Things You See at Metrocon 2014: Photo Gallery

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Music Mondays: AMV Bleak Friday [Serial Experiments Lain]

Do you remember that awful, awful song by Rebecca Black? The one that kept extolling the glory of Friday? This amv by editor Ileia features a morose, contemplative cover of the same song and sets it against the gritty, bleak background imagery of Serial Experiments: Lain.

The result is both hilarious and unexpectedly emotive. Not a bad way to start off a Monday by far.

AYWTYL 2 – White Album 2

WHITE ALBUM 2 - 01 - Large 05What earns White Album 2 the dubious honor of an Anime You Wouldn’t Think You’d Like?

Let’s start a list.

It sounds like a sequel title.
It’s a high school romance centered around a love triangle.
It’s an anime is based off a video game.
The video game it was based off is an eroge.

whitealbumcoverWhat’s an eroge, you ask? Well, you know those Japanese dating simulator games? The ones where you play a guy and make conversational choices to get with various girls? It’s like that. With porn.

Yep. I am sitting on a keyboard begging you to watch an anime based off a smut game.

Chances are that got your attention, but don’t click away (or get too excited) just yet. I made it through all thirrteen episodes of this series without ever guessing as to the origins of the anime. I can count the number of ecchi scenes with one finger.

That’s right. One. Finger.

So then what’s the big deal? If this anime isn’t fanservice central 2013, it’s just another school romance. Didn’t we clarify in the preface that all romance anime are pretty much the same thing? Just one hapless guy acting stupid and undecided as his love interests fight over him?

This isn’t that either.

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White Album 2 ‘s synopsis sounds as simple as they come. Haruki Kitahara is a guitarist in a music club. He wants to perform in the school festival, but the club doesn’t have enough members. Setsuna Ogiso is an earnest, popular girl who loves karaoke and yearns for a genuine friendship after being burned in the past. Kazusa Touma is the stoic, reclusive daughter of a world famous pianist who doesn’t seem to have much interest in anything.

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Haruki sets out to recruit the mysterious pianist one window over from his practice room (later revealed to be Kazusa) and stumbles upon Setsuna singing on the roof along the way. After some convincing, both girls join the music club. The trio spend time together preparing for the school festival and conflict occurs when both girls discover that they have feelings for Haruki.

wa12Cliche as hell, right? You can assume that the series will end with a heartfelt confession from Haruki and an ending where he and his chosen girlfriend finally get together. Except in this case, it’s one of the love interests that confesses…and they start going out mid-series.

I know, right?! That revelation was actually what got me to watch this show because I’d never heard of such a thing. Where could they go after that? Was someone going to die or get put in a coma? It was enough to make me tune in and get current while the show was still on air last November.wa25

White Album 2 episode 1 begins in medias res– right in the middle of the trio’s performance at the school festival. It shows an energetic, upbeat scene full of smiles and cameraderie against the source music of the performance. At a break between songs, Haruki’s voice over begins: “One Saturday afternoon, late November, on the second day of the Houjou Prep School Festival, the three of us experienced our closest, most enjoyable, and happiest moment.” The present falls away to a montage of scenes from later episodes– fast, subtle moments that convey a weight equal to the ominous tone of Haruki’s final words before the title card. “It was also, the last moment the the three of us could truly be together.”

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Intrigued? You should be. Despite it’s roots, this anime breaks most conventions of your typical romance anime. It keeps a tight focus on the three main characters, allowing Haruki, Setsuna, and Kazusa enough screentime to really develop their personalities. The mid-season confession really throws a monkey wrench in what would otherwise be “just another love triangle” by forcing one character to step out of the romantic realm. However, it avoids the potential to become a stale “happily ever after” plateau with some innovative conflicts – the struggle to retain friendship while in a relationship, the silent suffering of unrequited love, and the martyrdom of putting others first emotionally.

wa28I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a series deal with some of these topics period, let alone deal with them so elegantly. There is a ton of dramatic irony here where the love triangle is concerned, but worse still is the fact that throughout the series (arguably up until the last few episodes) not one of the characters does anything ostensibly wrong.

No one lies. No one sets out to hurt or dupe another. If anything the tragedy of this show is that all three music club members really care about eachother and are constantly trying to keep their group together and protect each other’s feelings.

The final acts were damn near Shakespearean and left me, literally, weeping several times. When shit really started to hit the fan, I wanted nothing more than someone to blame…but often, it was hard to point fingers. That’s the beauty of this show though, these characters are all likeable to the point that no matter what pairing you’re ‘rooting’ for, you can’t help but empathize with all of them.

Before the series ended, I remember stumbling upon the perfect summary of the emotional burden of this show. “Nobody has done anything wrong,” I explained excitedly to a friend who humored me as I recalled the melodrama I was watching, “but everyone is going to get hurt. Everyone.”

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There is no easy happy ending, and if I said that I was satisfied with the show’s finale, I would be lying.

Don’t misunderstand, dear reader– the ending is good, as is this series–however this is a story where no one really wins.

It is Lucia di Lammermoor plus highschool, minus suicide & death.

It’s a cathartic tale that perfectly encapsulates that moment I believe that everyone has lived from some vantage point. The moment of alienating a friendship. The moment of endangering one for the sake of potential romance. The moment of swallowing raw and jagged emotion just in order to stay close to a person you care about, even if it’s not in the ideal way you want. It’s all of that, but with an omniscient vantage point that let’s us take a higher road as a viewer.140129-161756

It is uncomfortable and painful to watch at times, but for all the right reasons.

The animation is modern and fluid to the point where I don’t pay it much mind. Perhaps it’s the eroge roots, but all you really need are the often understated expressions of our protagonists…and those are done exquisitely.

The music is haunting and well-integrated. The music club practices three songs for their performance, and these songs often serve as source music for the show. The main theme has elements scattered throughout the background soundtrack, and the background music itself often mirrors the three leads in their relationships. With Haruki represented by guitar, Kazusa by piano, and Setsuna by vocals or core melody, it’s easy to lose yourself in the intros and outros.

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White Album 2 is a strong stand-alone 13 episode series with great writing, voice acting, and music.

For a taste of what you’re in for, check out the opening…and then give yourself enough time to make it through the whole series. You can thank me later.

White Album 2 OP

White Album 2 – Todokanai Koi Fingerstyle Guitar Cover & Chords

WHITE ALBUM 2 - 01 - Large 05

In preparation for my AYWTYL on White Album 2, I decided to tool around the internet and look for some guitar chords. Now, I’m not very–no wait–I’m not any good at guitar at all. I just started and am lucky to get three of the four chords of pop music right every other day or so…

Which puts this awesome rendition of the the first opening theme from White Album 2, Todokanai Koi (届かない恋),  by Shiyun Wu so far out of my league that I’m surprised I can even see it.

For those of you who appreciate some amazing music or love the show, check it out here on youtube:

For those guitar players out there that want to give it a whirl, check out the real time chords here on chordify:
http://chordify.net/chords/white-album-2-fingerstyle-guitar-treborttttt

AYWTYL 1: Sakurasou na Pet no Kanojo

sakurasou1Sakurasou na Pet no Kanojo, also known as The Pet Girl of Sakurasou or simply Sakurasou to fans, sounds pretty tame in most descriptions. Our protagonist, Sorata Kanda is kicked out of his highschool dorm for harboring a cat and winds up in the residence hall for ‘problem kids’. He vows to escape his new home, called Sakura Hall or Sakurasou, as he simply can’t stand the strange cast of characters that resides there. To compound his problems, a strange girl named Mashiro Shiina moves in and quickly reveals herself to be incapable of even the simplest of everyday tasks such as dressing herself or preparing food. Sorata now finds himself in the often awkward role of being Mashiro’s ‘handler’.

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Okay, so maybe that last part struck a 10 on your ecchi radar…and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. The series does sport a decent amount of fan service, and there are definitely romantic overtones and tropes. However, any synopsis is deceiving because Sakurasou is more a tangle of interwoven plotlines and stories that share a common setting and theme. It’s much more character study than rom-com at times.

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At Sakuraou’s heart are messages about finding meaning and purpose in life, leaning on and learning from one another, and being true to yourself regardless of consequence. Nearly every character main, side, or auxiliary, have distinct personalities– but within Sakurasou’s halls, the residents fall into one of two very broad categories– they either excel naturally or struggle for a dream.

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Ryunosuke is SUCH a boss.

In the first category we find Misaki Kamiigusa and Ryunosuke Akasaka. The former is acclaimed for her gifts in animation and the latter is a genius programmer. He’s also one of my favorite characters ever, but I’ll resist my urge to derail this review on a tangent.

In the second category we have Jin Mitaka, Nanami Aoyama, and Sorata himself. Each of these hopefuls is influenced and directly affected by the gifted in the house. Jin, the object of Misaki’s infatuation, wants desperately to write scripts that can even hold a candle to Misaki’s art. Nanami has worked tirelessly to keep herself enrolled in school in order to acheive her big dreams of becoming a voice actress. Sorata discovers, as the story progresses, that his dream is to create video games.

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Mashiro acts as the catalyst, as she falls into both categories at the same time. She’s not only naturally gifted, but world renowned for her paintings. However, the entire reason for her presence in Japan is to make manga– a choice that the art world is decidedly set against. Sorata is, throughout the course of the anime, both inspired by her passion and discouraged by her talent and apparent lack of struggle. Both emotions play a large role in the arduous journey of chasing his own dream.

To go into too much detail would be to ruin some of the best moments of the series, but the real triumph of Sakurasou is its portrayal of dynamic, likable characters and the ways in which they interact with, affect, and change one another.

sadsakuraIt’s about friendship, love, and growing up, but even more it’s about the inequity of dreams. This anime pulls no punches when it comes to the idea that some people are born gifted and some have to work their asses off. Far from predictable, it doesn’t just hand out happy endings — it accurately reflects the heartache of realizing that sometimes your best just isn’t good enough. You end up really feeling the stumbles and set backs of the characters to the point where you have to wonder if it wouldn’t be better if they just gave up…if only for the sake of your heart as a viewer.

However, this is far from a tragedy and resonates with cheerful hope and optimism. There are many, many funny or touching moments and if the mid-season finale with Nyaboron doesn’t put a big fat grin on your face then there’s probably something wrong with you.

 

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The visuals are awesome. The character designs are vibrant, distinctive, and gorgeous. The animation is fluid and has a real knack for capturing tone as well as visual gags. The comedic timing is second to none and the voice acting is really well cast.

The background music isn’t anything stand-out as I look back on it, but I do enjoy all of the opening and ending themes.

When the anime ended, I definitely wanted more…and that’s always a good sign.

Is there a love triangle? Sure.
Is there romance? Definitely.
Are there various tropes and cliches of the school-drama? Yep.

You’ll enjoy all of them though and chances are you’ll enjoy this show.
So try it out! You might find, as I did, that you’ve got a new favorite series.

Anime You Wouldn’t Think You’d Like – A Preface

neededit Preface harem anime AYWTYLAnime You Wouldn’t Think You’d Like is a series dedicated to  worthwhile anime that might otherwise go unnoticed or willfully ignored. These titles fall into all sorts of categories from the weird to the wacky to the plain surprising.

I was inspired to make a column like this after a panel at 2013’s Seishuncon kindled my interest with a sampling of titles I would have never even thought to check out. Stuff from genres I would generally never explore, series that showed character and depth even in the first episode or two.

That said, I’m not reviewing the first two AYWTYL  because of bizarre titles, weird premises, or the so bad it’s amazing honors that some featured titles will. In fact, these two, along with other titles I plan to cover, have a lot of fans and people who recognize them as the gems they are already.

So why the “anime you wouldn’t think you’d like” label? Well because I didn’t think I’d like them.

Yes, these two are here purely because of  easily made assumptions and a personal (former) bias . Bias against what, you ask?

Harem anime.

There, I said it.

Love+Hina_wallpapers_151I had nothing against it, really. It’s just that I, like many, met Ketaro and Tenchi back in the 90’s, made it through all or most of Love Hina and the No Need series(es)es)), and called it a day. Harem is as harem does, and if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all…right?

Tenchi Collection

Well, I thought so at least. Sure I’d catch an episode here and there of something ridiculous and ecchi, and you’d best believe I’m current on several reverse harems… But unless it was outrageous and goofy or nicely filled that little Mary Sue deep in my heart, I didn’t see much point in checking out any title with one guy and more than one girl on the cover. I mean, there are only so many ways to retell the story of “hapless guy awash in a sea of love interests,” and that’s all the male-protagonist slice of life romances were… So I wrote the genre off.

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..highschool?

Then a friend of mine started telling me about titles he was watching. Titles with serious drama, unique characters, and all the feels. Titles that involved male protagonists…and romance. Titles that were…set in highschools. Titles that, as soon as I put two and two together, I started giving him shit for, truth be told.

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…and romance?

However– always an open mind (and a firm believer that mockery tastes better when you have ingredients to cook it with) I agreed to watch a few episodes with him.

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omnomnom.

Suffice it to say, that day I dined on crow.

I now depend on him to share his shows with me because, as it turns out, he has great taste.

So you can thank Brian for the first two AYWTYL entries, Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo and White Album 2, because without him, I literally wouldn’t have known they existed.

Stay Tuned!

Future Card Buddyfight’s Opening Brings Back that 90’s Magic

I haven’t heard an anime opening like this since the late 90’s!! Back then, translations were hit or miss even on subtitled versions, dubbing was hardly the respected profession it is today, and few theme songs were sent to market without a random, often nonsensical, English phrase or sixteen.

Today, “Future Card Buddyfight” brings that flavor back with a faithfulness to upbeat nonsense that borders on parody. (“Let’s Fighting Love,” anyone?)

This song is so phenomenal that every video I’ve found of it comes with subtitles– as though anyone exposed instantly thought, “Yeah, people are going to need to see these lyrics.”

However, the font can be a little hard to read at points, and I’m sure you’ll want to commit this classic to memory as soon as possible, so I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing it below as well:

Future Buddy Cardfight Opening 1- “Card of the Future”

(Future Buddy Fight!)
These powerful deep bonds connecting us, buddy,
Ain’t ever giving up, crush and build again,
Break out your future card!

Getting into it with our stunning moves, yeah!
Don’t matter to us we can change the way it’s done,
‘Cause we are, (’cause we are), the irrepressible Buddy Fighter!

With our flame we can burn up the darkness,
The sun will shine on through, illuminate your soul,
On we go! (On we go!) We will deliver your call to tomorrow!

Such fantastic inspiration moving into new territory,
I charge and I draw, run as fast as the wind,
We’re invincible!

(Future Buddy Fight!)

These powerful deep bonds connecting us, buddy!
Ain’t ever giving up, crush and build again!

(Future Buddy Fight!)

Meaningless fantasies of what the future brings,
We don’t need such goals, we don’t need to dream! ((<-This is by far my favorite line!! XD))

(Future Buddy Call!)

Blowing open the walls of the cave!
Fight on with all the great skill that you have!
This, our never ending story, so let’s do it our own way!

Break out your Future Card!

As far as the anime itself goes, Future Buddy Cardfight falls squarely into the “shows about products” category, and demonstrates the expected levels of heavy-handed cliches and tropes that usually come along with that package. (You know- “believe in yourself,” “don’t follow the crowd,” “the one kid who’s ‘special’/’destined for greatness’,” “solving problems via card games,” “the power of friendship”….all that good stuff.)

At two episodes in, I can conclude that this will not be an overly cerebral or otherwise stand-out show, and probably isn’t anything worth following unless you’re looking for the animated equivalent to a partial lobotomy or need a pixelated babysitter for a half-hour.

To it’s credit though, the show does manage to use “buddy” more often and with the most gravity I’ve ever heard applied to the word since South Park’s Canadian arguments.

So that’s something.