Majestic Prince: The Dumb, the Horny, & the Brave | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode spring 2013 anime “Majestic Prince,” animated by Doga Kobo and Orange, directed by Keitarou Motonaga, and based on Rando Ayamine’s manga of the same name.

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Born to Fight

In the near future, humans have begun to live in space through large satellites connected via space elevator. It’d be natural progression for the human race to eventually leave Earth and migrate elsewhere, but hostile aliens launching attacks from the outskirts of Jupiter are making this progress a little trickier than humanity would’ve hoped.

To adapt in their new zero-gravity environment and combat the foreign belligerent threat, genetically engineered children known as “Princes” by the public eye are artificially raised and trained to pilot giant armed robots. These units, the AHSMB, are humanity’s last line of defense, and as the egocentric, lust-driven Wulgaru forces close in on Earth’s orbit, five young pilots from the academic city Grandzehle are forced to fight on the front lines—or die trying to defend their home.

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Majestic Prince tells a simple story. Aliens = bad are after human DNA so as to satisfy their hunt for life in the universe. Meanwhile, humans = good are trying to protect themselves from the invaders. I was really hoping for the anime to be at least somewhat more complicated than that, but I’m afraid that’s as gritty as it gets.

Following a lucky victory in the show’s opening episode, Izuru Hitachi and his classmates get a taste of what the battlefield is really like, as well as how society reacts to humanity’s “super soldiers.” After these first six episodes of training, the kids come to realize that their lives are much more complicated and meaningful than fighting aliens. They have become symbols for justice, the “Majestic Princes,” and although Izuru and his friends were not expecting this kind of life post-graduation, such is what fate *cruelly* delivered. 

In a series of 2 to 3-episode mini arcs, our heroic group of teens is given missions involving disabling enemy technology, fighting, or scouting out enemy territory. The goal: push the Wulgarian forces to the edge of the solar system. Despite inching closer towards liberation, each of these little victories feels hollow. Majestic Prince is most certainly a plot-driven series, but despite the progress, the story and all of the pieces that make it up just aren’t that interesting. Plot twists, when unveiled, are few and unsurprising, and the biggest reason for this lackluster delivery lies in the dreadfully written characters, both good and evil.

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The Fail Five (that’s literally their name)

Ok, it’s actually Team Rabbits, but regardless, I don’t really like these kids. Not that I have anything against them, but there’s quite honestly nothing about this cast that stands out. Izuru is the hero (or at least he desparately proclaims himself to be so), Asagi is the friendly-fire rival, Tamaki is the cute one (boooo), and Suruga is the annoyingly smart and techy one (UGHHH, I hate this guy).

The only one of Grandzehle Academy’s infamous “Fail Five” that strays from the mark is Kei, the constantly-tired big-sister-type that ironically sucks at anything home-ec. In any other show with this kind of cast, the hero would be paired with the cute one, but not in Majestic Prince. Instead, the series gives Kei unrequited feelings for Izuru, who’s denser than a brick to notice. I . . . kinda liked this scenario, but the execution is half-assed. The series abruptly ends with no emotional or romantic conclusion for our poor, purple-hued tactician. Talk about a wasted investment.

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At least the alien Wulgaru are nasty and cool, right? Hah, WRONG. This is probably the most boring cast of humanoid villains I’ve ever seen in a mech show. Characterized as manifestations of the darker side of human emotions, these pleasure-driven, war-hungry tyrants are only in it for themselves, which would’ve been fine had they served as more than just slaves to this destructive ideology. The Wulgarian elites possess half-hearted motives, and their emperor is a total snooze. He doesn’t do ANYTHING!

I would’ve loved to have seen the drama of betrayal commonly found in any series with a collapsing evil monarchy built up much more than it was, but I suppose even Majestic Prince‘s antagonists aren’t on the bright side.

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Visual Forte: “With Our Powers, Combined!”

Perhaps the animation is the most impressive thing Majestic Prince has going for it. The series is listed with having two production studios; I would imagine that Doga Kobo took over the 2D stuff, while Orange (Land of the Lustrous, Black Bullet, Dimension W) handled all the 3D CG mechas and space fights.

While the quality of the CG is actually pretty good (the mechas themselves looking faaaar more impressive than the Wulgarian blob creatures), the fight choreography can be hard to follow at times. Dramatic zoom ins and outs, constant spinning around the battlefield, no focal point to really anchor at—to be frank, it’s too much at times. You almost get space sick, if such a thing exists.

But, seeing as it’s a giant robot series, let’s talk about those for a sec. It should be the goal of any mecha designer to create a look that is both appealing to look at and memorable in some way, shape, or form. Each of the Fail Five pilot a mecha unique to their strong suits, stylized by mechanical designer Kouji Watanabe. Suruga likes guns, so he’s the sniper. Tamaki and Kei are protectors, so they make up the shield and strategist, respectively. Meanwhile, Asagi is that ninja/senpai figure, so naturally he wields a sword, and our hero Izuru is the fighter, hence fists, guns, and a mild combination of everyone’s skill set, really.

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This works really well for the audience. It allows the viewer to associate not only a color to these frankly unmemorable characters, but also their own unique AHSMB unit. Add in the crisp CG imaging and a little transformation sequence at the start of each battle and you’ve got a good routine going—a factor of many great mecha anime that few seem to acknowledge. Even if the characters all kinda have the same moe face, the distinctions on the battlefield marked by the varying colors, positions, roles, weapons, and unit designs make up Majestic Prince‘s visual forte: the collaboration between these two great studios!

As for sound, Toshiyuki Watanabe’s orchestral tracks add a classic vibe to this series—even if the visual effects are anything but. While I can’t recall any specific music moments (aside from the combat start-up sequence) that caught my ear, Watanabe’s OST adds another wonderful layer to this otherwise high quality production.

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Another One Bites the Dust

Half of Majestic Prince was boring; the other was unmemorable. Easily, its most interesting plot point was how such a society would view child mecha pilots—and that only lasted throughout the first half. My favorite episode didn’t even have any fighting in it; rather, it gave us insight into what the daily lives of these teens are like, and all the business they must tend to off the battlefield. Whether it’s repping a brand to gain financial support, volunteering community service at a daycare to ensure public trust, or even modeling for the media, these are realistic issues that most mechas wouldn’t dare to waste time on. And yet, that’s where Majestic Prince thrived.

But when you put all the pieces together, something still doesn’t fit quite right, and it’s honestly the characters that ruin Majestic Prince for me. First, the series insults its cast with unintelligently written dialogue. Second, these kids are dumb (a result of their terrible scrips!) and when they try to get you to laugh—cause you know, there’s always some sort of innuendo to be made with a bunch of horny teens around—you find yourself more so rolling your eyes. And third, the series insists on being funny, and yet when it tries to be, it gets worse. Some of the characters even drag porn into the mix just to squeeze a laugh out of the viewer. Straight up PORN. No, I’m not joking, and no, it didn’t work.

Had I been five or even ten years younger, maybe the series would’ve worked on me. But it’s very hard to pass Majestic Prince on anything when its story and characters are so obviously flat and dry. This is especially sad considering that its production values are pretty damn decent for its time, a combined effort between visuals and sound that clearly tries to salvage this wreck. At the end of the day, however, I’d still just prefer to leave this mess out in space—floating with the dust, and far out of my reach.

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I’m not fighting because I want to fight. I’m doing it to protect those who are dear to me. And because . . . I want to become a hero! — Izuru Hitachi


Afterword

Despite my misgivings with the show, I’m glad I finally gave Majestic Prince a watch. It’d been in my backlog (and on my shelf!) for what had felt like forever, and when at last I decided that the wait was over and plugged in the first disc, well, this is what happened. For all its dorky characters and dull plot points, I’m barely letting Majestic Prince squeak by with the “Coffee” rating. Barely. What saves it is its animated space fights, which allows the piece to at least be entertaining at times. Apparently there’s an OVA episode 25 and a film to follow that make the ending feel less abrupt, but I’m in no hurry to get to them, especially since they aren’t currently licensed.

Leave it to me to once again review a throwback that NO ONE asked for, yet I delivered, haha. What did you think of the Majestic Princes (or Fail Five if you fancy) and their valiant efforts to protect Earth? Be sure to let me know, especially if you thought better of the show! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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The Biggest Anime DVD Box Set I Own: RahXephon Limited Edition | Unboxing

Hello!

I’ve got a bit of a different post today. Believe it or not, unboxing and haul posts are some of my favorite to write because once the pictures have been taken, all I have to do is write a couple sentences and upload, easy-peasy.

Specifically though, I’m writing this post because, like any well-researched collector, I wanted to know whether this was the edition of RahXephon that I wanted to buy. But when I began scouring the web for pictures of this box, I found nothing. Now, maybe someone will be able to find security and satisfaction in this A-grade product.

Because oh man, what a fantastic set this is.

I’m gonna boast for a minute here and hail the RahXephon limited edition as the biggest anime DVD box set I own. I know these kinds of box sets have been around in anime for quite some time, but this is my first foray into the classic anime collecting scene (where you’d supposedly spend $30 on a DVD containing four episodes and do this seven times until you eventually roped in all 26-odd-some episodes), so let me have this one.

I was lucky enough to buy from a seller who not only sold it for just $45, but kept it in mint condition. Seriously, this beast is IMMACULATE—and it’s over 15 years old!! Proof that there are good collectors out there who take care of their stuff. And they packaged it so nicely too, bonus points! Really happy with this find.

But you just want to see this beautiful box, don’tcha? Alright, me too, so let’s go!


(NOTE: All of these images are placed in slide shows, so you might have to change browser to view them fully.)

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Here’s the box’s exterior: the front, back, top, and sides. I love the holographic foil printing on the logo (which is consistent on EACH of the DVDs as we’ll see here in a bit. The artwork is also particularly exquisite, capturing the mysticism of the story with these divine pieces worthy of framature in any museum. It’s really cool to see all 8 of the DVD spines together as well. Each is consistently laid out and color-coded, almost as if they were meant to go together or something!

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Onto the DVD cases themselves, each one contains key art from the series on a pristine white background overlaid with that holo-foil logo. Each set matches the color dot on the spine, which is a nice touch. Also included in this set is a hefty artbook for the film, Pluralitus Concentio, which makes the 8th DVD in this complete 8-disc set.

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The backsides of each DVD maintain the same white and color-coded schema. The designers also utilized the series’ theme of music to tie in clever phrases to each progression of the plot, beginning with the prelude and ending, of course, with an encore. I LOVE IT.

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Cracking into the DVDs—if you thought this set couldn’t get any better—you will find a miniature artbook for each set. The cover and back pages have the art printed on a specialty paper with a parchment/wax-like texture, which adds to the classiness of this set. Each pamphlet includes approximately 10 pages of character information, as well as art of the various robots and Dolems that appear throughout the series.

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Want a closer look? So do I! Here’s each DVD set complete with its disc and art pamphlet, as well as the film artbook. I really like the landscape art included on the inside pages of each little book. When you think about it, I guess this is what each DVD contained when it was individually purchased back in the day.

Again, this seller kept the box and its contents in such spotless condition that it truly feels like I’m owning a product that just came hot of the press, let alone an artifact from well over a decade ago.

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So to any fellow anime collector out there looking for a proper review of this set, I hope this post helps. If anyone is wanting an even closer look than I provide here, feel free to ask me in the comments. When I was still laying out my purchase options, it came down to either the thinpack (and then I’d buy the film for a separate $10) or this mammoth set, and I’m glad I stuck with the latter.

Will I buy more boxes like this in the future? Hahaha, good question, if my shelves can support it I guess. RahXephon was a special case given that its main accessibility from a physical standpoint was this, the thinpack, or a couple other thinpack-like options. Only time will tell, I suppose.

That’s all I’ve got for this one. In case you missed it, I watched RahXephon as part of my annual V-Day marathon and enjoyed it so much I also reviewed it on my blog (which you can read right here)! I’d be delighted if you checked it out. Friends and fellow collectors, ’till next time!

– Takuto, your post

 

 

Alita: Battle Angel — A Warrior’s Tale | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 2019 American cyberpunk action film “Alita: Battle Angel,” produced by 20th Century Fox, written by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, directed by Robert Rodriguez, and based on the 1990s manga “Battle Angel Alita” (or “Gunmn” in Japan) by Yukito Kishiro. 

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After the Fall: An Origin Story

Still recovering from a catastrophic war referred to as “The Fall,” humanity remains determined to eke out a living on a devastated Earth in the year 2563. While scavenging the junkyard metropolis of Iron City, Dr. Dyson Ido, a renowned cyborg scientist, stumbles across a disembodied female cyborg—human brain still fully intact. Taking the remains back to his lab, Ido rebuilds the cyborg and gives her a name: “Alita.”

Although she has no recollections of her past, she is able to create new memories thanks to the doc’s healing hands. She eventually meets Hugo, a teenage boy who dreams of one day moving up to the wealthy city in the sky, Zalem. He introduces her to the competitive, cutthroat sport of Motorball, an every-man-for-himself race where cyborgs fight to the death for a chance at ascending to Zalem if victorious.

But sinister connections tie even the friendliest faces to the shadows, and as Alita quickly comes to realize that there’s no force more powerful than the game, the titular cyborg sets out to learn about her past to save the ones she loves most in the present.

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Alita: Battle Angel may be my first introduction to this much beloved franchise, but man, what solid footing director Robert Rodriguez and writer James Cameron provide for this classic origin story. Going in blind, I can already tell you that the franchise is worth the investment. This live action film, albeit a bit fast-paced, serves as a fantastic place to start if picking up four volumes of the manga just isn’t an option for whatever reason.

Admittedly, there’s some cheesy villain dialogue that sours the seriousness at times, and while I wish these lines weren’t delivered with such blatant “evilness,” the script actually feels more anime because of it. Critics may have blasted the script and the plot for their lack of ingenuity, but I—and most audiences, apparently—seemed to enjoy it regardless. Alita‘s wild betrayals and reveals may come as a shock to some; others may have seen the twists from a mile away. But if you still enjoy the story, that’s all that matters. To quote Dr. Ido:


“But that’s just a shell. It’s neither bad nor good. That part’s up to you.”


Surprisingly, the film contains includes a decent amount humor to remind you that Alita is—as much cyberization and machine-slaughter as the plot contains—a very human story. Although the environment is both visually and aesthetically astounding to take in, it’s the characters of Alita that make this powerful story of purpose and destiny resonate with newcomers and longtime fans alike.

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Alita, An All-or-Nothing Gal

From design to personality, I fell in love with Alita the moment I first saw her in the promotional trailers months back. I knew she’d be your typical brave girl fighting against the system character, but I wasn’t expecting her to be the feisty rascal kind—a delightful surprise. Brazen and bold, the girl is drawn to danger like a moth to a lamp. It’s always all or nothing with her, and Alita’s rebellious free-spirited nature makes her a refreshing heroine to cheer for—even if her recklessness tosses her down the rabbit hole more than a few times.

Did I mention that Rosa Salazar is freakin’ OUTSTANDING as the titular role? Cause she’s absolutely phenomenal, able to communicate to the audience that she struggles with fighting this world’s injustice, but is always eager to learn something new. Salazar’s gradual transformation from fluffy, chocolate-loving teenager to hardcore warrior is impressive to behold. Every second Salazar is on screen feels genuine. Through this loss of innocence, she doesn’t let the emotions hold back (even during the tender moments). If she induces a tear in your eye as you watch, I’m not sorry. She’s that awesome.

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The rest of the cast deserves a round of applause too, especially Christoph Waltz’s portrayal of Dr. Ido for making him this benevolent yet fascinating foster figure. What a dad. (And bless his aide, Gerhad, whose mere presence provides enough support for Alita.) The same glowing things could be said about Keean Johnson’s semi-dreamy Hugo, the junk dealer.

As for the villains, Mahershala Ali’s acting is perfect for the intimidating “king” of Iron City, Vector, but his character’s status(es) needed stronger clarification, as I didn’t even realize what his roles were until halfway into the film. Same for Jennifer Connelly’s Dr. Chiren, a somewhat frustrating character given her circumstantial duality.

And NO, the large CG-altered eyes don’t detract from the narrative one bit. After five minutes, they just became part of her charm, and I didn’t even realize it afterwards.

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Motorball & The World Below

Between the numerous sci-fi action sequences and the stunningly brutal sport of Motorball, Alita is a visual feast. Whether fighting in back-alley slums, the dark sewers below, or on the exhilarating race track surrounded by stadium lights and roaring cheers, there’s never a dull moment in this film. And Motorball though, WOW, one of the franchise’s biggest spectacles is brought to life through stellar visual effects and cyborg goodness to make any sci-fi junkie drool just watching.

Alita also does something really neat with visual lighting. The film begins in the rustic, sunlit scrapyard, which transitions to an even brighter, cheerier atmosphere when Alita meets Hugo. But when rain begins to fall, the dark and dreary cityscape—lit only by holographic street signs and neon lights—emphasizes the literal night journey Alita embarks on. Once she uncovers the truth, light returns as she confronts Vector and his pawn Grewishka to finally deliver justice.

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From the intricate and gorgeous detailing of Alita’s cybernetic body to the remarkably thrilling fights, the attention to detail in crafting this postwar cyberpunk world is on a level of its own. If this isn’t a faithful adaptation of the manga, I cannot even begin to imagine what greatness Yukito Kishiro’s original story contains.

No great sci-fi movie is complete without an equally epic score, to which Tom Holkenborg overwhelmingly pulls through. Between the strong symphonic opening in “Discovery” and “Motorball” busting through the gates with its powerful rhythmic tribal drumming, the harmonic balance between strings and dubstep is just right. For the credits, Dua Lipa’s “Swan Song” also ties in well as a piece addressing social injustice and change. Thank god for Apple Music, because I’ll be listening to this soundtrack for weeks to come.

But Will it be Enough?

With so many moments where you just want to pump your fists in the air and cheer, Alita does everything it needs to do to be a great movie. Gripping, emotional, heartfelt even, but will it be enough? Will this be the last we hear of Alita and company on U.S. theater screens, or will Rodriguez and Cameron’s efforts be enough to finally end the trend of live-action anime adaptations being one-off movies?

Either way, I support everything this film tried to accomplish and then some—heck, I went to the theaters twice, and totally would’ve gone a third if my schedule wasn’t so busy as is. Beyond the issues of faithful source reconstruction or the present lack of a thorough conclusion, all I wanted from Alita: Battle Angel was an entertaining film that holds on its own—and boy does Alita stand proud and tall.

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I do not stand by in the presence of evil. — Alita


Afterword

Oh man, such a GOOD MOVIE my friends!! Job well done to the cast and crew for sure, as this is already a good contender for my favorite non-anime film of the year. Whether in theaters or on your home screen in the near future, I hope you got (or eventually get) a chance to watch it, cause Alita‘s not one to miss. They did this one right, holy shit.

I don’t really ever review live action films, but for Alita’s charm, I’ll make an exception. 2019’s Alita: Battle Angel is certified “Cake” here at the cafe, and should we ever see a sequel, there’s a solid chance I’d bump this one up to a “Caffe Mocha,” without a doubt! Guys, let me know your thoughts about this kickass LA-anime-done-right down in the comments, be it your praises or your criticisms, and until next time, 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

The V-Day Sci-Fi Special Returns for 2019!

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

It’s officially February 14th, the day of love and romance, and I’m looking forward to spending another V-day alone this year. Oh, no, wait, don’t get me wrong—I actually prefer it this way!

Every year since 2013 I’ve tried to give myself some “me” time around the middle of February. I like to think of it as self care. After all, what’s wrong with celebrating the love for oneself?

Anyway, although it’s traditionally been a sci-fi title (odd genre choice, I know), I have mixed it up a few times, 2018’s V-Day special being a sports anime. The point is that the holiday is dedicated to cracking open a decently sized franchise and all its pieces. As a refresher, here’s been the past selections:

2013 ~ Steins;Gate

2014 ~ Kokoro Connect (I think . . . )

2015 ~ Neon Genesis Evangelion

2016 ~ The Rose of Versailles

2017 ~ Ghost in the Shell

2018 ~ Haikyuu!!

Now, having actually just recently finished Haikyuu!!‘s third season (whoops!), I can proudly erase my board (which has had the episode listing on it since last February, yikes) and move on to announce the V-Day Special anime of 2019. And guess what? We’re returning to sci-fi classics. Aww yeah, give it up for . . .

2019 ~ RahXephon

Wooohooo!!! I’ve been wanting to watch this show ever since I figured out what Evangelion was and noticed everyone always kept comparing the two shows. Well, now it’s time to unearth another long-lost sci-fi classic uncover what secrets it holds. It looks so bizarre TBH and that excites me immensely. As you can see, I’m clearly well-prepared, heh:

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This year’s V-Day special will actually begin this upcoming weekend, and the marathon will last three days: Friday the 15th through Sunday the 17th. RahXephon will be streamed in English via Amazon’s Prime Video services. In the event something goes wrong, one of the alternatives I have picked out will be selected instead. Since I am a student, hopefully I’ll be able to make time for both homework and the binge-watching.

As always with this thing, I’m looking forward to stockpiling the sweets and locking myself in my room for three days straight, haha! Please enjoy this time of the year with someone (or something) that you love, and be sure to make time for yourself, too! Following the marathon, a review will eventually be published, so I look forward to reporting my findings in that.

Until then, much love and chocolates from me!

– Takuto

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

Gargantia: A Mecha Which Lulls Like the Waves | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode spring 2013 anime “Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet,” animated by Production I.G, directed by Kazuya Murata, and based on the original story by Gen Urobuchi. This will also include special OVA episodes 14 and 15, as well as the two “Far Beyond the Voyage” OVAs. 

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Awakening on Gargantia, the Island of Ships

Far into the future, most of mankind has fled Earth to expand into space, and the Galactic Alliance of Humanity is founded to guide exploration and ensure the prosperity of the human race. Humans soon discover a threat lurking in the dark seas of space, however; strange squid-like creatures called the Hideauze begin terrorizing human existence, resulting in a longstanding interstellar war to prevent humanity’s extinction.

Ensign Ledo of the Galactic Alliance, age 16, leaps into battle against the enemy as per his calling. Armed with Chamber, an autonomous robot intelligence system which resides inside his mech, the Hideauze shouldn’t have stood a chance against Ledo. Unfortunately, Ledo is separated from the Alliance and, in a horrific twist of fate, is flung into the far-off reaches of space, eventually to crash land on a planet submerged in water.

On these endless blue-green waters, Gargantia—a large fleet of scavenger ships comprising a sprawling metropolis in itself—salvages Chamber from the depths of the ocean thinking that the mech must hold something of value. Unknown to the crew, Ledo sneaks aboard the ship and captures a young messenger girl named Amy as hostage, but Ledo quickly comes to find that the people of Gargantia aren’t as dangerous as he initially surmised.

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Faced with uncertainty and separated from his comrades in the Alliance, Ledo struggles to seek newfound purpose on the blue planet. As some the loftier citizens of Gargantia eventually warm up to the space man, Ledo slowly realizes that there is more to a soldier’s life than missions and assignments. But just as he becomes acclimated to this foreign lifestyle, what lurks deep within these cerulean seas starts to bring to question the foundation of this oceanic world.

The coolest thing Gargantia has going for it is easily the titular ship fleet itself. In shows or games that are set near the water, I’ve always found village life to be quite appealing. Gargantia is no exception. If anything, had I watched this anime back in 2013 when it aired, I probably would have loved it a lot more than I currently do. Unfortunately, I am older now, and a collection of ships bound together by giant metal cranes and locks doesn’t excite me as much as it would have the old me. Still, a part of me feels like I was always meant for the seafaring life, to which Gargantia invites me to explore.

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Chilling at its Own Pace

The first six episodes are spent crafting this culture-heavy fleet and its peoples through a slice-of-life narrative. We are given a tour of the fleet through a few side stories. Although they help to explain what they do, how they operate, and how each person—no matter the age or occupation—plays a critical role in Gargantia’s survival, some of these stories are admittedly boring and predictable. For a sci-fi action adventure series, Gargantia chills at its own pace, merely riding the waves until the exciting finale. But I kind of like that about it.

Meanwhile, the second half delivers the climax of the story, along with several intriguing plot twists which help facilitate interest after a relaxing but lukewarm first half. None of the big reveals feel cheap; in fact, it’s just the kind of thing I’d expect from Urobuchi’s phenomenal writing, even if the thriller vibes are occasionally lulled by the slow-moving nature of the story. Urobuchi always delivers incredible stories about the darker sides of humanity, and while Gargantia is lighter than most, that’s not to say it won’t leave you gasping “No freakin’ way” a few times.

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The People of Gargantia 

I’m quite divided when it comes to the cast. As a protagonist, Ledo is great. His gradual development from cold galactic soldier to helping friend is nicely done, and Alan Lee captured the vocalic change from curt, rigid pronunciations to fluent, passionate statements believably well in the English dub. Our resident “hot guy’s” struggle would have been futile without Chamber, however; unlike what you’d expect from a pilot assist AI, Chamber isn’t afraid to sass Ledo around when he needs the encouragement, and Matthew Mercer was a perfect fit for this rather intelligent and resourceful “tin can.”

But I can’t give the same praise to the rest of the people of Gargantia. While Amy the messenger girl (voiced by the ever-cheery Cassandra Lee Morris) is the supposed main heroine, she merely functions as a tool to unlocking Ledo’s inner humane side. The well-endowed pilot Bellows lives and breathes the salvaging life, but her character just as well acts as a guide for the main cast.

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In the same regard, pirate queen Lukkage is a fun Team Rocket Jessie-like character to have around, but her little screentime isn’t enough to fully appreciate her extreme levels of bad-ass. (You’ll definitely want to watch the OVAs to see the Queen in action!) For other antagonistic presences, having the devilishly suave Karen Strassman as Striker is an absolute joy. But oh man, let’s not talk about Pinion, the human epitome of DICKHEAD. Seriously, the guy has no respect for anything!

It’d be a shame not to mention the fleet commander’s daughter, Ridget, as one of Gargantia‘s best and brightest. She works SO hard to live up to the immense role thrust upon her, and I just really enjoyed watching her backstory unfold throughout the series’ run. Strong-willed, passionate, and always looking out for the greater good of Gargantia, Ridget—above everyone else in the cast, arguably including Ledo—shines as the fleet’s most-developed character.

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On Endless Green Waters

From an art and animation standpoint, Production I.G beautifully encapsulates “island life” on Gargantia through its towering structure of rusty, paint-chipped housing and overwhelming marketplace vibes. It’s just such a charming set piece, really. And although it may be marketed as a mecha anime, Gargantia is pretty laid-back, allowing Chamber to strut his usefulness in performing ship tasks in the first half and finally showing off his explosive capabilities in the last couple episodes. Also, at the very least, we should acknowledge the Yunboro as the most practical-looking mech out there, even if not the prettiest. (Chamber looks fantastic though, love his rounded shape.) As a whole, the art is rich, vibrant, and colorful, and the animation is consistently top-notch, particularly so with those endless green seas.

Taro Iwashiro provides a great soundtrack befitting of the “adventure” label, as he’s able to effectively balance island life with Ledo’s soldier strife. Also noteworthy in the sound department is how ADR director Tony Oliver and the crew at Bang Zoom! established the differing language portrayals. Ledo and Amy are separated by hundreds of light years, after all, so it only makes sense that their languages would different. I’m not sure how it was done in the original Japanese, but made-up languages are always fun to listen to in English, and Gargantia is written such that this constant dialogue swapping isn’t distracting in the least.

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Seas of Possibility, Skies of Freedom

Contrary to the high intensity repertoire the mecha genre is known to cater, Gargantia takes the back seat and explores the isolation and ostracism of a mech pilot on foreign soil—or a fish out of water, if you will. It’s a story about finding purpose after a big change in one’s life, and how to adapt to unfamiliar circumstances. Most of all, however, Gargantia is about family and belonging, and what it means to be human in a world where the very definition of the word has been obscured by a dark past.

Between the gorgeous animation, creative concept, and interesting plot, Gargantia may be exactly what you’re looking for if you seek a short sci-fi journey. Oh, and don’t be turned off by the mechs—they look great, and the finale in particular stands out for its incorporation of the ideological feud. Although some of its characters may rub you the wrong way, Gargantia is blessed with strong direction and themes. So, answer the call for adventure—raise the sails and set out for those shimmering jade seas.

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One who abandons thought and decision-making deviates from the very definition of “human.” — Chamber


Afterword

It’s a shame that the possibility of more Gargantia got shelved thanks to the idea of a novel adaptation, especially considering that as an original piece, Gargantia is one of Production I.G’s best. While the last couple OVAs are a bit of a pain to track down, they’re a must if you want the complete Gargantia story as it stands. For the cafe, I struggled between whether to place it under the “Coffee” or “Cakes” menu, but after recalling all the effort that went into crafting the island atmosphere and its customs, I gave the series the benefit of the doubt. Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet offers a pleasantly sweet ride for any mild fan of the mecha genre, thus a “Cake” here at the cafe! And yes, Viz’s awesome LTD ED release of the show rests calmly on my shelf awaiting my next revisit to the blue planet. 🙂

What did you think of Gargantia? Did you enjoy it enough, or did you find it lacking in a few departments? It may not the best mecha anime out there, but it’s certainly not the worst. Let me know your thoughts about the quiet little title or this review down in the comments, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host