Straddling the Border with Onihei

Onihei is another winter 2017 anime that I almost skipped over in my seasonal selection, but thanks to the recommendation of a reader, I tried it out and added the anime to my weekly viewing. The period drama has roots in a late 1960s novel by Shoutarou Ikenami, and has been adapted into various mediums, including theater, television, manga, and even an arcade game. Despite the stories taking place during the Edo period, they impart messages and emotions that resonate to this day.

The anime takes an episodic format, with each week providing a new case for “Demon Heizou” (“Onihei”), leader of the Arson Theft Control. While there are some recurring characters, each week presents new faces. Episodes usually start with the conflict of the introduced character, such as a noble thief running from Arson Theft Control, then getting caught by Onihei. Next comes Heizou’s investigation into the matter, and later his confrontation and resolution of the main conflict. While each of these episodes thus far has wrapped neatly into almost perfect packages, they also support a belief in the gray zone. No story has just one method of telling, and not all acts can be categorized as white or black. There is always another point of view to hear, and oftentimes an act for good results in evil. This plurality also defines Onihei, who at times plays the hero, and at other times the villain.

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Championing Diversity in Demi-chan

“There are people called ‘demi-humans’ who possess special qualities…the demi-humans who have been used as motifs in myths and fairy tales. They have also endured persecution in the past. But discrimination has been less common in recent years, and there’s even a welfare system for demi-humans who live with any sort of disadvantage. Now, being a demi-human is seen as just another aspect of one’s identity.” (Unknown, “Tetsuo Takahashi Wants an Interview,” Demi-chan)

There is no other show more surprising to me this winter season than Demi-chan wa Kataritai, a series I assumed would be a straightforward high school fantasy harem along the lines of Monster Musume no Iru Nichijou. Yes, there is a harem set up with our male protagonist and the female demi-humans, including three students and one teacher. Yes, they all look to be crushing on Takahashi-sensei. But, it isn’t the romance or comedy that shines in this series. Takahashi Tetsuo asserts himself from the very beginning as a man who not only wants to study demi-humans, but also respects them. Demi-chan wa Kataritai is a story that champions equality and appreciation for the precious and necessary diversity among communities.

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#1 night fall fan: Lotte Jansson of Little Witch Academia

Lotte Jansson is the star of Little Witch Academia’s fourth episode, “night fall,” where we witness her passion, loyalty, and support for a long-running series that spoofs Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. While Lotte did receive some character development in the second film, this episode’s window into her interests reveals a girl full of confidence and conviction. The uncertain and meek Lotte who usually graces the halls of Luna Nova disappears. By showing us this side to the young witch’s personality, the anime hints at future growth in her self-confidence towards her own magical ability and her supportive friendship with Akko and Sucy.

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12 Days of Anime – #6 Fune wo Amu

First off, I’d like to extend my gratitude to Flower of Anime  Evo for bringing this show to my attention this past fall. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve tried hard this year to cut as many shows as I dare can from my schedule to free up time for other aspects of my life. While this has helped me dodge many series that I know I would’ve found to be a waste of time, it has also raised the chance of me missing out on something I might love. Something like Fune wo Amu.

I vaguely remember reading the synopsis when the season was first announced and being intrigued by the dictionary aspect, but then I somehow forgot about it once new episodes started airing. This is part of why I share my seasonal picks with you all–so you can catch me in my foolishness!

Fune wo Amu was originally a novel by Shion Miura, and follows Majime Mitsuya in his journey to publish a new dictionary titled, “The Great Passage.” This is exactly the type  of animated work I would expect to be aired on Noitamina, a network once known for its larger demographic window. The past several seasons have hacked away at my opinion of their programming with inclusions like Guilty CrownNanana’s Buried Treasure, and Kabaneri. Now with Fune wo Amu on the table, I have renewed faith, tiny though it is.

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12 Days of Anime – #3 Mob Psycho 100

A topic that has continued to live strong into 2016 is that of the superhero. We already have our fair share of heroes with strong personalities who yell their feelings before landing punches, as well as antiheroes tired of the establishment, humanity, or whatever, and now we have unassuming ones who take on evil with blank expressions. Their motivations are unbelievably simple and the results of their actions anti-climatic. The shows I’m referring to are One-Punch Man and Mob Psycho 100, both of which are the creations of mangaka One.

I already spoke about OPM in last year’s 12 Days of Anime since it wrapped up the previous December, but I must bring it up again due to the similarities with Mob Psycho 100 which aired this past summer. The hype for OPM was huge, filling my blog and Twitter feeds, and I saw countless people cosplaying it at the last Sakura-Con. With the same creator and the proximity to OPM’s anime release, I thought MP100 would be a much bigger deal than it turned out to be. There were the occasional positive responses here and there, but the reaction was smaller than I had expected. Perhaps viewers thought the premise and tone too similar, or the focus on Espers instead of superheroes draws a smaller demographic of viewers. Either way, I actually found MP100 more engaging–and I love OPM.

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12 Days of Anime – #2 Girlish Number and the Ugly Underside of the Anime Industry

I didn’t actually enjoy watching Girlish Number this past fall, but I just had to include the show among my twelve moments of 2016 due to the impact it had on me as a viewer and anime fan. Many people have described it as a sort of antithesis to Shirobako, a P.A. Works series that for the most part positively portrays the anime industry. There are some trials that the characters go through, as well as some less than ideal coworkers, but the tone for the majority of the show was one of optimism. Diomedia’s Girlish Number enters with the point of a view of a fledgling voice actress and proceeds to reveal an uglier side of the industry where voices are chosen not for their skill and dedication, but for the girls’ names and looks as they would pertain to public appearances aimed at one thing: the customer’s wallet. It’s an interesting dilemma for the anime viewer; while on one hand I would prefer they maintain the integrity of the writer’s story by choosing quality over quantity, I also admittedly enjoy public events featuring bubbly and attractive staff. But the bottom line is that I honestly do not care what someone looks like as much as I care that they are the best in what they do.

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12 Days of Anime – #1 Aria the Avvenire 3 and Looking Ahead

This year’s 12 Days of Anime starts with my favorite world, the music of which accompanied my walk down the aisle (I think only one guest recognized the song). While I watched the last episode of Aria the Avvenire back in June, I never got around to talking about the finale of the three-part special since there was work and all the wedding craziness zapping away my willpower to do anything else. Now that both are out of the way (yes, both!) and I can finally focus on blogging, writing, and cooking, we return to Aqua.

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Flying Witch: Whimsical and Experimental

Witches have been a part of our culture since time before time, and come with a variety of labels and expectations depending on where you search. For the longest time in the U.S., they were synonymous with the historical town of Salem as a warning of sorts against ignorance and mass hysteria. Currently, the works of J.K. Rowling have blasted witches and wizards into our consciousness as people walking by our sides unbeknownst to the general populace (perhaps with the aid of a memory charm). In other countries, witches might be called shamans, druids, or even priests. These diverse interpretations reflects themselves in anime, with works like Soul Eater, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and, more recently, Maria the Virgin Witch.

This season presents Flying Witch, originally a manga and now an anime by J.C. Staff. This magical new show is presented in a meandering and calm manner in the spirit of other works like ARIA and Natsume Yuujinchou. Even the art is drawn in a softer color palette. We see a good variety of witches presented: the gifted and passionate sister, the fortune teller, and the restaurant owner. Like these three, protagonist Makoto is born into her ability, but she maintains a closeness to the audience and her human family due to still learning about her skills and plans for the future. She seems to have a special connection with plants and herbs, but spends an equal amount of time simply eating them to actually using them for potions or spells. Then there’s Chinatsu, Makoto’s young cousin who is not a witch, but carries on many of our wishes as someone who wants to become one. Her excitement feels completely real as a product of her optimistic outlook on life and the audience’s own desire to enter this magical world.

Flying Witch stands out from the rest of other magical shows in a number of simple, but fantastic ways that bring the series up from forgettable to a work that I expect will stand the test of time. We have witches who do what they want when they want, and see them often slip when treading the unknown.

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Ainu Culture in Kuma Miko

This season’s Kuma Miko is a delightfully light-hearted comedy following a middle school girl. This sounds pretty generic at the get go, but the show brings in some unique flavors in a few different ways:

  • Machi is also a priestess for a shrine devoted to the god of the mountain, thought to be a bear
  • The current bear is tame, named “Natsu”, lives with Machi, and talks like a human
  • Machi’s shrine garb is influenced by Ainu culture that is visually and verbally referenced

Shintoism is frequently used in anime, and I’ve become accustomed to its influences on various worlds and characters. This is actually the first series I’ve seen that brings up the Ainu people and their culture, which like Shintoism is animistic (think Pocahontas and the spirits in all things) . The next closest suggestion are the Emishi people of Mononke Hime, who were banished and thought lost by most of the country. There are arguments in many of the sources I’ve read, but the general consensus is that the Emishi and Ainu are both hunter-gatherers indigenous to Japan, and descendants of the prehistoric Jomon people.

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12 Days of Anime – [9] Ore Monogatari!!

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I dub 2015 the Year of Romance, both in anime, and in my own life. There weren’t an abnormal amount of romantic shows through the seasons, but there was a notable addition to the genre with Ore Monogatari!!, an unconventional story in quite a few ways from its characters to its early successes. The anime fulfilled almost all of the wishes I hold for romance stories, ones that tend to end up unfulfilled or on an open ending.

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