Heaven’s Arena arc of Hunter x Hunter

I love the idea of Heaven’s Arena, which is a massive skyscraper with over 200 floors described as a mecca for martial artists. New entrants begin at the bottom and gradually work their way up, each further level bringing with it stronger opponents and better prize money. At the 200th floor, the fighters are no longer paid; they remain only for the joy of fighting.

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Anime like B: The Beginning

B: The Beginning was released on Netflix last week. It’s a fun watch, with some great action backed up by the ever reliable Production I.G. Sword fights should be visceral, fleshy affairs, decided in a split second after a flash of aggressive, fluid movement. B: The Beginning’s main character has wings, so it perhaps isn’t that realistic, but you get the idea. There’s a lot of strong, definitive action.

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The balloon scene in Made in Abyss

A balloon is a fragile thing. When Riko releases her balloon into the sky at the end of Made in Abyss, we see it lift it’s tiny payload.

It’s crazy.

How can something so fragile and small make it all the way to the top, past all the dangerous creatures and sharp rocks?

A message in a bottle cast into a bottomless ocean.

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Rediscovering Shonen Jump anime

Watching anime, I go through peaks and troughs.

The start of the year was a peak, but throughout February, I’ve been in a bit of a trough trying to find something new to watch and fall in love with.

At some point, I remembered that there’s a whole bunch of Shonen Jump anime that I should get back in to. I mean, I never finished Naruto Shippūden. Naruto is the reason I became an anime fan in the first place, my gateway drug. Apparently I’ve seen 573 episodes of One Piece too. I used to love One Piece and somehow it’s still going, with my last count showing 826 episodes and rising. Bloody hell, that’s a lot.

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Anime Rocks: Ergo Proxy’s opening

I thought I would write about my favourite anime openings and endings, but where to start? I trawled through some recent anime, but if I’m honest, they weren’t doing it for me. I love all different types of music, but in my heart of hearts, I’m a rock fan, and it feels like most recent anime is skewing towards Jpop. I’m not feeling it. I needed to go further back, to the winter of 2006 and a certain dystopian science fiction anime called Ergo Proxy.

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Great romantic fools: The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl

In 2017, Masaaki Yuasa directed The Night Is Short, Walk on Girl, which is a film set in the same fictional universe as his 2010 series The Tatami Galaxy. I really liked The Tatami Galaxy. I remember thinking that it was a more conventional (and therefore more accessible) anime than his other works at the time (Mind Game, Kemonozume and Kaiba) but it was still unmistakably his anime: raw, hyperactive and cathartic. At that same time, I didn’t know anything about its author, a certain Tomihiko Morimi, who I’ve later realised has a signature style all of his own. He wrote The Eccentric Family too.

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Girls’ Last Tour

Tall grass and open skies
That’s where we’ll be
Tall grass and open skies
That’s where we’ll be
Tall grass and open skies
That’s where we’ll be
That’s where we’ll meet
(Yvette Young – A map a string a light)

In Girls’ Last Tour, Earth has been ravaged. Life has been all but extinguished. A permanent winter. All that’s left are cities. Concrete jungles powered by technologies long since abandoned. In that world travel two of the last people, Yuuri and Chito, on their trusty old motorcycle. From skyscraper to subway they move, searching for food and supplies amidst the lost civilization, trying to make sense of the symbols and artifacts left behind by their parents and grandparents generation. What to us are graves, factories, transistor radios and songs, are to them a mystery. Strange, magical things.

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A bright shining future

I can’t speak for Japan, but right now in England, young adults are having a hard time. Money seems harder to come by than ever for many who are working all hours to afford their month’s rent, let alone buying a home without a mortgage that’s loaded with high interest rates. It’s a scary, often bewildering time, struggling to keep your head above water in the town or city that you grew up in and trust deeply, a place that’s now indifferent to your pain.

That alienation and desperation is captured by the street rappers’ in Devilman Crybaby. They may be my favourite part of the series.

Don’t give up!

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For good anime

Through preference as much as necessity, the way I’m consuming anime today is different to how I used to, say, 10 years ago. Back then, I relied on downloading fansubs and watching anime as it aired in Japan, one episode per week. I was in deep. Today, I hardly rely on fansubs at all, because it’s easier to stream something from Crunchyroll, or Netflix, or where-ever, than to get a torrent file. Of course, I’m paying for subscriptions at those sites too, which alludes to a big difference from back then: I have a full-time job, the upside of which is that I can afford nice things, the downside is that I have (much) less time to enjoy them.

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Pure Anime

Hey guys. I know, I know. It’s been nearly 2 years. Putting pen to paper hasn’t been easy. I’ve been a bit jaded and distracted, but still, I think about writing. Every time I walk away, something brings me back. It’s because I love writing. I honestly miss it. This year I put down some resolutions, and one of those was to write again for this blog. I’m rusty, though. I’ve been thinking about where to start, but every time I think I’ve got something, the inspiration drifts. There are so many voices, so many opinions, so much noise, it’s hard not to feel small, or like a drop in an ocean. The more I think, the less confident I feel, but I still remember, I like myself when I write. I will keep going.

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The older I get the more I realise the less I know

Well, this is weird. This is the first time I’ve sat down to write something for a really long time, too long for a blog that inexplicably still has some readers. For that, I thank you. Whenever I hear from one of you, it truly boosts my spirits.

Over the years of writing for this place, I’ve tried to make sure that the writing is future proof. Even still, whenever someone links an old post, especially one that’s been collecting dust over the years, I’ll flinch in embarrassment. I mean, god, there are posts from 2006! That young me and my opinions! Because I’m so much wiser now, right?!

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The best decoy ever

Is this the era of the sports anime? Without doing the research, it really feels like it, more so than at any other point in recent history, and what’s more, most of it’s really quite good! I’ve already written about Ping Pong the Animation, but in short, I love(d) it. Then again, I always knew I would, but Haikyuu!! was a different case. In the past year alone, I’ve watched Ping Pong the Animation, Hajime no Ippo: Rising, Yowamushi Pedal and Kuroko’s Basketball (both seasons,) so you could say that I’m primed for a sports anime burn out. I keep waiting for a show to push me into that abyss and thought that Haikyuu!! would be the one, but spoiler: it wasn’t. Haikyuu!! is really flipping good.

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Blood tastes like iron

Even when there’s a guy like Masaaki Yuasa handling the adaptation of one of your favourite stories, there’s always a small worry that something won’t click. In Ping Pong‘s case especially, pairing Yuasa with mangaka Taiyou Matsumoto was almost too perfect, because as any one who has read Matsumoto’s other works will know (Tekkonkinkreet and Sunny amongst them,) his drawing style is really unique, favouring jagged and uneven lines, an aesthetic that’s also much like Yuasa’s own for Mind Game, Kemonozume and Kick Heart.

Visually then, these two guys go against the grain, but that in itself is just a superficial thing and not reason enough to care. They also happen to be masters of their respective crafts. Kaiba, The Tatami Galaxy, Tekkonkinkreet, Ping Pong and Sunny. These two are amongst the best working in animanga today, so when the Ping Pong anime was announced, it felt too perfect; too much like a dream; something had to go wrong, right?!

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Unspeakably beautiful

A belated new year’s resolution for me is to publish more posts this year than last, but rather than try to come up with a bunch of boring editorials, I went through MyAnimeList and picked out twelve anime that I want to try and write about, bringing me first to Devilman (both The Birth (1987) and The Demon Bird (1990) episodes,) the closest that anime has come to replicating the feel of an H.P. Lovecraft story, that of aeons-old demons and lost civilisations.

Like one of Lovecraft’s most famous stories, it even begins with an ill-fated scientific expedition into a distant mountain range. The children of those scientists, Akira and (the totally insane) Ryou, are the protagonists, with Ryou leading Akira towards his fate as Devilman, mankind’s only opposition to the hordes of demons hell-bent on reclaiming Earth for their own. There’s nothing remarkable about that premise and there are dozens of other stories just like it, but Devilman has some fascinating, deeper hues to it than most.

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Anime blogging 2015

Over the last four or five months, I’ve written half a dozen new articles for this blog that haven’t made it through to being published. I don’t know why I’m now dithering so much, but as its now been two months since I last published anything new, I just wanted to say that I’m still here and won’t be giving up any time soon. Just to emphasise that fact, in December I renewed this website’s address for another two years, so you’ll be stuck with us until late 2015, at the very least!

When I started anime blogging in 2006 (ignoring some obscure attempts in 2005) it was such a new and shiny mode of communication and felt like being on the crest of a wave of something special. And it was, just look at Anime News Network today in comparison to 2005. Blogging has completely changed the world of publishing, for better and for worse, but if 2006 was the Spring of anime blogging, what we’re in now is the Autumn.

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Kill la Kill and (my) great expectations

Kill la Kill defies comparison. It’s from the writer and director duo that brought us the beloved Gurren Lagann and it reads a lot like the classic Revolutionary Girl Utena but come into Kill la Kill expecting a series like those two and you’ll be disappointed. It’s its own animal, albeit with a twist of parental DNA from Hiroyuki Imaishi, but even still, part of the fun is in starting each episode thinking I know what’s coming, only to have all of those expectations shoved back down my throat.

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Rin’s labyrinth

“If you were stronger, I don’t know how this would have ended. But I know one thing. That woman would be dead. Those who gain power must pay a price, something in exchange. If you seek to be stronger than others you may have to lose what you value above all else. Remember this well.” –Giichi, Blade of the Immortal

In Blade of the Immortal, being strong means everything. When Rin loses her parents, looking on as they are humiliated and butchered right in front of her, she vows to avenge them, but talk is cheap. When your enemy’s strong, you’ll need to be that much stronger, but what does it mean to be strong, anyway? If it weren’t for what happened to Rin’s parents, she’d have just been another normal kid. Timid, likes sweets, curious about boys. Instead, she’s now walking this dangerous road with Manji.

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Still warm

In another life, I may have been a vegetarian, but in this day and age of supermarkets and their aisles of prepared meat, it’s hard to imagine something as generic as a chicken breast once belonging to a living animal. Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that it does, but having been divorced from the source of my food for the whole of my lifetime, eating meat is something that I do because I’m hungry and it’s food. There’s no moral quandary for me because, for the most part, I never think to question where any of it came from. If it tastes alright, I’m fine with it.

At the same time, I’m an animal lover. I have a cat (bad-boy Boris) and a dog (wimpy Splash) and to see them in pain is akin to injuring myself. It’s not just pets either, because if I can avoid stepping on something as tiny as an ant, I will.

As the summer season waxes and wanes, Silver Spoon (Gin no Saji) is one of the two new anime (the other being Sunday without God,) that I’ve managed to keep up with. Created by Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist,) it’s the story of Hachiken’s tentative entry into the world of Japanese agriculture. Fresh from his suburban school life but desperate to escape the claustrophobia of conventional academia, he enrols at a farming college far and away from his old school and like me, has something of a sheltered exposure to food production in-tow.

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Death to the fantasy

Of all the new anime that I’ve seen this season, it’s probably WataMote that has left me with the strongest impression, to the point where I went ahead and started reading the manga straight after watching it. With its English title of No Matter How I Look At It, It’s You Guys’ Fault I’m Unpopular! you can guess what it’s about, but to summarise, it’s the story of the unpopular high-school girl Tomoko and her titanic struggle to be not so.

That may sound like the beginning of any given high-school anime (which is, let’s face it, almost every anime,) but the twist to WataMote is that there’s no external salvation for her. No-one notices her, she doesn’t join the light music club, she’s not infatuated with her brother, she’s a dedicated fujoshi, but for all of her hundreds of hours of “training” through dating sims, in the end no real boy so much as looks her way. As the title alludes, her problem isn’t that she’s unpopular, but that she’s blaming everyone else for it, and therein lies the harsh truth that under pins this series. Tomoko’s so clearly denying reality. No one has bullied her to make her this way, she’s just an introverted, really shy girl, and her unpopularity is of her own making.

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In the Mouth of Madness: Aku no Hana

There’s a beautiful scene at the end of episode seven of Aku no Hana (Flowers of Evil.) Finally overcome with the guilt of stealing Saeki’s gym clothes, Kasuga asks Nakamura to help him confess and in the dead of night they head to their classroom to do just that. She forces him to write his confession on the blackboard but along the way something snaps in them both and they fucking trash the classroom instead. Paint and chalk goes everywhere, desks are overturned and they lay there in the middle of it all, exhausted and happy. It’s a moment of total anarchy, like a flash of lightning, equal parts beautiful and scary, and the anime captures it wonderfully.

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Ghosts in their own ghost stories: Shokuzai

“If it cannot break out of its shell, the chick will die without ever being born. We are the chick-The world is our egg. If we don’t crack the world’s shell, we will die without ever truly being born. Smash the world’s shell. FOR THE REVOLUTION OF THE WORLD!”
–Revolutionary Girl Utena

Shokuzai (Penance) is a story of people dying without ever being born. Exposed to a tragedy at a young age, it’s like they were frozen in time and encased within a shell of adolescence as they grew into adulthood. They were five girls in their school’s playground when one of them was abducted right in front of their eyes and murdered. 15 years later, we return to their lives and find them still struggling to come to terms with what happened. Stunted, empty, cursed; they could never break out of their shells. Thus began the 5 episode series Shokuzai, a 2012 Japanese TV drama directed by the horror maestro Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure, Pulse, Tokyo Sonata.)

When I began investigating Japanese film in 2008, Kurosawa fast became a favourite of mine. Like a Japanese Tarkovsky, his style is calm and atmospheric, using background noise and image to convey a strong feeling of alienation and disquiet. If you’ve ever seen anything from the anime directors Ryutaro Nakamura (Serial Experiments Lain, Ghost Hound) or Hiroshi Hamasaki (Texhnolyze, Shigurui,) you’ll know what to expect. Kurosawa’s made a lot of horror, but in a genre renowned for its visceral qualities, his films are unusually meditative and artful nightmares that play with the strange and surreal to emphasise an ugly and desperate reality. When even Martin Scorsese is a fan (the excellent Shutter Island owes a lot to Kurosawa,) you realise this is a filmmaker worthy of note.

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Majestic Prince

Every season has its dark horses and this one is no different. I’ve been excited about Flowers of Evil, Attack on Titan and Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet since the offset, but I ignored Majestic Prince, which I figured would be as cliché as it looked. I don’t know if it’s just Hisashi Hirai’s dated character designs or the general vibe of nostalgia that permeates its whole production, but Majestic Prince feels old. For example, I’ll always remember Hirai’s drawing style for his work on 1999’s Infinite Ryvius (and later, 2002’s Gundam SEED,) but there’s other points of reference, too, like how it has an ending theme by Chiaki Ishikawa of Bokurano’s great Uninstall OP. It all just feeds into that datedness that has seen many dismiss it with barely a second glance. Like I did, sadly. It has a score of 6.77 (from 3001 users) on MyAnimeList, which is notably low for what’s fast becoming a very decent series, but is also revealing in how far out of sync it seems to be with the fans of today.

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Don’t give up: dying in pursuit of change and The Sky Crawlers

Mamoru Oshii doesn’t make forgettable anime. Be it Ghost in the Shell or Patlabor 2, the man injects so much personality into his films that it’s impossible not to recognise his touch. There is, of course, his famous basset hound, but there’s also a poetic side that transports this viewer into the ether. I can’t tell if it’s just that his films are ageing like fine wine, or if I’m now of an age where I’m better able to appreciate what he’s trying to say, but whatever the case, he’s now one of my favourite film directors.

I watched The Sky Crawlers for the first time last night. With Kenji Kawai and Production IG alongside him, it’s a film as thoughtful as it is beautiful. Set on an alternate Earth, the ageless Kildren (“kill-dolls”) are fighter pilots forever clashing amidst the clouds in a war that is at best extremely vague and at worst totally pointless. The story exists in a place that’s like Neverland gone bad, where the children’s only escape from the endless cycles of war is heavy drinking, sex and suicide: the sheer monotony of their lives is reflected in the film’s subdued colour palette, everything is so hazy and drained: an apt worldview for a doll. A doll isn’t alive. A doll doesn’t have memories. A doll is content with its place in the world because it knows no better.

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The anime-fication of Attack on Titan

This season, I’ve found myself in the fun position of having two of my favourite manga series adapted into anime. We already know how things went with Flowers of Evil, but there’s still the case of Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) to consider. Produced at Wit Studio and directed by Tetsurō Araki (of Death Note and Kurozuka, amongst others,) it’s the adaptation I was hoping for back in 2011. So, is it any good? Going by this first episode: hell yes.

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The flower bloomed

Before you decide to watch Flowers of Evil (Aku no Hana,) please ask yourself these questions: do I purely want bishounen, or bishoujo, characters in my anime? Am I always looking for attractive characters? Should anime always look the same? If you’ve answered in the affirmative to any of these questions, forget about Flowers of Evil and watch something else. The sheer amount of invective aimed at its first episode is evidence enough that many aren’t able to see this series as anything other than ugly. I didn’t realise there was an objective example of ugliness, but apparently, Flowers of Evil is it. Thanks, anime fans.

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The end of Psycho-Pass

One wouldn’t think it to look at them, but Shin Sekai Yori and Psycho-Pass were like two peas in a pod. Both deal in dystopian futures, social commentary and rebellion, both attempt to obfuscate their commentary by presenting it through morally-questionable speakers, and both refuse to end with everything neatly resolved. Suffice to say, I really enjoyed both series, but I’ve already had my say on Shin Sekai Yori. Now it’s time to write about Psycho-Pass, too.

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My name is Squealer

The end of a season is a bittersweet time for anime fans, as the joy of seeing a series reach its climax is undercut by the knowledge that this is the last hurrah for a story we’ve grown attached to over time. Such is the case with Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World,) a series that had me under its spell from the first episode on. Unpredictable, challenging and artistic are but three ways to describe the experience of watching it. Indeed, it has all the things that critics like me love to see in anime, but more importantly, this isn’t merely a cold essay on human nature, it’s emotive, and ends beautifully, with a trademark mix of the horrifying and hopeful.

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The shrinking of Attack on Titan

Back in 2011, I wrote two posts about the manga series Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) and since then, it’s only grown in popularity, and in addition to a live-action movie, now has an anime series starting in April, too. I can’t wait to see how it turns out, but in the meantime, I figured I’d catch up with the latest chapters, and, man, is it still good or what? But there’s something else I have to note too, in that by beginning to explain many of its mysteries, Attack on Titan is shrinking.

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Aim for the Ace!

Her hand bloodied and blistered, she bandages it up, ties it to her racket and keeps going. Giving up isn’t an option. This is her moment! Her chance! Her dream! This is Aim for the Ace!.

Hiromi Oka has spent her youth idolising Reika Ryūzaki, known otherwise as the beautiful Madame Butterfly (Ochōfujin,) a formidable, undefeated tennis player. But Hiromi has trained hard for this match, sacrificed her love, even, to reach this point, and now she’s here, a little bit of blood and pain isn’t like to stop her.

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Japanese punk

Lately, I’ve felt a little empty. Waiting for something to spark a little inspiration in me. So, as I often do, I ended-up on YouTube, listening to music, when The Blue Hearts appeared with their song, Linda Linda. It’s a Japanese punk-rock song that you’ll have heard before if you’ve seen the film Linda Linda Linda (which I reviewed years ago.) Anyway, I’ve always liked punk music, aesthetics and all, and it’s interesting to see such a Japanese take on it. Ripped jeans, snarling faces and funny dancing.

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Top 12 anime of 2012

The last time I wrote a list like this was back in 2007. Can you believe it’s been 5 years since then? 5 years since Gurren Lagann? I don’t know how I’ve lasted this long. The pace of my blogging has slowed since then, too. In 2007, I made 82 posts; in 2012, this will make it 24. I’ve often thought about stopping, but, in the end, something always drags me back, and when it does, I’m glad I’ve made my home here. Here, more than 6 years in the making. This is an anime blog filled with contradiction, error and inconsistency. Maybe you’ve been reading us for that long, maybe this is your first time? But whatever the case, welcome! This review of 2012 begins now.

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Head/heart

Being an anime fan at the moment is fun. The Autumn season has really upped the ante, with two series in Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) and Psycho-Pass proving fascinating in different ways.

I’ve already written about Shin Sekai Yori. It’s a series that stole my heart almost as soon as it appeared, through its dark narrative and shifting visuals. A few years ago, I wrote a couple of emotive posts about Casshern Sins: the director of that series, Shigeyasu Yamauchi, has a very distinctive and surreal style, and he’s now directing episodes (5 & 10) of Shin Sekai Yori. While many may have been disappointed by his efforts, personally, I love them.

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