The Royal Tutor: A Heartfelt Lesson on Judgement | OWLS “Mentor”

Chances are that if you were linked here from another blogger pal, you might be new to this place. To those first-timers, “Hi, I’m Takuto, and welcome to my anime cafe!” As part of the OWLS blog tour’s seventh monthly topic for 2018, “Mentor,” I wanted to broaden my horizons into the shoujo genre like I did last month . . . only to find out while writing this that The Royal Tutor is somehow labeled under the shounen catageory. Still, I enjoyed the efforts of Grannzreich’s latest royal tutor as he set out to shape up the country’s four princes into well-rounded individuals fit for the crown. How exactly he accomplished such a daunting task is what makes him a perfect fit for this month’s topic!

Throughout our lives, we might have encountered someone that we admired as a role model or has guided us in some life dilemma. This mentor could be a teacher at school, a coach, a boss or team leader at work, or a family friend. Whoever it is, that person impacted your life in a positive manner. For this month’s OWLS topic, we will be writing about mentors or mentorships in anime and other pop culture media. Some topics we will be exploring include how a mentorship impacted a main character’s life, the types of mentor relationships a person could have, and/or personal stories about mentors or mentorships.

I had only recently crossed paths with The Royal Tutor, so it’s exciting to freshen up my palette with something I would normally not have watched. Thanks Z and Lyn for the prompt!

chibi.png


A brief spoiler-free discussion on the 12-episode spring 2017 anime “The Royal Tutor,” animated by Bridge, directed by Katsuya Kikuchi, and based on Higasa Akai’s manga of the same name. 

The Royal Court Requests Your Presence

The King of Grannzreich currently fathers five sons, four of which in desperate need of tutelage should they need to assume the throne. There’s Licht, the flirtatious, most free-spirited, and youngest prince; his dimwitted, hotheaded older brother Leonhard; Bruno the studious yet close-minded third prince; and Kai, the most reserved and oldest of the four with a RBF so intense that he scares even his hand-servants away. All of them want the throne, badly, but their collective inability to overcome their individual shortcomings prevents them from receiving their father’s approval.

After having many tutors come and gone—all deemed failures either because they ran out or were run out of the palace by the princes themselves—the king turned to an old acquaintance, the equally charming and austere Heine Wittgenstein, for the massive and intimidating undertaking of properly educating his sons. But as it happens in the royal family, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, and Heine finds dark memories of his past resurfacing in the present. Nothing shalt shake the brilliant Heine Wittgenstein, however, for despite his incredibly short, childlike stature, the new royal tutor’s ability to command respect and diligence from all of his pupils is the exact reason King Victor von Grannzreich hired him in the first place.

heine.jpg

Educating royalty might not sound like a very interesting concept for some, but with comedy as the main genre The Royal Tutor is tossed into, one can only imagine the hilarity that ensues when a tiny teacher cracks a whip on a spoiled, blond-haired twat for not knowing what 2 + 2 is. After the four princes are forced to understand that Heine is NOT going to give up on them, episode by episode, the royal tutor works one-on-one with their majesties. While some princes are easier to coerce than others, Heine remains determined to give them each the same amount of time together. This establishes a mutual respect boundary between teacher and student, as well as fellow students (or in this case, brothers).

In their private lessons, Heine systematically pulls the princes to their lowest lows, never failing to offer fascinating and invaluable advice on the human spirit. Heine, simply put, is an inspiration to the boys. Slowly but surely, the Grannzreich princes warm up to Heine, and as the royal family’s name continues to face false accusations and scandalizations via some shady wealthy individuals in the kingdom, the princes must come to Heine’s aid in turn to protect not only his name but their own. From beginning to end, the plot offers a pleasant ride which nicely works in serious moments of character growth (the show’s most noteworthy feature) and the slapstick, slice-of-life comedy in all its chibified glory.

Such wonderful balance could only be obtained in a show like Ouran High School Host Club—And in fact, between the on-par voice acting and similar art style, I’d go so far as to call this anime Ouran‘s spiritual successor! Trust me, there’s a high chance that if you liked that ritzy ditzy cast, you’ll definitely *KISS KISS* fall in love with this one too!!

twinkle twinkle.jpeg

Teacher and Student

While I’d like to say the series’s “best boy” is Heine himself, until the very end, he mostly acts as a device to push other characters toward development. Even after everything’s said and done, we only know a bit about his childhood, and that he’s been the leader type since. He’s also strict, but true to his word; credit is given only where credit is due. Though pint-sized, Heine is still a moving, breathing source of inspiration, and if his grand speech in the finale episode, “The Last Lesson,” didn’t move you to tears, I’m honestly not sure what will. Having watched Funimation’s English dub, I can confirm that this is both one of Micah Solusod’s funniest characters (what with the hilariously low register for such a lil’ fella) and, despite Heine’s apathetic yet articulate tone, most poignant, eloquent roles.

The same glowing things could be said about the rest of the cast. I love the spoiled Licht’s endeavor to try living a humble life, as well as his charisma and resistance on not letting being the youngest hold him back. Not gonna lie, VA Stephen Sanders has a weird voice, but it fits Licht’s flashier side well enough. Fourth prince Leonhard struggles wanting to study hard to be like his brothers, to which I’m sure we can all relate. Leo’s whiny, bratty personality but inner goodwill can be felt thanks to Alejandro Saab’s great (and very high-pitched, wow) voice acting.

Third prince Bruno was the real surprise, as I normally don’t care for the megane characters. But here we are, with the studious and esteemed Bruno as best boy, and VA Christopher Wehkamp as the one who brought this Heine fanboy to life. Lastly, second prince Kai is, well, Kai. Rumored to be violent, but actually has hands gentler and more caring than all in the land. For all those low, billowing grunts and one-liners, Daman Mills gets the job done.

time to clean.png

Genius vs. the fruits of hard work; personal enjoyment and satisfaction vs. maintaining one’s line to the thrown. As a prince in the line of succession, such sacrifices are bound to be made. But with knowing that they likely won’t become king because their eldest brother, the elusive first prince, is already the perfect candidate, does sacred duty really come before broadening horizons outside the palace? That’s what Heine is here to mentor us and the four princes through, and it is for that reason that I thoroughly enjoyed this series of personal conflicts and inferiority complexes galore.

Adding Charm with a Splash of Color

Briefly, I wanted to mention the beautiful animation by Bridge, a studio that hasn’t done too much beyond helping with Fairy Tail (2014) and a couple game-to-anime adaptations. First, Heine’s dud mode, and how The Royal Tutor switches between chibified comedy and serious bishounens with incredible ease! Next, the unique lighting, something which I guarantee not many mention. While most anime define shadows as darker hues of the same color or just with a flat gray color, studio Bridge highlights skin and clothes with blues, reds, pinks, oranges, whatever the color depending on how light would logically reflect on brightly colored interior palace walls and long, draping curtains. The boys already had glittery eyes and pretty ombre blends in their hair, and this added color gave the anime additional charm, not that it needed it. The highlights match wonderfully with the innate palace couches, gold leaf embellishments, and stunning wall and carpet patterns. Bridge has absolutely convinced me that these men do, in fact, live the royal life.

four princes f

Also lovely is the light piano music that can be felt during the tender moments. Keiji Inai’s (DanMachi) whole soundtrack, in fact, feels inspired by classical music, another nod to this literally being Host Club‘s spiritual successor. Fanciful, flowing, and grand—a perfect fit for our princes!

Heine’s Lessons & Learning How to be Human

At the end of each day, Heine Wittgenstein offers a brilliant and breathtaking lesson on the human spirit. So what better for an OWLS “Mentor” post than to showcase the words of the wise straight from the royal tutor’s mouth!

time for a lesson.jpeg


Licht’s devilish charm and desire to entertain his lady-friends constantly pushes him to lead two separate lives. Thus, Heine teaches him about the duality of man, and how he can be both a prince and a gentleman so long as he learns to prioritize his own safety.

Always remember, before quitting something you want to do, you should always explore alternative solutions.

 

A king must lead with compassion without discrimination. He must be one who always hears his people, no matter the circumstance, as well as want everyone to follow their ambitions and enjoy their freedom.

Image result for The Royal Tutor

Leonhard always stumbles where intellect is concerned, but makes up for this shortcoming with mad athletic skills. He holds himself to a higher standard because of his inability to learn new subjects, and flees when things get rough. As a result, Heine puts Leo through test after test, threatening him with the separation of teacher and student, friend and friend, as the ultimate motivator to learn.

Those who recognize their own vulnerability can grow to be stouthearted souls who are kind and sensitive to the pain of other people. Running away may seem like a solution, but has it ever made your heart feel lighter? Hiding from your problems will not make them go away.

 

A king must lead with powerful imagination. He should act with compassion, and reach out to people in need. To want to live in a country where we all help each other is an honorable thing indeed.

leonhard.PNG

Meanwhile, Bruno is just about as princely as one can get, but he lacks that extra lick of creativity that his brothers possess, forcing him to work harder all the time to overcome this imperfection. Even then, he’s still so smart—any university would be lucky to have a guy like Bruno! Unlike Licht or Leonhard, his options are infinite. Like a master should, Heine remind Bruno that we only get one life, and that we must choose what is best for us.

You only have one life and it’s yours alone, so live it as you please because it’s the only one you’re going to get. 

 

A king must lead with acumen and expertise. He must possess a wealth of information. There will be a time when people will go down the wrong path, but no mistakes happen–he should believe in second chances, not punishing them for the sins of their past.

Image result for bruno the royal tutor

Lastly, for the reclusive Prince Kai, Heine tells him of humanity’s kindness, and that, should he express generosity and affection to his subjects, his people will return such warmth in full.

Everyone has a different personality. Some won’t like you no matter how polite you are to them. It’s not all bad. That also means that there are plenty of people who will like you quite a bit. This world is very big. Do not deprive yourself of people who will understand and care for you. 

 

A king must never surrender his overwhelming heart. The misunderstood should not lose hope, for he shall be a king that all the people will adore. This chronicles the lessons taught by Heine, amongst many more untold.

Image result for kai from the royal tutor

A Tutor for All Ages, a Lesson for All Time

Make no mistake, The Royal Tutor is a very fun show. Its comedic timing is great, and its charismatic characters are full of personality. That said, this series also dabbles into several valuable lessons we all take for granted. From beginning to end, The Royal Tutor offers well-rounded, wholesome episodes that are filled to the brim with simple life advice. The boys are pretty, and the fujoshi crowd will love it, but . . . beyond looks, it’s a show about not judging people based on first impressions alone, as well as helping those with needs unlike most others by building a personal relationship with them and helping them grow as potential leaders. If ever you need a pick-me-up, Heine Wittgenstein, the royal tutor, has always got the time for a private lesson with you—just make sure you are prepared to learn.

IMG_6013.jpeg

Instead of judging others based on rumors and gossip, I must seek the answers for myself and arrive at my own conclusions. One must never think they know someone after little to no time with them, and so I must begin again. With every fresh start comes a new beginning.—Heine Wittgenstein


Afterword

I came into this show just in time, for a second season of The Royal Tutor was just announced not too long ago! Like Prince Leonhard’s rich and savory sachertorte, I, too, shall award this first season with the “Cake” rating, a show too sweet to miss out on! Have you seen The Royal Tutor? Who’s your favorite prince?? You’ll have to let me know what you thought about the series or this OWLS post in the comments!

poster.jpg

This concludes my July 24th entry in the OWLS “Mentor” blog tour. Gloria (The Nerdy Girl News) went right before me with a post about learning to live again in The Ancient Magus’ Bride, a series that I really ought to watch! Now, look out for blogger buddy Hazel (Archi-Anime) with a post on Ace of Diamond, a sports anime that I’ve also been longing to watch, tomorrow, July 25th (it’s also her birthday, so give her a shoutout)! Thanks for reading such a long post, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Advertisements

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.

Image result

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.

Image result


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!

flowchart shinkai.PNG

(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.

Image result

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.

Image result

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—

Image result

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.

Related image

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.

Image result

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?

Image result

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.

Image result

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.

Image result

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.”

Image result for children who chase lost voices

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.

Image result

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.

Image result

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.

Image result

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!

Related image

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.

Image result

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.

Image result

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. 

Image result

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. 

Related image

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.

Related image

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.

Related image

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.

Related image

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.

Related image

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.

Related image

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.

Related image

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.

Related image

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

Related image


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.

Related image

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

Hanasaku Iroha: Finding Beauty & Grace in Hard Work, Dignity, and Servitude | OWLS “Bloodlines”

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  eighth monthly topic, “Bloodlines,” I decided to incorporate what would have been my standard Hanasaku Iroha review into this discourse about “it runs in the family.”

Family means everything (or does it?). This month, we will be discussing the importance of family relationships in anime and pop culture. Familial relationships include a child and his/her parents, sibling rivalries, adoptions, etc. Some questions about family that we will be contemplating on include how does one’s family shapes his or her identity? How do we define family? How does a broken household influence a person’s view on family?

This show probably deserves a review all on its own, but hey, I’m just gonna go for it here! Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

Image result for hanasaku iroha screenshots


A brief discussion on the 26-episode spring 2011 anime “Hanasaku Iroha: Blossoms for Tomorrow” and the 2013 film “Home Sweet Home,” produced by P.A. Works, directed by Masahiro Ando (Blast of Tempest), based on the original story by Mari Okada (A Lull in the Sea).

Out On Her Own

Ohana Matsumae: bursting with rebellious energy and only 16 years old, her picture-perfect Tokyo life could’ve been every girl’s dream—if only her mom wasn’t such a mess! Carefree, irresponsible, and always on the go, mother Satsuki Matsumae and her boyfriend hurriedly pack their bags to flee from debt collectors, forcing Ohana to seek refuge out in the countryside at her grandmother’s Kissui inn. It is there at the Kissuiso that Ohana forms the resolve to work hard under her grandmo—I mean, Madame Manager’s—cold and strict guidance as a maid to prove that she is just as strong and independent as her mother, reevaluate her unrequited love life, and “fest up” her otherwise mundane city life.

As Ohana grows deeper connections with the quiet countryside land and the changing seasons, she is faced with the trials of working as a maid, as well as countless interactions with the many customers that come and go at the Kissuiso. Bonds of friendship are born, and inexpressible relationships blossom beautifully.

Image result for hanasaku iroha screenshots ohana working

The Kissuiso Staff

Much of the love and respect I have for this show lies right here with the inn’s staff. That said, it can also be the most frustrating part. The busybody maids remain my favorite: Ohana’s fresh, persevering face even if she’s not exactly helping in the best way just makes you want to shout “SHE DID NOTHING WRONG” (at least she’s always trying, unlike some of the others); Nako, the”quite literally” big sister character never fails to support Ohana in that soft and gentle way that she does; and Tomoe, the playful and typically jealous woman tends to catch gossip and spread rumors throughout the inn, adding in the comedic elements.

Image result

It’s the cooking staff that annoys me the most. No, not Renji, the stoic and buff head chef who minds to himself—my issues lie with an outspoken young man named Tohru and a girl Ohana’s age named Minko who “secretly” has the hots for him. They’re just both so rude to everyone, scolding one another whenever they can and not leaving much room for fun. I guess part of that adds to the staff’s dynamic (and conflict for Ohana), but Minko’s attitude really got on my nerves; far too distracting for what her character honestly represents. I also couldn’t stand her voice.

Image result

Lastly, I couldn’t forget the two loudmouths that pop in throughout the series: Yuina, the daughter of a rival inn’s family and Ohana’s new classmate who honestly only wishes to enjoy her youth while discovering her true passion; and Takako, the glamorous business consultant adviser for Kissuiso who always wants to revitalize the rather old-fashioned inn to suit the times. She often bumps heads with Sui, as her ideas are indeed ludicrous at times, but when it comes down to it, they both only desire what’s best for the inn and its customers.

Image result

I could go on about how genuine the personalities and relationships of each character feel, but half the appeal of Hanasaku Iroha is witnessing how they go about their days, both the ordinary ones for those slice-of-life vibes and the hectic ones to see how this seemingly disjointed team tackles wild problems head on!

Image result for hanasaku iroha screenshots minko and tohru

One of P.A. Works’ Finest Pieces

I’m all about scenery. Whether it’s a schoolyard from heaven (or hell) or an enchanting undersea village, P.A. Works never fails to embody this ideal vision of a “gorgeous world.” The anime’s characters are all beautifully designed and fluidly animated in their own right, Ohana especially, but the colorful Kissuiso takes the cake as a visionary set piece. Perfectly blending antiquity with its polished, hand-carved wooden exterior with the luscious greens from nature, the rustic countryside inn almost feels tangible, one that you can breath fresh air easily in and instantly feel comforted by the relaxing atmosphere. I could probably lose myself in the pages of an art book if I ever got my hands on one (which I will surely try to).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The same glowing things are to be said about the charming piano and string tracks by Shiro Hamaguchi, my favorite being a little sad piece called “Remember that day with a smile like that.” For OPs and EDs, I’m not a huge fan of nano.RIPE’s lead singer’s nasally voice, but its random fifth ending “Saibou Kioku” happened to play at just the right time.

It Runs in the Family

Hanasaku Iroha enters the realm of slice-of-life with a little drama thrown in the mix. While it’s easy to label it as just that—a simply relaxing show—the series poses much more than that. From the beginning, it presents a moving story about family and adulthood, parenting and role-modeling. Like most titles with drama elements, the events of the larger present story are results of a little, once-close-knit group from the past.

Image result

This group now makes up the adults in Ohana’s life: her stern grandma, Sui, her defiant mom, Satsuki, and her scatterbrain uncle (Satsuki’s brother), Enishi. When these parental figures were supposed to guide Ohana as a child, Satsuki often left Ohana to do all of the chores and “take care of herself”—a mantra that she still employs—choosing to put her efforts into her work as a pro writer instead of parenthood. Satsuki gave up her entitlement as the inn’s next manager, and as a result Sui stayed behind at the inn, Enishi working for her, and that was that.

Ohana spent her whole life cleaning up after her own mother.

Image result for hanasaku iroha ohana young

As depressing as that sounds, the story’s realism is probably the best thing that it has going for it. It’s a show that doesn’t want to boast, but simply leave itself out there by remarking, “This actually happens in real life.” By intertwining the lives and efforts of the inn’s staff, using the Kissuiso itself as the anchor, everyone comes to understand the tension between Satsuki and her mother, why Ohana’s personality is so brazen and spirited, why Enishi is so desperate to win his mother’s approval over his big sister, and why their boss Sui acts like such a secluded hag. It all comes down to family in the end, or rather the lack of a strong one to bind them together.

I think we can all relate to this.

Genes have the power to shape a family, but only you can decide what path it takes. As people, we make mistakes—for some of us, a lot of them—and maybe you got that from someone (or you’ll pass it on). But regardless, if we spent as much time thinking about the ones we are supposed to love as we did ourselves, I think we’d all be better off.

Related image

Ohana put herself in her mother’s shoes when she reconnected with the source that threw her mom off to begin with, and her entire world changed for the better as a result. She realized that as different as she liked to think they were, they both made the same mistakes as young girls. Knowing this, she vowed to be like her grandma one day, hopefully ending the cycle of familial neglect.

And this made momma very proud of her little girl.

Image result for hanasaku iroha satsuki

Hard Work Really Does Pay Off

Hanasaku Iroha walks us through the struggles of the worker class for a girl living in a somewhat broken home. As Ohana comes to find beauty and grace in hard work, dignity, and servitude, we can’t help but feel inspired by her bold newfound identity. Most important of all, we’re told an endearing story about being the best that only you can be, and that even in this self-centered world that is so consumed by “give and take,” there exists wonderful places like the Kissuiso, safe havens that offer both a relaxing time to heal old wounds and a staff that only wishes to work hard to serve YOU. And that, well, that’s really special.

Image result

“You may come to a standstill or get irritated because things don’t work out the way you want them to, but what you gain from hard work will never betray you.” – Tohru Miyagishi


So there you have it, the very gentle and sweet Hanasaku Iroha. By the end of it, you just want to smile and cry at the same time. For those wondering, the film takes place before the finale, and acts more like three episodes linked together rather than a standalone film. Still wonderful stuff—so wonderful that I present it with the certified “Caffe Mocha” rating, one for the menu and it’s all on me (actually it’s on Crunchyroll for FREE)! You HAVE to let me know what you thought about my review over this quaint little gem if you’ve seen it, as it’s a quiet show that doesn’t get much buzz anymore. I found this to be the perfect show for this month’s OWLS theme since “Ohana” does mean “family” in Hawaiian, after all!

This concludes my August 4th entry in the OWLS “Bloodlines” blog tour. Since I was first again this month, I’ll give you the weekend before handing it off to my buddy Matt (Matt-in-the-Hat) with Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children (I REMEMBER THIS FILM!) on Monday, August 7th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Related image

Loss Has Little Meaning in Yuki Yuna | Hero Week Review

A brief review of the 12-episode fall 2014 anime “Yuki Yuna is a Hero,” produced by Studio Gokumi, based on original story by Takahiro and Makoto Uezu.

For the third segment of Hero Week, I’ll warn you now that this anime is extremely hit or miss, especially if you’re familiar with Madoka Magica. Despite any polarizing comments I make, I’d like to let you know that this happens to be my favorite of the three Hero Week anime I’ve reviewed, regardless that it is indeed the “worst-written one,” should I even have to pick. I found that it had the most to offer, and I have to be critical of it because something that means so much should be sought in full light.

Five middle school girls—Yuuna, Togo, Fu, Itsuki, and Karin—are on a quest to save the world. That is, community service, volunteer work, and puppet shows for local children. It all seems trivial on the outside, but their Hero Club is determined to do good deeds for love, justice, and happiness, goals which are outlined and pursued religiously in the club’s Five Tenets. Such is the sweet and simple life of Yuuki Yuuna.

The club’s charismatic president Fu is living two lives, however, and upon phone call is forced to drag her friends into a mystical realm. There, they are to protect the God of the natural world and human blessing, the Shinju, from strange geometric entities called Vertexes. By the single tap on a phone app, the girls are transformed into the extraordinary heroes they so desired to be. But transcending the realm of God and obtaining unimaginable power comes with a price almost not worth paying.

As the girls fight for their lives and the people they love, their perception of the world dramatically warps into a cruel land of delusional grandeur. In the depressing struggle for power, the girls might have to point their guns at beings besides the Vertexes in order to preserve their very belief of what it means to be a true hero.

One of the biggest problems I had with Yuki Yuna was the lame world building. Had I not read the summary provided by Crunchyroll, I wouldn’t not have noticed that the story is set in the far future—YEAR 300, the Era of the Gods. WHAT, but it looks like modern-day Japan?! I enjoy it when stories have good reasons to break the rules set by the setting, but you can’t rebel against an outline that otherwise doesn’t exist!

My second beef with the anime was the lack of each girl’s unique drive to be a magical girl. They just sort of accepted the role because of the club’s influence. Individual motive is largely what make hero stories interesting and standout, so to have such weak trope characters (besides Fu and Togo) was a huge shame. For instance, what if the wheel-chair-bound Togo wanted to keep fighting because she could walk once again? That’s much more compelling than “I’ll do it because Yuna needs my help.” The way Yuna clings to the club tenets is also a bit cheesy and a weak excuse for ‘development.’

This is obviously less apparent if you are unfamiliar with it, but the last somewhat spoiler-free issue I had were the painfully obvious similarities to Madoka Magica. The magical girl system, character destinies, and dark, depressing themes in the second half all have strong correlation with its critically-acclaimed predecessor. Heck, even the music (which is still really, really good) and the animation sometimes feel like snippets borrowed from Madoka. While it is occasionally disappointing, Yuki Yuna managed to have fun longer than Madoka did, heavily maximizing its slice-of-life side for the earlier parts. And while I wanted darker, more twisted, nastier Madoka narrative, watching those girls have fun was what I needed more.

On a positive note, the animation was surprisingly incredible. The Vertexes themselves are CG, but because they are basically Evangelion angels crossed-over with the zodiac, it all works to create a fantastic off-putting vibe. I also appreciated the vivid color patterns for the Shinju realm and the cool magical girl outfits (Yuuna’s elegant armor was actually what got me into this show). The style was more rooted in Asian culture (petals, shrines, zodiac), while something like Madoka featured more European-like classical culture (columns, gates, witches).

HERO WEEK SEGMENT: Archetypical Hero qualities represented by Yuuna

I’ve taken a quick trip to Google to provide qualities of the typical hero. Let’s briefly exercise each prompt:

  • Hero is of humble origins
    • Yuuna is a very friendly and open girl, often willing to accept help and help others at no cost.
  • An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure
    • The Taisha, the organization dedicated to the Shinju, calls upon Fu to advance on the incoming Vertex. Yuuna, even though given a choice, steps up to bat and becomes a magical girl
  • Hero has a special weapon only he can wield/always has supernatural help
    • Yuuna is a hero just like her friends. What makes her stand out is her unwavering devotion to the hero cause and her gifted fighting abilities. In episode one, she doesn’t just suddenly transform like the other girls, but is able to gradually make her armor appear upon demand. Her unusually rare strength and “true maiden’s heart” make her unstoppable on the battlefield.
  • The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
    • Besides fighting off the Vertexes, Yuuna must be able to lift the spirits of her comrades as the show’s ideal hero. The others will lose their way, and it’s up to Yuuna to lead them back on the path of righteousness. She doesn’t seem like a main character, nor does she change much as a character, and that’s mostly because I believe she’s not supposed to; she’s the guiding light of hope and justice, and as such doesn’t stop fighting even at the end.
  • ***SPOILERS START HERE***
  • PLEASE CONSIDER THIS THEORY TAG BEFORE PROCEEDING
  • The journey and the unhealable wound
    • In the end, the effects of going through Mankai so many times and taking on all of her friends’ pain leaves Yuuna in a catatonic state. When she does reawaken, her physical body is only a crutch for her soul, which is always off fighting. Upon the rebellion, Shinju-sama must have changed the rules so that girls don’t have to suffer long-lasting disabilities in the real world. This makes ALL LOSS ESSENTIALLY MEANINGLESS—All of the heartache the girls go through, then you turn around and say, “Oh, yeah, they don’t have to suffer anymore.” Now, I didn’t want a sad ending for the girls, especially Yuuna, but doesn’t that take away most of the emotional weight? Yuuna’s dedication to the heroic spirit causes her to be Shinju-sama’s ultimate protector, and is forced to keep on fighting even though her friends are retired.
  • Hero experiences atonement with the father
    • I like to consider the “father” not as Shinju-sama or the Taisha, but as the intelligent Togo instead. At first, Yuuna finds most of her purpose for fighting in protecting her friend and vice versa. When Togo is able to walk again at the end, she somewhat pities herself for letting Yuuna burden everyone’s pain even though she shouldn’t. Yuuna is praised like a goddess but somewhat frowned upon as a fool for sticking so close to the hero path.
  • When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually
    • Because I find the theory to be so interesting and quite possible, we can conclude that though her real-world body is somewhat “dead,” Yuuna is still alive and fighting behind the scenes. Her reward? She transcends the mortal world and becomes a goddess who will never stop fighting. Not exactly the prize I would want, but because Yuuna fell hook, line, and sinker for the whole hero bait, I’m sure that’s exactly how she would have wanted it from the beginning.
    • In the end, everyone’s illnesses go away, which contradicts the heavy theme of sacrifice Yuki Yuna spent its entire run on building up.
  • ***SPOILERS END HERE***

Much of Yuki Yuna is unexplained or at least not evident in the anime adaptation. Should the prequel light novels and the sequel manga ever make it here in the U.S., then I would be thrilled to revisit the franchise. Its fascinating world and the somber warriors fighting to protect it have so much more depth to them, and that lack of depth in the anime hinders a truly wonderful experience. The entire story and production of Yuki Yuna also has too many underdeveloped and forced ties to Madoka Magica, which sadly tampers with the mind-blowing aspect of it.

As a fantasy, drama, slice of life magical girl anime that attempts to see Madoka in a different light, I can appreciate all that it tried to pull off. It tackles the painfully realistic hero themes in the most interesting (and very dark) way that just excites me, yet also has rare moments of joy for our characters and a real built sense of unease instead of just scary/dark imagery like Madoka. Even though it stumbles in appreciating loss, we do wind up with one solid ideal: Ultimately, fight for what you want to save, not for what you are burdened by.

“You know that the fairest flowers fade first. But I made it.” – Fu Inubouzaki (best girl)

I award Yuki Yuna is a Hero with a benefit of the doubt 8/10, narrowly allowing it to breach the “Caffé Mocha” classification. It combats the fantastic with heavy ideals and characters that are honestly cared about (can’t say that for most series). Yuki Yuna won’t impress all—most are quite hard on it, actually—but I still encourage people to try it out especially if you like the wildly mentioned Madoka Magica. I’ve been forgetting, but both ERASED and Yuki Yuna is a Hero can be viewed for FREE on Crunchyroll! While I’d LOVE to own it on DVD, Ponycan is releasing these ‘premium’ sets with an okay English dub for a ridiculous $70 each—AND THERE ARE THREE OF THEM. How do you think Yuki Yuna did? Also, do you think Yuuna is a good hero? How about the other girls? Comment below!! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

GJ Club is BOTH Silly and Relaxing? “Gooood Job-buu!”

A spoiler-free review of the 12-episode winter 2013 anime “GJ-bu” or “GJ Club,” produced by Doga Kobo, based on the light novel series by Shin Araki.

 – View in browser, not app, for best experience –

Assume for the moment that this is an anime about a poor boy engaging in harmless games at the expense of a group of totally-pure high school girls. When demons from the underworld aren’t wreaking havoc amongst high-school kids or when bras and boxers aren’t being violently stripped from these fine teens, you have, in this situation, a school-life harem. These cookie-cutter shows are the dreams of many anime fans. I mean, could you imagine a world where after school you hung out in a homey club room with your best friends to discuss the trivial gimmicks of school life, or perhaps spend the entire afternoon eating cake, drinking tea, and playing games?

Last time I played this game was in elementary school. Stubbed my toe pretty bad, too.

Well, that’s what we do in the “Good Job-bu” club, or the GJ Club for short. Its mission is known to none – that is, if it has one – and it inhabits a decently-sized room in a former building of the school. But today is different for this seemingly pointless gang of ladies: Shinomiya Kyouya is kidnapped forced to become a new member – and he’s a boy.

Paging Dr. Kyoro . . . Yeah, you know what’s up.

Each episode of GJ Club begins and ends in the club. Sooooo what is done in the club room stays in the club room. But there’s nothing sinister about it! There is no record of home life or how they act during class. Also, despite it being a harem, it’s neither romantic nor erotic in any sense, never going past that boundary of “what just happened?”

And that is exactly what makes GJ Club the ideal slice-of-life school anime.

They play wacky games, eat tons of meat snacks, read manga; the whole package. As for story . . . . Unless the moral was to enjoy time with friends before high school life is over then there is none. AND THAT’S OKAY. Funny and consistent with its environment, the anime is merely a lighthearted reenactment of our favorite anime tropes. Enjoyable because of the dumb stuff they do and their reactions to it all, but very average in story, characters, and even animation.

This anime doesn’t do anything to challenge the stereotypes. We’ve got the short tsundere club leader, Mao; the overly intelligent yet lacking-common-sense cool rich girl, Shion; the pink-haired airhead, Megumi; the girl who thinks she’s an animal, Kirara (yes, she is a foreigner); and the bratty little one that no one likes (Tamaki). There is also a plentiful batch of token little sisters for those who enjoy hearing “ONII-SAN” five-hundred goddamn times. Watching Megu struggle and obsess over her weight was unintentionally hilarious, though. Same with Kirara’s uncanny strength.

Arm+wrestling_9d36eb_4723495

Best shit in the entire series

image2

image3.PNG

Modesty. The women folk love it.

I suppose the lead boy is a little more interesting, if only he actually developed throughout the series! Nicknamed “Kyoro,” he remains the only male in the club, not that his status as such matters. You see, he is constantly ridiculed as cute or feminine, regardless of that just being his innate politeness when it comes to dealing with women. The fact that he prefers shoujo manga over the more popular mecha and “boku” as his title rather than “ore” doesn’t help his case. To add insult to injury, however, he admits his talent of being able to deal with those of the feminine persuasion, which partially stems from the routinely brushing of his little sister’s hair. And how do the other girls react?

“Baka! Just brush it and get it over with – it’s not like I asked or anything!”

“Shinomiya-kun, would you be as courteous as to demonstrate on me? I am . . . curious.”

“YAY! Your brushing is so cute!” ~<3

*after taming a wild beast*Purrr purr, this is nice.”

“Hey, WATCH IT! It’s MY turn next!”

Me: *eternally bangs head on desk until it bleeds*

Commence: POWERFUL HAIR BRUSHING

The sparkling studio Doga Kobo did the animation for GJ Club, and though it’s nothing spectacular, it should be noted for its consistency and colorful, bright atmosphere – Specifically in the clubroom and the perky hair colors. The eyes take the signature “bubbly anime eye” to the extreme and I always found them weird to stare into. With this anime, however, atmosphere is more important, and I can rest in peace knowing the ideal clubroom was captured in brilliant light and warm tone. Leaving that room on the last episode was the hardest part.

image1
Hot as balls. It happens.

I honestly can’t recall the soundtrack for this anime, but it is not bad without a doubt. I shouldn’t stress something that didn’t stand out. So I won’t. The opening, “Mousou★Koukan Nikki” by Otome Shinto, is my favorite song from the series. Those first ten seconds of sass and choreography of the characters walking towards the clubroom was just awesome! It’s such a happy song!!

If I were to squeeze out a negative, it is that despite how quirky and fun they seem, characters like this will never exist in real life because they are so heavily rooted in these anime clichés. If you do manage to find a group of friends like this (and actually don’t find them annoying), then that’s great. But maybe that’s why this show appeals to me so much: GJ Club provides the after school family I always wanted, but probably will never have. It’s very sad to hear and take in, but hey, it is, after all, just an anime.

GJ Club is a slow anime – I dare say unexciting half the time – but that works in its favor. It draws out unusual comedy, never taking things to far, and milks those scenarios for all they are worth. If you just got finished with the new crazy shounen anime kids are raging about today, or the most depressing romance you’ve seen to date, and are wanting something to give you breath, do consider GJ Club. It’s silly, colorful, and very relaxing.

“There are two types of people in this world. Those who fan, and those who are fanned.” – Mao Amatsuka

+ Ideal slice-of-life school comedy with consistent direction and environment

+ Very relaxing anime to watch after something heavy; nice palate cleanser

– Does nothing to challenge the popular anime tropes

There we go! Had you even heard of this anime before I brought it up? Yes? “Good job-bu!!!” No? Well now you have a pleasant way to spend your afternoon. The entire series is available on Crunchyroll for FREE, yet sadly has not yet been licensed and released in the U.S. GJ Club can be found in the “Coffee” section of the cafe, but don’t let that discourage you from hitting it up. Did you enjoy the review? Let’s talk about it down below (feel free to hit like button to let me know)! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Beautiful Bones: An Elegy To Those Indeed Trapped by the Past | Review

A spoiler-free review of the 12-episode fall 2015 anime “Beautiful Bones -Sakurako’s Investigation-,” produced by TROYCA, based on the light novel by Shiori Ota.

 – View in browser, not app, for best experience –

Deep in a grove in Asahikawa City, Hokkaido, is the estate of one incredible woman. Due to the greenery blocking the mansion’s front, however, it’s quite easy to pass this place without noticing. That is, unless you are a bored high-schooler looking for something . . . different . . . something out of the ordinary to buy his time. Well folks, average boy Shoutarou Tatewaki meets this incredible ojou-san, but is her mysterious and haunting aura just a facade? I mean, she loves sweets just like any other person and it’s not like she can talk to the dead or anything – She does collect bones for a living, though, and her ability to analyze specimen, alive or dead, is quite impressive . . . But as you know, curiosity is never kind to the cat, for this “Shounen” must now tag along with Sakurako-san, uncovering corpses at every bend in the road! Don’t worry, though:

He doesn’t mind . . . In fact, he might be in with love her.

Beautiful Bones is a mystery anime without a doubt. But there’s an air to each of these episodic moments that doesn’t allow us to get “too deep” into things. Rather, each episode or two is a light mystery always involving a body because these kinds of grim things attract Sakurako-san. The story builds its cases off of familial relationships, be it a husband escaping death, a mother protecting her kids, a grandmother who just needed more time . . . They truly are feel-good mysteries, and once Sakurako and her boy solve them, you can’t help but feel remorse for those unfortunate souls that lost their lives. Because this familial attachment exists, and the victims aren’t random people off the streets, the anime doesn’t necessarily need high-strung thriller drives to pull off a good mystery. Thankfully they are interspersed throughout its run, but honestly, some of them made for rocky pacing at times.

Looking at characters we have our “Shounen” from which the story is told through the eyes of. He’s your average, dutiful citizen, commonly calling the cops before Sakurako-san can steal a treat for her efforts (talk about giving a dog a bone). The anime appears to hold some sort of romantic development based on the poster alone, but not much happens. I view Sakurako and Shoutarou’s relationship as a metaphorical sibling one, anyway. Sakurako, as the over-arching story progresses, seems to have been through tragedy with a kid similar to this boy, and as he slowly accepts her hobby of bone-collecting and knack for finding bodies littered throughout town, she opens up to him bit by bit. All this boy wants to do is figure out what makes his Sakurako-san click, and he’ll continue to be enraptured by her long obsidian hair and haunting gaze so long as she lets him.

Viewers obviously fell in love with the ojou-san. Sakurako-san is definitely unique – Not only as an individual in the story, but interesting compared to all characters I saw in 2015. Firstly, she’s an osteologist, one who studies bones. Clearly she loves what she does, assembling and displaying magnificent structures of deceased creatures she has collected over the years. Adding to her oddities, she also likes blaring screamo rock music when she drives, has a mad passion for sweets (which BTW will make her squeal like a 4th-grader), and she won’t hesitate to whistle at a person’s toes which she consumes as fantastically unusual . . . yeah. A bit rough around the edges, old-fashioned, snarky, deviant, and obsessive, Sakurako is the ojou-san of the decade! She is the Victorique to my curious Kujo ^.^

There is also a clumsy but kind cop, a school friend who holds regret in her heart, a plant fanatic teacher, a grandma who humbly bakes tasty treats, and a cursed family dog. A nice batch of supporting characters, they are. If Sakurako is the skull and Shoutarou is the sphenoid, then this group makes up the hearty backbone.

dessert

Other than “mystery” being listed as its genre, the other factor that made me dive into Beautiful Bones was the entrancing animation done by TROYCA. They did some work on the characters in ALDNOAH.ZERO, which I am personally a fan of. So to see them tackling a project all on their own made me really excited! I specifically loved the critical designs that went into the house: the emerald wallpaper, the old wood texture, the embroidered carpeting, and of course, those beautiful bones. Sakurako’s initiation sequence into a case (cue glove snapping) was also quite enchanting. Just in general, Sakurako anything was to die for.

There were many elements in the sound department that won me over. One was the voice acting done by Shizuka Itou AKA Sakurako-san. She did a phenomenal job at capturing her snarky yet occasionally sadistic tone I mentioned earlier. I also liked the sound effects that accompanied the little moments: rattling bones in a box, flipping through pages, and that signature glove snap of hers – YES to all! Third was the soundtrack, which unfortunately has so little info about it that all I could find was the song below. I left in the animation sequence version just to get you going! The opening, “Dear Answer” by TRUE also got me in certain ways.

Just watch her go . . . and be amazed by the music! LET IT CAPTURE YOU

One last theme that Beautiful Bones hits up on is regret – “the feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done.” Nearly every episode introduces a character holding regret next to guilt. Sakurako, for instance, keeps secrets from the boy regarding a certain tragedy that occurred in the past, which she regrets. Another more obvious case is the teacher, who seeks repentance by _______ ______, in hopes that they would make up for the lives he couldn’t protect. If there’s one thing that this anime taught me, it’s that “Time doesn’t heal all wounds, and if we act in the moment, we can prevent regretting things,” or something to that extent.

Bones are not only the symbol showing that we died, but also that we lived. They solidify and prove our existence. That said, the mysteries that unravel in this series focus more with coping for those that were lost. “How they died” is always the grand question, but Beautiful Bones clings to “Why they died, and what were they thinking before their life was taken?” It is, after all, as its opening statement remarks at the start of each episode:

“A Story Dedicated to Those Trapped by the Past”

Thus, it wasn’t designed to be a hardcore Sherlock mystery series to begin with. All stories have a beginning and an end, life and death, and though this anime might ring or remain flat with you, Beautiful Bones -Sakurako’s Investigation- provides interesting counselling to those indeed trapped by the past, and is more than worth the look if you are still wondering why your grandma wanted you to pick up some ice cream before you came to visit her.

“There are things that have value because they’re pointless, you know.” – Shoutarou Tatewaki

+ Sakurako-san is ojou-san of the YEAR, very peculiar, unique character

+ Capitalized on themes of familial loss, regret, and living life in the moment

+ Very entertaining mystery series

+ CHIC animation, clean look, nice textures, charming character designs

– Yet another light novel adaptation, meaning WE NEED MORE SAKURAKO

– Varied pacing and contrasting slice-of-life with thriller was a bit rough, though still enjoyable

So who else thought that Sakurako-san was BAE AF?? Also, have you given this anime a look yet? If not, check it out on Crunchyroll for FREE if it’s available to you! I am eager to know your thoughts on this mixed-bag mystery anime as well as any thoughts about my review :3 If you’re out and about and stumble across a corpse – Don’t panic! Who you gonna call? Sakurako-san!! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

 

Charlotte Weaves an Entertaining Web of PLOT TWISTS | Review

A spoiler-free review of the 13-episode summer 2015 anime “Charlotte,” produced by P.A. Works, based on the original story by Jun Maeda (Angel Beats!, Clannad).

 – View in browser, not app, for best experience –

“What the heck, Takuto? Charlotte? Really, Charlotte??” Actually, yes, I’m not pulling your leg. I originally wasn’t going to watch this anime, as I heard it didn’t live up to the hype, but something in me clicked (my love for P.A. Works), and I found myself attempting to marathon this thing at 1 A.M. It took me three days to finish (sad, really) but I thought I’d share why you actually might want to check Charlotte out. Surprised? Keep reading.

Yuu Otosaka is what I would call a lucky bastard (at least in the beginning). Blessed with charm, wit, and outstanding looks, he also possesses a secret ability to take over a person’s body for five seconds at a time. Being a teenage boy, Yuu abuses his gift to slip into female bodies (wouldn’t blame him), have some fun with bullies, and cheat on tests to slide into a prestigious high school

Just as life couldn’t be more sunny for Mr. Cheater, camcorder-wielding Nao Tomori, a deadpan invisibility-user, catches on to Yuu’s tricks, leaving him and his li’l sis one option: Transfer to Hoshinoumi Academy, a school for students with these supernatural abilities. Yuu, incredibly flustered, agrees solemnly.

tumblr_nqz84dkTcK1uohxh3o1_500

BUSTED

 

There, he is forced to join the student council led by Tomori, where their task includes stealthily tracking down ability-abusers like himself and dragging them back to the academy. As these reconnaissance missions push the student council to their limits, however, Yuu unravels more shocking truths of the world around him, and that his own ability holds much, much, more potential than merely peeking down a girl’s shirt.

fg9KYOj

Jun Maeda has this gift for instantly allowing me to fall in love with his characters through simple, occasionally childish actions. That said, he’d be a lot better writer if his stories didn’t have 500-FREAKIN’ teenagers in them! I’m not criticizing him in ANY way at all, and I understand that the story needed a new dude or two, but the anime’s latter half could have gone without the introduction and glossing over of ten new characters. Why not just use-rinse-repeat with the student council members? We already fell in love with them.

Before I move on, I’d like to enforce how much I love the Otosakas, Tomori, glasses-friend-kun, and the moe idol “Yusarin~”/fiery sister. Had this been all the story had, I probably would have enjoyed it much more. Frankly speaking, less characters = more time for others to shine, and in Charlotte‘s case – sparkle. I waltzed into Charlotte thinking, “Hey, we learned our lesson with Angel Beats! right?” Apparently not. But much like its angelic-battlefront predecessor, it only takes a three-minute cafeteria scene to score big with the heart.

On another note, boy, Maeda certainly prefers his supernatural teenagers “paying the price for being special,” eh? You’ll explore that with Yuu Otosaka and his unsteady mental rise and decline. Charlotte doesn’t sugarcoat depression, and it’s scary good.

 

 

P.A. Works puts on yet another flawless depiction of high-school livin’ on the animation front. It’s fluid, high-powered action scenes contrast with the gorgeous backdrop to create a very supernatural and off-putting vibe when it wants to. I always thought of P.A. Works as KyoAni’s older sister, showcasing maturity over cuteness yet still being very youthful. Character designs are attractive, comedic moments will make you laugh, and that signature P.A. Works sky is simply to die for!

The only disappointing scene from this department was the concert snippet we get. It wasn’t poorly animated, it was just so lackluster compared to its predecessor’s, which even gets a blatant reference when Otosaka is watching anime at a computer cafe. At least the story involving the ‘post-rock’ star was a touching one.

For soundtrack, what we get is . . . actually pretty nice. It’s apparently arranged by ANANT-GARDE EYES and Maeda himself, so make of that what you will. The feeling I get listening to these tracks is in fact similar to Angel Beat!‘s, but again, make of that what you will. Playful and relaxing, energetic and intense, grim and remorseful – It all blends in really well with the atmosphere.

“Bravely You” by Lia is our opening, and if I haven’t made enough comparisons to AB! by this point, then you’ve got to be blind . . . kinda like half of the cast (OHH, BURN). The song fairs particularly well, growing on me as the series progressed. What really got me was the animation sequence that pairs with it. Lia has always been good at breathing life with P.A. work’s visuals (or vice versa, rather), making them seem like they belong hand-in-hand; It’s not just a sketch set to a song, but a moving, breathing piece.

I held my opinion of the story until now because here’s where things get real messy, really fast. Charlotte is pretty much firing on all cylinders until we hit the last third portion of the series. Until now, we’ve been wasting time at school steadily chugging along, makin’ memories and enjoying ourselves with a memorable cast, but a second sudden PLOT TWIST throws everything into the shitter. Maeda must’ve gotten bored with the slice-of-life school romance and PLOT TWIST shot the anime down a rugged path looted with amnesia, sudden-death, insanity, identity disorder, the questioning of humanity and sin, and PLOT TWIST, time travel. Great. Fans are never going to live this down, are they? Granted, it handles these attributes immensely well, but the PACING is horrible – as if the situation wasn’t drastic enough – and then BAM, another PLOT TWIST. Charlotte fell of the map in the last leg of its race, and I won’t even mention the final episode – An episode so diverging and literal that it could’ve been the foundation for an entire series by itself. What the frick???

While I can’t say I was in love with Charlotte the entire time, I still give it props for knocking me off guard at least a dozen times. Its unpredictability matched with likable main characters, stellar animation, and a semi-linear plot is still enough to hold much emotional appeal. Charlotte was trying to accomplish way too much in such a short run, and it begs the question as to whether some of its PLOT TWISTS were even worth sacrificing a good batch of characters (Yuu’s journey was excellent, though). Entertaining? Oh God, hell yeah! Artistic? Meh, it felt like several great stories mashed together to create something pretty wicked. It could have taken many different directions, but instead Charlotte decided to swing us waaaaaay outta orbit, sprinkle on its character development, hammer the plot, then soar right back out until the very end . . . Kinda like a comet.

“Do you know the story of the geocentric model? Today, we know it’s complete nonsense, but it used to be accepted as common knowledge. However, reality did not agree. What do you think happened to the first person to ever question it? They were called a heretic, cast out, and stripped of all their power.” – Scientist Tsutsumiuchi *cough theme cough*

+ Core characters highly likable (and PHENOMENALLY VOICED!); Yuu has one crazy journey

+ Balanced comedy, action, drama, and even romance nicely

+ Emotionally gripping even when plot goes down the drain

+ Absolutely gorgeous and consistent animation

– You don’t need a dozen PLOT TWISTS to keep me invested

– Plot pacing so horrible it hurt to breath

– Misplaced character focus (too many of them); glossed over vital characters

So that’s Charlotte. If y’all are scrounging for something unpredictable, here’s a winner. It’s a sweet “Cake” for me! Fans of P.A. Works should also get a kick out of it, despite its misleading direction. Lastly, consider watching if being critical isn’t your thing – it’ll at the very least keep you very entertained (watch me on Crunchyroll for FREE)! Did Charlotte mindf*ck you repeatedly until you didn’t even care anymore, or were you pleased with the end result? Let me know in the comments and we’ll chat! Also, I figured out how to put in videos thanks to the Otaku Judge and Rocco B!!:) Thank you for spending your time to visit little ol’ me, and until another review next year, this has been

– Takuto, your host