Lord El-Melloi II’s Greatest Trick is its Production Value || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode summer 2019 anime series “Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files: {Rail Zeppelin} Grace Note,” animated by TROYCA, directed by Makoto Katou, and based on the light novel by Makoto Sanda.

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A Clock Tower Mage

These past ten years have been fairly good to Waver Velvet, considering his major defeat in the Fourth Holy Grail War and the loss of his dear friend and servant, Rider. Faced with the immense guilt of having lived while his former mentor, Kayneth El Melloi, died in the war, Waver takes it upon himself to teach in El Melloi’s place at the esteemed Clock Tower, the center of education for mages. However, to teach as a “Lord” comes with a caveat: obey the orders of Reines, the younger sister of the deceased Kayneth, until she is old enough to rule the House of El Melloi.

Now a pawn to Reines’ whims, Waver, along with his mysterious apprentice Gray, must take on a series of cases assigned by the young blond she-devil and the Mages Association. While Reines certainly has her fair share of secrets, what perplexes our Lord El Melloi II even more is the bizarre magic behind each twisted case he encounters, and how the Clock Tower is always somehow tied to all of it.

The first half of this short series is comprised of anime-original cases, usually concluding by the end of each episode to begin something new the next. They serve as introduction to our characters and give us a glimpse into the world they live in, and while some find them ultimately pointless and poorly written, I thought they were entertaining enough. Sure, the characters could’ve been given more backstory to help define their actions in the present, but at the same time, you’re encouraged to piece together what you have seen of these characters in previous entries to surmise their full character. It’s kind of a crummy tactic though, especially if you haven’t seen Fate/Zero or Fate/Apocrypha (which the series oddly borrows a lot from character-wise).

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Following these episodic cases is the main case, the Rail Zeppelin story adapted straight from the novels. On this elusive train, rare magical items are auctioned off to prominent buyers. During the one trip Lord El Melloi II happens to be invited on, a passenger is murdered, and it’s up to Waver and the other mages, some friendlier than others, to find the killer.

Why This Isn’t A Good Mystery Series

Although a direct spin-off sequel to the classic Fate/Zero, The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II is a supernatural fantasy series that differs from other entries in Type Moon’s Fate franchise in that its main focus revolves around the element of mystery. While the show’s got enough magical fights intertwined with its mysteries to keep it visually entertaining, it admittedly doesn’t try very hard at being a “good” mystery series.

Truly good mystery series leave the art of deduction ultimately up to the viewer; the viewer should be given enough clues to solve the given case, any last-minute twists or secondary shock aside. By inviting the viewer to participate, all clues should be on the table, as well as any prior knowledge necessary to crack the case. Seeing as how mystery is derived from facts and fantasy shows are grounded in magic, it’s no wonder the two genres aren’t often seen together.

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So, El Melloi II violates one of mystery’s greatest hallmarks: stealing the power of deduction from the viewer. No matter how much you ruminate over each case, you can’t solve it. But if we can’t, who can? Well, his name just so happens to be in the title. Leave it to good ol’ Waver—a character who lives and breathes in this universe—to swoop in and teach us the trick behind the magic, all whilst leave us feeling dumb and frustrated about something we couldn’t solve from the start because the series didn’t give us enough information to do so ourselves. At least the Fate cameos are fun. Kind of.

For Fate Fans, By Fate Fans

Y’all are probably only watching this anime for one reason: Waver Velvet. And by watching, you’ll get lots of him, and it’s great. Waver channels his inner “old man” and hardly ever lets up. He yells at kids, likes doing his work in a specific cafe, and naps on his couch when he needs a break from life. But trust me, this is the same old Waver we knew and loved from the Holy Grail War. Even now, he’s chasing Rider’s shadow, and the series does a nice job at following his character arc.

Often we are shown flashbacks of young Waver in his academy days taking on risky stunts with his rich mate Melvin Weins, a frivolous dude who’s got one baaad case of hematemesis (blood vomiting). These flashbacks bridge the past and present, and if more Waver was all you were wanting from this show, you’ll more than get your fill of Fate‘s best boy.

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Reines El Melloi Archisorte steals the show whenever she’s on screen. Reminiscent of Negima‘s Evangeline A.K. McDowell or Gosick‘s Victorique de Blois, this blond-haired, green-eyed, shit-stirring loli puppets poor Waver around with her sharp tongue and crafty wit. She’s lots of fun to watch, and helps fill in more lore to this expansive franchise. Reines also uses magic often in her daily life, whether to set up a bounded field for private communications or use her mystic eyes to see something other mages cannot. The series does a nice job at portraying Reines’ abilities through such casual displays of her family’s power.

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Along with Waver and his watchful mistress are familiar faces from all across Fate. The hyperactive Flatt and honorable Svin, two of my favorite fine British lads briefly recognized from Apocrypha, loyally accompany their teacher and wield their knowledge to help solve the various cases. Or maybe they’re just trying to get closer to Gray, who is kind of this enigma the whole time that . . . well, I still don’t really know who she is (which is terrible writing on their part).

Also joining the class is the studious Caules Yggdmillennia, whom you might recall from Apocrypha as well. Same goes for Kairi, the shades-wearing bounty hunter who fought alongside Saber of Red in The Great Holy Grail War. And my favorite cameo of all, Miss Luviagelita Edelfelt, gets not just one but several episodes to prove her worth (and her wealth) without Rin there to provoke her. I swear, each time I see this woman, I fall for her overwhelming personality and haughtiness more and more. So yeah, for me, the character interactions are EASILY what make the terrible mysteries palatable. That said, it really is a show exclusively for existing Fate fans.

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TROYCA Delivers Style & Kajiura Returns to Fate

Let’s say you’re not having the characters OR the mystery elements, what else can salvage the experience for you? Well for one, the art and detailing for this series is incredible. El Melloi II really does try to take us back to Fate/Zero days with the same dark aesthetic. Drizzly weather covers London in clouds and fog, giving the setting a delicate sense of antiquity and age. Stained, wood-carved furniture, translucent glass tea cups, and intricate gold, emerald, and rose-patterned wallpaper. Decorative mansion rugs, tall arched doorways, shimmering chandeliers, and shiny stainless steel silverware. We’re in London alright.

We’re talking Ufotable levels of beauty here, and the fight scenes are just as cool to watch. Only the character designs feel less like Zero and more of Apocrypha‘s, but even this looser, more expressive style I appreciate. TROYCA really outdid themselves with this one. And would you believe me that we haven’t even gotten to the best part of the production?

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Yuki. Kajiura. Two words, one name, and without her music score, I probably wouldn’t have stuck around. Kajiura brings to El Melloi II the signature charm that all great detectives and spies in fiction have. As iconic as Mission Impossible and Agent 007, now our very own Lord El Melloi II has his own snappy and jazzy theme song, composed by the one and only. The rest of the OST is full of Kajiura’s sweeping strings, powerful chimes, glorious choir vocals, and enchanting melodies that’ll both lull the heart and signal the call to battle.

She even composed an instrumental OP, “starting the case: Rail Zeppelin,” that just screams EPIC when paired with stylish visuals. And while I thought we were done for without Kalafina (RIP), ASCA comes along to sing the ED theme “Hibari” written by Kajiura herself. Guys, you have NO idea how much I’ve been listening to this beautiful song and reflecting on its gentle, wistful lyrics.

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What Did You Expect?

If you’re no stranger to Fate like I am, you’d know that the franchise is notoriously bad at defining rules for the interworkings of its magic system. That’s probably cause there’s A LOT of different kinds of magic performed throughout all of Fate, which is likely a result of so many different minds getting a hold of the story, and thus different viewpoints in how magic should be spun.

In that respect, El Melloi II is no different than all that came before it—and with a poorly explained magic system comes practically no way to solve each of the cases presented in the series UNLESS you are somehow incredibly well-versed in the Nasuverse spellcraft or have read the novels, neither of which being likely.

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The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II is neither as clever nor as pleasant as it could’ve been, but what rare cross-universe character dialogues offers is gold for a Fate fan such as myself. You could also argue against this point, saying that the characters were poorly mixed into a story that doesn’t even need them, but at the end of the day it all comes down to expectation: How much were you expecting from El Melloi II?

Even knowing full well that it was a spin-off (and despite its direct ties to the great Fate/Zero), I still didn’t expect much from this one. I like to think that because I had such low hopes, I was honestly surprised with the quality of this series. It’s not the best mentality to go in with, but it worked for me. And hey, the series looks great sounds fantastic. Considering how awful some other Fate spin-offs have turned out, I’d call Lord El Melloi II a worthy watch for fans that have been craving even the most quaint of returns to Zero.

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Even if the Holy Grail War is over, life continues . . . to the point of absurdity. — Waver Velvet


Afterword

I ended up liking Lord El Melloi II a lot more than most, and hey, maybe it’s cause I was expecting something lame. Or maybe TROYCA and Kajiura saved it for me. Regardless, I award the series (with the benefit of the doubt) as a “Cake,” but will only recommend it to those Fate fans who have seen everything and want everything there is to see. For casual viewers, there’s otherwise not much here for you, especially if you don’t know what parts of the franchise all these different characters hail from. Any thoughts on The Case Files of Lord El Melloi II? I’d love to hear them in the comments. ‘Till the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Given: Broken Heartstrings & Unforgettable Sounds || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 11-episode summer 2019 anime series “Given,” animated by Lerche, directed by Hikaru Yamaguchi, and based on Natsuki Kizu’s manga of the same name.

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Rocky Starts, Aching Hearts

Between playing basketball at high school and dabbling on the guitar in his small band, Ritsuka Uenoyama has found himself stuck wandering the lonely desert of academic boredom. He dozes off in class, sleeps during break, and only looks forward to jamming out with a couple of upperclassmen college friends in the evening.

One day, he sees a classmate of his, Mafuyu Sato, cradling a broken guitar on a secluded staircase. Although Uenoyama makes nothing of restringing Mafuyu’s red guitar for him, Mafuyu becomes completely attached to the dark-haired musician and insists Uenoyama teach him how to play it. Uenoyama initially shrugs him off, but when he hears Mafuyu singing for the first time, his voice leaves a deep impression on him. He can’t get it out of his head, and eventually finds himself drawn to Mafuyu’s aloof yet mysterious allure.

Given is a single story split among four separate narratives, each with their own unique perceptions of the conflicts presented throughout the series. Equal parts slice of life and drama, the series follows four students in an amateur rock band and the dual romantic relationships that form among them: between shy vocalist Mafuyu and passionate guitarist Uenoyama, and between the caring bassist Haruki and stoic yet silly drummer Akihiko.

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Given is also a BL adaptation, and it doesn’t ever stray from that intent (which I respect). But hear me out. At most, the series presents its shounen ai relationships with genuine care and realism. It’s far less sugarcoated than most BL anime out there, and frankly just a really good romantic drama about curious feelings and the closet. This particular set of 11 episodes tells the story of the band coming together, their complex feelings toward one another, and specifically the growing relationship between Uenoyama and Mafuyu leading up to their first performance. The series never felt rushed, nor does it end too optimistically to be true, which is probably what I appreciated most out of the series—aside for the characters themselves, of course.

Complicated Feelings, Complex Characters

The main focal point of this series is around Uenoyama and Mafuyu’s relationship, which admittedly has a rocky start and is only littered with more misunderstandings as they go along. But somehow, like with most love stories, the two make it work.

From the get-go, Uenoyama is about as relatable as they come. Uncomfortable with relationships (in general), unsure of how to express his feelings, questioning what these sudden emotions of his are and where they come from—the whole confused teen-sexuality shebang. We see jealousy build up in Uenoyama as he unravels Mafuyu’s past relationship with another boy, and how this jealousy and regret slow down his performance both on the court and in the practice room. His declining musicianship is called into question by Haruki and Akihiko, and from there the upperclassmen work to help out his love life (and in their own unique ways). I just love Uenoyama’s character arc, and I’m really satisfied with how he grows from a dense lump of laziness to a person who actively seeks to understand both himself and his partner.

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Mafuyu. Oh lost little Mafuyu. Cute little Mafuyu. This kid really does resemble a puppy, no lie! Introverted, quiet, and reserved, Mafuyu is on a quest to reconnect with a person from his past, unbeknownst to any of his new band mates. He’s never picked up an instrument before, yet seems to have a talent for singing. This secret agenda AND hidden talent of his are what guide him to Uenoyama and the band. Little does he know that through their mutual love for music, Mafuyu’s past is dragged out into the open and exposed—but also cared for and carried together with his newfound friends. While I personally found the plot spinning him in some moments that were a bit too melodramatic, I still like Mafuyu a lot, even if he isn’t the one I identify with most.

Haruki and Akihiko, bassist and drummer, are the other pairing in this story. While doomed with an obsessive, unrequited love, Haruki secretly fawns over Akihiko, even if the guy’s a big musclehead. It’s unfortunate that Akihiko just might already have a partner, but manbun can’t help himself anyway. The way Akihiko sleeps, the way Akihiko compliments him in practice—Haruki just can’t get enough. But as the band’s “leader,” he is torn between resisting his urges and pursuing his own happiness in love, despite this directly violating his philosophy that relationships between band members just doesn’t work out in the long run.

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More of Haruki and Akihiko’s relationship will be explored in the 2020 Given film, but I really like these two dorks a lot (especially manbun) and how they make the effort to support one another and their band mates. Such bros.

Iridescence in Motion

Lerche really is my favorite animation studio, without a doubt. Given boasts a visually bright style to highlight the beauty of youth and the joys of love in this series about those two very concepts. While the screen is light and colorful nearly all the time, we see color drain as winter sets in towards the end of the series—the pivotal climax where potential heartbreak lies. I use the term iridescence because, like emotions, these luminous yellow, tangerine, and turquoise filters shift when we see the same set from a different angle. It’s clean. And it’s aesthetically pleasing.

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Giving new meaning to the phrase “lighting design,” Hikaru Yamaguchi’s strong direction really shines in both the intense moments and those of tranquility or thoughtfulness. And the attention to detail in the instruments is NUTS, not to mention the studio painting a timeless picture of modern day Tokyo. The guitars, amps, and drums look AND sound incredibly authentic, and the detailed city backgrounds are delicately crafted with architecture that mirrors real life Shibuya and Machida, down to the last little street sign and business advertisement. Lerche makes anime reality look even better than REAL life in this beautifully made series.

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Character designs also glow with this attractive and cute aura while maintaining respective ages. (It’s nice to see college dudes that LOOK like college dudes and not 40-year-old men!) Speaking of characters, I don’t really give shoutouts to seiyuus unless they particularly stand out to me, but wow, here we’ve got four fantastic leads! Shougo Yano brings to Mafuyu a high-pitched innocence that has made characters (and fans) fall for his charm left and right. Yuuma Uchida gives Uenoyama a grumpiness and stubbornness that suits his character so very well. Masatomo Nakazawa makes hearts swoon as Haruki, and I just adore his sass whenever Akihiko requests something of him. And none other than Takuya Eguchi brings this lovable lug to life, perfectly capturing Akihiko’s serious and goofy sides.

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A music anime has to have good music in it, obviously, and Given does not disappoint. Michiru provides a musical score full of chill blues guitar, casual jam session rifts, and delicate melodies to make any grown man cry. My favorite piece of music from the show is the energetic yet wistful OP “Kizuato” by Centimilimental. Mafuyu’s VA sings for us the tender ED, “Marutsuke,” which appropriately features animation of a puppy rolling around during the theme. Mafuyu also gets his own little song that I won’t spoil for you, so all-in-all, you’re in for a real treat with the music this time around!

A Given from the Start

Is it okay to be happy when you know someone you loved had to suffer for it? The answer, of course, is yes. So long as we are alive, we will always have the chance to be happy. What matters most is whether you are able to accept what has passed and move on for yourself. That’s what Mafuyu has to find out for himself; Uenoyama just nudges in the right direction, and even gives him happiness in the present.

Having watched the series, there’s still lots I want to know about. What happens to the characters from here? Does the band go on to perform more concerts? Does Uenoyama still write music for Mafuyu to sing? For now, however, this is a strong step forward for BL anime, and incredible representation for the genre as a whole.

I like music anime, great romance stories, and studio Lerche. Perhaps it was a given from the start that I’d love this show, but the series has proven that if you surround yourself with positive influences, good things will surely come your way. At times painfully resonant, other times light-hearted and fun, Given will continue to pluck at your heartstrings both throughout each emotional episode and long after the series is over.

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Hearts are like guitar strings. They won’t play sound if they’re too loose. You have to wind them up until they’re about to break, and that’s when they become a wave the hit your eardrums. — Ritsuka Uenoyama


Afterword

Yeah, I liked this one a lot. No surprise here, but Given is certified “Caffe Mocha” stuff, and easily one of my favorite titles from 2019. I wonder who will pick up the license for this gem and give it the physical release (and dub!) it deserves. Until then, I’ll keep recommending this title through Crunchyroll—as all of you should be doing! I’m happy the reception for this series was so overwhelmingly positive, but I’d still love to hear your thoughts on Given or this review down in the comments. (Plz, I’m lonely and need someone to love this show with!) Until the next review, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Typhoon Noruda: A Storm of Emotions || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 30-minute 2015 anime original film “Typhoon Noruda,” animated by Studio Colorido, and directed by Youjirou Arai.

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Thunder in the Distance

On the eve of his middle school culture festival, Azuma has a fight with his best friend Saijou after suddenly deciding to quit their baseball team. Azuma’s reasons are his own, but Saijou just can’t understand why his friend would depart from the sport they’ve been playing together since childhood. Any time for reconciliation is cut short by the shattering of a glass window in their classroom, and the fierce winds of a typhoon rocking their little island.

Right before the rain hits, Azuma notices a girl who, despite wearing their school uniform, doesn’t actually attend their school. Or at least, she shouldn’t. Shrouded in mystery, the girl quickly flees, and the storm rages on. What connects this enigmatic girl to the typhoon that is shaking up their island, and can Azuma and Saijou’s friendship be saved by this tempestuous storm of emotions?

As far as characters go, Azuma and Saijou aren’t the most memorable boys out there, but they tell their story well enough to convey their frustrations with miscommunication and self-esteem. They are charming in their own way, Saijou embodying the “prince” of the class, confident and always willing to lend a hand, and Azuma being a total introvert just wanting to mind his own business and figure out what kind of person he truly wants to be. Dynamic as they are different, they really do mirror the interplay between thunder and lightning, rain and wind—one following the other in this clash of ambitions.

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To save a young girl, two boys must first save themselves. Azuma uses the girl’s dire situation to prove to himself that he can help other people, and Saijou takes Azuma’s abrupt disappearance to reflect on their relationship. I can’t really say anything about the mystery girl without spoiling the entire plot, but I find her mere presence and willingness to lend an ear to a complete stranger to be proof that people are—as they have always been—worthy of redemption.

Soaked in Aesthetic

What immediately draws the viewer to Typhoon Noruda is the animation, no two ways about it.  From the sparkling rain to the leafy trees, busted wooden floorboards, and colorful school festival debris blowing in the wind, the attention to detail in crafting this turbulent environment truly paints the picture of a severe tropical thunderstorm.

The film looks incredible, with fluidly animated and expressive character designs, and the titular storm intensifying in the background. And the ash-colored clouds, how they move with such majesty, as if to shout, “Behold the storm!” Talk about a stunning sight. Down to the last drop, Studio Colorido produces a visual spectacle, and an ode to all us thunderstorm lovers. It’s as if a Makoto Shinkai setting and Mamoru Hosoda characters were married off and bang, Typhoon Noruda. Well, Comix Wave Films was listed in the credits, so it’s no wonder the Shinkai aesthetic feels so present here. 

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For sound, Typhoon Noruda is supported by your standard string orchestral soundtrack, 15 minutes worth of music that follows the characters through to the climax. The real gem here is the credits song, “Arashi no Ato de” or “After the Rain” by Galileo Galilei, which is so good it gets its own official VEVO video, how about that. Seriously though, reminiscent of youthful days and fleeting childhood, this ED theme was how I was introduced to the film—and it’s arguably better than the film itself!

Lastly, John Swasey directs a solid dub, Greg Cote conveying the honesty and extroverted nature Saijou’s rash character, and Adam Gibbs nailing the discomfort and insignificance of Azuma’s naivete. I found myself really relating to Azuma through Gibbs’ performance, as I certainly know what it feels like to be the social outlier in class.

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Rain or Shine, We’ll Make it Through

Just as it sounds, Typhoon Noruda is a school fantasy short film anchored around youth and friendship. Despite only 26 minutes to tell its story, the film does follow a decent progression of exposition, rising action, and climax, never sticking on one plot point for too long. By the end, the conflict between the two boys feels decently resolved, and you’re only left briefly pondering a bit of the fantasy aspect (which I won’t spoil for you). It’s not perfectly convincing by any means, but for a mere half hour, the experience of the storm itself makes the film worth watching.

Simply, Typhoon Noruda is an entertaining, endearing story about insecurities and self-expression. As a small indie project from Studio Colorido, the visual and audio quality of the piece far outshines any looming clouds one may have about the plot and characters. Save this one for a rainy day, and you just might find yourself whisked away by the storm, left only to the freeing pleasure of having watched two relatable teenagers face life head-on—and leave their misgivings with youth behind with no regrets.

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Remember, cherish what you have. — Noruda


Afterword

I remember chatting with Neha over at Biblionyan, saying how I’ve been wanting to watch this film for sooo long, and how I even owned the Blu-ray yet just left it sitting on my shelf! Well, part of me was saving it for a rainy day (literally) to soak in the entire ambiance of stormy afternoons, which I finally got. I talked more about that feeling in my most recent “Cafe Talk,” so be sure to check that out. Anyway, I’m really glad that I enjoyed the “Cake” worthy Typhoon Noruda. It’s not a novel piece by any means, but for 30 minutes of unfiltered thunder and rain, what’s to lose?

I’d love to hear whether or not you enjoyed this recently licensed title by Sentai Filmworks! If you’ve yet to see it, but have been wanting to as I was, I pray for a cloudy day on the forecast just for you! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Saving an Anime for a Rainy Day || Cafe Talk

Spring is my favorite season, if only for the rain.

Two years ago I came across a YouTube VEVO music video for “Arashi No Atode” by Galileo Galilei. The song was stuck in my head for weeks after, and I remember being spellbound by the breathtaking visuals of this little video. When I found out that it was made of clips from an actual anime short film, I freaked. After doing some research, I found that this anime, Typhoon Noruda, was not the most “beloved” film by most fans (a 6.3 on MAL, I mean, c’mon people, it’s not that bad). But I wanted to see it anyway.

A year later, I got that chance, when Sentai Filmworks license rescued the title in 2018. For some reason, I still held these feelings that it’d be a “magical experience” if I were to watch it on a rainy day, even if just an average-rated film. So, in favor of milking the most aesthetic out of this $8 Blu-ray, “Save it for a rainy day” was exactly what I told myself.

Another year passed. The stormy morning that I was desiring seemed like it’d never come. There were opportunities, but none where I felt I could fully dedicate myself mentally and physically to this highly anticipated effort. Winter, spring, and now it was summer 2019. Late summer, the beginning of a new fall, and the end of my chances, I knew.

Until today, September 9th, a Monday morning before classes. It finally rained. And it poured, too. I tossed my book bag aside, having woken up early to relax before classes, and immediately plucked the Blu-ray off my growing to-watch stack and plugged in the disc. 

And there I sat, for 26 unfiltered minutes, soaking in the compressed audio of a typhoon on screen, and feeling the hard rain and thunder pounding against the wall I was propped against. It was such a spontaneous decision to watch it when I did, but I have no regrets whatsoever with how things played out. I felt alive, as if I were truly living right then and there, in that storm of emotions. 

For that brief half hour, I was caught in the wind’s current, and helpless to the awe of the storm both on screen and right above my head. So much time and anticipation had coalesced into this single transient moment, and before I could comprehend that it had begun, it was over, just like that. 

I spent the rest of the morning letting the rain brush against my jacket and roll down my sleeves as I walked to my class. Rolling into my first morning class right on time, I didn’t mind that I was a wet mess; I was literally soaked in aesthetic, a feeling that I had been waiting years for. No one was about to take this self-care moment from me. 

Today I watched a film I’ve waited over 2 years for. And sometime this very week, I’m actually going to be publishing the review for it. That’s crazy to me, a true full-circle experience. Now, I can finally put the Blu-ray back on the shelf, and merely hope for another rain to bring another unforgettable experience—and a new story to tell all of you.

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Oh the things I do for ambiance! While I enjoyed the aesthetic experience and cathartic feeling of watching Typhoon Noruda more than the actual film itself, I do still have some thoughts on it. Mostly good ones, too, so please look forward to my full review of the film here in a couple days.

Have you ever held off on a book, a movie, or a TV series just because you thought you might enjoy it more under a set of specific conditions? What about even something as trivial as a special piece of candy you received as a gift, or perhaps that brand new jacket with the bright colors and big hood? Please, share your stories in the comments! If you’re currently saving an anime for a “rainy day,” I especially want to know what title that is and why. Thanks for joining me on this little story time, and hopefully I’ll see you all again for the review!

– Takuto, your host

Ending Summer With a Splash! || “Free!” Collab w/LitaKino

Lita (LitaKino Anime Corner) and I have been planning this thing for SUCH a long time now, and I’m so excited to finally see it happen!

Welcome to my first aniblogger collab of 2019! As the title suggests, joining me on this little adventure is the spunky and out-going Lita! Lita and I go way back as blogger buddies. Ever since I first started, she was there, and I’ve never forgotten about her presence (I mean, just how could you?).

So, when she approached me with a collab proposition, of course I couldn’t refuse this dear friend of mine! In fact, it had me thinking that except for being members of OWLS, Lita and I had never actually done a collaboration effort of any kind together. Kinda crazy, I know, and I’m thankful that she reached out to me.

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If there’s one thing that bonds Lita and I aside from our history as bloggers, it’s that we both love anime with a focus on one of these unique factors: mecha and seaside. So, when the idea for a collab was pitched, naturally there were several worthy candidates for discussion. Perhaps we will return in the [near] future with a post over, say, Space Battleship Yamato, Gargantia, or A Lull in the Sea. But for now, we settled on a title perfect for rounding out this summer.

On today’s plate is a special aquatic title that means a lot to both of us, and what with the summer heat finally starting to wind down, I thought it’d only be appropriate that we end summer with a splash.

It’s no surprise that Lita and I both love Free!, for some reasons similar, others vastly different. Challenged with inquiring one another about anything we’d like about the franchise, I sent Lita seven questions, and below are the seven that she sent me. Let’s check out what she asked!

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The Free! OST for every season is phenomenal. There’s a variety of music mixes from high-pump, urban trance to subtle softness. Alongside the music, the series encompasses that aquatic factor. Do you feel the music elevates the series in its entirety? What are some of your favourite tracks from the OST?


I firmly believe that without Tatsuya Katou’s music work on Free!, there simply wouldn’t be a “Free!” (or, at least the one we all know and love). Music adds motion to a series, breathes life into a space that is otherwise just pretty visuals and characters. For Free!, and I’ve expressed this numerous times, the show likely wouldn’t be nearly as impactful were it not for Katou’s OST.

Unforgettable tracks like “A Boy in the Water” and “Innocent Boy” cue us in to the mindset of the main character, Haru: passionate, yet perhaps searching for a larger purpose in life. “Rhythm of Port Town” introduce us to the fresh, family-oriented landscape of the fictional seaside town of Iwatobi. “Revelry of Student” brings out the sweet flavor of Nagisa, as well as shows that high school life can still be fun even if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing and where you want to end up. “Old Days” allows us to relax and come to know Makoto, Haru’s best friend since childhood, as well as the sort of refreshing life they live together.

In “I Need You,” all of the tension in Haru’s life starts to break down, despite his carefully plotted attempts at living a calm and collected lifestyle. Then comes along “Night Sky & Ever Blue,” which relieves the air and gives us a hint at the score’s main theme through vibrant strings and a slow-grooving percussive rhythm. Lastly, we rejoice as “Melody of Ever Blue” chimes with celebration and finale, marking the end of this first season.

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I skipped over so many tracks, not to mention only covered the FIRST season of three. Each has their own OST that continues with these themes and goes in their own directions, which is wonderful as a devoted listener. I actually own physical CDs of the first two soundtracks (dinosaur tech, I know), which is why these particular tracks instantly jumped into my mind. This first album, “Ever Blue Sounds,” is my personal favorite, as I believe it encompasses everything Free! has been about: youth, memories, and the future.


No one thought KyoAni’s choice direction of how swimmer boys are portrayed would earn such massive popularity. The intended audience seemed to be for females, but as one of few dudes I know that actually likes the series, give us your perspective on why you love Free! as much as you do.


I actually wrote an entire post just about my love for the series, which you can read right here! Basically, it boils down to being one of those shows that aired at the right place, right time. I came across an ad for the series on YouTube back in 2013, and came back each week to watch the entire thing there too. The series aired in the summer right before my freshman year of high school, which eventually inspired me to pursue the sport that fall.

I love Free! for the relatable characters, the gorgeously animated water effects, the heartwarming score, and of course, the story. But perhaps I love it even more because I was also able to fall in love with the water as these boys did, which has gone on to influence four more years of my life and now through college even!

Free! gave me an entire new world to express myself in and meet new people through, and I think it’s that unique combination of personal history and actually appreciating the series as more than a character drama (but as an actual sports anime) that has made me love Free! more than most people I know.

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Now, apart from the hot swimmer boys, Free! has a good swimming focus. As I know you were or still are an active swimmer part of a team, did you feel Free!‘s representation of life was portrayed to an extent that you can relate to?


As an anime, Free! glorifies the sport far more than it probably should. In fact, you could argue that swimming is just a vehicle for larger themes the series presents, such as life in the adult world or having the ambition to go beyond one’s personal limits.

But yeah, swimming is still a sport. And a hard one, too. The first season focuses a lot on basics, from understanding the different strokes to the logistics of swimming in a relay. I like that part about it a lot. Of course, that won’t stop the series from including a somewhat unrealistic beach training episode.

Even as a surface level exposition, Free! isn’t like Yuri!!! On ICE or Haikyuu!! where it’d tell you how scoring works, technique, etc. Instead, the technicalities of the sport take a back seat role to add in that pleasant mix of slice-of-life and dramatic rivalry, which works far better in Free!‘s case for sustaining audience attention in my humble opinion.

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So, can I relate to it as a swimmer? For the few swimming-specific training moments that are in it, as well as the heart-pumping pre-race anxiety, absolutely. I still get PTSD stomach jitters whenever they dive off the blocks. However, I would hope that at least foreigners to the sport would relate to the stress and emotional tension of swimming in a relay—that part Free! got right.


You’re a water baby Taku, as am I, so have to ask the question . . . Did watching Free! make you want to go swimming immediately? I ask because it did for me after watching first few episodes—I hit the pool the next day! 😂


Technically speaking, I joined the swim team right after I finished watching the first season, so, umm, yes. Haha! But I know what you mean. Cooking anime make me want to eat food. Naturally, swimming anime want me to swim. Even the airing of the third season during my freshman year of college had me wanting to get back to the pool. My career as a lifeguard throughout high school up to now is my only other link to the water, so I guess you could say that each time I rewatch old parts of the series or get to see new content, I dig out my goggles and jammers just in case the need arises. 😉

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The bath tub just really isn’t the same :/


I feel the series was cruel in the moments where Makoto and Haru have “close encounters” (you know, the whole queer-baiting thing). Did that ever bother you, make you squirm a bit? Or maybe make you think, “Oh, I can see them as a couple.” Because Lita over here did (my mind went there).


At first (so we’re talking, like, 2013), the series definitely gave off a fanservice vibe more than anything else. Yet for some reason, I always saw Haru and Makoto’s relationship as too platonic to function. They walk together, train together, and even sometimes share a meal with each other. But it makes sense—after all, they’re neighbors, and family friends at that. Heck, I’m sure we all wish we had a friend like Makoto!

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Seriously though—and maybe this is just me, but I wonder if it applies to other sports players and their corresponding sports anime—by this point, I’ve seen so many dudes in jammers and speedos (cause of swimming) that I’m pretty desensitized to it all. I find their emotional connection much more wholesome than their physical one (if such thing did/does exist). Now, I don’t play volleyball, so in the case of Hai—


The main characters of Free! always get talked about, but did you have a favourite side character from any of the other teams?


YES, and his name is Momotarou Mikoshiba!! Nobody talks about my sweet otter boy, and that makes me sad. He’s a weird one, not gonna lie. I find Momo’s enthusiasm and innocence to be so goofy and contagious. His loud, cat-like personality is also a plus. Add in his mad backstroke skills, flaming orange hair, and odd love for beetles, and you’ve got chaos incarnated. IDK why I like him so much, I just think he’s a fun character, plain and simple. Underrated, too.

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Finally . . . hehe a cruel question. If you were a girl, which swimmer boy would you date? (😂😂 coZ there all soooo pretty ya know 😉😏)


Aww man, she just had to ask The Question 😉

Ok, so logically speaking, Haru might have the prettiest face, but he’d be awkward as heck on a date. Rei’s too good for me. Nagisa sounds like a fun time, but he does seem young, doesn’t he? Sousuke is too much of a man (he’d crush me between those biceps, let’s be honest). Rin is . . . just not my type, too extreme. Same for Asahi, though I would prefer him. Ai is too innocent. Momo is a cool cat, maybe him . . . ? Ikuya is much too emo for my liking (lol), same for Shizuru, that new Iwatobi swimmer. Ikuya’s bro Natsuya seems like quite the charmer, so there’s a possibility . . . Hiyori is an ass, so he’s out. I don’t know much about Nao, but idk he seems too pure for this world.

Who does that leave us with? Well, if it were younger me, I’d pick Romio, one of the new Iwatobi swimmers. He seems like a good and honest kid that I’d want to know more about, and he’s Nagisa and Rei-approved, so there you go! He also looks like Tom Holland so there’s that.

Really though, there’s only one true choice for me. You should be able to figure it out—after all, he’s the only one I didn’t name! #TeamMom

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And that’s all I got for our collab. Getting to reflect on Free! is always a fun time, and I’m glad I was able to do it with a friend! Speaking of, be sure to check out MY questions for Lita over on her side of things! I think both of us did a fair job at posing each other those Qs, and I hope we get to do it again in the near future. In the meantime, be sure to give Lita a follow—she’s one hardworking gal, and her content is always fun to read!

The world of Free! is only expanding. Although KyoAni has likely put their 2020 project on hold (and for understandable reasons, my goodness), I’ll look forward to whatever comes next—whenever it comes—with the same hope and excitement as I have for every installment thus far.

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Thoughts on any of our questions or answers? Be sure to let us know in the comments! Oh, and feel free to answer any of the questions yourself if you’d like! Thank you again Lita for reaching out to me for this collab! Until next time everyone, this has been

– Takuto, your host

July 2019 Anime, Manga, & Light Novel Pickups | RightStuf 32-Bit Birthday Haul

Hello all!

Since my recent summer Sentai Filmworks haul post was so well received (thank you very much), I figured I’d share some of my other pickups from this past July. There’s a lot to get through, so let’s take a look!

But first, Happy 32nd Birthday to RightStuf! Most of the anime and manga were bought during their sale, so in many ways, this is also one big haul post. Thanks for all the sweet deals!

We’ll start with a couple films. While I’ve never seen Sword of the Stranger, I was convinced to pick this movie up because it’s always featured in those “best fights in anime” videos (plus it was $4). As for Modest Heroes, I can comfortably say I am a Studio Ponoc fan all the way, and will continue support their work however I can!

After finally getting around to this well-known franchise’s first season, I decided to get Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond to see how it continues. Supposedly it gets better, which is comforting given that I thought the first was slightly above average at best. Love the shiny holo slipcover!

I’ve been such a huge Yona of the Dawn fan ever since the anime aired several years ago—so much so that I even bought the first NINE volumes of the manga in hopes of eventually reading the story past the anime’s untimely conclusion. I decided to opt for the split part one/part two releases (despite a complete collection already in print) to savor all that art on the BDs, only to be disappointed that my part two set didn’t come with a slipcover. Oh well, ya snooze, ya lose. :/

I can bet you already know why I snagged this lovely gem! It’s the Fruits Basket Sweet Sixteen Collector’s Edition, and might I add that this is one nice set.

If you already own any prior LTD ED set, I don’t believe this is necessary. But if you’re wanting it for the upscaled quality, the stylish white chipboard box, or the plethora of decent-quality art cards, then I’d say go for it.

Look at all them cards! So many classic scenes, the umbrella and living room ones being my favorites. As a fan without my own personal set of the series, for $26, how could I refuse?

Onto the manga! And ooh, some LGBTQ+ stuff at that. Honestly, I can’t say much about Our Dreams at Dusk or That Blue Sky Feeling because I told myself I’d read them all the way through once their entire series has been released (Shimanami is 4 volumes, Blue Sky is 3). Happy to have them for when the rest gets released!

On the less innocent side of the LGBT manga in print, we have Total Eclipse of the Eternal Heart (that name, lol) and Escape Journey volume 3. With Syundei’s work being another standalone volume and this being the end for Tanaka’s short BL series, I’m ready to start these whenever the need for smut hits me.

Ooh, big books. Picking up the gorgeous Sailor Moon Eternal Edition releases by Kodansha was never a matter of if, but when. And well, I guess when is now, even though I have so many other things to read. Really, it’s a high quality, lovely publication targeted at both collectors and huge fans of the series that deserves its own post. Maybe in the future.

Oh yeah, and there’s also volume one of Akiko Higashimura’s autobiographical work, Blank Canvas: My So-Called Artist’s Journey, that I have heard nothing but fantastic things about.

More housekeeping with this third and final volume for the Danganronpa 2 spinoff from Nagito’s perspective. I actually reviewed the series and talked about Dark Horse’s very publication that you can read right here!

I also picked up Komi Can’t Communicate‘s first volume as a recommendation from a book-tuber. Excited to read that.

Lastly for manga are the two Viz series that I will not only collect as they are released, but actually read them too. One shoujo and one shounen, respectively, they are Snow White with the Red Hair volume 2 and Seraph of the End volume 17. I’m enjoying these two immensely, and even have a first impressions post for Snow White in the works, so please look forward to that.

And now for light novels. After finally finishing finishing (more like slugging through) the recent A Certain Magical Index III, I was inspired to resume picking up and reading the LNs. Or, at least, slowly filling in the book perspectives the parts that I thought the anime could’ve done more with (which is, to be honest, all of it). I’ll be hopping around, which is why volume 15 is here.

Continuing my read of Sword Art Online, we have the latest release in the Alicization story, volume 16. I’ll read this when the fall gets closer in anticipation of the anime’s second cour.

More light novels! Eighty-Six by Asato might be a blind buy for me, but with only raving things said about it from even non-LN readers, I wanted to stay in the loop. Plus it looks pretty.

Then there’s my guilty pleasure LN read, volume 2 of A Sister’s All You Need. If you read my review of the anime, you’d know that I positively loved this silly series. I’m currently reading the first book, and am amazed at the word-for-word adaptation that the anime apparently is. Can’t wait to read!

Here we are at the very end, and what a better way to end a haul than with some epic Evangelion stuff. Now, little story here, I’ve actually been excited for this book ever since it was announced in Japan a few years back. I love the Rebuild art and character designs, and at the time, I was so tempted to order a copy even if I couldn’t read it. Welp, I held out, and sure enough, a couple years later Viz announced their licensing of this monstrous art book, and I’m forever thankful.

I’ll probably do a post just for this book, as this thing is MASSIVE. Thought it’d be hardcover, but who cares—I’m just happy we even got a release!


That’s it, that’s the haul. Didja make it to the end? If so, pat yourself on the back, cause I sure did buy a lot of books and movies in July (probably the most in a single month ever, as a matter of fact). Well, maybe. Anyway, did any of these releases stick out to you? Are you currently reading or anticipating one of these titles? If so, which ones? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Also, let me know if you want more of these haul posts, cause I can definitely make this a regular thing if you’d like. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto, your host

Thank You & Happy Birthday! | Nagisa Hazuki Appreciation Post

Hello!

It’s officially August 1st. I never really do these character appreciation post things, but I make exceptions for those anime characters that hold a soft spot in my heart. And so, I just wanted to say:

Happy Birthday, Nagisa!!

You’re the one that dragged me into the Iwatobi swim club nearly six years ago, back during that fateful summer of 2013, and I still haven’t forgotten ya! Heck, how could I? You’re a sparkling ray of pure sunshine and a little ball of literal sugar cancer for the Iwatobi team, too sweet for everyone’s own good.

In fact, you’re the one that brought the whole team back together and restarted the club, so you’ve got that going for you, too!

You may be the smallest and youngest one of the original team, but you’re never afraid to voice your opinions to your senpai teammates, and that willingness to be straightforward and honest has helped out your friends on more occasions than you can count, trust me!

You’re easy to relax with, but also fun to get fired up with. You can take a joke easily, and also know exactly when and how to lighten the mood when one of your teammates is stuck in a rut. Really, you’re the epitome of playfulness, and that natural enthusiasm will continue to help you and your friends out for the rest of your life!

Sure, you use that baby face of yours to pout when things don’t go your way. And yeah, you could dedicate yourself a bit more to your studies, but you’ve never stopped trying to improve yourself despite just chilling with that awesome breaststroke of yours. As far as I’m concerned, you’re the underrated MVP here! Free! just wouldn’t be the same without ya.

Plus, we know you love studying history, so don’t even try to hide your academic passions!

Haru, Makoto, Rin, and Sousuke may feel like the leads here, but don’t ever give up on your teammates and yourself! Even if you feel forgotten at times, the fact that you always try to help those who are also struggling in the spotlight is proof of your character. I’m sure Rei-chan, Ai-chan, and now Romi-chan and Shizu-chan will be there to support you in all you do, especially considering how much you’ve given back to them!

So on this special day, go and enjoy a big cake with all your wonderful friends! You can even have as much Iwatobi Surprise Bread as you’d like, so eat up—just make sure you’re ready for practice again the next day!


To celebrate this day, I just finished watching Free! Timeless Medley – The Bond for the first time, and for a recap movie, I really liked it! The film reminded me of the great journey the Iwatobi team set out on, and all the precious moments the second season brought us. Excited to watch The Promise now to see the story from Samezuka’s perspective.

Thanks again for inviting me onto the team, Nagisa! And to Kyoto Animation, thank you for breathing life into such a beautiful, inspiring cast of characters, and for creating a very special anime for us swimmers. My gratitude is infinite, and I’ll continue to support this franchise for a long time to come!

– Takuto