For the Team – Free! & My Swim Story | OWLS “Team”

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  sixth monthly topic, “Team,” I decided to incorporate what would have been a “Cafe Talk” about my high school swimming experience, along with my thoughts on the anime Free! into one big post over sticking with a team to the end.

While the prompt was more intended as dedication to “Pride Month” and all of those who support the LGBT & Queer communities both in real life and in anime, the generosity and flexibility, as well as the promoted creativity that OWLS is known for, allows me to bend this topic back to its home nature: companionship found in teamwork. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

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A brief discussion on the 12-episode summer 2013 anime “Free! – Iwatobi Swim Club,” and its 13-episode summer 2014 sequel “Free! – Eternal Summer,” both produced by Kyoto Animation, directed by Hiroko Utsumi, based on the original story by Kouji Ooji.

“After High School, You’re Ordinary”

This was what Haruka Nanase was told long ago and, nearing the end of his own high school experience, Haru is still unsure of what to make of his future. Swimming as early as elementary school and winning races and a tournament with his childhood relay mates—all boys with very much girlish names—Makoto, Nagisa, and Rin, Haru has always loved the water. When they all went their separate ways for middle school, Haru dropped swimming entirely. Now he’s about to enter the real world, all dried up for a life of normalcy.

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That is—until the boys reunite in high school. Only desiring to race Haru after all these years, however, Rin could care less about the old team being together—he only wants to find out that HE is indeed the better, faster, stronger swimmer.

Without Rin, the three boys form a new Iwatobi High School Swim Team, and it turns out that their first challenge is not training and practicing hard, but actually recruiting a fourth member so that their relay can face off against Rin’s team later in the season! Eventually, these boys, bound by friendship, the spirit of competition, and the love of the sport, will discover what swimming in a relay means to each of them!

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And Just Like That, We’re Off the Blocks! 

Free!, like a well-trained athlete, balances episodes of training and technique with bits of fun, slice-of-life ventures and some emotional turmoil inbound. By using races and competitions as peaks of interest (and a way to execute the boys’ hard work), everything flows smoothly and as such makes time fly by. By the end of the two seasons, all relationships and story developments feel comfortably resolved—and that’s all I can ask of most adapted works these days!

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If it’s not apparent to you yet, the boys of Free! are very beloved by its fans in the community, and for good reasons, too. They all have such great . . . chemistry, and truly, they’re more than just friends—they’re family, the kind that look out for each other before themselves, as well as value each others’ strengths and weaknesses alike. Each so unique and diverse, they all have their own personal demons, but rather than facing them alone, they fight each battle as a team, causing their bonds to develop even further. I’d dare say that Free!’s characters form one of the most heartwarming squads out there; if not the best, they’re at least favorites of mine!

Name a Better-Looking Sports Anime. I Dare You.

Looking back, Free! was the first Kyoto Animation show to leave its signature mark on my viewing experience, and boy is it delicious. Not the muscles, well, maybe the muscles. I’m talking about the water—to quote Haru, it’s as if it’s ~alive~. Their attention to how water actually flows in real life is incredible. You could almost call it “liquid smooth.” KyoAni has a splendid color palette, which is bright, airy, and cheerful, not to mention that their eye for the cool, modern aesthetic is top-notch. Color and tone values help to distinguish between scenes of comedy and rivalry. I almost feel as if I’m cleansed when I watch this show, if that makes any sense at all.

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But the boys, oh yes, they are youthful, breathtaking creatures with beautiful physiques. I said it. No regrets.

The seaside OST also provides a flowing atmosphere from scene to scene, specifically those “go out and do something wonderful” tracks like “Rhythm of Port Town” and “Revelry of Student.” What the show’s probably known for music-wise is its energetic openings “Rage On” and “Dried Up Youthful Fame” by the wild OLDCODEX. And then there’s that ending “SPLASH FREE” by STYLE FIVE, a group composed of the five lead seiyuus (loudly sings 50% OFF ver).

For the Team: My High School Swim Club Story

My 8th grade summer ushered in a whole new set of problems: high school was right around the corner, and I was a) waaaay out of shape and b) wanted to fit in. So I was just like anyone else, right?

That’s when I told myself to do a sport—my first one ever—that no matter what happened or how bad I looked, I’d do it just for the sake of doing it. I was considering track for pole-vaulting since a close guy friend of mine did it. Then I looked at tennis.

Tennis couldn’t be that bad, right?

Then summer got real hot. Like, sure, it was 90+ degrees each day, but, early on during my anime experience when I was unfamiliar with simulcasts, I ran into a 30 sec trailer for something hot.

Really hot.

It was other peoples’ phrasing, not mine!

But there was NO WAY I’d “wear a speedo.” Heck, I didn’t even know if my high school had a boys swim team. So I rummaged the yearbooks and did a little online looking and sure enough, there it was.

As the summer drummed on, Free! kept calling be back to YouTube each week where someone would upload the episodes. Not the best streaming service, but I didn’t mind. Anyway, the way their club started off so small and so closely knit, and then the fact that they were STUNNING to look at—I had to do swimming, I just had to.

Season one ended leaving me in high spirits and hopeful that whatever came that coming winter (cause that’s when swim season was here), I’d be more than ready.

Flash forward, the school announcements read off an early interest meeting for the sport. I was overly nervous, of course, but I showed up, and just like a lost freshman EVERYONE knew each other already. Like 20 guys that all were buds with each other. I was already lost, and ready to give up.

Then the first practice came, oh god, the first practice. I received swimming lessons from a countryside town growing up, and so I thought I was a champ at it. But in fact I sucked. Really bad, hahaha!

The next practice came and five or so of the team didn’t show up.

They quit. Each with their own excuses.

Wat.

There were so few members on the team that we were all considered “varsity” swimmers, so at least that was neat. Little ol’ me was varsity as a freshman!

I somehow finished that year improving times meet after meet with the other first years. But my eyes never stopped wandering off to our lane four relay. Coincidentally, or perhaps by fate, there were four of them: one for each of the strokes, one for each of the boys in Free!

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I wanted to be like them. So I worked my ass off at morning practices and afternoon practices day after day after day.

I was even awarded the “Most-Improved” on the team! Still got the medal displayed in my room.

Then they all graduated. Except for one, since he was a junior, but yeah, they all had left me. They left the team, leaderless.

My sophomore and junior years ushered in new issues. New coaches, new members joining then quickly dropping for all the same things, but the core members of the team never left, and now they’re some of my greatest “upperclassmen” friends. Facing the facts, the others just couldn’t take the heat of practice.

But I could, and I did.

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Senior year came. Three other seniors joined me, but then those same three quit the very next day. By the end we were eight strong, but became eight of the closest guys you could ever imagine. We were all swimming Free!.

But there was this one freshman in particular. He was good. Very good. Like crazy good enough to make State qualification times in our first meet.

*gulp*

Then there was me, who had actually peaked his junior year and suffered all season with a young hot-headed coach who didn’t even know what “mercy” meant.

I suddenly felt unqualified. Alone, if you will. Days grew longer, my body grew more tired, and yet my times never improved.

I even remember crying myself to sleep one night, swearing to myself that I’d quit at practice the next day. “Who even needed to say they swam for four years during high school?? It’s not like I’d remember any of it a decade later!!”

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But then I thought about me—myself, that scared little guy who, during his freshman year, witnessed several of his upperclassmen leave the lanes for good. If it weren’t for those four boys, our A-Team relay, I probably would have—

I WOULD HAVE QUIT A LONG TIME AGO.

That’s when it hit me: I wasn’t staying there for me anymore. Heck, I didn’t need swimming, or an in-shape body anymore—it’s senior year.

But what kind of message would that have sent to them, their families, this community, that a team of only freshmen and sophomores were left senior-less after they all quit??

Nope. I was there for them. For the team that never left me when I was a first year.

For the team. 

So I whipped myself back into shape, my psyche ready for any challenges that came my way, because I wasn’t swimming for my own times anymore—it was for the relay, for the team!

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This past spring, we finished seven strong with one of our guys leaving us due to his parents moving away. But we never forgot him, and we never forgot about us.

And it was that fleeting member who got us to compete at State. Relay times are generally left permanently for the team, which is why, when he left, we met consideration time. It was just a few aching days after that we found out that our qualifying time got us in.

We stayed overnight in a fancy hotel, exploring the town together with our coaches, shopping, laughing, making those kinds of memories.

The kinds you’ll never forget.

And then we swam at state. That one really good freshman OF COURSE placed in the top ten. Our relay . . .

We didn’t make it to the second day, hahaha! But we were lucky enough to even be there in the first place, right?

When our splits (individual times) were captured by our coaches and the timing mats, my own time came in:

I swam a 24-some-second 50-yard freestyle in our relay. That is, to date, the fastest I had ever swam, and I nearly cried. We were all yelling and screaming and cheering so loud that we nearly lost our voices, but we didn’t care at that point, cause we all for the most part had swam our best when it mattered most, and ya know,

That means the world to a Team Captain.

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Like Free! tries to tell us, you can be the best swimmer or the worst swimmer, but if you don’t work together as a team, you’ll never win what truly matters: friendship, companionship, brotherhood—they’re all synonymous at this point.

We go about our lives thinking and acting like we have to carry our own weight, and to an extent, that’s true. But like a relay, everything we do is ultimately for the team, for some group, tangible or not, that is bonded together through incredible triumphs, pitfalls, or just good memories.

And if you find yourself losing passion with something, or are stuck with a team that frankly isn’t filled with the most wonderful of people, then BE that wonderful person for the team. Do what I did and work your butt off, sweat your tears away, and devote everything you’ve got just to say that YOU never left them when it mattered most.

Cause ultimately, you, too, are part of a team, their team, and you should do things just like that:

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 This was a very long post (laughs) and I apologize, but there’s a lot to be said about Takuto here. A lot indeed. And if you read it all, from beginning until now, I can’t honestly thank you enough! Free! may be male fanservice to everyone’s eye, but to me, it’s a beautiful and inspirational coming-of-age story filled with compassion and teamwork that inspired me to take on a seemingly impossible journey—impossible alone, that is. It’s about growing up and finding out who you really want to be; about dedication, self-motivation, and life after graduation. Through Free! I made friends and fell in love with a sport, but more that I made memories to last a lifetime, and that’s irreplaceable.

As such, both seasons of Free! are awarded solid “Caffe Mochas” ratings, and should be watched on Crunchyroll or Funimation’s sites for FREE (hah) at one’s earliest convenience. That is, only if you’re craving something really hot.

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This concludes my June 5th (now 6th, apologies) entry in the OWLS “Team” blog tour. Being the first one to kick off a tour of this magnitude is quite a heavy weight, but hopefully I did a decent job, and now we can carry that together, right? Please tune in to Remy Fool (The Lily Garden) as he discusses the poor perception of male crossdressers in Japanese media this Monday, June 12th.

To all the guys I swam with throughout my four years, from the team that inspired me to the one that I, myself, hopefully inspired, thank you for all of the laughs and the memories—this one’s for you. Stay silly my guys. 

And to you, my favorite readers, an even greater thanks! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, once a team captain, now just another blogger

Rei

 

Versailles is Not for All, But Indeed All for One

A spoiler-free review of the 40-episode fall 1979 (wow!) anime “The Rose of Versailles,” produced by Tokyo Movie Shinsha, based on the manga by Riyoko Ikeda.

History is Timeless

It should come across as no surprise to you when I say that “History is timeless.” It also shouldn’t be very startling to hear that we as humans have made more mistakes than triumphs, and that the stories we craft are centered on correcting these mistakes, righting wrong, to reach a triumphant end.

But what happens when history IS the story being told, in that no matter the effort that goes into the rising action, the resolution is that repetitive, burning, regrettable end we try to avoid in stories? Tragedy is born, my dear reader, and “tragic” is indeed the word which encompasses the French Revolution. This single period in history will eventually spawn thousands of tales of its own, one particular rendition brilliantly capturing the many ugly and beautiful faces of this rebellion – The Rose of Versailles.

A Rose of Red & White

So I partially lied above when I claimed that history itself was acted out directly for this work. From the incredible mind of its creator Riyoko Ikeda, Oscar François de Jarjayes is the main character brought to life by the story. Historically, “he” is a man who will, for this story, be a blend of many other significant figures in the revolution. Born to a noble house in need of a male heir, Oscar, a woman, is raised to be a man of valor, vigilance, and vitality, a new kind of “character trope” which will eventually be coined as the “strong woman.” A loyal knight and dear friend of Marie Antoinette’s, Oscar serves her beloved France like a hearth for a mansion, neither wavering in spirit nor charisma in front of the rich and poor alike. Like the scrolls call for, however, Antoinette, a redeemably innocent girl at first, will eventually lead the throne into further corruption, to which Oscar must take a stand for the glory of France – the people – or for her beloved crown in the palace Versailles.

Want to know how to spoil the anime for yourself? You cannot. Versailles is unique because knowing how it ends works in its favor, similar to adaptations of “Romeo and Juliet” or “Animal Farm.” It’ll start with Antoinette’s arrival to the pristine palace and end with her untimely beheading, just how we know it. Even if you knew each of the dirty bits surrounding the revolt, such as the “Affair of the Diamond Necklace” and the terrible folks that manipulated and crushed others to secure a cushy seat in the palace, this anime, though still about the revolution and its events, has another objective: Oscar. She alone is worth watching this series for.

A rose of many thorns, Oscar is cast with a terrible fate from the get-go. Jarjayes needs a male to succeed his place, so BAM, Oscar, you are now his son. Also, buddy, you’ll have to struggle against being a man for the public yet a woman for yourself. Your heart will be torn to pieces by your own prickly thorns as you choose between a fellow knight of honor from a foreign land, or your childhood mate who has always had your back, but never both. Your highness, whom you cherish like a baby sister, will learn from evil influences, and it’ll become impossible to manage both her and your own image. Finally, your homeland will succumb to the invincible flames of the revolution – Flames which burned you for many years beforehand because Versailles – the place you call home – is ultimately a royal hell on this cruel Earth. Yet, you knew all of this, and you still must choose: Be red, or fade to white.

“Ching.” That’s what a sword sounds like.

This is the technical part of this review, introducing features like animation, sound, and voice acting. On the animation front, 1979 sure does hurt! The over-effective glitter during these original shoujo moments is quite much, and the ridiculous, lackluster sword fights do not do much to help the cause. Some awfully cringey facial expressions and spoon-fed symbolism also are a drag. As I said, 1979 hurts, but maybe that is where part of the magic stems from. The aging quality Versailles carries brings in strange emotions like disgust and lust alike, and while I still push for a four-part film series remastering the entire series by Ufotable, I could just as well endure this and admire one of anime’s earliest masterpieces. It is one of those, “Laugh now? Hah, you’ll be on your knees begging for mercy later.”

In the sound department, I sigh internally. You can practically make out a man exclaiming “Ching!” with every sword clash. The over-dramatic echoing effects of shattering glass and collapsing bodies also gave me annoyed shivers. It helps, however, when Versailles walks home with one of the musical soundtracks ever. The OP “Bara wa Utsukushiku Chiru” drawing the comparison between Oscar and a rose, the ED “Ai no Hikari to Kage” depicting her struggles with romance and feminine life, and all of the fantastic tracks in between set a strong stage and leave a solid impression on what true shoujo drama should sound like.

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The show was also never given an English dub – Good thing it will never need one. I am not one to nitpick with Japanese acting, as I sadly do not speak the language, but by God, when Oscar asks for a leave of absence you damn well give her one! Where the visuals could not lift the show, the acting brings all of Versailles’s drama to life.

Why bother reliving the past?

It is arguable the French Revolution started because human beings are inherently evil people, and that all people are born equal. Those who oppose drink their half-full glasses knowing that humans are beings which can reflect on their mistakes to better themselves and the world. The Rose of Versailles masterfully captions both of these viewpoints and reiterates them in a powerful soap opera for anime fans. Portrayal of the female spirit in the ladies of Versailles and of the slums adds additional gold foil to a solid foundation. Melodrama is an enhanced asset that the show flaunts gloriously, and its execution is impactful on a very deep emotional level, given the short time it takes to adjust to the production quality. Just, DO NOT LET THE ANIMATION FOOL YOU, PLEASE.

Lastly, the cast of this historical “story” is just us living in another time, a barbaric fantasy which seems eons ago. The only difference is that this current humanity does not need fancy balls and lavish candelabras to vent its frustration. The Rose of Versailles is not for all, but all for one. In other words, with its age, shoujo background, cheesy moments, and 40-episode run, it is clearly not for everyone; however, it is more than willing to fight for the good of the cause, and for justice everywhere. Its realistic quality and well-researched plot should also give most history buffs a run for their money. Heartwarming and heartbreaking, this is a classic for a reason, and as such should be adorned at your nearest convenience.

“Love can lead to two things: the complete happiness, or a slow and sad agony.”

“No, no, Oscar. For all I know, love only leads to a slow and sad agony.”

                                                       – Oscar to Fersen

Nozomi Entertainment’s two LTD ED boxsets sit with poise and elegance on my shelves, awaiting my return to a dark period in human history just so I can re-emerge enlightened and exhausted. I thank you for spending the time to read through my thoughts, and I do hope you feel the urge to suddenly dip into this classic! I’m not sure if you will pick up on this, but this review was once again done in a different fashion. One change is trying to put a piece of fan art that took out of the experience. Do you prefer this new format over the old one? How about your own thoughts on The Rose of Versailles? Was the masterpiece story enough to sideline the iffy visuals for you, or not? As always, let me know in the comments, waltz on over to that like button if you enjoyed the review, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Tags: Anime, Berusaiyu no Bara, Oscar François de Jarjayes, Reverse Trap

Like and share and maybe, just maybe, Ufotable will hear Lady Oscar’s pleas~!

 

Cafe Talk #4: “HARMONIZE WITH ME MAGGOT!” (a Ren-fest experience)

Grab some hot apple cider or a chilled fruit drink because it’s finally time for another “Cafe Talk!” Chinese food, old men in capes, and bee swarms – This one’s a doozy but I’ve managed to get it all (and no, I’m not just trying to reach to a wider audience)! I won’t be leaving an outro at the end like I usually do, so if you have had similar experience you HAVE to let me know in the comments! While you’re at it, feel free to hit the like if you enjoyed the story 🙂

First some prior knowledge:

I frequent a Renaissance Festival every year with my family and I absolutely love the art of it. It started off as my siblings and I performing music with a Celtic group in “The Chapel,” but when the academy went under we stopped going because we had to and started actually enjoying the festivities.

Flash forward and I’m eating Chinese food on a Friday night. I know right, great way to spend the day. But after devouring my beef fried rice, my fortune cookie did as they usually do: It told my future.

Next week, green is a lucky color for you.

So I got super paranoid and tried to remember to wear green throughout the week. I think I managed to fit one day in, sporting a regular lime Nike shirt, but nothing “spectacular” happened. In fact, I was probably even more exhausted that day . . . But Saturday came around ( I realize that a new week would have passed the Friday right before, but it’s a fortune cookie, and their magic can be a bit iffy at times), and this was our family’s planned day to wake up at the freakin’ crack of dawn, dress like fools  epic knights, elves, what have you, and arrive at the Renaissance Festival at 10 AM-ish. Due to my crazy student life (also noticeable by the lack of posts, sorry), I had virtually no time to prepare a costume like I usually do. So what did I end up with?

My makeshift Attack on Titan cosplay outfit. It’s the stereotypical neat jacket, the tight-ass white jeans, that leather skirt thing, a plain gray shirt, and my brother’s old Ren-fest-bought leather boots that resembled giant socks after so much wear and tear. Lastly, a short leather cloak with metal clasps with a freakin’ awesome hood that I bought in the previous year or two to function as the Scouting Regiment’s symbolic flare. Seems legit, so no biggie.

Long story short, I had a fantastic weekend. My weirdo sister kept SnapChatting pictures of an old man in a red cape, crown, and shades who, I’m SO SORROW OLD MAN, looked like a fool. My mom ordered a delicious apple-pie-ice-cream-thing-which-has-a-name-that-escapes-me, and was pretty much attacked by bees that buzzed around occasionally (they left after a while). The sad part in that is that my mom hardly orders anything for herself, but at least she liked the dessert! Anyway, she ended up buying herself a damned nice black cloak and a fancy blue corset, so it all worked out.

Seriously though, awesome weekend! But the story doesn’t end there . . .

We spent the whole day there. Tired in my sock boots, we were making our last rounds of enjoying the smell of roasted peanuts and turkey legs, the cloudy atmosphere, the assorted wooden structures in the hills, and the cool 60-degree HEAVEN until we ran into a large group of young adults. I looked down as per usual and kept to myself, but then an enchanting cosplayer in a white and red fox outfit called:

“MY YOUNG TITAN SLAYER, come hither ~!”

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Something like this.

F*ck.

What do I do?? EVERYONE was looking at me, but I couldn’t even notice them I was so nervous. I bumbled around but quickly accepted my fate. This could have been a call of sorts, you know?

Honor took over me, and I did the fist over heart salute like they do in the show. Everyone smiled.

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I approached the now nicknamed fox demon woman and, after a bit of small talk – her spewing compliments about my wondrous leather one-of-a-kind Scouting cloak – the tall man in the group towering over me (whom I now just noticed) gave a hearty chuckle. The fox lady and the others coaxed their bud into saying something that I’m not sure he himself was wanting to say or do, but he did:

“I can do an impersonation of Keith Shadis’ abridged voice from the YouTube video.”

“Well,” I sputtered, “You have to do it now.” hehehe

And then, clearing his throat, he yelled the scene during training camp right before he twists Armin’s neck. He yelled it loud and proud, starting with the “sweet mother” part.

“Do you sing?”

“No,” I sputtered, according to the skit.

“HARMONIZE WITH ME, MAGGOT!!” woooaaahhhHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

“WAHAHAHAHGAGAGAAGAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHAH!!!!” I screeched at the top of my lungs.

Then he twisted my neck, gently of course. And it was awkward for everybody.

Oh Internet, how you . . . scare me sometimes. But seriously, where’s the lie?

It was the first time anything like this had ever happened, but oh boy, how I’ll never forget. Everyone around was sharing good cheer, smiling and laughing. I, like everyone else, applauded his and my efforts to pull it off.

That’s when the fox-lady burst out how cool of a guy I was, and then she asked a fatal question:

“Wah, you’re so freakin’ awesome!! Do you have Facebook or something so that I can contact you?”

Ouch. Yep, I’ve got no social media. Just an email, a phone number, this cafe, and of course my MAL . . .

WAIT?!? Doesn’t every anime fan under the sun have a MyAnimeList account??

Too bad I didn’t think of that in time. 

I replied with a weak “no,” and she and the rest were like, “Bummer, well this was so much fun, anyway! :D” I had missed my chance at a real-life stranger-to-friend situation. I had failed as a human. I mean, I didn’t want to just give my email, isn’t that a bit too personal for not having even getting to know each other?

But then she glimmered with hope. “Do you go to any conventions? Maybe we can meet up again sometime for something silly like this!”

“NAKA-KON!” I probably shouted hoarsely. Maybe there is a chance at redemption now!

“Cool! Well then, we’ll be seeing you around!”

And that was that. Two seconds of fame but no way to ever get it back. Perhaps this spontaneous coincidence was meant to be. Heck, a nearby girl in Scouting Legion cosplay ended up being right behind me, and after hearing our skit, she ran up to me with a high-five and we took a picture. So one with her, and one with the other big group. Proud memories to cherish as an anime fan!

We had no Armin since I have dark hair, but hey, pretty much.

So what was the message in it all? It is what it is, or it’s all ultimately left up to Fate? I’m not really too sure myself. But as for my fortune cookie I hinted at in the beginning (but sadly managed to squeeze no luck out of), what color was my Scouting Regiment cloak – the very thing that spotted me out from the crowd?

Oh damn it all.

🙂

– Takuto, your host

Code Geass: A Masterful Rebellion To Be Remembered

A review of the 2006-2007 anime “Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion” and its 2008 sequel, “R2”

***Beware of slight spoilers, though everyone should have seen this show by now***

Before I start writing, we must travel back in time to December of last year – my amateur Guilty Crown review *shudders*. In it, I accused GC of “stealing something precious from every solid robot/action anime prior to its own existence,” and that it was “just a messy conglomeration of past sci-fi anime.” I actually confess to being the one guilty here, as prior to that review I was honestly just venting others’ thoughts rather than speaking my own. I knew nothing about the mecha genre of anime! So now, I apologize and atone for my sins by witnessing the very chaos where Guilty Crown got its roots – And it all rises with a single rebellious command.

Secondly, my god, how I love smart characters. Enjoy ~

By 2010, the totalitarian Holy Britannian Empire, which already claims a third of the world, captures and strips the honorable Japan down to petty people. Now renamed to Area 11, the “Elevens” no longer enjoy a life of freedom and pride, but slave away while the Britannian aristocracy stands over them with overwhelming wealth and authority, wine glasses in hand.

Lelouch vi Britannia, a banished royal youth has been taking refuge in the prestigious Ashford Academy with his blind and wheelchair-bound little sister Nunnally. Going by the last name Lamperouge to escape execution, the two became members of the spirited student council. All goes fairly well for the two, but Lelouch can hardly even call hiding in secret day by day living! So when a Japanese terrorist operation results in a horrific highway wreck, the witness Lelouch runs to check on their safety, but instead uncovers a classified Britannian “weapon” of sorts. Her name is C.C. (pronounced C2), and she bestows the near-omnipotent power of Geass upon him – the power of absolute control over another, which merely requires direct eye contact and a command to activate.

It’s at this exact moment that the scheming Lelouch ZERO begins his awe-inspiring rebellion to destroy Britannia and recreate the world anew, all for the safety of his crippled sister and to uncover the mysteries surrounding his mother’s death. Zero rallies his Black Knights, the Japanese terrorists, and sets his sights on liberation, but by donning the mask of a criminal mastermind and wielding his King’s Power mercilessly, he shall pave his own path of solitude and shoulder all of the world’s evil.

Code Geass is a complex anime to watch. Half of the show is following Lelouch as he scrambles identities from school boy to the anarchist Zero, while the other half is political mumbo jumbo. Between constant Geass brainwashing, royal court betrayals, and countless bickering, national figureheads, each complete with an ideology of their own, it’s quite easy to get lost. The plot also relies on very meticulously placed characters to show you what you need to see, when you should see it. I don’t think this overly convenient placement is considered plot armor for Lelouch, for he is quite the intelligent badass, it’s just that there is an inhuman amount of info to keep track of, considering that each character’s current knowledge, prior history and point of view is equally important toward the end result. One easy slip-up early on and his whole uprising would have fallen flat -_-

As a viewer, I was very stressed to find no answers to any of my several hundred questions after the first season, but in due time, everything became clear. Often, explanations arrive too late in the series, however, which only adds to the long-standing confusion. My episode one qualms no longer seemed relevant to what was going on.

About the mechs. While the first season valued tactics, ahem errr, strategy on the battlefield, the second season’s combat was structured on “my gun is bigger than your gun,” of which the sexy Rakshata or ridiculously quirky “Earl of Pudding” would steal the other’s ideas to invent a better one. These scientific discoveries were pointless compared to the supernatural Geass, though they were at least entertaining. The second season’s use of flight capabilities also took out the thrill that came from ground combat. All in all, I really enjoyed the solidly strategized Knightmare Frame battles, but I could have gone without the boring aerial stuff.

As for characters, we have the aforementioned Lelouch Lamperouge, the brilliant chess master who is justly one of the BEST anime characters EVER, like do I even need to explain? Always several steps ahead of the game, using whomever he needs like pawns to create a new world. One character who constantly bumps heads with him is childhood friend Suzaku Kururugi, a knight of justice who in contrast to Lelouch believes that the means are more important than the end result. Due to “Spinzaku” being Japanese, his righteousness brings punishment from leaders on the both sides, however, and his stubborn will causes never-ending interference with the Britannian nobles and Lelouch. A fine character nevertheless.

And of course, the rest of the cast is extraordinary! Nobles like Prince Schneizel and Cornelia li Britannia (BEST GIRL) continually throw in spicy curveballs. A rebel like Kallen challenges her very existence because of her being half Britannian and half Japanese. Lovers like Lulu’s sister Nunnally, Rolo, Jeremiah, Shirley, Villetta, and eventually C.C. heighten the levels of drama. There are also the Black Knights, Ashford’s student council, and other royals that play their part exceptionally well! Granted some of the characters are incredibly dumb, and in the second season there are a lot of bipolar decisions, I was pretty damn impressed with what we got. Lastly, Code Geass never forgets about a single character; each one is gradually touched on throughout the entirety of the franchise, and that is not an easy feat to pull off!

Animation was done by Sunrise, and since I have not watched many mecha anime, it was a huge change for me to see robots that were all drawn. Unlike most CG, I was never taken out of the world thanks to the drawn appearance, so that’s a plus! Another nice factor was the character designs done up by Clamp. There’s just something so incredibly sexy about those elongated chests and limbs tagged along with bold, charming, unique faces that made me go mmmm. I especially love the eye and hair designs (Leads, Euphemia, Cornelia), so rich and fierce 😉

Ahh, the OST by Kotaro Nakagawa and Hitomi Kuroishi, much like the animation, a strong point. It’s an epic, classical, string based soundtrack, which are my favorite kinds, but occasionally there are soft, Celtic-esque tracks that play during the most depressing moments, milking all that they can out of a scene. Some of the best songs include “Black Knights,” “Beautiful Emperor,” “Lullaby of M,” “All-out Attack,” and the famous “Madder Sky.” But the one that tops them all, possibly my favorite track from an OST, is the bittersweet “Continued Story” by Hitomi Kuroishi, which played in the final episode. From YouTube, this is the song that got me into the show, and literally tears run down every time . . .

The very first and last ending themes, both Ali Project songs, also added fuel to the fire of the rebellion! Check out “Yuukyou Seishunka” and “Waga Routashi Aku no Hana,” as they are both eerie and insane!

I can now easily understand why Code Geass receives so much conversation and the title of classic. I was always trying to guess what Zero would do next, but little did I know that he had everything in the bag from the start, or so I believe. The show excels in all categories and provides the genre with ONE OF THE BEST (TRAGIC) ENDINGS IN ANIME HISTORY. Code Geass is a battle of wit, a competition for science, a war of mechs, a struggle for royal power, a strife for family, and above all, a rebellion to be remembered. By accepting Geass and becoming the world’s greatest antihero, Lelouch vi Britannia dug his own grave, and once he reaches the pits of hell itself, he shall take all of the world’s hatred with him.

“Suppose there is an evil that justice cannot bring down. What would you do? Would you taint your hands with evil to destroy evil? Or would you carry out your own justice and succumb to that evil?” – Lelouch Lamperouge

+ One of the best main characters to hit anime, supporting cast also brilliant

+ Masterful varying portrayals of justice and other ideological themes

+ Excellent English dub (especially Lelouch, Suzaku, Kallen, Cornelia), strong soundtrack

+ Gripping, curious, and intense story to the finale, one of anime’s greatest endings

– Plotline involving Geass history/Emperor’s grand plan could have used more combing through

– Several moments were a bit too conventional for Lelouch, some bipolar actions made to keep story moving

– 2 seasons; 50 episodes can be very extensive for some

This was definitely a difficult review to write, as I was pretty much just fanboying the entire time 😀 I did have a few complaints, though. But after considering the clever ride from start to finish, it deserves the Caffé Mocha award without a doubt! 9/10 for both seasons to those following my MyAnimeList. Action, romance, drama, great characters and story – EVERY anime fan must watch this show! The varying genres of school, mecha, war, comedy, sci-fi and more also make this show interesting. I feel I have the room to judge anime a little better now that I’ve seen this classic (and that cart scene, I see what you did there). My god, I’ve never been so entertained by one character in such a long time ahaha AHAHAH MUAHAHA – ALL HAIL LELOUCH!! Now, I command you to like, comment and follow my blog, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your emperor