Demon Slayer: Crying Under the Light of the Moon || OWLS “Folklore”

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!” For the OWLS blog tour’s eighth monthly topic of 2020, “Folklore,” I decided to ditch reviewing Kimetsu no Yaiba in favor of discussing the fascinating world of Demon Slayer where dark creatures of the night stalk humanity in plain sight.

This month’s OWLS topic was inspired by the name of Taylor Swift’s new album, Folklore. Yet, rather than using her conceptual definition of what “folklore” means, we are going to use its original meaning: we are going to explore the traditions and cultures of a specific group and community within pop cultural texts.

I figured it was a no-brainer that Demon Slayer would be a “Cafe Mocha” title here at the cafe, so I’m glad to be able to do something a bit more interesting than my usual review. Thanks Lyn for the prompt!


A brief discussion of the 26-episode Spring 2019 anime series “Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba,” animated by ufotable, directed by Haruo Sotozaki, and based on the manga of the same name by Koyoharu Gotouge. Images may include spoilers!

A demon killed his family. But, when faced against the darkness, Tanjiro hesitates to pull his sword.

Enter the Taisho Period

High up in the mountains, young Tanjiro Kamado works hard to sell charcoal for his less-than-fortunate family. Although his father passed away when he was young, Tanjiro has shouldered the burden of supporting his entire family with admirable optimism. On his way back up the mountain one wintry night, Tanjiro takes shelter in the house of a strange old man who also tells Tanjiro to be wary of flesh-eating demons that roam in the shadows.

To his disbelief, Tanjiro returns home the following morning to the horrifying sight of his whole family, slaughtered and soaked in crimson blood. Worse yet, his sister Nezuko somehow managed to survive—only now she has been turned into one of those bloodthirsty demons of lore. Overwrought with rage, Tanjiro swears to avenge his family and save his dear sister’s remaining humanity. Guided by his unusually keen sense of smell, Tanjiro seeks a way of getting stronger, which leads him to joining a secret society devoted to slaying demons and protecting mankind: the Demon Slayer Corps.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects of the series is its setting’s historical roots—Demon Slayer is actually set during the Taisho Period of Japanese history (think early 1900s). It was the beginning of modernity for Japan, but all kinds of traditional charms are still adorned by the setting in characters. Tanjiro’s signature green-checkered haori, for instance, is an artifact that embeds us in this era. The same could be said of the traditional blue tile-laden roofs of the various tatami-lain village houses that decorate the landscape. Demon Slayer unashamedly embraces history, and I find that to be one of its greatest strengths.

To Devour and Destroy

On the surface, Demon Slayer is your typical shounen action anime with all kinds of exciting supernatural twists and powers. The demon slayers bravely traverse the land to vanquish human-hunting demons, despite the risks to their own lives out in the dangerous wilderness. Their main objective: tracking down and eliminating Muzan Kibutsuji, a heartless progenitor demon whose rare ability to turn normal people into powerful, murderous demons leaves carnage and bloodshed wherever he goes. It’s a simple premise, yet one carried out with remarkable pacing and world-building.

And it’s actually on that note that I want to talk about the demons from the human POV. No matter how you spin it, guys, the world would be far better off without these creatures. They indiscriminately destroy lives, taking whatever life they can for themselves just so they can continue devouring the next day. It’d be near impossible to convince someone that they are a benefit to human society. Thus, the demon slayers are wholly good and just in their mission, right?

Right?

It doesn’t take Tanjiro long to figure out that, yes, even demons have souls. After all, these creatures were once human, and they still retain some remnants of their humanity in their mannerisms, desires, and deepest wishes. Seeing their entire lives flashing before his eyes upon death, Tanjiro comes to realize that no demon truly wanted to become such a creature. Whenever he swings his sword to kill, he really is taking a human life.

Tanjiro’s continuous encounters with the demons compels him to deliver not curses, but salvation to the demons he slays. To that end, Tanjiro arms himself against these creatures not with blind hatred, but a newfound sympathy for their individual struggles and heartache. I guess trying to understand the demons only makes the job of extinguishing them that much harder, though . . .

Something More than Survival

Although we are only teased with a brief inside look at Muzan Kibutsuji’s deadly league of demons, the Twelve Kizuki (or Moon Demons), we can see that the demons aren’t simply a chaotic mess of evil like folklore might dictate. Over and over again we are told that the demons blindly consume, thinking only of themselves and answering to no one. This is not true. Yes, some demons are doomed to roaming the countryside, aimlessly fending for themselves, by themselves. Others decide to move in groups, however, and this single fact changes everything for the Demon Slayer Corps.

Over time, Muzan Kibutsuji has silently amassed a force of demons that swear absolute fealty to only him (else they be shredded to pieces by Kibutsuji himself). He manipulates the hearts of people with little chance or will for themselves, transforming them into these horrid creatures and commanding their lives henceforth. Some of the Twelve Kizuki follow him out of a sick devotion to his cause; others out of blackmail. But all obey him out of fear, and there is no undoing his curse.

Under the light of the moon, the Twelve Kizuki commit cruel organized crimes and claim their territories by staining them with blood. Using the terrifying powers gifted to him by Kibutsuji, one particular Twelve Kizuki tries to establish a family of demons for himself, something which has never been heard of before (save for the case of Nezuko Kamado). While his means are grim and appalling, he’s a breathing example of defying the common lore surrounding the demons. Yes, they kill a lot of people—but is there something more beyond merely wanting to survive as a demon? In this society where demons stalk the shadows of the mortal world, one can never truly trust the legends.

What the Stories Don’t Tell You

Like the silk of a spider’s thread, Demon Slayer navigates through an intricate web of conflicts where the main goal is to survive through the night. When two cultures collide, one supersedes the other, proving that the two cannot thrive simultaneously. Similarly, as Tanjiro and the other demon slayers uncover more about the suffering of their common enemy, the line dividing murdering out of hatred and murdering to protect becomes increasingly blurred.

Despite how purely wicked some of these demons seem—despite how earnestly I wish Tanjiro would just cut them down and move on with things—I can’t help but feel pity for the demons. Really, it’d almost be easier if Tanjiro didn’t get that glimpse of their life right before their inevitable death—if he didn’t see their tears bubbling forth as their decapitated head rolls to the floor. It’s just . . . sad. (But it’s a greater shame that some demons, like some humans, choose to do evil for evil’s sake, and thus are hard to earn sympathies from.)

At the end of the day, I’m honestly not sure I could do the work that Tanjiro and the demon slayers do. The Demon Slayer Corps hypes up this idea that killing demons is a just and noble thing. Meanwhile, the demons are drowning in their suffering, agonized and deeply tormented day and night by their conflicting urges to kill for survival and earnest wishes to remain human. So, raise your blade, but keep your ears and heart open: What the stories don’t tell you is that there’s a lot of loss, grief, and pain in the life–and death—of a demon. 


Those who regretted their own actions. I would never trample over them. Because demons were once human too! Just like me, they were human too!” — Tanjiro Kamado


Afterword

I find it most difficult to talk about the series that are most popular, but there you have a few of my thoughts over Demon Slayer. It’s an incredibly compelling piece by studio ufotable, and one that I’m so glad I finally got around to! If it weren’t obvious enough, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba is a certified “Cafe Mocha” title, and a series you should absolutely check out if supernatural action anime are your thing. Even if you’re not a fan, there’s enough historical depth and cultural exploration that makes Demon Slayer‘s world so intriguing on its own. But hey, you can let me know: if you were in Tanjiro’s shoes, could you be a demon slayer?

This concludes my August 20th entry in the OWLS “Folklore” blog tour. My good friend Irina (I Drink and Watch Anime) went right before me with a fantastic post discussing the mundane yet charming yokai that are tsukumogami, which you can read right here! Now, look out for Dale (That Baka Blog) with a post coming Tuesday, August 25th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time!

– Takuto

Sakurada Reset: Supernatural Mysteries and Missed Opportunities || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode Spring 2017 anime “Sakurada Reset” (also translated as “Sagrada Reset”), animated by David Production, directed by Shinya Kawatsura, and based on the light novel by Yutaka Kouno.

Haruki can reset time but forget she ever did. Meanwhile, Kei remembers everything.


A Town of Supernatural Gifts

Sakurada isn’t your average seaside town. Unknown to anyone else, its inhabitants are born with strange psychic powers. Upon being summoned to the school rooftop one day, Kei Asai meets Misora Haruki, a quiet apathetic girl with the power to reset time. Her gift comes with certain limits, however: she can only go back up to three days, and she can’t use it within 24 hours of the last reset. To make matters more complicated, she doesn’t ever remember using her power when she resets time!

This is where Kei comes in. His ability to remember everything and anything allows him to recall changed timelines and Haruki’s resets. Together, they wield their unique powers with their Service Club friends to aid the problems of others. As the club starts taking on increasingly difficult and crucial missions for the mysterious Administration Bureau—an organization which manages all the abilities in Sakurada for the sake of justice—Kei finds that the machinations of eerie organization go far beyond simple acts of service.

I love time travel stories. I know many people dislike the trope, but it never ceases to entertain me. When paired with a plot like Sakurada Reset‘s—saving others, government conspiracies, romance drama, etc.—you basically get a knock-off Steins;Gate (which is one of my faves). The only problem is that, aside from the last couple episodes, the series is really, really boring. Given that I find everything else about the series to be incredibly interesting, I’m chalking up Sakurada‘s slow and lackluster nature to the direction. At least our time traveling heroes are somewhat inspiring, right? Right???!

sakurada characters

Apathy is Contagious

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but Kei is one bland dude. Despite possessing one of the coolest abilities in the series, photographic memory, the gift does very little to make him likable. Like, he’s not rude or disrespectful, but he’s not exactly exciting to be around, either. I suppose he’s a SAFE option as a lead, but I’d rather my time travelers have a screw or two loose (like they tend to do) or have one overwhelmingly eccentric trait than be completely nonchalant about everything.

And sadly, Kei’s partner in crime isn’t much more interesting than him. In fact, Haruki’s hallmark is her absolute BLANDNESS, which allows Kei to tell her whatever he wants and she’ll do it. While I appreciate the sense of mutual trust that slowly starts to develop between them, I did notice that this kind of just left Haruki to be another tool for Kei to use (and not in the fascinating way that Code Geass‘ C.C. is to Lelouch). I’ll say that she’s reliable as a heroine, but not much else.

The rest of the cast ranges from similarly bland (man, apathy sure is contagious!) to unnecessarily complex. One example of bland is Kei’s best friend, Tomoki, whose abilities as a telepath makes him little more than the series’ top CHAD. Another is Seika, a girl who can communicate with cats, but is a weirdo and hard to converse with. On the flip side, Eri Oka, a punkish girl introduced later on who can implant memories, did nothing but make me want to pULL MY HAIR OUT, she’s so annoying. Same with Murase, a girl with an amazing power that basically makes her invincible, but boy is she a grade-A B*TCH to deal with sometimes. I could go on with describing my frustrations. Point is, they’re all good kids (kinda), just needlessly stubborn.

sakurada ocean

Calm and Quiet Seaside Energy

As Kei and friends continue to explore the city, I did slowly start to fall in love with Sakurada. Many sights became familiar, almost nostalgic, and I do think that the seaside setting does wonderful things for the story. Having the plot unfold in a smaller community than, say, Tokyo, allows characters to conveniently run into each other on the streets (which happens quite often) without seeming far-fetched. Plus, they have the ocean, and the sea is always a magical place for me.

If I had to describe the art and animation, I’d say what I have been about basically everything else—it’s safe. Not below average by any means, but decently pleasant, if not stiff and stale. (It sure doesn’t help that the MC’s script is boring as hell.) David Production took zero risk in making the powers in Sakurada look cool or exciting, which is SUCH a missed opportunity given how intriguing espers can be. Bummer. At least the music was good.

I couldn’t find credits for any other well-known work, but Rayons’ orchestral soundtrack compliments the pace of Sakurada Reset very well. The way some of the sad piano pieces transition to some of the series’ more casual, slice-of-life moments almost feels more like it’s music for a visual novel than an animated series. (There’s one particular piano/vocal track that really tugged at my heart.) This becomes more apparent when you start to realize that, for some reason, the music plays at a consistent volume THE ENTIRE TIME. No one “heartbreaking” moment felt more dramatic than the next, and I strongly believe that’s because the sound direction here—like the rest of the series—is so friggin’ lame. Again, good OST, just missed opportunities. WEAVER’s work on the second OP was BANGERS though!!

sakurada op

A Series of Missed Opportunities

For a supernatural school drama anime with mystery and time travel at every turn in the road, Sakurada Reset comes together as a strikingly unremarkable package. Its direction is steady (and sometimes quite artistic), but otherwise too slow to convince me to get excited about anything. Despite possessing unique super powers, the characters’ personalities are either disappointingly ordinary or straight-up noisome. And that’s too bad, really, because nothing about the series is terribly bad. It’s just average, and probably forgettable give or take a month or two.

If you came from a show like In Search of the Lost Future (wow, now THAT takes me back) and were hoping for something a bit more, Sakurada Reset will serve you well. It explores living with regrets, human longevity, and trust much better than other time travel romances do. However, if you came expecting a masterpiece like Steins;Gate, prepare to be disappointed—you won’t gain much from these long 24 episodes.

sakurada tree


We’re connected by our abilities. Since we have abilities, the two of us were able to stay together all the time, automatically, as a matter of course. Kei Asai


Afterword

In continuing to tackle my never-ending backlog, I was happy to be able to cross this one off the list. It sure was mediocre, but not something I regret watching. For all those curious, I consider Sakurada Reset a “Coffee” rating, and only recommend it if you’re longing for a particular kind of feeling, something transient and fleeting but, also, not wholly unenjoyable. If you have taken the one-way train to Sakurada by chance, be sure to let me know your thoughts about the series in the comments! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Melting Lover: The Shadowy Side of Affection || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the standalone yaoi anthology manga “Melting Lover,” stories and art by Bukuro Yamada, and licensed in English by KUMA.


Four Short Supernatural Stories

“A bond of love is a beautiful thing, but what happens when outside pressures force it into forms both strange and strained?”

The first story of this anthology, “Melting Lover,” puts us in the apartment of a young man who encounters a shape-shifting blob that can take the form of his high school beloved. An energetic uke, Riku does whatever he can to perfectly imitate Keisuke’s lover for his pleasure. However, Riku’s personal love for Keisuke also leads him to acting on his own, which angers Keisuke. It’s a relationship that seems broken from the start, but actually ends with pleasant messages of moving on. (And, you know, a cute and steamy bonus chapter.)

Yamada’s second story, “Bottom of Heaven,” walks us through the life of Ezaki, a mafia hitman who swore off pleasure but can’t seem to leave behind the fun-loving angel, Sylvan, who follows him on his jobs. This story definitely had the most character depth, as well as one of the more interesting character dynamics. Although it’s kind of a sad story, the surprising twist at the ending imparts a wholesome feeling of redemption. It’s great, even if it makes you think a bit.

The most divisive story here would easily be the third, “The Circus After Midnight.” Divided into two chapters, we follow young Luce, a new circus recruit who trains to become a dancer for their ringmaster. Luce eagerly awaits his new life, including getting to know his circus roommate and resident beast-tamer Yan. Unbeknownst to Yan (who holds his own deadly secret), Luce has been serving the ringmaster in other ways against his will. Grim yet compelling, this loss of innocence tale shows how two men grow as they struggle to understand one another’s unfortunate circumstances. (NOTE that while it’s pretty ok, it does include themes of rape and abuse.)

Lastly, “Noisy Jungle” takes us to the far future with a kind android, Yumeo, and his human pet, Pochi. Despite being the shortest and most shallow (and most explicit), I probably enjoyed the premise of this one the most. Especially coming out of the dark circus setting, Yumeo and Pochi’s sci-fi world is clean and bright. I was reminded of No. 6, another shounen-ai series that I really love. The relationship here is also super cute, as Yumeo’s practical android self finds his programming malfunctioning whenever Pochi looks at him with his big round eyes. It’s explicit, it’s sci-fi, and I only wish it was longer!

melting lover

Dark Subjects with a Gentle Touch

Melting Lover is special to me because it serves as my first yaoi manga anthology read. Bukuro Yamada is able to explore these darker topics (obsession, anhedonia, abuse) in relation to love without feeling too heavy thanks to her soft, sketch-style art. While I found some panels to be a bit too loosely drawn to comprehend what they were, all of Yamada’s characters are drawn sweetly and with a gentle touch.

Also noteworthy is the publication itself. As their first official release, KUMA’s publication of Melting Lover features an aesthetically pleasing matte sleeve and quality printing on sturdy paper. It’s a thick, weighty little book, and the cover art was what drew me to buying it in the first place!

Some stories featured in Melting Lover were clearly stronger than others for me, and I can easily understand why someone may find the whole book to be a turn-off. It really comes down to a matter of subject and, of course, whether you like reading explicit BL. For as short a book as it was, however, I’d say it was a worthwhile read. Just know what you’re getting into with each short story, and you’ll probably end up enjoying Bukuro Yamada’s musings on love—as well as the shadowy side of affection. Oddly engrossing and reflective, Melting Lover includes four short BL stories, each dark and lovely in their own way.

melting lover color


I’m a hedonist. I choose what makes me feel best. And I want to be with you. — Sylvan


Afterword

I think this is one of the shortest reviews I’ve ever written, but oh well, shorter reads are good sometimes. KUMA’s first physical publication of Melting Lover is exceptionally wonderful, and Bukuro Yamada’s stories themselves are decent. I’ll welcome Melting Lover as a “Coffee” title here at the cafe and recommend it only if you’re looking for some darker supernatural BL (and don’t mind short story format, of course). There isn’t much talk about Melting Lover these days, so if you’re one of the few who’ve read it, definitely let me know your thoughts!

June is halfway done, can you believe it? My next Pride Month post will be over the highly anticipated That Sky Blue Feeling, so please look forward to that. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto

K-Project: Supernatural Secrets & Seven Kings || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 13-episode fall 2012 anime “K,” animated by GoHands, directed by Shingo Suzuki, Hiromichi Kanazawa, and Susumu Kudō, and based on the original story by Tatsuki Miyazawa (and GoRA).


Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Yashiro Isana seems to be an ordinary boy—and as far as he knows, he is. When a video of the unassuming white-haired teen maniacally shooting a young man is broadcast all across the net, however, “Shiro” finds himself in the midst of a manhunt. To make matters worse, his predators aren’t your typical PD, but rather various vengeful members of the Seven Clans of Color. Ruled by seven unique Kings, these psychic clans are truly the ones responsible for making Japan the technologically advanced superpower that it is currently is.

Wanted for supposedly killing a Red Clansman, Shiro is hunted by the Red Clan as their King, Mikoto Suou, faces his own grievous trials in Blue Clan captivity. Also out to weigh the justice of Shiro’s crime is the infamous “Black Dog” Kurou Yatogami, a skilled swordsman determined to follow the will of his late master, the Seventh King. As Shiro struggles to prove his own innocence for a murder he doesn’t even recall committing, a strange conspiracy starts to unravel that calls his own existence into question. Far from concrete, perhaps memory is just as fragile as a floating cloud.

yashiro isana

What started as a puzzling murder case spirals out into a war between supernaturally gifted Kings. Although this first series centers on the conflict between the fiery Red and tactical Blue Clans specifically, I have a hunch that later entries in the franchise expand upon this calamitous war of honor, duty, and brotherhood. Season one in itself has quite a high entertainment value on its own, however; if you were to stop here, you’d still be satisfied by these 13 episodes alone.

primarily falls under the action and supernatural genres, but isn’t afraid to sneak in a joke or two here and there. In fact, the entire first half of the series—besides following the whole mystery plot about a boy trying to find evidence for a crime he didn’t commit—shows off the rather ordinary daily lives of Shiro and his classmates. It’s a peaceful beginning to what will eventually be an all-out war in the latter half (and subsequent adaptations). All the tensions gradually build to this superb midway twist, ending with a grand identity reveal and the inevitable, explosive duel between the Red and Blue Kings.

These first seven or so episodes are spent watching Shiro and Kuroh gradually warm up to one another, and the addition of the mischievous shape-shifting cat girl Neko adds a layer of gag comedy that’s surprisingly effective. I’d even go as far as to say the first half is stronger than the second, but that’s just me being picky—the whole narrative is tons of fun. Finding out how Shiro—unbeknownst to even himself—is deeply woven into the lives of all these characters is really cool. If you enjoyed any of the Science Adventure Series or Eden of the East, you’ll likely be entertained by just as much.

red clan

Kings, Clans, and the Cat Girl

I’ll be up front with y’all, I had a lot of fun with this cast. Shiro’s an adorable and innocent little space cadet, yet holds an allure that you just can’t trust entirely . . . Due to his suspiciousness from the get-go, we are treated to an exciting narrative trick: the unreliable narrative. We can’t seem to want to trust Shiro 100%, even if we didn’t see him do anything wrong, and that’s half the battle we have to overcome. Shiro’s dub VA Sam Riegel completely sells the role, even if his voice is a little lower and more hollow-y sounding than you’d expect.

The rest of the cast is also PERFECT. Matt Mercer’s Kuroh is deep, but believably young-sounding for his age. Listening to him recite his Master’s teachings at the most odd yet pinnacle moments was hilarious—same for whenever he yells at Neko. Speaking of, Stephanie Sheh’s Neko is everything you’d want from a cat girl—and without being annoying, it’s great! If Kuroh’s view on Shiro is “Guilty until proven innocent,” Neko is the other way around, representing companionship, warmth, and trust for our protagonist. I could’ve watched this goofy trio dicking around in Shiro’s apartment for hours, their banter balances out so well. But alas, we have a story to tell—and a murder to solve.

kuroh and neko

I also love how the cast is divided into these Clans, which are, of course, colored by their respective attributes. You can expect Red Clan members to be hanging out in alleyways like a gang, roughing up opponents and violently trying to get their way in literally everything, no matter how childish. Blue Clan members are reserved, focused, and assemble formally at their base desks. They act as a vanguard of knights loyal to their King for his authority, whereas Red Clansmen protect one another out of brotherhood and respect for hierarchy through strength and acknowledgment by “the boss.” Color plays a bigger role in than simply dividing the cast up.

On the Blue side, I enjoyed Johnny Yong Bosch’s devilishly deceptive Saruhiko Fushimi and Tara Platt’s sultry yet strong Captain Seri Awashima. For the Reds, Todd Haberkorn’s suave bartender Izumo Kusanagi and Benjamin Diskin’s *holla at ya boy* Yata Misaki were so much fun. Ahh, Yata, DAMN I love this little shit. 

yata skateboard

The Vivid Colors of K

Visually, is just about one of the most unique series out there. Yes, the fight sequence animation is superb, and the character designs are very signature to each role. But what clearly stands out the most is the cool tone filter that overlays the screen 24/7. Some may find it irritating on the eyes, and I wouldn’t disagree—the bright color contrast and over-saturation can feel overwhelming. When your eyes finally adjust to this artistic decision, however, you find that this omnipresent blue-green color tone could only work on a series like K. The series is oozing with style, from the sharp uniforms and hairstyles to the meaning of color itself in the story. has a one-of-a-kind aesthetic, and I am living for it.

Can I talk about the soundtrack for a minute, because wow, Mikio Endo really knew how to deliver the directors’ vision. K‘s OST is comprised of many laid-back jazz and bossa nova-inspired tracks which support the series’ chill atmosphere. Like the visuals, the music is stylish, but it isn’t afraid to pull out a little dubstep during the action sequences or some elegant piano work for the more intimate Clansmen scenes. It’s all great stuff, and angela’s iconic OP aptly titled “KINGS” kicks off each episode with excitement. Meanwhile the ED theme “Tsumetai Heya, Hitori” sung by Neko herself (Mikako Komatsu) nicely provides that dramatic sendoff we need.

blue clan

Power, Revenge, and Redemption

Just as K is this tale of power and revenge, it is also the saga of redemption for vital parties on all sides of a dangerous war. I really appreciate the series’ attempt to fully flesh out the Red and Blue Clans and their collective attitudes and ambitions, as unlike with most stories of good versus evil, no one Clan is truly more virtuous than the other. At the end of the day, each of these characters value their pride, love, and trust for their fellow Clansmen to an equal degree; their respective Kings are just as admirable for upholding the lives of their comrades over the pursuit of power.

This isn’t an all-out war of good and evil—it’s a calculated power struggle between two forces that actually want to understand one another, yet ultimately cannot due to varying ideologies of honor and unity. Rather than fighting for glory, these Kings clash to protect their followers and friends, and I can respect that. Sure, the show feels a little rushed here and there, and there are A LOT of characters. But, this series really is so much more than your average action flick. (And all the pretty men, OOF.)

From its original mystery story and chivalric writing style (with a modern day twist) to its vivid animation and unique lighting design, is a commendable project right from the start. As to where the story goes from here: I can only imagine that as more colorful and daring personalities join the fray, will gradually transform into the great supernatural drama it was destined to be.

shiro neko kuroh


It’s not about a man’s appearance, or even what’s on the inside. My policy is to judge a man by his actions. — Kuroh Yatogami


Afterword

So yeah, I liked just as much as I thought I would! My only qualms would be that the story doesn’t hit “as hard” as it should when I know it’s trying to. Perhaps that’s just on me, but feel free to share what you like most about this series down in the comments! As for the cafe, I’ll gladly welcome as a “Cake” title, one that is too sweet to miss out on. I can’t wait to explore the rest of what this franchise has to offer. I read that there’s a film, a sequel, and a series of movies after that—looks like I know what I’ll be doing these next couple weeks! Thanks for reading, and ’till next time!

– Takuto

Sarazanmai & the Price of Connection | OWLS “Vulnerable”

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!” For the OWLS blog tour’s sixth monthly topic of 2019, “Vulnerable,” I wanted to give some character spotlight to this spring season’s craziest title: Ikuhara’s Sarazanmai. 

In the month of June, we will be discussing what it means to be vulnerable. To some individuals, being vulnerable could be seen as a sign of weakness, but in fact, vulnerability is actually a sign of strength. We will explore what it means to be vulnerable and how certain characters in pop culture glamorize vulnerability. When do we show our vulnerability? How do we express vulnerability? Why should we show vulnerability? These are questions that we will be discussing in our posts featuring characters that show vulnerability and/or sensitivity and what we can learn from them or even our own personal stories.

I was pretty stoked when this month’s theme was announced. “How unusual, yet cool,” I remember thinking. Sarazanmai definitely fits the bill well, and what do you know—it’s even got some queer representation in it, perfect for pride month! Thanks Lyn for the prompt!

kazuki kappa wet.jpg


A brief discussion of the original, 11-episode spring 2019 anime “Sarazanmai,” animated by MAPPA and Lapin Track, directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara and Nobuyuki Takeuchi, and written by Ikuhara and Teruko Utsumi. SPOILERS for episodes 1-3 will be present. 

We’re All Connected

What does it mean to connect? Middle school boy and Asakusa local Kazuki Yasaka is trying to figure that out for himself. After accidentally breaking a statue of a kappa, Kazuki and his friends Enta Jinnai and Toi Kuji find themselves transforming into the very creature of Japanese folklore at the behest of Keppi, prince of the Kappa Kingdom. To become human again, they must fight against the kappa-zombies, even stranger beings birthed from human desires and created by Keppi’s enemies: the Otter Empire.

If that weren’t already enough, to kill the kappa-zombies, the trio must perform the “Sarazanmai,” a sound produced only when the three are united. But making such connections are much easier said than done. What’s even worse is that each time they emit the sound, one of their secrets are revealed to the others! (Vulnerable in every sense of the word, am I right??)

For their efforts, Keppi cuts them a deal: Collect the rampant desires of the kappa-zombies and he’ll bestow upon them the “Dishes of Hope,” plates Keppi can create from humanity’s darkness that can make their wishes come true. When Kazuki, Enta, and Toi find that it takes five plates to make even just one wish come true, however, the friendship of these three boys is challenged. With every new fight springs forth another one of their innermost secrets, whether they like it or not! It’s only a matter of time before one of the boys breaks—but will the connections to their loved ones shatter with the fall?

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Sarazanmai is equal parts sarcastic and dramatic in its storytelling. During half of it, you are allowed to laugh at the silliness of it all. Probably for more than half, actually. To obtain the desires of the kappa-zombies, Kazuki and friends must enter the, ehem, *anus* of the demons and steal their shirikodama, a mythical orb said to contain the desires of one’s soul. Sound kinda dumb? Well, don’t blame the writers (or do for going through with it), because that’s actually how the legend of the Kappa goes, believe it or not!

And that’s just the beginning of the absurdity. Wait till we introduce the fortune-telling idol girl, the boy who cross-dresses as said idol, the other boy who shot a yakuza when he was just a wee tot, and the gay cops!! Oh Ikuhara, you’ve really created art with this one!

Joking aside, Sarazanmai is a neat little coming-of-age fantasy story for three poor youths who can’t seem to understand their place in the world. They don’t feel connected to anyone, lost adrift the tumultuous sea of love, and that’s what makes the moments when they realize the true meaning of their bonds so tender. Unconventional in execution, perhaps, but still immensely entertaining to follow.

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So, What is the Sarazanmai?

Is it a song? A dance? Something you can eat? Keppi says that: “Sarazanmai” refers to a connection of mind and soul. You share all your deepest secrets as well.”

So it’s abstract, but still simple to grasp. Humans are connected through their shirikodamas. When they lose them—as when Kappa Kazuki steals it to perform the Sarazanmai with Enta and Toi—they become incapable of connecting with anyone else, and they get kicked out of the circle that makes up the world (also quoted by Keppi). Yeesh, talk about a soul-siphoning ceremony!

By uniting in the Sarazanmai, Keppi can obtain these captured desires. Much like a double-edged sword, however, some of the users’ own desires inadvertently “leak” in the process. We’re talking about these boys’ private diary-grade secrets, which is what I want to talk about next. Trust them on this one: it ain’t easy being green.

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I Want to Connect, But . . . 

Reaching out to others is hard. It can be especially scary if you already think little of yourself. For whatever reason, trust me, we’ve all been there, and so have Kazuki, Enta, and Toi. Because Kazuki’s backstory carries more significance with the latter half, Toi’s with the show’s ending, I’ll be focusing on the Enta, our glasses wearing member of the “Golden Duo” meant to last all time!

Kazuki and Enta have been best friends ever since they met. After watching the other boys kick the soccer ball during practice for several weeks, a young Kazuki finally extends a hand to Enta to join the team. He was invited inside the circle, and granted permission to interact with an all-star like Kazuki. It sounds like a cold way of viewing their initial exchange, but this is how Enta, with all his self-doubts and insecurities, felt towards soccer and this new life.

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But feelings of more than just friendship blossomed for Enta. A closeted gay kid, Enta fell in love with his straight best friend. He felt blessed for having such a friend in his life, but cursed for feeling things that otherwise conflict with both the object of his affection and the status quo.

So like any shy gay boy, Enta hid these unacceptable feelings. He hid it all, months, years—

Until he performed the Sarazanmai. 

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Despite how hard he sheltered his secrets, all finally came bursting at the seams. Enta was left 100% unguarded, vulnerable. The boys saw how Enta inhaled Kazuki’s scent on his jersey in the locker room—how Enta’s expression glowed with lust when he placed his lips on Kazuki’s recorder—how Enta even KISSED Kazuki’s lips while he lie asleep. It was too much, way too embarrassing!! Kazuki was shocked, but blew it off under the assumption that his teammates dared Enta to kiss him. For Enta, however, his feelings were rejected, and not just trivialized, but entirely unacknowledged.

To be looked away by his love crushed him. Enta wanted to connect, but it wasn’t meant to be. Enta wanted to connect, to lie about what he did, but the Sarazanmai only reveals the truth. Enta wanted to connect, but to take more than what he could have. He wanted to connect, but Kazuki was so far away. And at the very end, when Enta stole the dishes for the chance to satisfy his own selfish wish, he couldn’t be forgiven. Lover became stranger, and Enta lost sight of himself.

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Love Yourself, & Cherish the Bonds You Form

I think if Sarazanmai has a bigger message under its themes of connection and expression, it’s this. When his whole life came crashing down on him, Enta first had to learn to be happy with himself if he was to not give up on his wish. Sure, he betrayed his friends, but he never gave up on Kazuki, even if Kazuki hated him for his actions.

We have to learn to be happy with ourselves if we are to form genuine connections with others. That said, we can still dislike parts of ourselves. I don’t think Enta ever wanted to have the feelings that he did for Kazuki, nor did he like feeling like a bystander all the time. But he eventually embraced those parts of himself, and found that all of these aspects—the good and the bad, the black and the white, the lustful and the loving—made up who he was as a person.

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Underneath its wacky, circus-like presentation, Sarazanmai is story about victimization, victimizing, and inadvertently hurting the people you love most to protect yourself. It shows us the price of maintaining connections with others, the deadly costs and the sinful pleasures alike. Each of the boys got to the point where they couldn’t even tell their closest friends about what was going on in their life, and that’s deeply eye-opening. Some connections cause you pain, yet you have to hold on to them.

Full of hidden meanings and rife with cultural symbolism, Sarazanmai delves into messy territory with philosophy on what it means to form genuine connections with others. How much should I give in a relationship? What should I be receiving in return? Is a connection supposed to be completely reciprocal, or . . . is it ok for one party to wind up with more? 

What does it mean to love someone, as opposed to desire something? How can my dreams help others, or why do my desires always hurt someone else? Merely living might be the hardest part, but true human connection and love make it all worthwhile. So long as we try to reach out to others and form connections, we’ll always be vulnerable to attack, physical or emotional.

But more importantly, just by trying, we’ll always have the chance to be happy—and not even a desire-snatching kappa can steal that opportunity away from you.

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Never forget that only those who connect their desires through the pain of loss can take the future in their hands. — Azuma Sara


Afterword

There’s A LOT going on in Sarazanmai, and a lot of good, might I add. This was easily one of the most fun watches I’ve had in a long time, and I hope the series stays on the radar for longer than this spring season. I would’ve loved more time with the characters, but I don’t feel like anything essential was left out. Maybe I’ll revisit it in a future post, but until then, Sarazanmai is honored here at the cafe as a “Cake” title, a show too sweet to miss out on. (Although if you’re not careful, this one might give you a cavity!)

So many people dropped this series, and that saddens me immensely considering that the ending is so rewarding. What did you think of Sarazanmai? Was it too weird for you, or right up your alley? Who was your best boy? I’d love to know in the comments! My love goes out to these precious kappa kids!

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This concludes my June 29th entry in the OWLS “Vulnerable” blog tour. Carla over at Pop Culture Literary gave us a very interesting post about Jen Wang’s comic The Prince and the Dressmaker that you can read right here! Now, look out for Fred (Au Natural) as he rounds out this exciting pride-filled month with his own take on vulnerability on Sunday, June 30th! Thank you so much for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Shiki: The Frightening Science of Vampires | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 22-episode summer 2010 anime “Shiki,” produced by Daume, based on the novel by Fuyumi Ono.

How would you feel about being given a second chance at life? Was there work you left behind unfinished that just needed a few more final touches? What about reuniting with a loved one from your past life? An opportunity like this rivals that of winning the lottery–a dream fulfilled, is it not?

Now, what if you were forced to return to this wretched earth, strained out of the dead to continue maintaining your fragile body at the expense of friends and family? You’d be a burdensome leech, a selfish and disgusting virus which feeds off of the innocent and the ignorant alike just to preserve your own rotting corpse. If you could kill people without consequence, would it be easier to do? Would you feel more inclined to repeat your actions?

Shiki presents us with both scenarios of life for the undead, but its grim tone and somber character stories have us believing that life after death is truly and rightfully morbid.

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Welcome to Sotoba – Population: Fear, Hysteria, and Death

This tale of madness descending is set in a remote rural village isolated from “modern” society. (We’re talking a town with traditional wooden Japanese houses and only one clinic to visit in case of emergency.) From the get-go, we already know that what will happen in the village will stay in the village. At first the atmosphere is cheery, starting us off through the eyes of hot n’ dangerous teen Megumi, a girl who feels like an outcast among the villagers because of her fashionable and trendy fantasies of city life (quite relatable, might I add). She lusts after a transfer student by the name of Natsuno who would be, as anyone could guess, charming yet mysterious “boyfriend material.”

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But much of her young life changes when an enormous castle-sized mansion is built almost overnight–the extravagant yet seemingly-elusive Kirishiki family has moved into that vacant lot high in the mountains. They are reserved and elegant divas of the night, but what terror, if any, lies beyond their walled stronghold on the hill?

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And exactly like clockwork, strange disease and paranoia begin seeping through the cracks of these closed-off country minds. Villagers grow pale and unresponsive, only to pass away within days of their diagnosis! All of this perplexes our [arguably the] main character, the good doctor Toshio, and his battle against these unseen and mystical forces quickly causes his ironclad rationale to teeter on the edge of self-destruction.

Themes! Themes for all!

The story is loaded with conflicts of the individual vs. culture and society that would make any philosopher or English teacher quiver in delight. If you continue to dissect its characters apart, you’ll notice a healthy amount of psychoanalysis to be done. There’s also the very nature of these vampiric beasts that’ll surely give you goosebumps if you’re just in it for the action. All things considered, Shiki’s premise is well-crafted and cleverly presented through its many different viewpoints. The anime tries to handle the scenario through every set of eyes possible, and actually does a fair job at it.

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Watching Occupation Shaping Perception

If this show is trying to preach one lesson to its viewers, it’s that OCCUPATION SHAPES PERCEPTION. First we have Toshio the Rational who wields science and logic as his guiding torch. His hands-on experience and repeated failure with his patients shape his view on how the village should act. Given this firsthand account of horror, the trauma is enough to eventually shake his mental stability. “Empty your hearts. In order to kill these demons we have to become demons.”

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Then there’s Muroi the Romantic writer and priest who believes through feelings that these demons are just like us. Even now, they only have special requirements to live. His benevolent approach leaves him without any clue as to how to fight a back, however, for his inexperience and urge to document the case rather than seek justice cause him to remain sane but forever alone.

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And finally we have Natsuno and Megumi, both Angsty Lovers who embody mixes of the doc and the junior monk. They remain rational and understanding of all that takes place, but their struggle against striving for the lives they desire to live under supernatural circumstances leads them to consequence. All of the villagers, save for these four, are static characters designed to move the plot forward and advance growth in our leads.

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A Damn Good English Dub

A fair point is that I fell in love with the English dub voices before I did the characters, so props to FUNimation for that win–especially to Tia Ballard as Megumi, holy crap! Also, while there are a dozen characters that I loved (and a dozen that I hated), my heart goes out to nurse Yasuyo (yay for more Wendy Powell!), the busty, compassionate sweetheart clad in fishnet-leggings. What a frickin’ saint she is!

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Relying on Story Horror Rather than Visual Horror

Onto the animation side, studio Daume actually did a very decent job. Several excellent cinematic shots and moldy/bold color choices were used to convey the eerie atmosphere. But I did have a few problems. As much as I took great pleasure in the Shiki black ombre eyes, too many different kinds of eye styles made me really dislike the ugly, small-pupil look that was overused on “insane” characters. Also, what’s up with that hair shaping? Natsuno’s nasty cut reminded me of the salad leaves I was munching on! (Yes, I did tweet about this).

I’m sure you’ve heard Shiki’s main theme “Shi-Ki” in one of your “emotional anime music 2 hours” compilation videos. But don’t just stop there! Check out the melodramatic tracks I left below which utilize a haunting choir, chimes, bass drums, a soothing macabre orchestra to create the illusion of nightmares stalking the shadows. They are a bit overused, but hey, you get so consumed by the atmosphere that repetition doesn’t matter. Composer Yasuharu Takanashi (Log Horizon, Oda Nobuna, Fairy Tale, Sailor Moon Crystal) remains one of my favorites, for he always does such phenomenal job in mashing together atmosphere and action.

“Day and Night”

“Eau de Vie”

“Pendulum”

Also, the second opening, “Calendula Requiem” by kanon x kanon totally rocked the house. Just look at those visuals–and the song, ooh the song!

Why is it Popular? Fresh Spin on a Legendary Concept

Shiki is praised for its ability to tell the same story through every character viewpoint possible; you get attached to individuals from both sides, which is quite a wonderful thing given the premise. It’s a nice rational approach to an ancient, typically fantasy or magical subject–The Science of Vampires, if you will. It presents us with a very well-thought-out tale of morality vs. rationality, never taking the easy way out to show its claims.

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In a world where monsters and humans alike are pitted against each other, fear, especially of abandonment, consumes all who let it. Common people who are unwilling to let go of pre-existing notions are the ones that get left behind. It sounds harsh, but in this brutal and vicious cycle everyone except the sane ultimately lose. What draws the line between superstition and simply being afraid is how disturbingly far people will go to preserve their own “sanity.” It’s only after the smoke clears, however, that humans realize the error in their ways, and that any God has long since abandoned them . . . or at least some believe.

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Final Thoughts

Anyone can die at any time; no one is safe/excluded from the elements listed above, which is also why I really enjoyed Shiki. Fear of uncertainty through the supernatural catches us off guard, in that fear CAN and WILL strike at any time. The use of gory sound effects and beautifully ghastly music help to establish that fearful tone. Shiki may not have visually scared me, but its raw content sure was creepy, gruesome, and more interesting than any Hollywood horror film.

“This is what a world ruled by order looks like. Those who accept order can live together peacefully, protected from the unknown safe in their belief that all is as it should be. But when something happens to threaten this orderly existence, they will fight to the very death. By eliminating the threat, they hope to preserve the fabric of their lives–the order that holds their entire world together. And so they realize what a fragile world it is.” – Seishin Muroi

Final Assessment

+ Frequent tonal shifts, led by the many viewpoints, leave strong and vastly different impressions from beginning to end

+ Death can strike anyone, anytime

+ True fear and creepiness created by the supernatural STORY ITSELF, not necessarily the visuals (never takes the easy way out)

+ Wonderfully presented themes of morality between individuals, culture, and society, and how people are only as safe as their surroundings make them feel

+ Nailed the village horror atmosphere with frightful perfection; intricately woven web of characters and interactions between them and setting

– Eye and hair designs on some characters just looked dumb

– Fantastic and complementing soundtrack, but some tracks are a bit overused

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What a Halloween break well-spent, no? Well, if anything could be said, it’s that those Japanese need real doors, not the paper-thin stuff you can hear through the walls, yikes! What did you think of this anime? It’s another “Caffe Mocha” over here! Were you completely freaked out or more invested in its thought-provoking messages? Let me know in the comments so we can talk about this beloved title! I’m so happy I got to finally watch this very peculiar classic. Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Extravagant Divas of the Night, the Kirishikis

Loss Has Little Meaning in Yuki Yuna | Hero Week Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HERO WEEK SEGMENT: Archetypical Hero qualities represented by Yuuna

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Takuto, your host

Charlotte Weaves an Entertaining Web of PLOT TWISTS | Review

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

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

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

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

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

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BUSTED

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+ Emotionally gripping even when plot goes down the drain

+ Absolutely gorgeous and consistent animation

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

– Plot pacing so horrible it hurt to breath

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

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

– Takuto, your host

Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works 1st Season English Dub Thoughts

As you all know, I once again sold my left arm and my magic circuits over to Aniplex of America so that I could purchase their DVD set of the first season (episodes 1-12) for Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works (TV). The fantasy action anime all about the 5th fight for that elusive chalice includes an all-new English dub. This is particularly exciting considering that I’m a veteran who watched the original Fate/stay night (2006) and the Unlimited Blade Works Movie (2010) in SUBTITLES. Curiosity did get the best of me, and I ended up watching segments from these Studio Deen adaptations, but their dubs sucked (just cuttin’ to the chase). Luckily, I pretty much only have positive reviews for the Ufotable version, so read on for more depth!

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This is just epic. To watch it go from simulcast, to Japanese set, to English DVD is a beautiful journey.

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While the image above is the cool slipcover art, the DVD case itself contains this absolutely stunning artwork. The only difference is that where the text is, the English logo for F/sn: UBW is stamped.

Let’s kick things off with Shirou Emiya, portrayed by the infamous Bryce Papenbrook. Now, Papenbrook has quite the streak in misplaced voice acting, his role of Kirito being my biggest turnoff. But for a character like Shirou, his age and position, I thought Papenbrook pulled things off without a hitch! He does a damn good job at imitating Noriaki Sugiyama’s rather high and somewhat obnoxious voice, so my hat’s off to you, Papenbrook!

On to everyone’s favorite tsundere mage, Rin Tohsaka is voiced by Mela Lee. Apparently Lee’s been with Tohsaka since the first dub of the adaptations, but every one of her performances lacked the natural stuck-up attitude I’ve been searching for – Until now. Once you get past the first hour-long pilot, Lee’s voice stops ringing in my ears and becomes one of the more fun – and pretentious – performances to hear from. It sure isn’t as great as Kana Ueda, but it’ll do.

B*tchy-Mc-B*tch-Face Archer is brought to life by the smart-assy Kaiji Tang (as you can see, I don’t fancy Archer). Brilliant in every way possible, Tang milks all that he can out of Archer and puts up a stunning fight on the vocal front. He, too, fits the range of voice necessary to Archer’s arrogant dialect. Love it!

And last (but certainly not least) for the main cast, Kari Wahlgren once again dons armor and all to surmise Queen-friggin’-Arthur herself – Saber! *Slight spoilers* Because she is no longer partnered with the cold and distant Kiritsugu from Fate/Zero, Saber speaks with much more curt and “oogly” expressions as she develops her relationship with her idiot partner. And since I don’t speak Japanese, Ayako Kawasumi’s five-star performance doesn’t come for me as naturally as it does with my native speak. I’m obviously biased to this [literally] English role, so I stop before the sparkles start gleaming ^.^

Since those are the main characters, I’ll just list the minors with a brief reaction:

Todd Haberkorn as Assassin – F*ck yeah, even though I kinda forgot whom he was in the original, I’ll now never forget! Just YES, YES TO ALL!

Megan Hollingshead as Caster – THIS RIGHT HERE was surprisingly fantastic! Caster’s sly, mature voice reflects so well in Hollingshead’s performance. It was also so darn sexy 😉

Matthew Mercer as Kiritsugu Emiya – He’s only around for a couple of flashbacks, but those are just enough to bring tears to your eyes as you recall Fate/Zero‘s tragedy.

Julie Ann Taylor as Fujinee, or Taiga Fujimura – Always. Excited. Is the Taiga. Fujinee~ has a very nice English voice actress, simple as that!

David Vincent as Gilgamesh – More F/Z carry-over drama, and in fact, Vincent has such a pompous and snarky that its perfect for the King of Heroes. We’ll hear more of him in the second season, though.

Dorothy Elias-Fahn as Kane Himuro – One of Tohsaka’s classmates, can’t say she was very memorable, but not bad either

Crispin Freeman as Kirei Kotomine – This is one “fake priest” that you don’t want to run into on a dark night. Freeman will never be as solid as Jouji Nakata, but so, so damn close! It was a pleasure to listen to Kirei’s rich, melt-in-your-mouth voice again.

Lex Lang as Souichirou Kuzuki – “Mr. Kuzuki” as he is in the dub also shares the same voice as Count Cruhteo from A.Z, who just happened to be one of my favorites! Ironically, he was Issei in the old dub, the student who shares residence with Kuzuki.

Tony Oliver as Lancer – Oh boy, oh boy, Lancer’s English voice will not disappoint whatsoever! I’ll admit, Nobutoshi Canna was excellent, but Oliver wins it for me!

Erica Lindbeck as Kaede Makidera – Another one of Tohsaka’s gals, nothing fancy

Kyle McCarley as Shinji Matou – Now, this might be the only exception to an otherwise wonderful English dub. McCarley’s not by any means bad; Hiroshi Kamiya just has a skimpier edge and superiority to the damned Shinji we all know and hate :>

Cristina Vee as Sakura Matou – Agh, it’s Cristina Vee – and aww, it’s Sakura! This combo goes hand in hand, but I’m interested to see if they’ll keep the same actress when “Heaven’s Feel” makes it over here in the States, fingers crossed.

Brina Palencia as Ayako Mitsuzuri – Mitsuzuri is given a shocking amount of lines despite her role, and it was on the tip of my tongue as to who voiced her – and it was this chick all along! Hooray for Brina Palencia, I just love hearing her voice 🙂

Melissa Fahn as Rider – And the most enchanting voice goes to Rider without a doubt!! *Slight spoiler* It’s a shame she doesn’t last very long, as I could listen to Rider talk on and on. Yet another reason why they should’ve adapted F/sn instead of UBW, but I digress. Fantastic job, Fahn!

Robbie Daymond as Issei Ryuudou – Just another guy in glasses, what can I say?

Jessica DiCicco as Yukika Saegusa – A friend of Tohsaka’s? Gosh, I don’t even remember who this is.

Stephanie Sheh as Illyasviel von Einzbern – We’re gonna finish this dub reaction strong with another veteran from the original series and Fate/Zero. Sheh’s “Time to kill you” cute/deadly Illya voice is one I really enjoy. While she did sound too mature in F/Z, her older reappearance tosses that issue away easily. I love Illya, and Sheh does her justice, she really does, and I can’t wait for the epic fight in the second half. The only thing I’ll miss is her charming “Bah-sah-kah” *cue superhuman barbarian with a huge-ass club charging at you*

Below is the English Dub Trailer Aniplex posted a while back. See it for yourself!

I don’t care who says they hate this dub. I don’t care who thinks Papenbrook is a terrible Shirou. I don’t care how much people think Rin’s voice is a letdown. I LOVE THIS DUB, and I will be buying the second season, mind you! It’s gonna be a tragic long wait for the second half, and yes, it will break my wallet, but what can I say – I support things that I like! For those curious, the sub is still superior, and I recommend watching the entire series on Crunchyroll before blindly buying this uber-expensive dub (cause it was an atrocious $80 USD for only the first half on DVD only). However, like with A.Z, I had so much fun each night plugging in each of the voices and watching the first half of the Fifth Holy Grail War play out all over again . . .

But you mages and Masters, what did you think of this new English dub? How do you think it stands up to all of the previous versions and the Japanese itself? I’ll await your answers in the comments below, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your Servant, in this war or the next

Tokyo Ghoul Review

You know when you launch a firework there’s a thrilling rush as you flick the match and light the string? After, there’s this awkward wait to see if it takes off and, if it does so correctly, then it’s followed by a long, dry pause, everyone just staring at it, most losing sight of it. Finally BOOOOOOMMM!!!  it explodes furiously, and everyone applauds, expecting more to come, right?

That, friends, is Tokyo Ghoul,  a new dark fantasy/horror anime that starts and ends with quite the bang, but in the middle leaves us squinting our eyeballs to spot any real development.

Creeping around the dark alleyways of modern Tokyo are the Ghouls, monsters that devour human organs as food. Everyone knows about them, and some even fear for their lives of taking a daily death stroll, but most just continue on with their day. Why would you do something so insane?? Because these Ghouls look exactly like normal people: adults, teens, children, elderly, husbands, wives, etc. The only distinguishing feature of these demons is their black and crimson eyes that burn when they exhibit fierce emotions.

Kaneki Ken is your average college student who frequents a local cafe for one main reason: the enchanting Rize. Since they both enjoy reading from the same author, Kaneki musters the courage to ask her out, thinking that they have so much in common. Kaneki’s date quickly soils into a blood fest when Rize “the Binge-Eater” reveals her wicked Ghoul powers and then tries to kill Kaneki. Suddenly, an accident occurs in their location, and the critical medical situation results in her organs being transplanted into Kaneki to preserve his life.

But now Kaneki feels strange. All normal food makes him want to vomit, and instead he craves . . . human flesh. The story is about Kaneki’s struggle as this new “Half-Breed” for his remaining humanity, and what he’ll risk to remain moral no matter what – or give in to Ghoul within!

Right from the start Tokyo Ghoul latches on with an interesting predicament for our protagonist. The show quickly appeals to your senses when, after the operation, Kaneki tries to cram his face with his favorite foods, all to no avail. They taste like charcoal and rotten dung. Those incredibly morbid realizations that he’s become a monster attack the heart, causing you to feel all of the suffering that he does. This deep argument of human VS Ghoul develops as the show progresses, mostly to build around Kaneki and a little girl named Hinami, though.

I think Kaneki fits the mold for the intense themes of humanity and life better than any other character could have. Cocky like let’s say Eren Yeager (Attack on Titan) and everyone at the cafe will despise him. But too kind like Armin Arlert and I don’t think we’d get anywhere. Kaneki embodies the middle ground of what I’d like to call a “real human being.” He’s never too innocent, yet never totally ridiculous either, and that makes him easily likeable.

Hanae Natsuki portrays all of Kaneki’s hardships believably well, be it screaming in Ghoul mode, conversing calmly with friends, or choking on blood. He’s amazing!

The rest of the characters range from a tsundere teen somewhat goth girl, to an overly-attached whimsical genius, to a desperate family, and finally to a pair of Ghoul counter team members. Even with all of the variety, however, I just didn’t feel the characters nor relate to them in any way. In fact, I can hardly recall names, which is crucial to note because I hardly ever forget a name. Other than Kaneki and possibly Touka, another cafe Ghoul refugee, Tokyo Ghoul lacks in the character department.

Quite stunning is the art and animation by Studio Pierrot (Yona of the Dawn), who puts together intense action sequences with outrageously beautiful and surprisingly colorful animation – especially of the Kagunes, the Ghoul blood weapons. Supposedly, there’s a lot of gore, but I couldn’t see half of the screen because of all of the DAMN CENSORING!! Sheesh, like seriously, they’re only gonna make me more curious about what’s going on. And you know what, it probably wasn’t that bad of gore anyway! But I suppose that’s not the studio’s fault, as the various censoring depended on what your source you watched from.

Yutaka Yamada provides a supportive soundtrack that easily surpasses your average OST. Loneliness, tragedy, melancholy, and epicness are all packed into his tracks. “Licht und Schatten (Light and Shadow)” and a battle theme entitled “Symphony” are model examples of his high-quality work. Though the OST is a rather small one, the few tracks played are not only longer than usual but great to listen to. Quality over quantity is what I believe wins the day!

I’ve gradually become more and more familiar with Ling Tosite Sigure’s opening “Unravel,” which is a step up considering that I don’t care for that high-pitch screamo voice. The song matches the show perfectly, and it became one of my favorite parts of the experience. 🙂

As mentioned previously, the anime’s ending is an unexpected thriller, one that I didn’t see coming a mile away. The show steps away from its usual routes to do something very, very interestingsomething that hopefully pays off in the second season. If you can watch the end without flinching, then congrats to your balls of steel.

And now for my major problem with the show: we don’t have explanations for anything! Where did Ghouls come from? What determines their powers? Do the Kagunes have special properties, and how can normal people wield them? What can a half-breed do better than anyone else? How is the main antagonist roped in with all of this? How did Rize actually die?? Tokyo Ghoul has a crap ton of potential, enough to be considered one of the best – that is, if the second season pans out well, because at this point, Tokyo Ghoul is definitely unfinished. If you’re gonna get into it, just be sure you can stomach the gore, and please, watch it uncensored. It tastes better that way >.<

“What is this? What is it to be a Ghoul? Killing people . . . killing each other . . .I’m not like that! I’m . . . human!” – Kaneki Ken

+ Easily likable, non-annoying lead character with good development

+ Gripping start, intense, bloody and sweaty cliffhanger

+ Quality colorful visuals, gorgeous fights, matching OST to back it up

– SO many unanswered questions, literally no explanations!

– Weak secondary character development

– Middle of show deviates from an psychological alley horror to a slice of life coffee shop drama (no JK, but seriously, what?)

I’m pretty excited for the sequel! It has a lot riding on its shoulders, and I can only hope it doesn’t disappoint (even though I heard it sucks, I will be the judge of that myself). What did you think of Tokyo Ghoul? Were you thinking “Welp, this makes absolutely no sense, why aren’t people screaming for their lives? At least it’s pretty :3” FUNimation has licensed the anime for North America with an English dub on the way, though you can watch it for free on their site if you’re +18. Clobber that like button for more material like this and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host