“To tell you the truth, I want to stay here forever. I’m sure that’s impossible, but I don’t want to go anywhere. I love this place. I want to stay here forever” (Natsume, “Nishimura and Kitamoto”).
“I found myself smiling at others, and seeing them smile in return….Reiko-san…did you ever really get to exchange smiles with someone? With the people you cared about?” (“What Matters”).
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that true friends are difficult to find–you can spend your whole life never making more than a handful even if you’re lucky. Natsume Yuujinchou frequently circles on the topic of friendship, touching on humans and youkai alike. While the previous series in the franchise loosely hold their own themes, season six digs deeper into the nature of Natsume Takashi’s relationships with his human friends and family, as well as the spirits who surround him. Natsume has always walked a shaky line between the two worlds, learning stories of Reiko’s past and creating new ones of his own every day, though this may be the first time where we see through the eyes of his school friends. Their version of events provides further substance to an already fleshed-out world. Surrounded by friends and family like he is, Natsume finally has a home he can call his own and, perhaps, a purpose to pursue.
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Starting up a new high school club is familiar territory for anime, with many shows demonstrating the difficulties of gathering members and establishing a routine. Some represent Japanese classic arts, such as karuta (art and game) in Chihayafuru and yosakoi in Hanayamata. Games like go and shogi are mainstays with Hikaru no Go, Shion no Ou, and 3-gatsu no Lion. Even rakugo has found coverage in Joshiraku and Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. Now we have Kabukibu!, a light novel adaptation about a high school kabuki club.
Two expectations rose to the forefront when I considered watching the show: first, a boys-only group aimed at a female audience and, second, a demonstration of kabuki that leaned either too far away or too close to the art. Thankfully, the show has proven neither of these views, instead rising far above in approach and display to fully capture my attention.
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There was no way I could have predicted at the start of the season that Seikaisuru Kado would be impressing me the way it has in story, execution, and, yes, even visuals. The anime-original has inspired a manga adaptation, as well as a spin-off manga. If you enjoy science fiction with alien encounters, national and international politics, and theories of world peace, then Kado: The Right Answer may be just the show for you. You don’t even have to be a science fiction fan or anime fan to appreciate the series–the ideas and emotions presented are, quite literally, universal.
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Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho, more easily referred to as Zero no Syo, takes place in a world where magic exists but is largely condemned as the bearer of misfortune. Humans blame witches for everything from plagues to natural disasters, and hold an almost equal disdain for beastfallen, humans born with an animal appearance like a wolf and tiger. Our story begins with one such beastfallen who stumbles across a witch unlike most other witches he has encountered.
When I first picked up Zero no Syo, I expected it to be much like any other generic fantasy show, familiar and forgettable. The average character designs and overall art style give no hint to the show’s immersive story. “Zero” and “Mercenary” are a surprisingly good combination of skepticism and wit, and I wish we had a longer amount of time than the slotted twelve episodes to explore their relationship.
A thread of miscommunication runs through the series–a lack of understanding between humans and witches, witches and beastfallen, beastfallen and humans. As is natural, they all prioritize their own interests before those of others, and create their own conceptions of the truth. These expectations appear fulfilled when events occur justifying their own ideas.
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[King] “Do you like sweets?”
[King] “Have as much as you’d like.”
“The Swirling Smoke of Rumors in the Castle,” ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept.
Viewers of ACCA: 13-Territory Inspection Dept. rave about the series while also wondering about the significance of bread in the narrative. Among the cigarette smoking, district inspections, and political intrigue sits breads of all kinds–sweet bread, earthy bread, herb bread, the list goes on. Their imagery and descriptions cause the mouth to water, but also beg the question about why bread is so prominently featured. This is a story about a struggling kingdom swarming with rumors of a coup, not some light-hearted comedy set in a cafe.
I want you to consider this: diet is one of the quickest ways to determine a given location’s culture and class situation. Wealthy nations tend to overflow with a variety of meats, vegetables, and grains, much of which is imported from outside; poor and isolated countries that cannot afford the many costs of trade often pull from limited, local sources. We see this reflected in the different districts of Dowa, a monarchy comprised of semi-independent states that are encouraged to emphasize their cultural differences. As ACCA inspector Jean Otus conducts his interior reviews throughout the districts, we are presented with all kinds of foodstuffs, most of which are baked goods.
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“It’s rushing towards me, Mr. Shimada’s thoughts. Like water that’s been let loose from a dam. Sudden and forceful!”
-Kiriyama Rei, “Torrent,” March Comes in like a Lion
Happy March! And what better way to enter this month than to touch on the show March Comes in like a Lion? The anime has been a favorite of mine from the beginning, but I’ve neglected discussing it until now. Part of the reason for that is the amount of material worthy of analysis and commentary felt daunting. Unlike Onihei, which I talked about in my previous post, March Comes in like a Lion receives plenty of spotlight from fellow bloggers and anime critics. However, the past few episodes featuring the character Shimada Kai reminded me of my own unpleasant and ongoing experience with stomach pains.
Shimada makes his living as a professional shougi player and suffers from chronic stomachaches. Although he ranks as an eight dan, he continues to look upward towards the top Meijin title. Shimada plays mentor and role model to younger players like Nikaidou and Kiriyama. While he guides them in their never-ending quest to improve themselves, he also paves the way for their paths to the top. As if to echo the weight of such responsibility, Shimada endures daily, near-debilitating pain in his gut.
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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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“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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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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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 Crown, Nanana’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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