Archive for November, 2012

People say many things about Kawahara Reki, but almost never that he is a good writer. This is quite puzzling, as we are talking about the probably most important light novel writer of 2012 – the author of two long-running light novel series (one of which took first place in this year’s "Kono Raito Noberu ga Sugoi!" ranking) that got turned into two equally successful anime series. It stands to reason that Kawahara is doing something right, even as he gets continuously bashed for his clichéd plots or simplistic villains. What is it that gets him his faithful readers?


First of all, Kawahara Reki keeps to a highly specialized topic matter – multiplayer game worlds and the people playing them. By this, he establishes a unique identity among light novel authors that allows his works to stand out in this highly homogenous field. His two series are different from most others but at the same time similar to each other. This makes it highly likely that supporters of one of his series will reach for, and find themselves satisfied with, the other one. Both of Kawahara’s series add to the other’s strength. The author keeps a delicate balance of familiarity and novelty between the two series – the topic matter is highly similar in both, but there are also at least two important differences. One of them is the main character. In Accel World, Haruyuki is the eternal underdog, easy to sympathize and identify with because of all his failings. In Sword Art Online, Kirito is the unmatched champion, vehicle of chuunibyou fantasies. Kawahara takes full advantage of those opposing character archetypes and thus caters to a wide range of needs of his audience.


Another difference is how while the characters of SAO slip into the world of online games, in AW it is the Brain Burst program itself that invades the everyday lives of its players. This slight difference is actually key to keeping the settings in Kawahara’s novels from overlapping. This in turn lets him give the stories longevity through constant exploration of the settings. The ability to churn out more volumes without losing steam is what makes or breaks a light novel series, but it is easy to see that Kawahara’s overarching plots alone would probably not be enough to glue his series together. In SAO, the characters’ only initial goal, getting out of the game alive, is accomplished within the first novel. In AW, Kuroyukihime’s crusade against the other kings seems at first to be the main plotline, but it soon enough takes a backseat to other developments. The novels maintain their continuity not through their conflicts, but the characters and the worlds they live in.

Shuraba ka yo?

Another case where Kawahara shows his understanding of the workings of a contemporary light novel is his treatment of female characters. One of the main reasons why recent light novel series are so alike is that most of them follow a tried-and-true formula of introducing a new potential love interest in every volume. This lets authors keep things fresh even without breaking new ground, takes advantage of the illustrations that go along with a light novel, fits right in with the semi-episodic nature of the genre and is an easy way to just go through most of the common character archetypes while maintaining a decent level of popularity. While this might be the perfect recipe to write a mediocre light novel, there is no denying how potent the pattern is. Here, Kawahara’s novels set themselves apart form the main trend by featuring clear-cut main couples that progress swiftly to the “official status”, with confessions in the initial volumes of both series. But even with an established main couple and a faithful protagonist, Kawahara does not turn a blind eye to the potential of the golden pattern, finding ways to create tender (if not necessarily romantic) moments between the hero and an ever-expanding cast of female characters. Which is not to say that Kawahara mistreats his female fans. Without spoiling too much, there’s even a scene in one of the later AW novels with Takumu straddling Haruyuki on a bed and demanding for Haru to “mess him up”. While the actual significance of the scene might not be exactly what it seems, it is not entirely impossible that this is Kawahara’s way of nodding towards the yaoi enthusiasts among his readers, showing the great width of his target audience.


If nothing else, Kawahara Reki knows exactly what his readers want, and he delivers. Critics might not see his works as worthwhile, but would the tens of thousands of his fans agree? 

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After a long, long wait we now know the initial broadcast date for the 13th episode of Saki, Achiga-hen.

The episode will air on AT-X channel on the 24th of December, starting from 23:30 o’clock.

There is still no officially confirmed information available concerning the release dates of episodes 14 and 15.

Saki, Achiga-hen is likely to be one of the series in my top 12 for kiddtic’s Ani-Bloggers Choice Awards 2012, so this should be a welcome reminder of the show’s strong points before the voting deadline.

As manga readers already know, the atmosphere surrounding Shiraitodai radically changes the moment Teru ends her match. Anime-only fans can look forward to some surprises waiting ahead.  

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“Keep in mind that a single Panzer IV tank shell weighs just below 7kg (15,4lbs)…” , “the tank hatch might seem thin and light, but it’s one heavy lump of metal…”, “the jacket buttons are just a decoration – there’s a zipper underneath…”.

If the final effect was not enough to clear any doubts, the detail-packed character setting sheets that recently found their way out into the net serve as a reminder of how much thought and work goes into the the creation of every original drawing (sakuga) frame presented in Girls und Panzer. (And the Miho sketches are damn cute, too.)

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The real-life town of Ooarai is currently cooling down from the recent Ankou Matsuri / Anglerfish Festival. Ooarai itself boasts a population of just a bit below twenty thousand, and in recent years the number of visitors for the festival has been estimated to total about twenty-five thousand. This year, however, the number of participants has suddenly shot up to around fifty-five thousand. I wonder why~

Tour around Ooarai (posted some time before the festival):

The Girls und Panzer crew can also be spotted on the Ibaraki prefecture home site and, naturally, on the Ooarai town home site. It should be no surprise, though, that those particular girls know how to carry out an invasion. Panzer vor!

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What mother disowns her daughter over the latter’s choice of club activities? Probably the kind that takes care to remind her daughter of the ‘proper distance’ between them with every sentence she speaks.

It is not unique to Japanese that very polite and formal language appears cold and distant from the listener. But with the greater complexity Japanese offers in terms of politeness levels of speech, the words chosen show much more about relationships between people than in many other languages.

Mrs. Isuzu apparently opts to address her daughter by <first name> + <san>. Considering the "first name basis" here to be mostly a necessity (as the two obviously share their last name), the main politeness indicator would be the <san> ending. It is commonly thought of as a (rough) equivalent to the western Mr./Mrs./Miss, which makes it quite formal indeed. Of course, it might seem silly for a western parent to address their child like that, but it is not unheard of among Japanese parents. Sometimes it is a matter of treating the child as an individual, without the condescension inherent in calling a child with a <kun> or <chan> ending. Sometimes the situation is just too formal for anything else. But here, it is just part of the refined image Mrs. Isuzu tries so hard to uphold.


But if it is just about keeping up appearances in public, it might get better when in private, right? It does not seem so, as out of the gazillion ways Japanese has of saying “you”, Mrs. Isuzu decides to stick to <anata>. This particular pronoun can be linked to high-class and good upbringing, but it is as often seen as an easy way out when you do not know (or care about) somebody’s real name. After all, <anata> is as impersonal and neutral as Japanese gets, a word belonging mostly to language textbooks and Internet surveys.

This kind of environment had to leave its mark on Hana. The pressures of her upbringing and the expectations resting upon her shoulders are to be found in every sentence Hana speaks. From ending sentences in <desu wa>, through constantly using every polite noun and verb form you can think off (<hito> –> <kata>, <iru> –> <irassharu>, …) and up to complaining of a stomachache in historical play style (<jibyou no shaku ga>), Hana is walking proof of her mother’s principles.


And of course, her name. Hana – the flower – obviously written in the traditional and more difficult way (花 –> 華), leaves little doubt about what Mrs. Isuzu expects her daughter to do with her life. Hana seems to have adapted to this way of way of life so well so far that the standoff between mother and daughter shown in episode four might have well been their first. And although Hana is perfectly polite throughout the entire exchange, it must have been a shock for her mother that Hana can even have a mind of her own.


In stark contrast to the Isuzu family, the Akiyama household is much laxer in its approach to how they address each other. The head of the family addresses his wife by <omae>, which most people probably know as a rude form of address between males. Here, it actually shows how much at ease Yukari’s parents are with each other, not needing to hide behind any formalities. Mrs. Akiyama, on the other hand, points to her husband using the term <otou-san>, literally “father”. This is a typical leftover from the child raising period where everyone in the family is addressed from the child’s perspective, and it subtly implies a warm family atmosphere. The only highly polite language in those scenes is clearly humorous in nature – the ritualistic greeting from Yukari’s father coupled with a dogeza bow (normally reserved for apologizing for grave offences).

The difference between being polite and distant is best shown through Yukari’s mother. You can hear her using polite noun forms (<o-tomodachi>) coupled with informal verb forms to create a good balance when addressing her daughter’s friends – people she wants to be polite to without making the atmosphere too stiff.


On the topic of family, we also have the slowly unraveling mystery of why Mako reports to her grandma and not her parents (considering her reaction to the Akiyama family photo, it’s likely more than a matter of convenience), early hints pointing to Miho’s harsh military-style upbringing and Saori’s comments about her doting father. All things considered, Girls und Panzer presents a set of characters with widely different familial backgrounds, something of a rarity with so many “disappearing-parents” anime.                      

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There is a track in the Saki-Achiga soundtrack entitled Miyanaga Teru.

This is not exactly something to write home about. The character bearing that name appears in the show, and there is nothing unusual about her getting a track to herself. But for some reason, the track title stands out from those for other characters. Theme of Shizuno, Theme of Yuu, Ryuuka and Toki, but Miyanaga Teru. Cold and formal, creating a sense of distance between viewer and character.


The mahjong champion is a normal girl with her own worries and silly slip-ups – and a time will come for us to learn of those things, but not now. The first time we experience Miyanaga Teru, we must see her as do the girls sitting by the same mahjong table, as an overwhelming and unstoppable ‘something’. The tacit understanding delivering that image is everywhere – in Nakahara Mai’s drone-like voice acting, in the lack of Teru’s internal monologues, in how the other characters refer to her more often as ‘champion’ then by name, in the directing and the music.

And that understanding even found its way into the track titles few fans will ever see. But that’s fine. Because if you can unite the entire staff under a single vision, the final effect always pays off. 

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