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 sci-fi that walked out 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, and bar, the tall tables, the ceiling fans—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, fan-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 experiences with the world around her, a fashion decision, and, of course, a 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 no 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) for 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