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Sword Art Online II, Episode 1: Mission Impossible

“Mixed feelings” would probably best describe my attitude toward Sword Art Online II, perhaps the most anticipated returning series this season.  I loved the first cour – no other series has provided me with more material about which to write!  The second, however, brought me anger (Asuna) and gagging (Leafa).

SAO II begins in an unexpected fashion, perhaps, dwelling mostly on technological and philosophical ideas, with just a few hints of the action to come and a dab of Kirito x Asuna fanservice.  So far, so good.

Kirito x Sinon

No matter what comes of it, this relationship CAN’T be worse than that between Suguha and Kirito (Art by 月森うさこ – Pixiv ID 44334853)

What’s also interesting is that the episode traces where Kirito is going with his life.  Long term, he wants to become a “creator,” but by the end of the first episode, he’s being sucked back into the virtual world as a player.  His conversation with the government agent felt a lot like a spy or superhero coming out of retirement to accept a new mission – and a difficult one it is.  Yet, Kirito takes it, not for the substantial money he’s being offered (does he have a ton of medical bills to repay?) or for a challenge, but because of his character.

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Witch Hunts and the Modern Day Mekaku City Monster

Mekaku City Actors is pretty much all I ask for from an anime – it’s engaging, stylish, fun, has a plethora of terrific characters, and features some connections to religion, too.  The story of the monster, which began as a bookended theatrical piece for early episodes and was later revealed to be a significant part of the plot, demonstrates these religious ideas most significantly.  But it’s the not the symbolism, overdone in anime, that stuck out to me – it was the projection of how people have historically gone on witch hunts in the name of religion.

In college, one of my history courses focused on the witch hunt in Europe.  They of course occurred in the U.S. as well.  Recent episodes of Mekaku City Actors made me wonder if they happened in Japan, too.  Certainly, they occurred there for individuals other than witches (persecution of Christians comes to minds), as they did in the U.S.

Azami Kagepro

Art by きらげら (Pixiv ID 44146031)

Although the Christian community in the U.S. thankfully doesn’t harangue and persecute individuals with the same religious historic religious fervor (barring a few notable exceptions), we do still attack others with words, dirty looks, and protests.  Who are the witches of today – the workers at Planned Parenthood?  Homosexual and transgender advocates?  Some other groups?

Whatever the group is, they all have this commonality – the individuals within these camps are often dehumanized by Christians and others.  As with those in Mekaku City Actors who physically hunted Azami, and later Shion and Marry, we have a tendency to categorize people and see them solely by characteristics that we use to define them.  We forget that each of us is unique – that we have different circumstances and experiences, and that people are more than a caricature.  They are not part of that group; they are real people with real stories. Read the rest of this entry

One Week Friends: Stranger Than Your Empathy

For such a humble little show, I’ve been surprised at how One Week Friends has kept me at baited breath all season long.  I’ve been anticipating that the bottom would fall out, that we would have some big climax, though I wasn’t sure if it would feel contrived or if there would be genuine drama involved.  Episodes 10 and 11 have proven the latter to be true, as the series won’t emphasize “Will Hase keep trying when Kaori completely forgets everything?” so much.  Instead, there’s something deeper being explored – and it’s focused on Hase as much as on Kaori.

My biggest complaint about One Week Friends has been in regards to how selfish Hase has acted (though it’s also what I’ve related to most).  But when painful drama for Kaori shakes out in the course of episodes 9 and 10, Hase does almost a complete 180, finally moving the focus off of his own frustrations and his crush on Kaori toward really trying to care for her as a friend would.  A transformation is taking place, one I solely hoped to see in the show, but wasn’t sure would come to fruition.

Kaori Fujimiya Yuki Hase

Art by とおなおと (Pixiv ID 44174046)

Up until now, Hase has been surprisingly self-absorbed.  While Kaori deals with the pain of starting over, week in and week out, Hase has been stressing about whether he can get her to become closer to him so that they can have a “special” relationship.  It took a confrontation between Kaori and her elementary school friends for Hase to snap out of his selfish shell.  His dialogue shifts in episode 11 – it’s hardly about his feelings toward Kaori (he only discusses these feelings in the episode when someone else brings them up) and all about her needs.

Hase is now empathizing with Kaori.  Before, she was almost a project he was working on – can I turn this girl not only into someone that can become friendly, but someone who will love me?  Now, Hase is considering her emotions and her hurt, and he’s trying to find a way to prevent her from suffering more pain.

In a sense, he’s moved from being “in love” to actually “loving” her.*

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Fathers, Be Good to Your Daughters: Steins;Gate and Fatherly Love

Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters, too

In anime, an archetype of a distant and cold father has long been pervasive.  Gendo Ikari is foremost among them, but there are many other examples of dads whose lack of affection (or presence) have had a powerful impact on protagonists.  I wonder if this has something to do with the undeniable fact that many Asian fathers of previous generations were harsh toward their children.  But as we can see with Ed and Al’s dad in Fullmetal Alchemist and with Eren’s in Attack on Titan*, there’s a lot of love that dad’s carry toward their kids, even if they’ve caused their children hurt.  Perhaps that reflects another side (or a wished-for side) of Japanese fathers.

While these daddy issues are often limited to one character per anime, one series in which there are plenty to go around is Steins;Gate.  Between the future and past, there are several fathers that get emphasized in the series.  And on this Father’s Day, it seems to be an apt time to examine them.

Better yet, we can go a step further and see how these Steins;Gate father-child relationships compare to that of the Heavenly Father toward us.  As with character relationships between father and sons/daughters, many people have cold relationships with God, perhaps out of misunderstanding, lack of effort, or something else.  But like a father who proves that he loves his child to no ends, there’s far more than meets the eye.

Art by 鼬鼬 (Pixiv ID 36404085)

Art by 鼬鼬 (Pixiv ID 36404085)

Warning: Spoilers galore in the post below. Read the rest of this entry

One Week Friends: Why We Do What We Do

At first glance, One Week Friends looks and feels like a cute show.  The animation is gentle, the frequently flushed cheeks are awww-worthy, and the storyline about friendship is the stuff of kid shows.  But the series makes me a little uncomfortable for a number of reasons, among them that I’m waiting for the bottom to fall out (perhaps it happened at the end of last week’s episode) and that our male lead, Yuki Hase, isn’t exactly a model of sacrificial giving.  In fact, it’s that last point that gives me pause each time I watch an episode.

Yuki Hase’s a fun lead because he’s a bit of a mess.  Self-doubting and nervous, but able to pick up his nerve and do that which grown men are too fearful to do (talk to a girl he likes), Yuki’s an entertaining character – he’s no generic plot device.  Much of what also makes him compelling is the dynamic we see between his wanting to get close to Kaori out of the goodness of his heart and, more pressing as each episode advances, because he likes her.  In fact, if he weren’t a bit of a basketcase, Yuki might be downright unlikeable, as the gulf between how Kaori sees him and how Yuki really is, doing this all for his own gain, is pretty large.  Whether he realizes it or not, Yuki is taking advantage of a girl with an (anime invented) mental illness as he tries to develop a relationship with her.  Adapt this story to live action on American television, and social media sites would have a field day with the societal-male-female interactions going on here.

isshuukan friends

Art by お茶 (Pixiv ID 43748122)

At the very center of things is this – Yuki continues to have a crush on Kaori.  He doesn’t love her – romantically or by any other meaningful definition of the word.

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I wanna be like you, Tohru!

Throughout anime, there are themes that reflect Christian values. You can see themes of loyalty, service, peacemaking, patience, love and acceptance just to name a few. Out of all the characters in all of the anime I have seen, the one I felt has come closest to what a Christian is supposed to be, or maybe the one I want to be like most, is Tohru Honda from Fruits Basket.

Tohru-honda

From her gratefulness, to her constant service mindset, to her unconditional love and acceptance of those around her, whenever I watch Fruits Basket I find myself wishing I would handle situations the way she handles them. It takes a certain amount of bravery and strength to approach life the way Tohru does.

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The Power of Words in xxxHolic

“Living beings can be bound by so many different things… …But did you know there is only one chain humans can wield themselves?” – Yuko

Talking is such a natural part of everyday life that it’s easy to forget how much our words can affect everything around us, for better or for worse. In xxxHolic, Yuko refers to words as literally living things. As the only naturally occurring “chain” in life that humans can control. In that episode, a girl was chained down by her own words as she constantly spoke and lived out negative, self-fulfilling prophecies. She would talk about failing and it would happen, no matter how likely  she was to succeed before she spoke.

Untitled

I know, in my own life, I can often get trapped in this same situation. I talk….a lot…. and I tend to be a pessimistic person. If I’m not careful, I can create my own complaining mantras that will leave me completely immobilized.  Read the rest of this entry

Winter 2014 In Review (Part Two)

TWWK: Yesterday, Goldy and Japes started their review of Winter 2014’s anime. Today, our reviewing pair join together to judge shows that they both watched this past season.

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! Ren

Love, Chunibyou & Other Delusions – Heart Throb -

Goldy – [8/10]

In the past, I’ve praised Kyoto Animation for creating love stories without going all out shoujo drama, and while they did an excellent job with season one of Chuuni, I had my worries about the second season.
Where could they possibly go with this? Thankfully, my fears were unfounded and the second season delivered a brilliant performance, including all the familiar characters facing their weaknesses and even including some new ones. I like to see characters grow in stories, moving forward despite knowing their faults.
The main story, the relationship between Yuuta and Rika progressed rather well from last season, I thought. It grew at their own pace, which in itself was a beautiful and heart warming thing. I think the two still have a long way to go in understanding each other better, but sometimes baby steps are better than nothing.
I’m a sucker for an excellent love story, though.

Japesland – [7/10]

It took me quite a while to decide what to score Chuunibyou this time around (I rated season one an 8/10), but ended up landing on the 7/10 that you can see above. While I love this series, including this season, I found it hard to rate it anything higher than a 7 considering how little it had to offer beyond what was in the first season. With the exception of a fantastic new character, Shichimiya Satone, the vast majority of the emotional buildup found in this season was also found in the first season. Don’t get me wrong, I loved both, but I was hoping to see either something new, or perhaps something at least a bit more progressive than what KyoAni had to offer us this time around.

With all of that said, however, season two has left me eagerly awaiting a (perhaps more fulfilling) season three. Like Goldy indicated above, baby steps are better than nothing, and KyoAni definitely did not give us nothing.

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Nisekoi, Episode 11: Of Maybachs and Love Languages

Although I was less than thrilled by the the unoriginality of Nisekoi near the season’s beginning, that was mostly because I’ve so enjoyed the show that I want it to be more than it is.  And as it progresses, I’m liking it all the more.

In episode 11, the main characters finally get to know a little bit of what we as the audience have known for a long time – that either Onodera and Chitoge may be Raku’s promised girl (or, a la Love Hina style, I’m guessing they both are).  Onodera reveals that she may be during her date with Raku as the two look for a birthday gift for Chitoge.  The birthday girl starts to reveal as much at her actually birthday.  So while the birthday could have been the centerpiece of this episode, it’s the reveals that take center stage.

That’s not say, though, that the birthday isn’t played up for laughs.

Art by 山吹色 (Pixiv ID 36738768)

Art by 山吹色 (Pixiv ID 36738768)

The invitees and other adore the yakuza heir with birthday gifts, the most notable ones being a Chitoge-like gorilla from Raku and a Maybach from Claude.  The earlier is accepted warmly by the Chitoge, while the Maybach is rejected because, in her words, “I can’t even drive.”

Claude is deflated.  I know the feeling.  In fact, lots and lots and lots of guys know the feeling.  Just as many guys (maybe a smaller percentage of otaku than the general populace) try to help their beloveds by attempting to fix their problems, they also try to make their significant others happy by doting on them with gifts.  Sometimes it works, but often it doesn’t – at least not with the gusto that the guy would expect.

I’m guilty of this, too.  When my then-girlfriend used to get down, I would try to solve thing by buying a gift.  And not always with a super expensive one, like Claude’s – I would sometimes sacrifice, whether it meant by going well out of my way or having to use creative muscles I didn’t think I had – to buy or make something that would uplift the soul.  And though I wasn’t outright rejected like Claude, the bright smile I hoped to see wasn’t always (or usually) forthcoming.

I later realized that a lot of this had to do because her love language and mine weren’t the same.  The concept of “love languages” is central to the teachings of a Christian counselor, Gary Chapman.  He identifies five:

  • gifts
  • quality time
  • words of affirmation
  • acts of service
  • physical touch

While we can feel love through all these avenues, we typically feel most loved by one or two.  And chances are that your loved one and you have different love languages.  So if yours’ is “acts of service” and you try to serve your girlfriend, whose love language is quality time, you might not be “filling her love tank.”

It’s a simple idea, but one that my experience, and those of many of my friends’, has rung true.  And it’s a deeply meaningful and powerful idea to demonstrate in a relationship, because not only does it help the one you love be happier, it also helps you demonstrate love by sacrificing to shower the other with the affections they would like, even if that style doesn’t come naturally to you.

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Bungaku Shoujo: A Barrier to Outreach

It has been a long time, but many months ago, someone requested I write a post on Bungaku Shoujo. I have a rather unique relationship with this series, as although it only has a movie and a few OVAs, those were enough to spur me to buy and read the officially translated novels, and I’ve become quite the fan of the series (note that as someone who was already tired of hearing Hanakana’s voice by 2010, Touko is the one role I absolutely adore from her). Aside from Zaregoto (which Del Rey dropped, arguably a good thing), Bungaku Shoujo is the only series I have actually followed official light novel translations for, and its final volume was recently released this past January, unless they choose to translate the side stories too (I sure hope so), though I’d be equally thrilled if they picked up Mizuki Nomura’s latest work.

I’ve pondered a lot about how to tie this series to Christianity. Interestingly, the problem I had was there were just so many things that can be said. Bungaku Shoujo can be classified as a simple romance drama, and the movie shows just that. It is a well done adaptation of the 5th novel and manages to be simple enough that previous knowledge is not required but still maintains the drama of the novel itself. However, while I think the movie is as good as can be for a standalone, it does not do the story justice. In the previous four novels, we meet characters with dark secrets and heavy burdens that are simply not detailed in the movie, making the characters seem far more bland and simple than they really are. The novels are great at detailing such serious topics while balancing with happy moments and comedic relief, slowly developing the characters, all mixed together with classic literature references. So although at first glance the series may appear to be nothing more than a nice romantic drama, the themes and topics it explores have all sorts of serious and potential religious discussion. In the end, I decided to address only one aspect of the climax of the series, which the movie does not cover. Who knows, maybe I’ll write on other aspects later.

Touko

A Fateful Meeting

Konoha Inoue is a seemingly ordinary high school student who carries a big secret. He once published a bestselling novel under the penname Miu Inoue through a story he submitted to an amateur contest on a whim. Unable to handle the expectations the world had for the genius middle school “girl” and rumors spreading about the mysterious author, as well as a certain incident, he suffered greatly and entered high school with no desire to ever write again. And yet, he finds himself caught and dragged around by his upperclassman Amano Touko, a book girl who loves books so much she eats them (and nothing else). Together, they are the only members of the literature club and every day, she requires him to write her “snacks.” As much as he proclaims to hate writing, he finds his life is more enjoyable than he thought possible.

However, his happy days spending time with Touko are not fated to last. Read the rest of this entry