Flaring Bright in Juni Taisen: Zodiac War

“Don’t worry. All I’m taking is your life. In exchange, I hope you’ll be my friend, too. I’ve wanted that so badly since the first moment I saw you…”
(Rabbit, “Even a Champion”)

There was a time when I veered away from any kind of atmosphere that would get my heart pumping, or suffocate me in fear. Horror films always stuck in my mind and came to life in the darkness of sleep. Action and thrillers threatened to cut me in seemingly everyday activities in the car or walking on the sidewalk. As I dabbled my ankles in these genres over the years, I slowly waded deeper and deeper into the blackness of the unknown. What seemed too frightful as a child promised to excite me as an adult.

Juni Taisen: Zodiac War is this season’s offering from Nisio Isin, also known for his Monogatari series, Katangatari, and Medaka Box. A little bit of fear, the dash of a promise just out of reach, and plenty of violence fill each episode. There’s no comfort to be found in the arms of a protagonist; our writer is just as happy to tell their histories as he is to cut them right out of it. Our twelve characters, each representing a member of the Chinese Zodiac, are no heroes, either. Every one of them, no matter how righteous, reeks of questionable motives.

With an irredeemable cast and a predictable story, it might seem like Juni Taisen offers nothing of substance for enjoyment. In almost every other instance I cite my necessity for unique characters and an interesting plot.

Forget about those. Juni Taisen is a hell of a lot of fun.

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Amanchu! Episode 13: Joining Friendships of the Past and Present

“An unfamiliar path may fill you with anxiety, shock, or many other feelings, but there’s no need to rush. You need to take it easy. If you have fun on the way, you win” (Kohinata Kino, “The Story of the Promised Summer”).

A little over a year ago, we were gifted the anime experience of Kozue Amano’s Amanchu!, a story about growing up, scuba diving, and so much more. Amano’s gentleness appears in every smile, and her love for the ocean moves over and around us in almost every frame. Now we have episode thirteen, “The Story of the Promised Summer and New Memories,” bringing us back to Shizuoka along with two of Teko’s old friends. While this may be a story in a familiar place, experiencing it through Chizuru and Akane’s eyes allows us to see anew our main characters and the sea they love so much.

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Netflix’s Castlevania: A Welcome Addition to the Family

Love and revenge. Hunger and blood. Castlevania brews a stew of emotions in a way that leaves you both terrified and exhilarated. Thanks to positive reactions from my peers on Twitter and elsewhere, I picked up the show with very little background knowledge and watched all four episodes in one sitting. The urge to continue the next episode after finishing one was irresistible. Through a combination of atmosphere, story building, and characterization, Castlevania the television series—a Western-made product that pays respect to both the original games and Japanese animation—succeeds in reasserting the charm of 2D animation and its place in adult media.

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Seeking the Light in The Ancient Magus’ Bride: Those Awaiting a Star

“The lonely little star, the tiny child of a star, twinkled in the empty sky all by itself.”
(“Those Awaiting a Star: Part 2”)

“You can see them if you look really carefully. The sky is endlessly connected. Just try, and you’ll see even the faintest of lights.”
(“Those Awaiting a Star: Part 3”)

The third and final episode of Mahoutsukai no Yome: Hoshi Matsu Hito recently aired—just in time for the much anticipated series coming out this fall. This three-part OVA tells a supplementary story that can be watched at any point, be that before, during, or after the main series. “Those Awaiting a Star” is a wonderful addition to better understanding Chise’s past and her present point of view. Her dark history and unbelievable apprenticeship point Chise towards an uncertain yet promising future should she choose to take it.

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Made in Abyss: Eating to Survive, Eating to Unwind

“Over the span of many years, with a spirit of adventure for the unknown and countless legends luring them in, the world’s only remaining unexplored chasm has swallowed up a great many people. It is known as the Abyss.”

(“The City of the Great Pit.” Made in Abyss.)

From setting to character, story to music, this season’s Made in Abyss is all anyone is talking about lately. The show, a manga original, stunned viewers right from the beginning with its visuals and Kevin Penkin’s haunting melody, “Underground River.” That overwhelming feeling still persists more than halfway through the series, and now that we’ve made it to the third level of the Abyss, the danger seems more present than ever before. Our moments for respite are far and few in between. One thing about them obviously stands out to me: many of those quiet moments are spent around food.

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A Silent Voice: Remembering the Past and Improving the Now

While the 2016 film A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi) spotlights topics like solitude, bullying, and death, much of the story plays out on our common desire to connect with one another. Connections by blood, friendship, rivalry, and even animosity all begin with the self, accepted or not. The lessons play out beautifully in the film through characters whose expressions and emotions seem almost tangible in their vividness—especially important for a central figure suffering a hearing disability and who rarely speaks. Nishiyama Shouko’s desires come to life in her body language. Conflict arises from a combination of her classmates’ discomfort and insecurity, and their teacher’s neglect.  Their experiences show not only how easy it is to misunderstand one another and to perpetuate the mistreatment of others, but also how it is never too late to confront your mistakes and learn from them.

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Action Heroine Cheer Fruits: Your Local Idol-Heroes

“The nine of us will become the saviors of the city. We will! Maybe!”

(Shirogane Misake, “Explosion Angel Hatsuri-chan”)

If you’re watching Action Heroine Cheer Fruits this season, chances are you’re enjoying the theatrics as much as I am. The odds for success are high given the almost guaranteed popularity of idol and superhero shows, but Cheer Fruits has more than a winning formula to help it–the show also addresses Japan’s established concern of shrinking rural communities, as well as displays solid writing that paces itself well over the course of its episodes. From practice to performance, the Cheer Fruits are the local heroines who will capture your applause and heart.

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Celebrating my 1st Wedding Anniversary with Tsuredure Children

One year ago today, I said “I do” to my husband, and promised to share with him a future filled with all its ups and downs. We referenced our hobbies and quirks in our vows, agreeing to compromise as necessary and always communicate. Looking back on our time together before and after marriage, I can happily say that we’re as strong as ever.

So much of what makes every day interesting is a summation of several little things that would normally be too mundane to stand out on their own. Take for example the fact that he brews coffee for us every morning, and that I try to time dinner with his arrival home from work. I could just as easily make the coffee, but he takes into consideration that he always wakes up first. He wouldn’t mind making dinner, but I like to cook. These normal, even boring, details mean a lot to us both and are nothing like the tumultuous romances I imagined when I was younger.

This season’s show, Tsuredure Children (or Tsurezure Children), picks up on the types of romantic scenes that skyrocket ratings: the moment when you realize you’re in love, the confession, the firsts that fill every relationship. Usually these scenes are bookended with slower moments where the characters first notice and start to get to know one another. For the audience to care, we need to know who the players are and why we want them to be together. Tsuredure Children skips these seemingly necessary steps by jumping straight into the juicy meat of the matter.

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Welcome to the Ballroom’s Stumbling Lead and Silent Follow

“The one to capture the crowd wins. The conditions to win are obvious: lead and follow, unity, ability to read the floor, configuration, and confidence and impact. He has them all now” (Sengoku Kaname, “Line of Dance”).

“Sure he was great, but don’t forget that Ginger Rogers did everything he did…backwards and in high heels” (Bob Thaves).

Couples dancing is one of the few stages left where the importance of following is just as strong as ever. Leading and following are set roles that dancers take, with men typically the leads and women the follows. We see this norm displayed in this season’s show, Ballroom e Youkoso, to varying degrees.

Fujita Tatara is understandably starstruck by the people he sees and the moves they make. He finds a goal he never knew he needed in competitive ballroom dancing, and undertakes the long and painful journey to earning his place among giants. Yet even among the stars, he meets others who challenge his vision. Leads like Akagi Gaju treat their partners with disdain and their desires with objective possession. To Gaju, his sister Mako is a weakness holding him back; Shizuku, in turn, is sexy, capable, and desirable. He wants to swap the two and use Shizuku to fulfill his own needs. Gaju’s chauvinistic greed is among the ugliest displays we see on the dance floor, and an example I hope Tatara avoids for the sake of himself, his partner, and us viewers. We need a lead who dances with, not for, the follow.

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Balancing Competition and Teamwork in New Game!!

Yun: “…isn’t Yagami-san gonna get chosen anyway? She’s super talented. This competition’s just so that no one can complain. But it’s a foregone conclusion.”

Aoba: “That may be true, but I’m fine with failure so long as I know the results were deserved.”

(“Cos-purr-lay.” New Game!!)

How you tackle opportunities in life can determine your position and future endeavors, and there are often countless approaches to take. Picking the right one for your own happiness can be tricky; doing so may result in the unhappiness of others. This is the dilemma faced in the second episode of New Game!!, “This Is Just Turning Into Cos-purr-lay!” With a new project on the horizon, Eagle Jump creates a challenge to all employees to win the position of Lead Character Designer.

Despite Yagami Kou’s promotion to Art Director, it’s assumed by everyone that she will take part in the competition as well. Some employees, like Yun, view this as a fixed race and shy away from confrontation. Others, like Aoba, are more than eager to have this rare chance. Her gut reaction to give it her all shows just how much she’s improved since the first season, when she looked up to Yagami as a near unreachable figure. Now she’s excited to challenge her, even if the outcome is certain.

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