2020: a year of change

The flight departures board at Hong Kong airport, March 2020

This has been a strange year. In January, my flatmates fled the country to return to their home, obviously sensing just how serious the new virus would become. In February, I went overseas to catch my first and last figure skating competition this year—watching Japanese Nationals last weekend drove home just how much I’d missed it. And at the end of that month, I wandered through an incredibly empty Hong Kong airport on transit during my last international trip, barely making it back into this country before the borders were closed. Normal mail has shut down—I have two overseas packages that I can’t send, and I had to vote for an Australian state election online becuase my postal ballot didn’t arrive in time. And I’ve finally graduated from my doctoral program, though no ceremony was held. So many things have been put on hold, including the ski trip I was meant to be taking with my brother’s family early next year. Even with the vaccines being licensed recently, given that we’re not expecting to get them until March at the earliest here in Japan, it feels like this is never going to end…

Still…there are many things I am grateful for this year. For one, I got to see Yuruzu Hanyu in person, skating Ballade No.1 and Seimei, no less. They may not have been perfect performances, but after Pyeongchang, I honestly hadn’t expected to see him compete with them again. I am also glad I made it home for my little brother’s wedding. There was no way I was missing that, and we are all incredibly grateful that the date they chose ended up being ‘just in time’. And I somehow managed to finish my PhD revisions, to finally be approved for graduation back in November. I know I caused my supervisor a lot of headache and worry on that one, so I’m just glad I managed to make it without yet another extension…

The one thing I am most thankful for, however, is the job I have. I’m not sure where I’d be now if I’d stayed in academia, given what’s happening in the sector. So I’m lucky to be able to put food on the table and even save quite a bit, though my salary is far lower than I would like it to be. Even more importantly, this last year has challenged me even more than the initial five months back in 2019. The stuff I take most pride in will never be seen by most people—let’s just say that my interest in screenwriting and anime pre-production has paid off in a way that I would not have anticipated twelve months ago. I’ve also started working on several relatively famous IPs, the products of which will hopefully reach fans within the next year or so. One of them, in particular, is seriously driving the evolution of my skills as a translator and editor. All of these developments have got me pretty excited over what might be in store next year.

I am sorry that I have not been able to return to blogging in full. It may never happen, as work—and mobile games (^^;) —increasingly eat up my time. But I do want to share some of the things I’ve learned, and get back into deep diving the stories and creators that still hold my heart even now. So please watch this space!

And in the meantime, I wish you all a Happy New Year!

A decade (or so) of translation…

As some friends would know, the final year of this decade has seen me formally enter the industry as a translator. To be precise, I work as a localisation project manager and translation editor for a company based in Japan. I’m not going to share details of what I’m working on, or what I’ve learned since entering the industry, but what I can say is that my fandom translation work certainly played a part in getting me to this point. And so, to commemorate this landmark year, I decided to revisit some of the key points that brought me to where I am today.

If you’ve ever tried to trace my work back, you’d have found that my first forays into translation were all for Code Geass. They’re pretty embarrassing, to be honest, but since I never really revised them, they’re a pretty good indicator of just how bad I was when I started out. Well, as I noted at the time, they were JLPT practice fodder, and I guess they were useful as such, as I passed level 2 that year!

I tried my hand at several other types of media in the ensuing years, including my first song translation. Surprise surprise, it was for Bakemonogatari, the other show that dominated the end of the 2000s for me. But I will always treasure “The story you don’t know” (Kimi no Shiranai Monogatari) for teaching me what the difference between “Kimi no” and “Kimi ga” in this particular context was. It was also a good lesson in just how nuanced languages can be — I’ve no qualms now spending hours trying to understand how words are actually used by native speakers.

Moving on, as the first year if the decade dawned on us, I found myself translating my first manga chapter. This one, the second chapter of the Nodame Cantabile OPERA extra story, also brings back fond memories of another series I loved during the 2000s. I must have spent hours looking up opera jargon and lyrics — thank goodness the years I spent playing the piano and alto sax meant that the music jargon was just revision!

My long-time interest in male seiyuu also found me dabbling in Drama CD translation, as that was the bread and butter of many of my favourite voices. I only ever translated the second act of “Seven Days,” but I will always remember it for being the first time I had to think about the words that Japanese people use to say “I love you.”

Speaking of male seiyuu, that was the time I really fell in love with Nakamura Yuuichi’s voice. But Youkyan’s greatest draw, I would argue, is his at-times-sarcastic-at-times-blasé personality, which kept me laughing through so many of the 160+ episodes of the Macross Frontier radio show. Unlike with Delta‘s “Gori Gori Radio,” I didn’t translate any (T_T), but here’s a taste nonetheless, courtesy of a guest appearance from Youkyan (Alto) and Kamiya Hiroshi (Michal) at the Tokyo ZEPP Live.


The next phase of my Frontier obsession involves the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to translate: episode commentaries. I wasn’t the first to try — can’t remember who, but someone did give the first two Bakemonogatari episode commentaries a shot before they were included on offical Western disc releases, IIRC — but I’m not sure I ever want to do it again, as each summary/translation took more than 24 hours in total! But I will always appreciate what I learned, especially from Supervising Director Kawamori Shoji’s appearance for episode 10!

Given Frontier‘s ominipresence here, it wouldn’t surprise me if most of you thought that my creator interview translations were also born from that series. Similarly, some of you might think that my academic training in politics and international relations only showed up in 2015, with Aldnoah.Zero. But the truth is that both of these milestones involved a completely different series by the name of No.6. What’s more, this was also the interview in which I first encountered a creator who values attachment as the most important basis of interpersonal relationships.

Back to Frontier again — told you this show would dominate this post! — for another foray into fiction. “A Day in Alcatraz” is the first and last short story I’ve ever translated. I’d like to think I did a decent job at the time…but now that I’m embarking on this journey in the industry, I think I would like to try again at some point. If time allows ^^;;;;;;

After that, I guess you could say that my progress in translation plateaued for a few years. I largely found myself wading around in staff and creator interviews, learning new jargon a bit at a time, but never really taking another step to where I am now. But somewhere around 2013-14, I met Dee, and we embarked on a few translation adventures that taught me the importance of character voice. Our other interests have since taken over our lives, but I will forever be grateful for everything I learned from Dee on the three stories we worked on together.

rbp banner2

In fact, that’s probably how I’ve found myself where I am today. Dee was also the catalyst for my efforts to approach and work with other translators. Approaching another translator for the first time is really nervewrecking, even if they’re an amateur like yourself, especially when what you’re offering is feedback about how to improve something they’ve worked on. That Dee was open to my feedback was what gave me the courage to approach everyone else, and it is from working with all these other translators since — Kim, megax, inksquid, why and Ruben — that I gained the confidence to jump ship and change my career. Thank you all, and here’s to another 10 years of Japanese study and translation!

The decade that was…

“Anime of the decade” posts seem to be all the rage these days, as we count down to the 2020s, but I was honestly debating whether I wanted to do this or not. After all, I’ve all but dropped off the scene over the last two years, and given the increased workload I have at my new job, I doubt I’ll ever be able to return to a regular blogging schedule.

But the last 10 years have been, in many ways, formulative for the kinds of stories and shows I like now. So more than anything else, this is going to be a record for myself, a record of the 10 or so shows of the last decade that have contributed to making me the fan I am today. I am not going to restrict myself to one title a year, because there was no way I was going to leave a certain figure skating anime off this list!


It’s always difficult to figure out how to organize lists like this…so aside from the very last one, I’m going to take it chronologically. Also, I debated putting Monogatari on this list, as most of this franchise has come out in this decade. However, nothing has ever beaten the 12th episode of that first season for me, and that was first on TV in September 2009. But still, I do wonder if anyone can guess which title has actually had the biggest impact on my life trajectory. Care to have a gander?


It isn’t just because of recency bias that this title makes the list. I did enjoy the SS side stories, and I quite like where directors Shiotani Naoyoshi and Motohiro Katsuyuki seem to be taking the series with this third season. But the first season of Psycho-Pass is the show that changed the way I thought about the world. It was the show that helped me truly recognise, for the first time, the invisible structures that hold up our societies. The problem is, even if you know that these structures exist, it can be difficult to identify what they are, and thus where different societies might overlap, mingle, or clash. And so, although I still do not know entirely how to deal with such issues, which are always around me these days, I will forever be grateful to Psycho-Pass for making me able to recognise them in the media I consume.


Back in 2013, I found it difficult to pinpoint just why The Eccentric Family took my “favourite anime” crown. And the same holds through today: I can’t quite tell you why the tale of Yasaburo and his three brothers has captured a corner of my heart. Perhaps the closest that I can come to an explanation is that it is a story about family. My own family has become a much more important part of my life over these last ten years, what with the multiple additions to it. And now that I think about it, it may have been The Eccentric Family that helped me realise just how fortunate I am to have them.


We return to the family theme again with this next entry to the list, as Yuki and Inaho’s brother-sister relationship will always be my favourite thing about Aldnoah.Zero. But the other reason that AZ is here is that this was the first real robot show I saw after I really started understanding what international relations was all about. In fact, it was by diving into AZ and what Aoki Ei and Urobuchi Gen said about it that I learned that real robot shows — beginning with Gundam — were all about war and what causes it. Just like international relations. And that’s why I am probably the only person in the English-speaking fandom naming AZ to their list. ^^


Of all the entries on this list, SHIROBAKO is the one that I’ve returned to the least. I’ve not rewatched it, nor have I actually completed watching all of the “this is how we make anime” extras that came with the home video releases. But you could also say that SHIROBAKO underwrites everything I have been doing every since it was released. It’s the namesake for the website I created to compile the collection of interviews that I’d started to amass, and it something I do still want to maintain, even as I increasingly struggle to find the time to do so. Perhaps it is a resource that is no longer necessary, except for my own interests, and that is as important a reason as any.


It’s tempting, in some ways, to rehash the frustrations that I have felt with the Western fan reaction to Sound! Euphonium, because it really pains me that so few people understand the core themes behind it. I’ve already written at length about why this franchise speaks to me to deeply, and there’s no way that I can briefly summarise it. All I can hope is that more people will one day come to understand why I, too, wish I could just jump on a train one day, with a ticket that can take me anywhere but without a set destination in mind.


Few stories of a life lived are as compelling as this one. A lost young boy found in rakugo a place to belong, and through it met and lost his two soulmates. The first act sees two love triangles painfully interacting with tragic results, setting us up for a magnificent second act that I will not spoil for those who have yet to see it. Simply put, Rakugo Shinju is a show-don’t-tell masterpiece, though you will need to become a rakugo fan in order to pick up on all the nuances hidden within the storytelling. But believe me, it is well worth the effort.


As I noted back in 2016, that was a tour-de-force year in anime for me — four different shows from those twelve months alone have made it onto this list! But A Silent Voice is still the one that I place on a pedestal. Given the subject matter, it is a difficult watch at times — content warnings for bullying and suicide are a must. But if you watch only one piece of animation that has come out of Japan in this decade, this is the one I’d recommend.


I’ve already waxed on lyrically about this figure skating anime several times over the years, and I’m sure you’re all sick of that by now. But I just have to say it: there is one thing about Yuri!!! on ICE that I think will continue to astound me forever, and that is how reality and art continue to overlap with each other. Fans of figure skating will know what I’m referring to — it is news that’s damned hard to miss, and to be honest, I am still not sure what kind of face I should put on when I get to see this newly formalised partnership in person in February!


Almost one year ago, I made the futile wish that I would one day be able to tell you why the anime based on Yoshida Akimi’s classic shojo manga resonates so strongly with me. I regret to say that I still cannot find the words for this. Or rather, I have not been able wrestle the hours I’ve spent talking about Ash with friends down into a single blog post. This is an even harder watch than A Silent Voice — I’m not sure I could recommend it to people who have been victims of CSA, even though I have heard of fans who say that it has helped them. What I can promise you is that, if BANANA FISH grabs hold of you, it will never let you go.

Shout Outs

Before I get to my final entry, let’s look at a few of the titles I had to squeeze out. The unfortunate thing about restricting myself to 10 series is that there are many, many other titles that I enjoyed greatly over these last 10 years. Besides the above, March Comes in Like a Lion, Chihayafuru, Princess Jellyfish, Ace of the Diamond and given have all given me a great deal of joy. But most of all, I also want to mention Hyouka, Free! and Tamako Love Story, three vastly different Kyoto Animation shows that captured their own little places in my heart. These shows were the reason I fell in love with KyoAni, and especially with the stories that Yamada Naoko and Takemoto Yasuhiro were weaving for young women and young men respectively. That we will never again experience the visions of Takemoto, Ikeda Shoko, Nishiya Futoshi and the many others we lost on July 18 is something that I still have not truly come to terms with. But I am thankful for the wonderful pieces of art that they left behind.

We will remember you, always.

And without further ado…


If you know me well, you should have had no doubt that Macross Frontier would have ended up in this spot on the list. Even though Shoji Kawamori brought us another entry into this franchise in the middle part of this decade, there was no topping Wings of Farewell as a cinematic experience. I’ve had the pleasure now of seeing it twice in theaters, and I would definitely pay to do so again, especially if they bring back the Macross Explosive Sound (bakuon) screenings that I kept missing. With its last major entry landing in 2011, Frontier has given me so many amazing memories that you could say it defined the decade for me. Indeed, as the post I am planning for tomorrow will illustrate, almost everything I’ve done since was arguably born from the time I spent on this series. And I am sure that it will be part of my life for many more years to come.

Eventing in 2018 Part 12! Banana Fish at the noitaminA cafe

I am sure it escaped no one’s attention that I have spent more time at this cafe then I probably should have. In fact, if I’d spent less time (and money) at the two Banana Fish cafes over the last four to five months, I’d probably have been able to buy the first BD set and apply for one of the tickets to the Premium Party…though given that only half of the people who applied got tickets, it was still a risky proposition.


These were the Christmas drinks — the one in the middle was “Candy Bar,” hence the bromide ^^

But…while I have just a tiny bit of regret that I missed out on that party, I’m quite pleased to have the chance to really highlight a place in Tokyo that I am extremely fond of. I’ve written about it a couple of times before, but the noitaminA cafe has always been one of my happy places in Japan, even when the series screening was dark and sometimes depressing, as the first offering I ever caught there was.

And I am doubly pleased that the series that made this possible is Banana Fish. It was a polarizing series, no doubt, especially in certain English-speaking anime fandoms. I am probably one of the few English-speaking fans who came out of the experience agreeing with Nojima Kenji, Eiji’s voice actor, that at the core of this story is a message of “hope,” hope that dawn will come at the end of the long dark night.

Why “hope”? Especially given where the story left us? …I’m still finding it difficult to put it into words, so for the moment, let me leave you with this spread from Spoon.2Di vol.45.

Banana Fish two-page spread

One day, hopefully sooner rather than later,
I’ll be able to tell you why Banana Fish was my anime of the year.

Eventing in 2018 Part 11! Liz and the Bluebird


Er…you won’t see me in this pic, as I was on the second floor balcony ^^; (source)

Liz and the Bluebird was, hands down, my cinematic highlight of the year. But…I still cannot tell you why it affected me so much. It may be because Liz didn’t feel like an anime, it felt like a live-action drama, where there is so much hidden in what characters say and don’t say, in what they do and don’t do.

I can still remember one key moment that hit me, though I suspect it’s a moment that may not have struck many of my fellow fans: when Nozomi told Ms. Niiyama that she was thinking of applying to a music college as well, and only received a lukewarm “Oh, is that so? Well, do let me know if there’s anything you’d like to ask.”

What must Nozomi have felt, getting the confirmation she’d feared to get?

This was the moment that made the film for me. And I bet that just about every other person who loves Liz can name their own moment–or three.

And that is why Liz and the Bluebird is my film of the year.

Eventing in 2018 Part 8! Should I roll that gacha…?

Hang on! you say. Why is a mobile game on this list? It’s meant to be all about events in Japan, right?

Well…you see, mobile games have “events,” too ^^; And Uta Macross was most DEFINITELY a big part of 2018 for me.

That’s all I really want to say about it, I must admit, so I’ll just leave you with my uta macross home screen as it was earlier this evening.



Eventing in 2018 Part 7! Really, Ash, ramen on rice?!

Banana Fish Cafe Shinjuku

I…am not going to tell you just how much I’ve spent at this cafe. Let’s just say, “A LOT.” But it was totally worth it, if only because of the Japanese friends I made, especially when we all went back again and again during the last week it was in Tokyo! It’s down in Osaka now, and I’m tempted to try going down there, especially since I’ll also be able to meet a friend that has recently moved to Kobe… But I’ll have to see — even if I can spare the money, I can only go on weekends, and I’m guessing it’ll be all booked out!

Ramen on rice!

Eventing in 2018 Part 6! A trip to the home of Rakugo

Unfortunately, I didn’t tweet about this one either — was I just not feeling up to covering the events I was doing that month? So thank you to Dee for staying on top of it!

Rakugo theater in Asakusa

And do you know how cool it was to see this very theatre on TV just a few weeks later?!


We weren’t able to take photos, but you can check out the drama if you want to see what it looks like inside ^^

Eventing in 2018 Part 5! Super Dimension Orchestra F

I honestly meant to tweet about this, but for some reason I never got around to it. In any case, this past September, I finally made it to a Frontier Concert. And Megumi was there! So yes, I’ve finally seen one of my Macross idols live!

Ranka on stage

But the real reason this concert made it onto my list this year is this: when the orchestra played the opening bars of this song, memories of one key scene came flooding back to me, and I found myself clutching my hands over my heart.

I must confess that this didn’t happen to me even at the Yuri!!! on ICE Concert. I suspect it’s partly because I’d been listening to that music almost nonstop. In this case, I haven’t actually listened to the Frontier orchestral pieces for years, and that’s why it was so overwhelming when it all came flooding back… It really was an unforgettable experience, one that I will remember for a long time to come.

Eventing in 2018 Part 4! Yuri!!! on MUSEUM

(In which I realise to my horror that I didn’t actually tweet much about this one!)

I guess it shouldn’t surprise anyone that YOI is the first series to repeat on this list. But to be honest, other than the first post, for which I wanted something pretty impactful, the other non-AOTY entries are all in chronological order! So since we’ve had a bit of a dearth in terms of YOI events in the second half of 2018, it’s time for Yuri!!! on MUSEUM!


Everyone probably knows that I went to the Tokyo one, if only because I’ve been living here all year. But…I actually made a trip to Osaka in January precisely BECAUSE I wanted to catch the museum there. At that point, IIRC, we didn’t even know that they’d be bringing it back to Tokyo, much less with all that additional content — I only wish we could have taken more photos there, but I guess they were trying to make sure that we’d want to get these!