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Mekaku City Actors episodes 1 and 2: Artificial Enemy and Kisaragi Attention

It is very rare that there is ever an anime I am dead-set on watching while it airs. Mekaku City Actors is an exception. For those of you that don’t know, Mekaku City Actors is based off of a series of vocaloid songs, light novels, and a manga, all known collectively as The Kagerou Project. I’ve only listened to the songs and read a bit of the manga, so while I’m very interested in the plot and characters, the majority of the story still eludes me. The Kagerou Project doesn’t have a very straight-forward story line, and when there are fan theories are based on other fan theories, it can be hard to figure out what’s going on. I have no idea if the Mekaku City Actors anime is going to be any good, but I hope that, if nothing else, it might clear up the plot a little a little for me.

Episode 1: Artificial Enemy

The story opens with a sort of dream-sequence scene, involving a girl who I will not name, because I think that might be considered a spoiler, but who is important to the story and, incidentally, my favourite character.

Red Scarf Girl...or Ayano

She’s voiced by the same seiyuu as Nagisa Furukawa. Make of that what you will.

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Anime Today: Idols in Ishinomaki

As it stands right now, anime is currently in its transition phase from the winter 2014 season to the spring 2014 season, and this in-between phase makes it difficult to analyze much of what is currently happening aside from overall series or season reviews. However, just recently I decided to pick up yet another current anime, bringing my winter 2014 anime count up to 16. And that series is Wake Up, Girls!.

While Wake Up, Girls! has been an entertaining watch, I found myself extremely happy to have waited until just the past few weeks to pick it up. If you’ve been following Beneath the Tangles or my personal blog in the recent past, you are probably aware that in early to mid-March I spent about ten days in Japan on a ministry team. Much of our time there was spent in the Sendai area, the area hardest hit by the 3/11 tsunami, and coincidentally where Wake Up, Girls! takes place.

As I just mentioned, Wake Up, Girls!, at least as far as I was as of the time of writing, has been a quite enjoyable watch. However, as with anything, having a personal connection makes it that much more fun… even nostalgic. Seeing familiar sights in Sendai has been an intriguing experience that I have had yet to feel in the context of anime, which is significant in and of itself. More than simply that, though, the personal connection goes even further and more specific, and that is all thanks to episode three and the character, Minami.

Wug Minami Katayama

Art by 馬の助 (Pixiv ID 40903644)

In order to provide a bit of context for what I am about to explain, the Miyagi prefecture, of which Sendai is the capital, was the area of Japan hardest hit by the 3/11 tsunami. Even though it has been more than three years now since the triple disaster, the damage done is still visible and affecting thousands of Japanese. In particular, the Japanese government set up numerous temporary housing units in order to provide living quarters for, especially, the elderly Japanese (especially women) whose homes were destroyed, leaving them displaced. With nowhere to live and no consistent source of income, many of these people have resigned to a lonely existence in a cramped living space with nothing to live for day to day. Having seen this in person, the situation is heartbreaking.

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Perspectives in Servant x Service

Servant x Service  follows five civil servants working at the welfare department of  a ward office. The show is strongly reminiscent of the British comedy The Office. Maybe it’s because college graduation was four years ago for me, but it was kind of refreshing to see an anime set in an office instead of set at school.

Although I’m not a civil servant, my jobs, present and past, usually involve  customer service situations similar to the ones in Servant x Service. I could definitely relate to a lot of them.

Like this one…

nn

Yep.

And this one…

n

Oh yes.

and ESPECIALLY this one….

nnnnn

For all eternity…….

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Anime Today: Love is a Fickle Beast, Indeed

Welcome back, Japes! We’ve all missed you! This month has been painful without you! I’m so happy to see you back in action and cannot wait to read all of your upcoming articles and their brilliance!

Aw shucks… thanks, Japes! I’m glad to be back, too! Japan was great and all, but there’s nothing quite like writing for Beneath the Tangles to itch both my theological and otaku scratches.

Okay, now that I’m done with my inner monologue and attempting to swell my head to a size even larger than it already is, I would like to announce that I have finally returned from my short-term missions trip to Japan! It was an amazing experience, but that explanation is best left for an article in and of itself, so I won’t bore you with it here. However, with that said, the last few days since my return have been crammed with simultaneously trying to get over jet lag, catching back up and getting ahead in my classes, and also getting back on schedule with my anime viewing (I missed something like 20 episodes over the course of the trip and also, and only God knows why, I picked up yet another series with plans to pick up yet a second one after that, bringing me up to I believe 16 this season). With much of my time spent doing all three of these things, I found this week’s topic for Anime Today to be a rather easy one to find… so easy, in fact, that it almost seemed glaringly obvious…

If there is one thing that anime has taught me over the years, it is that love is one of the most, if not the absolute most, irrational and inconsistent of human emotions. Catching back up with more than a dozen individual series in a mere day or two has pounded that into my head with the subtlety of a jackhammer. It seems as though the last two or so episodes of nearly every show I am currently following have featured more angst and romantic confusion than perhaps the rest of the season combined. Between the love triangle of Chuunibyou 2, several love triangles as well as complete irrationality in Golden Time, a rather unconventional love triangle in Nisekoi, the love triangle in Engaged to the Unidentified, what can best be described as a love pentagon with several triangles hanging onto it in Nagi no Asukara, an awkward couple in Silver Spoon 2, an unaccepted love in The Pilot’s Love Song, a somewhat one-sided love in Witch Craft Works, and even a bit of erroneously perceived romance in Tonari no Seki-kun, love has been a hot topic. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Yuta, Rikka, and Satone

Art by 栗原まお (Pixiv ID 42144708)

All of these varied shows featuring love as a primary piece of development, or even as a simple gag, have gone to show only one consistent fact: that love is anything but consistent. Characters fall in and out of love. Characters perform irreversible actions that they would never normally do. Characters succumb to jealousy that they would never normally feel. Quite frankly, in the name of love, everybody seems to take matters into their own hands in such a way that defies rationality in nearly every sense of the word. And all of this is due to love. Love. Love. Love.

Love.

Or so they would have you think.

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Staying Awake in Rozen Maiden

Many verses warn us to stay awake, sober-minded and otherwise alert. Consequences of falling asleep are often decay and weakness. Staying awake is very important to staying alive.

“But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:36

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ..” 1 Peter 1:13

It’s important to stay awake but, for me, it’s not always easy. The temptation to return to a comatose state and fall into escapes and distractions is great as challenges arise in my faith. It is so easy to put God on the back burner when sin or growth comes up that I don’t want to deal with.

In Rozen Maiden, Jun and the main Rozen doll, Shinku, have a discussion about the long, deep hibernation period Rozen Maidens have periodically. Jun thinks that sounds nice. As someone who spent much of her life asleep, Shinku is passionately of the other opinion.

rm2

Shinku: We merely sleep for a bit when we are wound down, but if no one winds us up we may continue  to slumber and never awaken. That’s the kind of sleep it is.
Jun: That sounds sort of nice.
Shinku: Why?
Jun: There’d be no one who knew me by the time I woke up. I bet that would be refreshing. I almost wouldn’t mind never waking up.
Shinku: You think so? I think it’s better to wake up. Read the rest of this entry

Review: The Wind Rises

the wind rises 1The Wind Rises (Kaze Tachinu)
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Running time: 126 minutes

Though perhaps falling short of being a classic, Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, perhaps his swan song, is a return to form for the old master as he weaves a complex tale of childhood dreams, engineering marvels, solemn loves, and killing machines.

A bespectacled boy wakes in his ordinary house and climbs onto the roof, to which is attached something most unordinary – a plane.  He climbs in and sails into the clouds as the townsfolk celebrate his flight, before organic, living bombs destroy his aircraft and he falls through the sky and back into himself, waking from the dream.

The opening scenes of Hayao Miyazaki’s latest film, The Wind Rises, reflect the structure of the film.  In most ways, it is his most realistic movie for Studio Ghibli, the company he co-founded.  A fictionalized account of the life of Jiro Horikoshi, the lead designer of Japanese World War II fighter aircraft, the movie is reminiscent of the more grounded films from his Studio Ghibli contemporaries.  But Miyazaki beautifully weaves his noted fantastical elements into the film through dream sequences and other events that transpire in Horikoshi’s head.  Especially early in the film, the director did something to me he has never done in his previous films – he appealed to the boy in me, the one who dreamed big and wanted to be the hero.

But though the fantasy portions are a highlight of the film, bringing to mind soaring sequences from Castle in the Sky and Porco Rosso, perhaps even more enthralling is the animation in the more earthy parts of The Wind Rises- shadows on a face, writing on a piece of paper, grass and parasols blowing in the wind, and in what is surprisingly the most breathtaking and heart-pounding scene of the movie, Horikoshi and his love interest, Naoko, passing paper airplanes to one another.  Though not the rich visual feast Ponyo was, The Wind Rises is nonetheless stunning in its subtlety.

But it’s also these quieter elements that sometimes drag on for far too long.  The movie clocks in at two hours, and half that time has the protagonist wandering – in Germany, in Japan – and not doing a whole lot, at least not in terms of anything dynamic.  I guess engineering can only be so interesting when animated.  The film does pick up after this soporific middle portion, however, as a lovely romance story unfolds, one which I didn’t expect to see in a Miyazaki film.  That was a pleasant surprise.

Less pleasant was the elephant in the room – the fact that the main character, celebrated in the movie, was responsible for designing airplanes which helped Japan in their wartime activities.  Miyazaki, a known pacifist, hammers home his themes that we must go on and follow our heart and that the common people of Japan, many of whom didn’t agree with the country’s actions, did their best without being responsible for the war effort.  Unfortunately, Miyazaki tries too hard with his dialogue, beautiful as it is, emphasizing points which are more morally difficult to grasp than he tries to make them.

What is Horikoshi’s complicity in the killing of so many in the war?  More importantly, what was the average Japanese person’s complicity in the war?  The answer to both is “far more” than Miyazaki implies, though he deserves a modicum of respect for bringing up such difficult issues in his home country.

Ultimately, while the movie suffers because of the slow plotting and the moral unease of the tale, it shines to an extent that hasn’t been seen in a Miyazaki film since Spirited Away.  As if to say that he has more to animate than Shinto spirits and magical stories, Miyazaki proves that he can tell most any story with graceful and sometimes astounding artistic strokes.  If not a masterpiece, The Wind Rises comes close, and if it is his last film, Miyazaki has left us with a marvel to remember.

Rating: A-

Anime Today: Taking a Break with Seki-Kun

As with being a fan of any media, being an anime fanatic can be simultaneously an extremely fulfilling experience and also a very frustrating one. This season is no exception. Amid the fourteen anime I am watching this season*, for every moment I spend enjoying an anime, I spend perhaps an equal moment being conversely annoyed at it. Don’t get me wrong, if I wasn’t enjoying the experience of watching what I watch, then I would no longer be doing so (the collective enjoyment I gain from consuming all the media I consume outweighs what small frustrations might come along with it). Although I may have let slip my hatred distaste toward Kill la Kill two weeks ago, the knowledge I gain from watching it improves my contextual analysis of anime now and in the future to the point that the time I spend consuming it feels worth it (in terms of economics, my watching outweighs the opportunity cost of doing otherwise).

All of this has brought much of my attention to a little gem this season entitled Tonari no Seki-Kun. At about eight minutes per episode, the series contains about the depth of graham cracker… but that’s okay! In devoting the pure amount of time I must in order to stay up with anime while juggling university work as I have been, I have begun to appreciate more the shows that take little mental processing power but continue to provide adequate entertainment.

Rumi Yokoi

Art by クロブチ (Pixiv ID 26555461)

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Anime Today: Kill la Kill – Money is the root of all evil… right?

I will be blatantly honest. Kill la Kill is my least favorite anime to air in the past few years, and by quite a large margin as well. And yet, despite that, I continue to watch it. Blame its popularity, or blame my inability to drop a series (just ask Charles), but regardless of the “why,” I have been sticking through it. However, perhaps the underlying purpose of my watching this show despite it being what I consider to be an amalgam of mediocrity, has been to relate it to Anime Today. If that is so, then that purpose will be fulfilled today in this article.*

Normally, I would make some sort of statement claiming that I would do my best to stay unbiased and not to let my opinion of the show reflect my writing any further, but I think I’ve gone and jolly well proven that that is simply not going to be the case here. Regardless… I will do my best.

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Money is the root of all evil.” Whether or not you actually believe that phrase, it is no question that society, or at least western society, both worships money while simultaneously reviling it in its idealism. Episode 15 of Kill la Kill attempts to do something rather interesting, or perhaps only interesting in comparison to what the rest of the series has had to offer thus far, and that is use that mindset as a framework for the combat skills of the newly-introduced character, Kaneo Takarada. Takarada, a ridiculously (and hilariously) wealthy and powerful figure in Osaka, centers all of his combat abilities around money. This ranges from literally using money as a physical weapon to using money in the more conventional sense as a bribery tool to cause others to do his bidding.

Kaneo Takarada

Art by 脱ぐ (Pixiv ID #41296798)

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Anime Today: Witchcraft Works – Reaction to the Overreaction

Speaking (or writing, rather) as someone who has both grown up an area of heavy Christian fundamentalism, and also currently resides in an area of Christian fundamentalism, I am absolutely no stranger to the distastes of the concept of witchcraft and magic. Dungeons and Dragons, Harry Potter, and Oujia boards were all equally condemned, though condemned in different contexts by different people.

The reason these topics have been brought to my mind, and consequently to paper, as of late comes in the form of the currently-airing series entitled, you guessed it, Witchcraft Works. Although it is still too early to tell what sort of quality the series will ultimately show itself to be, I have been constantly reminded of the “demonic” content that it includes that tends to drive Christians away from what is an otherwise entertaining romp in high school romance and fantasy. All of this culminates in this article today.

Ayaka Kagari

Art by 水薙竜 (Pixiv ID 31337502)

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Anime Today: Having Passion

Welcome to 2014, readers, and also to the return of nobody’s everybody’s favorite column, Anime Today!

With the new year comes new years resolutions, precious time off from school and work, delicious food (at least for some of us), time with friends and family, perhaps a new outlook on life, a chance to start over, and plenty of year-end clearance sales, but most importantly, a new season of anime! I don’t know about you, but I am particularly excited this season, as there are quite a number of shows airing this winter that I have been looking forward to. These are, namely: the continuation of Golden Time, Nagi no Asukara, season two of Silver Spoon, Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions!, and the brand new Tonari no Seki-kun, The Pilot’s Love Song, Engaged to the Unidentified, Witch Craft Works, and Pupa. Oh, and I’m also watching Kill la Kill still, but we’ll pretend I’m not. All in all, it’s looking to be an enjoyable season!

Ryuko Matoi

Art by 筱岡 (Pixiv ID 38982205)

Despite all this, though, I found myself struggling to come up with material for today’s entry in Anime Today. Sure, as of writing we have already had the first entries into Tonari no Seki-kun, a very cute little comedy, and The Pilot’s Love Song, a prequel to one of my favorite movies, The Princess and the Pilot, as well as a great OVA follow-up to the pantheism-inspired Mushi-shi. However, despite  some solid material, I still found myself scratching my head as to how to connect all of this to the theme of Beneath the Tangles: exploring the connections between anime and Christianity. That is, until I realized that I was looking far too closely for something that was already apparent around me!

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