Scattered Thouhgts – why did Gyo fail?

     First of all – why is Gyo important? It isn’t, really. Still, there are a number of reasons why Gyo is worth investigating. For once, Junji Ito is a name you probably encountered if you’ve had any opportunity to familiarize with horror manga. Despite being popular, the only Ito’s work that has received an anime adaptation remains Gyo (which is interesting by itself), and Ito’s relation with anime remains relevant because of the new adaptation of some of his stories that has been announced some time ago. Returning to Gyo, its anime adaptation was made by ufotable, and that’s another interesting fact since at the time it was made the studio was just starting to build up its fame – Kara no Kyoukai movies weren’t as known and Fate/Zero had started half a year ago, but in times of Steins;Gate it was crucial not to be a studio known only for one good anime. Other ufotable’s projects had been even more obscure, so Gyo was a perfect opportunity to show off technical capabilities and affirm the name of the studio as one among the best in the industry. Still, the result seems to be rather frowned upon, so there arises a question – who’s at fault – Junji Ito or ufotable?

The former dental technician - sensei

     Junji Ito is an acclaimed mangaka and arguably one of the best in making horror stories. To be frank, that’s not really the truth. The truth is that Ito is incredible in thinking up how to mess with everyday world in order to bring horror elements and create an ominous and very unsettling atmosphere. His realistic and detailed drawings (especially all the unnatural and monster stuff) make every story far more disturbing. Still, the problem is that even if Ito knows how to get everything started, it seems like he has no idea how to conclude anything. More often than not the horror elements are so powerful that they sweep the ordinary world away and we get effectively an apocalypse. The characters usually are just left hanging with no clear conclusion when the things get so bad there’s no way of returning to at least a partially normal living conditions. On the other hand, Ito’s short works tend to stop right after the climax and thus leave some space to ponder what happened and what might happen next. It turns out that developing a story and providing a resolution sometimes is a worse choice than leaving an open ending exactly after the big reveal or a strong horrifying moment.

A walking fish?..

     Gyo in this context isn’t an exception. I guess the mystery of what exactly the horror elements are in this case is explained right away so it doesn’t really count as spoilers, does it? Anyway, you have been warned because the pleasure of seeing dead fish walking on seemingly mechanical legs is a pleasure you can’t miss. Ito has confirmed that Steven Spielberg’s Jaws had been a huge influence on him. Ito just came to think that a more terrifying thing than a shark in a sea would be a shark that can walk on land. And walk on land it does. A story seems pretty basic as a couple of tourists in Okinawa (at first) – Kaori and Tadashi – start observing weird things and how they get out of control in a true Junji Ito fashion.

...yup, this walking shark...

     Why Gyo fails as a satisfying manga mainly rests on the choice of trying to explain the strange phenomena. It could be argued that characters also aren’t that good, which is quite true, especially in Kaori’s case. The girl mainly spends time in a neurosis state arguing with Tadashi quite annoyingly. Yet, I think that it at least gives some uniqueness as a fighting couple isn’t what you usually get as the main characters in any manga. Especially when things escalate you can’t really accuse anyone of acting the way they do – human tolerance to weirdness and horror isn’t infinite after all. Still, let’s leave the characters aside because the pseudo-scientific explanation that hardly feels plausible with the best wishes overshadows everything else. Of course you have to have germs that were secretly cultivated for military purposes. Even if that was an alright explanation, there’re still many things left in the dark – for example how does the gas produced by the germs can make dead bodies move in a non-random way and pursue people? Do the mechanical legs multiply? The story finally lost its momentum near the end when a totally bizarre and pretty random circus scene was inserted that doesn’t really feel like being from the same story and that is another recurring flaw of Ito’s manga.

...and a walking arm?

     Ito usually gets inspired by random daily events that are only a bit unusual or unexpected, be it a thought he had, a shop window he saw or a woman that looked in a particular way. Ito then takes these elements and works them into being more unsettling, not necessarily trying to make a horror manga. Such stories sometimes form larger narratives but as the mangaka doesn’t usually try to think particularly good ways to connect them, the end product might become anything from the cohesiveness of Uzumaki’s everything encompassing spirals to disjoint and having very little common elements stories like Black Paradox or Gyo itself.

The quite famous Amigara fault

     To go off on a tangent a bit, there are two short stories included in the published Gyo volumes. The Enigma of Amigara Fault is probably the most well-known and regarded  as one of the better of Ito’s works, examining the claustrophobia and at the same time morbid fascination with confined spaces. The story also can be a perfect example of Ito at his best – not trying to explain stuff too much and just leaving everything at the climax. Nevertheless, it’s the other story that appealed to me almost infinitely more than Gyo itself – The Sad Tale of the Principal Post spans only 4 pages and is impossible not to spoil but it shatters all of reader’s expectations and masterfully provides a totally unexpected conclusion which by its ridiculousness is able to overcome its unbelievability. It’s only 4 pages, please go and read it.

The new Kaori with her red-shirt...I mean red-skirt...
anyway, it's the new Kaori with her new friends

     Let’s now leave the manga and jump right to its anime adaptation, though in some respects it can hardly be called one. The first minutes of the anime already present plenty of differences – Kaori is the only main character (Tadashi’s left in Tokyo which means we hardly see him at all) and it’s two of her friends that the girl starts experiencing the fish attack. As the story moves on, it becomes clear that for the most part Kaori’s and Tadashi’s original roles are swapped. The couple’s struggle to survive gets transformed into quite a simple story of Kaori trying to find her boyfriend in all the confusion. Along the way she’s helped by a random journalist because you can’t have a story without a male lead, can you? Naturally you begin to wonder why there’re so many changes introduced. To some extent it’s understandable because having a strong female lead usually is commendable but the way it affected other parts of the story makes it barely Ito’s Gyo. And all these changes just seem pointless. Why would you introduce new characters and split the original experiences of Kaori and Tadashi when there was a completely normal and reasonable story in the manga? Also, the anime tried to appeal to all sorts of audiences, and that means that the horror isn’t the only thing you get in Gyo. The thing is that the anime in the beginning didn’t shy away from including fanservice, and fanservice of the most ridiculous level – Gainax jiggles, obligatory pointless sex and a woman getting undressed while trying to escape some nasty pursuer. Moreover, the said woman (try to guess which of Kaori’s friends she is) was just an original character made specifically for that purpose and Junji Ito could never have drawn anything like that. But even fanservice isn’t consistent – the creators forcefully added new scenes but somehow missed a shower scene in the original manga, and that scene even had some justification for being there.

Run, Forrest, run!

     When you watch the anime, you find some certain elements of the manga or scenes that clearly were inspired by the original Gyo, but in any case it remains only elements and the essence is lost. In such a case a walking octopus among all these fish becomes a pretext to introduce a tentacle scene. You know, tentacles? Any spirit of the manga and any element that makes Ito’s works recognizable as his own just simply vanished. At least in one respect the anime was equal to its counterpart – the questions concerning the mechanism by which the fish can walk, some other over the top moments involving the gas and a seemingly incomplete (although completely different) ending leave a lot to be desired.

Ito's stories never end well, do they?

     The animation belongs to an interesting period in ufotable’s history. Character designs try to be somewhat close to original manga ones but ultimately they end up being far more simplified and vastly different from the beauty of Ito’s art. At least usual Ito’s same-face-syndrome has been taken care of. The designs also are quite fluid – one moment you can even start guessing whether some rotoscoping was involved and other times you can wince uncomfortably at the seemingly unfinished product. Anyway, the designs come from a period when ufotable still cared to draw not as-pointy-as-you-might-prick-yourself (Tales series) noses, if any noses at all (Fate series). The backgrounds signify the point when the studio started moving to its present aesthetic, that being 3D more times than not, and that 3D looking quite lifeless and at odds with the 2D characters. Some 3D elements in Gyo look surprisingly well-made, as ufotable’s 3D department in general is quite adept at what they do, it’s just that it doesn’t really mesh with the 2D stuff. The studio might be excused because at the time of making Gyo the 2nd season of Fate/Zero was also in works but that’s only a fool’s argument. Even if 3D was done far better, I still think the story of Gyo was just more suited to be told in manga form. Bright colors clearly doesn’t retain the same ominous atmosphere that a usual black and white manga panels are able to achieve.

Psychedelic, but not that disturbing after all

As you see, Gyo is plagued by all sorts of trouble, and some of them came from Junji Ito himself while others were added by ufotable. Ito’s prime concern is to create unsettling imagery and what becomes of it and how it can be incorporated into a story (that should have an ending) seems to be of no bigger concern to him. It’s as likely as not that the longer stories of his will feel cohesive and finished and that is the main problem with his manga. Ufotable changed quite a lot in its anime adaptation and few of these changes were for good, or at least necessary and logical to begin with. From a historical perspective it was quite fun to see how a transition from the old ufotable to the new glossy aesthetic plagued by post-production gradients looked at some point. But yeah, Gyo makes little sense and even somehow you became interested in this cheap horror flick, go read the manga, especially the short stories.

     Have you ever encountered Gyo at some point? What do you think about Junji Ito’s storytelling and current aesthetic of ufotable?


Scattered Thoughts – tasting Tales of Berseria

     I’m not an avid gamer, and it’s even rarer for me to completely finish a game. Usually I just either get bored with the gameplay or get stuck (and then get bored). That looks completely different from my completionist-like stance towards anime, but I guess I just hope to finish any game I started some time in the future. Considering gaming that have ties with anime my portfolio is even scarcer – apart from some visual novels (still waiting to complete Fate route of Fate/Stay Night and finish several remaining routes of Tsukihime) I don’t think I’ve ever finished anything else, and my only knowledge about Tales series stems from the Zestiria anime, so for me Tales of Berseria is a big deal, so prepare for a lengthy post.

Excerpt from the OST: 'Theme of Velvet' by Motoi Sakuraba

     The story begins in not the most unique way possible – you, and that also means the protagonist Velvet, get your share of peaceful jogging around before being abruptly taken from this pleasant life to another, full of dark emotions and almost no hope. Velvet’s younger brother (as adorable as it gets) ends up being killed and that changes Velvet to the point of her only goal becoming revenge, no matter the means, no matter the collateral damage. As usual with such games, later on Velvet’s quest turns out to be a part of a far bigger problem that is the mandatory saving of the world.

Not that impressive dungeon

     The world provides plenty of beautiful locations – from cities to harbors and grassy plains, from icy landscapes to tropical beaches and volcanoes, though sometimes visual repetition isn’t avoided. Another great aspect of the game is that the story sometimes leads back to some already explored locations that changed from your previous visit – it makes the world more alive. Also a nice idea is that the NPCs over the world discuss the news (that usually are about Velvet’s travels). The facts they usually get wrong but that also enhances the realistic nature of such talks. You feel that it’s important what you have accomplished and you affect the world more than just going to a random dungeon and finding some stuff here that nobody cares about. Despite quite strong world building, when you get down to some caves, dungeons and old temples, the boredom slowly starts to seep in. These confined monster areas feel very much the same, closed by plain walls, one chamber not different by any means from another. There’s another problem with that. The monster areas feel a little too long – each time you start, eager to learn what kind of creatures roam around, but sooner rather than later you just end up mashing the same buttons for the best attack combination.  Later on you acquire more abilities but, as most of early stuff still works reasonably well, I ended up not using much of that.

Button mashing time!

When you have the battle system figured out and the combat has lost its novelty, it becomes a serious chore and the only remedy for that is avoiding the monsters. Speaking about an occasional lack of uniqueness, there is only a very limited number of NPC models and it actually took me a while to come into terms that all these people don’t really travel from one location to another with you but are just a way to cut the costs.  At least if you’re bored, there’s always some mini games here and there so you need only choose between card playing, doing the most damage or improving your reaction time among other things, but it’s only a temporary solution as you inevitably need to return to the main story.

What a bunch of weirdos!

     Staying true to the genre, soon a group of adventurers forms around Velvet, each with his own objectives and problems, but temporary goals still prove to be strong enough to more or less unify them. At this era of the world, most of the seraphim (basically spiritual beings) are bereft of free will, being used only as tools. A little seraph whom Velvet saves from such a fate soon becomes very important to her but Velvet struggles to distinguish him from her dead brother, to the point of also naming him Laphicet, her brother’s name. At first Laphicet was just a doll without any semblance of a character, but his development into someone who can speak his mind and make wise decisions was probably the biggest among all the characters. Laphicet’s emotional change is also helped a lot by another member of the group, Eleanor. The apparent unannounced fight between her and Velvet for the affections of Laphicet doesn’t take much time to get established and that ended up being quite fun. Anyway, Eleanor also has her own goal – being an exorcist and initially opposing Velvet’s movements, she started to question the decisions of her superiors and dig up all the truth about their works. That inevitably led her to become a part of this anti-governmental band of weirdos. Eleanor also has a subplot of recovering from her traumatic family circumstances by herself developing some motherly traits.

A cutscene of a 3D fight in the game...

The two male members of the group doesn’t have much going on – with Eizen constantly looking for his vanished pirate captain (and thinking about his mysterious sister but that sadly didn’t get much time) and Rokurou trying to find and kill his brother. Still, the biggest impression was left by the final member – a witch Magilou. At first she seemed to be one of those immensely full of herself and very annoying characters but eventually I ended up liking her a lot. A character who doesn’t take anything seriously, is able to exploit every situation for her own benefits and is absolutely unpredictable automatically is very charming. Magilou also has a more serious side beneath her wacky exterior and it’s even more fascinating to see it shine from time to time. Every important character (and location) has his own musical theme that well suits his characteristics. There are some interesting parallels between the characters and sometimes it allows for them to reconsider their options, to better understand themselves or just to see how different philosophies might lead to different outcomes from the same starting point. There’s also a negative side to that – too much of even some good stuff may go sour and I don’t even care to count how many different tragic mother-daughter relationship permutations Berseria used.

...and the same fight in the Tales of Zestiria the X anime, only in 2D

     As you see, the group of the adventurers is particularly varied and character designs convey that. Each character has his color code and alone looks at least ok. The problem is when everyone gathers together – the colors clash. It seems like no one bothered to give any thought about visual character chemistry. Cowboy Bebop for example did wonderfully choosing character color scheme that looks good when characters are alone as well as together and with Berseria sadly that’s not the case. There are other things like Velvet’s gear. It’s no doubt that it looks cool but practicality of it is questionable. A fantasy game may get away with a retractable blade on a wrist but even if at first Velvet only thought about revenge I doubt that she would never think of changing her attire into something more appropriate if not more practical compared to her default outfit. Who needs so many extra belts anyway? Continuing about character designs, naturally they change quite a bit between 3D gameplay and 2D skits and the effect is ambiguous. Well, the mere fact that some of the cutscenes are 2D and others 3D feels quite weird. Velvet looks far better in 3D without that so-pointy-you-can-prick-yourself nose. On the other hand 3D Laphicet looks anything but adorable with his too huge eyes that show very little personality which is present in 2D images.

Velvet, rags and belts included. Also a discount on a demon arm.

     Let’s get a bit deeper. Now what I’ll say may sound like a blasphemy to hardcore Tales fans, especially since (for all I know) it might be one of the trademarks of the series, but here it is – the world is not consistent considering its seriousness and believability. One moment you might encounter a very emotional scene with Velvet struggling with her humanity and a few moments later end up collecting lost souls for some crossbreeds between cats and teletubbies. The game lets the player acquire and use various cosmetic outfits, varying form maid or school uniforms to beach clothes, pirate eyepatches and other random stuff. Personally I can’t imagine myself playing a game where a person with cat ears argues about serious battle tactics with a person with a dog’s tale, while a third person with a bikini (leaning against an iceberg) casually observes everything. Of course there’s no need to take advantage of this possibility so that’s not a big deal. Nonetheless, even without believability-bending cosmetic outfits constant encounters with Katz people (and the like) and especially the enormous silliness of Magilou’s companion normin Bienfu in my mind clash very hard with the mere idea of being in a story of saving the world. I understand that some comedy is needed and for the most part it works fine (not to mention that marketing loves mascot characters), but I think that such a foul-mouthed, annoying and just plain ridiculous (not even considering his hat) character like Bienfu adds little to the game. If the game is marketed as a very serious one, exploring deep matters and dark themes, I expect it to retain all these aspects more or less for the whole game, not only at certain times. Well, Velvet herself sometimes seemed to get carried pretty far away from her initial resolve to dedicate all her energy to the revenge. That may emphasize her human side but how much her resolve is worth then? Also laughable seems the scene where Velvet refuses to drink because she isn’t the legal age yet. I appreciate the message but I doubt anything else should feel as out of place as this from the lips of a person who apparently doesn’t give a damn about anything else except her sole objective.

Some drama in a nice field of flowers

     There are also some other dislikeable things. There’s a tiny treason subplot and in terms of the story it should be something big and important but it get brushed under the rug never to appear again. The guilty character doesn’t even get any inconvenience because of that as others just shrug off everything as it is a completely natural thing and nobody needs to worry about that. Another thing concerns the villains. It’s believable that the main one thinks he’s a good guy and it’s possible that to some extent what he’s doing is for the greater good. Nevertheless, his lackeys lack any complexity. Thus all the hard work spent staging Velvet as an antihero feels a bit pointless. I think it would’ve been far more interesting to have Velvet’s opponents better explored or just to make them at least somewhat likable or their actions justifiable. Velvet’s original revenge goal already is sinister enough and going on only because of selfish reasons until the end would’ve created far more complicated conflict. Velvet already struggled to acknowledge that what she has been doing isn’t really justifiable but that was undermined by making her opponents too evil and step by step reshaping Velvet into the herald of good people.

Need some comedy?

     I can’t say the ending was applaudable. At first the lead up to the final battle was rather unsatisfying. It’s natural that games try to hype you up quite a lot before the ultimate fight, but Berseria stumbles a bit in that department. When a character says “let’s prepare for the final showdown” and you do, but then follows a monster area, twice or thrice longer than usual ones (in no area the repetitiveness was so irritating than in this one), and apart from that many map areas that interconnect in various ways made it particularly easy to get lost there. The final fight itself proved to be deliciously challenging, and using some potions became a necessity, and that never had occurred before due to my normal difficulty setting. When the fight ended, there inevitably was an animated wrap-up. I guess its biggest problem was that overall it felt more like a “now go play Zestiria” kind of ending. On the other hand, pretty much the same thing happened to Zestiria’s ending itself – everything was just cut off, and in a completely unforeseeable way. When you get invested in an intricate story, one of the most fun aspects is trying to guess how the characters will achieve their goals (because they always do). All the fun evaporates when the story doesn’t find some clever path that has been hinted through the journey but ends in a Deus ex Machina way because of magic (or some alternative of that, the essence is still the same). You then just think “Oh well, I guess it’s also possible to do that” and go on with your daily stuff. The fate of Velvet was just like that. I don’t know if anything of her ultimate end was said in Zestiria and it would be even more frustrating if the answer is negative. Most of the other characters just went on with their lives almost as if nothing had happened. I can’t really say that apart from Laphicet any of them accomplished much in the first place. A fan of the Tales universe will probably find many lovable points that interconnect both Zestiria and Berseria, and recurring characters are one such thing. Despite the fact that such a connection gives more historical depth for the story, that comes with a price of having less options to wrap Berseria up, and that in my mind turned out to be not the least problem of the game. Maybe making Berseria a stand-alone game would’ve worked better?

Excerpt from the OST: 'Magilou, the great sorceress' by Motoi Sakuraba

     Overall I think I’ll remember Tales of Berseria quite fondly. Thanks, Tales of Zestria the X, for directing my attention to  this game, even if you as a story failed quite a bit yourself. The overarching question of Berseria – whether interests of a single person or society are more important – gives some food for thought and in the end the game provides a definitive answer to that – individuality must always be considered no matter what. Because it’s rather the journey and not the conclusion that counts, the story was engaging enough. Game mechanics may not have been the thing in the world, but as I stayed for the journey and the world, I think my time spent was worth it.I still don’t have the slightest idea what does the name Berseria itself mean (unless it’s a confirmation that Berserk manga will have an ending).

     Some time ago Lethargic Ramblings posted some thoughts on the whole Tales franchise and that, apart from assuring me to write about Berseria, also was entertaining in its own right, so check it out if you haven’t yet.

     Have you played Tales of Berseria? What do you think about it and other games of the franchise?

Scattered Thoughts – what do you get by mixing Urasawa and Tezuka?

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Pluto vol. 2 and Astro Boy vol. 3, both covers feature Astro Boy

     Let’s think for a bit about various remakes, reboots and reimaginings concerning our community. Probably what first comes to mind is the constant stream of news that one anime or another is getting a live action adaptation. And we all know what the general opinion about such stuff usually is – “Oh god why? Not another one!”. Technically, these cases aren’t really remakes, as it involves changing the original medium. Anyway, it’s not unheard of for an anime to get a true remake, as usually it either takes advantage of new technical capabilities (NGE) or, more importantly, also changes the story because the original anime wasn’t very satisfactory (for example FMA or Fate/Stay Night to some extent). Sometimes remakes as well as unending sequels are also used to rekindle interest in long-running franchises such as Sailor Moon. But have you ever come across such a phenomenon in the manga world? Naturally, it’s not common since drawings don’t age as fast but that doesn’t mean that such things don’t exist.

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Osamu Tezuka among his works and a post stamp showing him with Astro Boy

     Let’s move on to the mandatory appreciation sentence about Osamu Tezuka – there probably hasn’t been a more influential person in anime and manga history and there will never be. The details of the history of manga and anime are an interesting topic by itself but it concerns today’s theme only a little. Many of you probably already know that Tezuka was heavily influenced by Disney animation and American comics of the same time period. Tezuka started imitating characters and stories available for him in pre-war Japan, little by little moving on to find his own voice. For a long time his character designs and characters themselves remained very Disney-like, just the right stuff for uncomplicated stories that usually fall into contemporary family friendly slice-of life comedy genre. As Disney and generally all of the Western animation up until now has concentrated on providing entertainment for younger audiences, Tezuka in his time managed to move on. His manga gained more depth (both visually and story-wise), more complex themes such as psychology of human mind and social problems started to appear. Tezuka’s medical education also became an influence to his manga and it wouldn’t be too bold to say that medical schools became more crowded because of his art. Tezuka deserves all the credit for influencing the general look of modern anime, more cost-effective outlook on the animation production compared to the Western animation and most definitely types of stories that both manga and anime tend to tell.

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No way this could be a bad guy

     It’s probably impossible not to have heard anything about Astro Boy or as it was called originally Tetsuwan Atom, meaning Mighty Atom. Tezuka’s famous manga series about a little robot dealing with various usually robot-related problems in a superhero way have received many adaptations, first being live-action tokusatsu series in 1959. The first anime series in 1963 despite featuring some really limited animation also deserves a mention since it was directed by Tezuka himself. Astro Boy franchise proved to be particularly alive and influential, promoting Tezuka’s visual style and forming both anime and manga mediums for years to come. Yet, I don’t consider myself a huge Tezuka fan. The only Astro Boy related material I’ve consumed (that is specifically for this post) is The Greatest Robot on Earth arc from the manga. This arc seems to be among the most liked, and not without a reason. Generally the arc (as I guess more or less the rest of the manga) never really gets out of its simplified storytelling with inconsequential conflicts and not the most believable character actions and motivations. It’s crucial not to expect many deviations from a tone and style that would appeal to children. Most of characters appear to be one-dimensional – for example the evil ruler behaves the way he does because he’s just evil. Some of the choices of the story are questionable if anyone wants it to be realistic – characters fight, then reconcile, then fight again while maintaining a semi-friendly relationship, help one another or just decide to postpone a fight for silly reasons such as not being allowed to fight because someone just said so.  Fighting seems to be the main factor that decides if someone is better than someone else. Even if sometimes some other characteristics are said to be important, ultimately it’s fighting that answers all the questions. The overall mindset of the manga can be clearly illustrated by an example when the bad guy saved Astro Boy and then Uran, Astor Boy’s sister, gave the bad guy some stickers as a reward. Oh dear. The artstyle further emphasizes not the most serious nature of the manga – the cartoonish origins of Tezuka’s style are clear. Both characters and backgrounds appear to be very flat, techniques that are more known to be used for American comics such as squash and stretch are used in many occasions. That works for little comedic moments but also undermines the stakes of the story. For me it felt quite weird – as if I was reading comics knowing that it was actually a manga.

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Just two robots enjoying an afternoon

     Nonetheless, Astro Boy also gives some food for thought, mainly through the main antagonist robot Pluto who is told to destroy all of the most powerful robots, Astro Boy included. Pluto constantly emphasizes that he doesn’t want to fight Astro Boy and does that only because he was programmed so. That creates sort of an inner conflict and ultimately makes Pluto not as much as a villain but more of a tragic character who isn’t fortunate enough to be able to behave the way he would like to. Even so, Tezuka’s shounen world is able to give chances to Pluto to overcome his programming sometimes when it’s convenient to the plot. Ultimately, the story has some interesting aspects but I don’t think you miss anything skipping this arc unless you’re interested in the history of manga.

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A nice background with a part of Naoki Urasawa

     At this point Naoki Urasawa comes into the picture. One of the most prolific mangaka of our times, author of such masterpieces as Monster. I don’t think much is needed to be said about him because his works speak for themselves, being far more accessible than some part of Tezuka’s dated legacy. Having admired Astro Boy since his childhood and possibly naming his protagonist in Monster after a character in Astro Boy, Urasawa opted to rework the The Greatest Robot on Earth arc into something completely different. If you more or less know anything about Urasawa’s style, you should be at least mildly interested – Urasawa’s realism and deep interest into the psychology of the characters at first glance shouldn’t mix well with full of conveniences and very childish Tezuka’s creation.

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An improvement in art of Gesicht, though the handshake remains the same

     It turns out that Urasawa’s end product named Pluto has very little in common with its predecessor apart from the some general plot points and various not necessarily Astro Boy related Tezuka references. To some extent recreating the story and giving soul to the characters wasn’t the most difficult task because Tezuka’s pace was just insane. The original arc’s length doesn’t comprise a full volume while Pluto tells the same story through 8 volumes.  The change of pace can be illustrated by the fact that the first powerful robot to be destroyed – Mont Blanc – in Tezuka’s version appears in only 2 pages but instead of that Urasawa elaborates how Mont Blanc’s destruction affected everyone else in the world – lots of tears, funeral and stuff. That’s a very characteristic feature that makes both versions different. Tezuka just can’t stay in one place for a longer period of time wishing just to continue the story so that the readers won’t get even a slightest chance to be bored. On the other hand Urasawa spends a sufficient time to portray every character as realistically as possible, building relationships and pondering how each of the events concerning really powerful and known robots would affect everyone in the world. To make things more interesting, Urasawa also shifts the main character role to a robot detective Gesicht who received barely any time in Tezuka’s version. Another difference is that Urasawa’s version of the story has far more mystery elements. Tezuka showed the main antagonist from the get go, while Urasawa delayed its complete appearance four fifths of the total length of the story. Needless to say the effect is stunning.

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War isn't pretty

     One huge addition in Pluto is the idea of a past but still quite recent conflict that affected pretty much everyone in the story and shaped their motivations. It’s not hard to guess that United States of Thracia declaring a war to Kingdom of Persia because the latter allegedly constructed robots of mass destruction is connected to the Iraq War. Regardless of what you think of it, Urasawa makes himself clear considering his stance toward the conflict – war can accomplish absolutely nothing. Such moments like when one of the most efficient killing machines wants to learn to play a piano just scream about the meaninglessness of war. The said background then is used to make the characters more connected to the world they’re in. In Pluto every of the most powerful robots gets his own story, sometimes made of vague hints of Tezuka’s version. For example Epsilon at first was just a cautious Australian robot who for some reason cared about some kids. Urasawa expands Epsilon into a person who declined to participate in the Persian war and rather became a caretaker of some of the orphaned kids from the same conflict. This Epsilon is naturally being looked down on for that but just as is with humans, rejecting a fight doesn’t necessarily make you an irredeemable coward. Other robots also receive various motivations such as behaving because of the love of one’s country, developing a healthy rivalry, or just wishing to live the most fulfilling life possible.

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Urasawa's art at its best

     The original Astro Boy had ideas about robot rights and how life would be when there’re robots everywhere. As with everything else, Urasawa expands the idea. The end result is a really interesting world where robots are still bound by strict rules not to lie and not to kill humans but on the other hand they are conscious. Robots try to mimic lifestyle of humans, forming families, adopting robot-kids, in other words just pretending to be what they aren’t. It’s fascinating that the act of crying for a robot might ease a little a great pain, even if the robot has no idea why and how. The portrayed state of society is also thought provoking because robot rights and stuff are still a fairly new concept, evoking even secret anti-robot movements, clearly bearing significance to racial discrimination. One of the most tranquil moments in the early chapters came when Gesicht came to announce the death of a police robot to his wife and experienced her subtle response to that. A little later this scene was heavily contrasted to another one when the same killed robot after some scientific examination was just scrapped into trash with other ordinary junk. Some robots might even feel complicated emotions and be just barely distinguishable from humans but it’s a no brainer for the government to play with robot memories if it suits the needs. Also, if ordered, a robot must kill his fellow robots no matter his own thoughts. All the rules concerning robots and general understanding are just not yet developed enough to make them truly equal to humans, and such a theme is always intriguing to explore.

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Epsilon turns out to be reincarnated Johan from Monster, but only visually

     As well as the story, the art of Pluto is very much Urasawa-like. Perhaps sometimes even a bit too much Urasawa-like. Gesicht’s personality and appearance to some extent resemble inspector Lunge from Monster, but Epsilon is just a twin to Johan (not to mention that both of them are good with kids). Technically that means Nina Fortner, and that’s also pretty much true. Other than that, it’s a usual wide range of facial features that Urasawa excels at. While Tezuka’s character designs are very simplified in order to suit the cartoonish style and various squashing and stretching attempts, the same can’t be said about Pluto’s cast. For example it’s clear from the first panel that there’s something ominous and sad about dr. Tenma even if you don’t know anything about his own story (that actually is quite sad. Check out the origins of Astro Boy if you will). Having more realistic versions of the characters let the reader connect more with the story via many subtle facial expressions that weren’t possible to portray through the cartoonish Tezuka’s designs. To overcome the nature of Astro Boy’s essence, sometimes inventiveness needs to be employed. In Pluto all the powerful robots look precisely like humans, even Astro Boy himself possesses a body of a normal boy. But while in Tezuka’s version two of the most powerful robots were especially inhuman and machine-like, Urasawa decides to make these shapes into mechas wherein actual human-like robots may sit. The locations in Pluto also received more focus – you can easily tell that characters live in an organic world where some technology is present but it doesn’t overshadow the story itself while Tezuka’s world didn’t seem to be that different from our own.

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The two masters

     Probably the only thing that I wasn’t particularly happy about Pluto was the ending that felt too brisk. The story had been woven for a long time with much interest being waken about some certain characters and it feels slightly disappointing when you find out that not all backstories and motives will be told. Yes, it’s a great way for each reader to find his own answers but some clarity and as detailed elaboration as other characters had received would have been welcome.

     Well, the most important difference between the two manga seems to be that Astro Boy was created to suit needs of children – to fascinate them with unusual stories, to let their imaginations run wild with all the possibilities that the future may hold, to show a clear sense of justice when the good guys win and the bad guys are not made fun of but rather being reprimanded, getting embarrassed over their deeds and, if possible, turning to the good side. On the other hand, Urasawa is one of these kids who were touched by Tezuka’s stories and that enabled him to make a new rendition of the same story, only transformed to suit the needs of a more mature person. The mere built-in ability of the story to be transformed speaks much about the deep ideas that Tezuka has hidden in his manga, but it took another master to entangle them and make them presentable mixed with some other expanded statements.

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You don't want to make a robot policeman this mad

     If it wasn’t clear enough up to this point, I’d highly recommend reading Pluto. It’s a sad story about some part of sentient people being discriminated, having a clear anti-war message and delving into the human psychology that’s made even more interested because of the fact that the majority of the analyzed characters are robots. Moreover, the story was already created way before Urasawa even got the idea to start Pluto and that let many details to be put into the beginning of the story that aren’t that comprehensible from the very start and become clear only gradually. It also means that the manga has a high rereadability value, and it’s definitely worth it. Pluto is a very interesting story, combining wonders of a more advanced version our world with deep human drama. The idea to push Astro Boy himself into a supporting role in order to give the spotlight to a more tragic and mature character worked wonders to the story. I think you could enjoy Pluto better without any prior knowledge about the Astro Boy franchise but that doesn’t mean that even a die-hard fan wouldn’t find any unforeseen twists.

     As I’ve already said, Astro Boy is incredibly famous, which might be illustrated by, say, current airing Atom: The Beginning anime. Nonetheless, just recently Pluto has also been noticed – M2, the new studio of legendary Masao Maruyama is going to adapt the manga into an anime series. Don’t miss it!

     Have you read Astro Boy and/or Pluto? What are your thoughts about Tezuka’s and Urasawa’s styles in general? Don’t be shy and please do share your experiences!

Scattered Thoughts – laughing at Kite Liberator

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     Western audiences seem to enjoy an OVA from 1998 called Kite. Technically, it’s a hentai, but there exists a shorter version (approximately 45 min long compared to 60 min) that has all that risky stuff cut out. The shorter version somehow ended up being on Crunchyroll, and there’s where I watched it, so don’t expect me to talk anything about hentai stuff. Just for the record, as far as I know from little research, plotwise (not “plot”-wise) the shorter version is as good, and might even be better without mostly unnecessary 15 additional minutes. Well, it depends on your view towards hentai, but that’s not the aspect I want to discuss now.

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     It’s plain to see why Kite managed to earn some fan-following. There’s a certain charm that 80s and 90s OVAs have – that of dark settings, lots of violence, and, in this case, girls with guns. The animation itself with its roughness gives a nostalgic feeling, something distinct form that lighter computer-enhanced art nowadays. And Kite in all these respects feels very much a child of its time, especially knowing that certainly not all old OVAs were good. The idea of having an assassin girl stuck with some pretty bad people might have been developed into something meaningful, but Kite rather spends time for the content that got deleted in the shorter version. Certainly the OVA doesn’t just state the fact “the protagonist Sawa is a killer” and illustrate it with buckets of blood – there’s some stuff to make you think, but in the very end I don’t find it that satisfactory. Why a girl that can shred her opponents to pieces would do nothing and keep getting used in all sorts of ways for some years only to rebel at a random moment? It might have been an interesting character study, but Kite doesn’t bother to offer the slightest idea what really happens in Sawa’s head.

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And then, 10 years later, there comes a sequel of sorts. Kite Liberator is another OVA, also about an hour-long, but its essence is completely different from its predecessor. Well, I might end up only reciting all the weird plot elements, but as there’s little to talk about characters or themes and I don’t recommend watching it in the first place, I guess it’ll be fine. The director Yasuomi Umetsu probably wanted to make the sequel more diverse to capture more audiences, and in the true 80s and 90s fashion he chose to add some space adventures as well as some cute girls because that’s what people like now. You won’t be the first to question whether space and assassin girls really complement each other that well, but apparently at the time nobody objected.

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     Going on a little tangent, the animation actually might be the best part of the OVA. Some CG space stuff was so incredibly animated that it can easily best many anime projects that use CG even now, almost 10 years later. Even a Hollywood production might get away using something of this caliber. 2D stuff also most of times worked well, action scenes were done at least competently, though for instance two guys shooting at each other dozens of bullets while being completely unshielded and not even grazing one another is a bit annoying. The character designs are clearly aimed at being as moe as possible and it was also more or less a success. On the other hand, there are some definitely weird cuts that feel like they came from a completely different decade compared to the incredible CG.

Excerpt from Kite Liberator; animation by Keita Matsumoto

     But most of times it’s not the animation that the sequel fails at. As a successor to Kite, the later OVA also features a killer girl, and one that looks somewhat similar to Sawa of the original. Sadly, Monaka of Kite Liberator doesn’t have even the implied depth of Sawa. Can an assassin that appears at the right second to save someone from getting killed be taken seriously knowing that other times she dons her dojikko personality and trips and stumbles and falls down a lot while playing a good student as well as a part-time employee at a maid café? Does killing people during spare time and getting embarrassed over being asked on a date by a policeman twice as old seem normal? There’s a scar shown on Monaka’s back while she changes (the only scene to feature the tiniest bit of nakedness), but that as well as the key question of why did Monaka became a killer in the first place never gets any explanation or even a slightest mention at all.

Excerpt from Kite Liberator

     All the maid stuff and playing clumsy has some charm, and some credit definitely should be given for that because in its own right the cuteness and some light comedy aren’t the worst. But does it mix with assassin stuff well? Definitely not, as neither the space stuff does. In its own right it feels a bit ridiculous, but that’s only the top of an iceberg. It’s known that zero gravity and just the general conditions in a space station affect human physiology, causing some bone and muscle atrophies among other things. So that’s no surprise that some special food forms are being developed to counter that. And then there’s the best part – some specially enhanced curry, paired with the effects of solar radiation have a pretty bad effect – some crew members transform into giant bony killing machines! It just happens that one of them is in fact Monaka’s father! And, of course, he ends up travelling back on Earth only to meet his daughter who has been instructed to kill that weird monster! She succeeds in the end, but wait, no, the dad regenerates, and… that’s the end. Oh boy…

Excerpt from Kite Liberator; animation by Nozomu Abe

     I don’t even have the words to explain how weird, nonsensical and laughable this mess of Kite Liberator really is. The ideas on their own can work, as the original Kite has more or less shown, but one can only guess what food poisoning made the creators make such a mishmash of a plot, mixing every possible idea that can be “cool”. Kite Liberator  for me doesn’t make the slightest sense no matter how I think about it. Also, why name such a project a sequel to the original Kite in the first place? The only thing that connects them is a gun both Sawa and Monaka use. It can be argued that a coworker of Monaka might actually be Sawa, and one policeman also might be a certain reappearing guy but that’s just a random theory from someone who believes that a project and its sequel should have some common points even if they have absolutely no effect on the story.

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     Kite Liberator is one of its kind, and thank goodness that it’s only one. I don’t deem its predecessor particularly good but this OVA is just ridiculous. Watch it only if you aren’t afraid to lose an hour of your life in exchange of the possibility to get some laughs at how incompetent a story can be.

Scattered Thoughts – Nijigahara Holograph, Haruki Murakami, and the appeal of Inio Asano (3/3)

     This is the final part of the write-up and it concerns primarily Nijigahara Holograph. The first part about realism in Inio Asano’s works is here and the second about Asano’s dark world might be found here.

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     After all these thoughts Nijigahara Holograph, a manga of only one volume, seems as Asano-ish as possible, but also having its own charm. The manga doesn’t have as much optimism as Solanin, and in that respect it’s more like a similar iteration of Oyasumi Punpun’s world. The limited length doesn’t allow to delve deep into the characters’ inner worlds, but it isn’t that needed since Asano manages to get the message across by using old as ages method of “show, don’t tell”. For example, bruises on an arm of a child in just one panel reflect the relationship with his parents, and as in that case it’s the parents that are the center of that sub-story, the conclusions about them can be made very quickly without any elaboration that needs lots of words. It’s probably for the best since then the readers can come to their own conclusions without being swayed by the subjective thought trains of the characters themselves.

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     The reader must be prepared to think also because Nijigahara Holograph is somewhat further from other Asano stories since it contains some unnatural phenomenon – time loops, to some extent repeating events and the mystic atmosphere to create an unsettling mood. Characters live their lives as all normal people do, but you feel that everything is a bit more complicated. As everyday routine in all Asano’s stories is portrayed to be suffocating, Nijigahara Holograph goes further – many entangled lives are meshed into an endless repeating cycle of suffering. Some characters are slightly aware of it, and it’s only more painful. The mysticism is also expressed  visually, as many panels are invaded by butterflies that look like something straight from Junji Ito’s works – being something unknown, incomprehensible, awe-inspiring.

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     Broken characters are inevitably here. What made them that way? Well, just one wrong decision, one wrong step can lead to haunting memories for a long time. It may be thought of as karma at its cruelest – if one gives in to his desires, there will always be a dark shadow hanging over. Even the most normal looking person inside may prove to be not that harmless as there’s a monster in every character of the manga, only some are hidden better than others, but one way or another in the end they come out. It all comes out as an idea that you can’t escape your past – it follows you whenever you go, influencing your future decisions. Another neat idea Asano uses here as well as in Subarashii Sekai is that there are countless unexpected connections between the characters. Take for example a girl working in a cafe owned by the brother of her former classmate. Then one day the cafe is visited by the girl’s former teacher, who also has connections with the owner. The characters themselves might not be fully aware of their intertwining fates, but the connections exist, and in this way past events may have even bigger influence over the future. Also it’s interesting that some events may repeat themselves – not exactly, but enough to be recognized because of some specific prop, character circumstances and so on.

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     I know that everything I said is very vague, but just have faith that if you want to experience Asano’s stories but don’t have much time, Nijigahara Holograph may as well be a good start. This manga encompasses many of recurring themes and ideas, also having its own identity and overall working as a good example of what Asano is capable of. It’s rather easy to just skim through the pages getting only a sensation of something half-baked and weird, but I think on a closer inspection there’s lots of interesting stuff to ponder about.

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     I wish there was even wider knowledge and appreciation of Asano’s works. of course there was that Solanin live action film, but probably it would be naïve to expect an anime adaptation of pretty much anything Asano has written. Well, to think positively, there is a precedent of Aku no Hana getting an anime, and that’s encouraging, since Shuzo Oshimi is another mangaka whose exceptionally beautiful art is able to accompany mature and complicated stories. There is also one interesting connection between Haruki Murakami and anime – Yoshitoshi ABe was heavily influenced by Murakami’s imagery in his Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World when creating the world of Haibane Renmei. The Wall, the Clock Tower, the Library and other things appear in both works and evoke similar feelings, even if the circumstances are completely different. These facts are not much, but stories that invite thinking and reassessing your relationship with the world are slowly getting more appreciation and acceptance through different mediums. Well, you don’t even need to go far, last season’s Kuzu no Honkai provided some interesting food for thought. And what’s more interesting, there exists one photo of Kengo Hanazawa, the author of I am a Hero and a good friend of Asano in Asano’s office. And guess what manga lies on a table behind? No wonder since thematically Umibe no Onnanoko and Kuzu no Honkai have many common points.

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     So yeah, I guess you have grasped a bit of what kind of person Inio Asano is and what his stories are like. At this point it’s useful to remember Haruki Murakami for a second. Both of the creators wander along existential themes and their characters to some extent are very similar. Why does that appeal so much to me?  I guess because I (as probably everyone) have come to question my place in the world, what am I really supposed to do with my life and whether am I not wasting it and if yes then if it’s really wrong; is it ok to dream knowing that you can’t achieve something you wish for? If not, when is the right time to stop? Should I be content with everything I have or should I try more? And then what would be the point of achieving anything? The answers the readers find may be completely different, but that’s beside the point.

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     It’s interesting and a bit disheartening that Asano’s manga is, as he himself put, a blend of things that have meaning and things that have absolutely none. It’s like a gamble trying to guess what the author intended and what he didn’t. Either way even if intended to be meaningless (for Asano), some symbols still can be interpreted. Also, some at the first sight meaningless things might have some symbolism, but knowing Asano, sometimes you just have no chance to guess the right answer. Some ideas are deeply integrated into the narrative, others are there just because Asano wanted to do that for apparently no reason. It’s a bit of a mess, but I’d call it  one of Asano’s strengths – you can achieve many different interpretations, and some of them can be completely opposite to what the author intended, but they nonetheless can be seen as valid in their own right. There are many possible meanings, and you can chose what you like.  An author who makes his audience think about the meaning of the art is automatically a very good one. Every piece of art that encourages you to question anything is a step towards being a wiser person, being able to avoid some of the mistakes of the unlucky characters, and Asano can certainly provide that.

     Have you read any of Asano’s works? What do you think of them?

Scattered Thoughts – Nijigahara Holograph, Haruki Murakami, and the appeal of Inio Asano (2/3)

     The first part where I talk about the realism in Inio Asano’s works and from where does it originate may be found here. Now it’s time to think about how Asano transforms the world to suit his stories and finally to bring some thoughts about Nijigahara Holograph in the third part.

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     It’s not hard to agree that generally manga industry tries to promote positive, inspiring and uplifting stories (pretty much typical shounen stuff), so inevitably there appears a niche for some deeper studies of darker characters that may come close to being antiheroes. Though the world in Asano’s manga is shining with realism, it also is created to be very dark, a place where no one would rather live. For example school life in Asano’s works definitely isn’t the pinnacle of human existence as many anime seem to propose. Children are often left to their own devices as adults have their own problems and that ensures survival of the fittest with bullying at its best. Asano portrays school experience as a journey to a wider and always expanding world, but it has little parental guidance or visible influence by the teachers – kids try things on their own, discover ways to deal with various problems on their own, and just try to survive an environment that’s certainly not the most sympathetic.

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     It’s not only school – anytime and anywhere tragedies sometimes just happen, sometimes you invite them yourself, but nobody is safe. There’s no such thing like “oh no, my friend was eaten by zombies, but after two chapters I’m absolutely alright like nothing happened”. Unpleasant things ensure that the characters are affected to the core as it provides means to dig deeper into human nature. Characters may not show how their experiences influence their decisions, but at critical moments you see that even the most secretive emotion may find a way through all the barriers. Widely appreciated Oyasumi Punpun begins like a somehow weird but ultimately harmless tale of a little boy trying to find a place under the sun and his journey through years, but the influence of the unfriendly world increases as the time goes on and by the end you end up being almost terrified what became of that sweet little kid, and the saddest part is that many of his not the best decisions weren’t his fault. Also, the viewer is left to ponder whether at the start Punpun’s life was any different from that of a random statistically averaged person and if truly everything that occurred could happen to anyone – is it true that either you’re just lucky or you aren’t? The effect is enhanced by the fact that Punpun himself is made to look like a bird-like doodle – naturally his emotions are visualized in a limited way so the reader may imagine himself in Punpun’s boots a lot easier. Punpun isn’t a character meant to be clear cut and having a rigidly defined personality – you may construct your own Punpun from a doodle to an actual person like any other.

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     Punpun starts as a fairly normal person, but as the characters are just the products of their own universe, probably there was no right way for him from the start.  Asano’s rather pessimistic world just isn’t forgiving for any little mistake that may come to haunt you later, seemingly harmless choices may lead to sad outcomes. Then it’s no wonder that pretty much all of Asano’s characters are broken people in one way or another. Each of them comes into the society naïve and hopeful but then the life just bashes their hopes, dreams and entire worldviews and in return thrusts a question “What will you do now?” The answer obviously is “I don’t know” and at this point characters begin to differ by trying to answer the question properly to the best of their abilities.

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     As Asano’s world is unrelenting, it’s filled with various individuals some of whom may appear to have gone absolutely nuts. To some extent that’s again a confirmation how hard is to live there. Some characters use this kind of behavior only as a way of dealing with their problems but everyone has his own internal logic and what’s perfectly fine with them. On the surface that may seem abnormal but that’s how Asano’s characters are. To think metatextually, some of these weird moments provide a little bit of comedy relief that brings a tiny ray of humor in seeing how ridiculous the world actually is apart from all the gloomy stuff. The humor often comes from totally unexpected and at the first glance illogical actions of the characters, almost on the same level as in Nichijou. Anyway, ultimately Asano’s existential questions lead to the conclusion that virtually no one knows exactly how to live. Everything just happens and in a blink of an eye you can end up in a horrible mess that no one warned you about. The harsh environment has broken many, shattering dreams and wishes, but as lonely creatures as they are, Asano’s characters strive to form connections and somehow live on.

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     Even a person without goals or aspirations still needs to live somehow. An idea being explored in practically all of Asano’s work is the necessity to choose your future. Probably the two most important decisions in human life are the choice of a partner and a choice of profession, and Asano’s characters struggle with both of them as there is no right way do one or another and everyone just has to find his own path which usually isn’t that filled with joy. It’s practically impossible to find a perfect partner, especially since at first we are prone to overestimate the good points of a person we want to like. Entangled in imperfect relationships, Asano’s characters sometimes try to go their separate ways only to begin a new cycle of imperfectness. Sometimes they try to work things out and stick together even if there seems to be no logic behind it. Speaking about relationships, Asano doesn’t shy from sexuality. He tries to portray it as a very casual thing, just like eating lunch or something similar and that makes his works exceptional among many stuff nowadays where there’s tons of teasing and fanservice, but everything ends with only that. Well, I myself am not a person who particularly looks for such scenes in manga and anime, but the idea of treating it as a normal thing once again brings the realism, or rather a world without thinking about sexuality as a stigma. A perfect example of that is another Asano manga – in Umibe no Onnanoko characters (that are just in the beginning of their independent lives) experiment, err, try again, and just continue living on as best they can.

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     The other big question isn’t any easier. No one during their school years wants to become an average person, that is to work long hours of a salary man or, even worse, to be able only to achieve a position of a part time shop assistant. Continuing education in a college in this regard is a no better solution since a person at that point usually still doesn’t have a slightest idea what he wants to do with his life. Or rather, what he could do with his life because as children the characters have many huge dreams but virtually all of them are shattered sooner or later. Despite of that, usually there are opportunities to break out of all these cycles of misfortune. Not every character is able to make the right step, but among all the unhappiness there are moments of joy and salvation, moments when someone just finds the right answer to one of the multitude of questions that the life continues to ask.

     Please continue reading the final part about Nijigahara Holograph here. The first part examining Asano’s realism may be found here.

Scattered Thoughts – Nijigahara Holograph, Haruki Murakami, and the appeal of Inio Asano (1/3)

     A week ago this blog celebrated its one year birthday. Well, celebrated might not be the best word since I think it’s a pretty arbitrary amount of time, but anyway I’m generally very pleased that this project keeps going. To be frank I didn’t expect to manage not to stop some time soon in the beginning, but finding people who read your stuff and, more importantly, people who themselves write some interesting things has been an amazing experience. Thank you everyone for encouraging me to continue, I hope this won’t be the last time I can write something like this. What is better in this case than some musings over my favorite mangaka among other things?

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     The post ended up being a lot longer than I thought so this is the first part (concerning realism in Asano’s manga), the second (about the darkness in the Asano’s world) is here, and third (finally about Nijigahara Holograph) is here.

     To start from pretty far, let’s talk for a bit about Haruki Murakami. Yes, he’s not some obscure animator or mangaka, he’s the guy who almost won Nobel Prize in Literature. I’m not particularly well-versed in his works, but they have definitely left an impression on me. As far as I know, there always has been an easily observable theme uniting many of Murakami’s stories. That is, his protagonists most of times may just be the same person, experiencing different lives in parallel universes, but ultimately his character remains more or less constant.  Murakami’s protagonist is usually going with the flow, being not especially happy about his place in the world, but in the end being rather content, or just not courageous enough to make effort and change. Reading the surreal stories (A Wild Sheep Chase for example – you can’t get more mystical than that) brings a melancholic feeling, not unrelated to the intellectual side of the protagonist and particularly his interest in music. There also appears some secret wish to experience a different world, to escape from the ordinary life, to be able to do something different and avoid being just a quite unsuccessful and lonely dude with some regrets, a person whose absence wouldn’t be mourned. Precisely this feeling and the ability to create stories to be as realistic as possible is the connection that arises between Murakami and the person I really want to talk about.

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     If you have ventured at least a little into the world of manga, the chance is pretty high that you have heard of Inio Asano. His best known work Oyasumi Punpun (or Goodnight Punpun as it’s named by the current release by Viz) stands in a very high 5th place on MAL – not that it’s a very meaningful fact, but still. Asano definitely has much to say and his stories inevitably invite discussions, though not every comment about them may be a positive one. Still, I deem Asano to be one of the top creators in the seinen demographic range, being an expert in not shying away from topics and ideas that are usually marginalized or completely omitted from many mainstream manga. Yet, despite all the weird or sometimes even creepy elements Asano’s works are very deeply rooted in the reality and suspension of disbelief that is needed in any, say, “stuck in an RPG world” kind of anime here isn’t as needed. To think about it, pretty much every manga Asano has written could (in theory) be fairly easy adapted into a live action movie (Solanin already has been). Also, as the mangaka himself said, he’s trying to create stories that are not solely based on experiences of a single character, but rather an ensemble of several, and that makes sense – everyone is the main character of his own life and can be perceived as a temporary co-protagonist of some huge story going on. Another virtue is that Asano consciously doesn’t try to fit into a single genre – life doesn’t attempt that either. In the real life about anything could happen at any moment, from comedy to horror and beyond.

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     All these things sound good in theory but it would arguably have far less impact on the reader if everything had been only made up. There are some interviews on the Internet where you can get to know Asano better than just an empty name on the title page. It’s fascinating to get some glimpses of his own life and mindset in order to get a better understanding of his manga. The fact is that Asano (as probably any other creator) pulls inspirations from his own experiences, and that makes his manga feel more genuine, if not more personal. Take for example such little and pretty unconventional detail like a character (a boy, just for the record) having a complex because his chest is a little caved in and because of that he shies from the pool activities at school. It feels a little weird, but you can’t deny a specific flavor that grounded real life experiences like this one brings to a fictional story. Murakami-ish feeling of nihilism and existentialism that’s so inherent to Asano’s stories to some extent may be traced from the mangaka’s perspective on life. Asano clearly isn’t the most untroubled person in the world, and not only because of the difficult dilemma how to find balance between drawing what he really wants and what actually sells. Sometimes drawing manga for him is a way to experience some kind of an auto-psychological help. It’s probably impossible to tell which experiences and story elements had been real and what is only thought up, but the base is clearly heart-felt and it shows.

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     Another case of Asano’s life seeping in his works might be well illustrated by Solanin – a manga about young adults who try to counter their bland lives by playing in a band. Asano himself isn’t any stranger to music, during his time at a university having played in a band. Sometimes he still returns to music for his own personal indulgence. In Solanin you can feel a mindset of a person who wants to continue doing what he enjoys, but also understanding that to be able to earn a living from that is not that realistic since you have to be particularly talented and lucky to be able to climb up in the entertainment business. Not everyone is meant to become a professional musician and this notion stands heavy above everyone. At this point I can do nothing but introduce some thoughts about Asian Kung-Fu Generation, a band (that I adore very much) that probably reminds the majority of people only of Naruto openings. Yet, it’s not unrelated to Asano. I’ve mentioned that Solanin has been adapted to a live action film and the ending song (lyrics by Asano himself) that is the climax of the story was created by AKG, whose garage-rock existence began just as any other music club experiment. AKG is the dream that Asano’s characters want to achieve and because of that AKG’s music for me feels very compatible with Asano’s stories. It’ s nothing strange after all, as both the mangaka and the band are the faces of the same generation with pretty much the same worries, same influences and same worldview.

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     Visually anything Asano draws is an eye candy. The character designs might not be realistic per se, but they are definitely beautiful, and when you’re immersed in the story, the difference from the real faces is negligible. Every emotion is conveyed well so you can do nothing but admire every single page. The backgrounds also deserve a mention. According to the artist himself, “if you googled “Inio Asano” back when my first volume came out, you’d only get six results, and one of them described me as being “just awful at backgrounds”, which I really hated, so I started trying all sorts of different methods”. That included tracing the backgrounds from photos. That’s a lot of work, to the point of becoming a pain in the ass, but the results are just incredible. There are opinions that such extremely detailed backgrounds may distract from the real action or undermine the emotional value of some key panels, but I believe it just deserves lots of respect, making every panel a true work of art.

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     It can be argued that every manga has these features – the author getting inspirations from his own life and trying to adapt his art to the stories he wants to tell. Yet in Asano’s case I think these features are pushed far beyond average – sometimes it looks like you are reading a diary of a person who chose to be represented by his characters. That feels exceptionally real, and the photorealistic artstyle enhances it many times. Still, as realistic as it is, Asano’s world doesn’t offer a rosy-colored life to the point of becoming a truly dark place. And more about that in the second part. The third part covers Nijigahara Holograph.

Scattered Thoughts – expanded universes of original anime shorts

     There have been many instances when a manga receives an OVA and only then (if everything goes well) is promoted to a full TV series, just like, say, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu or Mirai Nikki. To decide whether the source material is worthy of a longer adaptation in this case is rather easy since the story is already there. With original productions it’s a bit complicated because no one can really tell how everything will turn out to be and much more faith must be placed upon the creators. Nonetheless, some OVAs or shorts are lucky enough to become expanded. But then a question arises – is the new version able to deliver as well as the original did? Let’s take a look at some anime shorts (or OVAs) getting reworked into something bigger.

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     Death Billiards and its successor Death Parade might be the most well-known and widely appreciated case of the expansion of an OVA. As every year, in 2013 “Young Animator Training Project” funded 4 half an hour anime OVAs and as one of the participants, Madhouse gave the reins to Yuzuru Tachikawa, who before that had directed one episode of Steins;Gate, but later on contributed to various shows such as Kill la Kill, Shingeki no Kyojin, Zankyou no Terror, and, probably most importantly, was the director of Mob Psycho 100. The guy clearly has some talent, and it clearly shows in Death Billiards. The story follows a bartender and his assistant in a bar where people, usually paired, come after their deaths. Two of newcomers, still not knowing that they have already passed away, must play a game (this time, of course, billiards), which makes them remember their pasts and seriously compete against each other, because after the game both are judged by the bartender and directed to their appropriate afterlives. To see how people act when the stakes are incredibly high is always an interesting thing, and the OVA pushed the two participants to their extremes. The ending concerning the outcome of the game was left rather ambiguous, and that also remained an aspect of the TV anime that came 2 years later.

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     Death Parade chose to tell more episodic stories and most of times (excluding episode 6 that stood out like a sore thumb) they were as interesting, or even more complicated and powerful, as the bartender may not always make the right decision. Later on the story became focused on the bartender’s assistant, and it also worked out pretty well. Another huge positive was the OP “Flyers” by BRADIO that instantly became fan favorite. Even if at that time the old Madhouse was no more with MAPPA having already formed, the anime showed that the studio is still capable of amassing some great staff to make something beautiful. Everything wasn’t as rosy, though. The episode 6 felt incredibly out of tune compared to the rest of the series, other quirky and interesting colleagues of the bartender were introduced, but that lead nowhere. Next to the usual stories, there constantly was an undercurrent of something happening that might become even more enamoring compared to the stories of the attendants of the bar, but… I don’t know, maybe the creators were aiming to get a second season, but that plotline even at the very end felt nowhere near completed. Anyway, Death Parade still is an incredibly entertaining show, more times than not successfully trying to unravel human psychology when a person is at an extreme situation.

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     Little Witch Academia is another good example of a limited project that later on become something far huger. I have written a bit about the first OVA (and something about its the characters) that was also funded by the same “Young Animator Training Project” and also during the same year as Death Billiards. Some time later Trigger followed it with a longer film crowdfunded using Kickstarter, and finally now the TV anime is airing, even though its availability isn’t something to cheer about. It may not be the best idea to judge a show whose not even a third of all the episodes have already aired, but as we have almost passed that mark, there are some tendencies of the TV anime differing from the original project.

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     As the story of Death Billiards could be slipped somewhere between the episodes of Death Parade, TV LWA chose to completely reboot everything right from the start. There aren’t any huge changes, the characters and their motivations are the same, and some scenes are almost identical, albeit a bit differently shot or just expanded. There doesn’t seem to be any big problems with the show, but also I can’t say that it’s the most fantastic anime of all time. Sure, especially at the start there were scenes that only Trigger could do with all of their enthusiasm and skill, but essentially TV LWA is aiming to be more of a slice of life show. There’s nothing bad with it, only the original LWA was done in a way that it’s almost impossible to surpass it – fast pacing, lots of stuff to tell, simple but engaging storytelling and top-tier animation was certainly an achievement to look at with awe. The TV anime inevitably is more relaxed, having to spread the resources through all of the 25 (I’m still not sure if it’s a good idea) episodes, delving more into the inner worlds of the characters and just doing stuff rather than offering all-out action or a tight-knit story with clear objectives. It’s fun, it’s beautiful, it’s charming, but sadly not really reaching the heights of the original LWA. So far.

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     The recent Ryuu no Haisha came into being from a completely different origin – a collection of unconnected and very diverse anime shorts known as Nihon Animator Mihonichi, probably best known for the episode 3 ME!ME!ME!. As the main person behind the series was Hideaki Anno with his studio Khara, it was inevitable that many of the shorts had at least partial ties with NGE. Nevertheless, the first episode didn’t start this trend and delivered quite a confusing story under a name Ryuu no Haisha. As with many other shorts, this one makes an impression that there definitely is a greater story thought out behind not even a 10 minute running length, but the format limited any more prominent developments. After all, the goal of the series is to showcase the abilities of different directors and animators, and because of that some of the shorts don’t even have a plot to begin with. Ryuu no Haisha certainly does, its director Kazuya Tsurumaki having been heavily involved with NGE reboots, KareKano and FLCL, not to mention that Hideaki Anno himself is also on board.

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     How did the expansion to one and a half hour length work? Well, for starters everything started making sense, as the story of the short was nicely incorporated into the new material. The short only glanced over a story of a girl who became a dragon dentist (as weird as it sounds) without providing any further explanations. But now there’s a lot of new material, but even as long as it is, Ryuu no Haisha would benefit from even more elaborations about the world and how everything works. The dragon (and of course the strange abilities of its teeth) itself remains a mystery – is it a living creature of flesh and bone, does it have some spiritual significance? The dragon’s body due to CG looks like it’s covered with carved metal, so even a hypothesis of a (partly) cyborgic nature of a dragon may not be as far off a target as it may seem at first. Speaking about the visuals, the character designs were upgraded to look more contemporary though the previous ruff look also wasn’t that bad. Ryuu no Haisha features lots of CG, and especially in the first episode it was handled very well – the mushi (definitely a reference to Mushishi) who harm the teeth look very surreal (as they should) and detailed, but as the second episode has many moving mechanical things such as planes and stuff, CG becomes more apparent, but certainly not as bad as, say, some recent shows about shaking hands. It’s probably no mystery that some scenes made me remember none other than End of Eva as well as ME!ME!ME!. Everything sounds very good, and most of time it really is, but nonetheless I think that the deeper themes were only touched but not explored as well as they could have been, the mechanics of the teeth doing strange things weren’t even glanced at as if it’s a natural thing (and in that world it may be so, but the viewers don’t think that way, though on the other hand no explanation might be a better choice compared to a bad one). Both of the villains fulfill their duties but doesn’t come close to being truly great. Especially the first one and her motivations left me scratching my head. Despite that Hideaki Anno and his pals definitely know how to make anime. I’d rather get the fourth NGE film sooner, but such a little side project with undeniable quality also deserves to be noticed.

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     Are there similarities between these three expansions of anime shorts? Yes, but not that many. Usually it’s not hard to tell whether a particular short has some potential and hides a grander story behind, but sadly not many shorts are lucky enough to get an opportunity to realize that potential. When such a project is green-lit, everything depends on the available resources – some anime may surpass its predecessor by far, some may struggle to retain the quality. Also, usually the longer a project is, the higher probability to mess it up somewhere. It’s not always the best choice to pursue an expansion in the first place when the resources are particularly limited or the story doesn’t respond to the stretching that well. Anyway, even if it’s probably more easy to make a great anime short than to elaborate it, it’s gratifying to know that there are special initiatives (though not as many as there could be) that let young directors and animators show their skills and in certain cases  get opportunities to evolve their ideas further, thus possibly starting successful careers.

     What are your thoughts about these 3 expanded universes? Do you know any other examples of such kind? Please share!

Scattered Thoughts – Hanabi, queen of complicated relationships

     Only rarely anime romances stray away from the usual formula that ultimately ends the story with a shy kiss or just the joyous action of holding hands. Sure, it’s the ride that matters but sometimes you just want to get something that goes beyond the everyday tropes. And so to the fray comes Kuzu no Honkai with its straightforward breach of the usual barriers. It can be that only the bare fact of showing the more mature side for me acts as a factor making the show look very good. Sure, you can argue that you don’t need to go that far and introduce so many difficult relationships without (possibly) enough time to explore all of them, but I want to overlook that. It’s another question how much realism is in the story, but regardless of the answer I’m very glad that I started watching the show, and not the last positive factor deciding was the complexity of the relationships between the characters and their exploration. You needn’t look far – the very main girl Hanabi can be an example of the mess that happens between people. Let’s stick with her and dig a little deeper.

Before going further I must say that all the thoughts crystalized after the fourth episode of Kuzu no Honkai so in the long run not every idea may retain some meaning. And, of course, beware of spoilers.


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      Hanabi’s childhood friend, being a pretty much your usual osananajimi character, isn’t the most interesting guy ever, and he states that himself very clearly. Hanabi’s infatuation with him could be thought of as a whim of her childish side, but she truly believes her love. As far as osananajimis go, Narumi isn’t the worst of them all – he had plenty of time to take care of young Hanabi, standing as a big brother character, which makes Hanabi’s choice of her significant one a bit weird. Yet, I can totally believe that her helper, savior and friend at some point in Hanabi’s head became someone more important in absence of other suitable guys. Another factor that got the pair closer was the fact that they both have incomplete families, so sticking together seemed a logical choice. Thinking about the situation now, Hanabi still firmly believes her love, though so much time spent with Narumi treating her like a little sister has made Hanabi’s wish of being together seem more like an unreachable fantasy. She would like to get a resolve, but the fear of being rejected (especially since Narumi has shown some interest in Akane), leaves Hanabi pondering that after all she could live with her unspoken feelings, if only Narumi wouldn’t be snatched by someone else. Yet, even the appearance of Akane didn’t push Hanabi that much – she tried doing something, but that was not enough. Also, Hanabi still doesn’t want to lose her brother but that’s a price to pay in exchange for the possibility of getting a lover, and the price still looks too high.


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      Thinking about Hanabi and Moka is very interesting because these almost non-interacting characters have strikingly similar stories. Moka, just like Hanabi loves a more mature guy whom she has known for a very long time, but the guy sees her only as a sister because he already has someone else in mind. The main difference then between Hanabi and Moka is that the latter one isn’t afraid of expressing her feelings. I think that to a certain extent Hanabi, being a more cautious person, looks up to that but also at the same time despises Moka’s actions since she’s so childishly persevere even if her love is unrequired. This makes Hanabi feel that her choice of not approaching Narumi may be the right one, as Mugi certainly isn’t very comfortable and happy about Moka’s advances and generally being a nuisance. From here flows some part of Hanabi’s harshness towards her almost-rival – she understands that it isn’t very fair of her to do so, but even if Hanabi would concede the rights to Mugi, Moka would hardly be able to form her dreamlike relationship. Harsh treatment also drives Moka away from Mugi, so that suits both Hanabi and Mugi in retaining their relationship. Yet, the most significant factor is that Hanabi actually enjoys being superior, thus becoming similar to Akane. Moka’s helpless shout that Hanabi only uses Mugi isn’t wrong per se, it’s just that Mugi also uses Hanabi for the same reason, and for such a girl like Moka their actions probably would be incomprehensible, even if she understood them.


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     It all started with a simple wish by both sides to be able to talk to someone about their unrequired feelings and to get rid of loneliness. Mugi was already familiar with his past senpai’s stance of being just friends with benefits and nothing more, so he was content just sharing a secret with someone who also needed some help in the same department. Hanabi, being less experienced and more strangled by her loneliness initiated the relationship on a whim almost as a joke, but Mugi complied, suggesting that they’d think about each other as a substitute. The relationship ended up being one where you can talk about your problems, knowing that the other doesn’t care very much, and also get some material to imagine what a true relationship would feel like, even if at some moments both Hanabi and Mugi just want to see the world burn. Akane getting along with Narumi bolstered the pair’s bond, as their problems became mutual. When Hanabi eventually learned what a person Akane is, her frustration became even bigger – she is unable to reach Narumi while the attachment to Mugi was achieved incredibly easily. If the one Hanabi loves had been Mugi, she would be already happy. Hanabi wishes she could behave so casually with Narumi without her fear of being rejected. Also getting more intimate with Mugi is far simpler than with Ecchan. Both are able to be what they truly are without being forced to behave as best they can in front of their special ones. Even if in the future the couple will be able to become to each other something more than a substitute and a makeshift friend, now Hanabi is aware that she is still rather independent and doesn’t want to force all her problems and thoughts on Mugi. Hanabi feels that for her Mugi is needed (as she is for him, though probably to a lesser extent), but if things change, she won’t hesitate to ditch him aside but now Hanabi still cares enough not to share the least bit of Mugi with Moka.


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     Hanabi’s relationship with Akane is very ambiguous. These two don’t cross their paths very often but with Akane’s advances towards Narumi the conflict is inevitable. At first, Narumi’s affection alone was enough to make Hanabi annoyed and worried, but it turns out there are bigger problems. Akane, being a master player guessed Hanabi’s feelings, while an accident at a diner revealed Akane’s cards to her counterpart. Thus both of them are aware of each other and are willing to have a game. Hanabi’s resolve to somehow eliminate Narumi’s and Akane’s relationship after learning about the latter’s behavior doubled, but what really shocked her was that Akane’s motivations are exactly opposite to her own (that’s also fitting as Hanabi is dark haired and dresses in darker colors). It was unthinkable for Hanabi to see that someone could so openly go against her own idea that unrequired love is gross and, well, really unrequired, as Hanabi herself has felt by her inability to respond to Ecchan. Akane sees Hanabi’s situation as an opportunity to show her superiority, to win someone and feel better than a girl she bested. That little talk before the bell rang told Hanabi a lot, and to some extent made her admire Akane a little as someone who can make her prey hers without a blink, while Hanabi isn’t able to get what she wants. To Hanabi’s disgust, she realizes that she actually likes being superior to Moka and in that regard the biggest difference between Akane and Hanabi is the former’s experience.


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     Ecchan’s confession for Hanabi was very painful. Her only present close friend without Ecchan is only Mugi, so any change in the relationship between the two girls risks destroying that cherished friendship. Hanabi is alright with calling herself scum for loving without an answer but she’s unable to retain her way of thinking or to add such label to Ecchan. Hanabi also feels left out as Ecchan, as well as Narumi were all able to confess while she doesn’t have the courage. As with Mugi, everything would be so easy if only she could see Ecchan not as a friend. With Ecchan’s confession the friendship inevitably was changed, and Hanabi feels sorry for Ecchan, wanting to comfort her and to be able to answer her, but that’s not possible. Ecchan sees that, but, being desperate, pushes forward. The outcome is very sorry – Ecchan can get the false joy of being closer to Hanabi than ever but knowing that it’s a lie. Hanabi still wants to give everything she can to Ecchan knowing that’s never going to be enough. She could exchange Mugi for Ecchan, but Hanabi isn’t willing to see her only real friend as a substitute for someone thus further destroying everything that their relationship still had.


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     As basically every character in Kuzu no Honkai (except Akane) Hanabi is very frustrated and unable to reach a certain person. Her other relationships are just a mess of entangled feelings, mixed between other characters, so I guess I can say that it has realism. Sure, you probably won’t find such a rich web of motives, wishes and actions very often, but it feels real enough. As Hanabi’s other relationships are basically houses of cards, some already crumbling and others not even built, she views herself very critically and is unhappy by choices she is given and outcomes of her decisions. It’s not very often that an anime character would be able to accuse others of something, and then to be able to understand that she’s actually the same and after the realization to be able to live with it. Hanabi despises her inability to overcome the fear of being rejected, wanting to continue the stalemate situation with Narumi, wants to help Ecchan, but understands that there’s nothing she can do, tries to drown her frustrations in the toxicity of the relationship with Mugi and overall sees no light in the end of the tunnel. Akane’s coming shakes her world to the core, as Hanabi with a possibility of losing Narumi realizes her similarity to a person she hates the most, and as with everyone else, our inexperienced girl just sinks more and more.

Even if I have read the manga, I eagerly await the upcoming episodes as Kuzu no Honkai continues to execute almost perfectly. Do you think my thoughts were more or less on point? If you have any insights, please share!

Scattered Thoughts – Character similarities in Nichijou and Little Witch Academia

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     Quite an unusual topic, isn’t it? Everything began when a few days ago I was travelling a bus and just randomly thought about the two original Little Witch Academia films (that I will finish writing about sooner rather than later hopefully) and at the same time my thoughts were meandering around a certain 3×3 that I made, which (of course) contained Nichijou. As I’m not the best person to think about two separate things at the same time, everything got a bit mixed up and I ended up with some striking comparisons. It’s probably not a big deal, but I still wanted to share it.

     As far as I know, both of the original creators of their respective shows – Keiichi Arawi of Nichijou manga and Yoh Yoshinari of LWA – have no more or less noticeable ties so unless Yoshinari has come across Nichijou at some point (which in itself would be interesting), there’s some intriguing character archetypes thing going on. I probably needn’t say that the context in which the characters appear is also vastly different – Nichijou primarily concerns various unordinary things happening among very down to earth stuff for the sake of a good laugh, while LWA, which could be far easier compared to a hybrid of Harry Potter and Disney films, just tells a story of an ordinary girl among magical stuff.

Round 1 – Yuuko Aioi and Atsuko Kagari

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     As Akko undoubtedly is the single protagonist in LWA, Yukko shares a lot of screen time with other characters, but she still remains the central piece of the show, through whose eyes we see many of the unordinary situations. Is there some better unifying aspect? Yes, there is. Both of the heroines share the same slightly tomboyish attitude and unending enthusiasm in situations like organizing a festival or trying to make a certain poker-faced friend (and not only her) laugh. Akko as well as Yukko (man, now I notice that even their nicknames sound surprisingly similar) will do anything to achieve what they want, even if neither of them may possess the skills needed for their goals and often end up messing something up – be it broom-riding or remembering your homework. Both of the girls depend very much on their friends and in dire situations expect to be helped as conversely they would undoubtedly help others in need, yet the endless enthusiasm sometimes gets in a way and prevents them from seeing the right choices in their relationships. Yukko differs from Akko by having more thoughtful moments which for example include making some poetry, albeit it might not be in a very self-aware way. Still, Akko has yet a vast story to be told about her, so some more pronounced artistic abilities may yet breech the surface.

Round 2 – Mio Naganohara and Lotte Yanson

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     It wouldn’t be unfair to say that both Mio and Lotte are the most normal ones out of their respective groups. As LWA isn’t that generous in giving enough time to the supporting characters, there isn’t much information about Lotte, but again it’s enough to find some similarities. Both of the girls usually end up helping their energetic friends – Akko and Yukko – while on their own performing quite well on the academic level. Apart from being sincere, Mio with Lotte shares a passion for some art – in Mio’s case that’s drawing some yaoi manga, in Lotte’s – far more sociably acceptable singing. Both girls appear to be optimistic, but sometimes their tender sides show up and make them the most sensitive among their friends. Mio’s own specialty is her crush on Sasahara, but Lotte wasn’t given time for that. Yet I’d bet that if some suitable guy shows up any time soon, she’d be the first to fall for him.

Round 3 – Mai Minakami and Sucy Manbav…Manvab… Manbab…whatever…

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     If I had to describe these two in one word, it would be “brains”. Mai and Sucy share their quietness and huge academic potential, but their friends probably would feel a bit safer if these two wouldn’t be so advanced compared to the base level. Because of that Mai and Sucy never lose a chance to have some fun (as they understand it) at expense of their energetic friends – Mai is a perfect embodiment and definition of the concept of a troll, getting Yukko in all kinds of weird situations, while Sucy does endless magical experiments that usually end up affecting none other than Akko. Nevertheless, both Mai and Sucy, as the rest of their groups, deeply care about their friends and when in great need, throw away their almost jerk-like attitudes and come to help, and not only because without their friends there would be no one to make fun of. Also, Sucy seems very interested in various poisons, as much as Mai likes carving Maitreya statues.

Round 4 – what else? 

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     There the most striking similarities end, and mainly due to LWA being rather short and content with using primarily the three main characters through both of the films while others receive (if they do at all) the spotlight rather rarely. Yet, one particular quirk or another shows up, so some comparisons, even if very approximate, still can be done. Thus Diana from LWA, having a role of an antagonist, may represent Nakamura the science teacher in Nichijou, though the latter is far less arrogant, but as well as Diana actually is a good person in heart. In terms of a more delinquent-like person who likes to keep everything in control, we have Amanda and Sakamoto(-san). Constanze and Hakase, both being not that tall, share a love for various technology related things and construct lots of gadgets (be it a random robot or Nano), Hakase also could represent Jasminka because of their love for some good meal. Nichijou, telling more ordinary stories (well, on the surface level), doesn’t have such an inspirational person as Shiny Chariot in LWA, but Takasaki-sensei partly occupies the niche as someone who was good at something (that being Igo Soccer) earlier but now everybody has forgotten it, though at times he reuses his old knowledge.

As you see, the farther we go, the more obscure the comparisons become. As I said, it’s partly due to the fact that LWA has given very little time to the supporting cast, and, after all, Nichijou and LWA are two completely different shows, so total match between them would be more than ridiculous. Yet, the great similarities at least between the main three girls of the show are more than apparent. To think about a wider perspective, even in such a classic as Azumanga Daioh you could combine the traits of the main characters to get almost the same result as with Nichijou and LWA. Thus Yukari-sensei, Kagura and Tomo take the place of the energetic character, Sakaki and Nyamo combine to make up a rather normal with a secret passion, Chiyo becomes the smart one whose usage of some poker-face comes from Yomi. But it’s not only possible with Azumanga Daioh. Another possible candidate – Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is also not proof to character tropes – Nozaki gets the role of the smart deadpan character, Chiyo is a normal one and Mikoshiba occupies the vacant enthusiastic type.

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     I think it’s just a matter of randomness that I started noticing common things between Nichijou and LWA because character tropes are a very widely spread phenomenon. Still, these two shows appear to have a very deep running character similarity that transcends all the huge differences between the worlds both of the stories take place in. I’d even say that if both shows exchanged their main three girls, their respective stories still might develop fairly fine, almost as if nothing had happened. I guess the conclusion could be that no matter the circumstances, to have a believable and pretty much self-sustained source of character interactions, particularly in the slice of life genre, you only need three main characters – one too enthusiastic, one normal, but not really, and the third – an intelligent person with a knack for making fun of people.