On Love, Loneliness, & the Growing Distance Between Us | The Works of Makoto Shinkai

Have you ever had that “feeling”? You know the one—when you notice yourself suddenly skipping about here and there, flattering others in an uncharacteristically cheery way that makes them remark, “I want what they’re having!” Some call that expression—that intense feeling of deep affection, interest, or yearning—love. It’s but a simple four-letter word, and yet it can give some people enough purpose and motivation to perform wild, breathtaking feats, going to the greatest of lengths just for that shared pleasure of joy. “Love makes the world go round,” it truly does.

Such a complex and powerful emotion often finds its way into animation. Specifically, the romance genre of anime holds steady as one of the field’s experts. Its incredible variety masterfully demonstrates that love is not only sweet and tender, but can also be realistically crushing and emotionally devastating.

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The latter is the kind of stories director Makoto Shinkai likes to tell. Rather than measuring up as a statistically sound series or film—that is, a rated “10/10” on various elements such as plot, pacing, characters, animation (his forte), sound etc.—Shinkai films excel at eliciting a feeling, usually on the heartache end of the emotional spectrum. To quote his latest award-winning hit, Your Name., Shinkai’s films provide, simply put, “Nothing more or less than a breathtaking view.” Each possess their own fair share of flaws, some more than others, but beyond the little plot holes lies a relatable character struggle that just might tread a path you yourself have walked.

And it’s exactly that strong resonance between one’s own experiences and Shinkai’s ill-fated cast which makes him one of the bests in the industry. Everyone wants to feel connected to others, and Shinkai depicts through his picture-perfect worlds what that connection is really like, and why it isn’t always everything that we wanted after all.

In the iconic, beautifully cruel style which solidified his films as masterworks of modern animation, Makoto Shinkai appeals to humanity’s most innate fears of rejection and loss by directing his characters through the timeless themes of love, loneliness, and the growing distance which separates people as time goes on. These lessons teach us that though life has its fair share of heartbreak, each relationship we stumble into and every opportunity we miss out on still carries the potential to live out a better tomorrow—you just have to look beyond the distance.

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A comparative study and light analysis on the works of Makoto Shinkai. For each title, I will delve into the big issues or “separators” at hand, factoring in whether the story’s realism and emotions which the endings provoke somehow determine the possibilities for happiness and sadness alike. As such, SPOILERS for nearly all of his films WILL BE PRESENT. Also, these will NOT be individual reviews for each title. For those prepared to relive all of these amazing films, enjoy!

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(NONE OF THIS GORGEOUS ARTWORK BELONGS TO ME. All praise and ownership goes to Makoto Shinkai and CoMix Wave Films.)

She and Her Cat (1999)

I will always be by your side. After all, I am your cat.

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Aside from the music (by Tenmon), this 4-minute short was completely created by Shinkai alone, marking the early beginnings of his budding career as not only an animator and writer, but also a director. It’s the short tale of an average Japanese girl living in an apartment told from the viewpoint of Chobi, her beloved cat. Chobi speaks formally and passionately about his owner, yet he still has this pure, unclouded perspective of a cat. Arguably his softest work yet, She and Her Cat: Their Standing Points stood out due to its innovative (and awfully cute) exploration of love.

What ultimately separates the two from “eloping” is, well, obvious—“She” is a human girl, a woman, while Chobi is a cat. It’s an unusual relationship, but that doesn’t stop the film from being so unrealistic as to the plot being “impossible.” The woman, nicknamed Kanojo by the community, faces her own hardships in the real world (including a possible love interest), and though Chobi would like to know what she does and where she goes once she closes their apartment door, he understands that her life likely isn’t all sunshine and roses—it doesn’t really concern him. All that matters to him is that she returns home at the end of a long day.

Like with all of Shinkai’s films to follow, what separates them (different species, the “language barrier”) also unites them, for through each others warm embrace—that of a cat and his owner—they find comfort and care. Simple, peaceful, heartwarming.

Voices of a Distant Star (2002)

We may be the first generation of lovers separated by time and space.

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Stepping up his game, yet still working alone (aside for Tenmon’s gorgeous piano and string score), Shinkai quotes this rather aged 2002 short film as the piece which put him out in the world. Set in the near future, mankind’s ambition to explore space separates Nagamine and Noboru, a young girl and boy in junior high. As Noboru enters high school, Nagamine is sent off on an expedition into space’s infinite depths. The farther she strays away from Earth and her Noboru-kun, the longer it takes for their texts to reach one another. Minutes turn into hours, days, weeks, months, and soon—

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Though inventive at its time, the 3D graphics haven’t aged all too well. But thematically, Voices of a Distant Star packs more of an emotional punch than most 12-episode series could today—and this film only clocks in at 25 minutes, including the credits! It seems as if the big separator in Voices is the physical distance, but waiting for their messages of goodwill to traverse the vast blank void that is space ushers in another factor: time. As Nagamine’s unchanging body fights on (in what I can only imagine to be early-2000 Shinkai’s mecha dream-of-a-giant robot), Noboru ages at what feels like an alarming pace. In reality, his growth rate is no different from any of ours is, but the way Shinkai conveys the rapid passage of time only accentuates our lovers’ tragedy. Is it realistic? Even as a sci-fi flick, not really. But does its bittersweet run end on an ambiguously hopeful note? Absolutely.

Voices is arguably the first film in Shinkai’s line-up to convey this notion that perhaps the lack of realism can lead to a happy ending. Very interesting . . .

The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004)

On those now-distant days, we made a promise we couldn’t keep.

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To tackle the 1 hr. 30 min. length of this next film, Shinkai needed a team. Between his early beginnings and now in 2004, he partnered with the animation studio CoMix Wave Films. The results—The Place Promised in Our Early Days visually blew audiences away, nearly more so than with 2002’s Voices. Set near the turn of the century in an alternate reality Japan, which is split by America and the Soviet Union, young boys Hiroki and Takuya aim to fly to the top of the fantastical, unbelievably high Hokkaido Tower using an old drone. While at first a secret for just the two of them, Sayuri, a girl Hiroki and Takuya both like but would never admit to one another, discovers their secret, leading to the boys putting their project on indefinite hiatus. When Sayuri suddenly disappears from their life, however, the two come to realize that reaching the mysterious tower—the promised dream of their childhood—might be the only way to save her.

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Hiroki and Takuya experience a loss of youth, of innocence, as they learn to develop their own dreams and ideologies different from their childish musings. What once united them in friendship tears them apart, and the disappearance of Sayuri and discovery of her untimely illness are what kicked off the depressing events that plague the film’s middle. To watch two friends come at each other’s throat can be painfully real to some, as we’ve all have our fair share of little spats with friends. Additionally, I’m sure we’ve all seen sickness and temptation take the life of a loved one and push them into a place beyond our reach. Thankfully, a happy reunion awaits the cast at the end, leading to the belief of how sacrifice can yield rebirth.

Once again, Shinkai writes with a science fiction mind, and although people still relate to Hiroki and Takuya, the entire premise is unrealistic, nothing more than a child’s fantasy. Can you still learn from it? Of course, but come Shinkai’s next film, reality takes a turn for the worst—the start of a tragic trend.

5 Centimeters Per Second (2007)

At what speed must I live to be able to see you again?

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Here it is, Shinkai’s greatest creation (thematically, that is). I’m sure it needs no introduction, unlike his more obscure early works, but in case you forgot, it’s the story of two very close friends and classmates: Takaki Toono and Akari Shinohara. Elementary school should be a time of play and triviality, but for these two, such isn’t the case. Rather than run around on the playground, Takaki and Akari would rather read in the library, or simply chat about life’s musings. Just as they become close, however, Akari’s family plans to move. Takaki and Akari send letters to one another, but Akari only continues to move further and further away. In a final attempt to see Akari before she’s beyond his limits, Takaki sets out to reunite with her. His unlucky trek attracts a cold winter’s blizzard, delaying the series of trains to Akari’s town. But that doesn’t stop the two from finally, FINALLY meeting once again. And boy, does your heart just melt the frost away.

Equal parts faith and love, Takaki made the effort to travel out in the cold, sure, but Akari was the one who waited—the one who sat there miserable and alone with nothing to do but pray that her young love was on his way. It was proof that their love should be everlasting, but alas, that’s not the story Shinkai is trying to tell. In this first episode, it is a physical distance which separates our main couple.

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A chain of short stories about their distance.

After this touching first episode, the film enters its next “story.” Time passes on. Takaki, too, moves away from his hometown to the warm regions of Tanegashima (a stark contrast to the first episode’s frigid finale). Now a high schooler, Takaki meets a new girl, and though she tries to admit her feelings to him, Takaki knows all along that his heart only belongs to one person: the woman of his past. Time and other relationships have left him traveling aimlessly. In the final episode, Takaki is old. Maybe not in the physical sense, as late 20s—early 30s is still quite young, but his spirit definitely seems lost—his heart broken from years without seeing or hearing from her.

The painful reality is that, as life would have it, she has moved on, already engaged to another man. And that’s just it—the final separator which drives these now-unrelated adults is life itself. Life is always changing, and as we continue down our own paths, we sometimes have to leave others behind.

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At its core, 5 Centimeters Per Second strives to present one’s “first love,” and how difficult it is to hold onto it—so much so that it almost feels not worth experiencing at all. Takaki, by his end, is lonely, depressed, and empty. It’s a sad film, yet a brutally honest one. Shinkai’s first feature-length film in a world without giant robots or fantasy towers is painfully real, and that aspect remains what distinguishes Shinkai from today’s anime directors. By this point, Makoto Shinkai had earned the appreciation and respect of his more mature adult viewers.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)

This is the journey to know the meaning of “goodbye.”

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Shinkai returns to the realm of fiction with this next film. Clearly inspired by the magical presentation of Studio Ghibli movies, the story follows young Asuna, an excellent student who maintains her family’s house in a rural town during her mother’s absence. Aside from spending time with nature, Asuna is alone. She finds escapism in her secret hideout up in the mountains, and frequently tunes into her old crystal radio for relaxation. One day, she unexpectedly picks up on a curious frequency: a rather melancholic melody, different from any song she had ever heard before. As if fated to meet, a mysterious boy named Shun rescues Asuna from a wild, bizarre creature, unintentionally dragging Asuna and her teacher, Mr. Morisaki, on a perilous journey to Agartha, a land long-lost to time and human presence.

Though not his smartest film by any means, Shinkai has been longing to visit this colorful, enchanting world—Agartha—for some time now. The luscious planet upon which Nagamine lands in Voices of a Distant Star; the domain where the comatose Sayuri resides in The Place Promised in Our Early Days; Takaki Toono’s realm of dreams in 5 Centimeters Per Second—each time this wondrous world reappears, it offers comfort to the characters. Not coincidentally, the design remains the same, too. From the gorgeously iconic “Shinkai clouds” to the seas of green grass and remains of old ruins, Agartha FINALLY gets the thorough fleshing-out that it has since deserved, and I’m just glad we got to go there at long last.

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But Children Who Chase isn’t all sunshine and roses. Awaiting Asuna and Morisaki is an adventure rife with death, and a thorough demonstration as to what happens when man attempts to bring those passed back to life. Foolish, blind greed and a gaping sense of loss are what separate Morisaki from someone pure-hearted like Asuna. But in the same way, the journey of letting go and understanding what “goodbye” truly means allows for the film to end with an odd, lukewarm sensation of happiness. Adventure yields danger, but to those who learn their lessons, the hope to live a fulfilling life burns on. God may be a cruel teacher, but so is history.

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Children Who Chase Lost Voices is far from a realistic story, and thus, the pattern of Shinkai’s fantasies ending contentedly continues. Is he trying to say that reality is just full of heartache and nothing else? Perhaps so with his next couple of films.

The Garden of Words (2013)

Before there was love, there was loneliness.

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A personal favorite of mine, Shinkai’s The Garden of Words provides a 46-minute feels trip through an unusual couple’s short-lived romantic spat.

Tenmon takes a break from the music to allow talent like Daisuke Kashiwa’s immersive piano soliloquies to establish an atmosphere unlike ANY other. And the visuals—THIS is the incredible level of quality which defines Makoto Shinkai’s digital landscaping, lighting, and realism today. Visually, The Garden of Words remains the most beautiful short film I have ever seen, and it will probably hold that title for a long time to come!

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On a rainy morning in Tokyo, aspiring shoemaker Takao Akizuki does what every student on a rainy day wishes they could do—he skips class to sketch designs in the city’s beautiful garden. Thinking he’d be all alone in this calm misty weather, he accidentally meets a beautiful yet reserved young woman. Her name is Yukari Yukino, and though she continues to skip out work to drink and eat chocolates in the garden, Takao takes a liking to her poetic words. To [figuratively] get her back on her feet, Takao offers to make Yukino new shoes. And thus they vow to themselves: for each day it rains, I will spend time with her/him.

More rainy days arrive, and as the two secretly convene in their garden of words—of shared acceptance and belonging—the two unknowingly start to lighten their own personal burdens just by being together. Tokyo’s rainy season may be long, but like all good things, it doesn’t last forever. As warmer days creep ahead and the chance for precipitation diminishes, Takao and Yukino’s relationship risks drying up like the rain which brought them together.

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The Garden of Words paints the true vision of life’s loneliness before love intervenes. It’s the gentle story about finding solace in another, and learning to alleviate one’s personal worries through something as simple as conversation. At first, a lack of courage casts Takao and Yukino as an awkward couple. Only after Yukino is revealed to be a teacher at his school do we see the true separator at hand: the age gap, and the societal notions that place stigmas on teacher–student relationships. YUKINO KNEW THE WHOLE TIME, yet held of on saying anything for fear of judgement. And in the end, Takao yells at her, forcing her on her feet through their compelling emotional conflict.

Realistic in every sense of the word, its finale feels bittersweet, yet resolved. Separated from each other, the two resume pursuing their own personal aspirations. Though somewhat sad, in truth the ending is optimistic about the different directions Takao and Yukino take, as it was through comfort in one another’s presence which allowed them to find their way back on the path—and with a stronger, more confident “footing” this time around.

The Garden of Words rings true as the new Shinkai standard, but thematically, it revolutionized Shinkai’s game: for the first time, a realistic story does, in fact, yield a happy ending.

Someone’s Gaze (2013)

There are a lot of things you two have forgotten.

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Returning to form, Makoto Shinkai cranks out another charming yet touching short (6 minutes in length) with the release of The Garden of Words. It hearkens waaay back to his beginnings, with the simple yet relatable tale of a girl and her cat. Aa-chan lives in a near-future Japan, and has recently made the big transition of living on her own following graduation and the start of a new job. With her mother working overseas as a doctor, her loving father is left behind at the apartment with the family cat, Mii-san, who happens to be very old by this point. Seeking a way to reach out to her, her father tries several times to reconnect with his distancing child, but the gap is too awkward for him to bridge. Eventually Mii-san passes away, but this sudden grief holds the power to reunite a tired daughter, a busy mother, and a lonely father.

All that emotional energy conveyed in such a short time serves to remind us as to Shinkai’s greatest strength, that is, being able to make his viewers experience heartbreak followed by hope (or hopelessness) in a matter of mere minutes. Someone’s Gaze is especially relatable, as the burnout experienced by today’s youth and the parental fear of their children growing up in today’s world both hit us hard at some point in our lives. With maturity comes opportunity, but that often involves temporarily leaving an old way of life—and the people in it—behind. In truth, familial bonds change over time, and as we grow up, it can be hard to maintain that “want” to communicate.

Like The Garden of Words, Shinkai permits for a realistic story to end optimistically hopeful, perhaps marking that the guy really is turning a new leaf from his long history of depressing, failed love stories.

Cross Road (2014)

I sought to find something great, and while it may not have been what I expected, I found something . . . or rather, someone. 

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Although this latest short is actually just a 2-minute commercial for the Z-Kai cram schools, it was still directed by Shinkai, and holds that same breathtaking, picture-perfect style to boot. As college entrance examinations draw near, two students living completely different lives focus their time and energy into a correspondence education service. Juggling their studies with their already-involved daily lives, the two diligently work towards that high goal of college admission, unaware of how much they share in common. It’s a brief yet inspiring “work hard, play hard” preview into a film that I can only imagine would’ve been absolutely stunning had it received the length it deserved. Not as absurd as those 30-second Cup Noodle ads, but even just a couple minutes more would have doubled the story’s length. I suppose we don’t always get what we want; such is life.

Despite the let-down of a run time, Cross Road still manages to follow a truncated version of the Shinkai formula: two individuals in similar situations are separated by different lives, but their unexpected meeting reveals that, through hard work, the hope to overcome their challenges increases. Call this a lighthearted take on the next and final film—the realistic outcome of what possibly could have been.

Your Name. (2016)

Wherever you are in the world, I swear I will find you again—no matter what. 

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Your Name. exploded onto the anime scene, continuing to break record after record until it became the highest-grossing anime film in the world (among other nominations). Funimation and Madman Entertainment’s combined efforts to license, dub, and promote the film through staggered theatrical releases maintained its hype not just for the remainder of 2016, but for most of 2017, too. Even now, anime fans who are finally getting around to watching it share their praise with the community, reviving the excitement of this rom-com drama to no end. By this point, Your Name. wasn’t just another Shinkai film—it was a moving, breathing phenomenon.

Like any high school girl born and raised in the Japanese countryside, Mitsuha Miyamizu craves the wonder and excitement of city life. Unfortunately for her, the family’s shrine needs its maiden, restricting Mitsuha to her life in the boonies. Meanwhile in the lively Tokyo, high school student Taki Tachibana labors away at his part-time job with the hopes of eventually pursuing a career in architecture.

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One day, Mitsuha awakens to an unfamiliar ceiling, but the chic apartment and bright view of the city skyscrapers instantly identify as Tokyo. “This is my dream life! But wait . . . wha—I’m in a boy’s body!” Out in the countryside, Taki finds himself waking up in a similar frightening situation. A strange phenomenon swapped the two’s places, and in order to figure out the reasons for their predicament, Taki and Mitsuha live out random days in the other’s shoes, learning about the differing lifestyles, and that above all, fate works in mysterious ways. As Taki and Mitsuha desparately begin searching for the other, their actions begin to dramatically impact the course of destiny, forever altering the threads of fate which tie them together.

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Your Name. almost feels like the culmination of all of Shinkai’s themes, plot points, and even character personalities that make a work, well, Makoto Shinkai’s. Enormous skies, photo-realistic cities, intense lighting, a calm atmospheric music score, themes based on things taken for granted in daily life, and lots of trains. THIS is what Shinkai represents to us now, and on that cinematographic level, Your Name. is perfection. (Also, like, Radwimps wrote the greatest insert songs to an anime EVER.)

A girl and a boy torn apart by an impossible distance, but brought together through circumstance and, of course, fate. At first, that distance is literal: Taki lives in Tokyo, while Mitsuha resides miles away living her humble country life. And part of that is the trick, the gimmick behind the landscape facade, for as soon as the big reveal of the comet Tiamat’s destruction is made, BOOM—time turns out to be the true separator here. Though Taki felt confident and sure of this feeling tugging at his heart, his confession was sadly three years too late.

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And because of this he suffers. Mitsuha suffers. These star-crossed lovers save their beloved Itamori and all its kind, caring folk, BUT—as if their story weren’t painful enough—one last divider severs their last chance of reuniting: their memories of each other are lost to time. Is it a realistic element? Hardly, but it does lead to one of the most happily fulfilling endings I’ve ever experienced. Here’s why.

Makoto Shinkai’s latest film borders on tragedy. Up until this point, it was about to become the biggest heart-breaker in anime film history. But thankfully, Your Name. appreciates a sort of cosmic balance to all the good we do—Shinkai calls that seemingly magical, underlying, connecting force musubi, and we can thank it for honoring Mitsuha and Taki’s feelings for one another. By the film’s end, the two are left with just that—a subtle feeling of the all their shared struggles, surprises, happiness, sadness, inspiration, appreciation, love. . . now memories lost to a different time.

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But when distance tried to physically separate them, Taki and Mitsuha took the trains;

When time placed a rift between them, dreams gave them clues to find each other;

When katewaredoki briefly cut their first meeting short, Mitsuha fought on to finish Taki’s mission;

When memories of one another’s name left their minds, love held on tightly to that lingering feeling—that’s why Taki wrote “I love you” on Mitsuha’s hand, for bridging the timeline gap at twilight involves giving up memories of the other. Names will fade, but emotions have the power to transcend time;

And when tragedy attempted to end their tale of romance and miracles, fate reconnected the strands of love to the cord of hope. Thus, Taki and Mitsuha became destined to meet again.

Separated by distance, connected by fate.

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What Shinkai’s Works Have Taught Me

Have you ever felt that “feeling,” that despair of something that can’t be changed or is beyond your reach, but you still long for it anyway? I’d like to call it “love,” but Makoto Shinkai interprets such a complex emotion as “longing in solitude.” It is only through loneliness that we understand what compassion really feels like, after all.

Shinkai’s works tend to feature unusual yet somewhat realistic relationships, which more so play out as bittersweet than truly tear-jerking (save for maybe Your Name.) He covers a broad range of relationship stages, too, from the cutting of ties and moving on (5 Centimeters Per Second) to the early beginnings of expression (Garden of Words). Unlike most film writers and directors, he delves into themes like pain, longing, yearning, loneliness, and emptiness to give the audience stronger, almost more common emotions to connect with. His creative use of time laps emphasizes this distance or emotional disconnect that the characters and audience experience, and his hyper-realistic visuals never fail to immerse you in the setting he wants, be it on faraway roving fields of green, a quiet Tokyo apartment, or a rainy day in the park.

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Most of all, through distance, Shinkai is able to explore the gap between two people’s feelings: why it exists, and how it is a natural part of the human experience. Life isn’t that glamorous fairy tale that Disney or Hollywood make it out to be. Instead, Shinkai tells us it can be messy, and often times painful to shoulder alone. It’s okay to fall both in love and out of it, as people are always changing. He also teaches that you can, in fact, grow as an adult; emotional maturity has nothing to do with one’s age, for even as adults we can get lost on our path. 

None of us are invulnerable to emotional struggle, grief, and even depression. But none of us are forever doomed to loneliness, either—such is why even his most realistic works end in both sadness and happiness. After studying all of his films, I can confirm that NO CORRELATION between the level of realism and whether the ending is positive or negative exists, as Shinkai doesn’t sugarcoat the reality we live in. He presents it for what it is, which has its fair share of good and bad times.

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Ultimately, no amount of magic or sci-fi gimmicks can determine whether YOU chase after the ending you want, for you, too, are constantly growing and learning new things. The hope that we can always change for the better resides within us all—you simply have to decide who you want to be for yourself, and make that leap of faith over the scary distance to connect with another. While you’re at it, don’t forget to enjoy life’s little things we often take for granted.

In Makoto Shinkai’s picturesque, emotionally charged films, I found a rekindled passion for life’s hidden beauties, and so long as he continues to explore the growing distance between us and how finding solace in another can heal our emotional wounds, I’ll always look forward to his next creation.

I still don’t know what it really means to grow up. However, if I happen to meet you, one day in the future, by then, I want to become someone you can be proud to know. –Makoto Shinkai, 5 Centimeters Per Second

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Afterwords

At a touch over 5,000 words, this is officially the longest post I’ve ever written, and if you read all of it, you’re my favorite person ever—I hope you learned something new! As you can tell, Makoto Shinkai’s works mean a good deal to me. Most find them repetitive, as in “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” But really, that’s not the case, as each offers a different commentary on relationships and life, even if the execution or premises feel very much the same. So instead of fighting against the argument, I wanted to write this—to leave behind my innermost thoughts and emotions on Shinkai’s films in hopes that whoever stumbles upon this in the future might feel the same way, and that I can comfort them with my musings.

Have you ever resonated with one of Makoto Shinkai’s films, be it his oldest shorts or his latest hits? If so, do you happen to have a favorite or two? I want to know! If you’re fairly new to this director, was Your Name. your introduction to Shinkai’s scenic style? You have to let me know that, too! I’ve met several new faces (including a dear friend) through Your Name.‘s theater experience (which you can read about here), and I hope that you, too, get the chance to share one of his films with a friend or even a lover.

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This officially concludes my comparative study over the creative works of Makoto Shinkai. It’s been a long time coming, what with the writing process and reserving time to rewatch ALL of Shinkai’s films in order, and I’m finally glad I got to share it with you. Despite being terrifyingly long, it’s one of those posts I feel proud to have written. Please let me know any thoughts of the films or this post down in the comments, as I’d love to hear your feedback! Also, feel free to share this to any Shinkai fans you know out there!

As it happens to be on love and romance, I saved writing this post for February, so Happy Valentine’s Day, my dear readers! Whether you spend this season of love with others or save it for yourself, know that I’ll always be wishing you good health and happiness! Thank you so, so much for reading this lengthy analysis—’till next time!

With much love,

– Takuto, your host

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Ghost in the Shell (2017) Dives Deep Enough to Prove Itself a Fascinating, Engaging Ride | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 2017 live action film “Ghost in the Shell,” produced by Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks, directed by Rupert Sanders (“Snow White and the Huntsman”), based on the original manga by Masamune Shirow, as well as loose ideas from the entire franchise, especially the original 1995 film of the same name.


The First of Her Kind

In a future not too far from our own, people have grown to love technology. You can bet that anyone you run into on these cold streets will sport some sort of cybernetic enhancement modded to their body: prosthetic limbs, wired inner organs, or the trending metal-encased cyberbrain. These advanced augmentations were coded to grant humans more convenient lives: quicker, safer, and less cumbersome living.

After a horrifying terrorist attack, Major Mira Killian (Scarlett Johansson) transcends into the first of her kind: the stunning results of the first-ever brain transplant into a fully synthetic body. Now a cyborg soldier programmed to eliminate cyber crime, super hackers, and back-alley schemes, the Major is automatically drafted to hunt down the ultimate next-gen terrorist—one who is able to hack into people’s minds and puppet them.

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Suffering from a faintly growing illness of glitching memory fragments, however, the deeper the Major dives into this case, the more intense her glitches become. As the possibility emerges that her new greatest enemy might in fact belong to her blurry past, the Major arms herself for a treacherous night journey. Nothing will stand in the way of satisfying her human curiosity, as well as the inevitable reawakening of her soul to a life that was stolen from her.

A New Story

While I’ll admit that we’re looking at the film’s weakest part—the plot—first, it’s impossible to deny that this live action reigns as one of sci-fi’s more interesting films in recent times, and holds the gold for the best live action iteration of an anime produced thus far, granted that I’ve only seen segments from most of them. What we’re looking at here with GitS (2017) is a fairly well-structured story of self-discovery followed by revenge, a typical Hollywood formula that feels relatively topical compared to the franchise’s classic 1995 film, which explored the deep values of being human, artificial sentience, and of course, the vastness of the Net.

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This apparent shallowness works out because of what the film is aiming at, though; in 1995 we dove into present identity and the other weighted themes previously listed—the Major as she is existing, if you will—but in 2017, we’re instead considering how the Major would feel about her past (2nd GIG did this), and what her creation ultimately means for the future of humanity, about feeling disconnected because she lacks the background that everyone else has laid out for them. Dig too deep into the original content and you risk deviating from the main intent: a new story.

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How This Live Action Holds on its Own

We take a undoubtedly cliche ride with the Major as she discovers how she came to be, and it all clicks together wonderfully and feels unique because of how huge the title is, what it means to others, and the sheer number of comparisons that can be drawn between this seemingly shallow film and its deep, thought-provoking origination. Everybody’s experience with it will be different, and that notion makes it not only thrilling to watch, but exciting to talk about.

So the film DOES in fact deliver a fresh outlook on an already well-refined series, standing out from its manga, anime, and even video game counterparts by re-imagining the Major’s previous identity, something that purposefully remained ambiguous throughout the franchise. It was a bold, completely unnecessary “prequel” adventure, but now that it’s over, I can’t help but welcome it openly with an applause. GitS is all about varying interpretations, proven true by Motoko’s complexity in 1995 and the franchise itself, which has had several makeovers. The idea of re-envisioning shouldn’t feel new, but everything from its tone, emotional pull, presentation, and core writing should. Speaking of new faces, how does ScarJo hold up as the Major?

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Casting the Characters

Several races and colors collide in the astonishing multicultural world that the franchise is known for. I had no qualms with the casting before I entered the theater, and that hasn’t changed. Johansson is a white female actress playing a traditionally Asian character, but that’s in fact where most of the misunderstandings arise—Motoko Kusanagi embodies no one race, no one color, no one gender, and she probably never will. This was stated by 1995‘s director Mamoru Oshii, and for people to be throwing up their pitchforks in revolt of the supposed “whitewashing” is actually kind of pitiful. The context of the show allows for virtually ANYONE to play the Major, and given Johansson’s overly qualified resume for sci-fi action films, I’d hope people would rescind their bombastic comments.

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TL;DR I thought Johansson was not only appropriate for the role, but her performance was great considering that Rupert was aiming for the more hot-headed, brash, young Major of the Arise series. I prefer this Major to the 1995 one because she arguably feels more relatable.

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But just like she is in her many iterations, the Major is nothing without her Section 9 team, consisting of Chin Han as the very-human Togusa [insert comment about race being appropriate here], Takeshi Kitano as rough and intelligent Chief Aramaki (who actually speaks Japanese since English is hard for him LOL), Pilou Asbæk as the big ol’ softie Batou, and a “surprise” favorite actress of mine: Juliette Binoche as the compassionate Dr. Ouelet. To quote Guy Lodge (Variety), “A warm, wistful Binoche, brings more pathos to the role than the script strictly demands.” She makes my heart weak.

There’s a real chemistry to be felt between Dr. Ouelet and the Major, as well as between Major and Batou, and that’s something that they nailed to a tee.

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“We cling to memories as if they define us, but they don’t. What we do is what defines us.” – Dr. Ouelet

The World of the Future

Where its story stumbles a bit, GitS (2017) leaves your jaw dropped with its incredibly “exciting and elaborately designed future settings,” plunging you into a visually entrancing world where cyberpunk is clearly the hottest thing. My GOD, this show is everything when it comes to its unique visual style! They use a clever lighting system that projects the color palette of the original 1995 onto the vast metropolis, giving off a vibe that’s so cold and distant, yet very interconnected with the world at the same time. CG solograms (solid holograms) layered over a typical Hong Kong-like setting give the atmosphere a very futuristic edge to it that I simply crave. You can tell that a lot of love and respect was put into the film.

 

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My favorite part of this film were the iconic shots of 1995 and Innocence that were recreated and woven into the story: the shelling sequence, building jump, deep dive, water fight, geisha attack, tank battle, and more. It’s all there, and yes, the scenes do not feel “thrown in” just for the allusions, but well-placed for the story’s flow. It’s a visual style to be praised, and its action sequences and use of practical effects (not just CG, but actual, physical props like the geisha masks, thermoptic suit, prosthetic and cybernetic enhancements, and other costumes) give us artsy people something really freakin’ cool to grasp onto. The hard work that went into replicating the world of Ghost in the Shell, largely from that of the film-loving folks of New Zealand’s Weta Workshop for prop creation and setting design, was very much appreciated.

 

The Greatest Injustice

Here it is, my biggest beef with the show and it’s NOT EVEN about the film itself. It’s about how it’s being dished out, or rather, that some of it is not. Paramount and Dreamworks refuse to offer Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe’s mind-blowing sci-fi soundtrack for sale. I understand that the movie’s box office reception was somewhat poor, but for crying out loud AT LEAST FINISH what you started. It’s a shame that a work of art, even if it’s controversial, cannot be appreciated in full just because it might not sell. These are million, probably billion, dollar corporations—it’s NOT too much to ask for by any means. There’s currently a petition going around for the soundtrack’s release (which I have signed), so hopefully we’ll see some change this way. If you value this show and artistic justice, please consider signing here!

If you stuck around for the credits, you’d have heard a remixed version of Kenji Kawai’s memorable main theme of the original film, a remix which I honestly prefer, as the drums in the second half give it a really epic feel! Again, love the throwback! All of the music adds to the gritty sci-fi tone.

Not the Last of Its Kind

It’s not very often that a sci-fi film will shift from a typical revenge mission to a cross-examination of cultures, intertwined human connections, and the irrefutable weight of family warmth. That in itself makes Ghost in the Shell (2017), despite its somewhat cliche story line, an incredibly unique experience. I’ve got nitpicks, but I’m more so thankful that I enjoyed the film beyond those glaring issues. It’s plenty entertaining, and if you look deep enough (or watch it three times like I did), you’ll surprisingly find deep, thought-provoking layers in the subtle actions of the actors.

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However much you enjoyed the show, there are bound to be more live action adaptions like it in the future—for me, that’s a hopeful thing, something nice to look forward to. This may not be relevant (not to spoil the ending here), but as a half-white, half-Asian lover of science fiction and the entire Ghost in the Shell franchise, I hustled into the theater prepared with an engaged mind, and left with an unexpectedly touched heart. It’s a show about doing what you feel is right—following your ghost—even if that challenges the world you live in and the people that once trusted you.

Because sometimes, like here, you make the right decision. 

“I mean, the character is living a really unique experience. She is a human brain inside an entirely machinate body. She is very brave to take a risk and give up everything she knows, everything that’s ever made her comfortable to discover the truth, to follow this calling. And at the end of the film really makes a huge sacrifice for the greater good of humanity. That, to me, was what was the major draw.” – Scarlett Johansson on the Major’s character

Final Assessment:

+ It’s A LOT better than I thought it would be for an anime live action; it only gets better the more I sit and think about it

+ Homages to the original material and the rest of the franchise are worked in fantastically

+ Visuals easily rival those of high-dollar action films; cool and damp futuristic atmosphere is established with excellent lighting; stylish designs and neat aesthetic all around; a very immersive world

+ Props, costumes, etc. layered beautifully with limited special effects for maximum potential; practical, physical props engineered perfectly

Ghost in the Shell is all about varying interpretations and new ideas, to which this is no exception; multicultural and multiracial world embraced

+ A fine movie if you ignore all the pointlessly controversial backlash nonsense, and this is coming from a hardcore fan of the original

– Story remains weakest part; revolves around somewhat predictable plot twists; boring antagonist; fails to explore Kuze’s Net and the world that could potentially await

– Major’s “strandy” hair can be a bit bothersome at times

– No official soundtrack release as of yet


Ghost in the Shell (2017) may not be an anime, but I’ll still welcome it here at the cafe as a “Cake,” a film that’s shy of master status but certainly worth watching for GitS or plain-old sci-fi fans in general! Despite it being an unfairly received film, I had the time of my life witnessing my Ghost in the Shell journey come to an end. It’d been a long time since I was that happy to see a film in theaters, and I’ll be coming out with a second post chronicling my loose thoughts on its reception, controversy, and the theater experience, so stay tuned for that!

I’m happy and proud to call this one of my favorite sci-fi live action movies of all time! PLEASE, let me know your thoughts on the film! Also, had you been familiar with parts of the franchise prior to, or did you dive in blind? I may be a bit of an optimist, but I enjoy hearing all sides. If you enjoyed the review, let me know with a “like” or a comment! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

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Time of EVE Welcomes Impartiality Through Reflection | OWLS “Mirrors”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, then you might be new. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s  seventh monthly topic, “Mirrors,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Time of EVE review into this reflection on artificial intelligence and robotic spirit.

“Magic mirror, on the wall—who is the fairest one of all?” When we look in the mirror, what do we see? Do we see ourselves or someone we don’t want to be? For this month’s theme, we will be exploring some of our favorite anime and other pop culture media that redefine individual beauty—inside and out. Some topics we may explore are physical appearances, social expectations on gender, and the importance of self-confidence.

I’ve always loved that wicked mantra, so thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the spring 2010 anime film “Time of EVE: The Movie,” produced by Studio Rikka, directed and created by Yasuhiro Yoshiura.

She Left the House, and He Got Curious

Rikuo is just another Japanese student owning an android in the near future. While checking his android’s behavioral log one day, he notices odd check-in and check-out times. When Sammy, his android, finally takes another detour, Rikuo and his friend Masaki head out and stalk her. It turns out Sammy frequents a hidden cafe called “Time of EVE,” and the cafe’s barista Nagi only has one request: that there is no discrimination between humans and androids.

Being the compilation of a 6-episode series by the same name, Time of EVE follows a pretty basic formula: Rikuo and Masaki frequent the cafe in order to uncover more about each of its interesting patrons and, of course, find out just what kind of character Sammy really is. A tale of unrequited feelings, childhood dreams, and understanding comes to fruition.

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Director Yasuhiro Yoshiura solidified his wacky and weird yet oddly comedic and intelligent presentation style with this one. It’s subtle in execution, but anyone could still identify it as science fiction—and good sci-fi at that. I know people who don’t care for sci-fi that walked away loving Time of EVE, and I think that’s largely because the film aims at much more than pondering ideas like sci-fi does; instead, it goes deeper, showing you that the genre also has a lot of heart once you pull the wires away. The story is touching, sometimes even hilarious with all the sudden zoom-ins, and its visual artistry still holds quite well as a visionary piece even today!

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THIS 10/10 AESTHETIC IS WHAT INSPIRED MY CAFE 

Yup, that’s right. Time of EVE so inspirational to me that it inspired the clean and modern look of my cafe here (or at least I hope it comes across this way . . . do I need to remodel!?). If I could spend all of my days writing and reading in one place, it’d be here, at the Time of EVE! Everything just feels so sleek and simple, yet intricate and “underground” at the same time. Like, the coffee (EVLEND) cups, the bar, the tall tables, the ceiling fans, the smooth jazz music—ALL OF IT! It’s just a chill, quiet, aesthetically pleasing place = The perfect kind of place for me.

 

And I couldn’t forget Tooru Okada’s VERY 2008 soundtrack, which just happens to be included on the Blu-ray release, yay! The music adds wonderful immersion into the wonder and fun of the cafe, not to mention all of the very peculiar interactions that take place. The energetic child, the grandpa and his crazy kid, the sexy couple, and even the stoic man in the back: it’s as if they all have their own track, as well as a story to be told within the music and the dialogue. I’m very pleased that the show was crowdfunded via Kickstarter with a dub, too. (I only wish I could have participated to get the coffee set >.<)

 

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Sammy, You are an Android

a letter from Rikuo to Sammy, written by Takuto

Sammy, what is it that you see in the mirror each morning when you wake up? I’ve noticed that you tie your hair up with a headband, scrunchy, or a flower when you go out sometimes. It’s unusual. You are an android, but don’t let that stop you from looking the way you want to look.

Now, Sammy, who is it that you see in the mirror each morning when you wake up? I’ve picked up on your subtle cues as to my tastes, preferences, and mannerisms. Perhaps that’s just the activity log recalling my “most recent selections.” But I like to believe that you’re growing, just like all of us are each and every day. You are an android, but if you find yourself wanting to be happy or sad, angry or surprised, I’ll understand. 

After frequenting that place you visit, that Time of EVE, I realized that it’s no ordinary cafe, but a safe haven from prejudice and routine. I’m kind of a nerd, one who gets picked on sometimes for saying please and thanks to you, my android, and if I had a place where I could go to escape all of the name-calling and expectations, well, I’d probably be at that cafe all the time, too. 

We live in a pretty convoluted world. It’s not necessarily bad, but people make it much harder than it needs to be. Why does it matter if you’re an android or a human? If we both value our own lives and only wish to help each other out, then I’d just rather avoid “things or beings” altogether. Sammy, you’re an android, and in this world so bent on exclusion and division, I only wish you the best. 

The fact that we gaze into the mirror to begin with reveals that we’re only insecure about something, really. But last I checked, androids don’t “feel insecurity,” only assurance in their code. This proves you can be anything and anyone you desire, so do it with pride for not only yourself, but anyone you inspire in the process, like Nagi, Masaki, and myself. 

For me, however, just please stop looking into the mirror—you look great with that headband on.

– Rikuo

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“Are you enjoying the time of EVE?” I sure am, so much so that I wish I never had to leave, haha! For Sammy, reflection about who she wanted to be came from her experiences with the world around her, a bold fashion decision, and, of course, a secret trip to the cafe. Through the interactions with Rikuo, Nagi, and the other “people” at the cafe, she, an android, found individuality and character for herself, defying the laws of her creators and the social norm—strict servitude to the master. Considering its impact on myself, this blog, and sci-fi entertainment in anime, Time of EVE: The Movie is undoubtedly awarded the “Caffe Mocha,” a film for all those even remotely interested in AI, as well as what it means to be human. It’ll fill you with warm fuzzy feelings for sure. Let me know your thoughts on this post and show if you’ve seen it!

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This concludes my July 17th entry in the OWLS “Mirrors” blog tour. Please check out Rai (Rai’s Anime Blog) who went right before me and wrote about accepting every fiber of one’s being in the gorgeously grim Elfen Lied. And now, I’ll turn it over to Carla (Pop Culture Literary) on Wondering Son and its visual portrayal of gender norms this Wednesday, July 19th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

The Delayed V-Day Sci-Fi Special!

Hello! So I was recently SLAMMED with two full weekends of out-of-town nonsense, one of which I plan to discuss in a Cafe Talk soon. It’s become tradition as of around 2014 to set aside Valentine’s Day weekend, safeguard myself in my room with snacks, and not come out until I had marathoned a classic anime (typically pre-2000s). Previous items on the menu include:

2013 ~ Steins;Gate

2014 ~ Ouran High School Host Club/Gosick (couldn’t remember which)

2015 ~ Neon Genesis Evangelion

2016 ~ The Rose of Versailles

and now

2017 ~ Ghost in the Shell

Yup! Exciting, right? In the spirit of the upcoming new live action movie (that I’m so psyched for) along with the recent bluray releases of the films and series, I’ll be taking a trip through this entire classic anime franchise that arguably helped shape science fiction as we know it.

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Gosh how I love infographics. The crew over at FUNimation put together this one, and might I say how in-character it feels. 

Ghost in the Shell is a very hazy area in terms release order and technical chronology, such that the franchise has been divided into 3 separate universes–YES, the just pulled a Zelda on us, haha! After a few hours of researching different interpretations as to the order everything falls under, I’ve settled on the list below that I recorded on my wipe board (cause I am a list-nut):

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At this exact moment, I have already watched 1995, Innocence, and the first 6 episodes of Stand Alone Complex. Odds are that I’ll just skip 2.0 and Alternative Architecture since they are typically disregarded anyway.

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I even tweeted my excitement by making a themed wallpaper for my iPhone based on the live action poster 🙂

So yeah, that’s what has been on my mind lately. Within this month, you can hopefully expect a Cafe Talk about my swimming career and Free!, a review of Blast of Tempest, an OWLS post about Yuri!!! On ICE, a review of some parts of the GitS franchise, and lastly a monthly update. I’ll be reading through comments and catching up on several of your guys’ posts (especially the rest of the OWLS blog tour–I STILL haven’t read some of them!). Any words of wisdom from your Ghost in the Shell experience? What entry was your favorite part? I’ll admit, the two movies set the bar pretty high since I’m a thinker, and S.A.C. has yet to rope me in completely. Let me know, oh, and happy belated V-day!

With love,

– Takuto, your host

 

Cowboy Bebop, A Journey of the Blues

A brief, spoiler-free review of the 26-episode spring 1998 anime “Cowboy Bebop,” produced by Sunrise, based on the original story by Shinichiro Watanabe.

Come 2071, planet Earth is not the only home for humans. Most of the solar system has been colonized leaving a densely polluted Earth left behind. With a series of space gates that facilitate quick n’ easy cosmic travel, criminals cower to the deepest corners of space while mafias run rampant in the back alleys of distant planets. The Inter Solar System Police can only extend its justice so far, and as a result outlaw bounty hunters AKA “Cowboys” are deployed to muddy their hands with a huge cash reward dangling in front of their noses.

For cowboys Spike Spiegel and Jet Black, a single woolong (a dumb penny) is enough elicit risking their lives in chasing bounties and hauling dinner. Born as men for the good of the cause, life aboard the Bebop goes south when the ship recruits three new members that will eventually detour its steady course: Ein, the last purebred Welsh Corgi; Faye Valentine, a formidable and seductive cowgirl in her own right, yet currently searching for her elusive past; and Ed, a bizarre lil’ fella’ who knows how to use a computer quite well . . . scary well, actually.

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As the eccentric crew aboard the Bebop get themselves into all sorts of mayhem, we gradually uncover the shady events that brought them all together.

There are two reasons Cowboy Bebop has withstood the test of time. One is that the animation by Sunrise is stunning and artistic, encompassing more meaningful symbolism and well-choreographed action scenes in the first episode alone than what I’ve seen in entire shows as of late! Two is the fact that its episodic rhythm followed up with its smooth flow of fragmented “memories” detailing the characters’ bygone lives is more than well-written. It’s brilliant, mostly because it doesn’t feel artificial; by the halfway point, we feel the passionate weight these characters are dragging with them, and how their past influences their present choices. Though the story doesn’t get kickin’ until episode five, the action-packed opening episodes are an amusing gateway to the show’s darker themes.

Bebop is not, however, a mind-blowing series of bleak revelations, but a journey cram packed with themes that jive with the soul. It is much more light-hearted, with enough emotional weight to rub the heart in a melancholic way—much like warm chicken soup or a deep blues tune would do—yet not enough turn off the viewer. You can feel this impact with the leads themselves, the subtle placing of the classic jazz-inspired episode titles, or the bluesy soundtrack masterfully composed by Yoko Kanno. All three work together to provoke sorrow, joy, regret, reminiscence, and wonder, in a futuristic world driven by detached hearts and jazz music.

Bebop‘s ending, which perfectly captures the nature of the show.

Most of the light-hearted nature of Bebop comes from the goofy or sassy interactions shared among the crew. Spike (dubbed “Cabbage Head” by my sister) is a way-too-lax and easily irritable man with a particularly complex history that frequently bumps heads with the present. His roots to the mafia come back to haunt him (like the mafia typically does), and his development is found in the monumental decisions he’ll be forced to make regarding the safety of the crew—and that of his own life.

Jet is an ex-cop now bounty hunter. ‘Nuff said. If Spike is the ill-tempered dad who always leaves the house for personal biz, then Jet is that mom who A) won’t tolerate your shit, and B) will cook dinner each night if YOU buy the ingredients. Rough around the edges, yet the one with the biggest heart, Jet serves the plot by being restrictor of reckless actions, even though he occasionally loses his temper. He holds Spike and Faye back from doing stupid stuff that could get them all killed, and as such plays a necessary role for this ragtag crew.

Lastly are the two sisters, one a troublesome teenager, the other a weird child. They are the tough-on-the-outside/terrible gambler Faye and the noodly Edward, and are mainly aboard to service the fans (Faye brings the sexy, Ed brings the laughs). While Faye will go on to have a much darker, richer past, Ed is pretty much there for the ride. The two share one thing in common, however, that being this common question burning the at back of their brains: “Why am I here, and where am I going?” It’s a romantic notion of growing up and dealing with acceptance. And that’s why they both work so well in Bebop—it’s the story of finding your place in this huge, cruel world.

Watching Cowboy Bebop is equivalent to revisiting an old website that you used to frequent back in the day, yet haven’t seen in ages. Does it feel nostalgic? Euphoric? A bit melancholic? Perhaps a bit of all three, but one theme Bebop enjoys feeding us is that internet is more than a tool—it can be a place for some, putting literal meaning to ‘home’ page. For me, this online café has given me a place to chat with and meet new friends. For the characters in the anime, the web is a place for an old man to play one last game of chess before giving his last breath, or for a disabled kid to vent his faith by becoming a God himself. It sounds a bit odd, but seriously, how much does the internet mean to you?

You should watch Cowboy Bebop because, in one way or another, it’s the story of our lives. Everything that challenges the Bebop crew and everyone they meet along the way represent a fragment of our deepest worries and regrets. Should you merely enjoy this anime for the comedy, then hey, that’s awesome, it’s got a lot of funny moments! But Bebop sure does have this genuine way of letting you know you’ve reached the end when it comes. With all of the interlaced light-hearted moments, it’s as if the show is reminding us that “Nope, sorry, this wasn’t the show you signed up for—and you know that.” Instead, you’re probably like myself and most Bebop fans, in that once it’s over, you’ll find yourself detached from the solar system, solemnly jiving to The Real Folk Blues.

“Life will challenge you to do things . . . sometimes, you just have to let go!” – Spike Spiegel

However you watch this anime, here’s advice straight from the Host: DO NOT string your viewings out for THREE months! It’s terrible! I endured this journey with my family, and being like all families, it’s hard to squeeze in quality movie time. But we did it, and now who knows what we’ll watch together, if anything. Rated a “Caffe Mocha” here, did you enjoy my review of this classically-acclaimed space western? Also, what’s your favorite aspect of Cowboy Bebop? Should it have lasted longer? I barely scraped the surface to avoid spoilers, but let’s talk about it in the comments! Thanks for reading and until next time, SEE YOU SPACE COWBOY . . .

– Takuto, your host

From the New World Review

I always used to think that sci-fi was robots, high-tech cities, and people in black suits shooting guns at other people in black suits. Flying cars, neon lights, and stainless steel, right? Well I’m not all wrong, but I’m certainly not right, as here is Shinsekai Yori (From the New World), a psychological mystery drama that uses themes from the supernatural and the occult to create – yep, you got it – a science fiction anime. Prepare to abandon all sense of worldliness and jump into your traditional Japanese village, where, for some reason, something doesn’t feel quite right . . .

Unknown apocalyptic events have passed which destroyed most of the world. Taking place 1,000 years in the future, we are met with a small Japanese village of humans that have supernatural, psychic Power. Two Committees maintain peace and judgment: Ethics and Education. On the surface, they are the ones maintaining this masterful, humble utopia, but these Committees actually regulate information and manipulate reality in the village. Whether it’s by “banishing” troublesome individuals or even subverting one’s own memories, they will risk any and everything to maintain order.

There’s always this dangerous aura that spurs from the setting, making each and every day in class risky. Adventures outside of the village barrier, which no one is allowed to leave, are hazardous, yes, but exhilarating and unknowing. As far as you know, everything outside the gates is desolate and menacing. Rules upon rules established by the Ethics and Education Committees allow for “thinking in the box only,” and actions that go against these authoritative groups warrant unimaginable punishment. Thus, the theme proven most effective to preserving protection in the village is to use FEAR as a means to influence and control the youth. Well done, From the New World.

Our actual story centers around Saki and her four friends: Satoru, Shun, Mamoru and Maria. We witness the development of their Powers in school (some more than others) and the truths of the real world outside the village. From child to teen to young adult – innocence to rebellion to experienced –  we follow five youths that will inspire the drive for hopeful future of change.

What’s obviously the best part of this anime is the particular care that went into telling a great story. It seems that at all times, we are shown only what we need to be seen for the time being, much like a novel, filling holes and uncovering twists at the end of each chapter. Speaking of, the show was based on “Shinsekai Yori,” a Japanese novel by Yusuke Kishi. That’s right, not a light novel, not manga, a “book” book. That explains why the anime feels like something all teachers would make their kids read. It requires that kind of technical thinking.

But it’s not all smooth sailing – no – because like books, each “chapter” of the characters’ lives begins so painfully slow. Told from Saki as the narrator flashing back on the events, the time skips include life at ages 12, 14, 26, and 36. The pace only picks up towards the end of each arc when they decide to info dump us, a reoccurring problem.

Another issue I had with the show was actually the Powers. To what is their extent?? Levitation (of body and objects including giant rocks), pyrokinesis, the ability to reassemble glass, drawing with the mind, creating reflective surfaces out of nothing – seriously! What can they not do? I understand that each person has some sort of practice unique to them, but still, with all things considered, I feel that they could at least be living in a city with their powers rather than some weird collection of occult shanties (no offense). Also, they cannot kill another human due to the “Death of Shame,” a genetic trait which causes them to die instantaneously if they use their powers to kill another . . . umm, I guess it’s conventional, but that’s it.

The characters are developed well enough to identify definite progression since episode one, especially Saki and Satoru, but that development comes with discovering the events that led up to present-day. Well, that and the Monster Rats, humanoid mutant rats that live in colonies and obey the psychic people like gods.

In fact, the most interesting character in the entire series is a Monster Rat known as Squealer, a helper of Saki and Satoru in their early days outside the barrier. I literally can’t say anything due to spoiler’s sake, but do keep an eye on this creepy fellow – he performs some very very commendable acts as a main character . . . some wicked, Machiavellian acts we’ve all seen sometime before . . .

I found the animation by A1-Pictures to be gorgeous: soft sunrises, intense sunsets, luscious forests, and beautiful character designs. While it contributed to the atmosphere of the show marvelously, including the vast difference between the village and “Tokyo,” it’s not 100% satisfaction.

Apparently there was a change in staff when it came to design work and animation around earlier/mid episodes that fluctuated between two totally unlike styles – neither of which were bad, just noticeably different. Another weak point was the Monster Rat Colony fight scenes. The boulders are so CG and glaringly horrendous that I just laughed the whole time!

Sound-wise, hair-raising tracks boost the suspense and inevitable horror. In contrast, subtle adventurous songs for exploring helped establish various moods. A standing ovation, however, goes to “Ienikaeru (Going Home),” which is actually composed by Dvorak and coincidently, from the 2nd Movement (Largo) of the “From the New World” Symphony. Being a classical nut, this tune as the evening “children, return home” theme that plays over speakers in the village completely through me off. One of my all time favorite classical works, on the verge of tears when this played at the end 😥

Oh yeah, Yuki Kaji’s freaking awesome as always, performing the role of Satoru with such strong conviction and youthful stress. Always great to listen to him!

One of the biggest reasons I love From the New World is because it reminds me sooo much of No.6, another one of my first anime that I hold to heart. Soundtrack, dystopia, youth, romance, suspense, thriller, science fiction – it’s got it all, too, but this anime did what No.6 didn’t, and that was deliver with a fulfilling ending. I never, ever got closure from watching that anime a couple of years back, no matter how much I searched for “anime like No.6.” I can finally rest easy.

Despite being just a science fiction story, this anime feels more scary real than anything else I’ve encountered in a long while, and that could be because of its realistic characters and their actions. Its analysis of the human condition through a dark, manipulative plotline adds so much depth and curiosity that you’ll be guessing until that last episode, but no more than that. Why? Because by the end of the show, From the New World does not get very far at all, but it paves the way to a more hopeful future instead, and after all of the wrong, disturbing, and twisted carnage that I bore witness to, I could not ask for more than that.

“We have to change our way of thinking if we really want to change the future.” – Watanabe Saki

+ Mastered storytelling, made gripping and curious until the very end

+ Incorporation of “Going Home” really made the mood shine

+ Thriller tone so realistic like nothing I’ve seen in a long time; fresh, clean slate after viewing

+ Satisfying ending that delivers justice to the show

– Brief animation issues

– Info dumping in the beginning/middle of each new arc made for rugged understanding

Wow, this anime was so hard to talk about! It’s such a beautiful story that you should defiantly check it out. It’s not for everyone, but for those seeking something completely different than the norm and/or are wanting a clean slate by the end, you can watch the whole thing on Crunchyroll for FREE! Thanks so much for reading my emotional report over From the New World, and in fact, thanks world for the joyous experience! Beware the Trickster Cat, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Guilty Crown Review

If I ever were to become a writer, should I ration out all of my “good” ideas for other works or use them on one? Well that depends, really. Am I writing to cover my point only; for no sequels whatsoever, am I trying to make my work the next big series, or am I trying to get famous for the sake of being such? The anime Guilty Crown attempts all three ideas and, let me say, puts all of its eggs in one, crushed basket.

Ever since “Lost Christmas,” an apocalyptic virus pandemic that swept through Japan in 2029, Japan has been under the influence of a government organization called GHQ that is set out on curing the virus while managing public safety. Shu Ouma, your average normal high school teen who is bound by “fake” friendships, is thrown into a rebellious group by the cold name of Funeral Parlor when he gets infected with a stolen Void Genome. Given the “King’s Power,” a biological weapon that allows him to draw out voids, which are physical manifestations of one’s heart or soul, distraught Shu is forced to fight on the front lines against the twisted government and their ultimate plan to resurrect the “Eve” of the apocalypse virus.

When I summarize the plot for my reviews, I do so with the intent of leaving out any spoilers that might ruin one’s experience, like ya do. But in this anime’s case, I left out A LOT. For spoiler’s sake? No. Simply because there is way too much going on in Guilty Crown. I know this anime was wanting to be the next “end of the world” type that covers every single detail to the finale, and that’s fine, but some of these ideas don’t even flow well together. The show’s story steals something precious from every solid robot/action anime prior to its own existence, so why would I not want to watch it? It’s too choppy; fails to explain itself and its motives by just throwing in ridiculous action scenes, one-liners, or ways to put the main character through hell.

While many people disagree with the many, many characters, I think that they are one of this show’s few saving graces. I found Shu Ouma to be a very relatable character (I love his hair). He lacks confidence and so he regrets his mistakes too much – but that’s what makes him such an ideal protagonist. He is, in his friend Hare’s words, “The Kind King.” You can especially witness his behavioral changes a little more than halfway through the series. There is the most powerful and memorable event in the anime (I cried, and I don’t ever cry for anime).

Gai Tsutsugami is the other male lead. He acts without feelings to his followers yet when he does express the slightest emotions, they are meaningful and inspiring. Leadership is one of the story’s main themes, and Gai presses that issue to the point where you’d follow him to the end, too. Though corrupt, he truly is a good leader.

I was actually a bit disappointed in the show’s female lead, Inori Yuzuriha. I can’t mention a whole lot about her for spoiler’s sake, but she is pretty static as a character. I mean, she’s a famous Japanese pop singer, a dangerous fugitive of Funeral Parlor, and more. She plays the role she is given, but you’d wish she did a little more in the first half of the show. However, she does have brilliant costume designs if that counts for anything!

As I mentioned earlier, the animation by Production I.G is stunning. Everything from the vivid voids, the sharp, geometric architecture, and detailed characters are brilliantly done up. There are many unique character outfits, so that is also a plus. The animation quality remains strong to the end.

The openings, “My Dearest” written by Supercell, performed by Koeda and “The Everlasting Guilty Crown” by Egoist, a unique band from the show featuring the voice of Inori, show rapid flashing images with upbeat tempos. The sweet first ending, “Departures – Anata ni Okuru Ai no Uta,” is also performed by Egoist. A shout out to “Euterpe,” the best insert song I have ever heard and have even memorized the lyrics to J which is also performed by Egoist.

Hiroyuki Sawano brings to the show epic techno soundtracks that add to the wonderfully choreographed battles. He provides suspense and drama in softer times, too. “Bios Delta,” the main theme of the show, is just mindblowing – a perfect interpretation of Shu Ouma’s struggle! Give all of the songs I listed a listen – you won’t regret it!

Now back to the top, Guilty Crown is a huge, disastrous train wreck, but at that, one hell of a ride. In a similar way to Sword Art Online, I feel that younger viewers would see past the bi-polar character motives and glaring plot errors to just focus on the action and character relationships – well, that and the awesome music! At its time in 2011, the anime tried to be the next big thing, and sadly because of that goal, it was just visually epic; failed to deliver a consistent story to the end. If you enjoy a decent crack at science fiction and the apocalypse, amazing action and intricately romantic scenes, then hey, give it a go. Otherwise I think you can skip this one; it’s just a messy conglomeration of past sci-fi anime. I liked it way more than I should have, though, and its impact on me couldn’t be replaced by any other anime!!

I admit I LOVED GC, and presently, FUNimation’s limited edition copy of Guilty Crown occupies a neat section of my shelf, waiting to be downloaded and heard by the world as the song of the apocalypse. “The right to use my friend as a weapon – that is the sinful crown I shall adorn.” What a great caption for Shu.

And with that I hope you all have a less complicated day! I say “Hi and welcome to Takuto’s Anime Café” for all new followers and viewers. You’re awesome 😉 Hit that like button if you enjoyed this review and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host