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Annalyn’s Corner: Kuroko’s Humble Gameplay

Kuroko’s Basketball has been pretty exciting lately. We finally get to watch the Generation of Miracles go toe-to-toe with each other and with Seirin, and it is awesome. Egos inflate and deflate. Kise and Kagami greet each other with slam dunks before their much-anticipated rematch. Fans cheer, squeal, and gasp both on the bleachers and behind their screens while ships continue to sail. Sometimes, I forget why I’m so excited. And then I remember what sets this show apart: the basketball which Kuroko plays.

In season one, we learn that Kuroko isn’t happy with how the Teiko Middle School team turned out. Everyone else sees the Generation of Miracles, an unbeatable team of allstars. But Kuroko sees athletes who prize their individual abilities above teamwork, winning above friendship, or personal challenge above what’s best for the team. They are immensely talented, but they’ve lost their perspective. Kuroko seeks a team that loves basketball and works together, that knows winning isn’t everything—but will try their darndest to win, because they love the game. This is the kind of team he can support.

Maybe Kuroko can keep his perspective because of his own skill set. Unlike the rest of the Generation of Miracles and Kagami, Kuroko can’t score on his own. He doesn’t even learn to shoot until partway through his first year of high school. Instead, he specializes in passing. When his teammates pass a ball, he briefly touches it, sending the pass in a different direction than their opponents expect. Through middle school and the first part of the anime, he rarely, if ever, holds or dribbles the ball for more than a second—and that is part of the “Misdirection” foundational to his play. He already has almost no presence on the court. He appears too weak and small compared even to average players, so opponents naturally focus on the more “significant” members of the team. Add to that his calculated contact with the ball and the tricks with his eyes, and he can easily direct attention away from himself, becoming essentially invisible. By disappearing, he enhances both the individual skills and group coordination of his team. He plays as a shadow, but that only works if he can team with others.

Kuroko_ep01

In episode 1, Kuroko recognizes Kagami’s strength and promises to help him beat the Generation of Miracles.

Kuroko and Kagami join Seirin’s basketball club at the same time. Kagami is a tall, imposing athlete who has just come back to Japan after living and playing in America for several years. At first, he doesn’t understand why the pathetically-weak-looking Kuroko plays basketball. Kuroko, on the other hand, immediately recognizes Kagami’s strength and chooses to become a shadow to his light. In other words, while Kuroko does work with the entire team, he focuses on providing Kagami opportunities to shine even brighter than he could on his own.

Meanwhile, when people eventually notice Kuroko, they ask each other, “Wait a second… was number 11 on the court the entire time?”

In order to made Kagami shine and contribute to the team’s victories, Kuroko must forgo his own glory. Opponents forget he’s on the court, but they’re not the only ones. Journalists forget to interview him when they talk to the team. Fans of the Generation of Miracles forget about him… if they ever knew about him in the first place. Only people who have shared the court with him acknowledge his strength, and he’s okay with that.

Now, Kuroko’s gameplay has evolved a bit. He finally learned to shoot, and it’s a pretty incredible, unique shot, one that even Murasakibara couldn’t block. His Vanishing Drive starts to draw attention, too… and I haven’t forgotten Misdirection Overflow, in which he purposefully draws all attention to himself, away from his teammates. Kuroko isn’t just a shadow anymore. He’s spunky and competitive and not afraid to show it… If it’s also in the best interests of the team. In fact, in some matches—like the current one against Kise—it would be pointless to start with his normal disappearing act. Kise and the rest of Kaijo would see right through it. Thankfully, Kuroko’s new skills allow him to play on equal ground with the rest of the team, even when he’s not running his Misdirection.  He’s still well aware of his limitations—he’s not dunking anytime soon!—and even when he gets competitive as an individual, it’s more a matter of personal challenge than attention seeking.

Kuroko’s humble approach to basketball has me thinking about my approach to writing and school. I like my abilities to be recognized.  Read the rest of this entry

Yuri Kuma Arashi Episode 1: Who’s in Control?

The idea of “control” is a funny thing – we strive for it, we arrange our lives to own it, but when we feel we have it, that’s often when it falls out of our grasp.  In episode one of Yuri Kuma Arashi, the latest series from Kunihiko Ikuhara, we’re introduced to the actors, many of whom are struggling with or struggling for control.

The setting for Yuri Kuma Arashi is unique – a self-contained community surrounded by a wall to keep man-eating bears outside and humans safe within.  Right from the beginning, then, we see this idea of control as the humans erect the wall in an attempt to keep the bears out.  Two of these “bears,” Ginko and Lulu, also attempt to wrestle control of their fates by sneaking into the city to satiate their appetites.  Finally, a student, Kureha, decides she will be able to keep her love, Sumika, safe by her determination and skill with a rifle.

yuri kuma arashi episode 1

Of course, all this control quickly breaks down – the bears penetrate the walls, Ginko and Lulu must leave their fates to the hands of the Judgemens, and Kureha is unable to protect Sumika (or even herself).

This theme is nothing new for Ikuhara – it was emphasized in Mawaru Penguindrum as well.  Several characters from that series sought to change fate, but found themselves ultimately unable to.  Each was humbled and by being brought low, were taken to an unexpected (and better) place than they had anticipated.

We, too, try to wrestle control over our lives – after all, they are our lives, and we should be masters of our destinies, right?  Of course, even in the most optimal conditions, we never fully have control.  As with the humans and their wall, unforeseen events take place.  As with the bears, unknowable forces,  players, and beings affect our plans.  And as with Kureha, our own imperfect selves cannot be fully counted upon.

In the Christian life, we’re called to do the opposite of these characters – we’re told that we must surrender.  It goes against our instinct, but it also breaks that illusion that we are our own gods, an idea almost all of us follow either consciously, like some mad anime character, or practically as we live for ourselves.

And when see that a life we “control” is rather a life in chains, we discover one of Christianity’s most peculiar truths – that in giving up our freedom, in surrendering our lives, that is when we become free.  That is when we truly begin to live.

Celestial Method, Episode 9: I Did It My Way

Celestial Method (Sora no Method) has a lot going for it – cute characters, emotional storylines, and a nice OP and ED (speaking of which, see and hear our own Japes sax up the show’s end theme). But I can’t say that the series is unique in any sense.  It revisits a lot of motifs, themes, plot lines, and characterizations from other similar works, and episode nine is no different.  With Shione realizing that Noel is going to disappear after the group’s wish is granted, she does what might be expected of such a character – she sacrifices her own needs for the group, and she does so by trying to chase Nonoka away by speaking more harsh words.

Still, that’s all within the bounds of Shione’s character.  For being such a cool cat, in a lot of ways, she’s the least mature member of the group.  She has trouble making friends; she can’t let go of grudges; she internalizes all her pain; and she’s unable to take a leap forward for fear of what it might mean.

shione celestial method

And so, instead of doing what Nonoka might, and explaining to the rest what is going to occur and sharing the pain with them, Shione takes all the burden upon herself.  Feeling guilty because it was originally her wish that set these events in motion, fearful of establishing trust with her friends, and retreating into her self-imposed isolation, reflected through her constant shuttering of the outside world through her headphones and also containing a tinge of pride that says “I know how to handle this best,” Shione pushes everyone away once again.

It’s this action that shows how much Shione still has to grow.

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Grisaia no Kajitsu Episode 7: The Desire to Be Good

Of the last few episodes, I liked this one the most, but I’m not sure if that’s really just because I quite enjoyed Sachi’s route over the previous two. The anime honestly did an okay job (again, given the constraint of doing an entire route in 1 episode which makes my statement fairly meaningless). They changed how Sachi’s problem was “solved,” which was mandatory, and I will admit it was a good choice but once again any emotional and even logical buildup is forfeited because there was only 1 episode.

The episode begins with a short conversation between Michiru and Sachi. Sachi thinks about how Michiru and Yumiko have changed since Yuuji came. She also notes that even Amane and Makina have become attached to him, but she doesn’t feel about it. While watching TV, Makina tells Sachi they should become women who can count to 10,000 in the bath. Sachi attempts it but ends up fainting from the heat. While asleep, she calls out “Yuu-kun.”

From a full episode ago!

From a full episode ago!

That's how harems work

That’s how harems work

Not strange at all

Not strange at all

What a desirable female trait

What a desirable female trait

Where have we heard this before?

Where have we heard this before?

The next day, Sachi is fine but Yuji has taken the day off. He visits a small park and recalls a young girl who is no doubt Sachi (the actual way he remembered was infinitely more emotionally appealing). Meanwhile, Michiru is complaining about the upcoming exams and asks Sachi to get rid of it. Although Amane scolds her for it, Sachi insists that she will take care of it. Yuuji returns to find Sachi locked up in her room. Yuuji says he’ll take care of the issue. Yumiko mentions how there was a girl who set fire to a school to stop an exam from happening in the past. Sachi, on the other hand, is incessantly repeating “I have to be a good girl.” Read the rest of this entry

When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace Episode 7: Making Light of Faith

I’ve watched just three minutes and 15 seconds of When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace (Inō-Batoru wa Nichijō-kei no Naka de) this season, but those three minutes and 15 seconds, from episode seven, were awfully good.  Found via a Tumblr post, it was of Hatoko absolutely going off on Jurai.  I don’t have much context for the rant or for the series in general, but it was enough for me to make a connection.  Hatoko, I feel, could be speaking to (or yelling at) a whole lot of us in how we treat religion.

inou 1a

The other day, I exchanged emails with David, a frequenter commenter on this site, among other things he mentioned was the purpose that mangaka and anime creators have when using religious imagery in their work.  We all know that the Japanese often toss around religion for their own purposes without giving much thought to the source material.  But that doesn’t mean these illustrators don’t have good head knowledge about the religion which they’re tackling – I imagine Hideaki Anno and Kazuma Kamachi, for instance, know quite a lot about Christianity, even if their stories are far from biblical.

The creators of such anime that deal with religious themes, ideas, symbols, and terminology have some head knowledge about religion – they often just don’t have the heart for it.

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Blue Spring Ride Episode 10: Realization and Confession

The more I watch Blue Spring Ride (Ao Haru Ride), the more I see myself in Futaba.  And that’s unsettling, not because of her faults, but lately because of her strengths, which are more on display in episode ten than in any of the others to date.

This episode begins where the last left off, with the group of five new friends continuing to study at Kou’s residence, though now, Futuba is unable to concentrate as the envy bug has bitten her.  In the last episode, it was Yuri who felt envy at the special relationship between Kou and Futuba, but now it’s the other girl’s turn to feel the same as she wonders what the “nothing” is that the her friend and ex share.  It eats her up inside and, as is her character, Futaba is so consumed with it that she goes back to Kou’s house, after everyone has left, to confront him.  And there she discovers the secret that Yuri had stepped into – Kou’s mother is deceased, and this is the reason for his change in personality.

Ao haru ride

So sly, Futuba, with eyes not looking at the study material. So sly.

This sequence of events is probably something most of us can relate to.  We think one thing of a person and later find out that we failed to realize something else.  For instance, we might honk at a car in front of us who’s driving far below the speed limit, only to pass it and find an elderly person behind the wheel (though to be honest, we might’ve honked even knowing that).  Or we might get mad at a friend who’s late for dinner, only to later discover it wasn’t her fault.

In my life, this episode was timely, as I had just finished having an episode of my own with my wife.  Our fights sometimes work along these lines – one person gets mad at the other for being inconsiderate or not supportive enough, only to find that the other person has a burden of his or her own and just didn’t have enough left to give.  And per usual, once this comes out, understanding abounds and both sides pour out love and forgiveness.

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Blue Spring Ride, Episode 7: Honesty

After getting so down on Futaba last week, I was really glad to see an entire episode dealing with her dilemma and her real desire to tell Yuuri the truth.  But further, episode seven of Blue Spring Ride (Ao Haru Ride) continue to showed Futaba’s shortcomings, which are the same we all have.

The show opens as episode six left off, with Kou having stepped off the train to be with Futuba, who has come to terms with her “love” for him.  He notices the scent of her hair.  She falls even more for him and decides she must tell Yuuri that she, too, loves Kou.

But in between, something interesting happens.  Futuba runs into her best friend from middle school.  If you remember back in episode one, Futuba compared herself to Yuuri, having been ostracized during middle school as Yuuri was during high school.  Futuba’s middle school friend had been her only companion, but eventually abandoned her, too, and here we find out it’s because she thought they both liked the same guy.  Futuba makes the connection with Yuuri and Kou and becomes more distressed, wondering what effect all of this will have on their relationships.

ao haru ride

What Futuba fails to realize is that her lack of honesty is already having ripple effects.  Yuuri is worried about Futuba, and so hidden feelings are having an outward impact.  And what if Futuba failed to tell Yuuri about her feelings for Kou until they exploded out into the open?  What kind of effect would secrets revealed have then?

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Terror in Resonance, Episode 5: Best Laid Plans

While previous episodes of Terror in Resonance (Zankyou no Terror) have followed a formula of having a restrained tone throughout, ending with an explosive conclusion, episode five was an assault on the senses virtually through its entire duration. We could see the new character’s (Number Five) white hair and the gassy cloud that covered the subway.  We could taste the the burnt food that Lisa cooked.  We could smell the gunpowder in the air and nail polish Five applied.  We could hear the cell phones going off simultaneously and the screams of frightened passengers.  And we could feel the heat of the explosion blowing against Nine’s back, as his best-laid plans went astray.

Indeed, the new character, Five, a child once intimate with Nine and Twelve, but now working to track them for the FBI, is the first person to put real pressure on the duo.  As Twelve mentions, if the bomb isn’t stopped, they’ll become mass murderers, and Five makes it so the bomb does indeed detonate, though our hero barely prevents the explosion from killing anyone.

zankyou no terror

Five is very sure of herself.  As with the two boys, she is especially gifted, and outsmarts her counterparts.  With a smile on her lips, her pride is on full display – she has gone to a violent extreme in a game of chicken, revealing both her own identity and that she knows who the terrorists are.  We’ll know about Five’s past more as the series progresses, but for now she’s a flat character with the possibility (probability) of much deeper layers underneath the typical devious exterior saved for mad genius antagonists.

Instead, then, its Nine’s pride that hits closer to home.  Read the rest of this entry

Terror in Resonance, Episode 4: Know Thyself

Some of the most intense and well-written series, anime and otherwise, present a strong, overarching narrative that knows precisely where it’s going, but keeps viewers at bay, leading them to only of what’s occurring in the present.  Terror in Resonance (Zankyou no Terror) accomplishes this by slowly unfolding a calculated story, but creating tension in each episode that keeps us in the moment.  It’s not until after episode four that I wondered exactly how all this will end, because I was too busy thinking of bombs, riddles, and Lisa Mishima during the show.

zankyou no terror

Nine and Twelve continue their terrorist attacks, but this time, Watanabe leads the audience to think that perhaps the police are catching up to them.  In fact, they probably are getting closer due to Shibasaki’s investigation, but in the climax of the episode, the police aren’t following Shibasaki’s clues – they are following clues from others in the department, a path which has consistently led them astray.  It’s no different at the end of episode four, when a different kind of bomb – an explosion of information in the form of police files – is leaked onto the Internet.

The moment in which the episode turns against the police is when they decide they have enough information to catch Nine and Twelve; they’ve spent their time focusing on the identity of the terrorists and believe they’ve tracked them down, instead of working on the immediate problem – the bomb.  A prideful police force thinks they’ve identified the suspects – or at least their place of residence – and in a Grecian hubris manner, take a fall.

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Oreshura, Episode 06: Pride (or Forgetting It in the Name of Love)

I’ve really enjoyed Oreshura – while it’s characters and situations are retreads of retreads, there’s something fun and refreshing about the show, even when it repeats itself, like it did in episode six.  Eita, for a second straight week, puts his pride in the backseat and endures physical pain and embarrassment to defend a “young maiden.”  Whenever I watch embarrassing scenes like that, even enjoyable ones, I look away from the screen – it hurts me to see someone else get their pride hurt.

Oreshura Masuzu

Up next? (Art by 刃天)

But Eita seems to think nothing of losing his pride in confrontations.  I’m the type to be easily embarrassed, so for me it’s a little harder.  Truth be told, I’m just incredibly prideful, so putting aside my pride is hard in general, even if it’s not a public situation.  It’s even difficult for me to admit that I’m wrong to my wife (Note: In fact, I just had this issue as I was writing this post).  And I sometimes find it difficult to admit to my children that I’ve wronged them as well.

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