Welcome to Amagi Brilliant Park!

Amagi_00

Amagi Brilliant Park, a land of broken dreams that only draws an average of 200 visitors a day to its run-down rides and attractions. As it turns out, this small amusement park is actually staffed by beings from a magical realm called Maple Land, and the magical energy that is generated by the enjoyment of its visitors is necessary for their continued existence.

However, due to reduced visitor levels, they have just three months left to attract 250,000 visitors — if they fail, Amagi will be closed and the land taken by a real estate agency. To save the park from closure, Amagi’s owner, Latifah Fleuranza hires Kanie Seiya, a good-looking perfectionist with a history in the entertainment business, to become its new manager and bring in the required number of visitors…

Amagi_05 Amagi_09
There is always one constant: the visuals are gorgeous…

There are two things I recalled immediately about Amagi when I sat down to think about this post. Read more of this post

A third look at Usagi Drop

UsagiDrop_08
Rush hour!

The Usagi Drop film, with Matsuyama Ken’ichi and Ashida Mana as the mismatched pair building a life together, was released in 2011 amidst the spotlight associated with the ending of the manga series. Even though it’s taken me a couple of years to finally sit down an watch this film, I’m taking it as a blessing in disguise, for it allows me to once again reflect on the themes that Unita Yumi seems to have been concerned with. Most viewers — myself included — celebrated the anime for its heartwarming story about how Kawachi Daikichi, a young man on the rise in his company, learned how to be a father even through the sacrifices he had to make, and the film can certainly be read in exactly the same way.

However, in the time that I’ve since had to think about the controversial ending of the manga, I’ve started seeing far more complex ideas and messages in this story. And these are also reflected in the film: even though the movie gives Daikichi male peers who dote on their young children, as errinundra observed, he isn’t learning how to be a father, but rather how to be a single, working mother. In fact, Daikichi isn’t just learning how to be a single mother, he’s learning about the constrained choices that confront women in Japanese society. Read more of this post

Looking back on 2014, part 11: and the anime of the year is…

12days-11_SilverSpoon2
Silver Spoon [Gin no Saji]

If someone were to accuse me of giving Silver Spoon my ‘Anime of the Year’ award simply because I didn’t know what to highlight about it for this celebration of 2014…that would certainly have a degree of truth in it. I had wanted to return to Hachiken’s assertion that he would keep thinking about what it means to be raising animals for food, but that’s a scene from yesteryear.

12days_11_SilverSpoon-3 12days_11_SilverSpoon-4
I… I…ca…

And then I also remembered the other things I loved about the series:

  • Its eccentric cast of characters
  • The hijinks of boarding school: whilst some things are unique, teenagers will be teenagers
  • The appreciation of fresh food and how absolutely delicious it is
  • The challenges that farmers in Japan face in trying to make a living (for all the criticism that people have of Japan’s protectionist practices, I honestly wish that more people would decide to buy local produce where possible. I know that some things really aren’t practical — for example, trying to grow fruit in an arid country – but I do think that some home grown food is worth protecting!)
  • All the events and incidents that show how people grow from facing challenges head on, and trying to work out what they can do with what they’ve gotten.
  • The fact that this series managed to get me to try cracking a raw egg over steaming rice…and absolutely love it!
12days-11_SilverSpoon
I’m with you there, Hachiken! うまい!!

It’s really difficult for me to pin down why Silver Spoon has sat on the back of my mind all year, because there is so much to like about it (and more). If there’s anything that could make it better, it’s a sequel. So here’s to hoping we get one!

Looking back on 2014, part 9: I’m a human being, just like you!

12days9_KimiUso-3
It’s frustrating…this was my last chance!

The first cour of Your Lie in April (aka KimiUso) has had an incredibly mixed reception. At one extreme, some of the key musical moments are absolutely glorious; at the other extreme, a lot of people both in Japan and overseas have been taken aback by the bullying and abuse that the main character, Arima Kousei, has been subjected to. There has also been a backlash amongst Western anime fans over the messages that the show seems to be backing with regards to musical genius and gender. I, too, was somewhat uncomfortable with the comic violence, though perhaps I am slightly more forgiving about how it’s used in ACG media than other people are. And I won’t lie: watching this show immediately after Psycho-Pass each week made its bright cheeriness more enticing than it might otherwise have been. But with regards to at least some of the complaints and criticisms, I personally feel that viewers have tried to judge this story far too soon. Every step in Kousei’s journey back to the stage so far has revealed more and more details about why he stopped playing two years ago. And as he tells Aiza after his messy return performance, he’s still in the middle of that journey: I honestly think that we should allow him to find more solid ground before we make up our minds on the messages that mangaka Arakawa Naoshi is trying to convey.

12days9_KimiUso-2 12days9_KimiUso-1
We lost… I’m so frustrated that we lost!

That’s basically how I’ve been approaching this series, and at the end of this first cour, I would say that KimiUso isn’t about Kousei overcoming abuse and bullying to stand on stage again: it’s about him stepping out of the role that everyone else had pigeoned him into, that of the emotionless, technically perfect ‘human metronome’. And that’s why Kousei’s realisation in episode 11 is the moment I hold above everything else so far, for it speaks to what makes us human: the desire to rise from failure and try again.

12days9_KimiUso-4
I’m a human being, just like you!

Ao Haru Ride: Catching the Breeze of One’s Youth

AoHaruRide_01

Blue Spring Ride [Ao Haru Ride] revolves around Futaba, a girl who was in love with a boy named Tanaka Kou in middle school. However, before anything can begin, he suddenly transfers schools over summer vacation. In high school, her world is turned around once again when she meets Kou again, this time under the name of Mabuchi Kou.

One thing I find interesting about Blue Spring Ride is that, although quite a few people who read Sakisaka Io’s works like Strobe Edge better, it was her current series that got green lit for an anime and a movie (the Strobe Edge film seems to be a bonus, almost as if producers were gunning for flow on success). But if I think about the themes that are covered in both series, then I think that decision was the right one. Strobe Edge really was all about ‘falling in love’ — that’s what the entire story is centred around. On the other hand, Blue Spring Ride has as its foundation a story about relationships between friends and family. And the strength of this foundation is demonstrated by the anime, which is built almost entirely on it. Read more of this post

Mahouka: oh how I wish they’d actually succeeded with this one!

Mahouka Mahouka...where to begin?

Mahouka Mahouka…where to begin?

The First High School affiliated with the National Magic University. Entry into this school makes you one of the societal elites whose magical talents have been acknowledged. But at the same time, right from the start, you’re either a great student or a mediocre one. What becomes of the pair of siblings that enter this school on either sides of this division?

To be honest, I’m a little conflicted about what I should do with this post. Whilst I do not think that all the criticisms directed at the anime are valid — particularly not those that the majority of light novel readers kept going on about in the first arc — there were some serious problems with The Irregular at the Magic High School (Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei), aka Mahouka. Some of the problems stem from the light novel, whilst others are problematic because of the anime. However, I would also say that the anime also improved on several things that I dislike about the light novel (and to be frank, that I dislike about this type of media in general). So overall, what we got was something that I was happy to sit through once — I’ll even admit that there were episodes that I enjoyed watching for a second or even third time — but that really felt quite uninspiring at the end of it. And that’s a huge pity, because Mahouka actually has some themes that I find very interesting to think about.

Read more of this post

Magi: I really didn’t need another reminder of just how superficial I can be…

In a medieval world where nations are still being forged, a young boy magician has grown up in a closed magical space. Eventually, he enters into the world at large to find out about himself and what role in the world he should play…

Magi - The Labyrinth of Magic
Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic…

Read more of this post

Sukitte Ii na yo: a slightly more realistic high school romance

When ‘Japanese high school’ and ‘shoujo romance’ come together, the first title that comes to mind is probably Kimi ni Todoke (Reaching You). Reactions to that manga and anime are different, though the most common one seems to be that it’s somewhat unrealistic in terms of how slow ALL of the relationships move, or, to put it another way, how pure they all are. I won’t get into that particular debate, but this was one of the reasons I decided to try Sukitte Ii na yo (Say You Love Me), as it had been promoted as a more ‘realistic’ look at high school romance in Japan. I would say that that’s a pretty good description.

Tell me that you love me...

Tell me that you love me…

Read more of this post

The eighth memory of 2012: the poetry of a bittersweet romance

Well, Happy New Year…or, rather, あけおめ、ことよろ! And what better way to open up the year than with a story of endings and new beginnings?

Of all the series I watched this year, Utakoi was a funny one for me. A fair number of viewers seemed to think that it had been greenlighted because of the unexpected success that the Chihayafuru anime saw. Given that an anime series typically goes into pre-production up to a year or more before airing, I’m inclined to believe that both shows were part of an effort to highlight the beauty of traditional Japanese poetry, as represented by the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (Ogura collection of 100 poems by 100 poets) amongst female anime viewers. However, much as I promised myself to invest more time in analysing this show in relation to the poems, I simply never got into it.

Neverteless, there is one story that completely captured my heart. Spanning two episodes (though with roots tracing back one more), the sharp banter between Sei Shonagon and Fujiwara no Yukinari and the way they danced around each other with words was a joy to witness. And then that parting, bitter yet with the taste of sweet memories that sustain them both in the paths they have chosen. If there is one thing about Japanese stories that Western ones – which I would say tend to value the notion of being together, whether in life or in death – do not often seem to explore, it is the importance of memory, of those recollections of happy times spent together, even if a loved one is no longer there.

Look back at those memories; they are there to push you forward.

Look back at those memories; they are there to push you forward.

In some ways, I feel that this is precisely why I write about this hobby of mine. It’s not just about the joy of the experience as a story unfolds, or the fun of discussing it with others, it also about reminiscing about that experience, looking back on the good times wherein one can often find inspiration to keep going. I find myself doing that quite often: skimming back over posts I made long ago, looking back over what I’ve written for AS, or the comments I’ve left elsewhere. Of course, you could argue that it’s a waste of time, but that’s the poetry of this bittersweet romance.

Hyouka: it’s all in the details

It’s ostensibly a ‘mystery’ series, after all!

Sitting down to write this comment was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve had to do in a few months. Normally, something about a show – whether I liked it all that much or otherwise – will pop into my mind fairly quickly, and I’ll be on my way. That’s certainly what happened with at least two of Hyouka’s stories, the latter of which produced this particular post on episode 21. However, the all-encompassing theme that I simply have to write about is eluding me: as much as I try to think about it now, I’m not sure what exactly it was that compelled me to watch this series week after week. What I intoned after the end of the first major arc remains true for me: there is something quite profound about the stories that Hyouka tries to tell, but it’s almost impossible for me to put it into words. That said, pictures aren’t going to do it either, so I’m just going to have to try!

Anyone else still doing this…?

Read more of this post