

“Ching.” That’s what a sword sounds like.

This is the technical part of this review, introducing features like animation, sound, and voice acting. On the animation front, 1979 sure does hurt! The over-effective glitter during these original shoujo moments is quite much, and the ridiculous, lackluster sword fights do not do much to help the cause. Some awfully cringey facial expressions and spoon-fed symbolism also are a drag. As I said, 1979 hurts, but maybe that is where part of the magic stems from. The aging quality Versailles carries brings in strange emotions like disgust and lust alike, and while I still push for a four-part film series remastering the entire series by Ufotable, I could just as well endure this and admire one of anime’s earliest masterpieces. It is one of those, “Laugh now? Hah, you’ll be on your knees begging for mercy later.”

In the sound department, I sigh internally. You can practically make out a man exclaiming “Ching!” with every sword clash. The over-dramatic echoing effects of shattering glass and collapsing bodies also gave me annoyed shivers. It helps, however, when Versailles walks home with one of the musical soundtracks ever. The OP “Bara wa Utsukushiku Chiru” drawing the comparison between Oscar and a rose, the ED “Ai no Hikari to Kage” depicting her struggles with romance and feminine life, and all of the fantastic tracks in between set a strong stage and leave a solid impression on what true shoujo drama should sound like.

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The show was also never given an English dub – Good thing it will never need one. I am not one to nitpick with Japanese acting, as I sadly do not speak the language, but by God, when Oscar asks for a leave of absence you damn well give her one! Where the visuals could not lift the show, the acting brings all of Versailles’s drama to life.

Why bother reliving the past?

It is arguable the French Revolution started because human beings are inherently evil people, and that all people are born equal. Those who oppose drink their half-full glasses knowing that humans are beings which can reflect on their mistakes to better themselves and the world. The Rose of Versailles masterfully captions both of these viewpoints and reiterates them in a powerful soap opera for anime fans. Portrayal of the female spirit in the ladies of Versailles and of the slums adds additional gold foil to a solid foundation. Melodrama is an enhanced asset that the show flaunts gloriously, and its execution is impactful on a very deep emotional level, given the short time it takes to adjust to the production quality. Just, DO NOT LET THE ANIMATION FOOL YOU, PLEASE.

Lastly, the cast of this historical “story” is just us living in another time, a barbaric fantasy which seems eons ago. The only difference is that this current humanity does not need fancy balls and lavish candelabras to vent its frustration. The Rose of Versailles is not for all, but all for one. In other words, with its age, shoujo background, cheesy moments, and 40-episode run, it is clearly not for everyone; however, it is more than willing to fight for the good of the cause, and for justice everywhere. Its realistic quality and well-researched plot should also give most history buffs a run for their money. Heartwarming and heartbreaking, this is a classic for a reason, and as such should be adorned at your nearest convenience.

“Love can lead to two things: the complete happiness, or a slow and sad agony.”

“No, no, Oscar. For all I know, love only leads to a slow and sad agony.”

                                                       – Oscar to Fersen

Nozomi Entertainment’s two LTD ED boxsets sit with poise and elegance on my shelves, awaiting my return to a dark period in human history just so I can re-emerge enlightened and exhausted. I thank you for spending the time to read through my thoughts, and I do hope you feel the urge to suddenly dip into this classic! I’m not sure if you will pick up on this, but this review was once again done in a different fashion. One change is trying to put a piece of fan art that took out of the experience. Do you prefer this new format over the old one? How about your own thoughts on The Rose of Versailles? Was the masterpiece story enough to sideline the iffy visuals for you, or not? As always, let me know in the comments, waltz on over to that like button if you enjoyed the review, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Tags: Anime, Berusaiyu no Bara, Oscar François de Jarjayes, Reverse Trap

Like and share and maybe, just maybe, Ufotable will hear Lady Oscar’s pleas~!

 

Charlotte Weaves an Entertaining Web of PLOT TWISTS | Review

A spoiler-free review of the 13-episode summer 2015 anime “Charlotte,” produced by P.A. Works, based on the original story by Jun Maeda (Angel Beats!, Clannad).

 – View in browser, not app, for best experience –

“What the heck, Takuto? Charlotte? Really, Charlotte??” Actually, yes, I’m not pulling your leg. I originally wasn’t going to watch this anime, as I heard it didn’t live up to the hype, but something in me clicked (my love for P.A. Works), and I found myself attempting to marathon this thing at 1 A.M. It took me three days to finish (sad, really) but I thought I’d share why you actually might want to check Charlotte out. Surprised? Keep reading.

Yuu Otosaka is what I would call a lucky bastard (at least in the beginning). Blessed with charm, wit, and outstanding looks, he also possesses a secret ability to take over a person’s body for five seconds at a time. Being a teenage boy, Yuu abuses his gift to slip into female bodies (wouldn’t blame him), have some fun with bullies, and cheat on tests to slide into a prestigious high school

Just as life couldn’t be more sunny for Mr. Cheater, camcorder-wielding Nao Tomori, a deadpan invisibility-user, catches on to Yuu’s tricks, leaving him and his li’l sis one option: Transfer to Hoshinoumi Academy, a school for students with these supernatural abilities. Yuu, incredibly flustered, agrees solemnly.

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BUSTED

 

There, he is forced to join the student council led by Tomori, where their task includes stealthily tracking down ability-abusers like himself and dragging them back to the academy. As these reconnaissance missions push the student council to their limits, however, Yuu unravels more shocking truths of the world around him, and that his own ability holds much, much, more potential than merely peeking down a girl’s shirt.

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Jun Maeda has this gift for instantly allowing me to fall in love with his characters through simple, occasionally childish actions. That said, he’d be a lot better writer if his stories didn’t have 500-FREAKIN’ teenagers in them! I’m not criticizing him in ANY way at all, and I understand that the story needed a new dude or two, but the anime’s latter half could have gone without the introduction and glossing over of ten new characters. Why not just use-rinse-repeat with the student council members? We already fell in love with them.

Before I move on, I’d like to enforce how much I love the Otosakas, Tomori, glasses-friend-kun, and the moe idol “Yusarin~”/fiery sister. Had this been all the story had, I probably would have enjoyed it much more. Frankly speaking, less characters = more time for others to shine, and in Charlotte‘s case – sparkle. I waltzed into Charlotte thinking, “Hey, we learned our lesson with Angel Beats! right?” Apparently not. But much like its angelic-battlefront predecessor, it only takes a three-minute cafeteria scene to score big with the heart.

On another note, boy, Maeda certainly prefers his supernatural teenagers “paying the price for being special,” eh? You’ll explore that with Yuu Otosaka and his unsteady mental rise and decline. Charlotte doesn’t sugarcoat depression, and it’s scary good.

 

 

P.A. Works puts on yet another flawless depiction of high-school livin’ on the animation front. It’s fluid, high-powered action scenes contrast with the gorgeous backdrop to create a very supernatural and off-putting vibe when it wants to. I always thought of P.A. Works as KyoAni’s older sister, showcasing maturity over cuteness yet still being very youthful. Character designs are attractive, comedic moments will make you laugh, and that signature P.A. Works sky is simply to die for!

The only disappointing scene from this department was the concert snippet we get. It wasn’t poorly animated, it was just so lackluster compared to its predecessor’s, which even gets a blatant reference when Otosaka is watching anime at a computer cafe. At least the story involving the ‘post-rock’ star was a touching one.

For soundtrack, what we get is . . . actually pretty nice. It’s apparently arranged by ANANT-GARDE EYES and Maeda himself, so make of that what you will. The feeling I get listening to these tracks is in fact similar to Angel Beat!‘s, but again, make of that what you will. Playful and relaxing, energetic and intense, grim and remorseful – It all blends in really well with the atmosphere.

“Bravely You” by Lia is our opening, and if I haven’t made enough comparisons to AB! by this point, then you’ve got to be blind . . . kinda like half of the cast (OHH, BURN). The song fairs particularly well, growing on me as the series progressed. What really got me was the animation sequence that pairs with it. Lia has always been good at breathing life with P.A. work’s visuals (or vice versa, rather), making them seem like they belong hand-in-hand; It’s not just a sketch set to a song, but a moving, breathing piece.

I held my opinion of the story until now because here’s where things get real messy, really fast. Charlotte is pretty much firing on all cylinders until we hit the last third portion of the series. Until now, we’ve been wasting time at school steadily chugging along, makin’ memories and enjoying ourselves with a memorable cast, but a second sudden PLOT TWIST throws everything into the shitter. Maeda must’ve gotten bored with the slice-of-life school romance and PLOT TWIST shot the anime down a rugged path looted with amnesia, sudden-death, insanity, identity disorder, the questioning of humanity and sin, and PLOT TWIST, time travel. Great. Fans are never going to live this down, are they? Granted, it handles these attributes immensely well, but the PACING is horrible – as if the situation wasn’t drastic enough – and then BAM, another PLOT TWIST. Charlotte fell of the map in the last leg of its race, and I won’t even mention the final episode – An episode so diverging and literal that it could’ve been the foundation for an entire series by itself. What the frick???

While I can’t say I was in love with Charlotte the entire time, I still give it props for knocking me off guard at least a dozen times. Its unpredictability matched with likable main characters, stellar animation, and a semi-linear plot is still enough to hold much emotional appeal. Charlotte was trying to accomplish way too much in such a short run, and it begs the question as to whether some of its PLOT TWISTS were even worth sacrificing a good batch of characters (Yuu’s journey was excellent, though). Entertaining? Oh God, hell yeah! Artistic? Meh, it felt like several great stories mashed together to create something pretty wicked. It could have taken many different directions, but instead Charlotte decided to swing us waaaaaay outta orbit, sprinkle on its character development, hammer the plot, then soar right back out until the very end . . . Kinda like a comet.

“Do you know the story of the geocentric model? Today, we know it’s complete nonsense, but it used to be accepted as common knowledge. However, reality did not agree. What do you think happened to the first person to ever question it? They were called a heretic, cast out, and stripped of all their power.” – Scientist Tsutsumiuchi *cough theme cough*

+ Core characters highly likable (and PHENOMENALLY VOICED!); Yuu has one crazy journey

+ Balanced comedy, action, drama, and even romance nicely

+ Emotionally gripping even when plot goes down the drain

+ Absolutely gorgeous and consistent animation

– You don’t need a dozen PLOT TWISTS to keep me invested

– Plot pacing so horrible it hurt to breath

– Misplaced character focus (too many of them); glossed over vital characters

So that’s Charlotte. If y’all are scrounging for something unpredictable, here’s a winner. It’s a sweet “Cake” for me! Fans of P.A. Works should also get a kick out of it, despite its misleading direction. Lastly, consider watching if being critical isn’t your thing – it’ll at the very least keep you very entertained (watch me on Crunchyroll for FREE)! Did Charlotte mindf*ck you repeatedly until you didn’t even care anymore, or were you pleased with the end result? Let me know in the comments and we’ll chat! Also, I figured out how to put in videos thanks to the Otaku Judge and Rocco B!!:) Thank you for spending your time to visit little ol’ me, and until another review next year, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Hyouka: Fifty Lazy, Dull, Grey Shades of Curiosity (FEAT. Sherlock Houtarou)

A spoiler-free review of the spring 2012 anime “Hyouka,” produced by Kyoto Animation, based on the “Koten-bu Series” novels by Honobu Yonezawa.

Do you read the newspaper anymore? You know, that compilation of local and global updates printed on cheap, ink-rich, pulpy paper that would arrive every Sunday morning (delivery date varying on location)? Yeah, me neither. Between bright news channels on TV and the instant convenience of the Internet, I have no right reason to order such a monochrome, drab publication (unless you do it for the ink odor, to which I reckon you meet with a psychiatrist ASAP).

But despite my preferences, there are still those who cling to this plain method, which is completely fine, by all means. My only question: Who would want to pay for boring when digital brilliance is free with the click of a button?

This bum. Nice Hair.

This bum. Nice Hair.

Enter Oreki Houtarou, our mundane, dispassionate, high-school culprit who would indeed prefer this simple format. Why? A newspaper is neither flashy nor motivational. Additionally, it comes to you rather than you going to it, which though might not sound like a good enough excuse for us, works fantastically in Houtarou’s favor.

To save his elder sister’s club from disbandment/comply with orders, Houtarou reluctantly joins the Classic Literature Club. There, he reunites with his lively buddy, Fukube Satoshi, and adversary/manga addict, Ibara Mayaka, a couple too energetic for him to be around. That’s not all lurking in the clubroom, however. Violet-eyed Chitanda Eru, a proper, lovely girl, transforms into the quintessential curiosity bomb when something interesting and mysterious catches her eye, or rather, tongue (“Curiosity killed the cat,” or “Cat got your tongue,” anyone?). Anyway, the story follows the Classics Club and their investigations surrounding their beloved Kamiyama High, for the more they unravel mysteries, the more they get tangled up with each other’s personal lives.

And that’s all these kids do. Solve mysteries for the mere sake of solving mysteries – all while satisfying Chitanda’s raging curiosity, of course! The development of the setting and characters comes from each of these case arcs that divide the series. That’s where problems can arise, you see. With the way the anime is set, beginning strongly and upholding that entertainment through the middle, the end pulls the characters out of the thrilling school festival setting to further polish the two relationships. What that creates is a most lackluster ending – as if we ended on just another episode – which is a real shame considering that the suspense from the two previous potent mystery arcs was driving up to this ‘finale.’

Ah, friendship ~

Despite my need to rearrange the story arcs, Hyouka’s characters are at least one-of-a-kind. As you know, Houtarou is and was my site’s mascot prior to my watching this anime, and you might be glad to hear that he’s sticking around! “If I don’t have to do it, I won’t. If I have to do it, I’ll make it quick.” Bent on avoiding a “rose-colored high school life,” that is his faithful motto. But he gradually breaks away from this eternal LAZINESS the more he quells Chitanda’s curiosity. The consequent result of his efforts – He develops a driving curiosity for himself!

“I’m not stupid. I’m just too lazy to show how smart I am.”

This is how I look when people ask to see my notes.

SAME

Houtarou is also incredibly relatable (my bedhead twin). I found his nonchalant way of dealing with the day-to-day schemes of his rather gray life not only amusing but realistic. Besides his dull “oohs” and “ahs,” provided by the charming actor Yuuichi Nakamura, he also has very little to say. Most of Houtarou’s ‘dialogue’ is composed of complex thoughts in that brown bushy head of his (indicated by the tugging of his bangs), while what he actually spouts is concise and to the point.

If Chitanda’s energy combats Houtarou’s laziness, then Satoshi’s spunk grinds with Mayaka’s bluntness. Claiming to be a “database” that can store info but not make conclusions, Fuku-chan supports Oreki regardless of his high expectations for him. All the while, Mayaka tries desperately to win Fuku-chan’s heart and Chi-chan fires questions in Oreki’s direction. Ladies and gents, here you have the musings of the Classics Club!

Calling the animation simply “beautiful” would be the easy way out. The cinematography here makes other KyoAni works look elementary. The dull world around Houtarou is coated in pale browns and yellows to reflect his boring view. In contrast, when he becomes shocked or surprised, lighting plays a key effect, as everything sparkles and brightens the eyes! When it comes to the mystery aspects of the show, each time a new case is introduced, the run-down of the information carries its own unique and quirky animated sequence. It’s as if Shaft and KyoAni birthed a gorgeous, brilliant, and eccentric child!

Kids actually utilizing their public libraries – and it’s cool!

I want to bring up the OST not because it’s necessarily the greatest thing ever, but because it fits the mystery atmosphere so perfectly! For the majority of the tracks, irritated strings, peculiar xylophones, and romantic choirs/pianos/harps pave the way for intense thinking and detective work. Sleuthy, eerie, dramatic, or flat out rambunctious, the music remains an engaging feature of Hyouka. The exciting inclusion of classical music, be it the reoccurring Beethoven, Bach, or Faure adds a, and imagine this, “classy” feel to the whole shebang. I simply can’t get enough of “Sicilienne” and Bach’s “Cello Suite!” *Cue reading letter from Oreki’s sis*

Before we leave the OST department, I’d like to highlight “Yasashisa no Riyuu” by ChouCho, the first opening. This song just oozes with good feels and astonishing visuals, so it was naturally a shame to lose it after the first half! Similarly, the first ending “Mikansei Stride” by Saori Kodama was also a pleasant touch.

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Hyouka’s best feature was its ability to juggle the genres of mystery, drama, romance, and slice-of-life, and do it phenomenally! To parody, it was like “Fifty lazy, dull, Grey Shades” of freakin’ curiosity. Seriously, if I was having the crappiest day ever and was wanting to be cheered up, or if I wanted something fairly heavy to dip my emotions into, then this is one of the bests. Even if the mysteries are lacking towards the end, there are plenty of other great qualities the story has to offer. So why don’t you throw down that dusty newspaper of yours and hop online with Hyouka!? It’s not like you were reading it, anyway.

“People who are confident in themselves never talk about expectations. “Expectation” is a word rooted in giving up. It leaves you with no other choice. It makes it obvious that you’re powerless.” – philosophy of Fukube Satoshi

+ One-of-a-kind characters (especially Oreki, Fukube, and Irisu) with different viewpoints and philosophies on expectation. Great vocal performances for characters

+ Mystery arc “Why Didn’t She Ask EBA”

+ Sensational cinematography of Oreki’s drab world and its contrast, captivating art and animation

– “Just another episode” ending; no satisfying conclusion

I can’t believe I finally got to watch Hyouka! Uf, and what a splendor it was. For the café, Hyouka is a solid 8/10 with a superior caffe mocha rating! It’s a real bummer that, at this point, there is no English localization of the anime (WHY HASN’T ANYONE PICKED THIS UP). While I encourage you to watch it if you have a hankering-for-a-tinkering with some mystery drama, the only way to find it is through fansubs, meaning not-so-legal streaming. Only watch it if that kinda thing doesn’t bother you. To those who have, what did you think of Hyouka? “Watashi KININARIMASU!” *Oreki: . . . shit.* Thanks for reading, keep an eye out for thieves hangin’ around your club room, huehuehue, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Nagi-Asu: Proving that Life is Simply Better Down Where It’s Wetter

A spoiler-free review of the 2013-2014 anime “Nagi no Asukara” or “Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea,” produced by P.A. Works.

I will sacrifice all of my worldly possessions if I could live in Shioshishio for a year. In fact, Umigami, just take my soul. I’ll even be the Ojoshi-sama if it means visiting this dreamlike underwater village. Please, give me Ena ~

Shioshishio, the enchanting undersea village

Since the dawn of humanity, civilization had lived on the ocean floor. As curiosity tugged at their legs (or fins), however, several humans migrated to the land, which caused a huge splintering in lifestyles. Upon their undersea school closing, Hikari, Manaka, Chisaki, and Kaname – four 14-year-old middle school kiddos – are forced to eke out education on land and adapt to the unfamiliar environment. They aren’t alone in terms of emotional struggle, though. Three surface kids – Tsumugu, Miyuna, and Sayu – must also confront their feelings before the whole lot grows older, and the rift between the sea and the land, old and young, tears the two parties apart.

It should become clear right off the bat that we’re dealing with seven individuals, which means in terms of coupling someone will be left out. As dramatic as that sounds, Nagi-Asu manages to keep a level head, never allowing said drama to grow out of hand nor become overbearing. That’s not to say that the show is lighthearted, though! Uh, no, it’s got just the right amount of spice, but in that way, has its own way of plucking your heart strings, and thankfully it doesn’t ever snap them. The anime incorporates themes of love by using slice-of-life tactics, and it overwhelmingly succeeds on this front.

See, love – it’s easy as Hikari loves Manaka, but Manaka falls in love with Tsumugu, though Chisaki might have a crush on Hikari, but Kaname is already in love with Chisaki, and . . .

Oh the water physics – don’t try to wrap your head around it. Just admire its subtle beauty and convenience . . . writing on paper, running around, boiling food on the ocean floor . . . What is this, SpongeBob!?

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But moreover, once the drama wave sinks back into the ocean, we are left with a story about innocent crab children crawling out of their shells to deliver their unrequited love to one another. Because the characters are so unexperienced with the notion, and have even grown up together in the local village, it’s vital to pay attention to each of their reactions to the sudden emotional turns taken in the series. Thankfully, the animation directors have a very keen eye for these delicate matters, and display facial expressions with such passion! Props to the VAs, too, for putting up equally impressive vocal performances, especially Hanae Natsuki’s youthful role as Hikari and Kana Hanazawa’s adorable Manaka!

Let’s talk about those characters now. I’ll admit, they’re a great, well-developed bunch, but the only one whom particularly snatched my attention was the main character himself, Hikari Sakishima. Born ‘n raised in the deep blue, he harbors a distinct hate towards the land people. Specifically speaking, he loathes the silent but strong Tsumugu for him loving his little Manaka – or rather, Manaka sneaking a peak at this dark-tanned land dweller. Underneath his layers of stubbornness, Hikari prematurely believed that he and Manaka were an assumed pairing. Manaka has other plans. Throughout the series, Hikari struggles with his passive relationship with his other friend, Chisaki, and we witness him grow from a boy to a man (kinda sorta, not physically at least :3)!

I have much to say about the art and animation, but it’d do you justice to simply marvel at the “environmental porn” surrounding the sea village itself and its sister harbor above. The animators always use the color blue. In fact, it’s in every frame of the series. Sharply contrasting the magnificent hue is orange, blue’s complementary color. Whether it be the rust on the boats moored at the dock or the land school’s uniforms, orange manages to cancel out blue’s magic. Not only is it smart cinematography, but the most effective. Nagi-Asu is truly is the prettiest anime series I have ever seen!

There’s only one word to describe this OST: Heart. It has a lot of heart. While lively guitar strums out the cheerful opening tone, fitting for the youthful boasts of Hikari, a bittersweet piano slides in to caress the emotional moments featured in the series. “Cry for the Moon,” “Tears of the Sea,” “Prayer,” “Solitude,” and “The Ofunehiki Song” are the best examples of this mood. I could listen to this soundtrack for hours on end, but then only feel depressed that I spent so much time out of the water’s embrace 🙂

To add to the praise, I must admit that both of Ray’s openings, “lull ~Soshite Bokura wa~” and “ebb and flow” are so incredibly fitting for the undersea atmosphere! They make me want to swim around in cool, clear waters with all of my friends. But we can’t forget “Aqua Terrarium” by Nagi Yanagi, the first ending, which depicts the cold, deep blue ocean floor with a frozen Manaka.

It would be a crime to not watch Nagi-Asu. The art is divine and animation of this quality is rare to come by! Always, the story kept me intrigued, and the romance between the characters tied the package all together! But I can’t help but regret the switch to the above ground in the second half, especially when they had so much going for them down where it was wetter. So much life; carefree days of youth. The surface is a bitter cold. Adults struggle to make a living, and kids don’t have as near wide of smiles as the Shioshishio squad. Growing up and realizing your feelings, whether they are for others or nature, was a deeply felt theme in the anime. However much I disliked the change, the two halves of the series were the twin tides that brought the message in the bottle to the salty shore; truthfully, both were needed.

“Having feelings for someone just brings sorrow to someone else. Someone always gets sacrificed and suffers. If this is what it means to fall in love . . . then falling in love is terrible.” – Hikari Sakishima

+ Story felt fresh; romance and drama were never too overbearing, but enough to convey true feelings of love

+ Characters were very well-developed and entertaining, notably Hikari and maybe Chisaki

+ Themes of old vs. young, love of people vs. nature were demonstrated with a content satisfaction

+ UNDER THE FREAKIN’ SEA, absolutely stellar art and consistent superior animation quality

+ A rich OST full of heart, appropriate instruments to enhance the mood

– Switch from underwater to above land was somewhat disappointing

– A few interfering elements to the story were ‘too’ supernatural

I have returned to anime reviews! Do you prefer this new format over the previous one? It’s a work in progress, but I’m trying to find a style I’m completely satisfied with. Did you have similar thoughts about this under-the-sea fantasy drama/rom-com? Different? For the café menu, Nagi-Asu receives a solid 9/10, and I strongly recommend you watch this show on Crunchyroll – and it’s free of all things, so no excuses! If you enjoyed the review, feel free to caress that like button like a red-bellied sea slug, as that’ll let me know if you like my content! Ah, how grand it feels to be back to these reviews ~ Until next time everyone, this has been

– Takuto, your host

30-Day Song Challenge Day 28: A Song That Reminds You Of Your Boyfriend/Girlfriend (if you don’t have one, make one up)

Currently, I’m actually single (what a rave, I know). But that’s not stopping me from participating in challenge day 28! I’ve mustered up three songs, two being from the same band. Fitting for the theme of “love,” each of these has its own heart to it – one that can’t always be felt by everyone. If you resonate the in the same with any of them, let me know! Takuto’s looking for a sign 😉 JKLOL

From “Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea, “Aqua Terrarium” by Nagi Yanagi 

Yes, this is a pitched version >.< but it’s still the same lovely ending theme. When I hear this song, I always think of the young village love between the characters of Nagi-Asu, well, that and the cold ocean depths. Manaka and Chisaki are both such adorable ladies ~

“Aishiteru” by Sally Miura feat. CLIFF EDGE

*squeals at the top of lungs* THIS IS A JAPANESE POP LOVE SONG!!! Aghh, it’s like the ideal relationship-goals music. Sally’s voice is utterly enchanting, and the dude rapping from CLIFF EDGE is so smooth! I’d be all holding hands, walking – slowly – through the glowing snow under the moon light with them . . . But I’m alone, so I’ll just run a pseudo cafe that actually doesn’t serve anything LOL

“Endless Tears” by CLIFF EDGE feat. Maiko Nakamura

“Love is a beautiful pain”

This music video is pure genius, but even more so is the song. ONE OF MY ALL-TIME FAVORITES EVER! This was one of the first non-anime songs I dared to cross paths with, and omg I just love it so much :3 It’s perfect for any time, but take caution: It’s powerful melody could make or absolutely destroy your mood, trust me. After seeing the NightCore version of it on YouTube with a picture of Oreki and the other girl, I immediately had to search up what show it was. Hyouka, hmm, I’ll have to give it a whirl sometime. Months later, I finally will get to, and I’ll be starting this weekend (SO EXCITED).

Anyway, the song itself reminds me of relationships, and how fragile they actually are. While my love life is a little empty-handed, I have been in my fair share of romantic moments. What did I learn? Talk to her/him. Once you enter a relationship, it’s up to you two to handle any drama. Don’t let it get out of hand, and don’t be ashamed for being with another if they are whom you honestly want to be with. Speaking of, be honest with them (of course), but be even more honest with yourself. If you’re not as “happy” as you thought you would be, talk it out or something, because odds are they might be thinkin’ the same thing (my lack of word choice and frankly decent advice probably indicates an end). Don’t let a sh*tty relationship hamper your life – It’s far too short as it is! You’re much better than this. There is a plethora of fish in the sea. If you’re both in love, then great! But otherwise, make up/break up, and move on with no regrets (or with as few as you can manage ;)).

That’s all I’ve got for today. I am no love doctor, so make of my spiel as you will. Only two days left, and oh, stay tuned for a special announcement today!

– Takuto, your host

Plastic Memories: Sadly and Ironically Unmemorable

A review of the 2015 spring anime “Plastic Memories”

In the near future, androids that possess human emotions called “Giftia” can be seen all over the place. Produced and managed by the SAI Corporation, these Giftia practically blend in with society, the only catch being that they cannot live to be older than nine years, after which their memory needs to be wiped clean to prevent further contamination.

Upon bombing college entrance exams, Tsukasa Mizugaki is offered a position (through his father’s unknown relations) at one of SAI’s Terminal Service Department. Their job –  to retrieve nearly-expired Giftia and delete their memories.

Tsukasa descends into madness as he begins to take away the precious memories of his friends one by one, discovering that they are Giftia. Teaming up with a rebellious organization to stop SAI from creating more false hopes and plastic memories, Tsukasa and his sexy female companion Isla arm themselves to spill blood and delete data in hopes of a brighter future. But can a future be salvaged from these lost, crushed dreams?

Naw, I’m just kidding. It deceptively feels this way at first, though we could only wish it continued. Plastic Memories is actually a love story. Yep, one unmemorable love story at that.

Tsukasa is partnered up with Isla, a petit Giftia whose only practice and profession is serving tea to her co-workers. She’s a bit of a klutz and quite shy around him, but after a few retrieval cases, the two fall for each other and become more than office co-workers. Little does Tsukasa know, Isla only has a few months remaining before she herself is to be turned in.

Built in a sci-fi setting centered on a broken concept, this anime could have gone in several more interesting directions. Had I known that it was a love story from the beginning, then maybe I could have appreciated it more. Thing is, the anime also tried to be more than romantic. Slice-of-life, comedy, and sexual teasing are all tossed in to hinder the true development of the couple. You’d have a truly touching scene at the apartment, then someone waltzes in naked, Tsukasa freaks, and the whole moment is lost; “Plastic Memories,” more like plastic emotions –  Quit toying with my feelings and cue the tender skits, please!

Also, for sacrificing the whole potential plot towards this absentminded relationship, the romance isn’t even that great! I didn’t feel any pull between Tsukasa and Isla until the end, which is obviously too late. Plastic Memories was ultimately too distracted with other elements, and thus couldn’t keep my absolute focus – But right as I decide to close out of another wasted episode, the show manages to hook me back on with a heartwarming event.

When it comes to romance, or whatever this anime decides to sport, it’s up to the characters to convey the feelings out of my heart, and very few times do they actually achieve this goal. Determined Tsukasa and shaky Isla kindly function as one and manage to keep things as genuine as possible, but the supporting cast really likes to bump heads with our leads. They’re the typical office cast: the sideline tsundere drama, the loud spoken honest boy, the soft spoken kind boy, the grungy pervert man, the boss too kind for anyone to handle, the supervisor with a stick up their ass, so on and so forth. Had the directors not spent so many episodes of Isla and Tsukasa bumbling around in stupid antics with said cast, then they could have received actual depth rather than cheap one-liners. I really wanted to like this cast, but I couldn’t get into them because anytime deep fondness was expressed, someone had to jiggle their boobs or put another in a headlock. So frustrating!

The only character I’d like to highlight is Michiru (Eva’s Asuka lookalike), a well-developed tsundere who, like the series, could have taken a very different route. It’s obvious that she harbors feelings for Tsukasa, which could have made Plamemo a stereotypical love triangle, but Michiru is not there to makes things worse. She sticks up for Isla and even tutors the two, guiding them down the love path she wishes she could walk. Thanks Michiru for not fitting the mold and being delightful all by yourself! 🙂

Previously I had not seen any anime by studio Doga Kobo, so this was joyfully new for me. Characters and their expressions are cutely designed. Architecture of this futuristic setting was handled well, too, and the colors are always bright. There are a few awkward inconsistencies when it comes to facial details, and sometimes the action transitions choppy, but none of it was particularly bad; nothing spectacular, either.

Going back and listening to it now, the OST contains several upbeat string and vocal songs, usually featuring a guitar as well. For the softer scenes, tracks like “again & again” in the first half set the mood with beautiful piano. The opening “Ring of Fortune” by Eri Sasaki also accents this beauty. Overall the OST is not standout, but sweet and supportive.

Plamemo‘s biggest problem is the fact that it starts out with several heartbreaking retrieval cases that are honestly so depressing you can’t help but shed a little water from your eyes. This exposition starts you off thinking, “Oh god, I’m going to have my heart torn to pieces by the end.” But then when the show shifts to the romance, it distracts itself with dumb antics that don’t feel they should belong in this kind of show. It was only by the final Ferris wheel scene where I could actually feel the connection.

But I couldn’t feel sad either, for after all of this nonsense in the office and quiet days at home, it was time for the show to end, which it did so happily and without regret. It’s sad and ironic to say that I won’t remember Plastic Memories all because of its misplaced foolery and nonsensical direction, but it was the one that decided to poke fun at itself, not me.

“Having happy and beautiful memories won’t always bring you salvation. The more beautiful a memory is, the more painful it can become. Both for the one who’s leaving . . . and for the one left behind.” – Isla

+ Heartbreaking first four episodes are so powerful; compelling end on par with beginning

+ Michiru’s character added depth where there was none

– Continuous, overused antics stop this anime from being memorable

– Interesting premise with varying direction, route chosen was somewhat disappointing

– Side characters lack dimension

And that concludes my thoughts on an anime that tried to juggle it all, but dropped the pins. For cafe awarding, it can be found under the “Coffee” menu. Did you have other thoughts on Plastic Memories? Leave your comments below, “like” if you enjoyed this review and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host