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

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

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

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


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

Entering the World of Dance

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

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

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From Slouch Stance to Swing Dance

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

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

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

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

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Finding Something to be Good At: Tatara & Dance

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

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

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Finding Kinship in Competition: Hyoudou & Gaju

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

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

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

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Finding a Partner: Chinatsu & The Struggle to Connect

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

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

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

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

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

A Dancing Anime Without the “Dance”

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

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

Music, the Soul of Dance

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

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

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

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

Dismantling the Stereotypes: The Beauty of Evolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

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

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  ninth monthly topic, “Treasure,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard review of the Orange manga into a cautionary yet hopeful look at the realm of teen suicide, and how, as an outsider, it is okay feel unsure when warning signs are observed.

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

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

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

Death, Divorce, Drugs, Depression

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

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

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

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

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I’ve Been Running for So Long

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

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

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

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To You, in the Past

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

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

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

Everyone Needs Friends Like These Guys

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

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

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

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

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*gulp* Here We Go

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

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

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

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Regret and Happiness

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

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

To You, in the Future

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

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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