Archive for July, 2018

It has only been in the most recent years that I have been able to share some anime with my family. We had that indestructible Sony CRT TV for 20+ years, and there was no reasonable way to connect it to a laptop. But these days I can share some anime whenever I am back home for longer as long as I can find/prepare Polish subs for a given series (the only language my Dad and Mum speak). Anime recommendations for casuals and the older generation are always a popular topic, so here are my experiences.

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Mikakunin de Shinkoukei – Engaged to the Unidentified

Wait, he’s like…a werewolf, and they’re NOT going to talk about it!?

You will not often see this good old slice-of-life/romantic comedy show up in recent anime discussion, but it was a huge hit with my family. The genres are what my parents like best, and the comedy is mostly character-based and not hectic enough for the viewer to get confused or overwhelmed.

Hakuya’s: “What’s your favourite food? -> Anything Kobeni makes.” line struck a chord with everyone, as that is basically how my Dad works. He will eat whatever we feed him in whatever amounts we provide and it will be his favourite food for the moment.

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Death Note

It’s that Japanese thing, right? The moment you get attached to them, they turn out to be evil.

It is easy to go for the gritty and/or inaccessible stuff when you first share anime with people and want to prove how much more it can be than what cartoons are often believed to be. But Death Note is one title that can work just fine. It has depth if you want to read it that way, but generally works like a smart Hollywood thriller.

Mum loved Ryuuk and Rem most (as she did Madoka’s Kyuubey…). Dad would occasionally scoff at the screen: “Nuh-uh. As if they all could be that smart.”

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No way! How silly can those girls get!?

With the timing of its initial broadcast and the role it played in the anime world, K-On! found itself the target of all kinds of accusations, from objectifying female characters to trying to corrupt anime storytelling with the moe disease. With all that noise, it can be easy to forget how casual-friendly the series is, with its simple humour and a cast of lovable characters that can appeal to viewers of all ages and genders.

Mom surprised me when one of the scenes that stuck out most in her memory was that one time when Azusa and Mugi spend some time alone in the clubroom, and Azusa is not quite sure how to lead the conversation. Apparently, great team chemistry becoming uncertain on a person-to-person basis was something that rang true with her own high school memories. And that loving commentary on a time everybody has gone through is what makes the series a great choice.

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Akatsuki no Yona – Yona of the Dawn

I was about to suggest they just kill him with arrows, but he can swat away those too, eh?

One of those series nobody knows about and everybody loves after watching. Technically this counts as a reverse harem, but there is so much here to enjoy between the politics, action, relationships and a sprinkle of fantasy. I do not associate (reverse) harems with memorable main characters, but Yona’s development in the series is top-notch.

My folks particularly enjoyed the character of the pirate captain – an old lady with a kind heart and balls of steel. People randomly turning out to be dragons also became something of a family meme, so when I later asked my parents for any themes they wanted in our next series, they were like: dragons. So I showed them Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (spoilers: they loved that, too).

What were your ideas for introductory series into the medium? I will happily take inspiration from any recommendations, so feel free to share below.

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Be Your All

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Anime is full of incredible couples. Destiny-bound, society-defying and whatever else comes to mind. And to top it all off, they are usually far more than each other’s love interests. If the anime involves fighting, for example, you can almost always expect your couple to fight side-by-side at some point, either directly or with one half of the couple powering up the other half.

I feel silly writing that I sometimes wish for something else. It is no accident those battle couples are so common – they are awesome. How much of SAO’s success stems from Kirito and Asuna tearing through the battlefield hand in hand? Even if you hate the show to bits, you know which parts were good and which bad – and I am quite sure the latter involves Asuna being removed from the front lines. The original Nanoha series ending involves the main characters facing endless armies of faceless drones, and still manages to be exciting. How? Well, it is the first time Nanoha and Fate fight together as allies – which is as sweet as pay-off gets.

But in real life, I have all those weird half-relationships. In the “battlefields” of my professional life, I often work together with some nasty people. Still, many of those jerks are highly competent and reliable. What you get is a weird relationship of mutual trust where both sides know they do not want anything to do with each other in their personal lives, yet are happy enough to join forces whenever necessary. Of course, both parties have people they actually love and come back to after the “battle” is done.

Again, I cannot blame anime for only rarely reaching for those mixed relationships. The most straight example I can think of is Re:Zero. And “I love Emilia” is one the most reviled lines in recent anime history. People saw Subaru and Rem facing the dreadful timelines together, and they wanted the two to share happiness much more then they wanted to see the sideline-princess Emilia involved. What about Hibike Euphonium? With the main characters linked by such a tremendous bond, yet having it clearly stated that the bond was not romantic in nature, both the yuri and non-yuri parts of the fandom were left perplexed at what to think about some of the scenes.

And why do I bring this up? Because of this season’s Hanebado. The Ayano x Elena pair might as well be joined at the hip. There is only one problem: Elena will never ever join Ayano on the battlefield of badminton. The third episode of the series shows how Elena feels uneasy about Ayano’s badminton connections, knowing that she will never truly be part of that circle, and yet is willing to push Ayano into the arms of a potentially dangerous rival in the person of Nagisa, as long as it is all for Ayano’s benefit. Will Hanebado be the rare anime where two spheres of a character’s personal live remain separate and equally important, or are there other developments in store? I nervously await the incoming episodes.

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My Hero Academia is a series I struggle with. There is plenty in there to like, and there are just as many imperfections. The positives, everyone knows: the likeable and colourful characters, the mix of more Western tropes with anime aesthetics, and classic shounen action with high production values. The negatives? Me and MHA had several misunderstanding throughout the initial episodes. One of them concerned Izuku’s famous line where he describes the series as “a story about how he becomes the greatest hero”.

Do not get me wrong, the line mostly functions well in context. It a clearly articulated promise of a zero to hero story from a series which, as a long-running shounen, will require some time until the main character can start kicking ass. It is a refreshing step away from Izuku’s usually timid nature, and possibly foreshadowing that one of the areas in which he will have to improve is his lack of self confidence. It sounds cool. It has impact.

It does not exactly fit, though. Izuku’s circumstance of having inherited his powers from another means that whatever he achieves is the culmination of the efforts of several people. It seems off that Izuku would claim it is all about him at the end of the day. But that is just my approach to pride and modesty – I could accept the character reaching different conclusions. More importantly, the mechanics of Izuku’s power actually make it impossible for him to become the greatest hero ever. This is because looking far into the future, Izuku’s final act as a hero will be to find a worthy successor and give birth to an even greater hero. If he succeeds, he is no longer the greatest, and if he does not, that in itself is a significant failure as the holder of One For All.

But you know what? If there is one good thing I can say about this show, it is that it is constantly improving. Bakugou’s one-dimensional psychotic nature recently got some nice development, while individual arcs started building on each other. And somewhere between the second and fourth cours, Izuku’s introductory line also changed.


Yes, this is the story of how I became the greatest hero.


I continue to run toward my dream, standing up to any difficulties and saving people with a smile… in order to become the greatest hero!

I borrow the subs from you-can-guess-where, and first I will address the part of the change they actually reflect. That would be the transition in focus from the final goal to the journey. As mentioned above, the declaration that “the story ends with me becoming the greatest hero” works fine as a one-liner meant to capture the viewer’s attention. However, it is not entirely honest to what the series is about. The greatness Izuku seeks is a distant goal, not a foregone conclusion. The third season makes this very clear: while the great power of One For All is Izuku’s promised future, it neither removes the need to make the right choices, nor does it guarantee a happy end, as Izuku learns in his confrontations with the villains. My Hero Academia is about the growth of its characters, and the show itself has grown past its attention-grab stage and can now freely admit to that focus.

Another change in the line is one the subs try to cover up the best they can in order to preserve the “greatest hero” wording. I will not hold that against the translation – consistency has a value of its own in that world. But there are obvious issues that show up with that take even if you only look at the English text. If you have seen more than half the show, you might wonder when exactly Izuku manages to “stand up to any difficulties and save people with a smile”. He saves one boy – a significant event – and assists All Might and Bakugou. Other than that, Izuku spends the third season howling in pain and crying in anguish in an endless confrontation with his doubts and regrets.

Things make more sense when we realise that the “any difficulties/smile” part of the quote is not a description of Izuku’s present, as the subs would have it, but part of the description of Izuku’s goal – the greatest hero. Again, the avoidance in the translation is understandable. A too-honest approach might give us “…in order to become the greatest hero, who stands up to any difficulties and saves people with a smile”. This sounds awkward and weak as it is a classic case of less is more. If you leave things at “the greatest hero”, the audience is free to imagine all kinds of conditions the perfect hero will meet. If you add two of your own conditions, people will start to wonder: “wait, is that enough to become the greatest hero?”. It almost seems better to avoid this phrasing, except the transition is more than an awkward artistic choice.

Now, note that Japanese has no comparative and superlative. That is just not part of the grammar. If you want to compare things or point to something being “the most”, you add words that have that meaning. And yes, “saikou” is one of those words that can point to a superlative meaning: saikou ni utsukushii “supremely beautiful”. The thing is, the range of meaning is wider than that of the superlative. When we say saikou ni tanoshikatta, it is just a way of stressing that we had great fun. “The most fun I’ve ever had” would be a forced translation which tries to retain the superlative.

So the opening line might refer to great heroes rather than the greatest hero, an interpretation which is cemented by the appearance of an additional word in the new opening line, that being sonna そんな. The word (as well as its full form sono you na) means something along the lines of “like that/of that kind”. It points to the existence of a group or type of the “greatest”. In short, the new opening line goes like this: “I continue to run toward my dream: to become somebody who stands up to any difficulties and saves people with a smile, a true hero”.

This new line is much more in tune with what the third season presents us with. Of special note is the scene in which Endeavor unwittingly becomes the “greatest hero”. A victim of circumstance more than anything else, Endeavor is deeply frustrated with being given the number one without achieving what he really strived for. This reveals how meaningless a singular “greatest hero” is in the context of this series. Further yet, this interpretation empowers the numerous side stories of the other hero candidates highlighted in the series. An universal, if universally difficult, call to greatness means that both Izuku and his colleagues are challenged to move forward and grow stronger until they all embody their ideals.

Somewhere between the lines, My Hero Academia continues to shift and evolve, and so I have hope we can one day be reconciled.

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The Idol Paradox

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I think no genre betrayed my expectations quite as thoroughly as the idol genre. You see, I was late to watch 2011’s The Idolmaster because as much praise as the series received, it was about idols, and that was one industry I had no interest in. It takes a talented (or at least good-looking) individual and builds a cult of personality around them. Whatever performances those individuals give might be of value, but the real money the industry craves is not in a single CD sold so that somebody can listen to a song. It is in the dozens of CDs and paraphernalia that one person will buy to show their support for their idol of choice. And as the idol in question is simultaneously a normal human being and a product to be marketed and sold, there is a naturally duplicitous element to the idol trade. The images of idols are created to contain only what is pleasing to the audience, while in reality the idol might smoke, have a significant other and hold controversial views. If the truth behind the mask comes to light, there is inevitable outrage at the “betrayal”.

I dislike the idea of that masquerade, as do many otaku. Yes, there is that very real irony of anime characters being idealised far more than any real-life idols are. But here the non-existence of those 2D characters becomes an advantage – they do not live double lives. If one of them so happens to be a forever-cheerful, angelic existence, then that is who they are, unrealistic though that kind of character might seem. Anime characters neither betray the audience, nor are they ever forced to lie or hide inconvenient facts(*1). Which is why there exists a significant divide between the idol and anime fan subcultures, despite both being seen as similar from the outside and described with the shared label of otaku.

So I avoided watching idol anime for a long while, expecting those titles to be about outwardly perfect characters showing off their perfectness to an imaginary audience, all while laying the foundation for an excessive amount of merchandise to be sold to the newly-ensnared fans. Basically, the real-life idol industry as-is except with the difficulties and expenditures of finding and raising a worthy idol-candidate taken out of the equation. And certainly, that is one way to look at what the genre is. In an entry from way back, illogicalzen argues that anime idols are most often a powered up version of their real-life counterparts. While the idealisation of real-life idols mostly plays out on the stage and through interviews and the like, anime idols can take it a step further, showing off perfect and pure personal lives. Indeed, the vanilla anime-idol represents that kind of ideal: a kind and humble soul filled with dreams and a pure love for singing and dancing. For those characters, the idea that it is all just a job, that they can be back to being themselves after forcing a fake smile for a few hours, is entirely alien.

That said, the anime idol also manages to be the very antithesis of their real-life counterpart. While the audience of a real-life idol mostly comes in contact with a finished product, the anime idol is most often a diamond in the rough. In their raw states, those would-be idols can be clumsy, devastatingly shy, or otherwise unfit for being a target of mass admiration. Their growth into somebody worthy of the coveted idol title is a long and arduous journey, and that journey will usually take up the bulk of a series’s runtime. The live performances, so important for real-life idols, return as a high-point, but only take up as little as a few percent of the total screen-time. Even then, the significance of those moments is completely different. One of the great achievements of The Idolmaster is that the viewer naturally slips into the perspective of a producer: when the idols struggle through a last-minute choreography change or come face to face with debilitating trauma, the emotional payoff is not primarily in the beauty of the dance and songs presented, but in the pride and relief that they pulled it off without a hitch, bringing them one step closer to their dreams.

This difference in focus allows idol anime to touch upon topics which might be no-go for a real-life idol. One striking image is that of anime idols with their oxygen masks on in-between musical numbers – a raw admission of how far they are pushing themselves that never quite makes for a simply cute picture. The same goes for internal conflicts and dealing with hiccups without letting the audience know that something is off.

But more importantly, our ability to learn of the anime idols as individual people and come to like them despite their shortcomings means that anime idols can afford to exhibit personality traits unbefitting their real-life counterparts. Last week’s money-grubber list contained Cinderella Girls’ Futaba Anzu, a girl who is in the industry for the money, period. She also happens to be a huge sloth, and were there a surefire way for her to win the lottery and get rich that way, she would likely be quitting the idol industry asap. The same show also features Maekawa Miku, a serious and studious girl with a firm belief about what an idol should be, who strives to give that image justice even if it is far removed from her everyday persona. It is a kind of duality which would seem dishonest were we not privy to Miku’s personal thoughts and moments. In AKB0048, several members of the titular idol group realise that one way to the top is to push everyone down the stairs, and several episodes of the show revolve around the dilemma of taking or not taking that path. In Wake Up Girls, one of the main characters freely admits that the whole idol thing is a stepping stone towards a different career path they actually want to pursue. A focal point of Girlish Number is the frustration of voice actors confronted with the realities of their dream industry. Increasingly, anime idols are allowed to be and feel like imperfect human beings.

All things considered, the transition into 2D represents an opportunity either to further idealise an idol, or humanise them. If the genre continues to thrive, it will be interesting which path it chooses to take. At the same time, the anime industry seems to have found a way around the issue of idol distrust by increasingly turning their seiyuu into quasi-idols. But that is another topic altogether.

(*1) In rare cases, character development can be seen as a form of betrayal by some extremist fans. Famously, one Kannagi character caused an outrage and book-burning after a past love interest of theirs was revealed. Still, this kind of occurrence is more of a curiosity than a common thing in the anime fandom.

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