Sayaka Miki is a Hero

When we think of heroes, the picture that likely manifests for most people is a savior. Whether a guy in colorful spandex fighting crime or knight with a sword staving off evil creatures, heroes go above and beyond to save others through their actions. The piece that really sets apart what a hero can be, however, is what they stand for. The most memorable stories of heroes are the ones that confront them with the cracks in their own morality, such as Batman refusing to kill even The Joker. These moments remind us that even the best heroes are human or at least fallible in much the same way. No matter how hard you try, you can’t save everyone. In some cases, you cannot save yourself. This is the case with Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s spunky, driven blue-haired heroine. Yet there is no doubt in my mind; Sayaka Miki is a Hero.

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While every one of the girls of Madoka prove themselves heroic in some way, Sayaka envisions herself in the role quite easily. She has a deep empathy and desires to protect the people and world she cherishes in the sweet, fluffy way one may expect of middle-schoolers. Even her initial appearance as a magical girl invokes many ideals of heroism— shrouded in a cape, a white knight comes out of nowhere to save the innocent just in time. She also has flaws one might expect of a starry-eyed middle-schooler, such as deep self-loathing and naiveté (a relatable slate).  She’s fiercely loyal to her friends, but she also has an inherent tendency to distrust (namely, Homura and Kyoko when they first appear). The key piece here is her wish, and more precisely whom it was for. Kyosuke is a longtime friend (and more importantly big crush) of Sayaka’s and she dutifully visits him as regularly as possible. He sits in the hospital recovering from an accident which renders him incapable of using his hands to play the violin he was so fond of. He sees no way he could possibly ever do what he loves again short of an improbable miracle, and it leaves him depressed. Sayaka, it turns out, is capable of just that miracle.

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The hands are healed and Sayaka is now a magical girl, having been granted her wish by sociopathic space rodent Kyubey while foreboding red skies look on. Sayaka promises to never regret her wish, and then something else red falls into her life to really test the limits of that promise. Kyoko is someone much like Sayaka— her wish was for the sake of someone else, but she has come to regret this and now looks out only for herself. Naturally, this does not sit well with Sayaka, who holds on to her own rigid ideals of heroism as a selfless act. Kyoko has no time for such ideals— she is no doubt aware what destructive potential this rigidness holds and is eager to strike it down. While their initial hostile encounter ends in a Homura-induced draw, this feud leads Sayaka to declare to Madoka that she will fight anyone who is as bad or worse than the witches in the name of protecting those she cares about— even fellow magical girls. Her moral imperatives in her own heroic ideals outweigh seeing beyond the myopic nature of this stance.

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Soon after a revelation would be made that would shock all the girls and leave Sayaka in particular shaken. The Soul Gem lives up to its name as when one is left without theirs— as Sayaka was— they cease living until it is returned; a person’s soul is actually housed in it. Soon after a clearly similarly shaken Kyoko attempts a form of reconciliation, walking Sayaka through her own wish and the tragic events it led to. Kyoko sees this as a warning in the form of advice from someone who was in a remarkably similar position, and came to know regret for it. This does not deter Sayaka, who pledges she will never allow herself to regret using her wish on the behalf of another. The ideals of her justice and heroism do not allow her to see that as anything but giving up on helping others, and she instead thinks of how much good she can do with this power. She holds firm to her righteousness, thinking of the many ways she can fulfill being a hero with her abilities.

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Sayaka is not as stable as her resolute speech would have one believe. Kyosuke, the crush she made her wish for, has been approached by Hitomi— another girl who happens to be a close friend of Sayaka’s and Madoka’s. Hitomi does not want the dueling interest to dampen their relationship, as she is quite aware of Sayaka’s feelings. She gives Sayaka a chance to reveal her feelings first, but the soul gem revelation has left her too shaken to think she can approach Kyosuke, feeling as though she cannot ask her longtime crush to hold and embrace what feels to her to be nothing more than the body of a zombie. This also leads to thoughts that are naturally not so kind to Hitomi, and Sayaka clearly loathes that such thoughts even momentarily came into her head, as she tearfully confesses to Madoka. The limits that human error place on such rigid ideals are clearly shown in the self-loathing here, as Sayaka hates that weakness allowed a crack in her valuing her friendship and acts of saving people even when it is clearly an understandable emotional reaction.

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The downward spiral continues as Sayaka seems to be increasingly detached and troubled. She angrily confronts Madoka, only to immediately regret doing so and declare herself beyond help at that point. She watches Hitomi and Kyosuke get closer from a distance and grows only more emotionally distant, even telling Homura that she is okay with dying. Riding a train late at night and with likely no real destination, Sayaka finds the real breaking point of her spirit as well as her ideals. The dark and dreary train is occupied only by Sayaka and two rather awful men. They sling revolting insults about women and a partner of one of the men specifically back and forth until Sayaka can take no more. She confronts them, defending the woman so ridiculed by the men and then wondering if this world is even worth fighting for. With her emotional state already critically fragile, forcing her to question her ideals and the world she wanted to save because of them pushes her over the edge. When Kyoko finds her alone, Sayaka admits that she can’t remember what she found so worth protecting, and that none of it makes much sense to her anymore. The disillusionment proves fatal, as tears are shed, the soul gem bursts open, and Sayaka Miki the hero is no more. Only a witch born of the bitter disillusionment and regret remains.

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Sayaka could not save herself, but that doesn’t mean she has not saved others in some way. Kyoko is reminded of what drove her to become a magical girl, and attempts to rescue Sayaka from her witch form in whatever way she can. When this proves impossible, she sacrifices herself to ensure that Sayaka is not alone to the very end. Kyoko possessed the very same empathetic drive Sayaka had, and Sayaka managed to reawaken it within Kyoko, who now knows what she wants to protect. We see once more what mark Sayaka has left on the world as she watches Kyosuke play one last time. She is not free of the emotions leaving all this behind brings forth, but she is content to leave the regret behind knowing he will be happy with Hitomi and his continued playing. His life was saved by Sayaka’s actions, and he’ll never know that was the case despite how much joy the regained use of his hands brings him. She changed his life for the better by sacrificing herself. That’s what it truly means to be a hero.

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Sayaka’s story is a cautionary tale, and some may be tempted to think she failed to be a hero. This idea of a hero, much like Sayaka’s, puts heroism far above a level humans can attain. She did indeed fail to balance her emotions and human error with her sense of justice as a magical girl, something that is understandable for a middle-school student suddenly tasked with saving the world, one would think. While all heroes are good, not all heroes are infallible. When it comes to someone like Sayaka, to be a hero is to be human— an empathetic human trying their best to protect what they cherish. Sayaka may not have protected herself, but she had a tangible impact on those around her. She revived that empathetic drive in Kyoko and gave so that Kyosuke could regain his ability to play music. Sayaka isn’t perfect, Sayaka is human, and most of all, Sayaka Miki is a Hero.

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Top Ten Anime of 2016

Oh boy it’s that time again! (Well, it was that time a week ago. Yes I know this list is late I had a lot of shows to watch! Give me a break.) Time to rundown the best shows of the year in an arbitrary ordered list that fills me with undue satisfaction. 2016 was quite a bad year in many ways but anime actually did pretty damn well this year in my eyes. It goes without saying that this list in mine and based on my opinions and you will almost assuredly not agree with all of them. Mercifully I did not have to worry about how to count split-cour shows airing in different years and though I watched many shows I did not watch everything so there are going to be things I missed. Also, while these are roughly ordered, I would not worry too much about the order, as many of these shows are fairly even with each other and they’re all great nonetheless.Who knows how I’ll feel about this order in a year or so anyway. With that said I watched quite a few shows, so let’s dig in to them!

Honorable Mentions

As excessive as it seems I was having difficulty cutting down this section, so consider it a lightning round! Thunderbolt Fantasy was a very entertaining puppet action thing with a wonderful script by Gen Urobuchi (And yes it is anime I won’t hear otherwise). It contained the sentence “The Screaming Phoenix Killer does not ask questions with words.”, so you know it’s cool. Mob Psycho 100 was a messy but pleasant romp with plenty of great action and surprisingly endearing character work. Love Live Sunshine was the most enjoyable and refined season of this energetic idol phenomenon yet, gracing us with the best idols, You Watanabe and Zura. Joker Game was a cool, stylish spy thriller with plenty of exciting and interesting episodes that unfortunately was a bit too unambitious for its own good. Battery was a compelling character piece. The Morose Mononokean was a warm and heartfelt show, and the best episodes almost feel something like Mushi-Shi stories, though obviously it’s not on that level. Finally, I should mention Sound! Euphonium‘s second season, which unfortunately was not quite on par with the first season’s quality but still had plenty of excellent character bits and visuals/direction. (The first season was on last year’s list for those who remember, though the gulf between their positions has more to do with how many good shows I watched this year rather than the divide in quality. It’s still a good show.)

Whew! With that out of the way let’s get to the list!

#10- Yuri on Ice

Yuri on Ice has become 2016’s biggest anime sensation quite easily, and though it is a flawed show, it clearly does enough right to warrant its popularity. Although the animators struggled mightily to keep up, the ice skating was still very entertaining, but beyond that what Yuri on Ice does best is developing the relationship between the two main characters. Yuri and Viktor feel like two people in an honest and real relationship, and the developments are earned and endearing. The fact that it feels like such a true relationship is a big point in the show’s favor and is no doubt a reason for its popularity. Yuri on Ice is not perfect- the character development is not as strong or even as it could be and the entire narrative structure is kind of a mess (many episodes are just watching the same six performances over and over- perhaps the show spread itself too thin) but it succeeds largely thanks to its cast and relationships therein. Add to that a good sense of humor and a loving embrace of multiculturalism, and it’s not hard to see why Yuri on Ice has become such a hit.

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#9- Scorching Ping Pong Girls

The other lovably gay sports show from the fall season, Scorching Ping Pong Girls is a show guaranteed to make your heart go dokidoki suru. There’s nothing quite like the ecstasy of a match in a sports show like this where the dramatic dial is turned up to 11. The matches are exciting and entertaining, even featuring some very impressive animation cuts. While not a drama in the mold of Yuri on Ice, it also greatly cares for its characters and many of the developments and relationships are genuinely heart-warming. It also has a mostly fun sense of humor and is just generally entertaining. But the main draw is of course those matches, and the table tennis action and likable characters playing made this a very enjoyable watch.

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#8- Sweetness and Lightning

Sweetness and Lightning is a show about a single father raising an adorable anime child in the vein of Yotsuba&! or Barakamon (though I’ve yet to see the latter). It is as absurdly adorable as one might expect. It’s always a treat to watch this unusual family put together whatever special dish is being made that episode. But as the title implies, it’s not all sweetness. Sweetness and Lightning pulls no punches as it confronts the loneliness and grief that come with the loss of Tsumugi’s mother. When Tsumugi breaks down thinking about the fact that her mother is gone, I’m shedding tears right there with her. Tsumugi really does feel like a young child- adorable and curious, but prone to outbursts and tantrums. Sweetness and Lightning deftly handles both extreme cuteness and sadness, and is a very pleasant watch for it. salthumbsup

#7- Girlish Number

Girlish Number is one of those shows where the priorities seem to change around the halfway point, and thankfully this show seemed to fully understand what strengths to lean in to for that. It starts out as mostly as a cynical comedy about the voice acting industry, but where Girlish Number truly shines is its characters and the reflections on life they bring about. The show contains many thoughtful moments, such as reflecting on the aging of parents as one gets older or the depression that comes with feeling as though you have no place or value (Incidentally, I wrote a piece on this one! I know, shameless). The vast majority of the cast are interesting or endearing in their own right, and many of the conflicts they experience make them either relatable or understandable. Girlish Number may be cynical and funny, but it is also heartfelt and earnest.

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#6-Kuromukuro

Kuromukuro is one of those shows where I assume all that’s really necessary is a plot summary. “Young Samurai from 450 years ago awakens and must find our spunky heroine and pilot a giant robot with her while fighting other giant robots piloted by aliens looking to take over Earth.” I mean, you know what this is, right? What Kuromukuro is is extremely fun. It has interesting and mysterious plot elements, cool characters, awesome action and a great sense of humor. Kennosuke is a samurai too, meaning many of the action scenes robot or otherwise involve swords, which just makes them even cooler. Ken and Yukina also make for great leading characters, and the rest of the cast is plenty enjoyable (though the villains are pretty bland). Funny, exciting, and entertaining, Kuromukuro is a greatly enjoyable ride.

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#5- Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

Grimgar is a funny entry for this list, as I had given up on it rather quickly when it first aired. But then it became pretty well-liked within circles I follow, and I’m glad I was encouraged to revisit it. Grimgar is a fantasy show as the title says, and it does everything that comes with that well- Great action, solid worldbuilding, and an incredibly great and immersive atmosphere which is one of Grimgar’s biggest strengths. But Grimgar’s biggest strength is that it is a story chiefly about grief and dealing with loss. It has one of the most sensitive portrayals of death I’ve seen in recent memory, and tackles these tough subjects with finesse. It has its problems- Ranta, and a camera that seems way too intrigued by Yume’s butt. But the gentle hand with which it touches on some resonant themes and the characters being interesting and endearing in their own right make Grimgar a very strong show. grimgarend

#4- The Great Passage

The Great Passage unfortunately never became legally available in the U.S. due to Amazon’s aloofness, and what a shame that is. The Great Passage is an ode to life and to spending it pursuing a grand goal. Watching this wonderful set of characters devote themselves to this underdog project is inspiring, and a big reason why this is such an enjoyable watch. There are struggles between the sheer volume of work, corporate meddling in the team as well as the ability to focus on the work, and other day-to-day problems, and these are things The Great Passage does not shy away from. The chemistry between the cast of characters and the investment one feels in their work are some of the big reasons why The Great Passage was such a wonderful show. I could nitpick and say that the short length means some characters and relationships don’t quite get the development they deserved, but that doesn’t stop the show from being, well, great.

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#3- 91 Days

91 Days is such a different show it’s very hard to compare to it to The Great Passage, but a Prohibition-era mafia revenge story is extremely up my alley. 91 Days follows Angelo Lagusa as he seeks revenge on the Vanetti mafia family that murdered his family. There will be plenty of violence, betrayal, and drama along the way, just as any fan of the genre would want. But 91 Days also can be thoughtful as well, though one could argue its thoughts on revenge aren’t exactly original (Incidentally I also wrote up that point! I know, still shameless). The cast of 91 Days is also pretty great (Fango was supremely enjoyable whenever on screen), and it wraps it all in good setting and some great direction. 91 Days may simply be a show that depends on your feelings towards works of this genre, but I enjoyed it immensely. 91daysinflames

#2- Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

Most people reading this list probably knew this show was to be on here, and indeed Rakugo deserves it. Rakugo is a beautiful, melancholy drama about a niche artform and the fascinating people who perform it. The characters are of course a crucial piece, and the relationship between Sukeroku and Kikuhiko and what it means for how they express themselves through their performances is fantastic. The Rakugo itself is very entertaining as well- watching people act out entire multi-character stories was tremendous fun, and where quite a bit of the light and charming side of the show comes from. Rakugo doesn’t pull punches with its tragedy either, being both moving and engaging. Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, always lovely, Rakugo is a very special show, and I am immensely glad a second season is upon us. For all intents and purposes Rakugo Shinjuu could be considered Anime of the Year, but there is one last show that moved me just as much.

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#1- Tabi Machi Late Show

If The Great Passage is an ode to life, Tabi Machi is life. The main character of Tabi Machi Late Show is you. It’s all of us. The mentor tearfully waving goodbye to their student. The adults regretting their stupid life decisions as adolescents. The child coping with a tragic loss. The teachers who’ve seen so many children grow up and move on through their lives, and are now heading in to a new chapter of their own lives. Everything Tabi Machi does and says hit close to home because it is a celebration of the events both good and bad that make up the lives we lead and the stories we are left to tell. It’s a beautiful thing, so much so that at least two of the four short episodes had me a teary-eyed mess. The show’s visual style is reminiscent of a pretty picture book one would read to their children, and I can’t think of a more fitting way to present such a story. Tabi Machi Late Show is without a doubt one of the most special things I’ve seen, and as something you can see the entirety of in a half-hour on Crunchyroll, I would absolutely implore everyone to try it.

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I bet most of you weren’t expecting that last one, huh? That’s one the things I love about these end-of-year lists- sharing things I am passionate about to those who are not as familiar. I also would enjoy hearing what you think, as I’m sure my list is quite unique! I hope you enjoyed this list as well as any of these shows you’ve seen, and maybe you’ve got some cool new things to try out. Here’s to anime continuing to be good, and to a better 2017.

Girlish Number and The Mask

“You just lose it when you get older.”

These are the words Karasuma Chitose hears when she half-heartedly thanks some fans for support, and obviously isn’t doing a good job hiding her listlessness. Of course, this is a terrible thing to say to anyone and speaks to an entitlement all too common. In both life as well as being in the public eye, you are never allowed to let your mask slip. People will judge for even the slightest hint of a bad mood, or at least that’s what you tell yourself. As someone who was always self-assured to a fault, Chitose now finds herself assured of little but her own perceived worthlessness. The mask has fallen off, and doesn’t seem to fit back on. Anyone who has felt such a sense of self-loathing could tell you it’s an awful place to be, but for someone who has never faced resentment like it before it must be an especially dispiriting feeling.

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There are a number of things that led to this, and for Chitose it must feel like a collapsing house of cards. Her brother Gojo is no longer her manager, and her new manager is a handful, to say the least. Chitose would likely never admit it, but her brother had been an important emotional crutch for her. Not a crutch she was going to be able to lean on forever of course, but one that was pulled out suddenly enough to visibly affect her. Gojo had pointed out that she needed to change, but now she is faced with the reality that she just isn’t very capable on her own. Despite wearing the mask well, she was not exactly on her way to becoming a pro voice actor. Gojo is aware of this as well, and once Chitose also becomes aware of it, they share little but disappointed glances. Gojo is the one person whose disappointment gets to Chitose above all others’. With the crutch gone, there is nothing able to keep her afloat. Her now missing undue confidence is what saved her, and managed to even earn her a set of fans.

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One such fan is a newbie already seemingly more promising than Chitose herself- Nanami Sakuragaoka. She’s a charming, hard working high school student who’s talented enough to be seen as the new big thing by management. She’s also a fan of Chitose, seemingly admiring her even if it’s only thanks to the mask. This isn’t the boost of confidence it might sound like to Chitose, though- from her point of view, Nanami is everything she isn’t, and she resents that. Nanami is young, a go-getter, and most importantly talented. Her sudden rise to prominence only increases the pace at which Chitose begins to doubt herself and her goals. She’s staring down what is basically her replacement. Even if that’s not the outright intention it will surely feel so in the near future. Her career feels over even though it just started. It doesn’t help that Gojo went down a very similar path- a brief time as a voice actor before never doing so again. His own exit from the job does not sound pleasant either. Chitose hates what she is and how inevitable going nowhere seems to be, and it must feel odd to know something just like this happened to Gojo before her.

girlishnumberwantobe1girlishnumberwanttobe2So where does Chitose go from here? Well I can’t imagine Girlish Number will have its characters moping around for the entire final stretch of its run (not that I’d be entirely opposed to that specific show either). The mask has now come off, and it is arguably a necessary opportunity for Chitose. Going in to Girlish Number most would expect her to go through some growth and development of her own, but I’ve been struck by just how relatable or understandable her current struggles are. I suppose that’s plain to see. The world’s a tough place, and there’s always someone better than you. There’s always something to feel guilty or self-conscious about. But what really matters is how we respond to these things. Eventually the mask will slip and the emotional wall will come down. It’s not wrong to feel down when it does, but at some point the real test becomes pushing on without it. It’s okay to be the real you. I look forward to Chitose learning this herself.

91 Days and the Cycle Of Revenge

Spoilers for the ending of 91 Days! Please watch that before reading this. It’s good though, you should anyway!

In his final moments, Angelo Lagusa stands next to only one man. This man is so many things to him: an accomplice to the murders of his family, the one closest to Angelo’s own victims, and a former friend. Ostensibly, this friendship was naught but a lie- a creation of necessity for Angelo to get himself close enough to those he intended his revenge for. But, as he stands next to his only living target, he confesses something. The reason he didn’t kill that man Nero Vanetti even when he had the opportunity, something Nero himself had angrily questioned him about. “The reason I didn’t kill you…is because I didn’t want to.” He says no more than that, yet it says so much more about him.

While one might want to assume that it is a typical kind of forgiveness that drives this newfound respect for the life of another, the steps it took Angelo to get here make that a bit harder to reconcile. Angelo did not simply call off his revenge realizing he had made a connection he did not wish to sever- he had arguably already completed his plot of revenge. He had killed essentially every other key figure in the Vanetti circle, something which leads to the downfall of the Vanetti mafia family (The new Don of the rival Galassias family even thanks him for indirectly aiding him, after noting that Angelo had orchestrated this all quite deftly). He even tells Nero at first that he spared his life because he wanted Nero to feel just as he did back when The Vanettis had the rest of the Lagusa family killed. Considering his second explanation is so earnest, one may be tempted to simply disregard this earlier one, but I wouldn’t be so quick to do that. I think both can be at least somewhat true at the same time, especially considering Angelo could very well have thought this long before any sentimental feelings would have arose. In Angelo’s own words he wanted Nero to know this feeling he had carried for so long- “a fate worse than death”. Loss throws anyone into despair, but having your whole life and everyone you loved ripped away from you hurts in a way little else can.

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This last point is a key one in a different way as well. Nero is completely on his own in the end, speeding off in his vehicle to a destination he doubtlessly knows as little of as we do. Angelo had lost his entire family, but he was not truly alone. His childhood friend Corteo had been there for him back when he had no where else to go, and was still there for him for as long as he could be. That even meant joining him on his quest, sliding himself along with Angelo into the mafia world. Of course, this was destined to end poorly as Corteo was never going to find himself fitting in with the criminal underworld. But even Angelo probably never imagined that the man holding the gun to Corteo would be himself. The events of the story had led up to Angelo being tasked with killing Corteo in order to prove his loyalty to the man he intended to betray and kill. While this is the first and perhaps only time killing elicits an emotional reaction from Angelo, it shatters an already broken man. It’s a tear-jerking moment, but also an anger-inducing one. Angelo’s revenge led him to kill the one person who truly cared about him. He was all Angelo had left, but he couldn’t bring himself to abandon his goal so he might save his friend. Could he really claim to have no reason to live after his family died despite having such a close friend? Could he really claim to have been just as alone as Nero is in the end when Nero has no best friend to turn back to?

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It is this action that really makes Angelo’s reluctance to kill Nero so surprising. His actions led to the death of his best friend at his own hands, and yet the target of his revenge is someone he has seemingly grown so close to that he can’t bring himself to finish the job. Though he doesn’t exactly lay out his reasons for no longer wanting Nero dead so there is interpretation to be had there. Perhaps he really had grown fond of Nero, despite killing those closest to him and destroying his life. Perhaps he had realized that revenge was no longer a pursuit he cared about, especially since he had already accomplished everything else he had set out to do. He could even have felt that he in fact had finished his revenge plot, as Nero had no where to return to, leaving him in a rather similar position to Angelo all those years ago. But unlike Angelo, Nero sees the future differently. “You don’t need a reason to live. You just live.” After he shares this and Angelo tells him his true reasons for not killing him, Angelo slowly walks forward, likely aware of what comes next. Nero takes out his gun, lines up his shot, and hesitates ever so slightly. But in the end the sound of the bullet being fired echoes out among the soothing sound of the lightly crashing waves, and Nero is now well and truly alone. The cycle of revenge is one that is never truly complete.

Love, Hate, and Passion

This post was largely inspired by the most recent Aniwords over at Crunchyroll, be sure to check it out before reading this! Kind of awkward to open a post like this but hopefully these isolated italics separate themselves well enough.  

Everyone has favorite things that they hold near and dear to them. Even if we don’t fully understand why, we know something made us respond ecstatically enough to want to become a champion of its value. It is a fascinating subject, but what of the other side of the coin?  We know we like things and generally can at least describe how the variables of the show make us feel. We wouldn’t know a work was a favorite without the resonance we feel when something manages to win us over so thoroughly. Saying you loved a work tells us something just as important as saying the shot framing greatly impressed you. Loving something means the majority of it was something you fully enjoyed. Does this apply to things at the opposite side of the spectrum as well? Does something one hates do just the same thing as something one loves? The answer is unsurprisingly of the complicated variety that requires I examine it by writing more words, but framing it as a “spectrum” may prove to be apt.

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One of the biggest roadblocks to understanding why someone dislikes a thing is general vagueness of their thoughts. Communication is a two-way street, but it can be harder to cross at times than one might expect (and this is not something that should at all act as a judgement of others, it isn’t at all rare). For instance, a common criticism of many things is a simple statement of the writing being bad or subpar. But in what way is that the case? Did it fail to properly define characters or stakes? Was the dialogue poorly crafted or ill-fitting for that particular work’s context? Do the plot turns just flat out not make sense? Sure, we know what we mean when we say the writing lacked polish, but does everyone else? That’s a pretty broad criticism for one to simply infer or interpret. Criticism relies heavily on the ability to make an audience understand one’s feelings on many variables as strongly as they possibly can. On the other hand, it is often tough for many to articulate just what it is they dislike about any given thing. How can others understand your viewpoint when you yourself don’t even fully understand it?

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Certainly I have had moments where I failed to understand or articulate my reasons for not liking something. I think most everyone can say at some point they’ve stumbled upon something they didn’t care for but also didn’t sufficiently understand why. Sometimes it can even make one envious of those who are truly articulate and able to so thoroughly explain their feelings on just about anything (I know I’ve been there). I would make my own speculation that this applies more to the works that leave one bored and apathetic rather than the works that one truly detests. While certainly not always the case, apathy probably indicates a work that may be competent but with values completely opposed to those of the non-receptive audience. Recall that I said a spectrum is an apt description- loving something and hating something are the two ends, and the closer you get to the middle, the more apathetic and less emotionally charged one is. It’s easier to explain why I hate something as opposed to why something fails to elicit any sort of reaction at all. I think that is chiefly because hate, much like love, is passionate. Tearing something to shreds is an emotional reaction much in the same way expressing love for something is. This in turn makes it easier to understand why it is you or I react that way. If I hate something, it is likely easy to pick out why my feelings on it are so strong compared to other instances because it is easy to know when something feels so incredibly off. This perhaps even makes it more true than for works you cherish. Think of it like your kitchen table- being messier than usual will probably jump out at you faster than being cleaner than usual (though I suppose this metaphor depends on the average appearance of your kitchen).

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This is not to say that all or any of this applies to everyone at all times. No theory as to why or how someone reacts to things is going to be consistently accurate. No one fully understands everything about their emotional reactions to things. Emotions themselves are very nebulous things! Engaging with art, whether by writing lots of words about it (maybe I’ll even become good at it!) or simply staring at it in awe, is a form of self-discovery. Every day we learn more about ourselves and others, and express it in a myriad of interesting ways. That’s a pretty cool thing.

Battery 3: What Goes Around Comes Around

Battery is a pretty simple show. I don’t mean that in the sense of it being a typical sports series. Battery is a full-on character drama with the central sport serving as a vehicle for the drama. The characters themselves are nuanced and interesting, in part thanks to coming off believable. Battery itself is very down-to-earth, with drama not nearly as heightened as many of its peers. That is exactly what I mean by “simple”- Battery is a show about understandable people living rather normal lives. Main Character Harada is a teenager with a very recognizable attitude, and as one might expect, it does not endear him to many people. batterytheworst

This characteristic attitude was very visible from the beginning, but it is the third episode that displays the inevitable effects. Harada turns off pretty much everyone he comes into contact with. His mother snaps at him for being demanding in a way that seems very understandable given how cold he acts towards everyone including (perhaps especially) family. His school baseball team coach tells him he must get a haircut, a request that even I must admit comes off as a bit odd but one which it is easy to assume the coach has his reasons for. Harada is predictably less accepting of this demand. He counters that it is completely nonsensical and irrelevant to his playing the sport, going so far as to say to the person who is as close to a friend as he has gotten that he’d be willing to lose his chances at ever playing just to indulge his defiance. Harada does not like playing by others’ rules when they don’t make sense to him. Not only that, but he also assumes his skill will lead him to the playing field anyway, thinking the coach would use him no matter what in order to have the best shot at winning. Almost as predictable as his defiant nature is the reaction of his teammate.

Go bonds with Harada over their shared interest in baseball, but he doesn’t completely understand the attitudes that Harada consistently carries. When Harada claims he is willing to forgo his opportunity to play for his petty reasons, Go lashes out in his own brand of defiance. He can’t believe what Harada says and it leaves him as angry as he is stunned. In a bit of violent rage Go grabs him by the neck, choking him a bit, telling him off for looking down on people. Harada’s bad attitude came back to bite him in a moment that was likely cathartic for many viewers. Much like a baseball it came back at Harada forcefully. Also much like a baseball, it came back and Harada didn’t expect it and thus couldn’t deal with it (Though to be completely fair, he was gasping for breath at the time). batterysupporting

It’s not at all hopeless for Harada though. Not only do the general conventions of coming-of-age stories such as this dictate that it is likely he will be able to mend these bridges, but he has shown a softer side before. In the previous episode he broke down after finding his brother who had been missing for much of the day. Contrary to his loner persona, this shows that he genuinely cares and worries about his brother at least. Harada may be a bit of an asshole, but that’s not exactly an unusual trait in a teenager, and if he learns to play ball with others, he might truly shine while really playing ball. He may have received more than three strikes, but he isn’t out yet.

Winter 2016 Anime Season Check-In

It’s about time to unleash my thoughts on current anime. Let’s get right to it with Dimension W, being a show I am considering parting ways with after the latest episode. Dimension W had a lot of potential right out of the gate. FUNimation co-producing this one was a big deal, and being essentially a buddy-cop mystery show tailor-made to the aesthetic preferences of western fandom meant that I was certainly going to give it a look. It never rose above being a decent entry in its genre, but the most recent episode ended up being pretty dreadful. The writing was bad and could at times be downright incoherent. The main characters have not really been given much personality. I can’t imagine anyone is very interested in the overarching plot at this point. I had decent hopes for Dimension W, but I suppose this dimension was not worth discovering.

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Now I should probably get on to the other show that took a noticeable hit in the most recent episode. Erased, or BokuMachi, or whatever you call it, quickly became of the biggest hits of the season. A tense mystery thriller that pulled off the execution rather well. Not only was the show incredibly good in both writing and aesthetics, it is in a genre space I tend to be fond of. As of episode 5 though a few more flaws are coming to light. This week the plot essentially halted, and the characters the show was trying to carry itself with are not very interesting. I don’t think this show is empty without the thriller pacing, but it has not built a cast effective enough to resonate by themselves. It also seems like Satoru is remarkably calm for someone who’s gone through what he has. That may seem like an observation I could have had many episodes ago, but it becomes much more noticeable since this latest episode becomes very slow once Satoru returns to the present, acting almost like a stopgap for the story. Ultimately, Erased has lost sight of its strengths, but it could very easily rebound. This was just one episode after all, and the previous ones show that there is a great show here. Hopefully it regains that greatness.

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On the flipside, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (which shall simply be referred to as Rakugo from here on) has been consistently wonderful. Being a character-driven period piece about an already niche artform, Rakugo has a pretty narrow audience to perform for. But anyone belonging to that audience will likely find themselves incredibly satisfied. The central characters have a great relationship, the story is effective, and the actual Rakugo is delightful to watch (when it’s not intentionally hard to watch for character purposes). The latest episode did an especially great job with the relationship between Kikuhiko and Sukeroku, with the two of them putting on a great performance despite the difference in their attitudes and feelings surrounding it. Spending time with the characters here just feels fundamentally worthwhile. Rakugo is a smart, well-crafted drama with plenty of heart and a good sense of humor. Definitely not one to be missed.

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There are also the shows returning for this season. Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans is as good as it has pretty much always been. The show has never done enough to rise to the level of being truly great, and it tends to repeat itself with themes or characters now and then. But this show’s biggest strength is its cast, and the characters are mostly interesting enough to feel invested in. They may not be very three-dimensional, but spending time with them always feels worthwhile. It also helps that the story has gained quite a bit of momentum in recent episodes. Iron-Blooded Orphans continues to be a fine watch.

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Assassination Classroom has also returned, but it is not one that leaves huge amounts to discuss. The oft-nicknamed AssClass is a fun watch that fulfills the job of comfort food. It may have an interesting thing or two to say, and many gags are genuinely funny (though assuredly not all), but it is not a must-watch by any means. I cannot say it would be an easy recommendation, but more often than not it is an enjoyable show, and sometimes that’s all you need. Similarly, Dagashi Kashi is a decent comedy that is comfort food in a more literal sense. Many of Dagashi Kashi’s best jokes revolve around all the characters being equally silly and involve candy. The cast is likable and wacky enough to push through the weaker gags. Not an outstanding show, but one that is fun enough. There is also the final entry in this trio of comedy, KonoSuba. KonoSuba is probably the one to have gotten the most laughs out of me, even if not every gag lands. The voice cast elevates much of the humor, especially when it involves silly or deadpan reactions to things. A band of merry idiots is always a fine comedic setup, though occassionally the idiocy is not evenly distributed. The show has had some cracks lately – the panty gag that every anime ever apparently requires was not terribly funny, and I am still on the fence about Darkness as a character and addition to the cast. But there has still been enough satisfying gags for me to say KonoSuba is enjoyable, and the genuinely funny gags are easily worth the low points.

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I would be remiss if I did not mention Tabi Machi Late Show, which technically is no longer an airing show, but was a fantastic entry in this season regardless. Four wonderful short stories that touched on the journey of life and the goodbyes we are faced with while living make up the rather short runtime. I’m saving more extended thoughts for a certain reason, but I implore any reader to check this one out.

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So there you have it. A decent season this far, but there are many twists and turns we could yet come across. Until then, enjoy this Winter!

Top Five Anime Series of 2015

You like anime, I like anime. You like lists, I like lists. I suppose I should lay out a few things first. This is my personal list, meaning that not only is it a subjective listing of subjective feelings, it will not include anything I have not seen. I saw quite a few shows this year, but I cannot see everything that is made, and 2015 had a number of popular sequels to shows I have yet to get a chance to watch. I also am including split-cour shows (well, technically a show) that began in 2014 but ended this year, because that makes sense to me and I also did not create a list last year and these shows deserve to be celebrated. Lastly this is my list meaning it is of course at the mercy of my preferences. We probably do not share the same outlook on every show, but feel free to voice your dissent (in a pleasant manner). Contrasting opinions are what make this so fun after all. With that all set here are my favorites from the year.

#5- Yuri Kuma Arashi

This one may be quick, as I unfortunately am not as well-versed in Director Kunihiko Ikuhara’s work as I would like to be, and almost feel unqualified when discussing his work. Yet that makes my viewing of Yuri Kuma Arashi all the more fascinating. Yuri Kuma is a show that has both lesbian bears and serious ideas about society, sexuality, discrimination, and a huge host of other things. Deep symbolism is masked in a wonderfully unique and silly sense of humor. This makes works like Yuri Kuma especially divisive, but also especially great for those who take to it favorably. Yuri Kuma was not perfect— it seemed to sacrifice character depth due to length and breadth of ideas— but it is certainly one of the more unique anime out there, and one of the most interesting I saw this year.

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#4- Sound! Euphonium

Kyoto Animation can always be counted on for a fantastic-looking production, but Sound! Euphonium has much more to offer. Sound! Euphonium is an extremely well-constructed drama, and that leads to many outstanding moments. Kumiko is a great protagonist, and the rest of the cast is also pretty great, offering many characters worth following. While the story may not win any awards for its uniqueness, the attention to detail and quality writing bring it to life. While it does indeed fall short of following through with its central relationship (it is a great relationship but they never officially get together, much to the dismay of fans) the relationship is still home to wonderful character interactions and moments, and when yelling about couples not getting together is the biggest problem, you’ve got a pretty good work on your hands. Sound! Euphonium is not an instant classic, but it does what it does wonderfully, and that is valuable indeed.

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#3- Gatchaman Crowds insight

Gatchaman Crowds is one of those shows that always has something to say, but in this second season the thoughts it presents are more focused, more defined and perhaps even more open-ended. Insight also takes the conclusions of the previous season itself to task, showing that answers to questions are not easy to come by and almost never without flaws. As Crowds manages to assess the many ideas it has, it also continues to be as fun as ever. One of the things I love about both seasons of the show is its ability to maintain to a delightful sense of fun while dealing with very complicated topics. Insight certainly has its dramatic moments— which are also excellent— but moments like the red alien who was elected Prime Minister being heckled by members of the legislature truly shine. Not to say that the potent commentary is not the main course, because the most memorable moments reflect the ideas Crowds presents. The second season of Gatchaman Crowds was a fantastic, almost necessary follow-up to the original, and it earns its subtitle by containing vast insight into its conflicts.

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#2- Shirobako

Anime is probably not the first medium you think of when you think of realism, but it has a tendency to portray emotions and struggles in such a way that sets it apart. “Emotions and Struggles” is a fitting summary of the beauty of Shirobako— it is about persevering through a life that does not always make it easy. The entire cast is an incredible ensemble of people you feel completely invested in, and while there are certainly central characters no character truly feels underdeveloped. Of course, the show is also about the production of anime which allows for some creative references for fans of the medium, and I hate to downplay such an important and cool aspect of the show. But that more literal defining of the show does somewhat of a disservice to the biggest reason Shirobako has won over so many— following Aoi and her friends on their journey into the world as they chase their dreams. They will experience many things, and we will be with them in feeling joy or fear or whatever emotion. The most important part is the connections we make. Shirobako is chiefly about the cast’s emotional journey, where they will laugh, they will cry, but they will find their way somehow. The same can be said of us. Even the most hardened of viewers will find that this journey is not all that foreign, and that they too struggle. They too will find their way.

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#1- Death Parade

If Shirobako is about the emotional journey of living, Death Parade is about the emotional regrets of death. Coming off of the “Death Billiards” short, Death Parade takes that premise and gives it a whole lot of heart. It feels for the characters made to act their worst because of games they clearly never had a chance at winning. Many of the guests of Quindecim do not come off as good people, but also not unsympathetic ones. Behavior in the worst circumstances can not be used as valid judgments of one’s character and no system can truly know the exact value of a human being. This is something Death Parade understands well, and even the main character begins to question the very system he is an integral part of. Death Parade pulls off a decidedly human story with moments of humor, moments of heartache, and moments of inspiration with finesse and it is for those reasons and countless more that I believe Death Parade to be the best show of 2015. If you watch one show from the past year, make it this one.

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So, what were some of your favorites from the year? Was my list spot-on, or did it miss the mark? Let me know any thoughts or criticisms you may think of, and here’s to a wonderful 2016 for anime or otherwise!