Penguin Highway

Penguin Highway is the kind of story that pulls you along like a strong and bending current- you have NO idea where it’s going but enjoy every turn and dip of the way nonetheless. This afternoon I settled down with a blanket and a bowl of ice cream to watch the anime adaptation of this Japanese science fiction novel by Tomihiko Morimi (which has also been made into a manga in the past).

The film, directed by Hiroyasu Ishida, centers around the life of a young boy, a 4th grader who will be the first to tell you that he is a bright, smart, scientifically minded kid who will surely have his pick of marriage partners when he grows up! He’s only got eyes for one woman though- a mysterious dental worker who seems to have something to do with the sudden and in-explainable appearance of penguins in the area.

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Sound confusing? Yup, like I said, you just need to let the story unfold and enjoy the ride. The strange story involves natural and unnatural phenomena, scientific experiments, adolescent longings, bullies, friends, and lots of penguins.

I especially enjoyed the friendship between the two kids who enjoy using the scientific method, documenting their findings, playing chess, and discussing the theory of relativity.

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Some parts were truly mind-bending. It’s not all charts and diagrams though- there are lots of funny and sweet moments throughout this fast-paced family film! The strange phenomena start small and build into a visually and emotionally powerful climax.

While the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff will no doubt leave many viewers scratching their heads, I found the conclusion to be satisfactory in how it tied things up. I enjoyed this film and highly recommend it.

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Modest Heroes: The Power of Short Film

I just finished watching Modest Heroes, a collection of three short films by Studio Ponoc. It’s an excellent anthology for any age with gorgeous animation, whimsical imagery, and universal themes— I wasn’t expecting any less, as Studio Ponoc was founded by former lead producer of Studio Ghibli, Yoshiaki Nishimura, and the strong team of dedicated animators had already won my heart with their first feature film Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

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Mary and the Witch’s Flower, 2017

Each of the the three stories making up Modest Heroes is crafted by a different director- Hiromasa Yonebayashi,  Yoshiyuki Momose, and Akihiko Yamashita. Each is very different in style, situation, and tone, but they are unified by the larger theme of life- it’s precariousness, hardships, and beautiful moments.

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Modest Heroes, 2018

I won’t spoil the charming stories of Modest Heroes— to do so would be a grave misstep for me— but I’ll give a taste of each to entice potential viewers of this family-friendly collection.

First, we have:

Kanini and Kanino

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Mixing hand drawn animation with dazzling CGI, this story is a feast for the eyes, with lifelike realism in a lush natural world blended with stylized wide-eyed characters. The minimalist “crab language” spoken throughout, largely improvised ad-lib by the voice actors, is no hindrance to communication, as the expressive animation carries the story along.

Life Ain’t Gonna Lose

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In Life Ain’t Gonna Lose, young Sota Shinohara makes his voice acting debut as Shuu, a boy who has a very severe allergy to eggs. This short film is based on a true story, and indeed feels very real. The everyday routines of people in Tokyo are painstakingly rendered in bright and detailed scenes, and the complexity of human instincts and emotions are lovingly portrayed.

Invisible

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The last film in this trio has a somewhat darker and grittier feel, but is still full of surprise and whimsy. It confronts what it means to be invisible, both literally and figuratively.

We should not live without recognizing or caring about others. There are many people who are sad, happy, suffering, or angry around us. If the world today doesn’t have anything to offer them, then we should deal with those invisible people in our film.

-Yoshiaki Nishimura


 

The bonus materials on the DVD are definitely worth a watch, and include features such as interviews, a press conference video, art galleries, and trailers. I found these extras to have a lot of depth compared to the fluff-filled bonus features that are often included with films. The creators of Modest Heroes, from the animators to the voice actors, music producers, and so on, share thoughtful, funny, and interesting insights from the making of the project. For example, Studio Ponoc’s founder Yoshiaki Nishimura expressed his strong belief in the validity of short film as a format with its own intrinsic value and no less capable than feature length films. He also explained the focus of Studio Ponoc being firstly and foremost to create quality films to entertain children with authenticity and depth, capturing their hearts and inevitably inspiring adults in the process.

It is happily evident that the true spirit of Studio Ghibli lives on with Studio Ponoc.

A Silent Voice Spoke to Me

Last night I watched A Silent Voice, the anime adaptation of the manga by the same name. I’d previously read the first volume of the manga, so I had an idea what the movie was about and expected it to be an emotional film, but it surprised me with its masterful and deliberate techniques. It brought a few tears even to my eyes, and I very rarely am able to cry.

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A Silent Voice focuses on the relationship between Shōya, a young man who was once a habitual bully, and Shōko, the deaf girl who used to be his favorite person to tease and bother. The movie weaves naturally between the memories of the past and the raw emotions of the present day, wherein Shōya is trying to make amends for the callousness of his past actions.

Many moments of the movie hinge upon the subtleties of communication and mixed messages— through spoken word, written word, and sign language. It also touches upon the delicate ties maintained between former friends and acquaintances, and how efforts to rekindle or mend former friendships can open oneself to vulnerability and shame.

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At the same time, A Silent Voice highlights the maturity and bravery of making choices that open up this vulnerability, and the struggles and rewards that are born of it. The deeply personal messages of the film, as well as the several gutdropping and heartstopping moments throughout, punctuated by moments of silence and crescendo, make for a truly thoughtful and moving film.

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New Fruits Basket- First Impressions!

Takaya Natsuki’s Fruits Basket was one of the first manga series I began collecting in my teen years, and I also loved the original anime.

When I moved out from my parents’ house, I left behind my Fruits Basket manga in their attic (there were too many for me to fit in my suitcase!) and eventually ended up donating them to a library a few years later (still couldn’t fit in my suitcase!)

I haven’t read Fruits Basket, or watched the original anime, since those years long ago, so I was excited to see that the manga was being remade and accompanied by an anime reboot! I have a Crunchyroll subscription, so I watched the first new episode today and found myself getting sucked back into the story.

This new Fruits Basket keeps the humour, optimism, and sentimentality of the original while presenting a fresh, detailed new art style that I really love. The shading is lovely and the highlights really pop!

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For me, the casting and animation of Tohru is most important for this story- she is the main protagonist of course, but more importantly she’s also someone who was really inspiring to me when I was younger, so for me to enjoy this new reboot Tohru has to feel right. Happily, I wasn’t disappointed! The voice acting by Iwami Manaka captures Tohru’s bright personality perfectly.

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When I worked my first job in high school, as a grocery store cashier, I was thrown onto the till with very little training, and customers would get mad at how slow I was ringing through their purchases and looking up their product codes for produce. The store I worked at was very busy, lines were long, and I struggled a lot at first. I would sometimes be driven to tears.

During this time I specifically remember looking up to Tohru as a role model- from the very beginning of the story we come to know that she has a hard life, but she works hard through every circumstance to try to make things better, not just for herself, but especially for others. Her work ethic made me want to be strong too- and I did get better at my job eventually!

The story of Fruits Basket involves the animals of the Chinese zodiac- each member of the Soma family is cursed with an animal form, so it’s fun to see each one revealed as the story progresses. In the first episode we see three such transformations happen in quick succession- I love the powdery & otherworldly mist that is unleashed in the new anime!

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Most die-hard fans of Fruits Basket (that I knew of, anyway) were either Team Kyo or Team Yuki- these two boys are the major contenders for Tohru’s heart, but I found it hard to pick sides, myself!

I always did have a little thing for Shigure, though…

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There are also lots of other interesting characters who will be revealed as the show goes on, each with very distinct personalities, so it will surely be increasingly entertaining!

Overall, I’m impressed with this first new episode, and I’m sure that this new Fruits Basket will capture the hearts of fans both new and old!

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Mini Review: Maquia- When the Promised Flower Blooms

If you fall in love, you will become truly alone.

This is the sentiment that forms the undercurrent of Maquia, a standalone high-fantasy story centered around the lorph- also known by humans as the “clan of the separated” because their near-immortality has caused them to live isolated lives and become the stuff of legends.

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Maquia is a woman of the lorph. When a power-hungry kingdom raids her village, she is torn away from her kind and finds herself rescuing a human infant despite her deep knowledge of the heartbreak that will inevitably ensue.

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Maquia is a rollicking story of adventure, with heaps of drama, spoonfuls of humour, and touches of romance. It’s also quite emotional- if you are a crier, be prepared to cry. By the end of it my husband looked at me and said “I feel like they’re trying their damnedest to make me cry”.

One aspect of the story that I really like is the Hibiol- the lorph are weavers and have a unique language of the cloth which they use to record history and share messages amongst themselves.

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The film carries along at a good pace. It is interesting to see Maquia’s adopted son Ariel and the other humans in the story growing up steadily around the ever-youthful lorph characters. The way the characters developed and the decisions they made surprised me in some instances.

Another engaging aspect is the existence of the Renato- huge dragon creatures capable of flight that the kingdom of Mezarte have enslaved to do their bidding, but which are slowly but surely dying off from a mysterious “Red Eye disease”.

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A word of caution- if, like me, you prefer sub over dub, stick with the Blu-Ray for this one. Sub and dub options are usually included on both the DVD release and Blu-Ray for most anime nowadays, but this is an exception- I borrowed the DVD from the library and then realized that it only had an English dub, so we had to watch it with English voice acting. The BluRay, I found out, does have both a sub or dub option.

Overall I really enjoyed this film and would totally watch it again someday. I think that, since it’s an engaging standalone film with a PG rating, it would be a good movie to introduce someone to anime, to share with your family, or to enjoy on a date. Or, just cosy up and enjoy it on your own!

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My Pirate Crew Tag

Megan from A Geeky Gal posted her Pirate Crew with an open invitation tag for anyone who wanted to play along, and I couldn’t help imagining who I would choose! Thanks for sharing Megan! And thanks to Lynn Sheridan for creating this fun tag!

The Rules:

  • Display the My Pirate Crew logo and add ‘My Pirate Crew’ as a tag.
  • Thank the blogger who nominated you and post a link to their blog.
  • Link back to the original post here (so I can compare your crews to mine).
  • Select seven anime characters and give them a position on the crew. These are the positions you can fill: Warrior, sniper, chef, doctor, scientist, navigator, strategist, mechanic, entertainer.
  • Nominate 5-10 bloggers.
  • Set sail and rule the seas!

 

So, here is my miscreant crew- scallywags, the lot of ’em!

 

Warrior: InuYasha

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I’m not copying you Megan, I swear! InuYasha is the first anime warrior who stole my heart, he’s totally badass, and I would definitely bring him along in my crew. Plus, who needs an anchor for the ship when you can just strap him with some rope, toss him over, and yell “SIT, BOY!!!” (I know, I’m terrible.)

 

Sniper: Mey-Rin

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Sorry if this is a spoiler for anyone, but you know Mey-Rin from Black Butler? You eventually come to know that she’s actually more than meets the eye…

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Yeah, she’s a crack shot with a variety of types of guns. Plus, we can squee about Sebastian together! Eeeeeee!~

 

Chef: Ignis

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In FFXV Ignis has more than proven his skill at improvising some delectable grub with meager rations while out in the wild, and I feel certain he’d be able to keep us from getting scurvy.

***Pastry Chef: Najika Kajami

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Ok, I added Pastry Chef as an additional crew member because dessert is VERY IMPORTANT TO ME OK? I feel like Najika Kajami is just the kind of pâtissier that I want on the crew- observant, in touch with the seasons, innovative, and creative. She would also bring a cheerful positivity to the crew.

Doctor: Naoki Irie

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Ok, I’ll admit he’s a bit harsh sometimes, but he knows his stuff and cares about his patients. And, Kotoko is smitten with him, so she’ll probably tag along, meaning we have 2 medical professionals on board instead of 1! I’ll admit that I haven’t read the manga or watched the anime, but I am a big fan of the Japanese edition of the drama series!

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Scientist: Reiji Sakamaki

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Let’s count all of the benefits of having Reiji as our on-board scientist, shall we?

  1. He makes a mean cup of tea
  2. He will probably bring a large collection of books with him
  3. He’s skilled at bloodletting, so no need to have leeches on board
  4. He’s a vampire, so like Dracula he could take care of the ship’s rat problems easily if needed (though he’d surely complain that it’s dirty work below his honour)
  5. Mey-rin will have her glasses off most of the time (she’s our sniper, after all) so Reiji can be our dedicated megane character
  6. He’s a sadist, so… if you’re into that… >.>

 

Navigator: Sailor Mercury (Ami Mizuno)

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Ami’s precise, mathematical mind would ensure her success as the navigator of the ship. She is skilled at data gathering and calculations. I imagine she would have the foresight to take necessary precautions and avoid potential misfortunes while at sea.

Strategist: L

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L may not be the most socially aware or tactful, but I like his aesthetic and vibe. He’s a brilliant strategist, there’s no denying that- he sees through deception and knows how to plan effectively. Plus, with him around I’m sure we’d never run out of candy!

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Mechanic: Impey Barbicane

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Impey is a skilled mechanic as well as a comedic optimist and ambitious dreamer. He’ll keep our spirits up and our ship running all the way to the moon!

 

Entertainer: Ren Jinguji

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Ren is my fave playboy from UtaPri and he plays a mean sax. What’s not to like? I mean, for that matter can we just bring the entire band onboard?

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*** BONUS- Pet: Roen

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I need to be around animals or I get really sad. We would need to have a pet on the ship- we just would! Preferably a dog. Roen would be great kuz he’s super cute and fluffy, plus he can transform into a human to help out with combat or whatever else is needed.


 

Well, that’s it for my crew! The sky is red- we set sail in the morning!

 

I tag me hearties:

Neko

Pete

Emma  (where would your ship travel to, I wonder?)

Kris and/or Rachel 

Michelle

and anyone else who is reading this and feels inspired to dream up a crew!

*p.s. sorry if I tagged you and you’ve already done this, and please don’t feel pressured, it’s just for fun if you feel like it 🙂

Bad Romance: A Defense of Reprehensible Love Interests in Otome and Beyond

My prince charming is your worst nightmare.

From the age that I can first remember feeling the pangs of infatuation and lust in my mid-teens, I found I had a taste for rogues, tricksters, baddies, and miscreants. In books, movies, manga, anime, and otome games, I rarely go for the hero of the story- my affections are generally reserved for the evil adversary, mysterious secondary character, or perhaps the dangerously playful womanizing side-kick. These characters are often sexy but would ultimately make terrible romantic partners in real life.

Recently I’ve been noticing in comment sections all over the internet well-intentioned people decrying these very sorts of characters that I am drawn to. Fans and non-fans alike are calling out reprehensible actions of characters as they see them. I think this is a positive reflection of wider discussions and movements that are happening worldwide right now regarding healthy relationships, love, affection, sex, and consent. These honest reflections on characters, from Sabrina’s Father Blackwood to the Sakamaki family of Diabolik Lovers, are valuable and worth noting. The relationships you see on TV or other media are often not good examples for real-life relationships to follow- sometimes these sorts of characters stray into cruel or even verbally and/or physically abusive behavior.

However, I do not believe that the answer is to eliminate such characters from the stories we tell and worlds we create.

One area that gets a lot of heat for these sorts of characters is otome games- perhaps because they are simulating a relationship with the player. Games like these feel more intimate than watching a movie or reading a book: usually a player uses their real first name in-game to enhance the immersion, voice-actors use dummy-head mics to record sound like they are right beside your ear whispering sweet nothings through your headphones, and choices in the game lead to consequences for the character you play as well as other characters in the game.

The first true otome game I played was Code: Realize, Guardian of Rebirth. It’s an interactive visual novel with a Victorian steampunk aesthetic, excellent Japanese voice acting, and odes to famous historical figures throughout.

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Code: Realize

A common strategy for playing otome games is play the main route with the main love interest first (often he’s featured on the cover, as with this example featuring Arsene Lupin) and then branch out to other romantic partners in subsequent play-throughs.

However, I always gravitate immediately towards the character that (you guessed it) is strange, aloof, mean, temperamental, and/or seemingly sinister. In Code: Realize, I went for Saint-Germain, an intriguing and mysterious white-haired gentleman voiced by my favorite voice actor, Daisuke Hirakawa.

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Saint Germain still image from Code:Realize, Guardian of Rebirth

*Warning:  spoilers ahead!*

My interest in Saint only grew as his complex and tragic story slowly unwound, with seemingly no means of a happy end. Still, I was caught completely off-guard when my first play-through ended abruptly with that is probably considered the worst possible ending you can get in the game: he murdered me.

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Scene from Code Realize, Guardian of Rebirth

I was shocked, bemused, and strangely thrilled by this sudden turn of events. Retracing my steps and choosing different directions on my second play-through, I discovered that he had some solid legitimate reasons for killing my character (really!) and in the less tragic story-lines he is actually a gentle, devoted, caring partner, despite a crushingly brutal past that haunts his every step.

Aside from his bad-ending (murder…) route, Saint is actually not particularly problematic, so I’d like to present a more blatant example of the “reprehensible love interest”…

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Diabolik Lovers, by Rejet

Diabolik Lovers began as an otome visual novel game franchise, but has since been turned into manga, anime, a stage musical, and tons of drama cds and merchandise in Japan. I stumbled upon the subbed anime on Crunchyroll a few years ago, starting a personal infatuation with this vampire series- a series featuring characters that are unabashedly terrible in their treatment of the female protagonist, Yui.

Yui is a Mary-Sue type character often seen in otome series-  aside from some rare moments of tenacity, she is presented as an unremarkable, quiet, polite young lady. She’s a sort of vanilla stand-in for the viewer or player, one which they can easily replace with themselves.

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Her potential suitors, on the other hand, are some very strong personalities. Their dispositions differ widely, ranging from hysterical and possessive to dismissive and toying. What unites all of the Sakamaki boys, though, is the way they all cruelly use and abuse Yui to sate their thirsts for blood and amusement.

Some hardcore fans will argue that by the end of the plotline their favorite boy truly loves Yui and is deeply devoted to her, but let’s be real here: that doesn’t excuse the abuse, and nobody is compelled to watch the Dialover anime or play the Dialover games because of the romance. The average viewer would be repelled by the sadistic, narcissistic, misogynistic and psychopathic actions of the Sakamaki family (some of my friends certainly are). The Sakamaki brothers each in turn physically restrain Yui, attack her verbally and physically (mainly through biting and taking her blood against her will) and deceive her naive and trusting nature unendingly. Each boy has a different demeaning nickname for Yui (Pancake, Sow, Bitch-chan, and so on…). So why are some people, like myself, drawn to these characters who are obviously toxic?

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This scene from Watamote is literally me T-T

This conundrum has fascinated me for some time. Why am I attracted to characters in fantasy that would make me miserable in real life? Is this predilection linked to the dark triad of features that supposedly signal a capable mate, triggering some biological response in me? Am I simply bored by predictable good guys and their chivalry? Is it pure masochism on my part? While not everyone falls for the charms of the bad boy, i’m certainly not unique in this regard, and there are lots of potential reasons someone might be willingly pulled over to the dark side.

Whatever the reason, the truth is that I and many others enjoy these sorts of flawed, dangerous, cruel characters, even when they are at their worst. While I understand the criticisms of series like Diabolik Lovers,  I believe we mustn’t equate a portrayal of an abusive or problematic fictional character with the actions of a person in real life or an endorsement of these kinds of relationships.

It’s okay to enjoy a romantic fantasy, even a dark and twisted one.

I am an advocate for the freedom to read, write, and create without restrictions. No work will be pleasing to everyone, and some may find certain works distasteful, but we must remember that these stories are fictional. When I immerse myself in an otome game, it is my choice, and I can withdraw my consent from the experience at any time by pressing the “power off” button on my Vita. I don’t confuse the tangled relationships in the fictional stories I enjoy with my real life relationships, which are thankfully much less dramatic than the ones I read, watch, and play.


 

Abuse is wrong. Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse have no place in a healthy relationship. Consent is vital. I don’t condone abuse in real life.

The fantasy world of books, movies, and video games are a space where the dangerous sides of love and lust can be explored safely- the cat and mouse game, which is exciting in theory but potentially devastating in real life, can be enjoyed in a make-believe format in which the consumer controls (while enjoying being “controlled” artificially).

We can and should continue to reflect on characters, and each person can determine for themselves what they enjoy or do not enjoy reading, watching, or playing, but there should be no shame for enjoying reprehensible love interests in fiction!