A pinch of Spice and Wolf…that’s good enough for me

“Seven apples on a witch’s tree, with seven seeds to plant inside of me”
(And yes, I know that these lyrics and the image don’t match – so sue me)

Kraft Lawrence is a traveling merchant whose dream is to own his own shop, for which he often needs to risk hard earned profits to obtain the larger amounts needed for this endeavour. One day, however, a strange wolf who takes the appearance of a young girl, appears before him. What changes will this one encounter bring to their lives?

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Hourou Musuko: wandering through an unusual adolescence

I find Hourou Musuko (aka Wandering Son) rather difficult to write about. What does one say about a story about a boy who wants to be a girl, and a girl who wants to be a boy? My knowledge of gender identity disorder is sadly lacking, although I really appreciated how the J-drama Last Friends tried to deal with it, but no matter how much I read, I find it difficult to empathise. I don’t really want to go down the route of approaching this series through a feminist lens, which is what I’d expect some viewers to do. But that’s not really what this series is about, is it?

Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?

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Chihayafuru: the need for rivalry

Warning: this time, I’m going to be talking about the most recent chapters of the manga, so please stop here is you don’t want to be spoiled. (^_^)

One thing that many sports series – anime or manga – feature is the ‘rival’. The rival typically takes the form of another person or team whose skills are far above those of the protagonist at the start, an entity that the protagonist aims to compete with and eventually overcome. Given this set-up, one might expect that most stories end sometime after the protagonist passes the rival…but is that really the point of the ‘rival’? Merely to show the growth of the protagonist in the sport in question? Suetsugu Yuki – following in the footsteps of a number of writers before her – begs to differ.

I was here first.

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Chihayafuru: the sorrows of solitude

Okay, karuta. Hands up who’s played this game – by which I mean the competitive version where you use the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (100 Poems by 100 Poets).

Thought so. And no, I haven’t played it either…though I’m game to try, if that’s any reflection of my current obsession with Chihayafuru.

The beauty of words...

Well, at the very least, I want to become friends with the 100 poems myself. They’re really quite fascinating – though I’ll have to thank hyperborealis on the AS forums for those incredible analyses each week!

But enough of tangents and back to the point!

Friends forever...?

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O-tonari: the sounds from the other side of the wall

Satoshi is a photographer who would rather capture landscapes than the magazine models that he works with; Nanao a florist who dreams of going to France to learn from masters in her art. Although they’ve never met, each takes comfort from the sounds of daily living that come from the other side of the wall they share. However, that paper-thin wall also means that they inadvertently eavesdrop on somewhat more intimate details in each others’ lives. As a day of departure approaches, will their eyes ever meet…?

Knowing my interest in Japanese culture, a friend invited me to see this film when it was screened at my university last year. And as with many other Japanese stories, it left me with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

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CLANNAD: the best of KEY and Kyoto Animation

Ai Yori Aoshi. Da Capo. Kanon. Air. Onegai Teacher. Heck, even Ranma 1/2 probably qualifies, in a way. That is, they’re all what I’d call ‘harem anime’, stuff made primarily for the consumption of male otaku. Boy meets girl, boy helps girl, repeat both several times, chaos ensues. Something that I learnt early on that I really didn’t like much.

But even amongst such series, whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to call them diamonds, there are a few gems that are well worth watching. And CLANNAD, particularly the CLANNAD After Story part, I have to admit, is one of them.

A fateful encounter…

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Usagi Drop: the greatest change in one’s life

…is having a child…

For months, it has been apparent to many noitaminA fans that the timeslot has drifted away from the types of shows it used to broadcast. Hence, it was something of a surprise that Usagi Drop was one of the two shows we got for the summer season. Based on a josei manga that has created great waves – for expected and unexpected reasons – the story of Daikichi and Rin-chan certainly captured many hearts over the summer, including mine.

What will become of this child?

When Sawachi Daikichi’s grandfather passes away, his family discovers a surprising and unexpected secret: that he’d secretly had another child in his old age, one that he’d kept hidden until now. With all his other relatives trying to decide how to deal with the child in a way that causes the least possible loss of face to the family, Daikichi decides to take Rin-chan in and raise her himself. But as a 30-year old single man who hasn’t had to look after anyone else before, many challenges lay ahead…

OMG!! I forgot about that too!

Usagi Drop was one of those series, something comforting that you could put on at the end of a hard day’s work and be comforted by. Rin-chan was super cute week after week, and Matsuura Ayu was fantastic in bringing her to life. One of my absolute favourite scenes has Daikichi and Rin discussing all the troublesome things that Kouki, being a typical boy, does, and Rin’s でしょう? (“I know, right?”) there was just too C.U.T.E.!!!!

New challenges and self-awareness

But it was also a series that makes you think about the realities of raising a child – they’re not things the non-parents often think about. For example, getting them registered for school early, staying calm and juggling leave when they unexpectedly fall sick, dealing with children’s intuition and their insights into the world around them… Even dealing with fears of abandonment – which isn’t necessarily a fear that only adopted children might have. I am not a parent myself, but one of my aunts has told me about how she’s been asked who she would save if both her children had fallen into the sea on a stormy day, and there was only one whom she could save. Children say the darndest things, alright, but it would be wrong and even damaging to dismiss them as irrational fears.

Greater flexibility is often needed

The only thing that ruined the watching experience was the inconsideration of a number of manga readers. This is something that I’d rather not elaborate on, for the sake of those who want to watch or read Usagi Drop in the future, but I’d recommend avoiding forums in particular if you want to enjoy the experience fully.

And we come full circle…

In the end, Usagi Drop was both a gentle series that you could just allow to wash over you, as well as a though-provoking glimpse into the life of parents – especially single or working parents. Something to revisit if and when I start my own family, perhaps. I’ve probably said enough, methinks – from here on, I’ll just let the anime speak for itself, both in screenshots, and when you watch it for yourself.

AnoHana: Pick of the season? Or just melodramatic?

AnoHana. Possibly the biggest Noitamina series ever (we really don’t know how much Nodame has sold in total, after all), and one of the biggest series from last year. But quite possibly the most difficult to write about, at least for me…how in the world did they compress the level of drama of, say, the CLANNAD series into just 11 episodes?

What is the name of the flower we saw that day…

A group of childhood friends, broken apart after a haunting summer, each unable to move forward. Can their time ever start flowing again?

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Katanagatari: Truth, Lies, and History

Repeat a lie often enough and it will be believed.

Often misattributed in various incarnations to Vladamir Lenin or Joseph Goebbels, there is no official source for this statement. It is, however, an interesting way of interpreting “official” history. Another way to put it would be

History is written by the victors.

There is a difference between the two both in reality and in Katanagatari. The latter is what Shikizaki Kiki sought to accomplish, but the former is the fate that ultimately befell Togame.

Needless to say, spoilers ahead.

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In memory of 2010 part 11: and the anime of the year is…

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

To be honest, this series almost slipped my mind. I got back into the manga around the time the new series started airing, so I was always ahead, which meant I was watching for silly things such as hearing Miyano Mamoru and Nakamura Yuuichi voice the ‘same’ character. Furthermore, because the first series already covered half of the manga, the first half of the second was rather rushed and somewhat unfulfilling. And of course, there’s the recency effect: Hagaren ended six months ago, and the manga just before it!

However, the flood of year end posts, especially the 12 moments of anime series that so many bloggers do for Christmas, brought back some of the memories of what made Hagaren so special. For me, it can all be summed up by looking at one character: Roy Mustang.

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