Given: Broken Heartstrings & Unforgettable Sounds || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode summer 2019 anime series “Given,” animated by Lerche, directed by Hikaru Yamaguchi, and based on Natsuki Kizu’s manga of the same name.

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Rocky Starts, Aching Hearts

Between playing basketball at high school and dabbling on the guitar in his small band, Ritsuka Uenoyama has found himself stuck wandering the lonely desert of academic boredom. He dozes off in class, sleeps during break, and only looks forward to jamming out with a couple of upperclassmen college friends in the evening.

One day, he sees a classmate of his, Mafuyu Sato, cradling a broken guitar on a secluded staircase. Although Uenoyama makes nothing of restringing Mafuyu’s red guitar for him, Mafuyu becomes completely attached to the dark-haired musician and insists Uenoyama teach him how to play it. Uenoyama initially shrugs him off, but when he hears Mafuyu singing for the first time, his voice leaves a deep impression on him. He can’t get it out of his head, and eventually finds himself drawn to Mafuyu’s aloof yet mysterious allure.

Given is a single story split among four separate narratives, each with their own unique perceptions of the conflicts presented throughout the series. Equal parts slice of life and drama, the series follows four students in an amateur rock band and the dual romantic relationships that form among them: between shy vocalist Mafuyu and passionate guitarist Uenoyama, and between the caring bassist Haruki and stoic yet silly drummer Akihiko.

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Given is also a BL adaptation, and it doesn’t ever stray from that intent (which I respect). But hear me out. At most, the series presents its shounen ai relationships with genuine care and realism. It’s far less sugarcoated than most BL anime out there, and frankly just a really good romantic drama about curious feelings and the closet. This particular set of 11 episodes tells the story of the band coming together, their complex feelings toward one another, and specifically the growing relationship between Uenoyama and Mafuyu leading up to their first performance. The series never felt rushed, nor does it end too optimistically to be true, which is probably what I appreciated most out of the series—aside for the characters themselves, of course.

Complicated Feelings, Complex Characters

The main focal point of this series is around Uenoyama and Mafuyu’s relationship, which admittedly has a rocky start and is only littered with more misunderstandings as they go along. But somehow, like with most love stories, the two make it work.

From the get-go, Uenoyama is about as relatable as they come. Uncomfortable with relationships (in general), unsure of how to express his feelings, questioning what these sudden emotions of his are and where they come from—the whole confused teen-sexuality shebang. We see jealousy build up in Uenoyama as he unravels Mafuyu’s past relationship with another boy, and how this jealousy and regret slow down his performance both on the court and in the practice room. His declining musicianship is called into question by Haruki and Akihiko, and from there the upperclassmen work to help out his love life (and in their own unique ways). I just love Uenoyama’s character arc, and I’m really satisfied with how he grows from a dense lump of laziness to a person who actively seeks to understand both himself and his partner.

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Mafuyu. Oh lost little Mafuyu. Cute little Mafuyu. This kid really does resemble a puppy, no lie! Introverted, quiet, and reserved, Mafuyu is on a quest to reconnect with a person from his past, unbeknownst to any of his new band mates. He’s never picked up an instrument before, yet seems to have a talent for singing. This secret agenda AND hidden talent of his are what guide him to Uenoyama and the band. Little does he know that through their mutual love for music, Mafuyu’s past is dragged out into the open and exposed—but also cared for and carried together with his newfound friends. While I personally found the plot spinning him in some moments that were a bit too melodramatic, I still like Mafuyu a lot, even if he isn’t the one I identify with most.

Haruki and Akihiko, bassist and drummer, are the other pairing in this story. While doomed with an obsessive, unrequited love, Haruki secretly fawns over Akihiko, even if the guy’s a big musclehead. It’s unfortunate that Akihiko just might already have a partner, but manbun can’t help himself anyway. The way Akihiko sleeps, the way Akihiko compliments him in practice—Haruki just can’t get enough. But as the band’s “leader,” he is torn between resisting his urges and pursuing his own happiness in love, despite this directly violating his philosophy that relationships between band members just doesn’t work out in the long run.

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More of Haruki and Akihiko’s relationship will be explored in the 2020 Given film, but I really like these two dorks a lot (especially manbun) and how they make the effort to support one another and their band mates. Such bros.

Iridescence in Motion

Lerche really is my favorite animation studio, without a doubt. Given boasts a visually bright style to highlight the beauty of youth and the joys of love in this series about those two very concepts. While the screen is light and colorful nearly all the time, we see color drain as winter sets in towards the end of the series—the pivotal climax where potential heartbreak lies. I use the term iridescence because, like emotions, these luminous yellow, tangerine, and turquoise filters shift when we see the same set from a different angle. It’s clean. And it’s aesthetically pleasing.

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Giving new meaning to the phrase “lighting design,” Hikaru Yamaguchi’s strong direction really shines in both the intense moments and those of tranquility or thoughtfulness. And the attention to detail in the instruments is NUTS, not to mention the studio painting a timeless picture of modern day Tokyo. The guitars, amps, and drums look AND sound incredibly authentic, and the detailed city backgrounds are delicately crafted with architecture that mirrors real life Shibuya and Machida, down to the last little street sign and business advertisement. Lerche makes anime reality look even better than REAL life in this beautifully made series.

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Character designs also glow with this attractive and cute aura while maintaining respective ages. (It’s nice to see college dudes that LOOK like college dudes and not 40-year-old men!) Speaking of characters, I don’t really give shoutouts to seiyuus unless they particularly stand out to me, but wow, here we’ve got four fantastic leads! Shougo Yano brings to Mafuyu a high-pitched innocence that has made characters (and fans) fall for his charm left and right. Yuuma Uchida gives Uenoyama a grumpiness and stubbornness that suits his character so very well. Masatomo Nakazawa makes hearts swoon as Haruki, and I just adore his sass whenever Akihiko requests something of him. And none other than Takuya Eguchi brings this lovable lug to life, perfectly capturing Akihiko’s serious and goofy sides.

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A music anime has to have good music in it, obviously, and Given does not disappoint. Michiru provides a musical score full of chill blues guitar, casual jam session rifts, and delicate melodies to make any grown man cry. My favorite piece of music from the show is the energetic yet wistful OP “Kizuato” by Centimilimental. Mafuyu’s VA sings for us the tender ED, “Marutsuke,” which appropriately features animation of a puppy rolling around during the theme. Mafuyu also gets his own little song that I won’t spoil for you, so all-in-all, you’re in for a real treat with the music this time around!

A Given from the Start

Is it okay to be happy when you know someone you loved had to suffer for it? The answer, of course, is yes. So long as we are alive, we will always have the chance to be happy. What matters most is whether you are able to accept what has passed and move on for yourself. That’s what Mafuyu has to find out for himself; Uenoyama just nudges in the right direction, and even gives him happiness in the present.

Having watched the series, there’s still lots I want to know about. What happens to the characters from here? Does the band go on to perform more concerts? Does Uenoyama still write music for Mafuyu to sing? For now, however, this is a strong step forward for BL anime, and incredible representation for the genre as a whole.

I like music anime, great romance stories, and studio Lerche. Perhaps it was a given from the start that I’d love this show, but the series has proven that if you surround yourself with positive influences, good things will surely come your way. At times painfully resonant, other times light-hearted and fun, Given will continue to pluck at your heartstrings both throughout each emotional episode and long after the series is over.

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Hearts are like guitar strings. They won’t play sound if they’re too loose. You have to wind them up until they’re about to break, and that’s when they become a wave the hit your eardrums. — Ritsuka Uenoyama


Afterword

Yeah, I liked this one a lot. No surprise here, but Given is certified “Caffe Mocha” stuff, and easily one of my favorite titles from 2019. I wonder who will pick up the license for this gem and give it the physical release (and dub!) it deserves. Until then, I’ll keep recommending this title through Crunchyroll—as all of you should be doing! I’m happy the reception for this series was so overwhelmingly positive, but I’d still love to hear your thoughts on Given or this review down in the comments. (Plz, I’m lonely and need someone to love this show with!) Until the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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I Finally Watched the Old Fruits Basket | Review

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

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The Girl with a Big Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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Welcome to the Sohma Household!

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

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

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

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

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Sweetly, Softly, Serenade Me

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

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

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

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Acceptance Begins with Understanding

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

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

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

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

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


Afterword

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

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

– Takuto, your host

Cacophony in Paradise: RahXephon & Accepting the World | Review

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

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Prophecy & Lore: Angel Mu Attack 

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

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

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

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

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

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Classic in its Own Way

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

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

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

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The Struggle to be Human 

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

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

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

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

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

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Transcending Technique: A Mecha to Last Decades

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

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

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

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Add a Little Jazz: Ambiance & Expression

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

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

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

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

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

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To Weather the Storm 

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

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

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


Afterword

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

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

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

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At the End of the World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?”

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

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

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

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

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Hinging on Feelings

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

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

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


Afterword

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

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

– Takuto, your host

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