Perfect Blue: Life is Anything But Glamorous || Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 80-minute 1997 anime film “Perfect Blue,” animated by Madhouse, directed by Satoshi Kon, script by Sadayuki Murai, and loosely based on the novel “Perfect Blue: Complete Metamorphosis” by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. 

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Fantasy & Reality

Rising star Mima Kirigoe has just announced her retirement from her Japanese idol group to pursue an acting career. While she tries to convince herself that this is what she wants to be doing with her life, others couldn’t be in greater opposition. Namely, her fans, and one deranged creep in particular who begins to stalking her. As the people responsible for her career change are gruesomely murdered one by one, Mima herself starts to teeter on the edge of sanity.

From the genius mind of Satoshi Kon comes the bizarre story of a singer-turned-actor desperately trying to escape from the delusional head space that is causing the lines between fantasy and reality to blur. The film is swamped in Kon’s signature quick-cut directing style, with creative transitions, wacky visual perspectives, and bright colors guiding the eye through this terrifying narrative.

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Kon’s attentiveness to defining the boundaries of fantasy and reality is exemplified in Perfect Blue. Sometimes we are shown Mima acting in a scene, while other times the stage is very much mirroring reality. Figures from Mima’s imagination haunt both her visions of reality and the viewer’s perception of it. You often find yourself asking, is this a dream? Or, perhaps, the nightmare that Mima’s reality has become?

Set at the dawn of the Internet Age, this psychedelic trip puts the viewer on a wild roller-coaster ride through the darker tunnels of human emotion. Paranoia, loneliness, and fear are thoroughly explored in this masterful film that demonstrates what the psychological thriller genre of entertainment can do when a gripping story is met with heart-pumping suspense and a clever directing style that shows you exactly what it wants, when it wants.

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Living in Duality

Perfect Blue begins at the end. That is to say, the end of Mima’s career as a pop idol, and the beginning of her acting career. Despite being a beloved icon on stage, her back stage life is actually a realistic mess. Her apartment is cluttered, and she’s so in-and-out all the time that the cheese she buys at the beginning of the film expires a few scenes later. Mima is, to be frank, just another teenage girl trying to make a living in modern day Japan.

As such, it’s no surprise that Mima’s idol career was suffocating her. Much like a high school memory, sure, she had fun. But maybe it’s time to move on now. She is characterized by a sense of modesty and passion for her work, although she’s perfectly fine with moving on to a new phase of her life. That is, until the industry starts to exploit her talents.

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Without going into spoilers, I merely can offer this small sentiment: We really don’t have any idea of how the industry works, unless we are actively a part of it. In the world of money and fame, it’s not about you want to do, but rather about what other people want you to do. Sure, a girl can give her verbal consent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she would be comfortable with being used for someone else’s gain. As an actor, you serve the director, and sometimes that can conflict with your own moral values as a person.

As the story goes along, Mima becomes a victim of forced maturation. This includes being thrust into horrific rape scene that, despite knowing it is fake, scars her poor young mind. She is also met with increased anxiety, depression, PTSD, and even a separation of self by means of superstition. This delusional mindset causes negative thoughts to rise, as in so long as someone is Mima, who really cares if Mima is Mima. How the mind repairs itself and subconsciously shields you for self-protection is absolutely incredible, and that underlying theme is what ties every red thread in Perfect Blue together in one complex, disorienting knot.

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Sensation, Perception, & Direction

Madhouse boosts Perfect Blue‘s production value with an unbelievable amount sensory detail work that I can’t even begin to comprehend. Flashing stage lights, rattling AC units, the motor noises of a 90s desktop computer, the gentle hum of a fish tank—it’s almost sensation in excess, which is just what this film needs. Transporting us to modern day Japan, the attention to detail enhances the setting, and makes the story feel all the more real.

Another gift of watching this film is getting to understand the iconography that makes it so famous beyond being just a really good movie. The bath scene where Mima curls up and screams, bubbles rising from the air of her trapped emotions is particularly beautiful. Seeing Mima hold a knife in midair against a flashing digital backdrop of own image embodies the epitome of suspense. And although creepy in context when paired with the scary music, the scene where Mima chases her dancing, skipping pop idol self through a hospital building conjures up true feelings of horror and hysteria.

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Speaking of music, Masahiro Ikumi’s music score for the film adds an eeriness that today’s horror anime just can’t compete with. When we’re not jamming out to light idol music from the 90’s (or listening to it in the elevator . . .), pounding sound board effects, uneasy remixing, and metallic screeching accompany a wailing chorus of uncanny cries. It sounds unpleasant, and it is. But, without Ikumi’s OST, I doubt Mima’s experiences would’ve felt as intense and life-threatening as they were.

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It’s A Maddening, Cruel World

Perfect Blue takes an introspective look at how fantasy can shape reality, and vice versa. In subtle ways, it asks the question that, as creators of some kind of content, what do we owe our consumers? Are we ever miscommunicating with our readers and viewers, and how would we know? Also, if our successes define us to some extend, how long will they cast shadows into our future?

The world is cruel, scary, and unfair. If it can take something from you, it will. And it won’t give anything back. But Perfect Blue also tells us that if any of these thoughts we are having bother us, then it’s all reality because these thoughts still shape how we feel in real life. Even the most seemingly sane people in our lives . . . We have no idea what they may be going through. Life is a performance, a stage, and if we don’t tell people about what’s going on, they might not ever know. 

In that way, Mima’s story is one about winning yourself back. What does it take to feel confident in my words and thoughts, and how can I get to that place—that’s what I got from Perfect Blue.

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A harrowing journey through a young woman’s psyche as she tries to escape from the fever dream that her reality is becoming, Perfect Blue effectively uses deception in anime to play with his viewer’s mind. The perception of reality cannot be trusted, especially as the psychodrama heightens towards the climax. But WOW is it a compelling mystery. You actively want Mima to figure out what’s wrong with her life—you want her to solve the case. And with a sucker punch ending that’ll hit ya right in gut, the whole experience comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Believe it or not, for a story that began with existential worry and cleverly crafted chaos, the ending of Perfect Blue provides an outlook that favors hope, confidence, and independence. And seeing the light of those perfect blue skies completes this wild yet captivating journey through the complexities of the human psyche.

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The truth is that today more than ever, I wanted to have a good time with you. — Mima Kirigoe


Afterword

While I would recommend this film to every fan of anime out there, it IS full of gratuitous sex and violence. So, if either of those are triggering to you, definitely steer clear for a bit. More than just thrilling, suspenseful, and entertaining, Perfect Blue ponders so many ideas, from how the internet will forever change privacy, to the savagery in the entertainment world. A compelling mystery by master storyteller Kon himself, “Cafe Mocha” certified Perfect Blue can truly make you feel genuinely scared for your life (especially if you watch this at midnight by yourself like I did, eep).

I’d love to hear what you think of this classic film down in the comments! Special thanks go to GKIDS for rescuing this long out-of-print title and giving it a lovely Blu-ray remaster—they really are the best! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go binge Love Live! . . . you know, to maintain my own sanity. ‘Till next time!

– Takuto, your host

Magical Girl Raising Project: Being Irresistibly Drawn to Death | OWLS “Grotesque”

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  tenth monthly topic for 2018, “Grotesque,” I wanted to revel in the spooky fall festivities by cross-examining an unconventional magical girl throwback from 2016 with humanity’s intriguing obsession for death and the macabre. As someone interested in human behavior, it’s a fascinating area to study, and hopefully I’ll be able to make some science out of the magical!

In honor of Halloween, we will explore what we find vile and ugly in pop culture. For this month’s topic, OWLS bloggers will be exploring characters or aspects of the grotesque in a piece of media and how it is a metaphor or allegory for society, human nature, or some other philosophical or humane idea.

Heads-up! This post will dabble more into studying the human condition than evaluating the series itself. My personal thoughts? It’s a twisted little title with an engaging battle royale setup that turns out somewhat lackluster in the end but is still stupidly entertaining. Watch it. I liked it, and seeing as how we seem to be irresistibly drawn to that which is gruesome (even if for no apparent reason), you should like it to, right? riGhT??

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A brief, spoiler-free discussion on the 12-episode fall 2016 anime “Magical Girl Raising Project,” animated by Lerche, directed by Hiroyuki Hashimoto, and based on Asari Endou’s light novel series of the same name. This will also include a light historical context analysis on how pop culture and the media make a spectacle of death and gore.

Again, this will be SPOILER-FREE, so enjoy!

“You’ve been selected to become a magical girl, pon!”

Magical Girl Raising Project. It’s the latest fad to dominate the mobile game sphere, and it seems that every young girl and adult woman alike in N-City can’t seem to stop playing the app game. Jumping into combat with your sparkly avatar, beating up shadow beasts, collecting candies—it’s the closest thing they have to being a real life magical girl! For Koyuki Himekawa, however, the app offers more than a mere simulation. One day, she receives a peculiar notification from Fav, the game’s mascot, saying that she has been selected to become a real magical girl. Unknowing the full implications of their contract, she eagerly accepts the offer to become her adorable in-game avatar Snow White.

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Gifted with the ability to transform at any time, Koyuki viewed her new life with a newfound optimism and excitement. That is, until the game admins sent out a startling notification claiming that “the number of magical girls in this region must be halved,” as the system couldn’t support the whopping 16 players who decided to take on the magical mission. The one to collect the least amount of Magical Candies—which are awarded for their magical girl activities—at the end of each week will lose their powers. But when a real-world tragedy befalls the first player to drop out, they find that their powers aren’t the only thing stripped from them.

As the magical girls perilously try to avoid their fate by cheating on their fellow players and throwing one another under the bus, the enigmatic Fav continues to add more twisted rules, forcing these young hearts to realize that what started off as a shining opportunity to help others has become a desperate struggle for their own lives.

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I’ll be frank with y’all: the story suffers largely from its systematic approach to execution and trying to develop its immense cast within 12 short episodes. While not Juni Taisen levels of predictability (God, that show disappointed me so much), you can pretty much tell who’s gonna go next based on the placement of their backstory. Ahh yes, the it’s the typical “Here I am and now I’m gone!” approach to character writing. In the instances where the show is able to catch you by surprise, however, those are the thrilling moments when the entertainment value shines through. Call it underdeveloped, or rushed, or even lackluster at times (I mean, the ending could’ve at least been more intense), but to call it “boring” would be a great underestimation of its twisted imagination and off-the-walls fun characters.

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From Wild-West to the Wicked and the Blessed

I can guess what stood out to you most—16 characters, right? Yeah, even for a battle royale that’s quite the large ensemble. Like they did with Danganronpa: The Animation and Assassination Classroom, Lerche was able to communicate the variety of personalities through unique dialogue patterns and intricate character designs. One of my fiendish favorites, the brazen and dangerous Calamity Mary, for instance, dons wild-west gunslinger apparel (boots, spurs, hats, tassels, leather, cow print, you get the picture). In the English dub, Mikaela Krantz even voices her with a low syrupy tone and a heavy southern accent. While I may not remember the specifics of her life before becoming a magical girl (as these important backstories are often rushed through in a couple minutes before their untimely demise), I will remember who she was and how she acted based on the distinctive character designs.

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A good pal of mine and genius essayist Irina wrote about my other favorite magical girl, the almighty, all-knowing QUEEN Ruler in a neat character analysis that I absolutely loved. She vouches for the same opinion that I do, in that “Raising Project isn’t perfect by any means but it certainly isn’t shallow. The writing is on point in many aspects.”

Although some characters look more put together with a theme than others (looking at you Swim Swim), I really enjoyed the diverse cast of tropes interacting on the battlefield: the sparkly one, the innocent one, the queen, the twins, the cowgirl rebel, the ninja, the witch, the badass protector, the nun, and even the freakin’ ROBOT. Some last longer than others, and some go out with a bigger bang while others exit the stage silently. A huge criticism many people have about the series is that the deaths feel too structured—I mean, we all know that someone’s gotta go by the end of each week, and the anime is true to its word. What this creates is a lack of empathy towards most of the girls and ultimately a mere “meh” or “aww that sucks, I liked her” when they die. More than anything, the show plays off these deaths as thrilling over depressing, and that got me wondering:

When did we become so fascinated with torturing little girls in anime to the point where it has dominated nearly every magical girl title in recent times? 

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How Horror Works in the Mind

I took to Psychology Today for a bit of research on the topic, which led me to the article “Why Do We Like Watching Scary Films?” Briefly, it examines psychological horror at the cinema and how the genre works in the mind. When answering the question, author Mark D. Griffiths Ph.D. quotes Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, a professor of social and organizational psychology at the University of Utrecht, in a 2013 interview for IGN:

“People go to horror films because they want to be frightened or they wouldn’t do it twice. You choose your entertainment because you want it to affect you. That’s certainly true of people who go to entertainment products like horror films that have big effects. They want those effects . . . Even though they choose to watch these things, the images are still disturbing for many people. But people have the ability to pay attention as much or as little as they care to in order to control what effect it has on them, emotionally and otherwise.”

That last bit especially got me interested. He claims that we are the ones who choose our entertainment, and that we also have the ability to let the content affect us (in this case potentially scare us) based on how much we care to pay attention to the film. And I can see this as true—if I were to attend a scary movie and cover my eyes half the time (which I wouldn’t go to in the first place cause I’m a wimp), my desire would be that the film frightens me as little as possible.

Now, would the same apply to the film maker(s)? I mean, the director is essentially the one deciding how much gruesome content to put in front of our eyes, so if a series were nothing but moments of shock value (interspersed with some touching backstories, of course), wouldn’t that be what the director also cares about most in the series? Maybe seeing Madoka Magica receive immense fame gave him the idea to go all-out with the suffering. Besides, what’s more shocking to us anime fans than watching cutesy moe girls get massacred? Once one series showed us it could be done, everyone else wanted to do it too.

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A 2004 article in the Journal of Media Psychology by Dr. Glenn Walters proposes that “the three primary factors that make horror films alluring are tension (generated by suspense, mystery, terror, shock, and gore), relevance (that may relate to personal relevance, cultural meaningfulness, the fear of death, etc.), and (somewhat paradoxically given the second factor) unrealism.” In a 1994 study on disgust, college student participants found videos of real life horrors (like a cow slaughterhouse and a surgery involving removal of facial skin) to be incredibly disturbing. Yet many of these same individuals would think nothing of paying money to attend the premiere of a new horror film that had literally ten times more blood than what was present in the real-life documentaries! Why is that? It was posed by McCauley (1998) that:

The fictional nature of horror films affords viewers a sense of control by placing psychological distance between them and the violent acts they have witnessed. Most people who view horror movies understand that the filmed events are unreal, which furnishes them with psychological distance from the horror portrayed in the film.

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Oh, so if we know it’s fake, it doesn’t inherently terrify us as much, despite blood and guts leaking all over the floor. I suppose that makes sense. Even I don’t see clowns as scary when I remember that they’re likely just unshaven middle-aged men dancing around in colorful costumes. But even if it’s fake, some people enjoy the thrill of being confronted by gruesome death because it’s an experience that, for the most part, it’s something available only in fiction, and fiction intrigues us. One last look at Dr. Dolf Zillman’s Excitation Transfer theory (ETT) offers this:

“Negative feelings created by horror movies actually intensify the positive feelings when the hero triumphs in the end. But what about movies where the hero doesn’t triumph?  . . . Some small studies have show that people’s enjoyment was actually higher during the scary parts of a horror film than it was after.”

Alright, so you’re saying that perhaps the scary parts of a horror film are more enjoyable than the rest of the film itself? That perhaps explains why pop culture hits like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and heck even Attack on Titan delight in killing off major characters in fantastical ways—During these “scary” parts, we find ourselves at peak enjoyment, and if the writers can capitalize on this enjoyment through constant narrative twists and turns, then the viewers will stay glued to their screens. But hold on a second . . .

Magical Girl Raising Project isn’t horror, not even close. It’s barely a thriller series at best. Fair point, but think about the content itself: Purposefully designed cute children under the innocent guise of “magical girls” get brutally slashed or decapitated NOT by the forces of evil, but by fellow magical girls. Tension caused by suspense; relevance caused by a magical girl’s fear for her own life; unrealism given that magical girls shouldn’t exist within our world or theirs . . . Doesn’t that mark MagiPro as gruesome as horror—as grotesque as horror? And how about this: The most grotesque part about it all is that as fans, most of us enjoyed watching this series. Sure it ranks in the 3000s on MAL, but a  7.11/10 could be implied that 7 out of 10 people liked this series—cute girls, competition, and all the bloodshed in between. 

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At Least I Had Fun

Regardless of whether we should count MagiPro as a horror anime or an anime with horror elements, I did find myself enjoying it. A lot. Probably more than I should have. With each passing episode and character elegy, I truly found myself helplessly and irresistibly drawn to death. As more characters bit the bullet, I eagerly clicked on to see not necessarily who would survive, but rather who would fall out of the competition next. As unnecessarily dark and edgy, unnecessarily gruesome, and unnecessarily sophisticated as it tried to be, Magical Girl Raising Project won me over because it shamelessly played with death. And isn’t that the true spirit of the macabre?

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“As a means of contrast with the sublime, the grotesque is, in our view, the richest source that nature can offer.”—Victor Hugo, French Poet


Afterword

Yikes, went on a bit of a ramble there with the research, but maybe you learned something new! Magical Girl Raising Project is an interesting title that has gotten me thinking more than it probably should, but hey, a series that has me reflecting this much over it has to be doing something right. MagiPro isn’t the darkest of its kin, but definitely one of the sweetest. Thus, I award the series with the “Cake” rating, and a recommendation to check it out if you enjoy the thrill of a decent survival game. Not sure if Crunchyroll has it, but Funimation’s got it all with an incredibly well-done English dub that just finished airing for your viewing pleasure! If you have seen this series, you definitely have to let me know what you thought about it (I need more MagiPro friends)!!

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This concludes my October 19th entry in the OWLS “Grotesque” blog tour. Aria (Animanga Spellbook) went right before me with a nice and short post over the recently-aired Phantom in the Twilight that you should check out right here! Now, look out for Flow (Captain Nyanpasu)  this upcoming Monday, October 22nd! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Bokurano: The Darkness Within Our Hearts | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 24-episode spring 2007 anime “Bokurano: Ours,” animated by Gonzo, directed by Hiroyuki Morita, and based on Mohiro Kitoh’s manga of the same name.

***MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST COUPLE EPISODES ARE PRESENT***

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How Would You Spend Your Last Day on Earth?

I’m sure you haven’t given it much thought; to which, neither have I. None of us do, and yet here’s an anime where kids are told when they will die, how they will die, and that whatever they do with their final day is up to them. There is no running away from fate, it’s do-or-die time. However, I suppose my words would have more weight if I told you why. Allow me to backtrack . . .

Fifteen children are enjoying their youth together at a summer camp. It’s sun, sea, and, what’s this? A mysterious grotto by the shore? The kids explore the creepy cave only to find a strange setup of computers and monitors, along with an even creepier old man calling himself Kokopelli. Supposedly, Kokopelli’s been developing a game, one where the players pilots a giant robot to defend Earth against 15 different alien invasions, and all he needs now is willing players to test it out. Sounds fun, I mean, what could be the harm? By individually placing their hand on a scanner, the kids complete their contract and suddenly blackout.

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They awaken back on the beach. Other than the fact that night has fallen, everything appears normal. Normal, EXCEPT for the impossibly high 500-meter-tall giant robot now towering over them! In a horrific twist of fate, the children must now take to their seats to pilot Zearth one at a time in hopes that they have the physical strength and mental fortitude it takes to defeat the bizarre enemies. But Kokopelli’s abrupt disappearance leaves the afraid and confused kids with harsh truths they must discover on their own: What exactly is Zearth, and what is the giant robot’s energy source?

Before I rip into the fantastic story of Bokurano, I wanted to address my biggest issue with the show right off the bat: the “antagonist.” Surely, even just by reading the synopsis something seems fishy. Where did Kokopelli go? Will he reappear later as the antagonist? It’s tricky for me to explain much of anything without ruining the surprise, but I can imagine that you, too, understand that there’s something else at play here. And here’s the thing: that “something” doesn’t really make much of an appearance. When director Hiroyuki Morita brought over the story from Mohiro Kitoh’s manga, even he felt that some of Bokurano was just way too damn sad (sources are all over the web confirm this).

So he changed it, and I think that the force that moves the anime along was “left behind” in the process, either because it didn’t mesh well with Morita’s new story, or that there wasn’t enough time to explain it all (as is what often happens in anime). Don’t worry, this anime adaptation is still one of the most depressing things you’ll ever watch, but if the ending feels somewhat incomplete, it’s because *frustratingly* this is not the same ending intended from the start.

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The Saddest Soldiers for the Saddest Anime Ever

Systematically, we bear witness to pilot after pilot fight their battle and depart from the scene. Where do they go, what happens to them? Ready for a dose of reality? ***SPOILERS for the first couple episodes, but they die. That’s all there is to it. There’s no glory, and no reward. Once you’ve served your purpose in prolonging the planet’s safety, no longer are you of any use to Zearth and Koemushi, a cruel and sadistic ABOMINATION whose job is to circulate this cycle of death and inevitably select the next pilot.

Each episode or two, we center our narrative focus on the next pilot chosen. From family and friends to one’s most carefully guarded secrets, we quite literally see all of it. The darkness in our hearts can seem infinitely deep, regardless of one’s age, and the fronts we put up can’t always mask it all. We see kids break, physically and emotionally, and although we know that they’ll die at the end of the episode, it can still be dramatic and utterly heartbreaking. Honestly, I wish they had more time . . . I won’t go into further details for real spoilers, but watching others suffer is . . . well, “Pain is addictive.”

Bokurano is thrilling up until the very end, even if it is hard to watch these poor kids undergo psychological torment to no end. Either it was super interesting to watch or, subconsciously, I wanted to quickly put them out of their misery, but I just could not put Bokurano down for a second.

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Oh, and be prepared to have your guesses as to who’s next get smashed, as even the seemingly “main” characters are not spared from Koemushi’s wrath.

Lost Iconography: The Circle of Chairs

A lot of early 2000s anime don’t hold up very well in today’s day. Bokurano is no exception from this. The show’s characters can look pretty rough on the eyes, and other than the robot fights, Gonzo’s animation is kept to a minimum, resulting in too many dialogue scenes and conversations that don’t seem to end. On those robot fights though, man—Bokurano’s got some of the most engaging, exciting, strange, and truly colossal mech fights that the genre has to offer! Unlike a tedious game of “My gun is bigger than your gun,” a real amount of strategy is required to pilot a robot that essentially has no controls—just your mind. Sync with Zearth, tell it what you want to do, and it will likely perform the feat even if its mechanical structure has to be reconfigured entirely. Just as how we know more about the cast as we go along, we come to see Zearth’s true range of abilities, and understand why it is able to put up such a good fight.

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I wanted to briefly mention the chairs, though. You know, that eerie circle of unique chairs inside Zearth’s pilot chamber. The chairs are how the pilots enter and exit Zearth, and without their genius iconography, works like Madoka Magica may not have that extra special “Shaft” touch. A single object or location can tell an entire story—and these chairs encompass both of those categories. Whenever I see Daiichi, Komoda, or Chizuru’s chairs, I immediately recall their struggles, their emotions, their story, which is absolutely wild given that they’re ultimately just furniture. Where do you spend most of your time sitting? How does that area represent who you are as a person?

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While the main OST doesn’t offer much in the way of me thinking, “Oh yeah, that’s Bokurano!” Chiaki Ishikawa has absolutely dominated the sound department with her amazingly addictive OP and two excellent ED themes. “Little Bird” and especially “Vermilion” are rich with a somber quality to them, but “Uninstall” ranks up there as one of my favorite OPs of all time for its epic melancholy, sorrowful lyrics, and ability to call to mind all of the beauty and tragedy in Bokurano. 

The Pain of Letting Go

Could you put enough pain on a single person to change the human heart? Short answer, yes, but the road to such change can be messy, frustrating, and completely exhausting. Bokurano‘s main interest comes from the constant curiosity of where the story is headed next. What will ultimately stick with you, however, are the hearts left behind along the way, and the stories that succumbed to tragedy—or the few that ended with a glimmer of hope.

As characters exit the stage one by one, their vacant seats are left to inspire the next chosen hero. At one point, these chairs had a warm body that sat in them, that thought about their place in the world, and that struggled to come to terms with their fate. Although its visuals are dated and some of its background plot points could’ve been fleshed out better for the finale, Bokurano still holds fast as a gem of its genre, reminding us that everyone suffers—but we that can still be saved.

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An awesome reality came to meet us from beyond. It came to laugh at how simple our existence was. Even when I covered my ears, the truth slipped through both hands and confounded me . . . I have no choice but to act as a warrior who knows no fear.—from “Uninstall,” the opening theme


Bokurano‘s been sitting on my backlog ever since I watched Evangelion, and now that I’ve FINALLY seen it, I can confidently recommend it to fans of that other popular abstract mecha anime. Their distorted premises may be different, but the stakes of the game are the same, in that a group of kids must pilot giant robots against the wrath of the heavens—or face the destruction of their world. Similarly, both stories feature a very human cast dealing with issues like depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses to sexual frustration and an inferiority complex. Both series handle these themes with extreme care and realism, which can be appreciated immensely. If it isn’t a surprise by this point, then please, let’s honor Bokurano: Ours as a “Caffe Mocha” title, a rating reserved for only the best!”

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Because of its clockwork death count and endearing participants, I found this smartly written survival game to literally be The Saddest Anime I’ve Ever Seen. Despite being full of nothing but misery and grief, the suspense of hope that releases at the very end feels immensely satisfactory. If you’re up for a bit of a psychological challenge and don’t mind a throwback, you ought to give Bokurano a try (Crunchyroll’s got it for FREE)! Already seen it? Let me know what you thought about Bokurano or this review down in the comments and we can reminisce together! Thanks for reading, and until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

ChaoS;Child–Thrills, Chills, & the Return of Madness | Review

A brief spoiler-free review of the 12-episode winter 2017 anime “Chaos;Child,” stylized as “ChäoS;Child,” as well as the prequel recap “Episode 0” and the OVA “Silent Sky” (episodes 13 and 14), animated by Silver Link., directed by Masato Jinbo, and based on visual novel of the same name by MAGES and 5pb. The anime is a sequel to “ChaoS;HEAd.”

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Return of the New Generation Madness

Six years ago, a massive earthquake rocked Shibuya to its core, leveling the ward to utter ruin under the cloak of a strange white sky. Such was the climax to ChaoS;HEAd and the mass hysteria that lead to Shibuya’s destruction caused by a series of gruesome murders dubbed the “New Gen Madness.”

Now, in a present day and newly rebuilt Shibuya, the mysterious chain of grisly murders that once shocked the world have started up again. It’d only be a matter of time before occult-interested third-year student and newspaper club president Takuru Miyashiro discovers a startling connection: the dates of the recent murders match those of the previous New Gen incidents. Risking the warning signs dished out by his foster sister, Nono Kurusu, Takuru and his friends of the club decide to entrench themselves deeper into the mystery, only to find that merely knowing about the crime scene is enough to put them all in danger against the bizarre and the unknown. Bleeding eyes? Sumo face stickers? What’s the connection?! The further Takuru persists, the worse his own case of delusions tries to consume him.

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With this sequel, several shocking twists are littered throughout the story to maintain an immense level of thrill—an almost nauseating number at that. I couldn’t count one episode that didn’t include a world-changing discovery, and the need for the series to constantly one-up itself makes for a bumpy ride. Are half of these sickening twists just written for shock value? Maybe a few of them were. That’s not to say it’s unexciting, however; if anything, it’s the perfect watch for fans of the thriller genre! Just know that the gore train doesn’t stop once it gets going, and that it’s also not for the faint of heart.

Takuru and the Unusual Family Dynamic

“Family” is a theme that, beyond ChaoS;HEAd, the Science Adventure Series rarely tackles. And yet, I think it fits quite well. Growing up in a foster home, Takuru constantly isolates himself from friends and family that clearly love him for fear of what unintentionally losing them will do to himself in return. In a show all about murder, deceit, and delusion, I would say that Takuru’s playing it smart—which is undoubtedly confirmed by Mio Kunosato, a certain young scientist affiliated with the government who purposefully acts like a dick to him. But the reality is that, without family, it can be harder to realize who you are, and what you might want to do with your life. His blind refutation of others’ compassion, particularly Nono’s (bless her heart), feels frustrating—and his actions will have grave consequences—but in the end, all the emotional justices and injustices balance out well enough.

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For spoiler’s sake, I can’t detail much more other than that Serika Onoe, Takuru’s newspaper club friend, doubles as the game’s other possible romantic interest. Like all Science Adventure heroines, however, there’s always something hidden under that lab coat, silly pose, or precious smile. Although Alex Moore’s Nono doesn’t quite fit the imagined vocal register, English dub fans will be pleased with Ricco Fajardo’s Takuru and especially Felecia Angelle’s Serika.

Revisiting Shibuya: Lights and Sounds

Animation studio Silver Link. brings an oddly soft and pastel glow to a world that is otherwise nothing but blood and guts strung all over Shibuya. Much like their work on other slice-of-life series, ChaoS;Child takes on many shades of cool blues and violets, but the pulsating red shimmers of cute character blushing, street lights, or, at its worst, blood, give an off-putting vibe befitting the supernatural undertones. Much like with ChaoS;HEAd, a grainy or fuzzy layer of film is added to Takuru’s delusion scenes, of which can spike the heartbeat with wicked intensity. Although the character movements are fairly stationary, they’re still pretty to look at against the sparkling, sprawling cityscapes and dark, grungy alleyways of a Shibuya we’ve explored all too thoroughly.

(I know these images are from the game, but the art style is nearly identical.)

Thankfully, Kanako Itou returns to the Science Adventure Series as a leading part of the music with a new OP, “Uncontrollable,” and though it’s much less memorable than “Hacking to the Gate” or even “F.D.D.,” she’s become an iconic part of this massive franchise that deserves shoutout. Takeshi Abo provides amazing suspense and fright with the soundtrack, but his work shines best with his gorgeous piano soliloquies to match the series’s bittersweet moments, or even his nice orchestral work for Takuru’s more heroic scenes. Overall, the tone is a great improvement from ChaoS;HEAd‘s unstable insanity.

The Adaptation Conquest Continues . . . 

“Not all is as it seems” with these Science Adventure Series games. While I enjoyed ChaoS;HEAd enough to merit it worth the buy, I was never truly satisfied with how its ending was executed (or how many of its grim stunts were pulled off). For the most part, ChaoS;Child is better in charge of its numerous plot twists, but that sense that some questions weren’t quite answered still lingers. This is largely due to the game’s many meticulous routes being cut and pasted to create the most coherent story (which explains why one of the newspaper club members doesn’t even speak a peep). Of course, the rushed urgency that comes with such a time crunch doesn’t help much either. To obtain the most complete experience, do watch the 50-min “Silent Sky” OVA (that is included AND dubbed on Funimation’s release!), as it adapts the game’s true ending and brings the story to more fulfilling, albeit beautifully tragic, ending.

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ChaoS;Child offers a decently strong follow-up to a series that frankly needed one desparately. Still, the plot lacks proper explanations to make its story truly solid writing. Essentially, while it’s not a must-watch (as I can’t force anyone in their right mind to sit through the headache that ChaoS;HEAd can be), the more you know about the case at large, the more enjoyable the entire experience is. The revelations made in ChaoS;Child build upon your previous knowledge of the New Gen crimes and a few of their deadly constituents, and making such fatal connections is half the fun—if not half the madness.

Although it moves too fast for its own characters’ backgrounds to shine and feels like a bit of a mixed bag for the sci-fi genre, murder mystery and thriller fans will surely get their fill of the grotesque and the paranormal that unmistakably belong to the weirder side of the this beloved franchise.

new cast

There was so much that they didn’t give me. I was trying to find those things in her, I think. — Takuru Miyashiro


Afterword

Call it my unashamed love for the entire Science Adventure Series, but despite its rushed pacing and shaky character motives, I’ll still award ChaoS;Child worth the watch with a “Coffee” rating. At the very least, its high tension and dramatic twists made for a very interesting narrative, and it is visually appealing. Not that I’d place it on the top of my thriller anime favorites list (of which no such thing exists), but it would be on there for sure.

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But what did you think of ChaoS;Child? It was pretty cool to see Takumi and the old ChaoS;HEAd gang reanimated in the 2017 art style in that “Episode 0” prequel recap! I know the Chaos side of the franchise gets a lot of flack for things I’ve said over and over again now: rushed pacing, poor explanations, and weak character backgrounds. Even then, did you enjoy it as much as I did? Do let me know, for I fear that my own passion for this series could be a delusion in itself! Haha, thanks 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

If I Went Missing . . . ERASED | Hero Week Review

A brief review of the 12-episode winter 2016 anime “Boku dake ga Inai Machi” (trans. The Town Where Only I am Missing”) or simply “ERASED,” produced by A-1 Pictures, based on the manga by Kei Sanbe.

Hearing about anime with time travel immediately make me feel two things: Exhilaration and skepticism. The rush of adrenaline is an obvious one. I mean, doesn’t finding out that trial and error will play a key part make you excited? The concept usually entails a character going through repetitive hardships to eventually overcome a goal that will better either themselves or the future or both. Often, however, shows will fail to use the gimmick to its maximum potential, either not developing a character enough to show improvement (or drastic change) or making an inconsistent story just for thrill’s sake.

ERASED executes a surprising mix of these turnouts, and depending on how you interpret the lead, Satoru, by the end, you’ll either walk away awestruck or feeling quite underwhelmed about the whole package.

Dismal 29-year-old Satoru Fujinuma is a pizza delivery man/part-time manga artist/time traveler in modern-day Japan. Well, sort of. He just has these occasional bursts where, right as a disaster occurs, he is sent back a few moments to before the incident. He calls the unexplained phenomenon “Revival,” and he seems to be tasked with saving those facing inevitable peril.

Returning to his apartment from a seemingly normal outing, Satoru finds his mother brutally skewered on the floor and is unfairly accused of murder. Just as the adrenaline is enough to cause his heart to burst, Satoru is tossed back once again through “Revival.” But this time, a few breather minutes beforehand becomes 18 years—1988—and is enough to send him back to elementary school!

A man trapped in a boy’s body, Satoru comes to realize that his mother’s untimely death could be tied to the abduction and killing of a lone classmate of his during childhood, Kayo Hinazuki. Given a second chance at righting wrong and changing his own presently-dull fate, Satoru is challenged to save those lost in the past, protect beloved ones in the present, and ultimately expose the mastermind behind the killings.

Let’s get one thing straight: ERASED is not a good mystery anime. It has mystery elements, yes, but the identity of the killer at large is far too predictable. This mainly stems from the otherwise lack of possible suspects. A good mystery anime wouldn’t toss in a character at the end and label him the murderer—thankfully ERASED doesn’t do that. Where it fails is in the tiny toss up of possible killers. I wanted to say I was truly shocked by the end, but the abrupt change in slower pace and lack of characters to choose from left little room to ponder. Some of the animation cues are also at fault, but we’ll cover that department’s actual brilliance in a bit.

While we’re discussing the cons, I’ll add that the unexplained notion of how or why Satoru undergoes these “Revivals” really bothered me when I reached the end of the series. It’s as if they show us a preview of the power in a few beginning instances, then toss the idea once we hit the halfway point. Being a time travel fanatic, I was disappointed with how it was handled, unless . . . The gimmick doesn’t revolve around needing to save Kayo. Some otherworldly force did it so he could save himself, a man not interested in society and partially life. And where else do you meet friends and solidify family? Childhood. I see each “Revival” as a wake-up call for Satoru, like, “Get a hold of your life, man!”

At least the show’s wild predictability and faulty concept were led by memorable characters, specifically speaking, Satoru, Sachiko Fujinuma (his big-lipped, sharp-eyed momma and arguably best character of the season), and Kayo Hinazuki. The wide screen narrative for his revisited childhood days was fantastic contrast, and it fits the movie theater theme as represented by the opening and the “Revival’s” running film. While the background characters served their purpose, nothing was more entertaining than 28-year-old Satoru’s thoughts being accidently leaked from his little kid mouth. The fixed goal set by his favorite manga hero that is always referenced helps guide his character. I could go on about how smart and well-intertwined these main characters are, but my friend Rocco B laid it all out in his comprehensive review, which I urge you to check out for more depth on every layer.

As for production quality, it’s once again A-1 Pictures and Yuki Kajiura—could a guy ask for more? Honestly, the intense color palette and flowing imagery accompanied by Kajiura’s deeply-felt and haunting main melody brought the story to life. She conveys Satoru’s soliloquy with excellent intensity.

The real question is for ERASED, are you an OP or ED guy/gal. For me, the tune of the ending “Sore wa Chiisana Hikari no Youna” by Sayuri was much addicting and romantic, albeit Sayuri’s voice being a bit on the high and nasally end. Fight me.

With a future thrown into mayhem (Satoru running from the cops and getting into house fires 24/7), ERASED only seemed fun and truly thrilling in childhood; the future seems lost in purpose. Speaking of excitement, where its mystery failed to convince me, its thriller levels were off the charts! It seems every time red flashed across the white 1988 snow, my heart skipped a beat. That is, until you reach the last episode or two.

HERO WEEK SEGMENT: Archetypical Hero qualities represented by Satoru

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

  • Unusual circumstances of birth; sometimes in danger or born into royalty
    • Other than the fact that his father is out of the picture, not much can be said for this one.
  • Leaves family or land and lives with others
    • Satoru, as we see it, is on a long journey from age 10 to 28. In the present, he lives by himself with a part-time job and a hobby he wishes to pursue. I assume he moved out not only because he was old enough, but because he wanted to get a job as a manga artist for his hero story, and his career path led him to the city where these kinds of options are more prevalent.
  • An event, sometimes traumatic, leads to adventure
    • The death of Sachiko is the big one, obviously. Satoru lost his one and only crutch supporting him in these seemingly purposeless days.
  • Hero has a special weapon only he can wield/always has supernatural help
    • “Revival” anyone? This is the weakest point, as his power is truly the unexplained supernatural, but all that matters is that he is given a second chance—only he can change fate.
  • The Hero must prove himself many times while on adventure
    • Protect Kayo Hinazuki. Keep Airi out of harm’s way. Prove Jun Shiratori’s innocence. Save Sugita and Nakanishi. Find the murderer. These and many more challenges await Satoru on his rugged journey.
  • ***SPOILERS START HERE***
  • The journey and the unhealable wound
    • Coming in episode 9, Satoru is drowned by the killer, thus becoming ‘erased.’ Though the story proceeds to save his rear with the ‘sudden coma treatment,’ this imprisons Satoru for several years. When he reawakens, he is a changed man—he suffers brief amnesia, but then quickly marks the line between good and evil by pointing out the killer on the cold hospital rooftop. He won’t be able to regain these lost years, but they have changed him for the better, as he is able to see the wonderful lives that have sprouted from those he saved.
  • Hero experiences atonement with the father
    • Upon her sudden death, Satoru melts at being with his mom once again in the past. He uses her passing as a motivator (avengement) for seeking Kayo’s safety, watching over her and struggling against the inevitable.
  • When the hero dies, he is rewarded spiritually
    • THIS is the key one, and tends to affect people’s enjoyment. Clearly Satoru didn’t die at the end, but the part of him that revisited the past and was able to undergo “Revivals” is no longer with him. The traumatic event in episode 9 caused the split in spirit. For his work, Satoru is rewarded with a new start at middle-aged life rife with opportunity and good fortune, contrasting the beginning. But unlike most heroes, Satoru loses his special power, leaving us to assume that his journey wasn’t about a kid saving the lives of many, one about a man seeking redemption through experiencing loss. Because he mentions in the epilogue that he never experienced another “Revival,” we are led to believe that his mission is complete, which somewhat defies the typical hero. He ACTUALLY gets to relive his life, while most retire to death following their journey.
  • ***SPOILERS END HERE***

Good things have been said about ERASED for a reason: Its intense thriller fantasy atmosphere is awesome, the music and animation are top-notch, and Satoru is an exciting main character (voiced by an incredible actor, mind you). Fair enough. The end also gets a lot of slack for being anticlimactic. That I really also agree with. It all comes down to how you interpret the hero’s journey—Was the enemy too easily identifiable, or was Satoru’s reward too gracious? All that can be surely said is that we tend to notice how much we have only once we’ve lost it. In a town where only you went missing, I’m sure I would realize the impact you’ve made.

“Kayo, my fate is my own. There’s no need for you to feel responsible. I’m sure that what’s become of me was a result of something I wanted.” – Satoru Fujinuma

Being entertaining is not the same as being well-written. A solid “Cake (4/5),” ERASED was definitely my favorite from the winter 2016 season, then again I only watched two anime. What did you think of the show? How did you interpret the same issues everyone had with it? FEEL FREE TO TALK ABOUT SOMEONE IMPORTANT IN YOUR LIFE, or how you thought Satoru was a good/bad hero! I want to celebrate the cause with all of you! Until next time, this has been

– Takuto, your host

Just look at how happy momma Fujinuma is. Best mom 2016!

 

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