The No Game No Life Movie Probably Isn’t What You’re Expecting

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No Game No Life made a name for itself in 2014 with its vibrant art style, interesting world building, and most notably the interesting matches of mental acuity between its titular heroes and the inhabitants of the new world in which they found themselves. While the humor was a bit too perverted at times for my personal taste, the other elements carried the show, and it is considered one of the most notable standouts in Japanese animation over the course of the past five years. After its initial run, fans started to clamor for a second season because not only does it end with the clear possibility for it, the world itself is well constructed for further adventures and games. After no news of a second season for years, interest picked up quickly enough when a movie tie-in was introduced. After having seen it over the weekend, the movie might not be exactly what you’re looking for if you’re a fan of the original series.

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Officially titled No Game No Life: Zero, the movie explores how the world came to be as you know it in No Game No Life. The world in the original series is characteristically defined by different races. In the beginning, these races are destroying the world by engaging in a devastating war. Amidst the chaos is a young human man by the name of Riku, who had a fateful encounter with an android when he was a child. Years later, after having grown up, he again meets this android, a member of the Ex-machina race, who goes by the name of Shuvi. While she previously caused him pain and suffering years prior, they form an unlikely bond and this relationship is the main crux of the movie.

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It can be argued that the relationship between Sora and Shiro defined the original series as well. While that is certainly true, the show had a lot of supporting elements going for it. These other aspects such as the different games played are sorely lacking in No Game No Life: Zero. While that is to be expected up to a certain point given the movie’s prequel status, it is difficult to reconcile when games are in fact featured, albeit barebones. The vast majority of the film focuses on specific scenes between Shuvi and Riku as they build chemistry. They experience a lot of hardship together, which is one of the reasons why it is so easy to become invested in their relationship. With that said, I would argue the film spends too much time only showcasing these two specific characters. For characters to truly shine an engaging setting must exist around them and that is lacking. Being caught in the middle of the war, the world itself is your typical drab post-apocalyptic standard and it doesn’t engage the audience very well. The art style remains the same, but given the choice in setting, the colors remain drab and you don’t get the sense of a vibrant spectrum until the movie’s ending.

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Despite the slow moving story, the battle scenes are not only impactful, but also very well done. One comment that can be made about No Game No Life was that by focusing so much on games, there was a distinct lack of action overall. Being in the middle of a war has the benefit of providing a way to show battle scenes. Shuvi shines during these moments as you can see the entire extent of her abilities as an android. There is one fight in particular near the film’s end that is a pleasure to watch from beginning to end. I only wish there were more of these scenes sprinkled throughout.

No Game No Life: Zero is an interesting deviation from its predecessor. It chooses to focus almost entirely on a single personal relationship between two characters. It is slow moving for a large portion of the film, but that might be well suited for some fans that are more appreciative of character studies. Ultimately, I would classify Zero as a character study that serves the dual purpose of providing a way for the audience to better understand the overall setting. If you are looking for more of the same in terms of games being played, then you might want to pass on this. With that said, it is very exciting to see more No Game No Life content and it bodes well for the future of the franchise moving forward.

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A Guide to Buying Figures in Japan

  1. Akihabara (Tokyo) – When a typical fan thinks about buying figures and other related anime merchandise in Japan, he or she probably first thinks about Akihabara. It is often hailed as the anime mecca of the world, and in many ways it absolutely fits the bill. When I first visited Akihabara, in January 2013, I was thrilled with the adventure and sense of exploration. I plunged head first into buying all the figures that interested me at the time. What I did not realize however, was the truth that it is incredibly expensive and overpriced. In fact, you can be hard pressed to find a good deal at any of the stores located there. Years later, I am convinced Akihabara is a tourist trap for foreign visitors and an escape for local citizens. It serves two very different purposes depending on the demographic. There are much better alternatives to Akihabara when you are looking for a discount.

 

  1. Den Den Town (Osaka) – Den Den Town can be best described as a smaller version of Akihabara that is located in Osaka. It resembles Akihabara in that it is lined with many different figure stores and arcades. While it is generally less expensive across the board compared to its counterpart, the figures are still overpriced. It is absolutely worth visiting for the experience alone, but it is plagued by the same problems as Akihabara. It provides real locations where a fan can hunt for figures, but it does very little in terms of making you feel as if you found a good deal.

 

  1. Various Secondhand Stores – Having been in Japan for almost two years now, I never get sick of the sheer number of palaces where you can find anime merchandise. What is especially nice is the fact that secondhand stores in Japan will almost always have a section dedicated solely to figures. Oftentimes I was pleasantly surprised at the selection available. The two downsides are that the figures will not be new and the selection is incredibly random because it is entirely based on what the seller brought to that particular store. With that said, it is a nice feeling finding something that you want to buy that you didn’t expect to find at a good price.

 

  1. Amazon Japan – Arguably the single greatest avenue to purchase figures is Amazon Japan. If you currently reside in Japan, it is an invaluable resource. Not only is the shipping incredibly fast, the prices are significantly better compared to actual stores. Amazon Japan is usually my baseline when I am comparing in-store prices. The only negative comment that can be made about this site is that it is not the cheapest option available. With that said, it makes up for the price differential with shipping speed and overall seller reliability.

 

  1. Yahoo Auctions Japan – This site is far and away the cheapest option I have personally come across when it comes to buying figures. For the most part, the accounts are private sellers and as a result, the prices are below average. With that said, there are a few notable drawbacks to using Yahoo Auctions. It can be a lot more difficult to set up an account when compared to Amazon, mainly due to the lack of English options available. Furthermore, new accounts are heavily prejudiced against. When I was first starting out, my bid was withdrawn by the seller two different times because he or she didn’t trust my account. It can be said Yahoo Auctions Japan protects the seller more than the buyer. It being an auction site, you also have to deal with the fact you are never guaranteed an item unless you utilize the “Buy It Now” button from some listings. Unlike Ebay, the listing does not automatically end when time expires depending on whether or not there was a recent bid. If a bidding war develops in the closing minutes, more time will be added to the auction until one party eventually succumbs to the price. With all that said, if you can be willing to look past the flaws with the cheaper prices in mind, this will be your best option in that regard.

Observations about Japanese Anime Fandom

If you live in a western country and are an avid fan of anime, you may not fully understand how this hobby is embraced in Japan. To be honest, I don’t fully understand either, but after having lived in this country for almost two years now, I can share some observations I have made regarding this topic.

  1. In general, the typical Japanese fan is similar to the typical western fan.

If you like watching anime, but you don’t consider yourself an individual who would be willing to spend income on extra purchases such as figures, CDs, DVDs, and other various merchandise, then you are similar to the average person who enjoys watching anime in Japan. Japanese people don’t often share their hobbies, so it can be difficult to gauge whether there is any interest or not. When I lived in the States, people usually didn’t broadcast their love for anime and that is also the case in Japan. It is something people enjoy in their free time beyond the judgment of others. This brings us to our next point.

  1. Anime is viewed by some as not being socially acceptable, even in Japan.

Normal Japanese life is very similar to that in the West. I go to work every day, I come home and I engage in my hobbies. I had a very similar routine in the States. Japanese adults are over worked and usually have very little free time for hobbies. Liking and engaging with anime is something that is seen as childish, a situation I experienced more often in the States however. Some view an overzealous love for anime as an extension of working less. If you watch many different shows, then you are most likely not contributing in another area (which is assumed to be the workforce).

  1. The anime industry is driven by a core group of otaku.

Anime merchandise is far and away the biggest contributor to the success of a particular series. DVDs and Blu-rays are unreasonably priced, but if a show is popular enough, this core group of otaku will make the purchases. Figure sales are a significant contributing factor to sales and whether or not a series will continue in the future. While figure prices have increased overall over the past five to seven years, they are more reasonable than the DVD prices. The demographic driving these sales usually consists of young adult and middle aged men who work and without families, find themselves having disposable income. Marriage is on the decline in Japan, and without a family to support, it is easier to convince yourself to splurge on anime related purchases.

  1. Often times, there is a divide between manga and anime fans.

Just as is the case in western countries, people do in fact watch both anime and read manga. However, I have noticed in Japan fans are more often divided into one camp or the other. People, who enjoy reading manga, will usually stick to that medium. Given the long hours and the popularity of public transport in Japan, it is a lot easier for the average fan to read manga than it is to watch anime. I have noticed that there is a surprising amount of computer illiteracy in Japan, and watching anime is confined to the television. Given the unusual airing times of most shows aimed for adults, it can be difficult to follow along on a week-to-week basis.

  1. If you are interested in collecting merchandise, being a western fan in Japan is great.

I am sure many of you have been to conventions and paid witness to the insane markup most vendors will have for all types of Japanese goods. The reality is that merchandise in Japan is usually inexpensive. The biggest contrast is figures. Figures are notoriously expensive, even from online vendors in the States. Since coming here, I have become an avid collector of figures because of the hobby’s accessibility and ease. If I want to buy something in person, I would almost always have to go to a convention in the States. In Japan, it is significantly easier to find stores selling figures in some capacity. The accessibility of the hobby is great to see firsthand. Furthermore, having a Japanese address is an absolute godsend. The shipping is not only unbelievably fast from online vendors, the shipping fee is usually no more than 500 yen ($5). If I bought a figure from an online Japanese vendor in the States, the shipping cost would increase the total amount of the purchase by a large margin. In the end, I am avoiding both the markup and high shipping cost. This adds up quickly over time and becomes an incentive.

These are my takeaways after two years. I wanted to share some insights into Japanese fandom, and if there is interest in this type of writing, I will continue it in the future.

Kurisu and Okabe: The True Highlight of Steins;Gate

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For a long, long time, Steins;Gate has far and away been my favorite anime. Up until recently, I had never revisited the show on a second viewing, but obviously remembered it very fondly. While I am more aware of its flaws having watched it again, I am also confident in the strength of the relationship between the two main characters: Rintarou Okabe and Kurisu Makise. When two characters are able to interact well and at a believable level, the rest of the show comes together more and other characters are able to come into the limelight because the foundation is so strong.

At its heart, Steins;Gate is a romance show. In general, anime is plagued by generic plotlines and characters. Okabe and Kurisu stand in stark contrast to this by playing off each other very well with incredible banter and subdued feelings. In other shows, there can be a build-up when it comes to the introduction of the main female lead. This is especially apparent in harem shows. Steins;Gate does have harem elements in it, especially considering the source material is a visual novel. However in Steins;Gate, both Kurisu and Okabe are introduced in the first episode. In fact, the initial introduction between the two is ultimately the entire crux of the story. It is important for the show that the two characters are introduced right away because it gives itself enough time to explore the relationship. With only twenty-four episodes and other plotlines to consider, Steins;Gate does itself a huge service by having Okabe interact with Kurisu at the beginning. The way in which he reacts to her stabbing gives the viewer the impression she is important. The time travel element to the show is set off by this reaction. The show combines the romance and time travel elements together through a simple text and you may not even realize the two elements are being put together so well until much later. In this way, the show doesn’t beat you over the head with its thematic elements, and because it resides underneath the surface, the romance between Okabe and Kurisu becomes this ever evolving mechanism in of itself that not only drives the story forward, but grabs hold of your emotions as well.

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What needs to be highlighted is the way in which the romance develops. Yes, it is important that enough time be given to the two main characters, but there are small interactions sprinkled throughout that build up, and have a satisfying conclusion as the show concludes. At almost every point in the story, Okabe is dealing with a problem that is either connected to Kurisu or only tangentially so. The problems range from the severe implications of changing the past to something simpler such as the anger of the landlord. In the beginning, Steins;Gate adopts a problem of the week type set-up contained within each individual episode. Okabe is navigating the implications of the D-mails he and his friends send to the past and early on, each one involves a different member of the overall cast. Kurisu is present along the way. Okabe consults with Kurisu often. She is his sounding board. This dynamic is also present in most real life relationships. It is difficult to notice that the relationship evolves organically through every small exchange. While the show may only take place over the course of three weeks, that time frame is much longer for Okabe. In fact, it develops through many different iterations of the same person. Interestingly enough, events usually occur the same way every time Okabe travels to the past. While one may argue that this is the result of fate playing a role in the story, it can also be argued that it is a result of how the two perceive and respond to each other. Okabe enacts the persona of a fictional character and never calls Kurisu by her real name. She comes to expect these staples, and they give all iterations of her, a frame of reference. This evolution reaches its climax near the end in a very poignant episode where the two characters spend the entire time talking with one another and reaching the painstaking decision that Kurisu must die in order to save another.

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It can be easy to overlook all the interactions between the two because they don’t amount to much as they are happening. However in episode twenty-two, Okabe throws away the persona he has been using to cover his insecurities and puts his heart on the line when he finally confesses his feelings to Kurisu. He admits to her that he is in love and asks her about her feelings regarding their relationship. She tells him to close his eyes, and as his heart is laid bare, she leans up for a kiss. For me, this single moment is the highlight of the show because it is the culmination of their relationship. It is the realization that this is truly a love story, in an incredibly believable way. Real relationships take time and patience. They spend a lot of time with one another, and Okabe relies on no other person over the course of the show more than he does with Kurisu. He affectionately calls her his assistant and she playfully refutes this assertion. However, this nickname is endearing because it is indicative of how he truly feels, even if Okabe is not aware of it himself. When you look at the small moments as self-contained stories, they don’t feel important. When you look at the small moments as pieces of a bigger puzzle that lead up to the kiss you can understand their significance. As they tease each other and work together to comprehend something bigger than either of them, they bond. Kurisu eventually opens up to Okabe about her family struggles and that is arguably the first time she is vulnerable. He is unable to do that in return until the moments leading up to their embrace. To Okabe, his second identity is too important. He needs it to function and interact with other people. He is never quite able to let it go with Mayuri, the little sister figure in the show. With his lover, the person that matters the most, he lets it go, and as a result their relationship reaches a very satisfying climax and shows just how strong the two leads are when they are able to interact in meaningful ways.

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Steins;Gate is arguably one of the greatest time travel stories ever told, which means a lot considering its medium. Despite that, the romance story that is intertwined with the scientific side is the true gem to be found. Kurisu and Okabe interact in many different ways throughout the course of the show. They build a foundation and comradery with one another that climaxes with a vulnerable kiss between the two. The relationship is the focus of the show and Okabe’s care towards the other characters is more believable as an extension of his feelings for Kurisu. Steins;Gate was released six years ago at a different time in my life. It resonated with me then as a captivating story involving time travel. Now, it resonates with me as an engaging story between two close friends that become lovers because yet again I am at a different point in my life. No matter your circumstances, any person can find something to appreciate in Steins;Gate. It is a show that will stand the test of time, no pun intended.

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Episode 116 (Hunter x Hunter) – One of the Greats

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Every so often an episode comes along that stands out above the rest and highlights all the thematic elements a show has been trying to achieve. From the very beginning, Hunter x Hunter tries to turn normal Shonen conventions on their heads. There is also a slow build-up when it comes to characterization, something that takes over one hundred episodes to be fully realized. Hunter x Hunter takes an in-depth look at its protagonist, Gon, throughout the various arcs. It plays around with the idea that a protagonist can make decisions that are not morally sound. When all of the thematic elements come together in this episode, it packs an emotional punch that keeps the audience invested in the immediate and future aftermath.

The relationship between Gon and Killua is the crux of Hunter x Hunter. Though various characters come and go throughout the different arcs, the two constants that remain are Gon and Killua. When we are first introduced to Killua, it is made abundantly clear he is plagued by a dark past that involved murder and torture as he carried out his duties as an assassin. Initially, he thinks in very black and white terms. However, as his friendship with Gon continues to grow, Killua slowly begins to change. He isn’t quite as quick to jump to the most drastic conclusion and he is able to keep his emotions in check more and more. The beauty of his development is that it is not something that Hunter x Hunter beats you over the head with episode to episode. It is something that happens gradually, and when events reach a boiling point in episode 116, I couldn’t help but think back to all the small moments that showcased this without even realizing it at the time.

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Standing as a stark contrast to Killua is Gon, the protagonist of Hunter x Hunter. Gon’s cheerful nature and carefree attitude have a positive effect on Killua. Seeing Gon handle specific situations from a natural curiosity and stubbornness allow Killua to question the ideology that has been instilled in him by his family. The most interesting aspect of the Hunter x Hunter universe is the fact there are no true good or bad guys. The Hunter Association is an organization where its members simply serve their own best interests. Gon certainly represents, or comes closest, to what we as viewers would normally associate with a morally fair hero. It is all too common in anime to see characters that refuse to kill, akin to Batman’s beliefs. You will find no such idea in Hunter x Hunter. Gon’s driving motivation is shared by no one else. He simply wants to become stronger. He thirsts for battle, and often times makes reckless decisions in chasing the thrill. It is this desire to battle other individuals that creates sticky situations. In a show like Bleach, the main character actively fights in order to protect others. Gon never quite understands this motivation. Gon can be considered selfish, and there is nothing wrong with that in of itself. However, when it stays unchecked for as long as it does, it can fuel more troublesome ideas, such as revenge.

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During the beginning of the Chimera Ant Arc, we are introduced to a character by the name of Kite, someone the 2011 adaptation intentionally omits up until this point. Gon is constantly seeking his father, and Kite is the most direct connection he finds up until that point in time. In fact, Kite informs Gon that he did in fact meet his father and when told he can provide information as to his father’s whereabouts, Gon declines the offer. To Gon, goals should be obtained through one’s own strength whereas Killua longs to tackle obstacles as a team. As a result of their initial meeting, Gon and Kite form a strong connection with one another, and Gon considers him to be a friend. When Kite, Gon, and Killua are confronted with an enemy far above their strength, Kite pleads with the boys to run away as fast as possible. Gon’s stubbornness prevents him from leaving and is ready to try and fight the enemy before him. Killua, sensing the impending conflict, knocks him unconscious and they flee together. This event plays a large role in the events that unfold through the remainder of the arc. This results in Kite’s death and mistreatment of his corpse and acts as Gon’s motivation for the rest of the arc, revenge masked by a thinly veiled desire to save Kite. Perhaps he is unable to admit it to himself, but Gon cannot bring himself to believe that Kite is actually dead.

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In episode 116, Gon confronts the Chimera Ant responsible for Kite’s demise, Pitou. The confrontation is building up over the entire arc, and a fierce battle is expected between the two. However, Gon and Killua meet an unlikely scenario where Pitou is healing and protecting another individual. This is a direct contrast to Pitou’s earlier behavior, and Gon is unable to understand the situation. As he meets the person responsible, Gon is consumed with rage and anger. He wants nothing more to hurt this creature. Behind him, Killua is analyzing the situation and feels some sympathy for not only Pitou, but the girl it is protecting as well. As he finally confronts Pitou, Gon has no person towards whom he can finally unleash his anger. There is ultimately no bad guy that exists simply to be bad. Unable to simply free himself from his revenge, Gon becomes more and more unstable. Killua always framed the confrontation as one they would tackle together. Killua thinks in terms of “we.” Gon thinks in terms of himself and in doing so, he accuses Killua of not caring about Kite when Killua tries to convince him to not act rashly. This confrontation is the final splinter in their once seemingly unbreakable friendship. On some level, Killua realizes that both of them cannot act as they once did. They are different people. Episode 116 works so well because it is filled with so much tension and yet not a single punch is thrown. As Gon sits down at the end and camera pans away behind him, we see that Killua is gone and his absence signals the end of the relationship as they once knew it. They must know both act differently and treat their friendship differently moving forward. Gon has turned into a different person, and it is one of the biggest question marks surrounding Hunter x Hunter.

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Episode 116 is master class in how it explores conflict resolution between two separate pairs of individuals. Gon and Killua fail to realize that in confronting Pitou over Kite’s demise, they are actually confronting one another. Their changed viewpoints are in contrast with one another. They can no longer approach situations as a pair, and Gon is becoming more and more of a solo act. Shonen manga and anime are defined by their clear emphasis on friendship and overcoming hurdles with the help of others. In the later parts of the 2011 adaptation, this is disregarded. When Gon first departs from his home, he tackles the Hunter Exam with the friends he made along the way, but as they all seek their own fulfillment, that quickly fades away. This is just one of the ways Hunter x Hunter turns the tropes in a different direction. Hunter x Hunter is one of the best, and so is episode 116. It feels like an inevitable culmination of all the thematic elements up until that point, and being able to create such interesting conflict and exploring several themes at the same time is the true sign of excellence.

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Scum’s Wish – The Name of the Game is Self-Interest

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The romance genre in anime is often plagued by common tropes. Stemming from the way relationships are approached in Japanese culture, characters will often avoid talking about their feelings and interest in another person. Encounters with the opposite sex are usually awkward and rely far too much on comedic interaction. Very few anime have been able to delve into how relationships realistically operate and Scum’s Wish does it in a way that is both difficult to watch and captivating at the same time.

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Hanabi Yasuraoka is the heroine of Kuzu no Honkai, or Scum’s Wish. She is a junior in high school and in the show’s opening moments she ponders whether unrequited love should be idealized as much as it is. She doesn’t believe so, and many of her thoughts and feelings are a stark contrast against those you would see in a show playing by the numbers. In the first episode we learn that Hanabi is in love with her much older childhood friend, Narumi, and has been for quite some time. She affectionately refers to him as “brother.” He sees her as nothing more than a younger sister figure and she pines for him on a daily basis. She fantasizes about acting on her feelings, but she knows the likelihood of Narumi reciprocating is low. To further complicate matters, her brother is smitten with another woman. Being a new teacher at Hanabi’s school, Narumi developed a crush on the new music teacher by the name of Akane Minagawa. At the same time, Hanabi has a boyfriend by the name of Mugi Awaya. Mugi has been in love with Akane and much like Hanabi’s feelings; they are unrequited and sealed away. Hanabi and Mugi decide it would be mutually beneficial for them to use each other as replacements, and try to seek validation through each other. This relationship is the first indicator that the various relationships showcased in the first four episodes will routinely show characters using each other and being brutally honest to the point no one’s feelings are spared, and this dynamic is refreshing to see in the romance genre.

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With only four episodes having been released, it is difficult to get a sense of the full picture, but I truly believe this show will be one I remember for quite some time. Any time a show deviates from the norm, I find myself drawn to it more and more. White Album 2 functioned in a similar way with characters treating each other poorly for the sake of pursuing a romantic interest. It begs the question; do actual people ultimately act in the case of self-interest? Scum’s Wish certainly thinks so. What is important to note is that unlike the comedic hijinks of other anime, this show has incredibly realistic intimate moments between the characters. I have never seen a show treat sexual encounters with such maturity, while simultaneously including the scenes to show the selfishness of the characters. In one particular scene, Hanabi lies in Mugi’s bed with him as he has an erection. He tries to put an end to it before anything actually happens between them, but Hanabi encourages it. He shows her how to touch him and he is able to get off this way. In the process, he thinks about the person he truly loves and ruins Hanabi’s outfit as well. It is very clear that their relationship is a physical release for Mugi, whereas for Hanabi it is more of an emotional crutch. As an audience member, I got the sense that Hanabi was being used more than Mugi. At one point Hanabi tells him that she wants to try to fall in love with him. She is hurting an incredible amount. Mugi responds to this admission with silence. That is not the response of a person that is willing to meet halfway. This is not to paint Mugi as some type of villain, but as a person who acts in self-interest.

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“There’s nothing more revolting than the affection of someone you’re completely disinterested in.”Hanabi’s relationship with her friend, Sanae Ebatto, or Ecchan as Hanabi calls her, is also particularly interesting. The sticking point is that she has feelings for Hanabi. Similarly to how Hanabi feels seeing her brother with another woman, Ecchan feels much the same way about the relationship between Hanabi and Mugi. The relationship becomes complicated when Hanabi invites her to her home for a sleepover and shares the same bed with Ecchan. As they stare at each other in bed, Ecchan takes her completely by surprise and decides to act on her feelings. She impulsively kisses her, and Hanabi is unable to act or say anything to her in return. I would argue that Ecchan selfishly pushes her feelings onto Hanabi by forcibly kissing her. There is a fine line between a confession and an unwanted kiss. In other circumstances, it would be considered sexual harassment. Prior to this incident, Hanabi received the confession of a boy she wasn’t interested in, and she thought receiving the affection of someone she was not interested in was completely revolting. With Ecchan, she thinks back on this and has to re-examine it because they are close friends and she realizes that it isn’t black and white. Days later she runs into her friend again, and being in a distraught state, she relies on her, fully knowing that Ecchan still has feelings for her. They proceed to share the same bed together, and Hanabi is unable to resist her friend’s advances. Ecchan knows this and uses her inability to turn her down to her advantage. She touches Hanabi and Hanabi acknowledges that this feels good and in turn Ecchan is elated because she is pleasuring the one person she cares about the most. This interaction is so interesting because it is difficult to determine who is being used more, but I get the sense that Ecchan is headed down a path of disaster. Hanabi never acknowledges romantic feelings for her friend, and this relationship evolves to a point where it mirrors the one between Hanabi and Mugi. Hanabi is receiving a sexual release and Ecchan feels emotionally fulfilled doing this to her friend. It is incredibly selfish of Ecchan to act on this considering Hanabi’s vulnerable state, and disliking the way characters handle these situations is the main reason I love the show so much. It is so easy to relate to their feelings, and Hanabi in particular doesn’t shy away from serious subject matter.

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Akane Minagawa is Hanabi’s primary foil in Scum’s Wish. She goes to a restaurant with Mugi and they both see Akane with a younger man, who is clearly interested in her. Filled with anger for the two men in her life, Hanabi confronts her. She denies having any romantic involvement with the man, but based on the smell of cigarettes and the fact she is wearing the same clothes as the day before, Hanabi knows better. Akane tells her to meet her in the music room after school because she wants to crush her spirit by having her witness her brother’s confession. In an eye opening scene later on, Akane fully admits that she knew what she was doing and derives great pleasure from feeling wanted. She is clearly the most despicable character in a show filled with selfishness. Akane takes the self-interest angle to the utmost extreme. She hates the look of helplessness some women will show in moments of weakness. Avoiding that at all costs is important to her. To achieve that, she needs to maintain the feeling of superiority over others. The most telling scene regarding her character is when she lies down in bed with the younger man. She asks him if he is still dating some girl, and after he responds that they are no longer dating, her interest completely vanishes. To Akane, a man only has value if he is desired by other women. She states that Narumi, Hanabi’s brother, isn’t even her type. However, Hanabi desires him and that is why he has significance in Akane’s eyes. Ms. Minagawa believes that she and Hanabi are cut from the same cloth and it is only a matter of time until she turns her into someone who plays around with others’ emotions with no regard to their feelings. This seems to be the lingering question moving forward. Will Hanabi retain some concept of caring about others or will her experiences jade her further to the point where she is beyond redemption?

I knew after episode one I would love Kuzu no Honkai. It is a sorely needed show given current anime trends. It bucks the norm to show a bunch of characters all acting in self-interest and all dealing with unrequited love. Scum’s Wish shows the realistic, dark side to unrequited love. It pushes characters to extremes sometimes and edges them towards fantasizing and immediate gratification. The show lets you know from the onset this won’t turn into a harem series filled with standard comedic tropes. Instead, it will routinely make you uncomfortable and if that is something you can appreciate, I think Scum’s Wish will be considered one of the best once it has finished its run by the end of March. If realistic feelings and sexual encounters are something that pique your interest, simply give the first episode a try and let the industry know we want more of this type of show going forward.

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Danganronpa 3: An Anticipated Follow-up that Fell Apart

danganronpa-3

Danganronpa has a cult following among English speaking fans. The series is centered on students being trapped in a specific location and being forced to murder one another in order to escape. After a murder is committed, the remaining students must conduct a trial in order to find the culprit. If they fail to do so, they will all die instead. Prior to the release of the Danganronpa 3 anime this past summer, there were three different games as well as a novel. There is a large overarching story and the games and novel take place at different points in the story’s timeline. Danganronpa 3 was touted as the end of the current arc in the franchise and unfortunately for many fans, it failed to live up to the expectations.

Danganronpa 3 was split into two separate arcs: the Despair Arc and the Future Arc. The Despair Arc took place in the past, revolving around the lives of the cast of Danganronpa 2. The Future Arc takes places in the overarching story’s present. The Future Arc takes places immediately after the events of Danganronpa 2. Makoto Naegi, unbeknownst to the rest of the Future Foundation, attempted to restore the Remnants of Despair from the second game to their former selves. Danganronpa 3 starts with the trial of Naegi for acting against the wishes of the Future Foundation. As the members of the foundation are discussing the consequences of his actions, one of them is killed. The rest are drugged and forced to wear bracelets with one rule attached to each bracelet. If any person breaks the rule stated on the bracelet, he or she will die. The goal for everyone is to escape the facility and survive. Unlike the first two games, there are no trials. Instead, Danganronpa 3 feels like a race against the clock. The beginning premise for the Future Arc is also the beginning of the problem with the arc as a whole. It felt like the creators were forcing a killing game into a story that not only used it previously, but didn’t need it in order to properly wrap up all of the remaining loose ends. It was an arbitrary way to create tension. Similarly to the games, the arc was focused too much on discovering who the leader was. To be fair, that idea can work in theory so long as the payoff is worth it. The problem with working towards a particular payoff is that if it doesn’t pan out, there can be serious questions regarding the decision to pursue that direction. In the case of both arcs, the payoff was not worth it, so it was a questionable decision at best. The Future Arc would have been better suited with a more normal approach where the characters can face the challenges being currently presented without the killing game occurring in the background. Killing games usually work because the audience is anxious to know who will die next, but when the series introduces so many new characters in the concluding arc, it proves difficult to care about most of them, especially when special attention is given to some of them as the story progresses towards discovering the mastermind.

naegi

The Despair Arc fortunately does not have the killing game backdrop, and as a result, it is the better of the two arcs. However, that is not saying much. One of the biggest remaining mysteries leading up to the anime’s release was the fate of the cast of Danganronpa 2 and how exactly they became Remnants of Despair, considering how likeable they were portrayed. The Despair Arc does in fact answer that, but it again centers on the payoff question. At many different points, the Despair Arc felt that it didn’t have enough substance to justify its inclusion. We are introduced rather early on to their homeroom teacher, who plays a pivotal role in the story, but are given very few new characters outside of that. That may seem like a wise decision considering the Future Arc is bogged down by the new characters, but it proved difficult for the cast we were already familiar with to provide entertainment for more than ten episodes. In all honesty, the first few episodes of the Despair Arc failed to provide any worthwhile storylines and as plot threads from the Future Arc began to emerge in the latter end of the Despair Arc, it was too little too late. I stopped caring by that point. I almost never argue in favor of shortening a story, especially in a case where I am so excited by the source material, but I firmly believe Danganronpa 3 would have been suited with a shorter, more focused story that was all about answering the remaining questions so many fans were having. Instead, we received two different arcs with lackluster payoffs that ultimately reflected poorly on the characters and events leading up to them.

hajime

With so much discussion around payoffs, it is important that we in fact talk about said payoffs. The main question in the Future Arc revolved around the mastermind. Who orchestrated this killing game? How does the villain from Ultra Despair Girls fit into the story? A lot of people were speculating about Junko Enoshima during the arc’s release. Is she still alive? Is she still the mastermind? The answer to those questions was no. In fact, the leader of the Future Foundation, Kazuo Tengan, orchestrated the events of the Future Arc in order to use Mitarai’s ability to defeat despair. The biggest issue with this reveal is that the plan itself is lackluster as are the motivations. He hoped to drive Mitarai to the point that he would use his own video to brainwash the people of the world into hope. It is a plan largely contingent on the actions of another individual and does not warrant the amount of effort put into making the plan happen in the first place. Furthermore, Tengan’s reveal as the villain felt entirely empty. He was a character that was largely relegated to the sidelines for the majority of the franchise, only to become important again near the end. The Future Arc suffered because it was difficult to replace the success of Junko Enoshima, especially after she was arguably killed off far too early. As stated previously, the payoff problem extended to the Despair Arc as well.

tengan

What caused the cast of Danganronpa 2 to become Remnants of Despair? That was the question the arc set forth to tackle. It was evident as soon as Junko Enoshima was re-introduced in this flashback arc. To be fair, there were several different moments in the arc that were worthwhile. However, the issue in the back of the mind was always how exactly it will lead to the other pieces of the puzzle. The answer was something that was possible to predict from the beginning. Danganronpa 2 let the audience know that Chiaki Nanami was dead prior to the rest of the cast being placed in apparatuses that allowed for the digital world to be created. The payoff involved Junko Enoshima using the cast’s love for her against them. She is brutally murdered by Junko and being forced to witness this event, the cast is driven into despair. The payoff felt empty because the brainwashing happens in an instant. They witness a death and almost immediately begin to commit acts of terrorism. It is a fast transition and it felt poorly planned. The reveal happens so late in the arc and there was not enough time to accurately portray a slow descent into madness. Perhaps the transition would not be slow for some of the cast, but it certainly would not be as fast as the arc depicts. I never felt satisfied after the conclusion of either of the arcs and even the final arc that was shown as an ultimate conclusion, felt forced and too happy considering the overall tone of the franchise.

chiaki

Danganronpa 3 had a lot of potential. Being such a cult hit in both Japan and the States made the franchise as a whole an exciting phenomenon to be a part of game to game. After spending so much time with the story, fans wanted to see a worthwhile conclusion. A strong end was important for the legacy of the series. Instead, Danganronpa 3 tried to force far too many new characters and plot threads, leading up to lackluster endings. I felt very disappointed in the anime, and I think it deserved a more fitting end to its themes and tone. I am still cautiously optimistic about the new game, which will feature a new cast and storyline. Only time will tell if it builds to the same unsatisfying result.

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Gantz: O – Enjoy the Wild Ride

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Gantz: O was recently released in Japan. This CGI movie follows the story of the Osaka Arc of the widely popular manga series Gantz. It was produced by Digital Frontier which is responsible for other films such as Summer Wars and Appleseed. Gantz: O is the second note-worthy CGI film to have been released this year in Japan, with Kingsglaive being the first. How well does the animation quality hold up and how well does the film adapt the source material? These are two important questions that should be considered when talking about this film.

Gantz: O opens with a terrific action sequence that faithfully adapts the carnage and depravity the Gantz series is so well known for. The visuals are very sleek, and the movie does a great job showcasing the iconic black suits the characters use. What stood out to me more than anything else, were the character models and faces in the film. Gantz: O creates realistic faces and character models to the extent that it teeters on blurring the lines between fiction and reality. The well done character models extend to the monsters in the film as well. In fact, the monsters are better rendered than their human counterparts. The Osaka Arc utilizes a legion of demons and as a result, there is nice variance to the monsters portrayed in the movie. They all look twisted in their own way, and the target demon in particular stands out, especially considering he receives more screen time than his underling counterparts which is to be expected.

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Gantz: O is a faithful adaptation of the manga source material. There are some small differences, but there is nothing that meaningfully impacts the plot. It is difficult talking about specifics without going into spoiler territory, but suffices to say the film is well-done, especially if you are familiar with the manga beforehand. This leads to a problem that the film suffers from and that is an expectation that you are already familiar with the source material before deciding to watch this movie. The Osaka Arc takes places relatively later in the manga’s story. As a result, it is difficult catering to both fans and newcomers alike with this direction in mind. There is some appreciation that the production company decided to animate a specific arc and not sacrifice story elements in the film in order to appease those lacking the prerequisite knowledge needed to appreciate the film in its full context.

Gantz: O was released on October 14, 2016. This was an apt time considering Halloween is approaching. The film’s violence and story elements are in line with the standard Halloween aesthetic. If you are curious about this film and are unfamiliar with the story and characters, it is recommended you seek out the manga or at the very least the original anime adaptation, beforehand. If you do so or if you have already read the manga, then you will appreciate Gantz: O a considerable amount more. It showcases incredible visuals, especially in regards to the monster design. The action is engaging the entire way through, and this is a great movie to watch with some friends if you are looking for a fun time at the movie theater.

gantz-o-girl

Orange: A Heart Wrenching Romance

 

orange

When the summer anime season started back in July, there was a lot of excitement around different series. Many people were eager to watch a new Berserk adaptation and others were looking forward to finally seeing the story wrap up with the airing of Danganronpa 3. Orange, a romance show, flew under the radar and it piqued my interest after learning it combined both romance and time travel. With the series concluding, I can say that the entire experience was a very memorable one and it is one of the best romance shows to be released in quite some time.

Orange involves the main heroine, Naho Takamiya, receiving a letter from her future self. The letter details all of the regrets that her twenty-six year old self has. She urges her past self in this letter to fix all of the mistakes that she made in high school, specifically around a single person. The other person in question is a boy who transfers into Naho’s school by the name of Kakeru Naruse. Naho learns early on in the letter that she should not invite Kakeru to hang out with her and her friends after school. She ignores this warning, and she encourages him to come along regardless. Past Naho later learns that this action is the catalyst for the suicide of Kakeru’s mother which in turn leads to Kakeru’s death and eventual suicide. Orange is a show about dealing with guilt and blame and in the process learning how to deal with your emotions and how you can provide for the person you are in love with every single day.

naho-and-kakeru

Orange succeeds so well because it is one of those rare shows where every single member of the main cast is likeable. The main pairing in particular, Naho and Kakeru, are both very relatable characters that both have inner demons and things they each struggle with, including their own feelings for one another. However, the supporting cast is also depicted exceptionally well. Suwa Hiroto is the other important character in the circle of friends. In the alternate timeline from which the main cast received their letters, Suwa is in fact married to Naho. Suwa struggles with his feelings for Naho while simultaneously pushing the two of them together. He strongly believes in Kakeru’s happiness and as a result, he places his happiness above his own. Suwa is the type of person we wish we could be. I have an affinity towards selfless characters. He fits this character type. Furthermore, in many ways, he drives the plot forward. Naho likes to second guess herself when it comes to Kakeru. She is very unsure of herself in that she never wants to be an inconvenience to anyone. Suwa is very aware of this and is able to encourage and help her make the right decision when she is in doubt. Someone that can routinely look out for others and place a higher priority on their general welfare is someone that can win an audience’s heart.

suwa

The other three members of the supporting cast can be grouped together. The other two girls of the group, Azusa Murasaka and Takako Chino, are the moral support cheerleaders. Azusa is the bubbly girl, whose family owns a bakery. She wants the best for all of her friends and she has a teasing antagonistic relationship with the last member, Saku Hagita. It is heavily implied that these two characters have feelings for each other. Hagita fits the nerd archetype. He likes manga and he recognizes that he is not athletic. Chino has a cold demeanor and she seems bossy, but like Azusa, she deeply cares for her friends and wants to protect them. No single person acts greater than the sum of the parts of the group. It is also interesting because we get to see two different versions of these characters. We get to see their future twenty-six year old selves and their past selves. Their future selves are heavily affected by Kakeru’s death and you can see reflections of this in the past. These three characters try to learn more about Kakeru. They try to include him every step of the way. The same can be said for Naho and Suwa. We get to see them as good people in the past and in the future we get to see how much one single event can shape the lives of other people. It is refreshing not having undesirable traits in a member of the main cast and it made me want to watch the show all that much more.

hagita

The main attraction by far is the dynamic between Naho and Kakeru. Naho believes she is in love. She falls in love with Kakeru after he transfers to her school. Kakeru develops feelings for her as well. This is not a show where you may constantly question whether she likes him or vice versa. This is a show where you know a possible ending and it is an exercise to see if the characters can avoid a specific fate. The story focuses on Naho as she is the main character and it succeeds as a result. She is a very relatable character to the average anime viewer. She is incredibly shy. She questions every little interaction with Kakeru and is unable to recognize very obvious hints. At one point, she sits on a bench with Kakeru in a park and he tells her that he likes someone. When she asks who this person is, he tells her that it is a secret and she is still unable to decipher the meaning of these words. However as stated previously, it is established halfway through the season that a relationship is possible. Both characters admit to liking each other as more than friends, but a relationship is still unable to happen because of Kakeru’s internal struggle. You get the feeling that at any point Naho would happily enter into a romantic relationship with him, but he feels like he is broken goods. Kakeru feels 100% responsible for his mother’s suicide. Has he forfeited the right to live? Future Kakeru certainly thinks so. Together, Naho learns to come out of her shell and Kakeru learns how to live with guilt. They both have their own issues. Despite this, Kakeru has also fallen in love with Naho, but because he can’t let himself hurt her in any regard, he maintains his distance. As you watch the feelings develop, you want the relationship to succeed. You want them to move past their problems and you want Kakeru to be happy at long last. Orange tackles a lot of heavy subject material, but as a result the backdrop is all that more compelling. I have never watched a romance anime before where I sympathized with each of the main characters so much. They both feel like real people and being able to understand character motivations and mindsets is the mark of a great show

The art direction behind Orange is ingrained in the Shoujo direction. The character designs in particular are reminiscent of other Shoujo shows. The show overall uses vibrant colors in its art direction, which is a nice contrast against the heavy subject material. Orange is an obvious reference to Naho’s hair color and the students that attend Naho’s school are clearly marked by vibrant green jackets. Furthermore, the show primarily takes place during the day so the somber atmosphere that is generally set by night time is lacking for the most part. The show plays around this by setting some key moments that build tension during the night. In that way the show sets expectations for the audience and has consistency.

kakakeru-and-naho

Orange is a fantastic romance that appeals to both men and women. The mind set of Naho and Kakeru is explored in great detail, even though the main plot is centered on the stability of Kakeru. Not many shows will center on suicide as a thematic issue that ties other themes and the characters together. Orange does this wonderfully so. While there is what seems like some filler with a Sports Day arc, the developing relationship between the two leads more than makes up for it. Orange is a rare show where the entire supporting cast is top notch as well. Each person contributes something and is interesting, in their own right. Orange was one of the best shows to come out of the summer 2016 season. It deserves your attention even if you are not into romance. The handling of suicide is handled so well that this thematic issue alone is enough to carry the show. Orange will wrench out your heart and play with your emotions, but you will be all the better for it.

kakkeru