Tag Archives: Japan

Your Name (Movie)

Title: Your Name

Format: Movie

Taki lives in Tokyo, and Mitsuha lives in the country. They’ve never met, but one day they begin waking up in the other’s body. They want to find each other, but it’s difficult when their swaps are their only clue, and the memories fade like a dream . . .

This was an interesting movie. It’s kind of a romance, but the main characters have never actually met. They get to know each other through friends and family, setting, and living each other’s lives. Eventually they start leaving notes for each other to try to keep the other person aware of the important things going on, but they haven’t directly talked.

I liked the twist of why the comet is so central to the story, and what that means for the two of them. And what Taki, especially, tries to do about it.

I watched the movie in English. One surprising touch is that this meant the music RADWIMPS provided ended up playing with English lyrics as well. That helped during some of the dramatic scenes, where the lyrics were just as important as the sweeping melody. The voice actors were also good. I liked how Taki sounds more feminine when Mitsuha is in his body, giving him a vocal tic as well as the physical ones to indicate he’s not who he used to be.

Overall, even though I’m not sure why it got as popular as it did, this is still something I would watch again. The sci-fi angle on this unconventional romance is fun, and the movie is something that can be enjoyed by anime fans and non-fans alike. I rate this Recommended.

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In/Spectre (Manga)

Title: In/Spectre

Format: Manga

Volumes: 1-8

Kuro is a regular visitor at the hospital Kotoko goes to for checkups, but as he’s usually accompanied by his girlfriend, Kotoko has kept her crush a secret. After she learns they broke up, however, she’s determined to make her move. After all, they both have secret ties to the world of yokai, monsters, and spirits. But both of them will be stretched to their limits by a ghost that’s started appearing. Steel Lady Nanase, whose face is smashed in and who wields the I-beam that killed her, is starting to rampage . . .

This was a lot of fun. Kuro is so laid-back about everything, including having his arm chomped off by a giant monster. Turns out he’s basically immortal (and has one other fun ability that can only be activated when he dies). So he spends the story facing incredible danger with a really bored expression. He’s not good at fighting, but he doesn’t really need to be, because nothing can kill him so that he stays dead.

Kotoko is also interesting, although I don’t like her as Kuro’s girlfriend because she’s incredibly pushy. I suppose she does listen when he tells her no, even if that doesn’t stop her from continually trying. She’s missing one eye and one leg as part of a bargain she made with the yokai when she was a kid to be their goddess of wisdom. Which basically means she troubleshoots their issues, which is how both she and Kuro get involved in the Steel Lady Nanase case.

Steel Lady Nanase herself is a really weird little upside-down mystery. Kotoko’s relationship with the local spirits means that discovering the truth is actually pretty easy—but the truth is the problem. Steel Lady Nanase is an urban legend, empowered by belief, and allowing other people to believe that she’s responsible for the things she’s actually doing will only empower her to do worse. So now the question becomes how to put down a ghost that isn’t a ghost, and it will take everything Kotoko and Kuro can do to stop her.

Although I do find it hilarious Kuro’s role in books 5-6 particularly boils down to “get killed repeatedly to keep the ghost distracted from killing people who can’t survive the experience.”

The first six volumes cover the plot of the novel (which doesn’t appear to have an English version), and it was pretty obvious to me it was based on a book. The way the plot stays tight despite hundreds of pages, the flashbacks, the focus on the mystery, and the way a lot of the action is everyone sitting in a room trying to discuss what they know and what they need to do feels like a novel. Which isn’t a bad thing, as volumes 7 and 8 are definitely less compelling simply because their stories are too short to build up the same stakes.

These stories are also hilarious, even if you don’t have my sometimes macabre sense of humor. Kotoko quoting various pacifists and Kuro responding “He got shot, too,” in volume 7 is one of my favorite moments. Or the myriad of ways Kuro shuts down Kotoko’s attempts to get him to sleep with her. I was rooting the whole time for him to get back together with Saki. The one time he looks genuinely happy talking to Kotoko about their relationship is when he tells her if he can have anything he wished for, he’d wish to break up with her. I think they work well as friends and partners, but Kuro clearly isn’t on the same page as Kotoko when it comes to a romantic relationship.

Overall, this is a fun series that’s enough sideways to your typical modern supernatural story to stay surprising. Books 1-6 do comprise a complete arc, with 7 and 8 feeling more like bonuses. I rate this series Highly Recommended.

GeGeGe no Kitaro (Anime)

Title: GeGeGe no Kitaro

Episodes: 1-13 (Season 1)

Mana doesn’t believe in youkai, or in the rumors of a mailbox that can summon help from one who fights them, until she encounters things too bizarre to be natural. Writing a letter summons Kitaro, a young boy with mysterious abilities, and from there Mana discovers a world she never knew existed.

This is supposed to be a kid’s horror show but I watched it more like an urban fantasy (well, I’m old enough not to find most of this scary). It’s extremely episodic (only one 2-part episode in this batch), which makes it easy to pick up and watch a story or two whenever you have a moment. That’s usually a plus, as this is basically a series of short stories, and if one episode doesn’t quite appeal, something else will usually make up for it.

The only downside is that there isn’t much continuity. The first two episodes introduce someone who appears to be a villain working behind the scenes, but the initial buildup goes cold almost immediately. So there’s not much of a sense of an overarching plot. Even the episode where various explosions level parts of the city feels like it takes place in isolation, as no one even remarks on the damage in future episodes. And a couple of episodes have youkai visible to broader society but nobody has any ongoing reactions to that.

That said, I enjoyed the various vignettes. Each episode tends to introduce a new youkai and has an adventure related to those powers. Some of those are more heartwringing, like poor Shiro, and some are just funny, like the kappa. The series may be for kids, but that doesn’t stop it from touching on adult issues like overwork, corporate bullying, abandonment of elders, and others.

So all in all, this feels like a kid’s series that was designed just as much for adults. The youkai may be traditional but it can be a lot of fun watching how they’ve adapted (or not) to modern technology. I rate this show Recommended.

My Hero Academia (Anime)

Title: My Hero Academia

Episodes: 39-51 (Season 3 part 1)

Everyone is looking forward to summer, even though it’s not going to be much of a break. The kids of UA are all set to attend a summer training camp and learn even more about becoming heroes. But a villain attack disrupts their getaway, and soon all the pro heroes are scrambling to reverse the damage . . .

This is my favorite arc in the manga, so it was a great deal of fun to see it finally animated. The intensity and emotional highs of this arc haven’t been matched by anything that comes before or after.

One of the things that really impressed me was the worldbuilding. We finally see All Might’s mentor, the previous One For All holder. We see the culmination of a clash that’s clearly been a long time coming between All Might and his ultimate nemesis. The showdown between the two is epic, but also tragic—this is the fight where both of them pass the torch to their students. It’s not only All Might’s best moment, it’s in many ways his final moments as a superhero.

And we see how Izuku’s constant disregard for his own well-being has led to some rather large problems with his mom, who doesn’t like seeing her son continually admitted to the hospital. It’s interesting that this arc is a series of intense encounters, but not all of those are physical altercations between heroes and villains.

There’s also a surprising amount of characterization for Bakugo (everyone’s favorite King of Explodo-Kills). The little rage-ball has gotten noticed by a lot of people, not all of them good. But what happens because of that sets up a ton of great moments for him. I didn’t care for him much until this arc, as he’s too grating. After this, it becomes easier to see he’s probably going to go through a lot of growth if he continues to hold the same goals.

And I love how the story sets up so many parallels. Bakugou’s risking turning into another Endeavor, who, when he finally gets what he always wanted, behaves similarly to Bakugou after he won the tournament.

There’s a ton of stuff packed into these episodes, which will likely be the highlight of the series for a long time to come. If you’ve been following the show at all, this is one arc you won’t want to miss. Highly Recommended.

The Shield of Kuromori (The Sword of Kuromori #2)

Title: The Shield of Kuromori

Author; Jason Rohan

Series: The Shield of Kuromori

Kenny Blackwood only meant to save his new friend Kiyomi from an untimely death—but what he’s unleashed in her might be worse. With an oni’s lifeforce now powering her body, she’s starting to adopt oni mannerisms and habits. So he’s determined to find her a cure. No matter what it costs . . .

I didn’t like this one as much as the first. I did actually enjoy Kiyomi’s changing personality, as I felt that saving her in the prior book was a big cop out, and seeing that the action has ongoing consequences has made that more palatable. But Kenny is in the process of throwing everything away for the sake of “fixing” her, and it’s not hard to see that this is going to land him in a whole heap of trouble in the long term.

(Besides, she doesn’t seem to be losing her essential personality. It’s basically her with new eating habits and anger management issues. Which is to say not very different from before at all.)

The book is still packed with a variety of weird Japanese monsters. This time, though, there’s a particular gang of them in addition to the random surprises. And this gang is acting much more intelligently than the rest. I liked the mystery of what was actually going on with the telescopes. (And the humor involved in the whole setup.)

I was less fond of the new human characters. I loathed Stacey. Pushy girls that will pretend to be in danger to get a reaction just hit all my “please someone kill you quickly” responses. But she’s wriggled her way into Kenny’s life (mostly by blackmailing him) so I guess the story will be stuck with her in the future too.

Overall I was mostly annoyed as I read this book. Annoyed at Kenny for pretending to go along with people only to abandon them when they were counting on him. Super annoyed at Stacey. And I’m not sure I care about the series enough to finish it out, especially since that currently means tracking down a copy of the third book. Maybe if my library gets them I’ll reconsider. For now, I rate this book Neutral.

The Sword of Kuromori (The Sword of Kuromori #1)

Title: The Sword of Kuromori

Author: Jason Rohan

Series: The Sword of Kuromori #1

Kenny Blackwood is on his way to Japan to meet his father, but he hasn’t even arrived before things start going weird. From the fuzzy animal in the luggage compartment to the various monsters that are wandering around, the various invisible residents aren’t able to hide from him. The problem is they hate being noticed. And like it or not, Kenny’s coming into this on the heels of his grandfather’s formidable reputation . . .

I liked the sheer amount and variety of monsters in this. Starting with the tanuki, Poyo, and branching out from oni and kappa to less familiar (but mostly deadly) creatures, Kenny’s experience of Japan is a menagerie of folklore.

I also appreciated that the story tried to give some depth to why Kenny is being drawn into all these things. He has family history with the work his grandfather did in Japan just after WWII, and that’s tied to why so many youkai are transferring old grudges or alliances to Kenny.

The romance was less appealing. Half the time Kenny and Kiyomi are fighting, and then just as suddenly they’re crushing on each other. The mood swings happened often enough to really annoy me, as sometimes there’s no buildup at all and suddenly he’s desperate for her. I also don’t like the trick pulled at the end. Taro’s offer lacked much impact because he’s not really there in the story except as a background character until that moment.

The card game also felt like a letdown. Since the rules are never explained, it’s hard not to feel like a random “I win” for whichever character is winning. There’s no sense of tension because we can’t follow the game, so all the games shown are basically two-turn affairs where the first player looks like they’re doing well until the second player crushes them.

Although ironically the thing I find hardest to believe is that he actually LIKED natto.

Overall this was okay. I didn’t like it as much as I hoped, but all the monsters helped keep my interest enough to finish. I rate this book Recommended.

Katsugeki Touken Ranbu (Anime)

Title: Katsugeki Touken Ranbu
Episodes: 1-13 (complete)

Members of the Time Retrograde Army are out to disrupt Japan’s history. Standing against them are the famous weapons of Japan given human form. These warriors are sent back in time to preserve history, whatever the cost.

To be honest, the plot for this is a complete joke. The TRA only exists to give the pretty-boy swordsmen some generic zombie enemies to beat up at various points in Japan’s history. There’s some information about a few historical events, and the famous blades involved, but the main draw of the series is to watch nicely-designed characters having awesome-looking fights.

On that front, it succeeds pretty well. The majority of the story follows a newly-formed Second Unit (with a brief detour to the First Unit), and how the team starts to come together. The blades tend to take on some of the personalities of the masters they spent so much time with, which can cause some tension when we have Shinsengumi blades and Imperialist blades on the same team. But the blades are supposed to be beyond whatever old life they had in favor of wiping out the TRA. Unfortunately those emotions can linger and make life harder.

The strongest part of the story happens when three of those blades run across their former master. For one, it’s a mostly happy event—the mission and his desire to protect his master line up. For the other two, it’s not as happy. They know his death is coming, and it won’t be pretty, but preventing it will change the history they’ve been charged to protect.

Visually it’s a pretty series. Character designs for the blades range from traditional Japanese clothing to more modern clothes, which makes it kind of funny nobody in the historical times seems to notice. The action scenes are typically animated well. One of my favorite characters uses a spear. It’s nice to see spear-users get more representation, as their fighting style differs a lot from a sword.

Overall this is mostly something to watch for the eye candy. If you don’t like the designs or the prospect of a disappointing plot, then this is an easy pass. I enjoyed it well enough, but there wasn’t any sense of urgency about finishing it (I started this back when it was first airing, got distracted, and only now finished). I rate this Neutral.