Den-noh Coil: The 2000s Sci-Fi Anime You Never Watched (But Should) || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the original 26-episode Spring 2007 anime “Den-noh Coil” (also translated as “Dennou Coil”), animated by Madhouse, created and directed by Mitsuo Iso.


Nostalgia, Child’s Play, & the Internet

In the near future, people have integrated augmented reality their daily lives through the use of specialized cyber glasses. A virtual world of “E-spaces” overlays Daikoku city’s electronic infrastructure. Viruses hide in plain sight, yet only glasses wearers can see these virtual hazards. Children in particular find immense joy in tracking down old abandoned E-spaces and using them for their own game. Hacking spaces, switching servers, discovering damaged domains—it’s like the coolest game of geocaching you could ever play! Some have even taken interest in hunting for metabugs, small gems which can be converted into currency or special items in the digital world.

This brings us to Yuuko “Yasako” Okonogi and her family, who have just moved to Daikoku City despite rumors of some people mysteriously disappearing. While searching for her cyberdog Densuke, Yasako encounters Fumie Hashimoto, a playful classmate and member of “Coil.” Comprised of other community youngsters, the small unofficial detective agency helps glasses wearers solve various cyber troubles. The girls’ meeting also brings Yasako’s snappy grandmother back into her life, who just so happens to run a shop that sells illegal tools which interact with the virtual world AND is the bright mind behind Coil.

Like any program, however, there are many bugs in the system, dubbed “illegals.” Some are lost, aimlessly wandering the digital landscape to eternity. Other illegals exist to cause mayhem, and some are harmless yet like to follow humans around, much like a household pet would. Another girl, Yuuko “Isako” Amasawa, is also investigating these corrupt spaces, but her abrasive hacking style (and attitude) deters her from making friends. The kids in Coil are determined to discover the truth behind the mysterious viruses and disappearances, but little do they know what corruption lurks on the dark side of the web.

yasako and fumie

Virus Attacks & Friendly-Fire Hacks

For the entirety of the series, Yasako serves as our blank canvas as Fumie guides us through the ins and outs of the virtual world. The two girls become best friends, and Fumie’s intelligent yet loud personality meshes well with Yasako’s soft naivete. Navigating through scary virus attacks and friendly-fire hacks from their fellow classmates, the go quite well together as a pair.

But, if there’s one giant brick wall stopping them from having fun in this digital space, it’s going to be Yuuko Amasawa. To avoid confusing the two Yuuko transfer students, the kids call her Isako. And boy is Isako one tough nut to crack. She’s standoffish, rude, and totally not interested in making friends; rather, her eyes are set solely on collecting metabugs for her own personal mission.

To complicate matters, the incredibly obnoxious and bratty Daichi Sawaguchi (along with his self-named “Hackers Club” goons) are also trying to snatch up metabugs, drawing out much of the conflict in the series’ first half. As things get weirder and weirder on the digital side, these hidden secrets tell of disastrous things happening in Daikoku City. Maybe, just maybe, the forces undermining the kids’ efforts will allow them to start seeing eye-to-eye.

isako hackers club

Given that practically the entire cast of this one is made of children, I’m SO glad that the English dub from Maiden Japan cast all the young boys with female dub actresses. (It just helps avoid the cringe of hearing a 30-year-old man voicing a ten-year-old.) I’ve never heard a dub where the children—to this extent—act and sound so much like children should. These kids are FUNny and are a hoot to watch! (And I LOVE Specs Granny!!)

Whether chasing down urban legends, stalking haunted hotspots, or connecting dreams and memories across time and digital spaces, these kids go on quite the coming-of-age journey. Together, they prove that the Internet can be a fantastic place for self-discovery—but also a potentially hazardous landscape without practicing proper safety.

dennou coil kids

Integrating CG with the Digital World

Although the show has a quiet, lukewarm start to it, the talents at Madhouse breathe astonishing life into Den-noh Coil. Mitsuo Iso not only directed AND created the entire story—he also drew many of the key frames himself! His style is jerky yet detailed, full of motion and expression. There’s some really well-animated character work done here, and it’s all in the details. Whether fidgeting children, readjusting glasses, or making silly faces, the animation fully encapsulates the behaviors and mannerisms of goofy 6th graders.

Despite coming from an era of anime where the use of CGI was almost purely experimental, the 3D CG works remarkably well here since Den-noh Coil‘s world is deeply intertwined with the digital space of the Internet. Muted, drab, washed-out Tokyo landscapes provide a unique, small-town community atmosphere to the series. Much of the AR special effects work is done with CG, giving us a nice distinction between the bleak watercolor skies of the real world and the quirky (yet dangerous) E-spaces that the kids are so fond of exploring.

I also found the entire soundtrack of the show to add a unique quality to Den-noh Coil. The series is accompanied by soft acoustic guitar and the quiet cascade of digital sound effects whenever the kids are dueling in back alleyways. Tsuneyoshi Saito’s OST, as with most of his other works (most notably Fafner), showcases the strengths of orchestral music. If we’re not getting weaving wind ensembles, we may hear the solemn beat of tribal drumming, or even the tender, evocative enchantment of the piano. It’s classic, and this kind of music will always win me over.

searchie

Connection, Disconnection, & Loss

Den-noh Coil takes a bit to get going, but enjoy its comedy/slice-of-life beginning. Trust me. These early-middle standalone episodes explore youth, life, and living side-by-side with this digital world, and are by far some of the strongest in the series. (The beard episode was especially great.) I’d argue that the episodic direction in the middle is far stronger than the main overarching story. Then again, I just find that the episodic style suits the series’ world and setting better.

About two-thirds of the way in, this sci-fi adventure kicks up the mystery with a starkly different plot set in motion. The character drama in the middle is also strong and even stronger at the end, which ties in well with the creepier subjects of the series’ finale. It’s a striking tone switch, but it really makes for an exciting finale.

yasako laser

These days, no one talks about Den-noh Coil (which is partially why I was drawn to it in the first places). I think that’s sad, because it’s more relevant now than it ever was in 2007 when it first came out, and I can’t help but think how highly people would praise the series if it was put out today. Certainly, it’s one creative piece of sci-fi.

Den-noh Coil tackles themes of connection, disconnection, loss, extinction, living within boundaries, and learning to push beyond certain limits. It explores what can go wrong in a world that lives side-by-side with technology, a world that can be hacked AND hack you just the same. Some stories are silly and eccentric; others are thought-provoking and startlingly philosophical. If you’re wanting an anime that explores transience in the digital age and you’re tired of being directed to Ghost in the Shell or Serial Experiments Lain, go give Den-noh Coil some love. It’s TOO overlooked and under-appreciated, and I guarantee it’s the early 2000s sci-fi anime you never watched—but absolutely should.

yasako and isako


What is real? Does being able to touch things make them real? If something can’t be touched, does that mean it isn’t real? What things are really, truly here? What things are actually here for sure?  — Yuuko “Yasako” Okonogi


Afterword

I had to sit on my rating for Den-noh Coil for a while. On one hand, it’s slow, a bit drab, and unnecessarily confusing with all its technobabble nonsense. On the other, however, it’s surprisingly dynamic and full of interesting ideas. And you know what, it’s for these reasons that I welcome Den-noh Coil as a certified “Cafe Mocha” title. THIS right here is what we call an anime gem, and you should seriously consider adding it to your watch list if you love sci-fi or augmented reality in the slightest! Had I watched it as a child, I couldn’t even begin to imagine the boundless fun I would’ve had with it! Are you one of the rare few who have seen Den-noh Coil? Please let me know, as I’m looking for fellow Coil kids to love this show with! Thanks for reading, ’till next time!

– Takuto

Netflix’s Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045 is Enjoyable, But Not in the Way You’d Think || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode 2020 anime “Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045,” produced by Netflix, animated by Production I.G and Sola Digital Arts, directed by Shinji Aramaki and Kenji Kamiyama, and loosely based on the manga by Shirow Masamune.


A New Threat Emerges

The Synchronized Global Default changed everything about societies all over the globe. Now, in 2045, the economic disaster continues to impact the human race as the world enters a state of “Sustainable War” via AI technology just to keep money in the pockets of policy makers. But, as the Stand Alone Complex world continues to prove, people really do not possess any idea of the capabilities of these AI—as well as the potential threats to their own privacy and safety—while living in this rapidly accelerating cyberization age.

As a result of the economic fallout, Public Security Section 9 was kicked off government payroll and reduced to hired mercenary jobs out in the hot American southwest. Given the opportunities to engage their enhanced cyberbrains and combat skills, it’s not the worst outcome for full-body cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi and her partner-in-crime Batou. However, the emergence of extremely potent AIs with remarkable intelligence and physical might, dubbed “post humans,” just might be the global threat Section 9 Chief Aramaki needs to pull the old team back together again.

Off-the-grid sci-fi action and cyber crime dominate the scene as the classic Ghost in the Shell: SAC story returns with this latest installment. Don’t count your Tachikomas before they hatch, though, as this is far from the sequel longtime fans have been waiting for. Overrun with loud action stunts and a hardly tactical approach to most combat, 2045 may be the weakest entry thus far—and the switch to all 3D CG doesn’t give much to boast about. But, this is still a Ghost in the Shell story, mind you, and any GitS is worth watching if you love this universe like I do.

major in the tachikoma

The Old Gang Reunited

With a new Ghost in the Shell comes a new look for the Major. Although she doesn’t carry the same maternal air as the original SAC‘s Major, I do really like the pretty and iridescent quality that this Motoko bears. It’s as if the short bob and rebellious spirit of Arise‘s Major met the violet, cool-toned and commanding authority of SAC‘s. While Batou largely retains the same figure, including his signature prosthetic eyes, Togusa’s new look suits him quite well. I wasn’t particularly happy about hearing that his marriage fell apart in the time since SAC 2nd Gig (honestly the biggest crime here), but at least the shortened mullet makes him feel like a fresh man.

Perhaps my favorite single part of Netflix’s crack at GitS doesn’t even pertain to character designs, plot points, or the music—it’s the dub cast. Somehow, Bang Zoom was able to track down the all-star cast of the original SAC dub, including the incredible Mary Elizabeth McGlynn as BOTH the dub’s director and the Major herself. Add in Richard Epcar’s rough-around-the-edges Batou, Crispin Freeman’s rich yet naive Togusa, William Knight’s authoritative yet flighty old man Aramaki, and Melissa Fahn’s iconically squirrelish Tachikoma voice and, ahh, it’s a wonderful nostalgia trip. Mary Elizabeth’s Major really does embody the soul of this franchise. It was only after hearing the old Section 9 again that I was reminded just how much I’ve missed this world.

So, as you can tell, I wasn’t one to hate on the new character designs. The characters themselves aren’t necessarily here to be dynamic so much as to be badass cyber soldiers and carry out the plot (except maybe Togusa), and to each their own on that. But, if there’s one major gripe I have about the characters, it’s the facial expressions, which is a perfect segue to the show’s biggest controversy: the animation.

section 9

A Bold Switch of Style

As you may have heard fans gripe, directors Aramaki and Kamiyama decided to have all of 2045 animated in 3D CG. In addition to story focus and heightened emphasis on explosive action, this changed visual style makes 2045 feel even more removed from SAC‘s old roots. At what point do we stop calling it a sequel? I don’t even know where to begin on this one except for with the negatives.

For one, the lip flaps hardly match the voice acting—this is consistent across the English and Japanese dubs. Lots of dialogue may be spoken, but the mouth hardly moves. Now, 2045 can sometimes get away with this since A) half the characters are cyborgs, and B) much of the dialogue is communicated via connection to the Net, thus no need for spoken words. But even the most human characters suffer from a general lack of expressive facial emotions.

My second big gripe is that everything is CG. From vehicles and landscapes to special effects and the hair on a person’s head, it’s all been animated using digital technology. This means that, when something is textured, it’s generally done well and with consistency. On the other hand, when there’s no texture work, it’s entirely flat to the eyes. The production feels cheap as a result, sometimes gross, even if I know that it’s actually decent quality CG work being done here.

That said, I do, in fact, like the way this series looks (shocker, I know). Sure, I would’ve liked a more traditional approach with 3D CG modeling being used for a minority of the production rather than the only technique, but this isn’t all bad. Japan’s towering skyscrapers and clean, futuristic architecture have never looked better in SAC than they do here. The Tachikomas shine brilliantly, and the action sequences are also entertaining and very well choreographed (even if they’re ultimately no more than added popcorn material). Chances are most people will dislike the CG, though, especially if they came in with expectations of the franchise.

major and tachikoma 2045

At Least it Sounds Great

Between writers and actors, it would seem that everyone came back to work on this universe again—everyone except for SAC series music composer Yoko Kanno. Thankfully, Nobuko Toda and Kazuma Jinnouchi carry the mantle of SAC with strong compositions in 2045. Between the jazzy interludes, lo-fi downtime, and high-octane cyber beats, I almost could’ve sworn it was still Kanno behind the keyboard. Toda and Jinnouchi also worked together on composing the score for Netflix’s recent Ultraman series, which may explain why 2045 also feels a little retro-punk at times.

As with the dynamic visual special effects work, the audio effects also fill in the sounds of this technologically advanced world. Whether the soft hum of a self-driving car on the highway, the relentless fire of Gatling guns, the blinking and honking of city sounds, or the digitization of bodies floating around in the Net, the sound design maintains a high standard across the series.

togusa 2045

Waiting for the End

From the occasionally nauseous CG animation alone, it’s easy to think that this is a poorly directed series. 2045 is also not as philosophically explorative as its predecessors; rather, it seems to look smart by skimming the surface without postulating the further impacts and implications of people living by and through the Net. As opposed to genuine curiosities or worries about our future with technology, 2045 favors absurd thriller tones to engage its audience. I wish it were deeper and more full of wisdom like the previous seasons were, but 2045 is not that story. Maybe it’s not that great . . .

BUT, I don’t want to lose hope because I did enjoy my watch. Heck, binging 2045 on Netflix in a SINGLE SITTING was loads of fun—questionable CG and all—and I only wish I could’ve listened to more of the Major and her team exchanging witty banter back and forth. For me, clearly, the dub alone made 2045 worth watching.

As it stands, this is only half the story, so I can’t completely say whether or not 2045 is worth passing on. With the second cour green-lit but yet to be announced, I await the end of this new story with cautious optimism. When that day comes, I definitely plan on joining the Major once again. If Ghost in the Shell is your thing, you may want to consider putting 2045 on hold until the entire series is out. Otherwise, strap in—this ride is already proving to be a bumpy one.

major batou and togusa 2045


You think I like this? There are too many unknown variables. It doesn’t smell right. But, then again, we always enjoy coming along with you for the ride—it’s the only reason we’re all here. — Batou


Afterword

If that last quote from Batou doesn’t encapsulate my feelings on Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045, I’m not sure what does. Until the second half can solidify my opinions on this series, I’ll pass 2045 as a “Coffee” rating for now. It’s mediocre at most points, but when it’s good, you may just remember why you fell in love with this series to begin with. Have you watched Netflix’s Ghost in the Shell yet? If so, what are your thoughts? Given how optimistically I tend to view this franchise, I’m eager to hear about them. Otherwise, ’till next time!

– Takuto

ID:INVADED & Searching for the Answers || OWLS “Adapt”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” For the OWLS blog tour’s fifth monthly topic of 2020, “Adapt,” I wanted to showcase one of the cool psychological sci-fi series that aired this past winter season, ID:INVADED. Although this would’ve been THE perfect month for Shirobako (which I talked about in last month’s OWLS post), I find the premise of a detective constantly dealing with memory erasure to be equally fitting for this topic.

Right now, we all have lost something or gained something in return during this dark time. Our lives have been completely altered due to coronavirus. For this month, we will be talking about anime series and other pop culture media where we have characters having to adjust to changes in their environment. Whether it’s adjusting to a new school or heading towards an isekai fantasy world, we will be discussing characters that had to make changes within themselves in order to adapt to the circumstances they are in. This will also give us an opportunity to express our own personal lives as we try to adjust to a “new normal.”

This all sounds very relevant to our current lives, doesn’t it? Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

sakaido


A brief discussion of the 13-episode Winter 2020 anime “ID:INVADED,” animated by NAZ, directed by Ei Aoki, and based on the original story written by Ōtarō Maijō.

A New World Every Time

Specialized police squad Kura solves crime a little differently than your average public safety agency would. Just sitting in the Mizuhanome, a highly advanced system that allows users to enter the minds of others, can help find the culprit at an astonishing pace. It’s an efficient system, and by detecting “cognition particles” left behind at the crime scene by the perpetrator, Kura’s detectives can manifest a criminal’s unconscious mind and dive into this virtual world—the “id well”—and thus reveal the identity of the culprit.

There’s a catch to entering the mind of a killer, though: only killers themselves can comprehend the bizarre stream of thoughts belonging to one of their own. Enter former investigator Akihito Narihisago, once a respected member of the police, and now the “brilliant detective Sakaido” on the other side of the law. Although his gifted detective skills assist him and Kura immensely in the id well, the latest set of crimes bear an uncanny relationship to one another that the agency just can’t seem to shake.

A psychological sci-fi mystery series with a hard law-and-order edge to it, ID:INVADED intricately crafts its entire world from the ground up—in some cases, this is literally meant. We are immediately drawn to the quasi-virtual world of the id well, and how the strange physics of each killer’s mind create a unique set of obstacles for the great Sakaido to overcome. Whether soaring through broken architecture in a zero gravity space or attempting to uncover the logic behind a puzzling stream of numbers, the laws of physics that we know are hardly applicable to the unconventional landscapes of the id well.

id well

The Brilliant Detective

Each time he enters the id well, Narihisago immediately forgets everything he once knew about himself. It is only when he stumbles upon the body of Kaeru, a mysterious girl who is the only constant between id well dives, that Narihisago remembers: he is the “brilliant detective” Sakaido, and it is his mission to solve the workings of this world to find the culprit. Who is Kaeru, and why is she always deceased upon discovery? Sakaido and the Kura team have yet to figure that out. But what they do know is that she’s on their side, as the state of her corpse always possesses a clue to the how and whodunit.

As much as ID:INVADED banks on the whole crime thriller shtick, it really is a story about redemption. For Narihisago, it’s about accepting the loss of his wife and daughter and his own transgressions as their murderer’s killer. The budding young detective Hondoumachi also uses her field experiences to find where she truly belongs in this wild agency. For Tamotsu Fukuda, it’s the chance to help the good guys solve a crime, even if he’s a criminal himself. The mind of a murderer is dangerous, absolutely, but it sure is insightful for tracking down fellow killers.

Kura’s detectives have to be sharp thinkers, but even more so the brilliant detectives risking their own psyche for sitting in the Mizuhonome. Between logging into unfamiliar worlds and dealing with wacky circumstances, it quickly becomes apparent that adaptation plays a critical role in this is a sci-fi mystery series.

kaeru

Deconstruction and Reconstruction

More than any other component, the visual element of ID:INVADED has to be solid in order for this kind of story to work—and thankfully, studio NAZ knew exactly what they were doing. While there are more than a handful of character design inconsistencies (particularly misalignment in the face and eyes), the whole of this project truly does handle director Ei Aoki’s vision astonishingly well.

Especially as an original project, viewers have little to go off of other than the posters and episodes themselves, but the series really works as a wholly unique and compelling visual piece. Sakaido’s mission to unravel the inner mechanisms of each id well relies on confident and daring animation, to which NAZ delivers. The animation supports this theme of reconstructing a deconstructed world.

Abstract puzzles and challenges await the brilliant detective, and as he is quick to think on his feet, Sakaido has to possess an unmatched flexibility to be able to adapt to anything the id well—or his fellow detectives—throw at him. The story largely retains its ability to entertain by following Sakaido has he adapts, reconstructs, and discovers the truth hidden amidst the chaos.

id invaded first id well

Flexibility Paves the Way

We try to show only the best sides of ourselves, but in the process we relinquish the parts that really make us humans, well, human. Some individuals like Tamotsu carry a deep sadness with them, despite the foolish smiles on their face. Others can seem rough around the edges yet are actually quite pleasant to get to know, much like Hondoumachi’s senior and mentor Matsuoka. We truly do not know the extent to someone’s character unless we actively try to understand them—all while keeping an open mind. 

As Narihisago realizes before any of his co-workers, a detective cannot be successful without thinking outside the box and being aware of the seemingly unimaginable. Not every crime is as it seems; similarly, not every person shares with you everything there is to them. Facades and farce run abound in ID:INVADED. Some people can be forgiven, and some people simply can’t. But one thing’s for certain, and you can trust Narihisago on this one: No person is without their flaws. 

mizuhanome


Who would’ve thought that one needs to lose something in order to feel complete. — Tamotsu Fukuda


Afterword

While I only followed a few shows this past winter season, I thought that ID:INVADED was definitely among one of the better watches. For filling the urge for psychological mystery in my heart and giving my mind a bit to chew on, I happy welcome ID:INVADED as a “Cake” title here at the cafe. Should you, too, be looking for something a bit more experimental while adhering to the staples of the crime genre, I strongly recommend this one. If you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the series or this post down in the comments.

This concludes my May 23rd entry in the OWLS “Adapt” blog tour. My good friend Aria (The Animanga Spellbook) went right before me with a post covering the societal struggles faced by the characters of Wandering Son that you shouldn’t miss! Now, look out for my buddy Scott (Mechanical Anime Reviews) as he shoots for the moon and beyond in his post on Banner of the Stars this Sunday, May 22nd! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

The Loneliest Girl in the Universe: A Thrilling Ride Through Space || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the young adult fiction novel “The Loneliest Girl in the Universe,” written by Lauren James, originally published in 2017 by HarperTeen.


Adrift in Space

Carrying with it the hope of humankind, The Infinity continues its noble trek through the blackness of space, despite all but one of its crew having died on board in a horrific accident years ago . . .

Although she bears the title of first child born in space, Romy Silvers only has connection to her therapist on Earth and her wits to occupy her as she drifts alone in deep space aboard The Infinity. But to her surprise, Romy’s mundane life in space suddenly picks up when she finds out that a new NASA ship, The Eternity, has set course to meet her on her long, lonesome journey to a new planet—and sooner than she ever could have anticipated.

While initially eager to unite with another of her kind, cryptic emails from both Earth and J, the friendly pilot of The Eternity, start to trigger anxiety-filled memories of the past and terrifying visions of the future. Perhaps, as she quickly realizes, there are worse things than being alone . . .


The Infinity is the biggest, most expensive scientific mission in history. I get to be the very first person to see the results. I’m so lucky. — Romy


A slow-build yet gripping sci-fi thriller with a sprinkling of romance throughout the journey, the plot of The Loneliest Girl in the Universe begins leisurely by showing us several chapters of Romy’s character and daily routine, but rapidly escalates in the last third of the novel (AKA the big plot twist part). To build this energy up, author Lauren James features a countdown system instead of traditional chapter titles or numbers, most beginning with “365 Days Until The Eternity Arrives,” then “364 Days . . .” and so on. 

The book’s printing is quite large and generously spaced out, making these 300 or so pages seem like they just fly by. It helps that James writes short chapters, most being no more than a couple pages. Like a series of diary entries strung together in one large narrative, we quickly get a feel for who Romy is, and why things like people—not the black abyss of space—scare her most of all. 

Finding Strength in the Darkness

Lemme begin by getting it out there: If you’re wanting a story with strong feminist energy and mental illness rep, this one’s all for you. Romy may only be sixteen years old, but given her scary close relationship with loneliness and anxiety, she’s one hell of a ship commander. I really appreciate the mental illness rep going on here. Romy’s severe anxiety doubles as both something she must learn to accept (or fight) AND a first-person story-telling trick: the unreliable narrator.

Sometimes we have to question whether the sights and sounds Romy experiences in the night are real terrors or nightmares stirred by her anxiety, and Lauren James handles the balance between the real and surreal with incredible deft and care. James has created a feminist character who’s stronger than she knows, and following her journey has me inspired to face some of my own fears with isolation and nihilism.


It’s hard to focus on the future when the past is so distracting. — Romy


One of Romy’s qualities that I absolutely commend is how—despite having the ability to spoil herself—she always puts the needs of The Infinity first. Always. It’s her ship, clearly, and she feels strongly for it just as how any of us would for our own children. When ship efficiency emails start to suggest that Romy observes using less electricity by turning out the lights early or conserve water by taking shorter showers to maintain ship’s water supply, she obliges, even if the message’s sender seems sketchy.

She knows that being the sole commander of The Infinity comes with it the responsibility to maintain the vessel; making necessary sacrifices is just one part of the job. This respect and care for her ship—her home—is no doubt a trait she inherited from her dutiful parents, especially her good-natured father whom Romy was especially close to. As the story unravels, we gradually find out how they met their end, as well as the understand the tragic events that occurred during Romy’s early childhood that led to her being alone.


My life is a gambling chip thrown carelessly across the universe in the hope it’ll land somewhere my descendants can survive. I represent the culmination of centuries of human achievement and exploration. But who cares if my name goes down in history, if no one remembers who I really am? — Romy


Thrilling to the Very End

If you couldn’t already tell, I had a blast getting to know Romy and speculating with James as to what interstellar travel may be like in the near-distant future. I also loved the messages of longing and learning to love yourself, even if that process can be slow, confusing, and often painful. While I had my suspicions about certain plot twists, I was completely thrown off by the exciting change of pace near the finale—what a fantastic ending! It makes me appreciate even more the 150-200 pages of careful build-up that Lauren James so meticulously crafted—and I was already enjoying the adventure since the first page!

For those looking for THE perfect solitude-vibes title during this quarantine we’re all under, I cannot recommend The Loneliest Girl in the Universe enough. Lauren James has laid out a carefully plotted journey beginning as early as the title itself. There’s also a lot of references to pop culture—including YouTube, Netflix, and even fanfiction communities—that help bring Romy and her situation to life.

Just know, though, that this isn’t your typical fluffy long-distance romance plot. Sometimes the story is uplifting and kind, but other times it’s really gonna try and scare ya—don’t underestimate that part. Intelligent, suspenseful, and deliberately cautious, The Loneliest Girl in the Universe is thrilling to the very end—even in its quietest moments.

loneliest girl insta


This voyage was never meant to be easy. It was meant to be important. — Romy


Afterword

Man, what a wonderful, terrifying, and weird little book this was. Special shoutout to Natalie (Book of Bee) over on YouTube for recommending it to her viewers—it was delightful! While not technically an anime or film, I’ll gladly welcome The Loneliest Girl in the Universe here as a certified “Caffe Mocha,” a rating reserved only for the best works! If you read this novel, PLEASE, tell me what you liked or disliked about it in the comments! Also, if you’ve got any recommendations that are similar to this one, be sure to leave those too. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

Azur Lane: Ships, Sisterhood, & the Warring Seas || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode fall 2019 anime “Azur Lane,” animated by Bibury Animation Studios, directed by Motoki Tanaka, and based on the popular side-scrolling shoot ’em up mobile game franchise of the same name.

Enterprise and eagle union


War is Bad, PERIODT. 

The “Sirens” came without warning, decimating any ship on the open seas with their overwhelming, technologically advanced arsenal. To combat the alien invaders, a divided humanity rose in complete unity for the first time, forming the Azur Lane. Armed in their alliance, Azur Lane powered through their mutual enemy with revolutionary improvements to modern warfare. However, opposing ideals in future confrontation with the Sirens caused the alliance to split in two: Eagle Union and Royal Navy with Azur Lane, and Sakura Empire and Iron Blood forming the Red Axis. 

Although these nations continue to skirmish with one another on the high seas, schemes of independent parties within the Red Axis working together with Siren technology to dominate the world threaten all of humanity. As one particular soldier comes to terms with her own personality and ambitions, however, the hope for reuniting humankind may be found in some ideals that even war cannot shake: empathy, camaraderie, and sisterhood. 

In an attempt to find duality, the series goes about telling the “war = bad” theme by contrasting the pleasantries of daily life in both Azur Lane and Sakura Empire with the frustrations of conflict on and off the battlefield. (Spoiler alert, fighting ain’t much fun no matter which side you’re on.) I think this speaks volumes about the series’ viewership, though, as my favorite parts were, in fact, the high energy combat scenes. Chalk it up to my obsession with ship fighting in general, but when the girls are geared up for war, the show promises to at least be halfway entertaining. Otherwise, the plot itself is full of generic motivations and reveals on both sides of the tide. 

akagi and kaga

Iron and Steel—But Make it Fashion

While I’m no stranger to cute girls fighting with heavy artillery ALA Strike Witches, Girls und Panzer, and basic knowledge of Kancolle, I am a newbie to the Azur Lane franchise. The series markets itself under the sci-fi action and military genres, but spends far too much time indulging in forced yuri shipping and awkward loli lewding. (I mean, these are anthropomorphic warship girls—you already know the kind of audience they were tailoring this franchise to.)

The fan service is clear and abundant (and not really my thing). But, the core premise of iconic and historical ships clashing in what is at least to say a “unique” fashion is actually quite cool. Thinking back, were it not for the eye-popping and abstract character designs, I might not have stumbled upon this title at all. Seeing how the various ship parts come together to form a semi-feasible battlesuit must’ve required some intense layout and design work—especially for the more elite warships—so props to the character designers on this one. These characters may already originate from the game, but to make these girls move AND not seem overly clunky, man, hats off to ya!

character designs azur lane

As for the characters themselves, this is where Azur Lane starts to sink. I get it that franchise adaptations don’t want to leave a single girl out, but WOW, they really did just try and shove every single major and minor character into this one. And it shows, because aside from the stoic “Grey Ghost” Enterprise herself (given life by Rachael Messer’s powerful performance in the dub) and her few close companions (namely the lovely Lindsay Seidel’s benevolent Belfast, and Jad Saxton’s elegant Illustrious), I couldn’t really tell you a think about any of these girls. The sidelining in this one is so bad that you could practically take out the entire Iron Blood faction and the story would be the same. 

Oh ok, I suppose Amber Lee Connors’ cunning and devilish Akagi is worth an applause, same for Dawn M. Bennett’s strong performance as Akagi’s dear sister, Kaga, and Mallorie Rodak’s low and majestic Prince of Wales. On the other hand, I particularly found ALL of the lolis to be more annoying than cute, save for Tia Ballard’s Laffey and Lara Woodhull’s Ayanami, although that wouldn’t be a fault of any of the voice actors so much as children just being, well, children. As a whole, the dub is quite enjoyable, and the accent work is a nice touch. 

Illustrious

A Strong Soundtrack *Almost* Saves the Day

Where the story tanks into generic territory, the production value of Azur Lane helps keep things interesting. You can clearly tell that a variety of talents handled the animation in this show, cause oh man, when it’s bad it’s so awkward to watch—but when it’s good, it’s badass, and that’s what I want to talk about here. The best fight scenes in Azur Lane are on par with Fate/Apocrypha levels of fluid sakuga. Episode 8 is a standout particularly for both the dramatic tone shift in the story and the serious, high-octane battles that take place on these warring seas. 

On the music side of things, I love battle anthems, and Azur Lane is FULL of them! The OST is the strongest unsung aspect of this adaptation, believe it or not. Lots of epic orchestral tracks cue the opening shots of war, and each of the nations have their own culturally appropriate couple of tracks to accompany their respective atmospheres, Sakura Empire’s Japanese-inspired melodies being my favorites. It’s a shame I couldn’t find credits for the composer on MAL, but I would assume these tracks also come from the mobile game. Lastly, the OP theme “graphite/diamond” is full of great energy, and is unmistakably characteristic of the wonderful May’n!

Enterprise finale

A Game of Hit and Miss

Depending on what you’re coming into this show for, Azur Lane may land hard or miss the mark entirely. I heard that even fans of the game didn’t care much for the anime, but that’s besides the point. However generic the story and cookie-cutter characters feel, there’s a lot of interesting things being done on the production side. Additionally, the themes of family being crazy and soldiers finding purpose in life beyond fighting will always be captivating ones for me. Overall, I found myself engaged with Azur Lane‘s unique character designs and soaring string melodies, so I’d say it was entertaining enough. As for being memorable? Meh, I couldn’t give a ship.

warships


The truth is . . . war never changes. It’s exactly the same, no matter which era it happens upon. — Enterprise


Afterword

I was actually going to skip reviewing this one, but it turns out that I had more to say about Azur Lane than I originally thought. I’m glad to be able to watch and review a show that was sitting on my backlog, even if it didn’t turn out to be “the greatest” series by any means. Heck, calling Azur Lane anything more than serviceable might be overdoing it, but I’m comfortable with giving the series the “Coffee” label, a humble rating for mediocre titles like this one. If you stopped at the docks to give Azur Lane a watch, be sure to let me know what you thought about it down in the comments! It’s nice to be back in the review space once again. I’ve got more in store, so until next time!

– Takuto

Sword Art Online: Alicization is Fantastic (But you should still read the books) || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode fall 2018 anime “Sword Art Online: Alicization,” animated by A-1 Pictures, directed by Manabu Ono, and based on volumes 9-14 of the light novel series by Reki Kawahara.

Kirito in the forest


A New World of Legends & Lore

We know the soul to be a fairly abstract, complex concept—and yet, genius scientists at the private institute Rath have mapped out its innumerous intricacies down to the tiniest electrical signal. The Soul Translator is unlike any full-dive interface that came before it, as it connects users by interacting directly with their Fluctlight, the technological equivalent of the human soul. To perfect their system, they enlist the aid of SAO survivor Kazuto Kirigaya, whose experience in VR worlds is, well, unique to say the least. At Rath, Kazuto works part-time to test the system’s capabilities in the Underworld: the fantastical realm generated by the Soul Translator.

While his confidentiality contract forces any memories created by the machine in the virtual world to be wiped upon returning to the real world, Kazuto vaguely recalls a name—Alice—and looming feelings of frustration.

All looks well for Kazuto’s part-time gig, until one evening while escorting Asuna Yuuki home. A familiar shadow from old Aincrad days mortally wounds Kazuto in a fight, but when Kazuto awakens, he doesn’t find himself in a hospital bed, but beneath the tall trees of a forest. Somehow, he’s been forcefully plunged into the Underworld—and with seemingly no way to escape. With no where else to go, he sets off on a long quest for Central Cathedral, a tower that soars high into the clouds, which might contain the answers he seeks—including the dark secrets holding the fabric of this entire world together.

gigas cedar

Once again, SAO is forcing light novel technological babble down our throats and naming it science. Call Kawahara’s musings with the concept of a physical soul the first major sci-fi plot hole in this newest story, but the series rolls with it anyway. Once you add in the fact that time experienced in the Soul Translator can be sped up by several hundreds or slowed way down, we might as well abandon all sense of realism and embrace fiction—as it should be.

All-in-all, SAO continues to be an engaging action fantasy series with a splash of sci-fi at its core. Unique to this newest story arc (the longest one in the series, might I add), is the central focus on the theme of adventure. You could say that SAO‘s always been an “adventure” series, and I wouldn’t disagree. But Alicization takes a more traditional approach to the genre. In Underworld, there are villagers, craftsmen, and other occupations customary of an old-fashioned fantasy adventure world. There are also magical rituals that the residents of Underworld engage in, spells, if you would, or “System Commands” as a gamer might know them. There’s more world-building in this single half of Alicization than in all of SAO‘s other VRMMO worlds combined—and to think that there’s ten times more to explore in the novels!

stacia window

The Problem with Pacing

To be fair, even the source has this trouble, with one chapter encompassing the span of several years and THREE volumes chronicling a mere 24 hours. As far as I’m concerned, this marks Alicization‘s second half as having one of the longest days in anime history, and one of the greatest battles of attrition ever written. In true fantasy adventure style, resources become scarce the closer our hero(es) get to the tower. Just when you think you have it all figured out, expectations quickly get flipped on their head. Never have I had so much fun with the unpredictability of a narrative than I did while reading/watching Alicization. 

Regardless of how you are consuming Alicization, it goes without saying that the story is full of deep lore, despite the rapid pace to fully appreciate it all. One of my favorite gimmicks from the series was how each Divine Object (AKA weapon) had a story to it, a history that plays a massive role in how to wield it correctly and unlock the blade’s full potential. Discovering how each foe’s blade was constructed (typically through the glorious art of combat) shows the depth of world-building and creativity that Kawahara has invested into this series.

In fact, the warriors we meet along the way (and their loyal weapon of choice) were SO cool that I was expecting lots of thrilling fights . . . which we only kind of got. While SAO continues with the theme of survival and the struggle to live, the fight scenes end so quickly that you’re left with very little fear for our characters’ well-being. After the visual marvel that was Ordinal Scale, I was expecting longer fights, more world-building, and more explanation, and while everything here is a good start, it’s not something I’d turn in for a final project. This story made me want so much from the fight scenes in particular, yet the rapid pace unfortunately leaves little to grapple with.

alice synthesis thirty

In general, there’s a lot of “dangling the carrot” with crucial story elements that the books thoroughly explored but the anime had to cut. Switching gears to something entirely new happens without warning, and this knowledge whiplash can leave viewers unsatisfied. This adaptation, despite totaling 50 episodes by the end, will be missing A Lot. For instance, there’s much more to the origin and purpose of the Gigas Cedar that anime-onlys will never get to understand, and that world-building element is crucial to helping define the personalities of many of these characters (like Eugeo).

Boy with the Flaxen Hair

The characters, OH the characters. I love the Alicization cast. Seeing Kawahara’s stylish knightly character designs come to life with splendidly textured armor and brilliant color palettes is especially a treat. For me, the titular Alice Synthesis Thirty was one that benefited the most from this adaptation. Maybe it was actually hearing her low, authoritative voice (thank you Ai Kayano), but every righteous word she speaks hold incredible weight to her character, and we are blessed that she has some of the best lines in the entire series. She is sure to play a critical role in the show’s second cour, no doubt about it.

Speaking of best lines in the series, I have to give it up to Alicization for giving us one of the coolest villain stories in anime. Administrator’s presence is legitimately chilling and terrifying. She’s a diva of chaos, yet so divine in her destructive ways. The allure of her calculating, piercing, silver eyes draws you in, marking her as manipulative, cruel, and obsessed with vanity and control. In this world, she is absolute authority, perfect stasis, and serves as a thrilling antagonist when pitted against the little mage in the library, Cardinal.

quinella awakening

What makes Alicization so special to many fans (myself included) is the addition of Eugeo, Kirito’s faithful friend that he meets upon waking up in Underworld. He’s the boy with the flaxen hair, and few are as hardworking, kind, dedicated, and endearing as this country kiddo. Eugeo is the softest boy, the bestest boy, and he’ll make you tear up more than once for sure (BLESS his VA Nobunaga Shimazaki).

Watching Kirito’s quirks and mannerisms both clash and rub off on Eugeo during their Swordsman Academy years fills me with so much life. As he grows from humble woodsman to a noble knight protecting the human realm (and beyond), it becomes no contest that although Alice may carry the name of the series, Eugeo holds the heart. I think giving Kirito a companion—a friend—like Eugeo makes him seem more human than anyone else could.

Eugeo and kirito

Kitito’s headspace has always been crucial for understanding why this narrative is compelling, and the anime is notorious for cutting a lot of that out. While Aincrad, Fairy Dance, or Gun Gale weep, Alicization suffers. This entry in the franchise was the one able to prove to me that KIRITO IS A LIKABLE CHARACTER. But once again, the anime doesn’t give enough of his inner dialogue to completely convince you, which is deeply saddening cause, yeah, I like Kirito now.

Kirito’s inner turmoil about whether to save Alice Synthesis Thirty or the Alice Zuberg from Eugeo’s childhood—that which is the hero’s ultimatum—is almost entirely omitted, making the final fight seem significantly less weighty and stressful than it should. Eugeo’s sad struggle to connect with his family is vaguely mentioned, despite it being the anchor holding him back in the beginning arc (and being key manipulation for his actions near the finale). And I haven’t even started on the knights! I’m telling ya, read the books!

village kirito and eugeo

An Ambitious Project

I thought Fate UBW was wild, but wow, the digital effects work for Alicization is just nuts. Absolutely stellar coloring, layering, lighting, textures, special effects—you name it. The fights are exciting and fluidly animated, yet some of the camera angles and visual distortions don’t pay off as well as they may have been intended to. Some combat moments feel stiff or unrealistically warped, detracting from the thrill of battle. Other fights have awkward choreography, but otherwise decent direction from Manabu Ono. A quick shout-out to the background artists, as Alicization is full of beautiful scenery—the scaling of the landscapes is truly awe-inspiring! 

Given its rapid pace, huge ensemble of colorful characters, and reliance on high-energy fight sequences, animating the entirety of the Alicization was an ambitious project on A-1’s part. With a grand 50 episodes spanning across several seasons, it’s almost expected that animation quality will eventually dip in parts. Although most of the shots themselves are beautiful, there is no shortage of impossible midair jumps and lofty sword swings to be found. That said, the opening confrontation with the goblins and the light-show spectacle of Kirito and Eugeo vs. Fanatio boast thrilling, gorgeous animation.

So, it’s a bit of give-and-take, but overall a very solid production minus some awkward fight choreo here and there. (The Blu-ray edits bring drastic improvement the broadcast version, including vibrant lighting and layers of cool new special effects previously unseen!)

kirito vs fanatio

Wherever might the visuals stumble, the music soars. Kajiura makes SAO always worth it. Easily her best work with the series yet, Kajiura continues to create strong themes for these characters. The iconic “Swordland” theme (reprised here as “Sacred Swords”) will never not make my heart fill with overwhelming feelings. Listening to “Gigas Cedar,” “Sometimes she feels lonely,” “Tenderness and Strength,” “Climbing up the wall,” “Quinella,” and “She won’t stand for it” remind me of the chivalry, nobility, and courage of Eugeo, Alice, and all the other knights.

Manabu times these epic theme drops with all the crazy special effects of swords clashing and rippling energy beams to create utterly perfect sound direction. It’s an enchanting soundtrack rich with melancholic piano solos, delicate harp ballads, dramatic orchestral and choral tracks, and inspiring percussive anthems—heck, it wouldn’t be far off to call this one of my favorite OSTs in all of anime. ALSO, LiSA’s “Adamas” is best OP!!

Eugeo vs flame knight

Pulling Everything Together

The larger themes that SAO has been playing with since old Aincrad days finally come to the forefront in Alicization‘s legendary first half: What it means to live in a virtual world. What value virtual life has. The irony of fate. Desire and temptation. The cruelty of love. Obsession and deception. What it means to control. The roles of power and influence. What it means to be the hero. Defying our program to do what we think is right. And whether painful memories that only cause grief are worth keeping. Yes, SAO has always been this deep, and it only gets better.

With mystic foreshadowing, emotional highs and lows, excellent dialogue that is both powerful and poetic—these are the things that I want from not just SAO, but a true fantasy epic; the deeply integrated sci-fi background makes it all the more unique and fascinating. Each development builds on the one that came before, yet in a way that makes everything you previously knew to hold so many different, often construed and conflicting meanings. Again, the use of dramatic irony is highlighted, especially in some of the mid-late developments.

Wrought with dynamic character motives, a tightly written story, music that is equal parts enchanting as it is epic, and loaded with many twists and turns, SAO has never been this intriguing. BUT, it runs at an uncomfortably fast pace, almost too fast to revel in the intrigue of each world-shattering reveal. In the moments where I wanted Alicization to slow down and tell me more, it’d only rush along further.

That doesn’t stop the adaptation from being a highly entertaining watch, however—and one that I’ll continue to recommend for years to come. A tale woven with misfortune and heroism at every bend in the road, few stories have left me as shocked and caught off guard as the one Alicization has told so far. I eagerly await to see how War of Underworld picks up the pieces from this thrilling first act in what is sure to be a brilliant conclusion to this grand fantasy epic in the making.

eugeo and kirito finale


Love isn’t about control. Nor is it something you can gain as a reward or in a transaction. The same way you water flowers, you give it continuously. I’m sure that that’s what love is! — Eugeo


Afterword

Now, even I know that skipping the books of any series to watch the movie will involve leaving much of the original story left behind. But, at the same time, I can’t force it upon a person to read TEN freakin’ books just for this. That said—you won’t regret it, that I 100% guarantee you. You’re probably already so sick of hearing this, but Alicization really is a different beast from its predecessors. So please, consider checking it out if you thought you already might’ve given up on the franchise.

Thanks to Alicization, I came to love these characters and their world, felt new things about characters I thought I already knew everything about, and fell in love with a story. Since I have read the novels, my review is a bit biased, I realize. However, I’m still going to give Sword Art Online: Alicization the “Cafe Mocha” rating, sealing it as one of the most entertaining anime I’ve ever watched (and one of my favorite stories ever told)!

I know opinions are pretty well divided by this point, and that’s understandable. But, to those who enjoyed this first half of the Alicization story, what did you like most about it and why? Who’s sticking around for the second half of War of Underworld? I’m such a big SAO geek, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the series, positive or negative, in the comments! Who knew I could ramble on about this series for so long? Thanks so much for reading, and until next time everyone!

– Takuto, your host

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.

izuru smile.jpg


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.

Ginga-Kikoutai-Majestic-Prince-large.jpg

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.

mjp izuru friends.jpg

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.

izuru and kei.png

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.

mjp wulgaru.jpg

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.

mjp mecha

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.

mjp izuru mech.png

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.

mjp gdf

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

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!


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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