Remembering 2017: wrapping it all up

Corner

The good…

Well, that’s another year over! It’s certainly been one of the craziest I’ve ever experienced, even though I did not achieve as much as I would have liked, both in real life, and in relation to my contribution to the fandom. Unfortunately, these two issues are probably related, but more on that in a bit. First, I’d like to thank everyone who’s been my friend or otherwise just supported me, especially when I needed it most. Most of you know what I’m referring to, so I won’t rehash it, and I have to admit that there were times that I was frustrated that it took so long for some of you to react or respond.

But the reason I survived with my love for the show—and for anime in general—intact is due to those of you who generously lent me your time and your ears. I’ve always enjoyed writing for the opportunity to just share my love of the anime I watch and the manga I read; but this is the first time where I’ve really felt grateful for the connections I’ve gained as a result. Last year was difficult in ways I never expected, and I feel immensely privileged to be able to call many of you my friends.
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Remember 2017 part 12: Cheers to a year of Off-Meets!

(Or whatever these are called ^^)

Going by how I behave online, I’d guess that most of you would see me as a pretty private person. It’s true: I am part of a generation of people who remember what life was like before we all had handphones, before we all had the internet at our fingertips. I am also Asian, and we are generally known to be quite cautious and private, at least in my experience. Hence, ever since I’ve gotten online, I’ve been quite careful about not revealing too much about myself online—karice isn’t my real name (hence the non-capitalisation), and I will never upload a picture to this blog or Twitter showing my face.

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And THAT would be why I need to take pictures of food; here was something THREE of us ordered for our first brekkie in Dallas!

Given this, I found myself reflecting with surprise on just how many online friends I met in real life for the first time this past year. It’s relatively few compared to some others of you, but to put the following numbers in perspective, prior to 2017, I’d only ever met up with two other online folks deliberately—Gubaba and Gwyn Campbell, both of Macross fandom fame. I’d also met John Samuel before, but on the whole, I kept my online and offline lives quite separate.

So what changes did this year bring? Well, I deliberately arranged to meet ten people—Jaqi, Nikola, Amelia and Katy at AnimeFest; Craig when I got back to Australia after that trip, and then Frog-kun, nat and Shina when I got back to Japan in December. Most recently, I’ve gone skating with Tora, and let me just say that the nice, purple bruise I developed from falling just once left me with a whole lot of respect for skaters everywhere! It would also be remiss of me not to mention Haru, who put up with the three of us Aussie stooges—and especially me—at AnimeFest, and Deri, Kimmistry and MintyHoney, along with their friend Gynx, who spotted me and said “Hi!” in Dallas as well.

Thank you all for meeting up with me. I’m sorry if I disappointed any of you in some way (in fact, if there’s anything I’m certain I’ve done this year, it’s this), but thank you for putting up with the far from perfect person that I am. I look forward to hanging out with those of you in Tokyo again soonish (skating and Macross stuff FTW), and to hang out with the rest of you again some day! But until then, I’ll see you all online ^^

Remembering 2017 part 11: See You Next Level, Space Cowboy

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credit: Madman Entertainment

For fans, it goes without saying that meeting our idols is one of our dreams. And it just so happened that, this year, I opted to go to two cons to meet a bevy of staff that I really look up to. I’ve already written about metting anime screenwriter Sato Dai and Yamamoto Sayo, Kubo Mitsurō and Hiramatsu Tadashi at AnimeFest, so let me now briefly touch on the other wonderful creators I had the opportunity of meeting.

Director Watanabe Shin’ichirō, Aniplex President Iwakami Atsuhiro and voice actress Ueda Kana came to Madfest Melbourne in November. Most people should know of the marks that Watanabe and Ueda have left on the industry, so please allow me to highlight Iwakuni, who is the producer largely responsible for bringing shows like Madoka Magica and the Monogatari and Fate series to our screens. He was also one of the schemers behind the previous series that I went completely nuts about, lighting the spark when he suggested to Aoki Ei and Urobuchi Gen that they get to the roots of the mecha genre. Aldnoah.Zero did not turn the fandom’s conception of the genre upside down the way that Madoka Magica did the magical girls one, but I can honestly say that I learned a lot about robot anime by following this one show, far more than all the Gundam and Macross series I’ve seen have ever taught me. So whilst this will probably leave some people gaping, Iwakami was definitely the guest that I was most excited to meet.

There isn’t much else I can say about both of these cons at this point, except “Thank you!” to AnimeFest and Madman Entertainment for inviting these wonderful guests this past year. I really do appreciate it!

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NB: Just in case people get the wrong idea from the post title: no, Watanable is not involved in anything related to Yuri!!! on ICE, nor is there a sequel to Cowboy Bebop in the works…at least, not that I am aware. It was just fun to try combining those famous “See you Space Cowboy” and “See you Next Level” lines!

Remember 2017 part 10: Rakugo Reborn

Rakugo-Shinju

And moving up one place from last year, Rakugo Shinjuu is my anime of the year. Those 25 episodes of following Bon’s life story, from the lonely child trying to find himself a place in the world, to the Rakugo master who has lost the two most important people to him in the world, and thankfully, through to the gentle happiness that surrounds him at the end of his life. It really stings that I wasn’t able to write a post about it this year—the ideas swirling around in my head require a fair amount of research, not to mention a rewatch, and time is not a luxury that I have right now.

But let me take this opportunity to draw attention to one detail that caught my eye–or rather, my eye and ear–when the last episode dropped. It involves “Shinigami,” the rakugo story that the eighth generation Yakumo was renown for. This story is about a man who makes a Faustian deal with a god of death, allowing him to make money off other people reaching the end of their lives, only for it to eventually cost him his own. For Yakumo and the people he performed it for, the story was a warning about the vice of greed, it ended in a deadening silence into which applause then crept in, breaking the spell.

“Shinigami” is also the last story that we see performed in Rakugo Shinjuu, with Yotaro taking on his master’s signature work just as he takes on his title. And different though his style is, his performance calls to mind the grim atmosphere that his predecessor always conjured…until the last moment, where, instead of keeling over, the man instead gasps and breathes a sigh of relief, “Oh…just a dream?” inviting the laughter of the audience.

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I noticed this quite a few months ago, when I skimmed through the show again trying to organise how I thought about it. It struck me as a pretty interesting detail, so I was surprised to find that no one I knew had even mentioned it. Hence, I looked up some rakugo performances to see whether the same thing had happened in the real world…and indeed, there are a few variations on the story that turn the ending into an amusing one. When I asked Dr. Till Weingartner about it, he informed me that there have always been performers who tried something new. In fact, there has been something of a divide between traditionalists and modernists for much of the post-war era. The former dominated until two masters passed away at the beginning of this centry, after which rakugo has apparently become a bit freer. Isn’t it cool how so much of this is echoed in Rakugo Shinjuu?

This is how rakugo has survived, as a living, breathing art that has continuously adapted itself for its audiences. And it makes my stay herein Japan even more daunting, for I’ve been seriously considering checking rakugo out this time around. By the sounds of it, this could be a very dangerous time sink! But nevertheless…care to join me at the theater sometime?

Remembering 2017 part 9: In this Corner of the World

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In this Corner of the World had an extremely limited release in my home country, screening on far fewer screens than most of the other anime films that made it to our shores this year. And I honestly hope that every one of them was sold out. In the contemporary world where technology keeps the effects of war so far from the minds of most people in the advanced countries that benefit the most from the global arms trade, it is ever more important that we realise the terrible effect that conflict has on the people living within in.

Personally, I’d like to highlight one moment in the film, a moment that stuck with me because of my deep interest in Japanese politics over the last seven years. Towards the end of the film, Suzu and her family gather around the radio to hear Emperor Hirohito announce Japan’s surrender. The extremely formal language he used is not immediately understood—something we were amused by when we covered the war in class. But Suzu’s reaction jumped out at me. Instead of being happy that the war was over, she was angry, angry because she still was still willing to fight, and angry that the losses they’d suffered had been so very much in vain.

That scene drove home to me one of the reasons why wars, once started, are so devastating. If we think about them logically, then many leaders would probably set a limit as to what the country as a whole would be willing to lose, and try to reach some kind of settlement once it hits that point. But for those who have lost something or someone significant, there is no relief. The sense of defeat, that emptiness of having accomplished nothing, only intensifies the pain of that gaping hole in your life. This is why humans continue fights that they cannot win. Once you’ve invested so much, victory may be hollow, but a clear loss is still far, far worse.

The lesson that we should learn from that seems to be clear…but is it already too late for many of the conflicts in our world today? The film itself ends on a hopeful note: no matter how much we lose, we can keep on living with the loved ones we still have. I can only hope that enough people in those war zones today will have that chance.

Remembering 2017 part 8: Blast from the past!

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope that this year brings you great success and happiness, however you define them!

For me personally, that might actually involve returning to the past, as least, going by what happened in 2017. I couldn’t quite believe the figure either, but I watched just SEVEN cours of seasonal anime over the last 12 months. Part of the reason is that I did not pick up a single show during the summer season…but another important factor was that I wound up watching a number of older shows. Granted, it says a lot about the nature of the fandom today that, aside from My Neighbour Totoro, the oldest of the shows I watched this year dates from 2011. Nevertheless, whilst this year’s anime gave me a lot of drama and headache, with a touch of comedy, it was definitely the shows of yesteryear that gave me most of my cheer.

Tamako-Love-Story

First up was Tamako Market. I think I was just enjoying it as an average show produced at Kyoto Animation, trying to pay attention to the visual feasts that that staff at that studio continually put before our eyes. And then episode 9 hit…it took me several weeks to get “Koi no Uta” out of my head after that. In the midst of a figure skating season that has seen the return of my favourite program ever, that is no mean feat! But the highlight of this show for me will always be Tamako Love Story, which was the first story in a very long time that had my heart throbbing in pain at certain romantic developments. It came out on the right side for me, however, which means that Tamako and Mochizou have joined Shaoran and Sakura and Seryou and Yuzuru-sempai as my favourite couples in anime and manga!

Then came the Studio Ghibli showcase, with Princess Kaguya, My Neighbour Totoro and Whisper of the Heart all sticking with me as incredibly powerful experiences. But I’ve already written about how they touched me, so let me move on to the last title that really brightened my year:

Free

Yup, a show that I avoided back when it first came out ended up becoming one of the highlights of my 2017 watchlist, to the point where I’m now hunting for the High Speed and Timeless Medley BDs to add to my growing collection of discs that I don’t yet have the proper viewing equipment for! I’m not sure when I started avoiding sports anime, to be honest. But one thing I realise now is that the three years I spent teaching at a Japanese high school and following one of its better performing sport teams to all the tournaments they took part in is a major reason behind my enjoyment of the Free! franchise, Ace of the Diamond and yes, Sound! Euphonium. One day, I’ll find a way to write about this without revealing too many details about the students I taught, but until then, I’m very much looking forward to the day I have those films in my greedy little hands!

Remembering 2017 part 7: Running the Comiket Gauntlet

Comiket_2017-Winter

Before yesterday, if I’d done one of those Twitter memes on “things you may not know about me,” the fact that I’d never been to Comiket would have been high on the list…well, if I remembered it, of course. The world’s biggest doujinshi fair has never really interested me, largely because I don’t really like derivative works. The rare exception was a Harry Potter fanfiction writer who focused on two extremely minor characters, largely following official canon whenever possible, but creating her own ‘canon’ within that constraint. But I digress—doujinshi simply aren’t my thing.

So why then, did I find myself on the first train yesterday morning, gunning for an authentic Comiket experience even though I was a first timer? Well…as all my Comiket senpai would know, there’s also a corporate section, and the industry members that attend will often put out event exclusives. This year, this is the set that drew me out of bed at 4.30am and onto a train by 5.25am–only God knows how our little group managed to find each other in the crush at the stations!

And of course, I’ve very grateful to the friend I attended with. Her presence made the four hour wait in the cold bearable (NB: I would NEVER have done this gauntlet in the stinking hot Tokyo summer!), and we were incredibly excited when we found a pair of guys willing to swap our extras so that we could collect full sets. Of course, the other lines were massively long by then, so I missed out on exclusives from other dealers. But I got what I went for, and survived my first (and, probably, last!) Comiket intact, and that’s all that matters!

Remembering 2017 part 6: ♡’ing Kurosawa Tomoyo

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Usually, as I’m sure you know, it’s the male seiyuu that I go crazy over. This is especially clear if you look through all the times I’ve mentioned Japanese voice actors on this blog. Two of my top three seiyuu have already made it onto my end-of-year write ups, one of them twice! But before the third one does, I’m going to have to celebrate my current favourite female voice.

As Phos in Land of the Lustrous, Kurosawa Tomoyo gave one of the best performances in anime this year. Having not seen all shows that aired over the last 12 months, I do not wish to proclaim that she was the best (not to mention that there is still one veteran actor’s performance from the shows I have seen that I’d put above hers). But I honestly have not gotten so much sheer delight from a performance since…well, the last show of Tomonium’s that I saw. With Phos, the initial exuberance that gave way to desperation in episode 8, and then to a cynical jadedness; add to that her jovial but diligent personality… It really has been wonderful seeing her burst onto the scene these last few years, and I hope we continue to have the pleasure of hearing her for many, many more years to come!

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(image source)

Remembering 2017 part 5: So embarrassed I could die!

MMO-Junkie

In some ways, I think that writing about why The Recovery of an MMO Junkie has ended up on my list is a bad idea. So let me just say that I identify very heavily with some of the characters in this show. How, exactly, I leave up to your imagination.

Remembering 2017 part 4: I love this Family!!

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The second season of The Eccentric Family wasn’t quite as good as the first. This probably couldn’t be helped, given the absence of animating giant Inoue Toshiyuki. But the place of this season’s narrative in the bigger picture also played a part. Being the middle part of what appears to be a three-parter, this second season set about answering a few of the mysteries that the first season left us, namely, what’s going on between Yasaburo and Kaisei, will Yajiro ever get over his transformation issues, and most importantly, what is Benten’s place in this universe? The exploration of that last mystery is, I’d argue, one of the main things that will bring people back again for the final story, whenever it is covered. For me, however, just bearing witness to this wonderful family again is more than enough. So here’s to hoping that I’ll be able to round out this trilogy in my end-of-year posts, say four or five years from now!

Though until then, it’s also made me want to go back to Kyoto again!

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