Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rewind: Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun

I like to have at least one light-hearted, fun anime on my watching list every season. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, aka Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, filled that slot nicely in the Summer 2014 season.

I admit, I wasn't sure about it when I first read the descriptions on Anime-Planet and Crunchyroll. It's about a girl who gets so flustered in front of her crush, she can't confess her love, and he misunderstands, thinking that she's just a fan of his manga. See, I'm pretty empathetic. I tend to feel embarrassment on the behalf of characters, and in fiction, misunderstandings tend to lead to embarrassment at best and broken hearts at worst.

Still, Nozaki-kun seemed pretty popular, so I decided to give it a shot. I'm glad I did. I needed the comic relief, and embarrassment was kept to a minimum.

Sakura thanks Mikoshiba for help she doesn't need, because he clearly
wants to act the part of the senpai. He's too earnest to notice the sarcasm
dripping from her voice and expression (ep 2).
Some parts of Nozaki-kun are just plain ridiculous. But I could identify with some scenarios, like the one pictured above. Sakura has just started helping Nozaki-kun with his manga. Mikoshiba has been his assistant for a while now, so he's her senpai. He makes vague comments and puppy dog eyes until she finally asks him for help.

When I watched this episode, I'd been working at my summer cashiering job for about a month. The other employees were always happy to help if I had any questions. One was particularly eager to give advice. Sometimes, I needed it. Sometimes, I didn't, but I still pretended her advice was novel and valuable. She, like Mikoshiba, needed to be affirmed as a helpful senpai, although she wouldn't think of it in such Japanese terms.

Lets see... what else should I make sure you know? There are some fun romantic elements to this show, although it's kept comedic and light. For a shoujo mangaka, Nozaki-kun is surprisingly thick when it comes to love. He has no clue that Sakura is crushing on him. By the end of the series, I felt a bit bad for her. But hey! At least this way, they can develop a good friendship before messing with all that romance stuff. And we get a good show out of it.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fall Semester has me Swamped (but I've started the Fall anime season anyway)

I thought about doing a Rewind post today. I recently watched 5 Centimeters Per Second, and that would certainly be post-worthy. But it would require a second viewing to understand better, and I'd want to properly process it... which would require me to use the English-major-Literature-class part of my brain. Unfortunately, that part of me is a little overtaxed right now.

And you know what? I haven't done a real Swamped post in a few months. So, here you go: I'm swamped with homework. I'm terribly behind. I expect to be fully caught up in December... after finals week.

But I have to take breaks, so anime obviously occupies a few hours of every week. I've almost finished Terror in Resonance. I love it, but it's a bit heavy, and when I'm this swamped, I prefer to go easy on the dark plotlines. I'm sure I'll finish it soon. Part of the problem is that, with anime, I feel like I have to have an opinion about what I watch. Sometimes, it's more relaxing to watch live action, because I'm not as critical. I guess this is just a side effect of aniblogging (and anitweeting) that I still need to sort through.

Still, I have started some of the Fall Season anime. I've been wanting to talk about them:

Yowapeda 2, or Yowamushi Pedal: Grande Road, isn't any better than the first round. I know this is a popular anime, but it definitely isn't in my top ten sports anime. When I found out that Yowapeda would return this fall, I was disappointed. I'm still watching it, of course. But the race is barely holding onto my attention. I mainly watch for Onoda (who's barely been in this season's first two episodes)... and to find further proof that Midousuji is an experiment that escaped from Orochimaru's lab.
Midousuji, supposedly a human in his 1st year of high school, mocks
friendship as he races ahead of the other constants—including the aces
of our two favorite teams, even though, in the world of Yowapeda, aces
are supposed to have superpowers (basically). Don't worry, I still take
this show more seriously than Free! and even Area no Kishi.
(Screenshot from ep. 2 of Yowapeda 2)

Log Horizon 2: This show continues to intrigue me, although for whatever reason, it's hard to get very excited about it unless I talk about it with someone else.

Sword Art Online II: A recap episode aired last week, didn't it? Maybe I'll watch it while I clean my room this weekend... no, wait, that is listed as a "TV Special," and not as a regular episode. I can skip it without messing up my episode count on Anime-Planet. Phew. It was hard enough watching this show self-destruct the first time. I don't want to watch a recap of it, unless it's to fuel a rant. I am so irritated with the creators' refusal to deal with relational realities.

Actually, I had fun ranting about that to friends at dinner the other night... so I guess SAO's recent episodes have had some good effects after all.

Daiya no Ace: Still watching and enjoying this, of course. It's the only decent sports anime on my watching list this season... kind of a let down after the past several seasons.

Shirobako: This is my happy anime this season. I need one every season, especially during the school year. In the summer, it was Nozaki-kun. Before that, Tonari no Seki-kun. Haikyuu!! make me happy, too...

... okay, I'm tired now. I didn't intent to write this much, but at least it didn't require as much thought and decision-making as a Rewind post would. Time to go night-night so I can get some homework done this weekend.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Rewind: Baby Steps

The sports anime genre is dominated by team sports. And, lately, it's been dominated by teams of cute boys, mostly bishounen. Only a couple exceptions have reached my watching list in the past few years. One of them is Baby Steps.

Baby Steps started airing in the spring, during one of the most exciting sports anime seasons I've seen. Baby Steps was never my favorite, but it was a refreshing addition to my Sports Anime Weekends. Unlike Daiya no Ace and Haikyuu!!, Baby Steps focused on a single, intelligent boy learning an individual sport for the first time.

Behold, my only screenshot from Baby Steps. I can't remember exactly
what the metaphor was here, but it was probably about his training
coming together. Of course, this is just form episode 14. At this point in
the 25-ep series, he's got quite the training regiment ahead of him.

I'll go into the story some more in a moment. First, I must mention the other big difference between Baby Steps and the other weekend sports anime: the animation. The visuals in Haikyuu!! and the recent Kuroko's Basketball are mesmerizing at times, particularly during games. Even the visuals in Daiya no Ace make me happy. Then there's Yowapeda, which isn't as pretty, but has fun colors, and Ping Pong, which is strange and thus fascinating in all aspects. In comparison, Baby Steps's animation is little more than serviceable.

Still, I enjoyed it and followed it closely through the Spring and Summer anime seasons. I can relate to Ei-chan (Maruo Eiichiro) and his obsessive note taking. I actually started learning Gregg Shorthand so I could keep up with one of my professors, and my journal goes everywhere with me. Granted, I'm not quite as thorough as Ei-chan, and if I take notes for non-educational purposes, it's because I like to have a record, or because I'm a writer... not because I'm a tennis player (though I really should be taking notes about my running distances and times). That aside, I appreciate his strategic and hardworking approach to whatever he pursues. Plus, he reminds me of the analytical Inui-senpai from Prince of Tennis, and you might remember how much that anime means to me.

I was going to say some deep stuff about Ei-chan's training and the Christian walk... but I was also really close to saying, "No. I'm too swamped for this." Homework is scrambling my brain. So deep posts can wait.

Anyway, I look forward to the sequel series coming next year. In the meantime, I have Daiya no Ace and the second season of Yowapeda... Anime-Planet users gave Yowapeda a higher average rating than Baby Steps, a fact I don't completely understand. But, oh well. It's fun enough.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Listen to Their Passion

Today's Blimey Cow video is titled "The Fandom Menace (or: Why I Hate Fandoms)." I've enjoyed many of their videos, but this time, I'm at least a small part of their rant's target. I reminded myself to keep an open mind before I clicked play. Sure enough, it was not my favorite video (although I liked it better once they moved past TV fandoms to celebrity "cults"). I understood where they were coming from, though, and I knew better than to be offended (hyperbole and sarcasm abound in all their rant videos). Still, I had to respond... especially after reading some of the comments.

This post is, in part, a personal explanation and defense of fandom and passion. However, this is addressed to everyone, no matter their current relationship to fandom. You can watch Bimey Cow's video first, if you want, although it's not necessary:

I'm an anime fan, but I can, to some extent, appreciate both sides of this issue. I try to be responsible about my fangirling, but it's a learning process. Sometimes, I blab about anime too much, and I know it. Since I love anime, it's often on my mind, and it's hard not to talk about it. This applies to anything I'm passionate about, and not just my fandom. I'm still learning how and when to keep silent.

Here's the thing about some of us nerdier fans: we know we're not "normal," even without hearing Jordan say so. And we're often self-conscious about it. It's not that I want to meet all the qualifications of "normal," but I don't want to alienate myself from the so-called normals, either. Nor do I want to alienate other fandoms.

There's another side to my experience, though: In the online anime community, I encounter a lot of otaku more passionate and knowledgable about anime than I am. And, since there are so many anime out there, we all have our own favorites, and which may or may not include esteemed "classics." These two facts occasionally cause insecurity. For example, I've questioned whether I really qualify as a fan of certain show when I can't even keep the characters' names straight. It's like I need permission to simply enjoy without obsessing. But that's something I have to sort out for myself. I have to come to terms with my level of investment in a particular facet of anime fandom. Once I do, I enjoy listening and learning from the more extreme fans. After all, they don't mean to make me feel insecure. Every now and then, I do encounter someone who likes to show off their superior anime knowledge or taste in shows. This is rare in my circles, but I've seen some of the negative affects of such attitudes. I keep these experiences in mind, and try to avoid sounding judgmental or condescending when I'm in opinionated-fan-mode myself (especially when I've got budding anime fans around me, and I don't want to scare them off).

So, here's what I've learned: all of us, fans and non-fans, need to shut up sometimes and love by listening—really, truly listening. We need to be okay with our differences, and enjoy them. I might never have the combination of time and interest to get into Doctor Who. But I'll happily listen to friends talk about it, and I'd enjoy watching a couple episodes with them. It's fun to watch people geek out about what they love—their faces light up. If, however, I were to reject Doctor Who entirely, a Whovian friend might feel like I'm rejecting part of who they are... and, in fact, I would be. I don't need to love Doctor Who to love a Whovian friend; but I need to appreciate its importance to them. And they'll hopefully realize that, when I don't become a radical fan, I'm not rejecting them. I'm just enjoying our differences.

Oh, and this logic doesn't just apply to fandoms: if Grandma is passionate about quilting, I should listen to what new techniques she's learned and ask to see her latest project. If my younger cousin loves playing soccer, I should learn why, and maybe ask her to show me some moves. If my friend is passionate about any cause or interest, I should listen. I confess, I'm not always great at initiating these conversations, but it's a social skill I want to develop. Because when someone expresses interest in what I love, I know they care. And I want to show other people that I care, too.

If I only talk about what I am passionate about, I can be part of what they call the "fandom menace." If I spend too much time complaining about or belittling other fandoms, then I become part of the anti-fandom menace. Either menace is annoying, occasionally hurtful, and never loving. The easiest way to avoid becoming that? Pay attention to what someone else likes or doesn't like. And legitimately care about their opinion.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Sword Art Online Confuses "Shock" with "Fitting Climax." Again.

I'm too swamped for the Rewind post I originally planned on. But I started this post after watching episode 13 of SAO II, and it has elements of "Rewind" to it, since I think back to a past arc. So... I guess it's "Rewind, Fast forward, Play: Sword Art Online." Or something like that. Anyway, spoilers and recollections of disturbing scenes ahead. Here you go:

I wasn't a huge fan of Sword Art Online's first season. The first half was mildly fun. I enjoyed the fight scenes. Unlike some people, I didn't mind the fact that Kirito was overly capable. I just had fun watching him. But I couldn't take Kirito, Asuna, and Yui's little family seriously—I felt like the teenagers were playing house with their virtual "daughter."

The second arc centered around a new game, Alfheim Online (ALO), and was harder for me to swallow. At first, my biggest problem was Kirito's sister, who likes him in a way she shouldn't. Also, it's generally more difficult to take people seriously when they have long ears and are surrounded by happy fairytale colors. I know Kirito encountered multiple conflicts before he finally reached Asuna, but I barely remember them. I don't think I cared that much.

Here's what I do remember: A creepy older guy made arrangements to marry Asuna, whose real body is in the hospital, while he holds her consciousness captive in ALO. She's kept in a cage in a tree, like a bird, and he comes by on occasion to harass her (using his King Oberon avatar). Near the end of the season, when Kirito finally reaches her, Creepy King makes him watch while he chains her, runs his hands all over her, and promises to rape her comatose body after he's done with her in virtual reality. Kirito gets strength from remnants of the previous villain and saves her. 

There's no actual rape, but the abuse that does happen—and is shown—is very difficult to watch. The guys in the audience are (I hope) empathizing with Kirito, which would be hard enough. But, as a woman, I empathize with Asuna. My skin gets a sick tingly feeling when Creepy King touches her. He might not completely have his way with her, but he still violates her in a way no woman should have to endure. She is completely helpless to stop it, and her one defender is pinned to the ground with his own sword.

When I think back on the first two arcs of SAO, I don't remember much. The icky feelings from that episode overwhelm everything else, good or bad.  

Fast forward to SAO II and Gun Gale Online. I enjoyed the first 10 episodes of this arc, and looked forward to it every weekend. I appreciated that PTSD had a role in the conflict (although I don't think a diagnosis came into play). Then came the 11th episode, in which all action paused in favor of 1) serious conversations with random shots of Sinon's rear end, 2) serious conversations by people in elf/fairy land, and 3) me telling Kirito to tell Sinon about Asuna. Popular opinion of the show plummeted, and my opinion plummeted with it. The next episode was better, but I was disillusioned, and my eyes were opened to faults I would otherwise miss.   

And so we arrive and episode 13... I've stopped taking the conflict seriously, although I tell myself to try. In fact, in the 13th episode, I laugh during a scene that's supposed to be ominous:

There's an intense battle. Death Gun, an ominous mix of Terminator
and Anikin, rasps out: "It isn't over yet. I won't let it end until they find
out, and—" A cute little text bubble pops up. It's laughably anti-climatic.

At this point, I'm only worried about one thing: will the creators recognize that Sinon and Kirito have been physically close on camera with Asuna watching, or will they continue to play with Sinon's feelings and ignore Asuna's? 

Later in the episode, I'm mildly relieved, because Sinon is back in the real world, and her trusted friend Shinkawa has come to keep her company. I want him to take Kirito's place as her protector, so Kirito can go back to Asuna. I'm pretty single-minded about this issue, and my hope blinds me to any warning signs. 

I don't suspect anything until Shinkawa opens the you-said-you'd-be-mine conversation. The scene begins safe: she's elevated, on the bed. He sits on the ground, so he has to look up at her, and his face is well-lit. Then, his posture changes, and his face goes into shadow.

In this split second, my mind goes from "awkward," to "Oh no,
this is really bad." All because of his posture and the lighting.

I have to give the animators props for the angles and shadows in this scene. Shinkawa becomes downright intimidating as he slowly rises above Sinon. At times, we view him from right beside her, so when he rises, like a wave preparing to break, we feel a hint of the intimidation she must feel. I forget that he's a dweeby high school kid. He's become a brute. Instead of protecting and honoring Sinon's beauty, he wants to take it by force, and he has the upper hand in every way. I fear this kind of thing far more than murder—not in the sense that I worry about it in my daily life, but that the idea disturbs me more. Once again, the shock factor of this scene rules my mind.

It takes a few hours for me to think about the scene within the bigger picture. And once I do, I realize... it is completely unnecessary. I mean, in ALO, "King Oberon's" obsession with Asuna was a key part of the conflict from the beginning of the arc. But this arc would survive just fine without Shinkawa obsessing over and assaulting Sinon. The main conflicts thus far, as I understood them, were 1) Kirito uncovering and stopping deaths connected to GGO, and 2) Kirito and Sinon coming to terms with what happened in their past. Yes, the confrontation with Shinkawa provided a climatic opportunity for her to overcome her victim mentality. However, it would have been far more meaningful if he held a gun like the one she shot when she was little. Less shocking for the audience? Yes. But more genuine.

Further, if the goal is to help Sinon overcome her victim mentality, maybe she should be the one to subdue Shinkawa, not Kirito.

Eh, whatever. I enjoy watching Kirito fight, even when it's not beneficial to the story. Besides, his entrance helps solidify the parallelism between ALO and GGO. There's a third parallel, involving illogical disembodied beings who give pep talks, but I think I've covered enough for one post.

Despite my critical words, I'll watch the next episode of SAO the weekend. I'll probably enjoy parts of it. Unfortunately, if the makers keep confusing "perverts" and "shock" with "well-developed conflict" and "actual climax," I can't hope for more than mild amusement in the coming episodes.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Rewind: Hunter x Hunter (2011)

I tried telling myself to pick another, shorter anime for tonight. But Hunter x Hunter weighs too much on my mind, and would distract me from any other anime. Despite its length and complexity, I think I can sum it up pretty well. This post's goal is not to analyze the details. Rather, I want to summarize why I love this show so much and, perhaps, convince some of you to invest the time in it.

Warning: Spoilers ahead... including some of the people who are alive and kicking in the last episode. If you've managed to avoid such spoilers from social media, you may want to find another review, or at least stop reading this one after the first few paragraphs.

I watched the first Hunter x Hunter anime in late 2009, I believe, on a friend's recommendation. This was during my unhealthy binging years, so I breezed through the 62 TV episodes and 30 or so OVAs very quickly. I doubt it took me much more than two weeks. I enjoyed it. However, at that stage of my fandom, I didn't have an eye for the details. I hadn't discovered Anime-Planet or read any anime reviews or blogposts. I was just along for the ride.

Thus, when Hunter x Hunter episodes began appearing on Crunchyroll two years later, I couldn't tell that it was a reboot. At first, I thought, "Cool! They're finally getting that old show on Crunchyroll!" Up until Fall 2011, I didn't pay much attention to any currently airing anime except Naruto Shippuden. I didn't check out season previews, and I definitely didn't commit to following anything new... until that fall. So I think I can be forgiven for not immediately recognizing the reboot for what it was.

I quickly became a fan. By my mid-season post in Winter 2012, I was already trying to convert other fans. Oh, and a note on that post—the screenshot I used from Hunter x Hunter's 19th episode? They re-used that frame during the flashbacks in the very last episode. It's one of many precious memories I now share with the characters.

Gon introduces himself to the ship captain taking them to the
 Hunter Exams in episode 1. New friends Kurapika and Leorio
stand at his sides.
Obviously, I feel personally connected with Gon and Killua, the central protagonists. But my admiration goes beyond emotional attachment. The character development, visuals, plot, and subject matter all deserve proper attention.

The main character is, of course, Gon. He's one of those precious 12-year-old anime boys. Except more so. He's cute, innocent... and he has talent. Between his animal-like senses and the inspiration of his absentee Hunter father, he's skilled enough to take on most adults, even at the beginning of the show. He's reluctant to kill, and he's stubborn about it. Like many shounen heroes, he's an optimist and thus a heart-healer.

Gon sees some rough situations. He befriends Killua, whose abusive family raised him as an assassin. He fights murderers and faces death. At first, none of this seems to darken his heart. Then, halfway through the show, tragedy strikes. He loses someone he admires, and he thinks it's his fault. By the last few dozen episodes, his can't help others change anymore. His own heart is too wounded. Even Killua, his best friend, can't do anything about it.

In episode 125, Gon waits impatiently for his enemy, a murderous
chimera ant, to finish healing an innocent blind girl. Note the
shadow on his face—an external symbol of his inner state.
I don't have time to talk about every important character, but let it be known: the other characters are developed well, too. Killua, especially, stands out to me. And then there's Kurapika, whose walk of vengeance received a lot of screen time. Unfortunately, the anime ended without a satisfying ending for Kurapika. I trust the mangaka, Togashi Yoshihiro, is developing the rest of his story.

The visuals in Hunter x Hunter are fantastic, espeically compared to other long-running shounen anime. It's not just that they're pleasant and smooth to look at; they set the mood. And Gon and Killua's expressions... heart-wrenching. Wonderfully, painfully heart-wrenching.

The pacing in Hunter x Hunter was great, when compared to similar anime. There were three recap episodes, which provided the only fillers. Only three fillers in three years, guys. Thank about that a moment. Pacing got a little rough at the beginning of the year, around episode 115. It felt like Hunter x Hunter was in a holding pattern, waiting for all the pieces to come together before starting the real action. Suspense was high, but it retained the same elevation for several episodes. And yet, it would be hard for the pacing to be any different without them leaving plot holes. By episode 118, things were looking up, as I wrote:

"In the process of writing this, I realize that, despite the tedious suspense abuse and overbearing narration, something wonderful is building. Gon and Killua's character development have me as in love with Hunter x Hunter as ever. It's not a blind love, but it's still there, pulsing on."

Those few weeks of less-than-stellar pacing are pretty much my only complaints in how the story is told. Granted, the story is still not complete. The anime, while it ended at a good stopping point, still has loose ends. The manga is ongoing, and part of me worries that the Togashi bit off more than he can chew. From what I've seen, I doubt that it's only the physical elements of drawing/writing that tire him out. Hunter x Hunter is deep, the kind of story no normal person can weave without a lot of time to brainstorm and let ideas simmer. Sure, I didn't realize it during the first few dozen episodes (I actually wrote that it wasn't deep and didn't hold surprises). But, since then, I've noticed themes of naturalism, Buddhism, moral ambiguity, and the need for redemption. I've noted some of the surface-level Buddhist influences, but I think I'm picking up more influences, including some that explain why Ging is not considered deplorable for abandoning his son. Unfortunately, I doubt I'll have time to explore these in more depth, especially since I don't know enough about Buddhism to say very much with any confidence.

Finally, I'd like to spend a moment on the last episode, because it's packed with meaning. First, notice the location. Gon and Ging meet at the top of the World Tree, in a nest that looks a lot like a crow's nest in a ship. They're not actually in a ship, but as they look out over the world, and the ocean in particular, it recreates the idea of a journey that's just begun, much like Gon's journey began in the first episode.

Second, Gon and Ging finally have a private father-son talk. Ging passes on some of his philosophy on life when his son asks what he wants: "That which I can't see in front of me now."

Ging and Gon are Hunters. They're often finders, but the successful end of the hunt doesn't light them up nearly as much as how they get there. At the very end, Ging gives his advice to Gon and, it's implied, to the audience: "You should enjoy the little detours to the fullest. Because that's where you'll find the things more important than what you want." It's about the journey, the chase, and the friends you make along the way, he says.

I'm not sure I entirely agree with Ging—after all, our worldviews would be quite different even if we lived in the same world. But it's something I'd like to chew on, and evaluate more deeply in this context if I have a chance. For now, I'm just enjoying that Gon and Ging have been reunited, and that Gon is acting carefree again. He's not unaffected by the past few years, but he gets to be a kid in his dad's presence. And after what I've watched over the last 148 episodes, this is a wonderful sight indeed.

At the end of the last episode, Gon and his dad talk into the night,
and I smile, happy to see them happy again.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Rewind: Chihayafuru

At first glance, Chihayafuru doesn't look exciting. It's about teenagers playing karuta, a traditional card game based on 100 old poems. Why would anyone besides a literature or history nerd watch 50 episodes of that? Then again, if you've been on the anime scene very long, you know not to judge an anime by its subject. 

Taichi and Chihaya in Chihayafuru 2, episode 20. I love these two, and
they love each other... at least, they're dear friends. Chihaya's oblivious
to the concept of anything besides friendship at this point. Poor Taichi.

Chihayafuru shares a lot of qualities with sports anime, so it's no surprise that I like it so much. When the main character, Chihaya, starts high school, she begins a karuta club. She's passionate about it, and she inspires her friends to passion, too. She and her childhood friend, Taichi, wrangle up enough members to officially start the club. They train, improve, and compete in intense karuta tournaments. Suspense gets pretty high at times, just like in a sports anime. 

But tournament suspense isn't what has me patiently waiting for another season. No, the relationships between characters stand out to me. I wrote about the main trio of friends, Chihaya, Taichi, and Arata, at the end of the second season. It struck a chord with me. And the relationships between club members helped inspire a post at the beginning of last school year, Advice from Anime: Join a Club.

I'm hoping for another round of Chihayafuru, after there's enough material in the manga to pull from. As far as I know, nothing has been announced yet. I'm in no hurry. So long as I get to see more of this beautiful, often humorous show, I can wait for a couple more years.