Tag Archives: Japan

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.

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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.

The Boy and the Beast (Anime)

Title: The Boy and the Beast

Format: Movie

A boy, cast adrift by the death of his mother, runs away, and in the process finds himself in a parallel world populated only by beasts. His humanity is an issue here, but a giant bear-man named Kumatetsu tries to claim him as an apprentice, and gives him the name Kyuta. Unfortunately Kumatetsu is a laughingstock among his own kind. He’s big and strong and skilled, but also lazy and quick-tempered and full of rough edges. Can Kumatetsu prove he’s able to train an apprentice? Can Kyuta survive Kumatetsu’s horrible attempts at training?

I found this because I stumbled across the novel (on clearance, yay) and got curious about seeing the movie because of it. I streamed this on Funimation’s site, so I watched it in dub.

The movie was excellent. Ren (though he doesn’t introduce himself until halfway through the film), nee Kyuta, is a child angry at the world when his mother dies unexpectedly. He hates his relatives and would rather go live with his father, but because his parents divorced, no one wants to give him to his dad. So he runs. He’s argumentative from the get-go, which makes him a really fun companion for Kumatetsu. He doesn’t put up with Kumatetsu’s flaws, but rather calls them out. My favorite example of this is during a fight when he’s asked to encourage his teacher, and the “encouragement” sounds more like, “Hey, you look stupid lying there. Get up, loser.”

But then, that’s the kind of relationship between the two.

Kumatetsu is stubborn about being a master, and being terrible at it only seems to fuel his determination that he won’t fail at something like THIS. Although the story beats may feel familiar, they’re handled so well. Kyuta ends up becoming the master in many ways, and Kumatetsu has to learn to be an apprentice, but there are still many things that Kyuta doesn’t know and needs to learn from Kumatetsu. If, that is, Kumatetsu can adequately explain them. Which is a problem because Kumatetsu never had to learn from anyone, and sucks at explaining even the simplest things.

I really liked the twist halfway through, too. Ren has grown up more or less happily in the world of the beasts, but when he finds his way back to the human world as accidentally as he originally left, he’s now confronted with what it means to be part of both worlds. Which will he choose? Which family should he prioritize—the bear-man who has raised him these past several years, or his biological father? And does it even have to be a choice forsaking one for the other?

This is about family, about different people who gradually become family (despite themselves, really), about the bonds that still hold despite having been estranged. And it’s about the darker side, too—how having a loving family doesn’t prevent problems, or loneliness, or doubts that can overwhelm.

And there’s still a lot of good fights to be had, since Kumatetsu is, after all, in competition for the position of lord of the beasts, and training Kyuta in his skills.

I didn’t get a chance to check out the Japanese, but the English voice actors all brought their A-game. I very much enjoyed the dub. Everyone was cast appropriately, and I especially appreciate that the kids sounded so good. Kyuta spends about half the movie as a nine-year-old, and the other half close to an adult, and his voice reflects that. It still sounds like him, but more mature, and the same was true of the friends he made. That’s a difficult transition to pull off well.

Overall this is absolutely something I will watch again, and try to show to the friends and family who don’t generally watch anime. I rate this Highly Recommended.

Ushio and Tora (Anime)

Title: Ushio and Tora
Episodes: 1-39 (complete, seasons 1 and 2)

Ushio is a normal student who discounts his priest father’s stories about the legendary Beast Spear (and monster it’s trapping) that their temple supposedly protects. At least, until he stumbles across the monster while cleaning out a storeroom. Ushio ends up releasing it to help him fight the myriad of tiny demons now assaulting himself and his friends. He calls the tiger-like demon Tora, and it’s a rocky relationship from the start—Tora’s cautious of the Beast Spear but determined to eat Ushio. And if he can’t eat Ushio, he’ll haunt him. Ushio, for his part, now has the Beast Spear, which grants him incredible power but is chipping away his humanity.

I remembered reading an enthusiastic recommendation for this when I was looking for something to binge-watch over New Year’s Eve, so I gave it a shot, and was instantly hooked. 39 episodes and less than a week later, it’s now one of my top anime series as well. I ordered the anime the first night, and I still have the manga to read, which promises quite a lot that couldn’t make it into the anime. Unfortunately the manga doesn’t have an official English release or I’d be collecting that too.

Ushio and Tora is a modern remake of a rather old series that ran from 1990-1996. This gives it a unique aesthetic (and sometimes, like with certain demons who look like a bunch of heavy metal band rejects, it can be unintentionally hysterical). The animation is generally good, though towards the end it suffers a bit more from still frames because the final battle is pretty epic in scope. I’m not overly fond of the first opening song, but the music during the show worked well.

What makes the show so fascinating to me is the characters. Ushio is almost the definition of average. He’s got very average looks (no special hair color or wild design that calls him out as the protagonist, at least before the Beast Spear). He might have some talent for sports (and getting into fights), but his passion is art, despite a rather low amount of artistic talent. But he’s got enormous emotional range, and most unusually for a guy, he’s not ashamed to cry. Which he does, often. He empathizes with people (and youkai), stands up for what’s right, defends the weak, and often puts himself in considerable danger if someone else is in need. And once the Beast Spear comes into his hand, he gains slitted eyes, claws, huge hair, and a massive power boost. (Also, the Beast Spear seems to have something against shirts. Ushio may start wearing layers but as soon as he picks up the spear the shirt is usually toast.)

Tora is his polar opposite. Strong, vicious, bestial, prideful, and most of all selfish, Tora despises the heroic impulses that drive Ushio. He’s quick to pick a fight with anyone that offends him. But he’s also very childlike in personality—the modern world fascinates him (his reaction to television, cars, and bus rides left me in stitches). And that childishness in the end makes him really easy for those who know what he’s like to manipulate him (Mayuko does it with kindness, and Ushio has a variety of ways to bait Tora into helping him out). Tora was my favorite part of the show, but he wouldn’t work nearly so well without Ushio drawing such a sharp contrast.

On the love interest side, Asako is the childhood friend who won’t admit to anyone she likes Ushio (he returns the sentiment). Mayuko, though, also has a crush on Ushio—and in a radical departure from modern storytelling trends, admits that because she loves both Ushio and her friend Asako, she’s willing to move on so they can be happy together. AND SHE DOES. And this does NOT take vast numbers of episodes of her internal agony, but comes up quickly and is stated as a matter of fact. Mayuko won my respect with that. I also like how both of them have their own ways to be strong, whether that’s Asako’s refusal to give into fear despite the hopelessness of her situation or Mayuko’s steady faith.

It’s also really neat to see how Ushio’s kindness changes the people around him, and how that has unexpected dividends. And how as long as he has people who support him, he can’t fail—but when he feels utterly alone, no amount of his own strength is enough.

Another area that struck me is how integrated everything is. Ushio and Tora end up getting filmed fighting a giant monster IN THE SECOND EPISODE. And he KEEPS making the news, along with the other youkai-caused disastrous events. He’s only a “secret” hero because his looks change so drastically using the spear that even his own friends have a hard time recognizing him. He’s not jumping into a hidden war, but a very public one. The real enemy threatens humans and youkai alike—and BOTH GROUPS are needed to stop it. Every time I thought the show was going to rag hard on something (like the scientist episodes) it turns around and points out that this, too, can have a purpose. Most of the things that started out looking extremely cliche turned out to have something more running through it.

And the show is gut-bustingly funny. Tora wins pretty much every scene he’s involved in. Whether it’s his wide-eyed enthusiasm about watching himself on the news or his rage at someone else wanting to eat the human he picked out for his own lunch, he’s going to throw himself into things wholeheartedly. His vicious streak also makes him great at trolling enemies.

Equally, the story has tons of pathos. Ushio gets his heart broken again and again by the various things he’s going through. And he’s dealing with a lot of people in emotional crises themselves. It’s not just a story that knows how to deliver great action and funny lines, but one that’s honest enough about pain and joy and all the rest to go deeper.

All in all, this is one of the rare few shows I’d highly recommend to pretty much anyone. It packs so much in that even 39 episodes feels far too short. If you’ve missed out on this one so far, definitely give it a try. It’s currently streaming at Crunchyroll.