The Cultural Impact And Importance Of ‘Your Name’

The Cultural Impact And Importance Of ‘Your Name’

Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name was a worldwide phenomenon in 2016. It is currently the 4th highest grossing film in Japan, as well as the highest grossing anime film of all time, dethroning Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. It is also the 7th highest grossing traditionally animated film of all time, with most of the films above it coming from Walt Disney Animation.

Your Name has received countless accolades since its release, and I wholeheartedly believe that it deserves every single ounce of praise that comes its way. The film is an absolute masterclass in animation, cinematography, storytelling, character development and all of the little nuances that create great and memorable films.

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My gut reaction upon my first viewing of Your Name was that it is as perfect as a creative endeavor can conceivably be. But rather than gush about all of the qualities that make the film so special, I’d like to take a deeper look into what made it the global sensation that it has become, as well as what this means for the future of traditional animation, and the popularity of anime outside of Japan.

 

Resonance With International Audiences

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Anime films have seen varying degrees of success outside of their home country, though very few have been as revered as Your Name. But what is the reason for this? The film is a masterpiece to be sure, but other amazing anime films like Wolf Children haven’t managed to achieve Your Name’s level of success.

I believe that the major factor in Your Name’s resonance with international audiences has quite a bit to do with its simplicity and relatability. While the film does have plenty of fantasy elements to be sure, at its core, the narrative is one of two people who share a unique and special connection.

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The bonds between people has always been at the heart of many of Shinkai’s stories, and Your Name, with its body switching and communication via notes and digital diaries, is this thematic element taken about as far as it can go.

It also helps that Taki and Mitsuha, the film’s two leads, are incredibly likeable and endearing. They come from two infinitely different worlds, and seeing how they adapt and grow in their new environments surely captured the hearts of many viewers.

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Animation doesn’t only exist to be enjoyed by children, and films like Your Name do a fantastic job of proving this. The film’s storytelling is very mature, and many people that wouldn’t otherwise spare a glance at the film have been willing to give it a try.

I’ve had conversations with people in my personal life about Your Name, and the results often surprised me. One such conversation was between myself and a good friend from work, and he informed me that his mother, who has no idea what anime really is, asked him to pick up a copy of the film from work after hearing great things about it from her friends.

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This story both shocked me and made me extremely happy, and I’m sure this isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Aside from the film’s box office success, it’s also done really well for itself on home media. Copies of both the DVD and Blu-Ray release have been flying off the shelves at retailers like Walmart, and the collector’s edition has seen similar levels of demand.

Your Name is a sweet and charming film that respects the time and sensibilities of the older members of the audience. This notion, among many others, is why the film was such a hit with viewers the world over, not to mention just how lovely the film’s aesthetics are.

Anime, No Longer Niche

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I’ve previously written about the history and decline of the traditionally animated feature, and I cited Your Name as an example of the medium’s future. Japan sees the release of many traditionally animated films every year, but offerings are pretty sparse outside of the country.

Before Your Name, there hadn’t been a traditionally animated film of major consequence since Disney’s 2009 film, The Princess and the Frog, nor had there been any hugely successful ones since Lilo & Stitch and Spirited Away during the early 2000’s.

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It is unrealistic to think that traditionally animated films will ever achieve the levels of market share that they enjoyed in the preceding decades, but the success of Your Name has demonstrated that their is room for both styles of film to coexist.

I don’t feel that it is too farfetched to think that we could receive a handful of traditionally animated films per year, amongst the numerous computer animated ones. The caveat to this statement however is that these select films will have to be award winning material.

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All of the marketing in the world wouldn’t have been able to make Your Name a success if it wasn’t a quality experience to begin with. For a film of the traditional ilk to succeed in modern day box offices, it will have to be firing on all cylinders.

One element that can’t be overlooked is the state of anime in pop culture in 2017. Anime has been steadily growing in popularity outside of Japan for decades now, but the 2010’s have seen an explosion of anime being talked about in the mainstream. Anime Youtuber Gigukk has actually done a great video on the topic, and I highly suggest giving it a watch.

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With every year that passes, anime becomes less and less niche. People are always looking for new shows to binge watch, and the widespread availability of anime on services like Funimation Now and Crunchyroll, as well as more popular and mainstream ones such as Netflix and Hulu have been an immense help to anime’s recent growth, a growth that the success of Your Name is both a product of, and contributes directly to.

Looking To The Future

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Animated or otherwise, Your Name is one of the best story experiences I’ve had in years. It has beautiful animation direction, top quality vocal performances and plenty of heartwarming moments that will stick with viewers for years to come.

With new projects in development from Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda and even the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, the future of anime films is looking as bright as ever. But what excites me the most is the prospect of anime becoming more and more widely accepted, as well as the resurgence of traditionally animated films in the mainstream.

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Anime and traditional animation are such wonderful mediums that not enough people respect, appreciate or even know about. The artistry of animation is the perfect vehicle for exploring worlds that were previously thought only to exist in our dreams, and there are so many great and talented people in the world with exciting stories to tell.

To speak of anime specifically, I can’t overstate how influential it has been in my personal life. There’s so much that I’ve learned about Japanese culture, society and mannerisms just from watching anime, and I can genuinely say that it has given me a deeper appreciation of the world beyond my own.

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Crisp and vivid animation, wonderfully developed characters and a rich story are praises that only scratch the surface when it comes to Your Name. It sets a new standard for what can be accomplished with traditional animation, and it is my hope that animation companies around the world are keeping an inquisitive eye on what made the film such an important work of art.

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Anime Series Review: ‘Kill la Kill!’

Anime Series Review: ‘Kill la Kill!’

Fun fact, I used to always get this show confused with Akame ga Kill before I watched both of them.

Studio Trigger was founded back in 2011, and two years later they would release the short film Little Witch Academia. 2014 would see the release of the company’s very first original animated series, Kill la Kill.

Being their first full length series, Kill la Kill really needed to show what Trigger was made of, and the show does this in spades. Kill la Kill has pretty much everything going for it. It’s got style, flair, slick animation, great music, and last but not least, a super enjoyable cast.

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Kill la Kill focuses on the exploits of a teenage girl named Ryuko Matoi. She’s a bit rough around the edges (of which she has plenty of), and initially comes across as your typical tomboy. But beneath this gruff exterior lies a girl with fierce determination, and a quest for revenge.

Shortly before the events of the series, Ryuko’s father, esteemed scientist Isshin Matoi, was the victim of a murder. Now, with one half of her father’s scissor blades in hand, Ryuko is on a mission to avenge her father’s death.

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Ryuko’s journey takes her to Honnouji Academy, home to the fearsome Satsuki Kiryuin. Many high ranking students at the Academy wear Goku Uniforms, special outfits imbedded with mysterious life fibers which can grant an average person incredible strength.

After a pretty sound defeat at the hands of the Academy, Ryuko stumbles upon one more gift from her dad, a special uniform made entirely of life fibers known as a Kamui. As it turns out, Ryuko’s Kamui can actually talk, and his name is Senketsu.

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Ryuko’s motivation is pretty solidly established in Kill la Kill’s first episode, but she soon discovers that herself and Senketsu are involved in a much grander narrative.

Throughout the series, Ryuko will do battle with various Academy students, meet a secret organization known as Nudist Beach, and both her and the viewer learn a lot about her past, and the origins of life fibers and Goku Uniforms as a whole.

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The overarching narrative is pretty good stuff, and it gets more interesting and engaging as it progresses, right up to the finale in the 24th episode (though there is a special 25th one). There’s some really great character development across the board, most notably with Ryuko and Satsuki, and some genuinely surprising twists and turns.

Most of the major players in the cast are super likeable and memorable. Characters like the intimidating Satsuki, the consistently cheerful Mako and the staunchly loyal Gamagori help round out a really well balanced cast, and most of them have fantastic interactions with best girl Ryuko.

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Ryuko’s personal character arc is a huge part of why I love Kill la Kill. She starts out as a reckless girl with a bad attitude and a knack for getting in trouble. Though she retains much of her trademark personality for the entire show, she does gain a new sense of maturity and responsibility to even herself out.

This is also shown in her fighting style. When she first starts fighting with Senketsu, Ryuko typically tries to win her battles with brute force alone. But after learning how to better synchronize with Senketsu, Ryuko becomes an extremely powerful fighter, all while being decked out in a less than conservative sailor uniform.

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Kill la Kill really goes for it in terms of fan service. Both Ryuko and Satsuki’s Kamui transformations leave very little to the imagination, and there are plenty of boob and butt shots to go around. Kill la Kill even ties this into the plot, as there is a direct correlation between power level and how much clothing is touching the body.

Studio Trigger was founded largely by former Gainax animators, and their roots in over the top anime like Gurren Lagann really shine in Kill la Kill. The show excels at super exaggerated and action packed animation, and many of the fight sequences are a sight to behold. Everything in Kill la Kill is uniquely expressive, and makes the world as a whole feel much more alive.

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Kill la Kill also features a pretty stellar soundtrack. The opening and ending songs are good in their own rights, but the various tunes that play over the actual show are an absolute pleasure.

I’d be remiss not to mention the famous Before my body is dry, which serves as somewhat of an unofficial theme song for Ryuko, and that song is every bit as good as everyone says it is.

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Kill la Kill pretty much has it all when it comes to my personal tastes. It has a cool world, engaging story, great music and animation, and the memorable cast bring it all together. Studio Trigger really knocked it out of the park with Kill la Kill, and other series like Little Witch Academia and Kiznaiver show that they won’t be stopping anytime soon.

Oh yeah, another fun fact: Ryuko is voiced by Erica Mendez in the English dub, the same actress that portrays Akko Kagari from Little Witch Academia, and Diane from The Seven Deadly Sins.

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Anime Series Review: ‘Dagashi Kashi’

Anime Series Review: ‘Dagashi Kashi’

Dagashi Kashi is an anime that is all about cheap, convenience store Japanese candy. That idea sounds like it could get really boring really fast, but as someone who grew up loving Food Network shows like Unwrapped and Good Eats, I got a lot of enjoyment out of this one.

Kokonotsu is our main character for Dagashi Kashi, and his dream is to be a manga artist. This puts him at odds with his father, Yo, who wants him to inherit the family dagashi shop (dagashi means “cheap snacks” in Japanese).

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Kokonotsu’s world is shaken up upon the arrival of a cute, but eccentric girl named Hotaru Shidare, heir to the world renowned Shidare dagashi company. Hotaru’s dad really wants Yo to come work for his company, so he tasks Hotaru with recruiting him. The only problem is the fact that Yo refuses to leave the shop until Kokonotsu agrees to take over.

That’s about it as far as narrative is concerned. The fact that Kokonotsu wants to be a manga artist is only ever brought up again to be used for a joke, as are Hotaru and Yo’s attempts to change his mind.

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There are a handful of character development moments that focus on things like Saya and Kokonotsu’s childhood, Yo’s personality and the reason Hotaru loves dagashi, but nothing too major.

Instead, Dagashi Kashi treats us to 12 episodes of candy and fan service driven comedy. A typical episode involves the aforementioned cast, alongside twin siblings Saya and To engaging in all sorts of hijinks and antics.

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Most episodes of Dagashi Kashi are split into two halves, with each half building a small story around a handful of snacks. These can range from Kokonotsu and Hotaru having a blind taste test competition, to Saya being terrified of ghost stories that come packaged with bubble gum.

These bits are a real treat (heh) to watch, and it helps that the entire cast is really charming, especially my main man Yo. Hotaru in particular brings a ton of energy to the show, as her everlasting love and knowledge for all things dagashi gave her an almost infectious personality.

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The coolest thing about Dagashi Kashi is the fact that all of the snacks in the show are real, and even get called by their real names. Kokonotsu, Hotaru and Yo are the resident dagashi experts, and I was genuinely engaged whenever they rattled off various dagashi facts and tidbits.

What makes this even better is that each episode is capped off with real pictures of the featured dagashi, complete with funny dialogue from Hotaru and Saya (best girl by the way).

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Dagashi Kashi also has some pretty good animation. It’s colorful, fluid and expressive and does a great job of accentuating the show’s fan service, which is primarily embodied by Hotaru.

Compared to the thin and plain faced Saya, Hotaru is a curvy and busty young woman with a tendency to refer to dagashi with rather suggestive phrases. Her purple hair and strange blue eyes also stick out compared to the relatively normal looking characters that round out the cast.

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One weird thing I noticed about Hotaru was her outfits, and I don’t even mean this in a lewd or fan servicey way. In almost every episode, I noticed something different about her standard attire. Sometimes it could be a subtle change in her shoes or accessories, while other times she completely switched up her typical wardrobe pieces (though her outfits always retain the theme of black tights, heels and a white dress shirt).

Dagashi Kashi also has some of the catchiest anime opening and ending songs I’ve ever heard, and I especially love the ending segment, Calorie Queen. Besides just being an awesome song, it’s accompanied by a super cute retelling of Alice in Wonderland, with Saya being the title character, and Hotaru being the white rabbit.

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Dagashi Kashi may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but a fan service comedy that teaches you about Japanese snacks and culture is perfect for me. I had a great time learning about dagashi, and the show did an excellent job of making the act of eating candy seem a lot more fun.

 

Anime Series Review: ‘Gamers!’

Anime Series Review: ‘Gamers!’

Gamers isn’t an anime about video games in the traditional sense. References to both classic and modern video games, as well as insight into gaming culture are themes present throughout the show’s entire 12 episode run, but the primary theme is how video games bring people together.

The story of Gamers begins with a high school student named Keita Amano. Amano has been a loner for most of his life, with his only friend being someone he teams up for missions with in a popular mobile game. Video games are something of a lifelong passion for Amano, and this eventually causes him to cross paths with the most popular girl at his school, Karen Tendou.

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Tendou, being somewhat of a closet gamer herself, invites Amano to join the the school’s gaming club. But after realizing the difference in the way that he and the club members enjoy playing games, Amano respectfully declines Tendou’s offer.

What follows isn’t a story about Amano eventually having a change of heart and joining the club, but a hilarious romantic comedy filled with so many ships and suspected infidelity that it’s easy to forget this show is kind of about video games.

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Gamers, the English dub anyway, is one of the funniest anime I’ve ever seen. Sure there are the occasional low hanging fruit jokes involving internet slang and “gamer speak”, but Gamers largely avoids ever being cringey or eye roll inducing.

The main joke of the show is the relationship troubles between the main cast of Amano, Tendou, Uehara, Aguri and Chiaki. I’d be here all day if I tried to actually explain the relationship graph, but I will say that the myriad of schemes that the characters come up with in order to prove their points is well worth the watch.

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I generally don’t like romance stories (which is weird considering how much I love Disney), but Gamers really got its hooks in me. I genuinely wanted the characters to win out in the end, especially Tendou, who is objectively the best girl.

Amano functions as kind of a glue for the whole group. These people are his first real life friends, and not only does he cherish them wholeheartedly, but he never forgets that it was gaming that brought them together.

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With the exception of Aguri, every other character loves gaming to varying degrees, but none of them have the simple, childlike passion for the hobby that Amano displays. He’s a great character, and many of the show’s best episodes focus on his one on one time with the other characters.

An early episode features Amano and Uehara hanging out at the arcade, while other times he can frequently be seen sitting at a cafe with Aguri. The friendship between Amano and Aguri is honestly one of my favorite parts about Gamers. While Tendou and Uehara suspect the pair of being in a secret relationship, they really are just great friends.

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Aguri sees Amano as a little brother, someone who she has to teach about the ways of the real world, while Amano wishes to help Aguri gain confidence and security in her relationship with Uehara. I actually wasn’t too fond of Aguri initially, but her screen time with Amano really fleshed out her character.

Every time these two would have a friendly moment on screen, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling and commenting on how cute their friendship is, and it’s probably the best and most honest one in the entire show.

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If I could give criticism to the show, I’d have to point out the handful of characters that round out the gaming club. Beyond their introduction in the first episode, they are barely seen again.

Misumi is occasionally seen conversing with Tendou, but none of them have any significant story relevance. I assume these characters are more important in the light novel, but they are entirely forgettable in the anime.

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Another thing that may rub some people the wrong way is how long the relationship joke goes on. For me, I felt like they capped it off right before it started to wear thin, but I could definitely see people getting tired of the joke well before I did.

The culture of gaming is present in pretty much episode of the show, but the final episode is the only one that is almost entirely a discussion about modern gaming culture. It’s also weirdly meta in a pretty clever way.

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The episode features the group going on a weekend trip to the hot springs. During a conversation, the topic of downloadable content comes up, and Aguri has a few questions about it. I’ll go ahead and say, I did not expect this show to give the gaming industry the ribbing that it did.

All of the comments you see on the internet about bad downloadable content, loot boxes and microtransactions can be found in this episode. Aguri even has a great analogy about pizza and toppings that is probably the most accurate one I’ve ever heard. Additional shout out to Amano’s comment about why free to play gaming is an extremely lucrative market.

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This episode is also blatantly and almost shockingly filled with fan service. There is a full five minute scene that features Tendou, Aguri and Chiaki completely naked in a hot spring while they discuss their own personal ideas about downloadable content.

The entire episode feels like an OVA, and it’s totally aware of this fact. It’s a bonus episode that seems almost out of place given the context of the previous 11 episodes, and really seems like a subtle jab at other anime that do this sort of thing.

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Meta humor aside, I loved that this episode attempted to teach both Aguri and the uninformed viewer about a small bit of the gaming industry. And in the end, it still drives home the point that gaming can just be about fun and bringing people together.

I didn’t expect to love Gamers as much as I did, but I’m so happy I sat down and watched it. It was refreshing to watch something that celebrates modern games as well as classic ones, and the romantic comedy elements provided plenty of laughs. Gamers gets my highest recommendation.

Anime Film Review: ‘Harmony’

Anime Film Review: ‘Harmony’

I’ve never read the original Harmony novel by Japanese author Project Itoh, but the colorful artwork and Funimation dub for the film adaptation were enough to convince me to give it a try. Harmony is a film with some really cool ideas, but it sort of stumbles a few times with its execution.

The story of Harmony takes place in a future with extremely advanced medical technology. Peak physical health exists to the point where people in their 70s could pass for 40, and there are no longer any signs of obesity or terminal illness.

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This is especially prevalent in Japan. Human physical appearance is almost 100 percent uniform, with the only major differences being hair and skin tone. This type of peace and uniformity has created what some may view as a boring and stagnant world.

At the heart of Harmony’s story are two girls that embody this feeling, namely, Tuan and Miach. As teenagers, the girls along with a much less important friend named Cian, attempted suicide in order to rebel against society. However, only Miach was successful in this regard.

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13 years later, Tuan is a bored and sarcastic government agent. After reuniting with Cian, and witnessing her commit suicide, Tuan learns that Miach never truly died all those years ago. What follows is the story of Tuan traveling far and wide in order to learn the truth about what really happened to Miach, and the true meaning behind her old friend’s ideals.

In addition to being one of the principal characters in Harmony’s narrative, Miach also serves as a guiding light and motivation for Tuan. The two used to be best friends, with Tuan eventually developing romantic feelings for Miach.

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Tuan’s monologues about her past with Miach are some of the most interesting parts of the film. She identified with her friend’s ideals to an extent, but also seems to constantly be questioning her motivations and true goal.

One of Miach’s purposes as a character is to make both the other characters and the viewer think. She’s the only person we see openly denounce societal norms, and she believes that humans should take back control over their bodies.

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My favorite part of the film is the final confrontation between Tuan and Miach. The scene’s entire atmosphere was tense, and we learn a lot about Miach’s origins and early childhood, giving context to her actions.

Harmony’s story is a bit long in the tooth, and I probably would’ve trimmed down a few scenes(it clocks in at a full 2 hours). Having said that, the film does have a pretty relaxed and consistent pacing, and really lets the individual moments breath.

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My major problem with the film’s story is that it can feel bloated and heavy handed at times. The dynamic between Tuan and Miach is genuinely interesting, as is Tuan’s inner monologuing, they just get bogged down by unnecessary characters and story beats.

I’m a very surface level person when it comes to thematic elements and storytelling, and I’m typically not a fan of these types of socio political stories, but I did found myself enjoying Harmony for the most part.

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But what I do have some truly mixed feelings towards is the animation. Harmony is done in a hybrid of traditional and computer generated animation. When there isn’t very much motion going on, the film primarily resembles a traditional anime film, especially when the shot is just that of a character’s face.

It’s when a lot is happening on the screen is when things start to look awkward at best, if not flat out bad. The opening scene of the film is a big action set piece between Tuan’s military squad and an opposing faction, and the computer generated animation is really poorly done.

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The models don’t move with any real sense of fluidity, and end up looking really stiff and unnatural. This can sometimes happen even when characters are just simply walking or shaking their heads. To be fair, the animation does seem to get better as the film progresses, but still occasionally has these problems.

The visual design of the world, Japan specifically, is something I originally wasn’t a fan of. The country consists primarily of white buildings with pink outlines, giving it an overall sense of sterility.

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What caused me to warm up to this idea is the fact that it directly feeds into the theme of conformity. There’s no uniqueness or individuality in Japan, and the lifeless setting does a good job of complementing this.

This is further demonstrated by the contrast between Japan and a few of the other locales Tuan visits. Many of them are brimming with light and color, and this only increases the further away Tuan travels from her home country.

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Harmony really grew on me the longer I watched it. I’m not particularly in love with the film or anything, but a second viewing gave me a better perspective on the story that was trying to be told. There are some genuinely smart ideas to be found in Harmony, but it doesn’t always handle them as elegantly as it could.

Anime Film Review: ‘Children Who Chase Lost Voices’

Anime Film Review: ‘Children Who Chase Lost Voices’

I went into Children Who Chase Lost Voices almost completely blind. The film’s director, Makoto Shinkai, was also responsible for 2016’s critically acclaimed Your Name. So in order to see the origins of his directorial skills, I turned my attention to this film.

His directorial debut was the film 5 Centimeters Per Second, which was out of stock on Amazon when I first searched for it. As such, I jumped straight to his second film, 2011’s Children Who Chase Lost Voices.

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Right from the beginning, Children Who Chase Lost Voices demonstrates the power of visual storytelling. The film centers on a young girl named Asuna, and there is so much you can learn about her without ever being told.

A typical day for Asuna involves going to school, cleaning the house, doing laundry, preparing dinner and studying, and all of these activities are conveyed without a single word. The only informative lines of dialogue are Asuna’s comment about her mother working late, as well as the prayer she says in memory of her father.

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Besides her daily household chores, Asuna makes a habit of visiting a cliffside that exists deep in the woods surrounding her home. She stocks a small cave full of books, snacks and other items that are important to her, and sits atop the cliff tinkering with a strange radio given to her by her father, claiming she can hear voices below the ground.

Not long after the opening scenes, the film’s real narrative begins. There had been sightings of a strange, bear like creature in Asuna’s town, and the students of her school are advised to head straight home.

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As Asuna is making her way to the woods, she comes across the monster, and is almost killed by it until the intervention of a young man named Shun. Shun’s fight with the beast was more violent than I expected. I wouldn’t way it was grotesque, but I didn’t at all expect to see that level of blood and wounds.

After spending a brief period of time with Asuna, Shun is found dead in the town’s river. The loss of Shun, in conjuction with a story that Asuna hears from her substitute teacher, Mr. Morisaki, sets the pace for the rest of Asuna’s journey.

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Shun is from a land known as Agartha. Agartha exists under the surface of the Earth, and is home to the descendants of early humanity, as well as the guardian Quetzalcoatl. Mr. Morisaki believes that Agartha holds the power to revive the dead, and wishes to bring back his late wife, Lisa. After an encounter with Shin, Shun’s younger brother, both Asuna and Morisaki end up traveling through Agartha.

The adventure that follows is pretty enjoyable. Asuna and Morisaki encounter many interesting locales, and a handful of memorable characters. There is plenty of danger along the way too. Asuna and Morisaki must deal with a group of skeletal monsters, as well as the residents of Agartha, both of which want them dead.

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Children Who Chase Lost Voices has a handful of plot elements that aren’t really explained too well. For starters, it’s never explained why Shun visits the surface world in the first place. The film does a great job of showing why Agartha’s citizens resent the top siders, which makes his decision all the more confusing.

Secondly, there is a strange issue with the strength of those from Agartha. They appear to have near superhuman level abilities, with even teenagers like Shun and Shin being able to leap from large distances and deal critical blows to the guardians. Again, the reason for this is never expanded upon.

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One interesting thing about the film is Asuna’s motivation. She’s caught between Morisaki’s desire to revive his wife, and the Agarthan’s desires to protect their home, all the while still mourning the death of Shun.

What I don’t like however is the fact that Shun seems to be her primary reason for going to Agartha. He’s a decent character, but the two only knew each other for maybe a handful of days, making the love that she feels for him less endearing. 

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But to be fair, I do feel that Shun reminds Asuna of her father, which would make her actions a bit more understandable. For Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Shinkai aimed specifically to capture the elements of dealing with loss, and finding the strength to carry on.

This sentiment applies not only to Asuna, but to Shin and Morisaki as well. All three characters respond to losing a loved one in different ways, and they all need each other’s support to move forward with new resolve.

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Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a visual marvel. The characters look nice, and the animation is smooth and lively, but the backgrounds are the real star of the show. Agartha in particular is brimming with vividly detailed buildings and landscapes, and the skyline that accompanies the final scenes of the film was breathtaking.

The real world setting is just as visually impressive as Agartha. The autumn themed foliage is wonderfully crafted, but my favorite part was actually Asuna’s house. It’s so simple, but I found it really cool to look at all the little details that were applied to the refrigerator, the cabinets and the walls.

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As a whole, Children Who Chase Lost Voices was an enjoyable film. It had a few plot issues, some that bother me way more than others, and I think a few scenes could’ve been shortened or cut for the sake of pacing. But the film’s highs are really high, and I’d say it is definitely worth the watch.

And oh yeah, the vocal track that plays over the credits, Hello Goodbye & Hello, is absolutely amazing.

Anime Series Review: ‘Sakura Quest’

Anime Series Review: ‘Sakura Quest’

I came across Sakura Quest almost entirely by accident. I remember seeing someone on Twitter comment on how great an anime called Hinako Note was, but I completely forgot the name by the time I tried to search it on Crunchyroll. The only think I could remember was the pink haired protagonist, and this happy accident led me to find what may be one of my favorite anime of all time, Sakura Quest.

Sakura Quest has a very unique and refreshing set up. It’s story centers on a college graduate named Yoshino Koharu. Yoshi thought that graduating from a university in Tokyo would set her on the path to accomplish great things, but the only things she’s managed to accomplish is failing dozens of job interviews.

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After having a happy accident of her own, Yoshi ends up in the cozy little town of Manoyama, the type of place where everybody knows each other. Yoshi was contracted to work as a member of Manoyama’s tourism board, and to serve as the town’s queen. But as it turns out, Yoshi’s contract was for an entire year, as opposed to a single day.  

Manoyama isn’t necessarily in dire straits, but it could definitely use the boost in revenue that typically comes from tourism. In order to make the town rich and prosperous, Queen Yoshino is joined by four other young women, namely, Manoyaman native Shiori, the quiet and reserved Ririko, internet enthusiast Sanae and aspiring actor Maki.

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One of the things that makes Sakura Quest so special is, weirdly enough, its normalcy. A college graduate being charged with bringing in revenue to a small town may not exactly be a common occurrence, but it’s something that I probably wouldn’t think twice about if I saw it on the news.

Even the characters themselves feel like normal people. In most other anime, Yoshi would be a happy go lucky girl with tons of charisma. But in Sakura Quest, she’s a normal, twenty something year old girl. This statement holds true for every other character in the show, and gives Manoyama a genuine sense of community.

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There are a number of locales and shops that make appearances throughout the show’s 25 episode runtime, and what’s really interesting is the differing reactions to the tourism board’s plans. Though Yoshi always has the best of intentions at heart, her efforts don’t always reflect the desires of the citizens.

At times, the board’s plans are at odds with the traditions of Manoyama, while at others the citizens are being a bit too rigid and unwilling to accept any kind of change. This is the biggest source of conflict in Sakura Quest, and one that the show does a great job of resolving.

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Characters never attempt to force their ideas upon others. Rather, things only get done after thoughtful conversations from every party involved, giving the show a great feeling of maturity. Overall, Sakura Quest is a show that should be very enjoyable for adults. You should know an anime is mature when the most unusual thing about it is Yoshi’s pink hair.

Beyond the efforts to restore Manoyama, one of the central plot elements for Sakura Quest is Yoshi’s personal arc. She describes herself as never having any real talent for much of anything, so the job of queen is very important to her.

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Seeing her struggle to succeed made me really feel for the poor girl. If one of her plans failed or stepped on the toes of the citizens, she would feel deeply sorry, and blame herself for not being able to understand the feelings of a native Manoyaman.

It is only through the support of her friends and the grumpy old Kadota that she is able to pull herself back up. By the end of the show, Yoshi felt like a much bolder and more confident young woman, one with the power to accomplish anything she sets her mind to.

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This is also true for a number of other characters. Maki has to come to terms with the future of her acting career, while Ririko must learn to gain independence. One of the show’s best episodes is about a middle school aged girl named Erika, and her struggles with wanting to leave her small town life.

Much like Yoshi, who also grew up in a rural town, Erika yearns for the opportunities that she believes only exist in Tokyo. As much as this is an important event for Erika, it is equally important to Yoshi’s development, as it is much like looking in a mirror at her younger self.

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Another aspect that stuck out to me is it’s amazing soundtrack. The general songs you hear in the show have a very “country town” vibe, while the openings and endings are catchy and upbeat.The show’s first opening and ending, Morning Glory and Lupinus respectively, have actually become two of my favorites of any anime.

One last kind of weird thing that I love about Sakura Quest is the girls’ outfits. I don’t even mean this in a fan servicey way, I genuinely adore just how nice their clothes look. Each girl has almost a dozen outfits that they rotate throughout the show, and many times even in the same episode.

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I particuarly love Yoshi’s outfits, as she always looks so gosh darn cute. I’m partial to her blue shirt and white dress combo, as well as her denim shorts and yellow button up. But my favorite would have to be her blue overalls, mostly because I love the way she styles her hair when she wears it.

In many ways, Sakura Quest is an anime that has at least a little bit of everything that appeals to me. I love the character driven narrative, I love how refreshingly normal everything is, I love the animation and I especially love the soundtrack. It’s become one of my favorite anime of all time, and I hope future viewers will have just as much fun with Yoshi and Manoyama as I did.

Stars